Tag Archives: Atheist Objections

Dead Again?

“The Ascension”, by John Singleton Copley, 1775.

Was Jesus resurrected simply to die again a few weeks later? That’s what one former minister-turned-atheist tries telling people the Gospels are actually indicating. Yes, some atheist delusions are further out there than others. But, this particular author has made the claim, and atheist reviewers on Amazon keep commending his book, so let’s work through some of this silliness today.

As an introduction, David Madison claims to be a former minister of two churches before coming out as an atheist. In his book “Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: A Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch Your Faith”, he details at length his superficial “Christian” childhood in a very theologically-liberal family and his rejection of the vast majority of Christian doctrine in high school and college, jettisoning the last of it in seminary.  You might it think it odd, as I did, that he should continue pursuing his degree, and most especially ordination, and the solemn responsibility of pastoring a congregation, if he did not believe the tenets of Christianity at this point. But then he proceeds to demonstrate an abysmal knowledge of what Christianity teaches so that one can only pity his former congregations. But what does he actually say about the resurrection? Let’s hear from the man himself:

“My belief in the grand centerpiece of Christian theology, the Resurrection of Jesus, eroded as well during my seminary experience…. From a secular, scientific point of view, resurrection is silly and indefensible. A dead body walking around? Why not call it the Halloween Faith instead of the Easter Faith?”[1]

This, like many of his snarky objections, can be traced back to simple ignorance. The resurrection is not some dead body walking around like a zombie. Jesus was alive after the resurrection, talking with people [Mt 28:9-10], eating with them [Lk24:41-43, Jn 21:12-14], teaching [Lk 24:27], proving that He was not a ghost or hallucination but a real, live person [Lk 24:39-40, Jn 20:20,27, Ac 1:3]. Moreover, Jesus’ resurrection was more than just a temporary restoration of physical life like with Lazarus [Jn 11:43-45]. Instead, Jesus is the “firstfruits” of a resurrection to undying life, to life everlasting [1Co 15:20-22].

“But to die-hard Christians, Jesus’ resurrection is one of those articles of faith that must be taken on faith. It is a miracle in defiance of science, we were always told, which enhanced its value.”[1]

Madison may have been sadly misinformed that miracles are in “defiance of science”, and that faith was somehow enhanced by being contrary to reason, but he certainly doesn’t speak for Christians. Our God is God of logic and reason. And if there had been a scientist at the Wedding Feast in Cana [Jn 2:1-11], he could’ve confirmed the occurrence of the miracle of turning water into wine, even if unable to explain it.  A water sample from the water jugs would have tested as water beforehand, and a sample afterward would’ve had water + alcohol + the various organic compounds present in a fine wine.  Likewise, checking Jesus’ body for pulse, respiration, and brainwave activity  when He was placed in the tomb would’ve confirmed a state of death. Three days later, those hallmarks of life would be present. No defying science there, just naturalistic presuppositions.

“The New Testament reports that the resurrected body of Jesus ascended into heaven, literally, up through the clouds. According to the Book of Acts, this happened forty days after the resurrection. Now we know that heaven is not ‘up there,’ a few miles or even thousands of miles above the clouds. So there is no way that the resurrected body of Jesus left planet earth. In other words, he died again. And this most obvious of conclusions prompted one of my Bible professors to ask, ‘So what is the value of a forty-day resurrection?’ That comment wiped out resurrection as an article of faith worth believing, let alone defending.“[1, emphasis mine]

I’m not sure which is sadder: that a Bible professor would lead students astray like that, or that seminary students could be led astray by that. Jesus merely disappears from view of the disciples, and Madison (and his professor, apparently) concludes that He died again? Like far too many atheists, Madison has let one simple question derail him that never should have.

