By John W. Loftus
As a former Straussite I credit much of my approach to two things Dr. James D. Strauss drilled into us as students, but in reverse.
When doing apologetics he said that “if you don’t start with God you’ll never get to God.” He’s not a Van Tillian presuppositionalist because he doesn’t start with the Bible as God’s revelation. He merely starts “from above” by presupposing God’s existence, and then he argues that such a presupposition makes better sense of the Bible, and the world. Again, “if you don’t start with God you’ll never get to God.” Since that’s such an important, central issue, I’ll focus on why we should not start “from above” with the belief in God in the first place, but rather “from below,” beginning with the world. If successful, then my argument should lead us to reject the existence of the God who confirms the Biblical revelation.
The second thing Dr. Strauss drilled into us was his argument that “we don’t need more data, we need better interpretive schema.” What he meant is that we interpret the details of the historical and archaeological evidence through interpretive schema. The need to come up with more data, or evidence, isn’t as important as the need to better interpret that data through the lens of an adequate worldview. While the data are indeed important, the big worldview picture provides the necessary rational support to the data. I agreed then, and I agree now, except that the better interpretive schema that supports the data is not Christianity, but atheism.
My claim is that the Christian faith should be rejected by modern, civilized scientifically literate, educated people, even if I know many of them will still disagree.
There are probably many Christian professors who have had some serious doubts about the Christian faith, like Drs. Ruth A. Tucker, and James F. Sennett. In her book Walking Away from Faith: Unraveling the Mystery of Belief and Unbelief, Ruth A. Tucker shares her own doubt and how she overcomes it, hoping to challenge unbelievers to reconsider what they are missing. But in one place in her book as she was contemplating her own doubt, she candidly confesses what sometimes crosses her mind. As a seminary professor she wrote, “There are moments when I doubt all. It is then that I sometimes ask myself as I’m looking out my office window, ‘What on earth am I doing here? They’d fire me if they only knew.’”
My friend James Sennett, a Staussite, is another one who has seriously struggled with his faith, as seen in his, as yet, unpublished book, This Much I Know: A Postmodern Apologetic. He confesses to have had a faith crisis in it, and wrote his book as a “first person apologetic,” to answer his own faith crisis. In chapter one, called “The Reluctant Disciple: Anatomy of a Faith Crisis,” he wrote, “I am the one who struggles with God. I am the Reluctant Disciple.” “Once I had no doubt that God was there, but I resented him for it; now I desperately want him to be there, and am terrified that he might not be.” Prompted by a study of the mind/brain problem, he wrote, “Sometimes I believed. Sometimes I didn’t. And it seemed to me that the latter condition was definitely on the ascendancy.”
With me I just stopped struggling. It required too much intellectual gerrymandering to believe. There were too many individual problems that I had to balance, like spinning several plates on several sticks, in order to keep my faith. At some point they just all came crashing down.
Let me begin by talking about “control beliefs.” They do just what they indicate; they control how one views the evidence. Everyone has them, especially when it comes to metaphysical belief systems where there isn’t a mutually agreed upon scientific test to decide between alternatives. Many times we don’t even know we have them, but they color how we see the world. They can also be called assumptions, presuppositions and/or biases, depending on the context. As Alfred North Whitehead wrote, “Some assumptions appear so obvious that people do not know that they are assuming because no other way of putting things has ever occurred to them.” They form the basis for the way we “See” things.
Having the right control beliefs are essential to grasping the truth about our existence in the universe. Psychologist Valerie Tarico explains that “it doesn’t take very many false assumptions to send us on a long goose chase.” To illustrate this she tells us about the mental world of a paranoid schizophrenic. To such a person the perceived persecution by others sounds real. “You can sit, as a psychiatrist, with a diagnostic manual next to you, and think: as bizarre as it sounds, the CIA really is bugging this guy. The arguments are tight, the logic persuasive, the evidence organized into neat files. All that is needed to build such an impressive house of illusion is a clear, well-organized mind and a few false assumptions. Paranoid individuals can be very credible.” (The Dark Side, p. 221-22).
