#TBTB #TBT – “Why I’m Not a Christian”

ThrowBack ThursdayIn his review of Bertrand Russell’s “Why I’m Not a Christian,” Jeremy Larson does a great job pointing out the inconsistencies that exist in Russell’s (and most other atheists for that matter) thinking.

All Christians must be ready to take back the Bible by preparing to give every man an answer for the hope that dwells within us. For this reason, it’s wise to acquaint ourselves with the atheist’s thinking, but then arm ourselves with God’s answers.

AMBrewster provides a few thoughts as a preface to Mr. Larson’s article here: “Why I’m Not a Christian.”

Why I'm Not a Christian

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A Conversation with @Atheist_Deity

It was during a back-and-forth with some guys on Twitter that I had the idea to write”Is God a Jerk?”

After Part 3 was published, one of the gentlemen I debated with chimed in with his response to my conclusions. I’ve really appreciated his and my interactions as they’ve lacked the vitriol that so often accompany God-debates.

Unfortunately, social media may be a great place for passionate arguing where neither party is really interested in hearing what the other has to say, but stinks for discourse and conversation. @Atheist_Deity lives in Great Britain (as far as I can tell), so I highly doubt he and I will have the opportunity to talk for a few hours in a café.

So, I decided to write this post to answer his questions and reflect a more conversational feel. I’ve taken @Atheist_Deity ‘s comments from Part 3, and I’m going to format it as a discussion as I answer his questions. The only changes I’ll make to his original comments are formatting, grammatical (if needed :-)), and I may add a few words in italics that give the discourse a more conversational feel.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Why is he wasting his time?” I just want to be faithful to the command we have to be salt and light and to the example given to us by Paul. In Acts 17, “Paul was waiting for [Timothy and Silas] at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, ‘What would this idle babbler wish to say?’ Others, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,’ because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.’ Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.”

Beginning of Conversation

@Atheist_Deity: Sorry Aaron, I’ve read your articles, but you didn’t prove anything, not even from a logical fallacy perspective. You’re now claiming evolution isn’t true, that many scientists agree (which they don’t) and that the bible is completely consistent through its history. You also point a veiled insult in my direction regarding my use of a dull blade against your expert swordsmanship yet, you again failed to address almost any of the points I made regarding the bible being written by men.

@AMBrewster: I’m very sorry it came across that way. I was definitely not calling myself an expert swordsman. I know many men who would qualify as brilliant apologists in all matters theological, scientific, and the like, but I am not one. I wish to be, and daily train to be, but I have a long way to go. Please know that I in no way was trying to compare the two of us. But you are right about my previous assertions; I know that evolution is a false theory, I know that many scientists agree with me in that, and I know that the Bible is completely consistent. In regard to answering your observations about the Bible being written by men, let’s tackle that when we talk about Sinaiticus and Vaticanus .

@Atheist_DeityOkay, but first let’s talk about Russell’s Teapot. The Bertrand tea-pot is the perfect argument, but not one I would have used myself since it’s a little obvious, and I knew you would have a response thereto.

@AMBrewster: I agree with you for two reasons: It’s a good argument, and I did have a response. :-) You’re right to acknowledge that the burden of proof always falls in the affirmative. With that said, I’m curious if you would mind explaining why you think the Bible doesn’t teach what I say it teaches.

@Atheist_DeityI was being generic rather than specific regarding the teachings of Jesus, but if you are going to claim that he did not preach tolerance and respect then I think we read different teachings. “Let he who hath not sinned cast the first stone,” “Suffer the little children,” “Happy are the meek,” etc., etc. Yes, there are counterpoints, but that is the very reason why I chose to avoid bible quotes wherever possible since they are open to interpretation and can be easily taken out of context.

@AMBrewster: Once again, I’m sorry if I miscommunicated. I tried to point out that those teachings are not what you claimed them to be in your comments from Part 2. You stated they were the “aim” of the Jesus narrative. That I disagree with completely. They are merely a small part of a much more important whole. Let me illustrate it this way. In professional baseball the players throw, run, and hit. Children do the same things at the park every day. But if an adult is tasked by the manager of professional baseball team to play for them, the manager should expect him to show up at the games with the intention of helping the team win. But if the baseball player never goes to the game because “Everyday I play catch, hit balls, and run around with kids at the park! Why do I have to play now?” he’d be fired.

My point is simple. It doesn’t matter how respectful someone is if they reject the God who wants them to be respectful. It’s not enough to just be respectful.

