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.”

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

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

Below I’ve listed some of Jesus’ miracles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus’ resurrection fulfilled the scriptures, as noted here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s humbling when one considers the way a humble carpenter, a tax collector, several fishermen, a tentmaker, and others were able to change the world. And their timing could not have been more perfect. Despite the age of the earth, the Population Reference Bureau has determined that the number of people who have ever lived on this planet is around 105 billion and only 2% lived before Christ’s time. 98% have lived and are living under the New Covenant. Amen.

Thank you for your time.

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

References

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

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

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

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

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.

A Christian Rebuttal to an Atheist

A Rebuttal to Artie the Atheist’s “Explaining why your God evidence doesn’t demonstrate your God.” A link to Artie’s rebuttal to my rebuttal can be accessed here: https://freeatheism.org/2017/01/07/7994/ Also, note that Artie has additional supporting web links on his webpage than those that I include here. My intentions are to rebut Artie’s arguments, not those from other atheists in his supporting web links or YouTube videos (which I didn’t watch due to time constraints).

Artie the Atheist has created a webpage that “is dedicated to enlightening believers about why commonly claimed evidence for their god’s existence doesn’t actually demonstrate that a god exists, nor does it justify their beliefs at all.”

My intent in this blog is to offer readers a rebuttal to Artie the Atheist’s arguments.

Artie the Atheist says:

“The Bible or says so.”

1. Eye-witness accounts. The later gospels copied each other (adding variation) and the first was written (decades after Jesus supposedly died) mostly as a story being told via hearsay, not as an eye witness account. The bible notes many folks that saw Jesus and his miracles, but none are verifiable beyond bible claims. Among the anonymous 500 seeing Jesus risen not one had their miraculous account recorded. No local historians or anyone else outside the bible narrative even noticed Jesus, or the eclipse or the dead rising from the graves. The bible stories could easily be fiction of its times… made up exactly as a fictional story is.

To modernize the bible’s witnesses, take alien abductees stories for example. They make extreme claims, often similar even, but they are dismissed out of hand as fiction, fraud or delusion. Such a response is CLEARLY the rational default to extraordinary claims, even though these eyewitnesses are alive and still claiming it! The bible’s witnesses stand FAR from the level of credibility of living alien witnesses, yet they are believed without question. Absurd. If you don’t believe thousands of living witnesses, it’s hardly valid to believe (often anonymous) ancient witnesses claiming magic & myth really happened.

SJ 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(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: written by John-Mark
Luke: written by Luke the physician
John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Revelation: written by John, the apostle whom Jesus loved
Acts: written by Luke the physician
1 Peter and 2 Peter: written by Peter, the apostle.
James: written by James, the brother of Jesus
Jude: written by Jude, the brother of Jesus
Hebrews: authorship uncertain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artie the Atheist says:

2. Prophecy was fulfilled. Much prophecy in the Bible is unverifiable as fulfilled beyond the Bible’s claim. Prophecy being fulfilled could simply be writers looking at the Old Testament promises and writing a story to fulfill them. Further, the old prophecies could simply be attempted to be fulfilled by normal folks pretending to be the one destined to fulfill them. Other prophecies were extremely vague or simple leaving the door open for any number of interpretations. EVEN if an amazingly impossible prophecy was verified to have come to pass, there is no verifying that a divine intelligence or power played any part. It would be a mystery. This extensive dismantling of the prophecy claim details far more than I ever could.

SJ Thomason responds:

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.

Artie the Atheist says:

3. Water to wine, walking on water and the resurrection are unverifiable events, which have no verifiable cause. Even if there was a verifiable witness to such events (there are none), they become mysteries, which are not by default answered by divinity. This also applies to modern miracles, visions, experiences and prayers. They are beyond explanation, beyond inspection, beyond revealing a source. It is a mystery and mysteries do not equal “God did it”. If you were to see a vision of The Faerie King, experience a powerful feeling and miracle with it, does this prove the Faerie King is real? Of course not. The images and events could be caused by forces you can’t see. They could be anything and inserting you god myth as the cause is baseless & fallacious.

SJ Thomason responds:

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.

Artie the Atheists says:

4. Historic accuracy proves the bible true. An accurate recounting of people, places and events is what makes fiction seem real. There’s no reason to believe the Bible writers didn’t just insert fictional people and events into their real background. Spiderman stories are written into existing city environments, using real people and places. This doesn’t prove Spiderman is real.

SJ Thomason responds:

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

“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.