“It became crystal clear to me– again, acknowledging the obvious– that the New Testament accounts of the resurrection preserve a rumor that got out of hand, a cover-up, a lie, or– more innocently– simply a fantasy, a product of imagination. This meant, furthermore, that resurrection says nothing at all about the power of a god or the “triumph of Jesus over the grave.” From either the scientific or theological standpoint, resurrection was worthless. It became even more tempting for me to push the idea of God itself into the realm of fable.”[1]

The only fantastical product of imagination here is Madison’s book. It’s been pointed out repeatedly, but apparently still needs to be pointed out: people normally don’t go through extended, torturous deaths to preserve what they know to be a runaway rumor or a lie, and certainly not an innocent fantasy. The apostles were in a position to know what really happened, and they all paid dearly for holding on to their belief in the resurrected Jesus. And Paul was in the business of killing this supposed rumor/lie/fantasy when he gave up everything to be a part of it [Ga 1:23-24] and eventually die for it. And as for saying nothing about the triumph of Jesus over the grave, that is because Mr. Madison apparently thinks Jesus was still dead! If you deny what the Bible clearly says about the nature of the resurrection, and then try to shoehorn it into a box it never came out of, it’s not going to make much sense. But that’s not the fault of the message, but rather the fault of the one desperately trying to misread the message so he can dismiss it as nonsense instead of the convicting truth it is.

Did Jesus rise only to die again a few weeks later? No. That’s not what Christians believe, and there’s  no way to get that from the Bible, or any other historical document. It is pure fantasy; and while Mr. Madison may deceive himself with these flights of fancy, my hope for you, dear reader, is that you won’t follow him off that cliff.


[1] David Madison. Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: A Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith (Valley, WA: Tellectual Press, 2016), Kindle Edition p. 15.

 

Where to Start?

Photo Credit: FreeImages.com/Krista Johanson

I was reading some more of atheist Dan Barker’s book “godless”, and came across this passage:

“I have often heard Christians say we must ‘start with God.’ … Isn’t that interesting? Would they say we must ‘start with unicorns’ or must ‘start with UFOs?’ We can only start where we both agree, and proceed from there. We both agree that there is a natural universe – no argument there. It is the religious persons who maintain additional ‘supernatural’ or transcendent assertions that go beyond what we both accept. It is unreasonable and unfair for them simply to fold their arms and demand that I disprove their allegations. Any impartial investigator will agree that we should start with what we do know, and then proceed from there. We should start with nature. We should start with the nonexistence of God and then the believer should argue for God’s existence, not demand that atheists argue against it. The burden of proof in any argument is on the shoulders of the one who makes the affirmative claim, not the one who doubts it.” [1, emphasis in original]

What do you think? Does he have a legitimate point? Let’s work through that today.

Let me first just agree with Dan on his last statement about the burden of proof. He is correct: anyone making positive propositional statements bears the burden of proof for those statements. With that in mind, let me quote the closing sentences of Dan’s previous paragraph: “…the probability for the existence of a supernatural being can be safely dropped to zero. In the name of honesty, it must be dropped to zero.” (emphasis in original) Dan, I’m afraid, took on a monumentally heavy burden of proof with that proposition. I’m no UFO hunter, but I’m not about to make the bold claim that the probability of UFOs are zero. To prove a universal negative requires either proving a self-contradiction that makes it deductively impossible, or observing all possibilities to verify inductively that the object in question does not exist in some unobserved state. However, the concept of God is not internally inconsistent, like speaking of a square circle would be, where we can truly say it cannot exist, by definition. Nor is Dan Barker omniscient, and able to search all time and space, and alternate dimensions, and so on, to verify the non-existence of God. I think I would reconsider that proposition if I were Dan.

Moving on, I agree that starting with common ground is a great place to start. That saves two opponents the trouble of arguing back and forth trying to establish such common ground. And we do both agree that a natural universe exists; we can both observe it, and we can both make rational inferences about it. So I’m perfectly OK starting with nature. But did you notice the switch Barker did? First he wrote that we should “start with nature”, but then in the very next sentence, he wrote that “we should start with the nonexistence of God….” Not so fast there, Dan. Those aren’t the same. If we start with nature, then we are starting with raw observational data of the world around us, working to establish probable causes for what we observe. One of those possible causes is God, no matter how small you personally feel that possibility is. Therefore, you can’t rule that out beforehand. This is actually the logical fallacy called “begging the question”, or “assuming what you set out to prove”. [2] Now, if he had eliminated God as a possible cause in the course of the investigation, that would be one thing that we’d have to look at more closely later to find where he went wrong. However, defining Him out of the investigation before you even begin is like deliberately putting blinders on before watching a lab experiment, and wondering why you can’t explain the results: you only saw half the experiment!

