Wednesday, March 30, 2011
"If something is perfect, nothing imperfect can come from it. Someone once said that bad fruit cannot come from a good tree, and yet this "perfect" God created a "perfect" universe which was rendered imperfect by the "perfect" humans. The ultimate source of imperfection is God. What is perfect cannot become imperfect, so humans must have been created imperfect. What is perfect cannot create anything imperfect, so God must be imperfect to have created these imperfect humans. A perfect God who creates imperfect humans is impossible."
Here again, the challenger appears to be using valid logic. If something that is perfect can only create perfection, then the Christian God is disqualified. But the challenger's first sentence is not proven; it is simply an assertion. So too is the claim that what is perfect cannot create anything imperfect. So, for the argument to have force, there must be some support for the premise that a perfect being is "limited" in what it can do, namely, that it can only create perfection. But the very articulation of this notion betrays the problem embedded in the assertion: it purports to limit the power of a perfect being. In other words, immediately after acknowledging God's infinite power - his perfection - the skeptic, himself an imperfect being, attempts to limit the types of things God can do.
But how could he possibly know what God can or cannot do? On what basis can he conclude that a limitless, all-powerful being is constrained in the options available to him? Certainly, the possibility that a perfect being could create something less than himself is not contradictory. The opposite, of course, would be true; an imperfect being would be unable to impart to his creation something that he himself does not possess. So, it would be contradictory to claim that an imperfect being could create God. But why would a greater being be unable create something that is lesser than himself?
But there is an even greater flaw embedded in the challenge. That is, the skeptic assumes that God set out to create a "perfect" universe and somehow failed. But how does the skeptic arrive at this conclusion? What evidence is there of God's purpose or that God failed to achieve this purpose? To arrive at such a conclusion, one would first have to know the intent of the creator. Is not "perfection" in the eyes of the person setting the standard? After all, perfection denotes a quality or performance or attribute that cannot be surpassed. For example, perfect vision would mean vision that cannot be improved upon. But to know what perfect vision is, one would first have to know what is to be accomplished with vision. Is it simply seeing in daylight, or also in complete darkness or underwater? Only with a clear understanding of the designer's purpose could one know how close to the mark he hit.
The challenger would no doubt respond that this universe is imperfect under any definition. But by this he would mean that things break, that health suffers, that people do evil, or other things of this nature. But what was God's goal in creating this universe? Could it have been to allow for the development of beings who can experience true love, freely given? In other words, beings capable of exercising free will, and by so doing, necessarily capable of doing evil? Could the struggles we face in this broken world be part of a process by which we are developed, and refined? If so, then perhaps this universe is in fact a creation optimally designed to maximize the number of people who will freely choose to love God.
With sufficiently clear vision, it is possible to see that creating a universe filled with robots and other perfectly functioning things would not have accomplished God's purpose. Indeed, what God had in mind was far more ambitious - and wonderful - and creating something that fits our definition of perfection simply wasn't part of his plan.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
...Volf... lived through the nightmare years of ethnic strife in the former Yugoslavia that included the destruction of churches, the raping of women, and the murdering of innocents. He once thought that wrath and anger were beneath God, but he came to the realization that his view of God had been too low. Here Volf puts the New Atheists' complaints about divine wrath into proper perspective:
I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God. Isn't God love? Shouldn't divine love be beyond wrath? God is love, and God loves every person and every creature. That's exactly why God is wrathful against some of them. My last resistance to the idea of God's wrath was a casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, a region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed, and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalize beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry. Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandfatherly fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators' basic goodness? Wasn't God fiercely angry with them? Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God's wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn't wrathful at the sight of the world's evil. God isn't wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.
Monday, March 28, 2011
PleaseConvinceMe Podcast 197
In this episode, Jim answers the classic question, “Can God create a stone so heavy that he cannot lift it?” What does “omnipotence” mean from the Biblical perspective of the Christian Worldview and does the Bible have anything to say about the nature of God that might make sense of the paradox? Also, Jim answers listener email about King David, war in the Old Testament, the danger of false teachers, the nature of the world prior to the Fall and whether or not Hitler was a Christian.
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Sunday, March 27, 2011
"If God was all that existed back then, what disturbed the eternal equilibrium and compelled him to create? Was he bored? Was he lonely? God is supposed to be perfect. If something is perfect, it is complete--it needs nothing else. If God is perfect, there can be no disequilibrium. There is nothing he needs, nothing he desires, and nothing he must or will do. A God who is perfect does nothing except exist. Therefore, a perfect being that creates is impossible.”
Challenges like these can be daunting, especially for someone not interested in philosophy. On its face, the challenge appears to have validity, reasoning to a conclusion about God. But in fact what is at play here is the "straw man" fallacy. The challenger sets up a God whose attributes are not those of the God of the Bible, and then argues from that the God we worship could not exist.
Notice what is implicit in the challenge: the skeptic seems to be acknowledging God as an eternal being, but his questions assume that God has no power to control time. Time becomes a force over God, and not one that God created and controls. Consider: the challenger asks "what compelled God to create?" as if God is sitting around for eons wondering what to do. He uses words like "bored," "lonely," "needs," and "desires." Each of these concepts is temporally based: "boredom" means an awareness that one's present circumstances lack sufficient stimulation and an anticipation of changing this condition by engaging in some future activity; "lonely" means an awareness of the lack of others to help bring meaning, activity or joy into one's life; "desires" means an awareness of something lacking and the formation of a plan to acquire that thing in the future. Each of these concepts imply a limited being, a being who lacks something necessary for fulfillment.
With each question, the skeptic betrays that he has not grasped the attributes of the God we worship. The God of the Bible describes himself as the “I am.” Though we cannot, in our limited present circumstances, ever truly grasp what He is, it is apparent that as an eternal being, all times (as we perceive them) are in an eternal "present" to Him. He was never “alone.” Composed of three persons in one being, He is in an eternal loving relationship and has no needs, fulfills all desires and lacks no stimulation. In fact, these concepts are nonsensical to such a being, who created and set in motion what we perceive as the timeline (through the creation of this universe), because each of these concepts makes sense only if viewed from the perspective of a being that is limited or controlled or defined by time.
So, to specifically answer the questions: Nothing "disturbed" the eternal equilibrium. Time was not flowing "against" God and no force can disturb Him. Nothing "compelled" Him to create, because a compulsion would require a source greater than God. He created the universe and this timeline because he chose to for reasons of love. The love he exercised was in the agape sense - not seeking gain, motivated by nothing desired in return. God was not bored or lonely and is and always was complete. There was no disequilibrium.
The challenger might respond by saying that God somehow added to his distinctiveness when he created us. He went from a "before" to an "after." He “changed,” therefore he wasn't "perfect." But this challenge again fails to recognize that God is not trapped by time, but created it. Moreover, it fails to consider what “infinity” involves. As an infinite being, God added nothing to himself by creating, for it is not possible to "add" to infinity. Consider it this way: imagine, for a moment, a hotel with an infinite number of rooms, all of which are filled. An infinite number of new guests arrive seeking lodging. What does the innkeeper do? Is he not “full up?” No, actually, at least not when infinity is involved. He simply moves everyone from the room he or she is in to the room whose number is two times the original room number. By so doing, he opens up an infinite number of new rooms - all odd numbered - for his new guests. The point is that when you are dealing with infinity, limitations simply don't exist.
