Archive for the ‘ChristianApologetics’ Category

I came home the other week to discover a package at my door. I thought it was odd, since I hadn’t ordered anything. I picked up the package and saw that it was from “The Berean Call”, a Christian book publisher. Based on the weight, I could tell it was a book. My first thought was that maybe my aunt had sent me a Bible. A few months earlier, she had asked me what church I went to, and I had told her that I don’t go. I thought, perhaps that answer had prompted her to send me a Bible. I opened the package and discovered that the book was actually, “Cosmos, Creator, and Human Destiny: Answering Darwin, Dawkins, and the New Atheists”, sent by my dad. Hmmm, this should be interesting. Then I noticed that the author was Dave Hunt.

For those not familiar with Dave Hunt, he’s big into televangelism and the end times. I don’t think he has a TV program, but he’s sometimes called to appear on Christian programs as a kind of end-times expert. I’ve seen enough of his stuff in the past to know that he’s kind of paranoid and not very knowledgeable (at least not outside his specialty of end times prophecy). On the scale of Christian apologists, he scores pretty low. Nevertheless, he’s a prolific author and sells lots of books (according to wikipedia, he’s sold over 4 million books).

It would be interesting to do a full book review, but I’m not sure that I can stomach writing a review of his entire 500+ page book. I will say this: if I didn’t know better, this 500 page hardcover book does look impressive and authoritative. I did write an email to my dad reviewing the first section of the book, if for no other reason than to point out that Dave Hunt is paranoid and doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Here’s a review of the first part of the book, just to give you an idea of Dave Hunt’s work:


Anyone who sets out with an honest heart, an inquiring mind, and a sincere desire to find answers to the most important questions one can face in life will recognize a significant few that must be given priority. Does God exist? What is the origin of the universe and of the life found in such abundance on our tiny planet? What is life and what is its purpose?

Another vital question is whether or not our vast universe of astonishing complexity and order is all the result of a giant explosion commonly called “The Big Bang.” This theory is a radical departure from the conclusion that had been reached by the theistic founders of modern science. The undeniable order that they had observed caused them to look for laws that must govern the phenomena. Having discovered these laws, they concluded that the universe had been created by a “God of order”.

Thus was laid the theistic foundation of modern science, but that foundation is no longer accepted. Atheists have taken over and now claim the sole right to speak for science. They cannot deny the order evident everywhere but grudgingly refer to it as the “appearance” of order. Appearance? Such an oft-repeated half-admission ought to be an embarrassment to legitimate scientists. (Page 7)

So, modern science’s foundation was deeply rooted in belief in a monotheistic creator, but now the mantle of science was hijacked by atheists. What’s even more odd about the hyperbole that “Atheists have taken over and now claim the sole right to speak for science.” is the fact that the book sleeve contains a quote from Stephen Hawking: “Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?… It is difficult to discuss the beginning of the universe without mentioning the concept of God.” Of course, since the “atheists have taken over and claim the sole right to speak for science”, Stephen Hawking (along with Einstein) was promptly kicked out of the scientist club.

More importantly, the idea of Christians being oppressed by non-Christian foes is a common one among fundamentalists. It promotes a feeling of victimization, which helps motivate them to become more politically active and cling to their beliefs and Christian identity more tightly. It also fits reinforces a black-white worldview of Christians (who’ll go to heaven if they stay faithful) vs “the World” (who will go to hell, deserve to go to hell, and follow the forces of darkness in opposition to God).

It was principally two men, Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud, who attempted to quash any possibility that the God of the theists portrayed in the Bible could be the Creator. No creator was necessary. (Page 7)

I have to say, the addition of Sigmund Freud in that list seems like an odd addition. I had thought Sigmund Freud’s theories have largely been discredited, and are largely ignored at this point. There’s also the fact that Charles Darwin wasn’t the rabid anti-theist that they’d like him to be. I think the reason it’s useful to paint Darwin as “attempting to quash any possibility [of God]” is because, once you impugn his motives, you don’t really need to deal with the facts or details. It’s all about motives. There’s the god-loving and then there’s the God-hating. All leading up to the end-times when God will split humanity into two groups on Judgment Day.

Beginning with Darwin himself, atheists have left a plethora of false promises. Darwin’s first book was titled The Origin of Species, yet even his staunchest admirers admit that in spite of many pages filled with many words, Darwin never explained the origin of any species. Nor has any atheist yet succeeded in doing so. In spite of this undeniable fact, Darwin’s admirers continue to grow in numbers as desperate minds try by some means to support his original thesis. ( Page 8 )

I’m going to guess that Dave Hunt has never read the Origin of Species, and doesn’t really understand natural selection or geographical isolation leading to speciation.

Chapter 1: The Challenge of the Cosmos

Space has been called “the last frontier,” and its explorations the greatest challenge faced by mankind in its history… It is conceivable that within a few thousand years (if they were available) man could thoroughly explore and learn everything there is to know about our own solar system. What, then, would have been achieved at great cost in time, effort, money, and quite possibly, more lives? The obvious answer is that almost nothing in comparison to the overall cosmos! This is not what space scientists are leading us to believe, not is it what their supporters want to hear. It is, however, the uncomfortable truth.

The facts are simple. Estimates vary that there are from 100-500 billion suns in our own galaxy, the Milky Way, and perhaps as many as one trillion other galaxies in the universe, many of them larger than ours. So, after learning all there is to know about our solar system, our descendants would have in their computers information from one-100-billionth or one-trillionth of a sample of the universe — statistically meaningless. ( Page 11, 12 )

Dave Hunt goes on for a number of pages about the space program and its futility. I couldn’t quite figure out where he was going with this. My first thought was that he was merely trying to paint space scientists (and all scientists, by extension) as idiots, wasting time and money on a quest they can’t possibly finish.

Five pages later, he gets around to it:

The underlying purpose of the “Space Program”

Much, if not most, of the time, money, and effort being expended on the “space program” is driven by the speculative hope of proving that belief in “God” is an outdated hypothesis that is no longer needed to explain anything. ( Page 16 )

Um, what? How is the space program supposed to prove that? It’s starting to sound like some conspiratorial “us vs them” thinking – where the space program is part of a hidden atheist agenda against Christianity.

How does life originate? Those who, like atheists, reject the biblical claim that God created every living thing including man, have no other way of explaining how life began. All they can say is that it must have spontaneously come into existence. Louis Pasteur had already proved that “spontaneous generation” was nothing but superstition. As a result, the law of biogenesis was firmly established as inviolable scientific fact. This law unequivocally declares that life only comes from life. Although atheists admit that they cannot challenge the validity of this established law, they object that unless there is at least one exception they are forced to acknowledge that life could have come about only through a supernatural act of creation. For atheists, this conclusion is of course unacceptable. They claim that there must have been millions of exceptions to this law that occurred all over the universe and that the origin of life on Earth was one of them. Of course, this is both irrational and unscientific. ( Page 17 )

The most obvious flaw in this argument is that Pasteur’s experiment did not establish a law of biogenesis. All it did was show that the common myth that maggots spontaneously formed from rotting meat was wrong. Flies are complex organisms with a genome roughly 1/10th the size of the human genome. To take the result: “maggots don’t spontaneously form from rotting meat” and conclude that “spontaneous generation can never happen” is a gross over-generalization. It’s certainly true that life comes from life the vast majority of the time, but you certainly can’t prove that using Pasteur’s experiment. Pasteur stated that “all life is from life” and “spontaneous generation is a dream”, and while he’s generally correct and he refuted the common examples of spontaneous generation, his experiments can’t actually prove spontaneous generation can’t happen.

Has it ever been shown that there is even one exception to the law of biogenesis anywhere in the cosmos? Never! Yet the only hope to salvage evolution would require millions, and possibly billions, of exceptions to this law, evidenced by life appearing spontaneously all over the universe. ( Page 17 )

To be fair, we haven’t looked all over the cosmos. For all we know, life is everywhere and we wouldn’t know it. Up until twenty years ago, we knew of no planets outside our solar system. We certainly aren’t in the position to check them for life. And while it would be surprising for atheist-evolutionists if we checked every solar system in the Milky Way and found zero instances of life, it still wouldn’t destroy evolution because spontaneous generation could be something that happens around only one in a trillion stars (the Milky Way only has 100+ billion stars).

Here we confront two problems … for all other evolutionists who claim to believe in God:

1) Doesn’t the belief that space has other intelligent, human-like occupants (a necessary corollary to the theory of evolution) do away with the entire idea of a supernatural act of creation and thus with the God of the Bible? If “spontaneous generation” could happen on planet Earth, why not on millions of other similar planets? The clear implication from Genesis to Revelation is that the creation of Adam and Eve was a unique event, never having occurred before nor would ever occur again, anywhere in the cosmos.

At this point, we are not arguing for acceptance of either the biblical account or of the atheistic account but simply showing their incompatibility with each other. How can any “believer” share in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence when such creatures could not exist except through a creative act of God? Yet what the Bible says from Genesis to Revelation reveals that the search for human-like creatures outside of Earth, which is a large part of the space program, of necessity denies the existence of the Creator God in whom all Christians supposedly believe. ( Page 22 )

A lot to unpack there.
* “Doesn’t the belief that space has other intelligent, human-like occupants do away with the entire idea of a supernatural act of creation and thus with the God of the Bible?”
No. Christians could easily claim God told humans “what they needed to know” in the Bible, and did not include details about extraterrestrial civilizations just like he didn’t mention various laws of Chemistry. Christians could cite Galileo, who said: “The Bible tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go” (“the heavens” in this case could be expanded from the planets to include extraterrestrials around other stars). Or, could cite C.S. Lewis as arguing that Christianity doesn’t have any problem with extraterrestrials: “In an essay Lewis wrote in 1958, he argued that the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life would not necessarily contradict Christian theology. And like Father Funes, Lewis said it was possible that such beings, if they exist, might have fallen from a state of grace and in that case might be redeemed through God’s mercy.” (Link) I’d also be willing to bet that if intelligent life was found elsewhere in the universe, that Dave Hunt would quickly backpedal and declare that extraterrestrials are compatible with Christian theology.

* “The clear implication from Genesis to Revelation is that the creation of Adam and Eve was a unique event, never having occurred before nor would ever occur again, anywhere in the cosmos.”
Not sure how much of a “clear implication” this is.

* “How can any “believer” share in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence when such creatures could not exist except through a creative act of God?”
So, if we ever found extraterrestrials, Dave Hunt would immediately declare “God made ’em!” Problem solved.

* “Yet what the Bible says from Genesis to Revelation reveals that the search for human-like creatures outside of Earth, which is a large part of the space program, of necessity denies the existence of the Creator God in whom all Christians supposedly believe.”
First, “a large part of the space program” is not searching for human-level intelligence in space. NASA is not involved in that at all. At most, NASA is interested in finding microbial life on Mars or Europa. We already know that human-level intelligence doesn’t exist on other planets in our solar system. The only program looking for extraterrestrial intelligence is SETI, and that is not funded by NASA or government dollars at all; it’s funded by donations. Dave Hunt has no idea what he’s talking about if he thinks a large part of NASA’s budget is going to find intelligent life in the universe.

The second problem Hunt raises “for all evolutionists who claim to believe in God” isn’t a question for theistic evolutionists at all. It’s a question for atheist-evolutionists.

2) Moreover, one wonders why there should be any concern for the survival of man or any other species… If we are simply the accidental product of a “big bang,” plus chance, plus a billion years of something called evolution working through “natural selection”, of what importance could man’s brief survival be in the billions of years of evolutionary history? The cosmos doesn’t care, so why should we, a few unimportant creatures unknown to the cosmos, have any concern for our own survival. ( Page 22-23 )

Presumably there is no “grand importance” to humanity’s existence, but I prefer that we continue existing. I like existing. I don’t see the point of arguing that “the cosmos doesn’t care, why should you?” – as if we need something larger than ourselves to care in order to justify our own feelings. To turn the question back around on him, I suppose I could ask, “God doesn’t care whether you eat roast beef or turkey for lunch, therefore, why should you?”, and with that, Dave Hunt would suddenly collapse into indecisiveness and ennui about his lunch choices.

Did natural selection implant that concern [for existence] within us? If so, why?

It’s pretty obvious that natural selection would prefer creatures who cared for their own existence. If you had two groups of creatures: one group who wanted to continue existing, and another group that didn’t care whether they continued existing, I’m pretty sure the first group would survive and reproduce better than the second group. This isn’t a big mystery for atheist-evolutionists.

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Another email forward from the family. This one has been on the internet for a few years.

The short version is this: an atheist professor tells a classroom that he’s going to prove that a good god doesn’t exist. He challenges a Christian student to prove him wrong. In the first half of the story, the professor launches an attack, and the student stays silent, apparently being unable to combat the arguments. In the second half of the story, another student stands up and argues back. He shoots down evolution, compares the professor to a preacher and forces the professor to admit his lectures have to be “taken on faith”.

The email seems to follow a familiar pattern of ‘learned professor with years of experience getting out-argued by a young Christian who puts his faith in Jesus’. The story let’s Christians indulge in a little fictional smack-down against atheist academics, and helps reinforce their idea that they’ve got truth on their side. It reminds me of some other similar stories (Worst. Satire. Ever. – Friendly Atheist) and another one in Chick Tracts:


There are even some Muslim versions (1, 2), and versions where Einstein is the student.

