CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

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 Mois├ęs 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.

17 comments:

So much of what too many atheists criticize about the Bible is actually either theirs or some warped brand of fundamentalist Christianity's interpretation of the Bible.

I find that some of those who argue on both sides of the debate make me weary with their misunderstandings.

Good post.

I agree Mike. What I've seen of Austin Cline I could say "so many atheists think if they have an internet connection they can be skeptical philosophers." Austin Kline cannot be.

Mike aka Monolithtma,

many atheists seem to have an issue with the fundamentalists; some them are leaders of a nation or a religious group and tell people for example that it is their God's will to go to offensive war and kill people... I think these blog post examples highlight the fact that Christians can not agree what the Bible says and often opposite views of pretty much anything can be justified by reading the Bible or another holy book.

Some Christians tell me that "Bible say that the Earth is between 6,000 and 8,000 years old" and others blog that "Bible doesn't say that the Earth is between 6,000 and 8,000 years old". Which Christian should I ask if to turn the other cheek ... an Anabaptist, my local calvinist minister or a Christian suicide bomber? BK did not seem to even want to address these issues, but try to mock writer. Perhaps a principle of charity could be used to interpret Austin Cline's statements to generate a meaningful discussion.

Peter,

I like a lot of what Austin has to say and agree with him quite frequently, since I am an atheist too.

Certainly, no two Christian groups agree 100%, some of them far, far less. That is one of the reasons I do not believe in the Christian God.

However, the point I was trying to make, and apparently didn't, is that I find it frustrating when both Christian and atheist apologists lump all their opponents together. Not all atheists believe the same things, and not all Christians believe the same things.

Austin makes a fine argument against fundamentalist Christianity in his post, but doesn't make the distinction of addressing fundamentalists. It's just a pet peeve of mine, forgive me. :-)

Peter,

I was more than a bit puzzled when I read your comment. Mr. Cline's blog (which is mostly a cut and paste from another site in this case) doesn't do anything to try to take into account that there are differences in understanding of the Biblical texts. It makes broad claims like "The Bible says the Earth is between 6,000 and 8,000 years old". I am the one who points out that there are differences in understanding but somehow I'm the one who doesn't want to address the issues?

And that's an overstatement to say that "pretty much anything can be justified by reading the Bible or another holy book." That's true only if you are willing to read black as white and visa versa. In truth, anything (including nationalism, democracy, evolution and atheism) can be used to justify anything under that broad of a principle. The fact that there are differing interpretations of some passages does not mean that "anything goes".

Christian suicide bombers? Is there such a thing? Maybe there has been a lunatic or two, but I sincerely doubt that there has ever existed a large "Christian suicide bomber" problem . . . ever. I personally think that your throwing it out as if it is somehow a rampant problem is simply rhetoric.

And it is actually pretty easy to tell which Christian is most likely to give you the best interpretation -- one who focuses on the broad themes of the Bible (e.g., love your neighbors, sin and redemption, etc.) but who tries to incorporate the entire Biblical teaching into a unified Christian world view and who doesn't try to excise from the Bible verses with which he or she may not personally agree.

Now, I didn't address the issue of who has the best interpretation in the body because Cline doesn't raise it in his blog entry. Clearly, I was responding to what I thought were rather simplistic objections. Nowhere does he (or the underlying writer) state that there are differing interpretations in the original post, and hence, I didn't see the need to address that issue. Still, in all seriousness doesn't it strike you that whoever wrote these questions did not trouble themselves to even read, let alone understand, the Biblical position?

Finally, would you please point out where I mocked Mr. Cline? Would you please point out where I mocked the writer? I purposefully tried to avoid mocking anyone. I do think that the questions themselves are shallow and faulty, but I don't remember saying anything about Mr. Cline or the writer. I did comment that the questions were twisting the words of Jesus -- which they do -- and that they were trying to make Christianity look stupid, but that is not mocking either Mr. Cline or the underlying writer. So, what exactly did you see that I wrote that you thought constituted mocking?

many atheists seem to have an issue with the fundamentalists; some them are leaders of a nation or a religious group and tell people for example that it is their God's will to go to offensive war and kill people... I think these blog post examples highlight the fact that Christians can not agree what the Bible says and often opposite views of pretty much anything can be justified by reading the Bible or another holy book.


naive understanding of the relation of the Bible to Christianity.

