Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Can a Good God exist? An Atheist and a Christian Debate the Problem of Evil (4)

   In my third response to the Worrywart, I would like to synthesize the issues in this debate, focus on issues that are directly related to the subject of our debate and weed out the ones that have little or no meaning to our discussion.  While most of the issues involved in this debate are important, some of them are only of subsidiary importance to the bigger issues.  I believe that a few over-arching ideas need to be addressed before jumping into specific responses. 

  First, since the Worrywart is asserting that the Problem of Evil proves that God doesn’t exist, the burden of proof is on him to prove that his arguments are valid.  I don’t have to prove anything—I merely have to rebut his arguments in order for the theistic position to succeed.  And if both of his arguments (the logical and evidential problems of evil) are rebutted, my opponent loses this debate, regardless of anything else that occurs in this debate. 

 Second, this debate is centered on logic—if an argument is irrational or invalid, then it should be discarded regardless of the emotional baggage attached to it.  So, with these issues cleared up, let’s jump in. 

I) Logical Problem of Evil  

  In my last response, I pointed out that the logical problem of evil is no longer considered valid by the vast majority of philosophers and that the argument itself has been sufficiently answered by Platinga’s Free Will Defense.  With a few reservations, the Worrywart seemed to agree with Daniel Howard-Snyder that the logical problem of evil can be thrown in the “dustbin of history.” 

  However, the Worrywart still questions why God created at all—arguing that God in His perfection wouldn’t have to create a world that allowed evil into the universe.  He argues,
“The Charger makes X represent no creation (nothing) while Y represents creation (something) but that is an error. The fact is that X represents no creation (no evil) plus God while Y represents creation (some evil) plus God. So one is not comparing nothingness to something rather one is comparing something (only God, who is perfect goodness) to something else (God and creation, which means some evil).”
  The Worrywart must assume that there is no “greater good” achieved by the evil in this world.  This assumption has not been proven—it’s quite possible that, through free will, humans can achieve a much greater good.  So this whole objection hinges on my opponent’s ability to prove that there is no “greater good” achieved by free will. 

  Also, it’s unclear to me how one can put a meaningful value on a non-action.  The whole point of my argument was that it is impossible to value X in any sense—can a parent go back and put a value on not having a child?  As humans, we like to say that we wish something had happened differently, but putting that wish into a meaningful value system is usually impossible. 

   So the logical problem of evil, as of right now, has been put to rest like horse with a broken leg. 

II) The Evidential Problem of Evil

  Now for those of you who may have forgotten what the evidential problem of evil is, I’ll give a brief explanation.  The evidential problem suggests that there is “seemingly gratuitous” evil in this world and that the result is that God probably doesn’t exist.  Unlike the logical problem of evil, the evidential problem only tries to prove that God probably doesn’t exist. 

   I have made two general responses to the evidential argument.  First, I argued that there can be no standard for how much evil is “too much” evil.  Second, I argued that, as human beings, we can’t make a judgment call on things we don’t understand. 
How much is too much?

  The Worrywart tried to refute my argument by pointing out that his argument doesn’t deal with the quantity of evil but rather the quality of the evil.  Further, he argued that “it was inaccurate because I never said there was ‘too much’ evil rather what I said was that the Charger must, ‘explain how all the seemingly obvious pointless and gratuitous suffering in the world is compatible with their conception of God as all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good.’  So one can see that what I said about the suffering in the world is a lot of it is seemingly gratuitous. I never made a claim that there was too much evil but rather that much of it seems pointless.” 

  So, my opponent claims that there is “seemingly gratuitous” suffering in the world.  (And really what is the difference between “gratuitous” and “too much”?)  However, this only further exasperates the issue—after all, what does “seemingly gratuitous suffering” mean?  Does it mean “seemingly gratuitous suffering” to an atheist who doesn’t want to believe in God or to a Christian who does?  I seriously doubt that the theist and the atheist would agree on what is “seemingly gratuitous.” 

  This is exactly what I mean when I say “if an atheist wants to make a claim like this, he or she must provide a justifiable value standard—otherwise the claim has no bearing on God’s existence.”  Until some kind of value standard, or definition, of “seemingly gratuitous suffering” can be provided, the argument is inherently weak.


   The Worrywart responds, “Unfortunately while there is certainly truth to the fact that our lives are quite limited the fact is that those limitations exist for both sides of this argument. Just as he tells me I can’t infer that there are no caterpillars in the garden merely because I can’t see them neither can he infer that there are caterpillars in the garden despite the fact that we can’t see them. If we are too limited to make judgments upon the quantity and usefulness of evil then likewise we are too limited to make judgments concerning the existence of some ultimate good behind those evils.”

   I completely agree that neither the Worrywart nor myself can know the extent or value of good or bad.  Since we both agree on this, the Worrywart’s argument falls flat because it must prove that there is “gratuitous” evil.  Since I’m not trying to prove that God exists, based on the amount of good, then I really don’t have a problem.  Thus, it would seem that the evidential problem of evil is essentially dealt with. 

Burden of Proof

  The Worrywart claims, “The fact is that the theist has no answer to the evidential problem of evil…The theist has no good reason to believe what she believes at this point rather what she has is faith and a desire for it to be true.”

  Remember at the beginning of this post, I argue that the Worrywart is the one who must support his arguments with solid proof.  However, the Worrywart quite often dips into claiming that “the theist must demonstrate that there is absolutely NO pointless or gratuitous suffering.” 

  However, my opponent hasn’t ever proven that there is such a thing as “gratuitous” evil.  He merely asserts it and then claims that the theist must provide a good reason for it.  This commits two logical fallacies at the same time:  First, it is circular; he supports his argument by claiming that there is gratuitous suffering, which he never proves.  Second, it’s an argument from ignorance, because he asserts that his argument is true until proven false.  Clearly, the theist doesn’t have to provide a “good reason” for all of the evil in the world until the atheist provides a equitable standard for “gratuitous” suffering.  It would be like the theist claiming that there is God exists until the atheist disproves God.

III) Theodicies

  Before responding, I’d like to remind my reader of what a theodicy is.  A theodicy is a justification for the acts of God—however, it’s obvious that no theodicy needs to be provided if there are no valid objections to God based on evil.  So, unless my opponent can resurrect the evidential or the logical problem of evil, his case is lost.  Think of the theodicies as a response to the general problem of evil. 

  I also wanted to note that different theodicies are attempting to prove different things—many of the responses I provided are logically possible, which is all that is necessary.  Remember, if it is suggested that something is seemingly contradictory—such as free will, heaven and hell, and whether God has free will—then all that is necessary is to provide a logically possible answer.  So with that in mind, I’ll respond to my opponent’s objections to my theodicies. 

Free Will Defense

  I’ve split the issues into their respective areas—the free will defense and the free will theodicy are different theodicies and require differing levels of proof.  So the issues that deal with the defense will be dealt with here.  The Worrywart argues that my whole response is dependent on this argument—however, my opponent seriously underestimates the other issues involved. 

God and Free Will

   The Worrywart has argued that God doesn’t have free will because His perfection demands that He act a certain way.  As I argued previously, as long as a logically possible solution is provided, the issue is averted.  I’ve yet to see how my refutations aren’t “logically possible.”  It is logically possible that a being cannot create other free beings that always do what is right, while at the same time, having free will itself.  It’s also logically possible that God cannot actualize a world where people have “perfect free will.”  Since there are many issues involved in the third and final response—and because I have two successful refutations—I’ll drop it for now. 

  The Worrywart also argues that I create a necessary link between evil and free will—but I don’t.  I merely argue that according to my definition of free will it is impossible to create people who always do right—if they did their lives were determined in this way they wouldn’t have free will. 

   The next two examples are almost completely theological—not from my own desire—but because The Worrywart has provided Biblical examples, which supposedly contradict my argument.  So my responses will be theological. 


  I suggested that it is logically possible that God will overwhelm us with His presence and that our desire to sin will no longer matter as long as we’re with God.  The Worrywart asked “why didn’t God do this on earth?”  I argued that God would be essentially raping us.  What I mean is that if God forces His presence on us, then we have no choice in the matter.  He would be forcing His love on us.  What is the difference between this and rape?  Doesn’t a rapist force himself on a victim?  Obviously, it’s not rape if the other person consents—thus, if we choose with our free will to be in the presence of God, then we’ve accepted His gift. 

