ANSWERS FOR SKEPTICS! Write to us if you have any questions.
We’d love to hear from you, so please send us your questions. You might have something that puzzles you about God, Christianity or the Bible, your questions on those are welcomed. Please keep in mind that we are a volunteer group and so responses might take awhile. Your feedback is important to us and while we may not get back to you immediately, our goal is to reply to you one way or another.
How did God make the physical universe from nothing?
Contemporary cosmology strongly supports the theory that the physical universe of time, space, and matter is finite and therefore not eternal. In other words, it had a beginning. Something, which in the context of religions, is unusually consistent with the Bible’s revelation (Genesis 1:1).
However, when we see God creating the physical universe (and the things within it) in the Genesis account he simply speaks & it happens (“God said, ‘let it be’ etc.). In other words, God doesn’t make the universe from anything. He simply spoke and it happened. God never reconstructed or reassembled anything out of already existing matter; he spoke such matter into existence. Likewise, God did not create the physical universe from himself since given the Bible’s witness he is totally separated from the physical (John 4:24). He is therefore believed to be outside of space time itself.
This is what is meant by creation ex nihilo (the Latin phrase meaning literally “out of nothing”). A task only possible for God. How exactly did God literally go about doing that (after all, Genesis simply states as a matter of fact that God spoke things into existence)? I don’t think that we will ever be certain for it’s something that a finite human mind will never be able to grasp. Since we are space bound we will never know what it is like to be outside of space itself, much like we don’t know what it is like for God to be able to exist outside of space time. What would be more appropriate to consider is whether or not it is possible for God to do this. Is it? If we’re talking about the biblical God then obviously. However, if someone were to deny that the biblical God could do such a thing then he would need to provide arguments to demonstrate why God would be hindered by such an inability. And on that end I don’t think that would be possible. Only if the atheist, in this case, can demonstrate this then to hold to creation ex nihilo would be irrational. Have they? No they haven’t.
Is truth relative?
(A dialogue between Socrates and Protagoras)
Protagoras: Truth is relative. It is only a matter of opinion.
Socrates: You mean that truth is mere subjective opinion?
Protagoras: Exactly. What is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me, is true for me. Truth is subjective.
Socrates: Do you really mean that? That my opinion is true by virtue of its being my opinion?
Protagoras: Indeed I do.
Scorates: My opinion is: Truth is absolute, not opinion, and that you, Mr. Protagoras, are absolutely in error. Since this is my opinion, then you must grant that it is true according to your philosophy.
Protagoras: You are quite correct, Socrates.
Are Science and Faith at Odds? Insights by Augustine
The relationship between science and faith is one of the most important, and yet controversial subjects of our day. Are science and faith opposed? Do they support one another? Do they threaten one another? Or do they address entirely different “magisteria”, as Stephen Jay Gould famously suggested.
It is important to get the relationship between science and faith correct, for as David Kinnaman has pointed out in his book You Lost Me, the perceived conflict between them is one of the top reasons young people disengage the church. While there are many good books on the dynamic between science and faith (See, for instance, Where the Conflict Really Lies by Alvin Plantinga), sometimes the best wisdom comes from the past.
In his book On the Literal Meaning of Genesis, Augustine gives some helpful advice for how to approach science. Long before the Scientific Revolution, Augustine was well aware of the supposed conflict between science and faith. His advice is worth heeding today:
“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens…and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear aChristian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn…If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books on matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason” (Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, vol. 1 (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1982), 19:39, p. 42).
The God of the Bible is evil. A God who allows so much suffering and death can be nothing but evil.
This criticism is voice in many different ways. For me, this is one of the most legitimate arguments against the existence of a good God. The fact that there is suffering and death is the strongest argument against the belief in an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God. If suffering and death exist it seems to suggest one of two things: (1) either God is love, but He is not all-powerful and cannot stop suffering and death, or (2) God is all-powerful, but He does not care for us.
The argument takes as its presupposition that good and evil are real; that there is an ultimate standard of good and evil that supersedes mere fanciful ‘ideas’ about what is good and evil at a given time in our ethical evolution, as it were. If there is not a real existence—an ontological reality—of good and evil, then the charge that God is evil because of this or that is really to say nothing more than, “I personally don’t like what I see in the world and therefore a good God cannot exist.” I like what C.S. Lewis said on a similar matter: “There is no sense in talking of ‘becoming better’ if better means simply ‘what we are becoming’—it is like congratulating yourself on reaching your destination and defining destination as ‘the place you have reached.’”
What is tricky for the atheist in these sorts of debates is to steer clear of words loaded with religious overtones. It’s weird for someone who does not believe in ultimate good and evil to condemn God as evil because He did not achieve their personal vision of good. So, the initial criticism is sound, but it is subversive to the atheist’s staging ground. If one is going to accept good and evil as realities, he is not in a position to fully reject God. Instead, he is more in a position to wrestle with the idea that God is good. After all, the very word God used for his people in the Old Testament—“Israel”—means to struggle with God.
