When you understand why you
dismiss all the other possible gods,
you will understand why I dismiss yours.
– Stephen Roberts
I was an Evangelical Christian for some 25+ years, attended an Evangelical Seminary, helped establish a Reformed Baptist Church, and even preached now and then so I think I have a pretty good understanding of the Evangelical mindset. What I find amazing, on this side of my deconversion, is how stuck many Evangelicals are in their partiular worldview. That particular worldview is re-enforced from the pulpit, Christian books and magazines, conferences and the Church community. Any breach of it is condemned and sometimes “interventions” may even be done to maintain the status quo. As a result, when Pastors and other leaders speak about other worldviews they do so from a position where they lack any real understanding of their opponents arguments and claims. While this works fine within their circle, it often seems bizzare and comical to outsiders. Such is the case with a recent article posted on the “Christianity Today” website by Heather Tomlinson entitled “Ten quick responses to atheist claims”. In this article Tomlinson attempts to quickly answer 10 atheist claims and fails miserably because she is stuck in the Christian worldview. Let’s look at each of these claims and her answers. For convenience, I will put her words in italics. I’m not going to quote the entire article so I highly recommend going to the link to look at the full context.
1) You don’t believe in Zeus, Thor and all the other gods. I just go one god more than you, and reject the Christian God. The problem with this idea is that ‘gods’ such as Zeus and Thor are not comparable with the biblical understanding of God.”There is a vast distinction between all of the Ancient near eastern gods and the God of the Bible,” said Prof Lennox… The God of the Bible created the heavens and the earth”.
The problem here is that Tomlison is stuck in her worldview believing that her god is the correct one and her god, not any other god(s), created the world. If you do not believe in the Christian god, this argument falls flat and is unconvicing. Any religion can say: “Your god is incorrect. Mine is the true one(s) and my god(s) is the real creator of the world.” Simply pointing to your holy book as proof, isn’t proof. It is a belief without evidence. Christians reject all the other gods for the exact same reasons Atheists reject theirs; although, it is hard for them to see it because, of course, their god is true.
The statement that “The God of the Bible created the heavens and the earth” ignores all the accumlated scientific information on how the universe and our earth formed, which requires no supernatural explanation whatsoever.
2) Science has explained everything, and it doesn’t include God. Science cannot answer certain kinds of questions, such as ‘what is ethical?’ and ‘what is beautiful?’… “God no more competes with science as an explanation of the universe than Henry Ford competes with the law of internal combustion as an explanation of the motor car,” says Prof Lennox.
Science can’t (yet) explain everything, but so what? Religion explains nothing. Religion’s explanation is since I don’t know, God did it. That isn’t an explanation. It is a cop out. Science says, I don’t know about this, so how do I devise experiments to learn about it. Science isn’t certain. As better techniques and understanding comes about, revisions are made. This makes people who believe in the unchanable nature of god and his “word” uncomfortable. Yet even there, that unchangeable “word” has changed multitudes of times through history, just at a slower pace than that of society. The more science learns, the more we understand about the world around us. Sometimes science requires revisions and that is the beauty of science. It is self-correcting. As Carl Sagan has said (Cosmos):
There are many hypotheses in science which are wrong. That’s perfectly all right; they’re the aperture to finding out what’s right. Science is a self-correcting process. To be accepted, new ideas must survive the most rigorous standards of evidence and scrutiny.
In response to Tomlinson, science is starting to understand what makes us think something is beautiful and is making impacts into the why of ethics. Just do a Google search on the science of beauty. And the quote from Prof. Lennox? The physics of combustion engines does explain the motor car and Ford used those physical laws, among others, to design his car. Without an understanding of those laws there would be no car. It isn’t magic, but it is science!
3) Science is opposed to God. There are certain conceptions of a ‘god’ that might be opposed to science, but not the Christian God. There might be certain kinds of ‘gods’ that are invented to explain things we don’t understand, but they’re not Christian…
This is another area in which Christians so believe that their god is the one true one, they forget that other religions also believe their god(s) to be the one true one. To say, “some gods” might be in opposition to science but not the “Christian god” because it is the true god is extremely biased. If you believe your god is the one true one, it’s just a self-evident “truth”. But there are no self-evident truths without evidence. In reality, while there are some deeply religious scientists, science is opposed to god.
As science learns more and more about the workings of the universe, god becomes smaller and smaller and Christian theology becomes less and less tenable. The earth is 6000 years old – nope, try some 4.5 billion years old. God created Adam and Eve – nope, try evolution on for size. The earth is the center of not only the solar system but the universe as well – nope, the earth revolves around the sun and we are pretty much an insignificant world on the outskirts of a huge galaxy.
