Compiling the Apologist’s Handbook

Last summer, I had a long e-mail conversation, spanning several months and thousands of words, with a thoughtful, intelligent, but strongly committed conservative Christian named Daniel who came across my site. There was one exchange we had that I found illuminating and that stuck in my mind, and I want to talk about it today.

I wrote that when atheists commit a misdeed, we can’t just ask God for forgiveness; we have to seek out the people we’ve harmed and try to make things right. Daniel contended that this was the Christian view as well:

That’s the way God originally set it up. You treat people the way you want to be treated. When you mess up, you tell them, ask them to forgive you, and then make reparations as a sign of true humility and repentance. Admittedly, to our shame, this is not how Christians portray forgiveness.

I followed up on this by asking what would happen to a person who repented on his deathbed and died without any opportunity to make restitution. Daniel answered as follows:

Would I say he is going to heaven? I wouldn’t say at all. I would say that God will deal with him justly, and whatever God decides is what is right. As Paul says in Romans, it is not based on works, but on God who shows mercy.

These answers are, of course, completely inconsistent with each other. Either you believe that God requires people to make restitution, or you believe that you don’t know God’s criteria for judgment, but you can’t believe both.

What this exchange highlighted for me is this: Apologists through the ages have put enormous amounts of thought into resolving some of the moral and philosophical difficulties that arise from belief in Christianity. By now, their answers have been distilled into bumper-sticker-length talking points that most lay Christians can automatically quote in response to common challenges. But what’s more debatable is whether all those individual responses cohere with each other, as opposed to just serving the apologetic needs of the moment. As in the example with Daniel, I’ve observed that you can ask a question and get the usual well-rehearsed answer, then ask another question and get a different stock answer that contradicts the first one. In other cases, there are two equally common answers to the same question that contradict each other.

If Christianity was a coherent belief system that flowed from a consistent set of starting principles, this wouldn’t happen. On the other hand, if it’s the religious belief that comes first and then reasons justifying the belief are invented later, you’d expect that these inconsistencies would arise. I think that in the majority of cases, it’s the latter: even intelligent, well-read Christians are mainly coming up with ways to rationalize a belief they adopted for non-rational reasons.

To that end, I want to catalogue other contradictions like this. I want to highlight the inconsistencies in the apologist’s handbook of replies to common objections. I’ve already thought of a few others, like these:

“God is good and always wants the best for us.”
“God’s ways are not our ways and he is infinitely beyond our ability to judge.” (Then how do you know he’s good?)

“God doesn’t want to give us convincing evidence of his existence because it would take away our free will to believe.”
“God’s existence is clearly seen and those who disbelieve are without excuse.” (So we don’t have free will, then?)

“The Bible is God’s word and is infallible.”
“The Bible is infallible only in its original manuscripts, which no longer exist.” (Then the Bible we have, the one that Christians rely on as a source of guidance, is not infallible.)

But I bet there are others that I haven’t thought of. What can you suggest? I’m not looking for Bible verses that contradict each other – we have plenty of those – but for commonly heard apologetic arguments, whether found in the Bible or not, that are mutually exclusive.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Penguin_Factory

    The one about God’s goodness has always bugged me.

    One contradiction is the attitude that fundamentalist Christians (creationists in particular) take toward science. They often say that their beliefs aren’t based on science and scientific discoveries are irrelevant, but when something comes up that they think supports their position they jump all over it. I’ve seen people on forums with threads going that do both of these simultaneously.

  • Nathaniel

    One of my favorites:

    “Everything needs a first cause/creator.”
    “God is eternal and uncreated.”

    Tends to come up whenever Christians attempt the “where did the universe come from” style of argument.

  • bill bones

    @Nathaniel
    “”Everything needs a first cause/creator.”
    “God is eternal and uncreated.”"
    Don’t you know? it’s turtles all the way down ;)

  • Nathaniel

    Oh, just thought of another good one:

    “God values free will above anything else.”
    “If you choose to not believe in (our particular version of) God, he will condemn you to hell forever.”

  • http://jetson.wordpress.com Jetson

    They always seem to know the mind of God, while simultaneously proclaiming that we cannot know the mind of God.

  • Valerie

    “God doesn’t want to give us convincing evidence of his existence because it would take away our free will to believe.”

