The blog of Dr Glenn Andrew Peoples on Theology, Philosophy, and Social Issues

Scepticism, Open Mindedness and Mistrust


I saw a comment on Facebook today that prompted a memory of something I have thought previously but not written about. So now I am writing about it. Thanks, Facebook!

A Christian friend of mine told the world that he is about to read a copy of Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, that well known, aggressive (and often lampooned as philosophically poorly constructed) case against religious belief. Perhaps sensing from the comments being made that my friend was unlikely to be persuaded, an atheist friend of his was quick to advise him that while she did not think highly of Dawkins’ books on atheism, still: “you should at least approach atheism with the openness that Christians tell atheists to approach the Bible with.”

This might sound reasonable to you at first. It just sounds like a person is being asked to be reasonable, right? I don’t think so. Suppose that you are a happily married man, and that you have been one for some years. You have a wonderful marriage, and you can honestly say that you love and trust your wife more than anyone else in the world. With this background in mind, just imagine if I told you that your wife is being unfaithful to you. What would your initial reaction be? Imagine, further, that I told you that you should really be open minded about this. You should, I tell you, try to be just as open to the possibility that she is cheating on you as you’d like others to be to the possibility that she is not. Further, imagine that you were immediately persuaded that my approach was the right one.

Suppose that your wife hears of your open mindedness and protests with you. “How could you suspect me of this, after all these years?” Do you think you’d be making matters better by telling her that you couldn’t possibly let your history together influence your judgement on this most important matter? If your wife didn’t have a reason to run off, you just gave her one!

Now what’s wrong with this picture? What is it that would make your judgement astonishingly poor in the above scenario? It should be pretty obvious: An approach to investigation might be fine for somebody who has no commitments of a certain type, and yet quite inappropriate for someone who has those commitments. In this case, because of the type of commitment that you believe you and your wife have to one another, you actually have a prima facie duty to trust your wife rather than her accuser. If you didn’t know your wife at all, and a wise friend who you have come to trust told you that she is a loose woman that you should probably avoid, then the situation is reversed. Because of your relationship with your friend, you could well have a justified suspicion of this woman. How high the evidential hurdle is must take into account what you already know and the duties you take yourself to have. If you’re going to accuse my wife of being unfaithful, you’d better have the kind of evidence that can clear a very high hurdle.

So it is when a Christian is asked to consider atheism. It’s not true that the Christian should be as open minded to the possibility of atheism as he would like people to be to the possibility of Christianity, any more than I should be as open to the possibility of my wife’s unfaithfulness as I would like people to be to the possibility of her faithfulness. A person who is a Christian has what he or she takes to be a relationship of trust. They have a prior commitment (and in fact the relationship between Christ and the church is likened, in the Bible, to a marriage e.g. Ephesians 5:31-33). When I talk about a prior commitment here, I do not just mean a prior belief, something that they affirmed before and don’t want to give up. I mean not a commitment to a proposition but to a person – to a relationship, call it what you will. It is a relationship of trust, and more than that, of worship. Of course, you might not believe that any such real such relationship exists any more than one that a person might have with an imaginary friend. But if you use that as a reason for the Christian not to put stock in that relationship, you’d obviously just be asking them to give up Christianity before they even begin. As far as the Christian is concerned, such a relationship does exist at the outset, and hence the duty of trust exists as well.

So here’s what I think about the instruction to investigate impartially, being just as open minded on the issue as we want everyone else to be: What might sound like a simple request for reasonableness actually conceals the very type of presuppositions (whether conscious or not) that the inviter is asking you not to bring to the investigation.

Glenn Peoples


Luke 23:43 and Soul Sleep


Jim Spiegel’s “Blog Tour”


  1. Open mindedness in the absolute sense really is a myth… unless you are only one year old! is it not?
    So who are we kidding when we make such statements? Our selves!
    Its a bogus piety! ‘Im open-minded’ is pretensions rubbish! a self delusion.
    I agree with you that we ought to be faithful to what we believe until some stronger belief manifests itself to us and compels us to embrace the new revelation and that can never properly be the result of negating our faith.
    Thus it is actually a trick saying we should negate our minds.
    Is it true that a Nihilist may have an open mind?
    ie a vacant space…a void that may be filled…just like a one year old?
    If so it is may be true for a Christian to say consider this…But for a nihilist to expect the same thing from a Christian only in reverse is for them to assume you are like them…valueless!
    The great thing is a Christian ought to have no fear that his ‘wife’ is unfaithful and be willing to consider any argument presented to him in the clear knowledge that unless it is very compelling no harm can come of it In fact to do this is to exercise your faith and results in vindication of your love.
    No Mature Christian has anything to fear from an atheists arguments. It is an opportunity to build some mussel! It is an opportunity to turn the tables!

  2. Doubt has a far better chance of finding truth than faith. Blind faith in your existing beliefs lacks the power to tell you if you are wrong. Self doubt runs the risk of exposing you to incorrect ideas but it also has the power to doubt even those and will eventually find truth.

    I think that this is the purpose of being “open minded”. To accept that we may be wrong in our beliefs to allow ourselves to learn the truth.

  3. Damian, I guess it’s fortunate, then that nobody is advocating “blind faith in your existing beliefs.”

  4. Leonhard

    I’m confused Glenn. Are you arguing that no proper Christian should sit down and examine their own faith? The questions here are just the thoughts popping up in my head as I read this and I would love a clarification. I doubt this is what you meant, but I’m not exactly sure what you did.

    While I agree that a person may have ‘prior’ commitments, so might a person who isn’t religious. It might be the case that you expect the godless to be ‘open-minded’ to the Gospel. However maybe she, is a committed member of a state or a husband, or a family life, or an ideological community where Christianity is shunned. She would have to uproot and break the trust of all or some of the above. However you expect of that person to be open minded?

    And what sort of presuppositions are you talking about?

    Should Christians even ask non-Christians to be open minded, if the non-Christians have ‘prior commitments’?

  5. “Doubt has a far better chance of finding truth than faith.”

