My wife and I were talking about this yesterday, and she asked a very thought-provoking question.
“Why would God need to know everything about the future to be considered omniscient?”
Hmm, good point. Omniscience could mean knowing all existing facts or everything that can be known, but it doesn’t speak to some kind of fortune-telling ability. Is it possible that God doesn’t know everything that will happen outside of his own plans? Is it possible that knowing the future and the existence of free will are in fact logically inconsistent?
Obviously, I started thinking about this more in depth as I addressed a list of supposed inconsistencies in Christianity a couple days ago. I’m going to need to go back and heavily revise my answers in light of my research…perhaps I was misguided.
Again, I have a weekend ahead of me to devote some serious time and study into this, but here are my preliminary conclusions:
– God knows certain plans he has for the future, such as judgment day. He knows these will happen because whatever God plans to do, he accomplishes. There is no chance of failure.
– God is omniscient, but this doesn’t necessarily entail that he knows every possible action and decision of free creatures. This is why “omniscience” (not to include knowing everything about the future) and free will are wholly compatible.
– God knows almost to a certainty what existing creatures will do in certain circumstances because he has seen their every past deed and heard their thoughts…but until it actually happens, there’s no logical way to know what a free-willed creature will do until that creature decides at that moment to do it.
Here’s a thought-provoking quote: “One is not ascribing ignorance to God by insisting that he doesn’t foreknow future free actions if indeed free actions do not exist to be known until free agents create them… Those who oppose the open view of God on the grounds that it compromises God’s omniscience are simply misguided.”
Wow, heavy stuff. I’m really starting to gain a deepened sense of awe and appreciation for this gift of free will. It’s not nearly as simple as we tend to think.
This would explain a whole lot if this pans out, but we’ll have to see. I’m definitely excited to see what happens! Hopefully, the scriptures can shed some light on this over the weekend.
In a hilariously clever (possibly opportunistic?) development, an organization called A Bible Answer is offering to pay a measly $1 million dollars now to claim ownership over Family Radio’s entire network of 66 radio stations. The kicker is this: A Bible Answer will gladly take ownership on October 22, which is one day after the supposed destruction of the world (October 21).
So, if Harold Camping really believes what he’s preaching, he should have no problems with agreeing to this deal. His radio “ministry” will have an extra $1 million to work with now, and they will hand over the reins to their mini-empire at a time when it shouldn’t matter anyway.
This will be a fun story to follow. I can see Mr. Camping’s excuse now: “Well, in good conscience, I couldn’t sell them something that will be destroyed anyway.” Oh geez…
On a side note, I’m definitely of the opinion that Mr. Camping is a heretic, plain and simple. In an effort to justify is May 21 prediction, he’s now saying that a “spiritual Rapture” DID take place. And therefore, it is no longer possible for unsaved people to receive salvation before the end of the world. He’s not only trying to cover his behind, but he’s now trying to kill evangelism. Incredible.
First off, let me say that even though Luke Muehlhauser is technically a layman atheist, I’ve found his ideas and efforts somewhat impressive and robust…more than some purported experts on this subject, as a matter of fact. From most appearances, he seems to be a genuine seeker of the truth and earnestly tries to keep emotions or biases from clouding his thinking. He will openly admit to the shortcomings of various atheists’ thinking, and claims to hold no inherent loyalty to atheism (he is actually a former Christian). Of course, this doesn’t stop him from ribbing the beliefs of theists or Christians in particular, but hey, we’re all human. None of us can claim to be wholly rational. Part of being human is finding some influence in predispositions and intuitions.
So while I will attempt to respond to some of his criticisms to Christianity, I do so with respect for what Luke is trying to do. I have no doubt that he could very well come to my site and refute some of the things I say—for instance, he is in the process of mapping out all of the existing logical pathways of the Kalam Cosmological Argument (not sure it’s possible), so he could very well offer up a “round 2” response to the argument I laid out a short while back. But of course, there are other ways in which I could respond to his response, back and forth, until we would possibly hit the limits of our knowledge on the subject.