Artie the Atheist says:

5. The bible is inerrant. Even the first sentence in the bible “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth” doesn’t match reality. Obviously, in the beginning the heavens (space and time) could be argued, but the Earth wasn’t formed for another 9 billion years (NOT remotely the beginning). Yup even the very first sentence of the Bible brings into question its validity as a whole. This is just the tip of a massive iceberg. There are many, many flaws, errors and contradictions in the bible and many apologetics excusing them. Even the fact that seemingly endless apologist excuses are needed to explain such a flawed book, is a blatant admission of the books failings. An inerrant book wouldn’t need excuses or favorable reinterpretation, it would be clear. The kicker is that a flawed book couldn’t be the creation of a perfect being, since such a failure would make him CLEARLY IMPERFECT. There is no doubt that bible is simply man-made and that there is no such perfect God.

SJ Thomason responds:

To answer this question, which Artie the Atheist links to a handful of websites, 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.

Artie the Atheist says:

6. “The universe’s complexity, design & origin requirements, dictates a guiding hand is needed.”

Complexity of biology shows design (DNA & variation) so it’s evidence of God. Nature, via evolution and natural forces, is perfectly capable of creating complex processes and systems. This is science’s current stance. If you wish to claim natural forces aren’t capable of this you need prove science wrong. Your claim and lack of understanding of nature’s potential doesn’t allow for any valid conclusion to be made for design. Even if we as humans couldn’t explain your complex biology examples, it becomes a mystery and mysteries don’t equal “god did it” by default. You would need to further demonstrate a link between this mystery of nature and your yet unproven god.

SJ Thomason responds:

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 single cells in 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.

Artie the Atheist says:

7. The big bang needed a push from something beyond time and space. Perhaps that first singularity did need an “external” kick-off and maybe it didn’t. We don’t know yet, since our science can’t observe the event. Believers often claim an uncaused cause had to start the ball rolling, which may be true, but claiming a yet unproven myth did it is an argument from ignorance. Your lack of imagination and information doesn’t mean you can default to your favorite myth to fill in the blank. Besides, you would need to disprove any natural uncaused causes, which may have been plentiful then. Or show such a compressed source of energy (energy which may have always existed) wouldn’t have its own laws of physics directing it to expand upon reaching a critical mass. Or refute omnipotent power slime, or the Faerie King or a million other imagined causes. Indeed such a mystery doesn’t prove your god exists. Not even close.

As far as where the singularity came from, defaulting to a yet unproven magic god is a fallacious leap. Even if you did prove a god existed you would still have to prove s/he was the only possible cause. There is certainly no requirement that it be god, as long as the cause remains unknown. Perhaps the physics of nothingness dictates that something exist. Perhaps our universes energy is eternal in some form or another. Or maybe a rupture in another dimension or universe caused our universe. Or maybe timeless power slime did it. You can deny these ideas all you want but cant disprove them, so gods are CLEARLY not the default.

SJ Thomason responds:

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.(14) 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,” 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.

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

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

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.

Artie the Atheist says:

8. Humans are designed perfectly, so there is a designer. Humans have flaws and piss poor features, which are explained by evolution and not a perfect designer. http://m.nautil.us/issue/24/error/top-10-design-flaws-in-the-human-body

SJ Thomason responds:

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.

Artie the Atheist says:

9. Everything… all of nature proves god exists. Perhaps this is you looking at everything in awe and not being able to understand how natural forces did all this. Or more likely since you have been told for so long that your god myth has done it all, your auto conclusion falls to “God did it”. Either way, there isn’t evidence by merely observing nature and pondering. Your interpretation of nature isn’t evidence but just your subjective opinion.

By your claim “The universe proves God”, but since nothing justifies the insertion of your favorite myth, …ANY imagined myth or cause fits too. So “The universe proves The Faerie King” is equally as valid. Further, I could also say “The universe proves nature makes universes” and it’s equally valid as well.
The universe is fine tuned.

There is an argument that the universe and its conditions are so perfect that the likelihood it could exist is basically nil. That is unless a designer were there to tune it just right. Well, how many universes have been made? What if all possible universes might exist as a multiverse? Our universe would eventually exist too, and of course all existing universes would be equally unlikely, so its a non proof for a designer.

This fellow will say it better: https://www.youtube.com/shared?ci=l5-ofKAtFEg
On another video (start at 3 min 50 sec) … the altering of the parameters of this universe wouldn’t necessarily produce a universe where life was impossible, though granted it will be notably different. Also a misunderstanding of the multiverse is explained.

https://www.youtube.com/shared?ci=BWMezSnRMpc

During a T.E.D. Talk, the multiverse, string theory & apparent fine tuning all pulled together & explained.
https://www.youtube.com/shared?ci=ZUe781TyZio

The world, universe and humans are fine tuned to fit exactly where we are.
The Earth is in a perfect spot, a perfect distance from the sun for life. Too perfect to not be intentional. Yes Earth is one of countless planets in the universe which ended up with the right size to: hold gasses, have a liquid iron core & be the right temperature to have liquid water. Life arose because our planet eventually provided a viable environment, just like billions of others in the universe. This chance event is just chance, not evidence of the divine.

