Byron Smith responded to me. I’ll going to focus on his key contentions:
The answers for why prayer is “answered” or “unanswered” cover every conceivable possibility without actually requiring any unambiguous or visible activity on the part of the deity. Isn't that a trifle bit convenient?
i) Answered prayer and unanswered prayer are evidentially asymmetrical. Evidence that something never happened doesn’t cancel out evidence that something else did happen. If it rains today, but not tomorrow, the nonoccurrence of rain tomorrow in no way counts against the occurrence of rain today, as if we have to balance one against the other.
Likewise, indetectible answers to prayer don’t count against detectable answers to prayer.
ii) While answered prayer has evidential value, that’s a fringe benefit of prayer. That’s not what prayer is for.
iii) There’s a strangely self-absorbed quality to your objections, as if the only relevant evidence for Christianity is limited to the confines of your personal experience.
But what about the experience of other Christians? Why does that count for nothing? Most of what you and I believe about most things in life is dependent on the testimony of others.
So if, say, you have no tangible experience of answered prayer, yet many other Christians bear witness to answered prayer, or other instances of special providence in their lives, how does your inexperience cancel out their experience?
Sure, you can say this is merely their claim to encounter God in one way or another. Still, how are you in any position to treat their testimony as untrustworthy in each and every case?
I am not familiar with the law of unintended consequences, so I do not know why it would be unreasonable to expect the possibility of God answering all prayers, or, given the belief He actually exists and is capable of revealing Himself and His wishes, of at least expecting some kind of response to the prayers offered up to Him, beyond mere coincidence or random, impersonal “acts of God.”
According to the law of unintended consequences, changing a variable in the present can have unforeseen and unintended results further down the line. A cause generates an effect. The generated effect then becomes a cause which generates further effects, and so on. A ripple effect.
The unintended outcome can be neutral, beneficial, maleficial, or mixed. That’s a common plot device in SF stories involving time travel, viz. a brilliant young man loses his fiancé in a traffic accident. So he saves her life by going back into the past to avert the accident. However, that sets in motion a chain reaction resulting in other tragedies.
What we pray for would affect the future in many subtle and intricate ways which we can’t begin to fathom. So these aren’t ad hoc considerations.
If the answer is simply that I gave up too soon, then my question is how long is long enough, since we are not guaranteed tomorrow?
Learning how to wait is essential to the walk of faith. Take Heb 11, where the heroes of faith had to wait a lifetime to see the object of their hope come into view. Indeed, the promise wasn’t even fulfilled in their lifetime. Or take the “How long, O Lord?” refrain we often encounter in Scripture.
The Christian race is a marathon, not a 100-year dash. Sprinters lose. He who endures to the end shall be saved.
Likewise, a sense of divine abandonment is a common motif in the Psalter. Ps 88 is especially stark. So, from a Christian standpoint, why would you expect to be exempt from that? Remember, you’re using your experience as a reason to reject Christianity. Yet, on Christian terms, your experience is quite consistent with the Bible. Therefore, your disappointed expectation was a false expectation.
So, once again, you’re laboring under a false expectation. This is not inconsistent with Biblical Christianity. You may object on other grounds, but it’s not as if your experience falsifies Christianity.
And there’s no alternative to waiting. It’s not as if there’s another train that will take you to the same destination. There’s no point at which it’s too late to wait.
And if the answer is that I failed to detect the answer, then my question becomes why would not an omniscient God respond in a manner I could sense and with which I could then interact in further prayer, perhaps?
That depends on what you pray for. And how you expect the prayer to be fulfilled. Expectation shapes perception. People frequently fail to discern something because it wasn’t what they expected.
Also, a temporal pattern emerges over time. It can only be seen in retrospect, sometimes at a considerable distance from the inception.
Look at the Joseph cycle. He receives a prophetic dream. But then he suffers some major setbacks which appear to falsify the dream. But eventually the prophetic dream is fulfilled. All in due time.
But not receiving any detectable response to this (and more earnest and desperate prayers over other spiritual matters) was certainly not faith-building, to say the least.
