The Limits of Science and the Transcendence of God

March 10, 2018 § Leave a comment

Since the Enlightenment, many have tried to position science and the Christian faith (or Theistic religion in general) as two mutually exclusive worldviews. Many thought, and still think today, that advancements in science have replaced our need for God or His miracles. How should Christians think about science? Are science and faith in God at odds?

Sometimes categories are just convenient ways of maligning one idea and exalting another. The truth is, science done scientifically is good and true just as teaching the Bible Biblically is good and true. Both can be distorted and misapplied. To understand both better, including their compatibility, we should first look at what both science and the Bible say about themselves.

GOD around nature

RESPECTING THE BOUNDARIES

How do we do science scientifically? Science is a systematic process by which we explore the natural universe through observation and experimentation. The Scientific Method pioneered by Sir Francis Bacon (a man of both science and Christian faith) in the 17th century, involves making observations, asking questions, forming a hypothesis, testing it through experimentation, and coming to a conclusion, or repeating and refining as necessary.

Stephen Jay Gould rightly recognized science and religion as separate areas of inquiry, but he strictly defines science as “fact” and religion as “values”, which is a limited perspective of both. Gould maintains that these separate “magisteria” do not overlap(1), but when it comes to science and Biblical Christianity, that’s only partly true.

Science cannot explain God because of its self-imposed limitation to inquiry about the natural and physical world. God falls in the category of supernatural, which means outside of nature. Science by definition is not qualified to examine God.

Science cannot explain science because the foundations of science are not scientific but philosophical. Science deals with how, not why. So when we ask why do science in the first place, we can’t offer scientific evidence or reasons to support it. Science has no adequate explanation for itself.

J. Warner Wallace, a Christian apologist and retired homicide detective, applies his investigative experience by following the evidence “outside the room”, as described in the premise of his book, ‘God’s Crime Scene’: “Can everything we see in the universe be explained solely from causes found within the natural realm, or is there evidence of an outside ‘intruder’? Is the universe a ‘scene’ that can be explained by natural ‘internal’ forces, or is an external ‘intruder’ a better explanation?”(2) Just as nature itself can’t explain nature, science, the limits of which is nature, points to something “outside the room.”

God CAN explain science. God’s word in fact lays the foundations for scientific endeavor and the natural universe we explore with it. Among other realities, the Bible accounts for the origins of nature, the laws of nature, and the exploration of nature.

The origins of nature are explained in the Genesis creation account. When we observe our world and consider its possible beginnings, the evidence points “outside the room.” As the Kalam Cosmological Argument for Classical Theism presents: Everything that began to exist has a cause, and since the universe began to exist, the universe has a cause. Logically, the first cause of the universe must be uncaused, and the eternal, personal, all-powerful Creator God of the Bible is a sufficient cause.

The laws of nature broadly encompass physical/scientific laws (like gravity and uniformity), natural law (morality and human rights), and the basic rules that govern logic (like the law of non-contradiction). These are called “laws” because they are consistent and reliable observed patterns in nature (including human nature and how we think) that are not conceived or established by us, but thought to be inherent or transcendent. In other words, they come to us from “outside the room.” The Bible accounts for these laws with accounts of God establishing order and uniformity in nature (Genesis 8:22)(3), writing moral law on our hearts (Romans 2:15)(4) and creating us in His image as beings who also think morally and employ logic (Isaiah 1:18)(5).

The exploration of nature is a fundamental part of human flourishing since the beginning, or at least since God scattered the nations at Babel (Genesis 11). Our scientific endeavor is fueled by a hunger to expand our territory and a thirst for knowledge about ourselves and our world. But why do science? Why do we spend billions launching exploratory spacecraft and searching for signals from aliens on the outside chance that we might not be alone in the universe?(6)

We can deduce from Scripture that we are made to ultimately encounter God through scientific exploration. Paul, in Acts 17:24-27, told the intellectuals of his day: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and… gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him…”. And in Romans 1:20, Paul makes it clear that we are “without excuse” for atheism and ought to logically infer a Creator, as most do, by observing creation.(7)

TRANSCENDING THE BOUNDARIES

If we take science “outside the room” to assess the supernatural, we are giving it a scope and authority it is not meant to have. Granting science such ultimate authority is one of the tenets of a religion called Scientism.

While science can’t transcend the boundaries of nature and the physical universe, God is by nature transcendent. God is infinite and limitless in His presence, power, knowledge and love, so boundaries are nothing to Him.

Nature can’t logically create itself. God transcended nature, first, when He created it (Genesis 1:1). As Deism would suggest, God could have created the universe and then left us alone, but Colossians 1:17 puts Him “in all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (The so-dubbed “strong forces” that hold atomic particles together are interactions that physicists don’t fully understand). God could have left His creation to perish completely in their sin, but instead God loves us, cares for us, and is active in and author of our story.

This love led Him to absolutely transcend our world in the sending of His Son (John 3:16-17)(8). Jesus Christ was born in the flesh, living a perfectly sinless life as fully man, but died as an atonement for our sins, a payment He could only make if He was also fully God(9). After defeating sin and death on the cross and through His resurrection from the dead, Jesus ascended back to the Father, leaving us His Holy Spirit.

Our sin cemented a barrier between man and God. Through Christ, God, who is no respecter of barriers, broke it down. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes (or transcends) to the Father except by Me.” (John 14:6) If not for God’s transcendence into our world, especially through Christ, we could never realize transcendence into His—but that’s exactly what He offers through faith in Christ alone. Jesus is the only “Way” we can truly get “outside the room.”

SCIENCE AND FAITH

Some claim that “science says” this or that. But outside of the definition and parameters we’ve given it, does science itself actually say things? Or is it more accurate to say that science is a process by which scientists say things? Scientists are people with individual worldviews and the choice to either use science correctly or make it do things it’s not supposed to do when they say things.

Does “science say” that our universe created itself, or that life originated from non-living matter, was seeded on earth from another part of the universe, or diversified by natural and undirected processes over billions of years? Actually, people with Naturalistic or Materialistic worldviews come to such conclusions in the name of science (or Scientism)—without observation, without testing, and without the aid of actual science. They are starting with a certain assumption dictated by their worldview and working to prove it using science.

If we prop up science with worldview assumptions or take it outside its self-imposed limitations, we are anti-science. If we assume that God is only a conceptual crutch to explain natural phenomena until science replaces Him, we are anti-theology. People who consider themselves Christians should evaluate science on the basis of what science teaches about itself. Likewise, people who consider themselves scientifically minded should evaluate Christianity on the basis of what Christianity teaches about itself.

In another act of transcendence, God has given us His word, and the Bible understood Biblically does not contradict science understood scientifically, but instead supports and even explains science. When we see, do, and define both science and the Christian faith correctly and honestly, the two are in harmony.

1) Non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA), Wikipedia contributors (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-overlapping_magisteria)
2) God’s Crime Scene: a Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe, by J. Warner Wallace, David C Cook, 2015, p. 23.
3) “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (NIV)
4) “They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” (NIV)
5) 
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lordthough your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (ESV)
6) “The Cost of SETI: Infographic.”
Bad Astronomy, 1 May 2011 (blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/05/01/the-cost-of-seti-infographic)
7) “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (NIV)
8) “
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (NIV)
9) My post:
“God and Man Collide: Why the Hypostatic Union of Jesus Matters” (https://godneighbor.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/god-and-man-collide-why-the-hypostatic-union-of-jesus-matters/)

Naturally Speaking: What Does Creation Really Say?

March 6, 2015 § Leave a comment

nis_campaign_promoNATURE IS SPEAKING is the name of a campaign to remind humanity of its place in nature, which according to Conservation International is the place of an ant relative to a boot. The warnings from this environmental organization with a genuine concern for the earth frame mankind as planetary parasites, voicing authority through movie stars chosen to portray elements of nature. This project reflects a popular secular environmentalist view today, steeped in Naturalistic thinking, so it’s worth examining from a Christian perspective.

In the project, Julia Roberts plays Mother Nature, Harrison Ford speaks for the ocean, Kevin Spacey portrays the rainforest, Edward Norton is dirt, Penélope Cruz is water (if she married Edward, would they be mud?), Robert Redford is the redwoods (see what they did there?), Ian Somerhalder is a coral reef, and Lupita N’Yongo is a flower (more videos have been added since I wrote the original post). The imagery is breathtaking and the voiceovers are thick with anger and sadness at our destructive attitude toward nature, and in some videos return a destructive attitude toward mankind.

