Atheology and the Problem of Evil

What kind of God should deal with evil? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about a certain idea of God that many evangelistic atheists have. We could describe this as a functional god. This god is meant to explain the universe. This god is meant to be a presence to me in suffering.

When it looks like the universe works scientifically on its own and that there is no emotional presence, then atheism seems rational to these people. Let’s consider another aspect of this. What about evil?

Too often, we theists have been on the defensive end in this area. It is up to us to explain why a good God allows evil. What never seems to go answered is “Why should God be obligated to deal with evil at all, let alone in XYZ manner?” To say that God has to deal with evil is to assume that God has an obligation to us.

Note I am not saying that God will not deal with evil. I am questioning the why He will and the how and when of His doing so. If an atheist says that God needs to deal with evil, they have in mind a certain theology of the God that they think should defeat it, but what is this God like? We need to know.

For instance, why should God have to deal with what we deem to be a problem on our terms? Why should He have to deal with it as a being with unlimited resources in a way that we think is amenable to our limited resources? You need more of an answer than “I want Him to” or “If He really loved us, He would do it this way.” Why?

Could it be that evil really became a problem when we thought the universe was meant to be a place that was just to make us happy and that it was all about us? I get that people have talked about suffering and wondered about it for awhile, but at the same time, they didn’t jump to atheism. Job and his friends never doubted the reality of the deity, but just debated what He was like.

The problem of evil is in many ways asking a question about justice. Will there be any justice in the universe? We often have the saying of justice delayed is not justice denied, and it is true. Just because justice isn’t happening immediately doesn’t mean it’s not happening at all.

A Christian specifically views this world as intentional and while this world is not all about our happiness, it is meant for us to live in. We were made for this place. In a sense, this is our home. Someone else like Richard Dawkins will instead look at the world and say in River Out of Eden.

“In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

Yet if this is the way the universe is, then why do we have this longing for justice? Why do we cling to ideas of good and evil? Does Dawkins? Not at all. Look at any moral crusade Dawkins goes on, whether he’s right or wrong in it, he certainly thinks he’s going out for something good. He certainly thinks science is a good worth pursuing. He certainly thinks Christianity is damaging to young people.

And this is what we really need to be asking atheists. What is this idea of good that you hold to? What is this idea of evil? We use these terms and speak about them as if we all know what they mean when they really don’t. I, as a classical theist, ask atheists to tell me what they mean by good. If good boils down to what you want and evil to what you don’t want, then you are saying that the universe should bow to your desires and that if God were real, He would do the same. Not much of a god then.

Then, we need to go beyond that and ask what their idea of God is like. Yes. Atheists have an idea of what God would be like if He existed. One such seems to be He would deal with evil in such and such a way in such and such a time. They also think that this is an obligation on His part.

There is another point I would like to make on this and this is in the question of suffering, but that is for another day.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Atheism And The Search For Purpose

Is Atheism looking for meaning? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I am reading through a book for a class now called Bulwarks of Unbelief. I am finding it quite good and the main question being asked is “What made atheism a strong enough possibility that many people now embrace it?” Now some might go the route of Richard Dawkins and say it was Darwin who made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. Is that it? Is it really that we found a scientific explanation for something and then God was out of a job?

That doesn’t really fit since in the medieval period science was being done and none of it was thought to be the end of God. If anything, it was thought to be explaining and upholding God. If anyone was filling in the gaps of our scientific knowledge, it was the Christians. Yet nowhere in this do you see them saying “Does this put God out of a job?”

The writer of the book, Joseph Minich, brings up Marx and how Marx thought man felt alienated from his labor. Now I oppose Marxism through and through, but while I don’t care for the man, that doesn’t mean he was wrong on everything. Could there be a sense of alienation Marx was right to find, but that he had the wrong solution and explanation for?

Consider this as an example. Before I came here to the seminary, I worked at a Wal-Mart in Tennessee. Now when the time came that I left to come here, what happened? Did the store shut down because I was gone and obviously, no one could do the work that I did and so that was it?

Nope. Hire someone else. I was entirely replaceable. This can be in contrast to a time when a son learned his father’s trade and the business was passed on from generation to generation and there was an investment in one’s labor.

Not only this, but while I was there, did I really care about my job? Nope. I hated it. I liked some of the people that I worked with, but I hated the work that I did. I knew I was expendable and that I was underutilized and that my skills were not being used to the best of their ability.

So yes, I do think the alienation is real.

Minich thinks the main culprit here is technology. We have made the world more and more impersonal. As the world becomes more impersonal, we have a harder time seeing a person behind it all. The world seems to function like a machine.

As a divorced man, I do think there is something to the disconnect from society. I notice when I come home, I go to my apartment building and there are several other apartments. Truth be told, I hardly know anyone in my own building. I have hardly ever had guests over to do anything with me. I also suspect that I am not alone in this. Many of you probably know your Facebook friends better than people you see every day.

As a gamer, I also miss a certain time in life. That was the time of what is now known as couch gaming. Yes, I can play games online with several people and that’s fine, but really, nothing beats getting together and playing Goldeneye, Street Fighter, Smash Brothers, and other multi-player games together in person. Now I can play a game with people I know nothing about and have no investment in other than a desire to win.

Now I think technology could be a part of it, but I also think there is something even bigger looming in the background. If there is a sense of alienation from one’s work and then from the society as a whole, what if there is also that sense from the world entire? What if it seems like we have a world that because we have fostered the natural/supernatural divide, seems to work on its own?

What does this give us but a world without purpose? I find this especially interesting since in my study into game theology, I am noting that purpose is something we all long for. When we think we have a quest, a battle, a goal, we can come alive.

Now this post is a sort of thinking out loud, but it does explain to me not just atheism in that sense, but a certain kind of atheism. You probably know the type. Let’s be clear this is not all atheists as I suspect some atheist readers of this blog will be able to hear the description and say “Yes. I know someone like that. I agree with their atheism, but I don’t agree with their other beliefs about it.”

