Holding Overruled! (2002)
This is a response to a review by James Patrick Holding of a piece I wrote entitled “Objections Sustained,” a critique of Lee Strobel’s book, The Case For Faith.
For the purposes of this document:
Holding’s review is in plain text.
Excerpts from my original essay are in italics.
My responses are in bold.
Still Failing the Bar Exam
Or, Another Legal Loopity-Loop
James Patrick Holding
“Ladies and gentleman, may I direct your attention to the center ring, for the premier performance of ‘The Amazing Gerkin’! See him pick up and hurl elephants with ease! Watch as he flounders like a fish through Ancient Near Eastern social data! Observe as he scrupuolously [sic] ignores scholarship and blithely dimisses [sic] those with twenty times his learning! Yes, folks, you couldn’t pay enough for this type of performance–not since the Osmonds!”
Holding starts out with ad hominem attacks, lampooning me as an author in an effort to denigrate my credibility. These are cheap rhetorical tricks, that have no bearing on the truth or falsehood of the propositions laid out in my article. This is certainly not the tone of an objective analysis.
The Secular Web has a few intelligent people, but overall has long been a haven for every skeptical know-it-all to pronounce judgments upon matters outside of their expertise. The trend continues with the work of one Kyle Gerkin, who, with striking resemblances to a certain project called The Jury Is In, deigns to critique the popular Case for Faith by Lee Strobel.
Ages ago I noted that to attack such works as McDowell’s and Strobel’s, in the manner that the Secular Web does, is to do so under a pretense of having covered all bases and as if what they record is the last word in Christian scholarship. To do so is to seriously misapprehend the purpose of such works. McDowell’s material is only the tip of the iceberg, as we have amply shown over the past several years in his defense; Strobel’s material takes matters a significant step further, but necessarily cannot cover all possible bases or objections from every quarter, ranging from the serious to the ludicrously uninformed.
In no way do I think people such as Strobel or McDowell are the last word in Christian scholarship. Rather the reverse, I know they are just scratching the surface. However, their works are quite popular and so they deserve a response. Also, while Strobel’s book may not claim to be the alpha and omega of scholarship, it is clearly intended to sufficiently answer the objections it poses and even be convincing enough to convert unbelievers. In these respects, it is grossly deficient, and that is the point of my critique.
However, as I have noted, Strobel earns my praise and respect where McDowell does not, because his material provides direct pointers to those who provide answers on “the next level” for those who need them. And it is for this reason that I have gladly defended his work, and do so now yet again.
Gerkin also deserves some small credit in this regard. At least in his response, he provides indications that there is more material elsewhere, as throughout his critique there are links to further information within the Secular Web. That does deserve some small credit, but not much. Tactically this amounts to “hurling the elephant” because unless links are given with specific application–rather than only listing links to large sets of material and yelling, “Here, this will cover it!”–it’s little more than a confidence job. I readily provide links when answers are provided elsewhere, but only where there are specific applications. Linking to the Secular Web’s entire collection of essays on “the argument from evil” is little more than rhetorical excess and tactical laziness.
Much as Strobel’s book could be considered introductory apologetics, my review should be considered an introductory secular work. The “argument from evil” is far too complex to be completely dealt with in my response, or really in any one article–which is the reason for my link. As far as specificity is concerned, I linked to a collection of essays dealing with the specific issue of the “argument from evil” so they are all relevant, they are all of reasonably high caliber, and best of all, they deal with different aspects of the issue. My intent was not to overwhelm the reader with rhetorical excess, but rather to provide a jumping off point for further education if so desired.
In due course time may permit us to address each of those elephants in turn, but for now, we’ll offer some commentary, reflection, and response on Gerkin’s effort. His response is structured thusly: he begins with a summary of Strobel’s position (usually, but not always, accurate), then lays out what he perceives to be problems in the position. For convenience we will simply use his summaries. In some cases material is beyond our scope and we will note this, or else note plans for future projects.
Section 1: Evil and Suffering
The idea here is that God must allow some short term suffering in order to achieve a greater good. The analogy employed by professor Kreeft involves a hunter who is trying to free a bear from a trap, but cannot because the bear is liable to react violently, incorrectly perceiving the hunter as a threat. The hunter must therefore use tranquilizer darts and the like, which also would seem to the bear as harmful, in order to achieve what is ultimately best for the bear, i.e. freedom from the trap. The analogy is, of course, Hunter = God, Bear = Human (pp. 31-2).
For starters, if God is omnipotent, couldn’t he still achieve the long term good without the short term suffering? If he cannot, he is not omnipotent. To suggest that there are things God absolutely cannot do, is to suggest that there are laws which operate over and above God, that even He can’t transcend. I have no problem with this, but most Christians, including Kreeft, do. Thus the analogy is a false one, because no matter how sophisticated a human being might appear to a bear, the human is not omnipotent and therefore cannot conjure up a completely painless solution to the bear’s plight, whereas God, if he is indeed omnipotent, could achieve good without the suffering. This is but one of many reasons such attempts at answering this objection fail. For more, see the Secular Web’s library on the Argument from Evil.
Here Gerkin displays a fundamental ignorance of what it means to be “omnipotent.” Omnipotence does not cover the ability to do that which is logically impossible–such acts are outside the range of “power” and are not relevant to a doctrine of omnipotence. To use an example I like, God cannot make 2 + 2 = 5, and this does not compromise omnipotence because it doesn’t matter how much power one has; such things cannot be changed. One could, after the manner of Orwell’s 1984 tyrants, use torture to “convince” people that 2 + 2 = 5, but this is not the same thing–2 + 2 objectively remains 4. One could also play a semantic game and use the symbol “4” to equate with a group of objects that we would now numerically associate with the symbol “5.” But again, this is not the same thing as actually making 2 + 2 = 5 as we understand the equation.
What is especially surprising here is that Gerkin thinks that “most Christians, including Kreeft” would have a problem with this. Most Christians I know do not have a problem with this at all–actually none I know have a problem with it, although some, when hearing this for the first time, do realize that it is something they have not considered before. Kreeft himself has expressed this view in his other works and would be as surprised to be told that his name is Peter. This is not a matter, though, of a law that God cannot “transcend” but a law that is part of His nature. God of course could not transcend His own nature, here, as a ontologically consistent being. He cannot know something and not know it. He cannot do something and also not do it. That Gerkin believes this to be a problem shows just how little he knows about modern apologetic arguments and monotheistic theology. (A little later he expresses surprise when Kreeft “deviates” from the “hard line Christian stance” [!] and makes this very point! Because of this, I also seriously doubt if Gerkin knows of or understands the intricacies of the arguments he is both criticizing and promoting.)
I have encountered many Christians who claimed God was capable of the logically impossible. Perhaps I mischaracterized such a position as the “hard line Christian stance” but the belief is certainly extant. In my experience, most Christians want to attribute God with primacy over all things, but if logic is part of God’s nature, then it is at least equivalent to God in terms of necessary existence.
That said, it is indeed logically and theoretically possible that certain good could not be achieved without suffering. And this has been ably argued in detail by Glenn Miller here–I daresay with greater alacrity from its perspective than the entirety of the Secular Web’s collection corresponding “Argument from Evil” material. One elephant deserves another!
Coincidentally, a Christian friend of mine actually sent me the above link a few weeks ago, and I responded in kind. My response was not a comprehensive refutation, but just a short overview of why I feel Miller’s essay is flawed. In any case, since you mentioned it, I will reproduce my comments here:
Essentially, the paper seems to center around the Fall and its implications for God’s character. The problem boils down to two statements held by Christians:
1. God created the universe and everything in it.
2. God is omniscient–he knows everything that has happened or ever will happen.
If you object to either of those statements, let me know.
But if you hold those statements to be true, then you are in a bit of a pickle. Because the inescapable conclusion to be drawn from such a situation is that: God created Adam & Eve with the precise foreknowledge that they would Fall. Now, we can hardly blame Adam and Eve for this. Yes, they made a choice, but clearly the choice could not have been any different than it was because God created the whole situation knowing that it would unfold one way and one way only.
Here’s an analogy: Suppose I wrote a computer program called “Number Chooser.” It is a simple program that asks the user to enter two separate numbers. Then, the program “chooses” the higher of the two and displays it on the screen.
I created the program with the precise foreknowledge of how it would operate. Thus, while the program makes a choice, it can never select the lower number because I created the whole program to operate one way and one way only.
I have yet to see this argument refuted successfully.
From My Friend:
Suppose I wrote a computer program called “Number Chooser.” It is a simple program that asks the user to enter two separate numbers. Then, the program “chooses” the higher of the two and displays it on the screen.
I created the program with the precise foreknowledge of how it would operate. Thus, while the program makes a choice, it can never select the lower number because I created the whole program to operate one way and one way only.
Actually, you are not giving the program free choice, because at the beginning, you programmed it to only pick the higher number. So while it makes a choice, it is one that you predestined, not just foreknew. God didn’t program us to operate one way and one way only. Knowing what choices somebody will make is entirely different from making the choice for them.
From Me Again:
Actually, you are not giving the program free choice, because at the beginning, you programmed it to only pick the higher number. So while it makes a choice, it is one that you predestined, not just foreknew. God didn’t program us to operate one way and one way only. Knowing what choices somebody will make is entirely different from making the choice for them.
How can you have foreknowledge without predestiny? The two concepts are inextricably linked. If Adam & Eve might have chosen to Fall, but might have chosen not to Fall, then God couldn’t know which they would choose until it actually happened. And if God knew the choice they would make *before they actually made it* then there obviously was no way they could have decided otherwise. And if God created us, in every detail, and created the world, in every detail, and knew exactly how we would react and interact with that world, then how is that any different from me programming a computer?
I would also add that while the bear analogy is therefore not flawed in the way Gerkin supposes, it is unavoidably “flawed” (but not actually flawed, since its intent is limited) in other ways. For the analogy to be perfect the trap would have had to been willingly entered by the bear, set by the bear himself, or by other bears. This leads to my own take on the “problem” of evil–I do not consider it a “problem” at all because it is clear that the overwhelming majority of suffering is either self-inflicted or else inflicted upon us by other men making free choices. Even natural catastrophes such as floods, in which homes are destroyed, owe the bulk of fault to the foolishness of building on known floodplains, on dirt hillsides, or to the obvious tradeoff of building near a riverbank. Those who ask why bad things happen to good people most often find their answer in the mirror.
Are we to believe that no good people are ever mauled by wild animals, or that every person struck down by smallpox or the bubonic plague was evil? Are babies that die of SIDS being punished for the foolishness of parents who place them on their stomachs? And what kind of God punishes people for building near riverbanks? (Until recently) what were people supposed to do, live without a water supply? Your view paints God as a cold-hearted fiend.
Moreover, how is it that we feel that we can spit in God’s face as we please, violating one after another of His rules, and then expect Him to “run interference” when we have a problem?
God wouldn’t have to “run interference” had he the foresight to create a more benevolent universe in the first place.
To do so would be to compromise a logical necessity–what Gerkin dismissively calls the “old free will defense.” Every sinful action declares to God, “We want our freedom from You!”
Is it not the Christian view that we are inherently sinful creatures? If so, do we inherently want our freedom from God? If so, can we really be blamed for this?
