The Absurdity of Christianity – Colin Burgess. 

Christianity is a strange religion, one full of very supernatural claims, but these claims are not purported to have taken place in isolation from its adherents, in a cave or some esoteric experience, but these claims are well attested and took place in front of large gatherings, these miraculous claims seem to authenticate a messenger of God and the message itself. Christianity puts itself on very shaky ground by making its central message/theme so Christ-centered and miracle based. If these key components, in the Bible, were removed, we would at best have a good book on history imbued with superstition, and perhaps a book on moral ideas. The most likely case is that we would end up with a very disjointed belief system and such is not the case with Judaism, or Christianity, which are both very comprehensive and systematic paradigms, which invite us to question or challenge them.
This stands in stark contrast to other major world religions, where the central figure, such as Buddha, can be removed and the message remains the same. With regards to Christian cults, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, where Christ is relegated to being an exalted angel, the message becomes distorted and focus becomes less focused on God, but more on serving the WatchTower for the sake of serving the WatchTower.

If one were to begin a quest for truth and wanting to explore the buffet of world religions and ideas, where would be the best place to start? It would be reasonable to start with the worldview that can be tested and swept under the carpet easily, so we can get on with things. In the case of Buddhism, one would never be able to confirm the truth claims of this view, because one only finds out after they die if their actions returned positive, after following the eight-fold path. In the case of being on a quest for truth and wanting to eliminate possible candidates quickly, Christianity would be the best place to start. Why!? Because Christianity is driven by a key component, which if falsified, takes the entire religion down with it. Christianity sits on a very delicate premise, which is, “Is Jesus God and Truth incarnate, did He die on a cross and rise again!?” Christianity purports events which took place in time and space, just like events which take place today. These events are still accessible to us, even though history is not directly accessible or repeating itself. One may examine the evidence supporting the life, ministry and, ultimately, the death and resurrection of Jesus and if this evidence is insufficient one may stop looking for ultimate truth within Christianity and move onto the next thing. This should be a pretty straight forward quest, because predicating a religion on a dead guy coming back seems pretty precarious.
This vital component, within an idea, which delineates between an idea and its antithesis is what makes it falsifiable. Defining what ‘falsificationism’ seems in order.

FALSIFICATIONISM

Philosopher of Science, Karl Popper, popularized this idea in his book, ‘The Logic of Scientific Discovery,’ that an idea was not meaningful unless it could be falsified, that it should have some component that can be added or removed and it would be false. Take for instance ‘gravity,’ if one were to explain the attraction of objects in terms of invisible and undetectable fairies that get mad when we let go of things and they throw them to the ground, it doesn’t matter if this is true or not because this theory cannot be tested–we have no way of accessing these fairies in any empirical way to substantiate the notion. A falsificationist would say that there are no totally established laws of nature and that we should be trying to disprove our ideas, not prove them–if these ideas of ours stand up against our rigorous testing we are left with ideas that are more well established than they were before. A falsificationist would say the statement “there are no mermaids in the ocean,” is not a totally certain, or apodictic, statement and that to increase our certainty, we would have to drain the entire ocean and for every rock we turn over and fail to find a mermaid, the statement is known with a greater degree of certainty.

This position is not without its fallbacks, as JP Moreland notes in ‘Christianity and the Nature of Science,’ given falsification is not essential to science, nor is it exclusive to science. He notes, however, falsificationism saves us from resorting to a ad hoc hypothesis.

While it certainly true that an idea being falsifiable is not a key ingredient to an idea being meaningful, it certainly provides a negative test for truth, or a way to further establish our cherished ideas and is one way to ensure we are dealing with a meaningful claim and not some intangible idea.

APPLICATION

As mentioned, Christianity hinges on a delicate premise, it is well established that dead people do not rise again, this is a well known regularity that we can bank on. David Hume, in his argument against miracles, rightly notes that a wise man proportions his beliefs according to regularities, but where he fell short is that probabilities do not determine facts, facts determine facts, no matter how unreasonable. While Hume is right and his argument presents an excellent challenge for Christians to respond to, but he also presents a check against blindly accepting anything as a miracle. If falsificationism is a valid test, then, even though we would be out of our minds for believing someone has come back from the dead, if someone has come back from the dead, we must proportion our beliefs according to the evidence, not the probability.

OBJECTIONS

BLIND FAITH

Some may object to this by saying that Christianity does not invite challenges to its propositions, that faith is being certain of what is unseen and we believe the world to be created out of what we cannot detect. (Hebrews 11).

