CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

2 Samuel 2:10 - Ish-Bosheth son of Saul was forty years old when he became king over Israel, and he reigned two years. The tribe of Judah, however, remained loyal to David.

King Ish-Bosheth was the youngest of the sons of King Saul. His name means “Man of Shame” or “Man of Humiliation,” and he apparently lived down to that moniker because he was a weak king who reigned a short time in opposition to King David. His story can largely be found beginning in 2 Samuel 2 and ending with his murder at the hands of his guards in 2 Samuel 4. Ish-Bosheth, however, was known by other names. One of which was Eshba’al (1 Chron. 8:33, 1 Chron. 9:39) which means "fire of the idol."  

Interestingly, the name Eshba'al came up in a recent Biblical dig. According to an article in Discovery News entitled "Rare Inscription Bearing Biblical Name Found in Israel," the name of Eshba'al was discovered on a 3,000 year old piece of pottery in the Valley of Elah. 

A rare inscription showing a name shared with a biblical rival to King David has been found on a 3,000-year-old earthenware jar that was broken into shards, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced on Tuesday. Pieces of the large Iron Age jar were found in a 2012 excavation at Khirbet Qeiyafa, in the Valley of Elah west of Jerusalem. This is where the biblical battle between young David and the giant Goliath took place. As hundreds of pottery fragments were glued together to form the whole pot, letters carved in the ancient script of the Canaanites, a biblical people who lived in the present-day Israel, were clearly visible. They read: Eshba’al Ben Bada’. “This is the first time that the name Eshba’al has appeared on an ancient inscription in the country,” Yosef Garfinkel of the Institute of Archeology of the Hebrew University and Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement. The name recalls the biblical Eshba’al, a son of King Saul and a rival to King David for rule over the Israelite kingdom.

So, is this a jar that belonged to King Eshba’al, the son of Saul? Unfortunately, it probably isn’t because the name engraved is not “Eshba’al Ben Shaul” (which means Eshba’al, son of Saul), but rather Eshba’al Ben Beda (which means Eshba’al, son of Beda’). Nothing in the Bible or otherwise seems to suggest that Beda’ is an alternative name for Saul, so that makes it very unlikely that the Eshba’al whose name is engraved into the jar is the same as the Eshba’al named in the Bible.

To me, the article is fine to this point, but then it makes a rather disputable statement. It says, “Although it has no connection with the biblical character, the inscription shows that Eshba’al was a common name during the early Israelite period.” First, I am not certain that finding the name on one piece of pottery shows that it was a common name. Perhaps there were only two Eshba’als in all of the history of Israel, and archaeologists happen to have stumbled across a jar belonging to the only other Eshba’al in that long history. Of course, the odds of that happening are rather long, but it remains possible.

Still, let’s follow on the assumption that the odds are that we would not find a jar belonging to the only other Eshba’al in the history of Israel, but rather that the name Eshba’al appears on this jar because there were numerous Eshba’als making it more likely that we would find one of their jars. Arguably, if there were multiple Eshba’als at this time, there are at least two possible conclusions that can be drawn from this. First, the Biblical account is a fiction that merely drew on the common name Eshba’al as a son of Saul because it was a common name at the time and the author lacked enough imagination to pick another name. It would be like a 21st Century novelist naming a character in her novel “John Smith” – a name that many people have, but one which would raise eyebrows in a story because people would think it rather obvious. This appears to be a doubtful construct because the evidence is that Saul and David did exist, so there is no strong reason to doubt that Eshba'al wasn't really the name of Saul's son. So, those that doubt the existence of Biblical Kings Saul and David are unlikely to gain much traction by pursuing this conclusion.

A second more likely conclusion that can be drawn is that the reason there were several people named Eshba’al living at the time is because they were named after a famous Israelite who lived approximately 3000 years ago, i.e., 1000 BC. The practice of naming a baby after a great leader or other famous person is carried on today. A quick example, Selena Quintanilla-Pérez aka Selena was an extremely popular Mexican-American singer-songwriter who died tragically at the age of 23 in the early 1990s. The name Selena, for girls, was pretty standard fare during the 1970s and early 1980s. In the 1970s, less than 100 girls in one million were named Selena. But in the 1990s, after the singer-songwriter Selena had become popular and continuing when she was murdered in a way-too-young and way-too-sad manner, the name Selena became very popular reaching a height of more than 350 girls out of a million being named Selena. Even today, more than 200 babies a year are still named Selena (although many of those may possibly be named after the now-popular actress Selena Gomez -- but Selena Gomez was also named after Selena Quintanilla-Pérez aka Selena so arguably all of the girls named after Selena Gomez are still being named after the original Selena).

So, if the archaeologists are correct and the name Eshba’al was popular at the time in Israel, then the name was popular about the same time that David is thought to have ruled Israel, i.e., 1000 BC. If that’s the case isn’t it possible – maybe even likely – that the name gained its popularity because Eshba’al was really the king around that time and his murder helped to solidify his memory? In other words, can’t this be understood to be further evidence for the truth of the historical accounts in the Bible?

Ho hum. Every few months, some scientist who almost certainly has an animosity towards belief in God will stand up and make an announcement that his/her research has somehow disproven God or the need for God, etc., etc. And every time these types of claims arise, people with cooler heads usually look at the claims and show them for the nonsense that they are. (Of course, true adherents never understand that the arguments have been discredited, but that's why certain arguments like the Argument from Evil continue to pop up as supposedly air-tight arguments against the existence of God.)

Today, a good friend who is an atheist posted an article which seems to fall into that category on Facebook. The article is entitled . According to the article:

A group of scientists led by Prof Mir Faizal, at the Dept of Physics and Astronomy, at the University Of Waterloo, Canada, has positively applied the theory to the very creation of existence itself. Prof Mir Faizal: “Virtual particles contain a very small amount of energy and exist for a very small amount of time. However what was difficult to explain was how did such a small amount of energy give rise to a big universe like ours?”

Okay, but aren't virtual particles something? Apparently not. After mentioning the minimum length scale, doubly special relativity and inflation theory, the authors of the study make a statement that is ... er, stunning.

Just to make things more complex Dr Mir says we have been trying to answer the question ‘how did the universe come from nothing?’ all wrong. According to the astonishing findings, the question is irrelevant as the universe STILL is nothing. Dr Mir Faizal said: “Something did not come from nothing. The universe still is nothing, it’s just more elegantly ordered nothing.”

Wait a minute, so I am supposed to believe that the universe is nothing? Oh, excuse me, I am supposed to believe that it is elegantly ordered nothing. Of course, if we redefine what "nothing" is, then the universe can be "nothing." But in all common understandings of the term "nothing", the universe is not nothing.

But even Dr. Mir does not believe the article's title. The article adds,

When asked if the amazing findings and the convincing if complex solution disinterested the need for a God figure to kick start the cosmos Dr Mir said: “If by God you mean a supernatural super man who breaks his own laws then yes he’s done for, you just don’t need him. But if you mean God as a great mathematician, then yes!”

Notice the condescension that arises in this statement. God is the "supernatural super man who breaks his own laws." Ah, yes,  Dr. Mir is one of the people who believes God is nothing more than the "big daddy in the sky" who is believed by us lowly barbarians who don't understand how science has made God irrelevant. But it is like the old joke about the scientist and God. That joke reads: 

God was sitting in heaven one day when a scientist said to Him,  “God, we don’t need you anymore. Science has finally figured out a way to create life out of nothing – in other words, we can now do what you did in the beginning.” “Oh, is that so? Explain…” replies God.  “Well,” says the scientist, “we can take dirt and form it into the likeness of you and breathe life into it, thus creating man.” “Well, that’s very interesting… show Me.” So the scientist bends down to the earth and starts to mold the soil into the shape of a man.  “No, no, no…” interrupts God, “Get your own dirt.”

- See more at:

Well, given what little bit shows up in this article, the authors will have to do a lot of talking to convince me that the universe is nothing let alone that God had nothing to do with kick-starting it. But at least we're on the same page when the author acknowledges that God, as the author of mathematics, must remain in the picture for anything to make sense. This author just kicks the can down the road -- the scientist doesn't need to use God's dirt, but he does need God's laws.

Maybe I'm old fashioned, but it strikes me that a problem is unlikely to be fixed until we correctly understand the cause of the problem. If I were a doctor who diagnosed a person as having emphysema when they have vascular disease, I expect that the medications that I prescribe would not be very effective at treatment of the vascular disease. In some cases, the wrong prescription can kill the patient, so it is really important to first achieve a correct diagnosis before working on the cure. The same holds true outside of medicine. I believe that the failure to properly determine the cause of the problem leads to all types of wrong solutions, and too many of today's solution begin with incorrectly determined cause.

