Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Discussion on Hell, the Argument From Desire, & God's Justice & Ours, Round Two (vs. "DagoodS")

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Do the divinely-commanded wars against the Midianites and Amalekites prove that God is wicked and evil? Or can God rightly exercise judgment against human sin and sinners?


See the first part of this discussion. DagoodS has answered at length (good for him! - what a rare quality these days) in my comboxes; here are my replies. His words are in blue. My older cited words are in green. I've also included (first part) an additional exchange that took place in a combox.

* * * * *

Can a Perfect being create imperfect beings?

He not only can do so, He must, because He cannot create another being that is eternal, like Himself, and all-knowing, etc. (e.g., any created beginning cannot know firsthand about that which occurred before it was created).

Therefore, whatever He creates must be lesser than Himself; hence imperfect, because He is perfect. Logic requires this. It cannot be otherwise, far as I can see.

If a perfect entity makes something imperfect, that act was imperfect.

Hardly. All it means is that even God is subject to the limitations of logic, because they are inherent to reality. God can't, e.g., make the sun and the moon be in the same place at the same time, or make it the case that your entire life's experience is suddenly mine, and mine yours, or make 2 + 2 = 5. There's lots of stuff even an omnipotent being cannot do.

So which is it—is God partly imperfect, or is all of creation perfect?

Neither. God is perfect and creation isn't, at least in many respects (meaning the best it can imaginably be, etc.).

* * *

The point was that upon realizing we have a desire for a certain outcome, event or thing, we have interjected bias into our reasoning process. How do we eliminate that bias?

You have a bias toward an afterlife. Don't get me wrong; I think such a bias is appropriate. In fact, I have written elsewhere that Christians present a brighter picture regarding an after life than a naturalist view. I can understand why a Christian funeral is happier than a naturalist.

But that does not make it true. That was point about the snazziest uniform. You know the tired polemic of the female that makes the picks in the football pool based upon the color of the uniforms and wins every week.

The idea of determining what is true is NOT to pick the thing that is most pleasing to us, but rather use the evidence we have to come to the conclusion of what is most likely reality. However, being human we must recognize our bias toward certain propositions (and face it - ultimate justice of things that happen in this life is quite pleasing) and how to keep that bias from impacting our reasoning.

I don't disagree with any of this (nor did it form any part of my argument), so there is no need to "refute" it.

You use the example of the Big Bang. Here is where I see the difference. Big Bang Theory is based upon the evidence we current have as to what happened at the initiation of this particular universe. It is the best theory to fit the facts.

But it is possible we make new observations, and new determinations so that in 100 years Big Bang theory will be scoffed as an outdated theory of unknowledgeable people. Science has, within itself, a checks and balance system through presentation, peer review, and good old fashioned money by which former theories are rejected for theories that answer more facts.

Correct. At the moment, it makes far more sense to posit a Creator Who began the process, than some sort of ludicrous "self-creation" out of nothing.

I would agree with you that if some Scientist was beholden to Big Bang because they found it more pleasing, I would equally question how they remove their bias. Equally a poor method.

It's not a matter of "pleasing" but of the comparative plausibility of competing truth claims. I don't find atheism plausible at all: especially concerning the Big Bang where it literally becomes nonsensical and self-defeating.

What is the similar checks and balance regarding after-life? At what point do we incorporate new or different theories to explain the facts we observe? We can’t! Because an after - life is placed outside observation.

In our everyday experience, pretty much; yes. But miraculous events like the Resurrection of Jesus provide some empirical evidence that it exists.

The only proof provided of an after life by a Christian is hearsay. One person claims another person said "There is an after life." It is not that I say scientific knowledge is the only thing that provides reliable information. Rather, hearsay is notoriously a poor source of information.

Bias coupled with a poor source is not compelling to us.

This is incorrect. Like I said, there is miraculous evidence, and also the data of revelation (Holy Scripture). The veracity of Scripture is verified on other independent grounds (fulfilled prophecy, minute accuracy of geographical and historical detail, archaeological confirmation, extraordinary internal consistency, lack of bizarre Babylonian, Greek mythological characteristics, etc.). Thirdly, there is the history of philosophical, non-religious arguments in favor of immortality, which is not insignificant. So it is a gross caricature to claim that "hearsay" is all that we can give in favor of our view.