WHY DO SO MANY CHRISTIANS REJECT EVOLUTION?
There are several reasons as to why so many Christians are opposed to evolution. It is widely believed that Darwinian evolution insists that the biblical story of Adam and Eve is a myth and that God has no role in the development of life. Theologically speaking if evolution denies a historical Adam and Eve then it would mean that there can be no Original Sin, no Fall, and no saviour in Jesus. Moreover, if God is said to play no role in life’s creation, then does he even really need to exist at all? Many Christians also hold to the view that the Earth is merely 6000 to 10 000 years old since they believe that this would be the best exegetical interpretation of the Genesis creation account. However, it is not that hard to see that this wouldn’t sit too well with the fact that evolution, as a gradual process, is said to take place over millions of years. For these Christians it’s either thousands or millions of years. It cannot be both. These several factors would explain why many Christians have a bone to pick with evolutionary theory and its perceived incompatibility with their theological beliefs.
This perceived incompatibility has also been perpetuated in our society and especially by some top scientists who have an anti-theological agenda. According to the atheist Richard Dawkins, Darwinian naturalism insists that materialistic processes alone are responsible for the origin and development of life. If he is correct then how are human beings any different to the lower animals? And how would the Christian ground his being created in the image of God if this is the case? Also, consider the late atheist William Provine’s view on the consequences of accepting evolutionary theory: “There are no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end for me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either” (1). Most scientists would surely not resort to this kind of radical thinking and philosophy. However, Christians often take the bait and assume that this needs to be one’s conclusion if they accept evolutionary theory. Many practicing scientists and Christians wouldn’t agree.
However, in his rejecting of evolution the Christian would thus fall into conflict with the overwhelming consensus of scientists who embrace evolution as the best explanation of the development of life here on Earth. For many this gives Christianity a perception of being unscientific and closed minded to scientific progress. However, that is not to deny that many Christian intellectuals have forwarded arguments that they think would sufficiently undermine Darwinian explanations (William Dembski, J.P. Moreland, Peter Williams, Stephen Meyer etc.). Yet, this considered, we cannot honestly answer this question without noting that many prominent Christian thinkers, including biblical scholars and scientists, believe in the compatibility of evolutionary theory with their Christian beliefs. Some prominent proponents would include Francis Collins, Deborah Haarsma, N.T. Wright, Tim Keller, Kathryn Applegate, Howard van Till, and many others who may be well familiar to many Christian believers.
I hope this sufficiently answers your question.
1. Provine, W. 1994. Origins Research. p. 9.
How do I become a follower of Jesus?
The Bible says: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” 1 John 1:8–10
- You must admit to yourself and to God: I am not a good person. I am a sinner. I may not be a criminal, but I have wrong attitudes in my heart and I do things that do not please God. I am sorry for this.
The Bible says: In the New Testament book of Acts, chapter 16, a man who was not a follower of Jesus quickly came to the understanding that he needed God when he experienced a violent earthquake.
Immediately he asked two followers of Jesus, Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved—you and your household.”
You must believe in your heart:
That Jesus is man and God; that he lived a perfect life having no sins and that with his death he took away your sins by paying the penalty that God demanded for the wrong things you have done; that God raised Him from the dead and through Him also gives you new life.
The Bible says: In the New Testament book of Romans, chapter 10, God causes St. Paul to write: “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
You must confess with your mouth:
that “Jesus is Lord;” that He is above all rulers and kings of the world in which we live and above all spirit beings; that He is the ruler of this world and of everything in it.
God’s promise is: that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Calling on God means to pray to Him.
If the following statement is a sincere expression of what you believe about Jesus, then use it as your prayer. If it is not, then call on God to help you to believe in Him and to claim Him as your Lord!
Lord Jesus, I know that I need you. I am not a good person without you. Thank you for living the perfect life that I could never live to please God. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. Thank you that your resurrection gives me hope for new life. Through you I have the complete forgiveness of my sins and eternal life. Help me to follow you as my Lord. Amen. If you can say the words of the prayer sincerely and truthfully, then you are a follower of Jesus!
The Bible says: When Peter told people how they had sinned they wanted to know what they should do.
“Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’”
The promise is: that when a person turns from sin to Jesus (repent) and is baptized, sins are forgiven and the Holy Spirit, who will help one follow Christ, is received.
-To be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ, tell the pastor or the leader of this class that you wish to be baptized. That person will make arrangements for your Baptism with you.
-To grow in being a follower of Christ continue to study about Jesus and all He has told us in the Bible.
If the Bible is God's Word, then why do we need apologetics?
