Atheist anti-theist Jonathan M. S. Pearce is the main writer on the blog, A Tippling Philosopher. His “About” page states: “Pearce is a philosopher, author, blogger, public speaker and teacher from Hampshire in the UK. He specialises in philosophy of religion, but likes to turn his hand to science, psychology, politics and anything involved in investigating reality.” His words will be in blue.
This is a response to his article, God: Some Unholy Questions for You (8-27-21). I thought it would be fun to reply to many of these. I have no immediate answer for some. That’s fine. I don’t have to have all the answers (even as an apologist); don’t claim to know all of them. And I would say it’s no problem at all for Christianity if we can’t answer every jot and tittle that an atheist comes up with (or that we may come up with ourselves). It’s simply the limitations of human knowledge. The atheist religion of science (and it is their religion) doesn’t have all answers, either: just as is the case with every field of knowledge whatever, but that causes no atheist that I know of to fundamentally question science or scientific method.
One simply acknowledges that they don’t know everything. Moreover, in the case of Christianity, Judaism, and classical theism, which posit an infinite, omniscient God — Who created the entire universe an all its marvels — with intelligence beyond anything we could possibly comprehend, it’s fully to be expected.
But most of these questions are quite answerable, a good number are easily answered, and/or exhibit Pearce’s significant lack of knowledge of Christian theology. I do (all that said) appreciate the questions, and the opportunity they offer to clarify many things.
Lastly, God says it’s okay to ask questions. Jesus even made a post-Resurrection appearance specifically for Doubting Thomas, because he was a hard-nosed empiricist who wouldn’t believe that Jesus had risen, despite all the miracles he had already witnessed and eyewitness reports from his close friends. God says, “Come now, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18, RSV). It’s only deliberate obstinacy, rebelliousness, and pretentiousness that God opposes in no uncertain terms.
God knows whether we are sincerely questioning, with the goal of following truth wherever it leads (up to and including belief in and allegiance to Him), or simply taunting and attempting to make Christianity, Christians, and God look foolish or too silly for any intelligent person to believe. God knows Jonathan Pearce’s motives for asking these questions. I won’t play God and judge those. He himself says that these questions were “designed to be in some way, at some times, a little irreverent. But when it was that, and at all other times, the questions had a layer or dimension to them that was deeper than at first glance.” Fair enough.
I’ll simply offer some replies on behalf of God (if anyone can dare do that; but St. Paul refers to Christians as “God’s fellow workers”: 1 Cor 3:9), for the hoped-for benefit of sincerely and honestly seeking atheists and thinking Christians alike.
3. Do you find anything funny?
The Bible consistently exhibits a sense of humor from God, that I have written about several times (one / two / three): particularly a sort of sarcastic, pointed humor. It’s quite evident in how He acts towards His chosen people in the Old Testament, with many examples of mocking and “so you think you know more than I do?” tweaking humor. He told the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute (Hos 1:2), as a visual image of Israel’s unfaithfulness to Him. He also told the prophet Isaiah to walk around naked for three years (Is 20:2-4) “as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Ethiopia”: many of whom were to be led away as captives by the Assyrians.
Jesus is God, of course, in our belief, and His words are filled with humor, from talking about “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Mt 7:5), to calling James and John the “sons of thunder” (Mk 3:17), and many other examples.
My own favorite “Bible humor” isn’t from God, but from the prophet Elijah, who taunts the false prophets on Mt. Carmel in his “contest” with them:
1 Kings 18:27 (Contemporary English Version) At noon, Elijah began making fun of them. “Pray louder!” he said. “Baal must be a god. Maybe he’s daydreaming or using the toilet or traveling somewhere. Or maybe he’s asleep, and you have to wake him up.”
Toilet humor in the Bible . . . Truth be told, it’s the devil and lots of stuffed-shirt “know-it-all” sorts of atheists who have no sense of humor, though Satan is himself a highly comic and mockable figure, as C. S. Lewis noted:
[I]t is a mistake to demand that Satan . . . should be able to rant and posture through the whole universe without, sooner or later, awaking the comic spirit. The whole nature of reality would have to be altered in order to give him such immunity, and it is not alterable. At that precise point where Satan . . . meets something real, laughter must arise, just as steam must when water meets fire.
