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Is Christianity Regressive? – Apologetics 101 -no.14


Is Christianity Regressive?  This is my latest post in the Christian Today series on Apologetics

So we have been talking about Jesus, the beginnings of the Church and its history, but what about today? Church was fine in the 19th Century and, in a kind of English country village way, in the 20th. But apart from a few redneck areas in the US, Northern Ireland, the Western Isles of Scotland and some backward parts of the world, isn’t it the case that modern humanity has just outgrown the need for God? The church is in its dying throes and the sooner we come to our senses the better. It’s a common perception but…

Is it what is really happening? John Gray, the atheist philosopher, mocks his fellow atheists’ rather unrealistic faith in this regard. He states that they believe that “the grand march of secular reason would continue, with more and more societies joining the modern west in marginalising religion. Someday, religious belief would be no more important than personal hobbies or ethnic cuisines.” But that is not happening. A Pew research study shows that by 2050 it is expected that only 13 per cent of the world’s population will not be religious, compared to 16 per cent today. Although the growth of the non-religious is expected to continue in the West. And therein lies the problem. This is all about a limited Western perception.

Western atheism presupposes that Western Liberal values are at the top of the evolutionary tree.

My main problem with this Western narrative is that it is so inherently smug, superior, self-destructive and indeed racist. It presupposes that Western Liberal values are at the top of the evolutionary tree. The atheists have form for this. Thomas Huxley, Darwin’s bull, once stated: “No rational man, cognizant of the facts, believes that the average Negro is the equal, still less the superior of, of the white man.” HG Wells in his New Republic in answering the question as to how the New Republic would deal with the ‘inferior races’ such as the black, the yellow man etc stated, “Well, the world is a world, and not a charitable institution, and I take it they will have to go.” He made it quite clear what he meant – the extermination of ‘inferior’ races. Of course every good Western liberal now deplores racism based on biology, (it’s good that they have finally caught up with the Christian teaching that all human beings are created equal!), but there is a cultural type of racism which is still seen in this kind of superior attitude.

There is also chronological snobbery. We have bought into the myth that we are inevitably ‘progressing’. This permeates down throughout society. It’s quite amusing to be told by a 15-year-old NED (Non Educated Delinquent) who can barely read and write, that he is superior to the ancient Greeks, just because they were ancient!

But what if we are wrong? What if Western society is actually regressing? I heard Professor John Haldane of the University of St Andrew’s give a brilliant lecture on this in which he argued that ‘progression’ has only happened in terms of science, but that it cannot be assumed in terms of morality, art, literature, philosophy, politics and many other spheres of human activity. Anyone with half a brain, a whole eye and a listening ear, watching today’s British TV will soon suspect that perhaps music and morality have not progressed much in the past 50 years!

But that doesn’t stop our atheist friends who are very reluctant to let go of their faith, whatever the evidence, and so the rejoinder comes. “Isn’t there an inevitable progression from polytheism to monotheism to atheism?”

It is part of their creed and one of their stock-in-trade one-liners that ‘Christians are atheists to all other gods except Jesus, atheists just go one god more’. The problem with this statement, is that it presupposes that Jesus is just one of the other man made gods. He is not man-made and therefore He cannot be man destroyed! However that does not stop people trying.

Who made God? 

In the same line of argument is the schoolboy question, “Who made God then?” The answer to the question who made God is simply ‘nobody’. God is not made. God is the Creator, not the creation. God is outside of time and space. (This is not to say that he is not also in time and space and that there is not plenty evidence for him there.) God creates ex nihilo (out of nothing). That’s what makes him God. He does not craft from what is already there. He creates time, space and matter from nothing. I realise for some that is nonsense because the core of their creed is that evolution means that everything starts from the simple and becomes more complex, therefore because that is the case (and any designer would have to be incredibly complex) God cannot exist. But even if we grant that this is true for biology, biology is not everything. As Joe Fitzpatrick argues about Richard Dawkins’ belief that evolution explains everything; ‘Dawkins is methodologically confused, taking a principle of biological science and making it into a universal principle’. Who says that everything, including God himself, has to come from something? Christians and other theists do not argue that God was created. That is precisely the point. He did not come from anywhere. He has always been. He did not evolve, nor was he made. If there is a personal Creator of the Universe then it makes perfect sense to regard him as complex, beyond our understanding and eternal. When someone states that they can disprove God because there can de facto never be anything that was uncreated they are engaging in a circular argument. We do not believe in a created God. We believe in an uncreated supernatural power. The only alternative is to have faith that matter is eternal or that everything came from nothing by no one.


