Answering an Atheist - Part 2
This is an exchange I had with Rod after he read my comments in "Answering an Atheist-part 1". If you wish, you may click the "next point" button to follow the discussion point by point, or read each straight through.
One has to be very careful in defining one's terms. Faith can mean many things to many people. The Bible (and therefore Christianity, if applied properly) doesn't use the term in the way you describe above. the most common synonym for the Biblical version of faith is "trust". One can say "I have faith in the President, that he'll do the right thing". This statement correctly uses the word faith, but doesn't fit into the "conclusion not based on material evidence..." definition. One makes the above statement based on his knowledge of the President's past choices, but it ultimately is a matter of trust. The Bible asks you to not believe blindly, but "test all things, hold fast to that which is good." (1 Thess 5:21)
Your definition of faith merely equates it with any belief. I believe the chair will probably hold my weight because I've tested it objectively. I do not believe the chair will always hold my weight, because I've seen chairs fail. It's not faith, it's a calculated risk based on objective observations.
I find it hard to believe that you test every chair before you sit in it. Also, you have faith that your eyes are giving you an accurate picture of the chair; where it's located, what it's made of, etc. All things require some degree of faith (trust) to live. You have faith that when you drive the others on the road will obey the same laws as you. When they don't, the results are deadly. But we still get in our cars and drive.
This is completely different from belief in God, because there is no objective test for the existence of God.
In this you are correct, there is no objective test for God. But, there is no objective test that I was in California yesterday, just anecdotal evidence. By that I mean one cannot apply the "scientific method" of hypothesis, testing, data recording, and analysis to my claim of being in California. The same goes for testing if there's a God. We have no control group against which to compare God, therefore an objective test is impossible.
One can, however, look logically at the proposal of the existence of God (i.e. "if there is a Creator, then we would expect Him to be more complex than his creation", etc.) and follow that line of reasoning while examining the world's religious texts to see which logically follow. If God did exist, and He created beings with the capacity of knowing Him, then we would expect Him to communicate with them in some form. The Bible is the only religious text that I've found to reveal God consistently in this way.
The Bible is a book, it is not eyewitness testimony. Eyewitness testimony requires a living eyewitness who can be cross-examined. There is no possible way to establish the credibility of the eyewitnesses in the Bible, so therefore, it would not be admissible in a court of law.
The Bible is comprised of 66 independent books, written by real people, recalling events as they saw them or were reported to them. In today's courts, diaries are admissible as testimony and evidence. These are also a recounting of historical events not that long after they occurred. In some cases, the writings appeared only 30-50 years after the events themselves. This would mean that many people would still be alive to corroborate or disprove the claims made in the New Testament. Let me give you an example: if I were to write a book saying that John Kennedy's death was faked, and he appeared to over 500 people on Christmas of 1963, I'd be laughed at. Even though the technology existed to fake the event, too many people are alive who witnessed the tragedy and could easily prove me wrong. The same holds true for the writers of the New Testament. People at that time relied more on their memories because the written word was for the elite. They would recall the events and verify if the account was accurate or not. It would be much harder to make up a fictitious account that soon after the event happened.
There's no doubt the Bible contains some references to actual historical places. So what? The question is not whether the places exist, but whether the events described occurred. Some events described in the Bible have already had severe doubt cast on them by archeological data. For example, there's no Egyptian records which even mention enslaving the Israelites, nor are there records of any mass exodus of slaves. The slaves they did have were well treated, and considered members of the family. No evidence has ever been found of Noah's flood, despite the fact that it should be easy to find. Then, of course, there's the story of creation...
All literary critics of ancient manuscripts still follow Aristotle's Dictum which John Warwick Montgomery states is "the benefit of the doubt is to be given to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself". In other words, unless the document exhibits internal contradictions, or factual inaccuracies (i.e. the Eiffel Tower was built in London) the document is to be presumed true and the burden is on the critic to prove otherwise.
The Bible contains thousands of historical references, none of which have been found false. This fact is so overwhelming, it caused the great archaeologist William F. Albright to say "The excessive skepticism shown toward the Bible by important historical schools of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, certain phases of which still appear periodically, has been progressively discredited. Discovery after discovery has established the accuracy of innumerable details, and has brought increased recognition to the value of the Bible as a source of history."
As to the Exodus, that is an argument from silence. Just because we haven't found an extra-Biblical reference yet, doesn't mean it didn't happen( again, see Albright). The same claim was made for 150 years against the existence of Pontius Pilate. No Roman record was ever found referring to the procurator of Judea... until in 1947 some archaeologists uncovered a stile with his name on it. The critics don't argue that any more, they look for another item that has its sole reference in the Biblical account.
