So, I’ve noticed a lot of Christians use words when they debate.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a live debate, or an Internet discussion. Christians always use words. They will make logical arguments about why the world must have a Creator. They’ll talk about history, and claim the Bible is reliable and true. They’ll give personal experiences. They’ll talk about how morality must come from a divine law-giver, or claim life is meaningless without God.
They’ll draw on their knowledge of science, history, logic, theology, and epistemology. What I’ve never seen them appeal to, though, is physical proof.
That’s not how it is in the Bible.
What did people in Bible times consider a good argument for God? Let’s have a look. We can start with the Old Testament, and one of my favorite stories—Elijah, prophet of GOD, versus the 450 prophets of Baal.
This was not to be a debate, where whoever made the best arguments won. This was also not a might-makes-right situation, where Elijah would gather an army and the Baal-worshippers would gather an army, and whoever was victorious was assumed to be following the true god. Instead, Elijah said,
Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. 24 And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.”
So the 450 prophets chant and perform rituals all day long, and nothing happens. Then it’s Elijah’s turn. He soaks the wood with water, until a trench he dug around his alter is full. Then he prays to his god. Then, fire comes from heaven, fire so hot that it burns up the wood and the stone alter itself, and vaporizes all the water.
This was a convincing display of which God was true.
Let’s talk about Moses. After the 12 plagues in Egypt, and parting the Red Sea, and food magically falling from the sky for years, God gave Moses another opportunity to prove God’s power.
It seems Korah, Dathan, and Abiram didn’t think Moses and Aaron should be absolute rulers of the Israelites; they wanted something more democratic.
With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council. 3 They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”
4 When Moses heard this, he fell facedown. 5 Then he said to Korah and all his followers: “In the morning the Lord will show who belongs to him and who is holy, and he will have that person come near him. The man he chooses he will cause to come near him. 6 You, Korah, and all your followers are to do this: Take censers 7 and tomorrow put burning coals and incense in them before the Lord. The man the Lord chooses will be the one who is holy. You Levites have gone too far!”
So everyone made their offering. Then God opened up the ground under Korah, Datahn, and Abiram’s tents, and they died with their wives and children. Then fire from God killed the other 250 who had supported the rebels.
If something like that had happened during one of the many splits of the Christian church, I bet you we would know exactly which one is the true church.
How about the New Testament?
Well, the famous Apostle Paul, also called Saul, started out as an opponent of Christianity. What caused his conversion? He was knocked to the ground, heard Jesus physically speaking to him, and then was blind for three days until a Christian came and miraculously healed him.
Later Paul wanted to tell a Roman proconsul about Jesus, but a sorcerer called Elymas opposed him.
Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.”
Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.
And so…my question is, why don’t Christians use these techniques today? Striking your opponent blind or causing the earth to open up and swallow them would be much more effective than any of the arguments for a god I’ve heard. Yet Christians seem to not want to use this power they believe they have.
Imagine if William Lane Craig sat down to have a debate with Christopher Hitchens. Instead of making an opening statement, Craig tells Hitch that since he’s a liar and an opponent of the truth, he will not be able to speak for a time—and just like that, Hitchens goes mute. He can’t say a word.
Hitch naturally assumes he’s had a stroke, and goes off to the hospital, but the doctors can find nothing wrong with him. Then a Christian pastor comes in and prays for him, and just like that he can speak again.
If it were just any old atheist, we might assume it was all psychosomatic, but we know Hitch is of sound mind. So we suspect that there might be something supernatural going on here.
Then later, Dawkins is in a debate with some random pastor, and the pastor rebukes Dawkins—and suddenly Dawkins falls to the ground, unable to move. He’s babbling something that sounds like a foreign language. Impartial translators agree that he’s speaking Swahili, even though he’s never been to Africa (in this example).
Richard Carrier stands up to give a lecture on why Jesus didn’t exist, but a Christian in the audience rebukes him, and then he finds the only words that will come out of his mouth are “Jesus is Lord.” Sam Harris gets shot in the head by a fanatic at some public event, so a Christian comes forward, causes the attacker to pass out just by looking at him, and then says a prayer for Harris that causes the bullet to come out of his brain and the wound to suddenly close itself.
An atheist debates a Christian online, and instead of talking about proof, the atheist asks for the Christian to send a fireball in through the window to light a candle on his desk, even though the Christian doesn’t know where the atheist is. But the prayer works anyway.
There are so many ways a god could reveal himself to the world, to people who genuinely want to find him. There are so many ways the Christian God has allegedly revealed himself in the past, that he could easily continue to do today if he chose. But this never happens. Nobody ever provides a miracle. Or a true prophecy. All they can give us is words.