The Pursuit of Happiness: A Six Step Plan and Response to Mr. Oz Atheist

The intention of the following blog is to offer a Christian response to an atheist perspective on our purpose in life. The blog begins with an atheist’s perspective and purpose without God, followed by a Christian’s response and purpose with God. The latter includes a discussion on the pursuit of happiness and joy and the predictors of same, since the underlying current in Mr. Oz Atheist’s message speaks to the pursuit of enjoyment. Mr. Oz Atheist, as he calls himself on social media, composed the following blog a couple of years ago.

Mr. Oz Atheist: Purpose without God

“I didn’t ask to be born” The catch-cry of the angsty teenager. An exclamation from a mouth that belongs to a body that’s surviving off more hormones than oxygen.

They’re right too. They didn’t ask to be born. No one does. It happens before we’re even aware of who or what we are. We are alive, and that’s our starting point.

Not asking to be born is one thing we atheists agree about with our theistic friends. However, our theistic friends seem to be of the opinion that without God our lives have no purpose. I have been asked why we, the non-believers, don’t just kill ourselves? They openly wonder what we have to live for.

I have said before that being an atheist doesn’t mean I’ve got nothing to live for, it means I’ve got nothing to die for.

Now please don’t confuse this with me saying that I *wouldn’t* die to save my children, for example. Because I would. Of course. What I mean is that for me, in death, there is nothing.

But a theist believes that when they die they’ll be forever in a world of bliss, and paradise, and, if the right flavour of belief is correct, 72 virgins. (Of course if virgins is your thing, 72 for eternity feels like being short changed. Assuming you want a virgin for the obvious reason…they’re only a virgin once. Maybe it’s one 72 year old virgin.)

For me though, life is everything. Everything I’ll ever experience will be experienced in *this* life. That’s what I mean about nothing to die for and everything to live for. I mean it literally.

Some theists though seem obsessed with having an ultimate purpose.

I don’t understand why, even if Earth is consumed by the sun in 5 billion years, I still can’t enjoy the here and now. I will die one day and that will be that. Is that enough reason to not enjoy today? I can’t see how. Why is my enjoyment today dependent upon being in heaven when I die? As I said, being alive is my starting point. Why not enjoy it?

Theists talk about having the ultimate purpose (which seems to be just getting into heaven…what then?) but they never say why it should matter. They never say why the ultimate purpose is necessary.

Matt Dillahunty has used the book example. You start reading a book, knowing it’s finite, knowing it will end. But you read it anyway. I doubt anyone avoids reading the first page of a book simply because there’s a last page.

I know the counter to this is that you remember the book. I might finish a book today, but I can remember it tomorrow. They book stays with me once it’s finished, but my life doesn’t.

But I do have tomorrow. I even have this afternoon, or later tonight. And even if I didn’t why do I need heaven later in order to enjoy NOW? Maybe I throw a blanket down on a remote beach and lie there with a friend looking up at the stars. Must I need to know I’ll one day be in heaven to enjoy that moment? Must I need belief in a deity to be glad I was doing that? Of course not.

Yes, maybe a theist has an ‘ultimate’ purpose in life and as an atheist, I don’t, but they fail to explain what it matters. They fail to convince me I need one.

I’m happy to define my life’s own purpose. I’m happy to decide for myself what I would like to achieve, where I would like to go as a human being.

A friend of my daughter would have been 14 or 15 at the time when she said ‘I would die without God in my life’. I don’t see any honour in this. I don’t see anything of which to be proud. This is a sad way for a child to be thinking. How dare someone convince this person that her life is worth something only if a god is real. How dare they convince her that her worth is tied to a fairytale?

God is unseen and unheard. Yet religion knows exactly what he wants, exactly how he feels. And it tells you how to behave and tells you that without *its* particular god, you are worthless. It’s a scam, and cruel and ridiculous scam and millions of good and otherwise intelligent people fall for it.

Why does religion try to convince people without its god, they are worthless? Because if they didn’t people might realise they can live free and happy lives without it. If that happened, where would the money come from?

Christian Apologist: Purpose with God

Mr. Oz Atheist has made a couple of assertions which merit a response. First, I note that it is a great shame that any theist has suggested to Mr. Oz Atheist that he kill himself because he does not believe in God. The theist likely believes Mr. Oz Atheist is in quicksand and instead of offering a rope, it appears she or he would rather walk away.

God calls on us to offer the rope:

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” – 1 Peter 3:15

Mr. Oz Atheist additionally states that he is living for the here and now – for enjoyment in this life – and that theists are living for enjoyment in the next. This assertion is true, but he has forced a false dichotomy with the implicit assumption that theists are not also seeking happiness and joy in this life. Of course we are seeking happiness and joy! The difference for Christians is that we are seeking happiness and joy in both this life and the next.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Mr. Oz Atheist would likely agree with the following famous quote by Aristotle: “Happiness depends on ourselves.” The central purpose of human life, according to one of the greatest philosophers of all time, Aristotle, is happiness.

But what makes for happy lives? Studies of happiness over the past few decades have drawn from the seminal articles or books by Cantril (1965), Andrews and Withey (1976) and Diener (1984). The focus of these studies often includes subjective well-being (SWB), which is concerned with “how and why people experience their lives in positive ways, including cognitive judgments and affective reactions” (Diener, 1984, p. 542).

Diener (1984) distinguishes two dimensions of subjective well-being: cognitive well-being, which relates to life satisfaction, and affective well-being, which relates to happiness. Diener’s (1984) extensive review examined a variety of demographic variables impacting subjective well-being, including age (findings mixed), race (blacks lower SWB), religiosity (findings mixed) employment (unemployed least happy), education (interacts with other variables), marital status (married people higher SWB), having children (negligible or negative effects), income (income inequality lowers SWB), and gender (interacts with age). More recent studies have indicated that demographic variables are established variables of interest in quality of life studies (Vinson & Ericson, 2014). Other factors also relate positively to SWB, such as optimism, social support, and self-esteem (Quevedo & Abella, 2011). Additional positive correlates of happiness include personal income (Cummins, 2000), health (Salinas-Jiminez et al., 2010), social capital, trust (Growiec & Growiec, 2014), and financial satisfaction (Ng & Diener, 2014).

As Deiner (1984) discovered, the relationship between religiosity and happiness is mixed. One explanation relates to social conformity to prevailing country norms. As Okulicz-Kozaryn (2010) note, people who live in countries where many people believe in God are much happier than non-believers. Considering I reside in a country considered religious (the United States), while Mr. Oz Atheist resides in a country considered less religious (Australia), and we both consider ourselves happy, our happiness is partially explained by our beliefs and social conformity theory. Our happiness is further partially explained by the individual-level variables noted above. Other reasons for mixed findings with respect to religiosity include demographics. For example, women tend to be more religious (Freese, 2004).  Even so, Okulicz and Kozaryn (2010, p.  155) determined that “the major conclusion from the extant literature is that religious faith predicts happiness (it creates purpose in life) and church attendance predicts happiness (it creates a sense of belonging)”.

Within the United States, the Pew Research Center’s U.S. Religious Landscape Study (2014) differentiated respondents who identified themselves as highly religious (praying and attending religious services at least once per week) with those who don’t on several factors. Highly religious people were more likely to gather with extended family at least once per month, were very happy with life, were more likely to have volunteered, and more likely to have donated goods or time to the poor. These differences persist within a variety of religions and after controlling for age, income, education, geographic region, marital status, and parental status.

Empirical studies, such as those cited above, do not explain one hundred percent of the variation between predictors and outcome variables. Other variables (those not considered or available) account for the unexplained variance. Furthermore, we all know of people who are healthy and wealthy, yet extremely unhappy: “outliers” on a regression line.

So, what are other important predictors of happiness? Given that the above variables are primarily demographic and attitudinal, let us consider higher order variables, following Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and self-actualization.

According to Aristotle, happiness is derived from the cultivation of virtue and the fulfillment of a broad range of physical and mental conditions (http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/aristotle/). In other words, aside from the demographic and attitudinal variables cited above, the cultivation of virtue speaks to one’s happiness. Aristotle’s assertion is consistent with the resounding theme of Christianity.

In fact, his assertions, when coupled with Christianity, provide a pathway to achieve tremendous happiness and joy. The truth is, we can never find true joy and happiness apart from the vine which supports us: Jesus. If we try to separate from the vine, as a grape would free itself from a branch, we start to wither and become weak. We lose the strength of the love and light within us. We end up in darkness and find ourselves in a constant state of trying to find light and happiness through any means but that of the source of all light and happiness. The attempts are futile. Yet God lets us live out our desires (cf., Romans 1) and always welcomes us back with open arms as prodigal sons and daughters, or lost sheep. With all of this in mind, I offer six steps to happiness.

Six Steps to Happiness

  1. Seek Jesus through prayer and study.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened for you” (Luke 11:9).

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”  John 8:32

  1. Take delight in the Lord.

 Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

  1. Find and achieve your purpose in life by identifying and capitalizing on your spiritual gifts. What do you do really well? What are you passionate about? How can these gifts be used to help others? If we all do our part, a greater collective happiness will follow.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” 1 Corinthians 12:7

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in various forms” 1 Peter 4:10

  1. Listen to and obey the Lord. Expect the Lord’s discipline. We all have room for improvement, and as we grow closer to Jesus, we begin to see the areas in which we need to improve the most. The plan is to strive for perfection and to be as Christ-like as possible. Jesus came to set the example. He is the reason for our very existence and our ultimate purpose is to emulate our servant leader.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and; Love your neighbor as yourself” Luke 10:27

Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty” Job 5:17.

  1. Build in a pattern of continuous improvement. Once you’re on the path and your eyes have been opened to the love and the light of the Lord, there is no stopping you. Your passion will be ignited and prosperity will come your way.

“And let us run with perseverance the race that is marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured on the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” Hebrews 12:1-3

  1. Expect and embrace adversity. Of course, challenges will come your way as well. God uses challenges to build and shape us spiritually. He promised adversity. The very fact no one is immune demonstrates God’s fulfillment of His promise.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” John 16:33

“Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer” Revelation 2:10

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him” James 1:12

With that, I offer a quote from C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity, which he attributed to George MacDonald:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

In conclusion, the pursuit of happiness is achieved when we learn about, acknowledge, and embrace our spiritual calling.  Fulfilling our purpose with God brings love, light, happiness and joy. It opens our eyes to an array of colors on the planet never realized before. It is as if a rainbow, which once appeared dim and shadowy, is suddenly unveiled in brighter and more spectacular hues than we could have possibly imagined. The sky seems bluer, the roses redder, and the grasses greener.  Our path to heaven is set – and we have cast all fears and doubts into the deep sea.

Joy is the serious business of heaven” – CS Lewis

Thank you for your time.

Mr. Oz Atheist’s blog can be accessed here: http://mrozatheist.blogspot.com/2015/10/

References

Andrews, F. M., & Withey, S. B. (1976). Social indicators of well-being. New York: Plenum.

Cantril, H. (1965). The pattern of human concerns. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Cummins, R.A. (2000). Personal income and subjective well-being: A review. Journal of Happiness Studies, 1, 133-158.

Diener, E. (1984). Subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 95(3), 542–575.

Freese, J. (2004). Risk preferences and gender differences in religiousness: Evidence from the World Values Survey. Review of Religious Research, 46(1), 88-91.

Greenfield, E.A., Marks, N.F., (2007). Religious social identity as an explanatory factor for associations between more frequent formal religious participation and psychological well-being. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 17, 245–259.

Growiec, K. & Growiec, J. (2014). Trusting only whom you know, knowing only whom you trust: The joint impact of social capital and trust in CEE countries. Journal of Happiness Studies, 15(5), 1015-1040.

Ng, W. & Diener, E. (2014). What matters to the rich and poor? Subjective well-being, financial satisfaction, and post-materialistic needs across the world. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107(2), 326-338.

