August 5, 2019

This is an installment of my series of replies to an article by Dr. David Madison: a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, who has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. It’s called, “Things We Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said” (Debunking Christianity, 7-21-19). His words will be in blue below. Dr. Madison makes several “generic” digs at Jesus and Christianity, in the written portion (it details a series of 12 podcasts):

A challenge for Christians: If you’re so sure Jesus existed, then you have some explaining to do. A major frustration is that, while believers are indignant at all the talk about Jesus not existing, they don’t know the issues that fuel the skepticism—and are unwilling to inform themselves.

Yes, I’m up to the “challenge.” No problem at all. I’m not threatened or “scared” by this in the slightest. It’s what I do, as an apologist. The question is whether Dr. Madison is up to interacting with counter-critiques? Or will he act like the voluminous anti-theist atheist polemicist Bob Seidensticker?: who directly challenged me in one of his own comboxes to respond to his innumerable attack-pieces against Christianity and the Bible, and then courageously proceeded to utterly ignore my 35 specific critiques of his claims as of this writing. We shall soon see which course Dr. Madison will decide to take. Anyway, he also states in his post and combox:

[S]o many of the words of Jesus are genuinely shocking. These words aren’t proclaimed much from the pulpit, . . . Hence the folks in the pews have absorbed and adored an idealized Jesus. Christian apologists make their livings refiguring so many of the things Jesus supposedly said.

The gospels are riddled with contradictions and bad theology, and Jesus is so frequently depicted as a cult fanatic—because cult fanatics wrote the gospels. We see Jesus only through their theological filters. I just want to grab hold of Christian heads (standing behind them, with a hand on each ear) and force them to look straight ahead, unflinchingly, at the gospels, and then ask “Tell me what you see!” uncoached by apologist specialists, i.e., priests and pastors, who’ve had a lot of practice making bad texts look good. . . . I DO say, “Deal with the really bad stuff in the gospels.” Are you SURE you’ve not make a big mistake endorsing this particular Lord and Savior? That’s the whole point of this series of Flash Podcasts, because a helluva lot of Christians would agree, right away, that these quotes are bad news—if no one told then that they’ve been attributed to Jesus.

Of course, Dr. Madison — good anti-theist atheist that he is — takes the view that we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels in the first place. I don’t play that game, because there is no end to it. It’s like trying to pin jello to the wall. The atheist always has their convenient out (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway [wink wink and sly patronizing grin], and/or that the biblical text in question was simply added later by dishonest ultra-biased Christian partisans and propagandists. It’s a silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, and so I always refuse to play it with atheists or anyone else, because there is no way to “win” with such an absurdly stacked, purely subjective deck.

In my defense of biblical texts, I start with the assumption that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). Going on from there, I simply defend particular [supposedly “difficult”] texts, and note with appropriate argumentation, that “here, the Bible teaches so-and-so,” etc. I deal with the texts as they exist. I don’t get into the endlessly arbitrary, subjective games that atheists and theologically liberal biblical skeptics play with the texts, in their self-serving textual criticism.

Dr. Madison himself (fortunately) grants my outlook in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.”

Good! So we shall examine his cherry-picked texts and see whether his interpretations of them can stand up to scrutiny. He is issuing challenges, and I as an apologist will be dishing a bunch of my own right back to him. Two can play this game. I will be dealing honestly with his challenges. Will he return the favor, and engage in serious and substantive dialogue? Again, we’ll soon know what his reaction will be. A true dialogue is of a confident, inquisitive, “nothing to fear and everything to gain” back-and-forth and interactive nature, not merely “ships passing in the night” or what I call “mutual monologue.”

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Dr. Madison’s fourth podcast is entitled: “On Mark 10:9, Jesus’ disastrous teaching about divorce.” Here is the “offending” passage:

Mark 10:6-9 (RSV) But from the beginning of creation, `God made them male and female.’ [7] `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, [8] and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. [9] What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” 

He starts out with a dig at evangelicals, who (according to a study he is drawing from) have a higher divorce rate than the general public, and higher than atheists as well. We see where he is going with this. That may be true, but if so, has to be closely examined. I have seen, myself, several social studies (and my major was sociology), indicating that couples who test high on religious piety and observance, have more successful marriages than their colleagues who lack such qualities.

He cites a study from Baylor University, which I located online. It, in turn, cites a more detailed report of the studies undertaken. In its section on marriage, the latter states:

Religion is popularly thought of as a social institution that encourages marriage and family growth, and conservative religious traditions are especially supportive of “traditional” family forms and values. But there are some interesting and not always predictable variations among and within different religious groups. . . . 

Thus the common conservative argument that strong religion leads to strong families does not hold up. Some have argued that evangelical Protestantism (the typical example of “strong religion”) is correlated with low socioeconomic status, and that this explains the increased risk of divorce. However, new research by Jennifer Glass and Philip Levchak suggests that evangelical Protestants’ cultural encouragement of early marriage and discouragement of birth control and higher education attainment explain the higher divorce rate in counties with a larger proportion of evangelical Protestants.

What the same article also states, however, is the following:

Overall, couples who have higher levels of religious service attendance, especially if the couple attends together, have lower rates of divorce.

The “new research” cited in this article, from Glass and Levchak, was published in the American Journal of Sociology (February 2014). But it’s a lot more nuanced than these “triumphant” evangelical-bashing summaries would suggest. Charles E. Stokes explains:

[T]here is more to the story. Below I suggest a few additional considerations that are in order before rushing to declare conservative Protestants unwitting enemies of marriage.

. . . a few intriguing findings in the article are likely to get buried in mass media coverage of the main storyline. Early in the article, Glass and Levchak point out that “the average county would double its divorce rate as its proportion conservative Protestant moved from 0 to 100%,” but then they note “this effect is much smaller than the unaffiliated effect which is almost three times larger [emphasis mine].” The evidence from this article does not suggest that marriages would be better off in non-religious contexts but actually points in the opposite direction.

. . . it is important to note the comparison group throughout this study. Conservative Protestants are compared not to the non-religious (who, as noted earlier, are more divorce prone by comparison) but to all other major Christian groups.

. . . According to the logic of the article, it is the regularly involved conservative Protestants who should be most invested in promoting the “pro-marriage” norms that are paradoxically putting their marriages (and others’) at risk. But new data discussed below suggest just the opposite.

Figure 1 shows the proportion of ever-divorced young adults by religious affiliation and participation. These data are taken from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), a nationally representative study of young Americans who were first surveyed as teens in 1994 and most recently surveyed again as young adults in 2008. . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) Waves III and IV.
*Statistically significant difference at the .05 level from Other Christian: Active in logistic regression models.
^Statistically significant difference at the .05 level from Non-Religious in logistic regression models.

The comparison groups in Figure 1 are designed to mirror those of the Glass and Levchak study, but they are divided into active (attending religious services two or more times a month) and nominal (attending less than two times a month) subgroups. As the figure shows, active conservative Protestants are statistically no more likely to have divorced in the first few years of marriage than their active peers from other Christian denominations, and both groups who attend church frequently are significantly less likely to have divorced than their non-religious peers. The group that stands out in Figure 1 is the nominal conservative Protestants, the most likely group to have divorced. Thus, in the exact group (early-marrying conservative Protestants) whose marriages Glass and Levchak would expect to falter, active conservative Protestants are above average in marital stability early in marriage, while nominal conservative Protestants fare worse than the non-religious.

This hardly confirms Dr. Madison’s point. It’s a disconfirmation. One simply had to look deeply enough into the study cited, to see the more specific relevant data.

Dr. Madison then changes his approach and goes directly after Mark 10:9, stating: “Here Jesus seems to imply that every marriage is designed by God.” Well, not exactly. Jesus is saying that marriage is a divinely instituted sacrament, that ought not be broken. That’s far different from claiming that every specific marriage in fact was divinely ordained: as if there is no human free will involved (including the usual range of possible human mistakes, folly, immaturity, haste and lack of preparation and planning, possibly excessive lust, etc.). These human mistakes (and sins, where applicable) are not God’s fault, and it’s beyond silly to blame Him for them. And among the human free will actions or beliefs that can help cause an unsuccessful marriage are religious nominalism and cohabitation.

Dr. Madison stumbles into the truth, by asserting: “it doesn’t follow at all that God has engineered every marriage or put His seal on every marriage.” Exactly right. Lots of people get married who have no business doing so. He continues: “Just think of all the bad marriages that have happened since the beginning. People have been forced to marry for all sorts of wrong reasons: money: family pressures and expectations, political alliances, . . . people miserable in bad marriages.” Bingo again! This sort of human error and bad judgment has caused untold misery, but it’s absurd to blame God for it.

In fact, we have data in the Bible regarding God advising the ancient Jews not to enter into certain unwise marriages: with foreign women who followed contrary religious practices (Ezra 10:2-3; cf. Dt 17:17; Neh 13:23-28). Therefore, it can’t be that “every [particular] marriage is designed by God.” The institution was designed and sanctioned by Him, and as we know, any and every institution can be corrupted and abused. These men were actually commanded to “put away” or “send away” foreign women who worshiped false gods (Ezra 10:4-19, 44; cf. 9:1-2, 14-15). In my own apologetics I have used these examples as biblical analogies for the Catholic practice of annulment, which is the most sensible way to deal with marriages that were “wrong” from the beginning.

Thus, God approved and approves of ending an ostensible marriage: the very opposite of Dr. Madison’s claims that God ordains each and every human marriage forever, no matter how bad the situation is. There are many instances of God not approving of particular marriages:

Leviticus 21:7, 14 They shall not marry a harlot or a woman who has been defiled; neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband . . . [14] A widow, or one divorced, or a woman who has been defiled, or a harlot, these he shall not marry; but he shall take to wife a virgin of his own people, 

Nehemiah 13:27 Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?

Ezekiel 44:22 They shall not marry a widow, or a divorced woman, but only a virgin of the stock of the house of Israel, or a widow who is the widow of a priest.

Tobit 4:12 . . . First of all take a wife from among the descendants of your fathers and do not marry a foreign woman, who is not of your father’s tribe; for we are the sons of the prophets. Remember, my son, that Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, our fathers of old, all took wives from among their brethren. . . . 

Mark 10:11-12 [Jesus] And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; [12] and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” 

Jesus taught that a valid marriage was indissoluble, and that divorce in these circumstances constituted adultery. But of course the key question is what constitutes a valid marriage. Dr. Madison himself notes several factors that would be prime instances of grounds for Catholic annulment: “People have been forced to marry for . . . money: family pressures and expectations, political alliances.” Thus, Catholic theology has a very practical and compassionate way to help people trapped in such circumstances, while not undermining the institution of marriage itself, or promoting an unbiblical divorce, because an annulment is a declaration (one that exists even in secular civil law) that marriage never actually existed from the beginning.

It’s the Protestants and the Orthodox (lacking annulments) who labor under such difficulties: but they do not represent all of Christianity. Catholicism is by far the largest portion. But Dr. Madison continues with unwarranted caricatures and juvenile swipes at God: “But hey, God designed them all, God brought all these folks to the altar, or if they just ended up there against their will, God still added His seal of approval; no escape ever. God did all that joining. . . . How could God be so incompetent?”

No, He does not approve of every ill-advised marriage that people enter into, and it’s ludicrous to assert that He does. But that’s what atheists do: they always want to irrationally and unjustly blame God for the mistakes and sins of human beings. It’s always His fault (whether He exists or not, is the comic element in it all).

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Photo credit: Houkouki (10-26-18) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]

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July 20, 2019

[Bob Seidensticker’s words will be in blue]

Former Presbyterian, Bible-Basher Bob’s blog, Cross Examined contains (according to the “About” page) “roughly a million words in more than a thousand posts” and a “quarter-million comments.” He advertises his efforts as “an energetic but civil critique of Christianity.” But the blog  is anything but “civil”: as a glance at any of his endless comboxes will prove. Here (as an altogether typical example) is the feeding frenzy on his site where I was the specific target.

He directly challenged me to answer his arguments, on 8-11-18: “I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” 

Again, Bob mocks some brave Christian (who dared show up in his toxic, noxious environment), in his comboxes on 10-27-18“You can’t explain it to us, you can’t defend it, you can’t even defend it to yourself. Defend your position or shut up about it. It’s clear you have nothing.” And again on the same day“If you can’t answer the question, man up and say so.” And on 10-26-18“you refuse to defend it, after being asked over and over again.” And againYou’re the one playing games, equivocating, and being unable to answer the challenges.”  

Bob virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. I was happy to comply, so he came onto my site, but it was clear early on that he had no interest in genuine dialogue, so he was banned as a sophist troll, and I explained exactly why I banned him. Lest his atheists buddies think that this alone proves that I am the coward, he later banned me on his site, simply for disagreeing.

I ban, on the other hand, when people violate my simple rules for civil discussion. It’s a completely different rationale. Bob is still fully able to see all of my posts about him, and to reply on his own site. Banning on Disqus has no effect on any of that.

After Bob challenged me, I decided that enough was enough and that I would reply at great length. I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, so I decided to do a series of posts.  Thus, I have now posted 32 critiques of his nonsense: written from August through October 2018, and the last two in April 2019.

And there will be more, if he writes something different about the Bible or Christianity; if he dredges up some semi-semi-semi quasi-“original” chestnut of anti-Christian polemics (many of his posts simply recycle the same old anti-Christian lies).

And guess how many times he has counter-responded to my 32 in-depth critiques, goaded on by he himself? You guessed right: zero, zilch, nada, nuthin’ . . . He hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply. His cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds.

It’s part of my job as a Catholic apologist, to examine the arguments (real or imagined) of atheist anti-theist polemicists, to see whether they can hold water. Not all (probably not even a majority of) apologists deal with atheist polemics or tackle the issues regarding science and its relationship to Christianity, and philosophy of religion. I do.

It’s largely thankless work, and few (on either side) seem to care about it, but someone’s gotta do it. On my site, one can learn how to counter and dismantle atheist arguments. And it is revealed how very weak they are. Don’t let the anti-theist atheist routine of blithely assumed intellectual superiority fool you. Anyone can talk a good game. But backing it up is often another story altogether.

