A Christian Rebuttal to Kaimatai, an Atheist

By S.J. Thomason

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.

S.J. Thomason 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.

S.J. Thomason 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.

S.J. Thomason 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.

S.J. Thomason 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.

S.J. Thomason 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.

S.J. Thomason 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.

S.J. Thomason 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.

S.J. Thomason 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.

S.J. Thomason 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.

S.J. Thomason 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

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Thoughts on the “Atheist Experience Show” along with Arguments and a Testimonial in Support of Jesus

By: S.J. Thomason

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, knowing that almost all of humanity would live under the New Covenant. (The Population Reference Bureau estimates that 98% of humanity – so far – has lived Anno Domini, AD). With the New Testament came New Covenant and the example of the way in which we should aspire to live: Jesus Christ. 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 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, MacDowell, Strobel, Platinga, Ross, Tozer, Guinness, Bannister, Lanza, and Warren. I’ve studied many articles by William Lane Craig on his website as well.

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

Dembski, W. A. Science and design. First things: A monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, 86: 21-34.

Enns, P. (2014). The Moody Handbook of Theology. Moody Publishers.

Hawking, S. (2017). The Beginning of Time. Accessed 1-20-2017 at: http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-beginning-of-time.html

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.

 

 

 

 

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? An Extension of Thought on Penal Substitution Atonement.

By: S.J. Thomason

“The people stood watching and the rulers even sneered at Him. They said, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One. The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered Him wine vinegar and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself. There was a written notice above Him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Jesus. ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong’” – Luke 12:35-41.

“Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment” – Psalm 22:16. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Mark 15:34; cf., Psalm 22:1.

Given such mental and physical anguish, people often wonder why the Prince of Peace, Jesus, had to die for our sins and for our salvation. This question is answered through theories of the atonement, which theologians have been developing for centuries. Christian theologians refer to the atonement as the reconciliation of God and humankind through Jesus Christ. The purpose of the following blog is to discuss the atonement theories of ransom, moral influence, and satisfaction/penal substitution and to offer an additional line of reasoning on the latter.

Ransom Theory

In the second century, Irenaeus of Lyons argued in favor of Ransom Theory (aka, Christus Victor and Classical Theory) as a way to explain Jesus’ crucifixion, stating that Jesus was paid as a ransom to Satan (Mattison, 2017). According to Mark 10:45 and Matthew 20:28, Jesus said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

However, many Christian scholars question whether Satan deserves to receive such a ransom. Indeed, references to Satan in the Bible refer to him as a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44), one who disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), a deceiver (Revelation 12:9 and 20:3), evil (John 17:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:3), and one who holds people captive to do his will (2 Timothy 2:26).

Furthermore, the LORD has made it clear that He is against Satan:

“Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because of your false words and lying visions, I am against you, declares the Sovereign LORD. My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will not belong to the council of my people or be listed in the records of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign LORD” – Ezekiel 13: 8-9.

“He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power” – Daniel 8:25.

From these verses, we understand that the LORD has sovereignty, so elevating Satan to His level by suggesting that the LORD must pay Satan ransom does not follow what the scriptures say of God or Satan.

Church fathers, including Augustine, taught Ransom Theory for centuries until other theories were developed, including Moral Influence Theory by Peter Abelard (1079-1142) and Satisfaction/Penal Substitution Theory by Anselm (1033-1109).

Moral Influence Theory

Peter Abelard (1079-1142) argued that Christ did not die to satisfy a ransom or for any principle of divine justice. Instead His purpose was to impress humanity with God’s love and to influence humanity toward moral improvement.

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps” – 1 Peter 2:22.

While these assertions are correct, the theory doesn’t fully explain the atonement and the payment for sins. For this reason, many church fathers and leaders adhere to Satisfaction/Penal Substitution Theory instead.

Satisfaction/Penal Substitution Theory

Anselm, a Benedictine monk who was a great philosopher and theologian of his day, argued that Jesus’ life was paid as a debt not to the devil, but to God. Anselm considered sin to be a dishonor to God and since the world’s sinful humanity cannot make sufficient satisfaction to God, God became human to do it on humanity’s behalf. Protestant reformers replaced God’s honor with God’s justice and many churches still adhere to the doctrine today (Mattison, 2017).

Below are two of many scriptural references that support this theory:

“Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was brought on Him, and by His wounds we are healed” – Isaiah 53: 4-5.

“He Himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; (Isaiah 53:9) by His wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray (Isaiah 53:4, 5, 6) but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” – 1 Peter 2:24.

In Exodus 12:29, God instructed the Israelite slaves to sacrifice a Passover lamb without blemish in order to spare their sons from the fates met by their Egyptian masters. The sacrifice led to the freedom of the Israelites from the Egyptians. The Feast of the Passover is celebrated annually in commemoration of the event.

In the New Testament, John the Baptist recognized Jesus as the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29). Like the unblemished Passover lamb, Jesus is free from sin (Hebrews 4:15). He was crucified during the time in which the Passover was observed (Mark 14:12). As the sacrifice of the original lamb led to freedom from slavery, the sacrifice of Jesus, the Passover lamb, led to our freedom from the slavery of sin.

“For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” – 1 Corinthians 5:7

Over the past century, philosophers, theologians, authors, and others have also offered support for Satisfaction/Penal Substitution Theory as a way to explain the atonement of Jesus. They include William Lane Craig, C.S. Lewis, A.W. Tozer, and Charles Spurgeon.

“Divine Command Morality demands only that God act consistently with His own moral nature. But, arguably, God the Son’s voluntarily bearing of the punishment for sin that we deserved is entirely consistent with God’s nature, for it demonstrates His great love for fallen human beings that He should bear the penalty for sins that they deserved” – William Lane Craig.

“The atonement in Jesus Christ’s blood is perfect; there isn’t anything that can be added to it. It is spotless, impeccable, flawless. It is as perfect as God is perfect. So Anselm’s question, ‘How dost Thou spare the wicked if Thou art just?’ is answered from the effect of Christ’s passion. The holy suffering on the cross and resurrection from the dead cancels our sins and abrogates our sentence.”

“Where and how did we get that sentence? We got it by the application of justice to a moral situation. No matter how nice and refined and lovely you think you are, you are a moral situation – you have been, you still are, you will be. And when God confronted you, God’s justice confronted a moral situation and found you unequal, found inequity, found iniquity.”

“Because He found iniquity there, God sentenced you to die. Everybody has been or is under the sentence of death. I wonder how people can be so jolly under the sentence of death. ‘The soul that sinneth, it shall die’ (Ezekiel, 18:20). When justice confronts a moral situation in a man, woman, young person, or anybody morally responsible, then either it justifies or condemns that person. That’s how we got the sentence” – A.W. Tozer

“There was never an ill word spoken, nor an ill thought conceived, nor an evil deed done, for which God will not have punishment from some one or another. He will either have satisfaction from you, or else from Christ. If you have no atonement to bring through Christ, you must forever lie paying the debt which you never can pay, in eternal misery; for as surely as God is God, He will sooner lose His Godhead than suffer one sin to go unpunished, or one particle of rebellion unrevenged.”

“Oh! then, beloved, think how great must have been the substitution of Christ, when it satisfied God for all the sins of His people. For man’s sin God demands eternal punishment; and God hath prepared a Hell into which He casts those who die impenitent. Oh! my brethren, can ye think what must have been the greatness of the atonement which was the substitution for all this agony which God would have cast upon us, if He had not poured it upon Christ” – Charles Spurgeon

“The work of Christ on the cross did not influence God to love us, did not increase that love by one degree, did not open any fount of grace or mercy in His heart. He had loved us from old eternity and needed nothing to stimulate that love. The cross is not responsible for God’s love; rather it was His love which conceived the cross as the one method by which we could be saved. God felt no different toward us after Christ had died for us, for in the mind of God Christ had already died before the foundation of the world. God never saw us except through atonement. The human race could not have existed one day in its fallen state had not Christ spread His mantle of atonement over it. And this He did in eternal purpose long ages before they led Him out to die on the hill above Jerusalem. All God’s dealings with man have been conditioned upon the cross.” – A.W. Tozer

“But supposing God became a man – suppose our human nature which can suffer and die was amalgamated with God’s nature in one person – then that person could help us. He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was a man; and He could do it perfectly because He was God. You and I can go through this process only if God does it in us; but God can do it only if He becomes man. Our attempts at this dying will succeed only if we men share in God’s dying, just as our thinking can succeed only because it is a drop out of the ocean of His intelligence: but we cannot share God’s dying unless God dies; and He cannot die except by being a man. That is the sense in which He pays our debt, and suffers for us what He Himself need not suffer at all.” – C.S. Lewis

Jesus Served as Both a Substitute and an Integral Part of Humanity

Consider Jesus’ role as the vine and humanity as its branches. In other words, consider that Jesus is at one with us, so when He was crucified, we and our sins were crucified. He and we are one. He served as both a substitute for us and as an integral part of us as both God and man. The scripture supports these assertions, as noted below.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” – John 15:1-5.