I especially liked this comment after someone posted the story on their blog:

Amazing! Don’t you love it when science is proven wrong by God? It just reminds me of His power and supremacy!

I hope that’s satire.

The question is: how many errors and problems can you find in the story?

GOD vs. Science

A science professor begins his school year with a lecture to the students, ‘Let me explain the problem science has with religion.’ The atheist professor of philosophy pauses before his class and then asks one of his new students to stand.

Professor: ‘You’re a Christian, aren’t you, son?’
‘Yes sir,’ the student says.

Professor: ‘So you believe in God?’

Professor: ‘Is God good?’
‘Sure! God’s good.’

Professor: ‘Is God all-powerful? Can God do anything?’

Professor: ‘Are you good or evil?’
‘The Bible says I’m evil.’

The professor grins knowingly. ‘Aha! The Bible!’ He considers for a
moment. ‘Here’s one for you. Let’s say there’s a sick person over here and you can cure him. You can do it. Would you help him? Would you try?’

Student: ‘Yes sir, I would.’

Professor: ‘So you’re good….!’
‘I wouldn’t say that.’

Professor: ‘But why not say that? You’d help a sick and maimed person if you could. Most of us would if we could. But God doesn’t.’

The student does not answer, so the professor continues. ‘He doesn’t, does he? My brother was a Christian who died of cancer, even though he prayed to Jesus to heal him. How is this Jesus good? Hmmm? Can you answer that one?’

The student remains silent.
‘No, you can’t, can you?’ the professor says. He takes a sip of water from a glass on his desk to give the student time to relax.

Professor: ‘Let’s start again, young fella. Is God good?’
‘Er…yes,’ the student says.

Professor: ‘Is Satan good?’
The student doesn’t hesitate on this one. ‘No.’

Professor: ‘Then where does Satan come from?’
The student falters.. ‘From God’

Professor: ‘That’s right. God made Satan, didn’t he? Tell me, son.. Is there evil in this world?’
‘Yes, sir.’

Professor: ‘Evil’s everywhere, isn’t it? And God did make everything, correct?’

‘So who created evil?’ The professor continued, ‘If God created
everything, then God created evil, since evil exists, and according to the principle that our works define who we are, then God is evil.’

Again, the student has no answer.
Professor: ‘Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things, do they exist in this world?’

The student squirms on his feet. ‘Yes.’

Professor: ‘So who created them?’

The student does not answer again, so the professor repeats his question. ‘Who created them?’ There is still no answer. Suddenly the lecturer breaks away to pace in front of the classroom. The class is mesmerized. ‘Tell me,’ he continues onto another student. ‘Do you believe in Jesus Christ, son?’

The student’s voice betrays him and cracks. ‘Yes, professor, I do.’

The old man stops pacing. ‘Science says you have five senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Have you ever seen Jesus?’
‘No sir. I’ve never seen Him.’

Professor: ‘Then tell us if you’ve ever heard your Jesus?’
‘No, sir, I have not.’

Professor: ‘Have you ever felt your Jesus, tasted your Jesus or smelt your Jesus? Have you ever had ! any sensory perception of Jesus Christ, or God for that matter?’
‘No, sir, I’m afraid I haven’t.’

Professor: ‘Yet you still believe in him?’

Professor: ‘According to the rules of empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says your God doesn’t exist. What do you say to that, son?’

‘Nothing,’ the student replies. ‘I only have my faith.’
‘Yes, faith,’ the professor repeats. ‘And that is the problem science has with God. There is no evidence, only faith.’

At the back of the room another student stands quietly for a moment before asking a question of His own. ‘Professor, is there such thing as heat?’

‘Yes,’ the professor replies. ‘There’s heat.’
Student: ‘And is there such a thing as cold?’
Professor: ‘Yes, son, there’s cold too.’
Student: ‘No sir, there isn’t.’

The professor turns to face the student, obviously interested. The room suddenly becomes very quiet. The student begins to explain. ‘You can have lots of heat, even more heat, super-heat, mega-heat, unlimited heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat, but we don’t have anything called ‘cold’. We can hit up to 458 degrees below zero, which is no heat, but we can’t go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold; otherwise we would be able to go colder than the lowest -458 degrees.’

‘Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (-458 F) is the total absence of heat. You see, sir, cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat we can measure in thermal units because heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.’

Silence across the room. A pen drops somewhere in the classroom, sounding like a hammer.

‘What about darkness, professor. Is there such a thing as darkness?’

‘Yes,’ the professor replies without hesitation. ‘What is night if it isn’t darkness?’

‘You’re wrong again, sir. Darkness is not something; it is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light, but if you have no light constantly you have nothing and it’s called darkness, isn’t it? That’s the meaning we use to define the word..’

‘In reality, darkness isn’t. If it were, you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn’t you?’

The professor begins to smile at the student in front of him. This will be a good semester. ‘So what point are you making, young man?’

‘Yes, professor. My point is, your philosophical premise is flawed to start with, and so your conclusion must also be flawed.’

The professor’s face cannot hide his surprise this time. ‘Flawed? Can you explain how?’

‘You are working on the premise of duality,’ the student explains. ‘You argue that there is life and then there’s death; a good God and a bad God. You are viewing the concept of God as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, science can’t even explain a thought.’

‘It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing. Death is not the opposite of life, just the absence of it..’

‘Now tell me, professor. Do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?’

‘If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, young man, yes, of course I do.’

‘Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?’

The professor begins to shake his head, still smiling, as he realizes where the argument is going. A very good semester, indeed.

‘Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor, are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you now not a scientist, but a preacher?’

The class is in uproar. The student remains silent until the commotion has subsided.

‘To continue the point you were making earlier to the other student, let me give you an example of what I mean.’

The student looks around the room. ‘Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the professor’s brain?’ The class breaks out into laughter.

‘Is there anyone here who has ever heard the professor’s brain, felt the professor’s brain, touched or smelt the professor’s brain? No one appears to have done so. So, according to the established rules of empirical, stable, demonstrable protocol, science says that you have no brain, with all due respect, sir.’

‘So if science says you have no brain, how can we trust your lectures, sir?’

Now the room is silent. The professor just stares at the student, his face unreadable.

Finally, after what seems an eternity, the old man answers. ‘I guess you’ll have to take them on faith.’

‘Now, you accept that there is faith, and, in fact, faith exists with
life,’ the student continues. ‘Now, sir, is there such a thing as evil?’

Now uncertain, the professor responds, ‘Of course, there is. We see it everyday. It is in the daily example of man’s inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil.’

To this the student replied, ‘Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God’s love present in his heart. It’s like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light.’

The professor sat down.

If you read it all the way through and had a smile on your face when you finished, mail to your friends and family with the title: God vs Science.

… and that professor’s name was PZ Myers.

How many problems did you find? I’m sure I didn’t find all the problems. Here’s some of the issues that occurred to me as I read it:

Minor Issues:
– The story seems to be confused about whether he is a science professor (first sentence) or philosophy professor (third sentence). The argument is clearly more suited to a philosophy professor. But, making him a philosophy professor deprives Christians of the satisfaction of having a science professor be completely unable to defend evolution.
– The professor comes across as a smug know-it-all atheist who picks out a random Christian student from the class, makes him stand up and embarrasses him in front of the class. I guess they just want to make atheist academics as unlikeable as possible, but it seems like a pretty big stretch since any teacher should know better than to abuse a student in front of the class.

Major Issues:
– No decent science professor would argue that science is about things you detect with your five senses. For example, no one has seen a radio wave, or an electron. Ernest Rutherford determined the structure of an atom without ever seeing protons or electrons. No one has seen the tectonic plates, and even our detection of extra-solar planets involves not seeing the planet directly, but detecting its gravitational effects on its star. “We detect its effects” is a good way to know something exists — and that includes the existence of a professor’s brain. Theoretically, we could even detect the existence of psychic powers (without seeing psychic energy floating through the air) – if psychics could actually do better than chance at things like reading people’s minds or knowing future events. By using this narrow definition of science, much of science (including the structure of the atom) is deemed to be “unscientific”, and therefore on the same level as faith in God. It’s fallacious to put them on the same level.

Now, some Christians might try to argue that God’s effects can be detected – they feel His love, etc – but psychological effects are difficult to distinguish from placebo effects. Even worse, other people from other religions and cults might feel the same things. If they actually had more empirical effects (legitimate faith healing, knowing things when they shouldn’t, prophecy, etc) then they might have a point. The professor’s point about God not healing the sick is one example of an indirect effect of God’s existence that could be detected.

– Evolution – The student tries to argue that no one has seen evolution with their five senses, therefore, it’s “faith”, just like faith in God. (Actually, this is a pretty good description of what creationists think about evolution. They think that the idea of evolution was created when scientists weaved together conjecture with a need for an non-theistic explanation for life.) Apparently, in order for evolution to be elevated to science, you’d need to watch evolution happen over a period of tens or hundreds of millions of years AND prove that God didn’t interfere when you weren’t looking. And, if you pointed out observations of evolution in fruit flies and bacteria, they’d call that “micro-evolution”, which is “totally different” than primate to human “macro-evolution”. But, as I said earlier, science does not need to rely on direct observation. Ultimately, the argument fails because there’s so much information from paleontology, genetics, etc.

– The student makes the argument that good and evil are like hot and cold. The problems with the “evil is the absence of good” arguments are this:

First, I don’t think “good” can be can be compared to heat. The student talks about infinite heat, but is there such a thing as “infinite good”? I don’t think so. Sure, Christians might say God is infinitely good, but I’m not sure how that’s anything but words. I think it’s entirely valid to say “on a scale of 0 to 1, zero means maximum evil and one means maximum good”. The problem is that there is no ‘right’ answer because good and evil are mental concepts, not physical, measurable characteristics, like heat. Further, we could imagine a cold, lifeless planet. Is there good or evil there? If evil is simply the absence of good, then it must be somewhere on the continuum between absolute good and absolute evil. But, that doesn’t work because a cold, lifeless planet cannot be described as good or evil – it simply is. You could say that it is absent of both, but you could never say that it is absent of heat and cold, absent of light and darkness.

Second, he says evil is the absence of God. If “evil is the absence of God”, then the cure for evil is God. This suggests that more prayer, more Bible study, and more moral living is the cure for sickness, famine, predators, and natural disasters. Yet, none of those things seem to have any effect on the natural evil in the world. This gets even more confusing with the Biblical teaching that ‘wherever two or three are gathered, God will be there’. Why, then, are sick Christians still sick if they meet and pray with a few other Christians? Why does God withhold his healing power? Is it possible to be “infinitely good” if you aren’t doing things to save people? For example, if you avoid throwing a life-preserver to a drowning man or ignore a man trapped inside a well, can you still call yourself perfectly good?

Third, sickness, predators, and death existed long before humans existed. Are we supposed to believe that snakes have venom and fangs because God wasn’t visiting earth frequently enough millions of years ago? At the same time, they deny evolution, so a complex system like fangs and venom (which paralyzes muscle) must’ve been “intelligently designed”. Apparently, God is designing the evil – and he’s perfectly good, too. He’s such a mystery.

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In a new article over at Christianity Today, Dinesh D’Souza (Christian apologist) gives a very unsatisfying answer to “Why we need earthquakes”. I mean: does this guy think he’s being a good apologist for Christianity? Sometimes it seems like his answers are so weak that it makes his religion look ridiculous.

D’Souza writes:

A fresh way of looking at the problem of natural evil and suffering comes from Rare Earth, a 2003 book by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee that traces the myriad conditions required for life to exist on any planet. In a sense, the authors—an eminent paleontologist and an astronomer at the University of Washington in Seattle—are discussing the “anthropic principle,” which specifies the degree to which our planet appears fine-tuned for complex life. The concept is often used in Christian apologetics to show that our intelligently designed universe seems to point to an intelligent designer.

Ward and Brownlee ask: Why do natural disasters such as earthquakes, seaquakes, and tsunamis occur? All three are the consequence of plate tectonics, the giant plates that move under the surface of the earth and the ocean floor. Apparently our planet is unique in having plate tectonics. Ward and Brownlee show that without this geological feature, there would be no large mountain ranges or continents.

While natural disasters occasionally wreak havoc, our planet needs plate tectonics to produce the biodiversity that enables complex life to flourish on earth. Without plate tectonics, earth’s land would be submerged to a depth of several thousand feet. Fish might survive in such an environment, but not humans.

Ward and Brownlee’s answer to this is as simple as it is devastating. Such a world could have produced life, but it surely could not have produced creatures like us. Science tells us that our world has all the necessary conditions for species like Homo sapiens to survive and endure… it seems that plate tectonics are, as Ward and Brownlee put it, a “central requirement for life” as we know it.

I think that’s a perfectly good explanation if God existed 4 billion years ago and was completely prevented from interacting with the world at any time since then. What a ridiculously weak explanation. If D’Souza’s God existed, then: (1) God could’ve brought about any form of life that he wanted at any time in history, (2) God could’ve created continents and mountains without the need for plate tectonics, (3) God could’ve “shut off” plate tectonics and earthquakes once human beings were on earth. In essence, D’Souza’s explanation presumes a God who is severely limited; unable to interact with the planet during the past 4 billion years. This is just another “God is all-powerful; except that He’s not all-powerful when that’s inconvenient” explanation.

