Russell delivered this lecture in 1927 at the National Secular Society, South London Branch, at Battersea Town Hall.
A few months ago, I encountered an atheist on Twitter who posed a challenge. He said that he would read material by my favorite Christian author if I would read material by his favorite atheist. I was hesitant to agree because I had never read any books or articles by those advocating atheism, and I was fearful that something they would write would challenge my beliefs in a way I found uncomfortable. After some prodding, he finally convinced me to read Bertrand Russell. In exchange, he read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.
After both of us read the other’s suggestions, this particular atheist, “Facepalmer,” wrote a rather long rebuttal of C.S. Lewis, while I wrote a rather short blurb on Russell. I found Russell’s “arguments” against God to be unsubstantiated, yet I wasn’t prepared to write a rebuttal to the arguments since I needed to do some research on effective ways to counter them. It was at this point that I was inspired to read rebuttals to other atheists’ arguments, since I figured I had seen their best in Russell.
Well, I’ve done my research by reading numerous rebuttals on atheists’ Robert Price, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Lawrence Krauss. Therefore, the intention of this blog is to present these arguments and to offer an opinion on the arguments from a Christian perspective. I next present Bertrand Russell’s arguments, along with my rebuttals to the arguments.
The First Cause Argument
Russell states, “Perhaps the simplest and easiest to understand is the argument of the First Cause. (It is maintained that everything we see in this world has a cause, and as you go back in the chain of causes further and further you must come to a First Cause, and to that First Cause you give the name of God.) That argument, I suppose, does not carry very much weight nowadays, because, in the first place, cause is not quite what it used to be.”
Russell adds that the First Cause “cannot have any validity” and adds “There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination. Therefore, perhaps, I need not waste any more time upon the argument about the First Cause.”
In all fairness to Bertrand Russell, when he delivered his speech in 1927, scientists had not reached the conclusion that the universe had a start date yet. Coincidentally, it was in 1927 when an astronomer named Georges Lemaitre conceived that the universe started long ago as a single point. Two years later, an astronomer named Edwin Hubble discovered that other galaxies were moving away from us and the farthest galaxies were moving faster than the galaxies closer to us. Hubble is known as the Father of the Big Bang Theory (LaRocco & Rothstein, 2017). “The Big Bang Theory is the leading explanation about how the universe began. At its simplest, it talks about the universe as we know it starting with a small singularity, then inflating over the next 13.8 billion years to the cosmos that we know today” (Howell, 2015).
Since the universe had a start date for time, space, and matter (Hawking, 2017), one wonders what existed prior to the Big Bang. At this point, science hasn’t provided an explanation for what caused or powered the Big Bang. What we know is that the force to inflate the expansion of the universe did not have properties of linear time, space, and matter. The sheer force that powered the expansion seems likely to be powerful. So, the assumption can be made that the force that powered the universe’s expansion was powerful, metaphysical, and eternal. In other words, the force bears all of the characteristics of God.
Thomas Aquinas’ First Mover Theory for Proof of God, which was quoted in Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23: 901-917, helps to further explain this logic.
1. Our senses tell us that there is some motion in the world.
2. All things moving must be moved by something else.
3. Motion is the change from potentiality to actuality.
4. It is not possible to be potential and actual in the same respect.
5. Therefore, the mover cannot also be the moved.
6. There cannot be an infinite regression of movers.
7. Therefore, there must be a first, unmoved mover.
A.W. Tozer (2006, p. 59) states, “In the beginning God…” (Genesis 1:1) Not matter, for matter is not self-causing. It requires an antecedent cause, and God is that Cause…In the beginning God, the uncaused Cause of matter, mind, and law. There we must begin.”
In summary, Russell refutes the First Cause Argument by saying that the universe had no start date so the argument is irrelevant, yet the fact that the universe has a start date, coupled with logic, suggests that God is the First Cause, the uncaused Cause.
The Natural Law Argument
Russell states, “Human laws are behests commanding you to behave a certain way, in which you may choose to behave, or you may choose not to behave; but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave, and being a mere description of what they in fact do, you cannot argue that there must be somebody who told them to do that, because even supposing that there were, you are then faced with the question ‘Why did God issue just those natural laws and no others?’ If you say that he did it simply from his own good pleasure, and without any reason, you then find that there is something which is not subject to law, and so your train of natural law is interrupted. If you say, as more orthodox theologians do, that in all the laws which God issues he had a reason for giving those laws rather than others – the reason, of course, being to create the best universe, although you would never think it to look at it — if there were a reason for the laws which God gave, then God himself was subject to law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary. You really have a law outside and anterior to the divine edicts, and God does not serve your purpose, because he is not the ultimate lawgiver. In short, this whole argument about natural law no longer has anything like the strength that it used to have. I am traveling on in time in my review of the arguments. The arguments that are used for the existence of God change their character as time goes on. They were at first hard intellectual arguments embodying certain quite definite fallacies. As we come to modern times they become less respectable intellectually and more and more affected by a kind of moralizing vagueness.”
In the above statement, Russell makes the assertion that “if there were a reason for the laws which God gave, then God himself was subject to the law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary.”
Russell doesn’t understand that God is not “subject to the law” that guides the universe; He is the law that guides the universe. He is the moral code and the absolute standard. God is the eternally great I AM (Exodus 3:14), “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8). In Revelation 22:13, God states, “I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, and I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life.”