    Damian do you think I should doubt this statement? After all you have not proved it and doubt not faith leads to truth.

  6. Matt, yes, you definitely should doubt that statement. Put it to the test.

  7. Oh, and before you reply with “and should I doubt *that* statement” I’ll pre-empt you with my answer: don’t be a dick. 😉

  8. CPE Gaebler

    Doubt may have a better chance at finding truth than faith, but faith has a better chance at maintaining it…

  9. Leonhard, I think you’ve misunderstood the nature of “prior committments.” As I tried to stress, the idea is not of prior committment to a belief, but to a relationship with the very person who is being called into question. Atheists don’t even profess to have this, since the absence of God is not (obviously) a person at all.

    You say “I’m confused,” and I’m inclined to agree! Your worries about whether or not a Christian should be willing to examine her faith are worries that any person could ask about how I should feel about my wife’s faithfulness to me. Should I absolutely rule out any questions? No, and I never said this. All I’m talking about is the initial type of stance that is appropriate for someone who already takes himself to be a certain type of relationship.

    This is part of what’s wrong with the approach that sees Christianity only as a collection of propositions to be believed.

  10. Here’s another way to think of it: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. When you’re addressing someone who takes themself to be in a trust relationship with Christ, the claim that God doesn’t even exist is absolutely extraordinary, and requires a very high standard of evidnece indeed, far more than most claims would.

  11. Glenn, what would your response be to someone of a different faith who used the same argument as you have just put forward for not keeping an open mind?

  12. Damian, I would understand entirely, and so I would accept that the burden of proof that I would have to meet when trying to persuade that person is higher than that which would be required for an agnostic. I would have to, for example, provide credible reasons for giving up the trust that they currently have.

    Now, a question for you: How would you respond to the claim made by an outsider that your wife was being unfaithful? His claim is that she told him. She denies it. Are you going to be open minded?

  13. What do you mean by “I would understand entirely”? You’d just accept that it’s reasonable for them to keep a closed mind? What would your response be?

  14. Damian you write “Oh, and before you reply with “and should I doubt *that* statement” I’ll pre-empt you with my answer: don’t be a dick.”

    I see, so heres my answer to you when you doubt the existence of God.

    “Your a dick.”

    That apparently is adequate to address a skeptical demand for proof.

  15. Matt, I was warning that descending into infinite recursion was dickish behaviour.

    My answer is, of course, doubt everything. ‘Doubt’ in this context is synonymous with ‘test’ so, yes, test the effectiveness of this approach too. Not in a way that cripples progress but in a way that allows us to rethink our starting assumptions if and when evidence to the contrary or debate occurs.

  16. Damian wrote “Matt, I was warning that descending into infinite recursion was dickish behaviour.”

    The problem is the phrase “doubt everything” makes a claim about everything that is every proposition and its not hard to see that this phrase entails an infinite regress. You can call pointing this out “dickish” all you want, the problem is its an implication of the phrase you made. A rational person either accepts the logical implications of their position or if these implications are absurd and incoherent, rejects the position. Clinging to it and insulting others is not a rational approach.

    Doubt’ in this context is synonymous with ‘test’ so, yes, test the effectiveness of this approach too.

    The problem is this is impossible, to test a belief you need to test it against something. And this will have to be something you believe is true. ( showing a proposition is called into question by or not supported by falsehoods is hardly going to establish much).

    But then in order to test A you need to believe B, but to believe B you need to test it, so now you have to appeal to C to test B, but what about C and so on. So again we get a regress.

    Statements like “test everything” and “believe nothing till its proven” are nice sounding slogans or cliches but taken as a serious epistemological method they collapse pretty quickly.

  17. Matt, I don’t think it is practical to “believe nothing till its proven” and have never claimed so. In fact I took pains to add “Not in a way that cripples progress but in a way that allows us to rethink our starting assumptions if and when evidence to the contrary or debate occurs”.

    This is commonly called being “open minded”.

  18. Damian, just so that it’s clear: Nobody (or at least, neither Matt nor I) has said that we should not be willing to critically consider the truth of our startuing assumptions. I think you can see that I am not calling for a stance like this.

  19. Glenn, if you believe in an invisible, undetectable personal deity you should really be spending most of your time critically examining your beliefs. That should be a warning bell. Instead, you are advising that because you believe you have a relationship akin to a marriage with this deity you should take *less* of an open minded stance. You’ve got it the wrong way around my friend.

  20. “Glenn, if you believe in an invisible, undetectable personal deity you should really be spending most of your time critically examining your beliefs.”

    You say this, I will assume, because of what you believe about God (or lack thereof). I gathered that you were an “unbeliever,” and saying the above only serves the social function of re-stating this position. If I’m right about what good reasons for which beliefs are out there, then it is you who should be desparately reviewing your beliefs. But me saying that would get us nowhere. I assume you already figured that I think this, just as I figured out that you don’t. Venting our bias isn’t really productive.

  21. Anon

    While I think doubt can in some cases lead to some truth, I would say that most truth are found by being faithful (to a calling, vision, dream, etc). Great truth demands great faith in seeking it.

    Doubters are usually quiters.

  22. I think that is a very good analogy. Though I can imagine how it sounds inconsistent to an atheist that we demand open mindedness of them, but we do not have such an open mind about what they say.

    The roots of it though, I think, are that atheism is a negation. It is not actually position. It is, by definition, an accusation that something else is false.

    Heidegger said something to that effect when he was asked about his atheism.

  23. Josh

    Wow.. this article left me truly stunned. This often what separates atheists and theists the most and it’s true.

    Ask a believer what will take away his belief in God and you usually get the reply “nothing!” however if you ask an atheist what will make him believe in God/gods you will get the reply “evidence for their existence”. This has developed because atheists are usually very scientifically-minded so require observable data in order to accept a belief or theory, however with a believer it is taught in the Bible, and in churches, that you are weak if you can be swayed from your beliefs or if you question God. Think about it, the person with the strongest, most unshakeable faith in a congregation is usually admired the most. But you have to ask yourself; why is this a good thing?

