Lee Strobel Answers Your Questions, Part 2 January 10, 2009

Lee Strobel Answers Your Questions, Part 2

This is Part 2 of the ongoing Lee-Strobel-answers-your-questions series.

Previous parts can be found here.

You’ve essentially said before that you interviewed only Christian scholars/apologists in your books because you were asking questions in the shoes of a skeptic and you wanted to know the Christian explanation to certain questions. Weren’t there many questions you may not have thought of that other skeptics could have asked? In other words, wouldn’t it have been a wise move to take the Christian responses back to secular scholars who could’ve proposed counter-arguments you did not think of? Would it be problematic to your reading audience if your books had more diverse dialogue (multiple viewpoints)?

Thanks for your question and the opportunity to explain the methodology of The Case for Christ. As the subtitle indicates (“A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus”), this book is about my own spiritual journey. As I explained in the introduction, this book was my effort to retrace and expand upon my original investigation in print form. As I explained earlier, this original investigation included extensive research of all sides of these issues. For the book, I decided to ask Christian experts the questions that had stood between me and God, and I left it to the reader to decide whether their answers were reasonable and compelling.

When a scholar offered an answer to one of my questions, many times I would come back at him with my own further objections. Often, these follow-up questions were informed by my reading of skeptics through the years. Indeed, I had studied the writings of enough atheists and liberal scholars during my original investigation to know what they would most likely say in response to the scholar. If the skeptics had a good point, I would try to raise it; if I thought their responses to this particular issue were weak, or that the answer was pretty obvious, or that this exchange would take me into a side issue, I didn’t. Did I cover every possible objection? No, I didn’t, and I couldn’t. Naturally, there are good questions that didn’t get addressed. But keep in mind that The Case for Christ is merely an introductory work on this topic; each line of questioning could have gone on and on. Each chapter easily could be an entire book in itself. As it is, I was pushing the limits of a popular-level work; the mass market edition is about 400 pages in length.

I didn’t want to get into an endless loop of expert versus expert. After all, you can find a Ph.D. to say virtually anything. That’s why I didn’t just ask these scholars for their opinions; instead, I pressed them on why they believe what they believe. I challenged them to present facts and explanations that could be evaluated by the reader. As I said in the book’s conclusion:

… maybe questions still linger for you. Perhaps I didn’t address the objection that’s uppermost in your mind. Fair enough. However, I trust that the amount of information reported in these pages will at least have convinced you that it’s reasonable — in fact, imperative — to continue your investigation.

I went on to encourage readers to thoroughly and systematically pursue answers to whatever spiritual sticking point they have — in fact, to make this a front-burner issue in their life.

Of course, I could have used a different approach to the book. For instance, I could have used a debate format that would have featured multiple viewpoints, going back and forth between opposing experts. However, there already were (and today are more) books like this. For example, Christian scholar Gary Habermas and then-atheist Antony Flew published their 1985 debate on the resurrection (an encounter, by the way, that four of five judges from a wide spectrum of views and persuasions said Habermas won, with the remaining judge calling it a draw) and Christian J. P. Moreland and atheist Kai Nielsen published their debate on the existence of God in 1993. [Hemant’s note: Those books can be found here and here.]

I encourage Christians and skeptics to read or attend debates like these. Christian scholar William Lane Craig has several transcripts of his debates with prominent atheists on his web site, www.reasonablefaith.org. My television show Faith Under Fire was based on a debate format, where I invited such atheists as Richard Carrier, Michael Shermer, Tim Callahan and Edward Tabash to debate such Christian apologists as Craig, Habermas and Moreland. We’ve even produced a curriculum using tapes of these debates, so that small groups of skeptics and Christians can sit down together, hear both sides of these issues, and have a healthy interaction in which they can offer their own perspectives and opinions. Clearly, I don’t think Christians have anything to fear in the marketplace of ideas.

However, I wanted my book to deal with the pursuit of my own questions and concerns, believing that they reflect the basic issues most people have. In the end, I think I did cover the topics fairly well, considering how generally weak the critiques of the book have been.

By the way, I did interview a noted skeptic for my book The Case for Faith. I extensively quoted Canada’s most famous agnostic, Charles Templeton, author of Farewell to God, about why he abandoned his Christian faith and became a critic of Christianity. (As I described, Templeton broke into tears when he told me how much he missed Jesus. I still get chills when I listen to the recording of that exchange.)

