Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Essay: Coherent, Consistent & Livable by Wes Widner

Coherent, Consistent, Livable by Wes Widner

Christianity is a worldview, a way of viewing the world we live in. This encompasses metaphysical beliefs such as the origin of the universe, meaning and purpose of life, and what happens to us after we die. It also encompasses things like how we view family, marriage, and careers. It even encompasses mundane decisions such as what we choose to wear, what entertainment we prefer, and how we spend our leisure time.

Most people don't really think about their world-views and, as a consequence, their world-views end up being a hodge-podge collection of beliefs. Very few people take the time to critically think through the beliefs they hold and examine whether their world-view passes three basic tests: (MP3 Audio | RSS | iTunes)

Is it coherent?
The first question of any world-view is whether it offers any explanation of the world around us and how accurate that description is. Not all world-views are concerned with accurately describing the world around us. In Buddhism and Hinduism, for example, reality is seen as a myth so that naturally the descriptions these world-views offer are not intended to provide an accurate description of the world. Naturalism/materialism (held by many atheists) contain descriptions of the world which break down at the point of origin and fail to explain how something can come from nothing.

Christianity is unique in that it not only offers reasonable explanations regarding the origin of the universe, but it also offers a reasonable explanation of well-established historical events such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Is it consistent?
The next question we should ask about a world-view is whether it contains contradictory statements. Such statements would pose a logical problem for us as they would violate one of the foundational laws of logic, namely the law of non-contradiction.

Some worldviews such as Buddhism, Hinduism, New Age, Wicca, Islam and Mormonism embrace paradoxes as part of their standard doctrine and therefore don't hold a pretense of being consistent in regards to their teachings. Rather, the focus in worldviews such as these is more experiential than it is informative. Christianity, however, is concerned with both.

Eastern religions rely heavily on contradictions in order to draw adherents into deeper meditation. Zen Buddhism, for instance, has an entire category of teachings known as Kōan which are expressly designed to combat rational thinking and discourse which is often seen by eastern mystics as a western invention.

Islam embraces contradictions both in the teachings from their holy writings, the Bible, Qur'an and Hadith, and in their ritual practices. Adherents are asked to believe that both the Bible and the Qur'an were given by Allah even though both contain mutually exclusive claims. In more recent times adherents have also been told that Islam is a religion of peace and is tolerant of opposing world-views which contradicts both history and the words of the founder (Muhammad).

Naturalism/materialism embraces the inherent contradiction of infinite regress when it comes to the origin of the universe as supernatural explanations are categorically rejected out of hand. This also poses a problem of where morals, meaning, and purpose are grounded in a purely naturalistic world view.

Christianity is unique in this area in that it does not pose any inherent contradictions either within the text believed to contain the inspired revelation from God or in the practices prescribed therein. There are certainly difficulties which require some effort and study, and certainly many Christian teachers have managed to introduce foreign philosophies into Christianity making it appear to be logically inconsistent or contradictory. While many followers of Jesus Christ have failed to live consistently, nevertheless the teachings of Christ found in the New Testament are in perfect concert with what we find in the Old Testament.

The Christian, unlike adherents of competing worldviews, does not need to accept a logical paradox in order to harmonize any teachings found within Christianity with other teachings or with history or scientific findings.

Is it livable?
A worldview may be internally consistent and offer a comprehensive explination of the world and yet, not be livable. Atheism, for example, offers a succinct view of the world wherein we are merely cosmic accidents: flukes of nature whose existence has no purpose or meaning. Some, like Friedrich Nietzsche, accepted the nihilism that logically accompanies a naturalistic view of the universe. Unfortunately, Nietzsche ended up going insane attempting to maintain a consistency with his beliefs.

However many choose, instead, to continue believing that life is worth living. That it has meaning and that what we do here on earth matters and echoes in some form into eternity. Such stubborn beliefs are not livable within a naturalistic view of the world and must be borrowed, instead from somewhere else.

Coherent, consistent, and livable
Christianity is the only worldview that passes each of these tests with flying colors and I highly encourage anyone who is serious in their search for truth to consider Christianity. You might just find that the truth you seek has been expecting you with outstretched arms.

40 comments :

Ken Pulliam said...

Wes,

Thanks for the post. I agree that we should all examine our basic worldview. Most of the time our worldview is developed based on what our parents or other respected authority figures tell us. Many people never question what they are taught. I think its wise to do so. As Socrates said: the unexamined life is not worth living .

I once held to the worldview espoused by evangelical Christianity. For around 20 years I held that view. I came to believe that the view was internally inconsistent and, therefore, I rejected it.

One of the inconsistencies I found was this: The doctrine of substitutionary atonement contradicts our moral intuitions which are supposed to be derived from God. According to the Bible, man is made in the image of God and one of the consequences of that is our moral compass. Paul said in Romans 2:14-15 that even the heathen know right from wrong. One of our moral intuitions is that its never right to punish an innocent person in place of a guilty person. Yet, the central teaching of evangelical Christianity is that Jesus, the sinless one, died in the place of sinners (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18). How can a just God accept the punishment of an innocent person as the legitimate basis for forgiving sinners? Our moral conscious tells us that the one who commits the crime must do the time, no one can do it in his place.

