Posts Tagged ‘God’

The “God of the Gaps” Fallacy

April 28th, 2014

What is it?

The god-of-the-gaps fallacy is an argument commonly used to belittle faith. It is predicated on the notion that as our knowledge of the natural sciences increases, fewer supernaturally motivated conclusions about our universe will be necessary. In other words, God is only a placeholder explanation for phenomena until researchers discover the actual cause.

The God Thor creates lightningFor example, modern man is well aware that lighting and thunder has nothing to do with angry deities; Instead, it is understood that it is actually an arc of electricity in the atmosphere. In the same way, modern man is also rightly skeptical of the conclusion that illness results from the anger of malevolent “spirits”. Research has revealed the causes to be known bacteria, viruses, cancers, and other related things.

In the past, because god-of-the-gaps was utilized to explain what could not be understood, some theorize that there is a coming time when the “god” of the gaps will explain nothing. In other words, science will explain all of man’s questions. Not only is this conclusion misguided but actually is utilizing the same logic it is attempting to decry.

Positive Arguments

The classical arguments for the existence of God (ontological, axiological, cosmological, teleological) are not negative arguments. They are not responses to unexplained phenomenon. Rather they are responses to what is known about the world.

Creation paiting on Sistine ChapelFor example, because we know all things which begin to exist need a cause, it is impossible for anything that began to exist to be self-caused; It follows then that everything from human consciousness to the universe would need a cause. Further, in all cases where something is caused, the producer of the cause must have certain features which enable it to be the cause the observed effect.

In the case of the universe, for example, such features must include: intelligence, consciousness, intentionality, and sufficient power. Thus, because of what we do know about the world, and how cause and effect works, the existence of God is not a lowest common denominator god-of-the-gaps response. Instead, is the best possible response to the data we have at hand.

Even if one argues that the existence of the universe is not restrained to the laws of causality, as some theoretical physicists do, believing that the universe is an anomaly of the “quantum vacuum” is still highly problematic. If as a recent paper from Japan asserts, the universe is indeed the result of such a rare occurrence as a the expansion of a quantum vacuum bubble, then one would have no justification for believing that such causation would be reasonably possible; Possibility does not necessitate reality. On the other hand, if one assumes it is possible, as the Japanese paper asserts, then why do we only see one universe? An even better question is: Why only universes?

Big  Bang TimelineOf course, if one wanted to be honest and go the route of saying that the universe is an anomaly of which we have only mathematical models, with little actual physical evidence, then that same person has just argued that we have no reason to believe the philosophical conclusions they create based on such a model. In reality, the only reason atheists argue that the universe doesn’t need a cause is personal volition. Many argue this way because they personally, but not intellectually, prefer to believe in a religion which allows them to do as they wish. They do not like where alternative conclusions take them.

The god-of-the-gaps fallacy occurs when one goes from what he does not know to god (or some supernatural phenomenon). The apologist is not following that line of argumentation. Instead, he is going from what he does know (e.g. causality) to God. Basing conclusions on what is known and logical could hardly be considered the a god-of-the-gaps fallacy.

In an ironic twist, if one defends the belief that science will one day answer all of men’s questions, that one should use the belief in science to fill in the “gaps”, he is actually making the same argument … merely with a different conclusion. Scientific methodology and mathematical models become “gods-in-the-gap”.

Conclusion

While the theist is charged with arguing from what is unknown to God, the skeptic is going from what is scientifically unknown (i.e. the answers to man’s problems and questions) to no God; The justification or evidence is the same for both scenarios. Thus if a skeptic convinces someone that they are refuting a god-of-the-gaps fallacy, they may also refuting their own argument. Usually, they are making a straw man argument, because it does not accurately portray the evidence, the conclusion, or the methodology of the Christian.

Review of “What We Talk About When We Talk About God” (Part 1)

August 10th, 2013

THE DISTURBING SIMILARITIES BETWEEN ROB BELL’S NEW BOOK AND BISHOP JOHN SHELBY SPONG

It’s been two years since Rob Bell published his first real controversial book entitled “Love Wins”. In it, Bell set out to challenge the traditional view of Hell among Christians. For Evangelicals, it sparked months of discussion and debate. What followed the confusion was a long series of stinging and harsh rebukes from eminent theologians.

Yet as thought provoking as that book was, Rob Bell is not one to shrink from controversy. In March of 2013, Rob Bell introduced his newest book ”What We talk about When we talk about God.”

What We Talk about When We Talk about God CoverThis book introduces us to Bell’s vision for future of the Evangelical Church in America. Unfortunately, the theology of this imagined future looks a lot like that of a Biblical critic from the Jesus Seminar: Bishop John Shelby Spong. Well known for their skeptical view of the supernatural and the sayings of Jesus, the Jesus seminar holds many views seen a heresy by main stream Christian theologians. This is why so many find the similarities between Bell and Spong quite disturbing.

Has Rob Bell really decided to follow Spong’s false doctrine chapter and verse or did they come to these false doctrines as all men do: By doubting the God of the Bible. As Satan so cleverly began his deception in the Garden, “Has God really said … “

In this article we will look at these disturbing similarities between Bell and Spong chapter by chapter. Then in following articles, the errors of Bell’s newest book will be examined and refuted.

CHAPTER 1: HUM

The first chapter in Bell’s book is entitled “Hum”. True to form, Bell begins with an analogy; something easy for everyone to understand. He compares Oldsmobiles to our understanding of God. The idea is that the traditional concept of a personal theistic God, which most evangelicals hold to, is simply outdated. Like the Oldsmobile, it is an old, ugly, and ill suited relic from a different era. Our understanding of automotive technology has grown exponentially in the last 50 years. Cars have become better as a result. Why, asks Bell, haven’t our our beliefs done the same?

Bell goes on to cite several examples of people for whom the traditional understanding of God simply did not work. In response, Bell says that a new way of talking about God “is being birthed”. (Bell Talk/God 2,3, 5-8, 11) Here Bell echoes the beliefs of Jesus Seminar member Bishop John Shelby Spong. Spong has stated publicly that we need a new and improved Christianity; The one that has been handed down to us over the past 2,000 years is simply outdated. It doesn’t work in the modern, complex world that we live in today. (Spong Change or Die 29-31,40-42)

CHAPTER 2: OPEN

In the second chapter entitled “Open”, Bell attempts to use the latest scientific discoveries to downplay the idea of a personal, infinite God. He mentions such scientific celebrities as Hubble, Einstein, Penzias, and Wilson who have apparently produced evidence to show that God is an impersonal force rather than an infinite personal being. (Bell talk/God-24-63) This “impersonal force” creates, pervades and sustains the world. (Bell talk/God—46-48, 62-63)

Why Christianity Must Change or DieThus, Bell believes it is counter productive to show that a personal, infinite God exists. It goes against all the evidence revealing to us a God which ”surrounds us, courses through our veins and lights up the sky here, right now”. (Bell talk/God 79)

Similarly, Bishop Spong writes about key events in the history of science which justify his claim that a personal, infinite being simply does not fit what we know of the universe. Specifically, he mentions 8 figures in the history of science whose findings show that a personal, infinite God does not exists. Rather … it’s a force. (Spong Change or Die 31-40)

CHAPTER 3: BOTH

In his third chapter, entitled “Both”, Bell asserts that all language is inadequate when talking about God. Language can be helpful but any descriptive words about God is not God. (Bell talk/god 90-91) Bishop Spong says the same thing. He writes that all human language about God is inadequate and doesn’t do God justice in describing Him. (Spong New Christianity/New World—60-63)

CHAPTER 4: WITH

The heart of Bell’s book is found in chapter 4, entitled “With”. In this chapter, he deals with the nature of God.

