If I had to choose which book would be the most challenging to Evangelical Christians, and which might turn them to atheism or agnosticicsm, it would be this book:
Foreword by Guy P. Harrison
Kenneth W. Daniels has produced a powerful work that will give Christian readers much to think about. Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary is an important book that should be widely read. The author’s approach is gentle and honest while still managing to be unflinching and thorough. As a former fundamentalist Christian missionary who devoted far more time and energy than most to serving that religion, he obviously remembers what it feels like to be fully immersed in belief. Fortunately, Daniels has retained plenty of sympathy for those who cannot yet see that the supernatural claims of Christianity cannot stand up to honest scrutiny. This brilliant book is not a vicious attack on Christians. It is a strong but polite plea for them to see and hear new ideas, to consider the possibility that their belief system might be a mistake. Daniels maintains a humble tone throughout the book. He does not blast believers with arrogant claims of intellectual superiority on the question of faith. He simply shares thoughts and questions about his journey through Christianity and escape from it. This is a powerful story and Daniels has many piercing ideas that are likely to carry considerable weight with believers because of his difficult work as a missionary in Africa. Daniels earned his stripes as a committed Christian. He went way beyond the easy life of a casual Christian sitting in a pew on Sunday mornings. He lived his Christianity; he made serious commitments and followed through with sacrifices for his religion. For someone like him to walk away from it, with great reluctance, humility, and no rage says a lot. It gives Daniels tremendous credibility.
Daniels is well read and obviously knowledgeable about Christianity. Most importantly, however, he has retained a sense of respect and compassion for believers. Yes, he thinks they are wrong about their religious claims, but he has not turned his back on them as fellow humans. It is likely that many Christians will struggle to reconcile the wisdom and challenges found within Why I Believed with their own beliefs. The author’s impressive logic and intelligence, combined with a sensitive approach and his top-notch credentials as a Christian missionary, make it impossible for anyone to dismiss him as an angry crank or an irrelevant outsider. Daniels walked the walk, believing and serving with far more sincerity and dedication than most believers do. He writes:
I invite Christian readers to consider the possibility that my apostasy is a result not of divine or diabolical deception but of a simple weighing of the evidence … It might be that I am wrong. It might be that I have not sought God sufficiently or studied the Bible thoroughly enough or listened carefully enough to the many Christians who have admonished me … Maybe. But the knowledge that billions of seekers have lived and died, calling out to God for some definitive revelation without ever receiving it, or receiving revelation that conflicts with the revelation others have found, contributes to my suspicion that there is no personal God who reveals himself to anyone.
This is a book I will give to Christians because it is forceful and devastating to their irrational beliefs without belittling or mocking them. That Daniels is able to make such a powerful case against Christianity is impressive enough; that he is able to do it without drifting into attacks and name- calling makes Why I Believed an important book that should be read and discussed by both believers and nonbelievers.
It is available on kindle for 99 cents! You can download the kindle reader for free at Amazon.
One may wonder why someone like myself, a professing Christian and creationist would love this book. It raises many of the questions that few Evangelical are willing to engage in. Daniels echoed so many of my deepest personal doubts as well. I found a kinship with his questions, though I arrived at completely different answers. There is a good amount of material on Michael Behe and Bill Dembski’s influence on him, and later how he came to reject their claims.
I myself have been critical of some of the things in standard ID literature, but unlike Daniels, I arrived at acceptance of ID via different routes, so when Daniels lost faith in God because he lost faith in ID due to arguments such as those put forward on the internet (by Abby Smith and Andrea Bottaro at PandasThumb), I arrived at opposite conclusions because I did not necessarily take the inferential routes Behe and Dembski took. Daniels even makes reference to the uncommondescent weblog and names of people I’ve interacted with on the net.
This is probably the most well-written anti-Christian book in terms of scholarship and compassionate tone. I don’t agree with the final conclusions, but the questions raised are well-worth considering by anyone serious about these topics.