"Pertness and ignorance may ask a question in three lines, which it will cost learning and ingenuity thirty pages to answer. When this is done, the same question shall be triumphantly asked again the next year, as if nothing had ever been written upon the subject. "
R. E. Pucket was a faithful Christian for much of his life. However, as he began to expand his reading and investigate arguments against faith, he became convinced that faith was irrational. This impression was strengthened by the fact that Christians with which he interacted largely told him that he should believe for belief's sake, and that faith trumped rationality.
Pucket now spends a significant amount of time interacting with born again Christians who he feels are trying to convert him and win his soul. He rebuffs these attempts by presenting arguments that seem to stymie these Christians who in turn make vague appeals to "God's Plan" and blind faith.
In his article, "Top 50 Questions Christians Can't Answer" on Yahoo voices, Pucket lists out some of the arguments he has found that Christians seem to have no rational, logical answers for, and invites the readers to inspect their faith in light of these questions. Says Pucket:
"Don't get me wrong, they will have an answer for them. You will find, however, that their answers have no basis in verifiable fact or evidence whatsoever, and will be largely based in their blind faith forsaking all reason."
This series of articles will examine all fifty of Pucket's questions, five per article, and offer responses to these questions.
One of the important things that the Pucket list teaches is the danger of dogmatism. If a system of belief stands or falls on every minute doctrine or teaching within the system, then disarming one of these causes the whole thing to fall.Christianity has undergone inspection by hosts of intelligent and thoughtful people over its 2000-year history. Some, like Pucket, have come to the conclusion that it was untenable. Many more have explored different ways of thinking about and applying Christian ideas that do not involve abandoning the system. The very fact that Christianity is a system of thought that allows individual thinkers to explore it, rather than to blindly embrace it, at least suggests that it is not a system of intellectual tyranny.
This author suggests that many of things about Christians popularly believe may be found faulty without the entire system being destroyed. For Christianity to be untrue, it would have to be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that either humans do not require some sort of salvation from evil and suffering, or that no such salvation has been provided.
The answers provided to the questions in this series may not always be punchy rejoinders, magic bullets, or truth bombs. They may be far from convincing to a skeptic; however they do show that Christianity is at the very least internally consistent and existentially plausible.
A variety of the Christian views that Pucket attacks in these questions are held by a very specific sect of Christian believers, and by no means characterize the whole of Christian views. The questions also occasionally make broad statements which either mischaracterize Biblical teachings, or are backed up with no supporting evidence. Where these mistakes are made, the responses are largely aimed at correcting these mischaracterizations. This is not to say that the attack has no merit, but the attack would need to be re-worked to fit a proper representation of that belief.
Finally, it is worth noting that the questions are sometimes phrased in highly emotive or sarcastic forms. These articles will attempt to respond to the fundamental objection being raised, rather than the tone in which they are presented, however the questions themselves will be presented in their original form.
26 - If God created everything, why did he create AIDS, influenza, ebola, ecoli and so on and so on? These, as viruses, are living things. You definitely can not use the free will card for this one. Is this another part of 'God's plan'?
Viruses and bacteria mutate and evolve so quickly that a previously harmless or helpful virus/bacteria could easily become harmful over the course of a generation. AIDs mutated so as to spread to humans from monkeys, and mutates so rapidly that any medication that might treat it is ineffective within a day. Every several years influenza breaks out that was passed to humans from birds or pigs. However the harmfulness of a disease is not the real issue. The real issue is the vulnerability of human beings.
Assume for a moment that God eliminated all viral and bacterial disease. This would greatly decrease the amount of suffering and the rapidity of death in all parts of the world. However people would still become injured, suffer from genetic and systemic illnesses, suffer the physical and emotional abuses of fellow human beings, and everyone would eventually die.
The real problem is not a type of disease, a specific kind of suffering, or any particular manner of death. The real problem is death and suffering in general.
Fortunately God has provided an avenue through which humans may be made morally perfect and physically immortal.
27 - How can God answer a prayer giving a working-class man in the United States a raise at his place of employment so that he can move his family into a larger house...
(continued)...but he does not answer the prayers to stop the starvation and disease of millions upon millions of children around the world? This must be another infinitely wise part of 'God's plan'.
Again, in order to attack God’s plan, one would first have to define it and then show how it fails. Comfort and prosperity, if it yields no existential fulfillment, is ultimately futile. Suffering and poverty, if it leads a person to purpose and existential fulfillment, has served a very important purpose.
