‘People would not be willing to die for a lie!’

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Another more sophisticated argument – although less sophisticated than presuppositional apologetics – I heard during my protest of the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania “Circle the Square with Prayer” event was that belief in God is justified because apostles and other first century martyrs were willing to die rather than renounce their belief in the resurrection of Jesus. The battlecry of the Christian apologist is “People would not be willing to die for a lie!

Assume that people were martyred – unwilling to renounce their belief in the resurrection of Jesus (if you believe otherwise or would like to talk about historical facts, feel free to comment below).

I am willing to, for sake of argument, grant the Christian apologist the assumption that people were martyred while unwilling to relinquish belief in the resurrection of Jesus. As we shall see, granting this premise will not make life more difficult for atheists prepared to refute Christian apologetics. Rather than disputing historical claims, an atheist may accept the assumption and instead focus on epistemological concerns.

The fact that a person is willing to die and unwilling to relinquish a belief says nothing about the belief’s truth value, but rather points to strength of conviction (or how foolish someone may be). A person who, for instance, really believes they will go to Heaven if martyred may be unwilling to renounce belief in God…but this does not make the belief in Heaven or God justified.

What about other religious beliefs? If belief in the Christian god can be justified because someone was willing to die while holding a Christian belief, would not this thought process be applied globally?

If it is the case that we ought to believe something because people are — on pain of death — unwilling to renounce a belief (or otherwise are ‘willing to die for a belief), we would be forced to accept any given religious belief – many of which are contradictory. Consider ardent religious individuals throughout history who have gone to war because they believe they have received messages from gods. Consider religiously motivated suicide bombers. Consider willing victims of ‘honor killings.’ Consider people who have sacrificed themselves to appease gods.

If we were to accept belief in the resurrection of Jesus because people were willing to die rather than renounce their belief in the resurrection of Jesus, why should we not also accept — using the same epistemology proposed by Christians – conclusions of other religious believers who were willing to die because of their beliefs? Why privilege one religious conclusion over others? Should we also be justified in believing there is no god because atheists would be unwilling to believe in any gods upon pain of death?

The throwaway assertion, that people would not die for a lie, is additionally suspect. People may not be willing to die in order to defend a belief they know is false, but they will die to defend a proposition they believe is true – regardless of whether the proposition is true or not.

Believing in a conclusion due to people willing to die because they hold a religious belief is not a reliable means to attaining truth. Willingness to die does not translate to truth of a proposition, but rather shows how ardent an individual is. Additionally, if we were to believe a supernatural conclusion because someone would be willing to die with the belief, we would be forced to accept contradictory beliefs. Another poor argument is tossed in the trash.

As always, feel free to leave comments below.

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