NATURE IS UPSET

Julia Roberts, in her Mother Nature video: “I’ve been here for over four and a half billion years, 22,500 times longer than you. I don’t really need people, but people need me. Yes, your future depends on me. When I thrive, you thrive. When I falter, you falter, or worse. But I’ve been here for eons. I have fed species greater than you, and I have starved species greater than you. My oceans, my soil, my flowing streams, my forests; they all can take you or leave you… Your actions will determine your fate, not mine. I am nature, I will go on. I am prepared to evolve. Are you?” (Roberts’ scolding tone here has been compared to the White Witch of Narnia’s.)

Harrison Ford’s lament in a perfect, growly, old-man-of-the-sea voice: “I am the ocean. I’m water. I’m most of this planet. I shaped it. …every living thing here needs me. I’m the source. I’m what they crawled out of. Humans are no different. I don’t owe them a thing. I give, they take. But I can always take back, That’s just the way it’s always been. It’s not their planet anyway. Never was, never will be. … Me, I could give a damn with or without humans. I’m the ocean. I covered this entire planet once and I can always cover it again.”

As a result many label this campaign as “anti-human”. Humanity has definitely caused harm to nature. Conservation International bids us to “change course now, because saving nature is the only way to save ourselves.” There is a lot of truth in these videos. Nature can definitely kill us, and we couldn’t live without it. “We need nature,” and it’s absolutely true that we have an obligation to preserve it, care for it, and live with it responsibly.

CREATION IS CONFUSED

Nevertheless the confusion here is where this obligation to the planet comes from, and where it comes from is important. The secular voices behind this project believe there is no greater force than nature and no louder voice than humanity’s to speak for it in order to save nature and ourselves. Forces of nature are anthropomorphized (animals or objects animated with human qualities, like speech and attitudes) because the clear principals of Naturalism and Naturalistic Evolution behind these films leave no room for anyone else speaking.

The Christian worldview offers clarity to the confusion this project expresses on several points. Starting from the ground up, the filmmakers need God in order for their point to be completely coherent. Without a Creator God as described in the Bible, mankind would be, as these videos imply, just another evolved animal species. As such we would have no moral obligations at all—not even the moral obligation to care about other plants and animals species, future generations, or even ourselves. Even if we are simply after self-preservation, Naturalism offers no purpose or value for life of any kind, including ourselves. But we claim purpose, not just instinct. Even the moral “good” of survival, passing on genes to the next generation, and basic altruism can’t be accounted for by Evolution. Why are these “good” without an objective and pre-existing moral standard for good? At the end of the day, survival and caring for the planet are subjective preferences if we imagine the world without God.

And let’s not forget that creation requires a Creator. Paul wrote in Romans 1 that what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19b,20) From what has been made, we ought to recognize our world is not the result of the undirected processes of nature, a nature that can’t logically make itself. It was God who shaped the earth, not Harrison Ford’s ocean.

The videos point to humanity as the problem and despise it for neglecting nature. Such humility is a good start, but it’s incomplete on a Naturalistic view. God’s word says that humanity is loved but fallen (Genesis 3). God created a “good” creation (Genesis 1:31), and along with mankind, creation has fallen under the same curse of sin, groaning (Romans 8:22) for a day of restoration. The annihilation of the human race fantasized about in this project and as the theme of many of books and movies is misplaced. Our enemy is not nature or man, but the sin that has plagued both. We desire redemption.

NATURE SPEAKS TO GOD

Is nature really speaking through these prophets of Mother Earth? No indeed. If nature says anything, it declares the glory of its Creator.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
Psalm 19:1-4

GOD SPEAKS TO NATURE

At creation, it was the voice of God that spoke nature into existence.

And God said, “Let there be light,” … “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” … “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” … “Let the land produce vegetation…” … “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky…” … “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth…” … “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds…” … “Let us make mankind…” And it was so.
Genesis 1:2-29

GOD SPEAKS TO MANKIND

Our stewardship over the planet is a charge from the Creator.

“Then God said, Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’” (Genesis 1:26)

You [God] made them [mankind] rulers over the works of Your hands; You put everything under their feet.” (Psalm 8:6) 

This certainly doesn’t mean we have the right to abuse His creation, any more than we have the right to crash a car we borrow from someone else. Stewardship involves responsible care of what God has charged us with. That means we should be right-headed about the environment. We will always clash with each other about what “right-headed” means in terms of what may or may not be affecting the forest and the oceans and the ozone, but it’s critical to know first who the owner of all of that is. And He has identified Himself to us.

THE POINT OF NATURE

Nature is for us. Statements like that often have atheists up in arms about Christian hubris, but this is not to say that man is the center of the universe. We are not; God is. Our ultimate authority, the Bible, tells us that nature is for us to see and then point to its Creator, who is known by His marvelous works. God made the earth for mankind to live in, to care for, and to discover Him through. He created the heavens too, so that we may look in that direction for something greater than us, greater than nature, greater than the sin that causes neglect. Through nature we discover a sovereign Lord who set the earth in motion and reassures us that it will endure until His perfect timing brings its restoration (Genesis 8:22; Revelation 21:1-6). Yes, we absolutely should take better care of the earth, because it’s His. Christians can watch these videos and see our correct place in the world, as stewards of God’s amazing creation. And with the sound muted, we can watch these videos and worship not the creation (Romans 1:25), but nature’s Creator Himself.

[Related post: The Logical Failure of Moral Evolution]

Ken Ham Won the Creation Debate, and So Did Bill Nye.

February 6, 2014 § 14 Comments

On February 4, Bill Nye “the Science Guy” debated Answers In Genesis president Ken Ham on this question: “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?” Before the debate, a friend said he hoped that there wouldn’t be a lot of bias and asked me who I thought would win. I explained that I don’t know how I would assess a win or loss apart from my own bias. My friend was talking about the bias of the moderator—CNN’s Tom Foreman, who was as neutral as a moderator could be. But I think it’s true that deciding who “wins” the debate very much depends on who’s side you are on before the debate even begins. That’s because whether we are debating or watching, we take our presuppositions–basics we assume to be true without evidence–into it with us, and we are incredibly stubborn about giving them up. Only one of the debaters understood this.

The beginning remarks and individual presentations were well-prepared and complete, and the highlight in my opinion. Ken’s arguments for a young earth creation were strong and clear, firmly rooted in the Bible as man’s ultimate authority. Bill’s were also well-formed as he posed some really tough challenges to creationism, although he seemed to stray from the topic to a focus on the age of the earth and Noah’s flood, which don’t pose a direct challenge to creationism with respect to the the question being debated.

Their differing presuppositions come to light in each point of their presentations. For instance, Ken’s creationism is firmly rooted in the book of Genesis. He presupposes the truth and authority of the Bible as God’s word, and in God as the infinite Creator. Bill’s materialism is firmly rooted in man’s ideas, that life and the universe evolved, somehow, from an unknown but presumably mindless beginning. Both positions are held a priori on faith, because neither presupposition can be proven with any kind of scientific process.

Ken was appropriately adamant about defining terms, specifically “science” and “evolution”,  noting that secularists have hijacked them for their exclusive use. Bill affirms this by consciously classifying his own position as science, and Ken’s position as something else. Science, as Bill says, was practiced by mainstream scientists, outside the walls of “this facility” (Bill never did correctly name the hosting venue as the Creation Museum, stammeringly calling it “this facility” no less than three times). Ken is thorough in providing numerous  testimonies from creationists who have made significant contributions to various scientific fields (for example, Raymond Damadian, pioneer of the MRI machine). This exposes Bill Nye’s non-sequiter—it simply doesn’t follow that creationists cannot be scientists, which was made obvious to everyone who doesn’t simply assume this to be true. This was a presupposition Bill carried into the debate and it stuck to him like a soup stain throughout as he continually maintained that children taught creation will not have the innovation to keep America in the global game.

Ken makes a clear distinction between historical science (data derived from the past without direct observation) and observational science (study of what we can observe but not recreate through controlled experiments, i.e. the cosmos, fossils). This distinction is invisible to Bill and many naturalists since it presents a real problem for molecules-to-man evolution. The way we interpret data from the past is colored by our presuppositions, what we already believe (We were created vs. We evolved) about the past. Not wanting to be caught assuming the fundamentals of his belief, Bill doesn’t recognize the difference. Naturalists generally do not acknowledge that their most deeply held convictions are not determined by evidence, but by faith, which is also true for creationists. Ken is right in his assertion that creation is the only historical science model that confirms what we find in observational science. Unfortunately, he didn’t say enough in support of this.

Bill’s repeated diatribe about the Bible highlighted his ignorance of the Bible and the evidences supporting it, citing creationism as an “interpretation of a 3,000 year old book translated into American English” and using the classic “game of telephone” critique to assert how it has probably changed over the centuries. It would have been a fairly easy apologetic move for Ken to summarize textual criticism and the fact that early extant manuscripts agree with current Bible text. But he didn’t, and really didn’t have time to. By Bill’s own admission, he is not a theologian, but he clearly didn’t do his homework here.