Justice and God

Your argument (as I read it) was that, as humans, we have an innate sense of Justice, which would lead one to the conclusion there was some absolute justice grounded in God. But when I use my innate sense of Justice, it finds the Christian depiction of a God as not just. So which do I use? Do I use my innate sense of Justice to find a God in general, and then immediately abandon that very same sense in order to maintain the Christian God?

I believe I have shown again and again that our human sense of justice, rightly-understood, is indeed harmonious with the justice of God as presented in the Bible. Your task is to make some argument against my counter-arguments; not simply state subjective opinions that you may have, which do nothing to move the discussion along. I want to know why you believe as you do, and why you disagree with my reasoning; not what you believe (which I already know).

*** CLICK ON "Tolle, lege!" immediately below to finish this article ***


Yes I know the standard Christian responses to the instances I raised. I will address them further in a moment.

Good! And I know standard atheist responses, too.

But bottom line, it boils down to "Might makes right." Since God made us, he can do whatever he wants with us.

Thankfully, He is benevolent!

Which is all the more ironic considering the above conversation about an after-life. The only proof one has is that God has promised an after-life.

Nope; this is why Jesus appeared after He was killed: to show that He had conquered death and made a way for us to do so, too.

But if God can kill us, torture us, change our language, blind us, give us disease, and do what he wills, simply because he created us - couldn't he also lie to us?

Theoretically, sure; but He is good, so He doesn't do so. He merely simplifies things so our tiny, fallen minds can comprehend them.

The only basis for an after-life that you have could equally, under "might makes right" be completely unsupported.

Sheer speculation doesn't resolve any of our differences. You can believe that God is a liar if you wish, and I can say that atheists are speaking falsehood when they go after God's existence or character.

"Universal agreement on many basic moral precepts."

I guess if one is looking for similarity in anything one can find it. What has been the "universal agreement" over the course of history and civilizations regarding war, families, education, cannibalism, human sacrifice, communal living, females, marriage, slavery, implementation of punishment, homosexuality, abortion, honor, societies, clothing, music and economics?

There is a great deal of agreement across the board. Particular s are defined differently, but the broad areas are quite similar. So people fight against each other, but they don't disagree that there is a time to fight, and to defend oneself, one's family, and country. It is understood that folks are to take care of their families and have an extra commitment to relatives. To go against family and cojntry is universally regarded as traitorous. There is the famous incest taboo.

With cannibalism and slavery and those sorts of things, this is essentially a matter of defining certain people out of the range of human. Everyone agrees that human beings have certain intrinsic rights, but to get out of that, societies create arbitrary exceptions. So the slave was considered sub-human (the history of slavery in America and the systemic racism that resulted from it or which was identical to it is sadly instructive). Or women are lowered to a status of sub-human. Today the preborn child has been deprived of its inherent right to life. It is simply defined as non-human or a non-person. The very effort to dehumanize the victims of these horrible sins and evils proves that everyone agrees that "real" fully human beings have rights.

Ancient cultures sacrificed children or adults (human sacrifice, as with the Aztecs) to imaginary gods-idols (Molech, etc.). Now we sacrifice our preborn children to the modern idols of "free" sexuality and expediency. So we see that not much has changed. Human beings are as wicked now as ever, if not much more so.

We can even find a sense of right vs wrong in the animal kingdom within dogs, cats and chimpanzees, if we are looking for similarities! Are we saying a dog's sense of doing something wrong is part of the "universal agreement on many basic moral precepts"?

Animals seem to have a primitive sense of right and wrong (much like atheist conceptions); the higher intelligence they have, the more we see this (as one would expect; since higher intelligence is a characteristic of man).

Further, if there is universal agreement, then this would include the naturalist position. It would include my sense of desire for justice.

Exactly! It does. You simply haven't adequately reasoned the whole thing through. I'm trying to help you do that. :-)

Which directly conflicts with the Christian presentation. If we are to use universal agreement as the method by which to determine which God absolute justice is grounded in, then the Christian God loses.

Only if you reason illogically and implausibly, as you are doing. :-)

Looking at the instances . . .

(And I am listing numerous instances to give us a variety to pick from. I cannot help that your Bible provides so many.)

Abraham and Isaac


But He didn't require Abraham to kill his son (as we see at the end of the story). It was a test of faith.

But Abraham didn't know that.

That's irrelevant. You are trying to indict God: that he required him to kill his son. I pointed out that this was not, in fact, the case. Just because Abraham didn't know it doesn't alter that fact. He knew in the end, which is the important thing.