Another inconsistency I found was that evangelical Christianity holds that God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent. Yet, there is much natural evil in the world, i.e., earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, birth defects, childhood cancers, and so on. While a Christian may answer that it is one of those mysteries that we will never understand; it seems to be a contradiction to me.

There are others including the Trinity (three and one at the same time), inherited sin (man is born a sinner through no fault of his own and held culpable), and an eternal hell (punishment that never ends is sadistic).

I realize that no worldview is free from all problems and that is why I am an agnostic atheist.

J.Allee said...

Ken,

I would like to respond to your post, hope that’s okay with you.

1. On the issue of the substitutionary atonement. I think it is helpful to understand it like this. Suppose you owe 1 billion dollars and are standing before the judge completely unable to pay. Because of your debt the judge is about to throw you in jail for the rest of your life. Just before the judge drops the gavel Warren Buffet walks in and says that he will pay your 1 billion dollar debt for you. The judge then justly lets you go free because your fine has been paid.

The Bible constantly couches the issue of sin and salvation in terms of financial debt. Our sin before God is like a debt that we cannot pay and Jesus comes to our rescue and pays the debt for us. Jesus talks about it this way Himself in Matthew 18:23-34.

23"Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished(AK) to settle accounts with his servants.[h] 24When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him(AL) ten thousand(AM) talents.[i] 25(AN) And since he could not pay, his master ordered him(AO) to be sold, with his wife and(AP) children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26So the servant[j](AQ) fell on his knees, imploring him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' 27And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and(AR) forgave him the debt. 28But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred(AS)denarii,[k] and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, 'Pay what you owe.' 29So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' 30He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32Then his master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33(AT) And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' 34(AU) And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers,[l](AV) until he should pay all his debt.”

Understood in this light, there is no injustice in God allowing Jesus to pay for the debt we have incurred against Him.

(continued)

J.Allee said...

2. On natural evil (and I speak from my own perspective, I don’t presume to know Wes’ thoughts on any of this). I don’t personally view this as a mystery at all. All people everywhere have rebelled against God in sin and are under condemnation for it. The world has literally been cursed because of sin and man’s rebellion and no longer functions with the perfect order in which it was created. God would be just if he simply scrapped this whole human project and sent us all to Hell for rebelling against Him, but in His grace he decided to save a people for himself. That said, even though God offers forgiveness and salvation in His Son, He is still quite just in judging the world and allowing people to come to their end by various means. If they are unbelievers then God is just in bringing them to their end and he was gracious that he allowed them to live in rebellion against him that long. If they are believers then God is just in bringing His people home whenever and however and he never promised us lack of troubles in this present world. I know this isn’t a popular answer but I think it is biblical and I think it actually makes sense.

I think the trouble for many comes when people view God disproportionally thinking he is more good than he is just. God is perfectly good, but His goodness include his justice and intolerance for sin and hence his judgment upon the world while also offering grace and forgiveness (which He did not have to give). I can say that I deserve Hell, but by God’s grace I have trusted in Christ as my savior and received payment for my debt.

(Continued)

J.Allee said...

3. On the issue of the Trinity. I think this to be a doctrine misunderstood by many. It is not believed by Christians that God is both one person and three persons. The actual belief is that God is one being who exists as three distinct persons. I don’t know if you have ever studied philosophy much but here are the distinguishing differences between these philosophical terms.

The word “being” refers to the totality of what something is. A rock has being, a desk has being, a human has being and God has being, etc. Whatever can properly be attributed to something is part of what makes up the being of that thing.

Rocks have certain colors and minerals, etc. and that is part of what makes them the being of rock. Humans have (normally) two legs, two arms, two eyes, hair on their head and arguably a soul, etc. All that you can describe as part of a human is what makes them the kind of being they are.

Now we have the word “person”. Person refers to the individuality and intelligence of a thing. A rock has being, but it doesn’t have personality or intelligence. A human being on the other hand has personhood, they are all individual, unique and intelligent.

Now when it comes to human beings, they can be described by physical attributes as above but also by the fact that every human being has one person, one unique intelligence in their being. When it comes to the being of God, God has three persons that are attributed to his being, three unique individuals who share the being of God.

Now it is true that there is nothing else in existence like this that we can point too, but God says that He is alone God and there are no others like Him. And we see that although God is notably different than human beings who have only one person, He is not illogical or contradictory in His nature.

4. Finally, on original sin. It is true that the Bible teaches the inheritance of a sinful nature because of Adam and Eve’s decision. However it is not the case that we are condemned upon their sin, but our own. A person doesn’t fall under God’s condemnation until they willfully sin against Him. I think it is true that all people who live long enough to make a moral decision will sin against God, but it is their own sin that they are judged by, not Adams. An infant, therefore, I believe is covered under God’s grace since they have never transgressed the law of God.

