The doctrine of freedom of the will is a very important theme in Christian thought. For many, it is the primary method of explaining how there is evil and suffering in the world. However, many have pointed out that there are other core doctrines of the Christian faith that seem to compromise freedom of the will. How could God truly be sovereign over all of our actions if in fact we are free? How could predestination be true if man is free? Can man truly be free if divine determinism is true? Reformed thinkers recognize that freedom of the will is compatible with divine determinism. This is known as the doctrine of compatibilistic freedom, as contrasted against libertarian freedom which is the doctrine that man can make choices free from constraints, such as human nature or God’s decree.
Those who have wrestled with these issues have felt the force of this objection. It seems counter-intuitive to think that determinism could be compatible with freedom. God has ordained everything that has come to pass. There is not a movement of quantum particle or a leaf falling from a tree that does not fall under God’s jurisdiction. It would then seem that God is controlling our actions. The writing of the words on this page are controlled by God as part of his sovereign plan. But if that is the case, then how could I truly be free in writing the words on this page?
“I am lying to myself.” That is what an atheist said to Ray Comfort during a moment of clarity when brought to reflect upon his sin and his motivation. This interview occurred during Ray Comfort’s upcoming movie The Atheist Delusion. Throughout this movie, Ray exemplifies how Christian apologetics is done, appealing to what everybody knows is true via simple induction and an appeal to their conscience. Of course, as always, Ray was not satisfied that his interviewees merely accept that God exist. He stirred their conscience and led those in his audience to understand the gospel. Throughout this review of Ray Comfort’s The Atheist Delusion, I will touch on some of highlights of the movie and explain why you should watch it. (It should be noted that since the movie has not been released as of this writing, there are no criticisms to address.)
The Argument From DNA
How did the majesty of creation emerge without some sort of intelligent designer? How could that possibly have happened? This has convinced most people of the existence of God throughout the generations. However, with the advent of modern science, this debate has evolved. Atheists of old may have hypothesized that perhaps everything in the natural world arose as a result of natural processes. But they did not have a model for understanding that process, as seemingly provided in the Theory of Evolution. Ray pointed out that the advent of science has given rise to another aspect of the argument for God’s existence, namely, the DNA molecule.
In an effort to elucidate the point that he was making, Ray showed the atheists in his interview a book comparing pictures of natural structures with the structures of engineering. Then he posed the question that has confronted many thinkers throughout the ages. Could this book have occurred by chance, from nothing? The answer is that it obviously could not have. But then, argued Ray, the DNA molecule contains information, it contains a message, and as such, it could only have derived from intelligence. Just as we recognize that the words on the page of a book derived from intelligence, we also recognize that the information that is transmitted in the DNA molecule must have derived from an intelligent designer.
Of course, Ray was not willing to mount this argument without first confronting the objections. There are theories about how the DNA molecule could have evolved over time. He even played his interview with Dr. Lawrence Krauss so that this argument could be stated eloquently. But these theories about the evolution of the DNA molecule can be granted for the sake of argument. The argument is not that DNA must have been created ex nihilo (out of nothing). Rather, the argument is that DNA must have have an intelligent mind behind it. As Dr. Frank Turek pointed out, messages only come from minds.
The God of The Gaps
In one of his interviews, an atheist told Ray that people worship things because they are trying to make sense of things that they do not understand. This is best summarized in what is known as the old God of The Gaps argument. We see natural phenomenon and we do not understand it, and therefore we appeal to God to explain away our lack of understanding. One might suppose that the argument from the DNA molecule would take this form. Well, I suppose that somebody could, hypothetically, mount an argument like that. But that is not the argument that Ray was making. Ray pointed out that we are not explaining what we do not know. We are explaining what we do know.
We know that messages come from minds and that information must come from intelligence. When we look at the natural world, we see plainly that there must have been a Creator. After all, why does anything at all exist? Why are there fingerprints of design? These are inferences based on what we do know. That is not to say that scientific causes are obsolete. It is to say that there are different types of causes. There are mechanical causes and agent causes. There is thermodynamics and then there is Henry Ford. Hypothesizing about the mechanism does not eliminate the need for the agent. Asking about the scientific explanation does not eliminate the need for God.
Why Did The Atheist Say That He Was Lying To Himself?
As Ray was presenting the evidence for the existence of God to the atheists, many of them admitted that it did make sense. However, they said that they were still atheists. They were still willing to believe that the book made itself. They were willing to deny what they could plainly see to maintain their atheism. Ray’s arguments were not designed to convince individuals who truly did not believe in God. They were designed to convince people who know that God exists and were in rebellion to him. As a result of everything that they see plainly, they know that God exists. Then the question becomes, why do they deny what they can see plainly?
Ray suggested that if you accept what you see plainly, then this means that there is someone who created all of humanity, and you are responsible to him. Your life would change. You would have to align your will to that of his. If God exists, then he is the perfect standard of righteousness, such that his will needs to become our will. We need to align our beliefs about abortion, marriage, lust, pornography, lying, and blasphemy, to his beliefs. That thought repulses the natural man (1 Corinthians 2:14). So it does not matter what the intellectual price-tag is. We will pay it. We will say that a book created itself, that the universe popped into being, uncaused, out of nothing, and that human beings are mere animals, responsible only to ourselves.
But when faced with the absurdity of what we believe, it becomes abundantly clear that, as this young man said, “I am lying to myself.” That is why Ray heavily emphasized throughout this movie that his interviewees should not trust their heart. The heart is wicked and deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9). It will lead us astray into unrighteousness and sin and rebellion to our Creator.
The Suicidal Man
That is precisely what happened to this man who was confronted with the reality of his worldview. He told himself that he did not have a Creator, and this led him to believe, “I am no good to anybody.” He believed that he did not have any intrinsic moral worth. So Ray pleaded with him, telling him that he was made in the image of God, that it grieved him to hear that he wants to commit suicide. The man replied in utter shock, asking how it is that Ray could care at all about whether a stranger should perish. Ray replied, “I love you because I am a Christian” and he told him that he has been made in the image of God.
The absurdity of the atheistic worldview comes into full view when we realize what it does to mankind. It strips mankind of all intrinsic moral worth. How can you testify that human beings are worth anything, at all, if we arose from the blind processes of nature? But this is not an argument based on wishful thinking. It is inferred based on what we see plainly. We all recognize that human beings do have true value.
This comes into full focus when we contemplate the cross of Jesus Christ. The Creator became a man (John 1:14) and lived with no sin. Then he was murdered. On the cross, he absorbed our punishment (Romans 3:21-26). He died in our place. Our sins were nailed to the cross so that his righteousness could be given to us. Now, his death is our death and his resurrection is our resurrection. That is why Ray cares so much for the suicidal man. He wants to see him accept the promises of God, believe the gospel, and receive the free gift of eternal life (John 3:16).
It was not my fault. That is what people often say when they are confronted with a decision that they made. Perhaps a husband was so overcome with lust that he thinks he had no choice but to commit adultery. People often attempt to dodge responsibility for their actions, because if they are not in control, then they cannot be blamed. Some have argued that the doctrine of divine determinism provides a sufficient basis for avoiding any human responsibility. God has ordained everything that will come to pass, and there is nothing that caught him by surprise or was not part of his divine plan. But what about our faults, our sin, our evil? If God ordains everything, then anything that I do will have been foreordained by God. So, how can I really be responsible? Is God the author of sin on divine determinism?
In earlier blogposts such as Is God Evil If Calvinism Is True? and How Job Answers The Central Objection To Calvinism I argued that it is not the place of the creature to stand in judgment over the Creator. This should distill the intellectual objection, but it often leaves people unsatisfied because it does not directly answer the question. In this article, I will outline some of the models of reconciling human responsibility with divine determinism as expressed in Dr. Paul Helm’s book The Providence of God (pages 168-182).
First, Dr. Helm argued that God did not create a world of evil and suffering. He did not create a tooth and claw world where people were killing each other. He did not create a world in which mankind is plagued by a sinful nature. Rather, God created a world that was very good. There was no sin, and moral agents were not under the power of a sinful nature. Human beings introduced evil into the world.
This is because, as Dr. Helm argued, evil is not a thing in and of itself. Evil is the absence of goodness. To say that something is evil is to say that it departs from the standard of righteousness and holiness in God’s character. To say that something is sin is to say that the individual has violated God’s laws. It is a deformation, a depravity of the good, a lack of goodness. On this model, it can be said that God has causally upheld all states of affairs, even when they contain the evil actions of men.
But even on this model, is not God still causing evil? Well I think it can be said that there are different levels of causes. First, the human affairs and the decisions that men make cause evil actions. What does it mean, then, for God to uphold these actions without being the direct source of evil? Dr. Helm argued that God determines evil events to occur by withholding his goodness and grace, hence the agents form a morally deficient reason for some action. Accordingly, God is not the author of sin.
Throughout the ages, Christian thinkers have described God’s causal upholding of evil in terms of divine permission. God permits evil rather than actively causing it. Helm pointed out that there are different types of permission. First, there is general permission, where I permit you to use my car, but do not control your movements. There is also specific permission. Helm supposes that God ordains the necessary conditions for an agent to do something that is evil, and he permits the agent to perform the action.
The force of this argument is illuminated when we recognize that there are all sorts of evil actions in the world that God could have prevented. He is all-powerful. He could have prevented the fall of men or angels. He could prevent cruelty by annihilating an individual. In fact, we will probably never know how much evil and suffering has been prevented by God.
Divine permission has committed itself to the great intellectuals of the Christian faith throughout the ages. It was summarized well by Johnathan Edwards, who wrote, “If by author of sin is meant, the permitter, or not a hinderer of a sin, and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy, and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin if it be permitted or not hindered will infallibly follow, I do not deny that God is the author of sin (though I dislike and reject the phrase).”
If we do not have freedom of the will, then in what sense can we truly be responsible for evil and suffering? After all, we are not actually making choices. I am not choosing anything at all. I am just a puppet on a string. Well, the puppet analogy is an unfortunate one that has committed itself to Arminian rhetoric. Determinists typically do not believe that there is no free will. Rather, we argue that determinism is compatible with free will. The ability to have made a different choice is not a necessary condition for free will or for moral responsibility. Humans really do have free will and therefore they are morally responsible.
Now, it is beyond the scope of this article to mount an argument for compatibilism (I intend to write an article soon about that topic). I am only pointing out that this is our model. We believe that determinism and free will are compatible. Comparably, Arminians believe that total depravity and libertarianism are compatible. But they appeal to the doctrine of prevenient grace to reconcile these doctrines. Just as I would not say that an Arminian does not truly believe in total depravity just because there are problems with prevenient grace, so also the Arminian should not say charge the determinist with making God the author of sin. Our model necessitates that he is not the author of sin.
But I imagine that many Arminian readers are keen to object to compatibilism and argue that on divine determinism, God would have to be a puppeteer. If that were the case, then God would still not the author of sin. Puppets and robots are not moral agents. If that were the case, we would be in a grand state of self-delusion, thinking that we are making choices when in truth, we are just robotically reacting to stimuli.
Throughout the Bible, we see something of a unity between the evil actions that men will take and the sovereign plans of God. In Isaiah 10, the Assyrian army overran Israel, and they were evil in their intentions. But God brought it about, and his intentions were righteous. Similarly, when the Romans crucified Jesus, they were evil. The Jews who orchestrated the event were behaving nefariously. But God used their actions, predestining it from the foundations of the world (1 Peter 1:20). This is a distinction between different levels of causality. Reformed thinkers often designate them as primary and secondary causes. This is expressed particularly succinctly in Genesis 50:20, which reads, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
Within the primary and secondary causes are different motivations. When Joseph’s brothers kidnapped him and sold him into slavery, they were being evil. But God was being righteous. This probably closely resembles the arguments that I made in the articles that I linked to at the beginning of this article, but God always has a higher, greater purpose for upholding evil in the world. He has righteous reasons and he uses the evil intentions of men.
The concept of primary and secondary causes should not be foreign to any Christian. We all recognize that God uses men to bring about events. When the apostle Paul wrote his letters, Paul was God’s instrument in communicating God’s word to the people. Even as I am writing the words on this page, they are emanating from me, but God has brought about the necessary and sufficient conditions for this state of affairs.
What If We Did Not Have Any Models?
These philosophical constructions are very helpful ways for us to think about God’s relationship with evil and seem to alleviate the charge of being the author of sin. But suppose for a moment that we did not have any models at all. We would still have two truths from Scripture:  Determinism is true and  human beings are responsible for their actions. Since Scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith for the church (2 Timothy 3:16-17), it would be inappropriate for us to try to refute scriptural truth. We can question it and try to understand and resolve it, but we may not charge God with being the author of sin.
Is God The Author of Sin On Divine Determinism?
There do not seem to be any good reasons to think so. If you allow determinists to define their own terms, they will espouse a compatibility between free will and determinism. Similarly, they will recognize that evil is just the depravity of good. When something evil occurs, God has withheld his goodness, ordaining the sufficient and necessary conditions for some state of affairs to occur. He permits it to occur. Further, even if we did not have any of these models, it would be perfectly sufficient to throw up our hands and trust in the righteousness of God and his truth as revealed in Scripture. As Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding.”
Unconditional election is the doctrine that God sovereignly chooses who will be saved and passes over others. Imagine that all of the tenants of a building gambled away their rent money. They all deserved to be evicted. If the landlord evicted everybody, nobody would condemn him. He was perfectly within his rights. However, suppose that the landlord had immeasurable wealth and would not suffer any financial ruin if he were to pay for the debts of all of his tenants. Would he be under any ethical obligation to pay for their debts? Unless you supported the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, then you will probably say that he does not. It is his money to do with as he pleases. But suppose the landlord is also a very merciful man, and he wants to pay for their debt. If he paid for all of their debts, they would think that there were no consequences for their actions. So instead, he chooses to pay for only some of their debts. That is what is stated by the doctrine of unconditional election. God chooses to pay for the debts of some of his people. However, in response, some will raise the philosophical objection that when God choose individuals, his choice must be arbitrary. Is that the case? Is unconditional election a random, arbitrary election?
Some regard this as a very powerful objection to the reformed confessions of faith. There seem to be two options. The first option, stated by Arminian theology is that election is based on conditions that individuals meet (namely, their faith apart from works). But the doctrine of unconditional election states that there are no conditions. If there are no conditions, then on what basis does God choose individuals? Would it not have to be random?
The Words ‘Unconditional Election’ Can Be Misleading
Sometimes the definition of a word within the title of a doctrine can mislead people into following them to a logical conclusion. Consider the doctrine of total depravity. As Calvinists, we believe that man cannot do anything at all that is pleasing to God. He has a fallen nature and is totally depraved. But many Calvinist do not think that man is maximally evil. We hold a concept of common grace, whereby God restrains the evil hearts of men. So there may be times in which an unregenerate sinner exhibits self-sacrificial behavior solely for the good of others. But the title total depravity can mislead you into thinking otherwise. The same could be said of unconditional election.
When the reformed confessions of faith state that God’s choosing of individuals is unconditional, that is to say that God did not perceive anything worthy in and of these individuals that would lead him to choose one over the other. Of the unconditional election of the elect, the Westminster Catechism says that it was “without any foresight of faith or works in man or perseverance in either of them.” (Chap. III, art. 3,4 &5; Chap. X, art. 2). As Dr. Sam Storms put it (read this, it is very good), “There is no distinction between elect and non-elect prior to the distinction that election makes.”
Dr. Storms also went on to point out that while election is not based on anything worthy in the individual, there are still factors and there is still a foundation for God’s decision. I think that it is the firm conviction of most reformed individuals that the confessions of faith that outline the doctrine of unconditional election merely inform us that God did not find anything worthy in his elect that would separate them from the non-elect. God had reasons of which we are unaware, but those reasons did not reside in the merit or worth or virtue of any of the individuals who he chose.
But It Is Still A Condition
If the Arminian is seeking merely to win an argument about the definition of the words of the title of the doctrine, then they might point out that whatever reasons God had would in fact be a condition. But as I pointed out, that would depart from how most reformed individuals interpret the Westminster Catechism and probably how the authors of the great reformed confessions of faith intended us to interpret it (for they did not believe that God’s election was arbitrary). I would prefer to have a discussion that allows both sides to define their own terms. When we say that election is unconditional, we mean that election is not based on anything meritorious or worthy that God finds in an individual.
But Faith Is Not Meritorious Or Worthy, Is It?
Throughout the New Testament, we see a stark distinction between faith and works. Paul often tells us that we are justified by faith alone and not by the works that we perform. Ipso facto, faith is not a work. It is not something that we present to God as some sort of meritorious deed in the hope that he will reward it with eternal life. It means only that we are trusting in God’s promises, and his promises cannot fail. But, if faith is not a work, then perhaps the Arminian could rejoin that my definition of unconditional election is indistinguishable from conditional election. I have stated that God has reasons for his election that are not in the virtue of the individual. If faith is not a work, then faith could qualify as one of those reasons.
While faith is often distinguished from works in the New Testament, it is undeniable that it is still a virtuous act. It is more virtuous to have faith than to be unfaithful. It is more virtuous to trust God’s promises than to walk in rebellion to one’s Creator. The doctrine of unconditional election states that God does not choose us on the basis of anything virtuous or worthy or meritorious. Again, if the Arminian were to take this position, then they would be arguing based on the definition of words rather than based on the definition of the theological position. If the Arminian were to use this as a basis for saying that they, too, believe in unconditional election, then they would be doing nothing more than muddying the waters, using a definition of unconditional election that departs from its’ historic and normal usage.
Is ‘I Don’t Know’ Always A Bad Answer?
There are many things in this life that we do not always have the answers to. Why is there so much evil and suffering in the world? We may be able to conjure up a few general theodicies. But why did this happen to me? Why did I stub my toe? Why did I get a flat tire? I want specifics! Give me an answer. Of course, there are no answers forthcoming in this life (or perhaps ever). But the fact that we do not have insight into God’s mind does not mean that we have given a poor answer. Sometimes the answer really is that we do not know because we cannot know it. God has not revealed why he chose one individual over another. He has only said that it has pleased him to save his elect.
Of course, to say that you do not know does not always function very well in the context of a debate. People want to have answers to these questions. They want to be satisfied. When the Arminian presses this point, insisting that divine election is either arbitrary or conditional, they are something like the man who is insisting upon knowing why he stubbed his toe. We do not always know what the ultimate, cosmic reasons are. It may not make for good debating and the answer may not always be satisfying. But sometimes we need to accept what God has revealed. This is the point that God made when he appeared to Job. Job replied, “Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You? I lay my hand on my mouth.” (Job 40:4).
What If It Was Arbitrary?
In his article 5 Reasons To Reject Unconditional Election, Micah J. Murray pointed out that if God were to choose random people to salvation, then this would be capricious. God seems to be sending people to Hell for no reason. However, I think that this objection is misguided. If the choice of the elect were truly random, then he would be electing people to go to Heaven for no reason. People go to Hell for their sins against a holy and righteous God.
In these discussions, people tend the view the non-elect as poor, innocent bystanders who are being victimized by God’s wrath. If only they had the chance to be saved, then they would joyfully accept God’s promises. I think that this is a much more generous view of mankind than the Bible provides. Quoting the Psalms, Paul writes in Romans 3:10-12, “There is none righteous, not even one. There is none who understands. There is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside. Together they have become useless. There is none who does good. There is not even one.” We are all like the tenants who gambled away their rent money. We are fools, haters of God and lovers of sin. Given the opportunity, the unregenerate man would always choose sin and would never choose righteousness. That is why the gospel is such a powerful message. Even when we were dead in our sins, God made us alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:5).
The building owner could randomly choose some people and cover their rent, while evicting everybody else, and this would not be capricious. He would be perfectly within his rational rights to do so. While the image of God reaching into a hat and selecting random names on a slip of paper is a caricature in the highest degree, it would not be capricious. So, even if we were to charitably grant the Arminian argument and say that God’s choice truly was arbitrary, it would not do anything to impugn the character of God or the doctrine of unconditional election.
Is Unconditional Election A Random, Arbitrary Election?
These discussions are often focused too heavily on the technical definitions of the title of the words in the doctrine. But I think that this is a mistake. When scientists tell us that there was a Big Bang, they generally do not mean that there was an explosion or an actual banging noise. It also was not very big. It was probably smaller than a grain of sand. Similarly, if a Calvinist tells you that man is totally depraved, it does not mean that man cannot do any good works at all. It means that he cannot do anything that is pleasing to God. He cannot justify himself before a holy God. The same principle can be applied to the doctrine of unconditional election.
We interpret the biblical data and the reformed confessions of faith concerning the doctrine of unconditional election to mean that God did not see anything meritorious in us that caused him to choose us. There are reasons, but we just do not know them, and that should not bother us. Accordingly, his choice was not random. But even if it were, that would not make him capricious anymore than it would make the building owner capricious for randomly selecting some of his tenants and paying their rent.
