October 2010 - 30:76-79
Recently I was involved in a very productive discussion with two atheists. They were in their early thirties, intelligent, and extremely well spoken. We arranged the meeting to discuss why they had chosen to adopt atheism, and reject God and Christianity. In the course of the two-hour discussion, it became clear that many of their complaints about “Christianity” were legitimate. In fact, I heartily agreed with a host of their lengthy refutations of, and rebuttals to, “Christianity.” Lest I mislead the reader, however, let me explain. Notice that I have put in quotation marks the “Christianity” against which they railed, because the term demands qualification. Much of the “Christianity” that so incensed these young men involved gross misrepresentations of God and heinous misinterpretations of the Bible. For instance, during the discussion, one of the men explained that if, according to John Calvin’s views, God arbitrarily chose some people to be saved and some to be lost, regardless of their choices, then God would be unjust. He explained this point in detail for several minutes. After listening attentively to his astute refutation of Calvinism, I completely agreed with him, but noted that Calvinism is not true Christianity. It seemed that since Calvinism had been so inseparably bound-up in many “brands” of “Christianity” to which this young man had been exposed, he was taken aback that any “Christian” would so readily agree with his assessment of its evident flaws.
The discussion with these men, coupled with a critical reading of the atheistic community’s primary authors, has impressed upon my mind the fact that skeptical writers have a knack for exposing pseudo-Christianity for the error that it truly is. Unfortunately, skeptics often use the pseudo-Christianity and misinterpretations of the Bible that they so adequately debunk as straw men that they insist represent true Christianity. In truth, they certainly do not. It is a useful study, however, to notice several areas of biblical misinterpretation and un-Christian beliefs that skeptics have correctly identified as flawed.
THEISTIC EVOLUTION IS INDEFENSIBLE
In 2006, David Mills authored a book titled Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person’s Answer to Christian Fundamentalism. Much of the material in that book is incorrect. But chapter six, titled “Can Genesis Be Reconciled with Modern Science?” has some trenchant things to say about those who claim to believe the Bible but try to bend its interpretation to jibe with modern evolutionary findings. At the beginning of the chapter, Mills stated:
According to Genesis, God made Adam and Eve on the sixth day of Creation Week. The Genesis genealogies then detail the exact ages at which Adam and his male descendants “begat” their own male offspring. The New Testament books of Matthew and Luke [NOTE: Matthew and Luke actually do not give ages—KB] then continue the genealogy from David to Jesus, again specifying the age at which each male descendent “begat” the next generation. Since we have a fixed “historical” time period for Jesus’ birth, creationists thereby calculate that the heavens and Earth were created by God in the year 4004 B.C. Earth, therefore, is only 6000 years old by biblical chronology. [NOTE: Although Mills is correct about the general age of 6,000 years, the chronology is not so precise as to nail down the exact date of 4004 B.C.—KB.] Despite widely divergent viewpoints, creationists and evolutionary biologists agree on a crucial fact: Six-thousand years is insufficient time for evolution to have produced the complex life-forms we observe on Earth today.... A 6000-year-old Earth means therefore that Genesis and the Theory of Evolution are forever irreconcilable (p. 137).
Mills further noted:
If Earth’s history began with Creation Week, and if Genesis provides an accurate historical record, then Earth had no prehistoric eras, no prehistoric peoples, and no prehistoric animals. Dinosaurs walked the Earth only a few thousand years ago, side-by-side with modern man (p. 141).
Mills went on to write: “If creationists now wish to abandon their historical position and acquiesce to an ancient Earth, then I applaud their progress. But it is a farce to maintain that Genesis never really demanded a young Earth since the genealogies were always intended as metaphors” (p. 148, emp. added).
Regarding those who attempt to compromise the literal nature of Genesis and accept both the Bible and evolution, Mills wrote: “Citing the Day-Age theory, these Great Pretenders make believe that Genesis actually describes an ancient Earth. The purpose of this pompous intellectual charade is to allow the Great Pretenders to ‘have it both ways’—imagining themselves to be both religious and scientific at the same time” (p. 151). In what sounds exactly like a young Earth apologist’s writings, Mills then commented: “In seeming anticipation and preemptive rebuttal of the Day-Age theory, however, the Book of Genesis itself provides a clear and specific definition of Creation Week...‘the evening and the morning’ were a day—a literal 24-hour day” (p. 151).
