Wednesday, September 5, 2012

10 Answers to the Questions of Christianity

     In the first lecture of my Apologetics 101 class, near the end I list the top 10 questions/challenges apologists get from non-believers.  A kind lady in my audience asked last night whether the answers to these questions could be found on my website, and I had to admit, “No.”  Oddly enough, it had never occurred to me to post answers in my blog, but it seemed to make sense and so I promised I would write up some and post them today.  So this comes as a result of a direct request.

I would like to note at the outset that these answers of necessity are brief.  They are not meant to be exhaustive or even comprehensive regarding the literal reams upon reams of literature on the subjects these questions encompass.  It is certain that follow up questions of certainly a legitimate nature will be left unanswered.  This is simply a function of the format and it should not be construed that such questions do not have answers.  Space and time merely do not permit an exhaustive treatment for which I humbly apologize.

However, that does not mean these answers are without merit.  Far from it.  For what these answers are intended to achieve is to give the questioner a start on pursuing further answers.  They are intended to demonstrate that logical, reasonable answers supported by evidence are available to the diligent student who genuinely wants to find answers. 

So, without further ado, answers (brief though they may be) to the top 10 questions asked about Christianity:

10. Where did Cain get his wife?

This has to be the most famous challenge to the Christian faith now known since Clarence Darrow used it in the Scopes-Monkey Trial in 1925.  Darrow had put the prosecuting lawyer, William Jennings Bryan, on the stand as an expert.  This unusual step was agreed to with the understanding that Bryan could put Darrow on the stand the next day as an expert on evolution.  Darrow agreed, Bryan took the stand, answered all Darrow’s questions, but when the next day came, Darrow rested his case and welched on his promise to testify and support his own case.  One can only suppose that his refusal was a response to a survival instinct based upon his own case, which he ended up losing (a fact most people do not remember about the trial).

One of the reasons Darrow’s loss in the case is not remembered is because in his cross-examination of Bryan, he asked such questions as, “Where did Cain get his wife?” and Bryan either could not or would not answer.  Whichever was the case, Darrow very skillfully and successfully painted Fundamentalist beliefs as vacuous and unreasonable.  Therefore, to this day, anti-theists still use it as a “killer question” to which they think Christians have no answer and, unfortunately, in many cases, they are right.

9. Why would a loving God send people to hell?

This seems like a pointed contradiction, that an all loving God would even contemplate intentionally sending anyone to such a place as hell.  It is, however, a non-secquitor.  I would ask the non-believer to check out his/her Bible.  God never sends anyone to hell.  In fact, He sent His own Son to atone for the sin that would otherwise condemn people to hell in order to atone for the evil that men do.  People choose to go to hell by rejecting His kind offer of heaven.  This, at first, seems nonsensical, for who in their right mind would choose to go to hell.  However, consider, who, when asked by their first grade teacher, ever said, “I want to grow up to be a drug addict,” or “I want to be a prostitute when I get older?”  And yet, so many, unfortunately, do.  Sin is a dream shattering, life destroying proposition with all kinds of unintended consequences, hell being just one.

Further, I submit the testimony of atheists themselves on this point.  I have heard just such admissions from their own mouths.  In a debate, the well-known atheist and lecturer, the late Christopher Hitchens was asked by his theist opponent, “If I could prove tonight, 100% conclusively, that Jesus Christ was in fact the God the created us and our universe, would you get down on your knees and worship Him with me tonight?”  Hitchens, with great honesty and candor, replied, “No, absolutely not.”  He went on to state that he wanted nothing whatsoever to do with God and like Milton’s Lucifer, he would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven a being that he characterized as “wicked beyond all measure.”

Thus, we ask, who would actually choose to go hell?  Apparently, a lot of people.

8. Since dead men do not come back to life, how can we believe Jesus did?

It is agreed and stipulated that dead men do not normally and naturally rise from the dead and if this were the Christian claim, then, yes, this would be a defeating proposition.  However, the fact is, this is not the Christian claim.  Christian’s claim, without any hesitation, is that Christ’s resurrection was first and last a supernatural event.  That, in fact, is the whole point.  There is no natural way to defeat death.  If we are ever to be triumphant over this final specter that awaits us all, we must rely to the supernatural power only found in God.  There can be no naturally based objection to such a supernatural event.

This said, what the non-believer usually is actually asking here is, “How can we know that Jesus rose from the dead?”  This is, substantively, a different question as it is evidential, not merely philosophical.  As CS Lewis pointed out, the only supernatural aspect of any miracle is the miracle itself; all consequences flowing from it take place in the natural world and therefore are subject to investigation on the basis of the evidence they leave behind in that natural world.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ is no exception.