    “You are being mislead by Satan (a character in our beliefs who has full knowledge of God’s existence, absolute power, and still has the free will to flip god off).”

  • Dave

    “Faith, hope, and love… the greatest of these is LOVE”

    “Whether you live in paradise or burn in hell for eternity depends solely on your faith in Jesus”

  • http://www.ooblick.com/weblog/ arensb

    This sort of inconsistency between arguments is just what I was thinking about with the movie-set metaphor. In that post, I used the example of Jesus’ crucifixion, which involves more than two arguments:

    • Jesus’ sacrifice was unfortunate, but necessary under the circumstances.
    • God decides what is good and bad.
    • God knows everything, including the future.

    You can pick any two of those, and things work. But all three together lead to a universe where God decided that killing one’s children is bad, knew that human history would unroll in such a way that he would have to sacrifice his son, and went ahead and did it anyway.

    Similarly, there’s theodicy, an entire branch of theology dedicated to trying to solve the problem of evil:

    • God is all-good.
    • God is all-powerful.
    • God is all-knowing.
    • Evil exists.

    A comedian whose name I’ve forgotten gave two more examples: “God loves you and is sending you to hell”, and “Sex is filthy and disgusting and you should save it for the one you love”.

    Someone compiled a similar list of mutually-contradictory arguments for creationism. The only one I remember is:

    • If the fundamental constants of the univers had even slightly different values, the universe wouldn’t exist.
    • The speed of light used to be much higher.

    And finally, this seems like a good topic to add to the Iron Chariots wiki. Would you or your readers be willing to contribute?

  • hiero5ant

    “The laws of the universe are exquisitely fine-tuned for biological life.”

    “The laws of the universe are structured in such a way as to require their miraculous suspension in order to get biological life.”

    “Modern science should really be credited to Christianity, and its doctrine that the universe is orderly and obeys comprehensible laws.”

    “The doctrine that the universe is orderly and obeys comprehensible laws is naturalistic dogmatic scientism which rules out miracles a priori.”

    The Unknown Purpose Defense and any claim to know moral purposes, the purposes of dysteleological design etc.

  • Roi des Faux

    “God doesn’t want to give us convincing evidence of his existence because it would take away our free will to believe.”

    “During Biblical times, god performed many miracles that unambiguously proved His existence.”

  • http://www.ooblick.com/weblog/ arensb
    • God will always sustain you in times of trouble.
    • If you feel abandoned in times of trouble, God is testing you, like Job.
    • God is beyond scientific investigation.
    • Here’s a bunch of scientific evidence for God.
  • http://peternothnagle.com Peter N

    As Paul says in Romans, it is not based on works, but on God who shows mercy.

    That points to the most glaring inconsistency of standard-issue Christianity for me — the idea of a god who is both merciful and just. If god is just, he has laid down rules, which he follows consistently — laws, like gravity, that apply all the time and everywhere. But if he is merciful, as in “I am a sinner who deserves to go to hell, but I believe god will forgive me”, then he is not following the rules — he is not just.

  • http://peternothnagle.com Peter N

    Another winner is the god that is supposed to know everything, past present and future, but can be disappointed, angered, pleased, placated, flattered, persuaded, bribed, and has a long list of personal needs that only his worshipers can satisfy. Just like the priests — fancy that.

  • http://technologeekery.blogspot.com/ Hendy

    My wife attended a talk where prayer/intercession was discussed. The title of the talk was, “Why God Sometimes Says ‘No’” or something to that effect. We talked about it when she came back and she explained that sometimes God has other plans in mind — he might not answer a prayer for physical healing, for example, because that suffering will unite the person more closely to Jesus and make them holy.

    But as far as I could tell, she still seemed to think one should intercede for healing with expectant faith any time such an opportunity arises, which brings me to the issue:

    - We should always intercede for what seems like the desirable outcome for someone (healing, health/wealth improvement, etc.)
    - God sometimes says no because there is a better outcome to be had if such apparently desirable outcomes are not obtained.

    To be consistent, you should never pray for any specific outcome. Just pray, “God, I hope what you want to happen… happens.” The inconsistency is assuming that it’s good to pray for apparently “good” things (by our standards) when you might be praying for an outcome that could hinder someone’s heaven-boundness.

