Necessary World Theology and the Problem of God's Surprise

A persistent problem posed by snarky skeptics and churchgoers alike is the problem of God’s surprise.

The problem of God’s surprise is aimed at passages in scripture wherein God seems to change his mind or express regret or learn something new.

Common examples would include when God “regretted” he had created man because of all the wickedness they did, forcing him to wash the earth with a flood. Or when God tested Abraham by telling him to kill Isaac. And when Abraham goes through with the deed, God stops him saying “Now I know you fear God.” Or when the people worship the golden calf at Mt. Saini, and God becomes upset, threatening to destroy them until Moses convinces him otherwise.

The question, of course, being that, if God knows everything, why does he seem caught off-guard by people sinning and why does he need to test Abraham in order to know that he fears God?

This might be neatly rolled into the problem of prayer, that problem being “If God knows what you are going to ask him, why ask him at all?

The standard theological answer is that God, or the writers of the Bible, at least, expresses himself in a way that humans can understand. God’s thoughts and deeds are presumably beyond human understanding. So in order to communicate God with humans, expressions, terms and emotions that people recognized are put into service in order to make God somewhat relatable to our small minds.

That’s as may be. Certainly when God asks “Adam where are you?” in the Garden, this is at the very least rhetorical, given that one assumes God is omnipresent.

Necessary World Theology (NWT) offers an additional explanation.

Under NWT, God’s omniscience is coincident with his omnipresence. Meaning that God knows all things because he permeates space and time, and is simultaneously experiencing everything all at once.

There is a difference between the passive knowledge a schoolboy has that Columbus sailed the ocean in 1492, and the active, experiential knowledge Columbus had while he was in the act of sailing the ocean.

God is eternally experiencing every moment of time in every point in space, and consequently his knowledge is absolute.

Of course God eternally knew that Abraham would exercise faith and obey the command to sacrifice Isaac. But the only reason God knew that, was because Abraham WOULD exercise faith and obey. Had God never asked him to do it, Abraham would not have done it, and God would not have that piece of knowledge in his mind. God does not experience things that do not happen. For God to know something in the fullest sense of the word, that thing has to happen.

God knew from the foundations of the earth that the people of Noah’s day would rebel. But the only reason God knew that is that they did, in fact, rebel. Had they not rebelled, God would not have that knowledge in his mind.

This same principle is true in terms of prayer. Why pray, if God knows everything? Because a prayer unprayed is not a thing. God knows all things across space and time that are actual. A prayer unspoken is, at best, potential.

The real question becomes, does God know counterfactuals; that is, things that might have happened under other circumstances?

For instance, does God know how his nation of people would have turned out if he had selected Esau instead of Isaac?

This is a matter of some debate. Someone who subscribes to Molinism would say that God absolutely knows counterfactuals. God doesn’t just know what is, he is equally aware of what might have been.

It is, no doubt, a bit of narrative license to say that God “regretted” creating humans, but nevertheless, God’s knowledge that the people would become wicked was contingent upon them becoming wicked.

So when God gives some prophecy about future events, he is, in essence, not saying “this will happen,” but rather “this is happening.” Because from his perspective, he is experiencing the future event as he prophecies it.

This concept that God rolls along in time just like humans, only he knows what waits around the corner does not make sense if that thing isn’t, in fact, around the corner. And if God reacted in some way so as to prevent the thing from existing, then it would not have existed for him to prevent.

God is all-powerful and his capacity to pull all of the threads of time is, no doubt, absolute. But unless one assumes a sort of pantheism, wherein the universe is just a part of God himself, it is inescapable that God is interacting with something that exists external to his nature. And since this is a two-party interaction, God may react as well as to act.

The difference being that God’s reactions echo across space and time, since all of his interactions occur simultaneously. And this is how God can be immutable and still interact with time – because all of his nature is interacting with all of time simultaneously. There is no time at which God did not act as he did, since his nature is eternally interacting with time as a whole.

Rescuing Necessary World Theology from the Tenseless Theory of Time

Rescuing Necessary World Theology from the Tenseless Theory of Time

Readers of this blog will be aware of Necessary World Theology (NWT), but for the uninitiated, NWT states – among other things – that creation is an eternal act of God (meaning that there was never a time that God did not create, because time itself came into existence at the moment of creation). It also states that God is omnitemporal, meaning that he exists simultaneously in every moment of time rather than moment-to-moment as do humans. This is an extension of his omnipresence.

But does this necessitate a theory of time that is unfixed and tenseless, or can time flow past to future and still allow for NWT?

Necessary World Theology and God's Free Will

Necessary World Theology and God's Free Will

A perennial challenge against God’s nature has to do with his foreknowledge. Those who champion the challenge will essentially ask, “If God already knows what is going to happen in the future, how does he have any freedom to choose?”