   The Worrywart provides some examples that he claims provide proof that God has been in the presence of people.  I’ll respond to each on a case by case basis. 
Adam and Eve

   The simple response is that they weren’t in God’s presence when they sinned.  Genesis 3:8 clearly shows that God met with them at specific times in the Garden of Eden, but that He didn’t reside there.  So, unlike heaven, the Garden of Eden wasn’t always in the presence of God.  And one of the stipulations of my argument was that in order for our sinful desires to be dealt with, we must always be in God’s presence.  Think of God like a breathing apparatus—as long as we’re with Him we no longer sin, but as soon as He leaves we are no longer “overwhelmed.”   


  The “person” of Satan is definitely an interesting case because he was in God’s presence when he disobeyed God.  This issue is hard to deal with theologically, because the Bible doesn’t talk about it very much.  However, I think one can argue theologically that God gave all angels a one-time choice to rebel or to stay with Him.  Satan and one third of the angels chose to rebel (Rev. 12:4).  This decision was a one-time opportunity and couldn’t be changed (1 Tim. 5:21).  So, while they may have been in God’s presence, He took away His influence.

Paul and Moses

  In all of the cases where God appeared to man on earth, man did eventually sin.  But if you remember, my argument suggested that we no longer have a desire to sin only when we’re continually in God’s presence.  So like the breathing apparatus—when God’s gone, we no longer have protection. 


   The Worrywart then asks whether people have free will in hell.  The answer, from the perspective of most theists is yes.  The Worrywart essentially asks whether these people can’t leave hell.  I would point out that free will doesn’t allow us to do the impossible.  We can’t fly here on earth.  We can’t disappear here on earth.  In hell, we no longer have the ability to choose Christ.  Indeed, the Bible makes it clear that the only sin that damns is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28-30, Matthew 12:31-32).  Matthew makes clear that the sin will not be forgiven “in the ages to come.”  Also, Luke 16:26 makes it clear that a great chasm has been fixed between heaven and hell—making it impossible for anyone to go from one place to the other. 

Free Will Theodicy

  The Free Will Theodicy is a general theodicy that argues that free will is highly valuable. 

Assorted Examples

  The Worrywart essentially makes two points in this section.  First, he argues that God could have created a better world.  Second, he argues that God should have taught us about disease.

1) God could have created a better world. 

  The Worrywart gives many different examples—for which I provided answers—but he argues correctly that the bigger issue is whether God could/should have created a better world.  The Worrywart said, “The Charger never actually deals with the point of the examples, which is that God could have done things differently to reduce suffering rather he dismisses these ideas without providing any real reasons as to why he dismisses them.” 

  First, I don’t think God should be blamed for imperfections in the world.  If we really do have free will—and this free will was abused through rebellion against God—then it only makes since that perfection would be limited.  Evil corrupts perfection—both physically and spiritually—so the ultimate result is a world where suffering exists.  Now my opponent would probably respond that this suffering should only apply to ourselves, but, as most experience shows us, evil not only corrupts the evildoer but also many other things.  Think about one person’s decision to play with a lighter.  If the lighter starts a fire, it could kill innocent people, cause economic damage, kill pets and destroy priceless heirlooms.  In the same way, when evil came into the world it corrupted everything, not just the ones who decided to allow it in. 

  Second, the Worrywart likes to claim that God’s only real attribute is “love”.  But God is also just—and according to His justice we should all be destroyed.  Indeed, He could still be all-loving and destroy a rebellious world.  So instead of suffering, it is quite possible, that we’re merely feeling just judgment for our sins.

  But isn’t God no longer all loving?  No.  Any judge is completely right in judging a lawbreaker.  Just because the judge orders the criminal to go to prison doesn’t mean he is bad or that he doesn’t care about the criminal.  In fact, it is because he cares about the criminal that he punishes him. 
 But what about innocent Children?  Suffering exists for whole nations and peoples—and we accept this standard ourselves.  Look at Germany.  We made the whole nation repay us for the World Wars.  

  Second, as a result of the above response, it is quite probable that God did create the optimal world—where there was one language and one color.  And perfect versions of the other things too. 

2) God should have taught us

   The Worrywart argues that God should have taught humanity about viruses and diseases.  I argued that God gave us a world where we’re responsible for our actions and, as a result, we’re able to better understand that decisions have consequences.  The Worrywart responded that there is no connection. 

  The point here is that, if we live in a world where there are no diseases or disasters, then we’re like spoiled rich kids who never really understand that our decisions do matter.  If you think about it, this is the most important lesson God could teach us—the decisions we make here have eternal consequences.  Further, God gave us incredibly adaptable brains that have been able to figure out cures to many diseases. 
  I also pointed out that God did give the Jews laws to live by which significantly enhanced their lives.  The Worrywart gives two responses: first, that the Christians rejected the law and second, that these laws were for a few thousand people and not the world.

   The first claim is false.  The Worrywart argues that Paul himself taught that the law should be rejected.  This is true—but what he clearly meant was that the law should be rejected as a way of being spiritually justified.  The law no longer was able to justify a person before God—thus spiritually it was useless.  Some passages seem to prove that Paul was totally against the law, but Paul argues throughout the scriptures that people should follow their convictions. 

   The second claim is also false because many different cultures have dietary laws, which are very much like the Jewish ones.  Muslims have dietary laws that are very similar to the Kashrut.  Both Hinduism and Jain preach vegetarianism, which is definitely healthier then most red meat cultures.  One could argue that God provided all cultures with a good idea of what actions, foods and laws should be followed.  Like the moral law, most cultures have similar laws and practices.  This very well might be the hand of God. 

  The Worrywart finally drops into a long litany of anti-Christian comments that have absolutely no bearing on this discussion.  Though I’ll happily discuss them in their own category.

God’s Responsibility

  The Worrywart, “I point out that God as the one who gave humanity it’s free will bears part of the responsibility for what humanity has done with its free will especially knowing what we would do with it.”  I responded that man doesn’t have to abuse his free will—that he chooses to of his own free will.  The Worrywart responds, “First this statement seems to contradict an earlier point of the Charger’s. If one goes back to the Charger’s (Plantagia’s) argument about it being impossible for God to create humans with free will who would not at some point sin then clearly humanity did, in a sense, have to abuse his free will.” 

  Again, man didn’t have to abuse his free will—but God cannot create creatures who are free and don’t abuse their free will.  The point of Platinga’s argument is that God cannot create free beings that only do right. 

  The Worrywart also argues that God is like a parent who should run out into the street after us and stop us from getting hit by the car (evil).  However, I pointed out that we’re cognitive beasts—we can make decisions on our own.  It would be kind of odd for a cognitively able adult to run out in the street with his old parent wheeling after him in her wheelchair.  God’s done more than this—He’s provided us with brains that tell us that we shouldn’t run out in the street.  But what of children in this world, or people, who cannot make cognitively responsible decisions?  Guess what, we do have parents or even strangers (imagine that), who will run out in the street after us. 

The Value of Free Will

   I argue that free will is highly valuable.  The Worrywart argues that, “And it’s important to understand that not having free will as the Charger defines it would not make me or anyone else some sort of electronic robot.  Now a deterministic world (one without evil and suffering) would not be a world where people are paralyzed or where God would control their motor actions.” 

   This is simply wrong—libertarian free will says that person X always has the ability to choose from multiple alternatives.  The idea is that nothing is determined.  So in every situation, X has the ability to choose from several options.  Obviously, the opposite of libertarian free will is determinism, which asserts that every decision is determined based on something else.  Thus, the Worrywart is completely wrong—without free will, every action is predetermined. 

  I just want to remind the reader that, without free will (as mentioned above), every decision is meaningless to them.  You have no real decisions.  Thus, the things that make your life meaningful, like family, marriage, a job and a bank account, are all predetermined.  You’re no longer the product of your decisions—you’re the product of someone else’s.  This is why I say that our actions make us who we are. 

  The Worrywart asserts that science is constantly proving that we are the products of our environment.  However, the nurture vs. nature issue is much too in-depth to discuss right now.  Needless to say, many scientists and philosophers disagree.

  Finally, the Worrywart asserts that some people have more free will than others.  This assertion is simply absurd.  Everyone has the same amount of free will.  I have the exact same amount of free will as a girl from China: she can choose to run away, kill her captors or any number of other things.  She makes the choice to breathe, just like I do.

