Category Archives: Religion

Tim Keller on Apologetics

I’ve heard plenty of Christians try to answer the why question by going back to the what. ‘You have to believe because Jesus is the Son of God.’ But that’s answering the why with more what. Increasingly we live in a time in which you can’t avoid the why question. Just giving the what (for example, a vivid gospel presentation) worked in the days when the cultural institutions created an environment in which Christianity just felt true or at least honorable. But in a post-Christendom society, in the marketplace of ideas, you have to explain why this is true, or people will just dismiss it.

— Tim Keller

Questionable Biblical Interpretations: Prv 22:6 & Mt 28:10

I should be in bed, but …

In my Twitter feed, I found a disagreement among a few Twitter users.  One Christian was getting pummeled by a group of atheists.  Julie Ann (@__iplay4god) would try to fend off the attacks with logical retorts, and the logical retorts were then rebuffed by the atheists using Scripture.

Supposedly, the Scripture “proved” that she was disobedient to God, or that she was contradicting God’s clear command.  However, in each case, the atheists were twisting the meaning of the passages to “Pants on Fire” proportions.

I will now take on two such questionable interpretations.  First, JoeUnseen on Proverbs:

Interesting way of looking at that.  Now let’s look at the actual wording:

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

That mentions nothing about religion.  King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, wasn’t writing a how-to guide on doing religion or evangelism.  He was writing a guide for living.

This is an example of simple wisdom, not a command for indoctrination.  It calls for disciplining your children properly.  Doing so in their formative years means that they will be far more likely to walk the straight-and-narrow.

Second, Jeff Groves on proving God to unbelievers:

Is that what Jesus had in mind?  Again, the actual words:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, …

The question, then, revolves around what it means to “make disciples” — which is literally mentoring people.  As Jesus mentored his disciples, they were to then go into the world and mentor others.  And still today we, the chosen of God, are to disciple others and teach them the Christian faith.

Some might think that implies somehow “proving” God exists, but that’s not it at all.  God is self-evident: no proof needed.  In Twitterspeak:

Those who ask for proof have already gotten all they are going to get in Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection.  That was all Jesus gave the generation walking the earth in his time, and should be more than sufficient for all time.

Ephesians 4:18 and 2 Peter 3:15-17 suggest that those who are not in Christ cannot rightly understand the Word of God.  Moreover, these enemies of God twist the Scriptures — and do so to their own destruction, unfortunately destabilizing well-meaning Christians.

Peter warned us 2000 years ago.  A warning more timely than ever!

Defining “Atheism”

A comment, though marked as spam, poses an interesting problem nonetheless:

Some of the ambiguity and controversy involved in defining atheism arises from difficulty in reaching a consensus for the definitions of words like deity and god. The plurality of wildly different conceptions of god and deities leads to differing ideas regarding atheism’s applicability. The ancient Romans accused Christians of being atheists for not worshiping the pagan deities. Gradually, this view fell into disfavor as theism came to be understood as encompassing belief in any divinity.

I had always meant to do a post on the difference, as I see it, between atheism and agnosticism.  This seems like as good a time as any.

First, does it matter that there are a plurality of conceptions of God?  And I would have to say, for all practical purposes, the answer is no.  Atheism, as I will show, isn’t a point of view (as supernaturalism is).

Supernatural is outside of nature.  Nature is your context: the container in which you find yourself.  Therefore, that which originates in this universe is natural to us.  However, that which originates outside the universe is supernatural.

Flip it, and that makes us supernatural to God, since we don’t reside on the same plane of existence.

Atheism is making a claim about how things are ordered, regardless of your particular perspective.

But who (or what) is God, then?  True, there have been a plurality of conceptions of God.  Accepting one over another doesn’t make all of those who reject your particular deity atheists.  Infidels, yes.  Atheists, no.

Think of it like this: in an election, I have several candidates to choose from.  The front runners are Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.  Or I can simply abstain and not vote.  The gray area is this: If I vote for Obama, does that mean I think Romney is unfit for the job?

Well, not necessarily.

There’s no meaningful way to vote against Romney without voting for Obama.  So if I want to afford Obama the chance to see his economic plan through but think that Romney would do an adequate job if elected, then I’m not anti-Romney per se.

On the other hand, I may think that Romney and Obama are equally wretched as leaders and statesmen, but vote for Obama because he’s currently more experienced.

Bottom line: a vote for one is not necessarily a vote against the other.