Individuals who follow this blog very closely (refreshing the pages every thirty seconds to see if there are any updates) will have noticed that I have added an addendum to a few pages. I thought that it would be prudent to notate when my views have evolved. The articles will remain available, but only for research purposes rather than as representative as my personal views. Among these posts are those articles that I have written about Molinism. Some may be pleased and others may be disappointed to learn that I have moved away from Molinist thought. However, so long as that addendum has been posted, it is prudent for me to explain why I have repudiated my posts about Molinism.
What good reasons are there to think that it is true?
Molinism begins with the doctrine that God possesses middle knowledge. Most people recognize that there are different types of knowledge. There is knowledge of the past (what did happen), knowledge of the present, (what is happening) and knowledge of the future (what will happen). However, middle knowledge is often overlooked. Middle knowledge is the doctrine that God knows what would happen if the circumstances were different. If you made a wrong turn and were late to work, your boss would have chastised you. But in the actual world, you did not make a wrong turn and you were on time.
Scripture is replete with statements of counterfactuals. Paul said that if the rulers of this age had understood, then they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. In common tongue, we often think in terms of counterfactuals. If I pull out into traffic, I will cause an accident. Molinism begins with the doctrine that that God possesses middle knowledge. Unfortunately, the debate does not often get past this point. However, the determinist who does not know if they believe in middle knowledge would do well to move passed this point and temporarily concede it for the sake of argument.
How Does God Use His Middle Knowledge?
The crucial point is not in whether God possesses middle knowledge, but rather in how he uses middle knowledge. Molinism is more than the doctrine that God possesses it. It is the doctrine that God uses his knowledge of what we would do in certain situations to arrange the world. He puts us in situations in which he knows that we would freely choose to do his will. That is the crucial point that needs to be argued. There are really no good reasons to think that this model of sovereignty is true. It is something like if a man built a shed with a hammer and nails and you were trying to guess which hammer he used. But he has ten hammers. You could say, “Maybe he used this one.” Yes, perhaps he did. But what good reasons are there to think that?
Molinism As An Explanation
At this juncture, Molinists will typically suggest that Molinism is the best explanation for a wide range of phenomenon. It has more explanatory scope and power than models such as determinism. It is supposed that Molinism is the best explanation for how Scripture was inspired, how (if) evolution occurred, and most prominently, how we can best understand how God is sovereign over the free choices that men will make. After all, if both the proposition  God is sovereign and  man is free are true, then there will be situations that they seem difficult to resolve. As many determinists argue, it would have to be the case that God has gotten very lucky that he wins in the end. Molinism seems to provide a resolution to this problem. God is sovereign even over the free choices that men will make, as he places them in situations in which they freely choose to do his will. Accordingly, Molinism is the best explanation for many problems that will arise when one has free agents and a sovereign God.
However, the careful reader will have noticed that the argument from explanations only works if you accept the premise that man is free. This is not so much an explanation of why Molinism is superior to determinism. Rather, it is a preservation of the freedom of the will. It is a defensive posture, guarding against the critiques that will come from determinists. For determinism does not suffer from any of these problems. It may have internal problems of its’ own, but insofar as explanatory power and scope are concerned, it has far more than Molinism and can account for all of the data. A top-down control system can account for the inspiration of Scripture, human evolution, evil and suffering, and even human sin.
Arguments That Rely On Divine Psychology?
One of the most common objections to a top-down control system is the question of God’s motivations. Why would he do something in such a way? In A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology, Kirk MacGregor writes, “But what kind of God could create a universe in which astronomically improbably mutations would repeatedly occur in the course of nature, as opposed to the special creationist’s universe where these mutations did not occur but where God repeatedly intervened to produce the same long-term effects as if they had occurred? I contend that only a God endowed with middle knowledge would be able to create such a universe.”
This (and many similar arguments) rely on what is known as divine psychology. He is making an argument that it is improbable that God would have guided evolution by natural selection because it seems to be random. Determinism is therefore not a very good explanation. But as I have pointed out, in a top-down control system, God could have created in this way. The question is ‘why did God create it in this way?’ MacGregor seems to be suggesting that he would not have. But that relies on divine psychology. He is presuming to know the mind of God. Perhaps God enjoys the creative process. Perhaps there are any number of explanations of which we are unaware. For his argument to succeed, MacGregor would need to disprove all of the possible intentions that God could have for determining these mutations. This argument bears a burden of proof that has not been (and cannot be) met.
Freedom of The Will
It might be argued that determinism is not as potent of an explanation because it does not allow for freedom of the will. Since Molinism does, it is therefore a better explanation. Of course, this argument would make the assumption that freedom of the will actually exists. We actually do have a libertarian anthropology, and Molinism can account for it. But if freedom of the will does not exist, then this would not be a merit of the Molinist position.
Many Molinists (myself included) have argued for freedom of the will on the basis of one’s intuitions. It is just something that we can plainly grasp about reality. We make decisions and we could have chosen something different. It is therefore thought to be a properly basic belief. There are two problems with this argument. First, it may be the case that we do not have an intuition of freedom. There are many times when we want to do something very badly, but our immediate desires override what we want. A man may want to lose weight, but he cannot bring himself to stave the desire for a donut. It may be that our intuitions indicate that we do not have freedom of the will.
Second, the fact that we chose A when B seemed to be a valid option does not necessarily mean that we could have chosen B. Just imagine a universe in which determinism were true. Would individuals in that universe retroactively think that they could have chosen B? That seems like a difficult assessment to make. The advocate for the intuitions argument would have to say that they would not have that intuition. But in taking that position, they would be bearing a burden of proof that seems impossible to meet. How could you possibly prove that if determinism were true, the people in the deterministic universe would not have the intuition that they could have chosen something different?
Does Molinism Even Accommodate Freedom?
Some determinists will object that Molinism does not even allow individuals to have freedom of the will. There are two arguments worth mentioning. Of course, I am not necessarily committed to either of these arguments, but they are worth considering if we are evaluating Molinism as an explanation for freedom of the will.
First, Dr. Paul Helm briefly argued in his book The Providence of God that Molinism does not allow for a libertarian anthropology. Molinism proposes that if God puts Johnson in situation X, then he will make choice B rather than choice A. But, argues Helm, if Johnson were truly free, he would be able to choose either A or B. If that were the case, then God would not actually have knowledge of what Johnson would do. He would only be able to say that he knows Johnson so intimately that he can make a calculated guess as to what he might choose. Since Molinists believe that God is omniscient, man cannot truly possess a libertarian anthropology.
Second, Dr. James White has argued on several occasions that Molinism is actually a model of micromanagement. Johnson is sort of like a wind-up doll. God is puts him into this situation, manipulating the circumstances so that he will make the choice that aligns with the divine will. But how can it be said that Johnson is truly free in a libertarian sense? The circumstances essentially define the decision that he is going to make.
Does Determinism Accommodate Freedom?
The argument from the explanatory power of Molinism requires that determinism cannot account for human freedom. However, most Calvinists believe in what is known as compatibilism. Compatibilism is the doctrine that man’s freedom is compatible with divine determinism. Man could be free even if his decisions are determined by God. Now, this seems very counter-intuitive. If God has determined what my decisions are going to be, then in what sense can I be said to be making free choices?
Well, a libertarian anthropology certainly would entail that an individual needs to be able to have two active options for a choice to truly be free. God could not determine us to take some action because if we are to be truly free, then we would need to have the option to choose something else. On the other hand, a compatibilistic account of freedom entails that one does not actually need two active options for the choice to be free.
As the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy pointed out, the philosopher Harry Frankfurt used an illustration of a scientist who implants two electrodes into Johnson’s brain. One of these electrodes will compel Johnson to make a good decision (G) and the other an evil decision (E). When Johnson strays into evil, the scientist uses the G electrode to compel him to do good instead. However, if Johnson is not trying to do evil, then the G electrode is inactive. Johnson cannot truly choose E, but nonetheless, he is still freely choosing G. The same could be said of us. We are truly free even if we cannot choice to do otherwise.
Therefore it seems to me that even determinism has room for freedom, even if you choose to call it compatibilistic rather than libertarian. (I do not personally think that it makes a difference. However, I would shy away from the libertarian label only because it so often represents the Arminian position and I do not want to muddy the waters.) This disarms Molinism of the argument for a superior explanatory power. It also provides a sufficient rebuttal to the argument that God would be the author of sin, (which I examined more thoroughly here) and the argument that determinism makes it difficult to know if we are reasoning to our conclusions.
In Isaiah 10, Isaiah explained that God used the Assyrian army to bring his judgment upon his sinful people. However, the things that the Assyrian army did were evil. So, as it turns out, God punished the Assyrians for the very crimes that he determined them to commit. They had evil intentions, but God used their evil intentions for good. Similarly, in Genesis 50:20, it says that what Joseph’s brothers intended for evil, God intended for good. There are several other similar passages related to predestination.
The Molinists will usually come in at this point and say that all of these passages are consistent with Molinism. Molinism provides a good explanation of these passages. God put Joseph’s brothers in a situation in which they would freely choose to do something evil. The same could be said of the Assyrian army or virtually any text that says that God predestined something. Molinism is said to be consistent with these texts, and I generally agree with that. It certainly is consistent with them.
The problem is that this was not the intention that any of the the authors had when these books were written. Where does the text say God put them in a situation in which he would freely choose to do his will? It is literally eisegesis. It is imposing a concept onto the text that is not found there. It is the complete opposite of how other doctrines such as the trinity are found in Scripture. All of the premises of the trinity are exegeted from Scripture. The other passages are interpreted in light of that exegesis. But in the case of Molinism, there just are no passages upon which one can base their interpretation.
There are certainly passages that speak about middle knowledge and counterfactuals, but these passages are insufficient to establish the premise that God used his middle knowledge to arrange all of the affairs of the world and grant a libertarian anthropology to his creatures. To find Molinism in Scripture is to commit eisegesis. There is no way around it.
But determinism is not there either.
That is the move that Molinists will usually make. They will suggest that there are two (or more) competing interpretations of these passages. Determinism is one and Molinism is the other. There is nothing in the text to decide either way, so you have to analyze these concepts outside of the text, determine which one makes more sense and bring the victor back. The problem is that determinism is in the text. It is just plain understanding of what the text is saying. You could only draw a deterministic interpretation from Genesis 50:20 if you only have the text to go by.
Further, there are many other relevant passages that seem even more explicit. Psalm 33:10-11 reads, “The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations. He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever. The plans of His heart from generation to generation.” To find anything other than determinism in this passage is the height of eisegesis.
A Molinist Could Agree
Of course, you could still be a Molinist even if you agree that it is eisegesis to find Molinism in the text. A Molinist does not necessarily need to believe that they can find it in Scripture. But you would have to be a Roman Catholic or a Jesuit. You most certainly could not be an evangelical or a Protestant. As Protestants, we believe that scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith for the church.
However, if that were the case, then you would have to work out how you interpret passages such as Genesis 50:20 or Psalm 33:10-11. Incorporating Molinism is not an option because you have agreed that it is eisegesis. The only option is for you to either live in utter inconsistency, deny the infallibility of Scripture, commit eisegesis or abandon Molinism completely.
An Arminian Resource
Molinists will often tell us that they are not Arminians. However, those who are more savvy recognize that Arminianism is a view of soteriology while Molinism is a view of providence. Accordingly, one could be both an Arminian and a Molinist, or both a Calvinist and a Molinist. However, in general, the majority of Molinists are Arminians. Molinism is almost exclusively employed as an Arminian resource to deflect the arguments of the Reformation. When it touches on soteriology, it is essentially a more philosophically informed version of Arminianism. This is not an argument against Molinism, but Calvinists who are considering Molinism (or are Molinists) should recognize what they are involved in.
Why I Have Repudiated My Posts About Molinism
Molinism may very well be a sound philosophical construction. I am not here to advocate for the Grounding Objection. As I pointed out, I think that God does have middle knowledge and that it would be unthinkable that he does not. Unfortunately, that is often where the debate takes place. Calvinists do not always know how to critique Molinism. The best way to critique Molinism is to put it on the defensive. Ask them why and how they know it is true. There are no good reasons to believe that Molinism is true. That is why I have repudiated my posts about Molinism.
Does God want every individual to be saved? This is the main deterrent that will prevent people from becoming Calvinists. The idea that God is not actively trying to save every individual is difficult to bear and does not comport with contemporary wisdom regarding freedom of the will. Many people think that every individual is equally free to choose God. God is pleading with each one of us, desperately laboring in vain to win us over. This is the model that many evangelicals will endorse. They will tell us that God is knocking at the door of every heart and waiting for us to open and let him in. Is that the case? Does God want every individual to be saved?
I can sympathize with the emotional objection that people will have to this idea. But we need to make a distinction between emotional objections and intellectual objections. An emotional objection occurs when you recoil emotionally to some idea or doctrine, and your responses are fueled by the idea that it is not very nice. An intellectual objection is when you survey the potent points of the doctrine and find yourself in disagreement as the result of some shortcoming. If you have an emotional objection, recognize it and admit it to yourself. Your emotion should not control your insight or your doctrine. If it does, you might end up being a universalist or a pluralist.
Calvinism Actually Offers More Hope
While a surface understanding of Calvinism and Arminianism may lead someone to think that Calvinism offers less hope, that is not the case. The idea that God alone determines who will be saved and who remains saved offers more hope than the doctrine that God is actively trying to save all people. As Calvinists, we believe that God’s promises never fail. His plans cannot be thwarted by the will of the people. As Psalm 33:10-11 reads, “The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever. The plans of His heart from generation to generation.”
As of this writing, we are currently in an election year. In a normal election year, there would be a candidate for which most people would be very enthusiastic. We would believe that we can trust this individual to lead the charge in our national security and the prosperity of the nation. However, the promises of a human monarch can fail even if they have righteous intentions. We can put all of our trust in these individuals but could never have ontological certainty that their plan will not be thwarted. The things that happen might not be part of their plan and they will have to make adjustments to get the most out of anything that happens.
Does Everything Happen For A Reason?
The same could be said of God on Arminianism. God is actively trying to make the most out of things that happen, but he does not cause them to occur. When a man chooses to reject the gospel, God may try to make the most out of a bad situation, but he is not sovereign over that bad situation. There are two categories of events: bad things brought about the free choices of men and good things wrought by the counsel of God. This is in stark contrast with the model of providence that we see in Scripture. God is sovereign over everything, as even the evil decisions that men make are brought about for his righteous purposes (Isaiah 45:7). Accordingly, we know that in truth, everything happens for a reas on and we can put our trust in the God who reigns enthroned as King of the universe.
Does Everyone Deserve A Fair Chance?
Underlying but intrinsic to this objection is the idea that God owes us mercy and grace. God must want every individual to be saved because it would be wrong if he did not. Some theologians, such as Dr. Roger Olson, will go so far as to say that they would apostatize if God did not meet that criteria. By virtue of being human, God is our debtor. This is a position that even some evangelicals will take. Rather than suggesting that they deserve to go to Heaven, they will imply that they deserve a chance to go to Heaven. God must provide an opportunity for every single individual to give it the old college try. He must throw a rope.
I imagine that some Arminians may contest this idea. They may suggest that God does not owe us anything. But think about the objection for a moment (if indeed you do hold this objection). If God saves Bill and not Steve, when he could have saved Steve, has he committed a crime against Steve? If so, then you are assuming that Steve deserve something. If Steve deserves nothing, then no crime has been committed against him.
What Do We Deserve?
But that raises the question of what it means to be saved and how God brings people to Heaven. As Christians, we recognize that everybody is a sinner and deserve to go to Hell. God would be just if he created a universe in which all people were damned and without any hope. If you are going to deny this, then you need to reflect on the wages of sin and the righteousness of God. God cannot allow sin in his sight. He is too righteous and holy. As Romans 6:23 says, “The wage of sin is death.” Since all have sinned, all are deserving of death. When God saves somebody, he does so by grace. Grace is often defined as being unmerited favor. God freely saves us despite that he had no obligation to us. We do not deserve even a chance to be saved but God saves us anyway.
Just imagine a possible world in which every single person goes to Hell. God created a world of creatures who were in bondage to the will and had no hope of reconciliation. If you are an evangelical Christian, then you recognize that God could create this world and still be just and loving. After all, we are sinful creatures and God is the judge. He does not owe mercy to anybody. He does not owe a chance at mercy to anybody. But if that is a possible world, then the objections to God’s sovereignty in salvation instantly dissolve. That is close to the universe that we inhabit. The only difference is that God extends his mercy to some.
Nobody Wants A Chance To Be Saved
Further, nobody actually wants to have a fair shake in salvation. Nobody wants to come to God. People want to be dead in their sins and trespasses. They would rather enjoy the fleeting pleasure of sin than to turn God in repentance and faith. As Romans 3:10-11 says, “There is none righteous, not even one. There is none who understands. There is none who seeks for God.” Arminians will typically agree with this. But they will say that God provides prevenient grace to activate the faith center in every individual so that they can freely choose him. (I argued against this position in my article A Critique of Prevenient Grace).
But that means that God is under obligation not only to provide mercy but also to change your heart so that you will receive the mercy? That seems patently ridiculous. We are rebellious sinners and God is under no obligation to provide grace, mercy, an indeterministic universe or a changed heart. He is God and we are the creatures.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is precisely the opposite. The gospel is that God saves those who have no hope of salvation. He sees people who are dead in their trespasses and sins and saved them independently of any obligation that he has toward us. Salvation is based on his unmerited favor and the mercy that he has on his people. We are all sinful rebels, sentenced to death. We escaped, started a fire, and we are trapped in the burning building. The King sends his Son in to save some of us and have mercy on us. There is no sense in which you could say that he owes mercy to everybody or that we all deserve a fair chance. We receive it freely, by grace.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8
John 3:16, The World, All People
In these discussions, people often bring up passages which say that God loves the entire world, and that whosoever will come is free to come into salvation. I will only cite one because the response to all of them would essentially be the same. John 3:16 reads, “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.” The argument that is usually raised is based on the word world. Every individual is part of the world. God sent his Son for the world. Therefore, God sent his Son for every individual. This argument seems to be guilty of the fallacy of equivocation. It treats the word world in different ways in the premises of the argument.
We often do not think about the racial implications of the New Testament. In our society, it is not a very prevalent theme. We recognize that egalitarianism is the proper way to treat one another. (In fact, a historical argument might be made that this diversity is based on the precedent of ethical inclusivism set by historic Christianity. Anybody can receive to the gospel.) But wait a moment. Consider this paragraph that you are reading. I just said that “Anybody” can receive the gospel. What did I mean? Well, based on the context of the paragraph, you have discerned that I was speaking about ethnic inclusivism. All people groups may receive the gospel and be saved.
The Apostles Had The Same Concern
This was a central theme and concern of the writers of the New Testament. The Messiah had come and the kingdom of God is expanding. That infuriated many of those members of ethnic Israel. They were God’s chosen and special people. Peter himself, a champion of the faith, an apostle who holds the keys of the kingdom, fell into that ethnic exclusivism (Galatians 2:11-13). Much of what the apostles wrote in the books of the New Testament served as an apologetic for inclusivism. They emphasized very strongly that the gospel was spreading to the entire world and not just Israel.
When John tells us that God loved the world or that the all people can be saved, the context indicates that he was speaking about people groups rather than every single individual. In the Great Commission, Jesus commanded his disciples to preach the gospel to all nations and baptize them (Matthew 28:19). In the parallel passage of Mark 16:15, Jesus said to go into all of the world. The world and the nations are paralleled. Of course, we do not know who the elect are, so it is our responsibility to preach the gospel to every individual. We can declare the glory of the gospel and the power of the resurrection to every individual and that if they repent and believe, they will be saved.
Not Willing That Any Should Perish
The Society of Evangelical Arminians created a logo with the words “Not willing that any should perish.” Now, of course, this is a wonderful verse when understood in its’ context. But since it is stamped onto the logo of an Arminian group, you have to be suspicious that they are guilty of the same exegetical error as many Arminians. They have taken these verses out of context. The verses that I have in mind are 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Timothy 2:4. Both essentially say that God wants all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) and that God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). Are they understanding these properly?
The first point worth making is that this does not necessarily establish the Arminian position. God may want different things. For example, a man may want both ice cream and to lose weight. God could want every single individual to be saved, but he has a greater will in mind, namely, he wants both his mercy and justice to be on display. However, this interpretation probably would not stand up to thorough scrutiny of 2nd Peter. But as long as we are battling with one-liners (as this verse is rarely presented in its’ context) then it might be appropriate to raise that point. However, if we are going to have a serious discussion, then I should look at the context.
2nd Peter 3:9
Peter did not make that statement in a vacuum. If he did, it might be more compelling. Instead, he said it in the middle of his discourse about the Second Coming. He said that when the “last days” come, many people will mock Christians. Where is this so-called Second Coming? (verse 4). What is taking so long? Just give up. He’s not coming, you fool. Peter writes this to encourage them. There is a reason that God is taking so long. It is not long to him, because a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day (2 Peter 3:8). God is patient. He had his reasons for taking so long.
What are those reasons? Peter provides one. He says that you do not have to worry. God is not being slow about keeping his promise (verse 9a). Instead, he is being patient toward you, because he is “…not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” If this is referring to every single individual, then that makes no sense in the context.