Some theories (and a theory in science is a “fact” supported by volumes and volumes of evidence, not wishful thinking) are so damaging to Christianity that the Christian must either reject the theory in spite the evidence or accept it with the result of changing orthrodox Christian understanding of major doctrines. For example, evolution destroys the concept that God created Adam and Eve. Without Adam and Eve, there was no fall from innocence and grace into a state of sin that was so bad, god had to send a Savior. Without the Adam and Eve story, the whole Christ story makes no sense at least in the orthodox sense. And we can go on and on. God did it, isn’t an explanation.
4) You can’t prove that there is a God. This kind of statement ignores that there are different kinds of ‘proof’… That’s the kind of ‘proof’ we can present: arguments to bring someone beyond reasonable doubt. For example, rational arguments such as those from philosophers Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig, the personal experience of Christians, and the witness of the gospel accounts in the Bible.
Interestingly, the different kinds of proof listed are actually arguments against Christianity. The personal experience of Christians is no more compelling than the personal experiences of those in any other religion. Just Google personal testimonies of -fill in any religion- and you can read moving, compelling testimonies from any religion or, for that matter, the lack of religion. Of course, they are all “fake” because only Christian ones count! And what exactly is the witness of the gospel? Not one of the gospels was written by an eye-witness, they are anonymous1, they contradict each other, and major branches of Christianity disagree on how to interpret them including key doctrines such as salvation, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, etc. Their “witness” is empty. In addition, a quick Google search can find solid critiques of the “rational” arguments of Plantinga and Craig. For example of a quick overview read “Is Alvin Plantinga for real? Alas, it appears so” by biologist and philosoper Massimo Pigliucci. In reviewing Plantinga’s view on the Problem of Evil, Dr. Pigliucci say:
“Seriously? The argument boils down to the fact that Plantinga, as a Christian, finds the Christian story “magnificent,” that is, aesthetically pleasing, and that’s enough to establish that this is the best of all possible worlds. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t find a world with so much natural and human imposed suffering “magnificent” at all, and it seems to me that if an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good god were responsible for said world he ought to be resisted at all costs as being by far the greatest villain in the history of the universe. But that’s just me.”
5) Faith is believing without any evidence. Christian belief has never been about having no evidence: the gospels were written to provide evidence, as the beginning of Luke’s attests. The end of John’s gospel says, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”… John’s gospel shows that Christianity is an evidence-based faith.”
Faith is about believing without evidence. If there were evidence faith would be unnecessary. You don’t have faith in Gravity! The gospels are not evidence. They are religious propaganda for Christians. As mentioned above, they contradict each other and there is no outside, independent confirmation of anything Jesus said or did. Not one contempory historian makes any reference to Jesus and this, in spite of the many “great” works he did and the supposed buzz generated by him. In addition, as mentioned earlier, the gospels are not eye-witness accounts. The gospels are proof only to the Christian community which goes out of its way to attempt to make unharmonious events, like birth of Christ and his crucifixion, appear harmonious. Not one Christian would look at another religions holy book and believe that it speaks the truth about god, so why should a non-believer accept the god in the Christian holy book? Even scripture says: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1) Hoped for and not seen are not evidence, they are wishful thinking.
6) Faith is a delusion. I’d no more believe in God than I would in the Easter Bunny, Father Christmas or the Flying Spaghetti Monster… What lies behind all these delusion claims is the Freudian idea of wish fulfilment that we believe what we hope to be true. This works brilliantly providing there is no god. But if there is a god, then atheism is wish fulfilment.”
Yet, as we have seen, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” If that isn’t wish fulllfillment, I don’t know what is. Is Atheism wish fullfillment? Even if it was, and I don’t think it is since any type of evidence for god would eliminate atheism, that doesn’t make Christianity true or mean that faith isn’t a delusion. However, even if there is a god, isn’t wish full-fillment to believe that your particular version of god is the one true saving one?
7) Christianity claims to be true, but there loads of denominations and they all disagree with each other, so it must be false… “There are all kinds of different kinds of teams in football, but they all play football,” said Prof Lennox.
Actually this is compelling evidence against Christianity. These aren’t minor disagreements but disagreements that were considered so major that a break from the parent denomination was deemed necessary in order to be “true” to God and his word. Arminianism, Calvinism and Pelagianism are completely different gospels. Each of those major theologies vehemently opposes the others. While Arminianism is the prevalent theology among Christians today, go back only a few hundred years and Arminianism was declared heresy. Protestantism was also a herasy according to the Catholic Church and resulted in thousands of deaths in the name of God and his pure word. Yes, there are different football teams and they do play together BUT they use the same rule book with the same interpretation of the rules. If they used different rules they couldn’t play together! Christians, by definition are believers in Christ, but that Christ can be a very different God with different rules and regulations, every one supported by their understanding of Scripture.