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace” – Colossians 3:15.

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in Heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross” Colossians 1:17-20.

Jesus suffered greatly in His human form. Prior to and following His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus performed many miracles, demonstrating His divinity. Following His arrest and during the crucifixion, Jesus performed no miracles. During that period of time, He served as the body of mankind and endured pain and suffering at a very human level. He was “led like a lamb to the slaughter” in silence (Isaiah 53:7) and in a very human way, He endured excruciating pain.

Yet Questions Remain

The above theories offer explanations on the atonement of Jesus, yet questions and issues remain. Ransom Theory gives too much power to Satan, while Moral Influence and Satisfaction/Penal Substitution Theories make only inferences of him. Satan’s role shouldn’t be discounted, given the attention he gets throughout the Bible and the way he is essentially the poster child of evil, deceit, lies, lawlessness, and sin. Moral Influence Theory also does not address the way Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins, which is an essential element to understanding atonement. The benefit and truth behind Moral Influence Theory is the way it explains Jesus’ positive ethical influence and the way He came to serve as an example to us of the loving and equitable way we should treat humanity.

Satisfaction/Penal Substitution Theory, which states that LORD substituted Jesus in payment for our sins to the LORD, causes one to question why God needed to make a payment to God for the people He created. Atheists use the latter argument to refute Christianity altogether. They often follow up with a question on why God didn’t simply forgive humanity’s imperfections since He created humans with all said imperfections. Accordingly, Christians need an additional line of reasoning (and defense) to explain the atonement. For this reason, the next portion of this essay is devoted to offering this additional line of reasoning.

One way to answer to the question of why the atonement was necessary is to consider free will. 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.

“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” – C.S. Lewis

Captives of Sin

To provide a second answer, we need to direct our attention for a moment away from the payment to the LORD for the crime (i.e., sin) to focus on the crime itself. Jesus atoned for the sins of humanity. Sin is what binds and holds humanity hostage to the father of all sins, Satan. Prior to Jesus’ resurrection, mankind was imprisoned in death for its sins.

“At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people” – Matthew 27: 51-53.

The moment Jesus died on the cross was the same moment in which holy people who had passed were freed from captivity, death, and Satan, and raised to eternal life. Jesus had fulfilled the scriptures, such as Isaiah 53, by overcoming the world and redeeming humanity from sins and death.

“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

According to 1 John 3:8, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” This verse makes it clear that the devil did not benefit from Jesus’ death and resurrection as Ransom Theory suggests. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that Satan expected the resurrection to occur, or he wouldn’t have worked through Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus (Luke 22:3; John 13:27).

In his children’s book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis drew the same conclusion. The great lion in the book, Aslan, who represented Jesus, was killed by the White Witch, who represented  Satan. She and her helpers had strapped the lifeless body of Aslan to a Stone Table, pleased that they had killed him .

“The rising of the sun had made everything look so different – all colors and shadows were changed – that for a moment they didn’t see the important thing. Then they did. The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan…they looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.”

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

C.S. Lewis’ “different incantation” is part of the Old Testament. Around 700 years before Jesus’ death and resurrection, the prophet Isaiah predicted both His suffering and the outcome: “Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the LORD makes His life an offering for sin, He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in His hand. After He has suffered, He will see the light of life and be satisfied” – Isaiah 53:10-11.

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” – Colossians 2:13-15.

One can only imagine the rage of Satan when he realized Jesus had triumphed and that he had been duped. His schemes in the first three hundred years of Christianity to persecute Christians by guiding Roman Emperors like Nero to torture them also backfired. The bravery of early Christians inspired many conversions and by the time Christianity was legalized  in 313AD, it had between five and six million adherents (Wawro, 2008). By 350AD, 33 million Christians lived in the Roman Empire and Christianity had become a universal religion (Wawro, 2008).

C.S. Lewis notes that “joy is the serious business of heaven,” while the Bible infers that sin is the serious business of hell. While Jesus is the vine, which grows love and life, Satan is the cancer of sin, which leads to death. Through sin, Satan grows his cancer and poisons humanity. Yet he was overcome, likely unexpectedly, through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus overcame the world, Satan, sin, lawlessness, and the cycle of sin, which had bound humanity to Satan.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” – John 15:13.

In summary, Jesus died for us not to pay ransom to the devil but to free us from the ties which bind us to the devil: our sins. He served humanity as the perfect sacrifice without sin, the Passover Lamb, and the fulfillment of Isaiah 53. He also served as the perfect moral influence and the example by which we should all strive to live.

This following logic is offered as a supplement to Satisfaction/Penal Substitution Theory to help explain the atonement of Jesus:

  1. Sin, which is also considered lawlessness, violates the law established by God (1 John 3:4)
  2. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23)
  3. Satan represents sin and death (cf., Daniel 8:25; 1 Corinthians 26; Ephesians 2:1-2).
  4. We all sin (Romans 3:23)
  5. When we sin, we’re held captive to Satan (2 Timothy 2:26) and death (Romans 6:23)
  6. Sin cannot break the cycle of sin and lawlessness; only one without sin (Jesus) can break the cycle (1 John 3:4); and only one who established the law (the LORD) can shatter lawlessness (Isaiah 33:22) and legal indebtedness (Colossians 2:13-15)
  7. Jesus’ death on the cross freed sinners from sins (1 Peter 2:2; 1 John 3:5), captivity and death (1 John 1:7)
  8. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we have eternal life (John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 15:22)
  9. Jesus’ resurrection was a triumph over the powers and authorities of darkness (Colossians 2:13-15).

Thank you for your time.

Bible References

1 John 3:4: “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that He appeared so that He might take away our sins. And in Him is no sin.”

Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Daniel 8:25” “He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power.”

1 Corinthians 26: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

Ephesians 2:1-2: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”

Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

2 Timothy 2:26: “and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”

1 Corinthians 15:22: “For as in Adam, all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He sent His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Isaiah 33:22: “For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; it is He who will save us.

1 Peter 2:2: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

1 John 3:5: “But you know that He appeared so that He might take away our sins.”

1 John 1:7: “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son, purifies us from all sin.”

Book and Website References

Craig, W.L. (2017). Philosophical Challenges in the Doctrine of the Atonement. Accessed February 6, 2017 at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/philosophical-challenges-in-the-doctrine-of-the-atonement#ixzz4Xx7AsJbR

Lewis, C.S. (1942; 1980; 2002). Mere Christianity. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. Harper One.

Lewis, C.S. (1950; 1978). The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd.

Mattison, M. (2017). The Meaning of the Atonement. Accessed February 6, 2017 at http://www.auburn.edu/~allenkc/openhse/atonement.html

Spurgeon, C. (1858) Particular Redemption. Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens. 1858. http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0181.htm.

Tozer, A.W. (2005; 2009) The Radical Cross. Living the Passion of Christ. Moody Bible Institute

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

Why Were Early Christians So Brave?

By: S.J. Thomason

The intention of the following blog is to offer support for Christians who encounter people who believe Jesus is merely a myth, perpetuated by the early Church. One such mythicist is Dr. Richard Carrier. I have had a number of delightful interactions with Carrier on Twitter, which alerted me to his thoughts on Christianity, Jesus, and the Bible. He is an historian with a Ph.D. from Columbia University who has written numerous books and blog posts refuting the existence of Jesus.

Unlike Carrier, supporters of major world religions outside of Christianity do not question Jesus’ existence. For example, Jews and Muslims do not claim that Jesus didn’t exist. While Jews do not accept Jesus’ divinity, they acknowledge His existence and crucifixion. According to Muhammad, Muslims consider Jesus a prophet whom God took to heaven prior to the crucifixion (leading some to conclude that someone else took Jesus’ place on the cross). Carrier denies Jesus walked the earth, stating in his Twitter posts that Christianity was born out of a “hallucination” by Paul of a “celestial Jesus.”

