Sunday, February 21, 2010

Re: There is No Lee Strobel

So Chris Hallquist wrote a blog post about Christian apologist Lee Strobel. Take a look:

"I am very skeptical that there is anyone who fits the images that Lee Strobel and people like him have created for themselves. Let me explain.

"[S]ome prominent Christian figures–notably Lee Strobel and Josh McDowell–have risen to fame by painting self-portraits in which intellectual considerations dragged them kicking and screaming into belief. Notice what they’re doing: they’re essentially claiming to be Christian versions of Lukeprog et al. But if you look at what Strobel says in his pre-Case for… book Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary, you get a somewhat different picture: Strobel started going to church because his wife wanted him to, found it emotionally moving, and then started reading Christian apologetics to assure himself it was all true. It’s unclear Strobel read any non-Christian books in his 'journalist’s investigation...'

"Are there any other good candidates for being Lee Strobel, other than Strobel? In a discussion at Ed Feser’s blog, one commenter suggested Joshua Rasmussen and Trent Doughtery as examples of people became theists because of arguments, but based on scanning online for things Joshua and Trent have written about that, as well as exchanging a few e-mails with them, it’s pretty clear to me their situation wasn’t quite what the commenter made to sound like: both started out as fairly serious believers, wavered towards agnosticism, and report going back for intellectual reasons."

I concur with Hallquist's observations. In a recent debate (about ten and a half minutes in), Mike Licona mentioned Dr. Craig Keener, another "former atheist" who became a Christian because of the overpowering evidence. But take a look at Keener's story, from his own website:

"One day when I was 15, as I was walking home from school, a couple students from a fundamentalist Bible college cornered me and asked me if I knew where I would go when I died. I argued with them for 45 minutes, as they tried to explain about Jesus’ death and resurrection bringing salvation, something that made no sense to me. Finally I hit them with what I thought was the ultimate question: “If there’s a God, where did the dinosaur bones come from?” If one asks a stupid question, one usually gets a stupid answer. They replied that the devil put them there. I was so annoyed that I started to walk off, and they warned me that if I kept hardening my heart against God, I would end up in hell...

"Although I tried to shake off their words, I found myself terrified the entire way home. Despite the nonsense about the devil planting dinosaur bones to fool us, they had given me the true message about Christ. I had wanted God to give me empirical evidence, but instead God confronted me with the reality of God's own presence. I had studied various religions and philosophies in the encyclopedia, but what I was experiencing now was on a completely different level. As I got to my room, I was so overwhelmed by God’s presence and the demand it made on my life that I felt only two options—I had to either accept or reject the demand of my Creator, and God was not going to let me alone until I did one or the other.

"My knees buckled out from under me, and I cried out, "God, I don’t understand how Jesus dying and rising from the dead can save me—but if that’s what You are saying, I’ll believe it. But God—I don’t know how to be ‘saved.’ So if You want to save me, You’re going to have to do it Yourself.” Suddenly I felt something rushing through my body like I had never felt before. I did not understand what had just happened, but I knew that God was real and that I must now give God everything I was and everything I had.

"By the age of nine I was asserting that I was an atheist. Although I thought I had sound philosophic reasons for my view, I did not disrespect all religions (and especially enjoyed studying ancient Greek and Egyptian ones), if I believed that those who followed them had some genuine reasons for their belief. Yet it seemed to me that of all the religions of which I was aware, only Christians did not take their faith very seriously (a perspective I unfortunately extrapolated based on the assumption that most Americans were Christians); I reasoned that if one really believed that there was a God, one would give God everything one was and everything one had."

It ought to be clear from the context of Licona's use of Dr. Keener that he was being dishonest. Dr. Craig Keener was not someone who changed his mind as a sober minded adult. He was a kid who originally ridiculed God (maybe to make himself feel good or to be rebellious) and later had an emotional experience as a teenager that caused him to change his mind.

Another guy that I've seen cited like this is Lionel Luckhoo. In an internet video that I wasn't able to locate currently (I've watched it before) Lee Strobel cited Lionel Luckhoo as this fantastic defense attorney (which he was) who had carefully examined the evidence for Jesus with the same rigor that he examined evidence in court cases. But if you read Luckhoo's pamphlet Did Jesus rise from the dead? The Question Answered, you'll see that Luckhoo constantly (and question-beggingly) assumes complete or near complete reliability of the gospel accounts to arrive at this conclusion. Luckhoo might have been a Guinness record holding attorney, but that does not excuse such sorry reasoning in this instance.