No matter how long God waits, there will always be more people who could possibly come into repentance. God could always look forward to the next generation of potential believers and want to wait for them. You could truly say, “What is God waiting for?” That is why it makes more sense to say that God is waiting for the full number of his elect to come into repentance. They are scattered throughout the ages and the nations. He is patiently waiting for all of his people to repent, not willing that a single one of them would perish.
2nd Timothy 4:2
The context of Paul’s letter to Timothy is a little different. It might be argued that Timothy and his church were undergoing some sort of persecution or they were enduring a social injustice at the hand of a king. So, Paul says that Timothy needs to pray for the kings and those who are in authority. He writes in verses 1-2 that he needs to offer prayers for “all men,” for kings and those in authority. This is good and pleasing in God’s sight, who desires all men to be saved. Why did Paul throw in the theological insight that God desires every single individual to be saved? Isn’t that a little odd? It makes more exegetical sense to say that Paul is using the term “all men” in verse 4 in the same way that he did in verse 1. All men includes men of every class, including kings.
Second, in verse 5, he went on to say that there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. This obviously cannot be referring to every single individual. The mediation here is a sacrificial mediation. He is pointing back to the cross of Calvary, where he gave himself as an offering for sin. If Christ is mediating for all individual men, then it follows that the Father does not honor the mediation of the Son or that universalism is true. Since neither of these propositions are true, it follows that the word “man” in verse 5 and the word “all” in verse 6 do not entail every single individual.
Does God Want Every Individual To Be Saved?
God commands that we preach the gospel to all individuals because we do not know who the elect are. He works through us. We may say to anybody that if they repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ, they will find him to be a perfect Savior. They will do according to their desires. Nobody will be left pleading at the doors of Heaven, wanting to be with God, wanting eternal life. Everybody who denies God will do so because they are in love with their sin.
The only reason that I can conceive of to think that God wants every individual to be saved is emotional. None of the logical, moral or scriptural arguments survive a thorough examination. Even the emotional objection begins to dissolve when you realize that God is not refusing people who are repenting. He is giving them what they want. We may say, truly, “The doors to Hell are locked from the inside.”
Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment and tell me why!
Modern man is regarded as thoughtful and rational when he actively tries to think of the world in scientific terms. He who lays superstition aside and recognizes that the world is compromised of natural causes and effects is the one who has ascended to a staggering intellectual height that would have been unknown to many of our ancestors. Mankind needs explanations. We are philosophical creatures and enjoy asking why things happen. Mysteries are insufficient and leave us unsatisfied. Even if there are no answers, we will feel inclined to just invent them. It is easier to believe a lie than to admit that the truth is unknowable. Some think that this is the method of the Judeo-Christian tradition manifested in our holy writ. Is that the case? Does the Bible portray an unscientific view of the world?
The Bible Teaches Theology, Not Science
Theology is the study of God and his interactions with the world. Science is the study of the natural world. There will certainly be some overlap in these disciplines. But the theology of the Bible generally does not answer scientific questions. People in the ancient world did not think about things in the same way that the contemporary man does. We think in scientific terms and tend to read that into Scripture. This is particularly prevalent because many people either have an anti-theological agenda and are actively looking for scientific errors, or they have a theological agenda and are interested in providing an apologetic for the Bible. Either way, this is to read something into Scripture that is not there. The Bible does not teach science.
That is not to say that the Bible is unscientific. Rather, it is to say that science is a category that just does not apply. Even if the authors believed something that is unscientific, they did not teach it as truth because they were not actively trying to promote Ancient Near Eastern cosmology. When Job and Isaiah say that God defeated the Leviathan (Isaiah 27:1), the author is not expressing that there is literally a giant sea monster that will devour the world. Rather, he is expressing that God is powerful and we can put our trust in him. We do not need to fear other gods or give our devotion to them out of fear. God crushes the Leviathan. But this is a theological teaching rather than a scientific one.
Isn’t God In Control?
The ancients would often find divine causes in all of the mechanisms of the universe. The gods were responsible for all mechanisms of the natural world. In fact, they were the mechanisms. This would leave little room for scientific discovery. If the gods are the mechanism of all natural events, it would follow that there were no scientific mechanisms. Accordingly, every time we discover another scientific mechanism, the divine hypothesis is further refuted. Is this the view of the natural world that is explicitly taught in Scripture? After all, the Bible says in Job 36:32, “He covers his hands with the lightning and commands it to strike the mark.” Job is expressing a high view of sovereignty and divine control. But if God is in control, then would that not mean that there were no scientific mechanisms?
Well, that seems to overlook the fact that there are different types of causes. Aristotle distinguished between efficient and material causes. In theology, we often say that there are primary and secondary causes. God is the primary cause, but he uses secondary causes to bring about his end. This means that there is abundant room for scientific discovery. We can understand the naturalistic reasons for lightning while believing that God is the primary cause of the lightning. It is sort of like if I used a wrench to repair my bicycle. I am the primary cause and the wrench is the secondary cause. But the presence of one does not negate the other nor does it render the other redundant. Accordingly, God’s sovereignty does not mean that the Bible portrays an unscientific view of the world.
Talking Snakes, Jonah In The Whale, And Resurrections
The physical and bodily resurrection is the center of the Christian faith. I could not say that it is a metaphor or that it is merely spiritual. If I did that, I would literally be departing from the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 15:17). It would mean that Jesus died on the cross, condemned as a blasphemer and a heretic and that is the end of the story. After all, they would identify blasphemers by condemning them to a shameful death. Deuteronomy 21:23 tells us that anyone who is hanged on a tree is under the curse of God. However, if Jesus was raised from the dead, then God vindicated Jesus. As Paul said, he became a curse on our behalf (Galatians 3:13), so that our sin became his sin and his resurrection is our resurrection. If he did not rise from the dead, then all that happened was that he was under a curse. But if he did rise from the dead, then it would appear that the project of science would be undermined, because men do not rise from the dead.
Well, it may surprise you to learn that we are not contesting the scientific truth that men do not rise from the dead. That is not something that occurs in nature. Rather, we are suggesting that God raised Jesus from the dead. He did not rise naturally. He rose supernaturally. If we hypothesized that he rose from the dead naturally, then this truly would be a violation of the laws of nature and the biblical worldview would be unscientific. The same could be said of all of the accounts of miracles. When Jonah survived for three days in the belly of a whale, he was sustained supernaturally. The “talking snake” would have been supernatural. Since these are not natural hypotheses, it is therefore not relevant to the project of science. The existence of miracles undermines only the sovereignty of science.
Demons Or Bacteria?
Throughout the New Testament, we see several occurrences of exorcisms. Demons would invade an individual and cause them to display symptoms of physical or psychological illness. When Jesus or the disciples exorcised the demon, these individuals were healed. This has led to many illegitimate health practices, such as exorcising demons when an individual legitimately has a disease. If an individual were going to start a medical practice with only the principles that they learned in Scripture, wouldn’t they think that all illnesses were caused by demons rather than by bacteria? (Well, as an aside, if I were going to be philosophically precise, I could say that demons could be the primary cause while bacteria are the secondary cause. I could also say that this individual could have multiple problems, including both demons and bacteria. But I will not do that.)
If you read the New Testament and conclude that all diseases are caused by demons, you have arrived at an illogical conclusion. Neither Jesus nor the apostles ever taught that all diseases are caused by demons. That would be an inductive conclusion that is guilty of the fallacy of understated evidence. One is guilty of this fallacy when they come to a conclusion without examining all of the relevant data. Even if every single illness in the Bible was associated with a demonic plague, that would still be insufficient. The authors would need to teach that this was a rule to which there was no exception, a point that you will not find anywhere. Further, and more critically, there are several instances in which people are ill and do not have any demonic inhabitants. In Matthew 8:1-4, a man has a skin disease and he is not exorcised. Therefore, the Bible teaches that not all diseases are the result of demons.
What About Young Earth Creationism?
The creation controversy is often one of the most heated of discussions, even among believing Christians. Young earth creationists will often tell us that theirs is the only legitimate interpretation that can even be considered by a faithful Christian. They will react in hostility to the Theory of Evolution, common descent, and the idea that the earth is billions of years old. Similarly, atheists will react in rage when somebody questions the Theory of Evolution or says that they are a bit skeptical of whether it is true. Both of these positions are unquestionable and immovable dogmas. But if the Bible does teach young earth creationism, then we may say that it truly is unscientific, as I argued in the linked article.
The young earth creationist interpretation is determined by counting the generations throughout the Old Testament and determining how much time passed. Then when you add 144 hours from the creation week, you determine that the earth is only 6000 years old. Well, there are several reasons to think that this is an illegitimate understandings of Genesis. First, it is assuming that the author has a scientific agenda rather than a theological one, which is not how people in the ancient world thought.
As I argued in my article Is Young Earth Creationism Dangerous? there is a cultural context through which the author and the audience would have understood Genesis. Second, there are several good reasons to think that the days in Genesis 1 are metaphorical rather than literal. One of the most obvious is that Hebrews 4:1-7 specifically says that we are still in the seventh day. If we are still in the seventh day, then they are obviously not literal days. So when Exodus 20:11 says, “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day,” the author is referring to the metaphor in Genesis 1 to establish a theological point.
Isn’t this the part where you will tell us about all of the scientific truths revealed in Scripture?
Some apologists have done that. There are scholars of the Bible who think that it teaches scientific truths that could not have otherwise been known. Dr. Hugh Ross will refer to the stretching out of the heavens referenced throughout the prophets and suggest that it is a reference to the cosmic expansion of the universe. Many will say that the so-called “circle of the earth” found in Isaiah is a reference to the fact that the earth is a sphere. You might even be able to find something like that on this site if you look hard enough (Please tell me if you do so that I can add an addendum). But I am no longer sympathetic with that position.
As I have said, I think that the Bible teaches theology, not science. I do not think that God was giving little clues that would only be understood tens of thousands of years later. When you are trying to understand a text, you need to ask what the author would have written and how his audience would have understood it. It seems to be an extremely self-centered way to interpret Scripture to think that it is all about us.
You might as well say that there is a clear reference to your family and that God is speaking directly to you. How would the people in AD 500 have understood that reference to your family or the various scientific mysteries that were revealed? The Bible is for all people at all times. If you are going to abandon the historical-grammatical method and say that the reader can relate it to themselves in any way that they would like because it was inspired by the Holy Spirit, then you could truly conjure up any interpretation of anything.
With that in mind, I do not have any scientific miracles to share with you. Even if I did have one, that would not establish anything. Perhaps the author learned from a brilliant philosopher. The roundness of the earth, the cosmic expansion of the heavens, the idea that the earth floats on nothing, et cetera, do not require divine intervention. However, I could imagine an inductive argument from several accurate scientific truths, but they would need to be properly interpreted. With all of that in mind, I think that there are other, better arguments that the Bible is God’s word. But the category of science simply does not apply to Scripture. It is neither scientific nor unscientific.
Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment! But please make sure you read before commenting.
Is the unborn a biological human being? I will try to illustrate the importance of this question with a story. When I was younger, a group of friends and I were riding our bikes through the neighborhood. One of my friends was peering into the river as we rode by and shouted “OOOHHH EWW! AWESOME. SO GROSS!” and immediately screeched to a halt and jumped off of his bike. He was so excited that he didn’t stand his bike on the kick-stand as he eagerly grabbed a stick and ran towards the river. After exchanging confused and excited glances at each other, the rest of us followed our temporary leader down into the rocks, weeds, and mud to see what the excitement was all about.
One of the younger kids in the group, Andy, decided that he didn’t really want to go down there because he wasn’t a fan of surprises or gross things. “GUYYYSS!! GUUUUUUYYYSS!! What is it?”, he asked.
“Shut up and come down here, Andy!”, responded one of the boys.
“But what iiiiiiiiisss it? Is it a fish?”
“Guys? Where’d you go?”
Silence. So Andy decides to go a little closer to the river.
“AAAH!!” he screams as someone throws a mangled, dead seagull over a bush and into Andy’s face. “That’s not cool, guys. You suck. It smells bad. Ew”
The Difference Between Fish And Human
I tell this story (that may or may not be entirely accurate… you know how memories are) in order to illustrate a point. When Andy was asking “what is it?” he was asking because he wanted to know how he ought to respond. If it was just the skeleton of a fish, he would have likely responded one way. But if it was the corpse of a recently drowned human being, he would have likely responded entirely differently. He may have enjoyed looking at the fish bones, but he may have run screaming if it was a recently deceased human corpse.
Likewise, when we are discussing ethical issues like abortion, it is important for us to know what is actually happening. I recently posted a video (on my Facebook wall) of a developing fetus at 7 weeks. It was making no moral claims whatsoever. It was merely a description of what happens during fetal development at that time. A woman (friend of a friend) commented and told me that the video was offensive, but I didn’t understand how a morally neutral examination of a developing human being could possibly be offensive. After all, shouldn’t we know what is being killed in the act of abortion? I asked her to clarify what she was offended by, but she never responded. But I can understand the implications.
If abortion kills a human being, it very quickly becomes a complex moral issue. So the crucial question imposes itself.
The Crucial Question
Does abortion kill a human being?
If you have spent any time at all engaging with pro-choice defenders, you’ve probably heard them deny that the unborn is human. You may have heard them suggest that we don’t know when a ‘fertilized egg’ becomes a human being. You may have even heard something like “the embryo is no more human than a skin cell!”, as they scratch their arm and slough off millions of cells and expect you to mourn the deaths of millions of tiny humans. One of my favorite objections is when someone says that ‘masturbation kills millions of humans” or that “pro-lifers ought to mourn the loss of a human being every time a woman gets her period”.
In this post, I hope to put these nonsensical objections to rest.
The fact of the matter is rather simple. It is something we learn about in elementary school or when our parents have “the talk” with us. When a mommy and daddy love each other very much, they engage in certain behaviors that end up creating a new baby brother!
Back to the Basics – the birds and the bees
I’m not entirely sure where the pro-choicer’s parent went wrong when discussing where babies come from with their grossed out, prepubescent son or daughter. Perhaps the conversation was so uncomfortable that they just told their kids that the stork brings the baby to mommy at the hospital. In case you still believe in the stork theory of human reproduction, let me just inform you right now. Spoilers: Storks have nothing to do with human procreation.
A new child is created by the union of a sperm cell (from daddy) and an egg cell (from mommy). The sperm enters the egg, it’s outer layer disintegrates, and then the DNA from both cells combine together to make a new, unique genetic combination within the egg cell. At this point, the fertilized egg*, or the zygote emerges. The zygote is the first stage of human development. At this stage, the zygotic cell begins to divide by mitosis, and will continue to grow into a more developed human organism.
And this is apparently the point of contention? When conception is completed, that is is the point at which a new human organism comes into existence. This new human being has all of the features of a living organism. She has a separate DNA from her mother, metabolism, goal-oriented development, replication, interaction with the world outside, etc. Her life began at this point, and she will continue to develop long after this point.
If a pro-choice advocate claims that “a zygote isn’t a human”, they have a fundamental confusion surrounding the basic biology of human reproduction.
Stages of Development
It is important to note that many people make a distinction between “zygote” and “baby”, as if this distinction proves something. Unfortunately, it proves nothing except for their misunderstanding of how scientists label different stages of human development.
Many different animals have stages that we, as a human race, have given labels. A chicken, a human, a frog, and an elephant all go through “embryonic” stages. However, this does not mean they are merely an embyro.
An elephant mommy and daddy make an elephant embryo.
A chicken mommy and daddy make a chicken embryo.
And a human mommy and daddy make a human embryo.
A human zygote that develops into a human embryo.
A human embryo that develops into a human fetus.
A human fetus that develops into a human infant.
A human infant that develops into a human toddler.
And so on, and so forth.
The common thread throughout human development is rather simple. It is a human being. This is human development. There is no way for you to divorce the concept of “embryo” from the kind of embryo it is. Ignoring the adjective “human” doesn’t make the human embryo any less human.
If you are interested in learning more about human development in the womb, here is a great summary of what happens.
We’ve known this for a really, really long time.
Contrary to what some people claim, there is no debate as to when the human being begins. Former Planned Parenthood President, Dr. Alan Guttmacher, wrote a book called Life in the Making in 1933. In this book, referencing the fact that the zygote is the beginning of a human life, he says “This all seems so simple and evidence that it is difficult to picture a time when it wasn’t part of the common knowledge.”
This was in 1933.
There is no disagreement among experts in this area. And I mean literally none. There isn’t even some random, fringe dude with an honorary masters degree from My Backyard University who denies this basic fact of biology.
If you want a full, comprehensive list of 40 quotes from medical textbooks that show this consensus, go no further! Click right here and read through them all.
If you still do not believe that a human being’s life begins at conception, you are denying basic biological facts. You really ought to rethink your intellectual integrity because there is no justification whatsoever for the anti-scientific and anti-intellectual view that a human being’s life begins sometime other than conception.
But… what if we really don’t know when human life begins?
Alright, so let’s suppose that we could ignore universal expert scientific consensus. Let’s ignore facts about reality that we’ve known about for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. Let’s ignore all that and appeal to ignorance.
Perhaps we really don’t know when human life begins.
Well, wouldn’t the most responsible thing for us to do is not kill them? Let’s imagine a situation where we have the option to destroy a building. We’re on a demolition team and this building has been scheduled to be imploded. You’re just about to push the doomsday button and someone asks you, “Hey, are there any humans in there?” and you realize that you are not sure.
You, being the responsible demolition man that you are, have no choice. You have to blow up the building anyway!
No. Of course not.
If we are ignorant of whether or not there is a human being in the building, we have a moral obligation to avoid blowing up the building until we know for sure that there are no humans in there.
So even if we appeal to anti-scientific sentiments like ignorance about when human life begins, that still does not justify abortion in any way.
So wait… what’s the difference between an abortion and a period? Or masturbation? Or scratching off skin cells?
The answer to this is simple.
Gametes (sperm and egg cells) and somatic cells (like skin cells) are done developing. Gametes, when left alone, continue to be gametes until they die. A somatic cell will also continue to be a skin cell until it dies. When you leave a zygote alone, in its normal environment, it will continue to develop into a more complex human organism. There is a very, very important difference between a gametic/somatic cell and a developing human organism. I hope you can see that.
I hope this post helps in basic scientific literacy, as well as a promotion of the pro-life perspective. When we ask the most important question, “what does abortion do?”, we have to answer it with “abortion ends the life of a defenseless, innocent human being”. There is no way around this.
About Elijah Thompson
If you are interested in more about the defense of the pro-life position, please check out my podcast and accompanying blog, The Fetal Position. I regularly discuss the science and philosophy behind the pro-life position, as well as engage any and all pro-choice arguments that may present a challenge to the pro-life perspective. If you have any comments or questions, feel free to contact me through my website or on twitter, Follow @ElijiahT or Follow @Fetal_Position
Throughout their poetry, the psalmists would contemplate the character of God. They would marvel about his wisdom, strength, glory, and his righteousness. Even in times of turmoil, they would write what we find in Psalm 145:17. “The LORD is righteous in all His ways And kind in all His deeds.” Psalm 89:14 says, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Lovingkindness and truth go before You.” God is constantly contrasted against wicked men. While men will deceive us, betray our trust, persecute us without cause, the psalmists believed God is righteous and loving. However, sometimes people may suggest that the actions of God throughout the Old Testament contradict this theme. God is seen as racist, sexist, condemning, permitting or carrying out moral abominations, et cetera. Some think that God is evil in the Old Testament. Is that correct? Does the Old Testament portray God as evil?
Well, first, if we were interested in being philosophically precise, we would have to say that God cannot be evil. A maximally great being must be omnibenevolent. He must be perfect in righteousness. If he were not, then we could conceive of a being who was greater (one who was perfect in righteousness), and that being would be God. If we are going to ask “Does the Old Testament portray God as evil?” the question may need to be altered. It would be something like asking, “Does this paper portray that square as rounded?” You may be able to put the words in the same sentence with one another, but it expresses an incoherent thought. The very idea of God being evil is incoherent. What you would have to say is that the Old Testament does not portray God at all, but only pretends to. So does the Old Testament portray God as evil?
These Arguments Rely On Divine Psychology
What would God do? If God did do X, what were his motivations? A helpful (but admittedly imperfect) analogy would be to consider that the police will sometimes attempt to discern the motives of an individual who has been suspected of murder. Was it a crime of passion, or was it premeditated? The former would warrant less severe penal action, while the latter is far more malevolent. Similarly, if you were to discover that Bill was keeping John as a prisoner, you might think that Bill was a malevolent man. However, if you learned that Bill was actually a police officer or a court judge, your interpretation of that imprisonment would change. You would think that Bill was being righteous in imprisoning another man. You have insight into his psychology. But what about divine psychology?
Divine psychology is an attempt to interpret the motives that God has for carrying out a certain event. All arguments that say that God is behaving malevolently assume some sort of divine psychology. Indictments that God is evil based on his actions in the Old Testament assume divine psychology. The indicter is assuming that they know what God’s motives are. Whether God destroys a city, institutes capital punishment, or does something that we otherwise would think is unethical, one is assuming to know the mind of God. To say that something is evil is to say that God has evil motives.
