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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Diaglogue Continues: A Comparison of Atheism & Christianity

For those of you who haven't visited Enter the Door Within or haven't been by in a while, I've been dialoguing with a gentleman named Robert about the nature of atheism and how it compares to Christianity. The dialogue continues in this new post:

Hi Robert,

Sorry you haven't been knighted. We do that sort of thing around here, me being a fantasy author and all. Say the word and I might be able to arrange a dubbing ceremony. ;-)

You Wrote: I like that you recognize we’ve arrived at different conclusions, though I’m not sure Christian theology itself allows for such equivocation in its position toward the "un-saved".

When I call you a truth-seeker, I mean that you are interested in the BIG Questions of life and that you are using all of your intellect to try and process the evidence and draw conclusions. I did not mean to imply that I believe you've found the truth. LOL There's time yet for that. In fact, equating yourself with the "unsaved" might not be accurate, in a sense. God, who Christians believe is outside of time, knows the past, present, and future. Perhaps in some future day, you will believe in Jesus. If that is so, then God knows you only as "saved." Kind of mind-boggling, isn't it?

In fact, I pray that you will come to believe in God and His only Son Jesus. You would be a powerful ally. I picture you much like a Paul sort of person. Educated, witty, decisive...convinced of your position. For Paul, it took a personal experience with God to turn him 180 degrees. Have you ever thought about what it would take for you to change your mind and believe? Just food for thought.

I'd like to respond to your comments:

Point 1: Rise of atheism

You Wrote: "One fairly comprehensive survey of the data on religious belief concluded that "Most nations characterized by high degrees of individual and societal security have the highest rates of organic atheism, and conversely, nations characterized by low degrees of individual and societal security have the lowest rates of organic atheism."

This is an absolutely brilliant point, and I'm very glad you brought it up. The implied meaning of this study should not be missed by those shopping for truth: The more affluence, comfort, and pleasure a society has, the higher the rate of atheism (and presumably the lower the rate of belief in God). The more pain, difficulty, and hardship a society has, the lower the rate of atheism (and presumably the higher the rate of belief in God).

This phenomena suggests the necessity of pain and perhaps (perhaps, I say for I am not God and do not know His mind like my own), reveals one of the reasons God allows pain. When people become successful and wealthy or reach the highest echelon of some field of interest, they tend to feel self-sufficient. "Look what I have made of myself." God is too often forgotten. But introduce a lost job or some other discomfort, and people seek God out. In the months immediately following 9-11, church attendance surged in the United States. People were rocked out of their comfort zones and sought God. Interestingly, church attendance returned to normal ranges within two months of the event. It seems likely (based on the survey you provided) that things returned to normal, comfortable life, and so…people forgot their need of God."

Point 2: Does the Logical Problem of Evil Prove that God Does Not Exist?

You Wrote: "I think you have a misunderstanding of logic, which results in this faulty objection. What’s more, when you draw out the implications of this objection, you remove any basis for claiming any sort of understanding of God."

I might have a misunderstanding of logic, but I don't think it's demonstrated here. ;-) I made the claim that an all-knowing God would likely have reasoning above that which we understand. To support this, I discussed the differences in reasoning employed by human father and child. This does not imply (as you claim) that we, the lesser beings, cannot understand ANYTHING about superior God.

Your argument is a bit of a non sequitur. You were attempting to point out that: If I claim that, by human logic, we cannot understand why God allows evil in the world, that we cannot, by human logic, understand anything about God. This conclusion does not follow, and a myriad of observations bear out the conclusion's inadequacies. A young child may not understand his father's reasoning in a certain situation, but a child can understand many other aspects of his human father.

You Wrote: "The logical problem of evil simply demonstrates how, in accordance with the premises Christians assert or believe about God, his existence is incompatible with the existence of evil. To deny the conclusion, you’d have to deny one or more of your own premises about God."

This is an example of the kind of fallacy that atheists commit in nearly every debate with Christians I've heard. Atheists take a faulty understanding of Christian doctrine, define incomplete premises that they purport are believed by Christians, and then, atheists knock down the argument they themselves have constructed. This is a "straw man" argument. Here's how you've done this:

Christians believe God is all good. Christians believe God made everything that exists. Evil exists. Therefore, one of two conclusions follow: either God made evil and is not all good --or-- God does not exist. It sounds very reasonable, but the second premise contain the errors that lead to the very narrow--and very faulty--conclusions.

