Christians Often Retreat to the Merely Possible

Time after time I have found Christians retreating to the merely possible when trying to defend their faith. Keep in mind that anything that's not logically impossible, is possible. It's possible I'm dreaming right now. It's possible I'm merely recalling an event in the year 2007 in a dream I'm having in the year 2010. It was possible that Jim Carrey could've gotten the girl of his dreams in the movie "Dumb and Dumber," too (remember, the girl said he had a "one in a million" chance at doing so).

However, the more that Christians must constantly retreat to what is "possible" in order to defend their faith, then the more their faith is on shaky ground. Why? Because we want to know what is probable, not what is possible. If we ask Christians to defend a particular belief and they argue such a belief "isn't impossible," then practically speaking, such an argument provides no support for what they believe.

Let me offer a few examples of what I mean here, and let others comment on some more.

Christians claim it's possible that an eternal 3 in 1 Omni-God has always existed without ever learning anything, or growing incrementally.

Christians claim it's possible there is an answer to why God allows so much evil in the world.

Christians claim it's possible that God has a legitimate reason for being hidden from us.

Christians claim it's possible there is an explanation for how Jesus is 100% God and 100% man with nothing left over.

Christians claim it's possible there was a reason why Jesus died on the cross.

Christians claim it's possible that a single mind (or 3) can understand and respond to a billion voices talking to him in prayer at the same time.

Christians claim it's possible that the billions of people who have never heard the gospel of salvation wouldn't have accepted it even if they had heard it.

Christians claim it's possible to gain sure knowledge about the historical past, which is enough to base an ultimate commitment to God upon.

Christians claim it's possible that an immaterial Supreme Being can act in the material universe even though they cannot show how this can be done.

Christians claim it's possible that miracles occurred in the superstitious past, even though there is no credible evidence they take place in today's world.

Christians claim it's possible God can foreknow every human action and yet those human actions are truly free.

Some Christians claim it's possible that God can foreknow truly free willed choices and at the same time act in history.

Some Christians claim it's possible that God can know all possible outcomes of all possible human free willed choices down through history, even of those we didn't make.

Some Christians claim it's possible that God is a timeless being and yet a personal being who thinks.

Calvinistic Christians claim it's possible that a good God can sovereignly decree both our desires and our actions and then condemn us for what we desire and what we do.

50 comments:

tga said...

While you make a good point, in a sense I think it is actually, er, pointless!
We already know that religious people believe what supports their faith, no matter how incredible; they also disbelieve what challenges their faith, no matter how credible.

Lee Randolph said...

If I remember right, somebody in one of my articles commented that god could create a stone he can't lift, breaking the law of non contradiction. I guess if he made the laws he can break them....I think they should just stop claiming that god is all-powerful etc. and just claim that he's as good as it gets. At least then, it wouldn't violate logic and it would be harder to refute. Maybe I should put that in the 'veiled' article, that god shouldn't be so contradictory.

exapologist said...

Since this relates to my dissertation, I'd like to make s few slight qualifications:

First, not everything logically possible is metaphysically possible. Something is logically possible just in case it doesn't entail a contradiction in first-order logic. So, for example, consider the following two propositions:

1) Something is and is not a prime minister
(Ex)(Px & ~Px)

2) Something is a prime number and a prime minister.
(Ex)(Px & Qx)

(1) entails a contradiction in first-order logic, and is thus logically impossible. It's also metaphysically impossible.

(2), however, doesn't entail a contradiction in first-order logic, and is thus logically possible. However, it's clearly not metaphysically possible. Thus, logical possibility doesn't entail metaphysical possibility.

The moral is that if a Christian claims that such-and-such theological claim is logically possible, that Christian hasn't thereby established that the theological claim is metaphysically possible.

