During the past 25 years, there has been a dramatic resurgence in Christian apologetics, as many talented individuals have written books and given public speeches in defense of the Christian faith. Some of these people have even gone so far as to claim that we are now living in the Golden Age of Christian apologetics (see here, here and here). More books are being published than ever before, and the New Atheist movement, which appeared so powerful ten years ago, has largely fizzled out. The future looks good – or does it?
In this series, I’m going to explain in detail why I believe this rosy view is utterly mistaken, and why Christians are actually facing a thirty-year winter.
Today’s young people use the Internet, not books, to evaluate competing ideologies. And on the Web, Christian apologists are not winning. Christianity is being hammered on all sides, by a diverse assortment of highly articulate, media-savvy, and ethically committed social activists, humanists and rationalists of various stripes, who have undermined Christianity very effectively, using a brilliant combination of gentle humor, excellent presentation skills, secular scholarship and genuine moral outrage. And that, I believe, is why young people are leaving it in droves.
Below, I identify no less than 26 problem areas in contemporary apologetics, where skeptical arguments against Christianity are very powerful. Hence the title of my post: “An A-Z of Unanswered Objections to Christianity.” (Please note: I’m saying these objections are unanswered, not unanswerable.) In the next 26 posts, I’ll be playing the part of a devil’s advocate: I’m going to argue the part of the skeptic, as well as I possibly can. To those readers who may be shocked to see a Christian arguing the skeptic’s case, please understand that I’m doing so partly as an intellectual exercise (as I wrestle with my own doubts) and partly because I want Christian apologists to realize that their case is not as ironclad as they thought: it’s more like a ship that’s sinking fast, while the guests on board continue to carry on as if nothing is wrong.
My conclusion is that apologists can no longer afford to play an offensive game, by trying to win new converts to Christianity. If they do that, they will end up losing the intellectual debate. What apologists need to do instead is hunker down and develop a strong defensive game. They need to come up with good answers to the key objections to Christianity. If they do that, then at least they may be able to retain the allegiance of young people who have grown up in the Christian faith. And that’s all we can hope for, right now. Contrary to what many apologists claim, we are far from reaching “peak secularism”: things won’t start to pick up for Christians until 2050, at the earliest. In the meantime, we are in for a long winter.
26 Topics I’ll be discussing
A. Proofs of the existence of God. Do the arguments for God’s existence actually demonstrate the existence of a transcendent Uncaused Cause Who is unique and intelligent?
B. God’s attributes. According to classical theism, God is simple and indivisible, necessary, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, infinite, totally distinct from His creatures, completely independent of us and in no way affected by us. Is this picture of God philosophically defensible? Or do we need to jettison classical theism in favor of a brand new picture of God?
C. The problem of evil. How can we reconcile the evil we see in the world around us with a belief in God’s goodness, while retaining our belief in genuine human freedom?
D. Yahweh, the God of the Bible. Should we cast aside the God of the Bible as the tainted fruit of a tainted tree, if it turns out that the original Yahweh worshiped three thousand years ago was nothing like the God Christians worship today? Can we still worship a God who appears to have sanctioned genocide, rape, slavery and misogyny? At what stage in Jewish history does Yahweh finally “clear the bar,” ethically speaking, as a Deity worthy of worship, if ever?
E. Evidence for miracles and the power of prayer. Is there any convincing evidence for miracles, and is there any scientific evidence that prayer actually works?
F. Superhuman intelligences: angels, demons and aliens. Do science and philosophy render the existence of angels and demons highly unlikely, and justifiable only using ad hoc assumptions about the cosmos? And would the existence of aliens (and multiple incarnations of God the Son on other planets) be a game-changer for Christianity?
G. Human uniqueness. Do human beings have any special mental abilities that distinguish them both from other animals and from A.I. (artificial intelligence)?
H. Human origins. Was there a first generation of human beings? Did the human mind (or spirit) spring into existence overnight, as Christianity claims, or did we emerge gradually?
I. The self: am “I” real? Is there such a thing as the “self,” or is the self an illusion? And if the self is real, are its thoughts conscious or self-conscious?
J. The origin of the human soul. How can my existence be part of God’s plan, if my coming into being (or conception) was an accident?
K. Free will. Does the available scientific evidence render the existence of free will unlikely, and is there a plausible model of how free will might work?
L. Dualism. Do humans do everything (including thinking, choosing and loving) with their brains, or are there good philosophical reasons for holding that some human actions that can only be performed by an immaterial soul? And if there is a soul, can we avoid the dreaded “interaction problem”? What does the scientific evidence indicate? And what does the Bible really say about the soul?
