Calling All Christians – Help An Atheist Believe

I am a former believer-in-Christ who became a non-theist because of the Bible (see Why I am not a Christian and The Real Reason I Am Not A Christian). I desperately want to believe again, but I can’t. Can you help me? If you’re a Christian, I’m calling on you to fulfill 1 Peter 3:15, “ …Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…”

I need help overcoming my stumbling block, which is the Bible itself. I used to find it trustworthy, but I no longer do. It was during my attempt to fulfill 1 Peter 3:15 that I lost my faith, completely. My hope was based in large part upon the Bible, which I thought was inerrant.

The reason I say I can’t believe any longer is that my belief, like everyone’s, is based on weighing evidence in favor against evidence in opposition. I used to believe because I had significant evidence in favor of the Bible being wholly true (I believed in inerrancy which explained away things that seemed like errors, my authority figures were convincing, and the Holy Spirit – which was probably just my own mind – confirmed my beliefs). As I examined the reason for my faith I took a closer look at the Bible and the errors I saw caused me to drop Biblical inerrancy. Then the scales shifted so that there was more evidence in opposition to the Bible being trustworthy than there was for it. After that, while my faith was in jeopardy, I learned about the fallacies of the mind that lead to false beliefs, and I understood how all the supernatural claims of the Bible could have come about and how generations of people could have held those beliefs for millennia, even if they were false. The way I see it now, this scenario is far more likely than even one of those supernatural claims being true.

So what’s the problem I found it scripture? It’s not that easy. It wasn’t just one. I still go to church and almost every church service and Sunday school class leaves me scratching my head at the obvious problems that nobody else seems to recognize (or at least speak-up about). I will get to them in this blog, but at this moment, I have a different question. The problem is, I could list out all the errors I can think of, but even if I could find a possibly resolution for all of them (extremely unlikely) it wouldn’t bring me back to faith. For that I need some objective justification (e.g. some evidence) that the Bible is not only trustworthy, but sufficiently trustworthy to take its word on supernatural claims. It is full of statements that are far more likely to be made up than true. So why should we believe they are true? What is the reason for that hope?

This is where I need your help. Can you justify why you trust the Bible that much? Why is it more likely that Jesus rose from the grave than that such an event was made up? What evidence is there to outweigh the natural evidence against it? Is the Bible really inerrant? Is that claim objectively justifiable?

Belief in Biblical inerrancy is not justified without sufficient supporting evidence. Most writings are not inerrant. Inerrancy is an unusual state for any complex assembly of ideas. As such, the default belief about any such complex work is that it contains errors. Pick any book you can think of. Especially a non-fiction work such as a history book. You probably assume it is capable of having errors, and likely does have some. What about the holy book of a religion not your own? Don’t you assume it has errors? So what objective justification do we have for the belief that the Bible is without error, and therefore we should trust it even in supernatural claims?

I’ve been writing here with a great friend and amazing person, who is a genuine follower-of-Christ. Pascal is working through some things with me, but we think differently and I would be missing a great opportunity if I didn’t reach out to you. You may have an insight that could save my soul and those of my family and beyond.

Please understand, many of the arguments you may come up with are not new to me. I’m familiar with some apologetics and have read books on the subject, but I haven’t seen anything convincing enough to justify belief in the Bible’s supernatural claims. Maybe you know of some evidence I haven’t seen. If you want to reference a book or article, please do, but please explain the arguments you think are compelling in the comments.

Pascal, I know you want to move on, but I also direct this to you. We’ll get to more specific reasons I don’t trust the Bible. You’ve mentioned why you believe, but can you tell me why you do trust the Bible enough to believe its supernatural claims in spite of the evidence against it?

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

26 comments

      1. Hi Russel,

        The question I have is why you want someone to convince you that their supernatural claim is true, especially since even believers admit their position is based on faith and not evidence or rationality?

        I understand the curiosity factor. I often read religious blogs or faith-based books myself in order to challenge my lack of belief. I’d have to say that the god of the bible is an unwholesome fellow who I wouldn’t worship even if I knew for a fact he existed. The contradictions and inconsistencies in the bible are numerous and even the logic of such a being existing is beyond the pale.

