The New York Times recently ran a depressing article about the obstacles faced by public school science teachers. I don’t envy teachers their job, as important as it is: between surly and unruly students, cash-strapped school districts, incompetent administrators, and the regimented, monotonous teaching needed to drill classes for standardized testing, they have more than enough to deal with. But this outrage may surpass all the others: religious students who have been programmed by their parents and churches to reject evolution and any other branch of science that infringes on their sacred superstitions.
The last question on the test Mr. Campbell passed out a week later asked students to explain two forms of evidence supporting evolutionary change and natural selection.
“I refuse to answer,” Bryce wrote. “I don’t believe in this.”
The article mentions “Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher About Evolution“, a tract written by the Moonie creationist Jonathan Wells, as one that some religious students are bringing to class. The National Center for Science Education has done a superb job answering these questions and unpacking the deceitful assumptions built into them (and the Talk.Origins Archive has a more in-depth response), so I won’t spend my time on that. I have a different idea.
If the creationist churches are prepping teenagers with arguments against science, I think it’s only fair that they get a taste of their own medicine. I think there should be a list of questions for Sunday-school students to ask their pastor – questions that cast light on the unsavory parts of Christian theology and raise the difficult, uncomfortable issues that most religious leaders prefer to avoid. Here are my suggestions for a list. I’ve done my best to raise issues that aren’t often addressed by apologists, or to phrase questions in ways that aren’t as susceptible to stock answers. If anyone has alternatives or additions, feel free to suggest them.
1. Why is God called loving or merciful when, in the Old Testament’s stories of the Israelite conquest, he specifically orders his chosen people to massacre their enemies, showing no mercy to men, women, even children and animals?
2. Does it make sense to claim, as the Bible does, that wrongdoing can be forgiven by magically transferring the blame from a guilty person to an innocent one, then punishing the innocent person?3. Why does the Bible routinely depict God as manifesting himself in dramatic, unmistakable ways and performing obvious miracles even before the eyes of nonbelievers, when no such thing happens in the world today?
4. Why do vast numbers of Christians still believe in the imminent end of the world when the New Testament states clearly that the apocalypse was supposed to happen 2,000 years ago, during the lifetime of Jesus’ contemporaries?
5. Why do Christians believe in the soul when neurology has found clear evidence that the sense of identity and personality can be altered by physical changes to the brain?
6. If it was always God’s plan to provide salvation through Jesus, why didn’t he send Jesus from the very beginning, instead of confusing and misleading generations of people by setting up a religion called Judaism which he knew in advance would prove to be inadequate?
7. Since the Bible states that God does not desire that anyone perish, but also states that the majority of humankind is going to hell, doesn’t this show that God’s plan of salvation is a failure even by his own standard? If this outcome is a success, what would count as a failure?
8. Why didn’t God create human beings such that they freely desire to do good, thus removing the need to create a Hell at all? (If you believe this is impossible, isn’t this the state that will exist in Heaven?)
9. Is it fair or rational for God to hide himself so that he can only be known by faith, then insist that every single human being find him by picking the right one out of thousands of conflicting and incompatible religions?
10. If you had the power to help all people who are suffering or in need, at no cost or effort to yourself, would you do it? If so, why hasn’t God done this already?