Glossary

This is a page wherein The Mentionables respond to an atheist article, "40 Questions to Ask Christians." Scroll down to see the list, or click on the links in the Glossary below to jump to a section:


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Joel Furches

Joel Furches is a freelance writer and author who has been writing for Christian publications for a decade, with a focus in the field of Christian Apologetics.

Joel has a bachelor's in Psychology and a Masters in Education, and taps into his background in psychology and philosophy to address these questions. Readers will also see a heavy focus on doctrine in Joel's answers.

Tyler Vela

Tyler operates the ministry The Freed Thinker wherein he blogs and podcasts on subjects related to Apologetics and Philosophy in which he has his degree. 

Tyler adheres to the Reformed tradition of theology, which will be evident in the answers he gives.

Tyler's answers will be intentionally brief and will often be answers “in the right direction,” pointing toward where he thinks a full answer can be found.  

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Caleb Johnston

Caleb Johnston has a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology from Roanoke College. He lives in Roanoke Virginia with his wife Raquel and their 4 children. Following a crisis of faith he has spent 6+ years as an avid student of apologetics and looks forward to the eventual pursuit of a Master’s degree in this subject. He has spent the last 2 years hosting a multi-belief small group and has recently joined The Mentionables Network and Ratio Christi. In his spare time he works on his own blog and ministry development at Subjected To Truth 

Caleb answers these questions with a street level approach. The goal of most of these questions is to either plant seeds of doubts for the Christian in the conversation or to end the conversation by presenting something unanswerable. His answers will attempt to provide brief and concise responses that help to continue the dialog while still answering concerns. Caleb's goal as an apologist is to “put a stone in someone’s shoe” as Greg Koukl puts it. His job is not to win every argument but to keep the conversation going and to break up barriers. Caleb would like to think of it as tilling a garden, breaking up and removing rocks so the soil can be reached.

This is the goal of Caleb's approach to these answers, till the ground, help prepare it for planting.

It is Caleb's hope that his answers will provide some practical approach to addressing some of these questions.  

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Marc Lambert

As a pastor, my approach is not usually to be quite so academic, but to answer questions in a way that people can understand and apply. As I was answering these questions, that was my intention. Some of them did indeed require a bit more unpacking, but it was my goal to keep my answers as short and to-the-point as I could with a more casual and conversational tone.

thinkfaithnet.wordpress.com/

Introduction

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In his Hubpages article, “40 Questions to ask a Christian,” atheist Thomas Swan suggests that – in impromptu arguments between Christians and atheists (as opposed to structured debates) - the best tactic an atheist can take is to ask difficult questions; forcing the Christian to think through their position.  

Swan doesn’t elaborate on the tactic except to say that, “Ultimately, thought is what an atheist should be trying to elicit. By asking the right questions, one can determine the direction that such thought takes.” 

Of course, it’s admirable to encourage anyone – Christian, politician or salesman – to think through their worldviews and positions in life, but based on the phrasing, it appears that Swan is more concerned with taking the reigns of the conversation so that they – the atheist – are in charge of the direction the conversation takes.  

This honestly sounds a bit like the atheist version of presuppositionalism – a Christian Apologetics tact which also relies on asking questions in order to direct the conversation. Under a presuppositional tactic, the Christian questions the standards and laws that the person assumes when making an argument. Asking things such as, “What makes such-and-such ‘wrong’?” will theoretically cause the person to admit that there exist transcendent standards – such as logic, justice, reason, beauty, love, etc. that people operate of off when they think or speak. If transcendent standards exist, they must be based in some transcendent source. 

Instead of asking questions to backtrack along a person’s line of reasoning, Swan’s tactic seems more to be: ask a hypothetical question that places the Christian in circumstances where their worldview does not work. The Christian is forced to realize that Christianity, as a worldview, must necessarily fail under certain circumstances. 

The problem – or genius, depending on which side you’re coming from – with hypothetical questions is that they stack the deck against the other person. The person to whom the question is directed is forced to assume the rules of the questioner in order to give an honest answer.  

For instance, Christians are sometimes found asking atheists, “If you die and find out God is real, what are you going to tell him?” It’s a loaded question, because the atheist has to play by the rules of the question, and is trapped in the corner of imagining she was wrong. She isn’t allowed by the question to argue for the truth of atheism, just imagine its failure. 

This is a pretty common tactic in the questions posed by Swan. He asks the Christian to imagine they exist under different circumstances, and then give some kind of honest answer to this entirely hypothetical situation.  

Consequently, the person addressing the question has three options: 1.) evade the question with answers that do not fully operate within the parameters of the hypothetical 2.) Admit that Swan is right: if they were placed in the scenario he describes, they would be forced to function by the rules he lays out or 3.) Question the question. 

Perhaps more ingenious still is that Swan's questions almost always demand a yes/no answer. The genius of this tactic is that one can trap the answerer in a false dilemma, such that either answer is condemning to the questioner. Much like the classic example "Have you stopped beating your wife?": answer "yes," and you are more or less admitting to have beaten your wife in the past. Answer "no" and you are admitting that you are currently beating your wife. If you are not a wife-beater, the question does not offer you the option of explaining this. 

These tactics: hypothetical scenarios and false dilemmas – are worth looking out for in the questions in this series. 

In this document, members of The Mentionables will examine Swan’s questions both Apologetically and tactically. Questions in this series may include answers from more than one Mentionable so as to give the reader a well-rounded catalog of responses from which to operate. 

The value of the series is that a number of the questions are actually being used regularly – typically in online exchanges, and sometimes even in formal debates. Almost always in Atheist Memes that circulate on the web. 

Having these Q's and A's will provide the reader with a handy catalog to reference when these questions arise. Read and absorb the answers, and it will make navigating exchanges about one's faith that much easier. 

To atheist readers, it is worthwhile to see the Christian side of the equation – whether to consider the worldview in a fair and robust manner, or to avoid asking questions that already have solid answers. 

To begin, the reader will note that the questions have been broken up into categories labeled "Regarding X." These are Swan's categories that he assigned to the questions in the article "40 Questions to Ask Christians." 

 

Asking Difficult Questions 

In this series, Swan is setting out to furnish atheists and agnostics with a list of questions that he believes will do a better job dismantling Christian dogmatism than direct approaches will. This project is similar to other attempts at Socratic tactics like that of Peter Boghossian and his “street epistemology.” The problem here is that like many modern unbelievers, Swan doesn’t appear to have taken the time to understand the views which he trying to dislodge from people. While I am glad that he admits parties on all sides of these discussions (ostensibly unbelievers included) can get bogged down by concerns of ego, he then goes on to poison the well by saying that Christians believe themselves to have wisdom that he clearly doesn’t think they have (here ignoring the difference between wisdom and knowledge/true belief) and that they have not thought about their beliefs until the noble atheist gives them the opportunity to do so.  

  This project of eliciting thought has been one of the goals of my ministry from the beginning and to be frank, I have found the “brights” to be rather obstinate against thinking outside of their own naturalistic worldview of considering the challenges posed by those who stand in opposition to it. So what Swan really is attacking is not historic orthodox Christianity which has been held to and defended by some of the greatest minds in history, but rather to a kind of intellectual bottom of the barrel, fundamentalistic, hyper-literal, anti-intellectual, legalistic “evangelical” (and I use the term in the most broadly cultural sense). To that end, most Christians who would be interested in having these discussions would themselves likely want those people to think more robustly about their views before they speak in public. It has nothing to do with the truth or falsity of Christianity, but with the anti-intellectual trappings of a very narrow sliver of Christendom on present in the late modern Western secularized world. So as a Christian who takes my beliefs seriously, I can agree with Swan – that marginal set of Christians should engage in reasonable reflection on their beliefs more – but I think that can lead them to even deeper understandings and trust in the historic Christian faith, not toward a problematic and reflexively destructive naturalistic worldview like that of the modern atheist and agnostic.  

So let us explore the questions that he poses. My answers will be intentionally brief and will often be answers “in the right direction,” pointing toward where I think a full answer can be found.  

Regarding World Religion

By World religions map ru.svg: Tetromino et al. derivative work: — Obsuser [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

By World religions map ru.svg: Tetromino et al. derivative work: — Obsuser [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

  1. If a hundred different religions have to be wrong for yours to be right, does this show that people from all over the world like to invent gods that don’t exist? 

 

The problem with this question is that it cuts backwards – like a chainsaw with a strong kickback. How would this be any different if posed to the atheist about their naturalism? As they love to point out, we simply believe in one more God than they do. So, if believing that 99.9% of all other views are wrong for one’s own view to be right, how is that less problematic for the person who believes that 99.99% of all other views are wrong? If this is a problem for the Christian, then it is at least marginally more problematic for the atheist.  

Now, if the atheist would like to respond by saying that the truth or falsity of other views is independent of the truth or falsity of their own worldview; or that the truth of their worldview categorically undermines the truth of all others, then they must grant those as possible answers for the Christian (both of which I would be happy to employ). So whatever answer they would like to use to exempt themselves would equally exempt anyone else from the import of the question. What’s good for the goose… 

Multiple Religions could point to a number of different things not ONLY the idea that cultures invent God. Dr. Gerald McDermott has written a number of books on the topic but “God’s Rivals” offers a unique perspective to this. All religions, while not equal, do offer glimpses of truth that may make it easier for those “believers” to accept the truth of Christianity if they explore the evidence. This may sound naive but considering the moral systems of most religions and unique elements that offer a shadow of Christianity it actually makes sense that God could prepare different people groups in different ways for the Gospel. Especially, when you consider that Judaism missed their own Messiah. Now, with that said this in no way supports a universalism. Merely that God’s methods and plans extend beyond the typical and into a transdimensional component that understands the course of human history and culture far better than we often do. This is also not to leave the explanation as a simple, “God works in mysterious ways”. Sometimes though I think we underestimate how well an omnipotent being would actually understand us. Especially when we look at how Christianity has spread, its almost as if the world was “primed” for it. )

 

 

A hundred is probably a modest estimate when it comes to particular religions – assuming that Swan is talking about the span of time since the dawn of human existence. Indeed, humans do seem inherently religious. So much so that it would be practically impossible to find a person – atheist or religious – who doesn't know what you mean when you talk about "God." The fact that people have been trying to discover the nature of God and how best to worship him since the dawn of time may equally be evidence of the actual existence of God. Swan’s point is, no doubt, that people’s inherent instinct toward religion explains the invention of God. But what explains people’s inherent instinct toward religion? Swan would, no doubt, blame human’s religiosity on some cruel trick of evolution – but even were this true, explaining how a belief arose does not suddenly make that belief incorrect. Who is to say that God did not use the process of evolution to make humans aware of his existence? (For Christian readers, this is not to suggest that the process of Darwinian Evolution is either true or false. Rather than defending a particular view of the origin of life, this response is intended to convey that evolution does not preclude the possibility of religious truth. If true, it could simply be the mechanism by which true belief arose). 

Built into the question, of course, are the dual dilemmas best phrased, “With so many religions, how do you know yours is the right one?” and “If God is real, why is there such confusion about who he is and how to worship him?” 

Of course, in answer to the first question, one may trot out the classical Apologetics arguments about how the evidence indicates that Christianity is the true religion. However, whatever logical force these arguments might contain, the second dilemma still exists. 

Assuming the truth of Christianity, this does not preclude the possibility of people being wrong about God. In fact, given what Christians call the "fallenness" of humans – that is, a separation of humans from their God because of willing rebellion – it should not be all that surprising that people are mostly mistaken about God. If the existence of God has not been agreed upon, the Atheist and Christian can still agree on the fallibility and overall ignorance of humans. Why should religion be any different than philosophy or science? Wherein there are a number of schools of thought and no one agrees. 

The history of religion has shown that, as societies improve in their philosophies, theologies and moral development, they tend to progress away from polytheism and toward monotheism. Aristotle and Plato, both from the heathen Greek culture, developed arguments which indicated a transcendent Creator God.  

Meaning that – as humans struggle to discover and worship a God they intuitively know; their concept of God becomes ever more similar to the Christian God.  

Further, it should be noted that - beginning with its rise in the first century – the insignificant Christian movement ballooned across the map, and rapidly became the largest world religion: where it remains today. 

Point being that, while there have been hundreds of religions, there have also been hundreds of human misconceptions about every subject under the sun. And just as science becomes more refined as humans develop, so the idea of God begins to further resemble the Christian God as time goes on. 

If anything, this shows that people all over the world are capable of creative distortion. It actually seems far less likely that multiple, diverse cultures would come up with similar invented deities and ideas about supernatural being(s). A far more plausible scenario is that there is a kernel of truth which mankind took with them and which evolved then separately as they spread across the globe.

 

2.) If your parents had belonged to a different religion, do you think you would belong to that religion too? 

This is yet another question that simply cuts the atheist even deeper than it does the Christian (or Muslim or Jew or really any perspective one wants to launch this against). The chances of someone being an atheist in Iraq for example are next to none. If one had not be raised in a late modern secular nation, the chances of them being an atheist is next to nil.  

Another problem here is that there are plenty of adult converts who converted from entirely non-Christian homes to Christianity (myself included). So, my answer would simply be a biographical yes. My parents were secular and entirely non-religious and yet here I am as an ordained elder in a conservative Reformed protestant denomination.  

Finally, depending on the follow up for this question, the questioner may be liable to committing what is called the genetic fallacy. This fallacy occurs when one tries to invalidate the truth of a proposition or belief by attacking how someone came to believe it. Imagine that everyone only became a Christian via upbringing. Would that entail that Christianity were false? Well no. That would be the genetic fallacy. I could come to believe that the earth orbits the sun by reading comic books, but using that dubious means of belief formation would not invalidate whether it is true that the earth orbits the sun. So, if the questioner gets an answer in the negative, that is, that someone came to believe in the truth of Christianity because of their upbringing, what then? Where would the questioner go? It seems the point would be to then get them to doubt that the belief is therefore true. But in doing that, the questioner would need to employ the genetic fallacy.  