Jesus’ Death

  The Worrywart asserts that this section is theological and that I have never proven that Christ was raised from the dead.  Both of these statements are true.  However, if Jesus did rise from the dead, then He provides an answer to each and every “personal problem of evil.”  My opponent always wants to bring this away from the “gymnastics” of theoretical answers—this is exactly what Jesus did.  Romans 5:8 says, “[B]ut God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  The beginning of John 3:16 can be translated, “For this is how God loved the world.”  How?  Well, God couldn’t destroy our free will, so He sent His only Son to die and give us a way out from under sin’s destruction.  John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”  So this is the personal answer to why God allows suffering—while He may not be able to stop us from suffering do to our own decision, He came and suffered for us on the cross and gave us the greatest possible love.
Animal Suffering and Natural Evils

  The Worrywart asserts that this is one of the most important issues—so I’ll focus all of my energies on this point.  I first answered the Worrywart by claiming that human rebellion caused animal suffering.  The Worrywart suggests, “There is no logical or necessary connection between human beings making wrong moral choices and animals suffering or the occurrence of natural evils (most).” 

  First, almost all animal suffering is in a category of its own.  Think about it—for every deer that’s killed, there’s a very happy mountain lion or wolf.  (It’s almost like fans of opposing teams who pray that the other team will lose.)  The deer “prays” every night that a nice plant awaits its consumption, while the mountain lion “prays” for a large plump deer.  Logically speaking, for every animal that is killed by another animal, there is enough survival made up from the predator that, in the big picture, the equation comes out as zero.  However, this might not be the case if the mountain lion is merely having a snack!

  One must also remember that animals make decisions.  They decide to go to a river where it is likely that a predator would be.  It’s not like animals don’t know the threats of the world.  A school of fish probably doesn’t go and swim around a whale for fun—they know better, they’ve been taught better by God.

  Second, I frankly don’t understand natural evils as a category of evils (at least not in the same sense as moral evils)—it’s really just suffering.  If a hurricane doesn’t land anywhere or kill anyone at sea is it morally evil?  If it lands all of a suddenly it becomes evil—but how is the death of a person morally evil?  If someone dies of natural causes is this morally evil?  No, it’s a tragedy (suffering), but it’s not morally evil.  Certainly it is true that sad events occur—the Japan earthquake and tsunami for example—but it’s unclear how this event was a priori evil.  

  If we correctly understand natural “evils” as events that may cause suffering, then there are many possible answers to the issues mentioned.  First, it’s possible that many kinds of natural evil allow for greater good in the long run.  Forest fires, for example, are very important for the cycle of life in the forests.  In fact, the Sequoias in California require fires in order for their seeds to germinate—as a result, park rangers start controlled fires.  In the long run, the fires allow for more life than before.  Also, it would seem impossible to prove that most natural “evils” don’t in the long run bring about some form of greater good for a habitat. 

  Second, many of the natural “evils” are the result of human action such as pollution.  The claimed global warming—which is unscientific—is said to be the result of human pollution.  Indeed, it would seem impossible to prove that many natural disasters aren’t the result of human actions. 

  Third, the Worrywart hasn’t responded to the claim that evil corrupts more than just morality. 

  But what of all of the tragedies/sufferings that “fall through the cracks?”  I still believe my answer above applies—especially since no real refutation of my argument has been mounted.  It’s quite possible that human moral evil destroyed our perfect world. 

  The Worrywart again asserts that we cannot accept the Genesis account of the Garden of Eden.  But the problem here is that my opponent is essentially committing the fallacy of straw-man here.  If my opponent wants to prove that western theism (monotheism) and evil, or any monotheistic religion, are incompatible, he must take the religion as a whole.  The Worrywart is twisting monotheism in order to make it easier to defeat.  If my opponent seriously wants to defeat theism, he must actually take all of theism into account.  It would be like me asserting that atheism isn’t true based on an incomplete picture of atheism.

IV) Naturalism and Good and Evil

  I argued originally that the atheist must also respond to the problem of evil.  The naturalist cannot assert that there is such a thing as evil because it doesn’t exist in naturalism.  Instead, the naturalist argues that there is evil in the problem of evil. 

  First, the Worrywart argues, “Suffering is merely a fact. It is not something that can be denied. If I poke you in the eye it hurts or if I shoot you in the leg you feel pain end of story. Suffering equals pain so less pain is obviously better then more pain.” 

  This misses the issue.  Why is suffering bad?  According to naturalism, suffering is good because it helps an organism to survive.  So how does a naturalist claim that suffering is bad?  

  The Worrywart seems to believe that my response concedes that the problem of evil is valid.  However, if he remembers correctly, this issue was a direct response to the evidential problem of evil, which asserts that God probably doesn’t exist.  I merely pointed out that if “Y” then “X” appears to be true, it isn’t necessarily true if one can bring other evidence to prove that “X” is unlikely. 

  Finally the Worrywart asserts, “The Charger just seems to keep missing the obvious point of the Problem of Evil, it is a problem if and only if there is an all-good and all-powerful God. So it seems the red herring remains, which is unfortunate because I’m just not a big fan of fish.” 

  I do not understand, I admit it.  I don’t understand how my opponent can really claim that raping a thirteen-year-old girl is bad—when his own worldview claims that rape is good because it propagates the race.  My opponent brings a great amount of passion into his responses—which I appreciate—but then he has to walk away and say that it is no longer evil in his view. 

  Douglas Wilson pointed out to Christopher Hitchens that, if you don’t believe that absolute morals exist, then stop acting like you believe in them.  I really don’t understand how the problem of evil would exist if evil doesn’t exist in the first place.  You can sit there and tell me that I can’t explain how God and evil can co-exist (which I’m trying to do).  But you can’t tell me why evil matters so much to atheists who say it doesn’t exist.


  I believe that I have answered all of the Worrywart’s objections.  His arguments have caused me a lot of thought—and caused me to grow intellectually.  However, I believe that the Worrywart’s two arguments have been defeated. 

  I would like to remind my readers that the problem of evil is a rational problem, but becomes emotional all too often.  Indeed, I would say that the issues are so closely related that sometimes they seem like they are the same.  Personally, as someone who has suffered a fair share of pain, I have experienced God as both the logical and emotional answer to the problem of evil.  I join Job when he says, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.”  (Job 19:25) 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Did Jesus exist?

    Last week, we looked at whether or not the idea of the resurrection was a priori irrational and we saw that it was not.  This week, we’ll take a brief look at the evidence for the existence of the man called Jesus.  There are two primary issues relating to the “historical Jesus.”  First, did a man named Jesus exist?  And second, can we know anything about this Jesus?  We will deal with the first question this week—did Jesus exist?  In this post, we will consider the Jesus Myth Theory (JMT) first and then the historical evidence for Jesus’ existence.

  The JMT postulates that certain elements from other pagan myths were incorporated into one central figure—that being the created figure of Jesus Christ.  Thus, according to this theory, the account of the Gospels would tell about the life of a basically fictional character named Jesus.  One would do well to remember that this theory is completely based on the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century view that the Gospels were completely unreliable and that modern scholarship had destroyed Christianity.  William Farmer, an expert on Christian origins, said, “The radical solution [of these scholars] was to deny the possibility of reliable knowledge of Jesus, and out of this developed the Christ myth theory, according to which Jesus never existed as a historical figure and the Christ of the Gospels was a social creation of a messianic community.” 

   Like many of the theories from the beginning of the previous century about the New Testament, Jesus and Christianity, the JMT has been abandoned.  Dr. Willi Marxsen said, “I am of the opinion (and it is an opinion shared by every serious historian) that the [Christ myth] theory is historically untenable” (The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970, p. 119).  Stephen Wylan concurs, “In the late nineteenth century some very skeptical historians proposed that Jesus of Nazareth never existed. He was a myth, based on the Egyptian sun god and other pagan myths. No one takes these arguments seriously anymore. There is virtually universal agreement that there was such a person as Jesus” (The Jews in the Time of Jesus: An Introduction, Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1995, p. 114).  Bernard McGinn further claims, “Of course, only a lunatic fringe has ever thought that Jesus did not exist at all” (Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil, New York: Columbia University Press, 2000, p. 34).