These are my thoughts, I hope you find them worthy of chewing on. Take care.

Chad said...

Ken,

I believe I'm correct in stating that for you to label the existence of "natural evil" as a supposed inconsistency within the Christian worldview, you would have to be able to demonstrate that the Christian God could have no good reasons for allowing the evils you mention.

Are you able to do that?

Thank you

Chad said...

Wes,

I believe you "hit the nail on the head" when you pointed out how many beliefs the naturalist must borrow from somewhere else.

Many atheists continue to live as if life has meaning and purpose, even though their worldview is incapable of subscribing meaning and purpose to anything. As Dawkins puts it, regarding the universe: "there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference."

However, Dawkins calls his own bluff here simply because I'm guessing he had a "purpose" in writing this and I think we can all agree that he is anything but "indifferent" about the existence of God.

If, "at bottom" there is no purpose or meaning behind the universe, why try to act as if there is? This is simply self-delusory.

Great Essay and thank you!

Godspeed

Wes Widner said...

Chad, there is actually a very good lecture (short too) recently regarding Darwin's slide into the abyss. Though, curiously, by all accounts Darwin never intended to get rid of God in the way Dawkins suggests Darwin did in order to be "an intellectually fulfilled athiest".

At any rate, the lecture is "The Evolution of Charles Darwin" and you can find it here http://bit.ly/a71vMd

Ken, I believe your first objection revolved around this question you asked: "How can a just God accept the punishment of an innocent person as the legitimate basis for forgiving sinners?"

The short answer is; Sin must be paid for by someone. A more extended answer is that Jesus freely chose, out of love, to bear the cross and pay a debt he did not owe. As finite and fallen as I am I am still willing to lay down my life for my children even if they caused the situation which caused me to have to make such a sacrafice. I think Jesus said it best when he told the crowd in Matthew 7:11 "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"

As to your second question regarding the abundance of evil in the world. I would readily agree with you that it poses the most significant challenge we have to address. So much so that much of the Bible is given to address it. Whole books in fact such as Job are given to us to address this question. I know many of my brothers and I differ on the possible answers to this large and complex question and given time we might explore some of them.

However we must keep in mind that this problem is not unique to us as theists. Everyone must answer the question of evil in the world and, as Ravi Zacharias is fond of pointing out, entire religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism are wholly devoted to answering this specific question.

So, before we start to explore this particular topic (and don't misunderstand me, this is actually one of my favorite topics to wrestle with) please keep in mind that the imperative to provide a solution to this problem rests on us both.

As for the trinity, I don't think you are required to believe in it in order to be a follower of Christ. Don't mistake me here either, I do hold to the Trinity (along with a whole list of other doctrines and teachings). However all of these pale in comparison to the first question of whether there is a God and whether He has provided us with any revelation of himself (either general or specific).

One final note, an "agnostic athiest" is really a contradiction in terms. Either you know there is a God or you don't. I think you are smart enough (at least you appear to be by all accounts) to know that the claim to know no God exists would require omniscience which really only leaves agnosticism as the only viable alternative. So if you truely don't know whether God exists or not I hope you don't mind me asking; What would it take to convince you that God exists?

Shelby Cade said...

Hi Ken,

I have enjoyed the responses you have given the past few days, I have one question though, "What is an agnostic atheist?" I am familiar with agnosticism and atheism but not agnostic atheism. I'm not trying to be antagonistic, but am mearly curious.

Ken Pulliam said...

Hi Shelby,

An agnostic atheist is one who does not believe in any specific deity but cannot say that he knows that no deity exists. In my case, I don't believe in the Christian God, the Muslim God, any of the Hindu gods or any god associated with any specific religion. However, I cannot say for certain that no god of any kind exists. I am open to the possiblity but have not found sufficient reason to believe in one.

Ken Pulliam said...

J. Allee,

Thanks for your reply. The difference is that a monetary debt, such as a fine, can be transferred (i.e., paid by someone else); however, a moral debt cannot be transferred. For your analogy to work, the person in the court room would have to be guilty of murder and the judge allows Warren Buffet to be executed in his place.

While the bible may use the word debt in some cases to refer to sin, it never describes it in terms of a monetary debt. The point of the parable as stated in Matthew 18:35 is that man should forgive his fellow man and God will be angry with you if you don't. One cannot construct a theological doctrine of the atonement from this parable.

Your explanation for natural evil only works if one accepts the view of the Young Earth Creationism (YEC). If you don't, then you have to acknowledge that God created the world with natural evil. I find fewer and fewer evangelicals trying to defend YEC as it is scientifically bankrupt (Its interesting though that R. C. Sproul recently switched from OEC to YEC because of the problem of natural evil).