        Like

        1. Hi Mike,

          Excellent question. Thank you for asking it. I’ve asked this of myself several times. Let me start by agreeing with your conclusions. I think the answer to your question is influenced by several factors in addition to curiosity. I could probably summarize this into one sentence, but I need to think it through. Also, the question is deep and deserves more than that – and concise single-sentence responses aren’t my forte yet. 🙂

          So, here we go. Thoughts:

          1. Some Christians claim that you can trust the Bible through rational means alone (without faith). For these believers, faith can serve to increase your certainty in what is already objectively/demonstrably true. I’ve seen nothing that supports this idea, but I’m willing to hear them out.
          2. God’s character/morality and his existence are two separate issues for me and I treat them separately. There’s one exception — the place where the two overlap. That is – when claims about his character or morality contradict each other and thus make the existence of that version of God logically impossible. If a description of God can be identified in the Bible that is logically possible (I admit, that’s a big if) I will not assess his character/morality until I can assess the likelihood of his existence. If it’s not likely enough to justify belief, the question of his character/morality doesn’t matter. If, by chance, I was able to justify belief in such a God, then and only then would I evaluate his morality/character to determine if he is worthy of worship. I do not disagree with you. The descriptions of God in the Bible as I understand them now are all morally reprehensible (I think the NT version is worse with the advent of eternal torture), but again, I could be missing something and I’m willing to keep searching. Pascal wrestled for years over whether God is good and deserving of worship. He came out on the other side a strong believer. He and I think differently, so I don’t know if I would reach his conclusion, but I haven’t made it to “God exists” yet, so I’m taking things one step at a time.

          3. Our beliefs are probabilistic. As non-theists, you and I can likely admit that more easily than most theists. If we, whose beliefs are all subject to new evidence, are epistemologically certain about the non-existence of the supernatural, what kind of example does that send to believers? Occam’s Razor only takes us to highly improbable, not absolutely impossible. We can be sure enough in our beliefs and disbeliefs about all things (natural and supernatural) for practical purposes (that is how we live our lives), but our belief that events are not influenced by a supernatural should never reach the level of epistemological certainty. So, might there be a God that is partially described by some internally consistent and coherent version of what’s in the Bible? At the moment it seems quite unlikely to me, but we’ll never be able to completely rule it out (see iMultiverse).

          4. Why do I want it to be true? I think this is the heart of your question. I recognize indoctrination for what it is, but I must admit that I am a subjective human with desires. It’s hard to overcome so many years spent in worship and certainty in a idealized version of a God. It was an intimate relationship that I doubt I’ll ever fully “get over”, regardless of my disbelief. I can’t be certain that all of my desire for God is due to evolution, projection, indoctrination, etc. I believe it is and there’s not justification for thinking otherwise. There’s no reason for me to posit a supernatural explanation on top of what is explained perfectly well by what we know of human nature. However, I must be honest and admit my longings that come and go are real, and I can’t know for certain that their isn’t a supernatural cause for them. That’s a far cry from belief in a supernatural cause, but it’s an honest admission of my limitations on knowing the unknowable.

          5. This is not a small issue. We are talking about eternal souls. It’s worth it to never stop questioning our beliefs. I can think of many ways that a God could convince me of his existence. It wouldn’t be in the clustering of random events or coincidences, the bar is much higher than that for you and I. Still, I want to always be searching on some level. Always open to evidence that challenges my current position. I think this is OK as long as we’re aware of meta-cognition, critical thinking, motivated reasoning, the fallacies of the mind (e.g. as pattern matching, projection, confirmation bias, the gambler’s fallacy, the fallacy of affirming the consequent, etc. – basically the tendency to find what we’re looking for, the tendency to see design in randomness because we are designers, the tendency to preserve our existing beliefs, and the problem with being absolutely certain about causes when looking at effects, etc.). To read more about these, skim The Problem, Why I Respect Pascal, Same Bible Verses, Different Conclusions and CC’s excellent post called Cruciverb. If we filter our experience through this layer of critical thinking, then staying open to new evidence (even evidence about the supernatural) can be a virtue rather than a vice.

          6. Being honest about my desire for the Bible to be trustworthy and challenging Christians to present a reason-based argument for their position does several things. It helps us interact on common ground and helps them evaluate the level of certainty they have in their own beliefs. I feel like I understand where Christians are coming from and I want them to be open to hearing the heart of an atheist in a way that doesn’t promote the misconception that we’re arrogant, angry, bitter people without any morals or objective truths. I don’t want to speak for you or any other atheist (the only thing that binds us all together is the lack of belief in a God), but I’m not angry at a God I don’t believe in and I don’t “know” that no God exists. I do see problems with specific God claims that are believed with certainty by individuals, especially when those beliefs have a negative impact on the world. However, it’s the consequences of the certainty in the specific God-claims I’m concerned with, not the claim that some version of what we might consider a deity might theoretically exist. Asking believers evaluate whether they might be able to find something in their beliefs that would be objectively justifiable may cause them to think about their faith in a way they’ve never experienced. It may put them in our shoes for a time, or at least help them identify with us – seeing their beliefs from a purely rational position. This may help them realize that they are not that different from us and give us some common ground for conversation.

