Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Answers to Common Objections to Christianity

Objection #1

How do you know absolute truth exists?

When we talk about how to determine truth, this is called epistemology.  If we want to know if it is reasonable to make an absolute truth claim, such as those concerning God, absolute moral standards, or the way by which a person receives eternal salvation, I think the whole question is necessarily predicated by whether or not God exists. I would agree that for mankind to be able to know an absolute standard of morality would be quite impossible without God. Before I dive into defending the existence of God, I would like to look first at the consequences of a reality with no God, or in essence no absolute truth.

While one might attempt to claim that truth can be relative, is that position defensible? For example, is mutilating a living infant for the fun of it wrong or evil in all circumstances? If there is no such thing as an absolute morality, then you may not like what someone has done and society may condemn the person but there would be nothing morally wrong about it. Why is that? In Greg Koukl’s book on moral relativism, he lists the top 7 things the moral relativist cannot logically do:

1) Accuse Others of Wrong-Doing
2) Complain About the Problem of Evil
3) Place Blame or Accept Praise
4) Claim Anything Is Unfair or Unjust
5) Improve Their Morality
6) Hold Meaningful Moral Discussions
7) Promote the Obligation of Tolerance

Think about it.  On what basis could a person make such claims devoid of an objective moral standard? These statements are meaningless without an absolute fixed moral standard. If we believe there is such a things as any absolute moral right or wrong, it demands there be a absolute base moral standard, which requires an intelligent moral law giver. Any attempt to explain morality otherwise becomes circular reasoning and is self defeating. If one claims not to believe in absolute truth, then he has a lot of explaining to do since he lives in constant contradiction to this stated world view. It is simply an untenable philosophical position based on shear illusion without an objective point of reference.  Where would such an objective moral reference come from?  It would have to come from an intelligent moral first cause.  This first cause would have to have to be perfect in morality, eternal in order enact and enforce the standard, and all powerful in order to judge by it.

If God does not exist, then again, there is no rational basis for belief in any absolute truth or objective moral/ ethical value. Truth and morality are purely subjective for both the individual and society. We cannot speak in terms of any moral or absolute truths outside of an objective source.  Absolute truths are unchanged despite whether anyone accepts them.  In terms of morality, acts such as rape, murder, infidelity, lying, cheating, etc. cannot be considered intrinsically “wrong” without an absolute reference point. Yet, we are born with the intuitive understanding that all of the above are wrong.

If absolute truth does not exist and morality has somehow evolved and is therefore entirely relative, then all aforementioned “wrongs” could just as easily have evolved and turned out to be socially accepted as “good.” After all, if man is just the product of time, plus chance, plus matter (survival of the fittest), then it could be argued that murder is a good and necessary part of life. Social cleansing like the Holocaust could be argued to be for the betterment of society. So who gets to decide? Stalin, Hitler, Bin Laden and their ilk?

Any perception or claim that human morals have evolved must first make the sweeping assumption that there is no absolute moral standard. I would argue the logically this does not make sense and does not jive with the evidence and commonality of moral values across diverse cultures throughout history, which provide not only a logical but overwhelming evidential argument for an absolute foundational moral standard. While popular opinions and social morality can and does change on the peripheral (as we know from the diversity of laws and cultural practices and standards– one might argue an isolated society practiced cannibalism or child sacrifice), but this is not a successful argument against a foundational moral law. An absolute moral standard has always been present, and we can observe this fact through the knowledge that every member of every society that has ever existed has been keenly aware of evil and good. How could they be aware of such things if there was not a point of reference that dictated what is just and unjust?

For more on this topic, see:

Objection #2

What about the contradictory truth claims of various world religions? What makes Christianity unique?

So how is Christian worldview distinctive and how do we know it is true? I think to understand the issue of absolute truth claims, a person must necessarily understand the law of non-contradiction. If two opposing views are found to contradict and both claim to be true, they logically cannot both be true at the same time and in the same way. World religions may appear to make similar claims (“all religions are basically the same” argument). This may be true superficially but for anyone who has actually examined the major world religions, they will find they differ greatly on nearly every foundational belief. When they do, the contradictory claim must be tested. This is the foundation for all truth testing. Truth by definition must be exclusive (as unpopular and inconvenient as that might be). If you cross the street and walk in front of a bus, you get hit or you don’t. Not both. Where two or more religions make a contradictory truth claim, it is logical that either one is right and the others are wrong or they are all wrong. Two or more cannot be right. If they are, then you do not have a contradictory claim. If you ask a woman if she is pregnant and she answers “yes, in fact I am pregnant” and then in the same conversation 2 minutes later you overhear her say to someone else, “I am not pregnant,” you will either assume the person misunderstood your original question, they are mentally ill, or in one instance or the other they have lied. You would not assume both contradictory statements are true because that would be illogical. Christianity makes exclusive truth claims along with every other religion on the planet because that is what truth is.

