Answering Evangelical Answers to Atheism

A friend recently posted a link on facebook titled Answering the Atheists. The article is several years old now (2007), however I figured I would have a go at discussing the arguments presented in the article. In the article the author, Stan Guthrie, presents 10 short arguments as to why he is a Christian:

1. Creation:

The universe, far from being a howling wasteland indifferent to our existence, appears to be finely tuned through its estimated 13.7 billion years of existence to support life on this planet. Tinker with any one of scores of fundamental physical laws or the initial conditions of the universe—such as gravity or the cosmological constant—and we would not be here.

This is referred to as the “fine-tuning argument” and has been addressed by many individuals with a far better grasp on the physics than I do. I would like however, to address the implied extension of this argument, that the universe is so finely tuned, therefore it was created by the Christian god for humans. Guthrie uses the fine-tuning argument in an attempt to show that the universe is not a “howling wasteland indifferent to our existence.” Whether or or not the physics are perfect and precisely tuned doesn’t matter to this, as a little cosmic perspective will inform anyone as to how insignificant humanity is on a cosmic scale. This universe is massively old, old on a timescale and magnitude that is almost incomprehensible to most people, myself included. Old as in over 13 billion years old. It is also massive on an equally incomprehensible scale. The most distant object that may have ever been imaged is estimated to be 13.2 billion light years away! Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is 100,000 light years across, and our little solar system is located some 25,000+ light years from the galactic center. Our sun is one of the over 200 billion stars in our galaxy alone. Our species, Homo Sapiens didn’t arrive on our planet until about 200,000 years ago. We aren’t even a blip on the radar of cosmic history, and to think that all of this was created just for us is arrogance on a scale that rivals the size of the universe.

2. Beauty:

Beethoven’s Ninth, a snowflake, the sweet smell of a baby who has been sleeping, and a sunset beyond the dunes of Lake Michigan all point to a magnificent and loving Creator. And isn’t it interesting that we have the capacity—unlike mere animals—to gape in awe, to be brought to tears, before them?

The experience of beauty is a subjective experience, but it is one shared by all humans, regardless of religious persuasion. How all these things point to a creator is an argument that I don’t understand, no real argument is presented, it just goes like this: things have beauty, therefore God. It is however, very interesting that humans have the capacity to experience beauty on such a moving level. As for why we experience it (which I think is the implication of the question), I think Dennis Dutton does an excellent job of explaining:

3. New Testament Reliability:

Compared with the handful of existing copies of seminal ancient works such as Homer’s Iliad, the New Testament’s provenance is far better attested. There are thousands of NT manuscripts in existence, some made within mere decades of the events they report.

I do not doubt that the man in the New Testament, Jesus, probably at one time walked the earth. That his teachings became wildly popular and were spread far and wide are also not in doubt. All of this, however, is not evidence of a god, it is evidence that a man who claimed to be God/the son of God/humanities savior walked the earth during the time of the Roman empire in the middle east. There have been many people since who have made such a claim, and many other religions have similar stories.

4. Scripture:

Unlike other religious texts, the Bible gives us the good, the bad, and the ugly of its heroes: Abraham, Jacob, David, and Peter among them. Further, Scripture’s message rings true. It has been said that human depravity is the only religious doctrine empirically verified on a daily basis. And the Bible’s gracious solution to our predicament, Christ’s atoning death on the Cross, uniquely emphasizes what God has done, not what we must do, for our rescue.

First, other religious texts do give you the good and bad parts of its heroes, as anyone who has read Greek mythology can attest to. As for Christ atoning on the cross for humanity, that is a solution to a problem that is generated by Christianity. For those of us who live outside religion, sin is not a concept we live with, therefore there is no need to find a solution to it.

5. Jesus:

Christ’s life and teachings are unparalleled in world history, as any Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim—or atheist—worth his salt will admit

I plainly do not agree with this at all. Read the stories of the Buddha, Siddartha Gautama, and you will find a very impressive man. The stories of the Hindu gods are fascinating, exciting, and full of wonder and amazement. I find the above statement to be lacking.

6. The Trilemma:

C.S. Lewis, commenting on Christ’s claim to divinity, said: “You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

No real argument is made here, just a quote. C.S. Lewis missed another option however, that Jesus was just another man. Aside from the quote however, the is nothing presented here to support the claim of the divinity of Jesus.

7. The Resurrection:

After the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty. His formerly despondent disciples then turned the Roman world upside down with the message that Christ had conquered death. And they were willing to die for it. The best explanation, according to N. T. Wright and other scholars, is that Christ rose from the dead.

This is another exercise in circular logic. The only evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is presented in the Bible, so how do we know it’s true? Wright is a blatantly Christian scholar, and a bishop in the Church of England, so it only follows that for him, the best explanation is that Jesus rose from the dead. For those of us who don’t believe, this again is just another part of the story.

8. Progress:

Despite some horrific incidents perpetrated in the name of Christ, freedom and prosperity generally have followed Christianity. Sociologist Rodney Stark said, “The success of the West, including the rise of science, rested entirely on religious foundations, and the people who brought it about were devout Christians.”

Just because those who helped in the success of the rise of western culture were Christian, this says nothing about whether or not Christianity is true. This is another non sequitur.

9. Testimonies:

While many Christians have behaved badly, Christ specializes in turning sinners around. What other faith can boast of a Chuck Colson? A John Newton? A William Wilberforce? Then there are the innumerable soup kitchens, universities, hospitals, and orphanages founded to the glory of Christ. While many atheists are moral, how many such institutions has the atheistic ideal—uncoerced by Communism, which is itself a perversion of Christianity—produced?

Again, this is a non sequitur. Further, I don’t know who two of the three people are, but does that really matter? Nobody denies that many both a good and bad thing are done in the name of Christianity, and without any religious backing. None of that matters when assessing whether or not the claims of divinity and deity made by Christianity are true.

10. My Experience:

Finally, as a forgiven sinner, I testify to an imperfect yet growing sense of God’s peace, presence, and provision since receiving Christ more than a quarter-century ago. Despite occasional setbacks, my faith has deepened and strengthened, whatever life brings.

And that includes the angry rantings of atheists.

Personal stories like this are difficult to argue against, however they are just that, personal. I can say that in general, I have a sense of peace I’m my life, and I also am able to manage the struggles and setbacks that I experience. This doesn’t offer much in the way of convincing though. He makes the statement of being a forgiven sinner, but sin is an internal concept of Christianity, those who live without Christianity, live without the notion of sin. This, however, does not do much in the way of convincing this atheist of the truth of his claims. I am happy that Guthrie is happy, I think everyone has the right to be.

I applaud Guthrie for taking the time to lay out reasons for why he believes what he does. However, it is very apparent that Guthrie does not understand why other people might not share his beliefs, and that he is incapable of presenting a good argument for his. This is precisely why his arguments failed to move me. What I, and many others want is evidence. Solid, demonstrable, empirically valid evidence that can stand on its own outside the confines of scripture and religious philosophy. If and when the day comes when such evidence appears, I will gladly change my beliefs on this matter, but until that day, Christianity will remain relegated to myth, with every other world religion.

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