Wednesday, May 13, 2020

I'll believe in God if...

1. In his recent interview with Eli Ayala, Gary Habermas was asked the following question. 
My sister died 2 weeks [ago]. Pray for he in the name of Jesus, if she rises from the dead (like Lazarus) I will believe. 
The questioner was. Douglas Letkeman. Doug is YouTuber and Street Epismologist, using the tactics of Peter Boghossian's A Manual for Creating Atheists. The basic tactic is to focus on the psychology of belief and lower the confidence of a Christian by asking if they're 100% Christianity is true, 85% true, &c., and then throwing a lot of hypothetical defeaters at Christianity. As I recall, Doug has a Christian sister with MS.

Normally I wouldn't comment on something like this, but Doug chose to raise this in public. , and do so in a polemical context, 

1. Here's a preliminary question: Is he seeking a straight answer or is he setting a trap? Is he using this as a cynical tactic to intimate Christians? "I dare you to give an answer that sounds uncaring!"

While we should sympathize with his loss, that doesn't mean we should sympathize with using that as emotional leverage. 

Moreover, it's not as if he has a monopoly on family tragedy. Many Christians experience family tragedy. 

2. Another issue is using that as a chip to drive a hard bargain with God.  But God has nothing to prove to him. God doesn't need Doug to believe in God. What's that to God? God has nothing to lose. Some atheists have the odd notion that they can use their belief or disbelief as leverage with God. As if that puts them in a superior negotiating position. God is having to negotiate from a position of weakness. But God can't be manipulated. 

I've been blunt, but you're not entitled to pose tough questions, then take umbrage if you get tough answers. The challenger determines the level of the challenge. (Technically, his statement was a challenge rather than a question, but my point doesn't turn on that distinction.)


  1. Good points.

    "Some atheists have the odd notion that they can use their belief or disbelief as leverage with God. As if that puts them in a superior negotiating position. God is having to negotiate from a position of weakness."

    Isn't this encouraged from the non-Calvinist theology that dominates apologetics? The idea *is* that God loves them with the greatest love, right? (No greater love than that a man lay down his life for his friends. Jesus laid down his life for everyone, etc.) If God would make the greatest sacrifice, why not a much simpler sacrifice? At that level, the atheist has a pretty good argument for non-Calvinists. Of course, non-Calvinists have given answers that apply here, but they push at the limits of what we can know.

    1. Not really, God loves us is not equivalent to God must give us everything we pray for. There are several logical steps in that chain.

      Under my understanding of free will theism, God lets us have free will so that we can freely choose to love him. without being coerced. If you reverse that logic, then for God to love us, he much have the ability to freely choose as well. Thus if God can be coerced by some chain of logic into giving us something out of an appeal to his unconditional love for us, then he is not able to freely choose. That would mean that God's love is now basically the same as a vending machine that gives me a Coke when I put my money in. Worship goes in here, answered prayer comes out here. For God to love us means that God must also have free will. That means he has the choice to say no. Under free will theism, God could say no because he is having a bad hair day.

      You don't even need God to be all powerful, all knowing 100% sovereign God for this logic to fail. If you can posit that God is more powerful and knowing than man,
      then the chain is broken. Almost every parent in existence has dealt with the "If you really loved me, you would do X" ploy from their child. If the average parent can see through this and say no, it is not hard to imagine that a being with more power and knowledge than us can do the same.

      The idea that God is required to do anything for us is more of a side effect from the Prosperity Gospel infecting Christianity. The real problem is that a lot of people don't like the hard answers that any serious theology gives you. One of which is that, if there is some chain of logic, way of praying, magic spell, or whatever that can force God do the bidding of man, then he is no longer God. What you have is a false idol made in the image God.

      Disclaimer, I am not a free will theist, any strawmaning is entirely unintentional.

    2. My claim wasn't that the atheist has a pretty good argument that God is *coerced* to, say, raise an atheist's sister from the dead. But maybe the context and my own comments weren't clear here.

      My claim would be that it's reasonable, if only prima facie, for the atheist to expect God to perform such miracles given the claim that God has already done that act which manifest the greatest love for them. Yes, there are premises missing here, but I don't think they are that hard to fill in.

      (1) If God loves Douglas such that he is willing to do that act, x, which is the greatest manifestation of love, then it's reasonable to think God loves Douglas such that he is willing to do acts which are a lesser manifestation of love.
      (2) God loves Douglas such that he is willing to x.
      (3) Raising Douglas's sister from the dead is a lesser manifestation of love than x.
      (4) It's reasonable to think that God loves Douglas such that he is willing raise Douglas's sister from the dead.

      The idea of God needing the freedom to say "No." doesn't really come into play here. I don't think any Christian libertarian non-Calvinist would want to say that God would say "No." to loving Douglas.

      I agree with the *direction* that your parent analogy points, though I don't think the specific expression you give it would work. The atheist could reasonably point out that no parent would let a child destroy themselves if there was something they could do to stop it. And if God's raising of Douglas's sister would stop Douglas from eternal destruction, God would surely raise her.

      The direction, which I say I agree with, is the same basic direction we take theodicy generally: greater good and epistemic humility on the sort of goods within our grasp. Some libertarians will want to flesh this out in terms of free will and transworld depravity and that God knows that if he *were* to raise Douglas's sister from the dead that Douglas still wouldn't believe. But it is precisely this fleshing out that I had in mind when I said that their answers push on the limits of what we can know. For Douglas, it may seem perfectly reasonable, and he may sincerely believe, that a resuscitated sister would be sufficient evidence. The non-Calvinist must be committed to the claim that it wouldn't and then expand his skeptical theism to skepticism about human psychology. This would be hard to buttress from a purely rational point of view. The Calvinist, on the other hand, doesn't have to be committed to that (so far as I can see - though I can see where one might try to argue otherwise).

  2. We will all rise from the dead. Death is temporary. Thank God he didn't condemn us to live an eternity in a fallen and sin-filled world. The question is whether or not we want to receive the forgiveness of our sin: our pride, anger and self-righteousness just to name a few. If so, seek Him while He may be found and pray "Thy will be done," not "My will be done." Revelation 21 isn't far off.