Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review – Chapter Two, Part Two

My nine-year-old daughter* and I, both atheists, are teaming up to review children’s apologetics book Cold Case Christianity For Kids, by J. Warner Wallace. The introduction to the series is here; posts in the series are being linked up there as I go along.

 

*She is in fact now 10. She was 9 when we sat down to review this chapter. One of these days I’ll catch up with myself, although I hope I manage it before she turns 11.

 

 

 

Chapter Two: Learn How to Infer: Learn How Detectives Find the Truth

Aaaaaaaand time for Bible class again, cadets and readers!

Jeffries asks who investigated Jesus ‘and the claim that He died and then returned to life’ (so at least now he’s referring to it as a claim, which is an improvement – at the end of the last chapter, he was referring to the resurrection without any acknowledgement of the possibility that it might not have actually happened). Hannah and Daniel say that they did. Hannah says that they ‘read that part in our Bibles’ and found out that there are four books in the Bible called Gospels that describe what Jesus did.

Jeffries replies that the Gospels were written by ‘men who knew Jesus, or were friends of those who did’ and thus contain eyewitness testimony, which is a very important form of evidence. Jason promptly asks how we know that these are ‘real eyewitness testimonies instead of legends or myths or something?’ Yay, Jason! Exactly the question to be asking here! To which Jeffries’ answer is:

“Great question as usual. We’ll take a whole session to talk about that – but not today. We’re going to start with the evidence we have and see if it holds up on its own. If it does, then we will check and see if we can trust the testimonies.”

So, hang on… what? Surely the evidence they’re looking at is the testimonies. How the hell can they see if those hold up as evidence before knowing whether they can be trusted in the first place? Surely that’s backwards?

(I do note that Jeffries now doesn’t even seem to be pretending that this supposed police cadet class has been organised as anything other than an evangelical Bible class. ‘We’ll take a whole session to talk about that’, but no sign of him having planned any actual police-related activities for the sessions?)

So, Daniel is asked to make out the list of evidence he found out about the resurrection of Jesus. To which the normal response, I’d have thought – bearing in mind this is a child who’s supposedly read the resurrection accounts for the first time – would at best be a slightly confused list of semi-remembered appearance reports (“Well, Matthew said this, and then Mark said this… wait, was it the other way round?”) Since Wallace’s main aim is apologetics rather than realism, we instead get what seems to be a simplified version of Habermas’ minimal facts approach:

  1. Jesus died on a cross and was buried.
  2. Jesus’s tomb was found empty. His body could not be found.
  3. Jesus’s disciples said they saw Jesus – alive (resurrected).

Anyway, Jeffries adds one item:

4. Jesus’s disciples were so committed to their testimony that they were willing to die for it. They never changed their story.

No queries this time from Jason as to how we know this; maybe he’s got the message that questions like that are just going to be brushed aside with a ‘great question, but we’ll put it on a ‘Deal With At Unspecified Later Time’ mental list and just proceed as though we can assume this point is true’.

But… that said, I am actually going to give Jeffries at least the first part of this point. While the actual martyrdom stories of the disciples are based on pretty shaky evidence, the fact does remain that, in Rome at that time, being a Messianic claimant or a follower of a Messianic claimant could be seen as insurrection against Rome. After all, the Messiah was meant to be a Jewish king who would rule over an emancipated Jewish people whose enemies had been roundly defeated and kicked out – fighting talk, as far as the Romans were concerned. Going round publicly preaching that you followed a Messianic claimant who had already been tried and executed for sedition against the Romans? In that time and place, that was a pretty good way to get yourself into nasty trouble with the law and, yes, potentially executed. The fact that the disciples were willing to do this meant that, whether or not they actually did end up dying for their testimony, they were clearly willing to – either that, or they had so much faith in the rightness of their cause that they believed God would protect them. Either way, one point I do agree with was that the disciples themselves weren’t lying; whatever had convinced them, they genuinely believed that Jesus either had risen or would rise.

Back to the list. Time for the cadets to make a list of possible explanations for the evidence, which is written by Jason in consultation with the others. I missed an opportunity at this point, and regret it; I wish I’d asked Katie for her thoughts on possible explanations before giving her the ones the cadets came up with, as it would have been interesting to see what, if anything, she thought of. Anyway, the cadets came up with – surprise, surprise – pretty much the list that Christian apologists usually come up with at this point so that they can debunk it, although it’s been appropriately simplified for the target age group:

  1. Jesus didn’t really die – He fainted, woke up, and walked away.
  2. The disciples were so upset about Jesus dying that they imagined they saw Him alive.
  3. The disciples stole the body of Jesus and lied about the resurrection.
  4. The story of the resurrection was added on many years later as the story of Jesus became a legendary fairy tale.

“With a capital H for some not-good reason,” Katie commented, indicating the ‘He’ and ‘Him’.

Good catch, daughter mine. Why would a skeptic non-Christian character be capitalising Jesus’s pronouns?

Well, yes, obviously the answer is that Wallace forgot this list was being written by a skeptic non-Christian character and wrote the pronouns the way he himself normally would. But I amused myself by coming up with an in-story reason; namely, that Jason is a plant. He’s secretly an evangelical Christian from Jeffries’ church and Jeffries has asked him to attend the course and pretend to be a skeptic so that he can steer the whole course into becoming an evangelising group. Think about it; although this supposed police academy course has in actual fact effectively been an evangelising Christian course from the minute Jeffries had an opening to steer it onto that track, it was Jason (by bringing up the subject of his churchgoing neighbours) who gave him that opening in the first place. If Jason hadn’t happened to ask that question, what on earth would Jeffries have actually taught them for the course, since he seems to have no actual police-related experiences prepared for them at all? If Jason’s a plant, then that wouldn’t be a concern; Jeffries would have been able to plan all this. I’m onto you, Jeffries and Jason.