According to Carrier’s webpage, his research focus is on the “origins of Christianity,” yet he has tweeted that the Bible is “propaganda” and the only historical texts one can rely upon are extra-Biblical.

Let’s consider that point. If I were going to write books on the “origins of Muslims,” wouldn’t it make sense for me to incorporate the Quran? If I were going to craft a history of any countries within the Arab region, wouldn’t I want to take the Quran into account? The Quran certainly offers historical accounts of Muhammad, Muslim beliefs, and Sharia law. Muhammad is an extremely influential prophet among Muslims, so excluding him from any discussions about Arab history seems nonsensical. Applying Carrier’s logic to this situation would require that I obtain extra-Quran accounts of Muhammad’s life before admitting he even lived.

Note that the Guinness Book of World Records has indicated: “Although it is impossible to obtain exact figures, there is little doubt that the Bible is the world’s best-selling and most widely distributed book. A survey by the Bible Society concluded that around 2.5 billion copies were printed between 1815 and 1975, but more recent estimates put the number at more than 5 billion” (www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/best-selling-book-of-non-fiction). Furthermore, the Bible has been translated into 349 languages. Such figures indicate strong support for the Bible from all over the globe.

William Lane Craig’s website includes the following comment: “Archaeology is the greatest defender of the accuracy of the Bible. Archaeologists, when in Israel, still rely on the Bible to determine the location of tell sites which reliance has proved to be remarkably accurate. Historians have long acknowledged the accuracy of place names and events recorded in the Bible despite so-called “higher criticism” and skepticism. In fact, the Bible is now a standard historical text for archaeologists in the Middle East, Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and Macedonia. The great names of Archaeology, including Dr. Flinders Petrie, Dr. William Albright, Dr. J.O. Kinnaman, Ira M. Price, Professor Sayce of Oxford, and Sir William Ramsay have gone on record to say that archaeology confirms the accuracy and reliability of the Bible. Dr. William Albright, who was not a friend of Christianity and was probably the foremost authority in Middle East archaeology in his time, said this about the Bible: ‘There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of the Old Testament.’”

“Sir William Ramsey, one of the greatest archaeologists of all time, spent 30 years of his life trying to disprove the New Testament, especially Luke’s writings. After much intensive research with many expecting a thorough refutation of Christianity, Ramsey concluded that Luke was one of the greatest historians of all time and became a Christian based on his archaeological findings.”

Extensive evidence of the Bible’s historicity exists, derived from the Dead Sea Scrolls, stone inscriptions, and archeological findings from regions described in the Bible. For a more extensive review, visit http://www.reasonablefaith.org/two-recent-archaeological-discoveries#ixzz4XfDkyKvG

In addition to the support from archeologists, secular historians support the historicity of the Bible. One example of a history book in which the history of early Christianity and Jesus is documented is “Historical Atlas: A Comprehensive History of the World” written by forty-five academic contributors from prestigious universities from all over the globe.

The Historical Atlas states: “In fact, it came to pass that Jesus’ death was the foundation of Christianity as we know it. Rather than running scared, Jesus’ followers grew into thousands. This early ‘church’ ran into very strong opposition in Jerusalem and around 35CE great persecution took place there. Around this time, one of the most decisive turning points in world history occurred. The early church began to accept those who were not of Jewish origin- the Gentiles” (Wawro, 2008, page 84).

Carrier’s blog opines that the apostles “died for a vision.” He then proceeds to refer to a debate he had with Bass, stating that “He couldn’t even establish that they could have avoided their deaths by recanting. Or even that what they died for was their belief in the resurrection, rather than their moral vision for society, or (I could have added) some other belief they wouldn’t recant—such as their already-Jewish refusal to worship pagan gods, the only thing Pliny really ever killed Christians for (the resurrection was never even at issue); and that’s the only explicitly eyewitness account we have of any Christians being killed for anything in the whole first hundred years of the religion.”

As reported by Wawro (2008) in the Historical Atlas, the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus reported that “Nero punished Christians for their role in the April 64 CE fire in Rome’s Circus Maximus using the following means:

  • He had them covered with animal skins and let them be eaten by dogs.
  • He had them nailed to crosses.
  • He had them burned as torches for light after sundown” (Wawro, 2008, page 85)

In the Tacitus Annals 15,44, Tacitus states “Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dross of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car.”

In fact, suffering and martyrdom of the early Christian disciples has been documented by a variety of extra-Biblical sources. Eusebius, the first church historian, wrote Ecclesiastical History in which he speaks to the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul. He cites Dionysius of Corinth (~ 170 A.D.), Tertullian (~ 200 A.D.) and Origen (~ 240 A.D.) to back his assertions. He also cites Josephus (~ 95 A.D.), Clement of Alexandria (~ 200 A.D.), and Hegesippus (~ 170 A.D.) on the martyrdom of James, the half brother of Jesus (Habermas & Licona, 2004).

“Despite persecutions for the next 150 years, the new Christian Church spread into France, Spain, North Africa, and Mesopotamia. The once small sect devoted to Jesus Christ grew to between 5 and 6 million by 300 CE. By 350 CE, the number of Christians in the Roman Empire was over 33 million, and Christianity had become a universal religion” (Wawro 2008, page 85). In other words, between 5 and 6 million Christians were willing to worship Jesus illegally in the first few hundred years following Jesus’ resurrection. In 312 AD, Constantine had a vision of a Christian symbol, which led to a battle victory and the legalization of Christianity, ending the persecutions of early Christians.

Does it seem reasonable to determine that millions of early Christians would risk their lives by worshipping illegally to follow a “vision” or “hallucination” by a tentmaker named Paul? Additionally, Paul’s supposed hallucination did not include the gospel accounts of Jesus and accounts of the many miracles He performed, including the Resurrection. It is the miracles, including the Resurrection, which drove Christians to risk their lives. Paul’s supposed vision, or hallucination, of a celestial Jesus obviously excluded same.

Below I’ve listed some of Jesus’ miracles:

  1. Jesus turns water into wine (John 2:1-12)
  2. Jesus heals an official’s son without going to see the boy (John 4:46-54).
  3. Jesus heals a crippled man on the Sabbath (John 5:1-17).
  4. Jesus feeds 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish (Matthew 14:19-21; Mark 6:30-34; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14).
  5. Jesus walks on water (Matthew 14:22-32; Mark 6:47-52; John 6:16-21).
  6. Jesus heals a man born blind (John 9:1-41).
  7. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44).
  8. Jesus heals a bleeding woman (Matthew 9:2-7; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48).
  9. Jesus calms a storm (Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:37-41; Luke 8:22-25).
  10. Jesus heals a paralyzed man (Matthew 9:2-7; Mark 2:3-12; Luke 5:18-26).
  11. Jesus resurrected from the dead (Matthew 28:5-6; Mark 16:6; Luke 24; John 20).

Additionally, does it seem reasonable that a tentmaker invent his own tale of Christianity when the rewards of crafting such a story did not exist? Paul boasted about his suffering because he truly believed in a greater purpose, which was glorifying Jesus and advancing in heaven. Paul suffered great peril, as documented in the books he wrote. This suffering occurred after his conversion from a Jewish persecutor of Christians to a Christian persecuted by Jews.

Paul, the author of between six and thirteen New Testament books, offers one of the most compelling stories of a transformation. Paul (known as Saul) was on the road to Damascus in his effort to identify and arrest early Christians for illegal worship. “Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me.’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’ (Acts 9-1-6). Paul immediately converted to the Way and became one of its most ardent followers who was beaten, imprisoned, and eventually beheaded all in Jesus’ name.

In 2 Corinthians 16:26-27, Paul states: “I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” 2 Corinthians 12:10 adds: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Clearly, Paul was not living an easy life once he decided to follow Jesus.

As C.S. Lewis said, “I didn’t go to religion to make me ‘happy.’ I always knew a bottle of port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

Carrier points to times in history in which people have been “gullible,” thereby generalizing all gullible people into a basket of gullibles into which he throws early Christians. He implies that the gullible within the “Heaven’s Gate Cult” are similar to early Christians and that all Christians are “gullible.”

I agree that some people are gullible within every group, as were the adherents to atheist despots like Pol Pot, Mao Tse Tung, and Stalin, yet I would never make the assertion that the gullibility of Stalin’s followers applies to atheists today (following Carrier’s logic that all atheists are “gullible”). I also know that the vast majority of atheists today abhor the acts of Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse Tung, so I would never throw them into a basket of atheists with Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse Tung.

