A Conversation with an Atheist Part 3
This is part 3 of a series of posts that I have written to answer the comments made by a man who calls himself Azkenaten. In “Christianity and Scholarly Bias“, I argued that it is impossible for a person aware of the claims of Jesus Christ to approach issues that relate to the truth claims of the Bible in a neutral manner. The best that can be done is for the skeptic to identify their bias and do their best to be objective. In “An Irrational Approach to Christianity“, I examined a few of the arguments made by Azkenaten and demonstrated a pattern. Take a wooden and simplistic interpretation of the Bible, test it against the exaggerated claims of science, ignore obvious counter-arguments and claim that the Bible has been falsified. Though it is possible to defend Christianity from such an attack on an argument by argument basis, this approach ignores a far more potent apologetic.
The fundamental problem with the approach to Christianity taken by Azkenaten and atheists like him is that it is attempting to answer the wrong question. The approach taken by Azkenaten and his fellow atheists is an answer to the question, “Do I have to believe in Christianity or is there any way to get out of such a belief?” That this is the way that Azkenaten approaches the issue is demonstrated by the methodology itself as well as by a revealing comment he made toward the end of our correspondence:
Take a deep breath and relax. No one is going to burn in hell. The truth isn’t that bad you know? (Comment by Azkenaten)
In this comment, Azkenaten demonstrates his belief that the gospel (or good news) should actually be called the bad news. “Bad news everybody! Jesus Christ actually died for your sins and we cannot do what we want and those who deny Jesus are going to hell.”
Now honestly, I am fundamentally sympathetic to a person who objects to Christianity on the basis of the teaching of hell or the character of the God that seems to be revealed in the Old Testament. In fact, many of my posts have been written to share my thoughts on these issues (see “The Nature of Hell“,.”Throwing Moses Under the Bus“, “Explaining the Ocean of Human Suffering“, “The Nature of the Law“, “The Nature of the Atonement“, “A Reformed Christian Quiz” and many other posts for various ideas on these issues.) My sympathy ends, however, when someone wants to use an irrational approach to Christian truth claims in order to justify poor behaviour. How a person approaches the Bible is vital and you will be held accountable for it before the throne of God. What is the most rational way to approach the word of God?
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. (Matthew 11:25)
But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. (1 Corinthians 2:9)
The Bible makes amazing promises to those who are willing to trust and have faith in God. If a person agrees that faith could be an important virtue (and I have discussed this issue in my post “The Importance of Faith“), then it seems to me that this must determine the way in which we approach the truth claims of the Bible. Rather than require overwhelming evidence for every claim in the Bible before we believe it as some atheists want to do, we should believe that the Bible is true if it presents an overall view of reality that is the most rational available and if its words are plausibly true given the most generous possible interpretation. This approach does not require us to take Christianity by blind faith, but to give God the benefit of the doubt by considering the evidence holistically and applying skepticism to every competing world view.
That this is the most rational way to approach the truth claims of the Bible is made clear if you imagine what you would have to be willing to say if you rejected it. “I recognize that Christianity is the most rational world view and that there are powerful reasons to believe in the truth of the Bible, but I reject eternal life and joy in favour of squalid sinful behaviour because I have found a few verses that don’t make sense to me and which seem to contradict the existing evidence.” If the above statement makes sense to you, then there is nothing more to be said. You have made your choice and there is nothing that can be done for you. As the Lord himself said, “He who has the ears to hear, let him hear.” If you are willing to give God the benefit of the doubt and trust in Him if there are good reasons to do so, on the other hand, then let us consider the truth of Christianity using the rational approach.
The most important component of the rational approach to Christianity is to recognize the compelling prima facie evidence for the truths of the Bible. As I discuessed in “Atheism, Axiomatic Truths and the Burden of Proof“, some of this evidence cannot be absolutely proven, but powerful reasons for accepting it exist nonetheless.
- I am a moral agent capable of making free will choices but I have failed to love others as I ought to have done. (see my post “Free Will Arguments” and my other posts on free will)
- I have experienced many supernatural miracles such as love, laughter, rational thought, joy and beauty that cannot be satisfactorily explained from a materialistic viewpoint.
- I live in a universe with constants of physics which seem fine-tuned in order to make life possible. Not only that, but numerous characteristics of our solar system and our planet must also have precise values in order for life as we know it to exist long enough to support human civilization. (See the Reasons to Believe compendium of characteristics required for human life.)
- The simplest cell in the human body is enormously more complex than the most complex artifacts created by human intelligence. It is capable of self-replication, environmental monitoring and control, error checking, metabolizing energy, recycling waste products and manufacturing highly specific machinery for an enormous number of tasks.
What is the most rational explanation for these phenomena? Why am I able to think and make choices? How do I recognize right from wrong? Why do the universe, our solar system and our planet have so many finely-tuned characteristics that allow for advanced life? How did the incredibly sophisticated biological hardware which gives us life come into existence?
While atheists have attempted to answer all of these questions with ideas like imaginary time, evolution and large numbers of alternative universes, their explanations will leave a skeptical enquirer unsatisfied. There is no evidence for alternative universes or imaginary time and the evidence for the portion of the theory of evolution with theological significance is sorely lacking. Asked to justify their certainty that the materialistic explanations for these phenomena are sufficient, atheists don’t point to physical evidence but to the arguments used by Azkenaten. “The Bible is full of contradictions, Hell is unbelievable, Jews and Christians have been terrible people.”
Ultimately, the rationality of your approach to Christianity depends on the question with which you start. If your starting question is, “How can I get out of believing in Christianity so I can do my own thing?”, then you are going to be satisfied with superficial answers to existential questions and you are going to focus on trivial objections to the Bible. If you start your search with the question, “What is the most rational and compelling belief system that is available to human beings?”, then you are going to take the big picture perspective. You will recognize the many flaws of the various human belief systems and the things they get right. Comparing Christianity to the other available alternatives, you will find that it is the most rational belief system available to a thinking person. (See my posts, “King of the Marketplace” and “Jesus Christ the One and Only” for more thoughts on these ideas.)
As I consider the questions that Azkenaten asks concerning Biblical contradictions, the vast difference between his basic approach to Christianity and mine become clear. As I outlined in “Christianity without the Bible“, I am already a committed Christian before I even come to a detailed study of the Bible. I am not a Christian because archaeological evidence supports the Exodus account or because persuasive evidence exists that Samson was blinded by the Philistines. I believe that the Exodus account is truthful and that Samson existed because I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and He testified to the truth of the Old Testament. I am a Christian because no other world view comes even close to offering as consistent and compelling an account of all the evidence that I have seen and the experiences that I have had.