Are you seriously saying that if someone told you that God asked them to kill their child, your innate sense of right and wrong responds with, "Sounds about right to me"?

No; of course not. That's why it was a test. Abraham believed despite the fact that it made no sense to Him: because he had faith. You miss the whole point of the story. Faith goes beyond the rational.

Keeping our eye on the ball, here - the claim is that our innate desire for justice, our gut-level sense of right and wrong means there is absolute justice in the universe grounded in God. This is an argumentation that our intuition is proof of the Christian God.

It suggests it. It's not my position that it proves it. It would be nice if you could understand this by now and stop misrepresenting what I have argued. I believe there are very very few things that can be absolutely proven.

Yes, yes I know about closed revelation, etc. But that is not what we are discussing. We are talking about one's innate sense of right and wrong and how it would point to a particular God. I would hope one would have the following conversation (based upon my intuitive sense of justice:

God: Go kill your son as a test of your faith.

Me: Uh, God. My sense of Justice says that is wrong.


God: Good answer. You need to use that innate sense to make right choices as to the law I wrote on your heart.


NOT:

God: Go kill your son as a test of your faith.

Me: When and Where?


God: Good answer. Your unquestioning willingness to do anything is proof that there is justice in the world.


Of course this is a stupid caricature of the Christian / Jewish worldview, designed to make it look infantile. Maybe you can get away with such silliness with some people, but not with me. The actual Christian perspective would go something like this:
God: Go kill your son [the "test of faith" part wouldn't be there at first because that gives away what God was trying to do].

Me [in the utmost agony and bewilderment, as throughout]: How could this be?! This makes no sense. How can I kill my own child [i.e., assuming one is pro-life; if not, then such agony would be rationalized away by using words like "choice" and "my rights"]? Everything in me; every bone and fiber in my body tells me this is wrong. I cannot do it. I'd rather kill myself.

God: Are not my thoughts and ways as high above yours as the stars are above the earth?

Me: Yes, but this makes NO sense whatsoever. If You are good, how could You command this terrible, unthinkable thing?

God: Do you trust Me?

Me: Yes, but I don't understand. Can't you at least explain this to me if I must do it?

God: Do you believe that I love you?

Me: Yes, but I'm very confused and troubled, because the moral sense I feel comes from You (so I have thought), and it's not moral or right to kill your own child.

God: It does; but what makes you think you would understand every last jot and tittle of what you are commanded to do?

Me: I suppose I can't. But why would You want to torture me so?

God: Was not Jesus my Son also tortured and sacrificed for the sake of the salvation of men?

Me: Yes.

God: Will you do what I command or not?

Me: I will. But I am destroyed. Life has no meaning for me anymore if I must do this.

God: But you will do it rather than disobey Me?

Me: Yes. I must obey because a man cannot do otherwise and hope to be saved.

[I then proceed to carry out His command, and He then explains that He was testing my faith. Now He knows that I would do anything to follow Him; even if I didn't understand it. But because He is good and merciful, He didn't actually want me to carry out the deed. This is basically the story of Job in a nutshell]
Read Kierkegaard. You want depth on this question? He'll provide more than enough of it. Do you think that Jews and Christians have not struggled with this scene and the book of Job for 4000 years? Of course we have. But we can ultimately make some sense of it. You atheist worldview is what should bring you to despair. Why are you so concerned about what you think isn't even true? You have more than enough agony if you simply ponder the universe and life as you think it really is.

The comparison to soldiers, police and firefighters is poor. The difference is necessity. An unfortunate fact of life is that we require soldiers to protect our country, police to protect our society and firefighters to stop fires. And those individuals are killed in the line of duty.

This is a far, FAR cry from a needless death simply to prove a point of loyalty.

Exactly. All these people have mothers. or spouses. And they are willing to possibly sacrifice their loved one for the sake of country. So if you can do that for mere country, why not for God? It's not absolutely inconceivable. Secondly, there was no needless death here. God never intended that Abraham actually do it. But the marvelously selfless, loving pro-abortion crowd is quite content to sacrifice the lives of their own children for the god-idols of convenience and free sex, isn't it? 4000 murders of innocent, helpless children every day in America and you want to obsess over an ancient story of severely tested faith that didn't involve a death at all? Fascinating . . .

If I am truly part of this universal agreement on basic moral precepts - child sacrifice is NOT within my innate sense of right/wrong. The Christian God, if there is a God, is not the grounding of absolute justice.

Genocide

I use the Midianites of Numbers 31 for a very specific reason. They introduce a concept that Christians avoid.

Now, even in a wicked nation there may be individuals who are exceptions to the rule. So some innocent people will be killed. But this is like our human experience as well.

How does this help one's argument that God’s genocide was divine? This is claiming that within life, such as in war, as humans we have collateral damage. We kill the innocent with the wicked. Our Bombs cannot differentiate between civilians and combatants.

So you are saying God is no better than humans? He can't do any better than we do, when exercising justice? See, my innate sense of right and wrong is to reduce as much as possible, down to zero, harm to innocents when punishing the wicked. You seem to be saying that your innate sense of right and wrong is that if a few innocents get caught up in the punishment of the wicked, that is simply an unfortunate necessity?

You misunderstand my analogy, and the limitations of analogy itself (as you often do). I was making the (imperfect) analogy between God's judgment of entire peoples and our warring against countries, involving the death of innocents.

In both cases, there is a corporate sense of evil and an individual sense. It is obvious that there are exceptions to the rule. Obviously, not absolutely every German or Japanese was wicked and evil. So when we bombed a military plant, there would be innocent people killed (and I think carpet bombing of cities is an evil act, by the way, because it violates Catholic just war precepts).

Likewise, from God's perspective, when He judges a nation, He knows that not everyone in it is equally wicked. They all have original sin (another question) and are all equally deserving of judgment in that score (so that if He killed them all, it wold be just for Him), but they're not all exactly the same level of wickedness. Every person is judged fairly when they stand before God, but God chose to judge an entire people at times, to show the results of wickedness running rampant in a society.

Thus, the analogy (as far as it goes) is clear: God can judge whole nations without damning all of them or considering every single person equally evil. Likewise (remember, I was trying to show throughout that God's justice is mirrored by our own, and this is another instance), when we bomb our enemies we understand that not everyone in those countries are equally evil. But we do it because evil in the world makes such things necessary. The analogy clearly breaks down, but I think it is close enough to show that God's judgment is not without its parallels in human existence. We can understand it in the same way we understand these military acts of war. But it's fundamentally different because God knows everything and He can judge the human race that He created, and do it with total justice, not man's feeble attempts at justice.

Your God can't do any better than this?

But WAIT! He DOES!

See, in the Midianite genocide, God DOES manage to separate out the innocents from the wicked. It must be a matter of supreme coincidence that the innocents just happened to be the virgin females. Numbers 31:18. Virgin females that the soldiers got to keep for themselves as spoils of war. As booty.

Amazing, isn't it, that a two-day old boy is wicked beyond repair. A grandmother, a mother, and older sister - all wicked, wicked, wicked. A 15-year-old girl that was married by her parents to a Midianite farmer - wicked. But a 16-year-old girl engaged to be married the next day? Innocent as the pure-driven snow.

Are you buying this?

Notice also, that God himself did not speak to the people, but Moses did. Num. 31:3.

Now, let's talk about your intuition. Your sense of right and wrong. A commander comes to you and says, "God says to kill all the men. All the wives. All the mothers, all the fathers. All the little boys. God says to take their gold, their silver, and their possessions for yourself as spoils of war. You also are to take all the virgin females for yourself. If they are male or a female that has slept with a man - kill them. If they are a female, you can take them as a(nother) wife for you."

Would you question whether that order came from God, or man? Wouldn't your entire inner being cry out at the wrongness of this entire concept? Or would you say, "Sounds about right to me" and pick up your sword to start slaying children?

Again, it is a special case if it is a war of judgment, directly commanded by God. Otherwise, mercy upon non-combatants would be the norm.

I do agree, however, that the sparing of the virgins is difficult to understand, since it was a judgment. Perhaps one could argue that virgins could not (by definition) have participated in the sins that were judged (namely, a sort of cult prostitution: Numbers, chapter 25). So they were more innocent in that sense, and could be incorporated into Jewish society (as many are who marry into a different culture). Any offspring from them would be half-Jewish. This would then possibly me an exercise of mercy within judgment. I never claimed that there were no difficult passages in the Bible to understand or adequately explain. This is one that I don't have a completely satisfactory answer for. But that doesn't mean no Christian can explain it, either.

Christian apologist Glenn Miller deals with the affair at great length (as he also treats massacres of the Amalekites and Canaanites). He says relatively little about the virgins taken as booty, except that the ancient Hebrews were not known to widely practice sex-slavery, as the Greeks and Romans did.

Amalekites

In any event, it is not true that nations or individuals were punished because of what "great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great- grandparents" did.

1 Sam. 15:2-3: "This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'"

'Nuff said.

Yes; you are correct; my language was imprecise. When nations are judged there is a sense of past misdeeds, and a corporate sense of guilt; though not to be conceived as allowing no individual exceptions. We see in this very example, that the Kenites, who lived among the Amalekites, were spared (1 Samuel 15:6).

Secondly, one must distinguish between judgment in the sense of judgment of nations (being killed) and eternal judgment. These nations were physically killed, but it doesn't follow that each and every person was eternally damned. They would have been judged as individuals in that sense. And in this personal sense, no one is judged for the sins of distant ancestors, or anyone else. We're all subject to original sin, but God can take away the penalties for that by grace (we believe the sarament of baptism does this today).

Thirdly, it is interesting to note that the booty in this case (not allowed by God) was Agag the king, and sheep and oxen (1 Samuel 15:8-9), not young virgin girls. So it is not the case that cynical exceptions were always made, for sexual purposes (as you seem to imply).

Punishment for Adultery

David sinned with Uriah. God says, "Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight." 2 Sam. 12:11

(And yes, I meant vs. 11, not 14. Thanks for catching that. I was skipping ahead at that moment and biffed the reference.)

A person commits adultery and murder. Having someone else rape his wives goes against my sense of right and wrong and desire for justice. It is not right.

Now, in defense of that, you are claiming God would "allow" another person to do a wicked act and "incorporate" that sin to judge the sinner.

Guess what? That still goes against my sense of right and wrong and desire for justice! What about punishing the person directly? Why must innocents (the wives) be harmed? Can't God, (here's a novel solution!) actually punish the wrongdoer and leave the innocents out of it?

But David was punished by his son's rebellion. Absalom was not "innocent" of this sin. God freely incorporating evil acts as agents of His justice does not violate free will or cause any injustice. As I've argued before there can be varying levels of causation. A person can mean something for evil and God can use the same act for purposes of true justice (we saw that in the Joseph story; Joseph later made note of this, so the concept of multiple simultaneous cause for different purposes was present early on in Hebrew religion). But it is an analogy to human experience that when we sin, it tends to adversely affect those around us. Just talk to any teenagers held in juvenile detention facilities, and ask them about their parents and their background, if you doubt this. They all had a free will. But they also (usually) had a rotten background which greatly precipitated their crimes.

Does your sense of justice merely shrug at the fact that women are being raped as part of God's "providence" in order to punish a person? That God does not prevent it?

It doesn't follow that God caused these things. Whether He should massively intervene and prevent every evil act in the history of humanity is another huge question, that I have dealt with elsewhere. I have argued that if He tried to govern the universe in that way, that it would, in the end, reduce to a scenario with no free will at all, since God would be controlling everything to absolutely prevent all evil, pain, and suffering.

Out of curiosity, how many women have you convinced that their being raped because of their husband's sin conforms to an intuitive sense of right and wrong? That it is justice?

Nice try at caricaturing my argument.

Punishment for Murder

David sinned and repented sincerely, from the heart. God knew his heart. And God decided to spare him, because of his importance as king and bearer of the covenant.

Wait, wait, wait. If someone is "important" enough, or of a high enough position, they can be spared punishment?

Anyone whatsoever can potentially be spared punishment. Haven't you ever heard of a pardon?
God could kill us all and be perfectly just in doing so, or spare whomever He wills to spare. But we all have equal chance at eternal salvation.

Sorry, but that goes against my innate sense of justice. In your sense of justice, at what point is a person important enough that you think they should be spared punishment?

We do it with Presidents, don't we? President Nixon was pardoned. President Clinton was let off the hook by political maneuvering. This happens because of their high position. One could argue as to the propriety or lack thereof in both cases, but it is not a totally foreign concept.

Again, remember what we are discussing. Not whether God has some right or ultimate justice which allows Him to do what he pleases when he pleases, but rather what direction our internal sense of right and wrong and desire for justice would lead us when looking for a God.

Yes. I think overall, the data of experience and reason based on analogy, is still highly in God's favor. You can pick and choose some of the hard-to-understand passages in the Bible, but of course you ignore the tons of passages that are very easy to understand, and you seem to almost think that the New Testament (the fullest revelation of God) doesn't even exist.

And no, you did NOT respond to Joab's relatives being punished for Joab's sin. Again, Dave Armstrong, I can't help that your Bible provides us numerous questions regarding justice dished out by God, and how that fails to conform to our principles of Justice. Joab himself was not punished because he was too "important" to David. Interestingly, when David died, Joab was no longer important enough, and at that time the punishment was rendered.

I don't recall what this was. You skip some of my arguments, so if I missed one of yours in the midst of my usually point-by-point replies, I don't think it is a huge sin.

I understand you are writing to other Christians. Those that believe as you do. That you are attempting to demonstrate my "shots" (your words) are groundless. That is your choice. That is a role you have assumed. So do so.

I'm writing to an atheist. But Christians read the stuff, and they are overwhelmingly the ones who can be convinced of my arguments. As the old saying goes: "a man convinced against his will retains his original belief still."

To some degree, I sorta hope I am frustrating. I am trying to challenge you.

Likewise.

No, not as in some further study, but rather to present better arguments. Rather than simply present arguments to sustain those that already believe - attempt to persuade those that don't!

That's exactly what I'm doing. I only said that the atheist is highly unlikely to be convinced of a Christian argument; especially one - like yourself - who has already rejected Christianity (an apostate). I see this as likely to be more of a problem of thinking than of being deliberately wicked and so forth. You decided at some point to accept false premises and falsehoods.

Rise above the defensive apologetic of how it is "possible" or what "might be" and actually go beyond and convince others, using THEIR situation, THEIR bias, THEIR position in life. Become probable, not possible.

Again, that is exactly my methodolgy. I try to approach things based on whatever common presuppositions can be found. St. Paul said to become like others, so that you can win them over. His method varied according to whom he talked to. I've always tried to apply that wisdom. You're not convinced because of your bias and commitments, not because of my faulty method (though one can always improve, of course).

Revelations 21:7-8

There is no "s". Many Christians make the same mistake.

"He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars - their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."

Rev. 20:12-13

"And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were upended. Another book was opened which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them and each person was judged according to what he had done."

I'm sorry, where, exactly, was the bit about repentance? That if one committed an act and was unrepentant then it was counted against them?

It's presupposed. This is made clear in comparing Scripture with Scripture. I already gave you
the proof: see, e.g., Ezekiel 18:21,27. Another is Psalm 51. David repented of his sin and was forgiven. I find this to be one of the more bizarre and muddleheaded of your arguments.

Dave Armstrong, it is not there. Sure 1 John 1:9 says confession will result in righteousness. But 1 John 3:6 says true Christians do not continue to sin, either.

Correct: meaning that the essence of a Christian is not to sin: not that they never will sin (cf. 3:9). That's why John talks about confession, too. You have to understand it all in context. Atheists are masters at ignoring that.

The reason I bring up Rev. 21:8 is that unbelief is not the ONLY thing that prevents a person from entering heaven. Apparently one can be a believer, and yet commit certain acts, and still be denied heaven.

You can claim to be a believer, but if your acts don't follow, the Bible teaches that you not only can be deemed not truly a believer (James 2:8-17), but damned as well (Matthew 7:21-23).

Now, you might be quite correct that God will allow murderers in. (Hey, might makes right - according to this argument, God can do what he wants.)

If they repent; absolutely. Might makes right is the atheist principle of ethics, not the Christian one. Ours is "the benevolent, all-loving God is the ground of the right and the good." You guys can do what you want, and that includes evil. Many atheists in poweer have acted accordingly (playing a warped notion of "god" in effect).

Perhaps David the King is "important" enough that God will make an exception for him.

David was described as a man after God's own heart. One temporary state of serious sin does not necessarily mean one is damned for eternity. A man can fall temporarily. Lust is the classic instance of human weakness. We all understand it from our own experience.

Are you saying, that a Christian who lies, and fails to repent, will not make it in? (Nowhere does it say "persist in their sins" either.) Interesting.

It depends on a lot of things. I'm not gonna make some simplistic analysis of how God decides if someone is saved or not. If you want to puruse the Catholic distinction between mortal / deadly and venial sin, you can see my papers:
Mortal vs. Venial Sin

Mortal and Venial Sin: The Garden-Variety Objection Answered, + Strong Biblical Support

Dialogue on Mortal and Venial Sin (vs. Baptist Ken Temple)

Dialogue on Mortal and Venial Sin, Round Two (vs. Ken Temple)
I suppose you can't even properly believe in Christianity if you wrongly think it is this goofy, irrational, arbitrary system.

What I thought I was being told was that I had an intuitive sense of right and wrong and a desire for justice. That this intuition would lead me to conclude there is absolute justice, grounded in a God.

Yes; but you can corrupt that understanding (like conscience) by lousy reasoning and sin. I don't know about what your sins may be. All I can do is critique your reasoning.

I am now told that we do not know a millionth of what this God is like,

That's correct. It doesn't follow that what we do know follows the model of God; particularly in the sense of right and wrong that we have been discussing. My five-year-old daughter doesn't know a millionth of what I know, but she and I have a common sense of right and wrong. If she pokes her brother in the eye on purpose, she herself knows that this is wrong. And that knowledge (I would argue) is internal, and also derived in part from learning it from her parents (precisely as with us and God).

that this God (apparently) has the same human limitations as we have in discerning innocents and wicked,

Not at all; that was simply your dim comprehension of how my analogy was functioning.

that this God has the same human propensities to absolve those it favors, and that this God uses other human wickedness performed on innocents to punish the wicked.

None of this is my argument; nor does it follow from what I argued. You have distorted it, in your profound bias against "all things theistic."

I am now told that "Might makes Right"

Not by me; I never said that.

and that this God can do (or not do) what it chooses when it chooses, simply because I have the audacity to be a human.

Of course He can, being onipotent; I don't know what the second part is supposed to mean.

No, Dave Armstrong, I do not find Christianity to be a "goofy, irrational, arbitrary system". Not in the least.

You could have fooled me, given all your fallacious critiques and caricatures of what you think Christianity teaches, or what the Bible teaches, or your failed reductios of the Bible to moral absurdity.

I find Christianity, (at times) afraid to use the same measurement of inspection upon its own beliefs as compared to what it will utilize on others.

My entire argument was based on analogy to human experience and felt sense of justice. I love to argue that way, following Butler and Newman.

You find my beliefs "disturbing" and "meaningless." Fair enough

I don't know the context of where these judgments occurred. But atheism as a whole is highly disturbing because it gets the most important things in life wrong; and that is frightening, and leads to ultimate meaninglessness and despair. Thankfully, most atheists don't grapple with the consequences of their beliefs. They still have enough Christian residue from experience or society to pretend that life has some meaning, when in fact it can have little if there is no binding morality or immortality or justice in the end, so that evil can be judged and the scales balanced.

I haven't seen anything that is so foreign to my sense of justice that I would feel duty-bound to reject it, and God with it.

Yes, I know. But can this Christian God become convincing to other persons' sense of justice, or is it only persuasive to those that already believe in the Christian God?

I firmly believe so. I think that if you fairly consider the arguments I have made (and many others from Christians), and not concentrate solely on difficult Old Testament passages about massacre and so forth (even those are not absolutely insuperable, I've contended), that it is quite easy to see the similarity. We shouldn't and don't just dwell on the most difficult things in any given view in order to accept it or reject it. For example, if one believes in the theory of evolution, there are plenty of anomalies and unexplained elements in that. Yet the vast majority of scientists accept it. They don't reject it because of the anomalies and difficulties that they freely grant.

Likewise, you have no warrant to reject how the Bible presents the character of God based on passages that most people find difficult to grasp, like Abraham and Isaac, and the massacres, and so forth. But that's all you seem to want to talk about. it's thoroughly slanted towards skepticism from the outset. So how can you think you are approaching the topic fairly and with an open mind? You have a different standard when you approach the Bible than you have when you approach science. The Bible is subjected to an impossibly high standard. So the problem is not in dearth of solid evidence and reasoning, but in your flawed methodology and epistemology, that includes double standards within it.

If it is not persuasive to us, can there really be a "universal agreement on basic moral principles"?

I think it is virtually self-evident that there is this agreement.

Bottom line - I do not see how humanity's intuitive sense of right and wrong and desire for justice leads one to the Christian God.

If anything I have written and argued has brought you even the tiniest bit closer to God, then my labors have not been in vain. I ask the Christians reading this to say a prayer for you (and other atheists reading too): that you will be able to see and receive what God is trying to communicate to you through this most unworthy vessel.

Thanks again for the stimulating, amiable, challenging dialogue. It's my pleasure to interact with you and joy and privilege to share the gospel and the Christian and Catholic message.

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