The charge against Christianity as inconsistent is found on this page, second section: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=13653. He poses each supposed inconsistency as a question that we Christians are to answer. I’ll try to address each part that was presented one by one. It is important to note that when I try to show that “Christianity” is consistent, I’m arguing that the concept of God and Christ as shown in the Bible is consistent. Sometimes, certain catch phrases and buzz words used by religious interpreters may not be wholly relevant or accurate.
I just came across this page today, so bear with me if my thoughts are not fully fleshed out.
Is Christianity inconsistent?
(Luke’s words are italicized, my responses are not.)
1) Is it consistent to say that a perfect being would create something? A perfect being has no needs or wants, so how could he need or want to create a world and populate it with beings and demand worship and sacrifice from them?
An odd thing about Luke’s approach (with this question, but also looking ahead) is that he sometimes balks at the definitions used by apologists, but then turns around and defines things the way that he wants in order to make his point.
Here, he defines “perfect” as having no needs or wants. I would say that something is perfect if it has no flaws, which doesn’t speak to needs or wants at all.
Bringing things into context here, I would agree that God has no needs. Not because he is “perfect,” but because he is omnipotent. Having needs implies that one is not self-sufficient or needs to be maintained somehow, and it’s clear that God is not lacking in whatever can sustain him forever in his grandness. If he did have needs (which I don’t believe), you could also logically consider the following:
a) Does having a need really make God flawed in light of the fact that in his omnipotence, he could simply create anything he might need anyway? (His omnipotence creates a scenario where it becomes impossible that he could somehow not meet his own needs, and therefore, in a sense he is self-sufficient.)
b) How are we defining “needs” anyway? If it’s the way human beings need food to survive, then God has no needs in this way. There is nothing to suggest that without creating the universe, God would have spontaneously combusted or been destroyed (it’s unimaginable by what force he could possibly be destroyed anyway). If we’re talking about the way we “need” to be loved, it’s simply a way to say that we would be better enriched by having that need met. Perhaps God prefers to having the existent world and people in it. We don’t know why this is, but isn’t it a stretch to assume that just because God can be happier in this current state of affairs that he is somehow imperfect had he not created it all? Especially considering that God was not dependent on some other force to create the universe for him, but rather it was an act of his own will, I don’t see the connection here.
As far as “wants,” I think I touched upon it in my point immediately above. I don’t see how God wanting something detracts from his perfection at all. If God wants something but can will it into existence as he chooses, there’s no danger in having that want unmet or unsatisfied. The exception to this is his desire for us all to freely come to him, but as I noted in an earlier post, God does not deal in logical impossibilities. To say then that God must be able to do the logically impossible in order to be perfect is completely arbitrary and distorting meaning to fit the argument.
Also, to address his point about God “demanding” worship and sacrifice, I don’t know how better to state it than in this blunt fashion: God gave you life, and if you choose to perish, that’s your prerogative. God has no obligation to also give you a second, eternal life in heaven if you choose to reject him. He doesn’t owe us anything. Besides, those who have genuinely served God and worshiped him don’t see it as some kind of unfair burden or price to pay. Many of us derive life’s greatest joy from filling our lives with more of him, and that’s even in THIS life, never mind any eternal reward. Even those who experience heavy persecution in other countries feel profound satisfaction in filling the God-shaped hole in their hearts with the only one who can permanently satisfy.
2) Is it consistent to say that an unchangeable being would create something? If God is unchangeable, then he can’t have one set of intentions at one moment and then a new set of intentions at another. And yet God supposedly created at one time, but now doesn’t have the intention to create a universe, because he did it already. The idea of an unchangeable God that creates is incoherent.
When people say that God is unchanging, it doesn’t mean God can’t have different intentions at one point in time to another. It simply means that he is eternal, always good, always powerful, etc. He can’t suddenly change his nature. Again, this is a case of odd definitions. If you wanted to get into semantics, I could broadly define God’s “intentions” as achieving the ultimate good in the universe (rather than specific intentions and steps along the way), and this is always God’s unchanging purpose. How far are we to stretch definitions and play on the wording?
3) Is it consistent to say that an unchangeable being can be omniscient? If God is unchangeable, then his knowledge can’t change. And yet what is true changes all the time, for example what is true about my age. So an unchanging being can’t be omniscient.
