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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.

Natural vs. Supernatural

I don’t believe in distinguishing “natural” and “supernatural.”  Sounds weird, I know.  But just think about it for a moment.

A “supernatural” explanation is a suspension of natural law and explanation.  For an explanation to be truly “supernatural,” it must defy all attempts to explain it inside the natural system, and must come from totally outside the natural system.  It must create a pure miracle, a suspension or violation of the natural order.

Here is why nothing is ever “supernatural:”

If I pick up a box and hold it over a table, that doesn’t violate the law of gravity by supernatural intervention.  By the same token, if God suspends that box, that doesn’t violate the law of gravity, but people have the need to label that “supernatural.” A box floating in midair seems to be a violation of the law of gravity, right?

But is it any different than the human holding the box?  The human creates a situation contrary to what we expect (the box falling to the ground) by normal and natural interactions of agents.

So I believe the same is the case for God holding the box.

Therefore, when God monkeys with nature, he isn’t “supernaturally intervening.”  He is making a change or interrupting the natural flow, but he isn’t rewriting the laws of physics when he does it.  It’s as natural as the human holding the box up in the air.

Natural and supernatural are actually points of view, simple as pie.  What exists in the encapsulated system of space and time that we occupy is “natural” to us, what exists outside of that is “supernatural” to us.  That makes us “supernatural” from God’s point of view.

More Philosophical Ignorance

Knowledge of all types takes time and effort to understand.  More than that, it helps to take a moment to study epistemology to understand why we believe what we believe.

And if people had a basic understanding of epistemology, then stuff like this could be avoided:

I’ve discussed Monica’s ignorance before (on both tweets and longer posts 1 | 2| 3).  We have some more ignorance right here, and more proof that it is not substance that brings you followers and friends.  Having good traffic ratings, subscribers, fans, friends, and followers is a reflection of marketing skill.

Now, on with the real point of this post: Monica fails to make two important distinctions, and that is why her tweet fails.  The first distinction is between methodological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism.  This is a mistake most atheists make.  The second is a distinction between what science is best equipped to answer, and what metaphysics is best equipped to answer.  Of course, making the first mistake means that she won’t even consider metaphysics as a way to answer anything, so the second mistake is inevitable.

Methodological naturalism means the scientist carries a presumption that an effect will have a cause within the system it appears.  For example, if I win the  lottery, I assume that I was just the lucky recipient of a fortunate combination of statistical laws and probability–someone had to win, right?  I don’t assume that God granted me the money, though (to qualify) I would seek his will in what I did with the money.  Others, however, don’t make the same assumptions.

Metaphysical naturalism is a bit contradictory.  The metaphysical naturalist doesn’t believe in anything outside the system.  In other words, the system is all that there is, so all causes by definition will be found in the system.  Metaphysical naturalism is contradictory because it denies metaphysics, while remaining a valid metaphysical position.

Now that we have that out of the way, we can see why this is so ignorant.  The subjects Monica mentions provide real knowledge on how something occurs.  Evolution demonstrates how life changes over the years.  Astronomy provides insight into the motion of stars and planets.

None of these, however, provide an answer to why these things occur.  Evolutionists, the honest ones, admit that evolution only explains what happens to life when it’s already here.  It never speculates on an origin.

Astronomy can chart a star’s motion through the sky and provide us with an understanding of the size of the universe and our general location in it, but it can’t tell us where any of it came from.

That brings us to the second, and related mistake.  Science answers how, which is why the scientist must necessarily be a methodological naturalist.  A metaphysical naturalist precludes even asking why something is, because there is no why by definition.  The first scientists were Christians, and were not scientists despite being Christians as is so often claimed.  They were scientists because they were Christians–they wanted to figure out how the world worked, figuring (correctly) that religion has already established why.  Indeed, only theology is capable of establishing why.


Great Quote from Facebook

A friend of mine on Facebook posted a great status that I thought I’d steal–I mean, share:

Nothing is random in His Kingdom. Everything that happens fits into a pattern for good, to those who love Him. Instead of trying to analyze the intricacies of the pattern, focus your energy on trusting Him and thanking Him at all times!

I try to keep things intellectual here at all times, but there’s something to be said for having a child-like faith that doesn’t need a complicated apologetic defense. The problem with most skeptics that I talk to is that they “psych themselves out,” so to speak.

They look at things like starving children in Africa, the candiru parasite, or anything else they don’t like about the world and conclude, “God didn’t make this. No good god would make a world like this one!” Well, there’s an apologetic defense for that (hint: it’s called “the Fall”), but why do I have to recite it? Yes, there are problems in the world. Making me (or any other Christian apologist) defend God against everything in the world that sucks is “analyzing the intricacies of the pattern.”

Instead, let’s trust God to work it out. The world as we know it is a giant Tower of Siloam. What did Jesus say to those trying to analyze the pattern?

Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Lk 13:4-5)

Focusing on minutia for which I readily admit that I don’t have an answer to is beside the point. Instead, let’s fix our eyes on God, who will work all of these things out for the good of his elect (Rom 8:28). This comes back to the real definition of faith: trust. Trust God to be who he has revealed himself to be in Scripture.