RESPONSE

This passage is not telling us to have some sort of blind, esoteric, faith, which throws reason to the wind. The Greek word for faith, here, is “Pistos,” which is confident trust in a reliable source.
This passage uses words, foreign to blind faith, such as “certain,” or “conviction.” Such a faith is examining the source, then placing trust in it, much like we do when we drive a vehicle, not all of us understand its inner workings and components, or the braking system which saves our lives, but eventually we go out, with our limited knowledge or its workings, and exercise faith in it as we navigate traffic. Furthermore, this passage cites people who exercised faith in God when they had prior experience in His goodness, not after. Faith, here, is not a blind leap into the darkness, but a step into the light. In verse 19 it says that Abraham had reasoned in his heart that God was able to raise people from the dead, as he faced the, seemingly contradictory, challenge to sacrifice his son.

QUESTIONING SCRIPTURE IS A BIBLICAL MANDATE

The Bible is full of passages exhorting us to question it, and to hold it for good reason. One might even say it gives us the scientific method, of testing and peer review. Scripture, far from setting itself above examination, gives us these commands:
Deuteronomy 19:15 says a single witness is insufficient to build a case against an individual, but requires two or more. This gives us a premise that God is not interested in establishing truth on the opinions of one individual, but wants truth to be multiply attested.
Deuteronomy 18:22 says that if a prophet speaks and his words fail to pass, or come true, that we are not to take them seriously and that they are not a legitimate messenger of God. Claiming to be a messenger of God is insufficient, if the words are not authenticated by an actual event, which makes orthodox Christianity stand in stark contrast to contemporary counterfeits, like Islam or Mormonism, which ask their adherents to blindly accept what was spoken to the founder in a private experience.
There are many other passages, like these, encouraging us to use our minds, so that we may love God with our hearts. These two Old Testament passages give us insight into an important passage on the resurrection, where Paul gives us encouragement to examine the case for the resurrection and that it is an event, which if falsified, leaves us without a Christianity.

1 Corinthians 15 tells us that if Christ has not been risen, our hope is in vain; eat and drink for tomorrow we die. in other words, go join the pagans, because they don’t believe Christ has risen either. Without the hope of immortality, life only has a relative significance, not an eternal one. Furthermore, Paul says there are witnesses, at the time, most of whom were still alive at the time, who saw the risen Lord and invites his contemporary audience to go question them and ask. If these events, surrounding the life of Christ, did not happen, go find something else to do on a Sunday, like sleep in or watch football, but do not go to church.

CONCLUSION

Christianity is hardly predicated on the notion of blind faith, and it is safe to say that this strange religion is not something someone would contrive, nor is it a religion that is resistant to challenges, but invites them. It is even clearer that it is a religion that never would have survived an identifiable tomb containing the corpse of Christ.
This paper is not intended to defend the evidence for the resurrection or miracles, but is merely stating that Christianity is built on events which are purported to have taken place in time and space, so if one were on a sincere quest for truth and in a hurry to eliminate unlikely candidates, Christianity contains the most accessible information and is the best place to start, Buddhism’s eight-fold path can wait.

SOURCES USED:

Popper, Karl – The Logic of Scientific Discovery.

Moreland, JP – Christianity and the Nature of Science.

Craig, William Lane – The Son Rises.

SUGGESTED FURTHER READING:

Lewis, CS – Mere Christianity.

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11 thoughts on “The Absurdity of Christianity – Colin Burgess. 

  1. Hello,

    Was wondering whether you’d be willing to discuss the NT evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.
    Barry

  2. Ok, if that’s the invitation to dialogue that it looks like, then which NT accounts of the resurrection of Jesus come down to us to day in first-hand form? I don’t say that second-hand counts for nothing, but at the same time, I try to honor the evidentiary distinction between first-hand and second-hand which all historians, scholars and courts of law honor. As far as I can tell, the only resurrection testimony that we can definitively assert comes down to us today in first-hand form, is Apostle Paul’s, especially his comments in 1st Corinthians 15. I’m happy to discuss Paul, or deal with any argument you have on the gospels being eyewitness testimony.

      1. No, I meant “how much testimony to the resurrection of Jesus in the NT can we today identify as being written by a person with first-hand knowledge of that event”. For the first phase of my investigation I wish to exclude any NT material that is based on hearsay or second hand reporting, and wish to limit myself to just the testimonies that were written by a person with first-hand knowledge of Jesus’ resurrection. I grant that Paul would be a major fulfillment of that request. Do you know of any others?

      2. I apologize for misunderstanding. Peter is a good source to go to, in his epistle he says he was not following cleverly devised tales, but they were eyewitnesses of Jesus. Peter also authenticated Paul when they met. 2 Peter 3:14-16
        James, Jesus’ brother was an early convert and martyred for his faith, he was an eyewitness and author of the Bible.

