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Posts Tagged ‘apologetics’

Link: “How Anger Fuels Atheistic Arrogance”

October 18, 2011 1 comment

My apologies for being a bit slow on updates lately. My first term of seminary just came to a close last night…this past week was all about working on a big final project for Pastoral Counseling, then studying for a multiple-choice exam and essay for Old Testament Survey I. But now, I’m finally done…until next week when I start New Testament I and Systematic Theology I. =) Can’t wait (though I wish I had finished out the OT with OT II…fascinating stuff)!

Anyhow, I thought I’d share this opinion piece about atheists:

http://www.christianpost.com/news/how-anger-fuels-atheistic-arrogance-58281/

I have to say, from my experience, everything he writes is spot-on. Yea, atheists will give you all sorts of excuses and reasons, but at the end of the day, their over-reactions and anger point to something deeper. The comparison between rebelling against parents and rebelling against God is appropriate. There is a sort of twisted pleasure we get in fighting authority, isn’t there?

I admit, I’ve been struggling to love atheists these days as the human side of me just finds them irritating and laughably hasty to draw final conclusions about questions that are way above their powers of reasoning. They really seem to think that they can solve the mysteries of the universe with about 30 minutes of pondering each issue. There are even kids on YouTube denying the Holy Spirit, and this kid probably just learned how to dress himself a couple years ago. Seriously, what the heck? (As you watch that video, you may cringe at the tragic haughtiness oozing from your computer screen.)

Yes, intelligent people are prone to question things and even poke (apparent) holes in theology. You think I don’t wrestle with issues in my mind all the time? I’ve lost count of the number of times I thought I had discovered some fatal flaw, only to be humbled later with further investigation. After this happens enough times, you should eventually learn your place—some much later than others (some never at all).

But if everyone stops at these initial “AHA!” moments and puffs themselves up, who knows what amazing knowledge about God they might miss? Most will vastly underestimate the complexity of the issues. Something tells me these people will never bother to get to the bottom of it; they’ll hardly scratch the surface. Their arrogance has convinced them that Christianity is paint-by-numbers and that they have already mastered its depths, despite the fact that scholars can spend their entire lives trying to unravel a single subsection of the Bible. Even “simple” chronologies take intense research, taking into account lunar vs. solar years, ascension vs. non-ascension year dating, coregencies, etc.

I know I’m supposed to care about nonbelievers, but for the most part, my heart is leaving them…at least those who are opposed to God. I need to pray and repent profusely. I’ve learned that I really lack in the area of love. I am a work in progress.

This blog was originally intended to be a place for apologetics and arguments for the faith. But more and more, I’m realizing that it’s a matter of the heart. Mining the Bible for truths is a lifelong effort, and it’s hard to find the motivation to stray away from that to find “real-world” proofs in the comparatively mundane areas of science, history, logic, etc. The Word of God is just so much more captivating to me these days. Maybe I’ll find a good balance soon.

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Objection to Christianity #1: The Problem of Evil and Suffering

July 28, 2011 1 comment

Throughout the years—centuries even—this has probably been the single biggest objection to the Judeo-Christian God. Over time, I’ve learned to acknowledge the power of this line of argument and give it due respect rather than brushing it off as frivolous. I’ll try to be as comprehensive as I can (within reason), but I’m sure the war will wage on regardless. Please feel free to add and contribute in the comment section.

I’ll break this problem down into three main components:

1) Who is God anyway?

2) The Problem of Evil

3) Practical Implications

It’s important to discuss the Christian God as He actually is, rather than relying on the projections of misinformed men. So let’s start there.

1) Who is God anyway?

There are many ways to describe God and a multitude of attributes we could potentially discuss here. But I’ll try to focus on the relevant parts that normally feed into this argument.

First off, God is the creator of everything. He created every living being and the universe, including the laws and systems by which it operates. He also created angels, including those who rebelled against him and became demons.

Second, God prefers free will. Rather than creating automatons, it is clear that God holds free will in very high regard, even granting his angels the ability to leave him before the earth was even created. Likewise, He granted all of mankind free will. The Bible does not indicate whether animals have free will, but if I had to guess, I’d probably say no (judging from stories like Noah’s Ark and other examples where they seem to be controlled directly when necessary). Free will seems reserved for His higher elected creatures, and this is coming from an animal lover.

Third, God is omnipotent, or all-powerful. This point is very important. People must realize that there are certain things that God cannot do, but these “limitations” do not detract from His power and greatness. In a nutshell, God cannot act contrary to his character and essential nature, and He also cannot do some logically impossible things. God cannot lie or conduct evil himself. To say that God created evil is misleading, as evil is not a thing in itself, but rather a privation or lack of good (just as darkness isn’t a thing itself, but a lack of light).

He also cannot make a round square or create a rock so heavy that He can’t lift it. Importantly, God cannot force or ensure that free creatures will choose the right way on their own volition.

Fourth, God is omniscient, or all-knowing. Now, there is some debate as to what omniscience entails. Does it mean God literally knows everything—past, present, and future (classic view and also assumed in Molinism)? Or does it mean He knows the knowable, and perhaps some things are left open and contingent on the decisions of free creatures (open theism)? Either way, it’s safe to say with certainty that God knows every possible thing of the past and the present. He also knows what he will accomplish in the future.

Fifth, God is omnibenevolent or all-good. In Him, there is no evil or darkness.  This furthermore implies that God will always choose the path of the most good, rather than the way of more evil. He is the embodiment of love and wants people to come freely to him.

Finally, God is just and holy. Because God is just by nature, He cannot simply give people a free pass when they do wrong. He cannot tolerate sin. Due to his holy nature, God must remain set apart and separate from sin at all times. Of course, this is why He sent Jesus down to die for our sins, so that it’s possible for us to be clean in God’s sight.

I almost feel blasphemous trying to sum up God in such a short space, but I honestly believe that without this proper understanding of God, talking about things that contradict his nature (evil and suffering) is completely moot. Please know that God is so much more than what I’ve just described. I was also hesitant to start with the above section because much of it might give away the “answers” prematurely, but that’s OK. That being said, let’s proceed.

2) The Problem of Evil

This problem has been stated in a number of ways, but I’ll copy a couple that best describe this position.

Here’s the logical form:

  1. God exists.
  2. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.
  3. A perfectly good being would want to prevent all evils.
  4. An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence.
  5. An omnipotent being, who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, has the power to prevent that evil from coming into existence.
  6. A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil.
  7. If there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being, then no evil exists.
  8. Evil exists (logical contradiction).

David Hume—a prominent philosopher of the 18th century—put it succinctly this way:

“Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?”

