An Atheist’s Response Regarding The Historical Evidence for Christianity
The purpose of this response is not to turn you into an atheist or cause you any grief in your life. I believe people should be able to believe whatever it is they want to believe, but sometimes the negative impacts of a belief can override it’s positive aspects. I also feel it is important to stand up for the excellent standards science has held throughout history and which has brought humanity most, if not all, of it’s greatest benefits and advancements. This paper is specifically addressed to people who are claiming that there is strong and convincing evidence for their Christian beliefs and who believe that their religious views are more logical to believe that the scientific findings that contradict many of them. Christianity seems to have no problem telling others why they believe that their critic’s views are false, so they shouldn’t have a problem hearing the evidence against their own beliefs or who is someone who is a Christian for other reasons, then this probably not the paper for you.
When I first began studying the Bible, I was doing what most people do when they believe something is true and are involved with a specific group. I was compiling the evidence for that belief. I read many of the books in support of “Intelligent Design” such as Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box, Jonathon Wells’ Icons of Evolution, as well as numerous other books that supported a Christian belief system. All of these books claimed that many of the things science considers as “facts”, are actually inaccurate, such as the Theory of Evolution and it’s consistency with the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. This lead me to an important question, If these theories were inaccurate, why is it that the overwhelming majority of scientists state them as fact? In order to be fair to both sides, I began reading what the opposing side had to say from their own writings. One book I found really helped me to begin my assessment of the evidence. It is called the Counter Creationism Handbook by Mark Isaak and it gives scientific answers to the arguments Christians usually use when trying to support their beliefs.
After reading it, as well as numerous other books from authors such as Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel C. Dennett, and Sam Harris, I began to see that many Christians either deliberately misrepresented scientists statements, used false analogies, made unsupported statements of fact, ignored their critic’s refutations, used circular reasoning, or just didn’t understand the science they were opposing. I know that might sound harsh, but throughout my paper, I intend to give examples of every one of them.
One of my reasons for this paper is to show how Christianity forces good people to commit acts which most people would consider immoral. Again, I believe people should be free to believe what they want, but when Christians try to force our schools to teach things that are proven false well beyond reason or when people are dying because of these beliefs, that’s when I think it becomes dangerous to our species and should be confronted.
I think we can all agree that a scholar’s credentials can be very important to the reliability of the information and opinions that they express. With that said, just because someone has a masters degree, a P.H.D., and is the head of a science department, doesn’t necessarily mean their opinions are reliable. The weight of the evidence is what is reliable, not their credentials alone. For example; the reputation of Francis S. Collins is used by some Christians to support their beliefs. Collins is a leading scientist, has good credentials, and was the Director of The National Human Genome Research Institute at N.I.V. He has won numerous awards for his contributions to genetic research and he is also a Christian. His credentials as a scientist however, cannot be used to support his Christian beliefs because he didn’t use his scientific mind as the basis for his beliefs. The reason he became a Christian (as he himself states) is not through research or evidence, but his own amazement of something he observed in nature. Without any evidence, he says he instantly knew there was a god. That is not how science goes about searching for truth. It should be known that Collins himself admits that the Theory of Evolution is a fact and that humans have existed for at least 150,000 years in his book, The Language of Life (pages 166-167,215-216). If a scholar abandons their credentials in order to support their own beliefs, their credentials become meaningless. Also, if a scholar’s beliefs are quoted, it usually means that the evidence itself is absent, otherwise their opinion wouldn’t be needed. Scholars who make statements about tangible evidence is what holds the most weight.
The Methods of Determining Truth
There are many systems that are used to determine truth such as the Scientific Method, the Legal-Historical Method, Perceptual Truth, Rational Truth, Pragmatic Truth, and Revealed Truth. Some of these might be ways in which people determine truth, but most are insufficient methods, which is why serious scholars and the standards of science don’t accept them as reliable.
For Example: Pragmatic Truth can lead to false positives, which has been shown with the usage of placebos in experiments. Perceptual Truth can be uncritical and has been shown to lead people to believe false realities many times. The Scientific Method and Legal-Historical Method are the two methods used most often today. Although the Scientific Method can’t confirm things such as whether George Washington chopped down a cherry tree or not, it is used every day to determine whether a historical event happened or not. Obviously you cannot repeat someone’s lifetime over and over again, but you can make a hypothesis, gather evidence, perform experiments on them and repeat the experiment or test to be sure those findings are accurate.
