Monday, April 10, 2006

Questions for Christians

John Loftus has a questionnaire for Christians.

http://www.debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/

1.”If God is all-powerful, why did he take 6 days to create the universe, resting on the 7th? Why didn't he just snap his proverbial fingers and create everything all at once, and not need rest afterwards? Doesn't sound so all-powerful to me.”

Because man is made in God’s image. God is our exemplar.

The cycle of six days of labor followed by a day of rest is a natural way of regulating human life. The interval is suited to human nature.

Hence, God, as our Creator, set us an example.

“Rest” is a proleptic allusion to the Sabbath. God doesn’t need to rest in the sense of fatigue. Rather, he ceases from his creative labors as an example to man.

2.”If God knows the future, why does he make mistakes? He should have known he would regret the flood, and that Sodom and Gomorrah would be full of sinners, etc.”

God is infallible.

i) The Bible is written in idiomatic language, language adapted to human experience. When God inspires the writers of Scripture, he doesn’t invent a brand-new language, disinfected of all human traces. Rather, the same idiomatic language is used for God, including metaphors from the organic and inorganic world.

And this vivid language is accurate as long as the reader makes intelligent allowance for concrete metaphors and picturesque hyperbole—just as the Bible uses colorful figures of speech when describing a human agent. Just read Canticles or the Psalms of David.

ii) Loftus has no grasp of narrative theology. The point of the bargaining session between God and Abraham was to illustrate the utter depravity of Sodom and Gomorrah. There were not even ten virtuous citizens to be found therein.

3.”Why does God need to be "served", and why can't we do it from heaven?”

i) God doesn’t need to be served. But we need to serve God. We are creatures. We are not our own end. We find our fulfillment in serving one greater than ourselves.

ii) Who says we can’t serve God in heaven? We can serve him here-below as well as hereafter.

4.“Yes, we have free will, but God already knows who will sin, who will accept Him, etc, for all eternity (if he has perfect knowledge of the future). Why then, are we here? Why not just send our souls to Heaven or Hell, depending on what he knows we'll do?”

The human race is just that, a race of creatures. It doesn’t exist all at once. Rather, it unfolds over time in a series of overlapping generations. Our lives our intertwined with one another.

5.”Why does God care if he is praised? He is this all-knowing, super being, why does he care if we mere humans give him credit for creating the universe?”

God doesn’t need our praise. But we need to frame our lives according to the truth. We need to see ourselves for what we are, as dependent creatures. We need to cultivate a thankful spirit.

We need to prize the highest good. We need to value what is truly and ultimately valuable. That is what lends value to our lives. And God is the summum bonum.

6.”How can you justify the fact that this merciful, loving god is sending all non-Christians to Hell, no matter how good they are? Even those from before Christ was born went to hell. However, terrible people, including Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer, could go to Heaven if they repented before death.”

This is a trick question. God doesn’t damn people “no matter how good they are.”

God doesn’t damn unbelievers for failing to believe in a gospel they never heard. Rather, God damns them for being sinners—impenitent, idolatrous sinners.

7.”Why does this wonderful, forgiving God hold Adam's sin over all our heads? Why must we all pay for this by being permanent sinners? If God was so pissed, why didn't he just kill Adam and Eve and start over? Again, this is God's choice, so they're going to have to explain why God CHOOSES to hold this incredible grudge.”

i) Human beings are more than discrete particulars. We have a social identity as well.

Why do we watch movies and TV shows and read novels? Why do we identify so strongly with Hollywood actors and fictitious characters?

Why are parents proud of their children when their children do well? Why are children ashamed of their parents when their parents are caught in a public scandal?

Why is a wife defensive when her husband is indicted for a crime? Why do we do a favor for a friend of a friend?

There is a vicarious dimension to human identity. A corporate component as well as an individual component.

ii) God didn’t kill Adam and Eve because the Fall was one stage in God’s plan for humanity.

8.”Where did God come from? How did he get created? Why is it a valid argument to say that He ‘always existed,’ but an invalid argument to say the same thing about matter and energy?”

It is inaccurate to say that God “always existed.” God is timeless. God has no duration. As such, there was never a time when God did not exist.

By contrast, states of matter and energy are not a given totality.

