Via a comment on Twitter I came across this website by Dr Peter Saunders, who writes a blog called: Christian Medical Comment on which he gives what he claims are Twenty Good Arguments for Christianity. I reproduce the text followed by my responses. Frankly I find his arguments completely underwhelming. Surely some Christian can do better than this! An Addendum includes comments on extracts from the Book of Common Prayer
1.The uniqueness of Jesus Christ The life, teaching, extraordinary claims and miracles of Jesus Christ as recorded by eyewitnesses are best explained by him being God incarnate: the creator and sustainer of the universe who took on human flesh.
On the contrary they are best explained as elaborations of legends written many years after the life of Jesus (if he existed) combining them with earlier god-man stories. They are put into the mouths of followers to provide authenticity (like Watson's accounts of Sherlock Holmes) and the presence of miracles are clear proof of their fictitious nature.
2.Jesus death and resurrection All historical records are agreed on the facts that Jesus was killed, that his dead body disappeared, that the disciples claimed to have seen him alive and that the church grew rapidly in the belief that he had been resurrected. His actual bodily resurrection in space-time history remains the best explanation for these observations.
There are no such historical records, unless you are counting the gospels, which are disqualified for the reasons given in 1. Historians writing at that period make no mention of the events claimed in the bible.
3.The manuscript evidence for the New Testament The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are by far the best attested events in all antiquity in terms of the number of manuscripts recording them and the closeness in time of those hand-written records to the events they describe.
The life, death and teachings of Socrates are attested by Plato, Xenophon and Aeschylus, who all knew him personally and are themselves thoroughly documented, and left other extensive works. The same is probably true of Alexander, Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, and many others.
4.The uniqueness of the Bible The uniqueness of the Bible in its continuity, circulation, translation, survival, teachings and influence along with its internal consistency despite consisting of 66 books written by over 40 authors on three continents over 1,500 years defies simple explanation and is fully consistent with its claim to be divine revelation.
The first authorised version of the bible was put together in 350AD on the instructions of Constantine when he made it the official religion of the Roman Empire, and it has been sustained by the power of the Roman church ever since. Before that there were many related texts that were excluded. It does contain books of genuine literary merit. Euclid's Elements has an even longer history!
5.Old Testament prophecy fulfilled in Christ The 39 books that make up the Old Testament contain several hundred references to the coming Messiah concerning his life, death and resurrection which were written hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth but were fulfilled during his life and confirm his credentials as the promised Messiah.
These old testament stories were used as a basis for writing the gospel stories to try to meet their requirements.
6.Biblical prophecy fulfilled in history The hundreds of predictive prophecies in the Old Testament and New Testaments about the fate of nations, empires and cities are consistent with supernatural revelation from a God outside the space-time continuum (Tyre, Sidon, Samaria, Gaza, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome, Israel).
Writing stories after the event allows one remarkable prescience!
7.The uniqueness of the Christian experience The shared testimony of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ by millions of people from diverse cultures, nations, personalities, professions and time periods is unparalleled by any other ideology and consistent with the existence of a God with a universal attraction to all kinds of human beings. Each testifies to finding peace, forgiveness, the power to change and new meaning, hope and purpose through Christ's death and resurrection.
Many people have found solace in an imaginary friend, or by seeking to emulate some idealised person from the past. Other such religious icons are Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, and so on. Rationalists my well find similar help in the lives of Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, Boethius, or even that great philosopher Winnie the Pooh.
8.The origin of the universe Everything that began to exist has a cause and it is now virtually undisputed that the universe had a beginning. Any cause would have to be outside the material universe so would be timeless, spaceless, immaterial, personal and all powerful – characteristics shared by the God of the Bible.
Something that is timeless, spaceless and immaterial, is by definition nonexistent. To claim that this "nonentity" could also have characteristics of power and personality makes no sense. An absolute nothing is probably impossible. However the universe may well have begun as a fluctuation in a "void", which is a sort of physical nothingness. This is by far the most economical explanation.