The challenger’s most glaring error is the claim "A God who is perfect does nothing except exist." This would seem to reduce God to nothing more than a jellyfish – alive, perhaps, but showing few signs of it and simply existing. Infinite perfection is, well, perfection which lacks any limits. This “condition” does not constrain God, and to suggest that it leaves him essentially powerless - he simply "exists" - is to get things precisely backwards.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Christianity also teaches that man, in his fallen and sinful condition, has rejected the truth. More precisely, men through their wickedness suppress the truth and “exchanged the truth of God for a lie.” (Romans 1)
So why, then, with such emphasis on truth within its pages, does the atheist accuse the God of the Bible of being a liar?
The first reason, I suspect, is that he has not fully contemplated what his accusation means. Truth, after all, is that which conforms to the way things really are. If I say that the earth revolves around the sun, I am making a true statement. It conforms to reality. The way to test truth is to discern the extent to which the statement or belief corresponds to the actual corresponding reality. But what is behind all reality? What grounds reality and provides its contours and limits? None other than God, the creator of all that there is. God, then, is the standard for truth, because he is the reality behind all that there is.
Now think for a moment about what a lie involves. First, it is not a matter of opinion; I don’t lie by saying that chocolate is the best flavor for ice cream. Second, it is not merely being mistaken. I don’t lie by saying that I saw Sally earlier today when I have mistaken Susie for Sally. A lie, by contrast, is a deliberate misstatement of the way things really are. And why do people lie? Because they seek to obtain some benefit from doing so. Perhaps they wish to avoid detection for some wrongdoing, or they seek to obtain some advantage that would otherwise not accrue to them. Behind every lie, then, is a limited being who hopes that his misrepresentation will confer a benefit upon him.
Seen in this way, then, it is easy to understand why God refers to himself as total truth. For God, with unlimited power and knowledge, would never need to lie. The way he "really is" is not only true, but also best, complete, without limit or liability. He needs no advantage, has no motivation to conceal truth and derives no profit from misleading his creation. He offers his love freely and undeservedly to us, and wants and needs nothing from us in return. It stands to reason that he would be true in himself, and to himself, and also true to his spoken word.
The second reason has to do with the approach the skeptic takes. In recent posts, skeptics have cited several Bible verses they claim support their position. But, as in most such challenges, they proceed from an erroneous assumption. They treat the Bible as if it were a collection of “true statements” standing alone. Take a sentence from the Bible and ridicule it, or argue that it is false, is the approach they take. But the Bible is much more than that. The passages must be read, not in isolation, but as part of a whole; it must be understood to be a rich and complex fabric upon which the story of God’s people and God’s plan for salvation has been woven. It is not always easy to understand, but it is profitable for man to ponder and to attempt to plumb its depths. Take, then, the three examples the skeptic claims proves that God is a liar. The first is 1 Kings 22:23 – “Yahweh has put a lying spirit into the mouth of all these your prophets.”
The context of this passage is the conversation between Ahab, king of Israel, and Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, regarding whether Jehoshaphat will join Ahab in attacking the city of Ramoth-gilead. Ahab’s prophets told him what he wanted to hear; Ahab had already decided what course of action he wished to pursue and was not interested in God’s view of it. Jehoshaphat insisted that Micaiah’s opinion be obtained. The quoted passage comes from words attributed to Micaiah. He is, essentially, conveying that Ahab’s “prophets” have deceived him and are not speaking God’s truth. This, then, is a literary device Micaiah is using, a parable of sorts, in which he uses imagery to convey to Ahab that the information his prophets are giving him is false. Far from making God a liar, God had provided a truthful witness, but Ahab refused to listen. And eventually died.
The second example comes from Ezekiel 14:9 - “And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the LORD have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.” This passage is, similarly, talking about God removing his guidance from false prophets and abandoning them to their false beliefs. Similar to the language used by Paul in his letter to the Romans, the thrust of this passage is that God will eventually abandon a person to his wrongful beliefs.
The third passage cited is 2 Thess. 2:11 – “For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie.” Read the entire letter and you will see that, in context, Paul is talking about those who have been exposed to the truth but who have rejected it. This passage, like the previous one, reveals that God will eventually stop trying, and will abandon people to their evil desires and beliefs. In other words, he will not overcome their free will and make them believe the truth.
These reflections are, of course, not meant to be a full treatment of the cited texts. Much more can be said. But hopefully they help show that the skeptic's claim - that the God of the Bible is a liar - is a variant of the straw man fallacy. Propping up a "false" God by picking and choosing passages and then knocking that "God" down is an example of fallacious thinking. And, sadly, it leaves the challenger no nearer the truth that he claims to be seeking.
Monday, March 21, 2011
PleaseConvinceMe Podcast 196
In this episode, Jim discusses a common objection of non-believers and examines three reasons why someone might reject a truth claim. Jim also addresses the Rob Bell controversy briefly and describes the most important question you can ask your atheist friend.
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Sunday, March 20, 2011
Consequently, to love God fully, we cannot depart from logic and reason. Though we can never fully understand an infinite being, what we do understand of him must be at least consistent with logic and reason. Otherwise, we are no longer using our minds, but risk “losing” them.
In recent posts, we have tried to set forth the classic Christian formulation of understanding God’s omnipotence. When biblical texts refer to God doing the “impossible,” we understand that to mean that God is capable of doing many things that are impossible to mere humans, such as allowing an elderly woman to become fertile again, or raising someone from the dead. We do not extend this power to extremes that require us to embrace contradictions, for embracing contradictions would be a departure from reason. For example, God does not possess the attribute of “non-goodness,” so it is nonsensical to ask if God can sin, that is, be “all good” and “not all-good” at the same time. God cannot make a square that is also a circle, to use another common example.
But the atheist is not satisfied with this response. He insists that we interpret the Bible literally. If it says that God can do all things, even the impossible, then we must accept as true that God can make a square-circle. But how does this help their case? Is this not simply circular reasoning? They begin with the premise that doing the impossible is, well, not possible. Consequently, adhering to a book that claims that the impossible is in fact possible is irrational. Holding to an irrational faith is itself irrational. Consequently, Christianity must be irrational and therefore not worthy of adherence.
But there are two principal problems with this analysis, besides the obvious circular reasoning that is employed. The first is that the bible does not demand literal interpretation. There are many places in which it speaks metaphorically, not the least of which are the words of Jesus himself, as he conveyed many ideas through the use of parables. The Bible was never intended as a physics manual. It was not written by physicists for physicists, so insisting that it be read that way is not a question of interpretation of a passage, but of taking the entire book out of context. Once again, the straw man fallacy is at work.