9.”Was Eve perfect?
If yes, then why did she sin?
If no, then why did God create imperfection?
"Free will" is irrelevant. If she freely chose to sin, then WHY did she do that? If it was in her "nature" to make a bad choice, then who gave her that "nature"? If her nature was corrupted by Satan, then who made Satan's nature?”

i)“Perfection” is ordinarily a comparative concept. Perfect relative to what? Is there a perfect golf club? Not absolutely speaking. There may be a perfect golf club depending on the type of club you need in a given situation.

Eve was perfectly suited to the historical role to which God assigned her in his overall plan for the world.

ii) As to why she sinned, I’m not Eve, so I don’t know what was in her mind. I don’t know what considerations induced her to sin. To know what she was thinking, I’d have to be Eve.

But although Eve was sinless, she was not impeccable.

10.”If a choice we make (assuming free will versus predestination) has eternal consequences, and if God is fair, why isn't the choice we make made crystal clear, with no doubts as to what it is that God wants us to choose from?”

Not every wrong choice is damnatory.

11.”Why did God order the slaughter of "infants and sucklings" or "children and infants" in 1 Sam 15:3?”

The first question to ask is why did God order the execution of the Canaanites. The answer is that peaceful coexistence between the Israelites and the Canaanites was impossible. The Canaanites would corrupt the Israelites. They would wage war on the Israelites. They would attempt to impose their pagan idolatry and immorality on the Israelites. They were evil and richly deserving of divine judgment. God would be unjust not to punish them.

As to the children, you cannot punish parents without consequences for their children. If the parents are executed, the children are orphaned. If the children are adopted by their parents’ executioners, they will grow up hating their guardians.

Sin is a world of bad options. Growing up in a pagan culture is, of itself, a harsh sentence for children.

The children were in better hands with God than in the hands of pagan parents and priests and rulers.

God’s command served its purpose at that juncture of redemptive history.

12.”If God is perfect and omniscient, why would God even want to create anything, was God lonely? Discontent?”

God, out of his goodness, chose to share his goodness with rational creatures (men and angels) capable of enjoying the gift of life.

“If time itself is tied to the universe, as all of Einstein's theories and modern science confirm, then God was in a sort of perfect stasis, and so God decided to disrupt this perfect stasis with an imperfect creation?”

Creation does nothing to disrupt the divine mode of subsistence.

“Perfection” is adjectival to a given mode of existence. There is nothing inherently “imperfect” in creation. It can be perfect for what it is.

13.”Since God is the one who decided the "rules", and decided the "punishment" (blood) and supposedly provided the "atonement", isn't this sort of like "it's His mess and He had to clean up after Himself"?”

He did clean it up himself. It’s called the Atonement.

There is, however, more than one agent in play. God is not the only agent in the world. God is an agent who is the author of all other agents.

14.”Why does God not reveal Himself and/or His desire for us and/or His purpose for us, more clearly? If your pastor answers, "free will," point out that it is NOT the same thing to say "I know that God exists" and "I know what God wants" as to say, "I choose to follow God, and do what He wants". (The hiddenness of God problem).”

This is not a problem for Calvinism. The elect come to a saving knowledge of the Lord.

15.”If there are millions of people really thinking they are worshipping God and following Him and loving Him, but they're worshipping the wrong God or worshipping Him the wrong way, why doesn't God tell them, in their hours of prayer and worship of false gods?”

This is not, in the first instance, a problem of ignorance, but ill-will. Culpable ignorance.

Giving men more and better information does not good, even hardens them against the truth, if they are hostile to the truth, if they are indisposed to be corrected.

And as long as Loftus is posing questions for the Christian community, we have a few questions for Loftus:

John:

1.Do you believe in moral absolutes? What is your source and standard of morality?

2.Do you, as a committed materialist, believe in consciousness? In the existence of mental states? Do we have beliefs and feelings?

Or is this an illusion? A relic of folk psychology?

3.Since, in the long run we’re all dead, and since, according to you, brain death extinguishes one’s personality, then why does it matter who was right and who was wrong? Whether I was run over jaywalking or run over at a crosswalk makes little difference to me when I’m pushing up dasies.

4.If truth is a relation between a true belief and a corresponding object, is it true that there was no sentient life on earth a billion years ago when there was no sentient life on earth?

