The Problem with Pain and its Association with Giving Up on God

Death of an Atheist I Never Really Knew

I didn’t grow up with any atheists, as far as I knew. In fact, for the first few decades of my life, I personally knew of no self-proclaimed atheists at all. I was educated in Catholic schools and all of my friends were either Christian or Jewish. The norm was to worship within the faiths of Judeo-Christianity.

Shortly after my family and I moved to a new town in Florida, my husband’s uncle died. He had served many years in the United States Air Force and had earned much recognition before accepting a position with a military defense contractor. He died during a training exercise in Norway when he was unexpectedly thrown off a boat at high speed. Since his wife and two young sons lived near our new home and most of our relatives didn’t, we opened our home to quite a few relatives who came to stay with us for a week. Hotels are not convenient in my small town. It was then I heard that Kevin was an atheist. Everyone prayed for him and the subject of his atheism was brought up quite frequently that week. Shortly thereafter, one of his sons became very vocal about his Christian beliefs and his love for Jesus Christ. Kevin’s wife and other son were much less vocal, though I heard they were also believers. His death focused everyone on our own mortality and on our spirituality.

A few years passed and I felt inspired to write fiction books to share my spiritual experiences with others. I tossed the first book aside after determining it hadn’t met my own standards, and I give away the second and third books for free.

Initial Perceptions of Atheists

I opened a Twitter account to promote my first book and by the time I began my third book, I had an active account. My pastor had become active too and I recall when he sent me a message asking me if the atheists had been in touch with me too. They had – and most of my first encounters were unpleasant with people showing up in my notifications demanding evidence for my beliefs and then calling me names when I provided same. I was accused of being “deluded” and “dogmatic” and I could feel their anger in the tweets I received. My pastor chose not to debate them but I decided to continue. I wanted to learn more about them and discover what made them tick. I’ve always believed in God and honestly had no understanding of why atheists had chosen the path they had chosen.

I created an atheist character in my third book based off of my initial atheist interactions: he was proud and selfish, with an “ego the size of Cuba.” The book can be found here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/650139

My Discovery about Atheists

Then I got to know a handful of atheists and I made an important discovery: most aren’t proud and most do not fall within my characterization. Many have endured extreme difficulties. I’ve heard the stories of atheists who have suffered horrible family losses and who have endured unspeakable tragedies. I know one who has had PAN for the past thirty seven years, which is completely debilitating and sometimes requires chemotherapy. I know of another who lost quite a few friends to suicides while growing up in a very depressing rural area. Some have lost children to cancer. Others have lost parents and loved ones. Many were once Christians who called out to God in their greatest times of need, yet they determined that God did not answer. It is for these reasons that this group of atheists believes there is no God. Their remedy for what they perceive as a lack of response is to walk away.

And I understand that. But I also understand that misery breeds more misery and a life devoid of the joy which God provides is hopelessly sad.

The Problem of Pain

“If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both. This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form” –Lewis, 1940, p. 17).

The problem of pain makes the assumption that God wants to make His creatures perfectly happy and that making us happy should be God’s goal. But we are not always happy, so we know this is not God’s goal. Atheists who justify their atheism with the problem of pain protest this point. Their perfect vision of the world is a Garden of Eden in which everyone has free will to do what they want. Yet this conception of a Garden of Eden is impossible to achieve: Adam and Eve proved that. Free will is always accompanied by sin, and we all sin, and sin corrupts paradise. Enter the earth.

“The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that hell should be able to veto heaven” (Lewis, 1946).

But hell cannot veto heaven so such blackmail is futile. Furthermore, stating that God’s goal should be to keep us happy all of the time does not speak to our purpose. We are not here with a singular goal of being happy. We are here to grow spiritually, to overcome challenges, and to become more Christ-like. Our ultimate goal is to leave the world in a better place than it was prior to our entry.

Through the example of Jesus Christ, we see the way the Lord uses adversity and pain to grow our spirits. We all have examples of times in which we have been broken (or challenged) and how the adversity we faced made us stronger people. To become stronger, we overcame our fears, our self-pity, our anger, and our despair. By witnessing hatred, we developed a stronger appreciation for love. By witnessing hubris, we developed an appreciation for humility.  By witnessing tragedy, we grew empathy. By witnessing injustice and discrimination, we became more just and more tolerant of those unlike us. By witnessing immorality, we became more moral. We live by the example of Christ who overcame the enormous challenge of experiencing the hatred of His children as they beat and crucified Him without mercy. And He loved them and prayed for their redemption.

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts  knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself” (Lewis, 1946).

Instead of directing our energies to battle God, we should direct our energies to understand God’s intentions for us. He wants us to emerge from the earth victorious. He is our biggest cheerleader.

“Stop quarreling with God! If you agree with Him, you will have peace at last, and things will go well for you” – Job 22:21

We need to surrender to God and to obey His calling by taking up our crosses and fulfilling our duties and missions. Through dutifulness, obedience, and surrender comes joy, the true joy that is impossible to attain if in battle against God.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” –Romans 12:1-2.

Thank you for investing the time.

References

Lewis, C.S. (1946). The Great Divorce.  C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. USA

Lewis, C.S. (1940). The Problem of Pain. C.S.  Lewis Pte. Ltd. USA.

The Pursuit of Happiness: A Six Step Plan and Response to Mr. Oz Atheist

The intention of the following blog is to offer a Christian response to an atheist perspective on our purpose in life. The blog begins with an atheist’s perspective and purpose without God, followed by a Christian’s response and purpose with God. The latter includes a discussion on the pursuit of happiness and joy and the predictors of same, since the underlying current in Mr. Oz Atheist’s message speaks to the pursuit of enjoyment. Mr. Oz Atheist, as he calls himself on social media, composed the following blog a couple of years ago.

Mr. Oz Atheist: Purpose without God

“I didn’t ask to be born” The catch-cry of the angsty teenager. An exclamation from a mouth that belongs to a body that’s surviving off more hormones than oxygen.

They’re right too. They didn’t ask to be born. No one does. It happens before we’re even aware of who or what we are. We are alive, and that’s our starting point.

Not asking to be born is one thing we atheists agree about with our theistic friends. However, our theistic friends seem to be of the opinion that without God our lives have no purpose. I have been asked why we, the non-believers, don’t just kill ourselves? They openly wonder what we have to live for.

I have said before that being an atheist doesn’t mean I’ve got nothing to live for, it means I’ve got nothing to die for.

Now please don’t confuse this with me saying that I *wouldn’t* die to save my children, for example. Because I would. Of course. What I mean is that for me, in death, there is nothing.