For Example: scientists use the Scientific Method to solve paternal disputes. They probably were not present at the moment of conception (history), but through their methods, they can positively confirm whether someone is the father of a specific child or not. Scientists may not have personally witnessed a murder (history), but many times they can determine the exact time of death through their methods and the available evidence. Likewise, DNA samples left behind at a scene can positively prove that a person was at the scene (history). The truth is that the Scientific Method is the only method that can be used to confirm historical truth. Unlike Christianity, it does not depend on faith, intuition, speculation, feelings, or authority and its’ conclusions can be tested for error.
I have heard many Christians make statements such as “Christianity is based on the same system of investigation of facts that we use in science, education, and our courts of law” and that “there is historical proof that Jesus rose from the dead.” These statements are inaccurate. I believe that the evidence will show that Christianity’s “evidence” consists of nothing but hearsay, assumptions, and speculation and it is well known that hearsay, speculation, and assumptions are not acceptable forms of evidence used in science or courts of law.
There are many kinds of evidence as we all know and we instinctively know which ones are strong and which ones are weak. The strongest consists of physical things that can be confirmed beyond rationality (i.e. DNA, fingerprints, genetics, etc.). Other acceptable evidence can consist of oral and written testimony. Eyewitness testimony is actually considered the weakest form of evidence because different people observing an event commonly disagree on what it was they observed. Logically, in order to be considered an eyewitness, one must first be able to prove that the eyewitness actually existed. Accepting oral, written, and physical exhibits happens every day in courts of law, but if the evidence and witness cannot be confirmed to exist, they are considered speculation and hearsay and deemed inadmissible. Some evidence can be interpretive. If there are two or more interpretations of the evidence, one being reasonable and the other being unreasonable, you can reject the unreasonable interpretation. If there are two or more reasonable explanations of the evidence, either could be possible and further examination would be necessary to confirm the truth. These are not my standards, they are the standards of our courts of law.
When weighing evidence, it is the explanation that explains all the facts in a logically consistent manner that is the strongest. Coherence is difficult to dispute as a criterion of truth since arguing against it is validating incoherence, which is inherently illogical. This is where I believe Christianity is lacking. Christians are very good at compiling possible evidence to support their beliefs, but many times they ignore or deny the evidence that does not support it.
Burden of Proof
When there is a dispute between two sides of an issue, the topic of “Burden of Proof” always comes to the forefront. Many times In their debates with their critics, Christians invalidly place themselves on the side of assumed truth. This is an obvious fallacy because one is placing the burden of proof, not on the assertion, but on it’s refutation. If this was a valid argument, Christians should have no problem with their critics and rival religions placing themselves on the side of assumed truth. A claim is not assumed to be true just because it has not yet been refuted.
It is also important to understand that the burden of proof always falls more heavily on the party that makes the positive claim (aliens exist) or the more extraordinary claim (miracles happened). This is also why one must provide a proposition of the evidence to even get a court case filed and why science also requires the same order to begin an examination. Neither of them have the time or funds to examine every claim that comes their way.
“A claim without any support is not one which merits rational belief. Thus, anyone making a claim which they consider rational and which they expect others to accept must provide some support. The methodology of skepticism, critical thinking, and logical argument is what allows us to separate sense from nonsense. When a person abandons that methodology, they abandon any pretense of trying to make sense or engage in a sensible discussion, If the person making an extraordinary claim cannot provide sufficient support for their claims, the default position of disbelief is justified.” (taken from about.com-atheism vs. theism who has the burden of proof?)
Trustworthiness is a quality most people concede as being important when relying on the information from a specific source. This is another inconsistency I find Christians making in their arguments against science. They understand that science is the most respected authority on accurate knowledge which is evidenced by the fact that its’ methods are used and followed throughout the world and it’s accomplishments have given humanity its greatest benefits such as health, transportation, technology, architecture, and the list goes on and on. When Christians go to the hospital for a doctor’s advice or to get a much needed surgery, they are trusting in science. When they drive their cars, brush their teeth, make calls on their phones, eat healthy foods, exercise, enjoy the shelter of their homes, get on the computer, and sleep in their beds, they are trusting in science. When they walk into a building, cruise in a ship, listen to or play a musical instrument, they are trusting In science. Then their lives and the lives of their loved ones can be saved by a paramedic’s procedures, they trust In science. They even trust in the things derived from science that don’t always benefit humanity such as the effectiveness of firearms and nuclear weapons. They trust in science every day, all day long, except when it disagrees with their religious beliefs, Has Christianity proven to be trustworthy? Hardly. There has been a consistent pattern shown over history where Christianity makes a statement of fact, which eventually is proven false by science. How many times has science made a statement of fact that was eventually proven false by Christianity?