In his writing, Bell consistently uses impersonal terms to describe God. For Bell, it seems that God is an ”it” rather than a “Who”. He already hinted at this impersonal concept of God in chapter 1. (Bell talk/god 18) In this chapter, he begins to give the reader further descriptions of his concept of this impersonal “it”. (Bell talk/god-103)

In addition to his constant use of the word “it” when describing God, Bell also uses the Jewish word for “spirit”, ruach. In this way, he attempts to connect the Old Testament God with this impersonal entity. (Bell talk/god 105-110) Bell also uses impersonal terms such as “energy,” “the force”, “the power” (Bell Talk/God 106,108) Oddly, even while explaining how God is an impersonal force that, Bell denies pantheism, which asserts that God is an impersonal power, a force which is identical with the universe. (Bell Talk/God 109/117)

To no surprise, Bishop Spong also uses some of the same impersonal wording for God ( “it” “force” and “energy”). In his Sunday School class in New Jersey, Bishop Spong writes how members of his class speak about God in impersonal terms. (Spong New Christianity/New World 65-66) Instead of the personal deity Christ spoke of as Father, Spong recommends Buddhism and other “eastern faith traditions” as ways to explore an impersonal understanding of God. (Spong Change or Die 57)

Both Bell and Bishop Spong use the Hebrew word for spirit, ruach, to refer to God. Both try to connect the impersonal force they describe to the God of the Hebrews with it. (Spong Change or die—60) As evidence, both Bell and Spong cite liberal Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich, who also taught that God is an impersonal force. (Spong Change or Die-64-70)

CHAPTER 5: FOR

In his fifth chapter, entitled “For”, Bell gives his understanding of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation. Bell seems to affirm the incarnation, but is this Jesus the Incarnation of an impersonal force or a personal Being. Is Jesus the second person of the Triune God or not? Bell offered little information on his view of the incarnation in his previous book ”Love Wins.” Instead, Bell asserts that Jesus is the incarnation of impersonal energy, a spark, the electricity that created the universe. (Bell Love Wins 144-147, 159)

CHAPTER 6: AHEAD

In chapter 6, Bell starts giving this impersonal force some personality. God is pulling humanity forward, away from dogma and exclusiviRob Bellsm, and towards greater love, tolerance and understanding. Bell offers two examples of how he believes God is moving humanity ahead: religious pluralism and gay marriage.

Bell shares a story about his trip to an interfaith conference in Seattle in 2008. While there, he joined a panel which included the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Tutu, Pastor Mark Driscoll, as well as other religious leaders. Attendees included leaders and representatives from Islam, Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, Judaism and several Christian denominations. While there, Bell noticed a group Christians outside protesting the interfaith conference. This bothered him. He writes, “God was there, at that event, as God has always been, present with all of humanity…” (Bell Talk? God 155)

Bell seems to be saying that God moving us ahead by helping Evangelicals see how all religions are simply different paths to Him. Christians need to move on from stodgy, Evangelical traditions and see the real God of this universe; Who apparently is a universalist. Christians need to rid themselves of the Oldsmobile understanding of God. The exclusive claims made by Jesus can be very offensive to people in other religions. In fact, it is “unloving” to insist that Jesus is the only way.

At this point, it seems pretty clear that Bell is following Bishop Spong down a road towards religious pluralism. Spong affirms the “truth” of all religions when he states that the impersonal ground of being is found not only in Jesus, but also in Buddha, Mohammed, and in many other spiritual beliefs. (Spong New Christianity/New World—137-146)

Since the publication of his latest book, Rob Bell has come out in favor of gay marriage. In recent interviews, Bell has made the following statements:

– “I believe God [is] pulling us ahead into greater and greater affirmation and acceptance of our gay brothers and sisters and pastors and friends and neighbors and coworkers,”

– “I am for fidelity. I am for love. Whether it’s a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed, and I think that the church needs to just … this is the world that we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are,”

– “I think it’s time for the church to acknowledge that we have brothers and sisters who are gay and want to share their life with someone,”

– “This is a part of life in the modern world and that’s how it is. And that cultural consciousness has shifted, and this is how the world is and that what’s happening for a lot of people, is that they want nothing to do with God and Jesus because they can’t see beyond that particular issue.”

All four statements are found online at Christian Post news.

Needless to day, Bishop Spong has made many similar statements throughout his writings.

In conclusion, let it be remembered that both Rob Bell and Bishop Spong have given us a complete systematic theology of false doctrine.

In the next article, the theological errors of each of the main chapters of Bell’s latest book will be examined and refuted.

A Theodicy (Answering some questions about God and evil)

August 7th, 2012

By IBD Vice President Matthew J Coombe
Originally Posted on mjcoombe.com

Incumbent to the duty of the apologist is to be prepared to not only defend the essentials of the faith (the existence of God or the resurrection) but also issues that tend to have a strong grasp on the emotions of people—the seemingly incompatibility of evil and the existence of God is one of these issues. In this paper I will address five questions and that can hinder the intellectual capacity of people to discern aspects of God (be it His goodness or even His existence) and formulate a theodicy. The questions are, 1. Why is there any evil at all? 2. Why are there the types and kinds of evils that there are? 3. Why is there the amount of evil that there is? 4. Why is there the particular evils that there are? 5. Why does God allow moral evils, and, natural evils, as He does?

Before attempting to make compatible the existence of God and the existence of evil, it should be examined from purely a neutral standpoint (if this is even possible)This is a crucial step as it sets the table to answer each of these questions. For the purposes of this paper, suppose we argue that the neutral position consists of a world that is nearly identical in every respect from this world save one major difference, there are no purported religious experiences or in fact no religions at all—no one believes in God and for all intents and purposes God does not exist. In this sense, I will refer to religion as a belief in a being or reality that transcends earth and its inhabitants. In this scenario I would like to ask the question, does this world have a problem with evil? The answer is both yes and no. Yes it has a problem with evil in the sense that people would still kill each other, still commit hate crimes, and commit all sorts of atrocities; or that moral evil would still be as equally prevalent in this world as it is in ours. Further, on top of the problems with moral evil there also the remaining problem of natural evil; earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes still ravage the land leading to death and people losing homes and property.

In another sense, even though it is clear to the inhabitants of our world that the neutral world is full of evil, it is impossible for these events and actions to actually be considered evil (from the neutral perspective). Simply put, if there is no absolute moral law (the ability to claim that certain things in all cases are evil) then there could be no breaking of those moral laws. At best, without the use of a universal standard, one could merely hold to preferences and nothing else, i.e. “I prefer to not be murdered” as opposed to “all incidences of murder are evil.” The only means of having a universal law is through a universal law giver (God), without which universality is impossible.

Any normative system of ethics would deny subjective morality as it pertains to person to person morality. Or that, it seems that a robust ethical system could not be stemmed from the preferences of any given person—there are too many limiting factors between people.  Education, culture, mental faculties, past trauma, presupposition, socio-economic status, and upbringing all affect one’s view concerning the morality of any given event. Further, if person to person morality follows, what happens if a conflict occurs? What if Dwight thinks it is perfectly fine to murder but Gareth does not like the idea of being murdered at all. What then? Obviously the scope must be bigger then a given individual.

If person to person morality fails what about having morality decided by a given group of people (such as a country)? The problem with this possibility fails for the same as the previous, different countries have different cultures, educations, socio-economic status and so on. On top of this, if a country or a culture decides what is evil or wrong, then one culture could not tell another culture that their actions are wrong—who could then, by moral grounds rightly stand up against Nazi Germany? Thus far, the neutral world has no means of proclaiming the evil of anything.

This neutral world could, via universal consensus decide that everything on vice list A(which contains things like rape, murder, and stealing) is evil and conversely everything on virtue list A ( which contains things like charity, hospitality, and bravery) is good. If this occurred, would it be possible then for universal objective evil and good to exist? The answer is still no. Even if the entirety of the world were in agreement on the morality of a given action, this would not entail objective morality, but merely subjective morality but with a high degree of agreement.

Further, if the neutral world began to exist (and by however means it did) based on an irrational cause (for there is no rational causer such as God) how could the people of this world ever hope to even formulate words about evil let alone be able to clearly delineate it; or that one could believe that the world is merely a product of an irrational cause, but if that was case, they would have no rational grounds in believing that (or anything at all).

It is only in a world that has a rational cause and an objective moral law giver that one is not only able to make coherent claims about anything in general, but also about what is right and wrong. Even when people deny the existence of absolute morality he will still act upon it. For example, Richard Dawkins has said on numerous occasions that if atheism were true that there would be no universal morality, however he has also stated on numerous occasions that he would not debate William Lane Craig because the God that he is defending committed genocide. If Dawkins were to be consistent his reason for not debating Craig would be a non- sequitur.

Therefore, it would not follow to claim that the existence of God and evil to be incompatible for evil could not even exist without an objective moral law giver in the first place. The next obvious question is, if there exists an objective moral lawgiver (such as God) why does God allow evil to exist at all? There have been several possible answers given to this question. The first is the free will theodicy, which states simply, humans have been given the ability to choose good or evil and he has chosen evil and therefore this is the source of evil.

