This is an unedited excerpt from my upcoming book with Crossway: The Discipleship Book: Now That I Am a Christian. Chapter title: “Pain and Suffering” (book name and title tentative).

The overwhelming majority of Christians who suffer with significant doubts in their faith do so due to the pain and suffering they experience in their lives. The late Christian philosopher Ronald Nash once said that it is completely irrational to reject the Christian faith for any other reason than the problem of evil. This expresses the respect he gives to this issue. The “problem of evil” is the problem of pain and suffering. This is, indeed, a tremendous problem. C. S. Lewis, the great Christian writer, wrote a very academic book on pain, suffering, and evil called The Problem of Pain. It was a wonderful, monumental work and I recommend it without hesitation. But after he wrote this work, he experienced pain and suffering at a different level. It is one thing to evaluate something from the outside; it is quite another to personally experience it. C. S. Lewis lost his wife after a battle with cancer filled with ups and downs. It broke him and brought him to his knees, and he rested for a bit in front of God, asking painful questions which stemmed from his disillusionment. Thankfully, his whole experience is recorded in another book about pain. This one was a very personal book called A Grief Observed. In it he laid himself bare before God, expressing his confusion. I highly recommend this book as well. These are two very different works, one intellectual and one emotional, by the same person about the same subject.

I don’t want you to be surprised by suffering. I want you to be able to handle evil and pain both in an academic way and an emotional way. I am going to talk first about the academic side of evil, pain, and suffering. It is often called the “intellectual problem of evil.” Hang with me, as things might get a bit technical.

The Intellectual Problem of Evil

The intellectual problem of evil attempts to address a logical problem in a world that has pain, suffering, and evil, yet has a good and all-powerful God who rules it. Let me define this problem using a syllogism:

  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all-powerful (omnipotent)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and evil exist

Conclusion: An all-good, all-powerful God could not exist since there is so much suffering and evil in the world. If he did, he would eradicate this evil.

The debate over this problem has only intensified in a world where technology allows us to share in the sufferings of millions of people all over the earth. The internet brings us one click away from faces of those who have had their children kidnapped, are starving to death, are diseased and deformed in unimaginable ways, and whose unloving parents leave them locked in a closet as they go out to dinner. We can’t go a day without hearing about evils that, while not all are part of our immediate community, are a common experience for the human race.

Therefore we begin to question God’s role in all of this. And we are brought to this dilemma. If God exists, if God is good and does not like evil, and if God is powerful enough to change things, why does evil still exist? Let me give you some of the wrong ways people handle this issue.

1. The Sadotheistic response:

  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all-powerful (omnipotent)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and Evil Exist

Conclusion: God enjoys to bring about suffering and pain for no reason at all.

God is on an opposing team.

The Sadotheist believes that God is an evil sadist who enjoys bringing about suffering with no good intentions whatsoever. This could be true. It could be the case that God is a sadist. What I mean is that there is no logical difficulty here that cannot be overcome. The problem with the Sadotheist position is that this is not how God has revealed himself in history or in the Bible. The cross of Christ is the greatest illustration of God’s love that we have. God himself got his feet dirty and his hands bloody in order to save mankind. On top of this, the Sadotheist has to borrow from God’s morality in order to judge God! In other words, how does the Sadotheist know what good and evil are outside of God’s love and existence? This view, while logically possible, is biblically wrong.

2. Open Theistic Response:

  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all-powerful (omnipotent)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and evil exist

Conclusion: God has self-limited his abilities so that he can truly relate to mankind. Therefore God cannot stop all suffering and evil.

God is on our team, but he is only a cheerleader on the sidelines who is rooting for us as he watches things unfold.

In this response, the open theist handles the problem of pain and suffering by saying that God, due to his commitment to man’s freedom, can’t do anything about it. This is a self-limiting of both God’s power and his knowledge. Evil may happen, but it is only because God is committed to the freedom of man’s will. This view is logically possible as well. In other words, God could have this more or less hands-off approach to the happenings of the world. But this militates against much of Scripture, which says that God is in control and he does know the future. For example, look at what the book of Daniel says about this:

Dan. 4:35 All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?

It looks like God is in control of things. Whatever happens is in some sense God’s will, even evil. I think it is important for us at this point (as I can see your eyebrows raise and hear your heartbeat increase!) to distinguish between what theologians call “the two wills of God.” God has two wills. We call them his “will of decree” and his “will of desire.” Does God want you to suffer? Yes. Does God want you to suffer? No. These are both correct! Hold on now, I have not gone crazy. Let’s put it this way: Did God will that his Son be killed on the cross? Yes. Did God will that his Son die on the cross? No. You see, there is a sense in which God’s ultimate desire or will is that no one ever sin or suffer evil. But in a fallen world, God uses sin to accomplish his purposes. If God did not use sin and evil, then he would not be involved in our world, for there is nothing else to work with! He has to get his hands dirty, if you will, and use sin if he is to accomplish his good purpose. Ultimately, this will lead to a world without sin and suffering (heaven). But for now, he works with it and, in a contextualized sense, wills it. The Open Theist response to evil fails to see how God could be involved in such terrible things. But it also fails to consider that God is working all things together for good, even suffering and pain.

Rom. 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

3. The Pantheistic Response:

  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all-powerful (omnipotent)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and evil exist

Conclusion: Suffering and Evil are illusions we create with our own mind. To eradicate them, we must deny their existence.

God is not on any team since there is not actually any opposition.

The pantheistic view is simply to close our eyes and ears and act as if evil, suffering, and pain do not really exist. In this view, all suffering is an illusion that we must train ourselves to be blind to. But this does not work, either rationally or biblically. To deny the existence of something does not determine the existence of something. The Bible speaks very clearly about the existence of evil. Even in the Disciple’s Prayer we looked at in a previous chapter, we see that Christ tells us to request deliverance from “the evil.” Would he command us to pray against something that does not exist? I don’t think so. Therefore, the Pantheistic response is not a Christian option either.

4. The Atheistic Response

  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all-powerful (omnipotent)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and evil exist

Conclusion: An all-good, all-powerful God could not exist since there is so much suffering and evil in the world. If he did, he would eradicate this evil.

God is not on any team because he does not exist.

The atheistic response looks reasonable on the surface, but when we take a closer look, it is logically absurd. First (and most importantly), like with the Sadotheist, in order to define the very concept of “evil,” the atheist has to borrow from a theistic worldview (one that believes in God). In other words, if there is no God, there is not really any such thing as evil. Second, if there is a problem of evil, there is also a problem of good. If there is no God, how do we explain the good that happens in the world? In the atheistic worldview, there is actually no such thing as good or evil. This, itself, does not make atheism wrong (there are many other arguments that do), but it does show the absurdity of this argument. Finally, (and read this carefully) the one who believes in God has to explain the existence of evil; the atheist has to explain the existence of everything else. Which is easier?

5. The Christian Response:

  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all-powerful (omnipotent)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and evil exist

Conclusion: God has good reasons for allowing suffering and evil to exist. He uses suffering and evil to accomplish a greater good, even if we never know exactly what that reason is.

God is on our team and he is both the quarterback and coach!

You see, the “logical problem of evil” is not really a problem, if by problem you mean something that cannot be solved, rationally or biblically. Rationally, there is no reason to assume that God cannot have a purpose for evil that results in good. We see this every day. When someone goes in for brain surgery, they have to endure the intense suffering of having their skin cut and their skull taken apart. But the greater good of the cancer being removed is evident to all. There is no reason to say that God can’t use even the most atrocious suffering to bring about a greater good.

Biblically, this is very clear. Not only does Roman 8:28 say that God works all things together for good (and this most certainly includes evil), but there are many stories in the Bible which evidence this. For example, in the book of Genesis, Joseph, who loved and followed God, was sold into slavery by his very own brothers. After he was wrongly imprisoned for many years, he was finally released and elevated to a position second only to Pharaoh. While in this position he made it possible for most of the world, including his father and brothers, to live through the famine which lasted seven years. His suffering was intended by God in order to bring about good. Notice what he said to his sorrowful brothers:

Gen. 50:20 “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”

“God meant it for good.” Therefore, the intellectual problem of evil can be dealt with without sacrificing intellectual integrity. In fact, as we look through the options, the Christian option is the option that makes the most rational sense.

But this does not make it a slam dunk. Intellect is one thing. Emotions are another.

Want more? Get my book. 2013

 


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    218 replies to "The Five Responses to the Problem of Evil"

    • steve hays

      Ryan says:

      “…they describe and when they were actually written down. Some of these books were written over 40 years after Jesus’ life.”

      That’s just your tendentious assertion. And even if it were true, folks in their 60s and 70s often have clear memories of things they experienced in their teens and 20s.

      You need to stop regurgitating thoughtless objections.

    • Ryan

      Steve,

      I’ve read William Lane Craig’s book: ‘Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview’, read Augustine’s: ‘City of God’, read almost all of C.S. Lewis’ nonfictional works, Robert Roberts, some of Aquinas’, Anselm, and many others. During my undergraduate years in philosophy, I started out as a Christian apologist and very gradually became a religious skeptic.

      And I’m sorry to have to inform you of something you should already know, but burdens of proof aren’t on those who doubt a claim. As a strict matter of logic, it’s impossible to prove a universal negative. That would require omniscience. This is one reason the burden of proof can’t be on folks who deny claims. A second reason is the amount of time wasted if everyone were expected to prove false positive claims to knowledge. You act as though my inability to disprove God’s existence with certainty amounts to a default victory for you. This is an appeal to ignorance, an informal logical fallacy, and violates axiomatic logical principles, like the one I mentioned earlier about our inability to prove universal negatives.

      You need to look up what ‘begging the question’ means. First, this is an online forum. There is no possible way I can show you why it’s generally not accepted that the gospels were written by eyewitnesses. The best I can do is cite an expert source. Would you like me to? I don’t cherry-pick, either. Do you honestly not know that historians don’t accept many portions of the gospels to be historically accurate, mainly the resurrection, crucifixion and birth aspects.

      The point I was attempting to make with saying the gospels were written well after the events in question is to say that eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. 40-50 years is a long time for exaggerations and fictions to make their way in. Second, who is to say we should take their testimony at face value?

    • Ryan

      I’ve heard of the two-source hypothesis, which is currently the consensus view, but honestly, the evidence is scant, so we can’t say for sure.

      It’s weird that you pull one assertion out of my post and label it a non-sequitur. It’s part of a larger case against viewing these documents as divinely inspired. The gospels being penned well after the events they describe leaves room for fictions to creep in, while the scant evidence leaves plenty of room for doubt on authorship and divine authority, and the supernatural claims require all the more evidence before warranting any degree of belief, especially strong belief. All ribbing aside, you stink at this analytic argumentation thing.

      The fawn is just one example among countless others of senseless suffering that doesn’t discriminate. Your post has the word ‘pettifog’ written all over it. Is it not clear that God – if he is infinitely powerful – could have initiated a forest fire while clearing out the life within it? I understand that forest fires ultimately replenish a forest and enrich the soil, among other things.

      We’re not apes. We’re primates. And we’re leaps and bounds apart from other primates in terms of cognitive ability and social evolution.

      And I’m not mounting an argument from evil based on suffering. I’m saying the following:

      If there’s an all-good, all-powerful God, then he would be compelled to prevent any evil/suffering he could unless he couldn’t without thereby losing a greater good or permitting an evil equally bad or worse. Do you agree with this?

      Second, I think suffering does occur in degrees beyond what’s plausibly necessary for promoting some mysterious greater good or permitting evil/suffering that’s worse.

      So, I then conclude that God probably doesn’t exist, at least not the omnibenevolent Christian God. This isn’t my only reason for unbelief, it’s one among many.

      Now that you understand my argument better, rather than pedantic nitpicking…

    • Ryan

      and gross misrepresentations and pettifogging, let’s address the argument. And you shouldn’t feign more knowledge of philosophy and logic than you’ve got. It makes you appear silly. It’s okay if you don’t know. Not everyone has the time. Just be honest about your limitations.

    • Chad Dougless

      Ryan,

      I would ask that you step back. You claim that you are a skeptic and open to the idea that you could be wrong, yet you adamantly refuse to acknowledge anything that is contrary to your point of view. You ignore observational bias in favor of your view, specifically saying that the Gospels while they may be accounts of eyewitnesses aren’t in fact valid because there is a possibility that they may have exaggerated. You take a possibility and make it certainty in this case.

      Your overall argument that God would not reveal Himself to the Israelites because they are backwards and illiterate, or that the account of Jesus is untrue because these people were blue-collar, illiterates, is ridiculous, and fallacious at best. You do not see the fallacies in your own statements. You don’t even see where you have just assigned meaning to things without understanding what you have said, for instance an assertion is “a positive statement or declaration, often without support or reason”. That is the definition. You throw out pedantic as if we are just focusing on minor details of an argument when I have been addressing the major point of the syllogism the entire time.

      You see the syllogism and say, “pointless suffering therefore God does not exist.” I say, how can you know the possible outcomes of that single event, so you cannot accurately determine your premise that the suffering is pointless or in great excess. You then ignore me completely and say, because I saw it. I don’t need to read philosophers to understand that it is patently ridiculous to assume that what you perceive of an event is all the possibilities that can conclude from the taking place of that event. No single event stands alone in time, therefore it is impossible to determine all the impacts of an event until there is no more time.

    • Chad Dougless

      Following from this, it is arrogant to assume that you can essentially put yourself in front of God and say well I am quite certain this event didn’t need to take place in this way. You don’t know and can’t possibly know. You can’t even be certain, or probably certain that it didn’t need to happen in that way. We just don’t know the hows and whys and impacts of an event, whether made up in our head or not. Rowe’s syllogism is invalid because it relies on faulty assumptions where he is taking certain things for granted without any reasoning or support. It is fine if you think I have misrepresented him, but you have used this syllogism as part of your proof and it is for you to appropriately represent this evidence. It is not for me to go read and then discuss facts not presented in evidence.

      I have no doubt that I cannot reason you, or anyone, into faith. That is not even a premise I hold. God must open your eyes, and the Spirit must do His work in your heart before you can see the beauty of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. “It’s okay if you don’t know. Not everyone has the time. Just be honest about your limitations.”

      Further, let us get into what you view as creation’s rights upon God. Creation has no rights to exert upon God. You are falsely asserting of God that He must act in a way that you deem appropriate, instead of allowing God to speak for Himself. Romans 9:22-23, Romans 9:15. I know that you don’t believe Scripture, so ultimately those references, and there are more in Scripture, will ultimately do you little good in viewing them as evidence. The understanding you have of who God is is limited.

      When you say that you were going to be a Christian apologist it made me curious as to what and why you changed to philosophy? Were you claiming to be a Christian before that? I am curious as to what caused the shift.

    • steve hays

      Ryan:

      C. S. Lewis was a popularizer. You only mention one living Christian philosopher/apologist. Yet you told us that “Most importantly, I think a good intellectual practice is to expose yourself to and deal with the strongest arguments on the other side of your position.”

      On the face of it, you’re not holding yourself to your own standards. Just among Christian philosophers, what books and articles have you read by Ed Feser, Win Corduan, Alvin Plantinga, Peter van Inwagen, Michael Rea, Paul Helm, Paul Moser, Greg Welty, James Anderson, Bill Aston, Bill Vallicella, Stephen Davis, Alexander Pruss, Victor Reppert, Tim & Lydia Mc Grew, Oliver Crisp, John Warwick Montgomery, J. J. Haldane, Stephen Evans, &c.?

      I also notice the conspicuous absence of conservative Bible scholars on your list.

