They were passing out bibles just outside Shibuya Station the other day, and I thought I’d stop by for a chat. The young American man heading the operation (we’ll call him Tom) was kind enough to engage me in dialog, and soon both of us were presenting our positions on the question of the existence of the biblical god.
I began by questioning the very notion of faith, suggesting that, unless the degree of belief matches the degree of the evidence, the belief is irrational and certainly not anything any creator of rational humans would consider virtuous.
Tom countered by suggesting there was more than sufficient evidence to warrant a belief in the biblical god. When I asked Tom to elaborate, he cited the more than 300 prophecies that Jesus is alleged to have fulfilled.
I decided to focus on one of those alleged prophecies; the prophecy that the Messiah would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. I pointed out that Jesus and his disciples eager to proclaim him as the Messiah were no doubt well aware of this prophecy, and clearly had the power to make it happen as prophesied, thus making the notion that the prophecy was “fulfilled” ridiculous. (This is not even taking into consideration the probability that the entire Messianic story was fabricated by writers who had an intense vested interest to paint Jesus as the Messiah.)
Instead of conceding my point, Tom shrugged and said
“Well, there are 299 more prophecies that Jesus clearly fulfilled.”
This is the degree of honesty common among Christians. Instead of weeding out of their list of “clear” prophecies those that are clearly not, they shrug the arguments off, demand you explain away the other 299 prophecies, and will most certainly be adding the dismantled prophecy back into their list as soon as they begin making prophecy claims to someone else.
This phenomenon is identical to the one you’ll encounter among believers of alien abductions. as soon as you dismantle one account by approching the claims with the tools of science, they’ll point to the other hundreds of accounts if alien abduction, demanding you disprove them all before they’ll consider whether they themselves may be in error.
Tom had standards of evidence that he applied inconsistently across belief systems. When I introduced the prophecies and miracles found in the Quran as identical in form to his own, he abandoned the weak standards of evidence he wished me to take when assessing Christianity, and adopted more scientific standards when assessing quranic claims. He did so without the slightest hint of recognition of his hypocrisy.
The discussion then moved on to biblical contradictions. There are 2 accounts of the death of Judas Iscariot. The account in Matthew has Judas dying by hanging himself, and in the book of Acts, he falls “headlong”, and his bowels burst out. I pointed this contradiction out to Tom.
Tom’s response? He assured me that both Matthew and the writer of Acts (presumably Luke) were merely relating one aspect of the whole story. What had really happened, he asserted, is that Judas Iscariot tried to hang himself, the rope broke, then he fell “headlong” and his bowels burst out. (It is unclear how a broken rope around a neck would result in falling “headlong”.)
I asked for clarification.
“Are you actually claiming that Judas Iscariot died spectacularly as you related, and neither Matthew nor Luke found it necessary to tell the whole story, choosing instead to write, presumably under the inspiration of God Almighty, only half of the incident?”
Tom assured me that is what happened, claiming that divergent testimonies are common in modern courts of law when relating a single event.
I then posed a parelled hypothetical event.
“Tom, suppose you had 2 adults witness a man attmpting to hang himself from a bridge. The rope breaks in this attempt, and he is immediately run over by a bus. Are you suggesting that some of the witnesess might only tell half the story? Are you suggesting that the witnesses of such a spectacular and memorable event would relate only half of this event, and, incredibly, the opposite halves of this spectacular and memorable event? Are you suggesting that the alleged god-inspired writers of a Holy Bible would relate only half of an event as spectacular and memorable as the the one you’ve described, and, incredibly, the opposite halves of that spectacular and memorable event?”
Here Tom says
“God has never lied before. Why would he lie in this account of the death of Judas?”
Faith again rears its irrational head. Your god will never appear to lie to you if you continuously put each apparent lie to bed by pointing out that he has never lied before. This is the rationalization that often makes dependent hearts the last to accept the obvious fact that their spouse has been unfaithful.
“John has never lied before, and there is no reason he would suddenly start now. That condem wrapper and hotel receipt were mistakenly placed in his pocket by an intoxicated guy friend.”
This is about standards of evidence. I asked Tom,
“Were a Muslim to come to you with two passages of Quranic scripture that described a death in the contradictory ways Matthew and Luke have, would you not dismiss the Quran as inconsitent based on this apparent contradiction?”
Tom gave no response this question. But it is this question that reveals the inconsistency (dare we say hypocrisy) of theists; they do not apply their standards of evidence consitently across the board. This is an inherent dishonesty that makes their claim of a personal relationship with a righteous god an absurdity.
In recent years there has been a sea change in apologetics thought. Whereas previously there was an emphasis on faith as traditionally defined, there has been a move to paint god-belief more respectable by 1) attempting to demonstrate that biblical faith is actually and evidenced-based belief, and by 2) attempting to equate scientific belief with religious faith. Tom failed in respect to #1 (as do all Christians) by refusing to grant the Quran the same low standard of evidence he grants the Bible. He fails in respect to #2 by pretending (presumably consciously) that confidence based on the progressive successes of science is identical to the emotionally-based and evidence-starved god-belief of theism. Am I warranted in calling this dishonesty? How could anyone be so self-deluded not to notice their clearly inconsistent standards of evidence?
The truth is I’m rather forgiving of this form of dishonestly having practiced it for 25 years. It is merely a desperate attempt to shore up the crumbling walls of an ideology that many want desperately to believe due to its many (false) promises, (imagined) purpose, and (imaginary) unconditional love. These factors are often enough to drive the most capable humans such as Tom to abandon intellectual integrity, and to treat the absuridty of faith as if it were a virtue. Faith is no virtue, and diminishes this life, the only life we have.