Questions for an Atheist – Conclusion

By on November 19, 2012

Well here we are. We’ve come a long, frustrating way to reach this point. If you were hoping the questions would improve, prepare to be disappointed. The good news is, a few of them started to get a little more interesting. Instead of just simple claims, like ‘You can’t be good without God,’ there were actually some substantive claims about prophecies. I’ve tried to smash those claims to bits while sticking to short, easily digestible answers. So, if anyone wants more info, just let me know in the comments. The series ends just as it began–with a really dumb question. Enjoy! 

 

BIBLE

1.    Have you ever actually read the Bible?

I’ve never really liked this question because it sets up a bit of a double standard. People reject Islam without reading its holy texts, etc. But, yes, I’ve read the Bible. I read it in its entirety with my family during nightly devotionals. I’ve also read it in sections, either out of curiosity or as part of a church series or because I was on the Bible quiz team. I’ve also read passages and books for close study. During my undergrad, I minored in Religious Studies, and at my school that basically meant New Testament Studies. I would venture to say I know the Bible and its related scholarship better than a large majority of churchgoing Christians.

2.    If the Biblical God DOES exist, could a lack of Biblical knowledge explain good atheism?

Not for me. However, I don’t put much stock in revealed scriptures anyway, so I think atheism can be defended even if you have never read the Bible.

3.    Would you be willing to read the Gospel of John, just once, as if it were true and Jesus was smart?

I have read the Gospel of John many times as though it were true and as though Jesus were the greatest teacher to ever live. That is what I believed. Later on, I came to realize the Gospel of John is actually the least reliable gospel in the New Testament. Unfortunately for Christians, it’s also the book that most strongly supports many of their core doctrines, including a high Christology. Also, why do I need to go into reading the Gospel already assuming it’s true? You don’t have to do that with things that actually hold up to examination.

 

PROPHESY

1.    Since absolutely no Bible prophecy has ever failed (and there are hundreds), how can one realistically remain unconvinced that the Bible is of Divine origin?

A couple of things to note here: (A) I think you have to use unusual strategies to say no prophecy has ever failed. One of the clearest prophecies (that Jesus would return in the lifetime of those present) did indeed fail. To say that didn’t fail, you have to adopt a strategy that is not a straightforward reading of the text. (B) This is impossible to evaluate without a complete list. I doubt the list holds up that well upon examination. Further, a lot of things that Christians say are prophecies, don’t really appear to be when you read them in context in the Hebrew Bible. (C) When someone is writing after the fact, and in potentially dubious epistemic circumstances, I’m not very moved by claims of fulfilled prophecy. A perfect example is that it’s not clear whether Matthew just changed the story to fit prophecy or whether he heard stories and then went searching for things that might possibly fit what he heard. It’s all very sketchy.

2.    How do you explain David’s graphic portrayal of Jesus’ death by crucifixion (Psalm 22) 1000 years before Christ lived?

I just read it. I fail to see any graphic portrayal of Jesus’ death by crucifixion. I encourage others to go read it for themselves. That doesn’t appear to be the chapter’s intent at all. Rather, I would read it as being more like the rest of Psalm. That makes way more sense. The only things that seem to align with the gospels very clearly are things that, again, could have been inserted into the story by people looking for opportunities to say some prophecy had been fulfilled. Ask a Jewish scholar of the Hebrew Bible how they interpret that passage and let’s see if they think it’s foretelling an event or if it is more naturally read in context. Read these claimed prophecies in the context of the books as a whole and try and still maintain they are suddenly switching to a graphic description of Jesus. It’s silly.

3.    How do you explain that the prophet Daniel prophesied the exact YEAR when the Christ would be presented as Messiah and also prophesied that the temple would be destroyed afterwards over 500 years in advance (Daniel 9:24-27)?

Wow. There is so much to say here, but I am trying to make these answers brief. First, Daniel was almost certainly not the author of this book nor was it written 500 years before the time of Jesus. It was probably written about a century and a half before Jesus was born. Second, this book really does make clear prophecies and actually gets a ton of things wrong, as most scholars without a severely evangelical axe to grind will admit. Third, the year counting is ironically just a reinterpretation of Jeremiah 25 because it didn’t happen as it was prophesied (oops! I thought no prophecy ever failed). So, they lengthened the timeframe to mean weeks of years, instead of just weeks. It’s weird, I know. Fourth, even doing that it still doesn’t correspond to Jesus. Rather, it seems to correspond to the Maccabean revolt (roughly around 160 B.C.) and restoration of Israel on a timeline following that, which didn’t even happen. Another failure. I could say more about Daniel and about this passage, but I think it should be clear the author of these questions either has no idea what he’s talking about or he’s using some incredibly dubious assumptions to make all this work.