Since having control beliefs don’t by themselves tell me what to believe about the specific evidence for Christian miracle claims, I also need to examine that evidence, although time won’t permit me here. But I do so in my book. I consider them as the historical claims they are. I examine them by looking at the internal evidence found within the Biblical texts themselves. I consider what these texts actually say and scrutinize their internal consistency. Wherever relevant, I also consider whether the Old Testament actually predicts some of these events. Then I examine these claims by looking at the external evidence. I consider any independent confirmation of these events outside of the texts. Lastly I subject these claims to the canons of reason using the control beliefs I will argue for here. I conclude from all of this that the Christian faith is a delusion and should be rejected. Then I describe why I am an atheist and what it means to live life without God. I present a whole case, a comprehensive case, a complete case, from start to finish, as a former insider to the Christian faith.
Here then are my two skeptical control beliefs: 1) There is a strong probability that every event has a natural cause; and, 2) The scientific method is the best (and probably the only) reliable guide we have for gaining the truth. Therefore, I need sufficient reasons and sufficient evidence for what I believe. As a result I have an anti-dogma, an anti-superstitious and an anti-supernatural bias. No “inspired” book will tell me what I should believe. My first question will always be “Why should I believe what this writer said?” This doesn’t mean that in the end I might not conclude there is a supernatural realm, only that I start out with these assumptions. Christians will bristle at these control beliefs and cry “foul.” They will argue that if I start out with an anti-supernatural bias “from below” it predisposes me to reject their religious faith, and they are right. It does. They claim that with a supernatural bias “from above” I will be more likely to accept the Christian faith, and that too is correct, although there are still other supernatural worldview contenders. Nonetheless, since this is crucial, let me offer several reasons that I think are undeniable for adopting a skeptical rather than believing set of control beliefs in the first place.
In every case when it comes to the following reasons for adopting my control beliefs the Christian response is pretty much the same. Christians must continually retreat to the position that what they believe is “possible,” or that what they believe is “not impossible.” However, the more that Christians must constantly retreat to what is "possible" rather than to what is “probable” in order to defend their faith, the more their faith is on shaky ground. For this is a tacit admission that instead of the evidence supporting what they believe, they are actually trying to explain the evidence away.
1) Sociological Reasons. The sociological facts are that particular religions dominate in separate distinguishable geographical locations around the globe. John Hick: “it is evident that in some ninety-nine percent of the cases the religion which an individual professes and to which he or she adheres depends upon the accidents of birth. Someone born to Buddhist parents in Thailand is very likely to be a Buddhist, someone born to Muslim parents in Saudi Arabia to be a Muslim, someone born to Christian parents in Mexico to be a Christian, and so on.” The best explanation for why this is so is that people overwhelmingly believe based upon “when and where we were born.”
Since there are no mutually agreed upon tests to determine which religion to adopt, or none at all, social cultural and political forces will overwhelmingly determine what people believe.
Because of this sociological data I have proposed something I call “the outsider test for faith.” Test your religious beliefs as if you were an outsider, just like you test the beliefs of other religions and reject them. Test them with a measure of skepticism. If you don’t do this, then you must justify why you approach other religions than your own with such a double standard. The Outsider Test is no different than the prince in the Cinderella story who must question 45,000 people to see which girl lost the glass slipper at the ball last night. They all claim to have done so. Therefore, skepticism is definitely warranted. I defend this test from several objections in my book.
William Lane Craig’s explains geographical religious diversity by arguing, in his own words, “it is possible that God has created a world having an optimal balance between saved and lost and that God has so providentially ordered the world that those who fail to hear the gospel and be saved would not have freely responded affirmatively to it even if they had heard it.” Craig argues that if this scenario is even “possible,” “it proves that it is entirely consistent to affirm that God is all-powerful and all-loving and yet that some people never hear the gospel and are lost.” Notice him retreating to what is merely “possible?” He’s trying to explain the evidence of global religious diversity away. Contrary to Craig, when we look at the billions of people who have never been given a chance to be “saved” because of “when and where they were born,” his scenario seems extremely implausible, to say the least.