The second problem with the atheist’s position is that, even if we were forced to accept the words as literally true – God can even make a “square circle” - there is no way to show that God does not have this power. All we can say is that the human mind is incapable of making sense of such a claim using logic and reason. But scientists tell us that there is much more to the universe that what meets the eye. They are only now beginning to make sense of things such as dark matter and dark energy. They tell us that in the first nanosecond of the universe’s existence, there were more than 10 dimensions, which reduced down to the four that we now perceive. Other scientists posit the existence of multiple universes – the mulitverse – whose characteristics cannot be assessed because they lie beyond our ability to perceive them. Perhaps in these other dimensions, the “impossible” is not only possible but easily done.
Consider it this way: like the am/fm radio in one’s car, our minds possess limited abilities in receiving and processing the “signals” that surround us. The air around the radio is full of signals of varying kinds, but the radio is capable of capturing and converting only a small portion of them. It takes these signals and processes them to produce sound which is recognizable to our ears. Our minds are “receivers” of a sort as well, processing what our senses take in through the use of reason and logic. We are operating within the four dimensions. If there are other dimensions, other ways of knowing things, they are beyond our ability – at least at present – to access them. The car’s radio may be within range of an aircraft or marine transmission, or may be alongside a police car being dispatched to the scene of a crime. That the am/fm radio cannot process these signals is not evidence that the signals are not there. So too with us. From the perspective of other dimensions, perhaps reconciling a square with a circle is easily shown. But we will never know, at least not this side of eternity.
In the end, this challenge is easily seen for what it is. By reasoning to a result that is embedded in the premise, the challenger is sure to come up with the wrong answer, the one that he assumed when he asked the question. He is engaging in circular reasoning and getting his “signals” crossed.
Friday, March 18, 2011
The atheist will often say, “The Bible says that God can do the impossible. A square circle is impossible. Shouldn’t God be able to make a square circle? If not, then God is not all-powerful.” Of course squares exist and circles exist, but there are no square circles. The ideas are contradictory and no amount of power, creative or otherwise can make two antithetical propositions be true at the same time and in the same sense.
First, let’s take a look at some of the Bible verses in question and examine them carefully for their meaning in the context that is given.
Genesis 18:14 “Is anything too difficult for the LORD?...”This verse is in reference to God’s ability to do a miracle in the elderly Sarah’s womb to produce a child for the barren couple.
Job 42:1-2 Then Job answered the LORD and said, "I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.This verse speaks of God's purpose being unstoppable.
Jeremiah 32:17 Ah Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for YouThis verse talks about God’s ability to create the world around us.
Jeremiah 32:27 "Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?"This prophecy from God is a warning that because of their idolatry and wickedness, He is going to allow Israel to be punished by it’s enemies.
Matthew 19:26, similar accounts in Mark 10:27 and Luke 18:27 …Jesus said to them, "With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."These verses refer specifically to salvation by God when we put our trust in Him.
Luke 1:37 "For nothing will be impossible with God."Similarly to the Genesis quote, this passage also refers to the miraculous conceptions of Mary and Elizabeth.
In the context of these passages, the omnipotence of God refers to God’s ability to do miracles, to create, to save those who trust in Him, to remove His protection from Israel while in disobedience to Him and to ensure that His purpose is fulfilled. These are the Christian claims, that God is supernatural. God has power over the supernatural world He has created. Nowhere here is there any indication that God can do what is nonsense or logically inconsistent. These verses are the foundation for the definition of God’s omnipotence that I gave earlier and do not support the notion that God can do whatever He wants contrary to His nature, conflicting with His character.
In my previous post, I mentioned that God can’t make a square circle because it is nonsense. It is like a married bachelor. It is logically incoherent. A similar question would be, can God #*&%!@? It is meaningless. C.S. Lewis when talking about this idea says, "Nonsense does not suddenly acquire sense and meaning with the addition of the two words, 'God can’ before it."
Again it seems to come down to the way in which the question is asked. The loaded question, “Have you stopped beating your wife?" assumes the presumption of guilt so that answering “yes” or “no” will not remove the accusation of beating your wife. The type of loaded question asked by the atheist presupposes that omnipotence requires the inclusion of concepts that are illogical or nonsensical as well.
Ultimately the atheist who holds to the position that God is not all powerful if He can’t make a square circle makes the claim that God can't do that which is illogical.
Ultimately isn’t that a good thing?
Isn’t that what we would expect of a perfect Being?
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
No, what it proves is that the challenger is, well, challenged when it comes to asking a rational question. Skeptics weighing in on recent PleaseConvinceMe blog posts have asked this question in a variety of ways. For instance, Alex B. wants some answers:
Then we come to the oft mentioned 'square circle' problem - elsewhere apologists on this blog have said that your god can do things that we couldn't even begin to comprehend, so making an object that is simultaneously square and circular should not be beyond the power of this being."
The skeptic knows this intuitively, and seeks to use reason, but by rejecting the source of reason and logic – the being that grounds them – his conclusions are often fallacious. How does God “ground” reason? It’s rather straightforward, really. When I am thinking about a thing, such as a dog or a car, I am holding in my mind something real that exists. But all things are subject to change. When I am thinking instead about a feeling, I similarly realize that feelings, like things, are subject to change. But, when I think about certain eternal truths, like the logical statements made above, or like mathematical equations such as the value of pi, what am I thinking about? These are neither feelings nor things, both of which are subject to change, but are themselves changeless. Since neither mind nor matter is permanent, but these concepts are permanent, there must exist something else that is permanent, that ground these ideas that we access through the use of our minds and reason. That something is God.
What we can know about God has limits, but to know anything about God, we must employ reason. We cannot abandon it, as the questions raised by Alex B. are doing. What things, then, can we know about God? We know that he must have certain perfections for the concept to make sense. As St. Anselm framed it, if you can conceive a being with powers greater than “god,” then you have not yet grasped the concept of God, for God is that being a greater than which cannot be conceived. This is the starting point.
With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at Alex B’s challenges. Let’s start with the square circle. To contend that God “should” be able to make a square circle, Alex B has descended into the nonsensical. A square is a defined object consisting of straight lines and angles; it exists as an idea and whatever word is put to it, its essence remains that. A circle, by contrast, has neither straight lines nor angles. To suggest that God should be able to merge those two concepts is simply another way of asking if an object can be a square and not a square at the same time. It is stating a contradiction, and those who hold to a contradiction are acting irrationally. They have abandoned reason.
Alex B. goes on:
"Why would god not be able to bend reality in such a way that something we think would be impossible (in this this case a square circle) could be shown to us?”
“Actually, where we're getting is to a place where the tiny portion of rational thought you have left is realising that certain supposed attributes of your god are impossible.”
By this, he appears to be thinking that a conflict exists between God’s omniscience and God’s omnipotence, a question he seems to think is insoluble. But again, the question betrays his departure from reason. Here’s how he framed it:
"Also, if this being is all knowing and all powerful then it can a)see all of time, and b) do anything it wants to do. However, if it can see all of time then it can see what it will do next, which means that it is not all powerful. If it is all powerful then it can change its mind which means that it's not all knowing. As it is very easy to show, with basic logic, that a being that is simultaneously all powerful AND all knowing is an impossibility, it can be equally easily deduced that god cannot be perfect. And if your god is not perfect, why worship it?"
“If that's too much tell me, if god knows what he's going to do before he does it, can he change his mind?”