Carrier states: “Thus countless people die for a ‘lie’ in the sense that they don’t know that what they are dying for is false. This is most obviously true for non-eyewitnesses, who die merely for trusting someone else’s word (many religions have many examples of this happening, from Mormonism to Islam to Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism, and beyond). But it’s also true for “eyewitnesses,” whose own minds have lied to them. And also, of course, eyewitnesses who are being conned (and indeed many a person has been fully convinced of something that was in fact a perpetrated sham). And also witnesses who aren’t sure of what they saw, but who believe they will gain eternal life if what they saw is what they are told it was, or want it to be—convincing themselves it must be true, merely to avoid personal despair.”

Rather than dig into the psychology behind the movement of early Christians, Carrier implies that their minds have lied to them, they are following a perpetrated sham, and that the early Christians (who, again, were burned and nailed to crosses), believed to “avoid personal despair.” Other more honest atheists with whom I’ve had these conversations acknowledge that early Christians truly believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Early Christians weren’t merely following the hallucination of Paul. They believed Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament. Jesus’ birth was predicted in the scriptures, as noted here:

Isaiah 9:6 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:1-2: “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past He humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future He will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

Jesus’ resurrection fulfilled the scriptures, as noted here:

Isaiah 53:5 “But He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.

  1. Isaiah 53:11 “After He has suffered, He will see the light of life and be satisfied, by His knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities.”
  2. Psalm 16:9-11 “Because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You will make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
  3. Psalm 118:22 “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
  4. Isaiah 53: 9-10 “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the LORD makes His life an offering for sin, He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in His hand.”

Roman history books included references to Jesus, as noted here (Miller, 2007, page 346):

  1. Antiquities of the Jews, by Joseph (about 93-94). “There was a wise man who was called Jesus, and His conduct was good…Pilate condemned Him to be crucified…His disciples didn’t abandon their loyalty to Him. They reported that He appeared to them three days after His crucifixion that He was alive.”
  2. Annals of Imperial Rome, by Tacitus (about 55 – 120). “Christ suffered the ultimate penalty at the hands of procurator Pontius Pilate when Tiberius was emperor of Rome.”
  3. The Lives of the Caesars, by Suetonius (about 70-130). “Chrestus caused the riots in Rome in AD 49. This is probably a reference to Christ and to the hostility that erupted when traditional Jews clashed with Jews who believed Jesus was the promised Messiah. Acts 18:2 supports this theory, reporting that Claudius Caesar expelled all Jews from Rome during this time.

Carrier goes on to state that “it’s also possible for people to die for what they know is a lie.”

Yes, this is possible if the death were unexpected, yet for Carrier to suggest that early Christians, whom either expected or acknowledged the possibility of death, beatings, or imprisonment, knew in their minds that what they were doing was in vain obliterates any rational theories of human behavior and psychology.

  1. People of sound minds make decisions that maximize their outcomes.
  2. People of sound minds weigh benefits against drawbacks when making decisions.
  3. Early Christians wanted to maximize their chances of going to heaven by following Jesus.
  4. Early Christians weighed the benefits of going to heaven and following Jesus against the risks of imprisonment and death.
  5. Had early Christians determined the risks outweighed the benefits (and considered it all a lie), they would have recanted their testimonies in support of Jesus.

“In the centuries that followed, the believers in Jesus, called Christians, braved horrible persecution to found communities across the Roman Empire” (Belt, 2014).

Carrier then questions whether saints such as Peter, Jesus half-brother James, Stephen were (1) martyred and if they indeed were martyred, he questions whether they (2) were martyred for what they believed or for what they saw.

According to the Antiquities of the Jews, written around Flavius Josephus mentions the death by stoning the brother of James the Just, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.”

According to Acts 12:2, King Herod put the apostle James to death with the sword.

According to Acts 7:55-58, Stephen was stoned. “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city, and began to stone him.”

Other accounts of the deaths of the disciples are based on tradition. The most commonly accepted traditions are as follows: (https://www.gotquestions.org/apostles-die.html unless otherwise noted).

  • Matthew suffered martyrdom in Ethiopia, killed by a sword.
  • Bartholomew was flayed to death by a whip (Johns, 2014).
  • Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross in Greece. The cross is now known as the cross of St. Andrew (Johns, 2014).
  • Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India
  • Paul was tortured and beheaded by the Emperor Nero in 67 AD.
  • Peter was crucified upside-down, in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy (John 21:18).
  • James the Lesser was either beaten or stoned to death, while praying for his attackers (Johns, 2014).
  • Philip was reportedly crucified upside-down in Hierapolis, Turkey. In 2011, archeologists in Hierapolis discovered what they believed to be Philip’s tomb (Johns, 2014).
  • Matthias reportedly preached in the “land of the cannibals” (Johns, 2014).

Though we only have traditions that offer glimpses of the specific ways that most of the early Christian disciples died, we can infer from the fact that Christianity was considered illegal and Christians were persecuted that no matter the means by which they passed, their lives were not easy and their faith in the way, the truth, and the life was strong.

The disciples preached, despite the risks, because they believed that a humble carpenter is the Son of Man and Savior of the world. Had they not seen Him resurrect, they wouldn’t have preached that He resurrected. Had they not seen Him perform miracles, they wouldn’t have preached that He performed miracles. Had they not been filled with the Holy Spirit, they would not have been so brave.

It’s humbling when one considers the way a humble carpenter, a tax collector, several fishermen, a tentmaker, and others were able to change the world.  With God, nothing is impossible. Amen.

Thank you for your time.

“The great difficulty is to get audiences to realize that you are preaching Christianity simply because you happen to think it true.” – CS Lewis

References

Richard Carrier’s full blog is available at http://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/9978

Belt, D. (2014). Life in the time of Jesus. National Geographic. Jesus and the Apostles. Christianity’s early rise. Special Issue.

Craig, W.L. (2016) Two recent archeological discoveries. Accessed February 3, 2017 at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/two-recent-archaeological-discoveries

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

Johns, C. (2014). Life in the time of Jesus. National Geographic. Jesus and the Apostles. Christianity’s early rise. Special Issue.

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

Wawro, G. (2008). Historical Atlas: A Comprehensive History of the World. Millennium House: Elanora Heights, Australia

A Christian’s Rebuttal to “Why I Am Not a Christian” by Bertrand Russell

Russell delivered this lecture in 1927 at the National Secular Society, South London Branch, at Battersea Town Hall.

By: S.J. Thomason

A few months ago, I encountered an atheist on Twitter who posed a challenge. He said that he would read material by my favorite Christian author if I would read material by his favorite atheist. I was hesitant to agree because I had never read any books or articles by those advocating atheism, and I was fearful that something they would write would challenge my beliefs in a way I found uncomfortable. After some prodding, he finally convinced me to read Bertrand Russell. In exchange, he read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.

After both of us read the other’s suggestions, this particular atheist, “Facepalmer,” wrote a rather long rebuttal of C.S. Lewis, while I wrote a rather short blurb on Russell. I found Russell’s “arguments” against God to be unsubstantiated, yet I wasn’t prepared to write a rebuttal to the arguments since I needed to do some research on effective ways to counter them. It was at this point that I was inspired to read rebuttals to other atheists’ arguments, since I figured I had seen their best in Russell.

Well, I’ve done my research by reading numerous rebuttals on atheists’ Robert Price, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Lawrence Krauss. Therefore, the intention of this blog is to present these arguments and to offer an opinion on the arguments from a Christian perspective. I next present Bertrand Russell’s arguments, along with my rebuttals to the arguments.

The First Cause Argument

Russell states, “Perhaps the simplest and easiest to understand is the argument of the First Cause. (It is maintained that everything we see in this world has a cause, and as you go back in the chain of causes further and further you must come to a First Cause, and to that First Cause you give the name of God.) That argument, I suppose, does not carry very much weight nowadays, because, in the first place, cause is not quite what it used to be.”

Russell adds that the First Cause “cannot have any validity” and adds “There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination. Therefore, perhaps, I need not waste any more time upon the argument about the First Cause.”