However, the point I was trying to make, and apparently didn't, is that I find it frustrating when both Christian and atheist apologists lump all their opponents together. Not all atheists believe the same things, and not all Christians believe the same things.

that's what they all. All atheists believe they don't all believe the same things :-) warning Humor in progress--it's larks., it's jokes!

Isn't it supposed to be a positive that atheism doesn't mean any one thing?

Thus if you didn't like Pol Pot: Hey! Not all atheists agree with Pol Pot.

But a world without God justifies Marxism, but we should not let ourselves get too far ahead, because Schweitzer was an atheist, too. Some believe in revolution, some believe in altruism.

The mode may be different, but the net effect is quite the same, or perhaps there's even a wider swing under atheism.

Which is more true: "anything can be justified by the Bible" or "anything can be justified when you can take your justification from anything you like/agree with."

BK said...
"that's an overstatement to say that "pretty much anything can be justified by reading the Bible or another holy book."

Bible quoting Christians are/have been on the both sides on the issues regarding divorce, capital punishment, slavery, abortion, abortion clinic bombing, killing/hating heretics/atheist/gays, polygamy, lying, burning synagogues, torturing people, divinity of the Christ, trinity, cross, gay/female priests, creation, cosmology, following 10 commandments/great commission ... pretty much any significant biblical subject. Not to mention the subjects not found in the Bible when truck loads of evangelists have gotten the word straight from the God including revelations that gays were responsible of New Orleans disaster, floodings and 9/11, or messages in the golden plates. So what are these "black and white" issues all Christians agree with?

j.l.hinman added
"naive understanding of the relation of the Bible to Christianity."

See my answer above...

BK said...
"it is actually pretty easy to tell which Christian is most likely to give you the best interpretation one who focuses on the broad themes of the Bible (e.g., love your neighbors, sin and redemption, etc.) but who tries to incorporate the entire Biblical teaching into a unified Christian world view and who doesn't try to excise from the Bible verses with which he or she may not personally agree."

How do I know your opinion about this is correct?

I wonder how you would differentiate between medium size and large size "Christian suicide bomber" problem. The fact it exists is a problem.

adude asked..
Which is more true: "anything can be justified by the Bible" or "anything can be justified when you can take your justification from anything you like/agree with."

People so often justify their own opinions by reading their holy book or by getting a divine revelation.


adude said...
"Not all atheists agree with Pol Pot."

Not all Christians agree with him either. Genocide is only permitted if Yahweh orders one of his chosen leaders to tell his people to go to do it. Then it is ok. BTW Pol Pot could have killed those people because he did not believe in pink unicorns...

Peter,

1. Re: your list of issues -- And there have been atheists on both sides of virtually all of those issues, too.

2. Re: which interpretation is best -- I thought that you were a person who relied on reason. Reason it through a little by comparing it to a person who picks and chooses which portions of a political science text book choosing to retain only those portions that he likes.

3. I have no reason to believe that there is a Christian suicide bomber problem.

4. Thank you by acknowledging, through silence, that I didn't mock anyone.

Schweitzer was an atheist, too.

where did you get that idea? Schweitzer was not an atheist. He criticized Tillich because he thought Tillich was an atheist.

Let's look at these BK's answers

"1. Re: your list of issues -- And there have been atheists on both sides of virtually all of those issues, too."

This is a false analogy fallacy (atheists do not have a holy book) to divert the discussion (red herring fallacy) and not addressing my question.


"2. Re: which interpretation is best -- I thought that you were a person who relied on reason. Reason it through a little by comparing it to a person who picks and chooses which portions of a political science text book choosing to retain only those portions that he likes."

This is a false analogy fallacy. You can not compare God authored book to a human authored book. Human authored book can have contadiction, but how come God authorised genoside while advocating to love our neighbour.