Okulicz-Kozaryn, A. (2010). Religiosity and life satisfaction across nations. Mental Health, Religion, and Culture, 13(2), 165-179.

Pargament, K., 2002. Is religion nothing but. . .? Explaining religion versus explaining religion away. Psychological Inquiry 13, 239–244.

Quevedo, R.J.M. & Abella, M.C. (2011). Well-being and personality: Facet-level analysis. Personality and Individual Differences, 50, 206-211.

Salinas-Jiminez, M., Artes, J., & Salines-Jiminez, J. (2010). Income, motivation, and satisfaction with life: An empirical analysis. Journal of Happiness Studies, 11, 779-793.

Vinson, T. & Ericson, M. (2014). The social dimensions of happiness and life satisfaction of Australians: Evidence from the World Values Survey. International Journal of Social Welfare, 23, 240-253.

 

 

A Marriage of the Ontological and Moral Arguments in Support of the Christian God

The intention of the present blog is to offer support for the existence of the Christian God by marrying several ontological and moral arguments. The blog begins with a discussion of the history of the ontological argument, followed by an integration of the moral argument and the example of Jesus Christ.

The Ontological Argument

Centuries ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Saint Anselm (1033-1109 AD), formulated the ontological argument, which he describes in the Proslogium as follows:

“[Even a] fool, when he hears of … a being than which nothing greater can be conceived … understands what he hears, and what he understands is in his understanding.… And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater.… Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.”

Anselm’s argument can be summarized as follows:

  1. God is the greatest conceivable being.
  2. If we can conceive of something greater than God, then that would be God.
  3. Nothing greater than God can be conceived in the mind.
  4. It is greater to exist in reality than merely in the mind.
  5. God must therefore exist not merely in the mind, but in reality as well.
  6. Therefore, God exists.

To explain this simple concept, Anselm used the example of a painting. He asked which is greater: the artist’s idea of the painting or the painting itself? Obviously the painting itself is greater as the painting exists not only in the mind of the painter but in reality.

Alvin Platinga reformulated the argument using a conception of God as a being that is “maximally excellent” in every possible world. Maximal excellence in every possible world is “maximal greatness.” The properties of a maximally excellent being are omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection.

Platinga’s argument can be summarized as follows:

  1. A being has maximal excellence in a given possible world W if and only if it is omnipotent, omniscient and wholly good in W; and
  2. A being has maximal greatness if it has maximal excellence in every possible world.
  3. It is possible that there is a being that has maximal greatness.
  4. Therefore, possibly, it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good being exists.
  5. Therefore, (by axiom S5) it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being exists.
  6. Therefore, an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being exists.

Other ontological arguments have been presented, which vary slightly from the above. Each version is not without its skeptics. As an example, skeptics have replaced a maximally excellent being with a maximally excellent achievement (such as the creation of the universe) or conception (such as the perfect island). I don’t find these arguments compelling because the “creation of the universe” is an act and the conception of a “perfect island” is a place, a creation. Both are products of a maximally excellent being, our Creator, of whom nothing greater can be conceived.

Another criticism states that the arguments for God include presumptions about His characteristics (omniscient, omnipotent, and wholly good). Conceiving of maximally excellent knowledge is omniscience; conceiving of maximally excellent power is omnipotence; and conceiving that the perfect being is wholly good is a product of our conscience and our innate desire to equate goodness and love with maximally excellent morals.

At issue, however, is that we have defined maximally excellent morals as goodness and not evil. One might argue that we can equally conceive of a maximally supreme evil being, characterized by omnipotence, omniscience, and being wholly evil. For example, it is not impossible for me to conceive of a giant wholly evil monster. I could make the argument that said monster must exist because I conceived of the monster and applied it to the argument. Accordingly, without further explanation, skeptics could build a case against the arguments for a supreme or maximally excellent, wholly good being with its supreme or maximally evil counterpart.

According to C.S. Lewis (1952, p. 43) “There are only two views that face all the facts. One is the Christian view that this is a good world that has gone wrong, but still retains the memory of what it ought to have been. The other is the view called Dualism. Dualism means the belief that there are two equal and independent powers at the back of everything, one of them good and the other bad, and that this universe is the battlefield in which they fight out an endless war…But it has a catch in it.”

If one power is inherently and independently good, while the other is inherently and independently bad, we should have had experiences with both. But we do not. While we are witnesses to people who strive to do good for goodness’ sake, we are not witnesses to people who strive to do evil for evil’s sake. Instead, we are witnesses to people who started out good and something occurred which perverted them, whether it be pleasure, power, money, safety, security, fame, or sex.

Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel” (Lewis, 1952, p. 45-46). The rebel is the fallen angel: Satan.

“You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God” (Ezekiel 28:13). You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, guardian cherub, from the fiery stones. Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth” (Ezekiel 28:14-17). “I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. All the nations who knew you are appalled at you; you have come to a horrible end and will be no more” (Ezekiel 28: 18-19).

Accordingly, there is no greater conception than that of a maximally excellent, wholly good being. Its counterpart cannot be true. The ontological arguments formulated by Anselm and Platinga are valid. The very fact that humanity values, recognizes, and strives for goodness underscores the existence of the one who made and continues to make that happen.

Furthermore, consider the way pride always comes before the fall. If we were on an unguided planet, the proud and selfish would thrive. They don’t. Pride is the ultimate sin, which led to Satan’s fall. Pride is the sin that leads to all other sins. God admonishes the proud.

The Moral Argument

The very fact that all humans of sound minds have the ability to distinguish what is right from what is wrong suggests the presence of one who made that happen: a moral lawgiver. All humans of sound minds have the ability to conceive of moral perfection as shaped by the values of love, kindness, honesty, justice, benevolence, and truth. Since we have such conceptions, we have an objective way to judge conduct, which is to consider it against the objective set of moral values that guide society.

Dualism is an outcome of the human understanding of the dichotomies of love and hate, selfishness and unselfishness,  and justice and injustice.

Survival of the fittest theories suggest we would gravitate to and revere selfishness, yet we don’t. Humans revere selflessness and humility. Those of us who have revered selfishness have been humiliated to ensure compliance with God’s preference for humility. We have all stood trial and the prideful have all fallen. We are hard wired to follow the example of our source and to understand that through trials, we triumph and become better people.

The source and giver of this absolute moral standard of love, humility and selflessness is God. William Lane Craig outlines this logic as follows (2010, p. 129):

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. God exists.

“God is the ground and source of ultimate value, and He endows us with His image. Therefore, our lives have objective value, meaning, and purpose. If there is a real purpose in life – a ‘final cause’ as Aristotle put it – then there must be a right way to live it” (Turek, 2014, p. 104).

“In a world without a divine lawgiver, there can be no objective right or wrong, only our culturally and personally relative, subjective judgments. This means that it is impossible to condemn war, oppression, or crime as evil. Nor can one praise brotherhood, equality, and love as good. For in a universe without God, good and evil do not exist – there is only the bare valueless fact of existence, and there is no one to say that you are right and I am wrong” (Craig, 2008, p. 75). God “is the source from which all your reasoning power comes. You could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can rise higher than its own source” (Lewis, 1952, p. 48).

“[God] left us conscience, the sense of right and wrong: and all through history there have been people trying (some of them very hard) to obey it. None of them ever quite succeeded. Secondly, He sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those queer stories scattered all through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men. Thirdly, He selected one particular people and spent several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was – that there was only one of Him and that He cared about the right conduct. Those people were the Jews and the Old Testament gives an account of the hammering process” (Lewis, 1952, p. 49).

Jesus Christ

The shocker occurred when a man appeared among these Jews and said He is the way and the truth, and the life. He performed miracles, healed the weak, forgave people’s sins, and spoke with authority. During His relatively short earthly life, He fulfilled numerous Old Testament prophecies about Him, such as Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah 53, Zechariah 9:9 and Psalm 22. Furthermore, He exemplified perfect love, kindness, humility, mercy, faith, and forgiveness. His perfect example set the standard against which we can judge our decisions.

Again the high priest asked Him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?

‘I am,’ said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:61-63; cf., Daniel 7:13).

Jesus’ words, coupled with His miracles, posed such a great threat to the high priests that they were willing to trade Him for an imprisoned insurrectionist, Barabbas. His growing group of followers likely threatened to reduce the high priests’ influence.

During the time of Jesus’ arrest, His disciple Peter doubted His divinity and denied Him three times. During His ministry, Jesus’ half-brother James was openly skeptical. Then Jesus was crucified and James and Peter were among five hundred eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus (1 Corinthians 15). Both became brave, worshipping illegally and openly for years – until they were martyred.

In conclusion and when taken together, the ontological and the moral arguments support the existence of a maximally excellent, wholly good being under whose objective moral standards we live. The exemplification of our objective moral standards is the person of Jesus Christ.

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him” (John 1:9-10).

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Thank you for investing your time.

References:

Anselm, St., Anselm’s Basic Writings, translated by S.W. Deane, 2nd Ed. (La Salle, IL: Open Court Publishing Co., 1962)

Craig, W.L. (2008). Reasonable Faith. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

Craig, W.L. (2010). On Guard. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook

Lewis, C.S. (1952). Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd.

Plantinga, Alvin, God, Freedom, and Evil (New York: Harper and Row, 1974)

Plantinga, Alvin, The Ontological Argument from St. Anselm to Contemporary Philosophers (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965)

Turek, F. (2014). Stealing from God: Why atheists need God to make their case. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress.

Resolving Controversies Surrounding Joseph of Arimathea and the Women who Discovered Jesus’ Empty Tomb

Many atheists whom I have encountered on social media dispute the accounts of Jesus’ empty tomb, the discovery of the empty tomb by women, and the owner of the empty tomb, Joseph of Arimathea. One such atheist refers to himself as Kaimatai on social media. Kaimatai is a word that means “biologist” or “specialist,” which is likely Kaimatai’s occupation. The following blog is a response to Kaimatai’s blog with respect to the aforementioned topics, followed by his original blog.

CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST:

Kaimatai presents four general arguments against the authenticity of various events in the New Testament. He questions (1) the timing of the writing of the New Testament, calling into question its authenticity; (2) inconsistencies in the accounts of the empty tomb and the number of women discovering same; (3) conflicts with Roman practices; and (4) whether Joseph of Arimathea was a real person. I will address each of these.

1. Timing (and authenticity of the New Testament and Empty Tomb)

Timing and Authenticity of the New Testament

The overarching premise that Kaimatai has adopted is that the New Testament was written as a propaganda tool, used to “convince people that Jesus was the Messiah and of divine origin.” To fully understand this premise, we must unpack some of the context of early Christian history.

To do so, we first note that until 313 A.D., Christians practiced illegally. Those who were exposed by zealots such as Saul (when he was a Christian persecutor) risked being tortured, burned, crucified, or jailed (cf. Tacitus, Paul, and Luke), so the motivation to practice in the open and intentionally create a propaganda tool was not there.

Similarly, the difficulty associated with transcriptions presented challenges because (1) transcriptions were costly, as they were written either on parchment, which is stretched and smoothed leather, or papyrus from a reed plant; (2) the risk of being identified for practicing Christianity illegally was significant; (3) most of the population (~ 97% according to some estimates) was illiterate, so the oral tradition was revered and perhaps preferred; and (4) scribes were often needed and used to record oral traditions (Bar-Ilan, 2017).

