After taking a hiatus from reading atheist-leaning material, I happened across this article today and decided to respond to it:
As Christians, we know that biblical truth hurts sometimes and comes across as offensive no matter what, and it’s our duty to still speak the truth. However, other times it serves no purpose other than to shut the other person down from even listening at all.
That being said, this is my own blog and I’m not saying this directly to anyone in particular, so I decided to write my own responses to the opinions she presented. The author’s portions are excerpted in italics.
1: “How can you be moral without believing in God?”
The answer: Atheists are moral for the same reasons believers are moral: because we have compassion, and a sense of justice. Humans are social animals, and like other social animals, we evolved with some core moral values wired into our brains: caring about fairness, caring about loyalty, caring when others are harmed.
I agree that asking this question to atheists is a bit short-sighted for a number of reasons. First off, we should already know that according to naturalistic beliefs, human behaviors are supposedly adaptations that increase our chances of survival. Things that are beneficial to a group tend to persist in a flourishing species. So atheists would naturally turn to these sorts of answers when it comes to morality.
But this question is also short-sighted because as Christians, we should know a very simple and fundamental truth: God created ALL people in His image. This means a moral sense was instilled in every one of us; it is built into our nature. So whether or not someone believes in God is independent of whether they have a basic moral code. True, specific moral duties and responsibilities may differ (hint: when the Bible explicitly commands us to do something, it’s usually because we naturally do not want to do them). But we all have a basic sense of right or wrong. The question is, how do we objectively define what’s right or wrong?
You have to wonder, from a naturalistic perspective, if morals are simply an adaptation to promote survival, why not kill off unproductive members of the herd? Why bother taking care of the elderly or even barren women? Why not save our resources instead of taking care of handicapped individuals who can give nothing back? What practical benefit is there to some of these “good” deeds? As Christians, we know that every person has intrinsic worth as an image-bearer of God, but what value is there from a naturalistic standpoint?
And if someone disagrees with your sense of “good,” what right do you have to condemn them for it? If Hitler thought he was making the world a better place by killing Jews, how can we prove that he’s wrong and we’re right? Apart from some higher objective standard, we can’t. But if we’re truly honest with ourselves, we know deep in our bones that killing humans is wrong, and it’s not just some arbitrary adaptation ingrained in us over time.
What’s so special about human survival anyway? From the naturalistic environment’s perspective, we are actually bad for the health of this planet, and doesn’t the planet have a higher importance than our species? Since it is home to every other creature we know about, maybe it’s not right to exhibit this form of bias. Maybe we should depopulate…war and killing could be of great practical benefit to the world.
I could go on and on about this, but I think the point has been made. We are all made to be moral creatures, but only with God as an objective standard can it really become something more than just some arbitrary result of probability and undirected adaptation.
2: “How do you have any meaning in your life?” Sometimes asked as, “Don’t you feel sad or hopeless?” Or even, “If you don’t believe in God or heaven, why don’t you just kill yourself?”
The answer: Atheists find meaning and joy in the same things everyone does. We find it in the big things: family, friendship, work, nature, art, learning, love. We find it in the small things: cookies, World of Warcraft, playing with kittens. The only difference is that (a) believers add “making my god or gods happy and getting a good deal in the afterlife” to those lists (often putting them at the top), and (b) believers think meaning is given to them by their god or gods, while atheists create our own meaning, and are willing and indeed happy to accept that responsibility.
We Christians find joy in a lot of those same things as well, and indeed, we believe a lot of them were given to us by God for the very purpose of making life on this earth more bearable. But enjoying something is a far cry from having a deeper, firmer sense of purpose. And trust me, as humans with prideful desires, we Christians would love to accept the “responsibility” of creating “our own meaning.” Who wouldn’t? It’s fun to play boss. But at the same time, we have come to grips that living like this is just playing an empty game. In the end, it’s all pointless apart from a greater purpose.
From the atheists’ point of view, the purpose in life is to enjoy every moment and to derive “meaning” in relationships and activities. But if you think about it, this sense of meaning is completely illusory. If humans are nothing but a collection of matter, randomly thrown together for no apparent purpose or design, then why are your family and friends special? Why are nature and art to be admired when they’re just an accident of impersonal and random forces?
What is “love” from a naturalistic purpose? Isn’t it simply a means to reproduce and to increase the chances of successfully raising offspring? Well, in modern day America, I think it’s safe to say that very few children die of starvation, even without monogamous parenting, so why not spread our seed as widely as possible? Why bother with marriage or commitment anymore?
If atheists are always accusing Christians of living in a fantasy world, I think it’s time that they come to grips with the illusions and mental tricks they are playing on themselves. Their sense of meaning and purpose are parlor tricks, and the prominent atheist Nietzsche is an example of someone who honestly understood these implications. He seemed to grasp that with the “death of God,” objective truth must necessarily break down. What’s ironic and sad is that while he referred to Christianity as a depressing and pitiful belief system, he himself ended up suffering a mental breakdown.
As for the last part of the question (“why don’t you just kill yourself?”), I really hope no one says this to an atheist. Apart from being cold-hearted or gimmicky at best (in trying to make some kind of poignant point), it is useless to wish death upon someone, especially if there is still time and a chance for them to find God. Better late than never.
3: “Doesn’t it take just as much/even more faith to be an atheist as it does to be a believer?”
The answer: No.
The somewhat longer answer: This question assumes that “atheism” means “100% certainty that God does not exist, with no willingness to question and no room for doubt.” For the overwhelming majority of people who call ourselves atheists, this is not what “atheism” means. For most atheists, “atheism” means something along the lines of “being reasonably certain that there are no gods,” or, “having reached the provisional conclusion, based on the evidence we’ve seen and the arguments we’ve considered, that there are no gods.” No, we can’t be 100% certain that there are no gods. We can’t be 100% certain that there are no unicorns, either. But we’re certain enough. Not believing in unicorns doesn’t take “faith.” And neither does not believing in God.
Ah, the good ol’ unicorns comparison to God, as if they were on equal levels as far as logic and evidence would direct us. But I won’t go into that now because I think I touch upon it frequently in some of my posts. The short version is this: we have solid and defensible reasons to believe in the existence of God; there are no such reasons to believe in the existence of unicorns. It sure does make a catchy (and extremely popular) argument, though.
Anyhow, I largely disagree with the author’s assessment that atheism doesn’t take the same (or greater) measure of faith as being a believer in, say, Jesus Christ. The honest answer should be “yes,” and let me explain.
As Christians, we have come to the conclusion that there is a specific God based on a number of influences and sources. These things can range from emotional leadings to stone-cold logic. Archeology and even science can lead some to the conclusion that there is a god. For example, Dr. Francis Collins—a prominent geneticist who led the Human Genome Project—believes that our DNA is actually the “language of God” and cannot be explained by purely naturalistic means. And yes, sometimes people believe without deeper investigation, but that’s usually because the existence of God seems so inherently obvious to them that they don’t feel a burning need to look deeper. While I would much prefer Christians to be better informed about their faith and able to defend their faith more competently (as the Bible even exhorts us to do), it’s hard to fault them too much for trusting their intuitions and common sense. In the end, we come to a conclusion we feel is reasonable, although there is that little leap of faith left on our part.