In addition to the faulty arguments for creationism’s incompatibility with science, Bill repeatedly relied on an illusory attempt to reduce the size of his opponent while inflating his own position. He continually referred to creationism as “Ken Ham’s view” and “Mr. Ham’s flood”, as if these views were exclusively held by Ken and his followers at AIG. The earth’s age aside, Christians, Catholics, Jews and Muslims all believe in divine creation (46% of Americans). Knowing this, Bill made reference to “billions of people in the world who are deeply religious” who do not accept Ken’s model, meaning old earth creationists. Ken is a young earth creationist. But, while Ken maintains old earth creationists have problems reconciling an old earth with certain language and theology presented in Genesis, he certainly identifies with them in the common faith that God created. The question being debated is not about whether creation is billions of years old or thousands. Bill expressly denies theistic evolution or creationism in any form, young or old. Aside from being an appeal to authority (Ken correctly points out elsewhere in the debate that the majority is not always right), this seems like an attempt by Bill to bring the world’s old earth creationists on his side. But Bill is a naturalist, so this won’t do.

The points most devastating to naturalism were ones largely unanswered by Bill, and those are the preconditions of intelligibility that Ken laid out: We accept by faith certain natural laws, such as the laws of logic, morality, uniformity, that allow us to do things like scientific experiments and reasoned debate. The naturalist assumes these to be true but can’t account for them on his own worldview. These natural laws make sense if they come from a logical, moral, uniform God who made us in His image. They shouldn’t exist if naturalism is true. Bill’s best answer on this is “I don’t know.” Ken also pointed out that knowledge and complexity don’t come from a universe originally devoid of these things, and Bill answers were missing here too.

I didn’t think Ken fared as well in the rebuttal stage or in the Q and A session that followed. He didn’t seem as well prepared, and his introductions to the Gospel seemed forced and a little out of place, especially since Bill provided no inroad to the gospel in his script. I want to be careful with that though, because I believe that presenting the Gospel should be the ultimate goal in apologetic endeavor, and a discussion about creation is really only a step or two way from the opportunity (Creation was originally good, man fell into sin, sinful man needed a Savior). But it seemed, at the end of the debate with time dwindling, this opportunity would have been better spent addressing some of the questions Ken didn’t have time to answer earlier. The gospel was a star in Ken’s initial presentation.

In my opinion Ken also spent too much time on arguing for a young earth, even though I share this view. Attention brought to the ecclesiastical divide between old and young earth creationists wasn’t helpful in this debate. Since the question debated was whether or not creation in any form fits with today’s world, it seemed pretty irrelevant. Although Ken did do a good job of exposing the unreliability of dating methods, Ken’s focus on a young earth also brought attention to the fact that he didn’t get around to addressing many of Bill’s challenges that seem to support long ages, i.e. the number of snow ice layers, very old trees, and the settling of rock layers.

The last question asked of both men was, “What is the one thing, more than anything else, upon which you base your belief?” Ken’s basis was God and His word. Bill’s reply began with a quote from his previous mentor Carl Sagan: “When you’re in love, you want to tell the world.” Bill’s love, he goes on to explain, is “information and the process we call science”. Now what if, instead of summing up his love for science, Bill had tried to explain love itself? And would he admit that he probably would put love higher than science? This, like much of what he and every naturalist base their most important beliefs upon, would have to be presupposed, as they make no sense on a completely materialistic universe.

Earlier in the final round of Q and A one question put to both debaters asked if they could imagine any evidence that would cause them to give up their worldview convictions. Ken Ham was doubtful that anything could change his mind about a creator God. Bill thought that a significant piece of evidence would change his mind about evolution, and he gave as one example a polystrate fossil. Well, I’d have to say Bill wasn’t sincere, since he has available to him evidence of numerous polystrate fossils. I’m guessing his presuppositions move him to apply some naturalistic phenomena or creationist misinterpretation to tree trunks or trilobite tracks that have been discovered to span multiple geographic layers.

We generally stick to what we already believe in any debate, and that’s why determining “winner” or “loser” is so subjective. It depends on who you ask. Unless winning and losing is based on something other than what most debates are about, like who gave the most eloquent speech (perhaps also very subjective) and who avoided more logical fallacies (a little less subjective). Otherwise, we are likely to call the winner the one who shares the same worldview we do, because there is no such thing as neutral belief. My hope is that the Lord will use this debate to persuade some for the truth of the Christianity, because the Gospel was preached, and Naturalism’s main problem was exposed. But they are generally very few who are converted as the result of one debate. That’s the job of God’s Holy Spirit. Like the guys at the podium, we hold fast to what we presuppose, ultimate commitments we already believe on faith. There’s plenty of debate after the debate about who won it. The lasting verdict? The truth will win in the end, when “every knee will bow… every tongue will acknowledge God.” (Rom. 14:11). But those are my presuppositions talking.

Oort Cloud, the God in a Cometary Gap

November 22, 2013 § 2 Comments

We all believe in things we can’t see, which is necessary to understand the universe. Often though, faith in Naturalistic ideas can lead to pretty clouded conclusions.

Kuiper_oortThe Oort cloud is an immense spherical cloud surrounding the planetary system and extending approximately 3 light years, about 30 trillion kilometers from the Sun. This vast distance is considered the edge of the Sun’s orb of physical, gravitational, or dynamical influence. … Recognition of the Oort cloud gave explanation to the age old questions: “What are comets, and where do they come from?”

If you search the internet for “oort cloud”, the web page(1) that bears the above summary is among the top results. Some sources, such as Wikipedia,(2) are honest enough to admit that the Oort Cloud is “hypothesized”, while some, like NASA(3) and the site quoted above, state it as a fact.

The truth is, nothing like an Oort Cloud has ever been observed or directly detected. What we do know is that comets cannot be anywhere close to 4.6 billion years old, which is the age of our solar system according the estimates of Naturalistic Cosmology. This view states that since comets lose too much material when they pass near the sun, they should have burned out long before now, so they must have been generated at various times long after the origin of the solar system. They’re too new to be a byproduct of the formation of the solar system.

The Dutch astronomer Jan Oort first suggested in 1950 that comets come from a common region at the outer edge of the solar system, which was later named after him. This hypothesis, like the whole of secular science, was based solely on the prior commitment to a universe without a Creator—a completely naturalistic presupposition. From this view, there is no God, so we must assume that the universe was formed by chance over billions of years, and there must be another explanation for the creation of relatively young comets. The God of that gap is the Oort Cloud.

It’s interesting how faith commitments work, even in Christendom. We hypothesize based on convictions we already have, an a priori faith commitment to something that might support the new idea. The religion of Naturalistic Cosmology (the universe came about naturally) excludes divine creation. Of course, none of us were around to observe the solar system’s origin, so we start out with a certain assumption about how it began, gather evidence, test and interpret it based on the prior assumptions. In Christianity, we start by taking on faith the Bible’s description of God and creation and assuming its truth that God created comets (Genesis 1:14-19)(4). If we look at the same scientific evidence, interpreting it based on the Bible, comets still make sense.

Worldviews stand or fall from their foundations—where we start out in our thinking. When it was determined that comets do not make sense on Naturalism, secular scientists had to amend it by imagining an Oort Cloud, something for which we have absolutely no empirical evidence. It just needs to be there in order to keep Naturalistic Cosmology alive. But at its foundation, we still have to wonder how, on Naturalism, we end up with comets that move in predictable orbits when Naturalism itself can’t explain the origin of matter, motion, or any basic principal related to what we know about comets. That responsibility is ultimately passed along to other fields of study that also don’t hold up to inquiry about ultimate foundations either.

Only the eternal, omniscient Creator described in the Bible makes sense of comets, and everything else we can observe. Yes, since we cannot scientifically account for God, we ultimately accept Him by faith. But that faith makes sense of everything else—especially science. Those who put their faith in Naturalistic Cosmology often do what they accuse Creationists of doing, which is hypothesize an invisible origin for something like comets. That doesn’t make a lot of sense either.

1) http://www.solarviews.com/eng/oort.htm
2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oort_cloud
3) http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=KBOs
4) http://biblia.com/bible/esv/Genesis%201.14–19

Faith’s Role in Reason, Knowledge and Absolutely Everything

December 10, 2012 § 3 Comments

A discussion with an agnostic:

First: I’m agnostic. I don’t find any theism particularly convincing, but I also don’t see any real evidence against the existence of some sort of God-like force, so I’m content here. But just color me atheist for the purposes of this discussion.

Anyway, science and logic can only answer how the universe functions. For example, neuroscience attempts to explain how our minds function, while physics does the same with how the laws of the universe function (though even the laws of the universe are just our own interpretations of phenomena), Etc.