In regard to “taking things out of context,” I believe the best hermeneutic to approach the scripture with is the same one we would approach any form of communication with – a literal, grammatical, historical interpretation. The Bible literally means what it literally means – it’s only metaphorical when it claims to be. The Bible uses real grammar to communicate real ideas. Historically, words were occasionally used differently and should be understood as such. That’s how you want people to understand your writing, and that’s how God wants people to understand His.

@Atheist_Deity: I genuinely think you have failed to address many of the key points I made in my comments from Part 2, and indeed you introduce a new, interesting one. How can you be so sure that Allah is fake and unreal? If you accept that god exists and that Jesus was real, the Muslims believe both of these but attribute the role of prophet to Jesus, not supernatural being. So why is their model of god any less valid than yours?

@AMBrewster: Well, as we both know, the burden of proof really falls on them, but I did make the claim, so I’ll back it up. First, I personally have to accept the Bible’s claims that there is only one God, and that He has communicated through the Bible, not the Quran. Given the perfect nature of the Bible’s truth, I can’t doubt it on that point any more than I can on any other point. If its wrong, my God clearly isn’t who He says He is. Second, you mentioned that the Quran and the Bible talk a lot about the same people. In fact, Moses is one which both books speak equally as high of. But the problem is in the five books he wrote, Moses communicated to us very clearly who God claimed to be. God introduced Himself as Yahweh, not Allah. Saying that Moses was a prophet of Allah and a good man makes no sense for a Muslim, because the five books Moses wrote show that Allah cannot be who he claims to be.

There are many more things I could say, but I don’t want to hog the conversation.

@Atheist_Deity:  The last thing I want to comment on right now is if the perfect nature of the bible is your evidence for a god, I invite you to research the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanicus. This site contains links, quotes and a reference to the book Revision Revised by a Christian scholar. I would be interested to hear your response. But I would also say that it is disingenuous to say that those who do not believe in god should be unable to use the bible as any kind of evidence or battle ground. If a believer is going to use the book to prove their point, we should be able to point out the inconsistencies.

@AMBrewster: You’ve just brought up a HUGE question with that one. I wish my friends, Alan Benson and Mark Minnick were here as they are far better “swordsmen” than I on the specific scholarly details of this discussion. But I will admit, to my own credit, that I do have a seminary degree and have spent quite a bit of time studying textual criticism/translation/etc. But before I attempt to offer a short answer, I want to address your final thought.

If the Bible appears to have contradictions, those should be called out. Unfortunately, what happens is someone will address what appears to be an inconsistency, then a highly qualified individual will explain in very clear, logical, and scholarly ways how the apparent contradiction is, in fact, not one at all . . . but then people ignore the data and continue to propone the falsehood! That’s what I was arguing needs to stop. Though I may not have all of the answers myself, I am not aware of a single biblical critique that actually reveals a flaw in the Bible. So, 1. If there’s an issue, address it. But 2. If the issue is put to bed, drop it. And since there are no attacks that have been levied against the Scriptures that are actually, verifiably legitimate, I wonder when people will finally get tired of losing that battle and try to argue God’s inexistence some other way.

So, I suppose I have to ask the question, “If I were able to prove to you that the apparent issues with Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are not what they seem and have no bearing whatsoever on the doctrines of inspiration and preservation, would you believe me?” Given the track record of other people who attack the Bible, I’d have to say you probably won’t. But, I believe the most loving thing I can do is give you the benefit of the doubt. So here goes . . .

  1. The doctrine of inspiration has no effect on the doctrine of preservation. The Bible says that God breathed out His Word as the original authors were borne along like ships on a sea. They weren’t in a trance or being dictated to, they wrote, and God imbued their writing with divine truth. I agree that this is the most vulgar description of inspiration ever given, but inspiration isn’t the focus here. I mention this merely to point out that directed inspiration applies only to the original authors of the original autographs. The doctrine of preservation is never said to work the same way. There is no perfect, unbroken line of word-for-word manuscripts . . . and God never said there would be.
  2. The doctrine of preservation is not proven wrong by the existence of textual variants. This is true for two reasons: A. The unique textual variants are soooooo few and far between. I realize your author made it sound like Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are two completely different books, but he’s not a textual critic and he has an axe to grind. Let me quote a very well known textual critic, Fenton John Anthony Hort, who worked for over thirty years with all of the extant texts. It’s a little lengthy, but it has significant bearing on the discussion.

