The Debate Video Will be Available in a Few Weeks.

Just a quick note. The debate video between Mr. Wood of Answering Infidels and I will be aired on The Infidel Guy Show after it's produced, in a few weeks.

14 comments:

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi moved the discussion here in a related thread by you because the other is getting VERY long (esp. after my last one post there).

DA (formerly): Hitler is either "allowed" by necessity of human free will or else we have no free will.

>This is a false dichotomy.

Well, it is an argument from plausibility, based on the more involved logical background arguments of Alvin Plantinga.

>Didn't God harden Pharoah's heart?

No. This is another instance (one of many I have documented) of atheists not properly understanding the Bible and how to sensibly interpret it. Shame on you, as a former pastor, with a multiple Masters degrees in theology, as this is a rather simple matter.

When the Bible says that God did this, it is in the particular sense of "God allowed the Pharaoh to become hardened of his own accord, then used it for His purposes, to free the Hebrew slaves." In other words, it is a typically vivid, pungent, dramatic Hebrew way of speech: "God did it [in the sense of it being ultimately used for His purposes, in His providence]."

Because it is pre-philosophical language, all that is bypassed and the writer just says "God hardened Pharaoh." But nevertheless, other passages give the true sense, so it can be better understood. Thus, the literature teaches by deduction what might be expressed in more logical-type language all in one sentence.

Accordingly, we have the Bible saying God hardened Pharaoh, many times (e.g., Ex. 4:21; 7:3,13; 9:12; 10:1,20,27; 11:10; 14:4,8 etc,), and even hardening the Egyptians (14:17), but it also says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex 8:15; 8:32; 9:34; 1 Sam 6:6).

Furthermore, it simply states the fact of hardening without saying who did it (Ex 7:14,22; 8:19; 9:7,35) and that one shouldn't harden one's own heart, as a generality (Deut 15:7; Ps 95:8; Heb 3:8,15; 4:7).

The obvious, straightforward way to interpret all this data is as I have done. It is not contradictory: neither internally, nor with regard to the problem of evil. One understands this insofar as one also is familiar with the Hebrew oft-poetic, non-literal manner of speaking.

DA: If you want to directly compare that world with human beings, and make us merely an evolutionary development of it (i.e., in a completely naturalistic sense; I am not condemning theistic evolution), then you have huge problems of your own, since how can you argue that cannibalism is more wrong for human beings than for animals (especially in a eat-anything-to-survive environment, such as the famous Donner party)? Atheists will play games and make out that people are qualitatively different, but this is nonsensical within your paradigm, which has man evolving directly from this same animal kingdom, wherein survival of the fittest is the natural order of things.

>This is irrelevant to the theistic problem of evil. It's a red herring, for it sidetracks the problem of why God set up predation in the natural world.

I was simply responding to your statement: "In the natural world something must be killed so that some other carnivore can eat. This is the world your God set up." I didn't claim that it had anything directly to do with the problem of evil. it was, in effect, a footnote.

>We could deal with this issues, if you want to do so sometime, but let's stick to the issue at hand.

Gladly. Like I said, I was simply respnding to what you wrote. It didn't sidetrack me.

>Why didn't God make us vegetarians? There are naturally existing vegetarian animals.

He did, originally (and some Christians adopt this view on Christian grounds, though it is tough, since Jesus ate fish). Christians usually argue that meat-eating was a result of the fall and not the ideal situation. The fall was as a result of free will; hence not able to be blamed on God (that only applies to supralapsarian Calvinism: itself a small minority of a minority school).

JL: That makes him worse than Hitler by a long long shot.

DA: Really? I don't see how:

1) God allows free will.
2) Free will entails the possibility of rebellion and evil.
3) Hitler ushered in one such massive societal rebellion against civilization and evil campaign.
4) God is to blame for Hitler's evil because He allowed free will.
5) Man isn't to blame for Hitler's evil, even though he had the capacity to prevent it altogether.

>Could God have given Hitler a heart attack and end the war?

Certainly. The fact that He didn't is no prove that He isn't good, if some other plausible scenario can be imagined, consistent with His goodness.

Could utopian, naively pacifistic, Fabian socialist, occult- ansd sex-obsessed Englishmen in the 1930s have stopped the German military build-up, which was obvious? Yes. Can God be blamed because they didn't? Nope. Can WWII be directly blamed on their failure to see the writing on the wall? Yes, of course.

You can't start a war if you don't have the military weaponry to do so in the first place, it seems obvious to me. But all you want to do is blame God because He didn't strike down the madman. Isn't it better for US to do that: does the parent have to do absolutely everything for his child when the child is capable? Clearly not. You act like human beings are like babies who can do nothing; hence God must do everything by way of preventing any evil.

This is a clear case where He didn't have to do so. Men could have done eveything necessary to prevent it. And in fact we did end it when we woke up to what was happening; after London was bombed, etc. Self-interest and self-defense. Pearl Harbor quickly got isolationist America in the war, didn't it. Prior to that even London being bombed wasn't enough. That wakes people up fast and motivates them to do what they avoided doing previously.
9-11 did the same in our own time, but it didn't take long for certain schools of thought to put their heads in the sand again and pretend that fighting back isn't necessary.

>If so, he could've stopped a thousand Hitlers.

Yes; no argument there. The question at hand is whether He must do so in order to be believed to be as Christians think Him to be. We say no.

DA: This is irrational. It makes no more sense to blame God for the evil choices of creatures he created free than it does to blame a good parent for sins of a child of his or her own volition, committed after the parent trusted the child to be responsible with its freedom. You can't blame one being for the sins of another; at some point there is individual responsibility. That's why it is ridiculous to blame God for Hitler.

>If a mother gave a two-year old a razor blade she would be held culpable. And if she sat by and did nothing while my older brother beat me to death she could be considered an accomplice.

That's correct. But in the case of the two-year-old, the mother is clearly culpable because the child isn't old enough to know that it could be harmed by a razor blade (till it starts cutting, that is, then it can figure out some causal relationship, I think). That just proves my point that you are irrationally regarding the human race and adults with brains and responsibilities for free actions, as the equivalent of babies in diapers, with rattles rather than adult brains and the capacity to make intelligent and virtuous choices.

The other example at least makes a little sense (though you didn't give an age of the brothers). There I would say that this is our responsibility as humans: to prevent harm insofar as possible. As for God in this analogy, I could easily argue that He set the world in motion and allowed free will because He wanted us to be responsible and to do good ourselves, not rely on Him to automatically make every situation we have screwed up right again. In effect, it is allowing His grown-up children to look after themselves. That's what the analogy of God to parents involves, too.

Now God can intervene at times, but it'll be the exception, just as a parent would assume that children of a certain age should be able to get along without killing each other. The human race knows more than enough to stop warring with each other and butchering children in their mothers' wombs, but it doesn't because of sin.

What's so complicated about knowing that it is bad to start killing each other for greedy reasons or sexual "freedom" or no reason at all in many cases? We can solve that ourselves, but evil and the propensity of man for evil makes what should be simple, impossible to achieve in fact.

I don't see that God is under an absolute obligation to rectify thngs that we have screwed up. He has promised a better world that He will rule, where all things will eventually be made right. That's more than enough, in my opinion. We don't even deserve that. We all should be condemned to hell for our corporate rebellion, but God in His great mercy gives us a chance to repent and be saved.

DA: But even if that made any sense, why do you atheists not give God any credit for all the good which comes from free will? If you want to hold Him accountable for all the bad things that men do to each other, or the natural events that can hardly be otherwise in a sensible, orderly universe, then how come you never give Him any credit for anything?

>Because there is so much unalleviated suffering in the world we just don't think there is a God.

That didn't answer my question. I agree there is a lot of evil and that it is a difficulty to understand. I asked why you never give God (even a hypothetical God, for the sake of argument) any credit; only blame for bad stuff that is often clearly man's fault?

JL: Hitler's Germany was a Christian nation and all you can do is to ask about Hitler from my perspective?

DA: The people may have been, but the regime was not, by any stretch of the imagination. It was a grotesque mixture of corrupted romanticism, paganism, and occultism. The Final Solution was not justified on Christian grounds.

>So I suppose American slavery was not justified on Christian grounds either?

No, it was. But wrongly so. Biblical servanthood (and often, pagan servanthood) is not nearly the same thing as American slavery was. the Bible condemend the oppressive sort of slavery. Ever heard of the Exodus from Egypt? That's why black slaves often saw that as an analogy: God desired them to be free, just as with the Hebrew Egyptian slaves. It was only the characteristic of greed that caused Christians to justify such outrages.

But that was a clever way of switching the subject, wasn't it? perhaps you hoped that I wouldn't notice, or that readers wouldn't? Ah, but not when I point it out.

>Who speaks for Christianity?

Another rabbit trail. I would say as a Catholic, that the pope does, preeminently.

>You?

I do, insofar as I am a Catholic lay apologist devoted to defending Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular, and representing the beliefs of that system to the very best of my ability, and in submissin to its authority.

>Based upon hindsight?

Based upon the history of Christianity, the Bible, Church authority, authoritative apostolic tradition, and reason.

DA: If He stopped Hitler by the miraculous and abrogation of his free will, then we would have a world where no one was free, and every bad, evil thing is immediately prevented

>False dichotomy. You've just got to stop thinking in terms of extremes and clear black and whites here.

