As a former student of Dr. James D. Strauss I credit much of the approach in my book to three things he drilled into us as students, but in reverse.
When doing apologetics he said that “if you don’t start with God you’ll never get to God.” He’s not a Van Tillian presuppositionalist because he doesn’t start with the Bible as God’s revelation. He merely starts “from above” by presupposing God’s existence, and then he argues that such a presupposition makes better sense of the Bible, and the world. Again, “if you don’t start with God you’ll never get to God.” Since that’s such an important, central issue, I’ll focus on why we should not start “from above” with the belief in God in the first place, but rather “from below,” beginning with the world. If successful, then my argument should lead us to reject the existence of the God who confirms the Biblical revelation.
The second thing Dr. Strauss drilled into us was his argument that “we don’t need more data, we need better interpretive schema.” What he meant is that we interpret the details of the historical and archaeological evidence through interpretive schema. The need to come up with more data, or evidence, isn’t as important as the need to better interpret that data through the lens of an adequate worldview. While the data are indeed important, the big worldview picture provides the necessary rational support to the data. We need to be specialists in the Big Picture, not the minutia. I agreed then, and I agree now, except that the better interpretive schema that supports the data is not Christianity, but atheism.
A third thing Dr. Strauss drilled into us is that “all truth is God’s truth,” and by this he meant that if something is true, it’s of God, no matter where we find it, whether through science, philosophy, psychology, history or experience itself. There is no secular/sacred dichotomy when it comes to truth. There is no such thing as secular “knowledge” at all, if by this we mean beliefs that are justifiably true. Neither sinful, nor carnal, nor secular “knowledge” exists as a category because such “knowledge” isn’t true. All truth is sacred and it comes from God alone. Since not all truth is to be found in the Bible, it follows that the Christian thinker must try to harmonize all knowledge wherever she finds it. According to Strauss, the Christian thinker must view all knowledge gained outside of the Bible through the lens of the Christian worldview and reject anything that does not conform to it. He argued “from above” that the Christian worldview is what best interprets these other truths, something I now deny. My claim will be that the truths learned outside of the Bible in other areas of learning debunks the Bible. That which we learn outside the Bible continually forces us to reinterpret the Bible over and over until there is no longer any basis for believing in the Christian worldview. We cannot harmonize what we find in the Bible with that which we find outside the Bible.
My claim is that the Christian faith should be rejected by modern, civilized scientifically literate, educated people, even if I know many of them will still disagree.
There are probably many Christian professors who have had some serious doubts about the Christian faith, like Drs. Ruth A. Tucker, and James F. Sennett. In her book Walking Away from Faith: Unraveling the Mystery of Belief and Unbelief, Ruth A. Tucker shares her own doubt and how she overcomes it, hoping to challenge unbelievers to reconsider what they are missing. But in one place in her book as she was contemplating her own doubt, she candidly confesses what sometimes crosses her mind. As a seminary professor she wrote, “There are moments when I doubt all. It is then that I sometimes ask myself as I’m looking out my office window, ‘What on earth am I doing here? They’d fire me if they only knew.’”
My friend James F. Sennett is another one who has seriously struggled with his faith, as seen in his, as yet, unpublished book, This Much I Know: A Postmodern Apologetic. He confesses to have had a faith crisis in it, and wrote his book as a “first person apologetic,” to answer his own faith crisis. In chapter one, called “The Reluctant Disciple: Anatomy of a Faith Crisis,” he wrote, “I am the one who struggles with God. I am the Reluctant Disciple.” “Once I had no doubt that God was there, but I resented him for it; now I desperately want him to be there, and am terrified that he might not be.” Prompted by a study of the mind/brain problem, he wrote, “Sometimes I believed. Sometimes I didn’t. And it seemed to me that the latter condition was definitely on the ascendancy.”
With me I just stopped struggling. It required too much intellectual gerrymandering to believe. There were too many individual problems that I had to balance, like spinning several plates on several sticks, in order to keep my faith. At some point they just all came crashing down.