Templeton ended up raising the very same objections to Christianity that originally took me down the path toward atheism. However, in the remainder of the book I confronted Christian scholars with these issues and in my view they offered rational and compelling answers. Again, I left it to each reader to come to his or her own conclusions. Obviously, each person is free to make up his or her own mind. Seems to me that’s fair.

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  • Aj


    Indeed, I had studied the writings of enough atheists and liberal scholars during my original investigation to know what they would most likely say in response to the scholar.

    I think he has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that this is not the case:

    Essentially, I realized that to stay an atheist, I would have to believe that nothing produces everything; non-life produces life; randomness produces fine-tuning; chaos produces information; unconsciousness produces consciousness; and non-reason produces reason.

    This shows a deep ignorance and lack of reasoning ability.


    After all, you can find a Ph.D. to say virtually anything.

    You certainly proved that, well done.

  • I think the main issue is not that you didn’t provide a debate but that you did not use experts in the fields that you were questioning. There is a big difference. If you are talking about physics, you should talk to a physicist, not someone talking about the philosophy of science. Reflections of a personal journey are all well and good but if you are seeking for solid facts and evidence, you should actually look for them.

  • Grimalkin

    We can talk all day about authorial choices and restrictions, but the fact remains that your books appear to be intellectually dishonest. You talk about an “objective look” and wanting experts and not just philosophers who sit in armchairs and speculate – but these are exactly the people you approached!

    You even present your interview with Templeton in a horribly slanted way (“broke into tears”? Really?). The fact that you throw the “Templeton misses Jesus!” argument around in a discussion that has absolutely nothing to do with it is dishonest. Even if Templeton did break into tears because he misses Jesus, it doesn’t mean that you interviewed the appropriate people for your book, it doesn’t mean that you asked the appropriate questions (in fact, the bits I’ve read of your book show you raising ridiculously simple objections that are obviously set up for the people you are interviewing to knock them down), and it certainly doesn’t speak to the existence/non-existence of God. Yet you throw in that fact far too frequently as though it’s supposed to settle the matter.

    It’s dishonest. You can label me as one of those “rude atheists who’s all up in your face with her atheist” if you want, but you are being dishonest. I call it as I see it. The fact that you claim that Christianity made you all moral and good makes it even worst.

  • Andrew

    I accept Mr. Strobel’s explanation of his book being his personal investigation and not engaging with people who disagree with him because I find that that is what most theist’s do. They’re convinced they’re right, so there’s no need to get an accurate argument from the other side when strawmen and other logical fallacies will do just fine.

    What Mr. Strobel should be interested in (and everyone else on the planet) is whether or not his (and their) beliefs are true or at least as accurate as possible. Everyone is free to believe whatever they wish, but personally, I want to make sure that I believe as many true things a possible and as few false things as possible. To that end, I am always confronting myself with viewpoints contrary to my own, as uncomfortable as they my be, and analyzing them as best I know how. Then, if I am presented with compelling evidence that I am wrong, I change my mind. And that’s how I go on my personal journey.

    Mr. Strobel can run his life however his wishes, but don’t expect me to be impressed or convinced by his poor arguments. I noticed that he side-stepped the issue raised in the question by suggesting that he could have written the book in a debate format. That is not what the query was addressing. The question was why did he not pose question’s to his Christian interviewees which came directly from skeptics instead of strawmen (randomness produced fine-tuning), with emotional appeals tacked on at the end (He broke into tears section, I’m looking at you).

  • I went to a Christian college where Strobel’s books were part of the curriculum. Even though I’m now a skeptic, I must say that even when I was a Christian I didn’t appreciate Strobel’s stature in the Christian community, and was appalled that even an “institution of higher learning” such as mine (which required Bible classes which often though not always rose to a higher level of theological discussion than is present in Stroble’s book) would see fit to use Case for Christ or Case for Creator as a textbook.

    First, they’re very watered down–one could say dumbed down–for a general audience. Strobel’s responses here on the Friendly Atheist come across as much more intellectual than his books. The sense that Strobel is “writing down” to a very broad, general audience could be seen as legitimate–after all, there are many people who simply aren’t interested in technical debates on specific issues. But taking the widely accessible format of the books and using that as an excuse to present a thoroughly one-sided narrative while still packaging it as an objective investigation (regardless of the “personal” caveat) contributes to my feeling that the books are manipulative.