2) Philosophical Reasons (1). Arguments for God’s existence aren’t conclusive or persuasive. They don’t lead exclusively to theism but at best to deism, which I might happily concede and then argue that a distant God is not much different than none at all. Besides, moving from deism to a full-blown Christianity is like trying to fly a plane to the moon. And the theistic arguments don’t lead us to a particular brand of theism either, whether Judaism, Islam or one of the many branches of Christianity.
When it comes to God’s existence our choices can be reduced to these: 1) Either something has always existed--always, or, 2) something popped into existence out of absolutely nothing. Either choice seems extremely unlikely--or possibly even absurd. There is nothing in our experience that can help us grasp these two possibilities. But one of them is correct and the other false. We either start with the “brute fact” that something has always existed, or the “brute fact” that something popped into existence out of nothing. A third view is that, 3) Our existence in the universe is absurd to the core.
William Lane Craig used the word “bizarre” to describe this problem when he wrote, “I well recall thinking, as I began to study the Kalam Cosmological Argument, that all of the alternatives with respect to the universe's existence were so bizarre that the most reasonable option seemed to be that nothing exists!” We must all recognize that we really don’t know why something exists rather than nothing at all. Agnosticism is the default position. Anyone moving off the default position has the burden of proof, and I maintain that moving from agnosticism to atheism is a much smaller step than moving to a full blown Christianity. Since the larger the claim is the harder is it to defend Christianity has a huge and near impossible burden of proof.
Christians want to argue for the belief in a triune God, even though the no sense of the trinity can be made that is both orthodox and reasonable; who was not free with respect to deciding his own nature, even though Christians want to think of God as a free personal agent; who as a “spiritual” being created matter, even though no known "point of contact" between spirit and matter can be found; who never began to exist as their “brute fact,” even though according to Ockham’s razor a simpler brute fact is to begin with the universe itself; who never learned any new truths and cannot think, since thinking demands weighing temporal alternatives; is everywhere, yet could not even know what time it is since time is a function of placement and acceleration in the universe (and if timeless, this God cannot act in time); who allows intense suffering in this world, yet does not follow the same moral code he commands believers to follow.
3) Philosophical Reasons (2). The Christian defender of miracles has a near impossible double burden of proof.
As the late J.L. Mackie wrote: “Where there is some plausible testimony about the occurrence of what would appear to be a miracle, those who accept this as a miracle have the double burden of showing both that the event took place and that it violated the laws of nature. But it will be very hard to sustain this double burden. For whatever tends to show that it would have been a violation of a natural law tends for that very reason to make it most unlikely that is actually happened.”
In Douglass Geivett and Gary Habermas edited book titled; In Defense of Miracles they labelled part 2 as “The Possibility of Miracles.” Notice how they must retreat to what is possible, not what is probable? Of course miracles are possible if there is a creator God, but what we want to know is if they are probable. By definition they are not very probable. We are asked to believe in the Christian God because Biblical miracles supposedly took place, but by definition miracles are very improbable. We cannot bring ourselves to believe in the God of the Bible unless we first believe those miracles took place, but we cannot bring ourselves to believe in those miracles because they are by definition very improbable.
John King-Farlow and William Niels Christensen argue that just because we today don’t experience miracles doesn’t mean that throughout the history of mankind God has done a plethora of them, and will do so again when the time is right in the future. They are asking us to believe against the overwhelming present day experience of nearly all modern people that things might turn out differently than we now experience. Is this impossible? No, not at all. But again, it’s not probable.
Take for example the story that Balaam’s ass spoke to him. If today’s Christians lived back in that superstitious era they wouldn’t believe this happened unless there was good evidence. But because they read about it in a so-called “inspired” book they suspend their judgment and believe it. Back in Balaam’s day they themselves would not have believed it, until Balaam made his ass talk in their presence.
Besides, Christians operate by what Harvard trained Biblical scholar Hector Avalos describes as “selective supernaturalism.” They believe the Biblical miracles because they favor them, while they are skeptical of the miracles they don’t favor in other religions. Why the double standard here? At least I’m consistent in being skeptical of them all until a supernatural explanation is required by the evidence, and I haven’t seen any evidence that requires a supernatural explanation yet.