    This is how we progress; look at how many scientific truths we’ve found this way. I’m with Damian on this one. Doubt is the key. Without doubt, then all belief is circular, surely? You believe in something, then being narrow-minded you disregard all the evidence that challenges your belief and accept all the evidence that supports your belief. This is definitely the wrong way to go about things, and Damian is right. You believe in an invisible deity, of which there is no proof of it’s existence, and you claim that you should not doubt the existence of this invisible deity because that would be disloyal, even unfaithful.

    Again, wow. You have your heads so high in the clouds it’s unbelievable.

  24. Josh, it’s rhetorically convenient yet entirely incorrect to read what I’ve written and then write a preachy little piece about how theists won’t let any evidence move them. That’s about as misleading as implying that people who have previously identified themselves as atheists are as open to reasons for believing in God as as theists. No fair person believes either of these things. But that doesn’t stop sceptics from saying it. 🙂

    Your claims about your own epistemology are just naive.

  25. Hi Glenn,

    I almost called you Glenny, and then decided strongly against it.

    I was going to respond to Josh’s comment, but also decided against that.

    I appreciate that you’ve addressed this so adequately. While it’s important to listen to those who do not believe in Christ, I think there are gross misconceptions (and double standards) about what “open-minded” means.

    Pax Domini!

  26. Elizie

    Damian said: “You believe in an invisible deity, of which there is no proof of it’s existence, and you claim that you should not doubt the existence of this invisible deity because that would be disloyal, even unfaithful.”

    This is your problem Damian you believe that we believe in God without proof or evidence.

    You have missed the whole point.

    A Christian’s belief is based on evidence and proof that is the very reason why they don’t doubt the existence of God.

  27. Elizie, it was Josh who said that, not me. I personally believe that there *is* evidence that God exists but that it’s of such a poor quality that no one would accept evidence of a similar standard in, say, the claims of another religion. If I have ever said that there is “no evidence” it would be in the same context as there being “no evidence” for the existence of Icelandic Elves. I.e. I’m sure that many Icelandic people are having what they feel are genuine experiences (which counts as a form of evidence) but that the evidence is so shoddy as to be dismissed as “no evidence” for all practical purposes.

    Another point I’d like to make is that I used to be a baptised, born-again, in-a-relationship-with-God-through-Jesus Christian. I didn’t abandon the Christian faith because I was upset with anything or because I hated God. I found it a very slow and painful process in a search for truth above all else. If you share a passion for truth you will see that self-doubt and a constant willingness to find that our presuppositions are wrong is by far the best way to achieve this.

    You may search for truth and come to the conclusion that God *does* indeed exist. But your search won’t be an honest one without open-mindedness. If you give your presuppositions special privileges you are only lying to yourself and living by a double-standard.

  28. Elizie

    Damian: Sorry about miss-naming the quote. An honest error. 😉

  29. Damian, experience tells me that most who walk away from the faith do so not because they decided one day to be concerned about evidence and lo and behold, they started to see that the evidence for Christianity was poor.

    On the contrary, it is most often, in my experience, very much like a marriage break up. They are enticed to something else, or else they feel betrayed or let down some how. If your case is genuinely different then you’re exceptional. Although – and yes you might see this as a cynical view of people – I tend to find that more intelligent sounding explanations are often woven into events after the fact.

    “You may search for truth and come to the conclusion that God *does* indeed exist. But your search won’t be an honest one without open-mindedness. If you give your presuppositions special privileges you are only lying to yourself and living by a double-standard.”

    You’re continuing to misunderstand this blog. You’re talking here about a person reaching the conclusion that God exists when they didn’t realise this before. It’s obvious that this isn’t what I was writing about.

    I seriously doubt you if you say that you would approach your relationship with a spouse in any way other than in the way that I outlined in this blog, and yet your (double?) standard seems to require that Christians strip themselves of such principles for the sake of atheists!

    As I have made clear to you already, nobody but nobody but nobody has advocated an unwillingness to consider evidence against theism. I think you’re depending on the rhetorical ease of being able to call people closed minded without seriously addressing what they say.

  30. Glenn, my journey out of Christianity took 14 years and I maintained a deep belief in the existence of a God until the very end. Lots of peripheral beliefs went by the wayside along the way (YEC, virgin birth, inspiration of scripture, etc) but I maintained a belief in God. I wasn’t running. Just searching for the truth of things.

    Anyway. This is probably getting to the stage where further words are wasted. I’m happy to let what I’ve written stand for any who might stumble across this who can see the sense in open-mindedness as a way to truth. Those who believe that truth trumps our deepest beliefs.

    Thanks for the conversation and all the best.

  31. “Truth trumps our deepest beliefs.”

    It certainly does (when our beliefs aren’t true, but I assume you meant that).

  32. I have to agree with Damian here. But the opposite experience is the case for many former atheists. An honest, open-minded search for meaning often ends up with God.

    Many Christians, myself included, can attest to trying to live without God but found themselves back in His house after long prodigal wanderings.

    Surely Truth is a unity, so doctrines and theologies should withstand open minded criticism, and indeed they do so and are strengthened.

  33. Ropata, you say that you agree with Damian, and then you proceed to refer to an honest open minded search for God.

    By repeating and repeating his false characterisation of my view, clearly denied by me, I fear that Damian may have persuaded you to accept it as fair. I fully agree that the search for God should be fully open minded and honest.

    Why anybody would think I have said otherwise is beyond me. I think that many Christians fear “showing their hand” by admitting that they (i.e. Christians, who I was writing about in the blog post) have a precommittment because of their relationship status, thinking that they make themselves vulnerable to the charge of not really caring about evidence, or of being dogmatic, or of believing against the evidence or something else along those lines. The fear is one that believers should simply dispense with. It is a fear as well founded as the fear that I might reveal a committment to my wife by trusting her.