If the Bible is an accurate source of history, then those supernatural events must have been thought to be real by the writers. They either actually happened, or were a mass delusion in which all those involved jointly witnessed. Which scenario you believe depends upon your prejudices, but regardless of which you choose, you must admit that the writers believed that what they recorded was actual. In my opinion, it takes far less faith to believe the events happened than to create mass-hypnosis scenarios.
Your definition of "supernatural" shows a lack of knowledge regarding how science works. When science observes something that is "not explainable by known natural forces or laws", do they call it supernatural? Of course not, they modify or throw out existing models of how the universe works, and come up with new ideas to be tested against. If God were observable, he would be part of the natural world, not the supernatural.
The word supernatural itself shows its definition. It is "super" (outside or bigger than) the "natural". If it is unobservable, then no one can see it or experience it. Therefore, for all practical purposes it didn't happen. If, however someone saw a man fall upwards and not down they would have to not throw out the model of gravity, but conclude some other unexplainable force was acting on the person. This is what supernatural means.
You're missing my point. The Christian concept of "sin" considers a little white lie to be the equivalent of genocide, as far as God is concerned. It also allows someone who committed genocide into Heaven, while sending someone who did nothing more than tell a little white lie into everlasting torment. If God is real, and this concept of sin is his, then God is inherently unfair.
And if God is omnipotent, why would he be so fussy about having a little "sin" in his presence?
You're not correct in your assessment of sin. God does not view a little white lie equal to genocide. Jesus even stated that there are degrees of condemnation based upon one's actions (Mark 12:40, Luke 20:47). The point I am making is any degree of sin has the same effect of separating man from God. This is not unfair, but a real consequence of one's actions. For God to be God, He must be holy! If He were imperfect (or closed His eyes to it) what would make Him different from man?
The part you're missing is that God knew man would not be able to be sinless. He knew we would fail. If He were to leave us in our present condition with no hope of escape, then He might be viewed as unfair. But he made a way of escape for us! The best part is that, because man would screw it up anyway, He enacted the solution. Jesus took our punishment for us (He "became sin" on our behalf) so all we need to do is trust in His work for us.
I didn't say that God was unfair, I said he wasn't described that way in the Bible. The term "fair" has a lot of subjective connotations, whereas the term "just" is more concrete, and is linked to the idea of specific laws being violated. Be careful that you don't ascribe a negative quality just because the positive trait isn't mentioned.
It was a reaction to his description of God, not an attack. I don't know if God is a petty dictator (assuming he exists), but the description above certainly sounds that way. Compromise is generally an attribute of a democratic society. Absolute non-compromise is an attribute of iron-fisted dictators.
Obviously, God does allow evil to exist. In fact, he's responsible for it's existence. If he created us, then he also created the capability for the evil we do. Why did he create us with the capability for evil if he can't tolerate it?
I'm sorry for the confusion. The term "ad-hominem" is one used in critical thinking. It translates to "against the man" and basically means you're not addressing the issue of whether a God should compromise with an imperfect man, but calling names instead. In a democratic society, decisions are made by compromise because all parties are imperfect. The perfect solution may not be allowable by those involved. Anyone who always has your best interests in mind would never be labeled a dictator. Again I ask, aren't there situations where compromise is unacceptable?
As for the age-old question "Why did God create evil?", I submit that He didn't. God allows freedom of choice. When we choose to stray from His perfect will, we do that which is against the good and perfect. This we have titled evil. I offer an illustration: I have a dog at home. Before I bought the dog, I knew that buying it would bring problems (housebreaking, chewing things, feeding it, etc.) but I bought it anyway. I could have gone to the toy store and purchased a mechanical dog which would do all the things a real dog does. When I come home, it could wag its tail, come to me, bark and feel soft when I pet it. So, why did I choose the more expensive real animal instead of the no-fuss kind? Because, the real dog is capable of showing love of its own volition!! A robot won't do that! And if you want to have love, the dog (or human) must be capable of free will. God gave us free will. We choose to do evil. That isn't God's fault. If evil wasn't a choice, then there would be no free will.
That statement is completely untrue... Hitler WAS the law in Nazi Germany. That is what defines a dictator. By the way, 6 million people don't get exterminated by just one man. Many people had to help carry out his plan. Did the majority of Nazi Germany break the law?
Thanks for pointing out yet another contradiction in the Bible. I have access to a large list of these if you want to see more.
I don't see the contradiction. If you're referring to the degree of punishment issue, I explained that above. If you're referring to the "God repented" phrase found in Jonah, that is not a contradiction, but an anthropomorphism. In other words, the writer used a term that allowed his reader to understand a course of action. This is used often in the Bible. Psalm 91 says God will hide us under His wing, but we don't believe He's a chicken.