        Luke was not an eyewitness and I consider his outside perspective to be more valuable. He was a historian and was able to examine the facts surrounding this widespread belief. He would have verified these first as an outsider, then as an insider to this belief, after he converted.

      3. I do not accept the Petrine authorship of 2nd Peter for the same reasons that most scholars deny it. For one thing, Eusebius classified it in the 4th century among the antelegomena (disputed writings) and specifically said it was not canonical, and, unfortunately for apologists, admits it was used anyway solely because it was profitable. From Eusebius, Church History, Book 3, chapter 3:

        “One epistle of Peter, that called the first, is acknowledged as genuine. And this the ancient elders used freely in their own writings as an undisputed work. But we have learned that his extant second Epistle does not belong to the canon; yet, as it has appeared profitable to many, it has been used with the other Scriptures.”—Some of Eusebius is reliable and some not, and I think this is reliable because it satisfies the criteria of embarrassment, that is, an orthodox forger would not likely admit such trouble with the canonicity of a book he thought was canonical.

        But even if he did write it, I see no confession of resurrection in that epistle. The true history which he says was not ‘cleverly devised tales’, was the power and coming of Jesus and that Peter was eyewitness to both. 2nd Peter 1:!6. He goes on to describe the scene at the mount of transfiguration. But he says absolutely nothing about Jesus rising from the dead. It is most peculiar that Peter should mention Jesus being all this and all that without saying he rose from the dead, and merely premising the statement on the mount of transfiguration story. That is a solid blow to apologists today. They would not dare (and actually don’t) present the Mt. of Transfiguration event as establishing Jesus possessing power.

        James the brother of Jesus was not an early convert, rather, despite his ability as brother to question Jesus all day long about the miracles before Jesus was crucified, “even his brothers did not believe him” John 7:5. Paul asserted that the Judaizer doctrine was a denial of the gospel (Galatians 2:14-15), but James was the leader of that congregation of converted Jews who were very upset with Paul over a rumor that he relaxed the circumcision laws (Acts 21:17-24).

        And if we keep in mind Paul’s view that the Judaizer gospel is a denial of the true gospel, then you might not want to cite to Peter anymore, since he became a Judaizer. Galatians 2:14

        Finally, in the version of James’ martyrdom found in Hegesippus and supplied to us by Eusebius, the unbelieving Jews inexplicably come to James and request that he convince the people that Jesus was not the Christ. Eusebius, HC, Book 2, 23:10.

        You are free to say this was a legendary account, but you thereby commit yourself to the premise held by all scholars and shunned by all apologists…that Eusebius, much like Papias, was content to portray the history of the church with questionable sources. Your committing to that position will wreak havoc on any attempt to use Eusebius for anything else. I personally think this account of James’ martyrdom is reliable because it satisfies the criteria of embarrassment. Eusebius as historian surely knew that this story did not square with the biblical notion that James believed Jesus was the Christ, and that it didn’t square with Josephus’ account, and the whole notion of the Jews presuming James might dissuade people from believing Jesus was Christ is hardly the sort of thing an orthodox forger would invent, so the only reason Eusebius could have had for preserving it and passing it down was because he had objective reasons for thinking it was true history. The fact that it doesn’t square with a biblical portrait of James is precisely why it should be accepted. Ancient scribes and historians were more likely to make changes that smoothed out difficulties, not create them.

        But if the account is truly legendary, that’s a blow to the general credibility of Eusebius.

      4. You seem very well read on this matter and made some very good points. I will definitely have to put some very careful thought into this. I must admit, my area of apologetics lies more in science and philosophy, more than it does history, but I will definitely chew on these points.

      5. How is this for a change? I am assuming you are a skeptic. I would like to ask you for some suggested reading on this matter, from a non-Christian point of view. I was thinking of getting some objections from Bart Ehrman and do have his book, “Forged.” I would be very interested in your list of suggested reading on this matter.

      6. I don’t read much non-Christian stuff. But Ehrman is good for textual studies. History of the Synoptic Problem by Dungan.

      7. Gave some thought to your question.
        It does not seem we do have a firsthand account of the resurrection, if the minimal facts are to be used. I cited Peter, but higher critics don’t like Peter, so it has little apologetic value in this case. Acts is a book that higher critics agree on is reliable and it is Luke’s sequel. It contains accounts of Paul and Peter proclaiming the gospel, of the resurrection. 1 Cor 15 contains a confession which goes back to very early church tradition, vs3, that is was a message Paul received and passed on.
        I am sure you have read up on much of Gary Habermas’ work and he does address this in a more recent book he wrote.

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