Bob's blog – A skeptical lawyer

Ex-preachers and born-again atheists – They’re not biased because they changed sides?

Posted on February 25, 2019

        Benedict Arnold

 

 

 

 

In the Christian movie, God’s Not Dead 2, a demonically evil ACLU lawyer persecutes a stalwart Christian teacher who answered a high school student’s question about Jesus. The real-life author of Cold Case Christianity, J. Warner Wallace, testified on the teacher’s behalf that he used “forensic statement analysis” to determine that the Gospels are reliable. On cross-examination, the ACLU lawyer implied that Wallace’s Christian faith influenced his fact-finding. Wallace corrected him:

 

Ah, Mr. Kane. I think you misunderstand me. When I began this study, I was a devout atheist. I began examining the Gospels as a committed skeptic, not as a believer. You see, I wasn’t raised in a Christian environment. Although I do think that I have an unusually high regard for the value of evidence, I’m not a Christian because I was raised that way or because I hoped it would satisfy some need or accomplish some goal. I’m simply a Christian because it’s evidentially true.

Visibly shaken, the ACLU lawyer moves to strike this powerful testimony. The implication is obvious. The evil lawyer believed that all Christians are softheaded ignoramuses who accept their primitive beliefs because they don’t know any better. Detective Wallace is living proof that an educated and analytical atheist can accept Christ.

Wallace demonstrates a common rhetorical technique called “stake inoculation.” The ACLU lawyer discounted Wallace’s testimony because, as a Christian, Wallace has a stake in the matter – a bias toward Christianity. Wallace’s former atheism inoculates him against this accusation of bias. Stake inoculation is a variation of an “appeal to authority.” The fact that Wallace was an atheist bolsters his authority because it proves Wallace did not accept Christ based on ignorant presuppositions. If the Gospels are strong enough evidence to convert an atheist like Wallace, then certainly the evidence should be good enough for you. Right?

Christians have been making similar arguments for centuries – beginning with Paul’s dramatic conversion from persecutor to apostle.[1] Several evidentialist apologists now claim that they were once some sort of nonbeliever and then the strength of Christian evidence forced them to accept the Truth about Jesus.

Apologist and televangelist John Ankerberg claims, “One of the most interesting evidences for the truth of Christianity and, in particular, the resurrection, is the testimony of former skeptics, many of whom attempted to disprove it.”To Ankerberg, Detective Wallace’s former atheism is not merely stake inoculation, it is evidence – an argument from authority if ever there was one. This alleged evidence has three essential elements:

  1. An atheist or skeptic
  2. tries to disprove Christianity, particularly the resurrection, but
  3. the evidence is so strong that the atheist or skeptic converts to Christianity.

Skeptics question these claims of former atheism because they do not have the ring of truth. Without question, all kinds of people change their beliefs. Renowned atheist Anthony Flew came to believe in God – but not Christ. Nonbelievers also convert to Christianity, but I find it hard to believe that any evangelical Christian acquired his or her faith through a careful study of evidence.

I cannot say much about Detective Wallace because I know of nothing about his former beliefs other than his own statements. However, some of apologists’ favorite evidence-turns-atheist-into-Christian stories lack credibility. As I have discussed in previous posts, apologetic stories about Simon Greenleaf, as well as Gilbert West and George Lyttelton are simply false. Stories about C.S. Lewis’ conversion are exaggerated, and stories about Lee Strobel’s former atheism are suspicious. In addition:

  • Apologist Josh McDowell, author of The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, claims that he tried to prove Christianity was a sham, but the evidence convinced him Jesus rose from the dead. However, McDowell has changed his story http://www.debunking-christianity.com/2014/07/edward-babinski-on-conversions-of-cs.html over the years.
  • Frank Morrison was a pseudonym for Howard Henry Ross (1881 – 1950). In 1930, Ross published an apologetic book, Who Moved the Stone? However, he was never much of a skeptic. Although he considered miracles “very improbable,” he had a deep and reverent regard for Jesus, and “A course word with regard to Him, or the taking of His name lightly, struck me to the quick.”[2]

Some counter-apologists are former evangelicals, and they also partake of stake inoculation. However, their claims about former beliefs are more credible.

  • Dan Barker was an ordained minister and composer of popular Christian musicals. Barker is now a co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Barker discussed his journey in his book, Losing Faith in Faith – From Preacher to Atheist.
  • John W. Loftus was an ordained minister of the Church of Christ and taught apologetics at two Christian colleges. Loftus now operates the blog, Debunking Christianity.
  • Robert M. Price was a Baptist minister. Price is now a mythicist who has written several counter-apologetics books, such as The Case against the Case for Christ.
  • Charles Templeton founded his own Evangelical church and crusaded with Billy Graham.[3] Templeton explained his reasons for rejecting the Christian faith in his book, Farewell to God.

With such impeccable evangelical credentials, these counter-apologists make far better claims to stake inoculation than Detective Warren and other alleged “atheist turned Christian” converts. In contrast, apologists continue to use groundless stories like Greenleaf’s purported atheism – demonstrating that leading apologists play fast and loose with the facts.


[1] Galatians 1:13-16; Acts Chapter 13.

[2] Ross discussed his intellectual journey in the book’s first chapter, entitled “The Book That Refused to Be Written.”

[3] Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith 8-9 (Zondevan 2000).


-rgmiller