This is one of those questions that brevity does a supreme injustice to.  I would point the interested reader to the works of such noted scholars on this subject as Gary Habermas who has made the historical study of the resurrection his life’s work.  Habermas, I feel, is a good scholar to start with as he is acknowledged by scholars of all walks as perhaps the world’s most noted expert on the subject.  I shall try here to provide a summary, however inadequate, of the works of these scholars.

1.       The resurrection is a preposterous claim, admittedly, but it is one that has formed the core of Christianity since its inception.  There was a fashion in early 20th century scholarship to claim that the resurrection was a later addition to Christianity, coming in with the penning of the Gospels which scholars of the time dated much, much later than archaeology and manuscript evidence now shows; sometimes 2 centuries or more later.  Since then, we have now found fragments of Mark and Matthew that date to the mid-1st century AD, where scholars used to think these works were not extant until the late 2nd or early 3rd centuries.  This puts the resurrection accounts at the very heels of the events which they describe.  But, there is more and even better evidence to be found in Paul’s writings.  No one disputes the authenticity of the Corinthian and Galatian letters as being anything but genuine early 1st century writings.  In I Cor 15, Paul clearly describes the resurrection as being core to the Christian gospel.  Further, in that text he tells us that he got the resurrection account from his visit to Jerusalem where he talked to Peter and James, the “brother of the Lord.”  It is in Galatians 3:1 that he tells us this visit was two years after his conversion which is estimated to have occurred 2-3 years after the crucifixion.  This means that the resurrection was being preached in the town where the events occurred (i.e. there would have been eyewitnesses in the crowds) less than 5 years after these events took place.  Now, one has to ask, how could such an outlandish story survive, indeed thrive, in an environment where every citizen and slave would be able to provide eyewitness testimony to the falsehood of such claims if they were untrue?  I dare say, it couldn’t.  Therefore, by the impossibility of the contrary, we must acknowledge there is a strong possibility that they were telling the truth.

2.       Women found the empty tomb.  No first century Jewish male in his right mind would ask anyone to believe a story told by three women witnesses.  In 1st century society, women were not even allowed to give testimony in court because they were considered to be so hysterical and unreliable as to be totally useless for evidentiary purposes.  Yet, for 2000 years, Christians have asserted, even in the earliest days, that women were the first witnesses to these events.  One can only assume that the writers of the New Testament said this was so was because they knew it to be the truth.  Thus, despite the embarrassment of the truth, we must acknowledge that this story is told as it is told because it is the truth.

3.       The hostile witness to the empty tomb.  Again, from the earliest days, even in the writing of hostile witnesses such as the Jewish authorities of the time, no one has ever denied that the tomb of Christ was empty.  The most common claim was that the disciples stole the body.  Whether or not this is true (see #4 next), the fact is that no one has ever found Christ’s body (the laughable “Tomb of Jesus” Discovery channel special notwithstanding; most participants in that episode are still trying to hide from their colleagues!)  If opponents wanted to smother Christianity in its cradle, all they had to do was produce a body and game over.  But, they never did this.  Instead, they formulated theories to explain the empty tomb, meaning we can be quite sure the tomb was, in fact, empty.

4.       Lastly, for this brief summary of the topic, it is impossible to account for the rise of early Christianity without a genuine resurrection.  This lays to rest many a theory from the so-called “Swoon Theory” to the theft of the body by the disciples.  If, in fact, Jesus had merely fainted on the cross (a laughable proposition on the face of it for a man who has been beaten unmercifully, nailed, not merely tied, but nailed to a cross, hanged there for hours then stuck in the side to his heart by a professional executioner!), if indeed he revived in the coolness of the tomb, managed to roll the stone weighing tons away with broken, pierced hands, managed to slip past the guard at the tomb without being seen, then limped in agony the mile or so back to town, does anyone think that when he knocked on the disciples door and presented himself, “See, I told you I’d come back!” that the disciples looked at him and said “Wow, He is risen! I can’t wait to have a resurrection body just like His!”?  Honestly?  As Habermas says, if this is in fact how it happened, what you have is a resuscitation of miraculous proportions, but resuscitation pure and simple.  The disciples might call a doctor but they wouldn’t call Him “Lord, Conqueror of Death!”  Resuscitation, yes; Resurrection?  No.