If that is what we want, God will not force our hand. We’ll comment a bit more on this later.
It is one thing to not force our hand, it is quite another to punish those who don’t please God.
The fundamental issue at stake here though is defining “good and evil.” Why are certain things good and others evil? To a Christian the answer is, more or less, because God says so. But then, if we are to say God is “good,” what standard are we judging him by? The only standard a Christian has is that which God has ordained. But with his Hunter/Bear argument Kreeft wants to say this standard can’t be used, because it is for humans, and God plays by his own set of rules. However, Kreeft assures us that God will eventually bring about the ultimate good. Why? Because He is all-good, silly! Wait a minute, though. Then the argument is: God is good because God is good? Unfortunately, it doesn’t amount to much more than that tautology. If we, as humans, can’t judge God by his actions (or inactions) that cause suffering and evil, then how are we to know that he is good? We’re not to know. We are to presuppose. But even presupposing that god may be good, how do we know there are justifying reasons for him to refrain from freeing people from the many traps they do fall into? Or even to lay those traps in the first place, given the inherent dangers found throughout nature? The issues here are far more complex than Strobel and Kreeft let on. For instance, see the Secular Web’s libraries on Atheistic Moral Arguments, and Moral Argument and Divine Command Theory.
This point is actually incidental to Kreeft’s arguments and is not covered in C4F–an inevitable constraint of the genre. However, this seems to me a non-issue [sic] as well. One would agruably [sic] say that moral constraints, like logical ones, are inherent to God’s nature. Presupposition is involved in any event and from any view and is inevitably subjective from our limited perspectives. The argument sounds impressive, but is really pointless to pursue.
I hardly think it is pointless to pursue the issue of God’s moral character. If I was going to dedicate my life to the worship of a supernatural being, I should like to know what ethical code he observes – and whether he actually observes it. If I were a Christian, I would be most unsatisfied with Kreeft’s pat reassurance that God is, somehow or other, working out the best possible good, despite my current observation of evil.
Faith and Prejudice:
Here Kreeft says there is evidence both for and against God. But, he claims the Christian’s evidence is prejudiced in favor of God by his personal experience (33-4).
At first glance, I failed to see how this is an argument in favor of God. However, after a second reading, I think I see where Kreeft is coming from. The reason I didn’t catch it the first time around is that Kreeft and I have different standards for ‘evidence.’
Gekrin [sic] defines “evidence” in terms of that which is testable and empirically verifiable, and then writes:
Kreeft, I suspect, has a rather different standard. For him I think visions, dreams, personal feelings of joy in prayer, and a sense of direction under God all count as “evidence” for God. In light of this, I believe Kreeft’s argument is that Christians are prejudiced, and rightly so, in believing in God because while there is evidence (of the scientific variety) both for and against God, there is also evidence (of the broader, personal variety) for God.
Kreeft here does indeed use the word “evidence” in a more general way, but this is made quite clear on p. 33 where he compares “absolute proof” with “clues”–the latter of which he refers to as evidence. Such things may be broadly defined as “evidence” in the sense that they are datum which warrant an explanation. Gerkin is engaging a serious nitpick here. But he does go on to hurl the elephants of the Secular Web’s library against theism, which is fair, since Kreeft also notes that in one of his books, he summarizes twenty arguments for theism. So again, I suppose one elephant deserves another; but the herd is still not finished walking by:
If you accept Kreeft’s standard for personal evidence then yes, you have evidence for Christianity. But you also have evidence for Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Zeus, UFOs, telekinesis, ESP, ghosts, and well, just about anything. This is an old problem of the difference between faith and evidence, and Strobel and Kreeft hardly touch on the real issues, as one can see in the Secular Web’s libraries on Faith and Reason and Religious Experience.
I seriously doubt that most of these entries (Zeus, UFOs, etc.) are any more than apples to a Christian orange. Simplistically collapsing down to “just about anything” is tactically impressive only to the similarly simplistic.
Then hopefully it will convince those simplistic enough to accept Kreeft’s absurd standards for evidence.
I’d like to see a particular defense of Zeus in this context. The literature shows that Zeus made himself pretty obvious, grabbing jollies any way he could; tell me of news reports of this happening today, and Gerkin may have a case of more than Uncritical Listing Syndrome.
Tell me of news reports of men being resurrected from the dead today, and I will accept your charge of Uncritical Listing Syndrome.
A minor point of note: Kreeft says, “If we had absolute proof instead of clues, then you could no more deny God than deny the Sun” (33). Firstly, there are still people who deny that the Earth is round , so even when absolute proof is available people will sometimes reject it. Secondly, I fail to see how it would be bad (especially for Christians) if people had no reason to deny God’s existence. Why is it better to play a cosmic game of hide and seek?
That people will deny even with absolute proof is of no relevance–and Gerkin fails to see the answer for #2 in Kreeft’s very words: “God gives is just enough evidence so that those who want him can have him.” God is “hidden” only from those who don’t want him.
This is a nice view for Christians, since it is airtight. Unfortunately, that also makes it worthless, as anyone who finds the evidence for God insufficient can simply be accused of not really wanting God, and summarily dismissed. I could make an equally valid, and equally dogmatic claim that all people who believes the evidence is sufficient are simply deceiving themselves because they do want God.
The evidence is sufficient for unbiased and rational choice. Skeptics will deny this, of course, but after years of reading their various works and the excuses they construct for disbelief (even as those who compose some of the most intelligent and reasoned excuses I have seen), as far as I am concerned, the benefit of the doubt has been exhausted. Skepticism is a religion of faith that seeks any constructed explanation, no matter how out of touch with the relevant data, to keep skeptical beliefs alive. It is also a religion that finds itself satsified [sic] with the answer that suits its prejudiuces [sic], never looking further than is needed to prove the point. We’ll see some minor examples of this below.
Evil As Evidence For God:
Kreeft claims that humans have standards of good and evil and those must have their origin in God. He also claims that impersonal evolution, if it was true, would have created a perfect universe by now. He says that atheism snobbishly disregards the fact that the majority of people believe in God, and robs life of value (34-6).
Lots to talk about here. We’ll start with standards of good and evil. Kreeft says, “. . . if there is no God, where did we get the standard of goodness by which we judge evil as evil?” (34). If all you are saying is that “we humans have standards” then it is not a valid jump to say “therefore God had to have made up those standards.” This is also annoying because Kreeft is deliberately ignoring a number of easy alternatives. How about the easiest one: We humans made the standards up. In fact, since many different human cultures have had many, wide-ranging sets of standards, I think the “human origin” fits the facts much better. Sure, there are some “nearly-universal” standards found in civilized cultures, but isn’t it possible (even likely) that those are the result of what is necessary for human civilization to endure?
Lots to talk about, indeed, but no more than an elephant hurled by; not surprising, since the alternative is easy to say, but not easy to back up. Gerkin’s arguments for “made them up” are not without problems of their own. This talk of “wide-ranging sets of standards” is generalizing balderdash. There are no such wide ranges; what ranges is the level of information that informs the actions. To choose one instance: Hinduism values animal life to the extent of not killing cows because they have a view of such animals as divine. If this were indeed true, their moral act would be correct. The basic moral value (honor of the divine) is recognized here as there (even skepticism does not deny this value, it merely assumes there is no “divine” to honor); what is not recognized as the same is the application. Failure to distinguish between base value and application lies at the heart of this typical skeptical argument.
I would argue that there is a far more base value at work than “honor of the divine.” The base value is pleasure. To my knowledge, Hindu’s believe that prior to each reincarnation, their spirit will suffer or be blessed as determined by their actions in this life. Since killing a cow is coded an evil action in Hinduism, it would severely hurt their after-life stock and lead away from pleasure. Of course, this same idea applies to Christians’ heaven and hell doctrines.
In terms of “what is necessary for human civilazation [sic] to endure”–it is true that standards would indeed be necessary for this, but that does not explain at all why a person should care whether human civilization endures. Why shouldn’t a very selfish amd [sic] powerful person kill or enslave them all and take everything for themselves? Obviously this would be hard to do, especially now, but this means that only selfish self-preservation, not standards, would prevent such an act.
I would argue that self-preservation is a standard, and is, in fact, the driving force behind some of our most basic values: life, property, loyalty, etc. We can recognize that living in societies where such values are held is beneficial to our survival. Another standard is pleasure. We can try to determine what sort of society we would prefer to live in. The majority of those whose preferences coincide set the general standards.
Given enough power, the skeptic cannot explain why said person should preserve human civilization.
“Should” implies a goal orientation. I could certainly explain why said person should preserve human civilization for a number of reasons, but if said person’s primary goal (above all others) was the destruction of human civilization, I would be unconvincing – as would anyone. That is why we, who value civilization, should withhold power from those who do not.
More could and has been said on this, but within our genre constraint, we will go no further, other than to make the point that Gerkin’s argument by itself is far too simplistic.
I hold that my answer was no more simplistic than was warranted by Kreeft’s unsupported assumption that moral standards must find their origin in God.
But even if you decide that it is impossible that humans made the standards up (although I don’t see how such a position could be conclusively reached) is the Christian God the only alternative? Could the Jewish or Islamic Gods have been the originators? And why a single God? Why not a Council or Pantheon of Gods? A Cosmic Congress, if you will. I don’t see how these alternatives can be discounted. Also, sound atheistic alternatives cannot be simply ignored, as one can see from the Secular Web’s library on Morality and Atheism, and theistic attempts to make a god necessary actually fail, as is shown in the Secular Web’s library on Moral Argument and Divine Command Theory.
Here we have what I have elsewhere termed Uncritical Listing Syndrome, a disease borne often by pagan copycat theorists, but often found elsewhere as well; in skeptics, usually with reference to arguments about the Scriptural canon, i.e., “Why weren’t any of these 423 books in the canon?” In this case, we have merely an uncritical list of alternatives with no evaluation, coupled with the elephants of the Secular Web’s library spun out as though their mere existence makes them reasonable and sound. Of course with reference to the Jewish and Islamic alternatives, it would not matter–in this respect the origin of standards is agreed upon; what is differed upon is application. A Council is possible theoretically but is hardly an alternative worthy of consideration when it is merely thrown in the air–candidates should at least have tendered some revelation by now; or else, if we speak of the Norse, or Greco-Roman pantheons, don’t seem worth consideration on account of their apparent extended absence (when it was previously supposed that it was in their character to show off and not be ignored–Loki at least would hardly be able to resist showing off and taking credit).
Firstly, I would suggest that the Graeco-Roman Gods have been no more absent than our good friend Yahveh. Secondly, what bearing does a God’s absence or presence have on his ability to imbue humans with an inherent morality?
Commentary about evolution is beyond our scope, so we next move here:
Kreeft says, “How is it possible that over ninety percent of all human beings who have ever lived . . . could believe in God?” (35). This is the classic argument from popular assent (a.k.a. the fallacy of argumentum ad numerum), which is about the weakest kind one can muster. One doesn’t take a poll to determine truth. Almost every human on the planet at one time thought that the earth was flat and the center of the universe around which the sun revolved. So they can be wrong.
