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.)

  • Homsexuality?
  • Divorce
  • Remarriage?
  • Slavery?
  • Death to Witches?
  • Torture and death of unbelievers?
  • Genicide?
  • 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:

General
Pascal’s Wager
The Resurrection – Really?
Was Adam a Real Person?
Does Christian Doctrinal Diversity Matter?

No Unity Here Series
No Unity Here – Part 1: The Charismatic Gifts
No Unity Here – Part II: Baptism
No Unity Here – Part III The Lord’s Supper
No Unity Here – Part IV: Worship

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.

  1. 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. ↩︎

tragedy2

For me, 2014 wasn’t a very good year. In fact, it was probably one of the worst I’ve had, but, when it comes to tragedy across the world, the last couple years were not very good at all.

In 2013 the United States had 5 major tragedies: The Boston Marathon bombing (264+ injured, 3 killed), the Moore, OK tornado (24 killed), the West, TX fertilizer plant explosion (160+ injured, 15 killed), the Washington Navy Yard Shooting (13 killed, 11 injured), and the Arizona Wildfire (19 fire fighters killed). These follow on the heels of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in Nov 2012.

If we step outside of the United States, in 2013, we have the tragic collapse of a low-cost garment factory in Savar, India which killed at least 1129 workers, the Haiyan Typhoon which caused 6,149 deaths with 1779 people missing and millions left homeless, and the Asiana plane crash which killed 214 and injured 181.

The United States did better in 2014, but last year saw some striking tragedies across the globe. On March 8th, Malaysia Airlines lost 2 flights. Flight MH370 was lost at sea with 239 people presumed dead and, as of this writing, still not found. A few months later Fligh MH17 was shot down over the Ukraine killing 298 passengers including 2 infants. At least one family lost family relatives on both flights! (Woman loses relatives in both Malaysia Airline Tragedies) AirAsia lost Flight 222 killing 47 as it attempted to land in bad weather on 23 July. They then lost flight 8501 over the Karimata Strait on 28 Dec with 162 people aboard. Then we have the sinking of MV Sewol as it attempted to cross from Inchean to Jeju on 16 April, killing 304 mostly high school students. In religious conflicts we have the rise of ISIS and Boko Haram, the later of which kidnaped 234 girls from a Nigerian School. I can’t even imagine the heart break those parents feel (The group that kidnapped 234 Nigerian school girls). Lastly, but certainly not least, we have the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia that has a 2014 estimated death total of over 7000 with more than 19,000 recorded cases. (AF West Africa Ebola)

We can add to this a large number of Natural Disasters and their death toll (see Natural Disaster listing), not to mention the death toll from traffic accidents (estimated 35200 in US for 2013), cancer (estimated 585,720 US cancer deaths in 2014), wars and conflicts and religious zeal. Not to mention the natural deaths that occur every day that disrupt families everywhere (see CDC).

Tragedies, such as these present a particularly vexing problem for those that believe in a sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent god. In trying to make sense of these tragedies while keeping intact the notion of a loving and caring god, three basic strategies are used: blame, prayer and defense.

Blame

The blame game is almost never directed against god. We are to blame for these tragedies. In 6 other calamities blamed on divine retribution Dan Giloff writes:

Blaming human sinfulness for natural and man-made disasters is nothing new. “This kind of thinking is actually typical rather than atypical in world history,” says Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion professor.

He then goes on to list 6 disasters (The Haiti earthquake, Hurricane Katrina, The September 11 attacks, The Civil War, The Holocaust, & The fictional Biblical Flood) where both religious and civil leaders blamed the sinful actions of man on the event in question.

For Dr. Mohler, the answer can be summarized in one word: Sin. Moral evil, he says, is the direct result of man’s revolt against God’s authority and the responsibility for tragedy lies squarely on human shoulders. (Why? An Evangelical Answer, Dr. Mohler is the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky)

In this scheme, man and not god is the ultimate cause of tragedy. If he could only be better (faster, stronger) then god wouldn’t have to punish him. Those that take this position have probably forgotten about the book of Job where a righteous, blameless man was put through unimaginable pain and suffering so god (who supposedly knows all things) could win a bet with Satan. It seems like even righteousness can’t prevent god from playing with man!

Prayer

How many times have we listened to the prayers of people asking god for comfort and aid to those victims of a tragedy? How many times have we seen survivors of such events thanking god for his mercy and lovingkindness in sparing them? It’s a given. After the Moore, OK tornado, CNN reporter Wolf Blitzer simply assumed Rebecca Vitsmun would be thanking the Lord that she survived. Her reply was refreshing: “I’m actually an atheist!” (The Washington Free Beacon).

If you think about it, prayer really can’t be reconciled with the notion of a sovereign god that ordains everything than comes to past. Of course you can do a lot of “hand-waving” and you can always play the mystery card. What is worst, if this god is sovereign then he allowed, if not planned and ordained, every tragedy that takes place. If this is true, and it has to be for a sovereign entity, a person ends up praying for comfort to the deity that ultimately allowed if not caused the tragedy! This is just crazy. In the human world it would be like thanking the owner of the garment factory in Savar for allowing it to collapse! No sane person would do something like that, but with god, all things are possible and we find millions praying to the author of tragedy and disaster without even blinking an eye. Lest you think this is just an atheist overstatement or misunderstanding about the nature of “gods” sovereignty, consider what Dr. Tom Copeland wrote:

“The question is not simply how can a good God allow evil things to happen, but is He in fact the one who causes them? It is tempting to believe that a compassionate, merciful, and perfect God would not or could not actually bring about a calamity like Hurricane Katrina or 9/11 or the Boston bombing, so therefore He must simply allow Satan to have his way. But Piper points out that this view is contrary to Scripture. “From the smallest thing to the greatest thing, good and evil, happy and sad, pagan and Christian, pain and pleasure – God governs them all for his wise and just and good purposes (Isaiah 46:10).” Noting how Job understood that his trials came from God, Piper also cites Amos: “If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?” (Amos 3:6). In fact, God could have restrained such evil (Genesis 20:6). It is one of those inscrutable mysteries of God that His sovereign will includes calamities that serve His glory yet appear to be products of evil.” (God’s Sovereignty and Our Fear of Terrorism)

So, in this view, the all powerful god that loves and cares for us is glorified when he visits death, destruction and calamity upon his creatures! What kind of nonsense is this? What if a father went out and set fire to the homes of his sons, daughters and grandkids and watched as many of them died or were horribly burned. Would anyone in their right mind call that “father” a loving, compassionate person whose actions show how much he loves his children? Would anyone say: “We don’t know the reason but a good reason must exist since he is their father and loves and cares for them”? Of course not, yet if we substitute god for father, suddenly the absurd becomes reasonable and people line up to pray to this malicious entity. They seek comfort in the “arms” of a psychopathic killer they call god.