Waiting, yearning, and suffering are, themselves, a means of sanctification.
It just seemed like a dry spiritual season of the soul, so to speak.
Dry seasons are consistent with Biblical Christianity. Consider Jeremiah’s experience.
Moreover, Christianity, unlike atheism, offers hope that the dry season will someday end, sooner or later–whereas atheism is a permanent drought. In atheism, there is no oasis over the next dune. It’s desert all the way.
By “God” I take it that you are assuming Christianity and its God specifically. If I grant that assumption in my reply, then how could I escape agreement? This is the sort of statement only a fellow believer would likely understand the way you intend. If you are correct in your assertion of the truth of Christianity, then your statement is unquestionably true, but if I doubt the truth of Christianity, such a statement offers me no comfort at least until my doubts are resolved favorably towards Christianity.
It’s a forced option. Atheism offers nothing. Christianity offers everything. No, that’s not a reason, it itself, to believe the offer. It is, however, a reason to invest in something rather than nothing.
Rather it is more like a question of how could a loving, sovereign God who controls all things, possibly have a reason for allowing this to happen to me?
You operate with this abstract preconception of God that doesn’t fit Scripture. The God of Scripture is, indeed, sovereign and loving–he loves his people.
At the same time, many calamities befall his people. This is one reason the Bible contains so many stories about individual believers and their hardships. These are examples for posterity.
You keep measuring your experience by a false expectation. The Bible did nothing to foster your unrealistic expectations. To the contrary, this is all predictable given Biblical biographies.
Again, you may object on other grounds, but you keep acting as if God betrayed you. Broke his promise to you. Went back on his word. But if you read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, it’s clear that God’s people aren’t exempt from frustrations, regrets, disappointments. So none of this ought to be surprising or confounding. Really, it’s par for the course.
Moreover, you and I are leading a pretty charmed existence compared to most folks, including most Christians and Jews, throughout history. God has greatly blessed you and me simply by when and where we were born. Instead of complaining, it’s incumbent on us to share the blessings.
It reminds me of a resentful son who only judges his dad by what his dad did for him on his birthday, while taking for granted what his dad did for him the other 364 days of the years.
Incidentally, in my Calvinism, I held to New Covenant theology of a sort, and probably did not understand it fully, but I was taught that ‘backsliding’ was reserved to the Old Testament saints who did not have the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide them.
I disagree. Christians can backslide, as well as OT Jews.
I also believed that the Holy Spirit inspires genuine prayer so that prayer in effect becomes simply praying God's will back to Him for our own spiritual enrichment.
God “inspires” a desire to prayer. But he doesn’t inspire the prayer itself, the way he inspired a prophet.
But she could reasonably expect some answers to prayer in her lifetime…
Is that a reasonable expectation? I don’t deny that she did experience answers to prayer, but I’m just dealing with your stipulative expectation.
But to me this is another one of those convenient explanations for how prayer works (or doesn't), and seems contrary to the idea of receiving real and unambiguous answers to prayer in the New Testament.
Well, I don’t know what you’re referring to. If you’re referring to some unqualified promises in Scripture, that’s hermeneutically naïve. Scripture often speaks in generalities. But qualifications are given elsewhere. So that’s understood, going into the transaction.
I can only say that I personally reached my personal limit, and that an omniscient, omnipotent God should not be defeated by such.
The fact that some prayers go unanswered, or the answers are deferred, or the answers are surprising, doesn’t mean God was “defeated.”
One of my favorite questions goes along the lines of this: why do we not pray for amputees? Why do certain medical miracles occur in Scripture (the restoring of an ear, the healing of the blind, healing a withered hand, straightening a spine or fixing some skeletal problem that caused a crippling condition) and not others (restoring amputations of limbs, healing heart conditions, reverting brain injuries, undoing severe burns, or even removing scar tissue)? And why is it that we have such a difficult time using supposedly “answered prayers” in modern times as apologetic evidence?
i) That’s not a distinction between now and then. On the one hand, most sick people in Bible times, including most Jews, even pious Jews, were not miraculously healed. Some are healed, some are not.
