A Review and Critique of Bill Maher’s “Religulous”

 

General Observations

This film made religious people look ridiculous, hence the name “Religulous.” Even though it was an assault on my faith, and it was rather crude in parts (this is Bill Maher after all!), it still held my interest. This is simply because I love the subject of religion, and as a Christian, I enjoy thinking seriously about my faith. Nonetheless, it was disconcerting to see a bunch of Christians who were not “always being ready to give a defense to every one who asks [them] to give an account for the hope that is in [them], yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15). Generally, gentleness and reverence were shown to Maher, but even here one guy at the beginning of the film simply walked out on Maher when the latter questioned this guy’s beliefs. “Religulous” is a good wake-up call to any religion in that one needs to give good reasons for faith or others will have no good reason to treat it seriously.

Maher could have interviewed many fine scholarly apologists, philosophers, scientists, and theologians that would give reasons for their faith, but they were conspicuous by their absence. A notable exception here was Dr. Francis Collins, but he flatly denies creationism and intelligent design, and his interview concerned a subject outside his area of expertise—historical New Testament theology. Catholic astronomer, Father George Coyne, was also interviewed, but he did not give a positive reason for his faith. He simply gave into the skeptics concerning alleged biblical scientific statements and also seemed to deny creationism or intelligent design by saying that the Scriptures are not about science.

I will critique Maher as a Christian who gives positive as well as negative reasons for faith. Positive or offensive arguments for faith include such things as various versions of cosmological arguments, ontological arguments, scientific arguments (the big bang requires a Big Banger, the winding down described by the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics requires a Winder, and intelligent design), arguments from the nature of the objectivity of moral propositions and values, the soul, free will, objective truth, historical arguments for Jesus fulfilling prophecy and performing miracles (primarily His resurrection), etc. (for good introductions, see William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith and J. P. Moreland’s Scaling the Secular City). Negative or defensive arguments on the other hand deflect the attacks made against the faith. Both positive and negative arguments rule out the other faiths that “Religulous” also presents (including Maher’s belief or faith that non-belief is the proper position).

Basic Epistemology

Maher is an agnostic. He says his product is doubt, not certainty. Having bought the lie from the Enlightenment, he thinks faith means there can be no room for doubt. (Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant famously asserted that he had “destroyed reason to make room for faith,” and as a result, theology in Western culture is no longer regarded as queen of the sciences.)

Believers can doubt, but they still think that believing makes more sense than not believing or suspending judgment. Mark 9:24 is a case in point. A man asks Jesus to heal his son, and this man claims to believe, but needs help with his unbelief. So faith does not stand in contrast to doubt or evidence for that matter; faith stands in contrast to physically seeing.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The ultimate seeing will come when believers are at home with Jesus. Until then, they have assurance and conviction, and these are degreed properties which one may have more or less of. Some individuals are more assured and convicted than others, but in an honest moment, everyone should claim that “now we see in a mirror dimly” and “know in part” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Given our state of sin and finitude, we may always be wrong. Thus, Heb. 11:1 should never be taken as teaching faith equals 100% philosophical certitude (i.e., it is logically impossible to be wrong with one’s faith).

So how is faith strengthened? It is strengthened by having various reasons for faith. One may rightly suppose that the man’s faith was strengthened when he saw his son healed. That served as a reason for his faith. For others, faith is strengthened by understanding and accepting intellectual arguments for God’s existence and for Jesus being who He claimed to be. These seeings or understandings hold one over for that which ultimately is not seen.

Maher asks, “Why is believing something without evidence good?” Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga is famous for challenging this assumption that everything needs evidence (for more detail, see his Warranted Christian Belief). What is the evidence that everything need evidence? The same goes for requiring everything we hold to be true to have a sense perception. What is the sense perception for the truth of this statement? It turns out to be purely circular. Certain items of knowledge are properly basic, and there is no evidence we need in order to be warranted for holding these beliefs (e.g., my belief that I am writing this article now as opposed to dreaming the event, that I had raisin bran this morning for breakfast, that there is an external world, or even God’s existence). Evidence may be offered, but holding these beliefs without the evidence is still a good thing. I may not be able to tell you, for example, why a certain individual is a Mormon just from a brief visual perception. I may be distracted in thinking about a host of other things, or my memory for recalling the reasons may be getting worse the older I get, for example. Nonetheless, given my numerous experiences, I am generally reliable with this item of knowledge.