    Perhaps the problem is that not praying for the apparently good thing won’t allow credit afterward if a chance “miracle” occurs?

  • hiero5ant

    This one is a bit more regional, but “America was founded on Christian principles” vs. “authority to govern derives from the consent of the governed.” No reading of the Old Testament, no Divine Command theory of morality, no doctrine of hellfire can be reconciled to fundamental American values.

    Also, “there can be no actual infinite” vs. “God has always existed” (q.v. God is infinitely good, infinitely powerful etc.); “fine-tuning is required to explain why the universe just luckily happens to be so friendly to us” vs. “no explanation is required for why, of all possible gods, the one who designed it just luckily happens to be so friendly to us.”

  • http://www.ooblick.com/weblog/ arensb

    @Peter N #13:
    The conflict between justice and mercy only comes into play if you assume that God is perfectly just and/or perfectly merciful. If you assume a god who is only mostly just or mostly merciful, you can wind up with someone like a judge who follows the book most of the time, but occasionally bends the rules in the accused’s favor.

    The same thing happens with the problem of evil: if you assume a god who’s good, but not infinitely good (e.g., he’s a nice guy who has some off days), or is very powerful but not infinitely powerful, or knows an awful lot, but not everything, then the problem goes away.

    This whole thing illustrates the problems that arise when people casually toss infinities around. Maybe a physicist could show theologians how to renormalize their theory so that the more bothersome infinities go away.

  • Jim Baerg

    Something that is related to the OP, that I saw pointed out in an essay by David Brin _Whose Millenium?_:

    There are two common Christian metaphors for the relationship of God to humanity -
    1) God the Father
    2) God the Good Shepherd.
    These are usually though of as being equivalent.

    However, a good father raises his children to become his equals. What does a shepherd raise his sheep to become?

  • Roi des Faux

    “God’s moral teachings [as described in the Bible] apply to all people, places, and times.”
    “Oh, that [usually Old Testament but not always] was just their custom. We live in a different society now.”

  • Miles McCullough

    Many of these have further apparent resolution or loopholes, but they can still be fun for pushing Xians into a corner they don’t want to be in.

    Loophole for knowing/not knowing god: know him partially! Example: The bible shows us the light of god, which is it’s chief glory, but it cannot tell us the whole mind of god, for that would be insane.

    Loophole for how to know if god is good without judging: you can’t know, but you can have faith.

    Loophole for errancy in the Bible: context / still infused with the holy spirit.

    Loophole for free will and hell: you have a choice to accept god’s love or not. If you choose not to that violates Supreme Court understanding of free will as an uncoerced choice but not philosophic understanding of free will as non-determinism.

    Loophole for evidence takes away free will: we’re being tested / things were different back then. Either route makes for hilarious theological torture.

    Loophole for faith, hope, and love vs. faith only: OH my bad, I misspoke. Love of god is the most important.

    Loophole for mercy and justice: when someone repents and loves god in their hearts the just thing to do would be to show mercy. Implication being that human courts don’t work this way, because we can’t see into another person’s heart – only god can. It’s BS, but it sheds some light on why religion and a willingness to see the innocent rot in jail go hand in hand so often: their definitions of mercy and justice do not include forgiveness for people who still have real flaws – i.e. humans.

    I can’t see any way to resolve the rest.

  • Daniel

    “The universe is fine tuned for life.”
    “The conditions for life to come about on their own are so small God had to intervene supernaturally.”

    So which is it? Are the laws of the universe life permitting, or did God have to work around his own laws to make life? I recognized this contradiction listening to a debate William Lane Craig had (I don’t remember which one though). In his opening statement he used the first argument to say that God’s existence is probable, and then later he used the second argument to rebut the scientific explanation his opponent laid out.

  • http://www.ooblick.com/weblog/ arensb

    @Roi des Faux #18:
    The first part might work better if you explicitly name a few moral principles, e.g., the Ten Commandments, or “homosexuality is an abomination”.

    Along the same lines, how about:

    • God would never order people to do anything immoral.
    • Abraham was a good man for being willing to kill his own son on God’s orders.