4) Scientific Reasons. Science proceeds based upon methodological naturalism. methodological naturalism assumes that for everything we experience there is a natural cause. Paul Kurtz defined it as well as anyone when he wrote that it is a “principle within the context of scientific inquiry; i.e., all hypotheses and events are to be explained and tested by reference to natural causes and events. To introduce a supernatural or transcendental cause within science is to depart from naturalistic explanations.”
This is what defines us as modern people. In today’s world all modern educated people base their deductions on the method of naturalism in a vast number of areas. Before the advent of science in previous centuries people either praised God for the good things that happened to them, or they wondered why God was angry when bad things happened. If someone got sick, it was because of sin in his or her life. If it rained, God was pleased with them, if there was a drought God was displeased, and so on, and so on. Science wasn’t content to accept the notion that epilepsy was demon possession, or that sicknesses were sent by God to punish people. Nor was science content with the idea that God alone opens the womb of a woman, nor that God was the one who sent the rain. Now we have scientific explanations for these things, and we all benefit from those who assumed there was a natural cause to everything we experience. We can predict the rain. We know how babies are produced, and how to prevent a host of illnesses. There is no going back on this progress, and it is ongoing. Christians themselves assume a natural explanation when they hear a noise in the night. They assume a natural explanation for a stillborn baby, a train wreck, or an illness.
Christians like Alvin Plantinga object to the use of methodological naturalism in many areas related to their faith. He argues that Christian scientific community should “pursue science in its own way, starting from and taking for granted what we know as Christians.” See what he’s doing here? He is forced into retreating to Bayesian background factors to support a weak position. He’s trying to explain the evidence away. He’s retreating to what is merely possible; that while methodological naturalism has worked very well in understanding our world, it’s possible that it doesn’t apply across the board into the Christian set of beliefs he’s adopted. And he’s right. It is possible. But again, how likely is it that it works so well on every other area of investigation but that it shouldn’t be used in understanding his background beliefs too?
5) Biblical Reasons (1). The Bible is filled with barbarisms that civilized people reject.
A female captive in war was forced to be an Israelite man’s wife (Deuteronomy 21:10-14). If a virgin who was pledged to be married was raped, she was to be stoned along with her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:23-24), while if a virgin who was not pledged to be married was raped, she was supposed to marry her attacker (Deuteronomy 22:28-29), not to mention the pleasure of “dashing of children against rocks,” and genocide itself.
That God is a hateful, racist and sexist God. Christians think Militant Muslims are wrong for wanting to kill free loving people in the world, and they are. But the only difference between these Muslims and the Biblical God is that they simply disagree on who should be killed. According to Sam Harris, “it is only by ignoring such barbarisms that the Good Book can be reconciled with life in the modern world.”
6) Biblical Reasons (2). The Bible is filled with superstitious beliefs modern people reject.
In the Bible we find a world where a snake and a donkey talked, where people could live 800-900+ years old, where a woman was turned into a pillar of salt, where a pillar of fire could lead people by night, where the sun stopped moving across the sky or could even back up, where an ax-head could float on water, a star can point down to a specific home, where people could instantly speak in unlearned foreign languages, and where someone’s shadow or handkerchief could heal people. It is a world where a flood can cover the whole earth, a man can walk on water, calm a stormy sea, change water into wine, or be swallowed by a “great fish” and live to tell about it. It is a world populated by demons that can wreak havoc on earth, and also make people very sick. It is a world of idol worship, where human and animal sacrifices pleased God. In this world we find visions, inspired dreams, prophetic utterances, miracle workers, magicians, diviners and sorcerers. It is a world where God lived in the sky (heaven), and people who died went to live in the dark recesses of the earth (Sheol).
This is a strange world when compared to our world. But Christians believe this world was real in the past. My contention is that ancient people weren’t stupid, just very superstitious. Christopher Hitchens puts it this way: “One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody had the smallest idea what was going on. It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge.”