Theologians have never been particularly stymied by the question, and have several feasible responses. However, Necessary World Theology (NWT) has its own way of addressing the issue.

Necessary World Theology: The Problem of Prayer and Foreknowledge

Necessary World Theology: The Problem of Prayer and Foreknowledge

An occasional complaint of critics relates to God and his seemingly temporal specific interactions with persons and events.

For instance, there is an account in Genesis 6:6 where it is said that God “regretted” that he had created humans.

The question becomes, if God is all knowing and can see the future, why would he not have foreseen the corruption of humans and why would he change his mind about his act of creation if he is immutable or unchanging?

Necessary World Theology and God's act of Creation

Necessary World Theology and God's act of Creation

One of the grounding principles of Necessary World Theology (NWT) is that the actual world which we observe is the inevitable consequence of God’s nature.

On the face of it, this potentially runs afoul of a classic argument against God’s existence. The argument essentially states that, in order for God to create, he had to desire to create. This desire was an indication that he was not fully self-sufficient. A God who is not fully self-sufficient is less than the greatest possible being, and therefore not God.

Book Review: Man from Macedonia


This month I had the privilege of reviewing the book Man from Macedonia. While this book is not directly related to my field of Christian Apologetics, it is a milestone book that I would recommend to everyone – including Christian Apologists and atheists.

While this is the story of a man called by God to be a minister, it is such a relevant book, especially in this day and age, that I would recommend it to practically every demographic in the nation – Christian or non.

The man about whom this biographical account is written treads foot in so many landmark events of recent American history, that the book is as educational as it is profound and inspiring. Its principle character, Reverend Aaron Johnson, brushes shoulders with Martin Luther King, Chuck Coleson and even Ronald Regan – forming working relations or friendships with each of these famous individuals.

The book sees Johnson leading peaceful protests during the Civil Rights movement, going undercover among radical dissidents, negotiating peaceful resolutions with Black Panthers and Klan members alike (in one gripping story in the book, Johnson is blindfolded, thrown in a trunk and taken before a Klan meeting – and standing before them, convinces them to form diplomatic relations with an integration committee). Johnson somehow manages to be a caring minister to a country church, and a political leader at the same time, overhauling and improving North Carolina’s pitiful prison system.

The story is not just historically significant, politically educational, and spiritually inspiring; it is also action-packed. At various times, Johnson is dodging sniper bullets from radical dissidents, wading onto death row, and being kidnapped – twice. And the story is entirely true.

With narrative fodder this engaging, the final touch that makes this a worthwhile read is that the voice in which the story is told is so soft, profound and gripping that the narration alone could carry the tale.

Regardless of one’s political or religious views, this story is worth your while. I would easily recommend it to anyone.

The Superiority of Christian Moral Theory

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy summarizes David Hume’s “Argument from Evil” this way: 

“The questions are these: Is God willing to prevent evil but unable to do so? Then he is not omnipotent. Is God able to prevent evil but unwilling to do so? Then he is malevolent (or at least less than perfectly good). If God is both willing and able to prevent evil then why is there evil in the world?” 

The potential problem with Hume’s argument is that, the moment a person levels the complaint against God that he has allowed evil; they admit that there is a moral standard against which good and evil can be objectively measured. In this sense, most schools of religion and philosophy are in agreement: good and evil, law and chaos, metaphysical light and darkness: these things are real and potent. 

If these things exist, however, where do they come from? 

When he was still in his atheism, C. S. Lewis had the same argument against God as did Hume. And he came up against the same dilemma

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” 

When a person aims the problem of evil at God, they are implicitly affirming several things: 

  • · They are stating that they recognize that evil exists in the universe. 
  • · They are inherently assuming that the presence of evil in the universe is recognizable to everyone such that it is undeniable. 
  • · They are admitting that this is a problem that requires a solution, and that no solution presents itself. 
  • · They are admitting that they are powerless to stop the evil themselves, that it would require a higher power. 
  • · They are assuming that humans have essential value and certain rights which are morally violated by the presence of suffering. 

At its root, every major world religion is designed to address this problem of evil, most specifically human evil. Each religion establishes a goal (nirvana, paradise, godhood, etc.) and establishes a system of moral behavior that is required to reach that goal (the eightfold path, the path of the prophet, the law of Heavenly Father, etc.). Even atheists appear to respect the virtues of ethical behavior. In their 2005 paper – titled “Morality Without Religion” - atheists Hauser and Singer put it this way: 

“…there are no moral principles shared by all religious people (disregarding their specific religious membership) but no agnostics and atheists. This observation leads to a second: atheists and agnostics do not behave less morally than religious believers, even if their virtuous acts are mediated by different principles. They often have as strong and sound a sense of right and wrong as anyone, including involvement in movements to abolish slavery and contribute to relief efforts associated with human suffering.” 

Inherent in all of these views on moral behavior is a very basic observation: human beings recognize a universal moral principle - and they frequently fail to live up to this moral principle. 