There are two accounts in scripture that may illustrate this. In one account found in Mark 10, a wealthy young man asks Jesus “What must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus’ response to him was to “…go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” The man decided that this would be too great a sacrifice and left Jesus. Jesus then said:
“How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
In the second account, found in John 9, Jesus and his disciples come across a beggar who had been blind since birth. His disciples asked him “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
Jesus then used the man’s condition as an opportunity to minister, leading to the conversion of the man, his parents, and a number of people who witnessed it.
Jesus said: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” A person’s suffering always causes them to seek relief. In searching, they frequently find God. A better salary does no one any good once they are dead. Equally, suffering ceases at the point of death. But if Christians are right, and there is eternal life beyond death, then a person’s alignment with God is far more important than their temporary physical circumstances on earth.
28 - If God's word is supposed to be the accurate word of God himself, how are we supposed to trust it enough to model our lives after it 100% when hundreds of books were excluded from the original text throughout so many translations and revisions?
The 27 books that form the New Testament also happen to be the earliest Christian writings still in existence, meaning that, of all the letters in circulation that early, only those 27 were considered important enough to be copied and passed on. Any other books that contended for a spot in the New Testament were written centuries later.
Throughout the New Testament, the authors confirm one another as scriptural. Peter, in his second epistles, confirms Paul’s teachings as scripture:
2 Peter 3:15-16
English Standard Version (ESV)
15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.
Paul confirms Luke’s writings to be scripture in two accounts: In 1 Timothy 5:17-18, Paul quotes Luke 10:7 and refers to it as “scripture.” In 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 Paul says “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you,” and then goes on to quote Luke 22:19-20. Note that Paul introduces his quotation as “from the Lord.” The passages assume that the audience is familiar with and accepts the scriptural authority of the cited text.
Luke, in turn, uses the gospels of Matthew and Mark as source material for his Gospel, copying a number of passages verbatim from these Gospels.
Thus the New Testament support for each other’s documents goes something like this:
Peter confirms Paul’s epistles, Paul confirms Luke’s, and Luke confirms Matthew and Mark.
This alone indicates the majority of the New Testament documents, including three of the four gospels, Acts, and all of Paul’s epistles.
In his book Our Legacy (2001), Dr. John Hannah says that during the “Church Father” period (the early second century) there was general agreement on doctrines. While they cited as many as 19 out of the 27 currently accepted New Testament books in the available writings of the time period, they lived in an age of vast illiteracy, and so the oral tradition was held as equally authoritative to scripture.
The next period of the Church that Hannah describes he calls the age of “The Apologists” (late second and third century) During this time overt hostility toward Christianity from the culture and governing powers was on the rise. Worse, disagreements and challenges were coming from within the Church itself.
These challenges forced the Church leaders of the time to have to define what their source of authority was so that they could address the many conflicting opinions regarding doctrine and beliefs. In defining their authority, the oral tradition became marginalized largely because the Gnostic sect was claiming a different oral tradition to support their views. Church Fathers began to look to the writings of the Apostles as alone being authoritative and the idea of a canon of scripture began to emerge.
The apocryphal documents that might possibly have competed for a spot in the canon did not appear on the scene until the late second century. Once again, it is more than just coincidence that the earliest documents were accepted and the later documents were rejected.
The cannons of the day varied. The entire Old Testament, and all 27 books of the currently accepted New Testament were held as sacred in one or another of the churches, but few if any had access to all of them.
While the Gospels and all of Paul’s epistles were accepted universally, there was some dispute over a few books like Jude and Hebrews. However, even if all of the books that were disputed at the time were removed, the core doctrines of the Gospel are still affirmed by the remaining.
The Muratorian Fragment is a document that lists and provides an introduction to a number of New Testament documents. While the earliest copy of this fragment currently in existence is from the 7th or 8th century, the original can be dated as early as 180 AD. This fragment lists 22 of the 27 New Testament books (the four Gospels, Acts, all 13 epistles of Paul, Jude, 1 John, 2 John, arguably 3rd John, and Revelation).
In his article on early Christian writings, Michael Kruger (2013) states that early Christians did frequently reference non-canonical works, but stresses that, as a whole, they did not reference them as scriptural or authoritative; merely helpful or illuminating.