I suspect Kreeft is doing more than appealing to the numbers here–he is pointing to the fact that this number includes peoples of vast intelligence who we would be hard-pressed (and quite arrogant) to declare wrong. The comparison to the earth being flat, etc. is not an appropriate analogy: the philosophical arguments for God’s existence are intellectually accessible to everyone and at all times; data about the earth and the universe has not been.
I question how accessible philosophy was to the average person for the vast majority of history. Certainly not more accessible than the ability to watch a sailing ship disappear beyond the horizon with its mast as the portion last seen – which is all the data one needs to determine the earth’s curvature. Indeed, the Greeks figured this out circa 500 BC.
Kreeft also says, ” . . . just by looking at the balance of pleasure and suffering in the world, would not seem to justify believing in an absolutely good God. Yet this has been almost universally believed” (35). This is another stab at the argument from popular assent, but beyond that it is just plain wrong. There has never been such an ‘absolutely good god’ in Chinese, Hindu, Shinto, or Buddhist belief, not to mention the traditional religions in Africa or the Americas, and they have among them always comprised around half the world’s population, and still do. Even the God of the Old Testament, while I am assured He is one and the same with that of the New, does not seem to display these absolutely good and loving attributes.
The latter is incorrect, as shown by Miller’s item linked above. Beyond that we are presented with yet another uncritical list. I can say that the Chinese at least have indeed held such a belief in the past (the reference is to Shang Ti, the heavenly emperor) and may add that Shinto and Buddhism are in themselves largely indifferent to a god-belief, but are not at all exclusive to it. Traditional religions also often held or hold such a belief. Without critical evaluation, this argument is merely a pep rally and is worthless.
Why are specific counter examples “worthless”? Kreeft cannot blithely ignore 50% of the world’s population when making a statement of “universal” application.
Finally Kreeft attacks atheism by saying, ” . . . it [atheism] robs death of meaning, and if death has no meaning, how can life ultimately have meaning?” (35). I have never understood this argument. It seems fairly obvious that if my life means something to me then it has meaning. Furthermore, if it means something to my family and friends then that meaning is deepened.
If developed further, we would want to distinguish between temporal meaning and ultimate meaning. One can of course create temporal meaning to any extent, but the body will die and decay, and one’s memory will vanish. Those who find such limited meaning satisfactory I would say are cheating themselves and putting on a happy-face show for the sake of preserving their rebellion
Just as I would say Christians who search for some sort of meaning beyond death are cheating themselves out of fully enjoying this life for the sake of false hopes.
–but that is beyond our scope for more than an elephant hurled back at another, other than this relevant application:
Kreeft also takes an unwarranted shot at atheism by asking us to, “. . . look at the results of communism, the most powerful form of atheism on earth” (36). As if atheism was why an entire centralized economic-political system didn’t work. It should also be noted that communism was not based on atheism; rather a Marxist’s atheism is based on communism, being derived from political-historical analysis, not the other way around. Besides, state sponsored atheism is no different than state sponsored religion, and people who are atheists because the state told them so, are the equivalent of people who are religious because their parents told them so.
What was based on what is not really relevant here, nor is reason for belief relevant. The simple fact is that communist atheism consistently and logically applied itself as an atheistic system in which there was no ultimate value or purpose, only temporal values and purposes that could be changed as desired. Atheists who say they would not repeat communist atheism’s mistakes have to “cheat” by borrowing a moral base from theism and declaring, arbitrarily, that it will be followed.
Any ethical system must borrow its moral base from the same source: human experience. But the theist often proceeds to distort and complicate this base in capricious ways, while atheist can adopt a more parsimonious model. And if people are currently convinced to act morally “because God says so” then I don’t think it ought to be terribly difficult to come up with an equally compelling atheistic reason.
After expressing surprise at Kreeft’s use of the “logical impossibility” argument noted above, we have:
Then we jump headfirst into the old free will argument. I’m surprised it took us this long to get here. This is the classic idea that God had to create the potential for evil so that humans could freely choose good. Kreeft says, “It’s a self contradiction – a meaningless nothing – to have a world in which there’s real choice while at the same time no possibility of choosing evil” (37). I don’t know about that. It seems to me that we live in a world where our choice is limited in many ways. No matter how much I may wish to fly in the sky unaided, teleport millions of miles with a blink of my eyes, or blow up someone’s head with a thought, these things are beyond my abilities as a human being. Yet, I may choose among the abilities I have. God shorted us with plenty of abilities we could have theoretically had, so why didn’t he short us with the ability to do evil?
Once again we are throwing oranges in the apple cart. None of the hypothetical abilities listed would be rooted in the possession of free will; they are physical abilities, not moral or spiritual choices. To short one of the ability to do evil is to short free will; to not grant them an ability to fly, etc., does not compromise free will at all, it compromises freedom, but not free will and the ability to choose. Again Gerkin shows a lamentable lack of ability to make subtle yet simple distinctions.
Let me try it another way. It seems to me that free will, as Christians perceive it, operates in the following fashion:
1. A situation is presented to you.
2. You apprehend a number of alternatives as to how you might act in said situation.
3. You choose from the above alternatives.
If this is the case, then God could have simply made people incapable of conceiving of immoral actions. This would in no way impugn their free will according to the above model. It’s not as if there are only two, black & white alternatives to any given situation. The person in question would still have a number of alternatives to choose from, however, they would all be morally acceptable choices.
Kreeft answers this almost immediately with, “Real love . . . must involve a choice. But with the granting of that choice comes the possibility that people would choose instead to hate” (37). But this is a false dichotomy I think. Why must the spectrum run from love to hate? Why not from love to like? Or even from love to ignore? Would love be less potent without the possibility of hate? I think not.
One wonders what the issue is here. Kreeft is hardly saying that the spectrum must run so; he is saying that it does, which is a reality that can hardly be denied, and that in a world of free will such a spectrum is inevitable.
As stated above, I completely disagree with this alleged inevitability.
Gerkin’s further comments about a spectrum are therefore of no relevance.
Near the end of this section, Kreeft comes out of nowhere with, “No, the evidence is that God is all powerful” (38). What the hell? I scrambled back through the pages looking for this evidence, but either Kreeft didn’t mention it, or (as I really suspect) he thinks the freewill defense proves his point. However, the freewill defense (if valid) may provide an excuse for God’s inaction, but this only makes omnipotence compatible with lack of evidence for that omnipotence, it does not demonstrate that omnipotence exists.
Gerkin can’t read here–or else, like Lowder with McDowell, is pretending to read Kreeft’s or Strobel’s mind. The argument started with the assumption that God was omnipotent and that evil was a possible rebuttal of that. It was not, nor intended to be, a formal and full proof of God’s omnipotence.
Kreeft claimed that “the evidence is that God is all powerful,” but provides us with nothing more than assumption.
Kreeft returns to his point that God can operate using short term suffering for long term good. He claims the clearest example of this is to be found in the crucifixion of Christ. Concerning the crucifixion, he claims, “. . . the very worst thing that has ever happened in the history of the world ended up resulting in the very best thing that has ever happened in the history of the world” (39). This is obviously an opinion, and a highly debatable one at that. Crucifying a man is a pretty awful thing to do, but is it worse than the holocaust? Is it worse than Stalin’s pogrom that murdered 20 million? Is it worse than the streets of modern day India? I have a hard time buying that. Maybe I’m nitpicking by harping on Kreeft’s hyperbole, but it is important to point out these apologists’ tendencies for ridiculous exaggeration.
Exaggeration? If Christianity is true, then the crucifixion means that God experienced death, as Kreeft plainly states, but Gerkin ignores. Is the death of God better or worse than a Stalin pogrom? A skeptic would debate this, yes, but a theist would not.
Why not? Sure, God died, but not really. He didn’t even suffer on the cross for very long (only his mortal manifestation would have felt pain anyway) and he knew he would be resurrected to live in paradise in a few short days.
Of course, none of this seems to have anything to do with God’s omniscience, which is what Kreeft is supposed to be addressing. One would think an all knowing being could devise a more coherent path to eternal salvation that didn’t involve torturing his son. I guess we should just have faith that God knows what he is doing.
Once again, Gerkin is playing the mind-reading game or is scoring low on comprehension. Kreeft is defending omniscience within the premise of evil as a rebuttal to it, not providing a full-scale defense and analysis of omniscience.
Even so, I fail to see how suffering of any kind redeems God as an omniscient being.
Beyond that, for the matter of “coherent,” “torturing his son,” etc., see Glenn Miller’s item here for specific rebuttal.
In the next section we have material that is overall answered by the first Miller item linked above, but we have some added comments:
Once again we return to Kreeft’s thesis – that short term suffering can result in long term good, that we sometimes must survive hardships to become better people. But, one can surely dispute that all forms of evil are making people better. Are the former citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki better people for being atomized?
Kreeft is not arguing that all evil results in good for all persons. However, to use the example given, one might argue that without Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there would not have been as much restraint in using nuclear devices to the present day, since no one would have personally experienced the horrors of such a device (and tests, for all their display and power, don’t hit home as hard as actual use on persons; almost all today can name Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but who remembers or thinks in depth about Bikini Atoll, other than locals and military people?). No Hiroshima and no Nagasaki may have meant New York or Moscow vaporized instead in the 50s. The argument may be better phrased as saying that God can make good out of our evil, or allows it knowing a greater good will come of it in spite of ourselves; but that is not necessarily why all evil is allowed.
I don’t argue that greater goods can and do come out of some evils. I simply argue that an omnipotent God ought to be able to dispense with the evils entirely while achieving the same (or greater) levels of good.
And here is a naive statement by Gerkin: “Compassion, it seems to me, would make me incapable of torturing even one person for any greater good, no matter how great the good was.” Indeed? Easy words to say; but we’ll put it this way, using a popular analogy: You are a drawbridge operator, and a train is coming. Too late you see that if you open the bridge, the machinery will crush and hideously kill an innocent person crawling in the gears. If you put down the bridge, one person will tortuously die. If you leave it up, 500 will die in just as much agony, if not more–and there’s a darned good chance the guy in the gears will get slathered, too. Is saving the one person “compassion”? Or is it stupidity? Actually it is both. Compassion may not be able to make a wise choice; but that is why we have rational minds.
Maybe I was imprecise, but I think it stands to reason that if I will not torture one person for the sake of many, I will also not torture many for the sake of one. And, of course, given the choice of those two evils, I will select the lesser. However, I had in mind situations where the benefit received by the many was something more than a lack of suffering and torture. And let us remember that none of these points applies to God who should never be hemmed in by a dichotomous situation.
And the question remains: how are we to know the difference between a God who allows us to suffer for reasons He withholds and a cold, uncaring universe that allows us to suffer indiscriminately? Of course the answer is that there is no way to tell. You must simply assume/hope for God (if that’s what you want to believe).
This is once again a vast oversimplification and a sound bite; our return elephant would be to make the point that revelation would make a difference, and that one could work out a case for it (as Strobel did in his previous work). Of course Gerkin will undoubtedly have elephants for that as well, and we have plenty of our own elephant tamers on this site. (We would also find the “indiscriminately” adverb highly debatable–again, as the overwhelming majority of suffering is either self-inflicted or human-inflicted.)
Another point of interest: At the end of this section, Kreeft declares that a human trying to devise a utopia might create a precise world adored by engineers but, “. . . one thing’s for sure: you’ll lose the kind of world that a Father would want” (42). I find it curious that theologians will claim it is impossible to know the mind of God when it gets them out of a jam, as in the case of short term suffering/long term good, yet in many other instances, like the quote above, they seem to be so sure of God’s mind.