Maher says near the end of the film, “You don’t have mental capabilities that I don’t have.” But how does he know that? On one level, since we all are humans, we all have the same capacities. But on another level, we don’t all have the same capacities. For example, I don’t have the first order capacity to be an electrical engineer right now. I do have the second order capacity to develop a first order capacity to be an electrical engineer, but given my bents, I would never be a very good one. Similarly, I may rightly have the first order capacity to experience God in my life whereas others like Maher do not. “Was blind, but now I see,” as the famous hymn goes.

Is that an arrogant statement? No more than Maher claiming that he knows I don’t have capabilities that he doesn’t have.

Specific Accusations and Rebuttals

1. Maher begins by asking a group of seemingly Protestants if they are ever bothered by many things in Christianity that are not in the Bible: Original Sin, Immaculate Conception, Virgin Birth (the virgin birth is only in two gospels), and Popes.

Response: Original sin is taught in at least one Old Testament individual in Psalm 51:5: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (NIV), but the Apostle Paul clearly taught it in Romans 5:12-21 as well as Ephesians 2:3. The latter passage teaches that before we were saved by grace through faith, we were “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature… [and were] by nature objects of wrath.”

Concerning the Virgin Birth, Maher answers his own question by claiming that it is only taught in two gospels. Maher assumes that they should be mentioned by every New Testament writer if they are really trying to sell the story of Christ. Given the great variety of “other things which Jesus did” (John 21:25), Maher plays God or at least the editor of the New Testament, and dictates what accounts must be told. In logic this is known as an argument from silence. Simply because something is not mentioned in one account of miracles--even if it is a grand miracle--does not entail it never happened. Finally, the resurrection of Jesus is just as much a grand of miracle as the Virgin Birth, and it is told in each of the gospels. Does that entail for Maher that it actually happened? Of course not. So Maher is not going to accept any miracle story regardless of the times it is told.

Of course Protestants would not be bothered with the idea of the Immaculate Conception (the Roman Catholic explanation of Mary remaining sinless) or popes not being found in the Bible. Protestants by definition don’t believe in popes. Catholics on the other hand do not hold to the Protestant emphasis of sola scriptura, but help themselves more freely to Church tradition to answer questions not specifically found in the Bible. As such, the vast majority of Protestants don't hold to the Roman Catholic teaching of Immaculate Conception. 

2. One guy says something to the effect of, “I can’t deny God when I’ve seen what I’ve seen.” He claimed to give up the drugs, riches, and women for God. Maher mocks him by saying, “What was wrong with that?”

Response: What is wrong with these things is that they are all temporary fixes of pleasure and they do not bring what many have found to be ultimate, lasting peace and fulfillment. Chasing finite things dangerously becomes an unhealthy addiction that does not develop character. Playing with fire will burn in the end. God sets one free from that hamster wheel.

It is not clear how serious Maher is here. Does he really not understand the headaches, destruction, and bondage associated with illegal drugs? Does he really not know how money can’t buy love, and the love of money brings stinginess, worry, and the stress of always wanting more? Does he really not understand how using women degrades them and shows how one cannot be trusted in significant long-term relationships? Is this really what life is all about for Maher?

Unfortunately, this is what life is all about for the secularist who is not oriented around God and others. Since life is just matter bumping into more matter for the secularist, there is no ultimate blueprint of how a well-functioning life is to be lived. What is really important is the shallow immediate satisfaction of one’s senses. Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die!

3. A caption shows that 93% of scientists in the American National Academy of Sciences are atheist or agnostic. So to advocate something else seems to smack of a conspiracy theory.