Second, not everything conceivable or imaginable is metaphysically possible. There was a time (a long time -- most of human history, in fact) in which it was conceivable or imaginable that the Morning Star could exist without the evening Star. However, we now know that the Morning Star IS the Evening Star, in which case it's metaphysically impossible for the Morning Star to exist without the Evening Star. Thus, conceivability or imaginability doesn't entail metaphysical possibility. The moral is that from the mere fact that a Christian can conceive or imagine that a certain theological claim is true or possibly true, it doesn't follow that it's metaphysically possible.

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks Ex, I knew that distinction. I did. I did. It's an important one when it comes to the problem of evil and what's possible for God to do with the world if he exists.

exapologist said...

Hi John,

I thought you did, but I just wanted to put the point out there with your post.

Best,

EA

Anonymous said...

About the rock thing, God isn't the same as a human! If he can create something, then he certainly can destroy it, it even makes logical sense to us!

Anonymous said...

While it is true that God can do everything that is consistent with His nature, it is absurd to think that He can do everything. God cannot sin and He cannot cease to exist. Just as it is impossible to make a one sided triangle, so it is impossible to make a rock too heavy to be moved. God can do everythig that is logically possible.

exapologist said...

Anything *logically* possible? Can he make a prime number that is also a prime minister?

Anonymous said...

Thats just plain stupid.

John W. Loftus said...

Anon, if you are referring to the distinction between what's logically possible and what's metaphysically impossible, and you are a theist, you'll be cutting off a useful distinction for your own faith, and that's just stupid.

It's logically possible for God to have created us such that as creatures we don't have to eat anything. Okay? So why didn't he? It's logically possible for God to have created us as free creatures who always obeyed. Okay? So why didn't he? It's logically possible for God to have changed any number of laws is this ecosystem to alleviate natural disasters. Okay? So why didn't he? Christian philosophers like William Alston and Peter van Inwagen will retort that doing so might be metaphysically impossible. Is it? That's the debate.

Yosei said...

No, answer the question(s).

If God can do anything that's "logically" possible, what about Crucifiction? Is it "logically impossible" to just come down, tell everyone they are forgiven, and then fly back up to heaven? Why is it necessary for such an ultimate, innocent, scapegoat blood sacrifice (that, ironically, only pagans are meant to do blood sacrifice)?

Anonymous said...

Check the bible Yosei, preferably Hebrews.

John W. Loftus said...

You can believe what Hebrews says about the atonement, even though it's not actually a theory of atonement itself, or you can try to explain it with reason. Given the views expressed in the book of Hebrews, now defend them. Show me they are reasonable on their own terms. Explain for me why Jesus had to die. If Hebrews says it was because blood had to be shed for there to be forgiveness, please explain why blood needed to be shed.

Anonymous said...

The wages of sin is death, and the death of Christ proves that God is just.

John W. Loftus said...

Why are the wages of sin death? What is the connection between sin and death such that if I disobey God I must die? And exactly how does the death of Jesus prove God is just (or fair)? It only shows me that he isn't fair at all.

Exactly why did Jesus need to die on the cross? On this topic see here, here, here, and here, for further details.

Anonymous said...

"For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."

It's simple bible knowledge that the wages of sin is death. God just letting us go free for disobeying him is not being just, so that is why he sent his son to die for us, so that by his blood we could be free and righteous. God's wrath was poured out on Jesus died for your and my sins, that if we accept him and ask for forgiveness, then our sins will be remembered no more. This is why God is just, and at the same time overflowing with grace and love.

John W. Loftus said...

anon, did you read those links? And this is still how you answer? Hmmmm. I think not. Read them then try to answer why Jesus died on the cross. Start with what you think the Bible says, okay, but then show me why such a view is reasonable to believe. Why should I believe it? I don't believe the Bible, you know. So make this sound reasonable to me. Explain why Jesus needed to die for my sins. If you can do that, then and only then would I consider other things that the Bible says, just because it says so. But until you do, I cannot believe the Bible.

Anonymous said...

Just ignore my post then. Its about as simple and truthful as it gets. I said it as best I could and apparently it still is not good enough. There is nothing I could say or show to that will make you believe.

