Tis the Season for Christian Reason

By Robin Schumacher

At least two times a year, you can count on the insecurity of some atheist organizations (like the Freedom from Religion Foundation) to be on full display. Nothing threatens these atheists' worldview quite like the celebration of Jesus' birth and resurrection, so to help ease their anxiety, they erect billboards and other such signage that is aimed at telling Christians how ignorant they are to believe in things these groups consider to be superstitions and myths. [1]

One recurrent theme of their displays is how unreasonable Christianity is versus atheism. Atheism, we are told, is a reasonable and adult position to embrace, whereas Christianity is childish and chocked full of irrational claims.

Actually, the Bible tells us that one aspect of Christianity is indeed unreasonable to embrace, at both the unbeliever and believer's levels. But before we get to that, let's work our way through a few truths that unravel the atheist's general assertion that the Christian faith is unreasonable.

Is it Unreasonable to Believe in an Ultimate Cause?

At age 17, I was trying to find my way through my freshman year of college and wasn't doing that great a job at it. By contrast, at age 17 the great theologian Jonathan Edwards was answering the foundational question of philosophy, which has been posed from thinkers like Leibnitz to Heidegger: Why do we have something rather than nothing at all?

Edwards' basic thought process was the following:
  • Something exists.
  • Nothing cannot create something.
  • Therefore, a necessary and eternal being exists.
Writing many years later in his magisterial work, Freedom of the Will, Edwards said: "I assert that nothing ever comes to pass without a cause. What is self-existent must be from eternity, and must unchangeable: but as to all things that begin to be, they are not self-existent, and therefore must have some foundation of their existence without themselves." [2]

Edwards' conclusions are affirmed not just by Christians, but by skeptics as well like David Hume who wrote to John Stewart on one occasion saying: "I never asserted so absurd a proposition as that anything might arise without a cause." [3]

So, is it unreasonable for a Christian to believe that God caused everything that we know? Not at all.

While atheists oftentimes mock Christians for their belief, they forget that both the atheist and the Christian must go back to an ultimate reality; in other words, they don't go back forever. For the atheist, that ultimate reality is the universe; for the Christian, it's God. The question is not whether there is an ultimate reality, but which reality is ultimate. [4]

To date, the majority of empirical data in the possession of scientists and physicists points to our universe having a beginning, which means it is disqualified (at least currently) of being that ultimate reality. Further, there is no meaningful data that supports the idea of any multi-verse. In truth, some scientists instead have demonstrated that if such a thing exists, it, too, must have had a beginning. [5]

The typical skeptic response in the face of these facts is, "So who created God?" In asking this, they don't see that such an argument can easily be turned 'round on them to: "But who created your universe/multi-verse?" It's the same problem for them to answer, not to mention a category mistake (you don't create the uncreated).

Which is more reasonable to believe:
  1. an impersonal, non-conscious, meaningless, purposeless, and amoral universe that had its own beginning, accidentally created personal, conscious, moral beings who are obsessed with meaning and purpose, or
  2. a personal, conscious, purposeful, intelligent, moral, eternal God created beings in His likeness and established the universe and its laws to govern their existence?
Behind door number one, you have effects that reflect none of its supposed cause, whereas with door number two, you have effects that reflect the essence of the cause in full. Which is more logical to embrace?

If the skeptic wants to deny God as the ultimate cause of everything we know, they can certainly do so, but what they can't say is that it's unreasonable for Christians to believe that He is.

Is it Unreasonable to Believe in an Intelligent Cause?

When he accepted the Templeton Prize some years back, Paul Davis, an eminent physicist, made the following comments in his acceptance speech: "People take it for granted that the physical world is both ordered and intelligible. The underlying order in nature—the laws of physics—are simply accepted as given, as brute facts. Nobody asks where they come from; at least they don't in polite company. However, even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith the existence of a law-like order in nature that is, at least in part, comprehensible to us. So science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological world view." [6; my emphasis]

What did Davis mean? He was referring in part to what we just discussed. Science cannot be carried out in an environment that cannot be trusted to be reliable—a world that is made up of time + matter + chance. Isn't it more reasonable to believe that trustworthy physical laws come from a lawgiver and order arises from an ordered being?

