Friday, December 25, 2015
Thursday, December 17, 2015
In this episode of the show I start part 1 of a discussion that I had with renowned atheist philosopher of religion Dr. Graham Oppy on some of his work within the field. I hope you all enjoy the discussion.
You can download the episode by subscribing to the show on iTunes, the Stitcher app, or any other podcasting app.
Enjoy the show!
If an atheist/naturalist sets up their epistemology such that in order for something to be believed it must be evidenced AND by “evidence” they mean something like “what can be demonstrated empirically/scientifically” then do you see how they have begged the question?
1. I’m open to something non-natural existing.
2. To reasonably believe in a non-natural entity though, I would need (sic. empirical) evidence.
3. (Enthymeme) Only natural things provide empirical evidence.
4. We have no (sic. empirical) evidence for anything non-natural.
5. Therefore it is not reasonable to believe in a non-natural entity.
Does that help you see the problem?
The other problem is that I am fairly suspicious about how open and honest atheists actually are who say that they would believe based on the evidence precisely because, as they often say, one could always fall back on “I don’t know” as the most virtuous and honest answer. That just seems like an appeal to ignorance and a support for a kind of naturalism of the gaps.
So imagine I asked an atheist what would convince them that God exists. No matter what “evidence” they gave we would have a major problem. Imagine they said, like many do, that they would believe on the evidence of the stars re-arranging to spell “God did this” in the night sky.
Well on naturalism, that is empirical evidence right? Actually no it is not. The problem is that “evidence” is really just interpreted data – bits of data that have gone through an interpretive grid and come out the other side being not-theory neutral. So the stars rearranging is just natural DATA. You could say “God did that” as one interpretation of the data but you could also say:
1. A super powerful race of alien pranksters did that.
2. Mass hallucinations led us to believe that we saw that.
3. Mass delusion led us to believe that we saw that.
4. Mass hypnosis led us to believe that we saw that.
5. Our minds are pattern forming machines so we just think that’s what the stars say – but it’s really like seeing Orion in the stars or a dragon in the clouds.
6. I don’t know what caused it… but science has never shown God as the cause and so we shouldn’t assume some invisible sky daddy but we should just wait and allow science to discover the cause.
In any of those cases the naturalist would say that the natural explanation is INTRINSICALLY more plausible and probable than “God diddit.” And if they don’t, then there are other problems they will run into. For example, Lee Smolin (If I remember correctly) figured the odds of and entire galaxy spontaneous reorganizing itself in an instant to be something in the ballpark of 1x10^115. So why would the atheist think that in that case God was the best explanation? Is it because it is a hyper improbable event apart such that we shouldn’t expect a natural cause and can infer the intentionality of a mind? Well how is that different than saying God is the best explanation for the fine tuning of the universe when the odds of all of the initial conditions and forces and ratios to be what they are for life is astronomically infinitely more remote than the whole galaxy rearranging?
And what is it about the “God did this” in the stars TELLS us that it was God? It’s hard to make that case for the atheist who wants to pretend that this would be evidence for them WITHOUT appeal to some kind of concept analogous to the notion of the specified complexity of information. But once they allow that concept in, then they can no longer protest in principle to that concept being used to argue God as the best explanation for abiogenesis and the complexity of the genetic information which is also drastically more numerically improbable than the re-arranging of the galaxy.
So then what recourse do they have to be consistent at least? Well really all they can do is just bite the bullet and beg the question that ANY possible natural explanation is inherently more plausible than any supernatural or non-natural one. Yet in that case they are just accepting the employment of a Naturalism of the Gaps and fallacious question begging reasoning as the most “reasonable” which is obviously absurd..
This graphic is an easy parody of the same problem happening among naturalists as did among previous generations of anti-scientific theists who did make such arguments. The problem is when atheists seem to think that arguments for God as the best explanations (abductive arguments) are the same kind of arguments as God of the gaps arguments from ignorance. They simply are diametrically opposed.
Saturday, December 12, 2015
In this episode we continue out look at the Reformed Doctrines of Grace, also known as Calvinism. We have been working our way through the Russian Nesting Dolls and have now gotten to the question of how God applies the atonement of Christ to his elect people. Can people by the working of their own free will reject the gospel call of God when he has elected and atoned for them? Of does the work of the Spirit happen in a way that cannot be repelled?
That is the question for this episode of The Freed Thinker Podcast! You can stream it here from Podbean, or download the show on iTunes or on Stitcher.
Enjoy the show!
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Cory Markum published an article last year in Atheist Republic responding to William Lane Craig and his moral argument for the existence of God called “God & Morality: Why God Cannot Serve as a Foundation for Morality.” This ambitiously titled article attempts to show that Craig’s argument does not accomplish the goal that he intends it to have. I will argue that not only does Markum’s argument against Craig fail, not also he does nothing even remotely close to showing that God cannot serve as a foundation for morality. In fact, it seems to me that not only can God serve as a possible foundation for morality, but is the only logically possible entity to do so, thus arguing for the impossibility of the contrary – that God not only is the foundation of morality but that it cannot logically be otherwise.
I will in large part skip the first ¼ of the article as it addresses a version of Divine Command Theory ethics (DCT) that I do not personally ascribe to, nor feel any need to defend. In that section he attempts to undermine Craig’s argument by appeal to the long debunked Euthyphro Dilemma (ED). The ED seems to have become a staple among the New Atheist and internet infidel communities, but it has largely fallen on deaf ears and fallen out of favor even among atheistic philosophers.
However at this point in the article, Markum moves into a version of DCT that I call Divine Attribute Theory (DAT) in which moral values are rooted in the nature or the essence of God rather than in God’s commands. There may be further discussion about whether or not our moral duties/obligations may, at least in part, derive from God’s commands (surely some do). Nonetheless, it seems that to even discuss moral obligations we must first be able to ground moral values to which one is obliged to keep. There is no need to discuss my civic duties to the state if there is major doubt that there is anything like a state laws or state authority to which I am beholden.
Markum writes of the DAS, “This is believed by some to effectively render the first part or horn of the Euthyphro dilemma, what is known as the arbitrariness objection, a moot point, as morality is not arbitrarily set by a God but necessarily so, by a being who is perfectly and completely good.” Markum concedes at this point that it at some level this does avoid the 1st horn of arbitraries and that it may even escape the second horn, but only by pushing the goal posts of independence back a row. Thus he thinks that it still ultimately gets hung up on the second horn of independence via a Modified ED (MED) that will deliver the same results to DAT as ED did to DCT.
He states, “To illustrate this, consider how theists tend to describe God’s perfectly moral nature: he is impartial, just, honest, compassionate, loving, etc. The fact that theists use such language to describe their god betrays them as we can now ask whether God’s nature is good because it is just, impartial, honest, loving, and so on, or are these qualities good solely because they happen to be among the attributes of the creator of the universe?”
The problems for Markum’s argument begin at this early stage for he has made a severe conceptual error in confusing the causal arrow. When a Christian says that God is good and then describes him as “just, impartial, honest, loving, and so on” they are describing the outworking actions of God’s goodness. That is, God is goodness and so therefore God acts in ways that are what we come to know as “good.” God is not goodness because he acts lovingly toward us for example. In fact, God was goodness before the creation of the world and so had not yet expressed love toward us. Those character traits are expressions of goodness and not the reasons for why God is good. So the problem is largely resolved in the same way that the first horn was avoided.
Markum continues, “If the former is true, then again, god would more or less seem superfluous in regards to morality, as it is not God per se, that makes something good, but ultimately the properties of honesty, impartiality, compassion, et cetera.” Here the conceptual error that Markum made initially is going to start costing him negative dividends at this point. Because he thinks that the Christian is grounding the goodness of God in their descriptions of God’s goodness, he appears to think that this means those descriptions are then placed as standards above God to which God must then align in order to be good. So again, these are descriptions of what is entailed by the goodness of God, that is, how it is expressed or displayed. This does not create the independence problem that Markum hopes that it would.
He digs his hole deeper by trying to compare the problem by analogy to himself, “As long as I myself am compassionate, impartial, loving, and so on, I am good much the way this god would be if it in fact existed.” Not only does this make the conceptual error just mentioned but it also makes a massive category error of thinking that morality relates to all beings omnibus idem – that we are moral in the same way that God is moral, and vice versa. Here a sneak peak must be given to what is to come, but it is hugely doubtful that Markum is the foundation for all objective moral values and so when he acts in an ethical manner, he is reflecting the moral goodness of God, much like how the moon may shine at night but only as it reflects the light of the sun. So Markum may act in good ways but he is not goodness. That distinction does indeed make all the difference. So with that first horn of MED answered what about the second?
Markum writes, “But if the latter is true, then there is nothing moral or good about things like compassion, love, and fairness, aside from the fact they happen to be some of God’s personality traits. It’s not, after all, as though God chose his nature. Conversely, there is nothing truly wrong with being dishonest, cruel, or unfair, other than the fact that God doesn’t act in this manner. Under this paradigm, morality amounts to little more than a sort of copycatlike game of mimicry and imitation.”
This again is highly problematic. Not only does he still confuse the difference between God’s nature and the expressions of that nature, but here Markum seems to wildly conflate moral values with moral duties. That compassion is a moral good does not automatically entail that beings in God’s creation would have some moral duty to uphold them. That is, something can conceivably be good without it being right and something could possibly be bad without being wrong. Good and bad are words to describe the moral worth of some action. Right and wrong are words use to describe whether or not we ought to engage in or abstain from those actions. Duties are an issue of authority – why am I obligated to do some action P? Well if I am under no authority, no command, no decree, then I cannot possibly be obligated. So there may be a world in which God is the foundation of all virtue and yet did not bind by either environment or by edict any creature therein to those virtues. However that does not appear to be the world that we are in. Not only is raping a small child for fun and profit evil, we have real obligations to not only abstain from it ourselves but to actively seek out those who would choose to engage in such actions. The fact that these are derived from the nature of God and could not be different, is hardly a substantive claim. It is like saying that the solidity of a bar of lead is arbitrary because it did not choose to remain solid at room temperature. Well in cases were we are talking about objectivity of a concept, the fact that choice is not involved is kind of the point. In fact, this position seems to be a blatant example of heads I win, tails you lose. Markum is here arguing that it is a problem that God did not choose his nature and yet one wonders what he would argue if the tables were turned and God could choose his nature. Well in that case he would likely appeal to ED and argue that morality would then be arbitrary.
He then continues on to argue that by trying to avoid the ED horn of arbitrariness, the DAT creates several new problems for itself. He writes, “First, if God is perfectly moral, by which we mean he is incapable of doing wrong, then he is consequently cut off from half of the possible actions/choices that he would otherwise be capable of doing. He is therefore most assuredly not omnipotent.” This is a massive blunder on Markum’s part and reveals that his understanding of classic Christian theology is not that robust. While this argument is popular on online blogs, no theologian (atheist or otherwise) would take this problem very seriously. Omnipotence does not mean God can do any action but rather means that God could do any logically possible action or that no outside force could prevent God from doing what he wills. In either case, God being unable/unwilling to do an evil action is not problematic. For is God is goodness, then for absolute goodness to be absolute goodness it cannot logically do anything evil. Therefore because God cannot do anything logically impossible, then as a the foundation of absolute goodness God would not possibly be able to do any evil action and yet still remain omnipotent. The other conception of omnipotence would also be unaffected since as the foundation of absolute goodness, God would not desire to do anything evil and no exterior force could cause him to do so. Thus no power could be exerted against him and thus he would remain omnipotent.
Markum then argues, “Second, this sort of god is certainly not a free creature either, by any reasonable definition of the word. When this being approaches an ethical fork in the road, it inevitably finds one path blocked off. God doesn’t choose to do, and therefore be, good—he just is. This seems to me to make God a sort of wind up doll, or moral machine, with his every action being not only mediated but wholly determined by his divine nature.”