“With regard to the great bulk of the words of the New Testament, as of most other ancient writings, there is no variation or other grounds of doubt, and therefore no room for textual criticism; and here therefore an editor is merely a transcriber . . . The proportion of words virtually accepted on all hands as raised above doubt is very great, not less, on a rough computation, then seven eighths of the whole. The remaining eighth therefore, formed in great part by changes of order and other comparative trivialities, constitutes the whole area of criticism. If the principles followed in the present edition are sound, this area may be greatly reduced. Recognising to the full the duty of abstinence from peremptory decision in cases where the evidence leaves the judgment in suspense between two or more readings, we find that, setting aside differences of orthography, the words in our opinion sill subject to doubt only make up about one sixtieth of the whole New Testament. In this second estimate the proportion of comparatively trivial variations is beyond measure larger than in the former; so that the amount of what can in any sense be called substantial variation is but a small fraction of the whole residuary variation, and can hardly form more than a thousandth part of the entire text [emphasis mine].”

So, all of the variants between all of the texts of New Testament Scripture that require true textual criticism make up less than one tenth of one percent! This leads me to my second observation, B. The textual variants in question have no bearing whatsoever on any doctrinal system or truth claim in the Bible. In McDowell’s book Evidence that Demands a Verdict, he reminds us that Julius Caesar’s The Gallic Wars has only 10 manuscripts extant, with the earliest one dating to 1,000 years after the original autograph. Pliny the Younger’s Natural History has only 7 manuscripts with 750 years elapsed. Thucydides’ History has 8 manuscripts with a stunning 1,300 years elapsed. Herodotus’ History has 8 manuscripts with an equally astonishing 1,350 years elapsed. We accept Plato’s works with only 7 manuscripts and 1,300 years between them, and Tacitus’ Annals have a comparatively remarkable 20 manuscripts, but there’re still about 1,000 years between the autograph and the copies we have. But when it comes to the Bible we have over 25,000 manuscripts, of which over 5,000 are fragments that are written in the original Greek! In fact, some of the manuscripts we have were written only 40-60 years after the writing of the autograph. We have more textual evidence for the Bible than we do any other ancient book, and the disagreements are negligible.

When you take these two points together, it’s easy to see that God has kept His word concerning the preserving of His Word, especially in light of the fact He never detailed for us exactly how He would do it.

You make the observation that men wrote the Bible. But once again I have to use Bibliologic here. Logically speaking, if God is who He says He is, then it’s completely understandable that an omnipotent, promise-keeping God could keep man from messing up His revelation. And if He’s too impotent to do that . . . then He’s not worthy of our worship.

What do you think?

Here the conversation ends . . . for now. 

Is God a Jerk? (Part 3)

Is God a Jerk

In Part 1 and Part 2 we looked at who God claims to be, what He claims to do, and compared it with our common experience. Through that study we saw some of the necessary (and logical) conclusions do not allow us to view God as a jerk (or whatever word you fancy most).

But I stated at the end of Part 2 that we had not yet mined all of the necessary observations from this discussion. I would like to tackle two of those today and start by saying . . .

Don’t Fight Allah With the Allah

Two or three times in my life I’ve heard people (who say they believe in God) judge God as being unfair. Once I heard someone (who claimed to be a Christian!) call God a very inappropriate name which can be loosely interpreted as “jerk.”

But most of the time I hear people refer to God in less than favorable ways, it’s coming from self-professing atheists. They’re the ones who will frequently cite the four life experiences we discussed earlier as evidence that the God of the Bible isn’t everything Christians say He is. The four experiences I’m referring to are:

  1. He demands loyalty to Him alone.
  2. He’s anything but tolerant.
  3. He allows evil and wickedness to abound – especially to good people.
  4. He allows destruction, pain, sickness, and suffering (again, often ravaging the good of the world).

But the thing that stupefies me the most is that they even bother. Let me explain.

A Poor Choice of Weapon

I’ve never wasted a moment of my life being mad at Allah. I’ve never blamed him for anything. And when I’ve had the opportunity to talk to people about the fact that Allah doesn’t exist, I didn’t waste my time quoting passages from the Quran to point out its inconsistencies (of which there are plenty).

Allah isn’t real. He has no effect whatsoever on my life, and though I think belief in Allah is wrong and destructive, I’ll probably never try to argue away his inexistence with the Quran. I have better weapons at my disposal.

My point it this . . . if you say you don’t believe in God, don’t use His Word to argue He doesn’t exist. It doesn’t make sense because any and all of the potential doctrinal, textual, and/or logical inconsistencies of the Scriptures have been repeatedly shown to be erroneous by professionals in every field. Every word of the Bible is consistent with who God reveals Himself to be in Scripture, and there isn’t a shred of verifiable evidence that the world isn’t functioning exactly how He said it did and would.