I do not know what “theologians” Gerkin refers to, but it is a confidence job to place unnamed theologians with regard to unknown topics against a known person and a known topic.
I am referring to a very specific theologian here, as that theologian is Kreeft. I find him to be typical, in the regard stated above, to other theologians, such as those who are interviewed in Strobel’s book.
Skeptics who pull this kind of confidence game need not wonder why I hold their arguments in contempt. The only theologians I know of who have done this were of the Bultmannian liberal-theology school, and they were trying to bail water from a ship on the bottom of the sea.
The matter of God’s delay in judgment is again specifically answered by Miller’s first item above. The matter is not one of “refuting” evidence but interpretable evidence. See also here regarding the argument used by Roddenberry, which is the sort of argument we would expect from someone who wrote about Klingons for a living.
Roddenberry’s association with science fiction has nothing to do with the veracity of his statement, as Holding well knows.
Kreeft praises God for his willingness to overlook our sins, which are “our fault” (as I stated above, this point is dubious) and instead take all of our suffering upon himself. Once again, I must note that while crucifixion is certainly a terrible and painful way to die, I’m not sure it is commensurate with all the suffering of all time in all the world.
Also, we must question how much Christ really suffered. If indeed he was God, how can the suffering of a being, who is all-wise and all-powerful, who has the greatest willpower and strength and fortitude of any possible being, and who knew perfectly well beyond even a shadow of a doubt that he would not really die anyway, be compared to the suffering of a mortal who shares none of these traits? God is literally incapable of experiencing suffering as humans are capable of knowing it.
On this see specifically here–Kreeft is not arguing that the suffering is commensurate in the sense of time or pain but in the sense of value.
To illustrate his point about God’s presence alleviating the Problem of Evil, Kreeft uses the Book of Job. He says, “He (God) could’ve written the best book on the problem of evil ever written. Instead, he shows himself to Job” (50). I fail to see how this magically whisks away the Problem of Evil. Certainly, the act of God manifesting himself to me would solve the issue of God’s existence. But I still wouldn’t know much about him. Is he all good? If so . . . well, you know the rest.
I do no see where it is said that this “magically whisks away” anything; if this is Gerkin’s immature, give-me-a-quick-answer attitude, little wonder he is where he is today.
I suppose I would be better off if I found every answer I needed in a book written by long dead desert peoples.
However, Kreeft explains his point by noting that evil is answered and ended in God’s presence, for it portends the end of evil and the ultimate triumph of good. Perhaps Gerkin has a makeshift answer for this, and of course would dispute it, but he is still selling Kreeft short. For more specifically on Job, see again the first linked piece to Miller.
Indeed, my answer for this is the rather obvious point that an eventual end to evil does not somehow justify the evil that has gone before. Job’s blessings at the end of his life do not make his prior suffering any less visceral.
Besides, is the story of Job supposed to demonstrate God’s benevolence? By citing this awful biblical tale, Kreeft implies that God is causing people to suffer in order to increase or test their belief in him. Aren’t there far better, kinder ways to gain the same result? Is increasing belief even a morally acceptable excuse for doing evil? After all, that was the point of the Inquisition–so were inquisitors acting morally?
No, that wasn’t the point of Inquisition, though it may have been an excuse or a cover for the real point, which was power-grabbing. Again Gerkin seems to have a problem making subtle distinctions.
Fair enough, I withdraw the Inquisitor analogy as it stands, but if the goal of the Inquisition had been to increase or test belief, would it then have been morally acceptable? The basic question is still at issue.
Are there better, kinder ways to get the result? Only by creating robots.
Since God himself specifically commissions Satan to terrorize Job, I’m not sure how the robot objection applies.
Finally, on Jesus as the answer to suffering:
I think Kreeft is trying to deftly skirt the issue here. First off, we must question the quality of Jesus’ friendship. When I say my friends stick with me through thick and thin, I mean they actually do things for me, protect me, talk to me, not that they follow me around and do nothing no matter what happens to me, all the while hiding in the bushes every time I turn around . . . that would be a dispassionate stalker, not a friend. But ignoring that, it might be great that Jesus will love you and walk with you no matter what happens, however, that is just a way for suffering and evil to be tolerable. . . .
This complaint has the smell of a person with dashed expectations of a God who was a personal genie. Of course it also has merely begged the question that God is indeed “hiding in the bushes” and assumes that arguments above are true, which we have shown they are not. A friend may walk and talk with you, but above all he will die for you. He will also give you the direction you need to avoid trouble–and that is what the Word is for; those who choose to ignore a friend’s advice can hardly wonder why the friend does not intervene when they tell the friend to take a hike because they want to do it their own way.
This might have some validity if only skeptics were ignored by God and left to suffering and misery. But, of course, devout Christians suffer just as much without any help from God. In fact, since skepticism is far more widespread in prosperous societies than the third world, one might argue that the average Christian suffers even more.
Finally in this chapter:
I won’t argue that Christ gives purpose and meaning to a lot of people’s lives. I won’t argue that the notion of Christ is comforting and can be enormously helpful in combating trying times. But other religions, like Buddhism, work just as well in just the same circumstances. And many atheists endure the same and even worse things without Jesus – does that mean atheists are stronger people? Most importantly, none of these pragmatic considerations have anything to do with whether it (religion, Christianity, God, etc) is true or not. Christ could be equally useful, even if he was made up.
There is a validity at least to this. As I have noted elsewhere, certain religions, and even scientific atheism, can result in a satisfaction because they imitate in their own way the pursuit of the infinite, found truly in God. Science for example has the allure of the never-completely-answered questions, a pale imitation of the pursuit of the infinite God. I would not be surprised if one could find some satisfaction in other religions and in science–in part because they all have some truth in any event, and could hardly operate otherwise. And yet just as well could a heroin addict find satisfaction in the latest fix.
All generalized grandstanding about “many atheists” aside, then, it is correct to say that the pragmatic is not tied to the reality. But again, the issue is also not to be decided merely on a sound bite.
Nor are any of the objections tackled by Strobel to be decided by the measly interviews he conducts.
Section 2: Miracles and Such
On this chapter we will have much less to say. The objection that Strobel’s chapter title is “weakly” phrased is a straw man–popularly, the objection it embodies is indeed made whether Gerkin knows it or not. Indeed, the fairest scientists (and historians) would not say a miracle “cannot” happen but would say they are unpredictable and beyond their occurrence, in nature unverifiable. But the average person isn’t making such a distinction; they are making the objection as indeed Strobel phrases it.
In that case, the popular objectors are wrong, but their misunderstanding of science does not make it acceptable for Strobel to avoid addressing the more potent and reasonable objection that exists.
That said, the specifics engaged by Gerkin beyond this show him to be a poor student of apologetic and scholarly literature. On matters of messianic prophecy and their interpretation, this site and Glenn Miller’s have adequately answered all of Gerkin’s objections; see our index by Scripture cite as needed.
Wow, talk about a herd of elephants! If Holding is going to list two entire web sites as refutations of my points, then he cannot fairly criticize me for “elephant hurling” without scaling the heights of hypocrisy.
Gerkin also ignorantly compares oral transmission of the Gospels to the game of “telephone.” Relevant material for his arguments can be found:
here on oral transmission
here on Gospel dates and authenticity
here and in the series that follows on “bias” in the NT
here and here on harmonizing the Gospels, especially the rez narratives; plus here on Mark’s ending
here on Markan priority
here on “spiritual resurrection”
here on extrabiblical miracles–the comparison to Joseph Smith is again apples and oranges; Joseph’s demand-for-belief curve was nowhere as steep as that of early Christianity
here on prayer
In the interest of economy, I will only respond to original commentary from Holding, and not linked material.
Matters on evolution, first cause, etc. are again beyond our scope, but it seems unlikely that Gerkin would be any better off. Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box is said to have been “heavily criticized by the scientific community” along with other Intelligent Design proponents; I can say just as well, and just as accurately, that is has been praised in that same community. One elephant deserves another.
More than simply noting their existence, I actually linked to a number of such criticisms in my essay. I have yet to see a single scientist, who is not promoting a conservative Christian agenda, praise Behe or ID. If Holding is aware of any such people, I would ask that he please produce the documentation.
For my part, when I see evolutionists making absurd errors in basic logic–such as Dawkins using his friend losing his vision but still playing racquetball well as he did when we had perfect vision, as an example of how a lesser percent of vision can still be useful in evolution,
Dawkins point was simply that any vision, even if it is blurred or weak, is better than no vision at all. This makes it possible to select better and better vision from successive generations without jumping straight to an eye with the visual acuity of our own.
or using the “evolution” of the automobile (designed by an intelligent mind!) as evidence of naturalistic evolution–I see no reason to trust them or think that they have interpreted evidence correctly or logically.
Considering that I consistently encounter creationists who demonstrate a complete ignorance of even the most fundamental aspects of evolution (individual organisms don’t evolve, the evolutionary model is a tree – not a ladder, natural selection is not random, etc), I see no reason to trust that they have even looked at the evidence for evolution, much less interpreted it correctly.
It is asked how one can know that a supernatural element is involved, and supposed that appeal to the miraculous is “punting to God that which [we] can’t explain.” One wonders whether it is any different in principle to “punt” to some as yet unknown scientific explanation.
It is a misrepresentation of the position of skeptics to suggest that we place faith in science to answer all unresolved questions. Should empirical evidence be lacking, we simply say that “we don’t know.” However, it certainly reasonable to suggest that science may provide an answer to some unresolved questions, as there have been a great number of questions which were unresolved in the past, but are now adequately explained by science. On the contrary, God has been used to explain all sorts of “supernatural” questions since the dawn of time such as “why does the sun rise?” to “where does the rain come from?” In each and every case, God was a useless and inadequate explanation.
Of course the theist may suppose that the punt is made because the punter has spoken and taken responsibility. In any event, once again sound bites and simplistic arguments (such as those from Richard Carrier’s material) will not do the job. Desperately suggesting that Joseph of Arimathea gave a false location of the burial “for whatever reasons” isn’t going to do the job either beyond upholding skeptical faith-punts.
Okay, here’s a specific reason for giving a false burial location: Joseph wanted to prevent the body from being defiled or extracted and tossed in the common criminal graveyard. This could have easily been a legitimate concern as “it appears that Jewish Law forbade the burial of executed criminals in family tombs – they had to be buried in one of two special graveyards reserved for criminals (Mishnah, Sanhedrin 6.5e-f).” The quote was pulled from Richard Carrier’s essay “Why I Don’t Buy The Resurrection Story”
On the matter of “looking dead” see here and the portion related to signs of death–that isn’t something easily mistaken, and did not require medical expertise, just a good pair of eyes.
How hard would Roman soldiers really look at the limp, unconscious form of a man who had just been taken down from the crucifix?
Some vague statements Gerkin or other things needs to back up–I consider every part of these simply false and challenge Gerkin to produce detail, or worthless to argue:
“. . . John [the Gospel] appears to be written very late, is filled with more exaggeration than the others, and has Jesus take on a more philosophically argumentative stance, suggesting the intent of settling doctrinal disputes in the church.”