[Nod to DubunkingChristianity]

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In this clip, Michael Ruse says that Creationism/Evolution is really just one piece of the larger culture war – the fight over society’s views of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. I don’t think that’s entirely accurate, although I do think the culture war is certainly a part of the Creationism/Evolution “debate”. And, Creationists often like to argue from consequences (e.g. if everyone believes in evolution, then they’ll behave like Nazis; they won’t believe in God or morality; etc).

Hearing him reminded me of stuff in Ken Ham’s book “Evolution: The Lie” (1987). Ken Ham is the president of Answers In Genesis, the major young-earth creationist group in the world. If you want to get a feel for how popular these guys are, I recommend comparing their alexa stats against, say, Panda’s Thumb, Discovery Institute, and Uncommon Descent:


It’s amazing the level of stupidity they get away with while still managing to stay relevant and popular. (Personally, I think this says something about humanity’s willingness to accept any stupid argument as long as it promotes and supports their pre-existing beliefs, which is rather sad.)

Here’s some of Ken Ham’s wonderful arguments against evolution. You’d think I was making this stuff up, but I’m not.

First, the front and back of the book. Note the implication here: Evolution is the lie in the same way that eating the apple in the garden of Eden was a lie given to us by Satan.


Most of the book is written text, but it’s punctuated with cartoons illustrating his ideas. I’m going to stick to the cartoons – they’ll give you a pretty quick understanding of what his arguments are, and they are heavy on the “cultural consequences”. Maybe you can play a game called “spot that logical fallacy” at home.

Chapter 1 – Christianity is Under Attack


Chapter 2 – Evolution is Religion


Chapter 3 – Creationism is Religion

Ooh – look at all the badies up there on the stage. They’ve banned one religion (Christianity) and replaced it with another religion in the schools.

Chapter 4 – The Root of the Problem


Chapter 5 – Crumbling Foundations

Argument: If a literal interpretation of Genesis is undermined, then Christianity is undermined.

And if Christianity is undermined, then all kinds of bad things – like homosexuality – are okay. Uh oh. Remember homophobes: you won’t be able to condemn homosexuality unless you stick with Creationism. (Does this smell like the culture war, yet?)

This comic actually reminds me of my friend Chris. When he came out as gay, his dad tried to argue that homosexuality is wrong – using the Bible to back him up. My friend wasn’t very impressed – since his dad never went to church with the rest of the family. But, the Bible suddenly turns into “the good book” as soon as you want to condemn something as evil.

Chapter 6 – Genesis Does Matter

Only the Bible literal interpretation of Genesis provides a moral foundation for wearing clothing. Without the Bible, nudists aren’t doing anything wrong.

Chapter 8 – The Evils of Evolution


I thought I’d leave in the text at the bottom – it’s the next section which claims Male Chauvanism is really based on Evolution, and the Bible has nothing to do with it. There are other sections linking Evolution with: Nazism, Racism, Drugs, Abortion, and Social Darwinist Business models. (Hmm, I wonder if the producers of “Expelled” read this book as research for their movie.)

Here’s an excerpt from the section on Drugs:

Many people would not think of evolution as being in any way related to the taking of drugs. However, the following letter of testimony from a man in Western Australia shows clearly this relationship …

My naive belief in evolution had three important practical consequences:
1. It strongly encouraged me to look to drugs as an ultimate course of comfort and creativity.

The balloons above the “Evolution” castle read: Euthanasia, Divorce, Homosexuality, Pornography, Abortion, and Racism.


Update: I just discovered that Answers In Genesis lets you read the book on their website. Unfortunately, it seems that they’ve removed the cartoons. Here’s something else to check out: the Amazon page for “The Lie: Evolution”. About 50% of the voters gave it 5 stars. Sit back and marvel at the people writing comments in defense of the book.

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(This is continued from The Case for Faith, Objection 6, Part 3; where Strobel raises nine objections to hell. The Complete Series can be found here.)

Objection 7: Why Didn’t God Create Only Those He Knew Would Follow Him?

“If God knows the future, why did he create people whom he knew would never turn to him and who would therefore end up in hell?” I asked. “Couldn’t he have created only those whom he knew would follow him and simply not created those whom he knew would reject him? That option would seem to be much more humane than hell.”

“It depends on God’s goal,” said Moreland. “If God had chosen to create just a handful of four, six, or seven people, maybe he could have only created those people who would go to heaven. The problem is that once God stars to create more people, it becomes more difficult to just create the people who would choose him and not create the people who wouldn’t … Because one of the reasons God put us here is to give us a chance to affect other people.”

“The simple fact of the matter is that we are impacted by observing people. Suppose, for example, that when I was a little boy God gave my parents the choice to move to Illinois as opposed to staying in Missouri. Let’s say there was a Christian neighbor [in Illinois] who was a hypocrite, and I observed this man and chose because of his life to say ‘no’ to the gospel the rest of my life. Now suppose that people at work looked at how obnoxious I was and five people became followers of Christ because of my bad example of what a non-Christian life looks like… we get one person lost — me — but five a redeemed.

“On the other hand, suppose God chooses not to give the of a new job to my dad and we stay in Missouri. I might have a track coach who was a Christian and who pours his life into me and I end up choosing to follow God because of that. But because my Christian life is not really what it ought to be, five people are influenced away from Christ.

Do you see? It’s a Back to the Future scenario [i.e. any tiny change sets off a cascade of other changes]. (p.259-260)

Well, this scenario is all good and fine, but there are problems with it. First, the fact that small external changes and influences in a person’s life leads to eternal salvation or damnation seems unfair. In the “goes to Illinois” scenario, more people are saved, but because God knows the future and chose that job path for Moreland’s father, it ends up badly for Moreland. When Moreland gets to heaven, will God tell him – “sorry, kid, I could’ve chosen a different situation for your father, and that would’ve resulted in your salvation, but I decided to write you off and save more people instead”. Over and over, the Christian apologists try to paint a picture that everyone who isn’t a Christian somehow vehemently rejects and hates God. Okay, to be fair, maybe Moreland’s assumes that a person is still fully responsible for their conversion regardless of external influences, and that people who aren’t Christians start down a path that leads to total depravity. (I’d disagree with that, of course.) Further, in the next objection, Moreland will tell us that “If all a person needed was a little bit more time to come to Christ, then God would extend their time on this earth to give them that chance. So there will be nobody who just needed a little more time.” (p.262) So, there will never be anybody who “just needs a little more time”, but there will be people who would’ve turned to Christ if only they had slightly different influences in their lives. Seems contradictory.

Some other criticisms of Moreland’s claims are that God could create puppets or angels to play roles in people’s lives. They could play the role of “good example Christian” or “bad non-Christian”. Angels could even pretend to be human missionaries, always setting a good example. God could also give Christians extra strength to do the right things (like taking-away Ted Haggard’s gay desires, transforming him into a positive role-model). By creating these influences in peoples lives, then, people would make different choices. That might seem like manipulation, but can humans really be held responsible for their conversion decision when those external influences (the hypocritical Christian, the good track coach) are random? Additionally, God could also do miracles, send angels to speak to people, etc. There are billions of people around the globe following false religions that would respond to these signs. So, there are plenty of things God could do to influence people towards Christian salvation. It’s erroneous to claim that God is somehow doing all he can to get people into heaven. Moreland wants us to believe that the current situation is somehow finely tuned and chosen by God, but that just doesn’t seem credible.

“There is another part of this, which has to do with how the soul is created. There’s a view that the soul comes into existence at conception and is in some way passed on by the parents. In other words, soulish potentialities are contained in the parent’s egg and sperm. It’s called traducianism. This means my parents created my soul in the act of reproduction. Consequently, I could not have had different parents. That means, then, that the only way God could make me is if my entire ancestral lineage had preceded me, because different grandparents mean different parents and thus different materials for the soul… In other words, God would be balancing alternative [ancestral] chains and not just alternative people. (p.260-261)

Ignoring the fact that this sounds like complete mumbo-jumbo, Moreland conveniently ignores the fact that God has divine power. The only way to make Moreland is to have his exact set of ancestors? Right. Moreland believes that God impregnated a virgin, but couldn’t divinely intervene to actually make his parent’s egg or sperm different? It seems that Moreland likes to believe in miracles in some cases, and then pretend that God’s hands are tied in other cases.

“When God is making these judgments, his purpose is not to keep as many people out of hell as possible. His goal is to get as many people into heaven as possible.” (p.261)

And how does Moreland know what God’s goals are? Additionally, if God wanted to get as many people into heaven as possible, I can think of quite a few ways to increase the number of converts – miracles, angels, etc to inspire Christians and convert the members of the world’s false religions. Heck, no one in the Americas had heard of Christianity until Columbus. At this point, only about 1/3rd of humanity is Christian. And whether you’re Christian or not seems to be heavily influenced by where on the planet you were born.

Objection 8: Why Doesn’t God Give People a Second Chance?

The Bible says explicitly that people are destined to die once and to then face judgment. Yet if God is really loving, why wouldn’t he give people a second chance after death to make the decision to follow him and go to heaven?

“If people tasted hell, wouldn’t that give them a strong motivation to change their minds?” I asked.

“This question assumes God didn’t do everything he could do before people died, and I reject that,” Moreland said. “God does everything he can to give people a chance, and there will be not a single person who will be able to say to God, ‘If you had just not allowed me to die prematurely, if you’d given me another twelve months, I know I would have made that decision.’ (p.261-262)

It seems that Moreland likes to assert things to be true that he can’t possibly know are true. Moreland anticipates that these questions can be problematic for him, so he simply asserts with confidence that “such and such is most definitely true”. In this case, he asserts that God did everything he could, that people wouldn’t change their minds if given a little more time. This “wouldn’t change their minds” claim seems like a strange argument to make right after Moreland claimed in the last section that influences like a hypocritical Christian or the track coach can change people’s minds in a “Back to the Future” cascade of changes.

Additionally, Moreland changed the actual question. The question was, “Why doesn’t God give people a chance to change their minds after they die?” Moreland replied with “God does everything he can to give people a chance, and there will be not a single person who [would’ve converted before they died if given more time]”. We weren’t talking about what they would’ve done if given more time on earth, we were talking about what they would’ve done in the afterlife if given the chance to convert. And God isn’t “doing everything he can to give people a chance” if he doesn’t allow them to convert after death.

That only dealt with part of the question, however. “Wait a minute,” I said. “Wouldn’t death and the awareness of the presence or absence of God after you die be a very motivating thing for people?”

“Yes, it would, but in a negative way. First, you’ve got to realize that the longer people live separated from God, the less likely they are able to exercise their free choice and trust him. This is why most people who come to Christ do so when they’re young. The longer you live with a bad habit, the harder it is to turn that habit around. It’s not impossible, but it’s harder. (p.262)

Moreland’s response is rather muddled here. In response to the question of whether heaven and hell would motivate people to convert, Moreland responded with “yes, it would motivate them in a negative way”, but then went on to formulate an argument that people would not be influenced to submit to God anyway because they’ve lived with the “bad habit” of rejecting God for so long.

“Besides, that would make life before death utterly irrelevant.” (p.262)

So, if God has the choice between (A) allowing people to submit to God in the afterlife, thereby making our earthly life/choices irrelevant, and (B) putting people in hell for eternity. It’s better that God sticks with “A” because it would be an awful, awful thing to render our earthly choices irrelevant. A far better option is that people stay in hell for eternity. Isn’t that obvious?

Why did he create [people] on earth for seventy-five years and let them die and then put them in the incubation period [where they could choose salvation] if it was the incubation period that they really needed in the first place? Here’s the truth, Lee: this life is the incubation period! (p.263)

Well, people aren’t making fully-informed decisions about religion while on earth. Making decisions in the afterlife, on the other hand, would apparently be a bit more informed. Of course, this is one of my major problems with Christianity – there are major things God could do to reveal Christianity as the true religion above all other religions. This has never been done. Billions of people will pay because of this. Yeah, I know apologists like to claim that God gives “enough evidence”, but I don’t believe that’s true, and I think that’s something other religions could also claim about their own religion.

“The next thing you have to keep in mind is if people saw the judgment seat of God after death, it would be so coercive that they would no longer have the power of free choice. Any ‘decision’ they made would not be a real genuine free choice; it would be totally coerced… They’d be making a prudent ‘choice’ to avoid judgment only. (p.263)

I think that’s a reasonable statement, and I agree that the way to find out if someone is truly a “good person” is to see how they act when they believe there are no consequences. Of course, most of us are raised to believe that we will face divine consequences. So, we’re not entirely free from the “being a Christian to avoid consequences” influence. (Isn’t that the whole point of Pascal’s Wager?) Consequences would be a bit more obvious and immediate in the afterlife, however. Regardless of those factors, though, there’s still all kinds of problems involving the whole “become a Christian” = “submitting to God”. There are plenty of good Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and nonbelievers. There’s a critical lack of evidence for Christianity. Moreland presupposes that everyone “should know” that Christianity is the true religion.

“I’ll suggest one more thing. God maintains a delicate balance between keeping his existence sufficiently evident so people will know he’s there and yet hiding his presence enough so that people who want to choose to ignore him can do it. This way, their choice of destiny is really free.” (p.263)

I disagree with this. I’d say that the evidence for all religions (including Christianity) is pretty poor, but apologists (or all religions) use their powers of rhetoric to make all religions seem possible or plausible. They’re not so great that people can’t see through them, though. Reading Moreland’s statement about the evidence for God’s existence could easily be uttered by any cult member about their cult leader. If it seems that their cult leader isn’t God – that’s all part of the balance, so that only the true believers will submit.