Response: This academy is a special group of just over 2,000 members and they vote in other members who tend to think like them. It is hardly representative of all scientists.

Further, as the recent movie Expelled—No Intelligence Allowed has demonstrated, scientists today are often ostracized for even questioning the secular evolutionary party-line. If one questions secular macro-evolution, then the default position beyond mere skepticism is at least Intelligent Design (with full-blown creationism as the other option), and most of the scientific fraternity does not even consider this science. There is not much critical thinking (specifically open-mindedness to other points of view) involved in this area, and when this happens, the waters grow stagnant.

Keep in mind that the history of science has demonstrated many paradigm shifts as Thomas Kuhn has famously pointed out in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Theories have not simply been refined, but have been wholly replaced. This should keep scientists humble and open to different theories.

Finally, Maher’s claim would carry more weight if science were the only form of knowledge. But if that were the case, then how can science even prove that science is the only form of knowledge? This would not be a scientifically measurable statement. Scientific investigations are not historical, mathematical, or philosophical, for example, but surely knowledge is conveyed through these fields. And given the history of replacements in the field of science, perhaps other fields may offer a more unshakable basis for particular items of knowledge. Further, perhaps these items are more accessible to the general public than the items from faddish, technical scientific theories. If scientists incorporated some of these more unshakable items of knowledge into their work, then perhaps there would be more openness to the God hypothesis.

4. Collins claims the historical evidence for Christ’s existence is overwhelming. Maher says, “What evidence? I’ve never even heard of anyone propose there is evidence.”

Response: This was a truly astounding claim. Maher certainly needs to get out more. This statement can be responded to in one of two ways depending on what was meant by the claim. First, the evidence for the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth is overwhelming. Basically no serious historian doubts this. Cornelius Tacitus, Lucian of Samosata, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, Thallus, Phlegon, Mara Bar-Serapion, the Babylonian Talmud, Josephus, the Apostles, Luke, and the early Church Fathers are all ancient authorities who testified on the existence of Jesus. To doubt Jesus’ historical existence makes as much sense as doubting the existence of Socrates. Neither figure wrote anything that was passed down, but no one doubts their existence due to the fact of what others have written down about them.

Second, many scholars propose the existence of Christ today by evidence. Christians do not worship a dead rabbi; they worship one who is alive forevermore. The reasons for that are more than the experiences His followers have with Him. The best case of what we know from history may be used as an inference to the best explanation in order to reasonably establish His resurrection. Historical scholars as well as scientists use inferences to the best explanation all the time in holding various theories.

When it comes to the resurrection, there are four basic facts of history that, generally speaking, all New Testament scholars hold whether they are conservative or liberal. Getting them to agree on anything virtually guarantees the truth proposed.

1) Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and buried in a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea.
2) On the third day after the crucifixion, the tomb was empty.
3) At different times, the followers and non-followers of Jesus took themselves to have experiences of Jesus raised from the dead.
4) These followers were transformed into men who generally speaking sealed their testimony that Jesus had actually risen by their blood.

Much can be said about these individual facts, but the best explanation for all of them is not that Jesus fainted on the cross, resuscitated in the tomb, and then rolled the huge stone away that closed the tomb. Neither is the best explanation that Jesus had an identical twin that pretended to be his dead brother. It is not that Jesus’ followers, who were average men (primarily fishermen), stole His body from under Roman guard. It is not that they had mass hallucinations especially when they were expecting a general resurrection at the end of time. Nor is the best explanation that these followers would lie about this story while being put to death. The best explanation of these facts is that Jesus actually did rise from the dead.

5. Maher questions Collins about the New Testament writers being eyewitnesses, and Collins says they were close to eyewitnesses within a couple decades. Maher even goes on to say that all those who wrote about Jesus never met Him.