    For many Christians–maybe the majority who read these books–Strobel will be the only apologetics they read. This is unfortunate for Christians, atheists, and anyone else who might benefit from a better-informed public. And citing the many debates that have been published does not excuse the excesses of the Case series–to the contrary, the acknowledgment that this literature exists just points more strongly to the fact that Strobel’s “personal narrative” could have (and would have been a better book if it had) included solid presentations of the counterarguments. Making something accessible to a broad audience and stripping it of every ounce of balance and nuance don’t have to go hand in hand.

  • Eric

    My thoughts exactly Aj. Especially when I search for “The Case for a Creator” on Google and wind up at a page saying “There is No Conclusive Evidence of the Common Origin of Life” despite fun little things like protein sequence homology (cytochrome c being the textbook example). It looks suspiciously like descent with modification, not separate creation where I wouldn’t expect to find any similarity; especially not the same phylogenetic tree from different proteins.

  • I think this is all moot because I do not think that belief is voluntary. When presented with various evidence, our brains somehow come to a conclusion about what is true and this bubbles into our consciousness and, presto!, we believe or we doubt. I am sure emotional influences are part of the process, too, and so it is no small coincidence that Strobel followed his wife into Christianity.

    That’s not to say that his change of heart is good or bad or right or wrong. It’s just what it is.

    That’s my opinion anyway. I would never in a million years have chosen to stop believing in God and to stop being a Christian. It just happened as I learned more and more about different religions and cultures and about science and about human nature, etc. Suddenly, presto!, I realized I no longer believed.

    Although Christians claim that they choose to be born again, I don’t think that’s truly the case. First, they realize the believe the message they’ve heard, then they choose to say a sinner’s prayer or be baptized or whatever it is their church says is what makes you a Christian. But the belief came first, probably unbidden, but not unexplained because they undoubtedly spent much time reading and discussing and thinking about the Christian message.

    I have often wondered what would happen if I started reading the Bible and Christian books every day again and started going to church 3 or more times a week. I imagine that eventually I might find myself starting to believe again.

    I don’t think whether we believe or not is a measure of goodness. I think the search is important, it says something about your heart that you go on a journey of trying to find the truth and to better yourself.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Indeed, I had studied the writings of enough atheists and liberal scholars during my original investigation to know what they would most likely say in response to the scholar.

    Lee, thanks for this, I’m really enjoying seeing your responses. It seems what you’re saying is that you talked to Christian experts, and had no need to interview experts in biology, physics, or cosmology, because you already knew what they would say. But this is surely not the case. Do you really claim that just because you were an atheist, you have all the knowledge of any Ph.D. who specializes in evolutionary biology, or astrophysics? That you have the expertise to ask the same probing questions that they would? The background and philosophy to articulate what are good scientific methods and good scientific questions? I’m an atheist (with a Ph.D. in physics), but I would never make such assumptions.

    I didn’t want to get into an endless loop of expert versus expert.

    But the complaint isn’t that you should have gotten in an “endless loop.” It’s that you didn’t even loop through once. Look at it this way. Suppose a journalist wrote a book in which they said that they had once supported universal health care, and but that after careful investigation, they realized that universal health care was a terrible idea. In their book, in describing their investigation, they only talk to opponents of universal health care, and then explain that there was no need to interview and/or include the arguments of proponents of universal health care, since they knew what they would say. Wouldn’t you think that perhaps the journalist already wanted to reach a certain conclusion, and had not engaged in a truly objecive investigation? If they protested that the book was already 400 pages in length, and that there was no room to include proponent arguments, wouldn’t you point out that the decision to start with 400 pages of anti-arguments, and none of the pro-arguments (rather than 200 of each), was a sign of a pretty serious (if perhaps subconscious) bias?

    I don’t doubt that you honestly were an atheist, and are honestly describing your conversion from your own perspective. But your description of your investigation makes me think that you wanted to become Christian, and that your investigation consisted (perhaps subconsciously) of seeking out the reasons to become one.

  • Wes

    Strobel seems to be making two conflicting claims.

    In his first posting here, he claimed that it was an investigation of the evidence that lead him to Christianity and that his books reflect this.

    Now, he’s claiming that this was a personal experience matter, and that’s why his books don’t discuss the evidence presented by a number of non-Christian scholars. But if that’s the case, then his books do not reflect an impartial and objective investigation of the evidence.

    You can’t have it both ways. Which is it, Lee? An objective investigation of the evidence, or a personal journey? The two are quite often very different, and you can’t just slide back and forth between the two arbitrarily, claiming it’s an investigation of the evidence when people challenge the reasoning involved and then claiming it’s a personal journey when people challenge all the evidence you left out.