You avoided to answer the question here. You should have explained why your opinion of how to interpret any book is right.

"3. I have no reason to believe that there is a Christian suicide bomber problem."

I hope this is an argument of ignorance. Surely you do not advocate a position that any movement or ideology that has a slow rate of suicide bombers does not have a problem. Again please address my question above.


"4. Thank you by acknowledging, through silence, that I didn't mock anyone."

This is an argument of silence fallacy. (Sometime people just don't want to argue an issue)


Please try to again to address my questions.

'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.'

You mispelled 'accurate' as 'exhaustive'.

You certainly can't read the statements in the Bible as conveying factual knowledge.

If the Bible says that A was the father of B, and that A was X years old when he became the father of B, only a really stupid atheist would think that A really was the father of B, and became B's father when he was X years old.

1. No it's not. Calling something a fallacy doesn't make it a fallacy (I think that's the "calling something a fallacy fallacy").

2. You asked me how you can know my opinion is correct. Using an analogy to point out the reasoning is not a fallacy. Simply because you don't want to work with me to reason it out doesn't mean that I am not answering your question.

3. How can I put this any clearer? There is no Christian suicide bomber problem. I am not personally aware of anyone advocating Christian suicide bombing and if there has been a suicide bomber who has used Christianity as a basis for the attack in the last 50 years, I don't know about it.

4. Sometimes people don't want to discuss an issue, and sometimes they say nothing because there is nothing to say. Since I know I didn't mock them, the correct answer must be the latter.

Don't worry Steven, I won't waste my time asking you to actually pick up a book on Biblical interpretation and read it.

peter:This is a false analogy fallacy. You can not compare God authored book to a human authored book. Human authored book can have contadiction, but how come God authorised genoside while advocating to love our neighbour.

As much as you like to make use of the vocabulary of Logic, you don't seem to think very logically. Various interpretations of a text are not necessarily the fault of the author. Readers process ideas through their own preconceptions and biases, no contradiction required on the author's part. People commonly interpret the same facts in a variety of ways, so do facts contradict themselves?

steven carr:If the Bible says that A was the father of B, and that A was X years old when he became the father of B, only a really stupid atheist would think that A really was the father of B, and became B's father when he was X years old.

It's not that a person is stupid to read it that way, since in some cases that is exactly the way it was meant to be read, but the point of biblical genealogies is not to list every person between A and Z but merely to connect A and Z. For example the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew is meant to connect Jesus to Abraham through David. Matthew lists some well-known men and women in that path, but not every person who could have been. Why? If C was E's grandfather, E is in the bloodline of C regardless of D and the point the author is trying to make is made just as surely (and more efficiently) then if every he listed every person.

Can genealogies be read literally (where father = immediate biological male parent) ? Yes. Must it be read that way? No. If you keep in mind that the book was written for an ancient audience—and you should since it was—then it's important to try to understand how they would have understood the author. Since it's clear that biblical genealogies aren't required to be exhaustive they are a shaky foundation on which to build other dogmas.

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"), ...

It is possible this interpretation is anachronistic. Genesis 1:5 seems to say that days are composed of evenings and mornings. But then, whether this is literal or metaphorical is up for discussion.

I mean, the author apparently doesn't feel like having this so-called gun to his head has compelled him to accept Christ.

That's because the author doesn't believe there's a gun to his head. Obviously.

If people truly lacked free will in the sense used in this question, there would be no skeptics.

Could you expand upon this? Are you trying to say that, if we had more options than with a gun to our head, there wouldn't be any skeptics? Wouldn't that be a good thing? Sorry if I'm misunderstanding this, it's just confusing for me.

These questions are clear examples of the latter.

I unreservedly agree. About.com is a very sub-par site for atheism. In fact, count me apart from most of the comments I am seeing on this blog, if you will.

Just a note: I am personally frustrated when some apologists refer to atheism as "the other side." For some matters, you can generalize atheists. For others, you can't. We don't constitute just a single side, just like Christians don't.

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