How Can You Trust Christianity Is True If You Haven’t Examined All the Alternatives?

I’ve had the privilege to speak on university campuses across the country, making a case for the reliability of the New Testament Gospels and the truth of the Christian Worldview (I’ll be at Rutgers next Monday night). One of the most common questions asked in the Q and A is something similar to: “Have you taken the time to apply the same approach with all the other religious worldviews?” Sometimes people ask this question because they are curious about how well other ancient religious claims (or alleged eyewitness accounts) hold up under investigative scrutiny. But many times this question is followed by a more pointed objection: “How can you trust Christianity is true if you haven’t examined all the alternatives?”

Given the large number of spiritual claims circulating across the globe (and throughout history), why should we conclude one (or any) of them is true until we’ve examined all of them? At first blush, this seems like a reasonable approach, and when it’s asked by a skeptic, it’s typically offered in an effort to expose the inadequate or incomplete nature of my investigation (or some underlying bias I may have against opposing claims). Although I investigated several theistic and atheistic worldviews prior to becoming a Christian, I didn’t examine every view. Is my certainty related to Christianity therefore misplaced? Should the limited nature of my investigation disqualify or temper the case I’m presenting to skeptics and believers? I don’t think so.

In every criminal trial, the investigators and prosecutors are obligated to present the evidence related to one defendant. While the burden of proof lies with the prosecutorial team, the prosecution is not required to have examined every possible alternative suspect. If I am investigating a case in which the suspect was initially described as a white male, 25 to 35 years of age with brown hair, the potential suspect pool in Los Angeles County would be quite large; there may be hundreds of thousands fitting this description. As I make the affirmative case related to one of the men in this large group, I’m under no obligation to make the case against the others. In fact, when the jury evaluates the case and decides whether the defendant is guilty, they will do so without any consideration of the alternatives. If the evidence is strong enough to reasonably infer the defendant’s involvement, the jury will make a confident decision, even though many, many alternatives were left unexamined.

The case for Christianity is made in a similar way. While it may be helpful to examine a particular alternative worldview on occasion to show its inadequacies or errors, these deficiencies fail to establish Christianity as factual. How can you trust Christianity is true if you haven’t examined all the alternatives? The case for the Christian worldview must first be made affirmatively even if no other claim is examined negatively. If there’s enough evidence to reasonably infer Christianity is true, we needn’t look any further. The affirmative case will either stand or fall on its own merit, even if we’re unable to examine any other “suspect”.

The Christian worldview does not require “blind faith”. In fact, Jesus repeatedly presented evidence to support His claims of Deity and when John the Baptist expressed doubt, Jesus responded with yet another evidential display of His power. Christians are not asked to believe without evidence (or worse yet, in spite of the evidence), but to instead place their trust in the most reasonable inference from the evidence, even though there may still be several unanswered questions. Christianity is evidentially reasonable, even if we are unable to examine every possible alternative.

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Did God Curse Africans Into Slavery?

The sons of Noah who came out of the boat with their father were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham is the father of Canaan.) From these three sons of Noah came all the people who now populate the earth…Ham, the father of Canaan, saw that his father [Noah] was naked and went outside and told his brothers…When Noah woke up from his stupor, he learned what Ham, his youngest son, had done. Then he cursed Canaan, the son of Ham. “May Canaan be cursed! May he be the lowest servants to his relatives” (Genesis 9:18,22,24-25).

Since the descendants of Ham settled in Africa, haven’t some people claimed that this Scripture shows that God cursed the African people into slavery?

It is true that for many years there were those who claimed God cursed the descendants of Ham, Noah’s son, for telling his older brothers he found his father naked after a night of drinking wine. The curse was that “he be the lowest of servants to his relatives” (Genesis 9:25). And since the descendants of Ham were thought to be Africans, it was logical to conclude that God had condemned all generations of Africans into slavery. In fact, many people during the 1700s and 1800s and beyond used those verses to justify the enslavement of Africans in America.

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Does the Bible Endorse Capital Punishment?

If anyone takes a human life, that person’s life will also be taken by human hands. For God made human beings in his own image (Genesis 9:6).

Does Scripture provide our modern society with the justification for capital punishment?

As humans we were created in God’s own image. This in and of itself establishes the dignity, value, and worth of all human life. God desired from the beginning that we honor one another and life itself. God said, “Honor your father and mother…you must not murder…you must not commit adultery…you must not steal…you must not testify falsely…you must not covet your neighbor’s wife” (Deuteronomy 5:16-21). From God’s interaction with Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and the early church, it was understood and taught that life was sacred at every stage. Promoting social justice, taking care of the poor, and defending human rights find their basis in each of us and our governmental bodies by the fact that we are created in God’s image with value, dignity, and worth.

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How Do I Share What I Believe? The Relationship Between Respect and Reach

I’ve investigated a number of murders over the years motivated by nothing more than an act of disrespect. The pursuit of power is one of three motivations driving criminal behavior, and it often manifests itself as a response to a simple act of insolence. When a gang member feels disrespected, for example, he may retaliate violently. As humans, all of us are repelled when we feel dishonored, insulted or belittled in some way, even if most of us won’t react as aggressively as gangsters. If you’re trying to persuade someone, it’s important to understand the relationship between respect and reach. The more we respect and honor the dignity of others, the more likely we’ll be able to reach them with an idea, concept or worldview.

Jesus reiterated the importance of respecting others in his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount:

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Does the Bible Confirm the Standard Cosmological Model?