          Sorry for rambling a bit. I hope you found an answer in there somewhere. 🙂

          Gentleness and respect,
          –Russell

          Liked by 2 people

  1. Russell, I think I understand where you’re coming from. I’ve had this “Wait–stop the train” feeling while reading your blog. Can I move to anything else before I have a reason to believe that scripture is trustworthy?

    Pascal, you refer me to books to help me with my hang-ups–but what did YOU glean from them? Those authors haven’t earned my trust the way you are beginning to, and they will likely never answer any challenges I bring to their writing the way you will. Why do you continue to believe after reading the same things that couldn’t change Russell’s mind? You admit that you could be wrong. You humbly weigh the arguments. This is why you’re more likely to convince me than some book author who is more of a stranger to me than you are, and who is so convinced in his beliefs that he writes a book about them.

    Russell asks a lot of questions in his posts that go unanswered. He makes it easy, because he buries them in thousands of words. But Pascal, I challenge you to really try to answer them. Your “Meanwhile, in Romans…” approach makes it seem as if this blog is just another internet Bible study (a really good one, though!)–and that’s not your intention.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am a christian and I believe many things in the bible are true, like Jesus, even scientists say he was real. However the bible was physically written by man, so I do believe ot probably has some exaggerations or misunderstandings in it.

    Like

    1. Hi! Welcome.

      I wish I could have believe as you do. As I understand it, the “scientists” who study the historicity of Jesus are mostly believers and therefore a bit biased. Of the secular historians, archeologists, literary scholars, etc., who study the Bible, there is probably a general consensus that he existed (though many think he did not), but near certainty that the Bible does not accurately reflect his life and deeds. This is probably as we’d expect. So questions:

      1. When you say you “believe many things in the bible are true, like Jesus”, do you mean that he existed, or that what the Bible says about him are true. If the latter, how can I come to justify that belief?
      2. When you say the Bible “probably has some exaggerations or misunderstandings in it”, how do you know which parts are true and which aren’t?

      Sorry for the direct questions. Thank you for joining us. I hope you stay. 🙂

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

      Like

        1. I think it’s more likely than not that life exists on at least some planets other than earth. I believe this is the scientific consensus. For all I know we may even have contaminated Mars with some life – maybe even a tardigrade or two… but that’s probably not what you mean. 🙂

          With that said, I’m far from certain that life exists elsewhere and I don’t take it on faith (in case that’s where you’re going with this). 🙂

          Why?

          Like

          1. No that wasnt where I was going, I honestly think that if you mix christianity with science everything can be explained. Take jesus dying and rising from the dead, perhaps he did not magically rise from the dead but something revived him. The bible was written by people who miss details and sometimes make up their own. There are ancient drawings of ufo and stuff like that. The history channel has some really good points on these issues. And they kinda take the hard to believe stuff like magic out of the picture and insert scientific theories,

            Like

            1. “The history channel has some really good points on these issues. And they kinda take the hard to believe stuff like magic out of the picture and insert scientific theories,”

              Are you talking about the show ‘Ancient Aliens’?

              While it’s a fascinating show, it’s been debunked several times. They also don’t use scientific theories. They pick out odd or unexplained historical data and imply it might have something to do with aliens.

              Why would you think that if you combine science and Jesus everything is explained? Would you say the same of the thousands of other faith based religions?

              Like

              1. No thats not the show im talking about, and I do believe it can be applied to most religions. Dont you think that if the bible was just a made up story. With nothing about it being truth, then all of these brilliant people who research it, would all be atheists. I can go out and start a new religion, but I will not have over half the worlds population following it unless it has some pretty good merit. Christians say people have souls, scientists say we are energy, why do those two things have to be considered different. And I guess things still wouldnt be completely explained, but I do believe we would be closer to the truth.

                Like

                1. “With nothing about it being truth, then all of these brilliant people who research it, would all be atheists. ”

                  Many are. A good deal of Christians haven’t read the bible in its entirety and simply take the word of their pastor.

                  There is something to be said for indoctrination and social pressure.