Historical evidence for the existence of Jesus 

  There are three lines of evidence for the existence of Jesus.  First, there are many Christian documents that provide clear evidence that He truly did exist.  Second, there are secular sources that prove that He existed.  Third, the existence of Christianity serves as evidence that a man named Jesus existed. 

1) Historical Evidence—Christian

   The four Gospels of the New Testament present incontrovertible evidence that Jesus existed.  Regardless of whether all four of the Gospels are written as eyewitness accounts or whether they are based on other sources—the sources clearly show a healthy amount of evidence for the man named Jesus. 

  There are also other early Christian sources that speak of a historical Jesus.  Twenty-one of the twenty-seven Gospels explicitly name Jesus—and almost all of them presume His historical existence.  Further, innumerable church fathers confirm both His existence and His claims to divinity. 

2) Historical Evidence—Non-Christian
   Now, it should be noted that, unlike today, Jesus could not have become an overnight celebrity of the whole world.  There were no televisions, radios or other forms of mass media in the first century Roman Empire.  So, it is understandable that some Roman historians never mention Him.  Please keep this in mind, especially in regard to some objections that there isn’t enough confirmation for Jesus’ existence. 

   The first and most important source of non-Christian confirmation is Josephus—he mentions Jesus twice and John the Baptist once.  The first time he mentions Jesus is through his account of the martyrdom of James the Just, Jesus’ brother.  He says,
“…the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others…” 
Here is the second mention…
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ.  And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”
The second passage has been tampered with since Josephus’ original writing—this should be obvious since he really didn’t believe that Jesus was the Christ.  This attempt by later Christians to “Christianize” the passage has led some scholars to reject the whole passage.  However, most scholars still accept a decent amount of Josephus’ second account of Jesus—especially as regards to the existence of Christ.  Regardless of this, the second account mentioned above does prove that a man named Jesus existed.

Roman historian Tacticus also confirms the existence of Christus, which can be translated as Christ.  He says,
“Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace.  Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberias at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome...Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty: then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind” (Tacitus, Annals 15.44).
These two very important first-century Roman historians clearly show us that Jesus did exist and they only represent a small part of all of the evidence for the existence of Christ.  Further, some argue that the Babylonian Talmud even mentions Jesus at least once--if this were true it would provide a highly reliable Jewish source of evidence. 

3)  Growth of Christianity

   It is said that Christianity gained its name as part of an insult—that people who wanted to insult early Christians called them “Christ-followers.”  Obviously, this was no insult, since Christians are called to be followers of Christ.  The name stuck.  Without Jesus Christ, there would be no Christianity.  There would be no Jewish sect turned heresy turned the official religion of the Roman Empire.

In light of all this, it doesn’t make sense how Christianity could have come out of a lie about the existence of Jesus.  Further, how could several unlearned men turn a whole empire on its back in such a short time without having an inspiration?  The answer is that they couldn’t. 
 I’ll leave you with a quote from skeptic Bart Ehrman, “I think the evidence is just so overwhelming that Jesus existed, that it’s silly to talk about him not existing.  I don’t know anyone who is a responsible historian, who is actually trained in the historical method, or anybody who is a biblical scholar who does this for a living, who gives any credence at all to any of this” (Bart Ehrman, interview with David V. Barrett, “The Gospel According to Bart,” Fortean Times (221), 2007).
Next:  What can we know about the Historical Jesus?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Is it rational to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead?

“Miracles, indeed, would prove something,” says the skeptic in Alciphron, “but what proof have we of these miracles?”

   Jesus Christ’s resurrection is probably the most important historical claim of all time.  One could definitely argue that Jesus Christ was the most important figure in all of history.  As historian and atheist H.G. Wells claims, “I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history.  Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.”  So, the natural question facing us is this—did this man really rise from the grave?  It is my position that, although one can’t know historically whether or not Jesus rose from the dead, one can be rationally justified in believing that He did rise.  

   There are many issues related to this.  First, is there any basis for philosophically rational miracles?  Second, did Jesus exist?  Third, what can we learn about the documents that claimed Jesus’ resurrection occurred?  Fourth, what is the evidence for the empty tomb?  Fifth, what are some criticisms of this evidence?  Sixth, which explanation for Jesus’ resurrection is the best one? 

     In this post, we’ll deal with the first question—that is, the philosophical issues related to the resurrection. 
   Most modern problems for conservative Christianity are mounted from skepticism and based on a healthy dose of naturalism.  Skeptics assume that the resurrection was mythological—they claim that this presumption is warranted based on our prior experience of “the way things are.”  David Hume, and more recently Bart Ehrman, have famously argued that it is irrational to believe in miracles because they are the least likely events possible.  Ehrman’s argument goes:
1.      By definition, a miracle is the most improbable of events; the probability of a miracle is infinitesimally remote.
2.      A historian can establish only what likely happened in the past.
3.      A historian can never establish that a miracle happened.
It’s assumed within this argument that miracles are violations of natural law.  However, there is a problem with this since no real definition for natural law exists that is accepted across the board.  Philosopher and atheist J.L. Mackie defines natural law as, “The laws of nature … describe the ways in which the world—including, of course, human beings—works when left to itself, when not interfered with. A miracle occurs when the world is not left to itself, when something distinct from the natural order as a whole intrudes into it” (Mackie 1982: 19–20).  However, some philosophers go further, claiming that miracles require some kind of “Deity” to act.  Hume argued that a miracle was an event brought about by a “Deity.”  

  It should be noted that, in the classical approach to apologetics, the resurrection comes after the existence of God is discussed.  It is really pointless to try to convince an atheist that Christ did in fact raise from the dead—because they reject the idea that any miracle can occur.  (It would be like trying to convince them that Heaven is a real place.)  The only way that anyone can effectively judge the validity of any miracle is to be open-minded on the question of God’s existence.  If this prerequisite is not met, then you will get nowhere.  So, as an open-minded individual, please read my three objections to the skeptic’s argument.

1) Begging the question

  As C.S. Lewis famously pointed out, this argument begs the question because it assumes that the “natural laws” have never witnessed a miracle.  If, for example, miracles occurred as frequently as the Bible claims that they did, then it would seem that Hume’s standard of “natural laws” allows that miracles have happened.  This would mean that miracles aren’t really violations of this “natural law.”  Thus, the argument begs the question since it assumes that no miracles have ever occurred.  In other words, for Hume to be right, he would have to know that there had been no miracles ever.  So the argument is circular.  

2) Probability and reality

   Another problem for this argument is that probability doesn’t describe reality—reality is not linear.  For example, what was the probability that the Holocaust would occur?  Based on Hume’s standards, since it had never happened before, it should never have happened.  But it did.  All of history works this way—the most probable thing to happen does not translate well to what really does happen.  Let’s go back even further—atheists claim that abiogenises occurred without any outside source of intelligence.  But one estimate of the probability of this occurrence is 1x1090,000.  Of course, this is literally impossible—so, improbability does not apply to reality.  

3) Certainty and epistemology

  Certainty cannot be a base for an epistemology (being a system of thought) on Hume’s skepticism.  Hume clearly argues that miracles categorically did not happen.  We already saw that this is circular.  However, a larger problem exists—mainly the idea that “it cannot happen” is not epistemic.  This is why it is completely unjustifiable to base a whole worldview, that is naturalism, on the idea that miracles cannot happen. 

Finally, after looking at the facts, it seems that there is no inherent rationale for a naturalist’s skeptical basis against miracles. 

Next:  Did Jesus exist?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Can a Good God exist? An Atheist and a Christian Debate the Problem of Evil (3)

   Fyodor Dostoevsky, one of the greatest novelists of all time, wrote The Brothers Karamazov as a response to the pain in the world.  He says, “If you were to destroy in mankind the belief in immortality, not only love but every living force maintaining the life of the world would at once be dried up. Moreover, nothing then would be immoral; everything would be lawful, even cannibalism.”  I believe Dostoevsky was right.  The world would be a different place with no hope—which is why every action committed in this world matters, if only because we all hope.  But let’s take this one step further.  I think Dostoevsky also meant that without choice of immortality  we would no longer have feeling.

  My opponent, The Worrywart, and I are debating the question: “Does the existence of evil disprove the existence of God traditionally defined in the West as all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good?”  [My opponent makes his first argument (here), I gave my first rebuttal (here) and his response is (here)].  There are two basic arguments given in affirmation of the question above—the logical problem of evil (i.e. that the existence of God and evil are logically contradictory) and the evidential problem of evil (i.e. that the amount of evil disproves God).  I’ll address both of them in order. 