I also specialize in critiques of atheist “deconversion stories.” Atheists and agnostics attempt to give (public) reasons why they should have left Christianity. I (likewise, publicly) show how they are inadequate and insufficient reasons.

And Bible-Basher Bob Seidensticker is Example #1 of this illusory facade of superiority. Imagine an idyllic vision of rational argument, where atheists seriously and amiably engage with Christians (minus all the usual mockery and tribalist cheerleading combox insult-fests, on both sides). Ol’ Bob doesn’t want any part of that. It would shatter the fairy tale of invulnerability that he makes up for his fan club and clones who sop up his every utterance as if they were GOSPEL TRVTH.

Bottom-line: can a person back up what they are arguing, against scrutiny and examination? Bob apparently cannot (he certainly will not), and so I can only conclude that he is an intellectual coward, who lacks the courage of his convictions (which — I freely grant — are sincerely held). Here is the complete list of my 32 posts contra Bible-Basher Bob:

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The usual nonsense and obfuscation in the combox commenced soon after this post went up:

So you’ve banned Bob Seidensticker from your blog, while he hasn’t banned you from his, yet he’s the intellectual coward?

Me: I’m banned on his blog (have been since August 2018; I just confirmed it over there, that it is still in force), and I was for simply disagreeing (as I mentioned in the post). I was in a good discussion with a reasonable and civil atheist there at the very time I was banned. But he was banned because he was being a sophist and a troll (as I carefully explained at length in a post).

1. He challenged me (back when I was still allowed to comment on his site) to refute his anti-Christian bilge (after I banned him).

2. I have now done so 32 times on as many topics.

3. He hasn’t uttered one peep in reply. That’s why he is a coward.

4. He can see my critiques (he can see this very post) and he is free to counter-reply to them on his blog. Being banned for trolling has nothing whatsoever to do with either of those things.

5. But again, he does NOT do so. Why? I have drawn my own conclusion as to the reason . . . If you or anyone have a better one, I’m all ears.

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Photo credit: OpenClipart-Vectors (10-21-13) [PixabayPixabay License]
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April 5, 2019

Atheist “Sporkfighter” was responding underneath my blog article, “The Nature & Function of Prayer: Reply to Two Atheists” (3-22-19). His words will be in blue.

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[Me] He urges us to pray in order to involve us in His actions. That’s how He likes it to be.

How could you possibly know what God wants?

I wouldn’t if He hadn’t revealed it in His revelation (the Bible).

He’s also revealed how we should acquire and treat our slaves, how we should submit if we are taken into slavery, and when to stone our wives and children.

How do you decide which parts of His revealed Truth to live by and which to ignore?

I’ve written about slavery in the Bible at length, too, in one of my 30 critiques that atheist luminary Bob Seidensticker completely ignored:

Seidensticker Folly #10: Slavery in the Old Testament

Seidensticker Folly #11: Slavery & the New Testament

The Old Testament law was very strict at first. But things develop, and that changed. When Jesus ran into the woman caught in adultery, He saved her from being stoned by saying, “he who is without sin, cast the first stone.” You must have missed that part of the Bible.

Back then you at least had to do something wrong to be stoned by your own parents. Now you simply have to exist in the womb of your mother, and you can be torn limb from limb and sucked into a vacuum cleaner. And about half the country thinks that is fine and dandy (the Supreme Court agreed in 1973!), and most of those look down their noses at the Old Testament system of law.

You want to bring up Old Testament slavery, when we have the exact same concept believed today: a mother owns her own child (so much so that many absurdly claim that it is part of her own body) and can murder him or her at will, should she so desire. Any reason whatsoever will suffice.

What a strange world we live in. How much moral progress we have made, huh?, since the time of those backward, troglodyte Hebrews in the desert. How much more compassionate we are towards even the most helpless and innocent and vulnerable among us.

Are we gonna play Bible hopscotch now: with you jumping to all sorts of different topics? That’s what Bob loves to do. But it’s a fool’s game and not serious discussion.

[Robert H. Woodman] Prayer is not for God’s benefit. Our prayers do not inform God of anything of which He is unaware, nor do our prayers compel Him to do anything that He would otherwise not do or that He would do only with reluctance. God is not a vending machine or a slot machine, but many people “pray” to God as if that is the purpose of prayer.

Matthew and Luke disagree with you.

Matthew 17:20 And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.

Luke 17:5-6 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.

I answered this objection in one of my replies to atheist Bob Seidensticker. Like the other 29, he left this completely unanswered:

Seidensticker Folly #7: No Conditional Prayer in Scripture?

Excerpts:

Jesus also tells the story (not a parable, which don’t have proper names) in Luke 16 of Lazarus and the rich man, in which two petitionary requests (in effect, prayers: 16:24, 27-28, 30) to Abraham are turned down (16:25-26, 29, 31). Since Jesus is teaching theological principles or truths, by means of the story, then it follows that it’s His own opinion as well: that prayers are not always answered. They have to be according to God’s will.

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Here is the passage (mentioned above) where St. Paul’s petitionary prayer request was expressly turned down by God:

2 Corinthians 12:7-9 And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh [Dave: many Bible scholars believe this to be an eye disease], a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. [8] Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; [9] but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

The prophet Jonah prayed to God to die (Jonah 4:3): “Therefore now, O LORD, take my life from me, I beseech thee, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (cf. 4:8-9). God obviously didn’t fulfill the request, and chided Jonah or his anger (4:4, 9). The prophet Ezekiel did the same: “O LORD, take away my life” (1 Kgs 19:4). God had other plans, as the entire passage shows. If we pray something stupidly, God won’t answer. He knows better than we do.

In pointing out that elsewhere the Bible says otherwise, all you have shown is that the Bible is internally inconsistent.

It’s perfectly consistent. What you need to understand is the nature of ancient near eastern Semitic hyperbole. I give an elementary introduction to it in this article of mine: “All Have Sinned” vs. a Sinless, Immaculate Mary?

I see that you wrote elsewhere (in June 2017), in reply to a comment by Carl Sagan: “You can’t convince a believer of anything because their belief isn’t based on evidence but on a deep-seated need to believe”:

It’s been my experience that Carl Sagan is correct. I’ve never known a theist to be convince[d] by evidence presented to him. Those who have left their religion have had to come across reasons on their own and in a way that doesn’t raise their defenses immediately.

I’m 57 and my family is atheist going back at least two generations…I’ve had quite a few discussions about religion and why there’s no evidence to support the idea…probably spoken to five hundred people on the subject. Granted, that’s not the entire human race, but it leads me to say that statistically speaking, the chance of arguing someone out of a religious belief approximates zero. As for the variety of theist, I don’t expect that to matter much.

Why are you here attempting to persuade me, then (and doing a lousy job so far, as I have already dealt with your flimsy, garden-variety objections many times over, with atheists splitting virtually every time I give them a solid answer)? You have your experience; we Christian apologists (I am a professional, published one) have ours with atheists as well.

As I mentioned, Bob Seidensticker is a prominent atheist polemicist on Patheos, who gets a million comments under his articles. He challenged me directly, to answer his endless arguments (real or so-called) against Christianity. So I didthirty times. But alas, he is nowhere to be found. I had to send out a notice to the Missing Persons bureau.

If you ask why I seek to convince atheists, I do because I seek to convince anyone of the truths of Christianity and of Catholic Christianity in particular. It’s called evangelism, and a desire to share the Gospel and truths of Christianity out of love and compassion; to share the joy and peace and fulfillment that we have discovered as followers of Jesus Christ. And we apologists specialize in giving reasons for why we believe as we do, and why alternate worldviews are less plausible and filled with fallacies and shortcomings and internal inconsistencies.

There are atheists who have become Christians. My favorite writer, C. S. Lewis, was one of them. But even short of such a dramatic change of mind, I think it’s important to show atheists that we (on the whole, at least among the properly educated and committed Christians) think and reason and value evidence and science just as they do, and that good, plausible answers can be given to their recycled, tired arguments against Christianity and Jesus and the Bible.

Engaging in these arguments in a public venue is also a way to encourage Christians that atheist objections are by no means invincible; quite the contrary. I have collected scores and scores of my interactions with atheists on my web page devoted to that. I also have a very extensive web page about science and philosophy.

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Photo credit: [Max PixelCreative Commons Zero – CC0 license]

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October 3, 2018

I received notice of a reply to a comment of mine made on Bob Seidensticker’s rabidly anti-theist / anti-Christian blog, Cross Examined. I had written over there on 8-21-18, replying to Bob:  “If you think I’m a troll, then ban me, since you say you have banned dozens of people. What stops you?”
 
So today, “BeeryUSA” replied (link):
 
It’s no wonder that Dave Armstrong, a guy who bans anyone who disagrees with him, thinks that others should do the same. What stops us? Well Dave, unlike religious folks, atheists aren’t afraid of debate. If you show yourself to be a troll, all the better.
 
Ah! So I thought Seidensticker might have changed his mind on banning me, and went to comment, “Am I unbanned?!” Alas, I received the message back from Disqus: “We are unable to post your comment because you have been banned by Cross Examined.”
 
That’s what I thought. Bob banned me back in mid-August, after an extraordinary avalanche of personal attacks had taken place against me: which I was happy to document and expose on my blog, as Example #490,108,011 of the typical “Angry Atheist” verbal diarrhea behavior.
 
This Beery guy seems to be under the illusion that Bob doesn’t ban people. He’s also wildly incorrect about my criteria for banning. It’s when people violate my simple rules for discourse; not because they disagree. I’ve reiterated this a billion times, but some folks are slow.
 
There is a very active atheist on my blog threads right now who has been here for months, named “Anthrotheist.” He regularly pays me compliments for good discussion, and a good environment to have discussions. He refrains from insults and is very courteous, charitable, and insightful. So there is no problem. See the five posted dialogues with him (so far: one / two / three / four / five). Lots and lots of disagreement, but no rancor and hostility and mudslinging. How refreshing that is!
 
Jon Curry is an atheist whom I’ve known in person since at least 2010 (he’s even been at my house giving talks, twice, and I gave a talk at his atheist group). He remains active on my Facebook page (usually talking very far left politics) and hasn’t been banned. I love disagreements. Thats why I have over a thousand dialogues posted on my blog: more than anyone else I’ve ever seen online. I post more words of folks who oppose me on issues than anyone I know.
 
I banned Bob from my blog, and I explained why at length at the time. But of course he is perfectly free to respond to any of my posts about him. He can still read what I wrote and reply on his blog, if he so chooses. I just completed my 23rd in a series called “Seidensticker Folly” last night:  “Seidensticker Folly #23: Atheist ‘Bible Science’ Inanities, Pt. 2.”  Here are the previous 22 installments, in case some atheist (including Bob himself) works up the gumption to rationally reply to any of ’em:
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[one / two / three / four / five / six / seven / eight / nine / ten / 11 / 12 / 13 / 14 / 15 / 16 / 17 / 18 / 19 / 20 / 21 / 22]
 
I started it because, when I was still allowed on Bob’s blog, he had challenged me, saying (on 8-11-18):
 
I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts? . . . If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.
 
So I began my series. It’s been fun and extremely enlightening as to how this one prominent anti-theist atheist argues and tries to lie about and besmirch Christianity and the Bible.
 
Beery claims that “atheists aren’t afraid of debate.” Presumably that includes Bob Seidensticker, who is one of the most well-known and prolific atheists online. I even saw yesterday that he has done formal debates in person with prominent Christian apologists.
 
But for some odd reason, he has not uttered one peep in reply to now 23 posts of mine that directly challenged arguments on his blog. Not.a.single.one. Zero, zip, zilch, nada. Instead, he fires a few potshots occasionally from his perch way up in the hills, such as, for example, opining that my alleged “disinterest in the truth reflects poorly” on me (from 8-24-18). I replied: “What are we to make, then, of his utter ‘disinterest’ in defending his opinions against serious critique?
 
Does that sound to you like he isn’t “afraid of debate” with Christians: i.e., with one who is also a professional, widely published apologist and who has directly challenged and refuted his arguments 23 times and will continue to do so? The scores and scores of debates posted on my Atheism and Agnosticism page hardly suggest that I am scared to debate atheists. Seidensticker is “small fry.” His arguments (if most of them are even worthy of the description) are atrocious, terrible, downright laughable. I’ve debated at least 25 atheists who are far sharper and more honest and accurate about Christianity than he is.
 
Perhaps someone who is still allowed to post at Cross Examined would be kind enough to inform Bob of this post. Thanks beforehand!

***

I replied to “Beery” on another blog:

Since I’m banned on Seidensticker’s blog, I couldn’t respond to your comment there, so here is my reply, in a new blog post. Perhaps you could be so kind as to inform Bob of it. Thanks!

If he blesses me with a response, I will be sure to post it here.

Someone else responded (MadScientist1023):

Aren’t you the guy who constantly tries to pick fights with Bob Seidensticker on your blog, but then bans absolutely anyone who makes one post you disagree with? This is kind of a weird place for you to be trolling for your blog, since you would ban most readers here from posting anything.

I replied:

I ban for insults and inability to engage in civil discourse, as I have explained 492,019,836,298 times — well, come to think of it, maybe 492,019,836,299 times (to no avail).  I have more debates with atheists posted on my blog (with multiple thousands of their words hosted on my Catholic site) than anyone I have ever seen. If you find someone with more debates than I have, please let me know.

Meanwhile, Bob still has me banned and has absolutely ignored 23 lengthy critiques of his posts, that he initially challenged me to undertake. That’s pretty rich (and hilarious) stuff! He’s perfectly free to read my critiques and reply on his blog (and then I will certainly counter-reply).

***

Photo credit: schlappohr (1-8-12) [PixabayCC0 Creative Commons license]

***
October 7, 2019

Joe Omundson runs the website, Recovering from Religion: Ex-Communications. I found the article, “My Escape from the Belly of the Beast” (9-24-18) there, written by one Don R., and replied with my article, Typical Deconversion Story: False Dilemmas & Incoherence (3-28-19). Joe in turn offered comments on my article, underneath it. This is my response. His words will be in blue.

*****

Hi Joe,

Thanks for your eloquent and cordial reply. I really appreciate it.

