J. Warner Wallace ask this question of a bunch of young people he trained, and he posted some of the responses.
Last week I had the opportunity to train a group of high school students in preparation for an upcoming Berkeley Missions trip. These students will spend the next eight weeks learning about the evidence supporting the Christian worldview and examining many of the most popular objections to Christianity. Since we were very early in the process, I began by asking the students to tell me why they were Christians in the first place.
…[W]hen I asked the students to tell me why they were Christians, I didn’t get a single evidential response. Most had difficulty answering the question at all, and those who did sounded like members of the Mormon Church.
I didn’t know a lot of Christians growing up; I was surrounded by atheists and Mormon family members. I have six fantastic half-brothers and sisters who were raised in the LDS (Latter Day Saints) Church. Many are still committed to Mormonism and happy to share their faith. But if you ask them why they are believers, you’ll get many of the same answers I received with the high school students in the Berkeley training. “I prayed about it and God confirmed it was true,” “I have a relationship with God and I feel His presence,” “I had a strong experience that changed my life,” “I just know it is true,” “I was raised in the Church and I’ve never had a reason to question it; God has always been a part of my life,” “I know it’s true because my life is very different now.” These are all great responses and I want to be careful not to minimize the importance or validity of experiential evidence. But when I heard these kinds of answers offered as justification by the Christian students in our group, I asked them: “Do you believe Mormonism is true?” Many of these students had already been on the Utah Missions trip, so they understood the dramatic difference between the claims of Mormonism and the claims of Christianity. They all confirmed they did not believe Mormonism was true and immediately recognized the problem with their responses.
Since he mentioned Mormonism, I’ll just link to my post on Mormonism that offers 3 reasons to think that Mormonism is false. The first reason is scientific, the second is historical, and the third is philosophical.
But Wallace’s post made me think that it was a good for me to explain that it is OK for people to critically evaluate a worldview – any worldview – by using evidence. It’s important because a lot of Christians who believe that religion is about believing sincerely in things without evidence are going to have a hard time knowing why apparently moral, definitely sincere people in other religions are going to Hell, apparently just for the small crime of getting a few questions wrong on a theology quiz. The real answer to the question “Why am I a Christian?” is “because of the evidence”. And the real answer to the question “Why I am not some other religion?” is “because of the evidence”. Let’s take a look.
Here are a couple of worldviews that can be easily falsified with evidence.
Falsifying a religion using science
Consider this argument:
- Hindu cosmology teaches that the universe cycles between creation and destruction, through infinite time.
- The closest cosmological model conforming to Hindu Scriptures is the eternally “oscillating” model of the universe.
- The “oscillating” model requires that the universe exist eternally into the past.
- But the evidence today shows the the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the big bang.
- The “oscillating” model requires that the expansion of the universe reverse into a collapse, (= crunch).
- In 1998, the discovery of the year was that the universe would expand forever. There will be no crunch.
- Therefore, the oscillating model is disconfirmed by observations.
- The oscillating model also faces theoretical problems with the “bounce” mechanism.
Atheism also requires an eternal universe, according the Secular Humanist Manifesto:
FIRST: Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.
One of the eternal models of the universe favored by atheists was proposed by Carl Sagan:
[I]nformation from our universe would not trickle into that next one and, from our vantage point, such an oscillating cosmology is as definitive and depressing an end as the expansion that never stops” (Sagan, Carl (1979), “Will It All End in a Fireball?” Science Digest, 86:13-14, September, pp 13-14)
Again, this atheist cosmology, like the Hindu cosmology, is falsified by the evidence – both theoretical and experimental. Now, lots of people believed Carl Sagan, but the progress of science proved that his atheism was wrong. His whole cosmology was wrong. That’s a pretty big mistake to make, but that’s what you get when you invent a self-serving worldview that goes against the progress of science.
Falsifying a religion using history
Consider this argument:
- To be a Muslim, you must believe that the Koran is without error.
