Sunday Toons: “Out of his depth”

When I was young and full of zeal for Jesus, I met a woman who told me her approach to Bible study. “I only use the King James Version,” she told me. “I read through the passage, figure out how you would say it in modern English, and then I’m done.” Though I was too meek to say so at the time, my little Christian heart was horrified. The New Testament was written in the common language of the people of the time. By paraphrasing an archaic translation into her “normal” usage, she was stopping right at the point where a New Testament Christian would have started. How could she call that “studying” the Bible?

I was reminded of that lady when I read JP Holding’s response to last week’s Sunday Toon. Not, of course, because he was as likable as she was, but because his study of I Cor. 15 seems to stop where mine starts. This leaves him at rather a loss as to how to respond, so he begins by graduating from the silly Ned-Flanders-ish insults to real, big-boy naughty words. He begins with:

Dumplin’ Dumbass shows why he’s ahead in the Platinum race for 2008:

prompting one of his regulars to respond:

Um… JP. You just said “Dumbass”

He is swiftly corrected by another TW regular, however:

So? It’s allowed. Dumbass.

And we’re off again…

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Theistic Critiques of Atheism, Part 10

(Theistic Critiques of Atheism, by William Lane Craig, continued.)

Today we look at Dr. Craig’s third and final attempt to deal with the problem of how evil can coexist with an omnipotent and righteous deity.

3. There is better warrant for believing that God exists than that the evil in the world is really gratuitous. It has been said that one man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens. The atheist’s own argument may thus be turned against him:

1. If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.

2*. God exists.

3*. Therefore, gratuitous evil does not exist.

Thus, if God exists, then the evil in the world is not really gratuitous.

I would submit that Craig is not really turning the atheist’s argument against him here, because a better way to phrase the skeptical case would be to say that evil contradicts what Christians teach about God, thus discrediting them as authorities on the subject of theology. That is, it’s not that the existence of evil implies the non-existence of God, it’s that the existence of evil implies the non-existence of God as Christians claim He exists.

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XFiles Friday: Deja vu all over again

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 12.)

Geisler and Turek have been making the same argument for some time now: that because the NT writers presented some (trivial) details that have been historically accurate, we ought to assume that everything they report is historically accurate, even when they offer us conflicting stories, or ghost stories, or stories of subjective experiences that should have been visible to all, but weren’t. As we’ve seen, there are actually some substantial, valid reasons why at least some of what the NT writings ought to be taken with a grain of salt, but instead of addressing those areas, Geisler and Turek just keep repeating the same argument over and over again, as though you can make something true just by repeating it.

We’re into the chapter about “Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?” but you might think we were anywhere in the past 80 pages based on all the progress G&T have made.

The New Testament Story Is Not A Legend—The New Testament documents were written well within two generations of the events by eyewitnesses or their contemporaries, and the New Testament storyline is corroborated by non-Christian writers. In addition the New Testament mentions at least 30 historical figures who have been confirmed by sources outside the New Testament. Therefore, the New Testament story cannot be a legend.

Once again, they try to blur important distinctions: “eyewitnesses or their contemporaries.” In other words, we’re supposed to believe these are eyewitness accounts just because the writers lived during the same years as actual eyewitnesses. “The NT storyline is corroborated by non-Christians;” in other words, because some details have corroboration, the entire storyline has been corroborated. They don’t mention that the corroboration stops at the point the storyline starts to become suspicious (e.g. at the four different resurrection accounts). They’re conflating the disputed resurrection accounts with the mundane Jesus-lived-and-died stories, as though there was no difference between them. And “30 historical figures” are mentioned, therefore we’re supposed to believe that all the other details are historical as well. Would Geisler and Turek accept this standard of “proof” for non-Christian stories? Don’t bet any large sums on it.

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Theistic Critiques of Atheism, Part 9

(Theistic Critiques of Atheism, by William Lane Craig, continued.)

On tap today, Craig’s third and fourth Christian doctrine which, in his opinion, make it more probable that evil and God will coexist.

Third, God’s purpose spills over into eternal life. In the Christian view, this earthly life is but a momentary preparation for immortal life. In the afterlife God will give those who have trusted Him for salvation an eternal life of unspeakable joy. Given the prospect of eternal life, we should not expect to see in this life God’s compensation for every evil we experience. Some may be justified only in light of eternity.