First, Christians believe that God made every--THING that EXISTS. But this only applies to what God made in Creation as described in Genesis. God made the universe. God made the earth. God made people. God made land and sea. God made all living things. When God was finished, He said, "It is good." And it was. He made all of the cosmos and all of nature, and all the humans he created were good.

God made all of the things listed in Genesis, but not the things that man has made. If I order a pizza, I don't believe for one moment that God made the pizza. Some guy named Sid who works at Ledo's made the pizza. You might argue that God made all the raw materials (cheese, sauce, crust…Sid), and that because God made the raw materials, He is "guilty" of making the pizza. That's nonsense. I'm a teacher. If I give a student a pencil, and he draws a valuable work of art with that pencil, did I make the drawing? Did the factory that made the pencil make the art? Or maybe it's the pencil sharpener producer? I'm working on an Apple computer right now. Steve Jobs would be pretty ticked off if he knew God made this computer.

Addressing Evil: Evil is not a THING; it is a concept. For evil to EXIST, one must choose to disobey and/or commit a wrong action…in the Christian sense, evil is anything that fails to love and honor God or falls short of loving our neighbor. God made the man. God gave the man choice. But, God did not make man's decision for him. Man chose to sin all on his own.

You Wrote: "But let us assume an understanding of God is outside of logic (even under your own view of logic). I submit we remove any basis for ascribing good or evil to anything. The Holocaust, for example, is generally regarded by us human as the epitome of evil. Assuming you agree, on what basis do you share this regard? Perhaps, as the child in your example, you lack the wisdom to see God’s reasoning behind it. It only appears to you as evil, but for an “all-knowing God,” the Holocaust was necessary to bring about something better."

Not necessary, but redeemable. God did not cause the Holocaust. Evil men did these things. However, in countless stories like Corrie ten Boom's story, people were driven to God by the horrors of the Nazis. A Holocaust survivor, Francis Horzac, came to my school just this past week. One of the students asked him, how he survived. His answer: the Lord. My faith in the Lord brought me through.

When you submit above that we remove any basis for ascribing good or evil to anything, you are merely following atheism to its logical conclusion. For in atheism, there cannot be any ultimate good. If there is no God, then "good" must be manufactured by mankind's imagination. After all, according to evolution, we are all merely accidents. There was no creator. We just are.

What makes one person's good any better than another's? Popular opinion? Culture? Any answer to that question, begs the question all over again. If I answer that "good" should be defined as whatever benefits people, you must then ask, who am I to decide thus? David Hume, a Scottish Philosopher frequently quoted by atheists, made a poignant statement when he said, "You cannot get an 'ought' from an 'is.'" Morality does not come from science.

Of course, I don't believe for a moment that there is no right and wrong. I believe atheists, Christians, Muslims--all people--are made in the image of their creator--who is the ultimate Definer of Right and Wrong. I believe that the commonality of right and wrong between cultures throughout history is strong evidence that, as the Bible communicates in Romans 2:14-15, "the law {of God} is written on their hearts."

Robert, you may find this interesting: even Richard Dawkins, the famous God Delusion author and atheistic evangelist, reveals that there is a transcendent Right and Wrong. In a debate against Christian Apologist John Lennox, Dawkins describes this ethereal "good" as "something in the air" that informs all men of what is right and wrong. "Whatever it is," he goes on to say, "it does not come from religion." Amazing. Dawkins is willing to admit that there is a transcendent truth...or right and wrong...but it's the agent of that truth that he cannot endure.

But, then again, that's Dawkins' agenda. In the documentary "Expelled," Dawkins admitted that he believed in a sort of intelligent design, but thought that it was likely that Sentient Aliens seeded earth with the building blocks of life. No, it couldn't be an intelligent designer-God, but it could be aliens. Hmmm...

Flaw 2: We are attempting to define “good” with a human definition.

