Playing devil’s advocate can be a good thing.
On an episode of the “Unbelievable?” radio show with Justin Brierley, an atheist and a Christian swapped roles. The episode was called the “Devil’s Advocate Debate” where the atheist (Michael Ruse) defended Christianity and the Christian (Randal Rauser) defended atheism. It was wonderful.
I loved the idea so much that I wanted to play the role of devil’s advocate for a day. If I wasn’t a Christian, what are the arguments that I would use to argue against Christianity? Keep reading to find out why I think this practice can be beneficial to your faith.
What is Christianity?
First, let’s define the aspects of Christianity that I am arguing against. Here are four basic statements that all Christians believe:
- God exists.
- God became a man in the historical person of Jesus.
- Jesus died on the cross.
- Jesus rose from the dead.
My case against Christianity includes two arguments: theism is incoherent and the New Testament documents are unreliable. My arguments seek to show that all four statements are false. And if any of these four statements aren’t true, then Christianity is false.
Theism is Incoherent.
An important area in the philosophy of religion is the coherence of theism. This is a study of the attributes of God, such as omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. If I can show that theism is incoherent or contradictory, then it cannot be true. Showing that theism is incoherent would disprove statement 1. Additionally, statements 2 and 4 would be false because Jesus couldn’t be God in the flesh and couldn’t have risen from the dead by natural means.
Certain attributes of God are inherently contradictory. Take God’s omnipotence for example. Christians claim that God is Almighty (El Shaddai). But if there is something that God cannot do, then He is not omnipotent after all. Have you ever heard of the age-old question, “Can God make a rock so big that He can’t lift it?”
This question is sometimes called the Paradox of the Stone and is used to show that the concept of omnipotence is incoherent. If God cannot make a rock this big, then there is at least one thing He cannot do and therefore He cannot be omnipotent. But if God can make a rock this big, He doesn’t have the power to lift it, and therefore He cannot be omnipotent. No matter how you answer the question, omnipotence is an incoherent concept. See the problem?
Christians often argue that God is maximally great being. Surely, the ability to do anything would be part of this maximally great being. But if there is anything that keeps God from doing something, then He is not all-powerful. Whatever limits God from doing what He wants is more powerful than Him.
This is one example among many of how the concept of a monotheistic God is incoherent. Now it could still be the case that a “god” exists, but it wouldn’t be the omnipotent God that Christianity espouses.
The New Testament Documents are Unreliable.
Showing that the New Testament documents are unreliable would disprove statements 2-4, since they are the primary sources for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Even though there are some non-biblical sources that mention Jesus, those sources wouldn’t be sufficient to show that Christianity is true.
The events and sayings of Jesus’ life are found mostly in the Gospels. The problem is they were not written by eyewitnesses, so who knows where the information came from. By the time the Gospels were compiled into their present form decades after Jesus lived, the historical Jesus was already lost.
There are also numerous contradictions and inaccuracies in the Gospels. Take the resurrection accounts for example. Who found the tomb empty? Was it Mary Magdalene and another Mary (Matt. 28:1), both Marys and Salome (Mark 16:1), “Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them” (Luke 24:10), or Mary Magdalene by herself (John 20:1)? It depends on which Gospel you read. If the Gospels are wrong on many of the things they report, then we can’t trust them to be historically reliable when it comes to the life of Jesus.
The Entire New Testament:
Is there anyway one could discredit all 27 New Testament books with one argument? Yes, there is! You see all of the original documents of the New Testament no longer exist. All we have today are copies of copies of copies.
There are over 400,000 differences in wording in the manuscripts of the New Testament. These arose since the copying process was messy and scribes often made copying errors. Because there are so many differences and we don’t have the originals for comparison, the original wording was probably lost and cannot be recovered.
If the arguments above succeed, then the New Testament documents cannot be trusted as reliable sources for Jesus. And if the New Testament documents are historically unreliable, then Christianity falls apart.
Why Play Devil’s Advocate?
Now you might be asking, why would a Christian put forth objections against Christianity?
The short answer is this: there are good responses to all of the objections! I don’t believe any of them succeed in disproving Christianity. Too often, however, we dismiss good objections without actually looking at them from the objector’s point of view. Playing devil’s advocate can reveal where our arguments are weak. At the same time, it can make our solid arguments even stronger.
Ultimately, playing devil’s advocate can strengthen your faith. Christians shouldn’t fear the truth. When you are confident enough to entertain arguments for the other side, you will become even more confident in the truth of Christianity. When you see that even the best arguments against Christianity fail, your faith will inevitably grow.
For Christians Who Stuck Around
For Christians who have read this far, I’m not going to leave you hanging. Here are some rapid-fire responses to these objections.
Theism is Incoherent:
Objections against the coherence of theism have actually been very helpful in defining the attributes of God. All one has to do to answer the Paradox of the Stone is to define omnipotence in a coherent way. Williams Lane Craig states that omnipotence “means that God is able to bring about any state of affairs which it is logically possible for anyone in that situation to bring about.”
Christians believe that there are some things that God cannot do, such as lie (Titus 1:2). According to the definition above, God cannot do the logically impossible, like create a married bachelor. But when you think about it, a married bachelor is not really a thing at all since it’s a logical contradiction. God’s omnipotence isn’t limited in any way with this definition. So asking if God can make a stone so big that He cannot lift it is like asking God to create a square circle.
The New Testament Documents are Unreliable.
The Gospels hold their own quite well when compared to other ancient works of their day. With regards to the Gospels not being written by eyewitnesses, a strong case can be made that Matthew and John were eyewitnesses, while Mark and Luke got their information from eyewitnesses. Here are two posts on this topic:
What about contradictions in the Gospels, like who found the empty tomb? The law of noncontradiction “states that A cannot be both A (what it is) and non-A (what it is not) at the same time and in the same relationship.” There is no contradiction concerning the empty tomb since each of the accounts make up a coherent story.
John tells us that Mary Magdalene came alone when it was dark (20:1) so she went to the tomb first by herself. She then returned with the other Mary, Joanna, and some other women (Luke 24:10). This group of women included Salome (Mark 16:1). Matthew only mentions the two Marys, but he doesn’t say that they were the only ones to go to the tomb (Matt. 28:1). Mark only mentions the two Marys and Salome because they were the only ones to bring spices to the tomb (Mark 16:1).
In regards to the original manuscripts, their original wording can be recovered through the process of textual criticism. You can read more about it here.
Okay, back to being an advocate for the other side again!