Now, with atheism, a similar track is usually followed. They emotionally feel things that turn them away from religion, such as anger at abuses in the church or judgmental attitudes. Perhaps it’s an abusive religious father or even strong homosexual tendencies that make the Bible’s teachings against this behavior highly objectionable to them. (This builds in an added incentive for such atheists to believe the Bible is wrong because its truth would put them in an uncomfortable spot. Perhaps that’s partially what motivated the author of this article to be an atheist, who happens to be a lesbian.) Then there is some form of “logical” thinking that takes place that utilizes catchy arguments to make the Bible seem ridiculous (but to be honest, I have yet to see any line of reasoning that holds up to any deeper scrutiny). Archeology says that a certain detail from the Bible cannot be corroborated (yet), and then science seems to take away the “need” for God, even if nothing directly contradicts His existence. Then, there is the apparent obviousness in thoughts like, “if there really were a God, why wouldn’t He show Himself? Why would there still be evil in the world?” With these seemingly reasonable lines of evidence, the last little leap of faith takes place when they trust their own intuitions and the conclusions of other people in published works or speeches, even if they could feasibly be wrong. Apparently, a smart-sounding and somewhat condescending British accent also helps greatly. The sad truth of the matter is that a mocking and sarcastic tone often comes with a built-in aura of superior intellect, for some reason.
Furthermore, the atheistic belief system mandates that a lot of the things we know and feel intuitively are not objective or real at all. They believe that the entire universe and life within it is nothing but a big cosmic coincidence, devoid of any purpose or design. They believe that science is conclusive and true, despite having a track history of being wrong and needing revision. They believe that anything that feels objectionable to them must be false, even though these feelings cannot be reliable as beacons of truth if they are merely adaptations for survival. They believe that fulfilled prophecies are merely math-defying coincidences or that they were manipulated in some way—even without any evidence of tampering. They will believe radically fringe ideas such as “Jesus never even existed” sooner than they will believe the words of first-hand witnesses who were martyred without recanting.
So yea, it’s not so ridiculous to say that it takes “the same (or greater) measure of faith” to be an atheist.
4: “Isn’t atheism just a religion?”
Calling atheism a religion assumes that it’s an axiom accepted on faith, not a conclusion based on thinking and evidence. And it shows that you’re not willing or able to consider the possibility that someone not only has a different opinion about religion than you do, but has come to that opinion in a different way.
This one is much like #3, so I’ll just quickly say that a religion can involve thinking and evidence as well (or at least from what I’ve seen, Christianity can). And truthfully, from what I’ve encountered, atheists don’t seem like the most “willing or able” to consider that they’re wrong either…not even on clear and simple points! Read any back-and-forth between a believer and an atheist and you’ll see an inability to even acknowledge any legitimate point made. So this accusation goes right back to the author of this article.
5: “What’s the point of atheist groups? How can you have a community and a movement for something you don’t believe in?”
The answer: Atheists have groups and communities and movements for the same reasons anyone does. Remember what I said about atheists being human? Humans are social animals. We like to spend time with other people who share our interests and values. We like to work with other people on goals we have in common. What’s more, when atheists come out about our atheism, many of us lose our friends and families and communities, or have strained and painful relationships with them. Atheists create communities so we can be honest about who we are and what we think, and still not be alone.
I think this answer is very legitimate and well spoken. Humans were made to be social creatures by design because we are not to fight this fight (of life) alone.
I suspect, however, that it’s also fun to get together and mock religious types. I can’t say this for all atheist groups, but it’s hard to imagine them feeling much genuine sympathy for the rest of us, whereas Christians earnestly pray for nonbelievers all the time…sometimes with tears. I watched a video of four prominent atheists gathered in one room talking to each other, and it felt like a big religion-bashing fest where all parties involved were highly amused and reveling in each other’s apparent brilliance and wit.
And again, if atheists believe they are doing meaningful work, they need to be truly honest with themselves. If their efforts are at all difficult or costly, they really shouldn’t waste their time and energy on it. Why champion a cause if it takes away from their own resources and enjoyment? The world around them is just a fleeting and random collection of matter. In fact, it’s all steadily leading toward maximum entropy and will cease to exist eventually. There are no REAL concerns of lasting consequence. What difference does it make to them personally what others believe if they believe we’re all just going to die and return to dust anyway? It’s an exercise in futility if you ask me.
At least the social aspects mentioned by the author give us a more realistic, honest, and digestible answer to help us understand.
6: “Why do you hate God?” Or, “Aren’t you just angry at God?”
The answer: Atheists aren’t angry at God. We don’t think God exists. We aren’t angry at God, any more than we’re angry at Santa Claus.
And honestly? This question reveals how narrow your own mind is. It shows that you can’t even consider the possibility that you might be mistaken: that you can’t even conceive of somebody seeing the world differently from the way you do. This question doesn’t just make atheists mad. It makes you look like a dolt.
I think it’s disingenuous to completely deny this point, but I could be mistaken. Quite frankly, this is a line that atheists can stick to until death and there’s really no concrete way to prove that they’re angry at God (and they know it).
Maybe we’re all wrong about them. Maybe their way of expressing themselves is different from all other forms of human interaction I’ve ever seen. To me, name-calling, rolling eyes, and biting sarcasm directed at God usually indicate some form of emotion…dare I say, anger or bitterness. But what do I know?
They seem to hate or mock God’s laws. They ridicule passages from the Bible that seem outdated or absurd. They ask questions like, “Where was God when…?” And not in a purely speculative or investigative way, either. You’ll notice that error found in other areas rarely evoke the same amount of impassioned speech and mockery that surround religious discussion. Why is this?
I don’t buy that they’re only angry at the believer, not an “imaginary God.” Much of the time, the believer has good intentions, and it’s hard to believe atheists get THAT angry when some random person disagrees with them or doesn’t see things the way they see it.
If atheists weren’t angry with God on some level, you’d expect a much different tone from them than what you actually see. I also find the author’s accusation of narrow-mindedness and being a “dolt” puzzling considering her own choice of words.
7: “But have you [read the Bible or some other holy book; heard about some supposed miracle; heard my story about my personal religious experience]?”
The answer: Probably. Or else we’ve read/heard about something pretty darned similar. Atheists are actually better-informed about religion than most religious believers. In fact, we’re better-informed about the tenets of most specific religions than the believers in those religions. For many atheists, sitting down and reading the Bible (or the holy text of whatever religion they were brought up in) is exactly what set them on the path to atheism — or what put the final nail in the coffin.
Why you shouldn’t ask it: As my friend and colleague Heina put it: “‘Have you heard of Jesus?’ No, actually, I was born under a f**king rock.”
There are some interesting and semi-valid points given here.
First off, atheists did not become atheists by accident. They had to weigh information and decide to be that way, so of course they will already know some of the basic truths of religion. Asking them these simplistic things can come across and obvious and insulting. I concede that point.
As for whether atheists tend to be better-informed about religion than most religious believers…
I’d have to say yes and no.
Yes, they may have spent more time reading the scriptures or doing highly academic exercises such as using Google or ordering popular books off of Amazon to read the opinions of others. Sadly, many believers know precious little about the very truths they are staking their entire life and eternity on.
Atheists’ knowledge of the Bible > Casual/young believer’s knowledge
Then an interesting factor comes into play here. On a spiritual level, that factor is the Holy Spirit and “scales” falling off of our eyes. But even on a human level, there is another important differentiator: passion and motivation.
Imagine on one side, you have an atheist who thinks Christianity is foolishness. On the other, you have a curious and thorough Christian who wants to know God to the deepest level possible. Who do you think will understand the Bible better?
The atheist comes across a difficult passage, and already assuming that the Bible is flawed and man-made, he immediately concludes that the passage is in error. It’s a contradiction or an oversight. Then he laughs about it, but does his diligence in remembering the details so that he can equip it in his next argument with a Christian. At this point, he can already stump the ho-hum Christian who knows nothing of the Bible.