Such challenges help to explain why we do not have hundreds of extra-Biblical sources within 150 years of 33 A.D. when Jesus was crucified. However, despite significant challenges, we do have 42 extra-Biblical sources confirming biblical events within this time period (including nine non-Christian sources, along with the independent sources from within the New Testament (Habermas & Licona, 2004). As an example, we have five non-Christian sources who confirm Jesus’ death via the crucifixion. These are Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion, and Talmud (Habermas & Licona, 2004). We have seven sources pointing to multiple, very early and eyewitness testimonies to the disciples’ claims of witnessing the risen Jesus who all note that early disciples were willing to suffer for their beliefs in Jesus: Luke – in Acts, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian, and Origen (Habermas & Licona, 2004). Finally, we have eyewitness testimonies from disciples Peter, Mark, Matthew, Paul, James and Jude, along with the testimony of Luke, who authored the book of Luke and Acts. In Acts, Luke refers to himself in the first person when traveling with Paul (who knew Peter and James), which suggests he was well-aware and had first-hand knowledge of the testimonies of (at least) Peter, James, and Paul.

Kaimatai makes the assertion that the Gospels were written in sequence from Mark to Luke and Matthew to John over a period of thirty to forty years. This assertion is in conformity with Christian estimates. He adds that the Gospels were written after the fall of Rome in 70 A.D., which is not consistent with Christian estimates.

J. Warner Wallace offers the following evidence for earlier dating of the New Testament: (1) The New Testament fails to describe the destruction of the temple during the fall of Rome in 70 A.D.; (2) The New Testament fails to describe the siege of Jerusalem; (3) Luke said nothing about the deaths of Paul and Peter in 64 A.D. and 65 A.D., respectively; (4) Luke said nothing about the death of James in 62 A.D.; (5) Luke’s Gospel predates the Book of Acts, as noted in its words to Theophilus; (6) Paul quoted Luke’s Gospel in his letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 5:17-18) and his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11:23-25); (7) Paul echoed the claims of the Gospel writers (1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Galatians 1:15-19; Galatians 2:1); Luke quoted Mark and Matthew repeatedly (Luke 1:1-4). Furthermore, Luke refers to Mark’s Gospel when he notes that “it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order” (Luke 1:3). J. Warner Wallace suggests the following timeline for the authorship of the New Testament:

  • Mark                           45 – 55 A.D.
  • Luke                            50 – 53 A.D.
  • Paul quotes Luke      53 – 57 A.D.
  • Luke writes Acts       57 – 60 A.D.

Some claim the Gospels were anonymous, yet “no one in antiquity ever attributed the Gospels to anyone other than the four traditionally accepted authors” (Wallace, p. 172). Papias, who lived in the 1st century and early 2nd century is an example of a person who attributed authorship to the four traditionally accepted authors. Furthermore, the Gospels are not the only ancient documents that do not identify the author, as evidenced in Tacitus’ Annals.

Authenticity of the Empty Tomb Account

According to Kaimatai, accounts of the empty tomb are only present in the Gospels, yet we have evidence suggesting Paul was well aware of the empty tomb and the Jewish polemic presupposes the empty tomb. In 1 Corinthians 15 3b-5, Paul cites an old Christian formula, which originated in the Jerusalem church within the first five years of Jesus’ crucifixion (Craig, 1985):

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas and then to the twelve.”

Kaimatai is correct in his assertion that Paul does not specifically mention the empty tomb, yet does this omission mean that the tomb was not empty? If I knew that Suzie left her house to join me for lunch, yet I only said that Suzie joined me for lunch, does it mean that she did not leave her house? If I said Justin came home from college to stay with us for the weekend and I knew that he left his single-occupancy dorm along the way, yet did not mention that he left his dorm in my account of the weekend, can I assume that Justin’s dorm would be without Justin over the weekend? Such simple logic suggests that while Paul did not mention the empty tomb specifically, he was well aware of the empty tomb.

As for the Jewish polemic, Matthew’s account about the guard at the tomb (Matthew 27: 62-66; 28: 11-15) was written to refute the widespread assertion that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body.

Matthew 28:11-15 “While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among Jews to this very day.”

Further information on these arguments can be found here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-historicity-of-the-empty-tomb-of-jesus

2. Inconsistencies (in accounts of the empty tomb)

All four Gospels identify Mary Magdalene as one of the persons to first discover Jesus’ empty tomb. Yet the Gospels appear to vary in accounts of those who accompanied her in this discovery. Mark (16:1) says that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb. Matthew (28:1) says that Mary and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. Luke (24:10) says “It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the Mother of James, and the others with them who told the apostles.” John (20:1) only mentions Mary Magdalene, yet includes her statement referring to “we:” (20:2) “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put Him.”

Does failure to mention all of the women who discovered the empty tomb suggest that all of the women weren’t present? If I said, “Peyton Manning threw a touchdown pass and the Colts won the football game,” does it imply that Peyton Manning was alone on the field? No, it instead suggests my emphasis on Peyton Manning and his role in the game. The same can be said of John’s reference to only Mary Magdalene and the other disciples’ references to various women.

Reconciling the Accounts

The following takes the four accounts of the women’s discovery of the empty tomb and marries them into a single account. Very minor discrepancies have been eliminated.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothes were as white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise,* Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, Joanna, and Salome took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. While they were on their way to the tomb, they asked each other ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.

They entered the tomb while they were wondering about this, when suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. One of the men, who was dressed in a white robe and on the right side of the tomb, said, “Don’t be alarmed, for I know you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He is not here. He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where they laid Him. Then go quickly and tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He has risen from the dead and He is going ahead of you in Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.”

In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here. He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee; ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified, and on the third day be raised again.’ Then they remembered His words.

Now Mary Magdalene stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw the two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put Him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking He was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him and I will get Him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward Him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’

So the women hurried away from the tomb afraid, yet filled with joy, and ran to the disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” He said. They came to Him, clasped His feet and worshipped Him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

When they came back from the tomb, the women told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. Mary Magdalene said, “I have seen the Lord!” But the disciples did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb and the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally, the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead). Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

*A note must be made about the Gospel of John. John reports that when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, it was still dark. Given the timing in the early hours of the morning, it seems reasonable to assume that the darkness turned to light while on her journey at some point undisclosed. The Gospel of John further offers an overall summary of the empty tomb account, which included Mary Magdalene’s visit to the empty tomb and subsequent visit to the disciples (John 20: 1-10), followed by a detailed account of what occurred at the empty tomb during Mary Magdalene’s visit (John 20: 11-18).

In summary, when taken together, the accounts offer a more vivid picture of the events surrounding the empty tomb. As pointed out by J. Warner Wallace, the gospels fit together like a puzzle.

3. Jesus’ burial conflicts with Roman practice

According to Bart Ehrman, criminals considered “enemies of the state” were not allowed decent burials. However, at least one source (a Jewish philosopher called Philo of Alexandria, Egypt) stated that Romans had a practice of allowing burials under “various circumstances.” Furthermore, such an allowance is consistent with Jewish beliefs, as per Deuteronomy 21:22-23, and Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem, which was predominantly Jewish.

Deuteronomy 21:22-23 “If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole, you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse.”

Josephus explains Jewish ethical obligations as follows: “We must furnish fire, water, food, to all who ask for them, point out the road, not to leave a corpse unburied…show consideration even to declared enemies (Against Apion, 2:29; 211; cf., 2:26; 205) (Evans, 2017). Given the fact that Jesus was crucified (1) in Jerusalem, a hub for the Jews; and (2) during peacetime on the eve of the Passover in which thousands of Jews would be visiting the next day, it seems unlikely that Jesus’ body would be left on the cross for all men, women, and children traveling to Jerusalem for the Passover holiday to see.

Kaimatai states “As far as we can tell Romans did not normally allow crucified victims to get buried in tombs.”

Jesus was not a “normal” sort of victim, so how can one assert that He should be buried as one? Kaimatai’s assertion suggests that Jesus was not unlike the thieves who were at either side of Him on crosses. Unlike such thieves, Jesus presented such a significant threat to the Jewish high priests that they traded Him for Barabbas, who was mentioned in all four gospels and who had been imprisoned on death row for “an insurrection in the city, and for murder” (Luke 23:19). Jesus’ significant following, likely a product of His bold and knowledgeable teachings, His miracles, and the fact that He forgave people, were likely what threatened the Jewish high priests who did not want their own power to be infringed upon. They labeled Him the “King of the Jews,” which posed a threat to Roman power, helping to justify their decision to crucify Him.

Furthermore, we have at least four independent sources attesting to Jesus’ burial: Luke in Acts (2:29; 13:36); Paul (1 Corinthians 15:4), Matthew, Mark, and John. Historians have documented much of early history with one or two sources, so having four sources enhances the validity and historicity of the burial account.

4. Joseph of Arimathea

Joseph of Arimathea is described as a wealthy man who was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, which was located in Jerusalem. The Sanhedrin was the Jewish high court, which consisted of seventy of the leading authorities on Judaism. Given that the Sanhedrin was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, early Christian views on the Sanhedrin were likely quite hostile. Given that Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, all of whom (according to Mark) voted to condemn Jesus, Joseph was the last person Christians would “invent” if the account were merely fiction. According to the late New Testament scholar, Raymond Brown, Jesus’ burial by Joseph is “very probable” since it is “almost inexplicable” for Christians to make up a story about a Jewish Sanhedrist who does what is right by Jesus. Even Bart Ehrman affirms that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the evidence presented above serves to diffuse readers’ “problems” with (1) the timing and accuracy of the accounts of the empty tomb, (2) the “inconsistencies” between the Gospel accounts of same, (3) the conflicts with Roman practices, and (4) the doubts about Joseph of Arimathea.

Thank you for investing the time to read this article.

REFERENCES:

Bar-Ilan, Meir (2017). Illiteracy in the land of Israel in the first centuries c.e. Accessed May 20, 2017 at https://faculty.biu.ac.il/~barilm/illitera.html. References include: J. Goody (ed.), Literacy in Traditional Societies, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1968; J. Baines, ‘Literacy and Ancient Egyptian Society’, Man (ns), 18 (1983), pp. 572-599 (includes bibliography); Rosamond McKitterick, The Carolingians and the Written Word, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1989.

Craig, W.L. (1985). The historicity of the empty tomb of Jesus. New Testament Studies, 31: 39-67.

Evans, C. (2017). Jewish burial traditions and the resurrection of Jesus. Accessed May 20, 2017 at http://craigaevans.com/Burial_Traditions.pdf

Habermas, G.R. & Licona, M.R. (2004). The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Wallace, J.W. (2013). Cold Case Christianity. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook

KAIMATAI:

Introduction

Well, Easter has come and gone again.  That seems to be a good time to talk about the resurrection. Because many Christians have been talking about it.  How else can we explain the empty tomb if Jesus wasn’t magically resurrected via the power of an ancient bloodgod? It’s the only explanation that makes sense! (rolls eyes). The problem with the question is its loaded nature.  The empty tomb is presented as a fact.  This has some major credibility problems.

Problem 1: Timing

The empty tomb isn’t used as proof of Jesus’ divinity and resurrection until we get to the gospels.  The (genuine) letters we have from Paul do not mention it. Nor is it present in other early NT letters.  For something that’s supposed to convince us all that Jesus was divine and resurrected, its absence for decades in early Christianity literature is astonishing.  The gospels are generally reckoned to be written after Jerusalem was besieged by the Romans (70 CE) because they’re not referenced in earlier Christian documents. Paul seems completely unaware of them.  And prophecies of Jerusalem being sacked are always easier to make after the event… The sequence for the gospels is usually reckoned as Mark, followed by Luke and Matthew, and finally John.  This spans around 30-40 years.  And all are long after the alleged event. The gap between when the empty tomb alleged occurred and when it’s first mentioned is extraordinarily large.

Problem 2: Inconsistencies

Despite the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke) patently using the same sources, they can’t keep the empty tomb story straight. Throw in John and it gets worse.  The number of women who went to the tomb, when they went, what they saw at the tomb, what they did afterward, whether they were believed or not are all inconsistent across the gospels.  The Apologist gambit is to assert that this is what we expect with eye-witness accounts.  No. It’s consistent with a bunch of people who didn’t balk at making things up to sell their religion.