I am the person who manages the blog where you pulled this story from. Just some thoughts for you:

Honestly, the impression I get from your critique is less that you disagree with Don, and more that you have deep disagreements with fundamentalism.

Yes, we all agree about fundamentalism (in its false aspects and particularly its notorious anti-intellectualism). Where I disagree is on making that essentially equivalent to Christianity per se, and then using it as a fallacious “excuse” to dismiss Christianity altogether and become an agnostic or atheist.

As an apologist, it is my duty and burden to note that this is an insufficient rationale and inadequate thinking. It proves nothing except that fundamentalism only has many flaws, and that the person who has rejected it, specifically, has thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

You are right that nearly all of the deconversion stories featured on ExCommunications are from people who have a history in fundamentalism. I have definitely noticed that people who are from more liberal sects do not tend to carry the same kind of religious trauma, or feel such animosity toward it after leaving, or have a great desire to share their stories.

Interesting observation, and thanks for the confirmation of a thing I have long noted.

And, personally, my issue is with fundamentalism more so than religion as a whole. I don’t really mind it if people have their personal fictions that help them get through life, 

Of course, we deny that it is a mere “fiction.” We would say that atheism provides that function. :-)

whether that’s Jesus, chakras, or Harry Potter. What I do mind is when young children are forced to believe it as absolute truth, when people want to impose their religious beliefs on the legal process, when non-believers are shunned and endangered.

I agree with you on all three points. No one should or can be forced to believe. Obviously, virtually all parents (of any stripe) raise young children in their preferred worldview, but when they are old enough to reason for themselves (Catholics regard this as “confirmation” age: about 12-14), it should be a voluntary thing.

As for law, it is inherently moral, and thus (I would argue) indirectly religious. We live in basically a secular country. What I believe in is religious freedom and toleration for all. Too often, Christian practice is prohibited or penalized in a way that I think is blatantly unconstitutional.

If you point out discrimination against atheists, I wholeheartedly agree with you that this is wrong, but go on to also point out many instances of discrimination against Christians as well.

There are a lot of little things I could reply to, but I don’t have all day, so I’ll focus on the biggest things that came to mind.

[me] Fundamentalism is a small minority and fringe portion of evangelical Protestantism, which is one portion of Protestant Christianity, which is itself a minority of all Christians.

I don’t think this is true at all. At least, it’s far from true in the USA (I have no idea where you’re from). A quick google search tells me that 24% of Americans believe that the bible is literally true, and that’s the lowest it’s been in the 40 year history of the poll. Belief in the literal truth of the Bible qualifies as fundamentalism to me. 

I’m from metro Detroit, Michigan. Results of polls greatly depend on how they are worded, and how people perceive them (and I majored in sociology, so I know a little bit about this). For the average person, “a literal Bible” doesn’t refer to fundamentalism, but simply to biblical inspiration / belief that the Bible is true, and God’s word.

To indicate fundamentalism, one would have to probe about things like young earth creationism, views on the relationship between reason and faith, culture and faith, and “legalistic” aspects like dancing, drinking, gambling, etc. (among other things).

The proper view of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics and exegesis), of course, is that the Bible ought to be interpreted literally, not always, but rather, when it was intended to be so, and interpreted otherwise when it is determined (through study of the Bible, ancient near eastern culture, etc., that we are dealing with a non-literal / poetic / symbolic / parabolic passage (of which there are many, in many different literary genres).

Combined with the information (from the same year) that roughly 75% of Americans identify with a Christian faith of some sort, we see that about 1/3 of all Christians in the states are fundamentalists. 

Even if one accepts this figure (I don’t), that’s still a minority, isn’t it?, and not representative of Christianity as a whole: which is precisely my point. Thanks for verifying it.

Since they are also the most vocal about their views, Christianity-related discussions are going to be centered on fundamentalism more often than not.

This I do agree with. Fundamentalists are often very vocal. But we must distinguish also between them and evangelicals (my old group). Billy Graham, for example, was an evangelical, not a fundamentalist, and in fact, the later group often despised him as a supposed theological liberal.

You’re making it sound like fundamentalism is some tiny, crazy, insignificant little cult, and people are unfairly associating that with “legitimate” Christianity. But here in the US (and especially the Bible Belt) it is quite a dominant form of the religion. And it hurts a lot of people. It’s worth fighting against.

Well, I stated exactly what I stated, which you cited: “small minority and fringe portion of evangelical Protestantism, which is one portion of Protestant Christianity, which is itself a minority of all Christians.” It is certainly unfair and inaccurate to equate it with Christianity as a whole, regardless of how prevalent or proportionate it actually is.

It’s only one form of Christianity and a sub-group of Protestantism (one of three major “branches” and by far the youngest of the three: having only begun in the 16th century rather than the first). Yes, it’s very prevalent in the South (believe me, I know, from traveling there and looking for a Mass to attend!). But the South is only one part of America, ain’t it?

So, I’m a little confused why you have a problem with stories like this one. Don is critiquing fundamentalism and so are you. You both don’t agree with it, and surely you can tell the kind of damage it does to people, so why not view it as a positive thing when stories like this are posted? I understand that you want people to remain open to less literal interpretations of the Bible and Christianity. But are you so worried about liberal Christianity being lumped in with it, that you’d rather not have people discredit fundamentalism at all?

I have no problem with critiquing the errors of fundamentalism, or any other theological errors that may be found. I did so myself, as an evangelical Protestant, and continue to do so. I correct errors of reactionary Catholicism, which is sort of our equivalent of fundamentalism (far “right” Catholicism). There are even a few Catholic geocentrists and young-earthers.

You are missing the point. We agree that some things are false, even from our diverse worldviews. I am interested in “debunking” these deconversion stories only insofar as they are seeking to bash and discredit Christianity altogether; functioning basically as apologias for atheism or agnosticism.

There is no question that they (at least in part) serve that purpose. They exist so as to encourage former Christians and to confirm them in their apostasy (make them feel less alone and culturally and socially isolated). That’s not just my Christian opinion. It is your clearly expressed viewpoint, as expressed on your blog “About” page: (presumably written by yourself):

RfR is an organization dedicated to helping people navigate the path out of religion. RfR is dedicated to helping people as they reconsider their faith and journey beyond religion.

If you are one of the millions of people who have determined that religion no longer has a place in your life, this may be the right spot for you. Many people love the social support they get from religion, but can’t deal with all the illogical ideas they are required to espouse. It can be difficult to leave a religion because family and culture put so much pressure on us to stay and pretend to believe.

If this is you, we want to help you find your way out.

I see nothing about “fundamentalism” here. What I see is an antipathy to “religion” (not even confined to Christianity in this statement). You want folks to get “beyond” it and its “illogical ideas”. You can’t have it both ways. The very name of your website is “Recovering from Religion” — not “Recovering from Fundamentalism”.

So I come along — the Christian apologist — turn the tables, and show that any given deconversion story (including one I found on your site) does not in fact provide a plausible rationale for rejecting Christianity. At best, the typical one (from the ubiquitous former fundamentalist) shows how fundamentalism is unworthy of belief. But that’s like saying that a rejection of the Detroit Lions is a rejection of the NFL or football, period.

Your blog has articles with titles like the following:

My Pastor Made Me an Atheist

Religion Holds the Mind Ransom to Irrational Beliefs

The Sky without God: Ditching the Baggage of Belief

The “agenda” is anti-Christian, not just anti-fundamentalist. So why are you now making out that it’s only or primarily the latter? This ain’t rocket science. And I’ve been around the block a few times.

You mention sometimes that the explanations given by Don (and other ex-Christians) don’t prove that Christianity is false or atheism is right. I think that’s to be expected, because it isn’t the main point of telling a deconversion story. It’s a personal experience. It’s just saying, “here’s what I went through and why I don’t believe anymore”; it isn’t saying “I can prove that I am 100% right and you should agree with me”.

I understand that, but (note very closely) it is posted in a social setting where the overall thrust and goal is to discredit Christianity. This is patently obvious. Such stories provide the backdrop and framework for those who are struggling or on the fence or doubting as Christians, to start thinking in a different way, because “we are what we eat.”

If a person hangs around atheists and agnostics and not (or less and less so) thoughtful, educated Christians, then he or she will tend to become agnostics or atheists. It’s human nature, as we are social creatures, and crave to belong to a group of like-minded individuals. But what needs to be critiqued are the underlying premises (which is where I come in, especially as a Socratic)

The deconversion story serves precisely the same “exhorting” or “confirming” function in atheist circles that the Christian testimony (we used to jokingly refer to them as “testiphonies”) does in Christian circles. We hear those (in either camp) and think, “hey, I’m not the only one who thinks and feels like that!”).

You want folks to desert Christianity (think they will be far better off), just as we want folks to leave what we regard as the “bondage” of atheism or drug or sex addiction or nihilism or whatever the case may be: things that are making them miserable and unfulfilled. You offer a “better way” precisely as we Christians offer that. Is this not patently obvious?

The primary audience of ExCommunications is not Christian apologists. The goal isn’t to provide some comprehensive logical thesis in order to persuade people like you to change your mind (there are already a lot of blogs and books and podcasts, etc., that do exactly this). The main audience of ExCommunications and Recovering from Religion is people who are going through deconversion themselves, who are looking for community, solidarity, and a sense that they’re not alone in the pain they feel. While you might read this story and find it unconvincing, a lot of people can relate to the experiences/feelings/thought processes involved here.

Exactly! I am answering as I read, so I almost precisely anticipated in my last paragraph, what you state here. This doesn’t overcome my overall point of view (or the reason I offered a critique) in the least: not one bit. The deconversion story remains one piece in the overall atheist agenda (especially in online sites like yours) to undermine and discredit Christianity as untrue and harmful.

Thus, it makes perfect sense for  the defender of Christianity to point out what we believe are the inadequacies and glaring logical and factual shortcomings of any given such story. Why should this surprise you?

Finally, I just have one more thing I want to ask. This is more of a personal curiosity rather than a response to this story, and I hope you will not find it offensive,

Not at all . . . Good questions, and I appreciate you asking them, but unfortunately it is a “large and lumpy” / huge topic, along the lines of “why do you love your wife?” My 35th anniversary was yesterday and I am very happily married. Believe me, I could write tens of thousands of words explaining why I love her so much.

but as an ex-fundamentalist it’s something I have struggled to understand. I’m wondering: what is the point of believing in a Christianity that is not literally true?

We believe it is true, or the true state of affairs. That’s different from a belief that everything is “literally” true in the Bible, which applies to types of language or literary genres — as if there is no such thing as valid non-literal truth or expression.

If the Bible is a fallible document which is not scientifically accurate or reliably true;

We believe — based on many many reasons — that it is infallible and inspired (literally, “God-breathed”) revelation, and true in what it aims to teach. It’s not a scientific treatise. It came from a pre-scientific culture (which even the ancient Greeks still were) and speaks in phenomenological terms.

Yet what it teaches is true, and it sometimes touches tangentially on scientific matters. So, for example, in reply to an atheist who was bashing the Bible as “anti-science” I showed that the principles of hygiene and proper sewage and disease control was present in the Bible in a remarkable way: that wasn’t equaled in modern science till the 19th century:

Seidensticker Folly #23: Atheist “Bible Science” Inanities, Pt. 2

See also the related paper:

Seidensticker Folly #21: Atheist “Bible Science” Absurdities

Now how could that be? I don’t know what your explanation is, but ours is that it is inspired revelation from God, Who knows all things (omniscience). That’s why these “scientific” truths contained in it are accurate.

if the Holy Spirit does not in fact unite believers and speak to them the truth… why trust any of it?

People act precisely as the Bible says they will: selfish and subject to original sin, concupiscence, and actual sin and temptation. These sins include pride and division, as one of the many besetting sins of mankind. Thus we see the division in Christianity, exactly as we would expect. But there are solid arguments to be made as to where the reliable truths of Christianity reside in their fullness, specially guided by the Holy Spirit.

I believe that is in Catholicism, and I have devoted my life to explaining why I think so, and to sharing that good news and that “pearl of great price.” Why? Well, you’d have to read many of my 2500+ online articles to see why I think so (see the many drop-down indices above). The only way I could summarize it briefly would be the following variant of how I described my view of the so-called philosophical “theistic proofs”:

My view remains what it has been for many years: nothing strictly / absolutely “proves” Christianity. But . . .

I think the belief, “Christianity is true” is exponentially more probable and plausible than atheism, based on the cumulative effect of a multitude of good and different types of (rational) arguments, and the utter implausibility, incoherence, irrationality, and unacceptable level of blind faith of alternatives.

I don’t really see the point.

The point is that God and Christianity has (at least for the more earnest and serious disciples among us, by God’s grace and mercy) transformed our lives, and given them the utmost purpose and meaning and fulfillment. We have been regenerated and redeemed by our Lord Jesus, Who is the God-Man; the incarnate God. I share this Good News with great joy as an evangelist. You and anyone else can partake in what I and many millions have found. But you have to repent and yield (ah, there’s the rub).

From the ages of 10-18 I was wrapped up in a vague “practical atheist / occult” outlook that gave me no meaning or purpose, and culminated in a hellish six-month serious clinical depression: an existential darkness and crisis. As I see it, that was the logical outcome or reduction of either atheism or a disinterested, apathetic and philosophically and personally unsatisfying agnosticism or religious nominalism. I was more or less consistent in that, and it ultimately led me to God, evangelicalism (1977), and Catholicism (1990), respectively.

Is it because I personally am not all that fascinated by mythological history, authoritarianism, tradition, fiction, unification of belief inside a community, etc.? What am I missing that makes it appealing to you?

Again, it would take tens of thousands of words to explain all that. Perhaps you might be interested in the early part of my 75-page conversion story (parts one and two), that delve into my early life and why and how I became a committed Christian at the age of 18. But (like your deconversion stories) I have no illusions that this is a full apologetic. It’s simply my own story.

My full body of apologetics provides the intellectual rationales for why I believe as I do and why I believe anyone can come to believe the same thing, with a high degree of self-consistent intellectual integrity and assurance.

Thanks for the discussion, and feel free to continue it, as you wish.