As a former pastor, Dan Barker should know that the Bible encourages us to look at nature. Passages like Psalm 19 tell us that “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” [Ps19:1]  Paul tells us in the New Testament that “since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” [Ro 1:20] And when we look at nature, we find a lot of things that need explaining. We see an absolute beginning that requires a Beginner; we see an incredibly fine-tuned cosmos that requires a powerful super-intelligence beyond imagination; we see amazing code written in our every cell that points to a Master Programmer; and we see beauty that has inspired artists and poets in every generation to try to represent it to their audiences. In short, we see that nature speaks of something beyond nature, something supernatural. Contrary to what Dan Barker assumes, when we have an open mind as we “start with nature”, we are compelled toward God, not away from Him.


[1] Dan Barker, godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists (Berkeley: Ulysses Press, 2008), p. 92.
[2] Peter Kreeft, Socratic Logic (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2010), p. 94.

Rules

Moses & The Ten Commandments - James Tissot
Moses & The Ten Commandments – James Tissot, 1902

I was talking with an atheist friend recently. After several iterations of friendly debate regarding the existence of God and reasons for belief, he brought up a curious objection. In retrospect, though, it’s one that seems to come up a lot. What my friend objected to, and what many atheists seem to object to, is the idea of God’s rules. His particular example was that he objected to the idea of some meddling, cosmic, privacy-invading, bedroom policeman telling us who we can or can’t sleep with. Now, I’d like to point out that the perception of arbitrariness in God’s rules, or His perceived “snoopiness”, really are irrelevant to His existence. Existence is a question of ontology, not character, but I digress. What’s interesting is that sex, or rather, any limitation of it, seems to be at the root of atheism many times. Whether the atheist would ever admit that or not, it seems that a lot of the attempts at “intellectual” objections are really only cover for a desire for personal autonomy, particularly regarding sex. And this isn’t anything new. Consider the words of atheist Aldous Huxley in 1937: “We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom“. He goes on to explain the answer to those opponents claiming that moral and societal restraints were embodiments of Christian meaning in the world. “There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and at the same time justifying ourselves in our political and erotic revolt: we could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever.”[1] This is exactly what atheism does when it tells us we are a giant cosmic accident, nothing special, just “chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet, orbiting around a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies,” in the words of Stephen Hawking.[2] But Huxley goes on. “[T]hose who, to be liberated from political or sexual restraint, accept the doctrine of absolute meaninglessness tend in a short time to become so much dissatisfied with their philosophy (in spite of the services it renders) that they will exchange it for any dogma, however manifestly nonsensical, which restores meaning if only to a part of the universe.”[1] Atheists like Sam Harris would have us believe we can find meaning in the “flourishing” of society in spite of the utter meaninglessness of life under atheism. Supposedly, us chemical scum can find purpose in our work, our families, in helping all of “scum-kind” flourish. But why? Huxley’s right: postulating meaninglessness is a means to an end that gives us the autonomy we may want, but only because nothing we can do, in any area of our lives, matters. And that is a high price to pay just to be able to not feel guilty.

But let’s dig a little deeper into this aversion to God’s rules. I can’t help but notice that, in general, we tend to only like rules when they’re our rules, not somebody else’s. Restraining other people with our common sense rules is nothing like the oppressive burden they want to impose on us, right? The person wanting strict speed limit enforcement in their neighborhood can easily be the same person speeding on the highway. The person mad at the “greedy” tax-evading CEO may not have any qualms about taking a cash job under the table and not reporting it on his taxes. Our ability to rationalize why  it’s OK for us to do something can be amusing if we step back and get some perspective on it. My situation is obviously different from everyone else on the planet that might be trying to get away with such-and-such activity, so that burdensome rule doesn’t apply to me. I’m special, don’t you know?

