Monday, November 7, 2011

Responding to John Loftus: How to Debunk Christianity

John Loftus says:
So at this point about all I can do is argue that if God exists he is at least partially to blame for people not understanding his will, as I did for a long chapter in The Christian Delusion. This is a serious problem for the Christian faith given the horrible deeds the church did down through the centuries, and the fact that one denomination condemns to hell a different one.

Then Loftus quotes Ingersoll:
Robert G. Ingersoll said:
Every [Christian] sect is a certificate that God has not plainly revealed His will to man. To each reader the Bible conveys a different meaning. About the meaning of this book, called a revelation, there have been ages of war and centuries of sword and flame. If written by an infinite God, He must have known that these results must follow; and thus knowing, He must be responsible for all.
And for good measure, Loftus call on Neitzsche:
Friedrich Nietzsche said:
A god who is all-knowing and all-powerful and who does not even make sure his creatures understand his intention—could that be a god of goodness? Who allows countless doubts and dubieties to persist, for thousands of years, as though the salvation of mankind were unaffected by them, and who on the other hand holds out the prospect of frightful consequences if any mistake is made as to the nature of truth? . . . Did he perhaps lack intelligence to do so? Or the eloquence? Must he not then . . . be able to help and counsel [his creatures], except in the manner of a deaf man making all kinds of ambiguous signs when the most fearful danger is about to befall on his child or dog?
Loftus concludes:
Should't this be good enough?
Isn't it self-evident that it isn't enough? When did Neitzsche issue his comments? Its been quite some time and Christianity as well as a million other religions are still here, undaunted by his profound wisdom and keen intellect. I wonder why that is.

Is Loftus right? Is God partially to blame for people not understanding His will? As one who approaches philosophy and apologetics from a presuppositional standpoint, I am always on the lookout for foundational beliefs (presuppositions) that others use to make their claims. Loftus contends that God is partially responsible for other people being misinformed of His will. I do not have Loftus' book, The Christian Delusion in my library. Therefore, I shall have to grapple with what little I have to go on in Loftus' proposition.

First, God is partially to blame for others not understanding His will. I am not sure how one can be partially to blame for this. If God is guilty of communicating His will in an obscure and convoluted manner, then I think that would make God entirely to blame for others not understanding His will.

However if I can communicate my wishes to you in plain language so that you can carry out my wishes, and I do so, that would theoretically get me off the hook. More than that, even if I communicate my wishes to you in language that is rather difficult at times to understand, so long as you had the wherewithal to grasp my wishes, that would still get me off the hook. This is true even if you had to go to great lengths to understand my will. In both cases, not only would I not be partially to blame, I would not be blameworthy at all for others misunderstanding my will.

What is necessary for me to be blameworthy for others misunderstanding my will is for me to communicate it in such a way that they are not able to understand it. Then perhaps, one can say that I am to blame, in some way, for others not being able to understand my will. However, does this get us off the hook of responsibility? Not so much. If you travel to another state or country, how much time do you spend reading and understanding their particular laws? Do you think you could understand them even if you did read them? Do you think that breaking them would be permissible so long as you told the presiding authority that they were partially to blame because you did not understand this act was illegal within that particular jurisdiction.

When a presiding authority issues a legal dictum, do we expect them to make sure that everyone understands the new legislation completely before they start enforcing it? Why not? It is always the responsibility of the legal subjects to understand the law that presides over them so that they can avoid it's wrath.

The second thing that is necessary for God to be morally culpable for such misunderstandings of His will is that men deserve to understand it in the first place and I think this is really what Loftus may be driving at. In other words, God has a will that men are required to understand and to which they must submit or they will suffer dire consequences. If they cannot understand that will, then it follows that they cannot submit to a will they cannot understand. If this is the case, how can God hold them entirely accountable seeing how He is partially to blame for men's misunderstanding of His will. This is an old argument and has been answered by various men in various ways over the years.

How to answer the argument? The one thing I shall not do is take up the unbelieving presuppositions of John Loftus as many other apologists do. I am a believer and yes, I have an axe to grind and I intend to grind it. Within the framework of my worldview as a Christian, I begin and end with God. I cannot abandon and I will not abandon my epistemic method because it is informed by the Christian ethic. If I abandon my Christian epistemology in an attempt to take up unbelieving methods, what am I proving? Unbelieving methods always lead to the rejection of God because unbelievers have an axe to grind as well. They lie to us when they tell us they are just searching for objective truth here. Sure you are! That is why they spend so much time and money trying to disprove God in every way imaginable.

