From Brian Seagraves:
It's common today to hear statements like, "God can't exist because there's too much evil in the world. God wouldn't allow such a thing, so he doesn't exist," or how about this? "Christians don't treat other people that are different than them with dignity. They don't treat LGBTQ individuals with the worth they are due," or a third example. "From science we've been able to determine that God does not exist," or, "We've been able to determine some other claim that contradicts Christianity." All of this could be put in the category of sitting in God's lap to slap him in the face. Now, I didn't coin this term. I would be proud if I did. I heard apologist, Frank Turek use it several years ago. What's being described here is that this other person is borrowing something from God in order to then argue against him. They're borrowing something that only fits in the Christian world view to then argue against that world view, which is actually kind of a circular argument.
Now, I want to give you three examples, and they're those three we started out with. Evil, dignity, and what I'm going to call rationality.
How is it contradictory for someone to say “there's too much evil in the world, so God does not exist?” There are many ways to address this, like “how much evil is too much? Would you be satisfied with a little less?” Now, I'm not being glib there. There are multiple ways to address the problem of evil, but what I want to do today is suggest a way to not even have to deal with the problem of evil. To put the question back on the person and say, "What do you mean by evil?" Let's say they're not a Christian. Let's say they're an atheist. Where does evil fit in your world view? How is evil a thing in a world view that has no immaterial realities, that has only things that are physical? Because a consistent atheist isn't going to believe in God. They're not going to believe in objective morality (That's morality grounded outside of what I think about it. That's the same for everyone in a given set of circumstances and time).
They're not going to believe in those types of things, so when they complain about evil, they're actually complaining about something that doesn't even have a category or a place in their view of the worldview if they're consistent. That last part is key. We often talk in settings like this on podcasts or in books, like an atheist is consistent, or like Christians are consistent. All too often, we are not consistent with our beliefs. We hold contradictory views.
One of the processes and steps in growing up and maturing as a Christian, is to constantly be refining, constantly be reforming our views, and hopefully getting rid of the ones that are poor and don't fit, and harmonizing more and more aspects of how we view the world, how we view God, how we view scripture.
One of these is evil, and Christianity best explains the existence of evil and why people know there is evil. When someone starts complaining about evil, just ask them what they mean by that. “What does that mean? Do you think there's objective right and wrong? Has it always been wrong to, let's say murder someone? Would it be wrong if no one thought it was wrong?” If the atheist is consistent, they're going to have to say, "Well, if people didn't think it was wrong, then it wouldn't be wrong." What they've just shown is, is that the "evil in the world" is just a matter of human opinion. What they're really complaining about is something that goes against their preference or the preference of a large group of people, because actual, objective evil doesn't fit in their world view. They're having to borrow the existence of evil, which fits in a theistic world view from Christianity, in order to then argue against Christianity, argue against God by saying evil isn't compatible with God.
Now, we also need to be able to address the problem of evil: How is it that God exists and evil exists in the world? We'll tackle that another day, but my point is that often the person bringing this up doesn't even have a category in their world view for the very thing they're complaining about. This is an example of sitting in God's lap to slap him in the face.
What about dignity? How is this an example of the same type of principle? Well, just to put a little context on it, we often hear “equality,” or you see that equals sign on someone's social media icon. What they're really saying is we should treat everyone the same. I think in general there's a good principle there. We should treat same things the same way. Now, we disagree on what a same thing is. I think all men should be treated the same when it comes to what bathroom they could use. I also think that what makes someone a man is their anatomy, their genetics you could even say. We should treat all men the same way. We should treat all women the same way. We do not treat men and women the same way in areas where their sex actually is a meaningful factor.
Now, all of that to say, when someone comes along and says, "Well Christians are not treating everyone fairly. They're not treating everyone with dignity. They're denying someone the right to have a cake made for them, for their same sex wedding." Or, "They're denying a transsexual person the ability to use a certain restroom. They're denying their dignity. They're disrespecting them." To which I'm going to ask, "Are you a Christian?" They're going to say, "No." I would reply, "Well what do you mean by dignity? How do people have dignity? Is that conveyed to us by a majority? By our opinions? By the Supreme Court?" (Some people do think the Supreme Court's job is to bestow dignity. That actually came up this past summer in the Obergefell decision.)
Nonetheless, I'm going to ask, "Where does dignity fit in your world view? What is dignity to you?" More importantly, how can a creature that's just simply a little more evolved than other creatures have this kind of transcendent thing called dignity? Well, I doubt the person's going to have satisfactory answers to these questions. The reason for that is dignity actually doesn't fit in a world view without God. If we are not created, we do not have dignity. Cats do not have dignity in spite of them preening themselves, and acting, and holding their head up at you and pretending like they're better than you when you just want to pet them. Cats do not have dignity. Animals do not have dignity. Humans have dignity because they're created in the very image of God. If that is not true, then men and women do not have dignity and don't need respect in the way we talk about respect. This is an example of borrowing something from the Christian world view -- that people have dignity -- all the while denying the source of the reason for that dignity, which is that we are created in the image of God, as Genesis 1:26 and 27 says.