Defense

When it comes to god, many people will go out of their way to defend Him in the midst of tragedy: He isn’t to blame. He has something greater in mind. His purpose is unknown but He will do great things through it. I’m sure this is all very comforting to those who lost their loved ones. Take for instance:

It’s perfectly normal to grieve and mourn, and even rail against God. Jeremiah does so for much of the book of Lamentations. But then, right in the middle of the book, sandwiched between tales of woe and tribulation and feelings that God must have deserted us, comes a reminder. It’s the reminder that, even in the middle of terror, and even when it seems God himself would be held responsible for that terror, we can trust his goodness: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (God’s Wrath and Natural Disasters: Whom Do We Blame?)

We can trust His goodness? Is it good to cause massive damage, tragedy and death? If a man did this, no one would call such a person good. But God gets a pass – over and over again.

God suffers with the victims of earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters and helps them cope with the pain and grief, the Archbishop of Wales said in his Easter message. Preaching today at Llandaff Cathedral, Dr Barry Morgan said that God does not send disasters to punish people. He said that God also does not intervene to prevent them from happening. (Don’t blame God for natural disasters, says Archbishop

Kevin Clarkson, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Moore, Oklahoma, said it’s important to remember that “this isn’t the final story” and that “God’s not done.”

Clarkson said he’ll tell those who are struggling that “God loves them and God understands.  He’s not punishing them…God is with them in their suffering, [and] we’re with them.”

Cliff Mansley, the pastor of New Creation Church in Joplin, added: ”Hang in there, God is going to do great things.” (How Can God Let Tragedies Like Okla. Tornado Exist? Pastors Weigh In.)

He doesn’t punish them? Right. He just plays games with them like with Job. He destroys and kills for some unknown purpose that is somehow good! Or maybe he just wants to see, like with Job, if he can be praised when he causes destruction! If this is how god shows love, he has a perverted view of what it means to love. Would you love your wife, kids, parents or friends in such a manner? Once again, if we substitute a person doing the same things as god, one can quickly see the emptiness of this defense.

What Then?

What can one say about how a person should live in the light of such a malevolent being?

Dr. Tom Copeland : How should we then live? All I can do – perhaps all any of us can do – is wonder in awe at God’s power and wisdom and glory; and until we are reunited with Him and can know all things, do not fear, but rest in the assurance of Psalm 91:1-2:

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty, I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (God’s Sovereignty and Our Fear of Terrorism)

I guess this is all you can do when confronted with a belief in a god that is capacious and for all intents and purposes, just plain evil.

How should we live in the face of such tragedies with no belief in god? First it helps to realize that natural disasters have no innate purpose. A tornado, earthquake, hurricane or other disaster has no mind, no purpose and no intent. You aren’t being punished or tested. In this world, natural tragedies just happen. If you build in a flood plain, you will be flooded. If your live near a volcano, eventually it will erupt. Tornados and hurricanes happen. Nature is not out to get you. Nature is not tame but it’s not malcious either.

Natural disasters will occur even when all precautions have been taken. These events happen based on known but sometimes poorly understood principles that can make prediction very difficult. However as scientific understanding and computing power increases, prediction will become more and more reliable. It may even be possible, one day, to prevent such natural tragedies – probably not in our lifetime and maybe never but that won’t stop us from increasing our knowledge and understanding of natural events. This knowledge will be put to use to help prevent property loss and the loss of life, something that the supposed loving, sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent god seems unwilling to do for the creatures he supposedly cares for. So who, really, is the loving one here? God or man?

What of man made tragedies due to greed, war, power or just plain malice? First, in the religious sense, there is no sin, no devil, no forces of evil or good. These are constructs we use to explain our world, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some people who do things the vast majority of people consider “evil”. There are over 7 billion people on this planet, is it really that surprising that some people are just messed up and are capable of committing horrendous acts? Is it surprising, given our evolutionary history as mainly tribal people, that people can be led to believe that their “tribe” (country, political affiliation, religion, state, group, race, ethnicity, etc.) is better than all other tribes? Such a mentality has led to war, genocide, persecution, slavery and other mistreatments. Given this, we shouldn’t be so easily led by those in power over us. Our tribe isn’t better, just different. In general, people, all over this planet are basically like us, with many of the same hopes, dreams and desires. We are all connected as human beings, Homo sapiens sapiens. It also means that there is no ultimate reward or punishment in some other life (spiritual or physical). What reward or justice there is, is here in this world, in this life. As such, we need to get it right.

What of personal tragedies? How do we respond to them? First, it really does help to realize that you aren’t being punished by some god or karma for something you did or didn’t do. It doesn’t make it any easier but it removes the agony of trying to figure out why. I would have a hard time explaining it better than Penn Jillette when talking about the suffering experienced by his mom and her death:

Understanding that suffering as random was hard for me, but I could never have understood suffering as part of an all-powerful god’s “plan.” If a god had planned that for my mom, I would have turned to Satan. There’s no plan I’ll get behind that includes that much suffering for anyone. Random suffering is at least comprehensible. (God No)

“Random suffering is at least comprehensible,” is about as good as it gets as unsatisfying as that may be.

Recently Gary Habermas, a professor of philosophy at the faith based Liberty University, had an article published in The Washington Post’s On Faith section entitled: “Five reasons to believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead” In this article Dr. Habermas states:

I will assume nothing special about the New Testament writings whatsoever. I will use only the historical information that is accepted as historical by virtually all scholars who have studied this material today-no matter how skeptical or liberal they are… Using only these “minimal facts,” I will still maintain that Jesus’ resurrection is the most likely explanation for what we know.

Unfortunately, he makes 2 mistakes that most conservative Christians make without much thought since they are really faith issues. The first is the assumption that the New Testament records actual history and not religious propaganda mixed with a smatering of history (I won’t be dealing with this in this post.) The second is more important and related to the first. It is the assumption that there indeed was a death and a resurrection.

The 5 points Dr. Habermas makes revolve around 3 basic assumptions:

  1. Jesus died.
  2. He was resurrected
  3. There were eyewitnesses

While the majority opinion is that Jesus was a historic person, what we know of him is, in reality, nothing outside of some very biased New Testament documents and even these documents don’t agree. 1 Consider this: Here is a supposedly god-man who came to earth to save us from our sins and present the good news of this salvation to all men; yet, the only record of him comes from religious writings! Here is a man that, according to the gospels, healed multitudes of people, fed thousands with a few loaves and fish, turned wine into water, walked on water, preached extensively for 3 years, supposedly turned the whole world upside down and yet there is no secular, contemporary historian that mentions any of it – not one. This would be bad enough if Jesus was a simple human philosopher or religious leader, but he was supposedly god. These events were directed by god with the aim of having everyone believe in him; yet, he couldn’t get one unbiased observer to record these events? Why is there no record outside of a few gospels and epistles whose goal was not to record history but spread a particular brand of religion? Is god that incompetent? What’s worst is that there was apparently a large body of literature, mostly lost to history, that presented a very different view of Jesus than the one in the gospels. (see for example: Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew, Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 years)

In spite of these concerns, let’s assume that there was a religious leader called Jesus who was crucified. What makes someone believe that, outside of faith, a resurrection really occurred? To Dr. Habermas the witnesses to this event and the evidence their eyewitness acounts provide are strong evidence that a resurrection did occur. Are they reliable?