If Christians truly believe that science is untrustworthy, why don’t they see how long they would survive without it? We don’t have to question whether Christians trust in science or not, their actions speak for themselves. They may have faith in their religion, but their trust is in science.
Bias is obviously not something that can determine whether something is true or not, but it can be considered as a negative influence when weighing evidence. All people (including scientists) can exhibit some type of bias in certain situations, but any attempt to argue that the methods of science are bias will be hard to support.
The standards and methods of science are specifically used to counter bias. That is why they must be controlled experiments. An individual scientist might let bias creep into their work, but their career and reputation is at stake and their work won’t be accepted if bias is used to support their findings. Science is objective, not subjective. If something can be shown to be scientific “fact”, it will be accepted whether the person presenting the evidence is Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, or an atheist. When evidence is not conclusive or can be interpretive, Christians sometime claim that critics are selfish and make statements such as “they just don’t want to abide by God’s standards.” These types of statements don’t seem to hold much weight after consideration.
Christians are promised an everlasting life of happiness for believing in Jesus. Critics of Christianity believe they have no such hope for themselves. Even if they spend their limited lives doing whatever they wanted to do, it certainly doesn’t compare to a life of happiness forever. Also, if a scientist could prove the existence of the God of the Bible and other Christian beliefs, he or she would be guaranteed world prestige, fame, and would probably be a lot wealthier thereafter. Another point to remember is that the benefits derived from science are given to all people no matter what they personally believe. Christianity on the other hand is not open to findings that disagree with what their religion says is true no matter how much convincing evidence is presented to them. It also demands belief in itself in order for a person to be given its’ so called benefits.
There are a handful of arguments that are used by Christians, which refer to the biblical manuscripts as a whole. They usually contain information that is accurate, but the arguments themselves are often flawed, irrelevant, or misleading. For instance, Christians usually begin by pointing out the superiority of their manuscripts in both number and proximity compared to other ancient manuscripts, which are claiming to be historical events. They add to this by also claiming that the scribes tried to adhere to strict rules when making the copies of the biblical manuscripts. Every one of these claims are true. In fact, there are over 24,000 New Testament manuscripts in existence today, which dwarfs the amount of other ancient manuscripts. At this point, Christians will usually claim that their critics are being bias and hypocritical by doubting the validity if the Christian manuscripts, yet accepting secular manuscripts which are even further removed from their events.
This is a fallacious argument for a few reasons. First of all, it does not matter whether manuscripts are 100 years removed or 1,000 years removed from the events they are claiming or whether there are 24,000 manuscripts or just 2 of them, if they are far enough removed from the events alleged or if they come from an unknown source, they would all equally be deemed hearsay. Even if they dated to the exact date, they would still need to come from a known source and be supported by other outside sources.
Secondly, the argument that is used is not equivalent, which makes it a false analogy. The obvious difference is that secular manuscripts are not making claims of miracles or claiming to be the “word of God”. Of course, you can’t dismiss a claim simply because it includes a miracle, but to support a claim like that and expect someone to reasonably believe it, one would need to provide evidence at a level much higher than that of hearsay. If the secular manuscripts claimed miracles In them, I believe that they would also be doubted and their burden of proof would likewise raise to a much higher degree. It is also important to remember that copying manuscripts over many years (even to perfection) does absolutely nothing to help in determining whether the events within them are accurate history or not, which would make it irrelevant to our examination. I suspect that Christians know these arguments are invalid, but they are forced to use them when they are trying to convince both themselves and others to hold the illogical belief that hearsay is considered strong and convincing evidence.
The most common claim that is made by Christians is that the Bible was written by 40 men, over 3500 years, and they state this as fact. Does the evidence support this? No. they can say they believe it was, but if we are having a discussion about evidence, speculation should not be included. The following is a compilation of the evidence I could find regarding the biblical manuscripts and which many Christian, as well as non-Christian scholars have agreed upon. If any statements are not accurate, please correct me and let me know where I can find the information. I’m always open to learning the latest discoveries and to reevaluate my position. In this section, I will only be referring to manuscript evidence and any other forms of evidence will be addressed in other sections.