Christians and atheists are often at “war”, especially on the internet. Most people are not all that interested, but things sometimes get a little contentious online. Claims and counter claims are made, often with insufficient or no justification.
Is truth a casualty? Unfortunately it seems that, often, it is.
I am a christian, but that doesn’t mean I find all christian apologetics convincing – or even truthful. Here are a few doubtful arguments:
There is no scientific evidence for evolution
This is simply not true. There is plenty of scientific evidence to support the main facts of evolution, and many christian scientists recognise this (see the BioLogos Resources and Genetic evidence for evolution pages, and how one christian came to accept evolution).
The most that should be said is that (1) having mainly occurred in the past, many processes in evolution cannot be proved by repeated experiments as in some other areas of science, and (2) there are evolutionary processes than haven’t yet been mapped out. Perhaps they never will be. Perhaps some of them may be shown to be impossible, as Intelligent Design advocates claim. But this hasn’t been shown scientifically yet.
But there is still plenty of evidence. Those who don’t accept evolution must do it by faith, not because of evidence.
Archaeology proves the reliability of the Old Testament
There are certainly significant elements of Old Testament history and culture that are confirmed by archaeology, but the broad consensus of archaeologists is that some aspects, especially the exodus and the invasion of Canaan, are not well supported. There are several main views – minimalists argue that everything up to about 600 BCE is largely legendary, while maximalists argue that much more is historical. And of course there are many views in between. The debate is far from over. And it may be that significant new evidence will come to light.
But as it stands, archaeology is very ambivalent about Old Testament history, and christian apologists should be fair to the evidence. By all means highlight the places where it supports the Bible, but also be willing to admit there are problems.
Old Testament prophecy
Many christians believe that Old Testament prophecy ‘proves’ the divine inspiration of the Bible. But while there are some remarkable prophecies, especially Isaiah’s prophecies about the coming king and suffering servant, which christians see as being fulfilled in Jesus, other prophecies are not so clear.
The New Testament writers used the Old Testament very creatively at times and applied to Jesus statements that were not prophecies at all in the original context. Thus using Messianic prophecies to prove Jesus requires very selective use of the Old Testament, though I think it is quite reasonable to use them to understand Jesus better.
Other non-Messianic prophecies have not so far been fully fulfilled – e.g. Ezekiel’s oracle against Tyre in Ezekiel 26 & 29 were about 75% fulfilled, quite remarkable insight by Ezekiel, but not 100% fulfilled as sometimes claimed by christian apologists.
An honest and comprehensive assessment of Old Testament prophecies would be very difficult, but would probably reveal some clear ‘successes’ but also some that haven’t been fulfilled so far. Apologetics should be honest about this.
Atheists mostly claim to be evidence-based rather than ‘faith-based’, but unfortunately it isn’t aways so.
A universe from nothing?
The cosmological argument for the existence of God is very strong, especially if atheists cannot come up with an alternative explanation. So the pressure is on to find a ‘natural’ explanation for the universe appearing out of nowhere.
Enter cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, with his explanation of how the universe could have been created out of nothing. Unfortunately, his ‘nothing’ is in fact a quantum vacuum containing energy and potential capable of making our enormous universe. Physicists of all beliefs agree he is conning us, and hasn’t solved the conundrum at all, but Krauss keeps going undeterred, and many atheists keep on believing it.
Did Jesus exist?
Almost all New Testament scholars, of all persuasions (christians, Jews, agnostics, atheists and uncommitted), conclude that Jesus existed and the gospels give us a picture of his life. They base this conclusion on their experience in ancient history, the documentary evidence and their understanding of language and culture.
Despite this, a small but vociferous ‘Jesus myth’ movement writes off or explains away all the evidence. Effectively, they ask the rest of us to disbelieve the evidence and expert assessment of thousands of scholars they disagree with, and believe the (mostly unqualified) mythicists. Some argue that the scholars are all biased and in the service of the church, despite many of them being atheists. There is also a small offshoot of protagonists who argue that Nazareth never existed at the time of Jesus, despite the growing archaeological evidence that it did.
It is ironic that many of these also criticise creationist christians for refusing to believe the scientific experts.
Jesus and pagan gods
A century ago the History of religions school scholars believed that there were many parallels between the stories of Jesus and the stories of pagan gods (especially ‘dying and rising gods’). From this they theorised that perhaps the Jesus stories were similarly legendary as the stories of those gods, but came to be believed as historical.
However scholarship has tested these ideas and found them almost totally without foundation. Many of the parallels were imaginary, and in some others, it was the pagan religions which copied from christianity.
Nevertheless, this is still a favourite subject for some non-christians, and they steadfastly refuse to accept what the scholars have found, preferring to follow highly speculative, but generally baseless, ideas of non-scholars. This despite their professed belief in rationalism and evidence-based conclusions.
Church vs science?
This one comes from more than a century ago, when some writers presented a view of history in which the church suppressed science and martyred scientists right through the middle ages. More recently, historians have concluded that the “conflict thesis” is not a true understanding of history, and the church, for all its faults, probably supported science more than it opposed it. But the historical facts don’t persuade many to abandon what they have been led to believe, based on outdated scholarship.
Having the conversation
I seem to have had this conversation several times recently. In a blog or blog comment, an unbeliever accuses christians of not being interested in evidence. I challenge them and ask for examples. Typically, I seem to get one of several reactions:
- Sometimes the sceptic simply withdraws from the discussion.
- Other times they say they never get answers from christian apologists, only questions, and thus don’t offer any examples.
- But perhaps more common is to have one of the above matters raised, to which I give the responses I have outlined above. Yet I can remember only once that an atheist has accepted the verdict of scholars and revised their view. Sometimes they argue the scholars are all biased, sometimes they say they are sticking to their view regardless, sometimes they quote non-scholars to support their view.
I expect there are some christians who are just as obscurantist in their responses, but I don’t come across them so much.
Yes Virginia, truth is often a casualty
No-one gets it right all the time, we can all be forgetful, biased or bloody-minded, including me. But you would hope that eventually people committed to truth would actually be open to truths that force them to change their opinions. But I don’t suppose we should all hold our breaths.
Picture: I cannot find where I obtained this photo.