This again reveals considerable misunderstandings for Markum. Here I will not be diverted down the massive rabbit trail of discussing or defending any particular view of freedom of the will, but surely any view of the will (libertarian, compatiblistic, deterministic, or otherwise) places boundaries due to the nature to which the will is bound. Even if I have perfect libertarian freedom, I am not free, for example to fly like a bird or to be a dolphin. If God is goodness, then just because God will always by nature choose the good path, it does not mean that he is not free. It does not make God a “robot” any more than you or I are robots because we are not birds or dolphins.
Another major problem here is that it attempts to place God in time or at least in relational to causal decisions in the same way that we face them. We are asked to imagine that God is like an explorer, walking down the path of life and comes to a fork in the road and must weigh the cost and blindly pick which path to take. This may be one kind of deity I suppose, but it surely is not the one of monotheism in which God knows the beginning from the end and does not process thoughts and decisions in the same way that we do. God does not need to choose A or B like we do. This kind of confusion and failure to work within the Creator/creature distinction reveals a lack of clear and cogent understanding of theism within Markum’s arguments.
In his section entitled “Rape is bad; therefore, God exists” Markum then moves on to attempt to engage with Craig’s moral argument which is as follows:
1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
3. Therefore, God exist.
This simple modus tollens argument is a valid syllogism and so the real question is whether or not the premises themselves are true. Markum begins his assault on the argument with revealing a major flaw in his own argument. He states, “Now leaving aside the fact that many of us think values are necessarily subjective...” Remember the subtitle of the article is, “Why God Cannot Serve as a Foundation for Morality.” The irony of Markum’s statement should be pointed out. He is attempting to show that God cannot be the foundation for morality but in order to do so, he must reject that there is such a thing as objective morality. I have argued extensively elsewhere that subjective morality just is nihilism and thus no morality at all, but observe how Markum needs to deny morality in order to defend his case that God cannot be the foundation for morality. This is a very costly error for him to make.
He then continues, “to what exactly does Dr. Craig point in support of this? Amazingly, the only thing Craig gives in order to substantiate this—the existence of objective moral values in the world—is the fact that we perceive moral values in the world. That is, because things like rape seem quite obviously wrong to (some) of us, we can simply conclude from this that therefore these things are objectively wrong.”
The first major problem here is that Markum can only say this if he is unfamiliar with the corpus of Craig’s work in which he has done quite a bit of work defending P2. However, even if that were not the case I would still be inclined to agree with Craig on this issue. We can think of a simple analogy: How am I to convince you that a realm of material objects exist? Well I point to the desk and say, “Here is a material object!” What do you say then to the person who rejects perception and says, “Well you cannot appeal to thing that is meant to be proven”? It seems to me that if someone wants to deny that raping a small child for fun and profit is actually and objectively evil and immoral, then I’m simply not sure that they have the moral or rational capacities to discuss these issues cogently. In fact, the only I see this ever coming up is in a defense of atheism or a denial of theism such that it seems that nihilist is willing to accept absurdities in order to escape conceding that God exists.
Markum then goes on to make several quite common, but elementary, mistakes. He says, “The first and most obvious problem with this is that clearly not everyone agrees about what is right or wrong in the first place. Hence, our current culture wars over homosexuality, abortion, capital punishment, etc.” He may think that this is a valid argument but what he has actually done is confuse ontology with epistemology. The existence of disagreements about certain facts does not mean that those facts do not exist or are not objective. If that were the case then whether or not evolution were true, if God exists, if the earth rotates around the sun or vice versa, and so one would all just be subjective believe evolved from our cultural developments. The simple fact that people disagree about something is not a salient point to an argument. This is not a problem for objective morality and in fact is perfectly in line with it. Some people (maybe all people) can be wrong. I’m certain that I have incorrect moral beliefs. Yet I’m also certain that those who believe that trafficking humans for profit is morally acceptable are just as wrong as the flat earthers living in the Appalachian backwoods.
He continues, “Secondly, it appears that some people (psychopaths) are lacking a moral compass all together; are we to believe that God dropped the ball here and failed to give them functional moral equipment?” This again is not a problem for the existence of objective moral values than is the existence of conspiracy theorists who doubt the moon landing are for the objective historical reality of the moon landing. Just because people who are cognitively deficient do not have the ability to formulate correct beliefs does not entail that the rest of us cannot. We do not say that color is subjective because some people are colorblind. Markum reiterates this same fallacy by stating, “The next problem is that we cannot simply use the fact that some of us perceive moral values to establish the objective reality of those moral values... this is just lazy reasoning.” Well hardly. Again, as we have seen, the disagreement over a fact has little to no bearing on whether or not the fact is true or false. Just because nihilists would disagree doesn’t mean that Craig or his argument is unsound anymore than Markum would think that we should doubt evolution because Ken Ham and millions of Young Earth Creationists disagree.
Markum then calls an audible and attempts to punt to a concept of beauty and wonders if just because some people observe beauty that therefore there is some kind of objective beauty. He wonders then who would argue such a position and seems to be wholly unaware of the entire field of philosophy which deals with aesthetics, many of whom do hold to objective beauty. In fact many theists would say, along with their ethicists, that creaturely beauty is only beautiful in so far as it displays the beauty of God and that God intended to display with it. While it is beyond the scope of this response to make such a case, I do think that something can be said for such positions. In short, I think it is actually Markum and not Craig who is employing “lazy reasoning” by throwing up beauty as if it is some prima facie a priori defeater to the objectivist case.
Markum then takes a tact that I find quite puzzling. He moves to the structure of the Moral Argument and attempts to argue not only that the premises are false (which we have seen above he has failed at demonstrating) but also that the argument is a non sequitur, that is, that the structure of the argument is invalid. This is quite bizarre in that the argument is actually quite a standard modus ponens structured argument. It is of the form:
P1) ~P → ~Q
This is a standard syllogistic form and within the moral argument the propositions and their negations are properly carried through the premises. However Markum starts this new assault by saying, “If this argument were formulated correctly, premise two would read more like, ‘Objective values seem to exist in the world,’ or ‘Objective values are perceived by most (I’m being generous here) of the world’s inhabitants.’” What he has done is taken a logically valid argument and in order to show why he thinks it is not valid, he offers what he thinks are improvements that would actually make it invalid. So not only is he incorrect that it is a non sequitur but his attempt to change it would turn it into a non sequitur. For if we altered P2 to be “Objective moral values seem to exist in the world” then we would also need to alter P1 and the P3 to be completely different. In fact not only would we have to change P3 to “Therefore, it would seem that God exists” but P1 would have to be radically altered because it is not clear on how many possible positions it would be that moral values only apparently or seem to exist. What Markum is doing is actually trying to change altogether what the argument is arguing for in order to escape from its conclusion. Yet nowhere does he in fact demonstrate that the argument, as formulated by Craig and others is in fact invalid.
He then rapidly shifts gears and goes back to his previous complaint that Craig does not defend P2 that objective moral values and duties do exist – again ignoring the entire corpus of Craig’s work doing just that. Markum states, “Again, the only support for the assertion of objective moral values is the subjective perception of them by some people. We’re not talking about the existence of moral values, but the perception of moral values. Clearly, this is just not enough to say that they do in fact exist in some objective sense.” Here he is not actually making any new arguments but merely recycling a previously failed one.
And thus ends the criticism of Craig’s argument. That really is it. While Markum is a clear and considerate thinker, it can hardly be said that his article has moved the needle for the cause of atheism against the Moral Argument. And yet he is not done. Remember the article is meant to show that God cannot be the foundation of morality. So Markum asks, “can we think of any other possible explanations for the fact that many of us do admittedly perceive moral values in the world?” This is where the real one-two punch should come in to knock God out of the explanatory ring. But what comes is not really what the title of the article offers.
“And the answer is of course an enthusiastic, yes. We are social animals. Evolution, whether or not its existence is even acknowledged, is a perfectly tenable explanation for why we happen to have these ethical inhibitions seemingly woven into our very being. We, as social beings, are preoccupied with the good and the bad quite simply because nature has gracefully conditioned us to be this way.”
That’s all that he has to offer. Social animals and evolution. Namely, nihilism. So we see again that in order for him to justify that God is not the foundation of morality, he must deny morality itself. There are no such things as objective moral values and duties. There is legal fictions and wish fulfillment – Markum has painted himself into the corner where he knows that rape is not actually evil and wrong but we have just evolved to have a strong distaste for it... and yet we live like it is wrong. We punish people for different tastes with imperialistic zeal. We hold special disdain for those who rape small children and we justify it by calling it evil. But for Markum’s worldview it is not and indeed it cannot be evil or wrong. Just an evolved distaste. We really wish it was wrong and so we pretend that it is in order to make society work. Wish fulfillment turtles all the way down.
The final problem for Markum comes in his closing paragraph, where he writes, “It may be that some god did in fact endow us with moral sentiments, sure, but nevertheless it may also be that natural selection has done so.” The thesis then that God cannot be the foundation for morality is then shown to be a brutum fulmen that not even Markum himself thinks he accomplished.
 For a far more thorough treatment of this issue, I recommend the section of my book of review of Disproving Christianity by David McAfee, pp. 16-23.
 There are some notable exceptions such as famed atheistic philosopher Massimo Pigliucci.
 Markum calls this the “Modified Divine Command Theory” or MDCT but I find my term far more illustrative of the actual concept and so will proceed with mine throughout this article.
 Though here I should also add that I largely do not see the problem with getting caught on one of the horns of the dilemma. Let us imagine that God could have commanded us otherwise. That simple fact does not mean that what he did command was arbitrary. I could have told my employee to do any number of things but the fact that I told them to work on variance reports does not mean that command was arbitrary. I have many good and substantive reasons for commanding such an action. I do not even think that ED is really all the problematic to begin with.
 At this point, many atheists often protest that the theist is alter the concept of omnipotence and that omnipotence means that God can do anything without any logical constraints. The lady doth protest too much. If that were the case then God could literally have the power to make any contradiction true and so if we grant that conception of omnipotence then there is no problem. God could be all good and unable to act in any other way as a violation of his omnipotence and yet make it such that it is not a violation of his omnipotence. What basis for appeal would the atheist have at that point? They cannot appeal to logic because by their own standard logic does not apply in these cases because God could do any logically impossible action as well. It is therefore in the atheists’ own interest to allow the traditional view of omnipotence to have logical boundaries by which we can at least reasonably discuss these issues.
 This was the main argument that moved me out of my atheism and naturalism into broad theism in college. I realized that my knowledge that raping a little girl was wrong was supremely more justified than my belief that God did not exist. And yet in order to hold the former, I had to abandon the latter. I see atheists like Markum and others who seem to think that accepting the existence of God is a higher cognitive price tag than denying the objective evil of gang raping a small child and so are more comfortable denying the latter than accepting the former.
 In fact, they may be more wrong to a degree since we do not expect that everybody necessarily be scientifically informed but we do expect all people to have basic moral understanding.
Monday, December 7, 2015
Well it looks like he is still at it. My “favorite” atheistic fundamentalist is sharpening his axe with his newest “publication” - a 4 page pamphlet that he sees as a useful tool for counter-evangelism of the door to door variety. So when a Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon come to you door, why not hand them this handy dandy brochure?
Well if you’re a fundamentalist not interested in reasonable and rational engagement with views that differ from you, then why not? McAfee has shown no sign that he has even engaged with a single critic and altered his content or views (in fact the way he still peddles his books despite being thoroughly panned by critics of both opposing and "friendly" worldviews to his own, is evidence that he has not), and refuses to participate in public debate - either a formal debate or even as a recorded dialogue for podcasts or Google Hangouts. However, for those of us who enjoy actively engaging the gray matter in between our ears who do not want to simply parrot absurdities, his strategy for handling people of opposing viewpoints may not be the best for several reasons.
Firstly, we should be able to engage with the ideas presented to us as presented by the person in front of us. This means that if I have a Mormon come to my door, I do not have a cookie cutter pamphlet that I give out to all people who I disagree with. Rather, I should dialogue with them to discover what arguments and propositions they are specifically presenting and go from there.
Second, and most crucial however, is that the McAfee specifically bills theses as “Biblical contradictions and arguments against Christianity” on his Facebook page. In fact, the flyer begins with the statement, “This brief flyer contains contradictions in Abrahamic holy texts, as well as popular and lesser-known arguments against the principles of Christianity.” This should set off some major rational red flags for anyone who has actually cracked a single scholarly book on issues related to Christianity. Here I will go over some of the problems with this statement as well as the “arguments” presented in the brochure.
Next, I mentioned in my review of McAfee’s book Disproving Christianity and Other Secular Writings that sometimes it is hard to hard to explain why certain comments are so strange to people who are not familiar with the academic literature on a given topic or within a specific discipline. This is because that with study comes a kind of “inside speak” and familiarity with the technical jargon which marks one as well versed and familiar with the literature. However this also means that one can tell when a person is not well versed in the subject not just by what they say but even how they phrase it. Anyone reading this with an academic specialty in some subject will surely know what I mean when I say that even the manner in which a person addresses an issue is an indication of their depth of understanding and interaction with the experts on that subject. This is yet another prime example from McAfee. To call them “Abrahamic holy texts” is simply bizarre and makes the well read reader instantly skeptical that McAfee’s depth of understanding on the topics. While we know what he means, his simple confusion of what we historically (though inaccurately) call the Abrahamic faiths with the holy texts related to those faiths is telling of the level of understanding that we will encounter in this brochure.
Finally, McAfee states that these are contradictions in the Bible and “popular and lesser-known argument against the principles of Christianity.” This is again is highly problematic for McAfee. The vast majority of these are “lesser known” precisely because they are absolutely feeble. In fact, the real startling ironic fact about this list is that from all of the passages of the Bible and issues in theology, these are the arguments that McAfee appears to think are so robust and so unassailable that they deserve a special merit of being in a brochure meant to disabuse the average door to door missionary of their trust in God. That means that these are McAfee’s A-Listers. It reminds us again: if McAfee had better arguments he would use them.
Now let us turn our attention to the actual arguments that McAfee puts forward in the brochure and see if they hold water or if they are simply one bottomless bucket after another, that when strung together hold no more water than the one before.
The Problem of Natural Evil
McAfee’s first argument is an attempt at a kind of argument from natural evil. He writes,
1. We have established that the religion of Christianity presupposes an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, omnibenevolent God and Creator.
2. If a Creator knew all, saw all, controlled all, and loved all, said Creator would not allow innocent men, women, and children (especially those who are too young to have sinned) to die by natural disasters or disease.
3. Because we know that innocent men, women, and infants, Christians and non-Christians alike, do indeed die by acts of God on a daily basis, we know that an all-loving and all-powerful God must not exist.
4. Therefore, Christianity, which proposes the idea of such a Creator, must not be an accurate representation of true events.
So the question is then, is his version of the argument a logically valid one (does the conclusion follow logically from the premises)? And is it a logically sound argument (is the conclusion true and logically follow from true premises)? I am tempted to spend the time to show why the logic is not valid to begin with, that is, that the argument as McAfee presents it is actually a non squitor, but the rub lies in the fact that it is not sound so we will focus on that instead. Even if we assume that the logical form of the syllogism is valid, we have good reason to think that one or more of the premises are false.
Let us even grant premise 1 even though I actually think that all worldviews presuppose the existence of God in order to provide an adequate basis for laws of logic by which they even evaluate other worldviews. The problem then begins in the premise 2. How does McAfee know that such a Creator would not allow innocent men, women, and children no matter their age, to die by natural disasters or disease? My first gut reaction is to point out the very strange position of an atheist who does not believe in God in the first place asserting what a God would and would not do. It would be like me saying what the Queen of England would do even though I do not know the first thing about her personal character. However, beyond this all that McAfee has done is to commit himself to sheer assertion. He has no evidence for that claim and I see no way that he could prove it to be true. In fact, as I have stated above, if God actually is omniscient then he would surely know more of the factors involved in every moment of creation and might very well have access to information that we simply do not have that would potentially give him morally sufficient reasons to allow said disasters to occur. In fact we have a mountain of analogous scenarios for this even in our finite sphere as humans. How many times have we felt indignant about the outcome of some event and then upon discovering more information found out that the event really made much more sense? When we judge the President’s actions do we think that we would do anything different if we had all the information that he had? It is unlikely or at best, unclear. How much more so would an omniscient being have access to more information than we would that would possibly make allowing certain disasters morally permissible? In fact, there is an even larger problem of unknown counterfactuals: How do we know that any alternative world would not result in even worse outcomes?
What is important about this response is that the Christian does not need to show what that information or morally sufficient reasons must be that would cause God to allow disasters to occur. They must only show that it is possible for God to have such morally sufficient reasons to defeat premise 2 that a being like God definitely would not allow such events to occur. It is possible, given morally sufficient reasons unknown to us at the time, that God would allow suffering to occur and therefore the conclusion does not follow deductively from the premises.
Another problem with premise 2 is that McAfee assumes that all people who die, or at least some people who die in natural disasters are “innocent.” Rather than rehashing the discussions about the sinfulness of humanity which you can find in the book review of the book, I would like to offer a novel response here. This argument by McAfee is not only a non sequitur and demonstrably unsound, but it is also a strawman objection. The reason that this is a strawman is that it only objects to a lesser concept of the Biblical God than what Christians believe in order to reject it. In order to object to a position, you must object to the position as it is held by its proponents. The concept of God and man that is held by Biblical Christians is that God is holy and righteous and just as well as omniscient and that humanity en masse is not innocent and that each of us deserve judgment for our individual sins, such that it is even by the general/common grace of God that we even exist at any given moment. The Bible teaches that God allows the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. If McAfee is willing to allow a God that is omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent but ignores the rest of the attributes that the Bible uses to describe God and his creation, such as the holiness of God in contrast to the fallen nature of humanity, then he is dealing with a lesser conception of the relationship of God and man than what the Bible presents and that Christians actually believe. That is, by definition, a strawman. In order for McAfee to show that the Christian conception of God and man is false (as he concludes in premise 4), he must engage with what the actual Christian conception is. Premise 2 is an obvious avoidance of that very thing. Thus his argument is not only invalid in its construct and unsound due to a fallacious second premise, but it also commits a strawman fallacy. McAfee may think that this objection is a haymaker but it really is just grasping at straws.
The Loved Ones Argument
1. Heaven, as described by the Christian tradition, is eternal happiness in communion with God.
2. It’s possible that, because of nothing more than a difference in beliefs, two people whose ideal “heaven” included one another could be separated in the afterlife and one could be sent to “heaven” without his or her significant other.
3. The Christian in heaven could not be happy without his or her loved one, thus causing heaven to become a place of everlasting pain and sadness.
4. Because heaven is described as eternal happiness, this creates a contradiction in which the concept of a Christian heaven fails to be viable.
5. Therefore Christianity, which ensures eternal bliss in heaven postmortem, cannot be the true word of an all knowing and loving God.
This “argument” again suffers from numerous problems. McAfee states that there is a contradiction in the notion of heaven and the reality of true love thus it is true love that he thinks is the wedge that will break up Christianity and its doctrine of heaven. He basically states that the belief in true love, that one could not be happy without the other person, runs contrary to the doctrine of heaven in many cases. We can think of a husband and wife who are blissfully in love but where one is a Christian and one is not. If heaven is the everlasting life lived in pure happiness then how can the spouse in heaven be truly happy while their partner is languishing in hell?
One of the many problems with this objection, as we will see, is that it is like much of McAfee’s “work” on religion which overly simplistic and riddled with unchecked, uncritical, and unfounded assumptions not only about what the Bible and Christianity teach about God, humanity, love, and heaven, but also about what true love is or should be. McAfee again seems to nowhere assume that there may even be flaws in his own presuppositions nor does he interact with the numerous possible objections that could be made by Christians – such as what would make a person truly happy in heaven though McAfee, I assume, has never been there.
To be honest, I know that the response that I give will, I admit, fall on deaf ears with McAfee’s teeming fans, but since McAfee is objecting to what are known as “internal inconsistencies” that in order to refute them, I do not need to prove Christianity true on these points but rather only that it is not logically inconsistent in the way that McAfee says that it is. While some of us may not like the answer given, it still makes this objection provably false as a disproof via some supposed internal contradiction within Christianity. Even if McAfee and others may not like what Christianity teaches he still cannot say that his distaste for it is the same as it being logically inconsistent.
Firstly, the Bible does not teach what even most modern Christians seem to think that it does – that humans will live for eternity “in heaven” or that in heaven we will be 100% happy or live in some euphoric ecstatic state for all of eternity. In fact the Bible teaches that heaven is only an intermediate stage between now and the resurrection, and that after the resurrection God will redeem not only humanity but also all of creation itself such that humanity will live on a redeemed Earth in the way that Adam and Eve were meant to from the beginning. It does not say that we will be euphoric but rather that we will live at peace in the presence of God with complete sinless innocence and shalom.
To go further, I think a demonstration that R.C. Sproul used to give in his graduate classes will be helpful in our understanding regarding this point. Sproul would select one student to play Jesus, another student to represent Hitler and then a third student to represent the Apostle Paul.(1) He would then ask, “Where on this continuum between Hitler and Jesus, do we put the Apostle Paul?” The students would often put Paul closer to Jesus than Hitler, but they are in fact incorrect. He is closer, infinitely closer in fact, to Hitler. Even Paul, by his own admission, says that his best, most righteous works are like filthy menstrual rags. Paul called himself the “chief” of sinners and an apostle as one “untimely born.” So Sproul would then point out that there is in fact a chasm that is impossible to bridge from our end between both Hitler and Paul at one end and Jesus on the other. The gulf between the two banks is so immense that the separation between Hitler and Paul is negligible at best when compared to their distance from the holiness of God. What does this mean? While it might sound extremely harsh(2) the point is well put by John Gerstner’s own comment to Sproul during his graduate days under Sproul’s instruction - that we will be able to look at our own loved ones in hell and rejoice in the real justice of God. Does this mean we will be glad for the fact that people are in eternal separation from us and God? Absolutely not. The Bible teaches that human sin grieves God (Ephesians 4:30), so why should we think that believers will not also grieve the sinfulness and condemnation of their loved ones when it grieves God himself? But it does mean that we will no longer look on our fellow sinful humanity as if they are “morally innocent” and undeserving of God’s righteous justice. We will see God’s actions for what they are - just and right. Therefore, basically the true love objection can be responded to in the same way that Jesus did – who will you love more? When McAfee says that the husband can only be truly happy if his wife were to join him in heaven, he misses that his assumption is completely oblivious to the fact that a person in heaven is truly happy because they are in the presence of a perfect, holy, and glorious God and not because of who else is or is not there. Again, one might not like the answer, but the point is that the objection no longer reveals a necessary internal contradiction.(3)
Can Man See God?
Here McAfee does not even argue anything or present statements for critical review. He seems to think that just proof texting passages will do all of the heavy lifting for him. This is largely due to his tremendously problematic hyper-literal hermeneutic(4) where he seems to think that woodenly literally and flat readings of the KJV English text are the only, or at least the best possible interpretations. He gives the following verses:
John 1:18: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”
Genesis 32:30: “And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”
Exodus 33:23: “And I [God] will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.”
This objection is based on the concept of vision and seeks to show that where the Bible says that “No one has ever seen God…” (John 1:18) that it contradicts itself by showing that some people have in fact seen God – such as Jacob at Peniel (which actually does mean “I have seen God”) and when God passed by Moses on the cliff in Exodus 33:23. Here McAfee again makes hard and fast woodenly literal uses of words and allows for no nuances or varied meanings. Set in its context, John is referring to the total lack of any human on earth standing in the presence of God sitting on the throne and then coming back to tell about it – his point was that only Jesus has ever done that very thing by the resurrection. So what do we make of these visions of God elsewhere that McAfee mentions? In Revelation, even John himself sees God seated on the throne of heaven and writes a whole book about it. So has McAfee hit a homerun on this objection? Not quite.
What is quite obvious is that such experiences are manifestations of God – for an omnipresent and spiritual being cannot really be fully seen here on earth. In fact we use the word “see” in precisely the same way all the time in English. We can say, “I see what you mean.” But do we actually see with your eyes the meaning of the invisible words? We can say “I see President Obama,” when watching television. But do I actually see President Obama or just a manifestation of him on my television screen? Or we say “I see what I need to do now.” But do we actually mean that we have become psychic and can visually see what we will do in the following days? And even then not just a vision of it but the actual events of the future?
We in fact see (pun intended) this in the very passages given about Jacob and Moses. Does Jacob see the omnipresent God as God? No. What he does see is the manifestation of God as a man(5) with whom he wrestles and loses. And what about Moses? In the context, if McAfee had taken the time to actually read the surrounding contexts, God expressly tells Moses that he cannot see God (specifically his face, which in the Hebrew world often meant something akin to “personal presence”) and that Moses must hide in the cliffs and once a manifestation of God’s glory (not even God himself) has passed by, Moses will be allowed to peer out and the see the dissipating shadow of the passing glory of the manifestation of God. The passage itself makes it abundantly clear through this triple level of distancing that Moses did not see God at all. Thus even the selections cited by McAfee militate against his own argument.
Does Jesus Bring Peace?
Once again McAfee seems to think that simply referencing passage will do all of the work for him and once again this problematic strategy will let him down. He cites two verses:
Matthew 10:33-34: “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”
John 16:33: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
For this objection McAfee again seems to think that all language is created grammatically equal. He does not actually even pit these two verses together as a direct contradiction, but rather the concept of non-violence contained in one and Jesus’ statement that he would bring the sword in the other. However, several things can be said about this “dilemma.”
First is that a massive misconception here is obvious from the fact that McAfee seems to insinuate that Jesus was advocating the expansion of his kingdom by the clash of the sword when in fact we observe the exact opposite with Jesus being arrested and strictly forbidding his disciples from using a sword. He even performs a miracle to undo what Peter’s sword had done. So to say that Jesus was advocating such a position of evangelism by violence is sheer nonsense.
Second, and more to the point, is that McAfee again has shown that he can be quite heavy handed in his treatment of Biblical passages – often ignoring the very passage in which a verse is found and forcing an extremely wooden literalism that we never really find in any language outside of a calculator manual. Matthew 10 as a whole passage serves as a warning and exhortation to the disciples that God will care for them even during times of immense persecution and that the disciples should not take up arms but rather should trust in God, welcome people into their homes, and give cold water to the thirsty. They should not be surprised when the gospel disrupts families and households and they end up on the receiving end of persecution. Some in the house will believe, some will not believe, but a true disciple of Jesus will learn to trust in God and love God more than his family.(6) That McAfee seems unwilling or unable to realize that while not all Scripture can be reduced to symbolism, there are many cases where idioms and rhetorical devices are used. This seems to be an obvious case. When a preacher of non-violence uses the image of a sword, it is a good bet to assume that a literal sword and a call to violence is not meant. This position is supported by the fact that the Bible itself is commonly referred to as the “sword” of truth or the “sword of the Spirit,” (Galatians 6:17). The reality that the Bible is called a “sword” should tell us that the Bible is to be the only “weapon” for Christians instead of actual swords. What’s more, the warfare language of the spiritual disciplines is so interesting precisely because of the minimizing effect that it has in mind of real blood shedding warfare. Is it any surprise that in John’s Revelation that when Jesus is seen coming as the conquering king in Revelation 19, he does not come bearing a sword but that the sword protrudes from Jesus mouth – a clear symbol of his words. This would be a strange picture indeed if we did not understand that Jesus conquers the world through his words rather than through swords and armies.
Is God All Powerful?
Just as before McAfee seems to think that a simple citation of the verses listed below will suffice to prove some kind of contradiction.
Revelation 19:6: “Alleluia: For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” (In the Lord, anything is possible.)
Judges 1:19: “And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.” (The Lord was unable to assist Judah in defeating the people of the valley because of iron chariots.)
For this objection McAfee tackles the common problem of God’s omnipotence – that is, is God all powerful? He makes two arguments against the proposition that God is the Almighty. Here he seems to want us to ask the question, “If God is all powerful, why could he not cause his people to prevail?” As usual, the answer is actually found in the context of the passage itself which McAfee would have realized had he done any critical engagement with the text in its broader context. In Judges we find that right at the outset of the conquest of the Promised Land, Israel had already defaulted on her end of the covenant with God. Israel had failed to worship God alone, and had failed to drive out the inhabitants of previous regions – but rather let them stay and establish their own settlements just outside of town. So when we reach 1:19 about the conquest of the land given to the tribe of Judah (the section McAfee pulls his citation from), we read that they have already abandoned God and thus were on their own for the conquest. In fact some scholars point out that the passage need not be translated that they “could not drive out the inhabitants” but rather that they “would not drive out the inhabitants.” That is, that it was not the strength of the iron chariots that subdued the Israelites, but it was the glitter of the appeal of the iron chariots – they were seduced by the wealth and engineering of the chariots and therefore abandoned God for material gain. In fact in the beginning of the very next chapter, we find the Biblical author’s own answer to McAfee’s question which makes one wonder if he read the whole narrative or if he just read some anti-theistic blog where this “contradiction” was cited without context and he chose to blindly parrot it? Immediately following this passage, we find in Judges 2:1-3 God saying the following to Israel in direct reference to why they failed to win the land:
"I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, 'I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.' But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you." (ESV)
The author of Judges himself said in effect, not that God could not help them, but that he would not help them because of their sin. Quite the interesting statement since this is precisely what we say about the Israelites ability to remove the Canaanites repeatedly during Joshua, Judges and the following lives of the kings – not that they could not but that they would not. God basically said in response, “I will give you what you want.” It is God, rather than man, who ultimately says, “Not mine, but thy will be done.” This shows that no such contradiction between these verses exists since the whole point of the passages is not that God was trying to do something but he couldn’t, but rather than Israel would not act in obedience and broke her end of the covenant and so God was not obliged to grant them success.
Prayer Versus Free-Will
"Free will refers to the God-given ability for human beings to make decisions and act without interference, whether their actions are good or bad. This is contrary to determinism, which is the belief that there is a predetermined set of events that God has already planned; this means that all of our “choices” were planned and set before we were even born, releasing all culpability from the person. If a Christian chooses to pray to their God expecting benefit for themselves or others, not only does it contradict free will, but the practice begins to bear a striking resemblance to the spirit conjurations of witchcraft as those who pray hope to shape and influence their perceived God’s actions in a real and meaningful way."
Due to the fact that this objection is essentially asking the question concerning the relationship between predestination and free will in general, and Divine sovereignty and Human responsibility in particular, to adequately answer this objection I would need more space and time than I have already committed to writing or that you would probably would consign to reading it. So rather than give a concrete answer (since doing so would be quite lengthy indeed) let me give two brief procedural thoughts on why such an objection, as formed by McAfee, is entirely inadequate.(7)
First I would like to point out that this is not merely a problem for Christianity. This is actually a problem for all worldviews but McAfee has attempted to skate in through the backdoor of this already convoluted problem and apply it to Christianity as if this were only a problem for the Christian. Yet when we think of the work done by philosophers, ethicists, and scientists on something like philosophical, biological or chemical predestination,(8) in which some materialists say that our emotions, thoughts, wills, etc. are all necessarily determined from the direction taken by the very first chemical reaction that ever occurred in the universe, we can see that applying this as if it is a problem just for Christians may be a bit overstated. So let us be aware that this objection may ask you to swallow a gnat but you really must choke down a camel.
Second, because of the nature of any discussion about sovereignty and free-will will be highly complex (there are more than a handful of different conceptions of both predestination, divine sovereignty and human free-will, let alone how they interact with each other) I am inclined to think that any objection so simply stated and so flatly assumed, will be guaranteed to err in some manner simply by its reductionism and over simplification. To show that McAfee’s objection is entirely inadequate, we can just think of the differences between views of Arminianism, Calvinism, Hyper-Calvinism, Moderate Calvinism, Molinism, Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, and others on predestination; not to mention their various views on Libertarian free-will, Soft-Compatibalistic free will, Hard Compatibalistic-free will, the freedom of the will, the bondage of the will, fideism, and everything in between. In fact, it would need to be debated at length that Christianity and the Bible even affirm the kind of free-will assumed in this objection for it to even matter, let alone that McAfee’s own worldview doesn’t commit itself to determinism or has a viable basis for human freedom. Can McAfee actually think that absolutely no possible answer has been given to the tension between sovereignty and freewill or that this is somehow the knock down case that he apparently believes it to be? Again, this can only be due to an utter lack of research or understanding or, likely, both.
McAfee ends his brochure with several other quotes of himself from his book. I will not take the time to respond to them here but will give reference to the pages in the book review that directly repudiate these claims as viable criticisms of Christianity.
"The act of exclusion of some biblical aspects and acceptance of others demonstrates that the words of The Holy Bible are not time transcendent and, as humanity evolves, our morals and principles evolve with us."
See pages 15-23 for a treatment on the position that morality is purely the result of human evolution.
"In order to believe in something, it is my assertion that first one must properly understand it; in the case of Christianity, this consists of a strong knowledge of Christian history, modern teachings, and biblical lessons in context—which many modern Christians lack."
See page 77 for a response to the irony of McAfee exhorting people to “properly understand” Christianity and the Bible where he so clearly does not and makes no reasonable attempt to do so.
"I often ask Christians who received their religious ideologies from family whether or not they acknowledge the statistical assumption that if they had been born in, say, India—to Indian parents—for example, they would probably be affiliated with a denomination of Hinduism instead of the Christian tradition which they now consider to be the absolute Truth, though they would likely hold these religious beliefs with equal or rivaled fervor."
See pages 8-15 about the problematic argument about geographically and familial factors in religious belief and their employment of the genetic fallacy.
1. Here it is important to note that Sproul believes that Paul was, apart from Jesus, likely the most holy man to have ever walked the earth.
2. Which I think most atheists should actually appreciate since a common apologetic for atheism is that it is, if anything else, brutally honest about the harshness of life in a meaningless universe. Should they not also appreciate the backbone that it takes to say the brutally honest truth about the fact that when we are with God we will understand just how unrighteous humanity actually is, even those who were most dear to us? Does this make me happy? Absolutely not. In fact it is for this very reason that Christians what to share the gospel with others.
3. It should also be pointed out that there is even quite a bit of controversy over if people will even know spouses, children, siblings, parents, etc. in heaven or on the new earth such that this may not even be a real problem for Christian theology to begin with.
4. For more on this, please again refer to the book review, pp 6-8.
5. Many believe this to be what is called a Christophany (also called a Uiophany for the Greek word υἱὸς meaning ‘son’) where the pre-incarnate Christ as the second person of the Trinity appears in the Old Testament.
6. This view is regularly mocked by anti-theists. They see a kind of irony in Christians being so “pro-family” but also saying we should love God more than our families. The point is not that we should love our families less but rather that we should keep God as the highest priority. It is a belief about the importance of God, not the unimportance of families.
7. Since my comments will be procedural rather than specific, here are some resources that one might want to read for more in depth answers. D. Basinger and R. Basinger (eds.) Predestination and Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. (1985). John Feinberg, The Many Faces of Evil. (2004). Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will. (1525). Jonathan Edwards, (1754). Norman Geisler, Chosen by Free. (2001). R.C. Sproul, Chosen by God. (1994). Thomas Flint, Divine Providence: A Molinist Account. (2006). Bruce Ware, God’s Greater Glory. (2004). We can even anticipate the release from the Counterpoints series put out by Zondervan: Stanley Gundry (ed.) Divine Providence.(2011).
8. I am thinking specifically of preeminent biophysicist Dean H. Kenyon’s book Biochemical Predestination (1969) which he co-authored with Gay Steinman (before Kenyon changed his mind by reading an A.E. Wright book entitled The Creation of Life: A Cybernetic Approach to Evolution (1981), which was way ahead of the game on information theory in microbiology, and Kenyon subsequently became a proponent of Intelligent Design) or of C. De Duve in this 1995 book Vital Dust; or even Eric T. Olson’s book The Human Animal: Personal Identity without Psychology (1999).