In all fairness to Bertrand Russell, when he delivered his speech in 1927, scientists had not reached the conclusion that the universe had a start date yet. Coincidentally, it was in 1927 when an astronomer named Georges Lemaitre conceived that the universe started long ago as a single point. Two years later, an astronomer named Edwin Hubble discovered that other galaxies were moving away from us and the farthest galaxies were moving faster than the galaxies closer to us. Hubble is known as the Father of the Big Bang Theory (LaRocco & Rothstein, 2017). “The Big Bang Theory is the leading explanation about how the universe began. At its simplest, it talks about the universe as we know it starting with a small singularity, then inflating over the next 13.8 billion years to the cosmos that we know today” (Howell, 2015).

Since the universe had a start date for time, space, and matter (Hawking, 2017), one wonders what existed prior to the Big Bang. At this point, science hasn’t provided an explanation for what caused or powered the Big Bang. What we know is that the force to inflate the expansion of the universe did not have properties of linear time, space, and matter. The sheer force that powered the expansion seems likely to be powerful. So, the assumption can be made that the force that powered the universe’s expansion was powerful, metaphysical, and eternal. In other words, the force bears all of the characteristics of God.

Thomas Aquinas’ First Mover Theory for Proof of God, which was quoted in Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23: 901-917, helps to further explain this logic.

1. Our senses tell us that there is some motion in the world.
2. All things moving must be moved by something else.
3. Motion is the change from potentiality to actuality.
4. It is not possible to be potential and actual in the same respect.
5. Therefore, the mover cannot also be the moved.
6. There cannot be an infinite regression of movers.
7. Therefore, there must be a first, unmoved mover.

A.W. Tozer (2006, p. 59) states, “In the beginning God…” (Genesis 1:1) Not matter, for matter is not self-causing. It requires an antecedent cause, and God is that Cause…In the beginning God, the uncaused Cause of matter, mind, and law. There we must begin.”

In summary, Russell refutes the First Cause Argument by saying that the universe had no start date so the argument is irrelevant, yet the fact that the universe has a start date, coupled with logic, suggests that God is the First Cause, the uncaused Cause.

The Natural Law Argument

Russell states, “Human laws are behests commanding you to behave a certain way, in which you may choose to behave, or you may choose not to behave; but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave, and being a mere description of what they in fact do, you cannot argue that there must be somebody who told them to do that, because even supposing that there were, you are then faced with the question ‘Why did God issue just those natural laws and no others?’ If you say that he did it simply from his own good pleasure, and without any reason, you then find that there is something which is not subject to law, and so your train of natural law is interrupted. If you say, as more orthodox theologians do, that in all the laws which God issues he had a reason for giving those laws rather than others – the reason, of course, being to create the best universe, although you would never think it to look at it — if there were a reason for the laws which God gave, then God himself was subject to law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary. You really have a law outside and anterior to the divine edicts, and God does not serve your purpose, because he is not the ultimate lawgiver. In short, this whole argument about natural law no longer has anything like the strength that it used to have. I am traveling on in time in my review of the arguments. The arguments that are used for the existence of God change their character as time goes on. They were at first hard intellectual arguments embodying certain quite definite fallacies. As we come to modern times they become less respectable intellectually and more and more affected by a kind of moralizing vagueness.”

In the above statement, Russell makes the assertion that “if there were a reason for the laws which God gave, then God himself was subject to the law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary.”

Russell doesn’t understand that God is not “subject to the law” that guides the universe; He is the law that guides the universe. He is the moral code and the absolute standard. God is the eternally great I AM (Exodus 3:14), “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8). In Revelation 22:13, God states, “I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, and I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life.”

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis states (p. 28), “When you say that nature is governed by certain laws, this may only mean that nature does, in fact, behave in a certain way. The so-called laws may not be anything real – anything above and beyond the actual facts which we observe. But in the case of Man, we saw that this will not due. The Law of Human Nature, or of Right and Wrong, must be something above the actual facts of human behavior. In this case, besides the actual facts, you have something else – a real law which we did not invent and which we know we ought to obey.”

There was no start point at which time God sat down to make choices about the physical laws that guide the universe. Such an assertion drags God down to the level of a human and traps Him in our linear timeline. God is unbounded by time and choice. As C.S. Lewis indicated in the Great Divorce, “Ye cannot fully understand the relations of choice and time until you are beyond both.” Humans create laws to govern society. God is the law and the standard from which our innate sense of an absolute standard of right and wrong is derived.

Similarly, Stephen Hawking refers to the dynamical laws that govern the universe. He states, “Since events before the Big Bang have no observational consequences, one may as well cut them out of the theory, and say that time began at the Big Bang. Events before the Big Bang, are simply not defined, because there’s no way one could measure what happened at them. This kind of beginning to the universe, and of time itself, is very different to the beginnings that had been considered earlier. These had to be imposed on the universe by some external agency. There is no dynamical reason why the motion of bodies in the solar system cannot be extrapolated back in time, far beyond four thousand and four BC, the date for the creation of the universe, according to the book of Genesis. Thus it would require the direct intervention of God, if the universe began at that date. By contrast, the Big Bang is a beginning that is required by the dynamical laws that govern the universe. It is therefore intrinsic to the universe, and is not imposed on it from outside” (Hawking, 2017).

Let’s unpack Stephen Hawking’s statement. He points to the book of Genesis and a universe start date of four thousand and four BC, which, if such a date were true, he indicates that it “would require the direct intervention of God.” I will assume that he made the latter statement in recognition of the physical evidence supporting the 13.8 billion year start date. Hawking further states that there are “dynamical laws that govern the universe” that are “intrinsic” to the universe. Such assertions naturally beg the question of how these “intrinsic” laws came about. Laws don’t create themselves. I ask readers to consider why we have “intrinsic laws” that govern the universe if we supposedly have no source or governor of such laws.

Famed mathematical physicist, Sir Roger Penrose, worked alongside of Stephen Hawking for many years. He recently went on Christian Radio and stated that Hawking’s new book is “misleading,” adding that M theory is “not even a theory” and “hardly science” but “hopes.” He further noted that the universe did not “create itself from nothing” (Hunt4Truth.wordpress.com, 2014).

As A.W. Tozer (2006 p. 57-58) helps to explain the way God is both present within the universe intrinsically and independent of it, extrinsically. He says, “God dwells in His creation and is everywhere indivisibly present in all His works…While God dwells in His world He is separated from it by a gulf forever impassable. However closely He may be identified with the work of His hands, they are and must eternally be other than He, and He is and must be antecedent to and independent of them. He is transcendent above all His works even while He is immanent within them.”

The Argument from Design

Russell states, “When you come to look into this argument from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world, with all the things that are in it, with all its defects, should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience have been able to produce in millions of years. I really cannot believe it. Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku Klux Klan or the Fascists? Moreover, if you accept the ordinary laws of science, you have to suppose that human life and life in general on this planet will die out in due course: it is a stage in the decay of the solar system; at a certain stage of decay you get the sort of conditions of temperature and so forth which are suitable to protoplasm, and there is life for a short time in the life of the whole solar system. You see in the moon the sort of thing to which the earth is tending — something dead, cold, and lifeless.”

In this argument, Russell discounts (1) free will, (2) our purpose in this existence, and (3) intelligent design. Let us first consider free will. Genesis indicates that God gave us free will and that we face consequences for our choices. Accordingly, blaming God for the existence of toxic groups such as the Ku Klux Klan or Fascists is ignoring the fact that He gave us free will. God wants the very best for us, yet He doesn’t control us. It’s up to us to capitalize on our spiritual gifts to advance our souls. Some don’t. Some make serious and irreparable mistakes, such as Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot. Yet all are made with free choice.

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

Russell also calls into question an imperfect world, yet let us note our very purpose within this imperfect world. Had He made us perfect, we wouldn’t have the desire to persevere and grow, overcoming our challenges to emerge as better people. Champions are born out of adversity. More on this point will be discussed later.

“And what did God do?” C.S. Lewis asks (2002, p. 49). “First of all He left us conscience, the sense of right and wrong: and all through history there have been people trying (some of them very hard) to obey it. None of them ever quite succeeded. Secondly, He sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those queer stories scattered all through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men. Thirdly, He selected one particular people and spent several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was – that there was only one of Him and that He cared about the right conduct. Those people were the Jews, and the Old Testament gives an account of the hammering process.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Moral Arguments for a Deity

Russell says, “The point I am concerned with is that, if you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, then you are in this situation: Is that difference due to God’s fiat or is it not? If it is due to God’s fiat, then for God himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God’s fiat, because God’s fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that he made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God. You could, of course, if you liked, say that there was a superior deity who gave orders to the God that made this world, or could take up the line that some of the gnostics took up — a line which I often thought was a very plausible one — that as a matter of fact this world that we know was made by the devil at a moment when God was not looking. There is a good deal to be said for that, and I am not concerned to refute it.”

