Disproving Christianity 2.0

Sometimes, when I see a debate on a Facebook board, I feel obliged to jump in a little – if for no other reason than to refine my arguments and the presentation of those arguments, and because even armchair apologists like myself require some “street” or “internet cred.” It never hurts to get some ideas for articles, either.

Last year, I noticed the interesting question, would Christians abandon belief in God, if it could be proven that He does not exist. My response was in my usual vein, “Find the body.” Since this article was originally published, I’ve refined my arguments – I’m never satisfied with the completeness of my past work.

The question for me is not that of proving theism – I’m not merely a generic theist, I’m a Christian. As such, the real question is (or should be), “Would I change my beliefs if someone could disprove Christianity?” This question, naturally leads to the follow up, “if so, how could someone disprove Christianity?” The only means to do so is to prove that the Resurrection did not occur, or at the least present me with an argument on the resurrection that I find more convincing.

Here is my organization of the minimum facts that must be disproved. These are ultimately not original with me, but this is the way I organize them:

1 Jesus died when crucified.

2 His followers claimed to have seen Him after His death. These men and women were profoundly changed by what they saw, and most were tortured and killed for their faith; none recanted.

3 Paul and James were skeptics about Jesus at one point in their lives, who later claimed to have seen Jesus after His death. Both became followers after these experiences and both died martyrs’ deaths.

4 The tomb was guarded by soldiers who were answerable to Pilate, yet the tomb was found to be empty.

Any theory about Christian origins must be able to account for all of the above minimum facts. Additionally, to be credible, there are some limits to the way in which a competing theory can be constructed.

  1. It cannot invent evidence, or cherrypick the evidence. One cannot argue that the tomb had a backdoor (due to a lack of evidence) or simply pick elements of the New Testament that fit ones theory and reject the rest without some demonstrated criteria external to one’s arguments, if such a criteria is invented for working through the evidence, it must be one that is demonstrated to either be true, or with arguments that I consider convincing.
  2. One cannot simply dismiss the source material without a solid argument that is not based solely on speculation. All of the external evidence supports the traditional authorship (and the patristic evidence on this point is rather impressive), there is nothing in the internal evidence that requires someone to reject that external evidence – a highly speculative case can be made that the documents were written by other people – but as noted, the key phrase is that the case cannot be based “solely” on speculation, since another word for speculation would be “Imagination.”
  3. It must be able to account for the growth of the Church in the first century at Jerusalem, since many early converts to Christianity were present at the time of the events.
  4. It must yield to Ockham’s razor, which is a warning about the multiplication of causes. If an argument requires us to assume one thing caused the empty tomb, and requires a separate, unrelated cause to account for the conversion of Paul, and a third separate, unrelated cause to account for the conversion of James, then that theory should be dismissed on grounds of being “ad hoc.”

To date, no explanation other than the Resurrection is successful at dealing with these facts in the manner I’ve noted.

Perhaps someone may come up with an alternate theory that adequately explains the minimal facts in the manner I have described. Similarly, perhaps someone will come up with a way of proving that the moon really is made of green cheese.

Moral Argument from Atrocities 5: Conclusion – Crusaders, Lenin and Dawkins

As noted the Nazis are only useful in judging their actions from the standpoint of National Socialism since it is a unique, composite system; though they are self-consistent monsters they are not germane to this discussion. As we noted, the crusaders were inconsistent monsters and the Soviets were self-consistent monsters. But what do we do with that data? How do we sum up the argument?

The proper term for inconsistent monsters is “hypocrite.” Because the crusaders and other citable examples were inconsistent monsters, we cannot extrapolate the point that Biblical Christianity condones or leads to atrocities. Atheists might argue that Christianity creates the possibility of misinterpretation or grounds for a charismatic person to twist Christian doctrines, but the same can be said of any institution, religious or irreligious. After all, sometimes religion is used as a justification after the thought. Christians then can commit atrocities but must forget their core principles in order to do so. The atheistic argument from atrocities should therefore be considered a point of rhetoric rather than a serious argument.

On the other hand, Christians cannot argue that atheism per se leads to atrocities. For example, some atheists might like to pet bunnies, and this may be self-consistent with atheistic beliefs (as atheism does not argue that it is wrong to pet bunnies), but it does not mean atheism will lead to bunny petting, as not petting bunnies is also consistent with atheism. Likewise, committing atrocities and refusing to commit atrocities are both ultimately self-consistent for the atheist. Thus, for Christians, we must be careful not to imitate atheists in their use of the consequence fallacy.

Yet, atheism is not incidental to Lenin’s crimes. Atheistic views of morality are ultimately issues of expediency: without a moral absolute, choosing to murder or not to murder becomes ultimately a personal preference. One can kill innocents as an atheist without violating atheism’s core principles. Communism is a derivative of atheism, best conceptualized in terms of a denomination. Just as Baptists are expressions of Biblical Christianity, Communism is an expression of atheism, but not necessarily the only one. Communism developed variations of atheistic ideals that are not common to all atheists: the assumption that these deaths were necessary for the greater good of the collective.