Several key criticisms of this view are as follows. Why did God (if is omnipotent) create beings who are capable of doing evil? Is God inept in creating such a being (then He could hardly be considered omnipotent) or then is He merely the author of sin and evil (and therefore not good himself). There are three primary responses to this line of thinking. 1. From a metaphysical standpoint, the skeptic might be desiring God to do something that is logically impossible, namely, it might be beyond the capability, even of an omnipotent being), to create free willed beings that never sin. Of course God could create beings who never sin, the same way an architect could design a building with no widows. The crux of the issue is freedom. If freedom was truly given and holds, could God ensure such a being never sins? If the answer is “yes” then perhaps one would wonder “is man truly free?” It boils down to, God could create beings who never sin or commit evil, but it seems He cannot (by definition) create free willed beings who always act in a certain way.

2. There is also the notion of “trans-world depravity.” This considers the actions of free willed beings to always be one of a propensity to do evil. For example, some have claimed something like, “If I was in the Garden of Eden, I would never have sinned.” The concept of trans-world depravity would entail that not only were the actions of Adam and Eve normative, but in any possible world any two sentient and free beings would have eventual succumbed to her baser depraved desires and sinned.

3. Though freedom is able to bring about evil, without freedom there are certain goods that could never be achieved otherwise. For example, a man may wish to be told he is loved by someone. He decides that he is capable of bringing about this desire by one of two means. The first is he could create a robot that is programmed to affirm its love for him. The second option is, he could romance a woman and give her reason for her to decide for herself freely if she loves him. Suppose the man decided to do both, which scenario do you think would have made the man most satisfied, the robot doing as was contrived or the woman freely choosing? Of course as with any scenario of two people in love, there is bound to be fights and difficulties (none of which would be possible with the robot) but obviously anyone who has been in love would not hesitate to maintain that the various problems or ruts by no means entail that the love was not worth it.

On top of this, I do not think there is anyone in the world that would maintain that freedom (even if it at times can lead to evil) is itself an evil thing, I have yet to see people marching in protest on their capital with signs donning things like “Take away our freedom.” Or “More oppression, less choice!” No, in fact the opposite is usually the case, people usually are demanding more freedom. So then, freedom is a good thing, even if it brings about limited bad things.

In sum, evil exists because free will beings exist. And while people maintain that evil is bad, she will also maintain that freedom is good. It could even be noted that the unjust limited of freedom is likewise an evil.

The next question is, why are there the types and kinds of evils that there are? (In answering this question I shall also answer question 5). Generally speaking there are two main types of evil, moral and natural. Moral agents or people commit moral evils, these are willful (but not necessarily intentional) actions done by a person towards another person. Non-moral agents such as hurricanes and tornados commit natural evils.

Often atheists criticize God for either being impotent in preventing evil or evil Himself for allowing it. Richard Swinburne’s argument circumvents this line of reasoning by arguing that there exist certain goods, which cannot be achieved unless there is evil. Or that, God is justified in allowing certain types of evils because it can bring about a good, which could not come about, by any other means. Atheists often claim the best possible world created by God would be one without pain or evil. This line of thinking is misguided.

First of all consider the elements of the best possible movie. What elements would be in the movie? A good or peace is disrupted by an antagonist or natural evil. A hero triumphs over the evil. These two elements are almost always universally found in movies. Would people be willing to spend money to see a movie in which nothing happens? If there is no conflict then there is no intrigue, if there is no intrigue it could never be considered the best possible movie. Further, consider video games. What elements would be in the best possible video game? Would kids or adults be willing to spend 50 dollars on a video game in which there was no journey to take, or princess to save, or enemies to defeat? How much fun would it be to control a character that simple sits in room? Who would think that this could be considered the best possible game?

If the video game and movie analogies follow it could further be argued that the best possible world would be one that likewise had the same type of intrigue. Without pain or difficulty there could be no triumph. On top of this, evil in smaller amounts seems to bring about goodness in larger amounts  (and even prevents more evil.) For example having an illness or a disease is an evil, but the having of the disease would create antibodies that could in the future prevent further diseases in the future.

Swinburne mentions a very interesting thought experiment. This thought experiment is as follows; suppose you were given the opportunity for only a few minutes of life. This life is not an immature one or one in which the person has no awareness of his surroundings, but rather that of full cognition and understanding of the environments and surroundings. Then in those precious minutes available you were given a choice. You could either have this time spent in pure felicity in which no pain or malice entered your body or mind. Or, you could warrant this time in pain and agony. The catch is, if you chose the later or the pain, it would not be in vain but rather people would benefit from your minutes of anguish. It would be very strange that people would choose the limited felicity with no lasting effect as compared to allowing limited evil with lasting effects of good.

Both in the animal world and with humans altruism is at times necessary and always seen as admirable. Perhaps animals lack the cognitive faculties to truly appreciate another of its kind when altruism occurs, but humans have the ability to appreciate the deed and see the good in it. Considering both fictional and non-fictional examples, sacrifice for the greater good is always commendable by people. In fiction, when a hero fights to his dying breath to save people who are unable to save themselves, this is universally considered a very meaningful gesture. In war people are considered heroes if they die for others, especially if it is for a group of people. If a solider is wounded or even killed in the defense or for the safety of his kinsmen, he is often rewarded with the highest honors.

In each of these scenarios the goodness of altruism and sacrifice could only be considered good, if there existed evil or conflict in the first place. Without the conflict the goodness could not be achieved. This is the primary thesis and presupposition of Swinburne in his essay. While atheists claim that God is evil or inept for allowing evil they fail to see three primary things. The first is, that there are a certain level of and types of good that could only be achieved in a world in which evil exists. These things would be (to name a few) forgiveness, medicine, reconciliation, and repentance.

Atheists also fail to recognize that not only is the evil that is allowed by God utilized for his (and other people’s) good but also the world in which they claim would be the best possible world (free from evil and pain) actually does exist and is found in the Christian notion of heaven. Everyone would agree that evil or pain is permissible if it can bring about a greater good. For example, suppose a dog with rabies bit a boy, and to save his life the boy would have to endure a series of painful injections to prevent him from contracting rabbis and dying. The pain of the injections would then be considered acceptable because the pain and evil of the injections is of far less consequence then the pain or evil associated with death. So then, God is justified in allowing certain evils, because there are certain goods, which are only possible in a world that has evil in it.

Another possible reason for God allowing evil is seen with Hick’s Soul making theodicy. In general Hick argues that humans are not created complete. Just as a child is born with the need to grow cognitively and socially so too man is in need of certain degrees of growth. There seems to be an underlining theodicy found throughout the Scriptures that feeds this line of thinking. This theodicy is based on the superseding of God on the realities of pain and suffering, that the glimpses of pain are but shadows to the pleasures and comfort, which are found in Him.

Human thinking becomes distorted when she considers God to be something of a Hotel manager whose job is to make her feel as comfortable as possible—comfort has never been the aim of God. Just as it is good for a parent to teach her child to delay gratification, “finish your homework and then you can watch tv,” so also humans must realize the immediate pleasure or happiness is in no way the sum of human experience. Further, if immediate pleasure is not the goal, then it could rightly be applied that immediate pain is likewise not the goal.

Pleasure and pain are a part of the human life and experience and yet neither of them are meant to be the sum of human experience. What then does this tell us? Namely that,  the pleasure we feel or can feel is meant to be a taste of what one experiences in ultimate reality (which is heaven) and pain is meant to help refine that person as to groom himself and others for that same ultimate reality. Then question becomes, why would God allow evil and pain, even if it was for the purpose of an ultimate reality such as heaven? The answer to this is, God is in the business of soul winning. The ultimate reality, is the ultimate goal of man. If this is the case then God is justified in allowing evil if it could bring about the condition that a person’s soul is won.

While moral evil has been heavily addressed and given several plausible theodicies, what about Natural evil? While a man choosing to hurt or a kill another man might escape the fault of God, who but God would be responsible for a hurricane? Before answer this question it should be noted that Hick’s soul making theodicy and Swinburne’s theodicy could apply to natural evil as well. Just as a human can only learn forgiveness through being wronged, perhaps a man can only learn the power of fellowship by a group of people fighting together to build a wall of sandbags to save a community from an impending flood.

Further, while many natural evils (disasters) are given the title of “act of God.” Perhaps they should more rightly be called “act of Adam” and natural evils should be reduced to nothing more then the moral evil perpetrated by Adam. If the Jeudeo-Christian tradition is true sin and death entered into the earth when Adam sinned. His free choice cursed the planet. Before his decision to sin occurred there were no natural evils at all. So then, it should follow that essentially there is essentially only is one type of evil, moral evil.