The motivated Christian comes across the same passage and feels conflicted about it. How can that make sense when it sounds so off? Then, he remembers a related passage, perhaps 1,000 pages later that adds another layer to consider. Then he checks cross-references, commentaries, and draw upon his deep well of understanding to finally decipher the true meaning of the passage. It now makes sense and is crystal clear. Through this deep probing, he now has a better sense of the truth and God’s character, even if the final conclusion is much different than what he initially thought or expected.
In the end, this Christian has a far better understanding of the passage than the atheist does. Why is that? It’s not because of superior intelligence, but it’s because of his motivation and willingness to stretch his thinking to allow truths to come to him rather than dictate things with his own intuitions and biases. It’s his humility and deep desire to know God that opens up the words on the page to him. Otherwise, they would remain hidden.
Before you scoff at this idea, you should know that this applies in a lot of other areas as well—for instance, simple things like sports or even frivolous things like video games. *Warning: Geek speak is about to follow, so you may want to tune out.
You could be the smartest guy out there, and even be naturally gifted at video games. You could quickly excel to a certain point without a ton of effort. But unless you actually care about a game and devote yourself to it on a deeper level, you will never unlock your true potential in it.
People who have never been at an elite level in gaming (or other areas) will find this hard to understand and agree with, but it’s true. Lots of capable gamers will try out a game, see what they recognize to be an obvious flaw or limitation, and decide not to play it competitively. They write it off as shallow and unworthy of their efforts. They quickly find it boring and move on.
But the dedicated gamer will go deeper. He will see what looks like an “unfair” flaw and discover ways around it. What seemed like a broken imbalance is now just one mechanic that has been solved and pushed aside. Then other mechanics are discovered underneath. A deeper, richer game is uncovered for this gamer, but it never would have happened if he was haughty and decided the game was as simple as it first appeared.
(When it comes to the Street Fighter series, I could go on and on about frame data, spacing, the meta game, P-linking, conditioning your opponent…but you get the gist by now. It’s never just as simple as the characters you see on the screen.)
In the same way, atheists fail to see the deeper level of truth beneath the surface. That’s because they assume there isn’t any. They also overestimate the power of their intelligence, as if they should be able to immediately crack any code presented before them.
Here’s a news flash: no one is as smart as they think they are. (I’m constantly reminded of this, which is one of the useful, humbling quirks of marriage.) Here’s another one: If the Bible was inspired by God, do you really expect to be able to figure it all out with a few hours, months, or even years of half-blinded study? Even if it were man-made, scholars over many centuries have written countless volumes about the Bible that would astonish you in their complexity. Are you in a position to top that? If you can’t master Shakespeare in a couple of years, what makes you think you’d be able to master something this comprehensive and grand?
I can honestly tell you that every time I read a passage after not reading it for a while, I see something new jump out of the page. And that’s with passages I’ve read numerous times before! How much more complex would it be to piece together the entirety of the Bible logically and theologically? From what I’ve seen, the more you know, the more it fits…often in ways you never expected.
The conclusion is this: unless an atheist somehow had the right mindset (and the Holy Spirit’s guidance) while poring through the pages of scripture, it’s erroneous to say that they know it “better” than informed believers. It’s just the reality.
8: “What if you’re wrong?” Sometimes asked as, “Doesn’t it make logical sense to believe in God? If you believe and you’re wrong, nothing terrible happens, but if you don’t believe and you’re wrong, you could go to Hell!”
What if you’re wrong about Allah? Or Vishnu? Or Zeus? What if you’re wrong about whether God is the wrathful jerk who hates gay people, or the loving god who hates homophobes? What if you’re wrong about whether God wants you to celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday or Sunday? What if you’re wrong about whether God really does care about whether you eat bacon? As Homer Simpson put it, “What if we picked the wrong religion? Every week we’re just making God madder and madder!”
Are you really that ignorant of the existence of religions other than your own? Has it really never occurred to you that when you “bet” on the existence of your god, there are thousands upon thousands of other gods whose existence you’re “betting” against?
I agree that using Pascal’s Wager as the sole or primary argument to believe in God is a foolish exercise. In my opinion, while it can’t be completely discarded, there are a lot of other considerations that contribute to making a firm commitment.
Yes, Christians are “betting” on our God in some sense, but it’s not a blind bet at a roulette table full of equally appealing choices. For many of us, it’s a weighed and informed decision that appears more and more in our favor as we inform ourselves.
Again, I go into a lot of this stuff in my other posts, but there are solid reasons to believe Christianity is the real truth as opposed to the other religions. In fact, a little effort quickly reveals how shockingly little credibility any other religion has.
It’s not a simple game of luck we’re playing. Like any reasonable person, we learn what we can and make the best decision based on what we know.
9: “Why are you atheists so angry?”
The answer: I’ve actually written an entire book answering this question ( Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless). The short answer: Not all atheists are angry about religion — and those of us who are angry aren’t in a constant state of rage. But yes, many atheists are angry about religion — and we’re angry because we see terrible harm being done by religion. We’re angry about harm being done to atheists… and we’re angry about harm done to other believers. We don’t just think religion is mistaken — we think it does significantly more harm than good. And it pisses us off.
Organized religion has indeed done many wrongs in this world. The church is not exempt from this unfortunate fact. But none of these wrongs were directly in line with God’s will or the scriptures. They were a result of manmade institutions and corruptions due to the flesh. If you’re going to get mad about something, get mad at what we humans have molded religion to be.
But being mad about these transgressions is wholly separate from the truth of God’s Word. Furthermore, you might as well be constantly mad at everything and everyone because nothing is exempt from great sin.
Heck, I’m glad to be an American but does it make sense to continually stew in anger at my countrymen because of the corruptions in our government? Or to hate white people for the injustices committed against people of other races and the indigenous people on this continent?
We’re ALL at fault in some way because we are all wretched sinners. That doesn’t change the truth of the gospel one bit. Using past wrongs to justify unbelief is not only a cop-out, it’s unreasonable.
Like I often do, I’d like to start with a disclaimer…
This is my own way of thinking and it works for me, but it is by no means authoritative or complete. No one can actually come to believe in Christ without the Holy Spirit, but it helps to be able to fall back on logic in times of doubt and weakness.
I encourage people to think through these steps (or steps like these) and really dig at the heart of the issue. It perplexes me still just how little people delve into these things when literally everything is riding on them. Keep in mind that this is a logical path, so things like feelings, personal preferences, and predispositions need to be kept in check as much as possible. We are making probabilistic judgments along the way and ignoring what we like or dislike. As humans, these things seep into our decision-making and conclusions all the time, but it has little relevance here.
This is a very surface-level post, so don’t expect it to be comprehensive, but I think it’s a good basic overview. This is my simple three-step path to deciding that Christianity is the one true religion.
OK so the very first step is to decide for yourself:
1. Is there a personal creator of the universe? Yes or no? There are only two options.
*Based on some feedback I’ve gotten, I felt the need to clarify the term “personal creator.” In apologetics terms, this does not necessarily refer to a relational person or what not, but it simply refers to a being who decided to create by his own volition (as opposed to being some natural force without a mind). I suppose the “personal” part of it, as most people understand it, would be more directly addressed with the second question in this post.
Most people claim to believe “yes” to this question because some things seem inherently obvious (of course, many simply state “I believe there is a higher power somewhere” and leave it at that). The universe is not eternal—as skeptics used to propose—and therefore was created or came into being at a finite point in our past. Nothing comes from nothing, so there had to be some external first-cause, right? Natural causes couldn’t sufficiently handle this creation duty, and what natural causes are there to speak of anyway when “nature,” matter, and even time didn’t exist? (Yes, even time came into existence at the Big Bang, most scientists agree.) A personal being had to choose to create the universe rather than there being nothing.
