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Exchanges with Atheists About God’s Attributes

Exchanges with Atheists About God’s Attributes November 12, 2021

Pearce’s Potshots #53: Omniscience, Omnipotence, Foreknowledge, Judgment, Animals & Humans, Free Will, Anthropomorphism, & Anthropopathism

From dialogue on atheist and anti-theist Jonathan MS Pearce’s Tippling Philosopher blog, under his article, The Bible Shows God Is Not Omniscient (11-11-21). Words of eric will be in blue, those of Ben B in green, of Jonathan (from the original post) in brown, and words of MadScientist1023 in purple.

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I feel like triggering Dave Armstrong and what better way to do this than to get his longjohns in a twist about the Noah’s Flood story. This is from a chapter I am editing in a book I am just finishing (would be ready for proofers to look at later today – I have appealed to three previous proofers, but if anyone else wants to look at it, please let me know below):

The final story here that shows that God really doesn’t have omniscience is the Noah’s flood story. This never happened, that much is true. . . . 

We must understand that this is a story of God killing all of humanity, bar eight [He didn’t; it was not “anthropologically universal], and all of the animal kingdom bar two of each kind [He didn’t; it was a local Mesopotamian Flood] (or seven depending on which iteration of the story from Genesis you read) [I’ve addressed that issue, too]. That is an awful lot of death. Why? Because God then realised how wicked humanity had become. He either never knew this before or he is very forgetful.

In fact, the whole nature of the story is one big invalidation of his omni-characteristics. He realises that he has messed up his creation in that his designed and created humans were all wicked, destroys them all and starts over, all the while promising never to send such floods and destruction again. This is a very human – anthropomorphic – god acting in a very human, non-omniscient way.

God is clearly showing a limited knowledge of how his creation would operate going forward – he is being reactive and not proactive. Simply put, this story as told invalidates God’s omniscience and foreknowledge.

A truly omnibenevolent and omniscient god would not have knowingly designed and created something for the main components to go wrong right at the start and then have to destroy them all (you know, with healthy loving dollops of suffering and death) and start again. This is incompetence at best, malevolence at worst.

Or, the flood never happened and OmniGod doesn’t exist.

There, fixed it.

Nothing here to get one’s longjohns in a twist about.

Different Christians believe different stuff (really!!!), and there are hyperliteralist fundamentalists (no kidding!!!). Ho hum. Yawn. Truth is not determined by taking a poll of heads. That’s the ad populum fallacy.

The other stuff about God being ignorant, supposedly taken by surprise, etc. has to do with the non-literal literary devices of anthropomorphism and anthropopathism and their frequent employment by the biblical writers. I’ve explained this many times, including to you, but obviously to no avail.

For those who want to actually properly understand this aspect, so they can cease being profoundly ignorant and from saying idiotic things about the Bible and Christianity, see my articles (links are in the texts below):

Anthropopathism and Anthropomorphism: Biblical Data (God Condescending to Human Limitations of Understanding) [1-7-17]

Seidensticker Folly #33: Clueless Re Biblical Anthropopathism [7-24-19]

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Your god still either didn’t see the Fall coming, or he knew what would happen and deliberately set up Adam and Eve. Which one is it?

Neither. He knows all things. He gave Adam and Eve and all human beings free will to follow Him or go their own way. He warned them the consequences of doing the latter, but they chose to rebel, and He has the prerogative as Creator to judge them (and all the world, as the case may be), just as — by analogy — we have human judges and courts for the purpose of judging wrongdoers who break human laws (based on absolute standards of morality and right and wrong).

But the judges don’t know who is going to steal or kill or rape before it actually happens. If your god did know that it would happen and not only did nothing to stop it but actively arranged things so that it would happen, then, by definition, he set them up. Blaming Adam or Eve, who couldn’t have known any better since they had yet to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, is as morally wrong as a judge sending a mentally ill person to the gallows.

He didn’t “actively arrange it”; He permitted it because of human free will and free choice. That’s your mistake. In some forms of Calvinism and fundamentalism derived from it He did (so they wrongly believe) what you say, but that’s a tiny Christian position, numbers-wise, now and throughout history and so can’t claim to represent Christianity as a whole.

