Arguments Against Christianity

Part 1: The best arguments and how to refute them

By Robin Schumacher

What is the best argument against Christianity?

Strange as it may sound, one of my seminary professors makes a habit out of reading atheist literature during his devotional times. That might seem a little odd, but actually it's a very smart practice. "The good ones keep us honest," he used to tell us.

What he means is that, occasionally, we Christians can offer explanations for our beliefs that actually aren't very good arguments at all. And sometimes no one can see through a faulty argument better than a person who opposes that particular position.

Because the only valid reason to believe something is because that particular ‘something' is true, it's important to adhere to some solid guidelines that act as both a litmus test and protective barrier as to what constitutes a rationally acceptable belief and what does not.

The Tests of a Valid Belief System

When refuting an argument against Christianity, Christians should apply sound logical principles. Although many theologians have articulated these principles, John Edward Carnell seems to be the theologian credited with originating the following three standards for an acceptable belief and/or worldview:
1. Logical consistency
2. Empirical adequacy
3. Existential (or experiential) relevancy
The first guideline, logical consistency says that the belief must contain teachings or doctrines that logically cohere with one another and do not contradict each other. For example, Buddhism says that the ultimate act required to reach Nirvana is to rid oneself of desire. Yet, mustn't one have a desire to rid oneself of desire? Now I should quickly point out that a belief could be untrue even if its doctrines don't contradict in any way. A legal team can present a case where their position is logically consistent, but it is certainly possible that the overall conclusion could be flawed and wrong. Logical consistency is only the first test of an acceptable belief system and shouldn't be used as the be all/end all guiding principle.

The second test of empirical adequacy states that the belief must have evidence supporting it, whether that substantiation comes in the form of scientific or legal (i.e. forensic) proof. Without such a thing, the belief lacks what is called "falsify-ability", which means that since you have no way of falsifying the claim, you have no way of truly validating the claim.

The Apostle Paul gives us just such a test for Christianity in his famous defense of Christ's resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. The former persecutor of Christianity says that if Christ has not been raised, then our faith is vain (literally "empty" or "devoid of value"). He then goes on to say that if our faith is vain we are among the most of all humankind to be pitied. Strong words for sure, but ones that are much needed. Paul's statement serves as a wake-up call to all of us that consequences exist for believing in something that is not true.

The last test of a valid worldview or belief is existential (sometimes called experiential), relevancy. This requirement says that the belief must match what we see or experience around us, in a relevant or meaningful way. If it does not, then we have reason to question the belief.

For example, both Hinduism and Christian Science say that evil and sickness are just illusions; they are not real. Such a claim may be argued philosophically, but it is impossible to defend practically in the real world.

By way of illustration, Christian Science's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, suffered from illnesses and wore false teeth. One would think that her followers would find it difficult to reconcile Eddy's position of evil and sickness being merely illusory with the existential reality of what their leader practically experienced.

This test of existential relevancy is the one most often used against Christianity, with the primary argument being the one of "theodicy" - reconciling the Bible's teaching of an all-good and all-powerful God with the very real fact that evil is present in the world. If the God of the Bible exists, the argument goes, then we shouldn't experience the evil that is all around us (one could contend this is a violation of logical consistency as well). Secular philosophers such as David Hume and J. S. Mill have offered the most-often articulated arguments in this area.

However, the truth is, the Bible never denies the existence of evil and says that God actually uses it to accomplish His divine purpose. The writer of Proverbs says: "The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil" (Proverbs 16:4).

Many Christian theologians and philosophers have put forward very sound arguments that defeat both Hume's and Mill's positions on the issue of theodicy and demonstrate no violation of either the logical consistency or existential relevancy guideline.

However, if I were asked to present the best possible argument against Christianity, I admit that I would still go to this last principle of experiential/existential relevancy and attack from there. My case would have nothing to do with the existence of evil per se, but would rather zero in on one very sad observation that I've made over a number of years:

The best argument against Christianity is the lives lived out by professing Christians.

And I'm not alone in my position.

Next: Part 2: Some depressing Christian statistics

Arguments Against Christianity The Series

Part 1: The best arguments and how to refute them
Part 2: Some depressing Christian statistics
Part 3: Our spiritual transformation problems
Part 4: The bad business ethics of christian ministry
Part 5: The marks of true christianity
Part 6: Unbelievers in the pews
Part 7: Being different is the best defense

Image Credit: Tim Green; "Abel Cross 2"; Creative Commons

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Published 11-22-12