9.The fine tuning of the universe In order for the universe to come into being and allow intelligent life to exist, it required an astonishing series of ‘coincidences’ to have occurred. The probability that the six dimensionless constants (N, Epsilon, Omega, Lambda, Q & D) would be tuned in such a way as to allow this is infinitesimally small and the phenomenon is best explained by intelligent design.
There is no evidence that the constants can have any other values than they are known to have. That's why they are called constants. Probably a deeper understanding would be able to predict their values.
10.Biological complexity Whilst it is widely recognised that random gene mutation, genetic drift and natural selection can account for a degree of biological descent with modification (evolution) the mechanisms by which proteins, DNA, unicellular organisms and new body plans could have arisen remain unexplained. Blind chance and necessity alone are unable to account for the biological complexity that we observe on planet earth and these phenomena point to intelligent design.
On the contrary, chance and necessity combined with the processes of natural selection are able to account for the apparent design we see, given the long periods of time now known to be available.
11.The rationality of the universe The universe operates according to physical laws which are not merely regularities in nature but also mathematically precise, universal, ‘tied together’ and rationally intelligible. These phenomena point to the existence of what Einstein called ‘superior mind’, illimitable superior spirit’, ‘superior reasoning force’ and ‘mysterious force that moves the constellations’ and are fully consistent with the teachings of Christian theism.
The representation of physical laws by mathematics is just a form of shorthand for longer descriptions. The fact that many facts can be incorporated into such formulae is indeed remarkable, and is consistent with the origin of the universe being from a simple state. Very short quotes taken out of context from Einstein prove nothing. In other writings he made clear that he was not a Christian and did not believe in a personal God. He objected to being misrepresented in this way.
12.The human mind Human experience of free will, consciousness, self-awareness, conscience and a sense of meaning, purpose and destiny are all very difficult to explain within a purely materialist world view (ie. the belief that nothing exists apart from matter, chance and time). These phenomena point to, and are consistent with, a reality existing beyond the material world and are consistent with the biblical teaching that human beings are made in the image of God.
On the contrary there is no difficulty in explaining the appearance of consciousness in living creatures with a complex nervous system. It is the supposed existence of an immaterial "mind" that is suspect.
13.The explanatory power of the Christian world view The Christian theistic world view described by the parameters of creation, fall, redemption and consummation has considerable explanatory power in accounting for the existence of human complexity, creativity, love, suffering, disease, evil and hope.
The Christian doctrine of the fall, written to justify the oppression of women in a patriarchal society, is responsible for much unnecessary suffering. Its attribution of shame and sinfulness to natural bodily functions is also a cause of much unhappness.
14.The universality of spiritual belief and experience The universal belief in, and experience of, a spiritual reality beyond the material world and in the existence of other intelligent beings in addition to human beings (gods, spirits, angels, demons, ghosts etc), along with the proliferation of different religions, is consistent with the Christian world view including the existence of a Devil whose intention is to deceive people into believing anything but the truth.
That grown people these days can still believe in beings like angels and demons is really surprising to me. I thought Christians had given up such ideas since the middle ages!
15.The moral law The universality of moral beliefs and conscience, and the similarities of moral codes across times, continents and cultures, point to the existence of moral laws and a supernatural law giver. The moral laws outline in the Decalogue (ten commandments) encapasulate these principles of respect for life, marriage, property and truth and their observance leads to more stable and enduring societies. These observations are consistent with the existence of a moral God who has designed human society to operate according to moral norms and who reveals moral principles.
I agree that moral ideas exist but they are purely an expression of the need for humans to live together in harmony. They don't need any supernatural lawgiver.
16.Lives changed by Christian faith The power of Christian faith and prayer to change behaviour and improve human functioning in restoring the lives of those suffering from addictions to drugs, alcohol, pornography and other enslaving activities or in reforming antisocial and criminal behaviour and strengthening marriages, families and societies is unparalleled.