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis states (p. 28), “When you say that nature is governed by certain laws, this may only mean that nature does, in fact, behave in a certain way. The so-called laws may not be anything real – anything above and beyond the actual facts which we observe. But in the case of Man, we saw that this will not due. The Law of Human Nature, or of Right and Wrong, must be something above the actual facts of human behavior. In this case, besides the actual facts, you have something else – a real law which we did not invent and which we know we ought to obey.”
There was no start point at which time God sat down to make choices about the physical laws that guide the universe. Such an assertion drags God down to the level of a human and traps Him in our linear timeline. God is unbounded by time and choice. As C.S. Lewis indicated in the Great Divorce, “Ye cannot fully understand the relations of choice and time until you are beyond both.” Humans create laws to govern society. God is the law and the standard from which our innate sense of an absolute standard of right and wrong is derived.
Similarly, Stephen Hawking refers to the dynamical laws that govern the universe. He states, “Since events before the Big Bang have no observational consequences, one may as well cut them out of the theory, and say that time began at the Big Bang. Events before the Big Bang, are simply not defined, because there’s no way one could measure what happened at them. This kind of beginning to the universe, and of time itself, is very different to the beginnings that had been considered earlier. These had to be imposed on the universe by some external agency. There is no dynamical reason why the motion of bodies in the solar system cannot be extrapolated back in time, far beyond four thousand and four BC, the date for the creation of the universe, according to the book of Genesis. Thus it would require the direct intervention of God, if the universe began at that date. By contrast, the Big Bang is a beginning that is required by the dynamical laws that govern the universe. It is therefore intrinsic to the universe, and is not imposed on it from outside” (Hawking, 2017).
Let’s unpack Stephen Hawking’s statement. He points to the book of Genesis and a universe start date of four thousand and four BC, which, if such a date were true, he indicates that it “would require the direct intervention of God.” I will assume that he made the latter statement in recognition of the physical evidence supporting the 13.8 billion year start date. Hawking further states that there are “dynamical laws that govern the universe” that are “intrinsic” to the universe. Such assertions naturally beg the question of how these “intrinsic” laws came about. Laws don’t create themselves. I ask readers to consider why we have “intrinsic laws” that govern the universe if we supposedly have no source or governor of such laws.
Famed mathematical physicist, Sir Roger Penrose, worked alongside of Stephen Hawking for many years. He recently went on Christian Radio and stated that Hawking’s new book is “misleading,” adding that M theory is “not even a theory” and “hardly science” but “hopes.” He further noted that the universe did not “create itself from nothing” (Hunt4Truth.wordpress.com, 2014).
As A.W. Tozer (2006 p. 57-58) helps to explain the way God is both present within the universe intrinsically and independent of it, extrinsically. He says, “God dwells in His creation and is everywhere indivisibly present in all His works…While God dwells in His world He is separated from it by a gulf forever impassable. However closely He may be identified with the work of His hands, they are and must eternally be other than He, and He is and must be antecedent to and independent of them. He is transcendent above all His works even while He is immanent within them.”
The Argument from Design
Russell states, “When you come to look into this argument from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world, with all the things that are in it, with all its defects, should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience have been able to produce in millions of years. I really cannot believe it. Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku Klux Klan or the Fascists? Moreover, if you accept the ordinary laws of science, you have to suppose that human life and life in general on this planet will die out in due course: it is a stage in the decay of the solar system; at a certain stage of decay you get the sort of conditions of temperature and so forth which are suitable to protoplasm, and there is life for a short time in the life of the whole solar system. You see in the moon the sort of thing to which the earth is tending — something dead, cold, and lifeless.”
In this argument, Russell discounts (1) free will, (2) our purpose in this existence, and (3) intelligent design. Let us first consider free will. Genesis indicates that God gave us free will and that we face consequences for our choices. Accordingly, blaming God for the existence of toxic groups such as the Ku Klux Klan or Fascists is ignoring the fact that He gave us free will. God wants the very best for us, yet He doesn’t control us. It’s up to us to capitalize on our spiritual gifts to advance our souls. Some don’t. Some make serious and irreparable mistakes, such as Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot. Yet all are made with free choice.
As C.S. Lewis states, “If a thing is free to be good, it is also free to be bad. And free will is what made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”
Russell also calls into question an imperfect world, yet let us note our very purpose within this imperfect world. Had He made us perfect, we wouldn’t have the desire to persevere and grow, overcoming our challenges to emerge as better people. Champions are born out of adversity. More on this point will be discussed later.
“And what did God do?” C.S. Lewis asks (2002, p. 49). “First of all He left us conscience, the sense of right and wrong: and all through history there have been people trying (some of them very hard) to obey it. None of them ever quite succeeded. Secondly, He sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those queer stories scattered all through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men. Thirdly, He selected one particular people and spent several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was – that there was only one of Him and that He cared about the right conduct. Those people were the Jews, and the Old Testament gives an account of the hammering process.”
