A Marriage of the Ontological and Moral Arguments in Support of the Christian God

The intention of the present blog is to offer support for the existence of the Christian God by marrying several ontological and moral arguments. The blog begins with a discussion of the history of the ontological argument, followed by an integration of the moral argument and the example of Jesus Christ.

The Ontological Argument

Centuries ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Saint Anselm (1033-1109 AD), formulated the ontological argument, which he describes in the Proslogium as follows:

“[Even a] fool, when he hears of … a being than which nothing greater can be conceived … understands what he hears, and what he understands is in his understanding.… And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater.… Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.”

Anselm’s argument can be summarized as follows:

  1. God is the greatest conceivable being.
  2. If we can conceive of something greater than God, then that would be God.
  3. Nothing greater than God can be conceived in the mind.
  4. It is greater to exist in reality than merely in the mind.
  5. God must therefore exist not merely in the mind, but in reality as well.
  6. Therefore, God exists.

To explain this simple concept, Anselm used the example of a painting. He asked which is greater: the artist’s idea of the painting or the painting itself? Obviously the painting itself is greater as the painting exists not only in the mind of the painter but in reality.

Alvin Platinga reformulated the argument using a conception of God as a being that is “maximally excellent” in every possible world. Maximal excellence in every possible world is “maximal greatness.” The properties of a maximally excellent being are omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection.

Platinga’s argument can be summarized as follows:

  1. A being has maximal excellence in a given possible world W if and only if it is omnipotent, omniscient and wholly good in W; and
  2. A being has maximal greatness if it has maximal excellence in every possible world.
  3. It is possible that there is a being that has maximal greatness.
  4. Therefore, possibly, it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good being exists.
  5. Therefore, (by axiom S5) it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being exists.
  6. Therefore, an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being exists.

Other ontological arguments have been presented, which vary slightly from the above. Each version is not without its skeptics. As an example, skeptics have replaced a maximally excellent being with a maximally excellent achievement (such as the creation of the universe) or conception (such as the perfect island). I don’t find these arguments compelling because the “creation of the universe” is an act and the conception of a “perfect island” is a place, a creation. Both are products of a maximally excellent being, our Creator, of whom nothing greater can be conceived.

Another criticism states that the arguments for God include presumptions about His characteristics (omniscient, omnipotent, and wholly good). Conceiving of maximally excellent knowledge is omniscience; conceiving of maximally excellent power is omnipotence; and conceiving that the perfect being is wholly good is a product of our conscience and our innate desire to equate goodness and love with maximally excellent morals.

At issue, however, is that we have defined maximally excellent morals as goodness and not evil. One might argue that we can equally conceive of a maximally supreme evil being, characterized by omnipotence, omniscience, and being wholly evil. For example, it is not impossible for me to conceive of a giant wholly evil monster. I could make the argument that said monster must exist because I conceived of the monster and applied it to the argument. Accordingly, without further explanation, skeptics could build a case against the arguments for a supreme or maximally excellent, wholly good being with its supreme or maximally evil counterpart.

According to C.S. Lewis (1952, p. 43) “There are only two views that face all the facts. One is the Christian view that this is a good world that has gone wrong, but still retains the memory of what it ought to have been. The other is the view called Dualism. Dualism means the belief that there are two equal and independent powers at the back of everything, one of them good and the other bad, and that this universe is the battlefield in which they fight out an endless war…But it has a catch in it.”

If one power is inherently and independently good, while the other is inherently and independently bad, we should have had experiences with both. But we do not. While we are witnesses to people who strive to do good for goodness’ sake, we are not witnesses to people who strive to do evil for evil’s sake. Instead, we are witnesses to people who started out good and something occurred which perverted them, whether it be pleasure, power, money, safety, security, fame, or sex.

Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel” (Lewis, 1952, p. 45-46). The rebel is the fallen angel: Satan.

“You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God” (Ezekiel 28:13). You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, guardian cherub, from the fiery stones. Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth” (Ezekiel 28:14-17). “I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. All the nations who knew you are appalled at you; you have come to a horrible end and will be no more” (Ezekiel 28: 18-19).

Accordingly, there is no greater conception than that of a maximally excellent, wholly good being. Its counterpart cannot be true. The ontological arguments formulated by Anselm and Platinga are valid. The very fact that humanity values, recognizes, and strives for goodness underscores the existence of the one who made and continues to make that happen.

Furthermore, consider the way pride always comes before the fall. If we were on an unguided planet, the proud and selfish would thrive. They don’t. Pride is the ultimate sin, which led to Satan’s fall. Pride is the sin that leads to all other sins. God admonishes the proud.

The Moral Argument

The very fact that all humans of sound minds have the ability to distinguish what is right from what is wrong suggests the presence of one who made that happen: a moral lawgiver. All humans of sound minds have the ability to conceive of moral perfection as shaped by the values of love, kindness, honesty, justice, benevolence, and truth. Since we have such conceptions, we have an objective way to judge conduct, which is to consider it against the objective set of moral values that guide society.

Dualism is an outcome of the human understanding of the dichotomies of love and hate, selfishness and unselfishness,  and justice and injustice.

Survival of the fittest theories suggest we would gravitate to and revere selfishness, yet we don’t. Humans revere selflessness and humility. Those of us who have revered selfishness have been humiliated to ensure compliance with God’s preference for humility. We have all stood trial and the prideful have all fallen. We are hard wired to follow the example of our source and to understand that through trials, we triumph and become better people.

The source and giver of this absolute moral standard of love, humility and selflessness is God. William Lane Craig outlines this logic as follows (2010, p. 129):

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. God exists.

“God is the ground and source of ultimate value, and He endows us with His image. Therefore, our lives have objective value, meaning, and purpose. If there is a real purpose in life – a ‘final cause’ as Aristotle put it – then there must be a right way to live it” (Turek, 2014, p. 104).

“In a world without a divine lawgiver, there can be no objective right or wrong, only our culturally and personally relative, subjective judgments. This means that it is impossible to condemn war, oppression, or crime as evil. Nor can one praise brotherhood, equality, and love as good. For in a universe without God, good and evil do not exist – there is only the bare valueless fact of existence, and there is no one to say that you are right and I am wrong” (Craig, 2008, p. 75). God “is the source from which all your reasoning power comes. You could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can rise higher than its own source” (Lewis, 1952, p. 48).

“[God] 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” (Lewis, 1952, p. 49).

Jesus Christ

The shocker occurred when a man appeared among these Jews and said He is the way and the truth, and the life. He performed miracles, healed the weak, forgave people’s sins, and spoke with authority. During His relatively short earthly life, He fulfilled numerous Old Testament prophecies about Him, such as Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah 53, Zechariah 9:9 and Psalm 22. Furthermore, He exemplified perfect love, kindness, humility, mercy, faith, and forgiveness. His perfect example set the standard against which we can judge our decisions.

Again the high priest asked Him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?

‘I am,’ said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:61-63; cf., Daniel 7:13).

Jesus’ words, coupled with His miracles, posed such a great threat to the high priests that they were willing to trade Him for an imprisoned insurrectionist, Barabbas. His growing group of followers likely threatened to reduce the high priests’ influence.

During the time of Jesus’ arrest, His disciple Peter doubted His divinity and denied Him three times. During His ministry, Jesus’ half-brother James was openly skeptical. Then Jesus was crucified and James and Peter were among five hundred eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus (1 Corinthians 15). Both became brave, worshipping illegally and openly for years – until they were martyred.

In conclusion and when taken together, the ontological and the moral arguments support the existence of a maximally excellent, wholly good being under whose objective moral standards we live. The exemplification of our objective moral standards is the person of Jesus Christ.

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him” (John 1:9-10).

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Thank you for investing your time.

References:

Anselm, St., Anselm’s Basic Writings, translated by S.W. Deane, 2nd Ed. (La Salle, IL: Open Court Publishing Co., 1962)

Craig, W.L. (2008). Reasonable Faith. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

Craig, W.L. (2010). On Guard. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook

Lewis, C.S. (1952). Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd.

Plantinga, Alvin, God, Freedom, and Evil (New York: Harper and Row, 1974)

Plantinga, Alvin, The Ontological Argument from St. Anselm to Contemporary Philosophers (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965)

Turek, F. (2014). Stealing from God: Why atheists need God to make their case. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress.

What Would You Do If You Were Me? A Christian Response to Atheist Engineer

The following blog is a response to a blog from an atheist on social media who calls himself Atheist Engineer. I have been communicating with him for over six months and came upon his blog yesterday, which highlights a few words I’ve said to him. The purpose of this blog is to offer my response to his opinions on Christianity.

CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST:

Atheist Engineer is one of the atheists I consider “humanists,” who are half way up the ladder to God. I know this because he has a good set of morals on many issues and aside from our disagreement on Christianity, I share many of his humanist views towards equality, feminism, and the like. That’s why I care about him and others like him and have decided to keep communicating with them on social media.

Yes, I’ll be the first to admit that I care about his eternal fate and the fate of those like him. I’ve identified several others very similar to him on social media. But what I want to be clear in this comment is (1) that our Lord is loving, fair, and the source of our objective moral code so the punishment will fit the crime; (2) that eternal burning in hell, in my humble and hopeful opinion, may only be reserved for the “weeds” of the Bible — people of Satan with no moral compass — people like Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, and Pol Pot; (3) God has made it very clear that He desires all of His “lost sheep” to return to Him. The Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Prodigal Son make quite clear the lengths to which God will go to be sure His children are rescued and the level of forgiveness He offers. Furthermore, the story of Saul/Paul assures us that God is willing to forgive even the biggest sinners, as just prior to Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was busy identifying, jailing, and witnessing the deaths of early Christians who were worshiping Jesus illegally in the years just following Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

In other words, we know that God forgives, loves, and embraces His lost sheep as His children. He also knows of the characteristics within His children and the experiences that they’ve had in their lives that have led to their decisions — as He made them the way they are. I’ve identified recent studies indicating that atheism is partially genetic, which tells me that God will be kind to people predisposed to atheism. I’ve further identified studies indicating that people often turn to God later in their lives. With age comes wisdom.

The Biblical Conceptions of Hell

Gotquestions.org, which is a resource used by many pastors, offers an explanation of the afterlife.

“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).”

So the questions presents themselves: (1) Do both “weeds” and “lost sheep” end up in the so-called “final hell” based on their earthly decisions or (2) do only “weeds” and “lost sheep” who retained their decisions to deny God even after death end up there? Conservative Biblical scholars are of the opinion that anyone who denies Jesus Christ while on earth will end up in the lake of fire. C.S. Lewis, some Catholics and more liberal Christian scholars consider the temporary place (sheol, hades, or purgatory) to be one in which people are given the (after death) choice of accepting the Lord. In his book “The Great Divorce,” C.S. Lewis spells out his version of such an existence.