So I agree completely with Chris Hallquist that there does not seem to be any case of an objective, soberminded, fully-informed person looking at the evidence and coming to the conclusion that Christianity is true.

On the other hand, I'm not sure how many examples we have of atheists who came to the conclusion of atheism free of passion and without plausible psychological motive. I didn't. Charles Darwin best summed up one of my reasons for questioning my faith which lead me to atheism:

"I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother, and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine."

I'm not saying that I'm an atheist because I don't like Christianity. I justify atheism through observation and logic. But I am aware that I have a bias against Christianity because I believe its doctrine of hell is awful and wicked.

And I think the same applies to many atheists. John Loftus, whom Hallquist seems to think of as someone who came to atheism through reason alone, neglects the fact that what lead John to question his faith was being treated badly by his Christian friends after an affair. And besides, there's really no way to ever be sure that someone was free of bias when they left Christianity. We don't know their thoughts, nor does anyone else. And of course after the de-conversion they may try and portray themselves as completely bias-free. After all, most people are not true-to-reality enough to realize or even report (for fear of discrediting themselves) any bias they may have had.

So my conclusion is that there is no Lee Strobel and probably could not/never will be enough evidence for a Lee Strobel or an atheistic version thereof.

**Just one other thing: You may think that I've contradicted myself in stating that we can't ever really know the thoughts of another but also coming up with psychological reasons that John Loftus may have left Christianity. I'm not: I'm not saying that I know John Loftus became an atheist for psychological reasons, I'm simply saying that it is plausible to think that he did, or to think that psychological reasons played a significant role in his deconversion.


D.L. Folken said...

A true scotsman argument...

Unknown said...

With all due respect, this characterization of my spiritual journey is selective, misleading and inaccurate. To suggest that I was so emotionally enthralled by a visit to church that I then simply read Christian apologists “to assure [myself] it was all true” is to simply rewrite history. My “Unchurched Harry and Mary” and “Case” books are entirely consistent, as any fair reading of them will establish. I was an atheist who thoroughly investigated both sides of the issue and concluded that the weight of the evidence supports Christianity. My “Case” books focus on experts whose arguments I ultimately found to be the most persuasive. Please don’t inadvertently misrepresent what happened. Many thanks, Lee Strobel

Anthony said...

Nick: On the other hand, I'm not sure how many examples we have of atheists who came to the conclusion of atheism free of passion and without plausible psychological motive.

I would consider myself one of those examples. My deconversion from Christianity and ultimately embracing atheism was strictly for intellectual reasons.

My rejection of Christianity came at a crisis of faith due to my attempting to incorporate an evangelical worldview (which included a strong view of biblical inspiration) with biological evolution and biblical criticism. I detail much of this in Why I Left Christianity.

Dax said...

Sitting in church one morning about 25 yrs ago with the wife,the kids being in Sunday School,it dawned on me that what was going on bore no relationship to what was in the bible. It was a complete snowjob. Over the next couple of years I read AND studied the bible going to the length of taking religious courses at the University. Probably should have spent less money and gotten my Dr from Liberty U as nothing took.

Katie (Old Profile-Please disregard) said...

I'm with Anthony. I also had a long, investigative road to atheism. In fact, from Christianity to Atheism actually took me ten years and from Paganism to Buddhism, to just plain agnosticism, and finally slapped me in the face with the fact that not getting an answer from God probably meant he wasn't there. I couldn't even call myself an atheist for awhile. My facebook status remains "Secular Humanist" as my family slowly comes to terms with the fact that I no longer rely on a supernatural higher power.

Oh, and Lee, I'd like you to address here the charge that you didn't weigh the evidence of non-christian books and tell us which ones you did read that obviously weren't as compelling as those that you sourced for your "Case" books. Please, enlighten us.


Eugene said...

On the subject of de-conversion, you may be interested in (if you haven't seen it already) Youtube user "Evid3nc3". He made a very honest series regarding his journey from born again Pentecostal to Atheist.

Robert Morane said...

Mr. Strobel,

No reasonable person will take you seriously when you claim that "objective" research led you to the conclusion that the one true faith is the faith you were raised into.

I mean, come on! How credible would a man from Saudi Arabia be to you if he claimed that objective and unbiased research led him to the conclusion that Islam is the true faith?

Stop being childish and think like an adult.

AIGBusted said...

Hi Lee,

"With all due respect, this characterization of my spiritual journey is selective, misleading and inaccurate."