This is another example of arguing against Christianity based on a principle that's good. I think it's a designed feature that everyone has this instinctive knowledge that people are worthy of dignity and respect. That is an actual feature of being created in the image of God. Now, can that be effaced? Can that be kind of trained out of us over time? I think so, but nonetheless, that's what it means to be created in the image of God. However, you don't have to believe in God to still have that designed feature, to still believe people are worthy of dignity. What it does mean, is you can’t account for why. You can't answer the why question. Just like you can't answer the what is evil question unless God exists. You can't answer the “why does man have dignity” unless God exists.
The third example of sitting in God's lap to slap him in the face is rationality. Now, this might be a little more difficult to track with. We don't often think about thinking, but I encourage you to try and make it through this section. It's not going to be that bad.
Science is based on a few things. We're not going to get into all of them today, but one of them is that you can observe and repeat an experiment, and if you actually do it well, then you will get meaningful data. Now, that data needs to be interpreted, and all that type of stuff, but the fact that the universe is orderly, that things will always work the same way in the same circumstances, doesn't make sense if everything came about randomly. Why would everything that came about by random chance then work orderly and non-randomly? Well, I don't think that fits.
That's one aspect where science pre-supposes things are orderly, but can't explain for why they're orderly. They're borrowing from the Christian world view, which says, "God created everything and therefore it's orderly." They're borrowing the orderly part. Then they're using that to somehow say, "Well science in some area says that God can't exist," (which is something it can't actually do as we've discussed before, but nonetheless people will make that claim.) My point is that the idea that things are orderly doesn't even fit outside of a theistic world view.
There's another aspect of doing science, that doesn't fit apart from the existence of God. That's that we can analyze data and come to meaningful conclusions. If you are consistent as a naturalist, as someone who doesn't believe there's a God, you have to say that everything is just molecules in motion. There's no mind, there's no soul, there's no in-material self, however you want to explain that. We are kind of, to borrow another Frank Turek term, "meat machines." We are no different than a computer, except better at some things and worse at others.
If that's true, then what does it actually mean to make a decision, to exercise the will, to look at data and come to a conclusion? Well, if everything is just predetermined, it's molecules in motion, it's just a really complicated version of a pool table, well then there is no such thing as making a decision, making a determination, having choice. None of that exists unless men and women have an immaterial self, have a soul. In other words, unless they're created in the image of God.
The ability to do science and come to conclusions is actually based on the idea that man is a creature that has a will, that isn't just a predetermined set of chemicals and a biological bag of skin and bones.
Now, there's so much more that could be said about these three categories, but I want to start you thinking in this way of how does a world view actually explain the different features and facets of reality, and does it fit together? Are you having to borrow something from someone else in order to then argue against them? Are you borrowing some scientific principle or experiment, which could only work in a universe God created to then argue against God? Or, are you saying that evil exists and is a problem for God's existence, but your world view doesn't even have a category for evil? What about dignity? Do you think people need to be treated well, as a bedrock principle, and that's based on nothing in and of themselves.
Well, if that's true, then you're borrowing once again from the Christian world view. You're sitting in God's lap to slap him in the face. What you will often find in conversations with people who have thought about these things, is in an intellectual way, they may be fine saying, "Well actual objective, evil doesn't exist," or, "Man is actually ... Yeah, he's just an animal. He doesn't have intrinsic dignity." What's interesting is people may give intellectual, they may give verbal ascent to that, but when it actually comes to how they live their life, how they treat their kids, what they complain about in the world, they act and indeed cannot deny the fact that objective evil exists. Men and women have intrinsic dignity, and are worthy of respect. They can't help but live that way. They can't help but live in contradiction to their world view.
I would encourage you to pay attention when people make statements about evil, or dignity, or rationality, or science, or thought, and see if you can pick up on their world view. Maybe use some questions to draw them out as I've kind of modeled here, in order to get a conversation going, to point them hopefully to the fact that their world view has some contradictions. Internal inconsistency and contradictions are the sign of a world view in trouble. There's something that doesn't fit and the person should want to address it. Who wants to have an incorrect picture of reality? I don't.
I hope you're a little more equipped to address world view concerns on a higher level when we don't always have to get into the weeds and the nitty-gritty, though we should be prepared to do that too.
Well, I look forward to spending this time with you next week on Unapologetic.