One simple question. Yes or no with a little explanation

If the rapture happened tomorrow, (I don't care if you beleive it will happen or not), if the rapture happened tomorrow, would you believe in Christ?

Anonymous said...

Every singel one of your questions can be answered in the bible, but since you don't take the bible, then you will never get your answer nor will it make sense.

Calvin said...

The seriousness of an insult rises with the dignity of the one insulted. The creator of the universe is infinitely worthy of respect admiration and loyalty. Sinning against a Being that is infinite in value and worth requires infinite justice since God is just and doesn't sweep sin under the rug. Since Christ was the God-man (infinite in value and worth) only He could have absorbed the wrath of God. At the cross we see infinite justice and infinite grace.

Why did Christ die?

1. To show that the worst evil is meant by God for good

2. To absorb the wrath of God

3. To please His heavenly Father

4. To show the wealth of God's love and grace for sinners

5. To cancel the legal demands of the law against us

6. To become a ransom for many

7. For the forgiveness of sins

8. To provide a basis for our justification

9. To take away our condemnation

10. To make us holy blameless and perfect

11. To give eternal life to all who believe in Him.

12. To reconcile us to God

13. To enable us to live for Christ and not ourselves

14. To make the cross the ground of all our boasting

15. To gather His sheep from around the world

16. To rescue us from final judgement

17. That He would be crowned with Glory and Honor

18. That we might die to sin and live to righteousness

19. To secure our ressurection from the dead.

20. To make us holy blameless and perfect.

John W. Loftus said...

Calvin, did you read my links? I don't think so. What does punishment have to do with forgiveness? Must YOU punish someone before YOU forgive them? There are people who are punished with jail sentences in which the victim still won't forgive, while there are criminals who are never punished at all whom the victim forgives. Why must someone be punished before someone else can forgive him? Why?

John W. Loftus said...

Calvin, let's say you had this same attitude, that before you forgive someone you must punish them. If so, then you are not forgiving anyone. You are punishing them for what they did. That's not forgiveness. That's called punishment.

Anonymous said...

John, where is this "punishment" you are talking about.

Anonymous said...

John, you also didn't answer my question before on the rapture.

Calvin said...

The reason God punishes sin is because His righteousness demands it. So that He might be glorified in the universe that He created. It shows God's righteousness. If Christ did not come to pay the penalty for sins, God could not be shown to be righteous. The propitiation at the cross demonstrated that God is perfectly righteous. If He did not punish sin there would be no ultimate justice in the universe. When sin is punished God is showing Himself to be a righteous judge over all. The death of God's Son demonstrates that God is righteous and is a declaration of the value God places on His glory and the hatred He has for sin, and the love He has for sinners. In God's legal declaration of justification He grants us full forgiveness of sins, but this is not enough to earn us favor with God. This places us in a place of moral neutrality with God. He must also declare us to have the merits of perfect righteousness before Him. God imputes Christ's righteousness to us and declares us to be just on the basis of Christ's perfect righteousness.

One Wave said...

Can anyone logically explain how space and time merge to make "spacetime"?

One Wave said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John W. Loftus said...

Calvin, you are mixing two notions here. A king or a judge may punish an offender with a jail or prison sentence (more humane than how your God thinks sinners need to be treated). Okay so far? That's what governments do to criminals.

But such punishments have nothing to do with whether the king, the judge, the victims or the people in general forgive the criminal.

Susan Smith or Charles Manson may get out of prison one day, and it might be said they "paid their debt to society" (whatever that means). But no one has to forgive them simply because they were punished. Conversely, there might be family members who suffered at their hands who have already forgiven them prior to them serving their whole prison sentence.

What's the relationship between forgiveness and punishment (or justice)? I see none. There is none.

DagoodS said...

Anonymous 747: If the rapture happened tomorrow, (I don't care if you beleive it will happen or not), if the rapture happened tomorrow, would you believe in Christ?