First and foremost we have medical, scientific and personal evidence streching back thousands of years that no one comes back from the dead. When you die, you die. You don’t come back. We have no evidence that anyone in a grave for 3 days has come back to life. Therefore, any report of someone coming back from the grave has to be supported with extraordinary evidence, since all the evidence we have says this just doesn’t happen — ever.

Do we have this kind of evidence with Jesus? Well frankly, we do not. What we have in the gospels are conflicting, irreconsible accounts of the events that get progressively more detailed as the time frame from the “resurrection” increases (see my last post – The Resurrection – Really). These accounts also describe supernatural events that supposedly occurred: The curtain in the temple tearing, darkness covering the land, an earthquake, and people rising from their graves and walking around in Jerusalem. None of these events, as amazing and stunning as they are, are recorded by any contemporary secular historian. Outside of the gospels there is no evidence for these events — zero.

But what of the eyewitnesses? I ask, what eyewitnesses? Yes, the gospels do record people who supposedly saw the event, but the gospels themselves are anonymous. The authors never say who they are and are reporting events handed down to them. They were not eyewitnesses. We have no actual recorded words from the people who supposedly saw what happened — none. We only have reports of people who didn’t see the events stating what other people said happened. Hearsay is all we have. Even when Paul said 500 people saw Jesus post-resurrenction, we don’t have one name (outside of the apostles) or one written account by an eyewitness. We don’t even have the actual written words from an apostle stating what he had seen! I’m sorry but stating what a friend of a friend of a friend (who knows how many levels there are) saw is not evidence. All kinds of excuses can be made for this sorry state of affairs, but remember — this process was supposedly directed by god to get us to believe! Yet god himself was unable to provide sufficent evidence to the one event in history that supposely provides salvation for all mankind! Incompetent would be a kind word.

But what of the apostles? Dr Habermas says:

We have first century sources that the three apostles mentioned above were all martyred: Paul, Peter, and James the brother of Jesus. Of course, people die for all sorts of ideas, but only for what they are convinced is true. But unlike others, the apostles were in a position to know whether or not they had seen Jesus Christ alive after his death. By being willing to die, scholars agree that they were convinced that Jesus had indeed appeared to them. At the very least, this addresses their honesty and conviction.

Maybe or maybe not. All types of religious people die and are martyred for their beliefs. How many Muslims, Hindus, Buddists, etc have died for their beliefs? Does Dr. Habermas believe in the Mormon account of Jesus and his “new” word?2 In 1997, 39 people in the Heaven’s Gate cult died for their belief that a flying saucer was coming for them. Does that make it true? If we believe Paul’s account, he never saw a resurrected Christ, just a vision. He was just convinced of his religious beliefs. This doesn’t make them true even if he died for them.

I’m sorry, but there is no evidence for a resurrection, outside of faith. If you want to believe in the resurrection of Christ, by faith, go ahead, but let’s be honest and realize that outside of faith, there is no historic evidence. Indeed there can never be. Unless there is some extra-ordinary evidence, miracles are outside the realm of history. Christians almost universally reject the miracles and “holy” writings of other religions, but the same level of skepticism is rarely applied to their own religion. Just because a something is reported in a “holy” book or millions of people believe it, doesn’t make it true.

  1. If there are errors in a document in areas we can check, historical accounts for example, how can we be assured that there are no errors in the areas that we can’t check, such as miracles and spiritual teachings?
  2. Joseph Smith supposedly translated god’s revelation from golden plates using a seer stone (Golden Plates ) Futhermore, according to the Mormon accounts, Smith was also matryed for his belief ( Martyr for God ). Surely he wouldn’t die for a lie would he? There are some 6 to 13 million Mormons, whose passion would shame many Christians. Surely they wouldn’t believe such a ridiculous claim if it weren’t true?

484043_525266910844883_568565617_nThe supposed resurrection of Christ is arguably the most important doctrine of the Christian Church. Paul says:

if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins (1Cor 15:17, NASB)

The notion of dying and rising gods along with the necessity of a god requiring a blood sacrifice are not new to Christianity (Dying-and-rising god, Sacrifice, Animal Sacrifice, Human sacrifice). No Christian believes in those myths and in those gods; however, when it comes to the their god and their god’s resurrection, it is “obviously”  true because their holy book tells them so.  Well, it’s not “obvious” and it’s highly unlikely that it is even true.  Here are three reasons why I believe the resurrection never occurred:

  1. The first and most obvious, is that we have no experience of anyone coming back from the dead. (Sorry a near death experience is not the same as being dead for 3 days.)  Since our own experience tells us that people do not come back from the dead and that death is permanent, any claim contrary to this has to be backed by extraordinary evidence. A few words in someone’s holy text does not amount to proof. Christian’s don’t believe the miracles recorded in another religions holy book and, frankly, theirs is no exception. I can’t believe the miracles recorded in a holy book because such a book is, by necessity, a propaganda piece. Unfortunately for the resurrection, there is no contemporary eye-witness evidence for the event. Even in the Bible, there are no eye-witness accounts and the accounts recorded there are decades after the even and contain contradictory, irreconcilable accounts of the event.
  2. As mentioned above, the Biblical accounts were written decades after such an important event, were not written by eye-witnesses and are contradictory of each other. Dan Barker at the Freedom From Religion Foundation has had since 1990 an Easter Challenge for Christians to attempt to reconcile the resurrection accounts.  It can’t be done without a lot of Hocus Pocus.  (See Easter Challenge  for the details.) Briefly, the accounts differ by: the time of day the women visited the tomb, who the woman where, what their purpose was, when they arrived, who arrived at the tomb, who the messengers were and how many there were, what they said, and the list goes on and on.  Now remember, this book was supposedly inspired by an omniscient, sovereign god in order to give us a record of what happened so we may believe and be saved. The discrepancies are difficult enough when dealing with the human element but if you add the doctrine of inspiration and infallibility of the Bible, well, it doesn’t bode well for a god to get so much wrong.
  3. While not directly related to the resurrection, the Theory of Evolution has an indirect impact on the Christian doctrine that requires the death and resurrection of Christ. The death and resurrection of Christ was required as a sacrifice for a sin that supposedly taints the entire human race – Original Sin.  This sin entered the world because of the sin committed by Adam and Eve.  As Paul says:

    For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come…So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. (Rom 4:6-19)

    What does the Theory of Evolution have to say about this doctrine? First and foremost, it says that man evolved. Man wasn’t specially created with a soul and placed in a garden by a god. The Theory of Evolution indirectly denies the historicity of a literal Adam and a literal Eve.  If Adam and Eve were not literal people then there was then no literal Fall.  Without a literal Fall, there is no “Original” sin tainting all mankind.  Without Original Sin, what the heck would Christ have to die for? Literally nothing.  Of course, all of this can be taken as allegory, and this is all well and good but few evangelical Christians would say that Christ died for an allegory!