Back it up!
The late date of John’s composition is backed up by virtually every piece of modern NT scholarship. I back up the rest of my “vague statement” with the Gospel of John, chapters 1-21.
“I have coaxed the admission out of Christians that nothing could convince them that their core belief about God and the Bible is wrong.”
Atheists are little different as a majority. Here is what I will say: Substantial evidence would be required to get such an admission from me; this is because that which weights positive will be hard to overcome. Speculation won’t do it. You need a dead body positively identifiable with Jesus to start.
Unfortunately, Jesus’ body decomposed long ago, so that will be difficult to produce. In any case, I find the resurrection to be a curious rallying point for the issues in question. Even if Jesus did rise from the dead, how does that prove the existence of an omnipotent God or the inerrancy of the Bible? Can we say non sequitur?
Then you need a sound social explanation for a number of factors, recounted here.It won’t be an easy hill to climb to win me to your side, but skeptics are welcome to try. However, I don’t look for that happening when they continue to haul out objections that have been answered and dealt with time and time again, and are based on ignorance rather than understanding. There is more to this chapter on the resurrection, but we will save this issue for a more comprehensive look at a later date.
Section 3: The Evolution Revolution
The bulk of this chapter is also beyond our scope; for such questions I prefer to refer to my friends at Answers in Genesis. But I do have a few comments.
A large list is offered of supposed “transitional forms.” Little or no evidence is given to show how these are qualified as such, and where such description is given it is almost always to say that it is a case of some animal have a small number of parts that resemble A, and others that resemble B, thus showing that it is a transition from A to B. This is far from adequate in context. They are equal to saying that a child’s balloon on one end, and an airplane on the other, is proved to have an evolutionary link in a hot-air balloon. I am therefore satisfied to dismiss this as yet more Uncritical Listing Syndrome.
My list of transitional forms was not intended to be an in depth discussion of evolutionary evidence. It was simply a refutation of Strobel’s ridiculous contention that evolutionary biologists have not classified any (or very few) transitional forms. Whether biologists are correct in their classification is a broader issue, but one needs to actually look at the scientific literature on the subject to make that kind of decision, not unthinkingly dismiss it as Uncritical Listing Syndrome.
Section 4: Diss God Some More
The main focus of this chapter is the allegation that the God of the Bible is cruel. In this regard we are again able to provide specific answers already composed:
here on Midianites
here on Canaanites, etc.
here on Amalekites–these last include answers to questions like, “Why not raise the children rather than kill them?”
here and here on Eilsha [sic] and the bears
here on “Thou shalt not kill.”
here on slavery as an alternative
here on animal pain
here again on knowledge of man’s fall prior to creation
Again, in the interest of economy I will not review linked material.
What does that leave us with? Mostly argument by outrage, “no one is that guilty to deserve punishment” sort of reasoning. In other words, an immensely begged question. A few points otherwise:
Despite the quotation marks, I never actually said “no one is that guilty to deserve punishment,” however I do question the nature and severity of the punishments meted out, not to mention which offenses are denoted as “deserving” of punishment.
Gerkin finds it hard “to believe every ounce” of some culture was “pure evil and rotten to the core.” It did not need every ounce; it just had to be sufficiently evil and rotten.
It was Geisler, not me, who first suggested the culture was “totally and utterly depraved.” I am just calling him out on his exaggeration. Besides that, what level of evil is justifiably sufficient to wipe out a population in its totality?
As for the “biased” view of the Israelies [sic], what archaeological evidence we have backs up the Israelite views of these people (see above links)–and how does one prove that this was biased rather than correct? Isn’t this “punting” to an unknown?
Name one culture in all of history whose views of their enemies were not biased.
The old “omnipotence” card is shaken again thusly:
Best yet, Geisler would have us believe that the Israelites needed to be saved because of “the Messiah who was to be born among them” (119). What kind of impotent and unimaginative God is this? Consider: (1.) He is omnipotent, yet he couldn’t bring about Jesus except through the Israelites? (2.) He can’t think of a better way to save the Israelites than the wholesale genocide of the Amalekites? (3.) The Israelites must be the instrument of God? Why does God need help, or, as Captain James T. Kirk so eloquently phrased it in Star Trek V, “What does God need with a starship?”
Well, when you can’t quote scholars, quote James T. Kirk. I like Jim myself, but he didn’t have advanced theology on his side. (BTW, one of Shatner’s proposed plots for movie V was that Jesus was a space alien, so as much as I like Shatner as an actor, as a theologian, he has a lot of work to do.)
Obviously Shatner’s personal theology is irrelevant since I was quoting a scripted character, not the actor. Also, I used the Star Trek quote in an attempt to inject a bit if levity into my piece, however, the basic point (why does God need human help?) is entirely valid and has been explicated by numerous philosophers whom I could have quoted had a chosen a stuffier route.
The answers to these:
“He is omnipotent, yet he couldn’t bring about Jesus except through the Israelites?” What’s the point here? That God could bring Jesus about through someone else? Sure, that’s possible, but how does Gerkin know that through Israel wasn’t the least amount of trouble? If he had come through the Olmecs, there may have been even more bloodshed. Innumerable factors came into play in this decision for the Israelites: geography, genetics, politics, and so on. I am reminded here of the objection that Abraham was a lousy choice because he was so immoral. Well, my question is, who do the critics think was a better choice when all factors are considered? Do they have a list?
Or perhaps, does Gerkin mean that God could have just had Jesus pop out in midair? Possible of course, but I can just see skeptics pitching a fit about needing more proof on that one! If it had been a stumbling-block for anyone’s belief in eternal life, and their free choice for such, it was a necessary trade-off to operate through human agents. The ancients may not have had as much trouble with the concept, given their acceptable paradigms of behavior for divine beings, but most moderns would blow a gasket.
I simply find it hard to believe that an all powerful, all wise being couldn’t figure out a better way to present us with “The Prince of Peace” than by decimating whole populations with war.
“He can’t think of a better way to save the Israelites than the wholesale genocide of the Amalekites?” As noted in the article link above, that is indeed what it had to come to, and there was no logical alternative–as well as plenty of chances for the Amalekites to behave themselves. Note as well that Gekrin [sic] and other skeptics still fail to put themselves in the place of ancient peoples where matters like life and death are concerned. Their thinking was not as ours, as Miller explains.
I reiterate my point above.
“The Israelites must be the instrument of God? Why does God need help . . . ?” This is later related to the idea that innocent Israelites also died fighting. Sure, God could just take the giant Windex bottle down and wipe out the enemy, but what do you have then? You have Israelites with no sense of earning their way, but rather a sense of entitlement. Doesn’t the lesson of welfare reform teach us that letting authority do the job is bad principle? Experience is always key to formation.
The formation of what? A nation that was soon to be conquered? A culture that would consistently break the covenant and eventually choose to slay their own God?
Allusion is made to the precedent this all allegedly sets for wackos to claim that “God told them” to kill someone. One wonders why this wasn’t able to come along on its own; indeed you already have Hammurabi and others before the Israelites saying that a divine being instructed them to do this or that. It was not much that was bad, but how far is it to stretch it to that? Blame Hammurabui? [sic] No, blame humans for being inventive.
Holding is correct here–blame humans for being inventive. Among their more preposterous inventions: God.
How do we actually know God did not command such people today? If He did, no worries–you won’t be able to keep such a person in a jail cell if they have a genuine mission. Gamaliel was right.
Gerkin naively asks also how realistic it was to suppose these cultures could have repented when they had never heard of Yahvism. See Josh. 9:9–it wasn’t exactly a secret what was coming and why, and actually, they didn’t need to know Yahvism to know they were acting as immorally as they were.
More to the point is the fact that Yahvism was hardly the dominant religion. There were scores of Gods and religions (which the Bible openly refers to). With all these religions, none proving to be particularly stronger than another, is it reasonable to expect everyone to recognize Yahvism as the one true religion and repent? Realize that their own God (in which they most likely believed) was apt to be just as jealous and petty as Yahveh, and just as likely to order death to those who worshipped “false” Gods.
He also naively complains that the women and children driven out “couldn’t exactly stay at the Holiday Inn while the war was going on.” No, but the men if responsible would have gone with them; as it is they were responsible for the decision to stay behind and essentially pit their gods against Yahweh.
I’m sure that was a comforting thought for the children as they slowly starved to death.
They also had plenty of time to prepare (like the Gibeahites did) and could have survived just as well if they could have anyway–unlike a modern creampuff like certain skeptical writers today. Again see the articles linked above for specifics with relation to slavery, life preferences, etc.
Gerkin also pulls up the general spectre of Bible errors, but few specifics are offered. One has to do with the value of pi. A sound bite is offered that Biblical prophecies are “often vague and undefined”–which sounds like this objection.
Few specifics were offered by me because few specifics were offered by Geisler. And again, if readers wanted more specifics, I provided links to just such resources. As for the value of pi, I mention it only as a direct refutation of total Biblical inerrancy. Yes, I realize that the writers were rounding off. Yes, I realize that exact measurements are not particularly important. But, inerrant means no mistakes – not even minor, inconsequential ones. If the Bible is intended to be the literal word of God then he needs to brush up on his math.
On these matters:
On the “Bethlehem” prophecy
On Jesus’ genealogies
on the birth narratives
On Jesus’ genealogies
on Gen. 2:17
On Josh. 17:17-18
Jer. 34:5, etc.
Amos 7:17, etc.–on this one especially it becomes clear that Gerkin is just uncritically copying what other people have written
One doesn’t actually need to read the prophecies for it to be clear that I was copying. Indeed, I made it clear up front that I had extracted them from another essay. I continue to support that essay as a whole, however, in regards to Amos 7:17 it appears a mistake was made which I did not catch. I will grant you that, and I will also grant you that some of the other “unfulfilled prophecies” may be capable of being adequately defended. But, in order to uphold a claim of biblical inerrancy all prophecies must be fulfilled, all contradictions must be adequately resolved, etc. And this is not possible. Also, as far as prophecies are concerned, they must not only be internally consistent as far as the Bible is concerned–we must also be able to determine whether the prophecies were, in fact, uttered prior to the occurrence which they allegedly predict. It would be all too easy for Bible writers to attribute predictions of current events to prophets of the past.
Plus see above links on the resurrection narratives–it is quite naive for Gerkin to allege that it would be reasonable to mention two angels and not just one, since appearing angels were such a spectacular thing. It isn’t “reasonable” at all–the quality of the event remains the same regardless of the number, though a very much larger number (i.e., 8 or 10) suggests significance for other reasons.
I think this is the third time in as many paragraphs that I have been labeled “naive.” I guess only a person who–WOW! Look at that angel that just flew past my window! Or wait a minute–was it two angels? Ah well, I guess it doesn’t matter.
On the time of Jesus’ crucifixion
On Jesus’ birthdate [sic]
I’ll be waiting around for any new ones, and for Gerkin’s replies to the above.
Section 5: One Way [sic] Street
The focus of this section is Christian exclusivism. Gerkin says that he will assume for the sake of argument that Jesus taught this as well, though he first tries to pull this one:
This brings up the point: is this exclusivity something Jesus actually taught–or is it a doctrine adopted later by his followers? The main support for Christ teaching this idea seems to be passages like John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” But the context of John 14 does not directly support the concept that one must worship or believe in Christ in order to ascend to heaven. In fact, it seems to me that this scripture could easily be interpreted to mean that one must only live a Christ-like life in order to reach God.