The choice of Adam and Eve, and all of mankind with them (as Christ theology teaches) was to obey God or to go their own way and rebel against Him. They knew enough to make that choice, just as an infant knows the difference between disobeying their parents and obeying them.

Yeah but they didn’t have free will if your god is all knowing, that’s the thing. If he’s all knowing they couldn’t do anything that he did not know they were going to do. Which brings me back to my original question. Did your god create Eden thinking everything would be peachy forever, or did he know they were going to disobey?

The first line is clearly untrue. For example, I know that if I drop a bowl of ice cream from six feet above the ground that it will fall to the ground. Did I cause that? I partially did in terms of letting it drop, but the main reason was its being subject to gravity. In other words I know about gravity and thus knew what the bowl of ice cream would do. But I didn’t cause the gravity I know about. If I were in outer space I would know that the bowl wouldn’t fall down if I let go of it, but I didn’t cause its floating in space.

Likewise, God set the wheels in motion, and knows what will happen when human beings make free will choices, but He doesn’t control those choices. He permits them if they go against His will; He doesn’t ordain them.

So to answer your very last clause: yes, He knew they would disobey but for reasons often incomprehensible to us, He thought it was worth it to let this process take place and to give every human being enough grace for salvation, provided they accept it.

For example, I know that if I drop a bowl of ice cream from six feet above the ground that it will fall to the ground. Did I cause that? I partially did in terms of letting it drop, but the main reason was its being subject to gravity.

If you also created that gravity, you’d be fully responsible for the bowl smashing. In your theology, God created the gravity (and it’s figurative equivalents), so He’s fully responsible.

Creating something and making it possible is not the same as responsibility for each act of free will that was made possible by God allowing these people to exist and to think and act freely. It’s cause in one large, broad sense, but not in the specific sense.

God, for example, gave the angels free will to follow or reject Him, just as He gave it to human beings. Satan and the demons chose to rebel, which was not His perfect will, but He did permit it (permissive will).

Who chose the properties of the fruit? A: God, because he created it. Correct?

Could that person have chosen to make the properties different, such that eating it would not cause the fall? A: Yes, because he’s omnipotent. Correct?

Did that person know before A&E decided to eat it, that the result would be A&E deciding to eat it? A: Yes, because he’s omniscient. Correct?

Where am I getting it wrong here?

That part of the story (the fruit) is symbolic (as 99.9% of thinking, educated Christians believe). It’s simply a way of expressing obedience to God vs. disobedience.

Who chose the properties of Eve? A: God, because he created Eve. Correct?

Could that person have chosen to make Eve still free willed, but more obedient? A: Yes, because he’s omnipotent. Correct?

Did that person know before Eve chose to be disobedient, that the personality he gave to Eve would result in Eve’s disobedience? A: Yes, because he’s omniscient. Correct?

So again, what am I missing here?

I think the most likely response is that you’re going to say #2 is impossible: it is logically impossible for God to have created beings with free will but who would be ‘more obedient.’ But this is both theologically and empirically not true. Empirically, humans have a range of personality types, including people who deeply respect and adhere to authority. Theologically, 2/3 of the angels didn’t rebel, so clearly there is nothing in the theology that leads us to believe that obedience to God and free will are incompatible.

Could that person have chosen to make Eve still free willed, but more obedient? A: Yes, because he’s omnipotent. Correct?

No; incorrect. Omnipotence means the power to do all that is logically possible; not absolutely everything. There are many things even an omnipotent God can’t do:

1) He can’t make a square a circle.

2) He can’t make 2 + 2 =5.

3) He can’t make the universe exist and not exist at the same time.

4) He can’t make Himself not eternal.

Etc.

A creature with free will really is free to make voluntary (not controlled) decisions. God knew the human race would rebel, and so He devised the plan that would make possible the salvation of every human being who would accept it and believe and behave accordingly. Heaven makes all the suffering we experience here worth it, because the whole perspective is changed: eternal life in heaven in bliss vs. the tiny tiny, infinitesimal time we spend here on earth.