Let me begin by talking about “control beliefs.” They do just what they indicate; they control how one views the evidence. Everyone has them, especially when it comes to metaphysical belief systems where there isn’t a mutually agreed upon scientific test to decide between alternatives. Many times we don’t even know we have them, but they color how we see the world. They can also be called assumptions, presuppositions and/or biases, depending on the context. As Alfred North Whitehead wrote, “Some assumptions appear so obvious that people do not know that they are assuming because no other way of putting things has ever occurred to them.” They form the basis for the way we “See” things.
Having the right control beliefs are essential to grasping the truth about our existence in the universe. Psychologist Valerie Tarico explains that “it doesn’t take very many false assumptions to send us on a long goose chase.” To illustrate this she tells us about the mental world of a paranoid schizophrenic. To such a person the perceived persecution by others sounds real. “You can sit, as a psychiatrist, with a diagnostic manual next to you, and think: as bizarre as it sounds, the CIA really is bugging this guy. The arguments are tight, the logic persuasive, the evidence organized into neat files. All that is needed to build such an impressive house of illusion is a clear, well-organized mind and a few false assumptions. Paranoid individuals can be very credible.” (The Dark Side, p. 221-22).
Since having control beliefs don’t by themselves tell me what to believe about the specific evidence for Christian miracle claims, I also need to examine that evidence, although time won’t permit me here. But I do so in my book. I consider them as the historical claims they are. I examine them by looking at the internal evidence found within the Biblical texts themselves. I consider what these texts actually say and scrutinize their internal consistency. Wherever relevant, I also consider whether the Old Testament actually predicts some of these events. Then I examine these claims by looking at the external evidence. I consider any independent confirmation of these events outside of the texts. Lastly I subject these claims to the canons of reason using the control beliefs I will argue for here. I conclude from all of this that the Christian faith is a delusion and should be rejected. Then I describe why I am an atheist and what it means to live life without God. I present a whole case, a comprehensive case, a complete case, from start to finish, as a former insider to the Christian faith.
I argue that I think skepticism about religion in general, and Christianity in specific, is the default position. Anyone who investigates religion in general, or Christianity in specific, must begin with skepticism. Anyone who subsequently moves off the default position of skepticism has the burden of proof, since doing so is making a positive knowledge claim, and in the case of Christianity a very large knowledge claim that cannot be reasonably defended with the available evidence. This best expresses my set of control beliefs from which I derive two others:
1) There is a strong probability that every event has a natural cause; and, 2) The scientific method is the best (and probably the only) reliable guide we have for gaining the truth. Therefore, I need sufficient reasons and sufficient evidence for what I believe. As a result I have an anti-dogma, an anti-superstitious and an anti-supernatural bias. No “inspired” book will tell me what I should believe. My first question will always be “Why should I believe what this writer said?” This doesn’t mean that in the end I might not conclude there is a supernatural realm, only that I start out with these assumptions. Christians will bristle at these control beliefs and cry “foul.” They will argue that if I start out with an anti-supernatural bias “from below” it predisposes me to reject their religious faith, and they are right. It does. They claim that with a supernatural bias “from above” I will be more likely to accept the Christian faith, and that too is correct, although there are still other supernatural worldview contenders. Nonetheless, since this is crucial, let me offer several reasons that I think are undeniable for adopting a skeptical rather than believing set of control beliefs in the first place.
In every case when it comes to the following reasons for adopting my control beliefs the Christian response is pretty much the same. Christians must continually retreat to the position that what they believe is “possible,” or that what they believe is “not impossible.” However, the more that Christians must constantly retreat to what is "possible" rather than to what is “probable” in order to defend their faith, the more their faith is on shaky ground. For this is a tacit admission that instead of the evidence supporting what they believe, they are actually trying to explain the evidence away.
1) Sociological Reasons. The sociological facts are that particular religions dominate in separate distinguishable geographical locations around the globe. John Hick: “it is evident that in some ninety-nine percent of the cases the religion which an individual professes and to which he or she adheres depends upon the accidents of birth. Someone born to Buddhist parents in Thailand is very likely to be a Buddhist, someone born to Muslim parents in Saudi Arabia to be a Muslim, someone born to Christian parents in Mexico to be a Christian, and so on.” The best explanation for why this is so is that people overwhelmingly believe based upon “when and where we were born.”