Conversely, many modern Christians claim to be miraculously healed, or to witness a miraculous healing.
You can, of course, discount all that out of hand, if you wish. But my immediate point is that there’s no prima facie change between modernity and antiquity in this regard.
ii) You’re simply raising the problem of evil, as if Christianity or Calvinism has no theodicy.
But consider, once again, the law of unintended consequences. If God healed everyone, he’d also be healing all of the violent criminals in the process.
iii) In addition, you keep acting as if this amounts to evidence again Biblical theism. But the Bible doesn’t promise the end of death and illness during the church age.
If so, I very much appreciate references to such material, but I highly doubt that such answers actually exist that could accomplish much more than theological reasoning based on religious belief.
i) So, by your own admission, any explanation would be an exercise in futility.
ii) I’d add, however, that if a religious explanation has more explanatory power than an irreligious explanation, then why should we dismiss the religious explanation simply because it’s religious?
Then that evidence of election is insufficient, and there is no satisfactory way to ultimately know the status of one's election. At best one can only have an educated guess. Sincerity and fervency of belief is then no guarantee of God's election.
I’d turn that around. Is it better to play the reprobate? Indeed, isn’t that a self-fulfilling prophecy? Better to be doubtfully elect than undoubtedly reprobate.
This is not simply about questioning my own capacity or likelihood of falling into deception, or even the worthy reminder that serious deception can erode confidence in my capacity to detect and respond to such. Rather this is about acquiring and interacting with information dangerous for the belief system I held. It is possible that I am making an error of judgment now, or acting upon false information and departing from the correct system of belief, and I have to confess that possibility. If I am wrong, I want to know.
You say you want to know, but then you also toss in these disclaimers which indicate that you will greet any explanation with utmost suspicion. That's a preemptive defense mechanism to insulate your disbelief.
I have gained a lasting appreciation for the difficulty of explaining the post-Resurrection appearances, the conflict between the implied family geographical histories of the birth narratives, apparent lack of textual preservation, generally ignored verses that seem to contradict general eschatology concerning the return of Christ, the unexplained use of an omniscient narrator's perspective of events which are not credited to divine revelation and could not have been personally observed by the author (who are often anonymous besides), the apparent creative hermeneutics of the inspired apostles (when dealing with Old Testament quotations, for example), and others.
i) We should run through these, one-by-one. If, however, you’re going to dismiss every explanation ahead of time on the grounds that “Christianity must be defended at all costs by apologists,” then I’d be wasting my time, right? Are you really receptive to explanations? Or will you automatically discount every explanation as special pleading?
ii) I’d also note, however, that the charge of rationalization is a double-bladed sword. Both Christians and apostates go to great lengths to justify their respective positions, to “save the phenomena.”
Well, I connected Calvinism to inerrancy, and inerrancy to a global flood. I suppose that Calvinism and inerrancy do not necessarily depend on each other, however.
That’s not my point. Calvinism isn’t the only theological tradition that historically espouses a global flood, or, for that matter, the inerrancy of Scripture. Yet you frame you objection as though this is a distinctive problem for Calvinism.
And, in principle, a Calvinist can subscribe to a local flood interpretation. Right now I’m not discussing the merits of the issue one way or the other.
After reading an article on Talk.Origins about the impossibility of a global flood (not a local one), I realized that the Scriptural account of the global flood, if true, would require more miracles of an even more extravagant nature than what the text itself provides. I can't say that my problem is with the idea of a miracle itself in this case. Miracles are like magic. Throw enough of them into a situation and you can explain anything. The problem here is, there simply are not enough to explain what the passage seems to assert. Oddly enough, only as many miracles as would satisfy an ancient knowledge concerning nature and its elements is provided in the text. So, in modern times, we have some very fanciful explanations from organizations like Answers in Genesis for how this could have occurred.
i) That cuts both ways. Critics of the flood account typically interpolate many modern, extratextual assumptions into their evaluation of the flood account.
ii) We could discuss this in detail, but is that worthwhile? You’ve created a narrative in which you ask questions, but you disqualify the answers in advance. In your narrative, since a Christian apologist will say anything to save face, to salvage a lost cause, his answers are unconvincing, for his motives are impure.