Lives can be changed by many experiences, causing people to come to their senses if they have gone astray. Saying a prayer or singing a hymn may soothe people's anguish at their inability to change things, but little more. Many have achieved reforms by being devoted faithfully to a cause, often against overwhelming odds, but it does not require irrational belief to justify it.
17.Christian reformation of society The reformation of British society in the 19th century (and many similar phenomena elsewhere in the world throughout history) through such moves as the abolition of slavery, child labour, child prostitution, prison reform and the establishment of schools and hospitals through the work of Wilberforce, Booth, Fry, the Clapham Sect and others was largely the result of the evangelical revival of the 18th century and lends strong support to the existence of a redemptive supernatural God who changes and shapes human lives and societies.
This is a rewriting of history. Many christians argued that slavery was a good thing. The work of many secular reformers was opposed by the churches, particularly universal education and birth control.
18.The work of Christian missions The development of education, healthcare and societal reform in the developing world owes a great deal to the work of Christian missionaries motivated by the love of Christ who underwent great hardship and made great sacrifices to assist and empower those marginalised through ignorance, superstition or poverty. If Christianity were true we would expect it also to result in demonstrable good across nations and cultures.
The spread of Christianity through Imperialism resulted in the deaths and displacement of many indigenous peoples, and the destruction of their cultures. Christianity is itself a superstition.
19.The plausibility of Christian eschatology The emergence of a one-world government under the leadership of an antichrist, antagonistic to God, based on the worship and pursuit of material things, strongly opposing Christian faith, dominating through economic control and resulting in massive environmental destruction seems increasingly plausible given recent historical experience and the current trajectory of world history.
I see no prospect of a one-world government, given the current weakness of the UN. The crazy apocalyptic dreams expressed in the Book of Revelation strike me as a drug induced nightmare, rather than any coherent prediction of the future.
20.The phenomenon of Israel The history, laws, influence and endurance of the nation of Israel through over 4,000 years of world history whilst world empires have come and gone, the maintenance of its national identity and central place in world affairs through war, persecution and holocaust, its recent restoration to Palestine and the educational and cultural achievements of its people are unparalleled but fully consistent with its special status as described in the biblical record and teaching of Jesus Christ.
The achievements of the secular state of Israel are indeed worth celebrating to an extent (as are those of other states such as Britain) but not all their doings are or have been entirely praiseworthy.
The above response was written quickly on 28 October 2013, and slightly expanded on 3 October 2016. Much more probably needs to be said.
The following are some extracts from The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, and some comments thereon, written some years ago:
"Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down to them, nor worship them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, and visit the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me ..."
The humanist sees the practice of the arts of drawing and sculpture as a virtue, and a talent worthy to be developed. The worship of something, such as, say, the sun or a tree or a person, or representations of them, is to show a high degree of appreciation, admiration, affection, reverence, etc for the object of one's attention. There can be no harm in such activities unless taken to some extreme, such as becoming an obsession. To a humanist the idea that children should bear any blame for crimes of their parents or forebears is an incomprehensible viciousness.
"...ye that mind to come to the holy Communion of the Body and Blood of our Saviour ... for then we spiritually eat the flesh of Christ, and drink his blood; ... we are one with Christ"
This cannibalistic symbolism of the communion service is horrific to a humanist, for whom reverence for human life is important.
"... all men are conceived and born in sin ..." ... "Dost thou renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the carnal desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow, nor be led by them?"
These extracts are from the Baptism Service. The humanist believes that all human beings are at birth essentially good, but may go astray in later life as a result of adverse experiences, or lack of good guidance. The idea that sex and the procreation of children is in any way sinful is incomprehensible to a humanist, for whom the furtherance of life is fundamental. The carnal desires of the flesh are also acceptable, separate from procreation, as a means of expressing bonds of love between human beings. Taking part in the organisation of human society is an important duty for a humanist who has the appropriate abilities.