You Wrote: "This objection is easy to demonstrate as unfounded, and it starts with a simple question: What is the divine definition of good? Remember, you’ve ruled out the human definition as a misunderstanding."

I don't believe that you've demonstrated my objection is unfounded at all. Your question is very easy to answer: The divine definition of good is: Jesus. He is the standard. We Christians ought to be all about becoming as much like Him as we can.

But in one sense, you're right about a human understanding of good. And maybe this is what you were trying to indicate. C.S. Lewis put it this way "If He {God} is not (in our sense) good, we shall obey, if at all, only through fear--and should be equally ready to obey an omnipotent fiend." We humans do know enough of good to call God good. However, we also recognize that God is better. His degree of "goodness" is at a level of purity that we find very hard to define or comprehend. C.S. Lewis explains the dynamic much better than I can, "Beyond all doubt, His (God's) idea of 'goodness' differs from ours; but you need have no fear that, as you approach it, you will be asked to simply reverse your moral standards."

In Spite of the Flaws, the Question Needs Answering.

Answer #1: Evil Exists Because We Brought It On Ourselves

You Wrote: "This explanation has always struck me as wholly unsatisfactory. Christians often conflate Adam and Eve with "man" and "we". Pardon? These are the two people, not all of humanity, who allegedly introduced sin. So the rest of humanity must suffer for the actions which they were in no way involved with? Huh?"

Again, this shows a misunderstanding of Christian theology. It is not Christians who assign sin to all mankind through Adam and Eve. God does in the Bible. The Bible tells us that the sin of Adam indelibly besmirches all of humanity with sin, and that sin separates us from God.

But let's pretend your premise is true and that Adam and Eve's sin did not stain all of mankind and creation. Do you know anyone who has not sinned: lied, stolen, failed to love, been selfish, etc.?? I know I'm guilty. I suspect you are too. So even if Adam and Eve's original sin didn't color us sinful, we each commit enough of our own.

You Wrote: "I need not point out that no such persons as Adam and Eve ever existed, and even if they did, geneticists have demonstrated we would not be their offspring."

Actually, you do need to point this out. I believe that Adam and Eve did exist, and that all people descended from them. In fact, there's quite a bit of scientific literature out there that suggest a single common ancestor for men and women:

T. Adler, 5/27/95, "Lineage of Y chromosome boosts Eve theory", Science News, Vol. 147, Pg. 326.

Ann Gibbons, 2/26/93, "Mitochondrial Eve Refuses to Die", Science, Vol. 259, Pg. 1249-1250.

N. Goldman and N. H. Barton, 6/11/92, "Genetics and Geography", Nature, Vol. 357, Pg. 440-441.

You can read excerpts from those articles on this SITE.

In tossing out that curt dismissal of Adam and Eve, I wonder, did you even read the article you linked us to?

This is a direct quote from the article:

But the finding raises new questions, not least because our most recent paternal ancestor would have been about 84,000 years younger than our maternal one.

The team believes there is an explanation. They propose that the human genetic blueprint evolved as a mosaic, with different pieces of modern DNA emerging and spreading throughout the human population at different times.

Note the key word: believe. These scientists drew up family trees based on samples of genetic material from 1,062 men. But what they've concluded is a theory at best. But I want you to think about their conclusions: What they are saying is that all women CAN be traced back to a single ancestor. Likewise, all men can be traced back to a common male ancestor.

But these scientists are clearly having problems with their findings that the genetic Eve was 84,000 years older than our genetic Adam. 84,000 YEARS! Talk about a long distance relationship. lol. It doesn't take a scientist to realize that one set of their results was mistaken. If their estimate of a genetic Eve is correct, and she existed 143, 000 years ago, then, there must have been an Adam back there with her or procreation doesn't happen.

Answer #2: Evil Exists Because Real Love Requires Free Will

You Wrote: "The Free Will Defense was crafted when it became clear that the Biblical explanation lacked a historical or even moral basis. One cannot subscribe to both explanations. The first says evil was introduced by the actions of (a couple) humans, but the second explanation says evil was part of God’s plan all along. If so, why the pretense of blaming humans for evil? And since evil is necessary for me to love God, what exactly do I need a savior for again?"