    Nothing in any of this suggests a mindset that evidence doesn’t matter. The suggestions to this effect were just cases of misleading opportunism saying “A HA! I KNEW you didn’t care about evidence. Proof!” No such thing was being said at all, and I think that on reflection all readers would admit this. For what it’s worth, I certainly do think that a truly open minded assessment of reality, from the position of agnosticism, leads to Christianity, rather than away from it. But that wasn’t even the subject of this blog. It’s remarkable that somehow a couple of visitors trying to control the meaning of what I said have persuaded anyone to think about this subject instead. Ah well, like figures in the clouds, they’ve managed to see what they were looking for.

  34. Oh, and “Richard Dawkins” of Australia, why not use your own name?

  35. Glenn, you clearly criticised open-minded inquiry when you likened faith in God to a marriage, and questioning God to doubting one’s spouse.

    I do not usually experience Jesus as my girlfriend and it’s a strange misconception in contemporary church that we are supposed to carry on some kind of fantasy romance with God. Most people simply don’t have that. Admittedly there is a peace of mind and heart, and a few times I have been overwhelmed by grace an compassion, but actual “relationship” is rare in this life.

    Proverbs says “trust in the lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” etc.. but how that works out practically is that an untended garden grows weeds.. While trying to commmit one’s steps to the Lord, we often have to work things out for ourselves. This is maturity.

    I acknowledge there is a certain imbalance especially when a young christian encounters atheists in a university environment, but freedom of thought (doubt) is a liberating and empowering experience. Surely there comes a time when an adolescent tests their parents’ authority, likewise a faith that has never been tried and tested is probably not very deep.

  36. Jesus as my girlfriend? Criticised open mindedness? Fantasy romance?

    Ropata, trust me. There is absolutely no doubt at all that you are misreading what is happening here. You are reacting in colourful terms to a position that was not advanced.

  37. Glenn, perhaps I have misread your position on open mindedness & scepticism, but your article has prompted a similar reaction from others. Instead of creating a confusing analogy to marriage, why not say something along these lines…

    Faith in God is a philosophical conclusion that is reached after a long period of honest seeking. The atheist who demands “open mindedness” is not aware of this process, and usually misreads the situation as dogmatism.

    Hostile demands for open mindedness and scepticism are usually an attack mechanism to characterise religious people as unthinking; whereas the Christian has glimpsed a spiritual reality that isn’t amenable to glib dismissal by reductive materialists.

  38. Ropata, because that is not what I wanted to say.

    In fact you are the first person to react this way. Nobody prior has said anything about the whole “Jesus is my girlfriend” thing, much less made reference to a fantasy romance. You’re the first. But it should be clear that two scenarios that are being compared because of one thing in common (that which I called a relationship of trust) should not be assumed to have all things in common (i.e. romance or sexuality). The connection is really an unwarranted one.

    As for the way others have reacted, it’s very easily understandable why those with a deep desire to portray Christian faith as fideistic or hostile to evidence-based thinking would leap at the chance to call it such, however flimsy the reason may be. That they may have reacted this way does not make it a sensible reaction.

    Your own version of what I said is a fine thing to say, but it’s really not at all what I was saying. What I was saying is that all of us accept that there are situations where, because of a relationship of trust that we have with someone, it would be obviously wrong to expect our standard of evidence for doubting that person to be the same as the much lower standard required by someone who had no reason to trust the person at all. A marriage is a great illustration of this.

    You would never, I assume, imply that when assessing the accusation of unfaithfulness made by a stranger against my wife, I should be as willing to believe in her guilt as in her innocence prior to looking at this person’s evidence. Assuming that you accept this, I think perhaps you might want to reassess the way you are construing my claims about faith and trust when it comes to God.

  39. Glenn, thanks for the reply. But how does one have a “relationship of trust” with God? Practically it’s indistinguishable from wishful thinking. (I believe in God but I’m just not sure about the “relationship” bit).

  40. Ropata, my natural instinct is to say “its a fiduciary relationship,” but that would be a bit of a tautology given that fiduciary relationships are just relationships based on faith or trust.

    The link you gave is all about prayer and outcomes, but that’s not really what I was getting at so I’m not sure of its relevance. When Christians talk about being justified through faith, they are talking about trust in Christ as a Saviour.

    From reading your blog I see that you’re a Christian. Even if for whatever reason you’re not comfortable with the term “relationship” (perhaps you think it implies certain things that some of us don’t), would you be comfortable saying that you trust Christ?

  41. Josh

    Hi, Elizie. You believe in Christianity because of faith right? If there is proof of God’s existence then you have no faith as faith is not required. Faith is about believing in something without and proof or evidence, go look it up in the dictionary. So either I have been grossly misinformed about this proof of God’s existence or I’m right and there isn’t any and you believe in God because of faith.

    Glenn, I partly agree with what you say. There are so many narrow-minded atheists out there who have there heads buried so far in their beliefs that they’re just as bad as many Christians are. But I disagree that these are the majority of atheists. These atheists have wrongly jumped out of one box and into another box. Personally, I try to question atheism also and I’m in search of spiritual truths and matters on whether a soul exists and if there’s life after death. I personally don’t believe in them through what I believe to be sound reasoning, however I try to empathise with these beliefs and would readily accept any evidence.

    One of the things that gets me is why God chooses to supposedly speak to certain people or why angels appear to some and not others, as well as seemingly arbitrary healings that are awarded to some unbelievers and not others.

    Many times, as an atheist, I have actually prayed to God to see if He was there or to give me some evidence or proof. If I really mattered to God so much, why when I ask him for signs of His existence doesn’t He give me any, but supposedly gives other people signs? I think that’s downright unfair.

    So no, I’m not a narrow-minded atheist. And just as I try to question my beliefs, or lack of beliefs, you should also try to. Otherwise you become trapped in circular belief systems, be it atheistic or theistic ones.

  42. CPE Gaebler

    Actually, Josh, you’re grossly misinformed about what faith is. Take your advice and look it up; in fact, the first definition on is “confidence or trust in a person or thing.” Although definition 2 is, in fact, what you were referring to, faith (pistis in the Greek) as talked about in Scripture is not “belief without proof.” In the Bible, it’s more “trust in someone (usually God) who has proven Himself reliable.”