Just like “circle” and “square” are labels for aspects of reality, so too are concepts like omnipotence and omniscience. These words, as applied to God, convey the concept that there is nothing beyond God’s power and nothing beyond his knowledge. But these are aspects of his nature – they describe Him – and not natural forces that have power over him. If they were, then he would not be God, but a lesser being under the forces of time, or suffering some limitation. So, Alex B. sets up a straw-man God who has to wait for the future to see what he will do and who suffers from insecurity, so that he might have to change his mind as changed circumstances surprise him. But this is Alex B.’s “fantasy” version of God, not the God known through Christianity. The true God is master of time, not bound by it. There is no “future” that he does not access in his present. There are no moments of indecision, since indecision is a product of lack of knowledge and he lacks none. So, to answer the later question: concepts like God changing his mind, or wondering what he will do in the future, are nonsensical. They are asking essentially this: does the being that lacks no knowledge lack knowledge? Is the being that controls time controlled by time?
"You've claimed him to be all powerful which means he should be able to do anything, even things that completely defy logic, that not a single one of you has said 'of course god can do a logically impossible thing, he's god!' shows that there is still a step of faith even you're not willing to take."
Still more gibberish. Logic is not a force that controls God; it is a reflection of God's nature. He would no more "defy" logic as he would defy himself. It is a part of what and who he is. So expecting him to depart from logic is another way, yet again, of asking a contradiction: can God be God and not God at the same time. Why can’t God change his nature to be “not-God.”
Why, why, why? In the end, Alex B.’s questions remind me of the child who repeatedly asks “why,” thinking that he has discovered something profound and unanswerable. But it is the child’s limited knowledge that prevents him from seeing the very good answers that exist, and that are apparent to those mature enough to embrace them.
There are, however, some things that God cannot do. God can’t do anything that would deny His own character. This is why Theists describe God’s omnipotence as God’s ability to do “all His holy will.”
A modified version of Euthyphros dilemma says, "Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?" As Christians we would answer neither. The moral, objective “good” is grounded in God’s nature. The perfect good is God. To move in the opposite direction is to sin, moving from the perfect "good" to “evil”. God is perfectly holy. Therefore God can’t sin. God is self evident. Therefore God can’t deny Himself. God is necessarily existent. Therefore God can’t cease to be God. God can’t act in ways that are inconsistent with His attributes.
Because God is truth, God can’t lie (Titus 1:2 – literally “the unlying God”). He can’t deceive or tempt. “Ha!” says the atheist, “I can lie; therefore I can do something that God can’t.” It becomes how you frame the question. Lying is a moral failure. So can we fail? Yes, but God is incapable of failing morally. Lying then is not an accomplishment.
Other groundings in God’s nature include logic and reason. God can’t be illogical or unreasonable. The atheist asks, “Can God make a rock so big that He can’t lift it?” This is just silly. You are trying to pit the power of God against... the power of God. This is like asking, “Who would win in an arm wrestling contest between God and Himself?” The atheist asks, “Why can’t God make a square circle?” The answer is because it is nonsense. It is like a married bachelor. It is logically incoherent.
The atheist says,
“…if this being (God) is all knowing and all powerful then it can a) see all of time, and b) do anything it wants to do. However, if it can see all of time then it can see what it will do next, which means that it is not all powerful. If it is all powerful then it can change its mind which means that it's not all knowing. As it is very easy to show, with basic logic, that a being that is simultaneously all powerful AND all knowing is an impossibility, it can be equally easily deduced that god cannot be perfect.”
This is similar to Richard Dawkins argument in "The God Delusion" that it is logically impossible for God to be both all knowing and all powerful. First let me deal with the aspect of time. It would seem that if God is the creator of time, then He is not subject to time. Although God interacts with those that are “in time” He is outside of time because He is eternal. To say that God’s next move is set and He is powerless to do anything about it assumes that God is suddenly subject to the restraints of time that He created.
The next problem is that Dawkins and other atheists who believe this to be a powerful argument for God’s non-perfection and therefore non-existence have an incorrect, and in all honesty, a pretty juvenile view of omnipotence. Now to be fair, this is often propagated by Christians who haven’t looked very deeply at this issue. The Sunday school view of God’s power is often “God can do anything He wants” without any qualifications. A better definition might be that
God is capable of doing anything that power is capable of doing. God is not limited by any lack of power to do anything that power might accomplish. - Greg Koukl
The other problem is that the atheist believes that the ability to “change your mind” is a positive ability. Again it is how the question is framed. Perfection is not a limitation. In the previous example about lying, the ability to sin is presented as a positive. Just the opposite is true. Once more, the atheist wants to present perfection as a negative; a limitation and then accuse God of not being perfect. God is omniscient. He has perfect knowledge. Here the atheist uses the ability to change one’s mind as a benefit when in fact it is the consequence of imperfect knowledge.
So the atheists’ logical process goes something like this.
You say God is perfect, right? Ok then, can God be imperfect? No? Then God isn’t perfect.
Monday, March 14, 2011
The Earthquake in Japan (Reflections on the Problem of Natural Evil)
In this episode, Jim discusses the earthquake in Japan and considers a number of responses to the problem of natural evil presented by the event. In addition, Jim addresses the importance of ‘character’ in online discussions with atheists, and answers listener email related to the value and rights of animals.
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Sunday, March 13, 2011
Christians acknowledge that atheists can be moral. In fact, many are fine, upstanding, “good” people. What atheists can’t do is validly ground their morality. Without a source of truth from a divine source – a transcendent source – at best they can make “moral” noises, but what they are expressing is not a genuine assertion of good and evil, but simply a preference.
In my last post, I argued that a creator God can do what he wishes with his creation – a computer simulation has no right to argue with the programmer, nor does the pot have the right to challenge the potter. A skeptic – Pvblivs - challenged my claim, saying:
"If a computer animation or a pot were to be sentient, it would, indeed, have the right to complain about any mistreatment at the hands of its creator. But, consider this,” he went on. “If your god decides the bible was a big joke (ha-ha) and throws christians into torment, what is your recourse? What consolation do you have. You may not think it much, but if your god does that sort of thing to me, I will at least have the consolation that I did not pronounce it just, that I was simply overpowered by a wicked tyrant. But you, you say he has every right to do whatever he wants with you. It is possible for human judges to overstep and abuse their authority. And they do sometimes use "officers of the court" to facilitate this. That your god might have the power to enforce his whims (of which I, currently, see no evidence)does not negate the fact that, as described, he is unjust. He demands a respect of which he is not truly worthy. I would like to refer to your doctor analogy. The doctor is concerned about what harm the quack may cause his patients. He does not, however, threaten to impose harm himself on those foolish enough to listen to the imposter. With your god, it is quite different. The idols themselves do nothing, good or bad, for their worshippers. They are, after all, mindless stone or wood or what have you. No, the only danger that will come to people will come from what your god does to those who don't worship him the way he wants them to. All this, of course, is according to the claims of the bible. I do not vouch for the accuracy of the text.