On a more serious note, though, rules are necessary in human life. We routinely make rules that we expect to be obeyed. I need only look at my own profession of engineering. A set of contract drawings is one big list of rules of what the various fabricators and contractors can and can’t do when building the structure I designed. It doesn’t matter if the fabricator has a bunch of different size bolts left over from a previous job; they’re not to be used without my permission. And if they are, and they don’t meet my design requirements, the results can be potentially disastrous, and that fabricator or erector will have only themselves to blame. The same goes for the framing sizes, the concrete and rebar in the foundations, the decking on the roof, and everything in between. As the designer, I have goals, or purposes, for the structure, such as performance and public safety.  And that means laying down a lot of rules for what I think will meet my design intent and therefore ensure the public safety.

Most rules are like guardrails for our protection. They keep us within safe limits. In engineering, we often express these as minimums or as allowable ranges of certain parameters. Other rules establish structure. We see these as rules of order in society, or “best practices” in process improvement studies, and so on. Breaking them may not kill you, but following them does generally work out for the best. And some simply enforce design intent. There are often many different ways to design a building and meet all of your objectives for it, but at the heart of design is choice. One way is chosen among all the competing options. I may design a building with a special moment frame, while the contractor may prefer a braced frame, and may even be justified in thinking it would be cheaper to build. But I’m probably not going to scrap my design and redo everything just to satisfy him. For one thing, there may be issues besides cost that he is unaware of that required the use of the moment frame. For another, it’s my name, not his, on the drawings, and I’m the one legally and ethically responsible for what gets specified. So even if the contractor doesn’t like it, the design intent will be enforced unless he can prove to me that his suggestion is better overall, taking all factors into account.

Now, should it surprise us that the Designer of all life should have some rules to be followed as well? Or that we might not be privy to all of the reasons behind them? It seems hypocritical to expect our design rules to be followed and not accept that God might have some design rules of His own to be followed. In the case of sex, I see a few possible explanations for some of the restrictions objected to.

  • God has instituted sex, first and foremost as the only natural means of reproduction for humans. This requires a man and a woman. Any other arrangement simply doesn’t have the right “plumbing” to work. So we have some inherent design constraints at work here regarding homosexuality.
  • He also established that it should take place in a committed, stable, monogamous relationship between man and woman.[Matt 19:4] This moral constraint is also the single best way to raise successive generations. A lifelong marriage of self-sacrificial love [Eph 5:25] between husband and wife provides the stability, the complementary role models, and  the security that children need, as well as providing the most stable foundational unit for society as a whole.
  • Also, men and women are not interchangeable. There are things that a father, even with the greatest sincerity, simply cannot teach his daughters. Likewise for a mother and her son. The single parents out there make valiant efforts, but there are some areas where passing on second-hand knowledge is not the same as the voice of experience, and we see the wisdom of God’s plan for marriage as combining a man and a woman.
  • When sex is confined to the monogamous marital realm, it allows trust and intimacy to blossom in ways not possible with multiple partners. These last 3 points provide good structure and really would be “best practices”, in my opinion, even if God hadn’t mandated them.
  • Lastly, it seems fairly safe to predict that STD’s would decrease dramatically in a world following God’s rules for sex. God’s limitations on sex provide guardrails for our safety.

Those are just a few reasons I see that God’s rules aren’t arbitrary or meddlesome, but rather for our best. But even so, from engineering peer reviews I’ve done, I also have to recognize that there are often good design strategies being implemented in another engineer’s design, even when I don’t discern them immediately. I try to be open to that possibility when reviewing another person’s design. So I leave you with this question: if you’ve found all of God’s rules objectionable in the past, would you be open to the possibility that those rules are there because there is a design behind them? And design entails a Designer. Something to consider.


[1] Aldous Huxley, Means and Ends ( 1937), pp.273-5.
[2] Stephen Hawking, “Reality on the Rocks”, TV Series, 1995.