I) Logical Problem of Evil:

A word about my duties as a theist: All any theist has to do for the logical Problem of Evil is provide any possible world where God could be justified in allowing evil. As philosopher Kelly James Clark states,
“this purely logical quandary may be resolved without attempting the more ambitious feat of actually discerning God’s intentions for allowing evil…it may employ statements that are not plausible...because the atheologian contends that there is no possible way for God and evil to coexist. All the theist needs to do, to refute the logical problem of evil, it to specify a possible way or a possible state of affairs for evil and God to consistently coexist.”1
 My opponent claims that I’m merely playing word games.  I must admit that if terms are misdefined it does become a word game—I’m not suggesting that my opponent meaningfully misdefines terms, but rather that these misunderstandings are very prominent in our world.  As a result, we have to be able to create standards of understanding before we can meaningfully deal with the issue.

  Further, as I’ve said before, the logical problem of evil is really not even considered an issue anymore by almost anyone who practices philosophy.  Philosopher Daniel Howard-Snyder said that the logical problem of evil is in “the dustbin of philosophical fashions.”2

  My opponent still has a few objections and I’ll respond to them.  But I believe, and I think my opponent would agree, that we can focus the majority of our time on the evidential problem of evil.  Essentially all of his arguments are against the Free Will Defense.  So I’ll respond to it here. 

1) Free Will Defense:

“Beginning with the second issue I say the free will argument fails because there is no obvious impossibility, logical or otherwise, in the existence of human beings with free will and humans who have the inability to deliberately sin, or at least the inability to commit heinous crimes.  The fact that God by definition is all-good makes logical freedom impossible for him. There is no world in which God could commit a wrong act or make a wrong choice.” – The Worrywart

I have three responses:

A) Created vs. uncreated beings

   Dr. Alexander Pruss argues that it is impossible to create something with free will that only does right, but that it is possible to have an uncreated being with free will that only does good.  He claims:
“If Patricia is a creature who lacks logical freedom with respect to a wholly good life, then by Smith’s definition either it is a necessary truth that if Patricia exists, Patricia leads a wholly good life, or it is a necessary truth that if Patricia exists, Patricia does not lead a wholly good life.  For concreteness, take the first case: that Patricia exists entails that Patricia leads a wholly good life.   (The other case can be handled in exactly the same way, and the case I am considering explicitly is the one that is more relevant to the problem of evil.)  Then, that God creates Patricia entails that Patricia exists.  Therefore, that God creates Patricia entails that Patricia leads a wholly good life.  But surely that means that Patricia is determined to lead a wholly good life by something external to her, namely by God’s creating her.  Hence, she is not externally free with respect to leading a wholly good life.”3
   Thus we see that it is logically impossible for God to create a contingent being (a created being) with free will that does only good.  Since, if God created her to only live a good life, she would have been predetermined to be only good—thus she could not be free.  But, since God is uncreated, it is not logically impossible for Him to be free to only do good.  So then, it is not logically impossible to have free will that only does right—but it is impossible to create things that have free will that can only do right.  Remember, the theist only needs to prove that it is logically possible that this could be the case, not that it actually is so. 

  It should be noted here that there is nothing logically contradictory in saying that all people could always be doing good freely—since they could always choose to do so of their own free will.  But it is logically contradictory to say that God, being external of them, could cause all of their actions to be good and that the people would remain free. 

B) Logically possible ≠ actualizable

   A second refutation is that necessity cannot translate to contingency—i.e. that God, as a necessary being (a being that has attributes of necessity), cannot create other necessary beings, but could only create the second best thing—a being who is contingent and free.  For example, a necessary being cannot create another necessary being or another omnipotent being or another omniscient being.  That is logically impossible—but it is logically possible that perfect free will (where free will chooses to do only what is right) also cannot be translated to contingent beings.  So, while it may be logically possible for a necessary being to have free will that does only good, it may be unactualizable for Him to translate that to His contingent creations.  William Lane Craig argues thusly,
“…I think it’s dubious that God could create a creature which has the ability freely to choose only the Good. Such an ability seems to belong properly only to a nature which has the property of moral perfection, a property that belongs to God alone. A free being which possesses a nature which is characterized by less than complete moral perfection (N.B. that moral perfection differs from mere innocence!) lacks the power to choose infallibly the Good. For God to create a being which has the ability to choose infallibly the Good would be, in effect, to create another God, which is logically impossible, since God is essentially uncaused; and, of course, omnipotence does not entail the ability to bring about the logically impossible.”
C) Morality is a virtue not a duty

   William Lane Craig offers another refutation—mainly that God’s goodness is a virtue rather than a moral duty.   Instead of claiming that God is all-good, in the sense that He has a duty of always being good (stated another way that He commands Himself to do good), one could say that God does good because it is His virtue to do so.  Which would mean that God’s goodness no longer commands Him to act in a certain way—rather it is His virtue that causes Him to act.  For it would be impossible for a omnipotent being to command itself to act. 

NOTE:  Remember, the theist merely needs to provide a logically possible (non-contradictory) account of how God and evil can exist to avoid the logical problem of evil.  All three of the above responses do so—thus this problem is averted.

D) Free will, natural evil and animal suffering:

    So what does free will have to do with natural evil and animal suffering?  Richard Swinburne argues that human free will requires natural evil (I argued this in the first piece as well) so that people have knowledge of responsibility.  The point is that, if we can do whatever we want without any ramifications, we’ve lost all responsibility.  We would be like rich kids who never knew that our world really mattered and that the decisions about our lives mattered.

   Everything we do changes the world around us: we pollute our world, this affects animals and nature; we kill animals and use nature to grow crops, we destroy nature with machinery of war, etc.  No one can deny that nature is changed on a regular basis by our actions—so what is the extension by claiming that our fall also affected the world?  It’s clear that we ourselves represent the most important part of the world (in the sense that we change it more than anyone else)—so it is completely logical to state that the world’s fallen state is due to our own actions.  As humans go, so goes the whole world. 

  And since it is logically possible that this could be the case, we’ve averted the objection.

E) Why did God create anything?

“So the theist who believes with Plantinga that God will always act to eliminate any evil that does not prevent some greater good must now explain why God created anything at all?  ‘If God is the greatest possible good then if God had not created anything there would be nothing but the greatest possible good. And since God didn’t need to create at all, then the fact that he did create produced less than the greatest possible good…Perhaps God could not, for some perfectly plausible reason, create a world without evil, but then it would seem that he ought not to have created at all…Prior to creation God knew that if he created there would be evil, so being wholly good he ought not to have created.’” – The Worrywart

   The atheist has to assume that one can say that it is better not to create at all—which is impossible, because one would have to prove that X (no creation at all) would have more value than Y (creation).  But it would seem meaningless to suggest that X can have any value since it is nothing (and since nothingness has no properties, it cannot have any property of value).  Thus it cannot be “more valuable” than Y.  But even if it could have value, how can one say that it would have more value without actually being able to experience it?  Of course, one cannot experience nothingness, so it cannot be “more valuable.”  

F) Stephen Law’s “reverse” God is evil claim?

“Perhaps my favorite way to expose the weaknesses of the theists’ response to the logical problem of evil is to point out the fact that almost all the answers they can provide to explain how it is logically possible for an all-good God (also all-powerful, all-knowing) to exist given the evil in this world can also be reversed and likewise used to explain how an all-evil God (also all-powerful, all-knowing) exists given the good in this world.” – The Worrywart

   It’s unclear how this actually attacks the Christian conception of God.  Because if Christianity is true (and my opponent is assuming so for the sake of his argument), then God came and died for us—definitely not something you would expect from an evil God.  Surely an all-evil God would not suffer in the worst possible way in order to see others suffer.  And if He did come to die in order to create more suffering, why did he provide salvation for some?  Couldn’t He have died without providing salvation?  This conception of monotheism is clearly false.

  Another problem is that good and evil are not analogous.  As Augustine pointed out, evil is not anything but the absence of good.  Professor Peter Williams claims, “Evil is deviation from the standard of goodness, but good is not deviation from some ‘ultimate standard of evil’ Evil must be defined in relation to good, not vice versa, because evil is parasitic upon good. As Aquinas taught, good can exist without evil (cf. God prior to creation) but evil cannot exist in the absence of all goodness (since existence is itself a good thing).”  So then again we see that “evil” doesn’t itself really exist—but is an absence of good.