A short discussion on intelligent design seems fitting at this point, to further address Russell’s assertion of defective design. Dembski (1998) offers an interesting perspective on intelligent design, which is the concept in which we were created by an intelligent Creator, God. “But design is not a science stopper. Indeed, design can foster inquiry where traditional evolutionary approaches obstruct it. Consider the term ‘junk DNA.’ Implicit in this term is the view that because the genome of an organism has been cobbled together through a long, undirected evolutionary process, the genome is a patchwork of which only limited portions are essential to the organism. Thus on an evolutionary view we expect a lot of useless DNA. If, on the other hand, organisms are designed, we expect DNA, as much as possible, to exhibit function. And indeed, the most recent findings suggest that designating DNA as “junk” merely cloaks our current lack of knowledge about function. For instance, in a recent issue of the Journal of Theoretical Biology, John Bodnar describes how ‘non-coding DNA in eukaryotic genomes encodes a language which programs organismal growth and development.’ Design encourages scientists to look for function where evolution discourages it. Or consider vestigial organs that later are found to have a function after all. Evolutionary biology texts often cite the human coccyx as a ‘vestigial structure’ that hearkens back to vertebrate ancestors with tails. Yet if one looks at a recent edition of Gray’s Anatomy, one finds that the coccyx is a crucial point of contact with muscles that attach to the pelvic floor. The phrase ‘vestigial structure’ often merely cloaks our current lack of knowledge about function. The human appendix, formerly thought to be vestigial, is now known to be a functioning component of the immune system.”
He adds, “Admitting design into science can only enrich the scientific enterprise. All the tried and true tools of science will remain intact. But design adds a new tool to the scientist’s explanatory tool chest. Moreover, design raises a whole new set of research questions. Once we know that something is designed, we will want to know how it was produced, to what extent the design is optimal, and what is its purpose. Note that we can detect design without knowing what something was designed for. There is a room at the Smithsonian filled with objects that are obviously designed but whose specific purpose anthropologists do not understand.”
Atheists discount intelligent design and often call on natural selection, chance, and the long history of the earth to explain the evolution of humans. Natural selection doesn’t explain the origins of life, however. It merely explains the evolution of existing life forms. According to Trevors and Abel (2004) “The constraints of historical science are such that the origin of life may never be understood. Selection pressure cannot select nucleotides at the digital programming level where primary structures form. Genomes predetermine the phenotypes which natural selection only secondarily favors. Contentions that offer nothing more than long periods of time offer no mechanism of explanation for the derivation of genetic programming. No new information is provided by such tautologies. The argument simply says it happened.”
According to Hugh Ross (2016), “Many suggest that earth’s life-sustaining features are just ‘amazing coincidences’ that somehow fell into place in a way that suits human needs and, at the same time, determines what life-forms exist…Ongoing research tells us that earth has been shaped not only by an intricately orchestrated interplay of physical forces and conditions, but also by its vast abundance and diversity of life-forms. By means that no depth and breadth of scientific research can explain, life arose early in earth’s history under anything but the benign conditions it would seem to require and somehow persisted through multiple mass extinction events, always appearing and reappearing at just-right times and in just-right forms to meet the needs and demands of the revised environment.”
“The more thoroughly researchers investigate the history of our planet, the more astonishing the story of our existence becomes. The number and complexity of the astronomical, geological, chemical, and biological features recognized as essential to human existence have expanded explosively within the last decade…Are we simply the result of a colossal matrix of innumerable, narrow coincidences, against all odds, or is there a more reasonable explanation?” (p. 14).
“Even if evolutionary processes are responsible for new life-forms, there must be an external intellect sustaining the material world to make life and evolution possible,” according to Frank Turek (2015 p. 82-83). “In other words, evolutionary processes themselves rely on the goal-directedness of the material world. Evolution could not work without a mind actively directing the repetitive and precise natural forces that keep life together and make mutation and natural selection possible! …Mutations may be random in the sense that they do not have any goal in mind, but the natural forces that produce the mutations are not random. Living and nonliving things continue to exist because the foundation of the entire material world is goal-directed, not random.”
In summary, the purposes and complexities of life forms on the earth, coupled with goal-directed non-random evolutionary processes, suggest the presence of an intelligent designer, an originator. Using the imperfections and failures of humans (e.g., Ku Klux Klan) to discount the possibility of an intelligent designer equates to pointing to cracks in a home’s foundation to claim the home had no builder. Such assertions obscure the purposeful intentions of the Creator who designed the universe and the free will He granted.
The Moral Arguments for a Deity
Russell says, “The point I am concerned with is that, if you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, then you are in this situation: Is that difference due to God’s fiat or is it not? If it is due to God’s fiat, then for God himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God’s fiat, because God’s fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that he made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God. You could, of course, if you liked, say that there was a superior deity who gave orders to the God that made this world, or could take up the line that some of the gnostics took up — a line which I often thought was a very plausible one — that as a matter of fact this world that we know was made by the devil at a moment when God was not looking. There is a good deal to be said for that, and I am not concerned to refute it.”
Russell makes several assertions that require a refutation. The first assertion is on the difference between right and wrong and whether God ordered both right and wrong. He asserts that God, who is only good, cannot have ordered wrongdoings. The Bible suggests God has ordered both. For example, in Habakkuk 1:5-11, God relates his intention to raise up Babylon, a ruthless and dreaded nation to achieve His purpose. Romans 8:28 says, “For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”
The Christian scholars on Gotquestions.org expand upon this: “’All things’ includes both good and bad things. God can use struggles, heartbreaks and tragedies in ways to bring about His glory and our good. Such events, even though we don’t understand the reason for them, are part of His perfect, divine plan. If God could not control evil, He would not be God. His sovereignty demands that He be in control of everything, even ‘dreaded’ nations such as Babylon.”
