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Contradiction Tuesday: Jesus in the Pecking Order

Better late than never, right?

I skipped the next contradiction in line.  It’s easy to resolve, but I’m saving it for Easter.

So for today’s contradiction Tuesday, we have another both/and resolution.

I and my Father are one. (Jn 10:30)

set against

Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. (Jn 14:28)

The Trinity is the most misunderstood doctrine of Christianity.  Atheistic challenges to it amount to little more than “I don’t understand the Trinity, so it must be false.  Now I shall mock it to appear clever.”

Jesus and the Father share an essence.  But they do not share an identity.  Meaning they are ontologically the same, but still separate people.  John 10:30 refers to sharing the essence, while the pecking order established by 14:38 refers to the separate persons.

On the Euthyphro Dilemma

Is it moral because God says so or does God say so because it’s moral? False dilemma. It’s moral because that’s the way God is.  — William Lane Craig

I think that this an excellent and adequate response to the Euthyphro dilemma.  I believe that the answer is rooted in the ontology of God as perfectly good.

However, I don’t think that the skeptic would ever be convinced by such an answer.

He’ll just ask how we know God is good, and when we way “the Bible,” he’ll mention that the Bible also says to sacrifice turtledoves to “clean” women during their menstrual cycles, confirms the existence of unicorns, and prohibits football.

Now, all of those things are hyper-literal readings of the text and have simple responses. My point here is that the skeptic doesn’t accept the Bible’s description of anything, let alone God.

To illustrate, archeologists give the benefit of the doubt to ancient documents when a site contradicts a document. The thought is that the ancient writer was closer to the events and probably knows better than we do thousands of years later. Not to mention that its possible that a site might have been altered, destroyed, rebuilt, or built upon between the composition of the document and our discovery of the site.

However, when that ancient document is the Bible, then the error is automatically assumed to be with the Bible, and not assumed to be one of a myriad of possibilities like the ones I just mentioned. To recap, random ancient document contradicts a site: “There’s probably an explanation. Let’s assume the document is right and find out the reason for the contradiction.” The Bible contradicts a site: “Bible’s wrong, it’s complete fiction, God doesn’t exist. Three cheers for freethought!”

While I think that the answer to the Euthyphro Dilemma lies in God’s ontology, I think that in order to get the skeptic to see that, he must be willing to step out in faith and trust the Bible. However, given all of the skeptical attacks on the Bible (despite it previously thought to have been very reliable), there’s a long way to go on that.

By the way, I’m not the only one that sees this.  The Bible has yielded much good archeology in the past, and if we would continue to rely on it I have faith it will produce much more good in the future.  However, there is a serious prejudice against the Bible not only in archeology, but in every academic discipline.

History and archeology aren’t my thing, but I hope that other apologists who feel called to that area work hard to counter some of this anti-Bible sentiment in those fields.  If the Bible can be believed again as a reliable ancient source of history, then we will have taken a good step toward resolving some of the theological questions being raised as well.

My 3-year Old Thinks Deeper than Some Atheists

It sounds crazy, but I think my three-year old daughter actually thinks more deeply than the average atheist.  She understands a distinction in the divine essence that many atheists fail to see.

I, and other apologists like me, out-of-hand reject statements like, “You’re an atheist to literally thousands of gods.  I’m only an atheist to one more god than you!”  I’ve discussed some reasons here.  One of the most compelling reasons to reject such a statement is the very ontology of the gods under discussion.

Polytheism usually starts with two gods, a male and a female.  The male generally represents Heaven or the Sky, while the female represents Earth.  Immediately, we see that these beings are tied to a material reality, with what Dungeons & Dragons supplements (such as Deities and Demigods) refer to as a “portfolio.”  The portfolio is the area of supreme power for that deity.

Sky and Earth then have children, which become the initial gods of the pantheon.  In Greek mythology, these children are Cronus and Rhea.  Cronus then usurps Sky’s (Uranus) power and becomes king of the entire universe.  This represents another common element of polytheism–the supreme god, always dwelling in or characterized by the Sky, is defeated or rendered impotent.

