Friday, November 18, 2011

Trusting in God's sovereignty

I was thinking on God's sovereignty today, remembered Macarthur's answer to a question about trusting God, then remembered how I felt once I understood God is sovereign. Macarthur was asked the following 

"HARDY: Some raise that with the whole concept of trust; that affirming this doctrine and growing in your understanding of it actually builds and increases your trust in God instead of trusting --

MACARTHUR: The greatest thing that a believer can do above and beyond everything is worship. That is the highest responsibility. The sovereignty of God is the single most glorious reality about God. Even His grace would lose its luster if He weren't really in control of it. His mercy would be diminished. It is His sovereignty that over-arches everything. And, you know, when I worship the Lord just as a way of life, it doesn't matter what happens. It doesn't matter if I'm well or sick; it doesn't matter if I live or die; it doesn't matter if things go well or don't go well. It just never interrupts my confidence in the sovereignty of God. So, you know, I think that's the key to my -- to just living life on the same high level of joy, come whatever comes, because you know that this is all fitting into His perfect plan.

I remember -- this is a good illustration. I remember a few years ago we had some people come here from another church. And, of course, that's not uncommon. But they came from a church where their families were in leadership in the church, pastoral leadership. And so coming here was a big thing. And they came from a charismatic church. And they came here, if I understand the story right, they came here one time when I preached on the sovereignty of God. And they never went back. And what they said to me was we've lived our whole life under the sovereignty of Satan. This is absolutely transforming. Satan makes you sick; Satan messes with your babies; check the kids at night, 3 o'clock in the morning Satan might kill your baby with SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome; pray Satan out of your bedroom, bathroom, dining room, Satan's liable to do -- I mean, you know, Satan made the planes crash into the Towers, Satan does -- everything's -- and poor God, you know, is -- (Pastor indicates by wringing His hands.) And this caused paroxysms of fear, heart palpitation, panic attacks; really unbelievable kind of things.

I mean who could possibly worship God in that kind of environment? Then you get the people together, and you whip them into some kind of emotional frenzy; call it worship. But down underneath it is a theology that literally makes it impossible to worship God, because God's not in charge. The opposite of that, of course, is to understand that everything works within the framework of God's purpose and will. And no matter what happens, you know, even the worst of things, are intended for your good and His ultimate glory."

I also remembered what R.C. Sproul wrote, "Our problem is this: We do not yet possess the full light of the remote. We are still looking in a dark mirror. We are not utterly devoid of light, though. We have enough light to know that God has a good purpose even when we are ignorant of that good purpose.

It is the good purpose of God that gives the final answer to the appearance of vanity and futility in this world. To trust in the good purpose of God is the very essence of godly faith. This is why no Christian can be an ultimate pessimist.

The world in which we live is not a world of chance. Its beginning was not an accident, its operation is not an accident, and its telos, or goal, is not an accident. This is my Father’s world and He rules it without caprice. As long as God exists, vanity is a manifest impossibility."

Given the sovereignty of God, you might wonder the same thing a questioner asked William Lane Craig recently. He wrote, "Your Middle Knowledge response, as far as I can ascertain, is that God knew before he created these people that they would reject the Gospel, so he put them in second century Tibet where it didn't matter anyway. No harm, no foul." Now, Craig gives a long answer (one worth checking out), but I will only post an excerpt:

"1. God is all-powerful and all-loving.
2. Some people never hear the Gospel and are lost.
The Free Will Defense attempts to show that the religious pluralist has not been able to prove a logical incompatibility between (1) and (2) and, moreover, that we can show (1) and (2) to be compatible by adding a third statement which is compatible with (1) and entails (2), to wit,
3. God has created a world having an optimal balance between saved and lost, and those who never hear the Gospel and are lost would not have believed it even if they had heard it.
Now your objection, Steve, is only to the second part of the Free Will Defense. You don’t think that (3) is possible or plausible.


But now you raise a quite different objection aimed specifically at (3). “Before God sticks Fred in second century Tibet wouldn't He have to ascertain that Fred would freely reject the Gospel in all circumstances, not just some of them?” Well, He wouldn’t have to, but that’s my hypothesis. Clearly, God could place a person anywhere He wants in human history, regardless of how that person might freely behave in different circumstances. But my suggestion is that God, being so merciful and not wanting anyone to be damned, so providentially orders the world that anyone who would embrace the Gospel if he were to hear it will not be placed in circumstances in which he fails to hear it and is lost. Only in the case of someone who would be saved through his response to general revelation would a person who would freely respond to special revelation, if he heard it, find himself in circumstances where he doesn’t hear it.