Turek (2015, p. 138) states, “We can’t see the ultimate outcomes of events because the human story isn’t over yet – not here or in the afterlife where perfect justice will be done. And even if God were to tell us those outcomes and His reasons for allowing such evil, we wouldn’t be able to comprehend them all. That’s because every event sets off a ripple effect that impacts countless other events and people. How many lives will be changed in the future by the trillions of good and bad events happening just this hour? No human mind can know or grasp it all. And even if we could, knowing the reasons for a painful event might alter our behavior and prevent that good outcome that would have otherwise occurred.”
“If God would concede me His wisdom for 24 hours, you would see how many changes I would make in this world. But if He gave me His wisdom too, I would leave things as they are,” says a former priest at Notre Dame in Paris, Jacques Marie Louis Monsabre said (quoted in Turek, 2015, p. 139).
A second assertion from Russell is that a superior deity gave orders to the God who made this world. If this were the case, God wouldn’t be God, the eternal uncaused cause. God would be an inferior deity. Based on Aquinas’ line of theory noted above, I refute this point.
A third assertion is that the devil made the world as we know it when “God was not looking.” Psalm 139 states that God is everywhere, so doing something behind God’s back is simply not possible.
O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, You know it all.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.
As A.W. Tozer (2006, p. 60) says, “The presence and manifestation of the presence are not the same. There can be the one without the other. God is here when we are wholly unaware of it. He is manifest only when and as we are aware of His presence. On our part, there must be surrender to the Spirit of God, for His work is to show us the Father and the Son. If we cooperate with Him in loving obedience, God will manifest Himself to us, and that manifestation will be the difference between a nominal Christian life and a life radiant with the light of His face.”
The Argument for the Remedying of Injustice
Russell states, “Then there is another very curious form of moral argument, which is this: they say that the existence of God is required in order to bring justice into the world. In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying; but if you are going to have justice in the universe as a whole you have to suppose a future life to redress the balance of life here on earth. So they say that there must be a God, and there must be Heaven and Hell in order that in the long run there may be justice. That is a very curious argument. If you looked at the matter from a scientific point of view, you would say, “After all, I only know this world. I do not know about the rest of the universe, but so far as one can argue at all on probabilities one would say that probably this world is a fair sample, and if there is injustice here the odds are that there is injustice elsewhere also.” Supposing you got a crate of oranges that you opened, and you found all the top layer of oranges bad, you would not argue, “The underneath ones must be good, so as to redress the balance.” You would say, “Probably the whole lot is a bad consignment”; and that is really what a scientific person would argue about the universe. He would say, “Here we find in this world a great deal of injustice, and so far as that goes that is a reason for supposing that justice does not rule in the world; and therefore so far as it goes it affords a moral argument against deity and not in favor of one.” Of course I know that the sort of intellectual arguments that I have been talking to you about are not what really moves people. What really moves people to believe in God is not any intellectual argument at all. Most people believe in God because they have been taught from early infancy to do it, and that is the main reason. Then I think that the next most powerful reason is the wish for safety, a sort of feeling that there is a big brother who will look after you. That plays a very profound part in influencing people’s desire for a belief in God.”
Let us unpack his assertions. Russell points out that believers believe that the existence of heaven and hell establishes a remedy to the injustices that occur on earth when the good suffer and the wicked prosper. He then states that he only knows of “this world.” This statement implies that because he has no knowledge of or experience in heaven and hell, they must not exist. According to Russell, only the physical world exists, which is the world in which Russell lived. Such an argument equates to me saying that because I have no knowledge of someone else’s dreams, the person must not have had such dreams. Another example relates to the dismissal of near death experiences, which are “too numerous and well documented to be dismissed altogether” (Lichfield, 2015). Click here for many inspirational findings and scientific studies relating to otherworldly near death experiences:
As A.W. Tozer (2006) states, “Our trouble is that we have established bad thought habits. We habitually think of the visible world as real and doubt the reality of any other. We do not deny the existence of the spiritual world but we doubt that it is real in the accepted meaning of the word.”
“The world of sense intrudes upon our attention day and night for the whole of our lifetime. It is clamorous, insistent, and self-demonstrating. It does not appeal to our faith; it is here, assaulting our five senses, demanding to be accepted as real and final. But sin has so clouded the lenses of our hearts that we cannot see the other reality, the City of God, shining around us. The world of sense triumphs. The visible becomes the enemy of the invisible, the temporal, of the eternal. That is the curse inherited by every member of Adam’s tragic race” (p. 53-54).
Russell states that because we have injustice in the world that justice must not rule the world. Yet we all adhere to an absolute moral standard, which suggests justice is innate, established, and sourced. For example, any parent with a sound mind would demand justice if his or her son or daughter were raped or murdered or hurt in any way. Any person with a sound mind would want justice for the perpetrator if he or she were unfairly and indiscriminately tortured. The horrors of World War II still plague the minds of the sensible members of societies, whether in Guam or Bolivia. These are examples of the way humans adhere to a shared moral standard. This standard is not relative, set within particular cultures (though there are relative standards as well), but shared between cultures. Such a standard calls attention to the source of the standard: God.
Arguments against Christ and the Church
The rest of Russell’s arguments point to Christ’s character, morality, teachings, and perceived failings of the church. Russell states, “I now want to say a few words upon a topic which I often think is not quite sufficiently dealt with by Rationalists, and that is the question whether Christ was the best and the wisest of men. It is generally taken for granted that we should all agree that that was so. I do not myself. I think that there are a good many points upon which I agree with Christ a great deal more than the professing Christians do. I do not know that I could go with Him all the way, but I could go with Him much further than most professing Christians can. You will remember that He said, ‘Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.’ That is not a new precept or a new principle. It was used by Lao-tse and Buddha some 500 or 600 years before Christ, but it is not a principle which as a matter of fact Christians accept. I have no doubt that the present prime minister [Stanley Baldwin], for instance, is a most sincere Christian, but I should not advise any of you to go and smite him on one cheek. I think you might find that he thought this text was intended in a figurative sense.”
