Love and Compulsion

I’m currently reading a book where the author said that God remains hidden from us today so that we may freely choose to love him or not. You can’t generate love through compulsion, he argued. And he’s right about that. As an illustration, he gave Kierkegaard’s story about a king in disguise:

Once upon a time, there was a king who longed to marry. One day, as he was riding through his kingdom, he happened to see a very beautiful young lady in a poorer section of the kingdom. He was struck by her beauty, so he found reasons to travel through there more often, even getting the chance to speak to her on occasion. As time went by, he realized he wanted to pursue a relationship with the woman, but how should he go about it?

As king, he could have her brought to the palace so that he could court her, or even propose marriage immediately. It would be very hard for her to refuse the king, but he wanted to marry for love. So he also considered dressing as a peasant in order to get to know her, and only revealing his true identity if she genuinely fell in love with him. But the dishonesty inherent in that approach was unappealing.

He finally thought of a real solution. He would give up his station as king and move into her neighborhood as a regular citizen, perhaps taking up a profession like carpentry [wink, wink]. Then, if she came to love him, they could marry, and he would know that her love was truly for him and not his position.

It’s a nice story, and its application is clear. God loves us and wants us to love him. Because of his position, he could command our love, but then it would not be genuine. His solution was to come in the flesh as Jesus, giving up his position in Heaven so that we could come to know him and love him legitimately.

But when you think about it, this isn’t an accurate illustration at all. In the story, the young woman only stands to gain. If she never meets the king, or if she never falls in love with him, then her life is no worse than it was before. But this is not what Christianity teaches. It claims that all humans are sinful, and we need saving. A better illustration would be a story where people on a cruise have fallen overboard. Someone still on the ship offers to throw the people a life preserver. Will those people first try to get to know him before they accept his offer? Of course not! They’ll happily take any help they can get. All that they really needed was to understand how serious their situation was.

To show the effectiveness of this, consider so many of the conversion accounts in the Book of Acts, especially chapter 2. Peter preaches to the crowd on the Day of Pentecost, and (supposedly) about 3000 of them were converted to Christ that day because of Peter’s message. Did they really know who Jesus was? Did they really have a deep relationship with him at that point? No. The implication is that they simply became convinced that they needed what only he could offer. They were drowning, and they needed rescue. According to that passage, that’s all that was required.

But since God is so well hidden that we can question his very existence, many of us don’t even know we need saving. Oh sure, there are people from a thousand different faiths telling us we need salvation, but the evidence they give to support this claim is woefully inadequate. Why doesn’t God give us a bigger sign, if we’re really in trouble? Why doesn’t he just tell us directly? Why aren’t all these people who are so ready to believe in God united by a single religion? It’s hard to believe there’s a fire when there’s no trace of smoke.

The most glaring problem with this story is Hell. Not all Christians believe in a literal, torturous Hell, but many do, including the author of this book I’ve been reading. How is Hell not compulsion? To fit it into the illustration, we’d need to change a few details. Instead of the king passively waiting to see if the maiden will accept him, he promises his love, but also promises to roast her alive if she refuses his advances. It’s not quite so nice a story when we add in that detail.

When you get right down to it, Christianity is all about compulsion. God loves you, and he doesn’t want to force you to love him or serve him. Of course if you don’t, you’ll be tortured forever.

This only shows that the problem of God’s hiddenness hasn’t been solved at all. The author of this book, as well as many other Christians, say that God is hidden so we can have the “freedom” to either believe in him or not. But their reasoning is faulty, since Christianity gives us no such freedom. It’s like saying you’re free to commit murder in the US, even though it could earn you the death penalty in most states. The fact that there are laws prohibiting it means you aren’t free to do it. When you consider that the Christian God has every reason to let us all know he exists and that he expects certain things from us, the fact that he doesn’t do this is really all the evidence you need to see that he’s either not real, or he’s not all-loving and all-good.

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250 thoughts on “Love and Compulsion”

  1. I think Ark summed it up best on a different post when he said that being an Atheist was the best way to allow the “Correct God” to find you. 🙂

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  2. and jesus met the individuals of a specific region 2000 some odd years ago… he didnt meet or show himself to everyone. I mean, he didnt even write his own book – he supposedly had random guys write it for him… and we know all of this because those same random guys told us that’s how it went down? As a result, and you’ve pointed out, many of us question his existence.

    and going along with the analogy, and to offer another way of looking at it, jesus (the husband) would torture his beloved wife (the church) if she didnt love him enough, or cheated on him, or left him, or whatever.

    yet the bible portrays Joseph as being kindhearted for wanting to put Mary away discretely when she was impregnated by someone(thing) other than himself. Which is the good, loving husband, the one who takes no vengeance or the one who has promised to?

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  3. Thanks for the comment, kc! And yeah, I think there’s some truth to Ark’s point. I’ve often said that I have too much respect for God to believe in Christianity — I have a feeling that’s a sentiment you can really identify with.

    William — excellent points!

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  4. When you get right down to it, Christianity is all about compulsion. God loves you, and he doesn’t want to force you to love him or serve him. Of course if you don’t, you’ll be tortured forever.

    Not true! Cry foul senor Nate. That’s the Devil…not God.

    It’s former Christians like you that are leading our youth astray.

    We have to instill real fear into our kids, that way they’ll know God loves them.

    And then we can make this nation…all nations Christian as they’re supposed to be and while we’re at it we can measure our womenfolk for Ironing boards .

    😉

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  5. The analogy breaks down even without the problem of hell. Hiding your identity is one thing, but hiding your existence is quite another. If the King never reveals himself to her and she doesn’t know he exists – how can she love him?

    So glad I’m not a Christian anymore. Having to jump through all those mental hoops to try and make Christianity look rational…

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  6. So glad I’m not a Christian anymore. Having to jump through all those mental hoops to try and make Christianity look rational…

    I know exactly what you mean.

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  7. Nate,

    First of all, I enjoy your writing style. 🙂

    I think a more fitting analogy would be this.

    A father had a son that he loved very much. The son broke the law and ended up in a horrible jail. The father came to the son, bursting with love, and paid the fine for the son so he could get out of jail.

    The son could receive the gift and walk out the door at any time. The father had a wonderful home waiting for him.

    Yet, for some reason, the son was ungrateful, and refused to receive what his father provided.

    Why?

    Who knows? Perhaps it was pride. Perhaps it was an ungrateful heart. Perhaps he thought his father was an illusion. I don’t know.Yet I have children who refuse my help because they want to do it themselves.

    Why would the son choose to stay in a jail cell, rather than in a mansion? Why would a person choose to stay in hell, rather than go to heaven.

    The gospel message is that Jesus (as God) paid the penalty for the laws we broke. We can just receive the gift and walk out of the jail cell into a mansion, but so many refuse. And if the father went in and dragged the son out–wouldn’t that be compulsion?

    The scriptures say God revealed himself through Jesus. He didn’t remain invisible. He came in the flesh–just so he could pay the penalty for the laws we broke. He’s a loving father who waits for us to come back to him.

    Where is the compulsion in this analogy?

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  8. Great post Nate! And I agree with Dave 100% – in fact had the same discussion on my blog a few days ago. Even without Hell making sense of a loving God who wants relationship with all of His creation yet remains hidden is just so hard to resolve. While we can come up with excuses to logically solve the problem it just seems way less probable than the solution that there really is nobody hiding (which is why I prefer to call the problem “undetectability” instead of “hiddenness”). While there may be some “higher” force or power that is transcendent, once you add the “personal” attribute the likelihood goes way down for me.

    Whether it be things like the aliens visiting earth, or fairies, we realize it is logically possible that they exist but they are not detectable except through the stories of those who believe so strongly. Thus it is considered reasonable by many to be skeptical of those things. I can’t see why it is unreasonable to be skeptical of a personal God who wants relationship with His creation.

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  9. Hi Diana,

    Thanks for your comment and the compliment!

    The problem I see with your illustration is that there is no prison. Christianity has to first make you believe that you need saving. But as I look around, I don’t see a difference between myself and Christians that make me think I need anything.

    Perhaps a better analogy would be this:

    A young man is sitting in his office one day, quietly working, when his father bursts in and says “Son, I’m here to save you!”

    The young man is startled and looks around the room. “Save me from what, Dad?”

    “Why this prison that you’re locked in!”

    “But Dad, I’m not in a prison. I’m working. I chose to be here… nothing’s wrong.”

    I think this fits the actual scenario much better. There are real problems in our world, I’m not denying that. But the Christian solution is to wait for the next world. Well what if there isn’t a next world? If there really is an afterlife and the only possible destinations are Heaven and Hell, well sure, people would need saving from Hell. But the problem is that most brands of Christianity say it’s too late by that point. And in this life, there’s no real reason to think Hell even exists, so what is God trying to save us from?

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  10. Howie, I agree with you completely (no surprise there). To me, the reward/punishment part of it really makes the whole thing unbelievable. I could conceive of a personal god working in mysterious ways that not everyone will figure out or believe in if that god rewarded those who found him with a higher sense of enlightenment, or something. Then, at the end of time, all people get to know him and have a happy afterlife. It still sounds like a fairy tale, but I at least understand the motivations of such a god.

    But to say that there’s an all-powerful god who loves us all completely and wants to know us personally, but he stays so undetectable that many can think he doesn’t exist, and then he punishes forever anyone who doesn’t believe in him anyway is beyond absurd to me. If such a god really existed, he would be the most capricious and malicious being imaginable. He would rank far beyond Hitler in terms of evil and sadism. Any who refused to worship such a monster would be the real heroes.

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  11. Diana, let me add one more thing.

    In both of our analogies, someone is crazy. In mine, it’s the father who imagines his son in prison. In yours, it’s the son who’s been freed from something, but doesn’t realize he was ever imprisoned. In either case, is the correct response to punish the deluded individual? Would a father with a delusional son decide to roast his son alive since he’s mentally unwell enough to not recognize his surroundings? In my example, would a normal son torture his father who is too sick to distinguish between fantasy and reality? Or would we expect most people to have compassion on such a person and try to help them?

    According to most Christians, God tortures those who don’t perceive the “truth” about him. And then, once their eyes are opened through that torture, and they plead for deliverance, he says, “Sorry, kid. You had your chance.” (Luke 16:19-31)

    Why continue to believe the Bible when it says such horrible things about God?

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  12. Nate,

    I think your blog got a face lift, right? Looks great.

    As always, great post! Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

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  13. Dave,

    “So glad I’m not a Christian anymore. Having to jump through all those mental hoops to try and make Christianity look rational…”

    Me too.

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  14. Hi Nate,

    I think your analogy to Diana is a very good one, but if it’s ok with you I’d like to make a slight modification to it that I believe you would agree puts it closer to what we are all talking about:

    A young man is sitting in his office one day, quietly working, when his brother bursts in and says “Hey bro, I’m here to tell you that I just saw the ghost of our great grandfather and that he is here to save you!”

    The young man is startled and looks around the room. “Save me from what, bro?”

    “Why this prison that you’re locked in!”

    “But bro, I’m not in a prison. I’m working. I chose to be here… nothing’s wrong. And ghost – seriously? Did you eat some bad fish or something?”

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  15. Nate-

    Really nice blog. I’ve read through it a bit, and really enjoy your perspective. I think a lot of christians would do very nicely to read through what you have written here, and take much of it to heart in the way they think about their faith.

    Your post here makes very good points: a lot of our reasoning to God is quite faulty. I think, reading and studying scripture make it quite clear that God not only acts in ways we would not expect, but often in ways that are the exact opposite of what we’d expect, and counterintuitive to human thought and common sense. When we start from the thought that we can reason or explain our way to God, we not only make God very small and finite, but we ignore scripture’s teaching that God almost never reveals himself in the “clean, reasonable, and understandable” ways that we expect. Any Jew, probably any person, who lived in the beginning of the first century and said they expected Messiah to teach and act like Jesus would be lying. The God of christian and Jewish scripture does not adhere to our rules, our understanding, our common sense, or our reasoning. He never has and never will. That is why I really don’t think we can get there the way a lot of christians try to convince others of his existence.

    Anyway, I appreciate reading your posts. Thanks!

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  16. @ Diana

    “Yet I have children who refuse my help because they want to do it themselves.”
    Your children can see and hear and touch you, can they not? They don’t have to depend upon unknown writers telling them that you exist and what you want for them.

    “The scriptures say…”
    You see, Diana, Nate, myself and many others aren’t just people who never were Christians. We attended church. We have read the Bible through. We have taught Sundays schools. Eventually, God never showing up in any meaningful way, and the contradictions in the Bible (against the real perceptible world and against itself) caused us to trust the reality we observe rather than a story we are told. But we know what your scriptures say – BTW – other scriptures say other things, and who believes what appears to hinge more on where they live than any inherent superiority of one scripture over another. The scriptures are tales told by unknown authors trying to sell us something and are not confirmed by any independent observers living at the same time as Jesus supposedly did.

    “Where is the compulsion in this analogy?”

    If we don’t walk out of the jail of your story, we don’t just remain where we were. We are threatened with eternal damnation. Danged if I don’t sense some compulsion there!

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  17. @slainvictor

    Thanks for the comment! I’m glad you’ve gotten some value from my posts, and I appreciate you sharing your perspective as well. If you don’t mind my asking, how do you believe people are supposed to come to Christ in the first place? If reason doesn’t help us get there, how can we distinguish between Christianity and all other religions?

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  18. @slainvictor, “The God of christian and Jewish scripture does not adhere to our rules, our understanding, our common sense, or our reasoning. He never has and never will.”

    And yet the bible also says we are created in his image. Wouldn’t our understanding and reasoning be like his or according to scripture it should be if we are created in his image. How can he ever expect to reach us if “He” is the way you describe him above? The bible says he spoke to individuals in the OT and NT. From a cloud he even spoke to the entire tribe of Israel . And yet when their leader Moses took 30 days to come back down from the mountain they had already forgotten this experience of “Hearing God” and were already dancing and worshiping a gold calf.

    As one who tried to be a Christian for 50 years, I just couldn’t play the mental gymnastics anymore.

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  19. “If you don’t mind my asking, how do you believe people are supposed to come to Christ in the first place? If reason doesn’t help us get there, how can we distinguish between Christianity and all other religions?”

    I’m not sure that I can give responses to these that are going to be of any use to you, Nate. I tend to lean toward the teaching that we do not “come to Christ”, but that God, in his way and in his time, reveals himself to us. As Paul writes, this way of thinking seems foolish. But, it draws me and many I know in ways I cannot explain. The best I can do, outside of scripture, is to tell you to look for God more in the foolish, weak, and obscure rather than in the strong, reasonable, and clearly visible.

    “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit–fruit that will last–and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” John 15:16

    “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

    “…there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.” Romans 3:11

    “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:8-10

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  20. I probably should have typed “are counterintuitive” rather than “seem counterintuitive”.

    Just look at Jesus. A lot of people have respect for Jesus even if they are not christian because of the way he taught, interacted and healed. But, if he was so great, why didn’t he heal and resurrect everyone? Yeah, he did some good. But, there was a ton MORE he could have done, but didn’t for some reason. If he was who he said he was, then there must have been more going on than what we think is important, and something different going on than just what we think should have been done.

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  21. Thanks for your reply. I guess I have two main problems with that notion. First of all, I find it hard to explain all the religious diversity if God comes to us in his own time, in his own way. If he loves us all, why wouldn’t he come to all of us in a way that cuts through all the various religious beliefs? If coming to Christianity is the result of God’s work and not the individual’s, why is there so much variation?

    Secondly, the idea that God is found in the foolish, weak, obscure (and confusing?), that means real objective truth is much closer to inanity than anything rational. To get to what’s actually true, we must move closer to things that are utterly false. To me, that comes across as a stark warning.

    And is it possible that the passages you reference can be read another way? For instance, if I’m not mistaken, John 15 is Jesus speaking to the disciples. That’s a very specific instance that might lead to misunderstanding if we try to apply it to all people. Romans 5:8 says that Jesus died for everyone without requiring them to first come to repentance. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they can not come to repentance, especially since so many other passages encourage people to do just that. Romans 3 has always seemed a bit hyperbolic to me, especially when considering all the examples in the Bible of those who sought after God. They didn’t always live perfectly, but they did seek after him. Finally, Eph 2 says that salvation is a gift that can not be earned. But verse 10 still says that Christians are expected to do good works. To me, it gives the impression of a two-way street, and that seems to fit the reality we live in as well. As I said earlier, how else can we explain all the different, contradictory beliefs about God and Christianity?

    Thanks again for responding though. I hope you don’t mind my reply. Not trying to be argumentative, just offer my own thoughts.

    Thanks

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  22. “Thanks again for responding though. I hope you don’t mind my reply. Not trying to be argumentative, just offer my own thoughts.”

    I don’t mind at all. And, I’m not taking it as argumentative. Though, if you want to fight about it we can 🙂

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  23. “I find it hard to explain all the religious diversity if God comes to us in his own time, in his own way.”

    What if religious diversity exemplifies us trying to reach God? That is what christianity teaches – that we are all trying to reach God in some way, in wrong ways. The only way to God, according to christianity, is that he came to us. Complete opposite of what we think/want.

    “To me, that comes across as a stark warning.”

    I think it is a stark warning. Or, for many in this life who are among the broken, mistreated, maligned, and unjustly treated, it contains great hope.

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  24. The Bible says (I refer to the Bible because that’s the authority that’s being questioned in this post) that we all break the law and that we need to be saved from the judge who must be just and enforce the penalty of the law.

    This is a good thing. I wouldn’t want to live in a lawless “Mad Max” type of universe where the strong can rule over the weak.

    I also appreciate that there is a day when evil will be held accountable.

    The good news is that God gave us a way to be free. He didn’t leave us helpless in our condition as a lawbreaker who deserved the penalty for breaking the law. He was merciful and paid the price for us.

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  25. @slainvictor, “It definitely is a lot of mental gymnastics that seem counterintuitive.”

    Thanks for at least being honest about the situation.

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  26. @slainvictor

    I agree that people are trying to reach God, and not just those in Christianity. I guess I feel like the landscape would look a bit different though if people were actually reaching him (and he were reaching back).

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  27. “I wouldn’t want to live in a lawless “Mad Max” type of universe where the strong can rule over the weak.”

    Diana-
    We do live in this type of world. I think we need to acknowledge that we absolutely do. I hold hope that one day “all things will be made new”, but right now they tend to suck – A LOT – for a lot of people. It is that sucking that leads me to the stupid hope that what was begun in Jesus’ resurrection will be completed some day.

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  28. But Diana, what evidence do you see for this view? How rational is it to hold people accountable to a law they don’t realize they’re beholden to? If the King of Candyland tried to hold you accountable for breaking one of his rules, shouldn’t he at least be able to demonstrate that his kingdom exists, that he’s an actual authority, and that you should be subject to his whims? Until he does that, no just being would think you off the mark for ignoring the laws of Candyland.

    Or consider even another religion. You’re not living according to the laws of Islam, so should you be held accountable to it? Or should Allah first make sure you can believe in him? What’s the just thing to do?

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  29. @Diana, “He was merciful and paid the price for us.”

    That would be great if this were the end of it. But there’s more…..
    He might have paid the price, yet there is still a “but” …….
    We still have to jump through some hoops.

    If he created everything , then he should be the one to fix everything. After all the Bible which you reference also says, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create EVIL: I the LORD do all these things.” Isaiah 45:7

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  30. Nate,

    You say there is no jail, but because we’re law-breakers, we’re in the bondage of sin. And we’ve been told that ALL have sinned and fallen short. We’ve also been warned that there is a day of judgment coming.

    God sent Jesus as a picture of the way to stand before God with our penalty paid. Every steeple with a cross cries out “the penalty was paid!”

    He sent the payment in the flesh for all the world to see. We just have to receive it.

    There’s no mental contortions here. No hidden compulsion. Just love.

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  31. We live in such a large universe. Why is it so impossible to believe that there’s something “out there” that has tried to communicate with us and give us a message of warning and a way of escape?

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  32. @Diana

    Your comments are only true IF a person believes the bible. Not everyone (in fact, I would say most that post on this blog) put their faith in this collection of books by unknown writers.

    Further, you mention we live in such a large universe. I agree … which makes me all the more doubtful that there is anything “out there” that is trying to communicate with us. However, if there is, where do you think this entity might be?

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  33. Diana, why can’t we make a similar argument about Thor? Or Krishna?

    To you, Christianity is very clear because it’s your religion. But Christianity claims to be the only way for all of humanity, and the vast majority of those who have ever lived were not Christians. There’s a real problem there.

    Also, Jesus did not appear to me. He did not appear to you either. He may have lived 2000 years ago, but the only records of him are written by people we don’t know. And they didn’t get all the details right, as cross-examination shows. Why in the world would a loving god expect everyone to believe anonymous, sometimes inaccurate texts written at a time when superstition was high? Do you really not see the problems with that?

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  34. When you strip away the details, Christianity sounds very nice, as your comments and the illustration at the beginning of my post show. But those details can’t be ignored, and when you add them in, the sweet, sunshiney story suddenly becomes dark and ominous. God will send you to Hell if you don’t believe in him, yet he’s made it very easy to not believe…

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  35. Yes slainvictor,

    The world is still under the power of sin. ;( It sucks because a lot of people are selfish and cruel. And I believe one day they will be held accountable for their greed and callousness.

    But I also believe that some people may be able to acknowledge their own hate and meanness and admit their wrong. If they believe there may be a higher power they must be accountable to out there, perhaps they will turn to the way provided to be the penalty for their actions.(Jesus)

    Just acknowledging our wrong actions shows a state of mind that is able to be made better. It reveals a humility and a willingness to be restored in a relationship.

    For some reason pride seems to break relationships.

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  36. @Dianne

    Please demonstrate/explain, using your own intellectual ability and without utilizing the bible or theological terms how Jesus
    A) was able to walk on water
    B) rise to heaven
    C) Create the Universe.

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  37. Personally, I’m willing to suspend belief for a little while on miracles. We should definitely realize that if they happen, they are miracles, which means it’s extremely unlikely that any ever occurred. But if God really does exist, then I’ll concede that miracles may be in his bag of tricks.

    My problem is with the underlying theology. Why would such a God who loves us, is all powerful, knows what we need to convince us of his existence, and wants a relationship with all of us, hide so completely from us? Furthermore, since this system will undoubtedly cause some well-meaning, good people to never believe in him, why would he punish them with no chance of relief simply because he was a better hider than they were a seeker?