Now, I’ll save you the suspense and tell you upfront that this logical problem of evil has pretty much been solved already. Many modern philosophers reject the old logical problem as inadequate and accept solutions to the problem, such as Alvin Plantinga’s free will defense. But I’ll rehash some of those ideas here in my own words, as well as infuse some of my own thoughts (may the Holy Spirit keep me from speaking falsehoods).

Basically, what the old philosophers failed to take into account are the fall of man and free will. These change everything. Perhaps in a sinless world, pre-fall, God would always choose to allow the path of the most good, no evil. He might repeatedly run up the scoreboard this way: +10 “good” points, +0 “evil” points. The good column would keep increasing, and the evil column would always remain at 0. This would have been possible.

But because of free will and man’s pride, it is no longer possible for there to be a zero in the evil column. Human beings are sinful, and the only way God could prevent them from conducting evil acts and inflicting suffering on others would be to infringe upon free will. God cannot (actually, will not) force a person to do good at all times, whether through manipulation of the mind or even of surrounding circumstances. Therefore, evil exists and God allows it.

Because there is no possibility of all good and no evil, God in his omnibenevolence chooses the path of the greater good (which by God’s estimation entails achieving good in light of free will). He has to allow some evil and suffering in order to achieve greater good. In order to get those +10 points in the good column, God might allow +2 evil (rather than the alternatives of +3 or +4). There is no option of +0 evil anymore, but even if there were, God might not choose it because it wouldn’t achieve as much good. Hopefully you’re seeing already that some of the premises of the logical argument laid out above are false.

The “best of possible worlds” argument is nebulous and highly speculative. How could a person possibly define such a thing? What is best for one person would be horrid to another. With God’s attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence, it’s not impossible to imagine that this current world is the best that was possible with free will in the picture. Perhaps a world with no troubles would never find the necessary brokenness to come to God.

What about when God himself seems to directly inflict pain and suffering, rather than simply allowing it?

Well, let’s turn to the Bible for a couple of famous examples, shall we?

In Genesis 6, we hear the story of Noah’s ark. Around this time, humans were starting to multiply on the land, but they were also becoming very wicked. God gave mankind 120 years to shape up, but aside from Noah’s family, they didn’t. So God sent a great flood to wipe out the evildoers and to start fresh.

In Genesis 18-19, we see that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were very sinful, turning away from God. God makes known his plans to destroy them, at which point Abraham famously pleads for God to spare them. Abraham asks whether God would spare the cities if even 50 righteous men were found. God agrees. Abraham reverently pushes his luck, and asks, “well what about 45?” (I’m paraphrasing of course.) God again agrees. This goes on repeatedly; 40, 30, 20, then finally 10. God even agrees to a mere 10.

What happens? Not even 10 righteous are found in that city, so God proceeds with destroying them.

In each case, you’ll notice that God displayed great patience. Unfortunately, it didn’t matter, and like a doctor, God had to remove the cancer completely. In the real world, we know that wickedness spreads like a wildfire. Something starts out as the exception, a taboo, but very rapidly it becomes totally acceptable. Eventually, it becomes the norm. With our finite minds, we might disagree with God’s wrath, but we don’t know the whole picture. If God had spared those wicked people, it’s very easy to imagine that our world would be a much worse place today. There would much more evil, and yet people use those examples against God. He just can’t win in some people’s eyes.

Besides, God is the one in charge. Skeptics will cringe at this concept, but who are we to question Him? In Isaiah 55:9, God reminds us: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” If God exists, don’t you think there would be things you don’t understand or agree with? What makes us think everything should agree with our flawed preferences and sentiments?

Don’t count out the Devil!

Oh boy, I can already hear the eyes rolling. But it’s true, if there is a such thing as the God of the Bible, then there is an enemy who we call Satan. You can’t count out the devil in an argument about whether God exists because that’s presupposing the very thing you’re trying to prove. If the idea of evil and suffering bothers you, you can’t hold it against God without first acknowledging the reality of Satan and his demons.

Satan is called many names in the Bible, including deceiver, enemy, father of lies, lawless one, murderer, tempter, wicked one…and most tellingly, “god of this age” and “ruler of this world.” Does this sound like someone who might have something to do with some of the evil and suffering you see today? Perhaps! The devil presents himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), and he is extremely attractive and cunning. He is smarter than you. He is smarter than all of us, and his lies perpetuate and spread, causing more grief and evil.

I’m convinced that Satan has tricked the scientific world into throwing labels at certain maladies and illnesses, when some of it is actually demon-induced. Consider the case of “Emily Rose” (Anneliese Michel…pictures and audio recordings here), whom the doctors tried to fix with every scientific terminology and concept in the book. They called her depressed, epileptic, and couldn’t face the fact that perhaps there was something else at work here. To the world, she looked like a victim of random chance and forces. In spiritual terms, she was attacked by demons. Until Jesus returns to vanquish them once and for all, spiritual warfare is a reality to consider. Not everything is explainable by natural means.

(Who knows? Maybe in 100 years, the devil will convince the world that love is simply a biological and chemical process, when it’s so much more than that.)

Speaking of natural, what about “natural evils” such as earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.?

I need to tread carefully here. I will say cautiously that it is at least possible that God can use these things to punish wickedness or accomplish some greater good, just as He has in past history. But let’s push this line of reasoning aside.

It has been suggested by apologists, and I agree with them, that natural disasters are a way of inspiring reverence and fear of God. It doesn’t necessarily need to target specific people, but it reminds us all that “oh yea, we’re just human…ultimately, there are forces greater than us that even our mighty technology can’t defeat.” Can you imagine a world where there were no disasters, no thunderstorms, no fearsome waves at sea? We would become even more full of ourselves as the masters of this world, and we’re already experts of pride as it is.

Furthermore, the fall of man necessitates that the world no longer functions optimally. Before the fall, we were designed to live forever. It’s hard to imagine now, but the systems and laws in place wouldn’t have been able to harm us. Gravity—a morally neutral force—would not have been able to bring us crashing to our doom from a steep drop. Thorns, if they existed, wouldn’t prick us. Animals wouldn’t carry venom. Childbirth wouldn’t be painful, and women couldn’t have serious complications from it. The plates of the earth would no longer move to create earthquakes, and the seas would probably be calm. But of course, man did sin and that all changed. Once sin entered and gave birth to death, all of the possible harms became an unavoidable reality.

