Why Are You a Skeptic of Christianity?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Apologist and author Bill Foster has just written a new book entitled Meet the Skeptic.  I was unfamiliar with Bill before reading this book, which was given to me by one of our church staff.

I have read a truckload of books on apologetics, so I was a little bit dubious that there was anything new here, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Bill certainly covers some familiar ground, but the difference between his book and others is that he attempts to model skepticism by placing modern skeptics of Christianity into four categories, based on their worldview.  He then describes the “root idea” of each of these worldviews and gives readers some suggested approaches to conversing with each of these kinds of skeptics.

The first kind of skeptic is the spiritual skeptic.  The root idea is: “Good works get you to heaven.”

The second kind of skeptic is the moral skeptic.  The root idea is: “People should decide for themselves what is right and wrong.”

The third kind of skeptic is the scientific skeptic.  The root idea is: “The natural world is all there is.”

The fourth kind of skeptic is the biblical skeptic.  The root idea is: “The Bible is man-made.”

As I have conversed with skeptics over the years, I have certainly encountered all of these.  In fact, in some cases I have interacted with a skeptic who could be placed in multiple categories.  It is always helpful to have a mental framework of where a person is coming from when speaking to them about Christianity, and this book will nicely serve that purpose.

One caution, however.  Every skeptic is an individual, and they will not always fit neatly into a category.  Most people can’t stand being labeled, so anyone using this book needs to be careful that they don’t come across like a Christian label-maker.  I’m sure Bill Foster would agree that these categories serve as guidelines, but we always need to truly engage with a person and learn about them as a unique individual.   

A couple questions for our blog readers.  Do these categories seem right to you?  If you are a skeptic, what is your reaction to these four categories?

Something just occurred to me.  Maybe the skeptics have written a book called Meet the Apologist …..

  • Bill, you make an important observation when you say that “every sceptic is an individual” dovetailing with “Maybe the skeptics have written a book called Meet the Apologist …..”

    I assure you that, figuratively speaking, they have. And just as their take on us is often shortsided, and taken from the worst of us as being most of us, so our understanding of skeptics is often a mile wide and an inch deep.

    Most of my serious contact with sceptics is net based, with it’s proclivity towards disrespect and drive-by sniper postings. But I’ve found a pretty large group of folks willing to engage if you treat them with respect while disagreeing with them, and if you don’t treat them as if you have them all figured out and in a pigeon-hole. They often start with that mindset about Christians, and it is impossible to break that while holding onto the same error ourselves.

    I have lately been responding to an athiest blog about ethical decision making. Some of the drive-by comments from supposed christian posters are just appalling! (You people are going to hell if you don’t change your ways!!!)

    Now, I happen to agree with that as a theological statement. But it is so distructive to real conversation, and hardens the barriers to the gospel so much that I amm tempted to denounce them -but I can’t without seeming to denounce what they are saying.

    Love and respect go a long way.
    Good post, and an important topic

    R. Eric Sawyer

  • Bill Pratt

    Well put, Eric. Thanks for the comment.

  • scaryreasoner

    AS a skeptic, the “spiritual skeptic” who thinks good works get you to heaven makes no sense to me — doesn’t sound like a skeptic at all.

    The 2nd type, “people should decide for themselves what’s right and wrong,” seem to miss the mark slightly and should be rephrased, “pople DO decide for themselves what’s right and wrong, (some people just decide for themselves that what’s right and wrong can be found by looking in a book — they still have decided for themselves. — There is no escape from relativism, even the absolutists can only use their own brains.)

    “The natural world is all there is.” Well, The natural world _might as well be all there is for all the difference it makes, as anything that is not part of the natural world is either indetectable or, if it is detectable, can only be detectable by interacting with the natural world — which makes it a part of the natural world.

    The Bible is man made, well, of course it is.

    Sum it all up: Christianity is VERY OBVIOUSLY JUST PLAIN DAFT.

  • Hi there,

    interesting post. I do disagree, however, with the notion of pigeonholing skeptics. While they serve as useful guidelines, more often than not the skeptic you will face will break that category.

    For example, spiritual skeptics don’t always believe that good works can get one into heaven. Some believe everyone can get into haeven. Others are more prone to disbelieving hell than believing heaven.

  • Shamelessly Atheist

    Scaryreasoner has already pointed out the problem with what you describe as the moral skeptic, that we do ‘decide’ what is right and what is wrong. I place the word ‘decide’ in parentheses because it isn’t that simple. Regardless, there is absolutely no need, nor is there evidence for, an external morality.

    There is another problem, one with what you call the scientific skeptic. What you are describing is metaphysical naturalism. There are also those who are methodological naturalists that don’t fit your description and yet are very skeptical of religious claims. Regardless, we can only have knowledge through observation. Revelation can not be considered knowledge at all, since without verification we can have no confidence in it being knowledge. Any discussion of anything outside of a naturalist universe is nonsense, since by definition we can not know anything about it.

