Have Christian evangelists from street preachers to theology professors work their magic on atheists who know a bit about Christianity, and they’ll probably make little progress. Does that show that Christian arguments are empty and that it’s all just an ancient superstition?
Christians will respond that this experiment doesn’t count because the atheists are closed minded or too skeptical. They’ve made up their minds already and won’t give supernatural arguments a chance.
The Muslim test
Let’s test that. Let’s suppose that atheists are too skeptical. Imagine the same experiment but replace the atheists with Muslims. This more than meets the Christian evangelists halfway since Muslims already accept the supernatural, the first stumbling block for atheists. In addition, Islam is built on the stories of the Old Testament patriarchs just like Christianity, and Islam accepts that Jesus existed and was a prophet.
But if you explain the Christian gospel story to Muslims, they will reject it. Perhaps that’s not too surprising, since they’ve probably been immersed in Islam for their entire lives. An hour-long chat about the gospel isn’t enough. Perhaps more education is the answer?
Let’s try another version of the thought experiment and take a hundred Muslim scholars, well-trained within their tradition and well-respected within their community, and have them read the New Testament.
Again, I think we’ll still see little movement. Evangelists often imagine that the Bible is magic, and simply reading it will infuse the reader with the essence of the Holy Spirit (or something), but it doesn’t work that way. It’s likelier to push away the open-minded reader.
All right then, take #3: send these Muslim scholars to Bible college to give them a thorough education in Christianity. Focus on apologetics, the intellectual arguments for Christianity. There’s no emotional coercion, no love bombing, and no promise of asylum, but if the evidence points to Christianity, an honest and thorough evaluation from scholars accustomed to evaluating theological issues should do the trick.
After they’ve all gotten their degree, how many are Christian? I’m guessing few or none. The Christians may reply that this experiment still wasn’t fair, since these scholars were ideologically too entrenched. They were brainwashed before they started, and they had positions of authority back home that they couldn’t turn their backs on.
To respond to that, let’s try one final thought experiment. Now, it’s a hundred Muslim laypeople at Bible college rather than scholars. They embrace the supernatural, and after their course in Christianity, they thoroughly understand Christian claims and arguments. In fact, they’re far better educated than the majority of lay Christians.
So how about now? Do they agree that the resurrection was a historical event, playing out as the gospels describe it rather than how the Quran does? Have they gotten down on their knees to tearfully beg Jesus to accept them and forgive their sins?
Maybe a few, but not many (and of those that do, most will convert for emotional rather than intellectual reasons). The Christian response will likely be that these Muslims were brainwashed and so couldn’t be objective. But if that’s true for them, why isn’t that true of Christians? If most Muslims follow Islam because they were raised that way, not because Islam is correct, that’s equally true for most Christians.
- “Your Religion Is a Reflection of Your Culture—You’d Be Muslim if You Were Born in Pakistan”
- “I Used to be an Atheist Just Like You“
— Dan Barker
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 11/23/16.)
Image from Wikipedia, public domain