      “And I’m sorry to have to inform you of something you should already know, but burdens of proof aren’t on those who doubt a claim.”

      I regret to inform you that by your own admission, you’ve been making assertions. You’ve been asserting various things to be the case or not be the case. Therefore, you assume a burden of proof to justify your assertions. A denial is still a truth-claim.

      “This is one reason the burden of proof can’t be on folks who deny claims.”

      Fine. I deny the existence of animal suffering. I deny that animals ever die in forest fires. I deny the operating premise of Rowe’s argument. And since I’m merely denying your claim, the onus is not on me to justify my denial. That was quick and easy.

      “You act as though my inability to disprove God’s existence with certainty amounts to a default victory for you.”

      No, I’ve said you need to argue for your assertions.

      “You need to look up what ‘begging the question’ means.”

      Begging the premise means taking for granted a disputable contention not conceded by the opposing side. That’s what you’ve been doing here.

    • steve hays

      Cont. “There is no possible way I can show you why it’s generally not accepted that the gospels were written by eyewitnesses. The best I can do is cite an expert source. Would you like me to?… Do you honestly not know that historians don’t accept many portions of the gospels to be historically accurate, mainly the resurrection, crucifixion and birth aspects.”

      You originally said: “Most importantly, I think a good intellectual practice is to expose yourself to and deal with the strongest arguments on the other side of your position.”

      So what commentaries, NT introductions, and monographs on the authorship, dating, and historicity of the Gospels by conservative scholars have you exposed yourself to? Likewise, what conservative scholars have you exposed to on the historical Jesus? Remember, I’m just holding you to your own standards.

      “The point I was attempting to make with saying the gospels were written well after the events in question is to say that eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. 40-50 years is a long time for exaggerations and fictions to make their way in. Second, who is to say we should take their testimony at face value?”

      I see. So when you say “During my undergraduate years in philosophy, I started out as a Christian apologist and very gradually became a religious skeptic,” I shouldn’t take your testimony at face value.

      If fact, given how “notoriously unreliable eyewitness testimony is,” you should systematically distrust your own recollection of your undergraduate studies. You *think* you remember who your philosophy profs. were, but your firsthand observations are notoriously unreliable. Maybe you really majored in ballet, and just forgot.

      BTW, if testimonial evidence is notoriously unreliable, then that sinks Hume’s appeal to uniform experience against the occurrence of miracles.

    • Ryan

      First, there are two aspects to understanding the meaning of a word: the dictionary definition and the connotation. This is philosophy of language or just plain common sense grammar 101. In the context of philosophy or logical argument, assertion means just what I said it does. Go look it up.

      Second, the time lapse between when the gospels were written and the events they purport to describe isn’t the only reason I doubt their divine authority. It’s one among many reasons. Here’s a sample: Why should we regard the bible as divinely authored? What is the criteria for establishing which books belong in the bible and which don’t. It was arbitrary. What evidence do we have to indicate these people were actually visited by a supreme being? Is it more likely that they developed this religion during a time when superstitious belief systems were commonly employed as a means to explain your world, provide comfort and hope to fearful, ignorant people, to establish a cultural identity? Or do we really think God spoke to these people and that the 1,000 other religions and 10,000 other Gods that man has invented are all false except one? Isn’t the cultural bias seen in the bible evidence that it’s man that made God in his image, and not the other way around? For example, the divine sanctioning of slavery, genocide, rape, the subordination of women – which one would expect in the highly patriarchal, violent societies that existed during biblical times…all of these attributes of the bible bear the stamp of the culture in which the bible was created. If God really inspired men to write a book, you would expect it to not be so subject to cultural forces and biases. The better explanation, given the small scope, the biases, the seemingly evil divine commands, the lack of evidence to establish the extraordinary supernatural claims, is that its man-made. How is this a silly conclusion?

    • steve hays

      Ryan says:

      “The gospels being penned well after the events they describe leaves room for fictions to creep in…”

      All you’ve done is to repeat the same non sequitur.

      “While the scant evidence…”

      Which begs the question.

      “And the supernatural claims require all the more evidence before warranting any degree of belief, especially strong belief.”

      Once again, you’re assuming what you need to prove.

      “All ribbing aside, you stink at this analytic argumentation thing.”

      Considering the fact that you don’t argue for your ambitious claims, that’s unintentionally comical.

      “The fawn is just one example among countless others of senseless suffering that doesn’t discriminate.”

      I just demonstrated that it’s not a case of “senseless suffering.” You need to keep up with the actual state of the argument, rather than just repeating your refuted assertions.

      “Is it not clear that God – if he is infinitely powerful – could have initiated a forest fire while clearing out the life within it?”

      Now you’re changing the subject. You originally alleged gratuitous animal suffering. But if, according to fire ecology, forest fires contribute to the overall health of the ecosystem, then that’s not gratuitous, but functional.

      BTW, some animals benefit from the death of other animals. So divinely protecting animals from forest fires would harm other animals. It’s called the balance of nature.

      “We’re not apes. We’re primates.”

      Primates include homo sapiens. You need to brush up on the taxonomic classification of Hominidae.

      “If there’s an all-good, all-powerful God, then he would be compelled to prevent any evil/suffering he could unless he couldn’t without thereby losing a greater good or permitting an evil equally bad or worse. Do you agree with this?”

      Unless suffering is evil, suffering doesn’t even pose prima facie evidence against the existence of a good God.

    • Ryan

      Steve,

      I honestly don’t have time to pettifog ad infinitum with you. This will be my last response to you.

      My list wasn’t exhaustive. I’ve read some others, Platinga included, Zagzebski, N.T. Wright, and others, enough that I’ve got a decent grasp on some of the best arguments/perspectives each side has to offer.

      I don’t consult conservative biblical scholars often. They’re biased and will of course interpret evidence through the a priori belief that scriptures are divinely inspired and the traditional views of biblical authorship are true, and therefore we must cherry-pick evidence that confirms our unalterable beliefs.

      Okay, for the burden of proof thing. One last time. I don’t mean to say someone denying a claim has no obligation to provide supporting reasons. What I mean to say is, simply because one can’t definitively disprove a claim, doesn’t by default make the claimant the winner. If you’re making a claim X, it makes no sense to say it’s true because it can’t be disproven. There is an onus on you to provide evidence for it. What evidence is there really for the divine authority of the bible? Enough to warrant strong, certain belief? I’ve offered plenty of cogent, evidence based reasons issuing from anthropology, psychology, history, etc. for doubting the divine authority of the bible. Why not respond to those reasons instead of childishly insisting I’ve provided no reason for doubting the bible’s authority?

      For the love of God (pardon the phrasing), please look up why you can’t prove a universal negative. It’s impossible!

      The whole point about eyewitness testimony is to say that 40 years later, I bet I wouldn’t accurately recall details from college very well. Second, we don’t even know who wrote the four gospels with any high degree of certainty. To say it’s eyewitness testimony for sure is hasty and too strong a conclusion given the scant evidence. Third, we don’t know whether they had reason to lie.

      This has…

    • steve hays

      Ryan says:

      “In the context of philosophy or logical argument, assertion means just what I said it does. Go look it up.”

      It means you’re begging key questions every step of the way.

      “What is the criteria for establishing which books belong in the bible and which don’t. It was arbitrary”

      Your fact free assertion.

      “Is it more likely that they developed this religion during a time when superstitious belief systems were commonly employed as a means to explain your world, provide comfort and hope to fearful, ignorant people, to establish a cultural identity?”

      Since you furnish no supporting argument, why is that more likely?

      “For example, the divine sanctioning of slavery, genocide, rape, the subordination of women – which one would expect in the highly patriarchal, violent societies that existed during biblical times…all of these attributes of the bible bear the stamp of the culture in which the bible was created. If God really inspired men to write a book, you would expect it to not be so subject to cultural forces and biases. The better explanation, given the small scope, the biases, the seemingly evil divine commands…”

      i) You haven’t bothered to exegete the texts you’re alluding to.

      ii) You can only classify the commands as evil if you can justify objective moral norms on secular grounds. But many atheist philosophers admit to being moral relativists or nihilists.

      iii) From your naturalistic evolutionary standpoint, why is simian patriarchy wrong? Likewise, why is it wrong for primates to rape, kill, or enslave other primates? Doesn’t that sort of thing happen in the wild on a regular basis?

    • Ryan

      Steve,

      I feel no shame in saying you’re intolerably uneducated, willfully ignorant , and small-minded.

      How should I back up assertions in an online forum that historians, anthropologists, secular biblical scholars, etc. know to be the case?

      Is your study of history and anthropology so lacking that you don’t know superstition was commonly used throughout human history to explain natural phenomenon, to predict the future and try to influence it, and often to make life more palatable? How should I prove something like this? Would a reference to a world history textbook work? Why not try reading one on your own instead of insisting I provide evidence of claims every educated, literate person knows to be true?

      The process of cannonization was gradual and lacks definite criteria. This is indisputably true. Objects at rest tend to remain at rest. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Fact free assertion, sir! I deny Newton’s 1st Law of Motion because you didn’t support it with facts! Magically make facts appear in the online forum for propositions that are well-attested and generally accepted, or I deny it! This is about how ridiculous you sound.

      Exegesis is often a fancy word for unbalanced rationalization. Exegete Numbers 21:17-18 & Exodus 21:20 for me. No rationalization can explain what is prima facie evil divine commands.

      We’ve already talked about ethics. I gave a pretty long explanation earlier of how normativity can exist apart from divine legislation. You then insisted I did not, closed your eyes and cried: fact free assertion, as is your custom.

      You live in a very small world, Steve. Put down the bible for a second – even though I think it’s an interesting book – and pick up a book on anthropology, world history, perhaps psychology, maybe history of science, maybe some secular ethics, and stop bothering people who read and reflected before forcing their ill-informed, unbalanced, self-serving beliefs on an unfortunate public.

    • steve hays

      Ryan says:

      “My list wasn’t exhaustive. I’ve read some others, Platinga included, Zagzebski, N.T. Wright, and others, enough that I’ve got a decent grasp on some of the best arguments/perspectives each side has to offer.”

      You can’t know the best arguments you never bothered to read.

      “I don’t consult conservative biblical scholars often.”

      So by your own admission, you have a double standard. You don’t “expose yourself to and deal with the strongest arguments on the other side of your position.” In fact, you avoid it. Classic duplicity. You never had the good faith intention of honoring the principle you urge on others.

      “They’re biased and will of course interpret evidence through the a priori belief that scriptures are divinely inspired and the traditional views of biblical authorship are true, and therefore we must cherry-pick evidence that confirms our unalterable beliefs.”

      Unbelievers are biased and will of course interpret evidence through their a priori commitment to methodological naturalism, and therefore preemptively exclude any and all evidence that conflicts with their unalterable adherence to atheism.

      “Why not respond to those reasons instead of childishly insisting I’ve provided no reason for doubting the bible’s authority?”

      You haven’t given reasons–you’ve given assertions. Why should I respond to your nonexistent arguments?

      “Please look up why you can’t prove a universal negative. It’s impossible!”

      Since I haven’t used that argument, your complaint is confused.

      “The whole point about eyewitness testimony is to say that 40 years later, I bet I wouldn’t accurately recall details from college very well.”

      What makes you think we can remember something 20 years later, but not 40 years later? For instance, Bart Ehrman talks about his religious upbringing. He’s 57. He’s referring to things that happened when he was a teenager. Should we automatically discount his testimony?

    • Ryan

      Every time you post you betray more of your ignorance on philosophy, philosophy of science, informal logic, anthropology, history, and most other forms of systematic inquiry. Yours is a pseudointellectualism common among the uneducated faithful, where dogmatic beliefs are dressed up in inaccurately employed terms and concepts borrowed from analytic philosophy and conservative biblical scholars.

      You don’t know what I have or haven’t read. This is a babyish inference that has nothing to do with our devolved discussion.

      Conservative biblical scholars don’t offer the strongest, most objective or impartial arguments for Christianity. I and many others don’t take their analyses seriously because they’ve committed themselves to a particular worldview regardless of what the evidence suggests. Saying that since I won’t entertain many of their positions that I’m unwilling to consider the strongest positions is like saying that my unwillingness to entertain astrology or flat earth theories (yes, there is a flat earth society still in existence thanks to religious extremism detached from reality) means that I’m unwilling to entertain the possibility that they’re right. Science has borne out theories and experiments that cast very strong doubt on both, so I don’t need to read every article that any lunatic puts out about subjects they know almost nothing about.

      By the way, methodological naturalism is where one assumes for practical purposes that only natural causes exist for natural events. It’s how we do science. It doesn’t mean one is philosophically committed to the metaphysical claim that only the material/natural universe exists. I believe the phrase you’re looking for is philosophical naturalism. Seriously, pick up a book on this. I recommend Eugenie Scott’s: Evolution vs Creationism. She goes over philosophy of science in a way accessible to laymen. It would knock out two birds with one stone, science and philosophy education.

    • Ryan

      Seriously man, I’m done wasting my time. You have an annoying habit of ripping one part of my post out, isolating it from my entire point, attacking only that one small aspect of my point, and proclaiming some delusional victory. I nor anyone else can reason with unreasonable people.

      I think Christianity can be made into a reasonable faith, and I’ve met plenty of people who do it, including the hosts of this forum. You are not one of them, sir.

    • steve hays

      Ryan

      “You don’t know what I have or haven’t read. This is a babyish inference that has nothing to do with our devolved discussion.”

      I haven’t inferred anything. I asked you. You admit that you’ve only read a few current Christian philosophers, and that you rarely read conservative Bible scholars. Try to keep track of your own concessions.

      “Conservative biblical scholars don’t offer the strongest, most objective or impartial arguments for Christianity.”

      Since, by your own admission, you rarely read them, your prejudgment is, by definition, ignorant.

      “I and many others don’t take their analyses seriously because they’ve committed themselves to a particular worldview regardless of what the evidence suggests.”

      And unbelievers use their precommitment to methodological naturalism to screen out the counterevidence.

      “Saying that since I won’t entertain many of their positions that I’m unwilling to consider the strongest positions is like saying that my unwillingness to entertain astrology or flat
      earth theories (yes, there is a flat earth society still in existence thanks to religious extremism detached from reality) means that I’m unwilling to entertain the possibility that they’re right.”

      Since you deliberately insulate yourself from the best opposing arguments, your unwillingness reflects self-reinforcing ignorance.

      “By the way, methodological naturalism is where one assumes for practical purposes that only natural causes exist for natural events. It’s how we do science.”

      No, that’s how atheists do science.

      “It doesn’t mean one is philosophically committed to the metaphysical claim that only the material/natural universe exists. I believe the phrase you’re looking for is philosophical naturalism. Seriously, pick up a book on this.”

      You have a habit of attacking arguments I didn’t use. This reflects an inability to put your cue cards down and think through objections on your own.

    • steve hays

      Cont. “Every time you post you betray more of your ignorance on philosophy, philosophy of science, informal logic, anthropology, history, and most other forms of systematic inquiry. Yours is a pseudointellectualism common among the uneducated faithful, where dogmatic beliefs are dressed up in inaccurately employed terms and concepts borrowed from analytic philosophy and conservative biblical scholars.”

      And you constantly resort to vacuous rhetorical bravado to fill the gaps for your lack of reason and evidence.

      “I recommend Eugenie Scott’s: Evolution vs Creationism. She goes over philosophy of science in a way accessible to laymen.”

      Well, that certainly reveals the level at which you operate.

    • Ryan

      Chad,

      I’m not trying to be pedantic, but let’s work through this using the actual definitions in logic.

      Rowe’s syllogism is valid, in the strict sense of the word. Validity in logic only refers to relationships between premise and conclusion. An argument is valid if a conclusion is logically entailed by the premise(s). Validity doesn’t address whether premises are true…it only deals with the relationship between premise and conclusion. The word ‘sound’ in logic means that an argument is valid and the premises are true.

      Rowe’s argument, to be sure, is valid. You question whether it is sound.

      Let me lay it out in shortened form again:

      #1 An all-good, all-powerful God would prevent any evil/suffering he couldn’t unless he couldn’t without thereby losing a greater good or permitting evil/suffering equally bad or worse.

      #2 Evil occurs in degrees beyond what’s necessary to promote a greater good or prevent evil/suffering equally bad or worse.

      #3 Therefore, God does not exist.

      Let me ask, do you reject #1, and if so, why?

      I already know that you reject #2, basically because we are finite beings who can’t possibly know whether a seemingly pointless case of suffering might have been necessary for some larger plan that may promote greater good or prevent greater sufferings.

      You’re right, we can’t know for sure. The best we can do is gauge what’s plausible given what we know. We have to use induction. The fawn in a forest fire seems on it’s face to be the sort of suffering that could easily be prevented without foiling some greater plan or permitting a worse suffering. It’s logically possible that it’s necessary for some greater good, of course. But given what we know, what’s more plausible, affirming that premise or denying it?

      Since you already believe in God, it’s easy for you to have faith that you lack sufficient foresight to understand how seemingly pointless suffering might fit into a larger plan that…

    • Ryan

      So in your mind, Rowe’s objection doesn’t bother you.

      But for those of us who don’t share you belief…for those of us who find the evidence for God’s existence lacking, we are persuaded premise #2’s truth. Natural forces beyond our control inflict suffering without discriminating on the just or unjust, and it’s hard to see how it’s necessary to obtain some unknown greater good. What we see with our own senses is indiscriminate infliction of suffering.

      I understand why someone who already believes in God might not be too troubled with premise #2, unless the suffering hits close to home.

      Keep in mind, this is one small reason why I doubt that God exists. I’ve laid out some other reasons, and if you’d like, we can discuss those later.

      By the way, while I’d rather not chat with Steve anymore, something important needs to be clarified.

      Science has to be done under the assumption of methodological naturalism. Let me define.

      Philosophical naturalism is a metaphysical belief that only the material/natural universe exists.

      Methodological naturalism is a method of assuming – for practical purposes – that only material causes exist for material events. You do this in science. When you’re not doing science, you can believe in supernatural causes/realities all you like. Here’s why you must be a methodological naturalist in science.

      Science can only deal with natural causes. Why? Because science often makes it’s most important discoveries by holding variables constant (dependent variable), manipulating one variable (independent variable), and testing for the manipulated variables’ effect. Here’s a quick example:

      In a chemical reaction, to find how one substance A in the reaction affects reaction rate, we hold the other substances constant while changing the variable to be tested. In this way, we test for the effects of A on the reaction rate.

      God, or any other supernatural force, can’t be held constant to test for it’s…

    • Ryan

      effect. It’s that simple.

    • Ryan

      One small correction. I meant to list the reaction rate as the dependent variable, not label the variables held constant as the dependent variable. The dependent variable is what you measure, and the independent variable is what is changed that will exert an effect on the dependent variable, which is then measured.

      It should be easy to see now why science isn’t equipped and never could be equipped to deal with supernatural causes.

    • TL

      I’m just stopping by and noticing the discussion about belief in God. And Ryan, I just wanted to point out to you that you cannot find God by logic. The facts are that you cannot determine anyone’s existence that you have never met, by mere imperfect human logic. To know for certain whether someone exists or not we must meet them ourselves or be told by someone else who has met them.

      When I met God, in my case, it was not because I was searching for Him. Rather I was searching for meaning to life. And God sought me to suggest to me that He was waiting to hear from me. This may seem too simplistic to you now. But some day, you may rethink all this.

      When I sincerely reached out to God, He came to me and touched my life. God loves us but will not push Himself on us. Instead He sent His only Son to provide a pathway of reconciliation for those amongst us who will look honestly at our lives and realize our great need of God’s love and help.

    • Ryan

      TL,

      I don’t doubt your sincerity, or that God has helped you. I wouldn’t deny your experience. And I don’t think much harm comes from it. I know plenty of good, caring people who are believers, my parents included. They’re some of the most selfless, giving people I know.

      But my parents do have strange beliefs about homosexuality and evolution/age of the earth. I’m more concerned about the former, but still the latter damages science education/understanding and comes with it’s own personal costs.

      To focus on the most important thing, I just think belief in God is irrelevant. That’s why I may not change my mind, unless I’m convinced by the arguments or evidence, that is.

      I don’t need God to know right from wrong, to know why civil society, solidarity, cooperation and fair play are preferable to a state of nature where it’s all against all.

      Not every person of faith does this, but many are convinced – by faith – to regard supernatural beliefs as more important than right action and good character. It’s hard to see why the objects of one’s supernatural beliefs should be the criteria by which one is deemed fit for eternal punishment or reward. Right action and character is fit for moral judgment; supernatural belief doesn’t seem to be.

      And why would God care if I was sincere in my investigative efforts and came to the conclusion that the evidence simply isn’t there to warrant belief? Would he punish me for having integrity and choosing not to be a hypocrite? Is it just or fair to use sincere lack of belief as a reason to banish a person to hell for eternity?

      God wouldn’t be just or all-good if his salvation criteria were arbitrary or capricious. To be sure, basing eternal reward/punishment on whether you believe in God is arbitrary. We don’t even have full control over what we believe…psychology/sociology tells us this. Where you’re born has a lot to do with which religion you end up adopting. Statistics don’t lie.

    • Ryan

      So, I’m not worried. God might exist, I have some good reasons to doubt that an all-perfect, powerful one exists, but if he does, I feel confident that he’s misrepresented by scripture and by those who would use scripture to presume to know the mind and will of God.

      So, I’m glad it makes you happy. For me personally, it’s just not important. I discuss it because of the way it can cloud some folks’ judgment. As the physicist Stephen Weinburg said: “The good will do the best they can, the bad will do the worst they can, but if you want a good person to do bad things, you’ll need religion.”

    • GRE

      Ryan said:

      “I feel no shame in saying you’re intolerably uneducated, willfully ignorant , and small-minded.”

      Empty words from an empty collection of temporarily ambulatory bags of chemicals. Your rhetoric was exposed for the ignorant farce that it is and all you have left is a petty vindictiveness. What is it about atheism that engenders such profoundly immature behavior? How hard is it to admit you haven’t really studied these issues in any serious detail and that Steve Hays’ competency and reading eclipses yours? The hubris might otherwise be incredible, were it not so common among atheists.

    • TL

      Ryan,
      Thank you for answering. I didn’t really expect an answer. Was just on my way to bed and noticed something in my inbox.

      ”Not every person of faith does this, but many are convinced – by faith – to regard supernatural beliefs as more important to right action and good character.”

      It is true that there are some people like that. Humans are interesting. There are all kinds. Personally, I believe that if one wants supernatural elements in one’s life, they need to seek to be a person of good character exemplified by right and good actions and deeds. I also believe that a real relationship with the Lord is the best way to find out what comprises good character and have God’s help in attaining it and living it. It’s not as easy as one might think.

      ”And why would God care if I was sincere in my investigative efforts and came to the conclusion that the evidence simply isn’t there to warrant belief?”

      I believe that God loves everyone and desires everyone to come to the knowledge of the truth and to experience life to the fullest as well as an eternity with Him. So God does care. God also knows that each person has a choice. The choice is fairly simple. We can choose to reach out to God, acknowledge our human frailties, weaknesses and failures and ask for His healing and empowerment to do better. And thus, choose life and eternity with God. Or we can choose to go it on our own apart from God. God doesn’t punish us for our choice. Living without God is a punishment we choose ourselves. Having lived with an ever growing personal relationship with God, I cannot imagine the hell of living without God’s touch and help in my life.

      As long as you are alive, you have time to think about this and make your choice. You sound like a nice person with perhaps some pain in your life. I hope that you may change your mind some day soon and just start talking to God and ask Him what life for you would be like with Him.

    • TL

      “So, I’m not worried. God might exist, I have some good reasons to doubt that an all-perfect, powerful one exists, but if he does, I feel confident that he’s misrepresented by scripture and by those who would use scripture to presume to know the mind and will of God. “

      and BTW, I agree that many misrepresent what Scripture actually says. It is a human weakness. That is why some of us take great pains to faithfully research Scripture and read it as accurately as possible in context, paying attention to cultural influences of the times, and considering the specifics of the original languages. I believe that the Holy Spirit and the Lord help those with this intent. My guess is that God would love for you to be one of those.

    • Ryan

      TL,

      I don’t have a grudge against all of the faithful; only the ones who use faith as a weapon, as a means of control, of piety, and as an excuse to ignore what common sense and science have revealed to be true about our world. There is no secret pain or longing for religion or subconscious hatred of God for me. I doubt that he exists, so the thought doesn’t occur to me to resent him.

      Let me ask you something. I’m not saying it will or that it’s even possible, but pretend that we discovered Jesus’ body. Would you suddenly forget right and wrong, disregard your family and your responsibilities and start screwing around in the streets? Why do you need God to live a good life and know right from wrong? If it helps you, that’s great. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. But is it not possible for Jesus to serve as a role model of what the good life consists of without accepting the questionable belief commitment of viewing him as a God, a savior? Why can some of us get along and do good things and be fulfilled without God?

      The problem with presenting this dilemma as a simple choice between accepting or rejecting God is that it ignores the real question….does God exist!? I don’t think he does based on my honest appraisal of the evidence, of my personal experience, of my reading of the bible and it’s good and bad contents, it’s righteous and wicked divine commands (see Numbers 31:17-18 & Exodus 21:20 for starters – how could an all-good God possibly command such wickedness?), the small scope of the bible, it’s obvious cultural stamp and the cultural prejudices, the apparent lack of divine intervention or presence in the world, the 1,000 different religions and 10,000 different Gods we’ve invented, the fact that most of them were invented during a time when assigning supernatural causes to events was commonplace among a world that lacked science, that lacked answers and understanding…all of this and more leads me to doubt the God hypothesis.

    • Ryan

      And personally, I can’t see how folks take refuge in the scriptures. How do you know the books we’ve got represent God’s actual word? How did the process of cannonization unfold? Is the criteria arbitrary? Is it really likely that the Israelites alone were chosen as God’s people while everyone else got the middle finger? While whole cities who got in their way were destroyed, their children slaughtered, their women raped? Would God really watch the human race slough along in ignorance, dying in their twenties (this was the life expectancy for the majority of our species history), if they survived birth, that is, and suddenly decide to intervene 3,000-4,000 years ago in a small tribe in a small corner of the world?

      I don’t want to overwhelm you with an information dump, but here are some of my big picture objections. And one last thing, if the holy spirit really helped us accurately interpret the bible, why are so many who genuinely believe the holy spirit aids in their interpretation nonetheless come to completely contradictory answers as to what the bible means?

    • mbaker

      Ryan,

      You said “And personally, I can’t see how folks take refuge in the scriptures.”

      Wow, if we can’t do that,, what if anything, can we believe in when personal opinion rules the day and that changes so rapidly?

      The last few comments of this thread with you two attacking each other makes me wonder if anyone would even want to follow Christianity or just give up on believing anything entirely.

    • Ryan

      MBaker,

      Well, I put a stop to that once I realized it was fruitless, and of course TL and I are being perfectly civil, which is easy to do when pettifogging, obfuscation and willful ignorance are left out of discussion.

      At the risk of sounding arrogant, because I’m not that learned either, personal opinion might rule the day among the unlearned, but it doesn’t among those of us who’ve studied long enough to realize that – while reality is complex and nuanced – we do know some things with a high degree of confidence.

      And it’s fine if you want to take refuge in the scripture. I personally just don’t understand how you deal with the God depicted in the Old Testament. How do you see him as just or loving? And how does Paul’s attitudes towards women square with our modern moral sentiment that women and men are morally equal and to be judged on merit, not on gender? Do we really think God created the world in seven days, that a talking snake seduced Adam and Eve into eating an apple from a magical tree of knowledge? Doesn’t this sound mythical? Didn’t cultures during the time in which Hebrews live commonly encapsulate values in memorable stories and legends and pass them down through generations as a means of establishing a cultural identity, as a means of communicating their values and concerns? Doesn’t anthropology and history give us a better explanation of what the bible is rather than adopting the approach of accepting the truth of it’s contents at face value? Just a few things to think about.

    • mbaker

      Ryan,

      Thanks for your reply. What I would have to say in return is that these are questions and answers you would have to decide for yourself, as we all do.

      I truly wish you well on that. Actually I was once where you are, but after agonizing for years I finally did finally understand it WAS a matter of faith. I would just say this, and perhaps you think it is a weak defense, but if you can have faith in complete strangers stopping at a red light, or staying in their lane on the freeway going 70 miles an hour, and not even questioning whether you will get to and from wok alive, but taking for granted that you will, why can’t you trust the Bible? That’s, (silly as it might seem), is where I had to get.

    • Ryan

      No problem, and I think I’ve arrived at tentative answers I’m satisfied with in terms of accounting for the evidence and for what we know about history, anthropology and all the rest of it.

      When you say that we have faith in others obeying rules and observing common courtesy, you know, the kind that makes civil society possible, something in all our mutual interests, you mean something more like confidence, not the faith in something despite lack of evidence. This is quite a shift in the connotation of the word faith. It’s like telling someone: I have faith in you. It means I believe in your ability to do right.

      The kind of faith you’re asking me to have is to believe the bible is divinely inspired in spite of lack of evidence, to go beyond reason or justification. I have plenty of evidence that I probably won’t get hit on the freeway very often. Observance of common courtesy and rule of law for the sake of mutual interest is one, and the other is I’ve been driving for 15 years and haven’t been hit yet.

    • Chad Dougless

      Ryan,

      I don’t know that I can answer every thing in one post, but let’s start with: “The kind of faith you’re asking me to have is to believe the bible is divinely inspired in spite of lack of evidence, to go beyond reason or justification.” You then have to ask yourself, what evidence would you accept that the Bible is divinely inspired?

      The question involving premise 1 is do you define all suffering to be evil? What exactly defines suffering? When we get through those we can analyze the premise of the premise that God is all good and all loving and must only act in accordance with those characteristics. Except we must also account for Justice, Holiness, Mercy, etc. that is God. If God executes Justice upon someone, does this make him less loving? If God executes Mercy upon someone does this make him less loving? Or Just? Or Holy?

      One of the characteristics of God is that He is simple (in that the definition meaning not complex, specifically not being able to be broken into components). So in effect, I do not agree with the premise behind premise 1, simply because it is imprecise and attempts to limit God’s actions in a way that I do not believe that Scripture reveals.

      Now, as far as exegeting Exodus 21:20, which part do you need clarification on? The fact that there were slaves, or that they would be avenged if killed under beatings by their masters?

      In Numbers 31:17-18, which part do you view as evil? The killing of what you no doubt view to be innocents? The saving of the young women to be servants and likely eventually wives to the men? This is primarily a viewpoint issue dealing with the characteristics of God. If you do not believe in God, then nothing I can say will change your viewpoint of Moses’s orders in this chapter of Numbers, or numerous other examples of similar events in the Bible. If you want to address particular points of it, then we can walk through it as I understand the text to be speaking.

    • TL

      “Let me ask you something. I’m not saying it will or that it’s even possible, but pretend that we discovered Jesus’ body.”

      Ryan, firstly you are speaking of someone you have never met, whom you do not know. Your ruminations on whether or not God exists are ineffective to those who have met Him. Also, I believe the Scriptures that tell us Jesus’s body was not only not in the tomb after 3 days, but that hundreds of people saw Christ rise up to the heavens. As you know, we celebrate His resurrection yearly.

      “Would you suddenly forget right and wrong, disregard your family and your responsibilities and start screwing around in the streets?”

      Truthfully, there are only a small percentage of people who would do what is good and right if they even knew how to determine that, if they thought there were no spiritual rewards for doing so. Our human laws teach us some things because there are consequences for certain acts. But without that relationship with God Almighty, without knowing His love for us, there is a certain futility to life. Now knowing God in my life, I would never want to live without His presence.

      God answers my prayers though not always in my time perspectives nor in the ways I would conceive. God brings me a peace that really is better than anything this world has to offer. Christ frees and heals my soul from the beating up it gets in this world from wicked and foolish people. And the Holy Spirit empowers me with wisdom to solve what sometimes seems like unsolvable problems. Again, I cannot imagine living without the very real presence of El Shaddai in my life.

      My prayer for you is that you will tire of talking about God, and start talking to God. Let Him answer your questions. He is there waiting to hear from you. That is how I got to know Him. 🙂

    • TL

      Ryan, I love your questions in post 34. Excellent questions.

      The first question about the OT can be answered when we take into consideration that life in those eras was immoral, the strong and powerful ruled the weaker doing unspeakable things, and Christ had not yet come to provide spiritual healing and deliverance. When a society gave themselves over to obtuse wickedness, they needed to be wiped out to prevent the spreading of the infection. But all is not lost for those souls because when Christ came, Scripture says He went down into Hades for 3 days and nights preaching to those there. History changes with Jesus. Now every soul has the chance in their life time to accept or reject the salvation that Christ offers.

      ”And how does Paul’s attitudes towards women square with our modern moral sentiment that women and men are morally equal and to be judged on merit, not on gender?”

      A great question. May I recommend that you ask that question at Equality Central. http://equalitycentral.com/forum/

    • Ryan

      Chad,

      What sort of evidence would persuade me the bible is divinely inspired? First, if God made it clear to us that he authored the book, I would believe it. He hasn’t said anything to me. Second, if the scope was broad, applied to everyone, was ahead of it’s time, didn’t bear the stamp of the culture in which it was written, by it’s limitations, it’s prejudices, etc., didn’t contain evil divine commands (since God is all-good, this is good indication that a book containing evil divine commands is not written by him), wasn’t one among many books that claim to be divinely authored, then I would consider it.

      In Rowe’s premise #1, it’s not relevant whether all suffering is evil. The point Rowe is making is that if there’s an all-good, all powerful good, then by his nature, he would have to prevent any evil OR suffering he could unless he couldn’t do it without preventing a greater good or permitting an evil equally bad or worse. If God didn’t punish the wicked, then he’d be allowing an evil equally bad or worse, because allowing injustice to go unpunished is obviously a greater evil than punishing the wicked. Were talking about the kinds of suffering that don’t involve meting out justice or retribution. The kind of suffering that is random and affects the just and unjust alike. If God is all-good, all-just, wouldn’t he have to prevent arbitrary suffering?

      You may be tempted to respond that many forms of suffering help build character, resilience and make us who we are. I understand that. But it’s clear, to me, at least, that suffering occurs in degrees beyond what’s necessary to build character/resilience. Do you agree?

      I’m disappointed with the exegesis.

      Exodus 21:20-21: “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.”

    • Ryan

      I need clarification on why human beings can under some circumstances be regarded as property by Moses and God? And why one is permitted by God to beat them provided they don’t die in a few days?

      Numbers 31: 17-18: “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”

      If you read all of Numbers 31, you’ll discover that after Moses and his army carried out the siege against the Midianites, and Moses’ officers reported that they spared the women and children, Moses grew angry, and, speaking on behalf of his and God’s will, declares that the boys need to be killed as well as the women, but Moses and God want them to spare the virgins to “keep for yourselves.” Now, in that time period, it was commonplace to regard women, especially young women and virgins, as the spoils of war to be raped, kept as slaves, or otherwise treated as objects/property. It is very naive – to put it gently – to assume that Moses’ intent was to treat these women gingerly and give them a choice about whether they’ll sleep with their men, marry them or become their servants.

      Additionally, Moses says these people are being punished because the women were seducing his people. Because it was all the woman’s fault, right? The men were helpless victims powerless to the advances of Midianite women. The men were not punished, as far as we know. For this offense, the entire city is wiped off the map, and the virgins are presumably raped. There is very little that creative exegesis can do to make this Old Testament event palatable to our more evolved, modern moral sentiments.

    • Chad Dougless

      Ryan,

      Your issue comes where you state “If God is all-good, all-just, wouldn’t he have to prevent arbitrary suffering?” and “But it’s clear, to me, at least, that suffering occurs in degrees beyond what’s necessary to build character/resilience.” That is the crux of your position, one that is based solely on opinion. Where I disagree that suffering occurs in degrees beyond what’s necessary to build character/resilience. You cannot prove your statement, the best either side can offer is anecdotes and hyperbole.

      We simply do not know whether it is true, nor we can reliably observe that it is true because we cannot fully understand the impact of the event. From your viewpoint, it appears random and pointless. From my viewpoint, it appears random and directed. I cannot say who will suffer or how much they will suffer, but I can say that all will suffer in some form or fashion. I cannot ultimately say what will be the product of such suffering for each person, except in Christ (Romans 5:1-5).

      Further, you need to prove this statement: ” There is very little that creative exegesis can do to make this Old Testament event palatable to our more evolved, modern moral sentiments.” You simply are committing chronological snobbery in your viewpoint here.

      Finally, I did not exegete anything, I was curious what parts confused you so that I can discuss them as space is limited. For Exodus 21:20-21 see any of the points that God tells Moses to be mindful of that they were once slaves in Egypt, or to love others, etc. For Numbers 31, we can discuss any number of things ranging from whether Moses should have ordered them all to be killed, or saved all the children, etc. God told them to avenge Israel upon Midian. Did they fully obey His commands? Is this an example of the very thing God warns them about in Deuteronomy repeatedly? Lots of exegetical work to be done.

    • Ryan

      You’re starting to pull a Steve, man.

      I never said we know for sure. I said we can make a judgment call based on what we know. A fawn dying in a forest certainly suffers. This suffering does not build character. Much more suffering of this kind occurs daily. Therefore, I conclude that suffering does occur in degrees beyond what’s necessary for building character, for achieving a greater good, or preventing an evil/suffering just as bad or worse. I understand it’s logically possible that in some strange way these events could be necessary for attaining a greater good, but it seems extremely unlikely. This is not a random opinion. Explain to me how a fawn dying in a forest fire could conceivably serve a greater good, and how this doesn’t seem on the surface like suffering that serves no greater good.

      I spent an entire paragraph providing support for that statement. I’m sorry you missed it. Owning human beings is never right. Beating slaves is never right. Raping women is never right. Indiscriminately slaughtering women and children is never right. Chronological snobbery? Is that what someone 500 years from now could say to justify the contents of Albert Fish’s diary? Albert Fish was a cannibalist who killed kids, cooked and ate them. We wouldn’t need to understand historical/cultural context to know this is wicked. Killing children and eating them is always wicked for all times, just as raping women, killing children, beating slaves, owning human beings is wicked for all people at all times.

      Will you still say I haven’t substantiated by claims and have merely committed chronological snobbery? You guys are really tiring me out. I think we just need to call this one. This isn’t worth the time I’m spending on it.

    • TL

      “There is very little that creative exegesis can do to make this Old Testament event palatable to our more evolved, modern moral sentiments.”

      I agree. Did you notice when the changes began to happen in our moral sentiments? That type of thinking continued on for hundreds of years and was still happening when the Messiah came. God works with us where we are. After Christ came and revealed what real love was like, then in a few more hundred years (and for many it was immediately) people began to see and change. Some things take longer than others.

    • mbaker

      Ryan,

      While we don’t agree on whether the Bible is God’s divine word, (which I do), I still wish you His blessings in finding the answers you need from our Lord.

      He does say ” Seek and you shall find”. Maybe no one has convinced you here, but that’s okay. God often reveals Himself in unexpected ways, as someone else has already noted. I know that was true for me, and still is.

      God bless.

    • steve hays

      R y a n s a y s :

      “B y t h e w a y , w h i l e I’ d r a t h e r n o t c h a t w i t h S t e v e a n y m o r e …”

      Constantly losing the argument can, indeed, have that effect.

      “… s o m e t h i n g i m p o r t a n t n e e d s t o b e c l a r i f i e d . S c i e n c e h a s t o b e d o n e u n d e r t h e a s s u m p t i o n o f m e t h o d o l o g i c a l n a t u r a l i s m . L e t m e d e f i n e . P h i l o s o p h i c a l n a t u r a l i s m i s a m e t a p h y s i c a l b e l i e f t h a t o n l y t h e m a t e r i a l / n a t u r a l u n i v e r s e e x i s t s . M e t h o d o l o g i c a l n a t u r a l i s m i s a m e t h o d o f a s s u m i n g , f o r p r a c t i c a l p u r p o s e s , t h a t o n l y m a t e r i a l c a u s e s e x i s t f o r m a t e r i a l e v e n t s .”

      Ryan acts as if this is breaking news. Ryan, just because you learned something doesn’t make it new to the rest of us.

      “Y o u d o t h i s i n s c i e n c e .”

      This is just a made-up rule, which Ryan dutifully parrots from his godless drillmasters. That, however, is not how real scientists have to do science. Take medical science. Rex Gardner, Kenneth McAll, M. Scott Peck, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones were all distinguished physicians.

      They were content with natural causes as long as natural causes were sufficient to explain the condition of the patient. But when natural causes were not the best explanation, they were open to supernatural causes.

      Likewise, Rupert Sheldrake and Mario Beauregard are distinguished scientists. They are satisfied with material causes so long as that adequately explains the phenomenon in question. But when material causes are not the best explanation, they consider immaterial causes.

    • steve hays

      “ W h e n y o u’r e n o t d o i n g s c i e n c e , y o u c a n b e l i e v e i n s u p e r n a t u r a l c a u s e s / r e a l i t i e s a l l y o u l i k e .”

      Another one of Ryan’s problems, which I’ve let slide until now, is his failure to distinguish between natural explanations and naturalistic explanations. Natural explanations are consistent with Christian theology. Christian theology has a doctrine of ordinary providence. Second causes. That’s quite different from naturalism.

      ”H e r e’ s w h y y o u m u s t b e a m e t h o d o l o g i c a l n a t u r a l i s t i n s c i e n c e . S c i e n c e c a n o n l y d e a l w i t h n a t u r a l c a u s e s . W h y ? B e c a u s e s c i e n c e o f t e n m a k e s i t’ s m o s t i m p o r t a n t d i s c o v e r i e s b y h o l d i n g v a r i a b l e s c o n s t a n t ( d e p e n d e n t v a r i a b l e ) , m a n i p u l a t i n g o n e v a r i a b l e ( i n d e p e n d e n t v a r i a b l e ) , a n d t e s t i n g f o r t h e m a n i p u l a t e d v a r i a b l e s’ e f f e c t .”

      That’s an artificially narrow definition of the scientific method. One that applies in the laboratory, with control groups, double-blind experiments, &c.

      That works for some things. But science also involves discovering the world as it comes to us. Field observations. Nature in the raw. You can’t squeeze the world into a laboratory.

    • steve hays

      “G o d , o r a n y o t h e r s u p e r n a t u r a l f o r c e , c a n’ t b e h e l d c o n s t a n t t o t e s t f o r i t’s e f f e c t . I t’ s t h a t s i m p l e .”

      i) The obvious problem with that dictate is that it’s viciously circular and self-stultifying. Unless you already know that all natural events are produced by physical causes, it is prejudicial and willfully ignorant to limit the range of acceptable explanations to natural (much less naturalistic) explanations. That’s getting ahead of yourself. Pretending that you know the answer before the evidence is in.

      ii) Let’s take a concrete example. In 2 Kgs 19 (par. 2 Chron 32; Isa 37), the Assyrian army is defeated in answer to prayer. In addition, Sennacherib will be assassinated as a delayed effect of the same prayer.

      Now, the account doesn’t say how, exactly, God destroyed the Assyrian army. It merely mentions the agent of destruction: the Angel of the Lord. The angel might have destroyed the army directly. However, according to 1 Chron 21, the angel can kill indirectly by instigating a deadly plague. Some scholars think the army died from a tropical form of bacillary dysentery, which has a three-day incubation period.

    • steve hays

      Suppose that’s how they died. Suppose a medical examiner autopsied the casualties. If all he had to go by were the corpses, he’d conclude that they died of natural causes: a virulent strain of dysentery.

      Likewise, Sennacherib was later assassinated. Put to the sword. If his corpse were autopsied, the cause of death would be physical. Maybe the sword pieced a vital organ, or maybe he bled to death.

      In both cases you could give a complete physical description of the cause, yet in both cases, a complete physical description of the cause would be an incomplete explanation. For back of the natural causes was prayer. They died in answer to prayer.

      If a scientific investigator knew about the prayers, if he knew about the timing of the prayers in relation to the opportune timing of the outcome, his explanation would have to include divine agency in response to prayer. Ryan can only close his mind to that explanation on pain of rejecting the correct explanation. Ryan will always opt for a false, naturalistic explanation in preference to a factual, supernatural explanation.

    • ted

      Sadly, Ryan can’t reason so he becomes unreasonable. He acts flabbergasted that others don’t see what’s so obvious to him, yet what’s obvious to him isn’t obvious to others because Ryan’s arguments are deficient.Steve Hays is running cycles around Ryan.When he can’t counter Steve Hays’s points or other people’s points Ryan throws up his hands and leaves in a huff but without conceding the argument. It’s all emotional. Let’s hope he will reconsider and come back to offer sound and reasoned argumentation though. That would be better people like me who are agnostic.

    • Ryan

      You remind me of myself when I was an undergraduate freshman studying philosophy after getting a small sampling of knowledge and insight from professors and notable thinkers throughout history. I even used to parrot back small snippets of a person’s response and glibly pick it apart while missing the whole argument.

      Amateur practitioners of philosophy who divorce rational argument too far from reality, who substitute snide one-liners and shameless displays of petty one-up-manship for substantive discussion of issues that actually matter…these are the folks who’ve given philosophy a bad rap.

      Back to the discussion. Let’s try this one more time. I encourage you to add to the discussion instead of posting petty replies that do everything but address the real argument.

      You missed the entire point of my distinction between philosophical and methodological naturalists. Here’s what you originally said:

      “Unbelievers are biased and will of course interpret evidence through their a priori commitment to methodological naturalism, and therefore preemptively exclude any and all evidence that conflicts with their unalterable adherence to atheism.”

      Methodological naturalists don’t automatically exclude supernatural explanations. Philosophical naturalists do. Methodological naturalists only exclude supernatural explanations when doing science. A scientists who witnesses a genuine miracle or supernatural occurrence can accept that as an explanation for the event, but will still be a methodological naturalist when they put on their ‘science hat.’

      Contrary to your opinion, the goal of science is to create a body of facts, laws, hypotheses and theories that explain and predict how the universe behaves. Let’s define things carefully so you don’t miss the point. I’m going to try to be nice, difficult though it may be, but you honestly don’t know much about science, so definitions are necessary

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