Problem 3: It conflicts with Roman practice

As far as we can tell Romans did not normally allow crucified victims to get buried in tombs. Crassus left thousands of ex-slaves rotting on crosses after the suppression of the Slave revolt.  Normally crucified victims were left aloft to be picked clean by birds and the like.   To be buried, and buried ceremoniously instead of in a common pit, is a deviation that begs for explanation.

Problem 4: Joseph of Arimathea

It has always struck me how much of a Deus ex Machina Joseph plays.  In order to get Jesus from the cross, into a tomb and in the time available, requires a very powerful and capable character.  There’s nobody in the disciples capable of pulling this off. Enter Joseph.  He fixes all the problems with the plot.  First, he’s politically powerful.  He’s part of the council that condemned Jesus.  But like all superhero fiction, he has a secret identity.  He’s also a disciple of Jesus.  He’s influential enough to persuade Pilate to take the body off the cross.  He’s also rich.  This is also necessary for the plot.  They have to buy linen cloth and 100 pounds of myrrh and aloe that evening.  He’s also already got a tomb ready.   Every plot-hole (bar one) is immediately fixed.  Evening might be approaching when he asked Pilate for the body, but Jesus is lying in a shroud, in a tomb, with a stone covering the entrance in time for his resurrection. Phew! The remaining plot hole of course, is there isn’t enough time to get this all done in the time available.  Joseph’s appearance in the story is dramatic.  He’s not mentioned in the gospels before this.  And he disappears just as dramatically. He’s never mentioned again.  He’s not mentioned in Acts, he’s not mentioned in any of the letters preceding the gospels.  Paul, Peter and James have no recollection of him at all. He’s a powerful and connected guy with massive influence, and nobody mentions him?! Amazing.   Joseph only has one job.  He appears at exactly the right time to fill in a bunch of critical plot-holes, and then disappears.  He has the traits of a literary invention that appears decades later when the empty tomb story gets added to the Jesus legend- not the traits of an historic person.  (If you want a much deeper analysis of Joseph of Arimathea, I recommend John Loftus’ blog).

Conclusion

I don’t feel that I need to explain the empty tomb, because I don’t think there was one.  Early Christendom was plagued with doctrinal problems.  Hints of this are preserved in the letters of Paul, James and others.  This also created a range of heretical sects, such as the Arians.   The gospels weren’t written to be histories.  They were written to convince people that Jesus was the Messiah and of divine origin.  And by drawing on the authority of Jesus and the early disciples, they could be used to resolve doctrinal disputes.  Was the resurrection a mostly spiritual or personal visionary event?  Or was it a physical event?  For anyone who believed in a physical resurrection, the canonical Gospels make a perfect argument. And they get more elaborate the later the gospel is composed. It’s the last gospel, Johns, that introduces Thomas as the clincher for the physical resurrection.  So either major scientific laws were broken to miraculously bring the offspring of an ancient god and virgin back to life.  Or the belief that the resurrection was a physical event evolved slowly in a community that was willing to add embellishments that showed this, in retelling, over decades.  It’s not really difficult deciding what’s the least plausible.

A Christian’s Rebuttal to “Why I Am Not A Christian” By Bertrand Russell

Russell delivered this lecture in 1927 at the National Secular Society, South London Branch, at Battersea Town Hall.

A few months ago, I encountered an atheist on Twitter who posed a challenge. He said that he would read material by my favorite Christian author if I would read material by his favorite atheist. I was hesitant to agree because I had never read any books or articles by those advocating atheism, and I was fearful that something they would write would challenge my beliefs in a way I found uncomfortable. After some prodding, he finally convinced me to read Bertrand Russell. In exchange, he read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.

After both of us read the other’s suggestions, this particular atheist, “Facepalmer,” wrote a rather long rebuttal of C.S. Lewis, while I wrote a rather short blurb on Russell. I found Russell’s “arguments” against God to be unsubstantiated, yet I wasn’t prepared to write a rebuttal to the arguments since I needed to do some research on effective ways to counter them. It was at this point that I was inspired to read rebuttals to other atheists’ arguments, since I figured I had seen their best in Russell.

Well, I’ve done my research by reading numerous rebuttals on atheists’ Robert Price, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Lawrence Krauss. Therefore, the intention of this blog is to present these arguments and to offer an opinion on the arguments from a Christian perspective. I next present Bertrand Russell’s arguments, along with my rebuttals to the arguments.

The First Cause Argument

Russell states, “Perhaps the simplest and easiest to understand is the argument of the First Cause. (It is maintained that everything we see in this world has a cause, and as you go back in the chain of causes further and further you must come to a First Cause, and to that First Cause you give the name of God.) That argument, I suppose, does not carry very much weight nowadays, because, in the first place, cause is not quite what it used to be.”

Russell adds that the First Cause “cannot have any validity” and adds “There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination. Therefore, perhaps, I need not waste any more time upon the argument about the First Cause.”

In all fairness to Bertrand Russell, when he delivered his speech in 1927, scientists had not reached the conclusion that the universe had a start date yet. Coincidentally, it was in 1927 when an astronomer named Georges Lemaitre conceived that the universe started long ago as a single point. Two years later, an astronomer named Edwin Hubble discovered that other galaxies were moving away from us and the farthest galaxies were moving faster than the galaxies closer to us. Hubble is known as the Father of the Big Bang Theory (LaRocco & Rothstein, 2017). “The Big Bang Theory is the leading explanation about how the universe began. At its simplest, it talks about the universe as we know it starting with a small singularity, then inflating over the next 13.8 billion years to the cosmos that we know today” (Howell, 2015).

Since the universe had a start date for time, space, and matter (Hawking, 2017), one wonders what existed prior to the Big Bang. At this point, science hasn’t provided an explanation for what caused or powered the Big Bang. What we know is that the force to inflate the expansion of the universe did not have properties of linear time, space, and matter. The sheer force that powered the expansion seems likely to be powerful. So, the assumption can be made that the force that powered the universe’s expansion was powerful, metaphysical, and eternal. In other words, the force bears all of the characteristics of God.

Thomas Aquinas’ First Mover Theory for Proof of God, which was quoted in Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23: 901-917, helps to further explain this logic.

1. Our senses tell us that there is some motion in the world.
2. All things moving must be moved by something else.
3. Motion is the change from potentiality to actuality.
4. It is not possible to be potential and actual in the same respect.
5. Therefore, the mover cannot also be the moved.
6. There cannot be an infinite regression of movers.
7. Therefore, there must be a first, unmoved mover.

A.W. Tozer (2006, p. 59) states, “In the beginning God…” (Genesis 1:1) Not matter, for matter is not self-causing. It requires an antecedent cause, and God is that Cause…In the beginning God, the uncaused Cause of matter, mind, and law. There we must begin.”

In summary, Russell refutes the First Cause Argument by saying that the universe had no start date so the argument is irrelevant, yet the fact that the universe has a start date, coupled with logic, suggests that God is the First Cause, the uncaused Cause.

The Natural Law Argument

Russell states, “Human laws are behests commanding you to behave a certain way, in which you may choose to behave, or you may choose not to behave; but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave, and being a mere description of what they in fact do, you cannot argue that there must be somebody who told them to do that, because even supposing that there were, you are then faced with the question ‘Why did God issue just those natural laws and no others?’ If you say that he did it simply from his own good pleasure, and without any reason, you then find that there is something which is not subject to law, and so your train of natural law is interrupted. If you say, as more orthodox theologians do, that in all the laws which God issues he had a reason for giving those laws rather than others – the reason, of course, being to create the best universe, although you would never think it to look at it — if there were a reason for the laws which God gave, then God himself was subject to law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary. You really have a law outside and anterior to the divine edicts, and God does not serve your purpose, because he is not the ultimate lawgiver. In short, this whole argument about natural law no longer has anything like the strength that it used to have. I am traveling on in time in my review of the arguments. The arguments that are used for the existence of God change their character as time goes on. They were at first hard intellectual arguments embodying certain quite definite fallacies. As we come to modern times they become less respectable intellectually and more and more affected by a kind of moralizing vagueness.”

In the above statement, Russell makes the assertion that “if there were a reason for the laws which God gave, then God himself was subject to the law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary.”

Russell doesn’t understand that God is not “subject to the law” that guides the universe; He is the law that guides the universe. He is the moral code and the absolute standard. God is the eternally great I AM (Exodus 3:14), “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8). In Revelation 22:13, God states, “I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, and I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life.”

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis states (p. 28), “When you say that nature is governed by certain laws, this may only mean that nature does, in fact, behave in a certain way. The so-called laws may not be anything real – anything above and beyond the actual facts which we observe. But in the case of Man, we saw that this will not due. The Law of Human Nature, or of Right and Wrong, must be something above the actual facts of human behavior. In this case, besides the actual facts, you have something else – a real law which we did not invent and which we know we ought to obey.”

There was no start point at which time God sat down to make choices about the physical laws that guide the universe. Such an assertion drags God down to the level of a human and traps Him in our linear timeline. God is unbounded by time and choice. As C.S. Lewis indicated in the Great Divorce, “Ye cannot fully understand the relations of choice and time until you are beyond both.” Humans create laws to govern society. God is the law and the standard from which our innate sense of an absolute standard of right and wrong is derived.

Similarly, Stephen Hawking refers to the dynamical laws that govern the universe. He states, “Since events before the Big Bang have no observational consequences, one may as well cut them out of the theory, and say that time began at the Big Bang. Events before the Big Bang, are simply not defined, because there’s no way one could measure what happened at them. This kind of beginning to the universe, and of time itself, is very different to the beginnings that had been considered earlier. These had to be imposed on the universe by some external agency. There is no dynamical reason why the motion of bodies in the solar system cannot be extrapolated back in time, far beyond four thousand and four BC, the date for the creation of the universe, according to the book of Genesis. Thus it would require the direct intervention of God, if the universe began at that date. By contrast, the Big Bang is a beginning that is required by the dynamical laws that govern the universe. It is therefore intrinsic to the universe, and is not imposed on it from outside” (Hawking, 2017).

Let’s unpack Stephen Hawking’s statement. He points to the book of Genesis and a universe start date of four thousand and four BC, which, if such a date were true, he indicates that it “would require the direct intervention of God.” I will assume that he made the latter statement in recognition of the physical evidence supporting the 13.8 billion year start date. Hawking further states that there are “dynamical laws that govern the universe” that are “intrinsic” to the universe. Such assertions naturally beg the question of how these “intrinsic” laws came about. Laws don’t create themselves. I ask readers to consider why we have “intrinsic laws” that govern the universe if we supposedly have no source or governor of such laws.

Famed mathematical physicist, Sir Roger Penrose, worked alongside of Stephen Hawking for many years. He recently went on Christian Radio and stated that Hawking’s new book is “misleading,” adding that M theory is “not even a theory” and “hardly science” but “hopes.” He further noted that the universe did not “create itself from nothing” (Hunt4Truth.wordpress.com, 2014).

As A.W. Tozer (2006 p. 57-58) helps to explain the way God is both present within the universe intrinsically and independent of it, extrinsically. He says, “God dwells in His creation and is everywhere indivisibly present in all His works…While God dwells in His world He is separated from it by a gulf forever impassable. However closely He may be identified with the work of His hands, they are and must eternally be other than He, and He is and must be antecedent to and independent of them. He is transcendent above all His works even while He is immanent within them.”

The Argument from Design

Russell states, “When you come to look into this argument from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world, with all the things that are in it, with all its defects, should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience have been able to produce in millions of years. I really cannot believe it. Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku Klux Klan or the Fascists? Moreover, if you accept the ordinary laws of science, you have to suppose that human life and life in general on this planet will die out in due course: it is a stage in the decay of the solar system; at a certain stage of decay you get the sort of conditions of temperature and so forth which are suitable to protoplasm, and there is life for a short time in the life of the whole solar system. You see in the moon the sort of thing to which the earth is tending — something dead, cold, and lifeless.”