My first answer to this question, a very good question, is simply because of what the Bible actually is. Remember that the Bible is a library of ancient documents that comes from three different continents, was authored by over 40 different authors, and was written over a 1500 year period. These cultures that God intervened in were truly & radically different from what ours is today. To fully understand a text one needs to be able to appreciate the cultural context. It would be no good for 21st century Westerners to interpret the Bible through a 21st century lens. Also, each author had their own unique reasons for writing, whether that reason was to write biography (the gospels), history (Acts), poetry (Psalms), prophecy (Micah) etc. These are vast fields of genres that all require sound interpretation.
It’s also when we want to try and understand the Bible for all that is worth that we then require apologetics. In other words, people begin to analyse the Bible to try and to determine its meaning, the author’s intent, how one section correlates with another. Now, since the Bible is taken so seriously then often every little detail is cause for major concern in the eyes of scholars, readers, believers & unbelievers alike. This is especially true since critics will look for any excuse to discredit & undermine the Bible. Again, apologists ought to have answers for these critics.
Furthermore, since so many different people read the Bible it will inevitably be the case that some of them will be mistaken in their interpretation. Who is correct and who is wrong is up for debate, and here the apologist’s job is to show just where a person has gone wrong in his exegesis.
Then there are also many roadblocks one may have to faith. Christians might be troubled with certain verses for certain reasons and of course they will look for answers. If their questions are left unanswered and their doubts, as a result, grow they could very well leave the faith. Therefore, answering obstacles to belief is important. On the same note there are also misconceptions. Some people make it their goal to undermine the Bible wherever they can. And of course one is required to answer them especially since they can have a wide influence on many people through the use of memes, pictures, or videos on the internet. Other times there are just blatantly poor arguments that seem to be so commonplace today, namely, that Jesus never existed as a historical person, or that his virgin birth is copied from pagan deities etc. Again, apologetics is needed to answer those charges.
Christianity arose from an ancient and ignorant people who didn’t have science.
Indeed, those ancient, ignorant people who believed in the virgin birth of Christ must have believed it because they did not possess the knowledge of how babies were born. Goodness. The virgin birth of Christ was profound and of paramount concern to the ancients precisely because they understood that conception was impossible without intercourse. Ancient man considered the virgin birth miraculous, i.e., impossible without divine action (and at the time most people scorned the idea), and the same could be said with every miraculous story in Scripture.
Indeed ancient people did not have the Hubble telescope, but they were able to see the night sky in full array, something almost no modern person can claim (thanks to modern lighting which distorts our ability to see the full night sky). On average, ancient people lived much closer to nature and to the realities of life and death than many of us moderners.
In terms of a living relationship with these things the ancients were far more advanced than we are today, and this relationship is essentially the nature of religious inquiry. If people lack religious speculation today, maybe it is because they spend more time with their iphones and Macs then with nature. Maybe.
But the claim that Christianity was viable in the ancient world because it was endorsed by wide spread ignorance is a profoundly ignorant idea. Christianity arose in one of the most highly advanced civilizations in human history. The Roman Empire was not known for its stupidity. It was the epicenter of innovation and philosophical giants. I would wager that if a common person of today found himself in a philosophical debate with a common person of first century Alexandria, the moderner would be utterly humiliated in the exchange.
History is full of mother-child messiah cults, trinity godheads, and the like. Thus the Christian story is a myth like the rest.
This argument seems insurmountable on the surface, but is really a slow-pitch across the plate. There is no arguing the fact that history is full of similar stories found in the Bible, and I won’t take the time to recount them here. But this fact should not be surprising in the least, indeed if history had no similar stories it would be reason for concern. Anything beautiful always has replicas. A counterfeit coin does not prove the non-existence of the authentic coin, it proves the exact opposite. A thousand U2 cover bands is not evidence that U2 is a myth.
Ah, but that doesn’t address the fact that some of these stories were told before the Biblical accounts. True. But imagine if the only story of a messianic virgin birth, death, and resurrection were contained in the New Testament. That, to me, would be odd. It would be odd because if all people everywhere had God as their Creator, yet the central event of human history—the game changing event of all the ages—the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ had never occurred to them, in at least some hazy form, they would have been completely cut off from the prime mysteries of human existence. It seems only natural that if the advent of Christ was real it would permeate through the consciousness (or, if you prefer, ‘unconsciousness’) of mankind on some level regardless of their place in history. One should expect to find mankind replicating these stories, found in their own visions and dreams, again and again throughout history. And indeed, that is what we find.
Doesn't the Bible contradict itself?
This is an unfounded objection because: Answers to every so called contradiction exist. The problem is that those who raise this objection either are unaware of the solutions, or are unconvinced by the solutions offered. Furthermore, the expectations of ancient literature readers are different than modern conventions.
Often a simple understanding of textual and cultural context clears up apparent contradictions. Many supposed contradictions are based on an individual’s interpretation. Again context and an ability to consider other interpretations is important here. When reading the Bible, many often forget that they are studying an ancient document, that was translated from a foreign language, in a far away part of the world, in a culture that no longer exists.