Again, this is an arbitrary way of defining what’s unchangeable, but in order to avoid parroting my response to #2 above, I’ll address this definition: If God is unchangeable, then his knowledge can’t change.
I still don’t see the inconsistency or contradiction unless you really reach for it.
Let’s assume that today, Luke Muehlhauser is 25 years old. I have no idea if this is true, but it’s just for the sake of making my point. God knows that Luke is 25, but God also knows that a year from now, Luke will be 26. In 2012 when this happens, does the change in factual circumstances show in any way that God’s knowledge was somehow limited in 2011 or that he is somehow better informed in 2012? No, God knows everything in the past, future, and right now. The right-now present is always changing with the circumstances, so God’s knowledge is simply shifting things from the future “knowledge bank” to the present and then to the past.
Is Luke saying that in order for God to be unchanging and omnipresent, he necessarily needs to have the same information stored in the past, present, and future knowledge banks? I apologize for making it sound like God is some kind of computer with various hard drives, but really, I don’t see how this makes any logical sense. It seems like this objection is incoherent, not the idea of God.
4) Is it consistent to say that God is transcendent and omnipresent? To be transcendent is to be nowhere in space, but to be omnipresent is to be everywhere in space.
It is consistent if you again look a bit deeper than the definitions of words. His use of “nowhere” in space as the definition of transcendent is also a little suspicious.
God is transcendent in that he transcends, or is beyond, the natural universe and space. A place called “heaven,” for example, is “nowhere in space” as Luke would say. But God is there in a place that is not in our observable universe. Omnipresent is presumed to mean everywhere in space, and God is in the natural world as well. If God is everywhere in space (i.e., the natural world) and also beyond the natural world (i.e., in heaven), he is in every possible realm and place that exists, natural or supernatural. There is no inherent contradiction or inconsistency at all. If it is preferred, we could say that God is super-omnipresent—both in space and non-space (supernatural world). But yea, there’s nothing wrong with saying transcendent and omnipresent to most people. I never even bother mentioning “transcendent” unless we’re talking about the origins of the universe before there was the natural world.
5) Is it consistent to say that God is transcendent and yet acts in time? To be transcendent is to be beyond space and time, so a transcendent being can’t also be immanent in space and time.
There is a little bit of overlap here with #4 (the aspect of space), so I’ll focus more on the aspect of time.
This one is actually a tricky one, and I admit I haven’t delved into this topic very deeply. But from what I’ve read, theologians believe that when God created the universe, he also chose to become part of it through interaction. Thus, he allowed himself to enter into time as well. Perhaps this means that before God created the universe (and time itself), he was timeless. But since the universe was created, there necessarily exists measures of time by which God abides since he desires to act upon the world and its temporal agents.
If you read a previous entry I wrote with my red box universe illustration, it’d be like God choosing to wear the color red in order to make sense to the inhabitants of that box universe. Maybe he can take off the red and step out of the box as he pleases. There’s nothing to restrict God from doing so.
6) Is it consistent to say that God is omniscient and has free will? If God knows all the actions he will perform, then he cannot do otherwise, and therefore he is not free.
I’ve heard this refutation to the existence of God offered before by Dan Barker, but I just don’t buy it. Simply knowing what you will do in the future doesn’t make you a robot. I may know what I’m going to eat tomorrow, but that doesn’t somehow take away from my free will. I’m still choosing to eat that food.
Now, I could definitely be wrong here and if I’m being heretical in any way, I will repent fully. But I’m not sure omniscience mandates having a full knowledge of your own future actions. Since there is no other potentially omniscient being in the universe, it’s not like there is anything else to compare to. Where are we drawing this requirement from? God has plans and means to achieve, that’s for sure, so in that sense he knows what he will do. But there is no verse in the Bible where God says, “I know every action and decision that I myself will make in every circumstance.” He knows what everyone else will do, that’s for certain. As far as himself, we’re just assuming. God knowing all of his own future actions is almost like saying God is greater than God…or God has the inside scoop on God. I’m not sure if this is an airtight assumption. I’m not trying to simply cop out and say that God is unfathomable, but really, trying to fully understand God is an impossible task. We can’t imagine what it’s like, for instance, to be timeless or outside of space-time. Why should we be able to understand how God operates within himself? That’s like a guinea pig trying to understand how their human owners think or act. Expecting to fully understand the inner workings of God (or choosing to reject him because of an inability to do so) has got to be the height of intellectual arrogance or presumptuousness. Anything we currently know of God we only know because he has chosen to reveal that to us.