Either tradition cannot be proven, so one looks to the Bible for an answer. According to Green, McKnight, and Marshall (1992), the general belief is that once one passes through Hades’ portals (Isaiah 38:10), there will be no return (e.g., Job 7:9-10; Psalm 49: 14-20; 1 Samuel 2:9; Isaiah 38:10, 18) and they are bound to silence (1 Samuel 2:9; Psalm 6:5; 31:17; Isaiah 38:18) and darkness (Job 17:13). Some evidence of future hope for the righteous does exist, however (Hosea 13:14; Psalm 16:10; 49:15; Job 14:13; 1 Samuel 2:6).

Based on God’s objective moral standard, we know that whatever the fate, the punishment will fit the crime. Therefore, I tend to lean to the opinion of C.S. Lewis, yet again, that is only my opinion. I can not say for certain the fate that will meet those who leave this world denying the Lord’s presence. I can only pray for them, hoping for the best, and counting on the Lord’s objective moral standard of love. A river can not exceed its source, so our morals and standards of love and goodness cannot exceed those from which we’re born: God. In other words, our ethical standards can never be better than those of the standard Himself.

What Would I Do?

Personally, I have never spent so much time considering the consequence of hell as I have over this past year while on social media. The atheists I now know often discuss the matter, so I have begun focusing on it more closely. The reason I haven’t considered it much is because I have always figured that I and my loved ones would end up in paradise, or heaven. I cannot even imagine gambling on the possibility of going to hell.

So, what would I do if in Atheist Engineer’s shoes? It’s hard to imagine, since I have never been an atheist, exactly what he is thinking. If I were in his shoes, however, I would meditate on the life of Jesus Christ. Since the Bible seems to present negative issues for Atheist Engineer, I would suggest that he initially avoid reading the books outside of the four gospels and Acts. Then, if I were him, I would ask God for an answer. I am confident that Atheist Engineer will receive God’s answer, which will guide him up the rest of the ladder.

To Conclude…

I have not fully addressed all of the issues noted by Atheist Engineer in this particular blog, because I’ve already answered them in other blogs. As examples, in my blog entitled, “A Christian Defense against Atheism,” which was originally a rebuttal to Atheist Engineer, I discuss issues of the problem of pain, free will, omniscience and omnipotence, and arguments such as the teleological argument and the cosmological argument for God. In “10 Good Response to Believe God Exists,” I summarize many of my points made in other blogs. This blog is a quick and easy read. In “Why Were Early Christians So Brave?” and “An Extra-Biblical Case for Christianity,” I make a case for the divinity of Jesus Christ. In “Why Did Jesus Have to Die? An Extension of Penal Substitution Atonement” I explain the atonement. In “Thoughts on the Atheist Experience Show along with a Testimonial in Support of Jesus,” I discuss the fate of those who follow different faiths. Finally, in “The Moral Argument for God,” I make an argument for God’s absolute moral standard.  I hope you’ll take the time to review any and all blogs if you’re interested in the way, the truth, and the life.

Thank you for investing your time.

“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither” – C.S. Lewis

References:

Green, J.B., McKnight, S., & Marshall, I.H. (1992). Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, USA.

ATHEIST ENGINEER:

I try to treat believers with the same or better respect than they treat me. As a result, a few of them get to know me well enough to realize I’m not the hateful, angry, baby eating, Satan worshiper that some fundamentalists say we are.

Not me. Or any of the atheists I’ve personally met and made friends with.

One of these Christians who has taken the time to get to know me recently asked:

… I’ll be the first to admit I’ve tried to be as convincing as possible. What would you do if you were in my shoes and you had my beliefs and you really cared about someone?

I suspect she was referring to my accusations that she exaggerates the “evidence for Jesus” and presents it without mentioning the known problems or issues with the evidence. I consider it dishonest and I’ve said as much. But her point is that she does it because she feels compelled to try to save us “lost sheep.”

So What Would I Do?

As a former Christian, I can still easily put myself back in my old Christian mindset. I would feel moral anguish if I thought that good people would be punished while I am rewarded, simply because they didn’t believe my Jesus. Such a plan would be horribly unfair to so much of humanity! Social scientists say that the greatest factors in deterring a person’s religious identity are the time and location of their birth and the culture they live in. God is ethereal. His presence is spiritual. There are many competing religious beliefs. In other words, it wouldn’t be their fault if they didn’t believe the right thing.

If I had her beliefs and found myself worrying about good people being excluded from my God’s plan for salvation, I’d start questioning whether I’ve learned true things about my just and loving God’s plans.

I’d wonder why a just and loving god would base salvation on having the right belief. I’d consider the possibility that serious flaws were introduced into my religious text during the times it was oral tradition, then copied, then selected from among many similar manuscripts, then translated, then interpreted.

I’d consider the possibility that some of the more objectionable parts of my holy book were actually just the author’s personal human opinion, not divine revelation.

I’d wonder if the Council of Nicea was actually guided by God or just a group of men making a power grab as usual.

https://goo.gl/GIqG0a

Such doubts would be extremely helpful for her. I think she’s smart enough to realize that there’s a huge disconnect between “just and loving God” and “salvation contingent upon beliefs and worship.” She realized that she cannot enjoy heaven knowing that good people are unjustly excluded from the party.

It’s unethical and I think most modern Christians know this. It’s an unavoidable fact of their religion

The concept of hell is inescapably incongruent with the claim of a just and loving God. Infinite torture is not ethical in response to any finite crime. It would be excessive for even the most monstrous despot in human history (take your pick).

To Conclude…

I wish I could help these kind and ethically awake Christians. It’s tragic that they’ve been taught to believe such hurtful things about the nature of the cosmos and our existence. They’re left to believe they are compelled to fight to save good people from their horrific vision of a spiteful God. However, my integrity is too important to compromise.

I feel sorry for the sense of despair it must cause them when I refuse to lie to comfort them. But I won’t claim to believe just to help a Christian feel better about the unethical foundations of their religion.

But I can still be respectful to them. I will pay them the respect of patiently explaining why the arguments they present (which I’ve invariably seen or heard before) are unconvincing. I can help them face the challenges of secular morality and ethics when they’re ready to admit that absolute morals are not real. I can help them grapple with their own mortality when they’re ready to concede that heaven was an empty promise. But I know I can’t make them see this. They must chose to face it on their own.

The sense of moral disharmony Christians feel about good people being tortured is their conscience telling them that their religion is false. In the end, they will have to either face this spiritual conundrum or ignore it. That’s for them to decide, not me. But having faced it myself, I can say honestly that life is much better without the struggle to find a way to interpret reality so it fits the just and loving God assertion.

10 Good Reasons to Believe God Exists: A Response to “10 Poor Reasons to Believe God Exists” by Mr. Oz Atheist

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” – Matthew 7:7

Original post: http://mrozatheist.blogspot.com.au/2015/07/10-poor-reasons-to-believe-god-exists.html?m=1

The intention of this blog is to offer ten good reasons to believe God exists, which is a response to a blog entitled “10 Poor Reasons to Believe God Exists” by an atheist on Twitter who calls himself “Mr. Oz Atheist.” First, I shall list my “good reasons” and next I present his “poor reasons.” The reason I am presenting my side in this way is because I agree with Mr. Oz Atheist that some of the reasons he lists are poor reasons to believe God exists.

1. The Ontological Argument

Saint Anselm (1033-1109 AD), was the Archbishop of Canterbury and is the originator of the ontological argument, which he describes in the Proslogium as follows:

“[Even a] fool, when he hears of … a being than which nothing greater can be conceived … understands what he hears, and what he understands is in his understanding.… And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater.… Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, thanking  which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this seems impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.”

The argument can be summarized as follows:

  1. God is the greatest conceivable being.
  2. If we can conceive of something greater than God, then that would be God.
  3. Nothing greater than God can be conceived in the mind.
  4. It is greater to exist in reality than merely in the mind.
  5. God must therefore exist not merely in the mind, but in reality as well.
  6. Therefore, God exists.

To explain this simple concept, Anselm uses the example of a painting. He asks which is greater: the artist’s idea of the painting or the painting itself? Obviously the painting itself is greater as the painting exists not only in the mind of the painter but in reality.

2. The Cosmological Argument

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 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 had all of the qualities of our Creator.

Thomas Aquinas’ First Mover Theory for Proof of God, further explains 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.

 3. The Teleological Argument

The Teleological Argument is an argument for the fine-tuning of the universe. As noted by Robert Lanza (2009), “By the late sixties, it had become clear that if the Big Bang had been just one part in a million more powerful, the cosmos would have blown outward too fast to allow stars and worlds to form. Result: no us. Even more coincidentally, the universe’s four forces and all of its constants are just perfectly set up for atomic interactions, the existence of atoms and elements, planets, liquid water, and life. Tweak any of them and you never existed.” Further information on the specific constants can be found in the CODATA 1998 recommendations by the National Institute of Standards and Technology of the United States.

A constant refers to an unchanging mathematical quantity that expresses the laws of nature, such as the law of gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the subatomic weak force. Scientists have found that constants must fall into an extraordinarily narrow range of values for the universe to be life-sustaining. For example, the weak force, which operates inside of the nucleus of an atom, is so finely tuned that an alteration in its value by even one part of 10100 would have prevented a life-permitting universe (Craig, 2010). The cosmological constant, which drives the acceleration of the universe’s expansion, if tweaked by as little as one part of 10120 would have rendered the universe life-prohibiting (Craig, 2010).

“The fine-tuning here is beyond comprehension. Having an accuracy of even one part out of 1060 is like firing a bullet toward the other side of the observable universe, twenty billion light years away, and nailing a one inch target!” (Craig, 2010, p. 109). Such extreme odds suggest the presence of a divine guide, or intelligent designer: God.

4.  The Moral Argument

 All mentally sound human beings have an innate sense of what’s moral. Many aspects of what is considered right and what is considered wrong are shared between humans across the planet. As examples, all mentally sound humans frown upon murder, rape, and a variety of related human atrocities. All mentally sound humans share the norm of reciprocity, in which one feels inclined to give back to one who gave. All mentally sound humans value gratitude, appreciation, love, kindness, and generosity. For a detailed assessment of human morality and why we do what we do, please click http://www.pitt.edu/~mthompso/readings/mmp.pdf

Why? Atheists would argue that we have evolved this way and that communities in which such values emerged were more successful than those in which opposing values emerged. Yet we have examples presently and in history in which such arguments fail. Successes in some ISIS, Boko Haram and historical Nazi communities refute their argument.

Evolutionary arguments also fail, as other creatures on this planet do not operate under the same moral code as we do. “On the atheistic view, human beings are just animals, and animals have no moral obligations to one another. When a lion kills a zebra, it kills the zebra. It does not murder the zebra. When a great white shark forcibly copulates with a female, it forcibly copulates with her but it does not rape her – for there is no moral dimension to these actions. They are neither prohibited nor obligatory” (Craig, 2010, p. 132).

Where did these laws originate? The source of our moral “laws” is our lawgiver, God. Laws do not invent themselves. “There must be an infinite, eternal Mind who is the architect of nature and whose moral purpose man is gradually fulfilling” (Craig, 2010, p. 132). “He is the source from which all your reasoning power comes: you could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can be higher than its own source” (Lewis, 1952, p. 48).