In this argument, Russell discounts (1) free will, (2) our purpose in this existence, and (3) intelligent design. Let us first consider free will. Genesis indicates that God gave us free will and that we face consequences for our choices. Accordingly, blaming God for the existence of toxic groups such as the Ku Klux Klan or Fascists is ignoring the fact that He gave us free will. God wants the very best for us, yet He doesn’t control us. It’s up to us to capitalize on our spiritual gifts to advance our souls. Some don’t. Some make serious and irreparable mistakes, such as Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot. Yet all are made with free choice.

As C.S. Lewis states, “If a thing is free to be good, it is also free to be bad. And free will is what made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”

Russell also calls into question an imperfect world, yet let us note our very purpose within this imperfect world. Had He made us perfect, we wouldn’t have the desire to persevere and grow, overcoming our challenges to emerge as better people. Champions are born out of adversity. More on this point will be discussed later.

“And what did God do?” C.S. Lewis asks (2002, p. 49). “First of all He left us conscience, the sense of right and wrong: and all through history there have been people trying (some of them very hard) to obey it. None of them ever quite succeeded. Secondly, He sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those queer stories scattered all through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men. Thirdly, He selected one particular people and spent several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was – that there was only one of Him and that He cared about the right conduct. Those people were the Jews, and the Old Testament gives an account of the hammering process.”

A short discussion on intelligent design seems fitting at this point, to further address Russell’s assertion of defective design. Dembski (1998) offers an interesting perspective on intelligent design, which is the concept in which we were created by an intelligent Creator, God. “But design is not a science stopper. Indeed, design can foster inquiry where traditional evolutionary approaches obstruct it. Consider the term ‘junk DNA.’ Implicit in this term is the view that because the genome of an organism has been cobbled together through a long, undirected evolutionary process, the genome is a patchwork of which only limited portions are essential to the organism. Thus on an evolutionary view we expect a lot of useless DNA. If, on the other hand, organisms are designed, we expect DNA, as much as possible, to exhibit function. And indeed, the most recent findings suggest that designating DNA as “junk” merely cloaks our current lack of knowledge about function. For instance, in a recent issue of the Journal of Theoretical Biology, John Bodnar describes how ‘non-coding DNA in eukaryotic genomes encodes a language which programs organismal growth and development.’ Design encourages scientists to look for function where evolution discourages it. Or consider vestigial organs that later are found to have a function after all. Evolutionary biology texts often cite the human coccyx as a ‘vestigial structure’ that hearkens back to vertebrate ancestors with tails. Yet if one looks at a recent edition of Gray’s Anatomy, one finds that the coccyx is a crucial point of contact with muscles that attach to the pelvic floor. The phrase ‘vestigial structure’ often merely cloaks our current lack of knowledge about function. The human appendix, formerly thought to be vestigial, is now known to be a functioning component of the immune system.”

He adds, “Admitting design into science can only enrich the scientific enterprise. All the tried and true tools of science will remain intact. But design adds a new tool to the scientist’s explanatory tool chest. Moreover, design raises a whole new set of research questions. Once we know that something is designed, we will want to know how it was produced, to what extent the design is optimal, and what is its purpose. Note that we can detect design without knowing what something was designed for. There is a room at the Smithsonian filled with objects that are obviously designed but whose specific purpose anthropologists do not understand.”

Atheists discount intelligent design and often call on natural selection, chance, and the long history of the earth to explain the evolution of humans. Natural selection doesn’t explain the origins of life, however. It merely explains the evolution of existing life forms. According to Trevors and Abel (2004) “The constraints of historical science are such that the origin of life may never be understood. Selection pressure cannot select nucleotides at the digital programming level where primary structures form. Genomes predetermine the phenotypes which natural selection only secondarily favors. Contentions that offer nothing more than long periods of time offer no mechanism of explanation for the derivation of genetic programming. No new information is provided by such tautologies. The argument simply says it happened.”

According to Hugh Ross (2016), “Many suggest that earth’s life-sustaining features are just ‘amazing coincidences’ that somehow fell into place in a way that suits human needs and, at the same time, determines what life-forms exist…Ongoing research tells us that earth has been shaped not only by an intricately orchestrated interplay of physical forces and conditions, but also by its vast abundance and diversity of life-forms. By means that no depth and breadth of scientific research can explain, life arose early in earth’s history under anything but the benign conditions it would seem to require and somehow persisted through multiple mass extinction events, always appearing and reappearing at just-right times and in just-right forms to meet the needs and demands of the revised environment.”

“The more thoroughly researchers investigate the history of our planet, the more astonishing the story of our existence becomes. The number and complexity of the astronomical, geological, chemical, and biological features recognized as essential to human existence have expanded explosively within the last decade…Are we simply the result of a colossal matrix of innumerable, narrow coincidences, against all odds, or is there a more reasonable explanation?” (p. 14).

“Even if evolutionary processes are responsible for new life-forms, there must be an external intellect sustaining the material world to make life and evolution possible,” according to Frank Turek (2015 p. 82-83). “In other words, evolutionary processes themselves rely on the goal-directedness of the material world. Evolution could not work without a mind actively directing the repetitive and precise natural forces that keep life together and make mutation and natural selection possible! …Mutations may be random in the sense that they do not have any goal in mind, but the natural forces that produce the mutations are not random. Living and nonliving things continue to exist because the foundation of the entire material world is goal-directed, not random.”

In summary, the purposes and complexities of life forms on the earth, coupled with goal-directed non-random evolutionary processes, suggest the presence of an intelligent designer, an originator. Using the imperfections and failures of humans (e.g., Ku Klux Klan) to discount the possibility of an intelligent designer equates to pointing to cracks in a home’s foundation to claim the home had no builder. Such assertions obscure the purposeful intentions of the Creator who designed the universe and the free will He granted.

The Moral Arguments for a Deity

Russell says, “The point I am concerned with is that, if you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, then you are in this situation: Is that difference due to God’s fiat or is it not? If it is due to God’s fiat, then for God himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God’s fiat, because God’s fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that he made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God. You could, of course, if you liked, say that there was a superior deity who gave orders to the God that made this world, or could take up the line that some of the gnostics took up — a line which I often thought was a very plausible one — that as a matter of fact this world that we know was made by the devil at a moment when God was not looking. There is a good deal to be said for that, and I am not concerned to refute it.”

Russell makes several assertions that require a refutation. The first assertion is on the difference between right and wrong and whether God ordered both right and wrong. He asserts that God, who is only good, cannot have ordered wrongdoings. The Bible suggests God has ordered both. For example, in Habakkuk 1:5-11, God relates his intention to raise up Babylon, a ruthless and dreaded nation to achieve His purpose. Romans 8:28 says, “For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”

The Christian scholars on Gotquestions.org expand upon this: “’All things’ includes both good and bad things. God can use struggles, heartbreaks and tragedies in ways to bring about His glory and our good. Such events, even though we don’t understand the reason for them, are part of His perfect, divine plan. If God could not control evil, He would not be God. His sovereignty demands that He be in control of everything, even ‘dreaded’ nations such as Babylon.”

Turek (2015, p. 138) states, “We can’t see the ultimate outcomes of events because the human story isn’t over yet – not here or in the afterlife where perfect justice will be done. And even if God were to tell us those outcomes and His reasons for allowing such evil, we wouldn’t be able to comprehend them all. That’s because every event sets off a ripple effect that impacts countless other events and people. How many lives will be changed in the future by the trillions of good and bad events happening just this hour? No human mind can know or grasp it all. And even if we could, knowing the reasons for a painful event might alter our behavior and prevent that good outcome that would have otherwise occurred.”

“If God would concede me His wisdom for 24 hours, you would see how many changes I would make in this world. But if He gave me His wisdom too, I would leave things as they are,” says a former priest at Notre Dame in Paris, Jacques Marie Louis Monsabre said (quoted in Turek, 2015, p. 139).

A second assertion from Russell is that a superior deity gave orders to the God who made this world. If this were the case, God wouldn’t be God, the eternal uncaused cause. God would be an inferior deity. Based on Aquinas’ line of theory noted above, I refute this point.

A third assertion is that the devil made the world as we know it when “God was not looking.” Psalm 139 states that God is everywhere, so doing something behind God’s back is simply not possible.

Psalm 139:

O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, You know it all.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.

As A.W. Tozer (2006, p. 60) says, “The presence and manifestation of the presence are not the same. There can be the one without the other. God is here when we are wholly unaware of it. He is manifest only when and as we are aware of His presence. On our part, there must be surrender to the Spirit of God, for His work is to show us the Father and the Son. If we cooperate with Him in loving obedience, God will manifest Himself to us, and that manifestation will be the difference between a nominal Christian life and a life radiant with the light of His face.”

The Argument for the Remedying of Injustice

Russell states, “Then there is another very curious form of moral argument, which is this: they say that the existence of God is required in order to bring justice into the world. In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying; but if you are going to have justice in the universe as a whole you have to suppose a future life to redress the balance of life here on earth. So they say that there must be a God, and there must be Heaven and Hell in order that in the long run there may be justice. That is a very curious argument. If you looked at the matter from a scientific point of view, you would say, “After all, I only know this world. I do not know about the rest of the universe, but so far as one can argue at all on probabilities one would say that probably this world is a fair sample, and if there is injustice here the odds are that there is injustice elsewhere also.” Supposing you got a crate of oranges that you opened, and you found all the top layer of oranges bad, you would not argue, “The underneath ones must be good, so as to redress the balance.” You would say, “Probably the whole lot is a bad consignment”; and that is really what a scientific person would argue about the universe. He would say, “Here we find in this world a great deal of injustice, and so far as that goes that is a reason for supposing that justice does not rule in the world; and therefore so far as it goes it affords a moral argument against deity and not in favor of one.” Of course I know that the sort of intellectual arguments that I have been talking to you about are not what really moves people. What really moves people to believe in God is not any intellectual argument at all. Most people believe in God because they have been taught from early infancy to do it, and that is the main reason. Then I think that the next most powerful reason is the wish for safety, a sort of feeling that there is a big brother who will look after you. That plays a very profound part in influencing people’s desire for a belief in God.”

Let us unpack his assertions. Russell points out that believers believe that the existence of heaven and hell establishes a remedy to the injustices that occur on earth when the good suffer and the wicked prosper. He then states that he only knows of “this world.” This statement implies that because he has no knowledge of or experience in heaven and hell, they must not exist. According to Russell, only the physical world exists, which is the world in which Russell lived. Such an argument equates to me saying that because I have no knowledge of someone else’s dreams, the person must not have had such dreams. Another example relates to the dismissal of near death experiences, which are “too numerous and well documented to be dismissed altogether” (Lichfield, 2015). Click here for many inspirational findings and scientific studies relating to otherworldly near death experiences:
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/04/the-science-of-near-death-experiences/386231/

As A.W. Tozer (2006) states, “Our trouble is that we have established bad thought habits. We habitually think of the visible world as real and doubt the reality of any other. We do not deny the existence of the spiritual world but we doubt that it is real in the accepted meaning of the word.”

“The world of sense intrudes upon our attention day and night for the whole of our lifetime. It is clamorous, insistent, and self-demonstrating. It does not appeal to our faith; it is here, assaulting our five senses, demanding to be accepted as real and final. But sin has so clouded the lenses of our hearts that we cannot see the other reality, the City of God, shining around us. The world of sense triumphs. The visible becomes the enemy of the invisible, the temporal, of the eternal. That is the curse inherited by every member of Adam’s tragic race” (p. 53-54).