    To me, that is hugely problematic. And that’s what I would prefer to hear Diana (or any theist) explain.

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  38. Hi Diana,

    The world is still under the power of sin. ;( It sucks because a lot of people are selfish and cruel. And I believe one day they will be held accountable for their greed and callousness.

    You are right – a lot of people are selfish and cruel and it does suck. In some ways I agree with the bible – I tend to think that all of us are selfish and cruel at times, but some worse than others. We are all nice at times too, some more than others. I myself make an effort to be nice and not cruel (but I certainly fail at that sometimes).

    But according to your beliefs is it actually the greed and callousness that they will be held accountable for? Or does it have nothing to do with whether or not they did selfish and cruel things? Some Christians believe that the bible teaches that the only thing people will be held accountable for is whether or not they accepted the gift of salvation that was given freely to them. In fact it has been expressed clearly by some that heaven will have people in it who were incredibly cruel and selfish but ended up finally deciding to accept this gift, and that hell will have people in it who were very rarely cruel but just had a hard time believing that there was truth to a lot of the stories written 2000 years ago. Is this what you believe?

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  39. exrelayman,

    You said,

    “Where is the compulsion in this analogy?”

    “If we don’t walk out of the jail of your story, we don’t just remain where we were. We are threatened with eternal damnation. Danged if I don’t sense some compulsion there!”

    I disagree with you.

    Hell is separation from God . . . who is the source of all light and provision and love. He can’t let a law-breaker into his kingdom because it will no longer be a place of love and kindness.

    Separation from God is the eternal penalty that a person who chooses to stay in the bondage of sin must pay.

    Why wouldn’t a person just receive what Jesus did for them?

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  40. What I believe is that ALL of us have sinned. All of us have hurt another person in one way or another.

    I also think there are those who make a life out of finding fault with God and his Word, while some people see Jesus on the Cross for the first time and begin to weep. I don’t know what the difference is.

    Why do some see a tyrant hanging there and some see a savior?

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  41. Christianity is not a reward or punishment system. The universal judge has already found all of us to be guilty. Christianity is an escape from the judgment we all must face. . . whether we like it or not.

    Unfortunately, we don’t make the rules in the universe.

    The truth concerning these things were revealed to us through a supernatural book–the Bible–which is VERY different from all the other religious writings on the planet.

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  42. @Diana – while I doubt that your God exists like I said in my last comment I can agree that all of us do cruel things sometimes. You said in one comment “a lot of people are selfish and cruel. And I believe one day they will be held accountable for their greed and callousness.” What I am wondering about are the people who were incredibly cruel in their lifetimes yet at the end of their life believed that God offered them salvation and also accepted that gift. Do you believe those people are held accountable for their greed and callousness or not?

    Perhaps a good example for this is Martin Luther (founder of Lutheranism) who got so frustrated trying to witness to Jews that he ordered incredibly cruel actions to be taken against them. You can see what he wrote here

    Here’s some snippets from some of the things he wrote:

    First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians….I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed…I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb…I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews…I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping.

    So if we assume as many do that Martin Luther accepted the gift of salvation does he get held accountable for his cruelty or not?

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  43. Arkanaten,

    Hey there!

    You said,

    @Dianne

    Please demonstrate/explain, using your own intellectual ability and without utilizing the bible or theological terms how Jesus
    A) was able to walk on water
    B) rise to heaven
    C) Create the Universe.

    For A and B – Obviously, Jesus isn’t bound by the laws of nature. He has super-natural abilities. He wasn’t bound by gravity.

    For C – I guess that’s above my pay-grade. Isn’t that what the most brilliant minds in the world have been trying to figure out? Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, and even Richard Dawkins (although I wouldn’t call him brilliant) have all tried to figure out how the universe came into being.

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  44. Howie,

    Concerning Luther . . .

    I just posted this reply to Argus on John Zande’s blog:

    I believe the plumb line that we measure something against is the Word of God.

    I find it interesting that the way he blessed the world was by trying to understand the mind of God, especially Psalm 19:1-”The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

    As far as Newton’s alchemist pursuit, it produced nothing lasting, brilliant, or good.

    Only those things we do which are standing on God’s Word and for his glory end up leaving behind a beautiful legacy in history.

    I would say the same thing for Luther also. Many people point to Luther’s negative attitude against the Jews as the foundation for Hitler’s genocide. I don’t know how much of a part Luther’s teachings played, but I don’t believe Luther was standing on a strong doctrinal position when he spoke against the Jews. Luther’s lasting and beautiful legacy was the restoration of the doctrine of grace. If he went astray from the scriptures concerning the Jews, he was wrong, but the part that remains faithful to the Word is still a blessing.

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  45. I’m not a big fan of Calvin, but his legacy, the part that remained faithful to the scriptures impacted science in a positive way, practically giving birth to the Scientific Revolution. Even so, I can’t overlook the fact that he burned Servetus at the stake “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” for his anti-trinitarian views.

    Is it found anywhere in the gospels that Christians should burn heretics at the stake? Calvin disobeyed the Word in so many ways. He brought shame to the name of God.

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  46. Diana – Ok, I can only guess at how you are answering the question. I think what you are saying is that when you said “a lot of people are selfish and cruel. And I believe one day they will be held accountable for their greed and callousness.” you actually didn’t quite mean that. Or perhaps you are somehow using the phrase “held accountable” in a way that isn’t really the commonly accepted meaning of that phrase.

    I’m not trying to be mean. It’s just that I hear a lot of Christians (including scholars like Ravi Zacharias and Mike Licona) talk about how there must be a Hell because horrible people like Hitler or Stalin must be judged, but then they flip around and start saying things like “Christianity is not a reward or punishment system.” These things can’t both be true unless it is some kind of mixture of the two. But I don’t believe you or Zacharias or Licona (etc.) consider it a mixture of the two.

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  47. I don’t think God is hidden. We are simply not advanced and intelligent enough to fully comprehend and “find” God. But evidence of his existence is all around us. Nature, mercy, forgiveness, compassion. The Bible is a good inspirational book, but it also has a lot of flaws. We can go on and on debating about our own interpretations of God. We can use any analogy to simply make a point about our views. But we all have different experiences that define our belief .

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  48. Nate,

    Jesus answered your concern about the invisibility of God:

    Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:8-9)

    Philip had the same questions as you. 🙂

    “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1-2)

    God has revealed himself to us through his Son.

    “For in him dwells all of the fullness of the Godhead, bodily.” (Colossians 2:9)

    I’m sure you remember all of these verses.

    Do you want God to reveal himself in the clouds above, or to come to earth somehow? What kind of physical evidence are you looking for? And even if you saw a physical being (or something), how would you know if he was good or evil? How do you know if he was a source of truth or a source of deception?

    This is why I believe God had a plan. He would reveal himself through the words of his prophets and through the experience of the Jewish people. He would tell us what to expect in the future, and what to look for when his savior came. He would show us how we could trust this person and know he was a place of safety for us.

    The Word gives us this security and safety concerning Jesus. ❤

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  49. There is a system of justice in the universe, that all are accountable to, but Christianity is not a system of merits and punishments in the sense that we can do nothing to earn God’s favor. Grace is unmerited.

    When you come under the grace of God, you no longer have to be concerned about judgment. You no longer have to pay a penalty. It was paid by Jesus.

    But for those who won’t receive the payment Jesus provided, there is no security. Judgment will come.

    For the person who rejects God’s provision it is a place of penalties, but for the one who receives God’s provision it is a system of only rewards. There are no balancing scales.

    Two marvelous things are revealed here:

    1. A way to be with God in his kingdom even though we are fallen and sinful. The blood of Jesus is full of grace!

    2. A way to be safe from those who reject God and his Word. To be safe from those who despise and persecute us . . . which is the record of history for those who believe in the scriptures.

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  50. Diana, I feel like you’re merely blowing past most of our specific questions and only offering platitudes based on a book — a book that most of us in this discussion don’t believe holds any real answers.

    For instance, more than once now you’ve tried to sidestep the particulars of Hell by saying that God has delivered us from all that if we’ll only accept his mercy. So, in effect, why should we worry about it?

    The problem is that many people won’t accept it. So what happens to them then? And most of these people aren’t rejecting it because they’re bad people or because they’re “rebelling” against God — they simply don’t believe the Bible’s claims. God could provide more evidence to convince us — he could even speak to us directly. Supposedly, that was good enough for folks like Moses, Abraham, Noah, etc. Why doesn’t he do it for us?

    Christianity is filled with problems like this, but you’re ignoring them. Please try to actually answer some of the objections that have been brought up so we can have a constructive dialogue. Right now, it feels like we’re merely speaking past one another.

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  51. Here are troubling things which are also in the Bible. How do you explain these ?

    Matthew 10:5-6
    New International Version (NIV)
    5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.

    Matthew 15:22-28
    New International Version (NIV)
    22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

    23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

    24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

    25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

    26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

    27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

    Where is “The Love” in these Jesus statements ???

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  52. Diana,

    All of your notions about God and his plan are from a book written by unknown authors from unknown locations at unknown times. The old testament borrows heavily from Sumerian, Babylonian, Grecian, and Egyptian sources. The ten commandments are all in the older Egyptian book of the dead. Receiving the law on a stone tablet was done earlier by Hammurabi. Moses being set adrift as an infant was a copy of the earlier similar adventures of both Sargon and Krishna. The consensus of modern Jewish archaeologists is that no Exodus from Egypt ever happened. I earnestly recommend ‘The Origins of Christianity and the Bible’ by Andrew Benton should one desire this information more rigorously presented.

    Moving forward, the tales about Jesus are almost all midrash of the the old testament heroes Moses, Jonah, and Elijah and Elisha. See online ‘New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash’ by Robert Price. Relative to all the worshiped figures of all religions is ‘The Hero with 1000 Faces’ by Joseph Campbell, which lists a number of common features, e. g., virgin births, deaths and resurrections shared by Jesus with many other deity figures.

    Now all of this doesn’t prove anything (and this is by no means my entire case – this is a blog comment!), but neither is it inconsequential. But a God that reveals itself to some people and not to others and will condemn to Hell anyone who doesn’t believe the stories of such sketchy provenance and authorship (but all clearly based on earlier stories) – with the catch that all will be revealed after you die, but when all is revealed it is too late to change or be rehabilitated and eternal horror is your lot – and that God expects us to believe not seeing or experiencing any of this directly, I agree with Ingersoll that who needs a devil when you have such a God?

    And I, like Elijah allegedly did with the priests of Baal, scoff at a no show deity (hiddeness – the idea of the OP). I do not accept that your holy book is the revelation of any god, so your continued reliance on what it says does not signify with me.

    Anyway, you can have the last word. These exchanges won’t change your mind or mine. Perhaps someone less entrenched in their views and more seeking can view both of our statements and see if they are helped.

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  53. Now all of this doesn’t prove anything (and this is by no means my entire case – this is a blog comment!), but neither is it inconsequential. But a God that reveals itself to some people and not to others and will condemn to Hell anyone who doesn’t believe the stories of such sketchy provenance and authorship (but all clearly based on earlier stories) – with the catch that all will be revealed after you die, but when all is revealed it is too late to change or be rehabilitated and eternal horror is your lot – and that God expects us to believe not seeing or experiencing any of this directly, I agree with Ingersoll that who needs a devil when you have such a God?

    Yes, this is the key right here. Several people have alluded to this issue, and Howie has asked a couple of clear questions that relate to it as well. Diana, if you choose to comment again, I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts about these specific issues:

    What do you believe happens to people who simply aren’t convinced of Christianity?

    And do you truly believe that people will be held accountable for their actions, or do you really believe that Christians will be saved, regardless of their behavior, and non-Christians will be condemned, regardless of theirs?

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  54. I don’t think God is hidden. We are simply not advanced and intelligent enough to fully comprehend and “find” God. But evidence of his existence is all around us. Nature, mercy, forgiveness, compassion

    Thanks for the comment, Noel. Many times, I find myself agreeing with the gist of your comments, but not with this one. I think nature can be reasonably viewed as possible evidence for a god, but I don’t think mercy, forgiveness, and compassion are. This is something I often see theists claim, though.

    If it were true that all our good qualities came from God, why is it that all people have these qualities, whether they believe in a god or not? If they have nothing to do with the source of those emotions, how are they able to exhibit them?

    This idea sounds way too much like a fable to me. Think about classic fantasy, like Tolkien. What is the motivation of characters like orcs? They’re supposed to be the antithesis of good, so they end up “liking” absurd things, like doing evil simply for the sake of doing evil. But that’s not very realistic when you think about it. Usually, when someone does something evil, it’s because there’s an element of pleasure attached to it. When people are greedy, it’s not for the sake of greed itself, it’s subtler than that. They’re greedy because of what they can do with the money, or because it makes them feel important, etc. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with being important, or with having lots of money, or of enjoying the things that money can buy. But when someone focuses on those things at the expense of others, then it becomes “evil.”

    But characters like orcs aren’t usually given that kind of depth. I mean, how would an orc mother behave? Presumably, she would need to love her child so it could survive and grow. But motherly love is a trait completely at odds with the depiction of orcs. And that’s okay in some ways, because they’re fictional.

    But you’re taking the same idea and trying to apply it to humans. You’re saying that mercy, forgiveness, and compassion are not human traits at all, and that we only have them because of God’s existence. Where’s the evidence for that? If it weren’t for God, your mother wouldn’t have loved you. You’re capable of no good deed or thought on your own. I just simply disagree with that.

    As humans, we have the capacity for both good and evil, and that makes sense to me. We have warring desires — I love my children and want to spend time with them, but I also have a selfish element that just wants to do whatever I want to do. This can sometimes lead to conflict, and can sometimes lead to me being short tempered with the people I love most. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to enjoy myself, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with loving my children. But those two desires, though both good, can lead to bad things when they come into conflict with one another.

    This is also why I don’t find the idea of an “all-good” god very believable either. Intelligent beings are usually too complicated to be that one-dimensional.

    Anyway, I didn’t mean to go off on too much of a tangent there. And like I said, I typically agree with your point of view, so please don’t take this as an attack on you. I’ve seen many theists say something similar, so I was really just using your statement as an opportunity to talk about it. Please let me know if I took your comment the wrong way…

    Thanks!

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  55. ,
    @Dianne

    Please demonstrate/explain, using your own intellectual ability and without utilizing the bible or theological terms how Jesus
    A) was able to walk on water
    B) rise to heaven
    C) Create the Universe.

    For A and B – Obviously, Jesus isn’t bound by the laws of nature. He has super-natural abilities. He wasn’t bound by gravity.

    For C – I guess that’s above my pay-grade. Isn’t that what the most brilliant minds in the world have been trying to figure out? Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, and even Richard Dawkins (although I wouldn’t call him brilliant) have all tried to figure out how the universe came into being.

    A & B
    Not bound by the laws of nature? I thought he was considered fully human?
    Nevertheless, your answer is merely an opinion
    I was asking how you know this and why you believe it to be true.
    Please explain…

    C If you cannot answer the question why do you assert he is the creator of the universe and proselytize , especially to children?
    Please explain.

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  56. Nate, I am not offended at all by your response. You are actually one of the most respectful atheists I have shared ideas with. I don’t think that a person would necessarily need to believe in God in order to reflect God’s qualities. At the same time, my view is different than the traditional Christian, in that I believe that God can be lived and manifested by our sincere good deeds, and therefore, we can be “saved” from our selfish nature. God is more profound and inclusive than what most of us think.
    I agree with the statement that Slainvictor made above ” look for God more in the foolish, weak, and obscure rather than in the strong, reasonable, and clearly visible”, because, by definition, God is not human, therefore He does not operate like humans do. That is why I believe that His grace would be greater than we can ever comprehend (i.e. forgiving Hitler).

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  57. Hi Nate, I resisted the impulse to respond on this topic, because while I think there are straightforward answers to the questions you pose, I have said them before and there seems little point in saying the same thing again.

    But I find it interesting that this a topic is obviously important to you. If I can’t provide a satisfactory explanation of God’s actions, then you believe you have good reason to disbelieve. So I wonder what you make of some arguments that go the other way?

    * Science is so far unable to provide an explanation of how the universe came into existence, and many atheists say quite plainly that we should be happy with not knowing.

    * Likewise the only scientific explanation of the incredible design of the universe is to postulate the multiverse, which doesn’t solve the problem, because then we have to explain how the multiverse is so amazingly well designed that it churns out all these billions of individual universes, each with different properties.

    * Science is likewise unable to satisfactorily explain the existence of consciousness.

    * The only real explanation science has for free will and our sense that some things are truly right or wrong (two things we all seem to experience as if they are real) is to deny either objectively exist.

    These are all “big questions” that go to the very core of our understanding of the universe and ourselves, far “bigger” questions, I suggest, than the one you pose about God not being “visible” or apparent to all people. So it seems to me that the challenge for you is not to keep focusing on this question, but to spend time trying to find explanations of the above matters.

    If you are unable to find those explanations, then surely, using the logic you espouse here (that inability to explain is good reason to disbelieve), you would have a strong (4-1) case for seriously reconsidering theism.

    Thanks for the continued opportunity to interact with you.

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  58. @Unklee.

    Here you go. You can have a shot at answering the same questions I posed Dianne.
    Simple, straightforward answers that should completely do away with any need for long drawn out treatise type answers, unklee

    Please demonstrate/explain, using your own intellectual ability and without utilizing the bible or theological terms how Jesus,

    A) was able to walk on water
    B) rise to heaven
    C) Create the Universe.

    Lets see if you are able to ‘man-up’ ?

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  59. Hi UnkleE – There are a few things about your comment that might be problematic. I am sure Nate will reply with a much better response since you did direct your comment toward him.

    First to say the case is 4-1 for Nate is wrong. Maybe it seems like 4-1 to you and that’s fair because you are different than him, but I’ve seen Nate express before that the problem of Evil is another problem for him. He has also expressed a lot of issues he has mainly with the Christian worldview which seems to be more of an issue for him than just plain generic theism (e.g. KCchief is a theist and I don’t ever see Nate and him going at it).

    You seem to be mixing 2 things: (1) the idea that there are things in reality that we don’t have an answer to yet and (2) a presentation of a conundrum that arises with a particular solution (in this case the particular solution is the type of God that Nate described in this post). These are 2 different things. Here are examples of things in the not so distant past that we did not have the answers to:

    1) What causes diseases?
    2) What creates thunder and lightning?
    3) How did our earth simply pop into existence?
    4) How did humans simply pop into existence?

    I am sure there were people hundreds of years ago that suggested exactly what you are suggesting because back then we did not have the answer to those questions. But luckily there were some who continued to search for possible natural answers to these questions and the fact that they were answered has contributed in great ways to our lives. Luckily there are still people who continue to pursue answers to the questions you have listed. Also, with some of these questions I have found several possible explanations posited along with ways in which those explanations can be falsified. Just as an example I’ll take your first question – the cause of our universe has a bunch of different current hypotheses: Lee Smolin has one, Roger Penrose has one, Priyam Singh has one, Neil Turok has one, Michio Kaku has one, and likely others I am not aware of. These are all currently being investigated.

    One of your points suggested that even if we did have answers to all our current questions they would continue to infinitely bring up questions so we must stop somewhere. This is a philosophical debate of which monotheism (and certainly Christianity) is one of many solutions to metaphysical questions that seem unanswerable possibly because they “transcend” our finite human nature. You are suggesting we say: “monotheism (and some version of the Christian message) is the correct answer”. I can only say that for myself this is the response that fits for me: “I don’t know what the answer is, and many of the answers posited by others bring up even more difficult questions for me”. This post seems to me like a description of one of those conundrums created by a particular “answer”.

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  60. Hi UnkleE! Thanks for the comment.

    I know that you don’t believe in a literal Hell, and I would agree that the problem of God’s hiddenness lessens significantly if there’s no Hell. However, there are still a number of Christians who do believe in some sort of Hell, including the guy that wrote the book I referenced, so for people like that, I think the questions I raised are very valid. There are also some scriptures that still give the idea of Hell, so it’s still easy for me to see it as a biblical doctrine.

    But leaving that aside for the moment, let me consider the big questions that you’ve raised about the existence of the universe, consciousness, and free will. They’re all excellent questions, and they’re by no means easy to answer or dismiss. However, I don’t agree with your conclusion. The nature of the question I’ve asked in my post is quite different from the kinds of questions you’re asking.

    I don’t view the existence of God as a starting assumption. It should be a hypothesis to which we compare evidence. But to me, it seems that you’re arguing the opposite — that God’s existence should be assumed unless it can be disproven.

    So the questions you’ve raised are all excellent. But just because we don’t have solid answers for them yet, does that mean God must exist? I don’t think so. Long ago, no one understood lightning, but if they had used the existence of lightning to say that gods must exist, they would have been mistaken. In fact, every scientific discovery we’ve ever made has only reinforced this — our universe operates through natural laws. There doesn’t seem to be a need to rely on the supernatural to hold everything together. So when we examine the current scientific frontiers, I think it makes far more sense to say “I don’t know” to some of these questions, while continuing to look for explanations, than to say “God did it.”

    We already know the universe exists, that consciousness exists, and that free will exists (even those who disagree on this point would at least acknowledge the appearance of free will). We may not know why they exist, or be able to explain them, but that’s okay. It gives us something to think about. When someone offers an explanation, then we have the obligation to test it, just as we would with any hypothesis. But I didn’t offer a hypothesis for those things.

    The question I ask in my post is merely an effort to test the God hypothesis. God has been given as an answer by theists, and not just any god, but a god who loves us all, knows everything, is all-powerful, is wholly good, and is perfectly righteous. Yet this God is entirely hidden. Why is he hidden? Well, some Christians say it’s because he doesn’t want to overwhelm us — he wants us to seek after him and love him without being compelled to do so. At the same time, many of these same religious people believe that he punishes everyone who doesn’t come to him “freely.” I think that’s a contradictory position, and I think that the theist — as being the one who offered God as an explanation — is on the hook to explain how all these contradictory qualities can be true. If they can’t, then their hypothesis (God) is not very good.

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  61. Hi Nate, and William, I think both your comments raise similar issues, and I think illustrate the problem I am raising.