Further, if the disciples stole the body, how is it that almost to a man, they all died, certainly all suffered horribly, for what they knew to be a lie.  Yes, it is possible to get people to die for their beliefs, but pre-requisite to that, they must believe it!  If the disciples stole the body, they would not be limited to mere belief; they would be in a position to know that what they were saying was a lie.  And yet none, not a single one, even in the face of horrible torture and death, not a one recanted and admitted a lie.  You are not going to find 10 or more individuals who would die for a lie.  Again, for a belief, yes; but for what they would know to be a lie, never, not a chance.  Maybe one or two, but not 10 or 11.  And yet, without a resurrection, there is no gospel; no gospel, no Christianity.  Thus, as it is impossible to provide an adequate explanation for the rise of early Christianity by any other way, we are reasonably justified in believing the story these men and women told was in fact the truth.

Lastly, we must consider that any natural explanation must cover all the improbable, indeed, impossible events described and known from history.  I give a lecture specifically on this subject in my introductory course on apologetics.  There truly is so much more to this subject than can be discussed here.  However, this should give the reader a flavor for the overwhelming testimony Christian’s have on this topic.  As one former atheist scholar once commented, “If the resurrection of Christ is not deemed true on the basis of the evidence, then nothing that we think we know of the ancient world is true.”

7. Aren't there a bunch of contradictions in the Bible?

There are numerous sites on the internet that deal with specific claims to contradictions on the Bible, so I will not take the readers time to rehearse the many such attempts to disprove the Bible in this way.  Suffice to say, though thousands have been proposed, to my knowledge not a single, verifiable contradiction either in external fact or internal narrative or logic has ever been found in the Bible.  That said, though there are reasonable answers to all such claims, if the reader is determined to see a contradiction, then a contradiction will be seen.  This says more about the reader than the text however.  I would ask such a reader to examine their motives closely before rendering a final judgment.  Are you seeing a contradiction because the facts will not really admit a reasonable explanation, or are you seeing it because, for your own reasons, you have to see it?  Just something else to think about.

6. How can we know the Bible is God's word?

This is a good and perfectly reasonable question since we ask Christians to accept this proposition by faith and faith should always be reasonable, never blind.  Classically, there are two major lines of argument for this case, those being from the perfection of the Bible’s composition and the other being the perfection of the prophecy it contains.

Regarding the Bible’s composition, it is a fact that the Bible is actually a collection of 66 books which are authored by 40 different authors over the course of several thousand years, and yet, despite the wide range of age of these authors, the wide range of cultural background (some were slaves, others aristocrats), and the wide range of occupations (some were simple farmers and fishermen, some were the greatest monarchs of the ancient world), they consistently tell only one story without contradiction either in external fact or internal logic.  Many have tried over thousands of years to prove otherwise (the Bible is the most read and most critically analyzed book in all of human history), all to no avail.  As a French philosopher once observed, “The Bible is an anvil that has worn out many a hammer.”  As one familiarizes oneself with literature, religious and secular, over the ages, one begins to appreciate how incredible such a feat is.  For instance, though there are surely hundreds of thousands to choose from, one could not find 66 books written in America that could be matched to the Bible.  Even in relatively close circles, this becomes an impossibility.  The example I like to use in my lectures is the world of Star Trek.  I have always been a Star Trek fan, and know every episode and most all of the books written and I know for a fact, that even within this closed, tight and controlled writing environment, contradictions creep in.  I do not know of any collection of 66 episodes that could be seen as perfectly consistent on one story.  This being the case, one must consider the claim by Christians to the Bible’s supernatural authorship as being at least credible as a possibility warranting further investigation.

Secondly is what I consider, however, to be an even stronger argument, that being one from fulfilled prophecy.  No other religious book will stake its reputation on fulfilled prophecy in the way that the Bible does.  Many books claim to have prophecy’s of such things as the end of the world, but while we’re all waiting for the end of the world to see if those “prophecies” pan out, the Bible actually gives us what no other book of prophecy gives…prophetic glimpses that have already come to pass.  There are numerous examples from the conquest of Babylon 150 years before it happened exactly as foretold by Isaiah to the fate of Tyre precisely and in detail as given to us by Ezekiel.  One of my favorites (to which I am indebted to Sir Robert Anderson’s classic The Coming Prince) is Dan 9:25 and 26 where the angel Gabriel gives us a mathematically precise date for the arrival of the Messiah:

Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.  And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself

So, here we are given a definite starting date (the date of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem, not the Temple, but the city, after the Babylonian captivity), a definite period of time (69 “weeks” of years; “week” was used in ancient times to mean 7 in the way we would use “dozen” to mean 12), and a definite event to occur on that date (the presentation of the Messiah).  We can find the date of this decree, not just from the Bible, but from an ancient artifact now held in the British Museum known as the cylinder of Cyrus.  That cylinder confirms that the Jews were given permission to rebuild their city on March 4, 445BC.  We can figure the number of days Gabriel gives us by multiplying the 69 times the “week” of 7 to get the number of years, then multiply by 360 days (the Jews reckoned their calendar on a lunar calendar comprised of 12 nominal 30 day months, yielding a standard 360 day year).  That works out to 69 x 7 x 360 = 173,860 days.  Now, transferring that to our calendar, accounting for leap years, we come to April 6, AD32, precisely.  So what happened on April 6, AD32?  That just happens to be the day which Christians call Palm Sunday, when Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a donkey and was proclaimed by the people waving palm fronds as the Messiah.