Anyway, that’s the list Jason comes up with. Whereupon Jeffries adds ‘5. Jesus rose from the dead.’ because they ‘need to be fair and include every possible explanation’. Hoooooold on a second. Just a few pages back, Jeffries was telling us:

“…We’re trying to separate what’s most reasonable from all the stuff that’s just possible….Remember, many explanations may be possible, but not every explanation is reasonable. For example, it’s possible that little ‘tool-shed gremlins’ crafted the board to make it look old, but that’s not reasonable.”

So what happened to all that “it’s possible but it’s not reasonable” stuff, Jeffries? His/Wallace’s Christian faith happened, is what happened. Sorry, Jeffries/Wallace, but if you get to be skeptical about theoretical tool-shed gremlins, why don’t non-believers get to be skeptical about people rising from the dead?

(To be fair, I suppose one could reasonably argue that nobody is seriously putting forward the existence of skateboard-aging toolshed gremlins as a claim or as an explanation for anything, whereas there were at least many of Jesus’s followers who genuinely believed him to have risen from the dead. Trouble is, that isn’t actually much of a criterion for moving something from the ‘not reasonable’ to the ‘reasonable’ category of explanation. Many people genuinely believe in ghosts and other paranormal phenomena; do we have to include those as possible explanations for unexplained occurrences in order to be fair?)

This seems to be plenty for one post, and it’s about time I posted this instalment anyway. Discussion of the cadets’, Katie’s, and my reaction to the list will therefore be left to a subsequent post. <chirpy Stampycat tone> Byeeeee!

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review – Chapter Two, Part One

My nine-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are teaming up to review children’s apologetics book Cold Case Christianity For Kids, by J. Warner Wallace. The introduction to the series is here; posts in the series are being linked up there as I go along.

I originally planned to review one chapter per post, but that’s leading to impossibly long and unwieldy posts that are taking forever to write and that are probably a lot longer than anyone wants to read, so it makes more sense to split them into parts. This post will cover the first part of Chapter Two, in which we learn more about the skateboard.

 

Chapter Two: Learn How to Infer: Learn How Detectives Find the Truth

At the beginning of Chapter Two, the children examine the skateboard to see what they can learn from it. Jeffries shows them how detectives wear gloves to examine things in detail without contaminating them, and how to make lists of ‘evidence’ and ‘explanations’, which is all pretty cool – at least they’re learning something about police procedure. From the evidence gleaned, it looks as though the skateboard has been in there for at least nine years (dated from a sticker on it that has the old name of their school). They conclude that it’s an old skateboard, and Jeffries makes this statement of note:

“Remember, many explanations may be possible, but not every explanation is reasonable. For example, it’s possible that little ‘toolshed gremlins’ crafted the board to make it look old, but that’s not reasonable.”

Well said, Jeffries/Wallace! I hope Wallace makes this point forcibly to Young-Earth Creationists whenever he gets the opportunity. (Um… nope. Looks like he’s all conciliatory and ‘well, there’s probably some truth to every viewpoint’ about it.)

Two side points that struck me regarding the skateboard description:

  1. We learn that Daniel found this skateboard ‘hidden in a dark corner of the shed’. This, remember, is the shed at school, which seems to be where the custodian keeps stuff; it was described in the previous chapter as having rusty tools in it. Why on earth was a child allowed to go poking about in dark corners of this shed? That doesn’t sound safe to me at all. That custodian should be on the carpet for irresponsible behaviour. (Wait – maybe that’s why Daniel was allowed to take the skateboard! Maybe the custodian left the shed unlocked when it was supposed to be locked, and let Daniel take the skateboard in return for staying quiet about it!)
  2. The skateboard has a sticker on with the school name, but (I think this is one place where it’s reasonable to assume from silence) no sticker with the owner’s name. As a parent, I can tell you that this sounds odd; you are not going to go to the trouble of labelling your child’s stuff just to narrow it down to the school rather than the child, and you are not going to buy stickers that have your child’s school on them but not the name. I’d immediately take this as evidence that the skateboard was some sort of school equipment and that they should be talking to the school office to see whether there’s a record of such a thing. Maybe that’s going to get covered later.

Anyway, in the midst of all this we also have another of those CSI Assignment insert boxes, this one telling us to look up 1 Corinthians 2:14 – 16 and asking us what we think Paul is talking about when he describes the ‘natural man’. Since the first few translations I checked didn’t even use the term ‘natural man’ and Katie was getting pretty bored with me going through checking translations, this one was a total non-starter.

(I have finally sorted out which translation Wallace was using; I took the fill-in-the-blank quote he gave us in Chapter 1, stuck the bit we had into Google, and got it from BibleHub. He’s using the NIV. Hooray! But what on earth was the deal with not telling us this? Have I missed something obvious in the book where it tells us which translation it is? I simply cannot see it. )

Somewhere in all this, according to my notes, Katie and I got into a discussion about miracles. Can’t for the life of me work out how this fitted into the text of this chapter; we’d probably started talking about the last chapter. In any case, here it is:

(Me): How do you know miracles can’t happen?

(Katie): I’ve never seen one.

(Me): Well, there are lots of things you’ve never seen, like Australia, that are still real.

(Katie): No. But… have you ever seen one? Has Granny Constance ever seen one? Has anyone you know ever seen one? So, most people probably haven’t seen one, and some people definitely haven’t… if it’s that rare, it doesn’t seem like it could ever happen. Unless that lamp starts flying around, I think it’s pretty unlikely.

 

This seems like a good place to break, as it finishes the section about the skateboard. In the next part, we’ll be back to Jeffries evangelising. Although, fortunately, the smirking seems to have stopped.