8) The Bible is immoral. If you want to question the morality of the Bible, what basis does that morality have? There can be a serious contradiction within atheist criticisms.
First of all, criticism of anything isn’t a bad thing. Having our views challenged forces us to think through issues and problems. It forces us to evaluate evidence in support of or against particular ideas. Secondly, the Bible is immoral. Sorry, it is and is only made moral by selective reading of what the reader thinks is moral and rejecting those things the reader of the Bible disagrees with. Third, I hate to point this out, since Tomlinson has to know this, but there are also serious contradictions within Christian criticisms!
What does the Bible say about these issues? What does the Bible say is moral? (Good luck, depending on your denomination you can get widely different views.)
- Death to Witches?
- Torture and death of unbelievers?
- Keeping the Sabbath holy and the penalty if you don’t.
Just to name a few. At one time a person was put to death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath. Is that moral? How about the genocide? Is that moral? How about the torture and death of those who went against the doctrines of the Catholic Church? After all it is better to be tortured to repentance than being tortured for ever in hell. Is that moral? What about killing a child for the act of disobedience?
Even now, you can argue either way for many of these items. When a book can be made to say anything at all, it basically says nothing. Of course, the answer is that those who disagree with “my” interpretation of the Bible are wrong and going against god’s word, but isn’t that the point? That people serious about the Bible can disagree on these moral topics? So, what kind of moral guide is the Bible?
9) Surely you don’t take the Bible literally? Some atheists (and a few Christians) have a very black and white idea of how to interpret the Bible. You either have to take it ‘literally’ or chuck it away, they think. That ignores the reality of language and how it reflects truth.
Ahhhh, now we are getting somewhere! This is where the literalists (athough they only take literally what they want) have an easier time of it than those who aren’t. If you take things literally, then you have an anchor. The Bible that says “this” and that ends the discussion. Once you take that away, you are standing on sinking sand. What is allegory? What is parable? What is plain talk and a simple command? What should be taken at face value and what is just an example? What was for the Jews then, Christians then, and for us now? Who is to say what this allegory or this parable means? Who is to say “god hates divorce” isn’t really valid today? Who is to say Pauls rant against homosexuality is valid today or just a sign of the times not to be taken seriously? Who says what is solid, unmovable truth and something to be done away? Whose interpretation do we say is the true one? Again, if a book can be made to say anything you want, it really says nothing.
10) What is the evidence for God? You can debate the existence of God until the cows come home. It can be very interesting, especially when you go into the detail and explore the subject in depth. But for an atheist… Prof Lennox advises to ask them the most important question:”Suppose I could give evidence for God, would you be prepared right now, to repent and trust Christ?”
Actually, while I can’t speak for all atheists all the ones I know, myself included, that answer is yes. We value evidence. If you can show your god is true, with evidence, not some quotes from your special book, we would accept your god. That problem is, there is no proof of god. The Problem of Evil, as an example, shows that if there is a god, he is a monster.
The world works and operates as if there where no god. There is no evidence, ever, of the laws of nature being suspended through the action of an deity above those laws. Christians reject the miraclous claims of other religions just as those religions reject the Christian miraculous claims. Give me solid evidence and I would re-join the fold. But right now, I see no compelling evidence for the Christian or any other god.
Once again let me say that your special book, filled with contractions and errors, capable of being interpreted in thousands of different ways with vastly different outcomes, and telling a miraculous story supported by no external evidence is NOT evidence to anyone outside your faith.
For more detailed information about some of the points above see some of my previous posts:
Why I’m an Atheist Series
Why I’m an Atheist. Part 1
Why I’m an Atheist. Part 2. The Perspicuity of Scripture – NOT
Why I’m an Atheist. Part 3. Is a King Above His Law?
Why I’m an Atheist. Part 4. The Problem of Evil.
Why I’m an Atheist. Part 5. Biblical Genocide.
Why I’m an Atheist. Part 6. Errancy.
Why I’m an Atheist. Part 7. Evolution.
Why I’m an Atheist. Part 8. Worship.
Why I’m an Atheist. Wrap Up.
- I am fully aware that many Fundamentalists argue that the Gospels are eye-witness accounts. For a good overview of why scholars don’t believe the traditional authorship of the Gospels see: “Why Scholars Doubt the Traditional Authors of the Gospels” by Matthew Ferguson. ↩︎