    Or a variation:

    • God doesn’t want mindless followers.
    • God liked Abraham because he did what God told him.
  • Locke’s Compass

    to go along with arensb, something to the effect of ‘Faith is the greatest of all virtues’ coupled with ‘Design! Everywhere! DNA is so complex! Obviously it’s God!’ and any other arguments which rely explicitly on the empirical world (anthropic principle, teleological arguments etc). I think it’s funny that faith is touted to be so amazing but the moment an apologist can find ‘evidence’ or ‘proof’ of God they latch on and beat their chests with it (not witht he evidence, with pride {and really, not with pride, but with their fists, in a metaphorical way}).

  • hiero5ant

    Again, not a straight contradiction, but definitely a tension between:

    “The Jews were not expecting the kind of messiah Jesus was” or “there was no precedent within Jewish culture on which to base the life and death of Jesus” vs.

    “The life and death of the messiah Jesus was a fulfillment of the clear and straightforward prophecies in the OT.”

    Also,

    “The Bible contains moral/scientific knowledge far in advance of what could have been known at the time” vs.

    “The barbaric moral and scientific claims in the Bible were given to the Jews ‘in a language they could understand’ or ‘in the terms of the day’.” (This is a tacit admission that the Bible is not intended to be relevant for a modern audience!)

  • Bob Carlson

    I received a card with this handwritten on it in quotes:

    The only things we can give to God are the things we don’t like about ourselves. Everything else are His gifts to us.

    It evidently came from a local pastor, as the nearest thing I found on the web was:

    Our trust and obedience are the only things we can give to God that he does not have – because he gave them away to us as a gift to give back to him if we chose[sic].

    The latter was from the farewell sermon of Episcopalian clergywoman Priscilla Maumus.

    How do people who believe their God is all-powerful reconcile it with their belief that this God also has needs?

  • Quath

    Some of my favorites:

    People sin because they have free will.
    There is no sin in heaven even though everyone there has free will.

    All of the Old Testament laws can be boiled to love for neighbor and love for God.
    Pick any Old Testament law that dealt with killing people for some reason or another.

    Hell is eternal. Children below the age of accountability go to heaven 100% of the time. Children over that age have some change to fall out of grace and go to hell.
    They choose not to kill the kids.
    (This one is pretty sick, but it sounds logical. The optimal solution to the standard dogma is to kill the whole family. The last person starts a slow suicide and asks for forgiveness. All go to heaven instead of a chance some will go to hell.)

    God rewards those who help themselves (mis-attributed to be in the Bible).
    God helps those who pray.

    God works in mysterious ways that can not be predicted.
    Prayer works.

    Active homosexuals are not allowed in some churches because they live in a constant state of sin.
    Obese people are welcome even though they could be said to live in a state of gluttony. (Yeah, over simplified, but the point is only some “sins” are worthy of kicking people out.)

    Women should submit to their husbands.
    Men and women are equal.

    Thou shall not kill. (Yeah, better interpretation is manslaughter, but many Christians think it is kill.)
    Capital punishment is in accord with the Bible.

    Abortion is wrong because a fetus dies and suffers.
    Miscarriage (God’s abortion) is not bad, but just God testing us. No harm to the fetus.

    God listens to my prayers.
    Pray for me. (Implies that more people praying will change God’s mind.)

    God made Hell for Satan.
    Satan is free and moving around while Hell is filled with dead people.

    Those are off the top of my head.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Abortion is wrong because a fetus dies and suffers.
    Miscarriage (God’s abortion) is not bad, but just God testing us. No harm to the fetus.

    This reminds me of something I read recently concerning abortion. The apologist was, of course, against it. When it was pointed out that god ordered wholesale slaughter of peoples (genocide) and statistically speaking some women who were pregnant would have been killed, the apologists replied that since abortion is defined as killing the child and leaving the woman to live that it was OK because god didn’t actually order any abortions since they killed the woman too – which incidentally makes it all OK as well. Truly mind-boggling.

  • http://personman.com Danny

    “Evil exists because people must have the free will to reject God in order for their love for him to have any meaning.”

    “In Heaven people don’t sin.”

    If it were possible for a god to create a heaven where people love him but never sin or reject him, then he should have just started with that. This contradiction can be presented to the apologist in this compact form: “Will people in heaven have free will?”