Train As You Fight

Mark 19 GunneryLast week, I mentioned that one of the young kids in my Sunday School class had been confronted with an objection to Christianity by an atheist classmate at his school. For Christian parents, this brings up some good points to remember.

  • Prepare your kids early. I enjoyed both God’s Not Dead movies, but if you think your kids aren’t going to be facing challenges to their beliefs until high school or college, or that the challenge will just be from adults like professors, think again. Most of the boys in my class said they knew an atheist classmate or online friend. Depending on their age, challenges like that from peers may be more likely to have an impact than those from authority figures like teachers.
  • Understand the nature of the conflict. The apostle Paul tells us that we do not battle against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces.[1] And it’s a battle for their very souls. These are high stakes, parents. Invest in your kids accordingly.
  • Recognize your part. I love getting to answer questions from kids and see them connect with ideas. But one hour a week with me or any other Sunday school teacher or youth group leader isn’t going to prepare them adequately. You can delegate some tasks to others, but your kids need you to lead the way. And fathers: it’s time to man up. The Bible actually calls for you to train up your children.[2] Too many dads are physically present but spiritual deadbeats that leave any spiritual training up to the mother. But if your kids see you sleeping through church, or finding anything else to do other than going to church, or never see you open a Bible, they’ll notice. And they’ll remember that.
  • Understand the difference between teaching and training. In my time in the Army, I experienced a lot of both. For a lot of the teaching, the memory of struggling to stay awake in hot, stuffy classrooms is all that remains. For the training, and especially the more realistic training like room-clearing scenarios, I can feel my heart rate go up just remembering it. Seeing a demonstration, or discussing tactics in a classroom setting, or reviewing historical successes and failures all have their time and place. But applying theory – putting knowledge into practice – is where the rubber meets the road, as they say. Martial arts was the same way. Joint locks in Hapkido are very nuanced, and you just don’t develop effective technique without lots of good, correct practice. Likewise for getting my pilot’s license. I learn a lot by reading, but reading about stalls just isn’t the same as pulling back on the yoke, feeling the controls start to get mushy, and suddenly feeling the plane break over into a dive!  Are you teaching your kids? Good! Now, take it up a notch and start training them.[3]
  • Train like you fight. We had a saying in the Army: “Train as you fight; fight as you train.” The more realistic the training, the more likely you’ll respond appropriately in a real fight. Training that doesn’t prepare you for what you’ll actually face in battle isn’t just a waste – it can develop bad habits and overconfidence that can hurt you in the actual fight. Your kids will face tough questions in life. Go through real-life examples with them of how they can apply Scripture to different situations they may face. You can start out with “softball” situations, but don’t stay there.[4] Stretch them. Could you blame them if they got bored with baseball if all you ever did was toss them slow-pitch softballs? Is it any wonder when they leave the church if they never see their parents addressing the tough stuff, and their youth group is more about playing games and eating pizza than learning to actually apply the Bible to the hard issues of their lives?
  • Prepare yourself. I am often impressed with the sophistication of the arguments or objections I’ve heard from young people. You can’t teach knowledge (or train for skills) that you don’t already possess. When I took martial arts, my instructor was a black belt, so he could teach any of us. As we moved up the ranks, we could teach the lower ranks because we were already familiar with what they were just learning. Don’t wait for your kids’ questions before you investigate a topic. I can answer my students’ questions (generally) because I’ve already wrestled with the question before they’ve asked it. Check out resources like J. Warner Wallace’s Cold Case Christianity (www.coldcasechristianity.com), Greg Koukl’s Stand to Reason (www.str.org), William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith (www.reasonablefaith.org), or Frank Turek’s Cross-Examined (www.crossexamined.org).
  • Be honest. Finally, kids are often surprisingly good polygraphs. If you don’t know how to address a question, the appropriate response is “That’s a great question. Let me do some research and get back with you with an answer.” And then follow up. While you may have to write down that you need to follow up, they’ll remember if you say you’ll get back to them and forget (as I found out my first year teaching).