    Hebrews 11 is a great source for the Biblical view on faith, as it’s basically Paul pointing out several people in the OT who had faith, and how they showed it. It’s not because they didn’t have proof of God (indeed, quite the opposite for some – Moses is the perfect example, he saw more miracles than most). It’s because they followed God even when it was difficult, because they knew God was faithful and that He keeps His word.

  43. Josh, who told you that faith means believing something with no evidence, and that if you have evidence you don’t have faith?

    I’m not just waxing rhetorical in asking that, I’m serious. Do you know of serious Christian sources that really say that?

  44. Damian you write

    “Not in a way that cripples progress but in a way that allows us to rethink our starting assumptions if and when evidence to the contrary or debate occurs…This is commonly called being “open minded”.

    Well if this is what you mean by being open minded then a person who has certain theological beliefs as there starting point, is required to rethink and doubt their truth when evidence to the contrary occurs. In other words until atheists can come up with an argument against the existence of God as opposed to merely criticisms of arguments for Gods existence the theist is not being closed minded.

    The problem is in this thread you criticize theism for allegedly being based on rarely weak evidence, now if all beliefs should be doubted until compelling evidence was provided for them that might be a cogent objection, the problem is that leads to a regress.
    You can avoid the regress by adopting the position above, but then the standard atheist argument from lack of evidence fails.

    BTW your stance is also compatible with Glenns comments, Glenn is suggesting that in a fiduciary relationship such as that between husband and wife one should start with the assumption that your wife is faithful, he not saying that if the evidence mounted up so as to convincingly show she was cheating you should continue to believe she is faithful. His position is simply that one should start with this assumption. And like you said open mindedness requires only that you to rethink your starting assumptions if and when evidence to the contrary is forthcoming.

  45. Precisely Matt. People are reacting as though I were saying something like “don’t even listen to evidence that she is unfaithful” (or don’t even listen to evidence that your faith is misplaced). Now of course I wouldn’t say that, but because that relationship of trust does exist, we have every reason to start with trust, meaning that those who want us to doubt need to give us reasons. They are, after all, the ones making an extraordinary claim to us (just like the stranger who tells my wife who has been with me for over 13 years is being unfaithful).

  46. Josh

    Hi guys, I guess I’m grossly misinformed then, especially by the dictionary. Yes, you are referring to the faith you have in God as a relationship, but I’m referring to the fact that you have faith that your relationship with God is real.

    If I’m so grossly misinformed and you do actually have this proof of God’s existence, could you please show me it? I’ve already shown that I would readily accept any proof of the existence of God and I would convert to Christianity right now if you gave me the proof of YOUR God’s existence and why your God is real over all the other gods out there.

    You say that it’s an extraordinary claim for someone to come to you saying your wife is being unfaithful; yes it is. However, how is it an extraordinary claim that God doesn’t exist?

    Short answer is that it’s not. It’s a very plausible notion that there is no such thing as God and that there’s nothing more to life. And it makes the most sense to me right now as well. And that’s not even exploring all the blatant contradictions and errors in the Bible, such as the world being only 6000 years old for example.

    So please just give me some evidence to believe.

  47. Josh, if a person has no relationship with my wife, then it’s not such an extraordinary claim to tell them that she is unfaithful.

    What this indicates is that whether a claim is extraordinary or not depends in great measure on what is known by the person to whom the claim is being made.

    As for this “by the dictionary” stuff, it would be just crazy to go to the english dictionary to learn about concepts in theology or philosophy (or science, for that matter).

    It is, if you’ll forgive my saying so, disingenuous for a person to say “give me some evidence for God’s existence,” when it is a very safe bet that this person (you) is fully aware of the long standing philosophical disputes about the alleged reasons to believe in God.

  48. Josh

    Yes but you claim to know God on a personal level and you talk to Him by praying. But to be honest it’s a bit of a one-sided relationship don’t you think? You do all the talking and never hear anything back. Instead, anything good that happens in your life you interpret it as coming from God, possibly as a reward or even just because of His mercy. Or if you’re going through a difficult time, God ‘talks’ to you through scripture; that’s an old favourite one. But that’s a little one-sided don’t you think? Why can’t God actually verbally talk back to you Himself? He did to Samuel did He not?

    So this “relationship” you claim to have with God doesn’t seem like a very good justification because, do you really know Him that well at all? It is very one-sided after all.

    I like to go by the dictionary and I don’t see how you can have a problem with it. If you just want to argue semantics, then on all accounts be my guest, but I like to use a dictionary frequently to make sure I know what someone else is implying, and I find it’s the best way to get to the heart of an issue by defining the key terms used. I’m not arguing that you need to use the English dictionary to LEARN about concepts in theology or philosophy (although it can help e.g. I learnt what physicalism meant in a theological sense the other day) but instead we can use the dictionary to truly understand what things mean and use that to our advantage.

    Of course I’m fully-aware of the major philosophical reasons for and against the reasons believing in God, however Elizie claimed that a Christian’s faith is based upon proof and evidence of the existence of God so I wanted to hear this evidence?

  49. Yeah but let’s be honest (i.e. let’s say that I’m right), deep down you really know that God is there and that you’re accountable to him.

    So this further “evidence” that you ask for is moot.

    See, we can all pose false challenges by asking other people to agree with us in the name of being honest.

    You are simply being silly with this “I like to go by the dictionary” routine. If you’re interested in knowing what Christian theologians over the centuries meant by “faith,” what do you think the best kind of source to use might be? C’mon, use your head.

  50. If I have ever said that there is “no evidence” it would be in the same context as there being “no evidence” for the existence of Icelandic Elves. I.e. I’m sure that many Icelandic people are having what they feel are genuine experiences (which counts as a form of evidence) but that the evidence is so shoddy as to be dismissed as “no evidence” for all practical purposes.