However, if God is perfect in righteousness as the psalmist tells us, then it would follow that everything that emanates from him is good. He does not have evil motives. When he destroys a city or institutes capital punishment, he is performing the duties of a righteous judge rather than of a tyrant or a maniac. The person who claims that God is portrayed as evil in the Old Testament will have to have some insight into divine psychology. They will have to know the mind of God. This argument assumes a burden of proof that seems impossible to bear.
God Destroys Cities
If God is good, why is there evil and suffering in the world? Why are the wicked allowed the flourish without any punishment at all? That is a good question that deserves an answer. If God were going to punish the wicked, what would the punishment look like? There are wicked people in the world and you are calling for their condemnation. Will they slowly perish in their sleep? Will they all be locked in an institution by angelic forces so that they could be “rehabilitated”? When God destroys a city in the Old Testament, we see the answer to the question. There is evil and suffering in the world, and God puts an end to it. But when he does intervene, you say that he is evil. It seems like no matter what God does or how he satisfies your demands, you will still say that he is evil and change your expectations. When he intervenes, you say that he is evil for intervening. When he does not intervene, you say that his absence is evil. When God destroys a city, he is bringing righteous judgment upon wicked men.
The second question with which are confronted is who the wicked are. Are only child molesters wicked? Are only soldiers in an evil army wicked? Why? What makes those soldiers different from American soldiers? The American soldiers were not overcome with propaganda and put in a situation wherein they had to enlist in a wicked army. But what truly makes the soldiers fighting for a good cause different from those fighting for an evil cause? Everybody has the same corruptible heart. In the right circumstances, you could be the one who is perpetrating something that is evil. If you are going to say that God must punish evil, then who will be exempt? So, does the Old Testament portray God as evil? I do not think so. There is evil in the world and God has brought his wrath upon it in his righteousness.
Is God Racist?
God made a special covenant with Abraham and all of his descendants. Those descendants eventually became what is known today as Israel. The narrative of the Old Testament is almost entirely a narrative of God’s interactions with the people of Israel. This has led some people to conclude that God is racist. He is a tribal war-god fighting for the Hebrews and hates everyone else. Well, any basic reading of the main texts of the Old Testament will uproot this hypothesis. The first consideration is that Israel was often the target of God’s wrath. Since Israel had covenant with God, God expected them to not live like the nations surrounding them. When they did, he would bring wrath to them. He said in Jeremiah 3:8 that Israel was like a faithless bride. Israel betrayed God’s trust. Israel was the subject of his wrath. God is not racist nor does he favor the Hebrews. Any reading of the prophets will show that God often brought his wrath against them, wielding their Pagan neighbors.
Second, throughout the Old Testament, we see a promise of the expansion of God’s covenant to include the Gentiles. Of the Messiah in Isaiah 49:6, it says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” This is not one verse tucked away in one of the prophets. This is a major theme in the Old Testament. Consider the narrative of the book of Jonah. Jonah is commanded to go preach to the people of Nineveh. The people of Nineveh were Gentiles. As a result of his prejudice inclinations, Jonah refused. Most of us know what happened from there. The theme of the New Testament is that the Messiah has come and expanded the promise of God to include the Gentiles. The theme of Old Testament eschatology is that the Messiah will come and expand the message to include all people. God is not racist in the Old Testament.
Does God Value Women?
Much of the literature that descends from a patriarchal society will seem striking to the contemporary man. Egalitarianism is the norm in today’s society, and any departure from that is offensive to many people. Of course, even in that patriarchal society, the Old Testament taught that men and women were intrinsically equals. Genesis 1:26-27 introduces this concept of being made in the image of God. Most interpreters believe that the image of God is what separates us from animals. We are rational, moral agents endowed with intrinsic moral worth. In fact, this seems to be the only basis for believing that we have intrinsic moral worth. Consequently, God is not sexist because sexism involves having a lower view of women than of men.
However, the argument that is usually mounted is that God allows something like sexual slavery throughout the pages of the Old Testament, and this is morally inadequate. Well, that is just not the case. Rape is strictly condemned in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 22:25-27), and sex outside of marriage was condemned (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). These strictures are fundamental to Jewish practice.
As I pointed out in my article Does Islam Allow Sex Slavery?, “[In the Old Testament] Men do not charge into the homes of women who just lost their husbands or sons and molest them. Yet there was no prison system, so what are we to do with them? They are taken as wives. The men are instructed, “It shall be, if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go wherever she wishes; but you shall certainly not sell her for money, you shall not mistreat her, because you have humbled her.” The men are commanded to treat their new wives with respect. Further if they are neglected by their husband or divorced, they are freed. If they are divorced, they are also freed (Exodus 21:10-11). These laws may be taken as an expansion of Numbers 31:18, which reads, “But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves.” It may be tempting to read sexual slavery into that verse, but considering the host of laws that forbid it, that interpretation is nullified.”
What About Capital Punishment?
God instituted capital punishment. Some individuals who have soft hearts dislike the idea of capital punishment, and one can certainly sympathize with them. But the reason that they have this intuition is that they think men are the ones who are making that decision. Men are condemning others to death, and how do they have the right to do that? They are just as sinful as the guilty criminals. As Gandalf said in The Fellowship of The Ring, “Many who live deserve death. And many who die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be so quick to deal out death in judgment.” We cannot give life. We have no right to deal out death. I understand this argument.
But suppose I sentenced somebody to death and then I raised them from the dead. I have power over life and death. Similarly, supposed I gave somebody life (not in the sense of having children, obviously) and then I took it away from them. In this case, we have a very different scenario. We have somebody who has authority over life. We have somebody who created life. The one who creates life has the authority to take life away. Therefore, God has the authority to institute capital punishment. As the Creator of life, he has the authority to take it.
Does The Bible Condone Slavery?
We have already seen that the Bible does not condone sex slavery. But what about slavery, in the modern sense of the word? Africans were hunted and kidnapped from their homes and brought on a big ship in chains to work the fields of the American south. Does the Bible condone anything like that? Well, there are three considerations. First, there is the doctrine of the image of God, as I already alluded to. All people have intrinsic moral worth. Second, the Law forbids kidnapping. Exodus 21:16 reads, “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.” Manhunting is an essential ingredient to slavery, and the Bible forbids it.
Third, there are different forms of slavery. In the Old Testament, there was not a developed prison system. There were limited options for what to do with offenders. As already mentioned, one was capital punishment. Other offenders were sentenced to slavery. They would work off their debt for a short period of time. Further, people would sometimes sell themselves into slavery as an escape from poverty. Individuals from surrounding nations would sell themselves into slavery. They sign a temporary contract to work off their debt. After the contract ended, they could stay with their master or leave. So, while the same word (slavery) may be used, to accuse the Bible of slavery in the sense of manhunting and kidnapping is to be guilty of the equivocal fallacy.
There Are Better Arguments For The Truth of Scripture
This moral argument against the truth of Scripture relies very heavily upon one’s own personal moral intuitions, their ability to grasp divine psychology and their ability to interpret ancient sources. Since most of these are misinterpretations or otherwise guilty of some logical fallacy, the argument that God has behaved unethically in the Old Testament is very weak. In contrast, there are very good arguments that the Old Testament is divinely inspired and the word of God. This means that it portrays God as perfect in righteousness and justice.
I made this point in my article How Do You Know That The Bible Is God’s Word? First, the historicity of the New Testament establishes several facts about Jesus which lead us to recognize that the resurrection is a robust hypothesis. If Jesus really did rise from the dead, then the religion that he believed in and left behind is likely to be true. Since that contains the inerrancy of the Old Testament, it would follow that the Old Testament was inspired by God. Second, since Jesus viewed the Scripture as divinely inspired, then we should probably align our beliefs with the one who rose from the dead. Third, the Christian worldview (informed by Scripture) makes sense of reality. In fact, you must assume that the Christian worldview is true to make sense of anything at all. Therefore, the Bible is God’s word. The Old Testament is inspired and accordingly does not portray God as evil.
Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment and tell me.
In the Showtime hit Dexter, the lead character by the same name suffered from a sociopathic personality. With that came the urge to express his inner-rage against other people. It was described throughout the series as something like an addiction. He felt a need to kill in the same way that people feel the need to smoke cigarettes. With the help of his father, Dexter developed a code that would help him to avoid getting caught by the police or bringing people to harm who did not deserve it. This led Dexter to embark on vigilante justice. He would murder only those who he believed deserved to be murdered. The major theme of season six was Christianity. Dexter wanted to enroll his son in a Catholic preschool. This led to several difficult questions about the Bible, theology, and doctrine. Some of his coworkers stumbled in answering Dexter’s questions about Christianity, providing no answers of real substance. Others made Dexter think that there might be more to life.
However, I always felt as though the majority of the questions that he posed could have been answered in a much better way. As Christians, we have a duty to share the gospel with the world. This means that when people come to us with difficult questions, we need to know the answers. Throughout this article, I will answer the questions that he posed directly and rephrase some of his statements as questions. Before some wise guy comments to inform me that Dexter is a fictional character, I would like to point out that his questions are legitimate and may reflect some of the concerns that other people have had, particularly individuals who enjoyed this series.
Why do children need to see the crucifix? Isn’t it gruesome?
As he explored the Catholic preschool, Dexter encountered a crucifix. This differs from an empty cross in that it actually depicts the crucifixion. Jesus is on the cross, dying for the sins of mankind. It is very gruesome imagery. This concerned Dexter in that children probably do not need to see an image of a man dying, even if it is a religious artifact. When he posed this question to his friend, he received nothing of substance. This devout individual had no idea why there was a crucifix displayed in the preschool.
The reason actually cuts to the core of one of the major differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Roman Catholic tradition maintains that with every church service, the sins of the parish need absolution. That is why there are so many sacraments. The crucifix is there to represent Jesus, who really is there in the spiritual realm, being sacrificed to God at every Mass. As Session XXII Canon One of the Council of Trent says, “If anyone says that in the Mass a true and real sacrifice is not offered to God or that to be offered is nothing else than that Christ is given to us to eat, let him be anathema.” This is what is known as an unbloody sacrifice. That crucifix is central to Roman Catholic practice. Catholics will wear a crucifix, display one in their home and their institutions so that Jesus will truly be present, presently suffering for their sins.
Protestants will rightly recoil at this idea. We do not believe that Jesus is sacrificed over and over again. He was sacrificed once and for all sins. As Hebrews 10:12-14 tells us, “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”
Why do children need to learn doctrine?
When answering Dexter’s questions about Christianity, his friend stumbled through his words and finally said that children need to learn about the crucifix because it is the catechism. It is the doctrine of the church. Dexter replied to this by asking, “And children need to learn this, because…?” to which he did not receive any answer at all.
The answer, though, is pretty simple, and it is probably one that most Roman Catholics would agree with. Children need to learn doctrine for the same reason that they need to learn mathematics or science. Why do children go to school? Why parents invest money in educating their children about the world? They need to learn that which is true. They will be a well-rounded individual if they have a broad education, particularly in matters of the faith. If they are able to think and reason in philosophical and theological and moral terms, they will be more reasonable people, comporting their beliefs with that which is true.
Further, and more critically, children need to learn doctrine because, as Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Of course, this is a truism. But in general, if children are taught how to live righteous lives when they are young, they will probably persist in the faith when they are old. Further, all treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ (Colossians 2:3). The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7). Children need to be taught how to be faithful to Christ because that is the way of wisdom and of the righteous.
As Charles Spurgeon said, “But while the subject humbles the mind, it also expands it. He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe…The most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and Him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity.”
How do we know that there is even a God?
With this same friend giving poor answers to these questions, Dexter asked how we even know that there is a God. I should probably point out that Dexter was not trying to stump his friend. He was looking for some insight from a devout individual. So he asked how it is that we can even know that there is a God. Stumbling through a bastardized and denigrated version of the moral argument, he eventually concluded, “Look, it all comes down to faith.” To his relief, that was the end of the conversation as Dexter offered a polite statement of gratitude for his time.
Of course, the answer was ultimately unsatisfying. How do we even know that there is a God? Perhaps the most obvious answer to this question is that something must have created everything. Why does anything at all exist? Things that exist must have an explanation. If you found a ball in the forest, you would not accept that there was no explanation of its’ existence. If the ball were increased to the size of a house, the earth, or the universe, the question persists. What is the explanation of its’ existence? The explanation cannot be natural, spacial, or temporal, as these are all features of the universe. So the ball must have an explanation that is supernatural, immaterial, timeless, and spaceless. For the sake of brevity and beginning the conversation, when answering Dexter’s questions about Christianity, I probably would have replied with something like, “Look around you. Who created all of this?”
When Dexter encountered a thoughtful Christian named Brother Sam, he actually did receive this sort of answer. But the way that it was presented seemed to make it difficult to understand. Brother Sam said something like, “Look at the sky and the ocean.” Dexter replied with a scientific answer that explained the sky and the ocean. But that was not quite the point. All of creation, the totality of the natural world, must have an explanation beyond itself. (Since I have written extensively about the evidence for God, I would like to invite the reader to view that before writing a rebuttal to what I have posted here.)
How do you reconcile your crimes with your belief in God?
Remember that Dexter is a friendly neighborhood serial killer. He pursued individuals who harmed others. However, he would not just murder them. He would inject them with an animal tranquilizer, strap them to a table, have a conversation with them about their crimes, then murder them. Before murdering this individual, he recognized that he believed in God. He claimed to be a Christian. So he asked, how do you reconcile your crimes with your belief in God? After all, God is good and he sets the standard by which you are supposed to live. Yet you murdered your wife. How do you reconcile that?
This is a question of which many of us have been confronted. Even believing Christians will sometimes transgress the law of God. None of us live perfect lives. But when we sin, it is our duty to come to God in repentance and confession and amend ourselves. It is an ongoing struggle against sin. We will fail. But there is a progression toward greater righteousness and maturity throughout the course of our lives. If you took a picture of the Christian at the wrong moment, you may be able to confront him and say, “How do you reconcile this?” But if you had a video camera and followed them for a year, you would recognize that they were growing in sanctification and in a deeper love for Christ.
Second, (and this is the more probable explanation for the situation that Dexter was in) some people really are hypocrites. There are false converts in the church. These are people who go to church or claim to be believers, but they have not really been born again (John 3:3-8). They have not really experienced the power of God in their own lives or been made new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). There are very stern warnings against people such as this in Scripture. As Jesus said in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”
Why would anyone want to believe in bowls of wrath?
Confronted by imagery out of the book of Revelation, Dexter asked why it is that anyone would want to believe in some of these things. Swarms of locusts? Bowls of wrath? These are pretty horrifying images. If he were to browse further through Revelation, he would probably say the same thing about the Lake of Fire. Who would want to believe in these things? There is some sense in which we can sympathize with Dexter. These more horrifying elements of the faith are often those that people will shy away from because they are too difficult. Isn’t it odd that things like this are those that are subject to reinterpretation? No Christian feels the need to reinterpret whether Heaven is real.
As we continue answering Dexter’s questions about Christianity, the first thing that I want to point out is that we do not necessarily want to believe in these things. There are some things that are hard for us to believe, but we do, because Scripture is authoritative. If you believe that the Bible is God’s word, you cannot deny what it teaches. Scripture is as authoritative as mathematics. It is true. The doctrines that it teaches are true, even those that might seem frightening or difficult to take in. As Christians we believe in things that are incredible. Sometimes reality is like that, though. The underlying notion in this question is that Christians just believe whatever they want. While that may be the case sometimes, the mature Christian is someone who dedicates themselves to the authority of the word of God and accepts what it teaches even when we do not understand.
Second, it is a little ironic that Dexter would ask this question. Dexter is consumed in the idea of vigilante justice. He believes in righting things that are wrong. There are people out there who have violated the moral standards of a serial killer, and swift justice is coming. But what if somebody violates the standards of somebody more righteous? What if somebody violates God’s standards? Paul tells us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and that the wage of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The bowls of wrath represents God’s punishment against sin.
Third, we often ask ourselves why there is so much evil and suffering in the world. Theologically minded individuals may ask why God would allow so much evil. The bowls of wrath are the answer to that question. All of the evil in the world will be made right. There is real justice. There is real hope.
Can I have a new life?
Brother Sam was not always a devout Christian. He used to be something like Dexter. In fact, in a twist of fate, Dexter befriended Brother Sam when he began to stalk him. Dexter was suspicious that Sam had murdered somebody. But when he began to investigate, he realized that while Sam used to live the life of a serial killer, he was truly a changed man. Sam had a darkness inside of him that was conquered by the Light. Dexter saw that and he began to wonder if the same thing could happen to him. Was there really a Light that could shine in the darkness? Could he truly change, as Sam did?
As Dexter attended a baptism, watching Sam dunk a friend of his in the ocean, he thought to himself, “Take a bath and come out a new man. Could I really believe this?” That was not sarcasm. He was really asking if he could believe it. Of course, it is not the water that actually saves you. Rather, it is what the water symbolizes. We are being buried. The old self is dying and a new man is emerging after the likeness of Christ (Colossians 2:12).
Jesus Christ died for our sins. This means that when he died, the bowls of wrath as spoken of before were poured out on him. He suffered in our place. He took our pain upon himself. As Isaiah 53:10 says, he bore our iniquities. Our sin was nailed to the cross, and then he died. Three days later, he rose from the dead. Now, because our sins were nailed to the cross, God can offer the free gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23). All who accept it will be made new creatures. We need only to trust in the promises of God (Romans 4:5). We do not become new by our own effort. God works in us and makes us new creatures. Hence, the old man dies and the new man is born.
Answering Dexter’s Questions About Christianity
If you are somebody who is something like Dexter, who has questions about the Christian faith, then you should know that you are not alone. People all over the world have questions. People are often confronted by questions of a religious nature. Does God really exist? Is Christianity true? What does it mean that Jesus died for our sins? Some Christians may be able to help you. Others may not. But know that there are answers to your questions. But the ultimate answer is found in the person of Jesus Christ. Open the New Testament and read about him, what he said and did. When you have an answer to the question, “Who is Jesus Christ?” the other questions either resolve themselves or fade into irrelevancy. You can learn more about Christ as you follow him.
What questions do you have? Contact me and let me know. Or just browse this site!
Atheists will sometimes tell us that atheism is not a proposition, and as such, it can neither be true nor false. Since it is just a reflection of one’s psychological state (lacking a belief in God) to suggest that atheism were true or false would be to commit a category error. One can understand why it is that atheists have shied away from defending atheism or even holding that it were true. It seems that Christian apologetics have pushed atheism so far into a corner that they are afraid to utter the words that atheism is true. This is because if atheism is true, it follows that atheism is false. For the sake of the argument, this article will treat atheism as the proposition that God does not exist. If that proposition is true, it would follow that it is false.
Of course, a proposition cannot be both true and false simultaneously. I am not saying that atheism is both true and false in the literal sense. Both A and not A cannot be true at the same time and in the same way. This is a rhetorical point meant to illustrate that if atheism is true, that assumes that there are true propositions. But true propositions assume the existence of God. Therefore, if atheism is true, it follows that atheism is false. The argument may be framed thusly: (Premise one) if God does not exist, true propositions do not exist. (Premise two) True propositions do exist. (Conclusion) Therefore, God exists.
True Propositions Really Do Exist
This point may seem like it is something that is non-controversial. Nobody could really deny the existence of true propositions. However, many have submerged into the post-modernist chaos that denies that anything at all is true. But it does not take a philosopher to recognize that some things must be true by definition. It has become almost a cliche among Christian apologists to point out that “there are no true propositions” is a true proposition that is claiming to be true by itself. In fact, it is claiming to the exception, to be the only true proposition (which, of course, is special pleading). True propositions must exist, because you have to use true propositions to assert that they do exist.
Just so the reader does not think that this is some sort of wordplay, the same problem would arise even if we use different terminology. If somebody were to propose that the truth value in all propositions was relative, then the truth value in that very proposition would be relative. Similarly, if an individual were to suggest that something could be true for you, but not for them, they would be saying that the principle, “true for you, but not for me,” was true for everybody. No matter how you phrase it, the relativistic principle is self-referentially absurd. It cannot be proposed without shutting itself down.
Logical Laws Exist
Similarly, there are certain propositions that must be true because our lives, thought patterns and interactions are based upon them. Without these propositions, all of reality would literally be absurd. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the law of non-contradiction. Both A and not A cannot be true at the same time and in the same way. If a relativist does not grasp the force of the law of non-contradiction, then perhaps you can illustrate that for them. If they say, “The law of non-contradiction is invalid,” reply, “So you think the law of non-contradiction is valid.” The only recourse would be for them to say, “No, you have contradicted me!” But why should that be a problem if the law of non-contradiction is not a valid principle?
Some may try to conjure up counter-examples to the law of non-contraction, and we would be forced to use the same tactic. We could say, “So, you think this is an invalid counter-example?” and the point out be crystalized. Further, there are far more laws of logic that are not limited to the law of non-contradiction. We appeal to them constantly. Even the relativist must use basic deduction and induction to infer relativism. The only way for anybody to be a consistent relativist would be to be abandon reason, logic (for therein are true propositions) and be literally unreasonable. Therefore, the relativistic position is unreasonable. There must be logical laws and consequently true propositions.
Science Would Be Undermined If All Was Relative
Imagine for a moment that a man was arrested for murder and brought to trial. The prosecution was confident that he was their killer because they found his DNA on the murder weapon and on the victim. However, the defense attorney mounts the case that the defendant’s DNA changes. While it may be identical to the DNA that was found on the crime scene today, it was not identical yesterday. Now, this would violate physical laws. DNA does not change. However, the proposition, “DNA does not change” is asserted as a true proposition. If the members of the jury were relativists, they would be forced to concede the point. One cannot say that this man’s DNA did not change. There are no true propositions, after all. This doctrine would have devastating effects on the science of genetics. All forensic analysts for every police department would have to find a new skill set.
Similarly, if an atheist were to say that they believed in evolution on the basis of the evidence, I would have to ask when they looked at the evidence. Perhaps it changed. Perhaps something about common descent has changed. Perhaps common descent was true yesterday, but it is not true today. Perhaps the evidence supported it yesterday, but it does not support it today. This is what relativism leads us to. True propositions are interwoven into all scientific data. If they are undermined, all fields of science (and not only science, but every discipline) would be rendered obsolete.
Isn’t It All A Matter of Interpretation?
Relativists often mount their case on the basis of the flawed human mind. As human beings, we have certain limitations. We may think that we can see something clearly and yet find out later that we are totally wrong about that piece of data. This will lead them to conclude that there are no true propositions. There are a few problems with reasoning worth pointing out. First, even if human reasoning is so flawed that it cannot grasp any true propositions, it does not follow that there are no true propositions.
Second, the success of scientific naturalism entails that human beings do have a grasp of true propositions. Technology and engineering have taken humanity a long way. Today is marked by greater convenience than has ever been known in history. The average modern man lives in as great of, if not greater luxury than the kings of old. The material cause of this is scientific naturalism. From this it follows that we do have a grasp of true propositions. That grasp may not always be firm. It may frequently slip out of our hands. (In fact, that is why the scientific method was developed by the Christian scientist, Roger Bacon). But we do have a handle on true propositions.
True Propositions Are Not Contingent Upon Mankind
Is man the measure of all things? That is the flag that atheists will likely begin to wave at this point. While true propositions certainly do exist, they are not the result of some sort of transcendent standard. Rather, true propositions and the laws of logic are useful fictions that mankind has conjured up to develop society. But there are several problems with this idea. First, true propositions existed before mankind existed. Before there were any human beings, the proposition, “There are no human beings” was true. There may not have been anybody to make that proposition, but it was true nonetheless (just as it is true that I am writing an article despite that nobody is proposing that I am presently writing an article). The proposition that “The earth is round” was still true before human beings existed. The roundness of the earth is not contingent upon human beings.
Second, the laws of logic existed before human beings existed. If they did not, then we could say that human beings existed before they existed. We could say that dinosaurs both existed and did not existed. We could say that the earth was both round and flat. The universe must have been a bizarre place before we showed up and straightened everything out. This idea that we are the measure of all things and that true propositions are contingent upon us is highly anthropocentric and clearly false.
What Are They Made Of?
We have established that true propositions exist and that they are not contingent upon human beings. So, where are they? Can we find them, put them under a microscope and examine them? Can we look through a telescope and see a collage of all of the true propositions so that we may determine their nature? What are they composed of? Where are they? Have they always existed? Did they exist without the universe? Imagine for a moment a possible world in which the universe did not exist. Would the proposition “There is no universe” be true? Of course it would. If it was not true, then the universe would exist. Similarly, what if all of nature did not exist? The proposition “Nature does not exist” would still be true. Not only that, but if time did not exist, the proposition, “Time does not exist” would still be true.
True propositions are therefore a metaphysical reality. They are not part of the natural world. They are beyond time, space, matter, energy, and even nature. From this, it should be obvious that it follows that metaphysical naturalism is false. Of course, metaphysical naturalism is not necessarily atheism. I have defined atheism only as the position that God does not exist. So it may be the case that atheism is true and metaphysical naturalism is false. After all, I am sure you are thinking by this point, wouldn’t the proposition, “God does not exist” be true if God did not exist?
Are True Propositions Just A Brute Fact?
You may begin to think that true propositions just exist, and that is all. They really do not need to have any sort of explanation. Even if we accept that they are a metaphysical reality, they do not need an explanation. Well, there are a number of problems with this. First, everything that exists must have some sort of explanation. As Alexander Pruss pointed out, you cannot just deny the principle of sufficient reason like a hack when it takes you to your destination. Even metaphysical realities, like true propositions, (and yes, even God, for those Richard Dawkins fans who have managed to read this far) require an explanation. It would be silly to say that something, say, a table, just existed for no reason. Everything must have an explanation, whether in the necessity of its’ own nature, or in an external cause.
The second point that I want to make is that human beings somehow grasp these true propositions that exist as a brute fact. Assuming that atheism is true, then human beings arose as a product of natural causes, crawling out of the pond and fighting for survival for millions upon millions of years until we reached our status as full-blown homosapiens. What good reasons are there to think that these creatures would be in touch with true propositions? True propositions are just metaphysical realities that exist beyond the space-time reality. Why should pond scum know them or have the capacity to reason about them? If true propositions are a brute fact, we should have never discovered that they are a brute fact.
If Atheism Is True, It Follows That Atheism Is False
In an earlier paragraph about the nature of true propositions, I pointed out that in the absence of time, space, matter, energy, nature, and the universe, there would still be a true proposition regarding the non-existence of any of these entities, or of their future existence. You began to wonder about whether the same principle would apply to the existence of God. If God did not exist, would the proposition, “God does not exist” still be true? If it did, then true propositions would transcend God, would they not? There are two points that we may make in way of responding to this objection.
First, if God is the necessary explanation of true propositions, then the proposition “God does not exist” could never be true. Think for a moment about the nature of a true proposition. They are timeless, spaceless, immaterial, supernatural, and even metaphysically necessary (in every possible world, true propositions would exist). What could possibly explain something such as this? True propositions must draw their nature from or be apart of the nature of something that is also timeless, spaceless, immaterial, supernatural, and metaphysically necessary. Further, we may also postulate that this being must be omniscient as well, because he possesses all of the true propositions. But an omniscient being is also a personal being. Therefore, we may conclude that there exists a timeless, spaceless, immaterial, supernatural, metaphysically necessary, omniscient, and personal being. Let’s not fool ourselves. This leads inescapably to the conclusion that therefore, God exists. Therefore, if atheism is true, it follows that atheism is false.
Pornography addicts will often tell themselves that there is nothing really wrong with the practice. Everybody does it. What are you, some sort of religious fundamentalist? Men watch pornography. We should all get over it. We should stop imposing our morals upon people who just want to have a good time. They are alone, in the privacy of their own homes, peeking into somebody else’s bedroom. If all parties consent, what’s the problem? Well, there are several reasons why even non-Christians need to quit watching pornography. If you are one of my atheist critics, you need to quit as well. Pornography has the capacity for and a history of ruining the life of the casual watcher, as the habit and hobby will eventually degrade into an addiction. Further, it destroys the lives of those who are involved in the production of the video and creates a culture with a low view of human value.
You Are Supporting Human Trafficking
Where do you think these pornography videos are coming from? Many of them are published on anonymous sites on the Internet. These websites are likely littered with paid advertisements because these website owners know that they will get a lot of traffic from which they can generate revenue. But where do the videos come from? Some may be published by an angry ex who is sharing videos out of spite. Others may be created by a professional production team, replete with a director, actors and actresses. However, there will be some videos that were created with women who were abducted in human trafficking. These girls would probably not have any distinguishing features that make it obvious that they are slaves. They could be Americans. They could be European. They could have an accent indicating that they are from a western country. It does not matter.
There have been over 14,000 reported cases of sex trafficking in the United States since 2007. The industry is booming, generating over 290 million dollars in Atlanta alone. There is no reason for you to think that the video that you are watching is not a product of sex trafficking here in the United States. This means that there were men who stalked women who were having a drink in a bar by themselves. They waited until she went to her car and then kidnapped her. They will also target women who are living alone, especially those who went to war or recently escaped from an abusive situation. They will kidnap women and force them to have sex on camera for your viewing pleasure. How do you reply? You reply with gratitude. You contribute to that 290 million dollar profit that they have made. That is why even non-Christians need to quit watching pornography. Anybody with a semblance of a conscious will do everything that they can to boycott that industry.
A Warped View of Sexuality
Your little hobby will quickly become an addiction. People who enjoy pornography will often begin to watch it every night. Every time they feel a sexual urge, they will open their laptop and peek into the bedroom of strangers. But if you are addicting to pornography, how are you going to view the world? When you go out to the store and you see an attractive woman, you will begin to indulge in perverse thoughts about her. You are training your brain to think sexually. Your brain will evolve based on what you ask it to do.
This creates a society in which sex with strangers becomes normalized. The outrageous fantasies in which you meet random people and have sex with them form your beliefs about the world. Of course, what pornography movies will not tell you is that if you are sleeping with strangers on a regular basis, you are likely to expose yourself to STDs and unwanted pregnancies. If you are having sex with strangers, then you are far more likely to view a baby as a burden rather than as a gift. This has led many people to kill their young. This is why even non-Christians need to quit watching pornography. It will warp your view of sexual behavior, creating a culture in which infanticide is thought to be morally acceptable.
Your View of Women
What do you see when you look at a woman? Many men will begin to assess her and think about how she would be in the bedroom (even if she is a stranger). You will be particularly prone to this behavior if you occasionally peek into the bedroom of strangers. The only thing that you see in these women is their sexual function. They could be intelligent women who have accomplished a lot in their lives, who have creative capabilities intellectual fortitude and were kidnapped. Now, you are looking at them and seeing only what they can offer sexually. You have reduced the value of women down to their sexual function.
Feminists will often say that women should not be restricted based on how men will look at them. But this reasoning seems warped for several reasons. It is not only about how men will see you. It is about you see yourself. Are you nothing more than an object? Are you an end to the means of other people, to be used as they wish? Are you a sexual instrument? Are you not something more? While many who identify as feminists will employ this reasoning, they are not true feminists. They advocate for reducing the value of women under the guise of feminism. All true feminists will radically and fundamentally oppose pornography because of how it degrades the people who are involved in it. That is why even non-Christians need to quit watching pornography.
Lose The Respect of Your Peers
Many of your peers will probably have children of their own. Some may have teenagers. If you are constantly exposing yourself to pornographic images, always thinking sexually, then you will have trouble avoiding thinking about your friend’s daughter in that way as well. And your friend will probably know. If he knows that you regularly indulge in pornography, then he is going to be suspicious of you. He is going to wonder what you are looking at. Even if you personally would never look at his daughter like that, he will think about it. Your friends will lose their respect for you.
You might suggest that they do not know about your addiction to pornography. But the thing about addictions is that they will eventually come out. If it is something that you are doing all of the time, it can be difficult to conceal, especially from people who you see on a regular basis. Beyond that, they will not necessarily need to know about your addiction to to see the effects of it. People who are addicted to pornography tend to have wandering eyes. If your eyes are on his daughter, they will notice. Fathers take note of how people look at their children. Fathers are on guard from predators, and that is what you are. That is what you have become in the eyes of your neighbor. If you want to retain the respect and friendships of your neighbors, then that is why even non-Christians need to quit watching pornography.
You Will Compromise Your Relationship
While you may tell yourself constantly, like some sort of mantra, that pornography is just something that men do, your wife is likely not going to be very sympathetic with that explanation. Women do not typically like their husbands looking at images of other women. It will lead to questions about whether they are going to be unfaithful. After all, if you are spending time looking at these women, what is going to stop you from being unfaithful when that temptation arises?
Further, many wives will rightly regard your addiction to pornography as an act of infidelity. She will begin to feel insecure about herself. She will come to the conclusion that she is not enough for you and begin to reflect poorly on her image. Even if she is in shape, she might begin trying to shed pounds, hoping desperately to gain your approval. She might go out and buy expensive updates to her wardrobe or her adornments all in an effort to win your affection. She will feel unloved. From that, more problems will begin to emerge. If your marriage is important to you, then that is a reason that even non-Christians need to quit watching pornography.
Why Did God Create Sex?
Sex is not inherently evil. It is not something that needs to be avoided at all costs. We do not have to prevent ourselves from thinking about sex or reasoning about sex. Sex is not a curse word. In fact, it is something that we need to reason about. We need a proper biblical understanding of what sex is. Sex is what joins a man and a woman together. God created it as a bond of unity wherein the two will become one flesh (Mark 10:18). Marriage is not a legal contract before the government. It is a covenant that two people have made with one another before God. Sex is the consummation of that process. When you have sex with someone for the first time, you are declaring that you are one and you will be together until death.
Accordingly, sex is a gift that God has given to mankind. When we have sex outside of the context that God has ordained, then we are abusing that gift and will inevitably have negative consequences (some of which I have outlined in this article). But we have abused the gift that God has given us. It is as though you gave your son a hammer because he told you that he wanted to learn about craftsmanship, and he used it to break into the neighbor’s vehicle. He abused that gift. Similarly, we have abused the gift that God has given us. You have abused it by watching pornography.
Now, you might be thinking that this is the old bait-and-switch. I promised to tell you why a non-Christian should stop watching pornography. Well, even non-Christians live in a world governed by God. You cannot hide from the truth of God’s existence, even if you do not identify as a follower of Christ. The reason that your view of sex is so warped is not only that you struggle with pornography. It is that you do not regard sex as a gift from God that must be practiced exclusively in the context of marriage.
Look at all of the consequences of your sin. Women are abducted, stripped, raped on camera for your viewing pleasure. You may ask how God could allow such a thing. He cannot. His wrath is coming. The wrath of God abides on all of those who practice unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). How can pardon us? A good God could never allow wicked sinners who support human trafficking into his presence. But the good news is that God has reached out even to the vilest of sinners. The Son of God became a man and was murdered. When he died, all of God’s wrath that we deserve was poured out on him (Romans 3:21-25). Three days later, he rose from the dead, triumphing over death. Now anyone who puts their faith in the Son will likewise triumph over death. It is a free gift (Romans 6:23), despite all that you have done. Repent (change your mind about sin) and believe the gospel. He will make you new (2 Corinthians 5:17).
“Because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in our trespasses. It is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4-5)
Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment to share your opinion!
Because I have critiqued Dr. White before, there are a few personal remarks I would like to make up front regarding my previous interactions.
On 12 May 2014, I published Philosophy Matters – James White Missing the Mark on Molinism. As I mentioned in the original post, I do like Dr. White. However, I realized that I didn’t consistently communicate that respect. For example, I made the comments
I highly doubt that White has delved deeply enough into “man’s philosophy” to know what kind of theory of truth he endorses.
It’s nice to see that Dr. White is addressing Molinism and giving it more attention. I find his criticisms intriguing albeit misguided and outdated. I am also happy to see him getting closer in accurately characterizing the actual tenets of Molinism. Ultimately, Dr. White’s rejection of Molinism is rooted in basic philosophical misunderstandings including ignorance of the responses to the grounding objection.
In his response on the 13 May 2014 edition of the Dividing Line, Dr. White commented on my first remark saying, “They gotta take the shots, don’t they?” Then remarked that his use of the terminology “man’s philosophy” is Pauline, justifying his use of it. The quote marks that I used were not my alluding to Paul’s letter to the Colossians; rather, they were scare quotes representing my frustration with people who misattribute the work of thoughtful Christian philosophers as such vanity. True, there may be some legitimate disagreement over what falls under Paul’s label. Nevertheless, it was rather snarky and I should not have made the quip. My second remark came across as condescending and rude enough for Dr. White to say, “Oh, sorry I’m not as smart as you”. For this, I sincerely apologize and will further strive to ensure my words are seasoned with salt.
Who Dealt God The Cards?
Briefly, the “Card Dealer” terminology comes from an analogy Dr. William Lane Craig used in an article responding to the soteriological problem of evil (i.e. if God is good, why isn’t everyone saved?). Basically, God has to face the truth of the CCFs that confront Him and act within that framework i.e. “play with the hand He has been dealt” i.e. since God cannot change the truth value of what a creature would freely do in a circumstance. Dr. James White picked up on this and asked who determines the truth of the CCFs, for that is the god we should be worshipping i.e. “who deals the cards?” In the past, I have commented that Dr. Craig’s card analogy was bad and that Dr. White’s “card dealer” comment really just amounts to a rhetorical zinger. What do I mean to say that an analogy is “bad”? An analogy has two objectives: (1) create an accurate parallel between two or more different concepts and (2) make a complicated issue more easily understood. If an analogy does not have both components, then it is not a good analogy. After close examination, Dr. Craig’s analogy kind of meets criterion (1) by paralleling a particular subset of Molinism; however it is confusing and not analogy of Molinism in its entirety thus failing to meet criterion (2). Let us analyze these criteria in reverse.
Criterion of Confusion
Dr. Craig has infamously used another confusing analogy, this one in regards to one of the most profound divine revelations: that God is Trinity. In this analogy, Dr. Craig compares the idea of the Trinity to the pagan mythological three-headed dog Cerberus. Now, I have heard Dr. Craig’s analogy several times and after serious consideration and clarification, the analogy does indeed accurately parallel the Trinity; the conclusion is a single essence endowed with three faculties of mind. Nevertheless, it is as confusing as all get-out notwithstanding it is somewhat offensive. This is why I would never recommend using it.
Arguing against Cerberus does not engage the issue of the Trinity. Likewise, arguing against the “card dealer” does not engage the issue of Molinism. In a debate with Michael Brown, Dr. White made passing reference to the card dealer saying that Molinists believe in another god. Is Dr. White making a serious argument? If not, then the card dealer objection can rightly be categorized as serving a rhetorical value. If so, then Dr. White has some serious misunderstandings about Molinism. Personally, I think that it is a mixture of both rhetorical flourish and serious argument. The card-dealer comment by itself is only a rhetorical device but can be backed by a certain construal of the grounding objection.
Criterion of Comparison
Can Dr. Craig’s analogy be salvaged? Quite possibly. First, the issue is not that
- God cannot accomplish some outcome X
Rather, what is being said that
- God cannot accomplish some outcome X through a certain means
Once God commits Himself to a certain means of achieving His ends, He is limited by that decision. This does not seem at all controversial.
As a means of example, consider the resurrection of Christ. Can God raise Jesus from the dead? Of course; after all, that is what actually happened, so, it is clearly possible. Can God raise Jesus naturally from the dead? That is, can God in full compliance with the laws that govern chemistry, biology, and physics, etc. cause Jesus to be raised from the dead? Clearly the answer is no. Raising a person from the dead is practically by definition a miraculous event and simply cannot occur within the natural realm without some sort of divine superseding of the natural order. If God wants to providentially ensure that an event occurs naturally, He cannot operate outside of the laws of nature; He must play with His hand of “law cards”.
Let us apply this to the issue of free will and then consider an objection. Suppose that God wants to achieve an end and the means that He wants to use are the (libertarian) free choices of creatures. Just like He would need to operate within the laws of nature to bring about a natural event, likewise, God would need to operate within the (libertarian) free choices of creatures to bring about a free event. He must play with His hand of “freedom cards”. For God to force a person to freely make a choice or to causally determine an indeterminate outcome is just as incoherent as God naturally bringing about a supernatural event. It can be seen that with a proper parsing of the card dealing analogy, at root, Dr. Craig is simply saying that God cannot bring about a contradiction, which is not controversial. What is controversial is Dr. Craig’s application to the question “If God is morally perfect and all powerful, why isn’t everyone saved?”.
Can God achieve universalism through the (libertarian) free choices of creatures? Not if there are least some persons who would freely reject God in every circumstance. But can God achieve universalism at all? Let us return briefly to the question of Jesus’s resurrection. God could raise Jesus naturally from the dead if He would have created a world with different natural laws. It is perfectly within God’s freedom and right to create a world where people can rise from the dead naturally. But, just as He would have to create a completely different set of laws governing the natural order for this to occur, God would also have to create a completely different set of laws governing creaturely freedom to achieve universalism. If God had created the world where the creatures’ freedom was governed according to compatibilism, then, universalism could easily be obtained. God would merely install the desire to be saved in every human person.
With this background, we can see another angle to the card dealer objection. On Dr. Craig’s view, it can fairly be said that God is in somewhat of a bind. He gives prevenient grace to all persons, bringing them to a neutral point of decision for salvation. He wants everyone to freely accept, but, He knows that would never happen. So, He creates a world where on balance, there is more good than evil and the most people would choose to be saved. You could almost say that He wants a royal flush but settles for three of a kind. In any event, this is no longer an objection to Molinism en toto because this is an objection to Dr. Craig’s view of the doctrine of election. If one holds, as I do, to the view that God has a select group of individuals chosen before the foundation of the world, then no such bind presents itself.
The Grounding Objection
The card dealer objection appears, in part, to derive its strength from the grounding objection. The grounding objection essentially argues that the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom cannot be true because they are not grounded in anything. There is nothing in virtue of which these CCFs are made to be true. Can the Molinist offer a response?
In her dissertation The Grounding Objection, Jennifer Jensen surveys the issues behind the grounding objection and offers a promising analysis. While she admits that Molinists have work to do in order to formulate a comprehensive explanation for CCFs (after all this is cutting edge analytic philosophy), she posits that the Molinist is not left out to dry. To present a sufficient reply to the grounding objection, all the Molinist must do is demonstrate either (a) the proposed grounding principles can be reasonably rejected or (b) the CCFs can meet the criteria. Taking the card dealer objection at what I perceive to be face value, we can formulate a grounding principle along the lines of
(GP) all truths are directly and volitionally caused to be true by God
If this is true, God is not the ultimate truth-maker (as I erroneously posited before) but He is the truth causer, which is a considerably more radical claim. This grounding principle falls in the first category of being reasonably rejected. There are at least some truths that are impossible for God to volitionally change. These include “God exists” and “God is a Trinity” and “the angles in a Euclidean triangle sum to 180°”. These questions go to the very heart of the Biblical worldview; even the most presuppositional of all presuppositionalists cannot start with the Bible as an absolute epistemic starting point but must presuppose several properly basic beliefs. The clearest example is our own existence. If we are to learn anything about anything, we must first presuppose we exist. Another such example is the reliability of our cognitive faculties as well as sensory inputs. Before we read the Bible, we must first presuppose that our minds are somewhat functional and that what we see on the pages of the Bible is actually the content of Scripture. Another presupposition includes the laws of logic. Laws such as non-contradiction, identity, excluded middle, and others must be presupposed before we can approach the text of Scripture. If we do not presuppose these laws, then our theology can literally be anything that we want it to be. God can both be God and not-God. God can be unitarian and trinitarian. These laws are even used to distinguish theologies and other religions. Islam and Christianity cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. Calvinism and Open Theism cannot both be true. However, these realizations do not come from Scripture but from the philosophical presuppositions that are foundational for reasoning in any field theology or otherwise. Now, we know post de facto that our reasoning ability and our existence come from our being created in the image of God. We also know that the laws of logic, much like moral laws, are grounded in the being of God. So, theological truths ontologically precede these presuppositions but epistemically follow. In the nature of things, the theological truth of our being created in the image of God grounds our reasoning abilities and our philosophical presuppositions. However, we must use our philosophical presuppositions and reasoning abilities in order to come to know this theological truth. This does not appear to be controversial at all. In fact, it is a theological, revealed truth is that we can know things about God just by the creation alone, namely, His eternal power and divine nature (Romans 1:20). Of course, it goes without saying that we cannot know everything about God without Him speaking to us and directly revealing Himself as He has done in Scripture.
So to affirm (GP) is to descend into a world of lunacy. God can actualize logical contradictions and destroy any kind of reasoning. “God cannot lie” no longer becomes a starting axiom but a meaningless sentence. It seems quite apparent that the Christian must reject (GP). This is not to say that CCFs are grounded in the same way that these logical truths are grounded. The point of the argument thus far is simply to say that (GP) is falsified by the above referenced truths. An immediate response that comes to mind is to modify the principle to
(GP’) all contingent truths are directly and volitionally caused to be true by God
This sounds more plausible; however, it can also be reasonably rejected if we can produce at least one contingent truth that God cannot volitionally and directly cause to be true. I can think of two plausible candidates.
(T1) Evil exists
This meets the first criterion that it is contingent i.e. there is a possible world with no evil. Moreover, it seems that God cannot directly and volitionally cause evil to exist for He is all good and no darkness is within Him (1 John 1:5). Notice that this is not the same thing as permitting evil. Permitting and causing are not the same things in this respect. If God is permitting evil, then there is another agent whose actions God could have stopped but chose to allow to continue unimpeded. Another plausible truth is
(T2) some agent S is tempted
This is motivated by James 1:13 which states that God is not tempted by evil nor tempts people with evil. As James explains, temptations come about when one is carried or enticed by his own lust. Again, we have other agents involved wherein a contingent truth is brought about and God cannot directly and volitionally cause this truth. Notice again that this is not the same as God permitting someone to be tempted or bringing it about via secondary means. It is most likely the case that neither (GP) nor (GP’) are the grounding principles that Dr. White and other anti-Molinists have in mind. I will leave it to those persons to articulate their perspective. I fully accept that no anti-Molinist will find this type of response exhaustively satisfying. Nevertheless, this does provide a direction for future meaningful discussion past the card dealer.
About the Author
Zachary Lawson is a biomedical engineering student at Texas A&M University. When he gets bored, he pretends to know something about philosophy, theology, and apologetics. He is the chapter president of Ratio Christi at Texas A&M (RC-TAMU.org), an occasional blogger (caplawson.wordpress.com), and a co-host on the Think Theism podcast (thinktheism.org).
All knowledge is God’s knowledge, including middle knowledge
— Zachary Lawson (@zacharytlawson) January 14, 2015
In defending the Christian faith, apologists will use arguments leading to conclusions that have theistic significance. Typically, they will lead to something like, “God.” God is thought to be the best explanation for a wide range of phenomenon. However, if the concept of God has no explanatory power, then the apologetic arguments would be undermined and unjustified. In answering the question, “Why are supernatural explanations inferior?” Matt Dillahunty made a case against the explanatory resources within a theistic system. Mr. Dillahunty believes that we cannot appeal to God to explain one’s own personal experiences or cosmological arguments . Is that the case? Is God a good explanation for anything?
The Non-existent Cannot Be An Explanation
In the linked video, Mr. Dillahunty and his co-host made the point that God would not suffice as an explanation for any phenomena, because the non-existent cannot serve as an explanation for anything at all. A non-existent entity has no causal properties and would therefore be incapable of bringing forth any effect. Since God does not exist, he cannot serve as an explanation.
Well, first, I would like to indict Mr. Dillahunty and his co-host of fiat. They have assumed that God does not exist. They are presupposing their own personal philosophy, namely, atheism. Since atheism eliminates the existence of God, God obviously cannot explain anything. I think that most of us will find this reasoning less than convincing. If I were to mount an array of philosophical arguments, citing the various scholars throughout history, engaging with the points and counterpoints, interacting with the relevant scientific data, and concluding that God is the best explanation, would Mr. Dillahunty’s response really suffice? Would he really be able to wave a dismissive hand and say, “Well, the non-existent cannot be an explanation”? Of course not.
All he has done is to assume that atheism is true with absolutely no justification. So, if Mr. Dillahunty wants to say that God does not exist and therefore cannot serve as an explanation, he must first establish that God does not exist. Of course, this will give him a burden of proof that most atheists are not willing to bear, often suggesting that their duty is only to assess positive theistic arguments. Mr. Dillahunty is fond of saying that he would assess God as being “not guilty” of existing, meaning that the evidence is indeterminate and therefore he is justified in unbelief. However, his assertion is that the non-existent cannot serve as an explanation. If he is going to make that argument, he needs to be able to declare that God is “innocent” of existing, meaning that God absolutely does not exist. So, is God a good explanation for anything? Well, Mr. Dillahunty’s first point lacks the necessary evidence to offer much clarity into the discussion.
The second point that is worth making is that something can have explanatory power even if it does not exist. A scientist could posit a speculative string theory or dark matter or any of the old, refuted scientific concepts throughout the ages as a result of its’ predictive capabilities. This hypothesis could have strong explanatory power. It could be a good explanation of a wide range of data and later be refuted. Similarly, the ‘God hypothesis’ could be a good explanation of some event even if it were the case that God did not exist.
You Must First Demonstrate That God Exists
Mr. Dillahunty and his co-host suggested that before one accepts God as an explanation of some event, we must first establish that God exists. But how are we supposed to establish that God exists? The obvious answer is that one must provide evidence that God exists. So, suppose I present some data in the natural world, and the most robust philosophical explanation of that data is that God created it. By Mr. Dillahunty’s standard, I would not be permitted to interpret this as evidence for God’s existence, because before appealing to God as an explanation, I must first establish that he exists. If I want to establish that he exists, though, I need to appeal to him as an explanation. Mr. Dillahunty seems to have unknowingly created a catch-22, in which no evidence or argument could ever be valid. No evidence could ever be presented because God could never be interpreted as the explanation for that evidence.
Second, if it really were the case that one must first demonstrate the existence of some entity in order to recognize it as an explanation, we would never be able to explain anything. Science works by recognizing effects, positing causes and testing those causes for predictive capabilities, explanatory scope, power, simplicity, ad hocness, et cetera. Gravity is the best explanation of the apple’s falling from the tree. However, you would not be able to prove that gravity exists independently of its’ effects. If we were to adopt the Dillahunty standard, then, some of the most robust theories in science would be completely undermined. Is God a good explanation for anything? Well, we cannot rationally accept the standards that Mr. Dillahunty has established in an effort to answer this question.
Solving A Mystery By Appealing To A Mystery
This point is a bit reminiscent of the argument that was popularized by Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion. Mr. Dillahunty argued that God would never serve as a explanation, because God is mysterious. By appealing to God to explain a mystery, you are creating another mystery. Since you are raising a further question that needs to be answered, you are therefore not really explaining anything. Explanations are supposed to be edifying and informative, while the God hypothesis is neither.
The first point that I want to make is the same one that is usually made in response to the Who Created God? dilemma. Before you recognize that an explanation is the best, you do not need to be able to explain the explanation. Before you can say that A caused B, you do not need to be able to explain A. If you did, that would instantly lead to an infinite regress. Like Mr. Dillahunty’s previous point, this would undermine the project of science. We would never be able to explain anything, because we would always have explain the explanation, and the explanation of the explanation, and the explanation of the explanation of the explanation, and so on, to infinity.
Is God a good explanation for anything? Well, a more relevant question would be whether anything is a good explanation. Mr. Dillahunty does not seem to be using univocal standards. The standards that he has applied to the existence of God far exceed anything that he could use in the realm of science. Now, he might suggest that God warrants some sort of extra standard because there is no evidence for God, or something like that. But every hypothesis begins with no evidence and must be established. Further, manufacturing a standard that applies to the existence of God, but not to anything else screams of ad hocness. It would seem that Mr. Dillahunty is either  intentionally attempting to create new standards in an attempt to circumvent the potency of theistic explanations, or  composing these standards a little too hastily. Either way, a bit of revision and public retraction is warranted.
Does God Make Sense In Relation To The Effect?
When assessing an explanation, one will consider whether it is compatible with the effect. The illustration that Mr. Dillahunty’s co-host used was of a cat knocking over a tree. If you asked your neighbor how the tree in their backyard had fallen over, you would obviously not accept if they said that a cat climbed it and it fell over. The cause is not compatible with the effect. This is the criterion of assessing an explanation known as plausibility. In the same way, they suggest that God does not function as a good cause, because he is incompatible with the effect. In other words, God is an implausible explanation.
However, unfortunately, they did not give any arguments for thinking that God is implausible. What would would they have said? I could speculate that they might argue that there is evil or poor design in the universe. But since they did not mount the argument, I will not revisit it here, but just invite the reader to check out the linked articles. Since Mr. Dillahunty did not provide any evidence, we are left to assume that he would probably appeal to the same, old, tired arguments that have been refuted for centuries and are cyclically picked up and dusted off again when everybody has forgotten that they were refuted long ago. Is God a good explanation for anything? Well, there does not seem to be any reason to think that God would be implausible. In fact, there are good reasons to think that a universe without God would look different from the actual world.
Is The ‘God Hypothesis’ Always An Argument From Ignorance?
A ‘God of the Gaps’ argument, or an argument from ignorance, occurs when one tries to explain something that they do not understand by appealing to the existence of God. Where does thunder come from? God clapped the clouds together in his anger. The angels are bowling. These are arguments from ignorance. In this sense, God would never be a good explanation. Every time we learn about the natural world, God would be further crowded out. There would be less room for God as we learn more. Further, we would not be able acquire any new scientific information because everything is thought to be an eternal mystery of God (as the co-host pointed out). Mr. Dillahunty said that the ‘God hypothesis’ would be a pacifier. The concept of God stops you from thinking and asking questions.
There are two points worth making in response to this. First, not all attempts to use God as an explanation take the form of an argument from ignorance. You may disagree with these arguments, but you may not say that they are arguments from ignorance. For it to be an argument from ignorance, you would need to appeal to God as an explanatory hypothesis. But in the project of natural theology, arguments for the existence of God often take the form of syllogisms. They use premises and conclude that God exists. The existence of God is deducted from the premises that are established by the scientific data. Is God a good explanation for anything? He can be, and the so-called ‘argument from ignorance’ objection would be irrelevant.
Second, Aristotle outlined different types of causality that we still use today. He suggested that there is a difference between a material cause and an efficient cause. A material cause is the stuff out of which some effect is made. One could explain the scientific interactions of a pot of boiling water, for example. The efficient cause is the transcendent cause that brought an effect into being, like a person who puts the pot of water on the stovetop. Explaining the science behind boiling water does absolutely nothing to explain the efficient cause, and vice versa. Explaining that a person put a pot of boiling water on the stovetop is not a pacifier. You can still ask the scientific question. Similarly, you can have both Henry Ford and thermodynamics. Henry Ford is not a pacifier. Is God a good explanation? Well, you can have both God and science. God is not a pacifier. He is the personal agent and the efficient cause, while science the mechanism.
Is God A Good Explanation For Anything?
Mr. Dillahunty does not seem to have provided any good reasons for thinking that God is not a good explanation. He established unreasonable standards that cannot be maintained in any other philosophical discussion. He suggested first that one must prove that their explanation exists independently of the effect (which creates a catch-22), and then he said that in order to recognize a cause, you must first explain the cause, which leads to an infinite regress. Further, he argued that God does not make sense as a cause, which, as we saw, was not true. Then he used the old ‘appeal to ignorance’ as though it applied to every time God is used as an explanation, which it does not. The only way for us to say that God cannot be used as an explanation is to presuppose that atheism is true and to declare by fiat that God cannot be an explanation because God does not exist.
If you enjoyed this article, please see my series Arguments For Atheists To Deal With
A few years ago, Richard Dawkins aligned with a secular organization to publish a banner on a bus in England that read, “There is probably no God. Now, stop worrying and enjoy your life.” This message is a representation of the direction of society. Secularism has a more prominent voice than it did in recent centuries. As children of Descartes (who, ironically, was a Christian), we are less inclined to conceive of the world in light of Christian theology. We are not inclined to interpret any phenomenon as the work of God. Everything in the natural world is thought to have some sort of natural explanation. That is how we think. As this mindset has become more pervasive, a message like, “There is probably no God,” has become more acceptable, particularly in the increasingly secular England. However, ironically, Dawkins message that there is probably no God lends support to theism. This is because if God is improbable, it follows that God exists.
Informed readers probably know that I am preparing to mount what is known as the Ontological Argument for the existence of God. Unfortunately, the Ontological Argument is frequently misunderstood. Many atheists do not realize that there are different renderings and versions of the argument. They usually only know that one form of the Ontological Argument defines God as existing, because it is better to exist than to not exist. That is not the version of the argument that I am defending. I am outlining the version that is defended by contemporary philosophers such as Dr. Alvin Plantinga, Dr. William Lane Craig and Evan Minton. So, now I will explain why it is that if God is improbable, it follows that God exists.
If God Is Improbable, Then He Exists In Some Possible World
A possible world is not an alternate universe or some other dimension. I am not saying that God actually exists. A possible world is a heuristic device that allows one to assess possibilities. So, saying that God exists in some possible world is only to say that it is possible that God exists. Even if God’s existence is improbable, still, it follows that God exists in some possible world.
Of course, the concept of possible worlds extends beyond the existence of God. Possible worlds are not a metaphysical concept. The metaphysical naturalist is free to utilize the concept of possible worlds (and indeed, they do). There is a possible world in which I chose to buy a Windows laptop instead of a Mac. There is nothing incoherent about that concept. It is possible. Similarly, it is possible that I would purchase paper towels that cost $2 per roll instead of the 50 cent brand. It is logically possible that my parents never met, and I would never be born. These are all scenarios that compose logically possible worlds. In contrast, there is no possible world in which there is a square circle. Square circles are literally impossible.
Therefore, when we say that God exists in some possible world, then all that we are saying is that it is possible that God exists. This is a point that even many atheists will be willing to concede. When Richard Dawkins posted his sign reading, “There is probably no God,” he was indirectly affirming that it is possible for God to exist. If it is possible for God to exist, then it follows that God exists in some possible world. But what about my principle assertion, that if God is improbable, it follows that God exists? How do I move beyond some possible world to the actual world?
If God Exists In Some Possible World, He Exists In Every Possible World
The way that Dr. Alvin Plantinga defends this argument is to use the concept of a Maximally Great Being (MGB). An MGB is a being who possesses all of the great-making properties, or all of the omnis. For example, an MGB will be omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, omnibenevolent, et cetera. He is the greatest conceivable being. As Saint Anselm pointed out, if you could conceive of anything that is greater than God, than that would be God. However, at this juncture, one of the New Atheists will probably blurt out in frustration, “But where is the evidence for God? God is improbable!” Let’s grant the atheist’s point for a second and suggest that God is improbable. As we have seen, if he is improbable, it means that he exists in only some possible world. But is he limited to some possible world? Are there only a slim number of possible worlds in which this MGB inhabits?
Well, that does not seem to be the case. How could a MGB exist in only some possible world? As a MGB, he would be omnipotent. But if he is omnipotent, then he would be able to affect any possible world. Similarly, if he is omniscient, then he would know about every possible world. If he is omnipresent, then he exists in every possible world. Further, and critically, a MGB is metaphysically necessary (as it is obviously greater to be necessary than contingent). But if a being who is metaphysically necessary exists in some possible world, he must exist in every possible world (as that is what it means to be metaphysically necessary). Therefore, if God is improbable, it follows that God exists. For if he is improbable, then he exists in some possible world. If he exists in some possible world, then he exists in every possible world.
Pink Unicorns And Other Parodies
Thinking himself an intellectual elitist, the atheist will usually rejoin with some sort of parody. They will try to run a parallel argument that establishes the existence of some entity that we all regard as absurd. They may suggest that there exists in some possible world a maximally great sandwich, and therefore this sandwich would exist in every possible world. They might wave a dismissive hand as they argue that there exists a maximally great pink unicorn in some possible world which extends to every possible world. Do these parodies expose the idea that if God is improbable, it follows that God exist? I do not think so.
Entities such as sandwich or a pink unicorn cannot be maximally great. It is a logical absurdity, because a pink unicorn is a contingent being. Since it is made of material, it therefore depends upon material. A pink unicorn cannot be maximally great. We could redefine a pink unicorn to include infinite knowledge, goodness, power and so forth. But in doing so, we remove everything that makes it a pink unicorn. In this case, what we are calling a pink unicorn is really God.
One could retreat and suggest that it is not truly a pink unicorn, but rather that God has revealed himself as a pink unicorn. From there, it would follow that a maximally great pink unicorn exists. The problem is that this conception of God would be an unjustified consequence of the argument. It would not be induced from the premises. If one thinks that God has revealed himself as a maximally great pink unicorn, that is something that we can discuss further. But it is not a submittable parody.
How Do You Know That It Is The God of Scripture?
Upon reading why I reject the parody of God’s revealing himself as a pink unicorn, the atheist may think to respond that attributes of God as revealed in Scripture are an unjustified consequence of the Ontological Argument. Well, first of all, that objection would not challenge any of the premises of the argument. Even if I were to accept that, it would not at all contest the conclusion that God exists. We would just have to have further discussion about whether that God has revealed himself in Scripture. However, I think that the attributes of a MGB are remarkably consistent with the God of the Bible. This is because a MGB would have to be a trinity and would have to be just.
First, a MGB would have to be a trinity. As Richard Swinburne pointed out in his book Was Jesus God? the doctrine of the trinity follows from the love of God. Since God is all-loving, he must have the intrinsic desire to express that love to another person. However, humanity could not be the fulfillment of that desire because  that would make God contingent and  God has existed for eternity without humanity. So, there must be a relationship within the Godhead. As Christians, we recognize that this relationship is between the Father and the Son. Further, Swinburne argued that the greatest expression of love is to share it with another. Therefore, he concluded that God must be a trinity. So, since we have shown that a MGB exists, and a MGB is necessarily all-loving, it follows that this MGB is a trinity. We may even revise our premise (“If God is improbable, it follows that God exists”) to be “If the Trinity is improbable, it follows that the Trinity is true.”
Second, if God is omnibenevolent, then he must be just. As I pointed out in my article Would A Loving God Send Anyone To Hell? God cannot blink at sin. It is something like when a criminal stands before a judge. If that judge were to let him go, knowing that he was guilty, we would not praise his love. We would condemn him as being unjust. Similarly, God would never be so unjust as to allow guilty criminals to go free. But that is precisely what he does in the majority of world religions. In Islam, justification is based on one’s performance. If you perform enough acts of righteousness, God will release you. However, imagine that a judge let a guilty criminal go just because that criminal did good deeds in addition to his crimes. The judge would again be condemned as unjust. This is perhaps one of the greatest conundrums in all of history. How could a loving God allow guilty sinners to go free? How can he justify us when we have sinned against him? Answering this problem, the apostle Paul wrote that God displayed Christ Jesus publicly, as a propitiation for sin (Romans 3:25). He died in our place, and just as he rose from the dead, those who put their faith and trust in him will rise with him.
So, if God is improbable, it follows that God exists. But this is not an argument for some sort of generic theism. We are arguing that a maximally great being exists. A MGB excludes every world religion that is non-trinitarian and does not provide an adequate model of God’s justice and love. Therefore, if the God of Scripture is improbable, it follows that the God of Scripture exists.
Is God Even Improbable?
Throughout this article, I have been willing to grant for charity that God is improbable. The premise that God is improbable is all that I have really needed to make the argument, because if God is improbable, then it follows that God exists. But I am not totally convinced that God is improbable. The atheistic arguments and counterarguments certainly do not indicate that God is improbable.
Probably the primary argument that the New Atheists will use is to say that there is no evidence for the existence of God, and therefore we are justified in unbelief. But I am always a little startled when I hear an atheist say that there is no evidence for God. It makes me think that this individual has not done even a moment of research that was not tainted by bias and assumed conclusions. There is a plethora of evidence for God. Each line of evidence makes God’s existence significantly more probable than it would have been in the absence of that evidence. The existence of the entire known universe, the absolute beginning of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, the phenomenon of consciousness, the reality of the moral realm and the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus all make the existence of God far more probable than not. The atheistic counterarguments really do not weigh enough to mitigate the power of these arguments.
Further, what about Professor Dawkins’ primary argument, namely, the Boeing 747 Gambit, otherwise known as ‘who created God?’ The conclusion of his argument is that ‘Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist.’ If the argument is successful, this would make God highly improbable (which entails that God exists). However, the problem is that this conclusion does not follow from the argument. All that would follow if the argument were to succeed is that one cannot infer design on the basis of the fine-tuning of the universe. (If you would like further discussion of Dawkins’ pitiful argument, please see my article Who Created God?)
Atheists Need Certainty, Or Atheism Is De Facto False
The New Atheists are usually not keen to mount many arguments of their own. Instead, they would rather point out that atheism is merely a lack of belief in the existence of God. It is only their duty to sit back and assess the arguments that theists will provide for them. However, the Ontological Argument seems to shift a heavy burden of proof onto the atheists’ shoulders. Now, they do not only need to provide evidence against the existence of God. They need to provide proof that demonstrates that there is absolutely no God. This argument really forces atheists to reformulate their position. After all, if God is improbable, it follows that God exists. So it is no longer enough to say that God is improbable. The line “God is improbable” serves as a premise in an argument leading to the existence of God.
This means that the New Atheists will need to emerge out of intellectual laziness. They cannot just say that they are sitting back, awaiting evidence. They need to be able to show that God does not exist. If there is even a sliver of a possibility that God exists, it follows that God exists. But I think that anybody who honestly reflects upon the issues will conclude that it is at least possible for God to exist. Think about it: is God improbable? If God is improbable, it follows that God exists.
If you would like to read similar content, check out my article The Case Against New Atheism.
Many classical apologists will be repelled by the Transcendental Argument for the existence of God because it is usually associated closely with presuppositionalism. The argument suggests that in order to make sense of the utility of reason and logic, one must first presuppose the existence of God. The strength of the argument is in the fact that atheism really does lack an ontological foundation for true declaratives. However, to the detriment of the argument, presuppositionalists will often frame it improperly. It becomes significantly weaker when it becomes epistemological rather than ontological. God is a precondition for knowledge and truth. But is certainty of God a precondition to knowledge? Certainly not.
The difference between the epistemological and ontological element is subtle, but it is important to understanding the strengths and weaknesses of this argument. One may point out, “God is a necessary precondition to truth” and yet atheists (who do not believe in God) will still have access to these truths. They would merely be inconsistent. In contrast, when one begins to say, “You must first believe in God to have access to these truths” then you wander into the far less defensible epistemological element of the argument. So, is certainty of God a precondition to knowledge?
Some People Are Not Totally Certain
Careful readers will have noted that I have been using the word certainty in a somewhat flawed way throughout this article. I am using it as though it indicates absolute certainty and one-hundred percent confidence. The reason that I am doing this is that contemporary presuppositional apologists will use certainty in this manner. I am assessing their conception of certainty about the existence of God. It does not seem to stand up to serious scrutiny, because nobody has absolute certainty about their faith. Certainty often comes on a sliding scale.
This should not be a difficult concept to grasp. Anybody who has counseled struggling Christians know that people are often burdened with doubt. People wonder about whether they can trust the Bible and God’s promises. That is not to say that doubt is okay. God is worthy of our trust and absolute certainty. But we often fail him and sin against him by doubting his promises and his word. However, the very fact that doubt exists among born again, believing Christians suggests that we are not absolutely certain about everything. If you are vulnerable to a moment or a passing second of doubt, then you do not have absolute certainty either. For anybody to tell themselves that they are not vulnerable to a moment of doubt is to be in denial.
In fact, you can probably think of something that you would find that would strengthen your faith. Imagine that you were to see the Second Coming, to witness it with your own eyes. You would be filled with joy and in that moment, your faith would be more firm than it ever has in your entire life. Similarly, if you were to witness a miracle, your faith would be enhanced. There are also examples that you have probably experienced in real life. Think of your favorite argument for the existence of God. Upon learning that argument, your faith was strengthened and you became more confident in the truth claims of Christianity. But that entails that you do not have absolute, 100% certainty. One cannot improve upon absolute certainty. So, is certainty of God a precondition to knowledge? If that were the case, many faithful Christians would not have any knowledge.
You Are More Certain of Some Things Than You Are of God’s Existence
We have seen that there are varying degrees of certainty. It is not static. Beyond that, there are examples of things of which people are more certain than they are of the existence of God. This is because these things truly are a precondition for knowledge. In particular, everybody who possesses self-awareness is more certain about their own existence than they are about the existence of God. As Descartes famously said, “I think, therefore I am.” If I am thinking, I must exist, because who is there to do the thinking? This means that everything that everything that I do and think presupposes that I exist. If I have the thought, “God exists,” I have first presupposed my own existence to have that thought. (Again, though, the existence of God is necessary for me to exist or utilize logic.) As RC Sproul pointed out in his book Classical Apologetics, one cannot epistemologically start beyond the self.
Interestingly, Eric Hovind actually responded to the idea that “I think, therefore I am” by suggesting that it is guilty of circular reasoning (I will link to the interview when I find it). He said that “I think” presupposes “I am.” This, he suggested, is to assume one’s own conclusion. The problem is that all Mr. Hovind has done is to complain about the nature of a deductive argument. In a deductive argument, the conclusion is implicit in the premise waiting to be derived by the rules of logical inference. In a stroke of irony, by suggesting that “I am” is implicit in “I think,” Mr. Hovind has conceded the argument! I think, therefore I am.
What does that imply? Well, first if we are more certain about our own existence than about the existence of God, it follows that nobody is absolutely certain that God exists. You cannot be more certain about proposition X than you are of proposition Y if you are 100% certain of Y. Therefore, nobody is 100% certain of X. We all have doubts. That is integral to our fallen and sinful human nature. Is certainty of God a precondition to knowledge? I do not think so. Rather, one must first have knowledge and self-awareness before they can even believe in God.
What About Romans 1:20?
Integral to this form of presuppositional apologetics is the idea that certainty about the existence of God is innate. Everybody knows that God exists because God has implanted that knowledge in the human mind. Therefore, anybody who claims to be an atheist must be deceiving themselves. They are not really atheists. They already believe in God’s existence. This hangs upon Romans 1:20, which reads, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”
The careful reader will probably have noticed that the presuppositionalist seems to have extracted far too much from the text. To suggest that this passage suggests that we have innate knowledge of God is to perform eisegesis. It is to read something into the text that it does not say. Instead, it says that God’s eternal power and divine nature have been seen in the natural world. People can look to the natural world and conclude on that basis that God exists. Anybody who asks themselves, “Why does anything at all exist?” is instantly confronted with God’s existence. But if you try to find a trace of the idea that there is some sort of innate certainty of God on the basis of this passage, you will come up lacking.
Further, this passage does not establish that everybody is absolutely certain of the existence of God. It establishes only that we know that God exists on the basis of the natural world. But knowledge is often burdened by doubt and sin. This is where it might be appropriate to point out the difference between epistemic certainty and ontological certainty. One has epistemic certainty if they have good reasons for believing that something is true. For example, I might believe that the speed limit is 35 MPH because I saw a posted sign. I have epistemic certainty. However, I could still be wrong. A council could have met and changed the speed limit as I am writing this very sentence. The sign could be in error or outdated. That is a lingering doubt. So while I possess epistemic certainty, I do not have ontological certainty. Ontological certainty is like the certainty that God has. When God is certain, he cannot be wrong. But even when we are certain, there is still a mild possibility that we could be wrong.
Third, there is a psychological phenomenon known as subliminal knowledge. There are many things that we know but are stored so deep in our subconscious that we do not always have access to them. I do not remember the name of my second grade teacher. I know it, but I cannot remember it. Tomorrow, it may just come to me. It is subliminal. Perhaps atheists have subliminal knowledge of the existence of God. Perhaps that is how we can best understand when Paul said men have suppressed the knowledge of God (Romans 1:18). With all of that in mind, is certainty of God a precondition to knowledge? I do not think that Romans 1:20 offers any grounds for thinking that.
The Fear of The Lord Is The Beginning of Knowledge…
Presuppositionalists will usually appeal to Proverbs 1:7, which reads, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” They take this to be a biblical vindication of their argument. It specifically addresses how people acquire knowledge. Their presentation of the Transcendental Argument is about epistemology, which is precisely what I am indicting in this article. So does Proverbs 1:7 vindicate presuppositionalism? Is certainty a precondition to knowledge? I do not think that Proverbs 1:7 provides any basis for thinking that.
First, presuppositionalism indicates that one must first believe that God exists to have access to true declaratives. Proverbs 1:7 says that the fear of the Lord is the precondition to wisdom. Unless they are going to suggest that everybody fears the Lord, I do not think that this is a relevant proof-text. After all, the concept of fearing the Lord is usually related to reverence and esteeming God (not being terrorized). Atheists do not revere or esteem God. They might have subliminal knowledge of him, but they do not revere him. They do not fear the Lord.
Second, the presuppositional argument is related to epistemology. It is related to how we come to know certain truths. Proverbs 1:7 is specifically addressing wisdom. An individual can acquire a host of degrees and still be unwise. Many people will grow in knowledge but not in wisdom because they do not fear the Lord. Now, I realize that the translation uses the word “knowledge.” But it is obviously referring to wisdom. This is wisdom literature, and in the other half of the verse (which communicates the same truth negatively as a poetic, literary device), it reads, “Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Further, the fact that fearing the Lord is a precondition to this knowledge indicates that it is probably a reference to wisdom. So, is certainty a precondition to knowledge? You cannot draw that interpretation from Proverbs 1:7.
Is Certainty of God A Precondition To Knowledge?
If you are a presuppositionalists, all of this information will probably seem devastating. But it should not. There are still ways for you to defend the Transcendental Argument. You need only to drop the epistemological aspect of it and it will instantly become far more defensible. If you would like to retain the presuppositional element, you can still do that. You need only argue that one must first presuppose the existence of God to make sense of a world in which there are true declaratives. But as it is often presented, the presuppositional method is quite defeasible because it relies so heavily on the idea that one must know that God exists to have access to truth claims.
As we have seen throughout this article, that is just not the case. Many Christians are not even absolutely certain that God exists. Certainty and uncertainty are not black and white. There is a sliding scale that many people, yourself including, will find themselves. This is especially evident when you begin to consider that there are certain things of which you are more certain, such as your own existence. Doubt always creeps in. We are sinful creatures. For us to suggest that we must have ontological certainty is almost like the Pelagian doctrine of sinless perfection.
All of this is not to say that we cannot believe in God’s promises. This article should not be taken as a treatise of ignorance of uncertainty. It is not an argument for relativism or agnosticism. It is not an exercise in post-modern theology. Doubt and uncertainty are not virtues. They are sinful. But at the same time, many Christians will swing between doubt and great faith. Some might recall moments of weak faith. Others may have endured a trauma and asked themselves how a loving God could really allow them to go through it. You may have read a book by a liberal theologian and had your faith challenged. Certainty is wonderful. But it is difficult to attain and hold on to. Apart from the grace of God, none of us would have any measure of certainty. But that does not mean that certainty about the existence of God is a precondition to knowledge.
If you would like to read similar content, check out my series on presuppositional apologetics.
During theological discourse and debate, it is important to try to avoid the dramatic element of the discussion. There is no reason that any of us need to point the finger at one another. When I check my phone, the last thing that I want to see is a host of red-eyed messages touting that I am “afraid to respond.” In what seems to be an attempt to elevate his status as a bona fide theologian, Mr. Eric Lounsbery has challenged Dr. James White to a debate. In this challenge, he congratulated himself for what he seemed to think was a monumental argument. He suggested that it “refuted” Calvinism. In his original debate challenge, he did not actually lay out his argument. He only boasted that it had unprecedented strength. After building our anticipation to hear this powerful argument, he posted it. He was referring to Luke 8:12, which is the parable of the sower. Does he have a point? How does Calvinism explain Luke 8:12?
Before we proceed, I would like to briefly sketch the allegedly unprecedented argument. In Luke 8:4-15 Jesus explained that different people will have different reactions to what he called the “planting of seeds” (identified as the word of God). Some people will receive it, and then Satan will come and steal it away from them. From there, Mr. Lounsbery takes a breath from congratulating himself and asks how it is that Satan could have taken the word of God away from them? Why would Satan need to take it away if they were totally depraved? Were they on their way to be saved before Satan intervened? Jesus seemed to think so. If that is the case, argues Lounsbery, then Calvinism has been “refuted.” So, how does Calvinism explain Luke 8:12?
This Is Not A Refutation of Calvinism
Before I get into the passage itself, there are a few preliminary remarks that I would like to make. While Mr. Lounsbery may be boasting that this argument has refuted Calvinism, it did not do that. Even if we were to grant Mr. Lounsbery’s argument for charity, the most that we would be able to say was that it was challenging. Calvinism is a system that is based on a host of scriptural passages. The sovereignty of God in salvation is found throughout the entire warp and scope of the biblical narrative. If you want to refute Calvinism, it is not enough to point to a single parable.
If you are wondering why Dr. White is not bothering to respond to you, this may very well be the reason. Your grandiose language about your argument makes it difficult to take you seriously, with all due respect. If you were going to “refute Calvinism,” you would need to do more work than merely point to a proof-text. You would have to interact with the various seminal texts of the Reformation.
Is An Unprecedented Argument A Good Thing?
One of the themes throughout his posts is the claim that his arguments are unprecedented. They have never been used before. Dr. White has never heard them before, and therefore he would not know how to respond. Well, if an argument is unprecedented, there is probably a good reason for that. Arminianism has a long intellectual history. If this argument is not in their arsenal, then the reason is that it is not a strong enough of an argument to make it in. Anybody can misinterpret a text so radically that even those on your side have never heard of it before and label it unprecedented. That is not difficult to do. With such a long intellectual history, there are no unprecedented arguments. If it is unprecedented, it is because it is so radical of a misinterpretation that nobody would have thought to use it in that way. So, let’s move on to our principle question: How does Calvinism explain Luke 8:12?
Why Did Satan Need To Steal The Word?
The first question that Mr. Lounsbery asked was related to the issue of total depravity. If men are dead in their sins, how is it that Luke 8 could say that Satan stole the word of God out of their hearts? After all, if they are dead in sin, then they do not have any access to the word of God, right? How does Calvinism explain Luke 8:12? Well, first, I am wondering how high of a view that Mr. Lounsbery has of mankind. Does he believe that mankind is “essentially good”? Can mankind choose to do good? Are their hearts activated by some sort of prevenient grace? He does not specify. He only challenges the doctrine of total depravity.
Second, the task of the systematic theologian is not merely to understand one passage. The question that needs to be asked if whether Bible teaches the doctrine of total depravity. The Parable of the Sower is certainly part of the Bible, but it only contributes a little to that discussion. If this were part of a broader presentation, it might be slightly more robust. But as it stands alone, it really does not do much to undercut the biblical data concerning the doctrine of total depravity.
Third, when it says that Satan “steals the word” I assume that he acknowledges that it means that he is stealing the gospel from them. These people have heard the gospel. But, before they repent and believe, Satan steals the message from them. How is that possible, given total depravity? Well, the doctrine of total depravity does not state that the unregenerate man cannot hear the gospel. It states instead that the unregenerate man refuses to respond positively to the gospel. How does Calvinism explain Luke 8:12? Well, frankly, it really does not need to. This is just a fundamental and basic misunderstanding of Calvinism. Perhaps that is why this argument was unprecedented.
Would Those In The Parable Have Been Saved?
The second part of the argument was in relation to the reason that Satan stole the word of God from these individuals. Jesus said that he stole it so that these people would not believe and be saved. Mr. Lounsbery is essentially arguing that if mankind is totally depraved, why is it that they are in a position where they would have been saved had Satan not stolen the word? They were on their way toward salvation. But how could they be in that process if they were totally depraved? They must have some ability in and of themselves to choose to be saved, right? How do we explain this? How does Calvinism explain Luke 8:12?
The Calvinist position is that when an individual comes into salvation, he has already been made a new creature. He is regenerate. Of this passage, the Calvinist would simply say that the people in this parable would go on to believe and be saved as a result of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. That does not mean that man has the ability in and of himself. It means that Jesus was trusting in the sovereignty of God to bring saving faith into the hearts of those who heard the word. So, how does Calvinism explain Luke 8:12? Well again, I just do not see any reason that Calvinism needs to explain it. I think that we only need to explain what Calvinism is, and this argument quickly fades into irrelevancy. Perhaps that is why this argument has not committed itself to the intellectual legacy of Arminianism.
Are You Really Basing Your Theology On A Parable?
Mr. Lounsbery is hanging a lot of weight on this single parable. As a general principle, you do not base doctrine on parables. That is why I said that if you want to “refute Calvinism,” then you need to first negate the positive arguments in favor of Calvinism. If this parable were part of a larger presentation, and it were a minor, supplemental point, then it could be a respectable argument. But since he is using this as his primary argument against the intellectual history of the doctrines of grace, it really stretches the bounds of the potency of a parable. After all, the parable was not about Arminianism and Calvinism. All of the arguments that he mounted were by implication.
This makes it appropriate for one to simply appeal to the stronger arguments. After all, any freshman in college who is pursuing a degree in theology will tell you that you need to interpret unclear verses in light of clear ones. Since this is a parable and the argument is drawn by implication, it follows by necessity that this is an unclear verse. That is why this debate needs to be had in the more powerful texts, such as Romans 9, John 6, and Ephesians 1. Maybe Mr. Lounsbery can offer a potent Arminian interpretation of these passages. If he can, that would be progress toward offering a substantive critique of Calvinism. But I am afraid that pitting the parable of the sower against these more clear and powerful passages is not very compelling. It is something like bringing a knife to a gunfight.
How Does Calvinism Explain Luke 8:12?
Mr. Lounsbery has been touting this argument for a few weeks now, hounding Dr. James White about why he refuses to respond. Even if Dr. White were not currently preaching the gospel overseas, I would still not blame him for not responding. Luke 8:12 does not need to be explained by Calvinism. You only need to explain Calvinism, and the strength of the argument evaporates. That is why this argument is unprecedented.
If you would like to read similar content, please see my article, A Brief Critique of Prevenient Grace & Response To CerebralFaith
There is nothing that is cooler and more apt to make you relevant than a swear word every now and then. When a Christian goes before a live audience, the audience have certain expectations. They expect us to fit into the old caricatures that have developed over time of what a Christian is. So, when the Christian behaves in a way that seems edgy, the audience thinks that not all Christians are wacky fundamentalists. Perhaps they need to rethink this whole Christianity thing. After all, it might be more hip than we all initially thought. So, is this a worthy procedure to draw people into the church? Should Christians attempt to be edgy?
The Line Will Change
Edginess often teeters on the borders between right and wrong. After stepping over the old way of thinking, the outdated fundamentalist moral prerogatives that characterize much of Christianity, these edgy Christians will still hold to some form of Christian morality. They will stand on the edge of that moral system and show the world how far they are willing to go. The world will look on and nod in approval of how sinful they are willing to be as they stand on that edge.
The problem with being edgy should be glaring to anybody. When you are standing on the edge, you will eventually fall off. That is why we build fences. Fences prevent people from falling off. After you step over that edge, you will fall onto another cliff and stand upon the edge of that one. Then you will fall again until you plummet into deepest canyons of immorality. Should Christians attempt to be edgy? If you do, you are going to cross your boundaries and place new ones further out, which you tell yourself that you will never cross until you eventually do. That is how temptation works. Do not be edgy.