The Kalam Cosmological argument popularised by the Christian philosopher William Lane Craig, puts it this way.

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause,
  2. The universe began to exist
  3. Therefore the universe has a cause

God is eternal. He did not begin to exist. He always has done. He does not need a cause. He is the cause. He is the source of light, life and love.

The trouble is that our atheist friends have really bought into an unproveable narrative which they hold on to with all the tenacity of the most frightened fundamentalist and with which they try to ‘evangelise’ all and sundry. And so the myths/doctrines of inevitable progression and human beings having evolved from polytheism into the light of atheism have become part of the cultural zeitgeist which most of us inhabit.

Our only way of dealing with this is the biblical way. We have to challenge the cultural zeitgeist, by what we say, what we do and who we are. We are the rebels. We are the salt and the light. This weeks recommended book is my own Engaging with Atheists,


which looks at how we can challenge the prevailing cultural narrative. It is vital that we do so, because without a return to biblical Christianity, the West will regress to its pre-Christian past with all its regressive values.

I leave you with one final accusation that some atheists make. ‘Religion was just invented for people who were afraid of the dark’. To which the best response is that of John Lennox, ‘atheism was just invented for those who are afraid of the light’!

David Robertson is the moderator of the Free Church of Scotland and director of Solas CPC, Dundee. Follow him on Twitter @theweeflea. For previous articles in his apologetics series, click here.

You can follow the rest of the series of going Here


  1. An interesting mish mash of things there.

    It is true there is is a limited Western perception within a lot of atheist and secular thinking. Mind you, in places like Bangladesh where religious types use machetes to kill people for secular thinking or other religious types in Uganda killing people who are gay (and even wanting laws to support that killing), the idea of western progress where that doesnt happen is appealing.

    The western narrative of Christianity has not exactly been free of feelings of smugness and racism has it David? Imagine a Christian university going to the US Supreme Court and saying that interracial relationships are wrong. It paid millions of dollars in back taxes to maintain that separation of human beings until the year 2000. At it takes an epic degree of smugness to say that areas affected by natural disasters are receiving the wrath of God.

    Whilst you think that Christian teaching says all humans are equal I think we both know that many Christians disagree. Ones in Uganda and a US University I have already mentioned. We could mention the killing of blasphemers by Christians. We could mention Christians supporting slavery. We could mention Christians who are happy to go well beyond any definition of a ‘just war’. Throughout history we can find human beings being good and kind and tolerant. We also find humans who are the opposite. Christians are no better or worse in this regard. This is because Christians are humans with all the exact same strengths and weakness as all other humans. It would superior and self destructive to believe otherwise.

    Not entirely sure about chronological snobbery. I think we have progressed in terms of morality and politics and philosophy but of course we are just building on what we learnt from, for example, the ancient Greeks (of course some of this work has only recently been rediscovered. The Archimedes Palimpsest, for example, was overwritten by some ignorant 13 century monks who wrote a Christian text over it. Thats not progress either). Also, ancient education systems favoured males and the wealth. Whilst our very best (and expensive) education is no different we do at least offer males and females an equal education well into adulthood. By the way, in Scotland, that is a secular invention. Church schools had a different ambition for girls. With art and literature we will have to wait for some time to see what history thinks of ours before deciding if it deserves a place in history. For example, Shakespeare was popular in his own lifetime but was never revered as he is today. Likewise Van Gogh only sold two paintings in his lifetime.

    We will have to agree to disagree that only one God is not man made.

    I do agree with you on the who created the creator arguments. If the religion says that the God created everything and has always been, then asking who created that God does seems odd. However, the Kalam Cosmological argument is also odd. Just because the universe has a cause, in no way does that cause need to be a god. Its as illogical as the God needing a creator arguement.