Cronus and Rhea then gave birth to Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Demeter, Hestia, and Hera.  None of these gods are the causal agent of the force they control.  Zeus controls thunder, and his lightning bolt was fashioned to harness the already extant power.  Same with the remaining siblings: Poseidon controls the water, Hades shepherds departed souls, Demeter manages the seasons, Hestia the household, and Hera blesses marriage.

The universe, when discussed, is usually already there.  It is never “created” by any god, and the gods master extant powers rather than creating them.  Further, the gods are always seen as finite, as having a definite beginning and it always seems possible that they could have an end, in either death or imprisonment.

Contrast that with God, the transcendent creator of the universe.  There was nothing before God, and there will be nothing after God.  He is eternal, and exists on the pure necessity of his own nature.  All that we see, he spoke into being.  Light through the darkness, material from immaterial, land out of water, vegetation on the land, fish in the sea, then creatures on the land.  He commanded it all into existence; he didn’t harness what already existed.

This concept is weighty, but not so much that Ashleigh couldn’t grasp it, and she’s only three!  The atheists I deal with are much older than that, yet seem unable to grasp this concept.

How do I know Ashleigh gets it?  Because the other day, I hear her declare to my son, Gabriel, and anyone else in earshot, that she was the “god of weather.”  I told her that she shouldn’t claim to be God, as that is very wrong indeed.

She replied, “I’m not God, daddy.  I’m only god of weather!”

Indicating she understands the fundamental difference between claiming to be the ultimate creator, and a powerful entity with a limited portfolio (such as “weather”).  Maybe I’m reading too much into her comment, but it seems to me that she gets a truth that escapes our atheist friends who make the “I’m an atheist to one more god” claim.  Maybe she’ll follow in my footsteps into Christian apologetics.

Questions Theists Can’t Answer, Nature of God (long answers)

More questions from the Reddit thread filled with questions theists can’t answer.  These still focus on God’s nature, and require lengthier discussions than the previous questions.  However, they are no less puerile.  First question:

If God is perfect, why is he “a jealous God”?

God is “jealous” for one reason.  He is the ultimate being and the ultimate reality, the definition of perfection, goodness, and holiness.  God created life and sustains the universe that supports it.  He alone is the embodiment of divinity and is worthy of worship.

Yet people refuse to do so, when it is their duty.  We understand that duty, which is why human evolutionary biology is becoming such an important field.  As is embryology, paleontology as it relates to the origin of earth, and cosmology.  We want to understand where we came from, but we aren’t seeking the One who created us, only the culmination of perfectly natural laws that put us here.

Let’s say that Bob has a daughter named Beth, and was a perfect parent to her, never failed her, always encouraged, mentored, and uplifted her, and did everything to see that she succeeded in life.  Would Bob the a-hole if he becomes jealous when Beth suddenly cuts him completely out of her life and starts calling Steve “dad,” even though Steve only became a factor in her life last Tuesday, and has literally done nothing for her?  Should Bob just let it go and forget about it?

No, and therefore neither should God.  He is that perfect parent, unfailing and perfect in love, upholding and sustaining our existence after having created us and blessed us abundantly.  When we deny him and seek a natural explanation for our origins (or other gods), then he has every right to be jealous.

If Men (who are imperfect) does not condemn the children because of crimes commited by their parents, how can God (who is perfect) do it?

As I have argued repeatedly, that is most certainly not what is happening.  Sin is both action and ontology.  Adam’s sin introduced corruption and sin into the world; our own sinful natures are consequences of that.  We are not condemned for the sin of Adam, but by it.

Think of this illustration.  If I punch you in the face and break your nose, you didn’t ask for that.  You’re mad at me.  You probably wish I hadn’t done it.  But, at the end of the day, you still have to suffer the consequence of my action.  It’s not fair, is it?  Yet it happens everyday.