As long as that’s your attitude, and you’ve said things to that effect, what’s the point of chasing rabbit trails?
Why then is it not morally monstrous for God to drown untold multitudes of infants, children, and sinless animals?
i) I don’t see that dying young poses a special problem. Everybody dies sooner or later. Everybody sins sooner or later. What difference does it make if God waits for them to grow up?
If I knew a suicide bomber was going to blow up a passenger plane, should I wait until he pulls the string on his vest before I shoot him? Wouldn’t that be a tad too late? Shouldn’t I shoot him before he pulls the string?
ii) In addition, death can be merciful as well as just.
ii) In addition, death can be merciful as well as just.
iii) The reference to “sinless animals” is sentimental bathos. Animals die in the wild everyday. So that’s another superficial criticism. This is projecting onto animals a viewpoint which they themselves never entertain.
Why would an omniscient, omnipotent God ever have allowed it to get so bad in the first place as to require such a drastic action, when even we lowly mortals can envision better ways of fixing whatever the “corrupt...and...filled with violence” problem was involved here, without divine inspiration.
Because God is saving a remnant throughout human history. That’s part of the grand plan. Not an afterthought. The remnant motif is one of those unfolding themes in Scripture.
And if God creates the souls of men and women He afterwards destroyed, why create them in the first place?
Consider the parable of the wheat and the tares. The lives of the elect and reprobate are intertwined. A reprobate dad may father an elect son. Eliminate the father and you eliminate the son. Back to the law of unintended consequences.
No, what I meant was that God had the power to create a billion galaxies each with a billion worlds and each of those with billions of souls, but somehow His creative power in creating intelligent creatures was self-restricted to one lonely world in the lesser part of one particular galaxy among an unknown number of galaxies in an unimaginably vast universe. Then He limited Himself further in predestining an elect remnant to salvation of all of those souls He purposed to create. Since then He has restricted Himself to that divine plan of election, forever excluding without hope those He has purposed to create but never redeem. I cannot argue with the freedom in God's sovereignty of creation and salvation, but I feel I can certainly argue with its morality in creating those He purposed for an eternal hell. It is just something I can no longer accept, and it makes God appear to be a monster beyond comparison even to Hitler. This is Calvinism's God. And according to Calvinism, this is part of God's glory. And according to Christianity, this is part of God's purpose for man.
i) If you think that’s a problem, then Molinism and Arminianism have comparable problems, viz. God freely creates people whom he intends to damn. He foresees the dire results, but forges full steam ahead.
Conversely, open theism is cosmic Russian roulette. So, if that’s a problem, it’s hardly confined to Calvinism.
ii) You haven’t explained how God wrongs the damned. Hitler wronged the Jews. But you’ve given us an argument from analogy minus the argument.
iii) To say he left them without hope sounds bad from the perspective of a Christian, for, by definition, a Christian values the hope of glory.
But, by the same token, I don’t see that reprobates consider that a terrible deprivation. They don’t share the Christian outlook. Take the Rat Pack (e.g. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin). They were utterly worldly, and they reveled in their worldliness.
Ironically, you have to be a Christian to appreciate the stakes. To appreciate how much the lost have to lose. The lost don’t know what they’re missing. They don’t feel that way.
So your objection is actually a dilemma for your own position.
Perhaps my Scriptural interpretation is faulty, but such terms as the narrow gate, the narrow way, and et cetera are where I derive this interpretation.
Trying reading Hagner’s commentary on Matthew (1:179-80), or Joel Green (528-29; 532) and C. F. Evans (555) on Luke.
Why does God create the elect for salvation? For His glory. Why does He create the non-elect for perdition? For His glory. Why does God purpose to do anything? For His glory. What is the highest purpose of God? To glorify Himself. It is all beautifully coherent in theology and logical precision.