Russell calls attention to Christ’s directive to turn the other cheek, yet states that Christians do not follow the directive (without any empirical support), implying that the directive is invalid. Such an argument equates to a mother telling her son to forgive his friend, and the son deciding not to forgive the friend, so someone makes the assertion that the mother must have poor character.
Russell goes on to state that Lao-tse and Buddha also called on followers to turn the other cheek, implying that Christ isn’t original. If Christian values didn’t form the fabric of ethical guidelines in previous societies and cultures, wouldn’t we question them more? The fact that previous cultures adhere to similar arguments helps to validate the arguments and the Lord’s influence on prior generations. In his book The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis does an excellent job of explaining this concept by noting marked similarities between the major world religions and belief systems and Christianity.
Russell also takes issue with Christ’s “moral character” because Christ “believes in hell.” He states, “I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching — an attitude which is not uncommon with preachers, but which does somewhat detract from superlative excellence.”
Religious scholars from the Gotquestions.org website state the following with respect to hell: “In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word used to describe the realm of the dead is sheol. It simply means ‘the place of the dead’ or ‘the place of departed souls/spirits.’ The New Testament Greek equivalent to sheol is hades, which is also a general reference to ‘the place of the dead.’ The Greek word gehenna is used in the New Testament for ‘hell’ and is derived from the Hebrew word hinnom. Other Scriptures in the New Testament indicated that sheol/hades is a temporary place where souls are kept as they await the final resurrection. The souls of the righteous, at death, go directly into the presence of God—the part of sheol called ‘heaven,’ ‘paradise,’ or ‘Abraham’s bosom’ (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23).”
“The lake of fire, mentioned only in Revelation 19:20 and 20:10, 14-15, is the final hell, the place of eternal punishment for all unrepentant rebels, both angelic and human (Matthew 25:41). It is described as a place of burning sulfur, and those in it experience eternal, unspeakable agony of an unrelenting nature (Luke 16:24; Mark 9:45-46). Those who have rejected Christ and are in the temporary abode of the dead in hades/sheol have the lake of fire as their final destination.”
To me, it seems likely that people like Hitler, Pol Pot, and Stalin will be the types cast into the lake of fire, yet clearly I can’t know this to be certain because I’m not the judge. What I do have is a sense of distributive and procedural justice based on the innate moral standard to which I adhere. This standard, set by God, suggests that people will be treated fairly. Accordingly, I don’t believe that all people should be punished in the same way as Hitler, Pol Pot, and Stalin. God gave me common sense, which suggests He’ll vary the punishments to fit the crimes.
It seems likely that people like Hitler, Pol Pot, and Stalin are not of God (lost sheep), but are the weeds described in the Bible, aligned to Satan. My guess is that such despots take the express train to hell, however hell is conceived, to either be destroyed or to spend eternity in an environment devoid of all love, which is God. God is love. Eternity without God is despair, which the Bible states is torment.
Russell further criticizes the church. I do not dispute the assertion that some churches are flawed and there are flaws in the history of churches. Yet many are not. Many churches today are run by strong people with good Christian values who strive to deliver Biblically-inspired messages of inspiration to attendees. My own church, Fishhawk Fellowship Church (Fishhawkfc.org), is a case in point. My church is relatively young (not much older than a decade), yet its pastors and staff offer the community such powerful messages each week that attendance has skyrocketed to the point where the church must now move from its original building to a much larger one, which will soon be under construction. Its message is to “come, grow, serve, and go” and it serves the local, national and global communities with all sorts of outreach programs. If other churches adopted its approach, I suspect they would be booming in attendance as well, fueling Christianity.
In conclusion, I find it interesting how atheists often challenge the divinity and governance of the Christian God. For example, Christopher Hitchens refers to himself as a “Protestant Atheist.”
Why is the Christian God the God of choice? My suspicion is that the Christian God is the one they know is the most likely to be real. As C.S. Lewis said, “Atheists express their rage against God, although in their view, He does not exist.” As Ray Comfort has added, “Atheists don’t hate fairies, leprechauns, or unicorns because they don’t exist. It is impossible to hate something that doesn’t exist. Atheists – like the painting experts hated the painter – hate God because He does exist.” According to C.S. Lewis, “We may ignore, but we can in no way evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere, incognito.”
Interestingly, I conducted a poll on Twitter in which I asked atheists the following question: “If shown that God exists, would you follow Him?” Sixteen atheists responded “no.” This answer surprised me, yet offered an explanation for some of the hostility I’ve seen on Twitter from atheists.
Thank you for your time.
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Hawking, S. (2017). The Beginning of Time. Accessed 1-20-2017 at: http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-beginning-of-time.html
Howell, E. (2015). What is the Big Bang Theory? Accessed 1-20-2017 at: http://www.space.com/25126-big-bang-theory.html
Hunt4Truth.com (2014). Scientist debunks Hawking’s ‘No God needed’ theory. Accessed 1-21-2017 at hunt4truth.wordpress.com.
LaRocco, C. & Rothstein, B. (2017). The Big Bang: It sure was Big. Accessed 1-20-2017 at: http://umich.edu/~gs265/bigbang.htm
Lichfield, G. (2015). The science of near-death experiences. The Atlantic. April.