For sake of discussion, let’s refer to these as a sort of evangelistic atheist. These are atheists who think that they have been delivered from the shackles of irrationality and superstition by being embracing atheism. They now think that all theists they meet are ignorant fools who stay cloistered away from anything that goes against them, believe anything without evidence (Constantly thinking faith is belief without evidence), hate science, are sexual prudes entirely, always vote Republican, and that Christianity has done nothing but harm for the world.

These are the people you find in Facebook groups who seem to do nothing all day long but argue against Christians and other theists. I consider it something akin to many that I see on the left who have what is called Trump-Derangement Syndrome. Whatever you think of him, these are people who seem to have their lives more dominated by Trump than any conservatives that I know. As many of my fellow conservatives say, he lives rent-free in their heads.

If you are an atheist who says “I don’t think God exists, but I know that there are many Christians who do and many of them are smart people and have good reasons for what they believe”, then you are not one of the people I am speaking of. You can also say “I do agree that Christianity has done a lot of good for the world and many people are better for being Christians.” You will debate with Christians, but it is never about who is smarter than the other based on worldviews alone.

When I have seen these evangelistic atheists in the past, I have been confused by it. If you really thought this was the way the world was, why are you wasting your time here? Go on vacation regularly and hit the beach. if you think there is ultimate wrong and right, why not just go out every night sleeping around?

If I am correct, the answer now is obvious. These people are still wanting to find some sort of reading, something that they can do in the world, and they have decided they will be evangelists for atheism to set people free from the shackles of theism into the glorious light of science and reason. Dare I say it, this could be considered a cultic form of atheism.

When I have met atheists like this, they are amazingly like the idea of Christians that they always go against. They refuse to read anything that disagrees with them. They have the entire side painted in an us vs. them battle and the other side is just ignorant of the real truth out there. They alone are the sole bearers of freedom and they must deliver the good news. They will often go about their personal experiences of how they were once Christians. They will not investigate any other ideas contrary to what they believe. They also love the fellowship of other like-minded atheists and seem to have a mutual admiration society going on.

When it comes to the Bible, it must always be interpreted literalistically. They will believe anything whatsoever provided it agrees with them without researching it. If anything could make the other side look bad, it is automatically true. If anything makes it look good or at least is neutral to it, it is automatically false.

I suppose I could go on if need be, but I suspect you get the idea. So, why they do it then is they do it to at least give themselves some sense of purpose. They can think that they are accomplishing something. If work doesn’t give fulfillment and pleasure doesn’t, you have to go somewhere else to get ultimate fulfillment.

Part of my study into gaming theology has been that we have a need for quests in order to find fulfillment. We want to be part of a grand story. If my theory is true, why should that be just the case for Christians? It will be just as true for atheists or any other position. Evangelistic atheists get some fulfillment then out of what they do in spreading their gospel of atheism.

This is a theory that for me is just in its opening stages. This post is a sort of thinking out loud. i do invite your opinions on the matter and especially if you are an atheist that would be not an evangelistic atheist and can say “I know some of the atheists you talk about and yes, this does seem to describe them.”

I look forward to hearing from you.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

 

Book Plunge: Improbable Issues With The God Hypothesis Conclusion

Any final comments? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It is always something good to finish off another poorly argued book. So how does this chapter end?

As I embarked on this endeavor, I aimed to prove to myself that such unbelief was warranted; that such doctrine held so dear by many was nothing more than wishful thinking. I once wanted to believe in a higher power and that an unseen force perhaps carried my being along as I moved along this life that I am currently living – that the pain that I’ve experienced as a child wasn’t all in vain. I was ignorant of the beauty and mystery that existed, without the need to believe that God was the one responsible. I found that I had the ability to learn and see for myself that such a view was obtainable, and that a belief system built on nothing but fanciful tales offered nothing that could answer the questions I had. I know such a way of thinking is possible, and as such I know this is possible for anyone. We are all humans, and with that, we all have the chance to look at the evidence, admit when we have been wrong and work towards a better understanding of this world. My final realization was a simple one.

Brucker, J. D.. Improbable: Issues with the God Hypothesis (p. 136). Kindle Edition.

It’s always amazing how these people still cling to a personal testimony years later. Amazing. As for answering the questions Brucker had, I found it to be pretty simple for the most part. The ones I can say I don’t know to, such as the scientific ones, don’t matter to the ultimate claims of theism and Christianity anyway.

One obvious problem is that Brucker was answering questions, which is fine, but his questions were being ignored. He recounts some stories of this happening in Sunday School and other such events. Pastors and youth leaders. Hear this. If you have a student who is asking questions, never silence or ignore them. If that means you have to do extra work to answer their questions, then do it. Avoid it and you are on the fast track to creating an atheist.

What got my curiosity going was perhaps spurred by my grandfather – an avid fan of Real Time with Bill Maher. While watching the HBO program with my grandfather one night, Maher advertised his then-upcoming documentary Religulous. It sounded like an interesting piece at that time, so once it was released, I purchased a copy and watched it with grandfather. We had a few laughs, but most of all it sparked something inside of me, constructing a question that I still struggle to answer today – Is this popular belief as warranted as was once portrayed to me?

Brucker, J. D.. Improbable: Issues with the God Hypothesis (pp. 137-138). Kindle Edition.

I went to see Religulous shortly after it came out. It sparked a lot of questions in me. Namely, how ignorant does someone have to be to think that this is a powerful critique of religion? You can find my review here.

Brucker goes on to describe struggling in AA because people would attribute so much of their success to God. I find it more concerning that Brucker sees people succeeding all around him and is complaining because of God. Perhaps he could have said “Maybe there is something to this if it leads to so many people leading better lives?” That doesn’t make it true, but it is still evidence to consider.

