Thursday, September 20, 2007

Does Lee Strobel Believe His Own Malarkey?

Driving home last night, I caught Lee Strobel touting his new DVD version of "The Case for a Creator." on the Bible Answer Man radio program with Hank Hanegraaff. Strobel was bragging about how he interviewed “credentialed scholars” and “cross-examined them with skeptical questions.” Not surprisingly, he found the evidence “overwhelmingly positive” to the existence of a creator for those who are honest enough to analyze it. Of course, virtually all of Strobel’s experts were supplied by an anti-evolution think tank called the Discovery Institute which has no standing whatsoever in the legitimate scientific community. No doubt they scripted the questions they wanted Strobel to ask.

To see how Strobel’s experts stand up when exposed to real scrutiny, I would recommend "Monkey Girl" by Edward Humes. This fascinating book recounts Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District where Judge John E. Jones (a Bush appointee) correctly identified the pseudo-science of intelligent design as a religious doctrine. Most of the Discovery Institute's scientists chickened out by withdrawing as expert witnesses rather than face real cross-examination in open court. The only one with the guts to appear was Michael Behe who was unable to explain why he has never done the research that he thought would convince the skeptical scientific community of the validity of his theory of “irreducible complexity.” The book also describes the persuasive and overwhelming testimony and evidence offered for the scientific theory of evolution by scientists who were not only credentialed, but tenured at leading research universities and published in peer reviewed journals as well.

I have been amusing myself recently by politely pointing out to evangelical bloggers that Strobel’s pretended skepticism is belied by the fact that he only interviews conservative Christian scholars (not counting eighty-three-year-old Alzheimer's sufferer Charles Templeton in "The Case for Faith"). At Confessions of a Recovering Pharisee, Kevin Bussey insisted that Strobel “does a good job of presenting both sides” of the debate about the historical reliability of the New Testament in his new book “The Case for the Real Jesus.” I was curious how he knew that Strobel had done a good job, so I asked him whether he had ever read any books by Bart Ehrman, Dominic Crossan or John Shelby Spong. He responded that he had “no reason to read them” because they “were not reputable.” Obviously, Kevin does not know whether Strobel has fairly presented positions other than his own.

I am not denying that I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to people whose opinions agree with my own, but I always like to check and see what criticisms their opponents might offer. After reading (and enjoying) "Misquoting Jesus" by Bart Ehrman, I searched conservative Christian web sites to find out what they thought of him as a scholar. Contrary to Kevin’s assertion, it turns out that his expertise in scriptural manuscript history and linguistics is acknowledged by many evangelicals although they disagree with the conclusions he draws from the historical record. The nice thing about checking sources like this is that it helps me avoid being made to look stupid in debates.

Evangelical Christians, on the other hand, never seem to feel any need to verify their sources. Before the "Culture Campaign" cut off commenting, I had several discussions about the current thinking of the scientific community on whether homosexuality is a choice. When I cited the American Psychiatric Association's rejection of reparative therapy, one of the bloggers challenged me to look at the work of Dr. Robert Spitzer whose findings, he claimed, were being ignored by the APA. It turned out that Spitzer had interviewed 200 self-proclaimed "ex-homosexuals" who had been referred to him by clinics that practiced reparative therapy. Spitzer concluded that some had successfully changed their sexual orientation. Since Spitzer did not interview anyone who stayed gay, his study had nothing to say about the likelihood of success or the potential harm when the therapy fails. It turned out that other researchers had done so and found that reparative therapy had a high failure rate and often caused harm to those who failed. So it turned out that Spitzer’s research did not give the APA any reason to change its position. The blogger confessed that he really did not remember much about Spitzer's researh (other than his belief that it proved the evangelical position).

When confronted with the fact that their position is not really supported by objective evidence, evangelicals often switch to a claim that both sides of the debate are really just matters of opinion or faith. The blogger who directed me to Dr. Spitzer insisted that he was sure the research that supported the APA was biased. A blogger with whom I was discussing “The Case for Christ” insisted that our whole economy is just a matter of faith. Of course, creationists always claim that scientists’ belief in the theory of evolution is just as much faith as their belief in the book of Genesis. Relativism is supposedly one of the greatest evils promoted by secularism, but evangelicals have no qualms about resorting to it when it suits their purposes.

I have much more respect for Christians like Billy Graham than I could ever have for the likes of Hennigraf and Strobel. When faced with the doubts that his friend and fellow evangelist Charles Templeton developed when studying modern scriptural scholarship, Graham decided to go with faith.

"Chuck, look, I haven't a good enough mind to settle these questions," Graham finally declared. "The finest minds in the world have looked and come down on both sides." Graham concluded that "I don't have the time, the inclination or the set of mind to pursue them. I found that if I say 'The Bible says' and 'God says,' I get results. I have decided I'm not going to wrestle with these questions any longer."
Maybe Graham did not have much intellectual curiosity, but at least he had the intellectual integrity to admit the basis for his beliefs.


  1. The only reason anyone listens to Strobel (and probably why they take his slant with a grain of salt-of-the-eart) is that he claims he used to be an atheist. I don't know if he was or wasn't...maybe I'll read up on that a bit. I devoured his crap when I was Xian. I love having a new set of eyes to look at things through. :)

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  3. As a believer (and pastor in an evangelical church) I find Strobel's stuff pretty weak.
    As for the "Discovery Institute", I've seen a few of their "debates" with athiests and I've got to say that they're pretty bad. It's really bad when they put out a video (which I saw in college) with a debate and they were so very proud of it and it was clear that the evolutionist clearly won the debate.
    As a believer, I am saddened when I see Christians buy into things that they shouldn't because they are from a "Christian" organization. The literalists and the religious right have used this to their own advantage in a horrible and very un-christian way.

  4. Thanks for your input Pastor Gavin.

    I often think that there must be lots of thoughtful evangelical Christians out there who read Strobel's stuff and wince (as I did as a young believer reading Josh McDowell). I suspect that most of them feel that they need to close ranks behind a fellow believer rather than acknowledge the problems with his approach.

  5. The truth is that I don't feel that I need to close ranks around people who I disagree with who identify themselves as Christians. But I do have to pick my battles. And so I have spent more time talking and teaching against people like Pat Robertson and the Religious Right than people like Lee Strobel.
    The sad thing for me is that many people in my congregation are not very educated and they look on education with a healthy dose of mistrust. And so they have been trained by previous pastors and the culture around them to accept and agree with "experts" that agree with what they've been taught while they discount the "experts" who they disagree with.
    But most Christians don't even believe necessarily what it is the Bible says, but rather what they were taught that it says.
    I am constantly pulling out my hair trying to get Christians to think for themselves.