There’s also something slightly strange about the whole formulation. God doesn’t want to be ‘too obvious’ or else people will have to believe in him. But, there are actually two different definitions to “believing in God”. The first definition means simply “knowing he exists”. The second definition means “obeying, submitting, relying on God”. It’s not a violation of free will to make it obvious that God exists. It would be a violation of free-will if God forced people to obey, submit, and rely on God. In fact, Jesus himself pointed this out:

“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.” James 2:18-20

What Jesus is pointing out here is that mere “knowledge” of Gods existence doesn’t mean obeying God. If the Bible is true, then God appeared plenty of times to Biblical characters (for example, Adam in the Garden of Eden, or Moses), yet that didn’t stop them from sinning. And, as Jesus pointed out – knowing God exists doesn’t stop demons from disobeying God. Moreland’s formulation that God needs to maintain ambiguity about his very existence is a little bit like saying “We have to keep people ignorant about the usefulness and dangers of vaccines because we want parents to make a totally free decision about whether or not to use vaccines”. It’s not a real decision if it’s based on ignorance.

Objection 9: Isn’t Reincarnation More Rational Than Hell?

“Wouldn’t reincarnation be a rational way for a loving God to give people a fresh start so that they might repent the next time around and he wouldn’t have to send them to hell?” I asked. “Wouldn’t that be preferable to hell?” (p.264)

I have to agree with Strobel here. In the past, I’ve certainly thought this.

“Remember, we don’t decide what’s true based on what we life or don’t like. We have to consider the evidence. I don’t know any other way to decide whether something’s true except by looking at the evidence,” came Moreland’s reply. (p.264)

Good job, Moreland. You dodged another question. Strobel asked if reincarnation would be a better alternative to hell, and you tried to answer the question, “does reincarnation happen?”

Strobel: “Yes,” I said, “but isn’t there evidence for reincarnation — specifically, individuals who have memories of prior lives or even speak in languages that they wouldn’t otherwise know?” (p.264)

And Strobel takes the bait – completely forgetting his first question about whether reincarnation would be a more just system, and discussing, instead, the evidence for reincarnation.

Moreland: “I think the evidence for reincarnation is weak for several reasons,” he said. “For example, it’s incoherent… What if you said, ‘J.P. Moreland is in the other room and guess what? He’s an ice cube.’ Most people would say, ‘that can’t be J.P. Moreland, because if there’s one thing I know about him, it’s that he’s human… reincarnation says that I could come back as a dog, as an amoeba — heck, I don’t know why I couldn’t come back as an ice cube. If that’s true, what’s the difference between being J.P. Moreland and anything else? There’s nothing essential to me… being human is essential to me. (p.264-265)

Uh. Well, okay – I guess Moreland can make an argument that there is no “core” part of himself which could be both human and an ice cube. However, people who believe in reincarnation would claim that ‘being an ice cube’ isn’t a part of it. Further, Moreland’s claim about “Most people would say, ‘that can’t be J.P. Moreland, because if there’s one thing I know about him, it’s that he’s human” is hardly a decent counterargument against the existence of reincarnation. People don’t see those kinds of permutations in everyday life, but that doesn’t mean souls couldn’t move between, say, a dog and a human. (Not that I believe they do. I’m just pointing out the lunacy of Moreland’s argument.) But, getting away from Moreland’s absurd “ice cube argument against reincarnation”, reincarnation could take the form of souls moving from animals to humans (but never “ice cubes”), or reincarnation could mean that humans are always reincarnated as humans. In the later case, humans who die as non-believers are reborn as humans again to be given a second chance – maybe this time with the “good track coach” as a childhood influence. That idea certainly isn’t incoherent.

Moreland: “Another reason I don’t believe in reincarnation is because most of these evidences you’ve suggested — things like supposed memories of past lives — can be explained better by other means.” (p.265)

That’s nice, but it seems that Moreland has permanently derailed the discussion about whether reincarnation would be a better alternative to hell.

“Finally, I don’t believe in reincarnation because there’s an expert on this question, and he’s Jesus of Nazareth. He’s the only person who died, rose from the dead, and spoke authoritatively on the question. And Jesus says reincarnation is false, and that there’s one death and after that comes the judgment. (p.265)

And, Moreland still can’t get around to answering the actual question.

“It’s ironic,” I pointed out, “that many atheists embrace Jesus as having been a great teacher, and yet he’s the one who had the most to say about hell.” (p.265)

Personally, I don’t really understand why people think Jesus was such a great teacher. I think most people say this simply because Jesus is so venerated in our culture, so they blindly say he was a great teacher – as if the idea simply seeped into their brains. Just like people have to say Einstein was smart and Shakespeare was a great writer even though they know nothing about Einstein’s or Shakespeare’s actual work. It’s just a “known”, so they don’t need any firsthand experience to make those statements.

The reality is that Jesus has some nice thing to say (e.g. the Beatitudes) that are akin to “Chicken Soup for the Soul”. He had some teachings about “do unto others” which was formulated by other people centuries before Jesus lived. (Some say that Jesus formulation in the affirmative is better than other writers formulation in the negative.) He had a lot of anti-materialism, pro-missionary, don’t-plan-for-the-future / plan-for-riches-in-heaven teachings that everyone seems to ignore. He was very angry with the religious establishment of the day. He had some teachings about “let he who is without sin throw the first stone”, “turn the other cheek”, and “he who lives by the sword will die by the sword”, which are dubious teachings which can be subjectively and selectively applied. (Oddly, Jesus was teaching people not to stone the prostitute – a punishment advocated by God in the Old Testament. Was Jesus advocating ignoring God’s law?) Strongly applied, they would mean the end of all legal systems, making yourself a glutton for violence and theft, and hard-core passivism that’s incompatible with national defense. I guess I’m just not that impressed with his teachings.

“Yes,” said Moreland, “and remember this: the evidence is that Jesus and his followers were virtuous people… If you want to know whether hell is ultimately fair, you ask Jesus. And here’s the thing: he saw no problem with the doctrine.” (p.266)

In short, when faced with the question of “wouldn’t reincarnation be better”, Moreland replies with: that’s not the way God did it, God is just, therefore, reincarnation would not be better. Uh huh.

“I think we’re on thin ice when we compare our moral sentiments and moral intuitions with Jesus’. We’re saying we have greater insight into what’s fair and what isn’t than he does. And I think that’s not the kind of arena we want to step into.” (p.266)

Are you’re brains turned off yet? Where your thoughts deviate from the Biblical teachings, you’re wrong, so you might as well stop thinking. It’s a bizarre argument to use Jesus to legitimize Christian teachings.

“For those who don’t know Christ, [hell] should motivate them to redouble their efforts to seek him and find him.” (p.267)

Kind of a chicken and the egg, problem, isn’t it? If you already accept the existence of hell, then you already believe in the reality of Christianity. Anyway, isn’t that exactly the “hell is a negative motivation” thing that Moreland complained about earlier – that people who convert out of a fear of hell are just doing it to avoid judgment?

For those of us who know him, [hell] should cause us to redouble out efforts to extend his message of mercy and grace to those who need it. (p.267)

This is one of the sad aspects of Christianity – it puts people in a position where they feel they need to save everyone for fear of their eternal damnation. I remember Carlton Pearson (a former fundamentalist preacher) talking about how it was exhausting to constantly try to save people around him. It was depressing to think that he couldn’t possibly save everyone. He eventually came to the belief that God saves everyone – which alleviated his mind. But, it’s a sad, sisyphean task for Christians (at least, if they are so fundamentalist they they believe only Christians are saved, everyone else goes to hell). And God doesn’t have their back. He isn’t performing the miracles that could really convince the non-believer. Apologists would explain that away as ‘God keeping a delicate balance between showing and hiding his existence’, but it’s really just a symptom of being another false religion.

“And we need to keep the right perspective through it all. Remember that hell will forever be a monument to human dignity and the value of human choice. It is a quarantine where God says two important things: ‘I respect freedom of choice enough to where I won’t coerce people, and I value my image-bearers so much that I will not annihilate them.'” (p.267)

Decisions based on ignorance and ambiguity are not real decisions. And keeping people alive in torment is not mercy. (I wonder if Moreland keeps his family pets alive and in pain long after they should’ve been “put to sleep”. Does he think people euthanize their pets because they don’t love them enough?)

Was hell the only option open to God? Is it just and moral? Is the doctrine logically consistent? Clearly, Jesus thought it was. And I believed that Moreland’s analysis overall, was sufficient to knock down hell as an obstacle. (p.268)

The whole “Jesus is okay with hell” method of argument is rather muddled. If you are questioning Christianity in the first place, then Jesus’ views on doctrine cannot be used to resolve the issue.

Popping [a taped interview I had with D.A. Carson] into my tape player, I fast forwarded to some remarks that seemed to be an apt conclusion for the afternoon:

Hell is not a place where people are consigned because they were pretty good blokes, but they just didn’t believe the right stuff. They’re consigned there, first and foremost, because they defy their maker and want to be the center of the universe. Hell is not filled with people who have already repented, only God isn’t gentle enough or good enough to let them out. It’s filled with people who, for all eternity, still want to be the center of the universe and who persist in their God-defying rebellion. (p.269)

Well, I guess that’s one way to make yourself feel better about hell: demonize everyone as totally depraved. It’s a very binary type of thinking: at the moment of death, there are two types of people – good Christians who have submitted to God and go to heaven, and evil depraved people who hate God and curse him with every breath. Does this seem even remotely like the world we live in?

Next: Objection #7: Church History is Littered with Oppression and Violence

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Every once in a while I stumble on some funny Christian apologetics. The most recent one was an online book titled the “Handbook of Personal Evangelism“. It has 23 chapters of delightful non-sequiturs and bad logic. Some of my favorite arguments:

Below are reasons we believe in God:

3. A person who doesn’t believe in God will have to face the problem of trying to substantiate a negative. This particular negative would be impossible to prove. Here is why.

How can a person prove there is no God? Has this person been everywhere within and without the universe? If there is somewhere he has not been, God might be there. Does this person know everything? If there is something he does not know, that something might be God.

A reason to believe is that you can’t prove it’s not true? This one is always funny to me. No doubt, Dr. A Ray Stanford also believes in bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness monster, and elves. Further, he believes they all live together … with the smurfs – afterall, no one can prove that it isn’t true.

Reasons for Believing the Bible

2. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist denomination, said something like this: The Bible was written either by –

(a) good men,
(b) bad men, or
(c) God.

(a) If good men wrote the Bible and then claimed it was written by the inspiration of God, they would be liars, and liars are not good men. They would be deceivers, and good men don’t purposely deceive people.

(b) If bad men wrote the Bible, they would be condemning themselves because the Bible condemns sin. Bad men tend to justify themselves, but the Bible never justifies sin. Bad men couldn’t have written the Bible because the Bible is a good book.

(c) Since neither good men nor bad men wrote the Bible, the only person left is God. God wrote the Bible, and it is a MASTERPIECE OF HIS HANDIWORK!

Ah, it’s the old “there are only three possibilities, two are wrong, and therefore the last one must be right!” By this logic, every religion which preaches good is true. And that’s why I’m a Mormon… and a Muslim. And a Cathar, a buddhist, a Bahai, a Hindu, and Hare Krishna. Crap, there’s a lot of religions and cults that taught some good things.

Oh, here’s a bizarre one:

9. The Bible is scientifically accurate.

Jeremiah 10:12 – Einstein’s theory, E=MC^2

Wow. The book of Jeremiah has Einstein’s equation in it?

It is He who made the earth by His power, Who established the world by His wisdom; And by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens.
Jeremiah 10:12

You can’t get any clearer than that. Now I’m starting to think Einstein stole his famous equation from Jeremiah. In fact, I think I’m going to start referring to it as “Jerimiah’s equation of mass–energy equivalence”, and Wikipedia needs a bit of updating. To all you nonbelievers: “Checkmate!”

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(This is continued from The Case for Faith, Objection 6, Part 2; where Strobel raises nine objections to hell. The Complete Series can be found here.)

I’ve been thinking about Moreland’s presentation about hell. There’s really only two ways to dispute Moreland’s ideas about hell:
(1) Is Moreland accurately representing the Biblical description of hell? If he strays too far from the Biblical description, then he’s not really being an apologist for Christianity anymore.
(2) Is hell just? (If God is a just God, and hell is not just, then God cannot be a just God.)

Christians have a variety of opinions about what hell is. Some claim that there is no hell, and the people are simply annihilated (no consciousness). Moreland, claims that hell is just separation from God in the afterlife (people’s opinions on whether this involves pain varies). And, then there’s the traditional hell-fire and demons version of hell. It’s worse than the worst thing you can possibly imagine, and it continues for eternity.

Christians also have some different ideas about who goes to hell and who goes to heaven.
– Everyone goes to heaven (which is regarded as downright heretical among many Christians)
– People of many different religions will go to heaven (God will count their non-Christian piety as if it was Christian piety)
– Many different people are “chosen” by God to go to heaven whether or not they know it (and some Christians are not chosen by God)
– Everyone who hasn’t heard of Christianity will be saved because they never had a chance to accept or reject it (which put missionary work in a weird light, since it opens the possibility for people to reject Christianity, when previously they would’ve all been saved)
– Conversion to Christianity is allowed in the afterlife – lifting people out of hell and into heaven.
– Mormons believe in levels to heaven and hell, based on your actions in this life. Christians and Mormons (especially) get bonus points that get them into higher states of heaven.