You may not want to accept or believe this, but what you consider ethical is determined by what society you live in. Most people (particularly conservative Christians) considered slavery to be completely ethical in the United States at one time. Now, most people don't feel that way. Why, if God is unchanging?
Now the statement above is a contradiction to what you previously wrote. Let's examine the Nazi argument. Most people in 1940 Germany agreed with Hitler. If their society said it was all right to kill the Jews, does it make it so? Again, God is unchanging but people aren't. Furthermore, people are sinners. Slavery is sin, but people ignored God's command and did what they wanted. This brings me back to your previous point. God's absolute was to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Man ignored that. The society accepted slavery, and it was legal. So, absolutes are important. Just because the majority supported slavery, it didn't make it right, and God was right all along! If man had heeded God, then all that misery wouldn't have happened! This is the perfect example of the inanity of moral relativism. It just doesn't work. So, again I submit my question: On what do you base your ethics?
I'm curious on just which sins you consider to be all right. Should we look away at lying? No, for those who are lied against are harmed. Should we ignore penny-ante thefts? You can see the problem. If it's O.K. to tell a little lie, then at what point does it become a big lie? Deception on any grounds should strike one as wrong.
As to the unfairness of salvation, that's Dan's point. If God were fair, no one would be saved. I submit that not only has every man broken God's laws, they don't even live up to the expectations they impose on each other. It would be fair to punish all of us. I know that I fall short of my own expectations, and I've never met someone who hasn't. Since all of mankind suffers from this malady, God made the solution very easy to obtain. What you don't understand is salvation is open to everyone. How could that be unfair? If I knew that the entire population of Los Angeles had a disease, and I had enough antidote for everyone, would they all be cured? Probably not, for only those who accepted my claim and took the antidote would survive.
Why would God create imperfect beings who need to be forgiven in the first place?
Again, God desires true love from us, and the only way that is obtained is by our choice. If one chooses not to love God but rebel from him, you will have evil. Which would you rather have: a "Stepford wife" or someone who might make you mad at times, but shows genuine affection for you.
I fear all right. Not of God, but of theists who are so convinced they are doing what God wants when they kill abortion doctors. Or bomb the World Trade Center. Or legislate that Creationism should be taught as science. Or refuse to take their child to the hospital for treatment because God will save him.
I know perfectly well that not all theists are like this. I have many Christian and Muslim friends, who are reasonable about practical things, and tolerant of others beliefs. It's the militant few who are intolerant and absolutely committed which scare me.
Then you should fear atheism more. Hitler's philosophies have their roots in Nietzsche, an atheist. Both the Soviet and Chinese communist regimes have atheism at their core. What I don't see are the atheist hospitals, the humanist orphanages, relief agencies, etc. Most of the hospitals, universities, and charitable organizations in this country were started by Christians. Being absolutely committed to living a life by God's law shouldn't scare you at all. Rather, being committed only to yourself (read "survival of the fittest") should scare you more.
Many people throughout history have endured far more horrific tortures for less reason. And they didn't have an omnipotent father to resurrect them. I have a friend whose father survived the Bataan Death March (WWII). Being nailed to a cross is child's play compared to some of the things he witnessed and experienced.
I won't debate the point of who felt more pain, because it's non-productive. I will say that medical authorities have stated that crucifixion was one of the most torturous ways to die that man has ever invented (See: JAMA 255, May 1986). But, that is all beside the point. You say people have died terrible deaths for less reason, and I agree. The salvation of humanity is a pretty big reason to die. Notice that Jesus wasn't killed for any crime He committed. Why, then, did He die?
Let me first say that I am not opposed to Christianity. I simply do not share your beliefs. I'm perfectly willing to let you believe whatever you want to, providing you don't feel a need to force your beliefs on anyone, and that you aren't driven to acts which most would consider unethical under the delusion that God wants you to do it.
One of my purposes in this ministry is to allow you to objectively examine the claims of Christianity. The point we haven't covered may be the most important one of all. Everything that Jesus said or did, including His death, was validated at the resurrection. The resurrection of Christ is a historical fact. Because Jesus is not dead, His statements are no longer considered merely one man's opinion, but the truth. The antidote illustration is still functional here. As a Christian, I believe I know of a cure for not only society's ills, but for man's eternal destiny. Shouldn't I do everything in my power to try and convince people that it works? I don't believe in forcing beliefs upon anyone, for that is contradictory anyway. But, I do think that Christianity is logical, and should be allowed to be examined as such in the marketplace of ideas.
Thank you for your time and patience, Rod. This exchange has been interesting. I think if you'll look into the evidence you might be surprised.