Quite possibly, but that doesn’t speak to the nature of what the question is really getting at. The insinuation is that religions are cultural. This is true to a certain extent. However, it says nothing about the superficiality of religion to many. Look at America and the number of superficial worshippers. Accepting a belief without investigation does not speak to its truthfulness. Also this neglects the reasons why Christianity would see such a significant spread across regions in a way not seen in other religions.

Impossible to say. Children will absorb the values and views of their parents in early development, as they have not matured enough in analytical thinking to form their own views about the world. However, as children mature and develop – near their teenage years – they begin to question values and standards, and to form their own views. This is the root of what has popularly become known as "teenage rebellion," the common perception that teenagers "think they know more than their parents," and the observable boundary-testing that occurs at adolescence.  

Psychologist Dr. Luke Galen states that, “While intelligence can be reliably measured at an early age, religiosity cannot. If you take a measure of a person’s religiosity early on, it doesn’t prove at all if they are going to be religious as an adult.”

Finally, it is worth considering that Christianity remains the largest world religion, and still the fastest growing. Christian believers and Churches are present in Communist countries, Hindu countries, and Islamic countries. By sheer averages, a person is more likely to be a Christian than any other religion. So, while a child is certainly going to adopt the values and worldviews of their parents, this is not a strong determiner of what values and beliefs they will hold as an adult.  

Regardless, the religion a person chooses – and their reasons for choosing it – are not the determiner of the truth or falsity of that belief. 

Probably. However, that doesn’t give any kind of answer to the far more important question about whether or not that religion is true.

 

3.) If people from the five major religions are told conflicting information by their respective gods, should any of them be believed? 

Yet again, the question cuts back onto naturalism/secularism. Once we free ourselves from only talking about “religion” (a questionable concept anyway) and speak on the level of worldview and belief systems, then we can see that mere disagreement is unrelated to the veracity of the various claims. For surely the 5 major religions disagree more with naturalism than with each other and as such would be more problematic for the atheist. For if disagreement is supposed to show a that all disputed beliefs should be abandoned, then surely by that principle sharply disputed beliefs should be abandoned with even more haste.  

Contradiction does NOT equal equivalence as this question implies. If truth exists we would expect there to be various beliefs, especially if the Bible is true and men fear truth. Much like in science 2 or more opposing views may all be wrong but that can’t all be right. However, this says nothing to the possibility that 1 of them could be true.  

If people following the unification of quantum theory and gravity are told three conflicting things, should any of them be believed?   

The presence of multiple explanations for a thing does not make each of the explanations false. This would be a fairly faulty way of thinking, because the presence of multiple theories/explanations for things is ever-present throughout history, and still is in modern times. Yet it is still possible to determine the truth about a given subject despite conflicting information about that subject. 

Ultimately, when compared, whichever model best fits reality should be considered the true model. 

Confirmed atheist Jennifer Fulwiler began researching different religions when she began to become interested in religion. She initially avoided Christianity – dismissing in from the beginning because of a cultural bias against it. After considering every religion but Christianity, she came to discover that Christianity offered the best evidence.2 

This same story is mirrored in the life of prominent atheist blogger, Darrin Rasberry, who eventually converted to Christianity. Darrin describes his journey: 

“After considering Deism (the belief in a God who abandons His creation), Islam, Hinduism (yes, Krishna, don't laugh), Baha'i, and even Jainism briefly, I have decided to select Christianity due to its superior model for human evil and its reconciliation, coupled with the belief that God interacted with man directly and face-to-face and had *the* crucial role in this reconciliation. This, of course, doesn't prove that Christianity is absolutely true (although I can prove that God exists), but rather reflects my recognition that Christianity is exactly what I would expect to be the case given that God exists.”

Yes. If what the people are being told lines up with reality.

The fact that there is disagreeing truth claims has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not any of them are actually true.

Regarding Communication with God

Teodor Axentowicz [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Teodor Axentowicz [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

4.) How can you tell the voice of God from a voice in your head? 

This is an odd question for someone like myself who holds to the classic doctrines of the Protestant Reformation, particularly Sola Scriptura – in Scripture Alone. That is, that it is in the Scriptures alone that God reveals his person and work and plans for redemptive history. And that the Scriptures are the one and only authority over our life and practice. This means that when a Christian prays, they are no looking to hear an audible voice from God, but rather that we will be equipped with wisdom by the Spirit to live in accordance with the Scriptures and the gospel message contained therein.  

So how can I tell the voice of God from the voice in my head? One is in black and white on the page in front of me and has led God’s people throughout the ages, and the other is in my head.  

I don’t believe that hearing an audible voice from God is impossible in this day and time although probably far more unlikely than most church goers would suggest. However, I think God does “speak” to individuals in a number of ways. God orchestrates things in a way that make His “personal messages” just as clear as they need to be. Ever have a moment where probability and sheer coincidence just don’t support the way things played out? That is the closest I think most of us come to hearing the “voice” of God. God works in ways that speak to the individual needs of those who seek and listen.  

In the interest of ecumenism, it is important to note that a significant number of Christians neither hear "voices in their head," nor do they believe that God communicates in that way. At least, in the church age.  

It is generally held that one may pray to God and study scripture – prayer being the method by which humans communicate with God, and scripture being the method by which God communicates to humans.  

One must allow for the possibility of a conviction from the Holy Spirit, but if this is the case, it is going to manifest not as a voice, but more as an urge or strong feeling. Of course, the same question might be asked about urges and feelings: how is one to know whether or not these come from God? 

Whether voices or feelings, there is a mandate in scripture for determining the source of these communications, this being the way in which they align with the scriptures.  

Moses tells his followers in Deuteronomy 13 that if someone comes claiming to be a prophet and speaks in a way contrary to what God has revealed to them in the law – he is not a prophet. This same standard is echoed in the New Testament in Paul's letter to the Galatians, that if anyone – even an angel of heaven – were to deliver a Gospel other than what he and the apostles had taught – to disbelieve the false instructor who was not from God.  

If a Christian is informed enough in scripture, it should be fairly easy to discern whether or not a voice was from God, or simply some internal illusion. 

Marc Lambert

Marc Lambert

Put simply … God doesn’t sound like me.

But more importantly, does the message that I THINK is from God agree or disagree with what God has already revealed in Scripture? If you’re getting conflicting messages, that’s a giant red-flag.

5.) How can you tell the voice of God from the voice of the Devil? 

Again, see above. Swan here seems to think that all Christians are of the Anabapstistic or radical Pentecostal variety.  

The devil rarely needs to speak. A little cheerleading in some form or another is more than enough to push what Christians call “the flesh” in the way it already wants to go. There is no better way to explore this question than reading “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis. Lewis adds depth and entertainment to this question in ways I couldn’t even hope to duplicate.

The answer to this will be much the same as the answer to question 4. The thrust of these questions is "how do you know that the voice is God's?" If there exists some test by which one may discern the voice of God from any other voice, it is not so much important that one knows where outside of God the voice is coming from – only is it or isn't it God's voice? 

Once again, if a person is hearing some kind of voice audibly or in their head, it is more likely that it isn't God than that it is. But should one want to know, the test – again – is does the message align with the will of God as revealed in scripture? Swan spends a number of questions asking "if God were to tell you to do X, would you do X?" If he is willing to allow that things one hears could be from some source besides God, then he has built an automatic escape hatch from these following questions. If God tells someone to do something bad – then it probably wasn't God. 

God won’t disagree with Himself. If you think you are hearing from God but it contradicts other messages which you’re confident are from God (ie. The Bible), then put the brakes on. That’s a good indication it is not from God.  And also, familiarity. Just like I can know from the other room which of my children are talking, you get a familiarity with God and know His voice.

6.) Would you find it easier to kill someone if you believed God supported you in the act? 

This question is rather vague and thus problematic to answer. From his questions above I am thinking he means something like those horrific stories where people think God was telling them to murder someone to kill the devil inside them or something like that. This again would be the difference between rightly applying the Scriptures and being a sociopath with severe mental disorders. Here his image that reads, “welcome to the lunatic asylum” shows how he really feels about Christians – we are all one voice in our heads away from being the next Son of Sam murderer.  

The question itself has issues, it could easily be rephrased in a number of ways. Such as would you find it easier to kill someone if you believed that society(authority, friends, commanders, leaders, etc.) supported you in the act. No matter how people would answer this history shows that it is the case that it would be easier. Take Stanley Milgram's shock/learner experiments for example. So the answer is an obvious “yes” that it would be easier in any of these situations. With the God version of the question though the insinuation is it is immoral to kill based on a command from God. However, if God is the high moral authority then there is no reason why His commands would be immoral. With that said we often see people claim the voice of God has led them to commit violent acts. We have no reason to suspect God would command individuals in this day and time to kill other individuals not just because of the lack of modern day prophets but also because this kind of order is not Biblical. God’s commands were almost always directed through prophets towards people groups rather than individuals. Abraham and Isaac is an obvious exception but it also had an extraordinary outcome.    

In this question, Swan appears to be appealing to a universal moral impulse. The gist of the question appears to be that – we all acknowledge that killing is wrong, but could we suppress that impulse if we thought that God supported us? Of course, one wonders: under what circumstances are we killing the person in the first place? Also: where does this universal moral impulse come from? 

Swan seems to be driving at the idea that, if the Christian could imagine a circumstance under which God's will was different than it is, how would that effect the Christian's behavior? Obviously this is a setup on the same scale as asking the atheist, "What would you do if God spoke directly to you?" 

And while the Atheist could reasonably answer, "I'd get my head checked," The Christian could give the same answer to Swan's question. 

Marc Lambert

Marc Lambert

No.

 

7.) If God told you to kill an atheist, would you? 

See above. Since I am not a magistrate who bears the sword of justice so to speak, I hold no right to harm anyone save in extreme circumstances of protecting someone else from immanent harm.  

Again the question features a level of absurdity. If you were commanded to kill a Christian (or Jew) by the government would you? Stanley MIlgram has already shown the statistical answer to this, 65% of people would.  

At a glance, this question seems to be asking the same thing as previous question. Swan is clearly baiting the Christian by using an Atheist as the intended victim.  

Of course, it may be supposed that – beginning at the belief that Christians are deluded – it is a real concern to an atheist that a theist might go off the rails and start killing people because they think God told them to. Swan has already made it clear that he believes that Christians hear voices in their heads. 

This question cleverly flirts with the so-called Euthyphro dilemma, wherein one is asked "Are things moral because God commands them, or does God command them because they are moral?" Obviously, the cold-blooded murder of an otherwise innocent atheist is immoral. This is something upon which both the Christian and the Atheist can agree. If God then commanded the deed, does God command suddenly make the previously immoral action moral?  

If one answers Swan's question "yes," this gives Swan permission to condemn religion on the grounds that people will blindly do whatever their religion tells them – even if the action is clearly evil. If the Christian answers "no," they have just joined Swan in obviating God as the source of morality. 

A more appropriate approach to this question is to ponder along with the questioner as to why both parties agree that murder is wrong? From where does this shared moral impulse arise? In fact, what gives human life value in the first place? 

To the Christian, human life is valuable because it is valued. Just as in the economy, one assigns more value to a smartphone than to a calculator – it is the consumer, not the item, which assigns value to the object.  

In reality, what makes human life valuable and what makes murder wrong is the Creator who assigns value to that life in the first place. To suggest that the Creator would suddenly contradict himself is similar to asking "if a rabbit wasn't a rabbit, would it still be a rabbit?" It's logical nonsense.  

He wouldn’t.

God doesn’t just command murder. “Hey, go kill that guy!”

When we do see God commanding the death of someone, it is *without exception* a matter of judgment. Either in the case of Israel in battle against a wicked nation, or as capital punishment for a heinous crime. As I am neither an Israelite soldier, nor a duly appointed government agent in a judicial role … this hypothetical command is a logical impossibility. 

 

Regarding Morality

By Ji-Elle (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0

By Ji-Elle (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0

8.) When an atheist is kind and charitable out of the kindness of his heart, is his behavior more or less commendable than a religious man who does it because God instructed him to? 

This question shows Swan’s lack of understanding of historic Christian theology. Christianity has long held what Edwards called “civic morality,” or the outward morality that comes by common grace of being made in the image of God. The problem is that we all, apart from Christ do all things with the taint of sin. This means that the man who is charitable out of the “kindness of his own heart” is no better or worse than the one who does it out of slavish obligation to the command of God. Both are tainted by sin. It’s just that when the Christian acts, that sin is covered over by the righteousness of God and is then, and only then, presentable to God. In fact, the mature Christian will not be kind to their neighbor out of exacting duty nor for “goodness sake,” but rather to the glory of God and in thanks for the good gifts God has given and the image of God in those that they are helping – and yet even that act, as pure as it is, needs the blood of Christ to make it fully acceptable to God.  

 

One is not commended for doing that to which one is obligated. Christ makes the two great commandments to be Love God with all of your being, and Love your Fellow Man as you love yourself.  

This being so, if a person fails to act charitably at every opportunity, they have broken the commandment. 

Put this way, Christians and Atheists are on a level playing field. Christians fail the perfect law of God just as much as atheists do. The difference being that Christians are aware of their moral failings, hence their turning to God in repentance.  

Thereafter, any good deed performed by the Christian is performed to God's glory, not to make themselves feel or look good.  