It's not extreme. It is a conclusion based on an unspoken chain of reasoning (and a sort of reductio ad absurdum). You guys say God should intervene practically at every turn, and prevent all these evils. If He can
do so once, then (according to you, it seems), He ought to do so massively, in every case, since why would one be more worthy of attention than another? Why should God not immediately heal a child's scrape or a hang nail or a blister or pimple if He is required to alleviate every misery known to man, in order to be believed for what He is?

There is no sensible stopping point. So I say it is most logical to believe that He simply lets the world operate according to the laws of nature and the results of human free will, with only rare miraculous intervention (yes, even up to and including Hitler).

The other sort of world makes no sense to me. It really doesn't. But heaven makes sense to me. That is different precisely because to enter it we had to pass some sort of test, and accept the grace that God gave us in order to be saved. THEN we can have perfect happiness.

>God clearly directed free willed creatures in the Bible, it's claimed, so why not do something about the horrendus evils which lead atheists to say he doesn't exist if God wants us to believe?

Precisely because those same free willed creatures are able to alleviate most suffereing themselves. Atheists will find reasons not to believe o matter what. We maintain that there is more than enough evidence for theism and Christianity. That's why many thinking people accept it and why atheism has always been a minority viewpoint even in western civilization, with all its marvelous intellectual and technological, artistic and musical and architectural achievements.

>God makes your task harder and harder all of the time. I don't envy your task here.

I'm doing fine, thank you. I'm not trembling under your supposed profundities of anti-Christian argument, as you seem to think we all will, if we read your stuff. To the contrary, invariably when I take on opposing arguments, my faith grows stronger. It happens every time, and is one of the blessings of professional apologetics. I get to make the arguments and get the added bonus of having my faith strengthened by observing how the non-Christian arguments routinely fail to hit their mark and achieve their purpose, or to see how they are downright fallacious.

>But God could avert these trageties, if for no other reason to help you out in explaining why evil exists.

I think whatever the reason is that He allows them (and I believe Christians probably have a pretty good idea at least about some possible reasons why He does so), it wouldn't be for any reason so trivial as that.

JL: You say my moral code is subjectively chosen? Well then, where does your God's moral code come from?

DA: It's eternal. Therefore, it "comes from" nothing. It always existed in God. God is Love. Yours is certainly subjective because you can't create an absolute larger than yourself and applicable to all, no matter how hard you try. That has to come from a Being Who transcends creation and mankind itself.

>Then check my argument out here.

http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2006/01/christian-illusion-of-moral.html

That's of course another subject, and I consistently refuse to be drawn off-topic while an important, meaty debate is already taking place. But some day I'd be happy to.

Dave Armstrong
http://socrates58.blogspot.com/

openlyatheist said...

Dear DC,

While it is often as entertaining to read the work of the floundering apologists who come and go on this blog as it is to read the original posts, Dave Armstrong's preceding posts brings to mind these suggestions:

A) a cap on the length of comments.

B) the exclusion of comments that are clearly off topic.

The unmoderated debate is the apologist's playground and such mini-blog-wars divert from the simplicity of the blog format.

If posters on DC wish to have "meaty debates" I move that they have them on the IIDB formal debates board where they belong.

The preceding is my 2 cents as a frequent reader here.

DagoodS said...

Dave: No. This [the claim that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart] is another instance (one of many I have documented) of atheists not properly understanding the Bible and how to sensibly interpret it.

I have noticed, Dave, in your apologetic tactics, on occasion, you resort to this idea that atheists do not understand the Bible “correctly.” The implication being that the rejection of your interpretation is based upon incompetence.

While that may be true on occasion, this interpretation of yours, that God only hardened Pharaohs heart in the sense that God is ultimately responsible for all things, but that Pharaoh was solely responsible for the hardening that occurred is…well…merely an interpretation of convenience, and not founded on what the Bible actually says.

Simply put—you are reading into it what you need to make your apologetic work. And you are ignoring one key scripture.

I heartily concur the story recorded by the enemies of the Egyptians indicates that Pharaoh hardened his own heart first. (Alas, we will never be able to see the Egyptian side of the tale, because the Egyptians never recorded it. Because it never happened.)

From the Hebrew standpoint, the obviousness of YHWH would make any request by YHWH’s representative a rejection of God itself. We have one of the first recorded incidents of the use “You REALLY know there is a God, deep down in your heart.” Hence the only way in which one could reject God himself, is by hardening one’s own heart.

But I digress…

While you list the verses in Exodus, you do not flesh out what the verses say. Prior to the plagues, prior to the Exodus, prior to even the first request, YHWH states that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart. Ex. 4:21; 7:3. God does not state that Pharaoh will harden his own heart. God does not state that after Pharaoh has hardened his own heart God will be stepping in and “confirming” it. YHWH says he absolutely, positively will be hardening Pharaoh’s heart. Period.

YHWH even gives a (partial) reason for it—so that He can display God’s power. Ex. 7:3-5. Further, YHWH has made it clear that He will continue to be enacting Plagues, up to the Plague of the first born. Ex. 4:23 (And for Christianity that holds to the Christ typology of the Passover, it can also be inferred that God must continue the Plagues until the Tenth Plague.)

So…we have God predicting he will harden Pharaoh’s heart prior to the events. We have God performing a few miracles that initially Pharaoh rejects, but eventually convinces Pharaoh. We have a God that is not done yet, because enough power has not been displayed, so God steps in and does some hardening of his own.

That is what the story states. Not some “poetic” term that is absolving God of the responsibility of hardening a heart. Why would a Hebrew writer care to avoid YHWH from doing that? That is simply a Christian viewpoint, attempting to avoid an apparent problem.

(The Hebrew writers have YHWH ordering and tacitly approving human sacrifice, a YHWH that wipes out the entire world, all but a few, a YHWH that holds family members responsible for others’ sins, a YHWH that shows favoritism, and a YHWH that holds nations responsible for their leaders’ sins. It is only when the Tanakh is observed through the Christian concept of individual responsibility that Christians must introduce “poetic” terms and limitation of Hebrew language in an attempt to avoid what they find difficult.)

What kills this interpretation, though, of God not actively being involved in hardening Pharaoh’s heart is Rom. 9:14-24. Paul (a Jew. A Christian) interprets the legend of the Plagues in light of God actually hardening Pharaoh’s heart. (Otherwise he would not have to be defending the concept that God gets to do what God wants to do. If Pharaoh was solely guilty, God does not need the justification, and the verses no longer make sense.) If Paul reads it that way, why should I reject his interpretation, in light of yours? Is Paul (just like us atheists) guilty of “not properly understanding the Bible and how to sensibly interpret it”?

Out of curiosity how many other ways does Paul not properly understand the Tanakh and how to sensibly interpret it?

Perhaps to understand why God would have to step in, a modern-day equivalent of the Plagues:

Allah: Frank. Go tell President Bush I want him to release the Guantanamo detainees. Oh, and provide them with big fat bank accounts to live from.
Frank: Uh, Allah. I don’t think Pres. Bush believes in you.
Allah: Don’t worry. I will harden his heart against you.

Frank: Pres. Bush. According to Allah, you need to let the Guantanamo detainees go.
Pres. Bush: Bwahahahahaha.

Frank: Oh yeah? Watch this! I will make fire appear at the end of a stick!
Pres. Advisors: Big deal. They are called “matches.”
Frank: Oh yeah? Watch this! I will make music appear from a small box!
Pres. Advisors: Big deal. We call that “IPOD.”

You can see why, at this point, it would be unnecessary for Allah to step in. (Although, curiously, it would also be unnecessary for Pres. Bush to harden his own heart. It has not been convincing.)

Frank: Oh yeah? I can teleport furniture!
Pres. Advisors: O.K. That one we cannot do.

Now the President would start to harden his own heart.

Frank (via Allah) then destroys all modes of transportation, inflicts crippling disease, and removes all sources of food.

At this point, we could see that the President would be greatly inclined to believe. It is now that Allah must intervene and keep the President stating “No.”

America would be left in ruins. To keep saying “No” even against his own advisors, would not be the natural inclination of the President. Sure, in the beginning it might be. But at this point, enough force, power and devastating harm has been inflicted, that the detriment of releasing a few slaves is far less than the continual infliction of crippling destruction.

And that is how the story plays out. And that is how Paul interprets it.

Dave Armstrong said...

>While it is often as entertaining to read the work of the floundering apologists who come and go on this blog as it is to read the original posts,

Glad you enjoy them!

>Dave Armstrong's preceding posts brings to mind these suggestions:

A) a cap on the length of comments.

I plead guilty as charged. I actually answer people point-by-point. But it's funny that when drunken tune did the same thing, I saw no protests; only when the Christian does so.

We obviously have a different conception of blogs. If actual in-depth replies are not desired here, then I'll simply move them to my blog and make a link. I recall when I did that before, someone complained that I didn't answer here. Different strokes. But if short, witty, pithy soundbytes are the status quo here, then I'll comply with protest, that this helps to perpetuate lightweight material and not substance.

>B) the exclusion of comments that are clearly off topic.

I explained that I commented here because the other thread was very long. I was trying to be considerate. But the post was, after all, still on the Problem of Evil.

>The unmoderated debate is the apologist's playground

Surely there is more than one conception of what a dialogue or a debate is.

>and such mini-blog-wars divert from the simplicity of the blog format.

Be as simple as you like. I will continue to provide substantive answers, whatever you may think of them. It's easy to mock; a bit harder to really reply to what the opponent actually said (not a cardboard caricature of it).