Since there are no mutually agreed upon tests to determine which religion to adopt, or none at all, social cultural and political forces will overwhelmingly determine what people believe.
Because of this sociological data I have proposed something I call “the outsider test for faith.” Test your religious beliefs as if you were an outsider, just like you test the beliefs of other religions and reject them. Test them with a measure of skepticism. If you don’t do this, then you must justify why you approach other religions than your own with such a double standard. The Outsider Test is no different than the prince in the Cinderella story who must question 45,000 people to see which girl lost the glass slipper at the ball last night. They all claim to have done so. Therefore, skepticism is definitely warranted. I defend this test from several objections in my book.
William Lane Craig explains geographical religious diversity by arguing, in his own words, “it is possible that God has created a world having an optimal balance between saved and lost and that God has so providentially ordered the world that those who fail to hear the gospel and be saved would not have freely responded affirmatively to it even if they had heard it.” Craig argues that if this scenario is even “possible,” “it proves that it is entirely consistent to affirm that God is all-powerful and all-loving and yet that some people never hear the gospel and are lost.” Notice him retreating to what is merely “possible?” He’s trying to explain the evidence of global religious diversity away. The probability that not one of the billions of people who have not heard the gospel would respond if they did hear the gospel can probably be calculated, if missionaries kept records of their efforts. To claim what he does against the overwhelming evidence of missionary efforts belies the facts. Contrary to Craig, when we look at the billions of people who have never been given a chance to be “saved” because of “when and where they were born,” his scenario seems extremely implausible, to say the least.
2) Philosophical Reasons (1). Arguments for God’s existence aren’t conclusive or persuasive. They don’t lead exclusively to theism but at best to deism, which I might happily concede and then argue that a distant God is not much different than none at all. Besides, moving from deism to a full-blown Christianity is like trying to fly a plane to the moon. And the theistic arguments don’t lead us to a particular brand of theism either, whether Judaism, Islam or one of the many branches of Christianity.
When it comes to God’s existence our choices can be reduced to these: 1) Either something has always existed--always, or, 2) something popped into existence out of absolutely nothing. Either choice seems extremely unlikely--or possibly even absurd. There is nothing in our experience that can help us grasp these two possibilities. But one of them is correct and the other false. We either start with the “brute fact” that something has always existed, or the “brute fact” that something popped into existence out of nothing. A third view is that, 3) Our existence in the universe is absurd to the core.
William Lane Craig used the word “bizarre” to describe this problem when he wrote, “I well recall thinking, as I began to study the Kalam Cosmological Argument, that all of the alternatives with respect to the universe's existence were so bizarre that the most reasonable option seemed to be that nothing exists!” We must all recognize that we really don’t know why something exists rather than nothing at all. Agnosticism is the default position. Anyone moving off the default position has the burden of proof, and I maintain that moving from agnosticism to atheism is a much smaller step than moving to a full blown Christianity. Since the larger the claim is the harder is it to defend Christianity has a huge and near impossible burden of proof.
Christians want to argue for the belief in a triune God, even though the no sense of the trinity can be made that is both orthodox and reasonable; who was not free with respect to deciding his own nature, even though Christians want to think of God as a free personal agent; who as a “spiritual” being created matter, even though no known "point of contact" between spirit and matter can be found; who never began to exist as their “brute fact,” even though according to Ockham’s razor a simpler brute fact is to begin with the universe itself; who never learned any new truths and cannot think, since thinking demands weighing temporal alternatives; is everywhere, yet could not even know what time it is since time is a function of placement and acceleration in the universe (and if timeless, this God cannot act in time); who allows intense suffering in this world, yet does not follow the same moral code he commands believers to follow.
3) Philosophical Reasons (2). The Christian defender of miracles has a near impossible double burden of proof.
