T4P-#2: What argument for Christian theism do you think is the strongest?

Tim: When critiquing opposing worldviews, I think it important to be able to figure out what the strongest arguments are for the other side and deal with those. From the standpoint of atheism, I think the most cogent argument is that of the problem of evil and suffering and how to explain that with the premise of an almighty and good God. What argument for Christian theism do you think is the strongest one you are faced with when arguing against it?

  • Phil: As a christian, I used to cite biblical prophecy as indisputable proof for the biblical god. Now, after looking closely at these “proofs”, I’m rather embarrassed.
    So to answer your immediate question, there is no argument for the biblical god I now consider to be very persuasive.

    However, here are a list of evidences that would certainly get my attention.

    1. Statistical evidence demonstrating that christians in hospitals with praying relatives heal faster than the average non-believer.
    2. Statistical evidence demonstrating that the average christian from among the greater body of christians commits less crime than the average Japanese.
    3. A couple of scientifically-vetted cases of a prophet calling down fire from heaven.
    4. A couple of scientifically-vetted cases of bodily resurrection.

    These would certainly get me thinking. But at this point, since I believe the god of the bible is logically incoherent, I would be likely to attribute miracles to some other god if such miracles held up to scientific scrutiny.

Tim: I would be curious to hear some examples of what you thought were embarrassing biblical prophecies. Of course, I can think of many myself, such as the speculations of Hal Lindsey in his Late, Great Planet Earth some 40+ years ago (which at the time seemed quite persuasive to me as well), most of which have proven to have been false. But speculations about how some end-time prophecies might play out is not “indisputable proof” of God. I don’t know if you want to go into that area at all anyway, but I think a strong case can be made for some biblical statements about specific future events that can be proven to have been written long before the events occurred and which in fact did come true.
And as for miracles that hold up to scientific scrutiny, there is one major problem in dealing with such an issue. By definition, a supernatural miracle of some sort cannot be experimentally tested like a phenomenon that occurs according to the laws of nature. So, the only way to evaluate it is according to the conventions of historical analysis. This applies to any event in the past. You can’t reproduce it on demand to test it out. You can only look at the various pieces of evidence left behind (just like at a crime scene) and reach a verdict based on the inference to the best explanation.

  • Phil: Just as one example of the failure of Messianic prophecy, consider the following verse in Hosea.

    Hosea 11:1 “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”

    Now note how Matthew later unequivocally affirms this verse in Hosea as a Messianic prophecy.

    Matthew 2:15 “And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.’”

    Now return to the very next verse in Hosea.

    Hosea 11:2 “But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.”

    If Matthew is willing to abuse the context of the scriptures to this degree in the interest of making Jesus look Messianic, what more might we expect out of the other Gospel writers? Could they, out of vested interests, have fabricated any other details such as Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey in an attempt to make their version of Jesus fit the Jewish Messianic expectations?

    Another example of Matthew’s shoddy appropriation of Old Testament passages to bolster messianic claims is in Matthew 27:9-10. “Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value;” This “prophecy” is nowhere to be found in Jeremiah as Matthew claims. A reference to 30 pieces of silver is instead found in Zechariah 11:12 within a context wholly removed from anything remotely construable as messianic.

    However, while these examples provide ample reason to reject the account of the New Testament due to probable fabrication of events by Gospel writers with vested interests compelling them to vaguely match their fabrications to contextually inconsistent Old Testament passages, this is merely strong inductive evidence, and not the deductive arguments I am prepared to offer for conclusive proof that the god of the bible is logically impossible.

    Other comments in your response concerning the nature of miracles and of historical analysis does give me fodder for follow-up questions worthy of their own posts.

Tim: Phil, if we go down too many rabbit trails like this, we end up missing the main points. There are numerous other “Bible difficulties” I could also mention that I don’t have “slam dunk” answers to as well, but the fact that I don’t know all of the details about what is going on in the text doesn’t really bother me. It’s not what I don’t understand in the Bible that bothers me so much as what I do clearly understand that “bothers” me! There are plenty of good commentaries by capable biblical scholars that give plausible answers to the examples you raise. I could point you to some if you’re really interested, but I suspect that that is not your purpose. You appear to have already reached the conclusion that you can write off the biblical claims and are just fishing for examples that justify in your mind what you’ve already decided. And I suppose you can claim the same in reverse concerning me.
I think my goals are much more modest than what you are stating above — namely that you are prepared to offer deductive arguments for “conclusive proof that the god of the bible is logically impossible.” (I certainly haven’t seen any of those yet.) My goal is simply to show that given the numerous lines of evidence we can see from the records of nature and history that it is perfectly rational to believe in the God portrayed in the Bible and to accept his offer of salvation based on what Jesus Christ did for all humanity. It is not possible to prove this beyond any possible doubt, but I think it is possible to demonstrate that it is true beyond reasonable doubt — the same standard of proof used in court to determine the truth about crimes, etc.