Things like the Cosmological Argument and the impossibility of an actual infinite come into play here…and in my opinion, common sense. When we look around and witness the beauty and intelligence around us, it seems almost preposterous to think it all happened by chance from inanimate and impersonal matter.
So for me, the answer to this question is YES. That leads me to the next question…
2. Did this personal creator choose to reveal itself to us? Yes or no.
One could imagine a scenario where a disinterested creator or god brought this universe into being, and then stepped away to leave us to our own devices. It’s possible. But when we have to decide probabilistically whether this is the case, it’s hard to defend.
In my view, why would a powerful and personal creator make this world (and the resulting intelligent life) and have no interest in it? Why would this creator bother making humans who yearn for answers and even for worship in some form? Why would this creator be satisfied in making such splendor and complexity and being completely detached from it? Doesn’t it make more sense that this creator would ultimately try to make contact with us and for us to recognize him/her?
In my view, it makes more sense that if this grand creator bothered to make us, then a relationship of some sort would naturally follow. If you don’t agree, it’s hard to convince you otherwise (but I’d love to hear your train of thought on this).
Now, if this creator has revealed information and truths to us in some way, I think that would constitute what we refer to as a “religion” or set of beliefs. The question now becomes something else entirely…
3. Out of all the world’s religions, which is most likely to be true? Which one is the right one?
Before we delve into this, let me stop some of you peace-loving hippies (or postmodernists even) out there. 😉 No, not all religions can be right, and they do NOT all point to the same thing. They all state contradictory “facts” about this greater power and are mutually exclusive from each other. The issue is not “what’s true for you” because truth is true whether or not you feel it. Someone can believe with all their heart that 2+2 = 3, but they’d be wrong. Like it or not, there is objective truth…some things are correct, some things are incorrect. You can’t really get around that by trying to be open-minded when it comes to truth.
If this great creator (from steps 1 and 2) has such incomprehensible power, you can safely assume that he/she would make sure that the right set of beliefs is correct all the way. You can’t pick bits and pieces from different sources. Wouldn’t that be a rather incompetent higher power?
Anyway, a likely obstacle you’d come across at this point is this: “you can’t prove whether a religion is true. It’s all taken on faith, not evidence.”
Yes, there is a measure of faith in the unseen and incomprehensible; I understand that. But what we’re trying to decide is which religion is most likely to be true, given what we know and have available to us.
From my study of the major world religions, it was easy to notice some predictable patterns. Some dude has a dream or vision, and then tells other people about it. Sometimes, they are just the person’s own ideas. The hearers of these so-called truths or revelations sense conviction in that person’s voice and demeanor, and they decide he is not lying. Being superstitious and gullible, they start believing and following this original source. Eventually, their numbers increase and you have an established religion.
(Don’t get me wrong…it is my belief that many of these religious leaders believed their own story. There was not much understanding of dreams back then, and visions can come from various places and for different reasons…possibly were even demonic.)
Sometimes, the religion spreads by word of mouth in light of little or no opposition. Other times, it spreads by military might or government mandate.
In almost all cases, the source can be primarily traced to one man who in his enlightenment, writes some scriptures for people to follow. It takes maybe a few months or years. Nothing within these scriptures can be proved or disproved because they largely deal with the metaphysical. This person likely enjoys a heightened status as a leader of a new movement. Who doesn’t like having followers looking up to you, right?
But one religion stands out in stark contrast: Christianity.
The Bible was not written by one person trying to get followers, but rather 40 different authors spaced out over thousands of years. If you know your Bible well enough and pay close attention, you’ll notice a striking continuity and an unmistakeable unified purpose throughout. No single author or leader received all the glory, and if anything, they were severely persecuted or even martyred for their teachings.
We have the Synoptic Gospels, which all tell the same story (with varying levels of detail), so there is multiple attestation making it more credible according to methods that help determine historicity. Keep in mind that these people weren’t collectively working on something known as “the Bible” today. They were not collaborators, but rather were people who in some cases didn’t even know each other directly.
We also have biblical stories squarely entrenched in the midst of actual known human history. We see Caesars, Xerxes, and other known figures throughout. These are not fables in mythical settings with made-up events, but are real locations with historical details being confirmed by archeology and ancient historians continually (even including lost civilizations that modern scholars initially claimed the Bible made up…until they are proved wrong by the next excavation). The Bible even contains startlingly accurate prophecies regarding the man of Jesus and even the rise and fall of empires. The Dead Sea Scrolls and other finds confirm that these prophecies were recorded well before the actual events took place.
For me, the fact that the Bible tells us things we don’t want to hear even helps confirm its truthfulness. What other religion tells us that we are held accountable even for our thoughts? Or that we are unable to come to good standing with our own works and effort, but rather are completely dependent on the mercy of Jesus? That the love of money or wealth itself can be bad for you and is dangerous?
If I made a religion, I’d tell people to get as rich as possible. This would help support the cause, right? Other religions try to tell you things that make them appealing, like having multiple wives or the promise of 72 virgins in the afterlife…true biblical Christianity is hard and humbling.
The list goes on and on, but you get the idea. Nothing else even comes close.
Does this make Christianity a certainty? Of course not, but you might be compelled to agree that it’s the best candidate for the one true religion.
If this is true and the Bible is the true word of God, then at this point, does it really matter what you feel? Does it matter that you like Buddhism’s teachings better or that you find things in the Bible to be objectionable? You should know as well as anyone that you are fallible and prone to mistakes. What you believe one day can change the next.
The crux of the issue is what is true.
And that is the basic gist of why I believe Christianity to be the one true religion. It’s hard to capture it in a readable blog post, but I hope you get the idea.
My apologies for being a bit slow on updates lately. My first term of seminary just came to a close last night…this past week was all about working on a big final project for Pastoral Counseling, then studying for a multiple-choice exam and essay for Old Testament Survey I. But now, I’m finally done…until next week when I start New Testament I and Systematic Theology I. =) Can’t wait (though I wish I had finished out the OT with OT II…fascinating stuff)!
Anyhow, I thought I’d share this opinion piece about atheists:
I have to say, from my experience, everything he writes is spot-on. Yea, atheists will give you all sorts of excuses and reasons, but at the end of the day, their over-reactions and anger point to something deeper. The comparison between rebelling against parents and rebelling against God is appropriate. There is a sort of twisted pleasure we get in fighting authority, isn’t there?
I admit, I’ve been struggling to love atheists these days as the human side of me just finds them irritating and laughably hasty to draw final conclusions about questions that are way above their powers of reasoning. They really seem to think that they can solve the mysteries of the universe with about 30 minutes of pondering each issue. There are even kids on YouTube denying the Holy Spirit, and this kid probably just learned how to dress himself a couple years ago. Seriously, what the heck? (As you watch that video, you may cringe at the tragic haughtiness oozing from your computer screen.)
Yes, intelligent people are prone to question things and even poke (apparent) holes in theology. You think I don’t wrestle with issues in my mind all the time? I’ve lost count of the number of times I thought I had discovered some fatal flaw, only to be humbled later with further investigation. After this happens enough times, you should eventually learn your place—some much later than others (some never at all).
But if everyone stops at these initial “AHA!” moments and puffs themselves up, who knows what amazing knowledge about God they might miss? Most will vastly underestimate the complexity of the issues. Something tells me these people will never bother to get to the bottom of it; they’ll hardly scratch the surface. Their arrogance has convinced them that Christianity is paint-by-numbers and that they have already mastered its depths, despite the fact that scholars can spend their entire lives trying to unravel a single subsection of the Bible. Even “simple” chronologies take intense research, taking into account lunar vs. solar years, ascension vs. non-ascension year dating, coregencies, etc.
