Resolving Controversies Surrounding Joseph of Arimathea and the Women who Discovered Jesus’ Empty Tomb

Many atheists whom I have encountered on social media dispute the accounts of Jesus’ empty tomb, the discovery of the empty tomb by women, and the owner of the empty tomb, Joseph of Arimathea. One such atheist refers to himself as Kaimatai on social media. Kaimatai is a word that means “biologist” or “specialist,” which is likely Kaimatai’s occupation. The following blog is a response to Kaimatai’s blog with respect to the aforementioned topics, followed by his original blog.

CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST:

Kaimatai presents four general arguments against the authenticity of various events in the New Testament. He questions (1) the timing of the writing of the New Testament, calling into question its authenticity; (2) inconsistencies in the accounts of the empty tomb and the number of women discovering same; (3) conflicts with Roman practices; and (4) whether Joseph of Arimathea was a real person. I will address each of these.

1. Timing (and authenticity of the New Testament and Empty Tomb)

Timing and Authenticity of the New Testament

The overarching premise that Kaimatai has adopted is that the New Testament was written as a propaganda tool, used to “convince people that Jesus was the Messiah and of divine origin.” To fully understand this premise, we must unpack some of the context of early Christian history.

To do so, we first note that until 313 A.D., Christians practiced illegally. Those who were exposed by zealots such as Saul (when he was a Christian persecutor) risked being tortured, burned, crucified, or jailed (cf. Tacitus, Paul, and Luke), so the motivation to practice in the open and intentionally create a propaganda tool was not there.

Similarly, the difficulty associated with transcriptions presented challenges because (1) transcriptions were costly, as they were written either on parchment, which is stretched and smoothed leather, or papyrus from a reed plant; (2) the risk of being identified for practicing Christianity illegally was significant; (3) most of the population (~ 97% according to some estimates) was illiterate, so the oral tradition was revered and perhaps preferred; and (4) scribes were often needed and used to record oral traditions (Bar-Ilan, 2017).

Such challenges help to explain why we do not have hundreds of extra-Biblical sources within 150 years of 33 A.D. when Jesus was crucified. However, despite significant challenges, we do have 42 extra-Biblical sources confirming biblical events within this time period (including nine non-Christian sources, along with the independent sources from within the New Testament (Habermas & Licona, 2004). As an example, we have five non-Christian sources who confirm Jesus’ death via the crucifixion. These are Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion, and Talmud (Habermas & Licona, 2004). We have seven sources pointing to multiple, very early and eyewitness testimonies to the disciples’ claims of witnessing the risen Jesus who all note that early disciples were willing to suffer for their beliefs in Jesus: Luke – in Acts, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian, and Origen (Habermas & Licona, 2004). Finally, we have eyewitness testimonies from disciples Peter, Mark, Matthew, Paul, James and Jude, along with the testimony of Luke, who authored the book of Luke and Acts. In Acts, Luke refers to himself in the first person when traveling with Paul (who knew Peter and James), which suggests he was well-aware and had first-hand knowledge of the testimonies of (at least) Peter, James, and Paul.

Kaimatai makes the assertion that the Gospels were written in sequence from Mark to Luke and Matthew to John over a period of thirty to forty years. This assertion is in conformity with Christian estimates. He adds that the Gospels were written after the fall of Rome in 70 A.D., which is not consistent with Christian estimates.

J. Warner Wallace offers the following evidence for earlier dating of the New Testament: (1) The New Testament fails to describe the destruction of the temple during the fall of Rome in 70 A.D.; (2) The New Testament fails to describe the siege of Jerusalem; (3) Luke said nothing about the deaths of Paul and Peter in 64 A.D. and 65 A.D., respectively; (4) Luke said nothing about the death of James in 62 A.D.; (5) Luke’s Gospel predates the Book of Acts, as noted in its words to Theophilus; (6) Paul quoted Luke’s Gospel in his letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 5:17-18) and his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11:23-25); (7) Paul echoed the claims of the Gospel writers (1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Galatians 1:15-19; Galatians 2:1); Luke quoted Mark and Matthew repeatedly (Luke 1:1-4). Furthermore, Luke refers to Mark’s Gospel when he notes that “it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order” (Luke 1:3). J. Warner Wallace suggests the following timeline for the authorship of the New Testament:

  • Mark                           45 – 55 A.D.
  • Luke                            50 – 53 A.D.
  • Paul quotes Luke      53 – 57 A.D.
  • Luke writes Acts       57 – 60 A.D.

Some claim the Gospels were anonymous, yet “no one in antiquity ever attributed the Gospels to anyone other than the four traditionally accepted authors” (Wallace, p. 172). Papias, who lived in the 1st century and early 2nd century is an example of a person who attributed authorship to the four traditionally accepted authors. Furthermore, the Gospels are not the only ancient documents that do not identify the author, as evidenced in Tacitus’ Annals.

Authenticity of the Empty Tomb Account

According to Kaimatai, accounts of the empty tomb are only present in the Gospels, yet we have evidence suggesting Paul was well aware of the empty tomb and the Jewish polemic presupposes the empty tomb. In 1 Corinthians 15 3b-5, Paul cites an old Christian formula, which originated in the Jerusalem church within the first five years of Jesus’ crucifixion (Craig, 1985):

“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 and then to the twelve.”

