I’d like to burn some very typical straw men. Hopefully, in the debate over Christianity, these unnecessary issues can be avoided.
Creation - Neither Genesis nor any of the scriptures demands that the earth and universe is only 6- to 10- thousand years old. The Hebrew word for “day” (yom) could mean long periods of time. The words “there was morning and there was evening, the first day” could be translated “there was beginning and ending, the first (yom)”.
(BTW, the narrative moves to the surface of the earth in Genesis 1:2. While stars were certainly already in existence, their light was not visible on the surface of the earth until the opaque early atmosphere cleared).
Adam and Eve – While scripture does indicate they were specially created, there are gaps in the biblical genealogies that could place Adam and Eve back 60- to 90-thousand years. This would also predict increasing discovery of a common DNA originating between east Africa and the Mesopotamia.
(BTW, the word for “rib” means “side”. The story of Eve’s creation could mean God created her from Adam for symbolic purposes. I speculate a biopsy, of sorts, from the side, with a few million variations to the DNA producing a female. )
Talking Snakes - A boa constrictor with vocal cords is not in view here. That image comes largely from medieval art. The “serpent” in the garden was intelligent and used for evil. One can only speculate what sort of being it was (perhaps one no longer extant).
The Flood – The fact that a great flood is found in various cultures indicates that it happened. Two questions emerge: which account is most accurate and whether the flood was global or local.
I’m of the opinion that the flood was regional rather than global for several reasons. First, while the flood was universal in effect, it was only regional in extent due to human’s not having moved much beyond the Mesopotamia at the time. A global flood was unnecessary.
Secondly, language like “under all the heavens”, “all the earth”, etc. are most likely from the perspective of the observer, i.e. a flood from horizon to horizon. “Mountains” could be translated “hills” with rain and water “covering” (or running over) them rather than submerging them.
Thirdly, this would mean there were not polar bears and penguins, etc. on the ark, but only animals indigenous to the region and of special relation to man.
Fourthly, a global flood would have torn the ark to pieces, no matter how well built. And it certainly would not have landed anywhere near its original location.
Fifthly, the scripture itself said a “large wind” was used in the evaporation process. Such a wind would have virtually no effect in a global flood.
Finally, if the flood were only regional why not just have Noah, his family, and whatever animals needed, hike out of the area and be safe? Why a big specifically-built ark? I think because God often operates via symbols teaching important truths or significance, i.e. salvation in Christ or deliverance through troubled waters (trials).
Use of Metaphor – The scriptures use metaphor and other literary devices. One need only utilize common exegetical analysis and context to determine what any author meant as literal or metaphorical (and on a case-by-case basis).
Inerrancy – If there are consequential or factual errors in the Bible that does not mean Christianity is false. However, I find it remarkable how well the Bible holds up to scrutiny and that there are plausible answers to discrepancies. Personally, I hold to the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy.
Hell – is not a place of torture (external) but of torment (internal). There are many descriptions of hell in the scriptures. The “fire” is most likely not the chemical combustion we’re familiar with. It, combined with all the other descriptions, reduces to separation from God and the judgment of God.
This does not make hell more tolerable (that’s not possible). But it does dispel hillbilly theology that has poor souls swatting flames for eternity! Christ depicted conversation taking place “in the flames”. No person could have a conversation while on fire! On our familiar planet, one is in mindless torture if burning.
It is, however, a profound tragedy to be eternally separated from God. It is a “spiritual chaos” one enters when the intact “self” survives the physical body. There are indications that some kind of body could exist in hell.
Heaven – is a remarkably physical place. It is not ethereal or immaterial. It is a combination of a “new heaven and new earth”. We will live on earth in physical bodies that are “spiritual” which nonetheless have access to one another and continued exploration of the universe without many of the limits of current bodies affected by entropy, etc. Christ’s resurrected body could be touched and he ate food, etc. This describes the redeemed, resurrected body.
This is not to be confused with an intermediary state which is not physical. At death, one goes either into the very presence of God to await the resurrection of the body, or in a state of chaos to await final judgment.
“God will not allow anything to happen in your life that you can’t handle” – False! Scripturally, there are plenty of things that happen that one cannot handle! Devastating things! The accurate teaching is that nothing will happen that God’s grace will not get one through.
“You must become like children” - Christ said to “humble yourself like a little child”. It does not mean to be naïve, ignorant, gullible, or irrational.