The entire enterprise of religion and government spills forth from the belief – the verified fact – that individuals seem incapable of governing their own behavior. This is why whole institutions are established which found and police rules for behavior and penalties for disobedience. This is why these institutions are greater than the individuals that function within them, and why they operate by the “rule of law,” that is, that no one – including the law-maker – is above the law. 

What could possibly explain both the shared instinct for good and the shared propensity for evil? 

In her 2011 op-ed piece in the New York Times – titled “Good Minus God” - atheist Louise M. Antony said: 

“We “moralistic atheists” …find moral value to be immanent in the natural world, arising from the vulnerabilities of sentient beings and from the capacities of rational beings to recognize and to respond to those vulnerabilities and capacities in others.” 

If morality is simply a recognized aspect of the natural world as Antony claims, why is it that the same humans that recognize these values overwhelmingly fail to act upon them? 

Any sufficient moral theory must explain both the human obligation to good and the human capacity for the bad. 

One of the earliest known attempts to reconcile this dilemma was the ancient Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism. More than a thousand years BCE, a man named Zoroaster reduced the pantheon of Iranian gods down to two deities that existed in opposition to one another: Ahura Mazda, whose name means “Illuminating Wisdom” and Angra Mainyu, whose name means “Destructive Spirit.” 

Zoroaster proposed that standards of goodness, wisdom, and law came from Ahura Mazda, and the effects of chaos, destruction, and evil came from Angra Mainyu. These two eternally warring deities were equally strong, and stood in everlasting opposition, explaining both the good and the evil. 

In the Far East, a similar idea developed. Rather than admitting that there was necessarily such a thing as “good” and “evil” as such, the philosophy of Yin and Yang claimed that the universe was balanced such that all things had their opposite and the opposites cycled into one another. Death leads to life and life leads to death. Ecstasy leads to misery and misery to ecstasy. Day begets night and night, day. The things that humans perceive as “good” and “evil” are simply a part of this eternal cycle and the balance of the universe. 

In many ways, Yin and Yang is a naturalistic philosophy. It requires no mind or divine force to explain or motivate it. It is simply part of the universe. 

Both of these explanations suffer from the same problem: darkness is not a force. It is not energy or material. It has no volume, weight, or properties. It is the absence of light. Even so, evil is not a thing that can be systematized and measured and correlated. It is the absence of good. 

Ask the question “What is the WRONG answer to 2+2?” The answer could be anything but “4.” It could be “5.” It could be “armchair.” 

Good, order, justice, rule, these are things that - when present - are good and recognizable and praiseworthy. Bad, chaos, injustice, and lawlessness only reflect the absence of these things. 

This being the case, the appropriate question is not “How did evil come,” but rather, “Where did God go?” 

World religions have generally done a surprisingly poor job of answering this question. The problems with the Eastern concept of good and evil being a bi-product of the balance of the universe has already been addressed. Islam posits the moral law but does nothing to explain or reconcile the human impotence to live perfect lives. 

Only the Judeo-Christian worldview addresses the question with the concept of “The Fall.” 

This concept proposes that humans willfully chose to reject God’s offer of freedom from evil, resulting in separation from God. Humans are created with an innate knowledge and respect of the moral law, but their rejection of God makes them incapable of realizing it to its full extent. 

The Apostle Paul masterfully encapsulates this struggle thusly: 

“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 

“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” 

Unlike every other earthly religion, Christianity does not simply prescribe yet another moral code under which humans must somehow abide to achieve an eternal reward; rather, Christianity states that Christ lived a perfect life on behalf of all humanity, and then took their punishment on behalf of God. Thus both God’s love and justice are fully satisfied. 

Christian moral theory both explains the apparent nature of human morality and provides a brilliant solution. 


Book Review: God's Crime Scene


This writer first interviewed J. Warner Wallace in 2011. At the time, he was still a full-time homicide detective with a monthly podcast on Christian Apologetics. Since that first interview Wallace has retired, entered the Apologetics ministry full-time as a speaker and author with Stand to Reason ministries, and published two books. His newest, God’s Crime Scene, is hot off the presses, and this writer managed to get hold of a copy for review.

Most big name Christian Apologists – Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Daniel Wallace, Gary Habermas, etc. – have an area of expertise or style which gives them a particular niche in the larger intellectual discussion. Jim Warner Wallace has arguably one of the most unique takes on the subject in the field. As a cold-case homicide detective for most of his life, Wallace brings the analytical, abductive reasoning processes of a police detective to his writing and speaking – the same reasoning processes which led him from 35 years of hardened atheism into Christian belief in the first place. During his time as a detective, Wallace made quite a name for himself, cracking cases which had been shelved for as many as 30 or 40 years, and having some of his more famous cases featured on major network news.