Without the Moon & Jupiter’s gravity we wouldn’t exist and the probability of this is too extreme to not be designed. There could be millions & billions of viable life enabling solar system variations in existence. Further, it’s not as if moons or gas giants are rare. In fact they seem quite common, so citing intent from gods is baseless.

The Earth environment is all too perfect for life, for it not to be designed. Actually, life adapted to the available environment. We (humans & life) evolved to survive on Earth. There is plenty if evidence for this & no evidence the world was made to fit us. Per the meme below, you are the puddle amazed at how everything fits you, but obviously you know full well, that’s not how it works.

But if you don’t grasp that life adopted to fit, let’s examine this finely tuned by design premise. The universe is so hostile to life that to think we humans got this far is amazing. If we leave this planet, we die instantly unless we take our atmosphere with us. Cosmic radiation is deadly. The Earth is quite hostile as well. Seventy-five percent of its surface is covered with water that we cannot drink because the salt content will kill us. If we venture into the ocean or lakes, we have to take our atmosphere there as well. Just swimming in the ocean is dangerous to us from predators. Tsunamis are a danger if we live near the coast. Earthquakes and volcanoes constantly threaten us. We can’t live at the poles because it’s much too cold for our frail bodies and no food grows there. That leaves about 20% of the land mass that’s accessible to us. Of that 20% there are mountains that are much too high to support our inefficient air intake system. And there are many desert areas that are much too hot for our inefficient cooling system. We must be very careful about the foods we eat because much of the plant life is poisonous. We must thoroughly clean our food to prevent the intake of bacteria. There are predators on the land that will kill us. We are constantly being threatened by viruses, bacteria and poisons.

FINE TUNED INDEED! We live on the razors edge and could be gone tomorrow.

The chances that all the exact events occurred, to end up with us, is beyond astronomical. This same absurd use of probability applies to everything. The rock in the garden for instance. The same mind boggling chance for us is nearly the same for the rock ending up where it did. The probability for this event is basically nill… so yes you can see this is a useless & improper use of probability. Our existence is from natural forces acting on nature, which always has a 1 in 1 chance. Things existing because they didn’t follow natural laws, would actually be have that astonomical chance.

SJ Thomason responds:

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

Further points from Artie the Atheist

10. Artie the Atheist continues by pointing to the personal testimonies of people who claim that (1) God changed their lives; (2) Jesus changed their lives; (3) Jesus existed historically, which we’ve discussed; and (4) Jesus existed, so the Bible is true.

SJ responds:

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.

11. Artie the Atheist offers evidence debunking Islam, which I don’t intend to refute in this blog. Clearly, I don’t disagree with him.

Artie the Atheist says:

12. “Morality, love, hope, beauty and consciousness are only explainable as a God given things.”

It’s interesting to note that many arguments or questions for the existence of God often used by Christians are concepts of love, hope, beauty, etc. as if those notions contain a definitive trump card explaining God. The same correlations they desire between God and love are also true of sadness, fear, hatred and other negative human emotions. It seems to me that since the New Testament insists (either nonsensically or pantheistically) that, “God is love,” Christians think that if they can prove that love can’t be proved but it must exist, *somehow* God can’t be proved but he must exist. The logic in this assumption is obviously and horrendously flawed, but so many apologists who should know better, still use it! It reeks of intentional dishonesty.

Science tells us about “love” and while love can’t be precisely measured or even precisely defined, it is still a very real emotion created within the human brain. Feelings are electrochemical reactions in our brains arising from internal and/or external stimuli. Love and other emotions are clearly a function of the brain, despite some theistic claims of divinely caused emotions. To reinforce this fact, we know when you alter/damage the brain enough, emergent properties like love, personality & consciousness no longer function.

This same understanding applies to morality, hope, beauty and consciousness. They’re all emergent properties of our brains. Whether or not you believe scientific conclusions noting how our brain evolved to have these functions, the fact is they rely on the brain and not an external source. The evidence is in observing a damaged or dysfunctional brain, where these emergent properties are often compromised or completely missing.

SJ Thomason responds:

In his book, “River Out of Eden, a Darwinian View of Life,” Richard Dawkins echoes Artie the Atheist’s statement that morality, hope, beauty, and consciousness are “emergent properties of our brains.” 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)

The question of consciousness can be answered by focusing on our own inner being – our spirituality. 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.”

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: First Banbella.
18.Ibid.

A Christian Defense Against Atheism

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

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

The Physical Sciences

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

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

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

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

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

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

God of the Gaps and the Cosmological Argument

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Teleological Argument

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

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

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

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

The Uncaused Cause

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

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

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

Unbounded Time

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

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

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

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

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

The Problem of Pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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