Can there be truth without a true belief? And can there be a true belief without a believer?

If truth is not a relation, what is it?

14 comments:

  1. 3.”Why does God need to be "served", and why can't we do it from heaven?”

    It's terrible that in all of Loftus' years in seminary and as a pastor, he never read the Bible:

    Act 17:24-25 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

    Psa 50:9-13 I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. "If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?

    Isa 40:12-17 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel? Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust. Lebanon would not suffice for fuel, nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering. All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

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  3. "SINCE GOD DID NOT CREATE THE WORLD IN ONE SECOND, THEREFORE HE COULD NOT HAVE (I.E., HE'S NOT ALL-POWERFUL)"

    Can anyone say, "modal fallacy?"

    I mean, I didn't eat Cocoa Puffs this morning, therefore I did not have the ability to do so.

    What I wonder is why his fellow self-debunkers did not call him on the carpet for such poor reasoning?

    You know if we put up such shoddy reasoning we would have not heard the end of it.

    Well, I know the answer. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Most atheists do not really care about reason and rationality. They are not the defenders of reason that they pretend to be. They only use rules of good reasoning when it suits them to beat up the Christians, but when they argue those rules don't get applied to themselve's.

    Why would those who pretend to care about reason and logic (ex-believer and dagoods, e.g.,) not call Loftus on the carpet?

    Well, because he might feel stupid and reconvert. Then they might loose a convert. Keeping "church members" is more important that keeping intellectual respectability, I guess.

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  4. Most of Loftus' rambling sounds like, "God didn't do things the way I would have done them, so therefore, he must not exist." Talk about the creature lording himself over the Creator.

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  5. Dude, those questions were so not hard to answer. Doesn't this show how desperate low-life Loftus is?

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  6. "Where did God come from? How did he get created?"

    Hmm. I smell a rat. This questionnaire isn't all Loftus' own work. Apparently he got some help from a four-year-old.

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  7. I think that your answers to 10,11,12,14,15 were particularly unsatisfactory:
    10) Not every wrong choice is damnatory.
    Clearly, the question is about those choices "with eternal consequences" which are ambiguous [including, was a dude 2000 years ago crucified "for my sins"?]

    11)The children were in better hands with God than in the hands of pagan parents and priests and rulers.
    In the hands of an angry God who killed them? You are setting up a false dichotomy here -- God is able to harden the heart of a Pharoah, to soften the heart of the believer, but God can't keep little kids from growing up (from age 4? from SUCKLING age??) to "avenge" their parents "execution" if the executioners take them home and raise them and love them? ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous. A "suckling" will avenge its parents by growing up and slaying its adopted parents? Ridiculous. Some "god of mercy".

    11) God’s command served its purpose at that juncture of redemptive history. Classic ad hoc non-answer. Used at any point where logic breaks down.
    12) God, out of his goodness, chose to share his goodness with rational creatures (men and angels) capable of enjoying the gift of life.

    And chose to create a devil, and a hell, and a tree which would render some of those "rational creatures" to an eternal punishment, which, again, makes one wonder whether God created for the creatures or for Itself, which you never answered (and no one can)

    If for Itself, then God was lacking something, or desiring something, ie discontent to continue in Its perfect existence without creating, even foreseeing the shit that would hit the fan?

    Creation does nothing to disrupt the divine mode of subsistence.
    “Perfection” is adjectival to a given mode of existence. There is nothing inherently “imperfect” in creation. It can be perfect for what it is.

    Um, sure. So, simply put, was the "fall" a "disruption" of what was before sinless (and therefore "perfect" in that sense)? and why would god want to go from a perfect stasis where nothing existed but perfection and bliss, to an imperfect creation, where there is torment, pain, and suffering? You still don't even see this?

    Did God or did god not see the fall before the "foundations of the world" were laid? And yet, lay away God did? Is it better to have no pain and suffering and hell and eternal damnation, or to have them, along with whatever "good" comes out of it? According to you, it must be better, but if God [existed] were all-good, no amount of good can outweigh or "cancel out" the pain, suffering, and eternal torture God initiated.