Mills is exactly right in regard to the fact that a compromise of the Genesis account of Creation is indefensible and illogical. He does an excellent job of showing that the special pleading needed to warp the text of Genesis into agreement with modern evolutionary ideas cannot stand critical scrutiny. He concludes correctly that: “A 6000-year-old Earth means therefore that Genesis and the Theory of Evolution are forever irreconcilable” (p. 137). Those who compromise the text of Genesis in an attempt to force it to agree with modern evolutionary teachings have gotten it wrong, and would do well to listen to Mills’ criticism of their inaccurate interpretation.
Unfortunately, Mills leaves his critical thinking at the doorstep of his correct assessment that the Bible and evolutionary theory are irreconcilable. He incorrectly reasons that the Bible has been wrong all along and that evolution is the true creative agent of our planet. We have shown repeatedly that such simply cannot be the case (cf. Jackson, et al., 2008), and Mills and other atheists would do well to apply the same critical thinking to the false evolutionary theory as they so aptly apply to indefensible compromises of the biblical text.
Many people who consider themselves Christians today have accepted the idea that humans are born with a sinful nature. These religious people believe that sin can be inherited from one’s ancestors, and that every human, even infants, deserve death due to their inherently sinful nature. The Bible, however, nowhere teaches such a doctrine. Thus, when atheists and skeptics seize on this false interpretation of Scripture, they correctly insist that such a teaching would manifest a contradiction in the nature of the God of the Bible.
Christopher Hitchens, in his discussion of Christ’s death on the cross, wrote:
Furthermore, I am required to believe that the agony was necessary in order to compensate for an earlier crime in which I also had not part, the sin of Adam.... Thus my own guilt in the matter is deemed “original” and inescapable. However, I am still granted free will with which to reject the offer of vicarious redemption (2007, p. 209, italics in orig.).
Hitchens correctly concluded that such an idea “negates the moral and reasonable idea that the children are innocent of their parent’s offenses” (p. 99). Richard Dawkins weighed in on the idea as well: “The sin of Adam and Eve is thought to have passed down the male line—transmitted in the semen according to Augustine. What kind of ethical philosophy is it that condemns every child, even before it is born, to inherit the sin of a remote ancestor?” (Dawkins, 2006, p. 251, emp. added).
Hitchens, Dawkins, and numerous other atheistic writers correctly conclude that a god who condemns children because they inherited their ancestors’ sins would be an unjust being unworthy of worship. The biblical portrait of God, however, is not of such a cruel, unjust being. In fact, it is the exact opposite. The Bible points out in unambiguous terms that children do not inherit the sins or guilt of their ancestors. The prophet Ezekiel wrote: “The one who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (18:20). It has been shown repeatedly and beyond doubt that the Bible never indicates that children inherit sin or guilt from their parents (Butt, 2004), nor do children ever suffer any type of spiritual punishment as a result of the sins of their parents (Butt, 2003). While it is the case that children often suffer physical consequences of their parents’ wrong choices, such as when a drunken father abuses his children, it is not the case that those children bear any of the father’s spiritual guilt or inherit any of their parents’ sin.
One can completely understand why the skeptical community would be aghast at a being who would cast innocent babies into hell as punishment for the sins of their parents. Yet, a correct interpretation of the Bible shows that such is not the case. While it is sad that many religious people have falsely taught such a view, their false teaching on the subject, and the skeptics’ acceptance of that false teaching as a correct interpretation of the Bible, cannot be used as a legitimate weapon to impugn the character of the God of the Bible.