Kaimatai is correct in his assertion that Paul does not specifically mention the empty tomb, yet does this omission mean that the tomb was not empty? If I knew that Suzie left her house to join me for lunch, yet I only said that Suzie joined me for lunch, does it mean that she did not leave her house? If I said Justin came home from college to stay with us for the weekend and I knew that he left his single-occupancy dorm along the way, yet did not mention that he left his dorm in my account of the weekend, can I assume that Justin’s dorm would be without Justin over the weekend? Such simple logic suggests that while Paul did not mention the empty tomb specifically, he was well aware of the empty tomb.

As for the Jewish polemic, Matthew’s account about the guard at the tomb (Matthew 27: 62-66; 28: 11-15) was written to refute the widespread assertion that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body.

Matthew 28:11-15 “While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among Jews to this very day.”

Further information on these arguments can be found here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-historicity-of-the-empty-tomb-of-jesus

2. Inconsistencies (in accounts of the empty tomb)

All four Gospels identify Mary Magdalene as one of the persons to first discover Jesus’ empty tomb. Yet the Gospels appear to vary in accounts of those who accompanied her in this discovery. Mark (16:1) says that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb. Matthew (28:1) says that Mary and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. Luke (24:10) says “It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the Mother of James, and the others with them who told the apostles.” John (20:1) only mentions Mary Magdalene, yet includes her statement referring to “we:” (20:2) “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put Him.”

Does failure to mention all of the women who discovered the empty tomb suggest that all of the women weren’t present? If I said, “Peyton Manning threw a touchdown pass and the Colts won the football game,” does it imply that Peyton Manning was alone on the field? No, it instead suggests my emphasis on Peyton Manning and his role in the game. The same can be said of John’s reference to only Mary Magdalene and the other disciples’ references to various women.

Reconciling the Accounts

The following takes the four accounts of the women’s discovery of the empty tomb and marries them into a single account. Very minor discrepancies have been eliminated.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothes were as white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise,* Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, Joanna, and Salome took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. While they were on their way to the tomb, they asked each other ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.

They entered the tomb while they were wondering about this, when suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. One of the men, who was dressed in a white robe and on the right side of the tomb, said, “Don’t be alarmed, for I know you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He is not here. He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where they laid Him. Then go quickly and tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He has risen from the dead and He is going ahead of you in Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.”

In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here. He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee; ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified, and on the third day be raised again.’ Then they remembered His words.

Now Mary Magdalene stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw the two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put Him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking He was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him and I will get Him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward Him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’

So the women hurried away from the tomb afraid, yet filled with joy, and ran to the disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” He said. They came to Him, clasped His feet and worshipped Him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

When they came back from the tomb, the women told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. Mary Magdalene said, “I have seen the Lord!” But the disciples did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb and the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally, the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead). Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

*A note must be made about the Gospel of John. John reports that when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, it was still dark. Given the timing in the early hours of the morning, it seems reasonable to assume that the darkness turned to light while on her journey at some point undisclosed. The Gospel of John further offers an overall summary of the empty tomb account, which included Mary Magdalene’s visit to the empty tomb and subsequent visit to the disciples (John 20: 1-10), followed by a detailed account of what occurred at the empty tomb during Mary Magdalene’s visit (John 20: 11-18).

In summary, when taken together, the accounts offer a more vivid picture of the events surrounding the empty tomb. As pointed out by J. Warner Wallace, the gospels fit together like a puzzle.

3. Jesus’ burial conflicts with Roman practice

According to Bart Ehrman, criminals considered “enemies of the state” were not allowed decent burials. However, at least one source (a Jewish philosopher called Philo of Alexandria, Egypt) stated that Romans had a practice of allowing burials under “various circumstances.” Furthermore, such an allowance is consistent with Jewish beliefs, as per Deuteronomy 21:22-23, and Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem, which was predominantly Jewish.

Deuteronomy 21:22-23 “If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole, you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse.”

Josephus explains Jewish ethical obligations as follows: “We must furnish fire, water, food, to all who ask for them, point out the road, not to leave a corpse unburied…show consideration even to declared enemies (Against Apion, 2:29; 211; cf., 2:26; 205) (Evans, 2017). Given the fact that Jesus was crucified (1) in Jerusalem, a hub for the Jews; and (2) during peacetime on the eve of the Passover in which thousands of Jews would be visiting the next day, it seems unlikely that Jesus’ body would be left on the cross for all men, women, and children traveling to Jerusalem for the Passover holiday to see.

Kaimatai states “As far as we can tell Romans did not normally allow crucified victims to get buried in tombs.”

Jesus was not a “normal” sort of victim, so how can one assert that He should be buried as one? Kaimatai’s assertion suggests that Jesus was not unlike the thieves who were at either side of Him on crosses. Unlike such thieves, Jesus presented such a significant threat to the Jewish high priests that they traded Him for Barabbas, who was mentioned in all four gospels and who had been imprisoned on death row for “an insurrection in the city, and for murder” (Luke 23:19). Jesus’ significant following, likely a product of His bold and knowledgeable teachings, His miracles, and the fact that He forgave people, were likely what threatened the Jewish high priests who did not want their own power to be infringed upon. They labeled Him the “King of the Jews,” which posed a threat to Roman power, helping to justify their decision to crucify Him.

Furthermore, we have at least four independent sources attesting to Jesus’ burial: Luke in Acts (2:29; 13:36); Paul (1 Corinthians 15:4), Matthew, Mark, and John. Historians have documented much of early history with one or two sources, so having four sources enhances the validity and historicity of the burial account.