 

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review – Chapter 1

My nine-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are teaming up to review children’s apologetics book Cold Case Christianity For Kids, by J. Warner Wallace. The introduction to the series is here; posts in the series will also be linked up there as I go along.

I’m going to do these reviews by reading each chapter to Katie and making notes of what she says as I go along, then using these to reconstruct our discussion as best I can in the blogpost. The usual demands of a busy life mean that it’s now a few weeks since I made the initial notes on this chapter, so goodness knows how this will come out; I did type up Katie’s main comments as close to verbatim as I could manage, so the quotes from her should be fairly accurate, but I didn’t type up my part of the conversation, so this reconstruction does involve a certain degree of poetic licence.

 

Chapter One: Don’t Be a “Know-It-All”: Start Every Investigation Like a Detective!

At the start of this chapter, Daniel has found a skateboard in the school shed, which the school custodian (I guess that’s what we would call the caretaker?) tells him he can have. (We find out in the next chapter it’s been there for some years, so this isn’t as cavalier as it sounds.) Daniel assumes it belongs to a friend of his who likes skateboards, which is Jeffries’ cue to jump in and tell them* that lesson one is ‘don’t be a know-it-all’ and that they shouldn’t assume things – they need to gather the evidence first. ‘To be a good cold-case detective, you can’t start with your mind already made up’, he tells them.

*The book is still written in second person, so technically this should be ‘tell you… that you shouldn’t assume things’, etc. But writing that way is just too weird, so I’ll stick to third person for this review.

Also, Jeffries has his ‘signature smirk forming on his face’ when he starts this conversation. What is it with Jeffries and smirking?  Why is Wallace writing him this way? This is supposed to be a tribute to Wallace’s much-respected former mentor; these mentions of smirking just make Jeffries sound so unpleasant. Does Wallace not know what the word ‘smirk’ actually means? Anyway, I shall start referring to him as ‘Smirking Jeffries’.

So, Smirking Jeffries asks for another example of starting with your mind already made up, aaaaand here we go… a boy called Jason gives the example of his next-door neighbours (neighbors, I guess, but sod it, I’m British and I’m doing British spelling) who invited his family to church and who think that Jesus did miracles/came back from the dead, which Jason just doesn’t believe, so aren’t they being ‘know-it-alls’ by ‘assuming all that stuff about Jesus is true’?

Ohhhh, Jason. Oh, sweetie. What have you started there, you?

So, surprise, surprise… Smirking Jeffries is straight onto that one. He tells him that he ‘might have it backwards’. The story continues:

“How do you know they’re assuming it’s true? What if they’ve decided it’s true because of the facts?” Then Jeffries points out, “Aren’t you being a ‘know-it-all’ by assuming all that stuff about Jesus isn’t true?”

“Now they’re jumping to conclusions,” my daughter declared of Jeffries/Wallace, homing straight in on the inconsistency like an inconsistency-seeking missile.

I agreed that this might be true, but mentioned in fairness that a lot of Christians (like Wallace himself) do reach their conclusion because they genuinely feel it’s what the evidence supports. “They’re probably over-exaggerating,” Katie declared. “People usually do over-exaggerate. My side… their side.” She flipped each of her hands outwards in turn to indicate. “So I might say ‘Well, this is probably true but I don’t think this is’, but a Christian might say that it’s all really likely.”

“But remember there can be bias on both sides,” I felt obliged to warn her. We restarted:

So, Jason asks whether ‘this Jesus stuff’ couldn’t just be made up, and Smirking Jeffries tells him:

“We need more information before we make any judgements on the subject. Wouldn’t you agree? We don’t want to start with our minds made up,” adds Jeffries.

And, to underline the importance of not starting with your mind made up, very nearly the next thing we get is another of those little grey ‘CSI Assignment’ insert boxes saying this:

God has given us more than enough evidence to know He exists. Read Romans 1:18-20. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been _________, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

Now read Romans 1:21-23. So why do you think some people still refuse see the evidence?

Nothing teaches children to look at all the evidence like giving them flat statements to accept with no prompt to consider whether they’re actually true or not. Right?

Anyway, I went back to the BibleGateway site and had another fruitless attempt to figure out what translation Wallace was using, which somewhat put the kibosh on the fill-in-the-blank question. I ended up using the International Children’s Bible, so that at least it would be reasonably straightforward for Katie to understand. The verses Wallace was sending us to, it turned out, are a doozy of a passage about how God is angry with people for all being evil and for not believing in him. Yup, exactly the message I want to be drumming into my children, so thank you for that one, Wallace. Really, the passage declares, it’s so obvious that God exists that it’s totally unreasonable that people aren’t believing in and giving thanks to him.

“This is all a bit weird,” Katie told me. “People say that people don’t thank God – but what proof do we have that a god even exists? And also I think it’s a bit sexist – they always talk about God, but Christianity never says things were made by a goddess. Why couldn’t they be a married couple, a god and a goddess, sharing everything? That would be fair. How do you know God has made everything? That just drives me round the bend. People saying this stuff with no proof whatsoever. The assignments are kind of boring, I must say.”

The last part of the passage claims that people who don’t believe in God are fools. I asked Katie how she felt about that.

“I don’t believe in God, and I’m one of the cleverest people in my class,” Katie retorted. “So take that, computer-written script of some sort that started off as a book that I’ve never read because it’s boring!”

I pushed a little harder, curious as to how she’d react to apologist arguments. What about the claim that we could see God’s actions in the world and therefore it was silly not to believe in him?

“Hey,” she declared, “it’s silly not to believe there are flying pink elephants, because look at all the destruction they’ve caused! But that doesn’t make them real!”

I did feel I had to raise the obvious objection to that one: “But we can see there aren’t any pink elephants flying through the sky. Let’s face it, they’d be pretty noticeable.”