First Robert, who told you when and for what reason the "free will defense" was "crafted?" That is an assumption built on presupposition. The free will defense has been around a LONG time, at least since Saint Augustine. Nonetheless, it is a compelling defense.

I have reasoned above that the existence of the concept of evil and man's evil actions, does not disprove God. I won't repeat the conceptual framework. But I must respond to the portion in red above where you claim that evil was part of God's plan all along. This is another non sequitur. Or do you mean that because God gave man free will that God must have known that man could choose evil? And if God did know that man could or even would choose evil, that still does not follow that God did the evil. Again, He is the maker of men, not the maker of their decisions.

When you said that evil is necessary for me(any person) to love God, you equate free will with evil. I think we'd both agree that free will is a good thing not evil. If I have free will, I can freely choose to give my love to whomever I wish. Evil is not required. It's just a possibility. The second part of the equation where you ask what you need a savior for? Well, the answer for that is that you are (just as I am) entirely culpable for your own sin. In each situation in life where you could have loved but instead hurt, where you could have told the truth, but instead lied, where you could have given, but instead took, you made a choice.

You Wrote: "In any case, the Free Will Defense is insupportable on a number of grounds. And if you happen to agree with the Psalmist in 139:16, belief even in a free will becomes problematic."

I've yet to read a compelling attack on the free-will defense. But, my friend, Psalm 139:16 is no problem for free will, especially if you read all of Psalm 139 and gain some context. This psalm is one of my personal favorites about God and how he knew us as a person even before our birth. The verse tells of God knowing exactly what we would do every day of our lives. God is omniscient, so I have no problem with this Psalm and free will.

Point 3: About the Flood

You Wrote: We can exchange links to sites, but the fact remains: almost no scientist or geologist believes a worldwide flood occurred 4,000 years ago. The best refutation for a global flood I’ve seen comes from a Christian geologist. His articles are online for you to read. They’re very comprehensive.

This is kind of a backdoor appeal to number fallacy. When you say almost no scientist or geologist believes in a worldwide flood, what would that percentage be? Is it 70%, 85%? Just because a majority of people don't believe in a global flood doesn't make it false.

The fact is that plenty of geologists and scientists believe in a global flood (the dating of it is debatable). All the links I listed in the reply give you facts and quotes from quite a few of these flood-believers. ;-) Of course, just because a minority of scientists and geologists DO believe in a global flood, doesn't make it true either. I don't want to appeal to numbers either. Truth seekers should examine the evidence themselves and draw their own conclusions.

You Wrote: But I think the larger issue you hoped to support with the example of the Flood is the reliability and historicity of the Bible. It may not be well-known within evangelical Christian circles, but the field of Biblical archeology is dying a slow death, as its remaining members have long abandoned the notion that the Bible represents accurate history, and have placed much of it in the “myth and legend” category. Listen to what a couple of them have to say:

"Biblical Archeology doesn’t really exist today in the way it once did." -Dr. Ronald Hendel

"With most scholars, I would exclude much of the Pentateuch, specifically the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers…much of what is called in the English Bible 'poetry,' 'wisdom' and 'devotional literature' must also be eliminated from historical consideration…Ruth, Esther, Job and Daniel, historical novellae with contrived 'real-life settings,' the latter dating as late as the second century B.C.' -William G. Dever

Now earlier on, you brushed aside my sources by saying "we could trade links." I'm sure we can. I note that you've given us a couple of quotes, however, to support your claim that Biblical Archeology is dying a slow death. I'm guessing it's not dying out fast enough for some. There are many who study Biblical Archeology and many who accept the Bible as very accurate history. See links below or brush them aside. It doesn't change the fact that they are there.

Really good book:

In closing:

God gives evidence enough to convince those who want to find Him, but not enough to convince someone against his will. I suggest to you Robert, and to any truth-seekers who visit: read the Bible, and even if you doubt anyone is listening, ask God to help you understand His truth.

I am convinced that you will find what you've always been looking for, always needed--something that resonates deep within you like nothing else--if you read the Scriptures seeking God rather than parsing the prooftexts for ammunition.