Perhaps he does not realize it, but this response sneaks in moral language which he makes no attempt to ground. Why does a “sentient”being, as opposed to other types of life, have this right? How can he claim that God is a “tyrant” and a “wicked” one at that? I responded by seeking to know the source of the “right” that Pvblivs claimed:
“And where would that "right" be grounded? If there is no god, then your conclusion that something is unjust is merely a feeling, like being hungry. How could you possibly know what a "wicked tyrant" is if you don't have a standard of "good" against which to measure it? Human judges are bound to a higher authority. That's how you know they have overstepped their bounds. Where is that authority to be found? In your worldview, where can you find limits? Those are simply your feelings, once again. God's ways are difficultto understand, and each of us risks being mistaken. But your moral indignation is ultimately baseless in a God-less universe. In fact, you are sneaking in a standard, which you wish to attribute to some generalized sense of human decency. But in the end, without transcendent grounding, it remains just an opinion."
But Al, I do have a standard of good against which to measure. It's based on the fact that causing pleasure is good and causing pain is bad. However, I would like you to consider the fact that for the common christian claim that "god is good" to have any meaning, there must be a standard of good that isn't based on that god's whims."
But of course this doesn’t help. Far from being an objective standard, it is a form of saying: I want what I want and I like what I like. Good is what I say good is. Here was my response:
I think you need to keep working on that standard. Otherwise, the murderer who causes "pleasure" by killing his grandparents to obtain their wealth would end up being "good," while the doctor who causes "pain" while administering a cure is "bad." Your position ends up being circular - good is what I think is good while bad is what I think is bad.
God doesn't have "whims." He has a nature that we seek to understand, however imperfectly. You just happen to disagree with what you believe to be his nature, as it does not conform to what you think is right or wrong. That, by the way, is how you know there is a standard there. It is pressing against all of us, and we all to varying degrees are rebelling against him. As C.S. Lewis explained, we all know there is a "law" there (morality) and we all violate it."
Pvblivs response was:
That murderer may give himself pleasure; but he is causing his grandparents much more pain. This is, of course, unless we are talking about pulling the plug on life support when they are withered away and sufferring a fate worse than death. "God doesn't have 'whims.' He has a nature that we seek to understand, however imperfectly." If it looks... like a duck, and it quacks... like a duck, and it waddles... like a duck, it's probably not a cow. This looks like christians making excuses for the whims of their god.
No, what it looks like is someone who doesn’t see the ramifications of his worldview. The murderer, in my example, could be giving pleasure – in the form of wealth – to a dozen people who might stand to inherit. So, does the pleasure of the many outweigh the pain of the one? What if you drug the person first, so he feels no pain? Does that make it “good.” Contrast that with Christianity. Take the protection of life, a timely topic. Christianity teaches that all people are made in the image of God. Consequently, no one has the right to take the life of another, innocent human being. Whether the innocent life is a fetus, and elderly person who “refuses” to die willingly, or a member of a race that another race wants to enslave or destroy, there is no need to analyze who gains pleasure and who is caused pain. This provides a workable, transcendent standard - it was the code upon which much of our law was once based.
No, Pvblivs, chasing pleasure won’t make for a just society, or for a happy one. Haven’t we learned that by now?
“God [said] he’d made a mistake just before the flood, didn’t he? From what you're saying he never made a wrong move, so he knew from the beginning of time that he would wipe almost everyone out in a flood.”Where does the atheist get this from? He is referring to Genesis 6:6 in the Bible. The atheist doesn’t believe the Bible is true and makes the case that if we find contradictions in the Bible, like God is perfect and yet God makes mistakes, that proves that the Bible is unreliable. That is fine, but let me be very clear that both the atheist and I are BOTH starting with the words of the Bible as our reference point. It is only fair then to examine other parts of the Bible for comparison as the atheist himself is doing. This is not circular. While I will make a case that God did not make a mistake, I am not trying to prove God or His attributes from scripture. Instead I will be looking carefully at the Bible, the very text that the atheist is pointing to, to show that it is not the case that God made a mistake.
First, let’s look at Genesis 6:5-8 which reads,
Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. The LORD said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them." But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.These passages describe God being sorry that he had made man, grieved in His heart and He then acts to remove all of mankind but Noah and his family.
The equation 2+2=5 is a mistake because the correct answer is 4. We have to ask what would be the correct decision. Is it the atheists’ position that humans should not exist? Does the atheist believe that humans should not have the free will to choose wrong? I don’t think so. It would seem then that the atheist position is that God THINKS that He has made a mistake. There is no indication that God believes that He has made a mistake. We are only shown God’s present displeasure at the sinfulness of man. The language is not even strong enough to indicate that if God could start over, He would do it differently.
Students of theology will recognize the anthropomorphic (from the Greek, anthropos, "human" and morphe, "shape" or "form")and anthropopathic (anthropos, "human" and pathos, "suffering") descriptions of God. This is when human physical features and emotions are attributed to God. While the atheist may not ascribe to the perspective, he cannot ignore the Judeo-Christian position that God is uniquely different than man but communicates in this analogous way. The above passage mentions God’s heart and eyes as a way of expressing God’s nature through our experience of His creation. Such is the case for the words “sorry” and “grieved.” Even if someone was sorry and grieved at their decision does not mean that they made the wrong decision. Everyone can think of a situation where we could make the correct decision and still express grief or sorry at the temporary or even permanent outcome.
What we are seeing is God’s reaction to His perfect creation marred by sin. Imagine that you paint a beautiful picture. You allow it to be displayed in an art gallery. The painting then is vandalized. You would be sad and may regret the decision to put it in the museum, but it would not be a mistake, especially if your purpose was to share it with as many as possible. Even if you knew that it would eventually be vandalized, your purpose would still be fulfilled.
So, did God “[know] from the beginning of time that he would wipe almost everyone out in a flood”? Yes. Sometimes radical surgery is necessary to save the life of a patient. Civilization had become infected with the cancer of moral depravity and in danger of destroying Noah and his family. We see God surgically remove Sodom, the Bejamites of Gibeah, Jericho, Makkedah, Lachish, Eglon, Debir, the cities of Negev and Shephalah, Hazor, Madon, Shimron and Achshaph to prepare the way for the Messiah. In every case God gives clear warning and the opportunity to repent and turn to Him, ensuring their protection and ultimately our salvation through the Messiah, the Savior, Jesus Christ.
Friday, March 11, 2011
In raising this challenge, a skeptic quotes from the Ten Commandments. Doesn’t God say that man should not bow down and worship false idols? Does He not describe himself as a “jealous” God? What then are we to make of God’s position? The skeptic concludes his challenge:
"So, whilst you state that god doesn't demand worship, he DOES threaten dire punishments to those who don't worship him!
'You don't have to worship me, and I'd never ask such a thing of you, but if you don't I'll crush you, and your kids, and THEIR kids, just to make sure my message is clear' seems to be the way god is saying things are.
So, here we have a supposed perfect being, in a supposed revelation in his supposed holy book, saying that he'll be angry if he isn't worshipped!
We come back to the question - why would a perfect demand worship?"