Some of these ideas are hinted at in the Bible. Others require a heavy dose of re-interpretation. My own observation is that people pick and choose which they want to believe. If they have a hard time rectifying “God is just” with the injustice of hell fire, well, they can pick one of the options that suits their particular feelings. (Apparently, their so-called “relationship with Jesus” does not allow for the type of communication which settles these questions.) Personally, I find the “theology shopping” to be a bit distasteful.

The traditional descriptions of hell seem unjust. I don’t believe anyone has done anything to warrant eternal torture – not even Hitler. Further, the claim that someone must accept Jesus in order to avoid hell seems strange. Earlier, we saw Moreland try to imply that everyone who isn’t a Christian is willfully denying Christ and therefore deserving of hell. I think you’d have to be incredibly self-involved to claim that all religious non-Christians are somehow willfully denying Christ and following their religion because it is easier and more convenient. I actually think many non-Christians have worked far harder at their religion than most Christians living in the United States. The claim that they are willfully choosing the easy and convenient path is absurd, and could only be believed by someone who is terribly ignorant of other people.

There’s another reason the “must accept Jesus to be saved” seems strange: if God loves us and wants people to avoid hell, then He has a strong motivation to make the truth of Christianity obvious. It isn’t obvious. We can therefore conclude that one of the following must be true:
(1) God doesn’t actually love people very much, and He’s perfectly fine with people burning in hell because they made the innocent mistake of choosing the wrong religion
(2) Christianity is false.
(3) It’s not necessary to be a Christian in order to go to heaven.
(4) The people who are Christians exactly coincides with the people God wants in heaven. If you’re not a Christian, then God doesn’t want you (not even the Christian version of you). There are a few reasons this seems like a made-up answer. A quick look at the geographical clusters and absence of Christian belief over time and location doesn’t look like the result of divine will, but the normal pattern of religious growth.

Obviously, most Christians won’t accept any of those four options. In one conversation, a Christian argued that it’s not “being a non-Christian” which puts you in hell, but it’s sinning that puts you in hell. God is merely offering a life-jacket (Christianity) after you screwed up and jumped in the water (sinned). That answer still doesn’t work very well. If God wanted to give the “lifejacket” option of Christian salvation to the world, then why give it to some people (people living near Israel twenty centuries ago) but make other people wait for centuries (after billions of people died)? Why didn’t God give Christianity to pre-Columbian Native Americans? I don’t know about you, but if I was God, and I cared about Native Americans and Christianity was the only way to heaven, then I’d give them Christianity long before Columbus arrived. Fifteen centuries is a long time to wait. Are we supposed to believe that God sat back and went, “Oh, those poor Native Americans. If only they had Christianity. Oh well – what can I do about it? I guess they’ll have to wait another 40 generations until Columbus and some Christian missionaries arrive.” Are we really supposed to believe that the God who knows when a sparrow dies (Matthew 10:29) is the same God that let 500 million (pre-Columbus) Native Americans live and die without the possibility of salvation?

Getting back to Moreland and Stroble — Moreland takes the “separation from God” viewpoint. People aren’t burning in hell, but they’re all very, very sorry that they didn’t convert. Your sorrow is like the burning of hell fire – but it’s all psychological. Further, you can’t accept Jesus in the afterlife. Why not? Because of free will. (Huh?) You “chose” to be a non-Christian in the physical world. God is “honoring” your free-will. But, the “decision” you made in the physical world is the only one that matters. Decisions in the afterlife are not good for anything because… uh, nevermind. Moreland’s point about “free will” and “decisions” being binding when you make them in the physical world but not in the afterlife are actually pretty inconsistent.

Objection 5: Why Doesn’t God Just Snuff People Out?

(Interesting tidbit: the Jehovah’s Witnesses preach that people are just ‘snuffed out’. There is no eternal life in hell.)

Another aspect of hell that’s especially troubling to people is that its duration is eternal. But what if hell didn’t last forever? Instead, what if God annihilated people — that is, snuffed them out of existence — instead of forcing them to be consciously separated from him forever and ever?

“Surely,” I said to Moreland, “that would be more humane than an eternity of regret and remorse.”

“Believe it or not, everlasting separation from God is morally superior to annihilation,” he replied. “Why would God be morally justified in annihilating somebody? The only way that’s a good thing would be the end result, which would be to keep people from experiencing the conscious separation from God forever. Well, then you’re treating people as a means to an end.” (p.254-255)

I really don’t understand why Moreland says annihilation = “treating people as a means to an end”. At the same time, he says that God must honor their free will choice of “rejecting Christianity”. Why can’t self-annihilation be a free-will choice? Further, a few pages earlier, Moreland claimed that the reason people exist is:

He had made us with free will and he has made us for a purpose: to relate lovingly to him and to others… And if we fail over and over again to live for the purpose for which we were made … then God will have absolutely no choice but to give us what we’ve asked for all along in our lives, which is separation from him.” (p.241)

To me, there’s something about “he has made us for a purpose” that equals “treating people as a means to an end”. Apparently, Moreland doesn’t see it that way.

There’s also some problems with his “Why would God be morally justified in annihilating somebody?” claim. First of all, God kills lots of people in the Old Testament – pre-flood humans, Egyptians, Canaanites, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc. In many cases, this is because they were “bad”. So, apparently, God is morally justified in killing people (even children), but not annihilating their souls. I’m unclear on why God can do one but not the other. Also, by phrasing the question that way, he places the onus on the listener to come up with a reason. If you can’t come up with a clear answer, then you’re supposed to conclude that Moreland is right. But, most people probably couldn’t provide an answer to “Why would God be morally justified in killing somebody?” By Moreland’s logic, we should therefore conclude that God isn’t morally justified in killing someone. But the Bible tells us that God did kill people. Therefore, God acted immorally?

Second, in an earlier chapter (“Objection #4: God and the Killing of the Innocents”), Norman Geisler argued that God can kill anyone because God owns all creation (in the same way that you own the bushes in your yard):

“People assume that what’s wrong for us is wrong for God. However, it’s wrong for me to take your life, because I didn’t make it and I don’t own it. For example, it’s wrong for me to go into your yard and pull up your bushes, cut them down, kill them, transplant them, move them around. I can do that in my yard, because I own bushes in my yard.

Well, God is sovereign over all life and he has the right to take it if he wishes. In fact, we tend to forget that God takes the life of every human being. It’s called death. The only question is when and how, which we have to leave up to him.” (p.168)

If Geisler was right, then I don’t see how God would not be “morally justified in annihilating somebody”. I always find it amusing when Christian experts claim to have the one unassailable truth, but then their arguments step on the toes of other Christian “experts”. It just shows how internally inconsistent their answers are.

But some theologians claim that annihilation is what’s taught by the Scriptures. They say the Bible teaches that while the punishment of hell is eternal, the punishing isn’t eternal. [My note: in other words, the punishment (unconsciousness death) is eternal. It isn’t a perpetual, conscious torture.]

Annihilationists like to cite Psalm 37, which says the wicked “will be no more,” “like smoke they [will] vanish away,” and “transgressors shall be altogether destroyed.” And they point to Psalm 145:20, where David said, “The Lord preserves all who love him; but all the wicked he will destroy.” And Isaiah 1:28: “Rebels and sinners shall be destroyed together and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed.” They also contend that the metaphors used by Jesus are evidence of annihilationism: the wicked are “bound in bundles to be burned,” the bad fish are thrown away, and the harmful plants are rooted up.

Moreland stood firm. “No, it’s not the biblical teaching,” he insisted. “Whenever you’re trying to understand what an author is teaching, you begin with clear passages that were intended by the author to speak on the question, and then move to unclear passages that may not be intended to teach on the subject.

“Now, how about these passages concerning hell? The Old Testament has clear passages on hell being everlasting. Daniel 12:2 [“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.”] says at the end of the age, the just are raised to everlasting life, the unjust to everlasting punishment. The identical word for everlasting is used in both instances… And that passage is clearly meant to be teaching on this question.

“In the New Testament, in Matthew 25, Jesus offers a clear teaching where he’s intending to address the question of the eternal state of heaven and hell, and he uses the same word everlasting to refer to both. [Matthew 25:30 “And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 25:46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”] (p.256-266)

Looking up the context of Daniel 12 and Matthew 25 does show that they are teaching about the afterlife. Although, Matthew 25 is also full of metaphors. Unfortunately for for Moreland, these same chapters seem to imply actual punishment in the afterlife (not simply separation from God and psychological regret). Moreland seems to pick and choose.

But, I pointed out, the annihilationists also cite the biblical language of fire as evidence that people are destroyed rather than languish forever in hell. As well-respected British pastor John R. W. Stott put it: “The fire itself is termed ‘eternal’ and ‘unquenchable,’ but it would be very odd if what is thrown into it proves indestructable. Out expectation would be the opposite: it would be consumed forever, not tormented forever.”

Moreland, however, was adamant. “The flame language is figurative,” he said. “In Revelation, we are told that hell and death are cast into the lake of fire. Now, hell is not something that can burn. It’s a realm. That’s like saying heaven could be burned. Heaven’s not the kind of thing that burns. And how can you burn death? Death isn’t something you can set a torch to and ignite it. (p.266)

Actually, I don’t understand why a realm can’t burn. Rome burned. Jerusalem burned. As for death being cast into the Lake of Fire, that would have to be figurative. Revelations is saying “death” will cease to exist – it will be annihilated. (Is Moreland arguing that “death” will merely be separated from God?) In any case, I’m wondering why Moreland needs to be so adamant about anti-annihilationism. It seems to be a tangent, with no real bearing on the question of whether hell is just. If people were annihilated, it’s not like anyone could suddenly argue that God is being unjust. (I actually find annihilationism more morally acceptable than eternal torture.) It seems that Moreland is just off on a tangent defending his own definition of hell. And, even though Moreland goes on about how “flames” are just figurative, the fact of the matter is that he doesn’t have any Biblical references to support his claim that hell is separation from God. All he has is the repeated claim that the fire is figurative, and some half-logic to argue that God couldn’t annihilate anyone.

Of course, there are always verses that aren’t brought into the argument (showing just how dangerous it is if you rely simply on Moreland’s Biblical references).

And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)

Moreland’s definition of this verse seems to be “anyone not found written in the Book of Life was separated from God”. That seems like a stretch.

And Revelations 14:9-11:

“If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.

I think this is a very much a pro-eternal torture verse. Not the little “separation from God” + “deep psychological regret” that Moreland promotes. In fact, in many places, it seems that God actually delights in heaping terrible punishments on people in the afterlife. This is different from the God Moreland describes earlier with “God will have absolutely no choice but to give us what we’ve asked for all along in our lives, which is separation from him”. In Moreland’s description, God seems regretful and sorrowful over people’s fate – which is more useful if you want the blame on the sinners and minimize how bad the punishment is. Moreland’s God is going out of his way to avoid punishing people, and separates people from Himself only because He has to. Of course, as we get into the nastier eternal punishments, it becomes harder to defend the morality of God. But, I’m sure the talk of nasty punishment does a pretty good job of scaring people into converting to Christianity.

Objection 6: How Can Hell Exist Alongside Heaven?

“If heaven is supposed to be a place without tears, then how can there be an eternal hell existing at the same time?” I asked. “Wouldn’t those in heaven mourn for those who are suffering forever in hell?” (p.258)

This is a pretty good argument. I remember Charles Darwin using this as a pretty good argument against Christianity:

I can hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so, the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my father, brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine.

If Christianity were true, then many Christians would have parents, children, spouses, etc who are in hell. I suppose one answer might be that God “drugs up” everyone. If you were on morphine in heaven, you wouldn’t really be in a state of mind to feel the least bit of sadness about anyone else. Of course, your feelings would be a lie (based on a psychoactive substance), and you’d be incapable of feeling bad about it (which hints at suppressing free-will). I’m guessing most Christians wouldn’t like the morphine comparison because of that. Or maybe he could justify happiness in heaven with a little “out of sight, out of mind” (you aren’t thinking about people in hell, so you aren’t unhappy). Of course, people will still occasionally think of their loved ones in hell unless God does some sort of brainwashing (though, most Christians would also find that answer distasteful).

“First of all, I think people in heaven will realize that hell is a way of honoring people as being intrinsically valuable creatures made in God’s image,” Moreland said. (p.258)

Ridiculous. Keeping people alive when the pain is so bad that they’d prefer to die is “honoring people”.

“Second, many times a person’s ability to enjoy something comes from growing older and gaining a more mature perspective. When my children were young, one child was not able to enjoy a gift if the other child got a present that she thought was a little bit better. When they got older, they were able to enjoy their present, irrespective of the other person’s. In fact, if they were worrying about what the other person got, they would be allowing the other person to control them.” (p.258)

I really don’t think the “I can’t enjoy my present because I have envy” situation quite compares to the “I can’t enjoy heaven because I’m feel sadness for the suffering of my parents/children/friends in hell”. He frames it as “maturity”, but I don’t think that’s a step in maturity. In fact, I would think the opposite would be true: when you were young you could ignore the suffering of others more easily. As you got older, you began to feel more empathetic towards them. That’s part of the reason children can be so cruel – they can be oblivious to the suffering of others. And the last sentence about “allowing the other person to control them” also doesn’t compare. Are we supposed to believe that “feeling bad for your child in hell” amounts to “your child is controlling you”? Should we feel the same way about crippled children in wheelchairs: “if I feel bad, I am allowing that child to control me”? Or homeless people: “If I feel bad for that homeless person, I am allowing them to control me”? By using the word “control”, Moreland is getting people to react in a knee-jerk way (i.e. wanting to resist that control). Does Moreland seriously think that people suffering in hell are “trying to control” people in heaven – as if they don’t have enough problems of their own?