A detective and Christian Apologist may seem like an odd combination, but the results are engaging and brilliant. Not only does Wallace pick out clues and analyze them in a unique way which makes a tremendous amount of sense, but he intersperses his narratives with real-life stories of crime-scene and courtroom drama which have the reader on the edge of the proverbial seat.

God’s Crime Scene is the follow-up to Wallace’s 2013 book Cold Case Christianity, wherein he examined an extremely cold Cold Case: the resurrection of Jesus. As Cold Case Christianity was a defense of Jesus, God’s Crime Scene is a defense of the existence of God. Wallace begins by treating the universe as he would a crime scene: a closed room full of clues. The clues he looks at are things like “how did the universe get here in the first place”; “how did biological life emerge from basic, non-living material?”; “how did things like consciousness emerge from unconsciousness, or free will from cause and effect?”; or “where do things like good and evil come from, and in what are they grounded?” The question Wallace asks is, can all of these things be explained from within the room, or does the cumulative evidence make a strong enough case for someone outside of the room?

Wallace does more than to simply present arguments to his conclusion, he instructs the reader in how to think like a police detective – reminding his readers that this is exactly what a homicide detective does: looks for signs that a death was a result of design or of happenstance.

To that end, the book is full of side panels with “tools for your call-out bag” – facts about how investigators, prosecutors and jurors go about looking at a case, and how those same tools of investigation can be legitimately applied to the case for God.

Wallace is, of course, arguing that all of these clues point to the existence of God; however he is not unfair to the other side. In the last quarter of his book, labeled “The Secondary Investigation,” he examines alternative explanations for each of the “clues” he has provided in the first three quarters of the book. Presenting what experts who have tried to explain away the evidence in other ways have said – in much the same way that the prosecuting and defense attorneys would both present their cases before the jury so that the jury could decide which held the best explanation of the facts.

Despite his primary area of expertise being police investigation, Wallace has definitely done his homework in this book. Skimming through the copious references he provides at the end of the book reveal that he has done more than a cursory Wikipedia search for his topics; and his ability to break down complex scientific ideas into a readable – but not inaccurate – way shows that he has mastered the ideas he is integrating into his argument.

The book is eminently readable. Wallace displays his talents, not only as an analytical thinker, but also as a writer and artist. He lays out his case in a clear, comprehensible way; and his crime stories are exciting, dramatic and intense. Moreover, having studied and had experience in the past as an artist, Wallace provides actual illustrations for his book in addition to the literary ones. While the subject matter can get a little heady, Wallace keeps the reader in the loop by writing in a grounded way which brings the material to the general audience. And for the more sophisticated reader, Wallace offers his shoes-on-the-ground police detective perspective, so often overlooked in the higher echelons of academia.

Why the Virgin Birth


The Old Testament book of Isaiah, written approximately 600 years before Jesus’ birth, contains this prophecy:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (God with us).”

When taken in context of the passage, this appears to be referring to a more immediate sign given to the king at the time of the prophecy. Many will argue that the Hebrew word for “virgin” in this passage could just as easily be translated “young woman.” Be that as it may, the book of Matthew, written by a Hebrew, seems to take this prophecy as referring to Christ when he says, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”(which means, God with us).” 

Assuming all this to be true, what was the purpose of the virgin birth? The most obvious answer is that, if Christian doctrine is correct, and Jesus is both God and Man, then Mary contributed the human part while God contributed the divine part. However, there is an argument that could be made that Jesus could only be pure and sinless by virtue of the virgin birth.

When God is giving the curses in the garden of Eden, he tells the serpent that he will "put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed." This is the one and only reference in the Bible to the "seed" of a woman. In every other instance, "seed" in the sense of offspring, is always credited to the man. Catholics have a doctrine which states that Mary was sinless. While Protestant doctrine does not grant Mary any such quality, the reason Catholics believe this is interesting, mainly that they do not believe that God could mingle with that which is in any way corrupt.

While it could be argued that Jesus was sinless because he was God, he was also human. Mary was not just an incubator for a foreign biological entity, Jesus shared a genetic component with Mary. This is seen throughout the Old Testament, where Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob, then Judah, and finally David were promised that the Messiah would come from their line of descent.

Now it's entirely possible that God could have purified the genetic material that Mary contributed to the birth, but this is assuming that sin is a genetic quality and not a quality of imputed guilt. Paul makes the statement that through one man, Adam, sin came into the world. This is interesting considering that Eve was the first to sin, but Adam is credited with passing this guilt on to the human race.

Finally, the fact that Jesus was born of a virgin woman seems significant. God didn't simply purify Joseph's genes and allow the two to conceive. Rather, he left the man out of the process entirely and caused a virginal woman to conceive. Theologians make a distinction in Christ's sinlessness. They say that he is "not able to sin." This refers to his divine nature, that no sin is present in God. But they also say that he is "able not to sin." This refers to his human nature. According to the Bible, humans have no capacity to avoid sinning. It is part of their nature. But Jesus' nature included the capacity to resist sin.