As the late J.L. Mackie wrote: “Where there is some plausible testimony about the occurrence of what would appear to be a miracle, those who accept this as a miracle have the double burden of showing both that the event took place and that it violated the laws of nature. But it will be very hard to sustain this double burden. For whatever tends to show that it would have been a violation of a natural law tends for that very reason to make it most unlikely that is actually happened.”
In Douglass Geivett and Gary Habermas edited book titled; In Defense of Miracles they labelled part 2 as “The Possibility of Miracles.” Notice how they must retreat to what is possible, not what is probable? Of course miracles are possible if there is a creator God, but what we want to know is if they are probable. By definition they are not very probable. We are asked to believe in the Christian God because Biblical miracles supposedly took place, but by definition miracles are very improbable. We cannot bring ourselves to believe in the God of the Bible unless we first believe those miracles took place, but we cannot bring ourselves to believe in those miracles because they are by definition very improbable.
John King-Farlow and William Niels Christensen argue that just because we today don’t experience miracles doesn’t mean that throughout the history of mankind God has done a plethora of them, and will do so again when the time is right in the future. They are asking us to believe against the overwhelming present day experience of nearly all modern people that things might turn out differently than we now experience. Is this impossible? No, not at all. But again, it’s not probable.
Take for example the story that Balaam’s ass spoke to him. If today’s Christians lived back in that superstitious era they wouldn’t believe this happened unless there was good evidence. But because they read about it in a so-called “inspired” book they suspend their judgment and believe it. Back in Balaam’s day they themselves would not have believed it, until Balaam made his ass talk in their presence.
Besides, Christians operate by what Harvard trained Biblical scholar Hector Avalos describes as “selective supernaturalism.” They believe the Biblical miracles because they favor them, while they are skeptical of the miracles they don’t favor in other religions. Why the double standard here? At least I’m consistent in being skeptical of them all until a supernatural explanation is required by the evidence, and I haven’t seen any evidence that requires a supernatural explanation yet.
4) Scientific Reasons (1). Science proceeds based upon methodological naturalism. methodological naturalism assumes that for everything we experience there is a natural cause. Paul Kurtz defined it as well as anyone when he wrote that it is a “principle within the context of scientific inquiry; i.e., all hypotheses and events are to be explained and tested by reference to natural causes and events. To introduce a supernatural or transcendental cause within science is to depart from naturalistic explanations.”
This is what defines us as modern people. In today’s world all modern educated people base their deductions on the method of naturalism in a vast number of areas. Before the advent of science in previous centuries people either praised God for the good things that happened to them, or they wondered why God was angry when bad things happened. If someone got sick, it was because of sin in his or her life. If it rained, God was pleased with them, if there was a drought God was displeased, and so on, and so on. Science wasn’t content to accept the notion that epilepsy was demon possession, or that sicknesses were sent by God to punish people. Nor was science content with the idea that God alone opens the womb of a woman, nor that God was the one who sent the rain. Now we have scientific explanations for these things, and we all benefit from those who assumed there was a natural cause to everything we experience. We can predict the rain. We know how babies are produced, and how to prevent a host of illnesses. There is no going back on this progress, and it is ongoing. Christians themselves assume a natural explanation when they hear a noise in the night. They assume a natural explanation for a stillborn baby, a train wreck, or an illness.
Christians like Alvin Plantinga object to the use of methodological naturalism in many areas related to their faith. He argues that Christian scientific community should “pursue science in its own way, starting from and taking for granted what we know as Christians.” See what he’s doing here? He is forced into retreating to Bayesian background factors to support a weak position. He’s trying to explain the evidence away. He’s retreating to what is merely possible; that while methodological naturalism has worked very well in understanding our world, it’s possible that it doesn’t apply across the board into the Christian set of beliefs he’s adopted. And he’s right. It is possible. But again, how likely is it that it works so well on every other area of investigation but that it shouldn’t be used in understanding his background beliefs too?
5) Scientific Reasons (2).
