Sunday Toons: The authority of menAugust 10, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
In this week’s Sunday toon, JP Holding explains why he responds to my posts by giving me “mean” nicknames, insulting my intelligence, and in general mocking me personally in any way he can. He does it because
It’s so much easier to attack the person than attack the argument…
Of course, true to the spirit of the Gypsy Curse, he intended that as a personal attack on me. Nor did he stop there: the full sentence reads, “It’s so much easier to attack the person than attack the argument; but to be fair, Dumpy isn’t competent in even knowing what the arguments are, or even who is making them, so who can blame him?”
Jesus must really have ticked off that poor old gypsy.
Holding starts off by making a big deal out of my original mistaken impression that Holding himself had written the paper summarized on the nutshell page, and by my assumption that Holding affirmed the usual conservative Christian views on hell.
Dumplin’ Dumbash doesn’t do himself a whole lot of credible good when he makes mistakes like these:
- He criticizes my article on the atonement on the basis of a view of hell which I don’t even hold;
- He criticizes an article as allegedly mine which is actually Glenn Miller’s (who also doesn’t hold the view of hell he criticizes)
Some people might question whether these two errors are really that big a deal. After all, the main point is that I was addressing the arguments being made, not that I was hung up on who originally came up with them. And if Holding has been wise enough to reject the popular Christian notion of hell, that’s a step in the right direction, but it’s rather a minority opinion among evangelicals, and my remarks are still a valid critique of the popular concept of Hell.
Nevertheless, for people like Holding, it is a big deal whether I demonstrate a certain scholarly infallibility. Theologians and apologists have staked out their careers on the study of God, who does not show up in real life to be studied. This leaves them dependent on the authority of human scholars as the source for their information about God. There’s no real-life observation you can make to determine whether or not some theologian is correct about God, and therefore the whole thing depends on how much scholarly authority he has. When you have to just take man’s word for it, it’s very important whether or not that man is likely to be mistaken. Or at least, whether or not he is perceived as likely to be mistaken.
Hence Holding’s insistence on portraying me as a man who lacks that scholarly “infallibility” that would justify having people just take my word for things. By failing to give the appearance of infallibility, I automatically disqualify myself from membership in that elite group that Holding regards as worthy of being believed just because they say so. And that’s fine with me: I don’t particularly care to be an authority of that stripe, which is why I try to “show my work” so that my readers can check it out and correct any mistakes they may happen to find. The true authority that we ought to be deferring to is Reality itself, not some individual’s fallible impression of what Reality ought to be.
Moving on, Holding tries to grapple with my main points, and once again fails to even give an accurate report of what I’m saying.
But really, it’s all just whine and more whine from Dumplin’, as he uses the excuse that we don’t see God doing what he thinks God should do in the world, like erase all evil RIGHT NOW. Not later, at judgment, but right this instant.
My point, of course, was not that I’m disappointed because we don’t see God doing EVERYTHING, but that we don’t even see Him show up to do ANYTHING. Holding’s rebuttal is a classic: when God fails to behave as advertised, blame the customer:
As I have noted, people who use this complaint seem universally to not be doing all THEY could to erase evil and suffering RIGHT NOW, so by their own logic, this means they are evil themselves, that they do not want to do good or are not able to, etc. Or don’t exist. It doesn’t matter that they are not omnipotent — they DO have some power, and as the argument runs, if they are not using what power they have right this instant to correct evil and stop suffering, they themselves are incorrigibly evil.
That’s a rather unfortunate argument to make in this case, not only because I never claimed that a failure to stop evil made you “incorrigibly evil,” but because people do show up in real life to try and stop evil, relieve suffering, and even prevent it when they can. And that’s better than God’s scorecard in this particular arena. The people who do nothing to stop evil, even when they could, even when they know better—these are the people we would see as deeply flawed, morally, and yet it is these people whose behavior is the most accurate imitation of God’s.
People aren’t supposed to be perfectly good and moral; God is. Yet when we look at the real world, we see that the good is actually done, and the evil is actually opposed and/or prevented, by imperfect, morally ambiguous people, not by a perfect and omnibenevolent God. That’s a significant inconsistency between the Gospel and real life, and Holding’s free guilt trip only highlights the problem instead of deflecting attention from it.
Holding moves on with another admission of the limitations on God’s power, with an inadvertent hat-tip to my God, Alethea.
That said, once we wash away the two mistakes above, Dumplin’ still can’t get what’s left right. For example, Glenn answered the question, “Can’t God just forgive sins?” in the negative. Dumpy plows right into indiocy with the duh-ah response that this “denies God’s omnipotence.” Say WHAT? This is the classic error of the ignorant, who define “omnipotence” to mean the ability to do illogical and contradictory things. News flash: Making 2 + 2 = 5 is not a “power” issue. It is an issue of logic and coherence.
In other words, due to circumstances beyond God’s control, God cannot forgive sins. God didn’t make those rules, you know. It’s like math: the laws of mathematics are what they are, and God has no control over it. God exists within a context where such things are already pre-defined, and enforced by constraints that even He cannot break. And that, folks, is my God Alethea. Reality itself. Even the Father, Son and Holy Spirit together cannot overcome Her. They have to do what She says, like it or not.
This has interesting implications for the Fine Tuning argument, since it means it’s no longer a given that God would be capable of changing the fundamental laws that make things work out such that the universe has the characteristics we need to exist. There are rules out there that God did not make, but must obey. He’s not the supreme authority, He’s just a bigger authority that a lot of others. With God, all things are possible, except the things that are not. And this, folks, is what they call “omnipotence,” at least in Holding’s circle of respected authorities.
This leaves one last problem: if God can’t just forgive sins, if the “epistemic realities” compel even God to exact punishment for sins committed, we still have the problem of the Gospel claiming that God can and does forgive sins. The Bible doesn’t say that God just “paid the fine” and let the laws of Reality take their course, it says that God actively forgives. It’s a volitional act, which implies that He has some choice in the matter, and is not bound by some exterior laws over which He has no control. Then again, the people who wrote the Bible never read Miller, so maybe they were just mistaken, eh?
Besides, even if we suppose that the “epistemic realities” could be satisfied by Jesus dying for our sins (a questionable proposition in itself), there still remains the question of why God does not apply the benefits of that sacrifice to all of His children, and not just those who happen to be willing to believe whatever men tell them about God in His absence. If the Cross is able to bring salvation to anybody, why wouldn’t it work for everybody, and why wouldn’t a loving Father want to extend its benefits to all of His beloved children?
Any way you slice it, the problem is still there. You don’t have to take my word for it, or accept what I’m saying on my own authority. Look at the real world and see for yourself. The Gospel has deeply-rooted inconsistencies and contradictions, and though apologists have built up some very well-polished arguments over the past couple of millennia, if you look past the aura of authority at the underlying data, the problems are still there. A hole with an expensive and elegant patch is still a flaw in the original material.
We close with Holding’s excuse for why he declines to offer anything better in place of the arguments I addressed above.
It is doubtful that Dumpy would have much use anyway for our explanation of atonement in terms of patronage (he’d think that was “bolting on a context” anyway, as uninformed as he is) so maybe it is just as well he never read anything further from me before he mouthed off.
Commentary on this remark is left as an exercise for the reader.