Response: With the exception of Luke, there is no good reason to think that these writers were not eyewitnesses. The Apostle Peter said that “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pe. 1:16). The Apostle John claimed, “We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father” (Jn. 1:14). The Apostle Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament books, met Jesus on the Damascus road (Acts 9:1-31). Even if these authors wrote a couple of decades after Christ’s ascension, they were still eyewitnesses. Recall that the context of Maher’s statement to Collins was the alleged historical evidence for Christ’s existence. So the burden of proof seems to be on Maher to backup his claim that the authors never met Jesus.

6. Maher asks if this would be so solid as to stand up in a lab.

Response: Collins correctly says that Maher is setting up a standard of proof that would be almost impossible to meet. It seems that Maher makes Collins out to simply believe on faith alone because of this. But what Maher fails to realize is that there are other types of knowledge out there that are not scientific. For example, determining the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD was not via a lab experiment. Could this item be wrong? Of course, but so can the Big Bang theory. The main point, though, is that determining history in a science lab is not going to prove much history at all.

7. Maher says that gospels are not history.

Response: Maher never gives a reason for this claim. My guess is that he made this claim due to the miracles mentioned therein. Perhaps this is what makes them fairy tales in his mind. If that is the case, then he simply begs the question that miracles cannot be a part of history.

The other problem here is that Maher on different occasions tells believers what Jesus taught. If that is the case that we know what Jesus taught, then Maher is being a hypocrite for claiming that we cannot say the gospels are history.

8. Maher says the prophecies of the Messiah in the Old Testament were just made to fit by the people who wrote the New Testament.

Response: This may very well have been the case except for the fact that the eyewitnesses corroborated the fulfillment of these prophecies and sealed their testimonies by their blood. Further, certain foretold events are documented outside of the New Testament. For example, Eusebius confirmed Jesus' family lineage, and Josephus confirmed His death and resurrection.

9. Maher asks how smart people can believe in the talking snake, people living to around 900 years old, the virgin birth, and the story of Jonah and the huge fish.

Response: Smart people believe in miracles because they have good reasons in believing in a Creator of literally everything outside Himself, and thus He can do whatever He wants in the world. If God really exists in this way, then the above mentioned miracles that Maher scoffs at are mere child’s play. Smart people also believe in miracles because they or others they know have experienced them (cf. Richard Casdorph, Real Miracles: Indisputable Evidence That God Heals; Joel News; Friday Fax #2; and Jane Rumph, Signs and Wonders in America Today).

10. Maher says that Jesus preached against being rich.

Response: This is quite an absolute statement Maher makes. Surely Jesus called certain people like the rich young ruler to sell everything and follow Him, but others are called to use their “worldly wealth to gain friends” (Lk. 16:9). Of course it is difficult for the rich to enter heaven, but with God all things are possible (Mk. 10:25-7).

11. Maher claims he could find better morality somewhere other than the Bible, because it tells the story of Sodom and Gomorrah where Lot was the good guy who offered his daughters to be raped.

Response: Even “good” guys are not perfect. This is a description of what happened and not a prescription that we should imitate. Does Maher seriously think that the Bible is advocating this behavior? We do have prescriptions in the Bible and in nature that tell us that what Lot did was wrong.

12. Maher says that Jesus never talked about homosexuality. Maher interviews an ex-gay Christian who says that no one is born gay. Maher claims that nature makes gay people.

Response: Jesus never talked specifically against bestiality either. Does this entail that Jesus never had a problem with it? Again, Maher makes another argument from silence.

Further, Jesus spoke of sexual immorality as something so bad that it was given as an exception for not divorcing (Mt. 19:9). The Greek word for “sexual immorality” is the term “porneia,” and it covers all sorts of sex outside of the marital unit shared by a husband and wife. That would include homosexuality as well as bestiality.

As for the nature/nurture debate, I find it quite irrelevant. Whether nature or nurture makes gays or people desiring sex with animals is irrelevant to the moral questions. These concern how people ought to act. Moral people deny and shame these desires that would lead to such external actions. (This is exactly what the ex-gay Christian did so he could marry, have three kids, and nurture his family in a way that mutually benefits everyone.) To claim these people cannot help it and that genuine objective morality is what turns out to be irrelevant is to devalue them into animals.

