Tag Archives: atheism

Do the “New Atheists” Get Their History Right?

“The Course of Empire: The Destruction.” Thomas Cole, 1836, showing the Sack of Rome in 410 A.D., by the pagan Visigoths.  But was the destruction of classical Greco-Roman culture, really the fault of the Christians instead?

You might have heard some of these historical claims before: Jesus never existed. The emperor Constantine colluded with church leaders at Nicea to fix the New Testament canon. Medieval Christians believed the Bible to teach that the earth was flat, until Christopher Columbus proved them wrong. Christians persecuted leading early scientists, in order to defend their erroneous Bible. And on it goes.

I have addressed some of these topics before on Veracity (Jesus “mythicism”, Constantine and Nicea, the Giordano Bruno affair). But someone could easily dredge up the ad hominem claim, that as a Christian, my sympathies are biased, and can not be trusted by any rational, thinking person. For the sake of the argument, let me concede the criticism: Why take my word for anything?

In answering this, I would suggest that readers consult a fascinating website, History for Atheists. Tim O’Neill does a great job dismantling such pseudo-historical claims, that get uncritically passed on over the Internet, and through television media, advancing the agenda of so-called “New Atheists,” along the lines of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. But what makes Tim O’Neill compelling is that he is an unapologetic atheist himself. He would not find much credible to my Christian faith.

Of course, I would beg to differ. But O’Neill is actually an ally for truth, when it comes to history. Tim O’Neill addresses some of the most egregious pseudo-historical claims made by some atheists, in a very substantive and mind-opening manner. For example, in early June, 2018, the New York Times reviewed a book by Catherine Nixey, THE DARKENING AGE: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World, that attempts to revive the old, worn-out thesis that the rise of Christianity in the early medieval period led to the so-called “Dark Ages,” through the wholesale violent destruction of classical Greco-Roman culture. Nixey is regarded by some as an “Edward Gibbon” of the post-modern era. In his 18th century classic, The History of the Decline and Fall of Roman Empire, Gibbon popularized the thesis that the rise of Christianity played a significant role in the decline of ancient Rome.

For example, Nixey builds on the worst claim of Candida Moss, Notre Dame professor and author of The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom , discussed here on Veracity, that the Christians made up nearly all of the persecution stories of martyrs dying for their faith, under pagan Rome. Such propaganda was used as justification for committing appalling violence against their pagan neighbors.

Those “bad” and “evil” Christians!!

Sure enough, if you go to Tim O’Neill’s website, he has a highly critical review of Nixey’s work. Yes, there were cases of violence, statues being destroyed by some Christian enthusiasts, and various Christian martyrdom stories of the early church were exaggerated. However, in the early medieval period, there was clearly a conscious attempt by early medieval Christians to recover what they thought to be the best of classical, pagan culture, that was not in conflict with the Bible. Christianity superseded Roman paganism, but Nixey greatly overplays her “violent, ruthless and intolerant” story of the Christians.  In response, O’Neill is simply brilliant.

As British historian Dan jones says, “History is a vaccine against propaganda.” Even extreme atheist propaganda. How true that is!

The next time you hear about some startling historical claim that tries to throw Christianity into the dustbin of history, you might want to “fact check” those claims by consulting History for Atheists. O’Neill has his biases, but honestly and gladly, he admits them. If only every Christian would be as ruthlessly a seeker of historical truth as Tim O’Neill is, but that is a topic for some other blog post…

 

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One Question


Why Study the Skeptics?

Personal Discipleship Week 3 Class Presentation

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Have you ever been blindsided by a hostile comment about your faith? For whatever reasons, someone has a chip on their shoulder about Christians. Maybe you weren’t even talking about anything spiritual, and they let go a pejorative that hits you like ice water in the face. If they’re angry and intelligent, you might hear a diatribe that is well articulated and seems to challenge your Christian worldview in a really disturbing way.

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, welcome to the real world. Skepticism is nothing new.

“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:11,12 (NKJV)

Being on the receiving end of mocking and ridicule is bad enough, but how do you respond to the underlying challenge?

Personal discipleship is more than a process—it’s a lane to drive in when your faith is challenged. One of the (many) reasons that ice water in the face feels so cold is that we are poorly prepared to graciously address the underlying objections. Not just poorly prepared in terms of having a pithy response, but poorly prepared to engage in a manner that is gentle and respectful. Bobby Conway says the purpose of apologetics is to remove barriers to the Christian faith. Apologetics is not about winning arguments. Got it. But we have little chance of presenting Christ in a favorable light if we don’t know where people are coming from—emotionally and intellectually.