Morality is not dependent on being a Christian. The existence of God is however needed for morality to exist. This question attempts to split worldviews and have the Christian assess them independently from one another. So to look at them from each worldview individually looks a bit different. From an atheist view neither person can be commended more because morality is really only a matter of personal preference with no objective basis. From a Christian view both acts are commendable neither more so than the other. However, keep in mind the Christian worldview is not dependent on moral behavior for salvation. No amount of moral “good” could allow you to be in the presence of a fully GOOD God. Thus neither act is impactful from a salvation standpoint either.  

Actually, it would be less.

The number 1 moral issue facing mankind is our rejection of God, and our prideful rebellion to show the world that the center of the universe runs straight through the top of our head.

So let’s ask it this way, “Who is more to be commended, the criminal who is otherwise fairly polite and thoughtful, or the law abiding citizen who is constantly restraining urges to NOT be so polite and thoughtful?”

 

This is of course a rhetorical question. Rejection of God is the more serious offense.

 

9.) If you are against the Crusades and the Inquisition, would you have been burned alive as a heretic during those events? 

This question also reveals a lack of understanding on Swan’s part – this time concerning history. As far as I know, no one was burned alive as a heretic for opposing the crusades (which were a mixed back and had immeasurably more to do with geo-political issues than religious ones). In addition, I would need to ask Swan what he thought the Inquisition was about, but it is very possible that me (a Reformed Protestant) would not have been very welcome in heavily Catholic nations. However, the punishment was almost always banishment, and death was reserved for those that were political and public threats to some regional power of the time. Often people have a picture of the Inquisition as people almost continually burned and beheaded, but in actual fact over about 350 years, only about 3,000 people were killed. Now, is that 3,000 too many? Well maybe. Some who were killed in the Inquisition were for charges such as spreading potentially plague infected blood on a whole town’s doorknobs. Others were because they basically committed treason and were seeking to overthrow papal and princely powers and the Inquisition was used as part of the effort to root them out. And so many of the deaths were not even “religiously” motivated in the way many think they were. However, for the sake of argument let’s imagine that all 3,000 deaths were for simple things like rejecting Transubstantiation at the Eucharist during Mass (none that I know were executed for that, but let’s pretend they were.) 3,000 people over about 350 years is about 8-9 people executed per year on the entire European and North African continent. Again, is that 8-9 too many? Sure, but it is hardly the period of unrelenting oppression and bloodshed that many make it out to be! (And I say this as a Protestant who is strongly opposed to Roman Catholicism for many reasons and have no cause to defend them.)  

 

One first wonders "Which crusade and which inquisition?" The answer to Swan's question would differ depending on the era of history to which he is referring.  

Answering purely from a Protestant perspective, there is a strong possibility of being burned at the stake during the Medieval Inquisition of the 10th and 11th century. The Waldensians – forerunners to the Reformed movement of the 14th and 15th century – were denounced as heretics and often burned at the stake for eschewing the priesthood of the Catholic Church and promoting the idea of the priesthood of the individual believer.  

Presumably, Swan asks this question to either highlight the evils of the Church's past, or to show how doctrines have shifted over time, or both. However, from the small history lesson above, one can see that the problem isn't the truth of Christianity – here the problem was the leadership who used the system in order to gain power.  

As shown, there was a significant sect of the church which rejected this abuse of authority. Who is to say which was the ultimate representation of the Christian church?  

Well, a simple perusal of Christ's teaching in scripture should be enough to show that this kind of abuse of power is counterindicated by the scripture, itself. 

No way to know. Cowardice is a powerful thing. I like to think I would stand for my convictions but not being in that situation there is no way to know for sure. This however is a personal issue rather than one that impacts the actually truth of a matter being right or wrong. I will be the first to admit I am a hypocrite far too often. It is worth noting that anyone who is a moral relativist and yet acts in moral ways altruistically is also acting hypocritically.  

As I understand it, the idea that there were mass numbers of folks being burned to heresy is false. There were actually very few people put do death for heresy in these instances. Likewise, the practices of particular cultural institutions or governing authorities a millennium doesn’t really impact what was taught by Christ and the Apostles in the Bible, or how those teachings are followed today.

 

10.) If your interpretation of a holy book causes you to condemn your ancestors for having a different interpretation, will your descendants condemn you in the same way? 

I’m not actually sure what this is question is in reference to. Who is it that I’m condemning based on my interpretation of the Bible? This is an odd question to say the least and I would need Swan to hash it out more before I would feel comfortable attempting to answer it.  

 

This is an odd question. Possibly it is a followup to question 9, which sets the answerer up to level an accusation against the church of the 10th through 14th century. After the answerer condemns the behavior of the church that wrought the Crusades and Inquisition, Swan asks if future Christians will condemn the behavior of the current Christian. 

These particular events were exceptions in church history. When one averages out the actions of the Church in societies around the globe from its beginning in the first century, it is easy to see that it is far more often persecuted than persecutor.  

So far as theology goes, former Christians are rarely "condemned" by current Christians because of a theological disagreement. The current church owes a great debt to believers across the ages for exploring and hashing out beliefs in order to lend to the construction of the robust doctrines of the present day. One cannot expect something as massive as the nature of God to be an easy thing to discover and define. 

There is just as much disagreement in present day over the particulars of doctrine, but one rarely finds any one sect of Christians condemning another over such disagreements.  

In fact, disagreement is the hallmark of freedom of thought. The fact that Christians are free to disagree and discuss the God and Scriptures which they study proves that each individual believer has the freedom to study and explore in order to determine their beliefs. If Christians were forced to follow beliefs which are consolidated to a particular leader; it would be a cult. 

To this point: it is worth noting that the members of The Mentionables are from several distinct doctrinal backgrounds. Thusly, it is worth noting the agreements in the answers they provide, and the distinct lack of condemnation on any differences that may arise. 

So what? Popular opinion has no bearing on truth. Minor differences in “non-critical” issues does not discredit the potential truth of a book such as the Bible.

Oh geez, I hope so. I mean if I'm wrong about something, surely I would hope that my descendants are smarter and wiser than I am and would call out my errors. That’s far more preferable than them perpetuating or making excuses for my false teachings.

 

11.) Rape wasn't always a crime in the Middle East two thousand years ago. Is that why `do not rape’ is not part of the Ten Commandments? 

There are many commands that are not in the 10 commandments (“The Decalogue”). The 10 commandments are summary laws – like the Constitution or the Amendments. They are where the rest of the law is summarily comprehended. The other 600+ laws are expansions or applications of the laws found in the 10 commandments. So, when rape is banned in numerous places within the Mosaic Law, it is done so in application of the 10 commandments (arguments can be made that it is an application of at least the 1st, 8th, and 10th commandments). In many places, the Bible itself further condenses the summary of the law under two commandments – loving God with our whole being and loving others as ourselves. Rape would be a violation of both of those. And thus, rape is banned not only explicitly in several laws within the Mosaic legal code, but is clearly a violation of the Decalogue and even goes against the theme of redemption and caring for the weak and oppressed developed through the entire Bible.  

 

This is one of the few questions in this series where a "no" answer won't corner the Christian. So the simple answer is "no."  

A few things worth noting: the 10 commandments were not the end-all and be-all of moral law. The Levitical Law which followed the giving of the Commandments expressly did forbid rape, with consequences given to the individual who committed the act. The Levitical law was practically contemporaneous with the Commandments, so that takes the edge off the question right there.  

Further, the Commandments included a law against coveting that which did not belong to you. This would implicitly exclude the desire to have sex with a woman against her will.  

Since the Commandments were given much further ago than 2000 years, the question doesn't include the period of time during which the Commandments were originally written.  

Two Thousand years ago, Jesus pointed to two other Levitical commandments found in the book of Deuteronomy as the greatest of commandments. These included loving God and loving one's fellow human as well as one loved oneself. These two commandments were contemporary to the Ten Commandments, and would certainly forbid the act of rape.  

Jesus also expanded on Mosaic law to include the lust toward a woman as the same as adultery – which was forbidden in the Ten Commandments. This suggests that the Mosaic law forbid sex with any woman besides one's wife, which means that rape was implicitly forbidden under the Ten Commandments' law against adultery.  

The law against adultery and the law against coveting another's property were very exceptional for the time period in which they were written, giving the Ten Commandments a moral edge against other contemporary legal systems. 

First and foremost, there are a lot of things not listed in the ten commandments that are wrong. It is not a fully comprehensive list. However, as with other questions on the list what is being asked does not seem to be the real point of the question. The point here seems to be that the questioner is assuming that rape is condoned by the Bible. There are a number of significant issues with this.

  1. The ten commandments condemn both adultery and covetousness. Jesus clarifies this in Matthew 5:28 when he indicates that even “lust” constitutes adultery.

  2. Despite popular opinion among new atheists the Bible does not condone rape. In Deuteronomy 22. We find in verses 25-26 a condemnation of rapists(and protection for the victim) and then in verse 28-29 we wide a further protection for virgins who mutually copulate. This is a protection that requires marriage.

  3. The last big criticism is of the Israel conquests and that the men were allowed to keep virgins from the canaanite villages they seized. This would obviously be rape. Or would it? It doesn’t seem like much of an option between unwanted marriage and death. However, given the canaanite culture as best we know this may have been a welcome move for these girls into a culture where they possibly had far better treatment.

These are all somewhat assumptive. However, it is far less assumptive than assuming a Biblical acceptance of rape. While things may have not been ideal in Biblical times the Jewish and then Christian cultures offered significant protections and steps forward for women that were not offered by other cultures.

The Ten Commandments do not include rape because it wouldn't be necessary to say, "Thou shall not rape." The crime of rape would have been covered under the Commandments to not covet and to not commit adultery and even arguably the command to not steal.

 

12.) Do animals need `god-given' morality to understand how to care for their young, co-operate within a pack, or feel anguish at the loss of a companion? Why do we? 

Humans are not animals. This kind of “herd” morality has been responded to many times – and I have done so on several occasions within my podcast. So, without getting into that issue directly, let me answer from a different direction. The import of this question would land the questioner smack dab in the middle of the naturalistic fallacy. This fallacy, first enunciated by atheistic philosopher G.E. Moore, occurs when someone says that because something is natural that it is therefore good. The reason that this is a problem is that we have numerous counter examples. Rape, killing, theft, incest, assault, cannibalism, are all equally found in the natural world. If the atheist wants to say that because we have developed a kind of herd morality that therefore these actions are morally praiseworthy, they then run afoul of the naturalistic fallacy because by the same process we have also develop a herd capacity for rape and theft. Why is one morally praiseworthy and the other morally blameworthy? Here the naturalistic is rather stuck and their solutions to this are wanting ranging from denying moral realism from the get go, to affirming a kind of utilitarian benefit morality (easily undermined with simple thought experiments), or basing it on herd preferences, etc. These have all been shown to fail to such an epic degree that atheistic philosophers like Thomas Nagel have called for atheists to scrape naturalism and try to come up with something better lest they be stuck with theism as the only possible solution.  

 

By definition, Morality is God-Given. Assuming – as Christians do – that all things were designed by God – a moral being – it should not be surprising in the least that living things operate according to mechanics of moral law. "Law" being the key word. Morality is as foundational to life as the laws of physics are to material items within the universe. 

Why do we need God-Given morality? Because Morality is grounded in the nature of God. If it is given at all, it is given by God. 

According to google morality is “principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.” caring for young, cooperation, and feelings of grief are actions taken for survival but to attribute any of these actions with a label of “good, bad, right, or wrong” is to assume that some action is right and another is wrong. Evolution CANNOT be used for these distinctions. A behavior could be beneficial but there are plenty of “beneficial” things that humans can consider evil such as genocide. Genocide of specicide could be beneficial to a “higher” lifeform however we still consider this “wrong”. We can’t have wrong without right and we can’t have right without an authority to dictate or demonstrate what is right. This is a small and insignificant answer to the “problem of evil” but the question does a poor job of even trying to address the real issue at hand.

For starters, the comparison to the animal kingdom is really kind of weird. Animals are not moral agents. When a lion chases down and kills and eats a zebra, that's not a case of murder. It's just lunch.

But we don't even have to get all theological and philosophical to answer this one. You know what happens to human beings who were not taught morality? They basically remain perpetual four year olds, tossed to and fro driven by every whim of their selfish prideful hearts.

 

Animals on the other hand don’t make moral choices. They just act as they are designed to do. Their process is essentially a two step process: Stimulus -> Response. Humans on the other hand have a second step: Stimulus -> Reasoning -> Response. Our responses are based on our choices of the available options. And it is in that step where morality resides.

13.) If an organized religion requires a civilization in which to spread, how could this civilization exist without first having a moral code to make it civil? 

This question assumes that one grounds morality on their religious beliefs or religious system. This again shows where Swan simply is not aware of the historic Christian view that God is “the Good” that grounds morality and that the Scriptures simply are his self-revelation and specific will for us. This talk by J. Budziszewski is a helpful primer on Natural Law theory and how humans, having been made in the image of God, were gifted with a conscience that would be used to discern the natural moral law imbued into creation by God.  

 

In the answer to question seven, it was established that both the Atheist and the Christian could agree that murder was wrong. In the answer to question 12 it was established that morality was so fundamental to the nature of reality, that even animals had a sense of moral law.  

This internal sense of moral law exists at the most fundamental level, such that one does not need a religion to inform them of basic moral code. In fact, the basis of the Christian religion is that, while we all recognize moral law, we inevitably fail to perfectly live up to or achieve it.  

This fact that the knowledge of moral law by no means causes a world in which humans achieve moral law becomes the foundation of civilization. The world would not need governments or police forces if every human were perfectly capable of self-control and moral perfection.   