However, they do not even come close to answering why things happen really, such as why the universe exists at all. This is one of the fundamental reasons why religion is so pervasive and alluring for some. We all want to know why we are here and how, and it is easy to fall into a belief system even if there is no actual evidence for it.
Wikimedia Commons
Now, it could very well be that non-existence is impossible, so sheer existence simply spontaneously appeared (a la the big bang, or whatever universe may have theoretically come before it). But the universe is ordered, rather than chaotic. Certain laws do govern everything, even if we can never truly know them. And to me, it would seem awfully strange for a spontaneous universe––which would have no real reason or advantage at all to be ordered––is, well, ordered. In fact, it would be remarkably easier for everything to simply be in chaos. Einstein shared this view, and he had a “profound reverence for the rationality made manifest in existence.”

Furthermore, an infinite regress into the past of causal events is impossible. So there had to have been at some time an unmoved-mover––something completely independent of determinism––that began our little universe (or, again, whatever came before it). This isn’t an argument for God, but it is an argument that, for me at least, there’s more to our existence than meets the eye. At the very least it’s evidence that there must be something that does not adhere to our universe’s laws.

But this is all speculative. Still, I personally find it laughable to think that we are even close to understanding our universe, or even ourselves. Nothing is set in stone. Even the theory of gravity seems to be rupturing with holes. These dark matter hypotheses? No more than a dubious theory to make up for the holes and for what we don’t understand. And once again: we have not even a drop of understanding of WHY our universe exists at all in the way it is, let alone ourselves.

So after over two thousand years of philosophizing and empirical studies, it seems the only thing we can really say we know is the good ol’ Socrates’ axiom (which assumes the cogito):

“The only thing I know is that I know nothing at all.”

I’m content with that.

Christian response:

Michael,

Our knowledge and understanding is indeed limited. I appreciate you sharing your perspective, and I think many are in the same place you are, resisting outright atheism because the universe begs for certain explanations that are incompatible with atheism or naturalism. I don’t think I could be content with that. 🙂

Plato AristotleIt’s tempting though, to think that agnosticism is a kind of non-position. The conclusions you describe and a conviction to keep a distance from certain theistic conclusions is actually a commitment to a certain agnostic position in its own right, which is also a belief system. The claims of atheists seem ignorant of the obvious, and the claims of theists seem to claim too much knowledge. As a Christian, I obviously believe that a certain amount of knowledge of God is possible, and even the strictest agnostic who says God is unknowable admits a minimal amount of knowledge of God when he claims to know that God is unknowable. Complete knowledge of God is impossible for any finite human mind, but I think we can all agree that some knowledge is possible. Even Socrates’ axiom “the only thing I know is that I know nothing at all” is a declaration of limited knowledge.

Reason is the thing that we all champion that gets us to whatever conclusions we have. You’re right about your observations of the laws of logic that beg for some explanation beyond what we can see and prove. Reason is one of those ultimate commitments that we are forced to assume. When we do, even reason becomes suspect, because we can’t defend reason without using reason, so this reasoning becomes circular.

Turns out that ALL reasoning about ultimate origins or ultimate authority or ultimate commitment is ultimately circular. I don’t think most people think about this, but at its most basic level, ANY belief or principal, from atheism to theism and everything in between, is ultimately taken on faith. We presuppose reason, logic, morality, and other unprovable principals when we do anything.

While there are many things that theists see as evidence for God—many of which you described—theists can’t empirically prove God and ultimately accept His existence on faith. What sets apart theism from athiesm, both taken on faith and ultimately circular, is that when theism is presupposed, it provides logical answers for reason, logic, natural laws, morality, origins, etc. God, at least the one described in the Bible, provides a logical basis for what we have to assume when we assume He does not exist. Many insist on rejecting what can’t be logically proven. The problem is, that’s everything, so rejecting anything that requires faith is impossible. The choice to accept Christian theism on faith, however, leads to answers to the why questions you mentioned. I think the biggest obstacle is not really the truth claims within Christianity, but the initial step of faith INTO Christianity.

Why the God of Christianity over other forms of theism? That’s a separate discussion, and usually a later discussion. What I hope you can see first is that ANY belief—even what many call non-belief—is acquired by faith. When we place faith in the existence of an infinite Creator God, the universe actually begins to make sense.

“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”
Hebrews 11:3

Don’t Waste Time on Apologetics

August 7, 2012 § 36 Comments

Below is an exchange with a self-described “centre-left atheist humanist” on her blog. This is a debate I would actually recommend avoiding—not because the Christian position is at a disadvantage, but because the athiest/humanist in this case is snide and evasive, hiding behind personal attacks and generalizations. I don’t take offense personally, but the discussion simply isn’t going to be productive. Proverbs 26:4 warns us “when arguing with fools, don’t answer their foolish arguments, or you will become as foolish as they are.” (NLT) When it becomes clear from their arguments that you are dealing with a fool, it’s time to respectfully move on. 

FoolsDayOut063

Mike

You seem to hold reason and logic in the highest regard, so let me ask: How do you account for your use of such on atheistic Naturalism? Would you offer a defense of reason by reason, or logic by logic? It seems like your worldview is short an adequate basis for any argument whatsoever. You’re not alone in your circular reasoning, Christians do it too. In fact any argument for ultimate commitment is ultimately circular. The difference is that Christianity can make sense of our use of reason and logic. You presuppose the same fundamental principals but have to borrow from Christianity to do it.

Atheist Humanist

LOL!

I love it when creationists start off down the road of arguing that there is no such thing as reality to try to justify their belief in a magic creator of it.

It reveals the profound difficulty with joined-up thinking which probably explains their superstition in the first place.

Mike

I don’t argue for non-reality, but a reality that only makes sense on Biblical Christianity. And I’m not aware of any “profound difficulty” in holding a belief in God. I was hoping you could shed some light on how atheism reconciles the use of logic and reason in a universe that is only matter in motion. I think that’s where the profound difficulty lies.

Atheist Humanist

>I don’t argue for non-reality, but a reality that only makes sense on Biblical Christianity.<

Imagining you can and do create your own reality is normally referred to as ‘psychosis’.

Science is under no obligation to explain to you how your fantasy world works or why the one you’ve carefully constructed in your imagination is illogical. It’s enough to dismiss your claimed ability to construct reality as arrogance and/or insanity and to point out that your fantasy world is merely an infantile parody of the real one and which you’ve probably created because you found the real one too hard to deal with.

Mike

Just so I’m clear: Given that the majority of the world holds to some kind of theistic belief, your best explanation of this phenomenon is some sort of global pshycosis? Merely calling Christians or other religious people crazy is not a reasonable argument nor is it any way to rescue your own worldview from self-defeat. I’ll ask again. How do you account for your use of reason on atheism WITHOUT borrowing from the Biblical principal that a God who uses and values reason created us in His image to use it?

Atheist Humanist

Nice try at misrepresenting what I said. I wonder how many readers can work out why you needed to try that ploy.

As I clearly said, ‘psychosis’ is imagining that you can create your own reality. The clue was in the words “Imagining you can and do create your own reality is normally referred to as ‘psychosis'”.

Apparently, the majority of the world once believe the world was flat. That didn’t make it flat. I hope that doesn’t shock you too much.

Mike

I haven’t created or imagined my own reality; that isn’t even relevant to my question. I asked how YOU account for YOUR ability to reason about YOUR OWN reality, the same world we both experience. Do you in fact know?

Atheist Humanist

Are you withdrawing your implicit claim that there is ‘a reality that only makes sense on Biblical Christianity’ or just hoping no one else has noticed you use it?

Mike

Nope. As I’ve made clear, the “reality that only makes sense on Biblical Christianity” is THIS reality—the same universe, the same assumed laws of logic and reason, the same moral considerations you and I and everyone else experience. The Bible provides a way to rationalize all of this. Your worldview does not, and so you live in self-contradiction, having no other recourse but reasoning as you have. Your evasiveness and self-deception affirms the truth of Romans 1:18-25, a description of those who have suppressed the knowledge of the God they once knew, trading the truth for a lie and worshiping the created thing instead of the Creator. My continuing in this discussion would be a fool’s errand. May you re-discover what you’ve apparently lost.

Debate: The Problem of Suffering

June 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

While debating the moral argument for God from the question I posed: “Do Atheists Judge God’s Morality?” at AskAnAtheist.wordpress.com, (you can also read that debate here), this debate happened. It follows the same type of discussion but later focuses on the problem of evil and suffering, often the biggest deterrent an atheist sees to accepting the reality of God.