And this may well be the reason for the virgin birth. These facts appear to argue that sin nature is imputed through the father, not the mother. Because Jesus’ father was divine and sinless, he could be born of a human mother and still remain sinless.


Christ: Everyman or God-man?

Marco Palmezzano,  Crocifissione degli Uffizi

Marco Palmezzano, Crocifissione degli Uffizi

After the release of the controversial movie The Passion of the Christ directed by Mel Gibson, the popular adult cartoon Family Guy did a brief skit based on the movie. In the skit Family Guy protagonist, Peter Griffin, imagines himself as Jesus being flogged by the Roman soldiers. “If it was me, I would have done something,” Peter says as he imagines himself standing up from the whipping block and telling the Soldiers to stop it and settle down.

In every story there is a protagonist, and in most stories, the protagonist is an “everyman,” a character that most people can relate to. People read stories to live the adventures and experiences of the protagonist. They imagine themselves as Huckleberry Fin or as Frodo Baggins as they read about their adventures. So, of course, readers of the Gospels will frequently put themselves on the cross with Jesus, sympathizing with a man whom the world rejected.

In the final hours before his death, Jesus was turned over to his enemies by one of his inner circle and he was abandoned by all of his followers. He was given three separate unjust and politically motivated trials.

Peter, arguably his closest friend, denied ever knowing him even as he was being falsely accused. He was brutally beaten, cruelly berated and mocked, blindfolded and pummeled by the fists of his tormentors, his beard was ripped out at the roots, his clothes were stolen from him, and finally he was given the most torturous form of capital punishment ever devised; all while his executioners were admitting his innocence and washing their hands.

Examining this story, various writers have extolled the humility and virtue of a crucified Christ, holding him up as the example of the Existential Man who suffers what indignities may be thrust upon him stoically and without complaint.

However, any honest reader will quickly realize when examining Christ’s sufferings that they are not the man hanging on the cross, but rather they are the bloodthirsty crowd below, shouting “Crucify him!” and gambling over his clothes.

The story of the crucifixion is not the story of the virtuous man contrasted with the immoral man, it is the story of God contrasted with human beings. In Christ is seen all the nobility, purity, and surprising humility of God incarnate. The rest of the characters display all the ugliness of man. Even the best, most moral men in the story were his disciples, fleeing in cowardice and denying any knowledge of him mere hours after swearing they would follow him to the death.

The Christian faith says that when Christ died on the cross, he paid the penalty for all men’s sins; which sins are flaunted even as he dies. As the very act is occurring, the utter need for the act is brought to light.

Like Mel Gibson’s movie, any discussion of the crucifixion tends to be tainted by accusations of anti-Semitism. Indeed, the claim has been made by various groups, both historically and contemporarily that the Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death.

Leaving alone, for the moment, that it was actually the Romans that both sentenced and executed Jesus, the fact of the matter is that, had Jesus come to ANY culture preaching as he did, they would have treated him in the same manner. The problem was not with the Jews. The problem is with people.

As Christ hung on the cross, he looked down. What he saw were the Roman soldiers, callously gambling over his coat. He saw his Jewish accusers shouting, “He saved others, himself he cannot save!” and “If you are the Christ, come down from the cross, and then we will believe!” He saw one of his disciples cowering and trying not to be seen.

This is What he saw. What he said was “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The very forgiveness for which he prayed, he paid.

The Bulletproof God

In the present day, it seems that national or world-wide tragedies are a monthly occurrence. The media can barely recover reeling from one calamity before another one strikes.

And the same questions are parroted again and again in each instance: Where is your God, now? How could he allow this?

To investigate this question, a thought-experiment may be helpful.

Imagine that God intervenes to prevent a school shooting. Dozens of children are prevented from dying, and their parents never realize the horror of losing a child. Instead these children reach adulthood, have children of their own, and then die some other way; perhaps because of a car accident, a heart attack or old age. Is their death any less devastating when their children have to mourn them instead of their parents? Which is more devastating, a quick death by a gunman or a slow death by decay, senility, and  marginalization? Arguably all death is equally tragic. The only thing that makes the school shooting exceptional in the eyes of the media is the number of people affected and the suddenness and violence with which it occurs. If one of those children were to die at the exact same age due to, say, leukemia, the parents are still robbed of a child, but the media would hardly waste ink on the occurrence.

Clearly stopping the occasional tragedy does not fix the problem.

So go a step further. Say God were to eliminate all natural evil. There would be no more floods or tsunami, no more earthquakes or AIDS. All human beings would be granted eternal youth and vitality.

Of course, this doesn't fix the problem either. It wouldn't stop people from bombing one another, starting wars, or walking into schools and gunning down children.

So what if God were to eliminate death entirely, and all would be granted immortality?

