Saturday, December 30, 2023

What are the seven best Atheist criticisms of Christianity?

I think there are seven:

  1. Moral Inconsistency 
  2. Rational Incoherency
  3. Ethical Redundancy
  4. Inaccessibility  
  5. Primitive 
  6. Certainty 
  7. Evidence  
What do I mean by best? There is a difference between arguments atheists like to make the most (which you could track by cataloging frequency) and arguments that Christians like myself find the most challenging. That's the best test of their success, how Christians react to them. Which Atheists are making these criticisms? The four 2nd-Wave Atheists; Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christoper Hitchens (pictured above). What do I mean by criticism? Not a negative attitude towards Christianity but a skeptical challenge. And lastly what do I mean by Christianity? Tim Keller said people convert to and deconstruct Christianity for the same set of three reasons; pathos, ethos and logos. Pathos is your individual existential or spiritual experience. Ethos are the people around you, your neighbours and society. Logos is the content or meaning of faith. Christianity includes aspects of each. 

What are the seven best Atheist criticisms of Christianity?  

#1 Moral inconsistency

This is the criticism that Christians proclaim one standard but are revealed to live by another. Or that 
Scripture itself, the source of these moral standards is morally inconsistent, because it will say one thing is good in one moment then depict people doing the opposite in the next moment. 

Harris using the example clergy abusing children. 
Hitchens commenting on killing in the Old Testament after the commandment "do not murder".

#2 Rational Incoherency

Theories and ideas need to be cogent, for a system to work it needs to be intelligible. The ideas that make sense in church should be applicable in your workplace on Mondays. 

Dawkins contrasting believing one thing in church and another outside church.
Hitchens observing how there are different versions of the ten commandments. 

#3 Ethically Redundant

Most people in most parts of the world at most times of history behave in a good way, exceptions notwithstanding. If we have a natural sense already of right and wrong we dont' need a divine Lawgiver to tell us what most people in most cultures already know. 

Hitchens observing that stealing is universally frowned upon. 
Hitchens commenting on the ethical redundancy.

#4 Inaccessible

Christianity gives obscure or complicated explanations when simple descriptions are required. Impossible standards and difficult ideas should be a bug not a feature.

Hitchens describing the problem with the command not covert. 

#5 Primitive 

Christianity is too simplistic, offering solutions and explanations  that do not grapple with the complexities of the modern world. For example Sam Harris often uses the pejorative label of “iron age religions”. 

Dawkins describing how primitive Christianity is. 
Hitchens describing that Christianity is primitive. 

#6 Certainty

Christianity seems too certain of the world and its explanation of everything. Isn’t the world around us much more mysterious and strange than Christianity’s explanation? 

Dawkins observing the universe is a strange place
Dennett saying that sometimes there are no ultimate or overarching reasons

#7 Evidence

Lastly, the evidence of Christianity is insufficient. Even if the explanations are plausible you need a substantial amount of evidence.

Dawkins describing the need for evidence. 
Dennett showing that the evidence supports evolution rather than design.  

What are some good Christian responses to these criticisms? 

  • Morally Inconsistent? 
  • Christians find it hard to be Christians and hypocrisy is part of the human condition. It’s something we all need rescuing from. The Bible is both a communication of how things are and how things should be. Sometimes they are right beside each other and untangling the two reminds us of the line of good and evil that runs through us all.
  • Rationally Incoherent? 
  • What’s interesting is that any alternative to Christianity needs to meet this standard as well. On what basis do we agree to measure coherency? Is there a religion above all religions to measure all others! How do we know that one is coherent etc?
  • Ethically Redundant? 
  • Ethical redundancy is evidence of the underlying human condition. Evidence that there is an assumed moral order and evidence of that we universally recognise what a violation of it is.
  • Inaccessible?
  • The central idea of Christianity is that God makes himself known. The ability to talk about inaccessibility reveals partial accessibility. We may not have a complete picture but we have some communication from God
  • Primitive? 
  • This presupposes the future is better than the past, which it may well be but we should sort out why first. Morality and Rationality don’t change over time, how they are expressed may change though. But facts and ethics remain constant through history. Christianity says Humans fell from a highpoint of knowledge and life with God. Recent progress certainly exists and it could be a gift from God. 
  • Certainty?
  • You need some certainty to live an ordinary life. Uncertainty is definitely a factor of human existence. However the message of Christianity is that a foundation or a path exists. That you can have certainty amidst the mystery
  • Evidence?
  • Christianity is based on communication from God. Communication requires structure and awareness. History is a process of investigation and verification which assumes patterns. While the amount of evidence might be disputed the demand for evidence should be welcomed.

Isn't there a danger for Christians in creating a list like this? 

Yes, a list like this has risks, but if Christianity is true we should subject it to the best criticism possible. And seek to describe it fairly and accurately.

What about the problem of evil? 

The problem of evil asks how can a good and powerful God exist at the same time as the badness of evil. In other words, why would God allow children to be harmed? God has the power, and possess the moral standard of goodness - better than anyone - to know that the harm of children is bad. Plus children (more than animals or adults) represent innocence. It’s a powerful criticism. But I didn’t list it because it presupposes the existence of God, evilness of evil and the goodness of innocence. (In same ways you could say its a 3rd-Wave Atheist criticism of Christianity.)