In my first post on this book, I covered the introduction and opening letter. Today, I’ll be examining the first correspondence back and forth between Greg and his father.
Part 1 of this book is titled “Questions About God” but the first few questions don’t really deal with God’s existence. Instead, Edward asks questions about the consistency of reality with attributes of God given to him by theists. Correspondence 1 is titled “Why has Christianity done so much harm?”
A few things to point out about this before we even get into the question.
1. This to me points out that Edward is not the “master skeptic” that Greg painted him to be in his introduction. If your first objection to the existence of God is “Christians are sometimes big meanies” then that shows to me that this is not something you have been thinking or discussing with others a great deal about. And for a book written in 1994 about events that took places probably not too long before, I understand completely why this is the case. I believe that in the late 80’s and early 90’s it was probably extremely difficult to have discussions about being a non-believer. Apologetics, and thus counter apologetics didn’t start getting popular until the age of the internet where people could anonymously discuss their honest opinions about God and religion without being chastised or preached too.
So I am not putting down Greg’s father, or trying to paint him in a negative light. I’m simply trying to make the point that his skepticism is based on a more personal, common sense approach rather than a rigorous study of the ideas presented. I completely understand that approach, but Greg is wanting to have a rigorous intelligent rational discussion with his unstudied father, and Greg comes to the table more prepared.
2. Even people who are well-educated in apologetics take this approach, and I honestly don’t like it. The idea behind questions like this and more prominently “The Problem of Evil” is to take observable facts in reality, such as “evil exists” and try to contrast them with qualities of God, such as “God would not allow evil to exist.” The problem with this type of argument is that the nature of reality is not in dispute, and theists won’t likely argue the point about evil existing, but they will change the qualities of God to squeeze their way out of the apparent contradiction, and honestly, there is nothing that a skeptic can do to disprove them on this.
Here’s a quote from a discussion I was having with someone on facebook about these types of claims.
“Let’s use an analogy. My friend Bob believers perfectly moral unicorns exist and also eat babies. The conversation might go something like this:
Me: How can unicorns be moral and eat babies.
Bob: Well unicorns get a special moral juice from the blood of babies, that allows them to be on a higher plane of moral existence.
Me: How could you possibly know that?
As extreme as that may seem, it highlights the ease in which someone can spout off utter bullshit to reconcile an internal inconsistency.
I think that last contention, “how could you possibly know that?” is a question better aimed at the overarching claims of theism concerning the origin of the universe and the supernatural realm than talking about some very specific, non-integral doctrine.”
I just don’t think it’s useful to question the qualities of a being that hasn’t been shown to exist yet. Show me he exists first, then we can talk about his qualities. “How could you possibly know that?” is the first question that should be asked of anyone making a claim.
Okay, after that somewhat long introduction, let’s examine the actual correspondence.
Edward shows my first point when he replies to Greg’s invitation with this:
“My belief (or lack of it) is not based too much on any positive position I hold, but rather, on a host of negative ones. I can find plenty wrong with most religious and political views, but I am not at all firm on what I personally believe — as least not on religious mattes. I really don’t have a “faith” or “worldview’ of any sort. I only know for sure what I don’t believe. Also, unlike you, I’m not a trained philosopher, so if you write to me like you wrote in your dissertation, forget it! I won’t be able to follow you. So you’ll have to keep it simple.”
Edward admits that he’s outmatched in philosophy, but also that his lack of belief isn’t really based on positively applying skepticism, but more of a common sense understanding of bad claims.
Edward makes his first two objections to Christianity. The first is
“…how could an all-powerful and all-loving God allow the church to do so much harm for so long? Isn’t this supposed to be His true church? His representation on Earth?”
While this may be a valid question, I admit that it’s a weak objection. After all, if God exists, the idea of how he feels about the church can be justified in an almost infinite number of ways that I can think of. The church being bad isn’t a really good reason to not believe a God exists.
His second objection is:
“And it was the church, was it not, that decided which books were ‘divine’ and should constitute the ‘Holy Bible.’ As far as I am concerned , this is itself enough to reject the Bible as a joke.”
I was actually glad this objection came up. I wish it were his main objection because Biblical inerrancy and divinity is a central tenant to, specifically Christian-based, God belief. Let’s see how Greg handles these objections. Bear in mind I am wading through all the pleasantries and such to get to the meat of the argument.
Greg applauds his father’s willingness to interact in this discussion. He spells out his intentions:
“these beliefs, I argue, are more substantiated, and far more fulfilling, than any other worldview one could hold. And my goal, quite frankly, is to convince you of the truth of these beliefs and bring you into a relationship with Christ. I know firsthand the fullness of life, the peace, and the joy that this relationship gives, and I want to share it with you.”
Theists really don’t get how insulting this mindset is. It boils down to “my life is better than yours, and I want your life to be as good as mine!”
Also, you’ll notice here that Greg has stated his intentions are to convert his father, not to have his beliefs questioned and possibly proven wrong, but only to prove to his dad that he’s been right all along.
Greg’s answer to his father’s first objection is the exactly the type of response I saw coming.
“I don’t think God can be held responsible for what the Catholic Church — or any church, or any religion whatsoever — has done or shall do.”
You know what, I actually agree with him here. I think his father’s question was weak and unfounded. If God exists, there’s no reason to believe that he is the God that controls Christians in any way. But again, I would much rather be arguing about God’s existence in the first place than what qualities he might or might not have.
“From my perspective, the God whom the Bible talks about, and whom Jesus Christ incarnates, is a God of love, and this entails that He is a God of freedom, for you cannot have love without freedom. We were created with the ability to choose love, and thus with the potential to choose its opposite — evil.”
Again, I see his point. This might be a plausible view of God, but notice that he qualifies it by saying “from my perspective.” I could make a strong case against his perspective of the Bible, using the Bible as well. Yahweh was arguably a violent war-loving God. But again, who cares? Why argue about the attributes of God given to us from the Bible, let’s substantiate the Bible as good evidence of God’s attributes first.
Next he addresses the problem of evil:
“To assume that God is responsible for our evil –even the evil committed “in His name” –is, I suspect, to assume that humans are robots who simply act out of divine preplanned program.”
No it’s not. If the Christian God exists, He ultimately is responsible for our actions. He created us with his omniscience. He understood what was going to happen upon our creation. If God created us, then he is either fully aware of what we were capable of doing, thus ultimately responsible for it, or he created us without knowing of our actions, and thus not omniscient.
Imagine that you and your spouse are going to conceive a child. Before you do though, you are given absolute knowledge that your child will be a serial killer. If you go ahead and create that child, you are not just a willing accomplice, you are responsible.
The obvious objection is that “God doesn’t know what we are going to decide to do because he gave us free will.” Well if God didn’t know something, he’s off the hook, but that also means God isn’t all-knowing. The two qualities of God, not responsible for our actions and all-knowing, are mutually exclusive. Theists have to lose one of those beliefs to have a consistent God concept.
The rest of the chapter deals with Greg defining “Christian” and how a church can’t be “Christian”. This blog is already too long, so I’ll grant him that. I will point out that he didn’t address his father’s concerns over the formation of Biblical canon, a much more important question in my opinion. I wonder if his response was edited out.
Thanks for reading!