—————————

Happy Heretic

Forget the bible and god which are created by humans. Look around and it is usually obvious what is right and what is wrong. A good guide is provided by Buddhism which is a non-theistic path – if it causes more suffering it is wrong; if it relieves suffering and leads to happiness it is right. The Buddha insisted you make your own mind up. Slavish observance of holy books leads to mega ****loads of suffering therefore…..

—————————

Anonymous

Bad answer.

—————————

Happy Heretic

Bad answer, ‘cos it challenges your brainwashed views? Bad answer ‘cos it pulls open your blinkers ? Or maybe bad answer ‘cos it is true.

—————————

Mike Johnson

I’m guessing ‘bad answer’ because it really isn’t an answer or a challenge to theism. You say morality is obvious (correct) but say nothing to account for its source. You say Buddhism is a “good guide” but offer no foundation for “good.”

And suffering does not necessarily equate to evil. There is pain and suffering in childbirth, healing, some forms of exercise, and telling and hearing the truth, and these are good things. There can be happiness in painless activities such as lying, adopting ignorance, smoking weed, or murdering someone with chloroform, and these are obviously wrong.

—————————

Don

>You say Buddhism is a “good guide” but offer no foundation for “good.”

Atheists don’t have to provide an alternative to theistic morality. We can and do, but that is irrelevant to whether God provides a basis for morality.

>And suffering does not necessarily equate to evil. There is pain and suffering in childbirth, healing, some forms of exercise, and telling and hearing the truth, and these are good things.

They are only good things when they are necessary to achieve a greater good. An omnipotent God would never have to use suffering. He could accomplish any logically possible end via any logically possible means.

We know he left many horrors out of creation. It seems he could have omitted one more. If he could have created a kinder world and just didn’t, then that is chilling. It seems he just likes suffering.

—————————

Mike Johnson

“Atheists don’t have to provide an alternative to theistic morality. We can and do, but that is irrelevant to whether God provides a basis for morality.”

But in the attempt, an atheistic basis for morality is incoherent. The only logical source for morality is something that would have to be remarkably similar to the God described in the Bible, if not God Himself. As I’ve argued above, (Dec. 7 post), and the point of this thread, the mere fact that you pass moral judgment on the character of the Christian God shows that you already assume your moral obligations have enough scope and immutability and authority to actually obligate God. Can you do otherwise?

“An omnipotent God would never have to use suffering. He could accomplish any logically possible end via any logically possible means. We know he left many horrors out of creation. It seems he could have omitted one more. If he could have created a kinder world and just didn’t, then that is chilling. It seems he just likes suffering.”

This was a “kinder world” when God created it (Gen. 1). It was mankind who sinned by choosing to rebel against God’s good moral law. Is it “logically possible” to create man without a free will with which to make choices? Yes, but what kind of world would that be? In His omnipotence, God could intervene and stop our sin right before we do it by suddenly changing the course of our actions and thoughts when we are headed in the wrong direction. But what sort of maddening experience would that be, every hour of every day, waking up in a new place in spacetime with new thoughts? In His omniscience, He could logically prevent the desire from which sin always grows. But how miserable would we be without desire? God could remove everything and everybody in our lives that could tempt us and lead to evil desires. But since any thing and any person can be a temptation, what would be left?

Out of love, God made a “good” creation. Humans messed it up, and God, again out of love, provided a solution to our mess through the atoning sacrifice of His Son on the cross. And obviously suffering was a crucial part of that, but it passes your own requirement for acceptable suffering: It was “necessary to achieve a greater good”, which was redemption. This was the only suffering that pleased God.

—————————

Happy Heretic

OK. You can not show me this god that you posit. ( For he is imagined), but suffering is not imagined, and the world has plenty of that. Forget biblical ideas about ‘evil’. Buddhism asks you to look around and decide for your self. If something causes more suffering it is unskilful, if it reduces suffering, causes happiness and freedom, it is skilful. It is a simple but far reaching and profound basis for morality without divine intervention which, if we consider the history of theism has been a cause of immense suffering. ( One might even call that evil if one thought in these atavistic terms.)

—————————

Don

>But in the attempt, an atheistic basis for morality is incoherent. The only logical source for morality is something that would have to be remarkably similar to the God described in the Bible, if not God Himself.

This is a good discussion to have, but it certainly is not a necessary conclusion. There are many candidates for naturalistic morality. But again, that has nothing to do with this thread.

>the mere fact that you pass moral judgment on the character of the Christian God shows that you already assume your moral obligations have enough scope and immutability and authority to actually obligate God.

No. I am arguing on Christianity. Yahweh fails to be loving under Christianity. He is sovereign and under no jurisdiction that could pronounce him good or evil. To say he is Good without applying an external standard is like saying Kim Jong Un is good. We can say that, and hope that every action he takes is the best possible thing for the country, but then good becomes meaningless. He can order opposite things and we would have to say they were both good.

So, either goodness does not apply to God, or we apply some standard of goodness to him and see how he measures up. Yahweh only measures up against an authoritarian standard that renders Goodness empty.

>This was a “kinder world” when God created it (Gen. 1). It was mankind who sinned by choosing to rebel against God’s good moral law.

Come now. Are you prepared to dump science? Do you accept that the world was a paradise before The Fall? If so, you render yourself unconversable on countless topics. But EVEN IF, this were true, God had some choice in what followed from The Fall. After The Fall, women didn’t start exploding during childbirth. Their pain was multiplied. God had choices. Thus, it seems that even if ALL the suffering was caused by The Fall, God still determined what is possible and what is not.

We can’t kill with our thoughts. God left this power out of creation. It seems he could have left more horrors out, say pediatric cancer.

Here’s a funny video that makes this point:

Mr. Diety Episode 1: Mr. Deity and the Evil

>Is it “logically possible” to create man without a free will with which to make choices?

Much suffering has nothing to do with human free will. EVEN IF it was ALL caused by human choices, it is not just for infants to suffer because of the sins of others.

>Humans messed it up

Horrendous animal suffering existed for eons before The Fall. EVEN IF we say it didn’t, we drop science and say that the lion lay down with the lamb in the pre-Cambrian, it would be unjust for an infant to suffer a birth defect for the sins of her ancestors.

>God, again out of love, provided a solution to our mess through the atoning sacrifice of His Son on the cross.

But he could have just forgiven us. The brutal spectacle of the cross was optional. Again, it seems he just chooses more bloody methods than he has to. He has options and excellent connections. He could have ‘saved’ us in any way at all.

It seems reasonable to say that an omnipotent God could have achieved all his aims with less suffering than we observe. If he couldn’t, if ALL of it is necessary, then God is locked in. He can’t answer prayer. He is more like a force of nature, a bystander to creation.

God either can’t or won’t reduce suffering further. And he could do it without infringing on our free will. Humans don’t have a bomb that can destroy the solar system. God set things up so that we haven’t discovered it yet, or it isn’t possible. He could have set things up so that we couldn’t have made nuclear weapons, without infringing on our free will. Hiroshima was made possible by God’s choices, too. With great power comes great responsibility.

Any conceivable god is weak, evil or absent.

—————————

Mike Johnson

” I am arguing on Christianity.”

As an atheist, you morally condemn God using morality that, according to your own worldview, can have no jurisdiction over Him. In that respect you are arguing from atheism (but making a pretty good case for theism).

On Christianity, God is beyond condemnation from anyone because He doesn’t reside below any moral law but also because He doesn’t contradict His own moral law. Any and all good comes from God as part of His nature. He didn’t decide to be good; good doesn’t exist apart from Him. There is no comparison to Kim Jong Un’s moral compass and God’s moral law, because Kim is a follower and God is ultimately the leader. Kim recognizes objective moral law and tries to follow it, often poorly, and can be shown to contradict himself. All humans fail at this at some point. God cannot be shown to contradict Himself. It is reasonable to think that moral law has an external origin (Christianity claims it comes from God) but there is no reason to assume that God would need some external standard to pronounce Him good. Then we’re on to an infinite regress.

There is really nothing that shows we have to “dump science” to accept a historical Genesis account as there is plenty of conversation out there about that, most of which will be way off topic here. The Bible makes clear that man’s sin began with the fall in Genesis 3, but there was probably a certain amount of pain before then. I don’t think we can blame all pain and suffering on sin. Adam may have stepped on a stick, and Eve’s pain during childbirth “increased”,; it didn’t suddenly appear. Much more pain and suffering is present in the world because of the decaying effects of sin and we often react to it sinfully. God didn’t create cancer; cancerous cells are most likely a biological effect of sin—not necessarily directly the sin of the one with cancer, but the sinful condition of the world (Romans 8:19-22).

