Objection!

Perry Mason questioning the witness

Have you ever watched a movie where one lawyer objects to every question the other lawyer asks a witness? The multitude of objections doesn’t mean they’re valid, though, as evidenced by the judge’s response of “overruled” on many (or all) of them. You can run into a similar situation in discussions about God with skeptics. I’ll give you an example I’ve run into in the past. I’ve been on the receiving end of what I call “shotgun skepticism”, where the skeptic fires off a barrage of objections to try to overwhelm their opponent and end the discussion before it’s even started. You’ll see things like “400 contradictions in the Bible”, or “50 reasons why Christianity is obviously false.” What do you do when you get confronted by something like that? Let’s work through that today.

It can be intimidating when you are presented with what appears to be a wall of objections for why you are wrong, but you have to remember that someone’s objection doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a good reason behind the objection. Like the judge in court, you have to simply examine each objection one by one, and judge them on their own merit, not on the total quantity. And here’s the thing: when you actually start examining these mass quantity type objections, you’ll find that many of them are non-issues. Below are 3 types of objections that turn out to be more bark than bite.

  1. The false objection. Some objections are just plain wrong. I remember getting one from a friend years ago that claimed to be hundreds of contradictions in the Bible. However, when I started looking through them, some of the references simply didn’t say what the objection claimed. The objection looked intimidating at face value, until I started examining the individual parts of it, where it started to fall apart. Were there ones that were fair questions? Sure, but several of the hundreds of alleged biblical errors were themselves errors. Most of the rest fell into the next two categories.
  2. The irrelevant objection. These are statements that raise an issue unrelated to the matter at hand. It may be a legitimate question to seek answers for, but it’s not a reason to reject the particular issue being discussed.  For instance, an objection to God’s existence because “Christians are hypocrites” is simply irrelevant to the question of whether God exists. Every Christian on the planet could be a lying, thieving, murderous hypocrite, and that would only demonstrate our failure as humans, not God’s nonexistence. Likewise, claiming we can safely ignore the Bible because of apparent contradictions in it may call into question the inerrancy of the Bible, but not the truthfulness of the individual claims made in it. For instance, the Bible affirming two truly contradictory statements might  show it to have genuine errors (due to the law of non-contradiction), but as long as the statements that all humans are sinners [Ro 3:10,23] and God will judge us [Ec 12:14, 2Co 5:10] are both true, then the skeptic has a serious problem to deal with, regardless of what else is true or false. In fact, he’d better hope that John 3:16 is also true so there is a solution to that major problem. You see, all the rest of the Bible could be wrong, but if those statements are true, then there is a critical problem the skeptic needs to recognize, and an amazing solution he needs to accept in order to survive.
  3. The misunderstood objection. Among the several lists of alleged inconsistencies and contradictions I was given by my friend a while back were things like “God asked Adam where he was… but God is omnipresent.” OK… God’s omnipresence doesn’t mean He can’t ask someone where they are. As most parents are aware, you can still ask a question of your guilty kids already knowing full-well what happened. The question isn’t for your enlightenment, but rather for the child to have an opportunity to do the right thing and confess to the wrongdoing. The person raising objections like this has misinterpreted the passage objected to, either innocently or deliberately. If innocently done, the response may be as simple as clarifying the passage for them. If done maliciously, there are likely some difficult underlying issues driving the person to try to interpret passages in the worst possible manner to bolster their rejection of God. Be patient, and speak the truth in love, methodically dismantling the barricades they’ve erected between them and God.

Oftentimes, skeptics take the approach that the best defense is a good offense, and try to overwhelm you with quantity of objections; but remember that when it comes to logic and clear thinking, quality really does beat quantity. In fact, ask the skeptic to pick their single best objection to discuss. Sometimes you’ll find that they didn’t actually look through their list they forwarded or copied and pasted into a reply to you! Those are good opportunities to teach them the importance of examining their own beliefs rather than just parroting a Dawkins or Hitchens (or whatever internet site they could find in under a minute that supported their view). Make them pick one objection that they are prepared to defend. Remember that if they make make a positive claim, then they do bear a burden of proof. Despite the constant attempts to say the Christian bears the full burden of defending themselves, that’s actually not how it works. If they refuse to pick a claim to defend, you can always stop there. If they are willing to make statements but unwilling to back them up, then they’re likely not really interested in seeking the truth. But of course, we go the extra mile for those we love, and the skeptic is a person in desperate need of salvation, just as much as I or any other Christian was. So if they only want to continue talking if you engage their hundreds of fallacious objections, then I recommend picking off the easy ones that are actually misstatements first, then deflect the ones that don’t apply to the topic at hand, and focus on clarifying the remaining misunderstandings, giving them the benefit of the doubt that they are sincere misunderstandings. It can be a long trying process working with people that are peppering you with blasts of shotgun skepticism while you try to help them, but these are people that Christ died for [Jn 3:16], who may yet be used by God in bigger ways than I can ever imagine when I’m talking to them. And that’s worth working through a few (hundred) objections.