    “The trouble is that our atheist friends have really bought into an unproveable narrative which they hold on to with all the tenacity of the most frightened fundamentalist and with which they try to ‘evangelise’ all and sundry.”

    Change the sixth word to religious and the sentence is just as accurate.

    1. Douglas – I agree with you about the racism, smugness etc that has been, and sadly still is, all too prevalent in many Christians. The only difference is that philosophically we have a doctrine against that. The atheist has no real empirical evidence against it.

      1. The problem is that, to me and many others, it’s clear that religious doctrines are open to interpretation and argument and a taking of different positions. Its the same with all philosophical positions. Thats why answering your original question is hard. Is Christianity regressive – depends on what version of Christianity or, alternatively, what body of believers who claim to be Christian the question is directed at. For example, claiming the earth is very young and science is all wrong are pretty regressive acts.

      2. Moving from Christianity to something else like humanism isnt regressive. But this depends on your definition of a couple of things. Regressive obviously means to return to a former or less developed state. Moving away from Christianity to humanism for example is, however, not a return to something from 2000 years ago (although 2000 years ago did have some great thinkers and philosophers). Just because moving away from something does not mean a move to what preceded that something.

        But, as I keep saying, a lot of this hinges on personal thinking and personal positions. Exactly the same as Christianity and other religions depend on human thinking and human positions. Assigning different labels (Christianity, humanism, atheism etc) to the same set of human behaviours doesn’t get away from the fact that nothing any human does in the name these labels is unique. There is always a similar behaviour under a different label. Because we are all human. Are humans progressive is a more interesting question but I would say, overall as a species, yes.

      3. Douglas,
        your faith in human nature seems indomitable. It seems to me an undeniable fact that the more a person knows about evolution, indeed, the more that person believes the operations of evolution to be actually happening, the less that person has faith in evolution. It is very easy to believe that Western culture is at the top of the evolutionary tree if one knows only a little about how evolution actually works but it isn’t really like that.

        If you know about human nature, and you should from the inside and if you believe that you are responsible for the wrong things you do, then it is pretty much self-deception to calculate that ‘as a species’ we are progressing.

        When have men ever acknowledged what the Bible actually teaches, have gone on to say, ‘Now we know better.’ and been justified in the long run? Just asking, you might know a case to challenge me with. I don’t. It is certainly the case that people have correctly challenged what others thought the Bible teaches but it is not regressive when Christians refuse to wed the Spirit of the age and thus avoid being widowed shortly afterwards.


    2. Douglas,
      reading your posts reminded me that a century ago, some of the best naval minds were engaged in the desperate attempt to find a better way to make smoke. On the British side it was a prerequisite when Admiral Jellicoe was the only man on either side who could lose the War in one day. The trouble with finding a better method of making smoke is that it encourages the development of better methods of dispelling smoke.

      There is a wisdom contest going on in the Western world which may not be resolved for a generation. You are right to point out that different arguments are to be found sheltering under the umbrella of ‘Christianity’ or purloining the name for their own purposes. How is the watching world to know which of these to engage with? In fact, there are many times we are far too charitable with those who seek to destroy us from the inside; we argue for sheep in wolves’ clothing that they are only sheep with extremely sharp teeth; and the children of this world are wiser than the children of God when they use them to put up the you-Christians-are-all-alike smokescreen. The way of dispelling smoke is for us to use the acid test of discrimination that has always been available to us: ‘By their fruits you shall know them.’

      If I may say so, your substitution of ‘religious’ for ‘atheist’ in David’s paragraph does not work because ‘fundamentalist’ and “evangelise” are ‘religious’ words so that applying the simile to ‘religious friends’ is a tautology. In this case the smoke is blown back into your own eyes, but I agree with David that you are right to bring up racism and smugness as blemishes. Would that instead of standing on his dignity and asking Huxley what side of the family the monkey ancestor was to be found, the bishop had reflected that Scripture teaches man made from the dust of the ground. Would that instead of radiating an aura of better-than-you hostility to the Gay community we responded to the good-as-you defiance with as-no-good-as-you humility. No one should depend on the smug respectability of Christians for cover, at least not for very long because that can be expelled for ever with one good sermon on Christ’s humility.