4. Joseph of Arimathea

Joseph of Arimathea is described as a wealthy man who was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, which was located in Jerusalem. The Sanhedrin was the Jewish high court, which consisted of seventy of the leading authorities on Judaism. Given that the Sanhedrin was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, early Christian views on the Sanhedrin were likely quite hostile. Given that Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, all of whom (according to Mark) voted to condemn Jesus, Joseph was the last person Christians would “invent” if the account were merely fiction. According to the late New Testament scholar, Raymond Brown, Jesus’ burial by Joseph is “very probable” since it is “almost inexplicable” for Christians to make up a story about a Jewish Sanhedrist who does what is right by Jesus. Even Bart Ehrman affirms that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the evidence presented above serves to diffuse readers’ “problems” with (1) the timing and accuracy of the accounts of the empty tomb, (2) the “inconsistencies” between the Gospel accounts of same, (3) the conflicts with Roman practices, and (4) the doubts about Joseph of Arimathea.

Thank you for investing the time to read this article.

REFERENCES:

Bar-Ilan, Meir (2017). Illiteracy in the land of Israel in the first centuries c.e. Accessed May 20, 2017 at https://faculty.biu.ac.il/~barilm/illitera.html. References include: J. Goody (ed.), Literacy in Traditional Societies, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1968; J. Baines, ‘Literacy and Ancient Egyptian Society’, Man (ns), 18 (1983), pp. 572-599 (includes bibliography); Rosamond McKitterick, The Carolingians and the Written Word, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1989.

Craig, W.L. (1985). The historicity of the empty tomb of Jesus. New Testament Studies, 31: 39-67.

Evans, C. (2017). Jewish burial traditions and the resurrection of Jesus. Accessed May 20, 2017 at http://craigaevans.com/Burial_Traditions.pdf

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

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

KAIMATAI:

Introduction

Well, Easter has come and gone again.  That seems to be a good time to talk about the resurrection. Because many Christians have been talking about it.  How else can we explain the empty tomb if Jesus wasn’t magically resurrected via the power of an ancient bloodgod? It’s the only explanation that makes sense! (rolls eyes). The problem with the question is its loaded nature.  The empty tomb is presented as a fact.  This has some major credibility problems.

Problem 1: Timing

The empty tomb isn’t used as proof of Jesus’ divinity and resurrection until we get to the gospels.  The (genuine) letters we have from Paul do not mention it. Nor is it present in other early NT letters.  For something that’s supposed to convince us all that Jesus was divine and resurrected, its absence for decades in early Christianity literature is astonishing.  The gospels are generally reckoned to be written after Jerusalem was besieged by the Romans (70 CE) because they’re not referenced in earlier Christian documents. Paul seems completely unaware of them.  And prophecies of Jerusalem being sacked are always easier to make after the event… The sequence for the gospels is usually reckoned as Mark, followed by Luke and Matthew, and finally John.  This spans around 30-40 years.  And all are long after the alleged event. The gap between when the empty tomb alleged occurred and when it’s first mentioned is extraordinarily large.

Problem 2: Inconsistencies

Despite the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke) patently using the same sources, they can’t keep the empty tomb story straight. Throw in John and it gets worse.  The number of women who went to the tomb, when they went, what they saw at the tomb, what they did afterward, whether they were believed or not are all inconsistent across the gospels.  The Apologist gambit is to assert that this is what we expect with eye-witness accounts.  No. It’s consistent with a bunch of people who didn’t balk at making things up to sell their religion.

Problem 3: It conflicts with Roman practice

As far as we can tell Romans did not normally allow crucified victims to get buried in tombs. Crassus left thousands of ex-slaves rotting on crosses after the suppression of the Slave revolt.  Normally crucified victims were left aloft to be picked clean by birds and the like.   To be buried, and buried ceremoniously instead of in a common pit, is a deviation that begs for explanation.

Problem 4: Joseph of Arimathea

It has always struck me how much of a Deus ex Machina Joseph plays.  In order to get Jesus from the cross, into a tomb and in the time available, requires a very powerful and capable character.  There’s nobody in the disciples capable of pulling this off. Enter Joseph.  He fixes all the problems with the plot.  First, he’s politically powerful.  He’s part of the council that condemned Jesus.  But like all superhero fiction, he has a secret identity.  He’s also a disciple of Jesus.  He’s influential enough to persuade Pilate to take the body off the cross.  He’s also rich.  This is also necessary for the plot.  They have to buy linen cloth and 100 pounds of myrrh and aloe that evening.  He’s also already got a tomb ready.   Every plot-hole (bar one) is immediately fixed.  Evening might be approaching when he asked Pilate for the body, but Jesus is lying in a shroud, in a tomb, with a stone covering the entrance in time for his resurrection. Phew! The remaining plot hole of course, is there isn’t enough time to get this all done in the time available.  Joseph’s appearance in the story is dramatic.  He’s not mentioned in the gospels before this.  And he disappears just as dramatically. He’s never mentioned again.  He’s not mentioned in Acts, he’s not mentioned in any of the letters preceding the gospels.  Paul, Peter and James have no recollection of him at all. He’s a powerful and connected guy with massive influence, and nobody mentions him?! Amazing.   Joseph only has one job.  He appears at exactly the right time to fill in a bunch of critical plot-holes, and then disappears.  He has the traits of a literary invention that appears decades later when the empty tomb story gets added to the Jesus legend- not the traits of an historic person.  (If you want a much deeper analysis of Joseph of Arimathea, I recommend John Loftus’ blog).