“So? They might be very shy pink elephants, and,” she leaned in towards me for emphasis, “I never stated the size.”

I went back to the question at the end of the insert box; ‘So why do you think some people still refuse see the evidence?’ [sic]. It’s rather an odd question for Wallace to have put in at this point in the book; he hasn’t yet given us any evidence, but he’s talking as though he has. From the cite of the Romans passage, it looks as though the evidence he’s referring to is meant to be the existence of the universe. I asked Katie why she thinks some people don’t see this as evidence for believing in God.

“Well, I think it’s because we’ve got no proof it was made by God.”

“So how do you think the universe came into existence?” I asked her, curious to see what she’d say. She pulled the computer towards her and typed in ‘SIENCE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’

We went back to the story (well, I told her how to spell ‘science’ and then we went back to the story). Smirking Jeffries tells Jason it’s a great question and he’s glad Jason brought it up (yeah, I bet he is):

“As a matter of fact, it’s a lot like a cold case. It’s a mystery we can investigate, just like the Case of Jesus – or the Case of the Mysterious Skateboard. Why do some people think the Jesus stories aren’t true?”

Nitpick alert – surely this is the Case of Jesus, if you’re going to call it the Case of Something? I’m puzzled as to how it’s ‘just like’ the Case of Jesus. Think that was a mistake. Anyway, Jason answers Smirking Jeffries’ question by saying that Jesus does miracles ‘and that’s impossible’. SJ asks him if he’s sure about that, and then goes on to talk about the origin of the universe:

“I mean every ‘natural’ thing – all space, time, and matter – came from nothing. That means whatever caused our ‘natural’ universe was something other than natural.”

[… a bit more about the skateboard] “But we know skateboards can’t create themselves, and space, time, and matter can’t create themselves either. So whatever creates the universe must be something other than space, time, or matter.[…]”

So, SJ tells the students that something or someone must have created the universe. And, of course, he’s steering them towards this being someone. A creator.

“You are talking about God, right?” Daniel offers.

“Sure,” says Jeffries. “But for today, let’s just agree to keep an open mind and be ready to listen and learn.[…]”

Good advice, Jeffries, so let’s start by remaining open to the possibility that the universe might have been created by a natural process we don’t as yet know about, or possibly even some type of creator that wouldn’t at all match the mental image it’s now fairly obvious SJ has of a god.

Anyway, the point SJ is trying to make here is about miracles; his argument is that if a being exists who can create the universe from nothing, then surely that being should be able to suspend the natural laws of said universe from time to time; i.e., do miracles. I asked Katie what she thought of that idea.

“I suppose so,” she said thoughtfully. “But… well, I’m really good at imagination. That’s what I’m good at. But I’m not so good at other things. So maybe he created the universe, because creating things out of nothing is what he’s good at, but he’s not so good at, say, sports. Or doing other miracles.”

Very interesting point, I thought. Even if we did someday prove that the universe was deliberately created, that would still not mean that we could assume anything else about the abilities (or motives, for that matter) of the creator. It’s a point I wrote about on my previous atheist blog, here.

Anyway, to summarise Wallace’s line of argument here:

  1. If someone/something could create the universe, then that being could (probably) also do miracles.
  2. Therefore, we shouldn’t let the miracle stories put us off the Jesus story.

Interestingly, this is exactly how I used to feel on the subject; when I was investigating Christianity myself, I never saw the miracle accounts as a reason to discount the stories in the Bible. (There were, as I discovered, plenty of other reasons, but that’s another blog series for another day.) However, what I didn’t really realise or take into account back then was the extent to which human beings throughout history have been willing to believe unquestioningly in miracle claims. There were plenty of non-Christian examples of this in the time and area where Christianity first originated, and most of us would be perfectly OK with dismissing those miracle stories as rumours and legends.

So… sure, it’s theoretically possible that any given miracle story we might come across, including the ones in Christianity, might turn out to be the exception that is actually genuine. It’s just that any given miracle story is colossally, overwhelmingly more likely to have a natural explanation. That’s why I now think the appropriate response to any miracle story is skepticism rather than open-mindedness.

Anyway, this seems to be the end of the session for this week. SJ tells the children to ‘keep an open mind and be ready to listen and learn… don’t assume the story about Jesus is impossible’ and sets them the assignment of seeing what they can learn both about the skateboard and about Jesus. ‘Start with the biggest miracle of all: His resurrection’ he advises them, his openmindedness apparently not extending to phrasing such as ‘claims about the resurrection’ or ‘his alleged resurrection’. We also get another grey insert box, this one about open-mindedness: ‘Don’t allow your doubt to stand in the way of the truth, and don’t start an investigation assuming you already know the answer. Be open to following the evidence wherever it might lead.’ This is great advice, but it is also so at odds with the statements we’re given in other insert boxes. All this reads as though Wallace wants the readers to believe they’re making a genuinely open-minded examination… while all the time he’s steering us towards the conclusion he’s already drawn.

 

Katie’s thoughts

Katie was enjoying the read and review so far: “It’s quite entrancing,” she told me. “Is that the right word?” We talked it over and agreed that ‘gripping’ would probably work better. However, she was a bit fatalistic about the possibility of drawing any final conclusions from debates like these. “I don’t know why, but I feel like there is no true answer, because people are born and they just end up thinking their way, because they just do. Their DNA says that, and that seems to be pretty much it. So they’re going to over-exaggerate evidence on their side and… under-exaggerate? Is that a word? Anyway, they’re going to over-exaggerate evidence even if they’re not trying to.”

