Recently, I was having a conversation with a commenter named Alrenous on Cl’s blog “The Warfare is Mental”. The conversation takes place specifically hin his essay “The Evidential Problem of Evil”, but the exact conversation is unimportant because I want to respond to a stand alone part of the conversation that I think deserves a lengthy point.
Specifically, I want to make that lengthy point on my blog, because I think the point is very important to both how I personally think about Christianity and how I think everyone should think about Christianity. Thus if you want to know more about where I’m coming from on this blog and why I reject Christianity, this essay is for you.
Here’s the comment in question:
Even if you do choose ‘reason,’ Jesus is specifically designed to be ambiguous on the evidence – on purpose, by Jesus. The Christian explanation for this itself doesn’t, in fact, contradict any evidence. This means literally the only counter-argument is Ockham’s razor, unless you can find a logical contradiction everyone else has missed. Ockham’s razor is a heuristic, not a proof.
The Order of Creation and a Direct Contradiction of Evidence
First I’ll look specifically at the claim “The Christian explanation for this itself doesn’t, in fact, contradict any evidence.” Does Christianity truly not contradict any evidence? I think not, because Christianity does contradict some evidence. For my first demonstration, I refer everyone to the first chapter of Genesis.
If we look at Genesis, we find the following for the creation of everything:
- Day 1: Heaven, Earth, Light, Darkness
- Day 2: Sky (firmament), Water
- Day 3: Water, Land, Plants
- Day 4: Sun, Moon, stars
- Day 5: Birds and sea creatures
- Day 6: Nonhuman land creatures, humans
- Day 7: Rest
This has nothing to do with the apparent contradiction with Genesis 2, which does seem to suggest a different story — animals being created from ground instead of water and humans coming before plants and other animals. This also has nothing to do with literal 24 hour periods and billion year periods, though I do think the Bible most likely used literal 24 hour days (see also here).
Much has already been written on these two topics, and though I have not yet seen an adequate resolution, I’d like to talk about something else; something more obvious. Instead of Genesis 2 or a Young-Earth vs. Old-Earth debate, this has to do with the order of the creation and the very real contradiction this has with what the sciences say about how everything came about.
The sciences tell us that the Sun (Day 4) must have come before the Earth (Day 1) and before plants (Day 3). The sciences also tell us that there cannot be light (Day 1) without the sun (Day 4), and that the moon is not a “second great light” but rather a reflection of sunlight.
Science also says that other stars (Day 4) could not have come after our solar system (Day 1). Also, the heavens (Day 1) came billions of years before the Earth specifically (Day 1). If you believe that science has even the most basic parts of astronomy down, this part of Genesis is flat out wrong.
It gets worse if you accept evolution. According to evolution, Birds (Day 5) came after land creatures (Day 6) and some sea creatures (Day 5) evolved from land creatures (Day 6).
Basically, if you think scientists have the even the tiniest clue, the order of Genesis is contradicted by the evidence. Meaning that the Bible is contradicted by the evidence and therefore Christianity is contradicted by the evidence.
The Resurrection of Saints and No Evidence
While some events of the Bible don’t directly and boldly contradict evidence, some events of the Bible contradict evidence indirectly — mainly, we would expect there to be lots and lots of indication that the event took place if the event took place, but instead we find no indication whatsoever.
Good examples of these events for which no substantiating evidence exists are the alleged Global Flood and the alleged Exodus, both of which have no archaeological evidence backing them up. But these events aren’t quite as unequivocal as Matthew 27:45 and Matthew 27:51-54.
Here we have a mass group of saints being resurrected from the dead, coupled with an earthquake and an eclipse. But now we have to wonder, what happened to these saints? They’re never mentioned in the Bible again; apparently Rome just deals with the problem somehow and goes on its merry way. Why did no one outside the Bible record these events?
There were many historians who could have covered the time period who failed to mention the resurrection of the saints, earthquake, or eclipse. There were even some historians who specifically did cover that time and place and mention the Crucifixion, but don’t mention the resurrection of the saints, earthquake, or eclipse. And even if they weren’t any historians available, events of this magnitude often make historians out of people who want to record what they saw.
The claim “The Christian explanation for this itself doesn’t, in fact, contradict any evidence” is then rendered definitively false.
How to Wave Away Any Challenge
Now I’d like to focus on another claim: “unless you can find a logical contradiction everyone else has missed”. This must mean that all logical contradictions to Christianity have been reviewed and found to fail completely. However, I think this is less likely to be so. Instead there appears to be contradictions within Christianity that have been brought up but not actually resolved at all.
A great website Errancy.org surveys some of these contradictions, finding twenty serious contradictions in the Bible, some of which occur in key parts of the Bible, such as massive conflicts in describing how his resurrected body was found to massive conflicts in describing Jesus’s birth, even with the date of Jesus’s birth being very problematic. Ebonmusings finds some additional contradictions that also appear problematic for the Bible.