And of course God retains the ability to choose, but He clearly allows us the ability to choose between right and wrong. And God rightly judges and must punish sin, of which pain and suffering is often part of those consequences. Is it fair for sin to go unpunished? Justice is something we all crave because we are made in the image of a just God. It’s a logical absurdity to expect God to deal with some sins and forgive other sins. He couldn’t “have ‘saved’ us in any way at all” because logic is also a part of His nature—He cannot arbitrarily ignore sin and still be just. The very nature of justice is that payment is made for crime, by someone. The only payment that could be made for all sin perfectly is the blood of a perfect sacrifice. Only God is perfect and sinless and therefore adequate payment.

Thanks for the video link. It fails however because it completely ignores the reality of sin and its role in pain and suffering—God allows evil in that He allows us freedom to choose good or evil. The God represented in the video isn’t true to the Biblical form. And to suggest that if “Mr. Deity” allowed disease and natural disasters then no one would believe in Him doesn’t square with the present reality of a world that is conservatively 90% theistic, in spite of disease and natural disasters. But yes, it was funny. 🙂

I’ve explained why God just couldn’t logically set up the world in some way that doesn’t take away both our opportunity to sin and our freedom. It’s true that children often suffer from no direct action of their own, and I admit there is no easy way to talk about that. But sin always has consequences that affect others, and we expect that. If the CEO of a company goes to jail for insider trading, the company may suffer and jobs may be lost as a result his choices. We then blame the CEO and his sin rather than the system of cause and effect that is a necessary reality. If God is the Creator and Author of life, He has the right to allow life and to allow it to be taken away. He could have morally good reasons for doing so according to a plan that we should have no expectation as finite humans to be able to know or foresee.

“God either can’t or won’t reduce suffering”.

God does reveal enough of His plan, which involves redemption (John 3:16) and a new creation (Rev. 21:1-4). This is the end of unneeded suffering. I understand that it’s hard to see past all that is wrong with the world now. It may seem easier to say any conceivable god is weak, evil or absent. But weakness just doesn’t fit a God who created the universe, and evil doesn’t fit a God who represents good, and absence doesn’t fit a God everyone seems to want to talk about (and to) so much. Without power, goodness or presence I don’t think He would have the following He has, or at least without power and presence, wouldn’t be able to trick anyone into following Him. The good news about faith is that you don’t need 100% certainty to put it in something. Nobody has 100% certainty about crossing the street safely, yet we all take the steps, despite the fact that some don’t make it across alive. Faith requires reasonable belief.

—————————

Don

” I am arguing on Christianity.” As an atheist, you morally condemn God using morality that, according to your own worldview, can have no jurisdiction over Him. In that respect you are arguing from atheism (but making a pretty good case for theism).

My worldview is irrelevant. Suppose Golda Meir was accused of murder and Hitler is the prosecuting attorney. His worldview would have no bearing on the case. He could present facts and definitions that would hold no matter what he thought. That’s what I’m doing. Comments about me are irrelevant.

I am pointing out contradictions within Christianity. Jesus told us to love God and our neighbor. But that requires us to love a God who does not love our neighbor as much as he could. The facts show that God could have created a kinder world and still reached all his aims. Thus, there is more suffering than is necessary for Him for any purpose.

>On Christianity, God is beyond condemnation from anyone because He doesn’t reside below any moral law

Yes, you can say this, but then Good loses all meaning. God is not Good in this scenario because there is no way to judge him to be Good. He is simply God, and if we follow him, we are following mere Power, not Goodness. He may not be evil. Goodness may simply not apply to him. But we can’t say he’s good, either.

>God cannot be shown to contradict Himself.

If God allows more suffering than is necessary, then he is not as Good as he could be. We know God left some horrors out of creation. It seems he could have omitted one more. There is no contradiction in a world without Stevens-Johnson syndrome, for example, yet there it is. God had something to do with that.

[link]

To keep God, we must admit he is not as loving as he could be and he plays favorites. I can’t follow such a God and love my neighbor, because following him requires that I sign on to a regime that could, with no effort at all, treat my fellows better, but simply doesn’t.

>there is no reason to assume that God would need some external standard to pronounce Him good.

For Goodness to have any meaning, there must be some standard. This is a general rule. Many victims of abuse say their abuser loves them no matter how he treats them. (This is Job’s situation.) If ‘love’ can mean anything, then it means nothing.

>cancerous cells are most likely a biological effect of sin—not necessarily directly the sin of the one with cancer, but the sinful condition of the world (Romans 8:19-22).

This is plainly unjustified scientifically, and it would be unfair even if it were true.

>Is it fair for sin to go unpunished?

Are you suggesting that having a child born without a brain is a suitable punishment for something? If we say it is, then Justice means nothing. 1,000 kids die every hour of starvation. The sheer amounts of suffering make a mockery of any notion that our world is Just. And if we say it is Just in some inscrutable way, then we are simply saying we don’t know HOW it is Just. This is the same as saying we don’t know IF it is Just. If Justice can mean anything, then it means nothing.

>He couldn’t “have ‘saved’ us in any way at all” because logic is also a part of His nature

There is nothing illogical in God doing something kinder than the Crucifixion. Pepsi can make its ads violent, sexy or soothing. They have choices, and so does God.

>It’s true that children often suffer from no direct action of their own, and I admit there is no easy way to talk about that.

This is all we need to cast doubt on God’s goodness. It boils down to our emphasis: do we place more weight on an invisible, disputed God, or the solid, incontrovertible agony of our fellows?

>But sin always has consequences that affect others

Give God some credit. He could be a perfect accountant and have set things up so that sin accrues, fairly and proportionately, to each sinner.

>If God is the Creator and Author of life, He has the right to allow life and to allow it to be taken away.

Ok, but then he is a tyrant. I have 3 kids, but I don’t have the right to kill them. Once a being is conscious, we don’t own them. If God uses kids for his purposes, then he is a sadistic psychopath, ESPECIALLY because it would never be necessary for him for any purpose. He could accomplish anything at all without using kids.

>redemption (John 3:16) and a new creation (Rev. 21:1-4). This is the end of unneeded suffering.

What is God waiting for? If he can end suffering, it seems sadistic to stand by for centuries letting some sort of script unfold.

—————————

Mike Johnson

Any legal judgment appeals to a higher law, so you’re right that personal views of right and wrong don’t really matter in that case. Any moral judgment also appeals to a higher law, correct? If not, then we are appealing to the very thing you imply should have no bearing on the case—our own worldview. And if moral judgment is an exception to that, then why? If relative morality is true, then no two person’s moral claims are guaranteed to be the same, and all claims are meaningless. I don’t think you believe that your claims are meaningless.

Clearly, we don’t live as if morality was conceived by humans. Morality presents itself as universal law over and above humanity. Christianity makes perfect sense of objective moral law, and atheism really doesn’t know what to do with it. The reason your worldview IS relevant is because your arguments are based on an atheistic worldview and are self-defeating. Your claim that God is immoral is grounded in objective moral law that couldn’t exist without God, or some other being that has many of God’s attributes, including the intelligence and transcendence to place His law on our hearts.

You are free to critique Christianity and morally condemn God for “not loving our neighbor as much as he could.” But in doing so you are obviously expecting any God to respect the same moral codes humans respect (or at least the ones you respect). If atheism is true, then any being outside of humanity cannot be held accountable to human law. If theism is true, then moral law would naturally be seen as something that is relevant to our understanding of God.

If Good comes from God, then good isn’t meaningless; God gives meaning to good. Isn’t the reason you reject an ultimate standard for good because you reject God? You hold the concept of God up to a human standard for good, (so you can’t really say “goodness may not apply to him”) and a human standard can have no logical jurisdiction over Him. Good has to come from somewhere, and if everyone uses it to measure God to discuss whether He is good or evil or something else, then on the level of God is where we would find the source of good.

Your note and your voice against Stevens-Johnson syndrome and other disease make a very compelling argument. You have my respect. I don’t have any love for the degree of suffering and death in the world either. You seem to have an ideal in mind of a degree of love and fairness we should expect from God, that He “does not love our neighbor as much as he could”; that “there is more suffering that is necessary”; that He “could have created a kinder world.”; that “He could have omitted one more” horror; that “He is not as good…” or “…loving as He could be”; that He should treat us “better”.

The fact is that everyone sins, whether we think that sin is big or small (1 John 1:18; Rom. 3:23). At what level on the severe-o-meter should God start judging? If God only judged sin according to the degree of the sin, how would you match the judgment to the severity of the sin? And how would you determine the severity of the sin? How could we know the severity of some sins that may seem smaller but have far-reaching and long-lasting effects? And how do we put sin-value on the murder of a homeless man who has no family or friends? Would that earn a more or less severe punishment than a boy whose mere words scar another boy for a lifetime? If a clerical error causes a murder to go free and he goes on killing, who is worse, the murderer or the clerk? I think this type of justice administration is much better suited for a omniscient God. It seems you expect such a God to handle this task with His goodness and justice, but you condemn Him, according to a human and therefore irrelevant system of morals, for not doing it “right”, trumping His infinite knowledge with your finite knowledge. Is this reasonable?