Conclusion

I don’t feel that I need to explain the empty tomb, because I don’t think there was one.  Early Christendom was plagued with doctrinal problems.  Hints of this are preserved in the letters of Paul, James and others.  This also created a range of heretical sects, such as the Arians.   The gospels weren’t written to be histories.  They were written to convince people that Jesus was the Messiah and of divine origin.  And by drawing on the authority of Jesus and the early disciples, they could be used to resolve doctrinal disputes.  Was the resurrection a mostly spiritual or personal visionary event?  Or was it a physical event?  For anyone who believed in a physical resurrection, the canonical Gospels make a perfect argument. And they get more elaborate the later the gospel is composed. It’s the last gospel, Johns, that introduces Thomas as the clincher for the physical resurrection.  So either major scientific laws were broken to miraculously bring the offspring of an ancient god and virgin back to life.  Or the belief that the resurrection was a physical event evolved slowly in a community that was willing to add embellishments that showed this, in retelling, over decades.  It’s not really difficult deciding what’s the least plausible.

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.

Christian Apologist Responds with 10 Good Reasons to Believe God Exists

1.God’s timing is perfect.

One of my early concerns with Christianity was its age relative to the 4.5 billion year old earth. It seemed that a 2,000 year old religion would have missed a large portion of the humans who lived prior to Christianity’s beginnings. Yet my concerns were mitigated when I discovered that 98% of humanity has existed since the time of Jesus Christ (Population Reference Bureau) and current growth projections indicate that the percentage will soon be at 99.99%. In other words, almost all on the planet have lived under the New Covenant of the New Testament and the words of Jesus Christ.

2. 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.

3. 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.

 4. 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.

5.  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).

6.  Isaiah 53

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!

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!

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 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. And their timing could not have been more perfect. Despite the age of the earth, the Population Reference Bureau has determined that the number of people who have ever lived on this planet is around 105 billion and only 2% lived before Christ’s time. 98% have lived and are living under the New Covenant. 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

A Christian Rebuttal to Kaimatai, an Atheist

If someone asked me a year ago how I would be spending my free time today, I would have likely answered that I would be reading, riding a bike, studying, or writing academic papers. What I wouldn’t have answered is that I would be writing Christian rebuttals to atheists whom I have encountered on Twitter. In fact, if given a glimpse of my future in March of 2016, I would have been surprised to find myself writing atheist rebuttals. The Lord works in mysterious ways, especially considering that the source of my inspiration comes from atheists! The particular atheists who inspired me to write rebuttals no longer communicate with me, but during the time in which they did, I felt a strong desire to plant seeds within their minds, which I prayed God would grow. I still pray for them and others like them.

According to William Lane Craig (2010, p. 45), “The atheistic worldview is insufficient to maintain a happy and consistent life. Man cannot live consistently and happily as though life were ultimately without meaning, value, or purpose. If we try to live consistently with the atheistic worldview, we shall find ourselves profoundly unhappy.” In contrast, he notes (2010, p. 49) that “Biblical Christianity therefore provides two conditions necessary for a meaningful, valuable, and purposeful life: God and immortality. Because of these, we can live consistently and happily within the framework of our worldview.”

I came upon the timeline of an atheist who calls himself Kaimatai on Twitter where I found a link to a blog he had created entitled “Ten reasons why I’m not a Christian.” The intention of this blog is to write a rebuttal to his ten reasons.

Kaimatai writes:

  1. The absence of evidence where there should be evidence

Depending on your flavour of Christianity, this particular deity is supposed to have created the Universe, formed the earth, begun life, created humanity from just two individuals, intervened frequently in the affairs of a Near Eastern Tribe, and made a personal appearance for approximately 33 years. Many of these events should leave compelling evidence. Genetics should confirm we descended from just two individuals. Other civilizations should have noticed the extraordinary events described in the bible.  That evidence is just not present.

Christian Apologist responds:

Let me begin by noting his reference to the flavor of Christianity. I draw attention to this statement because atheists often ask Christians to identify the “correct” Christian sect. I am of the opinion that so long as the Christian sect draws its knowledge from the Bible, embraces Jesus Christ’s divinity, and encourages people to live by the example of Jesus Christ, then the sect is correct.

People have varying needs in the ways they grow closer to God. Some prefer liturgical, ritualistic churches in which the congregation sings hymns and develops an appreciation of sacraments and traditions, such as the Lutheran and Catholic churches. Others might prefer contemporary sorts of churches in which the congregation sings contemporary Christian songs and listens to informative sermons on the Bible, such as the Baptist church. Other churches blend these options and offer various interpretations of the Bible based on variations of adherence to literal interpretations of the Bible. No matter the door, all ultimately lead to Jesus. “The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will be open at last” (Lewis, 1949).

To answer Kaimatai’s next issue, which speaks to the origins of the universe, earth, and life on earth, I draw from Hugh Ross and his book Improbable Planet.

“The Milky Way Galaxy, the Sun, the Moon, and the configuration of the solar system’s planets and asteroid belts reveal how Earth obtained its unique stockpile of elements and minerals that enable Earth today to sustain such an enormous biomass and biodiversity. The fossil record, isotope records, geological layers, sediment cores, ice cores, and biodeposit (biological decay products embedded in Earth’s crust) inventories provide biologists and ecologists with a chronicle of Earth’s life. Earth’s preserved record of past physical and biological events reveals an unanticipated synergy (p. 16-17).”

