Debating Christians: A Notable Exchange
Recently, I had a rather interesting exchange with a Christian member of a popular atheist message board. What follows is his response to my essay “Modern Man, Primitive Beliefs,” followed by my reply, his response and, finally, my reply. I hope you find it worthwhile reading. Note that the Christian’s spelling, grammar and syntax have not been altered by me in any way.
Christian: Your stated "explanation" is apparently childhood indoctrination. This ignores converts, especially athiest converts. Incidentally, this particular Christian never really "got" Christianity and went agnostic for at least a decade. After that, a deist. Only recently has this Christian really become a Christian, and it is most certainly after long speculation and doubt.
Nihilist: Even so, Christianity was not introduced to you—for the very first time—when you were, say, a sophisticated and well-educated 25-year-old. As a child, Christian ideas, stories and myths were given time to soak into your mind. Thus, Christianity is infinitely more familiar to you than, say, the delusional beliefs of the Fang people of
Introduce a 25-year-old Harvard graduate to Christianity—for the very first time—and you will find somebody perplexed by its popularity as a belief system in the post-Enlightenment world.
Christian: The initlal spread of Christianity was almost exclusively to people who had never heard of it, most of whom were raised pagan. This seems a necessary assumption. Either it is a made-up cult (in which case only a handful could reasonably be instigators), or it is as Biblically accounted (in which case, the initial revelation was only to a bit more than five hundred). I suppose other options are possible, but I can't imagine them off-hand.
On education, there's an extremely clear case: Paul of
Could he have made it all up? Considering he got his start killing Christians, that's unlikely. Could his conversion story on the road to
Nihilist: In ancient times of widespread credulousness and scientific ignorance, it surely was much easier to spread religious ideas around. People did not know about evolution, which effectively explains the question of how humans came to be. People did not know about many human physiological properties, such as brain death being irreversible. People did not know that, rather than Heaven being above, there actually are other planets, other solar systems, other galaxies and galaxy clusters, and, quite possibly, other universes. Around the time of Jesus, the
My point is this: When you have a mass of ignorant, scientifically illiterate people, it is quite easy to perpetrate an enticing metaphysical fraud, whether deliberately or not. Jesus could have claimed divinity, sold his followers on this, and they, in good faith, could have disseminated that falsehood. I do not mean to imply that Christianity spread as a deliberate fiction meant to harm or swindle people. Rather, I think it could have been passed around innocently by the unsophisticated and the credulous. [Similar to how people inadvertently spread cold germs by not washing their hands.]
Of course, I give no credence at all to any "divine visions" leading to spiritual discoveries. Nowadays, when people have visions, we rightfully label them crazy. All those people who see UFOs, ghosts, demons, Big Foot, “Nessie,” etcetera are either delusional, liars, honestly mistaken or some combination thereof. It is not possible for Paul truly to have seen the risen Jesus, because Jesus had died and suffered brain death, which is irreversible. Dead corpses do not walk around now, and they did not do so two thousand years ago.
So, if Paul's account has any relationship to reality whatsoever, he either made the whole story up or had some sort of vivid delusion. Those are the only scientifically sound answers to be found, given, once again, the non-negotiability of brain death. I do not want to speculate on Paul's motives for lying, if he indeed was not simply delusional. Rather, I will say that lies, delusions or honest mistakes are much, much more probable than rotted corpses traipsing around like some George A. Romero picture.
This world operates according to natural principles. Rotting, lifeless carcasses do not wander. Virgin women (especially before modern science’s amazing advances) do not become impregnated and give birth. Snakes and donkeys do not speak in human tongues. Human beings do not live to be 900 (or more!) years old. People do not ascend bodily into outer space. [What the primitives falsely believed was Heaven.] The post-delusion writings of a scientifically illiterate individual cannot convince me to abandon my well-evidenced scientific grounding. I much sooner would attribute Paul of Tarsus’ life's work (or what is alleged of it) to hallucination, lies or time-period-attributable ignorance to natural phenomena.