At best then, Christians can (and I believe should) argue that atheistic bomb-throwers might lead to atrocities. This analysis is drawn from Christian presuppositions. Christians assume that man has a conscience, but without Christ this conscience will degrade over time, atheism’s influence on atrocities is indirect because it weakens the conscious, opening the door to radical acts.

As an addendum, however, many modern atheists now argue that religion is dangerous to society. This is very similar to the Communist assumption that Christians and other religious groups were a danger to the good of the collective. Given that the new radical atheists of our current day have similar views to the Marxists about the origin of our concept of rights, and Dawkin’s concept of ideas being transmitted as “Memes,” the actual question is whether they will have the courage of their convictions to follow their ideas to their logical conclusions. If they do, it might very well result in a bloodbath.

The militant atheists were for a long time considered to be the lunatic fringe of the atheistic movement precisely because of the memories of Lenin, Stalin and Hitler, but men like Richard Dawkins indicate that the lunatics are now running the asylum, and history indicates that this is dangerous.

Moral Argument from Atrocities Part 4: Lenin and Stalin.

I now want to examine some atheistic monsters, particularly Stalin and Lenin.

Atheists tend to withdraw from Lenin’s and Stalin’s atrocities (particularly Lenin, who has many apologists on the political left) and claim that their atheism was incidental to their political views. They will claim that the Soviet Union’s atrocities were an issue of Communism (or many will raise false distinctions, claiming it was not “real communism”). Thus, many atheists assume that their murders were incidental to their atheism. Of course, there are numerous problems with this equivocation.

Marxism is clearly rooted in an atheistic worldview. While some Christian communities have experimented with communal living (such as the first English Separatists in the New World or the early Monastic movement), the concept of the proletarian revolution is a distinctly Marxist ideology. In fact, while Christian communal experiments were clearly failures, membership in these communities was clearly voluntary. This cannot be said about Marxism.

Marx was the first to develop “Dialectical Materialism” which was refined by Engels and Lenin, and is the atheistic worldview at the core of Marxism. In many senses, he is one of the more important proponents of enlightenment era atheism. Lenin’s views in many ways mirrors Western Social Darwinism, and the connections he made between Marxism and atheism is explicit.

This should come as no surprise, Marx’s discussions of the “dangers of religion” in any form was similar to that of the New Atheists.

Therefore, while the Soviet state tolerated religion at times (if properly controlled) the concept of religious freedom or theism were rejected outright, and atheism was the state-sponsored Soviet worldview. This is why religious persons were specifically suppressed by the regime. For example, on December 25th, 1919, Lenin issued an edict that workers who did not report for work were to be shot because Christianity was contrary to the spirit of the October Revolution. Atheists may quibble that not all atheists are Marxists, and while this is true, atheism is not incidental to Marxism. It is a philosophical necessity, since Marxism requires an a priori commitment to atheism and evolution.

This does not, however, answer the question of consistency – one could argue that Marxism, as a whole, misrepresents atheism. But, Lenin’s and Stalin’s slaughters do appear to be logically derived from their worldview.

If God does not exist (as naturalists presuppose), then rights cannot come from God, and man is merely an animal. From this, earlier, theistic beliefs that man possesses natural rights (as accepted by Christians and Deists) must be rejected. To put it another way, the idea that our rights are innate, and inviolable is a distinctively Christian idea that has a purely Judeo-Christian origin; while others in society may try to borrow these libertarian concepts they are ultimately importing something from Christianity. If these do not come from God, they do not exist except if granted by some other authority – such as the state.

If the state can grant rights, then the state is free to remove them. Within the confines of dialectical materialism, the collective becomes the center of existence. To the Communist, an individual’s value is only as great as his contribution to the good of the collective. In fact, the communists views of the origins of morality are similar to those espoused by men like Richard Dawkins – they believe that ideas develop along evolutionary principles, and our ideas of society evolved to help societies (and the individuals in those societies) to survive where other ideals have failed. Dawkins discusses the dissemination of ideas along genetic lines, and refers to them as “memes” in an attempt to resurrect enlightenment era epistemology in a post-modern world. The individual is ultimately therefore insignificant in the realm of ideas.

Collectivism only works if everyone sees the collective as the highest good; dissenters take resources away from the collective. Therefore, to make Communism work, dissenters must be viewed as a threat, lest they become a detriment to progress. Because they are a threat, they must be removed from that society if they will not abandon ideas that are contrary to the collective.

Moral Argument from Atrocities: The Crusaders and the Slaughter of the Innocents

I want to begin this study with the “home team.” There is no such thing as an unbiased or completely objective observer, and therefore it is always wise to make certain one’s own house is in order before moving on to discuss someone else’s home. The crusades are the most prominent example of atrocities that can be truly charged to nominal Christianity.

Many Evangelicals will object immediately, arguing that the crusades occurred under auspices of the Catholic Church – but it is always difficult to make the distinction between Evangelicalism and Catholicism before the Reformation.