It can only be interpreted thusly via an extremely unprofessional hermenuetic [sic] based on a modern lens of poltical [sic] correctness and reinterpretation, one that also excludes other passages–such as those where Jesus portrays himself as the arbiter of final judgment (Matt. 25:31-46).
I greatly question how much of the historical Jesus has survived in the Gospels, especially in John. But, if Jesus was quoted correctly in John 14:6 then you are probably right about the exclusivist interpretation. I withdraw my objection on this point.
But we’ll go on and also pass the places (several of them) where Gerkin essentially agrees with Strobel’s material or grants the position without argument.There is little substance to much of what follows otherwise.
Again, this is because I was writing a review, and there was so little substance to critique in the original.
Brief allusions are made to the possibility of arriving at a moral system without a God, but those seeking an expanded defense are referred to the Secular Web Elephant Pen. Gerkin mispprehends [sic] Zacharias’ point about Buddhism and law: He is not saying what Buddhism is “about” but saying that where it lacks, in theism, opens it to a charge of deficiency. Gerkin of course would still disagree, but the point is, he has yet again not read Strobel correctly.
I understood what Zacharias was getting at. But I still think it’s germane to indicate that Zacharias is trying to force an Eastern religion into a Western paradigm and suggesting that because of the ill fit, it is deficient.
As a whole Gerkin does not do justice to Zacharias’ arguments in his summary. But we’d like to comment on a few things:
“Is God subject to his own moral law? If so, why can’t humans be subject to their own?”, etc. As noted, this is not a matter of “subject to”–moral law is inherent in God’s nature; it is not inherent in ours. Let me pose a zinger: We possess more freedom of will than God does. Let’s see what our critics think of that one.
I can only then think that freedom of will is a flaw.
“Why should humans follow God’s moral law? What if they see some of his laws as evil?” Then they are likely mistaken, and the critic has a burden of proof to bear–which Gerkin has yet to do, other than the standard and uninformed Amalekite sound bites and SecWeb elephant hurls.
They only way to go about “proving” moral laws are evil is to judge them against a goal. Broadly stated, my own moral goal is to make the world a more enjoyable place for myself, my contemporaries, and future generations to live. Against the achievement of this goal I can “prove” some of God’s laws are evil. But naturally, the Christian has a different goal – something like: obedience to the commandments of God. Of course, any pronouncement by God is necessarily good given this standard. Even so, God is perhaps not quite as consistent as he might be and confusion among his servants results betwixt commands such as “You shall not murder.” (Ex 20:13) and “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” (Lev 20:13)
“Should they still follow them out of fear? Is this moral?” Out of fear, no–that is essentially non-belief [sic] and non-trust [sic]. And skeptics like Brooks Trubee ask me how persons rationally choose hell!
In that case, I would conclude that many Christians (likely some who are reading Strobel) are acting immorally in this regard.
Regarding destiny, Zacharias points out that Christ’s resurrection, “. . . opened the door to heaven for everyone who will follow him. Where else do you have anything that comes close to claiming this?” (153). Just off-hand, I would say Mormonism, which claims not only to open the door to heaven but promises the possibility of godhood, at least equals, if not surpasses, stock and trade Christianity for pure destiny-appeal.
That’s somewhat of an inadequate answer, since Mormonism, as a derivation of orthodox Christianity, relies on the Resurrection as one of the qualifications for “godhood”–which may not be as spectacular (nor as far from the orthodox view in some ways) as Gerkin thinks. He’ll need more study before he can throw this one in the air, and he needs to choose a faith without any Christian connections.
I could raise other examples but I suppose that would be a fruitless exercise as:
a) Any judgment of “appeal” is going to be entirely subjective in nature, and
b) clearly, one does not determine truth by how “appealing” it is.
As is becoming clear, this whole section is little more than a collection of Zacharias’ opinions. This is further clarified by his assertion that “No man spoke like Jesus. No one ever answered questions the way he answered them. . . .” (153) I believe Socrates’ (among others) oratorical abilities eclipse those of Christ. And the Secular Web library on the Character of Jesus reveals that Zacharias’ opinion can certainly be easily challenged.
The scent of hypocrisy is strong here–Zacharias is criticized for offering opinions, and we are given an opinion about Socrates in reply? As for the character of Jesus issue, all of those are answered on this site by Scripture reference.
I’m not suggesting my opinion on Socrates is any more valid than Zacharias’ on Jesus. I’m simply pointing out the subjectivity of the whole enterprise.
One small point: Zacharias argues against the notion of different religions perceiving God in different ways with the question. “. . . does the atheist have a piece of the truth, or is the atheist marginalized here?” (155). It should be noted that atheism is not a religion, and should not be grouped with religions. There is no body of positions or unity among atheists.
Atheism may not be a religion under certain definitions, but it is certainly a worldview and a position that often relies on faith (the truth hurts!) or ignorance to keep it going. As such it is definable as a religion, albeit as an “anti-religion” [sic] religion. At any rate this is another space-filling nitpick by Gerkin.
Actually, it is a clarification of point sorely in need of elucidation. Atheism is not a worldview, although is a part of some worldviews such as Secular Humanism or Objectivism. I do agree with Holding’s definition of religion as a position which relies on faith and ignorance to keep it going, although (as one might guess) I would not classify Secular Humanism as such.
How can he say no religion has any truth to it when all religions agree in at least some respects with Christianity? Certainly, Judaism overlaps a great deal with it. So all this is a rambling, pointless contrariness.
I see nowhere where Zacharias says “no religion has any truth to it”–where is this?
He doesn’t say this. My mistake.
Redemption, Righteousness, Worship–Zacharias suggests that belief is more important than conduct. He tells us Jesus’ purpose was not morality. He knocks various philosophical ethical systems and is questioned on the probable destiny of Gandhi (155-7).
Zacharias’ answers continue to be heavy on speculation, and light on coherent content. It’s hard to critique “arguments” that don’t really follow any thread, and that are more assertion than argument anyway.
Perhaps the “hardness” is in Gerkin’s lack of comprehension and intellectual laziness. It’s apparent that Gerkin just doesn’t have much to say here, so he just fills the gap with nitpicks. But he does leave space for plenty of mistakes:
You are correct: I didn’t have much to say, because I didn’t have much to review from Zacharias, other than bald assertions.
Zacharias says moral living is well and good, but belief is what really matters. “Jesus Christ didn’t come into this world to make bad people good . . . he came . . . to make dead people live” (156). Is this really what Christ taught? It’s what his disciples and the early church taught certainly, but can this focus be observed in Jesus himself? I think not.
Really? Let’s try these passages: Matt. 4:4//Luke 4:4, Luke 10:28, John 5:25, 6:51, 11:25, 14:19. Heavy on John? Perhaps, but there’s more to it. Jewish thought had a heavy interconnectedness with sin and death (the Gen. 2:17 matter) and any place where Jesus speaks of sin, and of the Kingdom of God, amounts to a declaration of his mission to bring the spiritually dead to life. This thought is encapsulated in Deut. 30:19, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live . . . ” Gerkin just isn’t very well informed about the societal context here.
Interpreting the above passages as indicating the focus of Jesus’ mission was “to make dead people live” seems rather a large stretch.
Zacharias criticizes several ethical systems because “they are reduced to mere survival” (156). He indicates that when constructing a moral paradigm, “life and death, spiritually, is where you begin” (157). But isn’t this just reducing it to mere “spiritual” survival? He is describing a purely mercenary religion, where Christians would gladly follow even an evil God if it got them into heaven. Is he really supposed to be making Christianity look good here?
Again I find it enough here to say that Gerkin is giving Zacahrias the short shrift. This is not rebuttal by Gerkin, but illicit summary of the case.
Is it not a salient point for Christians to consider the ethical nature of their religion?
And even supposing morality was moot and only eternal survival mattered, just how are we supposed to decide if a system behooves our spiritual existence? It’s kind of hard to tell until we are dead, and then it’s a bit too late.
Well, that’s where evidence comes in, and while of course skeptics will deny this, I have seen enough of their obfuscations to know better than to believe the bulk when they say they come about their views honestly. As noted, the benefit of the doubt as a whole is exhausted. The fact that the likes of Gerkin still think some of the above issues like the pi equation are still problems tells us enough about how truly interested they were or are in solutions.
Again, the pi equation is a very specific problem for a very specific contention. If it were the only objection I had to the Bible, I would gladly convert and let it ride.
Gerkin next drags up the issue of what happens to those who lived before Christ. In response let me issue a brief commentary. The Bible makes two assertions which may be paired here for an application:
The evidence for God is clear, so that men are without excuse (Rom. 1-2).
This is certainly contestable.
He who seeks, finds. (Matt. 7:7//Luke 11:9). My own answer to the question, “What about those who never hear the Gospel?” is, “Those who want to know it, will be given the knowledge needed for salvation. Those who seek God will have God sufficiently revealed to them.” There is also anecdotal evidence from the missionary field that may support this point; but such is currently beyond our discussion, and we may add it at a later date. Nevertheless, it is not lack of hearing the Gospel that causes condemnation; it is sin that causes condemnation, and it is not hard to arrive at a deduction that sin is offensive to the powers of heaven (indeed, the religious history of sacrifice and penance suggests a broad awareness of this!) and that there needs to be some connection or bridge in order to achieve a reconciliation. This also answers Gerkin’s rather childish objections on the issue of “What About Those Who Never Heard?”
In my experience, the majority of conservative Christians would disagree with Holding as to the possibility of attaining heaven without the Gospel. And that is who Strobel, and I, are writing for.
In this light, despite Gerkin, Zacharias does not “dodge” the issue of Gandhi’s salvation; he simply answers it in a more complex way than Gerkin can comprehend. Zacharias rightly indicates that he is in no place to judge Gandhi–his fate “will be determined by God.”  Of this we are told of this:
Zacharias basically says: I don’t know, but God will always do what is right. That is very comforting. When asked again, Zacharias says “that will have to be determined by God” (158). This is a perfect example of how ludicrous people become when trying to adhere to doctrine. The bottom line is that Zacharias doesn’t want to admit Gandhi was good because he was an unbeliever.
The bottom line is, beyond the moral begged question, Gerkin is expecting Zacharias to be a mind-reader and an ultimate judge when it is not his place, nor within his knowledge, to be one.
No, I expect him to fess up to the logical conclusion of his faith, i.e. Gandhi is roasting in hell.
There is nothing “ludicrous” about saying we don’t have full information about what is or was in a person’s mind. Gerkin says, “Everyone knows you must believe in Christ to go to heaven!” This is essentially correct but far too simplistic. There is no grounds thereby for the idea that one can only believe in Christ via direct access to the NT gospel message in its present form. God may reveal Himself to those who seek and grant truth and saving knowledge to them. Whether that has indeed happened can be debated, but it is certainly logically possible.
Possible, but there are a couple of problems.
1) Seeking is a prerequisite for finding. From Hindus to atheists, non-Christians often feel that they can explain the universe just fine with god(s) of their own – or none at all. Thus, there is no need to seek.