But a theist believes that when they die they’ll be forever in a world of bliss, and paradise, and, if the right flavour of belief is correct, 72 virgins. (Of course if virgins is your thing, 72 for eternity feels like being short changed. Assuming you want a virgin for the obvious reason…they’re only a virgin once. Maybe it’s one 72 year old virgin.)

For me though, life is everything. Everything I’ll ever experience will be experienced in *this* life. That’s what I mean about nothing to die for and everything to live for. I mean it literally.

Some theists though seem obsessed with having an ultimate purpose.

I don’t understand why, even if Earth is consumed by the sun in 5 billion years, I still can’t enjoy the here and now. I will die one day and that will be that. Is that enough reason to not enjoy today? I can’t see how. Why is my enjoyment today dependent upon being in heaven when I die? As I said, being alive is my starting point. Why not enjoy it?

Theists talk about having the ultimate purpose (which seems to be just getting into heaven…what then?) but they never say why it should matter. They never say why the ultimate purpose is necessary.

Matt Dillahunty has used the book example. You start reading a book, knowing it’s finite, knowing it will end. But you read it anyway. I doubt anyone avoids reading the first page of a book simply because there’s a last page.

I know the counter to this is that you remember the book. I might finish a book today, but I can remember it tomorrow. They book stays with me once it’s finished, but my life doesn’t.

But I do have tomorrow. I even have this afternoon, or later tonight. And even if I didn’t why do I need heaven later in order to enjoy NOW? Maybe I throw a blanket down on a remote beach and lie there with a friend looking up at the stars. Must I need to know I’ll one day be in heaven to enjoy that moment? Must I need belief in a deity to be glad I was doing that? Of course not.

Yes, maybe a theist has an ‘ultimate’ purpose in life and as an atheist, I don’t, but they fail to explain what it matters. They fail to convince me I need one.

I’m happy to define my life’s own purpose. I’m happy to decide for myself what I would like to achieve, where I would like to go as a human being.

A friend of my daughter would have been 14 or 15 at the time when she said ‘I would die without God in my life’. I don’t see any honour in this. I don’t see anything of which to be proud. This is a sad way for a child to be thinking. How dare someone convince this person that her life is worth something only if a god is real. How dare they convince her that her worth is tied to a fairytale?

God is unseen and unheard. Yet religion knows exactly what he wants, exactly how he feels. And it tells you how to behave and tells you that without *its* particular god, you are worthless. It’s a scam, and cruel and ridiculous scam and millions of good and otherwise intelligent people fall for it.

Why does religion try to convince people without its god, they are worthless? Because if they didn’t people might realise they can live free and happy lives without it. If that happened, where would the money come from?

Christian Apologist: Purpose with God

Mr. Oz Atheist has made a couple of assertions which merit a response. First, I note that it is a great shame that any theist has suggested to Mr. Oz Atheist that he kill himself because he does not believe in God. The theist likely believes Mr. Oz Atheist is in quicksand and instead of offering a rope, it appears she or he would rather walk away.

God calls on us to offer the rope:

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” – 1 Peter 3:15

Mr. Oz Atheist additionally states that he is living for the here and now – for enjoyment in this life – and that theists are living for enjoyment in the next. This assertion is true, but he has forced a false dichotomy with the implicit assumption that theists are not also seeking happiness and joy in this life. Of course we are seeking happiness and joy! The difference for Christians is that we are seeking happiness and joy in both this life and the next.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Mr. Oz Atheist would likely agree with the following famous quote by Aristotle: “Happiness depends on ourselves.” The central purpose of human life, according to one of the greatest philosophers of all time, Aristotle, is happiness.

But what makes for happy lives? Studies of happiness over the past few decades have drawn from the seminal articles or books by Cantril (1965), Andrews and Withey (1976) and Diener (1984). The focus of these studies often includes subjective well-being (SWB), which is concerned with “how and why people experience their lives in positive ways, including cognitive judgments and affective reactions” (Diener, 1984, p. 542).

Diener (1984) distinguishes two dimensions of subjective well-being: cognitive well-being, which relates to life satisfaction, and affective well-being, which relates to happiness. Diener’s (1984) extensive review examined a variety of demographic variables impacting subjective well-being, including age (findings mixed), race (blacks lower SWB), religiosity (findings mixed) employment (unemployed least happy), education (interacts with other variables), marital status (married people higher SWB), having children (negligible or negative effects), income (income inequality lowers SWB), and gender (interacts with age). More recent studies have indicated that demographic variables are established variables of interest in quality of life studies (Vinson & Ericson, 2014). Other factors also relate positively to SWB, such as optimism, social support, and self-esteem (Quevedo & Abella, 2011). Additional positive correlates of happiness include personal income (Cummins, 2000), health (Salinas-Jiminez et al., 2010), social capital, trust (Growiec & Growiec, 2014), and financial satisfaction (Ng & Diener, 2014).

As Deiner (1984) discovered, the relationship between religiosity and happiness is mixed. One explanation relates to social conformity to prevailing country norms. As Okulicz-Kozaryn (2010) note, people who live in countries where many people believe in God are much happier than non-believers. Considering I reside in a country considered religious (the United States), while Mr. Oz Atheist resides in a country considered less religious (Australia), and we both consider ourselves happy, our happiness is partially explained by our beliefs and social conformity theory. Our happiness is further partially explained by the individual-level variables noted above. Other reasons for mixed findings with respect to religiosity include demographics. For example, women tend to be more religious (Freese, 2004).  Even so, Okulicz and Kozaryn (2010, p.  155) determined that “the major conclusion from the extant literature is that religious faith predicts happiness (it creates purpose in life) and church attendance predicts happiness (it creates a sense of belonging)”.

Within the United States, the Pew Research Center’s U.S. Religious Landscape Study (2014) differentiated respondents who identified themselves as highly religious (praying and attending religious services at least once per week) with those who don’t on several factors. Highly religious people were more likely to gather with extended family at least once per month, were very happy with life, were more likely to have volunteered, and more likely to have donated goods or time to the poor. These differences persist within a variety of religions and after controlling for age, income, education, geographic region, marital status, and parental status.

Empirical studies, such as those cited above, do not explain one hundred percent of the variation between predictors and outcome variables. Other variables (those not considered or available) account for the unexplained variance. Furthermore, we all know of people who are healthy and wealthy, yet extremely unhappy: “outliers” on a regression line.

So, what are other important predictors of happiness? Given that the above variables are primarily demographic and attitudinal, let us consider higher order variables, following Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and self-actualization.