  • http://www.oobick.com/weblog/ arensb

    @hiero5ant #23:
    Let’s not forget the classics:

    • God is eternal and unchanging. What he says is true yesterday, today, and forever.
    • What the Old Testament says about slavery, genocide, and the subjugation of women holds for that culture at that time. It doesn’t apply to us today.

    @Roi des Faux:
    Out of curiosity, do you mean your name to mean “king of the false”, or “king of the scythes”?

  • Jon Jermey

    ‘Jesus died for your sins’
    ‘Jesus has eternal life’

    So basically the dude just had a bad weekend?

  • Douglas Kirk

    “God desires for all his children to be saved.”
    “If you aren’t told the good news you will go to hell.”

    Meaning that well over 99% of all people in the history of people are in hell, given that the “good” news has only existed for a few thousand years and didn’t reach from one of the globe to the other until 600 years ago.

  • RedKing

    This post reminds me of my favorite limerick:

    Our God, some contend, is immutable,
    And their faith is, indeed, irrefutable:
    When He does what He should,
    It’s because “He is good,”
    When he doesn’t, “His ways are inscrutable.”

    –Laurence Perrine

  • archimedez

    On the hell-fire punishment, I’ve noticed inconsistent statements from some religious moderates. They don’t deny that hell (of some sort) exists and that some people are going to be punished there, nor do they deny what the religious texts say about who goes to hell and why. Yet they claim to be uncertain as to whether disbelievers are going hell merely for their disbelief, and instead make claims like “Only God knows,” or “That’s for God to judge,” etc. I’ve encountered this type of response from Christian and Muslim moderates.

    The type of inconsistency here is not a clear contradiction between two mutually exclusive propositions, but is more a discrepancy between a religious moderate’s (1) apparent underlying assumptions about hell, and (2) explicit statements about his/her beliefs in hell.

    From my discussions with religious moderates, I have also been struck by the inconsistency between (a) what they are telling me [e.g., about hell], and (b) what their religious texts say [e.g., about hell]. This may reflect a genuine discrepancy.

    I’ve seen some polling data from PEW which indicates that many American Christians seem to be quite flexible in their beliefs about who is going to heaven (and thus avoids hell). I suspect that there are many holders-of-inconsistent-beliefs sampled in this study.

    http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1062/many-americans-say-other-faiths-can-lead-to-eternal-life
    Many Americans Say Other Faiths Can Lead to Eternal Life
    Most Christians Say Non-Christian Faiths Can Lead to Salvation
    December 18, 2008

  • Dan

    One of the ones Quath mentioned above is my favorite all-time Christian rationalization for just about any contradiction that you can present:

    God works in mysterious ways.

    +1 to Quath!

    (and HI to Quath too)

  • heliobates

    So which is it? Are the laws of the universe life permitting, or did God have to work around his own laws to make life?

    Well, which explanation is harder to vary and actually explains the observable universe? One is, according to Leonard Susskind, an unavoidable conclusion if we are to follow the available evidence. The other has God sprinkled all over it.

  • http://neatshirts.blogspot.com Abeille

    For Catholics,
    God listens to all prayers
    vs
    Ask [saint] to intercede for you.

    So… is god all powerful and able to listen and decide your prayer, or does he delegate? What is the reason behind patron saints?

    God’s miracles
    vs
    A Saint’s miracles

    How do you know if God granted a miracle or if the saint is doing it? How can you tell a miracle from simply God’s plan?

    Prayer / free will
    vs
    God knows all/ God works in mysterious ways / God has a plan

    If God has a plan, how exactly does free will come in to play? Why is it necessary to pray, even in thanks, if god is all knowing. Wouldn’t he simply know that you were thankful, in a way that another human might not? Why pray if God is just going to do what the plan is anyway?

    Someone who sins must pay for their sins but God is merciful because he loves them.
    vs
    Pray for someone, as this will lessen their punishment/influence their place in heaven. Have a mass dedicated to that person. Pay a priest to pray for said person.

    So… who exactly does god love again? Why should his love, and his mercy, depend upon a third party who wishes the first one well? If I love my friend, my other friend’s love or lack of love for that same friend doesn’t matter much to me.

    The road to heaven is narrow and difficult (and often has a lot of sacrifice)
    vs
    It is easy to follow/love god

    Um, so to struggle or not to struggle?