What we see in Satan is the horrible co-existence of a subtle and incessant intellectual activity with an incapacity to understand anything. This doom he has brought upon himself; in order to avoid seeing one thing he has, almost voluntarily, incapacitated himself from seeing at all . . . He says ‘Evil be thou my good’ (which includes ‘Nonsense be thou my sense’) and his prayer is granted. (A Preface to Paradise Lost, London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1942, ch. 13 [“Satan”], 95, 99)
It’s left-wing, largely secular thinking — not Christianity — that is currently killing humor by its ridiculous “woke” and “cancel culture” mentality. Comedians like Bill Maher have complained mightily about it, and he recently stated, “I’d much rather play Milwaukee than San Francisco.” I was just reading in The Guardian today how John Cleese of the Monty Python comedy group is protesting against this, too.
The implication of the question is that God and by extension, the Bible, and Christianity are humorless and dour. This is why I gave a long answer, because I would strongly contend that the exact opposite highly tends to be the case.
4. Given that you are a perfect being, and laughter is, to me, one of the most supreme joys of the world which would count towards any idea of perfection, have you ever experienced laughter?
Actually, Christians believe that God the Father has no emotions at all (what’s called impassibility), as part and parcel of His immutability (unchangeability), so He is merely conveying humorous images to us in ways that we can understand (anthropomorphism and anthropopathism). But we see that humor is very much part of the Godhead when we look at Jesus, Who would have been (among many other things) a very funny and charming guy to be around, as the new TV series, The Chosen, conveys refreshingly well. Thus, if we ask the question, “does God laugh?” the answer is assuredly “yes!” because Jesus is God and He laughed and frequently engaged in humor. He not only laughs “with us” He also suffered terribly for us, so that God can relate to us — empathize with us — in that very important way.
5. If you have laughed before at, say, a funny joke, or a misfortunate slip on a banana skin, how does this fit in with your foreknowledge, since you knew the punch line was coming?
Jesus would experience that in His human nature, which didn’t know everything. He knew (in His omniscience in His Divine Nature) that He was gonna raise Lazarus from the dead, yet He still wept, because He was compassionate and caring.
6. Can you please explain to me adequately how you can be the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit simultaneously?
I can’t, but to me it’s not surprising at all that an infinitely intelligent Creator-God would have qualities that are virtually incomprehensible to us. It’s certainly no “difficulty” anymore than the incomprehensibility and “illogical” nature of things like quantum mechanics and dark matter and dark energy (currently the huge mysteries in physics and astronomy) cause anyone to disbelieve in scientific method.
7. What does the Holy Spirit really do that you couldn’t do yourself as God the Father?
Nothing. It’s Jesus the Son Who does things that the Father by definition can’t do (like take on human flesh in the incarnation, and suffer on the cross, and die, and rise again): since the Father is spirit, just as the Holy Spirit is. The three Divine Persons are one in essence.
8. In other words, a perfect being should not necessitate any other part of itself, so why do the Holy Spirit and Jesus exist?
The classic answer is so that God can experience relationship within Himself, and so the three Persons can love each other. Jesus exists so that the human race can know what God would be like if He became a man, as He in fact did. He proves how much God loves us and also acts a a model of behavior (“love one another as I have loved you”).
9. In order to have the properties of being the Holy Spirit, these properties must be different from the properties of Jesus and God the Father. These distinct properties must not be synonymous to the characteristics of the others in order to be labelled and recognised as the Holy Spirit (and not the others). How can something have distinct properties that are also synonymous (i.e. the Holy Trinity)?
The only difference is that He is a distinct Person. The three can refer to each other and have relationship.
10. Do you have a central ‘I’, a sense of self?
Yes. “I am that I am” and “God is love.”
11. In what way do you view the world and everything that happens simultaneously?
A Being Who is completely out of time (as God is) can do that. C. S. Lewis drew the analogy of an author and his or her book. The author can go on a vacation for a month and leave his book-in-progress. The “time-frame” in the book remains exactly the same as when he left it. But when he comes back, he enters into the reference-frame of the book and continues creating. We see that in the movies of his Narnia books, where the two worlds operate in different time-frames. They can experience years or seeming years in Narnia and come back to WWII England, exactly at the point in time that they left it.