Russell states that because we have injustice in the world that justice must not rule the world. Yet we all adhere to an absolute moral standard, which suggests justice is innate, established, and sourced. For example, any parent with a sound mind would demand justice if his or her son or daughter were raped or murdered or hurt in any way. Any person with a sound mind would want justice for the perpetrator if he or she were unfairly and indiscriminately tortured. The horrors of World War II still plague the minds of the sensible members of societies, whether in Guam or Bolivia. These are examples of the way humans adhere to a shared moral standard. This standard is not relative, set within particular cultures (though there are relative standards as well), but shared between cultures. Such a standard calls attention to the source of the standard: God.

Arguments against Christ and the Church

The rest of Russell’s arguments point to Christ’s character, morality, teachings, and perceived failings of the church. Russell states, “I now want to say a few words upon a topic which I often think is not quite sufficiently dealt with by Rationalists, and that is the question whether Christ was the best and the wisest of men. It is generally taken for granted that we should all agree that that was so. I do not myself. I think that there are a good many points upon which I agree with Christ a great deal more than the professing Christians do. I do not know that I could go with Him all the way, but I could go with Him much further than most professing Christians can. You will remember that He said, ‘Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.’ That is not a new precept or a new principle. It was used by Lao-tse and Buddha some 500 or 600 years before Christ, but it is not a principle which as a matter of fact Christians accept. I have no doubt that the present prime minister [Stanley Baldwin], for instance, is a most sincere Christian, but I should not advise any of you to go and smite him on one cheek. I think you might find that he thought this text was intended in a figurative sense.”

Russell calls attention to Christ’s directive to turn the other cheek, yet states that Christians do not follow the directive (without any empirical support), implying that the directive is invalid. Such an argument equates to a mother telling her son to forgive his friend, and the son deciding not to forgive the friend, so someone makes the assertion that the mother must have poor character.

Russell goes on to state that Lao-tse and Buddha also called on followers to turn the other cheek, implying that Christ isn’t original. If Christian values didn’t form the fabric of ethical guidelines in previous societies and cultures, wouldn’t we question them more? The fact that previous cultures adhere to similar arguments helps to validate the arguments and the Lord’s influence on prior generations. In his book The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis does an excellent job of explaining this concept by noting marked similarities between the major world religions and belief systems and Christianity.

Russell also takes issue with Christ’s “moral character” because Christ “believes in hell.” He states, “I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching — an attitude which is not uncommon with preachers, but which does somewhat detract from superlative excellence.”

Religious scholars from the Gotquestions.org website state the following with respect to hell: “In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word used to describe the realm of the dead is sheol. It simply means ‘the place of the dead’ or ‘the place of departed souls/spirits.’ The New Testament Greek equivalent to sheol is hades, which is also a general reference to ‘the place of the dead.’ The Greek word gehenna is used in the New Testament for ‘hell’ and is derived from the Hebrew word hinnom. Other Scriptures in the New Testament indicated that sheol/hades is a temporary place where souls are kept as they await the final resurrection. The souls of the righteous, at death, go directly into the presence of God—the part of sheol called ‘heaven,’ ‘paradise,’ or ‘Abraham’s bosom’ (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23).”

“The lake of fire, mentioned only in Revelation 19:20 and 20:10, 14-15, is the final hell, the place of eternal punishment for all unrepentant rebels, both angelic and human (Matthew 25:41). It is described as a place of burning sulfur, and those in it experience eternal, unspeakable agony of an unrelenting nature (Luke 16:24; Mark 9:45-46). Those who have rejected Christ and are in the temporary abode of the dead in hades/sheol have the lake of fire as their final destination.”

To me, it seems likely that people like Hitler, Pol Pot, and Stalin will be the types cast into the lake of fire, yet clearly I can’t know this to be certain because I’m not the judge. What I do have is a sense of distributive and procedural justice based on the innate moral standard to which I adhere. This standard, set by God, suggests that people will be treated fairly. Accordingly, I don’t believe that all people should be punished in the same way as Hitler, Pol Pot, and Stalin. God gave me common sense, which suggests He’ll vary the punishments to fit the crimes.

It seems likely that people like Hitler, Pol Pot, and Stalin are not of God (lost sheep), but are the weeds described in the Bible, aligned to Satan. My guess is that such despots take the express train to hell, however hell is conceived, to either be destroyed or to spend eternity in an environment devoid of all love, which is God. God is love. Eternity without God is despair, which the Bible states is torment.

Russell further criticizes the church. I do not dispute the assertion that some churches are flawed and there are flaws in the history of churches. Yet many are not. Many churches today are run by strong people with good Christian values who strive to deliver Biblically-inspired messages of inspiration to attendees. My own church, Fishhawk Fellowship Church (Fishhawkfc.org), is a case in point. My church is relatively young (not much older than a decade), yet its pastors and staff offer the community such powerful messages each week that attendance has skyrocketed to the point where the church must now move from its original building to a much larger one, which will soon be under construction. Its message is to “come, grow, serve, and go” and it serves the local, national and global communities with all sorts of outreach programs. If other churches adopted its approach, I suspect they would be booming in attendance as well, fueling Christianity.

In conclusion, I find it interesting how atheists often challenge the divinity and governance of the Christian God. For example, Christopher Hitchens refers to himself as a “Protestant Atheist.”

Why is the Christian God the God of choice? My suspicion is that the Christian God is the one they know is the most likely to be real. As C.S. Lewis said, “Atheists express their rage against God, although in their view, He does not exist.” As Ray Comfort has added, “Atheists don’t hate fairies, leprechauns, or unicorns because they don’t exist. It is impossible to hate something that doesn’t exist. Atheists – like the painting experts hated the painter – hate God because He does exist.” According to C.S. Lewis, “We may ignore, but we can in no way evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere, incognito.”

Interestingly, I conducted a poll on Twitter in which I asked atheists the following question: “If shown that God exists, would you follow Him?” Sixteen atheists responded “no.” This answer surprised me, yet offered an explanation for some of the hostility I’ve seen on Twitter from atheists.

Thank you for your time.

References

Lewis, C.S. (2002). The complete C.S. Lewis signature classics. New York, NY: HarperOne.
Dembski, W. A. Science and design. First things: A monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, 86: 21-34.
Got questions? Accessed 1-21-2017 at: https://www.gotquestions.org/does-God-use-evil.html
Got questions? Accessed 1-21-2017 at: https://www.gotquestions.org/sheol-hades-hell.html
Hawking, S. (2017). The Beginning of Time. Accessed 1-20-2017 at: http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-beginning-of-time.html
Howell, E. (2015). What is the Big Bang Theory? Accessed 1-20-2017 at: http://www.space.com/25126-big-bang-theory.html
Hunt4Truth.com (2014). Scientist debunks Hawking’s ‘No God needed’ theory. Accessed 1-21-2017 at hunt4truth.wordpress.com.
LaRocco, C. & Rothstein, B. (2017). The Big Bang: It sure was Big. Accessed 1-20-2017 at: http://umich.edu/~gs265/bigbang.htm
Lichfield, G. (2015). The science of near-death experiences. The Atlantic. April.
Ross, H. (2016). Improbable Planet: How earth became humanity’s home. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Tozer, A.W. (2006; 1948). The pursuit of God: The human thirst for the divine. USA: First Wingspread Publishers.
Trevors, J.T. & Abel, D.L. (2004). Chance and necessity do not explain the origin of life. Cell Biology International, 28: 729-739.
Turek, F. (2015). Stealing from God: Why atheists need God to make their case. USA: NavPress

A Christian Rebuttal to Kaimatai, an Atheist

If someone asked me a year ago how I would be spending my free time today, I would have likely answered that I would be reading, riding a bike, studying, or writing academic papers. What I wouldn’t have answered is that I would be writing Christian rebuttals to atheists whom I have encountered on Twitter. In fact, if given a glimpse of my future in March of 2016, I would have been surprised to find myself writing atheist rebuttals. The Lord works in mysterious ways, especially considering that the source of my inspiration comes from atheists! The particular atheists who inspired me to write rebuttals no longer communicate with me, but during the time in which they did, I felt a strong desire to plant seeds within their minds, which I prayed God would grow. I still pray for them and others like them.

According to William Lane Craig (2010, p. 45), “The atheistic worldview is insufficient to maintain a happy and consistent life. Man cannot live consistently and happily as though life were ultimately without meaning, value, or purpose. If we try to live consistently with the atheistic worldview, we shall find ourselves profoundly unhappy.” In contrast, he notes (2010, p. 49) that “Biblical Christianity therefore provides two conditions necessary for a meaningful, valuable, and purposeful life: God and immortality. Because of these, we can live consistently and happily within the framework of our worldview.”

I came upon the timeline of an atheist who calls himself Kaimatai on Twitter where I found a link to a blog he had created entitled “Ten reasons why I’m not a Christian.” The intention of this blog is to write a rebuttal to his ten reasons.

Kaimatai writes:

  1. The absence of evidence where there should be evidence

Depending on your flavour of Christianity, this particular deity is supposed to have created the Universe, formed the earth, begun life, created humanity from just two individuals, intervened frequently in the affairs of a Near Eastern Tribe, and made a personal appearance for approximately 33 years. Many of these events should leave compelling evidence. Genetics should confirm we descended from just two individuals. Other civilizations should have noticed the extraordinary events described in the bible.  That evidence is just not present.

Christian Apologist responds:

Let me begin by noting his reference to the flavor of Christianity. I draw attention to this statement because atheists often ask Christians to identify the “correct” Christian sect. I am of the opinion that so long as the Christian sect draws its knowledge from the Bible, embraces Jesus Christ’s divinity, and encourages people to live by the example of Jesus Christ, then the sect is correct.

People have varying needs in the ways they grow closer to God. Some prefer liturgical, ritualistic churches in which the congregation sings hymns and develops an appreciation of sacraments and traditions, such as the Lutheran and Catholic churches. Others might prefer contemporary sorts of churches in which the congregation sings contemporary Christian songs and listens to informative sermons on the Bible, such as the Baptist church. Other churches blend these options and offer various interpretations of the Bible based on variations of adherence to literal interpretations of the Bible. No matter the door, all ultimately lead to Jesus. “The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will be open at last” (Lewis, 1949).

To answer Kaimatai’s next issue, which speaks to the origins of the universe, earth, and life on earth, I draw from Hugh Ross and his book Improbable Planet.

“The Milky Way Galaxy, the Sun, the Moon, and the configuration of the solar system’s planets and asteroid belts reveal how Earth obtained its unique stockpile of elements and minerals that enable Earth today to sustain such an enormous biomass and biodiversity. The fossil record, isotope records, geological layers, sediment cores, ice cores, and biodeposit (biological decay products embedded in Earth’s crust) inventories provide biologists and ecologists with a chronicle of Earth’s life. Earth’s preserved record of past physical and biological events reveals an unanticipated synergy (p. 16-17).”

“Charles Darwin presumed that the development and transformation of life throughout Earth’s history was gradual, smooth, and continuous. However, in landmark articles published in 1972 and 1977, paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould pointed out that the fossil record is typified by species remaining in extended stasis (little or no net evolutionary change) interrupted by quantum jumps where species suddenly disappear and then are followed quickly by sudden appearances of very different species…It is not only at the species level where quantum jumps are observed but also at the level of families, orders, and classes of organisms (p. 19).

“Primitive life, that is unicellular bacterial life, is but the simplest form of life on Earth. There are three other general divisions of purely physical life: (1) differentiated multicellular organisms (for example, fungi); (2) plants; and (3) animals. In addition to purely physical life, Earth today contains two kinds of life that possess distinctly nonphysical attributes. One of these kinds is a group of animals that possess a mind…that is capable of experiencing and expressing emotions, exercising intellectual analysis, and making decisions in response to that analysis and the animal’s emotional state. All mind-possessing animals share in common the attribute of parents providing sacrificial care for their offspring. Animals in this category include all mammals and birds and a few of the more advanced reptilian species such as the crocodile and the alligator” (p. 21).