I know I’m supposed to care about nonbelievers, but for the most part, my heart is leaving them…at least those who are opposed to God. I need to pray and repent profusely. I’ve learned that I really lack in the area of love. I am a work in progress.
This blog was originally intended to be a place for apologetics and arguments for the faith. But more and more, I’m realizing that it’s a matter of the heart. Mining the Bible for truths is a lifelong effort, and it’s hard to find the motivation to stray away from that to find “real-world” proofs in the comparatively mundane areas of science, history, logic, etc. The Word of God is just so much more captivating to me these days. Maybe I’ll find a good balance soon.
Logically speaking, the outward behavior of Christian people should be irrelevant to the truth of Jesus Christ. Even true believers who know the gospel are prone to fail once in a while. What matters is what the Bible actually teaches, which is far from what the world sees in Christians.
Still, this objection is still very real to a lot of people, so it deserves to be addressed.
*Taking off the robot hat.
As a human being, it’s easy to discredit a belief system or religion if you see its adherents acting in unflattering ways. It’s just a natural response. In fact, Jesus was well aware of this natural tendency of human beings and instructed Christians to be like salt or a light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16), meaning we’re supposed to set a good example and positively influence the world around us. Salt is meant to represent something that not only brings out full goodness (flavor), but also to preserve and keep things from rotting. We are to be holy and uphold morality in a world that naturally degenerates toward sin. A light, obviously, shines and counters the darkness, showing the right path.
Unfortunately, Christians seem to be failing in great measure (though to be fair, some succeed). Instead of drawing people toward Christ, many of us are turning off the world to the message. As Ghandi famously said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
So what exactly is the problem? Let’s start with the root of the problem…
Most “Christians” are not actually saved.
This part should come as no surprise to some people, especially considering my deluge of posts about this topic recently. Sadly, many modern churchgoers—especially in America—believe themselves to be Christian, but are really participating in just another religion. A true relationship with Christ and the changing power of the Holy Spirit cannot be found in them.
Some people estimate that perhaps only 5–10% of so-called Christians in America are actually true followers. This means that the vast majority of people are living by their own flesh, and therefore are just as likely as the rest of the world to succumb to temptations and fall to sin. The problem is, if an atheist person committed some morally questionable act, no one would flinch. But if a “Christian” does it, it sets off alarms and people cry “hypocrite!”
What is it exactly that we do that offends the secular world?
1. An average situation…
Imagine a scenario where a churchgoer is on a business trip with a few of his work buddies. Let’s call him Jim. His buddies decide one night, after a hard day of negotiations, to hit up the local strip club and down a few beers. What is the right response for Jim? Admittedly, he’s in a rough spot.
On the one hand, he could succumb to peer pressure and decide to go along. After all, he doesn’t want to offend them or come across as a Jesus freak, would he? But the problem is, he has just undermined the gospel and any possible platform he might have to share the message in the future. If a month from now, Jim is alone with one of his work friends and brings Jesus up, that friend might be thinking about Jim’s behavior that night at the strip club. His friends might think to themselves, “There’s no difference between Christians and us except we get to save our time and money on Sundays.”
On the other hand, if Jim declines the invitation, he might face added pressure. “Why not, come on man!” This is where he needs a lot of discernment and tact. Jim has to communicate that he doesn’t agree morally to such activities without coming across as pious or overly judgmental. This is an extremely hard line to walk, and most will fail miserably. (It’s probably a lose-lose anyway, practically speaking.) If he condemns the activity too hard, he adds to the stereotype that Christians are condescending and judgmental. If he’s too soft, he’s not standing up for his beliefs and is perhaps being ashamed of the gospel.
As 1 Peter 3:15 says: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”
This might mean that Jim will become less popular and that he won’t get invited to future events. They might label him as a party-pooper. So be it. At least he stood up for the truth without compromising and committing the sin of pride and condescension.
From that simple example, what I was trying to illustrate is that Christians either fail by going along with the world or by going against it with pride and spiritual piety.
2. Priests and pastors…
First off, I’ll share this rant by Christopher Hitchens, the militant anti-religious atheist: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOamsF5r3TE.
I have to say, this is one of those rare times when I actually agree with a lot of what he says. The church has a lot to be sorry for, especially (historically) the Catholic church. Priests molesting young boys who are entrusted to their care and instruction is abominable. A history of anti-Semitism is not only abhorrent, but it’s strikingly UNbiblical and simple-minded. This kind of twisted behavior can only come about when we take something meant for good—the church—and turn it into a man-made institution, sullied by power grabbing and the substitution of earnest faith with rituals and rites. It’s no wonder so much has gone wrong over the past centuries.
But the Protestant church is not without blemish, either. You have pastors who are more interested in rubbing shoulders with the Washingtonian elite rather than being set apart from this world. There are people like Ted Haggard who embarrass the name of Christ by engaging in an active lifestyle of sexual sin and betrayal. Countless thieves, like Benny Hinn, use the name of God to fatten their wallets by deceiving the naive and trusting.
So what is going on?
It’s simple: they forgot—or never really knew—the Bible. They left the Holy Spirit out of their lives and they carried on alone, puffed up in their own pride and accomplishments (and congregation size).
Catholic priests mistakenly were taught that celibacy was holier than married life, and they chose a lifestyle that so precious few are actually called to. Think about it: Paul in the New Testament lived a celibate life, but he spent every waking minute preaching and arguing for God’s Word. When he wasn’t doing that, he was locked up in prisons and suffering. Do you think he had time to be a husband? Meanwhile, you have modern priests who interact with their parish members time to time and preach, but are left living a fairly comfortable life otherwise. With their weak flesh and idle time, it’s no wonder so many priests fall. Celibacy isn’t the way to go for most people.
Protestant pastors see their churches growing and they think, “Wow, I must be a good preacher!” They don’t spend every day in their Bibles, nor do they guard against the enemy. Pride or complacency (or straight-up being a fraud) opens the door and lets temptation come right in, besetting their lives with sin.
If only people would stay true to God’s word instead of their own insights and willpower. Man-made institutions and systems will always fail.
3. The bizarre and newsworthy…
You hear about it on the news all the time. The “Christian” mother who killed her kids because she thought God told her to (more like a demon). The “Christian” who opens fire on a Jewish crowd, thinking he’s fighting for some righteous cause (nevermind that Jesus was a Jew and that they are still God’s original chosen people).
Side note: Please stop calling Hitler a Christian and using him as an example. It’s ignorant and ridiculous. He was not a Christian, pure and simple. A person might call himself one for political purposes, but when your actions go against the Bible and you even plan on replacing scripture with your own book (Mein Kampf) in every classroom, that is not the work of a person indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It’s obvious as night and day.
Or how about the parents who beat their adopted children to death because they read from the Bible not to spare the rod? I guess they missed the part about being careful to discipline them. Perhaps they read Proverbs 23:13, which says: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.” Common sense (and the countless other times in the Bible that refer to death as the opposite of salvation) would tell a normal person that the “he will not die” part refers to moral and spiritual death. By lovingly disciplining a child and correcting him, the parent is saving him from a future life of debauchery, corruption, and self-destruction. Heck, reading the very next verse should have made it obvious: “Punish them with the rod and save them from death.”
Again, this is just a result of bad biblical interpretation, twisting words to fit our own sinful agendas, or plain and utter stupidity. A wicked person can easily open up the Bible and find a way to justify his or her actions, but this blatant misuse doesn’t demean the actual word of God one bit.