From my memory, I recall a particular quote which effectively ended the notion that God – as he’s been described – may exist; and if he does in fact exist, almost every monotheist religion that’s supported him has failed remarkably. The particular quote was one of Epicurus – a Greek philosopher – and as do most atheists, I regard this as one of my most favorite. It goes as such: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

Brucker, J. D.. Improbable: Issues with the God Hypothesis (pp. 139-140). Kindle Edition.

The problem is this kind of statement is not even really used by atheistic philosophers anymore. It’s the logical problem of evil and it doesn’t work. That’s not to say all forms of the argument from evil fail, but this one does, and had Brucker just done basic reading on the topic, he would have known that.

Religious faith requires its adherents to relinquish their ability to freely question – perhaps the most beautiful aspect of who we are as human beings.

Brucker, J. D.. Improbable: Issues with the God Hypothesis (p. 140). Kindle Edition.

No. That’s fundamentalism. I freely question and I celebrate anyone who asks questions. Questions are incredible and wonderful and worth exploring.

At any rate, this book is not worth your time and money. I read this stuff so you don’t have to.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

 

 

Book Plunge: Still Unbelievable Part 1

How is the church failing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This book is a response to Justice Brierley’s Unbelievable. This was a popular radio show he did out of the UK where Christians and non-Christians debated, though sometimes Christians debated on an in-house issue. The book has chapters by various skeptics talking about why they still think Christianity is unbelievable.

It starts with the first part of a woman named Sophie who abandoned Christianity. I mainly want to highlight the lessons we can learn from it.

First off, don’t live in a bubble or put your children in one:

I had assumed that it was only with Christians that you could share, connect and be known and that all secular folk had god-shaped holes, with ultimately empty lives, and that they were wracked with guilt and in rebellion to the Almighty. They, of course, knew He existed, they just wanted to live their selfish lives. However, this didn’t’ seem to bare out. My non-theist friends’ lives were no more empty or full than my theist friends’ lives. Some, who clearly stated their atheism, were some of the best parents I’d encountered. They had good, loving family relationship. For the most part, they led pretty wholesome, happy lives and some even confessed to wishing they could believe in a god and had sincerely tried, but not been able.

Johnson, David; Knight, Andrew; Atkinson, Ed; Skydivephil; Taylor, Matthew; Brady, Michael; Dumas, Sophie. Still Unbelievable: Why after listening to Christian arguments we are still skeptics . Reason Press. Kindle Edition.

Of course, I contend that this is because non-Christians also have a Christian background that they get the way they live from, but it doesn’t matter for now. The point is if we paint the other side as if they are constantly wicked in any way, then we are not preparing our young people. If we assume that people feel a constant emptiness without Jesus, then we are not preparing our young people. Our call to evangelism should not depend on our audience having a certain emotional response which they may or may not have. It should depend on the reality that Jesus is the risen Lord, savior, and King of the universe, and there’s no may or may not about that.

Second, we need to really teach the nature of God living as a Trinity:

My faith doubts were never about if there was a god, but rather what His character was like and what His will was for my life.

Johnson, David; Knight, Andrew; Atkinson, Ed; Skydivephil; Taylor, Matthew; Brady, Michael; Dumas, Sophie. Still Unbelievable: Why after listening to Christian arguments we are still skeptics . Reason Press. Kindle Edition.

I stress the Trinity because then we properly get a relational God. We learn who Jesus is. We learn who the Holy Spirit is. The problem is we often look at God and then think about what He has to do with us instead of the other way around. I really can’t stand the idea of people trying to find a “will for their life.” You want to know God’s will for your life? Easy. Conform you to the likeness of Christ. That’s it.

Third, while many apologists don’t really want to bother dealing with popular atheists, we really need to.

I recall the disconcerting, but euphoric moments of discovering Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins, whose irreverence and boldness, left me wide-eyed with my hand over my mouth. I encountered those who’d been theists like Dan Barker, John Loftus, Rob Price and Ryan Bell – all who’ve been guests on the Unbelievable? show, as well as others, like Bart Campolo the de-converted son of Tony Campolo, who I’d worked for in the States.

Johnson, David; Knight, Andrew; Atkinson, Ed; Skydivephil; Taylor, Matthew; Brady, Michael; Dumas, Sophie. Still Unbelievable: Why after listening to Christian arguments we are still skeptics . Reason Press. Kindle Edition.

I have read the writings of the new atheists. I have debated both Loftus and Barker. To those who have only heard pablum from the pulpits all their lives, these seem to be the first people who really argue for something. It’s poor argumentation, but if it’s your first time hearing it, you don’t know how to tell that.

Yes. This sword cuts both ways. That’s also why I would encourage churches to also be reading these skeptical authors together and discussing what they have to say. We should not be afraid of what we are hearing. If we have the truth, we need not fear a counter-argument.

There are many more points that can be made, but those will come with later points in the testimony. Next time we look at this book, we will be discussing if God makes sense of human existence.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

 

Book Plunge: Things Atheists Say That Simply Make No Sense

What do I think of Patrick Prill’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was given this book by a friend when he told me he had an extra copy and I found it intriguing. I was pleased to see in the table of contents that indeed, there was something saying that one dumb thing that is said is that Jesus never existed. Seriously atheist community. If you meet one of your own who is saying this, it’s best to ask him to please be quiet on your behalf.

I would ultimately describe this book as a gateway book. Each chapter is short and thus good for the purpose of small group discussion. You don’t have to read any prior chapter to understand the latter ones. You can just go to whatever you’re dealing with to see what is said.

This is also largely dealing with the new atheists, which is just fine because it’s more likely the lay Christian will also be engaging with your common internet atheist types who will be using new atheist material. The book deals with objections relating to the universe, to God, to Jesus specifically, to morality, etc. There is a final section introducing atheists who became theists. Not all of them became Christians, but they became theists.

So the positives. First off, as I have said, the chapters are short and they do have several references so you can look beyond this book and get more information. Notes are extremely helpful to see and yes, they are footnotes. Prill lets you know where he gets his information from.

