UP FRONT: this post will be too long for most of my readers, but I want to preserve it here, and provide a better place for the discussion. Our guest, I hope, will be a sharp guy named Josh. You are welcome to engage in comments, but be respectful for those reading/commenting who may not believe the same as most of my usual readers here do.
This all began on Facebook when an anonymous person who calls himself ‘Jehovah Jireh’ asked in his status to rate from 1 to 10 whether you believed God existed. I’m not certain whether this person is a Christian, I’m inclined to think not on some things s/he has said, though I often find his posts humorous, such as “If atheism is a religion, than baldness is a hair color.” Not sure how serious he intends his Facebook (and Twitter) personality to be, but this week I got into a rather long conversation with a few, mostly a guy named Josh – and I’ve really enjoyed it. I love when people can engage in ideas without getting nasty. And let me add, usually it is Christians who get obnoxious when they can’t take the heat. I hope to keep talking with Josh – not for the purpose of converting him (though I’d like that for his sake) but for the purpose of sharpening my own thinking and keeping my intellectual feet to the fire. As I’ll mention below, you’ll never argue anyone into Christianity – but through discussing ideas (even pointedly) we all gain, even if we don’t convince.
I don’t post this because I thinking I’m “winning” the conversation, nor to enlist others to join me and gang up on Josh – believe me, Josh can hold his own; and perhaps others of his persuasion will jump in here too (they are welcome!) – but mostly because on Facebook we had to keep limiting our comments to short answers due to the limits of commenting on a status from days ago! My latest answer is frankly too long for Facebook, so I’m gonna post a link to this blog post instead!
So here is where the conversation stands now. I have left out some trivial parts just for length, and combined some comments since the space limits are removed, but have left the comments intact that were of substance. (I also deleted the smilies Josh ends many of his good-spirited posts with only because my blog converted them to images and messed up the formatting! It’s been a good spirited conversation.)
Read if you can handle it, and then it will then continue (I hope) under comments:
Origian Status I commented on:
Jehovah Jireh: Final rewording: 10 = certainly no god, 1 = God certainly exists, 5 = 50/50. What’s your number? I predict we see more 1s than 10s.
My first comment: Karl: the fact that we can sit here considering it is proof enough that he does and that he created us free!
Three responses I got:
Jehovah Jireh: Karl: Huh? I’m not sure I follow your logic.
Josh: Nice logic there, Karl. ;) (I took this as meaning bad logic!)
James: If there really is a god who’s in charge then he needs to fired for malfeasance. (Yes, I had to look that word up!)
AND SO THE CONVERSATION BEGAN:
KARL: Space here to short to explain fully, stems from Descartes (among others later) – uniqueness of man questioning existence is mark of a creator’s influence as no other creature contemplates his existence, but rather merely exists. But for the crown of creation to ask the Great Questions (How did i get here, What is my purpose, etc.) is evidence of a God who gave us the ability to ask such questions. Without a God, a Philosophical “First Thought Cause” (different than creations ‘first cause’) we would merely exist without asking such questions. So the logic is that to the extent we can ask about the certainty of God, to the same extent we make him more certain. Not proven, but much more likely. Trying to condense a field of writing – I hope you can follow! Your dog doesn’t ask you where he came from or if you exist, he just eats the food you give him. But we don’t just eat the food God gives us, we ask him how there can be food in the first place, and the asking necessitates an answer!
To “James”, it is not God who has failed us, but we who have failed to use correctly the freedom He has given. Malfeasance is a smart charge – but it would be the same as charging a traffic court judge as responsible for the traffic violation of the defendant before him. God is not to blame for our misdeeds. His options are either to not create creatures with free will, which would eliminate us completely or remove our ability to love (love, by definition much be genuinely optional) or He must allow the consequence of free will to exist, but in the end provide justice, which he will. (Heb. 9:27) The wisest response to the problem of evil is not to blame God, but to get right with God before we stand before him in judgment for our own lives. But know I share your deep frustration over the problems in this world and pray you will discover and experience the Goodness of God in the midst of it toward those who seek Him out. The weight of the ills of this world must be laid at our feet, not His
JOSH: Karl. I will give you the benefit of the doubt and take into account the limited space you have to respond, chalking it up to that. However, as it stands, I’m afraid you’re simply begging the question. You answer the question by assuming the answer you prefer. There is no evidence to support the answer, and I’m afraid extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Also, your premises are muddled. We are the only organism that we are certain can contemplate such questions, but this is not necessarily the case. Research in non-human primates and some other species indicate a rather bewildering tendency to reason. Even if we conceded this point, you would be drawing a rather weighty conclusion from a sample size of one. I’m sorry, but you’ll need to come to the table with a little more to offer than that if you wish to sell so irrational a conclusion.
