Arguing Against Christianity

In arguing for enlightenment and empiricism against the forces of unreason and obscurantism, we face difficulties in the modern world which those of previous ages didn’t have to deal with. The internet and social media have given the masses unprecedented access to historical information and summaries of known arguments which make it hard to achieve new progress. This essay offers some ideas for effective discourse in the modern environment.

I take it that our starting point can be to simply deny the existence of God as atheists have always done. We can back this up impressively with a veiled appeal to science: “There is no empirical evidence for the existence of God!”

In the modern environment  this has to be done carefully and we may have to carefully select the audience within which this argument will be effective. As a soundbite it’s good, but we mustn't be drawn into questions about the definitions of individual words. Once someone defines God as “creator of everything” we get into the whole philosophical morass of whether the existence of everything counts as evidence of its creator. “Empirical” is also problematic; once someone notices that it means “obtained by observation or experiment” we may be faced with questions about whose observation and experimentation is meant. And the veiled appeal to science itself can let us down. In previous centuries, most prominent scientists believed in God; they claimed that because the world had a rational creator its laws would turn out to be rational too. Even in the present there are no more atheists among scientists than among the general populace.

What's more, we run into particular trouble over “empirical” at this time of year (Easter). Around this time, the Christians start claiming that the man Jesus was also God Incarnate or “the Son of God”, and that he returned to life after being killed. This outrageous claim, if true, is exactly the kind of evidence which we want to maintain doesn’t exist. Historians and scholars have let us down badly here. The counter-argument that Jesus of Nazareth never existed is a non-starter because historians say that he and some of his associates were real historical figures. The written evidence about key episodes of his life from independent witnesses is hard to dismiss. It almost looks like a conspiracy between ancient and modern historians because even the ancient non-Christian ones credulously refer to his resurrection every single time they mention his crucifixion by the Romans.

We are betrayed too by archaeologists, who too-often report finding new copies of the original writings and confirming little details of the area in and around Jerusalem which those writings mention.  However, they have made some progress this year. Until recently the Christians were able to taunt us that they had more evidence for their Christ than we had for things we definitely believe in history, such as the invasion of Britain by Julius Caesar. At last, though, the archaeologists have found a few signs of Caesar’s landing in Kent. Progress at last.

But let’s not get bogged down into discussions about mere evidence. We don’t want to appear to be in the situation of denying things which are actually accepted by experts in the field. That would seem to put us in the same boat as climate-change deniers and moon-landing conspiracists, which would be ridiculous.

The result of all this is that it's unfortunately not possible to refute the Christian claims by denying the reality of their founder and the things he did. We must therefore use misdirection. Chocolate may work briefly. More seriously, shifting key ideas about the person of Jesus can get us out of our difficulties. For example, “he was just a good moral teacher”; “he was actually a rich man”; “he was actually married and has descendents today”; “he was actually the rightful king of the Jews” – any of these can act as a good smoke screen to distract the Christians from weaknesses in our case (but beware; there are many discussions of those diversions online). In extreme cases we can even resort to shifting attention away from this annoying man entirely and focussing instead on unrelated scandals in the church or claims that wars are caused by religion. Again, use caution and don't get deeply into examination of evidence, because such claims often fall when others produce actual statistics.

At all costs, discussion about Jesus should be kept away from the things he actually said about himself. Once someone sees that he actually predicted his death and resurrection, and the prediction is on record as being used against him at his trial, the claimed events can seem to take on vastly greater significance.

Before this point is reached it’s probably best to just reset the whole argument by saying again loudly that God doesn’t exist. The alternative is unthinkable. We could end up having to accept that He does exist; that He has revealed Himself by entering our world in the person of His Son; that He loves us so much that He died for us to take away our sin, and that if we put our trust in Him we can have eternal life in His Name.

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