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).
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: written by 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 perspective 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 half brother of Jesus
Jude: based on the perspectives of Jude, the half 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:
* 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
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.
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.
9. McDowell, J. (2010). More than a carpenter.
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.
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.