Question 3 asks, why is there the amount of evil that there is? The logical problem questions the compatibility of evil and God, whereas the Evidential problem of God questions the amount of evil in the world. The problem with this style of argumentation is, (especially William Rowe’s formulation of the argument) is, Rowe does not necessarily have a problem with evil but rather the amount of evil. For example, he says “There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.” So then he does not have a problem with evil existing, per se, but rather to the degree and kind it exists today. This is troubling. For example, if Rowe really held to this thesis, then if God removed all evil from the world and decided to place it all on one man, lets call him “Carl” (this would entail that if any evil happened it would happen to Carl, disease, accidents, and so forth). Rowe would have to be satisfied with allowing a much lesser evil to occur (because no one else on the earth would feel the grip of evil except for Carl) for a greater evil. But it seems, even If God did allow this, Rowe would not recant his statement but would rather argue something such as, “why is God doing this to Carl?”

So then the evidential argument fails because it seems like no atheist would consider God a just being, even if he removed all the sin and death and evil from the world and put it on one person and that person suffered it all. Most likely the critics would merely shift the question to Carl’s suffering and not the worlds. Thus the problem would be shifted back to the logical problem of evil, of which no one really advocates to be a problem.

So then, the evidential problem is not really what is at issue. This being confirmed does not entail that the apologist should not be ready with a response. Consider the action of stepping on a nail. Obviously the pain from such an event is a good thing. At first one might be inclined to consider, “How can the pain of being impaled at all be considered good?” Suppose that Bob’s (the man who stepped on the nail) foot had no feeling and there was no reaction to the nail. Further, since his foot has no feeling he did not realize the nail was in there. Because he was unaware of it being inside of him he did not think to pull it out or go to the Doctor to receive a tetanus shot. Eventually the wound becomes infected and since Bob cannot feel the pain, it goes undiagnosed. This could result in an amputation or even death through infection.

So then, it seems pain is good because it can let one know when something is wrong. The next question one should consider however, is why are there varying degrees of pain. For example, if a man slowly dies of dysentery could not he just feel the pain associated with a needle prick or a slight headache instead of the constant agony? Why the excruciating pain? There are several answers to this. 1. Degrees of pain are necessary to affirm severity. Suppose that all pain was equal to that a pin prick. If this was the case then, how else would one be able to differentiate an “ice cream headache” and a migraine cause from a brain tumor? Varying degrees of pain are required for discerning varying degrees of severity. It is for this reason doctors and medical professionals use what is called a pain scale. Via the pain scale and other diagnostic tools the doctor is able to make a determination as to the best course of treatment.

2. If everything was the same sensation there likewise then could be no pleasure either. Pain is important because it can tell a person when something is wrong. Pleasure is important because it can (biologically speaking) tell us when something is right.

3. In cases of severe pain, such as previously mentioned it might be the case that if anything the more pain someone is in, the more deviant the event is from the way things are meant to be. For example suppose you saw a glass vase with the handle broken. Clearly you would be justified in maintaining the handle is meant to be connected to the vase, however, this is a relatively small deviation from the fully functional and connected vase. Further suppose that the next day the same vase was seen but this time it had shattered into a thousand pieces, it could quite easily be noted that the vase as in it is in its current state is a greater deviation from its original state. The same could be said of a person. A broken hand is a deviation from the way it should be, further a shatter or mangled hand is an even further deviation from the way it should be.  Incumbent to this line of thinking actually results in evil as evidence for the existence of a meta-narrative. If there exists in humans, a way things should always be, there must exist a meta-narrative and it would follow from this there is likewise a meta-narrator. So then, extreme pain can, if anything else tell humans that the current state of affairs that resulted in the massive pain was not the way things were meant to be. Enter once again Swinburne’s greater good theodicy, as well as Hick’s Soul making theodicy as further evidence.

The amount of evil need not only be considered in terms of severity, but also in terms of quantity. It might be of greater urgency to give a theodicy for one hundred children living in malnutrition then one dying of dysentery.  How does the apologist respond to this? The first means is as already mentioned. “Charity” is a good that can only exist in a fallen world. Every opportunity of the pains associated with starvation could be quenched with compassionate people acting upon that compassion. Further, the amount of (moral) evil is invariably limited to the free actions of free people. Or that, God could force people to murder less and feed starving people more, but then the goodness associated with people freely choosing to do the good would lose its potency. Again, God is in the business of making refined souls, not comfortable living.

To answer succinctly, pain is good in limited amounts. In larger amounts if anything it can assure one that the pain is a result of the deviation of a meta-narrative. Further, much of the moral evil can be eliminated if people freely chose to limit it.

And finally 4. Why is there the particular evils that there are? The types of evils that exist are in direct correlation with the free beings that likewise exist. If the Judeo-Christian notion of God is true, God cannot commit evil. Evil is often defined as a deprivation of what is good. Other examples of things that only exist as deprivation are darkness and coldness— neither of these things actually exist but rather are deprivations of something else. If light is completely removed from a room then there is darkness. And while machines exist that can create light, there are none that can create darkness, but rather only things that can remove light.

Further, theoretically with infinite energy there could be infinite heat. Conversely there is no such thing as infinite coldness—coldness is merely the removal of heat. Since coldness is the removal of heat this is why there is such as thing as absolute zero, this is the point of which no more heat can be removed and therefore the coldness is limited. However, the same cannot be true of the possibility of limiting heat.

If evil and God work like this, then the further one removes himself from God and His standards the more evil there is to likely come about. So then, the types and varieties of evils that exist do so because humans have freely rejected the moral consciousness written on her heart. Since this is the case the types of evil that are possible for humans are limited only by their imagination and physical limitations.

Even though God allows humans to continue on with the sin and evils, it should be noted that this is by no means a passive continuance. If God is omniscient it would follow that He would know the consequences of creating a world of free willed beings and if He is good, had even before creation, a plan of redemption. This plan is through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ represents the greatest theodicy that could ever be given.

Video: The Cumulative Case for God

July 18th, 2011

The June 2011, 3rd Annual Speaking Truth in Love Conference at Grace Community Church in Auburn WA .

Dr. Fernandes gives a direct, to the point, list of reasons to believe that a god exists. Each is explained in a succinct and easily understandable manner. As always, Dr. Fernandes brings this complex subject down to earth, in human understandable language that lay people can relate to.

 

The Theology of “Love Wins”: The Gospel

May 25th, 2011

In the first article of this review, I touched upon the nature of God and His attributes. Rob Bell’s vision of God’s attributes, as described in his controversial new book Love Wins, was compared and contrasted with the scriptures. In his writing, Bell seems very comfortable with the Love of God, but shows little interest in interacting with attributes of God he is not personally comfortable with.

The Bible teaches that God manifests all of his attributes all the time. They exist in perfect harmony with one another. There are no contradictions within the nature of God (e.g. love vs justice). As I wrote in the previous article, on this issue Rob Bell does not rightly divide the Word of truth.

Pastor Rob BellError usually enters a church or denomination when the whole counsel of God is not seriously considered. Often, blinded by pet doctrines or new theological fads, the leadership will pick and choose from the scriptures to feed certain doctrines while ignoring those scriptures which refute or qualify them. In effect, they create a god in their own image; One they can be personally comfortable with.  Before long,  this new theology becomes church doctrine. I believe that this is the case with Rob Bell. It seems as if Bell wants to scold the God of the universe for manifesting any attributes not conforming with his personal theology.

In this article, the second in the series, the version of salvation presented in Love Wins will be contrasted with Biblical salvation. My contention is that if a person attempts to come to God on their own terms, that person will end up eternally separated from God; God has the right to set down the terms for a person’s salvation. He has done so clearly in His word.

Let’s start by looking at specific statements from Rob Bell’s book concerning how a person is saved.

If the message of Jesus is that God is offering the free gift of eternal life through him – a gift that we cannot earn by our own efforts, works or good deeds – and all we have to do is accept and confess and believe, aren’t those verbs? And aren’t verbs actions? Accepting, confessing, believing — those are things we do. Does that mean then, that going to heaven is dependent on something I do? How is any of that Grace? How is that a gift? How is that Good News? Isn’t what Christians have always claimed set their religion apart – that it wasn’t in the end a religion at all – that you don’t have to do anything because God has already done it through Jesus.” (Love Wins – 11)

It is here that we encounter one of the most serious errors in Rob Bell’s book: a radically distorted understanding of the Gospel. For Bell, as stated in this passage and in many other passages throughout his book, salvation is a universal fact. When Jesus died on the Cross, salvation wasn’t just available to everyone who believes, but everyone, regardless of whether they actually believe the Gospel or not, is saved. According to Bell, the “Good News” really isn’t “good” if one has to place their faith in Jesus to be saved. Bell believes that the mainstream view of salvation is just plain wrong; It is anything but Good News. As far as he’s concerned, Jesus died and as a result, everyone is saved . Personal Trust in Jesus is not required.