So what can Christians do to fix this?
First, much of the criticism is justified, so we as a body of believers need to take responsibility and do better. Granted, we are judged more harshly than the rest of the world, that’s hard to deny. We could do the same things as a nonbeliever, but be impugned or labeled as a hypocrite for it. Is it a fair standard? Yes and no. Yes, because as true believers, we ARE supposed to be in a process of sanctification, so we simply cannot continue to live as the rest of the world. But no, it might not be completely fair because it’s still a process; none of us ever achieve perfection in our flesh.
Second, so-called “Christians” either need to give their lives over to God or stop calling themselves Christians. The word itself means “followers of Christ,” which entails actually following Christ’s way. They can attend church and call themselves seekers if they want, but they need to get it out of their heads that they’re set because of their false flu-shot salvation.
Third, we all need to bring the real Bible back to the church. Let’s ditch the man-made stuff that distracts from the true gospel—all the unbiblical rules, rites, rituals, and other things that supposedly make you holy. These things give people a false assurance and complacency that is dangerous in light of constant spiritual attack. If people were more biblical, they couldn’t possibly live their embarrassingly immoral lives and cast mud on the name of Jesus to the world.
Ultimately, the goal is not to be liked or to fit in. The Bible tells us straight up that the true gospel will probably bring hate upon us or persecution. But what we can’t do is undermine God’s glory by being poor representatives on earth. We can be hated for standing up for the truth, but we shouldn’t be hated for being hypocrites, thieves, and perverts.
1 Peter 2:11-12 tells us: “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
Our good deeds might not make an impact now, and in fact, standing up for the truth may bring persecution upon us. But it will bring further glory to God in the end. May we let the Holy Spirit guide us always.
There seems to be a new sheriff in town, and his name is Science. Word has it that a logical person can now only believe in things that can be proved and confirmed in a laboratory. Since there seems to be no empirical, testable evidence for the supernatural realm, we therefore need to throw out the whole antiquated notion of some unseen power known as God.
But is this necessarily true? Is this some kind of logical truism?
“I find that science is a way of explaining the natural world, but it has its limits….I can identify no conflict between what I know as a scientist—including all of the details of our own DNA sequence—and what I know about God who created the universe, who put all of these opportunities in place, and had a plan.” — Dr. Francis Collins, physician-geneticist, director of the NIH, and former director of the Human Genome Project.
Hmm, that’s odd. One of the most respected scientists in his field is a devout Christian. How can this be? Is he suffering from some sort of dementia?
Well, in my opinion, Dr. Collins is simply exercising a surprisingly rare kind of rationality. He knows where science is useful, and he also seems aware of where it cannot reach. If the whole enterprise of scientific discovery deals with the natural, observable world, Dr. Collins seems to grasp the obvious concept that science can do nothing to disprove anything supernatural.
So what’s the problem then? If science is not logically incompatible with Christianity, why does this notion persist? Well, that’s something I can’t emphatically answer, but I can at least share my guesses and opinions as always.
Religion seems to have a bad track record of explaining things
In the early days, people used to attribute almost everything to the “god of the gaps” in whichever form he/she took. If it rained, they would thank Zeus (or insert Flying Spaghetti Monster here) for helping their crops. If it rained too much, they got angry with their god or grew fearful. When thunderstorms came, they assumed it was some form of celestial shouting or wrath. If someone was suffering from depression, demons were the cause. If a rainbow formed, they knew it was a sign of peace from God.
But then what happened? Science came along and explained humidity and the cycle of precipitation. People learned more about the mechanisms of thunderstorms (such as the three stages: the developing stage, the mature stage, and the dissipation stage). Technology increased and we became able to detect chemical imbalances or deficiencies, as well as sociological/psychological factors to assist in treating depression. A rainbow became nothing more than a fancy manifestation of light reflection off of moisture.
Then, people looked back and remembered the religious people and said, “Zeus who? God who? Science has shown us the cause.” The scoffing became increasingly widespread, and the religious crowd shrunk back and waited for other inexplicable phenomena to insert their god of the gaps once again.
Science has produced tangible, observable results and benefits
Not only has there been enormous progress in medicine and other natural sciences, but even in our everyday technology and leisure. We own iPhones, laptops, and stay connected with each other through the internet. We drive our fuel-efficient cars to distant locations while a computerized voice speaks, guiding us to take the right exit in a quarter of a mile. All of this is possible because of science.
God, on the other hand, is invisible and mysterious (again, I encourage you to check out this video and make the natural connections…we are the Flatland inhabitants, God is the apple: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VS1mwEV9wA&list=FL7oX58RAnMNM&index=29).
We have militant atheists speaking out against Him, yet they seem to be enjoying their lives just fine. No lightning strikes them down. People say things like, “If God is real, show me a sign! Anything!” And yet, nothing happens. Nothing empirical or observable…so many conclude He must be illusory.
Christianity makes perfect sense, even in light of modern science
If you step back and think about it—as Dr. Collins and many others like him have noticed—Christianity actually fits in perfectly with what we know and observe. Science is indeed useful, but it only increases our knowledge of HOW things work. It does nothing to answer the WHY/for what questions. Coupled together, knowledge of science and the Bible can help to answer both insofar as they are knowable.
For instance, when we learn how rain and thunderstorms come to be, are we really disproving God? No, not at all. All we’re doing is getting a glimpse into His handiwork. We might be able to learn something about the mechanisms God uses to bring about that kind of weather, but it still does nothing to diminish the power and ingenuity it took to originally put those systems in place. We might be able to observe the chemical composition and electrical impulses of love, but that doesn’t encapsulate its entirety. If God created the laws of nature, why wouldn’t He use them to produce the desired outcome? If God made a rainbow as a promise of peace to Noah, why wouldn’t it happen by reflecting light in the water of the air—the very things God himself created in the first place?
Let’s say we were able to somehow recreate some great painting using a computer program. By inserting a painting into the scanner, this program could tell you exactly which paints the artist used, which strokes were made in what direction and with what amount of pressure, the sequence…everything. Does this in any way diminish the artist’s work? In the same way, how does being able to analyze some natural process rob God of His glory?
In Christianity, unlike other religions, we are also told that God made us in His own image. Perhaps part of that entails the powers of creativity and invention (the lesser cousins of creating). It makes complete sense to me that God—who loved us enough to allow us to bear some of His likeness—would want to share the knowledge of this world and not make everything foreign and scary to us. Are we to then turn around and use those gifts as an attack against Him?
Whether (theistic) evolution is true, this remains the same. Mapping the human genome in no way causes us to be on God’s level, but rather gives us a glimpse into His extremely complex and amazing creation. If we can make some medical use out of it, then that’s a sweet side benefit as well.
The very fact that the laws of nature work so well, to me, points strongly to God. The fact that the universe seems exquisitely fine-tuned for life is strong “evidence”…about as much as we can expect in the natural realm to shed light on the supernatural; a 2D slice of a 3D apple, if you will. We shouldn’t expect to be able to see God (or we’d die in our sinful state—Exodus 33:20), nor test Him with arrogant and petulant demands (Deuteronomy 6:16, Luke 4:12).
If there was no God, why should we trust our own faculties to be able to arrive at reliable conclusions about anything? Wouldn’t everything we think and feel simply be an adaptation geared toward survival and not truth?
Don’t believe the hype. Science in no way disproves God or the Bible. In fact, the details that we CAN actually test check out just fine. On the whole, the world that we observe seems to point to a Designer, and we as the designed should learn to appreciate what we see rather than trying to take credit for something that’s not ours. Any tangible progress we make is only possible because we were gifted with minds and creativity (and opposable thumbs) from the Creator in the first place.