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It’s fun pressing Christians on that point, because none are willing to admit it was a set-up. They’ll agree that their God knows everything, but then try making excuses as to why he didn’t see the Fall coming. Which is especially funny, because any parent would know that leaving unsupervised kids in a room with a tasty treat that they’ve been told not to eat will only have one possible outcome, no omniscience required.

I agree it’s fun, but for totally different reasons than you. It is humorous (though tragi-comic) to see atheists make asses and fools of themselves in their gross ignorance of biblical literary forms and exegesis. Though I admit it does get tiresome, seeing it over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over.

In any event, it does have considerable humorous and entertainment value, which I always appreciate. One can always use more good laughs.

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The deep spiritual message is given in the first part of the quote, which is also literally true. God saw that every living human on Earth (except Noah) was doing evil, just evil, nothing but evil. This saddened Him enough that He resolved to stop it, fix it. As the story describes in clear words, His solution was to cause a local flood to wipe out some mesopotamians…and their little dogs, too. It’s a really critical part of the solution that toto has to die. And if you critics would just stop trying to find fault with it and read it for what it means, you’d see how sensible, effective, and necessary God’s regional bambi-killing solution was to stopping human evil all over the earth. Because look, when you’re rebooting the Shang Dynasty and Olmec civilizations (and everything in between) from “evil” to “good,” how else would you do it but cause a local flood in mesopotamia?

But oh, it’s possible I’m wrong about that. It may be that the clear and obvious interpretation of “the wickedness of mankind was great on the earth” really meant “the wickedness of mankind was great between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.” Because sometimes one needs greater expertise than what I have to understand what the clear, obvious, and logical meaning of the text is.

Just curious: do you eat meat or fish or poultry?

Yep.

Your turn: just curious, do you see a moral difference between between killing an animal for food and drowning an animal because your neighbor’s immoral conduct makes you angry?

I’ll answer first, in case you think it’s an unfair question. Yep, I see a moral difference.

Yes.

Nice try. God can kill animals, just as we can kill them for food. They have no inherent right to life, and we have dominion over them. And that’s because they are on a fundamentally different level, having no rational souls and not being made in the image of God.

At the same time, as compassionate, humane human beings, we can be against cruelty and unnecessary suffering of animals (as I certainly am).

Many atheists and otherwise politically / socially liberal folks turn all this on its head: animals become more important than human beings insofar as many of them (usually rare, almost extinct ones) are protected under penalty of law, while young human beings in their mothers’ wombs are slaughtered and butchered by the millions: all being perfectly legal (just as the Nazi Holocaust was in Germany).

That’s because non-theists and their lackeys have a theory of value based on how many of something exist. Lots of human beings, so we can butcher them at will. Few rare species of animals, so they have the highest inherent value, based on their numbers, rather than absolute values set up by a God Who is over all.

God can kill animals, just as we can kill them for food.

Then I’m not sure I understand your “yes” answer. Yes implies you see a moral difference between killing an animal for food and drowning an animal because you are angry at your neighbor for their immoral conduct.

But then you spend the next paragraph arguing, essentially, that the latter is just as moral as the former. Is it perhaps the case that for humans you see killing animals for food as more moral than drowning animals out of pique, but for God, you see drowning animals out of pique to be perfectly moral? Again, I’m trying to understand your “yes” answer in the context of your next paragraph, because that next paragraph sounds more like a “no, there’s no moral difference – morally God is on just as good footing doing the drowning as we are doing the eating” than support for a “yes, eating is more moral than drowning.”

Drowning an animal is wrong because there is no reason for it. It’s wrong because its basis (anger at a neighbor) was already wrong. And because it is cruel and unnecessary. That’s why its entirely morally different from shooting a deer for food in November (hunting season here).

Full disclosure: I have never hunted an animal or shot one in my life. Never even caught a fish. I have killed flies and mosquitoes and set mouse traps (also have had mice for pets).

God has the prerogative as Creator to grant life or take it away. That applies to human beings and animals.