    But you miss the most important type of skeptic – the type that not only requires evidence for claims (which is the only type of skeptic really) and recognizes that there is simply no evidence to support any religious claim. This is the kind that is your nightmare, and I happen to be amongst their number.

  • Bill Pratt

    The funny thing about your kind of skeptic is that you claim you need evidence to believe anything, yet you believe in many things that are completely unsupported by evidence. You believe that life originated from non-life, yet this has never been demonstrated. Many of you believe that multiple universes exist, yet we have only seen one. Many of you believe that information is generated by non-intelligent matter, yet nobody has ever seen this occur. At least two skeptics I’ve conversed with on this blog believe that there exists eternal energy, although this directly violates the second law of thermodynamics, and there is no evidence of it. This list could go on and on.

    You aren’t a nightmare to me because you demand evidence; you aren’t a nightmare to me at all. I give out the best information I can about Christianity, and some people get it and some don’t. God takes care of that.

    Talk to you soon,

  • Bill Pratt

    That’s true. A lot of times those that believe everyone can go to heaven also believe that everyone is capable of being good enough to get to heaven. Usually these people conceive of humans as fundamentally good, and find it hard to believe that anyone could be bad enough to deserve hell.

    Thanks for bringing up the issue.

  • dan

    In response to scaryreasoner’s claim that people “DO decide for themselves what’s right and wrong” I would ask her to provide evidence that an actual decision is being made.

    Try as I might, I can’t “decide” that murder, rape, etc. are moral. I have no choice but to acknowledge that my brain has determined that those things are immoral. Whether that determination was the result of some unguided natural process by which those who thought murder was wrong were more able to reproduce, or whether my “conscience” was placed there by someone/thing which guided the natural process, it’s still not a decision.

  • Rob

    I enjoyed reading scaryreasoner’s post. I just have a couple questions on a few statements made: “There is no escape from relativism”- are you absolutely sure? “the absolutists can only use their own brains” – are you absolutely sure? “Christianity is VERY OBVIOUSLY JUST PLAIN DAFT.” – are you absolutely sure? Its all relative remember? Maybe….then again maybe not. 🙂

  • Bill Pratt

    I was wondering when someone would hit that softball… 🙂

  • I don’t believe in Christianity at all, but I’m not a skeptic. To be skeptical, one must have doubts and I have no doubt that Christianity is based on myth, superstition and manipulation. So, I don’t fall in any of the 4 categories.

  • I’d like to clarify the focus of my book for the Christians and skeptics alike in these posts who have not read it but who appear to have only gleaned some vague notion about it from the review.

    The book is NOT about classifying skeptics, pigeon-holing them, stripping them of their individuality, or in any way reducing them to a caricature.

    The point of the categories is not to label or categorize people, but rather to make us aware of what kind of skepticism they are expressing at the time we engage them, what kind of conversation we are likely to have, and what ideas are at the root of those conversations.

    It goes without saying that people are complicated. I say explicitly in the book that a person’s worldview includes all four of the basic categories I outline–they can present ideas from any one or all of them at any time. We don’t have the time during a conversation to psychoanalyze each other–all we have to go on are the words we say. My book is designed to bring out the meaningful ideas behind those words.

  • David Williams

    Bill, Thanks for writing “Meet the Skeptic”,
    I have just finished reading it and find it to be fresh and true. I have read other books on apologetics but this one is very up to date and deals directly with words/concepts we are most likely to encounter. Showing people the love and grace of Christ has to start some place and conversations like these are very good.

  • Thomas_Adam_Lewis

    Wow I am really, really late to this but I found it randomly browsing and thought I’d share because I found the tone thoughtful and respectful and agreeable to conversation.

    I’m a skeptic of the third and fourth type and of another type. I also doubt Christianity’s (and all religious) truth claims because religious thought is robustly and in my best estimation better explained by cognitive and psychological science than by appeal to a supernatural realm. I just thought I’d mention that because it seems the cognitive science of religion so thoroughly flies under the radar of almost every apologist I’ve ever read. Here is a list of books on the topic. You can look up many of the reviews to get a sense of what I am talking about.


  • Hi Thomas,
    Thanks for your comments. The reason I don’t think cognitive and psychological science is the final word on religious truth claims is because those sciences only deal, ultimately, with physical, mechanistic explanations of human brain activity. There is no room in those sciences for free will, reason, volition, or final causes.

    An example might help. If I asked you to give me an explanation of the first Ford automobile, you could explain to me what the parts of the engine are, the thermodynamic laws which govern the operation of the engine, the functions of the different parts of the automobile, etc.

    But you could also explain to me why Ford designed the car, what his purpose was for designing it, what motivation he had to build it, what his reasoning process was to arrive at the tradeoffs he made.

    These two sets of explanations are quite different from each other and answer very different questions. Both are helpful explanations, but they explain different aspects of the Ford automobile.

    I see psychological and cognitive sciences providing the first set of explanations, but not the second. So, although these sciences can be very useful and instructive, they do not give a complete account of religious thought.

  • John

    Can you provide evidence of your claims?