Russell makes several assertions that require a refutation. The first assertion is on the difference between right and wrong and whether God ordered both right and wrong. He asserts that God, who is only good, cannot have ordered wrongdoings. The Bible suggests God has ordered both. For example, in Habakkuk 1:5-11, God relates his intention to raise up Babylon, a ruthless and dreaded nation to achieve His purpose. Romans 8:28 says, “For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”

The Christian scholars on Gotquestions.org expand upon this: “’All things’ includes both good and bad things. God can use struggles, heartbreaks and tragedies in ways to bring about His glory and our good. Such events, even though we don’t understand the reason for them, are part of His perfect, divine plan. If God could not control evil, He would not be God. His sovereignty demands that He be in control of everything, even ‘dreaded’ nations such as Babylon.”

Turek (2015, p. 138) states, “We can’t see the ultimate outcomes of events because the human story isn’t over yet – not here or in the afterlife where perfect justice will be done. And even if God were to tell us those outcomes and His reasons for allowing such evil, we wouldn’t be able to comprehend them all. That’s because every event sets off a ripple effect that impacts countless other events and people. How many lives will be changed in the future by the trillions of good and bad events happening just this hour? No human mind can know or grasp it all. And even if we could, knowing the reasons for a painful event might alter our behavior and prevent that good outcome that would have otherwise occurred.”

“If God would concede me His wisdom for 24 hours, you would see how many changes I would make in this world. But if He gave me His wisdom too, I would leave things as they are,” says a former priest at Notre Dame in Paris, Jacques Marie Louis Monsabre said (quoted in Turek, 2015, p. 139).

A second assertion from Russell is that a superior deity gave orders to the God who made this world. If this were the case, God wouldn’t be God, the eternal uncaused cause. God would be an inferior deity. Based on Aquinas’ line of theory noted above, I refute this point.

A third assertion is that the devil made the world as we know it when “God was not looking.” Psalm 139 states that God is everywhere, so doing something behind God’s back is simply not possible.

Psalm 139:

O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, You know it all.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.

As A.W. Tozer (2006, p. 60) says, “The presence and manifestation of the presence are not the same. There can be the one without the other. God is here when we are wholly unaware of it. He is manifest only when and as we are aware of His presence. On our part, there must be surrender to the Spirit of God, for His work is to show us the Father and the Son. If we cooperate with Him in loving obedience, God will manifest Himself to us, and that manifestation will be the difference between a nominal Christian life and a life radiant with the light of His face.”

The Argument for the Remedying of Injustice

Russell states, “Then there is another very curious form of moral argument, which is this: they say that the existence of God is required in order to bring justice into the world. In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying; but if you are going to have justice in the universe as a whole you have to suppose a future life to redress the balance of life here on earth. So they say that there must be a God, and there must be Heaven and Hell in order that in the long run there may be justice. That is a very curious argument. If you looked at the matter from a scientific point of view, you would say, “After all, I only know this world. I do not know about the rest of the universe, but so far as one can argue at all on probabilities one would say that probably this world is a fair sample, and if there is injustice here the odds are that there is injustice elsewhere also.” Supposing you got a crate of oranges that you opened, and you found all the top layer of oranges bad, you would not argue, “The underneath ones must be good, so as to redress the balance.” You would say, “Probably the whole lot is a bad consignment”; and that is really what a scientific person would argue about the universe. He would say, “Here we find in this world a great deal of injustice, and so far as that goes that is a reason for supposing that justice does not rule in the world; and therefore so far as it goes it affords a moral argument against deity and not in favor of one.” Of course I know that the sort of intellectual arguments that I have been talking to you about are not what really moves people. What really moves people to believe in God is not any intellectual argument at all. Most people believe in God because they have been taught from early infancy to do it, and that is the main reason. Then I think that the next most powerful reason is the wish for safety, a sort of feeling that there is a big brother who will look after you. That plays a very profound part in influencing people’s desire for a belief in God.”

Let us unpack his assertions. Russell points out that believers believe that the existence of heaven and hell establishes a remedy to the injustices that occur on earth when the good suffer and the wicked prosper. He then states that he only knows of “this world.” This statement implies that because he has no knowledge of or experience in heaven and hell, they must not exist. According to Russell, only the physical world exists, which is the world in which Russell lived. Such an argument equates to me saying that because I have no knowledge of someone else’s dreams, the person must not have had such dreams. Another example relates to the dismissal of near death experiences, which are “too numerous and well documented to be dismissed altogether” (Lichfield, 2015). Click here for many inspirational findings and scientific studies relating to otherworldly near death experiences:
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/04/the-science-of-near-death-experiences/386231/

As A.W. Tozer (2006) states, “Our trouble is that we have established bad thought habits. We habitually think of the visible world as real and doubt the reality of any other. We do not deny the existence of the spiritual world but we doubt that it is real in the accepted meaning of the word.”

“The world of sense intrudes upon our attention day and night for the whole of our lifetime. It is clamorous, insistent, and self-demonstrating. It does not appeal to our faith; it is here, assaulting our five senses, demanding to be accepted as real and final. But sin has so clouded the lenses of our hearts that we cannot see the other reality, the City of God, shining around us. The world of sense triumphs. The visible becomes the enemy of the invisible, the temporal, of the eternal. That is the curse inherited by every member of Adam’s tragic race” (p. 53-54).

Russell states that because we have injustice in the world that justice must not rule the world. Yet we all adhere to an absolute moral standard, which suggests justice is innate, established, and sourced. For example, any parent with a sound mind would demand justice if his or her son or daughter were raped or murdered or hurt in any way. Any person with a sound mind would want justice for the perpetrator if he or she were unfairly and indiscriminately tortured. The horrors of World War II still plague the minds of the sensible members of societies, whether in Guam or Bolivia. These are examples of the way humans adhere to a shared moral standard. This standard is not relative, set within particular cultures (though there are relative standards as well), but shared between cultures. Such a standard calls attention to the source of the standard: God.

Arguments against Christ and the Church

The rest of Russell’s arguments point to Christ’s character, morality, teachings, and perceived failings of the church. Russell states, “I now want to say a few words upon a topic which I often think is not quite sufficiently dealt with by Rationalists, and that is the question whether Christ was the best and the wisest of men. It is generally taken for granted that we should all agree that that was so. I do not myself. I think that there are a good many points upon which I agree with Christ a great deal more than the professing Christians do. I do not know that I could go with Him all the way, but I could go with Him much further than most professing Christians can. You will remember that He said, ‘Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.’ That is not a new precept or a new principle. It was used by Lao-tse and Buddha some 500 or 600 years before Christ, but it is not a principle which as a matter of fact Christians accept. I have no doubt that the present prime minister [Stanley Baldwin], for instance, is a most sincere Christian, but I should not advise any of you to go and smite him on one cheek. I think you might find that he thought this text was intended in a figurative sense.”

Russell calls attention to Christ’s directive to turn the other cheek, yet states that Christians do not follow the directive (without any empirical support), implying that the directive is invalid. Such an argument equates to a mother telling her son to forgive his friend, and the son deciding not to forgive the friend, so someone makes the assertion that the mother must have poor character.

Russell goes on to state that Lao-tse and Buddha also called on followers to turn the other cheek, implying that Christ isn’t original. If Christian values didn’t form the fabric of ethical guidelines in previous societies and cultures, wouldn’t we question them more? The fact that previous cultures adhere to similar arguments helps to validate the arguments and the Lord’s influence on prior generations. In his book The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis does an excellent job of explaining this concept by noting marked similarities between the major world religions and belief systems and Christianity.

Russell also takes issue with Christ’s “moral character” because Christ “believes in hell.” He states, “I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching — an attitude which is not uncommon with preachers, but which does somewhat detract from superlative excellence.”