Sharpen Your Pencil

Photo Credit: freeimages.com/Beate W

“Let me sharpen my pencil and see if we can’t make that beam size work with the extra load the owner wants.” What does sharpening pencils have to do with designing beams? That’s simply an old expression in engineering regarding the need for greater accuracy in some particularly critical calculations. We tend to use a lot of approximations and rules of thumb that we know are not exact but will err on the side of caution. While a safe design is our duty to the public; a safe design produced in a timely manner makes for happy clients and keeps us in business. But sometimes, those typical procedures and quick approximations result in a design that doesn’t meet some project requirement. And while computers have replaced nomographs and graphical analysis methods – and the need to keep a sharp point on one’s pencil to get a more accurate result – we still use that expression to signify when the situation warrants a more detailed design. Back in the days of solving something by drawing similar triangles, the method – pencil and paper and straightedge – was often the limiting factor on our accuracy. Now, computerized methods allow us to be as accurate as we could ever need, so sharpening the pencil now is more about our assumptions. Did I assume a higher typical load than what is actually present on the current project? Did I use a simpler formula that doesn’t account for various load reductions or strength increases that actually could be applied to my current project? However, sometimes, in sharpening the pencil and wading into the details, we find that a particular situation isn’t quite as similar to past projects as we thought, and our assumptions we thought were conservative are actually overlooking critical factors. And that’s an issue I see outside of engineering as well.

One’s eternal fate is of critical importance. No one is promised their next breath, so where you’ll be a few minutes after your last breath, whenever it comes, is not something you want to miscalculate. What assumptions are you making that you need to revisit?

  • “The idea of God is outdated stone-age superstition and simply unnecessary now.”  Regardless of how old the idea of God is, that doesn’t make it unnecessary. We still need an explanation for the world around us, and scientific observation can only go so far. You can scientifically measure water boiling all day long and precisely explain how it’s boiling, and never explain why it’s boiling if you’re unwilling to admit that somebody put the kettle of water on the stove and turned it on.
  • “Science will answer everything someday.” The idea that science is the silver bullet to all our problems has a problem of its own: not all questions (and their answers) are scientific in nature. Metaphysical questions about the meaning of life and ethics are on the “ought” side of the ought-is dilemma, outside the scope of science, which can only observe what is, and not how it ought to be.
  • “Science has explained away God.” This idea that explaining the mechanics of our world does away with the need for God is a common assumption today, but this is akin to thinking one has explained the origin of a car by explaining how it works. The scientific method has allowed us to advance our knowledge of the mechanical workings of our world tremendously, but it is useless in a universe not governed by causality and logic. Our universe exhibits an organization that is best explained by a Master Designer. Indeed, modern science was based on the idea that the universe could be investigated and understood because God had created it in an orderly manner conducive to study.
  • “Religion just causes arguments and isn’t worth thinking about.” Maybe you’ve assumed that discussions about religion are just a waste of time and a needless source of feuding. But what’s the real problem there? Is it the subject matter, or the way we discuss it? Maybe civility and sound reasoning are the solution, and not indifference. Suppose you and I have gone for a flight in a mutual friend’s airplane. Beautiful, wide-open countryside passes below his Cessna 182 as we bask in the view. But then our friend passes out at the yoke. Now we are left with a very serious problem: what went up will eventually come down, one way or another. To make matters worse, we have very different ideas of how to fix the problem. But does our disagreement mean we should simply ignore the entire question of how to revive our pilot friend and/or land the plane? No! The problem remains even if we ignore it. In fact, it’s likely getting worse with each passing second. Likewise, the question of whether God exists, what we can know about Him, and what He may want of us are some of the biggest questions we can ask in life. No part of our lives are unaffected by the answers to this issue, and the urgency of finding the answer only grows the more we ignore it.

If any of those initial assumptions described your thoughts on the matter, I’d like to kindly suggest it’s time to sharpen your pencil and work through that problem again, my friend. But “time waits for no man”, and like the ground filling more and more of the Cessna’s windshield,  “the God question” can only be put off for so long before it’s too late.

Deconstructing Dawkins, Part 4 – Against the Flow

Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins

It’s been a while since I’ve looked at Richard Dawkins’ objections to Christianity here, but some of his bad reasoning got regurgitated by another atheist in a book I’m wading through right now, so it seems fitting to address this issue now. This common atheist objection to religion in general is that religion is merely a cultural phenomenon. In other words, I’m simply a Christian because I grew up in a Christian culture, and would most likely be Hindu or Muslim or Buddhist if I’d grown up elsewhere in the world. Is that a legitimate point? Let’s work through that this week.