Ross, H. (2016). Improbable Planet: How earth became humanity’s home. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Tozer, A.W. (2006; 1948). The pursuit of God: The human thirst for the divine. USA: First Wingspread Publishers.
Trevors, J.T. & Abel, D.L. (2004). Chance and necessity do not explain the origin of life. Cell Biology International, 28: 729-739.
Turek, F. (2015). Stealing from God: Why atheists need God to make their case. USA: NavPress
The intention of the following blog is to offer support for Christians who encounter people who believe Jesus is merely a myth, perpetuated by the early Church. One such mythicist is Dr. Richard Carrier. I have had a number of delightful interactions with Carrier on Twitter, which alerted me to his thoughts on Christianity, Jesus, and the Bible. He is an historian with a Ph.D. from Columbia University who has written numerous books and blog posts refuting the existence of Jesus.
Unlike Carrier, supporters of major world religions outside of Christianity do not question Jesus’ existence. For example, Jews and Muslims do not claim that Jesus didn’t exist. While Jews do not accept Jesus’ divinity, they acknowledge His existence and crucifixion. According to Muhammad, Muslims consider Jesus a prophet whom God took to heaven prior to the crucifixion (leading some to conclude that someone else took Jesus’ place on the cross). Carrier denies Jesus walked the earth, stating in his Twitter posts that Christianity was born out of a “hallucination” by Paul of a “celestial Jesus.”
According to Carrier’s webpage, his research focus is on the “origins of Christianity,” yet he has tweeted that the Bible is “propaganda” and the only historical texts one can rely upon are extra-Biblical.
Let’s consider that point. If I were going to write books on the “origins of Muslims,” wouldn’t it make sense for me to incorporate the Quran? If I were going to craft a history of any countries within the Arab region, wouldn’t I want to take the Quran into account? The Quran certainly offers historical accounts of Muhammad, Muslim beliefs, and Sharia law. Muhammad is an extremely influential prophet among Muslims, so excluding him from any discussions about Arab history seems nonsensical. Applying Carrier’s logic to this situation would require that I obtain extra-Quran accounts of Muhammad’s life before admitting he even lived.
Note that the Guinness Book of World Records has indicated: “Although it is impossible to obtain exact figures, there is little doubt that the Bible is the world’s best-selling and most widely distributed book. A survey by the Bible Society concluded that around 2.5 billion copies were printed between 1815 and 1975, but more recent estimates put the number at more than 5 billion” (www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/best-selling-book-of-non-fiction). Furthermore, the Bible has been translated into 349 languages. Such figures indicate strong support for the Bible from all over the globe.
William Lane Craig’s website includes the following comment: “Archaeology is the greatest defender of the accuracy of the Bible. Archaeologists, when in Israel, still rely on the Bible to determine the location of tell sites which reliance has proved to be remarkably accurate. Historians have long acknowledged the accuracy of place names and events recorded in the Bible despite so-called “higher criticism” and skepticism. In fact, the Bible is now a standard historical text for archaeologists in the Middle East, Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and Macedonia. The great names of Archaeology, including Dr. Flinders Petrie, Dr. William Albright, Dr. J.O. Kinnaman, Ira M. Price, Professor Sayce of Oxford, and Sir William Ramsay have gone on record to say that archaeology confirms the accuracy and reliability of the Bible. Dr. William Albright, who was not a friend of Christianity and was probably the foremost authority in Middle East archaeology in his time, said this about the Bible: ‘There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of the Old Testament.’”
“Sir William Ramsey, one of the greatest archaeologists of all time, spent 30 years of his life trying to disprove the New Testament, especially Luke’s writings. After much intensive research with many expecting a thorough refutation of Christianity, Ramsey concluded that Luke was one of the greatest historians of all time and became a Christian based on his archaeological findings.”
Extensive evidence of the Bible’s historicity exists, derived from the Dead Sea Scrolls, stone inscriptions, and archeological findings from regions described in the Bible. For a more extensive review, visit http://www.reasonablefaith.org/two-recent-archaeological-discoveries#ixzz4XfDkyKvG
In addition to the support from archeologists, secular historians support the historicity of the Bible. One example of a history book in which the history of early Christianity and Jesus is documented is “Historical Atlas: A Comprehensive History of the World” written by forty-five academic contributors from prestigious universities from all over the globe.
The Historical Atlas states: “In fact, it came to pass that Jesus’ death was the foundation of Christianity as we know it. Rather than running scared, Jesus’ followers grew into thousands. This early ‘church’ ran into very strong opposition in Jerusalem and around 35CE great persecution took place there. Around this time, one of the most decisive turning points in world history occurred. The early church began to accept those who were not of Jewish origin- the Gentiles” (Wawro, 2008, page 84).
Carrier’s blog opines that the apostles “died for a vision.” He then proceeds to refer to a debate he had with Bass, stating that “He couldn’t even establish that they could have avoided their deaths by recanting. Or even that what they died for was their belief in the resurrection, rather than their moral vision for society, or (I could have added) some other belief they wouldn’t recant—such as their already-Jewish refusal to worship pagan gods, the only thing Pliny really ever killed Christians for (the resurrection was never even at issue); and that’s the only explicitly eyewitness account we have of any Christians being killed for anything in the whole first hundred years of the religion.”
