Some questions from an atheist to a former student of mine


Hey Cullen,

I thank you much for your questions. I was elated and surprised to learn that you’re reading other literature (e.g., On Guard). I think it’s great!

I’ll respond to each one below. Of course, speaking in person might be more fruitful, but I’ll still give some comments in case they help.

*(Atheist) How do we prove that in addition to being historically correct, the Bible also entails sound and "the right" doctrine? These issues go together. Since Jesus did exist, did teach the things He taught, was killed and resurrected, then we have every reason to assume that deity-in-flesh taught us “right” doctrine. If He was a liar, mistaken, or lunatic, then of course, it’s not “right” doctrine at all. Now, it’s crucial to remember that the Church has never, ever believed that every word in the Old Testament is to be applied in the Christian’s life. This was debated within the first few years of the church’s life (see Acts 11). As we spoke about this in Biblical ethics, they broke up the moral injunctions of the Old Testament into ritual rules, moral rules, and civic rules. Go back and see your notes on that if you don’t recall. So, Christians can still believe the entire Bible contains “right” doctrine, even though we don’t adhere to certain ethical norms because Christians are no longer under the moral authority of Levitical codes in the Torah. In other words, what other than historical facts can act as proof for the legitimacy of the Bible and Christianity altogether? This seems to be a different question altogether. In my mind, the only other kinds of things that can be shown to prove the legitimacy of the Bible and Christianity is the other two kinds of things I mention in my book: scientific and experiential proof. Remember how I’ve said this several times before? I’m a Christian because there are scientific facts that point to God (e.g., that the universe began to exist, fine-tuning to allow life, etc.), historical evidence that demonstrates the truth claims of Christianity, and religious experience that corroborates Christianity. So, together, one has scientifichistorical, and experiential evidence.

*(Pro-Gay) How then can we truly prove that anything is actually moral? The same way that one “proves” that logic and mathematics are actually true: intuition. These are brute facts of reality; they can’t be put in a test tube. One just “gets” it or doesn’t. So, ask the same question for math: “How then can we truly prove that anything is actually mathematical?” You appeal to a person’ rational intuition. So, we ask the person, “Don’t you perceive of morals? Wouldn’t you agree that racism is wrong? Murder is wrong? Rape is wrong? And not just something you dislike, like one might dislike turnip greens?”

Now, for the Christian, we’re aware that there are certain things that God wants from us that most people would agree is not part of our “natural” moral intuition. For example, Jesus said that we should be forgiving and humble, that these are virtues. Regular pagans wouldn’t see that as morally binding in a “dog eat dog world.” In the same way, Jesus made it clear that men and women should be married, and the only other option is to stay celibate (or a “eunuch”, see Matt 19).

So, most (all?) virtues and vices are intuited by anyone, though Christianity emphasizes (or introduces) certain virtues and vices as revealed by God.

*(Pro-Gay) How can we prove that gay marriage is not only immoral, but should also be made illegal in AmericaI don’t know. There are those who say that it should be illegal because it’s against the traditional definition of marriage as established by every civilization on the planet, or because if we don’t, what would prohibit us from marrying humans with animals, family members, or children (since they can all be based on some version of “love”)? This is called the “slippery slope” argument: if you allow it for one thing (e.g., “love” between two gay people), then why not allow it for every single relationship built on “love”? If you stop at gay people and say no to the others, why? It would just be capricious and not based on moral reasons. Those who support pedophilia and zoophilia would simply be outraged. “Why can gay people marry who they want and we can’t!! This is unjust! I love my dog or I love my son! Who are you to deny me my rights to marry whom I love?!”

*(Atheist) Why do atheists believe that the earth is billions of years old? Do they have proof? They believe it because there are numerous reasons to believe it’s that old, such as numerous methods of radiometric dating (certain elements decay at consistent rates), and by dating several other facts (see http://www.reasons.org/explore/type/todays-new-reasonwhere you can also search for stuff on Earth’s age).

*(Atheist) Why Jesus? Why not Allah or any other divine deity?
Why Jesus? Because He did exist, forgave sins, healed people, was killed for my sins, and was resurrected, and crazy liars don’t get resurrected. Allah is just the Arabic word for “God.” If you mean, why not be Muslim? It’s because Mohammed didn’t forgive people, didn’t heal people, wasn’t killed for my sins, and certainly wasn’t resurrected. Why not other deities? Because they don’t have the historical evidence that we have for Jesus.

If you ever get a chance, I'd really appreciate it if you could answer these questions for me. I'll never know when God will call me to back my faith with justification other than the spiritual satisfaction it gives me (as I'm sure Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and even Atheists feel--although falsely--to an extent as well). I thank you for your time and look forward to seeing you on Wednesday.
Keep asking the questions: drive them into the ground. I would just encourage you strongly: keep asking questions, but do it while having a devotional time. If not, evil will drive you away by getting you obsessive about questions. I’ve fallen into that trap before. God asks us to love HIM, not to love understanding everything. Jesus is a person, not an answer to a question. So, I’d encourage you to do whatever you can in your practice of faith to keep loving the person of Jesus. Of course, regular prayer, devotionals, communal worship, service, and other Christian practices will keep you plugged in. Dr. Craig teaches Sunday School at his church nearly every week. In fact, you can hear it yourself: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast.

