Two Challenges to the Faith with Jeff Cook

This series is by Jeff Cook…

I love Top 10 lists. Movies, sports stars, events—I will watch “The Top 10 Doily-Knitters of All Time” if its on. This post begins a set of two Top 10 lists: for and against God-belief. I write these lists as a theist, as one who believes in God (though that may change by the end), and the arguments below are the ones from which I feel the most pull and seem to capture the rationality for rejecting God belief best. (Here is a link to #10.)

#9 – Believers

  1. If God exists, he always makes people better who have faith in him.
  2. Those who rise highest in religious institutions because of their depthy faith in God can be the worst kinds of people.

Therefore, there is no God.

The Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft thinks that Christians are the only compelling argument against Christianity because some of us have been hurt by religious people in high places, but again the argument isn’t very strong. Here’s a few thoughts:

Just because someone leads a church or has risen high in an organization does not mean they have had transformative encounters with God. “But certainly God has good reasons to put the best kinds of people in charge of religious institutions”, one might counter. Sure, but must a good God be the CEO of every religious institution? In fact, what counts as “a religious institution” is unclear here, and why should we think all religious institutions actually showcase and commune with the God who is real?

From a Christian angle, I see the organized and disorganized Church more like a hospital in which everyone is, in some way, still sick and seeking to get both themselves and others healthy. As such, I should expect failures from everyone, and if those at the top are “the worst”—whatever we might mean by that—perhaps it proves the Christian claim that human beings are universally in need of help.

Furthermore, “better” will be relative to each individual. Each person who has real encounters with God may be “getting better” (Premise 1), yet everyone starts that process from different places, with different addictions and tendencies. Those who lead authentic churches may simply be slower in the transformation process, and as such the argument isn’t valid.

#8 – No Good Gods

  1. God would have made himself known to at least one ancient people group.
  2. There are no ancient religious traditions that picture a good God, for all the traditional pictures show God instigating something morally reprehensible (hell, divinely mandated genocide, jihad, etc.)
  3. If God exists, he is not morally reprehensible.

Therefore, God does not exist.

This is actually a hermeneutical problem. Ought we to believe that any of the ancient texts of the various traditions display the God they encountered correctly 100% of the time? Furthermore our readings of the texts could be flawed, and we may be reading those places where it appears that God is morally reprehensible in faulty ways (see for example the argument: here).

But for those who truly believe that all ancient texts inescapably picture a God who loves the slaughter of Canaanite children or the eternal conscious torment of a human soul for example—this seems a worthy argument. I have commented on this problem further: here.

(The list will continue soon…)

JEFF COOK teaches philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado and is the author of Everything New: One Philosopher’s Search for a God Worth Believing in (Subversive 2012). He pastors Atlas Church in Greeley, Colorado. www.everythingnew.org

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.righteousacorn.blogspot.com/ Anita Wilson

    I am a simple human being. No great accomplishments according to most. I was drawn to God at the very earliest of my life experience. I vividly remember praying at the age of 5. My God has always been more than I can explain and yet everything that I feel. To relegate the success or failure of God to human behavior is ludicrous. It is tempting to delegate faith in God to our human experiences; but by doing so we are constructing a concept of God within the limitations of our own belief system. God is so much more…God cannot be explained. He can only be experienced,

  • Pat

    “But certainly God has good reasons to put the best kinds of people in charge of religious institutions”

    Unfortunately, God isn’t always behind these people getting to be in charge. Often, it’s cliques that run churches that see that their team always gets in, thus subverting God altogether.

  • Adam

    For argument #8:

    Premise #2 is factually false. There are in fact several ancient traditions that portray good gods.

    In Egyptian mythology, Isis (the wife of Osiris) is a pretty decent being. “She was the friend of slaves, sinners, artisans, and the downtrodden, and she listened to the prayers of the wealthy, maidens, aristocrats, and rulers.”

    The apache creation myth is one of co-creation where creation is done through singing and cooperation between two gods.

    Cherokees believe animals are gods.

