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« Does Christianity Make Us Closed-minded? | Main | Links Mentioned on the Show »

November 11, 2011


I don't think that's the right way to distinguish a skeptic from a questioner. I reject this proposal

"Believe those who search for the truth, doubt those who find it." - Andre Gide

Arnauld, I think after a short conversation with a person asking questions, you can get a sense if they are interested in dialogue or just trying to frustrate you.

I like James 1:5-8, which says (KJV)

"If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.

A double minded man is unstable in all his ways."

Therefore, if we have a question, we inquire of the Lord, but we had better be prepared to act on any information/truth shared, thereby exercising our faith; otherwise, we are no better than sign-seekers, and will find the Heavens remain silent, not because there are not answers, but because the Lord shares line upon line, precept upon precept, only with those prepared to act on their knowledge as true disciples.

You know, Perry, that quotation sounds good but actually makes no sense at all.

Cog - I know, it is flawed. It has to be parsed. Imagine a fundamentalist of any stripe - religious, political, dietary - on the extreme, who is so sure about his or her views that their arrogance eclipses their message. That is when I think this quote has good application. I believe the quote speaks more to acknowledging the persistence of ambiguity in life, and the rarity that all things are exactly as we think them to be.

Here’s the thing; I don’t think many skeptics actually question anything.

But why doesn't Barney think so?

Suppose ALL skeptics DO have their hearts "set on rejection and disproving". Does this justify any belief in particular?

You can easily find skeptics pointing out that everyone including skeptics is subject to cognitive biases.

Go to a skeptical blog, website, or podcast like The Skeptics Guide, Skeptoid, Rationally Speaking, LessWrong... Search the site for 'cognitive bias'.



Perry's quotation would imply we should doubt the biologists who study DNA and find from that study we share ancestry with chimps!


RonH, I think Barney tells us why he doesn't think so in the next two sentences:

"They may phrase their challenges as questions, but their heart is set on rejection and disproving. To truly question something is to pose questions to it and about it for the sake of understanding."

A question made in the pursuit of an answer is different from a question posed to make a point.

This article is certainly wrestling with ambiguity. I see myself as a skeptic because most often I demand evidence in order to trust. However, Barney here is talking about Skeptics, if I may capitalize it to show he is describing a group of people who have rejected belief as much as possible.


When I asked Why does Barney think so? I meant: What evidence has he for his claim?

What you offer is a repetition or a clarification or maybe a definition of his claim. It is not evidence for the claim.

Skepticism is a lesson learned from science. Science learned it from nature. Nature is a harsh teacher who will ignore your every bias every time.


Do you mean to ask what is Barnabas's evidence for the claim that "[the skeptic's] heart is set on rejection and disproving"?

It is very easy to spot the type of "Skeptic" being discussed. They gainsay everything they read on a Christian blog - usually the most picayune detail or lowest-hanging fruit - because no matter what they find to question, it justifies their predetermined rejection of belief.
At the same time, they cite magazines like Skeptical Inquirer without question and never look skeptically at them.
One prime example is an atheist I dealt with for years on another blog.
He came in with the classic posture of "the Gospels were written hundreds of years after the events they purport to describe, by men far away from the locale described ... Jesus probably never even existed ... " etc.
Every topic that came up he would dispute. It didn't matter what it was, as long as he could take the opposite side to what the Christian was espousing.
Time after time the dialogue would end with no admission that his point had failed to carry, that he had learned anything, that his logic had come up short, or any such thing.
But once, in answer to a challenge, he admitted that he now accepted (after several years) that Jesus likely had really lived, was Crucified, and was buried in a tomb AND that His disciple actually did think they had encounters with Him after the disappearance of His body AND that the events were recorded during the lifetime of the witnesses.
Note, he had never once admitted during one of these discussions that the evidence was tilting that way, or that his arguments were not holding up against the Christian's evidence. He refused to give any ground.

And, although these denials were supposedly front and centre in his rejecting Christianity those several years earlier, somehow realizing that he had been so far off on so many points did nothing to bring him even one step closer to belief.

That's a Skeptic for you.

The title reminds me of the bumper stickers I used to see more often a few years ago: "Question Authority". This was the message of the latest generation of anti-establishment (AE) crowd. The philosophical roots are pretty well-established and the presumption is that authority is given by the assent of the governed and is therefore questionable. It had nothing to do with holding any authority accountable to a higher Authority-giver by appropriate methods.