Most of the forerunners of the Reformation were simply one stream within the nominally Christian Western Church. Catholicism did not declare the doctrine of Salvation by Grace through Faith alone to be heretical until 1423, with the burning at the stake of John Hus; the first crusade began in 1096 and ended in 1099. Likewise, most crusades occurred before Thomas Acquinas combined Christian thought with Aristotelian metaphysics to form what is modern Catholic dogma.

Others might question the crusaders’ salvation, but this we are unable to judge (Matt. 7:1-5). Furthermore, the world will always view this as intellectually dishonest (whether it actually is, or not). While it may be true that the Crusades lack the evidence of a regenerated heart, for argumentation with those outside of the faith this distinction is a dead end, no matter how it contributes to the logical consistency of the Christian worldview.

The crusades were monstrous. The early crusades were advertised and sold as “just wars.” The initial motives of defending Constantinople and Christian pilgrims from alleged abuse, seems pure enough, but as soon as the nobles, generals and merchants took over these purposes soon took a backseat to slaughter and political backstabbing. Most likely, the first crusade ended with the slaughter and rape of civilians within Jerusalem. The second crusade halted on the way to Jerusalem to slaughter Jews living in Christian lands, and is considered by the Jewish people to be the first holocaust. The sacking of Constantinople during the fourth crusade was pure avarice at the instigation of bankers.

The crusaders were monsters, but were they self-consistent monsters? Bernard of Clairveux, who largely instigated the second crusade, along with other Christian leaders, decried the slaughtering of Jews as a violation of the crusader ideal.

If the New Testament is asserted as the central starting point for Christian thought, there is nothing in any letter or gospel to suggest that wholesale slaughter is permissible. The crusades also explicitly violated New Testament principles. For example, Christians are instructed that when the gospel meets hostility, to simply dust off their feet and move along; not to slaughter the hostiles (Mat 10:14-15). Judgment in such cases is clearly left to God. Likewise, Christian belief is that Salvation comes by Grace through Faith: to believe implies a matter of choice and will (John 3:15-20). The fact that this choice exists indicates that religious freedom is an underlying Christian principle.

My Presbyterian friends will disagree with my next point, but I am a Baptist and must answer from my own thinking. The Church, unlike Israel, is not a national government, and therefore does not possess the authority to make war.

Even if the crusades were initially justified, the crusaders became monsters. But, they were not self-consistent monsters, rather their atrocities are evidence of hypocrisy, since they are violations of their supposed Christian convictions.

Moral argument from Atrocities part 1

In debates between Atheists and Christians, it has become common for both sides to make a “moral argument about atrocities.” For atheism the argument is that religion should be abolished because religion is dangerous, often citing 9/11, the crusades, and Nazi Germany. Of course, this obviously contains a grouping error: lumping all theistic systems into a single bucket is intellectually dishonest. Yet for the Christian, it must be acknowledged that the crusades are a notable example of atrocities committed in the name of Christianity.

Likewise, Christians often raise moral arguments as well. In modern times the moral argument is often associated with certain brands of presuppositional apologetics, particularly according to Corneilius Van Til. My main argument will always be that the historical evidence for the Resurrection of Christ is the strongest support for the truth of Christainity. I commonly call this the positive case for Christ. Yet, if Christianity is true, then it should be able to accurately describe or explain reality. This means that many secondary arguments such as the moral arguments have validity: if Christianity is true, then that which the Bible says concerning the nature of man, man’s conscience and the results of sanctification should be observable. Christians, therefore also make a moral argument concerning atrocities, usually pointing to the Soviet Union and to Nazi Germany as evidence that atheism is bad for society. While this certainly does not prove Christianity, it is nonetheless a useful argument.

So, if both atheists and Christians have committed atrocities, then how do we judge which moral argument concerning atrocities is valid, or do we simply argue for a moral equivalency? I suggest that the problem presents itself when we consider exactly how the case is made. Usually, the argument is made by association, and it is usually made at the surface level. Personally, I’m suggesting a new approach: the key to the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the argument regarding atrocities is whether or not the monsters are self-consistent with their worldview.

In the next two articles I will address the specifics concerning these arguments from the viewpoint of the Soviet Union and from the viewpoint of the crusades, these are exemplary, the reasoning I am applying can be applied in other cases as well. I will ignore the Third Reich for a number of reasons: first, atheists attempt to identify Hitler as a Christian, based on the use of Christian symbols and language in his propaganda. This is evidence of a historical naivete on the part of atheists. Bernie Madoff claimed to be investing people’s money, but clearly this was not his practice. While this first problem is clearly based on a poor understanding of history, the second problem is that we don’t know that Hitler actually was an atheist, either, though we have very good reason to believe he was. While it is undeniable that the Third Reich and Hitler were greatly influenced by evolutionary theory, there are theistic evolutionists (such as Michael Behe). The National Socialists were also heavily influenced by both Spiritualism and Germanic Neo-paganism (particularly in the SS); Nazi atrocities therefore are best viewed as their own category.