    14. This is not a problem for Calvinism. The elect come to a saving knowledge of the Lord.

    Would more people come to a "saving knowledge" if they knew that Jesus was a historical figure? That Jesus did miracles? Of course they would. Just like the people of Jesus' day, some of whom believed after seeing "signs and miracles" (meant to point that this was the Messiah). If Jesus had walked around picking His nose and making empty assertions, no one would've bought it. Raising the dead and such, though, are convincing. God does not bestow this same level of experiential, first-hand knowledge, or certainty, upon all men. In that way, 2 Peter is wrong when it says "God is not willing that any should perish", because if God felt like pulling his thumb from his divine orifice and sending even a single miracle my way, God knows I'd believe. Don't give me the "wicked and adulterous generation" BS, since:
    1) that generation had a hell of a lot of supposed "signs"
    2) Jesus did not refuse Thomas, but allowed him to touch his hands and sides, regardless of Thomas being less blessed than those who believe without seeing. Point is, Thomas wasn't cursed, just "less blessed", which is still a "saving faith"
    3) All throughout the Bible, God did miracles to "confirm" things for people, and GOd is "no respecter of persons"? So while the disciples get to first-hand see Jesus resurrect, I have to take it on the authority of scripture and tradition and dogma? And this is "just" and "fair"? Romans 1 only says people know God exists, but no one can claim the knowledge of the Gospel (which produces "saving faith") is intrinsic to mankind (or else no need to "evangelize", eh?)

    15.This is not, in the first instance, a problem of ignorance, but ill-will. Culpable ignorance.
    Wow. So, despite the fact that these people really believe they are seeking God, God just doesn't have the time to shift on his arse to a different butt cheek and whisper in their ear, "hey, stupid, I'm over here, not over there,"? Some loving and merciful God.

    Giving men more and better information does not good, even hardens them against the truth, if they are hostile to the truth, if they are indisposed to be corrected.
    And this is bald dogma. And contrary to common sense. And contrary to induction. And contrary, in many places, to Scripture.

    You still never addressed the toughest point here:
    knowing the truth is not the same thing as choosing the truth, but God chooses to let people remain ignorant (and even "sends delusions"), so that these people
    1) worship the wrong god
    2) have unbelief about the Gospel
    3) have unbelief that God exists

    Dispelling their doubts with certain knowledge is emphatically not the same thing as disrupting their ability to choose, unless you have no problem with Paul's conversion, or Moses', etc. How many people in the Bible were unbelieving, and God "apprehended" them (Phil 3)? And yet, you lose no sleep at night that God "apprehends" when He feels like it, how He feels like it, rather than uniformly and universally?

    Some merciful, loving, and "no respecter of persons" you worship [eye roll]

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  8. I find John Loftus' post to be sophomoric at best. When Mr. Loftus originally began his blog, portraying himself as an ex-apologist having studied all of the best of Christian apologetics under the finest and most formidable Christian apologists, I thought that perhaps finally we have found an atheist who could perform theological research and actually engage Christian thought on its home turf, developing insightful responses to Christian apologists that would shed greater light on the state of atheist/Christian dialogues.

    Instead, after a period of posting a few decent arguments, Mr. Loftus has fallen back onto recycling old materials that he copied and pasted from other sources. I read atheist websites fairly regularly – this list of his is by no means new and these questions have been answered multiple times before. So why does Mr. Loftus insist on playing the same hands over again? My hope was that someone who came from a seminary background would be intellectually honest enough to engage Christian apologetic thought where it has engaged atheist thought. I expected that he wouldn’t resort to posting old atheist question lists because he knew that Christians had already responded to them, and instead would engage the Christians directly.

    Really, it is disappointing that this is the best that Mr. Loftus can do. It reveals both the hollowness of his supposed atheism that he has been reduces to throwing old arguments into the mix without bothering to consider existing responses, and it also reveals the contempt he has for Christians. His post is little more than an assumption that Christians haven’t seen this before and if we post this we can shock them.

    In the real world, I have known many atheists. Some of them are particularly angry and spiteful, to be sure. But I have also met some that are more intellectually honest and open, who will bother to get some depth about Christianity before making sophomoric straw men attacks. We can go to a local pub, and over a couple of pints of good brew we can talk about cosmology, realism and anti-realism, various metaphysical constructions of reality, and so forth. In short, I know atheists who can have honest intellectual disagreements with Christianity, but aren’t given to falling into the trap of making ridiculous caricatures of who Christians are or what Christians actually believe. They can listen to Ole Anthony and appreciate his witty humor and the work he has done in exposing televangelists as much as I do. I wish there were more people like this, who realized that being an atheist doesn’t mean being a jerk.

