While strolling through the scenic byways of the Internet, I came across an article by Austin Cline at atheism.about.com entitled Ten Questions to Ask Christians. I was intrigued. After all, I am a Christian. Mr. Cline opens with a statement:
Sometimes it seems like every Christian with an internet connection thinks that they are have the skills and knowledge to become evangelists to religious skeptics.
To a small extent, I agree with him. Certainly, there are some Christians who are doing apologetics on the Internet who haven't taken the time to aquire the knowledge needed to be good apologists to Internet skeptics. But then, many of these Internet skeptics who are out there evangelizing for their atheistic belief system have also failed to do their homework beyond acquring a few simplistic objections that they wrongly think end the discussion. Be that as it may, Mr. Cline continues:
I know this isn't literally true, but my email suggests that it almost could be. It might help to have a few questions or points which would get such Christians to stop and reflect on their assumptions, beliefs, and arguments.
Ah, I see the tactic that Mr. Cline is leading to. Come up with a few points or questions that can be given to the otherwise ill-prepared among the atheists to use to try to win points against those in the Christian community who are also ill-prepared. It is kinda' like slipping someone the answers to a test so they don't have to study.
So, what exactly are the questions or points that will rock Christians on their heels allowing the skeptic to be comfortable in the knowledge that she has posed some serious issue to the Christian? Mr. Cline cites another Internet skeptic who has listed ten such questions, but Mr. Cline only provides four on his site -- the four that Mr. Cline apparently thinks are the most interesting or challenging to a Christian. Let's examine them one at a time.
3. Fact or Allegory. The Bible says the Earth is between 6,000 and 8,000 years old, that it was created in 7 days, and that Man is made of dirt and Woman a piece of Man. Most churches today say that this is allegory. What passages of the Bible support it all being just allegory?
To begin with, the Bible doesn't say that the Earth is between 6,000 and 8,000 years old. The Bible does give some genealogies in Genesis which, if you add up the numbers, would put the time of Adam at around that time. However, it doesn't take a lot of work to find that the Bible's genealogies are far from exhaustive in their list of individuals. For example, a comparision of the genealogies listed in Matthew and Luke will show that genealogies are given (just like most things in the Bible) for a purpose, and the names included are directed to that purpose. Thus, most of Christianity understands that the genealogies of the Bible can not be added up to arrive at a year that the earth was created. And if this method isn't used to calculate a date, the Bible is actually silent on the age of the Earth.
The Bible does say that the Earth was created in seven days in Genesis 1. However, I think everyone knows that the word "day" in that chapter is subject to interpretation. There is nothing in the Bible that requires "day" to be interpreted as a 24-hour day, and there are good Biblical reasons to believe it shouldn't be so interpreted. While I believe proper Biblical interpretation would read "day" as "age" (such as the word "day" is used in English when speaking of the "day of the dinosaurs"), I understand that some Christians continue to believe each of the days was a single 24 hour period. I won't quibble over this since they could be right. But I would simply contend point out that one needs to be careful about what the Bible teaches before responding too quickly to this point.
The comment then notes that the Bible teaches that "Man is made of dirt and Woman a piece of Man." No, it teaches that man was made by God from the dust of the ground, not that man is made of dirt. And the woman is not a piece of man, but rather God used a the rib of Adam as the starting point for creating a woman.
Really, if you are going to raise these issues, the skeptic should at least be correct in how they are addressed. But then, the point of this question isn't to really examine or understand Christian belief -- it is to belittle those beliefs by making them appear stupid in order to set up the idea that most Christian churches think that they are allegory. Personally, I don't know that most Christian churches do see them as allegory, but there are certainly some that do. But that leads to the kicker, "What passages of the Bible support it all being just allegory?" While I don't believe they are "just allegory", the answer that any informed Christian in those types of churches should be able to give is that there is an entire field of study known as hermeneutics that deals with Biblical interpretation. Hermeneutics recognizes that the Bible, like all books, is a written communication that uses a mixture of the richness of all human communications such as colloquialisms, poetry, humor, figurative language and ... yes, even allegory.
So, in a nutshell, if I were posed this question I would simply explain that not every Christian agrees with the idea that the verses in question are allegory, but those that do use the tools of Biblical interpretation to arrive at that position. I might even point them to a good book on Biblical hermeneutics such as Biblical Words and Their Meaning by Moisés Silva.
4. Needle’s Eye. Jesus said rich men don’t go to Heaven easily and even implied that it wasn’t possible. Why are so many people with money and property Christian if they are probably going to Hell?
Interestingly, Mr. Cline says that he "particularly like[s]" this question. I find this one particularly interesting because it actually demonstrates how skeptics often try to twist words. Did Jesus say that it wasn't possible for rich people to get to heaven? Of course he didn't, which is why the writer has to say that Jesus "implied" it. But what exactly did Jesus say? The verses in question can be found in all three of the synoptic Gospels, and I randomly chose the Mark version of the account in Mark 10 beginning at verse 17. Jesus does say that it is difficult for a rich man to get into heaven, but the focus of the story is Jesus' concluding remarks. Picking up the account in verse 23:
And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, "How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!"
The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
They were even more astonished and said to Him, "Then who can be saved?"
Looking at them, Jesus said, "With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God."
The point? The rich can enter heaven in the same way as the poor -- through the work of God. See how some of these things resolve themselves by simply reading the text?
9. Turn the other Cheek. Jesus instructs the saved to love and to forgive even deadly insults (Matthew 5:44: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” et cetera). Why do no prominent Christian leaders to follow this?
No prominent Christian leaders follow this? Really? Has the author of this question surveyed all "prominent Christian leaders"? Can the author show me a study that proves this? Or is this question simply an anecdotal overgeneralization based upon the fact that some Christian leaders don't fully live up to the teachings of Jesus on this point?
10. Free will. Freedom to choose is given to man by God. Man has two main choices: 1) accept the Love of God and, upon death, go to paradise for eternity, 2) Refuse God and, upon death, just die, be utterly damned. How is that freedom of choice when it is the same thing as a gun to your head?
Interesting question coming from someone who doesn't believe. I mean, the author apparently doesn't feel like having this so-called gun to his head has compelled him to accept Christ. If people truly lacked free will in the sense used in this question, there would be no skeptics.
I end by repeating what I said earlier: there are some Christians who are doing apologetics on the Internet who haven't taken the time to aquire the knowledge needed to be good apologists to Internet skeptics. But then, many of these Internet skeptics who are out there evangelizing for their atheistic belief system have also failed to do their homework beyond acquring a few simplistic objections that they wrongly think end the discussion. These questions are clear examples of the latter.