Craig (2010) offers the following logic:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

If God does not exist, we have no source of the objective moral values under which we all operate. Atheists argue that such values are by-products of evolution and social conditioning. Yet Charles Darwin (1871) states, “If…men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering.”

“For us to think that human beings are special and our morality objectively true is to succumb to the temptation to speciesism, an unjustified bias toward one’s own species” (Craig, 2010, p. 132).

5.  Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22

During the time in which I was doubting the validity of Christianity, I found myself sitting next to a pastor on an airplane, who alerted me to Isaiah 53, which was written about seven hundred years before Jesus walked the earth. Isaiah 53 is often excluded from Jewish sermons, according to the Jews for Jesus website. Why? The answer becomes obvious after reading the passage.

1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.

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.

6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.

9 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.

10 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.

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.

12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Jews claim that the passage refers to Israel, the suffering servant. Yet why would “he,” a country be pierced for the transgressions of another country? The claim makes no sense. It equates to saying that Israel will be punished for the actions of Syria. It further refers to Israel as if masculine and personal, which calls to attention the way Israel has been referred to as the true Christ (cf., Galatians 6:16; Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:15; Exodus 4:22-23). In other words, an argument that the passage refers to Israel is an argument that actually supports the true Christ!

Psalm 22 also predicts Jesus’ crucifixion.

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.
3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises.
4 In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
8 “He trusts in the LORD,” they say, “let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”
9 Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
10 From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
12 Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.
15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.
16 Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.
19 But you, LORD, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
20 Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs.
21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.
22 I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.
23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.
25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the LORD will praise him— may your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.
29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him— those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!

6. Christianity has survived against substantial odds.

Of all of the great kings who ever reigned or of all of the great men and women who ever lived, only one still reigns and will live and reign forever: a Jewish carpenter, Jesus Christ, who was born, raised, and lived in humble circumstances. Yet unlike all of the kings who ever reigned, Jesus had few material resources. He made friends with people of humble means, including fishermen (Andrew, Peter, brothers James and John, and possibly Thomas and Bartholomew), a tax collector (Matthew), a religious zealot (Simon the Canaanite), and tradesmen (Philip, James the son of Alphaeus, and Judas) (AllaboutJesusChrist.org).

When Jesus called on His apostles to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19), His apostles turned the world upside down (c.f., Acts 17:6). The chances that men of such humble means could turn the world upside down, fueling the growth of the world’s most practiced religion seem extraordinarily low. Yet with God, nothing is impossible.

Projections of the number of Christians on the planet indicate growth. According to various contributors to the Lausanne Statistics Task Force, headed by David Barrett, Ph.D., the author of the World Christian Encyclopedia, the ratio of committed Christians relative to non-Christians is as follows:

  • 100 A.D. 360 to 1
  • 1000 A.D. 220 to 1
  • 1500 A.D. 69 to 1
  • 1900 A.D. 27 to 1
  • 1950 A.D. 21 to 1
  • 1980 A.D. 11 to 1
  • 1989 A.D. 7 to 1

Projections from the Pew Research Center’s 2015 Religion and Public Life Project indicate that the number of Christians will increase from around 2.2 billion adherents today to 2.9 billion in 2050. The population of Muslims is also expected to increase from 1.6 billion to 2.7 billion in 2050. Muslim birth rates are higher, which contributes to its growth rate. In 2050, projections by Pew Research indicate a global population of 9.6 billion, so that percentage of Christians (including less committed ones) will be around 30%.

In summary, roughly a third of humanity identifies with Christianity, while 1 in 7 consider themselves committed Christians. Christianity has survived the odds against it, despite its very humble roots, to become the world’s top religion. Other odds against Christianity are discussed below in the context of its illegal status until 313 A.D.

7. Embarrassing Testimony

In apologetics, evidence of the truth in a statement or source is provided by embarrassing testimony. In other words, if authors were contriving a story or inventing a myth, they would not include testimony about which they would be embarrassed. Instead they would only include information that they could “sell” to followers easily.

Numerous examples of embarrassing testimony are present in the New Testament, including Peter’s thrice denial of Jesus (Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22: 54-62; John 18: 15-27), the incident in which Jesus’ mother and brothers’ attempted to seize Jesus to take Him home for being “out of His mind” (Mark 3:21, 31), and the labels used by some to describe Jesus as a mad man (John 10:20), demon-possessed (Mark 3:22; John 7:20; John 8:48), and drunkard (Matthew 11:19). A prostitute used her hair to clean Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-39), which some might consider to be a sexual advance. Furthermore, given the low status of women during the time of Jesus, the mere fact that women were given the privilege of discovering the empty tomb is note-worthy.

Consider the following Jewish writings, which underscore the low status of women during Jesus’ time (Habermas & Licona, 2004)

“Sooner the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women” (Talmud, Sotah 19a).

“The world cannot exist without males and without females- happy is he whose children are males, and woe to him whose children are females” (Talmud, Kiddushin 82b).

“But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servants be admitted to give testimony on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope or gain, or fear of punishment” (Josephus, Antiquities 1.8).

“Any evidence which a woman [gives] is not valid [to offer], also they are not valid to offer. This is equivalent to saying that one who is Rabbinically accounted a robber is qualified to give the same evidence as a woman” (Talmud, Rosh Hoshannah 1.8).

Roman historian Suetonius (~ 115 A.D.): “Whereas men and women had hitherto always sat together, Augustus confined women to the back rows even at gladiatorial shows: the only ones exempt from this rule being the Vestal Virgins, for whom separate accommodation was provided, facing the praetor’s tribunal. No women at all were allowed to witness the athletic contests; indeed, when the audience clamoured at the Games for a special boxing match to celebrate his appointment as Chief Priest, Augustus postponed this until early the next morning, and issued a proclamation to the effect that it was the Chief Priest’s desire that women should not attend the Theatre before ten o’clock.”

Such status likely led to the disciples’ initial responses to the women who discovered the open tomb: “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24:11).

In summary, the presence of numerous instances of embarrassing testimony in the New Testament provides evidence of the validity of the Bible and the sincerity of its authors.

 8. Extra-Biblical Testimony

Atheists often request evidence that is extra-biblical, as if the evidence provided in the Bible is invalid. When considering that the New Testament has at least nine independent authors and is endorsed by numerous highly respected, scholarly archeologists and historians, the Bible is a valid historical text. Yet, we do have accounts of events and people in the New Testament from external writers.

Examples from Roman historians include the following (Miller, 2007, page 346):

  1. Antiquities of the Jews, by Josephus (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.”
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.

In fact, we have 33 Christian and 9 secular extra-biblical sources within 150 years of Jesus’ resurrection that provide support for the New Testament and Jesus Christ (Wallace, 2013).Historians get giddy with only two sources, while we have 42!

Within 150 years of Jesus’ life, extra-biblical testimonies from sources such as Josephus, Tacitus, Thallus, Suetonius, Emperor Trajan, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, and others (Turek, 2015) inform us that:

  • Jesus lived during the time of Tiberius Caesar • He lived a virtuous life • He was a wonder-worker • He had a brother named James • He was acclaimed to be the Messiah • He was crucified under Pontius Pilate • An eclipse and an earthquake occurred* when He died • He was crucified on the eve of the Jewish Passover • His disciples believed He rose from the dead • His disciples were willing to die for their belief in Jesus • Christianity spread rapidly as far as Rome • His disciples denied the Roman gods and worshiped Jesus as God

9. Early Christian Bravery

Paul started out as Saul of Tarsus, who actively pursued Christians for imprisonments and deaths. He first appears in the Book of Acts as a witness of the stoning of Christianity’s first martyr, Stephen. Yet something happened to Paul on his way to Damascus: Jesus Christ appeared to him and he converted, to become one of Christianity’s greatest missionary apostles. Historians don’t dispute that Paul wrote at least six or as many as thirteen books of the New Testament. In these books, he shares his testimony and the way he willingly endured multiple beatings and imprisonments before being beheaded by Nero in Rome.

James, Jesus’ half-brother, also has an extraordinary story. James was initially skeptical of Jesus, as noted when he and his brothers and mother showed up to see Jesus preach (Mark 3:31; Luke 8:19; and Matthew 12:46). They wanted to stop him, because they felt he was “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21). Yet something happened to James after Jesus was crucified. He witnessed the risen Jesus.

Paul writes (1 Corinthians 15: 3-8) “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas (Peter), and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as the one abnormally born.”

James went on to become a missionary and an author of the book of James in the New Testament. Eusebius (c. 263 – 339 A.D.), the first church historian, wrote Ecclesiastical History, in which he cited a variety of authors and described the martyrdoms of Peter, James, and Paul. Peter, who denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed (as predicted by Jesus) was hung on a cross upside-down. James was pushed from a building and beaten. Paul was beheaded. The martyrdoms of Peter and Paul cited by Eusebius were documented by Dionysius of Corinth (~170 A.D.), Tertullian (~ 200 A.D.) and Origen (~ 230 – 250 A.D.). Josephus (~ 95 A.D., Hegesippus (~ 165 – 175 A.D.) and Clement of Alexandria (~ 200 A.D.) documented the martyrdom of James.

Yet Paul, Peter, and James weren’t the only early Christians to be martyred. 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.”

Why were the early disciples so brave?

  1. Early Christian disciples saw the risen Christ.
  2. They braved gory deaths to praise and worship Him illegally
  3. Why?
  4. See item #1

10. The Purpose of Life

We were put on this planet to fulfill our spiritual purposes of becoming more Christ-like and more perfect, yet we were intentionally put here as imperfect, flawed beings. Overcoming our flaws and physical obstacles and limitations helps us to grow spiritually.

We have all had to overcome major challenges and such challenges have likely changed us as people, giving us more depth, empathy, knowledge, and understanding. Headwinds and trials and tribulations make us stronger. If we had faced no challenges, we would have no purpose here. Our purposes are to advance by capitalizing on our spiritual gifts.

“As the scriptures teach and experience proves, it’s difficult to develop courage without danger, perseverance without obstacles, patience without tribulation, compassion without suffering, character without adversity, faith (trust) without need. Soul-making is indeed painful” (Turek, 2015, p. 220) “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance” Romans 5: 3.

In closing, I will add one of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis (1952, p. 50-51):

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something  worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

References

Anonymous. All about Jesus Christ. (2017) http://www.allaboutjesuschrist.org/occupations-of-the-12-disciples-faq.htm

Craig, W.L. (2010). On Guard. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook.

Darwin, C. (1871). The Descent of Man. Reprinted in 1981 by Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.

Lanza, R. (2009). Biocentrism. How life and consciousness are the keys to understanding the true nature of the universe. Dallas, TX: Benbella Books.

Lewis, C.S. (1952). Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis Pte. Limited.

Licona, G.R. & Licona, M.R. (2004). The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Miller, S.M. (2007). The Complete Guide to the Bible. Barbour: Phoenix, AZ. USA.

Pew Research Fact Tank (2014) http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/02/03/10-projections-for-the-global-population-in-2050/

Pew Forum Religion and Public Life Project (2015) http://www.pewforum.org/2015/04/02/religious–‐projections–‐2010–‐2050/

Turek, F. (2015). Stealing from God. USA: Navpress.