Dave Armstrong

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Dagoods,

>I have noticed, Dave, in your apologetic tactics, on occasion, you resort to this idea that atheists do not understand the Bible “correctly.” The implication being that the rejection of your interpretation is based upon incompetence.

Folks either know how to interpret the Bible according to standard hermeneutical principles or not. Atheists seem to often assume they know more about the Bible than Christians who devote their entire lives studying it, do. There is objective data here to deal with. I believe I have shown that atheists (even professors like Ted Drange) are often are out to sea in this regard. I can only appeal to the arguments I have made, backed up at some point by biblical scholarship (just as any ultimately academic discussion proceeds).

If you or anyone else don't like the arguments I make, then by all means attempt to refute them, rather than talk about the entire argument in derogatory terms (as seems to be quite the fashion on this blog, I am learning, but of course this fault is not confined to atheists).

>Prior to the plagues, prior to the Exodus, prior to even the first request, YHWH states that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart. Ex. 4:21; 7:3. God does not state that Pharaoh will harden his own heart. God does not state that after Pharaoh has hardened his own heart God will be stepping in and “confirming” it. YHWH says he absolutely, positively will be hardening Pharaoh’s heart. Period.

So what? You bypass the central aspect of my reply: that this manner of speaking has to be interpreted in conjunction with other similar passages. If it is a function of poetic language, it matters not if the text states 100 times that "God did it", because the meaning still applies, IF indeed it is a poetic and not literal expression: and an indication of God's sovereignty without having to be the sole or even primary cause of every bit of human behavior.

>YHWH even gives a (partial) reason for it—so that He can display God’s power. Ex. 7:3-5.

Yes, of course, but that doesn't overcome a scenario whereby God's providence incorporates the actions of men done with free will, either. It's very common in Scripture.

>Further, YHWH has made it clear that He will continue to be enacting Plagues, up to the Plague of the first born. Ex. 4:23 (And for Christianity that holds to the Christ typology of the Passover, it can also be inferred that God must continue the Plagues until the Tenth Plague.)

Those are miracles not involving human decisions, so that is a non sequitur.

So…we have God predicting he will harden Pharaoh’s heart prior to the events. We have God performing a few miracles that initially Pharaoh rejects, but eventually convinces Pharaoh. We have a God that is not done yet, because enough power has not been displayed, so God steps in and does some hardening of his own.

>That is what the story states. Not some “poetic” term that is absolving God of the responsibility of hardening a heart.

If you wish to ignore Hebrew idiom, which is very common, and become hyper-literal, you can do that. But it won't impress anyone who has studied biblical hermeneutics. Sometimes things are literal, of course, but you merely assume this; you haven't shown how it must be the case, or how my interpretation must be ioncorrect.

>Why would a Hebrew writer care to avoid YHWH from doing that? That is simply a Christian viewpoint, attempting to avoid an apparent problem.

If we start arguing about "why would the writer have this motive?" then we get away from the text and go off on a rabbit trail. All we have is the existing texts.

>(The Hebrew writers have YHWH ordering and tacitly approving human sacrifice, a YHWH that wipes out the entire world, all but a few, a YHWH that holds family members responsible for others’ sins, a YHWH that shows favoritism, and a YHWH that holds nations responsible for their leaders’ sins.

Another rabbit trail.

>It is only when the Tanakh is observed through the Christian concept of individual responsibility that Christians must introduce “poetic” terms and limitation of Hebrew language in an attempt to avoid what they find difficult.)

Again, rather than make an actual argument about the topic at hand, you prefer to delve into supposed unsavory motives of Christians. This is, of course, a species of the ad hominem fallacy.

>What kills this interpretation, though, of God not actively being involved in hardening Pharaoh’s heart is Rom. 9:14-24. Paul (a Jew. A Christian) interprets the legend of the Plagues in light of God actually hardening Pharaoh’s heart. (Otherwise he would not have to be defending the concept that God gets to do what God wants to do. If Pharaoh was solely guilty, God does not need the justification, and the verses no longer make sense.) If Paul reads it that way, why should I reject his interpretation, in light of yours? Is Paul (just like us atheists) guilty of “not properly understanding the Bible and how to sensibly interpret it”?

I believe Paul in Romans 9 can be harmonized with the interpretation I have given. I devoted a long section to this passage (perhaps the very favorite of Calvinists) in a long dialogue on Molinist predestination. See:

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2006/04/dialogue-on-molinism-gods-mode-of_24.html

>Out of curiosity how many other ways does Paul not properly understand the Tanakh and how to sensibly interpret it?

Since I deny your cynical interpretation whereby you thought I was consciously disagreeing with Paul, this is irrelevant. Besides, Paul has to be interpreted in light of other similar statements he makes, too.

Thus, in 2 Timothy 2:19-22 Paul uses the same analogy to "vessels" that he utilized in Romans 9. But here (precisely as in the case of Pharaoh) he mentions human responsibility:

19: But God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: "The Lord knows those who are his," and, "Let every one who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity."
20: In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and earthenware, and some for noble use, some for ignoble.
21: If any one purifies himself from what is ignoble, then he will be a vessel for noble use, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work.
22: So shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart. (RSV)

Dave Armstrong

DagoodS said...

Dave,

Never fear. I most certainly do not hold the account of Exodus as recorded in the Tanakh as literal. *wink*

Here is the concern which I have not seen addressed. You are excusing the language of “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” as being a Hebrew idiom use of poetic language, yet have provided no justification for this. None.

I would heartily agree with you that if I used a passage from Psalms or Proverbs as being literal, you would have every reason to berate me for improper usage. Attempting to fit verses into the wrong genre. But here we have what is presented as a straightforward story. As if there really WERE boils, and really WERE locusts.

We have statements of Pharaoh saying this. God saying that. Moses going here. The people doing that. Items carried to and fro. Actions by advisors, and the Hebrews, and Moses and Aaron, and the Egyptians. The whole piece is laid out in a direct, literal, chronological sense.

And within these tales of people doing, saying and interacting, we have the phrase, specifically stated, “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” Now, in the situation of Pharaoh hardening his own heart, you appear to be taking that as literal as it is laid out. But when it is claimed to be God doing it, we jump to “poetic.” Why?

What methodology can you provide for us to make the determination as to what parts of the story are literal, and what parts are poetic? Remember, it is YOUR claim that portions that appear literal are actually poetic.

Further, you should keep in mind our skepticism when the very passages that (within whatever methodology you provide) cause you trouble just happen to be the “Poetic, non-literal” ones. What if I claimed that the words “Pharaoh hardened his own heart” were poetic, as God is the one that performs all actions, and this is merely a nod to the concept that we think we have free will, whereas we do not. What makes your claim “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart is poetic” any more probable than my claim that “Pharaoh hardened his own heart is poetic”?

In fact, the most plausible scheme, taking in the Hebrew concept of the lack of limitations of YHWH, is that it is a straightforward story.

Apparently I need to flesh out the problem with Romans 9 a little more.

O.K. we have two schemes we are working with. Either God became directly involved and hardened Pharaoh’s heart, or Pharaoh did it all on his own. Which makes more sense, in light of Paul’s argument in Romans 9?

Starting (for simplicity sake) at vs 18 after Paul has just mentioned Pharaoh: “Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.” (emphasis added)

If God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, this verse makes sense. If God did NOT harden Pharaoh’s heart, what does Paul mean by “whom he wills he hardens”? God hasn’t (according to your scheme) hardened Pharaoh. What is Paul talking about?

Vs. 19: “You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?" Why would “fault” be a question for anybody? If Pharaoh hardened his own heart, fault is a non-issue. Pharaoh hardened, Pharaoh is a fault. Only if God is doing the hardening, does fault become an intrigue. If God is doing something we question, then fault of the human becomes an issue. If Pharaoh, there is no issue.

The claim “God didn’t harden Pharaoh’s heart” is not plausible in light of Paul’s defense of God.

Vs. 20: “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?"” Again, if Pharaoh did this on his own, Paul would not need to defend God’s actions in this regard with a “Who are you to question God?”

Now, back to vs. 17: “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth."” As I pointed out in my little story. For some reason God had to have Pharaoh say “No.” When Pharaoh became inclined to say “Yes” God had to step in. It is the reason God put Pharaoh there in the first place.

Er…I read your article referring to Romans 9. *cough, cough* The only thing I saw in it about Pharaoh being hardened by God was a long quote by you from a Holding article. (I would quote it here, but copy & paste does not work so well on your blog. Wanted to take the whole blooming thing.) In that article, Holding indicates that Paul is referring to a paradox. On the one hand God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. And paradoxically, Pharaoh hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Even with Holding’s…interesting…interpretation we are still left with God hardening Pharaoh’s heart.

I did not see how your article supported your position on Romans 9 at all.

Dave: Folks either know how to interpret the Bible according to standard hermeneutical principles or not.

LOL! And the day we finally all agree on “standard hermeneutical principles” will be most interesting, indeed! Can you break out of the box, Dave? Can you realize there ARE no “standard hermeneutical principles” and that, to a large extent, we can only do the best we can with what we have?

I know it is nice and convenient to presume that how you interpret the Bible is the “standard” but can you dare to realize others interpret it differently?

Ask a Jew what the “standard hermeneutical principles” are as to the Messiah in the Tanakh and you will get a much different answer than a Christian. You, of all people, know that Calvinists hold their way of interpreting the Bible is “standard.” Yet you disagree with it.

Is it “standard” to read Genesis 1 as literal or allegorical? Is Documentary Hypothesis “standard”? What year of the Exodus is “standard”?