The Ethics Center, an Australian organization that provides an open forum for the promotion and exploration of ethical questions, recently published a blogpost entitled "I RESPECTFULLY DISAGREE" – HOW TO HAVE A PROPER ARGUMENT. Since I have always been interested in having respectful arguments about the truth of the Gospel (as opposed to the usual fare that comes from discussing Christianity on the Internet), I read the post with great anticipation. Unfortunately, I was disappointed because I believe that the author fails to make a correct diagnosis of the problem that leads to disrespectful discussion. After a few introductory thoughts, the author makes the following observation:
Perhaps this is what happens when our politics and our media come to believe they can only thrive on a diet of intense difference. Today, every issue must have its champions and villains. Things that truly matter just overwhelm us with their significance. Perhaps we feel ungainly and unprepared for the ambiguities of modern life and so clutch on to simple certainties. Indeed, I think this must be it. Most of us have a deep-seated dislike of ambiguity. We easily submit to the siren call of fundamentalists in politics, religion, science, ethics… whatever. They sing to us of a blissful state within which they will decide what needs to be done and release us from every burden except obedience. But there is a price to pay for certainty. We must pay with our capacity to engage with difference, to respect the integrity of the person who holds a principled position opposed to our own. It is a terrible price we pay.
Note what this author does in these sentences. He begins by providing a diagnosis of the situation which is the cause of terrible arguments. According to the author, the problem is that the present climate for discussion demands that one side be right and the other side be wrong. He continues by claiming that people cling to "simple certainties" due to the "ambiguities of modern life" which apparently overwhelm them. Clinging to "simple certainties" is what leads people to "submit to the siren call of fundamentalists in politics, religion, science, ethics", etc.  The benefit from becoming fundamentalists? The advocates of the fundamentalist position don't have to think. Rather, fundamentalists can simply attack those who hold opinions different than their own.

The risk of responding to an argument like this is that a person who disagrees starts out being the person who the author is trying to discredit. The person disagreeing is automatically labeled as one of those people who believes every issue has to have a villain and a champion. Nevertheless, at the risk of being labeled merely for disagreeing, I have several problems with this author's viewpoint. Primarily, I expect that because I am a conservative Christian, this author would label me as a "fundamentalist" and I will work from that assumption. Consequently, I expect that he would see my conservative (read, "fundamentalist") religion and politics as fall-out from my inability to cope with the ambiguities of the real world. After all, it is easier to obey than to reason, right?

I think that the author has a point, except that his reasoning is backwards. As a Christian, it is not the ambiguities of modern life that disturbs me or which makes me cling to simple certainties; rather, it is my willingness to embrace the ambiguities which are found in Christianity but still embrace truth that lead me to reject the effort by secularists to cling to the simple certainties of modern society, i.e., it is the people who cannot deal with the ambiguities of Christianity who clutch onto simple (aka modern) certainties.

G.K. Chesterton, the late, great Roman Catholic author and thinker, noted that true Christianity has a sense of mysticism about it that rejects the rigid attempts of secularists to understand everything. He noted:
As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus, he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also. Thus, he believes that children were indeed the kingdom of heaven, but nevertheless ought to be obedient to the kingdom of earth. He admired youth because it was young and age because it was not. It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid.
As a Christian, I readily admit that I don't understand everything that the Bible teaches about God and I don't believe that I ever will -- but I am learning. However, I am willing to accept the fact that I am learning and that understanding God and His ways is progressive in nature.  Moreover, the Bible does not answer everything (even though it provides a basis for understanding everything), and it often escapes the best efforts of theologians (or anti-theologians, i.e., Internet atheists) to understand it.

For example, with respect to the debate Chesterton raises, over time I have become agnostic in the great debate between Calvinism and Arminianism, i.e., I don't know which viewpoint is true or whether either is true. I see Bible verses that support the idea that we are all predestined and that God is sovereign over all things. I also see Bible verses where God calls us to repent of our sins suggesting that we have freewill. Yet, despite the contradiction that God is sovereign and saves us by faith which is itself a gift of God, while at the same time recognizing that God also grants us free will, I happily accept both points of view and the seeming contradiction as coming from God. So which is right? Does it really matter as long as I recognize that God is in charge and that a person must believe to become a Christian? Whether that belief comes from God or from myself is an interesting theological question, but hardly one that changes the burden on me (from my human viewpoint) to decide to follow Jesus.

On the other hand, the viewpoint that seems simplistic to me is the worldly point of view that says I must understand everything about Christianity or reject the faith if there is any part of it which I don't fully understand. The person who says, "You cannot explain these verses and therefore you must reject God," is actually the one laboring under the worst sort of thinking errors. It promotes a radical autonomy that suggests that our personal ability to understand ideas and concepts are the measure of truth. While I understand the idea, it really is not a particularly compelling basis on which to work.

Anyone who has engaged in a conversation with a broad range of people understands that people have very different reasoning abilities. Anyone who has ever had the experience of working with individuals with learning disabilities understands that not everyone has the ability to reason. And of course, there is no bright red line that a person crosses that sets apart people with learning disabilities from people who are not labeled as having learning disabilities. I have met many people (and I bet the reader has also met many people) who are perfectly functioning adults who really don't reason very well at all. Thinking through all of the people I have met, I recognize that people hold wildly different rationals for believing what they believe and their logic is often unrecognizable to me (if it exists at all). Yet, if my personal ability to understand a concept becomes the measure of truth, on what basis do I say that their understanding shouldn't also be the measure of truth? On what basis do I say that an understanding that is different than mine is the one in error?

If I say that it is me or my group that has the correct understanding of truth, isn't that simply being self-centered -- believing that my viewpoint is superior because I hold it?

For example, in astronomy we know that the universe is very, very large (I would say astronomically large, but that would be a truism). Almost daily, I see articles that pop-up on my news feed that proclaim "Scientists are puzzled by X." or "X surprised Scientists" or "Scientists are Working on Theories to Explain X." In other words, we are forever learning about the mysteries of the universe, and even when we develop theories about the universe, those theories can (and often are) proven false by further observation and testing. Looking at astronomy in the way we do religion, does the fact that I am willing to accept that I don't understand everything about how the universe works mean I need to reject those things I do know? I would hardly think so. Does the fact that science has theories like Quantum Physics which, if accurate, are barely understandable to most people mean that Quantum Physics is not real because people don't understand it? Is it not real to the people who don't understand it? In other words, is the fact that some people have a different understandings of how the universe came to exist and is maintained mean that their understanding is correct to that person because they hold it? I would hardly think anyone would answer those questions affirmatively.

If we have these constant revisions of theories about the universe, planetary science and physics -- all of which are physical things that we can observe and measure, how many more ambiguities must be contained in following God and His ways? After all, what we know about God (who cannot be measured with a spectrometer or any other tool that measures physical things) is solely the result of what He has told us about himself as well as what limited things we can determine from observing God's universe and inferring information about the maker. Can we understand everything about God using these tools? How terribly shallow God must be if we can fully understand Him and His ways.

Don't get me wrong - I believe human reasoning is good. The laws of logic can help us reason things together. Study and experimentation can help us to gain knowledge about our physical universe. Yet, I also think that when we reject God because there are things about Him that seem contradictory or which we cannot understand, that is not God's problem. It is ours. We are the created beings with limited knowledge, limited cognitive abilities and limited wisdom. Collectively, we are better than we are independently, but even collectively we cannot solve the problems of our own little world let alone understanding God.

Of course, the underlying problem with this blogger's thought process is that he thinks that he is right. In other words, he has a certainty that he is right about his viewpoint and that those that those who embrace the views of "fundamentalists in politics, religion, science, ethics" must necessarily be wrong. Of course, he gives a psychological reason which he sees as the basis for their clutching to such silly ideas, but his argument at this point really boils down to a simple assertion which can be restated as "I know fundamentalists are wrong because I'm right. Now, I just need to explain why they believe what they believe."

Sorry, but that is a simple certainty that I cannot accept because I have a God who is bigger than the author's thoughts.

Okay, so this is news from 1937, but given that The Hobbit was recently a major motion picture -- in fact, three major motion pictures -- and given that C.S. Lewis was a close friend of J.R.R. Tolkein, I thought it was interesting when the Paris Review ran a re-print of Lewis' 1937 three paragraph review of The Hobbit. The article can be found here: C.S. Lewis reviews The Hobbit, 1937.

What is fascinating is that Lewis is astute enough to recognize that The Hobbit, although it appears to be little more than a children's book, "may prove to be a classic." Once again, he was right.

The other night, I listened to a Golden Age radio program that featured a phony news interview. Since I didn’t record the program, I am necessarily paraphrasing what I heard, but essentially the sketch had a radio news reporter interview the owner of a company that manufactures ventriloquist dummies. In the vignette, the reporter asked the owner to show him how the ventriloquist dummies work, and the owner responded that he was “not a very good ventriloquist” but that he would give it a try. He apparently picked up one of the dummies and used his inadequate skills to have the dummy say something like, “Hello, I am happy to be here today.”

The reporter responded, “I saw your lips move.” The owner countered, “I told you I’m not very good at this.” The reporter then contended, “There’s something wrong with the dummy.”
  The owner objects that the dummy is fine, but the reporter insists that the dummy didn’t work because he could see the owner’s lips move.