Even a newborn child, for which it’s hard to imagine disease as a fitting punishment, is infected with a sin nature. There are no easy answers for the mother of a child dead at birth or born with disease or deformity, but there are answers. A creator is an owner of that which he creates. Owning people is not immoral when it is God who owns them, because only the Creator has that right. If He owns us, He has the right to give and take away (Job 1:21). When we say He doesn’t own us, we imagine ourselves bigger than God. That much we can know and understand, but it’s by faith that we can trust God has good reasons for what He does that in the end outweigh the death or suffering we endure. And there’s no rational reason to expect that He would not have good reasons and therefore no contradiction in His character.

The “agony of our fellows” is undeniable, but your conclusions for the reason behind the agony is. Why make the assumption that a God who would create, provide a world for, seek fellowship with, and redeem human beings would also allow them to suffer for unjust purposes? I imagine that my 3 year old son assumes that all of our discipline is unjust. If I deny him a second cookie before dinner, put him in a time-out for hitting someone, or forcefully prevent him from running into the street, he will think that I’m unfair, that I could be kinder, that I’m not as good or loving as he thinks I should be. As a parent I know and see many things that he cannot. He won’t understand this until he’s older. I’m not comparing the discipline or correction of a child to grown-up suffering and death except to say that to a child who thinks he’s been treated unjustly, it is every bit of a tragedy as the ones adults experience. Most tragedies adults can get through without screaming or tantrums. Any God that fits His description in the Bible will have knowledge and foresight that we can’t possibly have and an ultimate plan we can’t possibly see. If we trust and obey God as a child should a father and accept His Son’s sacrifice as the solution to the sin that condemns us all, there is still no guarantee of a pain-free life on earth. But we are not relegated to a life, and more importantly an eternity, of isolation from our Creator and the potential joy that brings.

It’s obvious you have a very clear grasp of the amount of evil and pain in this world. God agrees that our pain is not the ideal, and there is of course cause to doubt—but it doesn’t have to end there. I suggest that it isn’t by reason that you reject God, but by your own will. You haven’t shown any real contradictions within Christianity and have actually helped prove the origin of morality to be well outside of human convention. I would recommend taking a look at Peter Kreeft’s Making Sense Out of Suffering, it’s very good. The question/answer format in your note reminded me of some of his style (he’s a fan of Socrates). There’s an audio by Dr. Kreeft which is along the same vein as his book. I listened to the first part, he gets into the good stuff pretty early on. Thanks for the discussion, I’ve enjoyed it. 🙂 Enjoy your weekend.

—————————

Don

Having a limited awareness and knowledge does not apply in this case. Remember, there are two kinds of claims we make, analytic/relations of ideas (like ‘bachelors are unmarried’) and synthetic/matters of fact (like ‘all swans are white’).

We don’t need perfect knowledge to make the first type of statement. And we can’t be wrong about them. They follow from definitions.

I’m not making factual statements about God’s goodness. I’m evaluating ‘relations of ideas’: is he Good by a given definition.

And if we don’t evaluate him against a standard other than himself, Goodness loses all meaning.

Kreeft says “the protagonist must undergo suffering before the final triumph of good over evil. He urges us to view ourselves as protagonists in the midst of our own life stories. If good finally triumphs, as Christians believe, then the story is worthwhile, even with its inevitable suffering.”

Please notice the word “must”. Defenders of God use such words to constrain God’s great power. They want to say that even God is required to do certain things. I don’t know how they justify this, except to save God’s skin.

I can’t see why God humans “must’ undergo suffering. It seems that God could have ordained something involving less suffering and still achieved all his aims.

The answer, of course, is staring us in the face. We are animals living in the natural world. It appears that our world was not set up this way on purpose, and that is a huge relief. Otherwise we would live in a divine petri dish.

[link]

—————————

Mike Johnson

Don,

“Kreeft says ‘the protagonist must undergo suffering before the final triumph of good over evil…’ Please notice the word ‘must’.”

I don’t remember that part in Kreeft’s audio, but I don’t think it’s useful to get hung up on the word “must” when it seems that logic is what requires suffering. Because logic is part of who God is, of course He is bound to it. He cannot create freedom and not allow freedom to choose evil, because that potential exists in every single choice we make. Thankfully God chose not to create a world full of amoral robots, and if we had no freedom to choose I think we might wish for suffering in order to make freedom possible—if we even had the freedom to wish for something. Would a little less freedom be an amicable trade for a little less suffering? Would it be acceptable for God to remove almost all freedom in order to remove almost all suffering? A logical Creator created a universe where logic exists, and it’s no more reasonable to expect God to lessen suffering without lessening freedom than it is to expect Him to make a round square or a rock too heavy for Him to lift. It’s simply absurd.

To say we are merely animals and nature is all there is I think is the most unsatisfying answer because it only leads to more unanswerable questions: The most basic being the proposition that nature caused nature. What, then, made nature? Logically we need something supernatural to create something natural. The moral question is absolutely unanswerable on naturalism because absolutely every moral evaluation we make appeals to obligations that could not possibly have evolved. At least the maltheist or misotheist could point to a basis of God’s moral law to condemn God. Moral evolution would create relativistic rules that simply don’t apply to God or anyone else for that matter. Of course even if we could explain life without God, we would still have suffering and death, but no hope for overcoming either.

In your animal farm note you wrote that if God exists, we’re screwed. But if you imagine that the God described in the Bible exists, then you ought to imagine that how the Bible portrays Him is also true. There is nothing Biblical that suggests we are merely a science project for Him to observe and squash when He’s finished. “He must also be good, fair, just and loving,” and the Bible says He is (Jer. 29:11; Ps. 19:9; 1 John 4:16). Although “fairness” would mean we got what we deserved, and as sinners we deserve death, which God offers salvation from. So I’ll give you that God is not fair. If God exists as He is described in the Bible, then we can’t really say that hell is on earth, that God saves based on our getting on His good side, or that suffering is the result of divine meanness. Christianity doesn’t actually teach that. On Christianity, there is no way humans can fully comprehend God (1 Cor. 2:11). That means that in order to conclude that God is not good and suffering is unnecessary, you must claim to know the mind and plan of God, or that you’re talking about a different god.

—————————

Don

> He cannot create freedom and not allow freedom to choose evil, , because that potential exists in every single choice we make.

Not all evil is due to human choices. That is ‘moral evil’. We still have ‘natural evil’. Natural evil seems due to natural law, which God set up. If he had any choice in the matter, it seems he set up this world to be more brutal than he could have.

>Logically we need something supernatural to create something natural.

We don’t know for sure this is a necessary relation. It’s a good discussion to have, but there’s no contradiction in saying a natural world could exist without a supernatural one.

>The moral question is absolutely unanswerable on naturalism because absolutely every moral evaluation we make appeals to obligations that could not possibly have evolved.

Do you claim that morals are actually IMPOSSIBLE on naturalism? That’s a strong claim. There are many naturalistic approaches to morality. The best ones in my opinion follow from our evolution as social animals. If you don’t find them satisfying, that’s one thing. But it’s much harder to say that they aren’t ‘moralities’.

At any rate, this has nothing to do with whether God is Good. Atheists just don’t have to provide an alternative to theistic morality to show that theistic morality fails. We can show that it is authoritarian (and thus amoral), contradictory, bogus or incoherent.

>as sinners we deserve death, which God offers salvation from.

But we know infants suffer horribly. They don’t deserve death. And if we say they do, then we must say God is using his own, higher version of Justice. If we can’t comprehend HOW his system is Just, this is the same as admitting that we don’t know WHETHER it is Just.

>On Christianity, there is no way humans can fully comprehend God (1 Cor. 2:11).

Ok, but then you don’t know if he is good, either. Christians should want to avoid this version of a fine-tuning argument: That God is all-powerful and at choice, but is weak or constrained in exactly the right way to account for each and every instance of animal and human suffering that has occurred or ever will occur.

What if you ended up in heaven, but alone? Would you still sing God’s praises? Or would you feel a pang for humanity, not at its poor choices, but at the injustice of their fate?

If there is no state of affairs where you would say God is not Good, then Good means nothing.

I heard this from a Christian this week:

“I believe I’m an enemy of God because of what I’ve done and you believe you’re an enemy of God because of what he’s done (or hasn’t done).”

He and I agree on this.

—————————

Mike Johnson

“Not all evil is due to human choices. That is ‘moral evil’. We still have ‘natural evil’. Natural evil seems due to natural law, which God set up. If he had any choice in the matter, it seems he set up this world to be more brutal than he could have.”