13. Maher claims that there has been more killing in the name of God.

Response: More than what? Any other group? This statement of Maher may be true if he refers to agnostics, but it surely is not true if it refers to atheists. Rich Deem says, “[A]theists have committed far more atrocities than all religious groups combined. Even so, the key factor in these atrocities has been totalitarian power, rather than religion, which has resulted in these hundreds of millions of murders” (What About Atrocities That Have Been Done in the Name of Religion?).

Perhaps Maher would claim that this is a good reason why we should be peaceful agnostics rather than atheists. But why peaceful agnostics rather than militant agnostics? And what difference does killing make anyway if we really live in a deterministic world of matter bumping into more matter? Killings would be bound to happen anyway.

Now if God exists, then we would have objective reasons to love one another. If Jesus is who He claimed to be, then He wants everyone to live in His kingdom. This is why He commissioned His followers to go out to all nations and make converts. This was not through the sword, but by the power of His Spirit convicting the world of its sin. The fruit of that Spirit is clear: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-3).

14. Father Coyne says that scientists cannot accept that the earth is 5,000 years old, and claims that the Bible is not about science. He cites Pope John Paul II, who claimed that evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense is no longer a hypothesis.

Response: One may still be a scientist and hold that the earth is actually younger than most scientists believe. The fact that there are many scientists of this sort should be sufficient. How is this reasonable though?

Philosophers of science are well aware that one may be an “anti-realist” when it comes to scientific theories. One may work in the field of science, have all the scientific qualifications that any reputable scientist would have, and still not believe the reality of the scientific results. These results are useful for making further predictions, but they won’t get at the truth outside our scientific form of life. So when it comes to the creation of earth, according to the predominant modern scientific form of life, its age is about 4 and a half billion years old. But perhaps according to the young earth biblical form of life, it is only about 6 thousand years old. (This all presupposes that certain young earthers actually accept the results of modern science, but most young earthers, like Ken Ham with Answers in Genesis, reject those results and opt for using modern science to point to a young earth. For example, they point to Glen Rose, TX where fossilized human footprints are found in the same place as dinosaur footprints.)

As an example, grant the mere possibility that God created a huge redwood tree now. A scientist stumbles upon it 5 minutes later and uses her scientific knowledge to determine how old it is. Science reveals it is 500 years old even though the reality is it is only 5 minutes old. If this is understandable, then there should not be any problem understanding how both are true. That is, one is true absolutely and one is true relative to modern science.

Now other scientists, like Hugh Ross, understand the predominant modern scientific form of life absolutely and realistically, and also think that the Bible has been misinterpreted by young earthers. Ross and other old earthers hold that the days of Genesis should be understood, not as literal 24-hour days, but as geological days.

Pope John Paul II was not a scientist, but there are plenty of scientists who are doubtful of the neo-Darwinism hypothesis. One does not even have to affirm the Bible to hold this (e.g., the agnostic scientist Michael Denton). Much is made by these scientists concerning the distinction between micro vs. macro evolution. Micro-evolution holds to the variances among species or families (e.g., the variances of finch beaks that are naturally produced among finches). Macro-evolution holds that these natural variances eventually produce radically different species or families (e.g., a fish becoming a bird). The former has been clearly demonstrated in nature whereas the latter has not. The latter is a mere philosophical judgment with no genuine empirical evidence.

15. Kirk Cameron is shown with Ray Comfort from The Way of the Master, and the former says that we need to learn to share our faith by going around the person’s intellect. This shows that Evangelicals simply want to stick their heads in the sand when it comes to thinking seriously about their faith.

Response: This takes Cameron and Comfort out of context. They give plenty of evidences for their faith (Comfort has written The Evidence Bible that “[a]nswers 100 common objections to Christianity”). They are saying that believers need to concentrate on getting to the issues of the heart with unbelievers. This primarily means dealing with an individual’s sense of guilt from being a law breaker.