“Charles Darwin presumed that the development and transformation of life throughout Earth’s history was gradual, smooth, and continuous. However, in landmark articles published in 1972 and 1977, paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould pointed out that the fossil record is typified by species remaining in extended stasis (little or no net evolutionary change) interrupted by quantum jumps where species suddenly disappear and then are followed quickly by sudden appearances of very different species…It is not only at the species level where quantum jumps are observed but also at the level of families, orders, and classes of organisms (p. 19).

“Primitive life, that is unicellular bacterial life, is but the simplest form of life on Earth. There are three other general divisions of purely physical life: (1) differentiated multicellular organisms (for example, fungi); (2) plants; and (3) animals. In addition to purely physical life, Earth today contains two kinds of life that possess distinctly nonphysical attributes. One of these kinds is a group of animals that possess a mind…that is capable of experiencing and expressing emotions, exercising intellectual analysis, and making decisions in response to that analysis and the animal’s emotional state. All mind-possessing animals share in common the attribute of parents providing sacrificial care for their offspring. Animals in this category include all mammals and birds and a few of the more advanced reptilian species such as the crocodile and the alligator” (p. 21).

“Another kind of life-form possessing nonphysical attributes is the species Homo sapiens sapiens. Human beings not only possess a mind, but they are also endowed with a spirit…(which) enables humans to engage in philosophy and theology and to address questions of ultimate meaning and purpose” (p. 21).

In other words, the earth today contains diverse and abundant species in multiple levels of advanced life, many of which appeared suddenly via quantum jumps. Such an explanation helps to explain the way the most advanced life forms possess consciousness (i.e., awareness) and spirituality, while less advanced life forms do not. Such an explanation further suggests that the first humans appeared suddenly.

Kaimatai’s next arguments suggest that the world is lacking evidence of Jesus. Such an assertion could not be further from the truth. Christianity, which 2.2 billion people currently practice globally, began with the humble work of the son of a carpenter, several fishermen, a tent maker, a tax collector, and others of little means. The very fact that such a group was able to convince millions to embrace Christianity and worship illegally and without any power or riches from 33 A.D. to 312 A.D. suggests something extraordinary is working behind the scenes.

I’ve paraphrased a story about Jesus by James Allan Francis (Turek, 2014) 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.”

I anticipate atheists will say at this point that I’ve violated the ad populum fallacy, which is the appeal to the popularity of a claim as a reason for accepting it. I therefore return to the initial reasons behind the growth of Christianity to refute this argument. The first martyr, St. Stephen, heads up this discussion.

“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered Him – you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it” (Acts 7: 51-53).

“When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory and 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’” (Acts 7:54-56).

“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. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul (Acts 7:57-58).

While on the road to Damascus breathing murderous threats towards Christians, Saul encountered Jesus. “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: 3-6).

Saul became Paul, who wrote at least six books of the New Testament and endured much persecution before being beheaded under the leadership of the Roman Emperor Nero. The book of Acts and 1 Timothy 4:6-8 suggests Paul knew that his death was imminent, though his death was not reported in the Bible.

Extrabiblically, in 1 Clement 5: 5-7 (c. A.D. 95-96), the writer notes that Paul suffered tremendously before being “set free from this world and transported up to a holy place, having become the greatest example of endurance” (McDowell, 2015). “Other early evidences for the martyrdom of Paul can be found in Ignatius (Letter to the Ephesians 12:2), Polycarp (Letter to the Philippians 9:1-2), Dionysius of Corinth (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.25.4), Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.1.1), The Acts of Paul, and Tertullian” (Scorpiace 15:5-6) (McDowell, 2015).

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:25-26: “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 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.”

Some atheists claim Paul never saw Jesus, yet he makes it quite clear that he did. “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, 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 to one abnormally born” (1 Corinthians15: 1-8).

The third example is Jesus’ brother James. While James didn’t provide us with evidence of his belief in Jesus’ divinity during Jesus’ ministry (Mark 3:20; John 7:5), he saw the risen Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:7) and accordingly, became a believer and key leader in the early church (Galatians 2:9; Acts 21:17-26).

In Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus states that James was stoned. “Two other Christian accounts also confirm the martyrdom of James, even if they differ over the details. Hegesippus provides a detailed account in Book 5 of his Memoirs (Hypomnemata), which have been preserved in Eusebius. And Clement of Alexandria (c. AD 150-215) also provides an account of the fate of James in the seventh book of his Hypotyposes, as recorded by Eusebius” (Ecclesiastical History 2.1.4b-5) (McDowell, 2015).

Based on these accounts, we know that among many Christian disciples (1) Stephen, Paul, and James sincerely believed in Jesus’ divinity; (2) they knowingly risked their lives to preach His Good Word; and (3) they died gory deaths due to their beliefs and practices.  

Kaimatai writes:

  1. The Soap Test

There are no instructions on using soap. Soap is a product that is easy to make.  It also has benefits for hygiene as well as reducing infections and limiting the spread of disease.  These effects on disease were not realised until the germ theory of disease was established.

Any deity that is supposed to be benevolent, all-knowing, and interceding to benefit a chosen tribe or people, would give instructions on its use. Instructions on its use however are weirdly absent.  This neglect would have increased needless suffering (through illness and disease) as well as premature deaths. With no technological barrier to making soap, there is no valid reason to withhold instructions on its use. Given the vast number of people whose lives would have been improved by providing instructions, it’s not a trivial issue.