    If you want to make claims about the historicity (or lack thereof) of the Bible, you need to consult biblical scholars like Bart Ehrman and Hector Avalos if you wish to get “both sides” (but there are actually more than two “sides” anyways). If you want info on the origin of the universe, you need to consult expert physicists. If you want info on the origins of life or the process of evolution, you need to consult biologists and biochemists. If you want info on history, you need to consult many historians.

    You apparently have not done this in your books, even though your books make claims about all these issues. In fact, judging by the excuses you make in this current post, it seems that you don’t even understand why an objective investigation of the evidence would require this. Either that, or your investigation was never really that objective to begin with, and this is all just post hoc rationalization of your conversion. Either way, it is wrong to portray your books as an investigation, rather than as straightforward apologetics.

    Also, the debate format Strobel discusses is not the best way to get an objective investigation of the evidence. I get really tired of Creationists and Christian apologists abusing the debate format in this way. The debate format is useful for some things, but it emphatically is not a means of scientific or scholarly investigation. The debate format is too political and too sensitive to extraneous influences to count as an objective investigation of the evidence and issues.

  • SarahH

    Others have already summarized my thoughts on this, but I think it is particularly telling that Strobel keeps mentioning Flew – another prominent atheist-turned-Christian – as if the fact that people like himself and Flew exist is a good argument for the veridicality of Christianity. Throwing in the emotional appeal (the weeping agnostic) is just a low blow.

    This review (written by a man whose essay was actually quoted on page 295 of CfC) summarizes my shared criticisms of Strobel’s lack of even-handed presentation of evidence.

  • GullWatcher

    I looked at the previous parts and couldn’t find where this question was asked. Is this a case of reframing the question so that one can give the answer one wants to give? In political circles I think that is called “staying on topic”, and known to the rest of us as intellectual dishonesty.

    I did see Richard Wade’s excellent question – is this supposed to be a reply to that? If so, please try again, because that was a good question and this is a bad answer.

  • @SarahH: Flew didn’t become a christian, at best (for theism) he became a deist.

  • As Strobel admits, his book was entitled “The Case for Christ” but he takes great pains to repeatedly note that it was “about [his] own spiritual journey”. If he was completely honest here, he should have called it “A Case for [a] Christ”, or “My Case for [a] Christ”.

  • SarahH

    @SarahH: Flew didn’t become a christian, at best (for theism) he became a deist.

    D’oh. I knew that, I’m just having a weird day where theist/deist = Christian as far as my fingers/keyboard relationship goes.

    And I have a problem with the subtitle and the claims surrounding the book, not with the title “The Case for Christ” which could easily be the title of an apologetics book.

  • You know, I really can’t fault Strobel for his answer to this question. Well, I can, but not for the reason everyone else has though I completely agree with all the comments here so far.

    My problem is this: Strobel has told us why he didn’t write the book we would have expected, but he hasn’t told us why he wrote the books he did.

    If you read between the lines, what he’s essentially saying is this:

    “I don’t write for academic purposes, I write to sell books. I can sell more books writing about how Christian experts respond to the issues Christians believe atheists have. It doesn’t matter if I spread misconceptions about the atheist position, because my target market already shares these misconceptions. I got to where I am by reinforcing the beliefs of my readers, not be challenging them. It is not my job to accurately and thoroughly present any opposing viewpoint. Think of me like a defence attorney. I’m not going to present the prosecution’s case and I certainly don’t have to prove anything. I don’t need to be right, I just need to convince the jury the prosecution’s case is lacking. In this case, the jury (ie, my target market) is made up of my peers who already accept 99% of what I have to say and they want to accept the other 1%.”

    Honestly, I can’t fault him for that. He’s an author and he has to make a living. If that means his book is called The Case For Christ and not the more precise A Case For A Christ, so be it. That’s a marketing decision, not an academic one.

    It is somewhat curious that the working title of the book I’m in the preliminary stages of working on is The An Atheist‘s Manifesto while Atheist Manifesto is already in print.

  • Nice try, Lee. The theme of the question was fairly clear, ‘why didn’t you ask biology questions to a biologist, etc?’

    No need to create straw man arguments and manufacture objections. Just answer the question.

    If the answer is “because I didn’t want to,” that would at least be intellectually honest. Your answers, though heart felt, are not intellectually honest.

    Is a straight answer too much to ask?