I can propose scientific tests for what I consider superstitions. I can compare what a meteorologist says about the weather with someone who plans to do a rain dance, and test to see who’s right more often. That’s science. The results of reason and science have jettisoned a great many superstitions. Testing and comparing results. That’s science. I can do the same for the superstitious practice of blood-letting, for exorcisms, for people who claim to predict things based on palm reading, or tea leaves, or walking under a ladder, or breaking a mirror, or stepping on a sidewalk crack. I can even test the results of someone who gets a shot of penicillin when sick with the person who refuses this and prays instead. That’s science. And we modern people are indebted to science for these things. It’s what makes us different from ancient people.
Voltaire said, “Every man is a creature of the age in which he lives, and few are able to raise themselves above the ideas of the time.” In the Bible there are so many superstitious beliefs held by the Gentile nations at every period of time that superstition reigned in those ancient days. I don’t think any modern person should be able to conclude anything other than that. The beliefs of these nations were so prevalent that God’s people in the Bible regularly joined in the same practices and worshipped these gods and goddesses. If these nations were so superstitious that Israel regularly joined them in their beliefs, then it seems reasonable to suppose the beliefs of the Israelites, and later the Christians, were also based upon superstitions too.
We who live in the modern world of science simply don’t believe in a god of the sun, or moon, or harvest, of fertility, or rain, or the sea. We don’t see omens in an eclipse, or in flood, a storm, a snakebite, or a drought, either. That’s because we understand nature better than they did, by using science. We don’t see sickness as demon possession, nor do educated thinking people believe in astrology to get an insight into the future. Nor do we think we are physically any closer to God whether we’re up on a mountaintop rather than down in a valley. But every nation did in ancient days. Now it’s possible that ancient Jews and Christians were different and believed because of the evidence, but how likely is that?
7) Historical Reasons. If God revealed himself in history, then he chose a very poor medium and a poor era to do so. If you know that much about the craft of the historian, she is dealing with the stuff of the past in which many frauds and forgeries have been found. This justifies a skeptical outlook upon what has been reported to have happened. Almost anything can be rationally denied in history, even if the event happened.
Consider the following historical questions: How were the Egyptian pyramids made? Who made them? Why? Was Shakespeare a fictitious name for Francis Bacon? Exactly how was the Gettysburg battle fought and won? What was the true motivation for Lincoln to emancipate the slaves? What happened at Custer's last stand? Who killed President John F. Kennedy? Why? Who knew what and when during the Watergate scandal that eventually led to President Nixon resigning? Why did America lose the “war” in Vietnam? Did George W. Bush legitimately win the 2000 election? Did President Bush knowingly lead us into a war with Iraq on false pretenses? What about some high profile criminal cases? Is O.J. Simpson a murderer? Who killed Jon Bene Ramsey? Is Michael Jackson a pedophile?
Hector Avalos, argues that historical studies are fraught with serious problems. When it comes to the non-supernatural claim that Caesar was assassinated by Brutus in Rome, in 44 A.D., he argues, “We cannot verify such an occurrence ourselves directly and so we cannot claim to ‘know’ it occurred.” When it comes to whether or not King Arthur actually existed, he argues, “our contemporary textual evidence…is nearly nil.” If this is the case with non-supernatural historical investigations, then it is compounded so much more when it comes to the so-called supernatural events in history.
Consider Gotthold Lessing’s “ugly broad ditch:” “Miracles, which I see with my own eyes, and which I have opportunity to verify for myself, are one thing; miracles, of which I know only from history that others say they have seen them and verified them, are another.” “But…I live in the 18th century, in which miracles no longer happen. The problem is that reports of miracles are not miracles….[they] have to work through a medium which takes away all their force.” “Or is it invariably the case, that what I read in reputable historians is just as certain for me as what I myself experience?”
When dealing with the problems of the historian, William Lane Craig argues that, “first, a common core of indisputable historical events exists; second, it is possible to distinguish between history and propaganda; and third, it is possible to criticize poor history.” Craig concludes: “neither the supposed problem of lack of direct access to the past nor the supposed problem of the lack of neutrality can prevent us from learning something from history.”
Notice again how Christians must argue about what is possible here? Such a conclusion is a meager one; that knowledge of the past is possible. Even if true, and I think it is, there is a lot of doubt for any supposed historical event, especially momentous and miraculous ones.