I’m mystified that you find this suggestion “intuitively unattractive.” On the contrary, I think it magnifies the goodness and abundant graciousness of God, that He would prevent anyone’s being lost though the accidents of history and geography. God is so good that He won’t allow anyone to be lost if that person would under any circumstances respond to the Gospel and be saved. 

In any case, you then go to your plausibility objections. These are just irrelevant, as explained above. So long as (3) is even possibly true, which you seem to concede, it shows that (1) and (2) are logically compatible, Q.E.D.

But I can’t resist saying something about the plausibility of (3). Why isn’t (3) plausible? You suggest that God would have to vet all the options in order to actualize such a world. That’s not really true, but is in any case no problem because the doctrine of middle knowledge entails that God knows which of all the possible worlds known to Him via His natural knowledge are feasible for Him to actualize. All feasible worlds are given to Him by His middle knowledge, so sovereignly picking one is just no problem. 

You suggest, more plausibly, I think, that that there are no persons whom God could have created who would under all circumstances reject His grace for salvation. Maybe you’re right; but how can you know? I just don’t think we’re in a position to make those kinds of judgements. You talk about the insanity of unbelief; and yet such persons are all around us, people who have heard the Gospel again and again, who have the Bible, who have read apologetics material, and yet who refuse to believe. In fact, I’ve had unbelievers say to me on more than one occasion, “Even if I knew that Christianity is true, I still wouldn’t bend the knee!” (Remember we're talking only of freedom-permitting circumstances here.) 

How do you know that God couldn’t put together a world in which the unreached are people who wouldn’t bend the knee under any circumstances? In fact, this hypothesis has real implications for other issues like the wider problem of evil. For example, maybe only in a world involving scads of natural and moral evil could God arrange the sort of world we’re envisioning. Maybe His desire to achieve an optimal balance between saved and lost overrides the benefits of a world with less natural and moral evil. It may well be that getting the right counterfactuals of creaturely freedom in place to achieve (3) involves putting up with a lot of otherwise gratuitous evil. 

Now you ask, why create “Fred” in the first place? Here’s the real nub of the issue, I think, and why you find my hypothesis unattractive. You think God could have just left Fred out. But that’s not true, if my hypothesis is correct! There may be no world feasible for God involving universal, freely embraced salvation which comes without other overriding disadvantages. Sure, God could have refrained from creating Fred (or both Fred and Sophie), but then the resulting world might have been even worse or at least no better. The hypothesis is that God has done the very best He can, given the true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which confront Him. 

Your claim that “there are an infinite number of beings God can create who would freely accept the Gospel without somebody else rejecting it” is guilty of the same error you alleged earlier, namely, speaking without a context. Suppose that for any possible person there may be circumstances under which he would be freely saved without someone’s being lost; it doesn’t follow that there is a feasible world in which every person would be freely saved without someone’s being lost. For the relevant circumstances may not be compossible. Your pun on Sophie’s Choice (a choice between two bad options) reveals that you haven’t yet grasped the theory of middle knowledge, for God doesn’t create such a choice for Himself. The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which confront Him are outside His control. He has to play with the hand He has been dealt.
So I’m a good deal less confident than you are about our ability to pronounce on what worlds are feasible for God. Therefore, I’m not inclined to regard (3) as implausible. In any case, we both agree that it is possible, and that suffices for the purposes of the Free Will Defense." 

Being finite creatures, our scope is limited, we don't have the full light of the remote as Sproul said so we can't know perfectly things like "Why did God create Fred knowing Fred wouldn't be saved?" Notice I said we can't know perfectly things like that, but we can have some grasp on such things. I think Craig gives a good answer to such a hard question. Some Christians do think unbelief is insanity, however there are those who don't. Like Craig, I've heard answers that echo "Well, even I knew for certain Christian theism is true, I still wouldn't bow my knee to such a God." Others wouldn't. Some don't think the evidence for Christian theism is hard enough and consequently don't put their faith in God; these people have said they would believe if there was just harder evidence. The list goes on for reasons why people are Christian theists.

The probability of a world existing of free moral creatures and all of them freely embracing salvation is zero I think. To be truly free, creatures need moral freedom and moral freedom entails at least the possibility of evil in the world. God wanted to accomplish plenitude - the highest good possible; the best of all possible worlds requires moral freedom, which also brings the possibility of evil.

The sovereignty of God is a challenging, yet comforting doctrine. It's challenging due to the raising of questions like "Why did God create person X, knowing he or she wouldn't put faith in Him?" and the other, "Why did God allow this to happen to me or them?" They are hard questions, but they aren't without good answers. The doctrine is comforting in that I know God has a good purpose even when I am ignorant of what that purpose is at the time. Honestly, I am going through some junk right now in my life personally and outside my experience, i.e. my family is going through some junk too. If God was "up there" ringing his hands, trying to keep everything together for everyone then I would wonder just powerful He really is. Would he not be like the mythological gods? I think so. I'm not sure how worthy of worship a god like that would be. Is God's sovereignty a crutch? Not at all. Though it's comforting at times, other times I am upset and quite mad at the lot in my life at that time. I'm human after all. At the end of the day though, I agree with a statement made by William Lane Craig, "...even though the problem of evil is the greatest objection to the existence of God,...God is the only solution to the problem of evil.  If God does not exist, then we are locked without hope in a world filled with gratuitous and unredeemed suffering. God is the final answer to the problem of evil." 

Check out the multiple resources on the problem of evil here at Apologetics315

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Unicorn argument revisited

Due to the increase in traffic for the post, "The unicorn argument," I decided to repost it with additional links and text. Enjoy! 

I'm so glad Brian Auten (Apologetics 315) shared the link to "Atheists and Unicorns: Emotional Appeal," by J.W. Wartick because I think all theists grow tired of the "you can simply use the word unicorn instead of God for that argument" argument. I've read a lot of atheist comments using the unicorn argument. I'm not trying to be a jerk when I say this, but it seems it is used only when the skeptic/atheist is out of ammo. Maybe I'm wrong about that. Anyway, here is an excerpt from the blog post:

"You may have heard it before. “I’m an a-unicornist, just like I’m an atheist.” “I don’t believe in unicorns, nor do I believe in God.” “There’s as much evidence for unicorns as for God.”

What are these statements supposed to show?

Whether intended or not, these kinds of statements are simply emotional appeals. The atheist is attempting to psychologically discredit Christianity without ever engaging any kind of logical reasoning."

I agree. He then goes on to write:

"But what about another common use of the unicorn within atheism? Namely “I can’t prove there is no God, just like I can’t prove there are no unicorns.”

While this initially seems plausible, it only remains plausible if one assumes positivism. We can actually prove there is no God. If the Christian’s account of God was found to be incoherent, then God would not exist. It would, in fact, be impossible for God to exist were his nature contradictory.

So even in this use of the phrase we find that the atheist is committed to a dogmatic assumption of positivism. By assuming that God can only be disproven by empirical evidence, they uncritically advance a philosophical enterprise which has largely been abandoned within modern philosophy.

A word of advice: focus on the arguments at hand, not pejorative language."

Positivism has been abandoned with modern philosophy. For example, positivism fails to prove there are not abstract ideas, principles, and laws beyond our sense perception or that we can even know of them. There are also other, better developed, refutations of positivism; one by William Lane Craig can be found here.

Be sure to read the full article by Wartick by clicking here


Newer post by J.W. Wartick. The post covers a debate he had with Cathy Cooper over this topic. Click here to read it.  

The following excerpt is from a post by Rich Deem discussing the invisible pink unicorn, flying spaghetti monster, and santa clause. 

"Can we determine the existence/non-existence of invisible pink unicorns? Actually, the answer is "yes." Unicorns would be pink if they reflected pink electromagnetic radiation (i.e., light). However, in order to be invisible, the unicorns would reflect no electromagnetic radiation. Therefore, the term "invisible pink unicorn" is self contradictory. Therefore, we know absolutely that they could not exist. I don't know who invented the term "invisible pink unicorns," but they were obviously deficient in their physics education." 

I were going to write-up a post on the "invisible pink unicorn" myself, I would have taken the approach by Deem. The invisible pink unicorn is self-contradictory and I don't think anyone under a western worldview would buy the concept. What about if we drop the pink part though? Deem writes, 

"Technically, it would be very unlikely that any organism would be invisible. The only reasonable chemical basis for living organisms in this universe is carbon-based life. This would ensure that unicorns would always be visible. Although possible that unicorns might be invisible due to being made of anti-matter, such existence would be problematic, since their interaction with ordinary matter would result in their immediate and spectacular destruction. Could unicorns be made of exotic matter? While possible, there is no evidence from physics that any creatures could be made of exotic matter. At present, it is possible to detect exotic matter only indirectly through particle physics and through its ability to bend light (only detectable through gravitational lensing of distant galaxies). At this point, we would be unable to detect a unicorn made of exotic matter. So, although we can be fairly certain that invisible unicorns do not exist in the universe, we could not take the strong aunicornist stance."

The flying spaghetti monster, to be fair, is nothing more than humorous rhetoric and not worth any more time in refuting it than to say that there is no way spaghetti and meatballs could be a self-existing, necessary being. 

Deem also takes on the santa clause argument. 

"According to tradition, Santa Claus is a man who lives at the North Pole on planet earth. Explorers and satellite images have failed to detect the dwelling place of Santa Claus, so we can be fairly certain that he does not exist. Since the polar ice cap is likely to melt within the next 100 years, we will have further evidence that nobody actually lives at the North Pole." 

We can see that pink unicorns, spaghetti and meatballs, and santa clause are all dependent upon the existence of the universe. God is not dependent on the universe or confined by time. The above objections can be nothing more than rhetoric if one is going to use them. They're not serious objections given by serious atheist/agnostic thinkers (no offense, but that is the case). 

Read the entire post by Rich Deem. Click here.

*sumo santa is a character in the game: Clayfighter
*The unicorn image can be found here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Looking back on Pascal's wager

 I've been listening to an overview of philosophy during my commutes to and from work. Yesterday, the professor lectured on Blaise Pascal, who was a 17th century mathematician and philosopher. In the world of philosophy he is best known for his "wager," which is in the Pensees writings that were published after his death. 

I have to admit, when I first read Pascal's wager, I wasn't that impressed. Did it make sense to me? Yeah it did, but it didn't convince me or even move me to be a Christian theist. The first time I heard it was in church by a preacher when I was a teen during the altar call session of the night. The music was playing lightly while the preacher gave his version of the wager. He seemed like a host of a game called "You bet your life!" and I just wasn't impressed. The preacher gave the presentation nicely. I understood the argument that if God does exist I should live as if He exists so as not to face cosmic justice in the afterlife; if He doesn't exist, what did I lose? I lived a good moral life instead of a life of indulgence, so what did I lose? What I lost was a life of indulgence! I could have done whatever I wanted without regret. I could have been selfish! Now, I must confess, when I was a practical atheist I lived a straight-edge lifestyle (I abstained from drugs, alcohol, and sex outside of a monogamous, loving relationship) so I most likely lived better than some Christians did around me (according to the stats I read at that time, Christian teens were just as sexually active as and partied like the "heathen"). I mentioned that because I didn't want to live a life of indulgence. I knew then and know now that such a life is a wasted life. However, Pascal's wager falls because some want to live that way (I would argue that many want to, but let's just be conservative for argument's sake). Some want to "live for the moment." Like some person once said, "party today because tomorrow we die!" Some people like that lifestyle and find Pascal's wager lacking. I understand their point. 

What caused me to think differently about Pascal's wager was in the lecture I heard yesterday. Pensees was published after the death of Pascal, so his work was incomplete. The professor said Pensees was Pascal's reflections or thoughts on life and not meant to be taken as arguments for the existence of God. I assume Pensees was more of an existential work then an apologetic work then, which actually changed my view of Pascal's wager. I was under the impression that his work was meant to be an argument to move the atheist to theism, which is the reason I found the wager lacking and didn't have respect for it. 

The argument is best used for those in the middle I think. Like commenter Bossmanham said on this post: "I think, however, that since he was dealing with a population that primarily was Christian, he was basically trying to get them to stop being so apathetic. In that sense, there may be some worth to it. For instance, I've seen some philosophers who are kind of agnostic, but say that if there is a true religion, Christianity would be it. I think Anthony Flew was in that camp. Perhaps there's some value in it for them?" 

I think the wager is best used for those who find themselves to be agnostic and sympathetic toward Christian theism. That is where Pascal's wager has weight. The wager probably is best for those to, who doubt God's existence emotionally instead of intellectually. If Bob has no problem with the basic arguments for Christian theism (the cosmological argument to the resurrection of Jesus), but instead doubts emotionally, i.e. he continues to "what if..." himself, then Pascal's wager could alleviate the emotional doubt. 

Knowing now that Pascal was not trying to convince atheists to be theists, I now respect the wager. I still think it is a bad argument for theism and that no one should use it in an attempt to convince someone to theism. Instead, I think the wager would be best used in conversation with those who are agnostic, but sympathetic toward theism and for those who are emotional doubters.

More information on Blaise Pascal click here.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The goal of Christian living

R.C. Sproul's teaching series Pleasing God is available to watch online for free at Ligonier's website.

Here is the first lecture in the series on the goal of Christian living.

Watch the rest of the series, click here

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What about a talking snake and donkey?

This question is usually projected to make the bible and theism in general look stupid, but you know when actually thought-over, the question is stupid. I know I say, "There aren't stupid questions, just stupid answers," but this question is foolish. Think about it. If one, like myself, is convinced that God exists, given the arguments, and then convinced that God raised Jesus from the dead given the arguments, then wouldn't a talking snake and donkey be probable? Couldn't God use those animals to make His points? Once God is realized, then miracles aren't thrown out the window. Now, if I had zero evidence for God and the resurrection, then yeah, it would be ludicrous for me to believe that a snake and donkey talked at some point in history; I completely understand that line of thinking. However, there is good evidence for God and also good evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.

The question must be asked and looked at in light of the whole scope of evidence for Christianity and when it is, one can understand the question is rather weak and does no harm at all to Christianity. I don't mean to insult the questioners because they are told the question is glorious and super-duper awesome defeater to throw at Christians. Well, it's actually not strong at all given the evidence we have for Christian theism.

I tried to keep the post short, but a friend of mine suggested I should list the basic arguments for Christianity; I thought it was good advice. I'm going to give quick summaries of the arguments for Christian theism; keep in mind, these are quick shots of much fuller arguments, so if you want to explore the arguments further click on the links I gave above and below.

1. The Cosmological Argument from Contingency
The cosmological argument comes in a variety of forms. Here’s a simple version of the famous version from contingency:
  1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
  2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
  3. The universe exists.
  4. Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence (from 1, 3).
  5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe’s existence is God (from 2, 4)

2. The Kalam Cosmological Argument based on the beginning of the universe

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
3. The moral argument based on moral values and duties
  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.
 4. The teleological argument from fine-tuning
  1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
  2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
  3. Therefore, it is due to design.

5. The ontological argument from the possibility of God’s existence to His actuality

  1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists.
  2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
  3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
  4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
  5. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.
  6. Therefore, a maximally great being exists.

 For a more thorough explanation of each argument, I recommend clicking here. Dr. Craig explains each argument, then gives a refutation from Dawkins, and then refutes the objection made by Dawkins. 

Arguments for the resurrection of Jesus

-the burial narrative
-the empty tomb
-the appearances
-the early belief in a bodily resurrection.

How do we explain those facts? Wintery Knight gives a rundown of the possible explanations and his critique.

1) Jesus wasn’t really dead
- crucifixion is lethal and you can’t fake being dead
- this doesn’t explain the early belief in the resurrection, since
a half-dead Jesus would not inspire a belief in the resurrection

2) Jesus’ disciples moved the body and lied about it
- it doesn’t explain the appearance to Paul, etc.
- it doesn’t explain why the early church was willing to be persecuted

3) The Jews moved the body and lied about it
- they had no interest in helping a rival sect
- it doesn’t explain the appearance to Paul, etc.

4) The Romans moved the body and lied about it
- they had no interest in helping a trouble-making sect
- it doesn’t explain the appearance to Paul, etc.

5) Somebody else moved the body
- it doesn’t explain the appearance to Paul, etc.
- there is no evidence to support the claim

6) The early church hallucinated the appearances
- group hallucinations are impossible
- it doesn’t explain the empty tomb
- it doesn’t explain the theological mutations about “resurrection”, since seeing a ghost does not imply a bodily resurrection

To learn more about the argument for the resurrection of Jesus click here.

Commenter Mike brought to my attention the Presuppositional arguments! I forgot about that avenue of apologetics.

Excerpt from Wikipedia:

" transcendental argument...attempts to prove that the Christian God is the precondition of all human knowledge and experience, by demonstrating the impossibility of the contrary; in other words, that logic, reason, or morality cannot exist without God. The argument proceeds as follows:[2]
  1. If there is no god, knowledge is not possible.
  2. Knowledge is possible (or some other statement pertaining to logic or morality).
  3. Therefore God exists.
Cornelius Van Til likewise wrote:

We must point out that [non-theistic] reasoning itself leads to self-contradiction, not only from a theistic point of view, but from a non-theistic point of view as well... It is this that we ought to mean when we say that we reason from the impossibility of the contrary. The contrary is impossible only if it is self-contradictory when operating on the basis of its own assumptions.
—(A Survey of Christian Epistemology [Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1969], p. 204)"

An overview of Van Til here.

Explore presuppositional apologetics by clicking here.

Keep in mind, I just gave the basic arguments without explaining the premises. I highly recommend checking out the links I've posted throughout this post. 

Arguments for the existence of God: debate audio, lecture audio, and book reviews click here

Arguments for the resurrection of Jesus: debate audio, lecture audio, and book reviews click here.

*Image take from this website.