God may not be susceptible to the randomness or erratic behaviors of humans, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t freely choose to do things. In fact, there are many examples throughout the Bible (and all of history) where God appears to change his mind. We pray and request things in the hopes that he will grant us some blessing that would not have otherwise come about. He chooses to oblige us if (and only if) it doesn’t somehow impede his ultimate plans and goals.
God will always choose what’s good and what best serves his purposes, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t freely choose what he will do. Sometimes, there are multiple ways to get to the same end result, after all.
7) Is it consistent to say that God is all-merciful and all-just? A perfectly just person treats every offender with exactly the severity he or she deserves, but an all-merciful person treats every offender with less severity than he or she deserves. What sense does it make to say that God is all-merciful and all-just?
I would choose to call God all-good or all-loving rather than all-merciful. In fact, I’m not aware of any instance in the Bible where it calls him “all-merciful.”. All-merciful implies letting someone off the hook, whereas someone could punish with full love (as a parent might discipline a child for wrongdoing). I don’t know where he’s pulling this terminology.
But again, I will grant Luke his classifying God as all-merciful. How can we square this with God’s all-just nature? These would seem to contradict each other at times.
Well, the Bible has already answered that for us in its plainest—and deepest—truth: the death of Jesus Christ. I don’t know how Luke, a former Christian, could miss this.
In God’s justice, we were all rightly doomed to perish in hell. This punishment would be “exactly the severity” we deserve. But God placed the weight and wages of sin upon his sinless son, Jesus Christ, who paid the price fully for all who would accept him as their savior. This satisfied God’s justice, and also displayed in the most poignant fashion his mercy and love for us.
(Tellingly, all this was written in the Bible way before clever atheists thought they had poked a gaping hole into Christianity.)
Again, I don’t see what’s inconsistent about this at all. All I see is beautiful, amazing, rich consistency and harmony in our Christian God.
One very insightful and helpful blogger, Allie, pointed me to a link that showcases the best atheist and theist debaters of our day: http://www.debategod.org/members/debategod. I encourage anyone with an informed, impartial mind to take a look into these matters directly. (I hesitate to recommend doing so for everyone—especially young, impressionable people who can be too easily taken in by the sexy allure of surface-level objections to faith.)
I was amused, but not altogether surprised, by the inclusion of Christopher Hitchens’ picture among the “Master Debaters” collage. He is a very popular atheist with a well-known, outspoken book. He is an accomplished journalist and a master rhetorician. I don’t know if he’s still married or not, but I’d imagine that when he argues with her, she’s left wondering why she apologized when he was clearly in the wrong.
However, he is not a good formal debater, and this is evident to anyone interested in logic and sound reasoning. He masks his ignorance with wittiness and confusing, roundabout explanations…but ultimately, he’s blowing hot air and nothing more. I guess this shouldn’t be a surprise since he is not formally trained as a historian, philosopher, scientist, or a theologian. Words by themselves do not make good arguments.
A concise essay debate between Hitchens and Kenneth Miller (a prominent evolutionary biologist who is also a devout Catholic) demonstrates this well. In my view, Miller completely owns Hitchens with clear and informed arguments, while Hitchens resorts to personal attacks and good-sounding witticisms. Honestly, this is one of Hitchens’ better performances, and he still fails. By contrast, his debate with William Lane Craig—most atheists and theists will agree—was an embarrassment.
There are good atheist debaters out there, but Hitchens belongs in the same pile as Dawkins and other polemicists (sometimes dubbed “The Four Horsemen”). Aside from their confidence and enjoyable diction, these people offer little insight into this important topic.