8) Empirical Reasons. The problem of evil is as clear of an empirical refutation of the Christian God as we get. James Sennett has said: “By far the most important objection to the faith is the so-called problem of evil – the alleged incompatibility between the existence or extent of evil in the world and the existence of God. I tell my philosophy of religion students that, if they are Christians and the problem of evil does not keep them up at night, then they don’t understand it.”
If God is perfectly good, all knowing, and all powerful, then the issue of why there is so much suffering in the world requires an explanation. The reason is that a perfectly good God would be opposed to it, an all-powerful God would be capable of eliminating it, and an all-knowing God would know what to do about it. So, the extent of intense suffering in the world means for the theist that: either God is not powerful enough to eliminate it, or God does not care enough to eliminate it, or God is just not smart enough to know what to do about it. The stubborn fact of intense suffering in the world means that something is wrong with God’s ability, or his goodness, or his knowledge.
Christians believe God set the Israelites free from slavery, but he did nothing for the many people who were born and died as slaves in the American South. These theists believe God parted the Red Sea, but he did nothing about the 2004 Indonesian tsunami that killed ¼ million people. Christians believe God provided manna from heaven, but he does nothing for the more than 40,000 people who starve every single day in the world. Those who don’t die suffer extensively from hunger pains and malnutrition all of their short lives. Christians believe God made an axe head to float, but he allowed the Titanic to sink. Christians believe God added 15 years to King Hezekiah’s life, but he does nothing for children who live short lives and die of leukemia. Christians believe God restored sanity to Nebuchadnezzar but he does nothing for the many people suffering from schizophrenia and dementia today. Christians believe Jesus healed people, but God does nothing to stop pandemics which have destroyed whole populations of people. There are many handicapped people, and babies born with birth defects that God does not heal. As God idly sits by, well over 100 million people were slaughtered in the last century due to genocides, and wars. Well over 100 million animals are slaughtered every year for American consumption alone, while animals viciously prey on each other.
Take for example the 2004 Indonesian tsunami killed a quarter of a million people. If God had prevented it, none of us would ever know he kept it from happening, precisely because it didn’t happen. Any person who is supposed to be good would be morally obligated to prevent it, especially if all it took was a “snap” of his fingers to do so.
Take for another example the brutal slavery of the American Southern states. There is no justification for God to have allowed the slavery in the American South, or any slavery for that matter. None. If God was perfectly good, he would've said, "Thou shalt not trade, buy, own, or sell slaves" and said it as often as he needed to do so. But he didn't. If that was the case, and if you were God, wouldn't YOU do the decent thing here? Just ask Christians how they themselves would feel if they were the ones being burned at the stake for heresy, or beaten within an inch of their lives by a Bible quoting slave master. Surely their own arguments that these Christians of the past merely misunderstood what God wanted them to do would fly away in the wind with the smoke of their flesh, and with the drops of their blood.
Stephen Wykstra argues that it’s possible we cannot see a reason why an omniscient God allows so much suffering. We’re told God is so omniscient that we can’t understand his purposes, and this is true, we can’t begin to grasp why there is so much evil in the world if God exists. But if God is as omniscient as claimed, then he should know how to create a better world too, especially since we do have a good idea how God could’ve created differently.
There is no perfectly good, all-powerful, omniscient God of Christian theology.
Most Christians do not believe in the God of the Bible anyway. Instead they believe in the perfect being of St. Anselm in the 11th century A.D. after centuries of theological gerrymandering. The Bible isn’t consistent in describing its God, but one probable description is as follows: The God of the Bible starts off being little more than the polytheistic Canaanite god Elohim, who, rather than creating the universe ex nihilo, fashioned the earth to rise out of the seas in divine conflict with the dragon sea god Rahab. This God is merely the “god of the gods,” who like the other gods had a body that needed to rest on the 7th day, and was found walking in the “cool of the day” in the Garden of Eden. This God fathered several sons including Yahweh, whose wife was Ashterah, to whom was given the people and land of Israel to rule over. This God was responsible for doing both good and evil, sending evil spirits to do his will, and commanding genocide. As time went on Yahweh was believed to be the only God that existed. Still later Satan was conceived as an evil rival in order to exonerate Yahweh from being the creator of evil. Still later in the New Testament the God of the Bible was stripped of any physical characteristics and known as a spiritual being. As theologians reflected on their God they came to believe he created the universe ex nihilo. Anselm finally defined him as the “greatest conceivable being.” But Anslem’s God is at odds with what we find in most of the Bible.