 

My thoughts

Before reading this book, I’d vaguely assumed it would take the same sort of format as what I’d seen of Wallace’s Cold Case Christianity; illustrative anecdotes interspersed with his arguments. In fact, of course, he’s done something different; written it as a fictional story about children investigating Christianity as part of their police academy cadet classes. Under the guidance of a police officer who’s clearly trying to steer them towards Christianity. With no indication that any other activities have been planned for said classes. (I mean, there’s been nothing in the way of “This week I was going to show you how we fingerprint suspects, but what would you think of giving that a miss and talking about this instead?”)

The result of this in practice is that Wallace has actually written a story about a police department running a Christian evangelising group and falsely advertising it to the children as a police academy class.

In addition to all the ethical questions this raises (including the uniform! The children supposedly have new cadet uniforms for this course! Who paid for these? Their parents? Did they know their money was actually going on outfitting their children for a Christian evangelising group operating under false pretenses?) I’m wondering, here, about Alan Jeffries. The real Alan Jeffries, that is; Wallace’s former colleague on which Smirking Jeffries is explicitly based. While Wallace clearly meant this as a tribute to a mentor he greatly admired, it does mean that the fictionalised version of Jeffries he has written is portrayed as

a) following a particular belief system which not everyone follows and to which some people do have vehement objections, and

b) using sneaky, unethical, and I suspect actually illegal tactics in an attempt to convert others to this belief system.

And, since it seems a fair bet that Wallace doesn’t see any problem at all with any of this part of the storyline…. I’m just hoping that Wallace did actually think to check all this with the real Jeffries in advance and make sure Jeffries was OK with it. Because if anyone tried this on me, then, while I would appreciate the thought and the knowledge that I’d made this much of a long-term impact on them, I also wouldn’t be too happy about being portrayed that way. Maybe Jeffries is fine with it – I don’t want to make assumptions – but I hope that’s the case and I hope Wallace did check.

Cold Case Christianity For Kids Review, with actual kid. Introduction.

For a long time now, I’ve been meaning to do a chapter-by-chapter book review and discussion, following in the footsteps of such illustrious bloggers as Libby Ann, Ana Mardoll, Jenny Trout, and many others. I had a couple of possible books in mind, and indeed still have them in mind, but then… I saw that J. Warner Wallace’s Cold Case Christianity For Kids was available pretty cheaply on Kindle, and had a sudden brainwave. Since I happen to have a non-Christian child with an interest in the whole idea of doing reviews of stuff, why not go through it and write a review together with her?

I wasn’t sure how Katie would feel about the idea, but in fact she jumped at it and decided we should do this as her bedtime story each night. (Which may commit me to a rather faster schedule of typing up posts than I actually have a hope of managing. Oh, well. Bridge, cross, when, etc.) “It’ll probably make me change my mind about some things,” she told me, “but probably not about the main thing.”

I decided that I’d make my notes on a file on my laptop word processor as we went through. This has the advantage of speed (my typing’s a lot faster than my writing) but the drawback that Katie leans in and types whatever random things take her fancy, so my notes on her thoughts are somewhat interspersed with random interjections such as ‘Mooo! Sorry, unexpected cow interruption’ or ‘Wednesdays are explosive’. (My daughter has a somewhat surrealist turn of mind.)

“This review,” I told her, “is going to end up sounding like that time we were at your Auntie Ruth’s wedding and the rabbi was starting to say “So, here is the explanation of why it’s a Jewish custom for the groom to smash a glass with his heel…” and you randomly shouted out “Rory the racing car!”

She giggled at that one. “What was wrong with me?”

“Well, you were two and a half at the time. So fair enough. But maybe we could aim for something a bit more serious here…”

So, I’m planning to filter out those interjections before writing up the blog posts, but, you never know, if the primary subject matter gets boring…

Anyway, since not much happens in the book’s introduction, I’ll start out by using this post to fill in some background.

 

Dramatis Personae (OK, that is actually meant to refer to a book’s characters so I’m totally misusing it here. Dramatis Personae for this blog series, I mean.)

J. Warner Wallace

J. Warner Wallace, the author of this book, is a detective who became famous for applying investigative principles to Christianity, deciding it was all true and he should convert, and writing several books about it why he thinks this. These are called the ‘Cold Case Christianity’ series, since he aimed to crack the what-happened-to-Jesus mystery in the same way he cracks cold cases at work. He also has a blog, in case you want to read more.

Katie

My daughter is nearly ten, an intense, imaginative live wire of a child who loves art, computer games, maths, and science, and has recently adopted a bunch of teasels and stuck eyes on them to turn them into pets.

I’ve never tried to dictate the religious beliefs of either of my children, believing that it’s something they need to decide for themselves; I tell them my beliefs when the subject comes up, but also tell them that other people have different beliefs. Katie in fact told me shortly before she turned six that she didn’t believe in God. In more recent years, she moved on to a rather interesting and complex belief system that involved God being an evil god from an alternate universe who had taken this universe over; all this praying people did, she believed, was only encouraging him and really ought to be stopped. It was an intriguing and quite well worked-out belief system, but, when I asked for an update prior to starting this review, I found out she’d moved back to atheism again.

“Just stuff,” she told me, when I inquired as to what had changed her mind. “Sometimes I might want an Oreo for pudding and then change my mind and want something else. Sometimes I just change my mind about stuff.”

I asked her again the following day, and got a more substantive response: “Science explains things better,” she told me (though without being able to specify any examples). “And God doesn’t seem very nice. For one thing, he’s anti-gay. If Christians are wrong about him being so amazing, there’s more chance they’re wrong about the rest of that malarkey. I don’t know what malarkey means, actually – what does it mean? Meh. Whatever.”

Me

Longstanding atheist/general skeptic. I do actually have one thing in common with J. Warner Wallace in that I also spent a lot of time investigating Christianity’s claims; from the fact that I’m here on this site, you can probably deduce that I came to a different conclusion from him. And, yes, I totally want to write a series of posts on that investigation at some point. Someday I will have time. Someday…

At some point I’m sure I’ll get round to figuring out how to put up my sidebar bio, but since I haven’t done that yet I’ll add here that I’m also a British GP, mother of two, and bookworm.

