Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Debate with an Atheist: Part 2

Here is part 2 of my debate with an atheist at UBCO. Make sure to read part 1 before this. Happy reading!

[Atheist guy]:
Hi Luke

Thank-you for your thoughtful response.

I'll apologize in advance if I've misunderstood any of your arguments. As an English major, I know that language will always be a flawed method of communication (a fact that will play a role in one of my rebuttals).

"If you hold to atheism, you must conclude that morality is the subjective consensus of a society on what is right and wrong."

Subjective, yes, but not necessarily based on just consensus. We can't simply put a number on the number of individuals who believe something, and argue that 51% is the tipping point. Morality is a complex human construct that depends upon many factors, such as the opinions of respected individuals, the writings of philosophers (contemporary and ancients -- including those in the Bible), survival issues within different societies, and yes, numbers. Morality changes with time and location. For instance, in a society where the population is dropping to very low levels, birth control would be seen as a sin. In a nation where the population is exploding dangerously, the opposite is true. This is a complicated subject, and I'm not a sociologist, but I know that when it comes to "good and evil", there is never an absolute.

However, I'm making the argument for an evil God based on the hypothesis that God exists and can give us these absolutes. From that point of view, if a human who tortures babies is evil, then so is God. I can't buy this "might makes right" argument. If God does it, it's good because he's God. If a human does it, he's evil because God says so. That's just rank hypocrisy. God should set an example. By talking out of both sides of his "mouth" at the same time, so to speak, he's encouraging human beings to do the same. Can you believe that many warlords in history have justified mass slaughter by pointing out that God ordered the massacre of the Canaanites?

Raising the issue of the Holocaust is enlightening, and again, very complex. While the majority of Germans were complicit in it, a majority did not know what was happening in the camps (the Nazis lied about it until the bitter end, and neo-Nazis are still doing so today). And don't forget, Nazi Germany was a Christian nation. And an atheist can judge that society, based on the morality of that society as defined by humanity. No, it's not absolute, but it is a relative judgement.

As for this hideous passage:  "Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?" (Romans 9:19-21). Seriously??? You can see no difference between an inanimate lump of clay and a living being, who can feel hunger, thirst, and pain? God sees the two in exactly the same light?

(I have a hypothesis that humans invented God in order to resolve the issue of what is "good and evil", but that's a whole other essay.)

Now, your argument that we need God to give us some "absolute" morality might hold some water if we knew exactly what it is that God wants. But all we know is what's in the Bible. This is where your argument goes completely off the rails, for the following reasons:

1) The Bible is vague, ambiguous, and contradictory. I could cite hundreds of examples, but the irony is, Christians prove this point themselves. There are dozens, or perhaps hundreds of Christian denominations, all claiming to follow the Bible, yet no two of them can agree on what it says.  And I'm not just talking about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Christians disagree on birth control, abortion, corporal punishment, capital punishment, divorce, euthanasia, killing in war or self defense, and even on such fundamental questions as what it takes for one's soul to be saved (is it faith alone, or faith plus works?).

2) Which Bible are we referring to? The Eastern Orthodox version, which contains 51 books in the old testament, or the Catholic version (46), or the many protestant versions (39). The NIV? NRSV? King James? Some versions translate the sixth commandment as "you shall not kill"; others as "you shall not murder". Kill and murder are not synonyms, so which is it? Why didn't God make sure that only one, true Bible survives, to avoid these quandries?

3) How do you know that the Bible is the word of God? Because it says so in the Bible? Surely you can see a problem with this "proof". The Koran says the Koran is the word of God. Anyone can write a passage or book and state this is the word of God.

4) The Bible is an incredibly unwieldy and inefficient method of transmitting information. Think about it: first, the "word" must be passed on to the prophets orally, who must in turn pass it on orally to future generations, without any mistakes, until eventually it gets written down in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Then it must be copied without any mistakes (and according to Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman, we have over 5600 fragments of old Bible passages, no two of which completely agree), passed on to others and distributed throughout the world (a slow process, which is still ongoing), translated into hundreds of other languages (again, perfectly), then read orally to literally hundreds of millions of people (the vast majority of people throughout history were illiterate). Yikes! I now understand why there are so many sects of Judaism and Christianity.