This small vignette actually illustrates what I believe to be the problem with many of the anti-Christian blogs and websites that litter the Internet and relates to the question of whether Christianity makes sense. Even though it has a different name, this is part IV of the series that I have been writing arguing against the position that “Christianity Doesn’t Make Sense.” Part I, Part II and Part III, can be found by clicking the links in the names. In the third part, I began a review of the number one link in response to the Google search “Christianity Doesn’t Make Sense” which turned out to be a blogpost entitled “Ten Reasons Christianity Doesn’t Make Sense.”   In reviewing the blogpost in part III, I stopped before I arrived at the end because I think that the author’s arguments, like so many similar atheist arguments on the Internet, illustrates a point about how knowledgeable Christians that escapes the authors.

In the “Ten Reasons” blogpost, the author starts off strong (at least in the sense that the author makes an effort to use logic), but as he/she continues to write the argument devolves into the usual mischaracterizations about Christian teaching that one comes to expect from Internet atheists. While the author makes some attacks in the first few paragraphs, (e.g., erroneously contending that Jesus effectively teaches that as long as you are a Christian, go rape, murder, commit genocide, enslave and commit every manner of atrocity), his seventh and eighth points abandon all pretense at explaining that Christianity doesn’t make sense and are little more than Christian smears. The seventh point reads:

The bible doesn’t set the moral bar very high.
Let’s face it: Don’t rape people, don’t own people, don’t hate people, and don’t hurt children are kind of no-brainers when it comes to morality. Our friend Jesus and his old man not only failed to make these things clear, but in many instances they encouraged, condoned, or commanded them. Sure, Jesus said a few things about loving your neighbor and being kind to strangers, but he also said that not believing in him was the worst offense a person could commit and that anyone who didn’t believe would burn in Hell for all eternity. And seriously, the Ten Commandments as a basis for all morality? Checking out your neighbor’s wife is worse than raping his daughter? Taking the lord’s name in vain is worse than owning slaves? Nice priorities. Add to this the fact that god himself does not follow his own rules, to which Christians respond that mere mortals cannot understand or judge the morality of god. But if the bible defines morality, and god has a different set of rules for himself than for humans, and we are not allowed to know or understand his rules except that we are expected to do as he says but not as he does, then how exactly does that provide any kind of moral baseline whatsoever?

What should be noted is the way that the author makes the same mistake as the news reporter in the radio vignette: He blames Christianity for the flaws, but Christianity isn’t at fault. He is blaming the wrong thing – and for those of us who understand the Christian teachings, the failings are obvious.  I am uncertain whether this author doesn’t have the mental wherewithal to understand what Christianity teaches or whether he has been duped by others into believing lies and mischaracterizations.

What the author says can be put into a few categories. The first is chronological snobbery. He begins, “Let’s face it: Don’t rape people, don’t own people, don’t hate people, and don’t hurt children are kind of no-brainers when it comes to morality.” With this sentence, the author commits chronological snobbery. Yes, in 21st Century America and most of the world where Christianity has been predominant, these are no-brainers. But are they no-brainers all over the world? Heck, reading the newspaper and seeing the evil taking place in locations like Syria, Iran and Korea makes it pretty apparent that these things are not no-brainers everywhere and within every culture.  And looking back through history, it certainly appears obvious that evil things were more common in the ancient world. But here’s the important point to notice: what Christianity has been teaching was the Christian teaching during the time prior to the Christian influence on the world that made these ideas commonplace. In fact, the idea that we should love our enemies (Mark 12:31), bless those that curse you (Luke 6:28) and pray for those that persecute you (Matthew 5:44) were not only contrary to what the rest of the world thought, but were almost unprecedented teachings.

Second, the author makes the mistake of reading into the Bible. He continues: “Our friend Jesus and his old man not only failed to make these things clear, but in many instances they encouraged, condoned, or commanded them.” Having engaged in discussion with Internet atheists for many years, I know exactly what verses this author is referencing. But with one exception, the verses do not say what the author claims without the author reading into them information that is not there. Where exactly did Jesus or God say, “You are encouraged/condoned/commanded to rape others”? Where did Jesus or God say, “You are encouraged/condoned/commanded to hurt others” or “You are encouraged/condoned/commanded to hurt children?” The answer is nowhere unless you read into the text certain prejudices that are in the minds and hearts of the reader – not the Biblical text.

The one exception is that Jesus did tell his disciples, ““If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26) As I said in part III of this series, the simple answer is that Jesus makes these demands in relation to present expectations. He is basically saying, “If you do not choose me over your loved ones, your possessions and even your own life, you are not ready to follow me.” God is not demanding that everyone give up their spouses, their possessions and their lives. Rather, he is merely saying that you are to surrender their place of importance in your life to God. If you are not willing to give up these things in favor of following God, you are not really recognizing God’s rightful place in your life. This is not a call to hate other people. But the fact that the author fails to recognize that the Biblical teaching must be taken as a whole is simply another of the author’s many errors.

I could go on, but Christians should note that this author commits the same three claims that the serpent did to entice Eve to sin in the Garden of Eden. Remember the account from Genesis 3:1-6:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” 4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

In the Garden, the serpent first questioned the Word of God with “Did God really say….” The author continues this serpent-like tact by first questioning what God said about things. But rather than directly questioning by asking something like, “Did God really say we are to love our neighbors?”, the author turns it around and implies statements from God that are untrue like, “God encouraged/condoned/commanded people to rape others.”

Second, the serpent in Genesis 3:4 lies about God’s truth when he says, “You will not certainly die.” That was a lie and led into the third thing that the serpent did. But in the case of our author, he also lies about God’s truth. The author states as if authoritatively, “[H]e also said that not believing in him was the worst offense a person could commit and that anyone who didn’t believe would burn in Hell for all eternity.” No, Jesus never said that. Jesus said that He was the only way to heaven, and that those whose names are not written in the Book of Life (meaning, they have not accepted Jesus’ gift of forgiveness for the sins they have committed) would be sentenced to eternal condemnation. But did Jesus say that not believing in Him was the worst offense a person could commit? No, he did not. The author is lying.

The third thing that the serpent did in the Garden of Eden was to lie about God’s motives. The serpent lied and claimed that God didn’t want them to eat from the tree because God didn’t want them to be gods, too. Here too, the author mimics the serpent and lies about God’s motives. This is the fourth error that the author commits in these verses – the author attributes bad motives to God. The author apparently believes that despite the many, many clear Biblical statements that say that God loves the world, that God is a loving and forgiving God, that God desires that none perish, and that God died for the salvation of the whole world, the author wants and expects us to believe that God wants people raped, hurt, and hated. Despite the fact that Jesus corrected the disciples for trying to keep the children from approaching him (which strongly suggests that the children wanted to come to Him), the author wants us to think that God wanted children hurt. The author lies about God’s stated motives.

Like the radio reporter in the vignette described at the outset, the author is misidentifying the problem. God isn’t the problem – it is the author’s own sinful heart and nature that keeps him from seeing what God is saying and what God has done. Sorry, but on top of the fact that this entire argument has nothing to do with the question of whether Christianity “makes sense,” the author’s approach is every bit as vile as the serpent in the Garden. I, for one, won’t take a bite of the fruit this serpent is offering, and neither should you.

Not long ago, Scarlett Johannsen starred in a movie named Lucy, a sci-fi thriller about a young woman who becomes super-human as the result of ingesting some drugs that she had been forced to carry inside of her body. Movienewz summarized the basic plot this way:

Lucy (Johansson), a woman living in Taipei, Taiwan, works as a drug mule. When Lucy accidentally swallows her cargo, the drug changes her into a metahuman. She can absorb knowledge instantaneously, move objects with her mind and can’t feel pain.

The idea behind the movie is the myth that we only use one-tenth of our brain power. Morgan Freeman, who with Samuel L. Jackson seems to be in almost every major motion picture released, plays the wise professor who understands the human brain. During one scene in the movie (as shown on the trailer), the Morgan Freeman character lectures a class about the human mind intoning, “It is estimated most human beings only use 10 percent of the brain’s capacity. Imagine if we could access 100 percent. Interesting things begin to happen.” (Just for the record, it is clear that the idea that we only use 10% of our brain capacity is a myth. A good refutation can be found in the article from Scientific American entitled “Do we really use only 10 percent of our brains?” by Barry L. Beyerstein of the Brain Behavior Laboratory at Simon Fraser University.)   Of course, Lucy continues to expand her brain potential, and at the end…well, I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen the movie. But as her brain potential begins to expand, she begins to do remarkable, super-human things.

Regardless of the truth or falsity of the 10% claim, watching Lucy we are left wondering what would happen if we could use 100% of our brain potential. And most of us conclude, rightly, that if we could somehow access more of our brains, it would be better. We instinctively conclude that using more of the brain will make us smarter.