Which is an accurate description of agnosticismAgnostic literally means “without knowledge.”  Agnostics really don’t know whether there is a god, but they remain open to finding out.  While they don’t see adequate evidence for God, they find no reasons to deny the possibility of God’s existence.  They don’t know.

Finally, the burning question: what is atheism?  Atheism is the rejection of all God-belief.  In our election example, these guys are staying home from the ballot because the actively reject both candidates.

It is not simply “lacking belief in God.”  Lacking indicates they could be persuaded with the right evidence.  Nothing sways most atheists.  Read these comments if you don’t believe me.

Atheism is a rejection of the divine, no matter one’s conception of it.  It matters not whether that divine is supernatural (as monotheism posits), or within nature (as paganism posits), or in ourselves waiting to be unleashed (as New Age theology posits).  Atheism rejects it all in one fell swoop.

Tomorrow, atheism and the burden of proof.  That should both be interesting, and infuriating to my atheist readers.  Because, spoiler alert, you guys have a burden of proof!

The Indictment Among the Rhetoric

Yesterday, I spoke of the Blog for WWGHA totally messing up Christian doctrine.  Mere rabbit trails compared to what the author really wants us to answer for him.

Thomas is asking for a theodicy that makes sense of the events of the last few years:

How can anyone love a “God” who allows hundreds of thousands of people to die in a tsunami, or dozens of people to get shot innocently in a movie theater? What parent would allow you siblings to die while they looked on laughing.

Semantically, Thomas is actually asking for a personal reason Christians can love a God that passively allows tragedy to occur.  But I’m going to interpret him charitably here, assuming Thomas is asking for a theodicy: a logically argued resolution to the problem of evil in a world run by an omnipotent, omniscient God who could end evil but doesn’t.

Infinite wisdom, as the author of the target piece argues, isn’t really all that satisfying.  Neither is the related “mystery” of God.

I’ve never really been that big a fan of the “free will defense,” since the Bible shows God quashing free will.  However, the instances of God upholding free will vastly outnumber the instances of him preventing sin.  So I think that free will, while not the answer, is a component of the bigger picture.

Greater good isn’t all that great by itself.   Strobel’s Case for Faith has a great analogy about a bear trap.  Suppose a bear is caught in a trap and you decide to free it.  You can’t possibly do so without causing the animal more pain than he’s in, and there’s no possible way to explain to the animal that his increased pain will actually lead to total freedom.  And so he’ll lash out at you while you try to free him in a misplaced effort to defend himself.

We lash out at God for people dying in tsunamis and for innocents getting shot in a movie theater.  But what if all this is just part of the ultimate plan designed to free us from this bear trap?  What if the pains we see and the suffering we endure are really leading up to the day when none of this pain and strife will be necessary?  When the metaphorical hunter finally releases our leg and we can scamper pain-free into the woods?

I don’t think it’s the whole picture, but I think that the greater good defense has some merit to it.

This means I see merit to both free will and the greater good.  And I think a synthesis of the two is the answer to all questions related to theodicy.  Which leads me toward something I might call the Education Defense for Evil — it is necessary to have evil in this world to reveal God’s full character (wrath, love, and mercy), bring full glory to God at the culmination of history, and to reveal our own nature.

Evil serves a purpose (greater good) without being God’s purpose (free will).

I confess that while I’ve thought about this for a while now, I have little in the way of previous theodicy by any great thinker to back it up.  The idea needs more development, but it is something I foresee I will be writing and researching more in the future.  This seemed as good a time as any to introduce it, since I could scarcely criticize Thomas from WWGHA in the previous post without actually answering the one conundrum that was worthwhile.

Does WWGHA Even Understand Christianity?

If one is going to criticize the viewpoint of another, then one had best understand the opposing view thoroughly.  As an example, you will note that I do not enter into Creationism/Evolution/ID debates.  I don’t know enough about the three camps to participate intelligently, save for being able to articulate the difference between pure Creationism and ID.

Over at the Blog for WWGHA, in response to this article from a Christian pastor, Thomas opines:

It’s the “infinite wisdom” rationalization. God is too huge and awesome for pipsqueak humans to understand. Never mind that Christians claim to understand God all the time, for example by demanding that homosexuals be discriminated against or even stoned to death, or that foreskins need to be cut off baby’s penises, etc. Christians claim knowledge of all sorts of God’s thoughts, but strangely, the explanation for the atrocities and horrors that we see every day are just too complicated. (source)

It’s simply absurd to suggest that anyone is being inconsistent to say that we know some things about God, but not other things.  It is absolutely possible to say you know a person, but not understand everything that they do.