These are good questions, and they deserve an answer. But the questions reveal quite a bit about the skeptic and the reasons he cannot make sense of the Biblical model for right relationship with God. It is apparent that the skeptic refuses to, or cannot, recognize that:
1) God is not our equal. As our creator, he has absolute right to do what he wants with us. We have no more basis to complain than would a computer animation to the computer programmer, or to use a more ancient example, the pot to the potter. This is an unpleasant thought, especially for Americans steeped in the tradition of equality. But equality refers to the relationship between people, not the relationship between God and his creation. A child does not dictate to his parent what fairness is. Nor does the robot tell the supervisor to take his place on the assembly line. If you persist in thinking that a being capable of thinking this universe into existence somehow must answer to you, or justify himself to you, you will never gain the answers that you claim to be seeking;
2) God is not emotional. While He is “personal,” and while he inspired the Biblical writers using emotional imagery, He is not a histrionic drama queen ready to throw tantrums. Selectively quoting Scripture to paint such a picture distorts what the Bible teaches about God's true nature. Negative emotion, after all, is a characteristic of a limited being that has fears, wants and desires. It is a failing. More precisely, negative emotions like jealousy, lust and greed are perversions of the good. Like evil generally, base emotions are a departure from the standard that God is. A limitless, timeless God doesn’t “hope” for a good outcome, or “fear” that he will not “get the girl” or seethe with “envy” against a rival. He has no needs, lacks nothing, and has no rivals. He is all good. So, why then does God use emotional language? Probably for the same reason that I speak one way to adults in a courtroom setting and quite another way if I’m talking to children at a daycare center. The style and content of the conversation is tailored to the needs and capabilities of the audience. Using emotional language conveys God's message much more vibrantly than simply setting forth instructions.
3) The Biblical reference to jealousy, like all Biblical texts, must be taken in context. The usual connotation of "jealousy" is quite negative. It conjures up images of a jilted boyfriend stalking his girlfriend as he suspects her of infidelity. But the actual definition is more varied; under “biblical” it includes: “intolerant of unfaithfulness or rivalry.” As I argued in the previous post, God's self-assessment is accurate. He has every right to expect worship from His creation, because praise and worship are what perfection merit. Equally, He knows the harm it does us when we worship a lie as opposed to the truth. It is, then, an expression of love for him to desire that we return to right relationship with him.
Consider an analogy. A town doctor spends years earning the trust of his patients. One day he learns that an untrained quack has begun tending to his patients, pretending to be him and doing much harm with his medications and treatments. The doctor loves his patients and wants what is best for them. How, then, should he react? I submit that anger and jealousy – an intolerance of the harmful “rivalry” – would be an appropriate response. So too with God. He loves us enough to warn us against the danger we face when we persist in our rebellion against Him; He loves us enough to be angry when we turn away.
In sum, the skeptic wants to claim equality with God and expect God to view things the same way. He does not want to give God the love and respect to which He is entitled, by His very nature. And he wants God to accept this disrespect as appropriate. But God, by His nature, will also demand the response to which He is entitled. Think of it this way. Why does a judge demand respect? Why does he have a bailiff ready to establish order if a heckler decides to interfere? If a human judge can demand that to which the law entitles him, how much more can the ultimate Judge, the Creator of all that there is, demand respect from his creation? After all, we are subject to His law. What should that respect look like? Well, for the judge it means being addressed with a proper tone of voice, proper language and proper behavior. But what about for the ultimate judge? What does a perfect being deserve? Simply this: to be recognized accurately for what he is. And when we do that, we see that worship and praise are the appropriate way of responding to Him.
The point of this excursion has been to show that there is a rational way to reconcile God's goodness and perfection, on the one hand, with the Biblical references to God's "jealousy," anger and expectation of worship, on the other. While on the surface these things may seem inconsistent, on deeper reflection a fuller picture of God begins to emerge. For this, we are indebted not just to the Biblical writers but to the pillars of Christian philosophy, giants such as Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas. Somehow, though, I doubt the skeptic will accept their views, or these. By his very nature, the skeptic will continue to do what he does best - believe in nothing. One wonders why he cares to write at all.
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
The question can be restated in the form of an argument denying that the God of the Bible is perfect. It would go like this:
• A perfect being has no needs and no wants.
• The God of the Bible needs and wants praise and worship.
• Therefore, the God of the Bible is not perfect.
Of course, a non-perfect “God” is a contradiction. Either he doesn’t exist or the real God is not him. Either way, the Christian loses.
The value in restating the question lies in the clarification it brings to the challenger’s assumptions. The syllogism set forth is logical. If in fact the God of the Bible needs and wants praise and worship, he could not rightly be viewed as perfect. The problem with the challenge is not the implied logic; no, the problem is that the assumption about God – that he has a need or desire for praise – is false. The God of the Bible has no such desire.
To see why, one must first spend a moment considering what “praise” and “worship” entail. To “praise” is to express approval or admiration. It derives from the verb “to prize,” or in other words, to highly value something. To “worship” derives from "worth" and means to revere or to adore. To “revere” means to regard with awe, an overwhelming feeling of fear or admiration produced by that which is grand, sublime or extremely powerful. These concepts all boil down to the same basic thought: praise and worship are a recognition and expression of awe in the presence of something great.
In considering praise and worship, two things are apparent:
1) To be meaningful, praise and worship must be freely given. Like love, praise or worship that is coerced by threat or by promise is of no value. One cannot be forced to admire or to feel awe.
2) Praise flows naturally from a recognition of greatness, even if I refuse to convey praise to the person I am admiring. For example, I may dislike the Blue Angels, but contemplating the great skill required to control high performance aircraft travelling inches apart at near supersonic speeds would cause me to feel awe; the performance of the pilots is worthy of praise, whether I like them or not. Similarly, I may dislike overpaid baseball players yet still admire the ability required to hit a curving ball travelling toward the batter at 90 miles per hour.
Recognizing what praise and worship involve, it is apparent that no leader – certainly not a perfect one – would demand it. It simply does not work this way. Review the pages of the Bible, and you will see that God does not demand praise and worship. Where those concepts are discussed, they are the words and exhortations of other people talking about God. But God does expect our worship and praise, for this conforms to the natural order of things.
This point bears emphasis. God knows the way things really are. His self assessment of his infinite perfection is accurate. Such perfection is worthy of praise and awe and reverence. For God to think otherwise would not be humility, but error. Having no limitations, God rightly expects that we view him in the correct way, the only way that conforms to reality. Consequently, whatever attributes a person finds worthy of praise, God possesses these in infinite measure. Getting one’s mind around the immensity of a perfect God – of the utter overwhelming greatness that he possesses – one would necessarily be overcome with awe, fear and reverence. Whether we "like" Him or rebel against Him, our urge to praise and worship Him flow naturally from a recognition of His greatness.
Now add to this the fact that God created us from nothing. He offers us the opportunity for union with Him, the chance to partake in His eternal loving relationship. When we really get our minds around the notion of what living eternally in the presence of perfection will be like, we will naturally, as a recognition of the proper order of things, gush praise and worship, and love. This is what the Bible is capturing when it speaks of the need – our need – to give praise and worship to God.
