Frequently Asked Questions
Questions About God
Many definitions of God flourish in the world religions. In fact, the term "God" has even been used as an expression to denote "a maximization of . . ." by no less an atheist and philosopher Ayn Rand. But the usual connotation of "God" as it is used in classical as well as contemporary Western thought is a being whose essence entails His existence. Simply put, one necessary attribute of God is that He exists. And if such a necessary being exists, He will be the greatest conceivable being. Yet this does not entail, contra Thomas Aquinas, the doctrine of divine simplicity. So He will necessarily be omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (immediately accessible), omnibenevolent (all-good), and omnipotent (all-powerful). Such attributes make this being worthy of worship and praise by virtue of His ontology. Furthermore, as the greatest conceivable being, God will have perfect love. However, love is not perfected (or maximized to its fullest potential) if it is only self-directed (which it would have to be prior to God's creation of anything). So, within God there must exist another mind that can be the recipient of a primary loving mind. But love is still not maximized to its fullest potential unless love is directed toward someone by the cooperation of two others who share in that love. This entails yet a third mind that must exist so that each combination of two minds can cooperate in their love (as married couples do in loving their child) toward the third mind. Theologically, this doctrine is known as the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. It is traditionally defined as the view that the Father, Jesus (the Son) and the Holy Spirit are the selfsame God but are distinct centers of consciousness.
As a Christian, I am committed to a positive answer to this question. My own personal experience of God as a living reality in my life on an intimate journey of spirituality leads me to accept that such a Being exists. My spiritual pilgrimage was at a heightened climax when I prayed to God for knowledge of and communion with Him. But bystanders and onlookers do not have access to my deepest, incorrigible thoughts about God. Therefore, it has been necessary for theists to propose reasons for others to think that God exists. This is by and large the ministry of this web site. I would encourage readers to examine the detailed evidence I provide for believing that God exists (see my Atheism page). In brief, there is one good reason I consistently offer in my writings:
The Kalam Cosmological Argument
p1: Everything that
begins to exist has a cause.
Now, (i) seems incontestable. It also seems that, given recent advances in cosmology, (ii) is no longer in question. And (iii) follows necessarily from (i) and (ii). Someone will inevitably ask, Why must (iii) imply God? The reason is that there are only two types of causes -- events and agents. The cause cannot be an event because the universe is finite in age, which contradicts what an event-cause would do. Therefore, the cause must be an agent which is what theists mean when they refer to God (See Theism and Contemporary Cosmology; Evidence for the Existence of God; Kalam Cosmological Evidence for the Existence of God).
The problem of evil has been a plaguing issue for theists ever since the concept of God became an object of academic discourse. It was Fyodor Dostoevsky who poignantly observed that one does not question God who is in many ways beyond comprehension, but the world that He created. However, the two versions of the problem of evil do not sufficiently render theism either impossible or improbable. First, the logical problem of evil seeks to diminish the possibility of God's existence via logical incompatibility. But it is possible that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil. Say, maybe God allows certain evils in order to bring about a greater good. If this is at least possible then the existence of God and the existence of evil are not logically incompatible after all. Secondly, the inferential/probabilistic/evidential problem of evil is more modest because it denies the likelihood of God's existence given that there may be better solutions to the amount of evil in the actual world. However, there is no reason to think that God does not have overriding desires surpassing the protection of free creatures from harm. Therefore, without adequate justification for how God could have arranged the world differently than what He did and without perturbing the present goods that do exist in a reconstruction, there is no reason to think that a reduction of evil in the present world is feasibly attainable. Furthermore, Professor John Hick once observed that many people make the mistake of supposing that the purpose of life is happiness or pleasure; rather, the purpose of life is to be an heir of eternal life. And becoming an heir of eternal life does not make the presence of evil all that questionable for God's existence. Indeed, He may use it toward that end. The problem of evil remains to be an emotional issue because it is the impact of pain and suffering in each of our lives that truly casts doubt on the existence of God. I submit that upon closer inspection the existence of God fairs well against the problems evinced by evil (See Assessing the Problem of Evil and the Existence of God).
Nothing has been more abused than the overplayed contemporary fascination with biological evolutionary theory. Although I have defended a view of creationism (e.g., Progressive Creationism), such is not necessary in answering this specific question. If evolution is true, then it is possible that God used its process to bring about Homo sapiens. The book of Genesis is consistent with each of the theistic alternatives (some adherents of a theistic evolutionary theory include Richard Swinburne and Howard J. Van Til). The phrase "God formed man from the dust of the ground" (Gen. ii.7) could insinuate that God fashioned human beings from the basic elements of the earth. Moreover, nothing temporally immediate is to be understood by "formed" (Hebrew: "yatsar"). Possibly, nothing terribly literal need be understood from this passage (See Creationism is the Best Explanation of the Scientific Evidence).
Due to the disparity between conventional and contemporary understandings of atheism, philosophers have attempted to branch atheism into two separate categories: positive atheism and negative atheism. Positive atheism is the classical understanding. It is the definitive view, the strong view, that God (or any god) does not exist. Negative atheism, the weak view, is the mere absence of belief in God (or any divine being – sometimes it serves as a synonym for naturalism). In this relatively new understanding, atheism enjoys a category split so that both definitions can maintain their place amongst their parent heading: atheism. However, this amounts to reducing atheism to nothing more than agnosticism. Agnosticism was originally coined by the 19th century lecturer at the School of Mines in London, Thomas Henry Huxley. He is best noted as being “Darwin’s bulldog” since he adamantly defended Charles Darwin’s then-infant theory of evolution. Huxley himself, concerning his adoption of the term agnostic, writes:
Soft agnosticism has since been understood as the mere absence of belief in God (or any deity) since it suspends judgment about matters of metaphysics and theology. Since it neither confirms nor denies any epistemological claims about God then it properly satisfies the status of a default position. In a sense, the agnostic places phenomenological brackets around the propositions “God exists” and “God does not exist” to explore unchartered areas of research that may offer insight toward reaching a conclusion. Hard agnosticism is a bit more Huxleyan in that endeavors to study immortality or God's existence are futile. One cannot generate satisfactory criteria upon which to make a conclusion. In either case of agnosticism, God's existence is unknown.
Questions About Christianity
Although it is difficult to define anyone's faith in just one or two sentences, I shall attempt the impossible. As a preface, I encourage seekers of Christianity to access material that is more detailed with respect to defining it. In his widely-used textbook Religions of the World, Lewis Hopfe notes that
This set of beliefs is the crux of the Christian message heralded by followers of Jesus ever since the first century. Unfortunately, many concepts of religious beliefs have attempted to be categorized as "Christian" when, in fact, such is not a proper reference. I would add to Hopfe's remarks that Christianity is the acceptance of Jesus as not only unique but as the second Person of the Trinitarian Godhead. This feature tends to divide mainstream Christianity with its faux competitors.
One of the most controversial doctrines of the Christian church is the notion that Jesus of Nazareth, after being publicly crucified at the hands of the Roman Empire under the duress of the Jewish authorities, was raised again to life after three days of being buried in a tomb. To many, it sounds more like science fiction than factual information. Others see a more metaphorical reading in that Jesus' resurrection was a symbol of the new life to be enjoyed by all of his followers. But I have developed a good argument for adopting the conservative view that Jesus literally rose again from the grave.
p1: The Resurrection hypothesis has a non-negligible prior probability.
Given the previous claims of miraculous events in biblical antiquity, it appears that the manner in which God vouches for His messages is by supporting them via such events (cf. Exodus 6:29-7:3; 1 Kings 18:19-39; Isaiah 38:1-9). Miracles are typically identified in the New Testament as "signs and wonders" in contradistinction to the pagan claims to the miraculous. In God, authentic miracles demonstrate an authentic message. The Resurrection, as a miracle, would enjoy a great deal of precedent so that it should not seem improbable that God would authenticate Jesus' ministry by Resurrection.
Deductive arguments would rule these next two premises as invalid (a case of affirming the consequent). However, this is a special inductive argument known as the Hypothetico-Deductive Syllogism. It is used in many circles of scientific inquiry for strengthening hypotheses in light of the data. As such, it only suggests that if the premises are true then the conclusion has a degree of strength.
p3: The historical facts are true.
There are three historical facts that are typically agreed upon by most New Testament scholars and critics. These facts pertain to the hypothesis in question.
Since no competing account of what occurred following Jesus' public execution and burial can be afforded in the wake of a Resurrection kerygma and that all naturalistic attempts at alternative explanations fail, then it stands to reason that the Resurrection of Jesus best explains the vacated tomb of Jesus. For more information, see my Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus.
The allegation that whatever God foreknows determines the unfolding of only one possible history is grossly misguided. Even some Augustinian-Calvinists accuse non-Calvinists of inadvertently affirming determinism on the basis of God's foreknowledge. Non-theists and skeptics use divine foreknowledge as a situation where God's characteristics are incompatible with the reality of libertarian free will. Such arguments typically go like this:
This commits a classic modal fallacy (specifically, confusing the necessity of consequent with the necessity of consequence). It cannot be the case that the necessity of a conditional situation ends up proving the necessity of the consequent ("X will necessarily occur"). The problem is further seen in the fact that certain subjunctive counterfactual statements are tenable for p1. A proper understanding of foreknowledge is that whatever occurs is what God foreknows. In this situation, X can by anything and that will constitute God's foreknowledge. If S will do A in circumstance C, then God would know that. If S were to do ~A in circumstance C instead, then God would have foreknown that instead. It is curious indeed that the Christian should surmise that God's foreknowledge is what causes or ensures some designated action. Instead, it is the action itself that constitutes God's foreknowledge. But such an allowance for counterfactual statements is a far cry from ceding determinism.
In an uncontested passage (since it even appears in the dubious yet skeptically celebrated Gospel of Thomas) in the New Testament, we find a parable being stated by Jesus himself attested by the Synoptics. Mark 12:1-11 recounts the parable:
What is significant in this parable is that Jesus compares himself to the "son" who is killed by the wicked tenants -- it is not so much that he is killed but, more interestingly, that Jesus is the unique son of the Father who is distinct from the other tenants (the Jewish religious leaders) and privileged of the owner's servants (God's prophets). In fact, he is the heir of the estate (Israel). In effect, Jesus is higher than the other prophets, the special and unique Son of the Father, and the rightful heir to Israel. This special relationship and self-understanding of Jesus is copulated by Matthew 27:11, "All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him." This is likely historical because no Christian zealot-copyist inventing a Christology would have included "no one knows the Son except the Father" since early Christianity seemed to make clear that Christ certainly could be known. And in the hierarchical scheme of things, Jesus is placed higher than the angelic beings (Mark 13:32 -- This passage includes the "embarrassing" statement that the Son does not know "that day or that hour" of his own return; another unlikely feature of a Christian zealot-copyist). It is difficult to exit the New Testament, especially the Gospel of John, without a Christology that includes a divine identity for Jesus.
For more theological information on this, see my article, A Discussion of Jehovah's Witnesses. Also, the late Professor Raymond Brown has done some excellent balanced work in his short book, An Introduction to New Testament Christology (Paulist Press, 1994).
The answer engenders something similar to how scientists deal with accepted theories/hypotheses. Anytime a problem or an anomaly comes along to challenge the overarching paradigm, the scientist is not to give up the entire paradigm at the hands of questionable doubts. Instead, the person continues to search for answers to the particular problem until there is a resolution. Even still, you must remember that reason is subordinate to faith in that reason serves as the handmaiden to faith. If the evidence just isn't there for God's existence or the truth of Christianity, we have our personal encounter with the living God whereby we know that He is real. If the evidence happens to confirm that faith, then so much the more is our faith enhanced. Now, I do not say this as if I'm backing away from the idea that Christianity doesn't have a case. It most assuredly does. In fact, I believe that if anyone examined the evidence thoroughly (I mean "completely") then I am convinced the evidence would point to the truth that God exists and that Christianity is true. But no one can exhaustively examine all of the information in the universe in order to attain that level of confidence. So, we say that based on the information we do have, there are reasons to accept the Christian worldview. We see this paralleled in other scenarios. Suppose that Scott Peterson, who is on trial for murdering his wife, really didn't do it. Now suppose that the evidence is mounting heavily against him. In the face of the evidence leaning toward his guilt, is Scott Peterson now obliged to change his mind because of what the evidence says? Not at all. Similarly, the evidence is a tool for the Christian and the skeptic alike. But in this case, the evidence favors the Christian worldview. Getting the skeptic to see this is a bit of a journey through the mire.
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