 

OK, that’s us. On to the book’s introduction, which is in two parts: ‘A Quick Hello’, and ‘Wanted: A Few Good Detectives’. All that’s happening at this point is the setting up of the story, so nothing too unmissably thrilling. If Katie did make comments on these bits, I didn’t write them down and can’t remember them, so for this bit it’s just the summary and my thoughts.

A Quick Hello

J. Warner Wallace introduces himself as a police detective specialising in ‘cold cases’, which he defines for the reader. We also learn the following pieces of information about his background:

  • As a boy, wanting to become a policeman like his dad, he learned a lot from attending the Police Explorer Academy (which he doesn’t describe, but it seems fair to assume it’s some sort of programme for children interested in learning more about police work).
  • As a newly-qualified police officer, he was mentored by a senior officer called Alan Jeffries, whom he came to admire and respect greatly.
  • Later on, he used his detective skills to investigate the story of Jesus, and concluded that ‘the evidence was overwhelming’ and that the Biblical accounts were true.

His aim here, apparently, is to combine all three of the above for this book; the readers will ‘enter the Detective Cadet Academy’, be trained by Alan Jeffries, and, as well as learning how to be good detectives, will learn ‘how to investigate the case for Jesus’. Also, the reader’s family can get involved and do this with them (so Katie and I are obviously on the right track here). Also, there’s a webpage.

Wanted – A Few Good Detectives

This is the introductory part of the story proper, which is told in second person present tense, like those ‘choose your own adventure’ books (though without all the ‘if you choose to fight the dragon, go to page 75’ bits).

We’re told that the local police department is starting a new detective training academy for student cadets (i.e. schoolchildren) which ‘you’ and ‘your friends, Daniel and Hannah’ jump at the chance of attending. At the first session, you get introduced to Alan Jeffries, who is going to be running the sessions, which apparently consist of these three and ‘some students from other schools in the area’. Jeffries gets impatient when you want to look at the exciting stuff actually going on in the police station, because apparently you’re all meant to spend the time sitting in the briefing room hearing about police work rather than getting to see any, or something. Which… I have to say doesn’t sound like a wildly successful and well-planned police academy cadet course to me, but what do I know.

So, Jeffries shows you through to the briefing room and asks what part of investigation interests the cadets most, and Daniel eagerly replies that he’s interested in gadgets/high-tech stuff he’s seen in movies, and asks if Jeffries can show them some of that stuff. Jeffries smirks at Daniel… wait, what the hell? Smirks? That is just such an unpleasant way to treat someone. Is this a ‘I do not think that word means what you think it means’ moment on Wallace’s part, or did he seriously mean to portray Jeffries as acting like a git?

Anyway, Jeffries tells Daniel that actually they solve most cases by ‘learning how to think’, because ‘[t]he brain is more reliable’ than gadgets/computers. Wait, what? Brains are actually not that reliable. Of course, they do have the huge advantage of being able to put facts together into patterns in a way that computers and gadgets can’t, but surely the data that the police get from the high-tech stuff is of crucial importance in giving their brains as many facts as possible to work on? I get that this is all a set-up for the whole ‘you’re going to use your brain to investigate Christianity’, but is it actually accurate as a description of what works for solving crimes?

Anyway, it seems the answer to Daniel’s excited request to be allowed to see high-tech police stuff is, in effect, a ‘no’. Poor Daniel. I’m not too impressed with this police cadet course so far, but nonetheless we are assured that ‘[y]ou can hardly wait for the next session!’ Maybe because almost nothing seems to have happened in this one and you feel it can only get better?

The one other thing to mention about this section is that we get an insert titled ‘CSI Assignment’, apparently the first of several such repeated through the book, in which the reader has to fill in blanks in Bible verses. Unfortunately Wallace doesn’t, as far as I can see, tell us anywhere which translation he’s using, which can be kind of a problem when you’re filling in blanks. Anyway, this assignment says:

God also wants you to use your brain to investigate the truth. Read Matthew 22:37-38. God tells us to love Him with all our heart, our soul, and our _______.

Read 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21. God tells us to examine everything _________.

So, as long as you assure children that they’re supposed to investigate the truth, it’s fine to declare the things you’re supposed to be proving as though they’re proved facts. Something tells me that Wallace didn’t spot the irony in that one.

Anyway, determined to do the thing properly, I found the BibleGateway site and looked up those verses for Katie to do the fill-in-the-blank thing (for those verses, the default translations are close enough to the one Wallace was using that it was easily doable). And that’s it for the introduction. I’ll link further chapter reviews back here as I do them.

Chapter reviews – links

Chapter One: Don’t Be a “Know-It-All”: Start Every Investigation Like a Detective!

Chapter Two: Learn How To Infer: Learn How Detectives Find The Truth! Part 1

Chapter Two: Part 2

 

Why I’m not a believer – what about prayers and personal experience?

This is the fourth in a short series of posts I’m writing about the subject of why, after investigating reasons for theism, I ultimately became a non-believer.

For background: These investigations were in my childhood/teenage years. I grew up in a non-religious household, but was intensely interested in the whole subject from an early age. I regarded the whole question of whether or not there was a God, and, if so, what religion he wanted us to follow, as being an extremely important one; so I put a lot of time into reading and thinking seriously about the subject. These are, as best as I can remember after a thirty-year gap, my reactions at the time to the arguments I found in my reading.