                  “I can go out and start a new religion, but I will not have over half the worlds population following it unless it has some pretty good merit.”

                  Not really true. Sure, I’d admit there are some bits of truth in the bible, but you’re using the Argumentum ad populum, that asserts that because a majority of people believe something, it must be true. There are plenty of historical cases that highlight the fallacy in such thinking, such as the majority of people believed the earth was flat at one point.

                  There still are.

                  Clearly it isn’t true.

                  “Christians say people have souls, scientists say we are energy, why do those two things have to be considered different.”

                  because they are different. One is energy and one is a supernatural spirit that thinks like you after your physical body dies.

                  One is science. One is wishful thinking.

                  Liked by 1 person

                    1. Im back, now who can prove that your soul is not just another word for the energy that is us, and I wasnt saying if many people believe it than it must be true, im saying there must be a reason that so many people do believe, you say some things are true in the bible, so how do you pick and choose what is true and what is not?

                      Like

                2. “Im back, now who can prove that your soul is not just another word for the energy that is us”

                  Welcome back.

                  Words generally have meanings and usually when a person mentions a ‘soul’, they’re talking about you without a physical body or the immortal version of you. If you’re simply talking about energy, you might as well ditch the word ‘soul’ and go with energy. You also might as well be an atheist, since Christianity relies on the resurrection and life eternal part.

                  “im saying there must be a reason that so many people do believe”

                  Social pressure, fear of death, guilt, shame can all be powerful motivators to believe.

                  Isn’t it curious that most people adopt the religion of the culture they’re born into?

                  If you’re born in the Middle East, you’re likely to be a Muslim. North America and you’re most likely to be a Christian. India and you’re likely to be a Hindu.

                  “you say some things are true in the bible”

                  I wasn’t talking about the magical parts, but more the philosophical parts – most of which were around long before Christianity.

                  Like

                  1. What about miracles, have you never experienced one? and perhaps resurrection and life eternal, happen because when we die our energy/soul move somewhere else. energy doesnt just disappear.

                    Like

                    1. “What about miracles, have you never experienced one? ”

                      Nothing that couldn’t be explained using natural explanations. I’ve seen some pretty amazing things but I don’t believe magic had anything to do with it or a supernatural entity.

                      “and perhaps resurrection and life eternal, happen because when we die our energy/soul move somewhere else. energy doesnt just disappear.”

                      No but neither is it conscious. It’s not like you or I will be aware that our energy is being recycled. You will most likely cease to be you.

                      Like

                    2. okay, you agreed energy doesnt just disappear, and said you will most likely cease to be you. where does it say in the bible that you are exactly the same after death, to my knowledge it does not. and i have seen miracles that even the best doctors could not explain, i dont think it is magic, i think it is our minds that have the ability to heal us, if we believe we can be healed, and i think that is why the bible talks about faith so much.

                      Like

                    3. Thank you for all the questions.

                      I’ve never experienced a miracle that I could identify as such. That is, nothing for which there could not have been a cause that is within my understanding of the consistent framework of nature. Before I understood that framework (not that I fully understand it now, but I know more than when I was a child) I had some experiences that I thought were miraculous. It wasn’t until years later when my understanding grew that I realized those experiences were perfectly consistent with nature.

                      Have you ever experienced one? I’d love to hear about it.

                      As for resurrection and eternal life being our energy moving somewhere else… you have definitely created a perfect segue for channeling Neil Degrass Tyson (which is always something I enjoy). Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to answer this until late this evening when I’m off work. Actually, that’s probably a good thing. You likely won’t want to take the time to read what would inevitably be a very long response attempting to explain what we know about the physics of energy in many of its forms. I hope Mike (or another reader) addresses this question before I get to it, because I have a busy evening ahead. I apologize that our writing times don’t line up better.

                      Have a great day! 🙂

                      You, too, Mike!

                      Like

                    4. Oh, man. I see I was late to that one. You guys are already hashing it out. Sorry.

                      It looks like this thread has reached the limit of nested comments. Mike, if you respond, can you start a new one at the base by just replying to the main post instead of this deeply nested one?

                      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Russell, how are you? I studied many different modalities/religions and I only experienced positive results from pouring my heart out to my Creator. Again and again I received tangible answers and results. The Golden rule tells us to love one and other and I believe that it all boils down to that. If you know better guidelines to live by, than these shown in this 2 minute video, pls let me know https://youtu.be/hFbBERYN88o

    Like

Thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s