Christian Apologist responds:

While I agree that soap is important, I offer what organizations producing soap suggest is its history. According to the Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve Company, “Although no one really knows when soap was discovered, there are various legends surrounding its beginning. According to Roman legend, soap was named after Mount Sapo, an ancient site of animal sacrifices. After an animal sacrifice, rain would wash animal fat and ash that collected under the ceremonial altars, down to the banks of the Tiber River. Women washing clothes in the river noticed that if they washed their clothes in certain parts of the river after a heavy rain their clothes were much cleaner. Thus the emergence of the first soap – or at least the first use of soap. A soap-like material found in clay cylinders during the excavation of ancient Babylon is evidence that soap-making was known as early as 2800 B.C. Inscriptions on the cylinders say that fats were boiled with ashes, a soap-making method.”

According to Soap History, “An excavation of ancient Babylon revealed evidence that Babylonians were making soap around 2800 B.C. Babylonians were the first one to master the art of soap making. They made soap from fats boiled with ashes. Soap was used in cleaning wool and cotton used in textile manufacture and was used medicinally for at least 5000 years. The Ebers papyrus (Egypt, 1550 B.C.) reveals that the ancient Egyptians mixed animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts to produce a soap-like substance. According the Pliny the Elder, the Phoenicians used goat’s tallow and wood ashes to create soap in 600 B.C. Early Romans made soaps in the first century A.D. from urine and soap was widely known in the Roman Empire.”

Biblical scholars have further referred to several passages to suggest that soap is indeed present in the Bible in the recognized form of its day.

Malachi 3:2: “But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.”

Jeremiah 2:22: “Although you wash yourself with soap and use an abundance of cleansing powder…”

Numbers 19:1-12 provides a recipe: “A man who is clean shall gather up ashes of the heifer and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp. They are to be kept by the Israelite community for use in the water of cleansing; it is for purification from sin. The man who gathers up the ashes of the heifer must also wash his clothes, and he too will be unclean till evening.”

In summary, the people in Biblical times were using soap, though the soap varied in content from what we use today, just as medicines and vaccines available today were not available in Biblical times. Today’s soaps have come about just as God intended them to come about; no sooner and no later.

Kaimatai writes:

  1. The gospels are problematic

Not only are the gospels written well after the alleged events, they contradict each other in key details. The nativity of Luke and Mark describe entirely different events.  Unlike Julius Caesar there are no writings of Jesus. No contemporaneous historian, of which there were several in this era, noticed any of the fantastic things described in the gospels.

One feels an omniscient (all-knowing) deity would know this would reduce the confidence non-believers would have in the Jesus-mission. Even Julius Caesar left stuff he wrote. And an all-powerful deity might have ensured the records of the Jesus-mission weren’t so dependent on the contradictory, hearsay accounts we have.

Christian Apologist responds:

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 (Liftin, 2007).

At least six of the New Testament books 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 (GotQuestions.org, 2017). Note that all are within the lifetimes of people who lived in Jesus’ time.

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

Other evidence supporting the assertion of earlier dating is offered by J. Warner Wallace in his book Cold Case Christianity (2013): (1) Luke said nothing about the deaths of Paul and Peter. Paul was martyred around 64 A.D. while Peter was martyred shortly afterward; (2) Luke said nothing about the death of James, who was martyred in Jerusalem in 62 A.D.; (3) Luke’s gospel predates the book of Acts, as noted in its introduction; (4) Paul quoted Luke’s gospel in his letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 5:17-18); (5) Paul echoed the claims of the gospel writers (1 Corinthians 15; Galatians 1:15-19; Galatians 2:1); (6) Paul quoted Luke’s gospel in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11:23-25; and (7) Luke quoted Mark and Matthew repeatedly (Luke 1:1-4); and Mark appears to be protecting key players, like Peter, by excluding embarrassing testimonies (Mark 14:47; Mark 14:3-9).

Next, I will turn to Kaimatai’s assertion that the gospels contradict one another. The gospels do not contradict one another on the most important points related to Jesus’ ministry, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Minor points differ, which one would expect given variations in authorship. If the books precisely matched on all of the minor details, we would question authenticity. As it stands, the gospels work together as pieces in a puzzle, which we can put together.

  1. J. Warner Wallace examined the gospel accounts forensically, applying his years of work as a police detective to good use. He states, “The accounts puzzled together just the way one would expect from independent eyewitnesses. When one gospel eyewitness described an event and left out a detail that raised a question, this question was unintentionally answered by another gospel writer (who, by the way, often left out a detail that was provided by the first gospel writer).”

Some of the many examples Wallace provides are as follows:

Question: Matthew 8:16

Why did they wait until evening to bring those who needed healing?

Answer: Mark 1:21; Luke 4:31

Because it was the Sabbath.

Question: Matthew 14:1-2

Why did Herod tell his servants that he thought Jesus was John the Baptist, raised from the dead?

Answer: Luke 8:3; Acts 13:1

Many of Jesus’ followers were from Herod’s household.

Question: Luke 23:1-4

Why didn’t Pilate find a charge against Jesus even though Jesus claimed to be a King?

Answer: John 18:33-38

Jesus told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world.

Kaimatai writes:

  1. Prayer doesn’t work

Enough children have died in faith-healing cases to show that prayer only succeeds in mundane cases with a high likelihood of occurring anyway. There is no evidence at the ‘population-level that Christians are healthier, live longer or recover from cancer more frequently.