Hopefully, this gives you a place to start your own training program with your own kids. 🙂


[1] Ephesians 6:12-13
[2] Ephesians 6:4 – “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
[3] Proverbs 22:6 – “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
[4] 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, Hebrews 5:12-14.

Cultural Belief

USA_EarthThere’s a common atheist objection to Christian belief that goes like this: “You just accept Christianity because you were born in America. If you’d been born in India, you’d likely be Hindu.” Well, statistically, that’s a strong possibility. But do you see any problems with this as an objection to the tenets of Christianity? First and foremost, it doesn’t address the truth claim of Christianity. Regardless of statistics, is Christianity true or not? Well, the atheist assumption here is that all religions are equally false, so they don’t actually address the only question that really matters. But if we’re trying to see if one of those religions isn’t false, then that’s a bad assumption from which to start. Secondly, the origin of our beliefs does not refute the truth of the proposition. The idea that it does is called the genetic fallacy. We can believe a true statement for bad reasons, and we can believe a false statement for what appeared to be very good reasons. Moreover, let’s turn the scenario around for a moment. The Soviets and Red China mandated atheistic education in their schools. We could just as easily say that a Chinese or Russian atheist is such only because of the culture he grew up in. Again, there would be a statistically higher probability of a person being an atheist in a country where that’s all that was taught in the schools, but it is certainly not a foregone conclusion. Clearly, it does not follow that the American Christian, the Indian Hindu, or the Russian atheist hold those beliefs only because of where they were raised. In fact, the atheists typically saying this are western, having grown up in the US where atheism is a minority view among the general population. So by their own existence as atheists, they show that the predominant culture does not determine what we believe.

Let’s look at this a little more in a different light. Suppose two people live in two different cultures that each have a certain belief about the roundness or flatness of the earth. Suppose the “Flatters” culture instructs their citizens from their youth up that the earth is flat, while the “Rounders” culture likewise instructs their citizens that the earth is – you guessed it – round. However, regardless of what either culture tells their eager young students, the earth actually is a certain shape, objectively. It may be flat, or a sphere, or some completely different shape that neither culture had considered (Ringworld, anyone?). Even if one’s culture consistently said the world is flat, you could still freely reject that false knowledge, right? Meanwhile,  if that young citizen of our imaginary realm of Rounder only believed the earth is round simply because of his culture, he doesn’t have an issue with knowledge, but with epistemology. The knowledge (i.e. “the earth is round”) is correct. It’s his epistemology – the justification for his belief – that may be lacking (i.e. “I believe the earth is round because my culture told me so and I’ve never looked for any supporting evidence”). This is why the apostle Peter tells us Christians to be able to give the reason for the hope that we have.[1] Knowing the “what” is great (for the one in the know), but understanding the “why” behind it is how you help others accept the truth you already know.

Now, if I grow up in a Christian culture, I have been given a “shortcut” to true knowledge that someone growing up in another culture might not have. This is similar to knowing that the earth is round when they think it’s flat. I have a head start compared to them, but my having a shortcut or head start doesn’t invalidate the knowledge I have a shortcut to. This brings a significant responsibility, though. Will I leave others to grope in the dark for the truth, as Paul described,[2] while I relax, content in my knowledge? To quote Paul again, “May it never be!” My friend, if you are a skeptic that’s used that objection leading off today’s post, I encourage you to set aside this shallow objection and dig deeper. And if you talk to Christians who can’t answer your question, don’t be content with that. Keep asking. Relentlessly pursue truth. If you’re a Christian reading this, know that you’ve been given a blessing not to be wasted or taken lightly. You, too, must dig deep to be ready to answer the tough questions when they come. I can’t say I’ve worked out all the answers myself, but I welcome the company of both skeptic and fellow believer on this expedition as we dig for gems of truth. 🙂

“And Jesus said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; nobody comes to the Father but through Me.” – John 14:6


[1] 1 Peter 3:15, ESV.
[2] Acts 17:26-27, NASB.