Earlier today, I learned of a new study in Britain where the scientist are using a new process called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and the results have been somewhat concerning for people of faith. According to the Express, “Scientists claim they can change your belief on immigrants andGod – with MAGNETS.”   The article states: 
A bizarre experiment claims to be able to make Christians no longer believe in God and make Britons open their arms to migrants in experiments some may find a threat to their values. Scientists looked at how the brain resolves abstract ideological problems. Using a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), researchers safely shut down certain groups of neurones in the brains of volunteers.
 TMS, which is used to treat depression, involves placing a large electromagnetic coil against the scalp which creates electric currents that stimulate nerve cells in the region of the brain involved in mood control. Researchers found the technique radically altered religious perceptions and prejudice.
Belief in God was reduced almost by a third, while participants became 28.5 per cent less bothered by immigration numbers.

Very interesting. The author of the article continues: 
Dr Keise Izuma, from the University of York, said: "People often turn to ideology when they are confronted by problems.
 "We wanted to find out whether a brain region that is linked with solving concrete problems, like deciding how to move one's body to overcome an obstacle, is also involved in solving abstract problems addressed by ideology."
 The scientists targeted the posterior medial frontal cortex, a brain region a few inches up from the forehead that is associated with detecting and responding to problems.
 Volunteers were asked to rate their belief in God, heaven, the devil, and hell after undergoing pre-screening to ensure that they held religious convictions.
 Dr Izuma said: "We decided to remind people of death because previous research has shown that people turn to religion for comfort in the face of death.
 "As expected, we found that when we experimentally turned down the posterior medial frontal cortex, people were less inclined to reach for comforting religious ideas despite having been reminded of death."

So, what’s the conclusion? I am certain that some people will read this study and immediately conclude that belief in God is nothing more than something that happens in the brain. After all, it was only a few years ago that the earlier-mentioned Scientific American also published an article announcing that scientists had discovered a “Godspot” in the brain.  According to that article, 
A belief in God is deeply embedded in the human brain, which is programmed for religious experiences, according to a study that analyses why religion is a universal human feature that has encompassed all cultures throughout history.
Scientists searching for the neural "God spot", which is supposed to control religious belief, believe that there is not just one but several areas of the brain that form the biological foundations of religious belief.
 * * *
 Scientists are divided on whether religious belief has a biological basis. Some evolutionary theorists have suggested that Darwinian natural selection may have put a premium on individuals if they were able to use religious belief to survive hardships that may have overwhelmed those with no religious convictions. Others have suggested that religious belief is a side effect of a wider trait in the human brain to search for coherent beliefs about the outside world. Religion and the belief in God, they argue, are just a manifestation of this intrinsic, biological phenomenon that makes the human brain so intelligent and adaptable.

Thus, some might conclude that this is more evidence that belief in God is not a belief in something outside of the believer, but a mere brain event that is biologically explainable. But I arrive at two different possible conclusions arising out of the study. As the article points out, the scientists are using TMS to “shut down” certain groups of neurons in the brain. When these neurons are shut down, almost a third of the formerly religious people lose their faith.

The first thing to note is that even with this part of the brain shut down by TMS, more than two-thirds of the people maintained their faith in God. When a study produces less than 33% of a change, one could make an appropriate note that belief in God apparently is unaffected by the shut down in the majority of people. (In some situations in politics, 67% is considered a super-majority. Thus, I think it is safe to say that the TMS shutdown had no effect on a super-majority of the people.) Is it not fair to conclude that for a super-majority of the people the shutdown of a part of the brain had no effect on belief in God and therefore belief in God is not a brain event?

Second, and more amusingly, let’s suppose that the study does show that shutdown of part of the brain by TMS results in a loss of faith.  What might we conclude from that? Well, as was suggested by the movie Lucy, use of a larger percentage of the brain is a good thing. It makes us smarter. So, if shutting down a part of the brain results in a loss of belief in God, what does that say about atheists? Doesn’t it suggest that atheists are not using as much of their brain as Christians? Given that atheists like to claim that they are smarter than Christians, isn’t this scientific evidence that Christians use more of their brain potential and are consequently smarter? Just wondering. 

As I stated in part I, I cannot possibly respond to every possible objection that Christianity doesn’t make sense in a single post. However, I can take the number one post on Google and respond to the points cited therein which the author uses to support the claim that Christianity doesn’t make sense. The article that I reference is, appropriately enough, entitled  Ten Reasons Why Christianity Makes No Sense. I believe each of the reasons cited not only fail to show that Christianity makes no sense, but rather that several of the objections themselves make no sense. I also will note that I will not respond to all ten points for reasons that I will state below. Please note that I will use the author’s own sub-headings for my headings when examining each of the claims that the argument “doesn’t make sense.”

In looking at these reasons arguing against the good sense of Christianity, I want to reiterate how the question of whether Christianity makes sense needs to be approached. To argue that something makes no sense, i.e., is irrational, the evaluator must accept the facts as posited by the person making the claim as true, and then determine whether they are internally consistent. 

Jesus Didn’t Die. 

The author argues that Jesus didn’t die. Rather, Jesus’ death was similar to being in a “deep coma.” The author adds, 
If you go dig up a 3-day old grave, regardless of what you think may have happened to that person’s immortal soul, there’s still going to be a body in it. Jesus’ tomb, on the other hand, was empty, meaning that following his resurrection he was either a zombie or he was fully alive, neither of which is dead.” Finally, the author makes what he believes to be the more compelling point: “Even more relevant is that when he was hanging there on the cross, Jesus knew that he was going to come back. He didn’t have to endure the fear of death that any other human being would have had to face or the uncertainty that presumably afflicts all but the most devout at the moment of death about whether there really was going to be an afterlife, or if this was lights out for good. Yes, he probably suffered physically, but he knew that death would be no more than a long nap and then he’d be up and at ‘em again. In short, he didn’t die.
These are, to put it mildly, a series of ridiculous objections and do not go to the heart of the question of whether Christianity “makes sense.” 

The first objection, i.e., that Jesus was only in a “deep coma”, does not really question the internal consistency of the Christian argument. Rather, the author is arguing against the facts which serve as the basis for the Christian position. It may be that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, but that argument is not about whether Christianity is internally consistent. Do determine that, you have to ask whether God raising a man from the dead is inconsistent with the Christian worldview. Clearly it is not. So, this first point is irrelevant to the argument. 

The second objection, that Jesus was either a zombie or he was fully alive again questions the facts and not the internal consistency of the Christian position. But what is interesting is that his wording (even if his intention was to the contrary) agrees with the Christian position. Forgoing for the moment the idea that Jesus was a zombie (I know few people who would adopt a worldview that accepts zombies as an explanation or the resurrection accounts), the whole point of the resurrection account is that Jesus was, in fact, “fully alive” following the resurrection, so the his alleged dig actually supports the internal consistency of the Christian position (i.e., Jesus rose from the dead – meaning, he became a living being who had conquered death). 

His third point under this argument is that Jesus didn’t die because he knew he’d be resurrected. This point is silly. Whether Jesus feared death and knew when he came back may have an impact on how much Jesus suffered while dying (and even the author acknowledges that he probably suffered physically), but to conclude that because Jesus “didn’t die” because he knew there was an afterlife is quite possibly the most ridiculous point I have ever read. 

In sum, these three points arguing that Christianity is senseless don’t really challenge the internal consistency of the Christian position. While one could make an argument that Jesus went into a coma or that Jesus was a zombie or that Jesus’ knowledge that there was an afterlife means he didn’t die (the latter two arguments I believe to be laughable), those are questions of fact rather than questions about the internal consistency of Christianity. They don’t come close to showing that Christianity doesn’t “make sense.” 

Jesus didn’t have faith. 

The second argument comes closer to questioning the internal consistency of Christianity. The author contends that it is hypocritical for Jesus to demand that his disciples have faith when he didn’t have faith. After all, if Jesus had knowledge of heaven and the afterlife, he didn’t have to have faith in them. The author argues, “How fair is it to command the rest of the world to believe something on faith alone, threatening eternal punishment to any who don’t believe it, when you yourself have no faith and all the evidence?” Interesting, but the author is merely playing word games and is not really threatening the internal consistency of the Christian story. 

First, the author is playing games with the word “faith.” It appears that the author believes that faith is “belief without evidence.” But Biblical faith can actually be pretty accurately described as “trust in God.” He’s right that Jesus didn’t have faith if it means “belief without evidence.” Jesus had the evidence and therefore didn’t have to have faith in that sense. But Jesus did have “trust in God,” and therefore Jesus did have faith in the second sense. 

Secondly, the author is confused. The Christian teaching is not that faith saves you. The teaching is that trust in God saves you, a sinner, through the death and resurrection of Jesus who died to pay the price of sin. Jesus hadn’t sinned, and therefore he didn’t need to be saved. Therefore proving that Jesus had faith (meaning, belief without evidence) in God is not required to make the Christian story internally consistent. 

I should note that the author makes the following statement: “There are many verses to be found in the New Testament in which Jesus says some variation of, ‘Don’t trust your senses, don’t look for evidence, just accept it because I said so.’” I would really have liked the author to have given me his footnotes for this particular point because I don’t believe Jesus ever said any such thing (or any variation thereof). 