The AE-ers don't actually ask any questions. The admonition to question is rhetorical and intended to persuade people to buy into the real "question" that they "beg": that we have no real authority to hold us accountable to anything. By begging the question, they intend to sidestep anyone actually questioning their authority to propagate that philosophy. This is same pattern of the skeptics discussed here.

Truly, we are taught by Christ and Paul alike to submit to governing authorities because they are established by God. We might question His authority, but we would get the same answer He gave to Job.

"Perry's quotation would imply we should doubt the biologists who study DNA and find from that study we share ancestry with chimps!"
Ron H.

Ha! Funny. We both know that what they found were similarities in the DNA, but found nothing to indicate common ancestry. If you just run base pair comparisons, we have lots of similarities to many living things.

Now if you look at gene expression, well, that is a whole different story. Very different than Chimps.


I try and give everyone the benefit of the doubt when it comes to whether or not they are really seeking to learn. It doesn't matter if they call themselves skeptics, christian or LDS. I don't mistake a challenge against by beliefs for dogmatism. That is the mistake I think he is making here. If someone has a belief and I challenge it. That is no reason to say that I'm not sincere about seeking truth. I may think I have thought something through to all its ends. But it may not be apparent to me until someone hits me with a legitimate challenge. Its nice to talk about asking questions being willing to learn but sometimes the best way to learn is not be knocked on your ass by cold hard reality. Let's stop worrying about who is and isn't open minded and just focus on ending our own cognitive biases.

As you are admonishing others to focus on their own cognitive biases, Josh, so is the OP. One way to do this is to see when you are being a disingenuous and false Skeptic who doesn't care if is questions are answered or his challenges met.


Well said. But I think some biases are written into scripture.


Why should I question what I know? For example, I know it's wrong to torture children for fun, that there's a computer screen in front of me, that Mozart is better than the Sex Pistols, and that child rape is deeply wicked.

If I questioned everything, I'd have to question these beliefs. But I'm not sure how I would even begin to question them. What do I do, suspend belief, verbally announce to my friends and neighbors my skepticism (even though I am not really skeptical), or try really, really hard to pretend to question these beliefs? But how's that accomplished. It's not like I can actually unbelieve them. In fact, I can't actually do that. I just believe them and have never even dreamt that they could be false. To question these beliefs, therefore, would be intellectually dishonest. But I know that anything that leads to intellectual dishonest is something I should avoid. So, questioning everything is something I should avoid. Does that mean that I should not question anything? Of course not. In fact, this exercise is an exercise in questioning the command that one ought to question everything.

I think it's fair to say that everyone wants to validate their worldview as they systematically or maybe systemitize their sense input with what they believe is rationally and foundationally true.[whether it can survive inquiry notwithstanding]

This is bias for sure, but bias doesn't exclude truth claims from being true, but if one relies on a bare assertion to offer an apologetic, they seem foolish to those who question him and he may feel foolish himself if he's honest enough to examine his reasoning thoroughly.

Many [or even most] Christians and non Christians alike are guilty of being ill-equipped at defending their worldview, which really has no bearing on the truth value of a particular worldview. In other words, if I as a Christian defend the Christian worldview poorly, it doesn't really affect the actual truthfulness of it--same for any other adherent of their worldview though. For a worldview to stand, it must be at a minimum coherent on the surface, and upon further inspection noncontradictory within the system and be compatible with experience at an ultimate level.

Many worldveiws cannot even survive a first level inspection for coherency and adherents to them must suppress what is evident to continue believing with earnest. Now this brings up the issue of the heart, that is, what does a person want to believe is true?

If it were possible to separate desire from interpretation, things might be so brutely true that they couldn't be denied. Interestingly, even this experience is not left without foundational reason, but answered in the Biblical revelation.

The Christian worldview is the only system of thought that answers the questions of life in a coherent way, not just on some issues, but comprehensively.

Hi Francis, as a philosopher, do you subscribe to the tabula rasa view of knowledge/understanding? I know Aquinas has covered this, but I'm not familiar enough to say anything about it. Augustine also had what is called the "logos doctrine" that is counter to tabula rasa.