May 21 came and went, and now some loyal followers of Harold Camping have to pick up the pieces of their lives and regroup. Hopefully, not too many gave up all their possessions and assets, but I know some did.
To be fair, it seems like these people were genuinely convinced Rapture was going to happen. From all appearances, it seems like it wasn’t just a scam to get people’s money. But really, when you’re trying to make these kinds of predictions that fly in the face of the Bible, I don’t know what you can expect to happen as a believer. It just goes to confirm my belief that we shouldn’t try to read between the lines unnecessarily or add things in loosely to fit our whims.
Hopefully, they will move on with their lives and anchor their faith on solid ground…not high-flying conspiracy theories or the claims of a flawed human man.
For more reading:
– http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/feed-mind-nourish-soul/2011/may/24/harold-campings-spiritual-rapture/ (pretty much sums up what I feel)
Some Christians are obsessed with Rapture. They focus on the end of the world rather than the present day, as if learning about God and his word weren’t engrossing enough. One such group, led by Harold Camping, believes that Rapture is coming tomorrow: May 21, 2011. That’s right, in one day, millions of genuine believers will be whisked away into Heaven, leaving behind billions who will wonder what happened to their neighbors.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t fully mock their beliefs. I can’t be sure that it won’t happen tomorrow, any more than someone could know for sure whether they’ll get into a car accident. It could happen tomorrow, but then again, it could happen in decades. Who knows?
What strikes me as odd is that this fringe group of Christians is sure it’s happening tomorrow, based on some calculations and the revelation of the Holy Spirit. I find this claim odd in light of the fact that the Bible mentions on multiple occasions that no man will know the hour of Jesus’ return, and that he will come like a thief in the night (unexpected). Do Mr. Camping and followers like Mr. Hernandez really think they would be told when Rapture is coming, then allowed to freely share it with the world so that the information is available through many major media outlets? Doesn’t sound like a “thief in the night” scenario to me.
I mean, I get it. I understand that conspiracy theories are exciting and charge the individuals “in the know” with a sense of power and privilege. But some of us have seen it a million times before, and excuse us if we’re jaded and cynical. I might sound like an atheist right now, but I’m the kind of person who likes proof, not wild claims and exciting leaps of logic. The Bible has proved to me innumerable times in the past that it can be trusted as the greatest source of truth. Science and philosophy in the world are also, for the most part, trustworthy…or at least we can sort through the chaff with clear-headed thinking.
Conspiracy websites and many YouTube clips do not qualify as reliable, nor do the highly publicized claims of a man or group seeking followers to their cause. I don’t know you, Mr. Camping and Mr. Hernandez, but I know that the Bible seems to contradict your confidence in the prediction for tomorrow.
I could be wrong, and if I am, I will simply hope that those remaining here resist the mainstream pressures with their full strength. (Those who succumb and wear the mark of the beast will probably be subject to far worse judgment than all other nonbelievers.) But yea, we’ve heard this tune before. “The end of the world is nigh!”
The boy who cried wolf is losing his voice.
(Check out some theologians’ responses to Mr. Camping’s prediction here: http://www.christianpost.com/news/theologian-harold-camping-lost-the-gospel-christ-50348/.)
Last night, I listened to a debate between Christian apologist William Lane Craig and Muslim apologist Shabir Ally concerning whether Jesus rose from the dead. Mr. Ally is a noted Muslim debater who has gone up against a multitude of other Christians and atheists.
Here is a link to the debate: http://apologetics315.blogspot.com/2008/07/william-lane-craig-vs-shabir-ally-did.html.
Like Dr. Craig, I was surprised to hear that in Muslim apologist circles, a “modern theory that is gaining ground” is that Jesus seemed to be crucified on the cross, but that he in fact did not die. Jesus was supposedly taken down before death, thereby being consistent with Islamic beliefs that Jesus was never (fully) crucified.
The reason for surprise (and frankly, disappointment in the robustness in Muslim apologetics) is that this theory has been dead for over 150 years. It’s a theory that used to be largely supported by atheists, but there were so many holes that it was abandoned from all serious discussion.
