Thursday, January 26, 2012

40 Questions for Fundamentalist Christians

Whew! The first draft in my 40 Questions Project is finally finished, and I must say I'm quite happy with it. Since it's fairly long, I've made it a publicly accessible Google doc rather than posting it here directly, but below is a "table of contents" of sorts:
1. Demand for evidence
2. Comparison to other religions
3. Cultural and parental religious dependence
4. Investigation into other religions
5. Unreliability of faith
6. Unreliability of religious experiences
7. Falsifiability of Christianity
8. Falsifiability of God's intervention in the world
9. Lack of modern miracles
10. Falsifiability of God's positive perception
11. Falsifiability of prayer
12. Injustice of the atonement
13. Illogic of the atonement
14. Inefficiency of the atonement
15. Fate of the unborn
17. Incoherence of the trinity
18. God as tribal invention
19. Signs of Christianity
19. Pointlessness of prayer
20. Incoherence of the soul
21. Argument from scale
22. Argument from divine hiddenness
23. Evolution
24. Age of the earth
25. Israel's exodus and conquest
26. Census of Quirinius
27. Destruction of Tyre
28. Jesus' delayed return
29. Euthyphro dilemma
30. Problem of human evil
31. Problem of natural evil
32. Problem of animal suffering
33. Problem of hell
34. Problem of divine miscommunication
35. God's sanctioning of slavery
36. God's sanctioning of misogyny
37. God's homophobia
38. God's killings
39. God forces the killing of unbelieving loved ones
40. Comparison to other religious morality
I certainly didn't have a problem coming up with forty—on the contrary, the most difficult task was deciding what to leave out. I also spent a lot of time carefully wording the questions so that they were fairly short and understandable while still posing a serious challenge. Some of these questions have very common responses, so I'll also be working on an appendix responding to "Frequent Answers."

Please leave feedback in the comments! Did any questions seem weak or redundant? Is there some great question I missed? Could anything have been worded better? Any other concerns? Let me know so I can revise.


  1. I think my only problem would be with the first one. "Evidence" means different things to different people, in order to get a satisfactory answer from this question and probably the subsequent introspection ones you would have to have a consistent definition of "strong evidence [for/against]" as compared to "weak evidence [for/against]". This can be mathematically calculated, but math scares people so I don't know whether it would be good or not to try to get someone to understand that. I guess it depends on how much you're going in depth for each question. For most people, "strong evidence" is something like a religious experience, or some other experience they can't explain. The "strong" is in relation to how strongly they react to it emotionally, and not the mathematical definition of strong. The trick here would be to get them to understand that in the catchphrase "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence", a religious experience, or stories about people coming back from the dead, are relatively mundane in relation to the truth claims of a religion.

    Another problem that I think is relevant to the whole understanding and misunderstanding of evidence is the Prosecutor's Fallacy. Even though math might shut down some people, it might be good to try to get this concept in there while discussing evidence:

    What is the probability of winning the lottery? Probably something ridiculous like 1 out of a million (.0000001). What is the probability of winning the lottery given that a person cheats? Probably something much higher, maybe .99. Does this mean that the person cheated? No, because we have no idea what the prior probability / base rate is for cheating to win the lottery. To conclude that the person cheated is an example of the Prosecutor's Fallacy: confusing the probability of the evidence given the hypothesis is true with the probability of the hypothesis given the evidence. Your end goal is to find the probability of your hypothesis given the evidence, not to find the probability of the evidence assuming your hypothesis is true (a species of begging the question).

    Probably a minor critique, as this point can be delved into in many of the subsequent questions. The fact that every other religion has adherents who have religious experiences is what makes it common or mundane. And we even have testimony of contemporary people doing miraculous things (like Sathya Sai Baba) yet Christians reject those sorts of stories out of hand, when this evidence is objectively "stronger" than the claims of Christianity.

  2. J. Quinton, thanks for the detailed input. I'll keep it in mind.

    I also posted a link to the Google doc on r/atheism. The main criticisms I got were that the length of the list would make it too daunting for most Christians, and the confrontational tone of some of the questions might drive some away. They also took issue with questions 7–9 on the basis that they'd be likely to provoke knee-jerk responses.

    In a few days I'll make a new post with a link to the revised list of questions, but I still welcome any further feedback.

  3. I posted a short list and received a few replies from Christians:

    I don't think doctrine really matters much to them. Most of them don't even know their church's official teachings on doctrine anyway. The goofiest ones focus on how their religion makes them feel and how wonderful it is to be "saved." They don't question why God would have let himself be killed and then have his followers eat him in order to be saved from an excessive punishment he himself had mandated (even though he didn't) or why God couldn't just say "nah, fuggedaboudit, I forgives yas"

  4. I know you kind of had a few questions related to evil, but I think one that is directly about the problem of evil would be good too. More specifically, one that addresses the problem of a god that is omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent. Epicurus put it best, "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"

    1. I do like this formulation for its simplicity, but the knee-jerk reaction to it is always "Evil exists because God gave us free will." That's why I split up the problem of evil question into separate parts: the "free will" response is irrelevant to the problem of natural evil, and in the question about the problem of human evil I tackle their objection head on.

  5. The church has always been no more than two thousand years of theological counterfeit self deception. But leaving the 'church' or knowing what is false doesn't tell us if anything is true? And knowing that could very well bring the whole of Christian history come crashing down. That would be justice? And it could even happen?

    1. No offense, but that site looks like it advocates some sorta weird cult. It has only a tangential relevance to the topic at hand.