According to Aristotle, happiness is derived from the cultivation of virtue and the fulfillment of a broad range of physical and mental conditions (http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/aristotle/). In other words, aside from the demographic and attitudinal variables cited above, the cultivation of virtue speaks to one’s happiness. Aristotle’s assertion is consistent with the resounding theme of Christianity.

In fact, his assertions, when coupled with Christianity, provide a pathway to achieve tremendous happiness and joy. The truth is, we can never find true joy and happiness apart from the vine which supports us: Jesus. If we try to separate from the vine, as a grape would free itself from a branch, we start to wither and become weak. We lose the strength of the love and light within us. We end up in darkness and find ourselves in a constant state of trying to find light and happiness through any means but that of the source of all light and happiness. The attempts are futile. Yet God lets us live out our desires (cf., Romans 1) and always welcomes us back with open arms as prodigal sons and daughters, or lost sheep. With all of this in mind, I offer six steps to happiness.

Six Steps to Happiness

  1. Seek Jesus through prayer and study.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened for you” (Luke 11:9).

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”  John 8:32

  1. Take delight in the Lord.

 Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

  1. Find and achieve your purpose in life by identifying and capitalizing on your spiritual gifts. What do you do really well? What are you passionate about? How can these gifts be used to help others? If we all do our part, a greater collective happiness will follow.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” 1 Corinthians 12:7

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in various forms” 1 Peter 4:10

  1. Listen to and obey the Lord. Expect the Lord’s discipline. We all have room for improvement, and as we grow closer to Jesus, we begin to see the areas in which we need to improve the most. The plan is to strive for perfection and to be as Christ-like as possible. Jesus came to set the example. He is the reason for our very existence and our ultimate purpose is to emulate our servant leader.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and; Love your neighbor as yourself” Luke 10:27

Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty” Job 5:17.

  1. Build in a pattern of continuous improvement. Once you’re on the path and your eyes have been opened to the love and the light of the Lord, there is no stopping you. Your passion will be ignited and prosperity will come your way.

“And let us run with perseverance the race that is marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured on the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” Hebrews 12:1-3

  1. Expect and embrace adversity. Of course, challenges will come your way as well. God uses challenges to build and shape us spiritually. He promised adversity. The very fact no one is immune demonstrates God’s fulfillment of His promise.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” John 16:33

“Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer” Revelation 2:10

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him” James 1:12

With that, I offer a quote from C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity, which he attributed to George MacDonald:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

In conclusion, the pursuit of happiness is achieved when we learn about, acknowledge, and embrace our spiritual calling.  Fulfilling our purpose with God brings love, light, happiness and joy. It opens our eyes to an array of colors on the planet never realized before. It is as if a rainbow, which once appeared dim and shadowy, is suddenly unveiled in brighter and more spectacular hues than we could have possibly imagined. The sky seems bluer, the roses redder, and the grasses greener.  Our path to heaven is set – and we have cast all fears and doubts into the deep sea.

Joy is the serious business of heaven” – CS Lewis

Thank you for your time.

Mr. Oz Atheist’s blog can be accessed here: http://mrozatheist.blogspot.com/2015/10/

References

Andrews, F. M., & Withey, S. B. (1976). Social indicators of well-being. New York: Plenum.

Cantril, H. (1965). The pattern of human concerns. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Cummins, R.A. (2000). Personal income and subjective well-being: A review. Journal of Happiness Studies, 1, 133-158.

Diener, E. (1984). Subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 95(3), 542–575.

Freese, J. (2004). Risk preferences and gender differences in religiousness: Evidence from the World Values Survey. Review of Religious Research, 46(1), 88-91.

Greenfield, E.A., Marks, N.F., (2007). Religious social identity as an explanatory factor for associations between more frequent formal religious participation and psychological well-being. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 17, 245–259.

Growiec, K. & Growiec, J. (2014). Trusting only whom you know, knowing only whom you trust: The joint impact of social capital and trust in CEE countries. Journal of Happiness Studies, 15(5), 1015-1040.

Ng, W. & Diener, E. (2014). What matters to the rich and poor? Subjective well-being, financial satisfaction, and post-materialistic needs across the world. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107(2), 326-338.

Okulicz-Kozaryn, A. (2010). Religiosity and life satisfaction across nations. Mental Health, Religion, and Culture, 13(2), 165-179.

Pargament, K., 2002. Is religion nothing but. . .? Explaining religion versus explaining religion away. Psychological Inquiry 13, 239–244.

Quevedo, R.J.M. & Abella, M.C. (2011). Well-being and personality: Facet-level analysis. Personality and Individual Differences, 50, 206-211.

Salinas-Jiminez, M., Artes, J., & Salines-Jiminez, J. (2010). Income, motivation, and satisfaction with life: An empirical analysis. Journal of Happiness Studies, 11, 779-793.

Vinson, T. & Ericson, M. (2014). The social dimensions of happiness and life satisfaction of Australians: Evidence from the World Values Survey. International Journal of Social Welfare, 23, 240-253.

 

 

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

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

The Ontological Argument

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

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

Anselm’s argument can be summarized as follows:

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

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

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

Platinga’s argument can be summarized as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Moral Argument

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“[God] left us conscience, the sense of right and wrong: and all through history there have been people trying (some of them very hard) to obey it. None of them ever quite succeeded. Secondly, He sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those queer stories scattered all through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men. Thirdly, He selected one particular people and spent several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was – that there was only one of Him and that He cared about the right conduct. Those people were the Jews and the Old Testament gives an account of the hammering process” (Lewis, 1952, p. 49).

Jesus Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for investing your time.

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I Am Passionate about Christianity

In this blog,  I explain some of the reasons I believe in Jesus. The beginning of this testimony is in another blog, so if you have read it, please excuse the redundancies. I repeated it here because it helps explain how I came to so strongly believe in Christianity.

Until a couple of months ago, I resisted sharing my spiritual experiences in my blogs, due to the personal nature of the experiences and the chance of ridicule. It struck me while writing this piece that if I’m hit by a bus tomorrow, my testimonial will die with me and no one will be able to compare their own experiences with mine. For this reason, I’m going to offer readers a few of my spiritual experiences.

I was raised in a Catholic family with my sister and two brothers. We went to a Catholic grade school and frequently attended church. Church was a solemn experience, with formal dress, hymns, liturgy, and rituals. My sister loves the Catholic Church, but I felt I needed something different.