The vast majority of scientists affirm the Standard Cosmological Model as an accurate and reliable description of the universe’s origin. After examining the evidence, cosmologists and physicists have largely embraced the fact our universe began to exist at a point in the distant past. The Second Law of Thermodynamics, the expansion of the universe, the presence of the Radiation Echo, and the problem of Infinite Regress serve as sufficient evidence supporting the Standard Model (there are also a number of supplementary evidences affirming this conclusion). In addition, the alternative explanations offered by cosmologists fail to account for the evidence we see in the universe. As a result, “…a clear majority of the cosmological community… accept it (the Standard Model) as a good account of how the universe works.”

The authors of the Bible also affirm the Standard Cosmological Model. The Bible is replete with descriptions of a Universe that came into being from nothing at a fixed point in the distant past as the result of an uncaused, first cause. The nature and characteristics of this material universe are accurately described by the Biblical authors:

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Was the Flood Global?

“Look! I am about to cover the earth with a flood that will destroy every living thing that breathes. Everything on earth will die” (Genesis 6:17).

Was the Flood a localized disaster or a worldwide destruction of all human and animal life?

Many geologists and Christian scholars do not believe there was a single universal flood of history, yet acknowledge that there were many devastating local floods in earth’s history. On the other hand, there are geologists and Christian scholars who contend that only a worldwide flood could account for the earth’s sedimentary layers and the fossils that have been formed. 

The Scripture states that “all the underground waters erupted from the earth, and the rain fell in mighty torrents from the sky…Finally, the water covered even the highest mountains on the earth, rising more than twenty-two feet above the highest peaks” (Genesis 7:11,19-20). This passage can be interpreted at least two ways. One is that the Flood covered the highest mountains of Planet Earth. This interpretation comes from translating the Hebrew word erets as “earth” or “world,” meaning worldwide. However, erets can also be translated as “country” and “land,” which refer to limited land areas. So scholars have differed on the extensiveness of the Flood.

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How the Principle of Causality Points to the Existence of God

All of us, regardless of worldview, are looking for the first, uncaused cause of the universe. As an atheist (and committed philosophical naturalist), I believed science would eventually identify such a cause, and I expected the answer to be something other than “God”. Alexander Vilenkin (professor of Physics and Director of the Institute of Cosmology at Tufts University), for example, believes this cause is an eternal, primordial, quantum vacuum from which our universe (and many, many others) popped into existence. The vacuum, according to Vilenkin, was the first, uncaused cause; making questions like, “Where did the vacuum come from?” irrelevant and meaningless. First, uncaused causes don’t need a cause, after all.

Interestingly, cosmologists have refined their thinking on this issue over the past several decades. Early researchers (like Einstein) initially rejected the idea our universe had a beginning at all. For thinkers like Einstein, our universe was the uncaused environment from which stars and planetary systems evolved. Why is everyone so obsessed with identifying an eternal entity and an uncaused, first cause? Because the nature of this first cause will determine which worldview (atheism or theism) is true. For committed atheists, like Carl Sagan, the desire to identify the eternal is deeply metaphysical:

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What Will We Experience in Heaven?

There are good reasons to believe we are more than simple material beings. If we are living souls (as described in Christian Scripture), there’s no reason to think our true immaterial nature will be limited by the fate of our physical bodies. Our expectations of justice, satisfaction and joy (given God’s holy and perfect nature) provide us with good reasons to expect a life beyond this one. If God has infinite power, it’s reasonable to believe He has the power to eliminate imperfection. God’s perfection must certainly characterize the nature of Heaven, and the Bible describes how each of us, when united with God, will be transformed and made complete, in spite of our present earthly imperfections.

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Does the Bible Condone Polygamy?

“Lamech married two women. The first was named Adah, and the second was named Zillah” (Genesis 4:19).

Scripture does teach us what is right and wrong (2 Timothy 3:16). But the Bible is also the history of people and a nation. It records wars, murder, rape, incest, and a host of other tragic events but does not in every case specifically point out the error and sin. It does, however, in most cases, explain the negative consequences of these actions.

Lamech, the seventh from Adam in the line of Cain, is the first recorded polygamist. His life, however, was marked by murder, rebellion, and defiance. It is clear Lamech was not honoring God’s design for marriage as stated in Genesis 2:24. Later God would record his views on the importance of men being married to one woman (the wife of their youth) in Proverbs 5:18-19, Malachi 2:14-15, Mark 10:2-8, and 1 Corinthians 7:2-10.

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The Difference Between Believing the Gospels and Trusting the Gospel

I leaned over and said, “I think it may be true.” “What may be true?” asked Susie. “Christianity,” I responded. “The more I look at the Gospels, the more I think they look like real eyewitness accounts.” I spent months examining the claims of the Gospels, evaluating them with the template I typically apply to eyewitnesses in my criminal investigations. At the end of my examination, I was confident in their reliability. I believed the Gospels were telling me the truth about Jesus. But I wasn’t yet a Christian. I had what I often refer to as “belief that”. I examined what the Gospels had to say about Jesus, and after testing them rigorously, I came away with confidence in their accuracy, early dating, reliable transmission and lack of bias. But I still had a profoundly important question: “What is the cross all about? Why did Jesus have to die that way?” My wife, Susie, had been raised as a cultural Catholic, and although she was familiar with the language and doctrines of Catholicism, her answer was simply, “I don’t really know.” After months of investigation, I believed what the Gospels told me about Jesus, but I wasn’t yet ready to accept the Gospel of Salvation.

Yesterday, CBN posted the story of my journey from “belief that” to “belief in”. It’s really the first time I’ve told the story this completely, and I hope it will help you see the role evidence can play in moving someone from intellectual assent to volitional submission:

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