You mention Paul as having written 1Timothy. Is that part of your “standard hermeneutical principle”? Even some conservative Christian scholars are withdrawing from that claim. A person deliberately copying Paul’s style makes an interesting hermeneutical question, eh?

If this is your approach “one-size-fits-all” to the Bible, than I am little surprised you believe many atheists interpret it “incorrectly.” No, we interpret it differently. So do many of those who hold it divine. I am sure many, if not most you come across (due to its very cryptic nature) you will view as veering from what you believe is a “standard hermeneutical principle.”

But to claim it must therefore be “incorrect” appears to be premature. I reserve judgment.

Show me the method. Show me how we can determine what is “poetic” and what is “literal” in Hebrew story-telling. After providing the method—show me how to apply it to Exodus. Show me while Paul did not take God as hardening Pharaoh’s heart as literal.

Thanks.

John W. Loftus said...

Dave, you seem way to confident and self-assured that you have the answers to so many questions, especially when other Christians will dispute those answers. I don't get into interpretational disputes much here at DC over how to correctly interpret the Bible. I don't believe the Bible. All I have to say is that there are other believers you can take that issue up with. Debate them, and convince them or be convinced by them. Then when you all agree on what the Biblical text means, come back and report on it so that we non-believers can comment on it and show why it makes no sense for God to have done what he did, either way.

For if God did cause Pharoah to refuse to let Moses & Co., to leave Egypt, then God is duplicitous in his dealings with men and not to be trusted; but if Pharaoh's of his own free will didn't allow Moses & Co., to leave Egypt, then I would argue that since so many Israelites probably died daily at the hands of the Egyptians that a good God should've intervened.

But I doubt the whole story, period. Archaeology shows there was never a conquest of Palestine as recorded in Joshua. It was more like an uprising by peasants spread over more than a 100 years.

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi DagoodS,

Never fear. I most certainly do not hold the account of Exodus as recorded in the Tanakh as literal. *wink*

Yes, of course. A common joke in Christian circles is to note that the Egyptian army drowning in the non-miraculous rising of the Red Sea is more difficult to believe than the miraculous event recorded in the Bible.

Here is the concern which I have not seen addressed. You are excusing the language of “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” as being a Hebrew idiom use of poetic language, yet have provided no justification for this. None.

I gave some, but I agree that my reply is in need of significant additional clarification. I didn't make myself sufficiently clear, which is not unusual when dealing with a subject as complex as the paradox of divine sovereignty "vs." human freedom. So I am thankful for this chance to do so.

I would heartily agree with you that if I used a passage from Psalms or Proverbs as being literal, you would have every reason to berate me for improper usage.

One need not take the descriptions of God as "non-literal" in terms of them being entirely metaphorical. That was not what I meant. Rather, I was denying the literal reading which would mean that God initially hardened Pharaoh, in the sense that He actually caused the sin. But there is a sense in which God entered into the latter stages of the thing in terms of judgment. This was the missing element (upon further reflection) that my analysis should have pointed out.

Attempting to fit verses into the wrong genre.

That is Ed Babinski's specialty . . . :-)

But here we have what is presented as a straightforward story. As if there really WERE boils, and really WERE locusts.

But I haven't denied those. We believe those were literal miraculous events.

We have statements of Pharaoh saying this. God saying that. Moses going here. The people doing that. Items carried to and fro. Actions by advisors, and the Hebrews, and Moses and Aaron, and the Egyptians. The whole piece is laid out in a direct, literal, chronological sense.

I need not deny all or any of that. I'm just talking about the one phrase in question.

And within these tales of people doing, saying and interacting, we have the phrase, specifically stated, “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” Now, in the situation of Pharaoh hardening his own heart, you appear to be taking that as literal as it is laid out. But when it is claimed to be God doing it, we jump to “poetic.” Why?

What methodology can you provide for us to make the determination as to what parts of the story are literal, and what parts are poetic? Remember, it is YOUR claim that portions that appear literal are actually poetic.


Very fair and worthy question. I would give several reasons. First of all, it is fundamental to all biblical hermeneutics that Scripture is compared to and with Scripture.

Secondly, we start with the positive assumption that the Bible can be harmonized theologically, and is non-contradictory.

You guys start from the opposite assumption: a hostile one. But that is how we operate, and it is one of our principles, whatever you think of it.

Thirdly, we bring to bear the antecedent notions of systematic theology, which ties into the first two elements.

Fourth, there are linguistic and cultural considerations that we can deduce, utilizing books of biblical scholarship as aids.

So when we approach this matter, we find two statements ostensibly at odds with each other. But they are not, upon close examination. It is, rather, an instance of common Hebrew and biblical paradox. And we know that from cross-referencing (I already provided some of that) and Hebrew idiom (analogies of other instances).

We try to harmonize such passages according to the laws of logic. My interpretation does that. If an interpretation of one passage or set of related passages is analogous to another, then it is plausible to make the same interpretation, assuming the theology is also seen to be consistent with the already built-up systematic theology of the Bible.

Further, you should keep in mind our skepticism when the very passages that (within whatever methodology you provide) cause you trouble just happen to be the “Poetic, non-literal” ones. What if I claimed that the words “Pharaoh hardened his own heart” were poetic, as God is the one that performs all actions, and this is merely a nod to the concept that we think we have free will, whereas we do not. What makes your claim “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart is poetic” any more probable than my claim that “Pharaoh hardened his own heart is poetic”?

The principles elucidated above. My interpretation fits in with many other similar instances. Romans 9 was brought up (actually also by two Christians on my blog at the same time). So I offered an explanation that I thought incorporated that data into what I had already surmised, in a non-contradictory fashion. I showed how Paul elsewhere provided the same exact sort of paradox, when both passages were examined conjointly.

In fact, the most plausible scheme, taking in the Hebrew concept of the lack of limitations of YHWH, is that it is a straightforward story.

Indeed it is. We're wrangling over how to interpret one sort of statement about God.

Apparently I need to flesh out the problem with Romans 9 a little more.

O.K. we have two schemes we are working with. Either God became directly involved and hardened Pharaoh’s heart, or Pharaoh did it all on his own. Which makes more sense, in light of Paul’s argument in Romans 9?

Starting (for simplicity sake) at vs 18 after Paul has just mentioned Pharaoh: “Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.” (emphasis added)

If God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, this verse makes sense. If God did NOT harden Pharaoh’s heart, what does Paul mean by “whom he wills he hardens”? God hasn’t (according to your scheme) hardened Pharaoh. What is Paul talking about?

Vs. 19: “You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?" Why would “fault” be a question for anybody? If Pharaoh hardened his own heart, fault is a non-issue. Pharaoh hardened, Pharaoh is a fault. Only if God is doing the hardening, does fault become an intrigue. If God is doing something we question, then fault of the human becomes an issue. If Pharaoh, there is no issue.

The claim “God didn’t harden Pharaoh’s heart” is not plausible in light of Paul’s defense of God.

Vs. 20: “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?"” Again, if Pharaoh did this on his own, Paul would not need to defend God’s actions in this regard with a “Who are you to question God?”

Now, back to vs. 17: “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth."” As I pointed out in my little story. For some reason God had to have Pharaoh say “No.” When Pharaoh became inclined to say “Yes” God had to step in. It is the reason God put Pharaoh there in the first place.


I appreciate your concise arguentation. This can all be harmonized by a few observations about biblical paradox and how the Bible habitually treats God's sovereignty in relation to human freedom. Remember, again, this was an agricultural, pre-philosophical society. They didn't have the apparatus or built-up body of logical thought (as the Greeks) to express things as precisely as we do today.

According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. II, 1338, "Harden,":

"The 'hardening' of men's hearts by God is in the way of punishment, but it is always a consequence of their own self-hardening. In Pharaoh's case we read that 'he hardened his heart' against the appeal top free the Israelites; so hardening himself, he became always more confirmed in his obstinacy, till he brought the final doom upon himself . . .

"In Hebrew religious thought everything was directly attributed to God, and the hardening is God's work, . . . but it is always the consequence of human action out of harmony therewith."

That explains it completely. Men start hardening themselves, and they reach a point where God gives up on them and starts judging. But it is not God's fault. They brought the judgment upon themselves. Therefore, God didn't have an active part in the evil (which was my original task to deny, since this was a sub-argument in the larger Problem of Evil discussion).

To use a common analogy, we might say, "the police caused John Doe's death to come about."

This would be a true statement, but the entire statement, fleshed out, shows that John Doe actually caused his own demise and is primarily responsible for it, since he had taken five children hostage. They were eventually freed through negotiations, but John was obstinate, and (if you will) "hardened his heart." The police then fired a shot into the building as a sort of warning. It happened to hit some flammable materials stored there
and the building exploded, killing John.

So the police caused his death, and John caused hios death. But John was primarily responsible, and bears the guilt, whereas the police were only secondarily responsible and bear no guilt. Furthermore, they were agetns of the state's "wrath" to punish criminals and to protect the innocent harmed by them.

This is a pretty good analogy to Pharaoh and God. He was stubborn. God started sending judgments to make him back down (first persuasion through Moses, then actual miraculous calamities). He would not. So God judged him and his army and people died. Was that God's fault? I say no. Not at all. The Egyptians were given many chances to let the slaves go and they would not.

Er…I read your article referring to Romans 9. *cough, cough*

You need to nip that cold in the bud . . .