One night, while struggling to get to sleep in college, a woman wearing a blue gown appeared to me on my bed. Mother Mary. She touched my shoulder and comforted me, telling me that everything was going to be okay. I have always struggled with skin issues, and on that particular night I had reached a particularly high level of anxiety. When I awoke the next morning, I felt cleaner and more refreshed than I had ever felt. The colors of the flowers and the lawns of Florida State University seemed particularly bright and it felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from me. Within a few weeks, a book arrived in the mail (sent by someone anonymously), which offered tips for people with my particular skin condition. I changed my diet and my condition improved greatly.

Years passed and the memories of that episode slipped into the back of my mind. By my late twenties, all but my sister had left the Catholic Church for various reasons. Friends of mine were exploring eastern faiths, particularly Buddhism, so I started gravitating towards such faiths. I read books by James Redfield, Deepak Chopra, and the Dalai Lama and found their ideas to be fascinating. I wondered whether we were souls within a great soul, which whistled into the cosmos. What I learned at that point was that the faith I was exploring considered God to be a passive part of nature.

More years passed and I waffled about wandering into churches every so often, yet finding none that suited my particular needs. I got married and had two kids, completed a terminal degree, and moved to a different city with my family. As my kids grew, they noticed that the neighbors were attending church on Sunday, so my sons asked me why we weren’t attending church, which made me feel very guilty.

One night in the month of March five years ago, I sat in my bed struggling to get to sleep. Instead of being met by the warm embrace of a loving woman in a blue gown, I was met by a dark spirit, which attempted to strangle and suffocate me. I have never felt such pure, cold evil in my life and I was scared beyond words and completely frozen. In desperation, I did all I knew to do: I said the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary, over and over and over. With each repetition I felt the spirit being lifted, until it was finally pulled from me. God became of a priority at this point. I realized that He is not a passive part of nature, but an active, personal, and loving God. The only God with such characteristics is the triune Lord.

My family decided to check out a quaint Baptist church, which was popular with my neighbors. When I walked through its doors, something moved me emotionally and ignited a passion within. We spent the first half hour of the service singing praise through upbeat, contemporary Christian music. I recall Matt Redman’s “Bless the Lord, O my soul” and Chris Tomlin’s “How Great is Our God” and felt tears as they streamed down my cheeks. The pastor spent the next forty minutes explaining certain verses in the Bible in such a way that my interest in learning more was greatly stimulated. My family decided to join the church and we began regularly attending services. I was baptized for a second time a few months later by full immersion in a tank of water.

I was on a path, yet I still had some unresolved questions. One big question related to the way God ordained men to lead the churches. I’m an advocate for female empowerment and leadership, so the second class treatment of women bothered me. A second question related to the way billions on the planet don’t worship Jesus. What sort of fate do they face? Will they be denied entrance into heaven?

The answer to my first question came at church when the pastor shared that Mary Magdalene and other women were the first to discover the empty tomb. Jesus gave the privilege of discovering the empty tomb, which is arguably the most important discovery in the Bible, to women, who were treated like dogs in those days! Jesus loves women. By reading the Bible, I discovered many other examples of strong women. Three standouts are Ruth, who exemplified tremendous loyalty, Esther who demonstrated courage, and Mother Mary, who showed great faith.

The answer to my second question on the fate of people of other faiths came in an unexpected way. I was standing in an airport when I noticed a tall, slender man standing in the queue next to an attractive woman. Something about the man caught my eye as he seemed to be radiating light. When I took my assigned seat, I was delighted when the man sat down next to me and his wife next to him. He struck up a conversation and I soon discovered he was a pastor in a church about an hour from my house. I told him that I wanted to write a children’s book similar to the books by C.S. Lewis. He instructed me to read C.S. Lewis’ adult books, like Mere Christianity and the Great Divorce. He also called my attention to Isaiah 53, which is a passage from the Old Testament that foretold Jesus’ crucifixion.

The books by C.S. Lewis made all of the difference, as they inspired me to learn more and to become an apologist. They taught me that no matter the religion into which we’re born or the vehicle we choose to enhance our knowledge of the world around us and God, all paths eventually lead to Jesus.

When we honestly seek Him, He makes Himself quite obvious. I have had several more spiritual experiences, which I offer here to validate that point. The first experience came in the form of a vision. One morning I was lying in bed, thinking about the day ahead and the coffee in my immediate future. As I looked at the ceiling above me, I noticed it appeared as the sky. I could see a window in the sky which was open and figures of light inside of the window. It seemed they were smiling and waving at me and I felt warmth and a sort of deep inner love fill my body.

The second experience came in the form of a dream. I was at a party in a home with which I am familiar with friends from my twenties. Everyone was drinking beer and having a good time. Suddenly, I noticed a man standing at the center of the party wearing a white robe. He appeared regal, gentle, loving, and humble all at once. As people began to notice Him, they became quiet. He was no ordinary man. We were witnesses to Jesus. He stood silently and watched us before issuing a challenge. He asked us to stop partying. He wanted us to instead become more serious about our spiritual calling and to take up our crosses and spread His message. People began to leave the party and I watched them exit through the front door of the home. An old friend came up to me and said, “I just can’t do it. I can’t stop.” He turned and headed for the front door. I stood silently in the room, well aware of the way I needed to refocus my life. I needed to focus less on me and my social life and more on others and Jesus. Then I woke up.

Another experience was my most unexpected, yet most welcome. I was at a conference in San Antonio, Texas, in a hotel room pondering my life one night. I was thinking of making a change. Suddenly, I heard a gentle, male voice – a voice of reason. He sort of scolded me for thinking of making the change and He gave me a good reason why the change would be foolish. He reminded me of happy times – and pictures of those times flashed before my eyes. I determined to be obedient to God. Thank God. The change would have been quite foolish.

I have had other visions and dreams. One of my most interesting visions was that of a white, chunky, well-defined cross-shaped cloud in the sky. I saw it while driving to my place of employment one morning. I tried to grab my cell phone to snap a picture, but the cloud dissipated too quickly.

Another of my more interesting dreams is as follows. I found myself running next to a very old, very petite Jewish woman. She was the grandmother of one of my son’s friends and she was frail and walked with a walker. Yet in my dream, she seemed strong and able. She darted ahead of me and I could not keep up with her. Then she grabbed my hand and we began to fly. We went into the sky, higher and higher until we found ourselves in a library, which was well-stocked with books. To me, such a place is heaven.