I think my favorite chapter was the one on religion leading to war. There is information here that I found quite helpful for this common question. As I said, this is entry-level, but on this question this is an excellent entry.

For some criticisms, I do think that when Josephus is talked about, there is not enough said about the different versions we have of what Josephus said. Your average internet atheist will know about this and it could very well catch a  Christian unaware. This is also important since sadly, this is one of the most common objections I come across. (Again atheists, please clean up your own house. I know there are a lot of you that recognize this claim as nonsense thankfully.)

My biggest criticism though is in a chapter on asking if God is required for objective moral values to exist. If I had a hand in any sort of rewriting of a second edition of the book, this is the chapter I would change the most. As a Thomistic thinker, I was really stunned when I got to one part of this.

Prill asks if the question of if morality could exist if God didn’t and the answer is, perhaps.

Whoa.

This isn’t just about morality anymore. This is dealing with everything else. If it is possible for something to exist if God does not, then this means that ultimately, God is not the grounding of everything that exists. Scripture says about Jesus regularly in the New Testament in places like John 1, 1 Cor 8, Col, 1, and Hebrews 1, that Jesus is the means by which God created everything else and without Him, nothing else would exist. The logical conclusion, one I am sure Prill would deny but unfortunately a statement like this leads to, is that God is not foundational for existence. It would mean that it is not God’s nature to be, but that being is something He possesses.

Definitely fix that in any future entries. After all, if God doesn’t exist, then really nothing else exists at all. There is no ground of being.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Is Morality Constructed?

Is morality a construct? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

“You’re telling me that judging right from wrong is just a matter of our personal feelings and preferences, grounded in nothing more substantial than our own views, with nothing external to back it up? That there are no objectively true moral facts out there in the world?
Yes, but admitting that morality is constructed, rather than found lying on the street, doesn’t mean that there is no such thing as morality. All hell has not broken loose.”
The Big Picture by Sean Carroll pg 409-410.
So says Carroll, and he does want to say that this doesn’t mean morality isn’t real, but this depends on what is meant by real. If you mean that there aren’t systems out there that we call morality, that’s false. People who do not believe in any external source of goodness and morality do hold to some idea of morality. If you mean that morality is not something that we discover, that is true though. In that sense, morality doesn’t exist.
Now for my purposes, when I talk about morality, I push it back further and ask about goodness. Very few people bother to even define good when they use the term. I prefer to go with what Aristotle said in the opening of his Ethics.
Goodness is that at which all things aim. Goodness has a being to it. A good pizza is the one that has the attributes a pizza should have. A good squirrel is one that can climb trees and eat nuts. A good book fulfills the purpose of a book. A good human being is one who lives as a human being ought and does actions a human being ought which are good actions.
It’s simplistic in writing it out because the philosophy is much more in-depth. Edward Feser does have a good introduction to it in his book Aquinas. I recommend someone curious go there if they want to learn more.
So now let’s consider what it means to be constructed. Carroll compares it to basketball. Just because basketball is a construct doesn’t mean the rules aren’t real. It used to be played with baskets and the ball would have to be fetched every time it went in, and then we found a hoop with a net worked a lot better. Why can’t morality be like basketball?
It is true basketball was nothing discovered. It was made up by someone. Normally, a shot is worth 2 points, but we could easily imagine a universe where it is worth 3. We can imagine a universe with 7 players on each team. However, imagine if these universes were real and some team from that universe tried to play a team from ours? We would have to bend the format of the game seriously since things were so different.
I’m an avid gamer and I find the history of video games fascinating. One thing I found out recently was that Mario might not have been the mascot of Nintendo. When Donkey Kong was being worked on, Popeye was being seriously considered for the role of the one fighting the big gorilla. We could have had Super Popeye Brothers or something similar. Bowser could have been forever replaced by Bluto.
There is nothing essential to these games, but is morality something like that? It could be I could have grown up in a universe where it was Super Popeye and be thinking, “Wow. I just learned the other day they were going to go with some plumber guy named Mario for a while. Can you imagine how bad that would have been?”
If we try to imagine a world where it is okay to torture babies for fun or where we would praise the Holocaust as a great event in human history or where boys were encouraged to go out and rape women, it sounds like a nightmare. It’s hard to imagine such a world. I can easily picture our scientific theories changing, but I cannot picture some moral principles ever changing.
The question we have to ask is if those principles are discovered or invented by us. If they are invented, then like basketball, we could make them whatever else we wanted eventually. It could happen just like it did with games. The Yakuza series of games went from a fighting style to an RPG style. Breath of the Wild broke the rules for Zelda games by making a truly open world Zelda game and it was the best selling Zelda game of all time. We can say torturing babies for fun is wrong, but we can eventually get to a point where it will be okay and practically celebrated.
If they are discovered though, we can go against the grain all we want to, but we are doing something truly evil if we torture babies for fun. It doesn’t matter if everyone else thinks otherwise. The whole planet could think it is okay to torture babies for fun and they would be wrong.
Now Carroll does say if we have moral differences, we can sit down and talk them out, but to what end? We talk about matters that we disagree to come to some truth, but if there is no moral truth, then why talk about it? We can talk about why we like different flavors of ice cream, but we don’t think there’s some eternal truth on ice cream flavors to be discovered, although if there was, peanut butter ice cream of any kind would be marked as the best of all.
Not only that, but why should I care about what you have to say in a conversation? Perhaps my morality that I construct tells me it’s okay to kill you on the spot and take your money and credit cards. You might not like that. Tough. Why should I care? Why should I be working on any goal with you? Why should I not just do what i want?
You want to tell me that’s wrong and that you will throw me in prison? Isn’t that just you enforcing your own morality on me? You want to punish someone for disagreeing with a claim you hold that is not objectively true anyway but is just your personal opinion?
Let’s go even further. The only reason any of us does anything is we think we are achieving some good. In Hitler’s mind, doing the holocaust was a good thing. In Stalin’s mind, murdering millions of his people was a good thing. The reason anyone does anything is they are pursuing what they perceive as a good.
But if nothing is truly good or bad but thinking makes it so, what reason is there to truly do anything? It’s all still just chasing an illusion. This is quite interesting for someone like Carroll who wants to be so scientific and live in reality.
But if reality is there is no good or bad at all, then why should we create a fake system just so we can survive? Do we have to deny reality in order to make it in this world? We could say all hell has not broken out yet, but if people en masse ever did embrace the idea of moral relativism or constructivism, there’s no reason it wouldn’t.
In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