Pascal’s Wager – This is not an argument for God nor necessarily addressed to atheists. Pascal used a popular gambling motif to shake the French laity out of spiritual complacency and to at least move them in the direction of God.
Further, the Wager, as it is commonly used, is not allowed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. He said if Christ was not risen, then the jig is up! Christianity is false! He did not say believe it anyway “just in case” or because it provides a positive way of life.
I hope these internal considerations provide food for thought.
Michael - (not Michael M, - Mike the wanna-be prophet) - RE: "the Pantheon of Saints that have replaced the Roman Pantheon of Gods that the befuddled and hoodwinked pray to"
So what you're saying, is that now, the "befuddled and hoodwinked" have a NEW pantheon to pray to - I guess it really doesn't matter, as long as they stay befuddled and hoodwinked.
You probably won't change their mind. In fact, you'll probably just provide them with an opportunity to prove their faith. I think most deconversions happen on the believer's own time, not under pressure from an atheist. Smart people figure it out on their own. You won't find many dimwits leaving the fold and becoming atheists.
Unseen, I agree in part. I think it is situational though.
I also think that if we get bad arguments out of the way, it will make the choices look more obvious. I think this is especially true in the information age, because people get more exposure to different ideas these days.
No, mate, to an atheist there really isn't any difference between the Grinch and God. Neither of them exist, although there's a lot more fiction written about the God character than about the Grinch character. The only difference I am willing to concede relates to how many more people believe God exists, while I doubt many people believe in the existence of the Grinch outside the books. But for all practical purposes, I fully agree with Micheal M. We might as well be burning straw men in regards to Mjölnir's weight, or as someone pointed out many pages earlier, the construction materials used in the making of Hansel & Gretel's witch's house.
I do see the difference between god and the grinch. the grinch does not order genocide, force a raped women to marry her rapist, or allow men to sell their daughters into sexual bondage.
The grinch is a vastly more moral character then your god.
That is more cart before the horse. First you have to figure out what if the plan works before you figure out if you can find the right guy for the job, (in this case Jesus).
What salvation essentially says is "God knew it was not right for certain people to go to hell". The problem is that what is just concerns what is right in the first place. So either the original law is unjust, or salvation is unjust. But it has to be one or the other. Because according to Christianity, the law of heaven says "It is right that those who sin go to hell"
@Kevin - re: "what about the notion of Christ being sinless and therefore an adequate channel of God's grace?"
The nature of the 'sacrificee' doesn't answer the problem of the atonement argument John laid out. If a penalty is to be paid for a crime, shouldn't the person who committed the crime pay the penalty? Otherwise, what purpose is served by having a penalty?
How is justice done by letting a rapist go free just because someone else was willing to go to jail? Justice is thrown out the window and the whole point of a penalty is lost when someone else pays. It doesn't matter if the substitute was a peach, or a pig (literally or figuratively), willing or unwilling, divine or human.
Karen the part of my argument that I think is the strongest, isn't about Jesus at all though. It is this:
It is as simple as those people are either supposed to be going to heaven, or they are supposed to be going to hell. Justice reflects what is supposed to be.
Salvation would be a major deception then. Because anyone "saved" wasn't supposed to be going to hell in the first place. And if the claim was that they were, the the law sending them there would be flawed, because perfect justice only dishes out what is supposed to happen.
What salvation essentially says is "God knew it was not right for certain people to go to hell for whatever reason, so he made a way that people could get out of it". When something isn't right, justice makes it right. That is what justice does.
Not only that, but 1 Timothy 2:4 says that God wants all to be saved. If a deity is perfect, his desire would be only for what is right, not some imperfect desire for what is not supposed to happen. So that suggests that there is a darn good reason why it is best that everyone is saved. Perfect justice would reflect that.
Question John - bear in mind, I'm not trying to put all of the research on you while I sit back and eat chocolate bon-bons, but neither do I want to spend the day pouring through scripture in search of that which you may well have stored in your head.
Early in the OT, there is no mention of an afterlife, and certainly no hell - when did that concept first appear?
The problem has to do with the word sheol. It really did mean abode of the dead, so when you read "grave", it is often referring to the afterlife. But the Hebrew concept of the afterlife was just simply the Canaanite concept of the afterlife.
You see a part of that in 1 Samuel in which Saul pulls up the spirit of Samuel through using witchcraft. People who were dead weren't quite conscious, as I remember it, the use of blood was for the purpose of giving them enough substance to have consciousness.
As far as I remember, the first instance of ressurection and hell are in Zechariah.