After a short while, I found myself alone running on a dark road. Demons were chasing me and throwing spear-like dark metal objects at me. I kept hearing the word “anvil” over and over. I escaped them and ran up to a hearth, which was at the center of a brick patio. A blonde curly-haired stocky, yet muscular man stood in front of me on the patio and signaled me to stop. I then saw my brother. The man put his arm around my brother and led him away from me as he told me that my brother had chosen to go with “them.”  He said something like, “He’s with us now.” Then I awoke, more determined than ever to fulfill my calling.

I thought about the word “anvil” and recalled the large box-like anvils on the Bugs Bunny show, which cartoon characters always dropped from buildings. I saw nothing like those in my dream, so I did an internet search. I came upon photos of ancient metal tools, which appeared as pointy spears. The photos matched the tools I saw in my dream.

Such visions, dreams, and experiences have fueled my passion for Christ, my drive to make a difference in the world for Him, and my empathy for those who have not yet found Him.

I love writing, so a few years ago, I started writing Christian fiction books (one I dropped), which I give away for free on Smashwords. While promoting these books on Twitter, I have met quite a few atheists who tell me that my testimony is unconvincing.

Accordingly, I did a full dive into apologetics and started writing blogs on my findings. Some of the books I recommend are by authors such as Turek, MacDowell, Strobel, Platinga, Ross, Tozer, Guinness, Bannister, Lanza, Warren, Craig, Habermas, Licona, and Peter Hitchens.

Apologetic books have taught me how best to defend Christianity, which is something all Christians should do. Atheism is rising in the United States and other developed secular societies and the so-called “new atheists” can be convincing. We as Christians need to be more convincing.

Thank you for investing your time.

 

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

 

More Christian Rebuttals of Atheist Challenges

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul, the author of thirteen New Testament books, offers one of the most compelling stories of a transformation. Paul (known as Saul) was on the road to Damascus in his effort to identify and arrest early Christians for illegal worship. “Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me.’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting(5).’ Paul immediately converted to the Way and became one of its most ardent followers who was beaten, imprisoned, and eventually beheaded all in Jesus’ name.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Studies have also confirmed the earthquake:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atheist challenge: There are discrepancies in the Bible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In summary, God is the only logical answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Many suggest that Earth’s life-sustaining features are just ‘amazing coincidences’ that somehow fell into place in a way that suits human needs and, at the same time, determines what life-forms exist…Ongoing research tells us that Earth has been shaped not only by an intricately orchestrated interplay of physical forces and conditions, but also by its vast abundance and diversity of life-forms. By means that no depth and breadth of scientific research can explain, life arose early in Earth’s history under anything but the benign conditions it would seem to require and somehow persisted through multiple mass extinction events, always appearing and reappearing at just-right times and in just-right forms to meet the needs and demands of the revised environment.”

“The more thoroughly researchers investigate the history of our planet, the more astonishing the story of our existence becomes. The number and complexity of the astronomical, geological, chemical, and biological features recognized as essential to human existence have expanded explosively within the last decade…Are we simply the result of a colossal matrix of innumerable, narrow coincidences, against all odds, or is there a more reasonable explanation?” (p. 14).

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

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

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

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

Problems that Chalmers has identified that have no explanation include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for investing your time.

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

Thoughts on the Atheist Experience Show along with a Testimonial in Support of Jesus

My brother believes in God, yet he keeps his beliefs private. He is not unlike many theists who choose to keep their relationship with God to themselves. He is amused by my Twitter account, since I’ve taken the opposite approach, choosing to let my “light so shine.” One day, after perusing my timeline, my brother tweeted, “I don’t believe in miracles, but if you change even one atheist’s mind, or vice versa, I will believe in one.” The tweet made me laugh, so I retweeted it. Who doesn’t appreciate my brother’s good sense of humor?

I am under no sort of assumption that my words will influence the conversions of atheists to theists, as only God can influence such a conversion. My intentions instead are to provide Christians with some tools that they can use to refute atheists’ arguments against God.

One atheist with many arguments against God is Matt Dillahunty. Dillahunty is the host of the “Atheist Experience,” which is a ninety minute show that airs every Sunday. The show features Dillahunty and other atheists who discuss atheism prior to taking calls and questions from theists and atheists. A handful of atheists on Twitter have suggested I call in to the show, so one day I watched it to get an idea of what a call would entail. In that particular show, I watched Matt Dillahunty dominate the conversations he was having with several Christians, which concerned me. I wondered why anyone would call in if not fully equipped for battle.

Accordingly, the intention of this blog is to offer Christians several rebuttals to some of Matt Dillahunty’s and other atheists’ popular arguments against God. Dillahunty has a Wiki site that documents his views, so I accessed his arguments from the site: http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=Main_Page. Yet note that in a conversation and tweets I’ve had with Dillahunty, he notes that many others have authored opinions on the site, so some of the opinions that I’m rebutting here may not be Matt’s.

Some of the topics I am refuting I have refuted in prior blogs. These include my arguments concerning the uncaused cause (the Cosmological Argument), intelligent design (the Teleological Argument), the absolute moral code (the Natural Law Argument), and the Problem of Pain (as examples), so please excuse redundancies if you have read those before. Additionally, I include my own personal testimony of several of the spiritual experiences I have had.

It is time to drown the iron chariots and watch them rust.

Dillahunty’s website opens with the following line: “Iron Chariots is intended to provide information on apologetics and counter-apologetics. We’ll be collecting common arguments and providing responses, information and resources to help counter the glut of misinformation and poor arguments which masquerade as evidence for religious claims.”

Broken Compass Argument

According to Dillahunty, the Broken Compass Argument “is a specific type of fallacious claim or assertion that starts with one premise and leads equally to many disparate (often mutually incompatible) conclusions. Since the many conclusions imply a contradiction or are absurd, the argument is either unsound or an incorrect premise has been used…If a person were to argue that the Christian God exists because when they pray they feel better, they have made a broken compass argument because any other praying member of any other faith could make the same claim for their deity’s existence following the same argument.”