OK, I know I said I would tread carefully, but I can’t help myself. As an example, let’s imagine for a minute (and I have no proof, nobody does) that God created HIV as a judgment or deterrence. Deterrence from what? Bestiality, homosexuality, and promiscuity are three possibilities (in fact, Sodom was known for homosexuality and is where we get the word “sodomy”). We know from numerous examples in the Bible that sexual sins seem very serious to God and are met with severe consequences.

Now, in what logical world would it be practically impossible for a person innocent of these things to contract HIV accidentally through blood? It is rare, but it must be possible. But rather than seeing these people as victims of God’s supposed sloppiness and negligence, we can view it in a number of ways. It is an inevitable result for a few people to befall this horrible fate because of the fall of man and because of logical possibility. It is also possible that God could be using these circumstances for the greater good. And we also know that it saddens God when people are in pain, but like a loving parent, sometimes it must be carried out.

3) Practical Implications

So what possible “greater good” are we talking about here? How could evil and suffering turn out to be good, practically speaking?

Well, the number one “good” that can result is the salvation of souls and drawing closer to God. This is not simple speculation, but rather found in the Bible over and over again. Don’t let the Joel Osteens of the world fool you; we are not meant to live on this earth in complete bliss and prosperity. In fact, even as believers, God ensures us that we will find suffering at some points in our lives. The Bible tells us to EXPECT suffering, which is the opposite of what skeptics believe Christianity should entail. When it comes, we need to have the right approach.

1 Peter 4:12-13: “12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”

James 1:2-4 (ESV) says: “2Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Trials and suffering make us more complete. Hardships strengthen our character and also provide a testing ground for our faith. If severe suffering never came to us in life, we might never know for certain if we are truly saved in Christ. What is one way to test if a love relationship is real and not just temporary butterflies? See how you persevere through the rough times, whether it’s long distance/separation or even arguments to sharpen each other and clean out the selfishness.

Pastor Lon Solomon of McLean Bible Church shares that having a severely handicapped daughter—who suffered from countless seizures—was the best thing God could have brought upon his life. Lon was angry with God at first, but in the end, dealing with the emergency hospital visits and intense care-taking made him a better father, husband, pastor, and a person. His daughter, who has a mental age of a child, lives a happy life. She will live the rest of her life—and die—as a child, which most believe ensures her salvation. What more could a parent hope for their children and their own lives? Brokenness can become an enormous blessing.

Sometimes, evil can be turned on its head and turn out for good, even in worldly circumstances. Consider the story of Joseph in late Genesis, who was sold into slavery by his own brothers but ended up being enormously powerful and influential. We can’t expect to always see the end result from our very limited perspective, so the best thing is to trust rather than curse God.

And do we, as Christians, believe in an indifferent God who makes us suffer while He sits on his cushy throne? By no means! We have a savior who gave up his lordship in heaven to become a lowly carpenter, to be spit on, whipped, mocked, and crucified on a cross for OUR sins. We have a God who knows first-hand much of the things we’re going through. We have a savior who rather than being a stoic who always said things like, “Oh, suck it up,” he actually wept for the death of Lazarus (John 11).

What’s the opposite of suffering on this earth? Complete prosperity, which is often represented by wealth in the Bible. And what happens to those who flourish, live a very comfortable lifestyle, and avoid the trials that many of us endure? They become lukewarm, only to be spit out of the mouth of God (Revelations 3). Just as a person cannot gain muscle without painful exercise and devotion; just as a person cannot increase in his knowledge without diligent and arduous study; just as a person cannot become patient and strong without first enduring ordeals; a person cannot truly know God without experiencing suffering.

Many of the poorer countries in the world that have experienced great suffering are the most devout and spiritual. James 2:5 says: “5Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” We see this to be true in various studies and surveys. In America, many SAY that they are Christian, but as I’ve made clear in my earlier posts, the actual number of saved are probably few. Our prosperity and lack of suffering have made us soft. We have become like the rich young ruler or the church of Laodicea.

Those who suffer may turn out to be the most fortunate and blessed in the end. Perhaps as we look back on our short earthly lives from heaven, we will envy those who endured many hardships for a relative speck of time, only to be rewarded in eternity.

Matthew 19:30: “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

Other Resources

I knew from the get-go that there would be no way for me to cover all possible areas of this topic. There have been entire books written on the subject, and even those focus on particular areas. For further insight, I suggest the following:

http://bible.org/article/why-there-suffering
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem_of_evil
http://leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/evil.html

http://www.apologetics.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=646:the-problem-atheists-have-with-evil&catid=43:kkla-995-fm-los-angeles&Itemid=74

Natural evil:
http://www.rfmedia.org/RF_audio_video/RF_podcast/What_About_Natural_Evil.mp3

WLC–Problem of evil:

Countering YouTube: “Richard Dawkins–The God Delusion” (part 3)

April 12, 2011 Leave a comment

[Continued from Part 2 here, based on this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMqTEfeqvmM.]

Q: Does [blind faith] have to be a negative thing?

Dawkins: “I think in general, the idea of blind faith, the very idea of ‘blindness’ is negative.”

Notice how Dawkins slyly—to be fair, perhaps unknowingly—equates blind faith with blindness. This is classic straw man at work. He takes blind faith, which could be good or bad (it hasn’t been established yet one way or the other…note the question, “Does it have to be a negative thing?”), then compares it directly to something that everybody already knows is negative: blindness.

This implies that an ignorant person (with blind faith) cannot possibly see the truth (blindness). Having blind faith doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wrong. A person with blind faith could very well stumble fortuitously across the truth. This is a subtle but important distinction.

I have to agree that blind faith can be a negative thing. One could argue both ways…it could be better to be blind and right than informed and wrong.

We as Christian believers are told to have a reason for our faith and to be able to defend it. That entails some learning and probing for answers. But it doesn’t mean we have to have all the answers before we can believe.

Q: “Well maybe that’s the wrong word, ‘blind faith,’ maybe it’s just faith.”

Dawkins: “Yes, well I use the word ‘blind’ because it is in the absence of evidence. If it was in the presence of evidence, you wouldn’t call it faith.”

It almost sounds like, to Dawkins, there is no such thing as faith by itself. It is always, by definition, blind. Why does he think this?

First of all, there is evidence for the existence of God. Unless you want to restrict the definition of “evidence” to something that can be tested and confirmed in a test tube, there is plenty of support for belief in God. Plenty of what Dawkins believes—say, that there is no God at all—is based on his own conclusions, not by any testable means.

