Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Josh McDowell's conversion to Christianity

Chris Hallquist takes a look at the different versions of Josh McDowell's testimony about being a former atheist who set out to disprove Christianity only to become a Christian, a finds some reasons to doubt its accuracy, as well as the quality of McDowell's research.

UPDATE (January 2, 2009): Vinny at You Call This Culture? notes that McDowell doesn't appear to have actually been converted to Christianity on the basis of evidence:
Commenting on the Hallquist post, self-identified Christian apologist Kevin H said that he had spoken with McDowell about the matter:

He's the kind of guy who is amused at all that is said about him. I noticed
he was quick to correct falsehoods. For example, he told me that the evidence
for Christianity was a "foot in the door" that kept him from immediately closing
it. But it was the love of God that drew him. It seems he knows, whether his
fault or the fault of the swirling influence of his books and speaking tours,
that people have the conception that he was forced into faith by irresistable

His reading made him realize he could not initially write off Christianity from an intellectual standpoint. But it was a verse in Jeremiah that got to him: "I have loved you with an everlasting love". (Jer. 31:3).

So why would McDowell post statements like he does on his website? There is a big difference between "finding so much evidence you can only come to one conclusion" and "realizing you can't initially write off Christianity from an intellectual standpoint." My answer would be that McDowell knows what sells. McDowell knows that the story of an atheist overwhelmed by the evidence sells books and books speaking engagements, and probably most importantly to McDowell, it persuades unbelievers to accept Christ. The story of an atheist who merely gets his foot in the door is not nearly as dramatic. Story tellers tell their stories in the way that produces the desired effect.

Ed Babinski notes in comments on Vinny's blog post that Josh McDowell Ministries has, in response to queries, suggested that McDowell was not an atheist:

Dear Sharon, Josh says in his tract, "Skeptic's Quest," that he was looking for meaning and purpose in life. He had tried religion when he was young but could not find the answers he was searching for. What he did not know until he was in college was that it is a relationship with Jesus Christ, rather than religion, which gives meaning and purpose to life.

He does not use the word atheist in the tract, but set out to prove Christianity false. Instead of being able to do that, he came to the following three conclusions: Jesus Christ was who He said He was, there is historic evidence for the reliability of Scripture, and the Resurrection of Christ took place.

In His service,
Penny Woods
Josh McDowell Ministry


olvlzl said...

Judging his accuracy about some of this is possible, though the results seem to be rather open to doubt themselves. He might be lying, embroidering, fudging (as almost everyone does every time), or the victim of some kind of self-deception. All of which might confirm you in your accessment of what he's saying about himself, though it's just about certainly not going to interrupt his success in doing whatever it is he's doing.

The big question should be, since he is claiming a conversion to Christianity, which holds that Jesus' teachings have the power of divine commandments, is he living as Jesus said one of his followers had to. Is he forgiving his enemies and praying for them seventy times seven times, is he judging other people, how is he treating the least among us. There are actual standards of conduct that are required and those can be looked at much less ambiguously than the memories lost to time.

I'm not entirely in agreement with Bertrand Russell's statement about memories and that emotional content would tend to make them more unreliable. I suspect he got that from the contemporary psychology of his time, which was mostly unscientific garbage. If a desired result was enough to impeach the reliability of something than just about every single scholarly and scientific publication would fall into the same doubt. Is there anything more wished for than a publishable result or finding?
I'm not happy to have to say it but I think the rise of psychology has had a remarkably negative effect on people trusting reality with very little evidence to back up its claims.

I found this pamphlet interesting.

Einzige said...

"All of which might confirm you in your accessment of what he's saying about himself..."

olvlzl, would you mind quoting that part of Jim's post that you consider to be an "assessment" of something?

olvlzl said...

Einzige, you do realize that in English "you" is both singular and plural. Alas, the old Quakers were about the last to use the second person singular form. I'd refer you to the post linked to, especially the end which begins...

So maybe McDowell did something stupid and didn't tell anyone about it for a long time. I'm not really convinced--though college students are often naive, and McDowell doesn't come across as the sort of guy who has such an amazing intellect...

Jim Lippard says that it found "some reasons to doubt its accuracy, as well as the quality of McDowell's research".

Doubts are obvious here, though I don't think you are going to clear them up. I also doubt that it will be worth the effort if disrupting his career is your goal. But you can spend your time any old way you want to.

Einzige said...

Since you're responding to something that is written by someone else and posted on their own blog, perhaps--and note this is simply my humble opinion--if you're interested in having your comments and use of personal pronouns better understood, then it would make far more sense to post those comments at the source author's blog, or else utilize proper nouns in your writing--especially since there's no guarantee that Chris Hallquist will even read your comment here.

The phrase of Jim's that you quoted is not an "assessment" in any sense I am familiar with, though it may be an "accessment". I don't know.

olvlzl said...

Einzige, I don't like to spread myself too thin. If the owners of this blog would rather I didn't post here they are free to tell me and I will discontinue without further comment, here or elsewhere.

Einzige said...


Yet again you infuse meaning into comments far beyond what is called for.

I certainly didn't say that I'd rather you didn't post here. Please pay close attention and do not add or subtract anything from/to what I have written or will write. You'll save us all a lot of aggravation, believe me.

To reiterate and simplify what I said before: If you are interested in being understood better, then being less vague and more targeted in your comment location is warranted.

I think it's fair for readers to assume that comments made on this blog refer to posts made on this blog. Don't you?