Wawro, J. (2008). Historical Atlas: A Comprehensive History of the World.  Millennium House.

World Christian Database (2017) http://worldchristiandatabase.org/wcd/about/WCD_Methodology.pdf

Wallace, J.W. (2013). Cold-case Christianity. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook.

Mr. Oz Atheist offers Ten Poor Reasons to Believe God Exists

These are some of the arguments for God that come up most often. No particular order.

1: Other people believe it. 

Although there may be many people who share your belief. There are at least 5 billion people who don’t. At least 1.6 billion people have an alternate belief. You can’t all be right. But you can all be wrong.

2: My parents told me to believe. 

 They also told you to believe Santa is real (maybe) or the tooth fairy. Not only have your parents lied to you, but their reasons for believing also fall under one or more of the poor reasons listed here. We’ve evolved to listen to our parents because some of their advice is good (don’t touch the fire, watch where you’re walking) but to believe them in everything, without question is questionable.

3: I can’t explain ‘x’ without God. 

People used to think that about lightning and earthquakes too. We can explain them now and guess what? No god required. What you don’t understand is not proof that a god exists. For ‘x’ to be proof of god, you need to show that it *is* god, not that you can’t imagine how it isn’t.

4: The prophecies in the bible/scientific revelations in the Qu’ran prove the book is from God. 

Biblical prophecy is vague and easily retrofitted. Sure, Israel became a nation, but did it really take a godly prophecy to predict it? Could a hopeful Hebrew have suggested it? Of course. The science in the Qu’ran is inaccurate (eg where sperm comes from, two kinds of water not mixing) The ‘science’ in the Qu’ran is consistent with what was known at the time.

5: It’s called FAITH!

Yeah, it is. As long as you recognise that faith, and good reasons to believe, are different things. As above, at least 1.6 Billion people have ‘faith’ that a different story is true. Faith gets people to fly planes into buildings thinking they’ve got 72 virgins waiting for them. Faith lets people eat a wafer thinking it’s *literally* the flesh of a Jewish carpenter that lived 2000 years ago. Faith makes people throw virgins into volcanoes thinking it’ll appease the god within. Faith makes people think a man rose from the dead is a better explanation than ‘something else happened’. Faith may make you feel good, but it’s not a pathway to truth.

6: All cultures have developed a god – there must be something in it. 

There’s no doubt humans have a hunger for answers. We crave explanations for what we can observe. The scientific method is the best way we’ve come up with to find those explanations. But the scientific method is recent. It wasn’t around 2000+ years ago when gods and goddesses where being invented. A primitive mind thinking that thunder was the result of an angry god is understandable, but gods and goddesses were the answers we came up with when we didn’t know better. We know better now. It’s funny how the number of gods and goddesses we invent has slowed since the scientific method was developed.

7: Without God, we wouldn’t know right from wrong. (Morality) 

Says who? This is really just a stab in the dark and could easily be the ‘x’ in point 3. Non-human animals show traits that we call morality. The show compassion, cooperation, and empathy. They have a sense of ‘fairness’ and they look after each other when required. These are evolved traits and are easily shown to be beneficial to the species. No one has demonstrated that a god is required.

8: Evolution is a religion (is false, can’t happen etc.). 

Even if this were true (and it’s not) it doesn’t matter. Disproving evolution would in no way prove that gods and goddesses exist. All disproving evolution would do (if it could be done) is show that evolution doesn’t happen.

9: I feel something when I pray/worship. 

Sure you do. But people have feelings like that at concerts, and sporting events too. There’s nothing concrete to suggest that this is an internal feeling caused by god or Jesus or whomever. More likely it’s really just your body having a reaction to you having a good time.

10: There MUST be something more…

Saying it, wanting it to be true doesn’t make it so. Sure we may want to see our loved ones when we die. Sure we may get a warm fuzzy feeling at the idea that we’re here for a purpose greater than ourselves and that even after we die we’ll somehow carry on. Some people may even like the idea that our existence makes a god happy and that’s good enough reason to be alive. But wanting all those things to be true, doesn’t make them true. ‘Must’ is a definite position. You need to demonstrate that it’s true not just assert it and expect people to believe. When people say ‘must’ in this context, they’re really saying ‘I really hope there is’.

There’s also Look around you!

An Extra-Biblical Case for Christianity

In 1 Corinthians 15: 1-2, Paul writes, “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”

The Unexpected Bravery of Former Deniers and Doubters

Paul’s story is extraordinary, as he started out as Saul of Tarsus, arguably one of early Christianity’s most notorious enemies. He actively pursued Christians for imprisonments and deaths and he stood by and watched as Christianity’s first martyr, Stephen, was stoned. Yet something happened to Paul on his way to Damascus one day. Jesus Christ appeared to him and Saul became Paul, arguably one of Christianity’s greatest missionary apostles. Historians don’t dispute that Paul wrote at least six or as many as thirteen books of the New Testament. In these books, he shares his testimony and the way he willingly endured multiple beatings and imprisonments before being beheaded by Nero in Rome.

James, Jesus’ half-brother, also has an extraordinary story. James was initially skeptical of Jesus, as noted when he and his brothers and mother showed up to see Jesus preach (Mark 3:31; Luke 8:19; and Matthew 12:46). They wanted to stop him, because they felt he was “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21). Yet something happened to James after Jesus was crucified. He witnessed the risen Jesus.

Paul writes (1 Corinthians 15: 3-8) “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas (Peter), and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as the one abnormally born.”

James went on to become a missionary and an author of the book of James in the New Testament. Eusebius (c. 263 – 339 A.D.), the first church historian, wrote Ecclesiastical History, in which he cited a variety of authors and described the martyrdoms of Peter, James, and Paul. Peter, who denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed (as predicted by Jesus) was hung on a cross upside-down. James was pushed from a building and beaten. Paul was beheaded. The martyrdoms of Peter and Paul cited by Eusebius were documented by Dionysius of Corinth (~170 A.D.), Tertullian (~ 200 A.D.) and Origen (~ 230 – 250 A.D.). Josephus (~ 95 A.D., Hegesippus (~ 165 – 175 A.D.) and Clement of Alexandria (~ 200 A.D.) documented the martyrdom of James.

In his book Contra Celsum, Origen writes, “Jesus, who has both once risen Himself, and led His disciples to believe in His resurrection, and so thoroughly persuaded them of its truth, that they show to all men by their sufferings how they are able to laugh at all the troubles of life, beholding the life eternal and the resurrection clearly demonstrated to them both in word and deed.” In another writing, Origen documented Peter’s upside-down crucifixion (Habermas and Licona, 2004a).

Tertullian states (The Twelve Caesars 15:44; Habermas and Licona, 2004b), “That Paul is beheaded has been written in their own blood. And if a heretic wishes his confidence to rest upon a public record, the archives of the empire will speak, as would the stones of Jerusalem. We read the lives of the Caesars: At Rome Nero was the first who stained with blood the rising faith. Then is Peter girt by another, when he is made fast to the cross.  Then does Paul obtain a birth suited to Roman citizenship, when in Rome he springs to life again ennobled by martyrdom.”

Clement of Rome also documented the sufferings and martyrdoms of Paul and Peter (1 Clement). “Because of envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars have been persecuted and contended unto death. Let us set the good apostles before our eyes. Peter, who because of unrighteous envy endured, not one or two, but many afflictions, and having borne witness went to the due glorious place. Because of envy and rivalries, steadfast Paul pointed to the prize. Seven times chained, exiled, stoned, having become a preacher both in the East and in the West, he received honor fitting of his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, unto the boundary on which the sun sets; having testified in the presence of the leaders. Thus he was freed from the world and went to the holy place. He became a great example of steadfastness.”

Paul, James, and Peter were not alone. Second century Roman historian Tacitus also documented early Christian persecutions. “Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed” (Habermas and Licona, 2004c).

Critics often note that Muslims and Buddhists have also willingly been martyred for their beliefs, yet unlike Muslims and Buddhists, James, Peter, and Paul had personally seen the risen Jesus.

  1. Peter, James, and Paul saw the risen Jesus.
  2. Peter, James, and Paul changed their initial views/doubts about Jesus.
  3. Peter, James, and Paul braved gory deaths for Jesus.
  4. Why? See item #1.

Extra-Biblical Accounts of Jesus and Events in the Gospels

In his book Antiquities of the Jews (Wallace, 2013), Josephus (37 A.D. – 100 A.D.) states “At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good, and (He) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became His disciples. Pilate condemned Him to be crucified and die. And those who had become His disciples did not abandon His discipleship. They reported that He had appeared to them three days after His crucifixion and that He was alive; accordingly, He was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.” (Note that this version of Josephus’ statement excludes controversial overtly Christian references, which some scholars have disputed).

Syrian philosopher Mara Bar-Serapion (70 A.D. – unknown) opines (in Wallace, 2013), “What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished [Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome in 70 A.D.]. God justly avenged…the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion.”

Origen cited Phlegon (80 – 140 A.D.), who penned a history around 140 A.D. Origin states, “Now Phlegon, in the thirteenth or fourteenth book, I think, of his Chronicles, not only ascribed to Jesus a knowledge of future events…but also testified that the result corresponded to His predictions…And with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place, Phlegon too, I think, has written in the thirteenth or fourteenth book of his Chronicles.”

Other events in the gospels were also corroborated extra-biblically. One example is the great earthquake, which shook the earth just after Jesus’ crucifixion. For further details on this event, please see my blog entitled, “On Earthquakes, Bloody Moons, and Dating the Crucifixion.”

Just following Jesus’ crucifixion, Matthew 27: 51-52 states, “At the moment the curtain from the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open.”

Thallus (5 – 60 A.D.), a Samaritan historian, wrote an extensive (yet now lost) account of the history of the Mediterranean in the middle of the first century. A reference to his lost account is in historian Sextus Julius Africanus’ account. Africanus wrote History of the World in 221 A.D., in which this reference is included.

“On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in his third book of his History, calls as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.”

Sextus Julius Africanus also discusses Phlegon, noting that “in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth.”

Additionally, we have ancient Jewish corroboration of Jesus (Wallace, 2013). “Rabbi Hisda (d. 309) said that Rabbi Jeremiah bar Abba said, ‘What is that which is written, “No evil will befall you, nor shall any plague come near your house?” (Psalm 91:10)…”No evil will befall you” (means) that evil dreams and evil thoughts will not tempt you; “nor shall any plague come near your house” (means) that you will not have a son or a disciple who burns his food like Jesus of Nazareth (b. Sanhedrin 103a; cf b. Berakhot 17b).

The Sanhedrin (43a) further indicates as follows: “It was taught: On the day before the Passover they hanged Jesus. A herald went before him for forty days (proclaiming), ‘He will be stoned, because he practiced magic and enticed Israel to go astray. Let anyone who knows anything in his favor come forward and plead for him.’ But nothing was found in his favor, and they hanged him on the day before the Passover.”

The Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls (40521; brackets indicate gaps  in the document; Craig, 2010) contain the following message: “[For the hea]vens and the earth shall listen to his Messiah  [and all  t]hat is in them shall not turn away from the commandments of the holy ones…He will honor the pious upon the th[ro]ne of the eternal kingdom, setting prisoners free, opening the eyes of the blind, raising up those who are bo[wed down]…And the Lord shall do glorious things  which have not been done, just as he said. For he will heal the injured, he shall make alive the dead, he shall proclaim good news to the afflicted.”

Students of the Apostles

John

At this point, critics will note that some of the citations I have provided and some I have not yet provided come from documents and books written over one hundred years after Jesus’ crucifixion. Yet note an important point: many of the authors were students of the apostles or students of students of the apostles. As an example, Ignatius (35 – 117 A.D.) was John’s student who eventually became the bishop of Antioch. Ignatius’ writings state that Jesus “was (and is) the ‘Son of God;’ was conceived by the Holy Spirit; was born of the Virgin Mary; was baptized by John the Baptist; was the ‘perfect’ man; suffered and was crucified; died on the cross; and was resurrected” (Wallace, 2013, p. 217).

Polycarp (69 – 155) was a friend of Ignatius’ and a fellow student of John. Polycarp described Jesus as “sinless” and “saved by grace.” He “suffered and died on a cross” and “was raised from the dead.” Polycarp also stated that “Jesus is our Savior” and “Jesus is Lord” (Wallace, 2013).

Ignatius and Polycarp taught Irenaeus (120 – 202 A.D.), who was the bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul. Irenaeus wrote Against Heresies, which was a refined defense of Christianity that identified twenty-four books of the New Testament as scripture (including Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Romans, Acts, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, 1 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, and Revelation) (Wallace, 2013).

Irenaeus taught Hippolytus (170 – 236 A.D.), who wrote a ten-volume treatise entitled Refutation of All Heresies, which also identified books of the New Testament, including those identified by Irenaeus plus Philemon (Wallace, 2013).

Paul

The apostle Paul taught Linus (who worked with him in 2 Timothy 4:21) and Clement of Rome. Clement offered a description of Jesus, which was similar to that offered above by Ignatius and Polycarp. Clement passed the truth on from Evaristus to Pius I, and Pius I and Justin Martyr guarded the accounts during the early years of the Christian Church (Wallace, 2013).

Peter

The apostle Peter communicated his message through Mark’s gospel. Mark established the church in Alexandria and taught Anianus, Avilius, Kedron, Primus, and Justus. Justus passed the truth to Pantaenus, who taught Clement of Alexandria. Clement taught Origen. Pamphilus of Caesarea adopted Origen’s work and taught Eusebius (Wallace, 2013).

In summary, an abundance of extra-biblical sources provide evidence of the validity and reliability of the New Testament. “O ye of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)

Thank you for investing your time.

References:

Craig, W. L. (2010). On Guard. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook.

Habermas, G.R. and Licona, M.R. (2004a). The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Ibid., (2004b). Scirpiace, 15, in Roberts, Donaldson, and Coxe, eds. and trans., The Ante-Nicene Fathers.

Ibid., (2004c). Church, A.J. and Brodribb, W.J. translation of Tacitus.

Wallace, J.W. (2013). Cold Case Christianity. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook.

Why Were Early Christians So Brave?

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:

  1. Jesus turns water into wine (John 2:1-12)
  2. Jesus heals an official’s son without going to see the boy (John 4:46-54).
  3. Jesus heals a crippled man on the Sabbath (John 5:1-17).
  4. 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).
  5. Jesus walks on water (Matthew 14:22-32; Mark 6:47-52; John 6:16-21).
  6. Jesus heals a man born blind (John 9:1-41).
  7. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44).
  8. Jesus heals a bleeding woman (Matthew 9:2-7; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48).
  9. Jesus calms a storm (Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:37-41; Luke 8:22-25).
  10. Jesus heals a paralyzed man (Matthew 9:2-7; Mark 2:3-12; Luke 5:18-26).
  11. 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.

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.”
  3. Psalm 118:22 “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
  4. 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):

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.

  1. People of sound minds make decisions that maximize their outcomes.
  2. People of sound minds weigh benefits against drawbacks when making decisions.
  3. Early Christians wanted to maximize their chances of going to heaven by following Jesus.
  4. Early Christians weighed the benefits of going to heaven and following Jesus against the risks of imprisonment and death.
  5. 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

References

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

More Christian Rebuttals of Atheist Challenges

 

The following blog is organized in a rebuttal to challenge format in which challenges are posed by atheists and rebuttals follow by Christians.

Atheist challenge: We think the New Testament was authored 100+ years after Jesus died, so its authors were not eyewitnesses.

Christian rebuttal: Though scholars disagree on the precise dates in which the gospels were written due to their presuppositions, we have good evidence to suggest that the vast majority of the New Testament was written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. This assertion is based on the fact that the destruction of Jerusalem, which was a major event on the same level as a great war, is not mentioned in the New Testament. In 70 A.D., the Roman army, led by the future Emperor Titus and ordered by Nero, destroyed Jerusalem and its second temple. Jesus had prophesied this destruction in Matthew 24: 1-8 and Luke 21: 5-6. The latter states: “Some of His disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, ‘As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.’”

Some scholars believe that the Gospel of Matthew was written around twelve years after Jesus’ crucifixion. One reason for this claim is due to recordings by early church leaders Irenaeus, Origen, and Eusebius. Eusebius (Bishop of Caesarea, father of church history) records that Matthew wrote his gospel while still in Israel(1).

Between six and thirteen books of the New Testament were written by Paul, who was beheaded by Nero in Rome at some point between 64 and 67 A.D. The potential timelines of these writings are as follows(2): Note that all are within the lifetimes of people who lived in Jesus’ time.

Galatians (AD 47)
1 and 2 Thessalonians (AD 59—51)
1 and 2 Corinthians and Romans (AD 52—56)
Ephesians, Philemon, Colossians, and Philippians (AD 60—62, during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment)
1 Timothy and Titus (AD 62)
2 Timothy (AD 63—64, during Paul’s second Roman imprisonment)

The authorship of the other New Testament books is as follows(3):
Matthew: based on the perspectives of Matthew the tax collector, one of the 12 eyewitness apostles

Mark: based on the perspectives of John-Mark, a close friend of Peter
Luke: written by Luke the physician
John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Revelation: based on the perspectives of John, the apostle whom Jesus loved
Acts: written by Luke the physician, who traveled with Paul and included first person testimonies
1 Peter and 2 Peter: based on the perspectives of Peter, the apostle.
James: based on the perspectives of James, the brother of Jesus
Jude: based on the perspectives of Jude, the brother of Jesus
Hebrews: authorship uncertain

To consider the validity of the eyewitness accounts, let’s consider the story of the apostles. Just prior to Jesus’ arrest, Jesus portended to Peter that Peter would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed. Peter declared that he would never deny Jesus, but proceeded to do just that three times out of fear. He didn’t want to share Jesus’ fate. After Jesus was crucified, the apostles’ initial response was to hide in a safe house. They were worried they would meet the same fate as Jesus. Then something happened that completely transformed them. They emerged from hiding, totally unafraid, and started telling everyone that they saw the risen Jesus. Had they not seen Jesus, they wouldn’t have become so courageous, braving gory deaths for worshiping illegally in Jesus’ name.

According to scholar Reza Aslan(4), “One after another of those who claimed to have witnessed the risen Jesus went to their gruesome deaths refusing to recant their testimony.” It was this fervor “that transformed this tiny Jewish sect into the largest religion in the world.” In “Antiquities of the Jews,” written around 93 A.D., Flavius Josephus speaks of the stoning of “the brother of Jesus (James), who was called Christ.”

Paul, the author of 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(5).’ 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.

1 Corinthians 15:16 indicates that Jesus appeared to five hundred witnesses after His crucifixion. If this claim is untrue, it makes the transformation of Christianity (from only a handful of eyewitnesses) even more extraordinary. How could the apostles, including a few fishermen, a tent maker and a tax collector, be so convincing? Having the additional eyewitness fortification of Jesus’ resurrection therefore seems likely, given the fact that most of the apostles were of low status in society.

I’ve paraphrased a story about Jesus by James Allan Francis (6) to demonstrate just how extraordinary the transformation of Christianity is.

He grew up in a village, the child of a peasant, and worked as a carpenter. He never had a family, owned a home, or went to college. He was only 33 when the tide of public opinion rode against Him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies and went through a mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.

“Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today He is the central figure of the human race. I am well within the mark when I say that all the enemies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned – put together – have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one, solitary life.”

Atheist challenge: We think the authors of the New Testament (1) wrote the books for their own self-interests and (2) simply contrived the stories to match Old Testament prophecies.

Christian rebuttal: Basic theories of behavioral economics, organizational behavior, and psychology suggest that incentives matter in motivating behavior. People are motivated to do things for a reason. The reasons may be extrinsic, such as when one receives a financial incentive for performing a task, or intrinsic, such as one feels good about fulfilling one’s spiritual purpose. When applied to the New Testament writers, one must ask why they would invest their time in crafting a story that fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, such as Isaiah 9:6 and Isaiah 53. What benefit did they derive? There were no tangible, external benefits to writing the New Testament, as they couldn’t practice freely and they were routinely imprisoned for illegal worship. There were only intrinsic, intangible benefits to writing the New Testament. The apostles and early Christians believed that the risks of worshiping in this life and writing the New Testament, which included crucifixions and burning to death by emperors such as Nero, would fulfill their spiritual purposes, leading to rewards in the next life.

Furthermore, had they merely contrived a story, why would they include what some authors have described as “embarrassing testimony?”(7) Examples include Peter’s thrice denial of Jesus (Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22: 54-62; John 18: 15-27), Jesus’ mother’s and brothers’ attempts to seize Jesus to take Him home for being “out of His mind” (Mark 3:21, 31), and labels for Jesus such as mad man (John 10:20), demon-possessed (Mark 3:22; John 7:20; John 8:48), and drunkard (Matthew 11:19). Why would they include stories such as the one in which a prostitute uses her hair to clean Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-39). One might consider the gesture a sexual advance. Furthermore, given the second class citizenship of women during the time of Jesus, the mere fact that women were given the privilege of discovering the empty tomb is note-worthy.

Had Jesus not performed the miracles that New Testament writers claimed He performed, He would have never generated such a large following. Had He not generated such a large following, He would not have been the target of Jewish high priests’ scorn. Consider how much they hated Jesus and how threatened they felt by Him. To get permission to crucify Jesus, they needed to make a trade. They traded Barabbas, who was guilty of insurgence, murder, and robbery, for the life of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Clearly, they were threatened by Jesus’ growing popularity, which was fueled by the miracles He performed.

Atheist challenge: Christians’ only proof of Christianity is the Bible and the Bible is not historical.