    Nate, I don’t think we should assume God. What I’m saying is if the inability (you think, though I don’t) to find a satisfactory explanation for God’s hiddenness is a reason to disbelieve, why isn’t the inability of naturalism to find an explanation for the phenomena I mentioned a reason to disbelieve in naturalism? Conversely, if your answer “We may not know why they exist, or be able to explain them, but that’s okay. It gives us something to think about.” is an acceptable answer to questions you can’t resolve, why isn’t it an acceptable answer to the question you raised?

    I think you are privileging your own view rather than treating all evidence equally.

    William, I can think of several different types of explanation, for example:

    Logical – what makes sense a priori or by reason.
    Personal – why a person did something.
    Mechanical or scientific – the process by which something happened.

    Sometimes we may think an explanation is logically true even if we don’t yet know the process, or why the person did it. So I don’t think failure to explain a process (say thunder and lightning in your example) or failure to understand why a person did something (God’s hiddenness in Nate’s example) are very strong reasons to believe or disbelieve something, because they are based on ignorance, and ignorance can sometimes be cured. But logical reasons are a much tougher nut to crack.

    Now the phenomena/arguments I mentioned are much closer to logical explanations or the lack of them, and hence more fundamental, more important and more powerful (in my opinion). So it doesn’t really bother me what people thought hundreds of years ago, because they are in a different category of explanation.

    But let’s return to my single point in making my comment. We should be consistent in our use of the criterion of not being able to understand or explain something. What’s sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. I don’t think Nate has followed that principle here (sorry Nate).

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  62. @Unclee

    Nate, I don’t think we should assume God. What I’m saying is if the inability (you think, though I don’t) to find a satisfactory explanation for God’s hiddenness is a reason to disbelieve,

    Two things that are glaring wrong in this sentence.
    The first part; you state no assumption should be made, yet you use the term ‘God’ as a proper name which immediately tells us that you are already making the assumption. and you compound this by using the term in the same manner in the second sentence.

    At every turn, here and on your own blog, you try to demonstrate your objectively but this is always rendered moot because what you believe is based first and foremost on faith not verifiable evidence, and certainly not honesty.

    Your brand of apologetics is based on faith and interpretation of doctrine, plain and simple.

    You can never be objective while you hold to the unwavering belief that this god exists.

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  63. @Unklee

    We should be consistent in our use of the criterion of not being able to understand or explain something. What’s sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander.

    Classic! And the ultimate hypocrisy of your brand of Christianity comes to the fore at last!

    While dear Uncle Ken Ham was being roundly lambasted by one and all ( all but YEC’s) over his mind numbing Creationist claims last week you have the temerity to write such diatribe while holding fast to the utter garbage of the Virgin Birth, Walking on Water, Sending Demons into pigs, the Zombie Apocalypse and other dead people coming back/brought back to life.

    I sincerely hope every non-Christian commenter takes you to the cleaners for this comment.

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  64. @UnkleE

    If, let’s say, we did not have any ideas for how a universe could form in a multiverse scenario should we just jump to the conclusion that there are fairies who mix up the quantum particles and wave their wands to start a universe? This does not seem like a sound method for arriving at truth. Your trying to say that any gaps in scientific knowledge should be filled in with your version of theism, but that would be making an assumption without supporting evidence.

    On the other hand, Nate is pointing out a problem within a hypothesis (God + Hidden + Hell). The points he makes seem like a good reason to doubt the (God + Hidden + Hell) hypothesis. This is not the same as not having an answer to something currently unknown.

    Question > “I don’t know”
    – is not the same as –
    Question > Hypothesis > Contradiction > “I don’t know”

    If the contradiction is valid, the hypothesis should be discarded. And from what some people have commented it appears you have discarded hell.

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  65. Hi unkleE,

    I think you meant Howie instead of William, right?

    I agree that we should be striving for consistency, but I think that I am being consistent. I may not have explained this well in my earlier comment, so let me try again.

    The gist of my original post is that belief in the Judeo-Christian god has too many problems, so people shouldn’t believe in it. Your response is that naturalism has too many problems, so people shouldn’t believe in it either. On the surface, these seem very consistent with one another. However, there’s a big difference between God and natural laws. We already know that one of them exists, while the other is very much up for grabs. That’s why my argument and your argument are very different.

    I was going to offer an illustration, but I can’t improve over what Dave just said.

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  66. @nate & Diana – “A young man is sitting in his office one day, quietly working, when his father bursts in and says “Son, I’m here to save you!”
    The young man is startled and looks around the room. “Save me from what, Dad?”
    “Why this prison that you’re locked in!”
    “But Dad, I’m not in a prison. I’m working. I chose to be here… nothing’s wrong.””

    This analogy would be more correct if the young man didn’t know his father, and instead of A man claiming to be his father, it was several men claiming to speak for his father.
    Each of these men claiming the father wanted him to do different things… and then criticizing him when was skeptical that they even knew his father by saying, “so you dare to deny your only, loving father! If you continue to reject him, he’ll show up one day, really pissed off, and cut off your arms and break your legs! Now why don’t you accept his loving offer to flee this prison you call an office!”

    Yeah, I think that’s a better analogy.

    Like

  67. Hey Nate-

    “However, there’s a big difference between God and natural laws. We already know that one of them exists, while the other is very much up for grabs. That’s why my argument and your argument are very different.”

    I just want to tag onto what unkleE was pointing out. You make a statement here “We already know that one (naturalism) exists…”. You make a leap here, I think, from the existence of natural things to naturalism. Naturalism, as a worldview, has problems, as unkleE pointed out. Your statement that we “know” naturalism is the explanation, is the very thing unkleE was proposing as a problem. It seems you just re-asserted naturalism – as a worldview, not simply things existing – as your solution. So, I think you’re back at the same question from unkleE: if we can allow that we don’t know everything about naturalism, why can we not allow that we don’t know everything about God?

    I still have a problem, by the way, with your basic assumption that we *should* be able to understand and explain God. That really permeates much, if not all, of what you post about. If God is an infinite being, which is the way I understand Him, I just don’t see how you come to the conclusion that we should be able to explain how He operates. You lay a lot on that foundation. However, if you’re talking about the God of Jesus and scripture, then you’re not talking about a God we can explain. You’re making Him too small, I think.

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  68. “many of us don’t even know we need saving.”

    I think you hit on a huge issue here, Nate. Why do some people not see that they need saving? Personally, I find it hard to read Jesus and not get the willies when he says things like “if you hate your brother, you have committed murder in your heart”, “if you lust after someone, you have committed adultery in your heart”. I know I become angry, furiously angry sometimes. I also know I lust, and that gets pretty bad sometimes, too. These are just two things Jesus mentioned. And, they’re just statements. Examining my life, I can see innumerable ways in which I’ve hurt people, people close to me. Examining the world, I can see, despite all the “good teachers” we’ve had, we are still a violent, cruel, selfish people. That’s all of us: Americans, Europeans, Christians, Atheists, black, white, men, women. So, when you ask a question like Why do some of us not know we need saving? There’s a big part of me that wants to respond, “How could you not see that we need saving?” I think of all the “hard-hearted”, “seeing, but unseeing”, “hearing, but not hearing” verses in scripture. Some people just don’t see it. But, to me, it’s plain as day.

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  69. “many of us don’t even know we need saving.”

    I think you hit on a huge issue here, Nate. Why do some people not see that they need saving? Personally, I find it hard to read Jesus and not get the willies when he says things like “if you hate your brother, you have committed murder in your heart”, “if you lust after someone, you have committed adultery in your heart”. I know I become angry, furiously angry sometimes. I also know I lust, and that gets pretty bad sometimes, too. These are just two things Jesus mentioned. And, they’re just statements. Examining my life, I can see innumerable ways in which I’ve hurt people, people close to me. Examining the world, I can see, despite all the “good teachers” we’ve had, we are still a violent, cruel, selfish people. That’s all of us: Americans, Europeans, Christians, Atheists, black, white, men, women. So, when you ask a question like Why do some of us not know we need saving? There’s a big part of me that wants to respond, “How could you not see that we need saving?” I think of all the “hard-hearted”, “seeing, but unseeing”, “hearing, but not hearing” verses in scripture. Some people just don’t see it. But, to me, it’s plain as day.

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  70. Hi Josh,

    Great to hear from you again!

    I didn’t actually say that naturalism is true — I said that natural laws are. If we want to deny natural laws, we’re going to get into the philosophical weeds, and I’d rather not do that. Let’s just assume that we’re not brains in a vat or someone’s dream and that the reality we experience is true reality. Given that, we know that natural world exists. We don’t know if anything beyond it exists.

    Are there still things about our existence we can’t explain? Of course! Just like people couldn’t explain rain thousands of years ago. But just as we eventually uncovered the mysteries of rain, we may one day uncover the mysteries of consciousness, free will, and whatever came prior to the Big Bang. But until that time, I don’t think it makes sense to throw our hands up and say “God did it!” just because we haven’t answered all questions yet.

    Now, if I hadclaimed that naturalism answers all those questions that unkleE put forth, then it would be fair game to critique that response and point out its flaws. But I didn’t do that — at least not in this thread. I’ve only said that we don’t know the answer.

    Christians, however, have thrown out an answer for those things, and there answer is God. Since that’s their hypothesis, it’s fully legitimate to examine it, point out its problems, and ask for clarifications/explanations. As Dave pointed out in his comment, the combination of God + Hidden + Hell creates a contradiction. If it can’t be satisfactorily answered, it’s hard to justify maintaining the hypothesis.

    UnkleE gets around it by removing Hell, but many Christians don’t do this — they just say we can’t understand it. And this gets to your other point. I’m not saying we should be able to understand every aspect of God if he exists. I’m saying that even God is bound by the laws of logic: for instance, even if God’s all-powerful, if he’s the supreme being, he can’t make a God more powerful than himself. Or create a rock too heavy for him to lift. Those are paradoxes. In the same way, the version of God that many Christians hold to, and that I’m attacking in my post, is a paradoxical God. His definitions are contradictory. While we may not be able to understand everything about him, those aspects of him should be understandable. When they’re not, it implies a major problem.

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  71. So, when you ask a question like Why do some of us not know we need saving? There’s a big part of me that wants to respond, “How could you not see that we need saving?”

    But so what? I don’t mean that to sound dismissive, it’s just that it’s obvious we’re not perfect. We can all learn to live better. But why does that mean we need saving? And is that even the kind of saving that the New Testament promises? To me, it’s always sounded like salvation just means having your sins forgiven so you can live in Heaven one day. In fact, I believe you’ve even said that becoming a Christian doesn’t mean that all those imperfections are fixed. You’ll still live the rest of your life as a “sinner,” right?

    Just because the Bible points out something true about human nature — that sometimes we think immoral things — does not mean it’s true about all its cosmic and supernatural claims. We are human, and humans are imperfect. That’s simply the way it is, and it’s something that anyone could have noticed and written down.

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  72. I see what you’re saying, Nate. I misunderstood your quote because you said naturalism in one sentence, and then said natural laws in the next. I thought you meant basically the same thing by those phrases given their proximity.

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  73. It is obvious that we’re not perfect. You said “We can all learn to live better”, and “We are humans, we are imperfect.” In your worldview, why is it that, though we can learn to live better, we don’t actually become that much better? I’m assuming here that all of us can remember times when we’ve learned how to better interact with others, yet continue to make the same mistakes. If that’s not you, then you and I are different kinds of people. How does your wordlview explain the inability to put what we learn about becoming “more perfect” into actual, lasting perfection in aspects of our life?

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  74. “you’ve even said that becoming a Christian doesn’t mean that all those imperfections are fixed.”

    Yes, and I have an explanation for that in my worldview. I’m wondering what the naturalistic explanation for the inability to put that information into practice is.

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  75. I think we do become better. Not all of us, certainly. But many of us can and do learn from our mistakes and make strides toward being better. I think you’re being too hard on yourself.

    Furthermore, I think society in general has improved. As we’ve become more aware of the importance of equal rights, we’ve begun to be much more inclusive. Not all cultures have progressed at the same rate, but honestly, religion seems to be one of the major holdups.

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  76. Maybe I am being too hard on myself. Or, maybe I’m not?

    Truthfully, though, this is probably one of the biggest differences in our views. I see my need for a savior, and how that gives me peace. I can feel that peace tangibly at times when I most need it.

    I do agree with you: I think in a lot of ways religion is a major holdup. I think any view that allows you to put yourself above others is a holdup. The way I see it, though, is, if the major truth of your world is your God becoming human and dying on a cross for people who hated him, there is a much that motivates you to be merciful with those who are different. I’m not saying others can’t be that way, just that it’s hard to find a foundational truth that promotes that. A lot of people, even those without religious beliefs, have expectations of others that, if those others don’t meet the expectations, then they are worthy of being judged. Jesus taught clearly that we are not to judge others, that only he has the right to do that. And, he didn’t judge. He died for them.

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  77. Well, yes… but judgment is still in there. Plenty of passages talk about the judgment that non-Christians can expect to face. Even Jesus said as much: “depart, I never knew you…”

    Granted, your version of Christianity sounds much nicer than many other religions, but it still seems to me that your version has to ignore a fair number of difficult passages.

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  78. Josh,

    I don’t know if you’ve ever checked out the “Jericho Brisance” blog by a guy named Matt. He comments here from time to time. He recently did a few posts talking about the way many Christians view the Holy Spirit working in them, and I think you might find them interesting. The first is here:
    iGod Part 1: Divine Uplink

    Matt’s entire story is very interesting. He only left Christianity last year, and he details much of that journey and his thought processes in his “Journey” section. I highly recommend his blog.

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  79. Hi Josh,

    I personally see us all as a mix of good and bad and some have more of one than the other.

    I’m not sure why not believing in demons, gods, and spirits makes the above statement problematic. In a natural world I kind of think that is what we would expect. And if there are no gods then there is no need for being saved from some cosmic judgment.

    I don’t need to believe that there is a fallen angel nor do I have to believe that someone improperly ate an apple long ago in order to explain that we are all a mixture of different things.

    By the way, I’m 75% done with that book you recommended a few weeks ago (Mystery of Christ). It has helped me understand your views better.

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  80. Nate-
    I appreciate what you’re saying. I wouldn’t say that I ignore those passages – I think I take them maybe differently than you do. I assume I can never know who knows/will know Christ, and who doesn’t. Does Jesus know? Yes. Is there a teaching in scripture about an eternity apart from him for those who don’t believe? Yes. In many of Jesus parables where there is judgement involved (The Prodigal Son, The King’s Banquet, The Ten Virgins, etc), those who are left on the outside at the end were invited in during the course of the story. The Elder Brother chooses to stay outside because he’s ticked the younger kid gets a party. He doesn’t see that the party, for whatever reason it’s thrown, is for everyone to partake. The King’s Banquet is the same. Those who are outside were invited in, but refused the King’s invitation. The Ten Virgins, the same. The five who left didn’t have to go back for lamps – the host said nothing about lamps. He simply said to meet him. They chose to return, thinking the lamps were the important piece, not joining the host. Jesus does teach that he will say to some that he doesn’t know them. But, they seem to be the ones who say first to him, “I don’t know you” or “I don’t want to be at the party, unless…”. They can’t accept the invitation alone – they attach something to it. Another interesting thing to keep in mind, is that the figure who is very often the one left out of the party in the end is an image of the Pharisees of Jesus day. He seems to be telling them that they MUST get their head around the idea that Jesus is here to forgive ALL, even the despicable “sinners”. He seems to be teaching the Pharisees (elder brother, original invitees to the banquet, five virgins who thought they needed to bring a lamp) that he came to offer forgiveness to all. He is saying the Pharisees, or those who base their judgment on who is in and who is out on moral performance, will likely decline Jesus’ invitation when they see who else is invited.

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  81. Howie-
    Glad you read it.

    Nate-
    Robert Farrar Capon is his name. I’m reading another of his called Parables of the Kingdom, Parables of Grace, and Parables of Judgment.

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  82. Thanks for the author’s name. I’ve added it to my “to read” list.

    As far as judgment goes, whatever the reasons are, there are still two groups of people — those whom Jesus will accept and those whom he won’t. I’m just trying to point out that even though it sounds nice to say “he died come to judge them but to die for them,” etc, the details get a bit trickier.

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  83. Yes, there are two groups. I’m going to argue semantics with you, and ask that we phrase it “there are still two groups of people – those who accept Jesus and those who don’t”. So, the two groups remain. But, it’s not about Jesus not accepting some. He has offered, is offering, will offer at some point, the invitation. Many will say yes. Many will say no. That seems to be what he is teaching.

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  84. Then that brings us back around to the original post. If there are two groups, and reward and punishment hang in the balance in some way, why is God (and Jesus) so hidden?

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  85. I can’t say I really have a good answer to that, Nate. There was something earlier in the response thread about how God reveals himself in scripture and Jesus. I think there’s something to that. God and Jesus seem to behave in ways that subvert our rational expectations. Maybe those to whom God seems hidden are looking in the wrong places? So, I’d recommend you start looking in places that are the opposite of what you’d expect. Instead of strength, look in weakness. Instead of the healthy, look in the hurting. There are some good books out there by people who have come to know God through incredibly painful experiences of loss and violence. It’s easy for all of us to look at something like that and wonder where God is in that kind of experience. But, maybe we should look at people who found Jesus there and really consider what they have to say.

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  86. Oh, and Nate. Now you can’t say “No one told me to look there!” Cuz I just suggested it! Anyway, I know it likely will not convince you. But, it’s another perspective.

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  87. And why should we give this kind of effort to Christianity, when adherents of other faiths would say the same thing? If we first look at Islam and find it to be false, should we double down our efforts and begin looking in the less rational iterations of Islam for the answers? Should we embrace whatever religion seems most absurd and unlikely, since God may be the “opposite of what we expect”?

    And if he’s that hard to find, doesn’t it make the problem I listed at the beginning even more severe? What kind of rational and just being would punish the people who can’t find him when he makes himself supremely difficult to find?

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  88. “And why should we give this kind of effort to Christianity, when adherents of other faiths would say the same thing?”

    I think we should give that kind of effort to as many possibilities as we can in our lifetime. All of us here are discussing truth and where to find it. Why would you not want to look in every nook and cranny, and examine every claim about every “god” that you possibly can? You offer a place for people to come and witness your search for truth. What if there’s a place to “Find Truth” you haven’t looked?

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  89. The question that keeps coming to my mind as I read posts by Christians related to God is this: Take away the bible. Who does God then become? Scripture is used (and abused) again and again to “prove” the concept of God. But when we take away the written records, what do we have? Who/what IS this invisible entity?

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  90. I think we should give that kind of effort to as many possibilities as we can in our lifetime. All of us here are discussing truth and where to find it. Why would you not want to look in every nook and cranny, and examine every claim about every “god” that you possibly can? You offer a place for people to come and witness your search for truth. What if there’s a place to “Find Truth” you haven’t looked?

    Then certainly, I want to find it. But I’m not someone who has shied away from the search for truth. And I’m not someone who has tossed out Christianity without first getting to know it very well. Maybe I was wrong to throw it out — that’s always a possibility. But it can’t be said that I didn’t search enough. Even now, that search continues. In part, through discussions like this.

    But the simple fact is this: no one lives long enough to exhaust every possible view of every conceivable religion. How much to you know about Jainism, for instance? Or Cherokee mythology? I would imagine that, like me, you know very little of either.

    Considering all the religions in the world, how could God ever have expected all people to come to Jesus, especially if rejecting a religion after some in-depth study isn’t good enough? If we’re supposed to continue trying Christianity even when it seems false, then that must be how all religious people are supposed to treat their own religions. God could simplify this process by letting us know which one is the right one, but he doesn’t seem to do this.

    I mean, this just further illustrates my original point. Why has God hidden himself with so much at stake?

    And I think Nan makes a good point as well. The Bible is a really difficult thing for Christians. Its inaccuracies make it difficult to accept it in its entirety, but without it, where do you get information about Yahweh and Jesus?

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  91. Hi Josh,

    Why would you not want to look in every nook and cranny, and examine every claim about every “god” that you possibly can?

    I think this is a fair point. I personally still search for possible answers to deep questions. I don’t have to prove that to anyone, but I know for myself that I do that. But Josh, I want you to know that I am beyond the point now where I focus on worrying that there is something that I have to be afraid of if I get my decision wrong about the truths of these very deep, abstract and extremely difficult questions of life. It is clear to me that worry and stress does the body bad so I don’t see the need. I don’t believe for a minute that these questions have obvious answers to them no matter who is saying that. I have been through the gamut of “high pressure sales jobs” from smart people of several different faiths, enough to know that it doesn’t help to be moved by those sales tactics. The truth about reality is what I want to find and only I know whether I’m properly applying my search.

    Another thing though is that I try and take a non-judgmental approach when it comes to this. My wife and several other of my friends have come to the conclusion that since these questions are so incredibly elusive, it doesn’t do them good to be obsessed in any way with the search. One of my friends uses the word “irrelevant” in regards to this. In fact I respect their viewpoint because my own opinion is that it is healthier and if there is a being that exists that judges them in the end for deciding that the search is futile then that being is simply not kind. And again, worrying about unkind beings that might be out there doesn’t do us any good when the questions are so difficult, and the beings are undetectable.

    I believe this is a fair approach, because certainly you have given Islam a fair shake and have decided that it is no longer worth pursuing the most intelligent advocates of that religion to see whether or not it is true. You have made your decision that it is wrong for whatever reasons you see fit. Why not respect others for deciding that the current religions of the world don’t make sense enough to them to pursue further?

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  92. I can respect that, Howie.

    Nate, I wasn’t trying to say that you haven’t searched thoroughly or that you’ve given up. Just adding another voice. As always, you guys all make thought-provoking points, and I appreciate the chance to bounce ideas off you. All I’m saying is maybe “in-depth study” isn’t necessarily ‘the’ way. I see many of the same things you do, Nate. What drew me deeper into my faith was not the studying. It was observing many of the things I’ve mentioned combined with my own experience.

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  93. Yes, God leaves us alone and stays hidden because he wants us to choose to love him. You know, if I did that to my little boys I would be considered a manipulative, abusive and neglectful mother.

    “That’s right boys, Ma-ma isn’t going to tell you or show you she loves you, you’re going to have to come find me when you’re ready to love me. You’re just going to have to figure it out for yourselves, but I”m still here for you, wherever ‘here’ happens to be when you’re ready.”

