The following is the question I asked on the website. Considering how many hundreds of questions he gets daily, I’m not surprised that he hasn’t chosen mine to reply to. In any case, I want to raise this issue with people from all sides to hear your answers to this issue. Thanks.
I’ve followed metaphysical debates for over twenty years, as I am obsessed with searching for the truth about God, Christianity, etc. While there are many particular issues I would want to pursue with you, I will settle for a macro question on the issue of belief.
I think that the majority of the people rarely question their beliefs in any significant way. I will leave them to the side for now as my question is aimed at those who do question and dig into the issues that undergird their belief systems. All people who become enmeshed in arguments concerning a complex issue end up (usually sooner rather than later, I believe) leaning toward one side or the other, and that leaning usually determines which direction they’ll go. In some ways people’s beliefs are like boulders bouncing down a mountain-side. One small thought at a very early stage can change everything. As we hit a small cleft or slope it steers us in a particular direction, and we tend to just keep that trajectory for the rest of our lives. When we land somewhere, the journey may indeed feel like it was an intellectual, reasonable one, but I see more accident than intention.
Usually people will ultimately become entrenched in their “camp” of belief. In intricate philosophical issues like the ones that you debate, we can see that both camps may have reasonable, calm people with strong bodies of argumentation. (Of course, there are many more irrational people on both sides of the fence too, but I’ll leave them out of this.)
We know that there is no such animal as “pure objectivity”—there is no Archimedean Point. Philosophers acknowledge this and settle for being “morally reasonable.” But to what extent do we even do that? My observation is that people end up in camp A or B for a multitude of non-rational reasons (accident of geography, family tradition, longing to be accepted into a particular social circle, etc.). We appear to be trapped in the momentum of our beliefs, like the boulder. I’m not arguing against our sentience or willpower. Instead I am seeing that the process of being “reasonable” looks less and less objective the older I get. People on opposing sides of an argument can continue to be rational, following the rules of logic, their presuppositions, and their bodies of evidence. My observation is that people are simply using the ammunition that’s at their feet (in their camps) and attacking the “other side” without deeply, honestly considering the question, “Am I wrong?”
Look at the loaded terms that Christians use with regards to arguments for God. An apologist is someone who is defending a position (the veracity of Christianity), not searching for whether it is true or not. Christians (even the Christian intellectuals) praise “Defenders of the Faith,” as if there’s no real question if it’s true. Do you think we can ever escape this trap and truly search for the truth instead of merely reinforcing one’s own camp? We who pursue these issues often look like lawyers who are simply filtering all of the evidence to suit our “clients”—our camps, our comfortable homes of belief. We (usually unconsciously) eschew what doesn’t serve us and magnify what does.
Of course , all sides are equally guilty of this. It appears that once someone gets so entrenched in his/her camp that there is no hope of a reversal. It feels very much like all evidence and argumentation are a pure waste of time at that stage. No one ever expects someone like Richard Dawkins, regardless of any amount or quality of evidence, to listen carefully to the cosmological argument and say, “My word, I was so confused—I believe!” But, neither would anyone ever expect you, the leading Christian apologist, to ever say, “Oh, I’ve reviewed the arguments and concluded that I was misguided about the Christian canon. I’m now demoting myself to a deist!”
How many clueless undergrads are spewing Dawkins-rhetoric without giving it a second (or first, for that matter) thought? And how many Evangelicals are parroting apologists without ever questioning whether they could be wrong. I believe that God, if he pays humanity any heed, wants us to treasure truth-seeking above all else. And I am convinced that even that small minority of people who become involved in these philosophical issues, are not so interested in searching for what is, but in defending what makes them feel safe.
Enough said, I am sure. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter: How can a person honestly search for the truth, and not merely defend his back yard?