In other words, God has a very long time in which to pay us back for all the things we’ve suffered during our mortal existence. This is actually an appeal to two distinct ideas (or rationalizations): the idea that for every evil there is a greater good which justifies it, and the idea that, because this life is so short relative to eternity, any evil which takes place in this life is of proportionally less significance. It’s an appealing rationalization, but there are some problems, as you might expect.

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Theistic Critiques of Atheism, Part 8

Dr. William Lane Craig is writing some “Theistic Critiques of Atheism,” and is certainly giving it his best. As I’ve said before, Dr. Craig is a highly intelligent, deep-thinking, and well educated man. If his critique of atheism isn’t quite what it should be, it’s not his fault. He’s doing the best he can with the material he’s got to work with.

At the moment, he’s trying to come up with four reasons why evil is more likely to exist if God is a Christian God than if He/She/It/They were some other sort of deity. Hmm, well, he doesn’t put it in quite those terms, of course, but that’s the general idea: he wants to claim that Christianity contains doctrines that make the existence of evil seem less improbable. Today’s excuse hypothesis is a return to the failed rationalizations of the past.

[M]ankind has been accorded significant moral freedom to rebel against God and His purpose. Rather than submit to and worship God, people have freely rebelled against God and go their own way and so find themselves alienated from God, morally guilty before Him, and groping in spiritual darkness, pursuing false gods of their own making. The horrendous moral evils in the world are testimony to man’s depravity in this state of spiritual alienation from God. The Christian is thus not surprised at the moral evil in the world; on the contrary he expects it.

He got one thing right: people do pursue false Gods of their own making.

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TIA Tuesday: The game of life

It’s time for TIA Tuesday again, though it’s rather an abrupt shifting of the gears to go from William Lane Craig to Vox Day, especially when they’re both trying to address the problem of evil. Vox’s approach is a good deal less philosophical than Craig’s, having begun with the premise that maybe bad things happen because God “possesses” knowledge and power only in the sense that He possesses a capacity for both, which He chooses not to exercise, because—well, perhaps an illustration would help.

Vox describes for us a combat video game demo that his game-programming partner, “Big Chilly,” was demonstrating.

During the demo, Big Chilly and the three AI-controlled members of his fireteam had successfully taken out both the wide patrol and the guards, and they were just beginning to lay the explosives to blow the door that held the prisoners captive when there was a sudden burst of bright laser fire that caused him to jump in his seat and emit a startled shriek loud enough to make everyone else in the room jump, too. While his AI squadmates shot down the intruder before anyone’s battlesuits took too much damage, what shocked Big Chilly was that for the first time in hundreds of playings, an enemy AI had taken it upon itself to circle around behind the rescue force and attack it from an unexpected direction.

But how could this happen? How could a lowly artificial intelligence surprise a lead programmer who was demonstrably omniscient and omnipotent in the AI’s world? How can the created do what the creator did not will? The answer, when viewed in this context, should be obvious.

Indeed it is: Big Chilly didn’t know his own game as well as he thought he did. But can the same be said of God?

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Theistic Critiques of Atheism, Part 7

We’re up to theodicy argument number 2 in Dr. William Lane Craig’s scholarly article, “Theistic Critiques of Atheism.” His first argument didn’t go too well, appealing to our ignorance to justify the claim that there must be some good reason for evil to exist, because we can’t be absolutely sure there isn’t. That doesn’t work out too well in practice, because if every evil necessarily has sufficient moral justification to merit God’s implicit approval and assent, then we all ought to do as much evil as possible, since the existence of evil is morally superior to its absence. Speaking from a strictly secular moral perspective, I’d say we can pretty much discard that notion as reprehensible rubbish.

Craig’s second argument is just as hypothetical as the first: he suggests that certain Christian doctrines make God’s co-existence with evil a bit more likely than it would be if we simply posited a non-Christian God. That’s not strictly true, since Alethea is the God whose character makes the current state of affairs the most likely, but Craig would like to argue his case anyway. He’s got four doctrines which he proposes as indicating that we ought to expect evil to accompany God’s existence, and we’ll take each one in turn.

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Sunday Toons: For old time’s sake

It’s been a while since we’ve had any real Sunday Toons, but since Mr. Holding has seen fit to award me the highest honor he has to bestow, it seems like a good time to stop in for another visit. Holding, for those of you who may not yet have had the pleasure, is a self-styled Christian apologist whose approach is perhaps best typified by this insightful analysis:

Having now read more than 50 books on the subject, I can say without qualification that you are stupid in this regard.

