Philosophers and laymen have debated the existence of God for centuries. Many of the arguments for both atheism and theism have been perennial. Some of the greatest thinkers of old had insight relevant to the very discussions that we have today. The advent of modern science may have changed the way arguments and objections are formulated, but they are still the same arguments (just with different supporting evidence). While I have written extensively about many of these arguments, and many have more latitude than I am crediting, I think it might be beneficial to provide the mega-guide to atheist arguments and objections.
The answers that you find in the mega-guide should not be considered exhaustive. Though I will try to answer a few counterpoints, I am providing a basic overview of a few objections. In some cases, this basic overview will be sufficient to fully answer an atheist argument, because some are so shallow that further refutation would be redundant (the same could be said of some shallow Christian apologetics). Also I will inevitably leave some arguments out. If you would like to see one covered, please leave a comment. Since this article is pretty long, I am organizing it by topic, and the links below will jump down the page so you can choose what is relevant to you without scrolling through all of the text.
Arguments Against The Existence of God
Arguments Against The Warrant of Belief In God
Common Atheist Responses To All Apologetics
Objections To The Bible
Objections To The Moral Argument
Objections To The Cosmological Argument
Objections To The Historical Jesus
Objections To The Teleological Argument
About The Author
Arguments Against The Existence of God
Many atheists prefer to avoid mounting arguments against the existence of God. They will suggest that the human condition is such that we can never know whether God actually exists. On the other hand, there are some atheists who think that there are good arguments leading to the conclusion that there is no God. Let’s begin by assessing some of these arguments.
God Is Incompatible With Evil And Suffering
Typically, the problem of evil focuses on God’s ontology. Most theists define God as being omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. With these characteristics in mind, atheists suggest that we should expect that God would prevent evil. Since he does not, we have evidence that God does not exist. The problem of evil takes two forms: the logical problem of evil, which attempts to demonstrate that any evil is incompatible with God, and the evidential problem of evil, which attempts to show that some manifestations of evil yield a high probability that God does not exist. I think the answers I provide should begin to address both versions.
First, the problem of evil is an exercise in divine psychology. According to William Lane Craig’s assessment, Divine psychology “refers to reasoned conjectures about what God would likely do in a certain situation.” If we are suggesting that God would respond to evil with overwhelming stopping power, then we are practicing divine psychology. The problem is that it is very difficult to calculate what another would do in a certain situation, much less what a divine being would do.
There are often situations in which some course of action seems reasonable or moral, but then with further knowledge, we recognize that it was not reasonable or moral. Imagine that you learned that a man kept another in a cage. At first blush, this might seem like a moral obscenity. But upon further revelation, you learn that the man is actually a judge and the one in the cage is a convicted felon. Similarly, it may be that if we were to learn more about the evil and suffering in the world, we could discover that God had valid and ethical reasons for allowing it.
Some have attempted to mount a few of these reasons. These are known as theodicies. Perhaps the most popular theodicy is the two-world model. It may be that God wants to provide all of the possible goods to his creatures, and the only way to do that is to create one compromised world and another un-compromised world. Only in a compromised world could we exercise courage, self-sacrifice, and free will. That is just one possible theodicy and it may be incorrect. But it does show that a theodicy is at least possible.
The Omniscience Paradox
This disproof will again focus on the classical conception of God, emphasizing the attribute of omniscience. Believers affirm that God knows all things. But if he knows all things, argues Michael Martin, then he also knows some things that we would find unsavory or absurd. For example, I know the proposition “I am Richard.” If God is omniscient, he should also know the proposition that “I am Richard.” But since God is not Richard, he would know something that is false. Similarly, God also knows propositions like “I am experiencing lust and envy.” But if he knows those propositions, then God would be sinner, and hence would not be God.
The problem is that the proposition “I am Richard” is not an advance in knowledge. You, the reader, know that “The author of this article is Richard,” and that is the same proposition from a different perspective. I do not know more than you by virtue of my self-awareness. Experiential knowledge does not have an edge over propositional knowledge. God knows “There is an experience of lust and envy in the world. I know how people who are experiencing it feels, but I have never experienced it.” That proposition is just as informed as experiential knowledge. So I do not think that this creates a problem for omniscience.
The Omnipotent Paradox
Similar to the omniscient paradox, the omnipotent paradox attempts to provide an incoherence within God’s attributes. But this time it focuses on omnipotence. The most popular manifestation is in the question, “Could God create a stone that is too heavy for himself to life?” If he could create that stone, then it would compromise his omnipotence because he cannot lift the stone. If he could not create the stone, then it would compromise his omnipotence because he cannot do all things.
I do not think this problem is as daunting as we think. Omnipotence could prevail whether we answer “Yes” or “No” to the problem. But depending on the answer, our definition of omnipotence would change. If we say “Yes,” that signifies that God can do all things, even that which is logically impossible. In that case, God would create the stone that is too heavy for him to lift and then he would lift it. Since he is not restricted by the laws of logic, he could do that. If we say “No,” that signifies that omnipotence is defined by the ability to do that which is logically possible. In that case, it would not be a violation of omnipotence.
The Problem of Non-belief
Many atheists will tell us that if God existed and wanted to compel them to believe, he could easily do that. He would only have to appear in some verifiable way that can be corroborated. In fact, that challenge would not be outside of the scope of God’s activities. Gideon asked for the very same thing in Judges 6:36-40, and God complied. This is sometimes referred to as the hiddenness of God. Believers can sometimes feel the force of this argument as well. As the Standard Encyclopedia of Philosophy says, “In religious literature, there is a long history of expressions of annoyance, anxiety, and despair over divine hiddenness, so understood.”
But the problem of non-belief assumes that God merely wants us to give mental assent to his existence. Even if everybody in the world agreed that God exists, they still might not be compelled to follow him. There are plenty of people who believe in God but are not followers of God. God is more concerned with people believing the gospel than believing that he exists.
In fact, many of us would argue that there is sufficient evidence to warrant belief. Think for a moment of the controversial theory of dark matter. Scientists have never seen it, but it is a robust enough of a theory to warrant belief. Similarly, the God hypothesis is robust enough to warrant belief.
An offshoot of the Intelligent Design movement seems to be unintelligent design. Unintelligent design is the recognition that there are some features of the universe that are not compatible with a loving or intelligent designer. Some would cite cosmological evidence like the uninhabitable cosmos or even uninhabitable regions of the earth. Others would suggest that there are biological organisms that are not optimal creations. Human beings would be one example, as many would argue that we have vestigial organs.
But even granting that there is bad design, a bad design is still a design. An automobile can exhibit traits of poor design, like malfunctioning. My computer’s charger comes with expandable anchors that allow you to coil the cords. But coiling the cords like that makes it more likely that they will crack. That is a design flaw. But it is still a design. One might say, “But God, being intelligent, would not create design flaws.” Well, that would assume that God is always performing at the peak of his abilities. It may be that he created something knowing that it was not optimal for survival.