With regard to the Trinity, if one were to accept your explanation, then there would one human nature (or "being" to use your term) and six billion persons who share that nature. That is not analogous to the doctrine of the Trinity. In the Trinity, there is only one God who shares not only the same attributes equally but also has only one "mind" and one "will". Six billion human beings don't all have the same will or agree in unison on everything.
I realize there are some pretty good philosophical defenses of the Trinity but I haven't found one yet that really solves the problem. At the end of the day, they "mystery" card is always brought out. In addition, I find the doctrine of the Trinity something that Christian theologians invented in order to harmonize the idea that there is only one God and yet Jesus is fully God. A number of ideas were tossed about in the early church and the doctrine of the Trinity finally won out.

On the matter of original sin, if man is born in such a condition that it is inevitable that he will sin, then how can he be held culpable?

Ken Pulliam said...

Chad,

You are right. The problem of natural evil could be explained if the Christian God does have good reasons for it. However, the Bible gives no such reasons and neither do theologians that really answer the problem. Its hard to imagine how a child contracting cancer could be a good thing. One might argue that it turns the parents to the Lord but what about the poor child? Did they agree to be used in such a way? Its hard to imagine a good reason for a child to be swept away in a flood or buried alive in an earthquake to die a slow, miserable death. Most evangelicals who have really thought about this, have to admit that it is a mystery.

Another problem I see is that if one says that God has good reasons for creating natural evil, then that sounds a lot like "the end justifies the means," which most evangelical Christians would reject.

Ken Pulliam said...

Wes,

Thanks for your reply. You said that sin has to be paid for and that Jesus volunteered to do so. Okay, but that still doesn't explain how God can accept the punishment of an innocent as payment of the penalty owed by the guilty. Yes, Jesus volunteering to do so shows great love and compassion but what would we think of a judge who allowed another to be punished in place of the guilty? If my son commits a murder, I could volunteer to be executed in his place, but no court would allow it. Why not? Its not justice.

On the problem of evil, the book of Job really doesn't provide an answer. It says that one must just trust God no matter what and believe that he must have a good reason.

My explanation for the problem of natural evil is simply this--hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, etc. are simply the way the natural world operates. Since I don't believe in an omnibenevolent deity who created the world, I don't have the problem that theists do of trying to reconcile their perfectly good God with natural evil. (Note I am focusing on natural evil because I think moral evil can be explained somewhat by free will).

I am surprised to hear you say that one can be a Christian without believing in the Trinity. That certainly is not orthodox and I think would be roundly rejected by virtually all evangelicals.

An agnostic atheist does not say that he "knows" that no God exists. He says that he does not believe in any specific deity but he does not know for certain that no deity of any kind exists.

As far as what would convince me that a God exists? I am not certain but it would need to be much better evidence than I currently see.

inchristus said...

Ken,
In your response to Chad re: God allowing natural evils, I wholeheartedly agree that this is a problem for Christianity (as it is for Islam and Judaism). Moreover, to couch evil as a "mystery" is, like many of the core Christian beliefs (e.g., Incarnation, Trinity, et al.) not necessarily a show stopper. The concern is whether or not it is rational to believe that God has good reasons (entirely unknown to me) for allowing the evils in this world. Given the things we do know about God and his character (primarily from Scripture, but also from nature), it seems we should not put "God in the dock" (ode to C. S. Lewis). Instead, I've every reason to give God the benefit of the doubt because of the avalanche of the evidence for his existence, the historical reliability of the resurrection, and the biblical documents. These philosophically sound, scientifically responsible, and historically feasible commitments combined leave me with the God of Christianity. If I do not understand all of God's reasons for allowing the pain in this universe does not prevent me from believing in him.

I would offer that one can hold some degree of doubt and still be in bed with their beliefs. Most of my beliefs that really matter only have a degree of certainty; they do not require 100% certainty before I can adhere to them. Without repeating myself, please consider my post regarding belief and doubt.

J.Allee said...

Ken,

I would like to leave you with a few more thoughts and then be done (because internet discussions tend to never die and often never go anywhere. I much prefer such dialog face to face.). So I will respond once more and let you have the final word in our exchange.

On the issue of moral debt/monetary debt I would make a couple of statements. First among them would be that it is true, as you have said, that no court would accept such a substitution, that is, no American court. I don’t know, however, if it is necessarily true that no court anywhere in the world, or at any time throughout the history of humanity, would not. I would also argue that the court of God is not the court of man and that if God does exist then he is the one who sets the standards of justice not people.

Second, I do not believe that the view of sin being compared to a monetary debt should be so quickly dismissed. I think it is one of the ways that the Scripture has couched the issue, not the only, but one. Luke 7:41-50 again uses debt in reference to the forgiveness of sins:

41"A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred(BB) denarii, and the other fifty. 42(BC) When they could not pay, he(BD) cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?" 43Simon answered, "The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt." And he said to him, "You have judged rightly." 44Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house;(BE) you gave me no water for my feet, but(BF) she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45(BG) You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to(BH) kiss my feet. 46(BI) You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore I tell you, her sins,(BJ) which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little." 48And he said to her, (BK) "Your sins are forgiven." 49Then those who were at table with him began to say among[h] themselves,(BL) "Who is this, who even forgives sins?" 50And he said to the woman, (BM) "Your faith has saved you;(BN) go in peace."