Now, I’ll place that kind of accuracy up against anybody’s record.  Nostradamus, Edgar Casey, you name anyone; no one has a pinpoint prophecy like that.  What’s more, we know that this was not made up after the fact since Daniel and this prophecy were in black and white in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament 250 years before Jesus was even born!  Did Daniel just grab this date out of a hat and just happen to get it right?  And, remember, this is just one of literally hundreds of prophecies in the Bible that are verifiably accurate and verifiably precognitiant.  Did they all just happen to get it right?  Every one?  This is one that is really not explainable outside of God’s intervention.  Hundreds have tried to disprove the accuracy of these prophecies over the centuries and, ironically, instead have furthered their verification and often converting to Christianity as a result.  So, I would gladly invite any non-believer to just try to prove the Bible wrong here, because I know, chances are, you’ll end up being my Christian brother, just as so many of those who have tried before.

5. Who created God?

I know Richard Dawkins just wrote a best seller called The God Delusion based precisely on the premise of “Who created the Creator?” but, frankly, I’m embarrassed at having to respond to such a sophomoric question from someone who should know better.  It is not an unreasonable question for a 3rd grader, as virtually all kids, if they're thinking at all, eventually ask this question in one form or another.  But, any sophomore philosophy student knows the answer.  So here it is…

If all things are created, then you could ask, “Who created the Creator?”  The problem is, once you’ve answered that, then you could ask, “Who created the Creator’s Creator?” and again, “Who created the Creator’s Creator’s Creator?”  This can go on to infinity and is, in fact, called an Infinite Regress, because it never ends.  At some point in time, you must get back to an Uncreated Creator, a being whose origin is subsumed within His own nature and existence.  He is neither created nor destroyed.  This is God.  He is the answer, not the question!

It is important to understand that Christianity has never claimed that God was ever created.  In fact, quite the opposite.  The god that would be an answer to Dawkin’s question would not be the God that Christian’s worship.  What astounds me is that Jews and Christians have known this for more than 2000 years.  How come Dawkins doesn’t know?  I suspect there can only be one of two reasons:  1) he is simply plumb ignorant of his chosen field of contest or 2) he does know and simply turns a blind eye to the answer because he does not want to know.  I’m not sure which would be more charitable…to say he’s ignorant or lying, but I really don’t see a third option.

4. Where did Cain get his wife?

Yep, we get this one a lot!  However, it is true, I never actually answered it last time.  OK, let’s take a look at the text first.  We find this seemingly all consuming passage in Genesis Chapter 4:

And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.  And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch
- (Gen 4:16 and 17)

That’s it.  That’s all the Bible has to say on the subject.  Note that the passage DOES NOT say that Cain MET his wife in Nod, merely that he procreated with her there.  The non-believer asking this question usually seems to be under the false impression that the Bible says Cain married someone from a distant land that came from somewhere else other than from Adam and Eve.  The fact is, the Bible explicitly states:

And the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were eight hundred years: and he begat sons and daughters
                                                                - (Gen 5:4 emphasis mine)

It is a fact that in all ancient cultures, including Biblical culture up until the giving of the law at Sinai, that brothers married sisters.  Now, we definitely see genetic injuries result from incest, but then, for instance when Pharaoh married a sister, which was very frequently the case, there does not seem to have any harm from it.  Further, realistically, what other choice did Cain have?  Yes, Cain married his sister (or possibly a niece), moved to Nod and had kids.  If indeed, the Bible claimed that there was this whole other group of people living over in Nod that had not been born to Adam and Eve, yes, then there would be a problem, I agree.  But the Bible nowhere, at no time, ever has made such a claim.  Cain married his sister, moved to Nod, then had kids.  That’s it.  No big mystery.

3. Why is there evil?

This is perhaps the most serious and fair questions in this list.  As Christians, we claim that God is an omnipotent (all powerful), all loving God.  It is a fair observation that an all powerful God could conquer evil and an all loving God would want to conquer evil.  Therefore, why does God allow evil?