The only thing I saw in it about Pharaoh being hardened by God was a long quote by you from a Holding article. (I would quote it here, but copy & paste does not work so well on your blog. Wanted to take the whole blooming thing.) In that article, Holding indicates that Paul is referring to a paradox. On the one hand God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. And paradoxically, Pharaoh hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Even with Holding’s…interesting…interpretation we are still left with God hardening Pharaoh’s heart.

In the secondary sense of judgment that I described above, yes.

I did not see how your article supported your position on Romans 9 at all.

Hopefully now you do. If it didn't support my position, I wouldn't have cited it in the other debate or now.

ME: "Folks either know how to interpret the Bible according to standard hermeneutical principles or not."

LOL! And the day we finally all agree on “standard hermeneutical principles” will be most interesting, indeed!

Well, you atheists never will, because you approach the Bible like a butcher approaches a hog. But for the most part, Christian biblical scholars of all stripes agree on this, which is why, among biblical commentators there has been growing agreement for some time on many issues that continue to divide Christians at the denominational level. These principles are what I said were commonly understood. That doesn't mean that the application of them will always yield the same results, because systematic theologies still color this endeavor, too, and thus will cause some difference overall. But even Calvinists, Arminians and Catholics pretty much agree that men have free will and that any judgment they receive is because of their sin, not due to God as the author of sin. Yes (to repeat) that includes Calvinists, excepting those of the most "severe" sort, known as supralapsarians.

Can you break out of the box, Dave? Can you realize there ARE no “standard hermeneutical principles” and that, to a large extent, we can only do the best we can with what we have?

No, because this is clearly untrue.

I know it is nice and convenient to presume that how you interpret the Bible is the “standard” but can you dare to realize others interpret it differently?

I am not using myself as the standard, but rather, standard textbooks and references (almost all Protestant) that we all use in common.

Ask a Jew what the “standard hermeneutical principles” are as to the Messiah in the Tanakh and you will get a much different answer than a Christian.

That goes to prove my point that prior systematic theology affects one's interpretations. That is true in any field. An atheist philosopher who sets out to examine some question will have certain biases he brings to the table from the outset, just as the theist philosopher does.

You, of all people, know that Calvinists hold their way of interpreting the Bible is “standard.” Yet you disagree with it.

In this instance there are some differences, but not as great as you may think. Catholics believe in predestination, too, just not of the damned. But even Calvinists will agree that if Esau was indeed damned, he was through his own fault, not because (or even though) God presdestined it.

Is it “standard” to read Genesis 1 as literal or allegorical? Is Documentary Hypothesis “standard”? What year of the Exodus is “standard”?

Nice try. I always refuse to get into these sorts of rumarounds with skeptics. If you want to discuss one text or aspect of theology, that's fine. I can defend what I believe.

You mention Paul as having written 1Timothy. Is that part of your “standard hermeneutical principle”? Even some conservative Christian scholars are withdrawing from that claim. A person deliberately copying Paul’s style makes an interesting hermeneutical question, eh?

Ditto. So you have a common stock answer everytime we appeal to another Scripture. Yet when Ed Babinbski was trying to tear down Scripture he jumped all over the place, and that was fine. So that amounts to a ridiculous scenario whereby atheists and agnostics can freely do systematic theology with no regard to textual criticism considerations, but Christians cannot without being harangued by such nonsense at every turn. Nice double standard there.

If this is your approach “one-size-fits-all” to the Bible, than I am little surprised you believe many atheists interpret it “incorrectly.” No, we interpret it differently. So do many of those who hold it divine. I am sure many, if not most you come across (due to its very cryptic nature) you will view as veering from what you believe is a “standard hermeneutical principle.”

The main reason they would do that is by ceasing to believe in biblical inspiration. Then we have the butcher-hog method of biblical massacre rather than interpretation.

But to claim it must therefore be “incorrect” appears to be premature. I reserve judgment.

Show me the method. Show me how we can determine what is “poetic” and what is “literal” in Hebrew story-telling. After providing the method—show me how to apply it to Exodus. Show me while Paul did not take God as hardening Pharaoh’s heart as literal.


Okay, if you are itching for some more, I'll give it to you.

Isaiah 6:10-11 reads (RSV):

"10: Make the heart of this people fat, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed."
11: Then I said, "How long, O Lord?" And he said: "Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without men, and the land is utterly desolate,"

A lot is going on here. There is anthropomorphism (also very common), sarcasm, judgment motifs, poetic expression (this is in a prophetic book, after all). So did God cause all this, as His will, making Him a "bad guy"? Of course not. Context must be consulted. In the previous chapter (5:20-25) we see that the people had sinned and were ripe for judgment:

20: Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
21: Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!
22: Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink,
23: who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right!
24: Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble, and as dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom go up like dust; for they have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
25: Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against his people, and he stretched out his hand against them and smote them, and the mountains quaked; and their corpses were as refuse in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger is not turned away and his hand is stretched out still.

You don't like my interpretation? Okay, then I'll refer to C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Jewish converts to Chrustianity and authors of the widely-used ten-volume Commentary on the Old Testament (this is the hermeneutical aspect of better understanding the culture and the language in which the book was produced). For the first passage, they comment:

"God does not harden men positive aut effective, since His true will and direct work are man's salvation, but occasionaliter et eventualiter, . . . in the case of any man upon whom grace has ceased to work, because all its ways and means have been completely exhausted." (Vol. VII, 200)

Isaiah 63:17 offers another example:

17: O LORD, why dost thou make us err from thy ways and harden our heart, so that we fear thee not? Return for the sake of thy servants, the tribes of thy heritage.

Once again we see prior and primary human responsibility in context:

10: But they rebelled and grieved his holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them.

It's always the same. Romans 1:18-32 through to 2:8: the famous passage about judgment, clearly highlights the fact that men are at fault for their sin. God's "wrath" (1:18) only comes after the rebellion and sin. So God "gave them up" (1:24,26,28; cf. Heb 3:8,12-13,15; 4:7).

This expresses exactly, all in one passage, what my argument has been: men sin and rebel and do evil, and then God judges them. In that saense, He can be said to directly intervene later on in the process. But this is not blameworthy; it's perfectly justified and just.

Dave Armstrong said...

Here is my just-completed paper:

Alvin Plantinga's Decisive Refutation of the Atheist Use of the Problem of Evil as a Disproof of God's Existence, Goodness, or Omnipotence

http://ic.net/~erasmus/RAZ52.HTM

Anyone wishing to discuss it, can go to my blog announcement, with comments capability:

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2006/10/alvin-plantingas-decisive-refutation.html

stephen nash said...

Dave,

God desired to love and be loved by other beings. God created human beings with this end in view. To make us capable of such fellowship, God had to give us the freedom to choose, since love cannot be either automatic or coerced. This sort of free will, however, entailed the danger that we would use it to go our own way in defiance of both God and our own best interests.

This argument is well-known. I thought there was something I was missing.

First, the question of how and why God would choose to create at all is a good one. Perfection would only seek higher perfection, or maintaining its own perfection. Why, if God foreknew all that was to come, did It then decide to disrupt the perfection of Its own existence by instantiating evil, pain, and suffering (choosing not to love God is not necessarily evil, btw, that is an onus for the theist to show)? How is that plausible? God wanted to be loved so bad that It said, "Well, it's worth having a few people suffer in torment for eternity if a few other people can live in paradise with me for eternity and worship me."???

Freedom of will and freedom of action are two separate things. This is a serious refutation of the free will theodicy, as we can carefully go through and show that the freedom of action that humans possess to do evil is completely unnecessary and unrelated to the question of whether they will to love God (or not).

And, as I hinted above, God determines (supposedly) what is evil (eating the fruit), as well as the consequences thereof (or the method of redemption). Therefore, all of the things that the theist takes for granted from the Bible can be shown to be completely unnecessary and, in many ways, illogical for a creature that would want what is best for other creatures.

e.g. The idea of "original sin" and "federal headship" are taken for granted because they are the only way to make sense of how (supposedly) it is that we are affected and afflicted with evil when we do not have the same situation as our supposed perfect great-great-grandpa did. The question of fleshing out how fair or just this scenario is, relative to other scenarios (wherein God does not let Adam breed, and starts over, so that instead of "sin" affected roughly 15 billion people throughout earth's history (or more), it only affects 2 people...We always take things for granted without remembering that God makes the rules (in your worldview) and holding God to making those rules which minimize pain, suffering, and evil...

Et cetera. We can examine all of these sorts of ancillary and contingency issues to see if they make sense and are consistent with perfection, omniscience, and omnipotence, and I find them quite lacking.

Further, the question of whether or not people in heaven can choose to love God, or will love God whether they want to or not, is always an interesting parallel: if they will love God eternally, and no second "fall" is possible, then I would argue this cannot be considered "free will". If that is true (that there is no FW in heaven), then I would ask why it is that the price of FW (evil) is somehow "accounted for" on earth and for 70 years, but the price of FW (evil) is not "accounted for" in heaven?

God thought 70 years (or so) of FW was enough for humans to have, but then decided to make them into auto-God-loving-robots for eternity?

It is logically implausible. (note I'm not saying "impossible" -- but it's just not very believable)

Evil resulting from present human choices and evil resulting from God's present choices must also be addressed -- natural evil. I know you mentioned you had a paper on this and I'll try to get around to reading it.