   Now we come to the bigger issue—the evidential problem of evil.

II) Evidential Problem of Evil

1) How much evil is too much?

“Concerning this section of the Charger’s response there is not much I can say because for the most part he avoids the issue…In his first section titled, “How much evil is too much evil?” he either intentionally or unintentionally avoids the real problem of evil facing the theist (to explain how all the seemingly obvious pointless and gratuitous suffering in the world is compatible with their conception of God as all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good) by changing the topic to issues facing atheists when dealing with definitions of good and evil as well as moral/ethical absolutes. This again all goes back to my initial critic of the fallacy of the red herring.” – The Worrywart

A) Value statement

  The Worrywart is making a value statement—that there is too much evil and that this “too much” evil is evidence against God.  When anyone claims that there is too much of anything, it’s fair to ask “how much is too little” or “what amount makes up a perfect equilibrium?”  There is no difference between the Worrywart’s claim and claiming that $2 is too much for a hamburger—both statements are value statements.  Before anyone can make any value statement they must assume that a standard exists.  I just want to know what that standard is.  Philosopher Peter Kreeft puts it this way, “[It’s] like saying it’s reasonable to believe in God if six Jews die in a Holocaust, but not seven. Or sixty thousand but not sixty thousand and one, or 5,999,999, but not six million...When you translate the general statement ‘so much’ into particular examples like that, it shows how absurd it is. There can’t be a dividing line.”4

    Thus, if an atheist wants to make a claim like this, he or she must provide a justifiable value standard—otherwise the claim has no bearing on God’s existence.  


  Another problem that exists for the atheist trying to prove that there is “too much” evil is that no one can make such a normative statement about the world.  Stephen Wykstra provides a devastating critique of the idea that we can assign a “total” value to evil in a specific response to William Rowe’s argument.  The argument goes:
 (C*) H is entitled to infer “There is no x” from “So far as I can tell, there is no x” only if:

It is reasonable for H to believe that if there were an x, it is likely that she would perceive (or find, grasp, comprehend, conceive) it.5
   Stated more simply, if you’re not in a good position to judge the veracity of a statement, you shouldn’t make one.  For example, if you’re blind, you shouldn’t try to explain what a flower looks like.  The same is true for humans who have only existed for a very short time and who cannot possibly make normative statements about the history of good and evil.  The above principle is known as the “nonseeum assumption.”  Professor Nick Trakakis simplifies this by claiming:
“If, for instance, I am looking through the window of my twentieth-floor office to the garden below and I fail to see any caterpillars on the flowers, that would hardly entitle me to infer that there are in fact no caterpillars there. Likewise, if a beginner were watching Kasparov play Deep Blue, it would be unreasonable for her to infer ‘I can’t see any way for Deep Blue to get out of check; so, there is none.’ Both inferences are illegitimate for the same reason: the person making the inference does not have what it takes to discern the sorts of things in question.”6
2) God may have a greater good by allowing things to go as they are

“Then in his second section entitled ‘God may have a greater good by allowing things to go as they are’ he merely restates his idea for solving the logical problem of evil, even weakening it a little by adding the word ‘may.’  He then assumes it is true (God has a good reason for allowing the evil he allows) and then offers two possibilities (free-will and heaven) as to what could be ‘good enough’ to make up for all the evil in this world.” – The Worrywart

This issue is based on the above issue.  It would be hard to provide a reason “good enough” when there is no standard for what “good enough” or “bad enough” even means.  Plus, any objections here will be addressed in the theodicies, which are a response to both the logical and evidential problem of evil.

III) Theodicies

1) Free Will

   The Free Will Theodicy is a response claiming that free will is valuable—thus, it responds to both arguments, but especially the evidential problem.

A) But how can we have free will in heaven and act always right?

“So one must ask is there free will in heaven? If the answer is yes then it seems it is possible for humans to have free will as well as no pain/suffering/evil. So if that is possible why didn’t God just start there in the first place? If the answer is no and free will does not exist in heaven then clearly it is not as valuable as theists claim it is. And one must then ask why it was so valuable to have free will on earth?” – The Worrywart

   I think a theist could argue that our desires in heaven will be “overwhelmed” by our desire to be perfect like God due to our own proximity to God—we will no longer have any desire to sin of ourselves.  This would effectively mean that we’re free but that we will not sin because our sinful desire is no longer predominant. One can see this in a Christian’s life as they grow in their walk with Christ. 

   But why couldn’t God do this on earth?

   If God had “overwhelmed” us on earth, we would have no choice in the matter.  It would be a lot like a man raping any woman he “loved.”  There would be no significant difference between God “overwhelming” us and physical, emotional and spiritual rape.  Of course, God cannot rape us and be all-good—thus He didn’t force himself on us. 

   Also, one could use the analogy of the potter.  The theist could claim that external circumstances guide us.  Like a potter, God could be sitting in heaven taking the raw products that we are and, assuming we agree to allow Him to touch our lives, shape us into beautiful creatures that will perform perfectly in heaven. 

B) Assorted examples

The Worrywart gives two basic kinds of examples:

First, God could have created a world where…

   The Worrywart claims that God could have created all humans with the same language, color, strength, sexuality, perfect morality and no need for food without destroying free will.  Needless to say, most humans find great pleasure in sex and food—so these two examples probably should be withdrawn.  As for the same skin color—there are good survival reasons for our differing skin colors.  Darker-skinned people are better adapted to more sun exposure and lighter-skinned people are more adapted to higher climates.  And I don’t think that we can blame God for racism.  I think the strength issue is a side issue—more related to childbearing and socially assigned roles.  I think different languages provide incredible beauty.  And, as a poet, I’ve discovered the “untranslatable” beauty of words can be an ocean of beauty.

Second, God should have taught us…

“…what he ignores is the fact that they did not know that at the time and God never told them. All God had to do was tell people what viruses were and how they spread and then tell them the things they should do to help avoid becoming sick.” – The Worrywart

We can remember Richard Swinburne’s argument here, which primarily said that God created a world where responsibility was a big deal—where every action meant something.  Also, God has provided many dietary, physical and other helpful laws, which if used would fix many problems.  A few examples:
·    Carrion is not to be eaten (Leviticus 7:24)
·    The examination and cleansing of objects known to have come into contact with infectious persons, and their destruction if they are unable to be cleansed (Leviticus 13)
·    The quarantine and routine inspection of those suffering from infectious diseases, and the washing or destruction of objects touched by that individual while infected (Leviticus 13, 14)
·    Dwellings known to be infected with mold are to be repeatedly cleansed and examined until the mold has been completely removed, persons in the dwelling to wash themselves and their clothes, any physical material in the house which carries the mold is to be disposed of outside the residential area (and replaced with new material), and if the dwelling cannot be cleansed or if the mold keeps reoccurring the entire dwelling is to be destroyed and the debris disposed of outside the residential area (Leviticus 14)
·    Men and women with abnormal genital discharges were to wash themselves and their clothes, if they touched anyone or anything without washing their hands that person or thing had also to be washed (Leviticus 15)
·    Cleansing rituals involved washing with running water, avoiding the danger of stagnation and the transmission of infection by contaminating a static body of water with unclean material (Leviticus 15)
·    Those in contact with a dead body to wash themselves and their clothes, and any open container which was in a room where a person had died was to be considered unclean, together with its contents (Numbers 19:11-20)
·    Latrines to be dug well clear of residential areas (Deuteronomy 23:12-13)7
   But why didn’t God miraculously tell people to stop doing what’s physically harmful all of the time?  It’s unclear whether people would listen to Him—as is the case with Sodom and Gomorrah, God promised wrath against the physical sins of the people.  But no one listened to Him.  Most people also didn’t listen when God warned them before the flood.  If they didn’t listen to Him than, why would they listen to Him now? 

  Also, God clearly gave us rational minds—and, in some of the cases, the provided rationality was simply not used by us.  I think that the rationality that God has given us has brought us education and health for the most part.  In those cases there is gross human irrationality, God certainly cannot be blamed for man’s irrationality. 

  Further, Steven Wykstra’s response is useful here.  (Remember his claim was that we cannot state that something probably does not exist if we probably don’t know all of the facts.)  We simply cannot make probabilistic claims about how God did act in the past in educating us.