WRONG DEFINITION OF FAITH
It is unfortunate for Christianity that some who call themselves Christians completely misunderstand the basic concept of faith. For many in Christendom, faith is a warm feeling in their hearts when they have failed to find adequate evidence to justify their beliefs. Modern dictionaries have done much to engrain this false definition of faith into modern Christianity. For instance, Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary states that faith is “a firm belief in something for which there is no proof” (1988). The American Heritage Dictionary gives as a primary definition of faith: “belief that does not rest on logical or material evidence” (2000, p. 636). The idea that faith is a warm, fuzzy feeling divorced from logical thinking and separated from all “material evidence” does not coincide with what the Bible actually says about faith (cf. Sztanyo, 1996). As Sztanyo correctly noted: “There is not a single item in Christianity, upon which our souls’ salvation depends, that is only ‘probably’ true. In each case, the evidence supplied is sufficient to establish conclusive proof regarding the truth of the Christian faith” (1996, p. 7).
The false view that faith is “a leap in the dark” without adequate evidence provides the skeptical community plenty of fodder for their atheistic, anti-Bible cannons—and rightly so. If believing in God, or the divine inspiration of the Bible, or the deity of Jesus Christ is not established by rational, logical evidence, then those ideas are as unworthy of belief as the unprovable ideas of atheism and evolution. Knowing the inconsistency of such a false definition of faith, Sam Harris wrote: “In fact, every religion preaches the truth of propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable. This put the ‘leap’ in Kierkegaard’s leap of faith” (Harris, 2004, p. 23, italics in orig.). Christopher Hitchens, building on the “leap of faith” idea, opined:
Actually, the “leap of faith”—to give it the memorable name that Soren Kierkegaard bestowed on it—is an imposture. As he himself pointed out, it is not a “leap” that can be made once and for all. It is a leap that has to go on and on being performed, in spite of mounting evidence to the contrary (2007, p. 65).
In his analysis of religion, Richard Dawkins quipped: “The whole point of religious faith, its strength and chief glory, is that it does not depend on rational justification” (2006, p. 23, emp. added). Because of his belief that biblical faith is belief without rational justification, Dawkins concluded: “We believe in evolution because the evidence supports it, and we would abandon it overnight if new evidence arose to disprove it. No real fundamentalist would ever say anything like that” (p. 283). What Dawkins really means to say is that no fundamentalist who has adopted the concept that faith does not depend on rational justification would abandon his or her belief if evidence were provided to the contrary. But if his definition of faith is wrong, then he is incorrect to conclude that those who believe in God, the divine inspiration of the Bible, and the deity of Christ would not alter their views based on the evidence. In fact, according to a proper definition of biblical faith, it is only because of the rational justification and logical evidence available that true Christians hold to their beliefs.
When Dawkins states, “Christianity, just as much as Islam, teaches children that unquestioned faith is a virtue. You don’t have to make the case for what you believe” (p. 306), he manifests his lack of knowledge of what biblical faith is. Biblical faith is based completely and solely on truth and reason, as the apostle Paul succinctly stated in Acts 26:25. The prophet Isaiah underscored this fundamental truth about biblical faith when He recorded God’s invitation to the Israelites: “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord” (1:18). Luke, in his introduction to the book of Acts, pressed the point that Jesus’ resurrection was attested by “many infallible proofs” (1:3). For one to believe in the resurrection requires faith, based on infallible proofs.
Sam Harris wrote: “It is time that we admitted that faith is nothing more than the license religious people give one another to keep believing when reasons fail” (Harris, 2006, p. 67). Harris’ accusation is justified when it is applied to false religions, and to those who attempt to defend Christianity without providing a logical, rational justification for their belief. But his allegations, and similar sentiments from Dawkins, Hitchens, and other atheists, are wholly inadequate to attack true, biblical faith. Sadly, too many self-proclaimed Christians open the door for the skeptical community to bash Christian “faith,” when, in reality, the “faith” that is being destroyed was never biblical in the first place.
It is often the case that “Christianity” is abused by modern skeptics due to the tendency of many in Christendom to claim that the Holy Spirit continues to work miracles today just as He did during New Testament times. Atheist Dan Barker wrote about the time that he was thrown out of “Peter Popoff’s ‘miracle’ rally” (1992, p. 291). Barker wrote that Popoff “grabbed a woman’s head, deliberately mussed up her hair, shook her and pronounced her healed” (p. 293). During Popoff’s healing antics, Barker noted, “The audience punctuated his ‘healings’ by loudly speaking in tongues, raising their arms, shaking, crying, and hollering ‘Amen,’ ‘Thank you, Jesus!’ and ‘Hallelujah!’ It had the feel of one of those professional wrestling matches on TV” (p. 293).