We find that wills are acted on towards desires -- that is, we will things that we desire. Human nature, supposedly perfect before some "fall" event, still had the desire to do the one and only thing God decided to make a violation of goodness (eating the fruit -- it "looked good, etc."). It has been pointed out on here before that those desires are controlled by God, and that although we are all free to cut off our own arm with a rusty saw blade, we choose not to act on that, because it conflicts with our desire to be pain-free and happy and functional.

For whatever reason, you think it is more believable that God gave Adam and Eve some sort of "sin" to choose that was easy for them to want to choose. That makes little sense. There is absolutely no good reason that God cannot say, "The only thing I don't want you to do is cut off your own arm with a rusty spoon." Choosing to allow freedom, and create a good/evil dichotomy, in such a way that lessens the liklihood that humans will fall into it and bring about all this pain and suffering is necessary for a good God.

I can go on and on, but suffice it to say that I (and others) have thought much about this defense. In the end, although Plantinga presents us with something to try to excuse God for allowing evil, it just doesn't stand up as believable an option (as some alternative options would be) under scrutiny.

DagoodS said...

Dave,

Most likely this will be my last comment on the subject. Thank you for the invigorating discussion, as well as the time/attention you have devoted to it.

You switched gears on me.

Originally, it appeared (at least to me) you seemed to be arguing that there was some Hebrew idiom, some use of poetic terminology by which we could determine certain parts of a generally literal story were literal, and some were of a more philosophical/allegorical nature. We used the term “poetic” (which I think we both understood.)

When I asked for a methodology by which we could make that determination, I see a switch to the theological comparison of “scripture must interpret scripture.” (And yes, I know you never explicitly stated those words. That is the overall impression though.) Apparently there is nothing within the story recounted in Exodus itself that would provide us a means by which we can claim which parts are literal and which parts are poetic.

Again, this is a dubious methodology. It would seem you are claiming “God hardens hearts” is poetic/non-literal in Isaiah, therefore it is poetic/non-literal where used elsewhere.

The reason I constantly, constantly, constantly ask for methodology is to see if it is being used arbitrarily, or whether it is a system developed that can be consistently applied. The methodology provided is “If it is used poetically/non-literally in Isaiah, it must be poetic/non-literally elsewhere.”

Isaiah claims that the Hebrews sinned. (As you pointed out.) Is that poetic? Isaiah claims that there will be a suffering servant. Is that poetic? See, what will happen within this methodology is that we will start to claim that some things are poetic/literal (sinning; suffering servant) and some things are poetic/non-literal (God hardening hearts.) It cannot stay consistent.

Frankly, I do not think you can stay consistent within this method. Claiming that since Isaiah has it “poetic/non-literal” it must be non-literal elsewhere. You do not hold it for Israel sinning. Why should I hold it for God hardening hearts?

You are quite correct that we all approach the Bible from different biases, and atheists would certainly approach it differently than a Catholic would. So what? Assuming, for a moment, I do approach it like a butcher does a hog—the question remains as to which argument is more plausible. Not as to what a person’s bias is. I may be chopping away, but if the argument is more cohesive, it is still the better argument.

Even under scripture interpreting scripture, the argument that God literally hardens hearts is more consistent. Exodus, in a literal story, has God literally hardening hearts. Isaiah, in poetic prose, asks why God hardens hearts. Paul finds himself in a position where he feels he must defend the fact that God hardens hearts in Romans. Over and over and over, the Bible treats the situation as if God literally hardens hearts.

I still do not understand your defense to Romans 9. Sorry. You seem to be claiming it is a paradox. How in the blue blazes does that possibly help your argument? In order for something to be a paradox it is two irreconcilable truths! That makes the fact “God hardens hearts” as true, not poetic or philosophic. Look: “God hardens hearts. Humans are still responsible” is (what appears to be) a paradox. “You hardened your own heart, you are responsible” is merely accountability. The second would not require Paul to make the claim “Hey, who are you to question God? He gets to harden whoever he wants.”

As to the idea that once we sin, we are subject to God’s wrath—again, this does not help your argument. We all sin. It is human. Therefore God can exact wrath on everybody. God can harden the heart of anyone who sinned?

We seemed to have regressed from “God doesn’t actually harden anyone’s heart” to “Well, God can harden the heart of anyone who has sinned.” Ouch. Quite a back pedal.

You consider “standard hermeneutics” as “standard textbooks we all use in common”? As Tonto said to the Lone Ranger, “Who is ‘we,’ kemosabe?” Good for you, a Catholic, to be willing to look at Protestant references. What about Jewish references? Liberal Christian references? Muslim, Mormon, Christian Science, Charismatic, and Agnostic references?

Frankly, I am uncaring as to the bias or belief of the author. I look for the persuasiveness of the argument. I don’t care if they are fundamentalist, Catholic, Muslim or Liberal. I don’t care what car they drive, their favorite sports team or their hobbies.

There is no “standard” textbooks and references “we all” use. I debate with about every brand of Western theism there is. The concept of “standard” is almost laughable.

A simple question of the Synoptic Problem has what—20? 22? possible solutions, depending on what reference one uses? http://www.mindspring.com/~scarlson/synopt/

Look, I am not trying to rabbit trail, or introduce a new topic. All I am saying is that claiming atheists do not use “standard hermeneutics” would be more forceful if there was such a thing. In fact, “standard hermeneutics” is quickly heading toward the entire story of Exodus as being allegorical, not literal. Which helps your argument! Only those diminishing numbers that hold to a literal Plagues/Exodus are left with the problem of “God hardening hearts.” (Sorta. The truth behind the allegory remains to be dealt with.)

Keil & Delitzsch Commentary: "God does not harden men positive aut effective, since His true will and direct work are man's salvation, but occasionaliter et eventualiter, . . . in the case of any man upon whom grace has ceased to work, because all its ways and means have been completely exhausted." (Vol. VII, 200)

(Please note. I did not look this up to confirm this quote.)

This is why I am completely unmoved by commentaries and “standard” references. It is a great assertion, but completely lacking in proof. Simply put—it is preaching to the choir.

Since you quoted it, apparently you feel it has some impact on our discussion. Can you tease out this ability of God’s Grace to be “exhausted”? How I, as a mere human, can perform such acts that a GOD becomes tapped out? That God has an extremely vast amount of power, an incomprehensible amount of love, an astronomical amount of patience, hope, and desire—yet an itty-bitty amount of grace?

That somehow we have a limited amount of grace allotted, and…whoops! Committed one too many sins. Whoops! Did something wrong, and God no longer has any Grace left? That God can now, unfettered by that pesky Grace restriction, harden hearts, and do what he wants to humans at will?

Odd.

Fun talking with ya, Dave.

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi DagoodS,

Thank you for the invigorating discussion, as well as the time/attention you have devoted to it.

Likewise. I've enjoyed it.

You switched gears on me.

Naw; I just elaborated upon and expanded my original argument, and learned some things myself as I went along (as I usually do in any discussion about Scripture).

Originally, it appeared (at least to me) you seemed to be arguing that there was some Hebrew idiom, some use of poetic terminology by which we could determine certain parts of a generally literal story were literal, and some were of a more philosophical/allegorical nature. We used the term “poetic” (which I think we both understood.)

I probably shouldn't have used that word. "Non-literal" would have been better, or "non-literal with regard to the proposition at hand." I was denying that God literally hardened Pharaoh's heart in the sense that He was the sole or primary cause. But of course the statement is true in some sense. I think I offered a plausible scenario that ecplained the relevant Scriptures brought to bear.

But "poetic" usually conjures up in people's minds "mythical" or purely allegorical and so forth.

When I asked for a methodology by which we could make that determination, I see a switch to the theological comparison of “scripture must interpret scripture.”

That's not a switch, though; it is simply one way we Christian exegetes determine what passages mean. It's a given. When you asked me to explain further, I mentioned that as one variable.

(And yes, I know you never explicitly stated those words. That is the overall impression though.) Apparently there is nothing within the story recounted in Exodus itself that would provide us a means by which we can claim which parts are literal and which parts are poetic.

Various expressions concerning God have to be interpreted in light of an overall consistent theology of God, or theology proper.

Again, this is a dubious methodology. It would seem you are claiming “God hardens hearts” is poetic/non-literal in Isaiah, therefore it is poetic/non-literal where used elsewhere.

It's a perfectly consistent approach, what I offered you. You could deal with those arguments if you like, instead of getting bogged down in perplexity about method.

The reason I constantly, constantly, constantly ask for methodology

Really, really, really? That gets kinda tedious tedius tedious. LOL

is to see if it is being used arbitrarily, or whether it is a system developed that can be consistently applied.

Yeah, I know. What I showed you is perfectly consistent.

The methodology provided is “If it is used poetically/non-literally in Isaiah, it must be poetic/non-literally elsewhere.”

There is a certain way that God was viewed and portrayed by bthe Hebrews.

Isaiah claims that the Hebrews sinned. (As you pointed out.) Is that poetic?

It is expressing a literal truth in an overall framework of poetic / prophetic literature.

Isaiah claims that there will be a suffering servant. Is that poetic?

See the last response.

See, what will happen within this methodology is that we will start to claim that some things are poetic/literal (sinning; suffering servant) and some things are poetic/non-literal (God hardening hearts.) It cannot stay consistent.

This isn't true. It's consistent when the literature as a whole is understood and interpreted within a self-consistent framework.

Frankly, I do not think you can stay consistent within this method.

I know. Repeating this over and over doesn't make it true if it isn't true. :-)

Claiming that since Isaiah has it “poetic/non-literal” it must be non-literal elsewhere. You do not hold it for Israel sinning. Why should I hold it for God hardening hearts?