So how else could we get us this information? Well, God is omnipotent. He could simply implant the information into our brains at birth, thereby ensuring that every human being who ever lived knows precisely what is required of us. Notice that this fix doesn't take away our free will. We can still choose to ignore it.

"He made us to disobey, and many to be destroyed, so that he would be glorified in their eventual destruction. God will be glorified in that because it is the destruction of all evil." Wow, what an insecure being, who needs to be glorified.

I stand by my claim that God is either a monster ... or doesn't exist. Obviously I've chosen the latter.


[Atheist guy]

Hello [Atheist guy],

Thank you for taking the time to continue this discussion. Many of your points are well thought-out. I would like to point out that if you were presupposing an atheist viewpoint and we were not conducting this debate on the presupposition that the Bible and God are already true, then I would have no need to answer these questions. In fact, it would be quite foolish to continue a debate with a person whose presuppositions in atheism have no ground for logic or reasoning. How do atheists come to the conclusion that logic is worthwhile? Even the statement, "Logic is right" presupposes a rightness in the world, a certain logical order that can be determined. How does the atheist come to this? Is it through science? It cannot be that we have come to logic because of observation of the repeatability and consistency of nature, because it takes logic to figure that out. Science presupposes logic, and cannot be used to support it, because that would be circular reasoning. So where does logic come from in an atheist world? Logic is established by the one true God, and it is because this God is external to the human experience that we can base our logic consistently on it. In the same way that there is no basis for absolute morality from an atheist perspective, there is also no basis for logic. 

I will answer your objections, realizing that these can only come from the assumption that God is real.

Yes, morality is ultimately subjective (from an atheist perspective), and it is necessarily based on consensus. Pointing to the fact that morality is built upon those who go before does not lend any objectivity or merit to that morality. People must still necessarily reach consensus on their opinion of what is right and wrong. A socially-constructed morality has no ultimate or absolute meaning. It has no value to anyone but those who believe it. Just because the morality of our culture borrows somewhat from Biblical writers does not pull the Bible into the same subjectivity. The Bible claims an absolute good and evil, an objective morality.

It is not "rank hypocrisy" to suggest that God can act differently than humans. A father would tell his child not to do things (like drive) that the father can do without problem. This is not hypocrisy, but according to you it is. A teacher will not allow children to punish others for bad actions, but has no problem doing so his/herself. This again is not hypocrisy, but according to you it is. According to you, it is hypocrisy to forbid someone who is lesser than you (children are less developed) to do something that you can do. This is simply untrue. God does indeed reserve the sole right to punish evil because he is omniscient, omnipotent, and just. We are none of those things, therefore we cannot punish in the way that God does. God can order the massacre of a nation because he knows the evil in every heart, but warlords who claim the same are not justified in that. They do not have ultimate knowledge. It is illogical to say that because warlords have used what God did to commit evil, God is wrong in doing it. People can twist anything in order to rationalize for their own actions, but it does not mean that they are right. It also does not mean the action of God is wrong. Many good things are twisted by evil men, though these things remain good. Christ himself says "Judge not, lest ye be judged". These men who take the authority of God on themselves are evil.
God did, however, set an example that he meant humans to follow. This is the example of Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect life. He is our example to follow, and calls on many to "follow me". Follow means much more than walk behind, but to emanate the person being followed, to align your life to his. 

By using the metaphor employed by Paul in the letter to the Romans, I do not mean to equate humans with lumps of clay. The metaphor merely shows that we are on a different level from God. He, as our maker and sustainer, literally holding together every cell in your body, has authority over you. This is the misuse of my words that I anticipated. You cannot stomach the idea of God having ultimate authority over you, but he does. Hating the idea of God demanding your life does not make his claim unsubstantiated, and it does not make God a human construct. You cannot wish God away. What do you know of what is truly right or wrong? We have already established that you know nothing of objective right and wrong, being unable to make an absolute statement about such things. God defines right, and he says that it is right that he has authority over you. Rejecting the idea of God being true on this basis is illogical. Note that I have not proven to you whether God exists, only that rejecting his existence on this basis is foolish. 

You are right in saying that Germany at the time of WWII was a Christian nation. However, the implication behind that statement, which is that a Christian would support the atrocities performed by Nazis, is absurd. Many people in that time claimed to be Christian because of the social benefits. Nearly everyone claimed to be Christian because that was the normal thing to do. The Christian ethic and morality stands firmly against the atrocities performed by the Nazis. There were many Christians who defied Nazism, even as early as 1933, six years before the war happened. At this time the Emergency Covenant of Pastors formed against the Nazi party, realizing that their hatred of the Jews was firmly anti-gospel. Even the Christians who supported Nazis into the war, while mistaken about the Jews and their place in the world, had no knowledge of the Holocaust. Surely they would not have supported such a thing. The Holocaust was truly un-Christian. 

This attempt to demonize Christianity only shows how weak your argument is logically. You feel the need to bolster your main objection, that God is evil because of the evil he permits, with many emotionally-based side-trails. This could be an attempt to derail the conversation from a logical path. Even if it is not, it generally discredits your argument as an emotional plea.
Indeed, that is all that your argument can be: an emotional plea. I have demonstrated that the Christian view of God and his morality is perfectly logical, but still you disagree, implying at the end of your email that you have a right not to believe in God because of this. Rebutting with logical fallacies does not help your position.

The Bible is not contradictory. An intellectually honest and contextual reading, taking into account the genre of writing, will show that many of the supposed contradictions really aren't. Others are attributed to poetic license (This appears in every culture, where a poetic device is untrue if read literally, but makes perfect sense considering the writing style). A couple are attributed to error in copying the manuscripts. These in no way discredit the rest of Scripture, as we have thousands of manuscripts that are within a 99% accuracy to each other. Please point out any contradictions and I will address them. However, we could spend months dealing with these misconceptions and it is important to remember that the majority of the Bible we have today can be considered accurate to the originals. There are over 5000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, and 19 000 more in other ancient languages. We have fragments that are from 200 CE. Furthermore, there are no writings from the first or second centuries that argue against the validity of the New Testament books. Nobody from that time argued that the gospels misrepresented what Jesus said or did, and same with the other books. If the gospels went against eye-witness testimony, there would be record of that.
The morality of Scripture is not vague or ambiguous. God provided a clear law for the Israelites to follow. The difficulty is interpreting that morality into an application 2000-3500 years later.

This brings me to another point you brought up: why wouldn't God just download all of this information into our brains and make it clear? The truth is, though, that he has given us the knowledge necessary to know that he is real. "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse" (Romans 1: 20). God has made it clear that he exists, through nature. This is clear through how finely-tuned the universe is, and the existence of non-physical realities such as aesthetics and mathematics. It is most clear because of the existence of logic, a non-physical truth that has no explanation in atheism. 
"Every human being who ever lived" does have the necessary knowledge to realize that God exists, but many twist this knowledge in order to deny him. 

You seem to think that because billions of people disagree about the nature of God, that gives you a right to disbelieve entirely. However, it would be more logical to conclude that since many people have views of God that disagree, God could be real, because maybe they all have something right. Most of these people who disagree about God will admit that the other viewpoints have some basic things right about God (Christians in regard to Muslims, JWs, and Mormons for example). However, you are using the disagreements on finer things as a justification for throwing out everything. To put it plainly, this atheistic line of reasoning misses the forest for the trees. I am not using this as an argument for God, but merely trying to show you that an objection to God based on this reasoning is not logical.

You say that the Bible is an ineffective method for God to communicate to humans. You even cite Bart Ehrman, saying that no two fragments agree. However, Bart Ehrman affirms the reliability of the Biblical manuscripts, saying in his appendix to Misquoting Jesus, "The position I argue for in ‘Misquoting Jesus’ does not actually stand at odds with Prof. Metzger’s position that the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament." Bart Ehrman only disagrees with Christian scholars in "maybe one or two dozen places out of many thousands". None of these affects any essential Christian doctrine. It would seem that this method is actually quite effective at delivering God's word to humanity over time. Christians believe that the Bible was written without error, not passed through history without error, and the errors are all non-essential.

The disagreements between denominations are either trivial (and non-exclusive), not covered in the Bible, or a misreading of the Bible. Styles of worship are trivial. Most Christian denominations do not denounce each other based on how the service is structured, or what style of music is played. Those who do can be easily reprimanded using Scripture and logic. Abortion (at what point a fetus becomes human), capital punishment, and birth control are not discussed in the Bible. Many things are made doctrine by an eisegesis of the Scripture: someone will use Scripture to support their presuppositions. Scripture should inform our thought, not the other way around. This is the root of many disagreements. I like how you brought up the question of salvation. The Scripture clearly states, "For by grace you have been saved, through faith... not a result of works, so that no man may boast" (Ephesians 2:9). Salvation is a result of faith, not works. A denomination that contradicts this contradicts the Bible.
Catholics and Eastern Orthodox do so because to them the church has more authority than the Bible. However, we should not rely on human institutions for ultimate authority, but something given by God. Scripture is the closest that we have. I could give you numerous points from the Bible that show the contradictions in Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.
Again, the fact that denominations disagree is by no means a justification for throwing all of it out. It should spur us on to discover which one does not contradict itself. Christianity is the only worldview that is non-contradictory.

Denominations do disagree on the books in the Old Testament. In order to settle this disagreement, we should look to what the Jews hold and held as Scripture. It turns out that Protestants use the same Old Testament as the Jews use. It is generally accepted that by the second century, the Jews had solidified the canon of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). They excluded Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphal books. Protestants follow in this tradition, but the other denominations, because of their raising the church over Scripture, include books that fit in their theology. Note that they had to include these books because those points in their theology (purgatory, etc.) are not supported by the traditional Jewish scriptures.

Different translations are good, not bad. It is inherent in a difference of language and time that the meaning of words cannot be directly translated. The different translations give us a fuller view of what the Hebrew or Greek means. As for "do not kill", clearly we can understand that to mean "do not murder", for God commanded his servants to kill many times. Also, the KJV translates from the Vulgate, and the newer translations use older, more consistent manuscripts. These are considered to be more accurate than the Vulgate because of their age. Cults of Christianity have their own translations, such as the New World Translation from Jehovah's Witnesses, but it is clear that these translations are compromised. Of the translators of the New World Translation, only one knew ancient Greek. On top of this, the Greek he knew was from a different period than the biblical Koinei Greek, and this man translated it inaccurately in many parts (see "John 1:1 - Alpha and Omega Ministries" http://vintage.aomin.org/JOHN1_1.html). The fact that there are multiple translations does not justify throwing them all out. If you were intellectually honest, you would take a look at arguments for each and decide which seems most logical. 

Yes, the Bible is the word of God because it says so. This is backed up by the historicity of Jesus, and the fact the the Bible does not contradict itself. The Koran contradicts Jesus' words in the Bible in many places, yet the Koran affirms that Jesus is a prophet and prophets never lie. Yes, any book can claim to be the word of God, but it must back up that claim with consistency in itself and consistency with the world we experience. No book does this except the Bible.

Mocking God by calling him insecure does not help your case. It only serves to show that your arguments are emotionally-based and devoid of logic. Please, come to the truth. Embrace a worldview that is not only logically consistent, but also answers many of life's deeper questions. Every human longs for something that only God can give: spiritual life.


Luke Lewis

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