An Inaccurate Handling of the Weapon

If two people are dueling with swords, and one of them has no idea what he’s doing, is it possible that he may wound his attacker? Yes. But that neither means he’s any good at what he’s doing or that he’s going to win. Furthermore, the more competent his attacker, the more impotent his own defense will be. To the same degree, if someone’s going to argue against God using the Bible, they had better use it correctly.

It would be completely inappropriate for me to argue that the U.S. government is flawed because the constitution celebrates anarchy. Why? Because the constitution doesn’t make that claim.

The Bible also doesn’t say what many of its detractors attribute to it. @Atheist_Deity commented on Part 2 by saying that . . .

“If the aim of the Jesus story is to preach tolerance, respect and being good to thy neighbour then someone who lives by those values without believing in god would be more worthy of entering heaven than a sinner who believed and repented before death. A god who rewards those who love him but act against him more than those who live well despite not believing is not an entity capable of creating a universe or guiding billions of years of evolution. That creature would be jealous, insecure, demanding of attention and petty.”

I would agree with his observations about God if, in fact, the Bible taught what he claims. But nowhere is it the ultimate aim of any part of Scripture to teach tolerance, respect, or even merely being good to your neighbor. If that were true, then God would be unjust to condemn tolerant, respectful people who are kind to their neighbors. But, that’s not what the Bible says.

So, why do atheists choose to wield a rusty weapon they’ve had no legitimate success with?

Don’t Fight Teapots with Negativity

Prove that God doesn’t exist.

Every debater knows it’s a rookie mistake to be tricked into trying to prove a negative.

Russell’s Teapot addresses this issue. Bertrand Russell wrote in an unpublished article that . . .

“Many people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.”

On the surface, this quote may seem to be working at cross-purposes to me, but it’s not.

The fact of the matter is that no person in the cosmos can prove that God doesn’t exist. Oh, some try, but atheists much smarter than they know it’s impossible. Yet despite this insurmountable task, the ones dead-set on proving God never existed still grab at any weapon they can to swing around. And the only weapon they have to discredit God is the one marked “Proof the Bible’s Wrong.”

You will find that every argument against God’s existence is a direct attack against the validity of Scripture. Sometimes it takes the form of, “The Bible says people were created, but we know scientifically that people evolved. See, the Bible is wrong.” Or sometimes it’s, “The Bible says you shouldn’t kill, but then God commands the Israelites to kill a bunch of people. See, God’s a jerk, and that type of God isn’t worthy of our worship.” A little harder to recognize is the, I’ve-just-used-a-reasoned-argument-to-disprove-his-existence-weapon. Nevertheless, like its dented cousins, this blade attempts to clang away at the foundational precept that reality is what the Bible says.

Unfortunately for its wielder, these weapons are quite dull and ineffective against a skilled swordsman. There isn’t a single claim made by atheists that legitimately contradicts the Bible. Even the evolution argument falls flat, since there are many atheistic scientists who argue that the theory of Darwinian evolution is “spurious” at best.

In Conclusion

If Russell were right, it’s my responsibility to prove that God exists instead of demanding the atheist to prove He doesn’t.

And that is what all of this has been about.

  1. When you take the Bible for what it actually says and actually means (use the proper hermeneutic), and
  2. Compare what it says to life and the experiences in it,
  3. You find that it is 100% reliable and consistent.

But that would be impossible for a book written . . .

over a period of roughly 2,000 years by 40 different authors from three continents, who wrote in three different languages.”

So, if it did happen that one Book could be written that would stand in the face of whatever attack was brought to bear on its pages – and which is completely unified, consistent, cohesive, and accurate – one may start to think that such a thing is impossible. In fact, there would be no other legitimate, logical explanation than the Bible is exactly what it claims to be . . . the infallible words of an infinitely perfect God.

Well, we’ve just found our proof that God exists.

And He’s not a jerk.

“Why I’m Not a Christian” – Jeremy Larson

Why I'm Not a Christian

I appreciate Jeremy Larson’s handling of Bertrand Russell’s philosophies in his blog post Why I’m Not a Christian.

I have found that atheists are incurably inconsistent. It is true this is a common problem among humans, but it is not an issue with God. That is why when we argue from Scripture, inconsistencies cannot abide. But for the atheist, whose sole ground of authority lies in human reasoning, their arguments are fraught with inconsistencies and holes.

But, praise God, between those inconsistencies I find that God’s Word fits rather nicely.