And in the Lord’s prayer Jesus teaches that we are to ask forgiveness for our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. There is no doubt that the debt of sin has very real moral implications, but I think that God does view our moral sin as a kind debt that we cannot afford to pay Him.

J.Allee said...

You also said that my account of natural evil only works for YEC’s. I’m not sure I follow why that is the case. It definitely only works if you believe in special creation and the literal persons of Adam and Eve, but many OEC’s still believe that to be the case. I myself do hold to a YEC position but have many friends who are OEC’s who I think would still find my answer to your objection plausible. In fact, if I am right, you have already admitted that my explanation works and I have stated that it doesn’t take being a YEC to believe in special creation of the head of the human race.

On the Trinity, you misunderstand my explanation. A being is the totality of what something is, a person is the individual quality and intelligence of something. There are many human beings (about 6 billion) and each human being has one person in their existence. There is only one God being, and he has three persons in his existence. So I think you misapplied my words and perhaps I should find a way to be clearer but I don’t think your evaluation of my explanation actually follows from what I said.

In a very real sense, the issue of the Trinity is something that you have to take on biblical authority because, as I said before, there is nothing else like it we can point to in creation. We only know of the Trinity from the Bible. This doesn’t mean that the Trinity is irrational or contradictory, it is not, just that we take it on faith that it exists and we do so on the basis that there are very good reasons to trust the Bible as God’s word. I certainly don’t think it a mystery (like it is something that we cannot understand) but it is something that we believe to be true because God has said that is what He is. It is, without doubt, clearly taught in the Bible because the following three doctrines are taught.

1. There is only one God.

2. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three distinct persons.

3. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are called God in Scripture.

When it comes down to it, you wont really accept the Trinity unless you accept the authority of the Bible. Something that as an agnostic atheist you of course are not currently doing.

You asked me “On the matter of original sin, if man is born in such a condition that it is inevitable that he will sin, then how can he be held culpable?” I think the answer is because people do what they most want to do. Because of the fall our will is corrupted and bent on selfishness and therefore when we come to a point of moral decision making we will inevitably choose to serve ourselves rather than God and others but there is no hand upon our necks forcing us to do this, it is what we want to do. It was human rebellion that set humanity on this track and people are culpable, not God, for their sin. I never had to teach my 3 year old to lie or throw fits when he doesn’t get his way, he was prone to that behavior from birth and he chooses to act in the way he does. He needs to one day come to understand that he is accountable for his sin and will need to trust in Jesus for forgiveness of that sin.

I hope that you will continue to investigate Christianity because I think that there is more than sufficient evidence and reason to hold to it. It is the only religion that makes sense of the world and interacts with reality. I also agree with another commenter who mentioned the historical case for the resurrection. If Jesus really did die and rise again, and this is the foundational claim of Christianity, then it validates everything He said about Himself and the whole Bible. I recommend The Case for the Resurrection by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona. I will leave with that. I am sure we have not bridged the gap but I appreciate talking with you.

Ken Pulliam said...

InChristus,

Thanks for the dialogue. Some may wonder why I am here but I am looking for good solid interaction which hopefully can cause both us to refine our thinking.

You say that you are justified in believing that God must have good reasons for the suffering caused by natural evil because of what the Bible reveals about the character of God. Okay, but I think its a mixed-bag. Look for example at God's command to kill all the Canaanites including women and children (no doubt there were infants and toddlers as well). It doesn't seem in that case that he cared too much about the innocent suffering. The same command is repeated in 1 Sam. 15 with regard to the Amalekites. What is God's justification for it? Something there ancestors did 400 years prior. In Egypt, God directly, through the angel of the Lord, killed all the Egyptian first-born. No doubt had to involve infants and toddlers as well as all ages. In the flood, children of all ages were killed (and I am told that drowning is a painful way to die).

In the NT, Paul teaches that all of mankind is born as sinful as a result of Adam's sin. How is it just for God to hold a person culpable for what someone else did? That doesn't seem fair nor does it seem loving. In Rev. 19, John says that when Jesus returns the blood will flow as high as the horse's bridle. That seems cruel and unloving. Rev. 20 says that all unbelievers are going to be thrown into an eternal lake of fire. This no doubt includes many people who never even heard the name Jesus. That does not seem fair or loving.

So, when I look at those things and others in the Bible, I cannot conclude that God is loving and fair and that he must have good reasons for the suffering that is currently taking place in the world.

Ken Pulliam said...

J Allee,

I don't believe you will find an example of any human court accepting a substitute for punishment, either incarceration or execution because it is counterintuitive to what we all know is right. I know you can just say that God is not a man and that his court is not like a human court but as I mentioned in my prior comment, the Bible says that man is endowed with a sense of right and wrong as a result of being made in the image of God. If the Bible is correct, then the sense of right that we all have came from God. How then could God's sense of right be different?