For those looking in from the outside, this will make little sense. They will mock our rituals as primitive or as a form of wishful thinking. For they do not yet understand. They have closed their minds to Godly things. Think of it this way: a person encounters a scuba diver for the first time. Watching him ascend a set number of feet and then stop for a period may seem quaint. The observer might imagine that the diver is saying prayers to the gods or partaking in some other primitive ritual. But the diver knows better. Understanding the workings of nature – that rising too quickly will result in that dangerous condition known as the bends – he periodically stops his ascent to comply with the natural order of things. It may seem like silly ritual to the uninformed, but to one with actual knowledge of the way things really are, it is indispensible.
So too with eternal matters. While our prayers and beliefs and rituals may seem foolish to the secular world, they are in fact a proper recognition of the “worth”ship of God. We bend our knees voluntarily to His sublime excellence, for it is the natural order of things.
And then replied to my comment, "The preponderance of scientific evidence now points to a Big Bang cosmology that BEGAN the universe.” by saying, “Correction - began OUR universe. We have no idea what was there before.”
What Alex means is that he can't be sure what happened "before" the Big Bang, but it sure wasn't God! I think that we have some idea by using reason. I think that we can reason that it cannot be the case that nothing has existed eternally. If nothing was all there always was, then nothing would be all there is now. Since something cannot come from nothing, something had to exist eternally. Every effect has a cause, but because this eternal something is not an effect; it does not need a cause. This something then is an eternal, uncaused cause. Because time, space and matter begin at the Big Bang, we can reason that time, space and matter are not eternal, but caused by this eternal, uncaused cause that is not dependent nor consisting of time, space and matter. So we have reasoned to an immaterial something (mind? spirit?) that is an eternal, uncaused first cause of OUR material universe in space and time.
Because this corresponds with the biblical revelation of God and disagrees with other religious/non-religious descriptions, this lends credibility to the Bible and takes away authority from other religions and worldviews. This is but one reason that weighs heavily on the scale of reason for God/Christianity. Imagine a balance scale that weighs out the reasons for and against belief in God. One side is “for” and the other “against.” Some ideas are small pebbles, others are larger rocks. As an idea is weighed, the rocks can be moved from one side to the other and even on and off of the scale. An agnostic might have a very balanced scale. A Theist has tipped the scale in favor of and an atheist in favor against. The person who has not examined these ideas might have a very empty scale. The point is that Alex and other non-believers often seem to indicate that if one “proof” is not a slam dunk, that should be reason to place the rock on the other side (the default side of non-belief) when it could be that this evidence only left the viewer unsure or in favor of the argument, but have given it less weight. It would seem from the comments of many atheists that they think in this analogy that there is only one large rock to be placed.
Someone could take my evidence that God does not have a beginning and place it for, against or set it aside while they contemplate it. I think that Alex would say that because it is insufficient to “prove” that the God of the Bible and the uncreated creator outside of time, space and matter are the same, we should all take the only large rock and move it to the against side until a time when Theists can prove without a shadow of a doubt and according to the requirements of the atheist’s personal bar of proof that the one large rock can be placed on the other side. This is simply not the way in which decisions are made.
Tuesday, March 08, 2011
How to Voice the Gospel
In this episode, Jim interviews James Boccardo, the author of an important new book, “Unsilenced – How to Voice the Gospel”. James discusses evangelism in a way that is inspiring and convicting as he describes an approach to apologetics that addresses the objections of non-believers in a direct, simple and powerful way. If you feel like you’re not doing enough to share your faith (and who doesn’t feel that way?), this book is foundational.
Check out the podcast homepage for subscription information and archives.
Sunday, March 06, 2011
The way this question is framed gives a hint of the answer that the challenger expects. After all, we usually think of “evidence” as things like witness statements or documents or fingerprints left at a scene. Since no one has “evidence” relating to things outside our universe, or to a being who preceded the Big Bang, it’s a safe bet that the Christian won’t come up with any “evidence.” Or is it?
Seeing the unspoken premise in the question highlights what is at play: the challenger assumes that such “evidence” is the only way we can know things. But this is simply not true. While evidence and inferences from evidence are valid ways of determining what is true, they are not the exclusive way. For example, when I know that no circle is also a square, where is the evidence for that? Or that A = C, when told that A = B and B = C? Or that rape is always wrong. These types of knowledge – based on logic and reason and a basic moral sense – are part of the normal functioning of every human mind. Like a computer, our minds come equipped with certain basic programs, like the ability to acquire language and to understand and to make use of concepts such as fairness and right and wrong. Watch a child develop and you will see these subprograms at work.
The mind also has the ability to conceptualize, to make sense of patterns by grouping things into categories. By realizing what a square is, we “know” that a circle can never be one. By knowing that people have a right to the integrity of their bodies, we know that rape – which violates that right – is always wrong. By employing logic, we know that A = C when A and C are both equal to B.
What does this have to do with God’s origins? Just this: it is by conceptualizing what is meant by God that we can determine – that we can know – certain important things about him. When we think of God, we are thinking of that being a greater than which cannot be conceived. He embodies infinite perfection. Such a being must necessarily exist, because necessary existence is an attribute of a perfect being. That he is the source of this universe, and all that is in it, is a product of recognizing that all created things had a preceding cause, sufficient to bring them into existence. There are no known exceptions and no reason to suspect that there are any exceptions. Moving to the very beginning of the space/time universe we occupy, there must be a source adequate to the task of creating it. Two possibilities exist: the creator of the universe was himself created, and therefore had a beginning; or he was infinite, having no beginning. If you choose the former, you haven’t gone far enough in your reasoning. You need to keep moving back in time, because your conception of God is not fully developed.
Anselm of Canterbury is credited with first developing this argument. When you follow where reason leads in conceptualizing what God entails, you realize that he must be an infinite being who necessarily exists. He was not created. He never came into being, and will never cease existing. All that there is, or was, or ever will be is contingent him upon him for existence, while he is complete in and of himself, contingent upon nothing. This is the only rational conclusion that can be drawn from the existence of something from nothing; it is where the "evidence" leads.
The skeptic will usually persist in his challenge: why doesn’t your god need a cause? But again, to ask the question betrays the mistake in reasoning of the questioner. The error is in the premise: all things do not need a creator, only those things in this universe. Something outside of the universe, something that is the source of all things, does not need to be created. In fact, reason leads us in the opposite direction. Since things don’t create themselves, there must be, at the very beginning, a being who always existed, who was never created and never in need of anything.
Seen in this light, the question becomes nonsensical, translating into: who created the uncreated being, or who caused the being which needed no cause? It is no different than asking what time it is on the moon. The time of day is a function of where on earth a person is; it is nonsensical when applied off planet.
None of this proves the God of the Bible, who by the way does provide witness testimony of his eternal nature. But the skeptic will never begin to consider the truth claims of Christianity if he remains stuck doubting the very existence of that God.
Wednesday, March 02, 2011
O'Reilly's statement was criticized as simplistic. Of course we "know" how the tides do this. It's very simple: the gravitational influence of the moon is the "cause." It's not really a mystery, so invoking a diety to explain it sounds silly to modern, secular ears. It's sounds little different than attributing the tides to Thor on Mt. Olympus, as Silverman suggested.
