Pastor Wilson divided his first rebuttal into two parts, one in which he attacked my opening statement and another part in which he supplemented his own opening statement by dealing further with his Transcendental Argument for God (TAG). I shall here address only the first part. The second part will be taken up when I again discuss TAG in my next rebuttal. My task here will be just to defend what I wrote in my opening statement. I presented two arguments for the nonexistence of the Christian God, the Argument from Nonbelief (ANB) and the Argument from Confusion (AC). In what follows, I shall discuss Pastor Wilson’s objections to those two arguments.
The Argument from Nonbelief (ANB)
Put briefly, ANB says that we have good evidence for the nonexistence of the God of Christianity in the fact that at least 2/3 of the earth’s population consists of people who do not believe the gospel message (that God has a divine son, sent to save the world). If the deity in question were to exist, then the earth’s situation probably would not be that way, for it is clear from the Bible and from the way Christians conceive of their deity that he very much wants people to be aware of the truth of the gospel message. Thus, the fact that there are so many nonbelievers counts against the existence of the Christian God.
Pastor Wilson paraphrased ANB as follows: “if the God of Christians existed He would surely have done far more than He has done to save lost humanity.” This is not quite an accurate formulation. I did point out that ANB does receive some support from the premise that the biblical God wants all humans to be saved, which requires that they accept the gospel message (and so God must want people to be believers rather than nonbelievers). However, that is just one argument among many. It is by no means the sole basis for ANB. In my opening statement, I gave several reasons in its support, most of them making no reference at all to the issue of salvation.
Let me first take up Wilson’s objections to the salvation argument. He apparently rejects the premise that God loves every person and desires every person to be saved. He says, “the teaching of the whole Bible is against this supposition.” According to Wilson, at the beginning of time God picked certain people to be saved and “He passes by those who were not predestined to salvation.” And those who were “passed by” are “by nature an object of wrath, and God hates [them].” I disagree with this interpretation of the Bible, and I think most Christians would reject it. Several biblical verses say or imply that God wants every person, without exception, to be saved. For example, according to I Tim. 2:6, Christ gave himself as a ransom for all. That is, God not only desires every person to be saved but he performed a sacrifice to make it possible. If you agree with that, then you need to reject Wilson’s interpretation of Scripture.
I Tim. 2:4 says that God wants all men to come to know the truth. Pastor Wilson maintains that what that means is “all kinds of men” According to him, although it doesn’t actually say “kinds of men,” that can be inferred from earlier verses, in particular I Tim. 2:1-2. Well, I have scrutinized those verses, but see nothing in them that would support his interpretation. Also, I have looked at dozens of different translations of I Tim. 2:4, and not a single one has “all kinds of men” or anything equivalent to that. If that was the original author’s meaning, then it is certainly odd that not a single translator captured it clearly, yet Pastor Wilson is able to do so.
It would be quite obscure to declare, “God wants all kinds of men to come to know the truth.” What are those “kinds”? Short men? Oriental men? Left-handed men? How about non-Christians? Does God want non-Christians to come to know the truth? Pastor Wilson should address this question. If God does want them to come to know the truth, then we are back with ANB, and an explanation is needed for how it is that 2/3 of the earth’s population does not know the truth. On the other hand, if non-Christians are not among Wilson’s “kinds of men,” then he needs to clarify exactly what those “kinds” are supposed to be.
Even if Pastor Wilson’s interpretation of Scripture regarding salvation were true, a strong case could still be made that, according to the Bible, God wants every person, without exception, to be aware of the truth of the gospel message. I gave reasons to say that in my opening statement. One of the reasons is that, according to I John 3:23, God commanded people to “believe on the name of his son, Jesus Christ.” For people to obey that command, they need to be aware of the truth of the gospel message, and so God must want them to be believers rather than nonbelievers. Pastor Wilson responded by saying, “this [verse] only means that God requires them to [believe], and nothing more.” In other words, God requires belief on the part of everyone, but does not desire it. That is quite remarkable! God issues commands to everyone (including non-Christians) but does not want them all to obey the commands. Such commands would be insincere. What would be their function? Is it just to make people feel bad about themselves for their failure to obey? Why issue commands at all if our salvation is all predestined and does not in any way depend upon whether or not we choose to obey the commands? Pastor Wilson needs to clarify these matters.
In general, Wilson should clarify his point of view regarding God and non-Christians. Are all of them really damned? And is it really true that God predestined them for damnation before they were even born? Why would he do such a thing? And how come he picked so few for salvation and so many for damnation? He sounds like a rather mean deity, and not at all like the God of Christianity that I have often heard about. Pastor Wilson should also explain why Jesus issued the Great Commission, commanding his disciples to spread the gospel message to all nations. If everyone’s salvation is predestined, then the missionary’s work would seem to serve no useful purpose. Is it really the case that no missionary ever succeeded in getting a person saved who would otherwise have been damned? Finally, how is it that so many of those unlucky people that God “passed by for salvation” came to live in Asia and Africa (the home of Islam, Hinduism, and many other non-Christian religions)? Does God have something against those geographical locations?
