Three Reductio ad Absurdum Arguments Against Evangelical Christianity

Submitted by [email protected] 10/13/00

Over the last fifteen years or so, I have spent a lot of time discussing and debating various aspects of Christianity with Christians. As a result, I have discovered a number of inconsistent sets of belief held by evangelical Christians. Many involve philosophical difficulties with theism commonly discussed by philosophers of religion and many involve contradictions which arise from a literal interpretation of the Bible. But those which I'd like to present here are philosophical difficulties peculiar to evangelical Christianity (the third applies only to “pre-tribs”—those who believe the rapture, in which all Christians are bodily taken up into heaven, will take place before the seven-year tribulation preceding Armageddon and the establishment of Jesus' kingdom on earth).

The Problem of Missionaries and Abortion
I first gave a version of this argument in a 1986 booklet titled Fundamentalism is Nonsense: Some Problems with Fundamentalism, Christianity, and Theism in General.

(1) God is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly benevolent.
(2) God would like as many people to be saved from hell as possible. (From (1).)
(3) Those who hear of Jesus and reject him are doomed to hell.
(4) Those who never hear of Jesus
(a) are judged on the basis of their own good works.
(b) are doomed to hell.
(c) go to heaven.
(d) go to heaven if they are younger than an “age of accountability.”
(5) Missionaries tell people about Jesus who would otherwise never have heard of him.
(6) God approves of missionary activity, spreading the word of Jesus.
(7) Many of those who hear of Jesus reject him.
(8) Many fetuses grow into adults who reject Jesus.
(9) Abortion is morally wrong.

Evangelical Christians vary on which of (4) (a)-(d) they accept, but all lead to insuperable difficulties. Anyone who accepts (1)-(3), (4) (a), and (5)-(8) is faced with the unpalatable consequence that missionaries send people to hell who would otherwise go to heaven. If the standard of “good works” required as an alternative to accepting Jesus is a reasonable one and enough people reject Jesus, then missionaries do more harm than good. (Worldwide figures of religious belief suggest that a majority of those who hear of Jesus reject him. Countries in which missionaries are particularly ineffective, e.g., Japan, suffice to make the case that at least some missionaries do more harm than good, by the evangelical Christian's own premises.) This means that (6) contradicts (1) and (2). If, on the other hand, the standard of “good works” is set sufficiently high, then God is guilty of injustice for giving people a moral standard which cannot be achieved (contradicting (1) and (2)).

Those who accept (4) (b) are faced with a serious injustice: millions of people are doomed to hell for reasons entirely out of their control. Those who died before Jesus' resurrection, who lived (or live) in areas where Christianity has not spread, or who were mentally or physically unable to be informed (e.g., fetuses) about Jesus are grossly wronged (contradicting (1) and (2)).

Those who accept (4) (c) are faced with an outright contradiction. It is a consequence of (4) (c), (5), and (7) that missionaries send many people to hell who would not otherwise go there, thus conflicting with God's desires in (2). But this contradicts (6).

Those who accept (4) (d) usually maintain that those under the “age of accountability” do not go to hell even if they hear about Jesus and reject him, unless they continue to do so beyond that age. Letting children reach the “age of accountability,” then, is to let them go from a state of certain achievement of heaven to a state in which they are much less certain of getting there. Since getting to heaven is the greatest good possible for a human, and going to hell is the worst evil, the evangelical Christian's opposition to abortion is called into serious question. After all, those who perform abortions are sending people to heaven who otherwise would face a strong possibility of going to hell. (Those who accept (4) (d) must also accept one of (4) (a)-(c) for those above the “age of accountability,” and thus also face the contradictions which arise for those views.)

The Problem of Free Will and Heaven
(1) God is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly benevolent.
(2) God prevents evil as much as he is able. (From (1).)
(3) Human evil exists on earth and is the result of human free will.
(4) It is better (all things considered) that humans have free will than that they not have free will (i.e., free will is a good thing and lack of free will is an evil thing).
(5) God knows (and has always known) who will make it to heaven and who will not. (From (1).)
(6) Heaven is better than earth.
(7) There is no evil in heaven (i.e., people in heaven always do good).
(8) God could prevent any particular person from coming into existence (by preventing conception, causing genetic mutations, etc. From (1).)
(9) God answers prayer and otherwise manipulates the world.

From (5) and (8) it follows that God could have created heaven on earth—with no one ever going to hell. Thus evangelical Christians may reject (5) and thus reject divine foreknowledge and New Testament doctrine. Another possibility is to reject (8), but this seems to contradict (1), unless done on the grounds that (8) would involve interfering with free will and the further premise that all interference with free will by God is a bad thing (i.e., a much stronger premise than (4)). But this position entails the falsity of (9).
Another problem is that from (2), (3), (5), and (8), it follows that evil is the inevitable result of free will (or else God could have prevented it without infringing on anyone's free will). This presents a dilemma: either there is no free will in heaven (but (4) and (6) entail that there is free will in heaven, so this is a contradiction) or there is evil in heaven (contradicting (7)).

The Rapture Problem
(1) We are presently living in the End Times: Armageddon is near, and the rapture may occur at any moment.
(2) At the rapture, all believing Christians will be bodily taken up into heaven, while nonbelievers are left behind.
(3) During the seven-year tribulation which follows the rapture, nonbelievers who convert to Christianity will achieve salvation and make it to heaven (though they may suffer persecution at the hands of the Antichrist).
(4) Those who die without converting to Christianity will suffer eternal torment in hell.
(5) Driving an automobile, flying a plane, or operating heavy equipment while in a state in which one may lose control at any moment (e.g., being intoxicated, being an epileptic or narcoleptic) recklessly endangers the lives of other human beings and is immoral.
(6) Christians do not act immorally by driving an automobile, flying a plane, or operating heavy equipment.

It is a consequence of (1)-(5) that Christians who drive automobiles, fly planes, and operate heavy equipment are acting immorally, since they are in a state (by (1) and (2), subject to immediate bodily ascension into heaven) which recklessly endangers the lives (and, because of (3), the souls) of non-believing human beings. This contradicts (6).

Thus each of these arguments lead to the conclusion that evangelical Christianity, as commonly held, is inconsistent.

Other Literature
From The Skeptical Review, PO Box 617, Canton, IL 61520-0617:
The Skeptical Review, a quarterly analysis of biblical errors by a former minister. First year's subscription is free.

“Prophecies: Imaginary and Unfulfilled” by Farrell Till, a 37-page article which covers much of the same ground as The Fabulous Prophecies of the Messiah, but also addresses other alleged biblical prophecies. $2.

From the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), PO Box 750, Madison, WI 53701:
Freethought Today, a monthly periodical of news and commentary on church-state violations, criminal activities by clergy, and articles of interest to atheists and agnostics. Sample issue is free, subscriptions are $20 per year.

Copyright 1991, 2000 by Jim Lippard