12. By seeing what happens on earth, what vision do you use, since a human’s vision differs from a bat’s, bull’s or a spider’s, and is not ‘better’ but different and all these visual perceptions rely on the actual physical eyes?
Excellent question. I have no idea, but I suspect that it is a function of omniscience that God the Father “sees all” without a physical apparatus to do so. We know that this is possible (that not all vision is ties to material eyes), from some human observations, as noted on the site, Mental Floss:
As many as 60 percent of patients experience phantom eye syndrome, a group of researchers report in the journal Opthalmology. Some patients who had an eye removed due to cancer reported experiencing visual sensations even without the eye. They said they could see shapes, colors, and even figures in their missing eye. A few people had very specific illusions. They distinctly saw images of wallpaper, or a kaleidoscope, or fireworks, . . .
There have been many documented examples of premonitions, where people “saw” things before they happened, and they did indeed happen as they saw. We have no idea how that works, but it happens, so it’s one of life’s mysteries. I suspect that it involves the same sort of ability that God has. In effect, they “saw” things out of time, as if they were preset: precisely as God does.
Another example would be many many examples of those who died temporarily on an operating table and their souls floated above their physical body and they could “see” what was happening (what the doctors were doing, etc.), and accurately report it when they came to. That, too, is sight without eyes or any physical thing to convey it. If human beings can do that, by analogy, God can all the more.
13. If you are perfect, then from whose point of view is your perfection?
Your own. You are entirely self-sufficient, in need of nothing, and you would know that by experiencing it. We can have a dimly analogical experience of something remotely similar: say we are on a wonderful vacation and feel that we are in “paradise”: in need of nothing: floating on a wonderful turquoise ocean by a white sand beach; wonderful dishes are brought to us to eat; we see beautiful mountains, trees, and animals (preferably with a loved one, too, so it’s shared). For those few fleeting moments, perhaps it’s true. We have no needs and are perfectly content and happy. For God, this is extended to everything. He has no need of anything.
14. Therefore, is perfection (as an objective quality) even logically coherent, and if so, how?
Sin derives from rebellion against God (thinking we know better than he does). God can’t rebel against Himself, so He simply is what He is (love) and can’t be otherwise.
15. Do you have any interests or hobbies, things that you like doing more than others?
Seeing that as many people as possible (given human free will, which he can’t control, by definition) can be saved and enjoy perfect bliss in union with Him in heaven for eternity. He does all He can to bring this about:
Matthew 23:37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
I would say that is God’s overriding “hobby” or “interest” and thank heavens it is, for our sakes!
16. Have you ever wished for a challenge in the way that a great chess player wishes for the ultimate challenger (and to defeat them!)?
Sounds like what I just wrote about in #15 might be that. How does He get as many saved as possible, when human beings have a free will and tons of countering influences that lead to resisting Him and the road to heavenly bliss.
17. We know from the bible that some things please you (“And God was pleased”). In this manner, it can be inferred that some things please you more than others. Thus you must have favourite entities that please you the most within a range of entities. Who has been your favourite actor or voice to have played you in a film (let’s face it, everyone likes Morgan Freeman)?
I would imagine Morgan Freeman. Intelligence, dignity, compassion. That accurately reflects God. He wasn’t trivialized, per the usual atheist mockery and yucking it up . . .
But of course this includes portrayals of Jesus. I would say (and perhaps God would agree!) they were best done in Jesus of Nazareth, The Passion, and The Chosen.
18. Can you change at all, or are you immutable, unchanging?
No (if we are referring only to the Father).
19. If you are immutable as many say, does that mean you are not omnipotent, since you cannot change (or is it that you choose not to change)?
No, because omnipotence means power to do all that is logically possible, and this is logically (and also ontologically) impossible.
20. Can you ever feel surprise?
That’s incompatible with being omniscient and immutable.
21. Without sensory organs, can you feel anything?
That gets back to impassibility: dealt with in #4.
22. Since to be perfectly just means to exact the correct punishment for the crime, and to be perfectly merciful means to be more forgiving in the face of crime than justice would have you be, can you be perfectly merciful and perfectly just at the same time?