4.    How could any mere human pinpoint the precise birth town of the Messiah seven full centuries before the fact, as did the prophet Micah?

Just as with the previous questions, we have a lot to be skeptical of here. I’ll give a few quick hits: (A) We don’t know who wrote the book Micah or when. However, even granting certain assumptions won’t cause us difficulty. (B) Again, if you read it in context, the verses don’t seem to be accomplishing what is claimed. They seem to be speaking to a person, not of the town. (C) The prophecy is that this leader will save the people from the Assyrians. The Assyrians fell from power several centuries before Jesus was born. (D) There are the traditional concerns of the Jewish people that Jesus wasn’t actually a leader in any sense nor did he deliver them from their persecutors. (E) Matthews quoting of allegedly fulfilled prophecies does not seem trustworthy. Redaction criticism suggests details seem to have been invented to fit what he wanted to say.

 

CHRISTIANITY

1.     Are there any practical benefits to Christianity? If so, what are they and why?  If not, why?

Who cares?

2.    Is there a difference between “Christianity” and “Religion”?  If so, what is it?  If not, why?

Yes, Christianity is a subset of religion. A token of a type.

3.    Do you fully understand WHAT Christians believe?

I understand what they believe in general, yes. I was one and am in regular contact with Christians. It would be virtually impossible to understand what every Christian believes.

4.    Do you know what the Gospel is?

The good news of Jesus.

 

JESUS CHRIST

1.    Who do YOU say Jesus Christ is?  Why?

I don’t think we have a good way to separate the reliable details from the gospels from the unreliable ones. So, I don’t think anyone is in a good position to say. Good cases can be made for being an apocalyptic prophet, a social reformer, and other pictures. We just don’t know with a high degree of confidence, though.

2.    If you do not believe in Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, why?

There is a lot to say here—whole books in fact—but I’ll just make a few brief comments and recommend looking into the work of Matt McCormick and others. There is a lack of uniquely supportive evidence in favor of a resurrection hypothesis. To believe such an extraordinary claim, we would need this to an incredible degree. Plus, we are very justified in approaching such hypotheses with a naturalistic expectation. (If you’re into probability and backing up things like ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’ these links are for you and written by yours truly.)

3.    What are the implications for YOU if Jesus Christ was raised from the dead?

It’s not clear. Even if Jesus were resurrected, it does not simply follow that the religion built up in the centuries following his death, mostly by people who never met him or met anyone who met him, created accurate creeds and doctrines.

4.    Are you fully familiar with the body of historical evidence relating to the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ?

I am very familiar with the alleged evidence, yes. For such an extraordinary (vastly improbable) claim, though, it is unimpressive.

 

JUST CURIOUS

1.    If caterpillars could talk, would they argue against the cocoon-of-the-gaps with their butterfly friends?

They could observe it for themselves, so it wouldn’t be much of an argument.

2.    If there was a Big Bang, where did the bullets come from? Who pulled the trigger and who manufactured the gun?

This is a false analogy.

3.    How does science weigh morality?  Does ‘goodness’ expand when frozen or rise when heated?

It doesn’t. I don’t see how that helps the case for Christianity, though.

4.    If man is just an evolved animal, why have we never observed another species thrilling in the beauty of a sunset or a picturesque mountain view?

If you can find some evolutionary scientist to confirm for you that the theory predicts that we should see this happen, then it will be a question worth answering. They might tell you that it is reasonable to expect other animals to enjoy certain activities or show other traits similar to us, which several animals do. But there is no prediction that we should share everything, especially when the thing in question might involve certain higher brain functions.

5.    While you’ve most likely heard, “Forever’s a long time to be wrong,” have you ever considered it’s also a “long time to be right?”

No.

Discussion

Dan

Well when you put it like that, I guess I better hedge my bets and believe in Jesus. Governing belief with fear, that doesn’t sound very Christian to me….

Paul

Doesn’t appear the fellow who asked these questions is able to distinguish between scientific questions and philosophic musings nor does he/she have a fundamental understanding of biology. Nevertheless your answers seemed a bit petulant and terse. Since you conceded to the process a more thorough answer to some of these questions might give him/her more pause for reflection. I agree that question 2 regarding the big bang is sophomoric but rather than brush off the question why not explain what science does vs. philosophy or theology, or at the very least explain why it is a false analogy. Maybe as a future post you might put the question(s) to your audience to answer rather than bearing the burden yourself. It might spur a more energetic response and spare you the exasperation of answering one poorly constructed question after another.

Mike

Fair point, Paul. My annoyance did show through in some of my answers to this and other parts of the series, and I did decide myself to take it on so I only have myself to blame. Hopefully, though, my non-snarky answers did offer some quick hits for the common, often bad, questions asked by apologists.

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