16. Maher asks, “If God’s all powerful, why doesn’t He just obliterate the devil? What was the plan for the Holocaust?”

Maher is giving an argument against God from the problem of evil. If God is all holy, then He would desire to end evil. If God is all powerful, then He can end evil. If both are the case, then why doesn’t He?

Response: God has His timetable to accomplish His purposes, and He need not accomplish them when we think they need accomplishing. As C. S. Lewis said, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” God will use all sorts of pain to bring people to Himself, and He is patient, “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pe. 3:9). What He is waiting for is faith; that is essential to coming to God. Without it we cannot please Him. Heb. 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” Keep in mind that the reward may not come in this life.

Generally speaking, we have no idea why He allows specific tragedies to occur. Nonetheless, we still have plenty of good reasons to believe that He is in charge of the universe and that He cares for us even though He allows us to go through hardships in this life. Our newborn just cannot understand why her parents would let her cry it out on occasion. She forgives us and grows to trust that we know how to take care of her. Our teenager still questions our love for her when she is being punished. As believing adults, we still question God’s existence and care for us on occasions.

Any good scientific theory operates this way. A theory may have all sorts of confirmation going for it, but then an anomaly comes along and it is put on the shelf.

Now if believers have a problem of evil, then secularists have a problem of good and evil. If all that exists is matter bumping into more matter, then there is no objective good or evil. There are only likes and dislikes. The Holocaust is disliked by most people. Others, like the Nazis, liked it. The flavors of ice cream are liked, and some more than others, but it would be silly to say that one is objectively the best. If there is a design plan that says that human life should be valued and innocent human life protected, then this plan is outside our material world, and plans are the type of things that reside in minds.

17. Maher thinks that God being jealous is petty. Maher scoffs that he knows people who have gotten over it.

Response: Growing up Catholic, Maher should have learned about the Bible’s use of analogical language. When we say that humans are good, and then say that dogs are good, it should be obvious that we have something different in mind even though some similarity exists. A similar thing is going on when the Bible teaches that God is a jealous God. His jealousy is not petty and merely self-serving, finding life meaningless without the attention of the other. He is perfectly jealous as well as perfectly loving, since He perfectly knows what is good for us and does not want us wasting our time worshiping false gods that never truly satisfy.

Having said that, it should be obvious that jealousy can be petty. If some teenager R has a crush on D, then it would in fact be petty if R becomes jealous of D when the latter starts dating G. However, if R and D are married, and the latter starts dating G, then R's jealousy is far from being petty. It is appropriate because the new dating relationship is destructive to all parties.

18. Maher asks believers a couple times during the film, “Aren’t you making judgments that I have a hole in my heart? Didn’t Jesus say not to judge?”

Response: So since he does not claim to follow Jesus, it is OK for Maher to make judgments throughout his film about how religious people are ridiculous and how doubt ought to be the proper position. So followers of Jesus must simply shut their mouths and look stupid. Beside the problem already mentioned that Maher is a hypocrite who wants to claim knowledge of Jesus when it is convenient for him, Jesus clearly taught His disciples to make righteous judgments (Jn. 7:24). He taught that we are to love the Lord with all our minds (Mk. 12:30). His apostle taught that believers have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). Judgments are the type of things that minds do all the time. So perhaps Jesus had something else in mind when He told His followers not to judge in Matthew 7:1.

The context is clear that Jesus is going after hypocritical judgments. He is going after the Pharisees, and tells them to take the beam out of their own eye before they remove the speck out of their neighbor’s. Hypocrites like Maher should not judge.

19. Maher asks why Christianity should be believed when it is not very original. It seems to have borrowed basic features from the ancient pagan religions.

Maher says that the Hindu god Krishna was around in 1000 BC, and he was born of a virgin, a carpenter, and baptized in a river. This is a matter of historical record. Mithra, the Persian god, was around 600 BC, born December 25th, performed miracles, resurrected on the third day, known as the Lamb, the way, the truth, the life, the savior, and Messiah. Many of the gods in the Mediterranean were born on December 25. The Egyptian god Horus was around 1280 BC, a god son of the god Osiris, born to a virgin, and baptized in river by Anup, who was later beheaded. Horus was tempted in the desert, healed the sick, blind, cast out demons, and walked on water, raised Asar (translates to Lazarus) from the dead, had 12 disciples, was crucified, and three days later two women announced He was resurrected as the savior of humanity.

