Sunday, September 27, 2020

Arguments when I was a Believer

 So I woke up this morning and saw this tweet in my feed that prompted enough thought in me (and the fact that it's a quiet Sunday morning and the kids are playing nicely) that I decided to write on the topic.

This is a very interesting question! I started to think about it and it made me realize that there weren't any explicit arguments that had me believing. There certainly were some that I was effectively indoctrinated with that aimed to reinforce my faith in a bubble, but nothing like the arguments I'm intimately familiar with now. I also distinctly recall being entirely unimpressed with apologetic arguments when taking a "evangelism training" seminar/class at my church. 

 So lets get into the specifics here.

When I was born my family was Catholic, my parents were the good kids of Sicilian immigrants. That said they weren't that good, lets just say mass attendance was spotty at best, even when the church was literally on our block. 

In fact the Catholic church was more relevant to my parents and especially me, as where I went to school. My parents and extended family made it sound like going to public school was going to be terrible and told me many times "you don't want to go there"; so I was enrolled in Catholic schools.  I took my first confession and communion and those were a big deal, but my family converted to being Baptists before I took my first confirmation. 

In terms of religious beliefs it was just a given. I've said before that I was taught that god exists and Jesus is the son of god at the same time that I was taught 2+2=4 and that water is wet; and by the same people no less.

When I was in evangelical Christian schools I was fed anti-evolution propaganda, taught misrepresentations of what it was that showed "how silly it is". I was told humanists worshiped Satan. Islam and Hinduism were misrepresented, though hardly covered, and I was told the Jews didn't understand their own bible which so clearly showed why Jesus was the messiah. 

All of this, including an incredible amount of church attendance plus all the bible classes and chapels at school made belief in god as normative and axiomatic as possible. I went to a secular college due to disillusionment with Christian schools and because engineering programs weren't particularly strong at the places on offer. 

In college I was certainly challenged and I dropped my YEC beliefs. My beloved adviser/mentor, a Muslim, taught me how to reconcile god and modern physics. By this point I just kind of slotted into the easy secular pluralism that pervades the north east US; religious disagreements just weren't talked about in depth. 

While I certainly "backslid" in college (aka having sex), I converted my wife to being evangelical and we found a church to go to because we knew we'd be getting married soon even before I proposed.  I also had this incredibly deep seated belief that people needed to be "saved" and while I couldn't save everyone I could save those closest. 

Wait, why go over all this in a post about arguments? Because I want to highlight how unimportant arguments were to my deeply felt belief. Was my Christianity nonintellectual as a result?

I don't think so; I just focused on internal Christian issues. I remember getting older and paying attention to the sermons once I was no longer going to children's church (or helping my parents teach it). I wondered at kenosis in the incarnation, how the atonement worked, Paul's theology of Jesus as the last Adam, etc. The sorts of things you can think about once you accept all the Christian stuff as a baseline. 

The problem was as an adult, things got harder. I've covered my deconversion before so I won't re-hash that. I do recall looking for ways to evangelize because I had this growing group of friends that had non-Christians in them. So we took a evangelism seminar at my church that had someone come in to teach what was basic apologetics and evangelistic techniques. I remember distinctly sitting in this class and hearing the arguments and thinking "that doesn't work, they'd object this way" and being particularly unimpressed at the conversation steering techniques. It seemed to be the sort of stuff the "pervasive secular pluralism" of our area was precisely designed to avoid or at least make very awkward. 

I remember leaving that seminar particularly disillusioned, seeing that the arguments wouldn't work, especially on people of other religions. If anything the only target it would work on was getting lapsed Christians to come back into church. That was a bit of cognitive dissonance I was living with for a few years before my deconversion really took hold. 

And then when I deconverted and tried to go back, that was when I found all this heavy apologetics stuff for the first time and read philosophy seriously. I specifically avoided philosophy and other humanities classes in college because I wanted to take as much STEM classes as possible so that I could be as well prepared as possible to get an engineering job. In hindsight that actually worked out extremely well for me professionally, even though now I realize the value of the humanities in education. 

So when I found apologetics I was already in crisis mode, trying to find a reason to believe again. I don't think those arguments work to do that. I think they're largely aimed at preventing people from leaving the fold. The premises aren't really plausible unless you're already in the religious sub-culture; in which case they can reinforce your faith.

In fact I can recall hearing somethings about apologetics as a teenager in middle and high school but the arguments were pretty straight forward and it was a "oh ok, look another way we are correct", and I didn't particularly think very deeply on the topic at the time. It was just one of the hundreds of things thrown at us in the schools that reinforced how our view of the world was correct and everyone else was wrong and/or evil. 

Of course once I got out into a secular university I only learned how about half of that stuff was false (yay science!), and I learned to live with the fact that I was wrong about certain things but not everything. Eventually over time it took an emotional shock and much intellectual dissonance to actually question the core thing that had been axiomatic for my entire life: Why do I believe in a god in the first place? 

Once you're at that point, having been in for so long, I just didn't find any of the arguments to be particularly plausible once I was ready to study them in depth as an adult. 


  1. I don't think anyone believes because of arguments. They serve a couple of valid functions, They help us understand how to think about God. They also offer an objective starting point. Believe is personal and often subjective. So logical argued fill the gap with objective reasons. We don't have to prove God exists but merely show a rational warrant for belief

  2. Asa teen I was losing my faith bit by bit, but still trying to hang on to maybe some form of minimal deism. I was especially hanging on to the argument from design. Then, first term freshman year in college, I read Hume’s Dislogues. Done.