School Shootings And Evil

Is this proof there is no God? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last night, I saw on Unbelievable? in Facebook a thread with a news story about the school shooting yesterday and showing it as proof that God does not exist. The problem with something like this is that proof is a strong word to use. I could understand skepticism, but most philosophers, even atheistic ones, agree that there would be no proof here. The logical problem of evil is not really used that much anymore.

Now I have some political thoughts on this event that I shared yesterday on Facebook and I plan on sharing here as an addendum to this post, but the theological ones are the ones worth talking about. I have said on another post that I do not understand the usage of the problem of evil in this way.

This is not about whether theism is true or not as this point cannot establish theism or atheism. This is on a more matter of living everyday and of practicality. We could consider it a sort of Pascal’s Wager point on how you would want the universe to be.

Let’s suppose we have two universes. In one, there is no God. Now right away, since I think God is necessary for the universe to exist in any way, I am granting a huge point, but this is just for the sake of argument. In this universe, matters are exactly the same for the most part and the school shooting has taken place.

Will the victims ever live again? Not a chance.

Will the parents ever see their children again? No way.

Will the teacher who was killed ever see their family again and vice-versa? Forget about it.

Will anyone who does such a crime and somehow gets away with it ever get justice? Not necessarily.

Is there any hope for healing? Perhaps, but it sure isn’t built in hope of resurrection.

In a Christian universe, all the answers are different. Now this does not show God exists, but it does show we should hope that God does exist. That an atheist wants to use this is practically a way to me of saying, “Let’s push some hopelessness!”

The pushback I received was mind-boggling. Unfortunately, that thread seems to have been eliminated so I will have to go by memory.

First I had said that good can come out of this, and so the reply was “So you’re saying what happened was good?”

Good grief. Do these people not read?

Let’s be clear. Evil is evil. That’s a tautology, but no one can make evil good. God doesn’t even make evil good. God makes evil people into good people and brings good things out of evil things. There is a difference.

But don’t I believe in Heaven in that this gunman could have repented right before death and received forgiveness and gone to Heaven?

He could have, though I think if someone is that bent on evil it is highly unlikely. However, would you honestly want it to be otherwise? If you would rather someone suffer for evil rather than realize the error of their ways and turn, then that reveals very little about the evildoer and much more about yourself. We should always hope someone will change their ways and repent. We should always hope someone would embrace the good.

Right now, I have an ex-wife. It would be easy to delight if something goes wrong with her and her desires and she has to suffer, but why should I want that at all? Note that this is even a woman who has accused me of being abusive to her and shattered my heart to pieces and I suffer everyday because of it. Why should I delight in her suffering? That will not help me at all in my life.

Instead, I pray for her constantly and that God will show her mercy and where I am in error, let justice and mercy come to me appropriately. If I were to pray that she suffer instead, then that reveals nothing about her and more about me.  Anyone can treat their friends well. It’s how you treat those who wrong you and your loved ones that shows who you are.

However, just because someone is in Heaven or in Hell doesn’t mean that it’s all equal. There are degrees of blessing and degrees of suffering. My ministry partner and I have talked about people who will be scrubbing toilets in the New Jerusalem.

There is also the claim that someone who is murdered if their murderer repents could be forced to spend eternity with the person who murdered them.

Yes? And?

That article is sufficient to deal with those claims.

I was also told that I said the murderer is good. Not at all. Scripture tells us none are good but God alone. The beauty of the Gospel is that it takes evil people and makes them good people, people like you and I.

To those who lost loved ones yesterday, Christianity offers hope of resurrection. It says that good can come out of the darkest places. It offers our Lord who Himself was in the darkest place and out of that came the greatest good. It also says that those who turn to Him can have hope.

From just a practical basis, I would hope Christianity was true and I would think any honest atheist would want to know that there could be a way that good could come out of evil and there will be hope. In an atheistic universe, I gain no practical benefit from this.

May we all pray for those involved yesterday and that includes the shooter’s family who has their own suffering as well.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Political addendum:

So after this shooting, I did watch and saw Biden make a speech where he pretty much immediately went after the gun lobby and called for the passing of stronger laws concerning guns.
I am old enough to remember where the politicizing of a tragedy was normally condemned right after it happened, but I guess that the rules change when the left has power.
But since it has already been done, here are some points to consider.
If someone is really willing to break a law against murder and even kill kids doing it, do you really think they are going to pay attention to a gun law? Does anyone think the only place to get guns is through a licensed dealer or a place that does background checks?
Here are some better ideas.
From now on, police investigate every claim about someone making any sort of threat whatsoever against a school. If it comes out sometime in this that the villain (And here’s a side point. Don’t mention their names. They don’t deserve credibility. Just call them the X shooter for whatever school it was) was reported many times and had a history of threats and the police never did anything, that’s on them then.
When we say a place is a gun-free zone, what we are really saying is “Come in here and start shooting because we can’t stop you!” Everyone should agree that most people who have guns in this country are good and law-abiding citizens. The overwhelming majority would never do what some idiot did today.
If gun laws won’t stop these people, and they won’t, what will stop them?
For one thing, enforce the laws we have. If someone commits a crime that results in the intentional taking of a human life, don’t dilly-dally on it. Get them in and get them in jail and keep them locked up. If we have to use the death penalty, we do. Let people see that crime has a price to it.
Second, there are countless veterans all over this country who would love to have a side job of some kind where they get to patrol our area schools and keep students safe. Let them take security positions in schools. Many of them would be glad to do it on even a volunteer position.
Third, any teacher who wants to should be allowed to have a gun with them. Don’t think you can trust them with it? Then why trust them with your kids? Teachers are adults who should have the right to arm themselves, especially to protect students that can often be like family to them.
A law will not stop a shooter, but what could stop them is the thought that there are several people in that school who could kill them just as quickly before they get to go on a mass shooting spree. The best defense is indeed a good offense. Let the criminals wonder who it is that has guns in a school or any other place for that matter and let them ask if they are willing to take that risk.
Gun laws do not work and gun-free zones do not work. If you want to murder someone, you will not be stopped by a law. Fear is what will work.