Most of the stuff about you in this post was quoted from a blog post by Chris Hallquist, although I did say that I "concurred" with it, and I concur with it for a very simple reason: I have read three of your books and it appears very much to me that you did not undertake an unbiased investigation. I'm sure you'll disagree, but that won't change my opinion. I think it is far more plausible to believe that you did as Chris said. I can't "prove" it (only YOU really know what happened) and I won't waste my time trying to convince you that that is what you did, but that is the conclusion that I have come to.

By the way, how did you come upon my blog, Lee? Just curious.

AIGBusted said...

"I mean, come on! How credible would a man from Saudi Arabia be to you if he claimed that objective and unbiased research led him to the conclusion that Islam is the true faith?

"Stop being childish and think like an adult."

Let's try and be a little nicer to Lee, Robert. I actually think that it is possible for someone to do an objective (or near objective) assessment of their faith, and it is, of course, logically possible that the faith they were raised in just so happened to be right. After all, if there is a correct religion I would expect it to have a following that consisted of a large percentage of humanity (if a religion came from God, then God should have ensured that the religion spread far and wide). A few of those people would undertake an objective assessment of their religion, and find it correct. So it is logically possible that Lee is being completely real when he says that he is one of those people. However, having read his books, I don't believe for a second that that is the case. I think he knew what his results were going to be before he ever investigated.

The Uncredible Hallq said...


The first thing I'd like to say is that I agree that the stories you tell in Inside the Mind... and Case for... are consistent. However, I still feel that your Case for... books are written in such a way that anyone who reads them, but doesn't read them extremely closely, is almost guaranteed to come away with a false impression of your experience. I've heard some of your fans describe your books as a literal record of your conversion expereince--don't you agree that it's worth your while to try to correct such misunderstandings?

If you're reading this, maybe you could clear up some things I've been curious about. In particular, what books defending atheism did you read in the year or so after you started going to church? What books defending non-Christian religions?


Edwardtbabinski said...

I hope Mr. Strobel can provide a clearer description of what books he read and also his conversion process and timing of events than his predecessor, Josh McDowell. At least Lee's conversion took place fairly recently within memory. Josh's took place so long ago that it appears to have been hagiographized by Josh's own memory.

Josh McDowell never took the time to document his transitional phase, or what books he read. Josh's youthful conversion is also so far in the past that when asked, he no longer able to supply data concerning his alleged trip to Europe's libraries to discover the truth of Christianity. According to the earliest first person stories he wrote about his conversion Josh converted while attending a small community college after meeting some happy Christians there (and one smiling girl in particular), and he admits his mind at that time and age was confused and he couldn't focus. Then AFTER he converted he could focus. But later stories feature McDowell focusing so well that he plans a trip to the libraries of Europe. Huh? He converted as a college undergrad. And was attending a small community college. His family probably didn't have that kind of money, and he certainly didn't have that kind of focus judging by all of his earliest first person testimonies. It looks like McDowell's more recent stories differ considerably from his earliest conversion stories. And at no time did McDowell ever share with his readers exactly what the time period was before he converted or what books he was reading during that time.

Can Lee please share with us a list of all the books he read in approximate order of reading them prior to his conversion?

Can Lee also tell us what kind of emotional experiences, or spiritual experiences, he was feeling at what time during the studying process?

And the duration of the process from the time he began his studies on Chrsitanity to the time he either had an emotional or intellectual turning point that convinced him "this is true."

At least C. S. Lewis admitted his reading of The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton played an enormous role in his conversion, and that it took place "on a trip to the zoo" with his Christian brother. Lewis continued to suggest Chesterton's book as essential dense Christian apologetics reading for fans who asked him for books on Christianity to read.

Ed Babinski

Editor of Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists (Prometheus Books, 2003)

The Uncredible Hallq said...


Demanding Lee's complete reading list strikes me as a bit hasty. At the moment, I'd be happy to have a couple titles of non-Christian books he read.

Ozell said...

To Lee,

You're being excessively charitable. It's clear to me that the author of this sham piece of yellow journalism isn't "inadvertently" misrepresenting what happened." He deliberately misrepresented the facts because he's a willing servant of evil. Jesus said as much in John 3:19-20.
"And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed."

I was just like him, as were you. We denied the truth because we loved our evil ways and were held captive my the evil one to do his will. 2Tim 2:16.

The claim that one leaves Christianity for "strictly intellectual reasons" is lying to self.

