Presenting, the Evidence for Christianity

Some may wonder how I could be so hard on Christianity after having adhered to it for so long. Some may wonder how I could have believed it for so long in the first place. In any case, thinking about that has prompted me to succinctly summarize what I perceive to be the state of Christianity with regard to “evidence.”

I have never been much interested in people who claim that they don’t need evidence, because, as I explained in a previous post, you cannot even know what to have faith in without evidence. I make no comment on how I regard such evidence these days. But in my view, there is some.

Jesus (the Gospels)

A lot of people today may be under the impression that the Bible is an ancient book of myths and legends that cannot have anything serious to say about history. To whatever extent this is true of the Old Testament, there are a handful of documents in the New Testament of which this cannot be said. The gospels are the best documents from antiquity by a mile, and they substantiate, in my view (and in the view of most anyone who studies such things) that Jesus existed, and that various basic facts about him are accurate. Being the Son of God is another matter, of course, but the fact is that the documents are impressive.

The Origin of Christianity

If Jesus did not come back from the dead (or rather, if nobody saw him after he was dead), where did Christianity come from? Common retorts to the “the disciples wouldn’t die for a lie” argument are that “people die for lies all the time.” This is embarrassingly bad logic. The argument clearly asks why the disciples would die for a lie they themselves invented, whereas people who die for lies in other circumstances are usually not aware that they are dying for a lie.

It cannot really be substantiated, I think, that Christian beliefs were a total mess, and that orthodoxy emerged due to capricious circumstances and manuscript sifting. The canonical texts were in use quite early on, and the view that Jesus was the Son of God and rose from the dead seems to really be the “Christian” view of what happened. It is admittedly difficult to satisfactorily explain how the belief in a resurrected Jesus of Nazareth persisted, especially when such stories would have to be invented by the people who were endangered by believing them, and when producing the body itself would have stopped the madness.

Of additional interest is the conversion of the apostle Paul. It is hard to deny that he had some kind of visionary experience that caused the dramatic reorientation of his views, by his own account. Since Paul wrote letters that can be dated even earlier than the gospels, it can be fairly well established that he was who he was, and that he wrote them.

The Jews

I joked in a previous post that if you want to destroy Christianity, you can try destroying the Jewish people. But this is not really a joke because the existence (and nature) of the Jewish people is remarkable, and could be regarded as evidence that they are “God’s people.” They have survived in the most impossible circumstances, and are a unique people group. The fact that they have moved back into Palestine and somehow survived attempts by neighbouring countries to wipe them off the face of the earth is notable. It is very politically contentious, but it is notable.

Miracles in Christian Contexts

Having grown up in an environment where people simply believed in this stuff and openly talked about it like it was normal, I have been exposed (mostly second-hand) to a number of incidents that I confess I am unable to really explain away. Over the years I heard many stories, and they eventually piled up to the point where it seemed to me that–even though people do tend to imagine things–one could not unilaterally dismiss them all.

There are a couple incidents I have in mind as I write this. They mostly have to do with physical healing (not the kind susceptible to a placebo), although a few others, which I read in books or heard from known friends / acquaintances, are all over the map. I have never heard much about other major religions having solidly miraculous events associated with them (although I have read and heard about many such events occurring in fringe, decentralized spiritual practices). From my reading and experiences, Christianity is the only religion that produces a steady trickle of events that are genuinely difficult to explain. Some of them are well-documented, such as the explicitly Catholic “Miracle of the Sun” at Fatima (which includes the three “secrets,” the second of which is a prophecy conclusively demonstrating either foreknowledge or very lucky guessing about Soviet Russia). Also notable is Our Lady of Kibeho, an apparition that appeared to predict the Rwandan genocide. Other people are full of more benign tales. Tony Campolo had an interesting story about how some Pentecostals prayed over him while randomly mentioning the name (and address) of some man who had just abandoned his family, and when Tony picked up a hitchhiker on the highway that evening it turned out to be that man (he promptly drove him home).

Unlike many of my skeptical contemporaries, I do still believe that there are a lot of events in the world–occurring on a semi-regular basis–that are genuinely difficult to explain, even given our understanding of science. The salient question (if one is able to believe that such events are worth consideration) is why Christianity is the only established world religion to report them with consistency.

(If you have knowledge of any significant or documented Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist “miracles,” even just from a trusted friend, I’d be interested to hear them; I’ve not heard of any)

Argument from Something Being True

You could argue that there just has got to be a God of some sort, given the existence of the universe and we who live within it. Then you could move on to say that such a God has just got to have revealed himself, because it’s ridiculous to create people without revealing yourself to them. Then you could say that Christianity is the only religion that fits the bill.

I consider this last argument especially weak, however, if only because there were billions upon billions of humans who lived and died before even the Jews came into existence, and the Christian God did not speak to them.

Advertisements

2 Responses to “Presenting, the Evidence for Christianity”

  1. Excellent points, definitely worthy of consideration by all serious skeptics.

    As I am spending more time studying the Gospels, I would challenge just how “impressive” they are, especially in regards to historicity, but they do make it fairly impossible to refute that the views of one outspoken man who served as the impetus for the sect of Christianity.

    I don’t have a satisfactory answer on the resurrection, and Paul is still an enigma to me…

    Speaking of the Jews, my time studying the Old Testament prophesies is, to some extent, shattering the possibility of Jewish revelation being true, at least in my opinion. That doesn’t destroy the Jews, as a people, but certainly erodes the foundation of Christianity.

    Miracles are funky, for sure. I have a Buddhist friend from a foreign nation who often gets his fortune read by his aunt, who happens to be a fortune-teller, as well as other well respected fortune-tellers when he visits his homeland. He claims that there’s been a statistically significant success rate in accuracy. Foreknowledge of the future would certainly qualify as a miracle of sorts. I have my doubts, but, hey, I’m skeptical.

  2. When I refer to the impressiveness of the Gospels, I refer mainly to the fact that they are the best things of their type. There are thousands of copies for comparison, they were written within living memory of the things to which they refer, there are multiple accounts… as documents, they are prime stuff–all other things aside.

    Oh, I would never defend the OT or any of that stuff. My only point is that their history, as a people, counts in favour.

    I will come out of the closet and admit that I am a believer in “unexplained things.” But that’s all. The truth is that the standard supernatural beliefs about all the business that goes on are mutually exclusive–they cannot all be happening. People cannot become ghosts when they die, encounter the Christian God when they die, AND reincarnate when they die. But I have come across very “convincing” evidence for all three of those things. Nobody ever considers that there might be other explanations. Debunkers are too busy denying everything, and believers are too busy believing it. Just because something appears to step outside classical scientific theories of the day doesn’t mean that the explanation is what you think it is.

    So I differ from the dogmatic skeptics in that I have come to be convinced of a few strange things. But I am not in the business of jumping to conclusions.

    Anyway the reason I wrote that in is because Christian miracles do score a few points for Christianity, and they do not all seem to be totally fabricated. The reason I wrote the whole post is to point out that Christianity is not feeding on nothing. It is living on a few tasty morsels. Skeptics who assert that there’s “nothing there at all” will just harden existing Christians and perhaps create a few more in the process.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: