No Better than Strobel: A Reply to God and Science's Case for Faith (2020)
I recently came across a purported rebuttal on the God & Science website by Avue to my Secular Web critique "The Case Against Faith: A Critical Look at Lee Strobel's The Case for Faith" (4th ed., 2006). The present article constitutes my response to Avue's rejoinder.
Note that Avue's rejoinder is displayed on one webpage, but at the end of the page there is a link to another page where Avue intends to provide more detailed responses to some of my specific objections. At the time of publication of this response to Avue, the additional page that his rejoinder links to is composed of an index of other articles on the site, most of which link to empty placeholders that Avue apparently intends to fill out over time. (At the moment, Avue has filled out the first two linked sections on this additional page with responses or outlines of responses, but the remaining sections 3-9 are still in progress. I may decide to respond to some of these other articles in the future, but at the present moment I'm only responding to the primary page of his rejoinder.)
I should also point out that I have not spent much time writing on religious subjects in several years. So I may be a bit rusty. But I was pleasantly surprised to see a new interaction with my work. As I said in my original critique, at the time that I read Strobel's The Case for Faith, I still thought of myself as a Christian, even if a weak one plagued by uncertainty about whether Christianity is true. By the time I wrote the critique I was an atheist, but a "baby atheist" of sorts—an atheist not all that comfortable with his new perspective. At the present time I'm much more settled in my atheistic perspective.
Avue notes that he agrees with me that if Strobel's book appears to give easy answers to difficult questions, then it is wrong for Strobel (or the book's other contributors) to have done so because, Avue says, "the Bible nowhere gives easy answers." But I don't think that I ever asked for easy answers; I only asked for believable and coherent ones. I don't believe that The Case for Faith, or Christianity in general, provides such answers.
In his conclusion, Avue states that although he agrees with me about some things, "none of [Doland's] objections above are strong enough to invalidate Christianity or to prove it wrong." But given that the questions addressed are philosophical in nature, I don't think that 'proving Christianity wrong' is even possible. I do think that at least some literal interpretations of the Bible can be proven wrong, such as in the case of science's verdict on whether Noah's Flood ever happened. But I don't really see how more figurative interpretations of the Bible could be definitively proven wrong. Moreover, Avue seems not to have noticed that that he never proved the Bible right, either. Nor has anybody else. And at the end of the day, that's the real issue. Avue and other Christians shouldn't be challenging others to "disprove" Christianity; rather, they are the ones that need to "prove" Christianity. In other words, Avue is merely pulling the old "shifting the burden of proof" trick.
God's Knowledge of the Future (and the Present)
Now let us look to Avue's responses to my objections. I won't be looking for proofs in Avue's responses, since again these are philosophical questions. What I am looking for is whether Avue's responses are any more believable and coherent than Strobel's. With that in mind, let me reply to Avue's specific responses.
Avue is an old-Earth creationist (OEC). That means that I would probably have less disagreement with Avue about science than I would have with a young-Earth creationist (YEC). At the end of the section on objection 4 in my critique, I mentioned the issue of death before the Fall. The OEC perspective seems to allow for death to have existed before the Fall, which in turn seems to be inconsistent with at least a literal interpretation of Genesis. Avue responds that a passage in Proverbs 7 possibly alludes to God "playing" with creation before man. As this seems to contradict Genesis, I must presume that Avue concludes that at least portions of Genesis are figurative. Fair enough as far as it goes. But maybe Proverbs is figurative, too. Maybe all of the rest of the Bible is figurative as well. Young-Earth creationists seem to interpret the Bible as mostly literal, except in cases of obvious figures of speech. Old-Earth creationists, by contrast, seem to interpret the Bible as potentially literal unless it contradicts known fact, in which case it is taken to be figurative. In my eyes, a much more parsimonious explanation is that it is basically all figurative literature.
Avue's idea of God "playing" with Creation seems to paint God as possessing some degree of human-like whimsy. And much of the Bible portrays God as having emotions similar to that of human beings. This seems rather unbelievable for a being that is supposed to be omniscient and omnipotent. If I knew exactly what a Tyrannosaurus rex would do, down to knowing how many scales are on its back and every bite of food it would take, before I ever created it, of what possible value would actually creating a Tyrannosaurus rex bring me? How could an omniscient, omnipotent being have any whimsy? And if it did had whimsy, what could possibly satisfy this whimsy?
In many places in the Bible, God seems to be in the dark about of the future, or even the present. For instance, in the beginning of Job, God seems unaware of where Satan has been. Some Christians maintain that this is just God's way of communicating, that he really knew what Satan had been doing. But doesn't that make the whole story farcical? If God really knew what Satan had been doing, wouldn't Satan also know this, and so what is the point of even having the conversation? Perhaps the whole conversation is just for the human reader's benefit, but that implies that human beings don't actually know what (if anything) actually happened, if the words that we are given don't represent what actually happened.
What would be the point of Satan's challenge regarding Job? God would know exactly what trials Job could withstand and what trials Job could not withstand. Further, Satan would know that God would know it. How does it make any sense to challenge someone who already knows the answers? That would be like betting against someone in poker who has already seen whether they would win or not.
Avue says that I don't seem to actually understand Christianity. On the contrary, I think I understand it all too well—and likely better than Avue. In any case, here is what he says about some of my objections:
Christianity is all about God's relationship with man. God showed himself to a specific people and spent a good part of their history showing them that he was trustworthy by saving them from enemies. He showed them that he was in charge of history by providing pictures of what would happen. He spoke through prophets who were put to death if they spoke anything that did not come to pass, showing that God was in charge of history. He provided a message to people through his spokespeople and recorded it in the Bible.
Avue claims that the message is clear and understandable, though he acknowledges that understanding the message doesn't mean accepting it is true. And that is the crux; I see no reason to accept that it is true. I can't accept something as true that seems preposterous on its face, and furthermore lacks reasonable evidence. Moreover, there are false claims—or at least false implications—within his statement. Although Avue doesn't specifically use the phrase "fulfilled prophesy," he does say that God "spoke through prophets who were put to death if they spoke anything that did not come to pass." This statement seems to imply that fulfilled prophesy is what Avue has in mind. Here is the reality: There are no convincing fulfilled prophesies in the Bible, and there are failed prophesies in the Bible. The prophecies that seem to have come true are not convincing, and generally fall into the following categories:
- Vague prophesies: These are prophesies whose "fulfillment" is easy to find if you are driven to find them due to confirmation bias. Prophesies of "wars and rumors of wars" are always those whose fulfillment is easy to find.
- Self-fulfilled prophesies: These are prophesies that "came true" because people made them come true, because they believed that these "prophesies" were supposed to come true. The reformation of Israel is a good example of this.
- Fulfilled prophesies whose only confirmation comes from the Bible: Given that people who wrote later books of the Bible were aware of the earlier prophesies, it is hardly surprising that we find "fulfillment" of prophesies claimed in later books. For example, Jesus being reportedly born of a virgin is likely only a "fulfilled prophesy" because the Gospel author thought that this was prophesized and thus wrote the "fulfillment" into his narrative (even though it actually wasn't even prophesized).
- So-called prophesies that were actually written after they happened: It is generally accepted that the Book of Daniel was written later than it claims to have been written, so as to appear to have made prophesies that were merely history.
In short, there are no fulfilled prophesies in the Bible that are in any way convincing to anyone not already eager to believe in them.
God's Various "Revelations"
With regard to Avue's claim that God showed himself to specific people at specific times and showed them that he was trustworthy, it's curious that it's always some other people that are privy to this great evidence. After all, God is supposed to love everybody equally. To borrow a phrase from George Orwell, it seems some human beings "are more equal than others." That's not very believable for a God that supposedly wants everyone to know his message and his nature.
Avue says that "Man has rebelled against God, and therefore cannot have a relationship with him." According to whom? God? Any such a rule wouldn't be a sensible one. Parents have had rebellious children and yet still maintained a relationship with them. Avue says that the Bible teaches that "our very nature is so anti-God that we cannot bring ourselves into fellowship with God." Why not? Whose rule is this? God's? Avue says that God sent a savior to rectify the issue. What is the cause and the effect here? How does this supposed sacrifice do anything to overcome or neutralize man's supposedly anti-God nature? Apparently this is just another one of God's rules lacking any logical connection to salvation, rules that he puts in place for some unknown but presumed "reasons."
And speaking of sacrifice, what sacrifice? According to Mother Teresa, "In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth, a life full of the most atrocious tortures on earth, will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel." So, from Mother Teresa's perspective, Jesus' "sacrifice" merely amounted to one night in an inconvenient hotel. Color me unimpressed.
Furthermore, how does it make any sense to say that man's nature is totally "anti-God"? Didn't God create our nature? How is it possible that our nature is "anti-God"? And if our nature is "anti-God," how is this not God's fault? Is it because of one mistake that Eve supposedly made? But that doesn't follow, either. How did that one mistake by one person make everybody thereafter "anti-God"? What is the cause and effect here? It seems like the alleged Fall was all God's doing. God seems to have broken his own toys and acted like a 4-year-old shouting, "You made me do it!"
As a side note, in the Genesis story the serpent told the truth while God did not. God said that Adam and Eve would die the day that they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The serpent, by contrast, said that they would not die, but instead become like gods knowing good from evil. And, according to the legend, they didn't in fact die that day. And they did learn the difference between good and evil. So God lied and the serpent told the truth. And at the end of the story, God puts a guard by the Tree of Life preventing them from gaining eternal life, disproving the claim that eating the forbidden fruit caused them to lose eternal life. According to the story, they never had it in the first place.
As far as miracles are concerned, Avue says that if God exists, miracles are possible. And I believe that I had already acknowledged as much. But then he goes on to say:
If God exists and he interacts with man, miracles are possible. That does not mean that all laws of nature are suspended. For example, when God divided the waters through Moses, the Bible records that God used a strong east wind as a means to divide the waters. Gravity was not somehow suspended while the waters parted.
Here Avue seems to have failed to grasp my point. Assuming that God did part the Red Sea, it is totally irrelevant whether gravity was suspended or not. The point is that somewhere along the causal chain, some natural law was suspended, or else the event wasn't a miracle. Avue says that God used a strong wind to part the sea. But in that case God did something else to move the wind. If Avue says that the wind. in turn, originated from some other natural cause, then that cause was interfered with by God—or some other event further back in the causal chain. So it is completely irrelevant whether it was the gravity that was suspended, or something else. Somewhere in the chain, some natural law was suspended; otherwise the event wasn't a miracle.
This point warrants further comment. Christians often try to portray biblical miracles as at least partially naturalistic. For example, when trying to explain the Flood, Christians will usually try to explain how the Ark could have been seaworthy, how it could have held all the animals it needed to hold, how Noah could have fed the animals, how the animals could have survived after the Flood, and so on. Why not just maintain that God magically made the Ark float, magically made it pen up all of the animals, magically fed all of the animals, and magically returned the animals to their homes after the Flood? Wouldn't that be simpler than inventing convoluted, improbable, and partially naturalistic causal chains to try to contort the silly Flood story to make it work? Christians don't generally do this because resorting to divine magic too much makes the story sound silly and makes God look foolish. But I've got news for you: even with these distractions added, the story is still silly and still makes God look foolish. Somehow, to some people, it seems to make the story more palatable if exactly where God monkeys around with the laws of nature is hidden or unstated. But once someone tries to tie down exactly what God did, the unpalatable nature of the story becomes too plain.
This is what Avue did with the story of the parting of the sea. For some reason, simply having God suspend gravity seems unpalatable to Avue; he flatly denies that God suspended gravity. But moving where God monkeyed around with the natural world to some unspecified place, with God perhaps moving the wind itself, is somehow more palatable to Avue. I'm sorry, but being vague about where God's meddling actually occurred makes no difference. Either God performed a miracle—that is, suspended some natural law somewhere—or he didn't. And if not, then the event wasn't a miracle.
Salvation from Hell
As to my concerns about the credibility of the doctrine of Hell, Avue responds: "because God suffered hell instead of man, that is exactly the reason he is worthy of worship." First of all, in the narrative in question, Jesus descends into Hell for only three days, not eternity. Second, unlike the average Hell-bound sinner, who has nothing to look forward to but an eternity of punishment, Jesus knew that he was getting out of Hell. Having a known endpoint to emotional trials make them easier to endure. Third, and most importantly, it was God's rule to begin with that people be divided into those exempt from going to Hell and those not exempt. It's not like the rules were already in place and God simply acted to enforce them. If that was the case, the situation would be totally different. As it is, God made an arbitrary rule that being imperfect puts you on a fast track to Hell. And for unspecified "reasons." He then made the arbitrary rule that someone else can stand in for you in Hell (for only three days), and that that somehow puts everything right. Again for unspecified "reasons." But it only puts things right if you believe that it puts things right. Because "reasons." And this being is worthy of worship? Nonsense.
In response to my questions about level of doubt verses salvation, Avue says:
The Bible teaches that we can either count on ourselves to be or become perfect or count on Christ to be perfect for us. If our attempts to try to be perfect is called 'our righteousness' and Christ's already completed state of perfection is called 'Christ's righteousness' we can either stand before God in our righteousness or Christ's righteousness. Put in another way, if we put our faith in Christ, Christ's righteousness is credited to us so we can stand before God with Christ's righteousness.
Avue completely sidesteps my central question here. Exactly how much faith do you have to put in Christ before you get credited with Christ's righteousness? If you are having moments of doubt and die of a heart attack, do you get shipped to Hell, tough luck? This was my question, and Avue's response dodges even trying to answer it!
As I noted at the outset, at the moment I only am responding to Avue's main response, not his supplemental pages still in progress. I appreciate Avue's congeniality and at least his attempt to interact with my work. But his response to my Strobel critique amounts to the proverbial preaching to choir. It is unconvincing to anyone who is not convinced already. To all others, Avue's response is just one more example of a Christian failing to make a case for the sensibility of the Christian belief system. And what is the reasonable response to nonsensical claims that lack sufficient evidence? Rejection, of course.
 George Orwell, Animal Farm (New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1945), p. 148.
 Mother Teresa of Avila, quoted by Peter Kreeft in Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2001), p. 47.
Copyright ©2020 Paul Doland. The electronic version is copyright ©2020 by Internet Infidels, Inc. with the written permission of Paul Doland. All rights reserved.