Home > Apologetics, Theology > Refuting “Christianity is inconsistent” from commonsenseatheism.com

Refuting “Christianity is inconsistent” from commonsenseatheism.com

Preface

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.

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