One leaves Christianity for the same reason one avoids it -- the desire to sin. "Intellectual reasons" is what one tells oneself in order to sear the conscience and pretend legitimate motives. The honest man says, "I wanted to sin and I couldn't comfortably do that and be a Christian." Lying to oneself and others helps quiet the conscience.

However, at the final Judgment, God has already said that nothing will be hidden and the true motives of men's hearts will be exposed.

Ben said...

In reality we can't really objectively be lead to any belief. We are driven by our hearts and minds. If our heart tells us that we are going to have to break up with our girlfriend or sacrifice our beliefs to be with her then we are either going to give in to our own desires or we are going to stand strong because when we see the evidence for another religion we just think it is ridiculous and preposterous because the evidence for our belief is so huge. But that is the beauty of christianity. It is foolishness to the wise. We can't simply decide to be a christian. Lee Strobel is clearly sincere in his testimony and believes in Jesus but an investigation can't lead us to be saved. An investigation can make us think that there is more evidence to believe Jesus is God than to believe there is no God but in reality that is all sort of the trivial side. The part that matters is once you believe Jesus is God what do you do? Well the bible tells us to repent. It tells us we are sinners. It tells us we need to believe in Jesus to be saved because he is the only way.
I think it is ridiculous to say that we can do an investigation and then DECIDE to be a christian because it is more logical. We can investigate and decide to throw in our lot with Christianity yes, but that won't save us. Tons of people think Jesus is God but that doesn't save them. You see, once we think Jesus is God and once we believe what he says is true, then we need to say to Jesus, "Jesus...I have no clue what to do, all I know is that I believe you and I don't know how to be saved and I want to, but you are going to have to do it."
That is a sort of good thing to personally go through. It shows that we finally realize that we don't just get saved by throwing our lot in with one religion or another. It shows that we see that we can't just save ourselves. It shows that we feel so gross and sinful that we see that we have no way to save ourselves. Do you see? It is when we have no way to save ourself. It is when we hit the bottom and have realized that we need Jesus to save us because we are so helpless, then we can be saved. People that think that being saved is just changing their mind and that a convincing argument works are just fools. There is no Godly wisdom in that. The bible says that the bible can be used to essentially show or prove to people that Jesus is God and that was true in the time of Jesus. But just because you proved to someone that Jesus was God didn't save them. Once they realized that he was God it meant they realized that they were wrong along. It meant that the religious system of Judaism they had been following meant nothing and that they were helpless and unable to reach God with all of the sin that ways them down. The realized that they had to accept Jesus' way and believe in him now instead of their past system. To believe in Jesus means to believe in what Jesus taught. It means that they realized that when all along Jesus had been saying that they needed to repent that it was true. So they repented, they literally turned away from their sins not of their own power, but by accepting that they needed Jesus to save them, by accepting that they were helpless.

Ben said...

Christians are weak helpless people. They are people that finally realize that they can't do anything. They finally realize that it is foolish to try any longer. They realize that they just need to accept Jesus' way but that they can't do it because they don't know how. At the point when they realize all of this because God opened their eyes to true wisdom (the wisdom that showed them that they couldn't do anything to be saved and that Jesus was truly the only way), then they receive the holy spirit. ZOOSH. that is when our friend Keener had that feeling. He hit the bottom. I'm sure he was scared and unsure about things. All he knew is that he was being haunted by the thoughts about what those people told him and that it made sense to him. He basically knew he was a sinner. In his heart he truly knew it and he realized he needed Jesus to save him. If you guys truly want to understand salvation then watch videos by Paul Washer or Tim Conway or read books by people like K.P. Yohannan (he has a ton of free books). After you read stuff like that maybe you would better understand what true salvation entails. It is all about a good given realization that we are evil and that we can't do anything to be saved but we know we need Jesus. Why do you think Keenan felt so burdened on the way home? God finally opened his eyes that things weren't right and that this message about Jesus was actually true, but he had no clue what to do to be saved, all he knew was that he believed.
Guys, in America we basically just talk to someone and then have them pray a prayer to say they accept Jesus but unless they actually realize this things like Keenan did then they won't be saved. Unless we realize that we are helpless then we won't be saved. God doesn't save wise people. He saves the weak people that finally accepted that they were so lowly and evil. America is full of people that Believe Jesus will save them because they believe Jesus will save them. They don't believe in Jesus the way they should. If you ask a christian if he is saved and if he KNOWS he is going to heaven he might simply respond, "John 3:16," implying that he "believes" in Jesus. Unless we actually realize how evil we are and repent because we are fools that thought we were wise and actually come to a point where we realize we do need Jesus to save us then we can't be saved. God has to open your eyes to your sinfulness for you to accept something like this.
One more thing, read a book by K.P. Yohannan (an Indian guy), preferably "revolution in world missions" and you will read about miracles that happened. Why would K.P. right a book and include things like that unless they really happened? Just saying. Miracles aren't real because it is wise to think they are real. Miracles are real because of God. They are real whether we reject God or not. We are fools and once we realize that we are only going to be driven by our mental "chemistry" or our hearts in more simplistic terms, unless we realize that we are just one person who lived for 20, 40, 60, however many years, we will never see that there were billions of people before us. We will never see that maybe, just maybe we are a small person. Maybe we should think of ourself as a fool that doesn't know anything.