I explained why. You can either deal with THOSE exegetical arguments or baldly state that they are inconsistent without dealing with them. Everyone seems to want to talk ABOUT arguments rather than actually ENGAGING the arguments. It gets so frustrating.

You are quite correct that we all approach the Bible from different biases, and atheists would certainly approach it differently than a Catholic would. So what?

Obviously that leads us to different conclusions from the same data.

Assuming, for a moment, I do approach it like a butcher does a hog

You mean you would actually deny this? LOL

—the question remains as to which argument is more plausible. Not as to what a person’s bias is.

Exactly! But all you have done in this reply is talk method without doing that.

I may be chopping away, but if the argument is more cohesive, it is still the better argument.

What can I say? We keep repeating ourselves.

Even under scripture interpreting scripture, the argument that God literally hardens hearts is more consistent.

I don't see how, because it involves direct contradiction.

Exodus, in a literal story, has God literally hardening hearts. Isaiah, in poetic prose, asks why God hardens hearts. Paul finds himself in a position where he feels he must defend the fact that God hardens hearts in Romans. Over and over and over, the Bible treats the situation as if God literally hardens hearts.

In a sense He does, if it means that He does so after the person initially started it, as a form of judgment. In another sense He does so in terms of His providence (using the person's own hardening for His purpose). I was mainly concerned with denying that God is the author of sin.

I still do not understand your defense to Romans 9. Sorry. You seem to be claiming it is a paradox. How in the blue blazes does that possibly help your argument?

It all fits together . . ..

In order for something to be a paradox it is two irreconcilable truths!

No; a paradox is two statements that seem contradictory but are actually not upon closer inspection (or need not necessarily be so). Christians also use it of two truths which are both believed, but that are difficult to reconcile with each other because it involves subject matter that is very complex and often beyond our comprehension. This is how I am using the term: not in the sense of contradictory.

That makes the fact “God hardens hearts” as true, not poetic or philosophic. Look: “God hardens hearts. Humans are still responsible” is (what appears to be) a paradox. “You hardened your own heart, you are responsible” is merely accountability. The second would not require Paul to make the claim “Hey, who are you to question God? He gets to harden whoever he wants.”

In other words, He is sovereign and will judge justly. He's in control. But that doesn't mean that human beings are not responsible for the origination of the sin.

As to the idea that once we sin, we are subject to God’s wrath—again, this does not help your argument. We all sin. It is human. Therefore God can exact wrath on everybody. God can harden the heart of anyone who sinned?

That wasn't my argument. It is when a certain point of extreme obstinacy is reached, that God may decide to withdraw His grace and leave the person to judgment. It's rare, not commonplace.

We seemed to have regressed from “God doesn’t actually harden anyone’s heart” to “Well, God can harden the heart of anyone who has sinned.” Ouch. Quite a back pedal.

Not at all. See the above explanations and my previous arguments.

You consider “standard hermeneutics” as “standard textbooks we all use in common”? As Tonto said to the Lone Ranger, “Who is ‘we,’ kemosabe?”

Students of the Bible who regard it as inspired, as a broad generalization.

Good for you, a Catholic, to be willing to look at Protestant references. What about Jewish references? Liberal Christian references?

If they offer some insight and do not contradict already understood principles, sometimes they can be helpful, yes.


Muslim, Mormon, Christian Science, Charismatic, and Agnostic references?

Charismatic Christians are usually trinitarian. That would be fine. The others are non-Christian materials and have to be regarded accordingly. Mormons and Christian Scientists are not Christians because they deny central doctrines of historic Christianity, like the Trinity. Muslima are much different from Jewish sources because Jews and Christians both revere the Old Testament and Christianity claims to be a development of Judaism. But Islam (falsely) claims to be a development of Judaism and Christianity, and then it changes the doctrine of God.

Frankly, I am uncaring as to the bias or belief of the author. I look for the persuasiveness of the argument.

Obviously I have failed in my task. But that's fine. You're not the only one reading.

I don’t care if they are fundamentalist, Catholic, Muslim or Liberal. I don’t care what car they drive, their favorite sports team or their hobbies.

Then you'll potentially be taken in by any bad argument if you don't understand basic premises behind the system of the person giving it.

There is no “standard” textbooks and references “we all” use.

Not all those groups. But with Christians who respect the Bible as the Word of God, there is a broad consensus.

I debate with about every brand of Western theism there is. The concept of “standard” is almost laughable.

If you spread it that wide (which I didn't do) it would be.

A simple question of the Synoptic Problem has what—20? 22? possible solutions, depending on what reference one uses?

I'm not talking about particular "problems" (real or imagined). I'm talking about basic method of biblical hermeneutics. I already stated that this common method can and does lead to different conclusions because people's prior theology will bring that about. That's why background data must always be considered relevant.

Look, I am not trying to rabbit trail, or introduce a new topic.

I know. All you do is stay on the one topic (method) and repeat yourself endlessly.

All I am saying is that claiming atheists do not use “standard hermeneutics” would be more forceful if there was such a thing. In fact, “standard hermeneutics” is quickly heading toward the entire story of Exodus as being allegorical, not literal.

Liberal scholarship is. But I am not talking about them. Ther butcher-hog approach will lead to denial of every miracle and ultimately to denying even that Jesus existed, which is intellectual suicide.

Which helps your argument! Only those diminishing numbers that hold to a literal Plagues/Exodus are left with the problem of “God hardening hearts.” (Sorta. The truth behind the allegory remains to be dealt with.)

Right. So bnow truth is based on a majority vote? What is that fallacy called? Ad populum?

Keil & Delitzsch Commentary: "God does not harden men positive aut effective, since His true will and direct work are man's salvation, but occasionaliter et eventualiter, . . . in the case of any man upon whom grace has ceased to work, because all its ways and means have been completely exhausted." (Vol. VII, 200)

(Please note. I did not look this up to confirm this quote.)

This is why I am completely unmoved by commentaries and “standard” references. It is a great assertion, but completely lacking in proof. Simply put—it is preaching to the choir.


Of course it is. I didn't claim otherwise. If you are trying to understand how I interpret these things, then the commentary is relevant. It is irrelevant what you think of it because the topic is MY interpretation and how it works, and whether it is self-consistent. It's always a runaround and fifty rabbit trails in arguing biblical interpretation with atheists. It's fun for a while but then it gets tedious and boring and one must repeat himself, as I am doing now.

Since you quoted it, apparently you feel it has some impact on our discussion.

As just stated.

Can you tease out this ability of God’s Grace to be “exhausted”? How I, as a mere human, can perform such acts that a GOD becomes tapped out? That God has an extremely vast amount of power, an incomprehensible amount of love, an astronomical amount of patience, hope, and desire—yet an itty-bitty amount of grace?

Christians believe that all good we do comes from God's grace. But men can reject that grace and thus stop it from being received by God. If that continues then it becomes the road to damnation.

That somehow we have a limited amount of grace allotted, and…whoops! Committed one too many sins. Whoops! Did something wrong, and God no longer has any Grace left? That God can now, unfettered by that pesky Grace restriction, harden hearts, and do what he wants to humans at will?

Well, this is the typical caricatured, somewhat juvenile and simplistic atheist way of looking at the question, but it need not be discussed in such a fashion. I understand that ytou think it is all ridiculous, so it is inevitable, but I don't see what it accomplishes, if you are in a serious discussion with a Christian.

Odd.

We think y'all are odd, too. That will always be the case, mutually.

Fun talking with ya, Dave.

Same here! Apart from my frustration that we are on this tedious digression into mere methodology, I did enjoy it.

I look forward to more discussions in the future with you, that may be more fruitful (in some sense) than this one was.

Dave Armstrong

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Stephen,

A real name! How refreshing.

"God desired to love and be loved by other beings. God created human beings with this end in view. To make us capable of such fellowship, God had to give us the freedom to choose, since love cannot be either automatic or coerced. This sort of free will, however, entailed the danger that we would use it to go our own way in defiance of both God and our own best interests."

[I think this may have been my statement]

This argument is well-known. I thought there was something I was missing.

First, the question of how and why God would choose to create at all is a good one.


Yep, but not the topic at hand.

Perfection would only seek higher perfection, or maintaining its own perfection.

On what basis do you conclude that?

Why, if God foreknew all that was to come, did It then decide to disrupt the perfection of Its own existence by instantiating evil, pain, and suffering (choosing not to love God is not necessarily evil, btw, that is an onus for the theist to show)? How is that plausible?

Existence is better than nonexistence. Creation allows more sentient beings to enter into love and the good things we know in life and to eternal life if all goes right. That's self-evidently a good thing, just as when we are enjoying a baseball game (as when my Tigers took the pennant yesterday), we like it when more people share our enjoyment. This is why going to sports events or concerts are fun. Imagine sitting there all by yourself in the stands. Not quite the same, is it?

So I take existence as a good thing. The question then becomes: was the evil and suffering entailed by free will worth it, so that God could create? He thought sso, and I believe in faith that He did, based on many reasons I have to believe that He exists and that He is good. Not that it ain't difficult to comprehend; very few Christians would say evil is not perplexing.

When I think of all the love and enjoyment and pleasure I receive from my wife and three sons and a daughter, it is immediately self-evident that they exist rather than not exist. The more children the merrier. I love children. They bring joy to one's life. But they are valuable in and of themselves, not simply because they bring me pleasure. That is just one benefit among many to their existing. Likewise, God and His creation. It's better for you to be here than not be here. It's better for me, and so forth. Therefore, creation itself was a good thing. The bad things do not outweigh it (so we believe).