- The Koran claims that Jesus did not die on a cross. (Qur’an, 4: 157-158)
- The crucifixion of Jesus is undisputed among non-Muslim historians, including atheist historians.
- Therefore, it is not rational for me to become a Muslim.
I’m going to support the premise that Jesus was crucified by citing historians from all backgrounds.
“Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.” Gert Lüdemann
“That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.” J.D. Crossan
“The passion of Jesus is part of history.” Geza Vermes
Jesus’ death by crucifixion is “historically certain”. Pinchas Lapide
“The single most solid fact about Jesus’ life is his death: he was executed by the Roman prefect Pilate, on or around Passover, in the manner Rome reserved particularly for political insurrectionists, namely, crucifixion.” Paula Fredriksen
“The support for the mode of his death, its agents, and perhaps its co-agents, is overwhelming: Jesus faced a trial before his death, was condemned, and was executed by crucifixion.” L.T. Johnson
“One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Ponitus Pilate.” Bart Ehrman
That’s 7 famous historians: 3 atheists, 3 Jews and 1 moderate Catholic. The atheists, Ludemann, Crossan and Ehrman, have all debated against the resurrection of Jesus with William Lane Craig. Johnson is the moderate Catholic, the rest are Jewish historians. The Koran was written in the 7th century. That is why no professional historian accepts the Koran as more authoritative than the many earlier Christian and non-Christian sources for the crucifixion story. Many of the sources for the crucifixion are dated to the 1st century. The Koran is simply too far after the events to be reliable history, especially since it often contradicts earlier sources, both Christian and non-Christian.
Notice how my criticisms of these religions are very much different than what you hear from atheists. My evidence is specific and scholarly. I’m not claiming that these religions are false because it conflicts with my personal preferences. That would be a very stupid way of arguing against a religion. What you have to do is find a claim that is central to the religion and then falsify it using evidence that is incontrovertible. No one cares if you think the universe is too vast. No one cares if you think the eye is badly designed. That’s just an opinion. That’s a personal preference. Even moral claims are personal preferences on atheism. God isn’t bound by any one person’s preferences. To falsify a worldview, you have to find clear evidence that is at odds with a core claim of that religion.
Christopher Hitchens is a good example of someone who uses his feelings and personal preferences to make an emotional case against theism, for example. I sort of consider him to be more of a comedian than a scholar, but rank-and-file atheists really go for him. He didn’t do very well in his debate with William Lane Craig, that’s for sure. He is trying to disprove a worldview the wrong way – with snarky opinions. That’s not the way to get to the truth.
So, the point here is that it’s not that Hindus and Muslims are bad people, and it’s not that they are unhappy people. It’s that they have false beliefs. And it’s the falseness of their beliefs that is important to God. It’s not God’s purpose that we are sincere in our beliefs, regardless of whether they are true. It’s not God’s purpose that we feel happy and content. It’s not God’s purpose that we are liked by others. God’s purpose for us is that we have true beliefs about him, his existence, and what he has done in history, and the spiritual meaning of what he’s done. And he expects a proper response to knowing the truth about him in the way we live our lives, too. The truth comes first, then the actions.
A sincere Hindu or Muslim or Mormon or atheist may be very adept at complying with the moral standards of their families and communities. They may feel very confident in the meaningfulness of their plans and achievements in this world. They may feel that they have lived a good life, one that they are happy about. They may have friends and family who affirm the goodness of their beliefs and actions. But in the end, that is not the purpose of life – we don’t decide what we are here to do, since we didn’t choose to be here. Someone else made us for a purpose. We didn’t create and design this universe.
I think people who spend their entire lives in a non-Christian religion or no religion obviously invent a story for themselves that makes them feel comfortable. The real question that everyone has to answer is “is it true?”. And for that, we look to the evidence. We do not look to our feelings. We do not look to our friends. We do not look to our family. We do not look to customs and traditions. We look to the evidence and we fashion and proportion our beliefs to the evidence.