Second, he seems to forget that most of the knowledge humans live and operate by is based on experience, personal conviction, intuition, and logic. These are all outside the exclusive domain of science. How do I know this world is a real one, or that my past is not an implanted memory? How do I know that my wife loves me or that my favorite color is blue? How do I know that my guinea pigs, Suzy and Nellie, are too hilarious and cute to have come about by naturalistic processes alone? How do I know that lying is wrong, even if I would never get caught? None of this is based on any evidence at all, but it’s valid nonetheless (or at least some of it is). I wouldn’t call these “blind” assumptions.

Finally, I would differ on his definition of faith. He seems to think that faith is believing in something without ANY evidence, or at least some compelling amount (“if it was in the presence of evidence, you wouldn’t call it faith”). I would say that faith is believing in something—often WITH evidence—despite the fact that we cannot ever be 100% sure, so the last bit needs to be assumed and trusted. Much of what we live by could be considered “faith.” I start my car every morning believing that it won’t blow up, even though I don’t check it for bombs, leaks, etc. Someone who believes in God may feel 99% convinced, or maybe just 51%…and the last remaining 1% or 49% could be covered by faith, but this doesn’t make it blind or in the absence of evidence at all.

Dawkins: “People say ‘if it’s true for you, then it’s true for you.’ But I think there’s something more absolute about truth than that and I care about truth. I don’t mean I wish to impose it, I mean to people who really don’t want to learn about what’s really true, then far be it from me to force it on them. But I want to give them the opportunity. I don’t want children brought up sheltered from the truth by a wall of separation from the truth, which is deliberately erected by tradition and authority in their particular culture.”

Funny, Christians feel the exact same way as this statement, yet we’re accused of being narrow-minded and dogmatic for thinking we have the truth and not being relativistic. We want people to have the opportunity to learn about the faith and to accept it, and aside from extremists and strange cases, we’re not trying to establish mandatory Christianity upon everyone. School systems are teaching purely naturalistic explanations, like evolution, without even a mention of an alternative, like creationism, so what is he complaining about here? Why does he presume to have the answers despite the lack and impossibility of positive evidence against the existence of God? Remember, science can only explain the natural world, not anything existing outside of it.

[The rest of the video pretty much talks about how atheism is gaining momentum, and whether Dawkins’ approach is too direct, disrespectful, and arrogant.]

I would say that atheism isn’t going away and will probably grow stronger with time. Why is this? I think believers and atheists alike can agree that part of the reason is the further development of science.

It’s pretty much a given that some people are content to attribute unexplainable things to God or a god of some form. In the old days, a thunderstorm was perceived as God’s wrath because they had no known explanations for it. Then, people discovered the science behind it and suddenly, some people shoved God out of the picture for that occurrence. People discovered how a rainbow is formed, then decided that it wasn’t some sign from God after all.

The bottom line is that some people think scientific explanations replace the need for God completely. Is this really true? I don’t think so at all. Sure, we may be able to observe and explain what’s going on a hidden, molecular, or chemical level. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a God behind it in the first place. We could simply be learning more about the processes He put in place. Learning how something is built, for instance, doesn’t mean there wasn’t a builder. Learning how this universe works—which is what science does—doesn’t prove one bit that there isn’t a creator behind it. In my view, we’re just analyzing his handiwork.

Q: How can we believe in a “good” God in light of the ills of this world?

April 7, 2011 10 comments

This entry is in response to a question I got in one of the comment sections.

The original question was: “I’m curious. How do you view the ills in this world (e. g. Japan tragedy, natural disasters) and still believe in a ‘good’ God? What about psychopaths and/or serial killers? How do they fit into the ultimate ‘creations’ scheme?”

There are a lot of answers or thoughts revolving around this very topic…some cliche, some maybe not. In the end, there is a little bit of “I don’t know,” but hopefully we can be clued in on at least part of the mystery. I’m sure you may have heard some of this, so bear with me please.

First, there is the fall of man. The ills of this world can ultimately be traced back to original sin and our rebellion against God, which is when the perfection of this world was lost forever. As *punishment* (or more accurately, as a result), evil entered into this world.

Now, you may be thinking, “All this horror for just one little sin?” But I don’t think we’re capable of fully understanding the stark difference between a state of perfection/no sin —-> to the first sin. It’s far greater than, say, two lies versus one lie.

So why did we “sin” in the first place? Of course, we first need to know how it was POSSIBLE to sin in a supposedly perfect world. And that comes down to *free will*. God created us with free will because he didn’t want a creation of robots…but rather people who could choose or reject him fully. I guess in a silly but real way, this kind of desire is reflected in all of us. Look at the numerous movies and fairy tales where the prince (or princess) doesn’t want to marry someone out of obligation or force anyone to pretend to love him, but rather dresses up as a commoner to see if the other person will fully choose to love him without coercion. Only then is it true love.

Anyway, free will creates a problem of the possibility of rebellion and causing evil. Why did God create us if He supposedly knows everything and that we’d probably end up sinning? We can’t know that for sure, other than to maybe think of parents who have kids knowing full well their children may rebel, disappoint, hurt them, or even turn out badly. The good–and the love–makes it worth that price.

OK, so what about natural disasters? This is a harder to answer, and again, no one can know for sure. Some have speculated (with some solid examples) that God can use them for His good purposes or even to demonstrate His power, which can result in people drawing toward Him. Anyone’s who’s been through some big earthquake or hurricane immediately senses that maybe man is not as big and powerful as they thought. While we’ve been given dominion over the living things of the earth, we are not fully in charge. God is.

Of course, this can seem capricious to us with our limited understanding. I know it’s a cop-out answer, but there’s really no way for us to understand why things happen the way they do without the big picture in view. Even the relationship between parent and child is like this in a way, where the child is 100% sure that the parent is being “unfair”…”I hate you, Mom.” But without the wisdom that comes from age and experience, the child might be wrong about that. The gap between child and parent is far, far less than the chasm between our understanding and God’s. Many times, horrible events can lead to very positive outcomes. Other times, we don’t see it, but it doesn’t mean we can necessarily write it off as senseless.

Psychopaths and serial killers, in my opinion, are sadly inevitable given our condition. There are always going to be outliers. In fact, in my own sane mind, I could imagine any number of heinous crimes that could potentially be committed on another person. Chances are, if I then did the research or even Googled it, I would find that someone out there has done that very act already. There is also the very real chance that some people could be demonically influenced. I realize this may sound ignorant or “superstitious” on the surface, but why not? Just because we can observe some chemical difference or deficiency in an insane person’s brain doesn’t mean it wasn’t caused by some other unseen factor. In the same way, I think love is more than just electrical signals in our brain or whatever. Those are merely observable or physical traits of a cause, not necessarily the cause itself.

Demons? The Devil? Well yes, if there is a God, then there is probably Satan, too. Don’t get me wrong, Satan is in no way on par with God, as some have characterized him. He is not the dark rival—he is not omnipotent, omnipresent, nor can he create or destroy. But he can lie, tempt, influence, or cause possession. So some of the evil in this world can be indirectly attributed to him, though not everything.

In the end, we can’t know with 100% certainty why God does (or allows) the things He does. That would be like my guinea pigs—whom I love!—trying to fully understand me. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t possibly make them understand. My wife can’t even fully understand me, nor can I even understand myself sometimes. How can we comprehend God to every detail?

And also remember that evil allows us to see “good” for what it is. If everything were a candy land of smiles and no troubles, I’d imagine we wouldn’t appreciate anything more than the next thing. Oh, and you could say that God didn’t “create” evil, either. Evil is the absence of good, just like a shadow is not its own thing but rather is the absence of light.

I hope this helps at least a little. If you don’t agree, at least you know some of what I think about the matter.

*Edit:

There is still a lot of good and joy in this world, so we can’t just ignore that. Plus, there are many examples and instances of great love and mercy in the Bible. While there may be head-scratchers and question marks, in my view, the overall conclusion points to a good and loving God. When it comes to spouses or family members, they may hurt us or do mean things sometimes, but we might still consider them “good people.” Despite their mistakes, it doesn’t negate all their kindness.

Now, if we can give God the benefit of the doubt and assume the creator of the universe knows what He’s doing in the bad times, then I think we can still consider Him “good” in the end. Being good doesn’t necessarily mean being a teddy bear all the time, either. We are supposed to both love and fear Him, which is often lost in the lovey-dovey church culture.

One way to think of it—and this may not be appealing to many—is that God is God. He shouldn’t have to earn our respect, but out of his love for us, he allows us to have certain expectations of him. This whole concept of “God isn’t good enough” is arguably a modern way of thinking. In ancient civilizations, for instance, they worshipped gods who were downright cruel, immoral, and petty. The gods were considered greater than human beings regardless of their temperament. Our God, by comparison, is highly just and loving, but we still demand more sometimes.

[Please see the comment section for further discussion.]

The 7 common tactics that atheists (and Christians) use (part 2)

April 6, 2011 12 comments

[Continued from part 1 here.]

Tactic #4: Using exaggerated and ridiculous comparisons to mock the other side’s beliefs.

A famous and widespread example of this would be the allusion to the “Flying Spaghetti Monster.” Atheists like to claim that believing in God is on the same level as believing in unicorns, leprechauns, and of course, the aforementioned culinary deity. By making this comparison, they are trying to automatically discredit the side of believers by implying that we are naive, immature, ignorant, and without evidence or logic backing our claims. All of this is done in one fell swoop without a single thoughtful argument.

Consider this stylized mockery of the Christian faith: “Does this make sense? The belief that some cosmic Jewish zombie can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree?

Talk about a play on words and juicing up the cartoony level to the n-th degree. Words like “cosmic,” “zombie,” and “magical tree” bring the level of Christianity down to a bad fantasy (sci-fi?) flick. Defending this kind of faith would be a tall order indeed, but of course, any reasonable person knows that describing it in such terms is unfair and ridiculous.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? Making it harder for Christians to defend their faith with any level of confidence?

Tactic #5: Stating things as fact or “just because” with nothing to back it up, even inaccurate claims based on memory or assumption.

Christians and atheists are probably equally guilty of this. It’s just human nature, and it has little to do with religious beliefs or lack thereof.

People often feel sure of wrong information—from trivial matters such as which celebrity was married to whom, or the not-so-trivial details of a witnessed crime. It comes from recalling things you may have seen or heard incorrectly, and sometimes, it’s quite harmless. A simple “oops, I guess I was wrong” might be the extent of the consequences.

But when people make the same kinds of sloppy assumptions or claims of fact in religious discussion, something greater is at stake here. The truth can easily be lost and a good discussion can be derailed by one wrong fact.

A skeptic might wrongly state with confidence: God has already been proved false, you Christians are just behind and need to catch up,” or, “Hitler was a Christian.” [God cannot be proved false because He exists outside the natural, observable world. A plethora of biblical misinterpretations can also be used here. Besides, we Christians have the same information available to us that everyone does. Hitler may have claimed to be a Christian, probably to gain favor, but his actions belie his true beliefs. In fact, he wanted to get rid of bibles and replace them with Mein Kampf, hardly an indication of a true believer. He once referred to Christianity as a “poison.”]

A creationist might ignorantly claim: Even Darwin confessed on his deathbed that he believed in God,” or, “There is no proof for evolution, it’s just a theory.” [There is no clear indication that Darwin came to faith, so perhaps this is just wishful thinking or some false rumor. Evolution, to an extent, has been proved true—at the very least on the micro-evolution level—and the word “theory” in science is a strong assertion of truth, though not airtight.]

Tactic #6: Ignoring their own holes and shifting the burden of proving an endless supply of further challenges to you.

I’ve often heard, “I’m an atheist, which is a belief in nothing. Therefore, it’s incumbent upon the believer to prove that there is a God.”

I have to ask, why?

Consider these simple facts:

– There are more people in this world who believe in God (or a god) today, and exponentially more throughout the history of man. Since when do the vast majority need to solely convince the small minority?

– If atheists are wrong and God exists, they are going to face far worse consequences–even possibly into eternity–than a believer would face if there is, in fact, no God. So atheists have a higher burden of proof when you consider that de-converting a believer is “riskier” than the other way around.

– Atheism isn’t a belief in nothing. In most cases, it comes with a belief and reliance upon naturalism, which is harder to believe for some people than to believe in God. I have a hard time believing that love is merely chemical or an evolutionary feature, or that art and music are solely manipulations of the physical world.

Christians should try to convince atheists out of concern, but it’s not our “obligation” to prove anything in the sense that our position is inherently more untenable. Don’t just stay on the defensive the whole time. There are just as many unanswer(able?)ed questions that the atheist should be required to address. At the very least, both sides may have to concede a few “I don’t know” moments, which is at least fair and honest.

Tactic #7: Requiring an overly high standard of proof, while calling all Christian sources “biased.”

Consider this: the issue of whether or not Jesus existed on this earth—at least as a man—was not even seriously debated for maybe 1,800 years. It was a given. But somewhere along the line, skeptics started demanding more “proof” and wondering aloud why there wasn’t more direct evidence of Jesus’ existence. This got easier to do since enough time had passed, but unlike science and technology, history tends to be more reliable when it’s closer (older) to the events.

Forget the fact that even emperors in ancient times were written about less, with scant documentation and archeology. Forget all of the historical analysis that makes the Bible, particularly the New Testament, the most confirmed work of antiquity man has ever seen. Or the many reasons why the resurrection could not have been faked…

Forget science and philosophy that seem to agree more and more with the claims of the Bible, such as a distinct beginning point in our universe rather than an infinite past. Or the experiences and personal convictions that scream that we are obviously not a random assortment of matter over time.

Videos, books, and other forms of communication that espouse atheistic beliefs are accepted without so much as a blink. And when they make a claim that seems damning to Christian beliefs (such as the comparison of Horus to Jesus, essentially calling Jesus a copycat/fictitious savior), people will believe it without investigating the matter outside the confines of like-minded Christ-mythers.

Who would then attempt to verify the accuracy of these claims? Well, obviously Christians would want to get to the bottom of it because they care about their faith and want to know if they are basing their lives on reality or myth. But then any of those Christian findings that show the falsehood of the Horus comparisons are dismissed as “biased.” The skeptic or Christ-myther might say, “I’ll wait until a non-Christian proves the comparisons to be false, thank you. Not some biased Christian with an agenda.”

Simple fact of the matter is, most people don’t have a vested interest one way or the other, so of course such works are going to come from a Christian.

There is no such thing as totally unbiased work anyway. Everyone has presuppositions and personal leanings. Writing off anything by Christian authors and researchers as “biased” is closing your mind to any contrary positions regardless of their validity. Heck, many skeptics set out to prove Christianity wrong only to realize that they’ve become convinced of the Bible’s truth—then they write about it (e.g., Lee Strobel, countless others). I guess these people are biased as well, despite their original intent.

I can understand that some people don’t want to give up their feeling of autonomy and authority over their own lives. But making the burden of proof prohibitively high is doing a disservice to the truth.

Christianity is not pretending to be a faithless pursuit that can satisfy a person purely on logic and facts. Faith is a big factor, no doubt. All we’re asking is that you weigh one side against the other and to give us a fair trial. Don’t use tactics, don’t make assumptions that we’re idiots. Go where the preponderance of your reasoning take you, rather than setting up an impossible task so that the other side necessarily fails in your view.

After all, in the end, it’s not really about “winning,” as is the goal in formal debates. That’s why I hesitate to use the word “debate” at all, since actual truth is secondary to the arguments in that context. What’s important is that we all get to the bottom of this and try to convince the other side by sound reasoning. If that isn’t possible, then at least a slight crack in the wall of dogma might lead to a change of views down the road.

Countering YouTube: “Richard Dawkins–The God Delusion” (part 2)

April 4, 2011 1 comment

[Continued from Part 1 here, based on this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMqTEfeqvmM.]

Dawkins: “For me, what matters is the truth.”

Q: “The scientific truth?”

Dawkins: “What other truth is there when we’re talking about the universe, when we’re talking about the nature of life?…I think when we’re talking about the universe, what reality is, what life is, then ‘truth’ means ‘scientific truth,’ yes.”

This is what some people refer to as the arrogance or hubris of science. Namely, that outside of science, there is no real truth. Wow, way to claim a monopoly on truth there. I guess the fact that science is the only source of truth when it comes to the universe is true because science says it is. Oh wait, isn’t that a little bit of circular reasoning?

What is this airtight science that Dawkins is leaning on anyway? Is it testable, repeatable science so that we can confirm its veracity? No. Last time I checked, there’s no way to really test whether the universe and the things in it came to be the way we think. All we can confirm is that various tests and experiments give us the results we expect within the confines of our current knowledge–with the large assumption that the conditions of the experiment accurately portray unseen events.

Is it observable science? Not really. We can’t observe how the universe came to be (with or without a creator), nor can we observe macroevolution in a laboratory. So far, it’s all extrapolation or fitting observations into prevalent theories. Sure, we might be able to change an organism by some selective means of breeding, then decide to call it a new species because the antennae look diffferent. But is this really evidence for anything other than the fact that we’ve been given the ability to adapt temporarily or by some limited amount? How is this proof that a distinctly different form or “kind” can happen by natural means alone?

I love my wife, I exist in this universe, but science might not be able to prove that my love is true. Does the fact that science can’t prove something negate its truth? Science has its useful place in this world, but it also has its limits. If you want to ONLY believe and know what science can prove, then you’re going to be sure about precious little in this world.

Dawkins: “Of course, there are other sorts of truth like moral truths…maybe they’re not truths at all…but they are not scientific.”

Aw, darn it. He started off sounding rational–acknowledging that there are moral truths–but then he saw the potential pitfalls of this admission (i.e., that there must be a moral lawgiver) and hedged. Maybe they’re not truths at all, because after all, science cannot prove the existence or validity of moral laws. Therefore they are fictitious. (Because this is a blog and my tone cannot always be accurately conveyed, I’ll point out that the last two sentences were sarcastic. I’m a pretty sarcastic guy, sometimes, so use your best judgment.)

Let me go off on a tangent for a moment here. Skeptics are always pointing out that Christians “arrogantly” claim that their Bible is the only truth. Does anybody smell something suspicious about a scientist claiming that the only valid truth in the universe comes from science? That would put them in quite a superior position in this society, wouldn’t it? The Purveyors of the Only Real Truth.

The difference between (genuine and mature) Christians and Dawkins (or Dawkins-like scientists) is that Christians want to spread their teachings from the Bible based on an earnest belief that people’s souls are in danger without it. They genuinely believe–rightly or not–that they are helping people; in some sense, handing out a much-needed cure. Contrary to conspiracy-minded skeptics, there is no dark-hooded brotherhood of Christian furtherance that hands out fat checks to followers who espouse these beliefs.

What is Dawkins’ motivation for believing that science alone possesses real truth? Perhaps it gives him a sense of great importance or an elevated status. Or, if I can assume the best of his intentions, maybe this idea motivates him to work harder at unraveling the mysteries of the universe for us. In the process, he can combat ignorance and improve the human condition by “bringing people out of the Dark Ages.” If materialism is actually true, you naturally have to wonder where he gets this sense of civic duty to help the world or to enrich people that have no usefulness to him. If we’re just a bunch of chemicals turned to living cells from an impersonal universe, why bother?

The more plausible explanation is that Dawkins has something to gain from his position: a loyal following of people who applaud at his every witty insult, bestselling books, academic and scholarly fame, self-satisfaction, a feeling of superiority (the fact that he grasps things that the commoners, or “hoi polloi,” cannot), a little thing called “money,” not to mention being in the elite group of the Purveyors of the Only Real Truth…the list goes on and on.

[A little further into the video, Dawkins goes into this very topic of motivation for writing this book. I hope it’s OK that I don’t address it again. Nothing is “tragic” about ignorance if there’s no real purpose in the world anyway. Besides, there are plenty of Christian scientists who treat their vocation as separate from their spiritual beliefs. This myth that Christianity is somehow holding the world back is unsubstantiated in this modern world setting. Maybe it was true before any of us were born, but come on. Are people referring to the extremists or something?]

Dawkins: “The need for religion? Everybody has always had a need to understand, I suppose. Before science was fully developed, they filled that need to understand with perhaps superstition or religion, other things like that. There’s also a need for consolation, and religion probably gives consolation or that’s a bit of a mixed blessing. The fact that something’s consoling, by the way, doesn’t make it true, but nevertheless it probably is a human need. So, it’s easy enough to think of reasons why religion has persisted.”

OK, I’ll try to stay focused and address his points one by one.

“Everybody has always had a need to understand.”

True, Dawkins, but did you ever ask yourself why this is true? Why do we have this need in the first place? It’d be just as easy to imagine purposeless creatures made by natural processes to simply exist and not ponder these matters, or even to think much at all. Maybe we’re brought to this world with the inherent knowledge that there is something greater than us, and there is more than simply living and dying. We ponder things because we feel there are answers.

“Before science was fully developed, they filled that need to understand with perhaps superstition or religion, other things like that.”

First off, is Dawkins implying that science is “fully developed” now? Does he have some proof of this? Things we know for sure today could very well change tomorrow. Theories that are almost universally accepted today could become a page from the “world is flat” book tomorrow. There are things that are still unknowable, and even the things we know aren’t 100% certain. This is like a teenager’s mistaken belief that he has reached the pinnacle of intelligence and wisdom–that suddenly, he is very much smarter than his parents. Considering that science is at the highest point it’s ever been, it’s natural for some to assume that it’s the highest (or close to it) that we’ll ever go. But who knows what remains above the clouds?

Again, that “need” he refers to…seems very real, considering mankind seemingly has always had it. The fact that we have a newer explanation for things, i.e., modern science, doesn’t make all older beliefs obsolete. Some people say that they like science’s ability to admit its wrongs and change with the times, whereas religion is stagnant dogma. But on the flip side, why place so much faith in something that has definitively been proven wrong many times in the past? Is it based on the belief that after eons of human existence, we are just now in possession of the real truth beyond any doubt? Sounds like quite a leap to me. I prefer to believe in something that has survived the test of time. If there is any real truth out there, wouldn’t you expect that truth to be constant and unchanging? What we currently believe or feel in today’s culture doesn’t affect the reality of unchangeable truth–it only affects our opinions of it and willingness to comply.

“There’s also a need for consolation, and religion probably gives consolation or that’s a bit of a mixed blessing.”

Geez, I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, but where does this need come from? Sounds like this need serves no practical purpose to me. Just for fun, let’s imagine a back-and-forth conversation on this topic:

Naturalist: “This need for consolation might have arisen naturally because of the fact that in ancient times, groups were more likely to survive than individuals. In these groups, the early hominids learned to draw support from each other, which strengthened their resolve to survive. Greater mental health promotes greater physical health, and therefore, these consolation-seeking forms were the winners of the natural selection race.”*

*I just made this up on the spot, so please excuse any similarities or discrepancies to existing theories on the matter.

Creationist: “Interesting theory. Can you back this claim at all?”

Naturalist: “No, but neither can you with your fairy tales of God.”

Creationist: “Well, what I don’t understand is why or how this need could have arisen in the first place. Seems to me that neediness for consolation would be a weakness, not an advantage. What’s the chemical composition of this neediness for consolation anyway? Why isn’t this need for consolation present in all other surviving animals today?”

Naturalist: “Not sure, but maybe it was a unique feature of the human evolutionary line. Maybe because we are physically weaker than, say, a tiger, we needed to come up with ways to work together to make up for this.”

Creationist: “Come to think of it, it sounds like you’re merging the need for consolation with interdependence. Groups fighting off an outside attack is much different than needing a pat on the back or a way to cope with fears and disappointments.”

Naturalist: “We just don’t know, but I’m confident that science could–if we wanted–eventually give us the truth.”

Creationist: “I’m confident that given enough time and thought, researchers could come up with a better story, yes. I believe that, too…until a newer, better story came along. I think a more plausible explanation is that we have this need because we were designed to seek comfort and consolation outside of ourselves. People around us can help, but ultimately, it is only God who can fully satisfy that need.”

“The fact that something’s consoling, by the way, doesn’t make it true, but nevertheless it probably is a human need. So, it’s easy enough to think of reasons why religion has persisted.”

Very true, and by that same token, the fact that something’s consoling doesn’t make it untrue either. There are many reasons why Christianity persists, but these reasons generally don’t affect the likelihood of its truth.

[Concluded in part 3 here.]

The 7 common tactics that atheists (and Christians) use (part 1)

March 31, 2011 8 comments

After many hours of perusing religious/anti-religious forums, engaging in debate, and reading comments made by atheists, I can honestly say that things start to blur together after a while. Arguments start sounding the same and the common tactics used against Christianity can almost be coalesced into neat categories—though with any human behavior, things are not always so cut and dry.

Truthfully, many of the same generalizations can be made against Christians. Not every atheist is antagonistic, and not every Christian fights fair. Pretty much everyone is guilty in some way, and I’ll try to point out how by giving examples from both sides. But my subjective view is that atheists use the following tactics to a greater degree. If both sides would focus more on the issues at hand rather than simply trying to “win,” we might have more productive discussions.

Tactic #1: Insulting the intelligence of others.

Tactic #2: Citing some “higher authority” on the issue and restricting further discussion or evidence.

Tactic #3: Attacking strawmen or going off-topic (includes attacking people as evidence against the faith).

Tactic #4: Using exaggerated and ridiculous comparisons to mock the other side’s beliefs.

Tactic #5: Stating things as fact or “just because” with nothing to back it up, even inaccurate claims based on memory or assumption.

Tactic #6: Ignoring their own holes and shifting the burden of proving an endless supply of further challenges to you.

Tactic #7: Requiring an overly high standard of proof, while calling all Christian sources “biased.”

Let’s take a closer look at each one and some examples, including real quotes I’ve seen.

Tactic #1: Insulting the intelligence of others.

“Christians are stupid, mindless sheep who ignore all the obvious evidence out there. There’s no point in arguing with these idiots.”

There are many problems with this one. Where to begin?

First of all, it seems to imply that atheists are smarter, and when it comes to arguments of reason, the smarter person wins by default, right? Who decided that atheists are smarter anyway, the atheists themselves? And is the smarter person always right?

Now, I admit, this is where my pride is tempted to say something mean and boastful to these people. Statistically speaking, very few people making these kinds of comments would objectively be smarter than me, at least in terms of IQ or something. But a better way to go about this is to point out that brilliant scientists, philosophers, and other great minds have been Christian. For every smart atheist, there is usually a smarter Christian, and vice versa. How does this kind of statement account for the intelligence of many believers? Is that atheist smarter and more knowledgeable about science than, say, geneticist Dr. Francis S. Collins—the leader of the Human Genome Project who is a devout Christian?

For the sake of argument, let’s say that atheists are in fact, on average, smarter than Christians. After all, intelligent people do tend to question things and seek knowledge for themselves, as many atheists do, rather than believing anything blindly. Does this really prove that they’re right about everything regarding the reality of God?

By this reasoning, one could conclude that a higher IQ spouse—whether the husband or the wife—should always get to be right. No arguments allowed, just submitting to the greater mind. Does this make sense at all? No, of course not. People are smart in different ways, and sometimes, the most obvious things to a common man can be an enigma to a learned man. Heck, Einstein could fathom things about this world that no one else could, but he couldn’t even reliably memorize his own home address.

A funny (and fictitious) example would be Dr. Sheldon Cooper from the TV show, The Big Bang Theory. It’s pretty clearly established that he is the smartest one out of his friends. He is a genius physicist. But there was a running joke for a while where he would ask his friends during a conversation, “Was that sarcasm?” To everybody else, it’d be obvious and in plain sight. To him, despite his attempts to research sarcasm and break it down into logical components, his accuracy rate of detecting it was very low. Why is this? Because high IQ and thorough training in science and other subjects can’t grant you the ability to form a complete knowledge of this world. Even things that are obvious to lesser minds can elude the great ones.

Tactic #2: Citing some “higher authority” on the issue and restricting further discussion or evidence.

This is another cop-out technique, and we Christians are guilty of it, too. Atheists might cite the works and ideas of a great scientist or philosopher, and then challenge you by saying, “Do you think you’ve studied these things as deeply as him? If not, how can you challenge his conclusions?”

Christians might resort to the credibility-killing argument of, “Well, God and the Bible tell me it’s true, and therefore I believe!” [Sometimes, at the most basic level, this is indeed the reason we believe something. But we first need to establish why God and the Bible are trustworthy to begin with. Naked circular reasoning helps no one.]

Problem is, these discussions shouldn’t come down to a contest of who’s swinging the bigger sword of authority. The point should be to argue both sides and consider the merit of the points discussed.

The atheists’ assertion that a point can’t be debated—based on your lack of credentials or your weaker sources—is faulty to begin with. Why? Well, as I mentioned, the smarter person is not always right, and neither is the one with better credentials. Furthermore, there is the simple fact that it is exponentially easier to point out errors in something than it is to create/develop it in the first place.

For instance, I’ve seen a number of typos and grammatical mistakes made by superior writers in various forms of media. Even if I can’t write as well as these people, it doesn’t preclude me from being able to correct them. It doesn’t matter very much that my own writing wouldn’t hold a candle to theirs, as long as I’m competent overall.

This happens all the time in sports, as well. Every time we yell at our TVs, wondering how a coach or coordinator could make such an obvious blunder, are we saying we could do a better job ourselves? Not really (we might think it, but we’d be woefully wrong). These professionals have spent much of their lives and countless hours learning the ins and outs of their respective sports. But that doesn’t keep a competent layman with far less knowledge from being able to see the professional’s mistakes clearly sometimes.

Having too much knowledge and being deeply engrossed in something can dampen common sense and narrow one’s field of vision. Like Dr. Sheldon Cooper or Albert Einstein, brilliant people simply might not see what lesser minds do. You can’t discard the refutations of a Christian because his credentials seem less impressive than the atheist originator of the work. You have to judge the conclusions made based on their own merit. Besides, many of us have access to the same information. At some point, it’s how you interpret that information that can cause such divergent views, and interpretation is hardly set in stone.

Tactic #3: Attacking strawmen or going off-topic (includes attacking people as evidence against the faith).

I guess I should start by clarifying what “attacking strawmen [arguments]” means. I can’t really say it better than Wikipedia, so I’ll just quote it here: “To ‘attack a straw man’ is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the ‘straw man’), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.”

For instance, consider the following hypothetical exchange:

Christian: “All you have to do is allow Christ to come into your life and accept Him as your Lord and savior. Then you will be saved for all eternity. I think that’s the greatest and most generous gift imaginable.”

Atheist: “So I have to allow an invisible dude to take over my life and become his slave? That doesn’t sound like a good deal at all to me, I prefer to be free.”

This is a straw man because the atheist is equating Jesus with just some “invisible dude” and leaving out his God nature. Allowing Jesus into your life is a good thing, whereas the atheist is taking the leap and comparing it to slavery, which everyone can agree is a bad thing.

Another example:

Christian: “God sent his own son to earth to die for us.”

Atheist: “What a contradiction. Doesn’t the Bible say ‘thou shalt not kill’?”

Pretty off-the-mark, I know, but not that far from what I’ve heard from some people. God sending his son to die (and Jesus willingly dying on the cross) is heroism and true sacrifice. If you twist it to mean sending someone to his death and equate it to murder, you ignore all of the good behind it. It becomes an act of malice instead of love.

Straw man arguments happen almost instinctively when we argue because naturally, we want to be proved right. Christians are guilty of this, too.

Atheist: “It’s clear that humans and apes were descended from a common ancestor.”

Christian: “If humans came from apes, then why are both humans and apes still here?

This Christian is making a straw man argument (kind of) and also a logical/factual error. He is first using the assumption that humans are further along in the evolutionary process than apes. Then he is trying to state that being descended from a common ancestor is the same as being on a lineal progression. Since apes clearly exist today, this twist of logic makes it apparent that since apes are not extinct or superseded by humans, the atheist’s assertion is wrong. Of course, what the atheist is really saying is that evolutionists believe that in the past, there was a common ancestor that branched off into modern day apes and humans—so both can exist without being mutually exclusive.

I lump together straw man arguments with attacking the actions of Christians as evidence against the faith because both tactics attempt to sidetrack the main point by turning to imaginary or exaggerated side issues. A Christian misbehaving is no more damning for Christianity than one person of a certain ethnicity committing a bad crime. It is not representative of the whole group.

 

[To be concluded in Part 2…]