  • http://www.freethoughtbooks.org Jerryd

    My favorite is “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). But isn’t grace the unwarranted, totally unasked for gift from God? Here’s the definition I get online: “Grace in Christian theology is the spontaneous, unmerited gift of the divine favour in the salvation of sinners. It is understood by Christians to be the free gift of an uncaused and overflowing love─totally undeserved mercy.” Meaning it would go to anyone, of any belief or no belief, if it were truly grace. That eliminates faith as a requirement doesn’t it? Either it is grace or it is faith, but it can’t be both if it is spontaneous and unmerited.

  • neosnowqueen

    To be fair, I don’t see the inconsistency in the first scenario that you provided. Of the myriad contradictory issues with theology, I don’t see the problem with believing that God requires that people make restitution and ask for forgiveness from people on earth, but that that requirement on earth is not necessary to get into heaven.

  • http://danielkinsman.wordpress.com The 327th Male

    I agree with neosnowqueen. There is not necessarily any contradiction in the original statements. You might well say that Daniel’s conceptual God requires you to attempt to make restitution, but wouldn’t punish you for dying before you could actually do it. Intent is probably the important thing in Daniel’s mind. God might still judge you harshly for only wanting to make restitution at the end purely out of fear of death and hell, and not out of any real remorse. Especially if you had plenty of time and opportunity for reparation before the diagnosis.

    If you want to talk about contradiction in apologetics, there’s plenty of low hanging fruit mentioned in the comments above. But If you’ve had a dialogue of thousands of words over several months with Daniel and that is the best “contradiction” of his you have found, then I’d say he’s doing quite well for himself.

  • jack

    Here’s a condensed version of a conversation I once had with a believer:

    Believer: “I prayed that my son would get a job, and he got a job. God worked a miracle!”

    Me: “People get jobs every day. That’s not a miracle. Here’s a miracle that would convince me: If God resurrected the World Trade Center towers, exactly as they were before Sept 11, 2001, along with all the thousands of people murdered there that day, I would believe in God.”

    Believer: “God doesn’t do magic tricks.”

  • Derek

    I have recently taken to reading the “Handbook of Christian Apologetics” by Kreet and Tacelli. It is pretty hard for me to get through. Very often I find myself wanting very badly to scream at it about how wrong the arguments are, and how invalid the conclusions are; I have to take it in small chunks to maintain my sanity.

    An interesting observation came early in the book. The authors endeavor to discuss the terms faith and reason. As they rightly assert, if faith and reason are mutually exclusive, then apologetics is not possible. In the ensuing discussion, they bring up the idea of the inability of faith or reason to contradict the other. In the section “Only Falsehood Can Contradict Truth”, the authors quote Aquinas in an effort to elaborate the truth that faith cannot be contradicted by reason:

    “The truth that the human reason is naturally endowed to know cannot be opposed to the truth of the Christian faith. For that with which the human reason is naturally endowed is clearly most true; so much so, that it is impossible for us to think of such truths as false. [If we only understand the meaning of the terms in such self-evident propositions as "The whole is greater than the part" or "What has color must have size," we cannot think them false.] Nor is it permissible to believe as false that which we hold by faith, since this is confirmed in a way that is so clearly divine. [It is not our faith but its object, God, that justifies our certainty.] Since, therefore, only the false is opposed to the true, as is clearly evident from an examination of their definitions, it is impossible that truth of faith should be opposed to those principles that the human reason knows naturally.”

    This is a fantastically enlightening passage concerning the ability of the faithful to put their heads down and plow on full speed ahead; ignoring all of the intercessions to reason going on around them. We see here that in the definitions being used by apologetics, reason is not concerned with the empirical nature of the universe, or in the validation of assumptions with actual experience. Aquinas had no possible way of knowing better when he asserted that ‘what has color must have size.’ He could not possibly have understood that photons exist, that they are point-like particles (with no size) that also travel with frequencies and other wave properties (giving them color). Writers in the late 1900s however have no excuse to be ignorant of these facts. So the idea that ‘what has color must have size’ seems reasonable at first glance. But any deeper experimentation can only lead to an eventual acceptance that our “naturally endowed human reason’ (and faith) are easily misled, and should constantly be checked with empirical experimentation if we are actually concerned with having beliefs that reflect objective truths.

