Doubting Thomas

by T. E. Smith

John 20:24-29 records the story of one of the apostles, named Thomas. This short story has likely made him the second-most infamous of all the apostles (after Judas). In this tale, Thomas is not with the apostles when Jesus appears to them, and so he does not believe their resurrection account. In his words, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (v. 25). Jesus appears to him eight days later and shows him the evidence, upon which Thomas confesses faith in Jesus as God.

Being named Thomas myself, there was an odd form of embarrassment I would feel, a couple of years ago when I was a Christian, whenever “doubting Thomas” was discussed. Guilt would not be exactly the right word. It was discomfort at being associated with such a figure as this doubter.

Thomas most likely never said these words. They are only contained in the Gospel of John, considered the latest and least reliable. Other gospels record Jesus’ post-mortem appearance, but John appears to add in the story, “Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came” (v. 24), after the fact, as if it likely was not part of the original. Thomas is a foil demonstrating lack of faith – that is, belief without evidence – and the ideal of “not see[ing] and yet hav[ing] believed” (v. 29), as well as the divinity of Jesus: “My lord and my God” (v.28).

And yet, as now having had the audacity to deny Jesus and the very existence of the Almighty based on nothing but my own reason, I do wish that Thomas had said these words. Was there not one voice of reason? Did not one person question the unbelievable idea of Jesus risen from the dead?

We do not question, as Christian apologists like to accuse us of, the resurrection merely based on “I didn’t see it, and I don’t see it now.” In fact, to affirm the idea of a resurrection flies in the face of everything we know about the human body and the laws of decay.

Occam’s Razor (named for Philip of Ockham) states that we should not multiply causes and variables unnecessarily and that the simplest explanation is most likely to be correct. To propose the resurrection requires an entire overhaul of the understanding of the body, or else it requires pulling the idea of an immortal soul out of a magic hat, a soul that can apparently re-enter the body at the will of the man in the sky. It is much simpler to just claim that the resurrection account is like all the many such accounts in ancient literature – yet another myth.

Why do I reject the existence of God, or of any god? We know of the existence of natural causes. The theist must propose, in addition to this, the existence of divine causes. As apologist Gregory Koukl notes, “The Christian believes in both natural and divine causes.” This is a violation of Occam’s Razor, unless it can be demonstrated that the proposal of divine causes is necessary. As the materialist only proposes natural causes, materialism already stands at a higher ground. It is my belief that proposing divine causes is entirely unnecessary, and that therefore God does not exist.

Why do I not believe in miracles? Once again, it is not because I do not observe them. Of course, a miracle requires a miracle-worker. With no God, therefore, there can be no miracle. But Baruch Spinoza refuted miracles centuries ago (though Christians remain unfazed), with a very simple argument: Miracles are a violation of natural law. If God exists and works miracles, he will routinely violate his own law – an incoherent idea.

What about Hell? The Christian, even if he proved God existed, could not make me a Christian, merely because of the doctrine of Hell. God, if he is sovereign, has killed tens of billions of people and continues to kill thousands a day, and sends most of them to Hell to burn forever, and then he demands of us “repentance” to be with him forever. If God exists, I am in for a nasty surprise when I die. But I will not relinquish my moral convictions and support the ultimate murderer to avoid personal suffering. If God exists, I will not worship him.

As Jean Meslier noted centuries ago in his memoir, Testament, Christianity (of which he was most familiar) is no different than any other pagan religion, all of which are false.

What about God as a whole – not tied to any religion? As Epicurus showed, there are only four possibilities: God is sovereign and good, God is sovereign but not good, God is good but not sovereign, and God is neither good nor sovereign. If God is sovereign and good, what are we to make of the evil in the world? If God is not sovereign, why call him God? If God is not good, it would be wrong to worship him. If God is neither good nor sovereign, he is not even worthy of our attention.

We may safely reject the truth of the Bible and of all holy books. We may safely reject miracles. We may safely reject all religions. We may safely reject brutal doctrines of eternal torment. But above all, we not only may but should look toward a bright future in which we recognize that there is no God, and so no divine imperative, but only us, here on this tiny dot, flying through space, and we have no obligation to anyone but one another, and to truly love one another in the brief time that nature has seen fit to allot to us.

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