Book Plunge: God’s Gravediggers Part 2

Do gods have to compete? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re returning to God’s Gravediggers and looking at chapter 2 on the logical rivalry of the gods. Now Bradley’s main area is philosophy. You would hope that a professor of philosophy would give you something worthwhile. Sadly, that is not the case.

Naturally, you have the whole idea that how can people just believe the religion they were born in happens to be the right one? Well, if a religion is right, then some people will be born into it, and yes, they will be born into the right one. However, you don’t see any interaction with anything like Muslims that are regularly having dreams and visions of Jesus and becoming Christians despite growing up and living in Middle Eastern countries.

There’s also the talk about religion being the cause of war when usually more often, religion becomes an excuse for war. Of course, religion can’t be as peaceful as atheism which never leads to destruction, unless you count Stalin, Mao, and Pol-Pot. I do not count Hitler as an atheist, but I also don’t think World War II was a religious war as in followers of one religion against another.

There is the mention of Pascal’s Wager which is badly misunderstood. It’s a shame that the wager seems to be about the only thing anyone remembers of Pascal. Pascal is giving an argument along the lines of the person who is sitting on the fence between atheism and Christianity. He’s suggesting you try to live out Christianity and see how it works out for you. He’s not talking about someone who is unsure if any religion is true and wants to investigate several of them.

Now after all of this, he does give an interesting lesson on logic and validity and soundness and other such matters. There is little if anything here that is objectionable. If anything, a number of atheists could be helped by getting a crash course in logic.

Unfortunately, then we get back and we get Hume with his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. I will quote the section that Bradley quotes in its totality:

“I may add as a fourth reason, which diminishes the authority of prodigies, that there is no testimony for any, even those which have not been expressly detected, that is not opposed by an infinite number of witnesses; so that not only the miracle destroys the credit of testimony, but the testimony destroys itself. To make this the better understood, let us consider, that, in matters of religion, whatever is different is contrary; and that it is impossible the religions of ancient Rome, of Turkey, of Siam, and of China should, all of them, be established on any solid foundation. Every miracle, therefore, pretended to have been wrought in any of these religions (and all of them abound in miracles), as its direct scope is to establish the particular system to which it is attributed; so has it the same force, though more indirectly, to overthrow every other system. In destroying a rival system, it likewise destroys the credit of those miracles, on which that system was established; so that all the prodigies of different religions are to be regarded as contrary facts, and the evidences of these prodigies, whether weak or strong, as opposite to each other. According to this method of reasoning, when we believe any miracle of Mahomet or his successors, we have for our warrant the testimony of a few barbarous Arabians: And on the other hand, we are to regard the authority of Titus Livius, Plutarch, Tacitus, and, in short, of all the authors and witnesses, Grecian, Chinese, and Roman Catholic, who have related any miracle in their particular religion; I say, we are to regard their testimony in the same light as if they had mentioned that Mahometan miracle, and had in express terms contradicted it, with the same certainty as they have for the miracle they relate. This argument may appear over subtile and refined; but is not in reality different from the reasoning of a judge, who supposes, that the credit of two witnesses, maintaining a crime against any one, is destroyed by the testimony of two others, who affirm him to have been two hundred leagues distant, at the same instant when the crime is said to have been committed.”

The whole of this is that every religion seems to have miracles and these miracles contradict one another and thus rule them all out. However, this is simply false. What if I said, “In studying biological evolution on the origin of life, every scientist has a different theory and all these theories are used to argue against the other theories and so no theory is true.” You can be a Christian who fully disbelieves in evolution and still see that as highly invalid.

“Gentlemen of the jury. We have seen many theories put forward today to explain the crime. All of them contradict one another, so there is no reason to believe that my client committed the crime.”

Not only that, but let’s look closer and especially at the big three, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Judaism would certainly want to deny some miracles of Jesus, like the resurrection, if not all miracles, and Islam does acknowledge the miracles of Jesus and many in Judaism, but not the resurrection and sees Muhammad as the final prophet, but Muhammad did no miracles. It is only in the hadiths years later that we have any miracles.

Meanwhile, Christians have no problems with the miracles in the Old Testament and since there are no miracles in Islam in the life of Muhammad, we really have no problem there. We just look at the evidence for Islam and problems in the Qur’an. We also still have the very positive case for the resurrection.

So thus far, color me unpersuaded by Hume’s observations.

Now it should be acknowledged that a general theism can be held by all the religions. In the Middle Ages, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim philosophers could all use arguments like Aristotelian ones to argue for the existence of a deity with such and such attributes. Knowing which deity it is would come down to personal revelation. Not a single one of the five ways of Aquinas establishes Christianity, but they do establish theism and thus refute atheism and they are consistent with Christianity, but also with Judaism and Islam. If one faults the argument for not proving Christianity, then one is faulting an argument for not proving what it was never meant to prove.