Most exegetes will look to the Epistles to establish major doctrines. The epistles, especially Paul's, do not use the concept of a monetary debt in regard to man's sin.
Yes, there are some parables and some other passages from the gospels that do but these are not in connection with defining the atonement.
The reason that only the YEC position offers an explanation for natural evil is because only it can say that prior to the fall, there was no natural evil. For OEC, they have to maintain that death and suffering preceded the fall of mankind. Hurricanes, tsunamis, etc. were part of the created order long before man arrived on the scene.

I don't find YEC plausible because one has to sacrifice the findings of science in order to argue that the universe is only thousands of years old.

You say: A being is the totality of what something is, a person is the individual quality and intelligence of something. It sounds like you are saying that "being" is abstract and "person" is concrete. That is not how theologians have explained the Trinity and it would in fact be tritheism to hold it. You say: There is only one God being, and he has three persons in his existence. That is non-sensical to me unless you are saying, and I am sure you are not, that God is like a three-headed monster.

You say that the Bible teaches:
1. There is only one God.
2. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three distinct persons.
3. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are called God in Scripture.


But this is exactly what I find to be internally contradictory. God is one and yet God is three. The fact is as I mentioned earlier that the Bible does not try to explain or even discuss the nature of the Trinity. As you know, the term is not in the Bible. The doctrine of the Trinity is man's attempt to harmonize the three points you mention above. Every attempt I have read to try to do so fails in my opinion. That is why ultimately theologians punt to mystery.

You say: Because of the fall our will is corrupted and bent on selfishness and therefore when we come to a point of moral decision making we will inevitably choose to serve ourselves rather than God and others but there is no hand upon our necks forcing us to do this, it is what we want to do . It is what we want to do because its our inherited nature. My dog's nature makes him want to chase cats. Its inevitable that if he sees a cat, he will chase it. Can I hold him culpable for doing what is in his nature to do? You say that we are not forced to sin but yet its inevitable, so to me that is a distinction without a difference .

On the resurrection, I have spent considerable time studying the evidence and I don't find it convincing. I have read Habermas (even refer to him on my blog today), Craig, Geisler and others on the subject but unless comes to the Scriptures with the prior commitment that they are inerrant, which these men do, then one will not be impressed by the evidence. I think there are better naturalistic explanations for the origin of the disciples belief in the resurrection.

inchristus said...

Ken:
All the examples you bring up have been adequately dealt with in Paul Copan's article Is Yahweh a Moral Monster?. Please consider reading that rather than me rehearse his findings.

Ken Pulliam said...

InChristus,

Yes, I have read Copan's article you cite and also Morriston and Rauser's rebuttals and Copan's follow up in Philosophia Christi (vol. 11, 2009). I have my take on this exchange here and here.

Chad said...

Ken,

Thanks for the reply. My intent for commenting originally was to highlight the fact that the co-existence of evil and God is not an "inconsistency" or contradiction, as often claimed, unless someone can demonstrate that the Christian God could have NO good reasons for allowing evil. And while I agree that many times it's hard to imagine why God would allow certain events to occur, it does not follow that there are NO good reasons. I must ask if you think God is obligated to explain His reasons for each and every act of evil He allows? I believe, from mankind's limited perspective, we can see how some good does come from evil.

Would you then agree that the co-existence of evil and God do not result in a inconsistency or contradiction within the Christian Worldview?

I would also encourage you to check out this article by Greg Koukl entitled, "A Good Reason for Evil:" http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5093

Thank you

Chad said...

Hello again Ken,

In your last comment to J. Allee, you mention the works of Craig and Habermas as they relate to the resurrection. Regardless if both Craig and Habermas believe the Scriptures are inerrant, I don't see what that has to do with their minimal fact arguments (they do differ) for the resurrection. Their arguments view the NT documents as merely ancient historical documents and they base their facts as such. I believe you and I can agree that the NT is a collection of historical documents, yes?

And even if their arguments WERE based on an inerrant view of the Bible, I don't see how it would follow that their arguments are automatically false. It seems to me that you are rejecting their arguments based upon inerrancy when their actual arguments don't assume, nor require, an inerrant view of the Bible.

Thanks again

Ken Pulliam said...

Chad,

Concering the resurrection and the gospels. I think the gospels probably do contain some genuine history but I don't accept everything in them as literal truth as Craig and Habermas do. For example, I think the empty tomb is probably a legend. I think that the report of appearances of Jesus to groups is legendary. I think that the guards being posted at the tomb is a legend, etc.

I think that Peter had a vision and Paul had a vision but I am not sure the others did.

The reason inerrancy makes a difference is that if one accepts everything in the gospels as 100% literal history, then of course, no naturalistic explanation will work but that is begging the question.

If I accept that the Koran is 100% accurate, then no natural explanations of the stories in it will work, same for Book of Mormon, etc.

Ken Pulliam said...

Chad,

You say: the co-existence of evil and God is not an "inconsistency" or contradiction, as often claimed, unless someone can demonstrate that the Christian God could have NO good reasons .

This could be turned around on you. Unless you can provide some good reasons (instead of just saying that there probably are some even though I don't know what they are)as to why a perfectly good God would allow a child to be buried alive in an earthquake, then there is a contradiction.