Anthony said...

Ben, you need something more than a sermon and theology. Even your theology only shows a very basic understanding (within a modern evangelical perspective) without any real nuance of the history of Christianity, nor the history of theology.

Ben said...

Ay ay ay, I figured that might be a comment, that it didn't seem like it had good theology either. I know my theology or "sermon" won't unharden a heart and My point wasn't to have some good theological argument. My point is that our hearts are the problem. We can't argue anything. We argue what we know, that is all. How can we argue what we don't know? It doesn't make sense. But that is the problem with religion, religious people argue what they know, christianity is different in that we don't argue from what we know. We argue with something else. The holy spirit holds all of the knowledge of God and that is why the bible (OT & NT) is inspired. All that is written came from the Holy Spirit because where does knowledge of God come from if not from God himself? I don't have good theology, no I don't, I accept that. But the gospel isn't about knowing God theology. It is actually accepting that it is the one truth that we can trust in because it is from God. God doesn't need us to have good theology. He uses people that are lead by the Holy Spirit because it is the only thing that is not corrupt in us. It is the only thing good in a christian. So it doesn't matter if I have good theology. I don't need much theology to have the holy spirit. Have you read much of the bible? If you have read some of Acts you will see that people were astounded by the apostles. They taught with such authority not because they had good theology. They were unlearned men. fishermen some of them yet they taught like they had such incredible knowledge that when people saw that they were unlearned men they knew it must be from God. It was from the Holy Spirit. In India when someone receives salvation and they go running around the streets telling people of Jesus who loves them and saves them they don't need good theology, people believe because what they see is so out of this world that it is either truth, or a delusional lunatic, or a very good liar and when they hear the message generally they are astounded as well and believe as well. Why? because those people don't have such hardened hearts. In america nobody accepts the gospel, the true gospel. We all think that what we know is good and that it is the truth. We think we have so much knowledge and good theology which is sometimes true...but that doesnt matter if people are without God then they have nothing. We are all born with a heart or mind which is a better way to put it but i like to use heart because it is more symbolic maybe, who knows. But you must be lead by knowledge that you know. You reject my knowledge because you know something different. In your own knowledge you don't think of the bible as truthful (it appears that way at least), in your own knowledge you will only change your mind if you have knowledge that changes what you know. Basically if you learn something else that you trust in that you can't refute then you would change your mind. But that is all because that is how our hearts work. They work off of human wisdom and human wisdom has nothing to do with God. We know nothing about God.

Ben said...

Here lets put it this way, Richard Dawkins likes to talk about "if you were born here you would be muslim, if born here you would be hindu, etc, here we would be christian, or something else." I love that Richard Dawkins uses it because it is the perfect tool to destroy American Christianity! I love it! We need atheists like him that actually have good logic in that sense at least. He has good human wisdom, it is true. But it actually doesn't matter. God doesn't care that if you were born here you are this or there you are that. Why? Because we don't get our knowledge about God from human sources. We can't understand God unless God lets us, unless he pursues us with the Holy Spirit. So basically unless we realize that looking for our own knowledge is totally based off of emotion and human reasoning and stuff like that, for the atheist, american "christian," alike, then we won't realize that this is why there are so few christians. So few people actually realize that they can't find God and accept that they need a new heart. I know this isn't exactly where the gospel is going with it's message but it is the truth about why we fail to find God. Because we don't have anything within us that tells us "oh this gospel message is from god!" the only way we could know if it was from God is if he opened our eyes. Well I could rant on but I think Ill stop here because. I know I dont have great theology or anything but nobody is gonna find God if they keep on searching for him. They have to realize they will never find him. They have to humble themselves and realize that they won't know things about God unless God shows them. God Bless friend! (Yes I need something more than a sermon and theology! I need God! You in your first line just said what I was trying to say in all of this :)