We Don’t Need No Acknowledgement of Contradictions
But why are these contradictions not seen as a death knell of Christianity? Simply because they can be waved away easily. Even when we have a very stark and direct contradiction like “Jesus healed the blind as he was leaving Jericho” (Mark 10:46) and Jesus healed the blind “[a]s he drew near to Jericho” (Luke 18:35), is dismissed by saying “Oh, there were two Jerichos”.
Something like Simon carried Jesus’s cross for him (Luke 23:26) vs. Jesus carried his own cross (John 19:17) is dismissed by saying “Oh, they both took turns carrying the cross”, despite no passages saying this.
Something like a Centurion physically coming up to Jesus and talking to him (Matthew 5:5-13) vs. not talking to him and instead dealing with Jesus completely indirectly and through intermediaries (Luke 7:2-10) is discussed by suggesting that the centurion only used intermediaries some of the time, denying a lot of the reading of Luke.
Lastly, Mark 8:12 says “There shall no sign be given unto this generation” yet John 20:30 says “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples”, dealt with by inventing a distinction between signs from Jesus and signs from Heaven.
With Skill, Contradictions Don’t Exist
But these resolutions all appear very weak and lacking, because we could easily use them to resolve any contradiction. Imagine we were watching two different accounts of the Wizard of Oz, suggesting that the Wizard of Oz is a documentary (the events all really happened in a spiritual realm which you can’t disprove).
Now imagine someone points out the dispute between the novel which says Dorothy wore silver shoes and the movie which says Dorothy wore ruby slippers. Instant resolution: she wore shoes, also called slippers, which were silver but had rubies in them. It doesn’t matter that both stories only had half the truth.
If you’re on trial, and the first witness says that they were driving when the left tire popped and the second witness says they were driving when the right tire popped, would you say they were contradicting each other, or would you just assume that both tires popped?
It’s no wonder why Christianity doesn’t appear to have any logical contradictions — any contradiction can be dismissed or waved away with relative ease. All you have to do is reason from “there can’t possibly be a contradiction” to “oh, this situation has to be the real one”, where that’s sharing the carrying of a cross, or a distinction between types of signs that the Bible totally meant, or two flat tires and silver slippers with rubies.
The Contradiction Test vs. The Demonstration Test
But the tale of proving that the Wizard of Oz happened tells us another point. The Wizard of Oz as a story contradicts no facts that you can astutely prove; or at least a sufficiently stubborn believer could always counter anything you said about the Wizard of Oz being false.
And this is pretty damning. If the Wizard of Oz is a true story based on the standard “it doesn’t contradict any evidence”, then perhaps this is a terrible standard for proving things.
Perhaps the question shouldn’t be “Why shouldn’t I believe the Wizard of Oz?” or “Please provide evidence against the Wizard of Oz and show it never happened”. Perhaps the question should be “Why should I believe the Wizard of Oz in the first place?” or “Please provide evidence for the Wizard of Oz and show it did happen”.
So I suggest a different test for theories: instead of using the contradiction test (Does this theory produce a contradiction?), use what I am going to call the Demonstration Test (Can this theory be demonstrated to be likely?). Do we have any reasons to think the predictions made by Christianity are actually true? What are those reasons?
I’m genuinely interested in the answer to this question, because past answers I’ve seen haven’t been too satisfactory.
Could Christianity and Naturalism Be the Same?
Both Christianity and Naturalism are, if properly defined, theories about how the world works made up of many truth-apt statements. In order to demonstrate the truth of one hypothesis, each and every truth-apt statement made by the hypothesis would have to be individually verified and demonstrated.
So one question here is, when it comes to making a testable prediction, what does Christianity predict that Naturalism doesn’t? If there is no differences in testable predictions, then it could be said that, surprisingly enough, Christianity and Naturalism are not the same.
This can also be seen in the statement “This means literally the only counter-argument is Ockham’s razor”. Ockham’s razor is the idea we should believe the simpler hypothesis, all else being equal. That means that if all we have left is appealing to Ockham’s razor, then all else must be equal, and we must be looking at theories that make identical predictions on everything — in a sense, the same theory.
What could Christianity and Naturalism differ on? And when they differ, who wins?
For one example, a potential testable difference is that of prayer. Christianity is committed to prayer being sensical and moderately effective, but when we look at it, it fails in a contradictory way, both philosophically and scientifically. Naturalism is committed to prayer not working, so this seems to be a win for naturalism.
Why Be Christian?
So when it comes down to it, why be Christian? Christianity does seem to contradict the external evidence both directly (in the order of creation) and indirectly (in the Resurrection of Saints). Christianity also seems to have a surprising amount of internal contradictions in the Bible as well.
Don’t get me wrong — the Contradiction Test is stunning horrible, because even the Wizard of Oz can pass it. Thus it is utterly stunning that Christianity fails the Contradiction Test. But more to the point, Christianity fails the Demonstration Test, as I write about both here and in other essays.
If none of the evidence is on the side of Christianity, the rest is just emotion. But Naturalism-Humanism is completely compatible with emotion in clear and fulfilling ways.
So why be Christian?
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