Jesus didn’t take away my sins. Or did he? 
The author then continues: “I am no logician, but if Jesus died to take away the sins of humanity, then doesn’t that mean that once he was crucified there was no longer any such thing as sin? If his ‘death’ was the absolution of the human race, which we are told it was, why do I still have to do what the bible says, or go to church, or even believe?” 

I find it doubtful that the author really believes this one. Yes, Jesus died to take away the sins of the world, but the Bible does not say that the “taking away” of the sins would be immediate. Perhaps the people at the time thought that sins would be taken away by Jesus during his lifetime, or shortly after his resurrection, but the promise that Jesus would come later to judge the living and the dead is implicit in Jesus teachings. Taking the Bible as a whole, it is apparent even within the Bible that Jesus’ death and resurrection did not take away the sins of the world. Obviously, there was still killing, cheating and lying that are recounted in the Book of Acts.

Moreover, while this is an important point, it does not disrupt the internal consistency of the gospel accounts. 

Jesus wasn’t a very nice guy. 
This is an odd argument to make about whether the Christian accounts would make sense. Jesus, after all, wasn’t the “nice guy” sent by God. He was the Son of God – the perfect image of the heavenly father. The heavenly father is set to judge the world, and many in this world will be cast outside of His holy presence which is what we call hell. If God were nothing more than a nice guy, this would be very detrimental to his image. But God, and hence Jesus, is not the one-dimensional figure that atheists would like to paint him to be. To use the overused quote of C.S. Lewis, “Aslan is not a tame lion.” 

The author, however, feels that Jesus was opposed to family values. He writes: 
Jesus demanded that his disciples abandon their families and save all of their devotion for him and him alone – a rather narcissistic and not particularly family-centric expectation. Aside from seeming to be in direct contradiction to the commandment about honoring thy mother and father, abandoning spouses and children, while not against any commandments, still seems like a douchey thing to do, even 2,000 years ago. 
A lot can be and has been written about the calls of Jesus towards those claiming to be his disciples, but the simple answer is that Jesus makes these demands in relation to present expectations. He is basically saying, “If you do not choose me over your loved ones, your possessions and even your own life, you are not ready to follow me.” God is not demanding that everyone give up their spouses, their possessions and their lives. Rather, he is merely saying that you are to surrender their place of importance in your life to God. If you are not willing to give up these things in favor of following God, you are not really recognizing God’s rightful place in your life. 

Once again, this is not something relating to the question of whether the Christian story makes sense except in the eyes of some atheists who aren’t really interested in trying to understand what the Bible actually teaches. 

But at this point, I want the reader to notice what is happening to the author’s presentation of his arguments. They are beginning to devolve (as atheistic attacks on the Bible and Christianity usually do) into smears and negative characterizations. I will be speaking more about this in the next part. 

Jesus’ dad was really not a nice guy. 

This is the same argument as immediately above, except now he is trying to argue that God needs to be a nice guy. As I said above, God is not a one-dimensional figure, and since the atheist continual haranguing about the “atrocities” of the Old Testament have been addressed ad nauseum I won’t revisit them here except to reiterate that in the Old Testament God demonstrates on earth through His people, Israel, what will one day take place in heaven – those who are evil will be judged. 

Prayer is contradictory. 
We are told that god has a plan for everything, but then we are told to pray – for our loved ones to get better when they fall ill, for safety in the storm, for the home team to win the big game. Does that mean god will change his plan if you pray hard enough, or the right way, or get enough other people to pray for the same thing? At the very least this seems to suggest he doesn’t really have much of a plan if he’s willing to modify it based on popular opinion or for those who ingratiate themselves to him, not to mention that it’s a rather arbitrary, if not capricious, approach to human suffering.
The author then rambles on about his views on the psychology of prayer, which is not important or even all that interesting. What amazes me is how Internet atheists have a way of almost making a point, then destroying the impact of their point by devolving into the “God is a monster” language. I will respond to the idea that God responds to those who “ingratiate themselves to him” or that God is somehow indifferent to suffering in the next part. But what about this idea that prayer is contradictory? I mean, isn’t it true that God adjusts his plan to prayer which further suggests that God didn’t have a good idea in the first place if he is willing to modify it? What does that do to the concepts of omniscience and pre-destination? 

Well, fortunately there is a pretty easy response to this one that requires only that the person have more of an open-mind then can be expected from the lock-step approach of Internet atheists. Here’s the easy answer: God, being omniscient, already knows who is going to pray and what they are going to pray for when He made His plans. In fact, He knew at the time that He created the universe exactly who was going to pray and what they were going to pray for. Thus, God knew from the beginning of time which prayers He would answer and made his plans accordingly. Thus, there is no contradiction at all for God to answer prayers – it was in the plan from the beginning. 

From this point forward, the author’s main objections are verbal attacks on Christianity. I will respond generally to them in the next part.

As I noted in part I, saying that something doesn’t make “sense” is not a technical term of argumentation. The dictionary says that “doesn’t make sense” is an idiom which can be translated as being incomprehensible or unreasonable. It is my contention that the only legitimate way an argument doesn’t “make sense” is if the argument is internally inconsistent or self-referentially absurd. In other words, when examining a belief for incomprehensibility, the truth of the facts claimed is not the question. The facts are accepted as true and the only question is whether the view point is internally consistent (i.e., “makes sense”) if the facts upon which the viewpoint depends are taken as true.

So, does Christianity “make sense”? To answer, I am going to be careful about what is meant by Christianity.  After all, Christianity can be seen as a single basic belief, what C.S. Lewis termed “Mere Christianity,” with a number of variations on the basic teaching where the Bible is either unclear or does not give an answer. These differing beliefs play out as various denominations and movements within Christianity that certainly fall within the broad spectrum of Christianity but which the teachings of which are not necessarily the only Christian teaching. Allow me to offer two examples.

One major division within Christianity is between those that believe that God saves people on the basis of his sovereign decision without human participation (broadly labeled as “Calvinism”) and those that believe that accepting salvation is a choice that is left to the person without God dictating who will be saved and who will not be saved (largely labeled as “Arminianism”). Of course, that is not every view on salvation under the Christian umbrella, but most views represent variations on these two viewpoints with some emphasizing the sovereignty of God over the choice of man while the others do the opposite. A quick summary of the two viewpoints can be found here  A nice little article which lists Bible verses related to the topic and how each of the two camps interpret them can be found here.

Now, I am certain that some Christians will call me a heretic for what I am going to say next, but I don’t believe that a person has to hold either view to be a Christian.  Contrary to the viewpoint of virtually all atheists and even some Christians, God does not give you a pop quiz when you die nor will God be asking “Did you have the correct theology on the question of Calvinism v. Arminianism?” So, while this is an interesting and important theological discussion which it is worthwhile to think about, and while certain concepts within both views are very Biblical, a single, particular viewpoint about how God chooses who to save is not a teaching that is important to “Mere Christianity.”

A second example is the question of baptism. This is an issue that involves a lot of disputes within the Christian church. Some believe that the only way to baptize is to have that baptism as an adult when the individual makes a declaration that he is ready to accept and follow the Gospel. For some of the more extreme, this is a matter of salvation – failure to be baptized when that decision is made means that the person is not going to receive salvation. Others, such as myself, believe that a baptism is a Christian act, but infant baptism is every bit as legitimate and Biblical as adult baptism.  I know that some of the Baptist brethren will disagree with this next statement, but the Bible can be fairly interpreted both ways. A particular means or timing for the sacrament of baptism is not a required element of basic Christianity.

In both of these examples, I would argue that while a particular viewpoint of how it is accomplished is not essential to the Christian faith, the base teaching of both views are essential. Under basic Christian belief, one must believe that God does offer salvation to humanity and has done so through his Son. Is it totally God’s work or does man have a role? That’s an interesting question, but one that does not require an answer. Under basic Christian belief, God commands that those who follow Him be baptized. Does it have to be at the time that a person reaches an “age of consent” or can the baptism that an infant receives be effective when that person later accepts the faith? Again, that’s an interesting question, but not one that needs to be answered to be a Christian.

So, how can I summarize the basic Christian teachings in a way that is sensible to skeptics and people who are really willing to give a fair hearing to Christianity while remaining faithful to what can be called basic Christian teachings? I have concluded that it is impossible to summarize to everyone’s satisfaction what the Christian faith teaches with respect to its base claims. Still, I think that I can make the following case, satisfy most Christians who are not hard-liners on some of these positions, and demonstrate that Christianity does “make sense.” By the way, I am not attempting to prove these points in this post. I am merely making the points with which I believe that virtually all Christians would agree.

