The Young Earth Positions of Jesus and Paul

June 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

In the debate between good-intentioned Christians over the age of the earth, there are two statements in Scripture that seem to very clearly support a relatively young earth (6,000 – 10,000 years ago) that are often overlooked in the discussion. These are two New Testament statements, the first made by Jesus in two different Gospels, and the second by the apostle Paul.

“And [Jesus] answered and said, ‘Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female,’” (Matthew 19:4, NASB)

“But from the beginning of creation, God ‘made them male and female.'” (Mark 10:6, NASB)

“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.” (Romans 1:20, NASB)

In Matthew 19 and Mark 10, Jesus refers to the existence of humans as occurring “from the beginning” (NASB, ESV, NLT, NET), “at the beginning” (CEB, KJV, NKJV, NIV), or “in the beginning” (CEV, NCV, HCSB, GNT). The context is a discussion about divorce whereby Jesus outlines God’s intent for marriage. This statement has been used to support the validity of heterosexual marriage, but the point in this discussion is that Jesus quite clearly places the creation of man and woman at the beginning of the creation of the world. This statement only makes sense in light of a relatively young earth since Jesus, describing an event that occurred on day 6 of creation, is speaking of it several thousand years later. An occurrence in the first week out of 208,000 weeks (52 weeks x 4,000 years) would certainly be considered in/at/from the beginning of those days by anyone’s reckoning. If Jesus knew there were billions of years preceding Adam and Eve, He would actually be talking about relatively recent history. In that case, He certainly wouldn’t have used “beginning” as a reference point.

We should consider if there is any other possible meaning of “at the beginning” here. Some might say that “beginning” refers to the beginning of human history. While Adam and Eve’s creation was of course the beginning of human history (they were the first humans, after all), there is simply no justification to say that ‘beginning’ here doesn’t refer to the same ‘beginning’ in Genesis 1:1.

The second argument from Romans is most often used to show that God can be inferred from nature (“General Revelation”). But we can’t ignore that Paul seems to take for granted that “since the creation of the world”, humans have been around to see the evidence in nature. It’s important to note that the Greek word for ‘since’ can mean multiple things, just as it can in English. The preposition ἀπό where we get ‘since’ (NASB, NIV, NKJV, ESV) or ‘from’ (HCSB, GW, KJV, NLT) in this verse (Strong’s #575) can also mean ‘by’ or ‘because of’ (i.e. “since it’s raining, I’ll stay inside.”) just as reasonably as a designation of elapsed time since or away from something (i.e. “since Tuesday, I’ve been sick”).

Let’s consider that “since the creation of the world” really means “because of the creation of the world”. If that is the case in this clause, Paul makes an awkwardly redundant statement when we consider the rest of Paul’s sentence includes the fact that we can know God from nature: “…being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” It’s much more economical to read “since” as a reference to time that has gone by ever since creation.

Also, if this is a reference to cause rather than elapsed time, the most logical term to use would be “by”. According to the Blue Letter Bible Lexicon, the word  ἀπό  appears 671 in the Authorized Version, and is translated as “since” 393 times. Only 9 times did translators choose “by”. This makes sense in passages such as Matthew 7:16, “You will know them by their fruits”, (according to; in conformity with), or 2 Cor. 7:13, “his spirit was refreshed by you” (from the hand, mind, invention, or creativity of).

To say that Jesus “understood” that the earth is relatively young doesn’t seem sufficient. Jesus was speaking as the Creator Himself, so He understood what He was saying from first-hand knowledge. Paul’s statement, as inspired by God, cannot be any more easily discounted. Both the Gospels and Romans 1:20 seem to very clearly put the creation of mankind in the immediate timeframe of the creation of the world. 

More on Jesus and YEC

The following are other statements of Christ that seem to suggest a young earth as they assume man’s activities in close proximity to creation.

“For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never.” (Mark 13:19, NASB)

In speaking of end times, Jesus references suffering initiated in Genesis 3 with the sin of Adam and Eve, presumed to be near “the beginning of creation.”

“For this reason also the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, so that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.’” (Luke 11:49-51, NASB)

In His charge against the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus recounts their history of violence against God’s messengers, stretching all the way back to the murder of Adam’s son Abel. Human blood has been shed “since the foundation of the world,” which also refutes the possibility of a long earth history without man.

Debate: The Problem of Suffering

June 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

While debating the moral argument for God from the question I posed: “Do Atheists Judge God’s Morality?” at AskAnAtheist.wordpress.com, (you can also read that debate here), this debate happened. It follows the same type of discussion but later focuses on the problem of evil and suffering, often the biggest deterrent an atheist sees to accepting the reality of God.

—————————

Happy Heretic

Forget the bible and god which are created by humans. Look around and it is usually obvious what is right and what is wrong. A good guide is provided by Buddhism which is a non-theistic path – if it causes more suffering it is wrong; if it relieves suffering and leads to happiness it is right. The Buddha insisted you make your own mind up. Slavish observance of holy books leads to mega ****loads of suffering therefore…..

—————————

Anonymous

Bad answer.

—————————

Happy Heretic

Bad answer, ‘cos it challenges your brainwashed views? Bad answer ‘cos it pulls open your blinkers ? Or maybe bad answer ‘cos it is true.

—————————

Mike Johnson

I’m guessing ‘bad answer’ because it really isn’t an answer or a challenge to theism. You say morality is obvious (correct) but say nothing to account for its source. You say Buddhism is a “good guide” but offer no foundation for “good.”

And suffering does not necessarily equate to evil. There is pain and suffering in childbirth, healing, some forms of exercise, and telling and hearing the truth, and these are good things. There can be happiness in painless activities such as lying, adopting ignorance, smoking weed, or murdering someone with chloroform, and these are obviously wrong.

—————————

Don

>You say Buddhism is a “good guide” but offer no foundation for “good.”

Atheists don’t have to provide an alternative to theistic morality. We can and do, but that is irrelevant to whether God provides a basis for morality.

>And suffering does not necessarily equate to evil. There is pain and suffering in childbirth, healing, some forms of exercise, and telling and hearing the truth, and these are good things.

They are only good things when they are necessary to achieve a greater good. An omnipotent God would never have to use suffering. He could accomplish any logically possible end via any logically possible means.

We know he left many horrors out of creation. It seems he could have omitted one more. If he could have created a kinder world and just didn’t, then that is chilling. It seems he just likes suffering.

—————————

Mike Johnson

“Atheists don’t have to provide an alternative to theistic morality. We can and do, but that is irrelevant to whether God provides a basis for morality.”

But in the attempt, an atheistic basis for morality is incoherent. The only logical source for morality is something that would have to be remarkably similar to the God described in the Bible, if not God Himself. As I’ve argued above, (Dec. 7 post), and the point of this thread, the mere fact that you pass moral judgment on the character of the Christian God shows that you already assume your moral obligations have enough scope and immutability and authority to actually obligate God. Can you do otherwise?

“An omnipotent God would never have to use suffering. He could accomplish any logically possible end via any logically possible means. We know he left many horrors out of creation. It seems he could have omitted one more. If he could have created a kinder world and just didn’t, then that is chilling. It seems he just likes suffering.”

This was a “kinder world” when God created it (Gen. 1). It was mankind who sinned by choosing to rebel against God’s good moral law. Is it “logically possible” to create man without a free will with which to make choices? Yes, but what kind of world would that be? In His omnipotence, God could intervene and stop our sin right before we do it by suddenly changing the course of our actions and thoughts when we are headed in the wrong direction. But what sort of maddening experience would that be, every hour of every day, waking up in a new place in spacetime with new thoughts? In His omniscience, He could logically prevent the desire from which sin always grows. But how miserable would we be without desire? God could remove everything and everybody in our lives that could tempt us and lead to evil desires. But since any thing and any person can be a temptation, what would be left?

Out of love, God made a “good” creation. Humans messed it up, and God, again out of love, provided a solution to our mess through the atoning sacrifice of His Son on the cross. And obviously suffering was a crucial part of that, but it passes your own requirement for acceptable suffering: It was “necessary to achieve a greater good”, which was redemption. This was the only suffering that pleased God.

—————————

Happy Heretic

OK. You can not show me this god that you posit. ( For he is imagined), but suffering is not imagined, and the world has plenty of that. Forget biblical ideas about ‘evil’. Buddhism asks you to look around and decide for your self. If something causes more suffering it is unskilful, if it reduces suffering, causes happiness and freedom, it is skilful. It is a simple but far reaching and profound basis for morality without divine intervention which, if we consider the history of theism has been a cause of immense suffering. ( One might even call that evil if one thought in these atavistic terms.)

—————————

Don

>But in the attempt, an atheistic basis for morality is incoherent. The only logical source for morality is something that would have to be remarkably similar to the God described in the Bible, if not God Himself.

This is a good discussion to have, but it certainly is not a necessary conclusion. There are many candidates for naturalistic morality. But again, that has nothing to do with this thread.

>the mere fact that you pass moral judgment on the character of the Christian God shows that you already assume your moral obligations have enough scope and immutability and authority to actually obligate God.

No. I am arguing on Christianity. Yahweh fails to be loving under Christianity. He is sovereign and under no jurisdiction that could pronounce him good or evil. To say he is Good without applying an external standard is like saying Kim Jong Un is good. We can say that, and hope that every action he takes is the best possible thing for the country, but then good becomes meaningless. He can order opposite things and we would have to say they were both good.

So, either goodness does not apply to God, or we apply some standard of goodness to him and see how he measures up. Yahweh only measures up against an authoritarian standard that renders Goodness empty.

>This was a “kinder world” when God created it (Gen. 1). It was mankind who sinned by choosing to rebel against God’s good moral law.

Come now. Are you prepared to dump science? Do you accept that the world was a paradise before The Fall? If so, you render yourself unconversable on countless topics. But EVEN IF, this were true, God had some choice in what followed from The Fall. After The Fall, women didn’t start exploding during childbirth. Their pain was multiplied. God had choices. Thus, it seems that even if ALL the suffering was caused by The Fall, God still determined what is possible and what is not.

We can’t kill with our thoughts. God left this power out of creation. It seems he could have left more horrors out, say pediatric cancer.

Here’s a funny video that makes this point:

Mr. Diety Episode 1: Mr. Deity and the Evil

>Is it “logically possible” to create man without a free will with which to make choices?

Much suffering has nothing to do with human free will. EVEN IF it was ALL caused by human choices, it is not just for infants to suffer because of the sins of others.

>Humans messed it up

Horrendous animal suffering existed for eons before The Fall. EVEN IF we say it didn’t, we drop science and say that the lion lay down with the lamb in the pre-Cambrian, it would be unjust for an infant to suffer a birth defect for the sins of her ancestors.

>God, again out of love, provided a solution to our mess through the atoning sacrifice of His Son on the cross.

But he could have just forgiven us. The brutal spectacle of the cross was optional. Again, it seems he just chooses more bloody methods than he has to. He has options and excellent connections. He could have ‘saved’ us in any way at all.

It seems reasonable to say that an omnipotent God could have achieved all his aims with less suffering than we observe. If he couldn’t, if ALL of it is necessary, then God is locked in. He can’t answer prayer. He is more like a force of nature, a bystander to creation.

God either can’t or won’t reduce suffering further. And he could do it without infringing on our free will. Humans don’t have a bomb that can destroy the solar system. God set things up so that we haven’t discovered it yet, or it isn’t possible. He could have set things up so that we couldn’t have made nuclear weapons, without infringing on our free will. Hiroshima was made possible by God’s choices, too. With great power comes great responsibility.

Any conceivable god is weak, evil or absent.

—————————

Mike Johnson

” I am arguing on Christianity.”

As an atheist, you morally condemn God using morality that, according to your own worldview, can have no jurisdiction over Him. In that respect you are arguing from atheism (but making a pretty good case for theism).

On Christianity, God is beyond condemnation from anyone because He doesn’t reside below any moral law but also because He doesn’t contradict His own moral law. Any and all good comes from God as part of His nature. He didn’t decide to be good; good doesn’t exist apart from Him. There is no comparison to Kim Jong Un’s moral compass and God’s moral law, because Kim is a follower and God is ultimately the leader. Kim recognizes objective moral law and tries to follow it, often poorly, and can be shown to contradict himself. All humans fail at this at some point. God cannot be shown to contradict Himself. It is reasonable to think that moral law has an external origin (Christianity claims it comes from God) but there is no reason to assume that God would need some external standard to pronounce Him good. Then we’re on to an infinite regress.

There is really nothing that shows we have to “dump science” to accept a historical Genesis account as there is plenty of conversation out there about that, most of which will be way off topic here. The Bible makes clear that man’s sin began with the fall in Genesis 3, but there was probably a certain amount of pain before then. I don’t think we can blame all pain and suffering on sin. Adam may have stepped on a stick, and Eve’s pain during childbirth “increased”,; it didn’t suddenly appear. Much more pain and suffering is present in the world because of the decaying effects of sin and we often react to it sinfully. God didn’t create cancer; cancerous cells are most likely a biological effect of sin—not necessarily directly the sin of the one with cancer, but the sinful condition of the world (Romans 8:19-22).

And of course God retains the ability to choose, but He clearly allows us the ability to choose between right and wrong. And God rightly judges and must punish sin, of which pain and suffering is often part of those consequences. Is it fair for sin to go unpunished? Justice is something we all crave because we are made in the image of a just God. It’s a logical absurdity to expect God to deal with some sins and forgive other sins. He couldn’t “have ‘saved’ us in any way at all” because logic is also a part of His nature—He cannot arbitrarily ignore sin and still be just. The very nature of justice is that payment is made for crime, by someone. The only payment that could be made for all sin perfectly is the blood of a perfect sacrifice. Only God is perfect and sinless and therefore adequate payment.

Thanks for the video link. It fails however because it completely ignores the reality of sin and its role in pain and suffering—God allows evil in that He allows us freedom to choose good or evil. The God represented in the video isn’t true to the Biblical form. And to suggest that if “Mr. Deity” allowed disease and natural disasters then no one would believe in Him doesn’t square with the present reality of a world that is conservatively 90% theistic, in spite of disease and natural disasters. But yes, it was funny. 🙂

I’ve explained why God just couldn’t logically set up the world in some way that doesn’t take away both our opportunity to sin and our freedom. It’s true that children often suffer from no direct action of their own, and I admit there is no easy way to talk about that. But sin always has consequences that affect others, and we expect that. If the CEO of a company goes to jail for insider trading, the company may suffer and jobs may be lost as a result his choices. We then blame the CEO and his sin rather than the system of cause and effect that is a necessary reality. If God is the Creator and Author of life, He has the right to allow life and to allow it to be taken away. He could have morally good reasons for doing so according to a plan that we should have no expectation as finite humans to be able to know or foresee.

“God either can’t or won’t reduce suffering”.

God does reveal enough of His plan, which involves redemption (John 3:16) and a new creation (Rev. 21:1-4). This is the end of unneeded suffering. I understand that it’s hard to see past all that is wrong with the world now. It may seem easier to say any conceivable god is weak, evil or absent. But weakness just doesn’t fit a God who created the universe, and evil doesn’t fit a God who represents good, and absence doesn’t fit a God everyone seems to want to talk about (and to) so much. Without power, goodness or presence I don’t think He would have the following He has, or at least without power and presence, wouldn’t be able to trick anyone into following Him. The good news about faith is that you don’t need 100% certainty to put it in something. Nobody has 100% certainty about crossing the street safely, yet we all take the steps, despite the fact that some don’t make it across alive. Faith requires reasonable belief.

—————————

Don

” I am arguing on Christianity.” As an atheist, you morally condemn God using morality that, according to your own worldview, can have no jurisdiction over Him. In that respect you are arguing from atheism (but making a pretty good case for theism).

My worldview is irrelevant. Suppose Golda Meir was accused of murder and Hitler is the prosecuting attorney. His worldview would have no bearing on the case. He could present facts and definitions that would hold no matter what he thought. That’s what I’m doing. Comments about me are irrelevant.

I am pointing out contradictions within Christianity. Jesus told us to love God and our neighbor. But that requires us to love a God who does not love our neighbor as much as he could. The facts show that God could have created a kinder world and still reached all his aims. Thus, there is more suffering than is necessary for Him for any purpose.

>On Christianity, God is beyond condemnation from anyone because He doesn’t reside below any moral law

Yes, you can say this, but then Good loses all meaning. God is not Good in this scenario because there is no way to judge him to be Good. He is simply God, and if we follow him, we are following mere Power, not Goodness. He may not be evil. Goodness may simply not apply to him. But we can’t say he’s good, either.

>God cannot be shown to contradict Himself.

If God allows more suffering than is necessary, then he is not as Good as he could be. We know God left some horrors out of creation. It seems he could have omitted one more. There is no contradiction in a world without Stevens-Johnson syndrome, for example, yet there it is. God had something to do with that.

[link]

To keep God, we must admit he is not as loving as he could be and he plays favorites. I can’t follow such a God and love my neighbor, because following him requires that I sign on to a regime that could, with no effort at all, treat my fellows better, but simply doesn’t.

>there is no reason to assume that God would need some external standard to pronounce Him good.

For Goodness to have any meaning, there must be some standard. This is a general rule. Many victims of abuse say their abuser loves them no matter how he treats them. (This is Job’s situation.) If ‘love’ can mean anything, then it means nothing.

>cancerous cells are most likely a biological effect of sin—not necessarily directly the sin of the one with cancer, but the sinful condition of the world (Romans 8:19-22).

This is plainly unjustified scientifically, and it would be unfair even if it were true.

>Is it fair for sin to go unpunished?

Are you suggesting that having a child born without a brain is a suitable punishment for something? If we say it is, then Justice means nothing. 1,000 kids die every hour of starvation. The sheer amounts of suffering make a mockery of any notion that our world is Just. And if we say it is Just in some inscrutable way, then we are simply saying we don’t know HOW it is Just. This is the same as saying we don’t know IF it is Just. If Justice can mean anything, then it means nothing.

>He couldn’t “have ‘saved’ us in any way at all” because logic is also a part of His nature

There is nothing illogical in God doing something kinder than the Crucifixion. Pepsi can make its ads violent, sexy or soothing. They have choices, and so does God.

>It’s true that children often suffer from no direct action of their own, and I admit there is no easy way to talk about that.

This is all we need to cast doubt on God’s goodness. It boils down to our emphasis: do we place more weight on an invisible, disputed God, or the solid, incontrovertible agony of our fellows?

>But sin always has consequences that affect others

Give God some credit. He could be a perfect accountant and have set things up so that sin accrues, fairly and proportionately, to each sinner.

>If God is the Creator and Author of life, He has the right to allow life and to allow it to be taken away.

Ok, but then he is a tyrant. I have 3 kids, but I don’t have the right to kill them. Once a being is conscious, we don’t own them. If God uses kids for his purposes, then he is a sadistic psychopath, ESPECIALLY because it would never be necessary for him for any purpose. He could accomplish anything at all without using kids.

>redemption (John 3:16) and a new creation (Rev. 21:1-4). This is the end of unneeded suffering.

What is God waiting for? If he can end suffering, it seems sadistic to stand by for centuries letting some sort of script unfold.

—————————

Mike Johnson

Any legal judgment appeals to a higher law, so you’re right that personal views of right and wrong don’t really matter in that case. Any moral judgment also appeals to a higher law, correct? If not, then we are appealing to the very thing you imply should have no bearing on the case—our own worldview. And if moral judgment is an exception to that, then why? If relative morality is true, then no two person’s moral claims are guaranteed to be the same, and all claims are meaningless. I don’t think you believe that your claims are meaningless.

Clearly, we don’t live as if morality was conceived by humans. Morality presents itself as universal law over and above humanity. Christianity makes perfect sense of objective moral law, and atheism really doesn’t know what to do with it. The reason your worldview IS relevant is because your arguments are based on an atheistic worldview and are self-defeating. Your claim that God is immoral is grounded in objective moral law that couldn’t exist without God, or some other being that has many of God’s attributes, including the intelligence and transcendence to place His law on our hearts.

You are free to critique Christianity and morally condemn God for “not loving our neighbor as much as he could.” But in doing so you are obviously expecting any God to respect the same moral codes humans respect (or at least the ones you respect). If atheism is true, then any being outside of humanity cannot be held accountable to human law. If theism is true, then moral law would naturally be seen as something that is relevant to our understanding of God.

If Good comes from God, then good isn’t meaningless; God gives meaning to good. Isn’t the reason you reject an ultimate standard for good because you reject God? You hold the concept of God up to a human standard for good, (so you can’t really say “goodness may not apply to him”) and a human standard can have no logical jurisdiction over Him. Good has to come from somewhere, and if everyone uses it to measure God to discuss whether He is good or evil or something else, then on the level of God is where we would find the source of good.

Your note and your voice against Stevens-Johnson syndrome and other disease make a very compelling argument. You have my respect. I don’t have any love for the degree of suffering and death in the world either. You seem to have an ideal in mind of a degree of love and fairness we should expect from God, that He “does not love our neighbor as much as he could”; that “there is more suffering that is necessary”; that He “could have created a kinder world.”; that “He could have omitted one more” horror; that “He is not as good…” or “…loving as He could be”; that He should treat us “better”.

The fact is that everyone sins, whether we think that sin is big or small (1 John 1:18; Rom. 3:23). At what level on the severe-o-meter should God start judging? If God only judged sin according to the degree of the sin, how would you match the judgment to the severity of the sin? And how would you determine the severity of the sin? How could we know the severity of some sins that may seem smaller but have far-reaching and long-lasting effects? And how do we put sin-value on the murder of a homeless man who has no family or friends? Would that earn a more or less severe punishment than a boy whose mere words scar another boy for a lifetime? If a clerical error causes a murder to go free and he goes on killing, who is worse, the murderer or the clerk? I think this type of justice administration is much better suited for a omniscient God. It seems you expect such a God to handle this task with His goodness and justice, but you condemn Him, according to a human and therefore irrelevant system of morals, for not doing it “right”, trumping His infinite knowledge with your finite knowledge. Is this reasonable?

Even a newborn child, for which it’s hard to imagine disease as a fitting punishment, is infected with a sin nature. There are no easy answers for the mother of a child dead at birth or born with disease or deformity, but there are answers. A creator is an owner of that which he creates. Owning people is not immoral when it is God who owns them, because only the Creator has that right. If He owns us, He has the right to give and take away (Job 1:21). When we say He doesn’t own us, we imagine ourselves bigger than God. That much we can know and understand, but it’s by faith that we can trust God has good reasons for what He does that in the end outweigh the death or suffering we endure. And there’s no rational reason to expect that He would not have good reasons and therefore no contradiction in His character.

The “agony of our fellows” is undeniable, but your conclusions for the reason behind the agony is. Why make the assumption that a God who would create, provide a world for, seek fellowship with, and redeem human beings would also allow them to suffer for unjust purposes? I imagine that my 3 year old son assumes that all of our discipline is unjust. If I deny him a second cookie before dinner, put him in a time-out for hitting someone, or forcefully prevent him from running into the street, he will think that I’m unfair, that I could be kinder, that I’m not as good or loving as he thinks I should be. As a parent I know and see many things that he cannot. He won’t understand this until he’s older. I’m not comparing the discipline or correction of a child to grown-up suffering and death except to say that to a child who thinks he’s been treated unjustly, it is every bit of a tragedy as the ones adults experience. Most tragedies adults can get through without screaming or tantrums. Any God that fits His description in the Bible will have knowledge and foresight that we can’t possibly have and an ultimate plan we can’t possibly see. If we trust and obey God as a child should a father and accept His Son’s sacrifice as the solution to the sin that condemns us all, there is still no guarantee of a pain-free life on earth. But we are not relegated to a life, and more importantly an eternity, of isolation from our Creator and the potential joy that brings.

It’s obvious you have a very clear grasp of the amount of evil and pain in this world. God agrees that our pain is not the ideal, and there is of course cause to doubt—but it doesn’t have to end there. I suggest that it isn’t by reason that you reject God, but by your own will. You haven’t shown any real contradictions within Christianity and have actually helped prove the origin of morality to be well outside of human convention. I would recommend taking a look at Peter Kreeft’s Making Sense Out of Suffering, it’s very good. The question/answer format in your note reminded me of some of his style (he’s a fan of Socrates). There’s an audio by Dr. Kreeft which is along the same vein as his book. I listened to the first part, he gets into the good stuff pretty early on. Thanks for the discussion, I’ve enjoyed it. 🙂 Enjoy your weekend.

—————————

Don

Having a limited awareness and knowledge does not apply in this case. Remember, there are two kinds of claims we make, analytic/relations of ideas (like ‘bachelors are unmarried’) and synthetic/matters of fact (like ‘all swans are white’).

We don’t need perfect knowledge to make the first type of statement. And we can’t be wrong about them. They follow from definitions.

I’m not making factual statements about God’s goodness. I’m evaluating ‘relations of ideas’: is he Good by a given definition.

And if we don’t evaluate him against a standard other than himself, Goodness loses all meaning.

Kreeft says “the protagonist must undergo suffering before the final triumph of good over evil. He urges us to view ourselves as protagonists in the midst of our own life stories. If good finally triumphs, as Christians believe, then the story is worthwhile, even with its inevitable suffering.”

Please notice the word “must”. Defenders of God use such words to constrain God’s great power. They want to say that even God is required to do certain things. I don’t know how they justify this, except to save God’s skin.

I can’t see why God humans “must’ undergo suffering. It seems that God could have ordained something involving less suffering and still achieved all his aims.

The answer, of course, is staring us in the face. We are animals living in the natural world. It appears that our world was not set up this way on purpose, and that is a huge relief. Otherwise we would live in a divine petri dish.

[link]

—————————

Mike Johnson

Don,

“Kreeft says ‘the protagonist must undergo suffering before the final triumph of good over evil…’ Please notice the word ‘must’.”

I don’t remember that part in Kreeft’s audio, but I don’t think it’s useful to get hung up on the word “must” when it seems that logic is what requires suffering. Because logic is part of who God is, of course He is bound to it. He cannot create freedom and not allow freedom to choose evil, because that potential exists in every single choice we make. Thankfully God chose not to create a world full of amoral robots, and if we had no freedom to choose I think we might wish for suffering in order to make freedom possible—if we even had the freedom to wish for something. Would a little less freedom be an amicable trade for a little less suffering? Would it be acceptable for God to remove almost all freedom in order to remove almost all suffering? A logical Creator created a universe where logic exists, and it’s no more reasonable to expect God to lessen suffering without lessening freedom than it is to expect Him to make a round square or a rock too heavy for Him to lift. It’s simply absurd.

To say we are merely animals and nature is all there is I think is the most unsatisfying answer because it only leads to more unanswerable questions: The most basic being the proposition that nature caused nature. What, then, made nature? Logically we need something supernatural to create something natural. The moral question is absolutely unanswerable on naturalism because absolutely every moral evaluation we make appeals to obligations that could not possibly have evolved. At least the maltheist or misotheist could point to a basis of God’s moral law to condemn God. Moral evolution would create relativistic rules that simply don’t apply to God or anyone else for that matter. Of course even if we could explain life without God, we would still have suffering and death, but no hope for overcoming either.

In your animal farm note you wrote that if God exists, we’re screwed. But if you imagine that the God described in the Bible exists, then you ought to imagine that how the Bible portrays Him is also true. There is nothing Biblical that suggests we are merely a science project for Him to observe and squash when He’s finished. “He must also be good, fair, just and loving,” and the Bible says He is (Jer. 29:11; Ps. 19:9; 1 John 4:16). Although “fairness” would mean we got what we deserved, and as sinners we deserve death, which God offers salvation from. So I’ll give you that God is not fair. If God exists as He is described in the Bible, then we can’t really say that hell is on earth, that God saves based on our getting on His good side, or that suffering is the result of divine meanness. Christianity doesn’t actually teach that. On Christianity, there is no way humans can fully comprehend God (1 Cor. 2:11). That means that in order to conclude that God is not good and suffering is unnecessary, you must claim to know the mind and plan of God, or that you’re talking about a different god.

—————————

Don

> He cannot create freedom and not allow freedom to choose evil, , because that potential exists in every single choice we make.

Not all evil is due to human choices. That is ‘moral evil’. We still have ‘natural evil’. Natural evil seems due to natural law, which God set up. If he had any choice in the matter, it seems he set up this world to be more brutal than he could have.

>Logically we need something supernatural to create something natural.

We don’t know for sure this is a necessary relation. It’s a good discussion to have, but there’s no contradiction in saying a natural world could exist without a supernatural one.

>The moral question is absolutely unanswerable on naturalism because absolutely every moral evaluation we make appeals to obligations that could not possibly have evolved.

Do you claim that morals are actually IMPOSSIBLE on naturalism? That’s a strong claim. There are many naturalistic approaches to morality. The best ones in my opinion follow from our evolution as social animals. If you don’t find them satisfying, that’s one thing. But it’s much harder to say that they aren’t ‘moralities’.

At any rate, this has nothing to do with whether God is Good. Atheists just don’t have to provide an alternative to theistic morality to show that theistic morality fails. We can show that it is authoritarian (and thus amoral), contradictory, bogus or incoherent.

>as sinners we deserve death, which God offers salvation from.

But we know infants suffer horribly. They don’t deserve death. And if we say they do, then we must say God is using his own, higher version of Justice. If we can’t comprehend HOW his system is Just, this is the same as admitting that we don’t know WHETHER it is Just.

>On Christianity, there is no way humans can fully comprehend God (1 Cor. 2:11).

Ok, but then you don’t know if he is good, either. Christians should want to avoid this version of a fine-tuning argument: That God is all-powerful and at choice, but is weak or constrained in exactly the right way to account for each and every instance of animal and human suffering that has occurred or ever will occur.

What if you ended up in heaven, but alone? Would you still sing God’s praises? Or would you feel a pang for humanity, not at its poor choices, but at the injustice of their fate?

If there is no state of affairs where you would say God is not Good, then Good means nothing.

I heard this from a Christian this week:

“I believe I’m an enemy of God because of what I’ve done and you believe you’re an enemy of God because of what he’s done (or hasn’t done).”

He and I agree on this.

—————————

Mike Johnson

“Not all evil is due to human choices. That is ‘moral evil’. We still have ‘natural evil’. Natural evil seems due to natural law, which God set up. If he had any choice in the matter, it seems he set up this world to be more brutal than he could have.”

The curse from Adam’s sin in Genesis 3:17-19 shows a change in how nature would respond, including “painful toil” and the prevalence of “thorns and thistles”, and a change in the resilience of the human body: “from dust you are and from dust you will return.” In Romans 8:20-21, Paul says that “the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay…”. God allows the world to reflect the consequences of man’s sin on creation. God set up nature, but it was sin that brought widespread natural disaster. What you call “natural evil” was not inherently evil from the beginning.

“…there’s no contradiction in saying a natural world could exist without a supernatural one.”

Yet everything we empirically observe about nature involves causation. Hence, the “Law of Cause and Effect.” Assuming that nature is ultimately uncaused makes a lot of unnecessary assumptions.

“Do you claim that morals are actually IMPOSSIBLE on naturalism? That’s a strong claim. There are many naturalistic approaches to morality. The best ones in my opinion follow from our evolution as social animals. If you don’t find them satisfying, that’s one thing. But it’s much harder to say that they aren’t ‘moralities’.”

Morality as we relate to it could not exist on naturalism because we clearly appeal to something beyond nature. Or at least our appeal goes higher than the highest intelligence we can imagine in nature (and as I said, it’s a big enough umbrella to include supernatural creators.) In my discussion with The Atheist [another poster/owner of askanatheist.wordpress.com]  I laid out my understanding of the distinctions between human morality and animal “morality” …
http://askanatheist.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/do-atheists-judge-gods-morality/#comment-45647
http://askanatheist.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/do-atheists-judge-gods-morality/#comment-45689

“Atheists just don’t have to provide an alternative to theistic morality to show that theistic morality fails. We can show that it is authoritarian (and thus amoral), contradictory, bogus or incoherent.”

But you haven’t shown any of that. 🙂 God is authority, but if authoritarian submission means blind submission, that isn’t what God requires. We are given a free will to choose and a mind with which to reason it out (Isaiah 1:18). The last 3 adjectives only hold on the assumption of the first, which doesn’t hold. It’s also wrong to assume that because God doesn’t, that God can’t for lack of power or knowledge (re: a “weak or constrained” God).

“But we know infants suffer horribly. They don’t deserve death. And if we say they do, then we must say God is using his own, higher version of Justice. If we can’t comprehend HOW his system is Just, this is the same as admitting that we don’t know WHETHER it is Just.”

Within Christianity, there is no reason to expect we can fully comprehend God’s justice, no more than a baby is expected to understand why she needs surgery. There is enough revelation of God that we can comprehend by looking at what Christ did for us: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed.” (Rom. 3:23-25). Whatever the details of God’s plan are, we can see that it is redemptive in nature, and that He is just, righteous and merciful.

And yes, we can know if God is good because the Bible describes God as the source of good. If you insist on an external definition to define God as good, then I have to insist on an external definition for what you consider good. Within Christianity, however, there is no contradiction in the attributes of a sovereign God. And again, to say there is “too much” suffering begs the question, how much is too much? Others may have differing views about the degree of acceptable suffering. Isn’t there the potential of much more suffering and evil? And if it were cut in half, or a tenth, wouldn’t we still complain? There is enough we can observe about God’s power (ie. creation) to trust that He is not powerless in the face of evil and suffering. There is enough we can know from Scripture about His goodness that we can have faith that He is not just a brute arbitrarily permitting certain evil and suffering. I hate that children suffer and the sin that bought about the world’s corruption and decay, but while the creatures can question the Creator as Job did, we aren’t guaranteed an answer or the right to accuse. (Job 40:8; Rom. 9:20)

Christianity is internally consistent, and its Gospel calls us not to strain over the question of whether God is just, but rather ask if we are just. “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).

“What if you ended up in heaven, but alone? Would you still sing God’s praises? Or would you feel a pang for humanity, not at its poor choices, but at the injustice of their fate?”

There’s no reason to think I would be alone, but even in that case I think the presence of God would satisfy. I also assume that my knowledge will be much more complete than it is now and I won’t view the condemnation of souls lost in sin as unjust. That much I can actually understand now.

—————————

Don

>God allows the world to reflect the consequences of man’s sin on creation.

If God had any choice in what consequences followed from the Fall, then he is not as loving as he could be.

>“What if you ended up in heaven, but alone?
>even in that case I think the presence of God would satisfy

This is Christianity. We can’t love God and our neighbor at the same time. We can’t follow the First and Second Great Commandments at the same time. This is the central contradiction of Jesus’ teaching.

—————————

Mike Johnson

“If God had any choice in what consequences followed from the Fall, then he is not as loving as he could be.”

I still don’t understand what you have in mind for the ideal of “as loving as [God] could be.” Would you settle for anything other than a complete absence of evil and suffering? “Not as loving” sounds as if you were hoping for something along a sliding scale ranging from the evil and suffering we know now to an absolutely sinless and painless world. What does your ideal balance of freedom/suffering look like? At what point on the scale would belief in a good God become tenable for you?

“We can’t love God and our neighbor at the same time. We can’t follow the First and Second Great Commandments at the same time. This is the central contradiction of Jesus’ teaching. “

The greatest commandment is loving God, which means IF I had to choose between people and God, I should choose God. The “second is like it” (Mat. 22:39) because God also commands us to love our neighbor, and through obedience of that we show love for God, and because people are made in the image of God. It’s important, but secondary, to love people. In any case, we can have both, because we are neither alone here nor will we be alone in heaven.

You say you have made the choice to love people over God because your concept of God is one who doesn’t love, or at least doesn’t demonstrate that He loves us “enough”. I don’t believe the dichotomy that forces your rejection of God exists, but rather it’s an illusion stemming from a fundamental misunderstanding of God. Suffering and evil in the world are the result of sin. Sin is a choice made by people because we have freedom to choose. Any revocation of that opportunity is a revocation of freedom. Zero pain = zero freedom.

God is logical and not free to contradict Himself and therefore didn’t create an illogical world where sin isn’t allowed and at the same time freedom is still available. Because of this, we are able to comprehend and make sense of the world. Evil and suffering wasn’t part of God’s original creation, and while He allows it out of logical necessity and for other reasons naturally beyond us, God’s love and compassion far outweigh and outlast His judgment and the pain He allows. Among many other selfless acts, Christ’s atoning sacrifice covering ALL sin is the greatest example of this. To focus on and draw conclusions from only one part of God is not making an accurate judgment of God—a judgment that (pointing to the point of this forum) we shouldn’t be allowed to make anyway if there is no moral Law-giver.

—————————

Don

I believe we’ve covered this ground. Not all pain is the result of free will. Animal suffering preceded humans. Even if The Fall introduced all the suffering we see, it wouldn’t be fair for an infant to have a heart defect because her distant ancestor got in the cookie jar.

The world makes sense on naturalism. To say God set up this world, this way, we have to say Bad is Good. And we can’t follow God without signing on to a regime under which billions suffer needlessly.

>Would you settle for anything other than a complete absence of evil and suffering?

Christian theology says God promises this in heaven. If that’s true, what is he waiting for? If he could take his followers to heaven a second sooner, he is not as loving as he could be.

I’m breaking a key rule of authoritarian regimes: I’m second-guessing the Dear Leader. But we have to evaluate God if we are to be moral ourselves. If we hold God to no standard, then it means nothing to say he is Good.

—————————

Mike Johnson

I’ve agreed that pain probably existed before the Fall. It was “greatly multiplied” or “increased” as a consequence of sin (Gen. 3:16). There is no record in Genesis of animal suffering before the Fall, but if it occurred it was probably the same type of pain Adam and Eve would have experienced before it was increased because of sin.

“The world makes sense on naturalism.”

A defense of naturalism with naturalism is hopelessly circular, much like a defense of reason by reason, or any other approach that seeks to limit explanations to humanity or nature, particularly when these things obviously appeal—as morality does—to something outside their spheres.

“what is he waiting for?”

To ask why God delays heaven is the same as a child asking why his parents delay whatever the child thinks he is immediately entitled to. Children think this unfair and may even doubt the reality of what was promised. Parents have good reasons and a good plan.

“we have to evaluate God if we are to be moral ourselves”.

But you can’t morally evaluate anything unless you are a moral being to begin with. And it certainly doesn’t make sense to morally evaluate God if moral law didn’t come from Him. How can the evaluation have any meaning or relevance? I’ve yet to see a coherent answer to this question on atheism.

“we’ve covered this ground”

You’re right, we are repeating arguments, and I think that may signal an impasse. Thank you again for the discussion. I’ve learned a lot from it and I wish you the best. 🙂

—————————

There were no more comments from Don.

Proof of an External Source for Human Morality

May 8, 2012 § 2 Comments

After some debates with atheists using the Transcendental Argument for the existence of God, specifically over objective morality, I’ve come up with a line of reasoning to which I’ve yet to see a coherent refutation. By observing our common experience with morality and putting it to a couple of tests, we can see that its nature and origin cannot possibly be human invention.

According to the worldview of atheism, our perception of right and wrong most likely developed through human evolution; altruistic traits were naturally selected for ultimately because morally good actions were often reciprocated, thereby improving chances of survival and acceptance by a mate (because who wouldn’t like a nicer mate?) and society in general. Without God as a moral law giver, our sense of moral values—the obligations and duties that compel us toward good and away from evil—must be a product of our own conception. For the atheist, there is no external code to follow, no “natural law”, because really we are following our own generally agreed-upon social and ethical norms. If that’s true then morality is relative and subjective. It can change with the socially accepted ideas of what is moral. Most people agree on certain moral convictions such as the popular abhorrence to murder, rape and torturing children, but there are many who think very different morally and may be more accepting of certain losses of freedom, modes of dishonesty, etc. Anyway, let’s test the theory.

FIRST PRINCIPAL TEST

The first test you can apply to the idea of moral evolution is a thought experiment on how morality might have first evolved. Try to imagine the very first act or thought that we would consider to be morally good. The problem for moral evolution is, whatever that first moral good was and whenever it occurred, it would have required a pre-existing moral standard for good to already be in place. Otherwise we would have no way to look back on it and define it as morally good.

If you say that the first moral act began as, say, sharing food or protecting another species in order to gain a favor in return which would increase your survival chances, you still have a problem. Because today, when we are morally compelled to help a stranded motorist, we generally do not consider that the same motorist will likely one day return the favor if our car breaks down. Nor do we turn in a lost wallet in good will thinking it will increase our chances of securing a mate. We do those things because we think it’s the right thing to do (and likewise when we don’t do them we know that it’s wrong). If moral good began as reciprocity, at some point it stopped being about reciprocity and started being about good will. At that moment, we still need a moral standard by which to register and measure it.

And actually, if we’re considering that the idea that sharing became morally good because survival or reproduction was a good and right thing, we’re begging the question and again need a precluding standard for the moral good in survival and reproduction.

Such is the dilemma in attempting a naturalistic explanation for morality, or really any type of fundamental first principal that Christians understand as rooted in the nature of God. It makes sense that if we are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), and the God described in the Bible is a moral Being, we are moral agents, knowing innately of His law written on our hearts of which our conscience bears witness (Romans 2:15). Atheism has to find another way, so it shores up morality with a relatively shallow definition that simply doesn’t square with the morality we observe and interact with.

JURISDICTION TEST

The second test you can use to show an obvious external source to human moral obligations is what I would call the Jurisdiction Test. If moral ideas evolved within humans, then they should only govern human behavior. We can show that even the most ardent atheist doesn’t relegate morality exclusively to human beings by asking three types of questions regarding the jurisdiction of our moral code.

The first jurisdiction: Ancient cultures. Do we apply our contemporary moral obligations to ancient humans regardless of when or where they lived on earth? I think it’s obvious that we do. By evolution, moral ideas would of course change over time, and there would be no basis for applying our current moral expectations onto our ancestors. Evolution demands that at some point moral ideas change, and we can’t expect our modern rules to have any jurisdiction over people of the distant past. Would we morally judge Grog if he clubbed Og for fun? Would we not agree with God in his condemnation of Cain for the killing of Abel? (Genesis 4:10). On atheism, we should have no opinion of past moral atrocities. The fact that we do shows that moral law is immutable and transcendent throughout time and cultural boundaries.

The second jurisdiction: Aliens! Do we project human morality on the lore of intelligent extraterrestrial life elsewhere in the universe? Of course we do. I’ve never known any book, movie or story about alien encounters with humans that don’t respect the human idea of morality. We fully expect that if aliens, who would have evolved separately from humans, invaded earth, killed or enslaved its inhabitants and stole our resources, this would be morally wrong regardless of what the aliens thought about it. Would it be okay for us to conquer another planet, as in Avatar, since our morals don’t apply in their world? Didn’t Obi-Wan cringe when the Empire blew up the planet Alderaan (not his home planet)? Didn’t Dennis Quaid and the alien on Fryine IV negotiate through hatred for each other before arriving at compassion and mutual respect? Granted, these are stories, but they’re written by real people who understand that morality is objective and universal. We don’t write stories any other way because we can’t live any other way or even imagine the local type of morality naturalism requires.

The third jurisdiction: God. Do we expect God to follow the same system of morals that we do? Of course we do. Common atheist criticisms of the God described in the Bible label Him as a “moral monster”, as Paul Copan writes. Richard Dawkins describes the Old Testament God as “a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser”. These judgments typically reference God’s judgment in the global flood and in the destruction of the Canaanites. Defending these Biblical accounts is another matter, but the point is that atheists make moral judgments on the hypothetical Creator of the universe, something their own worldview should disallow. Moral code that should only have authority over humans somehow is over-arching enough to encompass the idea of God. How is this possible? We can’t even imagine a local-type of morality because there is no such thing. Moral law is obviously objective and universal, as we can’t help but project it onto all forms of morally aware beings regardless of place, time and moral preeminence.

COUNTER-ARGUMENTS

One way atheists can argue around the above tests is by redefining what morality is in the first place. Because many people have different ideas of what is morally good, atheists think that morals are just that: Our own ideas of what is morally good. However, when we examine them, our moral obligations are laws that we follow, not laws that we write. They are what they absolutely are regardless of what we think of them or how we interpret them. On atheism, morality is the interpretation of the law, not the law itself (in fact atheists would shy away from calling them laws since that term implies a writer of the law outside of ourselves).

In the course of argument, a Christian can point out that if what is morally right is subjective, the atheist should not feel compelled to argue for what is “right”. Debate shouldn’t matter as all our views are equally true and right. Although they claim the opposite, atheists argue as if truth is objective and supposed to apply to absolutely everyone. Everyone treats morality as if it is objective, absolute, and applies to everyone, everywhere, for all time. How can one who doesn’t believe in God still value morals, the atheist asks? It’s because morality isn’t opinion, but hardwired by the Creator.

The atheist’s logic leads to another counter I’ve heard, and that is that the argument involves a fallacious appeal to popularity. Even if most people think morality is objective and universal, that doesn’t make it true. Above I say that “everyone treats morality” a certain way. Since I can’t possibly know or interview all humans who ever lived, I can’t really be certain what “everyone” does. We already know that “opinions” differ because atheists think morality is subjective and evolving. But the reason I think argumentum ad populum doesn’t actually apply to the arguments I’ve made is because I’m describing what we can observe about morality, not popular opinions about it, which is about as certain as we can be by trusting our senses.

What we observe about morality relies on what we sense about it the same way that, for example, the scientific fact of water freezing at 32 degrees fahrenheit relies on what we sense about it. The freezing point of water is something we can repeatedly test and observe with the same results every time. It seems that everyone who observes it sees that freezing occurs at 32 degrees. This is considered reliable data. We observe it with the senses, and we have to presuppose that our senses are generally reliable; that we know that what we see reflects reality. In the same way, our sense of morality is testable and experiments are repeatable, and everyone who observes it sees that it is objective and universal. The atheist often comes to a different conclusion, however, because without the recognition that morality is something objective to observe, it has no presence other than a projection of the mind. On atheism, moral values are an opinion to be had, not a thing to observe.

Holding to some relativistic, consensus-based morality, the atheist stubbornly clings to the logical absurdity of moral evolution. One atheist I debated had to admit to some objective source of our moral values, but, he argued, “The problem…is that by objective source, you mean a Divine source. I agree and explained why morality is objective (it has evolved in a particular way), but it is not divine and not absolute.” He was never clear on how he thinks morality evolved objectively or by what reason his source of morality can’t be divine.

In a separate debate on the cause of nature, another atheist said, “atheism does not require one assume a natural cause for the universe. Atheism is the rejection of a God, not of all supernatural causes.” It seems that at least some atheists would be willing to come as far as what might be considered the doorstep of God and dare not enter. A sufficient Cause for the universe, including human morality, would necessarily be supernatural, transcendent, powerful, intelligent, complex, and moral—and if moral, personal.

JESUS

When challenged, at least a few highly intelligent atheists have conceded that the source of moral law is allowed to be something that closely fits the Biblical description God, but cannot be that God. The reason? I believe it isn’t the logic that is so repulsive, but the idea of moral accountability that causes us to “suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). In a universe where God is the ultimate standard for moral good, anywhere that we fail morally is bad news. But just beyond that is the good news of God stepping into humanity to pay for the sins we brought into the world. It’s always been a moral issue, and Jesus was and still is a stumbling block for many.

Good Ignorance: Handling the Knowledge of Evil

April 30, 2012 § 1 Comment

G&N Gauge“Knowledge is power,” a thought popularized by Sir Francis Bacon,(1) is echoed by humanity as a whole. People have always placed a high value on knowledge. We laud intelligence and academics, and God Himself regards knowledge, having given us a brain with which to learn and reason together.(2) Still, I’m convinced that there is a certain level of ignorance people, particularly Christians, should have. I think it’s clear that there are some things we simply should not learn, and those things are for the most part represented in the knowledge of evil.

The Bible describes the beginnings of evil on earth in Genesis 3. After Satan lied to Eve about the consequences of sin, he told her a very significant truth about the fruit of the aptly named Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil: “…for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil.” (Gen. 3:5) After Eve and Adam had both sinned, “the Lord God said, ‘Now that the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil, he must not be allowed to stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.'” (Gen. 3:22) Adam and Eve knew good from their creation, but from this we see that Adam and Eve knowing about evil fell outside of God’s original plan.

Why did God want to preserve our ignorance of the presence of evil? We learn best by doing, which was the case with Adam and Eve, and it’s also true with us. But at least some knowledge of the act of original sin preceded the act. Eve was tempted, but ultimately she made a free will decision to do what God had said not to do. Disobedience was evil. Knowledge led to the act of sin, which in turn led to an awareness that there is the choice to do evil as well as good. That is the specific knowledge that we would have been better off without. (See also How Could Adam and Eve Sin Before ‘Knowing Good and Evil’?)

It’s true that now that sin is in the world, there are certain evils we have to know about in order to protect ourselves, our families and to help others that may be struggling with the same evil. Lawyers, counselors, law enforcement officials, therapists, doctors, pastors, teachers and others would not be able to battle evil and equip others to do the same without knowledge of it. Really, any human being is irresponsible without some knowledge of what’s right and what’s wrong with the world—a parent needs to know how to protect their children, and every individual needs to guard their own heart. But some knowledge of evil is useful only because others have sinned and experienced evil, not because there is anything inherently good in evil—that would be an absurdity. Knowing some evil is simply a necessary evil.

How do we treat knowledge that is only there out of necessity? Carefully. We should either value the knowledge of our own experience with evil, or intentionally educate ourselves about evil, with a great deal of caution. Real world examples are the dangers of sexual abuse, teaching our kids prudence around strangers, the hazards of drugs and alcohol, wisdom with money and relationships and the reality of temptation. Always on the other side of teaching the good things we should do in the world are the ways those efforts could go horribly wrong. When self-educating about evil, the best approach is a minimalistic one, learning only what we think we need to know and no more—until we find we need to know more to protect ourselves or help others. Then we can move forward, but again with caution. It’s foolish to think that the evil we study to better equip ourselves and others will never ensnare us because of the knowledge we have about it. This reality is played out all around us, and I can think of many times I would have avoided a fall simply if I knew less about sin and evil.

Christians are called to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”(3) There’s a balance we need to maintain between beneficial knowledge and harmful knowledge. Paul writes in Romans 16:19, “I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.” John Wesley paraphrases this verse: “But I would have you – Not only obedient, but discreet also. Wise with regard to that which is good – As knowing in this as possible. And simple with regard to that which is evil – As ignorant of this as possible.”(4) I think Paul is cautioning us not too be too well versed about evil, to be ignorant to a certain extent.

What does this look like in our real world experiences? Consider a couple more passages from the Bible.

“Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive. (1 Cor. 10:23)

“…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” (Phil. 4:8)

Does this warrant thinking through many of the entertainment choices that we assume we can “handle”? To consider that it may be “permissible” for a Christian, but ask ourselves if it’s “beneficial” or “constructive”? Thinking of the amount of violence or vulgarity we tolerate in some movies, is it outweighed by the nobility, rightness and purity found in it? Does exposing ourselves to knowledge of evil acts honestly serve a higher purpose? Of course the Bible itself is violent in parts (i.e. war, Jesus’ crucifixion, etc.). On that we can argue for a “beneficial” and “constructive” aspect of scriptural depictions of violence because it turns us toward an awareness of God, specifically His holiness and His sacrifice for us in response to the introduction of sin into the world. Violence in entertainment is harder to similarly justify.

Apart from Biblical revelation about our tendencies toward evil, we can look to secular scientific research to find links between knowledge and harmful behavior. We know of an undeniable link between violent video game play and violent, uninhibited behavior.(5) We also find strong evidence for a preoccupation with pornography leading to pedophilia.(6) There’s no doubt that in many cases, thinking leads to doing in terms of deviant behavior.

A common Hebrew verb for sex is yada, which literally translates as “to know” (“And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived…”, Gen. 4:1).(7) Knowing sexually is both good and bad depending on the context: Are the participants husband and wife? So obviously who and what we are seeking to know makes a difference on whether it’s good or bad to know it. I don’t believe there is much benefit at all for a Christian to study up on sex in preparation for marriage, at least in great detail. On the other hand, a lot can go wrong if he does. God made the process a pretty simple one without any real need for advance training.

I’ve wondered if it’s problematic to have certain honest discussions on the subject matter of sex. Is it beneficial or constructive for a Christian author to discuss the question “Can We ____?”, as Mark Driscoll does in his book Real Marriage on the topic of sexual practices that many married couples consider deviant? (8) I don’t mean to unfairly judge the book as I’ve only read 2 chapters from it, one being the one mentioned above. There may be circumstances where the question is necessary (past experience with sexual abuse, for example), but I think the question “Can We ____?” always needs to be accompanied with “Why do we need to know?” Wisdom and caution in how much we know about certain activities is called for and whether the knowledge is needed. Curiosity by itself is not sufficient reason; Eve was curious about the fruit of the tree, and that didn’t end well. Talk of sex can make us blush or feel uncomfortable. Those responses may be a way our God-given conscience telling us that now is not the right time to pursue particular information. Depending on the information, the right time may never come.

While it is by knowledge that humanity has survived, flourished and known God, knowledge may also lead to a fall. We need to be careful about what we allow into our heads because what we know can obviously harm us. Christians have a guide in God’s word to seek balance and a principal that says at least some ignorance of evil is a good thing. Life experience corroborates that. The knowledge of evil that we do seek out should be by way of a conservative, careful approach, realizing that we should only know enough to help us avoid it. Avoiding evil, after all, is a calling against which few can argue.(9)

1. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Francis Bacon (http://www.iep.utm.edu/bacon/)

2. Proverbs 18:15 “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge…” Hosea 4:6: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…” Isaiah 1:18: “Come, let us reason together…”

3. Matthew 10:16

4. Explanatory notes upon the New Testament, Volume 2 by John Welsey (http://bit.ly/Jm6sp0)

5. ISU study proves conclusively that violent video game play makes more aggressive kids. Study by Craig A. Anderson, PhD (http://www.news.iastate.edu/news/2010/mar/vvgeffects)

6. A profile of pedophilia: definition, characteristics of offenders, recidivism, treatment outcomes, and forensic issues. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17418075)

7. Lexicon Genesis 4:1 (http://www.blueletterbible.org/search/translationResults.cfm?Criteria=knew&t=KJV&sf=5)

8. Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together, by Mark & Grace Driscoll (chapter 10)

9. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 “Avoid every kind of evil.”

Debate: Equality, Law & Common Good

March 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

The first comment below was a status update on my Facebook wall, which was followed by a short discussion on ideas of law, equality, founding principals to law, and into the self-defeating nature of moral relativism.

———————————–

Mike

The principal of the common good is deeper than the principal of equality. Special privileges are due some when it is to the good of all.

———————————–

David

Exactly. That is why you and all will be better off when you agree that I am to be the benevolent dictator of the world for the common good. You will impart me special priviledges as the “some” for the good of all.

Ummm, spelling error. “privileges” like creative spelling. You will burn for noticing my imperfect spelling in my reign.

I think my point is made. A thinking man like you letting out a very flawed proposition like this makes me wonder if you are not burdened by undue stress, and maybe need some help rethinking some things?

———————————–

Mike

Is a dictatorship ever “for the good of all”?

———————————–

David

I have heard that throughout history, the best form of government for most is benevolent dictatorship. Unfortunately it is almost always followed by a leader less and less benevolent.

I am having trouble finding my original source of that information, but will post when I locate it.

———————————–

Mike

I think with the possible exception of Singapore, dictatorships, even those with good intentions, fail. Ultimate power corrupts, especially when you start with humans prone to sin.

———————————–

David

Fair enough. There will always be those whose ambition is power and control. To easy to lose sight when power exceeds benevolence.

FYI: I believe (from a short Google search and without further reading) that the statement came from Plato’s Republic.

———————————–

Mike

Ah yes, that sounds about right (just read Crito the other night to Levi while he was taking a bath. Assumed he was bored of it but when I paused he asked me to go on).

My original thought in the post wasn’t so broad. Secular society idolizes “equality” without really knowing what it means.

———————————–

David

Ok.. I am calling you out then. You are talking about something specific and I guessed that from the start.

Explain your position, please.

———————————–

Mike

Haha Dave… Somehow I knew you’d inquire. 🙂 Although I waited until now as I didn’t want you to spend time with media and not with your wife on your anniversary. That’s trouble, my friend. Plus, we were out.

Really there wasn’t much thought to the post. It’s a summation of part of a book I’m reading, Written on the Heart: A Case for Natural Law by J. Budziszewski. In short, natural law (God given) births human law, a varied form of which is civil law–a filling in of the blanks of how we enforce more foundational law, penalties and the details. And we should fill them in by considering the common good. He raises a question from Thomas Aquinas: Does the fact that law must serve the common good mean it must affect everyone in the exact same way? An overtly pluralistic society says Of Course! Nobody should have special privileges. But clearly we believe in some special privileges: grown-ups buy liquor, citizens (not aliens) vote, law-abiding citizens are free; criminals are not. And so on. So the principal of how we apply special privileges should depend on what is for the good of all.

What I said about idolizing equality is just my view that a pluralistic, often morally relativistic society rallies under the banner of equality on issues like employment, marriage, abortion… (Well smaller issues too) without really thinking about it. Although often the debate is over what is the common good, leading the discussion right back to natural law.

Well, That’s way more thought than I gave it last night. 🙂

———————————–

David

Although the specific cause and detail I could not guess, I was fairly on target.

I have learned a lot about life over the years, Mike. Hard learned lessons. Sometimes too hard… But I am here and growing as an earned result, because I desire it. I will share some findings, knowing full well I expose myself personally for expected, and maybe deserved, scrutiny.

Gay marriage: You can call me a former homophobe (although I have a problem with the term as it implies fear, which was not what I felt), or more so someone who shined hatred on these people. Never violence, but a strong vocal dislike. I did not understand their attraction to same sex, but I learned I do not have to. My wife and I have developed many close friendships with gay and lesbian people, we have attended beautiful and literally inspiring commitment ceremonies, and although they live differently, they are as good and socially as harmless as anyone. Love is good. Marriage is a commitment, and I welcome any two consenting human beings to share the benefits that I hold sacred. I just do not see any real harm in allowing for it.

Abortion: I am proud to state that I have impregnated one woman in my life, one time… On purpose, and it produced my beloved son. I have been responsible. I struggle with the procedure of abortion because I have had personal affect by it (which I will not discuss). I find the procedure disgusting in every way, and have witnessed the damage that choice makes. But, it has never been and never will be a choice I will have the power to make. I am torn to this day as to believe that a society should limit an individual’s choices. It is not my business, but it is my business to not create an unwanted pregnancy.

Birth control: see abortion. No government intervention, limiting, or financing please. Should be readily available to all those who have the sense to know its value to a welfare and population burdened world. Sex is natural and well understood, yet people have proven their irresponsibility to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Abortion should be a sad rememberance of an invasive past with the tools readily available for prevention. Abstinence is a fool’s wish.

Employment: Work. I do, you do, and those who avoid it because they can should be left to learn its value by being hungry for it. Help those who need so they may learn to help themselves, but a handout should be received with a lot of humility and a desire to feed one’s self and those they are responsible for. Irresponsibility should be punished. Shame and humility should motivate, instead of being suppressed for delusional purposes.

As you know, I do not agree that morality or law comes from higher power. What is right can be said to be self-evident… But that is debatable as well fitting the many vocal views that oppose. This in no way defaults to a divine answer. We are here to determine what is right, and it will be determined by majority. Some things should be left for the individual to live/deal with as the result of their free will.

———————————–

Ryan

‎”Free will”. A sacred phrase that should be held sacred by both believers in God and non-believers in a free, democratic society. I think too many politicians on both sides of the aisle in our country work tirelessly to corrupt what nature or God, depending on your viewpoint, bestowed on mankind. Whether or not you believe in a higher authority or simply in reason, or both (they are not mutually exclusive), to paraphrase Rousseau’s axiom “man is born free but every he is in chains” still holds true for mankind. We may disagree on how best to loosen those chains, but one thing is clear: secular government should work its darndest to alleviate those chains. No handouts, no enabling, keep the peace. Let each other choose their own ends. End of story. (I wish).

———————————–

David

If any one statement of purpose existed that would be so universally non-invasive, non-threatening and acceptable by all good people, it would be:

“Do no harm”.

Thoughts and views expressed are just words. You can only allow them to harm you. But actions, whether forced upon or by denying free-will personal choices, I find to be harmful.

I live with my choices. I want others to live with theirs, but not on my back.

———————————–

Mike

“Free will” is important to everyone, and so is “do no harm” (or do as little harm as possible), but often what we want the freedom to do, does harm, and that’s what is often debated. For example, redefining (or un-defining) marriage causes no harm as immediately as stepping onto a busy freeway would, but I don’t think revamping the way humans have flourished for thousands of years can occur without significant harm. Needless to say, full participation in gay marriage would effectively bring an end to the human race. A majority participation in it would greatly endanger the human race. Of course, nobody expects full or majority participation, but when someone suggests something that, if carried out fully, would wipe out humanity, and derived from the process of forcing the morals of the minority on the moral majority, I have to question if such a thing is for the common good. This is saying nothing of harm in terms of health risks/HIV/AIDS, which shouldn’t be an issue in exclusive relationships, but it’s inevitable and statistically supportable that gays entering into such unions will bring high costs into health coverage. Another inevitability will be a host of legal issues and discrimination lawsuits that I think qualify as “harm” moreso than “good for all.” After all, it is an attempt to restructure the morals of a society. Granted, there are problems in traditional marriages, but we are weighing harm.

But wouldn’t all this be nothing if it were truly a fight for freedom and basic human rights? That is where I believe the illusion is. Every human already has the basic right and equal freedom to marry any non-relative of the opposite sex they choose. When you weigh the the harm in not obtaining the same legal recognition and special privileges as married couples to the potential harm on society, I don’t think it’s worth it. The paradox is clearer (I think) with abortion, where the harm felt by a parent burdened with a child somehow outweighs the ultimate harm, the murder of a human being deprived of value and rights because he/she has yet to see daylight.

I haven’t even mentioned the harm that comes from turning against God’s design for relationships and the sanctity He put on human life, which I understand as something we don’t all agree upon as a concept that even exists. That will always be part of the foundational argument for me as I can see no other reasonable explanation for such basic notions as free will and do no harm that we value and treat as universal and objective rules we expect everyone to follow. Even atheists expect our concepts of God to follow these rules (A question I posted here http://askanatheist.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/do-atheists-judge-gods-morality/)

So really a debate like this reaches back to one we’ve already had, Dave, more than once. 🙂

———————————–

David

Your god and your following your gods words are fine. The problem is when you choose to apply that to those that don’t believe in your interpretation or your god’s existance, yet in your mind, since you believe, your god still has dominion over everyone.

I assure you that is not the case, and is frankly more dangerous then letting a pair of women or men marry.

The rest is fearmongering and baseless. To think that healthcare costs would rise significantly is ludicrous. There are statistics for any argument, and not every one is going to be valid.

You don’t have to change your morals. Not like there will be a spike in straight guys wanting to marry another guy… They are straight. They want to be with a woman. The gay men I know desire men… That is how it is. They are good people, some who go to churches that aren’t relics of the ancient denying past and accept them. They don’t recruit, rape, or want much more than to be left alone. Oh yeah, and to get married to someone they love. I would assume if Jesus existed and could come back to check things out he would enjoy the love angle, since he was big on that. Then he would puke as intelligence and posturing was used to twist up a very simple and positive message into 1500 differing denominations and a politically infused power structure. Here we are.

It is inevitable Mike. Your state allows it and everything is a-ok, no fire and brimstone, no pillars of salt. It will remain that way even if gay marriage goes worldwide. You can wait, but no one is coming. Nothing to fear. We will all raise our kids and do our jobs and live just fine as good examples, out of other peoples business that in all reality in no way has anything to do with us, morality, societal decline or financial burden. They will live next door to you, mow their lawn, have fights, and pay their taxes. They would probably be fine with you ignoring them, but would be rightfully pissed off when you told them about all that hell they are going to. Blacks were treated as subhuman, and society feared making them equal. Turned out ok.

I look the other way in the silliness of people’s personal beliefs… They can look the other way when someone else does their thing. Unless, I guess, they feel divinely instructed to control, corral and attempt to change them to fit their own intrusive viewpoint.

Jesus was love Mike. Love is good. Let love happen between consenting adults as it does, and all will be well.

———————————–

Mike

If Jesus were to “come back to check things out” (which would be a strange thing for a transcendent, omnipresent Being to have to do) I’m sure He would take issue with much of what we’ve done in the name of religion. Although the same way we know Jesus was big on love, we also know that He didn’t leave it to us to redefine marriage, because He said in Matt. 19:4-6, “Haven’t you read…that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” There’s a right way and a whole lotta wrong ways to do it. Some love to harm, so it doesn’t follow that all ‘love’ is good.

This is classic moral relativism: The basis for wrongness is the degree of perceived harm, even though a subjective morality can’t justify the wrongness of harm. The reality is things are right or wrong independent of how much apparent harm they bring. It also explains the position that because something is deemed inevitable, there is no reason to take a position against it. If morality is truly subjective, then majority opinion means if something becomes popular it becomes right. Unless of course the relativist disagrees.

By the way, comparing blacks to gays is a false analogy; we can prove skin color to be completely independent of behavior and moral responsibility.

We question how something should be treated in terms of civil law by asking whether or not it is for the common good. But even before we get that far, we’ve already decided if something is right or wrong. That decision is based on innate moral obligation. The most clarity or articulation you can wring out of your brand of morality is “What is right can be said to be self-evident”. But why do you think that is? What makes something self-evident? What does that even mean on moral relativism? There is no basis for the most basic ethical convictions we absolutely can’t not know outside of a moral God who created us in His image (or something exactly like that, I suppose). Unanchored morality means that nothing we say would have any meaning anyway. 🙂

———————————–

David

Not enough time to reply fully, so I have to go from the hip…

I think the analogy is pretty valid, fitting the zeitgeist.

Mike, your arguments are beginning to seem like you are coming to a knife fight with a million ping pong balls. Throw enough of them and they become no so much formidable, but more things to trip over to get to the real deal.

I really have no need to articulate my brand of morality… It is a sidebar, an anecdote, a path chosen. God is just a word, and the anchor that god is… Is metaphorical. I have no need.

How do I not kill and cheat and lie and rape and steal without god and his divine morality? How about all athiests, and non christians? Because meaning comes regardless.

———————————–

Mike

Sorry, I thought this was much more like a ping-pong match than a knife fight. 😉 Really, I’m not trying to trip you up; I think your worldview does that. Moral relativism can’t be articulated because it defeats itself once it has been articulated. I think if you felt the need to articulate it, you would have no logical basis to do so.

And how does one live morally without God and His moral law? The answer to that complex dilemma is incredibly simple: NO ONE IS without God and His moral law. Anyone can choose not to believe in the objective reality of air and still use it to breath out an argument against it, relying on that air to carry the argument to the ears of listeners.

———————————–

David

I thought it was funny. Anyway. I try to bring ping pong balls into conversation as often as possible. Not in the right frame of mind for a happy or healthy debate, and I see no point in getting rude.

Ten Ways Atheism Qualifies as a Religion (3rd Debate)

February 23, 2012 § 2 Comments

This is the 3rd such debate on this topic, posted in another blog called “Friendly Atheist” featuring an interview with Jessica Ahlquist, a Rhode Island teen who lobbied to have a prayer banner removed from her high school on the basis that it violated the First Amendment.

———————————

Mike Johnson

Ten ways atheism qualifies as a religion:

1. Atheists worship. We are all made to regard, respect and devote our lives to something greater than ourselves, and everyone worships something. Atheists do not acknowledge worship in a traditional ‘religious’ context. But in the vacuum of a recognizable God, they give themselves to human reason, materialism, wealth, science, naturalism, communism of sorts, nihilism, or themselves, or other prominent atheists (i.e. Richard Dawkins).

2. Atheism is denominational. Just as every major religion has subdivisions with varying shades of beliefs on certain doctrines, atheists have different denominations that distinguish their beliefs in what atheism means, for instance. And of course, “gods” vary too (see #1).

3. Atheism is dogmatic. Atheists will deny this (as with most of these points), but if dogma is defined as “the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, or a particular group or organization”, atheism absolutely fits this definition. They follow ideological rules.

4. Atheism is exclusive and narrow. Atheism excludes any other possibility other than the conclusion centered on the non-belief in God, so it is no different than any other religion that makes exclusive claims.

5. Atheists seek converts. Well, some do and some don’t, just as some religions prosthelytize and some don’t. “We Are Atheism” hopes that there are closet atheists and seeks to add to their numbers by encouraging their joining the ranks.

6. Atheists have holy books. Take a look at the “Letters” section of RichardDawkins.net and you’ll find scads of letters from “converts” to atheism that praise Dawkins and his book “The God Delusion”, testifying how it changed their lives and lit the way to the “truth” of atheism. They revere it as Christians do the Bible.

7. Atheists have a worldview, including ideas about ultimate origins and the place of humans in the world, their overall purpose and destiny.

8. Atheists have seen persecution. As is true with any religion, atheists have endured discrimination and persecution for their beliefs.

9. Atheism appeals to universal morality. To even argue for atheism, the atheist has to appeal to “moral law”, a sense of right and wrong that he assumes to be true for everyone. Otherwise, there would be no reason to debate. Atheists love to point out the “despicable acts” of the Old Testament God, even though doing so implies moral good and evil that ultimately cannot be explained by nature or biology and moral law that clearly extends well beyond the jurisdiction  of humanity.

10. Atheists have faith in the unseen, often asserting that the religious believe without evidence. Most religious people would say the same about Atheism. The evidence we all see, often the same evidence, is interpreted differently based on presuppositions. We all place faith in propositions that are not 100% empirically provable, in particular the things that we often place the most value on.

———————————

G.M.

Atheism is much closer to a “belief system” than it is to a “religion” if you ask me!

1) Worship is by definition either centered around a deity, or has religious ties. Atheism by definition is NOT centered around a deity, and if you wanna say it has religious ties you’ll need to prove that some other way before you come back to this.

2) Isn’t this just stating the obvious? You’re essentially saying that people think differently, which is true in all situations.

3) Look up the definition of dogma. Dogma is essentially an axiom established by a faith-based entity. Atheist principles are based on science and discovery, therefore there is no faith involved, therefore dogma doesn’t even come into it.

4) What are you even trying to say? Obviously atheism excludes the views of belief systems, because it is atheism and not those systems. The making of exclusive claims plays no part in the definition of religion! Should I never vote? I want to vote for an individual who isn’t tied to religion, but oh all politicians make exclusive claims so they’re all religious?… That makes no sense.

5) All belief systems try to convert, again with the electoral metaphor, would you call politicians “missionaries”?? You’re just using words with a particular connotation to try to prove your point, and that’s a little fallacious.

6) Look up the definition of holy. A book has to be more than /inspirational/ in order to be dubbed holy. Any unbiased person would call Dawkins’ book “inspirational” before jumping to “holy”.

7) Yes, but none of those views are based on religion, deities, the supernatural, etc. Are you saying physicists who try to explain the origin of the universe are intrinsically religious? That’s ridiculous!

8) Blacks have seen persecution too. I’m pretty sure that’s not a religion. This is a really bad point, and all these points you’re making are based on manipulative wordplay, or logically flawed connections between events.

9) But unlike religions, atheist morality is derived by nothing other than logic. Spirituality does not enter the picture, so it’s not enough to say that because atheism suggests moral laws it is instantly a religion.

10) That was a really confident statement backed by a total lack of examples. Atheism is exactly NOT based on the unseen. Atheist beliefs are derived by science and observation. While some scientific principles in use today may not be 100% proven, we still abide by them because they have not been contradicted, and they have a high probability of being correct or very near correctness. And if they /do/ become contradicted, atheism will adapt and discard such flawed principles because it is a belief system that prides itself on rationality.

I don’t know why you want to call it a religion so badly. It doesn’t matter what it is. I’m not offended at the notion that “semantically, atheism is a religion”, I’m just trying to say that I think every single reason you listed to justify that statement is totally wrong.

———————————

Mike Johnson

G.M.

//Worship is by definition either centered around a deity, or has religious ties. //

“reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred.”

Top search result, top entry. Worship is often of a deity, but any object or idea can be deified. Buddhism is the 4th largest religion in the world and involves worship of various aspects of humanity like self-improvement. No god in any agreed upon sense. “God” in Hinduism is often not even supernatural. Jainists don’t have a god either; instead they worship their own personal wisdom.

//Look up the definition of dogma. Dogma is essentially an axiom established by a faith-based entity.//

Top results for Dogma:

1. an official system of principles or tenets concerning faith, morals, behavior, etc., as of a church. Synonyms: doctrine, teachings, set of beliefs, philosophy.

2. a specific tenet or doctrine authoritatively laid down, as by a church: the dogma of the Assumption; the recently defined dogma of papal infallibility. Synonyms: tenet, canon, law.

3. prescribed doctrine proclaimed as unquestionably true by a particular group: the difficulty of resisting political dogma.

//Atheist principles are based on science and discovery, therefore there is no faith involved, therefore dogma doesn’t even come into it.//

Spoken rather dogmatically. 🙂

//Obviously atheism excludes the views of belief systems, because it is atheism and not those systems.//

And this is no different than any other belief system.

//would you call politicians “missionaries”?? … Are you saying physicists who try to explain the origin of the universe are intrinsically religious?//

If any group chose to devote their lives to their principals and live by their code they would be doing so religiously.

//Blacks have seen persecution too. I’m pretty sure that’s not a religion.//

Right, because skin color has nothing to do with ideology.

//…unlike religions, atheist morality is derived by nothing other than logic… Atheism is exactly NOT based on the unseen. Atheist beliefs are derived by science and observation.//

Can you logically point to a natural origin of nature? Can you scientifically explain morality that evolved within humanity that all of humanity applies to any concept of God? Is there a scientific foundation for doing science? Have you observed and tested the making of something from nothing, or life from non-life? Can you empirically know what love is? It isn’t on atheism that you live by your presuppositions, it’s faith.

//I don’t know why you want to call it a religion so badly. It doesn’t matter what it is.//

I admit the similarities are not perfect. So let’s not even use the term religion, but just call it what it is: a belief system. At the end of the day the case of Jessica Ahlquist having a prayer banner removed is just one belief system claiming that theirs is superior to another on the belief that the banner’s presence is wrong and its removal is right. This is an appeal that an atheist makes on the basis of universal morality that he has to borrow from theism.

———————————

I received no further responses in this forum.

Ten Ways Atheism Qualifies as a Religion (2nd Debate)

February 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

This is the 2nd debate on this topic, posted in a thread about the misuse of religion in society on AskAnAtheist.com, a site run by atheists that offers insights on what atheists believe.  The following discussion resulted from that.

———————————

Mike Johnson

Ten ways atheism qualifies as a religion:

1. Atheists worship. We are all made to regard, respect and devote our lives to something greater than ourselves, and everyone worships something. Atheists do not acknowledge worship in a traditional ‘religious’ context. But in the vacuum of a recognizable God, they give themselves to human reason, materialism, wealth, science, naturalism, communism of sorts, nihilism, or themselves, or other prominent atheists (i.e. Richard Dawkins).

2. Atheism is denominational. Just as every major religion has subdivisions with varying shades of beliefs on certain doctrines, atheists have different denominations that distinguish their beliefs in what atheism means, for instance. And of course, “gods” vary too (see #1).

3. Atheism is dogmatic. Atheists will deny this (as with most of these points), but if dogma is defined as “the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, or a particular group or organization”, atheism absolutely fits this definition. They follow ideological rules.

4. Atheism is exclusive and narrow. Atheism excludes any other possibility other than the conclusion centered on the non-belief in God, so it is no different than any other religion that makes exclusive claims.

5. Atheists seek converts. Well, some do and some don’t, just as some religions prosthelytize and some don’t. For example, the recent “We Are Atheism” movement hopes that there are closet atheists and seeks to add to their numbers by encouraging their “coming out.”

6. Atheists have holy books. Take a look at the “Letters” section of RichardDawkins.net and you’ll find scads of letters from “converts” to atheism that praise Dawkins and his book “The God Delusion”, testifying how it changed their lives and lit the way to the “truth” of atheism. They revere it as Christians do the Bible.

7. Atheists have a worldview, including ideas about ultimate origins and the place of humans in the world, their overall purpose and destiny.

8. Atheists have seen persecution. As is true with any religion, atheists have endured discrimination and persecution for their beliefs.

9. Atheism appeals to universal morality. To even argue for atheism, the atheist has to appeal to “moral law”, a sense of right and wrong that he assumes to be true for everyone. Otherwise, there would be no reason to debate. Atheists love to point out the “despicable acts” of the Old Testament God, even though doing so implies moral good and evil that ultimately cannot be explained by nature or biology.

10. Atheists have faith in the unseen. Many assert that the religious believe without evidence. Most religious people would say the same about Atheism. The evidence we all see, often the same evidence, is interpreted differently based on presuppositions. We all place faith in propositions that are not 100% empirically provable.

I admit the definition of religion itself is not very clear, but I would suggest that it is not as clear cut as you suggest. Buddhism does not have a god. “God” in Hinduism is often not even supernatural. Religion USUALLY involves “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe” and “often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs”. It seems to always involves the worship of some entity, be it personal or not, and practices that involve an element of faith. What religion accomplishes for most people, something outside of themselves to aspire to and live by, atheism accomplishes for those who choose not to believe in God. We are free to worship ourselves and our own ideas instead. The parallels between atheism and other religions I’ve listed are not perfect, but I think they do show commonalities that atheists do not realize and even take issue with when they see them in other established religions.

———————————

The Atheist

Hi, Mike. Interesting list of similarities! You seem to want to say that atheism is a religion but I’m not sure why you would care to think of atheism in those terms.

Unless you want to redefine what we mean by “religion”, the common use of the term (and more to the point, the way it is used in this post) means “a system of beliefs in one or more gods”. Regardless of the similarities between atheism and religion, the reason atheism is not a religion is that atheism rejects claims that gods exist.

Consider this example that illustrates why the kinds of similarities you list aren’t enough to make atheism a religion:

1) omnivores eat plants, vegetarians eat plants

2) omnivores drink water, vegetarians drink water

3) omnivores sleep, vegetarians sleep

Since vegetarians are similar to omnivores in these ways, then vegetarians are really omnivores.

Obviously, we can’t say that vegetarians are omnivores because there is an important thing that vegetarians don’t do: they don’t eat meat.

We can’t say that atheism is a religion because there is an important thing that atheism lacks: it does not include beliefs in gods.

———————————

Mike Johnson

From an atheist perspective and in the context of this site, I agree that the definition of a religion would include theism, but in truth there are many definitions of religion outside of this context. Buddhism is the 4th largest religion in the world, and nobody would argue that it is a religion, yet it is NOT a “system of one or more gods” but a myriad of systems that worship various aspects of humanity like self-improvement. No god in any agreed upon sense. Jainists don’t have a god either; instead they worship their own personal wisdom. I think atheism can be categorized similarly. In the absence of “god” in the traditional sense, atheists elevate something else as supreme ruler and first principal, be it the notion of reason, intellect, humanism, naturalism, ToE, etc.

The point is there are multiple elements that many associate with religion that exist in atheism. I might be persuaded otherwise with a list of 11 differences. 🙂

———————————

The Atheist

I think you are right that there are systems that we might call “religions” that don’t accept a system of one or more gods. We could take a more liberal definition to include other types of belief in the spiritual, but I’m not sure how that would change the conversation here. I think it’s reasonable to consider Buddhism a religion in general, since most forms of Buddhism incorporate a belief in the spiritual (Buddhism’s is grounded in a concept of a cycle of death and rebirth). The agreement across sects about the nature of God doesn’t seem necessary to define a belief system as a religion. At most it means that the sects are simply different religions. As you point out, Jains don’t believe in a creator or destroyer God, but they do believe there is a “divine”. I think you could say that there is an area of overlap between atheism and certain religions like Buddhism and Jainism in that the thing that defines an atheist is the lack of belief in a god. One can believe in an afterlife without believing in a god and in that degree, some subset of atheists can overlap some subset of secular Buddhists. However I don’t think you can equate atheism to religions like Christianity and then draw conclusions on that basis.

———————————

Mike Johnson

I wouldn’t go as far as “equating” atheism with Christianity, especially not solely on the basis of the first of my ten points. Christianity has features that set it apart from other theistic religions, so the chasm would be even greater between it and a philosophy that excluded a personal deity or supernatural being. My point in listing characteristics of atheism that fit with other religions is to show that calling it a religion is not such as outrageous thing. The object of worship takes on a natural form, and atheism is set apart from most religions in its rejection of a supernatural form. In both ideology and practice, I really think there are more apparent similarities than differences.

Thank you, I’ve enjoyed the discussion. I especially appreciate the overall civility of most users on this site. 🙂

———————————

The Atheist

I don’t think that calling atheism a religion is outrageous, I just think it’s an incorrect classification. The act of worship in itself is not enough to qualify as a religion, it requires the worship of the divine, or at least the supernatural.

I’ve enjoyed the discussion too – I hope you’ll stay around and contribute to future discussions!

———————————

The Atheist admits to worship, just not in anything “divine”, which was my point expressed in #1 of my original post. No other points were refuted at AskAnAtheist.com. I posted this argument in another blog called “Friendly Atheist” featuring an interview with Jessica Ahlquist, a Rhode Island teen who lobbied to have a prayer banner removed from her high school on the basis that it violated the First Amendment. You can read that debate here.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Main category at God&Neighbor.