Yes; no problem for a perfectly loving and omniscient Being.
23. Can you actually be insulted by anything?
Rebellion against Him would in effect be that, though He would not feel the emotions that we do at, say, the disobedience of a child, or betrayal of a friend.
24. Do you, as an omnipotent and almighty being, get annoyed when somebody takes your name in vain?
I think with God, it’s a sadness (again, insofar as he can “experience” that in His impassibility) at the knowledge (which He would already have) that people are on their way to hell and an utterly horrible, miserable existence for eternity, while the alternate path is so entirely possible. IN terms of Jesus, His sadness was well expressed in Matthew 23:37 (reply to #15 above).\
25. Why did you wait 13.5 billion years to create man?
God doesn’t wait at all. He’s eternally “present.” That’s only how we see it.
26. What were you doing in those 13.5 billion years?
See the previous answer.
27. Can you ever get bored?
No; being perfectly self-sufficient.
28. Do you have an image or visual format?
Jesus is the image of the invisible Father (Col 1:15).
29. You stated in the Ten Commandments that you are a jealous God; is this true?
Not literally. This is an example of anthropomorphism and anthropopathism. It’s a way for God in effect to communicate the notion: “don’t worship these other so-called (not real) ‘gods.” It will not go well for you if you do. ‘They’ won’t fulfill you or make you happy and joyful and at peace like I will.”
30. Since you ask so much of us, why can’t we just sit down and have a one-to-one conversation with you like we would with our friends?
Feel free. It’s called prayer:
Revelation 3:20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
31. Is it vain and self-indulgent to insist that we praise and heap worship on you and is it a need that an omnipotent God would not have?
No, and yes. See: Why Do We Worship God? Dialogue with an Atheist.
32. How is creation doing?
The created have made a mess of it, insofar as the influence of the innumerable sinful and irresponsible stewards among them spreads. In and of itself, it’s doing as wonderfully as always.
33. Can you create a rock that is too heavy for you to lift?
It’s logically impossible and so it ultimately is a senseless and meaningless question.
34. If you can / can’t do the aforementioned task, does this mean you are not omnipotent, or is this merely a silly logical head-scratcher?
No; it means that the questioner is thinking illogically and/or doesn’t know the actual theological meaning of “omnipotent.”
35. Does logic, then, exist outside of you, and do you have no power over it?
That’s correct. It is what it is. God cannot exist and not exist at the same time. He can’t pretend that He has not created the universe. He can’t make 2 + 2 = 3. He can’t make a square a circle. Etc.
36. How much do you influence / interfere with the universe on a daily basis?
He’s incredibly influential, in His providence and His supervision:
Romans 8:28 We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.
Hebrews 1:3 He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power.
37. Since you cannot, by definition, know what you don’t know, and cannot know that you don’t know something, how do you know that you are omniscient?
The same way that I can know for sure that I am sitting her typing this and that readers will read it (hello out there!). We can have sure knowledge about particular things. God simply has sure knowledge about all things, by the nature of the case.
FURTHER DISCUSSION ON JONATHAN’S BLOG
ME: Reply in progress [I had not yet posted this reply on my blog when the following discussions took place]. Think what you will of me (many here obviously utterly despise me). At least I seriously interact with your arguments.
LastManOnEarth Are you claiming to speak for the god? Isn’t that just a little presumptuous? Perhaps it would be better to wait until JP posts a series of Unholy Questions for Dave Armstrong, no? #stayinyourlane
ME: So according to you, we have to wait for God to answer? No Christian can tackle the questions, according to what we believe the Christian theology of God would suggest as possible answers, without getting this hogwash dumped on their head? We just sit here and shut up, rather than be uppity Christians? That’s cute.
Moreover, Jonathan wrote: “I discuss the conception of God as understood in classical theism.” Therefore, it is completely to be expected that a classical theist would reply in order to clarify where Jonathan has possibly misrepresented what said classical theism believes about God and why it does.
Photo credit: KELLEPICS (10-17-17) [Pixabay / Pixabay License]
Summary: Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce has a bunch of “unholy questions” for God. I do my best to answer them, according to my knowledge of Christian theology & theology proper (i.e., of God).