This doesn’t mean that a lot of pen and ink has been spilled by those attempting prove the resurrection of Christ and show how it is a reasonable and historically valid hypothesis.  It is not. The only history we have is from biased religious writings reported decades after the event supposedly happened. The only secular accounts we have are not eye-witness accounts and they are also decades if not hundreds of years after the event and simply report the religious belief. Like so much in Christianity, belief in the Resurrection comes down to simple, plain faith. I can no longer belief these fairy tales as lovely as some of them may be.  Without evidence, which is the opposite of faith, the Resurrection remains another unprovable, popular religious doctrine celebrated by millions without really thinking about the implausibility of such an event.

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Doubt and unbelief cannot be overcome by logical reasoning and proofs. The only treatment for doubt is punishment. (Promise and Deliverance S. G. De Graaf. Volume I. Page 65)

But he said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” Luke 16:31

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” Rom 1:20

One incongruity that exists in Christianity is the relationship between evidence (apologetics) and faith. On the one hand you will find many Christian apologists trying to defend their faith by a series of approaches that supposedly give evidence or support for their particular brand of Christianity. On the other hand, there is the emphasis on faith in “coming” to Christ even though faith, by definition, means “belief that is not based on proof.” Even the Bible says this in Hebrews 11:1 where faith is defined as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (NASB). Some apologists will try to minimize this incongruity by stating there is enough evidence to bring you to faith and allow you to see that it is a rational and logical way to proceed. This is what Paul was getting at in Romans 1:20 (quoted above) – that by looking around at the world and looking at the wonder of creation, it clearly demonstrates that there is a god and we are without excuse for failing to believe. This is a position taken by many believers and may even have been a powerful argument at one time. For example, this quote is typical:

Paul tells us that the unbeliever is without excuse. God reveals Himself in two ways, directly through His Word and indirectly through a general revelation. God’s presence can be discerned through His creation. The very workings of the heavens proclaim that God exists. The marvel of life shows His hand. The more we learn about the cosmos that more we see the intricate design of creation. Anything designed to the procession of the universe cries out for a designer. (They Are Without Excuse)

Actually, not so much any more. With the advent of modern science, such a argument is vacuous. We know much more about the beginning of our universe and the evolution of life on this planet than the ancients ever did and, frankly, god can be easily left out of the equation. It is no longer “obvious” that there is a god that created all things. You can, of course, invoke a creator deity, but such a deity is not necessary to explain the universe or life on this planet. (e.g. see A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing by Lawrence M. Krauss and The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins)

Once you get rid of Christianity’s red herring called evidence, it all comes down to faith. The Bible makes it clear that without faith “it is impossible to please him” (Heb 11:6, NASB). Every once in awhile someone in the Christian world, with brutal honesty, tells us what they really think about logic, proof and evidence. S. G. De Graaf (1889-1955) was such a person. He was a Reformed (Calvinist) minister in the Netherlands who wrote a massive 4 volume work called Promises and Deliverance. In it, as quoted above, he clearly stated that “Doubt and unbelief cannot be overcome by logical reasoning and proofs.” Actually, this makes complete sense coming from a Calvinistic and Reformed point of view. In this theology god is completely sovereign even in the area of salvation. God picks whom is to be saved and it is impossible to resist his call to salvation. All that He calls will come to Him as is seen in John 6:37-39:

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.

Resistance to this call then is not about evidence and not about proof but about plain old sin. It is also a resistence that is ultimately futile. So all the proof in the world falls on deaf ears. Luke 16:31 (quoted above) basically says the same thing. That even if someone rose from the dead (a forbearing of unbelief in light of the supposed resurrection of Christ), we are so hard hearted that we would still refuse to believe. Here, proof and logic are inconsequential. The only thing that will get someone’s attention is punishment. As De Graaf says, “The only treatment for doubt is punishment.” Basically, reason and logic don’t work, only punishment. This has the “ring” of truth to it if you are on the believer’s side of the fence. After all, the believer has faith so it is very tempting to trivialize unbelief as sin instead of lack of evidence. Even the apologist William Craig Jr. said:

…For not only should I continue to have faith in God on the basis of the Spirit’s witness even if all the arguments for His existence were refuted, but I should continue to have faith in God even in the face of objections which I cannot at that time answer… What I’m claiming is that even in the face of evidence against God which we cannot refute, we ought to believe in God on the basis of His Spirit’s witness. Apostasy is never the rational obligation of any believer, nor is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. God can be trusted to provide such powerful warrant for the great truths of the Gospel that we will never be rationally obliged to reject or desert Him. (The Witness of the Spirit as an Intrinsic Defeater Defeater)

I maintain that logic, evidence and proof are the only things we have to determine truth in this world and the best way (not the only way) to do this is the Scientific Method. As Maimonides said: “It is not proper to abandon matters of established knowledge that have been verified by proofs… and depend instead on the teachings of individual sages who may have possibly overlooked what was essential to these matters… a man should never cast reason behind him, for the eyes are set in the front, not in the back.” (quoted in Doubt. A History)

If there is no compelling evidence for god. If the universe can be explained without a creator. If life evolved and was not created. Do we need to invoke a creator being? And even if we do, that doesn’t mean god cares one iota about man. And even if he does, that doesn’t mean the Christian has it right. And even if Christianity does, which of the 34,000 to 38,000+ variants are true? In other words the idea that logic, evidence and proof are inconsequential and all that really matters is faith, is a quaint idea that has a bit in common with Pascal’s Wager. For both ideas to work, the assumption has to be made that the choices are unbelief and belief in the Christian god. Add other religions to the mix or a large number of conflicting Christian theologies and suddenly your world goes topsy-turvy. The true choice isn’t between unbelief and the Christian god but between unbelief and 100’s of gods and between belief in a god or gods and disbelief in all others. Pascal’s Wager breaks down when you realize there are other religions making claims of heaven and hell (reward and punishment) outside of Christianity.

Faith breaks down likewise. Faith in what or who? Faith in what god? Faith in what religion? Faith in what theological system? What Christian concept of god and Christ and salvation should you believe? If you are only going by the “internal witness of the Holy Spirit”, frankly, you are screwed. Even the Bible says that god sometimes places or allows to be placed a lying spirit in man’s heart (e.g. 2 Thess 2:11, 1 Kings 22:22). It also frighteningly states that there will be many who think they are believers, but god will tell them “I never knew you” (Matt 7:23). If there is a god that is capable of this type of deceit, then there is no “internal witness” that can be trusted.

Without evidence, proof and logic how do you know what is true? After all, practitioners of most religions believe theirs to be the one true one. How do you know your faith and your god is better than theirs? And if you say your Holy book tells you so, just remember that the other religions have their Holy books too! In a world where it is obvious that religion is a multiple choice affair, the requirement for faith as a selector is outdated and naïve. Furthermore if there really is a god who cares about the truth of what you believe, faith is down right dangerous.