But what is different about Christianity? I would like to look at the apostles. We know from historical accounts outside of the Bible, and also within the Bible, that all of the apostles (except John who was exiled to Patmos) who were with Christ died martyr's deaths. This fact is not very convincing at first being that every religion has its fair share of martyrs. However there is something rather unique about the deaths of these particular men. Consider their relationship with Christ. All of these men knew Christ more intimately than any other human being. When Jesus was crucified every one of them fled the scene. These men came to the harsh reality that this guy they had been following for years just died in front of them, and now their lives were at stake. Imagine following a guy who said he was God, and then witnessing people spit on him and then kill him in an effortless manner. Seriously? Who would believe this guy? What happened next is amazing; you see these men who abandoned everything they believed turn and start a revolution that would shake the world. They did this on the basis of claiming that Christ rose from the grave, and that everything he said was true. This is massive for the reason that they had no motive for making such rash claims. They had already made their getaway. So we see that the apostles went to their deaths of their own will for something that they knew first hand was either true or false. No other religion offers such things as this. And to put the icing on the cake these men were no scholars, they certainly were not warriors, and by no means were they the most noble of men. These men were uneducated Galileans who held the lowest jobs in their society, but they were able to spur on the creation of a new world religion over night, based on the truth that they experienced when they met Christ after His resurrection.

There are other examples of facts that make Christianity unique and you can view those points in the reading suggested below. This viewpoint just happens to be the one that I prefer.

Objection #3

What proof can one offer for the hypothesis that God exists?

Belief must have a rational and logical basis, however most people who object to the existence of a God do so by claiming that the only rational basis or evidence that counts are those that can be tested with the scientific method. If a person seriously believes that is the only way to test a truth claim, he has a lot more reconciliation to do for the sake of his own philosophical consistency than just whether or not the God of the Bible is real. More than half of what he knows and believes is independent of the scientific method and cannot be tested or proven in a scientific experiment. In my experience, on matters of real science where the scientific method can be applied, there are no disagreements between science and Christianity. I can’t think of a single one. These do disagree on metaphysical, philosophical, and purely theoretical matters such as origins (how did life first begin), morality, macro evolution, and other claims that cannot be proved by the scientific method. I’d would like for a person who is an advocate of such claims offer even one scientifically based explanation, using the scientific method, for even one of these “scientific” beliefs. He cannot. They are believed by faith on the basis of a conclusion drawn from information, the same as the Christian faith.

Christians cannot prove with 100% scientific certainty that God exists. The same is true for the atheist who cannot claim with 100% certainty that God does not exist. So if we want to be honest, the issue is a matter of which worldview provides the most rational and probable explanation based on a culmination of evidences including but not limited to logical, philosophical, archaeological, historical, scientific, and experiential evidence available. You see on issues of origin, morality, meaning, and destiny the atheist is on the same footing as the Christian. Anyone who thinks otherwise is either ignorant or intentionally disingenuous on the topic.

Objection #4

Is the God of the Bible morally consistent?  Aren’t there times when breaking the moral code in the Bible would be justifiable?