Astronomy. This universe is 13.5 billion years old and arose out of a cosmic singularity. No account of the development of this universe can be harmonized with the creation accounts in Genesis except that these accounts were pure mythic folklore.
Archaeology. There isn’t any evidence for Israelites being slaves in Egypt for four hundred years, or that they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, or that they conquered the land of Canaan.
Geology. Confirms the slow evolutionary development of life in the sedimentary rock layers on a planet nearly 5 billion years old, just as astronomy confirms the slow evolutionary development of galaxy, star and planet formation. Geology also disconfirms that there was ever a universal flood which covered the earth.
Brain Science. Confirms that strokes, seizers, and other illnesses stem from a brain malfunction and hence disconfirms that there is something called a mind or soul. If there is an immaterial mind where is it located? Sam Harris points out that if God created us with a mind then there is no reason to expect that he also created us with a brain.
Modern Medicine. Has achieved astounding results that such superstitious practices like exorcisms and blood letting and supernatural healing are delusional. The late Carl Sagan, said, “We can pray over the cholera victim, or we can give her 500 milligrams of tetracycline every 12 hours…the scientific treatments are hundreds or thousands of times more effective than the alternatives (like prayer). Even when the alternatives seem to work, we don’t actually know that they played any role.” Voltaire said: "Prayer and arsenic will kill a cow."
Psychology. Confirms that who we are and how we behave are determined to an overwhelming degree before we reach the age of accountability. People are not evil so much as much they are sick. There is no rebellion against God. If God is omniscient then like the ultimate psychotherapist he knows why we do everything we do. There can be no wrathful God.
6) Biblical Reasons (1). The Bible is filled with barbarisms that civilized people reject.
A female captive in war was forced to be an Israelite man’s wife (Deuteronomy 21:10-14). If a virgin who was pledged to be married was raped, she was to be stoned along with her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:23-24), while if a virgin who was not pledged to be married was raped, she was supposed to marry her attacker (Deuteronomy 22:28-29), not to mention the pleasure of “dashing of children against rocks,” and genocide itself.
That God is a hateful, racist and sexist God. Christians think Militant Muslims are wrong for wanting to kill free loving people in the world, and they are. But the only difference between these Muslims and the Biblical God is that they simply disagree on who should be killed. According to Sam Harris, “it is only by ignoring such barbarisms that the Good Book can be reconciled with life in the modern world.”
7) Biblical Reasons (2). The Bible is filled with superstitious beliefs modern people reject.
In the Bible we find a world where a snake and a donkey talked, where people could live 800-900+ years old, where a woman was turned into a pillar of salt, where a pillar of fire could lead people by night, where the sun stopped moving across the sky or could even back up, where an ax-head could float on water, a star can point down to a specific home, where people could instantly speak in unlearned foreign languages, and where someone’s shadow or handkerchief could heal people. It is a world where a flood can cover the whole earth, a man can walk on water, calm a stormy sea, change water into wine, or be swallowed by a “great fish” and live to tell about it. It is a world populated by demons that can wreak havoc on earth, and also make people very sick. It is a world of idol worship, where human and animal sacrifices pleased God. In this world we find visions, inspired dreams, prophetic utterances, miracle workers, magicians, diviners and sorcerers. It is a world where God lived in the sky (heaven), and people who died went to live in the dark recesses of the earth (Sheol).
This is a strange world when compared to our world. But Christians believe this world was real in the past. My contention is that ancient people weren’t stupid, just very superstitious. Christopher Hitchens puts it this way: “One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody had the smallest idea what was going on. It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge.”
I can propose scientific tests for what I consider superstitions. I can compare what a meteorologist says about the weather with someone who plans to do a rain dance, and test to see who’s right more often. That’s science. The results of reason and science have jettisoned a great many superstitions. Testing and comparing results. That’s science. I can do the same for the superstitious practice of blood-letting, for exorcisms, for people who claim to predict things based on palm reading, or tea leaves, or walking under a ladder, or breaking a mirror, or stepping on a sidewalk crack. I can even test the results of someone who gets a shot of penicillin when sick with the person who refuses this and prays instead. That’s science. And we modern people are indebted to science for these things. It’s what makes us different from ancient people.