KARL: Josh, thanks for the respectful answer – I appreciate the tone, too often people get obnoxious discussing such things (and I include Christians in that!) As for irrational, the reality is that it takes as much faith to deny God as it does to accept his existence. I will grant you that my conclusion is my preferred one, I can not deny that! However, that alone does not invalidate it. It could be argued (outside facebook space limitations) that there is as much overwhelming evidence FOR God as against. Faith is necessary whichever you choose, but I do prefer God for this reason: (evidence aside since we can argue that indefinitely) If I am wrong, I lose nothing. I’ll just return to dust. But if you are wrong, there is an eternal price to pay. So I prefer to be on the side that puts me right with God for eternity than on the side that makes the biggest gamble possible in life. If you are right, whew, but if not… I’d think hard on that. Again, thanks for a great conversation. Respectfully
JOSH: Karl, I’m glad to engage in respectful discourse. It is in that spirit that I respond as follows and hope you take my criticism well. If there is as much overwhelming evidence FOR a god or gods as against, please produce it. As a person who is unconvinced by the positive assertion (“There IS a god.”), my burden is much less. The null hypothesis (“There is no evidence to conclude a god.”) is what I must conclude without enough evidence of the alternative to justify it. You, as the theist, are making the positive assertion, so it is you who must provide the evidence. I’m in a rather enviable seat as I’m taking the position of “there’s no evidence, so the proposition is unsupported.” It’s true that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” However, absence of evidence is STILL absence of evidence, and that’s a poor foundation upon which to base a belief so impactful on your life and society as the belief in a god, much less the belief in a specific god.
KARL: Josh, also, the claim that there is NO God can be considering equally extraordinary requiring extraordinary evidence – the complexity of our world (of ourselves) is viewed as overwhelming evidence of a designer. In the end, you are right. Presupposition taints both of us. The struggle is not to find which is right based on evidence (both feel they have overwhelming evidence) but instead, which has better answers to the problems we face. Christianity does have answers to the problems of this world (whether or not they are liked or accepted.) The other extreme can rely only on chance and accept mystery, (a big bang with no one to start it). In the end, both contain unexplained mystery. Only one offers hope and the other emptiness and despair. And personal experience is the other element that can’t be scientifically tabulated and yet caries great evidential weight, but only to that individual. (Jodie Foster in Contact illustrated this well) My experience can’t be your evidence. outtaroom
JAMES: Ah, Pascal’s Wager. Nothing like a little fear of hellfire to make you believe in all sorts of nonsense. (Sorry Karl, I couldn’t resist.)
KARL: No problem James – I can take a good spirited jab. ;o) one man’s nonsense is another man’s truth. One way or another, we’ll each find out eventually. or if we are lucky, vanish without any consequence for how we lived life. (Not a lot of motivation there for me.) Have a great day free of concern for whether of not eternity matters… for me, its worth considering. For me that is not intended as fear of hellfire, but rather as a sober way to accept that life has meaning beyond what pair of socks I chose this morning or whether any of my decisions matter far beyond my life. See ya in heaven!
JAMES: Yay! Does that mean I can get into heaven now without buying into the whole faith thing?
KARL: It’s not my place to decide if or whether you’ll go to heaven. I’ll let you and God work that out. For my comment “see ya in heaven” I was just being an optimist! ;o)
JOSH: Regarding your use of Pascal’s Wager, I respectfully suggest you abandon it. Most apologists who’ve thought about it outside the context of their preferred religion do. Here’s why:
Pascal’s Wager only works if we assume a false dichotomy of either (A) Your specific God, or (B) no god. The benefit you describe vanishes quite quickly when we begin to consider the thousands of other gods of other denominations and religions, many of which are mutually exclusive of one another, and therefore must be considered as separate cases. In the simplest example, let’s say the options are (A) the Southern Baptist God, (B) Thor, or (C) no god. How are we to distinguish between the demands of the two gods? Which one’s condemnation is the real condemnation? It becomes harder when we start splitting hairs about different god-concepts from different denominations within the same religion.