Dr. Norman Geisler

Dr. Norman Geisler

Dr. Norman Geisler gave an interview to Apologetics315 in which he made some statements that get at the heart of the matter. Geisler is a prolific author, systematic theologian, philosopher, and professor. He has founded two evangelical seminaries and was the chief architect behind the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. He is a standard-bearer for conservative Christian doctrine.

“I learned a lot from all skeptics. I tell my students that I spend most of my time studying and teaching what I don’t believe, namely the history of philosophy, and I’m writing a book on it now, The History of Philosophy From a Christian Point of View. You have to have a knowledge of what’s going on, that’s the bread and butter, that’s the standing on the shoulders of giants. As someone said, ‘You can learn more from the error of a great mind than you can the truths of a small mind.’ Because, the error of a great mind is a significant error, and you learn a lot from significant errors. Furthermore, I would encourage reading atheists because when I see the fallacies, the flimsy grounds upon which they base their belief, it encourages me in my own faith. So, I don’t read Streams in the Desert, or Daily Bread for devotion, I read atheists. Because they’re encouraging Nietzsche, and Freud, and Fromm, and Feuerbach, and Schopenhauer, and all the great atheists. Because as I read them, I strengthen my own faith, I see how to answer the fallacies in their writings, and I’m able to do what the Bible tells me—to destroy arguments and every proud obstacle against the knowledge of God and bring every thought captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).”

So why study the skeptics? To encourage and strengthen your own faith, so that you can destroy arguments and proud obstacles to the knowledge and love of God. And always with gentleness and respect.


Unwinding with Alvin Plantinga

“Be merciful to those who doubt;”
Jude 22 (NIV84)

Alvin Plantinga

Alvin Plantinga speaking to students and faculty at Baylor University on April 26th, 2012 (photo credit: Chris Derrett).

Have you ever heard a presentation of the Gospel that goes something like this: “Hell is hot, death is certain, Jesus saves, turn or burn”? This is the Ripley’s (Believe It or Not) version of the Gospel. While this presentation may work—if only pragmatically—on a theological level, it’s a complete mess on a personal, relational level. It falls so short of the mark. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who hear the message of Jesus Christ just this way.

I came across a common theme in atheists’ objections to Christianity three times last week—specifically that Christians are misguided. You know: the Bible is a bunch of fairy tales and legends, a loving god wouldn’t allow evil and suffering, there is no god, hell is an invention, science disproves Christianity, and so forth. (If you’re not running into these objections might you be playing it a little too safe in sharing your faith?) One atheist posted a rant in which the sophomoric level of his uninformed statements exposed his unwillingness to think rationally about theism and Christianity. They also pointed to a long line of Believe-It-or-Not presentations that left negative impressions. (His argument denying the plausibility of God was solely based upon his personal conviction that there can be no such thing as hell.) Who ‘shared’ their faith with him, and how? Too much truth and not enough grace? Continue reading


Examples and Warnings

  • These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.
    1 Corinthians 10:11 (NIV84)
Kisses

Essential Tools

Melinda Penner has a poignant observation on the Stand to Reason blog this morning, about a recent post by Rachael Slick—the daughter of apologist Matt Slick, the founder of CARM.

CARM is one of the sites I use frequently in my devotional research. I value their work, and respect their opinions. Sometimes they make me uneasy, but that’s Veracity—we don’t have to accept everything someone thinks, or their style, to benefit from their example or teaching. We’re about sharing resources, not telling people what to think.

Rachael Slick’s post, describing her upbringing and journey into atheism, is undoubtedly heartbreaking for her parents. As Melinda Penner notes, the post is one-sided. That it garnered over 2,300 comments in two days on the atheist channel of Patheos.com demonstrates the voracity of atheist sentiments in our culture. (If we accept the Great Commission and are laboring only in fields full of Christians, here’s a wake-up call.)

Melinda’s observation is that there is no Gospel in Rachael Slick’s story. How anyone can learn 800 Bible verses and all the apologetic doctrine she describes without getting the Gospel is…(I don’t have an adequate adjective).

Dick Woodward has a lot to say about examples and warnings in the Bible. A few months ago, Dick and I were talking about Matthew 23 and the Law of God. Dick made the point that, “The Law of God must always be run through the Love of God.”

I couldn’t help thinking about those words as I read Rachael Slick’s story. I’m not judging Matt Slick and the way he raised his family. I will take this example and apply it to the relationships in my life, particularly where I have a tendency to make a point or press an agenda without stopping to love the other person first. One more time for my own edification—I will try to do better at loving the other person first.

The Apostle John quoted Jesus, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35, NIV84). The Apostle Paul put it even more strongly, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself though love” (Galatians 5:6b, NIV84).

Thank you Rachael Slick for the example and warning—not about how you or your dad might have messed up, but about how less important an agenda is compared to a heart.


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