10 low-cal Christian arguments
Oxford mathematician John Lennox responds to atheist arguments about proof for God, faith as a foundation, and Christianity’s fragmentation into many denominations.
Apologist John Lennox has responded to ten short atheist arguments with short Christian responses. You’d think that a guy with three doctorates would find better arguments.
I’m responding to “Ten quick responses to atheist claims” (2014) in which Heather Tomlinson summarizes Lennox’s points.
This is part 2 of a three-part series (part 1). We’ll cover arguments 5, 6, and 7.
“You can’t prove that there is a God.” (I’ve put the atheist argument in quotes and the Christian response in italics.)
(This is another strawman—I never ask for proof, just compelling evidence.)
Lennox: “The kind of “proof” we can present [is] arguments to bring someone beyond reasonable doubt. For example, rational arguments such as those from philosophers Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig, the personal experience of Christians, and the witness of the gospel accounts in the Bible.”
I agree that Plantinga and Craig are seen as some of Christianity’s best apologists, but being the best doesn’t make them good when you’ve backed the wrong horse. I’ve responded to many of their arguments, and they’re poor.
“The personal experience of Christians” also counts for little. One person’s personal experience of the divine isn’t trustworthy. They could have been confused, hallucinating, drugged, or even lying, and any of these options is far likelier than that Jesus got them that job promotion or that God sent Aunt Mary’s cancer into remission. What I want to see instead is a scientific study of hundreds or thousands of these personal experiences to see if they can be best explained by natural reasons or if only the supernatural will explain them.
Studies have been done. The best-known example may be the Templeton Foundation’s STEP prayer experiment, which showed no evidence of supernatural intervention.
Because science and statistics have validated no supernatural results, Christians aren’t clamoring for more studies. Unscientific anecdotes passing from person to person are more compelling. Of these anecdotes, healings may be the most dramatic, but if faith healers actually helped people, how they operated would look much different than what we see today.
Finally, Lennox points us to the 2000-year-old gospel stories, but these supernatural tales wouldn’t be believable even if they were claimed to have happened yesterday. When we take the New Testament seriously, we find the manuscript evidence is poor. The average per-chapter gap between original document and our oldest copies is 200 years for Matthew. The gap is longer for the earliest gospel, Mark. Toss in the 40-to-70 year oral history period between events and original documents, and you have more than enough time for the story to drift. This gives us little confidence that we know what happened in one tiny Jewish sect long, long ago.
“Faith is a delusion. I’d no more believe in God than I would in the Easter Bunny, Father Christmas or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.”
Lennox: These comparisons are only good for mockery.
Lennox probably means that it’s ridiculous to compare the Flying Spaghetti Monster against the super-powered Creator of the Universe.
But what attribute of the FSM compares poorly to God? Whatever it is, shore it up. If God is omnipotent, make the FSM omnipotent. Is God omniscient? Is he all-good? Does he have a jetpack? The FSM gets those, too.
And no, this isn’t cheating. God didn’t have all his omni-properties in Genesis. God evolved. So be fair and level-up the FSM, too. The apologists’ favorite arguments—Design Argument, Teleological Argument, and so on—point to our improved FSM as much as they do God. If the name FSM doesn’t fit this new god, then level-up his name, too.
Why is the FSM any less believable? God is just a venerable version of the FSM, with all those improvements hidden by time.
Lennox: “Stephen Hawking said, ‘Religion is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.’ I say, “Atheism is a fairy story for people afraid of the Light.”
I take Lennox to mean that atheists hide in the shadows, afraid the Light of Jesus will reveal the sin that they know they have.
No, I’m pretty sure that atheists don’t think that they’ve sinned against their supernatural creator—such people wouldn’t be atheists. But Hawking’s quote is on target, if only for a subset of Christians. People are afraid of the dark (death, life’s hardships, their own embarrassing imperfections, and so on), and Christianity claims to offer access to the narrow road and the small gate. Christianity appeals because it has a pleasing story, not because it’s accurate.
7. Christianity can’t get its own story straight
“Christianity claims to be true, but there are loads of denominations and they all disagree with each other, so it must be false.”
(Is Lennox incapable of nuance? The “it must be false” is much harsher than I’d put it. I’m just looking for where the evidence points.)
Lennox: Why conclude that it’s false? “[Perhaps] Christians have very different personalities and cultures—or even that Christians aren’t good at getting on with each other—but not that Christianity isn’t true.”
Agreed—one congregation might split over some doctrinal disagreement. There are now more than 45,000 Christian denominations. But where was God in this? He could speak the universe into existence, but he was unable to create an unambiguous Bible?
You’ll say that this doesn’t prove no God, but that was never the goal. I’m just looking for where the evidence points, remember?
Jesus actually addressed this very thing.
[Jesus said,] I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one…. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity (John 17:20–23; see also 1 Corinthians 1:10).
Oops. That prayer has crashed and burned.
Lennox: “There are all kinds of different kinds of teams in football, but they all play football.”
Yes, by one set of unambiguous rules! If humans can do this for a game, why can’t God do it to convey the most important message ever?
Concluded next time.
You may have heard it said that
“The ends don’t justify the means.”
To which I issue the challenge:
If the ends can’t justify the means, what can?
— commenter Richard S. Russell