This question seems a bit of a non-sequitur. While on the surface it makes sense, it is really dependent on definitions. For example, ant’s have what many would consider a form of civilization that involves complex systems with various divisions, jobs, and structures. Yet despite these similarities we don’t ask, why don’t ants have religion? Not to mention the question puts a major damper on any atheistic view. If civilization cannot exist without moral codes that come from religion(according to the question) then to downplay or eliminate religion would be detrimental to society.

As anyone who has studied history is very much aware, civilization is not necessarily civil. However, rather than speaking about hypothetical situations, take a look at what the Bible actually describes was the case. God appears to Abraham and calls him out of a civilization that would by no means be considered civilized by any modern moral standard. Likewise when God brought Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land they were in the midst of civilizations that practiced wicked, barbaric rituals and sacrifices … including their own children. So there's no reason to think that society must first have been civil in order for a divinely revealed morality to take root. Indeed it is against the darkness of the backdrop of the uncivilized society that the morality found in scripture shown all the more brightly.

Regarding the Characteristics of God

By User:AnonMoos (earlier version of SVG file Sumudu Fernando)

By User:AnonMoos (earlier version of SVG file Sumudu Fernando)

14.) An all-knowing God can read your mind, so why does he require you to demonstrate your faith by worshiping him? 

 

This question is simply a trick of semantics. The answer is that he doesn’t. He doesn’t require us to demonstrate our faith by worshipping him. Worship in not the means by which we show God just how much we thank him. Worship is the act of thanking and praising him. The question would be like a man who says to his poor wife, “well you know that I love you, so I don’t need to actually love you.” 

 

Worship is an outward act that is as much about the worshiper as it is the thing being worshiped. Much like the saying “it’s more blessed to give than receive.” In the same since worship is designed to help the worshiper focus selflessly rather than selfishly.  

 

If one traffics for very long in the world of online debate between Atheists and Christians, this issue of worship is liable to come up very frequently. There seems to be a general misunderstanding in the Atheist community that worship is some kind of commandment from God, such that one must force oneself to worship God, which, one might suppose, would be similar to forcing oneself to love one's spouse. 

This entirely misunderstands the nature of worship. Worship is reflexive, not proactive. Worship is the necessary reaction to understanding the nature of God. Much like one comes to love one's wife after they achieve an intimate relationship with her, one will automatically worship God once they have come to achieve a relationship with him.  

He doesn't.

The point of worship is not to show God that we are faithful. The point of worship is to worship.

This question is kind of like asking, "Your wife knows you love her, so why are you always having to do things to show it?" You do it because you want to. Because it pleases the other person. And it builds a closer relationship and bond between you.

 

15.) If God is all-knowing, why do holy books describe him as surprised or angered by the actions of humans? He should have known what was going to happen, right? 

 

This too is a rather bizarre question. First, I’m not sure why he would be asking a Christian about numerous “holy books” (I doubt he is nuanced enough to refer to various books within the Bible). I’m not sure of any passage where God is shown as being “surprised” but there are passages where he shown to be angry. Without getting into issues dealing with anthropopathic language about God’s apparent emotions used more for the comprehension of the reader, let me simply say that knowledge of X and emotions toward X are not contrary things. God can know full well that X is going to happen and be angry when X happens. Why? Because he hates sin. If you knew that your child did something bad at school, but would try to lie about it to escape punishment, does that mean you aren’t angry when your child comes home and lies to you? Of course not. You would be angry precisely because you knew they were lying.  

 

This is begging the question and assuming that all anger is negative and uncontrolled. If anger can be positive in anyway than this question is irrelevant.  

God's knowledge of something does not preclude a reaction to that thing. One may be angered by or surprised about a thing no matter when or how long one knows about it. Consider thinking back to some bad thing which happened to you in the past. You could still react to the memory with anger despite the fact that you've known about it for a very long time. As moral agents, humans commit acts within time. God is not incapable of reacting to or interacting with human actions just because he always knows about them. God could not be a conscious or living being if he was incapable of reacting to things outside of himself, regardless of when and how he was informed about these things. Nor is God going to manifest his reactions to things he knows about at moments in time which are inappropriate to the action itself. It is also worth noting that frequently in scripture, God speaks of his feelings regarding events that have happened in the past, as if he still felt those feelings – indicating that his feelings regarding the events were as timeless as his knowledge of the events. 

God's omniscience can easily be seen throughout scripture when he talks about events which will happen in the future, or in the distant past. 

Really, to answer a question such as this you would need to have the specific biblical references that are being mentioned. However, in general there are two basic answers to this question: One, you're misunderstanding what the text says. Or two, sometimes it's in anthropomorphism. That is to say God is being described in human terms that the audience would understand.

The fact is God isn't surprised by anything we do, and there's nothing conflicting between being angry about something and knowing it was going to happen. I know that my kids are going to misbehave. I know they're going to get into things are not supposed to. I know they're going to fight, and they're going to be mean to each other, and they're going to be rebellious and disobedient to their mother and me. Knowing in advance doesn't change how I feel when it happens.

 

16.) An all-knowing God knows who will ultimately reject him. Why does God create people who he knows will end up in hell? 

 

This is one of the few insightful questions on the list, though it is not without an easy answer (even if that answer is emotionally hard to accept). In Romans 9 Paul addresses this very issue. He is describing those whom God predestined to be shown mercy and those whom he predestined to be shown wrath. He gives examples like Jacob and Esau, who before they were even born, were chosen by God for either mercy or wrath, not based on anything they had yet done. He then gives the example of Pharaoh, a gentile whom he says he raised up for the very purpose of judgement so that his plans would be made known.  

  

Paul, anticipating an objection by his reader, asks essentially the same question that Swan and many Christians and non-Christians alike have asked, when he writes in 9:19, ‘You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”’ Here, Paul knows that his protestors will basically say, “How can God condemn people who couldn’t resist his will that they be bad and therefore condemned? That’s just not fair!” They don’t ask specifically about hell like Swan does, but surely those under wrath are the reprobates bound for hell. So, what is Paul’s answer?  

  

Basically, who in the world are you to complain to God about what is fair? If God is like a potter, then he has the right to make with the clay what he wishes, and the clay cannot turn back on the potter and say, “why have you made me like this!?” What people often miss is that this is all within the broader context of Romans where we see that all men deserve judgement due to sin. Therefore, we shouldn’t ask, “why are some bound for hell,” but rather should ask, “why aren’t all bound for hell?” We should not accuse God for judging those who deserve it, we should be thankful for his mercy that so many who deserve judgement were shown grace and mercy instead.  

 

While there are multiple perspectives within Christianity on the concept of hell, we will assume for this question that hell is a place of eternal torment. The simple answer is “free will”. We are given the free will to choose if we want to accept God or not God’s goodness is not dependent on our ability to choose. Could God create a world where everyone is saved? Sure. However, if we were all provided undeniable proof of God’s existence could we still have free will? At what point does knowledge infringe on our ability to make our own choices? Can there be love if knowledge doesn’t have limits? In this case for me the answer is simple. In order to maintain free will we must have limited knowledge 100% knowledge forces a choice for a rational being. 99% or less allows room for free will to exist and thus for love to still exist.

God could have a world without hell but this would also be a world void of any true expression of LOVE.

 

Firstly and foremost, it is important to note that Creation was an act of God, and therefore exists for his purposes, not for human purposes.  

God created moral agents who are free to make choices either for or against God. This being the case, these moral agents may seek meaning, purpose, and existential fulfillment in every avenue outside of God's nature. If they cannot find such fulfillment, then God's nature is justified as being the absolute Good, outside of which, no other meaning exists. 

Humans have, indeed, explored practically every avenue outside of God's nature. But thinkers like Camus have come to the conclusion that existential fulfillment is impossible. 

The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes went on a similar quest for self-fulfillment, and came to much the same conclusion as Camus. The difference, however, was that the author of Ecclesiastes was ultimately able to ground meaning and purpose in the nature of God, and therefore resolve the problem of existentialism. 

By and large, when we ask questions like this that attempt to probe the mind and motivations of God, the fact is that we are very often left with no real answer unless God has specifically revealed it to us. That’s just how it is with us trying to know what someone else is thinking. So any answer I can think of to offer here is speculation.

 

Granted I can no more know the questioner’s thoughts than I can God’s, but it seems to me that the question may be assuming that God would somehow be wrong to create people He knows will end up in Hell. However, God has no obligation to do (or not do) any specific thing with His creation. He can create whatever He wants for whatever reason He wants, and He is not wrong to do so. And He obviously deemed it worthwhile in this world He created for there to be people who would reject Him. 

  

 

17.) If God is all-knowing, then why did he make humans, knowing that he’d eventually have to send Jesus to his death? 

This question is very similar to the one above, so let me simply add another angle to it. As a Reformed Christian, I think that the 1st question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is a good starting point for all theology: 

  

Q: What is the chief end of man? 

A: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. 

  

We commonly think of this answer in the positive – that humans are meant to actively give glory and praise to God and enjoy being in his presence. But there is a negative aspect as well (not negative in value but rather as in opposite side of the coin). Some humans will give glory to God passively by their judgement. God will be glorified in the praise of his people and in the judgement of the reprobate. What kind of world would God be most glorified in? If all believed, how would we ever praise him or give him glory for being just, righteous, holy, pure, etc. In fact, it’s not clear that we would understand the depths of his love for us in a world like that.  

  

Paul gives this answer in Rom. 9:22-23 when he writes, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory…” Paul makes this explicit – God made objects of wrath so that he could display his power and wrath “in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy…”  

  

Think about it. How would Christians even know just how amazing God’s love and holiness and justice and righteousness, and mercy really were, unless they understood that they were just as bad as the objects of wrath and deserved just as much punishment as they? How would we understand just how much God loved us unless we knew that 1) we deserved eternal punishment and torment, and yet 2) God in his mercy suffered in our place so we would not have to? It is not an easy truth to accept, but it is beautiful nonetheless.  

 

All of the great-making qualities of God's nature – power, justice, love, grace, holiness, etc. - are revealed on the tapestry of human history. God is what he does. He is Creator because he creates. He is Judge because he administers justice. He is Love because he loves, and so forth. 

Ultimately, all of the aspects of God's nature were drawn together in the person of Christ – who became human. In his death, he resolved the full demands of God's Justice, and allowed for God to administer absolute Grace without contradiction. 

Because human history is what it is, God was able to self-actualize his essential nature in the person of Christ. 

See the prior question for more context. However, I think the greatest thing to look at here is the butterfly effect. The butterfly effect is in a nutshell, “small actions can have large consequences”. If the butterfly effect is true then it is impossible for humans to truly know the extent of any consequence in the grand scheme of the universe. However, a God who could foresee the results would know how to balance the history of humanity. What is Jesus’s sacrifice did just that?

The simplest answer is that He wanted to.

He wanted to create the kind of people that would necessarily have the ability to rebel against Him and thus need saving. Whatever it is that God saw desirable about having free creatures who needed to be redeemed, ultimately, He thought it was worth it.

 

18.) Why did a supposedly omnipotent God take six days to create the universe, and why did he require rest on the seventh day? 

On this issue, I do not take a Young Earth Creationist view that thinks the universe materially came into existence over 6 days about 10,000 years ago. For my on my view, you can read my paper or listen to my 3 part series on Genesis 1, (hyperlink is to Part 1).  

  

Here the second part of the question is yet again a semantic conjuring trick. The simple answer is that God did not need to rest on the 7th day. He simply chose to. There is a lot that can be said theologically about this unending Sabbath rest being used as a paradigm for humans, but here let me simply add that rest does not mean that he was weary and needed some relaxation, but rather that he ceased from his work of creation. A more colloquial way to say it is that God retired from the universe creation game. You can read in my paper about Gen. 1-3 being a genre of literature known as a Temple Text, and as such would have served as a polemical attack on the gods of Egypt and other Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) cultures who would have needed temples to be built for them to lounge and rest and be fed in, whereas YHWH (pronounced Yahweh, yah-way) the God of the Israelites, would provide a temple for his creation, made in his image, not to lounge and be fed, but to be in fellowship and provide nourishment to his people. It was a complete 180 degree assault on pagan concepts of temples and deities at the time.  

It is by no means generally agreed upon in wider Christian circles as to how exactly to read the creation account. Some defend a literal six-day creation (as Swan seems to assume in his questioning), others assume much broader periods of time which are summed up in the stages of the six days - which may be read more symbolically than literally. Still others interpret the creation story as a certain genre of writing which was not meant to be historical. 

Since Swan's attack is leveled at a very particular reading of the passage, it is not within the scope of this document to defend a particular view in this regard. 

Certainly it's possible that an almighty God snapped his fingers and the universe appeared fully formed. It's possible that he did that ten seconds ago, and that all of your memories are implanted fabrications of a world that did not exist twenty seconds ago. However, so far as humans are able to discern everything that happens, happens through processes that occur over time. While God and his actions are not constrained to time, it seems to be among the elements and laws that form the universe he created. So asking why God uses processes that take periods of time is the same as asking why God created gravity when he could simply will objects to stick to the ground. 

This actually forms an insight into the question: Time is a mechanism which is part of the created order, and a law by which it is designed. God uses time as part of his actions, because it is a law that governs the creation he made.  

As to why God chose to rest, this was clearly a symbolic act on his part, which was later built into the Hebrew law as an example the people were to follow in the course of their week.  

The purpose and nature of this symbolism is speculative, but it bears no reference on the truth of Christianity.  

Genesis 1-2 have a number of interpretations. However, almost everyone agrees that despite how old or young you interpret the age of the earth there is also a additional meaning in Genesis that relates to the order of creation and God’s demonstration. Much like with worship God’s meaning is not about why he would do things the way He does but instead about what these things mean for us.