For us to say that a design is optimal is again to practice divine psychology. We are suggesting that we know the designer’s intentions. It may be that God created a flawed universe for his own purpose. This harks us back to the two-world model. Only in a compromised universe can we enjoy goods such as self-sacrifice, courage, and freedom of the will.
The Cumulative Case
This would be what I would regard as the best argument against God. In fact, it was treated in Graham Oppy’s book The Best Argument Against God. He suggests that none of the arguments by themselves are sufficient to warrant disbelief. But the fact that theistic arguments fail and naturalistic arguments succeed entails that naturalism enjoys an evidential advantage over theism. Many of us would not be ecstatic about that conclusion, suggesting that it is rather soft.
However, let’s first consider it by granting the conclusion. Even if naturalism enjoys an evidential advantage, theism and Christianity may still be true. Dr. Oppy pointed out that many people may still have non-evidential reasons for belief.
Second, the argument would hinge on the failure of theistic evidences. If the cosmological arguments prevail over his objections, then the weight of the evidence would be shifted in favor of theism. Oppy’s argument is actually something that has to be handled by analyzing the broader scope of philosophy of religion. I think that upon analysis, we can render a powerful cumulative case for the evidential value of theism. The reason that I like Oppy’s approach so much is that it so resembles a robust apologetic methodology.
Arguments Against The Warrant of Belief In God
Some atheistic arguments are not so focused on whether God exists as much as they focus on whether we have warrant for believing in God. Sometimes it is not reasonable to believe that which is true depending on your epistemic condition. Imagine that you were in a coma for fifty years. At the moment that you woke up, you would have warrant for believing that the Boston Red Sox have not won a World Series in your lifetime. You would have warrant for believing that you were 27 years old (if you fell into the coma at age 27). These propositions may be false, but they would be warranted. Similarly, even if God exists, these arguments suggest that we may have warrant for disbelief.
There Is No Evidence For God, Therefore Disbelief Is Warranted
Many atheists will claim that atheism is the null hypothesis. This is just to say that it is the default position. In the absence of any evidence for God, disbelief is warranted. In this sense, atheism is not so much of a claim to knowledge as much as it is a rejection of theism. We will say that God exists and the atheist is just unconvinced.
I think the main problem is that it is debatable whether atheism is the null hypothesis. Some will cite the mental state of babies as evidence for this, suggesting that since we are all born atheists, it is therefore the null hypothesis. It is the default state of humanity. But babies are in the lower states of human development, lacking basic cognitive skills. Infants do not recognize other minds and they are not even self-aware. Surely this does not mean that agnosticism about the self is the null hypothesis.
Further, some people have different experiences of belief in God. Some would suggest that the existence of God is so thoroughly evidenced that belief is the null hypothesis until it is disproven. This may just be a reflection of our inherited traits. Perhaps our ancestors were more inclined toward belief while our atheist friends were more inclined toward disbelief.
Finally, as indicated in a previous section, it may be that people have non-evidential reasons for belief. It may be that when a believer reads a religious text, they feel compelled by the notion that “This is the truth,” and they just cannot shake it. In that case, religious belief would be warranted even without evidence.
If You Were Born In India…
This argument irrevocably seared the atheist blogosphere. Popularized by Richard Dawkins, the argument basically asserts that if you were born in another region, you would adopt the religious beliefs of that region. Therefore, your beliefs are not based on rationality but on geography. Often, apologists respond by accusing Dawkins of the Genetic Fallacy. That might be right, but I think we can be a little more charitable. It may be that Dawkins was saying not so much that our religious are therefore false, but that they are not rationally based, and hence unwarranted.
In some cases, Dawkins assessment may be right. It carries a kernel of truth that we should really take to heart. We should assess why we believe what we believe. This will enhance our faith and make us into critical thinkers. But once you have done your epistemic duty: considering the alternatives and concluding that your religious beliefs have evidence, then Dawkins objection will have no more value. It only calls our religious epistemology into question. But if we have considered alternatives, then that objection does not apply.
Christianity Is A Form of Wish-Fulfillment
This argument was popularized by the eminent psychologist Sigmund Freud. In Warranted Christian Belief, Dr. Alvin Plantinga assessed Freud’s argument. Freud propounded that the natural world is full of death, suffering, and fear. In a desire to escape the natural world, we invented the idea of a loving Father figure who will rescue us. This illusion somehow became internalized.
Interestingly, Plantinga said that after scouring Freud’s work, he only found one piece of evidence to substantiate this theory. The Heavenly Father parallels our earthly fathers. So when the earthly father’s authority breaks down (in adulthood), so does the authority of the Heavenly Father. That is why we will see people leaving the faith in their adulthood. But Plantinga pointed out that there are other ways to account for this phenomenon. It may just be that people want their own identity and autonomy, so they will leave their religious beliefs behind. So the central problem with the wish-fulfillment hypothesis is that there is just no reason to believe it. Freud provided no evidence aside from this.
Further, there are some aspects of Christian theology that do not seem to fulfill our wildest dreams. Jesus commanded his followers to deny themselves (Luke 9:23), to carry their cross (hence to be crucified if they must), to love him more than their own families. Beyond that, Christianity (and many world religions) teach that we are all under the power of sin, convoking divine wrath. These attributes seem inconsistent with the wish-fulfillment hypothesis.
Belief In God Is Like Belief In Santa
This is a comparative analysis meant to jar the believer into reflecting with skepticism upon her belief in God. Children believe in this figure known as Santa Claus without evidence, and we come to believe in God in the same way, despite that there is no evidence of his existence.
Of course, with belief in Santa, there are good reasons that he probably does not exist. In the case of Santa, the absence of evidence really is evidence of absence. The difference is that with Santa, he will necessarily appear in the living room on Christmas Eve. God brings no comparable guaranteed manifestation. Think also about The Funding Problem. The North Pole is supposed to manufacture trillions of dollars worth of toys and house the elves throughout the year. Even the wealthiest of donors would not be able to fund such a project. So, there is good evidence that Santa probably does not exist. Unless you can mount similar arguments against the existence of God, the comparison seems doomed.
Further, people believe in Santa as children. On the other hand, there are plenty of theists who came to believe in God as adults. There are even sophisticated scientists who came to believe as adults. Think of Dr. Frank Tipler, who said, “When I began my career as a cosmologist twenty years ago, I was a convinced atheist. I never imagined that I would be writing a book purporting to show that the central claims of Christian theology are true and are straightforward deductions of the laws of physics.” If you can find a comparable quote from a scientist who believes in Santa, I will be more willing to consider the comparison.
Common Atheist Responses To All Apologetics
Some of these objections would be applicable to pretty much any apologetic argument, and others are just responses to Christian theology. Rather than randomly assigning them to different arguments, I thought it might be useful to sort them together.
Who Created God?
This is one of my favorite arguments because it is often branded as the question that no theist can answer. It can come in two forms: one being an actual argument against the existence of God and the other being a response to arguments. Since it takes its most robust form as a response to an argument, we will consider it like that (though the objection will apply to the positive form and the Boeing 747). We are all probably familiar with the argument. I say “God created the universe.” The atheist replies, “Ah, but then, who created God?”