C) Is God responsible for our misuse of free will?

“Further when using the free will argument on the problem of evil one must also address what responsibility God would have in making sure we do not abuse or misuse the free will he gave us.  The fact is that if free will is a gift provided by God and he knew exactly what we would ‘choose’ to do with it then as the giver of the gift he does bear part of the blame for the evils that have been committed due to the use of our free will.” – The Worrywart

   This confuses the issue.  Man didn’t have to abuse free will—he did so of his own free will.  Thus, God cannot be blamed for it.  The Worrywart further argues that parents are responsible for their children.  However, this example fails because it assumes that we have no cognitive ability to decide what is wrong or right.  This is clearly false—for if it were so, then we wouldn’t know what is “evil” or what is “good” and the Worrywart wouldn’t be able to make this argument.

D) Were Adam and Eve free?

“It’s also fun to note that the piece of fruit Adam and Eve were not supposed to eat was the fruit of the ‘knowledge of good and evil’ meaning that before they ate it they could not know what was good (obey God) and what was evil (disobey God). God again withholds knowledge so really what did he expect? – The Worrywart

God most assuredly didn’t “withhold knowledge.”  If He had, He wouldn’t have allowed Satan into the garden.  Satan convinced Eve to sin—she accepted, that is all.

E) Is free will valuable?

“The part the Charger fails to mention is that with the second option you get a life free of pain and suffering where you wouldn’t have missed free will because you wouldn’t have known anything different. It seems like a detail worth mentioning because unlike him I would guess the exact opposite that if you go throughout history and offer people the world as is with all the pain and suffering they experience but their free will intact verses a world with no pain and suffering but only the illusion of free will a majority of people will take the later. I would.” – The Worrywart

Is Free Will valuable?  I think that this question needs to be considered for a moment.  My opponent suggests that he, and most people, would rather have a world without free will.  I think this statement is rather meaningless because, in essence, he is saying that he would no longer be an atheist (he would electronically do what God wanted him to do).  By extension, we also wouldn’t be debating this or any issue.  Everyone would also forfeit any kind of feeling—for feeling comes from making the right or wrong decision to act.  (Remember what Fyodor Dostoevsky said.)  In fact, you would no longer exist—you wouldn’t even be able to have basic brain functions, God would control them all.  I think most people think a deterministic world is one where they are paralyzed and that God merely controls their motor actions—this is not the way it would be because you would have no consciousness (since you stopped being anything).  In our western culture, our actions make us who we are.  Thus, it would seem that we should value our free will as much as we value ourselves.

F) Free will and Christianity?

“It is also worth noting that the free will argument is a fairly new argument historically speaking and has little to no scriptural support. For most of history God’s sovereignty has always taken precedence of any concept of human freedom.” – The Worrywart

    First, this is completely historically inaccurate—predestination simply did not exist in the church until Augustine (he got the idea from his Gnostic days) and was by no means “accepted” or ever has been.  True, the Protestant reformation placed an emphasis on this idea—but Catholics never accepted it and, within a few years, Arminius came along and created the Arminian shift in Protestantism that is by far a more popular view.  So, in actuality, free will is the classical belief held by the majority of Christians. 

   Second, Scripture does support Free Will.  Below are just a few verses that show that we have a choice in our actions:  Deuteronomy 30:11 and 15, John 14:15, John 15:7, Romans 2:10, 1 Corinthians 9:24, 1 Timothy 6:12, 2 Timothy 2:21 and 1 John 5:1.

   Also, it is illogical to say that one must “have” faith or “confess” their sins if they’re not free to do otherwise. 

2) God suffered for us

“In this section the Charger offers more theology then philosophy as he himself admits. So the problem is this section offers little to nothing to the unbiased observer trying to make a rational choice about God’s existence based on the problem of evil.” – The Worrywart

The question of evil is a question for both theology and philosophy.  By definition, theology is the study of God, so naturally it plays a role in the discussion.  And theology is just as rigorous as any other study.

A) Did God’s suffering count for us?

“But even for Christians who accept these claims I believe they don’t really solve the problem of evil as the Charger tries to make them. Jesus’ suffering doesn’t erases other people’s suffering rather it merely increases the amount of suffering that has occurred. The idea that a friend of mine suffered through some sort of pain with me does not take away the pain that I myself suffered it merely means they suffered as well.” – The Worrywart

   The point I’m making is not that Christ’s suffering made up for our own, but rather that His suffering means we cannot blame Him for our own suffering.  As I’ve clearly argued above, God cannot do anything to stop our suffering right now without destroying a greater good (free will).  Thus, by coming down and suffering the same as us, He proved that He was good.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor executed by the Nazis in World War II, said, “God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us... Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering...Only the suffering God can help.”

   Further, my opponent leaves out the most important part of the equation—i.e. that God obviously wouldn’t have come and died if there was a better option.  And because He’s omniscient, He would know a better option if it existed.  But God didn’t do a greater action.  Thus, God’s action was the only possible one. 

B) Hell?

“Then of course there is the issue of hell. If hell is a place of eternal suffering as traditional Christian doctrine claims then the real problem of evil never actually gets solved it merely gets segregated so that while some people are enjoying the perfect heaven that God for some reason was unable to create originally the majority of humanity is suffering endless torment.  Jesus’ death was clearly limited in its effectiveness. One must again question why God created humanity at all knowing only a small fraction of them would end up ‘choosing’ to follow/obey/love him while the rest of us burned? It again makes God look fairly self-serving.” – The Worrywart

   First, God has no control over whether or not people go to heaven or hell—we’re the ones who control this.  Personal responsibility and justice are at stake here—for if people are given free will throughout life and then all forced to go to heaven, then their choices don’t matter.  Free will only matters if it really matters. 

   Second, God has clearly defined what is required to go to heaven—acceptance of His death and resurrection.  Pascal argued in his famous wager that the possible outcomes make the “God choice” more pragmatically valuable.  And as C.S. Lewis famously argued, those who technically never heard of God still can be saved through their own moral compasses. 

  Third, everyone would agree (at least on earth) that people who commit crimes deserve punishment.  Thus, why shouldn’t people who commit crimes against God be punished? 

C) Animals and natural evil?

“Finally Jesus’ suffering and death also did nothing to address natural evils or animal suffering. It is merely a theological answer to the problem of moral evil.” – The Worrywart

This is not true—because He suffered the pain of everyone (animal and human) regardless of whether it was moral, natural, etc.  He actually suffered every single evil that has happened since the beginning of the world.  So this most certainly applies.  Also, as a result of His action, the world will be perfect—thus, His action does apply.

3)  Animal Suffering

A) Why believe they were herbivores?

“So the most obvious question is what are these good reasons to believe that?  Beyond just animals being herbivores what about the existence of dangerous plants? Did some plants suddenly just turn poisonous?” – The Worrywart

The Bible clearly states that all animals were herbivores before the fall. 
Genesis 1:29-30
“And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’”

Genesis 3:17-19
“And to Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, “You shall not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’”
B) What about plants? 

Well, plants simply don’t suffer or, if they do, we just cannot know it—they are either alive or dead.  Since plants don’t have a nervous system, they cannot “feel” pain.  So I don’t think that plants can suffer. 

C) What about germs and viruses?

  I think that the issue is related to the existence of Fungi.  Fungi decomposes dead objects—like trees, grass and other organic materials.  Parasites exist, at least some of them, to keep populations in check.  We certainly wouldn’t want a world with so many cats that there was no room for us.  Other animals also serve this purpose—like foxes, lions and other carnivores. 

D) Historicity of the Garden of Eden and the reality of Satan?

“Now the big problem with this response besides the lack of reasons given for actually believing it is the fact that it requires one to accept the Garden of Eden story as historical rather then mythical and that simply does not work rationally.” – The Worrywart

  Think of the Christian faith as a book.  The Worrywart says that this book and reality are contradictory—and he attempts to prove that it is false by claiming that certain parts of the book (i.e. God and thus Christianity) are false.  But one must take the whole book into account before it can be defeated.  I don’t need to prove that creation happened, that the Garden of Eden was real or that Satan is real; my opponent must assume that it is true in order to argue that Christianity is contradictory. 

  Further, the Worrywart is committing the logical fallacy of straw manning my argument.  That is, he is creating a different version of the theistic belief system, and attacking it.  If he actually wants to prove that it is illogical to believe in God he must do so from the full story.

