I would suggest that the most prolific atheist of our time is Michael Shermer. Unlike Richard Dawkins, Shermer knows something about the Bible and Christianity. Shermer is a graduate of Pepperdine University, where he enrolled to become a preacher in the Church of Christ. Because of this education, Shermer understands the biblical account of Jesus. Even though his view of Christ and the Church has been altered by his embracing of atheism he does raise good arguments that are well presented and usually factually correct. He is the editor of Skeptic magazine and has a column in Scientific American which is almost always from an atheist/skeptic position. In the April 2017, issue of that magazine (page 78) Shermer has “What is Truth, Anyway” as the title of his column.
The problem Shermer and I would suggest that all of us face, is that truth has many meanings. In the Old Testament, the word truth was used in two senses: (1) Facts that may be ascertained to be true or false. (2) The existential and moral, or truth as the attribute of a person. The Hebrew word “met” is used for the former and “muna” is used for the latter and is translated “faithfulness” in some translations. In the New Testament Greek words for truth (aletheia, alethes and alethinos) are used in three different senses: (1) Dependability, truthfulness, uprightness of character applied to God and to men. (Romans 3:7 and 15:8; 2 Corinthians 7:14; and Ephesians 5:9) (2) Truth in the absolute sense of what is real and complete as opposed to false and wanting (Mark 5:33 and Ephesians 4:25). Jesus used this to describe himself in John 14:6. (3) Something real as opposed to a copy. (Hebrews 8:2 and John 6:32,35)
Much of the debate between creationists and atheists is rooted in what the two viewpoints are willing to accept as truth. Shermer says, “It is not impossible that the dinosaurs died a few thousand years ago as Young Earth creationists believe, but it is so unlikely we need not waste our time considering it.” I would agree with Shermer on this point because of the problems it poses, and we have discussed this in our publications many times. However, both sides in the discussion have made a decision of what they consider to be true, and both sides are unwilling to look any further at the evidence because they feel they have the truth.
Shermer moves from this scientific discussion to the question of whether Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead. He rejects both of these suggestions because the claim is extraordinary and he doesn’t consider the evidence for the validity of the claim convincing since other explanations are possible. About these other explanations, Shermer says, “Any of these explanations for the gospel descriptions of Jesus’s resurrection are far more likely than the possibility that Jesus actually returned to life after being dead for three days.”
The bottom line in Shermer’s argument is naturalism–that everything that has ever happened can be explained by science. By assuming naturalism, most atheists preclude any kind of evidence that cannot be falsified or tested experimentally. Shermer’s rejection of the resurrection is a rejection of historical evidence. He rejects the testimony of witnesses because they could be biased and cannot be checked, and yet that is true of all historical events. He doesn’t consider the logical problem of the apostles dying for something if they knew it was false. He rejects the effect Christ has had in the lives of millions of people as subjective and emotionally driven. When you demand scientific falsification of any true event, you preclude much of what we know of the past and even some of the present.
In John 18:36-38 Jesus and Pilate have a short discussion about truth. Jesus says, “Everyone that is of the truth hears my voice.” Pilate responds by saying, “What is truth?” Pilate doesn’t wait for an answer. In today’s world, many people complain about not knowing what is true, but like Pilate, they don’t want to consider the evidence and testimony of Christ. We used to have a joke in graduate school that said, “Always make sure your data conforms to your conclusion.” Of course, it was said in ridicule. In today’s world, many people have reached their conclusion about truth, and no amount of evidence will change their minds. All we can do is present the evidence and allow them to make their decision of what they will consider to be the truth.
Note: Data about the Old and New Testament words and concept of truth is from The New Bible Dictionary, Eerdman’s Publishing Company.
–John N. Clayton © 2017