He then goes on to talk about the resurrection. Please do not be drinking anything as you read this:

“Did the Resurrection occur? Of course, the question itself rests on the presupposition that Jesus actually lived: he can’t have been resurrected unless he’d been alive beforehand. And some might question that. But suppose one grants this contentious presupposition. Then someone intent on exploring the credentials of this belief may be dismayed to find that the four Gospels provide different, and inconsistent, stories of the Resurrection; that those stories were unmentioned by, and apparently unknown to, early Church Fathers until well into the second century A.D.; that there are no independent and well-authenticated records of Jesus ever having lived, let alone having died and having risen from the grave; or, again, that many of the earliest Christians of whom we do have an authentic historical record, the so-called Docetists, whose views held sway from 70 C.E. to 170 C.E., regarded Jesus as having always been nothing but an apparition, a spirit without any physical body that could die or therefore be resurrected.”

Bradley, Raymond. God’s Gravediggers: Why no Deity Exists (pp. 69-70). Ockham Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Sorry, but only on the internet is there really any contention that Jesus lived. I am sure Bradley would be horrified if I said about a scientific argument, “This assumes that evolution is true, but suppose one grants this contentious presupposition.” Unfortunately for him, that is the exact way mythicism sounds. Not only this, but he pays no attention to Paul in 1 Corinthians, where most scholars go to today to argue the resurrection, does not look at any Gospel scholarship for those who want to go that route, and gives no indication from the Church Fathers on the beliefs of early Christians that he claims.

He later asks why a resurrection proves that one is divine. Didn’t Lazarus rise in the Gospels and many when Jesus died in Matthew 27? Even accepting both of those for the sake of argument, no one ever said because someone rises from the dead, they are divine. It is first the nature of the resurrection of Jesus, as He rose to never die again, but also that His resurrection was based on the claims that He was making about Himself and who He said He was. The resurrection was God’s vindication of Jesus’s claims about His own identity. It would behoove Bradley to read some N.T. Wright. At least he could be better informed in his disagreement.

Bradley also uses an analogy of a horse race. Suppose you have reason to believe the race has been rigged so that the horse you are betting on will win. Unfortunately, everyone else has that same position and the majority disagree with you, so you’re probably wrong.

If Bradley thinks this is an effective argument, why is he an atheist? After all, the majority of people alive and who have ever lived have not been atheists and so it would seem the preponderance of the evidence is that atheism is false. In reality, we could say easily that most any position on most subjects is wrong. In the ancient world, the majority of people thought there was no problem with slavery. If Bradley traveled back in time to that era, should he just accept he is wrong if he disagrees?

Bradley then asserts that a diligent inquiry into matters will show that the evidence for a religious belief is not valid, but this just reeks of the Mormonism claim to pray the prayer to see if Christianity is true. I have done a diligent search and concluded Christianity is true. Yet by Bradley’s definition, he would say I must not have done that because I did not arrive at the conclusion he did. Now if I did become an atheist, well then, I searched diligently. Anyone who disagrees does not.

Yet Bradley gets even worse in this very section:

“He might go so far as to question, with Albert Schweitzer and others, whether there is good historical evidence for the existence of a Christ Jesus, and end up embracing merely the so-called “ethics” associated with the Jesus myth. He might even come think that there’s good reason to subscribe to the so-called “Mythicist” tradition of those who confidently assert that belief in Jesus has no more warrant than does belief in Santa or Sherlock Holmes.”

There is wiggle room here, but it looks like he’s asserting that Schweitzer was a mythicist. Obviously, there has been a lack of a “diligent inquiry.” Schweitzer was definitely not a mythicist. Mythicism is highly regarded as a joke position today. Unfortunately, Bradley does not know this.

In talking about laws of nature, he says that they are descriptive and not prescriptive. So far, so good. Then he says “Who made them? Who enforces them? How frequently are they broken?” He tells us that these questions do not arise from laws of nature, therefore, there is no reason or experience for thinking someone like a god is behind them.

Sorry, but many people still think that the question of where these laws comes from is a good question and just asserting your position is not a good argument in reply. He also says there is no warrant in reason or experience for thinking they have ever been broken. This is true, granted that you completely ignore the reasons people give and the experiences they do for thinking just that. Nope. No need to give an argument. They’re just wrong. He also says that even if science hasn’t brought about the way for how a phenomenon came about, we can be confident that it will.

Because?

He could be right, but upon what grounds? Even if he is right, how does that rule out theism? It doesn’t.

He then tells us that all miracles done in the name of God or religion have a foundation in illusion or self-delusion.

Isn’t it great to be an atheist and get to make sweeping grand claims without any evidence that people should just take on faith? God forbid he read any of Keener’s books on miracles!

But wait, he does give one! They are impossible because they violate the laws of nature which cannot be broken. Let me spell out the logic for you here.

The laws of nature have never been broken.
Therefore, miracles are impossible.
Miracles would be a breaking of a law of nature.
But a law of nature has never been broken.
Therefore, miracles are impossible.

The argument is entirely circular. It is only if you know the laws of nature have never been broken can you assert that it is impossible to break them. However, even if we granted they have never been broken, that doesn’t mean they never will be. Hume himself said that if you drop a stone and it falls 1,000 times, that does not prove it will fall the next time you drop it. Why should past experience of consistent laws in a universe that is an accident lead me to think that the future will be the same?

Whew! That’s a lot, and keep in mind this is only covering the highlights of the chapter! Next time we look at this book, we will cover chapter 3.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: God’s Gravediggers Part 1

What do I think of Raymond Bradley’s book published by Ockham Publishers? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I got this book seeing it on sale on Kindle and seeing praise from Graham Oppy for it. I thought this would then be a good and challenging read. Unfortunately, the more I go through this book, the more I see it is not that. Bradley holds to extreme fundamentalist views. Unfortunately, I can easily see why.

Bradley grew up in New Zealand in a situation that was hyper-fundamentalist. He talks about being at Bible camps and all manner of events constantly. At one, he talks about how a leader taught about masturbation and treated it essentially as if it was the unforgivable sin and identified it with blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Whether or not one agrees with masturbation or not, I don’t know anyone who thinks that’s what Jesus was talking about in the Gospels.