Christian rebuttal: Within 150 years of Jesus’ life, extra-biblical testimony from sources such as Josephus, Tacitus, Thallus, Suetonius, Emperor Trajan, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, and others (8) informs us that:

• Jesus lived during the time of Tiberius Caesar
• He lived a virtuous life
• He was a wonder-worker
• He had a brother named James
• He was acclaimed to be the Messiah
• He was crucified under Pontius Pilate
• An eclipse and an earthquake occurred* when He died
• He was crucified on the eve of the Jewish Passover
• His disciples believed He rose from the dead
• His disciples were willing to die for their belief in Jesus
• Christianity spread rapidly as far as Rome
• His disciples denied the Roman gods and worshiped Jesus as God

* As reported by NBC News, an earthquake occurred on Friday, April 3 in the year 33 AD, which corresponds to the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. Click here for more information:

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/47555983/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/quake-reveals-day-jesus-crucifixion-researchers-believe/#.WFXm8kzEr4U.twitter

* Studies have also confirmed the earthquake:

Jesus ‘died on Friday, April 3, 33AD’ claims study that matches crucifixion to earthquake … http://bit.ly/LxJ6kW via @MailOnline

https://www.academia.edu/2474489/Jerusalem_Earthquake_of_33_A.D._Evidence_Within_Laminated_Mud_Of_the_Dead_Sea

Kagan, E.,Stein, M., Agnon, A., & Neumann, F. (2011). Intrabasin paleoearthquake and quiescence correlation of the late Holocene Dead Sea. Journal of Geophysical Research, 116(B4) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2010JB007452/full

“Sir Lionel Luckhoo is considered by many to be the world’s most successful attorney after 245 consecutive murder acquittals. This brilliant lawyer rigorously analyzed the historical facts of Christ’s resurrection and finally declares, “I say unequivocally that the evidence for the resurrection is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt.”(9)

Clark H. Pinnock, professor of systematic theology at Regent College, states “There exists no document from the ancient world witnessed by so excellent a set of textual and historical data on which an intelligent decision may be made. An honest (person) cannot dismiss a source of this kind. Skepticism regarding the historical credentials of Christianity is based on an irrational (i.e., anti-supernatural) bias.” (10)

Furthermore, history books and historical atlases often include references to the Bible, providing evidence that historians support the historical value of the Bible. An example of an historical book packed with references of the bible is the “Historical Atlas: A Comprehensive History of the World” by Dr. Geoffrey Wawro. This impressive book, which was first published in 2008 by Millennium House, contains no less than 45 contributors with terminal degrees from a wide variety of prestigious universities from all over the world. Universities include Yale, the University of Chicago, Cambridge, Vanderbilt, the University of Queensland, the University of Sydney, the University of Western Australia, the University of Toronto, Florida State University, and the University of California at Los Angeles.

The bottom line is that one can’t deny the Bible’s historical authenticity.

Atheist challenge: There are discrepancies in the Bible.

Christian rebuttal: To answer this challenge, I call attention to a large volume published in 2008 by Norman L. Geisler and Thomas Howe entitled “The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation.” This book identifies and explains what some consider discrepancies in the Bible.

Atheist challenge: Some Christians don’t believe in evolution, which is proven by science.

Christian rebuttal: Many theists support the idea of evolution, yet we must distinguish precisely what “evolution” means. We have witnessed and have archeological data indicating the evolution of humans, yet we don’t have any data bridging the gap between the primordial soup that ignited life on this planet and the earliest forms of life that contained consciousness. The evolution of the unconscious to the conscious is unexplained by science, suggesting the presence of a guiding force – an intelligent design.(11)

“Because of the way earth was and now is, it affords habitats for three radically different kinds, or categories, of life: (1) physical; (2) physical and mind-possessing; and (3) physical, mind-possessing, and spiritual.”(12)

Until atheists can bridge the gap between the physical and the physical, mind-possessing and spiritual, Christians will disclaim the form of evolution that they propose, which is the form that claims that everything evolved from a pond of primordial soup.

Atheist challenge: Some Christians don’t support the Big Bang theory, which scientists overwhelmingly support. Yet we don’t know what powered the Big Bang, but we don’t support the God theory to fill this gap in knowledge. Perhaps we are part of a multiverse.

Christian rebuttal: Yes, scientists today support the Big Bang theory. The mathematical underpinnings of this theory include Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, along with theories of fundamental particles. According to this theory, the universe (space, time, matter) started approximately 13.8 billion years ago with a small singularity, ever inflating to the state which we know today (13). Events before the Big Bang are not defined and what powered the Big Bang, setting it into rapid inflationary expansion is not known.

Some atheists are satisfied with “not knowing” what powered the Big Bang, which is the same answer they apply to questions of consciousness (non-physical), dark matter and dark energy. Dark matter and dark energy are prevalent within the universe, as scientists have discovered, yet no one knows anything about their properties. Despite a lack of physical properties (evidence), atheists don’t doubt the presence of dark matter and dark energy.

As for the mighty force that powered the Big Bang, believers offer the explanation of a supernatural being. This supernatural being would need to be spaceless, timeless (unbounded by linear time)(c.f.,14), and metaphysical to have been present prior to the Big Bang. This being would further need to be intentional and active or the Big Bang wouldn’t have been possible. In other words, this presence could not be a passive form.

Instead of accepting the possibility of a supernatural force, many atheists speculate that the multiverse is a possibility, which suggests that another universe was present before our universe, or that there are other universes aside from ours. Given the fact we have no (zero, zilch, zip) evidence of a multiverse, this argument seems silly since atheists demand evidence!

Given the answer to the question of what powered the universe appears painfully obvious (God). Excluding the possibility of choosing God as the answer by framing the choice as a God of the gaps fallacy equates to telling the jury in the O.J. Simpson murder trial of his former wife and friend that they will not be allowed to fill the gaps of their knowledge of whether he committed the crime with the glove, the weapon, and any blood evidence. We would never require that jury make a decision when not provided with all of the evidence, so why should we attempt to do the same in the present context?

In summary, God is the only logical answer.

Atheist challenge: If there were intelligent design, we would be perfect. Clearly, humans have imperfect bodies.

Christian rebuttal: We were put on this planet to fulfill our spiritual purposes of becoming more Christ-like and more perfect, yet we were intentionally put here as imperfect, flawed beings. Overcoming our flaws and physical obstacles and limitations helps us to grow spiritually. Can you think of a time in which you’ve overcome a major challenge? Did that challenge help you to grow and become a better person? Headwinds and trials and tribulations make us stronger. If we had faced no challenges, we would have no purpose here. Our purpose is to advance by capitalizing on our spiritual gifts.

“As the scriptures teach and experience proves, it’s difficult to develop courage without danger, perseverance without obstacles, patience without tribulation, compassion without suffering, character without adversity, faith (trust) without need. Soul-making is indeed painful.”(15)

“We also glory in tribulation, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” Romans 5: 3-4.

Atheist challenge: We don’t believe in intelligent design. Life evolved over millions of years through processes such as natural selection.

Christian rebuttal: Hugh Ross (16) does an amazing job of identifying the circumstances needed to evolve life on Earth as we know it today, so I recommend a careful read of his new book, which I’ve referenced here.

“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).

Click here for a physicist’s opinion on intelligent design: http://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/latest-news/569693/God-is-real-scientist-Michio-Kaku-universe-created-Jesus-Christ

Atheist challenge: Morality, hope, beauty, and consciousness are merely emergent properties of our brains, products of evolution and not intelligent design.

Christian rebuttal: In his book, “River Out of Eden, a Darwinian View of Life,” Richard Dawkins echoes this atheist challenge. Dawkins states that “DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.” Such a viewpoint suggests that we’re on autopilot, simply subjects of pre-planned DNA. Yet this couldn’t be further from the truth. We have the ability to make conscious decisions on all sorts of intrinsic matters daily. We aren’t programmed to love in a certain way. We make conscious decisions to love in a certain way. We are gifted with consciousness, yet we know little of consciousness scientifically.

Consciousness researcher David Chalmers (17) from the Australian National University says, “All sorts of mental phenomena have yielded to scientific investigation in recent years, but consciousness has stubbornly resisted. Many have tried to explain it, but the explanations always seem to fall short of the target. Some have been led to suppose that the problem is intractable, and that no good explanation can be given.”

Problems that Chalmers has identified that have no explanation include:

• The ability to discriminate, categorize, and react to environmental stimuli
• The integration of information by a cognitive system
• The report-ability of mental states
• The focus of attention
• The ability of a system to access its own internal states
• The deliberate control of behavior
• The difference between wakefulness and sleep.

He states, “Why should physical processing give rise to a richer inner life at all? It seems objectively unreasonable that it should, and yet it does.”(18)

Atheists endorse the basic laws of physics, including the law of conservation of energy. The law of conservation of energy says that energy is neither created nor destroyed. Taken together with the energy in our minds, one might ask where this energy is transferred upon death. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; it changes forms.

Robert Lanza notes, “Physics may tell us that energy is never lost, and that our brains, minds, and hence the feeling of life operate by electrical energy, and therefore this energy like all others simply cannot vanish, period. And while this sounds intellectually nice and hopeful, how can we be sure that we will still experience the sense of life-that mystery neuro-researchers pursue with such futility, like the dream hallway that stretches along the corridor we run? …Because consciousness transcends the body, because internal and external are fundamentally distinctions of language alone, we’re left with Being or consciousness as the bedrock components of existence”(19).

Benedict de Spinoza echoes this point: “The human mind cannot be absolutely destroyed with the human body, but there is some part of it which remains eternal”(20).

Believers explain consciousness by speaking of the soul, which exits the body upon physical death. Atheists often break the “law” that says that energy can neither be created nor destroyed by saying that the energy from our minds simply dissipates.

As Emerson has said, “Here we find ourselves, suddenly, not in a critical speculation, but in a holy place, and should go very warily and reverently. We stand before the secret of the world, there where Being passes into Appearance, and Unity into Variety…Let man then learn the revelation of all nature and all thought to his heart; this, namely; that the Highest dwells with him; that the sources of nature are in his own mind.”

Atheist challenge: We don’t believe people’s personal testimonies. They’re just liars.

Christian rebuttal: Personal testimonies are powerful, yet atheists discount them. Unless they receive their own personal testimonies, they feel no compulsion to believe others’. This is reasonable, yet note that unless the door is held open to God, God cannot enter.

One testimony that I have found powerful comes from a former Muslim man who found Jesus:

To answer the latter points, I recommend reading the Bible, along with books by authors such as C.S. Lewis, Frank Turek, Robert Lanza, Hugh Ross, A.W. Tozer, Lee Strobel, and Josh McDowell.

Thank you for investing your time.