    The Haudenosaunee believe there are two spirits (Good Spirit and Bad Spirit) both born of the same Goddess who died after giving birth.

    The best this argument can get is that SOME gods are morally reprehensible; certainly not all. And looking at creation myth alone, the Hebrew God is very different from it’s surrounding religions. The surrounding religions told stories of the earth being created out of violence (gods cutting gods in half, etc…) while the Hebrew creation myth is a god creating out of desire for relationship.

    As for the examples given,
    Hell – under serious debate
    Sacrifice – assuming human sacrifice, not required by the Hebrew god and shunned even
    jihad – Is Jihad acceptable if it’s against a people that practice sacrifice?

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Anita (1) You wrote, “To relegate the success or failure of God to human behavior is ludicrous. It is tempting to delegate faith in God to our human experiences; but by doing so we are constructing a concept of God within the limitations of our own belief system.”

    I don’t think so. The problem of moral evil and the problem of believers are strong because there are somethings we should expect from good persons. God is a personality, and we should expect certain things from God. Furthermore, if one claims that their faith makes people better, we should see evidence of that: don’t you think? (Good post!)

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Adam (3). So you argued against premise 2 of argument 8: “There are no ancient religious traditions that picture a good God, for all the traditional pictures show God instigating something morally reprehensible (hell, divinely mandated genocide, jihad, etc.)”

    My response would be that the gods you listed have their own issues. Is Isis seriously being considered as a reality? Perhaps this pushes a new question: how do we come to ancient myths and their relationship to divine realities? I agree with you that hell, genocide, jihad–depending on how we interpret ancient texts–need not be interpreted in a repugnant way, so I agree. That’s an out here. Peace!

  • Percival

    Adam’s post #3 helps us to clarify what Jeff Cook didn’t say but must have intended. When Cook summarizes the argument saying there are no good Gods, he capitalized gods. Presumably that means the one at the top of the pantheon rather than the subordinate gods who often serve to placate the Big One or to mitigate the God’s wrath.

    This is probably because of the nature of the universe as a place of suffering and cruelty. The one on top must not be completely good or not really in charge of His unruly minions. It’s a natural assumption.

  • Adam

    Jeff (5)

    Your response seems to be dancing the issue. In order for a coherent argument doesn’t premise 2 need to be worded “There are no ancient religious traditions that picture a good REAL God”? And now we already presupposed some gods exist and some don’t when the question is essentially “Does God exist”. I don’t see how this argument can get anywhere because it relies partly on the answer to accurately ask the question.

    I’m not trying to prove the existence of god with my response but the inability of this argument to hold weight.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Adam (7) I think that’s a good revision. Done.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I have a problem with the way these arguments are worded, and that seems to get us believers off the hook. Let me try to rephrase based on my thoughts and people I know.

    9 – If god exists, I should see some evidence that people who have faith in him become better people.

    I don’t see any clear evidence of that.

    10 – If a good god exists then I should see evidence of that throughout man’s history that more than offsets the ill conceived bad images.

    I see too many mixed signals.

  • JamesB

    I’m not sure why the proposition in #9 would be necessarily true.

    The proposition in #8 seems awfully specific. How about “God would make himself clearly known to anyone who asks”? But as to your specific argument, if our reading of the texts are simply flawed, why wouldn’t he make it more clear so as to not have any misunderstanding or misinterpretation? 2000+ years later, people still can’t seem to agree on the “real” meaning.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    DRT (9). You rewrote argument #9 saying, “If god exists, I should see some evidence that people who have faith in him become better people. I don’t see any clear evidence of that.”

    I would suggest this is demonstrably false. There are countless, countless stories of people becoming more morally focused after embracing God belief. I think my argument can pick on the handful of failures, whereas your premise requires no one to benefit from God belief.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    JamesB (10). I think you can deny Premise 1 in the 9th argument, but it seems to indicate that having knowledge of and trust in the God who is real and at the center of reality would not be beneficial. I find it difficult to construct a story in my mind of that happening.

    On your critique of argument 8, we will get to that near the top of the list to be sure.

