I was listening to a debate that occurred a few years ago between Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. Mike Begon on the topic of Is God a Delusion? During the Q&A period that followed the debate, one member of the audience asked Dr. Begon (who took the position that God is a delusion) what type of evidence and criteria he’d require to believe that God is not a delusion.
Begon’s answer was very enlightening.
After first making the rather strange statement that it wasn’t up to him to write experiments for the questioner, he stammered through an answer of how he and others like Richard Dawkins had been asking for evidence for a long time and, according to him, none has ever been brought forth. He then said he was “open minded” and offered to review any evidence offered him.
When Dr. Craig was allowed to respond, he asked the audience member, “You still haven’t heard the answer have you? It’s just astonishing!” In fact, Craig was right as Begon didn’t provide what the person had asked for.
As someone who has debated and dialoged with many atheists over the years, I’ve asked the same question and gotten a similar response most of the time. Such experience really raises the question: When it comes to the Christian worldview, what kind of evidence does it take to satisfy someone who possesses a hard core unbelief?
What is Evidence?
Because many unbelievers say there is no evidence that supports Christianity, it’s first helpful to understand what evidence actually is. One dictionary defines evidence as follows:
1. that which tends to prove or disprove something; ground for belief; proof.
2. something that makes plain or clear; an indication or sign.
3. Law . data presented to a court or jury in proof of the facts in issue and which may include the testimony of witnesses, records, documents, or objects.
This helps frame what evidence is, but next we need to turn to how evidence is evaluated and used to reach a decision about a particular argument or proposal. The definition provides some clues to this, but in general, the broad answer that the study of epistemology in philosophy supplies is that a conclusion is typically ascertained from an appeal to the best explanation, which results from a combination of singular or cumulative rational and empirical tests, philosophical and logical arguments, and/or eyewitness testimony.
Down through the years, Christian apologists have delivered arguments for the Christian worldview that meet these guidelines. Rational and empirical evidence such as the fine tuning of the universe and DNA, which is mathematically identical to a language and bears all the marks of an intelligent source, have been identified. Philosophical arguments from the origin of the universe, to objective moral values, and others have been provided to skeptics. And using the legal/historical method, examples such as the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus clearly demonstrate all the classic worth that eyewitness testimony brings to any courtroom.
Usually, all these arguments are flippantly brushed aside by hardened skeptics, not because of their value, but instead because of two reasons: (1) It goes against their a priori commitment to philosophical naturalism; (2) It’s not what they really want.
Because God is a supernatural being, the bottom line is unbelievers want to see a supernatural sign or be handed undisputable evidence of one. They want an act that demonstrates the existence of something beyond the natural world. They want to see a miracle in the same vein as the unbelieving religious leaders back in the time of Christ when they said to Jesus: “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You” (Matthew 12:38). If only they could see a miracle, then they would believe.
However, the sad truth is that a bona fide miracle won’t convince many hard core unbelievers. In fact, the Bible spells this out quite clearly. Let me give you a couple of examples of what I mean, first from the life of Jesus and then from Paul.
Dead Men Do Tell Tales
John 11 contains the well known story of the death and resurrection of Lazarus. After four days in the tomb, Lazarus is brought back to life by a simple command from Jesus in front of many eyewitnesses. This historical episode is verified for us today by the Church of Lazarus on Larnaca, where Lazarus eventually ended up after being raised by Jesus. When archaeologists uncovered his sarcophagus on Larnaca over which the church now stands, they found an inscription which is roughly translated “Lazarus, Bishop of Larnaca. Four days dead. Friend of Jesus”.
After Lazarus was raised, John tells us that some of the eyewitnesses reported to the Pharisees what Jesus had done (cf. John 11:46). Shortly thereafter, a banquet is held with Lazarus and Jesus being in attendance. Then we read something amazing: “The large crowd of the Jews then learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead. But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus” (John 12:9–11).
Working backwards, we see that Lazarus’ resurrection had a strong apologetic effect on “many of the Jews”. But what about the hard core crowd? Amazingly, not only do the Pharisees still want to kill Jesus after His miraculous work, but they also plan to murder Lazarus because he’s now become a thorn in their side. Isn’t it incredible how far hardened belief will go to suppress the truth?
The Fickle Crowd at Lystra
In Acts 14, we’re told that Paul and Barnabas had been working their way through a number of towns preaching about Christ. When they came to the town of Lystra, the Bible says that there was a man who had been lame from birth that was listening to Paul preach. Paul sees that the man has faith and calls out for him to stand up and he does! For the first time in his life, the man can walk – a genuine miracle takes place.
This event bowls the folks at Lystra over in a major way. In fact, they’re so in awe of Paul and Barnabas that they say, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.” The people actually start the process of offering sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas; something the missionary pair promptly put a stop to. Even then, the Bible says: “And even saying these things, they with difficulty restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them (Acts 14:18). Obviously, unbelief had lost and belief in Christ had won in Lystra that day, right?
The very next verse in Acts says: “But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.” Amazing, isn’t it? The same city that had to be restrained from offering sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas are quickly persuaded to change their minds via a crew of hardened unbelievers and stand in agreement as their former hero is stoned (perhaps to death) and dragged away. Such a thing just leaves you breathless doesn’t it?
The Biggest Miracle of All
The Bible is littered in both the Old and New Testaments with more examples of hard core unbelief seeing a miracle and then turning away from God, but let’s finish by looking at the biggest example of them all.
When the Pharisees asked Jesus to jump through some miraculous hoops for them, He refused and said: “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:39–40).
Jesus said they’d get a sign that would be THE sign for all generations. But what happened when Christ provided them with His resurrection miracle? Matthew tells us that the very guards the religious leaders put in charge of guarding Jesus’ tomb witness the event and afterwards “went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.””.
The end result of Jesus’ miraculous resurrection to the hard core skeptics was a cover up to avoid the truth and a plot to spread unbelief to others. That’s how hardened unbelief reacts to miracles.
The truth is, while unbelievers like Dr. Mike Begon and others like him say they are open to evidence, many times they are not, even to the point of evidence that contains a real miracle. Their self-imposed moniker of “free thinker” shows their mind to be anything but free where God is concerned.
Again, the Bible spells this fact out in a crystal clear way. When Jesus relayed the story of the rich man in Hades (cf. Luke 16:19-31), the man begs to have someone go to his five brothers from the dead and warn them to repent of their sins and unbelief in God. The response he’s given is that they have the Word of God to listen to, which is enough. When the man pleads for a miracle instead that his brothers can see, he is told: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
After 2,000+ years, we see how right this statement is where hard core unbelief is concerned. Nothing ever seems to be enough.
But is the hardened unbeliever a hopeless case? Not at all because nothing is impossible with God (cf. Luke 1:37). In fact, we read in Acts how many of the unbelieving religious leaders became obedient to the faith (cf. Acts 6:7), but we need to realize that such a thing – for every unbeliever – is a gift of God who is the only one that can break through the barrier of unbelief.