***

Unfortunately, Money Trees Do Not Exist: If you have been aided in any way by my work, or think it is valuable and worthwhile, please strongly consider financially supporting it (even $10 / month — a mere 33 cents a day — would be very helpful). I have been a full-time Catholic apologist since Dec. 2001, and have been writing Christian apologetics since 1981 (see my Resume). My work has been proven (by God’s grace alone) to be fruitful, in terms of changing lives (see the tangible evidences from unsolicited “testimonies”). I have to pay my bills like all of you: and have a (homeschooling) wife and three children still at home to provide for, and a mortgage to pay.

My book royalties from three bestsellers in the field (published in 2003-2007) have been decreasing, as has my overall income, making it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.  I provide over 2500 free articles here, for the purpose of your edification and education, and have written 50 books. It’ll literally be a struggle to survive financially until Dec. 2020, when both my wife and I will start receiving Social Security. If you cannot contribute, I ask for your prayers. Thanks! See my information on how to donate (including 100% tax-deductible donations). It’s very simple to contribute to my apostolate via PayPal, if a tax deduction is not needed (my “business name” there is called “Catholic Used Book Service,” from my old bookselling days 17 or so years ago). May God abundantly bless you.

***

Photo credit: roegger (12-2-14) “Light bulb implosion” [PixabayPixabay License]

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July 24, 2019

I was writing back and forth with a Protestant pastor. He was saying how, if he spoke on the Trinity in a Catholic environment, that the Catholics in attendance would be thinking that Protestants “got” the doctrine of the Trinity from Catholics and not from Scripture alone and that Catholics believe in it solely because the Church teaches it, and not [also] because the Bible teaches it. This was my reply:

* * * * *

That’s not how most Catholics I know would think about it at all. We would rejoice in the truths you taught about, knowing that we hold them in common. We would be glad to learn more about a highly important subject. It wouldn’t matter a hill of beans that you were a Protestant, anymore than it matters that William Lane Craig is a Protestant philosopher when he defends the Resurrection or gives his brilliant version of the Cosmological Argument.

I love that stuff, and so do most sensible Catholics. We quickly forget that the source may happen to be a Protestant and rejoice in the truth presented. Only a polemically motivated, over-zealous Catholic would think the way you have characterized. Now, granted, if there were some big debate about the topic, some of that might come out, but even then, I think you have caricatured our position.

I’m an apologist, and I have written about this very thing, and I would never present it in such terms. It’s far more complex than that. But in a nutshell, I would say: yes, the Trinity can be explicitly proven from many biblical passages. I do this myself. I presuppose that it is clear and undeniable from Scripture Alone:

Holy Trinity: Hundreds of Biblical Proofs (RSV edition) [1982; rev. 2012]

Jesus is God: Hundreds of Biblical Proofs (RSV edition) [1982; rev. 2012]

The Sufficiency & Perspicuity of Scripture & the Trinity [6-16-03]

Seidensticker Folly #9: Trinity Unclear in the Bible? [8-17-18]

What we actually say about the authority issue with regard to the Trinity is that (much as you would say, I’m sure) human sin and false premises can cause sinful human beings to distort this Bible and find in it a non-trinitarian view. We see the examples all around us: JWs, Christadelphians, Mormons et al. So an authoritative Church is very useful to dogmatically declare things.

It doesn’t follow from that that the Trinity was not clear in the Bible alone without the Church. If you read the Church fathers opposing the Arians, you see this dynamic very clearly. They argue for the Bible, but then they end the argument by appealing to the Church and apostolic tradition. The first thing is the material element and the second is the formal. They’ll say, “the Church has always taught the Holy Trinity all the way back to the beginning; therefore it is true, because the Church is protected by the Holy Spirit, and the teaching goes back to Jesus and the apostles.”

But the Arians had no such history they could produce, so they had to fall back on Bible alone: but they distorted the Bible with bogus proof texts that Jesus was supposedly created.

Both things are true: both/and: the Trinity is true because the Bible teaches it, and it is true because the Church has always taught it. The second is not “over” the first, as if the first has no validity in and of itself.

We believe exactly the same about the canon of the Bible. The Bible is what it is, independently of the Church declaring it to be so. The books do not become inspired merely because the Church said so.

They are inspired because they are God-breathed. Vatican I and Vatican II both state this. Nevertheless, it is good to have an authoritative list of canonical books because, in fact, fathers disagreed somewhat on those in the early centuries, and an objective statement was necessary to avoid continuing disagreement.

You can always find people who will think illogically and not understand the teaching of the Church they are part of. In the end, you can only go by official Church teachings. But I have not found this particular thing to be the case very often, and I was a committed evangelical for 13 years and have been a committed Catholic for 17, and an apologist in both camps.

***

(originally 5-4-08)

Photo credit: AnonMoos (2014) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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May 24, 2019

I made a statement: “Atheist knowledge of the Bible and exegesis (generally speaking) is abominable.”

Atheist “Grimlock” replied: Fun fact: If the average atheist’s knowledge of the Bible is abominable, the average Christian seems to be even worse off. (At least in the US.) [source from Pew Research]

I do love me some empiricism.

This is a major reason why I do what I do: I’m an educator. But at least Christians approach the Bible with respect, which makes it a lot more likely that they will figure out its true meaning: a lot more than those who approach it like a butcher approaches a hog, or a lumberjack, a tree. So I reject a view that holds that they are more ignorant of the Bible (as an entire class) than atheists. It’s a joke. And I know so for certain, from my own long experience in dialogue.

People have differing levels of understanding in all human groups. What is objectionable is the atheist who comes in, guns blazing, thinking they know so much more about the Bible than Christians do. Atheists generally pride themselves for being the “rational” and “scientific” people and constantly imply that Christians are neither. Hundreds of examples of that exist in my own dialogues alone.

Lastly, many atheists (especially the ones who love to pick at and mock the Bible and claim that it is filled with alleged “contradictions”) come from fundamentalist Christian backgrounds (I never did, myself). Invariably, when they attempt to interpret the Bible, they do it with that inherited fallacious and ignorant way of doing so, from fundamentalism (hyper-literalism and virtual ignoring of linguistic, contextual, cultural, and literary genre factors). Thus, they generally make two major mistakes:

1) They assume that all Christians are anti-intellectual fundamentalists, as they once were.

2) They assume that anti-intellectual hyper-literal, “wooden” biblical interpretation is the only sort that exists, or is the “mainline” approach.

Related Reading:

Atheist Bible “Scholarship” & “Exegesis” [3-18-03]

Flat Earth: Biblical Teaching? (vs. Ed Babinski) [9-17-06]

“Former Christian” Atheists & Theological Ignorance [7-21-10]

Dialogue w Atheist: Joseph of Arimathea “Contradictions” (??) (Lousy Atheist Exegesis Example #5672) [1-7-11]

Reply to Atheists: Defining a [Biblical] “Contradiction” [1-7-11]

The Census, Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem, & History: Reply to Atheist John W. Loftus’ Irrational Criticisms of the Biblical Accounts [2-3-11]

“Butcher & Hog”: On Relentless Biblical Skepticism [9-21-15]

Genesis Contradictory (?) Creation Accounts & Hebrew Time: Refutation of a Clueless Atheist “Biblical Contradiction” [5-11-17]

Alleged “Bible Contradictions”: Most Are Actually Not So [6-8-17]

Atheist “Refutes” Sermon on the Mount (Or Does He?) [National Catholic Register, 7-23-17]

Reason, Science, & Logic Not the Exclusive Possessions of Atheists (+ Double Standards in How Christian Conversions are Treated, Compared to the Often Chilly Reception of Critiques of Atheist Deconversion Stories / Atheist “Exegesis” of the “Doubting Thomas” Passage) [7-24-17]

Richard Dawkins’ “Bible Whoppers” Are the “Delusion” [5-25-18]

Atheist Botched Biblical Exegesis: Example #4,974 [7-23-17; expanded on 7-3-18]

Atheist Inventions of Many Bogus “Bible Contradictions” [National Catholic Register, 9-4-18]

Seidensticker Folly #21: Atheist “Bible Science” Absurdities [9-25-18]

Seidensticker Folly #23: Atheist “Bible Science” Inanities, Pt. 2 [10-2-18]

Seidensticker Folly #25: Jesus’ Alleged Mustard Seed Error [10-8-18]

Bible “Contradictions” & Plausibility (Dialogue w Atheist) [12-17-18]

Biblical Knowledge of Atheist “DagoodS” as a Christian (Specifically, the Biblical [and Patristic] Teaching on Abortion) [12-13-10; expanded on 3-14-19]

Reply to Flimsy Atheist Biblical “Exegesis” #145,298 [4-5-19]

Seidensticker Folly #32: Sophistically Redefining “Contradiction” [4-20-19]

***

(originally on Facebook, 7-5-18)

Photo credit: The Dunce (1886), by Harold Copping (1863-1932) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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May 6, 2019

God’s Providence and Permissive Will, and Hebrew Non-Literal Anthropomorphism

2 Samuel 12:9, 13-15, 18 (RSV) Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have smitten Uri’ah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have slain him with the sword of the Ammonites. . . . [13] David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. [14] Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child that is born to you shall die.” [15] Then Nathan went to his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uri’ah’s wife bore to David, and it became sick. . . . [18] On the seventh day the child died.

Atheist Jon Morgan stated in one of my blog comboxesAccording to that story, David and Bathsheba conceived a child through adultery. In today’s world, abortion might have been the way out, but then it wasn’t available, and so David seemingly came to the conclusion that murdering Bathsheba’s husband Uriah and then marrying her was the only possible way to hush it up. The baby was then carried to full term, and slightly after full term the child was killed. Is that the shocking work of a “bloodthirsty childkilling advocate”? Actually, it was your God.

It seems like you are applying one set of rules to God and a completely different set of rules to humans, and I do think that is a problem.

Atheist Stewart Felker chimed in also: The most significant problem with that passage [is] not simply the death of an innocent, but God bringing punishment on the infant in order to punish the parent for his sins!

The major crux of the issue . . . isn’t about premature death itself, but about God’s killing of an innocent as direct punishment for someone else’s sin. It even differs from those instances in which God kills or orders the killing of a mass group of people and children just so happen to be a part of this larger group. This was the specific targeting of an individual child as punishment for the sins of their father.

Beyond this, I really, really think that “[i]nstead of the death of innocent children being an evil thing, it is often a blessing for the children to be taken away from a life of hardship at the hands of a sinful society, and ushered into a paradise of peace and rest” is the product of rationalizing, and brings us into insanely dubious and even dangerous ethical territory.

It’s not just that God has the prerogative to do whatever he wants here, though. That may or may not be true as a general rule of thumb (though of course God couldn’t do things against his own nature, nor could he in good faith do things that he promised he wouldn’t do, etc.); but here we’re specifically talking about God more or less arbitrarily killing someone in order to punish someone else for their own sins.

If David knew that the child was going to be immediately ushered into unending paradise, though, shouldn’t he have been pleased and not upset?

From the particular ancient Near Eastern perspective that underlies this story, however, there probably was no such notion as the child entering enter paradise upon death. The most relevant background and explanation is that God killed David’s son because human lives were sometimes thought to expendable, and could be used opportunistically for things like vicarious punishment. (The expendability of human lives — particular the lives of children — reaches its most extreme apex in idea that there are still traces of a positive attitude toward child sacrifice in various Biblical texts.)

I found an article which gives a full and adequate answer to the “dilemma” of God allegedly killing a child because of the sins of his or her father: “Did God Kill David’s Baby?” (Come and Reason Ministries). The Bible sometimes presents things as God doing something, when in fact it means (at the deepest level) that God permitted something to happen in His providence. And so the article explains:

Does anyone really believe it is just to kill an innocent baby for the sin of the father? The Bible certainly doesn’t:
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The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him. [Ezekiel 18:20]
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. . . So what is going on? The context reveals that the author of the passage is elaborating on the mindset of King David and those who lived at that time in Earth’s history. At that time in Earth’s history people attributed to God that which God allowed, but did not directly cause. An example of this would be the death of King Saul, who was king prior to David. King Saul committed suicide and the Bible faithfully records this, but the Bible also describes Saul’s suicide as God killing him:
Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.” But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him. So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together that same day. [1 Samuel 31:4-6]
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Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse. [1 Chronicles 10:13-14]
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Now, did God actually put Saul to death? Was an angel sent from heaven to force Saul down on his sword against his will, or did Saul choose to end his own life? Then why does the Bible say “the Lord put him to death?” Because at this time in the Bible God is described as doing what He permits. . . .
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We are not told what actually caused the infant’s death, only that the infant died and God did not intervene to stop this death, despite David’s prayers. The pronouncement of the prophet that the child would die was an announcement of what God foreknew would transpire, a prediction of future events. It was not a judicial finding with subsequent execution by God. It did not mean God would kill the child or cause the child’s death, but rather that God knew the child would die and God would not intervene to miraculously save the child.

I have explained the same sort of (analogous) thing in the case of the Bible saying that “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” which — when closely analyzed — is really Pharaoh hardening his own heart, and God permitting it in His providence. Thus the Bible says (in this specific sense) that God did it rather than Pharaoh. See:

God “Hardening Hearts”: How Do We Interpret That?

Reply to a Calvinist: Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart

The article I cited above mentions that each person is responsible for their own sin. Yes, that’s true, and I show at length that this is biblical teaching also:

God’s ‘Punishing’ of Descendants: Is it Unjust and Unfair?

Seidensticker Folly #17: “to the third and fourth generations”?

Does God Punish to the Fourth Generation?

A very clear and straightforward example of God permitting a thing, while the Bible says that He did it, is found in the book of Job. It’s all spelled out. Job (as is well-known) suffered terribly, even though God Himself said about Job, “there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (Job 1:8; cf. 2:3). Job himself understood his suffering as God sending the evil:

Job 2:9-10 (RSV) Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God, and die.” [10] But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

The writer of the book, near the end, refers to “all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him” (42:11).

This is, again, the language of providence, and (technically) of anthropomorphism, or condescending to the limited understanding of man by explaining things about God in a non-literal fashion. For more about that, see my paper:  Anthropopathism and Anthropomorphism: Biblical Data (God Condescending to Human Limitations of Understanding).

If we want to discover the literal truth of what was going on at a far deeper spiritual level, the beginning of the book explains it, in its narrative. God permitted Satan to afflict Job:

Job 1:12 And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only upon himself do not put forth your hand.” . . .