      To take your substitution of ‘religious’ for ‘atheist’ more seriously. We deny that ours is an unproveable narrative. Hundreds of people staked and even gave their lives on the belief that they had encountered Jesus risen from the dead and we, without being dramatic about it, are prepared to stake our lives on the belief that their eyewitness testimony is ungainsayable. Don’t try to hide behind the smokescreen of the failings and inconsistencies of ‘religion’ when you can go for the jugular and investigate those who declare that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in their hearts that God has raised him from the dead.

      And finally, having thrown our cloaks of respectability and superiority to the winds, let’s throw a few young earth creationists to the wolves. The degree of ignorance shown about creationism is actually appalling considering that creationists are genuinely thought to be the arch-enemies of scientific thinking. Be that as it may, there are certain ‘Creationists’ that we would gladly throw out the sleigh and we would do so for their own good; for the destruction of their flesh, so to speak. It’s not that they won’t tell you about Jesus, it’s just that they think it to be an absolute prerequisite that they debunk ‘Evolution’ first of all. This is by no means true of everyone that you might want to shoehorn into the category of young earth creationists and some who give the impression that they are preaching anti-evolution as the gospel who are merely sailing dangerously close to the wind. We have very strong objections to someone masquerading as us but preaching a different gospel than what has been delivered to us. Forgive me for speaking to you as though you are a wolf, Douglas, I have no evidence of your predatory nature, but if you are and such anti-evolutionary zealots fall into your path, do them a favour and don’t play with your food by attacking their anti-evolutionism, Quiz them about the resurrection and you may well get the smoke out of the eyes of both you and them.


    3. Douglas,
      your comments about Bangladesh and Uganda deserve a better response than they have so far received. I don’t agree with Mike17 that Western abortion rates somehow invalidate or nullify your point; except to say that I cannot conceive of non-Westerners accepting ‘a woman’s right to choose’ as an adequate reason for abortion on demand.

      You are, of course, absolutely right that a secular blogger living in a Western Liberal Democracy is far safer than those who are being so cruelly persecuted in Bangladesh. Now, the secularist reaction is to say that ‘religion’ is responsible for the persecution and there is a temptation for Christians to play the game Daesh wants us to play and respond to the ‘religion’ accusation with the ‘correction’ that the murderers are Muslims. Not exactly helpful to the life or death realities on the ground. The murderers are humans and they are sinners and that brings what’s going on very close to home. I do wonder at your hubris, though, in suggesting that Western progress prevents the ‘religious’ murder of bloggers. It did not prevent the murder of a man in Glasgow, apparently because of a tweet.

      You are on less solid ground protesting about Uganda. Yes, in a country where the vast majority of people are ‘religious’ some of the extreme reaction to perceived threats is going to come from ‘religious types’. It may be that the threat to the stability of Uganda is coming from ‘religious types’ as well. Is it known whether or not the revolutionary activists deliberately sowing unrest among young people without a regard for the collateral damage that will follow, are non-religious in any meaningful way? What is reprehensible is when Western politicians, for the sake of public opinion at home, take the moral high ground in their dealings with African leaders, making thoroughly unreasonable demands that cannot be met.

      Not all activists are revolutionaries of course and those who are not seem to get pretty fed up with the clumsy interference of Western politicians who are putatively speaking up on their behalf.


  2. Mr McLellan,

    1 You say, “It’s the same with all philoshopical positions”. If that is so I’d suggest that there is no solid ground, and humanity has both feet planted firmly in mid air. Does that include your philosophy? Or is it universally supreme and sovereign? Above the Chinese, North Koreans, Russians..

    2 Didn’t you know that “… philosophy is dead. It has not kept up with modern developments in science…” according to Hawking. Is that a philosophical statement to which you subscribe, which universally overaches and trumps all others. Don’t know how humanity has existed till now without it, now that we (or he) know know better. That might be an example of CS Lewis’s “chronological snobbery.” In the name of progress the phrase could be changed to “chronological arrogance.” and what about Malcom Muggeridge’s critique of society that we have “educated ourselves into imbecility.”

    3 How do you define religion? I see atheism as very religious, exclusively and absolutely so in the eyes of some.

    4 How do you deal with evil? But here we are regressing – going back to one of David’s earlier blogs. How do I deal with the evil in me, and getting personal, in you and who gets to define evil. But then you don’t believe there was a “fall” , do you?