    Damian can you tell me I can find peer reviewed journal articles and books, elaborating something like the detailed cosmological arguments, ontological arguments, moral arguments, telelogical arguments, arguments from religious experience, that one finds for the existence of God in the literature today.

    Apparently its really common because the claim that the philosophical case for both is on par occurs time and time again in popular atheist discourse.

  51. Geoff

    “You do all the talking and never hear anything back. Instead, anything good that happens in your life you interpret it as coming from God, possibly as a reward or even just because of His mercy.”

    Thats a rather sweeping and quite absurd generalisation.

    It appears that you think that christians are the same as “spiritualists” (ie, new agers, etc). I think you might have been watching too much oprah.

    You have not seen my wife, but since I talk about her, you would assume that she does exist, until evidence came to light that called that into question. But since she does exist, thats unlikely. Also, we quite often communicate none verbally, since we have been married some time and know each other quite well. A look in the eye, a twitch or the way a comment to someone else is phrased is often enough to communicate volumes. But it appears to you, that would not be enough to entail communication.

    My point being that you cant see my wife, and you can not understand our personal modes of communication, and yet she exists. The same applies to God, just because you have not seen Him, or communicated with him, or heard or seen him communicating with someone else is not, and can never be evidence for his non existence. I am sure there is some form of fallacy that covers this argument.

  52. CPE Gaebler

    I commonly see the argument, in one form or another, that if God existed, every single person would necessarily have exactly the same evidence for such. Thus the fact that most people have never seen a miracle is used to prove that they’ve never happened (since God is required to perform miracles uniformly through time and space), or the fact that some people have never heard of Christianity is proof of God’s nonexistence (as if God, in order to exist, must communicate with every human being in the same way).

    Thomas Paine was probably one of the more influential miscreants in this regard, saying “Human language is local and changeable, and is therefore incapable of being used as the means of unchangeable and universal information.” His argument was that the Bible, being in human language, could not be a message from God to all humanity.

    The same ill-conceived illogic still plagues us today, sadly. Some people just think that their experiences are a representative sample of the universe.

  53. Josh

    I can’t really be bothered to debate this anymore cos you don’t really listen to anything I say. I do not know “deep down” that God exists, in fact deep down I think YOU have a hell of a lot of doubt in His existence but these are times of weakness of course, aren’t they? So you push the questions away.

    There are much much better arguments out there for your case but the arguments you use are rather pathetic to be honest. I’ve heard so much better from Christians and you’re not doing yourself much justice by saying that you shouldn’t be open-minded; just makes you look more foolish. Blind faith is NOT a good thing.

    But never mind nothing I say will change your minds and nothing you say will change mine.

  54. Nick

    I am finding Glenn’s post deeply ironic. Heres why:

    One of the many arguments for religions as evolutionary adaptations is that they are (for men) the guarantors of the providence of their progeny. Woman, of course, need no such mechanism, as they can be certain of who fathers their children.

    It seems clear that a large part of the dogma of the christian (and some others such as islam) religion is focused on reducing the likelihood of female infidelity and thus reducing the likelihood that any particular man is investing his valuable resources in the upbringing of somebody elses genetic offspring. The extremely strict sanctions against infidelity, promiscuity, sex before marriage or even condom use seem to come directly from these concerns. I mean, think about it. From a “selfish gene” perspective, who stands to lose the most from a bit of promiscuity?

    For those that are at all interested, you should try reading some of the research: Heres one link I quickly dredged up on google:

    Finally, I would respond to Glenn’s thought experiment here by flipping the roles around a bit:

    How should a woman react when a friend tells her her husband is being unfaithful? When he often comes home late from the office? When she finds lipstick on his collar, and smells perfume on his clothes? When she see’s strange charges on his credit card bills? Or for a more accurate analogy with regards to religion and evidence: When she finds video footage of her husband having sex with another woman in their marital bed?

  55. Just like to point out that atheists love to demand evidence and signs for God’s existence but when it is supplied they start making excuses. There is a cosmos full of evidence. How does a Universe arise from nothing?

    The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
    Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
    (Psalm 19)

    And sure I have difficulties relating to God at times but I believe He is good.

  56. Josh – “I can’t really be bothered to debate this anymore cos you don’t really listen to anything I say.”

    You’re one ironic guy.

  57. Nick, female promiscuity (or lack thereof) is hardly the point.

    What’s more, what you describe in your example of a man being accused of infidelity is mounting evidence. I have no problem with this. Why would I? All I have said is that given the default position is that of trust, the threshold of evidence against a spouse you have loved and trusted for years is going to be a high threshold.

  58. Josh,
    Glenn’s position is simply that (to paraphrase Matt) one should start with this assumption that God exists. Open mindedness requires only that you need to rethink your starting assumptions if and when evidence to the contrary is forthcoming.

    You haven’t given evidence to the contrary, just expressed your doubts and misconceptions about faith and Christians.

    You wrongly assumed faith equals blind speculation. You wrongly said there’s no evidence, and Matt shot that one down pretty convincingly.
    You wrongly assumed that all Christians are full of doubt, and demanded some kind of admission.

    You clearly hold an incomplete view of religious thought, and have not understood what people are trying to tell you. Discussion is usually a good way to learn. Be open minded! 🙂

  59. CPE Gaebler


    I’m having trouble seeing the slightest hint of irony. For one, I’m sure Glenn (and many, many others) can attest to there being much more benefit to a fidelitous relationship than simply knowing your kids are yours. Secondly, the fact that religion often proscribes infidelity hardly shows or even strongly suggests that the or a purpose of that religion is to forbid female infidelity. (And I certainly would NOT agree that a “large portion of the dogma” of Christianity is even relevant, and Christianity/Judaism has historically been just as hard on male infidelity as female.) Indeed, the proscription of infidelity is one thing that is very common in ancient legal systems that legislated on moral issue. (Which, one could argue, are also social issues, but I digress.)

    What I think it suggests is that the human mind is such that fidelitous relationships are good for mental and social health, and infidelity is damaging – it’s an effect of how humans think and act. The fact that religions proscribe infidelity is hardly evidence that they are responsible for it being stigmatized – rather, I would think that it’s entirely sensible to say that religions (and many ancient legal codes) proscribe infidelity because it hurts people, and that’s bad.

