The Argument From Apparent Contradictions
1. If Christianity is true, then the appearance of contradictions in the bible is surprising.
2. If naturalism is true, then the appearance of contradictions in the bible is expected.
3. Therefore, the appearance of contradictions in the bible confirms naturalism over christianity.
Note first that this argument does not depend on there being any actual contradictions in the Christian scriptures – even if it is the case that every apparent contradiction can be resolved, the argument still works, since it only points to the “first glance” appearance of contradiction which many times causes a believer to worry.
The appearance of contradictions is surprising given Christianity for this reason. For the past two thousand years, many Christians have spent considerable time and effort in an attempt to resolve these apparent contradictions*, to varying degrees of success. This points to the fact that such a project is important in some way. But in what way might that be?
It could be that the issue of contradictions is of merely academic importance to theologians, much like the precise dating of the gospel of Mark would be. But this doesn’t seem to be the case at all. Many pastors find themselves often counseling their congregations about difficulties such as these, and some even have their own doubts to struggle through. This points to another sort of importance: the absence of contradictions is important for spiritual development. And, of course, spiritual development is almost always considered very important by Christians.
Of course, resolving these contradictions (if they even can be resolved) is no easy task. Entire books have been written about them. Studying these issues seriously requires a fairly large commitment of time, as well as knowledge of various disparite fields. This makes spiritual growth much more difficult and time consuming than it would be if these apparent contradictions were not present. Thus, their existence is surprising on Christianity.
So, moving on to the second premise. If naturalism is true, then the bible is no different than any other ancient text**; it’s a collection of writings penned and assembled over a long time period, by many different authors, with no divine inspiration whatsoever. Writings composed in this way almost always have at least a few inconsistencies, just by the nature of their composition. Thus, we’d strongly expect such apparent contradictions to pop up at least occasionally.
One Possible Response
Here is one objection I anticipate. One could simply say that while “mere” Christianity is true, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is false, so it doesn’t actually matter whether the bible contains even actual contradictions. The doctrine of inerrancy is accepted by the vast majority of Christians; but like infant baptism, it’s not a necessary condition for Christianity. Still, most Christians would consider such a response to be a pretty big bullet to bite.
Furthermore, my argument does not require the doctrine of inerrancy to be true in order to function. Even if inerrancy was false, apparent contradictions would still hinder spiritual development; simply because contradictions are still undesirable and troubling, at least to most people. This is especially true given the “power” and scope of some apparent contradictions.***
Another Possible Response
Another line of attack the Christian might take in response to this argument is to say that in actuality, it’s the very process of studying and eventually resolving these contradictions that fosters spiritual growth. But while it may be the case that this is sometimes incidentally the case, it’s certainly not necessary. And on the other hand, such apparent contradictions can also have the opposite effect on believers – in many cases, doubts caused by them even go so far as to lead to atheism – which is the opposite of spiritual growth!
So, in conclusion, we can easily identify a relevant fact – that there appears, at least at first glance, to be contradictions in the bible. As I’ve argued above, this fact is evidence for naturalism over Christianity.
*This is also evidence for the claim that there are apparent contradictions. If there weren’t, then these theologians and philosophers wouldn’t be spending all this time trying to resolve them!
**This argument can also be reformulated to be relevant to the other major monotheistic religions and their respective texts.
***an especially troubling case, at least to me, is the “missing” ending of Mark. It’s now known that the earliest copies of the earliest-written gospel either do not mention the resurrection at all, or the ending has been lost.