Guess what?  If I’m an alcoholic who beats my wife everyday just for good measure, then my daughter is going to seek a husband who beats her and my son will beat his girlfriends.  Both will likely be alcoholics, as well.  They didn’t ask for that; it’s not fair!  But it will happen to them all the same.

Bottom line: we are not immune to the consequences of someone else’s actions.  I don’t deserve hell because my grandpa killed a man just to watch him die.  I deserve hell for the lies I’ve told, for the lustful staring at Angie the Anti-theist (because I’m married, not because she’s an atheist, no hate mail for this–I’m complimenting her by saying she is gorgeous), for the history paper I plagiarized in high school–I could probably go on!  All of these sins leads back to Adam introducing sin into the world in the first place, but the fact that he introduced it doesn’t obligate me to join the depravity.  I do that all by myself.

What would a god be doing before creating a universe?

Mind-numbingly stupid question.  Time is a function of spinning masses of material that create gravity, bending space and acting on other objects contained in space.  The revolution of the planetary bodies around a sun, and the revolution of these suns around a central point of a galaxy, and the spreading of the galaxies outward from a central emanation point create a chain of cause to effect, that effect becomes the cause of another effect, and so on.  This creates the sensation called duration.

Take away space, and with it all the rotating, revolving masses within it, and you have eliminated the chain of cause to effect which is the cause of another effect, and so on.  No more duration, itself an illusion created by linear cause and effect chains.  No duration, and you don’t “do” anything to “pass the time,” because there is no time to pass!

So, God’s existence, “pondering” what to do with this existence, “deciding” to create a universe, “planning” what sort of universe to create, “mulling” possible universes over, and finally “creating the universe we see” would seem to be simultaneous actions for a timeless/spaceless being, given the absence of space-time and no way for him to experience duration.

God might have willed itself, heaven and hell all out of existence last year. How would you know?If god created man in his image, does he have a nose? If he has a nose are lungs attached to the nose? Does God breathe? If so why did he create a universe where 99.99% of it is a vacuum? If he does not breathe why does he have a nose?

I get the strange feeling that this is meant to be facetious, since I can’t prove the first portion of it, and the rest of it sounds like those goofy philosophical inquiries, like “Why do we drive on parkways and park on driveways?”  So I’m tempted not to take this paragraph too seriously.

I can’t answer any of it with certainty, but I can explain why I think that the whole thing is misguided and puerile.

First, I don’t believe that God would commit “deicide.”  The reason is that the Bible reveals that God not only created the universe, but he also sustains it.  This is why God is a philosophically necessary being; without him, no universe, no life.

Also, given that God is timeless, he doesn’t “come into” or “go out of” existence the same way as we would be able to.  “Beginning” and “end” are concepts that are functions of time, which God is not subject to.  So it’s pointless to speculate about what would happen without him, or what things would look like if he wasn’t there–that can never happen.  Without him, there is literal eternal nothing.  The type Francis Schaeffer referred to as “nothing-nothing.”

When the Bible states that God created man in his image, what it means is that God’s basic attributes are reflected in man: moral freedom, sovereignty, intelligence, creativity, and things like that.  It doesn’t refer to appearance.  It isn’t a physical reference, but a mental one.

So the rest is the puerile portion.  No, God doesn’t have a nose as he is immaterial: timeless and spaceless.  So no lungs or breathing; God isn’t a material being with material needs.  As we covered in the previous question, God has no needs; he is entirely self-existent.

I’m not even touching the rest.  I’m not sure why I even took this last question seriously.

Questions Theists Can’t Answer, Nature of God (short answers)

These questions come from an ancient-by-Internet-standards Reddit thread that compiles questions that theists supposedly can’t answer.  These questions discuss the nature of God.  These questions only required a few quick sentences in reply, as they are a bit puerile.  Let’s dive right in:

All mainstream religions hold that God is Perfect, needing nothing, never changing.

But how could a Perfect being do anything? To do something, a motivation or decision must exist that sparks an action. Any of these things – motivation, decision, action – are all changes. To feel motivated is to desire, want or need something – and a Perfect being cannot desire, want or need or they are not Perfect. To decide anything requires a being to go from a state of having not decided to having decided. Of the two, which one would be a state of Perfection and which a state of Imperfection? To act is a matter of changing in some way. So again, at which point would such a being be Perfect versus Imperfect?