I ask because you write "why question what I know?". Even foundational beliefs can be wrong, and even if true to reality, for the wrong reasons.

If you are wondering why ask about tabula rasa, if you did subscribe to it, your post would seem confusing, but I think the RC view is that tabula rasa is friendly to the Church's system of thought.

Francis you are talking about pyrrhics, right?


Just so people have some background, about the diffulty of justifying knowledge, here's a feeble attempt by a pure amateur to give a brief history of the epistemology of knowledge which later philosophers developed further.

Plato made attempts to justify knowledge and reasoned that without prior information in the human mind, the sense perceptions that bombard the mind would be so disorganized and random that it would be a mass of static and incomprehensible noise. Knowledge would not be possible with a tabula rasa. [blank mind]

Plato argued for the pre-existence of the soul which[led to doctrines of reincarnation] to account for the mind having a set of categories to know what to do with sense input. His attempt seems to have ignored the fact that at some point the soul would still have had to have been supplied with categories and at a minimum the knowledge of the law of non contradiction. His view that is everything that we experience is only a interaction with a copy or shadow of the perfect. This means that we have some knowledge of the perfect already in the mind to be able to sort and organize the experiences we have when the opportunity to experience or have some interaction with objects occurs.

Aristotle didn't agree with his teacher on this, I think that Aristotle argued that encounters with sense perceptions worked in a synergistic way with the mind to teach it forms. Experiences with objects leave impressions or imprints on the reasoning faculties that allows for categories to be formed and then the organizing of thought grows off of that. I think that Aristotles thought was later developed by Aquinas, but like I said in the earlier post I'm not familiar with Aquinas' writing enough to comment.

Here is a paper on the Augustinian Logos Doctrine.

This paper may be helpful to fill gaps that I've left above. Even if one doesn't agree with the doctrine, the article is concise and informative.


I want to know why Barney says "I don't think many skeptics actually question anything".

Has he done a study?

Is it a hunch he has?

Does he think the only kind of skepticism is phyrrhic?

Does he simply believe that all kinds of skepticism relating to Christianity are noetic effects of sin?

Is it wishful thinking?


I just want to know why you're calling him Barney.


Thanks for pointing this out. It was rude.

I'm normally careful with people's names - probably because I have a weird last name which kids made fun of. I don't know why I did this.

My apologies - especially to Barnabas.


Thanks, Ron. :-)

The name game issue resolved, the questions are worthy of answering. I dont see anything in the quote to provide the answers.

As far as honest questioning, and even self examination of deeply held beliefs, one would have to have sufficient reason to believe that they are at risk to being deceived even to the most obviously truths.

Many of these kinds of truths are not inspected simply because the belief that it could be questioned is not considered.

Here is an example of another kind of deception or lack of ability to see the world as it truly is. It has been said that when ships first appeared on the North American coast, the natives could not see them, not because of an eye problem, but because in their understanding of the world it was untenable to even consider that what was visible could actually be true. Whether this really occurred or not I do not know.

I should say this post wasn't meant to be a philosophical statement--that is, I'm not saying you ought to hold everything you believe in doubt. My only point is that we ought to 1) beware of becoming a person who is "set on rejection and disproving," and 2) not hold back our questions, but ask freely and look at everything from all sides so we can know truth as well as possible.

That's all I took Barnabas to be saying.

The idea that questioning everything is inherently good is a first cousin to the idea that having an open mind on every subject is inherently good. I’ll repost a favorite quote of mine.

"The purpose of an open mind is to close it, on particular subjects. If you never do — you've simply abdicated the responsibility to think." - William F. Buckley Jr.

Once you close your mind on a subject, you’ve ceased to question it. This is not always a bad thing.


I’ve been guilty of #1 too many times to count. Every single time I pick up a Christian book and read the dust jacket I’d be convicted. I never pick it up and think, “I wonder if this is good?” I most always think, “let’s see how wacko this person is.”

Aren't many of you picking at nits? It seems to me that Mr. Piper is simply defining skeptic so that the listener or reader knows to what type of person/questioner he is referring.

