Fundamentalist Christian apologist: Fortunate for us today, the early writing of the four Gospels were well known and there was no doubt about their authorship or authenticity from the beginning.
Gary: Evangelicals and other fundamentalist Protestant scholars are the only scholars who hold this position.
Fundamentalist Christian apologist: It doesn’t matter what alleged scholars say, it matters what the text says and that it exists today with greater extant manuscripts than any other ancient literature. The text is the proof, the statements of the writers are the proof, not the opinions of anyone living today. This is the catastrophic mistake that people make today, who think that a Ph.D enables them to impeach the authenticity of the New Testament, simply because they don’t believe it is true. These events are true, they happened, and faithful men recorded them. We have their words, preserved over 2,000 years and this is the empirical evidence which proves the words of the New Testament are true.
Below is my ongoing attempt at “Street Epistemology”. If you have been following the last five or so posts, you have followed this (email) conversation from the beginning. Right now I feel like I’m hitting a wall with this Christian. I’m trying to pin him down on the issue of “faith”, defined as “hope in things unseen”. I can then use the “Outsider Test of Faith”, pointing out that there are people of other religions whose faith in their god is just as strong as his faith in Jesus, therefore: “Is faith a reliable method of evaluating important truth claims?”
But this Christian keeps deflecting my “pinning” maneuver by insisting that I cannot understand the veracity of his worldview until I first acknowledge the existence of an “Almighty God”! What? Why should I concede such a controversial claim to be a fact??? I am starting to lose my patience, so you will see that some of my statements are becoming argumentative, which is a big No-No in Street Epistemology. Maybe I should just end the conversation now before it turns confrontational.
Any suggestions, Readers?
Gary: Your entire God belief is based on the premise that a first century corpse came back to life, ascended into the clouds, and currently sits on a golden throne somewhere at the edge of the universe, where he reigns as King of the cosmos. Do you realize how absolutely nutty that sounds to a non-Christian? Even if we had confirmed eyewitness testimony of this alleged ancient event, eyewitness testimony for laws-of-physics-defying events are not believable to most modern, educated people. If twelve people told you that a group of green, three foot tall, antennae toting Martians abducted them last night and flew them to Mars on their mother ship for a three hour tour of the planet, would you believe this “eyewitness testimony”? Of course not. So why do you believe the resurrected Jesus story? Is it possible that your primary belief in this ancient tale is “faith” (hoping in the reality of the extra-ordinary)?
Conservative Christian: It [the resurrection of Jesus] is possible if you have an Almighty God of whom there is none greater. That kind of God would have the power to raise someone from the dead. If we look at Jesus strictly from our human understanding of what is possible for human beings to do or not do, it may sound kind of crazy to believe what the Bible says about Him. But, if there’s an all-powerful God, why wouldn’t it be possible? Also, if we look at the reason Jesus came to earth, died, and rose again from God’s perspective, there’s actually quite a bit of wisdom in it. …Gary, I can tell from your responses that what I’m sharing isn’t new to you. I don’t know just what you expect me to tell you or where you want this to go. Unless you start on the premise of an Almighty God of whom there is none greater, it’s not going to make sense. (emphasis Gary’s)
Gary: “Unless you start on the premise of an Almighty God of whom there is none greater, it’s not going to make sense.” Isn’t that a big assumption? Even if the universe exists due to a Creator, how do you know that he (she or they) still exists? Maybe he’s dead.
This is an ongoing “Street Epistemology” conversation:
Conservative Christian: Adam and Eve had it all but still thought they knew better than God. It’s easy to say on this side that you wouldn’t have made that choice. Yet, here you are, still deciding you don’t need God. Hmmm. Remember, Adam and Eve were warned so it’s not like God was unjust. Seems to me that as the Creator, God had the right to make people as He wanted to [and the right to send them to Hell for rejecting him]. That’s an abbreviated answer but we’re going to go round and round on the issue without acknowledging that we are talking about the Almighty God of whom there is none greater, the One who sees the beginning from the end, etc.
Gary: If someone from another religion tells you that their God, who they believe is our Creator, commands them to kill all children who are not members of their religion would that be moral? I’m sure you will say, no. Don’t you see the problem? If every religion believes it has its own Creator, all with different rules of right and wrong, there is no universal standard of right and wrong. You may believe that the Gods of other religions do not exist and therefore their moral standards are irrelevant, but they believe the same thing about your God and your rules! How can a true seeker of truth figure out who is right?
What we need is strong evidence which convincingly indicates that one of the world’s religions worships the true Creator and follows the true rules of morality. But none of the world’s religions have good evidence! Most world religions are predicated on the supernatural, a dimension that by definition cannot be investigated by universal scientific standards. So we are asked to believe most of these supernatural claims by “faith”.
I don’t believe that your evidence is any better than the evidence of any other religion. Your entire God belief is based on the premise that a first century corpse came back to life, ascended into the clouds, and currently sits on a golden throne somewhere at the edge of the universe, where he reigns as King of the cosmos. Do you realize how absolutely nutty that sounds to a non-Christian? Even if we had confirmed eyewitness testimony of this alleged ancient event, eyewitness testimony for laws of physics defying events are not believable to most modern, educated people. If twelve people told you that a group of green, three foot tall, antennae-toting Martians abducted them last night, flew them to Mars aboard their mother ship, and then gave them a three hour tour of the Red Planet, would you believe this “eyewitness testimony”? Of course not. So why do you believe the resurrected Jesus story? Is it possible that your primary belief in this ancient tale is “faith” (hoping in the reality of the extra-ordinary)?
Gary: How can a judge (God) be 100% just and 100% merciful/loving as you say? If he grants a convicted criminal clemency or a reduced sentence, then he is not being just to the victims of that crime or to society. If he never grants clemency or a reduced sentence, then he is not merciful.
Conservative Christian: A judge can be 100% just and 100% merciful/loving if He is God. As I keep pointing out, we are not God so we have many limitations He does not have. When we sin against a Holy God, He’s the one whom we are wronging. Both as the one being wronged and as the Judge, He is willing to forgive us because Jesus died in our place. From a human standpoint that might not make sense but God isn’t human. He is both holy/just AND loving/merciful.
Gary: Ok, so what you are saying is that your God sets the standards for what is good and what is evil even if his standards are contrary to the moral standards of every civilized society on the planet. Doesn’t that sound more like “Might makes Right” than objective morality?
Conservative Christian: Remember that you want people to be able to choose to follow you, not be robots with no free will.
Gary: Why does your God need people to choose him? Why did he create creatures with a free will instead of robots?
Conservative Christian: He doesn’t need people to choose Him. That’s why He gave them a free will. He doesn’t “need” our love and affection. He “wants” to be in a relationship with us.
Gary: But if he doesn’t need our love and affection, why does he need a relationship with us? It sounds like the relationship is more for his benefit than for ours. Why does a God who is perfect and possesses everything need a relationship with one of his creatures? And regarding free will, I would be perfectly happy running around naked in a lush garden, playing with lions, tigers, and bears all day. It wouldn’t bother me in the slightest that I had been “programmed” so that I could never choose evil; a free will choice that would result in a life of hardship and an eternity in Hell. Free will sure doesn’t sound like it was created for our benefit.
This is a continuation of a previously posted Street Epistemology interview with a Christian apologist:
Gary: So it is immoral for your earthly father to put you into a torture pit for a couple of years but it is moral for your heavenly father to put you into a torture pit forever because he is the Almighty Creator God? So what you are saying is that there is one standard of morality for human beings and another standard of morality for God?
Christian apologist: Being the Almighty Creator God is just one reason I gave. Please scroll down to read the entirety of what I said. There were two other distinctions that have to be made between God and earthly fathers. The total combination of these three factors sets what God on a totally different plane than your example of earthly fathers.
Gary: So absolute morality does not exist? There are at least two systems of morality: one for us, one for God?
Christian apologist: Absolute morality can only be determined by the God of whom there is none greater. His is the only standard. That is why I have so often in our dialog kept pointing you back to God. We align with Him. But, because there are some things that only God can do, there will be some things, like the salvation of people’s souls, that can only be applied to Him. There is nothing people can do that comes close to that. As I said before, this whole issue is on another plane. If we’re talking about what’s impossible for people to do, because we aren’t God, there’s no comparing on that. If you put God on our level, you will never accept what He does. We are talking about an Almighty God who is totally righteous, holy, just, AND loving. He doesn’t lay aside His holiness and justice to be loving. And, He doesn’t lay aside His love to be holy and just. As God, He is all these things all the time. Since you seem to think God is so unjust, let me ask you what you would do if you were Him. Remember, you have to remain 100% righteous, holy, just AND loving 100% of the time in everything. If not, then you aren’t being God. And, remember that you want people to be able to choose to follow you, not be robots with no free will.
Gary: So even though your God, by our human moral standards, appears to be vindictive, cruel, immoral, and evil, he is actually merciful, compassionate, moral, and good because there is a separate standard of morality for him? Essentially, whatever he says or does is good? As to your second point, how can a judge be 100% just and 100% merciful/loving? If he grants a convicted criminal clemency or a reduced sentence, then he is not being just to the victims of that crime or to society. If he never grants clemency or a reduced sentence, then he is not merciful. And lastly, why does your God need people to choose him? Why did he need to create creatures with a free will instead of robots?
Check back periodically for updates to this conversation as it unfolds.
Here is another attempt at online Street Epistemology. I will post comments in real time, so check back as the conversation unfolds:
Gary: What if someone who doesn’t believe in your God is perfectly happy in this life and doesn’t believe in an afterlife? Why should that person believe in your God?
Conservative Christian: It’s a choice that person has to make. And with that choice come whatever consequences, good or bad, that there may be here and for eternity. The God of the Bible doesn’t force people to believe.He gave people a free will to choose because He wants to be in a true relationship with us not one that’s coerced or one-sided. That’s not saying He gives up on the person but that He waits for them to be ready. (emphasis, Gary’s)
Gary: So if I choose not to believe in your God he does not punish me, either now or in the afterlife?
Conservative Christian: The God of the Bible isn’t out to “punish” people. He’s gone to a great extent so that doesn’t have to happen by sending Jesus to take our punishment. What you’re left with is the consequence of your choice. Just as I can choose to touch a hot stove or not, I will get burned if I make the wrong choice. Seems pretty silly to touch the stove when all the evidence points to it burning me but yet I might still touch it and then I’ll suffer the consequence. The God of the Bible offers eternal life with Him in which there is no more pain or suffering but even more so is that it is spent with Him who is everything good. If we don’t take His offer, what are we left with? Pain, suffering and even worse never experiencing God’s presence which means the absence of goodness and love and all that describes God. Yes, the Bible calls it Hell and describes it as a real place. I’m sure that’s going to generate other questions but the bottom line is that it’s not God’s desire for people to experience Hell. He wants us to spend eternity with Him but He’s not going to force us to. You can choose not to accept what He says and take the gamble that it isn’t true. You can choose another god or maybe no god at all and hope you’re right. The choice is yours. (emphasis, Gary’s)
Gary: So if I reject your God, he reluctantly places me in a literal dungeon of torture?
Conservative Christian: The God of the Bible isn’t the true God, then you have nothing to worry about. But if He is the God of whom there is none greater, then He is absolutely, totally righteous, holy, perfect, and just as well as loving, etc. All of those traits come together to make Him who He is. He doesn’t lay one aside to be the other. Because He is holy and just, He must give us what we deserve. But, because He is loving, He makes a way to satisfy His holiness and justice so He doesn’t have to give us what we deserve. Jesus took the punishment our sin deserves but if we don’t accept that, what’s He to do? God can’t just lay aside His holiness and justness. If He did that, then He’s no longer the God of whom there is none greater.
Gary: So what you are saying is that it is fair, just, and moral for me to be punished in Hell forever for rejecting your God’s love, disobeying his commands, and ignoring the sacrifices he made for me? If a human father put his children in a torture chamber for many years because they chose not to love him, obey him, or appreciate the sacrifices he had made for them, would that be fair, just, and moral?
Conservative Christian: I ‘m not sure likening God to an earthly father would hold up in this aspect. For one thing, earthly fathers aren’t the Almighty God. And, our sin against earthly fathers isn’t of an eternal consequence. Also, our earthly fathers didn’t, and can’t, “atone” for or pay for our sins. Sure, they may sacrifice for us, maybe even die to protect us from some kind of physical harm. But, their death won’t protect our souls. Their death won’t provide an eternal home in glory for us. Only God can “save” our souls. So …. if an earthly father did what you said, it would not be just or moral.
Gary: So it is immoral for your earthly father to put you into a torture pit for a couple of years but it is moral for your heavenly father to put you into a torture pit forever because he is the Almighty Creator God. So what you are saying is that there is one standard of morality for human beings and another standard of morality for God?
Conservative Christian: Being the Almighty Creator God is just one reason I gave. Please scroll down to read the entirety of what I said. There were two other distinctions that have to be made between God and earthly fathers. The total combination of these three factors sets what God on a totally different plane than your example of earthly fathers.
Gary: So absolute morality does not exist? There are at least two systems of morality: one for us, one for God?
Liberal Christian pastor: Why is it so important to you that everything must be proved beyond the shadow of a doubt or else it must be rejected? We don’t do this with politics and about America. We don’t do this with science even. We don’t do it in our daily lives. We don’t do it in relationships. We don’t do it with our work. I can think of no other area of life that requires proof beyond the shadow of doubt. I can certainly be wrong. Why is my [liberal Christian] belief such a threat? Why is teaching anyone else the belief system that I have such a threat? I don’t force anybody to believe anything. I simply do what you are doing right now – share the belief, how it has impacted my life and the lives of others, and what it hopes and promises for the greater good.
Gary: I believe that supernatural beliefs (superstitions) are dangerous. Superstitions, in particular religious superstitions, are the cause of much of the world’s suffering. Even the seemingly innocuous superstitions (not walking under a ladder, not stepping on a crack in the sidewalk) perpetuate the belief in supernatural forces, which defy reason and science. How would you react to a grown man telling you that his belief in Santa Claus gives him great comfort and peace? How would you react if he told you that he telepathically talks to Santa Claus every day and Santa Claus telepathically answers him and gives him advice on his life? How would you react to learn that this man teaches his little children to telepathically communicate with Santa Claus?
You may present “the Gospel” as opinion to adults, but do you do the same with little children? If you are telling little children that your supernatural beliefs are true (facts) that is indoctrination. It is brainwashing. I have two children ages 10 and 8. I never tell them that gods do not exist. I tell them to make their own decisions on the existence of invisible beings. I tell them that whatever they choose to believe, they should have good evidence to believe it.