“C.S. Lewis said hell doesn’t have veto power over heaven. He meant that people in heaven will not be denied the privilege of enjoying their life just because they’re consciously aware of hell. If they couldn’t, then hell would have veto power over heaven.” (p.258)

“hell doesn’t have veto power over heaven”? That sounds remarkably jingoistic – a neat little soundbite that’s designed to lead people to a predefined conclusion without much thought. What is it supposed to mean? That your sadness for people in hell will never diminish your happiness in heaven?

“You have to remember that the soul is big enough to have an unperturbed sense of joy, well-being, love, and happiness, while at the same time having a sense of grief and sadness for others. Those are not inconsistent states in a person’s life, and it is a mark of a person’s character and maturity that they’re able to have those states at the same time.” (p.259)

I don’t know. If I was in heaven, and I was actually aware of the suffering of people in hell, I think I’d have a hard time maintaining perfect happiness. I don’t think that’s a lack of maturity.

(There are still three more objections to hell in this chapter.)

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DonExodus2 is a YouTube user who does a lot of evolution videos. They’re pretty good stuff, and I heard about his videos via thunderf00t (who created the “Why People Laugh at Creationists” series). Recently, he posted a video about why he’s a Christian. In the evolution battle, I think it’s important to have Christians on the side of evolution because it’s too easy for Christians to dismiss atheists who make arguments for evolution. They can simply say, “Well, evolution is a required part of their non-belief in God, so they’re exaggerating the support that evolution has” – and avoid serious thought on the subject. While his evolution videos are pretty good, his reasoning wasn’t very persuasive when it came to Christianity. Maybe I should just ignore his unpersuasive pro-Christian arguments rather than raise questions about the theistic evolution position. The theistic evolutionists seem to get hit from both sides: the atheists don’t really like their theism, and the creationists (ranging from young earth creationists to old-earth/common-descent IDists) accuse them of undermining evidence for God.

I’m also amazed by the degree to which people can argue the science side decently, but then put forward weak arguments in other subjects (the existence of God). You would sort of think that their thought-process would identify and eliminate their weak ideas when they can’t form a decent argument in favor of them. But, maybe everyone has their pet-ideas that undergo less scrutiny than their other ideas. I was also interested to see how a theistic evolutionist deals with Old Testament stories which they don’t believe actually happened. (My own background was being raised by young-earth creationist parents, so I know their viewpoint: the Bible is literally true back to the six-day creation, and any science that contradicts that view is wrong.)

Belief versus Knowledge – 1:20-2:20
He makes the argument that belief and knowledge are different, but “extremely related things”. I actually agree with him on this point – belief and knowing are both part of one continuum. We might say that our certainty about a particular idea ranges from 0 to 100. 0 means “we know it isn’t true”. 100 means “we know it’s true”. The only thing I that I absolutely know for certain is “I think, therefore, I am”. Everything else – including the reality of the external world – is less than 100. What we call “knowing” might correspond to ideas in the range of 0-5 (know it’s not true) and 95-100 (we know it is true). “Belief” appears in the middle area. The problem is that religious apologists will paint this picture of belief and knowledge being next-door neighbors separated by some hair-thin line, and then ask why two things can be a hair’s breadth apart (say, a 94 and a 95) can be considered to very different things. Effectively, they want to create the illusion of belief and knowledge to be nearly the same thing. That might be true in the case of a 94 and a 95. The problem is that many religious apologists will perform the magic trick of trying to take something that is uncertain (say a 40 or a 70) and create the illusion that it is no different than something that’s a 95 – because belief and knowledge are “nearly the same thing”. It’s a kind of rhetorical magic trick.

Evidence for God – 2:20-3:55
There are many things that cannot be tested empirically, does that mean that it’s wrong? No. And belief in God is exactly one of those things. The nature of God is something which by very definition cannot be tested empirically. So are things like whether or not you love someone, or your personality….

A couple problems with this. First, atheists do not attempt to answer the question of whether God exists simply by using the tools of science. Atheists are not using a null-hypothesis for God, finding no evidence to gather and than deciding there is no God. Second, if we assume an interventionalist God (as described in the Bible), then God would have an effect on the world, and that effect is (by definition) measurable. There are plenty of studies done on the effectiveness of prayer and meditation. They have no effect. Now, you can always say that God didn’t intervene in that particular case, but the statement that “The nature of God is something which by very definition cannot be tested empirically.” is clearly untrue. It might be the case that your particular God cannot be tested empirically, but the “nature of God” certainly does not rule-out the possibility of testing. I can think of plenty of tests (prophecy, miracles, appearing as a pillar or fire – as in the book of Exodus, Jesus could still be walking around the earth preaching 2000 years after his crucifixion, etc) that would validate God’s existence. And, since DonExodus2 is part of the Creation-Evolution debate, I could also add that it’s theoretically possible for there to be ample evidence that the earth is only 6,000 years old. What if nothing carbon-dated to more than 6,000 years? What if there were no fossils of any ancient animals? What if Noah’s Ark was found on Mt.Ararat? And what if we discovered that humans all descended from a single family who lived in 2250 B.C.? What if angels and ghosts were as obvious as the existence of birds in the sky? What if you could talk to loved-ones after their death (and not in that sham-medium way), but as easily as you talked to them when they were alive, and they validated the existence of God, angels, and heaven? There are lots and lots of things that *could* be true about the world, and would work to validate the Bible and God’s existence, but the evidence for the existence of God (both in the present and the past) seems to be as elusive as evidence for aliens, bigfoot, the loch-ness monster, etc. It’s true that a lack of evidence can’t allow you to say that God or bigfoot doesn’t exist, but DonExodus2 is wrong in saying that God is inherently outside the possibility of scientific examination.

Another reason why I personally believe in God is due to personal experiences. Which leads to the discussion about subjective versus objective evidence. For example, hypothetically, if I saw Jesus appear to me last Tuesday and bring me a milkshake, I would be a fool not to take that into account when evaluating whether or not Jesus really exists. On the other hand, it wouldn’t do very much for you, which is why it’s subjective evidence. And subjective evidence is exactly what can make one person’s view of something rational while another person’s perhaps not. And, that’s personally, one of my reasons for believing in God.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t tell us what this subjective evidence is. Further, I would think that people all over the world with a variety of religious beliefs have this subjective evidence as well. Although, their evidence (like Christians) is due to coincidence, confirmation-bias, misunderstanding, etc. I sometimes wonder about theists who win the lottery. My guess is that many, many lottery winners attribute their win to God. I’m unsure how someone would even go about talking them out of the idea that God caused them to win. Afterall, winning the lottery is absurdly unlikely. Of course, even in a godless world, someone would occasionally win the lottery – and those wins would have nothing to do with God. My point is simply this: even if DonExodus2 had subjective evidence as “solid” and unlikely as winning the lottery, it’s not necessarily good evidence – even if he thinks it is.

The second thing would be .. the supernatural. I believe in things like ghosts and that… I believe that 99% of all ghost encounters and things like that – “miracles” – are absolutely garbage. They didn’t happen. But I simply believe that it is much more likely that just one, just one, of the billions of independent encounters of ghosts and things like that since the beginning of recorded history – it’s more likely that just one is accurate than that they’re all wrong… the existence of ghosts and stuff like that would be indicative of a soul … and that would necessitate a supreme being.

I really don’t follow his thinking on the idea that it’s more likely that one ghost story is true versus all being false. If 99% are false, then an additional 1% doesn’t seem like much of a stretch. Is he saying that whenever there are a lot of reports about a particular phenomena, that some of them are bound to be true? For example, there are lots of reports of UFOs, bigfoot, loch ness monster, fairies – does that mean some of those reports true, and we should accept the existence of UFOs, bigfoot, loch ness monster, fairies, or any other popular cultural myths? What about Muslim and Hindu miracles? There are plenty of reports, does that mean some miracles are true? My only guess is that he starts from two premises: ghosts and miracles are possible + there are lots of reports of ghosts and miracles = some reports probably are true. (Which then creates a feedback loop: some reports probably are true, therefore, ghosts and miracles are possible.) My own opinion is that you can’t take the mass of reports as indicative of anything. Nail down one good ‘ghost’ report, and then you can conclude that ghosts exist.

Now on to evolution and why Christianity and evolution are not in conflict… [the numerous authors of the first five books of the Bible, and their different perceptions of God] all testifies to Genesis being best taken allegorically. Another thing, is that something can be allegorically true, without being literally true… Original sin is still a useful allegory because it explains to simple minds and primitive people why we’re [still?] here, an example that will suffice until science can come around because, but keep in mind that primitive minds can’t and could not accept descent with modification and most primitive minds still can’t, the second thing that is does is … it explains our sinful nature … as a result, we need to pay for those [bad] things, and be forgiven, and be saved.

Well, I’m sure the young earth creationists will love the label of “primitive minds”. I would add that it’s Genesis that is holding them down, because people insist on theological teachings over scientific teachings. Ready to hear something crazy? My dad was a science teacher for three decades and a young-earth creationist the whole time. How did he do it? The Bible was the final say on everything – afterall, it was the literal word of God, and that means it automatically supercedes any possible scientific evidence. There is literally no possible evidence that could overturn something written in the Bible – that would be the equivalent of proving God to be a liar. (And, just to make sure he doesn’t experience cognitive dissonance, there are plenty of young-earth creationists groups who are willing to tell him exactly what he wants to hear: that evolution is a total sham.) Does he have a “primitive mind”? I don’t think so. His beliefs are based on a commitment to the Bible – and I think smart people believe in young-earth creationism due to a religious commitment. If Genesis had an evolutionary story rather than a six-day creation story set in 4000 B.C., I don’t think they’d have a problem accepting evolution.

But, regarding DonExodus’ arguments, I see several problems. First, “original sin” doesn’t appear in the Bible until the New Testament. Jews don’t believe in original sin, and it is certainly never talked about in the Old Testament. Are we supposed to believe that early Christians (around the first century AD) had more primitive minds than the early Jews hearing about Judaism for the first time (a millenia earlier?) But, let’s ignore the 1st century Christian idea of “original sin”, and consider the Genesis story. The ancient Greeks played with some ideas involving spontaneous generation of lifeforms centuries before Jesus was born (though, admittedly, centuries after Genesis was written). The ancient Hindus also believed that the universe was *extremely* old. So, this provides another counterexample to the idea that humans needed some super-simplistic young-earth explanation because their minds weren’t capable of understanding it. To take DonExodus’ view, means accepting the idea that God had to talk-down to humans two or three thousand years ago, giving them an oversimplistic explanation of human origins. Even back then, humans were pretty smart, and they could’ve accepted an evolutionary-like explanation. Further, wasn’t the Bible supposed to enlighten the minds of those ancient people? Instead, it codifies a young-earth creationist viewpoint, and now we’re fighting about it several millenia later? Regarding the idea of “sin” as an explanation of the need for forgiveness, I don’t buy that either. You can talk about sin, imperfection, and the need for salvation/forgiveness without talking about Adam and Eve. In fact, Muslims have this kind of system. They don’t believe in original sin, but they do believe in “falling short of the glory of God” (to quote from the New Testament). In fact, “original sin” was never a big concept when I was growing up (in a Christian household). Rather, it was always emphasized that my individual, personal sin generated the need for salvation and forgiveness. (Something reinforced by Jesus when he said, ‘If you even look at a woman with lust in your heart, you have sinned and need forgiveness’.) All of this means one thing: the Genesis story is entirely unnecessary for the purposes of establishing “original sin” (a first century Christian idea), or the need for forgiveness/salvation (doesn’t the fact that no one perfectly follows the 10 commandments establish that?).

It’s also important before we begin this to preface this by saying, “Don’t quote-mine”. And that’s very important because both sides do it, too. For example, Sam Harris at idea-center did an awful, awful, awful, really shoddily -researched talk where the entire [premise] of his discussion and the entire point that his thing was based on was a quote-mine from Luke in which Jesus is saying, where he said that Jesus said, “bring any non-believer before me and slay him at my feet”.

Well, I’m not sure what Sam Harris’ main point was, but DonExodus’s explanation of Luke 19 didn’t really do it justice. In the parable, God is obviously the ruler. The part about “slaying unbelievers” isn’t telling Christians to slay unbelievers. (If Sam Harris’ point was that Christianity tells believers to kill unbelievers, that’s incorrect.) However, it is a description of what will happen to unbelievers when Jesus returns – he will have the unbelievers killed. DonExodus’ explanation makes it sound like Jesus does not approve of the actions of the ruler. In reality, Jesus is the ruler, and he’s talking about his relationship to the believers, and what he will do to the unbelievers at some point in the future. Here’s a quick excerpt of the story (Luke 19):

Luke 19:11-15
While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’

“But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’

“He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.

Luke 19:26-27
“He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.”

It’s pretty clear from the context that Jesus is the ruler who is going to ‘go away’, and then return. That would also make him the ruler who will say, “those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me”.