I don’t know whether anyone’s been following this mini-series of posts (probably not, given how long it’s taken me to write it), but anyone who has read through the post series to date may well be wondering why there was even a question in my mind at this point about becoming a non-believer. So far, I’ve written three posts about different arguments for the existence of a god that I came across in my reading, and the overarching theme of all three seems to have been me looking blankly at the argument wondering why on earth this was meant to be even remotely convincing. Why did it take me so long to get to the point of officially declaring myself an atheist, or at least an agnostic?
Well, part of it was the difficulty of proving a negative; I couldn’t prove God didn’t exist, and hadn’t yet realised that that wasn’t in itself an automatic reason for having to take the possibility of his existence seriously without positive evidence for same. And a lot of it was an ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ effect; so many people seemed so convinced that God existed that I didn’t feel able to dismiss the possibility just like that. Surely, if I kept reading and looking, I would find a more convincing argument one way or the other? Around the next corner? In the next book on the shelf on the religious section in one of the local libraries? But on top of that, there was still one category of evidence that… well, that still wasn’t conclusive, but that did seem to have more to it than the various ineffective arguments I was reading. This was the fact that so many people reported personal experiences of psychologically encountering God, often in compelling and life-changing ways.
As I said, I didn’t find this conclusive. There seemed to be other plausible explanations; after all, if someone really believed God was speaking to them or that God loved them, surely that could lead to the kinds of experiences of bliss and comfort and changed lives that I was reading about. Still, could this be enough to account for the experiences I was reading about? (This wasn’t a rhetorical question; I genuinely wanted to know the answer.)
I tried praying myself, since it seemed the obvious thing to try; if God did exist, this would give him the best chance to let me know directly. Not frenzied wordy prayers, just time in which I did my best to focus my mind on God and open myself to whatever He might be trying to tell me. And, when I did, I certainly noticed something – an inner sense of mental quiet, an awareness of my obligations. I figured that could indeed be God taking the first steps to commune with me. The trouble was, it also seemed the kind of effect that might plausibly be caused by me calming my mind and thinking I was communing with the divine. So which was it? And did the fact that I was even thinking that mean that I was overanalysing it and talking myself out of a genuine relationship with God like the dwarves in C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle? Or did it just mean that I was exercising appropriate caution? After all, surely there was a risk that if I was too ready to believe I might talk myself into believing I was communing with God when I wasn’t, in much the same way as I’d managed to convince myself at the age of twelve that our house was probably haunted because I thought I could feel a presence there when I thought about it.
I simply didn’t know. This was such an important subject; surely it was incumbent on me to work out what the answer was! But I only found myself getting more confused. One thing was for sure; it all seemed a lot less clear-cut than the authors I was reading on the subject seemed to think.

And so my teenage years went on…

Thoughts on the ‘Proselytising to Children’ Issue

I recently read a post by Hemant Mehta over at Patheos (which I initially took to be recent but which was actually posted a year ago; I guess there must have been some recent commentary on it moving it temporarily into the ‘now trending’ section) titled An Atheist Dad Left His Kids with a Relative… Who Used the Opportunity to Proselytize. What Should He Do? The title is fairly self-explanatory, although it turns out that what went on was above and beyond even proselytizing:

The Pastor and my sister in-law told my girls “They needed to accept Jesus as their master, and maybe if they prayed hard enough god would change their dad’s mind and he wouldn’t burn in hell.” Who would tell A 6 & 8 year old that shit??

Someone manipulative, emotionally abusive, and devoid of appropriate understanding of boundaries, that’s who. Happy to clear that up for anyone who was wondering. Have a nice day.

Anyway, while I hope it’s obvious to everyone reading that that approach (which also included the guilty parties trying to tell the children to keep the meeting a secret – guys, when you’re using a line that makes you sound like a child molester, it might just be a sign that you need to totally rethink your attitude) is so far beyond the pale that they don’t have ‘pale’ in their colour range, this did get me thinking more generally about the issue. What would I do if someone wanted to invite my children to a church service/talk to them about Jesus? Obviously, if there were any alarm bells to make me think that the person was likely to pull this kind of manipulative crap, then not a chance, sunshine – but suppose I didn’t have any reason to fear that this was going to be the case?

The answer’s simple; I’d leave it up to my children. If they were invited to a church or Sunday school session, I’d pass on the invite and let them decide. If someone wanted to preach to them, I’d check with them whether they were OK with listening and respect their decision. If they did decide to attend the session/listen to the spiel, I’d want to stick around to check what they were hearing and chip in with my two cents on the matter, but I wouldn’t stop them from hearing it. (Unless, of course, it did veer into the kind of abusive territory described above. Not staying quiet for that, thank you.)

By the way, I guarantee you that at this point in time, neither of them would be interested. My son sees life as divided into things which involve electronics in some way, and the boring bits. He reluctantly accepts that life intermittently forces him to endure the latter for periods of time between playing/talking about/watching YouTube videos about computer/console games, but he doesn’t have to like it and he doesn’t like it. Anyone trying to convert him would probably find themselves sitting through one of his autistic-fervour monologue accounts of every detail of every level of whatever game he’s currently into. My daughter has a more normal range of interests, but actively dislikes Christianity and religion. That, I swear, wasn’t me, and I’m not sure how she even reached that conclusion; but, there you are, she wants nothing to do with anything of that ilk, and anyone wanting to talk to her about Jesus would likely get short shrift.

But if they change their minds in the future and do want to accept any offers of proselytising sessions, or even seek the information out themselves, that’s fine by me. I’ll let them know my views, but I won’t try to stop them looking for different ones.

The Wyndham Fallacy

Hi again! Sorry for my long absence! I had a pretty busy week followed by a week of being absolutely wiped out by a horrendous cold, so I haven’t had a lot of energy for posting.