Albert Einstein, who did not have a personal relationship with God, once said this: “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe; a spirit vastly superior to that of man. And one, in the face of which, we with our modest powers must feel humble.”
That was about 50 years ago. Have our egos become so inflated in such a short time that we now believe man’s science to hold the key to the universe?
I was about to write about the third objection to Christianity (regarding science) when I came across this video. I sort of felt compelled to go ahead and respond to it now:
I’ve watched a few of his videos, actually, and while they’re difficult to get through since he babbles and misstates some of the arguments on the Christian end, he does bring up some good points. I don’t mean they’re good as in wholly valid, but I can see why others would stumble on these issues.
If I catch the gist of his video correctly, he’s basically saying that he is a former Christian and now he has been enlightened into atheism. Those poor Christian apologists then have to resort to telling him that he was never a Christian to begin with. Rather than acknowledge that he has genuine insight into the faith and can therefore rebut it, people will instead doubt the veracity of his past faith completely. Azsuperman01, the YouTuber, seems to imply that this is shallow, unfair, and cowardly.
Well, here’s what I think.
As someone who went the other way when I came to the fork in the road, I would agree that he was never saved to begin with. After all, the Bible makes it clear that if a person is genuinely saved, he turns his life over to the Holy Spirit and perseveres until the end.
I grew up in a Christian home, I experienced “revival” in my heart, and believed in my head that Jesus Christ was my savior. If anyone would have asked me if I was a true believer, I would have been sure in my heart that the answer was yes.
But Jeremiah 17:9 (NASB) warns: “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”
Looking back, I’d say that for most of my “Christian” life, my faith was a house built out of straw. It was a sham, and I was worshiping a false and convenient god who allowed me to live a lukewarm life for him. The god that I created in my head was more than glad and even honored to accept the morsels of worship that I would offer him in my busy, cluttered life. He would be overjoyed that I took time out of my Sunday mornings to acknowledge him for an hour or so.
But this was not the God of the Bible. Somewhere along the line, I wrestled with my doubts and fought with them openly and honestly. I reasoned, “It’s time to take an honest look at the truth. If God is real, then why shouldn’t he prevail as long as I’m not biased or trying to weigh the evidence unevenly?” Thankfully, I was right. God (the real one) proved genuine and true, and today the Holy Spirit convinces me daily that I am His.
My sympathies are with people like the maker of this video. I don’t question his honesty or integrity at all, but I do believe he was deceived like so many others out there. If I think about it, if the devil is as crafty and hyper-intelligent as we are told, what would be the best way to lead people straight to Hell? It wouldn’t be an obvious lie, like “evil is GOOD and hate is admirable!” Most of us would sniff that out in a second. Rather, it would be a false gospel that on the surface closely resembles the truth…but it falls short of literal redeeming qualities to save the souls of its adherents.
So no, I don’t think it’s a cop-out for people to tell him he was never truly a Christian to begin with, unless by “Christian” you simply mean a follower of the religion. But when I say “Christian,” I’m referring to someone who has a genuine relationship with Christ, not merely intellectual assent.
Let me also address a couple of specific lines he states in the video.
First, at 1:53, he states: “Once you become a Christian, you basically lose your free will because once you’re a Christian you no longer have the ability to change your mind. You can’t just say, ‘I no longer believe that.’ …and since Christians believe that free will is really important, I don’t think using an argument that completely eradicates your free will is really the best one to use.”
If we become truly saved, then do we in fact lose our free will? Depends on your definition. We still operate and function normally, choosing which paths to take. But of course, he’s probably referring to the aspect of faith; whether to believe or not. And in that sense, yes, we “lose” our free will. We lose our ability to fall away and be damned since we are adopted into God’s kingdom forever.
…and the problem with this is what exactly? Free will is a power or gift of ours to decide whether to choose God as our Lord and savior. I’m not just spouting Christian rhetoric here; we are choosing for God to become our LORD. That means that we are willingly submitting to him as our master, and we are becoming his slaves. We are acknowledging Him as the father, and we are the obedient children.
Elsewhere in the Bible, disciples are described as “bondservants.” This word has the sense of a slave who has completed his term with a master and is therefore allowed to go free. But some slaves—because of the harsh conditions outside in the world and/or because of the kindness of his master—would willfully choose to become bonded to that master even though he had no obligations. This is a good illustration of this relationship with God. We are giving up our freedom, in a sense, for the privilege of serving Him (and in return, being offered His love and protection).
Free will is important beforehand. But it’s not some kind of ultimate or eternal good.
Another point he brings up at the end of the video is this: “The problems in your religion don’t go away just because YOU don’t think I used to believe the same things you do, and experienced the same things you have.”
There are a lot of things I find funny about this statement. First, he assumes there are problems in our “religion.” If he means some of the people and institutions (basically anything human), then yes, I’d agree. But any perceived problems with doctrine need to be proved. As far as I know, I have yet to hear any problems with Christian doctrine that have not already been solved and addressed. It is his failure to find these solutions, and if he still has a problem with it, then it’s a personal opinion, not objective fact.
Second, he might have believed some of the same things that I do, that’s true. He may have even felt some of the same emotions. But so what? Does this somehow make him an authority? Are we to be fearful and approach apostate Christians with trembling and awe? Like I already mentioned, he didn’t experience the real Holy Spirit anyway, so comparisons are on the surface level only.
Excuse my rudeness, but to me, this evokes images of the skinny waterboy hanging out in the football locker room. Just because he was associated with the team at some point doesn’t empower him to call the plays or correct the real players’ technique. He’s free to express his football opinions, but no one has to care what he says. There may be times when he says one or two things that are correct—just as a nonbeliever can rightfully point out problems in the church—but the implication that he somehow has the inside scoop on all of us is absurd.
Personally, all these former “Christians” coming out and acting like they’re something special amuses me (and in some cases, I admit, annoys me). Changing your mind on something doesn’t bestow upon you magical gifts, nor does it elevate you in any way. There are countless believers today who were once atheists, so at best, it’s a wash. Personal testimony can be a powerful thing when there is a supernaturally changed life. But simply changing your mind by reading and learning some stuff isn’t really that compelling to me, sorry.
Update, 08/17/11: I’m actually getting a head start on some of my seminary reading (starts Monday the 22nd) and what do you know? The first essay we’re assigned to read and analyze talks about the age of the world and creation. There are definitely some theories and concepts I was unaware of, so I’m going to have to update this entry with these new findings shortly.
Ah, the good ol’ age-of-the-world problem. This is a very common objection to Christianity: the claim that science has already proved wrong the creation account found in Genesis 1. Scientific methods have dated the universe to about 14 billion years, and the earth is probably around 4.5 billion years old by their estimations. The traditional view found in Genesis seems to suggest that the world is only about 6,000-10,000 years old. Obviously, something is amiss.
Now, I don’t claim to be an expert in this area by any means. I’m only about to share what I’ve looked into so far and what others have found. Honestly, I think this is a subject we can never be sure about, and our conclusions are probably going to change a few more times over the years. But I hope you’ll agree with me that the issue isn’t as clear-cut as it seems, and that there is room for flexibility.
So without further ado, let’s move onto some observations.
The evidence seems to point toward an old-earth theory.
By current dating methods, scientists are able to conclude on a fairly consistent basis that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Geology looks at rock strata, estimates the time in between each layer, and can pretty much count up the number of years. They know that such formations are slow and take a long time, making the young-earth view implausible.