Another commonly quote-mined verse is Isiah 13:16 where it says “their infants will be dashed to pieces”… and people often attribute that as God saying that, but that’s not the case whatsoever

Regarding the Isaiah 13 verse (“Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be looted and their wives ravished.” Isaiah 13:16), which DonExodus’ claims is quote-mining, it’s true that they are the words of an oracle, but the chapter makes it appear as if the oracle is delivering God’s message, and it’s not clear whether the oracle’s words were or weren’t authorized by God. I think a case could be made either way. I wouldn’t use that verse as being “God’s definitive words according to the Bible”, but I don’t accept the “quote-mine” allegation because that implies deliberate lying. (Link to Isaiah 13) Whether Christians have to accept it as God’s message (versus the oracle’s ignorant ramblings) – that’s debatable, but claiming it’s God’s message does not require lying. I would also add that some Christian apologists have used Isaiah 13 as an example of a fulfilled divine prophecy. So, Isaiah 13 is ‘just an oracle’s ranting’ when Christians want it to be, and it’s a fulfilled divine prophecy which validates the Bible when other Christians want it to be. I don’t think it’s fair to accuse atheists of ‘dishonestly’ claiming Isaiah 13 is God’s message when Christians are also claiming it as God’s message.

Additionally, killing babies is certainly not out of character for the Old Testament God. Afterall, God killed all the firstborn of Egypt, he authorized killing all the men, women and children during the invasion of Canaan, so I don’t know why DonExodus suddenly has a problem with the idea that God would authorize killing the infants of Babylon. Maybe he denies that God authorized any of the Old Testament killings. (And, actually, DonExodus does make this argument later.)

.. Many of those things in tradition they were just passed down as oral stories, they were passed down orally. They weren’t written down, for most of the Old Testament for several millenia, and you have to keep in mind what exactly that does. Over a period of time that long, anyone who has ever played telephone will tell you that the story can change quite a bit during that time. The gospels, on the hand, which aren’t to be take allegorically, were written, or were compiled as early as 10 years after Jesus’ death… [That] answers two things: what is literal, and why are there horrible things in the Bible.

He talks about oral tradition for “several millenia”, but there’s no way it was several millenia. Moses (who did not write the Bible) would’ve lived around 1300-1200 B.C. The Plagues of Egypt (including killing the first-born) would’ve happened around 1300 B.C. The invasion of Canaan (and divine commands to wipe out nine different groups of people there) would’ve happened around 1200 B.C. (although, some divine commands to wipe-out neighboring tribes happened much later). Earlier, he talked about authors of the Bible around 850 B.C. The dead sea-scrolls have large parts of the Old Testament carbon-dated to around 200 B.C. – and it was certainly written-down centuries before that. But, I’ll pretend he said “passed down orally for several centuries” rather than “several millenia”. Second, he doesn’t explain why stories from oral tradition are supposed to be taken allegorically, rather than literally. Is oral tradition simply incapable of transmitting literal stories (of course not). How did oral tradition end up with a simple little six-day creation story? Are we supposed to think that God gave the Jews an evolutionary story, and the oral tradition completely morphed it into an allegorical story about Adam and Eve, and an entire ancestral line of “begats”? Heck, even the New Testament claims to trace Jesus’ lineage back through King David, Abraham, Noah, and all the way back to Adam. I have a hard time believing that the lineage in Luke 3:23-38 is supposed to be literal for a few generations, and become entirely mythological as you get back to Adam.

Regarding the corruption of the Bible due to oral tradition, I think cultures that depended on oral tradition tended to take it a bit more seriously than a game of telephone. I’m also doubtful about how much oral tradition could’ve corrupted the “real story”. I mean, there are mass killings in the Old Testament. It seems unlikely that the real story was “help your neighbors”, and that was accidentally turned into “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.” (Numbers 31:17) after a few centuries. The other problem is that the Bible is the way human beings would understand God and who he is. If it is corrupted, then God should make an effort to set the record straight. And given that “God” is an all-powerful, omniscient creator of the universe, there are plenty of ways to do that: he could talk to human beings, he could send angels, he could create a book and deliver it to humans. Afterall, this is the same God who (supposedly) talked through a burning bush, created the Ten Commandments, sent angels to proclaim Jesus’ birth, and stopped Paul on the road to Damascus and asked him, “Why are you persecuting me?” In fact, in the next section, DonExodus will say that he doesn’t think God speaks “with this billowing voice from the clouds”. But, Matthew 3:17 claims that’s exactly what God did: “And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'” So, it’s inconsistent to say that God couldn’t have set the record straight when he apparently does speak to human beings.

The fourth thing is: why are there so many horrible things in the Bible? And again, historical interpretation of the Bible is very important in understanding that. And there are a couple reasons. For one, our view of God has changed in the past 3,000 years. We know more about God now than we did 3,000 years ago, and I don’t think could really argue that. … Well, what’s often said and what’s understood can be two different things. I don’t believe personally that God speaks with this billowing voice from the clouds, and it’s very clear. So, what could be conveyed and what could be understood and acted upon are two different things.

I don’t entirely follow his reasoning here. He seems to be arguing that human’s view of God changed, and, so, the reason there are atrocities in the early part of the Bible is that the Biblical authors misunderstood God and falsely attributed actions (plagues of Egypt) and commands (kill the people of Canaan) to God that God never did or commanded. The problems with this argument are, again, that God should be capable of communicating his desires and actions. DonExodus seems to act as if God is speaking to humans with two tin cans connected by a string. In reality, I expect God to be more capable of communicating his desires than the most accomplished human speaker. And, God can also make sure the writers of the Old Testament get things written down accurately – afterall, if the Bible is “God’s word”, I would expect that He has a very strong interest in making sure things get written down accurately, and that He is portrayed accurately to future generations.

In fact, I remember having this same discussion with a woman who was a Christian. She didn’t like the “wives submit to your husbands” section of the New Testament, and argued that the New Testament authors got it wrong. I made the same argument to her: if this is “God’s word”, then He should have a strong interest in making sure no human corruptions are added – thus foisting bad teachings on the next two thousand years of Christian believers. Of course, my actual point was that the New Testament was not written by God, but reflected some views and culture of the New Testament authors.

This also reveals a problem – why you interpret which sections are corrupted and which are “God’s word”, you can end up cherry-picking to construct a theology that suits your personal views. Don’t like the atrocities of the Old Testament? Easy: they’re corruptions. Don’t like “wives submit to your husbands”? It’s a corruption. Don’t like Biblical teachings about homosexuals? It’s a corruption. If the Bible was the word of God and it contained corruptions, then God could hardly blame people for subjectively deciding which sections of the Bible to ignore. But, once people start ignoring certain sections, there will always be people who will ignore parts they shouldn’t, and pay attention to corruptions that they should ignore. All of this strengthens the impetus for God to make sure the Bible is accurate.

Why Jesus? … I have the attitude that … It’s better to embrace reality, regardless of how cruel, than persist in a delusion, regardless of how tingly and warm it makes us feel. And let me start by saying Christianity does not give me the warm fuzzies whatsoever. So, that’s nothing with my motivation.

Okay. Remember this quote because it will come back to haunt DonExodus in a minute.

Why do I believe in Jesus? One is that the apostles died for what they believed, and they directly knew Jesus. And there are a couple possibilities as to why they would do that. One would be that they were lying, but that’s not really probable simply because most people aren’t willing to die for something that they know is a lie. They could simply be delusional, which I would discount based on a couple things, one being I Corinthians 15, in which Paul [says that five hundred people saw the resurrected Jesus].

First of all, the fate of the twelve apostles is not entirely known. About half of them disappear from the New Testament after the first chapter of Acts. I talk about this while reviewing Strobel’s book (search for “few weeks after the crucifixion” in this post). Maybe they believed Jesus rose from the dead, maybe that’s simply a fiction included in the gospels. They don’t necessarily have to believe in the resurrection of Jesus or in any miracles in order to risk their lives for Christianity. Many, many people come to believe that their cult leader is God. In fact, there’s an interesting interview I had read of a former Waco/David-Koresh follower. He left the compound about a month before the siege. Obviously, he’s no longer a believer, right? Wrong. He seemed racked by the fear that David Koresh was God, and he missed his one opportunity to go to heaven. This is a guy who knew David Koresh, and continued to believe after his death. When you read Jesus’ writings, it has lots of parables about faith, maintaining belief, and the result of ‘falling away’. For example: the parable of the bridegrooms in Matthew 25 is about the importance of the believers maintaining their faith. This could easily cause many of Jesus’ disciples to devote their lives to being ‘good servants’ – even if Jesus never did a single miracle, and never rose from the dead. It’s incorrect to assert that they wouldn’t have risked their lives for Christianity unless Jesus actually rose from the dead. And, on that topic, here’s an transcript of an interview with one of David Koresh’ surviving followers:

Narrator: Although most of the followers of David Koresh are now dead, the story is not over. Some of his disciples survive & remain fanatically devoted. This worries authorities. Rick Kirkham found one woman living in California who is holding on to Koresh.
Karen: We were driving along & we had the radio on when we heard that the ATF decided to go in & start punching holes & whatever.
Narrator: When government agents began their assault on the compound in Waco, Karen Doyle was not there. She & a handful of other followers were returning home to California after celebrating Passover outside the compound.
This house in LaVerne, California, was once the home of David Koresh; in fact, three of his followers still live here. It is the only property left in the Koresh holdings. And ironically, one member who still lives here, Karen Doyle, says she would have rather been at the compound at the time that it burnt to the ground than here. She contends that those who died in the fire along with David were the lucky ones.
Karen: I wish I had been there from the very beginning. My wishes were that I was inside with the rest of my friends & family.
Interviewer: You wish you had been in the compound when it burnt to the ground?
Karen: Yes, I do.
Interviewer: You would have burned to death!
Karen: I suppose I would have, but you know, we don’t look at physically losing this body as a tragedy or….

Interviewer: Your sister perished!
Karen: So to speak, yes.
Interviewer: Are you sad by that?
Karen: No, I’m very happy for her. I mean, I know I will see her again. So….

Interviewer: What about the 17 children?–These young kids who were inside the compound who perished in this horrible fire, how do you feel about them?
Karen: I’m very happy for them. I know that I will see everyone again. It’s not a matter of your own sadness or anything like that, because I have faith & I know that God has everything in control, & I’m just very happy for them.

Regarding Paul’s (I Corinthians 15) claim that 500 people saw the resurrected Jesus, well, I’ve seen this interpreted by Christians as, “Paul wouldn’t make such a bold claim unless he could back it up – there must’ve been 500 people who saw Jesus.” First of all, Paul never says who these 500 people were, so it would’ve been difficult for anyone to verify. Second, I highly doubt any of the Christians would’ve pressed Paul on the issue. Third, was Paul simply repeating a rumor he’d recently heard? Was the rumor later denied by the very people who supposedly saw Jesus? Fourth, it’s not entirely clear what happened when these supposed 500 people saw Jesus. Did a bunch of Christians see a man dressed in white appear mysteriously on a hilltop, and they jumped to the conclusion that it was Jesus? Maybe 500 people were outside, and some of them declared that it “must’ve been Jesus appearing above them on the hilltop”. Others might’ve been unsure about the idea. But, the ones who “know” that they “saw Jesus” told everyone about it. Now, “all 500” had “seen Jesus” (even if some of them were doubtful about the claim). Then, the rumor gets passed around between the different Christian communities and becomes “fact”, and all the questionable details get left out because everyone wants to believe and everyone wants to tell a nice little faith-confirming story. (I actually know of several cases where Christians have exaggerated details because that’s what the audience wants to hear. Heck, Paul could very well be doing the exaggerating in order to buttress the faith of Christians in Corinth.) I have no doubt a bunch of believers could talk themselves into that. And once it’s “established fact”, well, no one would be able to deny it. Because Paul gives us no details, we’re in a very bad position to actually evaluate the situation. I would also add that I don’t believe in other mass-sightings of religious figures. For example, I think the Our Lady of Fatima appearance was a result of mass-hysteria, suggestion, expectation, dehydration, and exaggeration.

But, lastly, I believe in Jesus because if you live your life truly according to the gospels, two things will happen: One, you’ll be a happier person. And, two, the world will be a better place…

Remember that quote I told you to remember back in 7:50-8:35, where he says it’s better to embrace a hard truth than a nice fiction, and then added, “Christianity does not give me the warm fuzzies whatsoever. So, that’s nothing with my motivation”? Well, now DonExodus is saying that Christianity does make him happier, and that happiness is one of his reasons for being a Christian. Anyway, I’m sure many people could say that about their own religious tradition – whatever it is. And, second, it’s possible to follow the gospel message without actually believing in Christianity or the divinity of Jesus. For example, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin saw Jesus as a very good teacher, but questioned his divinity. Jefferson dismissed all the New Testament miracles as fiction. I wonder if Jefferson thought the miracles were inserted into the New Testament to get ‘primitive minds’ to pay attention to the message.

As you can see, I’m just not that impressed with DonExodus’ argument for Christianity. Like I said earlier, maybe we all have our own little pet-ideas that don’t get the harsh light of reason shined on them. Nevertheless, you can go check out his Evolution videos here.