The problem with O'Reilly's comment is that he did not take the time to explain it in more detail. He was actually using the argument (for the existence of God) from causation. That argument begins with the universal recognition that for every event, there must be a preceding cause. The tides are caused by the moon, true, but this is still the beginning of the analysis. Moving backward in time, there must be a preceding cause for all things, including the water that is being pulled, the moon that is exerting the force, and everything else in the solar system that is functioning in unison for this purpose. Moving backward along the timeline, there must exist a first event - a First Cause - before which there was nothing. What caused this first event must itself be uncaused; it must be infinite and eternal. Otherwise, it too would require an earlier cause.
The only alternative to this conclusion is that there was no beginning, that this universe is itself infinite. This may have had more appeal in the past, before scientists confirmed the beginning event known as the Big Bang. This universe is simply not infinite in age. But even without scientific evidence, it's apparent with a little thought that had the universe really been infinite, today would never have arrived. To arrive at today from an infinite past would require the passage of infinite time, but the presence of every "tomorrow" that we experience confirms that an infinity of time has not yet been reached.
So, we live in a universe that had a cause that set it all in motion. This Cause is another label for God. What his attributes are, we cannot know from this argument. But He is there. It's worth noting that this is not an appeal to ignorance. We are not saying that because we don't know how something occurred, we need to invoke a deity to explain it. Instead, it is a rational conclusion flowing from stated premises.
A more concrete example might help make the case. Take for instance the internal combustion engine. To paraphrase O'Reilly: the pistons go up, the pistons go down, never a miscommunication. Like the tides, this motion is easily explained. The explosion of fuel causes expansion in the cylinder, driving the piston up, and then the piston travels back to its starting point, before the next explosion moves it up again. Mystery solved. The only problem is that this answers the wrong question. The question posed by atheism is not how "it" works, but whether someone created it and set it in motion, or whether there is instead no creator. Looking at a motor, the question is whether there is cause to believe that a mind created the intricate mechanism in which chemistry and physics combine to produce motion, or whether it just happened. The universe, and all that is it in, is like the engine. Knowing how it works doesn't change the answer to the real question at play: how was it built? Did a mind design and construct it, or did it just happen?
Concluding that there must be a God is of course merely the first step in the journey. But for many atheists, it is a step they cannot cross. Many mistakenly insist that this form of argument is an appeal to ignorance - a resort to a "god of the gaps." But it is no such thing. We conclude that an Uncaused Cause must exist because reason supports it. You don't even need to be running on all cylinders to see where this logic must lead you.
אֵל - el. Occuring 245 times in the Old Testament, this word is most often translated "God" (the capital-G designates the "one true God" of Israel) in our King James Version bibles. However, it is also translated "god" (the lowercase-g is used for any "god" other than Israel's God), "power," "mighty," "goodly," "great," "idols," "Immanuel," "might" and "strong." A couple of example verses for "el" are:
Genesis 14:22, "And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the LORD, the most high God(el), the possessor of heaven and earth" and
Jonah 4:2 "And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD... for I knew that thou art a gracious God(el), and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil."
אֱלוֹהַּ - eloah. With the root "el," this Hebrew word is also translated "God" and "god" in the KJV. A couple of example verses for "eloah" are:
Psalms 18:31, "For who is God (eloah) save the LORD?" and
Proverbs 30:5, "Every word of God (eloah) is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him."
אֱלֹהִים - elohim. This word occurs 2606 times in the Old Testament, and is the word most often used for the God of Israel. It is also translated "god(s)," "judge," "goddess," "great," "mighty," "angels," "exceeding," "God-ward," and "godly." In a moment, I will give several example verses for "elohim."
יהוה - Jehovah. In our King James Bibles, we are usually reading this word when we read the all-caps word "LORD." יהוה means "the existing One." Unlike "el," "eloah," and "elohim," the word LORD and/or the name "Jehovah" is never used for any god other than Israel's God. Unlike "el," "eloah," and "elohim," יהוה is never used for idols or false gods. Unlike "el," "eloah," and "elohim," Jehovah is a proper name, a specific designation. (Note: Transliterated, the word is "YHWH" and it is currently thought that the pronunciation for this word is actually "Yahweh" rather than "Jehovah.")
And now, a few of the many example verses for elohim (and also Jehovah).
Exodus 6:2 "And God (elohim) spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the LORD (Jehovah)" (also see here #)
Exodus 20:1-3 "And God (elohim) spake all these words, saying, I am the LORD (Jehovah) thy God (elohim), which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods (elohim) before me." (#)
Deut 4:35 "Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the LORD (Jehovah), he is God (elohim); there is none else beside him." (#)
Deut 10:17 "For the LORD (Jehovah) your God (elohim); is God(elohim); of gods (elohim); , and Lord of lords, a great God (el); , a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward"
Joshua 24:15 "And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD (Jehovah), choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods (elohim) which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods (elohim) of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD (Jehovah)." (#)
1 Kings 8:54-60 "And... when Solomon had made an end of praying ... he stood, and blessed all the congregation of Israel with a loud voice, saying... the LORD (Jehovah) our God (elohim) be with us, as he was with our fathers: let him not leave us, nor forsake us...That all the people of the earth may know that the LORD (Jehovah) is God (elohim), and that there is none else." (#)
1 Kings 18:24-39 "...call ye on the name of your gods (elohim), and I will call on the name of the LORD (Jehovah): and the God (elohim) that answereth by fire, let him be God (elohim). And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken... And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, the LORD (Jehovah), he is the God (elohim); the LORD (Jehovah), he is the God (elohim)." (#)
Isaiah 44:6 "Thus saith the LORD (Jehovah) the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD (Jehovah) of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God (elohim)." (#)
Also see Exodus 18:11 (#), Deut 4:39 (#), Deut 5:6-7 (#,#), 2 Kings 19:19 (#), Isaiah 45:5-6 (#,#), and many others.
- There are no verses about a Heavenly Father named "Elohim" in the Old Testament, but instead, the verses that are supposed to be about him, according to the LDS leadership, are really about "Jehovah."
- Jehovah is a proper name, while elohim, like el and eloah, are labels used to describe something powerful.
- Though the Bible acknowledges that many things are worshipped as though they were God, it also says Jehovah is the only true God.
The Biblical facts are these: 1) There is only ONE GOD, 2) The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, 3) The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father. God's triune nature is hard for our little brains, and Joseph Smith is not the first or last to try to get around it. Joseph ignored Biblical fact number one, because he failed to bow his knee to YHWH, but wanted power and glory to himself. Please pray for the Mormons who are still sincerely trapped in his lies.
Tuesday, March 01, 2011
The Berkeley Missions Trip
In this episode of the PleaseConvinceMe Podcast, Jim reflects on his trip to UC Berkeley with Sean McDowell and Brett Kunkle. 30 Christian highschoolers considered the most pressing objections of atheists, talked with students on the campus and dialogued with atheist groups in Berkeley. Jim examines a few of the positions that were held by three speakers who addressed the group. Also, Jim reads listener email related to Adam and Eve and the difficulty one can have taking an ancient earth position.
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