However, according to the Bible, neither Jesus nor his Apostles taught anything like Bell’s universal salvation. It must be remembered that Jesus of Nazareth presented clear and undeniable credentials to show that he had authority to speak for God the Father on earth. Moreover, he claimed to be God. He backed up this claim by fulfilling Old Testament prophesy, performing miracles and then rising from the dead.

So then, if we claim to believe the Bible, we must also believe that Jesus has the right and the authority to spell out the terms of salvation. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead alone validates everything he taught during his 3 ½ year ministry. I would hope and pray that Rob Bell would not disagree with this as being the foundation for why we as Christians accept the authority of Jesus.

What this all boils down to is this question: “What is the Message of the Gospel?” Rob Bell asks this same question in many different ways throughout the first chapter of his book. The content of the Gospel involves the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Consider the following passages:

“Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. – Luke 24:44-48

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve – 1 Corinthians 15:1-8

Jesus Teaching his ApostlesThus, the Gospel involves what Jesus did for us, on our behalf. We could not save ourselves. We did nothing to earn God’s sending of his Son. Yet, contrary to many statements that Rob Bell makes throughout the book, Jesus’ death and Resurrection for our salvation does not mean that everyone in the world is automatically saved. A person needs to believe that what Jesus did, He did for him or her individually. Consider the words of Jesus:

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lift0ed up; 15so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” – John 3:14-18

I would suppose that Bell could easily go along with John 3:16,17, because Jesus talks about how God sent him into the world to redeem it and not to judge it. But I wonder what Bell would say concerning verse 18. Would Bell tell Jesus that he was not presenting Nicodemus with Good News because those who do not believe in Him already stand condemned for not believing in Him? Would Bell find fault with Jesus for spelling out the consequences of rejecting his specific gift of salvation? Is Jesus, in verse 18, being too narrow minded and unloving for Rob Bell? Is Rob Bell more loving than the Son of God himself?

“What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” – John 6:27-29

“For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” – John 6:40

Based on these passages ALONE, we can get a very clear understanding of what Jesus deemed to be necessary for salvation. Jesus said that personal trust and belief in Him was absolutely necessary for a person to be saved.

Bell would say that there is nothing gracious in God instructing people to believe in Jesus for salvation. Bell would say this is too narrow. For Bell., God would have been much more loving if, at the moment that Jesus died , He had automatically forgiven everyone and not put a burden on people by declaring, through the preaching of the Apostles, that one must individually believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. That sounds narrow and not grace filled for Rob Bell.

The Apostles also stated that personal trust in Jesus and what did is necessary for salvation. Peter stated twice that personal trust in Jesus and the turning away from sin are necessary for salvation.

“Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” – Acts 2:38

“And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” – ACTS 10:42-43

Paul the ApostleThe Apostle Paul, the Apostle of Grace, also stated many times that while there was nothing that we could have done to motivate God in the sending of his Son for our salvation, there is something that we need to do to receive that salvation personally. That one thing is believing on the Lord Jesus Christ and in what He did in his death and resurrection for our salvation. Consider the following four passages below from God’s Word.

”……suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” – Acts 16:26-31

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is excluded By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” – Romans 3:21-24

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.” – Romans 5:1-2

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” -Ephesians 2:8

Peter the ApostleNow if Peter, Paul and the rest of the Apostles stated that one needs to put his or her personal trust in Jesus for salvation, how can Rob Bell come along and state that the Apostles were not really full of grace, did not understand that salvation is a gift and did not have a correct understanding of what the Good News is? Peter traveled with Jesus during his 3 ½ year ministry. Peter saw Jesus’ mighty miracles and heard his powerful sermons? Peter was an eyewitness of the Resurrected Jesus. Jesus vested Peter with Apostolic authority and power to proclaim the Gospel.

Does Rob Bell know something more than what Peter experienced? Has Rob Bell seen the physically resurrected Jesus like Peter and Paul did, which officially made them Apostles? Does Bell know more about the Grace of God than Peter, Paul and the rest of the Apostles? People’s souls are at stake when they read Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins” and come away with a false sense of security thinking it’s okay if they reject what Jesus did for them on the cross,……because they are already automatically saved by the cross anyway regardless of what they do with The cross. False security is the worse kind of security!

The Theology of “Love Wins”: The Attributes of God

May 13th, 2011

Guest Post by IBD contributor Kyle Larson

Let’s face it, controversy sells. In today’s media-driven, instant-access society, we are prone to skip the facts and report the controversy. The endgame being, of course, to sell more books, gain more viewers or entice readers to frequent your awesome blog. When we hear about Rob Bell’s latest book and the very controversial nature of its content, one wonders if this is what he had in mind. Rather than a treatise on the nature of salvation, one wonders if this a response to the shrinking bottom line. This would explain why someone so well respected as Rob Bell would create a book like Love Wins.

Love WinsIn this book, Rob Bell lays out his philosophy concerning both the nature of God and the extent of His salvation. When reading it, the first thing that came to mind, at least for me, were the controversies that plagued the early church regarding the nature of Christ. From the beginning of Christianity, the apostles taught that Jesus was both God and Man at the same time. For this reason, their writings in the New Testament speak about both the deity and humanity of Jesus. In the early church, neither aspect of Christ’s nature was overemphasized or under emphasized at the expense of the other. Yet during the first three centuries, each new heresy regarding the nature of Christ either overemphasized his deity at the expense of his humanity or overemphasized his humanity at the expense of his deity; Both extremes are simply different forms of the same heresy which denies that Jesus is fully God and fully man.

When reading Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, one sees the overemphasis of one of God’s attributes at the expense of others. Bell is absolutely correct in emphasizing that God is Love. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible describes the Christian God as a God of Love. There are many passages in the New Testament that state that God sent his Son into the world out of pure and perfect love for humanity.

When we look at the book of Psalms in the Old Testament for example, we see a great emphasis on the love of God. It’s hard to miss. Yet, the book of Psalms clearly speaks of other attributes of God. The book of Psalms, as well as the rest of Scripture, maintains an emphasis on God as a being with many attributes, each an equal part of the whole. If one overemphasizes God’s holiness at the expense of his love or goodness, we come up with an inaccurate picture of who God is. This is true regardless of what attribute of God is being overemphasized. If one attends a church where the wrath of God is always preached on and the love of God is hardly mentioned, that church has lost balance. In the same way, if God’s love is overemphasized at the expense of his holiness or wrath, then that church too is off balanced.

Rob BellThis off balanced understanding of God’s attributes begins in chapter 1 of Love Wins, which is entitled “What About The Flat Tire?” In it, Bell asks a series of questions regarding the nature of God when it comes to the eternal punishment of the unsaved. Bell asks if God can still be loving if He allows people to be lost in Hell.

Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life?”

What kind of faith is that? Or more important, What kind of God is that?”

The ONLY way that we can discover what God is like is by reading what He has revealed about himself in his Word, the Bible. We don’t have to guess what God is like; He has told us. While there are some specific attributes of God that will be explored in this article, there are some very fundamental basics concerning the attributes of God that need to be made clear at the very beginning.

God has no beginning and end; He is eternal. (Exodus 3:14) No other being can say this. God is the creator who created all other things (Genesis 1:1). God is Omnipotent. This means that God has all power and is unlimited. (Jeremiah 32:17, Jeremiah 43:13, Jeremiah 49:`19) God is also Omniscient; He knows all things. (Job 37:16, Psalms 139:2-4, Matthew 6:8) God is also Omnipresent; He is fully present everywhere at the same time all the time. (I Kings 8:27, Psalms 93:3-5, Psalms 139:7-10)

With these basic attributes of God in place, we can now deal some other specific attributes of God as they relate to Rob Bell’s latest book Love Wins.