  1. There’s something wrong with humanity. A person might mistakenly believe that he/she is somehow a really good person, but he/she cannot believe that the entire world is good without ignoring the news and the world as it exists. Every day there are murders, thefts, wars, and all kinds of examples of people hurting each other in various and sundry ways. In the Christian faith, this is called “sin.” This is not a natural condition of humanity, but it is present state.
  2. If we suspect there’s something wrong with humanity, it is, at minimum, sensible to conclude that something is wrong. It isn’t just an illusion that people engage in all types of evil actions. These actions can be evil in and of themselves, or the actions can be evil because they are done from motives that we recognize as being evil. As an example of the latter, killing another person in-and-of-itself is not evil. If a person kills another person in self-defense of in defense of another helpless person, that is not considered evil  - the latter may even be considered chivalrous. However, if plans the killing of another person out of hatred or for monetary gain, that is universally considered evil and the punishment that accompanies that killing is worse.
  3. It is further sensible to conclude that those things that people widely perceive as evil are actually evil in a real, substantive sense. Evil is not a function of what society thinks is wrong, but an actual wrong that transcends times and cultures. In other words, it is an objective evil. Further, evil is not a “thing” in and of itself. Rather, it is the absence of good. And while societies can differ on what they consider evil, many (in fact, most) societies seem to be of the same mind in much of what they consider to be good.
  4. If there is actual good and actual evil, there is something that transcends nature, and that thing is the existence of moral law. Thus, it is fair to conclude that any thought system that rejects the existence of a universal, transcendent, objective moral law is not consistent with the universe that people observe.
  5. The existence of moral law infers a power that determines or serves as the standard for the moral law, i.e., there should be a moral lawgiver. As stated on the website, “Without an unchanging, absolute authority that uses an unchanging, absolute standard, which is based on the right and unchanging truth, ethics simply becomes emotive and opinion.” A law implies a lawgiver, and an absolute moral law implies an absolute moral lawgiver.
  6. This moral lawgiver has the power to judge us for if we break the moral law. The appropriate judgment for violating the moral law is death. As the Bible states in Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death….” In other words, the person who sins earns death in the sense that the sinner’s actions has placed him in rebellion to God.  One can argue whether death is the appropriate, but most agree that the person who rebels against a benevolent government deserves extreme judgment. (In jurisdictions without the death penalty, the punishment for treason is usually life imprisonment – the most extreme punishment afforded in those locales.)
  7. In judging those who are in rebellion to his moral authority, the moral lawgiver (i.e., God) can choose to grant sinners judgment or mercy. If the moral lawgiver chooses to extend mercy, the moral lawgiver can put conditions upon the granting of mercy.
  8. The way in which the moral lawgiver has offered mercy is to offer himself, in the person of Jesus Christ (the second person of the Trinity), to suffer the judgment (pay the penalty) we have earned in our place by dying for the evil acts we have committed.
  9. Following his death, the Son then resurrected from the dead to demonstrate that He had overcome death.
  10. To benefit from this mercy that the moral lawgiver has shown us, He asks only one thing: recognition that He is who He is both in our beliefs and how we act, and recognition that it was through His son that we are freed from the death that we should have suffered except for the Son’s act.
  11. Those that reject the terms of the mercy will suffer eternally because they will be removed from the presence of God. (I know my co-blogger, Jason, won’t agree with this, but that’s the traditional teaching and I think it is accurate.)
Again, the truth of any of these points can be debated. But accepting for the sake of argument that they are true, the Christian teaching is internally consistent, i.e., it makes sense.

Next post, I will share my responses to an atheist’s argument that Christianity doesn’t make sense.  

One claim I hear too often is the claim made by skeptics of various stripes that Christianity “doesn’t make sense.” Try searching the Internet with the search terms, “Christianity doesn’t make sense” and you will find a plethora of websites, blogs and discussion boards that make this statement. My Google search of these terms came up with more than six million results. (Of course, many of these are not people arguing that Christianity makes no sense, but enough of them deal with that topic that it shows that a lot of people hold the opinion that Christianity “makes no sense.”) My response is, “Of course Christianity makes sense,” but to determine who is correct, we need to define our terms.

Defining “doesn’t make sense.”

Saying that something “doesn’t make sense” is not a technical term of argumentation. The dictionary says that “doesn’t make sense” is an idiom which can be translated as being incomprehensible or unreasonable. It seems to me that there are two senses (pardon the pun) in which the phrase “doesn’t make sense” can be understood. Both can be illustrated by what happened to me when I attempted to put together a manufactured patio cover earlier this year. The instructions that came with the patio cover told me to take part “AA” and slot it into part “C”.  Unfortunately, contrary to the instructions, no matter how hard I tried, I could not figure out any way that part AA could not be slotted slot “C.” The instructions didn’t make sense.

Now, I recognized that the real question that needed to be answered was “why is it that the instructions don’t make sense?” There were two possible reasons that came out of the example I set forth above. The first is that the instructions really didn’t make sense. Someone who wrote the instructions wrote a step into the instructions that couldn’t be accomplished. Perhaps the author of the instructions had made an error or maybe the company is run by sadists who want to torture people trying to put their products together. But regardless of the reason, perhaps it was the case that even if I correctly read and understood them, the instructions simply were nonsense in that if I followed them exactly and correctly I would not be able to put together the patio cover. This is one sense in which the instructions don’t make sense – they are internally flawed. Assuming that the instructions are accurate and following them, I would not be able to put the patio cover together.  

The alternative reason that the instructions may not have made sense is that I was misreading the instructions. It wasn’t the case that the instructions didn’t make sense because the instructions were flawed; rather, the problem was with me and my inability to understand what was written. I read what the instructions stated, and I simply misunderstood the instructions or couldn’t follow them. It wasn’t that part AA couldn’t be put into slot “C”, it was the case that I was not able to figure out any way that part AA could be put into slot “C” even though others could. In other words, reading the instructions I did not understand what they were saying.

The same holds true with the Bible and the Christian belief. When various Internet atheists, the primary authors of these types of arguments, write that Christianity doesn’t make sense, the first question to ask is whether the lack of “sense” is because Christianity is internally flawed or whether the problem is in the person’s level of understanding. It is my contention that Christianity is not internally flawed, and most of the objections that I have read complaining the Christianity doesn’t make sense are actually the failure of the Internet atheist to understand (or even to take the time to try to understand) what Christianity teaches.

Like the patio cover instructions, I cannot know whether the Biblical teachings are internally flawed unless I accept them as accurate and see whether part “AA” can fit into slot “C”. In doing so, I have to assume that there is really a part “AA” and a slot “C”. I cannot start by saying “I don’t believe that part ‘AA’ exists.” I cannot start by saying, “No rational person would try to put part ‘AA’ into slot ‘C’. “ I have to search and find the parts and try to understand how they could fit together. If they can fit together, even if it isn’t immediately obvious as to how they fit together, then the instructions “make sense.”

What the Christian faith teaches is much more complex than putting part “AA” into slot “C.” Yet, the only legitimate way the main Christian teaching “doesn’t make sense” is if the teaching is internally inconsistent or self-referentially absurd. In other words, when examining a belief for incomprehensibility, the truth of the facts claimed is not the question. The facts are accepted as true and the only question is whether the view point is internally consistent (i.e., “makes sense”) if the facts upon which the viewpoint depends are taken as true.

Thus, for example, one of the central claims of the Christian faith is that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.   Whether Jesus really rose from the dead is not a question of “making sense” but rather one of whether Jesus’ resurrection fits into an internally consistent view. One cannot say that a dead man rising does not make sense. Perhaps it doesn’t make sense in a particular worldview – one that says that miracles cannot happen because the universe is a closed system which allows for no tampering from the outside. But to determine whether a dead man rising makes sense, one has to ask the question within the Christian view which says that an omnipotent God exists and is capable of acting within our universe. In the Christian worldview, there is nothing internally inconsistent or unreasonable in an omnipotent God using his power to raise a man from the dead. Thus, if a person complains that raising a man from the dead doesn’t make sense, that person is really saying only that he/she does not comprehend the Christian teaching. The failure of the person to understand is not because the story is flawed – it is the person’s failure or unwillingness to understand the teaching.

Time permitting; I plan to follow this post up with a quick statement of a basic summary of the Christian teaching that is internally consistent and reasonable. I also plan to respond to claims by Internet atheists that Christianity isn’t reasonable. It would be impossible (and boring) to respond to all of the objections here, so I am going to use this blogpost to respond to the reasons stated by the number one link on Google when I searched those terms to show the baseless nature of the objections. I also intend to show how the arguments made by Internet atheists often devolve into little more than bald faced attacks on Christianity. Finally, time permitting; I will point out a flaw in the thinking of those who claim that Christianity has to make sense to them before it can be accepted.