Edginess Is Often Disobedient
The edgy Christian seems to have developed a system of relative morality. They will do what they think is right. They rest on the shifting sands of their own personal perception rather than the firm and unshakable ground of God’s inerrant word. If your interpretation of the Bible is changing frequently, or you are suddenly coming to believe that this stuff does not matter anymore, then perhaps you believe in relative morality. But the person who believes that God exists is committed to believing in an ontological foundation for moral values and duties. If God exists, then he is good by necessity. He has a will for how human beings are to live their lives. That will is expressed in the Bible.
Paul tells us, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth…” (Ephesians 4:29). One may object that there is no exhaustive list of swear words in the Bible. That is true, but we generally know what a swear word is. It is disobedient to traverse that boundary.
Further, edginess also involves condoning things that Christians have traditionally thought were sinful. After all, people do not want to be told that they are sinning. They want to be told that they can do anything that they would like. So the edgy Christian may stand in agreement with the world that Paul’s prohibition against homosexuality in Romans 1 has been “misinterpreted.” Perhaps Paul was culturally conditioned, misunderstood, or maybe he was a bigot and we need to move past his moral perspective. Should Christians attempt to be edgy? Well, again, if they do, then the world nods in approval at the expense of keeping Christ’s commands.
We Are Not Supposed To Look Like The World
It can be difficult to be in a world in which we have radically different perspectives than anybody else. This is especially true in modern western culture. The west is rapidly losing its’ Christian roots, along with the foundation for intrinsic human dignity and egalitarianism. So when we express an old-fashioned opinion (like the same-sex marriage is wrong, or that Jesus is the only way to salvation, or that sin is wrong), people react quite indignantly. People have a low opinion of Christians.
Almost in protest, the edgy Christian will stick up their hands and bellow, “Wait! Wait! I am not like them!” and flee from the church into the world, condoning sin and unrighteousness in an effort to gain a nod of approval. Approving sin here or condoning illicit activities there can go a long way. Sinners appreciate when so-called Christians justify them in their sin. Of course, such a Christian looks exactly like the rest of the world. The world loves them.
Jesus promised that the world would hate his followers (John 15:18). He was a light shining in the darkness, and the darkness hated the light and did everything it could to stomp it out so that it could continue to wallow in filth. As Christians, our duty is to continue to be that light (Matthew 5:14). He said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (v. 16). Should Christians attempt to be edgy? Absolutely not. It is our duty to walk in righteousness even though the world may hate it.
The Church Is A Bastion of Righteousness
Christians have sinned. The church is a place of redeemed sinners. As Martin Luther famously coined the term, simultaneously justified and sinners. Though we do sin, we labor against it (Romans 6:2). We stand for the righteousness that has been prescribed in the pages of Scripture. The edgy Christian is not like this. The edgy Christian will point a finger at the church and accuse them of condemning sin. “How can you condemn sin?” they will ask, “…when all of these people love it?” That may not be a direct quotation, but it is implicit in what they do say.
Should Christians attempt to be edgy? Well, if we are condoning sin and teetering on the borders of right and wrong, then how can we stand as a bastion of righteousness? How are we supposed to stand for righteousness if we are always conforming our view of righteousness to contemporary culture? The only way for the church to be a bastion of righteousness is if it stands for what is true independently of what the rest of the world thinks.
The Gospel Is The Power of God
I understand why Christians attempt to be edgy. I understand why they actively try to look like the world. One reason is that they think it will make Christianity seem more attractive to the world. You are proving to them that it is possible to be cool and be a Christian. But then if they were to become Christians as a result, what sort of Christianity would they adopt? They would adopt something less than Christianity. Christendom is already overloaded with false converts. We do not need anymore. Should Christians attempt to be edgy? No. Righteousness does not and cannot change, no matter how inconvenient that might be.
If you want to make converts, then preach the gospel. It is not cool. You will not be able to use swear words. The world will not nod in approval over what you say. Atheists are not going to say that you are rational and free thinking. The world is going to say that you are a hateful bigot who is trying to impose your system of ethics upon other people. They will mock and ridicule you. They will call you names. They will say that you are an idiot, that you believe myths and uncritically accept whatever you are told. That is how the world reacts to the gospel. It is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18). The fact that it is foolishness to them does not warrant you to change it or to appeal to their carnal nature.
Paul wrote in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation.” The gospel is what transforms a heart. People hear the gospel and they respond to it. They are given a new heart. If in their carnality, they reject and ridicule the gospel, the solution is not to appeal to their carnal nature. Should Christians attempt to be edgy? No. It does not help anyone to tell a sinner that they can soak in sin for all of their days without worrying about judgment.
If you want to read similar content, see my series on moral questions and social issues.
Hi there, I’m curious about something, I wasn’t really looking for Theology but I read some of your recent posts and have a question. I’m an atheist, so this matter is not a moral one for me but about living my life to the fullest, but I would like to hear from someone with an opposing viewpoint. Do you believe that for a person like me: unmarried (intentionally), non-religious and infertile (with no desire to parent a child) that I should be denied/or deny myself, the thing which brings me such an incredible amount of joy? I don’t care if you think I’m a sinner, I don’t subscribe to your religious views and am unbothered by this, but I’m genuinely curious about the limitations your views or your religions would put on a person like me who views all consensual sexual activities as fundamentally healthy and pleasurable, and encourages sexual pleasure and experimentation.
E-Mail From An Atheist:
I happen to be both a sex positive, single woman and an infertile one. I believe that sex, and ultimately, orgasm, is the greatest human experience and one I endeavor to achieve as often as possible. Since I’m never going to conceive a child, I am never having sex for the purpose of reproduction and since I have unconventional views on marriage I don’t believe I’ll ever do so inside the confines of one.
I’m curious about something, I wasn’t really looking for Theology but I read some of your recent posts and have a question.
I’m an atheist, so this matter is not a moral one for me but about living my life to the fullest, but I would like to hear from someone with an opposing viewpoint.
Do you believe that for a person like me: unmarried (intentionally), non-religious and infertile (with no desire to parent a child) that I should be denied/or deny myself, the thing which brings me such an incredible amount of joy?
I don’t care if you think I’m a sinner, I don’t subscribe to your religious views and am unbothered by this, but I’m genuinely curious about the limitations your views or your religions would put on a person like me who views all consensual sexual activities as fundamentally healthy and pleasurable, and encourages sexual pleasure and experimentation.
Thank you for taking the time to e-mail me and ask these questions. My hope is that you e-mailed me because you are interested in my insight and truly understanding why I take my position on sexuality that I have outlined on my website.
The reason that many people are compelled by the moral prerogatives that you have expressed is that our society reduces all forms of virtue to kindness. Every form of “loving your neighbor” is reduced to “being kind to your neighbor.” However, I think that showing love for an individual is about more than hoping that their immediate desires are satisfied and that they can do things that bring them joy. There are many treacherous evils that bring joy to an individual, and there are many acts of righteousness that do not bring joy or pleasure. Love is about more than kindness. Life is about more than pleasure.
With that in mind, I reject the ethic that says that one should just go for the gusto. I reject the idea that an individual should just do whatever feels good. I reject the notion that if you prevent somebody from indulging in every form of pleasure, that you are bringing harm to them. There is more to life than pleasure and pain. There is more to love than enabling somebody to just do what feels good.
Our culture seems to have a lack of self-control ingrained in its’ DNA. People just want what is front of them with little concern about what is right or what is even ultimately good for them. Consider this obvious example. You may want to enjoy a piece of cake, but you know that you should not. If you have no restraint at all and you spend your life just pursuing your unbridled dietary lusts, you will plummet into obesity.
Everybody has different temptations and indulgences and they often have different consequences. You can do what feels good all of the time and constantly pursue your unbridled lusts, but it will chauffeur a host of consequences, even if you do everything that you can to prevent it. Sexual activity with multiple partners will often disconnect an individual from any sort of emotional commitment to the person with whom they are engaging sexually. Now, you may think that is a good and noble thing. But it could lead to a lot of emotional pain for partners. You may suggest that you do everything that you can to prevent that. Well, that is fine. But it will not always work.
Beyond that, if you are pursuing your unbridled lusts in one area of life, then establishing this precedent and setting this example is likely going to have negative consequences. If you think that you should just give in to whatever feels good, then I do not know what would prevent you from doing anything that was easy. If you are feeling impatient waiting in line, and you have already established a precedent for just giving in to temptations, then lashing out at people might be the easiest thing for you to do. Sitting on the couch watching television will be easier than reading a book. A romance novel loaded with buzz words, rather than a thoughtful analysis of a particular topic will be the norm. You will become less thoughtful, less interested in doing what is right, less interested in intellectual stimulation because you just want to do what is easy and what feels good.
Indulging in immediate temptations is not just about that particular temptation. It is not just about what you want to do right now. It impacts everything. It impacts your character. It determines your character. The question that you should ask yourself is what sort of person you want to do. If you want to be a person who just gives in and does what is easy and what feels good to your own detriment, then that is your choice. I am not here to call you a sinner or shove my views into your face (after all, you e-mailed me and asked me). But I do think that character is important.
It is particularly important because society is comprised of individuals who demonstrate a particular character. How we behave and what we do impacts everything. What you have expressed has quickly become normal behavior in our society. We want a society that accepts and endorses our pursuit of every lustful temptation. I am fairly certain that you read my article How Our View of Sex Creates An Abortion Society and sent this e-mail in responses to it. When we just pursue our temptations without worrying about the consequences, we support a society that is amenable to terrible injustices.
Many of these injustices may be race-based or gender-based. Think about it like this. If an individual is giving in to every temptation that they have, what if they have racist temptations? Should they suppress them? The answer is that they obviously should. Now, you are probably thinking something like, “But racism hurts people, while sex does not.” Well, that is not quite the point. The point is rather that we are setting a precedent for giving into temptations and creating a society in which people just do what their immediate desires demand.
So I take my position on human sexuality because I believe that it is part of a larger narrative. It impacts everything, from every aspect of our character, our temptations, to society as a whole and other people. There is a tangible standard of morality to which we are all called to align ourselves. That is not to say that I am perfect or that I have perfectly aligned myself. I have not. We have all failed in some way. But I do believe that we need to strive after true virtue and righteousness.
Thanks for taking the time to e-mail me,
If you want to read the article that inspired this question, check out my article How Our View Of Sex Creates An Abortion Culture
There are certain aspects of the Christian worldview that many people find objectionable. The man with the unregenerate heart will not enjoy hearing that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. The individual who aspires for moral autonomy will posit a form of relativism, suggesting that you cannot impose your morals upon them. The doctrine of Hell, the depravity of man and the need for forgiveness repel us. This has led the people of this generation to challenge the foundation for all of it. If you can compromise the inerrancy of the Bible, then one can justify their preferred lifestyle. They do not have to be concerned about marriage or abortion, and can breathe the air free from the sovereignty of God. As man flees the sovereignty of God, he will pose the question, “How do you know that the Bible is God’s word?”
Criticisms of the biblical data have come in several different forms. Scholars like Dr. Bart Ehrman will make their career and their living arguing that we cannot trust the Scripture, that we cannot know what the authors of the New Testament originally wrote in the absence of some sort of controlled and monitored transmission of the text of Scripture. Others will suggest that the text is plagued with historical errors and contradictions, compromising the reliability of the text. Still some will posit that the Bible portrays an unscientific view of the world. If you are interested in my response to the negative case against the Bible, feel free to review some of the linked articles or just use the search function. Instead, as I answer the question, “How do you know that the Bible is God’s word?” I will present a positive case regarding why I choose to believe in the Bible.
The Historicity of The New Testament
While most people know the New Testament as the holy text of the Christian religion, it functions as more than that in the academic world. If a historian wants to learn about Jesus and the apostles, he needs historical data. The New Testament is a collection of the the primary sources that he or she will need to use. This means that one can use the New Testament to probabilistically conclude that certain events are historical or not historical. Now, I know that many people will take a surface glance at this answer to the question, “How do you know that the Bible is God’s word?” and feel tempted to blurt out, “You’re reasoning in a circle!” I urge you to resist that temptation. This is not circular reasoning. It would only be circular if I were assuming that the Bible were God’s word and is therefore inerrant. Rather, the task of the historian is to apply the same principles of historical investigation to the New Testament that they would apply to any ancient document. (By the way, if you are a presuppositionalist and preparing to accuse me of impiety, please read my article Is The Minimal Facts Argument Impious?)
So, with that in mind, when one applies the principles of historical investigation to the New Testament, the historian establishes a few facts surrounding the death of Jesus. As I argued in my article Did Jesus Rise From The Dead? a few of these facts include  the burial of Jesus,  the empty tomb,  the post-mortem appearances and  the perseverance of the disciples’ belief in the resurrection. The most probable explanation of these facts that far outstrips any naturalistic hypothesis is that God raised Jesus from the dead.
Okay, you are likely wondering how I connect that with the New Testament. After all, as I pointed out, this argument does not require an inerrant or even inspired Bible. So, you may reassert the question, how do you know that the Bible is God’s word? Well, I suggest that it is more probable that after Jesus rose from the dead, the religion that was preached by his disciples is true. If God raised Jesus from the dead, then he obviously wanted the world to hear his message. This message is contained in the writings of the disciples and the Christian religion. Therefore, we know that the Bible is God’s word because Jesus rose from the dead and commissioned his disciples to preach his message.
How Jesus Viewed The Scripture
The premise that God raised Jesus from the dead has several implications. If Jesus had remained dead, he would have been proven to be a blasphemer. Deuteronomy 21:23 tells us, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” The Jewish Sanhedrin who prosecuted Jesus would have been vindicated and their counter-arguments about Jesus would have been justified. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “If Christ is not risen, we are most of all to be pitied.” However, if God raised Jesus from the dead, vindicating his claims, then as Paul said in Galatians 3:13, Christ was under the curse of God on our behalf. He died the death that we deserve, absorbing our sins and then he rose from the dead. But if this man rose from the dead, we would be confronted with several other questions as well. We would have to ask why God raised him from the dead, who he was, what he said about himself and what he said about the Scripture.
The principles of historical investigation yield several startling facts about how Jesus viewed himself. First, the parable of the wicked tenants in the gospel of Mark meets the criteria of multiple attestation and is usually ascribed to the portrait of the historical Jesus. In this parable, he describes himself as God’s own Son and heir to his kingdom. Second, Jesus referred to himself on several occasions as the Son of Man, hailing from Daniel’s eschatological vision in the seventh chapter of the book named after him. The Son of Man was one who all of the people of the nations would worship. But it is startling that the Christians of the first century did not use that title. While it was Jesus’s favorite self-designation, it is scarce in the pages of the New Testament. This means that it meets the criteria of dissimilarity and is properly ascribed to the historical Jesus.
While this does not exhaust the historically verifiable claims that Jesus made of himself, they are potent enough that we can proceed. Jesus claimed to be both the Son of God and the Son of Man. He claimed to be the Messiah. Then he died and rose from the dead. His view of Scripture should be quite significant for us as we establish a proper view of the Bible. Jesus made claims such as “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). He said “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18). How do we know that the Bible is God’s word? Well, Jesus believed that the Scripture was without error and was God-breathed. As the one who claimed to be the Son of God, Son of Man, died and rose from the dead, he is a worthy authority.
An obvious objection to this argument arises. One may point out that Jesus believed in what we call the Old Testament. What about the New Testament? Well, Jesus’s statements were related to the nature of Scripture, not the scope of Scripture. But, then one may ask how it is that we distinguish between the Roman Catholic Bible (containing the apocrypha) and the 66 books of the Bible used in Protestantism. That is certainly a valuable question. But the point that I am making is that on the authority of the one who rose from the dead, we should believe the religion that he left behind. Those who are striving to believe in that religion may debate amongst themselves about what the true faith is. I am personally a Protestant (more specifically, a Calvinist).
I am hesitant to include this line of argumentation because it is precisely what one would expect when talking to a person of any religious background. People believe in their faith because there was some fulfilled prophecy. God relayed some knowledge that could not otherwise be known. This is the same sort of argument that people will use when they go to a psychic. They will tell us, “They knew things about me that they could not have possibly known!” Muslims and Hindus will likewise tell us that they know their faith claims to be true because some prophecy has been fulfilled. I understand that this might strike you as a familiar and restated argument. I also believe that if you closely scrutinized most prophetic claims, they would either  quickly unravel or  they would be unfalsifiable. I believe that when one takes a close look at the prophecies throughout the Bible, they become firmer and better attested.
The prophecy to which I would like to draw your attention is the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Jesus said in Mark 13:2, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.” The Temple was the center of the Jew’s religious life. It was everything to them. They believed that God himself resided in the Temple. They could not fulfill their obligations to their faith if they were not in Jerusalem with an active Temple. So when Jesus said that the Temple would be destroyed, that must have been a startling claim. It is something like if he suggested that the Twin Towers were going to fall. So, the gospels record him as saying this, and yet no one records that Jerusalem had actually been destroyed. As far as we can tell, in all of the gospels and all of the epistles, the Temple is still standing and Jerusalem has not been overrun. If it had been written after AD 70, it would be unthinkable that the disciples would not have mentioned “Oh, by the way, this was a fulfilled prophecy. Jesus predicted that it would happen, and it did.” That would have been a powerful argument that he was the Messiah. Yet we do not see it anywhere throughout the New Testament.
The probabilistic conclusion that I draw from this is that the synoptic gospels were written prior to AD 70. They record Jesus making this fantastic prediction before it was actually fulfilled. How do you know that the Bible is God’s word? We know that it is God’s word because the criteria of historical investigation unveils legitimate fulfilled prophecy.
The Christian Worldview Makes Sense of Reality
Everybody makes assumptions and everybody has a worldview. You might not think that you do, but it is unavoidable. You will interpret reality through the lens of your worldview. It is something like navigating through the world with a map. If you have an inaccurate map, you will struggle to get through the terrain. Similarly, if you have an inaccurate worldview, you will struggle to make any sense of reality. The Christian worldview makes more sense of reality than any other competing worldview. Indeed, unless you assume the Christian worldview, you will not be able to make any sense of the world in which you inhabit. This worldview is informed and defined by Scripture.
First, the Christian worldview informs us that God exists. As I argued in my article What Would A Universe Without God Look Like? a universe without God would look radically different from a universe in which God exists.  There would not be any intelligent lifeforms (such as human beings).  The evolution of biological organisms would be impossible.  Our cognitive faculties would not be functional.  Most importantly, if God did not exist, the universe would not exist. Since the universe is not necessary in its’ existence (we know that because it has not always existed), it must have an explanation beyond itself. Since the cause must transcend its’ effect, the explanation of the universe must be timeless, spaceless, eternal, uncaused, and supernatural. Since the Christian worldview contains the assumption that God exists, it makes sense of this reality, while a secular or naturalistic worldview would not. The secular presuppositions do not even permit them to have a universe, and last I checked, they need one.
Second, the Christian worldview tells us that there is an objective standard of morality, and everybody has violated it. This is something that we all intuitively recognize. We all recognize that certain things really are moral abominations. While our moral senses may be skewed by society and conditioning, we still generally know that some things really are right and others really are wrong. But as I argued in my article Can Goodness Exist If God Does Not Exist? the naturalistic worldview has no ontological foundation for moral values or moral duties. That is why most secularists have adopted relative morality, which is to say that human beings more or less decide what is right and wrong. But we do not really have value. As the atheist Dr. Michael Ruse suggested, “Morality is a biological adaptation, no less than our hands and feet and teeth.” The problem of sin is minimized.
Yet nobody can live as though there was no sin in the world. Nobody can live as though all claims were morally neutral. We all cringe in disgust at the idea of the child molester. Nobody can say that this man is morally neutral. But the secularist is left to just throw up his hands in futility, as he is left unable to make that condemnation. As Bertrand Russell said, “Only upon a foundation of unyielding despair can the soul’s habitation be henceforth safely built.” The secular worldview makes no sense of the problem of sin. But the Christian worldview (informed by the Bible) does.
Of course, one may object that Christianity is not the only worldview that posits the existence of God as the ontological foundation for moral values and duties. But while all of these worldviews may say that God exists, they offer an inadequate representation of God’s character, for in all of them, sin is not dealt with. After all, as the atheists will ask, why is there so much evil and suffering in the world? Where is the God of justice? Why does his judgment and his wrath tarry? Why has he not destroyed the sinful man? The competing worldview will usually suggest that if our good deeds weigh more than our evil deeds, then God does not need to give them justice. He will have mercy on them. But this mercy comes at the expense of his justice. If justice is not truly executed, then God is like the unjust judge who took a bribe (good deeds) and let a guilty criminal go.
The Christian worldview resolves this dilemma. Paul wrote, “…Christ Jesus; whom 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.” (Romans 3:24b-26). We are guilty, and Jesus Christ paid our fine. He died in our place. How do I know that the Bible is God’s word? It is only by assuming the Christian worldview (informed by the Bible) that you can make sense of the world around you, including the existence of the universe and the problem of evil and suffering.
If you enjoyed this and would like to read similar content, see my article, What Does ‘Jesus Died For Our Sins’ Mean?