This circumstance would not prevent children from being kidnapped and sold on the sex market in Asia.

It would not prevent hatred, rape, slander, or all the miseries that result from other human beings.

What, then, if people were granted the ability to live out their various obscene fantasies of murder and sexual deviancy in an artificial construct, like the Matrix, where their actions do not impact the lives of real people?

In the 1960 episode of Twilight Zone titled “A Nice Place to Visit,” a criminal named Rocky is killed in a shootout with the police. Awakening in a paradise where he may receive anything he ever wanted, he plays slots at a casino, but bores quickly of winning every single game. After all, if he can have anything he wants, what good is money? He commits a crime, but finds that knowing that he can get away with anything removes the thrill. He bullies police officers, instantly gains the affection of any woman he wants, and luxuriates in the fanciest mansion he can imagine.

The instant gratification of his every desire makes him desperate. He pleads to his celestial benefactor, Pip, "If I gotta stay here another day, I'm gonna go nuts! I don't belong in Heaven, see? I want to go to the other place."

Pip retorts, "Heaven? Whatever gave you the idea that you were in heaven, Mr. Valentine? This is the other place!!"

Pip begins to laugh as Rocky unsuccessfully tries to escape his "paradise".

While perhaps a bit heavy-handed, the point is well made. Human beings that receive everything they ever wanted, accomplish every goal they have sought, are some of the most miserable people on earth.

This can be seen in the lives of celebrities; attractive people who have the adoration of the masses, wealth, and access to all of the distractions that money and fame can afford. As any tabloid will reveal, these people are far from content.

What is called “The human condition” is not simply a problem of death, pain, or unfulfillment. Fixing these things does not remove the problem.

Christianity does offer a solution, whether or not it is appreciated. By rejecting one’s inherent corruption and trusting oneself to Christ, the Christian is promised not simply immortality and vitality; they are offered a purpose for existing – that is, a deep existential fulfillment beyond temporal gain. This certainty sustains them through the inconveniences and tragedies of mortal life. 

Not only this, but Christianity claims a solution to the problem of death itself in its promise of resurrection and eternal life. 

As seen by this thought experiment, in order to fix the human condition, the entire world would have to be reformed, indeed, people would need to be cleansed of a deep corruption. Then they would need to be made immortal. This is exactly the solution that Christianity offers.

To say that Christianity does not have an answer is a misplaced accusation. It would, perhaps, be more accurate for a person to say that they do not believe in the answer or that they do not like the answer.

But there is not a problem in this world that the answer does not address.

Sandy Hook Elementary was the site of a tragic shooting in December of 2012.  Source: Voice of America  [Public Domain]

Sandy Hook Elementary was the site of a tragic shooting in December of 2012.

Source: Voice of America  [Public Domain]

The Argument from Evil Doesn't Disprove God

Negative things such as dark, chaos, cold, and emptiness don’t - in the strictest sense – exist. These things simply represent a lack of positive things such as light, order, heat, and substance.

In the same way, Atheism is not actually a positive theory of reality. It makes no statements about law, reason, philosophy, science, hope, or meaning. It simply states that a particular concept – God – is false.

The concept of atheism is entirely dependent on the concept of a God. If the concept of God had not arisen, there would be no atheists.

While atheists of one sort or another have, no doubt, existed since the dawn of humanity, it is significant to note that purpose, meaning, and morality have always been closely tied to religion – even those religions, such as Buddhism, that don’t admit to a personal God.

Divorced from the concept of God and the practice of religion; a vacuum occurs, within which purpose, intelligence, and morality must find some other meaningful grounds.

In his 2010 paper “Morals Without God,” Frans de Waal, who is an atheist as well as a primatologist and ethologist, says this on the subject:

“We, scientists, are good at finding out why things are the way they are, or how things work, and I do believe that biology can help us understand what kind of animals we are and why our morality looks the way it does. But to go from there to offering moral guidance seems a stretch.

“Even the staunchest atheist growing up in Western society cannot avoid having absorbed the basic tenets of Christian morality. Our societies are steeped in it: everything we have accomplished over thecenturies, even science, developed either hand in hand with or in opposition to religion, but never separately. It is impossible to know what morality would look like without religion. It would require a visit to a human culture that is not now and never was religious. That such cultures do not exist should give us pause.” (Morals without God, Frans De Waal, 2010)

There is a famous religious argument - “Euthyphro’s Dilemma” - which essentially asks whether morality has authority over God or God has authority over morality. The Christian response to this problem is that morality is an essential part of God’s nature. Morality only exists if God exists.

When an atheist raises the problem of evil, they invoke the same dilemma.

In order to prove that reality is incompatible with a perfectly good and all-powerful being, the atheist must somehow conjure up some standard of good and evil which would necessarily apply to God if he existed.

This standard of good and evil against which they judge God would either be essential or non-essential.