All of these questions are in need of answers. The basic problem is why there are so many non-Christians in the world. My explanation is that the God of Christianity does not exist. If Pastor Wilson has a better explanation, I’m sure we would all like to hear it, preferably in a reasonably complete form, not just in bits and pieces.
The Argument from Confusion (AC)
According to AC, if the God of Christianity were to exist, then the Bible would be his revelation to his creatures and he would have seen to it that that revelation is crystal clear, at least on important matters of doctrine, such as morality and salvation. The result would be unanimity among God’s own people on such matters. But there is no such unanimity, instead, only confusion, and the Bible is far from clear on important matters of doctrine.
Pastor Wilson wrote, “Clearly [the problem] is within the people, and not within the book.” This is not so. If the Bible were perfectly clear and consistent, then there would be much more unanimity and much less confusion. Surely an omnipotent being would have been able to produce unanimity among his followers on such matters as morality and salvation by means of his written revelation to them. Note that AC is not arguing from the fact that Christians disagree on matters of doctrine to the conclusion that the Bible is erroneous, only to the conclusion that the Bible is not perfectly clear.
Pastor Wilson tries to belittle the problem by suggesting that in the afterlife God will “bring His Church into a final and glorious unity.” In other words, what’s a little bit of confusion on earth when everything will be clarified in heaven as we embark upon eternal bliss? Such confusion is a relatively minor matter and can be considered negligible from the perspective of eternity, which is how God views matters. There are many objections to this appeal to the afterlife. I shall mention just one of them here. To belittle Christians’ earthly confusion and disagreement about important doctrinal matters is, in effect, to belittle their earthly life itself. Why should God even put them here on this planet if their confusion and failure to come to know the truth is such a minor matter as to be negligible? It makes their earthly life itself insignificant and meaningless. I take this to be an unacceptable consequence of Wilson’s appeal to the afterlife.
Another move that Pastor Wilson makes is to appeal to God’s unknown purposes. He wrote, “surely God has good reasons for the delay [in clarifying matters for Christians].” One objection to this is that it merely appeals to the idea of mystery and so provides no explanation of anything. It is totally unenlightening. Another objection is that it is actually antithetical to the process of explanation in that it makes huge portions of the Bible totally inexplicable. All of the parts which play up the importance of morality and salvation would be rendered incomprehensible on Wilson’s assumption (that God has only limited concern about his people’s earthly confusion about those matters and has some purpose which overrides his desire that they come to know the truth.) For example, why would God send his son “to testify to the truth” (John 18:37) if the acquisition of the truth by God’s own people here on earth were to be overridden by some other divine purpose? It would make no sense. I take this to be an unacceptable consequence of Wilson’s unknown-purpose defense.
Pastor Wilson rejects my claim that the Bible contradicts itself regarding salvation, but said nothing about the example I gave. According to Luke 13:3, one must repent in order to be saved, but, according to other verses, it is sufficient that one meet some other condition, such as believing in Jesus (John 3:16, 6:40, 11:25; Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9) or calling upon the name of the Lord (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:13). To say that X is necessary for salvation but Y is sufficient (where Y does not include X) is clearly a contradiction.
Another contradiction (among many!) is that, according to some verses, salvation is open to non-Christians because it is gained by means of one’s “good works” (such as following God’s commandments and being charitable to one’s neighbors), whereas, according to other verses, salvation can be attained only by Christians (those who believe in Jesus). Luke 13:3 would again be relevant here, for if repentance is necessary, then “good works” could not be sufficient. Other necessary conditions for salvation are cited in Scripture, and they, too, give rise to contradictions.
AC points to other problems with the Bible (features of it which one would not expect on the assumption that it is God’s revelation to humanity), not just its contradictions. One of them is the existence of thousands of different manuscripts (in Hebrew and Greek), no two of them exactly alike, and with some glaring inconsistencies among them. The problem is that the original manuscripts have been lost and we cannot tell which of the ones we do have is a correct copy from the originals. Pastor Wilson declares: “only one manuscript tradition for each Testament … contains the canonical text.” We need to ask him: which manuscript is that? Please identify (by name and location) the single manuscript which is the canonical text of the New Testament. If there is such a single manuscript, then surely it can be identified.
Pastor Wilson has not as yet adequately explained why the Christian God permits there to be so much confusion and disagreement among his own people regarding important doctrinal issues and so much unclarity within the Bible. Until he does so, AC’s explanation, that the Christian God does not exist, will remain as the best one on the table.
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