I came across another Answers in Genesis post that I thought was worth a mention (via the same route as before; a post on Libby Anne’s Love, Joy, Feminism blog. So hat tip to her once again.) This one was written by someone called Avery Foley and is called Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen? The answer, in case you were wondering, is apparently because anyone who’s a Christian eventually gets to go to Heaven for all eternity. So, uh, that’s quite all right then and glad we cleared that up. Anyway, here’s the bit that I (like Libby Anne) wanted to comment on:

Evolution supposedly progresses by the death of the less fit and the reproduction of the most fit. So, if this the case, why should we help the old, sick, infirm, and disabled? Shouldn’t they be eliminated as less fit? After all, in the world of evolution the strong survive, and tough for you if you’re born weak or less fit. According to an evolutionist’s own worldview, how can death, disease, suffering, cancer, and disabilities really be “bad”? In nature, the weak and ill die off and the strong survive, passing on their good genes to the next generation—this is how evolution supposedly progresses. Death and weakness from disease and mutations is a must for “bad” genes to die out. So by what standard do evolutionists call these things bad? Certainly not by their own standard! To claim a standard for good and bad, they have to borrow from a different worldview—the biblical one—to define what good and bad even are.

Well, first off, I don’t have to borrow from the biblical or any other worldview to say that it’s bad for people to suffer pain or distress or loss of autonomy, and good to take steps to help or prevent situations in which those things happen. Sure, there’s room for plenty of complexities and grey areas and debate around those basics, but I’m still baffled as to why the ‘So how do you even define good or bad without a God, huh? Huh? Huh???‘ question is meant to be such a ‘gotcha’. But what I mostly wanted to comment on here is this bizarre claim that a belief in evolution as a scientific fact somehow requires us to also accept it as a moral imperative.

This is a fallacy that shows up now and again in creationist writings, and it is exactly as logical as saying that, having discovered that gravity causes people to hit the ground when they fall over, we are now morally obligated to push them down. I have for some time thought of this as the Wyndham Fallacy, because it’s rather nicely summed up by a line author John Wyndham wrote in his novel ‘The Kraken Wakes’; the main character tells his wife ‘Darling, if I happen to mention that, as a process, autumn follows summer, it does not follow that I am all for getting a ladder and pulling the leaves off the trees.’

‘The Kraken Wakes’, by the way, is unrelated to evolution and uses that line in a different context. In general, though, it’s in creationist writings about evolution that this fallacy typically shows up. After all, the story creationists believe about how the world got started is one that’s heavily tied in to their morality and their worldview in general; not only does this make it virtually impossible for a creationist to question that version of events (because they so strongly believe it’s morally wrong to believe anything else), but it actually makes it difficult for many creationists to get their head round the fact that beliefs about origin don’t, in fact, automatically have to tie into our moral beliefs, and that the two can be independent.

Or maybe they just push that line as a way of making non-fundamentalists look bad. Why go for accuracy when you can have propaganda?

But either way; no. Yes, in nature the less fit are more likely to die. No, that doesn’t put us under any sort of moral obligation to kill them off. If you think otherwise, I look forward to seeing you at the end of summer with that ladder.

Is it just me, or is this kind of ironic?

The Come Reason apologetics site has a ‘Posts You May Have Missed’ feature where they tweet past posts; hence, a few days ago, I found a post of theirs entitled Beware The Thought Police Against Religion!

This post was written a couple of years ago in response to the decision of Pasadena Health Department to rescind the offer of the job of head of the Public Health Department to Eric Walsh, after finding some rather concerning sermons that Walsh had preached, recorded, and posted on YouTube. Apparently the beliefs Walsh expressed in these sermons included, among others, that Catholicism, gay acceptance, evolution and rap music were all tools of the devil; that single parents were ruining their children; and that condom distribution was only going to increase AIDS rates. (I found that information, by the way, in this article; the Come Reason post on the subject glosses over the content of the sermons somewhat.) It seems that the Pasadena Health Department, on finding these sermons, seriously questioned Walsh’s ability to provide an effective health service. Can’t think why.

Lenny Esposito (the author of the Come Reason post) lamented what he sees as an attack on free speech, rhetorically demanding ‘When did the First Amendment require an asterisk?’ He doesn’t quite seem to have understood the First Amendment; I looked it up (I’m British, so what I knew about it was ‘something something free speech something something something’) and it turns out that what it actually said was that Congress can’t make laws against freedom of speech or religion, not that nobody is allowed to do anything in response to someone’s speech that might have adverse consequences for that person. So, if the First Amendment did have an asterisk, I guess it would have to be something like this:

Congress shall make no law* respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

*Look, we said that Congress shall make no law. Not that nobody is allowed to take any action whatsoever regarding what a person has said. So read the flippin’ thing properly already, and stop making stuff up that isn’t in there.

I may have to fine-tune the legalese a bit on that one.

(Edited to add: For a much more sensible and well-informed comment on the issues, see Kengi’s comment on this post, just below.)

Anyway, that actually wasn’t the main thing I wanted to say about this post. What struck me was this:

Esposito is lamenting the fact that Walsh, and other people in examples he quotes, are suffering adverse consequences for expressing their beliefs. He sees this as an immoral attack on their rights. But this is a Christian apologetics blog. In other words, Esposito is a vocal member of a religion that believes that God will send you to a torturous hell forever for holding the wrong beliefs. And he believes that this is completely good and moral of God.

I have no doubt that Esposito would have some kind of explanation for this inconsistency. (Because God made the universe and gets to do what he wants with it? Because God isn’t really sending people to hell for their beliefs as such, but just set up a system in which the default is ending up in hell and the only way out happens to be to believe particular things, so that’s quite all right then, isn’t it? Because… oh, I don’t know, you think of one.) But it did strike me as pretty ironic.

In the meantime, good for the Pasadena Health Department. I’d also be pretty darned concerned about the kind of unbiased, compassionate, evidence-based health care that someone with those views was capable of providing.