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  9. Initially, I thought this was cool - an opportunity to discuss what would be good questions if from the heart of someone honestly seeking the truth. But the website name belies that.
    I would also offer as an answer to question 7 that God didn't kill Adam and Eve because He is a merciful God. They deserved death for defiance and disobedience of their Creator. As do we all.
    It's really a question of perspective from the heart of the person answering.
    One who acknowledges a sovereign God over man, and in His infinite mercy and patience with us, allows us to draw breath - even giving us that very breath day to day.
    Or one who looks to self for everything - including answers.

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  10. Weaving in and out of the atheists' inquiries and missing from the Christian responses is a desire for more of an explanation for the reason or necessity for the overall plan of God. I think one could say that God had a problem to solve: how to create beings who weren't merely robots; i.e. if God gave all the beings he creates consciousness, real will, and understanding by fiat then they'd just be robotic, so he designs a plan that enables beings to develop into real, conscious beings. He creates them, allows them to fall, and so sets up the mechanics of their return in the process of which they truly develop. Hell and the harsh decree of election and reprobation are necessary because in the case of the former there have to be real consequences for failure or the process overall won't be real, and in the case of the latter beings have to be God-centered rather than man-centered before they can truly develop and accepting that we can't save ourselves and that we rely totally on God is what is needed to kill the vanity, wordly pride, and self-will within us that needs to be elminated for real development to occur.

    This is classical covenant theology, folks, only the theologians never go into the overall picture...

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  11. Pascal answered question 14—

    'Why does God not show himself?' – 'Are you worthy?' – 'Yes.' – 'You are very presumptuous, and thus unworthy.' – 'No.' – 'Then you are just unworthy' (Pensées, trans. Krailsheimer).

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  12. Kyle,
    What I find problematic about this answer is that it implies that Moses was worthy, but I am not, yet the Bible says God is no respecter of persons, all are sinners, yada-yada

    Susan,
    The concept of justice and of mercy simply don't mesh for me. It is a simple definitional issue:
    1) giving people what they deserve
    2) giving people less than they deserve

    How can 1 & 2 coexist, without capricious doling out? If God is no respecter of persons, if all have sinned, then why do some (eg David) lose a baby for their sin, while others get to keep the child [you don't have to go into this story, there are many others]? The problem most have is the idea that God was somehow "more merciful" and "more just" simultaneously by allowing Adam & Eve to leave the Garden. If God had killed Adam and Eve then and there, (or after covering them in lambskins, symbolically forgiving them) only two persons would suffer or risk hell, versus billions.

    Anon,
    God-centered rather than man-centered
    Well, this is the real issue, isn't it? Presupposing God, then assuming your rightful place (with God at the center of your worldview), versus not

    Michael,
    I'm a new atheist, somewhat. I am an ex-minister, though I never had formal training. I am learning a lot. I hope to, at the least, examine the strengths and weaknesses of my old position (theism), if not of my new one (atheism). I also would love to have a pint of brew and talk cosmology and such. I'm not angry, most of the time ;). Certainly, no more than I was as a theist.

    I do think, though, that many of us "debate" or at least spend inordinate amounts of time posturing, to build our egos and bolster our confidence in our chosen worldview, rather than honestly seeking to understand the strengths and weaknesses of our and our opponents' positions.

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  13. I believe in God, but presume no religion, however, I find flaw in only one comment made here, stating that "parents cannot be punished without having consequences for the children". Thats like saying lets put this one years dad in the electric chair and then put her in there too since she will hate the people that adopt her..... dont you think for even a second that children of one years of age and even maybe up to six years of age would even be able to understand that line you gave in their minds? AND besides, what did the children do? This was not a valid statement, nor was the fact that you stated that "they were better off in Gods hands", if you READ your bible you will find the following that people do not go to heaven or hell when they die:
    "In the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return." Genesis 3:19
    "The dead know nothing.. There is no pursuit, no plan, no knowledge or intelligence, within the grave."
    Ecclesiastes 9:5,10.

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