2) Even if God is personally revealing himself and saving people outside of the NT gospel message, I think we can reasonably suppose that these occurrences are few and far between. If so, this is an indictment of Christianity as a racist religion in that Christians are disproportionately of European descent. If all who seek, find, then the clear implication is that whites are a lot better at seeking.
Beyond this, Gerkin can only respond with name-calling and argument by outrage:
“Yet, it is plainly obvious that Gandhi’s moral character outstrips innumerable Christians so that the idea of him suffering in hell is problematic. This is a Christian at his most pathetic.”
Let me give a simple answer which reduces Zacharias’ answer for the intellectually impaired: Unless Gandhi had some revelation or conversion we know nothing about, he is in hell (though there is more to this also than Gerkin imagines–see below) and it is not relevant what good he did. He, like every human, fell short of perfection. That Gerkin and others do not like this idea does not constitute an argument against it. As Gerkin says earlier, in essence, just because we don’t like something doesn’t make it untrue–and saying we do not like it or calling it names (“pathetic”) isn’t an argument.
Gerkin says he has, “. . . a hard time buying into an ethical system that places someone like Gandhi below a serial killer in virtue.”
The system says no such thing–it says that Gandhi is below Christ in virtue, and the serial killer’s sins are paid for by Christ. Weight of virtue among humans has nothing to do with this.
This is manifestly unfair. I realize that doesn’t falsify such a situation, but it should at least lead to questioning.
Further on those who never hear we are told:
I wonder how the third world peasant, or medieval serf toiling endlessly in the fields feels about his placement though. And it’s nice that those who seek God may find him, but why would many non-Christians seek him? From Hindus to atheists, non-Christians often feel that they can explain the universe just fine with god(s) of their own – or none at all. God is very inefficient if he allows billions of people to have less a chance to find him than billions of others.
They’ll feel quite grateful, if eternal life is the result–and asking “why” God should be sought is a non-issue [sic]. Again, there is no excuse for not seeking and those who see no need prove their own condemnation.
I wonder: is there an excuse for Christians who don’t seek? If they adhere to Christianity simply due to the fact that they were born and raised in the church, without ever critically seeking truth, are they saved? If so, it seems unfair to punish adherents of other religions who are in the same boat.
Everyone has had or will have had all the chance they need–and again, the skeptics only keep proving this with their oft-repeated, stale, and thoroughly refuted objections about things like the value of pi.
As for the examples of personal revelatory experiences of converts, these are useless beyond emotional value (see the Secular Web library on Religious Experience). But ignoring that, there is another problem. What of the millions who have had such experiences in favor of non-Christian religions? Are all their experiences invalid while Christians always get it right? And what of the former Christians who have converted to other religions? Might they be on to something? See the Secular Web’s library on Arguments from Confusion.
These are a few more elephants (“millions”), so we’ll just have our own to throw back. Revelation need not always be emotive in nature; it may, indeed usually will, contain informational content. In terms of other “experiences”–these are things that can be analyzed, judged, and sifted, and there is no excuse in their mere existence. Are their experiences “invalid”? If by “valid” one means, “they felt something,” and this proves fact A by itself, then, no–if by “valid” one means “their informational content, such as it was, was wrong,” the answer is yes–as skeptics would also say. To paraphrase a famous skeptic, the only difference is we believe one alternative is valid; they believe none are.
But this is a monster difference. If there are a million faiths (with none of them necessarily correct) and 999,999 are determined to be invalid, there is no reason to suppose the remaining one is true. Yes, it’s possible, but it must (at least) clearly distinguish itself from the false religions, in which regard Christianity fails.
As for former Christians: those I have spoken to have as a whole shown themselves to be singularly misinformed about the particulars of their previously held faith. Gerkin, if one of these, only adds more verification.
I wonder if any ex-Christian would qualify as “informed” in Holding’s view.
In closing, Gerkin makes a fair (if spin out) point about a lack of conversion apparatus in the church as a whole–indeed this dovetails in with Zacahrias’ point about Christianity being “a lot of work.”
Section 6: Life in Hell
Once again Gerkin can’t seem to get off the idea that scholarship has moved on. Here he disputes the contentions of J. P. Moreland about hell, and his point that it is not torture, but separation from God. He says:
But is Moreland justified in this interpretation? I don’t think it is shared by the majority (or many at all) Christians – including ministers. And I don’t really think it’s scriptural either (to be discussed in greater detail in the next section).
Well, it’s just too bad that Gerkin is misinformed–and weren’t we told you don’t determine truth by vote several chapters ago? Nevertheless, we are once again able to refer the reader to Glenn Miller’s item here, one section of which provides Scriptural backup for Moreland’s position, as well as other hints Gerkin needs about the nature of punishment and the reasons for hell, and again here. A few comments otherwise, as much of this is already covered by Miller:
I never suggest Moreland’s views are in conflict with modern theology or that they are somehow untrue because they are not popular. I merely contend they are in conflict with the views of the common Christian interpreting the Bible. And the common Christian is the kind of person I expect to read Strobel’s book, and my review. Holding consistently fails to recognize my target audience.
Moreland pulls out Matthew 11:20-24 to support his contention that people do not suffer the same hell. “There will be degrees of separation . . . in hell” (180). I can understand degrees of suffering in a torment-style hell, but does this really makes sense in Moreland’s absence-of-God hell? Either you are separated from God or you are with him. The only reason proximity matters is as a factor of how long it takes to make contact with an object. But since judgment in hell is final and eternal, one is never going to be with God. It is as if you are out of oxygen under water: does it really matter whether you are one foot below the surface or two hundred?
The comparison is illicit–what comes in degrees, under Moreland’s scenario, is the level of regret and anguish. Someone who missed God because of small things will have less regret than one who was spat in God’s face actively. Gerkin doesn’t think well multi-dimensionally. It also escapes him that hell is not so much “punishment” (in modern penal terms) as it is “restitution”–equal time for the crime, to use the parlance.
But the time, for any crime, is eternity. How is that equal?
Again it is worth noting this sort of comment:
“But since God can easily turn people to the right path by providing more evidence, the free will defense fails outright.”
Again, there is more than enough evidence. Do not let skeptics or others play this game of denial, and if they dispute it, they have this entire page and links to refute. How’s that for a herd of elephants?
I can hear them trumpeting now. Obviously, I judge the evidence to be inadequate. But some might reasonably question whether I would accept any level of evidence for Christianity. I could respond with the classic “Well, if God appeared to me and etc., etc.,” then I would believe. But, while I think that is not an unreasonable request given that God certainly has the capabilities (omnipotence) and time (eternity) to honor such an imposition, I realize most Christians disagree and would note that my scenario is tantamount to saying “nothing will convince me.” So I have devised another scenario which, if it had occurred, would make me a believer: Taking away any other evidence, if, immediately following Jesus’ resurrection, the sentence “Jesus Christ Lives!” was carved out of the moon in macroscopic Greek characters, clearly discernible with the naked eye, and there they remained, recorded through out history down to the present day where I could view them, then I would believe. Now, I don’t think a little trench digging is too much to ask of the universe’s creator, especially when that piece of evidence could efficiently serve all men for all times.
Gerkin accuses Strobel of using “paper objections that he likes to toss in for pure volume”–such as reincarnation. That Gerkin has never heard these objections himself does not mean they are never made by anyone–I have seen and heard them made, as has Strobel, and he travels and visits many more people and churches a year that Gerkin has hairs on his head. Gerkin needs to relieve himself of such nitpicking arrogance. One might say it looks more impressive for him to knock down some of Strobel’s material than to admit that, or determine whether, some people make such objections at all.
I don’t knock down Strobel’s material. I simply grant that, if those objections are made, I agree that they are invalid (although not for the same reasons as Strobel, as I make clear).
It looks more impressive if Moreland knocks down 9 objections, than, say, 5. A better objection would be: if heaven is better than earth, why bother with earth in the first place?
This is an “objection”? Let me throw an elephant in return: humans were never meant to populate hell, or heaven, for that matter. Earth is our natural place. Heaven and hell are the result of our free choice.
Then, why make humans in the first place?
Upon dying and discovering one is in hell, might that not be motivation for repentance? Yes, but Moreland makes an interesting point when he says, “Any apology would not be a real apology . . . they’d be making a prudent ‘choice’ to avoid judgment only” (189). But isn’t that just as true in life? After all, isn’t the whole point, as Moreland said, to avoid Hell because it is so bad? How is the decision to follow Christ now any less ‘prudent’ than later?
Here Gerkin makes a valid point against certain perceptions, but not against reality. Preachers have often used hell as a scare tactic, but the model of preaching in the NT suggests that this is badly misplaced. In the missionary preaching in Acts, there is no sign of hell used as a bludgeon. Rather, repentance and the resurrection are the themes. If ‘prudence’ is your conversion factor, your conversion is built on sand. This relates to the common skeptical needle: “If you didn’t get eternal life, would you still serve God?” It is used mainly to inspire doubt, but it does make a considerable point. Those who answer “no” to this question may wish to consider their own reasons and motivations for serving God. Our motive for serving God should be that we serve Him because He is holy, just, righteous, and we owe Him our existence and lives. Rewards should not be in our head at all.
But the question of motive runs deeper still. Why obey a holy, just, and righteous being? Why serve a being to whom you owe your life?
Speaking of people in hell, Carson says, “They’re consigned there . . . because they defy their maker and want to be at the center of the universe” (193). I presume this is directed mostly towards atheists. But, do atheists really set themselves at the center of the universe?
Many atheists suppose that in the grand scheme of things, they are simply one of billions of humans, among millions of species, that will live out an existence in less than a blink of time’s eye, on a tiny speck of dust, revolving around one of billions of stars, billions of which then comprise billions of galaxies in a universe billions of years old. This does not sound like the dream of an egoist.
Well, there’s another “mind reading” [sic] session; I thought ESP was bunk? No, Carson says nothing about atheists (he likely has ALL non-believers [sic] in mind) and he doesn’t speak of “the center of the universe” literally. He speaks of those who think they know better than the Creator–whether thinking He does not exist, or thinking they know who He is by their own abilities. Therefore Gerkin’s further response is beside the point.
I realize Carson means a metaphorical “center of the universe.” My reference to the earth “revolving” was incidental to my description of an indifferent universe, not meant as a literal refutation. And I’m not trying my hand at mind-reading either. I state my assumption of an atheist attack forthright, and even if it is wrong, my point still holds in regards to atheists. I grant my readers the benefit of the doubt insofar as they have the intelligence to make these distinctions.
Section 7: Medieval Matters
The focus of this section is on the historic crimes of the church such as the Inquisition as barriers to belief. Here Gerkin begins by stating,
“. . . is this objection a good reason not to become a Christian? If we are strictly speaking of the Christian as a follower of Christ’s teachings, then I don’t see that this is much of an objection since Christ doesn’t teach persecution. However, if one is planning to join an institutional church, then one should at the very least be wary of the tendency for authority to abuse power.”
With this we agree entirely. We do not agree that these events provide proof of the need for separation of church and state, however, since without the church men will merely find another reason to abuse power. Religion is used as a baptizer of an agenda and as a rallying point, but this is merely because it is a common point of reference. Race, gender, and other social factors can be used just as well.