Christian Apologist responds:

The reason there may be little or no evidence at the population-level that Christians are healthier, live longer, or recover from cancer more frequently is not because God does not answer prayers. In contrast, God always answers prayers, but the answers may not be to improve health or prolong life. The answers always correspond to developing a relationship with us and advancing the fulfillment of our spiritual purposes or the spiritual purposes of our loved ones. If our spiritual purposes have been fulfilled, then our time on this planet is over and God calls us into heaven. Sometimes He calls the very best among us into heaven, which is always painful for those left behind, yet His purpose is to grow His relationship with those left behind and He places us in a variety of challenging circumstances to do just that.

As George MacDonald said and I’ll paraphrase: Imagine yourself as a house. God helps you to fix its drains, repair its cracks, and refurbish its appliances. You needed this help, so you’re not surprised.  But imagine your surprise when God starts knocking down walls, putting in new kitchens and baths, and adding bedrooms and room additions.  It hurts abominably and you wonder what on earth he’s up to.  You thought you were going to be a decent little cottage.  But he had plans for a palace, one in which He plans to live himself.  You see, he wants you to be perfect, just as he is perfect, and humble and kind, just as he is humble and kind.

Over the past five years, I have lost two good friends to cancer: one never smoked cigarettes, yet one day discovered she had stage four single cell lung cancer; a second discovered one day she had stage four brain cancer stemming from the melanoma she battled over a decade earlier. Both left behind a husband and an adopted child. In the first case, the husband passed a few months later, likely of a broken heart.

These two young mothers were extraordinarily kind and by anyone’s standards would be considered rather perfect people. No explanation of their deaths can offer their loved ones comfort, save for the explanation that they completed their lives’ missions and are now with God in heaven.

Before atheists jump to their feet here with accusations of the argument from ignorance fallacy, let us consider our purpose in life. Why are we here? What purpose do we serve? What does God want us to do?

According to Rick Warren in his book The Purpose-Driven Life, “God has a purpose behind every problem. He uses circumstances to develop our character. In fact, He depends more on circumstances to make us like Jesus than He depends on our reading the Bible…Jesus warned us that we would have problems in this world. No one is immune to pain or insulated from suffering, and no one gets to skate through life problem-free. Life is a series of problems…God uses problems to draw you closer to Himself (p. 193-194).

Kaimatai writes:

  1. How about those slaves then?

Right, Christianity has always been against slavery. Even in the first 1800 years when it wasn’t. And as the American Civil War showed, for many, not until the Federal Army reached Richmond.  The problem is that Jesus never said to abolish slavery. Neither did anyone else in the bible. Indeed, Exodus 21:20-21 said it was permissible to beat a slave so badly that they would die 2-3 days later.  The slave-owner wasn’t punished in this case as the slave was his property. A chattel. Not a human being, but property.

This is a very simple test. Moral beings don’t sanction this horrific behaviour. Christianity perpetuated slavery. It’s failed to reach a credible standard of morality that would corroborate a loving, moral supreme deity.

Christian Apologist responds:

The first point to address the issue of slavery is to note that no true Christians of sound mind today are endorsing the type of slavery that was present in the United States in its early history. Slavery is something of the past in developed countries and involuntary servitude is not something any Christian of sound mind cares to resurrect.

The next point is that the type of slavery reported in Biblical times was often voluntary with civil owner slave relationships. Exceptions exist, which Kaimatai notes, and it is fortunate we are given such glimpses into the lives of people who lived during Biblical times so we can better understand the context of the Bible. Had reports of slavery been excluded from the Bible, one would question its historical authenticity.

Noting that Jesus did not instruct followers to abolish slavery ignores the fact that slavery was often voluntary and civil and a component of societal functioning in Biblical times. Instead of identifying areas in which Jesus did not instruct, we should consider His instructions to love our neighbors as ourselves, alongside the Beatitudes from Matthew 5:3-12:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Kaimatai writes:

  1. A peculiar dislike of poor black people

One appreciates that life on this planet is a little chaotic. That means natural disasters happen.  I’m not quite sure how a loving deity allows people to die in natural disasters, as the freewill argument seems moot in these cases.  The deaths and suffering are not caused by human agency.

Nonetheless, the real point is how unjust these disasters are. They impact the poorest and most vulnerable communities the most.  In 2010 a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti.  The death toll was somewhere between 100,000-300,000 people. The same year a 7.1 earthquake hit Christchurch in NZ.  One person died of a heart-attack, that might have been caused by it.  The effects are not equal.

If we’re going to propose any kind of argument that humans have to put up with natural disasters, at the very least, these should not be so manifestly unjust.   Having a system that harms those communities least able to cope contradicts the alleged characters of the Christian deity.

Christian Apologist responds:

As I live relatively close to Haiti, I am well aware of the many difficulties, natural or otherwise, that the country has faced in my lifetime. I recall a good number of earthquakes and hurricanes that have devastated the country. I also recall and have witnessed the way such disasters serve to unite the church community through mission trips and outreach. Taken in the context of fulfilling our spiritual purposes and developing a stronger relationship with God, such events can serve as catalysts for the betterment of society as they fuel empathy, compassion, love, and a passion for humanity.

Kaimatai writes:

  1. Baby I call Hell

Like everything to do with the afterlife, Hell is difficult to pin down. Is it a place of heinous torture as described by Dante and other evangelical pastors?  Or is it an eternal separation from this deity?  Given the wide-spread dogmatic belief that it is torture (and I’ve been threatened often enough with it), then it’s irreconcilable with a just and loving deity.

The infraction against this god is transitory in nature. All I have done is not believe it existed. That merits an infinite punishment- one that is unusually cruel, barbaric and inhumane.