Religious scholars from the Gotquestions.org website state the following with respect to hell: “In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word used to describe the realm of the dead is sheol. It simply means ‘the place of the dead’ or ‘the place of departed souls/spirits.’ The New Testament Greek equivalent to sheol is hades, which is also a general reference to ‘the place of the dead.’ The Greek word gehenna is used in the New Testament for ‘hell’ and is derived from the Hebrew word hinnom. Other Scriptures in the New Testament indicated that sheol/hades is a temporary place where souls are kept as they await the final resurrection. The souls of the righteous, at death, go directly into the presence of God—the part of sheol called ‘heaven,’ ‘paradise,’ or ‘Abraham’s bosom’ (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23).”

“The lake of fire, mentioned only in Revelation 19:20 and 20:10, 14-15, is the final hell, the place of eternal punishment for all unrepentant rebels, both angelic and human (Matthew 25:41). It is described as a place of burning sulfur, and those in it experience eternal, unspeakable agony of an unrelenting nature (Luke 16:24; Mark 9:45-46). Those who have rejected Christ and are in the temporary abode of the dead in hades/sheol have the lake of fire as their final destination.”

To me, it seems likely that people like Hitler, Pol Pot, and Stalin will be the types cast into the lake of fire, yet clearly I can’t know this to be certain because I’m not the judge. What I do have is a sense of distributive and procedural justice based on the innate moral standard to which I adhere. This standard, set by God, suggests that people will be treated fairly. Accordingly, I don’t believe that all people should be punished in the same way as Hitler, Pol Pot, and Stalin. God gave me common sense, which suggests He’ll vary the punishments to fit the crimes.

It seems likely that people like Hitler, Pol Pot, and Stalin are not of God (lost sheep), but are the weeds described in the Bible, aligned to Satan. My guess is that such despots take the express train to hell, however hell is conceived, to either be destroyed or to spend eternity in an environment devoid of all love, which is God. God is love. Eternity without God is despair, which the Bible states is torment.

Russell further criticizes the church. I do not dispute the assertion that some churches are flawed and there are flaws in the history of churches. Yet many are not. Many churches today are run by strong people with good Christian values who strive to deliver Biblically-inspired messages of inspiration to attendees. My own church, Fishhawk Fellowship Church (Fishhawkfc.org), is a case in point. My church is relatively young (not much older than a decade), yet its pastors and staff offer the community such powerful messages each week that attendance has skyrocketed to the point where the church must now move from its original building to a much larger one, which will soon be under construction. Its message is to “come, grow, serve, and go” and it serves the local, national and global communities with all sorts of outreach programs. If other churches adopted its approach, I suspect they would be booming in attendance as well, fueling Christianity.

In conclusion, I find it interesting how atheists often challenge the divinity and governance of the Christian God. For example, Christopher Hitchens refers to himself as a “Protestant Atheist.”

Why is the Christian God the God of choice? My suspicion is that the Christian God is the one they know is the most likely to be real. As C.S. Lewis said, “Atheists express their rage against God, although in their view, He does not exist.” As Ray Comfort has added, “Atheists don’t hate fairies, leprechauns, or unicorns because they don’t exist. It is impossible to hate something that doesn’t exist. Atheists – like the painting experts hated the painter – hate God because He does exist.” According to C.S. Lewis, “We may ignore, but we can in no way evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere, incognito.”

Interestingly, I conducted a poll on Twitter in which I asked atheists the following question: “If shown that God exists, would you follow Him?” Sixteen atheists responded “no.” This answer surprised me, yet offered an explanation for some of the hostility I’ve seen on Twitter from atheists.

Thank you for your time.

References

Lewis, C.S. (2002). The complete C.S. Lewis signature classics. New York, NY: HarperOne.
Dembski, W. A. Science and design. First things: A monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, 86: 21-34.
Got questions? Accessed 1-21-2017 at: https://www.gotquestions.org/does-God-use-evil.html
Got questions? Accessed 1-21-2017 at: https://www.gotquestions.org/sheol-hades-hell.html
Hawking, S. (2017). The Beginning of Time. Accessed 1-20-2017 at: http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-beginning-of-time.html
Howell, E. (2015). What is the Big Bang Theory? Accessed 1-20-2017 at: http://www.space.com/25126-big-bang-theory.html
Hunt4Truth.com (2014). Scientist debunks Hawking’s ‘No God needed’ theory. Accessed 1-21-2017 at hunt4truth.wordpress.com.
LaRocco, C. & Rothstein, B. (2017). The Big Bang: It sure was Big. Accessed 1-20-2017 at: http://umich.edu/~gs265/bigbang.htm
Lichfield, G. (2015). The science of near-death experiences. The Atlantic. April.
Ross, H. (2016). Improbable Planet: How earth became humanity’s home. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Tozer, A.W. (2006; 1948). The pursuit of God: The human thirst for the divine. USA: First Wingspread Publishers.
Trevors, J.T. & Abel, D.L. (2004). Chance and necessity do not explain the origin of life. Cell Biology International, 28: 729-739.
Turek, F. (2015). Stealing from God: Why atheists need God to make their case. USA: NavPress

On Earthquakes, Bloody Moons, and Dating the Crucifixion

On Earthquakes, Bloody Moons, and Dating the Crucifixion
By: S.J. Thomason

It was a dark day when Jesus was crucified. One can only imagine the immense pain and despair that Jesus’ family, friends, and apostles felt as they watched the torture and apparent death of our Savior. The intention of this blog is to develop a better understanding of some of the occurrences that happened on that day by matching Biblical to extra-Biblical historical evidence.

The four gospels state that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, who was the governor of Judea from 26 – 36 AD, and during the reign of Tiberius Caesar (Tacitus, Annals, XV 44, Luke 3:1). This gives us a window of time on the year of Jesus’ crucifixion.

We also have information concerning the day of the week in which the crucifixion occurred. All four gospels agree that Jesus was crucified on the Day of Preparation (Matthew 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:14, 31, 42). Mark, Luke, and John state that the following day was the Sabbath. The Day of Preparation for the Sabbath always falls on a Friday (Mark 15:42). Yet John states that it was the “Day of Preparation of the Passover.” John 18:28 says “Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.”

John’s statement leads one to carefully examine the Last Supper as the Passover meal (Matthew 26-17-29; Mark 14: 12-25; Luke 22: 7-22; John 13: 1-30). In 1 Corinthians 5:7, we learn that “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” The sacrifice of the lambs in the original Passover signified that those partaking of that sacrifice would be spared from God’s judgment. Accordingly, in the Last Supper, the sacrificial lamb was Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the Passover and the lamb who was sacrificed on Passover, which occurs on Nisan 14 each year(Numbers 9:2-3).

Taken together with the Bible, findings indicate the apostles ate the Last Supper on a Thursday, followed by the crucifixion of Jesus on Friday, the Sabbath (Saturday) and the discovery of the empty tomb on Sunday by Mary Magdalene and other women. Just as Jesus had predicted (John 2:19; Mark 14:58), He rose on the third day.

The crucifixion fulfilled the scriptures, such as Isaiah 53, which was written around seven hundred years before: “But He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

For a further discussion on Isaiah 53, click here: https://jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/-v13-n06/who-s-the-subject-of-isaiah-53-you-decide.

Interestingly, Isaiah is the only fully preserved book in the Bible to be found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. For more information, click this link: https://www.probe.org/the-dead-sea-scrolls/

Now we’ll turn to the particulars that occurred on the Day of Preparation when Jesus was crucified to better pinpoint the week and year. According to Mark 15:33, “at noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three in the afternoon, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’). Mark 15:37-39 continues, “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed His last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how He died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God.”

Luke 23:44-45 states, “It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When He had said this, He breathed his last. The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, ‘Surely this was a righteous man.’”

Matthew 27:45 says, “From noon until three in the afternoon, darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani’ (which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Matthew 27:50-52 continues, “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His spirit. At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely He was the Son of God!”

According to the prophet Joel (which is recounted by Luke in Acts 2:15-21) “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious days of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

There is some other evidence that on the day of the crucifixion the sun was darkened and/or the moon appeared like blood. The so-called Report of Pilate, a New Testament Apocryphal fragment (see DeLiso & Fidani 2014 for a more complete review) from the fourth century, states “Jesus was delivered to him by Herod, Archelaus, Philip, Annas, Caiaphas, and all the people. At his crucifixion the sun was darkened; the stars appeared and in all the world people lighted lamps from the sixth hour till evening; the moon appeared like blood.” Thallus is a relatively unknown pagan author who also cited darkness during the crucifixion, as reported by both him and Africanus (DeLiso & Fidani, 2014). As expected, however, some pagans rejected the reports, including Origene, Jerome, and Chrysostom (DeLiso & Fidani, 2014).