This is a most difficult question because, existentially, evil disrupts and destroys so many real lives.  This is not merely a matter of philosophy or pointing out a particular text.  Real people really hurt.  So why would God allow such episodes as the Holocaust?

Well, there are three levels on which we must answer this challenge.  One is the logical or deductive argument from evil; the second is the probable or inductive argument from evil; lastly is the existential reality of evil.

Logically, to make his case, the atheist would have to prove that in no possible universe would God have a reason to permit evil.  In other words, is there any real logical contraction between the existence of evil and the existence of God?  Frankly, most philosophers have ceased to make this argument and gone to the probalistic argument because even they have realized that there may be many reasons as to why, though He could eliminate evil and (according to the Bible) one day will, for the present, God would permit evil in the world.  Allowing man to see the real consequences of his own actions might just be one.  Now, one can disagree with God’s reasoning (a wary proposition at best), but one cannot logically claim that evil exists and therefore God is without reason.  This is a non-sequitor.

Regarding the inductive argument, this is the one that most philosophers now propose.  The argument usually takes a form thus:  “There is too much evil in the world, so much so that it is improbable that there is an all powerful, all loving God.”  Note, this hinges on the probability of God and is therefore not a logical proposition, but a probalistic one.  Alvin Plantiga has recently given, what I feel, is the most rational treatment of this argument.  He assesses the questioners assessment of “too much evil,” by asking “how much can one possibly say is too much?”  In other words, in a world where nothing went wrong, but I stubbed my toe, wouldn’t I feel, relative to the carefree existence of my fellows, that I had somehow had “too much evil” heaped upon me?  There can be no objective assessment of what constitutes “too much evil,” and therefore the probability is impossible to assess.  Thus, the argument fails.

Lastly, we must deal with evil on the level of every day existence.  The mother who is watching her child slowly die from some frightful malady does not want to hear a logical or probalistic argument about God and evil.  She just wants her child to be healed and, tragically, so many never are.  There is no argument to be made here.  In fact, words all too often fall tragically short of such moments and we are all probably better off simply being with her in her hour of need, silently sharing her grief with her.  Maybe later, when she needs to talk, the truth of evil’s existence as the result of man’s choices can be explored, but neither I nor anybody else can make the hurt that evil visits upon us all at one time or another go away.  Perhaps, at such times, there can only be the comfort that, despite all else, God does love and will respond to our love.

2. How did Noah get all those animals into that ark?

Many remain in unbelief because they are sure Noah could not have carried 2 of most, 7 of some of all animals on the ark despite the fact that they do not know how many kinds he would have had to take or how big his boat was.  When one runs the numbers, however, one finds that he would have needed space for less than 5,000 pairs of animals the average size of a sheep, for which the dimensions of his ark were perfect, including appropriate provisions for all including the 8 humans on board for the year or more they would have to be on it.  In my presentation on the Flood of Noah, I go into more detail, giving the figures and their sources, which are a bit much to get into here.  What I recommend to the interested reader is that he/she search out the facts of this matter on a reputable website such as  When I have appropriate video of my presentation, I will post it as well, and as always, I remain willing to answer all e-mail inquiries which are submitted respectfully.

1. Where did Cain get his wife?

Oh, my goodness!  We have had to listen to this one for 90 years!  Enough already!  Why didn’t Mr. Bryan just give the right answer when he had the chance?  I don’t know.  Perhaps, given his time, he felt uncomfortable saying someone in the Bible committed incest (which should be no surprise; a lot of them did!  Abraham included!).  Maybe he felt Darrow would make worse hay out of the truth, twisting his words into something salacious.  All I know is I’d rather defend a truthful, honest, logical answer than a weak platitude of ignorance.  But really, is the answer or lack thereof what’s really keeping you from coming to faith in God?  As Christians, we should never shy away from a challenge, but neither should the non-believer.  Is it possible there are answers and that you simply do not like the implications those answers carry?  We all should have our presumptions challenged.  I hope that if you were convinced that these questions had no logical answers that you can see that such a presumption is in error.  You may not like the answers; you may disagree with them.  Fair enough.  But if the lack of any answer has kept you from at least investigating the truth claims of the Bible and the saving grace to be found in the cross of Jesus Christ, I sincerely hope you will reconsider that position.  Our ministry always welcomes honest inquiries and responses.  Why?  Because Christianity is not a set of dry rules of “do’s” and “don’t’s.”  That’s another widely held misconception.  It’s not a “path of enlightenment” or any other such thing.  Christianity is a relationship and in relationships we build trust, we learn about each other, and, most importantly, we talk.  God is willingly to dialogue with you, but only if you’re prepared to listen.  Are you?  Talk to Him and find out.