But there are two other, shorter reasons Pascal’s Wager should be avoided. The second reason not to buy into or use Pascal’s Wager is that it assumes there is no downside to living a life believing in a god that isn’t there. I believe I can make a pretty good case that there are plenty of downsides and present the beliefs of the terrorists who hijacked the planes and flew them into buildings on 9/11 as an example of one particularly vivid example of how a misplaced god-belief can result in a negative for the believer (and society), even if there’s no god.
The third reason Pascal’s Wager should be avoided is that it is bad theology. As typically constructed, it is used to defend the standard Christian god, and relies on fear of a vengeful, petty god who punishes people for eternity for their temporal faults, made possible ultimately by his “gift” of free will and subsequent ultimate punishment of us for using that gift in a way he doesn’t like. It doesn’t sit well with the idea of an infinitely merciful, good, or just deity. The claim that there is NO god is no more or less extraordinary than the claim that there is NO angry unicorn on the dark side of the moon. It’s true we proceed by determining that we will assume a thing does not exist unless presented with evidence that it does, but why would you turn the tables on this logic for the god-hypothesis, when you no-doubt use it in almost every other facet of your life?
As for complexity and different presuppositions this forum is too limited for a full drubbing of those old chestnuts. Suffice it to say, those who hope to use complexity to defend their theology don’t understand complexity very well, and the presuppositions argument is simply a fancy way of appealing to the God of the Gaps. I’ll warn you again, my theistic friend, that this is dangerous theology. The gaps are always getting smaller, and if your god can only live in the gaps, you’ll find him getting smaller with time, too. I hope you and all the other commenters have a good day!
KARL: :o) And now I don’t feel bad for using two comments to respond, since you’ve used three. ;o) I hope “Jehovah Jireh” doesn’t mind that we hijacked his status for a deep debate. I wonder if he will jump in? Or perhaps it really IS God on Facebook, and you’ve gotten Him stumped, Josh. ;o) Space is short, but let me say you’d probably be surprised at how much I agree with you. Too often we end up arguing against perceptions rather than actual position of our ‘opponent’ and I use that lightly. Pascal’s Wager (I grant that label) is not based so much on fear (though I too hate how many Christians use fear to draw people to a loving God) but rather on the humble and sobering reality that while arguing Cubs vs. Socks or Democrat vs. Republican can only effect this life, the answers to choose or accept regarding God WILL have eternal consequences, even if that consequence is nothing.
Its easy to lump Christians in with terrorists. (I’m sure you know we don’t like that) but rather than disprove the premise that one religion can’t be right, from our perspective it only proves that believing the wrong thing can be dangerous. Believing the wrong thing can be WORSE than believing nothing. (I’ll agree, I’d rather have an atheist neighbor than an extreme religious one of any sect, Christian or not!) But in the end, “not believing” IS believing. And Christians (please exclude weird, obnoxious and scary ones!) hold that the answers to the Great Questions must HAVE answers. No answer, IS an answer! So the great burden of life is not to ignore or dismiss the questions, but to have the peace of mind that you have answered them as best and as accurately as possible, since what you believe DOES matter for eternity. (even if only as dust)
In the end, I do not judge you (I apologize for how judgemental many Christians are) It is not my place to answer those questions for you – but it is my imperitive to be honest about what i believe and at least respectfully present it. If I truly believed what I do, and did NOT attempt to share it, it would contradict what I claim to believe – that people have a need for God and that there will be judgement for what we do with him in this life. But in the end, I respect you enough to let you make up your own mind.
Understanding, that I too could ultimately be wrong. But as I stated before, me being wrong will not have any negative effect on me. (I won’t even ever know I was wrong!) And I believe I will have lived a better for it. And I do not assume you have a terrible life without God, just one that could have been even better with Him. (and if you are wrong, you will find out.)