Scholars have reported that devastating earthquakes occurred in Jerusalem during Christ’s death (Mallet, 1853; Rigg, 1941). This occurred in a region that includes the Dead Sea fault, which is a plate boundary that separates the Arabian plate and the Sinai sub-plate (Garfunkel, 1981). This fault has been active since the Miocene (Kagan, Stein, Agnon, & Neuman, 2011) and the fault is still active today (De Liso & Fidani, 2014). The fault extends from the Red Sea in the south to the Taurus Mountains in the north.

Kagan and colleagues (2011) analyzed seismites in the Holocene Dead Sea basin by constructing two age-depth chronological models based on atmospheric radiocarbon ages of short-lived organic debris with a Bayesian model. Seismites are sedimentary beds and structures, which are deformed by seismic shaking. The scholars analyzed seismites in different areas of the basin, finding that several synchronous seismites appeared in all sections during particular years, including 33 AD (+/- 2 sigma; 95% confidence interval). Other years in which earthquakes occurred as evidenced by seismites are (AD unless otherwise noted): 1927, 1293, 1202/1212, 749, 551, 419, 33, 31 BC, and mid-century B.C.

After analyzing laminated sedimentary cores recovered at the shores of the Dead Sea, Migowski, Agnon, Bookman, Negendank, and Stein (2004) also confirmed an earthquake in 33 AD with a magnitude of 5.5. They documented earthquakes around 33 AD in 31 BC and 76 AD. The scholars analyzed seismites using radiocarbon dating.

Ben-Menahem (2014) conducted a literature review of empirical studies over 4,000 years of seismicity along the Dead Sea Rift. The scholar referenced the aforementioned studies along with one by Enzel, Kadan, and Eyal (2000) before concluding that earthquakes occurred in Masada in 31 BC, Jerusalem in 33 AD, and near Nablus in 64 AD.

In summary, the literature on seismicity along the Dead Sea basin supports the assertion that an earthquake occurred either in or very close to the year 33 AD.

As noted above, the Bible indicates that Jesus was crucified on Friday, the Day of Preparation, which some scholars have determined is Nisan 14 (Humphreys & Waddington, 1985). During the time period in which Pontius Pilate served as governor, the only two possibilities in which Nisan 14 fell on a Friday occurred on April 7th in 30 AD and April 3rd in 33 AD. To determine when Nisan 14 fell on a Friday, Humphreys and Waddington (1985) reconstructed the first century Jewish calendar using astronomical calculations.

To determine which date is appropriate, we refer to John 2:20. “They replied, ‘It has taken 46 years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple He had spoken of was His body.” Assuming this refers to the inner temple (Hoehner, 1977), the date in which the Jews made this statement would be between 30 and 31 AD. If the only Passovers that occurred during Jesus’ ministry are the three to which John referred in his gospel, the 33 AD date suggests a ministry of about 2 ½ years (Humphreys & Waddington, 1985). Some scholars indicate an additional unmentioned Passover, which would add a year to Jesus’ ministry. Either way, Humphreys and Waddington (1985) determined the 33 AD date was the most appropriate.

Yet note by Humphreys’ and Waddington’s (1985) and others’ calculations, Nisan 14, which fell on Friday, April 3rd in 33 AD, is also the day in which Passover is celebrated. Consistent with the gospel of John, who said that the Jewish leaders wanted to avoid ceremonial uncleanliness on Passover, Passover is likely to have fallen on the Friday when Jesus was crucified. That would indicate that Jesus recognized Passover (as part of Feast of the Unleavened Bread week) at the Last Supper as the Passover lamb. Such assertions are consistent with others’ determinations (cf., http://catholicstraightanswers.com/passover-and-the-last-supper/)

Compare with others who have drawn the same conclusions with respect to the 33 AD date: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2149750/Jesus-died-Friday-April-3-33AD-claim-researchers-tie-earthquake-data-gospels-date.html

Humphreys and Waddington (1985) further state:

“’The moon turned to blood’ is a graphic description of a lunar eclipse. The reason an eclipsed moon is blood red is well known and the effect has been well documented. Even though during an eclipse the moon is geometrically in the earth’s shadow, some sunlight still reaches it by the refraction of light passing through the earth’s atmosphere. This light is red since it has traversed a long path through the atmosphere and scattering by air molecules and very small particles preferentially removes the blue end of the spectrum. The combination of scattering and refraction produces the deep blood-red color of a lunar eclipse.

‘The moon turned to blood’ has been used by writers and historians to describe lunar eclipses for many centuries, and the expression dates back to at least 300 B.C. Descriptions of some well documented ancient eclipses have been compiled by Ginzel’ and matched with calculated eclipse dates. We quote three examples:
(i)The lunar eclipse of 20 September, 331 B.C. occurred two days after Alexander crossed the Tigris and the moon was described by Curtius (IV, 10 (39), 1) as ‘suffused with the color of blood.’

(ii) The lunar eclipse of 31 August A.D. 304 (probably) which occurred at the martyrdom of Bishop Felix, was described in Acta Sanctorem. ‘when he was about to be martyred the moon was turned to blood.’

(iii) The lunar eclipse of 2 March A. D. 462 was described in the Hydatius Lemicus Chronicon thus I on March 2 with the crowing of cocks after the setting of the sun the full moon was turned to blood.’”

Humphreys and Waddington (1985) compiled ancient Babylonian eclipse records between 26 and 36 AD. A lunar eclipse with a 60% magnitude was recorded on Friday, April 3rd, 33 AD at the “rising moon,” which was “visible from Jerusalem.” This timing and Humphreys’ and Waddington’s (1985) detailed analysis of Jerusalem sun/moon coordinates suggests the lunar eclipse occurred in the early evening of the crucifixion. Scholars further believe that the daytime darkness, which occurred during the crucifixion, was the result of a khamsin dust storm (Driver, 1965; Sibylline Oracles, 111,800).

Thank you for investing the time.

References

Ben-Menahem, A. (2014) Geophysical studies of the crustal structure along the southern Dead Sea fault. In Garfunkel, Z., Ben-Menahem, Z., and Kagan, E. (2014). Dead Sea Transform Fault System: Reviews. Springer.
De Liso, G. & Fidani,C. (2014). Electrical charges associated with sky darkening and the Turin shroud. International Journal of Development Research, 4(12): 2790-2797.
Driver, G.R., (1965). J. Theological Studies XVI, 327.
Enzel, Y., Kadan, G., & Eyal, Y. (2000). Holocene earthquakes inferred from a fan delta sequence in the Dead Sea graben. Quat Res., 53: 34-48.
Garfunkel, Z. 1981. Internal structure of the Dead Sea leaky transform (rift) in relation to plate kinematics, Tectonophysics, 80, 81–108.
Hoehner, H.W. (1977). Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ. Zondervan: Grand Rapids
Humphreys, C.J. and Waddington, W.G. 1985. The Date of the Crucifixion, JASA, 37, 2-10.
Kagan, E., Stein, M., Agnon, A. and Neumann, F. 2011. Intrabasin paleoearthquake and quiescence correlation of the late Holocene Dead Sea, J. Geophys. Res., 116, B04311.
Mallet, R. 1853. Catalogue of recorded earthquakes from 1606 B.C. to A.D. 1850, Part I, 1606 B.C. to 1755 A.D. Report of the 22nd meeting of the British Association for the advancement of science held at Hull, Sept., 1853. John Murray, London, pp 1–176.
Migowski, C., A. Agnon, R. Bookman, J. F. W. Negendank, & M. Stein (2004), Recurrence pattern of Holocene earthquakes along the Dead Sea Transform revealed by varve‐counting and radiocarbon dating of lacustrine sediments, Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 222, 301.
Rigg, H. 1941. Thallus: the Samaritan? Harv. Theol. Rev., 34, 111–119.
Sordi, M. 1983. I cristiani e l’Impero Romano, Ed. Jaca Book, ISBN 88-16-40118-4, p. 25.
Stothers, R.B. 2002. Cloudy and clear stratospheres before A.D. 1000 inferred from written sources, J. Geophys. Res., 107(D23), 4718-4728.
Swindoll, C.R. (2009). Jesus: The Greatest Life of All. Thomas Nelson.
‘Sibylline Oracles, 111, 800. (1913). In Charles, R. H., The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament. Oxford University Press.

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).

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:

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.