First, this is literally an incoherent question. When the atheist asks, “Who created God?” we have to ask what they mean by God. Since they do not believe in God, I have to assume that they mean “Who created the God that you believe in?” to which I would have to reply “Nobody.” You cannot ask “who created God?” of somebody who does not believe in created gods.
Further, this argument is typically rendered with simplicity and complexity in mind. The objector will say that God is more complex than that which he is being invoked to explain. Therefore, if a complex design calls for a complex designer, then God himself will call for a complex designer. This equivocates between complexity of structure and complexity of function. God’s functions may be complex, but his structure is simple. The design that we are speaking of is complexity of structure.
God of The Gaps
Some of the sillier atheists will suggest that all exercises in natural theology are examples of God of The Gaps. A God of The Gaps argument occurs when you attempt to plug a gap in your understanding with God. “I do not know how to explain the thunder, therefore it must have been God.” Some will suggest that arguments like the Cosmological Arguments, Teleological Arguments, Moral Arguments, etc. are all guilty of this fallacy.
However, that is not really how these arguments are rendered. They could conceivably be rendered like that by a hack apologist, but in their most robust form, they are inductive and probabilistic. This means that we have a set of premises leading to the conclusion that God exists. If the premises are true, then the conclusion follows. God is not being invoked as an explanatory hypothesis.
I Just Go One God Further
This will take us back to how atheists define their position. Since atheism is merely a lack of belief about the existence of God, it would follow that many of us are atheists about other gods. We deny the existence of Moloch, for example. So, you would just need to apply the same reasoning that you do to Moloch, and you will be an atheist about all of the gods, including YHWH.
I can see at least two problems with this argument. First, I am not an atheist about Moloch. Throughout the Bible, we see what is known as the Divine Council. In Psalm 82, God stands in the midst of rulers, condemning them for their injustices. He goes on to say “You are gods, and all of you are sons of the Most High. Nevertheless you will die like men.” Dr. Michael Heiser thinks that the best way to understand this passage is to say that it is referring to actual gods. This should not be surprising. Ontologically, the gods would not differ significantly from what we would regard as demons. So, I am not at all an atheist about the other gods. But we may say that I reject them and refuse to follow them.
Second, let’s suppose for a moment that I were an atheist about these other gods. I do not think it would be as simple as applying the same methodology to YHWH. The methodology there is: Jesus Christ rose from the dead, confirming his claims and validating the religion that he left behind. Consequently, I reject the other gods. It would be incoherent to apply that methodology to YHWH. So this is a malformed test.
Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence
Sometimes when assessing natural theology, our atheist friends might say that the arguments are good, but they are not good enough. The conclusion that God exists is an extraordinary claim. But an extraordinary claim will require extraordinary evidence. Arguments that have come out of natural theology are in the category of ordinary. They would need something like booming voices from the sky.
There are two problems with this assertion. First, the arguments that come out of natural theology are deductive. This means that the conclusion will follow independently of whether the atheist assesses the evidence as extraordinary. Second, the concept of the extraordinary is too ill-defined. Who is to say what is ordinary and what is extraordinary? Perhaps I think the existence of God is ordinary. Perhaps I think the evidence I have given is extraordinary. This is too subjective of a measurement, and really only expresses one thing, namely that the atheist is not convinced by the argument. But if he is going to maintain his atheism in the face of these arguments, he will have to challenge the premises of the arguments.
The Same Arguments Can Be Used To Infer A Flying Spaghetti Monster
This objection will be in the same category of the God of The Gaps objection. Since God is treated as an explanatory hypothesis, it would be just as valid to invoke another entity, such as the Flying Spaghetti Monster, to explain some phenomenon.
There are a few problems with this analogy. The main one is that the Flying Spaghetti Monster does not have attributes that would follow from natural theology. Spaghetti and meatballs would be superfluous. In natural theology, we only draw a minimal conception of God from each argument and then form a cumulative conclusion.
Typically the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a response the arguments for Intelligent Design, like the cosmological constants and the fine-tuning of the universe. But it would be unwarranted to conclude that there is a Flying Spaghetti Monster. The only possible conclusion one could draw is that there is a designer, the attributes of which are left in open question for future discourse.
The Doctrine of Hell Makes Life Purposeless
Traditionally, the Christian Church has believed in the doctrine of eternal, conscious torment. This means that when unbelievers are raised from the dead, they are sent into a realm to be punished for their sins for eternity. But if that is the case, there is a lot more suffering in the universe than anything else. Most of human existence is bleak and purposeless.
Well, first I should point out that the doctrine of eternal, conscious torment is not the only way for Christians to interpret Hell. Many of us would argue that when unbelievers are raised from the dead, God destroys their body and soul, and they are forever annihilated. This possibility would seem to mitigate the objection.
But let’s suppose that the traditional view is correct. I do not think that paints a bleak picture of humanity. God created mankind for himself. Our true purpose is found only in him and his glory. I think the objection might be a little too anthropocentric. But if reality is about glorifying God, then that is our purpose. Those who do not live out that purpose will not find ultimate significance in life (even if they do find subjective meaning in their relationships and careers).
It Is Impossible To Prove A Universal Negative
When challenged to provide evidence against the existence of God, atheists will sometimes tell us that this is a malformed challenge. The non-existence of God is a negative claim. But since it is impossible to prove a universal negative, you cannot prove that. Think of a claim like “There are no invisible, undetectable unicorns.” This is a universal negative, and it is impossible to prove. But we are rational to disbelieve it. The same can be said of God.
However, there are other universal negatives that are not as difficult to prove as that one. One could provide that there are no dinosaurs on the moon or Europeans in my apartment. The only reason that the claim about unicorns is unprovable is that it comes with the “undetectable” qualification. But it would seem like God would be eligible for disproof.
Further, some propositions can be disproven by incoherence. If you told me that there was an undetectable square circle, the internal inconsistency of that proposition would function as a disproof. Similarly, one might argue that God has the attributes akin to a square circle. If that were the case, then you could disprove that universal negative. So in summary, it is possible to prove a universal negative, such as “There is no God.”
Objections To The Bible
Many of the atheists that we encounter will have had a Christian upbringing, meaning that they have some familiarity with Christian theology. They can recount a story here or there that they recall from Sunday school and point out a few difficulties with them. Beyond that, they might hear about these stories from apologists and try to poke holes in them. There are a few common things that we hear from atheists in this respect.
Who Could Believe In Talking Snakes?
In Genesis chapters 2-3, we see the narrative of the Garden of Eden. We all know that within the Garden, there was a serpent who tempted Eve into sin. But the idea of a talking snake does just strike many of us as fantasy. It has the earmarks of a myth. After all, it does not take a scientist to tell you that snakes do not talk. Even in the Ancient Near East, the fact that snakes could not communicate verbally was pretty firm. So how can we believe in such a tale?