  • CharlesInSoCal

    This one may not be that good, but I enjoyed this post so much I wanted to contribute:

    • God never lies and He always tells us the truth, clearly and unambiguously.
    • When God says something will happen soon, he means sometime within the next thousand years, for a day is like a thousand years to the
      Lord.

    And, inspired by Atheist Eve:

    • I’m a Christian because I’ve read the Bible and it just makes sense to me so I believe.
    • This week our pastor is going to explain “Revelations” to us so we’ll know what to believe!

    Comment #8 by: arensb
    A comedian whose name I’ve forgotten gave two more examples: “God loves you and is sending you to hell”, and “Sex is filthy and disgusting and you should save it for the one you love”.

    I believe the the first is George Carlin and the second, maybe Steve Martin?

    Comment #29 by: Jon Jermey
    So basically the dude just had a bad weekend?

    That was awesome!

  • Tacroy

    How about:

    • God is all-powerful
    • But…

    • God wants [anything]
    • And occasionally,

    • God can’t [anything]

    Funny definition of all-powerful, isn’t it?

  • ildi

    Not a comedian, but Butch Hancock of the Flatlanders:

    Life in Lubbock, Texas, taught me two things: One is that God loves you and you’re going to burn in hell. The other is that sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth and you should save it for someone you love.

    One of my favorites is that original sin brought evil into the world, but Adam and Eve didn’t have knowledge of good and evil until after they ate the fruit, so how could they have known what they were doing was wrong?

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF
      It is by faith alone that one attains salvation
      Faith without works is dead

    So, which is it? Is it faith alone or does one also have to perform works?

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    neosnowqueen and the327thmale,

    Of the myriad contradictory issues with theology, I don’t see the problem with believing that God requires that people make restitution and ask for forgiveness from people on earth, but that that requirement on earth is not necessary to get into heaven.

    I think the contradiction Ebon was pointing out was that Daniel believes he knows the requirements to get into heaven, but then claims that one can’t know the requirements – from the OP:

    Either you believe that God requires people to make restitution, or you believe that you don’t know God’s criteria for judgment, but you can’t believe both.

    Am I reading your comment wrong?

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    One of my favorites is that original sin brought evil into the world, but Adam and Eve didn’t have knowledge of good and evil until after they ate the fruit, so how could they have known what they were doing was wrong?

    Indeed, the entire story of the Tree of Knowledge makes little sense. Why did God introduce such an unnecessary entity into the Garden of Eden to begin with? Further, what’s with the talking snakes and why are they so evil?

    It seems pretty clear that the real purpose of the story is to enforce the notion that anything short of absolute obedience is wrong. Beyond that, it is used to kill two birds with one stone by writing in Eve as the one with the unhealthy curiosity, producing the base justification for misogyny.

    I don’t understand how anyone is able to get past this tale, considering how much of an ignorant, bigoted tyrant it makes God look.

  • Ben

    Longtime reader, first time poster!

    Here’s one I’ve noticed:

    Theists will talk about how wonderful and important and precious “faith” is.
    Then they’ll complain about idiots like the Birthers or 9/11 Conspiracy nuts who believe nonsense for which there’s no evidence!

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Thanks, everyone, for your suggestions! I’m going to compile the best of these and see if they can be turned into an article on Ebon Musings, with proper credit given, of course. In fact, rereading these today, I thought of another one (similar to Ben’s comment above):

    • “Faith is a wonderful virtue that all humans should have more of”
    • “Atheism is just like a religion and atheists have faith that no god exists” (implying that faith is bad or is something you should seek to have less of – otherwise, they’d mean this statement as praise, and when they use it, they clearly don’t!).

    To be fair, I don’t see the inconsistency in the first scenario that you provided. Of the myriad contradictory issues with theology, I don’t see the problem with believing that God requires that people make restitution and ask for forgiveness from people on earth, but that that requirement on earth is not necessary to get into heaven.

    The inconsistency, neosnowqueen, is that Daniel flipped from claiming to know how God will judge (“That’s the way God originally set it up”) to claiming not to know when I pointed out a problem with his original scenario. It’s not that no theology could be contrived to accommodate both scenarios, but rather that his claim to know that plan fluctuated depending on the apologetic needs of the moment.

