I recently got an e-mail from a fundamentalist Christian with the following question:
- I am writing a paper and am wondering what some of the common questions/arguments atheists aim toward Christians?
I responded to her question, and CC'd a number of friends of mine in the La Crosse Area Freethought Society (LCAFS). I got some compliments on what I wrote, so I thought I would share it with everyone through this site. Enjoy
With regard to your first question, I'm not aware of many questions that atheists have for Christians. I have found that most atheists are far more knowledgeable about the bible than the vast majority of Christians are. In fact, most of us used to be Christians previously, but we realized that our beliefs were not supported by evidence, and that there are too many problems with the bible to just take it on faith. In my case, I was a very devout Christian (Lutheran) for the first 20 years of my life, and only at that point did I start to lose my faith.
On your second question, here are just a few of the arguments/objections atheists have with Christianity:
- Is infinite torture for finite crimes moral? I contend that this is absolutely immoral as one component of a moral punishment for a crime is that it has to be proportional. You don't give the death penalty to a kid for swearing in public. That would not be justice. Yet this is exactly the sort of thing the bible is based on- that if you don't believe in the divinity of Jesus you will be condemned to eternal torture in a lake of fire. Even Hitler's victims had an end to their misery, yet with god, there is no reprieve.
- In Christianity, belief is more important than action. Even though Christians love to say, "Faith without works is dead," they are forced to concede that no matter how terrible of a life a person leads, if they accept Jesus as their lord and savior and repent of their sins on their death bed, they get their golden ticket into heaven, all is forgiven. That is, unless they blaspheme the holy spirit. Those people are just toast, but child rapists and murderers- just find Jesus and you're fine.
- Is vicarious redemption moral? If god truly did write morality on the hearts of all people (as it says in Romans), then why do we generally find this practice, otherwise known as scapegoating, reprehensible? Would you allow an innocent man to be tortured and killed for crimes you committed? I would not, and I reject that offering. If I have committed crimes, I stand ready to be held accountable. I will not let an innocent suffer on my behalf.
- Christians often say Jesus was sacrificed for the sins of mankind, or he died for our sins. This is not the case. He was not sacrificed, and he did not die, because (if we are to believe the bible) he came back to life and is still alive for eternity. That is not a sacrifice. Something is a sacrifice by virtue of the fact that it STAYS gone. At most, god loaned his son to us for 30 years or so, before he got him back. Also, if you offered me the same deal that Jesus got, I'd take it, too. I bet most people would. "So you're telling me that I get tortured and then killed, and I go to hell for a day and a half, but then I get to come back to life and be an omnipotent, eternal god? Where do I sign up?"
- Can god really be said to love us if he is willing to toss us into hell (a place he created) if we question the divinity of his son, who supposedly lived 2000 years ago and left behind so little evidence that his very existence (let alone divinity) is questionable?
- The whole concept of the Trinity is a logical contradiction- it is logically impossible for something to be itself and its own son at the same time, yet this is supposedly the case with god and Jesus. It is also impossible for someone to be wholly god and wholly human at the same time, since some attributes of both are mutually exclusive.
- It is unjust for god to require me to believe on some really shoddy evidence, that was left 2000 years ago. I have never seen nor felt anything to believe that the supernatural really exists. However, according to the bible, there were tons of people who got the privilege of witnessing god's power. The freed Jewish slaves were lead by a column of clouds during the day, and a column of fire by night. They were fed mana from the heavens, and witnessed the plagues of Egypt. Jesus performed miracles for all to see. Even Thomas was allowed to feel the holes in his hands once he was resurrected. Moses got a burning bush, and Saul got a vision. All these people were given very good reason to believe (supposedly), yet I am required to believe the same thing, but without any of the evidence. The evidence that I am left with is the same evidence that every other religion has, and there is nothing about the bible to set it apart. It looks exactly as one would expect it to look if it were written by a group of middle eastern desert nomads.
- Why is there so much suffering in the world that is not man made (i.e. diseases, natural disasters, etc)? Did god design the Glyptapanteles wasp to lay its eggs inside caterpillars, so that its young could eat their way out when they hatch? (http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn14053-zombie-caterpillars-controlled-by-voodoo-wasps.html) If DNA and RNA are information (and thus had to be created by god, according to ID proponents), then did god design HIV, Ebola, small pox, polio, etc? Did he design the parasites that eat out the eyes of young innocent children and leave them blind? There is an awful lot of suffering in the world that can't be blamed on sin and free will.
- Is original sin a moral concept? Is it moral to hold the crimes of an ancestor over the heads of their descendants?
- Why is it that, for the most part, Christian parents raise Christian children, Muslim parents raise Muslim children, etc. Isn't it obvious that the main reason you are a Christian is that you were raised in a Christian household and were taught the bible was the truth and the word of god? If you were raised in Iran you would almost certainly be telling me that the Koran is the word of god.
- There is a great documentary on PBS called "God on Trial". You can watch it by following these links: http://midwestatheist.blogspot.com/2009/02/god-on-trial-pbs.html. The best one (in my opinion) is the Fourth link (if you don't want to watch the whole movie) (http://wejew.com/media/3091/God_On_Trial_Complete_Film_44/) The film is about Jews in a concentration camp who put god on trial for his crimes against them and against humanity.
- How do Christians condemn the actions of parents who drown their children in the bathtub to save them from Satan, or cut their infants arms off because they believed god told them to do so? How are these individuals different than Abraham and what he did to Isaac?
- If Jesus does return, how will you know him when he does? Others have claimed to be him, by what criteria to you say they are not in fact Jesus? Will you require some sort of evidence of your messiah before you believe his divinity? If so, how are you and I any different on that day?
- Lastly, here is a quote I am fond of that you may want to consider: "I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours." -Stephen Roberts
Hopefully that gives you a starting place with a few points to consider. Feel free to keep in touch with any further questions.