M. The afterlife. Is the notion of personal immortality philosophically credible? Is there a model of immortality that resolves the information problem (where does the personal information that makes me who I am go when I die), the identification problem (who or what guarantees that I’m still me, after I die) and the uniqueness problem (who or what guarantees that there’ll only be one “me”)?
N. Heaven and Hell. Did Jesus actually teach that we go to Heaven or Hell when we die, and does the Bible teach this doctrine? And isn’t the doctrine of Hell fundamentally unjust?
O. The Bible. Can we still believe in the Bible story, when some of the key characters in the story (Noah, Abraham) were not historical individuals, while others (Moses, Elijah) probably existed, but what the Bible says about them is largely mythical? Can we still believe in Biblical morality, in light of the fact that it seems to have evolved, and was originally quite barbaric? Is it reasonable to believe that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant word of God, when some of its books (and prophecies) were forged? And is it rational to believe that the Bible was given to us by God, when the canon of Scripture is the product of accident and deceit?
P. Prophetic evidence for Christianity. Are there any clear prophecies of Jesus in the Bible, which declare that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem, crucified and resurrected?
Q. The Virgin Birth. Are there any good reasons to believe in the Virgin Birth? And are there any good reasons not to?
R. The Resurrection. How convincing is the evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection? And does the idea of a bodily resurrection make any sense, anyway?
S. The Trinity. Can the doctrine of three persons in one God be coherently stated in plain English? Is it gobbledygook? And is it Biblical? Finally, did the early Christians believe in the doctrine of the Trinity?
T. The Incarnation. Does it even make sense to speak of God becoming a man (Jesus Christ), 2,000 years ago? And did the early Christians believe that Jesus was a person with a divine mind and a human mind?
U. Original Sin. Isn’t the doctrine that we all suffer because of the sin of one man an unfair one? And how could Original Sin possible be transmitted from one generation to the next, anyway? Finally, is the doctrine of Original Sin Biblical?
V. The Atonement. Did Jesus have to die on the Cross in order to redeem us? (If yes, then doesn’t that make God the Father a sadistic monster?) Also, was being crucified part of Jesus’ plan to redeem us? (If it was, then sin was part of his plan to redeem the world from sin.) And if the punishment of Original Sin was justly inflicted on the human race, then how could any act by a third party possibly remove it?
W. The Sacraments. Isn’t it it “magical” to believe that physical signs can confer spiritual graces on us? And does it make any sense to say that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist?
X. Christian morality. Can we know what is right, without the aid of Divine revelation – and if we can, doesn’t that make God ethically redundant? Is there a fatal contradiction lurking at the heart of Christian ethics, between an essentialist ethic, which is based on natural law, and a non-essentialist ethic, which is based exclusively on the Golden Rule? Is Christianity a house divided, on matters relating to morals? And is the Christian concept of “goodness” too narrow?
Y. The impact of Christianity. Has Christianity actually made the world a better place? And even if it has, what would follow if it hadn’t?
Z. The Christian Church. Does it actually go back to Christ, has it ever contradicted itself, and are its doctrinal decisions guided by the Holy Spirit?
All good issues. I look forward to the series.
And then there’s Donald Trump. In the USA, many Christians got together and elected Trump as president. To me, this seems to be a complete refutation of Christianity.
No, it doesn’t refute the Bible. But it surely refutes Christianity as it is actually practiced.
You might want to settle A. Until then, the rest seem moot.
I think before you discuss the doctrine of the Trinity you should discuss the question of the deity of Christ. Perhaps you could collapse the afterlife and heaven and hell into one category so that you still have 26. 🙂
Also, as a faux sceptic, is there a reason to leave out Jesus’ promised return within the lifetime of his disciples?
Good point about the Second Coming. I’ll have to think about where to put that one (maybe under Prophecies) as it definitely deserves to be addressed. Cheers.
Also, do you plan on saying anything about the nature and role of apologetics?
Or should we assume that any question a “skeptic” might ask deserves an apologetics response.
As a religious monotheist, I find this to be the one of the darkest posts & impending series in the history of this site. It promises quasi-Catholic skepticism, not Catholic inspiration. It is claimed to come from the voice of a “devil’s advocate”, who now promotes an incoherent “theistic evolutionism”, just a few years after being a card-carrying Discovery Institute interviewing IDist.
