A Conversation with an Atheist Part I
So I have been engaged in an exchange with a correspondent who calls himself “Arkenaten”. His schtick is to point to “unbiased” “experts” in various fields and claim that according to their “expert” opinion, the Bible is untrue and Christianity is a waste of time. He points to “experts” in archaeology and claims that the fact that they have not yet found any validation of the story in Exodus means that it didn’t happen. He points to “experts” in the New Testament and claims that the few minor issues that they find in various books mean that the New Testament is unreliable “hearsay”. He uses the venerated Documentary hypothesis to explain the origins of the Old Testament. The pattern is clear. “Here is a secular expert who says the Bible is untrue and Christianity is a waste of time so the only reason you believe is by unsubstantiated faith.”
If you point out that the Book of Daniel has an astonishing and clearly supernatural prediction of the arrival of Jesus as pointed out by Robert Anderson in his book The Coming Prince, he dismisses it with a sentence. If you point out the mountains of evidence that indicate that the New Testament was written by someone with firsthand knowledge of first century politics, name frequencies and exchange rates, he dismisses it with a sentence. He ignores the fact that early Christians testified to the truth of the claims of the New Testament with their blood. He ignores the fact that the Documentary hypothesis has no corroborating physical evidence whatsoever and must be considered at the same level as phrenology by a thinking skeptic. He acts as though “experts” who dismiss the Bible are unbiased professionals who have no motivation or agenda that guides the results of their studies. At the same time, he assumes that Christians are incapacitated by their bias and base all that they believe on fact free faith.
As I have been thinking it over, it seems to me that I have met the claim that secular scholarship is unquestionable and unbiased many times before. Those who reject Christianity routinely point to scholars in evolutionary biology, archaeology and physics and argue “Why would this person lie? He has no reason to lie and what he says therefore is fact free of the bias of Christian thinkers.” This argument has always seemed so transparently ridiculous that I have not bothered to refute it explicitly. Many of the authors so defended are men like Bart Ehrman, Richard Dawkins and Richard Carrier who make an enormous amount of money feeding the ravenous appetite of an apostate nation for arguments justifying their nihilistic behaviour. What possible motive could a bestselling author have for making highly dubious claims that are enthusiastically embraced by a large fraction of the public?
Beyond the obvious reasons for bias in the leading advocates for atheism, however, is a far more subtle bias against Christianity among secular scholars. The basis of this bias is not the millions of dollars showered on the “rock stars” of atheism by members of an adoring public, but a powerful distaste for the assumptions and conclusions of the Christian world view. The simple fact is that Christianity is saddled with a large number of bias inducing doctrines and this makes neutral scholarship on issues directly pertaining to the reliability of the Bible and the truth of Christianity as difficult to come by as the honest man sought by Diogenes.
Sources of Bias
Probably the most powerful of the bias inducing tenets of Christianity is the Christian assertion that all men are sinners who deserve to die. In his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie tells us that people like to consider themselves to be good and decent human beings and you can make friends by accommodating this self perception. In direct contravention to this idea, Christianity claims that every human being is a sinner worthy of death. To say that this doctrine is unpopular is to dramatically understate the case.
At near the same level in terms of popularity is the Christian insistence on purity with regards to sexual behaviour. Tell people that you think anything goes sexually, and you will be hailed as a statesman and a scholar. Suggest that our human sexual appetites need to be curbed in deference to the needs of others and the greater good, however, and you will be attacked as a narrow-minded bigot. For an example of this, see the responses to my post “Standing for the Truth on Gay Marriage“. The bottom line is that the Bible commands us to strive for sexual purity and this is extremely unpopular.
Not only does the Bible interfere with the most intimate decisions of our personal lives, the Bible also makes enormous claims on our resources and time. Probably the most ubiquitous complaint about the church is that it is always asking for money and this fact illustrates the human response to the Biblical command to return a portion of what we have been given by God to demonstrate our gratitude. Add to this claim on our money the Biblical commands to spend enormous amounts of our time studying God’s word and striving to be the people that God wants us to be and it is clear that the demands that the Bible makes on our time and resources are enormous.
‘I can hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so, the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother, and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine’. (Charles Darwin as quoted on Wikipedia)
As if the above reasons were not enough to induce bias in secular scholars, Jesus Christ adds to the unpopularity of his message by explicitly teaching that rejecting it will lead to horrific and eternal consequences. This doctrine ups the ante psychologically and makes neutrality on issues relating to the truth of Christianity extremely difficult. Faced with the prospect that rejection of the claims of the Bible will have such horrific consequences, what human being would not react as Charles Darwin reacted above?
So the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible broadcast a number of very unpopular messages to the world. We as human beings are not good people and we do not deserve the life that we have been given. Many of the things that we human beings like to do and consider harmless vices are unacceptable before a Holy God. We have a set of obligations to the one who created us which we have been shirking. Refusal to repent of our disobedience to these requirements and obligations will have horrific and eternal consequences. If we understand the nature of the claims made by Jesus Christ and the Bible, the response of human beings who want to live their lives without interference is going to be predictable. Human beings will emphatically reject the claims of Jesus Christ and deny the truths of the Bible at every opportunity.
Examining the response of the global community of secular scholars to the claims of the Bible confirms this basic prediction. Scholarly studies are published in every relevant discipline attacking the validity of every major truth claim in the Bible. From evolution and cosmology to history and archaeology, the claims of the Bible are attacked in every way imaginable. While nobody bothers to have a “Buddha Seminar” or a “Mohammed Seminar”, secular scholars have a “Jesus Seminar” where the teachings and claims of Jesus Christ are relentlessly attacked and systematically rejected. Even an innocuous archaeological study on the animals present in ancient Egyptian mining camps is given an anti-Christian spin (see “An Error in the Bible”). Given the situation as it exists, does it really make sense for someone seeking the truth to accept the claims of secular scholars at face value? What is reasonable in examining the truth of Christianity? What is unreasonable? We will examine these issues in the next post.