By-the-way, RonH, "why" would you say that you think some biases are written into scripture? I mean, what's the evidence you have for this claim? You see, what's good for the goose is good for gander. If you expect Mr. Piper to provide evidence, why don't you for each assertion you make? I understand you are a relatively rational person. So when you make that claim, or those of others ("many if not most Christians...) I try and read it graciously in the context of a blog, not requiring a statistical analysis or for a claim to be referenced.


Romans 1:18–23 is the sort of thing I had in mind.



1 Corinthians 2:11-16

RonH and Josh, are those examples of bias in the scriptures? I'm not sure I get it unless you are saying that God is showing a bias in these verses. If that is your point or not, I'd appreciate clarification.

Every belief that has not been grounded in inescapable reason is subject to open season for questioning until it is thus grounded. After that, it is safe to consider the question sufficiently answered.[even the question of torturing children, if it is not grounded to an absolute law, it is just someones opinion and not everyone is compelled to agree, although in this case most just would agree even without appeal to an absolute moral authority]

Are you committed to believing the Bible Brad?

Scratch that.

Do you believe that, in these passages, God is telling you something?



Thanks for the reference. I'm not sure, however, how this supports your contention that biases are written into scripture. Can you briefly explain.

Brad B,

Can you please define "inescapable reason". What are the criteria taht determines if the reason (rationale) is inescapable? Is this sufficiently different from "sound reason"?

Hi Brian, I dont think it's too different from sound reason, because sound reason should be inescapable reason also. I think the term is useful to describe what happens when reason forces an argument to a conclusion, not persuasion[alone] ala the "Dialogues by Plato". I think I'd recommend the booklet "Captive to Reason" by Vincent Cheung to know why I am fond of the phrase.

For some background and history about skepticism, check:

Josh said (paraphrase)

I try to give everyone the benefit of a doubt when it comes to whether they are really seeking to learn.

I said...

I think some biases are written into scripture.

Brian asked why I think so.

I offered Romans 1:18-23.

Josh apparently understood and agreed: he offered 1 Corinthians 2:11-16.

Brian and Brad B now want more explanation.

I think reading the comments and the passages should make this unnecessary. But, here goes.

I mean to say it is written into scripture that...

Non-believers, by nature, don't seek to learn.

I mean to say this notion acts as a bias in the believer.

A bias is a departure of some kind from normal decision making.

I mean to say that assuming that your interlocutor, by nature, doesn't seek to learn is not a normal step in making a decision.



I checked your article. It's wrong about modern skepticism and wrong about Shermer too.

Modern skeptics have adopted the word but not the ancient philosophy. You don't cover what they mean.

Shermer, by the modern meaning of the word, is not "only a religious skeptic".



I've just read through this entire post and got to your second to last entry and am sitting here feeling very puzzled. The Scripture references which you and Josh posted obviously make sense to both of you with regard to the subject of Scriptural bias, but I simply don't get it. You stated that reading the passages should make explanation unnecessary, but I think not! You purport that the passages indicate "bias in the believer"--please explain this so I can see what you mean. Furthermore, I would like to know where your definition of a bias being "a departure of some kind from normal decision making" is derived from?


Sorry to check on this so late, but I just found this blog and read through the discussion which is quite interesting, if somewhat disturbing.

Every idea presented in the modern day bible (of course, there are large amounts of equally valuable books that were not chosen as canon) reflects a strong bias. What bias you ask? Everything presented in today's bible reflects the bias of a belief in the supernatural. It reflects the bias that humans by themselves have no value without God. How anybody could claim to be a Christian and not recognize this bias is beyond me. The bible also does not provide a coherent answer or explanation for life because it leaves a gaping, grand canyon size hole – Who is God’s creator, who created the creator of God, ad infinitum.

It is also wise to remember that language is fluid and changes over time. What skepticism was perceived to be 100 or 1000 years ago is not what skepticism is today. Many of the comments written here reflect the popular anti-science bias that variously postulates that all scientists (or skeptics) are predisposed to disbelieve everything that is presented to them that does not fit their world view. Of course, there are variations on this theme, but it is an over-played word virus at best and a dangerous thought weapon at worst.

Science and skeptics seek the truth by presenting ideas and either proving them wrong or showing that they have validity based on evidence. This evidence is not anecdotal and must be controlled and tested for repeatedly. Beware of any evidence or studies that do not include experimental and observational science, rigorous controls, double and triple blinds, etc.

Be well.

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