The canon of scripture was never actually determined in an official capacity. At best, it was increasingly recognized by churches for having been what it always was. In many ways, the formation of the canon was never officiated by any human or group of people. It just happened.
Even Bart Ehrman, who has authored a number of books attempting to discredit the New Testament, admits this when he says:
“The canon of the New Testament was ratified by widespread consensus rather than by official proclamation” (Ehrman, Lost Christianities (2005), p. 231)
29 - Why is there no evidence of any of the miracles performed by God? None whatsoever.
This depends on what you consider a miracle and what you consider evidence. While science can explain everything about how the physics that govern the observable universe, there is no reasonable explanation about how a vast, complex, beautiful and functional universe emerged from nothing. From nothing, nothing comes. Since time and space are finite and require a point of origin and an explanation for their existence, that explanation must be timeless, spaceless, eternal, and powerful, and intelligent enough to create everything.
The emergence of life from non-living matter is also something science has failed to explain. DNA requires proteins as part of its structure, but protein is only produced by DNA. There are no experiments that have been run to successfully create proteins.
Another miracle for which there is a significant amount of evidence is the resurrection of Christ.
Space does not allow to trot out the entire line of evidence, so a brief summary must suffice:
• The Gospel accounts and the book of 1 Corinthians all harmonize on the specifics of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, giving multiple attestations.
• Cold Case Homicide Detective J. Warner Wallace notes that the Gospels bear all the hallmarks of eyewitness testimony, including telling the same accounts from different perspectives and unintentionally supporting each others accounts by filling in minor details that clarify one another’s account. Scholar J.J. Blunt has noted hundreds of these details in his book Undesigned Coincidences.
• External first century writings such as the writings of Josephus, the Talmud, Thalus, Phlegon, Tacitus, and Mara Bar-Serapion all confirm that Jesus lived, was credited with miraculous works, died, and was reported by his persecuted followers to have risen. None of these sources were, themselves, Christians.
• Dr. Gary Habermas has done a survey of hundreds of prominent non-Christian historians and scholars as to the basic facts regarding Jesus’ life and death that they believe to be true based on historical evidence. These scholars overwhelmingly agree that Jesus was buried in the tomb of a well-known Sanhedrin, that the tomb was found to be empty some three days later, that a variety of people believe that they saw a resurrected Jesus, and that Jesus brother James and the Apostle Paul both underwent drastic conversion experiences. While scholars are divided on the explanation for these facts, the most obvious explanation is that Jesus did, in fact, rise.
• There are a number of Old Testament prophecies – verified to have been written prior to the New Testament – that only make sense in the light of Christ’s resurrection. Most obviously Isaiah 53.
What must be understood about miracles is that they are not random whims of God. Miracles are Biblically only performed in order to indicate that a message or messenger is from God. Moses performed miracles confirming that the law he brought was from God. Subsequent prophets performed miracles to show that they were, indeed, God’s messengers. Every miracle that Jesus performed was done to confirm his message. Thus, he helped Peter, James, and John catch an overabundance of fish right before calling them to follow him. He healed the paralytic man only after the crowds questioned his power to forgive sin. A significant number of theologians believe that miracles did, indeed, cease after the Bible was completely written. No further messages were needed, thus no further miracles occurred.
If modern-day accounts of miracles seem dubious, this could be because they are fake. But the two most important miracles - creation and the resurrection of Christ – still resonate to this day.
30 - If God and Jesus are the same, having the same mind, knowledge and power, then why would Jesus beg himself in the garden of Gethsemane, to spare himself from having to be crucified?
(continued) Furthermore, why would Jesus ask himself why he has forsaken himself by allowing himself to be crucified?
If God and Jesus were the same, having the same mind, knowledge, and power, then there is no reason to distinguish between the two. God’s name would be Yeshua, or Jesus’ name would be Yahweh. The doctrine of the Trinity is that they are “three persons, one essence.” This means that, while God and Jesus share the same basic power and values, that they operate from distinct perspectives. When Jesus voices his suffering to God, God may be aware of the suffering Jesus is undergoing, but he is not experiencing it in the same way. Just so, when Jesus intercedes for sinful humans with God, he may do so because he has uniquely experienced the fragility and temptations that humans must undergo in a way that the Father has not. The value of love that Jesus expresses in doing so may be identical to the value of love that the Father holds, but Jesus expresses this love in a way that only his human experiences may allow.