With God, some of his commands are clear, while others aren’t.  But to suggest I’m inconsistent when I say that we humans aren’t going to understand some things about God while being able to understand other things is asinine.

Second, let’s set two things straight with the Christian (mis)treatment of homosexuals.  We are not “denying” anyone the right to marry.  The very makeup of marriage excludes homosexuals.  It is a divinely ordered institution of a man joining to a woman, and they become one flesh.  Polygamy isn’t specifically prohibited in this fashion, but men can’t marry men and women can’t marry women under this paradigm.

It would be like me saying “My goal is to be the next Pope.”  I’m not a practicing Catholic; therefore I’m excluded from consideration for that office.

Or, if I tried to win a Hispanic scholarship.  I’m white.  I can’t win a scholarship oriented to Hispanic students.  It defies the intent of the scholarship and the rules of those who created it and put up the money.

Marriage is a joining of a man to a woman.  Period.  We can’t deny someone a right that does not exist.

On a personal note to the blog author:  Thomas, please find me a Christian who, in the last 20 years, actually called for a gay man to be stoned to death.  If you can’t, then please withdraw that ridiculous claim.

On the foreskin question, Christians actually were not circumcised.  Christians are exempt from all practices under the Jewish law.  Paul makes it explicit:

For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. (Rom 2:25-29)

Though there is a clear advantage to circumcision in knowing the oracles of God (Rom 3:2), one shouldn’t seek it:

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. (1 Cor 7:17-20)

What if someone does get circumcised despite the warning?  Then:

. . . Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (Gal 5:2-6)

Circumcision is not a Christian phenomenon.

Okay, now that we’re done with rabbit trails, is there actually an argument or an indictment here worth answering?

Sort of.  We’ll talk tomorrow.

The Parable of the Year 4500 [PARODY]

A warning to the sarcastically impaired… this post is meant in jest, but it raises a valid point that bears addressing by atheists of OUR time. Before it’s even a question from speed readers or skimmers, I am not de-converting.

By Supportstorm (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It has been horrid living under the Christian oppression for my entire life.  I was only a Christian because my family raised me so, and only remained so because it was easy in a primarily Christian society.

But I have, at last, thrown off the shackles of Christian oppression and joined the Brights of society, in knowing the truth that there is no God.

I now post my anti-testimony so that others may find the strength to resist the mindvirus of Christianity.  But let me start with a little history…

Christians in 4500 point to two incontrovertible “miracles” proving the existence of their god.  The first is the so-called Resurrection, when their zombie lord allegedly rose from the dead.

The second allegedly happened five days after an anonymous writer of what they used to call a “blog” wrote this:

If one evening, every star in the sky began to move in unison, and converge to form an illuminated three dimensional Latin Cross that filled the entire void, leaving the rest of the sky utterly black, devoid of any stars or planets; with Jesus’ face superimposed upon it, speaking in all languages at once its expectations of us, and for good measure it simultaneously rained human blood across the planet; and this all lasted for 24 hrs so that every person on Earth could view the event for themselves … I’d buy it.  I’d become the worlds greatest Christian.  Or if it were equally strong evidence of some other god being, I’d be first in line to at least apologize to it for my denial and happily sacrifice to it, grovel at its hooves, or otherwise demonstrate my reverence.. (source)

Five days after that, it happened.  Millions of eyewitnesses saw it, and thousands posted accounts online and newspapers carried stories and the media frenzy was born.

And so was Christian oppression.  Because who could argue with an actual appearance of God?

But I echo the arguments of many critics of this so-called “event” of mid-2012. I now do not believe it happened.  The facile replies of the Christian so-called apologists lack so much luster as to be incredible.  Even fanciful.

So, here are my questions. . .

First, Why did God wait so long?  Allegedly, your “savior” rose from the dead in the year 33.  Yet, this fictitious event didn’t occur until 2012 — almost 2000 years later.  It seems to me that if God truly cared about humanity, he would never let questions about his existence happen, since you go to hell if you don’t believe in him.

So he wouldn’t have waited.  He would have made the first great miracle, the Resurrection, more obvious.  The Resurrection, in fact, is all he should have needed to prove that Jesus was who he said he was.  People would believe then.

The fact that your god needed a second miracle proves he is inept and not worthy of worship.