“Another kind of life-form possessing nonphysical attributes is the species Homo sapiens sapiens. Human beings not only possess a mind, but they are also endowed with a spirit…(which) enables humans to engage in philosophy and theology and to address questions of ultimate meaning and purpose” (p. 21).

In other words, the earth today contains diverse and abundant species in multiple levels of advanced life, many of which appeared suddenly via quantum jumps. Such an explanation helps to explain the way the most advanced life forms possess consciousness (i.e., awareness) and spirituality, while less advanced life forms do not. Such an explanation further suggests that the first humans appeared suddenly.

Kaimatai’s next arguments suggest that the world is lacking evidence of Jesus. Such an assertion could not be further from the truth. Christianity, which 2.2 billion people currently practice globally, began with the humble work of the son of a carpenter, several fishermen, a tent maker, a tax collector, and others of little means. The very fact that such a group was able to convince millions to embrace Christianity and worship illegally and without any power or riches from 33 A.D. to 312 A.D. suggests something extraordinary is working behind the scenes.

I’ve paraphrased a story about Jesus by James Allan Francis (Turek, 2014) to demonstrate just how extraordinary the transformation of Christianity is.

He grew up in a village, the child of a peasant, and worked as a carpenter. He never had a family, owned a home, or went to college. He was only 33 when the tide of public opinion rode against Him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies and went through a mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.

“Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today He is the central figure of the human race. I am well within the mark when I say that all the enemies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned – put together – have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one, solitary life.”

I anticipate atheists will say at this point that I’ve violated the ad populum fallacy, which is the appeal to the popularity of a claim as a reason for accepting it. I therefore return to the initial reasons behind the growth of Christianity to refute this argument. The first martyr, St. Stephen, heads up this discussion.

“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered Him – you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it” (Acts 7: 51-53).

“When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory and God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’” (Acts 7:54-56).

“At this, they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul (Acts 7:57-58).

While on the road to Damascus breathing murderous threats towards Christians, Saul encountered Jesus. “Suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’” (Acts 9: 3-6).

Saul became Paul, who wrote at least six books of the New Testament and endured much persecution before being beheaded under the leadership of the Roman Emperor Nero. The book of Acts and 1 Timothy 4:6-8 suggests Paul knew that his death was imminent, though his death was not reported in the Bible.

Extrabiblically, in 1 Clement 5: 5-7 (c. A.D. 95-96), the writer notes that Paul suffered tremendously before being “set free from this world and transported up to a holy place, having become the greatest example of endurance” (McDowell, 2015). “Other early evidences for the martyrdom of Paul can be found in Ignatius (Letter to the Ephesians 12:2), Polycarp (Letter to the Philippians 9:1-2), Dionysius of Corinth (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.25.4), Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.1.1), The Acts of Paul, and Tertullian” (Scorpiace 15:5-6) (McDowell, 2015).

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:25-26: “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.”

Some atheists claim Paul never saw Jesus, yet he makes it quite clear that he did. “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born” (1 Corinthians15: 1-8).

The third example is Jesus’ brother James. While James didn’t provide us with evidence of his belief in Jesus’ divinity during Jesus’ ministry (Mark 3:20; John 7:5), he saw the risen Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:7) and accordingly, became a believer and key leader in the early church (Galatians 2:9; Acts 21:17-26).

In Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus states that James was stoned. “Two other Christian accounts also confirm the martyrdom of James, even if they differ over the details. Hegesippus provides a detailed account in Book 5 of his Memoirs (Hypomnemata), which have been preserved in Eusebius. And Clement of Alexandria (c. AD 150-215) also provides an account of the fate of James in the seventh book of his Hypotyposes, as recorded by Eusebius” (Ecclesiastical History 2.1.4b-5) (McDowell, 2015).

Based on these accounts, we know that among many Christian disciples (1) Stephen, Paul, and James sincerely believed in Jesus’ divinity; (2) they knowingly risked their lives to preach His Good Word; and (3) they died gory deaths due to their beliefs and practices.  

Kaimatai writes:

  1. The Soap Test

There are no instructions on using soap. Soap is a product that is easy to make.  It also has benefits for hygiene as well as reducing infections and limiting the spread of disease.  These effects on disease were not realised until the germ theory of disease was established.

Any deity that is supposed to be benevolent, all-knowing, and interceding to benefit a chosen tribe or people, would give instructions on its use. Instructions on its use however are weirdly absent.  This neglect would have increased needless suffering (through illness and disease) as well as premature deaths. With no technological barrier to making soap, there is no valid reason to withhold instructions on its use. Given the vast number of people whose lives would have been improved by providing instructions, it’s not a trivial issue.

Christian Apologist responds:

While I agree that soap is important, I offer what organizations producing soap suggest is its history. According to the Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve Company, “Although no one really knows when soap was discovered, there are various legends surrounding its beginning. According to Roman legend, soap was named after Mount Sapo, an ancient site of animal sacrifices. After an animal sacrifice, rain would wash animal fat and ash that collected under the ceremonial altars, down to the banks of the Tiber River. Women washing clothes in the river noticed that if they washed their clothes in certain parts of the river after a heavy rain their clothes were much cleaner. Thus the emergence of the first soap – or at least the first use of soap. A soap-like material found in clay cylinders during the excavation of ancient Babylon is evidence that soap-making was known as early as 2800 B.C. Inscriptions on the cylinders say that fats were boiled with ashes, a soap-making method.”

According to Soap History, “An excavation of ancient Babylon revealed evidence that Babylonians were making soap around 2800 B.C. Babylonians were the first one to master the art of soap making. They made soap from fats boiled with ashes. Soap was used in cleaning wool and cotton used in textile manufacture and was used medicinally for at least 5000 years. The Ebers papyrus (Egypt, 1550 B.C.) reveals that the ancient Egyptians mixed animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts to produce a soap-like substance. According the Pliny the Elder, the Phoenicians used goat’s tallow and wood ashes to create soap in 600 B.C. Early Romans made soaps in the first century A.D. from urine and soap was widely known in the Roman Empire.”

Biblical scholars have further referred to several passages to suggest that soap is indeed present in the Bible in the recognized form of its day.

Malachi 3:2: “But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.”

Jeremiah 2:22: “Although you wash yourself with soap and use an abundance of cleansing powder…”

Numbers 19:1-12 provides a recipe: “A man who is clean shall gather up ashes of the heifer and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp. They are to be kept by the Israelite community for use in the water of cleansing; it is for purification from sin. The man who gathers up the ashes of the heifer must also wash his clothes, and he too will be unclean till evening.”

In summary, the people in Biblical times were using soap, though the soap varied in content from what we use today, just as medicines and vaccines available today were not available in Biblical times. Today’s soaps have come about just as God intended them to come about; no sooner and no later.

Kaimatai writes:

  1. The gospels are problematic

Not only are the gospels written well after the alleged events, they contradict each other in key details. The nativity of Luke and Mark describe entirely different events.  Unlike Julius Caesar there are no writings of Jesus. No contemporaneous historian, of which there were several in this era, noticed any of the fantastic things described in the gospels.

One feels an omniscient (all-knowing) deity would know this would reduce the confidence non-believers would have in the Jesus-mission. Even Julius Caesar left stuff he wrote. And an all-powerful deity might have ensured the records of the Jesus-mission weren’t so dependent on the contradictory, hearsay accounts we have.

Christian Apologist responds:

Though scholars disagree on the precise dates in which the gospels were written due to their presuppositions, we have good evidence to suggest that the vast majority of the New Testament was written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. This assertion is based on the fact that the destruction of Jerusalem, which was a major event on the same level as a great war, is not mentioned in the New Testament. In 70 A.D., the Roman army, led by the future Emperor Titus and ordered by Nero, destroyed Jerusalem and its second temple. Jesus had prophesied this destruction in Matthew 24: 1-8 and Luke 21: 5-6. The latter states: “Some of His disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, ‘As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.’”

Some scholars believe that the Gospel of Matthew was written around twelve years after Jesus’ crucifixion. One reason for this claim is due to recordings by early church leaders Irenaeus, Origen, and Eusebius. Eusebius (Bishop of Caesarea, father of church history) records that Matthew wrote his gospel while still in Israel (Liftin, 2007).

At least six of the New Testament books were written by Paul, who was beheaded by Nero in Rome at some point between 64 and 67 A.D. The potential timelines of these writings are as follows (GotQuestions.org, 2017). Note that all are within the lifetimes of people who lived in Jesus’ time.

Galatians (A.D. 47) 1 and 2; Thessalonians (A.D. 59—51) 1 and 2; Corinthians and Romans (A.D. 52—56); Ephesians, Philemon, Colossians, and Philippians (A.D. 60—62, during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment);  1 Timothy and Titus (A.D. 62); and 2 Timothy (A.D. 63—64, during Paul’s second Roman imprisonment).

Other evidence supporting the assertion of earlier dating is offered by J. Warner Wallace in his book Cold Case Christianity (2013): (1) Luke said nothing about the deaths of Paul and Peter. Paul was martyred around 64 A.D. while Peter was martyred shortly afterward; (2) Luke said nothing about the death of James, who was martyred in Jerusalem in 62 A.D.; (3) Luke’s gospel predates the book of Acts, as noted in its introduction; (4) Paul quoted Luke’s gospel in his letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 5:17-18); (5) Paul echoed the claims of the gospel writers (1 Corinthians 15; Galatians 1:15-19; Galatians 2:1); (6) Paul quoted Luke’s gospel in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11:23-25; and (7) Luke quoted Mark and Matthew repeatedly (Luke 1:1-4); and Mark appears to be protecting key players, like Peter, by excluding embarrassing testimonies (Mark 14:47; Mark 14:3-9).

Next, I will turn to Kaimatai’s assertion that the gospels contradict one another. The gospels do not contradict one another on the most important points related to Jesus’ ministry, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Minor points differ, which one would expect given variations in authorship. If the books precisely matched on all of the minor details, we would question authenticity. As it stands, the gospels work together as pieces in a puzzle, which we can put together.

  1. J. Warner Wallace examined the gospel accounts forensically, applying his years of work as a police detective to good use. He states, “The accounts puzzled together just the way one would expect from independent eyewitnesses. When one gospel eyewitness described an event and left out a detail that raised a question, this question was unintentionally answered by another gospel writer (who, by the way, often left out a detail that was provided by the first gospel writer).”

Some of the many examples Wallace provides are as follows:

Question: Matthew 8:16

Why did they wait until evening to bring those who needed healing?

Answer: Mark 1:21; Luke 4:31

Because it was the Sabbath.

Question: Matthew 14:1-2

Why did Herod tell his servants that he thought Jesus was John the Baptist, raised from the dead?

Answer: Luke 8:3; Acts 13:1

Many of Jesus’ followers were from Herod’s household.

Question: Luke 23:1-4

Why didn’t Pilate find a charge against Jesus even though Jesus claimed to be a King?

Answer: John 18:33-38

Jesus told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world.

Kaimatai writes:

  1. Prayer doesn’t work

Enough children have died in faith-healing cases to show that prayer only succeeds in mundane cases with a high likelihood of occurring anyway. There is no evidence at the ‘population-level that Christians are healthier, live longer or recover from cancer more frequently.

Christian Apologist responds:

The reason there may be little or no evidence at the population-level that Christians are healthier, live longer, or recover from cancer more frequently is not because God does not answer prayers. In contrast, God always answers prayers, but the answers may not be to improve health or prolong life. The answers always correspond to developing a relationship with us and advancing the fulfillment of our spiritual purposes or the spiritual purposes of our loved ones. If our spiritual purposes have been fulfilled, then our time on this planet is over and God calls us into heaven. Sometimes He calls the very best among us into heaven, which is always painful for those left behind, yet His purpose is to grow His relationship with those left behind and He places us in a variety of challenging circumstances to do just that.