    5 I do appreciate that you seem to be leaving the door open “depending on the version of Christianity. ” But I suspect that depends on who makes the decision or choice of version. Liberal OK? But that would negate David’s earlier blog “What have christians ever done for us?” I assume you read itI. don’t think you commented.

    1. Mr Graham – thank you for your questions

      1. Humanity is always changing and always adapting is it learns more about itself and the universe in which we live. I agree there is no solid ground but only in the same way there is no solid ground on planet earth. It all moves and changes eventually. Nothing is immovable or immutable.

      2. Disagree with philosophy being dead. Certainly in some areas science has answered some questions but it is a different discipline. I like Muggeridge’s view that evolution will be proved to be a joke. Different scientific disciplines continue to provide evidence on a regular basis to prove how wrong he was.

      3. For me, religion is a belief in an afterlife with a god as a gatekeeper who has rules that need to be followed in this life to get to that afterlife (or variations on that theme). Atheism isn’t that so I think if you see atheism as religious you arent understanding several things.

      4. No. I don’t believe in the fall. The capacity for evil is part of human nature as is the capacity for good. Both are behaviours within human nature.

      5. I don’t, and never would, subscribe to any “version” of Christianity (or other religion) but I also acknowledge that tarring all Christians with the behaviours of some would be the wrong thing to do. I suppose my point is that there are different versions of Christianity only because humanity has created them. This, to me, points to the idea that religions are man made. All of them. Religions are malleable and often serve only the views of the zeitgeist of the time. Christianity has changed over the last 2000 years. So has every other religion changed over time. The religious texts remain the same but human reading of them changes. Hence the Christians of, say 400 CE, would wonder a lot about how modern Christians can call themselves that. And probably vice versa.

      1. Douglas,

        It’s not just one person that sees atheism as a religion but the law of the land. In the Equality Act 2010 religion is defined as any religion or absence of religion.

        On what are you basing your assertion about atheism not being religious?

  3. David

    What is the basis for your assertion that there ever was nothing?

    Why is a past eternal universe any less plausible than a past eternal God?

    Guth’s inflationary cosmological model describes the universe beyond the plank time but makes no claims prior to that, only theists do.

    You posit a non-temporal God with strangely temporal qualities! According to you, God always existed, even before he created time. As he could have chosen his moment of creation whenever he wished, what is the name would you give to the gap between when he did create and when he could have otherwise?

    Time, perhaps!

    1. Congratulations, Jon,
      on discovering that human language is limited by our lack of experience of eternity. We have the concept and the word but not a notion of how it really is. Even mathematical language fails us. We make our sums work by introducing zero into arithmetic but rightly balk at claiming a final theory when the equations require infinity to be factored in and quantum mechanics cannot be made to agree with relativity. We have a word for that: it is a ‘mystery.’

      As a Christian, I can appreciate the joke about ‘time’ before time began but I have to tell you that most of us are done with gaps for God to fill; even if such gaps were originally logic traps of our own devising. Remember that the digger of a trap is often the one who falls in himself.


  4. Douglas McLellan said:
    Mind you, in places like Bangladesh where religious types use machetes to kill people for secular thinking or other religious types in Uganda killing people who are gay (and even wanting laws to support that killing), the idea of western progress where that doesn’t happen is appealing.

    I doubt that the number of people killed in the situations referred to above comes anywhere near the size of the slaughter in so-called western civilisation of innocent unborn babies. How the unborn are treated is a real test of civilisation and the record in western countries is anything but appealing.

  5. John

    Thanks for your comments (even if, I’m afraid, much of it went over my head).

    You are obviously correct that people are indeed prepared to die for their beliefs. The members of the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, Heavens’s Gate, Order of the Solar Temple and, of course, suicide bombers.

    I was cautious to only question the idea of a young earth as opposed to creationism. I am aware there are creationists who are comfortable with the scientific evidence pointing to a universe billions of years old and that the Big Bang was the moment of godly creation (I have no evidence for or against that idea but it’d would have been useful for that you have been explained in the Bible at some point).

    I suppose there is a smoke in front of my eyes but all it prevents me from seeing is a greater understanding of science, philosophy, literature, art and music.