A miracle that I saw? Ab-so-lut-e-ly I would. In fact, it would be quite helpful.

Calvin said...

Metaphysical possibility (actualizability) is broad logical possibility

Epistemic possibility (imaginability) is strict logical possibility - merely free from contradiction

There is no logical impossibility strictly speaking, in the proposition - The prime minister is a prime number; but we should not say that there is a possible world in which this proposition is true. Propositions that are not strictly logical contradictory can be metaphysically impossible - This table could have been made of ice or Socrates could have been a hippopotamus.



God's righteousness is His commitment to do what is ultimately right and uphold the honor of His name and the worth of His Glory. Sin belittles the infinite worth of God by choosing to value something in the world more than God. If God passed over sins and let sinners go without just punishment He would be unrighteous. He would be saying that the scorning of my worth is not significant; the belittling of my glory is unimportant. The dishonoring of my name doesn't matter. For a Holy God to pass over sin that deserves condemnation would be unrighteous. Our sin was imputed to Christ and Christ's righteousness is imputed to us. God's forgiveness of our sin must include the positive imputation of Christ's righteousness and the imputation of Christ's righteousness must include the forgiveness of sin. Justification is God's act of pardoning sinners and accepting them as righteous for Christ's sake. This justifying sentence is God's bestowal of acceptance for Jesus' sake. As the last Adam, our representative head acting on our behalf, Christ obeyed the law that bound us and endured the punishment that we deserved, and so merited our justification. Our justification is on a just basis, with Christ's righteousness recond to our account. He has covered me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness.

Anonymous said...

I thank you for your honesty DagoodS. It is good to know that you are strong enough to believe if you see a miracle. However, it is better to believe by faith.

Calvin said...

John,

Christ's death is the atoneing sufferings(our sin is imputed to Him) which propitiate the wrath of God against us on the one hand, and on the other hand His death is the climax of a perfect life of righteousness imputed to us. God's forgiveness of our sin must include the positive imputation of Christ's righteousness where we are accepted as righteous for Christ's sake. We receive it when we trust in Christ.

Calvin said...

John,

We need righteousness to be acceptable to God. But we don't have it. What we have is sin. So God has what we need and don't deserve - righteousness. And we have what God hates and rejects - sin. What is the answer? The answer is Christ who died in our place. God lays our sin on Christ and punishes them in Him. And in Christ's obedient death, God fulfills and vindicates His righteousness and imputes it to us. Our sin on Christ, His righteousness on us. The great exchange. Justification is the positive reconing of Christ's righteousness to us and also the non-reconing of sins. Christ's righteousness is credited to us; our sins are not credited to us. As the apostle Paul teaches the forgiveness of sin includes the positive imputation of Christ's righteousness.

Does that make sense?

Calvin said...

Your sins are forgiven FOR THE SAKE OF HIS NAME

For your names sake O Lord pardon my guilt.

He has covered me with the garments of salvation. He has covered me with the robe of righteousness.

Christ's name and therefore God's name and God's honor is at stake whenever we fly to Jesus for refuge and bank on HIS WORTH instead of our own.

Platonicus Booknutticus said...

This us hilarious.

You fool,
You're whole worldview implies that your own rationality somehow evolved out of mere contingency.

The irony of your post is sickly thick. Do you see?

Your whole worldview is premissed on a giant appeal to blind possibility. It's what you premiss your whole faith in your own reason on.

Idiot, rethink your position.

Lovingly,
A Christian.

John W. Loftus said...

You don't understand. There may exist a God. I don't think so, but he might exist.

What you don't understand is that if such a God existed you'd have to accept so many things that are merely possible it renders any conclusion beyond the belief in God as utterly implausible.

Anonymous said...

It's unbelievable what an unbeliever believes to unbelieve.

Anonymous said...

Dagoods said,

"A miracle that I saw? Ab-so-lut-e-ly I would. In fact, it would be quite helpful."

