Every contributor to this book is a fan of Unbelievable? the broadcast, and Justin Brierley, the host. We were drawn to the show because which we found it refreshing. Instead of the traditional debate format, there was a discussion between a Christian and an atheist. Sometimes the topic was theological. Sometimes it was scientific or historical. But it was always interesting and challenging.
Instead of chasing straw men, we could get the clearest possible idea of what real Christians actually believed. This has been both the strength and weakness of the show. What the format revealed is that Christians believe a little bit of everything. One week, a person could believe in eternal conscious torment. The next week, the Christian guest could be calling that notion a ridiculous idea that no one believes, or one that for the most part, has ever believed in.
One Christian scholar says that every story in the Bible is historical, and every word accurate. While another acknowledges some human errors, even going as far as to affirm that in the gospels, events and sayings were sometimes made up.
Because Justin is such a good moderator, we had no idea what his views were on any given topic from week to week. We couldn’t formulate opposing arguments because it was never clear what his position actually was on any given subject. This is just one of the reasons we were so excited to see Justin’s book. Finally, there would be a definitive statement on what Justin believed, and the flavor of Christianity he endorsed.
Unfortunately, the book still left many questions unanswered. Here are two examples:
1. Justin believes that if the resurrection of Jesus is true, it changes everything. In some ways, it is the only Christian truth claim that really matters. He does not say why that would be. One might equally say that if the reincarnation of Vishnu is true, then that changes everything. What if both claims are true? What is it about the Christian claim that is so much better? Why should we spend our lives researching the Christian claims, but pay little attention to any other claims?
2. Justin mentions spiritual warfare as one of the potential explanations for the problem of evil. But he fails to address how it could be possible that the war effort of a lesser being could possibly affect god’s good creation, and keep god from accomplishing the good he wants to do in the world. Justin wants us to believe that his god is in control of everything, but that he is also in a bloody war that requires all his resources, and that he can’t win after all these eons. How is that possible? What does any of that even mean?
In addition to things left unsaid and unexplained, we couldn’t help but notice a few arguments Justin made that, at best, seemed somewhat overstated. He makes some scientific claims early in the book that even scientists address with much more caution.
Justin also cited skeptics, particularly when he thought it would bolster his case and place atheists in a difficult position. But atheists have no prophets. We are free to agree or disagree with ideas regardless of who presents them. Bart Ehrman is not the oracle of atheist truth, nor is Richard Dawkins or Bertrand Russell. More to the point, every skeptic Justin cites emphatically disagrees with Justin’s ultimate position. None of them are believers.
It was clear that Justin’s book deserved a response. Truly, it was an obvious conclusion. After all, one of the things we so very much appreciate about the show is that for every Christian argument, there is an atheist response. If there was no atheist guest that week, Justin always read comments that expressed strong disagreement with the Christian position.
So it was only fitting that Justin’s first book be paired with a reasonable and worthy response in keeping with his theme. We have also been a part of the last 10 years of programing as listeners and commenters. Two of us have even been guests on the show multiple times.
This response book is our contribution to the dialog. Like the show, it is not a formal debate. It is a conversation held in a bar over drinks. We are not enemies or even opponents. We are all friends here. But we bring a different perspective to the table. We strongly disagree on some very important and fundamental things.
We are many voices. And most of us are former Christians. We experienced different flavors of Christianity in different parts of the world. As individuals with different experiences, we have different ways of expressing our atheism. Some of us might even be more comfortable with a label such as soft skeptic.
We have at least one polemicist who gives no aid and comfort to the Christian view, and one who is recently emerging from a life of faith - rather more hesitant to disclaim all Christian beliefs. We have one who speaks in the language of science, and one who is willing to grant many Christian ideas for the sake of argument. We have one who is highly analytical, and one who parses the deeply philosophical.
We come from ultraconservative to hyper-liberal belief, and everything in between. Among us is at least one graduate of a conservative Christian university. One might even call it a seminary. Represented in our group of skeptics are some who attained high positions of leadership in their church.
We are intimately familiar with the Bible and faith. We sympathize with the Christian thinker, and recognize that we are not so far removed. But despite the radically different journeys we all have taken, we have reached the same inexorable conclusion: The god of the Bible is not real. And the major truth claims therein are not compelling. It is not that we do not believe. We cannot believe.
We once believed. We never wanted to stop believing. We didn’t just get mad and decided to stop believing. Admitting to ourselves that we no longer believed was the hardest thing we’ve ever done. Some of us live in parts of the world where it is still dangerous and costly to openly admit a lack of belief in the god of the Bible. Some of us have even paid the price in our relationship with loved ones and in our community.
We do not come to these conclusions casually. We hope our thoughts will be a valuable part of the ongoing discussion that is a part of Justin’s (dare we say) unbelievable legacy.
Speaking of Unbelievable, Justin uses the word with a question mark as the title of his show. Each week, he is asking a question of the hearer: “Is this really so unbelievable?” After 10 years of considering that question, for us, the answer is yes. It is still unbelievable!
It is not our intention to dictate what anyone else should believe. It is only our goal to share why it is we don’t and cannot believe. We invite you: the reader, to join in the conversation by listening to Justin’s excellent program, and joining us in the comment section each week. The invitation goes out to skeptics, believers, and everyone in between. There is plenty of room at the bar.