Christians claim to derive their beliefs from the Bible, which had a long process of formation and of borrowing material from others; in which God revealed himself through a poor medium (history) in a poor era (ancient times); who condemns all of humanity for the sins of the first human pair, commanded genocide, witch, honor, heretic killings, and who demanded a perfect moral life when such a life is not possible, given that we are fleshly creatures kept from knowing God’s purported love and power by an unreasonable “epistemic distance”; became incarnate in Jesus (the 2nd person of the trinity), even though no reasonable sense can be made of a being who is both 100% God and 100% man; found it necessary to die on the cross for our sins, even though no sense can be made of so-called atonement; who subsequently bodily arose from the dead, even though the believer in miracles has an almost impossible double-burden of proof here (it’s both “improbable” being a miracle and at the same time “probable”); who now chooses to live embodied forever in a human resurrected body (although there are many formidable objections to personal identity in such a resurrected state); to return in the future, even though the New Testament writers are clear that “the end of all kingdoms” and the establishment of God's kingdom was to be in their generation; and will return where every eye will see him, which assumes an ancient pre-scientific cosmology; who sent the third person of the trinity to lead his followers into "all truth,” yet fails in every generation to do this; who will also judge us based upon what conclusions we reach about the existence of this God, which parallels the ancient barbaric “thought police” which is completely alien to democratic societies; and who will reward the “saints” in heaven by taking away their free will to do wrong, and by punishing sincere doubters to hell by leaving their free will intact so they can continue to rebel.
What would convince me Christianity is True?
But let’s say the Christian faith is true. Let’s say that even though Christianity must punt to mystery and retreat into the realm of mere possibilities to explain itself that it is still true. Then what would it take to convince me?
When it comes to sufficient reasons, I need to be able to understand more of the mysteries of Christianity in order to believe it. If everything about Christianity makes rational sense to an omniscient God, then God could’ve created human beings with more intelligence so that the problems of Christianity are much more intellectually solvable than they are.
Short of God creating us with more intelligence, God could’ve explained his ways to us. He could’ve written the “mother of all philosophical papers” by answering such problems as, “why there is something rather than nothing at all?”, why people deserve to end up in hell, and questions about the atonement, the trinity, divine simplicity, the incarnation, the relationship of free-will and foreknowledge, and how it’s possible for a spiritual being to interact with a material world. He could’ve explained why there is such suffering in this world if he exists. He could’ve explained why he remains hidden and yet condemns us for not finding him in this life. He could’ve helped us understand how it’s possible to want all people to be saved and yet not help people come to a saving knowledge.
Short of helping us to understand these “mysteries,” the only thing left is to give us more evidence to believe, and less evidence to disbelieve. Let me offer some examples of what I mean.
Present Day Evidence. God could reveal himself to us in every generation in a myriad of ways: 1) What better way to show us that he exists than what the book of Acts says he did for Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus! 2) He could become incarnate in every generation and do miracles for all to see. If people wanted to kill him again and he didn't need to die again, he could simply vanish before their eyes. 3) He could spontaneously appear and heal people, or end a famine, or stop a war, or settle an important question like slavery. 4) He could raise up John F. Kennedy from the dead for all to see. 5) He could restore an amputated limb in full sight of an crowd of people which would include all of the best magicians along with the Mythbusters and James Randi, who would all find fault if fault could be found. 6) He could do any and all of the miracles he did in the Bible from time to time, including miraculously feeding 5000 men with their families. The list of things God could do in each generation is endless.
Furthermore, Christians would be overwhelmingly better people by far. And God would answer their prayers in such distinctive ways that even those who don’t believe would seek out a Christian to pray for them and their illness or problem. We wouldn’t see such religious diversity which is divided up over the world into distinct geographical locations and adopted based upon when and where we were born.
