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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:

Preface

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:


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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?’
‘Absolutely.’

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

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

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?’
‘Yes.’

‘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?’
‘Yes.’

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:

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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.

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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

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Chapter 2 – Evolution is Religion

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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.
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Chapter 4 – The Root of the Problem

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Chapter 5 – Crumbling Foundations

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

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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.
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Chapter 8 – The Evils of Evolution

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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.

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

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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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