Voltaire said, “Every man is a creature of the age in which he lives, and few are able to raise themselves above the ideas of the time.” In the Bible there are so many superstitious beliefs held by the Gentile nations at every period of time that superstition reigned in those ancient days. I don’t think any modern person should be able to conclude anything other than that. The beliefs of these nations were so prevalent that God’s people in the Bible regularly joined in the same practices and worshipped these gods and goddesses. If these nations were so superstitious that Israel regularly joined them in their beliefs, then it seems reasonable to suppose the beliefs of the Israelites, and later the Christians, were also based upon superstitions too.
We who live in the modern world of science simply don’t believe in a god of the sun, or moon, or harvest, of fertility, or rain, or the sea. We don’t see omens in an eclipse, or in flood, a storm, a snakebite, or a drought, either. That’s because we understand nature better than they did, by using science. We don’t see sickness as demon possession, nor do educated thinking people believe in astrology to get an insight into the future. Nor do we think we are physically any closer to God whether we’re up on a mountaintop rather than down in a valley. But every nation did in ancient days. Now it’s possible that ancient Jews and Christians were different and believed because of the evidence, but how likely is that?
8) Historical Reasons (1). If God revealed himself in history, then he chose a very poor medium and a poor era to do so. If you know that much about the craft of the historian, she is dealing with the stuff of the past in which many frauds and forgeries have been found. This justifies a skeptical outlook upon what has been reported to have happened. Almost anything can be rationally denied in history, even if the event happened.
Consider the following historical questions: How were the Egyptian pyramids made? Who made them? Why? Was Shakespeare a fictitious name for Francis Bacon? Exactly how was the Gettysburg battle fought and won? What was the true motivation for Lincoln to emancipate the slaves? What happened at Custer's last stand? Who killed President John F. Kennedy? Why? Who knew what and when during the Watergate scandal that eventually led to President Nixon resigning? Why did America lose the “war” in Vietnam? Did George W. Bush legitimately win the 2000 election? Did President Bush knowingly lead us into a war with Iraq on false pretenses? What about some high profile criminal cases? Is O.J. Simpson a murderer? Who killed Jon Bene Ramsey? Is Michael Jackson a pedophile?
Hector Avalos, argues that historical studies are fraught with serious problems. When it comes to the non-supernatural claim that Caesar was assassinated by Brutus in Rome, in 44 A.D., he argues, “We cannot verify such an occurrence ourselves directly and so we cannot claim to ‘know’ it occurred.” When it comes to whether or not King Arthur actually existed, he argues, “our contemporary textual evidence…is nearly nil.” If this is the case with non-supernatural historical investigations, then it is compounded so much more when it comes to the so-called supernatural events in history.
Consider Gotthold Lessing’s “ugly broad ditch:” “Miracles, which I see with my own eyes, and which I have opportunity to verify for myself, are one thing; miracles, of which I know only from history that others say they have seen them and verified them, are another.” “But…I live in the 18th century, in which miracles no longer happen. The problem is that reports of miracles are not miracles….[they] have to work through a medium which takes away all their force.” “Or is it invariably the case, that what I read in reputable historians is just as certain for me as what I myself experience?”
When dealing with the problems of the historian, William Lane Craig argues that, “first, a common core of indisputable historical events exists; second, it is possible to distinguish between history and propaganda; and third, it is possible to criticize poor history.” Craig concludes: “neither the supposed problem of lack of direct access to the past nor the supposed problem of the lack of neutrality can prevent us from learning something from history.”
Notice again how Christians must argue about what is possible here? Such a conclusion is a meager one; that knowledge of the past is possible. Even if true, and I think it is, there is a lot of doubt for any supposed historical event, especially momentous and miraculous ones.