As George MacDonald said and I’ll paraphrase: Imagine yourself as a house. God helps you to fix its drains, repair its cracks, and refurbish its appliances. You needed this help, so you’re not surprised.  But imagine your surprise when God starts knocking down walls, putting in new kitchens and baths, and adding bedrooms and room additions.  It hurts abominably and you wonder what on earth he’s up to.  You thought you were going to be a decent little cottage.  But he had plans for a palace, one in which He plans to live himself.  You see, he wants you to be perfect, just as he is perfect, and humble and kind, just as he is humble and kind.

Over the past five years, I have lost two good friends to cancer: one never smoked cigarettes, yet one day discovered she had stage four single cell lung cancer; a second discovered one day she had stage four brain cancer stemming from the melanoma she battled over a decade earlier. Both left behind a husband and an adopted child. In the first case, the husband passed a few months later, likely of a broken heart.

These two young mothers were extraordinarily kind and by anyone’s standards would be considered rather perfect people. No explanation of their deaths can offer their loved ones comfort, save for the explanation that they completed their lives’ missions and are now with God in heaven.

Before atheists jump to their feet here with accusations of the argument from ignorance fallacy, let us consider our purpose in life. Why are we here? What purpose do we serve? What does God want us to do?

According to Rick Warren in his book The Purpose-Driven Life, “God has a purpose behind every problem. He uses circumstances to develop our character. In fact, He depends more on circumstances to make us like Jesus than He depends on our reading the Bible…Jesus warned us that we would have problems in this world. No one is immune to pain or insulated from suffering, and no one gets to skate through life problem-free. Life is a series of problems…God uses problems to draw you closer to Himself (p. 193-194).

Kaimatai writes:

  1. How about those slaves then?

Right, Christianity has always been against slavery. Even in the first 1800 years when it wasn’t. And as the American Civil War showed, for many, not until the Federal Army reached Richmond.  The problem is that Jesus never said to abolish slavery. Neither did anyone else in the bible. Indeed, Exodus 21:20-21 said it was permissible to beat a slave so badly that they would die 2-3 days later.  The slave-owner wasn’t punished in this case as the slave was his property. A chattel. Not a human being, but property.

This is a very simple test. Moral beings don’t sanction this horrific behaviour. Christianity perpetuated slavery. It’s failed to reach a credible standard of morality that would corroborate a loving, moral supreme deity.

Christian Apologist responds:

The first point to address the issue of slavery is to note that no true Christians of sound mind today are endorsing the type of slavery that was present in the United States in its early history. Slavery is something of the past in developed countries and involuntary servitude is not something any Christian of sound mind cares to resurrect.

The next point is that the type of slavery reported in Biblical times was often voluntary with civil owner slave relationships. Exceptions exist, which Kaimatai notes, and it is fortunate we are given such glimpses into the lives of people who lived during Biblical times so we can better understand the context of the Bible. Had reports of slavery been excluded from the Bible, one would question its historical authenticity.

Noting that Jesus did not instruct followers to abolish slavery ignores the fact that slavery was often voluntary and civil and a component of societal functioning in Biblical times. Instead of identifying areas in which Jesus did not instruct, we should consider His instructions to love our neighbors as ourselves, alongside the Beatitudes from Matthew 5:3-12:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Kaimatai writes:

  1. A peculiar dislike of poor black people

One appreciates that life on this planet is a little chaotic. That means natural disasters happen.  I’m not quite sure how a loving deity allows people to die in natural disasters, as the freewill argument seems moot in these cases.  The deaths and suffering are not caused by human agency.

Nonetheless, the real point is how unjust these disasters are. They impact the poorest and most vulnerable communities the most.  In 2010 a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti.  The death toll was somewhere between 100,000-300,000 people. The same year a 7.1 earthquake hit Christchurch in NZ.  One person died of a heart-attack, that might have been caused by it.  The effects are not equal.

If we’re going to propose any kind of argument that humans have to put up with natural disasters, at the very least, these should not be so manifestly unjust.   Having a system that harms those communities least able to cope contradicts the alleged characters of the Christian deity.

Christian Apologist responds:

As I live relatively close to Haiti, I am well aware of the many difficulties, natural or otherwise, that the country has faced in my lifetime. I recall a good number of earthquakes and hurricanes that have devastated the country. I also recall and have witnessed the way such disasters serve to unite the church community through mission trips and outreach. Taken in the context of fulfilling our spiritual purposes and developing a stronger relationship with God, such events can serve as catalysts for the betterment of society as they fuel empathy, compassion, love, and a passion for humanity.

Kaimatai writes:

  1. Baby I call Hell

Like everything to do with the afterlife, Hell is difficult to pin down. Is it a place of heinous torture as described by Dante and other evangelical pastors?  Or is it an eternal separation from this deity?  Given the wide-spread dogmatic belief that it is torture (and I’ve been threatened often enough with it), then it’s irreconcilable with a just and loving deity.

The infraction against this god is transitory in nature. All I have done is not believe it existed. That merits an infinite punishment- one that is unusually cruel, barbaric and inhumane.

Hell and a loving, just deity cannot both exist.

Christian Apologist responds:

What we know of God is that (1) He is the source of our absolute moral standard; (2) He is the source of fairness and justice and (3) He is love (1 John 4:8). Accordingly, we know that the punishment will fit the crime. We also know that God wants all of His children to be with Him as demonstrated by the lengths to which He goes to celebrate the return of His prodigal sons and to bring back His lost sheep.

What we know of hell is that (1) hell is the separation from God’s love and (2) people have a choice not to go to hell. The people who voluntarily choose separation from God’s love are those who rely on themselves and their egos. Such people have more faith (trust) in their own beliefs than I have in mine.

Kaimatai writes:

  1. She blinded me with science

I appreciate that ancient people could not have had with their knowledge, the language of concepts to describe the world in scientific terms. Nonetheless, it seems odd that many ideas about the world are simply and blatantly wrong.  The microscopic world, the scale of the universe, that earth is not its centre, that life originated billions of years ago and then evolved are in conflict with many religious dogmas.  It’s not a good advertisement for these beliefs to be true.

Christian Apologist responds:

Around 2,200 years before Copernicus proposed a heliocentric system in which the planets revolved around the sun (and hence, the earth was not flat), Isaiah (40:22) called attention to the “circle” of the earth. The Hebrew word he used to describe this circle was khug, which appears in Proverbs 8:27 and Job 22:14. The word translates to either a sphere or a vault, which implies dimensionality and not flatness.

Kaimatai writes:

  1. It’s a small world

It is inescapable that the events of the bible are restricted to a tiny part of the world. Most of Asia, Africa, the Americas and Oceania are excluded.  For a universal deity, this is suspiciously parochial.  It is according to the Abrahamic religion capable of communicating in all kinds of ways.  There are burning bushes, talking donkeys, angels etc.  But only a small tribe of pastoralists are selected for this direct communication.  In particular, a tribe that whose accomplishments were so minor, they had little ability to communicate their god to others.  While civilisations around them developed maths, astronomy, engineering, democracy and philosophy, ancient Judea developed, well, penis modification.

Even within that context, only a small part of the population is considered worthy of this message. This part being men, of course.  For a universal deity that considered all to be equal, this incredible favoritism does not make any sense.

Christian Apologist responds:

The most famous Bible quote, John 3:16, states: “For God so loved the WORLD, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” If God were only trying to appeal to a small segment of the world, He wouldn’t have made this declaration.

Furthermore, in Mark 16:15-16, Jesus says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” “Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed His word by the signs that accompanied it.” Such passages call attention to the call from Jesus to grow Christianity in all parts of the world.

In his book, On Guard, William Lane Craig cites a study by David Barrett, which notes that in 100 A.D., the ratio of non-Christians to committed Christians in the world was 360 to 1. In 1000 A.D., the ratio was 220 to 1. In 1500 A.D., the ratio was 69 to 1. By its final count in 1989, the ratio was 7 to 1. In other words, for every 7 people on the planet, one is a Christian. Christianity is slowly but surely closing the gap.

Kaimatai writes:

  1. Free Fallin’

The problem with an all-knowing (omniscient) god is well known. It makes free-will a fantasy.  If a deity knows everything I’m going to do and say over my life-time, there’s nothing I can do to change that.  If Abe’s god knows I’m going to have sushi for lunch, then I cannot choose anything else.  That extrapolates to every other action I take, to very word I utter.  I cannot choose anything, choice is an always following a single course of action.  I can only say the lines I was given.  I can only play the role I was destined to play.

Life in this case, is meaningless. If I am going to hell, then, nothing I do over my life will change that.  I can only undertake the actions this deity already knows I’ll take.  All life is, is a brief moment where I can change nothing, followed by an eternity of hell.  There’s no point to this life at all.  This god may as well put those destined to hell, straight there.  Because nothing will change that destiny.

Christian Apologist responds:

The sins of humanity are the result of God’s gift of free will, which underscores God’s generosity and love in giving such a gift as He knew the implications. He knew that by giving the gift of free will, He would also need to make a tremendous sacrifice to give the gift of eternal life, as free will in a world of temptations and challenges often leads to sin, which leads to death.

C.S. Lewis says, “If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”

Kaimatai asserts that if God is omniscient, we cannot have free will. This assertion is untrue as it conflates our free will to make choices with His control over our choices. Omniscience refers to “all knowing,” not “all controlling.” God does not control our actions, which is the essence of free will.

To understand God’s omniscience and our free will, we need to understand that God is unbounded by time. The reason God knows our future is not because He’s controlled our future, but because He’s witnessed our future. Just as a journalist can skip through the pages of the newspapers in which she has published, moving back and forth in time, God can move back and forth in time. So, the real time that constrains us does not constrain Him. He sees our decisions and actions and knows whether we’ll be in the Lamb’s Book of Life, not because He’s predetermined our destiny, but because He has watched us as we exercise our free will through the lens of unbounded time. Furthermore, God is always in the present, yet He is unbounded by linear time so He is concurrently in our future and our past. According to Revelation 1:8, the Lord God “who is and who was and who always will be.”

C.S. Lewis described this concept in his book Mere Christianity in this way: “Our life comes to us moment by moment. One moment disappears before the next comes along; and there is room for very little in each. That is what time is like. And of course you and I take it for granted that this time series – this arrangement of past, present, and future – is not simply the way life comes to us but the way things really exist…But many learned men do not agree with that. It was the theologians who first started the idea that some things are not in time at all: later the philosophers took it over: and now some scientists are doing the same. Almost certainly, God is not in time…If a million people are praying to Him at ten-thirty tonight, He need not listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call ten-thirty. Ten-thirty – and every other moment from the beginning of the world – is always present for Him.”

This is a difficult concept for some to grasp, but according to C.S. Lewis, it fits within Christianity. People may choose to ignore the concept, which is fine, yet it serves to understand the relationship between free will and omniscience.

Thank you for your time.

References:

Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve Company (2017): http://www.chagrinvalleysoapandsalve.com/idascorner/soap/the-origin-of-soap

Craig, W. (2010). On Guard. USA: David Cook.

Gotquestions.org (2017). https://www.gotquestions.org/how-many-books-did-Paul-write.html Lewis, C.S. (1949). The Weight of Glory.

Lewis, C.S. (1952). Mere Christianity.

Liftin, B. (2007) Getting to know church fathers: An evangelical introduction.

McDowell, S. (2015). http://seanmcdowell.org/blog/was-paul-beheaded-in-rome

Ross, H. (2016). Improbable Planet. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Soap History (2017). http://www.soaphistory.net/

Turek, F. (2014). Stealing from God. USA: NavPress.

Warren, R. (2002). The Purpose-Driven Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan