Tuesday, April 05, 2005

That thing about God

For those who can't get a copy of Opus here is the article in full.

Arguments Over the Existence of God. Part 1.

During O Week, the Philosophy Club was just one group on campus handing out a number of different flyers. Of the hundreds that were handed out, we received back a handful of written reactions. It is my intention to reply, as it were, to these responses, mainly by pointing out how they are not adequate solutions to the issue at hand.

The bulk of the responses were to a flyer that quoted David Hume explaining what is known in philosophy as the ‘Problem of Evil’. Here is what Hume had to say on the matter:

“If the evil in the world is from the intention of the Deity, then he is not benevolent. If the evil in the world is contrary to his intention, then he is not omnipotent. But it is either in accordance with his intention or contrary to it. Therefore the Deity is not benevolent or not omnipotent”(Hume, Dialogues Concerning Religion).

The problem is easy to see. By this argument, an all-powerful being that allows tragic, painful and unpleasant events to occur is not benevolent. If a being means well, and would bring about a different state of affairs, but can’t, then it is not omnipotent, that is to say it is not an all-powerful being. Both these attributes seem central to what people tell us that a supreme being is like, which is why this problem never seems to entirely go away.

One of our first respondents wrote:

“This assumes that God is unable to use the evil in the world to his good ends.”

This response falls short of a solution by a very long way. It might well be true that God could use evil events, actions or means to his good ends, as the response seems to suggest. But this an omnipotent being, right? He could have used good means to achieve his ends. Or bizarre chicken-dependant means. Or no means at all, since an all-powerful being could just attain their ends directly by willing them to be so. Hume assumes nothing; he just asks why an omnipotent being would choose such objectionable methods.

A more comprehensive attempt was fielded by one of our blue-shirted faithful brethren:

“But what if the Deity’s cheifest desire was not benevolence – but love. Then he must allow free will for us to love. Similarly, his will is that we have our own will. This means we can endeavour for or against him – our choice. Since we work against him there is evil in the world.”

This is a better effort. The appeal to ‘free will’ has been a standard response to this problem for a long time now. In one form or other it is at the core of many of the most enduring attempts to solve the problem. But does it work? At a glance it is pretty good. If we have a choice, then it seems plausible to suggest that these choices are not always going to be the right ones and people are going to suffer as a consequence. God has to let us be free to be bastards to each other. But think a bit more. There are a lot of things we aren’t free to do, such as levitate on command, digest quartz, or transform into wild animals. Some thinkers have suggested that since we are already not completely free there is nothing contradictory about having free will and not being able to hurt (physically at least) our fellow beings. On top of this it is worth revisiting the first response. It may not be logically incoherent to suggest that a really omnipotent being could have made us so we never made the wrong choice, yet were always still free. At the very least God could intervene occasionally, by giving the occasional evil dictator a premature, but painless death. If I could intervene to prevent a violent crime, with no danger to myself but didn’t, people would consider me a monster or an idiot. The question in many people’s minds is this: If it is wrong for me to not intervene, then why is it not wrong for God?

Arguments about ‘free will’ and how it relates to this problem are somewhat unresolved. Questions to consider would be: Is the ‘free will’ humanity possesses proportional to the suffering that it experiences? Is the freedom of one particularly nasty person, eg Stalin or Hitler, worth more than the suffering of the millions of victims they were responsible for?

There is one area, however, where this response clearly fails. Natural evils. I would have thought that so soon after a natural disaster, I would not see anyone fall into that trap. Sure, we could admit that us having our own free will could be responsible for us being crappy to each other. But it does not account for the suffering caused by earthquakes, and any number of other natural phenomena that we do not, (for the most part), have any control over. Our ‘free will’ and the pain and heartbreak these events can cause have no relation whatsoever, and hence is no defence.

For the same reasons, the following response is also inadequate:

“Maybe individual human discretion just gets in the way of her benevolence and omnipotence.”

Maybe. But how exactly could one “get in the way of” a supreme being that is credited with creating our entire universe? I apologise for any offence caused by using a quote that assumes the gender of God; if I had written it myself, I would have said He/She or She/He etc. If God does exist, then maybe it is a She. But it has no effect on this problem.

The last response I want to look at was to our “Babel Fish” flyer. This entertaining bit of logic has its origins in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. For the uninitiated, the Babel fish is a fictitious animal; if you stick one in your ear you can understand any language you hear. I can’t believe anyone took it seriously enough to write back. Any way, here is the argument, adapted by myself from the radio script:

I. God refuses to prove that he exists, as proof denies faith, and without faith He is nothing.
II. The Babel fish is so useful that it is unlikely to have evolved by chance, and hence must be the work of God.
III. The Babel fish therefore, can be taken as proof of God’s existence.
I. Since God refuses to prove that He exists; proof of His existence constitutes a proof of His non-existence.
V. God does not exist.
(Adams, D. “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy).

The response consisted of the person critiquing each point in turn, and I will follow their lead:

“I – Gods creation is proof of his existence. He has advertised his existence. Faith means to know something and believe it.”

Creation is only proof of his existence if you already believe in him. If you don’t, it might not be so convincing, especially in light of the problems encountered by people during their existence. Creation can only be considered proof of God’s existence if it can be proven that He/She at least caused it, and if it can be shown that there was no other way that it could have come about. There are plenty of accounts that explain how the universe began that do not mention God.

As for faith, this is a tricky area. Knowing something and believing something are two different things. Millions of people around the world seem to ‘know’ things via faith in the way that is implied here, and they can’t all be right.

“II & III – Can’t argue with that”.

They certainly got that bit right.

“IV – See I.”
Sorry, still doesn’t work If God says that He will never prove His existence, and then does, three things are possible; He has at least gone back on his word, He isn’t as omnipotent as his advertising has led people to believe, or He doesn’t exist.

“V – Does so.”
Now we get down to the guts of the matter. In my experience, this is where most arguments with the faithful about the existence of God (or whatever) end up. Which is about what I expected.

In the end there is no clear winner. Believers will stand up and say that everything is ok because philosophers can’t prove that God does not exist. And they are right. But remember, in the same way that I can’t prove that God does not exist, they can’t prove that He (or She) does either. Keep that in mind next time someone tries to give you a pamphlet.

If you feel I’m mistaken in my reasoning, or just feel the need to argue, please go to the club website, http://uniofnewphilosophyclub.blogspot.com/ , and tell us what you think.

(References available on request)
-Sam Douglas.
22/2/05

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

If God exists, and he did not allow the Hitlers and Stalins of the world to come to power, where would the test of our love come from? I can say I love someone, but until it is tested in a real situation there is no evidence of that love being real, and I don't experience the depths of that love. If God exists as a God of love, wouldn't He/She be remiss in the judgement of our love if it wasn't tested?

Darren said...

Hi Sam, this is Darren. I met you at O-week. I was the one handing out stuff for our church New Life up in Shortland. We exchanged flyers and you encouraged me to post here. BTW I'm not a philosopher nor a theologian so be nice.

Where do you get the notion that God refuses to prove that He exist? From Douglas Adams?! God proving that He exists doesn't destroy faith, it builds faith. God has revealed Himself to mankind in many ways and all throughout history. There is nothing in the Bible or in history to even suggest that God refuses to prove His existence. Think about it... God wants people to believe in Him.

Anonymous said...

Funny you say that God refuses to prove that he exists. As it turns out, there is in fact more evidence that Jesus existed, performed miracles, died and rose again than there is that napoleon ever lived. The number of independant historical records that document Jesus' life is massive, and even his political enemies acknowledged his ability to perform miracles.

There's a book that discusses whether or not Jesus rose from the dead, written by an atheist. It's called "Who moved the stone". The man who wrote it became a Christian about halfway throguh the book because he realised that there was no explanation that fitted the facts other than what Jesus claimed was the truth.

The problem today is that people have closed minds, and usually choose to acknowledge fiction over fact if it supports their case.

Cooly McCool said...

Most non-believers in God would say that the comment "The problem today is that people have closed minds, and usually choose to acknowledge fiction over fact if it supports their case" is perfecetly true, especially when claims such as there is more evidence, though none direct, that Jesus lived and performed miracles then that Napoleon lived. Somebody who died less than 200 years ago, and who's direct and indirect records are easily authenticated is pretty much a historical fact. There is however, despite specific individual's claims to the contrary, no evidence of non-debatable authenticity of Jesus as the son of God ever living. Even the Bible is poor evidence, as the supposed authors of each of the gospels is questionable and its compilation occurred under Emporer Constantine several centuries after the event, means that it is possible none were even alive within 200 years of the supposed death of Christ.

And that he performed miracles? The funny thing about miracles is that if they ever occur, they cease to be miracles. This is a simple bit of logic and not a play on words. Simply, if a miracle is the occurance of something that defies physical laws or probability, then their occurance proves that they can occur, even if wildly unlikely or only the once and therefore no longer classifies as a miracle. The Babel fish is a case in point (although obviously fictitious). A miracle therefore is not evidence enough of its own existence as such, nor of Jesus' performing of them, especially if taken from a source over 1500 years old. If his political enemies acknowledged that he performed miracles, then why were these not proof enough for them of his divine nature?

I'm happy for people to have faith in whatever they want so long as it doesn't adversely effect other people, but there is no 'fact' other than faith that supports the existence of God, and this is what Adams' joke is based on.

Lastly, should I go and beat my girlfriend so that later she will truely love me when I don't? I should think not, nor would I want this to be the case. There is a very poor movie from about 15 years ago called 'the vanishing' which incidently is Sandra Bullock's 1st movie and its only saving grace is jeff bridges as the villain (go the dude), but its premise is a man who got the admiration of his daughter when he saved a man from drowning felt that that act could only be seen as good, and he was only deserving of his daughters admiration if he also committed an act of evil where he deprived someone of life - he kills sandra bullock (thank God), and the boyfrined comes after him years later. For God to give us a Hitler so that we love him more when he doesn't seems nonsensical. Does love need to be tested, especially if you grant God's omniscience?

Samuel Douglas said...

In reply:

To Anonymous (1),
Is the use of individuals who perpertrate human suffereing on a spectacular scale the best (and only) way that an omniscient God could test our love? I agree that real world situations help us expereince the depths of our love, but God would, and should have no need to test us. He should already know.

To Darren,
The joke that Adams makes seems to revolve around a couple of issues. One; what is proof for one person is not proof for another, and Two; that there does not exist any proof of God that is uncontroversial. Another interpretation is that no matter how much evidence there might be, some philosophers will never be convinced.
God may not refuse to show or indicate His existence, but surekey you agree that he has not proven His existence to the world in a way that cannot be doiubted by even the most staunch atheist.
Good to hear from you.

To Anonynmous (2),
(Sigh)
I don't want to get into one of those arguments where two people end up trying to prove that they have more notable authors that back their point. Having said that I do think that your point about Napoleon is a bit of an exageration. Be careful in what you consider "independant".
Some people are indeed close minded, as you would agree, on both sides of this debate. But plenty are not. In order to understand why they don't believe, you should try assesing your evidence from the viewpoint of someone with no faith whatsoever.

Darren said...

To Cooly mccool
If miracles actually occurring prove that they were never miracles then why have the word? Surely your debate contradicts itself right there. A miracle is simply an event that happens outside of our realm of understanding, comprehension and physique such as healing. A lady with 70% artery blockage from a stroke on her left side which left her arm cold to touch, when prayed for noticed warmth starting to flow again, my back being completely healed of pain and discomfort when prayed for, finances turning up out of the blue when bills were due and prayer was the only thing left. You can't tell me miracles don't happen. If you don't want to call them miracles then just call them sheer acts of God. He's alive, active and powerful.

Anonymous said...

'God is alive?' - so Nietzsche was right in so much as the possibility of God dying? And Wilde is correct that, while god die, it is humans who endure in immortal infamy?

Surely, Darren you are aware that most of your examples are simply coincidences - there does not have to be a divine cause for money to appear at exactly the right moment given that we society is considered capitalist and that it happens to be almost everywhere and given that you were probably only aware of its appearance because you needed it. And your old woman, bring forth the medical reports that would satisfy the Devil's Advocate (the person appointed, by the Commision for a possible Saint, to argue against their good works and their miracles).

And it is not Mr McCool's fault that English is littered with lexiconogpahic artifacts of little value - hence miracle!

Darren said...

I find it interesting of the philosophers insistence on calling genuine miracles of God (that happen on a regular basis for those who are actually open to them) as mere coincidences. It is not a mere coincidence that at one moment I am in excruciating pain after lifting boxes much too heavy for my back, then the next being prayed for in faith (James 5 - the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well) and the next being able to touch my toes with ease and not a hint of pain. Coincidence? Only to those who can't understand God, or can't understand that there is a God.

And the statement "God is alive" does not suggest that God could be dead apart from in the mind of someone who refuses to believe in Him. I made that statement to help you understand that He IS alive... not to suggest that there is any other option.

It's very interesting also to me that you guys have such 'wonderful' knowledge about God yet so little understanding about Him.

Cheers for the debate guys and girls, this is good.

Anonymous said...

Three points: A) A mircale entails the active engagement of God in a causal chain - and it is unnecessary to add 'miracle' to the sequence 'x caused y, y caused z, z caused a' at z (where x is lifting boxes, y is back pain, and a is pain relief) since z could actually be something quite natural, like the simple relief that comes from rest.

B) And yes, the statement 'God is alive' entails the possibility that God could die; you are probably trying to assert the simpler proposition that 'God is' since God, being aeternal, should actually be beyond life and death (unless you are subscribing to a non-judeo-christo-islamic tradition where the various gods can be born and can die).

C) I think that you will find that many philosophers are well and truly grounded in the theology of Christianity - since a fair proportion of us have come to philosophy from Christian backgrounds and since the last two thousand years of our discipline have been dominated by discussions of various points of theological philosophy - our agnosticism comes from the fact that it is not necessary to postulate for God, and that integrity comes from acknowledging that we can never know either way whether there is a God, and still living ethical lives.

Darren said...

Anonymous,
How is it that you can comment on my powerful and supernatural healing when:
a. You weren't there
b. You've probably never experienced the power of God
c. You're probably completely closed to the power of God.
I mean, if God wanted to get your attention how would He have to do it? Would it require a blaze of glory in front of you? A powerful event that you can't deny? A miracle like the one I've just explained? And even if it did happen would you then believe He exists or would you consider it a hallucination of some sort or a trick played on you?

Unfortunately due to your backgrounds you have a presupposition that God doesn't exist and that miracles can't occur. Hence you can't objectively examine the evidence (which you haven't exhausted). Therefore the presuppositions you hold prevent you from actually recognising evidence that God exists. Hence God becomes unknowable to you and you've forced yourself into a atheistic position.

Anonymous said...

I would check my definition of 'atheist' before I slander anyone in such a way Sir! I think that you will find that the position that I advocate agnosticism: I am not so closed minded (qua biggoted) to claim that there is or is not a god, rather that god is unknowable. I am open minded enough to be prepared to say that, should God appear to me as a blazing bush, or in the guise of the Holy Spirit, or perhaps the works display of the Heavenly Host, or a simple visitation, I would quite return to the family's seat in the Cathedral (since you wish to invoke my background) and commence distributing communion after reading psalms from behind the lecturn (and having the good monsignor around for Sunday supper one a month while seeking out an archbishop for my confessor). If I'm not married at the time, I will jump the next flight to Paris and run off to that Franciscian seminary in the Bordeaux! But until the Vatican physicians have declared that your pain relief was caused by divine intervention, I think that I will follow the example of Ol' Saint Thomas (you remember, he spends part of Acts doubting ...).

Now that I have blown that chimney, let me become slightly more rational.

That 'God does not exist' and that 'miracles cannot happen' are two different suppositions and neither logically entails the other. It is quite possible that God exists, but that he does not see fit to employ miracles (isn't that one of Luther's theses?). It is also quite possible that miracles happen but they are not caused by god. Hence establishing one does not establish the other. So, I am willing to conceed that since I was not there, it is quite possible that your cure was a miracle (however unconvinceing your assertion seems, and I doubt that it would hold up before the Inquisition) though you must also conceed that your miracle is not proof of any God's existence since it is simply proof of a miracle.

Darren said...

My apologies, I meant to include the word agnostic there also.

I am not a Catholic so I do not fully understand your possible background nor do I submit to the Inquisition. I'm a pastor of a charismatic/pentecostal church brought up in a protestant church. As previously stated I'm no theologian but I do enjoy a good discussion.

I agree that 'That 'God does not exist' and that 'miracles cannot happen' are two different suppositions and neither logically entails the other' but that doesn't mean it doesn't either. And seeing as how at the time we were praying to God there is no other logical explanation for my sense of His great presence and my healing than for it to be God exerting His power and bringing healing on His child. Apart from that, Jesus did many healings while he was here on earth and told us to do the same in his name, authority and power.

Samuel Douglas said...

Darren:I think that you have highlighted the core problem in this discusion when you say that "there is no other logical explanation" for the phenomena that you describe. The trouble is that there are plenty of people who would deny that what you offer is actually a logical explanation. There might be an explanation that is perfectly acceptable to modern science that could be found. Would this rule out the possibility of God being responsible for the phenomena? Absolutely not.
Thus for pretty much anything that happens (miraculous or not) we can say that God may, or may not have been responsible for it, but we have no objective way of ascertaining the truth of the matter. Which kind of gets us back to where we have started, ie. Is it reasonable to believe in God?

However, with reguard to the idea of God responding to Prayer, keep in mind how many people must pray desperately for a miracle, and are never given one.

Lucas said...

God had originally created a perfect world and He described it as 'very good' (Genesis 1:31). There was no violence, pain, or suffering in the world. When Adam, as representative of the human race, rebelled against God, He had to judge sin with death and suffering (Genesis 3). God had previously warned Adam of this consequence (Genesis 2:17). Satan, who had also chosen to rebel earlier in history, is the enemy of God and against all for which God stands. As God loves mankind, the devil hates mankind, and is therefore our enemy as well. When Adam sinned, he effectively said he wanted a life without God. As man put himself in a position against God, as had Satan, Satan received the right to rule us in this world. It is the devil who holds the power of death (Hebrews 2:14). God clearly says in the Bible that it is because of our sin that there is evil in the world. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23).

Since that time, Jesus, the Son of God, has come to the earth as a man, suffered and died in our place, so that our sins might be forgiven. He was perfect, without sin, even though He was tempted in every way that we are (Hebrews 4:15). He was able to pay the penalty of the sins of all mankind. Jesus rose from the dead - He has power over death. He now has the authority to give eternal life to anyone who receives it by faith, that believe Him as their Saviour (John 1:12, John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Ephesians 2:8-9). What a loving, merciful God is He! In no way do we deserve such grace! Jesus also has defeated Satan and his attack on mankind because He paid the price of God's judgement. We now have the opportunity to become legally Jesus' property. "And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." (Colossians 2:15).

God lovingly has provided a way for us to be reconciled to Him, despite our sin, so we can spend eternity with Him. "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8). "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23). When Jesus returns, He will restore the world to the state that it once was, before Adam's sin (Acts 3:21). For the people who reject Christ, that is, refuse to accept and commit themselves to His offer of salvation, those who continue to serve themselves and Satan, their future is eternal separation from God, the 'second death' (Revelation 21:8).

To understand that there is a God of love amidst all the suffering of this world, the Bible's account of the world and its history is required. At this time, Satan is still the ruler of the world, but Jesus now has the legal ownership of the world and when He returns, He will take up that ownership and will disposes Satan of his kingdom. For God to rid the world of evil would mean He would have to rid the world of all sinners, but God wants us to be saved from His wrath to come. "And the gospel must first be preached to all nations." (Mark 13:10). God requires all nations to hear about Jesus before He finally does rid the world of evil. I would recommend the reading of The Holy War, by John Bunyan. He has written the biblical history of mankind as an allegorical narrative.

Through the Bible's perspective, we see that suffering/death in general, whether it be natural disasters, war, genocide, illness, etc., is a result of mankind's sin. Individual suffering can be related to sin in our own life or someone else's life, but not always so. Christians certainly can suffer more than non-Christian as they actively come against the enemy. Jesus said Himself, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." (Matthew 10:34). God does allow specific suffering so it can be used to fulfil His purposes. Christians can suffer to make them mature in Christ's image. "Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him." (Hebrews 5:8-9). Suffering can help bring our will inline with God's will, so we trust in Him, rather than in our own strength. Suffering can help people to become saved. It can also make Christians more able to comfort others who suffer. God has many reasons to use suffering in this world, other than for judgement, to carry out His perfect will.

The story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) helps us to understand apparent unjust suffering. The rich man had an easy, luxurious life, whilst the beggar Lazarus laid at his gate, covered in sores and longing for the scraps that fell from the rich mans table. In the eternal world to come, however, God will make things right. To the Christian, it is the hope of spending eternity with Him in happiness and the knowledge that this present life is not the end. Paul said, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18). Righteous Job, who had no outstanding sin, suffered intensely even though God didn't provide him with the reasons why. Through his experience, Job had an opportunity to catch a glimpse of God as He really is, and immediately when he did, nothing else mattered (Job 42:1-6). God's concern for our lives is to spend eternity with Him instead of eternity in hell, not simply an easy, pain free life on earth.

God's gift of free will was not mainly about giving mankind a choice to hurt each other. When Adam was created, he lived in a perfect world before suffering, and therefore a world where no one would hurt each other. The God of peace gave us free will to choose to obey Him as His servant, or rebel against Him and serve Satan, the deceiver. Since we chose to disobey, death and suffering entered the world. Today, though, death and suffering is in many cases caused by humans exercising their free will and sinning, such as murder. These are evils that were previously unknown to us, before Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but it is not the only reason suffering exists. If we could not physically harm one another, death and suffering would still be here. Some examples: natural disasters, illness, or old age. Mankind's sin against God means God has judged us with death and suffering, using any means He wishes! Also, if we were made incapable of disobeying God, we would not have free choice. If someone creates an A.I. robot and programs it to never leave their house, but says it has free will to go, it really has no choice in the matter because it was determined by the creator. Free will is required for mutual relationships based on love and God is love (1 John 4:8). It is required for the testing and building of love and faith. Love is being concerned and willing to work for another person's benefit. There is no love, on our part, in being forced to worship God.

With regard to miracles as supernatural acts of God: they definitely are not mere cases of natural coincidences. The church I attend has healing rooms open for two hours on Tuesday and Friday, available to anyone who wishes to come along. We have many testimonies posted up on the walls of people being healed of many forms of illnesses. Many people are healed instantly during prayer or start a recovery from that time onwards. I invite anyone who needs healing to come along - no appointment, no charge. I can post details if anyone is interested. Sceptics who refuse to believe in God, that He has the power to heal the sick, I would presume they most likely wouldn't receive supernatural healing because of their lack of faith. However, because of His grace, God can still perform miracles and heal sceptics and unbelievers. Fortunately, lack of belief should not prevent them from witnessing the effect of supernatural healing on others. If you need some visual evidence, I have a VCD of a Nigerian church that strongly moves in healing. It shows many people suffering from cancer (a lot of external cancers not normally found in Australia) and their healing. What's quite shocking about it is its graphicness - lots of gore. For example, a woman is healed instantly when the breast cancer she was suffering with is commanded to leave her in Jesus' name. A horrible pink liquid begins to ooze out from where the cancer was. Many cases similar to this are shown, so it wasn't a one off, freak, naturally occurring coincidence.

When people are supernaturally and instantly healed of a problem they have suffered all their life, in such a way that science has a hard time explaining, there's no question that miracles occur (for example, the man Jesus healed that was born blind - John 9:1-12). When such healing occurs as a result of praying in Jesus' name, authority and power, it is very reasonable to believe that this miracle came from God.

God does not respond to every prayer, and He certainly isn't obligated to do so. God is not some sort of genie that grants our every wish (lol)! In the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), Jesus says: 'Your will be done'. We must serve and obey God. When people are suffering and we can't understand why God isn't responding, remember God can see the whole picture of our life and existence. "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways', declares the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'" (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Finally, thanks to Sam Douglas for writing the article and having it published in Opus, where I first read it. As like Darren, I'm not a philosopher or theologian. It's been good to study this discussion over the holidays.

Anonymous said...

So, we can actually blame the horrific slaughter of millions of God's chosen people - the Jews - on God, because God created Adam and Adam ate an apple? And God - because he is clearly omnibenevolet (sic) - decided that the best way to show that He really has all these amazing powers, and isn't too busy governing a universe that is clearly beyond our comprehension - is to heal some non significant individuals in the middle of no-where while allowing the Pontif John Paul II, the direct successor of His own son no less, to die from great suffering? Please ...

Samuel Douglas said...

To lucas,
Can I say first that I'm very impressed/intimidated by your biblical knowledge, and thank you for such a comprehensive reply.

As far as I can tell, most of what you have said is a fairly non-controversial interpretation of what is said in the bible. This is all very well, provided that we can take this book as being a reliable source of knowledge. It might well be such a thing, but as the issue at hand is God's existence (or not) then appealing to the bible, or anything said in it, is to presuppose the truth of the issue at hand.
Put another way; The bible is reliable, accurate, truthful, etc if, and only if, the God described therin exists. Therefore using it to prove the existence of God, or to explain His actions presupposes His existence and atributes, and therefore begs the question.

As for "so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" I have this to say.
If we cannot understand or comprehend the thoughts/motivations/'ways' of God, then how do we know that he wants us to do one thing rather than another? If we cannot know the mind of God, how can we know if any of our interpretaions of what we think He might be saying be right?

Lucas said...

Sam: Thankyou for your kind words. Sorry, I wasn't really trying to prove God's existence by quoting the Bible, but just to give insight into why it's reasonable for the Christian to believe that the God of the Bible can be all powerful and loving, but still allow evil in the world, as well as some of my knowledge/experience relating to healing. I agree with you that using the Bible in my reply doesn't prove the existence of God, etc. Do you agree, however, if the Bible is taken as hypothetically reliable, accurate and truthful (the Word of God), so that God as described in the Bible is true, what I have said helps to resolve the problem of God & evil?

I quoted Isaiah 55:9 because it illustrates that God is God and we don't always understand what or why he is doing something. His infinite mind can't be equalled with the minds of man. We can't comprehend God's greatness. This passage may be clearer: "'Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed him as counsellor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding?'" (Isaiah 40:13-14). This also: "'Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens -- what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave -- what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea.'" (Job 11:7-9). God isn't saying He can't communicate with us. He has given us the Bible. Christians believe the Holy Spirit, the Counsellor (John 14:26), gives us revelation (rhema) of what God has written in the Bible, as promised by Jesus. God communicates to Christians through our spirit. This is why when we believe, in faith, that Jesus is our Saviour, "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children." (Romans 8:16) - we know that we have been saved.

Anonymous: Adam and Eve did not just eat the 'apple' in the sense of it being an ordinary item of food. To Eve, she didn't just see it as good for food and pleasing to the eye, but 'desirable for gaining wisdom' (Genesis 3:6). Eve entertained the thoughts she heard from the devil: that God lied about the warning of death (Genesis 3:4), that He was hiding something from her, and that by eating the fruit she 'will be like God, knowing good and evil' (Genesis 3:5). God is love and therefore His laws are in our best interests, never something silly, trivial or unreasonable. The act of breaking God's laws has a negative effect on our life. Adam and Eve wanted to live according to their desires, they chose to disobey, and thus rejected God.

I'm not sure why God is held accountable on the consequences of the choice of man. Are judges evil because they hold the power to sentence a convicted criminal (who knew the law and its consequences, but disobeyed) to suffer in gaol, rather than let him continue his freedom? Do we reward children for their disobedience? Give them a lollipop perhaps? No! We discipline them out of love, so that they will develop acceptable behaviour and maturity. "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him." (Proverbs 13:24).

"There is no one righteous, not even one." (Romans 3:10). We take after our parents, Adam and Eve, who are our representatives and pattern. We also have the same nature in us - we want to have a life without God. As I said before, everyone has sinned against God and so is subject to sin and suffering. The Jews have sinned, the twelve disciples have sinned, Jesus' mother Mary has sinned, John Paul II has sinned, children have sinned, I have sinned, and you have sinned. Death and suffering is the cost of all mankind's rebellion against God, so the judgement applies to everyone. Adam and Eve were the first to sin. No one is innocent.

Many times have the Jews turned from God, been warned to repent of their sins, and been judged for their actions. It's throughout the Bible. Read their history from when they left Egypt, and read what God said to them through the prophets. Way back, early in Israel's history, written in Deuteronomy, Moses prophesied the curses Israel would suffer if they disobeyed Him, by such things as worshiping other gods. In Deuteronomy 28, God says they will be scattered among the nations, which has occurred several times in Israel's history: "Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life. In the morning you will say, 'If only it were evening!' and in the evening, 'If only it were morning!' -- because of the terror that will fill your hearts and the sights that your eyes will see. " (v. 65-67). The Jews were scattered after they were conquered by Assyria in the north and over a century later by Babylon in the south. Many Jews returned after Babylon's fall. Under Roman rule, they were scattered yet again.

"'Do not fear, O Jacob my servant, for I am with you,' declares the Lord. 'Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you but only with justice; I will not let you go entirely unpunished.'"(Jeremiah 46:28). The Jews have prevailed since ancient times, whilst empires and regimes they were persecuted by collapse. In 1948, Israel was recognised as an independent nation. It was the first time the Jews had a united nation in approximately 2900 years.

Don't be short-sighted about suffering. Suffering on earth, which is limited in time span, can't be compared with eternal suffering in hell or eternal life in heaven. If everything was happy and cheerful on earth, many people wouldn't turn to God in time of need. No one should agree that an earthly life of delight, where we continue to live in sin, is worth the cost being thrown into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mark 8:36). Likewise, suffering that causes us to turn to Him is a small price to pay to live with God, in peace, forever. God will use suffering to His benefit if it means more in heaven and less in hell. Also, Christians should be prepared to follow Christ, even up to death (if its Gods will), if it means others will be saved (Mark 8:35). It would be terrible of God to let generation after generation of sinners walk straight into hell because He prevented particular incidents of suffering (according to the feelings of secular humanists who believe no good could possibly come of it).

Pope John Paul II was the leader of an organisation. Why should God hold the Pope in higher esteem than other individuals because man does? How does his death from 'great suffering' compare to that of Jesus'? Jesus came to earth as a man, from the glory of heaven where he was worshiped by holy angels as creator of the universe, to be cut of from the Father, weighed down by the sins of the world, and die a cruel death between two thieves. That's the true picture of humility and love. Many of the early followers of Christ died as martyrs preaching about Jesus. The early missionaries from England anticipated they would die sowing the gospel in far away lands. Many died of tropical diseases and from cannibalism. Today, Christians in Islamic countries, for example, are persecuted for their faith, even to the point of torture or death (how do they endure this? See Luke 12:4-9). Jesus said, "He who is the least among you all -- he is the greatest." (Luke 9:48).

God can and does heal people any where in the world (it's just the VCD is the most convincing footage I have), at any time. Many developing countries are open to the spiritual realm (due to previous experiences, like involvement in black magic), even more so than lots of western Christians. Even Indonesians living here in Australia are astonished that Australians don't believe in ghosts (actually demons to the Christian). I would imagine that if Pope John Paul II was healed, it would be rationalised (medically, scientifically...) away, anyway. Would it bring glory to God, or glory to the Pope (he is idolised enough already!)? Would people flock to church a couple of times before forgetting their motive? Jesus never said just going to church will get you into heaven, by the way. Read what Jesus said to the Pharisees and Sadducees when they asked for a sign (Matthew 16:1-4). See also what Abraham had to say to the rich man in hell, when he pleaded for Lazarus to be risen from the dead and save his brothers (Luke 16:27-31). God is a personal God. He wants us to search Him, that we might build a solid relationship. Personal healing or the healing of a close friend/relative has a much greater impact. If you want God to show evidence of Himself, as available to anybody, and can't be explained by scientific methods or mans knowledge (i.e. creation), study prophesy in the Bible (prophecies in the Old Testament have been fulfilled in New Testament and prophecies from the whole Bible have been fulfilled in recent times or are yet to be fulfilled).

Yes, secular scientists have much knowledge and do have many theories to explain things without God, but Christian scientists and creationists have many just as valid theories that include God and the Bible's account. There are magazines and websites devoted to this issue in great detail.

Anonymous said...

Herr Lucas - The problem that confronts you is that you belief is not reasonable; it is superstitious and irrational, the legacy of iron age insecurities!

While I am seldom one t go around promoting the idea of progress, it seems to me that two and a bit millennia of the civilised world’s greatest minds trying to resolve the Problem of Evil by using reason (both subjective and instrumental) – and across the board being unable to do so without compromising their integrity – points to the conclusion that it is irrational to maintain a belief in a God who is all loving and who still allows evil to affect good people. You might want to read up on the Lisbon Earthquake – where the main damage was to Lisbon Cathedral, which was also the source of most of the casualties since Sunday Eucharist was being celebrated at the time. And while you are not a philosopher this is a forum for philosophers, so you might want to go and have a look at some philosophical and theological treatises on the subject – I have found Boethius, Augustine, Aquinas, Abelard, Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Marx, Nietzsche, and Russell worthy reads on the subject, I quite enjoyed various sections of Luther, Feuerbach, and Kierkegaard, and would point anyone to Plantinga (Probably the premier contemporary author on philosophical theology). Pascal and James are worth glancing at, if you have the time. I personally suggest that you steer well clear of Calvin.

To be bluntly earnest, I admire your dogged determination to hold onto the only thing in your world that gives you any meaning in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. But the ultimate test of faith is not simply believing, but being prepared to test your faith by confronting it with sustained arguments for disbelief and actually considering them …

Lucas said...

I have to say that some religious church organisations are severely lacking in the power (supernatural) of God. It's quite upsetting that your experience with them may have helped you to disbelieve, but please, do not think they are representative of true Christians/churches. There is a big difference. Much of their dogma and pomp is outright unbiblical. In some of their history, followers weren’t allowed to read the Word of God for themselves. Paul, speaking about godlessness in the last days, "[People] having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them." (2 Timothy 3:5). To believe in God, it does help greatly to actually experience Him. To experience God, it takes belief.

You probably haven't heard the testimonies of many Christians that didn't go to work at the WTC on 11/9/01. Very exciting accounts from many people on why they couldn't get there. I read an article recently about some Christians in Sri Lanka. They were worshipping the Lord at their usual Sunday morning service, when suddenly they heard and saw the sea rising up as a huge wave approaching them. They panicked, but stayed in the church shouting to Jesus for protection. The wave split before them and destroyed everything around the church. No damage was done to the church at all, as I saw in the photos. There are so many stories I have heard similar to these, it’s a shame that the secular media suppresses them.

What do philosophers consider a 'good' person is? Is it simply someone whose good deeds outweigh their bad deeds? This sort of thinking is what probably makes Christianity appear unreasonable. Every religion, other than Christianity, gratifies man's pride by teaching us that there is something we can do to earn, or help in earning, our own salvation. Only true Christianity recognises that we are utterly lost in sin, on the path for eternal separation from God, but that we can be justified by His grace. I understand that the supernatural also appears superstitious and irrational to you. Unless you experience it, it can't really be explained.

All these great minds and they still couldn't solve the problem? In about 58 A.D., Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age [Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (2 Corinthians 4:4-5). I know that philosophers can be touched by God. The late Dr. Derek Prince, who held a PhD from Cambridge, is an example. He was a professional philosopher and had held a fellowship in ancient and modern philosophy at King's College. During WWII he met God (an interesting story) and since became a great Bible teacher. You can hear him on Rhema FM (99.7) weekdays, a little after 6am.

I'm sorry that I'm not a philosopher and that I'm unreasonable. The only (reasonable/rational?) philosophy I have thought about was back, a couple of years ago, when I was in Year 9, during sport time for a term. An American lady from the uni came with printed material and led a few students in discussions. One of the reasons I responded to the article was because of this (I must have overlooked the rational bit). I'll try reading up some of your suggested philosophers.

Here is a challenge: I'll give anyone interested a copy of the VCD I mentioned so you can judge for yourselves, as long as you attempt to watch most of it. No one has asked about the healing rooms as yet, either. Email: lucasp ~AT~ myrealbox ~DOT~ com