I think the first thing we should recognize is that legitimate and honest biblical scholars note that there are different ways of understanding this narrative. Some scholars, such as Dr. John Walton, recognize the way that serpents are used in literary constructions in the Ancient Near East. Snakes are chaos creatures. There are several other elements like that in the narrative. Scholars such as Dr. Walton would suggest that the story is most plausibly interpreted as a theological myth, not something to be taken literally.
But if you insist on a literal interpretation, then you cannot compartmentalize the Christian worldview. In Christianity, we believe that there is an unseen realm with God, angels, demons, gods and goddesses. The unseen realm can sometimes impact the seen realm. So a talking serpent would not be a naturally occurring event. When we object to the idea of a talking serpent, it is because we understand the laws of nature. If the Bible were saying that the event was concordant with the laws of nature, then that would be a problem. But it is not. It is a supernatural event.
The Flood of Noah’s Day
I actually share many of our atheist friends’ sentiments about the flood as described by neo-ussherians. It seems difficult to align the idea of a global flood with our understanding of modern science. It is especially troublesome when they attempt to explain geology by appealing to the flood. Beyond that, the story comes with facts that cannot possible be reconciled, even with the power of a miracle. The redistribution of animals and the rapid evolution of kinds that would have to follow makes it highly implausible.
But that is not to say that the biblical account is incorrect. Many old earth creationists interpret it as a local flood. I think that if you were to accept the literal language for what it is, you would probably conclude that it was a global flood. However, it would not be the only time that the biblical author exaggerated details to make a point about how exceptional an event was.
In an attempt to illustrate how earth-shaking an event is, the authors will sometimes say things like what we find in Isaiah 24:1, where God will destroy the entire earth as the Babylonians are attacking Israel. Similarly, in 2nd Samuel 22:16, David said that the “foundations of the earth were laid bare.” Isaiah 13:10 reads, “For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light; The sun will be dark when it rises and the moon will not shed its light.” These events are all so earth-shattering that the author is using this language to describe them. Something similar can be said about the flood.
God Took Lives
Most of us share the ethic that it is wrong to take lives. Atheists will sometimes draw upon this shared principle to charge God with immorality. We might see counters on atheist websites that show precisely how many people God killed. There are disquieting narratives of Israelites seizing the land of Canaan and slaughtering the residents, seemingly at the behest of the Almighty.
However, the first thing that should be noted is that ethical principles derive their authority from God. We can say that some action is ethical or unethical because God is the ultimate standard of righteousness. The Torah has no authority apart from God. There is therefore a sense in which God is above the Law. He can do things that we cannot. A tenant in an apartment building could not sell the building, but the owner could. God owns the building. He gave life and he can take it as he pleases.
Another point to consider is that God is responding to wickedness. Atheists often complain that there is so much evil and suffering in the world and that God should do something about it. But out of the other side of their mouths, they will say that God is overstepping his boundaries when he responds to it.
The Bible Validates Slavery
Americans are keenly aware of the practice of slavery. It is not a distant, third-world enterprise. It is interwoven in our history, having a presence even in the Constitution that many esteem so highly. Yet the atheists will argue that we do see validation of slavery in the Bible. If the Bible validates an ethical principle that is clearly false, then we would have good reason to doubt the reliability of the Bible.
I think that when we talk about slavery, we typically have the transatlantic slave trade in mind. Western men would sail across the world, kidnap Africans, separating them from their families and bringing them to the United States to serve as slaves. I am not convinced that this is what the Bible describes. In fact, Exodus 21:16 reads, “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.” So what we would describe as slavery is strictly forbidden.
Some have suggested that Exodus 21:16 applies to the Israelites but not to surrounding Pagan nations. But the text does not make this restriction. In fact, passages such as Leviticus 25:44-46 are compatible with this interpretation of Exodus 21:16. It says, “As for your male and female slaves whom you may have—you may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around you.” This passage does not say anything about man-hunting or kidnapping. It may be that the slaves from these nations sold themselves into slavery or were convicted criminals. It is too ambiguous to establish a model of slavery akin the transatlantic slave trade.
Are Women Valued?
Women have confronted daunting social struggles. They have often been regarded as second class citizens without the same rights as men. It was generally expected that women would tend to the home while men would make a living. Some atheists would argue that this mandate derived from the biblical data. Atheists allege that the Bible gives the man possession over the women, that the woman is forced to marry a rapist, and that women were taken as spoils of war at God’s command.
I think this objection will begin to fade if we take a look at the overall context of the biblical narrative. It begins with the creation of the human race in Genesis 1:26-27, which says that both male and female were created in the image of God. This means that we are God’s representatives here on earth. Consequently, both men and women possess intrinsic value. The apostle Paul echoes this sentiment in Galatians 3:28, which reads, “There is neither male nor female… for we are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Beyond that general principle, I think the specific challenges listed above are a little overblown. First, women are not taken as spoils of war. Rape is forbidden in the Torah (Deuteronomy 22:25-27). But after a war, the cities were captured and after sufficient periods of mourning, the women would be wed. There were also a few measures to protect the women.
But if rape was forbidden, then why is a woman forced to marry her rapist as the atheists allege? The text that we are referring to is Deuteronomy 22:28-29, which reads, “If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered… she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days.” There are two points to consider. First, the restriction was on the rapist, not on the woman. He is forced to marry her, leaving the choice to her. Second, I am not convinced that this passage is referring to rape. It could plausibly be interpreted as sex outside of marriage. In summary, I do not think any of these challenges sufficiently overturn the egalitarian principle found in Genesis 1:26-27.
The Text Is Full of Contradictions
Biblical contradictions is probably one of the least challenging arguments against the integrity of the Bible. First, most of the contradictions evaporate when one analyzes the context. Second, there are models of biblical inspiration available to Christians that accommodates contradictions. Third, most of the alleged contradictions are in the background details, not impacting any major Christian doctrine.
I think the main reason that contradictions can be a challenging problem is that atheists will produce ever-growing lists of contradictions. While it might have taken them ten seconds to copy and paste one contradiction, it would take me five minutes to respond to each one. With 347 alleged contradictions, I would have little time to do anything other than respond to contradictions.
When you are confronted with a contradiction, there are at least four approaches you could take. First, point out the nature of a contradiction. A contradiction means that the Bible teaches ‘A and -A.’ If one narrative says “There were three angels at the tomb,” and another says “There were two angels,” that is not strictly a contradiction because three entails two. Second, have a handle on Christian theology. Passages like John 1:18 which says that nobody has seen God at any time might seem to conflict with Jacob wrestling with God if you do not know anything about the trinity. Third, analyze the context and discern what the author is saying. Fourth, point out that even if the contradiction prevails, Christianity would obtain because there are different models of biblical inspiration.
Evolution Has Overthrown Biblical Creation
For thousands of years, people believed in a supernatural creation event. The Bible describes man and woman being created from the dust of the ground. Every animal has a progenitor that was created ex nihilo. Now, informed by modern science, we know that the earth is not six thousand years old and that man is just one branch on the tree of life, evolving from a single-celled organism. But this knowledge conflicts with the biblical narrative. If we cannot believe what it says about creation, then we can question what it says about salvation.