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Welcome to circular logic theater. There’s a Christian guy making videos on YouTube. One of his recent videos (Why Choose Christianity over other Religions), he attempts to answer the questions: “Could you do a video on why Christianity is the only true faith? Why are there so many different religions if Christianity is the only true faith? What makes Christianity the only true faith?” What answer does he give? Why, he quotes the Bible, which says belief in Jesus leads to heaven, non-belief leads to hell. So, once you accept that the Bible is true, then you can show that the only Christianity solves the problem of sin (*that the Bible says exists) – making Christianity the only religion you should follow.

Next week: proving that Islam is the only true religion and Christians are blasphemers who will burn in hell (*once you accept the Koran as the authoritative word of God).

It reminded me of Edward Current’s satire:

I think the problem is that he can’t step away from his own belief system long enough to even think through it. Funny enough, in other videos, he claims to “prove” that Christians are smarter and wiser than atheists – who are “fools”, of course. (Maybe this guy should team-up with Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort.)

On that note, enjoy this circular-logic clip from Idiocracy:

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Link to the Entire Review of “The Case for Faith”

At this point, Strobel begins to raise nine objections about Hell.

Objection 1: How Can God Send Children to Hell?

People recoil at the thought of children languishing in hell. In fact, some atheists like to taunt Christians by dredging up writings by nineteenth-century evangelists who used horrific language to describe the ghastly experiences of children in hell. For example, a British priest nicknamed “the children’s apostle” wrote these gruesome words:

A little child is in this red-hot oven. Hear how it screams to come out! See how it turns and twists itself about in the fire! It beats its head against the roof of the oven. It stamps its little feet on the floor. You can see on the face of this little child what you see on the faces of all in hell — despair, desperate and horrible. ( p.248 )

Wow. I had no idea nineteenth-century evangelists used these kinds of fear-based tactics. Funny the things you learn reading Christian apologetics. I also can’t help but think about something I had read about flaws in human reasoning. It said that human thought tends to be disproportionately controlled by scary things – even when they are terribly unlikely to happen (like sharks or terrorists), in spite of the fact that more mundane deaths are orders of magnitude more likely (like car accidents). Perhaps that’s the religious value of hell – to create a terrible, scary fear that can be used to drive religious conversion.

Strobel then asks, “How can there be a loving God if children are subjected to hell?”

“Remember,” Moreland cautioned … “the biblical language about fire and flames is figurative.”

“Yes, okay, but still — will there be children in hell?”

“You must understand that in the afterlife, our personalities reflect an adult situation anyway, so we can say for sure that there will be no children in hell,” he began. (p.249)

Unfortunately, Moreland never provided a decent argument that hell fire was figurative. And secondly, he asserts (without evidence) that “in the afterlife, our personalities reflect an adult situation”. It’s no wonder that many Christian commenters complained about the chapter on hell – it appears that Moreland is constructing a more acceptable version of hell which doesn’t have a Biblical basis.

“And certainly there will be no one in hell who, if they had a chance to grow up to be adults, would have chosen to go to heaven. No one will go to hell simply because all they needed was a little more time and they died prematurely.” (p.249)

I think the quickest way to figure out when Moreland is making stuff up is when he uses the words “we can say for sure” or “And certainly”.

“Besides, in the Bible children are universally viewed as figures of speech for salvation. In all of the texts where children are used in regard to the afterlife, they’re used as pictures of being saved. There’s no case where children are ever used as figures of damnation.” (p.249)

I’m not quite clear on Moreland’s point. Because children are used figuratively in the New Testament (mainly to describe how Christians must become like trusting children or sheep), then all real children will go to heaven. Moreland is also being inconsistent. First, he claims that children who die will go to heaven based on what they would have chosen had they grown up to be adults. Now, he claims that all children go to heaven.

Moreland then claims that 2 Samuel 12:23 provides evidence that children go to heaven. The verse quotes King David regarding his young child who has died: “But now he is dead, why should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” While the verse is a bit difficult to decipher, Moreland seems to be interpreting the last sentence as “I will go to heaven to meet him; he will not return to earth.” The verse is actually not nearly as clear as Moreland claims. It could mean several other things, such as “I will go to mourn over his body, but he will not return to this earth”. Additionally, Moreland’s interpretation is questionable by the simple fact that Jews are agnostic about the afterlife. They talk about “Sheol”, but it’s unclear whether that’s a conscious afterlife or a euphemism for unconscious death. Many Christian Bibles simply translate it as “death”. “Sheol” is most definitely not heaven, however. It’s usually referred to in terms that sound like a depressing underworld, and somewhat hell-like. It’s the place everyone goes (both righteous and wicked). If Moreland was correctly interpreting King David’s words, then it would overturn Jewish beliefs about the afterlife (there is one). Moreland claims David and his son went to heaven (rather than both being in Sheol) – which is unsupported by the text. It relies on David knowing exactly what happens after death – is David always right? And, if that wasn’t enough, Moreland also makes the leap of claiming that David’s son went to heaven therefore all children go to heaven.

To get an idea of the ambiguity that exists on the subject, it should also be pointed out that the Catholic church recently changed it’s long-standing policy of claiming that unbaptized children go into limbo (they now claim children go to heaven):

the church held that before the 13th Century, all unbaptised people, including new born babies who died, would go to hell. This was because original sin – the punishment that God inflicted on humanity because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience – had not been cleansed by baptism.

This idea however was criticised by Peter Abelard, a French scholastic philosophiser, who said that babies who had no personal sin didn’t even deserve punishment.

It was Abelard who introduced the idea of limbo.

Father Brian Harrison, a theologian, told the BBC News website that while limbo may have been a “hypothesis”, he argues that the clear “doctrine of the Catholic Church for two millennia has been that wherever the souls of [unbaptised] infants do go, they definitely don’t go to heaven”.

In short, Moreland’s answer to this objection can be summed up as: making stuff up and exaggerating Biblical support for his position. At the same time, I’m not quite sure whether Moreland’s ideas actually contradict the Bible. There are some pro and con arguments that can be made for each side. Most evangelicals are heavy on the “must convert or go to hell”, so they could probably haul out a few verses (Romans 5:12, John 3:16, John 14:6) against Moreland’s position (assuming that they were willing to argue that children go to hell). Of course, evangelicals aren’t always right (they just think they are). In contradiction to that view, there’s the fact that Jesus forgave people who neither converted nor asked for forgiveness (Luke 23:34). To Moreland’s/Strobel’s benefit, I don’t think “How Can God Send Children to Hell?” is a good argument against Christianity unless there is a strong Biblical basis for claiming that children actually do go to hell.

Objection 2: Why Does Everyone Suffer the Same in Hell?

“It violates our sense of fairness that Adolf Hitler would bear the same eternal punishment as someone who lived a pretty good life by our standards, but who made the decision not to follow God.”

“Actually,” he said, “everyone doesn’t experience hell in the same way. The Bible teaches that there are different degrees of suffering and punishment.”

Matthew 11:20-24:

Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Type and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgement than for you…. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

Moreland closed the book. “Jesus is saying that people will be sentenced in accordance with their deeds,” he said. (p.250-251)

Actually, that’s not what the verse says. In Biblical teachings, there is a “day of judgment” where people are held accountable for their actions. Presumably, God berates each person for how badly they lived their lives. But, these verses that “show” that there are different punishments always say things will be worse on the day of judgment. Whether this means they will get a worse eternal punishment or whether it simply means they will be more throughly berated (and then given the same punishment) isn’t clear. The Book of Revelations suggests that everyone gets the same punishment:

The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done…. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelations 20:13,15).

There doesn’t seem to be much wiggle-room in that statement. Everyone gets judged, but having your name in the book of life seems to be the only thing that matters. It very much sounds like all the unsaved get the same punishment: being thrown into the lake of fire.

“There will be degrees of separation, isolation, and emptiness in hell. I think this is significant because it emphasizes that God’s justice is proportional. There is not exactly the same justice for everyone who refuses the mercy of God. (p.250-251)

I also take issue with Moreland’s characterization of non-Christians as “everyone who refuses the mercy of God”. This is simply a trick so that he can more easily convince the reader that they are deserving of hell.

Objection 3: Why are People Punished Infinitely for Finite Crimes?

How can any wrongs we’ve committed in this life merit eternal punishment? Isn’t it unfair to say that a finite life of sin warrants infinite punishment? Where’s the justice in that?

“Wouldn’t a loving God make the punishment fit the crime by not making hell last forever?” I asked as I sat back down on the edge of the couch. “How can we do anything in this life that would warrant eternal torture?”

“First, we all know that the degree to which a person warrants punishment is not a function of the length of time it took to commit a crime. For example, a murder can take ten seconds to commit; stealing somebody’s Encyclopedia Britannica could take half a day… My point is that the degree of someone’s just punishment is not a function of how long it took to commit the deed; rather, it’s a function of how severe the deed itself was. (p.251-252)

It’s true that the severity of a crime isn’t based on the amount of time it took to perform a crime (although “time” and “planning” does figure into it: first degree murder – which is premeditated, carries a worse penalty than second-degree murder – which happens in the heat of emotion, such as killing your wife immediately after discovering her in bed with another man). However, Moreland only manages to show that “time to commit the crime” and “duration of punishment” are not necessarily connected. He hasn’t shown that an eternal punishment is warranted for any crime.

“And that lead to the second point. What is the most heinous thing a person can do in this life? Most people, because they don’t think much about God, will say it’s harming animals or destroying the environment or hurting another person. And, no question, all of those are horrible. But they pale in light of the worst thing a person can do, which is to mock and dishonor and refuse to love the person that we owe absolutely everything to, which is our Creator, God himself.

You have to understand that God is infinitely greater in his goodness, holiness, kindness, and justice than anyone else. To think a person could go through their whole life constantly ignoring him, constantly mocking him by the way they choose to live without him, saying, ‘I couldn’t care less about what you put me here to do. I couldn’t care less about your values or your Son’s death for me. I’m going to ignore all of that’ — that’s the ultimate sin. (p.251-252)

Moreland is engaging in ‘trumping up’ the crime so that it seems like eternal punishment is reasonable. He turns simple unbelief into “mocking God” right to his face. The fact of the matter is that the 2/3rds of humanity which isn’t Christian isn’t saying, ‘I couldn’t care less about what you put me here to do. I couldn’t care less about your values or your Son’s death for me. I’m going to ignore all of that’. The problem is that Moreland’s argument depends on Christianity’s truth being obvious to everyone on earth. Any religious apologist could recycle Moreland’s argument to make “eternal punishment for not converting to X” sound more reasonable. The Islamic version of this argument would condemn Christians for failing to bow to Allah, and condemn them for the blasphemy of saying Jesus is God. Complain that you didn’t know? Too bad. Similarly, we could consider another situation. Imagine I’m an invisible man. At some point last week, I acted to prevent some horrible accident that would’ve killed you. You don’t realize what I did, and I complain that you must be a terrible person because you never even said a simple “thanks” for saving your life. How ungrateful you must be! Of course, there’s an obvious flaw with my complaint: you don’t know. The same problem applies to Moreland’s argument – he assumes perfect knowledge in order to make people appear to be horrible and nasty – and therefore, worthy of hell.

In the United States, the most serious crime — murder — is punishable by its most severe sanction, which is being separated from society for life in prison. And there did seem to be a certain logic in saying that defiantly violating God’s ultimate law should bring about the ultimate sanction, which is being separated from God and his people for eternity. (p.253)

Saying that the “ultimate crime” merits the “ultimate punishment” sounds like twisted logic. First of all, the “ultimate punishment” in the United States is the worst punishment that the United States has decided to employ. The United States has ruled-out cruel and unusual punishment. The United States has ruled-out torturing someone to death, keeping them alive for decades while torturing them, killing their family members, etc. Thus, the “ultimate punishment” is not the worst possible punishment, it is merely the worst acceptable punishment. The “ultimate punishment” of hell is literally the worst possible punishment. Further, failing to convert to Christianity is not the “ultimate crime”. At the very least, people would need to have perfect knowledge about the truth of Christianity in order to be fully guilty.

Objection 4: Couldn’t God Force Everyone to Go to Heaven?

“You said that God is grieved by the necessity of hell.”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Then why can’t he simply force everyone to go to heaven? That would be a simple solution.”

“Because that,” replied Moreland, “would be immoral.”

“If you were to force people to do something against their free choice, you would be dehumanizing them. You would be saying that the good of what you want to do is more valuable than respecting their choices, and so you’re treating people as a means to an end by requiring them to do something they don’t want.” (p.253-254)

Yes, I’m sure all the screaming people in hell will be angry if God took them out of hell. Moreland also seems imply (as usual) that human beings are making fully-informed decisions on these matters – something which is absolutely untrue.

“God respects human freedom. In fact, it would be unloving — a sort of divine rape — to force people to accept heaven and God if they didn’t really want them. When God allows people to say ‘no’ to him, he actually respects and dignifies them.” (p.254)

No doubt, if Allah turned out to be in charge, Moreland will be appreciative of the “respect and dignity” God is giving him by putting him in hell. The whole argument is pretty silly. Moreland says that some people might still reject God even if it means eternal hell, therefore, no one is allowed to choose in the afterlife. (And, if they cry for help to escape hell, isn’t God disrespecting their “free will” by leaving them there?) And Moreland compares ‘putting people in heaven instead of hell’ to rape?

(I have to admit, I didn’t expect to disagree with every one of Moreland’s answers. I half-expected that there would be a few where I’d go – “okay, I can agree with him on this point”. Oh well. The other 5 objections to hell will be covered in the next review.)

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