Because He wanted to.

He's got a thing for the number 7, and it sets the whole pattern for the 7-Day week with one of them being for a day of rest. Seriously, who doesn't love a day off? Plus it's not just a matter of length of time to create. An omnipotent CAN create in however long He wants to. He could do it instantaneously. Or He could bring the universe it to a boil and let it simmer for a few billion years. God did what He did because He was making a point through creation. But the answer for that is probably a bit more long-winded, and so I will just direct you to Tyler Vela’s answer.

19.) Is omnipotence necessary to create our universe when a larger, denser universe would have required more power? 

This again is a strange question. God does not look around the storehouses and think, “well this universe is going to be pretty large… let’s clear the stables and throwing everything I’ve got at it!” He doesn’t have a quantity of power known as “omnipotent” that was needed for the size of the universe. God just is omnipotent, meaning that he is all powerful and able to do anything he desires. He was omnipotent when he created this universe and was omnipotent when he created a few vessels of wine from water. Omnipotence is not a required input depending on the size of the universe. So this question just shows a completely conceptual breakdown in how Swan understand classical theism.   

This almost seems like a variation of the "could God make a rock so big he could not lift it?" question. In this instance, it seems to be asking "If God can do anything, why doesn't he do more things?" Presumably, God could have made a universe any size he chose – size being a relative measure of finite things. But the universe wasn't created for the sake of creating: it has a function and purpose which relates directly to God's nature.  

Looking at creation, for a moment, as a work of art rather than power: an artist designs things for reasons which appeal to his aesthetic. Looking at it from the direction of science: based on the laws of physics as humans currently understand them, a universe much more massive than this one would collapse in on itself. The universe is just the right size to suit the laws that govern it. 

This question assumes that the creation of the universe is God’s ultimate “project”. Why would we make this assumption? Particularly when most modern physicists point to more dimensions that we can’t know. Again the question lacks any substance due to its non-sequitur nature.

It seems to me that it is ultimately irrelevant how hard or easy it would have been to create this universe or that one. Omnipotence is omnipotence, and God created the universe he wanted to create, none would have been any more or less difficult to Him.  

 

Regarding the Bible

Raul654 [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0

Raul654 [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0

 

20.) Why are Churches filled with riches when Jesus asked his followers to give their wealth away? 

  

This is a common misunderstanding and the answer is simple. Jesus didn’t tell his followers to give all their wealth away. We are commanded to not be lovers of money but that does not mean that we are to give everything away and be penniless street people. In fact, throughout the Bible the righteous man is pictured as prosperous man who is blessed in all he does. This does not mean, however, that the faithful will always be rich. Simply that they will be blessed. For some that is financial for some that is family and children, for some that is influence, for some that is ministry impact, and so forth.  We are told that the wise man saves and cares for his family and his children and his children’s children. James tells us that there are those who are rich in the church and the problem is not that they are rich but that they are seeking favoritism.  

  

So, the simple answer is that there will be some who are poor and some who are rich and everything in between within the church and Christians are never commanded to be poor. However, if someone hoards wealth and refuses to use what God has blessed them with to help the poor or to help the orphan and the widow and to use what God has given them wisely and as a good steward over it, then they are in sin. Does Swan know that Christians don’t think that everyone in the church is without sin?  

The question is almost laughable if one were to drive around a city and look at the average corner church. When compared to, say, the average library or civic center, the level of wealth in churches on average is distinctly small. This dwindles further when one takes in the scope of churches worldwide. On the average, Christians universally are quite poor, and their meeting places are meager and often secret. This phenomena of accumulation of wealth within a particular church setting is unique to Europe and America. 

Both Europe and America are distinctly wealthy regions when compared to the global community. Europe's Christian heritage reaches back to the late Roman empire, and given the rise and prominence of Christianity in those regions – which only began dwindling within recent history – it should not be entirely surprising that a great deal of the art and wealth was poured into these institutions. This is especially true if one considers the fact that – for centuries – the church was an institution that functioned hand-in-hand with the government of the time. The church supported the government and vice-versa, such that the state allotted finances poured wealth into the church. 

The Christian Heritage of America reaches back to its colonial foundations.  

The primary answer to this question is that any institution which may be leveraged to give one power is an institution which will be abused to that end. It is beyond question that many a church leader has arisen who used the spiritual authority of their station as a means for personal gain. This neither makes it right or representative of the Christian faith – as pointed out in the question itself.  

Simply put: not every action done in the name of God actually represents the will of God. And the vast majority of churches are far from wealthy – it is only the few that are which tend to gain attention. 

Both of these statements are wrong. Most churches actually aren't filled with riches. Really if you look at the budgets of most churches and the financial situation of most church members, it's all pretty ordinary, and skating by paycheck to paycheck month to month.

 

Similarly, Jesus never commanded his disciples to give their wealth away. Yes he taught that it is difficult to honor God when you're living for money, but the issue is that it's okay to have money as long as you don't let your money have you. The Bible is packed full of people who had wealth. Godly people who had wealth. Godly people who had wealth that was given to them as a Blessing by God because of their godliness. Likewise, if you are to follow the wisdom and advice in the Book of Proverbs you're going to get wealthy. Also, in the New Testament we find multiple wealthy people coming to Christ and not being commanded to give it all away.

 

Most people pull this notion out of one encounter that Jesus had with one specific person, where Jesus gave a specific message to that specific person because of his specific situation. There's nothing in the text that says Jesus’ words to that one man are supposed to apply to everyone universally.

      My first response if asked this would be to ask where Jesus said anything like that. In asking this it puts the burden of proof back on the one asking. Perhaps they will investigate the Bible a bit on their own before asking hypotheticals that they haven’t researched on their own. With that said the question actually seems the story found in 3 of the Gospels where Jesus tells the “rich young ruler” that he must go and sell what he has to obtain the kingdom of God. While at first this may seem like an instruction for follows when Jesus follows it up with “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”. Jesus was using hyperbole to make a point. The lesson was not about wealth but rather about the condition of a person’s heart.  In addition, this does not serve as guidance for the modern church. To combine these two ideas as they are in this question only creates a non-sequitur. Likely the real issue at hand may be how the questioner feels about religious institutions or how they feel about religious figures that appear to abuse money. Asking questions to draw out these issues my help get to the heart of the matter rather than delving into the scriptural and logical problem with the question.

21.) While in the desert, Jesus rejected the temptations of the Devil. He didn't censor or kill the Devil, so why are Christians so in favor of censoring or condemning many Earthly temptations? 

  

Jesus also cast the devil from heaven, bound him while on earth, and told him to be silent and get behind him (a euphemism for “get out of here!”). Swan is here simply engaged in a kind of selection fallacy where he is selecting one verse (and skewing it at that) while ignoring all other data that relates to the question.  

 This question seems like a stretch – taking one particular Biblical story and generalizing it to all Christian behavior across society. Possibly it's worth mentioning that, when Peter tried to forbid Jesus from going up to Jerusalem to die, Jesus did condemn/censor him, saying "Get behind me, Satan!" 

While Swan did not provide specifics as to which acts of condemnation or censorship he is referring, the examples which come to mind are those of pornography or portrayals of violence in the media. When it comes to instances like this, often Christians are operating as private citizens using their government-given voice in order to prevent what they see as harm in the world around them. Certainly their politics are going to be informed to some extent by their Christianity, but this does not prevent them as citizens of the state from wishing to make the world, as they see it, a better place. There exist studies and statistics which may indicate that things like violence in the media and extensive access to pornography can be harmful to children and so forth, so these views are not entirely illusory.  

One may even argue that the objectification of women and the glorification of violence are not so much the temptation toward sin, but rather the act of sin.  

Whatever the case, the argument that a Christian should not exercise whatever opportunities they have in order to reduce the availability of temptation in the world is a tenuous one at best. 

When Christians are seeking to “censor” or “condemn” things, it is not primarily an issue of temptations. The point is not, “That temps us, so let’s get rid of it.” It is a matter of wanting to help the world in which we live look more like the goodness and righteousness of the way God designed it but which was broken in The Fall. As with anyone, Christians recognize that life and society are better when they line up with reality, the Christian perception of reality being that which lines up with God’s will.

 The key again here those is not the question so much as the motivation. We don’t Jesus’s reasons for handling things the way he did and can’t use 1 example to extrapolate a very specific generalization. The critical issue here is “what”. What do Christians censor or condemn that bothers you specifically? Chances are the claim has nothing to do with what Jesus did but everything to do with something they have felt Christianity is against. It is always better to try and find the direct concerns rather than just addressing the superficial.  

 

22.) Given that the story of Noah’s Ark was copied almost word-for-word from the much older Sumerian Epic of Atrahasis, does this mean that our true ruler is the supreme sky god, Anu? 

  

Let me help Swan out by correcting his facts.  

  

Firstly, the parallel story is not from the Sumerian Epic of Atrahasis (EoA). The story that more exactly maps onto Genesis is the Epic of Gilgamesh (EoG), which adapts the flood narrative of EoA in Tablet XI. The only similarities between Genesis and EoA is that there was a flood and a man was told to make a boat by a god to escape it.  

  

Secondly, the EoG is the myth that more exactly matches Genesis 6 (the time durations are closer, sending out a raven and a dove are in both, giving and offering after coming to dry land, etc.) The problem is that the EoG was composed centuries after Genesis would have been written and clearly adapts EoA by adding elements of Genesis to it. So, the majority of the copying is actually from Genesis to EoG.  

  

Finally, the use of other ANE texts within the Bible is simply a trivial observation once we understand the role that religious polemics played throughout the Old Testament, and specifically in the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Old Testament). It is very likely that the author of Genesis had their own tradition of the flood account that was similar to EoA and yet used aspects of the EoA in their telling of the flood for the purpose of satirizing the polytheistic religions around them. That is how polemics worked in the ANE and we see it throughout the Pentateuch. For more on how polemics worked in the Biblical text, see my episode on Polemics in Genesis 1.  

Simply put: no. It does not. Without addressing the specific example itself: the Christian faith is not based on a single story – or even a set of stories – which bare resemblance to contemporary legends of the time. One can invalidate whole chunks of scripture without dislodging the veracity of the Christian faith. Ultimately, Christianity as a worldview rest solely on the shoulders of Christ and his resurrection. If one wants to destroy Christianity, disprove the resurrection. Anything else is simply a matter of perfecting scholarship. 

Having said that, who is to say which legend is a copy of the other? There is a flood myth present in practically every ancient culture across the globe, from Native Americans to Chinese. One could argue that the Biblical flood story is just a face in a crowd: one story among hundreds, and therefore just as legendary as any other. This is the tact Swan seems to be taking. 

But one could also argue that the universality of flood myths might actually point to a real event in history. Since the Flood story of scripture seems to indicate that the human race as we now know it began with Noah's family, it wouldn't be surprising that every culture references the same event.  

At worst, the fact that two Ancient Near Eastern texts resemble one another calls into question the actuality of a Biblical story – which does not invalidate the rest of scripture, least of all the Resurrection. At best, the Sumerian story is a copy of the Biblical story – not the other way around. 

Let's assume for the sake of argument that I believe this claim that the Noah's Ark account is copied from some other culture’s flood story. Even if that were the case, all it really shows is that there is an account that is shared by multiple cultures of an event that would have been in both of their histories. However, even if the Bible is quoting some other work here, it doesn't follow that the other work is also to be considered the word of God. In multiple places in the New Testament the Apostle Paul quotes from non-canonical Jewish writings as well as Pagan Gentile writings, but nowhere are these writings assumed to therefore be seen as divinely inspired. The simple fact is that all truth is God's truth, and not everything that is written by mankind is 100% false. Cultures or authors that are otherwise generally wrong can and do sometimes get things right.

 

Nothing about that would or should lead us to believe that this other cultures god is real or to be worshipped above or in place of Yahweh.

Simply put, I would ask them to clarify. Likely they have no idea about the details. Perhaps research it with them. After all, if they have their facts straight then they have nothing to worry about. However, this just happens to be a very “meme worthy” question that sounds nice but has little basis in reality. Even the most basic google searches can help them sort this out in no time.  

Regarding Religious Conversion

A_Prayer_for_the_Poor.jpg

23.) If your desire is to convert atheists so that they become more like you, do you think that you’re currently better than them? 

The simply answer is no. I simply think that my beliefs are right and I would like to see them in heaven rather than allow them to suffer in hell because I have a genuine concern for my neighbor. I cannot be self-righteous because I am just as much a sinner as they are and am just as in need of Jesus as my savior as them – if not more so!  

  However, the irony of this is that this question, like many others, would simply cut just as deep for the atheist. Remember that this is a list given by Swan to help atheists to convert their friends and relatives and neighbors and such, away from Christianity and to secularism – to be more like him. So does Swan think that he is currently better than Christians?  

 

Absolutely not. The desire to convert is driven by love alone. IF Christianity is true and hell is even a remote possibility then in the words of atheist Penn Jillette “how much do you have to HATE someone to not try and tell them?” It has nothing to do with being better the whole goal is to insure the chance for a better future.  

 

Firstly: why single atheists out? Secondly: this is not an accurate description of the Christian calling whatsoever. Anyone who may call themselves a Christian in the true sense, is a Christian because they have recognized their own corruption in light of a perfect God, have repented of their misdeeds, and have gained forgiveness in the eyes of God. The last thing a Christian wants is for anyone to be like them. They want the person to be like Christ. Any virtue a Christian may have is through the work of Christ, not their own efforts. The Christian wants others to gain forgiveness and be made like Christ. Does the Christian think that Christ is better than them? Yes. They do. 