What ever happened to the Bible? Go on any message board where atheists congregate and start a discussion of any kind that invovles using the Bible as an authority and they will immediately say things that sound as though the Bible doesn't even exist. They regard it as such a pile of crap they wont even tolerate the possibility that it might be defended. One time on a message board (CARM) someone said that I have no way of distinguishing which passages are mythology and which are not. This is an atheist who knows me and knows I'm somewhat liberal. This guy was saying I can't distinguish true passages from ad ons but I just choose what I like. I listed a criteria for understanding mythology, it was a criteria based upon historical critical methods. This is what this other atheist responded. We also discussed the validation of the Bible as a historical artifact. I said the Gospels were historical artifacts that testify to the beliefs of the people who wrote them. That seems like a fairly a priori sort of statement--true by definition--but people are so bad at understanding logic they think that a priori must be a violation of logic instead a kind of logic, becuase they have been led to accept the phrase that teaches them to confuse true by definition with circular reasoning. So the second major issue for the day was historical life of Jesus and the inability of the Gospels to furnish any sort of historical documentation for the same. I listed three ways that we can validate the Gospels historically and this was one response:

Originally Posted by Westvleteren View Post
There is no method that allows the Bible to corroborate itself, as soon as you said that it nullified any possible argument you could make. Quite simply it is asinine. And no I could not care less that you are a PhD candidate as it has no bearing on the validity of your assertions.
I had said that by historical critical methods we can corroborate the Gospels as historical evidence of Jesus' existence. I also laid out an extensive criteria for determining what is mythology and what is not. I didn't claim the Bible corroborates itself. There is obviously a method or no book could ever be corroborated. That method is called "historical critical method." This is so basic and these guys act like I made it up. They are practically saying there's no such thing as historical criticism. This more than more than anything else shows the Orwellian nature of atheism. Anything that they can't out argue by reason or historical fact they merely claim doesn't exist and make to go away because they don't like it. They just brain wash their mentions into thinking "there can't be such a thing as historical critical methods."

Doesn't it seem really imbecilic to think that there's this one book that can't be corroborated? I used three different senses in which a book can be corroborated in order to show how foolish it is to make the statement "no method could exist that would do this." Each sense in which the Gospels can be corroborated (use the Gospels since the historical Jesus was the issue) I use another kind of book. Let's look at the three aspects of the historical critical method that verify the Gospels, and then at the criteria for understanding mythology from historically based writing. Three ways of corroborating the Gospels:

I. The authority of the teaching for the tradition

Most scholars point to the fact that the four canonical Gospels were already used by most of the church by the time of the canon[Martin Franzmann (The Word of the Lord Grows, St Louis: Concordia, 1961, 287-295)]. They bear the stamp of approval of those who were in charge of the teaching for the tradition. The problem is modern skeptics refuse to accept the facts, despise the truth, refuse to accept any sort of defense regardless of how good it is and basically refuse to even investigate the facts. If one actually examined the facts there is no way one can conclude other than that the four canonical gospels are the most logical choices of all the writings we have. Of the 34 lost gospels of which we have copies, fragments, theories, or any sort of inking only the four canonical Gospels makes sense as candidates for the canon. The Gospel according to Thomas has a historical core that probably goes back to the time of late first century. Yet it also has obviously late, maybe 3d century, heavily gnostic material. The Gospel of Peter had material that is corroborated as independent of the synoptic or of of John (see Ray Brown, Death of the Messiah) yet it encases this material in a clearly late framework. Only the canonical Gospels can be bore out as early dated, the trend is to even earlier dates, and at the same time has this vast body of attestation including the final inclusion in the canon. Skeptics also overlook the extent to which these 34 lost gospels supplement and corroborate the canonical Gospels. Most of the historical core of Thomas is in agreement with the synoptic.

American Theological Library Association

More than half of the material in the gospel of Thomas (79 sayings) is paralleled in the canonical gospels:


27 sayings are in Mark & the other synoptics;

46 parallel Q material (in Matthew & Luke)*

12 echo material special to Matthew; &

1 is only in Luke.

* [Q parallels include 7 sayings where Mark has a variant version]

Thomas is important for synoptic studies for two reasons:


Form: It proves that collections of Jesus sayings with no narrative were known in the early church. Thus, it gives indirect support to the hypothesis of a synoptic sayings source, Q.

Contents: Its version of some Jesus sayings is simpler than the synoptic parallels.

For the past 40 years scholars have debated whether Thomas is directly dependent on the synoptic gospels or not. Some have maintained the traditional view that Thomas is a 2nd or 3rd c. gnostic composition whose author extracted Jesus sayings from a Coptic translation of the NT & edited them to fit a gnostic worldview. Most recent experts on Thomas, however, regard it as an early sayings collection based on oral tradition rather than any canonical text.

There are four main reasons why scholars who have studied Thomas conclude that it is independent of synoptic tradition:


No narrative frame: If the compiler of Thomas drew these sayings from the canonical narrative gospels, he removed every trace of the stories in which the synoptic writers embed them.

Non-synoptic order: If the compiler of Thomas drew these sayings from the synoptic gospels, he totally scrambled them, separating adjoining sayings & scattering them at random. No one has yet proven that the sayings in Thomas are arranged according to any logical pattern.

Random parallels: Sayings in Thomas sometimes echo Mark, sometimes Matthew, sometimes Luke. There is no clear pattern of dependence on any one text.

More primitive form: Sayings in Thomas are often logically simpler than their synoptic counterparts. If the compiler drew these sayings from the synoptic gospels, he edited out the traits characteristic of each writer. While some synoptic parallels in Thomas have gnostic embellishments, these are easily removed.

Together these traits of Thomas make it highly unlikely that any synoptic gospel was used as its source. In fact, the random, eclectic character of the contents of Thomas makes it a more primitive composition than the synoptic sayings source that scholars call "Q." While many individual sayings in Thomas may be of late gnostic origin, the core of the collection (sayings with synoptic parallels) is probably as old or older than the composition of the canonical gospel narratives (50-90 CE). To date this gospel any later makes it hard to explain the general lack of features dependent on the synoptics.(Copyright © 1997- 2008 by Mahlon H. Smith
All rights reserved.)

[For more details see Crossan, J.D. Four Other Gospels (Sonoma CA: Polebridge Press, 1992) pp. 3-38 or Patterson, S. J. in Q-Thomas Reader (Sonoma CA: Polebridge Press, 1990) pp. 77-127.]

The old independent core of Peter supports the idea of guards on the tomb, meaning it also supports the crucifixion, the tomb, and the resurrection, empty tomb.

What this means for us so far is that the stamp of approval given by inclusion in the canon means several things:

(1) it means the church as a whole already recognized those books as valid based upon the teaching handed down from the Apostles through the Bishops.

(2) That is corroborated historically and can be verified by the extra canonical materials that agree with the readings, such as Thomas and Peter.

(3) The very fact inclusion in the canon is a priori testament to this fact, since apostolic affirmation was part of the criteria.

An examination of how the canon came to be will bear this out. This is written by me based upon the Franzman source above. It's found on my website Doxa> Bible> The Canon: how do they know the got the right books?

Martin Franzmann (The Word of the Lord Grows, St Louis: Concordia, 1961, 287-295) traces the development of the canon in three stages:

*First Stage: 100-170:

In this stage there is no discussion of a canon. There is informal use of the NT writings but their usage indicates authoritative status. "What we do find in the Writings of the So called Apostolic Fathers (Clement of Rome, Epistle of Barnabas, Ignatius, Polycarp, Hermas, the Teaching of the Twelve) is first a witness to the fact that the books destined to become the New Testament canon are there, at work in the church from the first...the influence of all types of New Testament writings (Epistles, Gospels,Johannine works, Pauline letters, catholic letters) is clearly decreeable. To judge by the evidence of this period the four Gospels and the letters of Paul were everywhere the basic units in the emerging canon of the New Testament." (Franzmann, 288)

Franzmann doesn't mention it directly but by implication (see quotation above) other books were also read in this period, but their use was unevenly speared through different churches. Each local church had it's own canon. They shared most of the New Testament writings but also preferred their own "local books," for example The Shaped of Hermas was popular in Rome (it's place of origin) and The Didache in Syria (Streeter, the Primitive Church).
At the end of this period the church is forced to deal with the question of a canon directly for the first time. The Heretic Marcion rejected the OT and revised the book of Luke. He presented a canon consisting only of his revised Luke and the letter of Paul minus the Pastoral Epistles.

*Second Stage, 170-220

The elements already present are firmed up. "Fourth fifths of the Chruche's eventual canon is already established beyond debate (Franzmann). The major documents which attest to the canon in this period are a report form the church's in Vienne and Lyon of a persecution they had undergone, sent to Asia Minor, and a work by Theophilus Bishop of Antioch in Syria. Neither list includes all 27 books, but they are substantially identical to the list we have today, and since the subject of neither work was specifically canonicity we cannot be sure why certain books aren't mentioned. The major church "Fathers" of this period are Irenaeus of Lyon, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian of Carthage. Their writings include all the 27 books except 2nd Peter. They show that there was unanimous agreement on all the books accept those that latter were disputed at the council of Niecia: Hebrews, Revelation, James, second Peter, second and third John, Judea and Revelation (which is why all of these are at the Back of the NT).

The other major document of this period is the Moratoria Fragment: The document was discovered by a Librarian in Milan in 1740, the librarian's name was Moratoria. It gives us a complete picture of the church at Rome in AD 170. The Muratorian includes 22 books, those omitted are Hebrews, 1 and 2 Peter, James, and one of the shorter letters of John. The document also includes a Revelation of Peter, Although it notes "some of us don't want it read in church." The Wisdom of Solemn is included but the Shaped of Hermas is rejected for it's early origin. But it is noted as not used in church.