As reported by Wawro (2008) in the Historical Atlas, the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus reported that “Nero punished Christians for their role in the April 64 CE fire in Rome’s Circus Maximus using the following means:
- He had them covered with animal skins and let them be eaten by dogs.
- He had them nailed to crosses.
- He had them burned as torches for light after sundown” (Wawro, 2008, page 85)
In the Tacitus Annals 15,44, Tacitus states “Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dross of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car.”
In fact, suffering and martyrdom of the early Christian disciples has been documented by a variety of extra-Biblical sources. Eusebius, the first church historian, wrote Ecclesiastical History in which he speaks to the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul. He cites Dionysius of Corinth (~ 170 A.D.), Tertullian (~ 200 A.D.) and Origen (~ 240 A.D.) to back his assertions. He also cites Josephus (~ 95 A.D.), Clement of Alexandria (~ 200 A.D.), and Hegesippus (~ 170 A.D.) on the martyrdom of James, the half brother of Jesus (Habermas & Licona, 2004).
“Despite persecutions for the next 150 years, the new Christian Church spread into France, Spain, North Africa, and Mesopotamia. The once small sect devoted to Jesus Christ grew to between 5 and 6 million by 300 CE. By 350 CE, the number of Christians in the Roman Empire was over 33 million, and Christianity had become a universal religion” (Wawro 2008, page 85). In other words, between 5 and 6 million Christians were willing to worship Jesus illegally in the first few hundred years following Jesus’ resurrection. In 312 AD, Constantine had a vision of a Christian symbol, which led to a battle victory and the legalization of Christianity, ending the persecutions of early Christians.
Does it seem reasonable to determine that millions of early Christians would risk their lives by worshipping illegally to follow a “vision” or “hallucination” by a tentmaker named Paul? Additionally, Paul’s supposed hallucination did not include the gospel accounts of Jesus and accounts of the many miracles He performed, including the Resurrection. It is the miracles, including the Resurrection, which drove Christians to risk their lives. Paul’s supposed vision, or hallucination, of a celestial Jesus obviously excluded same.
Below I’ve listed some of Jesus’ miracles:
- Jesus turns water into wine (John 2:1-12)
- Jesus heals an official’s son without going to see the boy (John 4:46-54).
- Jesus heals a crippled man on the Sabbath (John 5:1-17).
- Jesus feeds 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish (Matthew 14:19-21; Mark 6:30-34; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14).
- Jesus walks on water (Matthew 14:22-32; Mark 6:47-52; John 6:16-21).
- Jesus heals a man born blind (John 9:1-41).
- Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44).
- Jesus heals a bleeding woman (Matthew 9:2-7; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48).
- Jesus calms a storm (Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:37-41; Luke 8:22-25).
- Jesus heals a paralyzed man (Matthew 9:2-7; Mark 2:3-12; Luke 5:18-26).
- Jesus resurrected from the dead (Matthew 28:5-6; Mark 16:6; Luke 24; John 20).
Additionally, does it seem reasonable that a tentmaker invent his own tale of Christianity when the rewards of crafting such a story did not exist? Paul boasted about his suffering because he truly believed in a greater purpose, which was glorifying Jesus and advancing in heaven. Paul suffered great peril, as documented in the books he wrote. This suffering occurred after his conversion from a Jewish persecutor of Christians to a Christian persecuted by Jews.
Paul, the author of between six and thirteen New Testament books, offers one of the most compelling stories of a transformation. Paul (known as Saul) was on the road to Damascus in his effort to identify and arrest early Christians for illegal worship. “Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me.’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’ (Acts 9-1-6). Paul immediately converted to the Way and became one of its most ardent followers who was beaten, imprisoned, and eventually beheaded all in Jesus’ name.
In 2 Corinthians 16:26-27, Paul states: “I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” 2 Corinthians 12:10 adds: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Clearly, Paul was not living an easy life once he decided to follow Jesus.
As C.S. Lewis said, “I didn’t go to religion to make me ‘happy.’ I always knew a bottle of port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
Carrier points to times in history in which people have been “gullible,” thereby generalizing all gullible people into a basket of gullibles into which he throws early Christians. He implies that the gullible within the “Heaven’s Gate Cult” are similar to early Christians and that all Christians are “gullible.”
I agree that some people are gullible within every group, as were the adherents to atheist despots like Pol Pot, Mao Tse Tung, and Stalin, yet I would never make the assertion that the gullibility of Stalin’s followers applies to atheists today (following Carrier’s logic that all atheists are “gullible”). I also know that the vast majority of atheists today abhor the acts of Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse Tung, so I would never throw them into a basket of atheists with Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse Tung.
Carrier states: “Thus countless people die for a ‘lie’ in the sense that they don’t know that what they are dying for is false. This is most obviously true for non-eyewitnesses, who die merely for trusting someone else’s word (many religions have many examples of this happening, from Mormonism to Islam to Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism, and beyond). But it’s also true for “eyewitnesses,” whose own minds have lied to them. And also, of course, eyewitnesses who are being conned (and indeed many a person has been fully convinced of something that was in fact a perpetrated sham). And also witnesses who aren’t sure of what they saw, but who believe they will gain eternal life if what they saw is what they are told it was, or want it to be—convincing themselves it must be true, merely to avoid personal despair.”