God is described as “unchanging,” or some say the fancier “immutable.” This attribute of God, however, describes only his ontology, not his agency.  What this means is that God can initiate volitional changes (such as become motivated, make a decision, or perform an action) because these are matters of the will and do not fundamentally alter God’s being.

However, God couldn’t (if I can use that word without opening up a can of worms on the “omnipotence” front) make himself into a squirrel.  He couldn’t initiate a change that would fundamentally alter his ontology (his make-up, his being).  Which is why God can’t lie–that is an deceptive action, something which is contrary to the attributes of goodness and holiness.  Also, since God is impartial and just, lying would besmirch those as well.

Why does god have no issue killing innocent people?

There are no innocent people.  Everyone has transgressed the law of God.  In the creation story, we find that sin (that is, a transgression of the law of God) means that we will experience death.  Therefore, death is both a punishment for sin as well as a symptom of the corruption that sin introduces into a perfect world.  All people deserve death.

How that death is to occur is a matter of God’s divine decree.  Life isn’t a guarantee.

How can God’s forgiveness be unrestricted if we need to repent?

Forgiveness is a function of God’s mercy; he is merciful to forgive us if we repent because mercy is selective by its own nature.  Otherwise it wouldn’t be mercy.  God is perfectly fair to attach conditions to it.

How can God be just if we are born unequal?

All I can say is that divine justice doesn’t consider inequalities within a person or any external circumstances constraining that person to render a judgment.  It considers only the relevant facts of any case, so any sort of inequality would only be considered if relevant to the eternal fate of the person so born.

I don’t have a clue what this question is getting at, so I can only offer that generic little blurb.

What need does a god have to create anything?

He doesn’t need to create anything, but he did it anyway.

I really only need to eat, sleep, and breathe.  But, today I cleaned my living room from top to bottom, moving all of the furniture and using the Swiffer Wetjet behind and underneath everything.  I didn’t need to do that.  I watched The People’s Court and Judge Mathis.  I didn’t need to do that.  I drank a lot of Pepsi.  I really didn’t need to that, and probably shouldn’t have.  I watched the bits I missed of Tangled.  Cute movie, but I didn’t need to do that.  I read another chapter of Screenwriting by Syd Field.  Fun and informative; I’d really like to sell a screenplay and be the next Joe Eszterhas (though I’d never write something like Showgirls or Basic Instinct; I only said that because we’re both from Ohio)–but I didn’t need to read that book, either.

What about you?  Did you do anything today besides eating, sleeping, and breathing?  I’m betting you did!  So why is it shocking that God would do something he has no actual need to do, given that we are made in his image?

Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, part 8

Former Christian turned atheist DaGoodS (DGS) has compiled a list of eleven questions that he doesn’t think Christians can answer. I’ve decided to take him on, since I’m a sucker for questions that Christians supposedly can’t answer. Hopefully, DGS and I can learn something from each other.

I have temporarily skipped questions #7 and #8 so that I can do a little bit more research. These are questions that lie outside the area I generally consider my specialty (philosophy), so I want to do some research. Since I didn’t want to lose my incredible momentum of posing, I thought I’d work ahead to give me some time.

So, let’s cover question #10:

What law, moral code or justice system was God following when He absolved David of his sin? More importantly, what moral code or justice system was God following when He killed a baby as punishment for a sin He absolved? (2 Sam. 12:13-18)

This question is asked only from a complete ignorance of God’s ontology. Let’s cover divine simplicity, but let’s start essentially by isolating God from the universe.

First, when you apply an adjective to someone, some external quality is modifying or describing this person–in addition to this person’s ontological make-up (e.g. the indelible qualities that make him human). If I say that someone is moral, for example, I’m using some generally accepted definition of “moral” and saying that this person’s behavior and attitudes usually conform to it. Read the rest of this entry