God wanted to be loved so bad that It said, "Well, it's worth having a few people suffer in torment for eternity if a few other people can live in paradise with me for eternity and worship me."???

If you frame the issue in these ridiculous, caricatured terms, of course no one will believe it. But this isn't serious analysis. If you think Christianity is THAT ridiculous why do you bother attempting to talk to a Christian at all? It'd be like me seeking out conversation with a flat-earther or someone who thinks he is Michelangelo, in a rubber room in a mental asylum. I have neither the desire nor the time to do that.

Freedom of will and freedom of action are two separate things. This is a serious refutation of the free will theodicy, as we can carefully go through and show that the freedom of action that humans possess to do evil is completely unnecessary and unrelated to the question of whether they will to love God (or not).

I see.

And, as I hinted above, God determines (supposedly) what is evil (eating the fruit), as well as the consequences thereof (or the method of redemption). Therefore, all of the things that the theist takes for granted from the Bible can be shown to be completely unnecessary and, in many ways, illogical for a creature that would want what is best for other creatures.

Unless I saw that argument, what could I say?

e.g. The idea of "original sin" and "federal headship" are taken for granted because they are the only way to make sense of how (supposedly) it is that we are affected and afflicted with evil when we do not have the same situation as our supposed perfect great-great-grandpa did. The question of fleshing out how fair or just this scenario is, relative to other scenarios (wherein God does not let Adam breed, and starts over, so that instead of "sin" affected roughly 15 billion people throughout earth's history (or more), it only affects 2 people...We always take things for granted without remembering that God makes the rules (in your worldview) and holding God to making those rules which minimize pain, suffering, and evil...

And the conclusion is? Let me guess . . . . (drum roll) God don't exist! Right!


Et cetera. We can examine all of these sorts of ancillary and contingency issues to see if they make sense and are consistent with perfection, omniscience, and omnipotence, and I find them quite lacking.

Yes we can, and many thoughtful people find theism perfectly plausible and atheism perfectly implausible. All we can do is keep making our arguments. But argument itself is not enough to convince an atheist. They need to be shown love. Say, if I saved your life at great risk to my own, or gave up something for your sake, then that might get you wondering, "why did he do that?" And I would say because it was right and because this is what God teaches me to do. Some profound event like that is what changes hearts and minds, usually. Not abstract argumentation.

Likewise, I think Christians become atheists oftentimes because they are sick of some hypocrisy among Christians that they see, or were treated abominably by professed Christians, or were in a corner of Christianity that doesn't represent the mainstream and they got a wrong impression of the whole.

Further, the question of whether or not people in heaven can choose to love God, or will love God whether they want to or not, is always an interesting parallel: if they will love God eternally, and no second "fall" is possible, then I would argue this cannot be considered "free will". If that is true (that there is no FW in heaven), then I would ask why it is that the price of FW (evil) is somehow "accounted for" on earth and for 70 years, but the price of FW (evil) is not "accounted for" in heaven?

I think this is an excellent aspect of the "problem" and one I wonder about a lot myself. At this point my understanding is that freedom need not involve the necessity of actual (or even potential?) contrary choice. Christians believe that the angels were created sinless and free, and most of them never rebelled. So they have remained sinless all this time since they were created. it is possible.

We also believe God is free, but He not only never sins; He is unable to do so because this contradicts His own nature. Evil and sinnning are not essential to the definition of freedom.

As for heaven, it is clear that God has to bring about a change in creatures so that there is no more sin (we Catholics think purgatory is the process by which that happens). The difference between heaven and this life is that we somehow "passed the test" of this life and achieved salvation with the necessary help of God's grace, so that He can now transform us. We freely followed; then we were transformed and freely follow without sin henceforth. Therefore it wasn't just a bunch of robots, where "following" is existentially meaningless.

God thought 70 years (or so) of FW was enough for humans to have, but then decided to make them into auto-God-loving-robots for eternity?

They're not robots; that's the whole point. They freely accepted God's grace in this life so that they could make it to heaven in the first place, after having corporately rebelled against God (original sin). Now God gives them enough grace (having ceased their rebellion) to be both free and sinless again, as human beings were originally.

It is logically implausible. (note I'm not saying "impossible" -- but it's just not very believable)

I think it is quite difficult to comprehend and mysterious indeed, but it is not techniccally contradictory for a free creature to somehow never sin.

Evil resulting from present human choices and evil resulting from God's present choices must also be addressed -- natural evil. I know you mentioned you had a paper on this and I'll try to get around to reading it.

I argued that it is incoherent to argue on the one hand that God hardly ever (perhaps never) intervenes in natural law, but that He must intervent 10,000 times a second to prevent every imaginable human suffering. I think that is a silly notion of how the world sensibly operates. rather, God lets the world go on as it does, with its natural laws, intervening only rarely in a miraculous way. We are responsible to make the world a better place.

We're not a bunch of helpless babies, requiring our "daddy" (God) to do everything for us. Every baby reaches a place where it gets a diaper rash or gas pains or scrapes its knee or bumps its head on an end table corner. Parents can't take that away. But they can comfort and understand the pain. Likewise, by analogy, with God and us.

We find that wills are acted on towards desires -- that is, we will things that we desire. Human nature, supposedly perfect before some "fall" event, still had the desire to do the one and only thing God decided to make a violation of goodness (eating the fruit -- it "looked good, etc.").

The sin was rebellion against God. The word picture of fruit is only a means by which to illustrate that mankind decided to foolishly go its own way by not obeying the Creator. Again, just like parents and children. We all understand this. Everyone knows that a mother and father have incomprehensibly more knowledge and wisdom than a one-year-old. You can tell a young child not to touch the flame on the stove or play with knives or put its head through a window, etc. Some will listen (we had great success with ours in that way) but some won't and will do it, thinking they know better.

But yet when it comes to God, atheists can't seem to comprehend that a Being of that sort, Who is omniscient, is infinititely above us. Why would we expect to understand everything about such a fabulous Being? But suppose this God chooses to communicate Himself to us in terms we can understand? So we believe God did so in history (with direct communication and miracles) and in the Bible.

God told the first humans to obey Him, because of Who He was and who they were. They chose not to. We believe that this rebellion was corporate in some mysterious sense, and that all mankind is involved in it. A cosmic change occurred.

But the principle behind it is as simple as understanding that a baby is utterly foolish to disobey his or her parents in simple matters of health and safety. They choose to obey by some intuitive sense ("this person feeds me and seems to love and care for me, so maybe I can trust them when thsy say I can't do this thing that makes me curious and gives me a desire to do") or disobey ("I know better than this big person. I don't care if they feed and clothe me. So what? I'm gonna disobey them because I WANT to, Period.").

It has been pointed out on here before that those desires are controlled by God,

They are, huh? So there is no free will and determinism is the thing?

and that although we are all free to cut off our own arm with a rusty saw blade, we choose not to act on that, because it conflicts with our desire to be pain-free and happy and functional.

Of course.

For whatever reason, you think it is more believable that God gave Adam and Eve some sort of "sin" to choose that was easy for them to want to choose. That makes little sense.

I just explained it. It is the irrationality and desire of a child that any parent is aware of. There is this desire for independence and thinking one knows better than the "guardian" that they happen to be left to deal with. Child ----> parent / creature-human ----> God.

There is absolutely no good reason that God cannot say, "The only thing I don't want you to do is cut off your own arm with a rusty spoon." Choosing to allow freedom, and create a good/evil dichotomy, in such a way that lessens the likelihood that humans will fall into it and bring about all this pain and suffering is necessary for a good God.

As Alvin Plantinga has shown, it is impossible for even an omnipotent and good God to make a world witrh free will and make it impossible for there to be suffering and evil. See my paper:

http://ic.net/~erasmus/RAZ52.HTM

He proves this by inexorable logic, not speculation. You disagree? Great; show me where his logic went astray.

I can go on and on,

So could I. I've already gone on and one here. LOL

but suffice it to say that I (and others) have thought much about this defense. In the end, although Plantinga presents us with something to try to excuse God for allowing evil, it just doesn't stand up as believable an option (as some alternative options would be) under scrutiny.

"Believable" or "plausibility" is a subjective judgment involving premises which can themselves be questioned. We Christians have lots and lots of premises, and we build upon them. Most if not all premises can be questioned at some point, unless they are absolutely basic, or laws of logic or mathematics. This is true for atheists as well.

I have argued for years that we are all basically in the same epistemological boat. If you question my premises as an atheist, I can turn around and question yours. We can play that game all day. You will be in no better shape in the end than any Chriosytioan, and perhaps much worse off, and more inconsistent and incoherent, or left without meaning that can be objectively established.

Faith or some sort of inductive leap comes in, with any viewpoint. No exceptions. Now, how we arrive at our viewpoints despite this inability of everyone to construct an absolutely airtight, unquestionable system is what I find truly fascinating. Whyvdoes the atheist go the way he does, the Christian another way, a Buddhist a third way, etc.?

I know that many factors ar involved. That is a given. But insofar as we can seek some epistemological super-reason for why people believe as they do, I would go again with Plantinga and his explanation of other minds and his contention that certain things (including belief in God) are "properly basic" and that it is not irrational to hold them as such.

Dave Armstrong

Dave Armstrong said...

Sorry for the typos. I'm obviously typing too fast . . . or thinking too fast and my fingers can't keep up.