Comparing religion as a rallying point with racism and sexism is apt, but hardly flattering.
There is no argument here for keeping church and state separate–and certainly little in the way of specific backup for that case as a whole. Overall Gerkin’s diatribe on the Dark Ages, the church wielding power, babies dying, etc. is excessively simplistic and sounds like the work of someone merely parroting what he has heard uncritically rather than having made an actual study of the period in question.
For the last time, I dealt with the subject matter in a depth that was commensurate with the its treatment in Strobel’s book.
The bulk of this section is beyond our present scope, and may be of interest in the future. But as always, a few comments:
While it is true that the Catholic church has been responsible for many atrocities in its history, there is something a bit suspicious about the way they are brought into the fray here. There is no explicit accusation, yet this is clearly an evangelical book, and I believe they would like nothing better than to plant the seed that it is the Catholic church that should bear the lion’s share of the blame.
Gerkin is mind-reading for the purpose of scoring rhetorical points again. There is nothing “suspicious” at all here–historically the Catholic church has been either the only game in town or the one with the most people and power. Thus, on a merely pro rata basis, it does get the “lion’s share” of blame, but not because of anything inherent in Catholicism–merely because by “accident of history” they provide the most examples–as Gerkin more or less admits. Nevertheless, Gerkin is here engaging is nitpicking and mindreading [sic] again, which permits serious doubts about his ability to make a rational and compelling case. Strobel is not picking on Catholics here–he is taking the best-known examples, and those most often called upon by those making the objection under consideration. Perhaps if anyone is to blame, it is skeptics, since they tend to bring up the Crusades and the Inquisition so often?
As long as we recognize that there was nothing about Catholicism per se that contrasts with the way Protestant churches have operated when given a measure of power, then we have no quarrel.
In the alleged Bibical [sic] role of women, see here, and see above link on slavery.
On the matter of Hitler being an atheist: It is odd that earlier Gerkin recognized that Hitler knew how to use religion for his own purposes, and then takes at face value Hitler’s proclamation to be a Catholic and that he was doing God’s work! I do not know what Hitler was religiously–it is worth a look at a later date–but presently “atheist” is as good an option as any based on the evidence.
This is out and out bigotry. The implication is that atheists, in general, share a morality similar to that of Hitler. There is no evidence supporting such a view. And if Hitler claimed to be Christian, Holding can’t just disclaim him because of his actions. One may judge him as a terrible Christian if one likes, but one has no right to choose a religious label other than that which he chose for himself.
Regarding Stalin and others, it is said:
The other three “atheists” all came out of the same fascist communist movement. Their atheism was not of philosophical reasoning or commitment to humanist and scientific values, but a dogmatic tenet of their political ideology. In fact, communism closely parallels religion in many regards. The religious intolerance of these men, their false worship of the collectivist state and blind faith in an inevitable communist paradise, should not be confused with secular or humanistic atheism, for the vast majority of atheists understand that freedom of religion includes freedom from religion, and will fight to their last breath for these freedoms.
True enough, perhaps, but such persons are living in cognitive dissonance with their own views, borrowing morals and whatever else they need from religious faith to keep the plane flying.
I might just as well suggest that religious faiths fly their plane on the basis of humanist morality, and then hinder that flight with worthless superstitious cargo.
We’ll do more on this other than an elephant at a later date. Saying that atheism isn’t a “comprehensive moral or philsopohical [sic] system” is a dodge–the basis of atheism (or any belief of this level) necessarily entails such a system, whether you reason it out, or act consistently on it, or not.
There are multiple, contradictory” comprehensive systems” which hold a belief in atheism, i.e. Secular Humanism, Objectivism, Marxism, etc. So which system does atheism entail? Also, the qualification “whether you reason it out, or act consistently on it, or not” is a worthless catch-all that is tantamount to presumptively saying: “Everybody with that position, no matter what else they say or do, really believes this way.”
I really don’t think Christians want to start comparing atrocity scorecards with atheists. How many Christians vs. atheists are in prison for violent crimes? Admittedly, Christians outnumber atheists in society as a whole, so the same should be expected in prison, but even accounting for the correct proportion, I wouldn’t be surprised if the atheist number is extraordinarily low.
I can tell Gerkin, based on religious records and experience, that the numbers in the prisons overall reflect that of the population as a whole, other than that “Black Muslims” are disproportionately represented, and the majority of those converted while in prison, as in fact did most who now call themselves Christians. If I had to classify most people in prison, I would say that their belief is deism–and would be atheism if they had the resources to make that belief intellectually respectable.
It is supremely arrogant to reclassify people’s religious belief against their own claims, especially when one’s motivation is to disassociate oneself from those deemed as unworthy spiritual brethren.
One quote in particular is really disingenuous. David Lyle Jeffery says, “In most of Europe, as in Africa, South America, and many parts of the world, the birth of literacy and literature essentially, not accidentally, coincides with the arrival of Christian missionaries” (220). Actually, it coincides essentially with the invention of the printing press, and only coincidentally with Christianity because the Bible was the most widely printed book. And of course, literacy, and above all literature, began centuries before Christ even walked the Earth, in many places around the world. In fact, the very notion of the literate, educated man and woman as the ideal began with the pagan Greeks and Romans, and was trampled underfoot by Christians for centuries before the rediscovery of pagan writings in the Renaissance stirred a renewed interest in this pagan humanist ideal.
Gerkin is off his rocker here in a couple of ways I can spot offhand. If that concept started with the Greeks and Romans, what of the literate and educated man in ancient Sumeria?
Hence, I said “literacy, and above all literature, began centuries before Christ even walked the Earth, in many places around the world.” It was the “ideal” which was unique to the Greeks and Romans.
This is a far too simplistic view–one needs to ask as well why the Bible was the most printed book (did consumer demand have nothing to do with it?).
Of course. But that demand was not produced by the heathens. That Christianity was in power at the time the printing press came to light is an accident of history.
Ancient literacy even in Gerkin’s vaunted Greek and Rome never exceeded 10%, and was usually more like 1-2%. (See Harris’ Ancient Literacy for a far more informed view. This issue cannot be reduced to a simple matter of, “Christianity trampled this or that ideal underfoot.”)
Unfortunately, the general population rarely reflects lofty “ideals.” However, within historic Christianity, literacy was never an ideal, nor was intelligence of any kind valued.
Section 8: Doubts Aflutter
Gerkin says of this chapter:
“This is perhaps the weakest objection of all. Since Christians often seem so da*n sure of themselves, I can see where an outsider might think that doubters need not apply.”
Do we detect a note of anger here? 😉 Perhaps we have good reason to be sure of ourselves. But like Gerkin says, the key is, does the evidence support the view?
At this time I would like to insert some personal views. For well over 15 years now I have been engaging issues across the spectrum of apologetics–for at least 7 of those years, in some depth. As this time has passed I have studied deeply into the past, into the world and time of the Bible, the sociology, the culture, the literature. With each book I read, it becomes more and more clear just how incredibly ignorant, presumptive, and arrogant skepticism requires someone to be. Time and again I have endured skeptics and critics who throw out some objection based on the idea that the Bible was written by people who thought, wrote, and acted in exactly the same way that we do, and that they (or God!) ought to have anticipated their objections (presumably at the expense of clarity for the ancients!).
If we grant that it was mere humans who thought up and composed the Bible, then I have no objection to the foregoing. However, if God was the true author of the Bible then we have a bit of different standard. I can understand the need for clarity among the ancients, but (from the perspective of God) was clarity to later generations of lesser importance? After all, the Bible is incomparably wider read by the modern world than the ancient.
Time and again I see the same ridiculous objections passed around and presented as new and unsolved. This is why I now say that the benefit of the doubt is exhausted for skeptics as far as I am concerned. The resources are out there that answer their objections and correct their ignorance, but they continue to pull up such “authorities” as Ingersoll and Paine, while ignoring (either deliberately or out of laziness) data which refutes their arguments, or else creating some other equally misinformed, makeshift objection to keep their skeptical faith alive. I see every reason, contrary to Gerkin, to suppose that unbelievers as a whole are acting immorally rather than intellectually in this regard.
What is the implication here? That skeptics can clearly see the truth of Christianity, but choose to ignore it in order to pursue immoral ends that a belief in Christianity would prevent? Not only is such an accusation stunningly ignorant, it also presumes that Christianity somehow prevents immorality – a proposition with no grounds for supposing it true.
Of course this is not a province of skeptics alone. It is the attitude that is the problem, not skepticism per se. But when skepticism can only apparently be defended with such tactics, it sends a clear message that the wheel is turning, but the hamster is dead.
That said, here are some comments again.
It’s nice that Anderson wants to tell us what faith is not, yet, I can’t help but think that it would be better for all concerned if he had started out by telling us what faith is. After all, has anyone ever heard a solid definition of faith? Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” or as Mark Twain more accurately translates it, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”
What did I say? Twain is no authority here; he was no expert in ancient languages or culture, he was a smart and loud mouth [sic] who was occasionally funny. In contrast, those who know these things and do not merely quote passages in isolation realize that Heb. 11:1 is not an exhaustive definition of “faith” and use the examples following in Hebrews 11 to understand what verse 1 is on about. Each of the examples of “faith” given were persons who had been given plenty of evidence for belief in God, but had trust in future promises of God based on their current actions. Faith (pistis) has nothing to do with “believing what you know ain’t so”–it is believing what is yet to come based on what you know now. (Here’s a note that might change your view of “faith” as we now define it: pistis was actually a technical rhetorical term for forensic proof! Now re-read Hebrews 11:1–“Faith (forensic proof) is the substance–meaning the assurance–of things hoped for.” Noah, Abraham, et al. were given astounding and undeniable proof of God, which was substance for the promise of what was to come. It seems that the problem here is not faith, but Gerkin’s immature and uninformed view of what faith actually is! Now go back and re-read some of your favorite passages on faith in this light!)
To be fair to Twain, his “Faith is . . . ” comment was not made in regards to the Heb 11:1 verse. My use of the word “translate” was perhaps misleading in this context. Twain (and I) were commenting on the general application of the term “faith,” not the specific use of it in Heb 11:1. Assuming your interpretation of Heb 11:1 is correct, the choice in using it for my purpose was a poor one. However, the point I was making as to the general application of “faith” holds. I steadfastly deny that the average Christian means, “I have (forensic proof) in my lord and savior, Jesus Christ.
Little more need be said here. Gerkin summarizes three pages of Strobel’s chapter in the sentence:
“Anderson says to hell with intellectualism, personal experience is where it’s at.”
If you think that’s a fair summary of three pages of anything, you’ve again just proven my points about skepticism–and hurling yet more elephants from the Sec Web pen isn’t adequate.
Anderson does not make any additional points in those three pages, so what did I leave out of the summary? I could’ve mentioned some of the personal experiences he documents but they are completely subjective and serve as absolutely no basis for anyone else to draw conclusions from.
Conclusion: Failing the Bar Exam
Obviously, as a whole, I find little to be impressed with in Gerkin’s critique. Skeptics have still not upgraded their arguments, and I still see little reason to take them seriously.
I conclude that while apologetics can certainly get more fancy and complex than those presented by Strobel, they are no more compelling or impressive to those who begin with rational premises.