What about the concept of punishment for those that don’t believe, by faith, in a particular god? I can say it no better than the Islamic sage Ibn al-Rawandi (9th century) who said:

A God who inflicts illness upon his slaves cannot be counted as one who treats them wisely, nor can he be said to be looking after them or to be compassionate toward them. The same is true concerning he who inflicts upon them poverty and misery. Also unwise is he who demands obedience from a person who he knows will disobey him. And he who punishes the infidel and disobedient in eternal fire is a fool. (Medieval Islamic Sceptics)

A god who requires a person to believe without evidence and then punishes that person for not believing is a malevolent being. For a Calvinist it is even worst since they believe in a god which is completely sovereign when it comes to salvation. If this god doesn’t select you then you aren’t going to be saved; yet, this god will hold you accountable for a choice you cannot make and punish you eternally for it! That makes malevolence seem loving in comparison.

I don’t disbelieve because I want to sin. (Whatever sin means, since it is a purely religious concept and varies greatly even within the Christian framework.) I disbelieve because I find no compelling evidence to believe in a god. As to the Christian god, I find a large amount of evidence that the god described in the Bible and by most Christian theologies, simply doesn’t exist.

 

I had planned on continuing my series on Christian unity with a look at baptism. That article is still in the works and will be posted soon; however, I was side tracked by the March issue of New Horizons Magazine. Emblazed on the cover were the words “Adam. Man or Myth.” This immediately grabbed my attention. In the past I have maintained that evolution destroys the traditional foundation of Christianity. I stated:

The big issues as I see are:

If there was no real Adam and Eve and no real Fall, then how did sin enter the world? This sin is supposedly grievous enough that it required a Savior/Redeemer.

If there was no event which caused a Fall, what is the point of a Savior/Redeemer? What was he to Redeem us from? (Why I am an Atheist – Part 7: Evolution)

In fact, it is one of several reasons why I am an atheist today. I was very interested to see what a conservative Christian denomination (The Orthodox Presbyterian Church) had to say. I was not disappointed. Here is a sampling of quotes from a couple articles in the magazine:

My thesis is simple: by questioning the historicity of Adam, one must revise the doctrine of original sin with serious modifications. Even recent purveyors of theistic evolution, who question the historicity of Adam, recognize this to be the case… if Adam is not the responsible agent for casting the human race into a condition of sin and misery, then at whose feet should we place the blame for our human predicament? Does it not follow, if one removes the historicity of Adam from the equation and if our historical forefather Adam is not responsible for our condition of sin and misery, that someone else must bear that responsibility? It seems to this author that the necessary consequence is to make God responsible for the evil we observe in the world. (Should we still believe in a historical Adam? by Bryan D. Estelle)

If it is not true that all human beings descend from Adam, then the entire history of redemption, as taught in Scripture, unravels. The result is no redemptive history in any credible or coherent sense… If Adam was not the first man, who fell into sin, then the work of Christ loses its meaning… By now it should be clear that questioning or denying the descent of all humanity from Adam as the first human being has far-reaching implications for the Christian faith. It radically alters the understanding of sin, particularly concerning the origin and nature of human depravity, with the corresponding abandonment of any meaningful notion of the guilt of sin. It radically alters the understanding of salvation, especially in eclipsing or even denying Christ’s death as a substitutionary atonement that propitiates God’s just and holy wrath against sin. And it radically alters the understanding of the Savior, by stressing his humanity, especially the exemplary aspects of his person and work, to the extent of minimizing or even denying his deity. (“All mankind, descending from him…”? by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.)

At least these two authors understand the issues involved. They understand that if Adam was not a real person and the Fall was a not real event, Christianity has no legs to stand on. The problem, of course, is science – man evolved. Therefore, they are compelled to stand against science or to re-interpret science to fit their theology; hence, the Creationist and Intelligent Design movements. You can’t understand these movements without understanding their theological underpinnings. They are vital to help support a failed theological system. They also understand this:

Science is perceived as forcing us to acknowledge that, on a literal reading of this passage, some details simply do not cohere with the view that all human beings descend from Adam and Eve… scientific findings are being given priority in the sense that they are seen as necessitating a rejection and consequent reinterpretation of what has heretofore been considered certain, as well as basic, biblical teaching. In that regard, let’s not suppose that we are faced here with yet one more “Galileo moment,” where Christians need to adjust their thinking and get on board with science. Plainly at issue here is not an aspect of our ever-changing understanding of the physical workings of our environment and the universe at large, but perennial and unchanging matters that are basic to who we are as human beings—what it means to be created in God’s image and the kind of relationship with him that that entails… Scripture, not nature, always has priority in the sense that in it God reveals himself, as the Belgic Confession also says, “more clearly and openly,” particularly on matters basic to our identity as human beings and our relationship to him. (All mankind, descending from him …”? by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.)

While a nice rhetoric device, the distinction Gaffin makes between a “Galileo moment” and “matters that are basic to who we are as human being” is no distinction at all. The geocentric model of the universe was a vital Christian doctrine. It was supported by scripture and showed the importance of man in the created universe. Man (earth) was the center of the universe. How could it be otherwise? After all man was god’s masterpiece of creation. To have it otherwise demoted man to nothing more than “cosmic dust.” The issue was about who we are as human beings. Bruno was burned alive as a heretic and Galileo was ostracized by the church. While scientifc facts can be ignored for a time, resistant is ultimately futile. Christian theology had to be revised to accept the new heliocentric model. (see The impact of the transition from a geocentric universe to a heliocentric universe for a quick overview)

It is no accident that this issue of New Horizons Magazine also had an article on “Evaluating the claims of scientists” by Vern S Poythress. In it he states:

…many modern scientists have strayed from the truth. They think of law as an impersonal mechanism. This kind of thinking is a form of idolatry, conforming to the Bible’s description in Romans 1:22–23: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man.…” In ancient times, people made physical statues to represent false gods. Now, people often exchange God for a substitute in the form of an allegedly impersonal, mechanical law. This kind of substitution is still a form of idolatry…Does it really make a difference whether we believe that the laws of the universe are God’s speech rather than an impersonal mechanism? It does. The regularities that modern scientists discover approximate God’s word or God’s law governing the present providential order of things. But the Bible distinguishes the present providential order from the way things were during the time when God created the world, as described in Genesis 1–2. So God may have acted differently during that time. Indeed, he may still act differently later on in history, when he responds personally to the personal needs of his people. He can work miracles, as he did with Noah’s flood and with the plagues in Egypt. God is not restricted in his actions by allegedly impersonal, natural law.

