Let’s continue with our critique of Eric Hyde’s analysis of atheist arguments, “Top 10 Most Common Atheist Arguments, and Why They Fail.” Begin with part 1 here.
“5. Christianity arose from an ancient and ignorant people who didn’t have science.”
Hyde lampoons any atheist who thinks the ancients didn’t understand where babies come from.
The virgin birth of Christ was profound and of paramount concern to the ancients precisely because they understood that conception was impossible without intercourse.
The Old Testament prophecy of the virgin birth in Isaiah 7 is about neither a virgin birth nor a prophesied messiah. The Jesus birth narratives in Matthew and Luke are simply wrong when they claim otherwise.
The claim that Christianity was viable in the ancient world because it was endorsed by widespread ignorance is a profoundly ignorant idea. Christianity arose in one of the most highly advanced civilizations in human history.
The Roman Empire in the first century was impressive for the time, but it preceded modern science by about 1800 years. The public (if we’re talking about the spread of religion, we’re talking about ordinary people, not just scholars) filled in knowledge gaps with superstition because there was nothing better. The Bible records some of this superstition such as Jacob influencing the appearance of newborn animals by what the parents saw when they mated (Genesis 30:37–9). Or the six-day creation story. Or the Flood. Pseudoscience and supernatural belief fare pretty well without competition from science.
And why are we even talking about the Roman Empire? Superstition, supernaturalism, magical thinking, and ignorance of science thrive in our own day! Don’t believe me? Walk down the homeopathic aisle at the store or read the astrology section of the paper.
The human brain is impressive, but it’s susceptible to lots of nutty thinking.
“6. Christians only believe in Christianity because they were born in a Christian culture. If they’d been born in India they would have been Hindu instead.”
This argument is appealing because it pretends to wholly dismiss people’s reasoning capabilities based on their environmental influences in childhood. The idea is that people in general are so intellectually near-sighted that they can’t see past their own upbringing, which, it would follow, would be an equally condemning commentary on atheism. But, this is a spurious claim.
If you say that religion is not due to indoctrination, let’s perform a thought experiment. Suppose we categorized religion as an adult activity like voting, driving, or smoking—activities that are acceptable but which one must be old enough to handle responsibly. Young adults would opt in to Christianity at a tiny rate. Without new members, Christianity would vanish within a few generations.
You might well reply that 18-year-olds are set in their ways and won’t accept the truth then. But what kind of “truth” must be force-fed into someone before their intellectual defenses are mature? (More here.)You might argue that adults can adopt a new religion for intellectual reasons. Could this inflow make up the difference? A recent Pew Research study estimates that less than one percent of believers switch in, with the rest keeping the religion of their upbringing. Your atheist strawman says that “Christians only believe” because they mirror their environment. That’s not what I’m saying, but it’s close.
Why are some fundamentalist Christians so concerned that their kids’ going to college will shake their faith? If the evidence supports Christianity, then more education and sharper analytic skills can only enhance the Christian argument. Their concern is well placed, which doesn’t say much about the evidence backing up Christian claims.
You imagine that people “are so intellectually near-sighted that they can’t see past their own upbringing” is a weak argument, but how else do you explain the nearly 100% hold Islam has in many countries? If a baby born in Pakistan will almost surely grow up to be a Muslim and one born in a Hindu community in India will almost surely grow up to be a Hindu, won’t many babies grow up to be Christian for no more profound reason than they’re mirroring their environment as well?
“7. The gospel doesn’t make sense: God was mad at mankind because of sin so he decided to torture and kill his own Son so that he could appease his own pathological anger. God is the weirdo, not me.”
Hyde says that this is an effective argument against some Protestants, and I agree. But his particular flavor of Christianity sees the logic of the crucifixion differently.
The Father sacrificed His own Son in order to destroy death with His life; not to assuage His wrath, but to heal; not to protect mankind from His fury, but to unite mankind to His love.
Uh, okay. It’s your religion, so you can imagine whatever you want and not bother providing evidence or even logic to support it. You might want to ask yourself why God’s message is so ambiguous that different denominations have very different interpretations.
And you’re still stuck with the question of how much of a sacrifice it was when Jesus popped back into existence a day and a half later. Or why Yahweh could ever demand a human sacrifice in the first place, as if he were stuck back in the Bronze Age.
If you’re saying that this makes some kind of literary sense, I can understand it better. For example, the Superman story is boring if he can effortlessly achieve every goal. Solution: make it a fairer fight by adding cunning adversaries and kryptonite to the mix. And if God really is like Superman without any weakness or equally matched enemies, there wouldn’t have been a problem for Jesus to fix in the first place. Or, if there were, God could’ve just fixed it with magic.
It’s your story, just don’t expect it to be believable to an objective observer.
Concluded in part 4.
— Donny Miller
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 7/1/15.)
Image from Caden Crawford, CC license