    Sounds like conditional love to me.

    Funny how mere human beings have to be more responsible than an all powerful, all loving God. I guess unlike us, he’s not accountable for what he knows.

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  94. Your comment didn’t offend me, Josh — I’m sorry if my response seemed touchy.

    I think the major difference between us is that you allow for much more mystery in your view of religion. For me, I think if there’s any kind of judgment involved, then it needs to be objectively true; therefore, not much room for mysticism. As I’ve said before, I can easily conceive of a God that rewards the faithful with a higher degree of enlightenment, or happiness, etc. But that’s not the impression I get from the Bible. I see a God who is swift to anger at those who don’t find him, and considering how well he’s hidden, I have real problems with a God that operates that way.

    UnkleE sidesteps this problem by cutting out Hell, which is similar to the scenario I laid out above. Rodalena, another blogger I really admire, doesn’t believe in an “all-good” God, but one who can be just as capricious as humans. That also takes care of the problem, because you can never really tell what a god like that might do.

    I haven’t quite decided what your solution to the problem is. I guess it’s sort of a “do your best and let God sort it out” kind of thing. I think that’s fine, if that’s what you believe — it’s what I really wanted Christianity to be as I was working my way out of it (though at the time, I didn’t realize I was on my way out). I would think this position can be tricky to convince others of, because when people push back with difficult questions, you’re simply left with saying the mind of God is inscrutable. That won’t cut it for some.

    Out of curiosity, what does it mean for those who need more? In the New Testament, Thomas supposedly needed more evidence of Jesus’ resurrection than the other disciples did. I’ve heard people kind of criticize him for that, but when I read the account, I don’t get the impression that Jesus was being critical of him. So what about those who aren’t able to believe based on the amount of evidence we’re given today? Thomas got to see and touch the wounds to help him believe, but none of us gets that level of evidence. Does that seem unfair to you at all?

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  95. Nate,

    Great post. I haven’t had time to read through the comments (which are always so thoughtful here), but I wanted to say that the false freedom touted in the “choice” between “giving your your heart to Jesus, and making Him the Lord of your life” or “an eternity in a literal lake of fire”, while once so fair and rational-sounding to me now only seems cruel. Who could worship such a tyrant?

    Sigh…

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  96. Thanks for chiming in, rodalena! And I agree. It’s strange how much a person’s outlook can change… it’s hard to remember the way I used to view all of this.

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  97. “If, let’s say, we did not have any ideas for how a universe could form in a multiverse scenario should we just jump to the conclusion that there are fairies who mix up the quantum particles and wave their wands to start a universe?”

    Hi Dave. No we should not just jump to that conclusion, or any conclusion. But that is not what I am suggesting.

    There are many arguments for the existence of God, and several, perhaps many, against. All can be written in formal logical form, and then argued over. The ones related to the start of the universe have a long history. They don’t start from the gaps in scientific knowledge, but from the conclusions of science, and then ask, how could this state of affairs (revealed by science) have occurred? The actions of a creative non-physical being are one of the options, not in some arbitrary way, but because of the simple logic that a physical universe can only come into existence in one of three ways:

    1. It had no cause.
    2. It’s cause is physical, i.e. within itself.
    3. It’s cause is external to itself, i.e. non-physical.

    These options are (as far as I can see) logically exhaustive. So if you think something causing itself is a contradiction, and something having no cause is likewise illogical, then an external cause becomes a logical possibility, even probability.

    If you want to see these arguments about the universe examined in more detail and rigour, may I recommend The cosmological argument and The teleological argument? Thanks.

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  98. “The gist of my original post is that belief in the Judeo-Christian god has too many problems, so people shouldn’t believe in it. Your response is that naturalism has too many problems, so people shouldn’t believe in it either. On the surface, these seem very consistent with one another. However, there’s a big difference between God and natural laws. We already know that one of them exists, while the other is very much up for grabs. That’s why my argument and your argument are very different.”

    Hi Nate. I agree with Josh that you have confused naturalism with natural laws, and I think your explanation to him misses the point.

    In response to your “argument” that the hiddenness of God leads to the conclusion that he’s not there, I mentioned several arguments that lead to the conclusion that he is there, thus refuting naturalism. Those arguments don’t refute the natural laws, in fact they are based on them. Neither of us question the natural laws. So it is theism vs naturalism that we are clearly talking about, and naturalism is as much an intangible as theism is.

    I think there would be a simple way to clarify some of this, and I wonder whether you’d be willing to try it (perhaps in a new post)? I think it would be interesting for you to express your argument in this post in a formal way – numbered premises and conclusions which logically follow. Then we could argue about the premises and see more clearly the justification, or otherwise, for them.

    I’m sure it could be done, I’m just interested in what form you would express it.

    I think you’d have to include a premise something like this (I’m sure it could be improved, but this is a start): “If something can’t be explained, that lessens the probability of it being true.” If you do, then my question becomes, regardless of any dissimilarities in the arguments I propose, if I include that premise in my argument, wouldn’t it be equally effective?

    So I end up again saying, if this premise works in your hiddenness argument, why doesn’t it work in (say) the cosmological argument?

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  99. Hi Nate. I agree with Josh that you have confused naturalism with natural laws, and I think your explanation to him misses the point.

    Hmm, I am not so sure that Nate is the one who is confused here, and your tacit condescension toward one who probably understands all the ins and outs of your faith based arguments even better than you is almost laughable.
    Nate, as is every deconvertee, is able to look at this argument from both sides of the fence.

    Perhaps you, or Josh, would you like to demonstrate how anything but naturalism has any place in the natural order of things, Unklee?

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  100. @UnkleE

    It seems you are trying to sneak in theism as the only alternative to naturalism, but the opposite of naturalism would be supernaturalism which includes fairies, demons, leprechauns, angels, ghosts, super heroes, gods and everything else that people can make up.

    You said Nate should start his argument with: “If something can’t be explained, that lessens the probability of it being true.”

    You are trying to bait Nate with a bad premise and I doubt he would take it. The premise should be more like “If a hypothesis leads to a contradiction then the hypothesis is most likely not true and the hypothesis needs to be revised or discarded.”

    According to Nate you have already revised your beliefs to exclude Hell so it seems you are in agreement with Nate on this topic.

    “Any deity that tortures human beings for all eternity for not believing in them and then hides on purpose should be considered evil. Calling this deity ‘loving’ would be a contradiction.”

    Would you both agree to this statement?

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  101. Hi unkleE,

    Dave has replied far better than I could. I simply see no reason to assume the supernatural when every thing else we understand is natural.

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  102. Although I once was a very devoted Christian, being on this side of things now I often wonder how I ever believed it, and how others believe it still – especially considering the points that have been shared with all of those who frequent this blog and other like it.

    Like nate, I can still see where someone can take nature and the complexity of the mind and believe that there must have been a design and purpose; a creator. But I cannot understand why people still maintain that that supposed creator is the god of the bible.

    Like others have pointed out on this post, the bible is a demonstrably failed hypothesis. Ignoring the problems doesn’t make them go away. Pretending to use sound reason isn’t the same actually using it.

    How is it, that the bible with its contradictions, errors and problems can still be a perfect god’s word, when all other religions (and nonreligions) can be easily dismissed over their contradictions, errors and problems? And if it boils down to a blind faith – then why can’t the other religions boil down to the same?

    It is my position that any contradiction, error and problem could be dismissed in similar ways that they are dismissed for the bible. If I am wrong, please provide an example of such.

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  103. “So what about those who aren’t able to believe based on the amount of evidence we’re given today? Thomas got to see and touch the wounds to help him believe, but none of us gets that level of evidence. Does that seem unfair to you at all?”

    Yeah, this is really the major crux of the issue – very much like the question, “What about people of other religions, or who have never had the opportunity to hear about Jesus?” These are really tough questions, Nate. And, I’m not going to pretend I have the answers to them. A couple things I’ll just suggest, that I try to keep in mind when talking with people. Your post, and comments throughout, talk about the difficulty of reconciling the idea of eternity apart from God with God’s supposed love. Both of these ideas come from scripture, so I’m going to assume you’re with me when I say that, in order to discuss them, we have to be able to bring other texts of scripture into the discussion. If not, I don’t think it’s fair to even start out with the questions you raise that come from scripture. Anyway, here are the thoughts.

    1) God is more loving and merciful than we can imagine. Scripture teaches God wants all men to come to believe in him. And, that God is not slow in his promises, the way we understand slowness, but is patient. (1 Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Peter 3:9)
    2) God has revealed himself to all men through nature and a moral law (Romans)
    3) OT (Daniel) and NT (Revelation) claim that, at the consummation of all things, there will be representatives of ALL groups of people, all tongues, and all times.
    4) Jesus teaches that when he is lifted up he will draw all men to himself (John 12:32)

    I realize I’m drawing on texts you find suspect. But, again, you do the same when you bring up the questions you ask. If indeed we can *know* the things about God that you claim in your question, then we can *know* about God the things claimed in the scriptures I quoted by drawing on the same scriptures. I cannot necessarily explain how or why there is a “hell”. I also cannot explain how God could accomplish the things I referenced in the verse above. I’m okay with ambiguity and mystery in God’s operation. I think you’re right – that is a big difference in the ways we approach this issue. I am fully aware that this will not be convincing to you. I don’t really expect it to be. This is my understanding of God from scripture – that all the problems you raise are REAL issues that I don’t necessarily have answers to, but I know, from the same scriptures you reference, that God is vastly loving and merciful, and that his incarnation and death for all people and all the earth show that, whatever the reasons are for the confusion, they can’t be because he does not love us or would not suffer with/for us.

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  104. Unklee, I think you are still missing some important points in method. Was the fact that we had no idea how the earth was created hundreds of years ago evidence that no natural explanation existed? No, it simply meant that we did not have an explanation back then. Natural laws could have been the answer, and some kind of non-natural or super-natural things (I’ve seen distinctions between those 2 things) could have been the cause. It looks like now there is pretty good agreement that natural laws have been explained as the cause of the creation of the earth, so if we had concluded that God was the answer based on the fact that we did not have a natural law explanation would have been false. Dave drew this out very clearly in a comment yesterday where he showed that not having an explanation for a piece of empirical evidence (e.g. the universe exists) doesn’t prove that there is no natural explanation, it simply means that we need to list a whole bunch of possible explanations and then examine each one further. What Nate is doing is examining one of those explanations.

    Also, people are saying you have abandoned a literal Hell. I had thought you had previously expressed belief in an eternal place of consciousness apart from God which would be a sad place rather than literal fire – can you please confirm your stance on this? Either way Nate’s argument for the problem of Hell still stands.

    if you have abandoned your belief in Hell then you have done exactly what Nate is trying to do here – you examined an explanation proposed to see if it ran into contradictions. When you saw it did then you modified the explanation to try and make it better. That doesn’t prove your modified explanation is correct it just makes it less doubtable than the other explanation that includes Hell.

    Either way, I think your 4-1 comparison in your original post is false. That’s not how things are done. If the 4 problems you listed as proving God (and it doesn’t even do that) are all problems that are not considered to be very powerful and if the 1 problem on the other side is considered powerful than your 4-1 should be modified. E.g. maybe it is 4*0.1-1*0.8 which would be 0.4-0.8. Obviously I’m not saying these are the factors, just that you can’t just list 4 problems and then say Nate listed 1 and say ok it’s 4-1 against Nate’s case. And again, Nate has other issues with the Christian message so the “1” itself is very wrong.

    Lastly, I would like to make a distinction here for everyone. Nate’s purpose in this post is really the problem of Hell which uses as a premise the fact that the God proposed as a solution seems hidden. The Hiddenness (or undetectability) argument itself (which doesn’t include Hell) as Dave and I mentioned before still has issues that are not easy to resolve when trying to prove existence of the most common definition of the traditional monotheistic God, but it is not as damaging as the problem of Hell.

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  105. Good clarification, Howie. I know the discussion gets away from me sometimes.

    Me too! 🙂 And to your earlier comment, Josh, I see what you’re saying. And I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your candor in these matters. I also agree that pulling in other scriptures is totally fair. For me, the truth of those scriptures is what’s up for grabs, so when I consider everything they teach and then consider the world around me, I don’t find Christianity to be consistent. I think that’s why you’re able to say “I may not know why God does X, but I trust he has good reasons,” while I say “I don’t see a god with these qualities behaving in this way, nor do I see evidence of him in the world around me.” When I was a believer, my viewpoint was closer to yours.

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  106. Thanks Josh. Actually I kind of thought I was rambling a bit – I didn’t feel it was one of my better comments.

    I also would like to comment on what you just said about Hell to Nate. I think the approach you describe is very similar to the approach that I took back when I was a Christian. It seemed the only way out for me to resolve the fact that the bible definitely talked about Hell more than just once and it also seemed clear that it would at least be a sad place forever. I think what happened for me was that I realized that any form of eternal sadness was just too big of a problem for me to resolve with the belief in an all loving God. Rodalena’s comment above expresses the conundrum I fought with while I was a Christian.

    It seems the approach that you are taking now and that Capon in his book is taking is so incredibly close to Universalism, which is yet another interpretation of the passages about salvation. As Capon expresses in his book he believes that God has already given the free gift of salvation to everyone. Universalism believes this same thing, and goes further to say that all people will be saved, period. So no Hell. Another question I have for you is this: it seems like sometimes you may be suggesting that while the sadness of Hell may be eternal that God will allow anyone at absolutely any time in eternity to decide that Hell is not where they want to be and that they can change their minds even after they have been in Hell for however long after death and then God will still accept them into Heaven if they accept the free gift. I would say this would be another solution to Nate’s issue with the problem of Hell. Is this what you believe?

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  107. Howie-
    What you describe in your last few sentences is very close to what I believe. I wouldn’t necessarily advocate it, as I don’t know that it’s really something I could defend in any way. However, it does jive with the passages about God’s patience and desire that all would come to him. I think it’s also something Capon sort of passively advocates at times. Rob Bell struggles a bit with the same issue. I have put my trust in God’s mercy and compassion, and that often carries me through passages where I can’t seem to understand the “punishment” being described.

    Nate-
    Thanks! I know I often write things that are not clear or contradictory. But, I try to be as open as I can about my understanding. I appreciate the chance to have a place to share and hear ideas.

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  108. Josh – Yeah, Capon wasn’t clear in the book I was reading, but he at least gave the impression that there would be another choice right after death. But so far in what I’ve read he hasn’t talked about there being a choice after someone has been put into Hell. It’s an interesting thought. Like you said, I think the idea is hard to justify from the bible, but I at least think it goes a way in resolving the problem of Hell.

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  109. UnkleE, looking back I see that you replied to me as well as Nate.. I did not see that this morning! Nate, do you have to “publish” comments that contain links in them?

    Hi Dave. No we should not just jump to that conclusion, or any conclusion. But that is not what I am suggesting.

    If we should not jump to conclusions then we should all be agnostic and just say that we don’t know what caused the big bang or our universe. If we want to go further we should employ the scientific method and create theories and models and use computer simulations to try and discover possible scenarios. Or we can wait around for the next Einstein to come along and shed some light on the situation. I don’t see how saying fairies did it! or god did it! adds anything to the table.

    If I understand your position it sounds like you are saying that there is a disembodied “mind” that has existed for eternity and is capable of going “poof” and creating material universes. Would you also say that this floating mind made of nothing wants to have some kind of relationship with us or expects anything from us? How is this not jumping to a conclusion?

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  110. @Nate: that reply of Unklee’s didn’t make it through to my e-mail either. I’ve had others not make it also (and not sure if they had links in them or not).

    @Unklee:

    1. It had no cause.
    2. It’s cause is physical, i.e. within itself.
    3. It’s cause is external to itself, i.e. non-physical.

    Your wording in your statements above seems wrong. I don’t understand why there cannot be a physical cause of the universe outside of itself. In fact many of the current hypotheses in science include the assumption that there was something outside of the universe that was physical (perhaps naturalistic is the better word – and maybe that is within the “non-physical” category). I’ve heard your argument before but it looks like a straw-man. If you leave out the words “external” or “internal” from what you have written then it looks correct.

    and something having no cause is likewise illogical

    But you believe that God is something (is He nothing?) and you also believe that he has no cause.

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  111. Hi guys,

    Yeah, any comments with 2 or more links were getting caught in a filter where I would have to approve them. Just an effort to weed out spam. I increased the limit to 4 though — maybe that will help in the future.

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  112. I think something for Christians (a minority in this thread, I understand :)) to consider with regard to the topic of hell is to take a look at how Jesus used it. The clearest way, I believe, to interpret his warnings is directed at those who think they have it all together, can earn their way “to heaven” by comparing their performance with others’, or ward themselves over others they deem “less than” based on some standard. More often than not, this is a religious person falling into this category. I think we Christians would do well to point the finger of hell back at ourselves when we become too arrogant and intolerant, and begin from there. Hell, at least in much of Jesus’ teachings, was not a warning given to the sinners, the lost and the searching. It was given to those who thought they had it all together and had all the answers.

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  113. As usual a gracious comment from you Josh! I really appreciate your candor and kind perspectives. Actually, this is gonna sound weird coming from me, but to be honest, I don’t mind if there is a God “pointing the finger” at me for my stubbornness or my inability to see things properly. I always realize I could be wrong, but I do feel I’m giving it my best shot at trying to figure out the proper perspective. With regards to this particular issue of Hell, It’s just the eternity of sadness with no chance at getting out that is the major difficulty. Again I realize that you kind of think that may not be the case.

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  114. “I think something for Christians (a minority in this thread, I understand :)) to consider with regard to the topic of hell is to take a look at how Jesus used it.”

    Several comments to answer, let’s start with this one from Josh (also answers a question from Dave).

    Josh is spot on. I have done a fair bit of research on the topic of hell (see Hell – what does the Bible say? and I believe the following is clear from the Bible:

    1. Paul, the great christian missionary of the first century, never mentioned it.
    2. Jesus used the word while talking to religious people or followers, not to the marginalised people often looked down on by the religious.
    3. He never said there would be everlasting torture, but rather the loss or ending of life in the age to come (for some), while others would enjoy life in the age to come.

    Hell is just a word, what matters is the content, and I believe the above is the correct frame.

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  115. That’s interesting about Paul. I didn’t know he never once used the word “hell.” However, he did seem to think some kind of punishment was in store for people after death:

    But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

    He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. — Rom 2:5-10

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  116. “Then that brings us back around to the original post. If there are two groups, and reward and punishment hang in the balance in some way, why is God (and Jesus) so hidden?”

    Nate, one possible answer (which I believe) is to question your apparent assumption that the rewards and punishment depend on passing some knowledge exam, or responding in some way that requires particular knowledge, and that knowledge being denied to some people.

    But I say (and I think the Bible says) that assumption isn’t true.

    We are not judged on matters that depend on particular knowledge, but on our response to whatever light we have. Check out Romans 2:12-16, especially verse 15.

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  117. “It seems you are trying to sneak in theism as the only alternative to naturalism, but the opposite of naturalism would be supernaturalism which includes fairies, demons, leprechauns, angels, ghosts, super heroes, gods and everything else that people can make up.”

    Hi Dave. I can hardly be said to be trying to “sneak in” theism. That is the topic of Nate’s post, and the word and the concept “God” were mentioned many times before I first commented. Theism is on the table, and now we are discussing it.

    Words are just labels, what matters is the content. So it doesn’t matter if you use the word “ghost” or “demon” or “demigod”, what matters is the content. The various arguments for God’s existence, if they are effective in showing God is more probable than not (as I believe) lead to the conclusion that a non-physical, non temporal, rational, ethical, powerful mind designed ands created the universe. We usually use the word “God” for such a postulated being, whereas we don’t usually use those other words for that being. You can if you want to, but you will likely be misunderstood. So I think it is sensible to stick to the word we all know.

    ““Any deity that tortures human beings for all eternity for not believing in them and then hides on purpose should be considered evil. Calling this deity ‘loving’ would be a contradiction.”

    Would you both agree to this statement?”

    I feel a bit like the person asked to give a Yes/no answer to the question: Have you stopped beating your wife yet? (I am joking!)

    I agree with the first bit, but I don’t believe in the bit about hiding. Hiding is a mercy and a respect for our autonomy. I once visited a coal-fired power station and was shown around. I was taken to the outside of one of the furnaces (or whatever they’re called) and the guide opened a very small opening in the side. We weren’t directly exposed to the heat, but even in the way it was set up, we got the impression of the enormous heat inside. No-one could last a nanosecond in it.

    I believe it is sort of the same with God. God’s power unveiled would completely abrogate our autonomy as human beings, something that it is very important both to us and to God. That’s why I say that just because Nate can’t understand God’s behaviour isn’t necessarily a good reason to criticise it. He and I have discussed this before, but I guess you weren’t around then, so I thought I would let you know briefly what I think.

    Best wishes.

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  118. It seems a bit more complicated than that to me. In the first few chapters of Romans, Paul is laying out why both Jews and Gentiles need Jesus. I think the crux of chapter 2 is showing that even though the Gentiles didn’t technically have the Law of Moses, there was a moral law that God held them to. They didn’t always live up to it, just as the Jews didn’t live up to the Law of Moses. So in chapter 3, Paul says that Jesus fulfills the law — in fact, he says that God’s righteousness was made manifest apart from the law (verse 21 and following).

    Plus, there are other passages that talk about salvation being only through belief in Jesus. To me, that does set up a knowledge standard that not everyone will meet.

    For a while, as a Christian, I flirted with the notion that God treated every case differently — just do your best, no matter your religious beliefs, and that was enough. Passages like the Parable of the Talents factored heavily in this idea of mine. But the problem with that was that it made it very hard to square the stricter passages. And really, if the salvation plan is that nebulous, why would God bother telling us about it anyway? All the world religions, non-religions, and splintered sects of Christianity show that giving us the message in a flawed text hasn’t worked out too well as a communication strategy.

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  119. I believe it is sort of the same with God. God’s power unveiled would completely abrogate our autonomy as human beings, something that it is very important both to us and to God.

    So the great examples of faith in the Bible, Moses, Abraham, David, Paul, etc had no autonomy?

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  120. UnkleE,

    No, I realize you are not sneaking in theism on Nate’s blog, but I think you are trying to make it sound like a default position against naturalism which I don’t think it is.