Prophetic Evidence. God could’ve predicted any number of natural disasters (if he didn’t have the power to create a better world which lacked them). He could’ve predicted when Mt. St. Helens would erupt, or when the Indonesian tsunami or hurricane Katrina would destroy so much. It would save lives and confirm he is God. Then too, he could’ve predicted the rise of the internet, or the inventions of the incandescent light bulb, Television, or the atomic bomb, and he could do it using non-ambiguous language that would be seen by all as a prophetic fulfillment. God could’ve predicted several things that would take place in each generation in each region of the earth, so that each generation and each region of the earth would have confirmation that he exists through prophecy. God could've told people about the vastness and the complexity of the universe before humans would have been able to confirm it. He could have predicted the discovery of penicillin, which has saved so many lives, and if predicted it would have speeded up its discovery.
Scientific evidence. God could’ve made this universe and the creatures on earth absolutely unexplainable by science, especially since science is the major obstacle for many to believe. He could’ve created us in a universe that couldn’t be even remotely figured out by science. That is to say, there would be no evidence leading scientists to accept a big bang, nor would there be any evidence for the way galaxies, solar systems, or planets themselves form naturalistically. If God is truly omnipotent he could’ve created the universe instantaneously by fiat, and placed planets haphazardly around the sun, some revolving counter-clockwise and in haphazard orbits. The galaxies themselves, if he created any in the first place, would have no consistent pattern of formation at all. Then when it came to creatures on earth God could’ve created them without any connection whatsoever to each other. Each species would be so distinct from each other that no one could ever conclude natural selection was the process by which they have arisen. There would be no hierarchy of the species in gradual increments. There would be no rock formations that showed this evolutionary process because it wouldn’t exist in the first place. Human beings would be seen as absolutely special and distinct from the rest of the creatures on earth such that no scientist could ever conclude they evolved from the lower primates. There would be no evidence of unintelligent design, since the many signs of unintelligent design cancel out the design argument for the existence of God. God didn’t even have to create us with brains, if he created us with minds. The existence of this kind of universe and the creatures in it could never be explained by science apart from the existence of God.
Biblical Evidence. Someone could’ve made a monument to father Abraham that still exists and is scientifically dated to his era. There would be overwhelming evidence for a universal flood covering "all" mountains. Noah’s ark would be found exactly where the Bible says, and it would be exactly as described in the Bible. The location of Lot’s wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt, would still be miraculously preserved and known by scientific testing to have traces of human DNA in it. There would be non-controversial evidence that the Israelites lived as slaves in Egypt for four hundred years, conclusive evidence that they wandered in the wilderness for forty years, and convincing evidence that they conquered the land of Canaan exactly as the Bible depicts. Plus, there would be no Bible difficulties such that a 450 page book needed to be written explaining them away, as Gleason Archer did.
Evidence specific to Jesus. There would be clear and specific prophecies about the virgin birth, life, nature, mission, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of Jesus in the Old Testament that could not be denied by even the most hardened skeptic. As it is there is no Old Testament prophecy that is to be considered a true prophecy that points to any of these things in any non-ambiguous way. The Gospel accounts of the resurrection would all be the same, showing no evidence of growing incrementally over the years by superstitious people. The Gospels could've been written at about the same time months after Jesus arose from the dead. And there would be no implausibilites in these stories about women not telling others, or that the soldiers who supposedly guarded the tomb knew that Jesus arose even though they were asleep (how is that really possible?). Herod and Pilate would've converted because they concluded from the evidence that Jesus arose from the grave. Setting aside their respective thrones, both Herod and Pilate would've become missionaries, or declare Christianity the new religion of their territories. Such evidence like a Turin Shroud would be found which could be scientifically shown to be from Jerusalem at that time containing an image that could not be explained away except that a crucified man had come back to life.
Now, I wouldn’t require all of this to believe. I cannot say how much of this I might need to believe. But I certainly need some of it. The more evidence there is then the more likely I would believe. But the reasons and the evidence just aren’t there, period.
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)