Perhaps you’ll enoy a humorous attempt to address this in a poem I wrote years ago called, “There are no absolutes you say, (but are you absolutely sure?)”
JOSH: Karl, nice poem. It’s interesting you bring up the silly beliefs of some people in a lack of absolutes. Post-modern deconstructionists definitely went too far with their crapola. I, for one, have little time for folks who insist there are no absolutes. The question was, at best, one of passing interest for me as a young undergraduate, but it quickly became clear that there are plenty of absolutes in the world, at least insofar as fact, logic, and reason go. From a pragmatic stance, if not a metaphysical one, some questions do have right and wrong answers. I find it funny, therefore, that you evoked the argument of different presuppositions earlier in this thread, for that is a direct outgrowth of postmodern thinking. In creationist circles, its use has been traced to Bruce Chapman, founder of the Discovery Institute, and it’s funny because he is a product of Harvard, one of the prototypical hotbeds of postmodernist thought. Apparently some of the silliness rubbed off.
Also, regarding questions … questions do not necessarily have to have answers. Some questions are not answerable. Example, “what flavor is the number three?” Unless you’re a synesthete, the question is flawed, and has no answer, because flavor is not a characteristics that abstract numbers can have. Perhaps some of the “Great Questions” (who decided they were great, btw?) you speak of are similarly flawed. In many cases, though, they have perfectly fine answers, I’m sure. Some of those answers are known, others not so much. The point is, reason and knowledge should be used to guide our pathway to better and more accurate answers where answers are possible. Those who insist that bronze-age nomads had all the answers millennia ago may find that some questions are not quite as simple as all that. Here’s a question for you, Karl: What evidence would it take to divest you of your faith in an afterlife? I can tell you what evidence I would accept to sway me to your way of thinking.
Finally, Jehovah Jireh jumped back in:
Jihovah Jireh: What kind of god would hide himself and then torture people for not believing in him? People who believe in and worship that sort of god may find that they have failed the test of life. It would make more sense for me to reward skepticism and reason and punish belief in a cruel deity. Do you mind if I call this scenario “Meyer’s Wager”?
KARL: Regarding “Great Questions” and whether “bronze-age nomads had all the answers. ;o) First of all, I’ll grant not all questions have to have answers, however, if there are NO answers to “How did we get here?” “WHY am I here?” and “Do I have a purpose?” then there is little reason left to pursue good, for “good” would only be subjective, and doing “wrong” would only be wrong if you were caught. (had to face a consequence) Mr. Madoff would be a genius, not a criminal, and the only thing ‘wrong’ with defrauding thousands of people of billions of dollars would be getting caught, for he was making the most of his life, since there is no ultimate consequence, only human consequence for getting caught.
Secondly, to assume “bronze-age nomads” could not arrive at truth assumes, a) technology is required to answer these questions, which it isn’t – as technology arguably can support either a godless world OR a god-created world, and b) that God is unable or unwilling to communicate with people before electronic devices. The premise of Christianity is that indeed He did. I find it less likely that any religion that is less than a few hundred years old could have any claim at truth, though many have certainly made that claim. Either God began communicating early on, or he didn’t. I don’t think he’d wait until now to start. Granted, there are other ‘old’ religions and it is why they merit examination, but Christianity is uniquely different than the others on several fronts. Primarily, man’s inability to save himself and God intervening as a Savior.
Good question: What would it take to divest me of my faith in an afterlife. I had to ponder that. In short, a better answer to the Great Questions than the Bible offers, with even more supporting evidence. But for me, a belief in the afterlife is not based on having seen ghosts or any other supernatural experience or paranormal ‘evidence’ – but rather as a result of several steps leading up to it.
- That God exists (for reasons we’ve been discussing)
- That therefore God would communicate and has
- That the historical evidence for the Bible is stronger than any other ancient literature, religious or otherwise.
- - the tricky one – personal experience with the message of the Bible as it has impacted me and changed me
- the Bible teaches that God created us as eternal beings, and this life as a testing ground for how we use our God-given freedom.