I think there is a sense in which we can be sympathetic with the atheist here. Some may have fallen away as a result of Neo-Ussherian influence. However, I think there are other perspectives that are more plausible than the young-earth model. Genesis 1 has the earmarks of a metaphor. Probably the most significant earmark would be the old problem of the sun. If the sun appeared on day four, then we could not have morning and evening in any significant sense. This, along with several other indicators, suggest that the best way to interpret Genesis 1 is as a series of metaphors for God’s creative activities.
Further, as a model, theistic evolution generally outstrips both naturalistic evolution and Neo-Ussherianism. It makes more sense of the biblical data, possesses greater explanatory scope and makes sense of man’s cognitive faculties.
Prayers Can Be Scientifically Tested
Jesus instructed his disciples about the efficacy of prayer. He made powerful statements, like what we find in Matthew 21:22. It reads, “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.” But this is a specific statement of what we will see in the natural world. Therefore it can be tested. However, when tested in a scientific setting, researchers conclude that prayer had no impact. This seems to disconfirm that prayer is as the Bible describes.
I think the problem with this argument is that there are too many variables that cannot be controlled. Researchers cannot know who is else is praying for a subject, so it may be that everybody is enjoying the benefits of prayer. Another important variable is God himself, whose will is not subject to scientific examination. Beyond that, there have been scientific studies with different results. I am not necessarily endorsing them, because as I said, there are too many uncontrollable variables. But there are different studies with different results.
The Problem of The Unevangelized
The Great Commission provides one of the central practices of the Christian Church. It is our moral duty to share the gospel (Matthew 28:19). Yet there are people in the world who will never hear the gospel. Imagine that there is a tribe in the Brazilian Rainforest and they never had the opportunity to hear the gospel. In this case, they would be condemned despite that they did not even know about the Messiah. Think of a Jew who was born under the Old Covenant and died under the New Covenant without ever knowing that the Messiah had come and gone. What is her fate? It seems unjust that she would be condemned for this lack of knowledge.
I should first point out that people are condemned for their sins. Jesus is the solution to their sin, but God does not owe anybody a chance at redemption. It is sort of like if I owned a building and one of my tenants gambled away their rent. I could mercifully waive their rent for that month, but I do not owe them that. I would also but just in evicting them. Similarly, God would be just in condemning those who are guilty.
Further, it might be that God knows that even if he reached these people with the gospel, they would not respond positively. Perhaps God wants to focus on those that he knows will respond. It is sort of like if I were going to call you. If I know that you are not going to answer, I would not bother calling. I would call someone else. If God knows that somebody is not going to answer, he would not bother calling. So I do not find the problem of the unevangelized particularly challenging.
The Trinity And The Death of Jesus
There are some aspects of Christianity that can be a little difficult to grasp. For example, if Jesus was God, then to whom was he praying? Why did he offer a sacrifice? To whom did he sacrifice himself? However, these are pretty basic questions that will be covered by any pastor worth his salt. But if these questions are left unanswered, people will begin to think that there are no answers.
That may be why the I Survived Christianity page shared this meme, with the quote, “How absurd it would be for a god to sacrifice himself to himself to find a loophole to a rule that he created.” There are two fundamental errors about the basic tenets of Christianity in that one sentence. First, God did not sacrifice himself to himself. That statement implies that there is only one person in the Godhead. In contrast, Christians have historically believed in what is known as the Nicene Creed, which expresses the doctrine of the trinity. The trinity states that there is one God who is eternally present in three persons. God is the what. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are the who. On the cross, the Son sacrificed himself to the Father.
Second, God is not trying to find a loophole to a rule that he created, as if righteousness was something arbitrary. Righteousness is not something that God dictates but rather an aspect of who he is. It is not as though he could just cancel a rule and therefore would not need to sacrifice himself. If he did that, he would be unrighteous. This was pointed out by the apostle Paul in Romans 3:25. Paul explained, “…Christ Jesus, whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed.” (Emphasis mine).
The question that might come to mind is why it should be a problem for God to pass over sins. Paul argued that Christ’s death proved that God truly was righteous, because in previous generations, it seemed as though God had passed over sins. Typically, Christian apologists will utilize the illustration of the judge in the courtroom. If a guilty criminal was standing before a court judge, the judge would have to render a guilty verdict and sentence the man to serve his time. If the judge knew that the man was guilty and he let him go, he would be a corrupt, immoral judge. God is not a corrupt and immoral judge. When people sin, a punishment must be rendered because he is righteous. So, how is it that these sins could be passed over? Paul writes that God displayed Christ Jesus publicly as a propitiation for the sins of his people. He bore the penalty that his people rightly deserve. We are guilty criminals, and Jesus paid our fine. But that is not arbitrary. It is a manifestation of righteousness.
Is Original Sin A Form of Bullying?
Circulating atheists memes often relate to religious hypocrisy. This would also be supported by the title of the I Survived Christianity Facebook page. The implication is obvious. Christianity is something taxing that needs to be survived. In a meme about the doctrine of original sin, the author comments that teaching an individual that she is a sinner is a form of bullying. Bullying occurs when somebody attempts to influence or intimidate another person to get something out of them. I suppose the author thinks that by referring to their congregation as sinners, they might be able to domineer over them and persuade them to give tithes or something. Perhaps the author experienced something like that.
The doctrine of original sin is not a resource for a holy person to take advantage of others. In fact, integral to the doctrine is the idea that everybody is a sinner, even the person who is teaching about original sin. The apostle Paul referred to himself as the “chief of sinners” (1st Timothy 1:15) because if an individual reflects on her own heart, she will quickly realize that she is not perfect. That is essentially what we mean when we say that all are sinners. It might be easily to compare ourselves to friends and think that we are basically good people. But when we contemplate God’s perfect standard as reflected in Scripture, it becomes easy to recognize how we all fail. So while it could be abused to bully others, the teacher who is faithful to Christ will quickly remind the audience that he is preaching to himself as well as everyone else.
Objections To The Moral Argument
The apologetic task is typically to demonstrate that some aspects of the observable universe are more plausible given theism than naturalism. Perhaps the most potent of these is the moral realm. Most of us recognize that there is a genuine choice between right and wrong. But it seems difficult to derive that objective standard from the actual world. We will argue that there must be a standard of right and wrong that transcends humanity and would remain in tact even if everybody agreed that some principle were incorrect. Even if everybody agreed that theft were okay, it would still be wrong. We argue that this makes more sense if God exists. But there are some accounts of moral values and duties that avoid making reference to God, and a few assessments of the moral argument that deflect its power.
Morality Is A Brute Fact
A brute fact is a state of affair that requires no explanation for its existence. It just is, and that’s all. A variation of brute facts would be the view that some facts simply cannot have an explanation. Many atheists would appeal to the Big Bang as evidence of this (which will be covered when I visit objections to the cosmological arguments). This is essentially a denial of the principle of sufficient reason (which states that everything requires an explanation). Some atheists have suggested that objective moral values and duties are just brute facts.
