If you were to conduct an internet search for reasons people are leaving the church or reasons young people do not continue in the Christian faith you would find scads of articles and blog posts blaming everything from public schools to lack of community to post modernism. I’m going to blame dumbing down our faith. As Christians we often only discuss matters of faith with a friendly crowd and rarely face an actual argument. Our Sunday School classes, Bible studies, and sermons are often the theological equivalent of a “Rocks For Jocks” course in college where we don’t challenge the participants because we don’t believe they can rise to the challenge. We treat our children and each other as if they can’t handle doubts that might arise from asking deep questions and so we do not give them deep answers. We have terrible, simplistic ‘proofs’ we teach ourselves that are easily destroyed. Even the great Ravi Zacharias’ argument for God in his book “The End Of Reason” basically comes down to “It would be terrible if God did not exist and without a faith in God, people do bad things.” We dismiss non-believers’ questions and arguments as ‘coming from a different world view’ and thus not really valid. We send our children and ourselves off unprepared to university or just plain old adulthood and there are people out there who have some really good questions and well structured arguments or at least very good rhetoric that, without a firm foundation, can seem very convincing.Here’s the thing about arguing. The atheists, agnostics, and anti-established religion ‘spiritual’ people have it easier. It is easier to tear down than to build up. Easier to muddy the waters than to clarify. Easier to create doubt than to build faith. It is harder to give a reason for hope than to give reasons for doubt. But we need hope. We need some clarity.
The two most common negative arguments operate by either finding a contradiction or by making a claim that “if A were true we would see B but we don’t” and then claiming that because a fallacy has been exposed, the whole belief structure that surrounds that “fallacy” must be wrong. And it has the trappings of science because that is sorta how the experimental method works and science is the ultimate knowledge is it not? (It’s not really that simple in science and any honest practicing scientist will tell you that.) The problem with these kinds of arguments is that they are very weak arguments.
Let’s look at the “I found a contradiction” argument. It is easy to find a contradiction when you really want there to be one. However is it really a true contradiction? Is there another explanation? Is the text being taken out of context? Are you treating something written by ancient middle easterners as if it were written by a twenty-first century American or European? Is it a paradox where both things are true?
As for the, “if A is true than B and B is false so A is false” argument, saying that B is false does not make A false. It only implies that A is possibly false. But there are a whole lot of “buts.” First of all is B really the only possible outcome of A? Secondly, are there other players involved that could affect the outcome? Thirdly, are you sure you understand A correctly? And is the initial argument that A will lead to B actually make any sense?
The other favorite argument is the false choice argument. This is usually a variation on the contradiction or if A then B arguments where the prosecutor of the argument will say “if A is true, than either B, C, or D must be true and they are all terrible and contradict your beliefs” or “if A is true, than B, C, or D must be true and we don’t see any of them.” Not only do these variations have the possible flaws mentioned in the first two negative argument types mentioned above, but they have an added weakness. Are those choices really the only possible choices? It is like when you tell your child she may wear her yellow dress or her red dress to the neighborhood potluck when there is in actuality a closet full of outfits and she really wants to wear another choice, her pumpkin Halloween costume.
Finally, suppose a true fallacy is found. Does our faith truly rest on that tenant? Perhaps when confronted with a Galileo of Luther we should be thankful that we have been shown an error and thus can have a more true view of God and creation.
I’d like to take a very cursory look at some of the more common arguments deployed against Christianity and their flaws.
Isn’t God the creator of sin since we were created with the capacity to sin and God conceivably could have created us in such a way that we would not sin? If we did not have the ability to reject God how would we be able to call that love? It seems to me that it is quite impossible to truly love without the option to reject. All of us face the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and we listen to the tempter say that God is holding out on us. We choose evil. But God in his love pursues his wayward children, offering them a way to cut off the power we gave sin over us, a way to bring evil to justice, a way to be reconciled to our heavenly Father.