  • Phil: There are no main points of the bible to “miss” if the bible is not true. If you dismiss the Qur’an based on its internal inconsistency, then you must do the same for the Bible. If you believe the bible is not in error, you must be prepared to have a coherent explanation for apparent errors. I’ve examined many attempted explanations for the apparent blunders of Matthew and found none of them to be credible. Have you found any coherent explanations? If not, what role do these inconsistencies play in your inductive reasoning to the conclusion that the Bible is true?
    (I do think these inconsistencies found in the Bible constitute ample inductive evidence against any claim that the bible is inerrant, but I prefer the conclusive deductive proofs such as the absurdity of culpability for an unrequested and unavoidable sin nature I’ll gradually introduce.)

    Most of my deductive proofs for the logical absurdity of your position I’ll reserve for our debates later on. I think we both firmly believe that this question/answer forum must come prior so we avoid straw-manning each other in the debates. I very much appreciate your willingness to openly express your opinions, Tim.

Tim: Phil, this particular thread was to be one of my questions to you, but you are the one who is asking most of the questions and making the assertions, for the most part without any substantive arguments to back them up. My case that God exists and that it is rational to believe in and trust in him does not depend on side issues such as the inerrancy of the Bible. I’m not here to debate you on those issues, though I’m certainly not conceding that you have a case with regards to the references in Matthew either. Since you ask for a “coherent explanation” of these, I’ll reference one commentary’s take. (By the way, could you define ‘coherent explanation’ from your viewpoint? Does it include standard principles of hermeneutics?)
Bible Knowledge Commentary (BKC) on Matt. 2:15 and Hosea 11:1:
“The Messiah was sent to and returned from Egypt so that the prophet’s words, Out of Egypt I called My Son, might be fulfilled. This is a reference to Hosea 11:1, which does not seem to be a prophecy in the sense of a prediction. Hosea was writing of God’s calling Israel out of Egypt into the Exodus. Matthew, however, gave new understanding to these words. Matthew viewed this experience as Messiah being identified with the nation. There were similarities between the nation and the Son. Israel was God’s chosen “son” by adoption (Ex. 4:22), and Jesus is the Messiah, God’s Son. In both cases the descent into Egypt was to escape danger, and the return was important to the nation’s providential history. While Hosea’s statement was a historical reference to Israel’s deliverance, Matthew related it more fully to the call of the Son, the Messiah, from Egypt. In that sense, as Matthew “heightened” Hosea’s words to a more significant event-the Messiah’s return from Egypt-they were “fulfilled.””
And regarding Matt. 27:9-10 and its reference to the Jeremiah prophecy BKC says:
“Matthew viewed these events as the fulfillment of a prophecy of Jeremiah. But the prophecy Matthew quoted was primarily from Zechariah, not Jeremiah. There is a close resemblance between Matthew 27:9-10 and Zechariah 11:12-13. But there are also similarities between Matthew’s words and the ideas in Jeremiah 19:1, 4, 6, 11. Why then did Matthew refer only to Jeremiah? The solution to this problem is probably that Matthew had both prophets in mind but only mentioned the “major” prophet by name. (A similar situation is found in Mark 1:2-3, where Mark mentioned the Prophet Isaiah but quoted directly from both Isaiah and Malachi.) In addition, another explanation is that Jeremiah, in the Babylonian Talmud (Baba Bathra 14b), was placed first among the prophets, and his book represented all the other prophetic books.”
There may be better explanations that these, for all I know. You seem to have a limitless supply of objections to raise, but I don’t have a limitless amount of time to deal with them. So, I suggest that we end this particular thread and get back to the main issues.

  • Phil: Okay, we’ll end this thread then. I do want to point out that the god you are defending is defined by his actions. Therefore the question of the inerrancy of the bible is indeed relevant to whether or not your god exists since a bible authored by god is a potentially relevant part of your definition of god that can be scrutinized in a test of it’s veracity and coherence.


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