Several points need to be made to address this:

  1. As Dillahunty noted, prayer makes people feel better. Five scientifically supported arguments in favor of prayer are: (1) prayer improves self-control; (2) prayer makes people nicer; (3) prayer makes people more forgiving; (4) prayer increases trust; and (5) prayer offsets the negative health effects of stress (Routledge, 2014). A 2013 Pew Research Poll indicated that 75% of Americans believe that prayer is an important part of their lives. Other polls indicate that people who are unaffiliated with a religion and atheists sometimes pray (Routledge, 2014). So, yes, people do feel better when they pray. We’re hard-wired to feel good when we connect with the spirit within us.
  2. Christians don’t argue that the Christian God exists because when we pray, we feel better. Christians instead argue that the Christian God exists and when we pray, we connect with His spirit, which makes us feel better. If we don’t include the connection to God by modifying the original statement, one could erroneously make the assumption that without prayer, God would not exist. The argument suggests a response (prayer) impacts the existence of the cause (God) instead of the cause impacting the response. A similar argument would be “the sun exists because when I go outside, its light makes me feel better.” If I go outside and see no light and don’t feel better, the sun does not exist.”
  3. It would be ethnocentric of Christians to assume that they are the only ones for whom God answers prayers. When good people of any faith pray sincerely to the God of their beliefs, God hears them and answers their prayers. This assertion doesn’t discount the fact that all paths lead to Jesus; it merely states that God is along the pathways of everyone who so desires. Everyone who desires the truth will eventually find the truth, which is Jesus. John 3:16 says “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.” John 3:16 highlights God’s focus on the entire world, not just on a particular population within the world.

Taken together, these arguments demonstrate the value of prayer in improving people’s health since prayer is humanity’s universal and natural response to God.

Circular Reasoning and the Presuppositional Apologist Argument

Dillahunty states “presuppositional apologists (primarily from the reformed school of theology) argue that circular reasoning is acceptable and necessary within a world-view and that circular reasoning is only unacceptable when it presents self-contradiction.” He presents this example of circular reasoning:

  1. We know God exists because the Bible says so.
  2. We know the Bible is correct because it is the inspired word of God.

I agree with Dillahunty that the two statements exemplify circular reasoning and that circular reasoning is faulty reasoning. In other words, each of the two statements should not be considered as proof for the other.

When the statements are considered independently, they are stronger, yet they are imperfect. The first statement is true in that God exists, yet if we merely rely on the words of the first statement, we must be open to an application to the holy books of other faiths, which point to the divinity of a different god or gods. The Bible is correct because it is the inspired word of God, as noted in the second statement, yet similar to the first statement, the words alone necessitate an openness to the application to the holy books of other faiths.

Therefore, we need to strengthen both statements. To do so, we should consider the overall purpose of the Bible in the context of our existence. All passages, verses, songs, and words within the Bible were written with the overall purpose of bringing us closer to our triune Lord. To bring us closer, The Bible teaches us a variety of lessons through examples, proverbs, psalms, and parables. The Bible gives us a glimpse of the way people lived thousands of years ago within sometimes disturbing cultural contexts. Biblical individuals and groups faced battles and had to overcome evil, temptation, suffering, lust, betrayal, and pride by drawing upon and elevating their love, fortitude, perseverance, purity, forgiveness, and humility. Such lessons explain our purpose on this earth, which is to overcome adversity to become stronger and more like Christ.

As C.S. Lewis said: “And what did God do? First of all He left us conscience, the sense of right and wrong: and all through history there have been people trying (some of them very hard) to obey it. None of them ever quite succeeded. Secondly, He sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those queer stories scattered all through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men. Thirdly, He selected one particular people and spent several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was – that there was only one of Him and that He cared about the right conduct. Those people were the Jews, and the Old Testament gives an account of the hammering process.”

The Old Testament demonstrated humanity’s failures under the Old Covenant, which is why God established a New Covenant. The New Covenant is God’s promise to humanity that He will forgive us of our sins and He will restore fellowship with those who desire His presence. Jesus Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant and His atonement through His death on the cross form the basis of God’s promise. The New Covenant was predicted by prophets such as Moses, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel while mankind lived under the Old Covenant (Enns, 2014).

At this point, one might comment that other religions endorse the same values as Christianity of love, humility, forgiveness and the like. Indeed, the world’s major religions all endorse such values, which further underscores the fact that God so loves the WORLD and wants all within the world to be with and remain with Him. Regardless of the vehicles employed, the outcome for believers is the same, which is the fullness of a spirit united with the triune Lord. All paths lead to Jesus.

What sets Christianity apart? Unlike pantheism, in which divinity is expressed as a passive form of nature, the Christian God is an active part of our lives. Unlike Islam, in which divinity is expressed as an active, yet aloof god, the Christian God is highly personal. In summary, the Christian God is the only choice when one desires a walk with a personal, active Lord. More on these points to come.

Intelligent Design, the Teleological Argument and the Dysteleological Argument

Matt Dillahunty quotes a ruling from Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District to refute intelligent design. The quote is as follows: “We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980s, and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community.”

“The Dysteleological argument, or argument from poor design, is an argument against the existence of God – specifically a competent creator God.”Had God designed the world, it would not be a world so frail and faulty as we see.” – Lucretius (94–49 BC)

“Something is wrong here. War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption, and the Ice Capades. Something is definitely wrong. This is not good work. If this is the best God can do, I am not impressed. Results like these do not belong on the résumé of a Supreme Being. This is the kind of shit you’d expect from an office temp with a bad attitude. And just between you and me, in any decently-run universe, this guy would’ve been out on his all-powerful ass a long time ago.” – George Carlin

Dembski (1998) offers an interesting perspective on intelligent design, which is the concept in which we were created by an intelligent Creator, God. “But design is not a science stopper. Indeed, design can foster inquiry where traditional evolutionary approaches obstruct it. Consider the term ‘junk DNA.’ Implicit in this term is the view that because the genome of an organism has been cobbled together through a long, undirected evolutionary process, the genome is a patchwork of which only limited portions are essential to the organism. Thus on an evolutionary view we expect a lot of useless DNA. If, on the other hand, organisms are designed, we expect DNA, as much as possible, to exhibit function. And indeed, the most recent findings suggest that designating DNA as “junk” merely cloaks our current lack of knowledge about function. For instance, in a recent issue of the Journal of Theoretical Biology, John Bodnar describes how ‘non-coding DNA in eukaryotic genomes encodes a language which programs organismal growth and development.’ Design encourages scientists to look for function where evolution discourages it. Or consider vestigial organs that later are found to have a function after all. Evolutionary biology texts often cite the human coccyx as a ‘vestigial structure’ that hearkens back to vertebrate ancestors with tails. Yet if one looks at a recent edition of Gray’s Anatomy, one finds that the coccyx is a crucial point of contact with muscles that attach to the pelvic floor. The phrase ‘vestigial structure’ often merely cloaks our current lack of knowledge about function. The human appendix, formerly thought to be vestigial, is now known to be a functioning component of the immune system.”

“Admitting design into science can only enrich the scientific enterprise. All the tried and true tools of science will remain intact. But design adds a new tool to the scientist’s explanatory tool chest. Moreover, design raises a whole new set of research questions. Once we know that something is designed, we will want to know how it was produced, to what extent the design is optimal, and what is its purpose. Note that we can detect design without knowing what something was designed for. There is a room at the Smithsonian filled with objects that are obviously designed but whose specific purpose anthropologists do not understand.”