I wouldn't. I'd give it a naturalistic interpretation. Furthermore, miracles are IMPOSSIBLE. So, it looks like dagoods disagrees with many top notch atheists. You go boy.

Anonymous said...

So, if all the Christians dissapeared you would probably celebrate rather than realize that you missed the rapture.

The end times:

"Men would rather hide under the rocks then come to God."

DagoodS said...

Perhaps I took the question too literally?

“If the rapture happened tomorrow; would you believe in Christ?”

Notice the question was NOT “if an event resembling the rapture” or “if a bunch of people you don’t know disappeared.” The question itself presumed that a miracle had occurred. True, to some extent it was an answer presumed in the question. Like asking, “If you saw a miracle, would you believe in miracles?” By virtue of a miracle existing within the question, I presume the question of the existence of miracles is off the table.

I was attempting to be judicious and respond to what the commenter was asking, rather than nit-pick the thing.

In my upbringing the Rapture was the immediate disappearance of true Christians. (Whether the clothes were left behind is a matter of debate.) We were provided images of planes going down because the pilot and co-pilot were both saved. Of cars crashing on highways. Of major interruptions in the travel, communication and commerce industry due to all the people simply vanishing. A Super-Duper Y2K, if you will.

(And even as a Christian I wondered how anyone could explain that sufficiently. Especially to the non-true Christians that had at least read the Bible and I would think could figure it out.)

If such an event occurred, despite my skepticism, this would be a great deal of new information. Information I did not have before. Information that would cause me to re-evaluate my position. Having been a Christian most of my life, and being aware of the event of the Rapture, it seems most probable that I would turn back to my default position of Christianity.

Anonymous 802: So, if all the Christians dissapeared you would probably celebrate rather than realize that you missed the rapture.

I am truly baffled as to why you would say that. I can’t speak for everyone, of course, I answered the question from my own perspective. If the Rapture, as portrayed by the Christianity I know, happened tomorrow, my wife would disappear. My children would disappear. My brothers and sisters would disappear. So would their spouses. And all of my nieces and nephews. My father and his wife would disappear. My aunts and uncles and cousins would disappear. (My family reunion would turn into me and a few chirping crickets.)

You think I would celebrate that situation? Most of my friends, and their spouses and their children would disappear. Some of my clients would disappear.

What type of monsters do you take us for, that we would “celebrate” such a horrendous impact on our lives?

Calvin said...

We affirm that the doctrine of imputation both of our sins to Christ and of His Righteousness to us, whereby our sins are fully forgiven and we are fully accepted.

John,

To understand the Reformed view of Calvinism you have to make a distintion between God's positive and His negative decrees. The reformed view teaches that God positively or actively intervenes by working on the hearts either by common grace or saving grace. God doesn't create unbelief in the reprobate He removes His hand and leaves them to themselves to sin by their own choices and follow their own evil desires. All that God has to do to harden someone's heart is remove His hand. He lets them have their own way. It's not that God put's His hand on their heart and creates evil, He merely removes His hand from them and lets them do their own will. In God's ultimate act of judgement He gives sinners over to their sins. He abandons them to their own desires. He gives grace to the elect by working faith in their hearts. He gives justice to the reprobate by leaving them in their own sins. One group recieves mercy. The other group receives justice. God has established a world where sin will necessarily come to pass but not by His positive agency. Sun brings about warmth and light by it's essential nature but brings about cold and dark by dropping below the horizon. Sin isn't the fruit of any positive agency of God, but arises from the with-holding of His action and energy, and under certain circumstances, necessarily follows on the want of His influence.

John W. Loftus said...

Calvin, that's a fine summary of the Calvinistic position. I think I'll use what you wrote in a future post to show why Calvinism is morally bankrupt. It's time for me to go for the thelological jugular vein. Thanks.

Beautiful Feet said...

If I could digress to the query, "Can God create a rock He can't move?".

If I understand correctly, omnipotence in regard to deity would mean that one could not be overcome by one's own creation - omnipotence means that a deity would be all-powerful.

If one views it a weakness or fault that God could not create a rock He couldn't lift, I suppose that is a matter of opinion - I myself find it consistant with the definition of omnipotent.

chris said...

John, I haven't read the above comments, so forgive me if I'm being redundant. You're right that retreating to the "merely possible" in every debate doesn't help the Christian cause much. However, modal arguments are more appropriate in some contexts than in others. For instance, if my interlocutor claims that such-and-such is impossible, then my job is clear -- show that it is possible, and I'm done. If someone argues that such-and-such is improbable, well, that's another story. For instance, in the problem of evil debate I was having with Lee, the essence of the atheist argument is that there cannot be any good reasons for God to permit evil. This is a modal claim. Thus, the job of the theist is to show that there might be some good reasons, and to suggest a few candidates. That's ALL the theist needs to do, in this case. So we need to carefully examine each debate on a case-by-case basis to see what the claims are and what is required of the defense.

By the way, do you think it is possible that God exists?

John W. Loftus said...

Chris, yes it's possible that God exists. However, it's extremely implausible that the Christian God exists.

Calvin said...

You see, God doesn't delight in evil for the sake of evil. Evil comes to pass that good may come of it. What good? And how does the existence of evil serve this good end?
Once again Jonathan Edwards:

It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God's glory should be complete; that is, all the parts of His glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all...Thus it is necessary, that God's aweful majesty, His authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God's glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of His goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all. If it were not right that God should permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God's holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in His providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God's grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever He bestowed, His goodness would not be so much prized and admired....So evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of that communication of God, for which He made the world; because the creature's happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and the sense of His love. And if the knowledge of Him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect.

Is God less glorious because He ordained that evil be? The answer is no. God is more glorious for having conceived and created and governed a world like this with all it's evil.

Anonymous said...

Sorry DagoodS, I was refering to what Anon said on the previous post. I just think that it's interesting that it takes a miracle for you to believe rather than having faith.

DagoodS said...

Anonymous 725 (and I think 802), if you were referring to Anonymous 605 that posted immediately before Anonymous 802, I presumed everyone knew that was a theist sarcastically posting as an atheist.

It is not so much that I can’t believe something by faith. In fact, if you think about it, we ALL have a little faith in something. Not everything we believe is proven by evidence.

More that I want to make sure I have faith in the right thing. It has been my experience that most people do. No one wants to spend his or her life believing the wrong thing. No Christian wants to strive and argue and preach on something that turns out to be 100% wrong. That’s why we all study, and grow. Hopefully.

With my current state of knowledge, having faith in a god is not the correct thing. For all I know, tomorrow I could be presented with evidence or an argument or proof that would change that. Or, if tomorrow I observe a miracle that could change it too. Assuming I am competent to recognize it as such, eh?

Do I need a miracle to believe in a god? No. Would it go a long way? (especially a miracle that seems to be exclusively in Christian beliefs) As I said—absolutely.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you might find this interesting then:

Hebrews chapter 11.

Michael said...

DagoodS,

I find it humorous that Anonymous wishes so much for us to (re)join the faithful that he will ask us to reconsider if more evidence is made available to us (i.e., the rapture, et al.). When we say, "Yes, because we seek to establish truth by those things which can be verified personally" he then pulls back the carpet and says, essentially, "Too bad. You must do it on faith!"

It's the old Charlie Brown routine.

Anonymous, assuming that the rapture happened tomorrow and DagoodS and I were both became interested in rethinking our positions, of what benefit is it to us to rush to judgment and believe on faith when, if we but wait a day, we can have the actual evidence we desire?

Is perhaps living and dying in a 7-year (insert your particular church's doctrine here) tribulation world any worse if, at the end, we have achieved eternal life anyway?

I really don't see the justification for believing on faith here.