    1. Over your head, Douglas,
      really? I don’t believe that someone with aspirations for greater understanding of science, philosophy, literature, art and music could have any real difficulties with my polemics. Or is it just you putting down the smoke to take up the mirrors? Am I flattered to be incomprehensible? Really not, I’ll just try harder.

      I’m thinking that we’ve got the mirrors out because you reflect my point about the ungainsayable nature of the apostolic witness with a list of self-murderers. If I were really depending on the mere fact that the disciples were willing to die for a cause they believed in, you would surely have protested that soldiers throughout the ages have been prepared to die for causes they don’t believe in as long as they get to fight alongside their comrades in arms. No, it would be an extraordinary claim to say that there was anything other than a very superficial resemblance between, for example, the death of Stephen and any of the suicides you mention. I don’t think you’d make such an extraordinary claim because you don’t have the extraordinary proof such a claim would require.

      You are to be commended for noticing that there are differences between creationists and I suppose are to be commended for your caution, also. The trouble is that you go an emphasis too far in attributing to them the belief that . The ‘all’ is hyperbole of course and it has to be admitted that there are some who do use that argument, who will nevertheless if pressed on scientific knowledge turn out to have as much knowledge of and faith in science as the next person or more. Vanishingly few believe that science is literally all wrong and I’ve never met anyone like that.

      However, I’m anxious to treat your observation seriously. Is young earth creationism as we find it in the real world regressive, or not? Atheists would really like the British public to think so but I’ll tell you a story that may or may not be salutary. A Secondary School teacher in Liverpool signed up to the ‘Truth in Science’ initiative a few years ago and the science spokesman of the ruling party of the City Council declared that it would be doubtful if parents would trust their children’s education to someone with such backward looking views, or words to that effect. The only trouble is that the teacher in question was one of the most respected and successful teachers of Chemistry in the City if not the most respected. I suspect most of the grateful parents and former pupils for that matter were more convinced of the regressive credentials of a politician who voiced his prejudice before doing his homework. Anyway – nothing to do with that I’m sure – his party went from controlling the City Council to being totally unrepresented on it in four years. A younger and I suspect wiser Stephen Hawking said that believers could believe that God made everything in six days as long as they acknowledged that he made it as though it started with a big bang.


  6. Mr McLellan,

    Thank you for your considered response to some of the points I made. I know we can not deal thoroughly with everything on a blog, with endless to-ing and fro-ing, especially when much has passed between David and you but in rejoinder to your numbered points I have these comments:

    1 If progress is on a continuum between point A and point B. where or what is point B? Is it a straight line, or cyclicle? And unless you know B you don’t know whether you are progressing.

    I think the conclusion to your belief that nothing is immutable or immovable is that you can not possibly know B and therefore wouldn’t know where you were, lost at sea.

    I recall being on a senior management leadership course. One component was a session by the captain of participant in a round the world (backwards) yatch race. He was starting to come out with some relativistic new -agey stuff. During the break, I said to him that I knew nothing about navigation, but presumed he needed fixed points to navigate! He agreed.

    Is your belief that there is no god and never can be god, immutable or immovable? And isn’t it predicated on the belief that humanity in all it’s progress will never ever in the future discover god. In effect, it is a claim to immutable omniscience. But I’m glad that you are open to discover that ther is or may be a god.

    Christianity is all about knowing points A and B.

    2 It is a typical non answer (David will know the logical fallacy term ) to dismiss Muggeridge’s point in the way you seek to do. His life and lifestyle was the ep[itome of progressiveness.

    If you are saying the good science of today is bad science tomorrow, I might agree, but I don’y know if Einstein would!

    3 It is very interesting that your definition of religion EXCLUDES Christiianty. It could include almost any other “religion” You clearly, at the bottom, do not understand what Christianity is.

    Your definition is also too narrow. Atheism is a belief system, that has a greater devotion to it, a life built upon it, than many who attend church. So I see your defition as too narrow. Do not many atheists seek to convert, Christians?

    4 Your belief would not prevent you from becoming a Methodist!

    5 I used to think and believe as you do. Thankfully my mind was changed, it was not immutable.

    The Trinity could never be man made.

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