1. Liftin, B. (2007) Getting to know church fathers: An evangelical introduction.
2. https://www.gotquestions.org/how-many-books-did-Paul-write.html
3. Ibid.
4. Belt, D. (2014). Jesus and the Apostles: Christianity’s early rise. National Geographic Special Issue.
5. Acts 9: 1-6.
6. Turek, F. (2015). Stealing from God. USA: Navpress, p. 220.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. McDowell, J. (2010). More than a carpenter.
10.Ibid.
11.Lanza, R. (2009). Biocentrism: How life and consciousness are the keys to understanding the true nature of the universe. USA: First Banbella. Ross, H. (2016). Improbable Planet: How earth became humanity’s home. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
12.Ross, H. (2016). Improbable Planet: How earth became humanity’s home. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
13.https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/what-powered-the-big-bang
http://www.space.com/25126-big-bang-theory.html
14.http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-beginning-of-time.html
15.Turek, F. (2015). Stealing from God. USA: Navpress.
16.Ross, H. (2016). Improbable Planet: How earth became humanity’s home. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
17. Lanza, R. (2009). Biocentrism: How life and consciousness are the keys to understanding the true nature of the universe. USA: Banbella. p.188-189.
18. Ibid. p. 185.
19.Ibid.
20.Ibid.

A Christian Defense against Atheism

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been active on social media. In that time, I’ve discovered that many atheists are active on social media as well and they often target me for my views on Christianity. I’ve learned much about many of their views, so this article offers some arguments to present my views in the context of theirs.

One discovery I’ve made is that many want “evidence” for my faith in Christianity. They don’t want to hear that many of the two billion Christians in the world have strong personal testimonies. This “anecdotal” evidence, even when considered collectively, is not enough. I told them that I could collect testimonies from a thousand people in my church to create an empirical study using qualitative content analysis, which would analyze themes and patterns. They reply that they need physical evidence. Of course, they know that I can’t produce physical evidence of the metaphysical.

The Physical Sciences

Atheists often turn to science, yet not to all sciences, such as the social sciences. They consider the natural and physical sciences paramount. Nobel-prize winning chemist, Harry Kroto stated “science is the only philosophical construct we have to determine truth with any degree of reliability.”[i] This view is consistent with scientism, which suggests that science can answer any and all questions. Richard Dawkins believes similarly, noting that scientists are “the specialists in discovering what is true about the world and the universe.”[ii] Stephen Hawking chimes in by saying that “philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.”[iii] Lawrence Krauss adds “the only knowledge we have is from experiments…the only knowledge about the world is empirical.”[iv]

Not all atheists think this way. Atheist philosopher Massimo Pigliucci is a good example:

“I don’t know what’s the matter with physicists these days. It used to be that we’re an intellectually sophisticated bunch, with the likes of Einstein and Bohr doing not only brilliant scientific research, but also interested in, respectful of, and conversant in other branches of knowledge, particularly philosophy. These days it is much more likely to encounter physicists like Steve Weinberg or Stephen Hawking who merrily go about dismissing philosophy for the wrong reasons, and quite obviously out of a combination of profound ignorance and hubris (the two often go together, as I’m sure Plato would happily point out). The latest such bore is Lawrence Krauss, of Arizona State University.”[v]

Physical science is one tool we can use to better understand the world, but it shouldn’t be the only tool, lest we place more weight on what the world is comprised of (oxygen, carbon dioxide, etc.) than on the bigger question of why we and the world are here. To further understand the latter, we additionally must draw on the social sciences, such as psychology, and philosophy and theology. We should consider these questions in the context of our morality and ethical foundations. We wouldn’t build a home with a single tool, such as a hammer. Building a house requires the entire toolbox. As C.S. Lewis said, “good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”[vi] Einstein underscored the point by stating “the man of science is a poor philosopher.”

As Frank Turek says, “there is little consensus on what is or isn’t science. Those who insist that science is only about finding natural causes by using observation and repetition are excluding sciences that infer intelligent causes, such as archeology, cryptology, and…forensic science.”[vii]

In summary, if we constrain our focus to the natural sciences, which many atheists insist we do, we limit the discussion and constrain opportunities to identify the truth. Instead, inquiry should include all relevant sciences. Otherwise, if we only look for natural causes, there is no way we can develop an understanding of the supernatural.

God of the Gaps and the Cosmological Argument

Atheists often cite what they call the God of the Gaps fallacy in an effort to counter the Cosmological Argument. The Cosmological Argument posits that all things in nature depend on something else for their existence. Accordingly, the entire cosmos must depend on a Supreme Being who exists independently or necessarily.

Scientists today support the Big Bang theory.[viii] The mathematical underpinnings of this theory include Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, along with theories of fundamental particles. According to this theory, the universe (space, time, matter) started approximately 13.8 billion years ago with a small singularity, ever inflating to the state which we know today.[ix] Events before the Big Bang are not defined and what powered the Big Bang, setting it into rapid inflationary expansion is not known. Some atheists are content with not knowing what powered the Big Bang. They suggest that theists simply fill in this “gap” in knowledge with God, applying the God of the Gaps fallacy.

Aristotle drew this conclusion about God’s existence: “there must be an immortal, unchanging being, ultimately responsible for the wholeness and orderliness in the sensible world.”[x]  Aristotle thought the universe was eternal, but we know better.

According to Aristotle, God isn’t just for the gaps in nature that we can’t explain. God isn’t limited to the “shrinking bits of the natural world.” God is in every part of the world. This concept is explained in Psalm 139:7-8: “Where shall I go from your spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence. If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!”

As for the mighty force that powered the Big Bang, believers offer the explanation of a supernatural being. This supernatural being would need to be spaceless, timeless (unbounded by linear time), and metaphysical to have been present prior to the Big Bang. This being would further need to be intentional and active or the Big Bang wouldn’t have been possible. In other words, this presence could not be a passive form.

Instead of accepting the possibility of a supernatural force, many atheists speculate that the multiverse is a possibility, which suggests that another universe was present before our universe, or that there are other universes aside from ours. Given the fact we have no (zero, zilch, zip) evidence of a multiverse, this argument seems silly since atheists demand evidence!

Some atheists are also satisfied with not knowing the answers to other mysteries within our physical realms, such as the questions of consciousness  (non-physical), dark matter and dark energy. Dark matter and dark energy are prevalent within the universe,  as scientists have discovered, yet no one knows anything about their properties. Despite a lack of knowledge about the physical properties of dark matter and energy, atheists don’t doubt the presence of dark matter and dark energy.

Consciousness implies awareness, which is the subjective experience we have within our internal and external worlds. Consciousness also corresponds to our feelings, choices, sense of self, memory, thought, language, and internally generated images and patterns. Our views of reality depend on our consciousness, which defines our existence.

In his book Biocentrism, Robert Lanza offers a theory on consciousness. Lanza considers the structure of the universe, noting that the laws, forces, and constants of the universe appear to be fine-tuned for life, which implies that intelligence existed prior to matter. Space and time are not objects or things, he states, but rather tools of our animal understanding. Lanza says that we carry space and time around with us “like turtles with shells,” which means that when the shell comes off (space and time), we continue to exist.

“The theory implies that death of consciousness simply does not exist. It only exists as a thought because people identify themselves with their body. They believe that the body is going to perish, sooner or later, thinking their consciousness will disappear too. If the body generates consciousness, then consciousness dies when the body dies. But if the body receives consciousness in the same way that a cable box receives satellite signals, then of course consciousness does not end at the death of the physical vehicle. In fact, consciousness exists outside of constraints of time and space. It is able to be anywhere: in the human body and outside of it. In other words, it is non-local in the same sense that quantum objects are non-local.” [xi]

In summary, the question of consciousness calls to attention the existence of a spiritual, non-physical realm. The question of what powered the universe calls to attention the existence of an independent, metaphysical force: God. Excluding the possibility of choosing God as the answer by framing the choice as a God of the gaps fallacy equates to telling the jury in the O.J. Simpson murder trial of his former wife and friend that they will not be allowed to fill the gaps of their knowledge of whether he committed the crime with the glove, the weapon, and any blood evidence. We would never require that jury make a decision when not provided with all of the evidence, so why should we attempt to do the same in the present context? In summary, God is the only logical answer to two of life’s greatest mysteries. Let’s move on.

The Teleological Argument

The teleological argument argues for the existence of God based on intelligent design and order in nature. This particular argument is one that some atheists consider compelling. When we consider all of the forces and constants that had to come together to create the perfect conditions of our world, we often come to the realization that an invisible hand guided these conditions. As noted by Robert Lanza:

“By the late sixties, it had become clear that if the Big Bang had been just one part in a million more powerful, the cosmos would have blown outward too fast to allow stars and worlds to form. Result: no us. Even more coincidentally, the universe’s four forces and all of its constants are just perfectly set up for atomic interactions, the existence of atoms and elements, planets, liquid water, and life. Tweak any of them and you never existed.”[xii]

Further information on the specific constants can be found in the CODATA 1998 recommendations by the National Institute of Standards and Technology of the United States.

An excellent article in the Wall Street Journal by Eric Metaxas further demonstrates the teleological argument. Click here: Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God

The Uncaused Cause

Atheists often apply physical laws to God, stating that He needed a cause. They don’t understand that God is the uncaused cause. He is eternal. This concepts of eternity and an uncaused cause are difficult for many to grasp, given our mortal lives, physical laws, and linear time.

Thomas Aquinas’ First Mover Theory helps to evaluate whether an uncaused cause is intuitive. This theory is below and was recently supported in Applied Cognitive Psychology, 2009, 23: 901-917.

  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.

Unbounded Time

Stephen Hawking acknowledges that the universe had a start date, noting that time prior to real time in the linear (as we know it) and prior to the Big Bang was what he calls “imaginary time.”[xiii]

Imaginary time is unbounded, non-linear time. By understanding unbounded time, we can better understand God’s omniscience and the free will He has bestowed upon us. Omniscience means that God is all-knowing. Atheists often conflate His knowledge with His control over us, thinking that for God to be all knowing, He must have control over our actions. He must have predetermined our lives. Alternatively, I suggest that the reason God knows our future is not because He’s controlled our future, but because He’s seen our future. Just as a journalist can skip through the pages of the newspapers in which she has published, moving back and forth in time, God can move back and forth in time. So, the real time that constrains us does not constrain Him. He sees our decisions and actions and knows whether we’ll be in the Lamb’s Book of Life, not because He’s predetermined our destiny, but because He has watched us as we exercise our free will through the lens of unbounded time. Furthermore, God is always in the present, yet He is unbounded by linear time so He is concurrently in our future and our past. According to Revelation 1:8, the Lord God “who is and who was and who always will be.”

C.S. Lewis described this concept this way: “Our life comes to us moment by moment. One moment disappears before the next comes along; and there is room for very little in each. That is what time is like. And of course you and I take it for granted that this time series – this arrangement of past, present, and future – is not simply the way life comes to us but the way things really exist…But many learned men do not agree with that. It was the theologians who first started the idea that some things are not in time at all: later the philosophers took it over: and now some scientists are doing the same. Almost certainly, God is not in time…If a million people are praying to Him at ten-thirty tonight, He need not listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call ten-thirty. Ten-thirty – and every other moment from the beginning of the world – is always present for Him.”[xiv]

This is a difficult concept for some to grasp, but according to C.S. Lewis, it fits within Christianity. People may choose to ignore the concept, which is fine, yet it serves to understand several important aspects of God, which we will discuss next.