IV) The problem of good and evil for naturalism

My opponent claims that this whole section is a red herring.  I think there are three reasons why this is not a red herring.  

  First, my opponent must explain how there can be such a thing as suffering in a naturalistic worldview.  I cannot see how a naturalist can explain suffering.  For suffering to exist, there must be something better—but there is no hope or good in naturalism, thus the naturalist must explain where the idea for the existence of suffering comes from.  My opponent claims that I’m confusing natural evils with ethical evils—but I believe my opponent would agree that every death, whether caused by murder or an earthquake, is just as evil.  If one must assume that God exists for suffering to exist, then how can one deny God’s existence?  Let me put it another way—if I claim that good books exist, then I must assume that words, sentences and languages also exist.  My opponent seemingly wants to prosecute God for the crime of allowing evil—when he himself cannot explain why evil exists in a world without God. 

   Second, this response is specific to the evidential problem of evil—which claims that God probably does not exist.  The use of probability means that all “applicable” evidence must be considered.  One popular response is to suggest that, yes, if one just considers evil, one may think that God does not exist, but, based on all of the evidence, it is probable that God does in fact exist.  For example, one can say that if X probably does not exist based on evidence Y, then one could say that evidence U, T, and Z outweighs Y.  This is fully within the rights of the theist—and is considered a canonical response to the problem of evil.  Indeed, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy exposits this as the first defense used by theists against the evidential problem of evil.  So it would seem that it is not a red herring at all—and the atheist must be able to explain the role of evil in a natural world. 

  Third, it’s illogical to say that evil only applies to one side of the issue.  If evil applies to both sides equally, one cannot tout it as evidence against only one side of the issue. As Dr. Terry L. Miethe argues: “The atheist is constantly raising the problem of evil but never gives a solution. It is high time the theist called: ‘Foul!’ I defy the atheist to give an answer to the problem of evil.”9 

William Lane Craig also argues, “if objective values cannot exist without God, and objective values do exist – as is evident from the reality of evil – then it follows inescapably that God exists.”10

   I’m thus waiting for a response to these issues by The Worrywart—since they seem to make God’s existence, based on the problem of evil, exceedingly probable.


  In this post, we’ve delved further into the issues related to the problem of evil.  I believe that the evidence and logic both support the position of the theist.  Remember Dostoevsky’s quote—without God there is no hope and no good, and without free will we can’t know this hope.  I look forward to reading The Worrywart’s response, especially to the evidential problem. 

  Just on a sidenote—I’m having fun.  I love being able to discuss issues like this with intelligent people, and my opponent definitely is very intelligent and knowledgeable, so I hope my readers are having as much fun reading our debate as I am doing it.  I apologize for the length, but the issues we’re dealing with are very important.  Please e-mail or post a link from this and the earlier posts to any friends or family who might benefit or enjoy the debate. 

Humbly yours,
The Charger

1.  Kelly James Clark, Return to Reason, (Eerdmans, 1998), pp.65-66.
2.   Daniel Howard-Snyder, The Evidential Argument from Evil, (Indiana University Press, 1996), Introduction.
3.  Pruss, Alexander R. (2008). The essential divine-perfection objection to the free-will defence. Religious Studies 44 (4):433-444.
4.  Peter Kreeft in Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith, (Zondervan, 2000), p.43.
5.  Wykstra, Stephen J. 1984. “The Humean Obstacle to Evidential Arguments from Suffering: On Avoiding the Evils of ‘Appearance’,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 16: 73-93.
6.  http://www.iep.utm.edu/evil-evi/
7.  http://bibleq.info/answer/3125/
8.  http://www.angelfire.com/mi/dinosaurs/carnivores.html
9.  Terry L. Miethe, Does God Exist?, p.192.
10.  William Lane Craig in debate with Kai Nielsen, cf. ‘The Craig-Nielsen Debate: God, Morality, And Evil’ @ http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/craig-nielsen0.html.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What is Apologetics?

The word “apologetics” comes from the greek word apologia (απολογία), which literally means “in defense of.”  When you think about it, every apology you give is really a defense of your actions. 

In the last post, I outlined Paul’s use of apologetics throughout his ministry.  In this post, I will define the two major views on apologetics—evidentialism and presuppositionalism.  Basically, these two viewpoints differ in how Christianity should be justified. 

1) Evidentialism
   Evidentialism, also known as classical apologetics, uses hard evidence for justification of the Christian worldview.  A great analogy of how this system works would be a court case—where Christianity is the defendant.  Christianity is a justified belief system based on the weight of evidence.  If skeptics of the faith can prove that any part of Christianity is not justified based on the evidence—then Christianity is guilty of being a falsehood.  

   Although subcategories of this view exist, they aren’t that much different from each other in that they basically all suggest that some kind of evidence can be a rationally justified belief in Christianity.  It should be noted that these subcategories are not suggesting that every part of Christianity has to have hard evidence—the argument is that, if there is more evidence for Christianity than for any other religion, then the Christian faith is justified. 

2) Presuppositionalism

    Presuppositionalism is somewhat more complex than evidentialism.  This is mostly because its followers disagree as to what exactly presuppositionalism is and how it should be used.  Regardless of this, if we compare presuppositionalism to evidentialism in light of the above “court case” analogy, we would see that presuppositionalism holds the opposite position—that Christianity is the prosecutor and that all other religions are the defendants.  

A) Soft Presuppositionalism

Famous theologian Cornelius Van Til originally founded this school of thought—his intention was to create an approach that bases itself in the supposed unintelligibility of the world without Christianity.  He argued that men already presuppose that God exists before they can even debate that He exists. 

“The issue between believers and non-believers in Christian theism cannot be settled by a direct appeal to ‘facts’ or ‘laws’ whose nature and significance is already agreed upon by both parties to the debate. The question is rather as to what is the final reference-point required to make the ‘facts’ and the ‘laws’ intelligible. The question is as to what the ‘facts’ and ‘laws’ really are. Are they what the non-Christian methodology assumes they are? Are they what the Christian theistic methodology presupposes they are?” (Defense of the Faith, Philadelphia, 1967)

B) Hard Presuppositionalism

  Some in this school of thought do not hold to the same concepts as those of Van Til.  Gordon Clark, who was another famous reformed theologian, reformulated Van Til’s ideas and argued that one cannot prove that God does exist and thus, claimed that all of classical apologetics is useless. 

Phil Fernandez claims, “Clark not only despised the use of philosophical arguments to provide evidence for God’s existence, but he also deplored the utilization of historical evidences in defense of Christianity.”  He claims further, “Instead, [Clark believed that] Christians must presuppose the truth of God’s Word and allow revelation to interpret the facts of history for them.”
C) Middle Presuppositionalism

  There is still another major school of thought that falls between the two mentioned above.  John Frame defines this subcategory of presupposationalism as “a belief that takes precedence over another and therefore serves as a criterion for another. An ultimate presupposition is a belief over which no other takes precedence. For a Christian, the content of Scripture must serve as his ultimate presupposition....This doctrine is merely the outworking of the lordship of God in the area of human thought. It merely applies the doctrine of scriptural infallibility to the realm of knowing.” 
  While soft presuppositionalism is used by almost all Christian apologists at some level, the harder forms are almost exclusively used by reformed apologists.  Indeed, one could argue that the basis of presuppositionalism is in the reformed tradition’s view of the total depravity of man.  For if man is totally depraved, in the Calvinist understanding, then how can he understand the things of God?

3) Evaluation

   Due to the complexity of presuppositionalism, and the disagreements its followers have between themselves, it has questionable value to practical evangelism.  And while it is true that some things are more logical than others for most people—it by no means justifies presupposing anything, especially in academic apologetics.  For example, one can presuppose that for every effect there is a greater cause (this is otherwise known as the law of causality).  This seems inherently logical.  And yet, modern science has offered some evidence in quantum physics that states that not every effect has a direct cause.  What would the presupposationalist do with this?  They must turn to evidentialism to prove that the law of causality is valid.  Certainly, one can argue that most people won’t know this.  But this necessarily leads to the next question—are we trying to really justify our faith or are we trying to get off the hook with the evidence?  From my perspective, presupposationalism in its hardest forms can only be used as a crutch by those people who don’t want to have to do the hard work and do what they are called to do—to “know the reason for the hope that is within.”