In addition, your explanation would have to show how "the end justifies the means" is okay for God but not for man as a system of ethics.

Ken Pulliam said...

Chad,

I read Greg's article. He does not seem to distinguish between moral evil and natural evil. I understand that one could explain moral evil on the basis of free will but what about natural evil, i.e., hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, animals preying on one another, childhood cancer, etc.

Greg says: When God created the universe, he created everything good. He made a universe that was perfectly good. Everything was as it should be.

Unless Greg believes that the world is only a few thousand years old, then he has to hold that God created the world with all of these natural evils present. How can that be good ?

Chad said...

Ken,

You wrote:

“Unless you can provide some good reasons (instead of just saying that there probably are some even though I don't know what they are)as to why a perfectly good God would allow a child to be buried alive in an earthquake, then there is a contradiction. "

Here, you are doing nothing more than asserting that there is a contradiction; therefore, for your objection to stand, you need to DEMONSTRATE that a contradiction actually exists. You have failed to do so. This further supports my conviction that the objection of suffering is an emotional one, but no longer an academic one.

Further, I would like you to answer my question:

“I must ask if you think God is obligated to explain His reasons for each and every act of evil He allows?”

Finally, why do you think that I am capable, or even required, to explain to you God’s reasons for allowing suffering? I (nor anyone else) are in a proper position to make the claim that we always know why God allows suffering all the time.

Gregory Ganssle explains it well:

“First, we can figure out reasons that God might have for many (perhaps most) of the evils in the world. For example, both human freedom and stable, cause-effect universe are necessary for any meaningful action. Meaningful action, then, may be a reason that God allows various kinds of evil. Second, it is reasonable to think that God will have reasons that we cannot grasp for allowing evil in our lives. In fact, to think that we should be able to figure out God’s reasons for allowing every case of evil implies that we thing God is not much smarter than we are. If God is the almighty creator of the universe, there will be evil the reason for which we cannot discern. This is exactly what we should expect if there is a God. It cannot be counted as evidence against God” [ Gregory E. Ganssle, How Can God Have All Power and Be Loving and Yet There Be Evil?, The Apologetics Study Bible, p. 736-737].

Notice, this conclusion does not simply label suffering as a “mystery,” but humbly (and correctly, I believe) points out that finite beings will not always be able to completely understand the actions of an infinite God. This seems more than reasonable. It is my conviction that the full scope of evidence points to God’s existence. Does that mean I understand every single difficulty? Of course not.

Perhaps the “perfectly good God” that you write of could not create a world with this much good but less suffering, and maybe God has good reasons allowing suffering?

Finally, even atheist philosophers such as William Rowe concede:

"Some philosophers have contended that the existence of evil is logically inconsistent with the existence of the theistic God. No one, I think, has succeeded in establishing such an extravagant claim."

Thank you

[Sources available upon request]

Chad said...

Ken,

You seem to missing my point (or perhaps I‘m not being clear). It doesn’t matter if Habermas, Craig, or you accept everything in the Bible as “literal truth.” Their minimal facts arguments, that they present to verify the historicity of the resurrection, only rely upon facts that are largely accepted by both skeptical and non-skeptical scholars today. Their arguments are based upon viewing the NT as a collection of ancient historical documents, nothing more. Inerrancy has nothing to do with their minimalist approaches, nor do either of them strive to defend it in debate settings.

It still seems to me that you are rejecting their arguments based upon inerrancy when their actual arguments don't assume, nor require, the inerrancy of the Bible.

Have you read “The Case for the Resurrection” by Habermas and Licona?

Thank you again

Ken Pulliam said...

Chad,

Each one ofthe "minimal facts" is supported by the statements in Scripture which few people besides inerrantists believes are true.
For example, they accept the guards being posted at the tomb, the group appearances in the gospels, the physical nature of the appearances, the disciples finding the grave clothes, etc. They use these events which are highly dubious to argue for the empty tomb and thus the resurrection.

Ken Pulliam said...

Chad,

Here is my argument:

1. God is said to be perfectly good and loving.
2. Natural evil such as tsunamis, hurricanes, childhood cancers exist and have existed since the beginning of the earth (in spite of the fact that Gen. 1 says everything was created was very good).
3. Suffering caused by natural evil is bad and inconsistent with a perfectly good and loving God.
4. No sufficient justifications of the suffering caused by natural evil are known.
5. Therefore, God cannot be perfectly good or suffering is an illusion.

Which one of these points do you disagree with?

Chad said...

Hello Ken,

Hope this day finds you doing well.

I have been careful in my proceeding comments, to the best of my ability, to address the questions and points that you have raised. Further, as part of the on-going dialogue, I have tried to ask you questions and make points in an attempt to get a better sense of where you are coming from. From my perspective, with all do respect, I feel that many of my points and questions are being ignored. I believe for both of us to get the most out of these dialogues, we should do our best to engage the actual content of each others arguments and points.