There is also the method of carbon or radiometric dating, by which scientists can calculate the age of various fossils and other substances they find. They do this by knowing the half-life of a certain element, such as carbon-14, and judging by how much is remaining, they calculate how much has decayed and how long it took to get there.
Finally, an argument for the old-earth theory is that evolution could not have taken place to form the wide variety of complex organisms we see today in mere thousands of years. (They have enough trouble as it is trying to figure out how it could have happened to this degree in billions of years without divine intervention.) **Big side note: Do I believe fully in evolution? Well, it depends on how you’re defining it. But that’s a whole can of worms I won’t open quite yet!
That is the dumbest, quickest, crudest explanation of old-earth dating you will ever see.
Does the Bible contradict what science has shown us?
The answer is no. You’ve all probably heard the popular answer to this, which is the day-age theory: the Hebrew word “yom” in Genesis can be interpreted in numerous ways. It literally means a 12-hour period OR a 24-hour period OR a long, indeterminate amount of time. How do we know which one to use? Beats me, but I think comparing the usage of “yom” in other books of the Bible is ill-advised here since the creation account is a different animal altogether. Needless to say, we need to be flexible on its usage.
So if the duration of one “day” (“yom”) to another is indefinite, what can we glean from the scriptures that is actually useful in the context of comparing to science? The order by which things are formed. It is here that we find striking congruity between the Bible and what modern science has found. Tellingly, the Bible happens to be the only “holy book” in the world that got it right, even thousands of years before such knowledge was known by the scholars of the day.
(Click here for a fairly detailed breakdown: http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/day-age.html.)
Again, I won’t go into too much detail or regurgitate too much, but one important point to note is that in Genesis 1:1-2, it is clear that certain things were created BEFORE the first yom. What were those things? Well, it just happened to be the “heavens and the earth” (“heavens” obviously means space and the rest of the universe, as it is separate from earth, which contains our notion of “sky”). Not only that, but there were waters over which the Holy Spirit was hovering. All this before the first creation day.
Going back to cosmology for a second, we know that the very first instant of time is when the big bang occurred. It is when time, space, and matter literally came into being. Before this happened, there was no such thing as time, only a singularity, so it makes sense to call this moment of creation “in the beginning.”
Obviously, if God is eternal, there was no beginning for Him. So Genesis 1:1 is starting from the instant of the big bang.
This kind of consistency with modern science is definitely a plus, though perhaps not a must (as science is fallible and is prone to correction from generation to generation). Dr. Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist, shares this in his testimony:
I found the Bible noticeably different. It was simple, direct, and specific. I was amazed at the quantity of historical and scientific (i.e., testable) material it included and at the detail of this material. The first page of the Bible caught my attention. Not only did its author correctly describe the major events in the creation of life on earth, but he placed those events in the scientifically correct order and properly identified the earth’s initial conditions.
(Also read a detailed breakdown of why old-earth creationism may be the more accurate biblical view, not just scientific: http://www.reasons.org/age-earth/animal-death-before-adam/introduction-creation-date-debate.)
Some may wonder at this point, well what took God so long? Remember that God doesn’t operate on our timetable, and he is a being who can exist outside of time. Plus, God seems to like putting systems and natural laws in place and letting things take their course. Why wouldn’t he? He is the author of all things. One example of this would be after Noah’s flood where it took 150 days for the waters to finally subside. Could God have made the water disappear instantly? Sure. But why not let “nature,” His created system, handle things naturally?
What about Adam and Eve? Were they literal?
In my opinion, Christians must believe that Adam and Eve were literal human beings. Why? Because Jesus Christ himself spoke about them as if they were literal, and to my knowledge, everything rises and falls with the perfect knowledge and divinity of Christ.
How does this gel with the old-earth view? Well, quite simply, Adam and Eve were probably the first human beings according to God’s definition. They were the first ones created in God’s image, and therefore were the first soul-bearing creatures. There may have been human-like creatures before this, possibly walking erect and resembling us, but this is where the spiritual element of man was born. To God, this is where the story gets interesting.
Remember that the Bible does not include every superfluous detail, nor is it meant to explain science to us. It is simply to point us toward God and to teach us about things that are spiritually relevant.
Isn’t this day-age/old-earth theory just a modern retreat in light of science?
Fair question, but the answer seems to be no. Even Saint Augustine, in the 5th century, postulated that the word “yom” could mean something other than literal days. This was well before the world had any concept of an old earth. If you read the Genesis 1 account carefully, there are certain events that clearly seem to take longer than a regular 24-hour day.
Are young-earth (6,000–10,000 years) creationists crazy?
Well, perhaps. Organizations like Answers in Genesis don’t seem to have a ton of street cred in the scientific community. But I’m going to admit right now that there are times when I’m tempted with this view.
I know that it goes against my usual philosophy of “going where the evidence points,” but I sometimes can’t shake the sneaking suspicion that the age of the world is one of those “earth is flat” type of things. One day, maybe we’ll look back and laugh, saying, “I can’t believe we used to think the earth was 4.5 billion years old!” I know, I’m destroying any credibility I have with each sentence I write here.
What possible support could there be for the young-earth view? Well, first there is the “simple” reading of the Bible. True, “yom” can literally mean both a regular 24-hour day or a long era—nothing figurative about it. But perhaps it’s just my conception of God and his timetable. This is a completely unreliable way to think, by the way, as the Bible clearly states that to God, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day (meaning time is not felt by God in the same way as people).
But second, I also find a lot of little curiosities that individually, don’t amount to anything, but together are striking (to me anyway). We don’t have any written, recorded history before about 2,500 BC. Everything we know of seems to have happened in an amazingly minuscule amount of time. Think about it: from the earliest recorded history to today, only thousands of years have elapsed…yet we have gone from using primitive tools and walking in the dirt to flying jets and broadband internet. If the 4.5 billion year age of the earth is correct, we’ve gone from primitive to very advanced in literally one-millionth (1/1,000,000) of the time the world has existed. There are a lot of little things that nag at me like this. Then again, perhaps it is because humans—as image bearers of God—have only existed for thousands of years, and it has nothing to do with the age of everything else.
I also think that dating procedures could be prone to unseen error. I know I’m going out of my element here, but what if the half-lives of certain elements were not always at equilibrium? What if 6,000 years ago, the half-life of carbon-14 was totally different, changing a constant in the equation and affecting the outcome drastically? So anything we found that is actually 7,000 years old might be calculated completely wrong?
The biggest unknown variable in all of this, to me, is Noah’s flood. If it literally happened, which I believe wholeheartedly, there is no way to anticipate the way it could affect our dating methods. This wasn’t a simple rainstorm or flood as we know it today. This was a worldwide, biblical, supernatural event where the mountaintops were covered in water. The flood waters actually come from above AND below from within the earth, and who knows what minerals came up with it? How can we possibly attempt to simulate the effect this kind of catastrophic event would have on the earth and it’s rock layers? Is this perhaps why we have so many fossils preserved where animals seem to have suddenly died? (Why aren’t we forming fossils today, but instead, animal carcasses and bones simply decay into the earth?)
Finally, I think that it’s possible (though maybe not probable) that in creating the universe, God stretched and placed things in such a way that life could be supported. Perhaps this process gives everything the appearance of age, if we’re measuring by distances and such. To me, this is a big fat “who knows?”
I’m not saying I’m a young-earth creationist or that it’s even preferable in any way. Believe what you want; theologically, it makes little difference. But I think it’s prudent to at least acknowledge different possibilities, especially when we’re dealing in an area that can’t be fully confirmed in a laboratory.
If I were a betting man, I’d probably go with old-earth, but I don’t feel qualified to take a firm stand either way.