Sadly, I don’t think it will lead a single “skeptic” here or anywhere to change their mind, or even to hesitate to change their mind. I think it will make them more skeptical, not less, despite Torley’s “best intentions” in the dark. I also don’t think it will in any way uplift “Christianity” (as Torley sees it living as he does on a large island of unbelief), given Torley’s record of doubt, using secular Jewish critiques of “Christianity” as his preferred “apologetics”. It thus just seems to be a bad case of confident “theological scientism”, one that cannot, because of it’s secularizing premises, actually do anything to heal apologists as it claims, but rather serve merely to harangue them. = (
I see little possible benefit from this “series” by Torley at TSZ, and much potential for disaster.
He’s signed up for the service of being a “devil’s advocate” for the foreseeable future weeks and months. Thus, that’s the kind of “new apologetics” that can be expected will likely come out of his efforts here too.
There may be another option. Vincent could actually DO apologetics that he doesn’t doubt, rather than just doubting the apologetics that others do. Doing that would gain him some respect and credibility, even while bringing more mockery and opposition from the skeptics here. Instead, he’s not gonna choose to do that, and is rather setting himself up as a “new apologist” to skeptics. Skeptic apologetics, however, isn’t needed or welcomed by believers; that’s just Vincent.
No, Vince. Your hope is far too thin & jaded. (Perhaps I can understand your feeling of isolation over there on an island, as I too have lived in a similar social environment regarding “faith”. But I do not, sir, understand why your “high hopes” are so terribly low.) Please talk to a philosopher priest to help sort yourself out, before going off on another tangent critiquing other Christians for this particular gallery of atheists & agnostics.
What a shame that you think this is the only or best way for you to commit your “research” time, spent “in the service of unrepentant skeptics”!
Maybe you could start telling “your” unique story as an Australian Catholic who moved to Japan where Christianity was banned and there are very few Christians living today, rather than trying to improve on the better work of others, thus setting yourself up for failure and further self-doubt? Surely this could be more inspiring than the numbing “new defensive apologetics” series it seems you have planned with the hubris of “Icarus the post-IDist Apologist”? https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2015/10/11/446865818/driven-underground-years-ago-japans-hidden-christians-maintain-faith
I’m not seeing any risk of disaster.
As for possible benefit — I assume the main benefit is to vjtorley himself. It is possibly his way of working through his doubts.
Yes, it’s a personal apologetics to himself in diary form.
Meanwhile, in reality: https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/
The most thoroughly anti-Christian parts of America, are the Christian churches who got together to elect Donald Trump as president.
I think Torley is quite badly confused but there’s no harm in having TSZ host his confusions.
Let’s not ignore the fact that it’s with white Evangelicals that Trump’s support is rock-solid.
I have a hard time visualizing the orange idiot supporter who is not at least a closet racist. Other than racial hatred, what possible appeal could he have. It boggles the mind.
I mean, let’s suppose you also like paying people to pee on you. I don’t see how that translates to political support.
They are willing to tolerate racism if allows them to maintain power and control, they only want everyone to be on the same footing. Democrats are the real racists.Republican Party is the party of Lincoln. Big government is the real oppressor of all people. Fake news. Law and order.
“While I think Republican candidates need to continue to focus on the principles of the Republican Party, such as low taxation, personal responsibility and limited regulation, I think having a deeper discussion around race could also be meaningful,” said former state Rep. Stefani Carter, R-Dallas, who is Black.”
“But some in the state GOP scoff at the notion that the problem is with the party. State Rep. James White, R-Hillister, the only Black Republican in the Texas House, said he feels the media holds Democrats and Trump to a “different standard.”
“We had riots throughout the country while Obama was president, and I believe he called rioters thugs,” he said. “My guy refers to them as thugs, and then all of a sudden people think that he’s race signaling.”
White also pointed to the more recent protests that have occurred since Floyd’s death, noting that Floyd, who was pinned to the ground for nearly eight minutes while an officer held a knee to his neck, was killed in a city “run by Democrats.”“
Yes, in reality. A bit more recent Pew. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/04/30/few-americans-say-their-house-of-worship-is-open-but-a-quarter-say-their-religious-faith-has-grown-amid-pandemic/
It seems the religious feel more religious at this moment. I see little from the non / no religion camp.
Yes, it does appear that in your dehumanizing anti-religiosity, one can only conclude in agreement with you: “I see little.” Most “normal” people around the world, refuse to be forced to shut the eyes of their heart.
Gregory – You’re educated enough to know what ‘argumentum ad populum’ is, and what it isn’t. I am pleased you used the phrase “refuse to be forced to shut the eyes of their heart”, it is emblematic of the utter gibberish we face.
Following on the Pew poll linked above, meanwhile in the US, Australia, UK, which addresses the non-religious as well:
Do atheists and agnostics also pray?
Neither of these sources ( clicking through to the primary in the first instance) make any claim of conversion. I image woo woo spirit crystal people also buy more crystals in times of woe.