The curse from Adam’s sin in Genesis 3:17-19 shows a change in how nature would respond, including “painful toil” and the prevalence of “thorns and thistles”, and a change in the resilience of the human body: “from dust you are and from dust you will return.” In Romans 8:20-21, Paul says that “the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay…”. God allows the world to reflect the consequences of man’s sin on creation. God set up nature, but it was sin that brought widespread natural disaster. What you call “natural evil” was not inherently evil from the beginning.

“…there’s no contradiction in saying a natural world could exist without a supernatural one.”

Yet everything we empirically observe about nature involves causation. Hence, the “Law of Cause and Effect.” Assuming that nature is ultimately uncaused makes a lot of unnecessary assumptions.

“Do you claim that morals are actually IMPOSSIBLE on naturalism? That’s a strong claim. There are many naturalistic approaches to morality. The best ones in my opinion follow from our evolution as social animals. If you don’t find them satisfying, that’s one thing. But it’s much harder to say that they aren’t ‘moralities’.”

Morality as we relate to it could not exist on naturalism because we clearly appeal to something beyond nature. Or at least our appeal goes higher than the highest intelligence we can imagine in nature (and as I said, it’s a big enough umbrella to include supernatural creators.) In my discussion with The Atheist [another poster/owner of askanatheist.wordpress.com]  I laid out my understanding of the distinctions between human morality and animal “morality” …
http://askanatheist.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/do-atheists-judge-gods-morality/#comment-45647
http://askanatheist.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/do-atheists-judge-gods-morality/#comment-45689

“Atheists just don’t have to provide an alternative to theistic morality to show that theistic morality fails. We can show that it is authoritarian (and thus amoral), contradictory, bogus or incoherent.”

But you haven’t shown any of that. 🙂 God is authority, but if authoritarian submission means blind submission, that isn’t what God requires. We are given a free will to choose and a mind with which to reason it out (Isaiah 1:18). The last 3 adjectives only hold on the assumption of the first, which doesn’t hold. It’s also wrong to assume that because God doesn’t, that God can’t for lack of power or knowledge (re: a “weak or constrained” God).

“But we know infants suffer horribly. They don’t deserve death. And if we say they do, then we must say God is using his own, higher version of Justice. If we can’t comprehend HOW his system is Just, this is the same as admitting that we don’t know WHETHER it is Just.”

Within Christianity, there is no reason to expect we can fully comprehend God’s justice, no more than a baby is expected to understand why she needs surgery. There is enough revelation of God that we can comprehend by looking at what Christ did for us: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed.” (Rom. 3:23-25). Whatever the details of God’s plan are, we can see that it is redemptive in nature, and that He is just, righteous and merciful.

And yes, we can know if God is good because the Bible describes God as the source of good. If you insist on an external definition to define God as good, then I have to insist on an external definition for what you consider good. Within Christianity, however, there is no contradiction in the attributes of a sovereign God. And again, to say there is “too much” suffering begs the question, how much is too much? Others may have differing views about the degree of acceptable suffering. Isn’t there the potential of much more suffering and evil? And if it were cut in half, or a tenth, wouldn’t we still complain? There is enough we can observe about God’s power (ie. creation) to trust that He is not powerless in the face of evil and suffering. There is enough we can know from Scripture about His goodness that we can have faith that He is not just a brute arbitrarily permitting certain evil and suffering. I hate that children suffer and the sin that bought about the world’s corruption and decay, but while the creatures can question the Creator as Job did, we aren’t guaranteed an answer or the right to accuse. (Job 40:8; Rom. 9:20)

Christianity is internally consistent, and its Gospel calls us not to strain over the question of whether God is just, but rather ask if we are just. “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).

“What if you ended up in heaven, but alone? Would you still sing God’s praises? Or would you feel a pang for humanity, not at its poor choices, but at the injustice of their fate?”

There’s no reason to think I would be alone, but even in that case I think the presence of God would satisfy. I also assume that my knowledge will be much more complete than it is now and I won’t view the condemnation of souls lost in sin as unjust. That much I can actually understand now.

—————————

Don

>God allows the world to reflect the consequences of man’s sin on creation.

If God had any choice in what consequences followed from the Fall, then he is not as loving as he could be.

>“What if you ended up in heaven, but alone?
>even in that case I think the presence of God would satisfy

This is Christianity. We can’t love God and our neighbor at the same time. We can’t follow the First and Second Great Commandments at the same time. This is the central contradiction of Jesus’ teaching.

—————————

Mike Johnson

“If God had any choice in what consequences followed from the Fall, then he is not as loving as he could be.”

I still don’t understand what you have in mind for the ideal of “as loving as [God] could be.” Would you settle for anything other than a complete absence of evil and suffering? “Not as loving” sounds as if you were hoping for something along a sliding scale ranging from the evil and suffering we know now to an absolutely sinless and painless world. What does your ideal balance of freedom/suffering look like? At what point on the scale would belief in a good God become tenable for you?

“We can’t love God and our neighbor at the same time. We can’t follow the First and Second Great Commandments at the same time. This is the central contradiction of Jesus’ teaching. “

The greatest commandment is loving God, which means IF I had to choose between people and God, I should choose God. The “second is like it” (Mat. 22:39) because God also commands us to love our neighbor, and through obedience of that we show love for God, and because people are made in the image of God. It’s important, but secondary, to love people. In any case, we can have both, because we are neither alone here nor will we be alone in heaven.

You say you have made the choice to love people over God because your concept of God is one who doesn’t love, or at least doesn’t demonstrate that He loves us “enough”. I don’t believe the dichotomy that forces your rejection of God exists, but rather it’s an illusion stemming from a fundamental misunderstanding of God. Suffering and evil in the world are the result of sin. Sin is a choice made by people because we have freedom to choose. Any revocation of that opportunity is a revocation of freedom. Zero pain = zero freedom.

God is logical and not free to contradict Himself and therefore didn’t create an illogical world where sin isn’t allowed and at the same time freedom is still available. Because of this, we are able to comprehend and make sense of the world. Evil and suffering wasn’t part of God’s original creation, and while He allows it out of logical necessity and for other reasons naturally beyond us, God’s love and compassion far outweigh and outlast His judgment and the pain He allows. Among many other selfless acts, Christ’s atoning sacrifice covering ALL sin is the greatest example of this. To focus on and draw conclusions from only one part of God is not making an accurate judgment of God—a judgment that (pointing to the point of this forum) we shouldn’t be allowed to make anyway if there is no moral Law-giver.

—————————

Don

I believe we’ve covered this ground. Not all pain is the result of free will. Animal suffering preceded humans. Even if The Fall introduced all the suffering we see, it wouldn’t be fair for an infant to have a heart defect because her distant ancestor got in the cookie jar.

The world makes sense on naturalism. To say God set up this world, this way, we have to say Bad is Good. And we can’t follow God without signing on to a regime under which billions suffer needlessly.

>Would you settle for anything other than a complete absence of evil and suffering?

Christian theology says God promises this in heaven. If that’s true, what is he waiting for? If he could take his followers to heaven a second sooner, he is not as loving as he could be.

I’m breaking a key rule of authoritarian regimes: I’m second-guessing the Dear Leader. But we have to evaluate God if we are to be moral ourselves. If we hold God to no standard, then it means nothing to say he is Good.

—————————

Mike Johnson

I’ve agreed that pain probably existed before the Fall. It was “greatly multiplied” or “increased” as a consequence of sin (Gen. 3:16). There is no record in Genesis of animal suffering before the Fall, but if it occurred it was probably the same type of pain Adam and Eve would have experienced before it was increased because of sin.

“The world makes sense on naturalism.”

A defense of naturalism with naturalism is hopelessly circular, much like a defense of reason by reason, or any other approach that seeks to limit explanations to humanity or nature, particularly when these things obviously appeal—as morality does—to something outside their spheres.

“what is he waiting for?”

To ask why God delays heaven is the same as a child asking why his parents delay whatever the child thinks he is immediately entitled to. Children think this unfair and may even doubt the reality of what was promised. Parents have good reasons and a good plan.

“we have to evaluate God if we are to be moral ourselves”.

But you can’t morally evaluate anything unless you are a moral being to begin with. And it certainly doesn’t make sense to morally evaluate God if moral law didn’t come from Him. How can the evaluation have any meaning or relevance? I’ve yet to see a coherent answer to this question on atheism.

“we’ve covered this ground”

You’re right, we are repeating arguments, and I think that may signal an impasse. Thank you again for the discussion. I’ve learned a lot from it and I wish you the best. 🙂

—————————

There were no more comments from Don.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing entries tagged with naturalism at God&Neighbor.