P.S. I found an interesting article on Richard Dawkins and William Lane Craig (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/oct/20/richard-dawkins-william-lane-craig). If you get a chance, let me know what you think of it as well.
Yeah, that was in response to several things. You might enjoy listening to this: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/speaking-and-debating-in-the-uk
Of course, overall, Dawkins says nothing about Craig’s arguments. Like usual, Dawkins just attacks Craig. Whatever it’s worth, Craig has not been begging or cajoling Dawkins to debate (as far as I know). Rather, the people who put on the debates have been asking Dawkins. It’s funny that even other atheists have given Dawkins a really hard time for not debating Craig. Concerning Craig’s scholarship, Craig, in fact, is a philosopher. Besides his PhD in that field, he has written widely in the field (e.g., http://www.reasonablefaith.org/scholarly-articles/the-existence-of-god) Concerning the killing of the Canaanites, see http://www.reasonablefaith.org/slaughter-of-the-canaanites and http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-slaughter-of-the-canaanites-re-visited

From another email:

*(Atheist) How can a Christian rely on the laws of nature to point towards the existence of God if Jesus was told to have defied them entirely in His miracles? This is a huge topic. I’ll only say a few things. What makes the laws of nature “laws” is that we expect them to be consistent in the future because they have been consistent in the past (this is called the Law of Uniformity). But, this, as all philosophers of science know, is simply an assumption. There is no empirical reason whatsoever to assume that gravity or whatever will continue acting like it has in the past. It’s assumed. In any case, the laws of nature as we experience them now do, in fact, demonstrate remarkable intelligibility and consistency. Why? There is no remote atheistic explanation. In Theism, we have an answer. An intelligent Causal Agent (God) designed it.

Now, this has nothing to do with the instances of Jesus’ miracles. As CS Lewis argued in Miracles, miracles are not violations of the “laws,” but rather, introducing something new into the natural course of events. Again, I won’t spell this out here because of the length required. Read Lewis’ book.

Bottomline: We need the laws to be laws or we couldn’t recognize miracles when they happen. Understand? We need both. Having rare miracles does nothing to take away from the fact that we can use the laws of nature to deduce an intelligent Creator.

*(Atheist) Are Jesus' miracles historically confirmed by anyone other than Christians (universally, that is)?
Yes and no. The Talmud (Jewish source) confirms that Jesus was a miracle worker (they call him a “sorcerer”), and Josephus (Jewish historian) called him a “doer of wondrous deeds.” There is no outside source that I know of that confirms a specific miracle that Jesus did. Of course, we shouldn’t dismiss the Gospels as historical documents because they are biased. Historians can still cull through them to discover what is the most historically-probable scenario. What’s interesting in the Gospels is that the opponents of Jesus admit that Jesus does the miraculous. They just deny the source of his power and authority (e.g., Mk 3:22). It’s also interesting that not everyone believes in Jesus. Plenty of people are skeptical of Jesus – even his own people (e.g., Matt 13:55-56).

*(Atheist) If God does exist, why assume that He cares about us (humans)? If Deism is all we get, then there is no reason to assume that God cares about us at all (except that might be deduced by the fact that the universe is fine-tuned to support life.) Since Christian theism is true, then we have every reason to know, not just assume, that God cares us about us humans or God would have never made covenants with people or sent Jesus. Why assume that all of creation was centered around man and how can this be proven? Again, if Deism is true, then there is no reason to assume it. That kind of God would not reveal itself to humans. Since Christian theism is true, we know that creation is not centered around man, but around God’s kingdom and loving relationship with humans. How to prove it? Now we’re back to arguing why Christianity is true. Since there is such an overwhelming amount of historical and experiential proof for Christianity, we know that humans are very important to God.

*(Atheist) Did God have material with which He created the universe or did He simply will it into existence? He willed it into existence. As Hebrews 11:3 says: “By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear” (RSV). If He did simply will it into being, how can this be proven possible at all? The universe (or multiverse) began to exist. That’s a scientific fact. How did it begin to exist? Scientists will never have an answer because science cannot answer that question since it is beyond scientific apparatus to discover. Since it came into being, something must have brought it into existence that was not made of matter, energy, time, or space. The only two kinds of things we know of that are not made of matter, energy, time or space are (1) minds and (2) abstract objects such as numbers. Well, numbers can’t cause anything, so (2) can’t do it. It leaves us with (1), viz., a mind. Human minds cause thoughts and can cause physical effects in our brain. So, we do know that a mind can cause things that effect matter. Yet, human minds cannot create matter and energy. God, therefore, must be a mind that can create matter and energy. If God is not a mind that can create matter and energy than there is no explanation whatsoever for why the universe began to exist. Also, see http://www.reasonablefaith.org/must-everything-that-begins-to-exist-have-a-material-cause

I hope this helps for now. I hope that your devotional life continues strong and that you’re filling your mind with lyrics that keep you grounded in the faith! J

For the Kingdom,
David