There was also the case that his parents when confronted with questions would tell him to have faith. Now I cannot prove any of these stories, but I am going to accept them on face value. I really have no reason to not do so.

So let’s say this at the start. Parents. If you think your faith is extremely important and that your child should believe the things you believe, don’t you think you should study those things and why you should believe them? If you have no reason to believe what you believe, why should your children?

I can think of no other area in your life where people would say have faith? Whether you are a conservative or a liberal, do you tell your child to just have faith your position is true. Do you tell them why you think they should support or oppose gun control instead? Do you tell them why they should or should not support minimum wage laws?

Bradley also early on talks about what could convince him of theism. On page 7, he tells how if the heavens opened tomorrow and God was revealed and kept sharing His desires and ended all injustice and human and animal suffering, he might consider revising his beliefs. When atheists make statements like this, it tells me they are not open to argumentation. They want an experience. (All the while, telling Christians to not go by their experiences.)

He also says that dates are given for people like Caesar in ancient history, but not for the Son of God. It’s hard to believe so many people think this is a serious objection. Now if everyone believed Jesus was the Son of God, of course, they would have written that, but hardly anyone did. Bradley compares the Caesar on the throne to what the rest of the world said was a crucified criminal and asks “Why was one recorded and not the other?”

He also goes on to say the prevailing view among Christians at the start was Docetism. Source for this? Good luck.

When he writes about the existence of Jesus, he says most scholars regard what was said in Josephus as interpolation possibly invented by Eusebius. Source for this? None. He also says Tacitus was at best just hearsay of what Christians were reporting. Source? The same. None. Most scholars think there is some interpolation to Josephus’s first reference to Jesus, but not the whole statement is interpolation. The second one is hard to regard as interpolation.

The reference to Tacitus is not hearsay as Tacitus did not care about hearsay and regularly checked every claim given, including by his best friend Pliny. He was a senator and a priest. If anyone had access to the information, it was Tacitus.

Bradley goes on to decide how his parents reacted to his questioning. This included physical beatings by his father that were so bad a neighbor threatened to call the police. It also involved some books he got being burned. This is actually a great example of how NOT to reach your children. His parents saw this coming for years. They sat him down with two experts, but never seemed to consider learning themselves.

At this, I can have some sympathies for Bradley as such abuse is never justified. However, it looks like Bradley has stayed at this state. He is still the fundamentalist that he was years ago as we will see.

We will continue next time on chapter 2.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: Three Views on Creation and Evolution Conclusion

What are my final thoughts? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So having reached the end, I want to lay out some thoughts on the matter. While I have my views, I want to focus on what I think we should agree on. All of what I say will be that which I think should be agreed on by all Christians in the debate.

First, whatever is shown to be true by science and Scripture should be accepted. Christians should have no problem with whatever method God chose to use. If the evidence showed He used evolution to create, then we accept that. If we find evidence that shows that the Earth is much younger than we thought, then we accept that.

If we hold to inerrancy, this should not be a problem. We would realize that if Scripture is true then whatever is shown by science will align with it. To say otherwise is to keep going on with the outdated conflict hypothesis.

Second, we should not try to fill in gaps with God. When the medieval scientists did their work, they were filling in gaps of knowledge and thought by explaining more, they were giving more glory to God. They were discovering how the creator chose to work and tended to want to use materialistic explanations. They really did not do appeal to miracle.

If we put God in as just someone to stop a gap, then we have a very different view of God. We often have it that we think the universe can exist just fine on its own and is not dependent in any way on God, despite Scripture regularly telling us otherwise. This is where we get to the internet atheist idea that if evolution is true, God is out of a job. This is itself a theology that does hold that the universe can exist on its own. How it exists needs to be answered.

Third, that doesn’t mean there could never be gaps where miracles could occur, but a miracle should not be occurred to just because there is a gap in knowledge. I would think we would need some indication from Scripture that a miracle took place and a problem clearly insurmountable by materialistic means. Unfortunately, no one will agree entirely on what that means, which means it is part of the debate.

Fourth, we need to stop telling everyone why they’re holding the positions that they hold unless they say otherwise. Atheists will tell Christians they hold their views for a fear of death, for example. Christians will tell atheists they just want to live in sin. Now in some cases, this could be true, but we need to realize that saying that doesn’t deal with the arguments.

Meanwhile, between us, something I saw in the book was various appeals to why someone held their view and the reasons were never good. It was a psychological motive that the other person would always deny. No matter who is doing this, it doesn’t help our debate any.

Fifth, we need to realize there are going to be gaps in our knowledge always no matter our viewpoint. I said I would have some of my own questions for evolution and here is a big one I wonder about. I wonder how sexual reproduction came about. I can understand single-celled organisms reproducing by themselves. It sounds like a complex process, but that is within onesself.

I have a hard time understanding how through small incremental steps a system evolved between the two sexes in species where they would reproduce in such a method. I would be willing to accept that this is just an unknown at the time, but for me, it is a big unknown. That brings me to my next point to discuss.

Sixth, either way, we definitely have to avoid making people think, no matter their worldview, that they must choose between Christianity and science. When atheists tell Christians they have to accept either evolution or Christianity, a great many will choose Christianity because it gives them greater benefits in their lives and sadly will become hostile to science and not make great contributions that they could make.

Christians, meanwhile, will not reach atheists if they say it has to be one or the other. This should be seen as an in-house debate. Whatever one thinks of evolutionary creationism, I really don’t think it should be labeled a heresy. Heresy is a very serious charge that puts someone outside of salvation.

Ultimately, perhaps we should all just listen to one another more. Instead of saying why we think the other person believes X, let them tell us why they believe it. What is their evidence? Maybe we should then respond to that.

I would like to see this debate get along better and have us realize we are Christians debating an issue that is really secondary. We all unite on Jesus, which is the most important aspect.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)