Let's consider the second portion of the question first. I believe it is necessary for man to adhere to the standards set forth by God's Law in any circumstance because God is sovereign in all circumstances. I state this for the reason that in every situation there is never a time where it is permissible for man to take the interpretation of God's Law into his own hands, and thereby deem it an acceptable action to break the law. An example would be lying. If God is indeed sovereign then in all situations we must have faith that He will take a course of action that is cohesive with His Law. For instance when Christians bring Bibles into a country where they are prohibited, if questioned, they should not lie about their possession of the Bibles. When Rahab ( a prostitute mentioned in the Book of Joshua preceding the destruction of Jericho) lied to Her government about hiding the Israelite spies she was in the wrong. She is later blessed by God for receiving the spies in faith, but the Bible never gives any indication that she was just or counted righteous by God in her actions of lying about the presence of the spies (Hebrews 11:31, James 2:25). In any instance a firm believer in God must not worry about the outcome of telling the truth in any situation. If God is indeed sovereign, then the believer must trust God's Law in any situation. That means the believer must never sin in order to accomplish what he thinks is good, but instead the believer should attempt to carry out what is right in all situations trusting that God will accomplish what is just and righteous according to God's standard. When a person surrenders to Christ, he not only acknowledges his need to be redeemed from his rebellion, but also the person surrenders even his rights to God, and becomes a slave to Christ. We can witness this idea in the book of Acts where the apostles are put in dangerous situations because of their teachings, and they do not back down because they knew that God was in control of their lives no matter the outcome. The Apostles knew that they had surrendered everything in order that they may be called sons of the living God. This is a beautiful picture that portrays man surrendering everything so that he may be given all things. The idea of slavery is now, not a negative consequence of becoming a Christian, but instead is a celebrated surrender to the perfect will of God in one's life.

In answering the first portion of this question I would like to consider the sinfulness of Man. For one to truly grasp why the mass killings commanded by God were just, we must first look at the guilt of man vs. the Holiness of God. Sin is the act of rebellion against God's immutable righteous law. We as men have all fallen short of the commands of God, and therefore if God is to remain perfectly holy and just, punishment must be given out to those who abandon His law for their own desires. I would like to look at one popular account in the Bible in the book of Joshua where Israel destroys the city of Jericho and its inhabitants. In the first few chapters of Joshua we see Israel being commanded by God to go into Jericho and destroy the city. It is here where we meet a prostitute named Rehab. Rehab informs the Israelite spies that the entire city of Jericho was in fear of Israel for they knew of how Israel was conquering any nation that stood against it. She claims that they knew of the Lord, and His dealings with His people (Joshua 2:8-11). I mention this conversation because it is pivotal in seeing the reason for the destruction of Jericho. If God is indeed supreme ruler of the Universe, and if God has given man His law to abide by then certainly mankind deserves death for all of its infractions of that law. Jericho would fall into that category. To understand why God was just in His decision to destroy Jericho, the Amorites, and any other nation that was destroyed by the people of Israel, one must have a proper understanding of the serious attitude that God takes towards rebellion against His Law.

By definition God is perfect. He embodies perfectly what good is, and therefore His character cannot allow for injustice and rebellion to go unpunished. Jericho was not an innocent nation by any means in regard to the standards set forth by God. It is also evident from the story that the people of Jericho knew who Israel was, and also knew about the Lord of Israel. From other instances in scripture it is evident that God gives people chances to repent from their rebellion. In fact that is the story of the Bible. Jericho chose not to repent, and in accordance to His Law God decided to remove Jericho as a penalty for their sin. I am suggesting to you that because of mankind's sin we all deserve to be destroyed, but thankfully God allows each of us an opportunity to repent of our sins, and allow Him to Justify us. All God asks for is a repentant heart not a perfect person. Jericho had that chance, but chose to reject it. God by necessity in order to maintain His Holy Nature must punish the unjust. However because of God's perfect Love mankind is able to repent and turn to Him for what only He can do. And that is Justify us for our sin. This idea of God's Holy wrath toward sin, and God's perfect Love for His people can be captured in the beauty of the Cross. It was at the Cross that God executed His wrath on Christ for the sins of the entire race of mankind. It was also at the Cross that God portrayed the extent of His love for his creation by taking the penalty for our sins on Himself and providing a way by which we could be justified, and that is trusting Christ and surrendering to His will.
One might ask, so if God does exist, then why does He even allow evil to exist in the world?  That is a question that begins with the nature God, the creation of man with a free will, and takes us all the way to the cross of Jesus Christ where the sin of man was propitiated.

Again this is just one example, and I realize there are countless others in scripture where we see the Israelites committing what we may perceive from our vantage point as abominable acts. Below is a list of links that answer the other common objections that a person may have in regard to these accounts.
Is God a Moral Monster? (excellent article by Paul Copan) -
Christian Think Tank on whether the Christian God is good along with objections from the Old and New Testaments -
Genocide in the OT -

Ben Ward co-author of this Blog was a major contributor to this post.

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