Response: The primary problem here is that there is good primary source documentation for Jesus of Nazareth, but not for these ancient pagan religions. We have good reasons to accept Jesus as an historical figure described with these features, but we do not have good reasons to accept these pagan gods as historical characters even if they had these same features ascribed to Jesus. As such, it makes sense to regard the pagan stories as myths.

As for the date December 25th, no thinking Christian claims that Jesus was actually born on that date. It was simply a popular date for the Western Church (Catholic and Protestant) to use in celebrating the birth of the true Messiah. (The Eastern Orthodox Churches celebrate the birth on January 7th.)

As for Krishna, he was allegedly the eighth son of his mom, so her virginity is doubtful.

As for Horus, he was not born of a virgin, but was allegedly born of Osiris and Isis. Horus never dies, so how could he be resurrected? It is only through his union with Rah, the sun God, that Horus dies and rises every morning and night.

As for Mithras, there is no source evidence that indicates his death, so there is no reason to suppose his resurrection.

What do myths prior to Christ have to do with whether Christ was an historical character or not? The myths have something to do with Christ in that they have similar features, but these myths tell us nothing as to whether Christ was an historical character with these features. If one first determines that Christ was fictitious by finding fault with the primary source documentation, then and only then is one entitled to speculate as to the origination of the story. Getting the cart before the horse here simply begs the question against the historicity of Jesus. First telling us how the Jesus story came about through myths simply assumes that the Jesus story is a myth.

Greg Koukl provides an excellent example of the problem here:

“Did you know there’s a book [by Morgan Robertson called Futility] that was written [in 1898] about a ship that was an unsinkable ship, which hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage and sank? The name of the ship was the Titan. This is remarkable because some 15 years later the Titanic sunk on its maiden voyage after hitting an iceberg. Now what if you had read the novel and then later heard that a ship called the Titanic had actually sunk? I’m sure you can see that rejecting the story of the Titanic on its face would be foolish only because you’d read a novel similar to the actual event. Whether or not the Titanic sank is determined by the evidence for its sinking, unrelated to any other fictional stories that were like it.”

Conclusion

I hope this critique has caused at least some doubt in Maher and other secularists. The Christian faith has a rich intellectual tradition, and it deserves much more respect than this film gave it.

R. M. Sivulka
President, Courageous Christians United
Rob@CourageousChristiansUnited.org
January 28, 2010

Updated May 14, 2013


Add Comment
Doug Goucher says...
"Excellant Rebuttal, I love you brother
Doug" (2/2/10)
Rob Sivulka says...
"http://www.cracked.com/article_20585_6-famous-documentaries-that-were-shockingly-full-crap.html" (8/19/13)
Joshua says...
"Thank you brother. I feel that all of your responses were fair, truthful, and most importantly, in line with what Scripture teaches! Every knee will bow before Christ and proclaim that He is Lord, to the glory of God; and yes, "every knee" includes the knees of atheists. Glory to God!" (1/29/14)
Glenn says...
"I read your rebuttal, but for an agnostic or atheist it makes no sense. It's a communication problem. You base your rebuttal on scripture. To the agnostic or atheist the bible is at best an interesting collection of books, loosely based on history and partly based on stories probably passed down through the generations inaccurately, and written by authors who had a particular agenda (possibly a good one; the point is though that most authors have an angle or agenda). We know so much more about the world than we did two or three thousand years ago so those authors also were ignorant compared to people today (though intelligent in their day). We are all born with fear of the unknown and a belief in something much greater than ourselves is comforting. So what you end up with is a collection of books that are often contradictory that leave us scratching our heads and saying vague things like "God works in mysterious ways" or "performed miracles" and "has a plan". But to the agnostic or atheist, these are meaningless, empty statements. So the bottom line is you need to explain your faith without resorting to scripture or other unreliable or unprovable material.