In summary, believers aim to explain the universe prior to the Big Bang with the only reasonable explanation of an uncaused cause that is unbounded by time: God. Even atheist Albert Einstein was uncomfortable with a start date because he knew of its divine implications.

The Problem of Pain

Some atheists apply an absolute moral standard to God when they point to the evils in this world to suggest that He is the cause of such evils and He should be held accountable. They use the characteristics of God, which include His omniscience and omnipotence, to make the assertion that He had knowledge of everything that would happen in the world when He created the world. And if this is the case, He was well aware that some humans would be in His Lamb’s Book of Life and would be welcomed to heaven, while others would not be on the list, ending up in hell.

Some say that if God knew our every choice before we were born, knowing that we’d be going to heaven or hell, then we have no choices to make in our lives. We have no free will. Some question the character of God, wondering why a loving Father would be willing to allow some of His children not to choose Him. They state that God’s children shouldn’t be forced to choose God; they should be given free will not to choose Him. The bottom line with these issues is that some people feel that we don’t have free will if God truly has omniscience because God already knows our fates so we can do nothing to change fate.

To answer these issues, we have to return to God’s unbounded time. God hasn’t already decided on our fate; He knows our fate but He is also with us as we make our choices, determining our own fate. As noted above and consistent with His timeless presence, He is concurrently in the past, present, and future. He’s watching His children make decisions, yet He’s already seen the decisions made. He knew from the beginning the choices made because He was just as present then as He is now. His presence is, was, and always will be – in the present. Accordingly, we are with Him when we make our choices, so we can always change our minds, and He already knows the outcomes of our “changed minds.”

To wrap our minds around this concept, try to unbound Him by time and remove any words or phrases that freeze Him in time. Eliminate words such as then, now, soon, before, after, and in the past or future. God simply is. So, instead of saying, “God knew back then what my choices would be today,” consider saying “God knew my choices and is with me as I make them.” Hopefully this helps to understand that we still have free will. We’re not locked into a life we didn’t intentionally choose.

Even so, some may wonder of the fates of those who do not choose to align with God. Given the fates proposed in the Bible, some wonder why God would permit them to even exist? Why would a loving God condemn anyone to hell?

Recall that our fate is our choice. No one goes to heaven or hell without choosing heaven or hell. But what is hell like, should that be the choice? Will it be all fire, as suggested in the Book of Revelation, or will it be more of a shadowy Sheol? The Bible says that it is a place of torment, which is attributable to the lack of God within those who have chosen that particular fate. Though God is present everywhere, including in hell, people in hell are not with God. God is no longer within those who have chosen that fate.

Some atheists state that the world is unjust. They question why some are blessed with much while others suffer so. To understand this issue, we need to examine purpose of good and evil. The world isn’t a perfect place because if it were, we could never grow the sorts of characteristics needed to be more consistent with the example of Jesus Christ. We’re here to grow and learn from our mistakes, because learning from our mistakes is what helps us to grow. We’re here to persevere through pain, to show empathy around those in need, to demonstrate faith when tested. In other words, we’re tested in all sorts of ways to grow characteristics like determination, faith, perseverance, empathy, and love. How could we ever truly understand love if we hadn’t experienced its counterpart? How could we ever develop hope if we never had anything for which to hope? How could we ever develop humility if we had never been humbled? So, the fact that the Lord has put us into a world with all of these yin and yang sorts of good and evil characteristics is to improve us and make us more like Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

This world is but a stepping stone to the next one, equivalent in time to a speck of sand on the beaches of heaven, so we must invest our time wisely. We’re put here to advance our souls by capitalizing on the spiritual gifts with which we’ve been bestowed. Similar to the Parable of the Talents, we are instructed to invest well in our talents. To those to whom much has been given, much is expected. God holds us accountable, so ignoring one’s spiritual talents will not be viewed favorably. Yet God doesn’t leave us behind either. He wants all of His children to succeed and prosper. Indeed, they are given free will not to choose Him and many make that choice. The Parable of the Lost Sheep states that God goes to great lengths to keep His children from making that choice, yet some resist His calls.

Jesus Christ

Many think that Jesus was merely a prophet or a great moral teacher. Muslims believe that too, but many even go further by denying that Jesus died on the cross. Most Muslims think God took Jesus into heaven before the crucifixion and some guy who looked just like Him was beaten and crucified in His place. Even the Jewish Sanhedrin acknowledged that Jesus died on the cross. By believing that He wasn’t crucified, Muslims deny the resurrection, which denies the foundation of Christianity.

The prophet Zechariah  predicted to the Jews that their King would come to them, humble and lowly, riding on a donkey. If one were still waiting for the King to come, one might consider that few use that mode of transportation anymore. Beyond that, the prophet Isaiah so clearly predicted Jesus’ coming in his 53rd chapter that Jewish rabbis exclude that passage from their list of regular synagogue readings from the Tenach, which is in our Old Testament. They also exclude other passages referring to the Messiah, the Virgin Mary, and the betrayal of Jesus by Judas for 30 shekel coins.

Jesus was much more than a prophet. It says in many passages of the New Testament that He was and is the Son of God. He said He’s the Son of God and He forgave people for their sins against others. He said that no one gets to the Father except through Him. A great moral teacher doesn’t forgive people like that and call Himself the way, the truth, and the life. To call Him merely a great moral teacher while knowing that He said He is the Son of God is really saying that He was just a crazy man. A mad man. A liar. As C.S. Lewis put it, He would be the equivalent of a poached egg.

After Jesus was buried, His eleven remaining apostles hid out in their homes, afraid they would meet the same demise that He had met. They feared for their lives and questioned their beliefs in the man they had followed. Then Jesus appeared to them very much alive. That’s the key. Had He not appeared to them after He was crucified, they would never have done what they did for Him. They were burned, stoned, clubbed, beheaded, and crucified, all while enthusiastically preaching His word.

Imagine that you’re one of those writers. Imagine that you’re a church leader in early Christian times trying to rev up your congregation after Jesus’ passing. You’ve decided that you need to craft an amazing story about the most glorious event that you’re claiming occurred in Jesus’ life: His resurrection and the discovery of His empty tomb. Who should make that discovery, in this novel you’re contriving? Peter the rock? John the loved one? Matthew the reformed tax collector? Certainly, the person who discovers the open tomb should be one of the male apostles. Someone with credibility. Someone people respect. You need people to believe this story you’re crafting. But instead of writing something you know would influence and motivate the people, you do the unthinkable. You choose a woman, Mary Magdalene, who was cursed by multiple demons at an earlier point in her life, along with other women, to make the most important discovery in the Bible. Of course, you realize that by choosing her, people will doubt your story. Your story will have no merit in the male-dominated world of Jesus’ time. Women were second class citizens then. They were treated similarly to the way some are treated in parts of the Arab world today, where they are prevented from getting an education and required to wear Niqabs and Burkas that cover their bodies from head to toe. In Saudi Arabia, women still aren’t allowed to drive cars, and in many Muslim countries in the region, being stoned for adultery still happens.

To the point that the church leaders wrote those passages for influence, think about this. For the first 300 years of Christianity, Christians were imprisoned and killed for simply being Christians under a variety of Roman rulers. Nero was one of the worst. About thirty years after Jesus’ resurrection, Nero blamed Christians for burning Rome and used that as justification for outlawing Christianity. He entertained himself by feeding Christians to hungry dogs and crucifying them and setting their bodies aflame. The only way to save themselves from such persecutions was to make a pagan sacrifice and deny Jesus. Thousands instead chose to endure brutal deaths, keeping their eyes on the unseen prize, heaven. The apostles and the five hundred people who saw Jesus alive after His death must have been very convincing to those early Christian martyrs who gave their lives for the cause. It wasn’t until the Roman Emperor Constantine had a vision of a cross in 312 A.D. and converted to Christianity that the doors were opened to Christians to worship legally.

Some argue that the story of Jesus was crafted for control. If true, one would need to prove the early church leaders were gleaning power by controlling the masses with the story. Instead, the early church leaders had no legitimacy. They were hunted and killed for their beliefs instead of deriving some sort of earthly physical benefit from believing. They had no power. No glory. No churches. Moreover, the people who followed the early Christian leaders weren’t being controlled. In fact, the governing leaders determined that the early Christians were out of control. That’s why they imprisoned, beat, and killed them. They feared the Christians would rile the masses away from their means of control, which at the time were Paganism and Roman laws.

Some point that the church eventually gained power, which is true, but this point shouldn’t discount the first 300 years of Christianity, when no Christians had power and still risked their lives for the cause. I’m not saying that the church never had control and has never used its power to influence people. The church has had much power since legalized and sometimes that power has been used in the wrong ways. But in the early years, the church didn’t have power. Christians had to practice in secret. So discounting the legitimacy of Jesus’ story by saying that people created the story for control doesn’t make sense.

I’ve also heard atheists make the claim that the New Testament was an oral tradition for fifty or more years, disclaiming its legitimacy. However, if that were the case surely one of its authors would have included mention of the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Romans. No author makes mention of this major event in the New Testament, suggesting the authorship of much of the New Testament took place in the first few decades after Jesus was crucified. In fact, thirteen books of the New Testament were authored by Paul, which is over half of its books. Authorship occurred before Paul was beheaded in Rome by Nero between 64 and 67 AD.

In summary, I hope this short essay offers views consistent with your own. Keep the faith.

“So we keep our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” 2 Corinthians 4:18

[i] Cited by P.Z. Myers at http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/07/theres_something_obvious_mssi.php The original quote can be accessed in The Times, April 7, 2011

[ii] Dawkins, R. (2004).The Devil’s Chaplain: Selected Writings, London, Phoenix, p. 204.

[iii] Hawking, S. & Mlodinow, L. (2010) The Grand Design, New York: Bantam Books, p. 5.

[iv] Krauss, L.M. Unbelievable: A Universe From Nothing? Lawrence Krauss vs. Rodney Holder

http://www.premierradio.org.uk/listen/ondemand.aspx?mediaid=%7B02949395-E52F-4784-BF29-3A3138738B0B%7D

[v] Pigliucci, M. (2012) Lawrence Krauss: another physicist with an anti-philosophy complex. http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/lawrence-krauss-another-physicist-with.html

[vi] Lewis, C.S. (1996). The Weight of Glory. New York: Touchstone.

[vii] Turek, F. (2014). Stealing from God: Why atheists need God to make their case. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress.

[viii] https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/what-powered-the-big-bang

[x] http://www.space.com/25126-big-bang-theory.html; http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-beginning-of-time.html

[x] Sachs, J. (2013). Aristotle: Metaphysics. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://www.iep.utm.edu/aris-met/#H9.

[xi] Lanza, R. (2009). Biocentrism. How life and consciousness are the keys to understanding the true nature of the universe. Dallas, TX: Benbella Books.

[xii]https://www.sott.net/article/271933-Scientists-claim-that-Quantum-Theory-proves-consciousness-moves-to-another-universe-at-death

[xiii] http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-beginning-of-time.html

[xiv] Lewis, C.S. (2002) Mere Christianity. Harper One.