He made the elect as an act of sheer generosity. To make creatures who can share his bliss. That’s for their benefit, not his own.
Are you suggesting that because your religion suggests this is divine justice for the immoral by an all-powerful God, that somehow it is not torture?
I have no reason to think hell is the same for all the damned. You can be miserable without being tortured. Indeed, it’s possible to have every outward pleasure, but still be miserable. Consider the lives of the idle rich.
Why then use an eternal hell? Why not simply annihilate these evil souls if they cannot or should not be redeemed?
Annihilation lets them off the hook. That’s why some criminals commit suicide when they are cornered. To avoid punishment.
Why should finite sins by finite beings be punished with a sentence of infinite length, and therefore of infinite pain (according to the Scriptures in the words of Jesus who described torment and so forth). Even if these sins are against an infinite being, does that justify an infinite punishment?
i) Actually, that’s not how Scripture describes it. That’s a philosophical paraphrase.
ii) Guilt doesn’t automatically diminish over time. Once you do something, you can’t take it back. You can’t live it down. That’s permanent. Indelible. The past is unalterable.
That’s why Scripture has a doctrine of penal substitution.
Would you derive moral satisfaction from watching an unbeliever or an immoral person being in “torments” in Hell (Luke 16:23 KJV) for an 24 hours a day for an entire month, let's say, in the afterlife? How about nonstop after a whole year? A whole decade? A century perhaps? A millennium? A billion years? Ten billion? A million billion? And eternity would just start getting warmed up, if you'll excuse the pun.
i) I simply responded to you on your own terms. There’s nothing wrong with taking moral satisfaction when the wicked are caught and punished. They spent their entire life evading justice. Now justice catches up with them.
ii) There’s no exegetically sound reason to think the saints spend eternity gloating over the fate of all the damned. That’s just a popular caricature.
I would if part of that sentence somehow included being burned in agony perpetually around the clock for even, let's say, a mere billion years or so, which is less than a drop in the bucket compared to eternity.
You’re getting carried away with figures of speech. That’s picture language.
Wouldn't you? Again, your best bet is to concentrate on the idea that some moral evil has occurred and requires justice, not try to defend the absurdity of an eternal hell and consequent infinite punishment for finite sins of limited number.
i) You confuse the duration of crime and punishment with just desserts. But that’s deeply confused.
Suppose a suitcase bomber takes out a stadium full of fans in a split second. Should he only be punished for a split second?
ii) Also, distinguish between potential and actual infinitude. They damned suffer a day at a time. Their punitive experience is finite.
This is a good and worthwhile question, but not alone by itself. If someone belonged to the wrong religion, such as Islam or Mormonism or the like, then the basis of morality upon that religion is no less faulty than me basing morality on something else equally untrue, except for the parts in which their false religion shares truth with the correct, true religion.
So we should eliminate the imposters.
But, if agnosticism or atheism is indeed true, then basing morality on any religion would be placing that morality on a faulty foundation. So the real question is a deeper one, and that is, what is the truth upon which to base morality?
No, the deeper question is whether secularism can lay a solid foundation for morality.
If the truth is not religion but agnosticism or atheism, then morality can be based upon the social structures we have developed due to the capacity of our minds thanks to evolution, and that is sufficient, at least for practical matters if not to answer ultimate philosophical questions.
i) That fails to yield objective moral norms. Rather, a mindless, amoral process (natural selection) has programmed the illusion of right and wrong because altruism confers a survival advantage on reproductive populations.
ii) Moreover, human beings are reduced to inherently expendable, replaceable organisms, like Mayflies, which exist for no reason. Life happens. Life ends.
If atheism is true, I do indeed gain from a correct understanding of the world and the origin and true nature of the human race, and I lose all of the false hopes and empty threats of religion.
You gain a correct understanding of your absurd existence. You correctly understand that it’s irrelevant whether or not you correctly understand the world, for it makes no ultimate difference to you. You replace “false hopes" with no hope, "empty threats" with nihilism.