This tactic is not new. First you quote scripture showing that we are fools to reject god and his scripture and then you say, with no evidence at all, that god did things differently in the past, by-passing the laws of nature. It works among the faithful. They, after all, have special revealed knowledge. Knowledge that god gave them that tells them what he actually did and how he acted. What I find amazing are the following statements by Poythress:

Darwinists rely on several assumptions. Not evidence, but rather a philosophical presupposition, has excluded God from the process…. Might there be some alternative explanations for the striking similarities? The term “intelligent design” belongs to an approach that stresses that similarities between living things may be due to common design features… We have always known that we look somewhat like monkeys. Now we know that our DNA is like monkeys’ DNA. So what? Quantitatively, we have much more evidence of a relationship. But we still have the same fundamental question, namely, what kind of relationship is evidenced? The evidence has to be interpreted. And the interpretation always takes place within a framework of many assumptions about the nature of the world and the nature of scientific investigation. If a scientist assumes a Darwinist framework of impersonal law, he is going to infer confidently that humans and monkeys have a common ancestor and that gradualistic, purposeless evolution is the explanation for the analogies. But a Christian not already committed to such a framework should contemplate another possibility, namely, that all of life reflects not only common design from God, the supernatural Designer, but also a pattern of analogies reflecting on earth the original pattern of God the Son as the image of the Father… The world around us tells us to accept the latest scientific pronouncements as the product of experts who know much better than we do. As Christians, we must not overestimate our knowledge or our expertise. But we have in the Bible a divine message that we can trust. We ought to use its guidance. The Bible criticizes modern science for its idolatry. Assumptions about the nature of law and assumptions about what counts as an explanation or what counts as relevant evidence play a major role in science.

No evidence? Use the bible NOT science? I find these statements curious coming from a person who believes a theological system that, in reality, has no evidence for it. Where is the evidence for the supernatural? Where is the evidence, outside of biased religious texts, for the view that Christianity is the one true religion? Where is the evidence for creation de novo that the Christian system demands? Where is the evidence that the bible is the inspired word of god? It contains scientific errors, historic errors and a moral system that is abhorent to anyone but the most hardened Christian fundamentalist. In fact, outside the bible, you will be hard-pressed to find any contemporary evidence for an historic Jesus. In spite of all the wonders that he supposedly did, there are no eye-witness, non-religious accounts supporting his life as detailed in scripture. Where is the evidence for Christianity as god’s true religion? Where is the evidence, other than a personal feeling it is true, that the bible should be believed over science? If it has errors in things we can check, why should we believe it when it comes to claims that we cannot check? In fact, where is the evidence for a god, any god? I am talking about scientific evidence here. Without evidence there is no good reason, outside of a particular religious bias, to pick a particular creation myth (in this case Christianity) over any other religious creation myth. You might as well believe that man and woman were created from two trees as in the Norse myth of creation! After all, nothing is impossible for god.

In contrast, “all” science has is evidence. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming. Science has a massive amount of fossil evidence, including transitional forms, for evolution. There is also the genetic evidence, so casually dismissed above. Not only do we share genes with our primate ancestors, we have recently shown that we share genes with an extinct branch of hominids – the Neanderthals (for example see What Were the Consequences of Early Human & Neanderthal Interbreeding?) The evidence for evolution extends from geology to palentology to molecular genetics. It is truely one of the best attested facts in all of biology. Dr Tim White a Paleontologist at the University of California at Berkeley has said: “A denial of evolution – however motivated – is a denial of evidence, a retreat from reason into ignorance.”

In my blog post referenced above, I list several good books on evolution. I suggest starting there. If you are interested in human evolution, the following books are a good starting point:

Conservative Christianity can fight human origins all it wants, but resistence is ultimately futile. There are those, including the Catholic Church, that recognize this fact. For instance Denis Lamoureux acknowledges that the Adam story is a myth (Was Adam a Real Person? Part I). He states “My central conclusion in this book is clear: Adam never existed, and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.” He is wrong. Not about Adam, but about whether it matters. As the authors above have shown, eliminating Adam as an historic person guts Christianity of its most core doctrines and reduces Christianity to nothing more than another philosophical or social system. Ultimately, science will win.

What isn’t well appreciated or understood by many atheists is the diversity of thought and doctrine within the Christian framework. When a statement is made against Christianity, almost invariably, there are those who will reply, “That’s not what a true believer believes.” Then it is a simple matter to dismiss anything that particular atheist says and to see atheists, in general, as being misinformed about Christianity. This is unfortunate, but it is a reality that is hard to get around considering there are over 34,000 denominations that use the Christian label and there is little agreement as to what the term “Christian” means.

I think a fair definition is:

..any individual or group who devoutly, thoughtfully, seriously, and prayerfully regards themselves to be Christian. That is, they honestly believe that they follow Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) teachings as they understand them to be. (Christianity: introduction and definition)

Even so, ReligiousTolerance.org, where the defintion was found, readily admits that they have collected over 40 definitions of “Christian” (Who is a Christian). For some believers the definition goes too far. For others it doesn’t go far enough and is woefully inadequate. (In the past, I would have been in this camp.) Many Christians will fight against the above definition and demand that theirs be used. These definitions will often refer to certain core or cardinal doctrines which must be believed in order to be called a Christian. Interestingly, even when core doctrines are listed, there are still wide disagreements.

For instance, the doctrine of the Trinity (three gods in one – father, son and holy spirit – separate but indivisible) is prominent on many lists of cardinal doctrines. Yet, including this as a requirement to be a “true” Christian eliminates such denominations as: Christian Scientists, Jehovah Witnesses, Latter Day Saints, United Church of God and Oneness Pentecostals (Nontrinitarianism). Of course, these groups believe that their interpretation of scripture is correct and the Trinity believing groups are heretics. For example:

The internet is filled with web-site after web-site trying to convince those who are gulliable that the One God of the Old Testament is really three Gods. But, obeying their creeds and confessions they balk at the obvious conclusion of their pagan theories and say they are forbidden to call these three separate persons each a God. But does not their creed say: GOD from GOD and VERY GOD from VERY GOD? God from God is certainly more than one God.(The Trinity Doctrine Is Pagan)

Who is correct? When all you have is an error-ridden, inconsistent, and confusing scripture to appeal to, along with (perhaps) church tradition, almost anything can be proven. This diversity of doctrine, I believe, is a clear sign that Christianity isn’t god-inspired at all. How could an omniscience, omnipotent, omnipresent sovereign god manage to bungle his god-spoken word so badly as to give rise to 34,000+ interpretations? Even if one says, as many believers will, that this is due to the sinfulness of man, how can a god not take steps to correct such errors, especially when one’s eternal destiny (heaven or hell) is at stake?