GOD IS HOLY

God is holy in that He is separate from all creation. The primary reason for this is that God is not a creature. He has no beginning and no end. All creatures have a beginning at some point in time. Not so with God. Being therefore holy, God cannot stand in the presence of evil or sin

Several passages in the Old Testament speak of the Holiness of God:

“Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders?” – Exodus 15:11

‘For I am the LORD your God Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth. For I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy.'” – Leviticus 11:44-45

“There is no one holy like the LORD. Indeed, there is no one besides You, Nor is there any rock like our God” – 1 Samuel 2:2

 

GOD IS RIGHTEOUS AND JUST

Painting of God from the Sistine ChapelThe Greek word for “righteous” means “to be just”. God, being the God revealed in scripture, cannot be anything other than totally just and righteous. If we believe the scriptures, and Rob Bell claims this, God will forever be righteous and can do nothing wrong; That would be against His nature.

The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether” – Psalm 19:9

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Loving kindness and truth go before You.” – Psalm 89:14

In the second passage particularly, we see several attributes of God together, all in perfect harmony with each other.

God is absolutely holy and righteous along with being absolutely and perfectly loving. All of God’s attributes are in perfect harmony with each other because of who God is. For Rob Bell to elevate only one attribute of God, his love, while deemphasizing other attributes of God he may not be comfortable with is not accurately handling the word of truth. Only after balancing all of his attributes, each perfectly working together, are we offered an accurate and complete and accurate picture of who God is.

GOD IS MERCIFUL

The Mercy of God is emphasized throughout the Bible:

The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.’ 19“Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” – Numbers 14:18-19

O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His loving kindness is everlasting.” – Chronicles 16:34

The priests stood at their posts, and the Levites also, with the instruments of music to the LORD, which King David had made for giving praise to the LORD–‘for His loving kindness is everlasting'” – 2 Chronicles 7:6

Rob Bell does a good job giving many other passages throughout the book that speak of God’s love and mercy. We have no argument with Rob Bell here.

THE WRATH OF GOD

Yet the Bible also solemnly speaks about the Wrath of God. Some of these passages include the following:

… and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.” – Exodus 22:24

“Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.” – Exodus 32:10

“When he fills his belly, God will send His fierce anger on him and will rain it on him while he is eating” – Job 20:23

These are just a few of the many passages that speak of the Wrath of God

God’s mercy and God’s wrath are not contradictions , rather, as Dr. Norman Geisler explains in his Systematic Theology series, God’s Wrath acts upon one person and his mercy on another person. It would be contradictory to say a person is both a Christian and a non Christian at the same time and therefore also a contradiction for this person to end up both in Heaven and Hell at the same time. Rob Bell would be correct if he reached this conclusion, but he never follows his own reasoning to this conclusion. In fact, he peppers the book with statements on how terrible God would be if He sent a person to Hell for rejecting Jesus.

In writing about a situation in which a person hears the Gospel, rejects it and later on that same day dies in a car accident, for God to send that person to Hell, Rob Bell writes:

God would, in essence, become a fundamentally different being to them in that moment of death, a different being to them forever. A loving heavenly Father who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with them would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter who would ensure that they had escape from an endless future of agony. If there was an earthly Father who was like that, we would call the authorities. If there was an actual human dad who was that volatile, we would contact child protection services immediately. If God can switch gears like that, switch entire modes of being that quickly, that raises a thousand questions about whether a being like this could ever be trusted, let alone be good.” (Love Wins, pg 174)

This statement reveals a serious misunderstanding of the immutability of God. God is unchanging in his nature and in all of his attributes. He retains all of his attributes at all times. He doesn’t discard one attribute in order to display another of his attributes. Again, all of God’s attributes work together in perfect harmony, but they are also eternally constant and unchanging in nature.

GOD IS UNCHANGING IN HIS NATURE

“Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.” – 1 Samuel 15:29

“Even they will perish, but You endure; And all of them will wear out like a garment; Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will not come to an end.” – Psalm 102:26-27

“For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.” – Malachi 3:6

Bell uses certain words to describe God’s right to exercise his attributes of justice and righteousness. Some of these words include: “vicious”, “cruel” and “relentless”. It’s almost as if Bell is saying to God, “You can display only your attribute of Love. If you manifest any of your other attributes, such as justice, righteousness or Your wrath, then you are cruel and mean and vicious.” But if that were the case, then is Bell appealing to some greater being than the God of the Bible? He must if he is going to use some other standard or a measuring line to judge the God of the Bible. Of course, this simply cannot be the case if Rob Bell truly believes there is only one eternal being, the God of scripture.

In a related extended passage from the Book, Bell writes:

… if your God is loving one second and cruel the next, if your God will punish people for all eternity for sins committed in a few short years, then no amount of clever marketing, or compelling language or good music or great coffee will be able to disguise that one true, glaring, unacceptable, awful reality.” (Love Wins 175)

Bell also says that this kind of God has something “wrong” with Him. (Love Wins 175)

Again, what is Bell’s standard of measurement? Does he know a God greater than the God of the Bible to whose greater moral standard he can appeal? Bell, who cannot stand a God of judgment, ends up judging God himself. Words such as “cruel”, “mean”, “vicious” and “wrong” are all words that imply a judgment. The two previous extended quotations from Love Wins remind us of the long series of questions that God asked of Job, who was questioning the way that God does things.

Then the LORD said to Job, ‘Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it.’ Then Job answered the LORD and said, Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You? I lay my hand on my mouth. Once I have spoken, and I will not answer; Even twice, and I will add nothing more.’

Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm and said,Now gird up your loins like a man; I will ask you, and you instruct Me. Will you really annul My judgment? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified? Or do you have an arm like God, And can you thunder with a voice like His?’” – Job 40:1-3,6-9

Is Rob Bell a fault finder of God? Is Rob Bell reproving God for being who is He in his very essence, nature and attributes? Is Rob Bell trying to instruct the eternal God who has all power, knows all things and is everywhere present at the same time? Is Rob Bell trying to annul the righteous judgments of God? Is Rob Bell condemning God so that he can be justified in his understanding of who God is? These are serious questions that Rob Bell needs to answer

GOD IS THE CREATOR

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it? On what were its bases sunk or who laid its cornerstone … “ – Job 38:4-6

GOD IS ALL POWERFUL (OMNIPOTENT)

“Have you entered into the springs of the sea Or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? Have you understood the expanse of the earth? Tell Me, if you know all this.

Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth a constellation in its season and guide the Bear with her satellites? Do you know the (ordinances of the heavens, Or fix their rule over the earth?” – Job 38:16-18,22

As we conclude this first article, we can only hope that Bell’s response will be the same as that of Job

Then Job answered the LORD and said, I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me. I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes.'” – Job 42:1-6

Question: Why Jesus and not Thor?

May 9th, 2011

As you know, the Institute receives its fair share of email. Often it’s questions about the Institute, our educational programs or feedback on an article. Every so often, however, we receive a question about theology. Here, for example, is one we received recently:

I was hit with this one while talking about the historical and archaeological evidence for the Bible. The atheist said … “There are tons of evidence for THOR, but you chose not to believe in him … you’re just being a picker and a chooser with whom you worship.”

What do you say to that? Why is the historical THOR ~ thunder god a myth and ours isn’t. Just curious what you thought.

Classic Depitction of ThorIn response, yours truly, webmaster for the Institute is offering a reply:

This is actually a rather common fill-in-the-blank question. You could just as easily insert other mythical characters like: Oden, Zeus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It originates from a giant chum bucket of atheist talking points circulating on the internet. All of these types of questions have the same response.

First of all, everyone chooses whom to worship; Whether it is yourself, a deity or  the universe, the need to worship is human nature. Second, if we claim that a deity (or deities, impersonal forces, etc) exist,  evidence of their existence should be available to support that claim. Without any real evidence, our claim is very weak and our faith most likely misplaced. Since, without faith from God, people naturally choose a deity based on whatever purely selfish criteria they wish, the evidence portion of their faith can often left behind in favor or personal preference or pragmatism.

Let’s face it, everyone is a “picker and chooser” of whom to worship; After all, we could just as easily choose to worship Satan, the earth or ourselves. For Christians, we believe that it is God who gives faith. Each believer is chosen by God to be conformed to the likeness of His Son. All others, atheists included, then either choose the god that makes the most practical sense or one that fits into the mold of their personal desires.

For example, in Muslim countries, people choose to be “culturally” Muslim to avoid persecution. In India, many choose Hinduism to assuage their innate guilt for ignoring the countless poor while giving their lives some meaning. In Europe, guilt over blatant hedonism has lead to a surge of Atheism; The government takes the place of God (deciding right and wrong) while the converts get to do whatever they please, guilt free; Like a gay pride parade, these hedonistic atheists revel in their shame like a pig wallows in its own muddy filth.

