Oftentimes when I am arguing with an atheist, I will abandon one line of reasoning and try to demonstrate the truth of what I believe using another line of reasoning. When I do this, it is often interpreted as, “Aha! I proved that you are being irrational with that previous line of reasoning and that it does not demonstrate support for your Christian beliefs.” From my point of view, however, I switch tactics when I realize that an atheist has closed his mind to a certain line of evidence. If an atheist cannot see that the evidence does not support the idea that the information in the biosphere was produced by random mutation and natural selection, for example, then maybe they will respond to a philosophical argument?
While switching tactics like this seems like an admission of defeat to an atheist, this actually represents my basic philosophy on determining truth. Since human reasoners are fallible, the more independent lines of reasoning that point to the same conclusion the more confidence we can have in that conclusion as reliable. Independent lines of reasoning allow us to triangulate on the truth and live a life of confident faith. What independent lines of reasoning do we have for belief in Jesus Christ? Let us first list and then discuss the basic lines of argument.
- The historical argument
- Truth of the Resurrection
- Fulfilled prophecy
- The design argument
- Philosophical arguments
- First principles
- Intelligence, morality and free will
- The argument from the uniqueness of the Bible
- Subjective experience
When I read what the early church believed in the New Testament and then go to the historical record and see that these early Christians were tortured to death and yet would not deny Jesus Christ, this is powerful evidence for the truth of Christianity. Given the historical record, the only alternative to believing in the truth of the gospel is to believe that large numbers of people died without violent resistance for a belief system they knew to be false. That Christianity originally spread without violence and against the headwind of Roman persecution is surely one of the most powerful reasons to believe it. If those who met John, Paul and Peter and the other disciples of Christ were persuaded enough to die for the faith by torture, then that is good enough for me.
Another powerful argument for the truth of Christianity comes out of the Book of Daniel. As elucidated in the book The Coming Prince by Scotland Yard investigator Robert Anderson, the Book of Daniel predicts the coming of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem on a donkey hundreds of years before the actual event to the very day. The only way to get out of this conclusion is to believe that early Christians falsified all the copies of the Book of Daniel that have come down to us from Jewish sources. Given the historical context of conflict between the Jews and Christians at that time, however, this seems incredibly implausible. Imagine a Christian going into a Jewish synagogue and saying, “Excuse me? Do you guys mind if I alter your scrolls in order to insert a false prediction about Jesus entering Jerusalem 69 weeks of years after the decree to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem? I know you think he was a false messiah and everything, but it will really help us deceive 20th century Americans into believing in the gospel. Thanks.”
When I consider the problem of the origin of life, I am blown away that atheists can so easily dismiss arguments from biological design. Before random mutation and natural selection can even begin to work their magic, the enormously sophisticated constituents of the simplest cell have to come about by pure chance. Even as a person who believes that God’s creation of the living world was done with a “hidden hand” through naturalistic evolution so that faith would be essential, God’s design is obvious if we honestly consider the astonishing complexity and information found in the artifacts of the biological world.
Even more powerful than the argument from biology is the design argument that comes from physics and cosmology. Stars, galaxies, carbon chemistry and life as we know it would not be possible if it were not for the finely-tuned values of the various constants of physics. These highly precise values look like the product of design and the only way to avoid this conclusion is belief in a “Multiverse” where the vast majority of universes are devoid of life. This takes a great deal of anti-faith in that we can have no evidence for these other universes and no evidence that the constants of physics are malleable.
As I have argued elsewhere, it is possible to derive a system very close to Biblical Christianity with nothing but a few assumptions concerning the nature of God and an honest evaluation of who we are as human beings. This is the argument for Christianity from first principles and it is one of the most powerful reasons to believe in Jesus Christ as far as I am concerned. As powerful as this argument is, however, it represents only a small fraction of the power of the philosophical arguments that have been put forward for Christianity over the years.
How is it possible that a scientist can write down a series of elegant mathematical equations on a 3 x 5 card and those equations will describe the behaviour of quasars, planets, cannon balls, light, magnets and all kinds of physical phenomena to 20 places of the decimal? Why do human beings experience consciousness? Why do human beings have such a powerful conscious awareness of choice and morality? What was the first cause in the universe? The philosophical arguments concerning the truth of theism and Christianity are extremely powerful and require educated atheists to dismiss most human experience (free will, morality, love, intelligence) as delusion.
In addition to the arguments from fulfilled prophecy, the arguments from the uniqueness of the Bible are tremendously compelling. If one looks at the history and the accomplishments of the Jewish people, they look for all the world like a people specially chosen by the divine. From chastity and sobriety to forgiveness, honesty and generosity the New Testament requires the highest standards of conduct of any religion in the world. At the same time, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross uniquely provides for grace and compassion to those of us who fall short of this standard on a daily basis. Additionally, the Bible uniquely predicted the expansion of spacetime discovered by Edwin Hubble and is uniquely consistent with what science tells us of the history of the natural world. (See my post “Jesus Christ the One and Only” for more on these ideas.)
While atheists typically dismiss the value of personal experience as evidence, the reality is that we cannot know any truth at all except by trusting our own experience to some extent. While it is true that subjective experience can be tremendously unreliable, what can I know if I cannot know myself? Personal experience is the most powerful evidence for the truth of Christianity for a Christian and correctly so.
When I examined myself honestly before I became a Christian, I found that I was a selfish and self-centered person who had done things I was ashamed of and was capable of horrific evil. This need of God’s love and forgiveness is the primary reason that I am a Christian. If I am correct in my evaluation that life without the love and forgiveness offered in the Bible is unlivable, then how can it be rational to do anything but believe in the only hope that I have?
Though I am still far from perfect, I have also experienced improvements in enough areas of life that my belief that I am on the right track has been greatly strengthened. If the Bible tells me that I “can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and I am able to overcome lust and anger issues through prayer and perseverance, this serves as a powerful confirmation of the truths of the Bible. This is especially true when victory in these areas was so hard that I never thought I would make it. The miraculous nature of these victories is doubly confirmed by the arguments of a neuroscientist like Sam Harris who denies that human beings can improve their behaviour through our conscious choices.
Of course, if my experience of God working within my heart is valid, then the testimonies of countless other Christians are likely to be equally valid. This tidal wave of evidence can only be dismissed by the most specious arguments where atheists argue that similar claims made by the adherents of other religions invalidate the Christian claims. Even the most cursory comparison of the Koran and other religious texts to the New Testament, however, will reveal them to be vastly inferior to any honest investigator. What is more likely to lead to inner peace and a genuine love for others? The teachings of Jesus Christ or the teachings of the Prophet of Islam? Do the comparison for yourself.
All of the arguments listed above are powerful and independent arguments for the truth of Christianity. Cumulatively, these arguments make a confident faith in the truth of Christianity possible for the Christian who is seeking to love God with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their mind.