    We usually use the word “God” for such a postulated being, whereas we don’t usually use those other words for that being.

    Understood, but sometimes I think we use the word so much that it becomes taken for granted and just assumed. We say “God” and instantly a picture pops into our head of the grand king sitting on a throne in the clouds or something as if he were actually there. I just felt like reminding everyone that gods are man-made ideas just like spirits and goblins.

    a non-physical, non temporal, rational, ethical, powerful mind designed ands created the universe

    Do you have evidence for each of these claims? You don’t have to answer that if you think it will sidetrack too much from Nate’s main topic. Sorry Nate.

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  121. Dave, I asked a similar question several postings back (Feb. 10) and never got an answer. I will be interested in reading any responses that you get. Maybe it makes a difference on who asks the question?

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  122. He never said there would be everlasting torture, but rather the loss or ending of life in the age to come (for some)

    Unklee, sounds like you are an annihilationist (which Josh is not). So your concept of God does not have the problem that Nate is describing in this post, so your original objection to him may have been pointless.

    It looks like now the only differences you have are in how to properly interpret the bible passages about the afterlife.

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  123. “So the great examples of faith in the Bible, Moses, Abraham, David, Paul, etc had no autonomy?”

    Hi Nate, I’m surprised you asked this, for I think you already know my answer. In my views of the OT, I follow CS Lewis, arguably the most influential English speaking christian of the 20th century, and a well-read expert on ancient history and language. He believed that Genesis 1-11 was myth (though “God’s myth”), and the OT from Abraham to David was a mix of history & myth. That may make my view non mainstream, but it can hardly be “fringe”.

    So we don’t know how much many of these characters experienced God. We do know David often complained in the Psalms (assuming he wrote these Psalms) that God was far from him.

    Paul is an interesting case, and I don’t know – it may be that he didn’t have the same autonomy because he was a “chosen vessel”, but like Judas, he could still have refused.

    So I think my tentative “explanation” can stand on its feet.

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  124. “If we should not jump to conclusions then we should all be agnostic and just say that we don’t know what caused the big bang or our universe. If we want to go further we should employ the scientific method and create theories and models and use computer simulations to try and discover possible scenarios.”

    Hi Dave, thanks again for your questions.

    The above assumes that the scientific method, including experiments and computer models, is the best approach to solving this problem. What makes you think that it is? Do you use computer models to determine which friends you will trust, your partner(s), if you will have children, who you vote for, whether you think the Iraq invasion was right or wrong, etc?

    I use what I think is the appropriate method – looking at the evidence, constructing logical arguments and considering them. (I have even used a computer probability/spreadsheet model to analyse some things, but then, I’m a nerd!) That evidence and those arguments lead me to conclude that the God hypothesis is distinctly more probable than any alternative. If you don’t come to that conclusion, you may at least recognise that I believe that for what I genuinely consider to be good reasons.

    “If I understand your position it sounds like you are saying that there is a disembodied “mind” that has existed for eternity and is capable of going “poof” and creating material universes. Would you also say that this floating mind made of nothing wants to have some kind of relationship with us or expects anything from us? How is this not jumping to a conclusion?”

    Two very strong reasons.

    1. It has been estimated that 300 million people have experienced or observed a healing miracles after prayer to the christian God. If we included miracles after prayers to other Gods, there may be more (I don’t really know). Many of these miracles have been supported by good documentation (though of course many have not). I don’t think I can believe that every last one of these people were mistaken or lying, so I think that is good evidence that God exists and cares.

    2. There are good historical reasons to believe Jesus existed and did and said many of the things recorded in the gospels. I have read at great length on this topic, and I think the best explanation of the historical “facts” is that he really was communicating something from God. So again, I have good reason to believe God exists and cares.

    The God who we arrive at from the philosophical arguments is very consistent with the God revealed in these two ways. It all adds up (for me).

    I hope that answers your questions. I really have thought and read about all this a lot. That doesn’t make me right, and many people here believe I am sadly mistaken, but please be assured I try to make sure everything I say here has a sound basis. Best wishes.

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  125. Hi Howie, my apologies for calling you William before – not sure what happened there, but it was late at night and I am getting old (violins play softly in the background!).

    “I don’t understand why there cannot be a physical cause of the universe outside of itself.”
    If the universe is defined as everything that exists that is matter, energy, space and time (i.e. physical), then there cannot by definition be anything physical outside it. Then my options are all there is.

    “and something having no cause is likewise illogical

    But you believe that God is something (is He nothing?) and you also believe that he has no cause.”

    Yeah, my bad, I was too brief. The usual philosophical statement is the principle of sufficient reason – everything has a cause for its existence, either external to itself or within itself. Philosophers go on to define necessary entities as have their reason to exist within their own nature, whereas contingent entities depend on something else for their reason to exist.

    Thus you and I are contingent (the world could have turned out that we never existed) but numbers are necessary (no-one caused them to exist, they just are.

    So the questions are:

    1. Is God necessary? Most philosophers I have read agree that if God exists, he necessarily exists, and if he doesn’t, then he necessarily doesn’t exist. You can argue that if you like, but it is I guess part of the definition of God.

    2. Could the universe be necessary? well, no, it appears that it could easily have been different – e.g. regarding you and I.

    So the argument proceeds that if we have a chain of contingent cause and effect stretching back into time, one of two possibilities must pertain: either the chain goes back for ever, or it ends in a non-contingent event or entity. What other candidates do we have for a non-contingent entity other than God??

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  126. Hi Nate,

    “I simply see no reason to assume the supernatural when every thing else we understand is natural.”
    We don’t assume, we use logic like I have just outlined to Howie. If nothing natural can do the job, then we settle for having no explanation at all (which is the point I started with here) or we accept a non-natural explanation.

    “I think the crux of chapter 2 is showing that even though the Gentiles didn’t technically have the Law of Moses, there was a moral law that God held them to.”
    Yes, and that moral law is within them, what we would call conscience. So they are not judged on something they don’t know, but what is at the very core of their being.

    “Plus, there are other passages that talk about salvation being only through belief in Jesus. To me, that does set up a knowledge standard that not everyone will meet.”
    But Nate, it is easy to see that this isn’t true. Just ask yourself were there any Old Testament characters who God saved but didn’t know Jesus? I believe they were still saved through jesus, they just didn’t know that was how – all they saw was the “parable” seen in the sacrificial system.

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  127. Hi Dave, this is getting hectic!

    “Do you have evidence for each of these claims? (a non-physical, non temporal, rational, ethical, powerful mind designed ands created the universe)”

    It depends what you define as evidence. You will recall the statement I made was this:

    The various arguments for God’s existence, if they are effective in showing God is more probable than not (as I believe) lead to the conclusion that a non-physical, non temporal, rational, ethical, powerful mind designed ands created the universe.

    I believe the arguments are effective for reasons which I cannot go into here (I refer you to Is there a God? if you want to understand why). If you look at the conclusion of each successful argument, they postulate a being that resolves several dilemmas that naturalism (arguably) cannot. To be a being that resolves these dilemmas, that being has to have certain characteristics, which are the ones I outlined.

    For example, to resolve the dilemma of how the universe exists for no apparent reason, the Cosmological argument postulates (and demonstrates to be probable in my view) a being that exists outside of the time-space-matter-energy of the physical universe, and created it. That gives several of those characteristics straight up. Other arguments add in other characteristics.

    So that is the evidence and logic behind that statement, as briefly as I can express it.

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  128. “Unklee, sounds like you are an annihilationist (which Josh is not). So your concept of God does not have the problem that Nate is describing in this post, so your original objection to him may have been pointless.”

    Hello again Howie. I don’t like the word “annihilationist” – I’d prefer to say God gives us this wonderful life we have, and the opportunity for more. We either accept it or not.

    But yes, I think that takes some of the sting out of Nate’s argument. Another aspect is the fact that I don’t think God judges on what we don’t know, but on what we do know. I think that takes the rest of the sting out of his argument.

    But I still think the bigger problem is the one I raised – the inconsistency of using a criterion of not being able to explain God’s actions being a reason to disbelieve, but not applying a similar principle to matters that an atheist cannot explain.

    Having got the that point, I think I’ll retire for a while. Thanks and best wishes.

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  129. Hey Unklee – wow you’ve got way too many questions to field here! You’re handling it well.

    If the universe is defined as everything that exists that is matter, energy, space and time (i.e. physical), then there cannot by definition be anything physical outside it. Then my options are all there is.

    That’s right – it is just a definition. If there ended up being any of that physical stuff outside of the universe as we currently know it then if you wanted to keep that definition then we would just expand the understanding of our universe to include whatever else is physical.

    As far as a necessary entity goes, the whole issue just comes to the fact that our finite minds cannot conceptualize an infinite regress, and infinite really does seem to bring up all sorts of very strange issues, so I won’t deny my problems with it too. My own personal view is that we can stop our explanations with anything. If we wanted to we can surmise that there are necessary laws of logic and perhaps other fundamental natural laws (math/physics/moral maybe?) that always existed which had the potential for creating universes (since nothing existed to prevent that from happening). This is another option. In fact it seems the simpler one. Does that mean it’s the right one? I’m not so sure, but there are some who tend to think the simpler explanation may be the right one and I do tend to lean in that direction. There are others like yourself that believe that a mind who knows everything about anything that exists at all is a simpler explanation. And to be honest I don’t believe the simplest explanation is always the best one anyways. But for me the “natural necessary” solution seems to fit with the fact that there really doesn’t seem to be gods around except through anecdotal stories of those that believe quite strongly. And many of my friends that believe in God have surprised me by admitting that they also don’t really get the feeling that He is anywhere to be detected, but they just have a hard time conceptualizing that stuff exists without God, so that’s what they believe.

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  130. my apologies for calling you William before – not sure what happened there, but it was late at night and I am getting old

    @Unklee: 😀 Forgot to respond to this in my last comment. No worries, because I can relate. While you have a couple of years on me ( 😉 ) I tend to do stuff like that quite a bit more than I used to. Especially forgetting stuff – that one seems to be a trait handed down from my dad.

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  131. UnkleE,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond to everyone. I have to give you credit for thinking through all these things that most Christians don’t want to think about. After reading your views about myths in Genesis and your stance on hell, I’m curious what “denomination” of Christianity you would call yourself?

    The above assumes that the scientific method, including experiments and computer models, is the best approach to solving this problem. What makes you think that it is?

    I think science has repeatedly shown that it is the best method for discovering the ins and outs of reality.

    Do you use computer models to determine which friends you will trust, your partner(s), if you will have children, who you vote for, whether you think the Iraq invasion was right or wrong, etc?

    No, but those are not really objective facts of reality that I would be attempting to discover. If the question was “Where do children come from?”, then science would be the best tool for answering that.

    It has been estimated that 300 million people have experienced or observed a healing miracles after prayer to the christian God.

    This seems like shaky evidence on par with UFO sightings. Just because lots of people attest to it does not mean much, but maybe I’m just more skeptical than you are. I’ve never witnessed a miracle, have you? If God did exist and did do some miracles we would have to wonder why he answers some and not others. Why do some parents lose their children despite their prayers while others don’t? It almost seems cruel this idea of someone pulling the strings behind the curtain and picking and choosing who gets healed and who suffers.

    “There are good historical reasons to believe Jesus existed and” ….. “he really was communicating something from God.”

    How do you know he was communicating something from God?

    I hope that answers your questions. I really have thought and read about all this a lot. That doesn’t make me right, and many people here believe I am sadly mistaken, but please be assured I try to make sure everything I say here has a sound basis. Best wishes.

    I appreciate this and wish you the best as well.

    With regards to the philosophical arguments pointing towards God… Can you think of anything else besides God that people claim exists based on arguments like this?

    It seems if we use this kind of reasoning to define something that exists we could end up with just about anything if we tried hard enough. I could find some facts about reality and then apply agenticity and employ some supernatural explanations for them. I’ll give one example and then I’m done. Observing the ways that animals have to devour one another to survive I could say that there were deities, say Zeus and Terra, who set this all up and enjoy watching these “cockfights” as lions hunt down impalas and so forth on a daily basis. I wonder what attributes you would derive for your God based on this same observation?

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  132. Nate – I did not read through all the comments regarding your latest blog entry, so I hope I am not bringing up too many points already considered.

    I believe that you raised the point about what are we being saved from. My understanding of the Gospel is that we are being saved from eternal death.

    Concerning the hiddenness of God, I believe it is consistent with early Christian teaching that we remain alive in the spiritual realm upon the death of our bodies and everyone will have a first hand encounter with God there.

    The outcome of our first hand encounter with God will be illumination, purification, and eternal life for most people. The few that refuse to be illuminated and purified experience eternal death, not eternal torment in the Lake of Fire.

    As C.S Lewis noted, “In the end there are only two kinds of people, those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘thy will be done.'”

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  133. It’s amazing how many people read the same book and come away with so many different conclusions. It’s too bad the Bible did not come with an FAQ at the end.

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  134. It’s amazing how many people read the same book and come away with so many different conclusions.

    I agree, Dave. I find it interesting to note that the early followers of Christ were known primarily for the care they took of the needy. And, not only the needy Christians, but the needy of any category. I’m not convinced the Great Commission meant so much to go out and bludgeon everyone you can with Jesus’ words as much as it was meant to go out and love others without reservation as Jesus did in his life.

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  135. I realize I didn’t make much of a point on your comment I quoted, Dave. My point was that people would do better to look at what was done by the original followers of Jesus with the message and example they were given to get the best idea of what Jesus meant. The change he fostered in the lives of his disciples was mostly one of love and care toward others. Most people throughout history have preferred to rip a verse, bloody from being torn out of context, and fling it pointy end first at anyone they can see.

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  136. Josh and Dave – I find it interesting that in the first few decades after Pentecost AD. 33. the Christians were known as followers of the Way. They developed a reputation for following a way focused on charity and benevolence.

    It is also interesting to note that none of the New Testament had been written, let alone canonized in these early years. It was the embrace of the Way by Constantine’s Mother Helena, that led to the many problems brought about by Church/State relations.

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  137. I agree with you Josh. That’s why I had a recent post in my blog about the good we could do for mankind if people weren’t giving and tithing their money to their local churches. Best estimates indicate over 1 million churches worldwide with a conservative estimated wealth well over 1 trillion dollars and annual revenues of over $500 billion. As followers of Christ just think of the impact they could have on the world ! Instead they give their money to local churches (over 1 million of them) who duplicate salaries, building payments, utilities, misc overhead, when they could just pool the money and attack the world’s problems head on. Now that would be “spreading the good news” that would make the whole world take notice !

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  138. Thanks unkleE. I also want to say that I gave statistics about christian churches because there are more sources for them. I would propose this for people who give to other religions. If you throw in Islam, Hindu, Jew and the others, no telling how much money could be spent to make the world a better place. I’m not saying money fixes everything but it gets people’s attention ! If you want to be Christlike, I think Jesus would rather we use the money to help our fellow man than to build another church.

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  139. Hi Dave, thanks for your comments and your understanding. On a blog like this, we aren’t all going to agree, but hopefully we can all understand each other.

    “I’m curious what “denomination” of Christianity you would call yourself?”

    I have been part of several different denominations over a 50 year period as a christian, and I am part of one now, but I don’t really believe much in denominations – we just go where we believe God is calling us and where we can help people in some way. (We aren’t ‘gadflies’ about this – we have been in our current church 11 years, and 16 in the one before that.)

    My greatest sympathies are with house churches and anabaptists (e.g. mennonites).

    “No, but those are not really objective facts of reality that I would be attempting to discover. If the question was “Where do children come from?”, then science would be the best tool for answering that.”

    So then it is worth thinking about what is the best method of knowing God. Is it purely science, no science, or a bit of science and a bit of something else?

    “This seems like shaky evidence on par with UFO sightings. Just because lots of people attest to it does not mean much, but maybe I’m just more skeptical than you are. I’ve never witnessed a miracle, have you?”
    Yes, 300 million may be on a par with UFO sightings, except for the ones that have been well documented medically. And many have been. Being a nerd, I once did a Bayesian probability calculation of how many documented apparent miracles we would need to conclude that God probably did exist (see Miracles and probability: the adventures of a maths nerd). Of course the result depends on one’s assumptions, but it certainly showed that it isn’t as many as people might think – certainly we have enough documented cases to satisfy.

    “If God did exist and did do some miracles we would have to wonder why he answers some and not others. Why do some parents lose their children despite their prayers while others don’t?”

    Yes, I do wonder that, and I don’t have an answer. But it is a different question from the one we are discussing. Not knowing why some people never win the lottery doesn’t change the fact that a certain percentage do.

    “How do you know he was communicating something from God?”

    I don’t know that, I believe it. I tried to be careful with my wording. I started with “good historical reasons” (i.e. evidence) and then concluded that “the best explanation of the historical “facts”” (i.e. belief) was that he was communicating something from God. My justification for that is in Jesus – son of God?.

    “With regards to the philosophical arguments pointing towards God… Can you think of anything else besides God that people claim exists based on arguments like this?”

    Interesting question, not sure if I’ve thought about it before. I think arguments about political or moral truths are in some ways analogous, perhaps also arguments about the multiverse. Secular discussion about the origin of the universe is probably not very different from christian discussion. But I think you are correct, these arguments are in some ways unique.

    “It seems if we use this kind of reasoning to define something that exists we could end up with just about anything if we tried hard enough.”

    I’m not sure if we could. The arguments may be unique, but so is the concept of God. You’re not going to get from the creation of the universe to the Flying Spaghetti Monster or R2D2! But we can see the philosophical arguments as not being the start, but the verification. People say they experience God. The NT writers say the saw God in human form. These are reports which may or may not be true. One way to verify the possibility they are true is the philosophical arguments. I think they work that way.

    “I wonder what attributes you would derive for your God based on this same observation?”

    The evil in the world, including the preying of animals on others, is a difficulty for christianity, no two ways about it. I think we can find ‘theodicies’ (ways of explaining what God is doing) that go some way, but I don’t think they remove the basic problem. I believe in God for all the reasons we have discussed, and despite the sorts of facts you raise.

    It tells me that God is not some prissy grandfather in the sky, but a tough-minded dude who can cope with a lot of pain to achieve the good result he has in mind. If we didn’t have the life of Jesus,and the experience of answers to prayer, we might well conclude that God is a cosmic sadist or indifferent, as some people conclude. But I think the totality of evidence is well against those conclusions.

    Thanks for all your questions. What about you? What’s your story and current belief (or not)?

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  140. Thanks, chief! I updated my blogroll accordingly.

    That’s a shame about those blogs. I really enjoyed them, especially “A State of Apostasy.” Hope Persto’s doing okay…

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  141. UnkleE, I hope you’re enjoying the discussion as much as I am. Thanks for sharing some of your background, I’ll try and do the same at the end of my comment.

    So then it is worth thinking about what is the best method of knowing God. Is it purely science, no science, or a bit of science and a bit of something else?

    I think originally we were discussing the best method for discovering what caused the big bang or the start of our universe. In this statement you are assuming God exists and then trying to find a method to prove it.

    Yes, 300 million may be on a par with UFO sightings, except for the ones that have been well documented medically.

    You didn’t mention if you’ve ever witnessed one. I’ll take a look at the link you gave and come back to this one later.

    Yes, I do wonder that, and I don’t have an answer. But it is a different question from the one we are discussing.

    Okay, I guess we should stick to trying and figure out if God actually exists or not – I have no problem with this.

    I don’t know that, I believe it. I tried to be careful with my wording. I started with “good historical reasons” (i.e. evidence) and then concluded that “the best explanation of the historical “facts”” (i.e. belief) was that he was communicating something from God. My justification for that is in Jesus – son of God?.

    I read the page you linked to and the arguments seem rather circular to me. Folks may have written that Jesus claimed to speak on God’s behalf, but people claim a lot of things. Should we believe similar claims from other people such as the prophet Muhammad? I guess we should probably try and establish if God exists first before we wonder if anyone is speaking on his behalf.

    But we can see the philosophical arguments as not being the start, but the verification. People say they experience God. The NT writers say the saw God in human form. These are reports which may or may not be true. One way to verify the possibility they are true is the philosophical arguments. I think they work that way.

    People say they experience a lot of things. I’m not sure if this is a good method for discovering the truth about reality. Taking what we know about human nature it’s easy to see that we tend to think there are “agents” behind the scenes of unknown phenomena. As Howie has pointed out there have been many instances in the past where these intuitions of humans have been proven false and the underlying mechanism has always had a natural explanation. Lightning, germs, earthquakes, etc.

    Now we want to know what caused the big bang and theologians want to say that God did it. Other things go “bang” all the time and no one seems to explain them with a divine explanation. I’m thinking of lightning, volcanoes, atomic fusion and most specifically supernovae.

    I get this feeling that people use the word God as just a quick way of not having to think about the problem anymore. “God did it, that settles it” comes to mind. I don’t think they actually take the time to try and comprehend what this “God” thing actually is. They say it is outside of time, but if that’s true then it would not be able to actually perform an action / event! If it did have a thought or an action then it would be subject to the before and after of time. They say it is immaterial, but if that’s true then it’s not made of anything! So now we’re left with a “mind” made of nothing that is without time and therefore cannot think or take actions. Honestly, I think theologians have pushed the definition of God right to the point of non-existence.

    I used to believe in God very much. In fact I’m still sad today when I think of the lost relationship with what was basically an imaginary friend. My deconversion process (similar to Nate’s and others) was by no means easy and to some degree I still hold out hope that there is a higher being out there. But I can’t wish it into existence. I’ve set certain standards for myself and I won’t believe things just because it would make me feel better. I’ve looked at the cosmological and ontological argument, but they have some issues. The argument from design always seemed the most promising, but the problem of suffering and the randomness of everything really levels the field on this issue for me. I consider myself agnostic just because it seems like the most honest position right now. Thanks for asking.

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  142. I’ve missed some really great comments. Instead of jumping back in at this point, I think I’ll just watch from the sidelines for a bit. I’ll chime in if I feel the need. Carry on! 🙂

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  143. Hi Dave, yes I am enjoying it and appreciating it.

    In this statement you are assuming God exists and then trying to find a method to prove it.

    I don’t see how I’m assuming that. I’m asking how we might best try to detect, observe or know God exists. I think you may have assumed that science is the only way.

    You didn’t mention if you’ve ever witnessed one.

    Nothing incontrovertible, but a few things that were unusual and I believe were acts of God.

    I read the page you linked to and the arguments seem rather circular to me. Folks may have written that Jesus claimed to speak on God’s behalf, but people claim a lot of things. ….. I guess we should probably try and establish if God exists first before we wonder if anyone is speaking on his behalf.

    Again, I can’t see any circularity. I start with what the best scholars (of all beliefs and none) say is probably historical fact, then ask how that information should be interpreted? What is circular about that? And since I believe this is part of the evidence for God, we are trying to establish if God exists.

    Should we believe similar claims from other people such as the prophet Muhammad?

    I wonder what claims made by Mohammed are you referring to? And shouldn’t they be assessed in exactly the same way, by the evidence and the best explanation of it?

    People say they experience a lot of things. I’m not sure if this is a good method for discovering the truth about reality. Taking what we know about human nature it’s easy to see that we tend to think there are “agents” behind the scenes of unknown phenomena.

    If it is documented that a person was seriously ill, and then documented that they recovered in an exceptionally unusual way, surely that is good evidence of something – whether spontaneous remission or something else? And if these unusual recoveries often happen after prayer, isn’t that significant?

    Now we want to know what caused the big bang and theologians want to say that God did it. Other things go “bang” all the time and no one seems to explain them with a divine explanation. I’m thinking of lightning, volcanoes, atomic fusion and most specifically supernovae.

    We could approach every one of these the same way. Develop a list of possible explanations, and then see which is most and least probable. In all the other cases you mention, the natural explanation is overwhelmingly probable. In the case of the big bang, there isn’t really any natural explanation.

    get this feeling that people use the word God as just a quick way of not having to think about the problem anymore. “God did it, that settles it” comes to mind.

    No doubt that is true for some people. “The Government” or “they” or “science” could all be used in the same way. But what would that signify? I am using the term based on quite extensive evidence and rigorous arguments.

    I think theologians have pushed the definition of God right to the point of non-existence.

    I have a lot of sympathy with this view!! I actually have a theological degree, but I think much of theology is a waste of time because it tries to systematise matters about which we don’t have enough information to do that.

    My deconversion process (similar to Nate’s and others)

    Did you just decide the evidence wasn’t enough to believe, or were you part of a church that you didn’t respect, or what? What catalysed your choice?

    The argument from design always seemed the most promising, but the problem of suffering and the randomness of everything really levels the field on this issue for me.

    I think that’s a pretty fair way of looking at things. But for me, the number of good arguments for God are more than the number of good arguments against, and they are more fundamental. e.g. you can’t have a problem of evil unless you have true evil, but an objective, true, sense of good and evil is the basis of the moral argument for God. So before the argument from evil can have real force, you need to assume God and ethics (IMO).

    Thanks again, I appreciate the opportunity.

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  144. Hi Unkle,

    I’m asking how we might best try to detect, observe or know God exists.

    That’s fine, but the original discussion (many comments ago), was concerning the issues you raised to Nate concerning the start of the universe and the basis for consciousness and some other things and my point had been that the best way to unravel these mysteries is with science. No worries, it’s hard to keep track of everything on this thread.

    Again, I can’t see any circularity. I start with what the best scholars (of all beliefs and none) say is probably historical fact, then ask how that information should be interpreted? What is circular about that? And since I believe this is part of the evidence for God, we are trying to establish if God exists.

    I think you may have established that Jesus existing and saying certain things is probable from a historical point of view (maybe), but that doesn’t really apply to my question – which is: How do we know that Jesus was speaking on God’s behalf? In other words, If there was a God how would we know what his views are? How can we verify that someone is speaking for God? What’s the standard?

    I wonder what claims made by Mohammed are you referring to? And shouldn’t they be assessed in exactly the same way, by the evidence and the best explanation of it?

    I am referring to Muhammad claiming to have a message from God. What if the actual creator God was upset with the trinity concept and sent a message through Muhammad that he was not a 3-in-1 god? How can we tell if a message is from God or not?

    If it is documented that a person was seriously ill, and then documented that they recovered in an exceptionally unusual way, surely that is good evidence of something

    I haven’t read through all the material you linked to yet, sorry, I have to find some time to do that.

    In all the other cases you mention, the natural explanation is overwhelmingly probable. In the case of the big bang, there isn’t really any natural explanation.

    Well I think it’s safe to say that in the other cases no intelligence is necessary to make a really big explosion so the same could be true for the “big bang”. I think there are some natural explanations out there for the big bang like an oscillating universe or quantum fluctuations and I think there are others too. If we could fast forward 100 years the discussion might be very different. Still, we don’t gain any insights by saying an invisible mind went “poof” to start our universe.

    Did you just decide the evidence wasn’t enough to believe, or were you part of a church that you didn’t respect, or what? What catalysed your choice?

    Actually I had a very nice church. The catalyst for me was simply realizing that I had no good reason to think the bible was from God. I also realized that I had never examined Christianity from an outsiders perspective, so that basically kick-started things for me.

    So before the argument from evil can have real force, you need to assume God and ethics (IMO).

    I disagree. I didn’t use the word evil, I used suffering – which does exist. We have to ask ourselves if things looked like they were planned out with a purpose in mind.

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  145. Hi Unklee:

    But for me, the number of good arguments for God are more than the number of good arguments against, and they are more fundamental. e.g. you can’t have a problem of evil unless you have true evil, but an objective, true, sense of good and evil is the basis of the moral argument for God. So before the argument from evil can have real force, you need to assume God and ethics

    The problem of evil is a serious problem for the Christian viewpoint because it is internally inconsistent. So even if someone doesn’t believe in objective good/evil, if they were to examine the Christian worldview they would be caught with a very difficult problem to solve. So the force of this issue is not diminished at all by what the person examining the viewpoint believes about good and evil.

    Dave has brought up several other problems here with the theistic solution, so a case of “4-1” in your original objection is continuing to be shown incorrect. You seem to want to hold on to this inconsistency issue when unfortunately it could be turned back on you by others if they wanted to (I don’t want to do that). Again, we all try our best to weigh each issue for the impact we believe it has on the worldviews and put them all on the scales. Some issues weigh more in our minds than others as you have described for your own viewpoints, and this is a very subjective and difficult process for all of us, so simply claiming the other side is being inconsistent doesn’t really help me get closer to truth. I learn more when you write facts and arguments (which you do well) rather than judge others for being inconsistent when it’s way too subjective of a topic to make a call like that.

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  146. @unkleE, “you can’t have a problem of evil unless you have true evil, but an objective, true, sense of good and evil is the basis of the moral argument for God. So before the argument from evil can have real force, you need to assume God and ethics ”

    Isaiah 45:7 “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things” (KJV)

    So unkleE, we need to assume your God is responsible for both good and evil and this is why we need to assume he is real ?

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  147. The problem of evil is a serious problem for the Christian viewpoint because it is internally inconsistent.

    Hey Howie. I may be off base, but I’m gonna take a crack at this. In order to claim that the problem of evil is “internally inconsistent” within the Christian framework, you have to be examining it from within the Christian framework, not from outside of it. The problem of evil largely depends on the assumption that God has not, is not, and will never do something about the evil in the world. However, one that examining this problem who is truly within the Christian framework would not come to these conclusions. In Jesus he came to earth himself and suffered the infection of evil for us in order to work the cleansing of evil for all people and all the earth. Looking at Christian scripture, particularly the NT, it becomes evident that God is at work bringing to fruition his promise that he would re-unite all things in harmony and peace. So, the problem is inconsistent for people who are on the outside looking in at Christianity. However, for Christians who have thought through the implications of what the NT teaches, there is promise of reconciliation, and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are down-payments on that promise. So, while it does not solve the problem for the right here and right now, there is INTERNAL consistency with what Christianity teaches and the way the world appears. If Christianity made rosier claims about how the world appears or our ability to make ourselves and the world better without God’s intervention, then there would be the inconsistency you’re talking about. Christianity’s honest picture of the world is actually one of the reasons I find it more compelling than other teachings. Anyway, just something to think about.

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  148. Hi Josh – there may be 2 things going on here. I was responding to Unklee’s statement here:

    So before the argument from evil can have real force, you need to assume God and ethic

    My point was just that someone who doesn’t believe in God can still see the argument from evil and suffering as having real force. Unklee has admitted elsewhere that the problem from evil is a difficult one for him (although he resolves it probably in similar ways as you do). What he is trying to say above is that if you don’t believe in God then you can’t see that the problem is a difficult one. But that is not true because someone that doesn’t believe can still go through the thought process of imagining it to be true and go from there.

    If you’d like we can segway to talk about whether or not the argument from evil is a difficult one to solve or not. I believe the evidential argument is a difficult one, but I don’t see the logical argument as fully sound because we could always reason that we just don’t understand things properly. But resolving how there can be an all powerful all knowing and all good God with the fact that there is so much tremendous pain in the world is an issue that many have fought with. And some of these are simply natural disasters or things like terribly painful diseases that young children have to live with for however long their lives may be. Those have nothing to do with bad things that people do, that has to do with the way that the world simply is. A naturalistic point of view comes off looking like a better solution to this issue than the personal omni-God that I described. The solutions I see either re-define words in the argument or redefine God in some way that removes one of His “omni” traits. Your solution above leaves the question why if He is “bringing to fruition His promise” that the world is still filled with some horrific things (even natural things). You have even indicated what the issue is – the problem is still here right now. Pointing to what the future might be doesn’t solve the issue that exists in the now.

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  149. Hi Josh,

    Just a couple of thoughts. I think you’re right, in some ways. It might explain why God allows suffering in this world.

    However, when you pull back a bit, there are still some problems, I think. Why is there evil in the world at all? Most Christians would say it’s due to free will. Because we have free will, then “all sin and fall short of the glory of God,” as Paul said. So if we can’t help but sin, how do we explain a place like Heaven? Supposedly, God will allow the saved to live with him in Heaven for eternity. But he can’t abide sin in his presence, which is why Jesus had to come as a sacrifice, and why he cast out the angels who rebelled. But if our free will causes us to sin, what’s to keep us from sinning in Heaven? Do we lose free will? Or if there’s some way we can retain free will, yet be “perfected” in such a way that we don’t sin, why didn’t God create us that way to begin with?

    That’s why this has remained an unanswered problem for the notion of an all-loving, all-powerful, all-good god. At least one of those qualities has to slide a bit to accommodate evil…

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  150. Pointing to what the future might be doesn’t solve the issue that exists in the now.

    Indeed. And, I’m not trying to resolve the issue for the now. I think the question of why God allows suffering now is largely unanswerable, even for someone who is a studied Christian. What I think Christians can say to the issue is, if Jesus was who he said he was and who the NT claims he was, then there is real evidence God is doing something to bring about the promised end. So, it does not tell us why things aren’t fixed now, or why they weren’t fixed several thousand years ago. However, if Jesus was God (and, if you’re looking at it from a Christian explanation, you have to begin there – whether Jesus was God or even existed is a separate conversation), then there is real, historical downpayment on the promise God has made. So, if we, for the sake of only addressing this discussion, take the claims about Jesus in the NT as true, then there is evidence that God “is dealing” with the issue of evil. Though it may not be resolved in the way or time that I would like, I see Jesus as indication that the promise and the resolution will come to fruition. I was simply addressing your statement that Christianity is internally inconsistent on the issue. That was probably unfair to pull out of the comment you made to unkleE, but I felt the comment itself was worthy of addressing, as I don’t think it’s true for the reasons I outlined above.

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  151. Nate-
    You ask a lot of really good questions in your last comment. I’m not sure I’ve got satisfying answers to any of them.

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  152. That’s cool Josh, and it’s totally ok with me if you want to correct a part of what I said – “internal difficulty” might have been a better choice of words for me to have used. I’m not sure if that resolves things.

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  153. I’m not sure if that resolves things.

    I’m not sure it does, either. In difficult or painful moments I’m definitely as skeptical and demanding as anyone. These are just the things I’ve come to as I think through the ramifications of what I believe in moments that are more dedicated to analytical thought 🙂

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  154. But if our free will causes us to sin, what’s to keep us from sinning in Heaven? Do we lose free will? Or if there’s some way we can retain free will, yet be “perfected” in such a way that we don’t sin, why didn’t God create us that way to begin with?

    This bothered me when I was a Christian. If there is no sin allowed in heaven then we must become somewhat of a robot with no choice but to praise God for all eternity. Even questioning God for an instant might not be allowed. Then I realized that even “thoughts” would be considered sin and even remembering things from our earthly lives might be considered sin. I wondered if our memories would be tampered with or even erased. Without our memories we really would have no personal identity, just like someone with full blown amnesia.

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  155. Dave & Nate-
    You’re both asking excellent questions. I wonder about many of the same things. However, differently than either of you, I am very much okay with not knowing how these things will play out. I am fine with admitting that God may have ways of doing things I cannot understand. I am also fine with recognizing that, for his own reasons, he has chosen not to reveal his reasoning for doing things that way. The ambiguity and the mystery, hidden within the promise and the hope, are not things that very often bother me. Does that simply mean I haven’t thought them through well enough? That certainly may be the case. However, I’ve read a lot of folks who have thought through them much more than I may ever be able to do, and many of them seem okay with much of the ambiguity and mystery as I am. I know that answers nothing. Just an acknowledgement, really, of your tough questions.

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  156. Josh, I appreciate your perspective, but here’s why I don’t share it:

    Regardless of what people believe about Heaven or Hell, it’s obvious that the Bible does teach about a distinction between those on the “left” and those on the “right.” Because one of these groups will get good things and the other won’t, it sets up a scenario in which people need to be able to get into the good group. If God is loving and just, then he will make sure everyone has such an avenue. But when his communication to us is filled with logical contradictions, such as the problem of evil, free will, and Heaven that we just laid out, he’s now making it so that some people won’t be able to believe his message. In order to get past this hurdle, all we need is a little bit more information — just an explanation of how those things don’t result in a contradiction. Since God hasn’t provided that answer, it becomes very difficult to believe the communication is truly from him. Unless he doesn’t actually want all people to be saved. But that runs counter to the claim that he’s all-good and all-loving.

    So it’s not just that I’m not “okay” with not understanding mysteries about God. It’s that the Bible communicates enough to create contradictions within its teachings, but then it doesn’t communicate anything else to resolve those contradictions. I just don’t see an all-knowing, all-loving, all-good god behaving in such a way.

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  157. Nate-
    I appreciate your perspective as well. The validity of scripture is an issue that I think has been covered many times over on this blog and others, and I think unkleE and others have made cases regarding it that I can’t even touch. But, suffice to say that I don’t share your difficulty with scripture at the level you describe. Are there problems and inconsistencies? Yes. But, as I and others have mentioned, there are many examinations and explanations that we find compelling with regard to scripture’s validity. I know I’m not going to argue you out of your position, as I see and understand the problems you describe in scripture. So, it’s also not JUST that I’m okay with not understanding the mysteries. That’s just a piece of it. If it were just that, or just anything else, I probably would be much closer to where you are.

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  158. Josh – “if Jesus was who he said he was and who the NT claims he was, then there is real evidence God is doing something to bring about the promised end.”

    I think the key word here is “if.” IF monsters were real you should make sure your closet is securely fastened before you go to bed. IF Dracula were real, you’d do well to stock up on holy water and carry a cross. Perhaps you need to take an extra step back from your starting point – or maybe ask yourself, “what if jesus wasn’t the son of god?”

    For me, I wonder a lot about the problem of evil and suffering on earth. Perhaps it is that god doesn’t save the lives of children or prevent cruel suffering because this life doesn’t matter or isn’t “real” – but the next eternal life is… But even this train of thought soon runs into problems if you really think about it. But skipping all of that because I think it’s moot, I’ll say that for me the real issue is that people who believe in their particular religion mostly do so because they believe what others have told them – not what god has told them or shown them, but what other people have. It was this concept that concluded my religious life, and I cannot get beyond it – my faith was never in god as it turned out; how could it have ever been?

    Their faith isn’t in god, it’s in the claims made by men about god. Let’s say that someone told you that President George Washington decreed a law that all blonde headed women should be slapped in the face because they are devious (lack of a better analogy, sorry). Now let’s say that you didn’t believe that claim about Washington, and when you questioned that claim, the guy just says, “oh, and who are you to question President George Washington!?”

    They may even go on to point out different traits amongst blonde headed women that may lend credence to the claim that they are devious, as if that somehow equates to proving the claim about what Washington said in regard to them. I guess we could say that “IF” President Washington did in fact make such a lawful decree, then perhaps we should slap blonde women… this doesn’t prove the claim either, it just side steps that issue makes an assumption.

    And a point about assumptions; in cases like the above with Washington or with god or with anything truly questionable, all assumptions are not equal. We don’t herald BigFooters and their faith, because they chose to believe because they couldn’t prove that that the big foot isn’t real. No, we mock them. Prove doesn’t work that way – one must prove there is something (insert hard to believe line item here) in order for it to be convincing.

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  159. Nate-
    If I may say so, I wonder if a chief difference between you and I may be that I am okay with some people, for whatever reason, not inheriting eternal life. Like I’ve outlined in a few places, I’m certainly not capable, nor would I want to be, of determining who will and will not inherit eternal life. But, I am aware of the teaching that some will, for whatever reason, not choose God. I am trusting, based on many of Jesus’ parables and other teaching in scripture, that all of us will be given enough “information”, “light”, whatever you want to call it in order to make a response one way or another. The thing I wonder coming out of this conversation is if you, even if you were logically and rationally convinced of God’s existence and that Jesus was God, would choose to put faith in him anyway simply because of the fact that there would be some that ultimately will not inherit the life to come. Just a thought.

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  160. Wiliam-
    I was addressing the internal consistency of scripture’s, specifically Christianity’s, depiction of the world as it is and the problem of evil. I think it’s fair to discuss that without first having to establish that Christianity is true. We can do this because, in order to decide whether or not there’s internal consistency, we only need to look at the problem and what Christianity offers. Whether it is actually true, as I said, is a different conversation.

    We could also talk about the internal consistency of believing in Dracula and the problem of whatever without having to establish that Dracula existed.

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  161. I’ll say that for me the real issue is that people who believe in their particular religion mostly do so because they believe what others have told them – not what god has told them or shown them, but what other people have.

    I think the vast majority of us believe what we do based on what others have told us, don’t we? For example, have you studied first hand all of the experiments and observations that are the foundation on which you base your beliefs about the world as it is? I doubt it. You read what others have done, and you trust their authority to be authentic and qualified enough to give you an accurate report. So, you’re not trusting in what you’ve observed. You’re trusting what someone else has told you, and you’re trusting that what they’ve observed is accurate, and you’re trusting that they’re not misleading you for some reason. I think we all have to make judgments about what to believe based on information that is not first hand.

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  162. Josh, we could have that discussion, as you say, but when you hinge your argument on, “if Jesus was who he said he was and who the NT claims he was, then there is real evidence God is doing something to bring about the promised end,” then it’s the same discussion.

    sure, “IF” jesus was the son of god and “IF” the bible is the inspired word of god, then i guess that would settle it. but what if he’s not? that’s the point. that’s why these details of contradictions and errors mean so much – they point to your starting assumption being wrong.

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  163. I think it’s fair to discuss that without first having to establish that Christianity is true. We can do this because, in order to decide whether or not there’s internal consistency, we only need to look at the problem and what Christianity offers.

    Exactly Josh, and if I’ve interpreted what you have said here properly, this is exactly what I was trying to say to Unklee (who may be waking up right now 😉 ).

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  164. William-
    I don’t think you’ve quite followed. Howie made the comment that the problem of evil is “internally inconsistent” in Christianity. To determine whether it is internally inconsistent, we need to look at whether there is accounting for it WITHIN Christian teaching. To do that, we don’t need to establish whether Christianity is true. We only need to look at whether there is an accounting for it within Christianity. As I tried to explain, I think there is. However, even if I thought there was not internal consistency, the conversation would still need to take place within the Christian worldview, by assuming the things you point out. You can’t determine internal consistency by stepping outside of something and looking at it from there. You have to look at it from within the framework itself. Which means you have to assume the framework before starting.

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  165. Josh – “You read what others have done, and you trust their authority to be authentic and qualified enough to give you an accurate report.”

    solid points, yes, but here’s the differences:

    1. whether I believe those reports and studies have no bearing on my eternal life/death or acceptance by god(s).

    2. Some of these reports I am more skeptical in than others, but typically there is more than one study supporting a finding plus peer review. The bible contradicts itself, that’s not good – plus, no other religious book agrees with its findings, so these are quite different.

    3. and many of these reports, studies, findings, etc are derived from or lead to tangible things – medication, rocket technology, cell phones and cable tv being a few. We witness these things in real life and actually feel and sense their presence. We walk by reason and not by faith, sort of thing.

    there are a few others differences I’m sure, but i think these deliver the gist.

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  166. Josh, you’re confusing me. I have not followed the entire thread and just don’t have to today – I do apologize.

    But your post in which you kept saying we must start with “if jesus was the son of god, then….” is what i’m commenting on. I took what you were saying as a way to explain that “if jesus was god’s son and all of that stuff, then we can be confident that those parts of the bible that appear to be contradictions, are not really contradictions.”

    have I misread what your position is?

    If I have it right, then I think my comments stand as valid.

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  167. William-
    Howie and I were talking about the internal consistency of Christian belief and the problem of evil. I think you may have read my comment out of context. I started with those assumptions because that is where Howie made his comment. But, don’t worry about taking it out of context – I took Howie’s out of context to start the conversation in the first place!!!

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  168. hey, sorry for taking them out of context. I guess I dont know what your statements meant in their original context if not:

    “if jesus was god’s son and all of that stuff, then we can be confident that those parts of the bible that appear to be contradictions, are not really contradictions.”

    But, I admit, that may only be my dimwittedness. I’ll back away from the table now – I see the seats are taken.

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  169. Nate-
    If I may say so, I wonder if a chief difference between you and I may be that I am okay with some people, for whatever reason, not inheriting eternal life. Like I’ve outlined in a few places, I’m certainly not capable, nor would I want to be, of determining who will and will not inherit eternal life. But, I am aware of the teaching that some will, for whatever reason, not choose God. I am trusting, based on many of Jesus’ parables and other teaching in scripture, that all of us will be given enough “information”, “light”, whatever you want to call it in order to make a response one way or another. The thing I wonder coming out of this conversation is if you, even if you were logically and rationally convinced of God’s existence and that Jesus was God, would choose to put faith in him anyway simply because of the fact that there would be some that ultimately will not inherit the life to come. Just a thought.