I don’t expect you to grasp these distinctions in Christian theology anymore than I expect atheists here to understand biblical / Hebraic anthropopathism, that I have explained over and over to no avail. It just ain’t gonna happen. Y’all are too hostile and it affects your objective reasoning ability.

And because it isn’t understood you will attempt to show that the problem lies on our end, not in your faulty understanding.

Good ol’ blameshifting, that goes back to Adam (“the woman made me do it”) and Eve (“the serpent made me do it”).

I think I do grasp the prerogative argument.

First, you agree that it would be less moral for humans to do the drowning (vs. the eating), so for humans you see a moral difference there.

Second, for God, you disagree that the drowning is at all immoral. Leave them alive, kill them instantly and painlessly, or have them suffer and die in a flood – all three options are moral (and equally moral) for God, because He created them. That’s the prerogative argument, right?

And because it isn’t understood you will attempt to show that the problem lies on our end, not in your faulty understanding.

Right now I’m trying to shore up my “faulty understanding” of why God killed bambi as part of his decision to kill hunter Bob for Bob’s wickedness. And I admit, I still don’t understand it. Even accepting God has that prerogative, why did He choose to exercise it in this case? You say “there is no reason for it” when talking about humans, but that is true of God too: there is no reason for God to have killed animals. And when you say “it is cruel and unnecessary” when talking about humans drowning animals, at a minimum the “unnecessary” bit is also true of God’s decision: He has all sorts of ways to kill humans. It was unnecessary to have used a way that also killed lots of animals.

I’m willing to accept that you hold the “God’s prerogative” view of morality. And I understand what that is. But prerogative means a right to do something, it doesn’t provide a reason for doing it. I have the prerogative to destroy all my furniture, toss it in the dumpster, paint the walls black, and play Cher’s “Do You Believe In Love” on repeat 24/7 (at decibel levels below the legal limit). But if I did that, my friends and family would rightly ask “eric, why the frak are you behaving this way? It’s crazy.” So I’m asking you, why the frak did God drown all the animals? Because it seems crazy. Even under the prerogative moral model where he has a right to do so, there is no reason to do so, no need to do it.

I would guess that He did because that is simply the result of a massive Flood (whether local, as I believe, or global). Judgment almost always (for perhaps inexplicable reasons) entails the killing of the relatively innocent. It’s not the same as damnation. If a nation is judged by God (say ancient Babylon, which was conquered by the Persians), it doesn’t follow that every human being there will go to hell as a damned soul.

Likewise, the animals didn’t rebel against God, because they are too “low” to have the ability to do so. They are amoral. But they were killed in the Flood because that’s what a Flood does (save for perhaps fish).

I guess we can imagine a scenario whereby God simply caused every human being except Noah, his wife and sons and their wives to drop dead and to thus allow the animals to live. Why didn’t He do that? I have no idea. I can ask Him (along with many other questions) if I make it to heaven.

It still remains true, as always, that an infinitely intelligent, omniscient, all-powerful Supreme Being will do many things that we find it virtually impossible or extremely difficult to understand. Atheists say this is just a cop-out that the Christian always has. I say it is simply the nature of an omniscient, all-powerful Supreme Being. We will not understand all that He does because we aren’t anywhere near His level of knowledge and wisdom.

But we can accept in faith His revelation of what He has done, and trust that He has adequate and justified reasons, based on what we do know and understand of things whereby He revealed His goodness, love, benevolence, mercy, etc. (chiefly among them Jesus’ death on the cross).

Judgment almost always (for perhaps inexplicable reasons) entails the killing of the relatively innocent.

Not for an omnipotent being it doesn’t. For such a god, collateral damage is an intentional choice, not an inevitable consequence. He meant to kill them; it’s right there in the text of verse 7. If He’d wanted to kill the humans without the animals suffering in a flood, He could’ve used his angel of death as He did in Exodus. Or something like smallpox. Or even, given He miracled some animals to come to Noah and you believe in a local flood, He could’ve instead miracled all the unpenned animals to leave the flood zone. Same basic miracle as the one in the story, just a ‘reversed direction’ version. He meant to kill them, Dave – so, why? Why cause the unnecessary suffering?