    Peace.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Jeff Cook#11, I agree. But my argument hinges on “clear” evidence to the one holding that argument.

  • JamesB

    Jeff (12),

    As for #9, what I’m saying is that I don’t think Premise 1 is a strong (or common) argument against the existence of God in the first place. It is easily demonstrated to be false.

    The only time I hear an argument similar to that being made by a non-Christian is when a Christian claims that changed lives equals proof of God’s existence. Will you be making that claim in your top ten reasons for God-belief? If so, I will wait until then to address it.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    JamesB (14) You wrote, “The only time I hear an argument similar to that being made by a non-Christian is when a Christian claims that changed lives equals proof of God’s existence. Will you be making that claim in your top ten reasons for God-belief? If so, I will wait until then to address it.”

    Hey man. I’m putting out the reasons from which I feel the most pull. Many of these will be my own reasons or formulations. If you don’t feel the tug of such arguments, I understand. Part of the fun of Top ten list is of course disagreeing. I suppose we’ll have to wait I won’t be putting that in my top ten for God because I don’t see a way to pitch it that proves much.

  • JamesB

    Jeff (14),

    Fair enough. I’ll try to keep that in mind when reading the rest of them.

  • JamesB

    Jeff,

    Can you tell me what the word “that” points to in the statement “I write these lists as a theist, as one who believes in God (though that may change by the end)”? Thanks.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    JamesB (17). I teach philosophy at a large state university. The arguments being put forth are not mere puzzles for me to solve. I think they have major existential relevance. If the arguments point to a godless reality, and I value reason above other things (making my self feel good for example), I would have a solid motivation to abandon God belief.

    “That” = my belief that an exceedingly powerful personality made our cosmos.

    I am open to thinking hard about these issues and valuing reason. Which I hope will be the mindset/heartset of everyone who is reading these posts.

    What say you?

    Peace.

  • JamesB

    Jeff (18),

    It may not be true for all, but my turning away, as it were, was not planned and was very emotionally painful at the time. Essentially leaving behind not only the Ground Of All Being but what felt like the ground of my OWN being is not something to be done lightly nor would I encourage one to do so without counting the cost. Not because I don’t think I have the truth on my side, but because the fallout can be very difficult to handle.

    All told, the benefit has far outweighed the cost so far and, as I said elsewhere, I have made great strides in my personal life that I was never able to make before as a result. Having eschewed the idea of some outside source fighting my battles for me I have had to own up to my own issues.

    I guess what I’m saying is, for some, it takes more than just reason. Yes, reason played a part for me, but there was much more. More than I can really share in a reply or two.

    Looking forward to future posts and discussions.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    JamesB (19). I think you are right in saying it takes more than reasons (I actually wrote 3 posts on that a while back on this blog (the links are at http://www.everythingnew.org). I also sympathize a great deal with movement out of belief. I moved away from Christian belief about ten years ago, and returned a few years later, but I fell like I believe in a very different God (or at least the God I believed in before was really just a figure in the mist). I’m glad you are engage conversations like this, and I’m very glad you feel healthier. I’m sure everyone on this blog is pulling hard for you and your success and your soul-health. Peace brother.

  • JamesB

    Jeff (20),

    I’ll make this the last post on this thread since I’m getting a bit off of topic from the main post, but I just wanted to say that near the end of my faith I did find a version of God I was actually really pleased with. It just wasn’t enough to keep me.

    Although I like to read about what others have found, as I move further into my non-belief I’m slowly but surely losing interest in the topic altogether. I just don’t see any compelling reasons to believe and I’m really not looking for any. But I’ll stick around and comment on the rest of the posts in this series as things jump out.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    JamesB (21) Good to hear. I’ll try and make it exciting.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    What if we phrase #9 as:

    1. If God exists, he always makes people better who have faith in him.

    2. Religious people don’t seem to be better than non-religious people, on average.

    If the people in the hospital aren’t noticeably less ill than the people in the saloon, maybe the hospital isn’t working.

    This is a bit harder version of the argument to dismiss.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X