Shermer’s Summary of Christian Belief

I’m dumbstruck by the number of former believers, people who say that they were passionate Christians — read the Bible, prayed often, and even engaged in door-to-door evangelism — that can’t seem to articulate their former belief system correctly.

They are atheists because they believe that the God they once served never existed.  And that’s a real possibility.  Based on Michael Shermer’s summary of his former faith, I can confidently say that that god doesn’t exist.

This is Shermer’s summary from the forward to Peter Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists:

  1. Christians claim that God is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omnibenovolent — all knowing, all powerful, all present, and all good, creator of the universe and everything in it including us.

  2. Christians believe that we were originally created sinless, but because God gave us free will and Adam and Eve chose to eat the forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, we are all born with original sin as a part of our nature even though we did not commit the original sinful act ourselves.

  3. God could just forgive the sin we never committed, but instead he sacrificed his son Jesus, who is actually just himself in the flesh because Christians believe in only one god — that’s what monotheism means — of which Jesus and the Holy Spirit are just different manifestations.  Three in One and One in Three.

  4. The only way to avoid eternal punishment for sins we never committed from this all-loving God is to accept his son — who is actually himself — as our savior.  So …

God sacrificed himself to himself to save us from himself.  Barking mad! [p. 11-12; ellipses and emphasis in original]

Let’s take it one at a time.

There seems to be little to with which to take issue in (1).

(2) is basically right; however, original sin represents the propensity to sin rather than an actual sin itself.  Sin taints the whole earth and everything in it, including mankind.

So we are born with a sinful nature, and that is abhorrent to God.  If we remain on that course, we will sin and we will move further and further away from God.  The solution can’t, therefore, come from ourselves and must come from God.

(3) has two problems with it.  First, I hesitate to say that God can’t simply forgive sin.  What God cannot do is behave inconsistently with his own nature, because God is perfect.  So I’d prefer to think of it as God won’t simply forgive sin; but a price or a penalty must be exacted first.  In the Old Testament, we see a sacrificial system in place to make propitiation for our sins.

Why?  Because there can be no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood.  God killed a bear to cover Adam and Eve’s shame — the example we draw from!  The High Priest would make propitiation once per year by making an offering and entering the Holy of Holies by the blood of it.

Jesus, the Lamb of God, is the perfect sacrifice for our sins.

The second problem is the description of Jesus and the Holy Spirit as “manifestations” of God.  There is only one essence of divinity in Christianity, and this essence is simultaneously shared by God the Father (the Creator, described in the OT), God the Son (the Savior), and God the Spirit (the Helper).

Characterizing these Persons as “different manifestations” of God is heresy.  The Athanasian Creed, one of the three foundational creeds of Christendom, defines what the Trinity is and is not, and it doesn’t leave room for modalism:

That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal.

Each Person of the Trinity shares the power, glory, majesty, and titles with all other members.  However, each has different roles not shared with the others:

So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.

As for (4), it suffers from the fundamental error identified in (2): sin is both action and nature, and the fact that we have a sin nature is itself abhorrent to God.  But, left on that path with no aid, we will sin.  So we’re born sinful, we follow that nature — no surprise there — and God punishes us.  Not for sins we didn’t commit, but for ones we absolutely did.

The way out is to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  This recreates our flesh anew and removes the sin nature; it removes the heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh.  We are regenerated.  We are no longer enslaved to sin, and so we are able to choose life instead of inevitably following the path that leads to death.

The conclusion suffers from all of the problems I identified — misunderstanding of the Trinity, misunderstanding of sin, misunderstanding of what the Savior does for us when we accept him as such.

So good for Shermer in not believing in this god.  He clearly doesn’t exist.  The God described by the Bible, however, does exist!  Let’s hope there’s an argument against him somewhere in the rest of the book.

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About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian who prays that this blog will be used solely for furthering God's plan of salvation and for His glory. See my "About Us" page for further information about me and about my wife.

Posted on December 14, 2013, in Apologetics, Atheist Books, God, Heresy, Sin, Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Oh come on Cory! You can’t expect Shermer to actually study and learn what we really believe can you? That might require taking it seriously! You also can’t expect most churches will require the serious discipleship of learning about Christianity also can you? That will require actually working and moving past our me-centered experiences!

    Some people are so unreasonable….

  2. Cory,

    The problem that always nags me is this: why does everyone deserve to be born with a sinful nature ? Additionally, if the majority view holds that traducianism is false, then the answer to the objection summarized as, “How can a sinless being arise from a sinful being ?” is answered successfully, I think. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anyone who actually affirms traducianism.
    I know the response to this will certainly get us tangled up in the varying views of the will and God’s sovereignty, but I am curious as to how you deal with this type of challenge. If you can point me to any sites or books that address this in depth, I’d be happy to peruse them.

    • A clarification of the above. I obviously missed providing what the response to the objection is regarding sinless beings born from sinful beings.

      I think that if traducianism is false, then the creationist view of the soul is true. On such a view, there’s nothing intrinsically preventing a sinful being from bearing a sinless being. The only reason apparent to me is that God wanted the state of affairs to be that sinful beings always produce sinful offspring.

    • I actually hold to a more traducian view, but at the same time, I see it as a secondary question. This question only really matters if Christianity is true, and for Christianity to be true, the first question to establish is “Did Jesus rise from the dead?” I don’t need to know why it is all men have sinful souls. I just see that they do.

    • I’m kind of with Nick on this one:

      If I’m standing on a railroad track and a freight train is speeding at me, I jump out of the way. I don’t question why the freight train is speeding toward me.

      Same with sin.

      The problem isn’t why men are born sinful. The problem is that they are. And, from a purely pragmatic standpoint, it is obvious that humans are born with sinful souls by looking at the copious harm man has been inflicting on man through all of human history.

      All that said, I’d probably think that traducianism is the case, though it isn’t an issue I’ve given much study to. Mainly, I think that God has set a system in motion and while he superintends many aspects, there is a “mechanistic” property to our universe and it seems to “go” on its own without much help from God. So it would seem that since God has built the universe like this, there’s no reason to suppose he’s involved in the special creation of each and every soul.

      Besides, as you have pointed out, if God creates each and every soul, why add the taint of sin to it?

      The Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception seems to assume a traducian view. It states that Mary’s conception was “specially protected” from the transfer of original sin. If a soul is specially created each and every time by God, then there would seem to me no need to pronounce such a doctrine since God can simply create a soul free of original sin. But the necessity of such a doctrine seems to indicate traducianism.

      Though, I suppose, creationists might argue that God “specially protected” from the transfer. Meaning that God creates a soul sinless, but it’s the flesh that is tainted by the sin (not the soul) and that sin is engrained in the soul by the flesh.

      Those were just my random, late night thoughts with no research into this issue whatsoever. So don’t quote any of that; it’s probably wrong and I’ll probably reverse it if I do get around to studying that issue.

      To clarify: I’m not Catholic, but I was raised so and send my kids to Catholic school. So I have some sympathy for these doctrines, even if I don’t agree with them myself.

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