Job 2:6-7 And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your power; only spare his life.” [7] So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD, and afflicted Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.

So there you have it again. Sometimes the Bible states that “God did x,” but what it really means at a deeper level is that “God in His providence did not will x, but rather, permitted it in His omniscient providence, for a deeper purpose.”

As has been shown, we see this in Job’s case, King Saul’s case (cited in the article at the top), and with Pharaoh hardening his heart. This is biblical thought. But not one in a thousand atheists would have ever become familiar with this ancient Near Eastern Hebrew thinking. Nor would (sadly) one in a hundred Christians (if even that many). This is why we apologists do what we do! We’re here to educate and assist believers in better understanding the Bible and their Christian faith.

Thus I replied to Stewart Felker:

You are the one who lacks understanding of Hebrew thinking, in this instance, and in many others. But nice failed try, taking yet another swipe at God, out of your ignorance of how the Bible truly presents and explains His character and nature. May it be a lesson to you.

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Photo credit: The Prophet Nathan Rebukes King David, by Eugène Siberdt (1851-1931) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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March 22, 2019

The words of my two atheist friends will be in blue and green.

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Why does Jesus say that we will get whatever we ask in prayer, as we obviously don’t?

Because prayer is conditional upon being consistent with God’s will. So if we pray (to use an extreme example) for a difficult neighbor to be struck down and not able to talk or walk, that wouldn’t be in God’s will and God wouldn’t answer it.

1 John 5:14 (RSV) And this is the confidence which we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.

James 4:3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

Even something not immediately immoral or amoral wouldn’t necessarily be in God’s will, because He knows everything and can see where things might lead; thus may refuse some requests. When Jesus says “ask and you shall receive,” etc., it’s in a familiar Hebrew proverbial sense, which means that it is “generally true, but admits of exceptions.”

I can’t help but feel like the response to prayer winds up a bit circular. Prayers will be answered if they are consistent with God’s will. But if they are consistent with God’s will, why was the prayer needed in the first place? Does God have an endless list of things that he could do if only someone asked him, but which he won’t do if nobody does? That seems at first glance to be a very odd system, and from the perspective of sentient beings who may suffer illness or injury simply because someone didn’t explicitly pray on their behalf, seems morally dubious.

God doesn’t need anything. He’s not sitting up in heaven waiting for us to summon Him so He can act (as if He is our mere robot). He urges us to pray in order to involve us in His actions. That’s how He likes it to be. Prayer helps us (i.e., it’s a good and pious thing to pray), and helps recipients of prayer. The world was designed to be a place where people helped each other. Prayer is a means of helping others by involving the power of God.

It doesn’t logically follow, however, that because no one prayed for a specific need, that therefore God won’t fill it. Such a thing is never stated in the Bible, and is simply your unwarranted conclusion. Nor is it taught in Christian theology anywhere that I am aware of.

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Related Reading:

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Biblical Prayer is Conditional, Not Solely Based on Faith [National Catholic Register, 10-9-18]
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(originally 8-14-18)

Photo credit: Alexas_Fotos (7-24-17) [PixabayPixabay License]

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December 10, 2018

This exchange took place on the Debunking Christianity blog, underneath a post by John W. Loftus, called No More Funerals! [which appears to now be a defunct link]. Words of “DagoodS” will be in blue; some others in various colors as indicated. Indentation (excepting Bible verses) indicates my own words being cited by my opponents.

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She still exists. Hopefully, she went to the right place. I don’t know if she did or not. God is merciful and gracious. That would depend on her entire life’s response to the divine grace given to her, not on a momentary decision.

You would have tended toward the latter in your former theology, but most non-Protestant Christians take a little more of a nuanced view.

[Bruce] For the husband’s sake, I sure hope she “went to the right place”. Must be torture to believe that your dead wife could be burning in Hell. Why would anyone want to be part of a religion that tortures both the dead and living?

Makes a lot of sense: hell is a yucky, icky, dreadful place, so to avoid the yuckiness and ickiness one simply denies that it exists and accuses the Christian of being cruel to folks by suggesting that it may.

Meanwhile, there is no ultimate justice in the atheist world. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Jack the Ripper end up in the same place (nowhere) that John Loftus and DagoodS end up.

Sorry; I find that view of reality far more disturbing (apart from the question of which view is true) than the Christian notion of hell, where someone only goes there if they choose to reject God and suffer the consequences.

The atheist “consequences” (i.e., of the entire worldview) makes life far more troubling and ultimately meaningless than the doctrine of hellfire, much as you guys will protest that till you’re blue in the face.

No one has to go to hell, in the Christian view, rightly understood. But we all have to cease existing and only have a 70-year or so dinky, miniscule lifespan in the atheist view. And then those of you who favor abortion would disallow even that for those who must die by those atrocious ethics. They get obliterated out of existence before they have even drawn one breath in this world.

And you want to wax indignant about hell?

We all would like people who truly deserve it to get what is coming to them, but wanting it to be so doesn’t make it true.

Nor does wanting hell to be untrue make it untrue.

Are your religious beliefs based on what you believe to be true or what you want to be true?

The former; however the latter is not to be immediately dismissed. The presence of thirst doesn’t disprove that there is water; sexual drives don’t prove there is no such thing as sex, etc. Likewise, a desire for God or for heaven is more likely to prove that there is a God and a heaven, in my mind, than that no God or heaven exist. The fact that we all seem to have this interior, gut-level sense of right and wrong and desire for justice suggests to me that there is absolute justice in the universe, grounded in God.

When I ponder a universe without God I truly wonder why it would be that this godless universe contains human beings on earth: some 90-95% of whom are religious, and virtually 100% feel that the universe has meaning and that certain things are right and wrong even though there is no basis upon which we are all bound to carry out this morality, unless there is a God.

You chastise John for making this funeral a “matter of polemics” but you have no problem using it to push a pro-life agenda?

I didn’t “use” the funeral for anything. John chose to write about it; that being the case, folks can make comments. Didn’t you see how I wrote that it is inappropriate to make a funeral an evangelistic service? My point about abortion was just to show how wildly unjust some aspects of the atheist worldview are: depriving human beings of the only life they could ever have. Abortion is self-evidently wrong as it is, but adding the atheist element of no afterlife, either, makes it all the more outrageous.

[John W. Loftus chimed in (tolerant and respectful of the views of others, as usual) ]:

You seem so confident, just like I once was. You defend the notion of hell. That’s utterly ridiculous from my perspective. If you were not so blinded by your faith you would see it as I do. . . . a trinitarian three separate consciousness Being is nonsensical, . . . Defend this all you want to, but you are deluded. [emphases added]


Hell is a yucky, icky, dreadful place . . .


[Paul] I’ve got to say, this is a new one for me. “Yucky?” “Icky?” Cooked spinach may be yucky, icky. But hell? Whatever happened to “wailing and gnashing of teeth?” Burning torture without end?

Nothing that I am aware of. I would say that this is covered pretty well by the word dreadful. The rest was obviously rhetorical and semi-sarcastic understatement, subtly aimed at atheists who are always going on and on against hell, as if it were an indictment against God (which it is not at all). But as it involved some subtlety and my characteristically dry wit, I’m not surprised that some would misunderstand it.

Yes indeed Dave, it is cruel for the christian (and would be for god if it existed) to use hell as a threat. 

As I agree. I don’t talk about hell as a threat, but as a potential reality for those who choose to rebel against God. If it is a threat at all, it is in the sense that cancer is a “threat” to those who insist on smoking, or venereal disease is a “threat” for those who insist on promiscuity and sexual immorality. The rational person doesn’t blame the laws of nature for those bad things coming about, but rather, the person (who should have known better, based on our knowledge of causation for these horrors) who did the things that were the cause of them coming about.

When a criminal rebels against the laws of a society and is caught, convicted, and imprisoned for life (or executed, to make the analogy fit even better), we don’t say that the “cause” of his imprisonment or execution was the laws of the state that he violated, and rail against the very notion of law as the horrible, unjust cause of this guy’s suffering! He brought about his own demise by going astray. Likewise, with human beings, God, and hell.

The penalty for very serious crime in a civil sense is life imprisonment or execution. That’s just how it is. Law itself is not to be blamed.

The penalty for very serious sin and rebellion against God in spiritual reality is eternal torment in hell. That’s just how it is. God (the ground of moral law) is not to be blamed for that.

Likewise, a desire for God or for heaven is more likely to prove that there is a God and a heaven, in my mind, than that no God or heaven exist.

Actually, this is exactly backwards. “Desire” is an outstanding motivator, but a horrible proof. If we desire something, this places us on notice that we have a bias, and should be more careful to remove that bias when attempting to ascertain the truth, not less because it is “more likely.”

Well, technically (epistemologically), the word suggest would have been a better choice here than prove. But I still say that the desire is more likely to correspond to the things that are desired actually existing, rather than non-existent. This was the point of the analogies that followed. It was not so much hard philosophical “proof” in mind as it was common sense and experience of our desires and whether or not they are able to be fulfilled. Peter Kreeft makes a long elaborate “argument from desire,” drawing from and expanding upon C. S. Lewis. I think it is a rather neglected argument in the Christian “arsenal.”

In high school, I may have desired the head cheerleader to want to date me, but the fact she glanced my way in class is not proof of my desire. Simply because we desire something to be true, does not make it true.

I didn’t say that it did (I fully agree; that would be most foolish indeed). Don’t take this criticism too far. I said that the desire, in my opinion, made it probably more likely that the desired end exists, than that it does not. This is obvious from life. So in your analogy above, you desired to have a date with the cheerleader. This proves that it is possible that such a thing as a date with the cheerleader exists. It may be unlikely, but it is untrue that the desire proves or suggests that the thing is absolutely unattainable or nonexistent. more so than the contrary (as you atheists would make out with regard to the theist longing for God and heaven).

We have no evidence of life after death. None. NDE’s don’t even come close. 

Nor do we have any compelling evidence for the cause of the Big Bang. There are lots of things that don’t have evidence; e.g., extraterrestrial life. But then again, you assume from the outset the unreasonable assumption that scientific knowledge is the only sort that gives us reliable information. You would deny the miraculous and revelation: precisely the things that we Christians would bring forth as evidence for life after death.

Therefore a “desire” for it is not a proof, but rather a warning we have painted a wish and now look for “proof” with anything that sticks.

It is a strong indication of existence, precisely on the analogical basis that I have described; particularly because the desire is so widespread, and even had many many defenders in the philosophical world, through the centuries.

I have said it before, I will say it again. The idea of this is NOT to pick the team with the snazziest uniforms and stick with them regardless of the score. 

Sure; not exactly clear what this means . . .

Hey, the concept of a place where we will be with people we love and can socialize for all eternity, where wrongs will be avenged, and good acts rewarded is a great idea. So is a perpetual motion machine. Doesn’t make either true. 

I didn’t say it did. You misrepresent my argument if you think I was claiming that the mere desire for something is proof that it exists. I did use a word that should have been softened, but my use of “likely” shows what I had in mind. Context (as almost always) shows that I was not arguing as foolishly as you make out. And now my clarification makes it even more clear. This is one reason why I love dialogue.

The fact that we all seem to have this interior, gut-level sense of right and wrong and desire for justice suggests to me that there is absolute justice in the universe, grounded in God.

Interesting statement. Yet when we want to talk about the Christians claims regarding their God, and how it clashes with our “gut-level sense of right and wrong” we are often (if not always) informed that God’s Justice is not like Our Justice.

I wouldn’t argue in that way. That is more of a Calvinist approach. The Catholic and Orthodox and non-Calvinist Christian argument is that God builds upon nature. If we (human beings) feel a certain sense of morality naturally, God builds upon that and presents His fuller revelation to us, that expands upon what we already know.

C. S. Lewis argued somewhere that the almost universal agreement on many basic moral precepts doesn’t show that Christianity is false because these things are ingrained with the necessary aid of religion (Christian or otherwise), but the opposite: they are ingrained because God put the moral sense in human beings in the first place.

The prevalence of a single broad morality is not inconsistent with the notion of one divine source for that morality, just as, e.g., if one follows the history of language, one sees that languages tend to come from a common background (French, English, and Spanish, all derive from Latin). If there were no God and everyone was truly on their own, it seems to me quite reasonable to suppose that we would see a great deal more basic diversity on morality than we do.

So which is it – is our sense of Justice in line with God’s or not?

I say it is. But it is also likely, granting this, that some things about God or what He does will be difficult for us to understand. We derive from Him; we’re made in His image, but we are finite and created and don’t know a millionth of what He knows. So for us to find certain things difficult (stuff like you’re about to bring up now!) is totally to be expected.

See, my sense of justice would say that an authority, simply to demonstrate loyalty to the authority, requiring its subject to kill its own child would be an injustice. Yet your God does not. (Abraham and Isaac.)

But He didn’t require Abraham to kill his son (as we see at the end of the story). It was a test of faith. How far would Abraham’s faith go? Would he do that thing which is incomprehensible to him. Kierkegaard writes an entire marvelous book about this (Fear and Trembling). On the other hand, even nations sometimes require able-bodied persons to fight in wars that will get some of them killed. People die for their country. So do you argue, also, that this is inherently unjust for a country to demand of a mother the possible life of her child? It becomes a reductio ad absurdum. You would have to be a pacifist.

The professions of firefighter or policeman involve a given risk of death. People are willing to give their life for someone else. De we say that “society” is unreasonable in having things like firefighters, because potential sacrifice is involved? Yet you would blame God in this instance. You’re inconsistent. God is the one who does have power over life and death, so even if He did demand someone’s life, there would be no grounds that this was unjust, because He gave the life in the first place, as the Creator. And there is eternal life.

What is truly unjust, as I keep saying to atheists, is abortion, given your presuppositions. You take away the life that is all that this preborn child has, or will ever have. This is the true human sacrifice, going on every day!; not Abraham and Isaac, which wasn’t even a sacrifice, but a profound test. Abortion is the sacrament of atheism and radical feminism. That’s what your vision of “life”(and the supposed “happy life”) leads to: death and destruction. But Christian death may come about because God the Creator wills it, and He has every prerogative to do so; and then there is an eternal life, so that the life of that person isn’t truly over, anyway; it just becomes different and better (presuming salvation).

I would think that holding the value of silver and Gold over the life of a two day old boy is unjust. Yet your God does not. Numbers 31:26-28. I would think that enforcing a genocide for the actions of one’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents would be unjust. Yet your God does not. (Amalekites)

Christians have explained this stuff a million times, and the atheist will never understand it. Because God is Creator He also has the prerogative to judge. This is analogous to our experience. Society takes it upon itself to judge the criminal and punish him if he supercedes the “just” laws that govern the society, in order to prevent chaos and suffering. If that is true of human society (one man to another), it is all the more of God, because He is ontologically above us (Creator and created).

So it is perfectly sensible and moral to posit (apart from the data of revelation) a notion of God judging both individuals and nations. God’s omniscience is such that He can determine if an entire nation has gone bad (“beyond repair,” so to speak) and should be punished. And He did so. Now, even in a wicked nation there may be individuals who are exceptions to the rule. So some innocent people will be killed. But this is like our human experience as well. In wartime, we go to war against an entire nation. In so doing, even if it is unintentional, some innocent non-combatants will be killed.

But it’s also different in God’s case because He judged nations in part in order to prevent their idolatry and other sins to infiltrate Jewish (i.e., true) religion. He also judged Israel at various times (lest He be accused of being unfair). In any event, it is not true that nations or individuals were punished because of what great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents” did. 

Nice try at more of patented atheist caricature and 50-story straw men. There is a sense of corporate punishment, just described, and it is also true that the entire human race is a fallen race. We all deserve punishment for that fact alone, and God would be perfectly just to wipe us all out the next second. No one could hold it against Him.

He decides to be merciful and grant us grace to do better, but He is under no obligation to do so, anymore than the governor is obliged to pardon convicted criminals. Again, the societal analogy is perfectly apt. If someone rebels at every turn against every societal norm and law and appropriate behavior and so forth, is society to be blamed? Say someone grows up thinking that serial rape is fine and dandy and shouldn’t be prevented at all. So he goes and does this. Eventually, the legal system catches up with him and he gets his punishment. He rebelled against what most people think is wrong, and more than deserved his punishment.

We don’t say that there should be no punishment. We don’t blame society for his suffering in prison. We don’t deny that society has a right to judge such persons. So if mere human beings can judge each other, why cannot God judge His creation, and (particularly) those of His creation that have rebelled against Him at every turn? What is so incomprehensible about that? One may not believe it, but there is no radical incoherence or inconsistency or monstrous injustice or immorality in this Christian (and Jewish) viewpoint (which is what is always claimed by the critics).

My sense of justice would be to hold each person accountable for knowledge based upon persuasive evidence. Your God does not.

That is how the ultimate judgment works; absolutely. Each man will give his own account (Rom 14:10; 1 Cor 3:13; 2 Cor 5:10; Rev 22:12). So again, God’s way is analogous to our own (and your own). Hence, Scripture teaches:

Jeremiah 31:30 (RSV) But every one shall die for his own sin; . . .

Numbers 27:3 Our father. . . died for his own sin . . .

Deuteronomy 24:16 The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor shall the children be put to death for the fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin. (cited in 2 Kings 14:6; 2 Chron 25:4)

Now obviously, the Christian and the Jew holds that Mosaic Law came from God to Moses, and thus represented how God viewed morality. And this principle was within it. So it is incorrect to say that God is judging someone for someone else’s sins. It’s a distortion of what the Bible teaches. This true teaching is made even more explicit in the entire chapter Ezekiel 18:

1: The word of the LORD came to me again:
2: “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?
3: As I live, says the Lord GOD, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel.
4: Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sins shall die.
5: “If a man is righteous and does what is lawful and right –
6: if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of impurity,
7: does not oppress any one, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment,

8: does not lend at interest or take any increase, withholds his hand from iniquity, executes true justice between man and man,
9: walks in my statutes, and is careful to observe my ordinances – he is righteous, he shall surely live, says the Lord GOD.
10: “If he begets a son who is a robber, a shedder of blood,
11: who does none of these duties, but eats upon the mountains, defiles his neighbor’s wife,
12: oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore the pledge, lifts up his eyes to the idols, commits abomination,
13: lends at interest, and takes increase; shall he then live? He shall not live. He has done all these abominable things; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself.
14: “But if this man begets a son who sees all the sins which his father has done, and fears, and does not do likewise,
15: who does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife,
16: does not wrong any one, exacts no pledge, commits no robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment,
17: withholds his hand from iniquity, takes no interest or increase, observes my ordinances, and walks in my statutes; he shall not die for his father’s iniquity; he shall surely live.
18: As for his father, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother, and did what is not good among his people, behold, he shall die for his iniquity.
19: “Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is lawful and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live.
20: The soul that sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
21: “But if a wicked man turns away from all his sins which he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die.
22: None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness which he has done he shall live.
23: Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?
24: But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and does the same abominable things that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds which he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, he shall die.
25: “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?
26: When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die for it; for the iniquity which he has committed he shall die.
27: Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is lawful and right, he shall save his life.
28: Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
29: Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?
30: “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, says the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin.
31: Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?
32: For I have no pleasure in the death of any one, says the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.”

This is how God thinks. This is how He has revealed Himself (or in your skeptical atheist terms, how Jews, and Christians after them, have conceived of their God-that-doesn’t exist). Either case, your characterization of God (and/or how He is conceptualized) is false.

See also my papers:

Seidensticker Folly #17: “to the third and fourth generations”?

Does God Punish to the Fourth Generation?

I read the Bible and come away with statements that appear to be completely contrary to my gut-level sense of justice.

That’s because you have not understood the above elements. you’ve been fed a bill o goods by those who distort the Bible and reason badly and illogically.

What is the punishment for adultery? My intuition doesn’t seem to find that raping the perpetrator’s wife as very just. Yet your God does. 2 Sam. 12:14

You just keep coming up with them, don’t you? The atheist’s garden-variety playbook of verses that supposedly prove how rotten God is.

Apparently you got this verse wrong. Did you mean 12:11? The principle here is the same that I have argued with you at length about God’s allowing evil in His providence being described as if He caused it (see 12:11). But God could decide to judge, and He can even decide to use sinful agents to do so. They have free will. They are acting freely. But God can incorporate that into His providence in order to judge the sinner. This is what happened to David. His son Absalom freely rebelled against his father, of his own will. So he was judged on his own (by God and by David’s soldiers). But this was foretold (not foreordained) by God as a punishment for David’s sin.

We can see this on a purely natural, human level, too. Say we raise a child to not respect elder people, or to believe in euthanasia, under false pretenses and even worse ethical reasoning. Then the time comes when we are old and sick, and our own child actively tries to knock us off, and cares little for us. Like Harry Chapin sang in Cats in the Cradle, “my boy was just like me.” No doubt there was a lot of this in David. Something helped cause the son to go astray. He was still responsible for his own sin, but there can be precipitating causes from secondary parties or agents.

Or the punishment for murder. Apparently if God favors you, there is none. 2 Sam. 12:13 

Yes; God can pardon whomever He will, just as the governor of a state can. Is this unfair? One can try to argue that, I suppose. But there it is. In God’s case, we are His creatures, and we are all part of the rebellion against Him, in the sense of original sin. He offers a way out of that, but some can spurn it. David sinned and repented sincerely, from the heart. God knew his heart. And God decided to spare him, because of his importance as king and bearer of the covenant.

Or it may be that one of the murder’s relatives will become sick. (Not the murderer themselves, of course) 2 Sam. 3:29. 

I went through that already, above. All these things are complex, and long discussions in and of themselves. You can keep firing out error, but it takes ten, twenty times longer to effectively answer all this falsehood. That’s why atheists (much like Jehovah’s Witnesses) love the “rapid-fire, throw out 50 things at once “routine. They know full well how much necessary work it takes to answer this stuff. Most people don’t have that amount of time or energy (not to mention, knowledge). I’ve been writing for hours.

So they don’t do it, and then the atheist can smugly claim, “see, there are no answers or else they would be provided! That proves how irrational and silly Christianity is!” Well, in this case, I think I have provided solid answers. Chances are, you won’t be dissuaded in the slightest, but other people who may be fooled by your arguments can be prevented from adopting them. I am writing mainly for them, and for Christians, so that they can be confident that these shots against the Bible and God are groundless.

But, alas poor David will not make it to heaven, either. Rev. 21:8

Is that so? Now here is a prime example – absolutely classic – of muddle-headed atheist “exegesis.” Clearly the verse means that unrepentant sinners will not make it in. But David repented of his serious sin. We’ve already seen above that God will grant mercy to all who do so:

Ezekiel 18:21 But if a wicked man turns away from all his sins which he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die.

What of the punishment for blaspheme of God? 

The word is blasphemy.

I would think this pretty serious, eh? Apparently the appropriate punishment is kill a baby. 2 Sam. 12:15. 

First of all, David’s sins were not blasphemy (I don’t know where you’re getting that). They were adultery and murder. The verse is wrong again, too. It is 12:14. Again, it is pre-philosophical language regarding God’s providence. Things were allowed to happen (including tragic events) that could be seen as a judgment on persons related to them. But it doesn’t prove that God necessarily caused them (we see that very clearly in the book of Job, where God allowed Satan to do his deeds, and do a number on Job). This was all dealt with in our previous discussion on Pharaoh, with many biblical examples provided. You didn’t get it, then, and I suspect that you won’t this time, either.

(Don’t forget, though that blaspheme of the Holy Spirit is completely unforgivable! The worst punishment of all.)

Indeed, but that is not what we’re dealing with here. It means no longer believing in God at all or calling evil good. As long as someone refuses to believe in God, and knows that He exists, He cannot be forgiven or saved. This is why you and your fellow atheists need to seriously think about that which you espouse. You could very well end up in a place you don’t want to be in. And God could say then, “why didn’t you listen to people like Dave when he shared the truth about Me with you, and you didn’t want to hear about it? That was My way of trying to reach you, but you refused and would have none of it. So I had to leave you to your fate, because I won’t force anyone to believe in Me or serve Me. I want sons and daughters, not slaves.”

In light of blaspheme of God being equated to one death, my sense of Justice would think that taking a census, if a sin at all, would be far less. But no. According to your God’s sense of Justice, taking a census is worthy of a punishment of 100,000 to 200,000 deaths! 2 Sam. 24:15.

That’s absurd. I dealt with all that business in another paper, as you know.

Wow! David’s taking a census seems like a pretty big sin. Even within OUR justice system, it would be the equivalent of killing 100,000 people.

Ditto.

So what’s the number, Dave Armstrong? 

One. One person rebelling against God and spurning His free gift of salvific grace is enough for them to end up in hell by their own choice.

You indicate the concern about dispensing justice to a Hitler or a Stalin. That such persons deserve Hell. So what is the number of murders at which point Heaven becomes barred? Is it one? Is it 100,000? Is it 10 Million? 

Hitler could have theoretically repented, just as, e.g., abortionist Bernard Nathanson did, after 10,000 or so (some horrendous number) murder-abortions. But it is exceedingly unlikely, because the more one sins, the more one becomes hardened in sin and against God and His grace.

See, each person’s intuition changes. If you talk to a universalist, 10 Million is not enough. Others may say one is too many. Most others would figure some number between one and 100 is too many, although what, precisely would be uncertain.

According to Rev 21:8, one murder is one too many. 

If unrepented of, certainly. That’s the whole point.

And the verse indicates that anyone that lies gets the toss into hell as well. 

No. It is amazing how ignorant you (an otherwise intelligent man) can be about verses like this. This is so ridiculous that I suspect maybe you are just playing a game. It’s tough to believe that you are this much out to sea. Clearly it is referring to those who persist in these sins and whose lives are characterized by various sins. Otherwise, why have forgiveness of individual sins at all? Are you denying that God forgives anyone of their particular sins?

Have you lied, Dave Armstrong? Is there a human that has not? This sure doesn’t seem very just to me!

You’re right. But since it is a gross, stupid caricature of the biblical system of morality, grace, and forgiveness, it is not my problem. Your ignorance of biblical theology is your own problem to rectify. I suppose you can’t even properly believe in Christianity if you wrongly think it is this goofy, irrational, arbitrary system. That’s why there remains hope for you. The more you learn and are disabused of your errors, then you can see what Christianity really is, and accept it and come back to following God.

Further, if we all have an interior sense of justice, and create a god, what surprise is it that we claim it, too, has a sense of justice? “If a fish could make a god, it would look like a fish” is not just talking about scales and fins, you know.

I haven’t seen anything that is so foreign to my sense of justice that I would feel duty-bound to reject it, and God with it. I have tried my best to show that all these instances have reasonable explanations and have a strong analogy to many other things in life that you and I both equally accept. God’s justice is, after all, like our own, which derives from His in the first place.

Thanks for the great discussion! Sometimes it gets very frustrating, but overall I enjoy my interactions with you.

***

Can a Perfect being create imperfect beings?

He not only can do so, He must, because He cannot create another being that is eternal, like Himself, and all-knowing, etc. (e.g., any created beginning cannot know firsthand about that which occurred before it was created).

Therefore, whatever He creates must be lesser than Himself; hence imperfect, because He is perfect. Logic requires this. It cannot be otherwise, far as I can see.

If a perfect entity makes something imperfect, that act was imperfect.

Hardly. All it means is that even God is subject to the limitations of logic, because they are inherent to reality. God can’t, e.g., make the sun and the moon be in the same place at the same time, or make it the case that your entire life’s experience is suddenly mine, and mine yours, or make 2 + 2 = 5. There’s lots of stuff even an omnipotent being cannot do.

So which is it—is God partly imperfect, or is all of creation perfect?

Neither. God is perfect and creation isn’t, at least in many respects (meaning the best it can imaginably be, etc.).

* * *

The point was that upon realizing we have a desire for a certain outcome, event or thing, we have interjected bias into our reasoning process. How do we eliminate that bias?

You have a bias toward an afterlife. Don’t get me wrong; I think such a bias is appropriate. In fact, I have written elsewhere that Christians present a brighter picture regarding an after life than a naturalist view. I can understand why a Christian funeral is happier than a naturalist.

But that does not make it true. That was point about the snazziest uniform. You know the tired polemic of the female that makes the picks in the football pool based upon the color of the uniforms and wins every week.

The idea of determining what is true is NOT to pick the thing that is most pleasing to us, but rather use the evidence we have to come to the conclusion of what is most likely reality. However, being human we must recognize our bias toward certain propositions (and face it – ultimate justice of things that happen in this life is quite pleasing) and how to keep that bias from impacting our reasoning.

I don’t disagree with any of this (nor did it form any part of my argument), so there is no need to “refute” it.

You use the example of the Big Bang. Here is where I see the difference. Big Bang Theory is based upon the evidence we current have as to what happened at the initiation of this particular universe. It is the best theory to fit the facts.

But it is possible we make new observations, and new determinations so that in 100 years Big Bang theory will be scoffed as an outdated theory of unknowledgable people. Science has, within itself, a checks and balance system through presentation, peer review, and good old fashioned money by which former theories are rejected for theories that answer more facts.

Correct. At the moment, it makes far more sense to posit a Creator Who began the process, than some sort of ludicrous “self-creation” out of nothing.

I would agree with you that if some Scientist was beholden to Big Bang because they found it more pleasing, I would equally question how they remove their bias. Equally a poor method.

It’s not a matter of “pleasing” but of the comparative plausibility of competing truth claims. I don’t find atheism plausible at all: especially concerning the Big Bang where it literally becomes nonsensical and self-defeating.

What is the similar checks and balance regarding after-life? At what point do we incorporate new or different theories to explain the facts we observe? We can’t! Because an after – life is placed outside observation.

In our everyday experience, pretty much; yes. But miraculous events like the Resurrection of Jesus provide some empirical evidence that it exists.

The only proof provided of an after life by a Christian is hearsay. One person claims another person said “There is an after life.” It is not that I say scientific knowledge is the only thing that provides reliable information. Rather, hearsay is notoriously a poor source of information.

Bias coupled with a poor source is not compelling to us.

This is incorrect. Like I said, there is miraculous evidence, and also the data of revelation (Holy Scripture). The veracity of Scripture is verified on other independent grounds (fulfilled prophecy, minute accuracy of geographical and historical detail, archaeological confirmation, extraordinary internal consistency, lack of bizarre Babylonian, Greek mythological characteristics, etc.). Thirdly, there is the history of philosophical, non-religious arguments in favor of immortality, which is not insignificant. So it is a gross caricature to claim that “hearsay” is all that we can give in favor of our view.

Justice and God 

Your argument (as I read it) was that, as humans, we have an innate sense of Justice, which would lead one to the conclusion there was some absolute justice grounded in God. But when I use my innate sense of Justice, it finds the Christian depiction of a God as not just. So which do I use? Do I use my innate sense of Justice to find a God in general, and then immediately abandon that very same sense in order to maintain the Christian God?

I believe I have shown again and again that our human sense of justice, rightly-understood, is indeed harmonious with the justice of God as presented in the Bible. Your task is to make some argument against my counter-arguments; not simply state subjective opinions that you may have, which do nothing to move the discussion along. I want to know why you believe as you do, and why you disagree with my reasoning; not what you believe (which I already know).

Yes I know the standard Christian responses to the instances I raised. I will address them further in a moment.

Good! And I know standard atheist responses, too.

But bottom line, it boils down to “Might makes right.” Since God made us, he can do whatever he wants with us.

Thankfully, He is benevolent!

Which is all the more ironic considering the above conversation about an after-life. The only proof one has is that God has promised an after-life.

Nope; this is why Jesus appeared after He was killed: to show that He had conquered death and made a way for us to do so, too.

But if God can kill us, torture us, change our language, blind us, give us disease, and do what he wills, simply because he created us – couldn’t he also lie to us?

Theoretically, sure; but He is good, so He doesn’t do so. He merely simplifies things so our tiny, fallen minds can comprehend them.

The only basis for an after-life that you have could equally, under “might makes right” be completely unsupported.

Sheer speculation doesn’t resolve any of our differences. You can believe that God is a liar if you wish, and I can say that atheists are speaking falsehood when they go after God’s existence or character.

“Universal agreement on many basic moral precepts.”

I guess if one is looking for similarity in anything one can find it. What has been the “universal agreement” over the course of history and civilizations regarding war, families, education, cannibalism, human sacrifice, communal living, females, marriage, slavery, implementation of punishment, homosexuality, abortion, honor, societies, clothing, music and economics?

There is a great deal of agreement across the board. Particular s are defined differently, but the broad areas are quite similar. So people fight against each other, but they don’t disagree that there is a time to fight, and to defend oneself, one’s family, and country. It is understood that folks are to take care of their families and have an extra commitment to relatives. To go against family and cojntry is universally regarded as traitorous. There is the famous incest taboo.

With cannibalism and slavery and those sorts of things, this is essentially a matter of defining certain people out of the range of human. Everyone agrees that human beings have certain intrinsic rights, but to get out of that, societies create arbitrary exceptions. So the slave was considered sub-human (the history of slavery in America and the systemic racism that resulted from it or which was identical to it is sadly instructive). Or women are lowered to a status of sub-human.

Today the preborn child has been deprived of its inherent right to life. It is simply defined as non-human or a non-person. The very effort to dehumanize the victims of these horrible sins and evils proves that everyone agrees that “real” fully human beings have rights.

Ancient cultures sacrificed children or adults (human sacrifice, as with the Aztecs) to imaginary gods-idols (Molech, etc.). Now we sacrifice our preborn children to the modern idols of “free” sexuality and expediency. So we see that not much has changed. Human beings are as wicked now as ever, if not much more so.

We can even find a sense of right vs wrong in the animal kingdom within dogs, cats and chimpanzees, if we are looking for similarities! Are we saying a dog’s sense of doing something wrong is part of the “universal agreement on many basic moral precepts”?

Animals seem to have a primitive sense of right and wrong (much like atheist conceptions); the higher intelligence they have, the more we see this (as one would expect; since higher intelligence is a characteristic of man).

Further, if there is universal agreement, then this would include the naturalist position. It would include my sense of desire for justice.

Exactly! It does. You simply haven’t adequately reasoned the whole thing through. I’m trying to help you do that. :-)

Which directly conflicts with the Christian presentation. If we are to use universal agreement as the method by which to determine which God absolute justice is grounded in, then the Christian God loses.

Only if you reason illogically and implausibly, as you are doing. :-)

Looking at the instances . . . 

(And I am listing numerous instances to give us a variety to pick from. I cannot help that your Bible provides so many.)

Abraham and Isaac 

But He didn’t require Abraham to kill his son (as we see at the end of the story). It was a test of faith.

But Abraham didn’t know that. 

That’s irrelevant. You are trying to indict God: that he required him to kill his son. I pointed out that this was not, in fact, the case. Just because Abraham didn’t know it doesn’t alter that fact. He knew in the end, which is the important thing.

Are you seriously saying that if someone told you that God asked them to kill their child, your innate sense of right and wrong responds with, “Sounds about right to me”?

No; of course not. That’s why it was a test. Abraham believed despite the fact that it made no sense to Him: because he had faith. You miss the whole point of the story. Faith goes beyond the rational.

Keeping our eye on the ball, here – the claim is that our innate desire for justice, our gut-level sense of right and wrong means there is absolute justice in the universe grounded in God. This is an argumentation that our intuition is proof of the Christian God.

It suggests it. It’s not my position that it proves it. It would be nice if you could understand this by now and stop misrepresenting what I have argued. I believe there are very very few things that can be absolutely proven.

Yes, yes I know about closed revelation, etc. But that is not what we are discussing. We are talking about one’s innate sense of right and wrong and how it would point to a particular God. I would hope one would have the following conversation (based upon my intuitive sense of justice:

God: Go kill your son as a test of your faith.

Me: Uh, God. My sense of Justice says that is wrong.

God: Good answer. You need to use that innate sense to make right choices as to the law I wrote on your heart.

NOT:

God: Go kill your son as a test of your faith.

Me: When and Where?

God: Good answer. Your unquestioning willingness to do anything is proof that there is justice in the world.

Of course this is a stupid caricature of the Christian / Jewish worldview, designed to make it look infantile. Maybe you can get away with such silliness with some people, but not with me. The actual Christian perspective would go something like this:

God: Go kill your son [the “test of faith” part wouldn’t be there at first because that gives away what God was trying to do].

Me [in the utmost agony and bewilderment, as throughout]: How could this be?! This makes no sense. How can I kill my own child [i.e., assuming one is pro-life; if not, then such agony would be rationalized away by using words like “choice” and “my rights”]? Everything in me; every bone and fiber in my body tells me this is wrong. I cannot do it. I’d rather kill myself.

God: Are not my thoughts and ways as high above yours as the stars are above the earth?

Me: Yes, but this makes NO sense whatsoever. If You are good, how could You command this terrible, unthinkable thing?

God: Do you trust Me?

Me: Yes, but I don’t understand. Can’t you at least explain this to me if I must do it?

God: Do you believe that I love you?

Me: Yes, but I’m very confused and troubled, because the moral sense I feel comes from You (so I have thought), and it’s not moral or right to kill your own child.

God: It does; but what makes you think you would understand every last jot and tittle of what you are commanded to do?

Me: I suppose I can’t. But why would You want to torture me so?

God: Was not Jesus my Son also tortured and sacrificed for the sake of the salvation of men?

Me: Yes.

God: Will you do what I command or not?

Me: I will. But I am destroyed. Life has no meaning for me anymore if I must do this.

God: But you will do it rather than disobey Me?

Me: Yes. I must obey because a man cannot do otherwise and hope to be saved.

[I then proceed to carry out His command, and He then explains that He was testing my faith. Now He knows that I would do anything to follow Him; even if I didn’t understand it. But because He is good and merciful, He didn’t actually want me to carry out the deed. This is basically the story of Job in a nutshell]

Read Kierkegaard. You want depth on this question? He’ll provide more than enough of it. Do you think that Jews and Christians have not struggled with this scene and the book of Job for 4000 years? Of course we have. But we can ultimately make some sense of it. You atheist worldview is what should bring you to despair. Why are you so concerned about what you think isn’t even true? You have more than enough agony if you simply ponder the universe and life as you think it really is.

The comparison to soldiers, police and firefighters is poor. The difference is necessity. An unfortunate fact of life is that we require soldiers to protect our country, police to protect our society and firefighters to stop fires. And those individuals are killed in the line of duty.

This is a far, FAR cry from a needless death simply to prove a point of loyalty.

Exactly. All these people have mothers. or spouses. And they are willing to possibly sacrifice their loved one for the sake of country. So if you can do that for mere country, why not for God? It’s not absolutely inconceivable. Secondly, there was no needless death here. God never intended that Abraham actually do it. But the marvelously selfless, loving pro-abortion crowd is quite content to sacrifice the lives of their own children for the god-idols of convenience and free sex, isn’t it? 4000 murders of innocent, helpless children every day in America and you want to obsess over an ancient story of severely tested faith that didn’t involve a death at all? Fascinating . . .

If I am truly part of this universal agreement on basic moral precepts – child sacrifice is NOT within my innate sense of right/wrong. The Christian God, if there is a God, is not the grounding of absolute justice.

Genocide 

I use the Midianites of Numbers 31 for a very specific reason. They introduce a concept that Christians avoid.


Now, even in a wicked nation there may be individuals who are exceptions to the rule. So some innocent people will be killed. But this is like our human experience as well. 


How does this help one’s argument that God’s genocide was divine? This is claiming that within life, such as in war, as humans we have collateral damage. We kill the innocent with the wicked. Our Bombs cannot differentiate between civilians and combatants.

So you are saying God is no better than humans? He can’t do any better than we do, when exercising justice? See, my innate sense of right and wrong is to reduce as much as possible, down to zero, harm to innocents when punishing the wicked. You seem to be saying that your innate sense of right and wrong is that if a few innocents get caught up in the punishment of the wicked, that is simply an unfortunate necessity?

You misunderstand my analogy, and the limitations of analogy itself (as you often do). I was making the (imperfect) analogy between God’s judgment of entire peoples and our warring against countries, involving the death of innocents.

In both cases, there is a corporate sense of evil and an individual sense. It is obvious that there are exceptions to the rule. Obviously, not absolutely every German or Japanese was wicked and evil. So when we bombed a military plant, there would be innocent people killed (and I think carpet bombing of cities is an evil act, by the way, because it violates Catholic just war precepts).

Likewise, from God’s perspective, when He judges a nation, He knows that not everyone in it is equally wicked. They all have original sin (another question) and are all equally deserving of judgment in that score (so that if He killed them all, it wold be just for Him), but they’re not all exactly the same level of wickedness. Every person is judged fairly when they stand before God, but God chose to judge an entire people at times, to show the results of wickedness running rampant in a society.

Thus, the analogy (as far as it goes) is clear: God can judge whole nations without damning all of them or considering every single person equally evil. Likewise (remember, I was trying to show throughout that God’s justice is mirrored by our own, and this is another instance), when we bomb our enemies we understand that not everyone in those countries are equally evil. But we do it because evil in the world makes such things necessary.

The analogy clearly breaks down, but I think it is close enough to show that God’s judgment is not without its parallels in human existence. We can understand it in the same way we understand these military acts of war. But it’s fundamentally different because God knows everything and He can judge the human race that He created, and do it with total justice, not man’s feeble attempts at justice.

Your God can’t do any better than this?

But WAIT! He DOES!

See, in the Midianite genocide, God DOES manage to separate out the innocents from the wicked. It must be a matter of supreme coincidence that the innocents just happened to be the virgin females. Numbers 31:18. Virgin females that the soldiers got to keep for themselves as spoils of war. As booty.

Amazing, isn’t it, that a two-day old boy is wicked beyond repair. A grandmother, a mother, and older sister – all wicked, wicked, wicked. A 15-year-old girl that was married by her parents to a Midianite farmer – wicked. But a 16-year-old girl engaged to be married the next day? Innocent as the pure-driven snow.

Are you buying this? 

Notice also, that God himself did not speak to the people, but Moses did. Num. 31:3.

Now, let’s talk about your intuition. Your sense of right and wrong. A commander comes to you and says, “God says to kill all the men. All the wives. All the mothers, all the fathers. All the little boys. God says to take their gold, their silver, and their possessions for yourself as spoils of war. You also are to take all the virgin females for yourself. If they are male or a female that has slept with a man – kill them. If they are a female, you can take them as a(nother) wife for you.”

Would you question whether that order came from God, or man? Wouldn’t your entire inner being cry out at the wrongness of this entire concept? Or would you say, “Sounds about right to me” and pick up your sword to start slaying children?

Again, it is a special case if it is a war of judgment, directly commanded by God. Otherwise, mercy upon non-combatants would be the norm.

I do agree, however, that the sparing of the virgins is difficult to understand, since it was a judgment. Perhaps one could argue that virgins could not (by definition) have participated in the sins that were judged (namely, a sort of cult prostitution: Numbers, chapter 25). So they were more innocent in that sense, and could be incorporated into Jewish society (as many are who marry into a different culture).

Any offspring from them would be half-Jewish. This would then possibly me an exercise of mercy within judgment. I never claimed that there were no difficult passages in the Bible to understand or adequately explain. This is one that I don’t have a completely satisfactory answer for. But that doesn’t mean no Christian can explain it, either.

I’ve written about the Midianites (and the massacres of the Amalekites). The ancient Hebrews were not known to widely practice sex-slavery, as the Greeks and Romans did.

Amalekites 


In any event, it is not true that nations or individuals were punished because of what “great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great- grandparents” did. 


1 Sam. 15:2-3: “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'”

‘Nuff said.

Yes; you are correct; my language was imprecise. When nations are judged there is a sense of past misdeeds, and a corporate sense of guilt; though not to be conceived as allowing no individual exceptions. We see in this very example, that the Kenites, who lived among the Amalekites, were spared (1 Samuel 15:6).

Secondly, one must distinguish between judgment in the sense of judgment of nations (being killed) and eternal judgment. These nations were physically killed, but it doesn’t follow that each and every person was eternally damned. They would have been judged as individuals in that sense. And in this personal sense, no one is judged for the sins of distant ancestors, or anyone else. We’re all subject to original sin, but God can take away the penalties for that by grace (we believe the sacrament of baptism does this today).

Thirdly, it is interesting to note that the booty in this case (not allowed by God) was Agag the king, and sheep and oxen (1 Samuel 15:8-9), not young virgin girls. So it is not the case that cynical exceptions were always made, for sexual purposes (as you seem to imply).

Punishment for Adultery 

David sinned with Uriah. God says, “Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight.” 2 Sam. 12:11 

(And yes, I meant vs. 11, not 14. Thanks for catching that. I was skipping ahead at that moment and biffed the reference.)

A person commits adultery and murder. Having someone else rape his wives goes against my sense of right and wrong and desire for justice. It is not right.

Now, in defense of that, you are claiming God would “allow” another person to do a wicked act and “incorporate” that sin to judge the sinner.

Guess what? That still goes against my sense of right and wrong and desire for justice! What about punishing the person directly? Why must innocents (the wives) be harmed? Can’t God, (here’s a novel solution!) actually punish the wrongdoer and leave the innocents out of it?

But David was punished by his son’s rebellion. Absalom was not “innocent” of this sin. God freely incorporating evil acts as agents of His justice does not violate free will or cause any injustice. As I’ve argued before there can be varying levels of causation. A person can mean something for evil and God can use the same act for purposes of true justice (we saw that in the Joseph story; Joseph later made note of this, so the concept of multiple simultaneous cause for different purposes was present early on in Hebrew religion).

But it is an analogy to human experience that when we sin, it tends to adversely affect those around us. Just talk to any teenagers held in juvenile detention facilities, and ask them about their parents and their background, if you doubt this. They all had a free will. But they also (usually) had a rotten background which greatly precipitated their crimes.

Does your sense of justice merely shrug at the fact that women are being raped as part of God’s “providence” in order to punish a person? That God does not prevent it?

It doesn’t follow that God caused these things. Whether He should massively intervene and prevent every evil act in the history of humanity is another huge question. I have argued that if He tried to govern the universe in that way, that it would, in the end, reduce to a scenario with no free will at all, since God would be controlling everything to absolutely prevent all evil, pain, and suffering.

I’ve written about the atheist charge that God condones rape.

Out of curiosity, how many women have you convinced that their being raped because of their husband’s sin conforms to an intuitive sense of right and wrong? That it is justice?

Nice try at caricaturing my argument.

Punishment for Murder 


David sinned and repented sincerely, from the heart. God knew his heart. And God decided to spare him, because of his importance as king and bearer of the covenant. 


Wait, wait, wait. If someone is “important” enough, or of a high enough position, they can be spared punishment?

Anyone whatsoever can potentially be spared punishment. Haven’t you ever heard of a pardon?
God could kill us all and be perfectly just in doing so, or spare whomever He wills to spare. But we all have equal chance at eternal salvation.

Sorry, but that goes against my innate sense of justice. In your sense of justice, at what point is a person important enough that you think they should be spared punishment?

We do it with Presidents, don’t we? President Nixon was pardoned. President Clinton was let off the hook by political maneuvering. This happens because of their high position. One could argue as to the propriety or lack thereof in both cases, but it is not a totally foreign concept.

Again, remember what we are discussing. Not whether God has some right or ultimate justice which allows Him to do what he pleases when he pleases, but rather what direction our internal sense of right and wrong and desire for justice would lead us when looking for a God.

Yes. I think overall, the data of experience and reason based on analogy, is still highly in God’s favor. You can pick and choose some of the hard-to-understand passages in the Bible, but of course you ignore the tons of passages that are very easy to understand, and you seem to almost think that the New Testament (the fullest revelation of God) doesn’t even exist.

And no, you did NOT respond to Joab’s relatives being punished for Joab’s sin. Again, Dave Armstrong, I can’t help that your Bible provides us numerous questions regarding justice dished out by God, and how that fails to conform to our principles of Justice. Joab himself was not punished because he was too “important” to David. Interestingly, when David died, Joab was no longer important enough, and at that time the punishment was rendered.

I don’t recall what this was. You skip some of my arguments, so if I missed one of yours in the midst of my usually point-by-point replies, I don’t think it is a huge sin.

I understand you are writing to other Christians. Those that believe as you do. That you are attempting to demonstrate my “shots” (your words) are groundless. That is your choice. That is a role you have assumed. So do so.

I’m writing to an atheist. But Christians read the stuff, and they are overwhelmingly the ones who can be convinced of my arguments. As the old saying goes: “a man convinced against his will retains his original belief still.”

To some degree, I sorta hope I am frustrating. I am trying to challenge you.

Likewise.


No, not as in some further study, but rather to present better arguments. Rather than simply present arguments to sustain those that already believe – attempt to persuade those that don’t!


That’s exactly what I’m doing. I only said that the atheist is highly unlikely to be convinced of a Christian argument; especially one — like yourself — who has already rejected Christianity (an apostate). I see this as likely to be more of a problem of thinking than of being deliberately wicked and so forth. You decided at some point to accept false premises and falsehoods.

Rise above the defensive apologetic of how it is “possible” or what “might be” and actually go beyond and convince others, using THEIR situation, THEIR bias, THEIR position in life. Become probable, not possible.

Again, that is exactly my methodology. I try to approach things based on whatever common presuppositions can be found. St. Paul said to become like others, so that you can win them over. His method varied according to whom he talked to. I’ve always tried to apply that wisdom. You’re not convinced because of your bias and commitments, not because of my faulty method (though one can always improve, of course).

Revelations 21:7-8 

There is no “s”. Many Christians make the same mistake.

“He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

Rev. 20:12-13

“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were upended. Another book was opened which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them and each person was judged according to what he had done.”

I’m sorry, where, exactly, was the bit about repentance? That if one committed an act and was unrepentant then it was counted against them?

It’s presupposed. This is made clear in comparing Scripture with Scripture. I already gave you
the proof: see, e.g., Ezekiel 18:21,27. Another is Psalm 51. David repented of his sin and was forgiven. I find this to be one of the more bizarre and muddleheaded of your arguments.

Dave Armstrong, it is not there. Sure 1 John 1:9 says confession will result in righteousness. But 1 John 3:6 says true Christians do not continue to sin, either.

Correct: meaning that the essence of a Christian is not to sin: not that they never will sin (cf. 3:9). That’s why John talks about confession, too. You have to understand it all in context. Atheists are masters at ignoring that.

The reason I bring up Rev. 21:8 is that unbelief is not the ONLY thing that prevents a person from entering heaven. Apparently one can be a believer, and yet commit certain acts, and still be denied heaven.

You can claim to be a believer, but if your acts don’t follow, the Bible teaches that you not only can be deemed not truly a believer (James 2:8-17), but damned as well (Matthew 7:21-23).

Now, you might be quite correct that God will allow murderers in. (Hey, might makes right – according to this argument, God can do what he wants.)

If they repent; absolutely. Might makes right is the atheist principle of ethics, not the Christian one. Ours is “the benevolent, all-loving God is the ground of the right and the good.” You guys can do what you want, and that includes evil. Many atheists in power have acted accordingly (playing a warped notion of “god” in effect).

Perhaps David the King is “important” enough that God will make an exception for him.

David was described as a man after God’s own heart. One temporary state of serious sin does not necessarily mean one is damned for eternity. A man can fall temporarily. Lust is the classic instance of human weakness. We all understand it from our own experience.

Are you saying, that a Christian who lies, and fails to repent, will not make it in? (Nowhere does it say “persist in their sins” either.) Interesting.

It depends on a lot of things. I’m not gonna make some simplistic analysis of how God decides if someone is saved or not. Catholics also make a distinction between mortal / deadly and venial sin.

I suppose you can’t even properly believe in Christianity if you wrongly think it is this goofy, irrational, arbitrary system. 


What I thought I was being told was that I had an intuitive sense of right and wrong and a desire for justice. That this intuition would lead me to conclude there is absolute justice, grounded in a God.

Yes; but you can corrupt that understanding (like conscience) by lousy reasoning and sin. I don’t know about what your sins may be. All I can do is critique your reasoning.

I am now told that we do not know a millionth of what this God is like,

That’s correct. It doesn’t follow that what we do know follows the model of God; particularly in the sense of right and wrong that we have been discussing. My five-year-old daughter doesn’t know a millionth of what I know, but she and I have a common sense of right and wrong. If she pokes her brother in the eye on purpose, she herself knows that this is wrong. And that knowledge (I would argue) is internal, and also derived in part from learning it from her parents (precisely as with us and God).

that this God (apparently) has the same human limitations as we have in discerning innocents and wicked, 

Not at all; that was simply your dim comprehension of how my analogy was functioning.

that this God has the same human propensities to absolve those it favors, and that this God uses other human wickedness performed on innocents to punish the wicked.

None of this is my argument; nor does it follow from what I argued. You have distorted it, in your profound bias against “all things theistic.”

I am now told that “Might makes Right”

Not by me; I never said that.

and that this God can do (or not do) what it chooses when it chooses, simply because I have the audacity to be a human.

Of course He can, being omnipotent; I don’t know what the second part is supposed to mean.

No, Dave Armstrong, I do not find Christianity to be a “goofy, irrational, arbitrary system”. Not in the least.

You could have fooled me, given all your fallacious critiques and caricatures of what you think Christianity teaches, or what the Bible teaches, or your failed reductios of the Bible to moral absurdity.

I find Christianity, (at times) afraid to use the same measurement of inspection upon its own beliefs as compared to what it will utilize on others.

My entire argument was based on analogy to human experience and felt sense of justice. I love to argue that way, following Butler and Newman.

You find my beliefs “disturbing” and “meaningless.” Fair enough

I don’t know the context of where these judgments occurred. But atheism as a whole is highly disturbing because it gets the most important things in life wrong; and that is frightening, and leads to ultimate meaninglessness and despair. Thankfully, most atheists don’t grapple with the consequences of their beliefs. They still have enough Christian residue from experience or society to pretend that life has some meaning, when in fact it can have little if there is no binding morality or immortality or justice in the end, so that evil can be judged and the scales balanced.


I haven’t seen anything that is so foreign to my sense of justice that I would feel duty-bound to reject it, and God with it. 


Yes, I know. But can this Christian God become convincing to other persons’ sense of justice, or is it only persuasive to those that already believe in the Christian God?

I firmly believe so. I think that if you fairly consider the arguments I have made (and many others from Christians), and not concentrate solely on difficult Old Testament passages about massacre and so forth (even those are not absolutely insuperable, I’ve contended), that it is quite easy to see the similarity. We shouldn’t and don’t just dwell on the most difficult things in any given view in order to accept it or reject it. For example, if one believes in the theory of evolution, there are plenty of anomalies and unexplained elements in that. Yet the vast majority of scientists accept it. They don’t reject it because of the anomalies and difficulties that they freely grant.

Likewise, you have no warrant to reject how the Bible presents the character of God based on passages that most people find difficult to grasp, like Abraham and Isaac, and the massacres, and so forth. But that’s all you seem to want to talk about. it’s thoroughly slanted towards skepticism from the outset. So how can you think you are approaching the topic fairly and with an open mind? You have a different standard when you approach the Bible than you have when you approach science. The Bible is subjected to an impossibly high standard. So the problem is not in dearth of solid evidence and reasoning, but in your flawed methodology and epistemology, that includes double standards within it.

If it is not persuasive to us, can there really be a “universal agreement on basic moral principles”?

I think it is virtually self-evident that there is this agreement.

Bottom line – I do not see how humanity’s intuitive sense of right and wrong and desire for justice leads one to the Christian God.

If anything I have written and argued has brought you even the tiniest bit closer to God, then my labors have not been in vain. I ask the Christians reading this to say a prayer for you (and other atheists reading too): that you will be able to see and receive what God is trying to communicate to you through this most unworthy vessel.

Thanks again for the stimulating, amiable, challenging dialogue. It’s my pleasure to interact with you and joy and privilege to share the gospel and the Christian and Catholic message.

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(originally 12-5-06)

Photo credit: A wildfire burns in a cypress prairie at Florida Panther NWR. [public domain / Free Stock Photos.biz]

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