Deconversion results when believers become convinced that Christianity is false. Intellectual problems are often the catalyst that begins the deconversion process. Here we look at some of the more common ones and the assumptions that give them their force.
Christianity claims that the Bible is a revelation from God. And because of that, it speaks truthfully about everything it affirms. The Bible refers to individuals and places that it asserts really existed, and events that it claims really happened. Furthermore, because Christianity says the Bible is a revelation from God it means that everything it teaches is moral. Because the Bible makes truth claims that are grounded in history means they can, to some degree be tested. Those who point to intellectual problems with Christianity as the reason for their loss of faith have put those claims to the test and found them wanting.
For example, I once received an email from Kevin, a man who wanted to meet with me to talk about his impending loss of faith. He wanted to remain a Christian but felt he no longer could. In his words, "Christianity is the greatest story and the only hope for the world. I deeply want to believe it, but I think it is easy to demonstrate that it is false." As we talked he shared with me how he came to that conclusion. Like many other former Christians, he was committed to the belief that what the Bible says is entirely truthful. Then he encountered evidence to the contrary that he believed was conclusive. For him, it was that the books of Moses could be shown to be fiction, written long after Moses and that the rest of the Old Testament was riddled with historical errors. Although he wanted to believe the Bible was true, he no longer could. Kevin's story is similar to many of those who lost their faith for intellectual reasons. For them, it came down to the fact that the Bible's claims just didn't match up with the facts of reality.
There is a number of ways that the Bible is accused of failing the truth test. Here are the most common categories with specific examples.
Problems with the Bible
Historical Errors: Quirinius was not the governor when Jesus was born.
Historical Criticism: Scholarship shows that most of the Old Testament is the product of priests in Babylon who wanted to provide the Israelite captives a sense of identity.
Contradictions: After Jesus' birth did Joseph, Mary, and Jesus go to Egypt from Bethlehem as Matthew 2: 13-23 says, or did they go immediately back to Nazareth as Luke 2: 22-39, says?
Evolution: Evolution is a scientifically accepted fact. A straightforward reading of the Genesis account and the theory of evolution are incompatible. Therefore the Bibe is wrong.
The Sun Standing Still: If the sun stood still in the sky as Joshua says, the entire solar system would be thrown into chaos.
The Flood: There is no evidence of a worldwide flood. There is no way for an ark to contain all of the animals the Bible claims it did.
The Annihilation of Canaanites: How can it be moral to kill all of the women and children? Today, we call this genocide. How can it genocide be justified just because God commanded it? It's more likely that the Israelites were projecting their barbaric views onto God.
Punishments in the Law: God commanded the Israelites to burn to death adulterous women (Leviticus 21:9). How can anyone believe God said that?
Hell: God is loving, but if you don't believe the right things about him then he condemns you to eternal conscious torment in a lake burning with fire. Seriously? How can God's love and the existence of Hell be reconciled?
Lack of Evidence
The Exodus: If the exodus really happened, why is there no clear evidence for it? Biblical archeology has discovered no direct evidence that the Israelites were in Egypt for 400 years or that the Egyptian economy was destroyed by the plagues. Nor is there any evidence that millions of people lived in the desert for forty years.
No References to Jesus: There are no records of Jesus by his contemporaries outside the Gospels. If he did the numerous miraculous things the Bible says he did wouldn't you think that we would have records of that?
No Good Arguments: We should only believe claims that are supported by sufficient arguments or evidence. There are no good philosophical arguments for the existence of God and no good scientific evidence for him. Therefore it would be irrational to believe in his existence.
Two things need to be said about the above objections.
1. None of the objections have proven to be slam-dunk refutations of Christianity. Christian thinkers have offered responses to all of them. Whether an individual finds an objection or a response to be persuasive is based on many factors.
2. Each of the above categories of objections rests on its own unique assumption. It is that assumption that needs to be identified and responded to in order to effectively offer a response. Here are the assumptions of each of the above categories.
Problems with the Bible: Assumes that the Bible must be inerrant or it cannot be trusted.
That assumption is false. Inerrancy is an important doctrine, but the Bible doesn't have to be inerrant in everything it affirms in order for a person to be a Christian. It only needs to be historically reliable enough regarding the life of Christ for someone to rationally remain a Christian. It is untrue that if the Bible is in error on a minor historical point that it cannot be trusted when it claims Jesus rose from the dead. The claim that Jesus rose from the dead must be evaluated on the merits of the evidence for and against it.
Scientific Problems: Assumes the Bible must be read in a literal way at all times.
This assumption is false. The Bible is not a scientific document written for modern readers. It was written to ancient people with an ancient worldview. God communicated to them in ways that they would understand. Despite what is asserted by some well-meaning Christians, reading the creation accounts in a nonliteral way is not compromise if the text allows for it. Many Christian scholars believe it does just that. Scientific objections also assume that current scientific theories accurately describe reality. However, the history of science is littered with discarded theories that at one time were the reigning theories of their day.
Moral Problems: Assumes our modern moral sensibilities are a trustworthy moral criterion to evaluate the Bible by.
Admittedly, it is difficult to understand how some of the events recorded in the Bible at the command of God can be moral. However, this assumption is unwarranted. Without God, it is hard to see how there can be any standard for morality, making all moral claims relative to time and place. But if that's true, then there can be no meaningful moral criticism of what the Bible says God commanded. A second assumption is also at play in this objection, which is that our understanding of goodness perfectly maps onto goodness itself allowing us to pass judgment on the Bible. But that is a highly questionable assumption given our historical and cultural situatedness. Throughout history, one generation has condoned and even promoted acts that subsequent generations have condemned. Modern moral sensibilities become outdated very quickly.
Lack of Evidence: Assumes that evidence is required for belief in God to be rational.
While evidence for the existence of God is nice to have it is not required for belief in God to be rational. For a helpful explanation of how this can be so, see Return to Reason: A Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God, by Kelly James Clark.
By identifying the assumptions underlying popular objections and offering short critiques, I am not meaning to imply that I have provided a knock-down refutation of them. To be clear, I am merely identifying what I think are problematic assumptions that underwrite many popular objections and providing food for thought on how to address them.