Basically, Mr. Ally’s version goes like this: Jesus was sentenced to die on the cross, but Pilate was sympathetic. Rather than let Jesus die on the cross, Pilate and perhaps another guard decided to take him down early and pretend like he had died. And while Jesus was on the cross, the drink offered to him had myrrh in it, which is an anesthetic. Another point I may offer for Mr. Ally is that Jesus “died” in only six hours, whereas most people would survive for about three days.
First of all, Roman guards were professionals at this. There’s no way Jesus could have fooled the other guards into thinking he was dead. One of them even stuck a spear in Jesus’ side, and out came blood and water (I’ll get back to this in a bit). This was to confirm that Jesus was dead. It’s also important to note a gross misunderstanding by Mr. Ally here in the debate. Dr. Craig had proposed that there was no way for Jesus to fake his death because this would entail him hanging lifelessly for long enough to convince the guards. The problem is, we know that in order to breathe on the cross, one had to push up with his legs and try to stand as erect as possible to gasp a little bit of air, then slump back down…only to repeat this process over and over again. Asphyxiation was the most common cause of death on the cross, and sometimes the guards would break the criminals’ legs so that they could no longer push up to breathe.
In order for Jesus to convince everyone he was dead, not only would he have to breathe in such a way that no nearby guard could see (e.g., his exposed rib cage moving, stomach expanding), but he would have to push up with his legs without anyone noticing. If Jesus were to hold his breath or something, he would die in a mere two minutes or so. Mr. Ally misinterpreted this point when he seemed amused at the supposed assertion that people died on the cross in two minutes instead of three days. But that was NOT the point being made.
Pilate, if you remember the story, did feel guilty about condemning Jesus to death, but he had washed his hands of it after the crowd kept pushing for the crucifixion. He let the crowd get their wish because he was afraid for his own political position. There’s no reason to believe he would stick out his neck for a stranger and put his entire career (or even his life) on the line.
The point about anesthetic is irrelevant. That doesn’t prolong your life, nor could it assist someone in faking their death.
Plus, after the theoretical faked death, this is where Muslim apologetics (or perhaps just Mr. Ally) comes up obviously short. Mr. Ally contends that when Jesus was taken to the tomb, he was still alive and then God took him up to heaven. So therefore, Jesus never died and was never technically “crucified” since, by his definition, this necessitates a death to go along with it.
Sure it’s possible that God could do that, but why would God (or Allah) deceive everyone to believe that Jesus had died and been resurrected? Why make all the evidence point toward that conclusion? That would be a very odd way for God to work…with trickery, Jesus holding his breath, etc. Plus, are we to believe that Pilate arranged to have Jesus taken down early to avoid death (the spear thrust is ignored here), only to have Jesus placed in the tomb with the huge stone sealing the exit? Without immediate and drastic medical attention, Jesus would have died anyway in that tomb. Why would Pilate “save” Jesus, then basically consign him to death from his wounds in the tomb anyway?
Finally, we come back to the spear wound that I alluded to earlier. Mr. Ally tries to write off this detail by saying that John’s gospel came later and it must have been made up, but there is no reason to believe this other than to desperately cling to Muslim beliefs. John probably did come later, but that’s to be expected since he was the youngest apostle and probably didn’t get around to writing things down until he was nearing the end of his life. The other gospels had faithfully recorded pretty much everything anyway.
Even John and other witnesses couldn’t have realized the full significant of the spear wound and the blood and water that came out from Jesus’ body. Not only did it confirm Jesus’ death, but it also revealed WHY he died. Remember that the soldiers were surprised that Jesus had passed away in six hours instead of the usual three days (if you know the details leading up to the crucifixion or even just watch The Passion of the Christ, it shouldn’t be that surprising…Jesus was brutalized beforehand). It took about 1,800 years, but we now know that the blood and water pouring out indicated that Jesus had died in “only” six hours due to a ruptured heart muscle. This was a recent medical observation that couldn’t have been anticipated in ancient times. Perhaps the torture, mocking, and crucifixion was too much to bear. I tend to believe that Jesus had literally died of a broken heart when shouldering the burdens of sin for the entire world.