I’ve seen a lot of questions for atheists floating around, and a while ago I answered a list of them (even though I’m not technically an atheist). Usually these sorts of questions are designed to challenge perceived holes in the belief system of the opponent, but it can be difficult to phrase them in a way that will be correctly understood and prompt a thoughtful answer. They too often come across as ignorant or passive-aggressive.
For that reason I’ve refrained from posing difficult questions in such a format. I write about what I think, and try to help people see the issue from another perspective, but I tend to ask questions in private conversations rather than presenting them publicly.
However, there are several questions that I have been unable to get satisfactory answers for. I don’t mean answers I agree with, I just mean a real answer that’s consistent with itself and the rest of the Christian’s worldview. Despite all the talk about Christianity having answers, I get an awful lot of responses appealing to mystery in order to cover up contradictions.
There’s no problem with not knowing the answer. The problem is that Christians often make unfounded assertions that contradict evidence, and then defend them by insisting there must be an answer but we can’t know or understand it. You might as well just admit there’s no reason to think the claim is true.
Here’s a little story about where that sort of reasoning can get you: A very average American man gets an email in broken English from someone in Nigeria who is offering him a million dollars in exchange for assisting in a transfer of funds. Mr. Average has no idea why a Nigerian would be offering him a million dollars, but he’s excited about getting rich so he thinks maybe there’s a supernatural explanation he wouldn’t understand. He then gets scammed out of several thousand dollars.
Religion offers so much on so little evidence, and if you’re not careful you can get scammed out of your health, your career, your family, even your life. This is why you ask questions, and why you should look elsewhere if your current belief system encourages ignorance.
So here are my questions for Christians. I’m genuinely interested in what anyone has to say about these, with a caveat: If you use any form of an appeal to mystery, or some other fallacy, your response is worthless. Make things up if you must, just don’t insist something is true without having a clue how it could be true.
Question 1: Why would an omnipotent god create beings incapable of understanding him, if his goal was to have a relationship with them? Why not create beings who are capable of understanding him?
To clarify, since someone thought this could be explained by pointing out that we have relationships with our pets and they can’t understand us, remember that the relationship between god and humans is portrayed as a father/child or husband/wife relationship. So the pet analogy just underlines the question I’m actually asking: Why would an omnipotent god create beings that are to him what pets are to us for the purpose of having a close interpersonal relationship with them? It’s the same question, still unanswered.
Question 2: Why doesn’t god want to give us clear and direct evidence that he exists? If he made it obvious, people could still choose whether or not to worship and obey him. It’s not a free will issue, so why else would a loving god remain hidden?
Question 3: If you believe enslaving people as permanent property is immoral, why did god specifically tell the Israelites they could do it?
Question 4: Imagine you die and come face to face with a god, but he isn’t the Christian god, and by failing to believe in him you’ve doomed yourself to eternal torment. Now put yourself in the place of the god. As a being who makes all the rules and can do anything he wants, what would you do to the helpless human standing before you, who was absolutely convinced they believed in the correct god? What do you think is the morally right thing to do in such a situation?
Question 5: Given that the gospels included in the bible are only a few of many conflicting gospels, and the fact that their true authors are anonymous, why do you think they are more trustworthy than any other ancient document that makes claims of supernatural events? Other religious texts are known to have been written by verifiable historical figures, so what makes the anonymous gospels more believable?
Question 6: What are your reasons for concluding that the Christian god is real and all other religions are wrong? On what grounds do you reject the claims of other religions that use the same reasons you do?
Question 7: Is there any way to test whether your prayer is the actual cause of things that happen after you pray for them?
Question 8: If you believe in an eternal hell, why do you think infinite punishment for finite crimes is just?
Question 9: Why would god be willing to forgive someone who raped a child, but refuse to forgive someone who simply didn’t believe he existed?
Question 10: If god is omnipotent, why didn’t he create humans with free will who would choose not to sin? Why did he instead create humans who would sin, and in so doing knowingly cause all the suffering that resulted? If he was unable to create humans who would resist sin of their own volition, then how is he omnipotent?
Question 11: If you believe that sin is inevitable for everyone, why do you think it is justifiable for god to punish us for doing something we are incapable of avoiding? Sin is often presented by Christians as a disease we all have. Would it be reasonable to tell sick children not to throw up, and then punish them when they do?