  • Richard Wade

    Hemant, as Gullwatcher has pointed out, I also cannot find the question in bold at the top of this post anywhere in any of the posts about Mr. Strobel, dating back to the original last April.

    Who asked this question and how was it presented to Mr. Strobel? I thought the whole idea was that he would answer our questions.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Honestly, I can’t fault him for that. He’s an author and he has to make a living.

    Tao Jones, I don’t fault him for that either. His authorial decisions aren’t shocking—apologetic works, whether by Dawkins or C. S. Lewis, are going to be one-sided. I think the question here is not whether Strobel’s authorial choices are defensible, but whether they’re consistent with how the book, and his coversion process, are presented.

  • I think the question here is not whether Strobel’s authorial choices are defensible, but whether they’re consistent with how the book, and his coversion process, are presented.

    Oh, I know. I’m just saying we’re holding him to a higher standard than he, his audience and his publisher do. I’m sure he really believes he has the understanding to present the skeptic’s point of view, at least to the satisfaction of his audience.

  • I actually recently got done reading Strobel’s The Case for the Real Jesus – there’s something akin to a review on my blog if you follow the link there – and I can unequivocally say that Strobel is a liar in The Case for the Real Jesus. His corpus is now sufficiently large that he can find spot quotes to superficially reject comments about his bias, but there is simply no doubt in my mind that in The Case for the Real Jesus he’s a bad journalist and a liar.

  • Richard Wade

    Looking further into the actual questions that Mr. Srobel is answering, I also was unable to find who asked the first question he answered about his background as an atheist. The “question” highlighted in bold seems to be loosely paraphrased from the very first question asked by Zachary Moore in the original post in April, but the part about how much of a “hard-core atheist” seems to have been invented by persons unknown.

    I can understand paraphrasing or combining questions that are similar, and ordinarily I would have no objection. But now, after having seen how coyly Mr. Strobel can equivocate and obfuscate, I think that even the questions he is supposedly answering are suspect.

    In the 263 comments so far to all these posts there have been several clear, simple and excellent questions, needing no paraphrasing. I would like to see just one of these questions taken straight, no chaser and answered without first “spinning” it into something that facilitates a glib and mind-massaging response.

  • And Strobel is lying here, too. He’s, like, “The Case for Christ was a PERSONAL journey.” Yes, but also one of EVIDENCE. As a journalist and lawyer I am sure he’s aware of what evidence is. *rolls eyes*

    What really bugs me about Strobel is that he’s hiding behind this facade of reasonableness and politeness while he’s lying to people’s faces. It makes a mockery of politeness and it’s an insult to people who honestly struggle with difficult spiritual questions. He muddies the water, he poisons the wall.

  • Hemant

    Hi all — Some of you are asking: where did the question(s) come from?

    Most are from the original thread. Some were sent to me by email. Some were my own. Many were edited to combine similar questions and for the sake of clarity.

    I have the original list. If you have doubts, I can check it later.

  • Hi Lee,

    I interviewed Templeton for my book, Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists. He didn’t break down over Jesus at all. That was in 1993-94. He had not yet completed his book, Farewell to God. He also sent back edits of his chapter, which he wanted to be based on a chapter in his autobiography, about his Christian minister days. Year later I read that Templeton had Alzheimer’s, and Billy Graham had visited him, but he could not recognize Graham. So you must have interviewed Templeton at some point after I did, but before Graham visited him.

    On the topic of Templeton missing Jesus, I doubt that anyone could help missing things they once spent a LOT of time growing attached to. Chuck used to explain that his Youth for Christ services were the largest in North America. He was a mega church pastor in the 1950s. He said then had thousands in attendance, and an orchestra. He called them extravaganzas or a similar term.

    Hence his comment about “missing Jesus” was honest, and along with his writings it shows he left the fold for a variety of reasons, certainly not because he hated Jesus (as some Christians contend atheists do).

    As for me, my studies of the N.T. demonstrated to me how little I knew for sure about Jesus, the Jesus that I had been taught about in church and read about in the N.T. Gospels. I’m not a Jesus myther, I just have plenty of questions, even when Gospel stories are compared.
    For instance, I read Habermas’ debate with Flew that you mentioned above, and wrote Habermas on that topic, the resurrection. See here. At least one Christian read my piece online and says the night he read it he suffered his greatest doubts, and he wound up leaving the fold. Another Christian who read it said I had raised some “knotty questions.”


  • Clearly, I don’t think Christians have anything to fear in the marketplace of ideas.

    Of course you don’t — you’re not buying!

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