    So no, I don’t think it’s ironic. And your “turning around” the analogy does nto work, as it’s horribly asymmetric – Glenn did not say he would be hard-pressed to believe someone who told him his wife was having an affair, here’s an extra credit card in her name, lots of jewelry appearing out of nowhere, hotel trips neatly coinciding with business trips of hers, and video evidence. No, to turn it around you’d have to have stopped at “How should a woman react when a friend tells her her husband is being unfaithful?” To which I’m sure Glenn would respond that the situation is entirely symmetric, and I’m guessing his wife has as much foundation to trust him as he for her.

  60. Precisely CPE. Why anyone would think that “turning it around” and changing it to add in bits of evidence is any kind of knockdown is beyond me. Gender has nothing to do with the example.

    I think what’s happening here is that really committed skeptics just need to see religious belief in a certain way: irrational, disconnected from evidence, blind, dogmatic, closed minded etc. Believing this has become a deeply important doctrine for many of them, and so no matter how unlikely a piece of evidence might be for that doctrine, it will be siezed upon, and interpreted – no matter how contorted that interpretation is – as confirming that doctrine. That is why this blog post is being interpreted in the way that Josh and Nick are interpreting it.

  61. CPE Gaebler

    The most irritating atheist dogmas I know of are precisely of that sort. One is that religious belief is there for the main reason not of describing truth but for providing easy explanations for things religious people are too dumb to understand, such as your post earlier on Dawkins’ post on religious responses to Pat Robertson. It’s unbelievable how atheist polemicists like Dawkins think that a few misguided souls who actually do hold to God-of-the-gaps as a scientific theory are representative of religion, and that knowing how something came to pass completely eliminates the very question of “why” or “who.” The impression I get from Dawkins is exactly that; he has a notion of what “religion” is all about, and attacks it. This impression of religion, though, since he deliberately doesn’t do research, is less resembling of actual historic Christianity and more like the Family Circus version. So pop culture things like a certain Genesis interpretation, a certain view of what the afterlife is like, etc, are taken for granted is “Christian doctrine” when they aren’t, and have never been, accepted as core dogmas.

    But Dawkins wouldn’t know. In the preface to The God Delusion, he quotes a fan of his defending Dawkins’ deliberate scholarly illiteracy, saying studying what Christianity actually teaches is about as useful as reading books on what color the Emperor’s scarf is, and musings on the wonder of His frilly trousers; since Dawkins is here to show that the Emperor has no clothes, there isn’t much point. Dawkins, and many of his fans, completely fail to realize that their attacks on Christianity make substantial claims about Christianity, and those claims are generally quite ignorant.

    I’d relate my counter-analogy, but this post is long enough without it 😛

  62. Exactly CPE. Atheists cling to their beloved strawman caricatures, and find it amusing to tell each other ignorant tales about those medieval Christians. Evidence and scholarship are sadly lacking when the atheist launches his moral crusade.

  63. Nick

    The irony is there because it seems that Glenn has not considered any evidence about where his religion comes from.

    I just don’t think his analogy is accurate/useful, except as an attempt to bind people in.

    A more correct representation of the position would be if Glenn’s wife did not react in any way to the physical world. No interaction with electromagnetic radiation (i.e. Invisible), no measurable or observable effects outside of Glenn’s behavior. People are not saying the Glenn’s wife is cheating on him, they are saying that they do not believe that his wife exists. In other words, from their vantage point, they can see no evidence for her. In other words a delusion.

    Now, from my point of view, I don’t need to doubt somebodies sincerity in “having a relationship” with an undetectable entity, and in fact this does not really concern me as long as they don’t start basing their decision making and treatment of other people on things that this undetectable entity is telling them.

    But, what I want to point out, is what a huge trap this style of thinking is. I would recommend that people learn a little bit about some of the common mental illnesses to get a bit of a picture of how susceptible the human mind is to delusional behavior. They are many ways that peoples delusional ideas about reality can screw them up. Hypochondria, OCD, generalized anxiety disorder, psychosis etc…

    The first step in recovery/coping from these sorts of illnesses is to recognize the trap of belief and break free from that trap. Not easy, I can tell you. It is kinda hard to ignore when your own body is sending emergency signals that you are at deaths door. Eventually however, hopefully you start to except the counter evidence. I.e. when you don’t die, or when the terminal illness that you think you have is just not detectable.

    In summary, establishing a faith relationship of the sort that Glenn is advocating has an inbuilt assumption about the veracity of your own thoughts and feelings. This is an assumption that I think just does not stand up at all and even a cursory examination of human behavior and history will demonstrate that.

  64. Nick, you may invent your own anlogy and say that it represents what you want. I will do likewise.

    As for your separate issue (and I’m not sure that you recognise that it is a separate issue), of “it seems that Glenn has not considered any evidence,” then all I can say is that you must be very very new here.

    Did Glenn write about that evidence in this one blog entry? No. But it is just lazy to say that I have never done so. Your misguided faith betrays you, for you are now passing judgement on what Glenn has and has not done without investigating.

    See Nick, the ones who believe the fairy tales are not the ones you think. 😉

  65. CPE Gaebler

    Nick, I’m guessing you’ve never seen Glenn’s wife either. Yet if you tried to tell him that she doesn’t exist…

    Assuming your experiences/evidence or thereof is the norm isn’t any better. 😉

  66. Nick

    @CPE… I may not have seen Glenn’s wife, but I have no trouble at all accepting that she exists. Where I start having trouble is if Glenn states that she does not interact with electromagnetic radiation, or exists on some “metaphysical plane”.

    @Glen. True, I have no idea what you have or have not considered. It seems clear to me however, that you are performing the role of group integrity enforcer here by undermining the ability of group members to think critically. Read some of the modern research on this subject. Its quite interesting.