Perhaps the most important objection to this view is that there is no reason for us to obey moral values that are just brute facts. Moral duties cannot be imposed by the abstract. If you were to find a piece of paper in the middle of the woods outlining a list of rules, you likely would not feel compelled to respect its authority. It is just an abstract list with nothing from which to derive its authority. In the same way, moral values that are just brute facts have no compulsion. I should have no reason to hold a moral value that is just a brute fact.
Morality Is An Evolutionary Characteristic
Evolutionary biology is probably the most popular accounting of moral values and duties on the blogosphere. In the course of human evolution, people learned that it is beneficial to cooperate with one another. Through the generations, we internalized these sanctions and know now that it is wrong to bring others to harm. With this accounting, any divine explanation would be regarded as superfluous.
But this is not actually an account of objective moral values and duties. Stephen Jay Gould pointed out that contingency is not emphasized heavily enough in evolutionary thought. If we were to rewind the tape of the history of life, a completely different set of values might have emerged. A set of values that is contingent on evolutionary biology could not be objective because of the contingent nature of human evolution. Beyond that problem, this account would also run into the same problem as the brute fact hypothesis. There is no reason for us to be obedient to values when we learn that they are derived from the evolutionary process.
Finally and critically, this would not be an account of moral ontology. It would be an account of moral epistemology – how we come to know moral values. Evolution may inform us about morals, but it is not an ontological basis for morals.
The Pain/Pleasure Continuum
Some atheist thinkers have tried to provide a foundation for moral values in the pain/pleasure continuum. Sam Harris refers to this as the moral landscape. Any action that causes unnecessary pain in another human being is thought to be evil, while any action that brings pleasure is thought to be good.
There are a few problems with this model. First, it fails to confront the value problem. The reason that it is wrong to inflict pain on another human being is that she has value. But why should we think that they have value? If human beings are just the byproduct of the evolutionary process, then they have no more value than any other member of the animal kingdom. Bringing pleasure to a human being is something like bringing pleasure to a goat.
Second, there are counterexamples to the pain/pleasure continuum. A sociopath would enjoy inflicting pain on other people. She would be evil yet at the height of pleasure on the continuum. Further, we can imagine a possible world that is only inhabited by sociopaths so that pleasure is only derived from doing evil. So I do not think that the pain/pleasure continuum can be a sufficient basis for moral values and duties.
The Is/Ought Fallacy
The is/ought fallacy occurs when an ought is derived from an is. A church might say of their tradition, “This is the way we have always done it, therefore it is the way we ought to do it.” Atheists sometimes suggest that the moral argument is guilty of the same sort of reasoning. We are deriving our moral duties (an ought) from God’s nature (an is).
I do not think that is the case. We do not derive moral duties from God’s nature. We derive them from God’s commands, which derive from his nature. The objection conflations moral values with moral duties. It is sort of like if you were pulled over by a police officer. The police officer would give you a moral command to slow down and you would have to obey it. His authority is based on US Law. The US Law is an “is” in the same sense that the atheist is using it, yet we are deriving an ought from it, and we are justified in doing so.
During the debate between William Lane Craig and Alex Rosenberg, Rosenberg said that the moral argument had been refuted several millennia ago. Socrates asked Euthyphro, “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” Both of these options would exclude the conclusion of the moral argument. In the former, God recognizes some action as virtuous in and of itself and therefore he is not the ontological foundation for moral values. In the latter, God just arbitrarily decided what is good, which is a pretty unsavory conclusion for most of us.
Most apologists would respond that this is an example of a false dichotomy. A false dichotomy occurs when two options are mistakenly presented as the only options. In this case, we would deny both the former and the latter. Goodness is an attribute of God. He is not recognizing an external goodness or arbitrarily deciding what is good. He is conveying his character. So while the Euthyphro Dilemma does raise an interesting question in its own right, I do not know that it can be overextended to apply to the moral argument.
Is Christianity The Only Thing Keeping Us From Murder?
The moral argument for the existence of God will usually require a host of qualifications and clarifications because it is very easy to misunderstand. It essentially states that only theism has the resources to account for objective moral values and duties.
It does not claim that atheists cannot be good people or that if I were to suddenly become an atheist, that I would start murdering people. It is about consistency and what can fit into naturalistic paradigm. Objective moral values and duties cannot fit into a naturalistic paradigm. They transcend humanity. If a proponent of this argument says something like, “What is to stop them from murdering someone?” they are not saying that atheists lack empathy. They are saying that atheism lacks an ontological foundation for moral values and duties.
There Could Be Some Moral Theory That We Haven’t Thought Of
I think this sort of objection flows from the God of The Gaps argument. Remember that a God of The Gaps argument occurs when you attempt to fill some unexplained scientific phenomenon with the divine. Similarly, the objector would say that the moral argument fills an unexplained philosophical phenomenon with God. When we eventually think of a moral theory that provides objective moral values and duties without appealing to God, these moral arguments will look silly.
But imagine that when responding to the Euthyphro Dilemma, I just asserted that it was a false dichotomy without providing an alternative explanation. That would not be very convincing. What we can say is that we have a model that accounts for objective moral values and duties while naturalism does not. If naturalism can come up with a model, then we should assess it. But until that time comes, we are rational to believe in God based on the available evidence. It is a probabilistic assessment.
Objections To The Cosmological Arguments
While many apologists will find the moral arguments to be the most convincing, I am more persuaded by the cosmological arguments. Akin to the moral arguments, the cosmological arguments focus on basic intuitions and formulate them into logical arguments. They focuse on the premise that nothingness has no causal powers. This theme is central to the Leibnizian and Kalam renderings. Though they have subtle nuances, the cosmological arguments can be briefly summarized thusly: God is the best explanation for the origin and existence of the universe. As Leibniz said, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”
We Are Still Looking For A Natural Explanation
Harking back to the God of The Gaps theme, atheists will sometimes suggest that apologists are being a little too hasty. Scientists are still trying to figure out what brought the universe into existence. When they do, that will fill another gap in our knowledge. It basically assumes that God is being used an explanatory hypothesis.
Of course, experienced apologists know that this is not how the arguments are rendered. The Kalam Cosmological Argument is deductive, meaning that the premises have to be challenged if the conclusion is shown to be unwarranted. Further, the argument assesses what it would mean to explain the universe. It would have to be beyond matter, energy, space, nature and time. This means that it would have to be supernatural, timeless, spaceless and immaterial.
It would also have to be personal because only a person could chose to create the universe a finite time ago. If it were an impersonal, mechanical process, we would expect the universe to be eternal. If the cause is eternally present, then the effect should also be eternally present. We can therefore deduce that there is a supernatural, personal creator of the universe.
It is also worth noting that there could logically never be a natural explanation for nature. That is something like saying that a woman could give birth to herself. The universe did not have any causal properties prior to its existence. So if we grant the premise that the universe had a beginning, we should also grant that it has a supernatural explanation.
When Did God Create The Big Bang?