To respond to Jehovah Jireh (since he doesn’t give his true identity) – what type of god would hide himself and then torture people for not believing? Interesting, he states that if we believe that, we have failed the “test of life” – but with no God, who then is giving the test. With no god, there is no test. But back to the valid question – the question assumes He has hidden himself. The biblical account is that he has not – and scientific and historical evidence strongly support (note I’m careful to say support, not prove) the Bible’s account of God repeatedly communicating. The issue throughout history has not been his willingness to communicate, but OUR willingness to listen and accept his message. Bottom line: we want to be in charge of our own life, not subject to a Creator – so most people dismiss the message, or look for ways to dismiss if not disprove it.
Let me add, finally, that my purpose or goal is NOT to prove God exists, or (if I’m granted that), to prove Christianity’s version of God is true. By design, God did not make that possible. (Though we can come pretty close when we are open to it) I submit that all that we can do, is present that belief in God, and in the message of the Bible, is reasonable and rational, and that there are satisfying answers to the questions/objections. Christianity is not irrational or unreasonable. And it provides not only logical answers, but (IMPORTANTLY) a basis for the very logic and reason we desire to use to answer the Great Questions. Without God – there is no answer for logic itself, or reason. Why do we insist on ‘intelligent’ answers – or logical arguments – all this deep thinking is possible because our creator designed us this way. Even when I get my intellectual butt kicked by an atheist or agnostic, the very fact that they can craft and employ such good arguments again points me to their Creator.
In the end, I personally do not believe logic or reason keep people from knowing God. Just as they do not keep me believing in Him. I think God’s claim on how we live our life makes it hard to accept Him. I feel that tension every time I want to do something that I know He does not approve of. (we call that sin) In those moments, I do not want there to be a God. There are times I deny my faith and act as though there isn’t – but then I am brought back to the realization that this wondrous world could not possibly exist without a Creator, and once I accept that, I then accept that I will be held accountable for my life – that may make me guilty, but it also makes God good and just and right. To not hold me and other accountable for all the wrong and evil we see, would make him the God ‘Jihovah Jireh’ described. The reality is, no one is “getting away” with anything (including me).
Bottom Line: I can not convince you that God is real, much less that Christianity is. But I can offer that I believe if you take a close look at Christianity, you can find a reasonable and rational faith that millions of people for centuries have found. (the ones that never make the news) Please ignore the whacked out weird ones who share our name – if you throw out Christianity because of the wackos or the judgmental jerks, you are throwing out the baby with the bath water. We can’t stand those people either and it drives us nuts that they don’t reflect the kindness and love and civility that the Book we share encourages.
There are many men who have set out to disprove Christianity who ended up converted when they got past the people who hurt the message and were willing to take an open and honest look at the evidence. Josh McDowell is one (http://www.josh.org) as is Lee Strobal. I’ve read the critiques of Lee’s books, and they are very intriquing. Reminders that ‘proof’ is not possible – but reasonableness is – and in the end, it is only in giving God a chance that one discovers that Christianity offers the best answers.
Non-belief at this point, leaves MORE unanswered questions than does believing the message of the Bible. Because I have studied both sides, I have seen far more evidence FOR God and the Bible than I have seen to support it is false. I have seen how it reasonably could be false (such as the Q theory for the Gospels) but if I must choose between reasonably false and reasonably true, than I’d rather chose the option that provides more answers that make more sense – and at the same time acknowledges my ability to even make such choices (which is was referenced in my first short comment in this thread that started it all!) and all that is before I even include my own personal experiences with God – answers to prayer, and seeing how much better life is when I follow God and how messed up it gets when I go my own way.
In the end, I do not think this is an issue of “proof” for or against God or for or against Christianity, but looking at whether either position is reasonable and rational, and if both are, which then provides more answers to more questions. “No God” answers some questions (mostly why is there evil in the world) but leaves many more UNanswered, since there IS a reasonable answer to why there is evil in the world when we claim there is a good, loving and all-powerful God. To throw God out to answer one tough question leaves many more unanswerable and ultimately reduces the value of human life to nothing. That is ultimately what is difficult to swallow. If you throw out God, you throw your intrinsic value out as well.
O.K., I’ve dumped a lot – bracing myself for rebuttal. ;o)
and that is where is sits now. Not sure if Josh will engage here – I hope he does. He’s got me thinking, and I like that! If you’d read this far, what are your thoughts?