One point I made that has not been addressed:

“Here, you are doing nothing more than asserting that there is a contradiction; therefore, for your objection to stand, you need to DEMONSTRATE that a contradiction actually exists. You have failed to do so.”

Questions that I asked that were not addressed:

1. “I must ask if you think God is obligated to explain His reasons for each and every act of evil He allows?”

2. “…why do you think that I am capable, or even required, to explain to you God’s reasons for allowing suffering?”

Thanks Ken

Chad said...

Ken,

You said: "Each one ofthe "minimal facts" is supported by the statements in Scripture which few people besides inerrantists believes are true."

This is simply not true. Again I ask, have you read "The Case for the Resurrection" by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona? I can't see how you could read Habermas, or Craig for that matter, and come to the above conclusion.

Thank you

Brian said...

The minimal fact approach does not depend on biblical inerrancy, nor does it even depend upon the reliability of the biblical texts. Instead, it uses only data that are strongly and multiply attested and agreed upon by the vast majority of both skeptical and non-skeptical scholars and historians. Listen to this short audio clip to hear Gary Habermas explain the methodology.

Chad said...

Brian,

Thank you so much for posting this. I'm sure Dr. Habermas can explain it better than I; apparently, I'm not doing to good a job! :-)

Godspeed

Ken Pulliam said...

Chad,

Sorry I did't mean to overlook your questions. As regarding a contradiction, its very simple--Christians believe that there God is perfectly good and loving. The world contains a lot of what appears to be capricious suffering attributable to the way the earth was made (natural disasters and disease).

You ask: 1. “I must ask if you think God is obligated to explain His reasons for each and every act of evil He allows?”

I think that if the God of Christians exists and if He revealed himself in the Bible, then he ought to have explained why there is suffering in the world.

You ask: 2. “…why do you think that I am capable, or even required, to explain to you God’s reasons for allowing suffering?”

Because if you can't, then you have no answer to the apparent contradiction.

Ken Pulliam said...

Chad and Brian,

Sorry I mispoke. What I meant to say was that often apologists will "bootleg" in additional elements to the "minimal facts," which elements one must only accept if the Bible is inerrant. For example, the empty tomb is one of the minimal arguments. If someone attempts to explain the empty tomb by saying that someone stole the body (not my position), the apologist will counter with: "that is absurd because a person stealing the body would not take off the graveclothes--which were found in the empty tomb." Or if one tries to explain the minimal fact that early Christians reported seeing Jesus alive from the dead by saying that it could have been an hallucination, the apologist will respond: "that is absurd because you can't have group hallucinations." Here the apologist is bootlegging in the story of group appearances which is not one of the minimal facts.

BTW, I am having lunch today with Mike Licona. I met him last Nov. at the EPS conference in New Orleans and we both live in ATL, so we agreed to get together for lunch. And no, I haven't read his book co-authored with Habermas but I have read other books by Habermas.

Chad said...

Ken,

And again, you ignore my comments in their entirety:

1. First, you ignored my point from Ganssle:

"...it is reasonable to think that God will have reasons that we cannot grasp for allowing evil in our lives. In fact, to think that we should be able to figure out God’s reasons for allowing every case of evil implies that we thing God is not much smarter than we are. If God is the almighty creator of the universe, there will be evil the reason for which we cannot discern. This is exactly what we should expect if there is a God. It cannot be counted as evidence against God.”

2. You have FAILED to demonstrate a contradiction exists. Simply asserting one exists doesn't get the job done. I understand that you, and myself, both struggle with the existence of struggling, but that is an emotional struggle, not a academic or logical one.

Respectfully, I see not purpose in continuing this exchange.

Thank you for the dialogue.

Chad said...

Ken,

Enjoy your lunch with Mr. Licona.

Take care

Ken Pulliam said...

Chad,

I don't think I ignored your questions. 1) yes I think its reasonable to assume that the God of Christianity ought to tell us why suffering happens. He doesn't have to tell us the specifics of every particular case but he could have outlined in the Bible some reasons. Even in the book of Job, he never says. He says just trust me, which is really not an answer.

I haven't demonstrated a contradiction in the formal sense but I do think its an unresolved problem for Christians. Basically all they can say is what the book of Job says--we don't know but we will just trust God.

I did have an enjoyable time with Mike. He is a good guy. He told me that he only uses 3 of the 5 minimal facts in his debates now because the other two, while he believes them, are not as strong (the empty tomb, the conversion of James based on the resurrection). We had a lively discussion and agreed to meet again since we both live in the same city. He admitted that he struggled a lot with doubts while doing his dissertation but came out on the side of belief. We have a lot in common--both went to fundamentalist schools, know some common people, etc.

Il Censore said...

You might be interested in a review of the points raised in this essay: «Christianity is incoherent», by Luke Muehlhauser

Anonymous said...

Can you cite any evidence this is not self referential or otherwise found in the bible for your beliefs? The same reason you don't believe in zeus is why rational thinkers have no belief in jehovah, jesus or any other gods: lack of real evidence.

Russell said...

Anonymous,

What kind of evidence would be satisfactory to you?

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