Rather than dig into the psychology behind the movement of early Christians, Carrier implies that their minds have lied to them, they are following a perpetrated sham, and that the early Christians (who, again, were burned and nailed to crosses), believed to “avoid personal despair.” Other more honest atheists with whom I’ve had these conversations acknowledge that early Christians truly believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Early Christians weren’t merely following the hallucination of Paul. They believed Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament. Jesus’ birth was predicted in the scriptures, as noted here:
Isaiah 9:6 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:1-2: “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past He humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future He will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”
Jesus’ resurrection fulfilled the scriptures, as noted here:
Isaiah 53:5 “But He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.
- Isaiah 53:11 “After He has suffered, He will see the light of life and be satisfied, by His knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities.”
- Psalm 16:9-11 “Because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You will make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
- Psalm 118:22 “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
- Isaiah 53: 9-10 “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the LORD makes His life an offering for sin, He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in His hand.”
Roman history books included references to Jesus, as noted here (Miller, 2007, page 346):
- Antiquities of the Jews, by Joseph (about 93-94). “There was a wise man who was called Jesus, and His conduct was good…Pilate condemned Him to be crucified…His disciples didn’t abandon their loyalty to Him. They reported that He appeared to them three days after His crucifixion that He was alive.”
- Annals of Imperial Rome, by Tacitus (about 55 – 120). “Christ suffered the ultimate penalty at the hands of procurator Pontius Pilate when Tiberius was emperor of Rome.”
- The Lives of the Caesars, by Suetonius (about 70-130). “Chrestus caused the riots in Rome in AD 49. This is probably a reference to Christ and to the hostility that erupted when traditional Jews clashed with Jews who believed Jesus was the promised Messiah. Acts 18:2 supports this theory, reporting that Claudius Caesar expelled all Jews from Rome during this time.
Carrier goes on to state that “it’s also possible for people to die for what they know is a lie.”
Yes, this is possible if the death were unexpected, yet for Carrier to suggest that early Christians, whom either expected or acknowledged the possibility of death, beatings, or imprisonment, knew in their minds that what they were doing was in vain obliterates any rational theories of human behavior and psychology.
- People of sound minds make decisions that maximize their outcomes.
- People of sound minds weigh benefits against drawbacks when making decisions.
- Early Christians wanted to maximize their chances of going to heaven by following Jesus.
- Early Christians weighed the benefits of going to heaven and following Jesus against the risks of imprisonment and death.
- Had early Christians determined the risks outweighed the benefits (and considered it all a lie), they would have recanted their testimonies in support of Jesus.
“In the centuries that followed, the believers in Jesus, called Christians, braved horrible persecution to found communities across the Roman Empire” (Belt, 2014).
Carrier then questions whether saints such as Peter, Jesus half-brother James, Stephen were (1) martyred and if they indeed were martyred, he questions whether they (2) were martyred for what they believed or for what they saw.
According to the Antiquities of the Jews, written around Flavius Josephus mentions the death by stoning the brother of James the Just, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.”
According to Acts 12:2, King Herod put the apostle James to death with the sword.
According to Acts 7:55-58, Stephen was stoned. “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city, and began to stone him.”
Other accounts of the deaths of the disciples are based on tradition. The most commonly accepted traditions are as follows: (https://www.gotquestions.org/apostles-die.html unless otherwise noted).
- Matthew suffered martyrdom in Ethiopia, killed by a sword.
- Bartholomew was flayed to death by a whip (Johns, 2014).
- Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross in Greece. The cross is now known as the cross of St. Andrew (Johns, 2014).
- Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India
- Paul was tortured and beheaded by the Emperor Nero in 67 AD.
- Peter was crucified upside-down, in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy (John 21:18).
- James the Lesser was either beaten or stoned to death, while praying for his attackers (Johns, 2014).
- Philip was reportedly crucified upside-down in Hierapolis, Turkey. In 2011, archeologists in Hierapolis discovered what they believed to be Philip’s tomb (Johns, 2014).
- Matthias reportedly preached in the “land of the cannibals” (Johns, 2014).
Though we only have traditions that offer glimpses of the specific ways that most of the early Christian disciples died, we can infer from the fact that Christianity was considered illegal and Christians were persecuted that no matter the means by which they passed, their lives were not easy and their faith in the way, the truth, and the life was strong.
The disciples preached, despite the risks, because they believed that a humble carpenter is the Son of Man and Savior of the world. Had they not seen Him resurrect, they wouldn’t have preached that He resurrected. Had they not seen Him perform miracles, they wouldn’t have preached that He performed miracles. Had they not been filled with the Holy Spirit, they would not have been so brave.
It’s humbling when one considers the way a humble carpenter, a tax collector, several fishermen, a tentmaker, and others were able to change the world. With God, nothing is impossible. Amen.
Thank you for your time.
“The great difficulty is to get audiences to realize that you are preaching Christianity simply because you happen to think it true.” – CS Lewis
Richard Carrier’s full blog is available at http://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/9978
Belt, D. (2014). Life in the time of Jesus. National Geographic. Jesus and the Apostles. Christianity’s early rise. Special Issue.
Craig, W.L. (2016) Two recent archeological discoveries. Accessed February 3, 2017 at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/two-recent-archaeological-discoveries
Habermas, G.R. & Licona, M.R. (2004). The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Kregel Publications: Grand Rapids, MI.
Johns, C. (2014). Life in the time of Jesus. National Geographic. Jesus and the Apostles. Christianity’s early rise. Special Issue.
Miller, S.M. (2007). The Complete Guide to the Bible. Barbour: Phoenix, AZ. USA.
Wawro, G. (2008). Historical Atlas: A Comprehensive History of the World. Millennium House: Elanora Heights, Australia