According to the Bible, a Christian should not be desiring to make atheists more like them. We seek to convert people to believe in the truth so they may be more like Christ. Certainly, on the list of people that you should try to become like because they are better than you, my name is probably not found anywhere near the top … if I'm on there at all.

 

24.) If religious people don’t respect their children’s right to pick their own religion, how can society expect religious people to respect anyone’s right to freedom of religion? 

This question simply begs the question. I fully expect that as my child grows more independent that they will choose for themselves what they will believe. Will I raise them within the worldview that I think is best and most true? Of course. Will Swan not do the same? Is he not going to raise them within a secular household? This is where the myth of neutrality rears its head – when secularists and naturalists think that because they are non-religious that they are therefore worldview neutral when it comes to raising their children. This is simply not the case. Here is a helpful lecture by Greg Bahnsen on the Myth of Neutrality.  

 

This happening does not dictate if it is right or wrong. I disagree with the way many religious people (or non-religious people for that matter) “indoctrinate” children. However, there is a vast difference in indoctrination and encouraging truth seeking. I believe good parenting involve inoculation by teaching children about various views and the strengths and weaknesses of each as well as bias and the important role it plays in evaluating evidence. To ignore teaching these skills and even to share the evidence for how you reached your conclusion is a far cry from disrespecting their rights it is actually an act of respect and love.  

 

Swan's entire list of questions seems to flow from the premise that he wants to discourage people who have elected to be Christians. One wonders if he would not pass his own values along to his children.  

A parent is responsible for his or her own child. They must protect and raise them in as nurturing a way as possible. If the parent is of the belief that Christian principles (or Muslim or Hindu or what-have-you) are true and virtuous – that God exists and that it is important to have a relationship with him – it would be less than loving from their perspective not to teach the child the truth as they see it. How can a parent possibly not pass along their personal principles to the child? The child observes and mimics the parent in every respect – using them as a benchmark for what a person should be like, such that even if the parent were not overt in passing beliefs off to the child, the child would likely absorb them just the same. 

That child will eventually be an adult and will make adult decisions – potentially altering their beliefs accordingly. If society wants to change the beliefs taught to children, they must start with the adults. The children are not the responsibility of society: they are the responsibility of the parent. 

The two issues are unrelated. A person’s relationship and obligations to their children are different than their relationship and obligations towards their fellow adult citizens. 

 

Parents have an obligation to teach their children about life and morality and the world in which they will live, and among the things that good and loving parents will teach their children is the religious belief that they are convinced is the core foundational truth of life.

 

That is quite different to how adult individuals relate to society and the rights and liberties of others.

 

25.) If missionaries from your religion should be sent to convert people in other countries, should missionaries from other religions be sent to your country for the same reason? 

Again, this question is a semantically ambiguous one. Should they be sent? Does he mean that if they believe that they should send missionaries, then should they attempt to send missionaries? Well to be consistent with their own beliefs they should. Or does he mean that we should allow them to do so? Well so long as their missionaries are not being disruptive (such as trying to spread radicalized militant Islam by force) then I see no reason why a secular nation like the United States should attempt to ban them.  

  Or does he mean from within my own worldview that those missionaries should be sent to spread false ideas? Well in that very narrow conceptual case, no. But then again we also shouldn’t raise our children as secularists, shouldn’t have a pornography pandemic, and shouldn’t tell white lies. What we should do morally from within a Christian worldview and what should be legal within a secular nation are two very different things.  

Well, of course, if one begins with the idea that their ideas are true and others are false, they wouldn't agree with the proselytizing of people into false belief systems. Based on question 24, Swan would presumably agree.  

A religion is what it does. Christianity has been the most missional of all religions ever. There are schools and hospitals in India, China and Africa which were founded by Christian missionaries a century ago and still remain. Even Islam, which has spread fairly successfully since its beginning, has not been missional in the same respect.  

Ultimately, if one supposes Christianity to be the true belief system, it would not significantly be threatened by missionaries from other religions. When the two belief systems collide, the true one is likely to be the one to emerge. And it never hurts to be educated as to the nature of another culture. 

I would hope so. One of my favorite comments on this issue of evangelism is a statement from Penn Jillette -  a fairly outspoken critic of religion. He makes the point basically that if you actually believe that this religious belief of yours is true and that there are consequences for not believing it, then you would actually be a jerk to not go and try and convince them of this important thing. So yes, other religions should try to spread their beliefs. I would expect nothing less.

 Sure. My goal in life is not to be “right” my goal is to seek TRUTH. I think we should share cross faith dialogs, after all if you have found something true, how much do you have to dislike someone not to share it with them? Especially when eternity might be on the line.

 

26.) If children are likely to believe in Santa Claus and fairies, does this explain why religion has been taught to children for thousands of years? 

Children are also likely to believe arithmetic and grammar and basic science and so forth. The absurdity of this question should be clear to all. Just because children believe false things, does that mean we shouldn’t teach them what we think are true things during their youth?  

Swan's point also begs the question that believing in God or Christianity is the same kind of things as believing in Santa Claus and fairies. The atheistic fundamentalist like Swan may think so, but that would be a minority position, even among atheists. Atheistic philosophers like Nagel and Piggliucci and others have quite strongly pointed to the very robust positions held by Christians and some of the greatest minds in human history. The problem is that God is not believed in by only children. Nearly all grow out of belief in Santa Claus. Most do not grow out of belief in God as a foundational and necessary belief to ground some of the most important features of reality (such as laws of logic, moral values and duties, the beginning of everything, why there is something rather than nothing, the intelligibility of mathematics, the correspondence of math/logic to the material world, the existence of minds, persons, history, etc.) To crassly compare such a robust worldview to childish belief in Santa Claus shows more about Swan’s own dogmatic and narrow fundamentalism than anything else.  

It is difficult to see how describing fairytales explains why religion exists. The two are very separate phenomena. Parents tell their children stories of boogeymen in order to get them to behave in cultures around the world. The parents don't believe the stories, and the children grow out of them. This is more similar to Santa Claus than is religion. 

The difference between religion and Santa Clause, boogeymen and fairy tales is that the parent doesn't believe the story that they tell the children about the fae folk, but they do believe the knowledge they impart of God. Fairy tales don’t supply meaning and purpose to life, but religions do. 

It is possible to find somewhere in time and culture, someone who has no concept of Santa Claus. It is impossible to find anyone in time and culture who has no concept of God.  

No. Religion has been taught to children for thousands of years because that's what loving parents do. They teach their children about life, and that would include religious belief that their parents sincerely accept as true.

This is just begging the question, is indoctrination wrong? Not to mention the question is already being asked on the assumption the God, Santa, and fairies are all on the same playing field of non-existence. And yet despite how loaded this question is it doesn’t “really” ask anything. The question betrays the user. If you are assuming the premises then how is your conclusion not representative of a confirmation bias to get there? Children are told lots of things both true and false for various reasons. However, this does not mean that these views won't change and it does not negate the possibility of God’s existence.

 

27.) When preachers and prophets claim to be special messengers of God, they often receive special benefits from their followers. Does this ever cause you to doubt their intentions? 

I’m honestly at a loss for any examples of this. In order to answer I would need Swan to elaborate on this far more than he has. Likely this will come back to the same kind of issue where he is only really interacting with some of the most anti-intellectual Pentecostal or Anabaptistic varieties of modern evangelicalism out there that most Christians simply have no experience with.  

The intentions of a prophet, preacher, politician or salesman are evident in their words and actions. If a preacher seems intent on increasing their own wealth, or garnering favors from their audience, then of course they are to be doubted. But a quick perusal of the history of Christianity is enough to suggest that these are the exception: not the rule.  

One can rattle off a list of some of the greatest preachers and missionaries of all time, and of all the hardships they suffered as a result of their efforts, beginning with the early apostles and up to Jim Elliot.  

As has been stated before: any religion which brings with it the possibility of power is going to attract people who will abuse it. 

Of course. Shady people take advantage of all kinds of situations, and we should be wary of people who appear to be doing that. Jesus and the Apostles had quite a lot to say about caution regarding false teachers.

Absolutely. Again this does not negate the possibility of truth but it certainly does add additional depth that we should consider when looking at people's motivations and possible reasons for their behavior. However, this raises a very important consideration on the other side. Jesus’s apostles, Paul, James, and the earlier church fathers actually received the opposite, threats of death, beatings, imprisonment, constant difficulties, and eventual martyrdom in some cases. I wonder what the author of these questions makes of these historically attested outcomes? Investigating intentions is not something Christians have any reason to fear. Actually quite the opposite, Christian’s should always investigate motivations and encourage others to do the same.

 

Regarding Miracles

By Artist unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Artist unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

28.) When you declare a miracle, does this mean you understand everything that is possible in nature? 

  

I’ve never “declared a miracle.” Once again, Swan seems to think all Christians a fundamentalistic Pentecostals.  

  

However, even if I did believe that some event was miraculous, that would not mean that I am claiming to know everything possible in nature. Ironically though, the import of this would be a naturalism of the gaps by the atheist – we don’t know what caused X… but it must be something natural. For more on this, see my article on Naturalism of the Gaps and how it reveals a kind of unassailable dogmatism among many internet infidel type atheists.  

Miracles as a Biblical phenomena were directly associated with messages from God. During that time period, practically the only time a miracle would be performed is to verify that a message or messenger was from God. So the benchmark of a miracle in that day and age would be "was it associated with some kind of message from God?" 

Since miracles were foretold and then accomplished, it is at least unlikely that they were natural phenomena, since it is still difficult for science to foretell, say, earthquakes or sunspots much less resurrections or rivers turning to blood.  

But even assuming that they are in fact occurrences that have some kind of natural explanation does not preclude them from being acts of God. As the creator of the natural world, there is no reason why God couldn't use natural processes in order to accomplish some specific end. 

No. That'd be omniscience.  Only God has that.

However, what we do is to come to the best conclusion we can, given the information at hand. Given that we already know that God exists and that miracles are possible, then it is only rational that it is a valid option when we are seeking to understand something.

 

In some instances, such as Near Death Experiences or direct experience of a spiritual being or event, it stretches the bounds of credulity to assume it isn’t miraculous.

 

Obviously we may misapply the explanation, but that doesn’t mean it is not equally worthy to be considered along with naturalistic explanations. We can also misapply and be wrong about naturalistic explanations. Many times people will assume a miracle has taken place because (1) they asked for God to do just such a thing and (2) there’s no convincing natural explanation available. In the absence of a natural explanation, concluding a miracle is a perfectly justified conclusion.

 

Is it possible that there is a naturalistic explanation that we just can’t see? Of course, but absent any reason to think that explanation is the correct one, concluding a miracle is a reasonable position.

 Absolutely not. Making a declaration does not mean that it is impossible to retract that opinion in the light of new information. To say that we can’t draw ANY conclusions without complete understanding is a denial of reason itself. Given our access to information and advanced scientific knowledge it would actually be far easier to declare something a miracle in this day and time then it would have been a few hundred years ago. This does raise a question of “at what point do we declare something a miracle?” While supernatural causes are extremely unlikely, an open mind would not rule these causes out entirely. In other words it is only reasonable to believe something is a miracle when the probability of a supernatural cause equals or exceeds the probability of a natural cause. Many people would not believe this is even a possibility, however, there are certainly situations where we could see natural explanations having an extremely low probability. For example in the case of abiogenesis we are looking at odds of roughly 1 in 10^40th. These odds are so bad that we would effectively consider it 0% chance. To give an idea of how big this is, it is comparable to a universe full of blind men all solving a Rubik’s cube on the exact same move. If God exists then miracles are possible, and if this is the case the possibility of a miracle is far more likely than abiogenesis. So while we may not be able to obtain certainty, we can draw reasonable conclusions and in rare situations declaring something a miracle may be the most reasonable conclusions.

 

 

29.) If a woman was cured of cancer by means unknown to us, and everyone declared it a miracle, would the chance of scientifically replicating this cure be more or less likely? 

  

This is a bizarre question because by definition the answer would be yes. If the means of the cure were entirely unknown to us, then we would have zero chance of replicating it (or at least knowing that we replicated it) precisely because we wouldn’t even know that we had replicated it. Because we wouldn’t know what it was. So even if we were able to come up with a cure that cured the same kind of cancer the woman had, we could never call it a “replication” of the previous cure because we never knew what the means of that cure was. So even if no one or everyone called the cure a miracle, the answer would be no simply by definition of how the question is phrased.  

The question is so ambiguously worded so as to be impossible to answer.  

Miracles, in the Biblical sense, had a very specific purpose – that being to verify that a message came from God. As such, it was always obvious that the miracle was a supernatural act of God. This kind of overt supernatural working of God is not obvious in the modern era.  

This is a point which is hotly contested in the church community – some of which believe that miracles of the Biblical variety are ongoing, whilst others believe that these kinds of spectacles stopped at the Apostles. 

Regardless: as the Creator of the universe, God is by no means confined to accomplishing things purely through supernatural acts. If a woman prays to have her cancer healed, that prayer is answered just as well if God orchestrates circumstances to place her in the care of a skilled physician as if God simply makes the cancer go away.  

If a woman's cancer were cured in a way that science could not replicate, or if it were cured through an entirely natural process, the cancer is just as cured, and the woman has just as much reason to praise the God who created these natural processes in the first place. 

I'm not even sure what this question is trying to ask. How do you replicate an act of God? He either does it or he doesn't do it. We can't replicate anything, we can just ask.

 The chances of scientifically replicating a miracle are not going to change based on how many people believed it to be a miracle. That is no how probabilities work. 

  

30.) If humans declared fire to be a miracle thousands of years ago, would we still be huddling together in caves while we wait for God to throw another lightning bolt into the forest? 