*Third Stage: 220-400:

Origen, an Alexandrian theologian of the 3d century knew all 27 books of the Canon and was the first to take note of 2 Peter. Dionysius of Alexandrian, Origen's student, doubts the Johonnine authorship of Revelation but accepts its authority. When Euesbius, the first great historian of the Chruch discusses the canon in his Ecclesiastic Histories (325) he still has no official body of decision to appeal to. He doubts the works that were contested, Hebrews, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, Hebrews. But what he does not doubt is the tradition that establishes the truth of Christ. He documents all ancient sources he can find, mainly Papias and Ireaeus, and others, the Bishop's lists, and expresses faith in the handing on the knowledge of truth. Cyril of Jerusalem in 350 recommends a 26 books canon (excluding Revelation) as "books recommended by all" (Franzmann 293).

"The 27 book canon...established itself in the early centuries of the church and maintained itself in the continued life of the church...they [the books of the canon] are what Athenasius called them, 'the wellsprings of salvation.' (Franzmann, 295).

The canon was the product of a process that developed over time. It was not something adopted in a weekend. The stories about putting out the lights and stealing the copies not favored by the power structure are just BS. I've tried find historical proof such going's on and there are none.

II. Eye witness testimony backing the material

There are two aspects to this issue:

(A) Community as Author.

Sketpics make a big thing out of the fact that no Gospel can be corroborated as the product of its namesake, Matthew can't be proved to have written by Matthew, and John cannot be proved to have written by John. Therefore, skeptics conclude, there's no authority of eye witness testimony. yet the skeptics are ignorant. These books don't have to have been written by members of the twelve Apostles to contain eye witness testimony. Moreover, these works are not the product of a single individual. Scholars have for some time now recognized that the true authors are whole communities (see Luke Timothy Johnson, Writings of the New Testament). This means the community was the witness. We know that these early communities lived together communally. People are aware of the old saying that the early Christians sold their goods and moved in together but no one stops to think what it means. It means they developed the story together as a community. The force of truth, the power of the eye witnesse would have prevails in dominating the discussion. Eye witnesses would have been authorities and new comers would have been students.

The Jews of the first century had an oral culture, meaning it was their tradition to pass on knowledge by word of mouth. There are various works such as Cullman's The Johanine circle. and the Student Ph.D. dissertation the Matthew School (University of Dallas) that show historical basis for the communal theory, but its' rooted in the book of Acts. Skeptics think of the spread of the Gospel through oral tradition as wild rumors in which there was fomentation time for things to speak out of control This is just a fancy out of touch with the facts. The communal setting would have offered a controlled setting in which the information could have been kept straight, the oral culture would have provided the framework; these people knew how to keep oral tradition intact.

Stephen Neil (scholar)

"No one is likely to deny that a tradition that is being handed on by word of mouth is likely to undergo modification. This is bound to happen, unless the tradition has been rigidly formulated and has been learned with careful safeguard against the intrusion of error" (The Interpretation of the New Testament: 1861-1961, London: University of Oxford Press, 1964, p.250)

Neil adds in a fn: "This is exactly the way in which the tradition was handed on among the Jews. IT is precisely on this ground that Scandinavian scholar H. Risenfeld in an essay entitled "The Gospel Tradition and its Beginnings" (1957) has passed some rather severe strictures on the form cuticle method.

See also M. Dibelius... Neil goes on to say that there is some "flexibility" in the transmission, but nothing that would change the basic facts or the thrust of the teaching otherwise, "But there is a vast difference between recognition of this kind of flexibility, of this kind of creative working of the community on existing traditions, and the idea that the community simply invented and read back into the life of Jesus things that he had never done, and words that he had never said. When carried to its extreme this method suggests that the community had far greater creative power than the Jesus of Nazareth, faith in whom had called the community into being." (Ibid.).

Oral tradition in first-century Judaism was not uncontrolled as was/is often assumed, based on comparisons with non-Jewish models. B.D. Chilton and C.A. Evans* (eds.), Authenticating the Activities of Jesus(NTTS, 28.2; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1998):

"...[T]he early form criticism tied the theory of oral transmission to the conjecture that Gospel traditions were mediated like folk traditions, being freely altered and even created ad hoc by various and sundry wandering charismatic jackleg preachers. This view, however, was rooted more in the eighteenth century romanticism of J. G. Herder than in an understanding of the handling of religious tradition in first-century Judaism. As O. Cullmann, B. Gerhardsson, H. Riesenfeld and R. Riesner have demonstrated, [22] the Judaism of the period treated such traditions very carefully, and the New Testament writers in numerous passages applied to apostolic traditions the same technical terminology found elsewhere in Judaism for 'delivering', 'receiving', 'learning', 'holding', 'keeping', and 'guarding', the traditioned 'teaching'. [23] In this way they both identified their traditions as 'holy word' and showed their concern for a careful and ordered transmission of it. The word and work of Jesus were an important albeit distinct part of these apostolic traditions.*

"Luke used one of the same technical terms, speaking of eyewitnesses who 'delivered to us' the things contained in his Gospel and about which his patron Theophilus had been instructed. Similarly, the amanuenses or co-worker-secretaries who composed the Gospel of John speak of the Evangelist, the beloved disciple, 'who is witnessing concerning these things and who wrote these things', as an eyewitness and a member of the inner circle of Jesus' disciples.[24] In the same connection it is not insignificant that those to whom Jesus entrusted his teachings are not called 'preachers' but 'pupils' and 'apostles', semi-technical terms for those who represent and mediate the teachings and instructions of their mentor or principal.(53-55)(corrosponding fn for Childton and evans")

Also, there wasn't an necessarily a long period of solely oral transmission as has been assumed:

"Under the influence of R. Bultmann and M. Dibelius the classical form criticism raised many doubts about the historicity of the Synoptic Gospels, but it was shaped by a number of literary and historical assumptions which themselves are increasingly seen to have a doubtful historical basis. It assumed, first of all, that the Gospel traditions were transmitted for decades exclusively in oral form and began to be fixed in writing only when the early Christian anticipation of a soon end of the world faded. This theory foundered with the discovery in 1947 of the library of the Qumran sect, a group contemporaneous with the ministry of Jesus and the early church which combined intense expectation of the End with prolific writing. Qumran shows that such expectations did not inhibit writing but actually were a spur to it. Also, the widespread literacy in first-century Palestinian Judaism [18], together with the different language backgrounds of Jesus' followers--some Greek, some Aramaic, some bilingual--would have facilitated the rapid written formulations and transmission of at least some of Jesus' teaching.[19]" (p. 53-54)

N. T. Wright, critiquing the Jesus Seminar's view of oral tradition as uncontrolled and informal based on some irrelevant research done in modern Western non-oral societies writes:

"Against this whole line of thought we must set the serious study of genuinely oral traditions that has gone on in various quarters recently. [65] (p. 112-113)**

"Communities that live in an oral culture tend to be story-telling communities. They sit around in long evenings telling and listening to stories--the same stories, over and over again. Such stories, especially when they are involved with memorable happenings that have determined in some way the existence and life of the particular group in question, acquire a fairly fixed form, down to precise phraseology (in narrative as well as in recorded speech), extremely early in their life--often within a day or so of the original incident taking place. They retain that form, and phraseology, as long as they are told. Each village and community has its recognized storytellers, the accredited bearers of its traditions; but the whole community knows the stories by heart, and if the teller varies them even slightly they will let him know in no uncertain terms. This matters quite a lot in cultures where, to this day, the desire to avoid 'shame' is a powerful motivation.

"Such cultures do also repeat, and hence transmit, proverbs, and pithy sayings. Indeed, they tend to know far more proverbs than the orally starved modern Western world. But the circulation of such individual sayings is only the tip of the iceberg; the rest is narrative, narrative with embedded dialogue, heard, repeated again and again within minutes, hours and days of the original incident, and fixed in memories the like of which few in the modern Western world can imagine. The storyteller in such a culture has no license to invent or adapt at will. The less important the story, the more the entire community, in a process that is informal but very effective, will keep a close watch on the precise form and wording with which the story is told.

In the Handbook of Biblical Social Values (2000), Jerome Neyrey says,

The people in the bilbical world are dyadic. This means that individuals basically depend on others for thier sense of identity, for their understanding of their role and status in society, for clues to the duties and rights they have, and for indications of what is honorable and shameful behavior. Such people live in a world which is clearly and extensively ordered, a system which is well known to members of the group. Individuals quickly internalize this system and depend on it for needed clues to the way their world works. . . The tradition handed down by former members of the group is presumed valid and normative. . . Group orientation is clearly expressed in the importance given to authority. (p.94-7)

see also
- Bruce Malina & Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptics, and Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel on John.
- See also John Pilch, Jerome Neyrey, and David deSilva. The Context Group publications are listed here.

Part 2

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