Good people are impoverished and suffer. Therefore God must not be good or He is weak. I empathize with those who suffer but this argument implies it is incumbent upon God to keep all people from difficulties and to provide financially in keeping with the American Dream. So we have to know is God really good? After all, God is sovereign and bad things happen. Are we not deserving of our own suffering? Our every thought and desire is twisted with selfishness where we set ourselves up as the center of the universe, worshipping at the altar of self. We are not innocent. Bad things happen because it is the consequences of sin- our own, others, and living in a world cursed by sin. It is God’s mercy and goodness that we live as well as we do. God actually promises suffering will come our way. But God says all things work together for the good of those who love him. While the things that bring about suffering may be evil, God can and will redeem every bit of suffering you endure, whether you can see it or not. If we suffer with faith, we will see this more easily. Our suffering toughens us up for this fallen world, it separates us from the love of material things, it separates us from the love of worldly pleasure, and it enables us to love and value that which is truly valuable and to take pleasure in that which God has created us to find pleasure in.
I would like to address this question about God seemingly not keeping up his end of the deal with a parable. The parable of the prodigal sons Jesus told in Luke 15. Each of these sons sees his relationship with his father as a contractual one where each provides the other with agreed upon services. But our relationship with our Heavenly Father is not an employer-employee relationship. It is in many ways a parent-child relationship. And in such a relationship the ‘services’ that go back and forth are outpourings of love and affection, and not contractual obligations. It matters much more in our relationship with God the heart behind our actions and whether or not you are his child than if you checked off your obligatory to do list. Henri Nouwin gives this a very good treatment in his book .
God doesn’t answer every prayer, even when that prayer is for something good. Prayer is not a magic spell. It doesn’t matter how you pray; God is not obligated to do what you ask. You are talking to the creator and king of the universe. You are talking to the infinite. You are talking to the holy holy holy. And you are talking to Love, himself. Trust him then, even if you don’t get your desired answer. I have 3 kids. They ask me for stuff all the time. I tell them ‘no’ all the time. Sometimes it is because they want something bad for them. “Can I drink this bleach?” Often it is because I want something better for them that they cannot understand. “Can I have soda?” No, have this water instead. “But I like soda.” Soda in moderation is ok, but all the time and it will overwork your kidneys, lead to diabetes, lead to obesity, and plus your bedtime is coming up so the sugar/caffeine is a deal breaker. Have some water. “Can I play outside with my friends?” No we are having some family time playing Uno. “But exercise and social development are good.” Yes and so is family and now is the time for family. Often I take away stuff they like and I give them stuff they dislike. You need to turn off the TV and clean the bathroom. “But I don’t want to and I think you are just too lazy to do it yourself.” True, I could do it faster and better than you, but you need to take part in the work of the house to be invested in this household, you need to lose the idea that your mother and I are your servants, you need to work even when you don’t want to in order to learn a good work ethic, and someday you will be in a situation where you will have to clean your own bathroom.
Isn’t the Bible wrong about science? The universe is ancient, we do not live on a flat earth with a dome holding back waters above, mustard seeds are not the smallest seeds, etc. That depends on how you read it. If you are reading the Bible as if God is instructing people on scientific principles, then yes, perhaps you could say these points out that it is in error and therefore not inspired by God or at the very least not entirely infallible. On the other hand, if God is meeting people where they are and using their current understanding of the world as He communicates a greater truth, speaking in terms they can comprehend, then no, the Bible is not wrong. More on accommodation here.
What about the inaccuracies between the gospels themselves? Things happen in different orders, there are different numbers of people involved, and even the crucifixion and resurrection happens differently in each gospel. First of all, four different points of view will result in four different versions. If you and I both saw the same event, depending on where we were standing and what we were paying attention to, our accounts would have differences. Secondly, one needs to read the Bible in context. Context is far more important than learning Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic. Much of the Bible was written by ancient Middle Easterners for ancient Middle Easterners. They were not terribly concerned with chronological order or details like accurate counts. What they did value was the message, beauty, and poetry. The Bible should be read with the culture of the recipient and writer in mind.
Finally, we must learn to accept that there will always be some lack of complete understanding and knowledge. If you are looking for absolute proof and absolute scientific/logical knowledge, you will be disappointed. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. And if you do put your faith on Jesus you will be given over time much of the assurance you seek.