  

This question asks us to possess some kind of counter factual knowledge of a world that we do not inhabit. I have no idea what would have happened if humans thought fire was a miracle. In fact, I do not even know if humans did think fire was a miracle! Maybe they did think it was a miracle and here we are today with zippo lighters and fire starter logs! We have no access to this information.  

  

However, because of his weird obsession with anti-intellectual Pentacostal type beliefs, this question has a certain assumption undergirding it. It falsely assumes, in order for the question to make any sense, that if we believed that X was a miracle, that X is therefore not repeatable by natural means. Here I have two responses. 

  

Firstly, that notion of “miracle” is completely foreign to the Bible. In the Bible, the concept of miracle is that of “signs and wonders.” Sometimes they are singular events (such as creation or a talking donkey) but other times they are events that could not have been done by human hands of the time but with enough technology and resources we could probably replicate (like the parting of the sea or the healing of leprosy), while others were simply signs that pointed people toward Christ (like powerful teaching or mass conversions) which could have had entirely natural means but which were used by God for a specific purpose in redemptive history. So the concept of a miracle employed by Swan is just not the Biblical concept.  

  

Secondly, there is a kind of Luddite assumption within Swan’s question – that if people thought something was a miracle that they would sit there in stunned immobility and never ever try to do anything remotely like it. People believed Jesus turned water in to wine as a miracle and yet many people have tried their hand at alchemy. By divine intervention Noah was commanded to build an ark to be spared from the flood, and yet people continued to attempt to improve the quality, durability and functionality of boats. It simply is nonsense to think that even if our ancestors thought that initial fire was a miracle that they would just sit in dark caves waiting for lightening to strike a nearby tree again.  

The ancient Greeks had a story of the titan Prometheus stealing fire from the gods and giving it as a gift to humans. Somehow, the idea that fire was a miraculous gift from heaven didn't keep the Greeks from developing the philosophies which undergird the development of schools of science. 

Interestingly, science as it is known today, is largely the invention of a Christian society. This is because, unlike all religious texts being written during the same period of time, the Bible does not attribute the seasons, the rotation of the earth, the growth of plants, the wind and so forth to acts of unseen and supernatural forces. Unlike mythologies, the Bible has a Creator God who transcends the world he creates, and gives it laws by which it must function.  

Christians were able to be religious and still study and define the natural laws of the universe specifically because they believed it had a transcendent Creator, and was therefore a system of intelligible and concrete laws. 

Declaring something to be a miracle does not necessarily exclude the possibility that you were wrong. See my answer to “When you declare a miracle, does this mean you understand everything that is possible in nature?” above. Just as we can make mistakes and draw bad naturalistic conclusions, we can likewise draw bad conclusions and assume the miraculous but then later, once we have better information available, recognize the natural explanation.

No we would not. Even if something was considered a miracle, that can change. However, our scientific advancements do make it less likely to identify something as a miracle but also less likely that new discoveries will be made to overturn miracle claims.

  

31.) If God gave a man cancer, and the Devil cured him to subvert God’s plan, how would you know it wasn't a divine miracle? What if he was an unkind, atheist, homosexual? 

  

This question assumes that the Devil is powerful enough to subvert God, and that God is weak enough to have his plans subverted. Both are false. I am also not sure what the man’s attitude, beliefs, or sexuality has to do with any of it. Does Swan think that all Christians are legalistic fundamentalists who hate all atheists and homosexuals? Well… I suppose he may if he thinks we are all on the verge of being the next Son of Sam…  

To address the last part of the question first: this concept that Christians are condemnatory towards those with whom they disagree misunderstands the nature of Christianity. The fundamental concept is that all humans are imperfect. Those who recognize their brokenness and seek to be made whole, humble and repent before their Creator, and are then made whole.  

Given how a Christian begins by recognizing their flaws, it would be unworthy of them to condemn any flaws another might have – only to show how this other individual can be made whole. 

As to the first part of the question, Jesus underwent a very similar accusation in Matthew 12, when the Pharisees decided that he must be using demonic powers to do his good works. 

Jesus' response was simply to point out that the end results of his works were to glorify God. That, if a demon were to do good works, it would be damaging itself. That, for instance, the doctor who cures the woman of cancer would then be just as demonic – and what is that doctor going to say when he is accused of doing the work of Satan in all of his hard work? 

Moreover, it is not within the purview of Satan to "subvert God's plan." Satan's actions are constrained by the will of God. If God wants the man to be cured, he will be cured. 

For starters, the Devil can’t subvert God’s plan. He hasn’t anywhere near that kind of power. Second, I am hesitant to think that God is going to give someone cancer. According to the examples we see in Scripture, He may allow them to get cancer. He can use the tragic experience of their having cancer for His plan, but He doesn’t give people cancer.

Now regarding the question of knowing a divine miracle from a Satanic one? We don’t see in Scripture any examples that would lead us to believe Satan is running around doing good things to undermine God. As the “good” miracles tend to bring praise and glory to God. The Bible tells us that God works for the good in all things for those who love Him (Romans 8). And that Satan is a murderer and a liar. When we do see examples of Satanic or demonic “miraculous” activity, it is always destructive.   

From a Christian, Biblical perspective the devil can do nothing without God at least allowing it. So this question really does not work.

Regarding Hell

[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

32.) Should an instruction to convert to your religion upon the threat of eternal torture in hell be met with anything other than hostility? 

  

Should the instruction to not jump off a cliff on the threat of broken bones and potential death be met with anything other than hostility?  

 The question reads like that to be honest. If Christianity is true, then telling people about just condemnation for their sin and the grace that is offered in Jesus is the most loving thing someone can do – like warning you that if you turn the corner to which you are walking you will be shot in the temple and die. Why wouldn’t someone tell you that? 

 What this question also reveals is the misunderstanding that Swan has of evangelism a the classic legalistic “turn or burn” kind of scare tactic meant to scare people into the kingdom. While hell is a looming reality, the grace of God in Jesus Christ is the real savor of the gospel. Here Swan is yet again likely thinking that all Christians are of the anti-intellectual, fundamentalistic, legalistic, Pentecostal variety.  

One would be hard-pressed to find an evangelist who threatens people to convert. Any Christian who chooses to evangelize does so not because of fear or threats, but because of love. Truly, if a Christian hated Atheists as much as Swan seems to believe, what cause would they have to want to save them?  

Christianity works because it is true. The draw of Christianity is not to escape punishment or to gain reward – it is to be made whole as a human being.  

Assuming for a moment that God did, indeed, create humans, then the entire purpose for which humans exist is to fulfill some kind of design given them by God.  

If this be the case, then a relationship with one's Creator is the only way in which a human being may find existential fulfillment – at least the kind in which they may mutually participate. Most Christians who evangelizes, do so because they wish others to find true meaning and fulfillment. If they fear for the person's eternal destiny, this is the evangelist's motivation for sharing, not their method.  

This question seems to be under the misguided impression that mankind is just minding their own business and God comes along and decides to force us to obey Him or He’ll throw us all in hell.

It seems that the questioner here totally misses the point that God is The Sovereign Creator of all things, and there is not a single thing in existence that is not under His sovereign authority. That includes us. Hell is not a place where you get thrown because God is ticked that you didn't want to be in His special club. It is the punishment for treachery against the king. We are all guilty of treason and Hell is judgement being meted out by the good and just King whose authority and jurisdiction we are under.

So, if we take this train of thought it and apply it elsewhere, the question or seems to think that when the government says if you break the law you're going to jail that you should respond with hostility,

If hell were even a remote possibility would it be kind not to tell people about it? Enough said.

  

33.) Can a mass murderer go to heaven for accepting your religion, while a kind doctor goes to hell for not? 

  

This again shows a skewed understanding of Christianity within Swan’s mind. He seems to think that what sends people to hell is simply not believing Christianity whereas going to heaven is just about believing a religion. Here he ignores the concepts of sin, justice, wrath, grace, atonement, and a handful of others. The mass murderer, if he has genuinely repented of his sin and turned in faith and trust to Jesus as his savior will be saved, while the doctor who rejects the offer of salvation will suffer the penalty that is due to his sin. In essence the doctor gets what he is owed whereas the converted-no-longer-murderer is spared what his sin was owed because Christ paid it for him, and is given what he does not deserve: mercy.  

  

This is the beautiful thing about the gospel. It doesn’t matter how bad you were in your life before Christ, all can be saved where true repentance and faith are found.  

  

Here we can see that Swan, though responding to a kind of legalistic fundamentalism, is still a legalist himself. He does not believe that anyone should be shown grace. He only believes that those people who are nice and good and work hard enough in life to earn it should be shown grace. Those murderers and such, they are too bad to ever be saved. Let them burn. In essence, Swan is being more judgmental and condemning and less gracious, forgiving and merciful than God – and thank goodness for that! I wouldn’t want a god like Swan! This is a common trend among atheists – a position that I have come to call Pagan Pelagianism. Swan is trying to condemn Christianity for being too harsh but shows that he has an even harsher view than the one he is castigating.  

Here Swan's tactic is to point out what seems counterintuitive: that Christianity offers bad people grace, and will condemn good people who do not accept that grace. 

To the first point: the entire goal of both the legal system and the institution of mental therapy is reform. Make defective people whole. A large swath of the population disagree with the death penalty, likely because they believe the victim of the penalty is not some monster if able to reform. 

A mass murderer has done deeds worthy of condemnation. For this same person to receive forgiveness, he must firstly acknowledge the evil of his deeds and secondly repent of them, showing that he recognizes the wrong and regrets it.  

Were he to do both of these things, God would – indeed – reform him. Give him a new heart, making him a good person through Christ, and still punish the deeds through the work of Christ. This way, both justice and mercy are served, and this man is no longer a killer worthy of punishment. 

Being a doctor is one of many noble things a person can do in life for the betterment of another. One wonders, however, under what conditions Swan has judged the worthiness of this man? Has this man never once been selfish? Told no lies? Never inconvenienced another for his own benefit?  

More, if this man wishes to be in heaven with God, does he at the very least accept the God of that heaven? 

If the man rejects God, under what obligation ought God to accept that man? 

No.

The mass murderer gets to go to heaven whenever he realizes his evil ways and essentially falls on his face in repentance and humility and begs for mercy from the king who he has offended by slaughtering his people. Meanwhile the kind and gentle doctor who loves everyone around him but is giving God the one-finger salute does not get to go to heaven.

 

The central issue of Christianity is not just whether or not we're being good little boys and girls, it is the human condition and our relationship to God. Think of it this way: imagine you're a good and benevolent and loving king, and there is a citizen of your kingdom who treats his fellow citizens wonderfully. He helps the poor little old lady across the street and generally does good deeds for those who are around him. However, he seeks to undermine your rule and your authority every chance he gets. What do all of his good deeds amount to in the face of treason? He is still guilty of a rather heinous crime.

Yes and yes. Christianity is not about what people “do”. Christianity is about a gap placed between God and man based on man’s choices and God’s perfection. Given this relationship man cannot do anything to bridge the gap. Only God Himself as Christ is able to bridge the gap and balance things. However, the Christian faith is more than blindly believing. Acceptance of God’s grace is an active rather than passive activity. And with that said there is no knowing if the mass murderer is truly saved if he goes on mass murdering after he is “saved”.

  

34.) Did the mass murdering Crusaders and Inquisitors make it into the Christian heaven? 

  

See my response to the historical issues of the Crusades and Inquisition above. Likely Swan is relying on a kind of revisionist history cultural belief about these two periods of time with relatively little actual study going into understanding either of them.  

  

As for their eternal fate – I have no idea. I didn’t know any of them and I do not pretend to be God, knowing the end from the beginning.  

Did the person of whom you speak recognize their sinful nature, repent of wrongdoing and seek forgiveness in Christ? If yes, then yes, if not, then no.  

The church should never be confused with God. During this period in time, the Church took for a time to selling Indulgences, wherein they promised the forgiveness of God for a price. As Martin Luther was quick to point out: the Church has no power to absolve a person of sins, therefore participation in a sinful activity done under Church authority does not excuse the person from wrongdoing. 

First off, this seems to assume a faulty understanding of what the Crusades and the Inquisition were. The Crusades were a military campaign against and encroaching violent, militant culture seeking to take over Europe. Yes, people did terrible things during the Crusades. Individual people do terrible things in all wars, and they will have to answer to God for the terrible things they've done. The Crusades, were not a mass murdering or genocidal campaign in purpose or plan.

 

As for the Inquisition, actually very few people were put to death because of the Inquisition. Most people were just excommunicated and shunned and ostracized. The deadly piles of burning corpses of Heretics that people paint about the Inquisition is a myth.

 

However, please recall that the point of going to Heaven or Hell is not about whether or not we have been perfectly nice good little boys and girls to our neighbors. Ultimately the question resides in your response to God. As long as we are choosing to remain in a state of rebellion against Him, the issue of how He deals with us regarding our other crimes is a moot point.

I don't know.

  

35.) How can we know what is right when we don’t know for sure who makes it into heaven and hell? 

  

This seems like a radical non sequitur. Why would I need to know who makes it into heaven or hell before I can know or reasonably believe what is right? I’m guessing here he means knowing what conditions are required for entrance into heaven or judgement in hell and then I would need to know who is going where in order to validate that knowledge. That would still be a complete non sequitur. I know the way to drive from Los Angeles to Chicago and to Miami, but I do not need to know what people have made the drive to each before I can know the paths to each.  

umans may not know who makes it into heaven and hell, but they have every means to know how to make it into heaven or hell.  

Question #6 and 7 appeal to a mutually-felt conviction that murder is wrong. In question 8, Swan appeals to his (and presumably the reader's) impressions that kindness and charity are good attributes for people to have. In fact, in question 12, Swan goes so far as to recognize that nurture and loyalty are good attributes even when seen in animals.  