Either “right” and “wrong” are real, absolute, verifiable laws that actually exist; or they are arbitrary, made-up standards conjured up by the human mind and subject to change.

If the assumption of the atheist is that Right and Wrong are real properties of the universe, and that God does not exist; then they must argue why and how these properties would apply to God if he did exist. If good and evil can exist with or without God, then God does not necessarily have any direct relationship or obligation to such laws.

If, on the other hand, Good and Evil are as imaginary as God himself, then they must argue that these imaginary properties are inconsistent with an imaginary being; a ridiculous argument if ever there was one.

Perhaps another way to ask this question would be: “What would the universe look like if there was a God?”

On the face of it, this seems like a ridiculous question. What would the world look like if unicorns existed?

How would you know other than just guessing?

But if the argument from evil is a legitimate argument against God, then this is a real question.

The atheist is saying that if God existed, things would be different than they are. So the question becomes, how would things be different?

If “Right” and “Wrong” are made-up things, then there is really no way to tell what they would look like if a made-up God were suddenly real. Since God is imaginary, and the qualities of “right” and “wrong” are imaginary, then one could easily argue that these things could look exactly like the imaginary God of the Bible. If “Good” and “Evil” exist independent of God, then presumably adding God to the equation would back these pre-existing standards with some kind of absolute power. Now, not only does “Good” exist, but it also has the power to enforce itself absolutely.

And what would this look like? Would people and things still die or would they live forever? Would human beings still have the ability to choose between right and wrong? Would the pain reflex still exist to warn a person away from harm, or would the entire earth be baby-proofed?

The atheist has no real answer to this, except to say that “it definitely wouldn’t look like it does now.”

The critic can point out all kinds of misery and suffering that wouldn’t have happened if God had been at the wheel, but they have yet to construct a model of reality with a God.

If they had such a model, they could use it to predict what life would be like with a God, and then point out that life doesn’t meet that standard.

Since they don’t have this model, they can’t say for certain that life wouldn’t look exactly the way it does now.

So to make this argument stick, they’ve got a simple job to do:

· Prove logically that good and evil absolutely exist with or without God.

· Prove that God would have to be “good” (based on the previous standard they have already logically established) if he existed.

· Prove that this hypothetical God doesn’t act “good”.

And viola’! God doesn’t exist.

The atheist’s dilemma is that an objective standard of good and evil needs to exist in order to leverage this against God.

However God – or at the very least, some kind of transcendent, non-material reality – needs to exist in order to have a transcendent, non-material standard of good and evil to wield as a sword against him.

The best they can hope to do is to prove that Christianity (or any form of theism that admits morality) is internally inconsistent. Since, within Christianity, God’s nature is the standard of good and evil, the only thing they can feasibly do is to show that God’s words and actions are inconsistent or self-contradictory, and even this doesn’t necessarily disprove God’s existence.

Though emotionally powerful, the argument from evil is not a strong argument against the existence of God; at most it amounts to a complaint about God.

Are Christians Arrogant?

The complaint goes something like this: “The problem with Christianity is that too many people who claim to be Christians automatically dismiss anyone who thinks in any way different from them as wrong.

It’s arrogant and hypocritical. Didn’t Jesus say ‘Judge not’?”

Decades ago, when two people had a disagreement, they had three options: continue to disagree, adopt the opponents view, or mutually agree on some third viewpoint.

In modern times a fourth option has been invented and become practically mandatory: everybody’s viewpoint is correct. It is not a problem if the two ideas contradict one another because truth is like ice cream: it’s a matter of opinion. Your taste in truth is as valid as mine.

Alternately, people now believe that no one can really know what is true. Everyone operates off of the limited information they have, but can’t say with any confidence that they are right and someone else is wrong.

Given these viewpoints, it is understandable that people get offended when Christians act like they know the truth and reject all viewpoints that differ from theirs. However, there are some obvious flaws with both of these concepts of truth.

In the first case, two people’s beliefs cannot be true if they contradict one another. They can both be false, or one of them can be true, but there is no third option. To say that everyone’s beliefs are true is a copout because then the person is not forced to have to do the hard work of evaluating their own view, they are not forced to consider the alternatives, nor are they forced to have to take a stand against an idea they believe to be wrong. There is no conflict, but there is also no resolution.

The second idea, that no one can be certain of anything, is self-refuting. How are you certain that no one can be certain? Isn’t it possible that there is some way that a person can be certain, and you just don’t  know about it?

If a Christian has become confident that their viewpoint is true, then logic forces them to regard all opposing viewpoints to be false. People can disagree and still be respectful of one another.

Why, then, do Christians have to try to convince others? Again, the reason is very simple, and has nothing to do with arrogance. Christians believe they have found something that everyone needs. It is the answer, the key, the meaning to life. Additionally, they know that every person has an expiration date after which they can no longer receive the tremendous truth the Christian has found. It is out of compassion that Christians assert their beliefs, not arrogance or condemnation.