  67. Nick, you *are* new here. There’s a lot of back and forth between Christian bloggers, in fact I was questioning Glenn earlier in the thread. But please continue your attempts at psychoanalysis!

  68. Nick, am I “undermining the ability of group members to think critically”?

    Again, you speak without examining. You admit that you don’t know what I “have or have not considered.” In fact it’s clear enough to me that you don’t even know how much argument and reason for my beliefs I have presented at this very blog and podcast.

    So perhaps it’s wise to reserve judgement about whether or not I am undermining the tendency to think critically. On the contrary, my history here shows that I encourage that very thing when it comes to theology and philosophy, and I do try to lead by example. 🙂 Like I said, you’re new. I wouldn’t comment based on a simple lack of experience.

  69. Nick

    @Glenn. Of course I do not know what you have considered or not, I can only read what you have posted and then comment on that.

    What I am saying here, is that I think that your argument is bad. I am also speculating as to underlying reasons for your post.

    What you are advocating, quite clearly as far as I can see, is that people shouldn’t consider (or at the very least, don’t give weight to) evidence that contradicts their own religious teachings.

    There are two main problems with your post.

    1). Your analogy is bad. Lets for arguments sake say that you have a personal relationship with god. I would posit that this relationship must be so unlike that between a husband and wife relationship as to make your analogy worthless. Just think about the imbalances for a start. God would definitely have a bit of an information and power advantage over you being an omniscient being and all. Essentially you are just rehashing the “you gotta have faith” trope with a bad analogy. Incidentally, I must say, that “you gotta have faith” idea is brilliant. I suspect that this idea alone would explain the longevity of christianity. Unfortunately its also a cognitive trap of the first order which can and has caused our species quite a lot of bother.

    2). You don’t consider (at least not in your post) the implications of human fallibility. It is well documented and easily reproducible that humans can and do suffer from all sorts of psychological/emotional biases and delusions. Granting “the way you feel” about something an overarching superiority over any contradictory external evidence is very risky behavior. By doing this, you are jumping into a cognitive trap that you might not ever be able to escape from. This is not critical thinking, quite the reverse.

  70. CPE Gaebler

    Nick, if Glenn claimed such things about his wife perhaps you wouldn’t believe… but if you told him that she didn’t exist, it wouldn’t make him any more likely to believe you 😉

    Your criticism of Glenn’s analogy falls flat, also – the relationship is very different, but Glenn never said it was similar in anything other than being a relationship of trust. Such was completely irrelevant to his analogy, and thus is irrelevant to a critique of it.

    More importantly, though, you seem to think we are unaware that humans are fallible. Of course we know that! What I don’t know is why you think that we should assume our beliefs are necessarily more fallible than yours… People have delusions, but do you really think we have good reason to believe that religious beliefs are somehow more susceptible to delusion and wishful thinking than irreligious beliefs?

  71. Nick

    @CPE Gaebler…

    How can you possibly have a relationship of trust with an omniscient entity? That seems like the last thing that a god would need. Maybe an insecure or jealous god perhaps.

    I have already conceded however, that that whole “take it on faith” gambit is pretty difficult to refute. This is what makes it a dangerous cognitive trap in my book. I do think though that this idea is also very inconsistent with the common portrayals of god, and does raise for me, the immediate question: Why does god want us to take this stuff on faith? Is gullibility a virtue?

    Even in human relationships, I don’t see that there is any need to put extra weighting when it comes to evaluating ideas/evidence from other people. Surely the adult approach with such matters is to discuss them openly. There is of course, such things as tack, or timing with these matters. But again, why would a god feel threatened by an adult discussion?

    I am not assuming at all that your beliefs are any more fallible than mine. Of course I am fallible. I get to see that most days. What I am saying is that it is dangerous to trust your own feelings/beliefs too much. Being open to criticism and “heaven forbid” actually changing your belief when confronted with contradictory evidence is critical thinking. Again, this is not what Glenn is advocating.

  72. Nick: “What you are advocating, quite clearly as far as I can see, is that people shouldn’t consider (or at the very least, don’t give weight to) evidence that contradicts their own religious teachings.”

    Seriously, are you even reading? Nobody has said anything at all like this, much less said it “clearly.”

  73. Nick: “Being open to criticism and “heaven forbid” actually changing your belief when confronted with contradictory evidence is critical thinking.”

    And that’s the point. By all means come up with contradictory evidence, but that’s not the same as expecting people to start out as blank slates. I’ll consider good evidence against my position (i.e. “contradictory evidence”), but it had better be good.

  74. CPE Gaebler

    “How can you possibly have a relationship of trust with an omniscient entity? That seems like the last thing that a god would need. Maybe an insecure or jealous god perhaps.”

    I don’t follow… Why does God being omniscient mean we can’t have a relationship of trust with him? I’d think it’d mean we’d have even more assurance that He can keep His promises, no?

    Not to mention the “last thing a god would need…” is kinda presuming something about God. Who says He NEEDS us? Needs in what way?

  75. Geoff

    CPE is right…
    In fact the bible is quite clear (as least I think so), that God created us to represent him on earth, in a similar fashion to someone like, say, a Roman Emperor putting a viceroy or some one in charge of a “conquered territory”.
    The expectation is one of relationship, of mediating the emperors wishes to the people, which can not be done without intimate knowledge of the emperor.

    Now, while you no doubt discount the bible as authoritative, it makes logical sense, in respect to freedom of will etc.

  76. AgeOfReasonXXI

    this articles reveals quite clearly why religion is so dangerous.

    ” It’s not true that the Christian should be as open minded to the possibility of atheism as he would like people to be to the possibility of Christianity(…)”
    The fact that you can’t see that such nonsense makes one lose all credibility, shows how badly one’s brain can be poisoned by religion. you can make silly rationalizations and bogus analoigies, but the fact remains: phrases like “intellectual honesty” or “honest discourse” is absent from your dictionary. It’s sad really.

  77. As always, your insight is special AOR.

  78. Brittany

    This analogy is really similar to the one Gary Habermas used in his book Dealing with Doubt.

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