We don’t know all the fine details. See the final two paragraphs of my last reply.

So what I’ve learned of your theology is:

1. Causing a flood to kill animals in a way that makes them suffer, because you’re angry at the wickedness of humans, is immoral…if you’re human
2. The same action however is not immoral, if you’re God. Since God created all the animals, causing them unnecessary suffering is moral for him to do. It is his prerogative to cause them unnecessary suffering and kill them whenever he wants.
3. But prerogative /= reason. So saying God’s actions were not immoral is not the same as saying He had a good reason to cause those animals unnecessary suffering or really any reason at all.
4. This lack of a reason is not resolved by the bible. You resolve it theologically by premising that since God is good, just, etc. such a reason must exist, it is just unknown or unknowable.

Is that an accurate summary?

As for 1 and 2: by analogy, we have human laws against killing other people (defining “murder” in a specific way, legally, so that it is distinct from, e.g., killing in self-defense or as a policeman taking out a madman to prevent a mass murder, etc.

On the other hand, juries or judges can determine guilt and judges have the power and prerogative to pass sentence, including the death penalty (historically, but less and less now). Thus, the judge can properly proclaim such a sentence, whereas the man on the street cannot. Analogy to God and His judgment . . .

And as I have pointed out, those of your atheist and of the liberal / leftist perspective see no problem with murdering innocent, helpless babies in the womb. Yet they will howl and protest about “Bambi” being killed in Noah’s Flood.

As for 3 and 4, I speculated briefly, but conceded that we don’t know and that the Bible (as far as I know) does not specifically give us a reason.

It’s not an accurate summary insofar as you so slant it according to your hostility to the Bible, that it is unrecognizable as my view, short of me clarifying, as I just did. :-)

How should I describe those four points in a way that is not slanted? Particularly given that you’ve not objected to any of them in substance. I’ll try again.

1. It is immoral for humans to kill animals in an unnecessary flood.
2. Because of God’s prerogative, it is not immoral for him to do #1.
3. God’s prerogative to do X is not the same thing as a reason to do X.
4. The text does not discuss the reason.

I’ve tried to parse those sentences in a completely non-normative way. No judgement words in them, just flat descriptive text as best I can. So what’s incorrect about them?

That’s fair enough. I have expressed more fully my reasoning on this already. I didn’t claim to explain why He killed the animals in the Flood (except for simply noting that this is the nature of such a massive flood).

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Yet another critic unwilling to read the text for it’s plain meaning. Verse 5’s “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of mankind was great on the earth…” doesn’t mean he saw the wickedness just then. How dense would you have to be to read it that way. It clearly means He was always and constantly aware that humans would turn wicked. The “then” is just artistic license. Artistic license I tell you!

Yes, exactly. It is anthropopathism. Believe it or not, even the ancient Hebrews had developed very sophisticated non-literal techniques of language. We’re just too stupid (or stubborn) today to take the time and make the effort to understand them. It’s what C. S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery.”

And so instead we get this comic hyper-literalism in atheist [cough] exegesis: imported directly from an anti-intellectual woodenly literal fundamentalism (the view that so many atheists used to have).

Believe it or not, even the ancient Hebrews had developed very sophisticated non-literal techniques of language

And yet, you try and force the story into a literal flood – albeit a local one. Dave if you really think this part of Genesis is the ancient Hebrews using sophisticated nonliteral writing techniques, why do that?

It’s presented in the Bible as an actual historical event (and viewed as such in the NT and by Jesus). What I wrote about is its extent, which entails understanding how biblical language is often non-literal and hyperbolic.

[see my paper, Debate: Historical Local Flood & Biblical Hyperbole [11-12-21] for my dialogue with eric about these aspects of Noah’s Flood]

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Photo credit: TheFunkypixel (3-7-20) [Pixabay / Pixabay License]

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Summary: Four atheists ask many questions about God’s attributes. I answer to the best of my ability. Please pray that their eyes will be open to spiritual and theological truths.


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