Certainly some Christians are arrogant and obnoxious with their attitudes, but this is not in keeping with the teachings of Christ. It is also possible for Christians to go too far and to be too pushy in their attempts to persuade others of their need for Christ. One cannot nag or argue someone into changing their mind. Such actions, although possibly misguided, are still well-intentioned. For the Christian it is a matter of utmost urgency that they convince others to join them. The Apostle Paul puts it well when hesays, “To those outside the law I became as one outside the law… that I might win those outside the law.

To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”

So are Christians arrogant? Quite the opposite. The first thing a person does when they become a Christian is to realize the awesome power and purity of God, and the fact that they could never, ever meet His standards. A Christian has to acknowledge that he or she has no worth in themselves, and humbly plead to God for the forgiveness He offers through Jesus’ sacrifice. A person must abandon all arrogance and pride in order to become a Christian, and once they do, it is difficult for them not to share it with everyone.

Blind Faith is not Biblical Faith

Noted British philosopher and humanist Bertrand Russell had this to say of the practice of “faith”:

"Where there is evidence, no one speaks of 'faith'. We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence." defines Biblical Faith this way :

“Faith is acceptance of what we cannot see but feel deep within our hearts… For Christians, believing is not seeing… Why do we believe, because the Bible tells us so. We were not there when Jesus was crucified, yet we believe. We were not there when Jesus rose again, yet we believe.

“…This is the theological virtue known as faith, believing what we did not see because we know it in our hearts to be true.”

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives this definition of Faith:

“Firm belief in something for which there is no proof; complete trust.”

Often Christians feel that they are forced to choose between blind religious trust or intellectual skepticism in opposition to scripture. They either believe or they disobey. Asking questions and seeking support for their beliefs becomes a form of doubt and is seen as a weakness.

The classic teaching on the subject of faith in the Bible comes from the book of Hebrews, and specifically chapter 11 which begins with this definition of faith:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Many take this as support to the “belief without evidence” definition of faith.

Among the potential problems with this view of faith is the way it impacts the process Biblical interpretation itself. If faith is, indeed, a spiritual conviction that defies evidential support, then one is free to interpret scriptural passages based on what they feel the passage means. When someone challenges them to back their interpretation up with such tools as cross-referencing or contextual support, that person is asking for evidence, defying their faith and insulting their spiritual conviction.

This is exactly the trap that one falls into if one reads Hebrews 11:1 without considering the context in which it is given.

The book of Hebrews is written to Jewish believers as an apologetic for Jesus as the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. The author meticulously wades through the Messianic passages of the Old Testament, showing in each case how these passages support Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah.

In essence, the author of Hebrews was providing evidential support of Jesus’ station as the promised fulfillment of the Mosaic Law and of the Prophets. If the author truly defined faith as an unreasoned belief, there would be no necessity to reconcile Old and New Testaments. The author would simply appeal to his audience to search the conviction of their hearts and to believe.

The author shows an intense interest in the evidence presented in the Old Testament, and how this evidence leads convincingly to the conclusion that Jesus is Lord, and the author also assumes that his intended readers should be interested in these facts as well. This being the case, what is Hebrews 11:1 actually saying?

Apologist J. Warner Wallace writes in his essay on Hebrews 11:1:

“In (Hebrews) Chapter 10, the author ends the section encouraging his readers to continue in their faith and to “endure” (verse 36) in spite of “reproaches” and “tribulations” they may have experienced or observed. He finishes by saying, “…we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.” In the very next line (the passage we are considering at 11:1) the author says that faith is “…the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

What Wallace is pointing out is that, when taken in context, Hebrews 11:1 is an encouragement to believers who are suffering persecution. What the author is saying is that, in light of the evidence he has supplied that Jesus is, in fact, Messiah, it is possible to endure sufferings with the assurance undergirded by the weight of the evidence that there is hope for salvation and eternal life. Or, in other words, given the evidence of God’s faithfulness in the past, one can have assurance in the promise he has made for the future (hope), and trust God because He has proven trustworthy (conviction).

By this definition, faith is the assurance of the specific promises that God has made for the future based on the evidence He has provided of His power.

In fact, the definition of faith as being “blind” flies in the face of scriptural passages that contrast false prophecies with true ones:

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

If one takes ones faith as a blind adherence to whatever they feel to be true, how is one to "test the spirits"? John follows this instruction with a simple evidential test for whether a "spirit" is true or not, without making any appeal to feelings.

Blind Faith does not make much sense in the scheme of scripture. Blind faith in what? The teachings of the Bible? How did those teachings arise, and how does one know that they have selected the correct teachings in which to invest their blind faith? John instructs his readers to test the spirits. This implies  that there is a standard of evidence higher than simple emotion against which to test them.