What the Christian is forced to believe, out of necessity, is that there really isn’t a wide variety of “core” beliefs and that “peripheral” issues aren’t really key in defining Christianity. (Or that they are the only ones who got it right!) So we find comforting statements such as:

Central doctrines should not be confused with peripheral issues, about which Christians may legitimately disagree. Peripheral (i.e. non-essential) doctrines include such issues as the timing of the tribulation, the method of baptism, or the structure of church government. For example, one can be wrong about the identity of “the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19) or about the timing of the rapture and still go to heaven, but one cannot deny salvation by grace or the deity of Christ (John 8:24) and be saved. All Christian denominations – whether Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant – agree on the essential core. The relatively minor disagreements between genuinely Christian denominations, then, cannot be used to argue that there is no objectively recognized core of fundamental doctrine which constitutes the Christian faith. (Essential doctrines of the Christian Faith | Apologetics Index)

This is a wonderful trick to play. You simply state your core doctrines, decide they are the ones necessary to be considered a Christian, define a Christian to be those who hold to your core doctrines, and declare all others as heretics. Throw in some scripture to support your case, shake and you’re done. Simple? Right? I certainly believed that the core doctines I held were true (Calvinism) and that those who disagreed couldn’t see what scripture clearly taught. However, it isn’t that simple. As we have briefly seen, some sincere people who would consider themselves Christian do not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity and would see such a “core” belief as heresy!

The truth is that such diversity is a reality and doctrinal beliefs are important. So important, in fact, that groups will go through a painful split from a parent denomination, along with all the emotional drama that entails, in order to be “true” to their interpretation of the word of god. If peripheral issues didn’t really matter, a split into another denomination wouldn’t be an option. This diversity clearly shows that the supposed word of god is far from clear (see Why I am an Atheist. Part 2. The Perspicuity of Scripture – NOT). It is a confusing land-mine where support for almost anything can be found and people can delude themselves into thinking that their interpretation is the one, true, uncorrupted word from god.

Should we really be so surprised? If you genuinely believe a book contains the very words of god, then it becomes of paramount importance to correctly interpret and believe what it says. This is exactly what happens and some believers will defend, even to the death (just think of the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Inquisition), their interpretation of “truth” from god. Wars have been fought and people put to death over “peripheral” issues.

Any thoughtful person has to pause and seriously think about a “god” who so poorly communicates with his creatures. They have to engage in some sober thought and reflection about the doctrine they hold, as well as to the whole issue of whether such a god can even exist. What are the chances that, out of 34,000+ (and growing) interpretations, they have the correct one? Indeed,whether there is any correction one. Doctrinal diversity, from a Christian standpoint, isn’t a wonderful thing. It shows, at best, an incompetent god and, at worst, no god at all – just the devices and imaginations of men. If the Christian god does exist, he can’t possibly be concerned with truth or belief, since he has not clearly delineated what to believe, even about such an important topic as how to be saved! (We will look at this issue in another post.)

I believe this diversity of conflicting and confusing Christian doctrines is just one more argument against god and a mortal blow to the Christian god. Over the next few posts, I’ll look at several “core” and “peripheral” Christian beliefs and show the diversity of thought and belief within each one.

 

This is the second in a series rebutting Ravi Zacharias’s 2004 book titled The Real Face of Atheism. It’s taken me a while to write this post partly because Zacharias gets so much wrong it’s infuriating. Either he is knowingly lying and misleading or he doesn’t have a clue about atheism or in this chapter – science (“Is there not a Cause”). In either case, I have a hard time respecting him.

Zacharias starts off this chapter, once again, with a complete misunderstanding of atheism.  He says:

“Postulating the nonexistence of God, atheism immediately commits the blunder of an absolute negation, which is self-contradictory. For, to sustain the belief that there is no God, it has to demonstrate infinite knowledge, which is tantamount to saying, ‘I have infinite knowledge that there is no being in existence with infinite knowledge.’”(Kindle location 427)

Atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist It does not postulate “infinite knowledge.” Most atheists don’t believe in deities because there is no compelling evidence for them. Given evidence most atheists would become theists. Evidence based on a “holy” book is not evidence. Besides, I could easily turn the tables and say the theists are claiming “infinite knowledge” based on believing in a god in spite of there being no evidence. This argument is a non sequitur and It only sounds good to the believer.  (If you still don’t believe me, substitute "pink unicorns” for “god” in the quote above. No one can prove absolutely that pink unicorns don’t exist but most people think they are fables because their is no evidence of their existence. No one is claiming “infinite knowledge” in regards to pink unicorns. However, if one was found – evidence – then we would believe in them.)

I think Zacharias’ major premise for this section can be summed up as follows:

“Scientific facts have often been discarded with fresh discoveries, old laws have surrendered with the advance of new hypotheses. The divergent views of dissenting voices over the last century have been many, and deep-seated conflicts remain.” (Kindle location 508)

He says this as if it were a drawback to science and with the implication that religion is immune from this. First and foremost – hello – this is how science works!!! This is the strength of science. Hypotheses are formulated and tested. As data comes in and re-evaluations are made, old hypotheses are discarded and new ones are made. Fraud is rooted out. Evidence is king. A body of well supported hypotheses are formulated into a Theory. (A theory is not the nebulous thing used in common vernacular, but the closest thing science has to truth and fact.)  At this point a Theory is so well supported it is highly unlikely that it will be overturned – modified and refined, yes.  All truth in science is supported by evidence. Not so in religion or theology.

In fact, Zacharias is sorely mistaken if he thinks there are no “deep-seated conflicts” within the realm of his beloved Christianity. Christianity had many battles trying to iron out its belief (e.g. Lost Christianities, Jesus Wars). In fact, I would venture to say that what most Christians believe today would be considered heresy to the early Church. Even today, with some 38,000+ “denominations” the Christian world can’t agree on such key doctrines as how to be saved, baptism, church government, the role of the Old Testament, worship, the end times, evangelism, and a host of other topics. Many doctrines that evangelicals hold dear, such as Jesus as friend and buddy and the rapture, are relatively recent inventions.  Christianity evolves with society (often lagging far behind). It is not immune to it. The problem with Christianity, and religion in general, is that there is NO evidence to support their theology. There is just a “holy” book subjected to varying interpretations and, for some, tradition. Evidence be dammed, it is faith that counts.  I’ll throw my lot in with evidence and science any day over the subjective whims of theology.

Zacharias, obviously hates evolution, recycling the same tired uninformed fundamentalist Christian arguments:

“The progress in microevolutionary processes and the extrapolation into macroevolution, with particular application to origins, is neither scientifically nor metaphysically sound.” (Kindle location 445)

“For example, Sir Fred Hoyle has argued in his book The Intelligent Universe that the idea that life originated by the random shuffling of molecules is “as ridiculous and improbable as the proposition that a tornado blowing through a junkyard may assemble a Boeing 747.” He calculated that the likelihood of life beginning in such a way is one in ten to the power of forty thousand.” (Kinde location 532)

Sigh.  There is no fundamental difference between micro- and macroevolution. The terms are used by “creationists” to try to get around the fact that organisms evolve – they change. The mechanisms are the same.  The only difference is time. (see Micoevolution vs Macroevolution for a good summary). Sir Hoyle’s 747 analogy and his probabilities have been answered many times.  Simply put, while genetic mutation is random, Natural Selection is anything but random. Advantageous traits are selected! This makes all the difference. It is not analogous to a tornado in a junkyard. Far from it.  For a good layman’s account of evolution I recommend Dawkin’s book The Greatest Show On Earth. For Zacharias to make and include these statements in his book shows either dishonesty or ignorance.