    I was a Christian for very many years even though I believed a whole bunch of people were going to Hell. I didn’t like that thought, but I still believed.

    But aside from that, I can tell you a main reason that some people won’t get eternal life (if Christianity were true), and it’s simply because they’re unconvinced of it. This doesn’t make them “bad,” it just means they weren’t given enough evidence. Is it really righteous to punish such people? This is the real immorality inherent in Christianity. And the saddest thing of all is that it’s supported by scriptures that even the believers think are imperfect.

    Yes, the Bible says that not everyone will be saved. But if some parts of the Bible aren’t true, how do you know that part is? The Bible also says that all people will be given enough information to make a response one way or the other, but how do you know that part is true? And through these blogs, you now know a bunch of people who tell you that that latter point isn’t so. To illustrate, they tell you the problems they have with the religion, and at times, your only response is to say that you have no answer for those problems. Your honesty is extremely admirable, but shouldn’t it give you pause that you have no answers? You’re choosing to believe the word of ancient people whom you’ve never met (you don’t even know their names except for Paul and maybe Luke) over the word of those you’ve come to know fairly well through in-depth interaction.

    We’re telling you that we don’t have enough evidence to believe. Yet you’re saying we’re wrong without even being able to give us evidence of how we’re wrong. I know you don’t mean it as such a slap in the face, but that’s kind of what it is when you think about it.

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  170. Nate-
    I can definitely see how that feels like a slap in the face. However, you’re also telling me that what I believe can’t be true, and offer reasons that don’t make sense to me, either. That also feels like a slap in the face at times. With regard to what parts I feel you’re inaccurate on – I think you and I, and you and others have been around on – I think we’ve been over those. You see it one way. I see it another. That’s ok. UnkleE takes a very researched approach to responses. I choose to take a different approach because even the researched responses seem unconvincing one way or the other.

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  171. Josh, the quote wasnt yours out right, it was what I paraphrased how i took what you were saying. I was just trying to rephrase what it was that i thought you were saying.

    Here’s the post where I first mentioned it:

    “Josh, you’re confusing me. I have not followed the entire thread and just don’t have to today – I do apologize.

    But your post in which you kept saying we must start with “if jesus was the son of god, then….” is what i’m commenting on. I took what you were saying as a way to explain that “if jesus was god’s son and all of that stuff, then we can be confident that those parts of the bible that appear to be contradictions, are not really contradictions.”

    have I misread what your position is?

    If I have it right, then I think my comments stand as valid.”

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  172. I hate to butt in here between you and nate, josh, but I am really unsure of what nate has said that doesnt make sense to you.

    could you elaborate a little on that one?

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  173. Your criticism is fair, Josh, but I see it a little differently. You believe a doctrine that says people will be judged if they don’t follow the same doctrine. I believe nothing like that. Your doctrine also says that every one will get enough evidence to convince them of this doctrine. I also don’t believe anything like that. I’m fully aware that many people will remain religious, despite the problems I see with it. I don’t think that makes them bad people, and I don’t think it means they deserve to miss out on any of the good things in life. If there is some form of an afterlife, I don’t think they should miss out on it either.

    One of the problems I have with Christianity is that it makes all these claims — very strong claims — but when the evidence and arguments for them have problems or result in contradictions (and I’m not really even talking about textual contradictions but logical contradictions in the theology — like the combo of problem of evil, all-loving god, free will, and Heaven) the individual rarely steps back to examine their beliefs and weed out the inconsistency. Instead, they’re fully comfortable saying “I can’t answer your criticism, but I’m still right and you’re still wrong, and the consequences are eternal.”

    To me, there’s a difference between your position and mine in that regard, but maybe I’m not seeing it clearly.

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  174. Let me add to that point just a little.

    Yes, we’re each saying the other person is wrong, which is not always easy to hear. But I can accept that you sincerely believe what you believe. Your religion, on the other hand, says you can’t accept my claim that I don’t have enough evidence to believe Christianity. I think that’s the major distinction between our two views.

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  175. Nate, this last point of your is important. I believe that Josh and Unklee and many other Christians I know are being honest, sincere when they say that they believe in Christianity. I believe they are doing their very best to come to correct conclusions about these kinds of issues. I just see it as they just come to different conclusions than myself. Everyone is different. But the Christian worldview does kind of have this extra added thing in there that makes it difficult for Christians to say that they feel the same way about nonbelievers. That may explain why sometimes these disagreements seem to come with judgments of dishonesty or some other kind of judgments to help them make sense of how the God they believe in will judge people who conclude differently from them. I’m not saying atheists never judge (obviously they do), but it doesn’t go against our belief systems to not judge and that is why I have no qualms about simply understanding that there is a disagreement in conclusions – no need for explanation – disagreement is a normal part of life on every topic.

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  176. I won’t be at a computer for a bit, and I don’t want to short change on any responses. So, it may be a bit before I respond.

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  177. No worries, Josh. Thanks for the heads up.

    Thanks for the comment, Howie. I think this also ties in to what William often says about none of these religious teachings coming directly from God anyway. If it was God telling them directly that you and I and others are being dishonest, that would be one thing. But it’s coming from a book that’s certainly inaccurate about some things and was written by largely anonymous and superstitious people. Yet when it talks about my motivations it’s trusted more than I am?

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  178. You believe a doctrine that says people will be judged if they don’t follow the same doctrine.

    This probably won’t shock you, Nate. But, I don’t actually believe this. Judging people for not following the same doctrine was the business of the Pharisees. Jesus had a lot to say about that. Jesus actions do not seem to necessitate that someone has understood, acknowledged, and accepted all the doctrines of “Christianity” prior to him forgiving them. Some examples that come to mind are the paralyzed man lowered into the house by his friends, the woman with the bleeding problem, the prostitute at the dinner party, the thief on the cross. Not to mention the fact that Jesus’ disciples are nearly always portrayed as not having the faintest clue what it is he was talking about. This also flies in the face of a problem in our own time. What about those that have been so burned by a church – a church that wouldn’t know Jesus if he was hanging on a cross in front of them – that they will never step foot in another church again? Will these people be condemned because of human failures? That seems to fly in the face of everything Jesus stood for and did. I understand you’ll probably bring up passages in the NT that seem to teach the opposite. However, I always start with Jesus, and then work out toward passages I find hard to understand. If a passage seems to contradict something that Jesus said or did, then I go with what Jesus did, and assume I am not understanding the passage. Maybe there’s a problem with that. But, Jesus’ actions seem to me the best of any place to start when interpreting what “Christianity” is.

    “Yet when it talks about my motivations it’s trusted more than I am?” — “But the Christian worldview does kind of have this extra added thing in there that makes it difficult for Christians to say that they feel the same way about nonbelievers.”

    Nate and Howie-
    I don’t think either of you are being dishonest. I think you are honestly trying to seek the truth. I believe God has used imperfect vessels to communicate his message (this is clear throughout the OT and NT). The God of Jesus allows for miscommunication, misrepresentation, and imperfection. He forgives people in spite of the fact that they think they are rejecting him based on the poor representation he has had from others. I believe God has a way of working around us when we stumble and fumble our way through trying to point people to him. See above for some examples of Jesus forgiving people who knew nothing about him or his “religion”. This is another one of the compelling things about Christianity to me. Scriptures record the messed up communication coming from God’s own people without editing out how horrible it makes those people look. In many ways, despite many of the inconsistencies I will freely admit there are in scripture, it is one of the most honest looks at people’s misrepresentation and misunderstanding of their own God that you will find in a religious text that is supposed to be “promoting itself”.

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  179. William-
    I was not intending to prove Christianity by appealing to Christianity. I was attempting to respond to Howie’s comment about how Christianity deals with the problem of evil within it’s own teaching. Does that make sense? I’m not sure how else to explain it.

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  180. Josh, do people have to believe Jesus was the son of God to be saved? Not trying to catch you in anything, just curious what you think is expected/required of those who will be saved.

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  181. William-
    I was not intending to prove Christianity by appealing to Christianity. I was attempting to respond to Howie’s comment about how Christianity deals with the problem of evil within it’s own teaching. Does that make sense? I’m not sure how else to explain it.

    Yeah Josh I think what you were trying to outline in response to me was a fair approach. I don’t want to speak for William but maybe he just wanted to show that things make more sense if you assume a view that doesn’t include the Christian God.

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  182. do people have to believe Jesus was the son of God to be saved?

    I’ll trust that you are not trying to catch me in anything. But, I know I’ll open myself up to being caught with my answer :). I’m going to assume that by “believe Jesus was the Son of God” you mean something similar to the following: 1) A person must have heard of Jesus; 2) That person must know what the NT claims about Jesus; 3) Accept as true the claims the NT makes about Jesus; 4) Place trust in the fact that Jesus – his life and actions on our behalf – is the only means of salvation; 5) Make verbal assent to the fact that Jesus is Savior. Would it be accurate to state what you mean in that way? If so, then I’ll respond to that. No, I do not think that a person must possess this knowledge and make this assent in order to be “saved”. Similar to unkleE, I think there is Light we are all given that reveals who God is. It is to this we must respond. Like I mentioned above, there were people Jesus forgave without them knowing who he was, and, in some cases, without even saying anything (paralyzed man, prostitute at the table). Additionally, there are all of those who died before Jesus. Unless none of those people were indeed “saved”, thus Jesus’ actions must have been intentionally deceitful, then the idea that someone must know, believe, and assent that Jesus is the son of God in order to be “saved” cannot be true.

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  183. Hey Josh – and like we discussed yesterday you may even believe that somehow some people will be given that Light after they die for some reason and given a chance to make a choice then and maybe even always have a choice. I want to reiterate that your views really do display a great kindness of heart in you. I wish other Christians could have such a similar view of others like you do. It’s hard for them to hold that view though when there are passages like Luke 16:19-31 and Hebrews 9:27 and other passages which seem to indicate the urgency of being saved by believing in this lifetime.

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  184. Howie-
    I completely agree. I have been one of those who had difficulty holding that view. Jesus’ entire ministry was about subverting the assumptions of the religious elite. One of the things he seemed most interested in subverting was the assumption that God brings home only those who are morally upright and have all the right doctrines under their belt. Grace, God’s grace and his grace alone, permeates Jesus’s life and teaching. Once we take upon ourselves to judge who is saved and how they are saved, we stop displaying grace. I think those who fail to hold this view miss Jesus’ primary message. Even the parable in Luke 16 is pointed at Pharisees who think the rich and upright and knowledgeable get to heaven while the untouchable beggars are obviously condemned.

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  185. But Josh, the thing about Luke 16 is that it shows that there’s no other chances after death, and it also talks about how nobody will be sent from the afterlife to warn those living because they already have a hard time believing in a claimed resurrection. It assumes those kind of people who question miracle claims won’t accept any kind of evidence – this kind of viewpoint is used in a lot of apologetic material. But most apologists (as well as this passage) seem to believe that we’ll all know for sure after we die. If there is a way we can know for sure after we die you would think there would be ways in which God can make it clear before that.

    And then there are more perspectives about those who have a difficult time believing, like Psalm 14:1. You can see a post related to that here. I’ve tried leaving a couple of comments on that post a week ago but they never made it past moderation. And all I did was kindly suggest that she may want to consider a different point of view. Her’s is a common viewpoint that I believe comes from the bible.

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  186. Hello again Dave,

    “the start of the universe and the basis for consciousness and some other things and my point had been that the best way to unravel these mysteries is with science.”

    Is it really? How do you know? It has been proven to be good at answering the physical questions, but it is metaphysical questions that we are discussing. I think this question is still open.

    “How do we know that Jesus was speaking on God’s behalf?”

    I put the case in the page I referenced. Basically it asks (1) whether Jesus’ behaviour indicates that he thought he was speaking on God’s behalf, and (2) whether we have reason to believe he was telling the truth. That is a matter of judgment.

    “I am referring to Muhammad claiming to have a message from God. What if the actual creator God was upset with the trinity concept and sent a message through Muhammad that he was not a 3-in-1 god? How can we tell if a message is from God or not?”

    Muhammed didn’t make a claim as radical as Jesus did (he clearly never claimed to be Messiah, son of God, etc) so we can easily think him partially right and partially wrong. But we would test his claims the same as for Jesus – (1) what do the historians say? (2) how can we best interpret the historical evidence, then (3) do I believe this man was telling the truth? etc.

    “I think there are some natural explanations out there for the big bang like an oscillating universe or quantum fluctuations and I think there are others too.”

    If we define the universe (as we should) as everything physical (i.e. everything involving matter & energy), then science can only address matters within the universe, not outside it (if there is anything outside it, it isn’t something science can work on). So logically, either (1) the universe caused itself to exist, which is self contradictory, or (2) science cannot address the cause. All the so-called scientific explanations of the universe start with something already there (basically a quantum field,). They don’t get to the heart of the problem.

    “The catalyst for me was simply realizing that I had no good reason to think the bible was from God.”

    Did you have other reasons to believe at that time, or was the Bible your whole reason? Would you be interested in sharing a little more about how it went for you?

    “I disagree. I didn’t use the word evil, I used suffering – which does exist.”

    Yes, I understand that. But how can we say suffering is bad? We know it is unpleasant, but for the argument from evil to work, we need an ethic that says that suffering is objectively evil. (Otherwise we’d better call it the argument from unpleasantness, and that is a difficult argument to construct!) How would you propose to show that step of the argument without God?

    “We have to ask ourselves if things looked like they were planned out with a purpose in mind.”

    As you have already said, the fine-tuning of the universe seems to indicate this.

    Best wishes.

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  187. “The problem of evil is a serious problem for the Christian viewpoint because it is internally inconsistent. So even if someone doesn’t believe in objective good/evil, if they were to examine the Christian worldview they would be caught with a very difficult problem to solve.”
    Hi Howie, I agree completely. It is a difficulty for a christian. But I think it is not a reason not to believe because it implies one argument each way (evil vs moral), which balance each other out.

    “Dave has brought up several other problems here with the theistic solution, so a case of “4-1″ in your original objection is continuing to be shown incorrect.”
    That 4-1 comment was a little tongue-in-cheek. But without taking it literally, I think it is broadly true – i.e. there are (for me) many more arguments that point to God than those that throw doubt.

    “I learn more when you write facts and arguments (which you do well) rather than judge others for being inconsistent when it’s way too subjective of a topic to make a call like that.”
    I’m sorry if you, or Nate, think I am judging him in this. My judgment on him, which I have told him several times, is that I think he is a very genuine guy who I could probably be good friends with if we were neighbours.

    My judgment is on his arguments. I still think that his argument on hiddenness implies a premise that his response to other pro-theistic arguments ignores, and I have seen no reply to this that convinces me otherwise. I still think the test would be to formulate the hiddenness argument formally, and see.

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  188. “So unkleE, we need to assume your God is responsible for both good and evil and this is why we need to assume he is real ?”

    Hi Ken. No, my God is the God of Jesus. Anything that doesn’t conform to that must be reconsidered. I think Isaiah is the high point of the OT, but I think we have to read him very carefully. In the OT, they tended to view God as responsible for everything (including sending evil spirits to King Saul), and in a sense that is true because he made it all. But I don’t believe he is directly responsible for evil.

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  189. Nate, I think I’m going to try to wind down my involvement in this discussion, but I wanted to clarify a couple of things, building on a couple of things you said.

    “But if our free will causes us to sin, what’s to keep us from sinning in Heaven? Do we lose free will?”

    Freewill implies choice. We need choice on earth to be autonomous. I think in heaven we may not have the choice any longer, we have made our choice to go God’s way. God is hidden now to give us that choice, but he won’t be hidden then. Besides, we will be re-made, new creatures, and that will include being unable to sin because that is the choice we have made here on earth.

    Obviously this is just speculation, but it shows me that though your questions are good ones, they are hardly reason in themselves not to believe. (Of course I recognise you have other reasons, but, apart from the problem of evil, I can’t help think most other reasons not to believe are similar to this, just inabilities to understand.)

    “You believe a doctrine that says people will be judged if they don’t follow the same doctrine.”

    I’m with Josh on this, that’s not a fair statement of what I believe either. This statement assumes that the criteria for entering heaven must include things we can only learn from the Bible.

    But I don’t think this is true, neither did CS Lewis, and I have seen a quote by Billy Graham that he didn’t think so either.

    We all believe that God judges according to the light we have, not the light we don’t have, that he judges those who haven’t heard the message of Jesus by conscience as it says in Romans 2.

    Earlier in this discussion I said: “Just ask yourself were there any Old Testament characters who God saved but didn’t know Jesus? I believe they were still saved through Jesus, they just didn’t know that was how – all they saw was the “parable” seen in the sacrificial system.” So people can be saved through Jesus even if they don’t know him, and I (and CS & Billy) believe that can happen to contemporary people too.

    I realise that most of your experience of christianity is of the more fundamentalist kind, and your arguments give you good reason to reject that form. But many of your arguments are not relevant, or not so relevant, to the form of christianity that many others hold. It seems to me that it would be helpful for your thinking, and for this blog, to make that distinction.

    Thanks for always welcoming me here.

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  190. @unkleE, “I think Isaiah is the high point of the OT, but I think we have to read him very carefully. In the OT, they tended to view God as responsible for everything (including sending evil spirits to King Saul), and in a sense that is true because he made it all. But I don’t believe he is directly responsible for evil.”

    So Isaiah didn’t hear this word from God correctly ? If we have to read Isaiah very carefully, would we not have to read Matthew , Mark, Luke, and John just as carefully ? If you are claiming that Isaiah didn’t quote God correctly when he said, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things” Shouldn’t we also be questioning what the gospel writers claim about what Jesus said ?

    I think as usual you are being very selective in your interpretation of the bible. Oh but I forgot you just told Nate , “Of course I recognise you have other reasons, but, apart from the problem of evil, I can’t help think most other reasons not to believe are similar to this, just inabilities to understand.” So it is our inabilities to understand and yet you can.

    Another condescending statement unkleE.

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  191. “So Isaiah didn’t hear this word from God correctly ? If we have to read Isaiah very carefully, would we not have to read Matthew , Mark, Luke, and John just as carefully ? “

    Hi Ken. I have said many times I am a christian, and the person I am following is Jesus. He is the fullest revelation of God we have, and anything that tells us differently to what we see and hear in him has to be carefully considered.

    So that applies to the entire OT. I understand the OT in the light of the NT. That includes Isaiah. Whether he didn’t hear accurately (possible), or it wasn’t recorded accurately (possible) or we don’t understand the context (more likely) or don’t know exactly how to interpret it (also more likely) are options about which I have no definite opinion.

    “So it is our inabilities to understand and yet you can. Another condescending statement unkleE.”

    Ken, have I given you any reason to say this? Can you point to anywhere that I have said or implied that you all don’t know things that I know?

    I can point you to many places where I have made it clear many times that I recognise I don’t know many things, and I think we ALL are unable to understand many things about God.

    So I make no special claims for my own understanding.

    I think some things we can’t understand are fair reasons to doubt God’s existence, but I think many others are not good reasons because we simply don’t know. If you or Nate disagree (as I know he does), you are free to put an alternative opinion (as he has on several occasions). These comments are an opportunity to each put our opinions and consider each others’ views. I do not think making this sort of accusation, particular when it is based on your misunderstanding, is helpful to the conversation.

    I hope that explains things for you. Best wishes.

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  192. .I can point you to many places where I have made it clear many times that I recognise I don’t know many things, and I think we ALL are unable to understand many things about God.

    And one of these things is the nature of this god which you worship and have yet to define. Also, by continually using the capital inferring a proper name you are assuming something based on no evidence, merely faith.

    The correct term of address when referring to the deity you believe is Yahweh.Or Yeshua, or Jesus, if you prefer.

    This is its (his) name.

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  193. Yeah UnkleE I can’t blame you for wanting to wind down, these discussions do tend to drag on a bit with not much resolution. If other Christians on here want to clarify things then that may help. I’m still not understanding the original inconsistency objection. You believe in God because there are things you don’t have an answer to like the beginning of the universe. That seems to be the same “hidden premise” that you are saying that Nate has in his argument. All of us try to look at different worldviews and if things in those views either seem contradictory or bring up difficulties then we either believe the worldview to be false or we at least suspend belief. So it looks to me like we’re all applying this same criterion in our analyses, but the arguments just have different levels of impact on each of us because we are different people (genes, experiences, etc.)

    And I really don’t know how to make the “hiddenness” argument not be problematic for me. When I think of the ways in which I can show that my mother/father/wife/kids exist, none of those ways pass when I apply them to the idea disembodied minds. I can feel the hug of my family members, I can see them, I can hear them speak at the same time I see their mouths move, I can give them a hi-5, I can ask them to pick up things around the house and I can see that those things get moved by their hands, I can ask them to go on a scale and I see the scale register something, I can feel their body heat. I could go on of course. Now no argument is a 100% full proof argument for the non-existence of absolutely anything at all that we can conceive, but for me this argument has a lot of strength in some reasonable sense of trying to come to a correct conclusion of truth when I apply the same criteria for whether or not I believe other things exist or not.

    And I still don’t understand why the argument from evil/suffering loses force for someone that doesn’t believe in God. Theists are suggesting that we believe that God and objective morality exist, and once we do that then the full force of the argument is seen. I believe William Lane Craig conceded this point to Stephen Law in their debate. Stephen basically said “the argument from evil can still be run even if you don’t believe in objective morality”.

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  194. @Howie

    The only way ( for someone such as Unklee) to argue for belief in something untenable is to create an argument that presumes it is tenable. Thus the use of the word God for example.

    The capital letter makes it a pronoun and immediately adds weight, or begins to ‘flesh out the bones’ and subtly creates a (barely) tangible entity in our minds eye giving it a human value; as we cannot call something a He, Him etc without attaching some humanness to this character.

    Once the believer has set out their argument like this every point debated is from the believer’s worldview, who will, time and again, in one form or another challenge you to defend your non-belief in the ( already established ) character.
    It is a situation from which he (the believer) cannot lose.
    And if you visit Unklee’s blog, or any outright believer, you will see when this basic premise is challenged/ comes under serious attack the believer will eventually close the argument , often, by moderating the challenger’s comments or with a thinly veiled condescending closing remark.