So then, why would anyone not a Christian find worshiping Jesus more valid than worshiping Thor? For the practical purpose of removing stumbling blocks to the faith, the answer must come down to evidence. If someone makes a positive claim (e.g. God exists), we should expect to see some evidence that it’s true. It would be foolish for us to claim that God exists without providing reasons why.

However, we can’t absolutely prove or disprove anything existing purely in the supernatural realm. We can only have confidence based on the probability of something being true. For example, if you used the evidence available, would you say there’s a higher probability of there being no supernatural realm (atheist position) or that one exists (everyone else’s position). You would need to take into account: near death experiences, death and revival experiences (memories of real events while dead), miracles (resurrection of Jesus), visions of the future seen in dreams, the powers of darkness (as seen in the occult) and your own experiences with God (which are not to be discounted). As you can see, we have a strong line of evidence for the existence of a supernatural realm.

In the same way, stating that there “are tons of evidence for Thor” is certainly not the same as presenting that evidence. It also doesn’t bring the probability of his existence up to the level that we have for the God of the Bible. For the Bible, we can visit the places it references, see the results of the miracles, test the validity of the prophesies and examine philosophy to see if this God really exists.

Let’s be honest. You can’t say the same for Thor. The .0005% chance that Thor and the pantheon of Norse gods exists (based on available evidence) is not equivalent to the 99% chance that the God of the Bible does. That’s comparing apples with oranges; Only someone who is clueless about the available evidence would make such a baseless claim.

Did Thor rise from the dead or part the Red Sea? Did Thor cause a virgin to conceive or raise Lazarus after rotting in the tomb? Did Thor deliver prophesy concerning specific events and people hundreds of years in advance? The clear answer is no. Christians are ready to defend the God of the Bible with real evidence.

On the other hand, the atheists are rarely ready to defend their position. Stating that “God exists” is a religious statement. Equally religious is the statement, “God does not exist”. Both state a theory about the supernatural realm that people “believe” to be true. Don’t let an atheist fool you into believing that they don’t have to defend their position.

“Feeling” that the supernatural realm is all nonsense or “believing” that there’s no evidence for it certainly does not make it true; The Mormon has “feelings” and “beliefs” as well about a 19th century book of fiction. It is up to atheists to show that “matter is all there is”. Watch them start appealing to made-up, imaginary things (multiverses, inflation theory, etc) … and they call Christians deluded.

In short, the evidence for the God of the Bible is much greater than the evidence against Him. The same can not be said of Thor.

Scientific Morality?

December 2nd, 2010

The Institute is always getting great questions from curious and concerned Christians. Here’s one I thought I’d post since I think the answer might help clarify the topic for other Christians.

This is the question:

“Where do atheist get the notion that science and science alone can account for morality?”

Here is my answer:

There are, in the atheist perspective, two different kinds of morality. There is personal morality and social morality. In personal morality, each person gets to decide their own version of right and wrong for themselves. On the other hand, in social morality, a single, prevailing culture creates a standard of behavior. Usually, this standard evolves over time, changing as the opinions of the majority sway.

Law booksMost of the time, it’s in this realm of “social morality” that atheists say they are moral; It’s a given that most people are moral if judged by their own personal standards. So when an atheist claims to be “moral” or to know “morality”, it is only in a post-modern sense. Either their actions are moral by the standards of their own culture or else by some global, nebulous, inter-religious standard no one can seem to define.

Now, the question asked was, “Where do atheists get the notion that science and science alone can account for morality?” Their “notion” is forced on them by their world view. If there is no God to set a standard, there is no objective standard; Everyone must judge for themselves what is right and wrong. Of course, this is purely subjective and may change based on how they’re feeling at the moment. Aren’t we glad that morality doesn’t change based on how someone else feels that day?

So, if it is humans that determine morality, and humans are merely molecules in motion, then it must follow that morality is merely caused by some of those molecules in motion affecting other molecules in motion; There can be no other cause. Some biologically determined chemical change directs our moods and emotions. Based on those and our ability to choose the course of action that benefits us the most, we humans, over eons of time, developed systems of social morality. Eventually, as their story goes, these social systems of morality combined with superstition to form religion.

Therefore, if we begin with the assumption that there is no God, then we have no choice but to attribute morality to mere biology.  If mere biology then only science can explain them; There is no place for religion.

It is the assumptions they begin with that lead to their illogical conclusions.

Did Abraham Borrow God?

July 16th, 2010

Recently, the Institute received an email from a concerned Christian. His name was Dylan. In the email was the transcription of a video on YouTube. Rather than link to the boring and tedious video, I’ll paste the transcript:

“God declares in the Holy Bible that his priests will daily prepare his food and drink for his consumption. The feeding of God begins at Mount Sinai with the establishment of the Aaronic priesthood. As is quite clear from the prophet Ezekiel God is to be fed by his priests for all of eternity upon the return from Exile.

Why does God “need” to consume food and drink? This question is never asked in the Bible. The purpose of food and drink is to sustain mortal life. Mortals will die if they have nothing to eat and drink, but a God presented as being immortal shouldn’t “need” food and drink daily to survive. The answer to this “mystery” is surprising: Abraham was from Ur of the Chaldees in Mesopotamia and in this region it was believed in myths that the god had made man to care for their city-gardens in the Edin of Sumer and present them daily in sacrifices at temples the harvested food for the gods to dine upon.

But wait a minute you say, aren’t the gods immortal? They shouldn’t need to eat in order to stay alive, should they? Wrong! The early myths have the gods possessing bodies of flesh, they can be killed and wind up after death in Edin-the Underworld. While alive in the Edin of Sumer, they need to eat to keep their fleshly bodies alive. Hence the reason they created their gardens of Edin and placed in them fruit trees, vegetables, and grain for bread.

Later, tiring of the work in caring for their gardens they create man. Man will care for their gardens and raise animals to be slaughtered and fed to the gods like fowl, sheep, and cattle. The Hebrews never question “why” their God, Yahweh-Elohim, had to be fed a meal twice a day, they just accepted the Mesopotamian (Sumerian) not that one of man’s duties was to feed the gods.

Christians understand that after their deaths the resurrected righteous will dwell with God in Eden and eat and drink once again. According to Christian belief the resurrected righteous will be given eternal life, they will be immortal like God. If they are immortal why should they need to eat and drink? This makes no sense and is but another example of religious nonsense!

The Christian notion that after death, man will eat and drink once again is not a new concept. The Mesopotamians understood that after death the dead, good and evil, who dwelt in Edin-the-Underworld would continue to eat and drink (eat clay and drink muddy water in the underworld). Ezekiel describes in great detail the feeding of God in the post Exilic Messianic Age at the Temple (Ez 37:21-26; 44:7, 15).”

Of course, I completely disagree with the conclusions drawn in the video. Before I go into detail, here are a few obvious flaws:

1) Let’s suppose that, at mount Sinai, Moses really did command Israel to feed their god, Yahweh (which he did not). If Yahweh was in fact a Sumerian deity borrowed by Abraham, how on earth would Moses, hundreds of years later, have known what a Sumerian deity needs? Abraham certainly hadn’t seen a need to feed his god; Why now suddenly with Moses? Besides that, hadn’t Israel just left Egypt? It seems more likely that Yahweh would mimic the Egyptian gods rather than the gods of Ancient Ur.

2) Yes, the Mesopotamians believed that the dead, like the gods, did need to eat and drink. Thus offerings of food were ritually given to the dead (i.e. hungry ghost festival). Is the Christian concept of eating at the marriage supper of the lamb on the new earth really a parallel with this concept? Apparently not:

“Never again will they hunger;  never again will they thirst” – Rev 7:16a

Right away, the arguments collapse. Aside from the obvious fallacies (like the “genetic” fallacy used here) and the vaguely similar comparisons (mentioned above), there is an overarching narrative: That Yahweh, despite the changes from Ur to Egypt, is still a borrowed Sumerian deity. In the longer explanation following, I’ll make my case against this.

I’ll begin by summarizing the arguments in the video:

1) Yahweh, beginning at Mount Sinai, demanded to be fed.
2) The ancient gods and goddesses of Ur, as their stories tell us, also needed to be fed.
3) The gods of ancient Ur need to be fed because they had physical bodies to maintain.
4) Therefore the ancient version of Yahweh needed to be fed because he also had a physical body.

The unstated final conclusion is that Yahweh, the god of Israel, was merely an idol from ancient Sumeria.

This line of reasoning is similar to how Christians argue against the god of Islam:

Allah, the Muslim “god”, was originally the god of Muhammad’s tribe. Allah was the moon god (thus the symbol) and was part of a nearly countless pantheon of deities worshiped in the Arabian peninsula. After his military victory over Mecca, Muhammad destroyed all the other idols, leaving only the god of his tribe.