Knowing what is right does not seem to be the issue at hand. The issue at hand is that, while all people seem to be able to recognize right from wrong (as Swan himself shows in his selection of questions), no one is able to always do that which is right and avoid that which is wrong.  

Heaven is a place for people who have won the mercy and forgiveness of Christ by simply asking for that mercy. Hell is a place for those who refuse to repent of any wrong deed they have done. At a certain point, the problem becomes arrogance – not ignorance. 

This question seems to get things in reverse. It is our knowledge of right and wrong that helps to know we are deserving of God’s justice.

 

We are able to know what is right by various means. For starters, mankind has an innate sense of morality. At least in very broad principles. Often this is more easily recognized when we are the ones being wronged, but not always. We also experience matters of conscience regarding moral obligations as well, feeling guilty for not doing something we ought.

 

Also, God has revealed to us His will and moral principles in the Bible. In several places the Bible points out that the purpose of the law is to reveal to us our guilt. The very fact that we do not measure up to God’s moral standard shows our need for a savior. As all of mankind is guilty, all of mankind is justly deserving of Hell.  

 

However, the determining factor of whether one “makes it into heaven or hell” is whether they accept Christ’s offer of forgiveness. We are born into a world at war with God. We are citizens of a kingdom in rebellion of it’s rightful king. We can either remain in rebellion or defect to the one to whom we rightfully owe our allegiance and obedience. And the means of that defection is Jesus Christ.

 

Our knowledge of what is right or wrong is something we have, regardless of if we or anyone else accepts the offer to defect … or if we are able to tell who genuinely has.

As with other questions here this shows a core misunderstanding of Christianity and what “salvation” actually is. Salvation to a Christian is grace through faith by accepting that it is NOT good behavior that brings you to heaven but only through the sacrifice offered by Jesus. This is the core of Christianity, not someone's behavior. 

  

36.) If aliens exist on several worlds that have never heard of your god, will they all be going to hell when they die? 

  

I honestly don’t know. The Bible is God’s revelation for man. To show us how to live and how to please God and what God has done to procure redemption for humanity. If aliens hadn’t fallen or sinned then maybe they wouldn’t need a savior. If they had, maybe God became incarnate for them. Who knows. Aliens pose no problem for Christian theology because Christian theology is concerning God’s revelation to man alone.  

Once every three years or so, astronomers will find an exo-planet (a planet around another star) which seems to be in the general range to possibly support life. At these times, readers might note that there is a drastic spike in atheist articles declaring the discovery of a potentially life-supporting planet as being the wooden stake to drive through the heart of Christianity. 

Why should aliens be such a big problem for Christianity? 

It's actually a fair insight on the part of the skeptic. Under Christian dogma, humans were created in God's image, and the third person of the trinity – Christ – actually became a human in his act of sacrifice, and then ascended as a glorified human to God's right hand.  

Presumably, if the atheist could produce a non-terrestrial, conscious, intelligent, moral agent, they could show that humans weren't special and unique. Christ didn't incarnate as a Klingon and die for Klingon sins, so God's plan seems flawed if humans aren't the only moral agents in the universe. 

There is one glaring flaw in this line of reason: Christian dogma already allows for non-terrestrial conscious moral agents. They're called "angels."  

In fact, scripture describes a whole variety of celestial beings who are conscious, intelligent, and able to recognize the goodness of God, so are apparently moral agents. 

What is the relationship of these other beings to Christ's redemptive work on earth? Impossible to say. But the mere fact that Christians acknowledge that humans are not the only conscious beings to exist means that the existence of other conscious beings does anything to damage Christian doctrine.  

So far as the "never heard of God," and "going to hell," part goes: if humans were to discover a race of aliens which had never heard of vaccines, are they all going to die of malaria? You say that isn't a problem for aliens? Well... 

Are these aliens in a state of rebellion against God? We have to remember that Jesus came to save mankind because mankind is fallen, a state of rebellion against God. CS Lewis, of Narnia fame, actually has a sci-fi trilogy where there is alien life on other planets, but those aliens are enjoying a life spent in harmony with God as He created them to live. In Lewis’ story it is only on Earth which is considered enemy occupied territory where sinful Rebellion is taking place. Surely if there are aliens that is one possibility.

 

However, if they are in rebellion against God you have two options. Either (1) God has made some sort of provision for them irrelevant to us, so therefore He never mentioned it. Or (2) it may be that they are in a similar relationship to God as the angels and are a type of creature with no redemption possible. This seems likely since Jesus specifically became a human in order to specifically forgive the sins of mankind.

 

The best option is that no such beings exist. According to the Bible, all of creation is affected by The Fall. That would include any aliens. However, since it was mankind that sinned, not the aliens, it would be incompatible with God’s just and loving nature for Him to punish innocent creatures for mankind’s sin. And considering that Jesus was born as a man in order to redeem mankind, that redemption would not apply to aliens. Which would effectively mean that God created a race a being who are unjustly condemned with no hope of forgiveness. That whole scenario would contradict with His nature.   

   There are some questions that are so hypothetical that the answers are hardly worth giving. Even if this were the case there are so many “hypothetical” solutions. Upon getting a question like this I would cut to the chase and ask them “do you have a problem with the concept of hell?” There is really no reason to even discuss this degree of hypothetical question unless you understand each other’s core views on the more important issues.

 

The Promises of Religion

Alberto Fernandez Fernandez

Alberto Fernandez Fernandez

37.) If someone promised you eternal life, the protection of a loving super being, a feeling of moral righteousness, a purpose for living, answers to all the big questions, and a rule book for achieving the pinnacle of human potential, all in exchange for having faith in something that wasn't proven, would you be suspicious? 

Yet again, this question massively begs the question. It assumes that Christianity or theism are yet unproven and that the atheist is just a pinnacle of virtuous objectivity when it comes to the evidence for God and Christianity. He is also back to the legalistic fundamentalism that he loves to toy with when he says like “a feeling of moral righteousness” showing that he isn’t really asking these questions in sincerity.  

However, let us pretend that he is being genuine. The answer is still relatively simple. We should, in intellectual honesty, seek to fairly and accurately evaluate competing claims as we are presented them and to critical examine our own with the new challenges that they have to offer. Should Swan wish to be a critical and objective thinker, he may be suspicious and skeptical, but he would also attempt to better understand Christianity than what he has revealed about his lack of understanding of it in these questions, and subject his own worldview to scrutiny and subject it to the challenges with which a robust Christian worldview has to offer against it. After all, was his goal not to engender self-reflection and critical thinking? Well then he should be the first in line to do the same.  

No reading between the lines is required for this question. Presumably, the sales pitch for this miracle package would not include the lines "in something that has never been proven." If it is pitched that way up front, then suspicion might be the logical route to go. Otherwise, like any savvy consumer, the more appropriate response would be to investigate the claims. If, like Christianity, the claim holds up to scrutiny when the evidence is examined, it sounds like it is a good deal. 

Yes.

Which is why I am thankful, that God has not left us in such a position.

The evidence for God, especially as He is described in the Bible is quite robust and extensive. However, not only is God well demonstrated in both His creation and logically, the truth of The Bible is regularly “proven” by the witness of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers as they walk with God through this life.

    Absolutely. Should I be suspicious of someone that buys me things, spends time doing things for me, asks me for favors, wants to influence the direction of my life, and wants to have a say so in decisions in my life? The answer again may be yes. However, I was just describing some aspects of having a spouse. How do you know someone loves you and isn’t just manipulating you? You can never know with certainty, but the evidence can support that their claims of love are true.

  

38.) If someone promised to give you a billion dollars after ten years but only if you worshiped them until that time, would you believe them? If someone promised you eternal life upon death, but only if you spent your life worshiping a god, would you believe them? 

  

Yet again this would be a non sequitur and, if he makes the next step in inherent in the question, another genetic fallacy. For it does not follow from the kind of offer a person makes to the veracity of that offer. Neither would it matter how someone came to believe it (in this case via personal messenger) to whether or not the hope of the promise was true. In both cases I would likely be skeptical because as a Christian I already have such a hope and a competing one would need an even greater threshold of probability. Again, has Swan done his diligence in examining his worldview in comparisons to others?  

As with question 14, this question vastly mischaracterizes the nature of worship and the method by which one achieves salvation. To re-iterate, worship is a natural response one has to coming to a recognition of the nature of God. If one comes to truly recognize the character of God and does not respond with worship – they have not come to truly recognize the character of God. And if a person has come to recognize God's character to the extent that the person is worshiping him, then yes. They would believe. 

Marc Lambert

Marc Lambert

In the first instance? No. I've been alive long enough to know that my fellow human beings would make a lousy god not worthy of such worship. In the second instance? Who's the person, what reasons are they giving that I should believe them, who is this God, and what evidence is there for his existence and the truth of these claims? In the case of Christianity, the reliability of this message is rather well attested.

 

However, it seems to me that this question misses a major point in Christianity. We do not worship God for the rewards. Serving God for selfish gain is by definition the opposite of humble repentance. The main problem with man is that we pridefully seek our own wants. That’s why the Gospel message is that salvation is for those who repent, surrendering that pride. Religious activity that is absent genuine humility is hypocrisy, and the Bible is full of examples of God detesting and judging this two-faced approach to religion.

    If the evidence supported it, why not? This question is simply trying to send doubt by comparing 2 completely unrelated events. Based on the Christian worldview we actually see exactly what we expect from reality (people going back on their word). That does not mean that the Bible will yield those same results if Christianity is true. Not to mention this is an inaccurate description of the Christian view of salvation. Salvation is NOT based on worship but is all about grace through faith.

  

39.) Why does religion appeal more to poor, weak, vulnerable, young, ill, depressed, and ostracized people? Could religious promises be more of a temptation to these people? 

  

I have a couple of thoughts on this question that may be helpful in response.  

First, I have alluded to it in other answers, but I do not even know what “religion” in the abstract means. I don’t think there is a such a thing as “religion” as a unified concept such that “religion” is something that appeals to anyone. I don’t think that “religion” appeals to anyone because I do not think “religion” is something that can appeal. I think that specific worldviews that share some features that we commonly identify as “religious” can appeal to people.  

Second, in this case I would need statistics for this claim. I do not know how we would verify what socio-economic class any certain religion appeals to. The sheer fact that there are more poor people who are religious may simply be a function of there being vastly more poor people in the world than the very few rich ones.  

Finally, I think it is a great value that Christianity appeals to the lower echelons of society. It is precisely the fact that it gives hope to those who are often without hope in the eyes of the world that has made it not only beneficial in this world (with the creation of orphanages, hospitals, charities, poor houses, etc.) but also more plausibly true as it is a clear example of true and selfless kindness to those in need – the poor and ill and oppressed. Nearly all other religions actually favor the rich and the powerful, giving them a status with more power and wealth than they had before. But mirroring God’s concern for the poor and the outcast, Christianity teaches the brotherhood of all humanity and that despite one’s station in life, there is hope. There is always hope in Jesus Christ.  

Joel Furches

Joel Furches

One wonders what Swan believes that the promises of religion are? They aren't wealth, strength, invincibility, maturity or health. Swan, himself pointed out in question 20 that he finds it less-than-genuine when churches are filled with riches. 

This said, Swan is onto something here: cultures with less material affluence tend to be more religious. The more affluent a culture is, the less religious they will tend to be.  

The short answer is that Christianity establishes one's meaning, purpose and existential fulfillment on the transcendent. One can be a king on a throne or a skeleton on a trash heap and still be on equal grounds with God – putting their identity, meaning and hope with him.  

Difference being that the pauper in the mud hole has a lot less distracting him from the greater transcendent hope.  

One does not try to cling to things one does not have. An unattractive person may age more gracefully than an attractive one who clings desperately to their youthful looks.  

One protects one's investments, and when one's only investment is God, one will cling all the more gratefully to Him.

A far more likely explanation is because people who are rich, strong, independent, well established, health, happy, and popular are more likely to think more highly of themselves than they really are and refuse to be humble and submit to God. With pride being the main barrier between God and man, it makes a lot of sense that those with less to be prideful about are more likely to have a more realistic view of their situation and need for God.

I would want to know specifically what research is being looked at before articulating a full response for the individual. I do know some of this is supported by current surveys however there are a number of factors that should be considered before assuming that religion preys on the “weak”. Other possible solutions would suggest that maybe those not in these categories are more likely to reject God due to self-reliance, and this is just to suggest 1 possibility. You can take data and ask questions of it but we should all be cautious in the conclusions we jump to from the said evidence. 

  

40.) ??? 

  

This is by far the hardest question of all – the paradox of existence. Why is there only 39 questions on a list of 40 questions to ask Christians.  

  

We may never know.  

Despite his broad assurance of 40 questions, Swan leaves his readers one-shy. Oversight? Edit? Intentional omission? One can only guess. Personal theory is that Swan wanted a round number, and so just went up to the nearest ten. The original article never actually numbered the questions, so it should probably have gone by the title "40-ish Questions to Ask Christians." 

On the subject of answering questions. If you are a Christian reader, you may have noted a bit of snarkiness in some of Swan's questions. It is probably not unreasonable to assume these were not asked out of curiosity toward an open engagement - probably more likely to shut down any conversation which may arise. So why engage the questions in the first place?

If one is confident in the truth of one's belief, one should never feel threatened by any resistance one encounters. The worst thing that could possibly happen is for you to discover that you are wrong. 

In the course of considering and responding to questions like these, the Christian may discover things about their belief that they had never considered before they were forced to look into it. 

Practical, cautious engagement with questions - even asking your own questions - is one of the best and most rewarding ways to strengthen your mind, your heart and your faith. See it not as a threat: see it as a challenge.