First off, let’s make sure we have the objection correct. Here’s two quotes, the first from a relative newcomer on the atheist publishing scene, David Madison, and the second from Dawkins himself.

“[I]f I had been born in Croatia instead of Indiana, I would have been taught that another religion is the only one that is worthy of my full devotion. In one of the more memorable confrontations between Richard Dawkins and a devout Christian during a Q& A session, the gentleman claimed to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Dawkins bluntly pointed out that the fellow would not even have been a Christian if he’d been raised in another culture or another era. Instead of believing in Jesus, he might believe in Thor, Wotan, or Allah.”
– David Madison [1]

Lest you think Madison’s recounting of Dawkins’ Q&A dialogue was simply an off-the-cuff remark by Dawkins made without thinking it through beforehand, the following is from Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion”, which one would hope had involved some careful review prior to publishing.

“If you are religious at all it is overwhelmingly probable that your religion is that of your parents. If you were born in Arkansas and you think Christianity is true and Islam false, knowing full well that you would think the opposite if you had been born in Afghanistan, you are the victim of childhood indoctrination.” – Richard Dawkins [2]

Now, does this actually help the atheist? Not really. For one thing, the fact that other cultures may have opposing beliefs does nothing to invalidate the Christian’s beliefs. The most Dawkins could say from that fact alone is that they can’t both be true (if  actually contradictory). In that case, one would indeed have to be wrong, but the atheist is assuming both are wrong, which just doesn’t follow. Secondly, this appears to be an example of the genetic fallacy, where the origin of a belief is attacked rather than the actual content of the belief. I did learn about Christianity from my parents, my church, and the general culture around me here in the “Bible Belt” of the US. But as long as that knowledge I received was true, then it doesn’t matter where it came from. That’s the thing about truth – it’s objective and independent of the messenger.

But what strikes me as the bigger issue is that Dawkins undercuts many of his fellow atheists with this attack. We could just as easily say that atheists in communist China aren’t atheists because of reason or “progress”, but only because that happens to be what is promoted in their culture. On the flip side, many of the atheists parroting Dawkins’ delusion (like Madison) are here in the US, which is still a predominantly Christian nation. Their own existence as members of an atheist minority in a majority “Christian” nation also demonstrates that people’s beliefs are not determined by their culture. By Dawkins’ own reasoning American atheists should be Christians (or at the very least, theists), but they aren’t. They made a choice in spite of the dominant culture around them.

Can one’s culture be a contributing factor? Certainly. If you are only presented with certain choices by your culture, then you are more likely to pick from the choices given. But even that is no guarantee. Some countries over the last century have tried to enforce state atheism and actively persecuted believers. These included the former Soviet states, the Eastern Bloc countries during the Cold War, Communist China today, and Albania, the country that declared itself the “world’s first atheist state” in 1967. They all actively punished and often executed religious believers. And yet people still chose to believe in God in spite of that societal pressure. My own mom used to write to a woman who was imprisoned in Russia for being a Christian. Muslims have been converting to Christianity in the Middle East in growing numbers the last few years, also in spite of very heavy societal pressure not to, which has included being disowned by one’s family, being jailed for years, or being beheaded by ISIS (among others). While one’s surrounding culture may influence our beliefs, it clearly does nothing to support or refute the truth of a particular belief.

As an aside, is it “indoctrination” to pass on one’s beliefs to your children? Well, technically, indoctrination is simply “the act of indoctrinating, or teaching or inculcating a doctrine, principle, or ideology, especially one with a specific point of view.”[3] Kinda like atheists teaching their kids that science is the only way to know truth (This is called a self-defeating statement. Just ask by what scientific test one arrives at that conclusion. But I digress…) It’s actually pretty cumbersome to teach anything without some specific point of view. The real issue is whether the doctrine being taught is true or not. If it is, then we shouldn’t shy away from that, but rather seek to teach that.

In closing, I did grow up in a Christian home, and my faith does happen to be the same faith of my parents. But Christianity does not recognize belief by proxy. My parents’ beliefs will not save me, so it is still on me (and you) to decide, regardless of what our parents or peers believe. Every person who will be saved must make that decision for themselves. Moreover, mere lip service, “going through the motions”, or performing rituals without any understanding of them and without sincerity of heart (i.e. “just repeat these words after me”) are repeatedly condemned in the Bible. Saving faith requires knowledge of the truth of the Gospel, belief that it is true, and trust in Christ’s sufficient work, regardless of culture or geography.


[1] David Madison, “Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: A Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith”, (Tellectual Press, Kindle Edition, 2016), pp. 152-153
[2] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Mariner Books, 2008), p. 25.
[3] “Indoctrination”, http://www.dictionary.com/browse/indoctrination, accessed 2018-04-03.