In a similar way, people imagine Abraham, as an idol worshiper along with his father, becoming deluded into believing that one of the idols was speaking to him. I can completely understand why someone would try and compare the two, especially a skeptic.

However, in order to make this line or argumentation work, one must assume that the biblical account of ancient history is totally wrong. In fact, one must reject Abraham’s account of ancient history altogether. Instead, the patriarch was merely an idol worshiper (Jos 24:2) passing on stories and legends he’d heard in Ur. For example: the Biblical flood account was spawned from Sumerian story of Atrahas.  On the other hand, if stories like the Epic of Gilgamesh, the story of Atrahas and the Biblical account had a common source (actual history) then Abraham’s account could be accurate.

So here is where we return to the Bible, a proven, reliable source of historical information. According to the Bible, Noah’s son Shem outlived (or nearly outlived) Abraham. He survived both the flood and the tower of Babel. Considering how fragmented the knowledge of the ancient world must have become after Babel, it’s not surprising that myth filled in the gaps. From thunder gods to gods of the spring rain, deities arose like weeds in the spiritual knowledge gap. That said, in the memories of a few very aged men, the one true god (Elohim) was not entirely forgotten. Considering their life spans, Abraham (and anyone else for that matter) could have spoken with Shem (or earlier, Noah) directly and obtained an accurate account of the ancient world first hand.

As an example of why this is a much more plausible scenario than Abraham borrowing from legendary accounts: compare the unrealistic flood legend in the Epic of Gilgamesh (tablet XI) or story of Atuahas with the much more scientifically sound and spiritually consistent Biblical account. In the Epic, the gods become capriciously angry with man and flood the earth; Utnapishtim survives the deluge in a giant cube. Strangely, he brought gold along. Was he expected to buy something afterward? In the story of Atuahas, man is destroyed because he is just too noisy (seriously?). On the other hand, the Biblical account has Elohim condemning a world full of violence, ruled by wicked men; Noah, his family and representatives of the created animal kinds survive the flood in a giant, unsinkable barge. Considering a pre-christian era flood story survives in many cultures world-wide, I’ll let you decide if this was a local legend or a real event and which version is more plausible.

The point I’m making is this: If the knowledge of Elohim predates Sumeria and its many gods, He could not have been a Sumerian idol that Abraham heard speak. One must assume that Elohim does not predate Sumeria and deny Biblical history (flood, Babel) for the rest of the video’s argument to make any sense.

That said, why did Yehweh “demand” sacrifices and offerings? In ancient Ur, idols were served meals fit for a king with music and incense; The food afterward being given to the priests and the king. The idols needed daily food, like humans, to survive. Was is because Yahweh was hungry that He demanded offerings? Did Yahweh “eat” the offerings?

Hebrews 9:22 says it best, “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” From the beginning (Cain and Abel), a sacrifice of an animal’s life was required to cover sins. Leviticus makes this clear:

“He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.” – Leviticus 1:4

“It is a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD” – Leviticus 1:9b

What about the offerings? Wasn’t grain offered to the Lord as well?

“Bring the grain offering made of these things to the LORD; present it to the priest, who shall take it to the altar. He shall take out the memorial portion from the grain offering and burn it on the altar as an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD. The rest of the grain offering belongs to Aaron and his sons; it is a most holy part of the offerings made to the LORD by fire … Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings” – Leviticus 2:8-10, 13

Apparently, the burning of the offerings created a “sweet aroma” for the Lord. It also showed their subjection to their god, offering first to Him before taking for themselves. That said, He didn’t seem interested in eating at all. Apparently, the sacrifice was intended to cover sins (as it was in the beginning) and to feed the priests serving Him.

This explains the elaborate system of washing, boiling and burning. God wanted the best parts and first fruits to be offered as a reminder to Israel that Yahweh was their king; In this way, he also supplied the best food for His priests and Levitical servants (not Himself). Unlike the Sumerian deities, Yahweh has never claimed to exist in a physical body (think: Moses seeing Yahweh at mount Sinai). He has always been a non-physical deity (rejecting idols completely).

That said, from the very first sentence the author makes obviously untrue assumptions like: “God declares in the Holy Bible that his priests will daily prepare his food and drink for his consumption.” This is nowhere stated in the Bible. Here we have a clear assumption that burning on the altar as a pleasing aroma is equivalent to eating.

Take this next section as another example:

“Abraham was from Ur of the Chaldees in Mesopotamia and in this region it was believed in myths that the god had made man to care for their city-gardens in the Edin of Sumer and present them daily in sacrifices at temples the harvested food for the gods to dine upon.”

Ancient Ur has been excavated. A temple to the god “Enki” was found. On the walls are stories roughly similar to Biblical accounts (creation, first man, the flood, babel, etc). The question is: did the Sumerians recast real history into stories attributed to Enki or did Abraham recast the unrealistic and often conflicting Sumerian legends to a realistic (and scientifically probably) story attributed to Yahweh? If Biblical history is real, then it was the Sumerians who, through either ignorance or purpose, altered the stories.

One must assume that Biblical history is not true in order to come to the conclusion that Abraham borrowed legends from the ancient Sumerians; This in turn proves that the Bible’s history (and Yahweh) are both false. However, you can’t assume the fact you’re trying to prove before you even begin your argument. That is called, “begging the question” and leads to storytelling.

In fact, that is all this video is: Storytelling. The author is attempting to offer an alternative explanation for the origins of Yahweh by comparing Yahweh with the ancient gods of Ur. He is not offering any rebuttal for the accuracy of the Biblical account or why it is so much more realistic than the accounts of Enki and Gligamesh. If the Biblical account of history is true, the author’s arguments are meaningless, since it was the Sumerians who legendized real history. If the Biblical account of history is false, then the arguments are still only educated assumptions and storytelling.

I’ll leave it to you to decide which is more plausible: Biblical history (proven again and again by archeology) or Sumerian myths. Abraham did get his history from somewhere, but it wasn’t the false gods of Ur.

“Scientists create life. We are God” (part 2)

May 27th, 2010

In the first part of this response, I mentioned a few of the arguments atheists use to discredit theists; For the most part, their contentions lack evidence and their convictions are just as religious as any Sunday morning Christian. We are not fooled.

Now that the groundwork has been laid, let’s ask the question the article brings up: Did the scientists  indeed create life in the laboratory;  Was this a precursor to artificial intelligence? I know this may seem surprising, considering the way the article words it, but the answer to both of these questions is no.

First of all, the idea of a true AI has already been demonstrated to be untenable. John Searle demonstrates this with his famous thought experiment: Imagine a native English speaker who knows no Chinese. He’s locked in a room full of boxes. Each is covered with Chinese symbols (a data base of sorts). At his disposal is a book of instructions for manipulating the symbols (a program). Imagine that people outside the room send in other Chinese symbols, which, unknown to the person in the room, are questions in Chinese (input). Now imagine that by following the instructions in the program, the man in the room is able to arrange and pass out Chinese symbols which happen to be correct answers to the questions sent in (the output). The program does enable the person in the room to pass the Turing Test for understanding Chinese. However, he still doesn’t understand a word of Chinese.

Searle goes on to explain that the man in the room is similar to a computer. While computers can process information at an incredible rate, they don’t have the capacity to think about what they process. True “Artificial life” shouldn’t just produce inputs and outputs. In order for it to be what most consider real, it must have independent thoughts about those inputs and outputs; Or more precisely, this AI must participate in a function found only in humans: the use of second order mental states.

Second order mental states are essentially thoughts about thoughts; It would be impossible for a machine to do this. A machine can evaluate evidence and determine probabilities concerning various outcomes. That, however, is hardly a second order mental state. Now, in time, machines, androids, or some other type of AI could become so anthropomorphized that they are barely distinguishable from humans. Once again, this is not a true artificial intelligence, but rather the result of very clever and careful programming.

Back to the article. While there are some very intriguing uses for the molecular science mentioned in the article, this is in no way creating life. Essentially, this is more like the photocopying of a cell. In a nutshell, the process includes: Taking existing DNA, sequencing it, rebuilding and programing it, and  placing the DNA into an existing live cell and watching it grow. It isn’t anything new and it only acts according to how it was programmed. Now, it’s not my intention to diminish this fascinating work, but in no way does this article describe creating life; After all the hype is stripped, it merely describes how scientists can rearrange existing life.