Second, Where’s the video of this event?  Christian apologists claim that as a supernatural event, this couldn’t have been put on video.  Therefore, all of the video from the time that shows a typical, non-rearranged night sky is what we’d expect to see.

Well, it seems to me that if God expected this miracle to convince everyone of his existence, that he’d leave more than just a few eyewitnesses.  I know that it is claimed the “entire planet” saw this, but that isn’t good enough.  The Resurrection was supposedly seen by over 500 people who were still alive at the time of writing, but I can’t question them now, either.  Therefore, both miracles suffer from lack of adequate attestation.  Which leads us to …

Why do you expect me to take this on eyewitness testimony alone?  Eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable.  I can’t question any of these people today, and supposedly there’s no actual video of this event.  The hundreds of blog posts that still exist are no proof, since the Church could have put those together and claimed they were authentic.

I bet they even destroyed the counter-testimony, the people of the era who said this event never happened.  There was bound to be lots of those, as I understand atheist activism was popular on the Internet of 2012.  Where are all of the atheists who would have decried this obvious Christian propaganda?

Destroyed by the Church, that’s where.

So that’s my case.  That is why I now stand with the atheists.  Go ahead, theists.  Prove me wrong.

In other words, given the space of time, people will find old ways to disbelieve new miracles.  All of these arguments are repackaged versions of anti-Resurrection arguments.  Nice try, Atheist Camel.  Believe because of the Resurrection, or move along.  It is the only sign you’re getting.

Notice This…

A friend on Facebook posted the following graphic:

Notice that I can’t actually win?  The question at the end is loaded.

If I explain why 1-6 are fallacious, I’ve committed #7 and therefore have a hoax religion.

But I can’t show that Christianity is different from other religions without providing justifications for the first six, which means I (once again) have a hoax religion.

Well, shucks… I lose.  But I wonder:

Does the fact that atheists pass this graphic uncritically from one to the next make them guilty of holding a regular groupthink meeting to reinforce belief?  Of course not, they can justify that by saying no money is collected and they aren’t meeting in person.

Wait a minute…

The preceding post was meant as satire and not as a serious argument.  Please don’t tell me I’m committing a tu quoque fallacy with this post.  I already know that.  That’s why I’m tagging it as “humor.”

Meeting the Contrarian’s Third Challenge to Believers

I’ve talked about the Contrarian (part 1 | part 2), and his strawman representation of the Christian gospel.  As it happens, this guy is a gold mine of article ideas for an apologetics blogger.  Sort of a one-stop shopping center for a writer who needs ideas.

Therefore, I couldn’t resist his first challenge to believers.  I have no idea why I answered it.  Along with the second and third challenges, he proves he is only interested in grandstanding for an atheist audience.

So far, #3 is the final challenge and I hope it mercifully stays that way, even though it is the only one remotely interesting: “unobfuscate the Trinity”:

Lucifer: The trinity has caused divisions amongst various christian denominations for centuries. There are those christians who bellieve that Jesus was god in the flesh and those who say he is the sun of god and an entity distinct from god almighty.

Contrarian: Jesus BLATANTLY said things on numerous occasions that points to the fact that he is a being distinct from god, and not god in human form. Before and after being crucified, Jesus prays to god to let this cup pass from his lips, and to forgive his persecutors because they know not what they do.

Furthermore, Jesus also said that neither the angels in heaven nor he (referring to himself) knows the day of his second coming. But he clearly states that God does and speaks of him as a separate entity.

There are various other cases where Jesus makes it plain as daylight that he is NOT GOD incarnate, such as when he claims to have observed the creation of the world, but was not the one doing the creating.

The Contrarian is actually on to something.  His problem is one of equivocation, though I don’t think he realizes that he is the one committing the error.

Let’s see if I can set this straight.

First, in general the doctrine of the Trinity (at it’s most basic) says that the Father, Son, and Spirit share an essence but remain distinct persons.  Something like I am simultaneously a husband to Jody,  father to Ashleigh, Gabe, and Kayti, and a manager to my staff at work.

Each role is different.

This isn’t a perfect analogy — but it’s a step in the right direction.  JP Holding, infamous Internet apologist, explains the Father-Son-Spirit relationship better in this video.

Second, we need to get some definitions straight.  “God” sometimes refers to the ontological category of what Jesus and the Father are — in other words, their shared essence.  Other times, “God” refers to the Father, the First Person of the Trinity.  For our purposes in this post, God always means the essence of deity and Father refers to the person.