    Ultimately, faith requires no evidence.
    Surely, you have ‘argued’ with Unklee for long enough to recognise that he never leaves Nate’s blog conceding a single point. Not ever.

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  195. Hey Ark – yeah I think the lines in burden of proof do get sort of twisted when we have these discussions. Nobody even seems to want to agree on where the lines really exist with burden of proof anyways so I just live with it.

    I ended up deciding discussions with Debilis weren’t very productive because it seemed like there truly was absolutely nothing he would ever concede on or even give a reasonable “you may be right on that”. Unklee does sometimes concede things though. I don’t think anyone is good at conceding including myself so maybe that’s not a reason to stop the effort anyways.

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  196. No atheist that I am aware of ( since entering into the fray) has ever convinced a believer that their position is untenable.
    I don’t know your own personal story, but most deconvertees tend to experience disquiet over issues such as evil, Yahweh’s hiddenness and the fallacious nature of the bible.
    They decide for themselves using common sense and intellect that religion and god belief is hogwash.

    The believer, no matter how sincere they appear, will always consider the deconvertee some sort of aberration; were not ever a proper Christian.
    I have seen unklee, for example, use the phrase , ”we Christians”, toward Nate or Marcus (?)
    As if a person like Nate would not be aware of every apologist argument.

    Read the comments on this thread.
    It illustrates perfectly the points I raise re the ‘god’ issue.

    http://www.is-there-a-god.info/blog/clues/why-does-the-universe-exist-god-vs-science/

    For the playing fields to be level, the believer, and in this case, the Christian , should be obliged to demonstrate without relying on faith how the man, Yeshua is the Creator of the universe.
    While they cite this as immutable, irrespective of the evidence (or complete lack of), how are you going to mount any argument to the contrary?

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  197. @Howie

    Yeah UnkleE I can’t blame you for wanting to wind down, these discussions do tend to drag on a bit with not much resolution.

    I know what you mean Howie, I try to avoid these kinds of discussions with people in my area because they usually just end up badly. UnkleE is such a good sport about it though! The only hard part is keeping track of all the comments in this long page format. Oh well, here we go again:

    @UnkleE

    Is it really? How do you know? It has been proven to be good at answering the physical questions, but it is metaphysical questions that we are discussing. I think this question is still open.

    That’s a matter of opinion I guess. I think consciousness and the big bang are physical questions. We know that our self-awareness is located within our brains and we know how to turn it off and on. I think it’s just a matter of time until we figure out how it works or recreate it artificially. If the big bang theory is true, I think it was a physical event, how could it be non-physical? Science does have a proven track record and philosophical arguments do not that I’m aware of.

    On Jesus and Muhammad… You’re basically saying that it comes down to whether we believe they were telling the truth or not (I would add “and whether those who wrote about them were telling the truth or not”). But my question is: How do we know if they are telling the truth or not? Is making radical claims part of the reason to trust someone?

    If we define the universe (as we should) as everything physical (i.e. everything involving matter & energy)

    Hold on. Why should we set that limit? If we had said that our Milky Way galaxy was the only galaxy we would have been dead wrong. Why should we think that our universe is the only universe?

    I am of the opinion that both time and space go on forever. If we started traveling in one direction how could we ever reach the end of space? Would we hit a wall? What’s on the other side? If we could travel backward (or forward) through time would we reach an end? I don’t think so. That’s just a theory of mine, I don’t assume it to be true and I think this is where you and I are different. I’m okay with saying “I don’t know”, but you’ve taken your theory “God did it” and you believe it to be absolute truth. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    Did you have other reasons to believe at that time, or was the Bible your whole reason? Would you be interested in sharing a little more about how it went for you?

    The Bible is a big part of Christianity, no doubt. Like Nan said a while ago – take away the Bible and what are we left with? Deism perhaps? Some other factors in my deconversion were: realizing that faith was not a good way to seek truth, realizing that if I had been born into a muslim family I would have been a muslim, realizing I was guilty of a double-standard of being skeptical of all other extraordinary claims except those of Christianity, realizing that the trinity was a logical contradiction, realizing that there was no unity in discernment for Christians from the “holy spirit”. Those are some of the main ones, but really things relating to the Bible were at the forefront.

    Yes, I understand that. But how can we say suffering is bad? We know it is unpleasant, but for the argument from evil to work, we need an ethic that says that suffering is objectively evil.

    I think you are trying to downplay suffering. Try to imagine having your baby die of an awful disease or try to imagine having an earthquake or tsunami destroy your home and family. Calling that merely unpleasant could be a real slap in the face to someone who has gone through it.

    “We have to ask ourselves if things looked like they were planned out with a purpose in mind.”
    As you have already said, the fine-tuning of the universe seems to indicate this.

    There are finely-tuned diseases that wipe out populations, is that by design or blind evolutionary selection? If it’s by design then what is the motive? There are billions of stars with planets and our earth just happened to be the right distance from our star – if this was all designed for us then what was the motive for making billions of other solar systems and billions of other galaxies? If there is a God and his ultimate purpose was just to confuse us as much as possible then I’d say he’s done a very good job of that.

    So now we’re left with a “mind” made of nothing that is without time and therefore cannot think or take actions.

    Were you agreeing to this part or just the part about theologians? Is your god within time or outside of it? material or immaterial? This is an important issue for me.

    By the way, I spent some time last night reading your pages on miracles and still have more reading to do, but a thought occurred to me. If there are as many miracles occurring as you claim from survey data – wouldn’t someone have videotaped something? I don’t mean this facetiously, I am genuinely curious if something exists out there that might be considered very good evidence for a miracle. I watched some Kathryn Kuhlmann videos on YouTube, but I didn’t see anything conclusive yet. What are your thoughts on people like her and Benny Hinn?

    UnkleE, we’ve covered a lot topics in this discussion! Thanks for hanging in there.

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  198. Ark, I’ve got several motivations for engaging on these blogs. I’ve listed some on my own blog about page, but there are some more I’ve thought about that I did not list. None of them are that I want to create atheists. I do however want as many people as possible engaged in pursuing what is true about reality and I believe some religious people (probably not UnkleE) have given up on that pursuit in certain areas because they are so sure that they have found the answers. For example, why continue research on what caused the big bang if you already are sure of the answer.

    And as far as theists not changing their minds due to discussions like these I think Nate may be a counter example to that. I think it was a discussion he had (maybe on this blog) about the Canaanite genocides that got his search and questioning going.

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  199. @Howie and Ark

    I think both of you are right. My research was kicked off by a couple of things I read from unbelievers to which I had no response. But there were some other aspects of my faith that had been bothering me as well. I do think people have to be receptive, either because they’ve already experienced some cognitive dissonance with their position, or they’re just extremely open-minded. But when you find those people, I do think discussion can help make a difference. It may not happen immediately, but it can help the process along.

    @unkleE

    Freewill implies choice. We need choice on earth to be autonomous. I think in heaven we may not have the choice any longer, we have made our choice to go God’s way. God is hidden now to give us that choice, but he won’t be hidden then. Besides, we will be re-made, new creatures, and that will include being unable to sin because that is the choice we have made here on earth.

    I still think the notion of a hidden God is counter-intuitive if God wants us to choose him. When people grow up and choose a career, it’s not unheard of for them to get several years down the road and find a career that they would have loved to pursue, if they had only known about it. Hiding choices from people doesn’t help them make the best choice.

    And if you believe people lose free will in Heaven, that does resolve that particular problem. Though it makes me wonder why God would want to be surrounded by people who no longer have the ability to change their minds about him. That’s usually why people say he gave us a free will — didn’t want to be worshiped by robots.

    Also, you and Josh have both talked about the people who lived before Jesus being saved without knowing him. I guess I should have explained my reasoning on that — I had just assumed we were somewhat on the same page. I always believed (and it still seems reasonable to me) that there’s a clear distinction between how God operated before Christ and how he operated after. Until Moses, it appears that God spoke to various families or individuals. With Moses, the Law was given, and people were to follow that. The New Testament, Hebrews in particular if memory serves, says that all these people were still saved through Jesus, even though Jesus’ sacrifice hadn’t yet occurred. By following the Old Law, the Jews were basically writing checks for forgiveness that Jesus would reconcile. Gentiles during that period were judged on some kind of moral law, as Romans 1-3 and Acts 17 teach.

    But after Christ’s death, the Old Law was completed (according to Hebrews and Galatians), and the “New Law” was in effect. As Paul says to the Athenians in Acts 17:

    The times of ignorance [the period before Christ] God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent

    So yes, before Christ people were saved without needing faith in him. But Paul seems to say that this time is over. Acts 4:11-12 says this:

    This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

    And Hebrews 11:6 says this:

    And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

    So while it sounds nice to say that God still overlooks ignorance, I’m not sure there are any passages that expressly say that. Furthermore, what kind of ignorance would he overlook? Whatever it is, I doubt any nonbelievers on this blog would qualify. Personally, I think that’s a pretty messed up system, since our unbelief is simply due to lack of compelling evidence.

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  200. @ Howie.

    I would never suggest you were motivated to convert theists, as this would contradict my personal belief and my previous statement. Proselytizing is for the religious. They are, after all, commanded to do this, as you are aware no doubt?

    I am certainly not casting aspersions on you or anyone’s reason for blogging. I hope I did not convey this impression?

    Hell, I have learned tons of stuff, but I mainly do it for fun, and would never expect anyone to jump up and yell, “Eureka, I am now an atheist. Thank god for the Ark.” lol….Don’t think so.

    I would still maintain though, there is doubt in the believer’s mind before the search begins, whether on the internet, via literature or simply speaking to someone.

    This is why engaging a person such as unklee Debilis or suchlike with any thoughts of ”point scoring” is fruitless for the reasons I have already outlined. These folk are not at a stage where any sort of real doubt occupies the mind.
    Unklee, for one, is open about this.
    Thus his arguments are all finely tuned apologetics, with just enough carefully selected ‘evidence/facts’ to make them sound credible.

    You can hardly expect him to countenance a person such as Richard Carrier, no matter how qualified he is, and he will always tailor any response to such Carrier arguments citing credibility, consensus and employment.

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  201. Hey All-
    I have really appreciated this discussion, and the few others I’ve had on this blog with you all. I’m going to pull back, and possibly discontinue commenting at this point. Reading over this discussion again, particularly portions I’ve had with people, has made me consider taking my own advice. By that I mean that I am more concerned with sharing God’s grace in Jesus through my actions with people I interact with on a daily basis than I am with the apologetics angle I’ve encountered here. So, I just wanted to thank you all, particularly Nate for hosting an excellent blog and discussions, for the opportunity to try my hand at this type of discussion. After all, I just don’t think it’s for me. While it’s certainly fun and addictive, it’s not as important to me as I thought it would be, and nor am I as good at it as I thought I would be. Peace, All. Thanks again.
    -Josh

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  202. I hate to see you go, Josh, but I get it. These kinds of discussions can be aggravating, and they definitely sap away too much time. Still, I hope you’ll consider coming back at some point as I enjoy your comments and value your perspective. I hope there wasn’t anything I said that’s encouraged you to move on — if so, I apologize.

    Best wishes! 🙂

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  203. Nate-
    No, definitely not anything you said. Not anything anyone said – just my preference after thinking it through. I spend quite a bit of time reading and trying to make sure I’m not missing anything to comment on, and I’d rather spend my time doing other things at this point. I will absolutely continue to read your blog as I enjoy it quite a bit, and I anticipate I’ll comment here and there. But, those comments will likely not be ones that I’ll be trying to engage a debate around. Keep up the good work, Nate.

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  204. Hey Josh: I’ve really enjoyed my discussions with you quite a bit, and I echo every sentiment Nate just sent to you. I totally understand if you’d prefer not to engage in these time consuming discussions. You actually are pretty good at this and if anything I’ve learned a few new different kinds of interpretations of the bible – some that as I’ve said are very kind and gracious.

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  205. Nate

    So while it sounds nice to say that God still overlooks ignorance, I’m not sure there are any passages that expressly say that. Furthermore, what kind of ignorance would he overlook? Whatever it is, I doubt any nonbelievers on this blog would qualify. Personally, I think that’s a pretty messed up system, since our unbelief is simply due to lack of compelling evidence.

    Quite! And who could ever forget this gem from The Number One Son.

    “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

    As this delightful Christian fellow told me.

    http://christophercrandolph.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/jesus-and-the-necessity-of-forgiveness/#comment-1299

    It’s really a warning, Ark. People who act or speak in such spiteful ways out of hate, are not of Christ. Jesus welcomes any and all comers to turn to Him and be saved. So in Big Picture of things, Ark, the message is clear:

    Turn or burn.

    Is this really something / someone to be involved with?
    I also don’t see any ”benefits” here either.

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  206. Ark, I guess if there were an all powerful god, it wouldn’t mater whether we’d want to be involved with him or not – it would simply just be the way it is.

    But trying to determine if that IF has any real weight, or which god we should follow, which brand we should trust, then we’re right back into seeing all the absurdities again.

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  207. @Ark: Yeah, sorry I had misunderstood you. I think maybe you are saying my expectations are too high and you are right – that does come out in my comments. e.g. I probably shouldn’t be very surprised that UnkleE doesn’t see the whole inconsistency thing the way I do.

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  208. Hi Dave,

    “If the big bang theory is true, I think it was a physical event, how could it be non-physical?”
    Yes, the big bang was physical, but it’s cause may not have been.

    “Hold on. Why should we set that limit? If we had said that our Milky Way galaxy was the only galaxy we would have been dead wrong. Why should we think that our universe is the only universe?”
    This is where it gets tricky. The big bang was the start of “our universe”, but may not have been the start of “the universe”. The cosmological argument (or some forms of it) considers the cause of the whole thing – everything physical – “the universe”.

    “How do we know if they are telling the truth or not? Is making radical claims part of the reason to trust someone?”
    We don’t know (i.e. have absolute certainty) about very much at all. So we make this choice like we make almost every other choice – by considering the evidence and deciding what seems most likely to be correct.

    If God exists, knowing him must be personal as well as factual, and the way we get to know a person is to interact with them. So one way we could be more certain God exists could be to actually ask him. I know many people who have done that and found him, though of course I know others who have tried that and not found anything.

    “I’m okay with saying “I don’t know”, but you’ve taken your theory “God did it” and you believe it to be absolute truth. Please correct me if I’m wrong.”
    That’s not how I see it. Each of the reasons to believe in God can be expressed in a logical valid argument with arguable, and (IMO) plausible premises that lead to the conclusion that God exists. The cosmological and design arguments do this by outlining an exhaustive list (3 or 4 items only) of the possibilities, and then showing that all the non-God options are unlikely. Now obviously their success is a matter of opinion, but the conclusion God exists isn’t arbitrary and is a better conclusion than “I don’t know”.

    “Some other factors in my deconversion were: realizing that faith was not a good way to seek truth, realizing that if I had been born into a muslim family I would have been a muslim, realizing I was guilty of a double-standard of being skeptical of all other extraordinary claims except those of Christianity, realizing that the trinity was a logical contradiction, realizing that there was no unity in discernment for Christians from the “holy spirit”. Those are some of the main ones, but really things relating to the Bible were at the forefront.”
    Thanks for sharing those. I don’t agree with most of them, but I won’t open up more cans of worms just now, except to say that the argument about religious belief being determined by birth is often repeated without anyone presenting evidence. I decided to check it, and it turns out to only be a half truth. You can read about it in Are many christians converts? and it turns out that:

    1. Christian numbers are growing mostly in previously non-christian cultures, and declining mostly in previously christian cultures.
    2. The number of christians converted from a non-christian background is about 30-50% (depending on whether you measure christian by culture or behaviour).

    So the “fact” you quote isn’t as clear cut as you might think.

    “I think you are trying to downplay suffering. Try to imagine having your baby die of an awful disease or try to imagine having an earthquake or tsunami destroy your home and family.”
    I think you have misunderstood me. I have said many times that I think the amount of suffering in the world is a terrible thing and it makes it harder to believe in God. But I was then assessing how strong this argument is and pointing out that without objective morality, any assessment of evil (as opposed to unpleasantness) has, by definition, to be subjective.

    So let me put the question to you as a non-theist. Is the suffering we see in the world truly and objectively evil? (a) If it is, by what objective and true standard (as opposed to your own subjective feelings, which I understand and share) to you measure it to be evil? (b) If it isn’t, how would you formulate the argument from evil without it being truly evil?

    “There are finely-tuned diseases that wipe out populations, is that by design or blind evolutionary selection? If it’s by design then what is the motive?”
    This is the problem of evil again. I agree it is a problem, I am distressed by it and I cannot explain it.

    “There are billions of stars with planets and our earth just happened to be the right distance from our star – if this was all designed for us then what was the motive for making billions of other solar systems and billions of other galaxies?”
    The cosmologists tell us that for our universe to last long enough for planets to form and life to evolve, it had to be this big.

    “If there is a God and his ultimate purpose was just to confuse us as much as possible then I’d say he’s done a very good job of that.”
    This gets us back to the hiddenness argument again, doesn’t it? I feel the matter is much less confusing than you do.

    “Were you agreeing to this part or just the part about theologians? Is your god within time or outside of it? material or immaterial? This is an important issue for me.”
    I can’t find where I said this. But I believe God is outside our time, but I couldn’t possibly know whether he is outside all time. I believe “he” is immaterial.

    “If there are as many miracles occurring as you claim from survey data – wouldn’t someone have videotaped something?”
    I have heard of some, but I think they are less conclusive than medical documentation.

    ” What are your thoughts on people like her and Benny Hinn?”
    I think there are many fakes and disreputable people who maybe started genuine but are in religion for what they can get out of it. But there are others who may seem strange to my standards but who knows? I know nothing about Hinn except he seems dodgy. Kuhlman also seems dodgy except some of “her” miracles are well documented, so what can anyone say about that?

    “UnkleE, we’ve covered a lot topics in this discussion! Thanks for hanging in there”
    Thanks for your time and patience. Do you think it might be time to wind down?

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  209. Hi Howie, yes, I think I will leave our discussion there. Thanks for your time.

    Nate, I think I will begin to exit stage left too. Thanks for your reply, I will only make one brief comment.

    “there’s a clear distinction between how God operated before Christ and how he operated after”
    Yes this is true, but then we have to ask whether the distinction is one of time (before or after Jesus) or one of position or knowledge (knowing about Jesus vs not).

    Romans 2, Acts 17 and a few other places suggest the view that Josh and I hold, and logic supports this. So that’s why I, and many others (including the famous names I mentioned) take this view.

    Thanks again and best wishes.

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  210. Hey Dave (and anyone else interested):

    Here’s an interesting article (Why we love to lose ourselves in religion) I’ve just come across by Jonathan Haidt, an atheist social psychologist who has studied the social psychology of religion (I’ve read some of his stuff before). It seems relevant to the relationship of religion and morality.

    Enjoy!

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  211. Ultimately, faith requires no evidence.
    Surely, you have ‘argued’ with Unklee for long enough to recognise that he never leaves Nate’s blog conceding a single point. Not ever.

    My quote to Howie on the thread above.

    Thank you, Unklee, award yourself a Noddy badge. 😉

    Nuff said? lol…

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  212. Whether or not you believe in God, religions accomplish something miraculous: They turn large numbers of people who are not kin into a group that is able to work together, trust each other, and help each other

    Help each other blow stuff up, perhaps? Fascinating article indeed. Yet it appears to have – though he doesn’t spell it out – a somewhat westernized focus/bias.

    No mention of Jihadists or other radical Islamic groups.

    No mention of the insidious nature of Ken Ham’s brand of religious ‘togetherness’.

    I sometimes wonder if a person like unklee doesn’t scour the internet looking for such ‘one off’ articles and then present them as if this suddenly justifies religion?
    It must take a lot of dedicated hard work or be a subscriber to a lot of such news feeds.

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  213. @UnkleE

    Thanks for your time and patience. Do you think it might be time to wind down?

    Yeah, that’s fine. I’ll try to just hit one or two points and then I’m done.

    The cosmological argument (or some forms of it) considers the cause of the whole thing – everything physical – “the universe”.

    Here are two of my problems with the Kalam cosmological argument: 1. The first premise, “everything that begins to exist has a cause” might seem intuitive but there really is no evidence for this. When have we ever seen new matter or energy ever come into existence? All we really observe is stuff that exists change form. So that first premise is a bold claim for something we’ve never seen happen. 2. The second premise, “The universe began to exist”, well perhaps “our” universe began to exist (big bang), but we don’t actually know if “the universe” (everything physical) began to exist.

    So one way we could be more certain God exists could be to actually ask him.

    I’ve tried this many times. Even asked a few times today, looking at the sun set…, and I was met with pure silence.

    So let me put the question to you as a non-theist. Is the suffering we see in the world truly and objectively evil? (a) If it is, by what objective and true standard (as opposed to your own subjective feelings, which I understand and share) to you measure it to be evil? (b) If it isn’t, how would you formulate the argument from evil without it being truly evil?

    I don’t think the argument works this way. I think it goes like this:

    If there is NO god (and no objective morals) then all of the suffering in the world makes perfect sense. We would expect to see mindless, heartless evolutionary processes in a cold and very random universe.

    On the other hand, if there IS a god (and objective morals) then we would expect to see some kind of meaning and purpose to everything. But when random disasters happen and random animals have to eat each other and random people have mental disabilities and random babies die in the womb… Well it just looks broken. Like an experiment gone bad or something.

    Okay, I’m done. UnkleE, thanks for discussing all of this with me.

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  214. Hi Dave, yes thanks to you to for an interesting discussion. My brief sign-off ….

    1. Yes, whichever view we take for the cosmological argument, we are dealing with something unique. I think that means that fact shouldn’t bias us towards or away from any view.
    2. Yes, I know some people ask God and don’t get what they are hoping for. But Jesus said to “keep on asking” so I hope you don’t give up just yet.
    3. Yes, the argument from evil does make it harder to believe in God. I still think it doesn’t work unless you assume objective ethics.

    If you were ever interested in discussing anything we missed here, please feel free to drop over to my blog – you know where I live! 🙂

    Best wishes.

    Like

  215. Well said! I’m always impressed at how exChristians give a better argument than a Christian or even a non believer. I love hearing deconversion stories.

    Like

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