Hell and a loving, just deity cannot both exist.

Christian Apologist responds:

What we know of God is that (1) He is the source of our absolute moral standard; (2) He is the source of fairness and justice and (3) He is love (1 John 4:8). Accordingly, we know that the punishment will fit the crime. We also know that God wants all of His children to be with Him as demonstrated by the lengths to which He goes to celebrate the return of His prodigal sons and to bring back His lost sheep.

What we know of hell is that (1) hell is the separation from God’s love and (2) people have a choice not to go to hell. The people who voluntarily choose separation from God’s love are those who rely on themselves and their egos. Such people have more faith (trust) in their own beliefs than I have in mine.

Kaimatai writes:

  1. She blinded me with science

I appreciate that ancient people could not have had with their knowledge, the language of concepts to describe the world in scientific terms. Nonetheless, it seems odd that many ideas about the world are simply and blatantly wrong.  The microscopic world, the scale of the universe, that earth is not its centre, that life originated billions of years ago and then evolved are in conflict with many religious dogmas.  It’s not a good advertisement for these beliefs to be true.

Christian Apologist responds:

Around 2,200 years before Copernicus proposed a heliocentric system in which the planets revolved around the sun (and hence, the earth was not flat), Isaiah (40:22) called attention to the “circle” of the earth. The Hebrew word he used to describe this circle was khug, which appears in Proverbs 8:27 and Job 22:14. The word translates to either a sphere or a vault, which implies dimensionality and not flatness.

Kaimatai writes:

  1. It’s a small world

It is inescapable that the events of the bible are restricted to a tiny part of the world. Most of Asia, Africa, the Americas and Oceania are excluded.  For a universal deity, this is suspiciously parochial.  It is according to the Abrahamic religion capable of communicating in all kinds of ways.  There are burning bushes, talking donkeys, angels etc.  But only a small tribe of pastoralists are selected for this direct communication.  In particular, a tribe that whose accomplishments were so minor, they had little ability to communicate their god to others.  While civilisations around them developed maths, astronomy, engineering, democracy and philosophy, ancient Judea developed, well, penis modification.

Even within that context, only a small part of the population is considered worthy of this message. This part being men, of course.  For a universal deity that considered all to be equal, this incredible favoritism does not make any sense.

Christian Apologist responds:

The most famous Bible quote, John 3:16, states: “For God so loved the WORLD, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” If God were only trying to appeal to a small segment of the world, He wouldn’t have made this declaration.

Furthermore, in Mark 16:15-16, Jesus says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” “Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed His word by the signs that accompanied it.” Such passages call attention to the call from Jesus to grow Christianity in all parts of the world.

In his book, On Guard, William Lane Craig cites a study by David Barrett, which notes that in 100 A.D., the ratio of non-Christians to committed Christians in the world was 360 to 1. In 1000 A.D., the ratio was 220 to 1. In 1500 A.D., the ratio was 69 to 1. By its final count in 1989, the ratio was 7 to 1. In other words, for every 7 people on the planet, one is a Christian. Christianity is slowly but surely closing the gap.

Kaimatai writes:

  1. Free Fallin’

The problem with an all-knowing (omniscient) god is well known. It makes free-will a fantasy.  If a deity knows everything I’m going to do and say over my life-time, there’s nothing I can do to change that.  If Abe’s god knows I’m going to have sushi for lunch, then I cannot choose anything else.  That extrapolates to every other action I take, to very word I utter.  I cannot choose anything, choice is an always following a single course of action.  I can only say the lines I was given.  I can only play the role I was destined to play.

Life in this case, is meaningless. If I am going to hell, then, nothing I do over my life will change that.  I can only undertake the actions this deity already knows I’ll take.  All life is, is a brief moment where I can change nothing, followed by an eternity of hell.  There’s no point to this life at all.  This god may as well put those destined to hell, straight there.  Because nothing will change that destiny.

Christian Apologist responds:

The sins of humanity are the result of God’s gift of free will, which underscores God’s generosity and love in giving such a gift as He knew the implications. He knew that by giving the gift of free will, He would also need to make a tremendous sacrifice to give the gift of eternal life, as free will in a world of temptations and challenges often leads to sin, which leads to death.

C.S. Lewis says, “If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”

Kaimatai asserts that if God is omniscient, we cannot have free will. This assertion is untrue as it conflates our free will to make choices with His control over our choices. Omniscience refers to “all knowing,” not “all controlling.” God does not control our actions, which is the essence of free will.

To understand God’s omniscience and our free will, we need to understand that God is unbounded by time. The reason God knows our future is not because He’s controlled our future, but because He’s witnessed 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 in his book Mere Christianity in 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.”

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 the relationship between free will and omniscience.

Thank you for your time.

References:

Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve Company (2017): http://www.chagrinvalleysoapandsalve.com/idascorner/soap/the-origin-of-soap

Craig, W. (2010). On Guard. USA: David Cook.

Gotquestions.org (2017). https://www.gotquestions.org/how-many-books-did-Paul-write.html Lewis, C.S. (1949). The Weight of Glory.

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

Liftin, B. (2007) Getting to know church fathers: An evangelical introduction.

McDowell, S. (2015). http://seanmcdowell.org/blog/was-paul-beheaded-in-rome

Ross, H. (2016). Improbable Planet. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Soap History (2017). http://www.soaphistory.net/

Turek, F. (2014). Stealing from God. USA: NavPress.

Warren, R. (2002). The Purpose-Driven Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan

 

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 subjective 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.