What Kind of a Skeptic Are You?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

One of our goals with this blog, from the beginning, was to try to answer honest questions that people have about the Christian faith.  Why do I stress the word honest?  Because one of the first things you learn when you write a blog about ultimate issues (i.e., God, morality , meaning of life) is that many of the questions you get asked are not from people who are honestly seeking an answer.  Instead, these folks think they already know the answer and their goal is to merely make the post author look bad.

This makes running a blog like Tough Questions Answered challenging, because there are people who do have honest questions, and you don’t want to ignore them or let them get drowned out by the first group I mentioned.

I ran across a blog post recently, written by Barnabas Piper, that sheds some light on the difference between the honest questioner and the person who has already made up his mind.  Here is an extended quote from the post:

There’s a fine line . . . between being someone who questions things and being a skeptic. In fact, many people would call someone who questions everything a skeptic.  Here’s the thing; I don’t think many skeptics actually question anything.  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.  This may lead to disproving or rejecting, but the heart behind it is in learning. . . .  If the heart of the questioning is to learn, then ask away. 

I think he put his finger on it.  If the questioner is set on learning, then these are the people I want to spend the most time with.  I do not mind spending some time, also, with those who are dogmatically opposed to me, but I have to realize in those situations that the dialogue is an illusion – they are not trying to understand a thing I’m writing.

One commenter, Daron, said the following in reaction to Piper’s post:

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.

I can relate to this comment.  Often I will write a blog post about topic X, but instead of responding to topic X, commenters will pick up on some detail in the blog post that has little to do with the central point and blast me for it.  Why?  I can honestly say I have never, to my recollection, gone to someone’s blog or website and made comments with the sole purpose of making them look bad.  It just seems like such a waste of time.

Let me end this post with a plea I’ve made before.  When you read our blog posts, or someone’s comments about a post, please try to understand what they are saying, and above all, be charitable!  Assume the author is well intended.  Give each other the benefit of the doubt, and all of our conversations will be so much more fruitful.  By the way, I am preaching to myself as much as anyone else; we all need to work on being more charitable toward each other.

  • Ben

    What about those who ask a question to understand your postition on a subject, but have another belief and are not interested in changing their belief? For example, I believe in pretrib rapture of the church, but I still want to hear the reasons people believe in other positions.

  • John

    I agree with Ben. I believe in multiple gods. Christians believe in a triune god. How are they not the same thing?

  • Andrew EC

    Again, Bill, I pose a simple challenge to you:

    Can you name a single argument, in a single post on this site — a site you’ve maintained for nearly three years, mind you! — where you’ve honestly engaged with a skeptic and learned something?

    All I’m asking for is for you to identify just a single argument that you’ve given up. Given the number of truly awful arguments I’ve seen here just in the past few months — and given your repeated protestations of fairness and open-mindedness — this should be easy.

    Yet you can’t.

    Isn’t some part of you at least curious as to why that is?

  • It depends on your motive. If you are asking questions merely to gather ammunition to bury someone, then you are not asking a question in order to learn.

    If you are asking questions about someone’s position because you are truly interested in what they think, then I think that is totally legitimate, whether you accept anything they believe as true or not.

  • John,
    Please read our blog posts on the Trinity to see why the Christian doctrine of the Trinity does not entail multiple gods.

  • Anonymous

    I’m the kind of skeptic who reads the writings of scholars who hold positions opposed to my own. When I ask a question, I am usually doing so to test my understanding of the issue. I am open to having the flaws in my understanding demonstrated, but I don’t usually ask the question with the expectation that I am going to learn something new since I have already devoted some time and effort to familiarizing myself with the relevant issues.

  • Bill Pratt,

    It is to your credit you allow dissenting comments—even from people you think want you to “look bad.” If you ever felt that was my intention, I apologize. I realized long ago your focus was more directed to “searchers” and other Christians, rather than debating non-believers, thus limiting my conversations here to avoid being a nuisance.

    I always presume honest questioners would be interested in what actual skeptics say and how each side interacts to the other’s points, in addition to your comments. But that is me.

  • Boz

    Perhaps, in particular circumstances, a person may already be very knowledgable about the subject matter. In that case, inquiry has already occured. And so, agreement or disagreement can be assserted immediately.

    I agree that the principle of charity is important to maintain

  • TAD

    Thank you for this post – I’ve come across this SO many times and it’s frustrating.

    Personally I like to learn and absorb information like a sponge, if I can. So typically I like to ask questions and think about different angles that could be taken. I’ve arrived at the Christian worldview through not only this way but through actually educating myself more about it. I was raised Christian and have always been so, yet I found my faith was far more enriched when I had doubts and then went to find answers. And answers I did find.

  • Interesting and challenging post Bill, one that anyone arguing on the internet would do well to consider.

    There are a couple of things that struck me while reading it though.

    – What about sceptics who come to you having already considered much of what is relevant and have come to a conclusion? It may seem to you that they are dismissive, but you may not be aware of their previous ponderings.

    – Who much do you take on board what you have said? Are you equally prepared to consider that what you think you know about the Christian God is utterly wrong?

  • Hi Matthew,
    With regard to a skeptic’s previous ponderings, I have no issue with them coming to the blog and stating their beliefs about a particular topic. Many of them do that, and the skeptics who actually have studied up often contribute positively to the conversation.

    What I don’t think is productive is when a skeptic comes to the blog and asks a lot of questions, pretending to be interested in learning, all along knowing that they don’t want answers. They either want to make someone look bad, or they just want more evidence for their previous position.

    With regard to whether I am willing to consider whether my positions are wrong, I can say “yes.” Many people on the blog have persuaded me to refine my views and and my arguments. There are arguments I used to think were very strong, that I’ve come to see are weaker. I have also changed my positions on interpretation of Genesis, eschatology, apologetics methods, historical evidence for Jesus, and a host of other areas. I do actually listen and adjust when I am presented with strong counter-arguments.

  • Thanks for the response Bill.

    I think one of the challenges when you have theists and atheists discussing on the internet is that its very hard for there to be much common ground. Its a very black / white subject.

    Being open to small changes in opinion and interpretation is one thing; but to convince a theist there is no God or an atheist that there is one is a much bigger ask. Even if each one comes to the discussion with the desire to be respectful and honest, the bottom line still becomes “yes there is” and “no there isn’t”. It doesn’t matter what else they might agree on or where they appear on the sceptic scale you refer to in your original post.