9) Historical Reasons (2). The History of the Church is Strong Evidence Against Christianity:
- The Inquisition.The angelic doctor Thomas Aquinas argued from the Bible that heresy was a "leavening influence" upon the minds of the weak, and as such, heretics should be killed. Since heretical ideas could inflict the greatest possible harm upon other human beings, it was the greatest crime of all. Heretical ideas could send people to an eternally conscious torment in hell. So logic demands that the church must get rid of this heretical leavening influence. It was indeed the greatest crime of them all, given this logic. So, the rallying cry for over two centuries was “convert or die!”
I understand how today's Christians gerrymander around the logical conclusion of these arguments. They say the Bible passages that call for the death of heretics and non-believers don't apply under the New Covenant. But if that's so, then why wasn't God clear about this such that Aquinas and two centuries of theologians got it wrong, causing such torment and misery? God did not effectively communicate his commands to his people. Doesn't he know humans well enough to do so? It seems an omniscient God needs some basic lessons in communication, or God isn't a good, or God just doesn’t exist.
Why didn't God (Jesus or the Apostles) specifically say, "Thou shalt not kill people if they don't believe the gospel (KJV)," and say it as often as needed? If that was the case, and if you were God, wouldn't YOU do the decent thing here?
- Witch Hunts during three centuries from 1450-1750 A.D. It was a response to the problem of evil as seen in the devastating Black Plague. They actually believed witches flew threw the night, met together with others, and had sex with the devil who left a mark on them. Once accused it was nearly impossible to be declared innocent. No evidence was needed. In most cases no evidence was found. Torture was all they needed to extract the confessions, and it was especially harsh against accused witches because it was believed their magic could help them withstand greater pain.
Why did God say, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" rather than say, "Thou shalt not torture, strangle, or burn witches (KJV)," and say it as often as needed? If that was the case, and if you were God, wouldn't YOU do the decent thing here?
- Slavery in the South. There is no justification for God to have allowed the slavery in the American South, or any slavery for that matter. None. If God was perfectly good, he would've said, "Thou shalt not trade, buy, own, or sell slaves" (KJV version), and said it as often as he needed to do so. But he didn't. Former slave Frederick Douglass said, "I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs."
Just ask Christians how they themselves would feel if they were the ones being burned at the stake for heresy, or beaten within an inch of their lives by a Bible quoting slave master. Surely their own arguments that these Christians of the past merely misunderstood what God wanted them to do would fly away in the wind with the smoke of their flesh, and with the drops of their blood.
10) Empirical Reasons. The problem of evil is as clear of an empirical refutation of the Christian God as we get. James Sennett has said: “By far the most important objection to the faith is the so-called problem of evil – the alleged incompatibility between the existence or extent of evil in the world and the existence of God. I tell my philosophy of religion students that, if they are Christians and the problem of evil does not keep them up at night, then they don’t understand it.”
If God is perfectly good, all knowing, and all powerful, then the issue of why there is so much suffering in the world requires an explanation. The reason is that a perfectly good God would be opposed to it, an all-powerful God would be capable of eliminating it, and an all-knowing God would know what to do about it. So, the extent of intense suffering in the world means for the theist that: either God is not powerful enough to eliminate it, or God does not care enough to eliminate it, or God is just not smart enough to know what to do about it. The stubborn fact of intense suffering in the world means that something is wrong with God’s ability, or his goodness, or his knowledge.
Christians believe God set the Israelites free from slavery, but he did nothing for the many people who were born and died as slaves in the American South. These theists believe God parted the Red Sea, but he did nothing about the 2004 Indonesian tsunami that killed ¼ million people. Christians believe God provided manna from heaven, but he does nothing for the more than 40,000 people who starve every single day in the world. Those who don’t die suffer extensively from hunger pains and malnutrition all of their short lives. Christians believe God made an axe head to float, but he allowed the Titanic to sink. Christians believe God added 15 years to King Hezekiah’s life, but he does nothing for children who live short lives and die of leukemia. Christians believe God restored sanity to Nebuchadnezzar but he does nothing for the many people suffering from schizophrenia and dementia today. Christians believe Jesus healed people, but God does nothing to stop pandemics which have destroyed whole populations of people. There are many handicapped people, and babies born with birth defects that God does not heal. As God idly sits by, well over 100 million people were slaughtered in the last century due to genocides, and wars. Well over 100 million animals are slaughtered every year for American consumption alone, while animals viciously prey on each other.