Zacharias goes on to use the anthropic principle as evidence of a god:

“The exactness of our universe argues for the anthropic principle, which basically states that the existence and sustenance of man is not brought about by a random universe but is dependent on a universe with a very particular character in its basic laws and circumstances.” (Kindle location 622)

At best, this argument can only be used formulate a case for a deist type god, not a personal creator that is concerned with his creation and wants to have a relationship with it.  Such a god, a creator that sets the universe in motion and then stands back and watches, is essentially indistinguishable from no god at all.  I readily admit that I can’t rule out such a deity but, again, there is no compelling reason to believe that such a being exists.  As Hawking and Mlodinow point out, the universe is explainable purely from the laws of physics:

“ "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.." (I highly recommend their book The Grand Design as well as Chapter 5 in John Loftus’s book Why I became an Atheist for readable information on the anthropic principle.)

Finally, I think we get the the heart of Zacharias’ problems with science:

“Science cannot answer the how, much less the why of there being something rather than nothing." (Kindle location 546)

Actually science can. This is what science does best. It answers the HOW and sometimes the why of things based on evidence not an ancient “holy” book. If, however, Zacharias means that science can’t answer the question of purpose – what purpose is there to the life, the universe and everything, he is correct. While this may make him uncomfortable, I have no problem.  Life is enough; although, I hear 42 is a good answer.

Ravi Zacharias, a Christian apologist, published a book in 2004 titled: The Real Face of Atheism. His basic premise is that atheism leads to despair and immorality while Christianity leads to hope and happiness:

"Atheism is a world without God. Its true nature-whether disguised in Eastern mysticism or American cynicism-is despair."

This view may be satisfying for the Christians that read this book since it will reinforce their preconceived notions of atheism, but the book ends up being empty and vacuous – recycling the same old tired arguments against atheism that have been answered over and over again. Over the next few blogs, I am going to step through this book and respond to his arguments.

Chapter One – Morticians of the Absolute

In this chapter Zacharias sets out to show how 3 secular pillars; science (Galileo & Darwin), economics (Marx), and philosophy (Nietzsche) transformed the world. These pillars caused “the loss of confidence in providence”, “the loss of a Creator-God”, “a new economic theory based on atheism” and lead to an all out attack on religion by Nietzsche (locations 250-255) . Zacharias believes this loss of control by religion over man and his beliefs was devastating. So devastating that it was a leading factor in causing all types of 20th century conflict and wars, including (wait for it) the rise of Hitler.

Zacharias wants to cast Nietzsche’s “discovery” of the death of God as leading to the rise of Hitler and ultimately total despair (and madness?) on the part of man. In fact he states:

"What is ironic about Nietzsche’s statement about universal madness is that, as already stated, with almost symbolic power and in a self-fulfilling prophecy, Nietzsche took the first step and went insane himself.” (location 342-344)

Frankly, the implication (not directly stated) here is that Nietzsche went mad due his his philosophy. It is highly unlikely that his lack of belief in god drove him mad. Nietzsche suffered from a lot of health problems that eventually led to his death (see Did Nietzsche have syphilis, and did it matter? for a good synopsis of his heath problems). I hope Zacharias wouldn’t feel compelled to press this point; after all, how many religious people have gone mad or are in psychiatric wards?

As far a playing the Hitler card, Zacharias says:

“So profound and operative was Nietzsche’s philosophy upon Hitler that it provided the conceptual framework for his demagogical onslaught to obliterate the weak and inferior of this world.” (location 272)

“In Nietzschean terms, the cause—atheism, and the result—violence and hedonism, are as logically connected as the chronological connection between Hitler’s announcement of his intent in Mein Kampf and the hell ushered in by the Third Reich.” (location 394)

Really?  Does Zacharias really want to go here? The truth here is much more complicated but Christianity doesn’t get a pass. Hitler was an admirer of Christ and various Christian writers including Luther and never mentioned Nietzsche in any speech or work of his.  He was a Catholic in good standing with the Church and never excommunicated. There is evidence that he thought (or at least said) he was doing god’s work (see http://www.striveguide.com/why-did-hitler-say-he-was-doing-the-work-of-jesus-while-the-killing-of-jews/). The German soldiers had Gott mit uns on their belt buckles.  In fact one might say that his hostility toward the Jews was driven by religious belief. In  1543 Luther wrote a tract “On the Jews and Their Lies” in which he outlined several steps that should be taken against the Jews.  Hitler implemented most of them.  As I said, the truth is much more complicated as it is also clear that Hitler did make remarks for and against Christianity (for example see http://davnet.org/kevin/essays/hitler.html also see Was atheism the cause of 20th century atrocities.), but it is dishonest in the extreme to suggest that atheism was the cause of the rise Nazi Germany and Hitler’s treatment of the Jews and others he deemed unworthy. It might make a good Christian bedtime story, but it has little to do with the truth.

To add fuel to his belief that atheism causes despair that leads to all types of horrible real-life consequences he tells the story from the August 2003 issue of Reader’s Digest of two teenage boys, Robert and Jim that killed two Dartmouth professors. He quotes the author of the article, Mitchell Zuckoff:

“What particularly drew him was the German philosopher’s exploration of nihilism – the existential notion that God is dead and that no moral values exist.” (location 373-380)

Zacharias in summarizing these acts states:

“The reality of ideas and their consequences is too serious to trifle with, and mere linguistic surgery will not do. The coats of philosophical paint lavishly put on by the atheistic brush cannot hide the foundational cracks engendered by the storms of life. Any attempt at such a cover-up is the ultimate repression, and the inescapable future of an illusion. The death of God will produce no sanitized supermen to pull us up by our cosmic bootstraps.” (location 384)

Please. Psychopaths hardly need a reason to do what they do. They are on a different wavelength than most of us and can use religion as well as non-religious ideas as a springboard (Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend).  Want some Christian examples? How about Andrea Yates? Susan Smith? Deanna Laney? Christina Rigg? All Christian women who murdered their children.  Christian Women Who Murder Their Children. What is going on in the Bible Belt? tells their stories. Talk about consequences. If you really, really believe that hell is real, that Satan is real, that children who die before the “age of accountability” go to heaven, and that your child may make a decision against Christ and therefore spend all eternity in hell, the logical thing to do would be to kill them thereby giving them a free ride to heaven. Of course only a psychopath would kill their children because of Satan or god told them or the necessary consequences of their belief system as logical as it may be. I won’t condemn all Christians because of these women or Pastor’s who abuse their congregation or pedophile priests. Christians have plenty of dirty laundry and to use Robert and Jim as examples of an atheist mindset is as misleading as using the above women as the consequences of a Christian mindset.  Again, feel good stuff for Christians reading the book but dishonest by someone who is supposedly “truth” oriented and from a “higher” moral ground.

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Location numbers are from the Kindle edition of The Real Face of Atheism.