In fact, it’s amazing how many of his analyses end with “…and therefore you are stupid,” or variations thereof. It’s a defense mechanism of sorts, a tactic intended to discourage critics from hanging around long enough to pose a real problem, though from my perspective his best defense is the relentless mediocrity of his scholarship and apologetics. It doesn’t take long to exhaust his repertoire of social maneuvers and rhetorical ploys, and after that it gets fairly repetitive and uninteresting. He’s read a lot of books, and therefore you are wrong (though sadly he has trouble providing any specific articulation of what those books contain that actually proves you wrong). Ok, yeah, we get it, that’s your schtick and you’re schtickin’ to it. Ha ha.

Still, he does now and then come up with an actual argument for his beliefs, and some of them are actually interesting to consider. It’s not that they’re right, exactly, but they’re wrong in interesting ways. One of these arguments appears in his attempt to debunk what I said about I Cor. 15.

For example, he says that “the reason Paul wrote [1 Cor.] 15 isbecause, as verse 12 tells us, he was unhappy with the number of believers who did not buy this whole resurrection business.” Um, not quite, Dumplin’. Their issue was not with whether the resurrection of Jesus happened; their issue was with what was thought to be the impossibility of resurrection (point 3) according to pagan philosophical principles. There’s no room to say that doubted that Jesus was raised; but they did doubt that they could be. As I noted in replies to The Empty Tomb, this does mean they were holding inconsistent positions. Paul’s appeal to Jesus as a model is for the purpose of saying, to persons of a collectivist mindset, “If you deny that it can happen to you, then how do you explain that it happened to our ingroup leader?”

Ok, so they weren’t denying that it did happen, they were merely denying that it was even possible for it to happen. I can see this is going to be good already.

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Theistic Critiques of Atheism, Part 6

We’re continuing to slog our way through Dr. William Lane Craig’s scholarly article, “Theistic Critiques of Atheism,” and we’re up to the section on theodicy, the question of evil. In order to support his claim that there is no valid argument for atheism, Dr. Craig needs to show that evil is more likely to result from the existence of an all-good and all-powerful God exists than it is if no such God exists. Otherwise the real-world evidence is more consistent with atheism than with Christianity, and atheists do indeed have a valid reason for doubting God’s existence.

Instead of confronting this problem, however, Dr. Craig pulled a switcheroo, substituting “suffering” for “evil,” and thus dispensing with what he calls the “internal problem” of theodicy (i.e. the contradiction inherent in Christian dogma itself). He next turns, with a bit of (premature) crowing, to the rest of the problem of theodicy, safely reduced to an abstract rhetorical manuever regarding who gets to define theistic premises.

Having abandoned the internal problem, atheists have very recently taken to advocating the external problem, often called the evidential problem of evil. If we take God to be essentially omnipotent and omnibenevolent and call suffering which is not necessary to achieve some adequately compensating good “gratuitous evil,” the argument can be simply summarized:

1. If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.

2. Gratuitous evil exists.

3. Therefore, God does not exist.

What makes this an external problem is that the theist is not committed by his worldview to the truth of (2). The Christian theist is committed to the truth that Evil exists, but not that Gratuitous evil exists. Thus the atheist claims that the apparently pointless and unnecessary suffering in the world constitutes evidence against God’s existence.

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XFiles Friday: Six of one, half-a-dozen of the other

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 12.)

We’re going through a list of 12 facts (or “facts”) that Geisler and Turek would like us to believe are the plain, unvarnished historical circumstances surrounding the alleged “resurrection” of Jesus. Of the first six, we only found a couple that were straightforward and unbiased presentations of the probable facts. The other four contained subtle (and not-so-subtle) twists that are clearly engineered to set the stage for a claim that only a real resurrection could possibly explain them all. The last six, by contrast, tend more towards the “true, but so what” category of trivial irrelevance. But not all of them. Let’s look.

7. The proclamation of the Resurrection took place very early, from the beginning of church history.

Arguably reasonable, though hopelessly vague: 90AD could be considered “very early” and “the beginning of church history.” This one falls into the “so what” category. People started seeing Elvis alive shortly after his death, too, and rumors of bombs in the World Trade Center and missile strikes on the Pentagon began within hours after 9/11. What’s at stake here is not the timing of the claim, but its accuracy.

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