The fact that there were "myths" about Mithras and Horus which have similarities to the Jesus story suggest the Jesus story may just be a more refined version of the same myth as it changed down the generations. Many people believe Jesus is a historical character, in the same way as Socrates. Jesus and Socrates both appear to be great philosophers. But nobody claims that Socrates was a supernatural being, and the son of God. The burden of proof is on Christians to backup those extraordinary claims with evidence. Not on non-Christians to prove that he was not supernatural.

Many, perhaps most, scientists throughout time have been spiritual, believe in something greater. If you want to say there is a prime mover - some entity that made the Big Bang bang, I think most scientists (and agnostics) would be on board with that. We have learned so much about the universe through studying it over the past few hundred years. But there are still so many things - like conception, and so many other things that happen in living organisms - that still appear so miraculous. Science will undoubtedly understand them better with time, but I think most scientists are just mesmerized by the natural world, and believe in some greater power. But I think few scientists believe in the Christian God as described in the Bible. The prime mover could take countless forms. So isn't it naive to assume that the biblical story of Jesus (old + new testament) is the correct theory? You are telling most people alive today they are wrong. And doesn't it concern you that most people believe as adults whatever faith they were raised with as a child?

Life survives - including us - by learning about and reacting to the natural world around us. The natural world is reality. The vast majority of people on the earth are not going to believe in God or Jesus, unless they actually show themselves here on Earth in our lifetimes." (2/15/14)
Rob Sivulka says...
"You lost me from the start when you said I based my arguments on scripture. I do, but I also based them on history as well as philosophy and science. I also am sticking with the Bible as the word of God until it’s proven otherwise. As for the reliability of the Bible, here’s a good short video that may be helpful for you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=cWxwfFNyVws. You mentioned contradictions. I grant there are problems, but given all that I know of the Bible, I’d rather give it the benefit of the doubt and claim that they can all be harmonized with the rest of the Bible. Given all the evidence I have of the Bible, I claim it’s the word of God and that’s why I use it to guide my life. Christ is worth following. Every system of thought and every historical book has problems, including your own. You’re welcome to address the apparent contradictions one at a time that you claim are in the Bible, and I’ll see if I can help make some sense for you. Until you do that, I’ll claim that your claim concerning the Bible is unprovable and you simply have a bias against it.

As for similarities with the Jesus story, it has absolutely nothing to do with anything. It’s a red herring. Similarities with pagan teachings should not be a reason why we aren’t entitled to hold to the Jesus story we have in the Bible… unless of course one thinks absolutely nothing pagans believe is true (good luck with that!) or one merely assumes the Jesus story was lifted from other ancient stories. One may also assume that the Jesus story is true and has similarities to other stories in the ancient world. Now the question that is more relevant must be asked—what are the reasons one would think the Jesus story is true? I already addressed those in my response to Maher. So you’re simply gainsaying what I already said. You need to deal with the evidence I present… unless of course you just missed it.

The Prime Mover only takes 3 forms in religion: that found in Jewish, Christian, or Islamic teaching. Outside religion, that form is found in deistic views. That rules out quite a bit of other stuff (e.g., Eastern versions). My claim is that the Prime Mover showed up as Jesus given the evidence I presented, not because I simply assumed it as you said, and I would already be looking for the Prime Mover to show up in religion given his careful fine-tuning of the world for human life.

I’m not sure why it would concern me that most people grow up believing what they’ve been taught as kids. We get rid of Santa, but we don’t with religious matters. But so what? Sociology is interesting, but what we’re talking about here is what ought one to believe in these matters. I’m glad that you and I both think the evidence points to a Prime Mover, however that rules out a lot of what others believe in the world. Are you concerned that these are just growing up believing what they’ve been taught? If you tell me, “It’s irrelevant to the truth of the matter,” then I’d certainly like that answer. " (2/17/14)