With this in mind, let’s see how equivocation derails the Contrarian’s line of thought.

Jesus BLATANTLY said things on numerous occasions that points to the fact that he is a being distinct from god, and not god in human form. Before and after being crucified, Jesus prays to god to let this cup pass from his lips, and to forgive his persecutors because they know not what they do.

Wrong.

Jesus is God, distinct from the Father.  He is God in the flesh — not the Father in the flesh.  Jesus is praying not to his essence, but his Father.

Furthermore, Jesus also said that neither the angels in heaven nor he (referring to himself) knows the day of his second coming. But he clearly states that God does and speaks of him as a separate entity.

Again, he’s speaking of the Father, not of God in an ontological sense.

There are various other cases where Jesus makes it plain as daylight that he is NOT GOD incarnate, such as when he claims to have observed the creation of the world, but was not the one doing the creating.

Again, he’s observing the Father creating.

Critical reading and a little bit of thought should unobfuscate the Trinity.  I hope that I’ve helped.

Meeting the Contrarian’s Second Challenge to Believers

I’ve talked about the Contrarian (part 1 | part 2), and his strawman representation of the Christian gospel.  As it happens, this guy is a gold mine of article ideas for an apologetics blogger.  Sort of a one-stop shopping center for a writer who needs ideas.

Therefore, I couldn’t resist his first challenge to believers.  I have no idea why I answered it.  Along with the second and third challenges, he proves he is only interested in grandstanding for an atheist audience.

Though he claims he is “actually here hoping that someone will prove me wrong and enhance my understanding of reality,” he goes on:

I give the faithful a snowball’s chance in hell that they will actually do so—if past success can help us predict future success—but I must remain true to my scientific convictions.  At any moment, anyone could come forward with proof that would require me to abandon my current perceptions; this is why I dedicate this article to asking questions that I would like answers to. (source)

Yeah, that’s the kind of statement we expect from someone who has already decided the outcome before running the experiment.

Now, on to the second challenge for believers.  As it is written in a make-believe dialogue with Lucifer, I’m not sure why the Contrarian expects anyone to actually take it seriously.

Yet, I’m lending it credibility by answering it.

Go figure.

Anyway, he’s asking for a YouTube video from a believer demonstrating any of the following three things:

  1. Levitation
  2. Walking on low-viscosity fluids
  3. Raising someone from the dead

Why?  Matthew 17:20, of course:

Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.

Now, of course, no believer has ever taken this as meaning that we’d actually command a mountain to jump to a new location.  We’ve always understood Christ to be using a rhetorical device common among Semitic people even today — hyperbole.

Why can’t this be a rhetorical device?

The Contrarian doesn’t say.

Of course, the best answer to his drivel is found in the comments section, from Saffa in Asia:

After months of watching this religion bashing and the pointless back and forth arguing, I have come to the conclusion the only way to end this stupidity is for theists to totally ignore the rants and raves of atheists.

If you don’t react, they will become bored and move on to something else where they can get a reaction, for it is the reaction that feeds them.

Ever tried to fight with someone who doesn’t fight back? Rather frustrating. So, don’t feed the trolls. Theists and atheists have made their relevant points over and over again and we are still at square number one.

I know for sure I will get lots of thumbs down and lots of snide comments about being a coward, deluded, stupid, ignorant etc, etc but who cares? Not me.

So I bid you adieu and I trust others will follow suit.

Meeting the Contrarian’s First Challenge to Believers

I’ve talked about the Contrarian (part 1 | part 2), and his strawman representation of the Christian gospel.  As it happens, this guy is a gold mine of article ideas for an apologetics blogger.  Sort of a one-stop shopping center for a writer who needs ideas.

Therefore, I couldn’t resist his first challenge to believers.  I have no idea why I’m answering it.  This, along with second and third challenges, are just plain idiotic — proving he is only interested in grandstanding for an atheist audience.

Though he claims he is “actually here hoping that someone will prove me wrong and enhance my understanding of reality,” he goes on:

I give the faithful a snowball’s chance in hell that they will actually do so—if past success can help us predict future success—but I must remain true to my scientific convictions.  At any moment, anyone could come forward with proof that would require me to abandon my current perceptions; this is why I dedicate this article to asking questions that I would like answers to.

Yeah, that’s the kind of statement we expect from someone who has already decided the outcome before running the experiment. Read the rest of this entry