Atheists discount intelligent design and often call on natural selection, chance, and the long history of the earth to explain the evolution of humans. Natural selection doesn’t explain the origins of life, however. It merely explains the evolution of existing life forms. According to Trevors and Abel (2004) “The constraints of historical science are such that the origin of life may never be understood. Selection pressure cannot select nucleotides at the digital programming level where primary structures form. Genomes predetermine the phenotypes which natural selection only secondarily favors. Contentions that offer nothing more than long periods of time offer no mechanism of explanation for the derivation of genetic programming. No new information is provided by such tautologies. The argument simply says it happened.”

According to Hugh Ross (2016), “Many suggest that earth’s life-sustaining features are just ‘amazing coincidences’ that somehow fell into place in a way that suits human needs and, at the same time, determines what life-forms exist…Ongoing research tells us that earth has been shaped not only by an intricately orchestrated interplay of physical forces and conditions, but also by its vast abundance and diversity of life-forms. By means that no depth and breadth of scientific research can explain, life arose early in earth’s history under anything but the benign conditions it would seem to require and somehow persisted through multiple mass extinction events, always appearing and reappearing at just-right times and in just-right forms to meet the needs and demands of the revised environment.”

“The more thoroughly researchers investigate the history of our planet, the more astonishing the story of our existence becomes. The number and complexity of the astronomical, geological, chemical, and biological features recognized as essential to human existence have expanded explosively within the last decade…Are we simply the result of a colossal matrix of innumerable, narrow coincidences, against all odds, or is there a more reasonable explanation?” (p. 14).

“Even if evolutionary processes are responsible for new life-forms, there must be an external intellect sustaining the material world to make life and evolution possible,” according to Frank Turek (2015 p. 82-83). “In other words, evolutionary processes themselves rely on the goal-directedness of the material world. Evolution could not work without a mind actively directing the repetitive and precise natural forces that keep life together and make mutation and natural selection possible! …Mutations may be random in the sense that they do not have any goal in mind, but the natural forces that produce the mutations are not random. Living and nonliving things continue to exist because the foundation of the entire material world is goal-directed, not random.”

In summary, the purposes and complexities of life forms on the earth, coupled with goal-directed non-random evolutionary processes, suggest the presence of an intelligent designer, an originator. Using the imperfections and failures of humans (e.g., Ku Klux Klan) to discount the possibility of an intelligent designer equates to pointing to cracks in a home’s foundation to claim the home had no builder. Such assertions obscure the purposeful intentions of the Creator who designed the universe and the free will He granted.

The Uncaused Cause, the Cosmological Argument

Scientists today support the Big Bang theory. The mathematical underpinnings of this theory include Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, along with theories of fundamental particles. According to this theory, the universe (space, time, matter) started approximately 13.8 billion years ago with a small singularity, ever inflating to the state which we know today (NASA, 2016). Events before the Big Bang are not defined and what powered the Big Bang, setting it into rapid inflationary expansion is not known.

Dillahunty states, “It is not necessarily impossible for there to be an infinite chain of causes and effects. Among scientists, it is widely agreed that our universe began with the Big Bang. But we don’t know what occurred in the first split second after the Big Bang, nor can we comment on anything that came before it, as no experiments have yet been devised that could test any hypotheses about these early moments.”

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

As for the mighty force that powered the Big Bang, believers offer the explanation of a supernatural being. This supernatural being would need to be spaceless, timeless (unbounded by linear time)(c.f., Hawking, 2017), and metaphysical to have been present prior to the Big Bang. This being would further need to be intentional and active or the Big Bang wouldn’t have been possible. In other words, this presence could not be a passive form.

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

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

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.

In summary, God is the only logical answer.

The Problem of Pain and Evil

Matt Dillahunty states, “As Epicurus pointed out: ‘Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?’”

“There are many counter arguments to the problem of evil. Arguments that justify the existence of evil are known as theodicies, a term coined by Gottfried Leibniz. A theodicy can generally be divided into four categories, each typically rejecting one of the four premises used to make the argument. The argument is, after all, not an argument for the non-existence of God but an argument for the non-existence of God with all three of the characteristics of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence in the presence of evil.”

“Many counter arguments rely on wild and unsubstantiated speculation: ‘So how do theists respond to arguments like this? [The Argument from Evil] They say there is a reason for evil, but it is a mystery. Well, let me tell you this: I’m actually one hundred feet tall even though I only appear to be six feet tall. You ask me for proof of this. I have a simple answer: it’s a mystery. Just accept my word for it on faith. And that’s just the logic theists use in their discussions of evil.’ (Smith, 1996)”

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 discuss 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. 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 logical 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.

Argument from Personal Coincidences and the Argument from the Efficacy of Prayer

“[After feeling threatened] I decided to ask Archangel Michael to send us protection to get the girls safely home. Within seconds I looked up in disbelief as a police officer walked through the door! I quickly go the girls out of the store. I knew that we have just been saved by God and Archangel Michael, the patron saint of that police officer and others everywhere. Heaven worked to protect us, and I’m grateful.”

After reflecting on the quotation above, Dillahunty asks “How does the apologist know that God is arranging these occurrences, rather than aliens, the illuminati or the abominable snowman? Because other causes, including unknown factors, have not been ruled out, this is an argument from ignorance…. It is also an example of god of the gaps.”

Let’s unpack this assertion. When we develop and test theories in my academic field (business management) and others similar to mine that employ primary data (such as marketing, behavioral economics, and psychology), we aim to explain relationships between independent variables (such as personality factors or religious beliefs) and dependent variables (such as church attendance, volunteering activities or subjective well-being).

We develop theories based on the extant literature, which help us to identify the variables others have found to be relevant to our particular line of inquiry. We integrate findings from previous studies to form hypotheses, which we test using a variety of methods, such as structural equations modeling or hierarchical multiple regression.

Next, we gather data (which includes relevant demographic variables as controls) and enter it into a statistical package, such as SPSS. Then we run our analyses. Support of our hypotheses is provided when the results of our analyses are statistically significant. Statistical significance is obtained when the variance explained by the regression equation that we developed to explain the relationships between the independent variables and dependent variable is significant. Note that the variance explained is never 100%. We can never fully account for all factors that determine an outcome in the social sciences. In other words, results always include “gaps” or “unknown factors.” Despite same, we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and toss our findings into the trash, as Dillahunty would suggest we should do. Instead, we publish the knowledge we have, which we hope others will build upon to more fully explain variation.

To speak to Dillahunty’s assessment that people’s spiritual beliefs are merely arguments from ignorance, I suggest he question the prevalence of these so-called arguments from ignorance. Is it merely a coincidence that millions of people claim to have had spiritual experiences? We could test these empirically by collecting the testimonies of a few hundred people and applying a content analysis to identify recurring themes. We could also simply listen to their stories and make our own assessments of honesty.

My Testimonial

Until this point, I have resisted sharing my spiritual experiences in my blogs, due to the personal nature of the experiences and the chance of ridicule. It struck me while writing this piece that if I’m hit by a bus tomorrow, my testimonial will die with me and no one will be able to compare their own experiences with mine. For this reason, I’m going to offer readers a few of my spiritual experiences.

I was raised in a Catholic family with my sister and two brothers. We went to a Catholic grade school and frequently attended church. Church was a solemn experience, with formal dress, hymns, liturgy, and rituals, so I found myself frequently checking my watch and growing bored.

One night, while struggling to get to sleep in college, a woman wearing a blue gown appeared to me on my bed. Mother Mary. She touched my shoulder and comforted me, telling me that everything was going to be okay. I have always struggled with skin issues, and on that particular night I had reached a particularly high level of anxiety. When I awoke the next morning, I felt cleaner and more refreshed than I had ever felt. The colors of the flowers and the lawns of Florida State University seemed particularly bright and it felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from me. Within a few weeks, a book arrived in the mail (sent by someone anonymously), which offered tips for people with my particular skin condition. I changed my diet and my condition improved greatly.

Years passed and the memories of that episode slipped into the back of my mind. By my late twenties, all but my sister had left the Catholic Church for various reasons. Friends of mine were exploring eastern faiths, particularly Buddhism, so I started gravitating towards such faiths. I read books by James Redfield, Deepak Chopra, and the Dalai Lama and found their ideas to be fascinating. I wondered whether we were souls within a great soul, which whistled into the cosmos. What I learned at that point was that the faith I was exploring considered God to be a passive part of nature.

More years passed and I waffled about wandering into churches every so often, yet finding none that suited my particular needs. I got married and had two kids, completed a terminal degree, and moved to a different city with my family. As my kids grew, they noticed that the neighbors were attending church on Sunday, so my sons asked me why we weren’t attending church, which made me feel very guilty.

One night in the month of March four years ago, I sat in my bed struggling to get to sleep. Instead of being met by the warm embrace of a loving woman in a blue gown, I was met by a dark spirit, which attempted to strangle and suffocate me. I have never felt such pure, cold evil in my life and I was scared beyond words and completely frozen. In desperation, I did all I knew to do: I said the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary, over and over and over. With each repetition I felt the spirit being lifted, until it was finally pulled from me. God became of a priority at this point. I realized that He is not a passive part of nature, but an active, personal God. The only God with such characteristics is the triune Lord.

My family decided to check out a quaint Baptist church, which was popular with my neighbors. When I walked through its doors, something moved me emotionally and ignited a passion within. We spent the first half hour of the service singing praise through upbeat, contemporary Christian music. I recall Matt Redman’s “Bless the Lord, O my soul” and Chris Tomlin’s “How Great is Our God” and felt tears as they streamed down my cheeks. The pastor spent the next forty minutes explaining certain verses in the Bible in such a way that my interest in learning more was greatly stimulated. My family decided to join the church and we began regularly attending services. I was baptized for a second time a few months later by full immersion in a tank of water.

I was on a path, yet I still had some unresolved questions. One big question related to the way God ordained men to lead the churches. I’m an advocate for female empowerment and leadership, so the second class treatment of women bothered me. A second question related to the way billions on the planet don’t worship Jesus. What sort of fate do they face? Will they be denied entrance into heaven?

The answer to my first question came at church when the pastor shared that Mary Magdalene and other women were the first to discover the empty tomb. Jesus gave the privilege of discovering the empty tomb, which is arguably the most important discovery in the Bible, to women, who were treated like dogs in those days! Jesus loves women. By reading the Bible, I discovered many other examples of strong women. Three standouts are Ruth, who exemplified tremendous loyalty, Esther who demonstrated courage, and Mother Mary, who showed great faith.

The answer to my second question on the fate of people of other faiths came in an unexpected way. I was standing in an airport when I noticed a tall, slender man standing in the queue next to an attractive woman. Something about the man caught my eye as he seemed to be radiating light. When I took my assigned seat, I was delighted when the man sat down next to me and his wife next to him. He struck up a conversation and I soon discovered he was a pastor in a church about an hour from my house. I told him that I wanted to write a children’s book similar to the books by C.S. Lewis. He instructed me to read C.S. Lewis’ adult books, like Mere Christianity and the Great Divorce.

The books by C.S. Lewis made all of the difference, as they inspired me to learn more and to become an apologetic. They also taught me that no matter the religion into which we’re born or the vehicle we choose to enhance our knowledge of the world around us and God, all paths eventually lead to Jesus.

Since reading many of Lewis’ books, I’ve developed a passion for more knowledge. Lately, I have read books by Turek, Craig, MacDowell, Strobel, Platinga, Ross, Tozer, Guinness, Bannister, Lanza, and Warren.

Over the past few months, I’ve grown closer to God than ever. When I pray, I often feel complete joy. When I listen, I’ve heard His words. For these reasons and more, I’ve given my life over to Jesus Christ and nothing will prevent me from sharing His message of light and love with others.

I have had more spiritual experiences than the ones I have identified here, which I will share when I feel comfortable sharing. It isn’t easy to open up, particularly when accusations of “ignorance” or “hallucinations” are likely to come.

“People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you. Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give the best you have anyway.

You see, In the final analysis it is between you and God; It was never between you and them anyway.”  – Saint Teresa

Thank you for your time.

References

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NASA (2016). Accessed at https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/what-powered-the-big-bang http://www.space.com/25126-big-bang-theory.html

Ross, H. (2016). Improbable Planet: How earth became humanity’s home. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Routledge, C. (2014). 5 scientifically supported benefits of prayer: What science can tell us about the personal and social value of prayer. Psychology Today. June 23.

Smith, Q. (1996). Two Ways to Defend Atheism.

Trevors, J.T. & Abel, D.L. (2004). Chance and necessity do not explain the origin of life. Cell Biology International, 28: 729-739.

Turek, F. (2015). Stealing from God: Why atheists need God to make their case. USA: NavPress