Barker’s assessment of the event was, “It was comical; and it was sad. The man was practicing medicine without a license, raising false hopes and endangering lives. (Many of his believers have discarded medicine or cancelled doctor’s appointments.) I remember having participated in meetings just like this when I was a full-gospel evangelist, and I was ashamed” (p. 294). Barker’s caustic assessment of Popoff’s “faith healing scam” is accurate in many ways. As Barker admitted, he at one time in his past participated in many false-healing events, and thus he knows the inherent dishonesty involved in such deceptive shenanigans. Here again the skeptical community has logically and correctly concluded that such faith healings are not valid. As David Mills wrote: “If God has the power to miraculously cure others (though invariably in a vague and uncertain way), why doesn’t God ever help amputees?” (2006, p. 161).
Mills is right to surmise that if the miraculous power that was available during the time of the apostles is still available today, as many Christians erroneously teach and believe, then miracles that can be empirically verified like the healing of amputees should be documented. After all, even the enemies of the apostles had to admit that the miracles worked by the apostles were empirically verifiable: “For indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it” (Acts 4:16).
In truth, the skeptical community does an excellent job of showing that such “faith healing” events are emotionally charged frenzies that do not produce legitimate medical results. The problem arises, however, when the skeptical community tries to lump all Christians into this mold, or attempts to use these verifiably false miracles to discount the possibility of any type of miracle at any time in history. The fact of the matter is, the Bible predicted that the miraculous power that was available to the apostles would come to an end, and would not continue throughout the ages until modern times (Miller, 2003). Furthermore, it has been repeatedly and definitively shown that such false miracles sustain no argumentative value against the historical legitimacy of true miracles recorded in the Bible, such as the resurrection of Christ (Butt, 2002).
Mortimer J. Alder once stated, “Christianity is the only logical, consistent faith in the world” (as quoted in Sharp and Bergman, 2008, p. 288). Unfortunately, the truth of his statement is often obscured by the copious, false philosophies and inaccurate biblical interpretations that masquerade as Christianity. Calvinism, theistic evolution, inherited sin, misdefined faith, and a belief in modern-day miraculous healings are just a few of the obstacles standing in the way of a proper understanding of New Testament Christianity. To this list could be added hundreds of similar ideas fraught with error such as the unscriptural concepts of purgatory, limbo, modern-day Divine inspiration, the perseverance of the saints, and a plethora of ridiculous “predictions” supposedly rooted in the biblical text of Revelation. Those who genuinely wish to defend the validity of New Testament Christianity must be willing and able to assess the writings of modern skeptics, separating the wheat from the chaff. By acknowledging the mistakes that are inherent in false concepts of “Christianity,” the honest-hearted truth seeker can be led to see that such foibles and errors do not mar authentic, defensible Christianity.
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (2000), (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin), fourth edition.
Barker, Dan (1992), Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist (Madison, WI: Freedom From Religion).
Butt, Kyle (2002), “Jesus Christ—Dead or Alive?” Reason & Revelation, http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/121.
Butt, Kyle (2003), “Do Babies Go to Hell When They Die?” http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2255.
Butt, Kyle (2004), “Do Children Inherit the Sins of the Parents?” http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2543.
Dawkins, Richard (2006), The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin).
Harris, Sam (2004), The End of Faith (New York: W.W. Norton).
Harris, Sam (2006), Letter to a Christian Nation (New York: Alfred A. Knopf).
Hitchens, Christopher (2007), god Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: The Twelve).
Jackson, Wayne, Eric Lyons and Kyle Butt (2008), Surveying the Evidence (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Miller, Dave (2003), “Modern Day Miracles, Tongue-Speaking and Holy Spirit Baptism—A Refutation,” Reason & Revelation, http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2569.
Mills, David (2006), Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person’s Answer to Christian Fundamentalism (Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press).
Sharp, Doug and Jerry Bergman, eds. (2008), Persuaded by the Evidence (Green Forest, AR: Master Books).
Sztanyo, Dick (1996), Faith and Reason (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (1988), (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster).
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