It is true that in a sense, God is to blame for men not understanding His will. If by blame we mean that in some way, God is primary cause of such conditions. The man who engineered a car to move 150 mph is the primary cause of the person hitting a tree at that speed and dying. But he is not the ultimate cause. He created the car with such capacity. Had he not done so, the person could not have driven it into the tree at that speed and died. However, the person that drove the car into the tree is the ultimate cause of their own death. Make sense?

God created man with the ability to choose disobedience over obedience. Adam chose to disobey. In Adam, we all sin. Adam was as perfect a human as ever lived. If he ate of the tree, who are we to say we would not have. Arrogance! We all have the morality of conscience and we have all sinned in one way or another. We have lied, stolen, sworn, lusted, blasphemed, etc. No one has ever not sinned other than Christ. We are all guilty. No one ever sinned against their will. As punishment for that sin, our ability to understand God's perceptive will has been dramatically impaired. The curse of sin has caused a great breach in our ability to rightly perceive and understand God's will. This curse was delivered to us by God Himself as punishment for Adam's sin. The only hope we have of understanding God's perceptive will now is for God's gracious work to move upon our intellect in a supernatural work called 'regeneration.' And even with that work in the human person, sin still presents unique challenges for even the Christian to fully grasp God's will. Notice I said challenges, not impossibilities.

So yes, God is partially to blame for man not being able to understand His will. He is the one that cursed man for sinning against Him in the garden and this curse led to the current roadblocks in understanding His will. However, because of this, God is not morally culpable for man's inability to understand His will. After all, man has a track record of not carrying out a fraction of the will of God that he does understand. Loftus does not account for this in his proposition. After all, God's will is not a neat little package that you either get or you don't get. Some men understand more of God's will than others. There is no such thing as a man that has not understood some of God's will. Moreover, there is no such thing as a man that has not violated various aspects of the will of God that he did understand. In other words, all men have understood enough of God's will to make them culpable for violating those aspects they did understand. Loftus' abbreviated statement almost infers that understanding God's will is an all or nothing proposition. It is far from it.

Answer Ingersoll

Ingersoll's attack is naive. It does not follow that if two people arrive at a different understanding of a document that the author is to blame. Men must bear the responsibility of properly handling the communication in front of them. I am certain that there have been more than one understanding of Ingersoll along the way. Perhaps he should have been clearer. As to the second question: is God responsible? God did in fact know that these conditions would arise. In fact, they are what they are because of God's decree. While God is not the author of sin, nor is He the cause of sin, he is primary cause of the way things are because He is sovereign. Even the Arminian cannot escape this charge. So he had better learn to deal with it.

Answering Neitzsche

Neitzsche contends that a God of goodness would have made sure that men understood His will. First of all, I would like to understand what Neitzsche means by this word "goodness." It is clear that in Neitzsche, morality is a very thorny issue. He spends a good deal of time attempting to synthesize morality with the rest of his philosophy, in my opinion, without much success. The fact remains that atheism cannot logically account for morality apart from the God that transcends humanity. In that case, Neitzsche has not standard of goodness by which to criticize God for not being clearer about His divine will. As a Christian apologist, I cannot allow Neitzsche to steal from the Christian worldview in order to criticize the Christian worldview. Goodness in the Christian worldview is not violated by God's response to man's sin which is specifically demonstrated in man's deadness to knowing and understanding God's perceptive will in Scripture. Even fallen man retains God's will in the conscience. Thus it follows that this natural revelation serves as the basis of man's indictment for his refusal to acknowledge God's right as Lord over all creation. Man knows right from wrong. He has repeated chosen to engage in actions he knows are wrong. Even the most avowed atheist can heard to "think" that they could be a better person.
Loftus seems to confuse the visible church with Christianity. That's alright, the visible church makes a great target, but it is a mere distraction. I do not waste my time attempting to provide an apologetic for the behavior of the church the same a Loftus probably doesn't waste his time attempting to defend the behavior of individual atheists. It is a non-sequitur. The behavior of religious men, men bearing the name Christian, denominations bearing the name Christ would be a fruitless endeavor and one that would afford little progress in the argument. What I defend are the propositional truth claims made in Scripture. The behavior of unscrupulous men cannot invalidate the eternal truths of Scripture any more than a corrupt small town judge can actually invalidate the laws of the land.

We do not have a frustrated Deity. Let us not mistake a lack of revelation and information for paradox or tension. The tension is located in our own sinful desires to know what God has wisely determined we cannot know. That is, after all, within His right!

Remember: People LIVE what they believe; EVERYTHING else is just NOISE

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