As Oxford professor Richard Swinburne said, "To postulate a trillion-trillion other universes, rather than one God, in order to explain the orderliness of our universe, seems the height of irrationality." [7] C. S. Lewis puts it this way: "Men became scientific because they expected law in nature and they expected law in nature because they believed in a Legislator." [8]

Whether it's the order of nature, its fine tuning, or the specified complexity found in DNA, it's not unreasonable to think that when you see marks of intelligibility in something there's an intelligent cause behind it. If the skeptic wants to deny God as the intelligent cause behind such things, they can certainly do so, but what they can't say is that it's unreasonable for Christians to believe that He is.

Is it Unreasonable to Believe in the Historicity of Jesus?

In his famous essay, "Why I am not a Christian," Bertrand Russell wrote: "Historically it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did, we do not know anything about him." [9]

Au contraire.

While the controversial figure Bruno Bauer (1809 – 1882) put forward a series of widely-disputed works nearly 200 years ago which argued that Jesus was a myth, a second century fusion of Jewish, Greek, and Roman theology, the majority of modern historians—both Christian and secular—nod in agreement with Princeton New Testament professor Dr. Bruce Metzger who said, "Today, no competent scholar denies the historicity of Jesus." [10] Even Metzger's famous skeptical student Bart Ehrman wrote in his most recent book a defense of Jesus being a real, historical figure. [11]

The general historical facts surrounding Jesus' birth, deeds, death, and post-death events are not disputed among the majority of historians, but there is (of course) plenty of debate over the miraculous claims made about His life. But, to date, no compelling proof has been offered to refute Jesus' existence. If the skeptic wants to deny Jesus as having lived, they can certainly do so, but what they can't say is that it's unreasonable for Christians to believe that He lived. [12]

What the Bible Says the World Finds Unreasonable

If skeptics want to reject Christianity, I would respectfully recommend that they not trot out assertions that it's unreasonable to believe in an ultimate cause, an intelligent cause, or the life of Jesus. Doing so only makes a person look uninformed.

Instead, I would ask them to focus on what the Bible says is the primary item that has made unbelievers down through history reject Christianity, and what Christians themselves find unreasonable about their own faith. Paul sums it up in 1 Corinthians 1:18-24:
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside." Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
The cross is what's unreasonable.

Just like some skeptics do today, the Jews of Paul's day wanted a dog-and-pony show for spiritual confirmation (cf. John 4:48). Moreover, to them, a crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms, so they tripped over that "stumbling block".

The non-Jews Paul speaks of were best represented by the Athenian philosophers who were a mixture of atheistic/deistic (the Epicureans) or pantheistic (the Stoics) beliefs. To them, a criminal crucified by Rome wasn't anything of significance, and further, dead was dead. As Apollo said at the founding of the Areopagus: "When the dust has soaked up a person's blood, once he is dead, there is no resurrection." [13]

Not much has changed since then. Many Internet hatetheists refer to Jesus as a "Jewish Zombie" or in other such derogatory terms, and, to them, the gospel message is foolish and unreasonable. But Paul says from that same crowd (the Jews and non-Jews) who reject God, the Creator calls out for Himself a group who see Christ for who He really is—the Savior that humanity so desperately needs.

To us, the cross is unreasonable also. Every Christian finds it unreasonable that Jesus would voluntarily come to die (Philippians 2), satisfy God's justice for those who put their trust in Him (Romans 3:25-26), free us from sin (Romans 8:2), conquer the grave for us (1 Corinthians 15), and bless each believer with an eternity spent with Him (Romans 6:23).

That's incredibly unreasonable. But thank God, it's also true.

This Christmas season, if the skeptics want to raise their billboards to make themselves feel better, they should at least get the story straight of what's reallyunreasonable about Christianity—the cross, plain and simple.

[1] Ironically, Paul teaches that it is not Christians who embrace myths, but those outside the faith when he tells Timothy: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
[2] Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will (Vancouver: Eremitical Press, 2009), pg. 47.
[4] John Lennox, “The Testimony of Science – Part 4”:
[5] See Dr. Alexander Vilenkin’s address at the 70th birthday celebration for Stephen Hawking held at Cambridge in 2012.
[7] Richard Swinburne, Is There a God? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), pg. 68.
[8] C. S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: HarperCollins, 1974), pg. 169.
[10] Bruce Metzger, The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, and Content (New York: Abingdon, 1965), pg. 78.
[12] For my visual presentation/defense of the historicity of Jesus, see:
[13] Aeschylus, Eumenides 647-48

Image Credit: The All-Nite Images; "Times Square after dark"; Creative Commons

comments powered by Disqus
Published 12-18-12