When we use phrases like “before the Big Bang,” we are essentially talking nonsense or using a figure of speech to make a point. It is something like referring to north of the north pole. There was no actual time before the Big Bang. It is difficult to conceptualize, and any attempt on our part to think about it is purely a figment of our imagination. Atheists will argue that a creation event requires a when. If we say that God created the universe, that entails a sequence of events, which is precluded by Big Bang cosmology.
I do not think this problem is as challenging as it sounds. God created the universe at the moment of its creation. It was at t = 1 x 10-43, about 13.7 billion years ago. We do not talk about God creating the universe before the Big Bang because that would not make any sense. He created the universe at the moment of its creation.
The Multiverse Accounts For The Big Bang Without God
Some eminent scientists do believe that we are living in a multiverse. Our universe is just one part in an assembly of universes. Atheists will use the multiverse to explain the creation event. The universe just emerged out of the multiverse.
However, this would not be a serious challenge to the Kalam Cosmological Argument or the Leibnizian Cosmological argument. When defending the former, we would just take it back a step and say that the multiverse must be finite as well because an actual infinite is incoherent. If there were an infinite amount of moments between your birth and your death, your death would never arrive. You would live forever. Similarly, if an infinite amount of moments have passed, then today would have never arrived. Therefore even the multiverse would have to be finite.
Further, the multiverse would not seriously challenge the Leibnizian argument either. The Leibnizian argument focuses on the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which is to say that everything that exists has an explanation of its existence (even God). Instead of asking, “Why does the universe exist?” we would ask “Why does the multiverse exist?” So in both cases, the same problems arise. The only significant difference is that we do not know anything about the science of the multiverse. But that is not our problem, because we would just rejoin that this is because there is no scientific evidence for the multiverse.
Science Is Out On The Big Bang
The might be the most substantive aspect of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. It brings us into the pervading philosophical debate that went on for centuries. Theists would say that the universe had a beginning while atheists said that it was eternal. Today, there has been a shift in that debate in that it focuses more on science than philosophy. Many popular atheists suggest that the science is out on the Big Bang. Even the Richard Dawkins Foundation published an article titled No Big Bang?
We can almost sympathize with our atheists friends. As Dr. Robert Jastrow said in a 1982 interview, “Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner.” Big Bang cosmology sounds a lot like a creation event. It is only natural that they would oppose it. But it does seem like the scientific community supports Big Bang cosmology. It has been the prevailing model for 80 years. It is evidenced by the expansion of the universe and the redshift. While the scientist would not make any absolute statements about the veracity of the Big Bang theory, they would say that it is the best model.
It should also be noted that Big Bang cosmology does not rely solely on scientific evidence. As I indicated above, the concept of an infinite number of things leads to very challenging logical contradictions. Probably the most interesting is Hilbert’s Hotel. Hilbert’s Hotel thoughtfully applies the concept of infinity to the actual world. The mathematician who thought of it, David Hilbert, believed that it proved that the infinite is nothing more than a concept. It can be useful in mathematics, but should not be thought of as an actual entity. With that being said, the Kalam Cosmological Argument is supported by a firm foundation of philosophical evidence that will hold sway even if the science is called into question.
Krauss’s Quantum Vacuum
Dr. Lawrence Krauss is a physicist who has emerged as a leading atheist voice. He proposed this idea that the quantum vacuum challenges the Principle of Sufficient Reason and provides a naturalistic explanation for the existence of the universe. When responding to Leibniz’s question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Krauss makes the provocative claim that the quantum vacuum is itself nothing. Since we see particles emerging from the quantum vacuum, seemingly uncaused, we can apply this model to the beginning of the universe. The origin was a quantum fluctuation that expanded and became what we see today.
Careful readers will notice that Krauss’s answer does not really address Leibniz’s question. It does not explain why something came from nothing. Leibniz was talking about what Krauss calls a “simple” nothing, which is non-being. He is just redefining terms to smuggle in quantum physics. In fact, he admits as much in the fourth preface of his book A Universe From Nothing. That is precisely why secular physicists such as Dr. David Albert have written scathing critiques of Dr. Krauss’s work, suggesting that his religious critics are correct.
Objections To The Historical Jesus
Jesus is the center of the Christian religion. He is the “chief cornerstone” of the church. Atheists know that if they go after the historical Jesus, it will drop a proverbial bomb on our theology and practice. Some of the objections take a scholarly form while others are just regurgitations of internet memes. But since this is the Mega-Guide to atheist arguments and objections, I will respond to them indiscriminately.
There Is No Evidence That Jesus Existed
Christianity is pretty unique as a religion in that it actually makes historical claims that can be investigated. The Christian sources claim that Jesus of Nazareth said that he brought the kingdom of God. He performed miracles, forgave sins, claimed to be God himself and died by crucifixion. Three days later, he rose from the dead. These are all historical claims that can be assessed based on the evidence that we have. A bare-bones version of the historical Jesus would display an itinerant preacher who was executed by the Romans. Atheists will suggest that there is no evidence indicating that any of this actually happened.
The most significant problem with this hypothesis is that it does not treat the gospels as a historian would treat them. It regards them as a purely religious text and hastily dismisses them as unreliable. The atheist might say that there are contradictions in the gospels and therefore we cannot trust what it says. But as apologists know, a document can be reliable even if it has contradictions. The task of the historian is to discern a historical core. They will apply several investigative methods, like the criterion of embarrassment or the criterion of dissimilarity.
The criterion of embarrassment states that if an author wrote about something that would be embarrassing, it is unlikely to be a fabrication. If you are lying, you do not intentionally embarrass yourself. The crucifixion is probably the chief example. A crucified messiah overthrew all Jewish expectations and gave the impression that their messiah was under the curse of God. Since this was transmitted about Jesus, it is more likely that he was actually crucified. That entails that he existed.
On the other and, the criterion of dissimilarity states that if something Jesus said or did is not found in the Christian tradition that followed, it is likely to be authentic. Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man from Daniel 7. But in the writing of the apostles, they never refer to him by that name. It is unique to the gospels. We can therefore discern that the Son of Man sayings are probably authentic to Jesus. That also entails that Jesus existed.
Josephus Was Forged/Not A Contemporary
While the gospels and writings of Paul are the primary evidence of the historical Jesus, there is some secondary evidence, such as the writing of Josephus. He referred to Jesus as a wiseman who was murdered and spawned the Christian movement. But atheists will typically mount two objections. First, it was completely a forgery. Second, Josephus was not a contemporary of Jesus so it does not matter.
Regarding the first objection, scholars a little more nuanced. They do not think that the entire entry was a forgery. They think that some overly pious Christian added a few extra details. But there are a few aspects of it that would be unlikely to be forged by a Christian. For example, a Christian would know that Jesus did not have Greek followers. It is likely that Josephus was retrojecting his situation onto the past. Second, he seems to regard “the tribe of Christians” with a little disdain. They still have not stopped following this dead man. There are several other indicators, but that should be sufficient for our purposes.
On the other hand, some atheists will suggest that since Josephus was not a contemporary, we cannot trust his entry anyway. But that entails that the standard for a historian is that she has to be a contemporary of the subject of her writing. If that standard were applied universally, there would be very little that we could know about the past. A modern historian would not be able to write accurately about Abe Lincoln, for example.