Take for example the 2004 Indonesian tsunami killed a quarter of a million people. If God had prevented it, none of us would ever know he kept it from happening, precisely because it didn’t happen. Any person who is supposed to be good would be morally obligated to prevent it, especially if all it took was a “snap” of his fingers to do so.
Stephen Wykstra argues that it’s possible we cannot see a reason why an omniscient God allows so much suffering. We’re told God is so omniscient that we can’t understand his purposes, and this is true, we can’t begin to grasp why there is so much evil in the world if God exists. But if God is as omniscient as claimed, then he should know how to create a better world too, especially since we do have a good idea how God could’ve created differently.
There is no perfectly good, all-powerful, omniscient God of Christian theology.
Most Christians do not believe in the God of the Bible anyway. Instead they believe in the perfect being of St. Anselm in the 11th century A.D. after centuries of theological gerrymandering. The Bible isn’t consistent in describing its God, but one probable description is as follows: rather than creating the universe ex nihilo, the biblical God fashioned the earth to rise out of the seas in divine conflict with the dragon sea god, sometimes called Rahab, as in Job 26:9-12. This God is merely the “god of the gods,” who like the other gods had a body that needed to rest on the 7th day, and was found walking in the “cool of the day” in the Garden of Eden. Yahweh, the god of Israel, probably emerged out of a polytheistic amalgamation of gods known in the ancient Near East in pre-biblical times. In the ancient Near East, all pantheons were organized as families, and Yahweh was simply one of the members of that family. Some biblical authors consider Yahweh, the god of Israel, as one of many gods fathered by Elyon whose wife was Asherah, to whom was given the people and land of Israel to rule over (Deut. 32:8). This God was responsible for doing both good and evil, sending evil spirits to do his will, and commanding genocide. As time went on Yahweh was believed to be the only God that existed. Still later Satan was conceived as an evil rival in order to exonerate Yahweh from being the creator of evil. Still later in the New Testament the God of the Bible was stripped of physical characteristics and known as a spiritual being. As theologians reflected on their God they came to believe he created the universe ex nihilo. Anselm finally defined him as the “greatest conceivable being.” But Anslem’s God is at odds with what we find in most of the Bible.
Christians claim to derive their beliefs from the Bible, which had a long process of formation and of borrowing material from others; in which God revealed himself through a poor medium (history) in a poor era (ancient times); who condemns all of humanity for the sins of the first human pair, commanded genocide, witch, honor, heretic killings, and who demanded a perfect moral life when such a life is not possible, given that we are fleshly creatures kept from knowing God’s purported love and power by an unreasonable “epistemic distance”; became incarnate in Jesus (the 2nd person of the trinity), even though no reasonable sense can be made of a being who is both 100% God and 100% man; found it necessary to die on the cross for our sins, even though no sense can be made of so-called atonement; who subsequently bodily arose from the dead, even though the believer in miracles has an almost impossible double-burden of proof here (it’s both “improbable” being a miracle and at the same time “probable”); who now chooses to live embodied forever in a human resurrected body (although there are many formidable objections to personal identity in such a resurrected state); to return in the future, even though the New Testament writers are clear that “the end of all kingdoms” and the establishment of God's kingdom was to be in their generation; and will return where every eye will see him, which assumes an ancient pre-scientific cosmology; who sent the third person of the trinity to lead his followers into "all truth,” yet fails in every generation to do this; who will also judge us based upon what conclusions we reach about the existence of this God, which parallels the ancient barbaric “thought police” which is completely alien to democratic societies; and who will reward the “saints” in heaven by taking away their free will to do wrong, and by punishing sincere doubters to hell by leaving their free will intact so they can continue to rebel.
To read What would convince me Christianity is True?, see the link.
As a former student of Dr. James D. Strauss I credit much of the approach in my book to three things he drilled into us as students, but in reverse.