  • neosnowqueen

    I clearly misunderstood which part you considered contradictory. Thank you for the clarification.

  • http://www.theelectoralcollegestudent.blogspot.com/ Teleprompter

    Here are some of my “favorite”, i.e., the most annoying contradictions from Christianity, the Bible, or Christian arguments that I have heard:

    “God gave us absolute morality which is expressed in the natural law all around us”/”Without religion, no one would know what is moral”

    Yahweh condemns murder in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:13)/Orders thousands of people killed in what amounts to genocide throughout Deuteronomy and Joshua

    All you need to believe in God is to accept our divine revelation in the Bible/Revelations for other religions like Islam and Mormonism are unreliable

    1 John 4:18-19: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.”/Isaiah 8:13: “The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread”

    Jesus says on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34)/Adam and Eve are expelled from Eden for sinning, even though they had no concept of right and wrong at the time (according to the Bible!) and could not have possibly known what they did was wrong (and God does not forgive them)

  • kennypo65

    In the genesis story: God did not(or could not) prevent the serpent from convincing Eve to eat the fruit. God could not find Adam when he hid from Him. Perhaps the serpent is as powerful as god and Adam is more powerful than both.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF
      Salvation is a gift bestowed by god by his mercy alone.
      god does not want that any shall perish.

    So, if god doesn’t want any to perish, but everyone does unless god bestows his grace, then why does not god bestow his grace on everyone?

  • http://www.ooblick.com/weblog/ arensb

    I’ve started the Mutually-contradictory apologetics page at the Iron Chariots wiki. Please feel free to fill it in.

  • Quath

    A few more I thought of this morning:

    In a car crash where X people die and Y people survive, it is common for people to claim that God performed a miracle to save the Y people.
    God loves the X people as much as the Y people.

    TV evangelist telling people that they only need faith in God to gain riches.
    TV evangelist asking for donations from viewers.

    Heaven is a place of pure happiness where because you are with your loved ones.
    Some (or all) of your loved ones may wind up in hell.

    The second commandment says there should be no graven images (or idols).
    I see lots of worship at religious statues, crosses and statues of the Ten Commandments.

  • Cafeeine

    One point to pay attention to when making this list is that while several apologetics are mutually exclusive, not all apologists will use them concurrently. We ought to take care that we’re not ‘mix ‘n’ matching’ arguments heard from different people. Not pointing any fingers, this occured to me before even reading any comments.
    Other than that, I’ve enjoyed this thread immensely.

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    @ Quath (#54):

    I’ve had the same thought as you about religious iconography/monuments and graven images.

    I love the TV evangelist example. Remember when Orel Roberts went to the max and told people that god would kill him unless he raised enough money to pay for one of his projects by a certain date? Why didn’t old Orel just pray for the money?

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    Apologists through the ages have put enormous amounts of thought into resolving some of the moral and philosophical difficulties that arise from belief in Christianity. By now, their answers have been distilled into bumper-sticker-length talking points that most lay Christians can automatically quote in response to common challenges. But what’s more debatable is whether all those individual responses cohere with each other, as opposed to just serving the apologetic needs of the moment.

    I’ve noticed this as well.

    -Certain parts of the Bible override other parts of it.
    -God is always right and the entire Bible is true.

    -The rules about homosexuality are actually condemning rape, even though God doesn’t seem to be against rape in some other parts of the Bible.

    -All sins are equal.
    -People committing certain “sins” (e.g. sex before marriage) can still be members of a church, but people committing other “sins” (e.g. homosexuality) will be kicked out.

    -God loves everyone, men and women, and does not favor discrimination.
    -The husband is the head of the household.

  • CharlesInSoCal

    This one came to me as I was walking in the rain:

    • Is the Bible true!? Of course it is! Archaeology has proven it – Egypt, Jericho, the Pools of Bethesda – they all exist! Iron-clad proof the Bible is true.
    • Archaeologists haven’t found any evidence of The Flood? Well, archaeology isn’t an exact science, you can’t trust their conclusions…

    @ Quath (#54):
    TV evangelist telling people that they only need faith in God to gain riches.
    TV evangelist asking for donations from viewers.

    That was brilliant – I know someone who practically worships Creflo Dollar and Joyce Meyer, but that little contradiction doesn’t seem to bother her.