Jesus Was A Copy of Pagan Myths
While this hypothesis has been all but abandoned in scholarly circles, it still circulates around the internet. Atheists will suggest that there are parallels between the stories of Jesus and the mystery religious that were popular in surrounding cultures. The apostles must have known about these myths of dying and rising gods. They composed the resurrection narrative on based on them. They might suggest that other religions instituted a totem meal akin to communion, had a virgin birth, twelve disciples, and other similarities.
There are two fundamental problems with this explanation. First, Christianity was not a new religion. It was an offshoot of Judaism. The original Christians were thoroughly Jewish. Men such as Paul, Peter, James, and John would be unlikely candidates to be influenced by a Greco-Roman myth. These myths were known in Judaism and they were thought to be idolatrous.
Further, and critically, it is difficult to establish any real parallels. There are certainly myths about dying and rising gods. But they are not thought to be actual events that occurred in history. The gods just live on in another world. Also, in the case of Osiris, his resurrection account is just nothing like the resurrection of Jesus. His scattered bones were collected by Isis, who reassembled them and instigated a resurrection. It seems implausible that this would give rise to the belief that Jesus rose from the dead. Other parallels are equally as illegitimate.
We Have Copies of Copies of Copies
This argument is most prominent in Dr. Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus. I should begin by saying that I like Dr. Ehrman for the most part. I simply disagree with his argument. He suggests that the transmission of the New Testament makes it implausible that what we have now resembles what the original said. When a manuscript is copied, a scribe will make mistakes. Then the next scribe will make more mistakes. The chain of custody eventually corrupts the manuscript so that we do not know what the originals said.
Well, even Dr. Ehrman would admit that the majority of the mistakes do not matter. Many cannot even be translated from Greek to English. Also, the fact that we have so many manuscripts provides the capability to reassemble the originals. Imagine that I write the same sentence twice. The first time, I write “Teh dog is brown.” The second time, I write, “The dog is brwon.” In both sentences I made a mistake. But you can check these sentences against each other and discern what I intended to communicate. The fact that there are so many mistakes like that is outweighed by the number of manuscripts that we have to check the mistakes against. I recommend this series assessing Dr. Ehrman’s work.
Objections To The Teleological Argument
The teleological argument states that there are certain aspects of the universe that are better explained by the design hypothesis. Typically, apologists will appeal to the fine-tuning of the universe or the DNA molecule. Imagine that there were hundreds of cosmic dials that determined whether life existed. Each dial has to be turned to precisely the right number for the universe to permit life. That illustration reflects what we find in the actual world. There is a host of cosmological constants and conditions given in the initial Big Bang singularity that cannot be altered even minutely. If they were, life would not exist. The apologists argue that the best explanation of this is design.
The DNA molecule has similar fingerprints of design. On page 116 of The Blind Watchmaker, Professor Richard Dawkins said that within the molecule, there is a rough informational equivalent to 100 encyclopedias. Information would require an intelligent source for the same reason that a message were to come from a mind. We recognize intelligence in the book for the same reason that we should recognize it in the DNA molecule. Yet atheists do have some objections to these two renderings of the teleological argument.
Complexity Does Not Entail Design
Sometimes atheists interpret the teleological argument to be saying that because something is complex, it therefore must have had a designer. We might forgive them of this interpretation because apologists sometimes say that. A high level of complexity does not necessarily entail design. Scribbles on a piece of paper can be complex, but that does not mean they require design.
What we are saying is that there is specified complexity in the universe. Specified complexity is design with a pattern. It is sort of like if you were named Bob and you born in 1994. You went to the DMV and they issued a license plate that said BOB1994. Obviously you would not think that the letters were randomly assigned that sequence. Similarly, the universe has specific prerequisites for permitting life. All of those prerequisites are met. In the same way that we know that BOB1994 is not random, we also know that the design of the universe is not random.
One might suggest that BOB1994 could possibly come about by chance, and the fine-tuning of our universe could possibly come about by chance. Granted. But it is more plausible to believe in the design hypothesis.
But Different Lifeforms Could Have Evolved
This might be one of the better objections to commit itself to the atheist blogosphere. The objector will suggest that we evolved to fit the universe. For example, when it comes to local fine-tuning, we might appeal to something like other planets in our solar system functioning as cosmic shields protecting us from entities colliding with the earth. But if it were not for that, other lifeforms would evolve somewhere else under different conditions. They would have adapted to those conditions and it would seem like the conditions were finely-tuned. Dr. Victor Stenger pointed out that the fine-tuning argument is sort of like saying that the hand was created perfectly for the glove. But in reality, the glove was designed around the hand.
I think this objection overlooks a few key elements of the fine-tuning argument. If we were only dealing with local fine-tuning, then it would be a good objection. But there are universal conditions given in the Big Bang. If the force of gravity were altered, planets would not be able to form. The expansion rate of the universe is another constant. There are only a few distinct zones and a very brief window in the history of the universe in which life could exist. These constants are not specific to carbon-based life-forms. They are universal.
Fine-Tuning Should Not Surprise Us – We Are Here
This objection is slightly related to the last one. Like the last, it suggests that we simply adapted to the environment. For us to be surprised is sort of like being surprised that a cookie adapted to its mold. We are alive, so the discovery that we can be alive should be not too surprising.
Well, the fine-tuning argument does not rely so much on the fact that it is surprising. I am not suggesting that I am surprised as part of the argument. Dr. Richard Swinburne has said this trivialization is not particularly helpful. He thinks it is sort of like if somebody were sentence to death by firing squad. Imagine that during the execution, every single marksman missed him and he walked out free. It would be absurd for him to say, “Well I should not be surprised that they missed. I am alive, after all.” He would be right to question why he is alive giving the unlikelihood of that happening by chance. Similarly, we should be right to question why we are alive for the same reason.
RNA Produces DNA
The other teleological argument that I mentioned was about the DNA molecule. Atheists will point out that there is a naturalistic explanation. There was a replicator that produced genetic copies of itself. Eventually, the DNA molecule was formed. The most the theist could do is to say that God guided the process. But in that case, God would be a superfluous addition.
However, resolving this problem might not be as simple as pointing out the natural processes. Our argument is not that there are no natural processes. It is that the natural processes require intelligent guidance. That does not make God superfluous because he is necessary to produce the informational content. If I am writing with a pen and paper, you know the naturalistic process by which that occurs. But it also requires design from a being who knows how to produce information. Similarly, we know the naturalistic processes behind the evolution of DNA. But the informational content still requires that there was an overseeing intelligence.
About The Author
Jim Boucher is a Christian apologist and the author of ThereforeGodExists.com. He has a Bachelor’s In Religion from Liberty University. (He chose that school just to trigger atheists). Beyond that, his articles have been featured on the Reasonable Faith podcast. Jim also has a YouTube channel where he hosts weekly discussion panels about philosophical and theological topics. Finally, he can be found writing nonsense on Twitter.