Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The "Reasonable Doubts" podcast on presuppositional apologetics: Part 2

Continuing in our review from last time, in minute 53 of the podcast, the critique of Christianity's moral foundation begins.

The Doubtcasters make several central mistakes in their critique, the principal of which makes its appearance early. They show that they do not understand the difference between God commanding someone to do something and God informing someone that either they or someone else will be doing something. While this is not what I would call basic theology, neither is it all that complex. Further, it is what I would call fairly basic hermeneutics of language. "Go get that ball now" is hardly the same as "He's going to go get that ball". Numerous and generous portions of especially Old Testament books are prophetic utterances, setting out descriptions of future events. God is explaining what is going to happen, and one of the reasons He does so is to let the reader/listener know that He is God (see Isaiah chapters 40-48). Further, it is clear that God does not always approve of the negative things He's warning of, even going so far as to make clear that He'll be punishing those whom He's using to bring punishment for sin against Israel, in Habakkuk. Yet the Doubtcasters could have easily used Habakkuk as their example ("Look, the war god Yahweh is commanding the Babylonians to wreck His chosen people! Haw haw haw!"), showing again their unfamiliarity with the Bible. This may seem complicated at first, but it's really not - you just have to do a little more reading and deep thinking. More on this to come, as it forms the backbone of much of their criticism.

Minute 55 - they quote Chris Bolt correctly identifying the fact that man's relationship to moral laws, as a creature, is not the same as God's relationship to moral laws, as the Creator and Lawgiver. I'd add, for the Doubtcasters' benefit, that it is literally impossible for God to commit murder, since murder is biblically defined as the unjustified taking of human life, and all humans are guilty of capital crimes before God (specifically, idolatry and rebellion) and deserve death at every moment of our existence. Instead of being burned up in a wrathful outburst, we are instead mercifully preserved by God Who expresses great patience in letting most of us live for years and decades when we deserve to live not one second.  Anytime God takes a human life, it is justified. He decides, not you or I.

Also, to forestall any objection: Yes, God's decision to end any human's life (including mine) is by definition good, the best. God is God of all, the moment of my birth and the moment of my death included.

Romans 14:7For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 8for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Romans 8:35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36Just as it is written,
37But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What reason internal to Christianity could the Doubtcasters bring against the idea that God is sovereign over all things?

At the 56:30 mark, they make another serious blunder, confusing "Thou shalt not murder", which is the proper statement of the Sixth Commandment, with the oft- and wrongly-stated "Thou shalt not kill".  It is amazing, honestly, to hear supposedly sophisticated atheist critiques that make such basic errors.  At the 56:45 mark, the Doubtcasters have a laugh about the supposed contradiction that results from later commands in the Pentateuch to execute witches, yet since (obviously) the Israelite state lawfully executing a persistent capital criminal is hardly a case of murder, their laughter merely demonstrates their ignorance.
A reminder here - this is still a defense of Christianity's internal coherency, a defense against a supposed internal critique. The reader may not think that witchcraft merits capital punishment, but that would not be a valid argument in this case, since the Doubtcasters are trying to show internal problems within the Christian worldview. On Christianity, it was perfectly legitimate to execute witches in the Old Testament Hebrew nation.
And no, the fact that most Christians don't advocate executing witches today isn't "covenantal relativism", as the Doubtcasters sniff, any more than the fact that American law differs from British law in some ways is anglo-relativism. 21st-century America is not Ancient Israel, and yes, that matters.

Another headscratcher occurs at the 57:30 mark, and let me address the Doubtcasters directly here. Fellows, if you want to be taken seriously by anyone who's not already a fanboy, if you want Christians to listen to you fairly and honestly so that perhaps they may be persuaded, don't
-talk about the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ as if it were a case of human sacrifice, nor
-refer to "Jebus" who "died on an X".
I am at a loss to imagine how anyone could think this is a serious discussion of these topics, but perhaps they're just playing to their crowd. It's certain they're not attempting to fairly represent the Christian side of things. Scoring a few cheap laughs from the anti-theist peanut gallery is not equivalent to serious interaction with biblical theology.

Jesus is not merely a human, and His atoning death on the Cross was nothing like the human sacrifices that the Bible so often condemns in pagan nations.  It has always been God the Son's plan to become incarnate, to live a sinless life on Earth, and to give Himself as a ransom for many.
John 10:18 - "No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again."
Acts 2:23 - "this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death."

God, Yahweh, never called for human sacrifice. Rather, He called for the blood of bulls and goats as foreshadows and indicators of the coming Messiah, and His intent was to save sinners rather than calling for their own blood to be spilled. That's the whole point of atonement - the substitute dies in place of the guilty one. Nor would one sinner dying in the place of another sinner be sufficient - Yahweh's wrath at sin is not thus satisfied. It had to be a perfect, spotless sacrifice to cleanse sinners from sin. This is one of the main points of the Epistle to the Hebrews, but of course it's asking a lot from a group of atheist podcasters to be very knowledgeable about Hebrews.
To be most correct, they should have said "theanthropos sacrifice" or "God-man sacrifice", but of course they stuck with the buzzword, probably hoping, again, for cheap points.

Continuing in the theme of human sacrifice, the Doubtcasters go on to claim that 1 Kings 13 is a command to sacrifice pagans on their altars. No doubt they refer to verses 1-3.
If there were a command present, I'd expect to see something in the imperative mood, but nothing of the sort is actually found there. Rather, this is a prophecy about an upcoming event.
Further, the way this actually turned out under King Josiah was not a religious ritual or sacrifice at all.
2 Kings 23:15-20
This is not a sacrifice of humans so as to appease deity or ask for favor from God. Rather, this is a reform movement (spearheaded by King Josiah, not a priest or other religious figure) to cleanse the nation of the deep and destructive idolatry into which it had fallen. These priests of the high places were career capital criminals who had made a living off of violating the Mosaic Law. The point of burning the bones on the altar is as the text says earlier - to defile that altar and thus discourage anyone who might think that the high place is an acceptable place or context of worship, and discourage from thinking that the god whose altar was defiled had power to fight back or overcome the judgment that the One True God - Yahweh - had brought against it.  The verbiage "sacrifice" in 1 Kings 13 turns out to be dramatic irony - the religion against which the man of God had made the prophecy is the one that delighted in human sacrifice, of weaker people, of people whom the false religion was able to dominate and deceive. But in the end, judgment comes upon the deceiver.

The Doubtcasters contend that God commands cannibalism, in Jeremiah 19:9, Ezekiel 5:10, and Leviticus 26:29. These are all instances of God prophesying judgment to come, judgment He has ordained. These are not commands. This is simply silly.
Another instance of simplistic language occurs in this section when the Doubtcasters say that God is "forcing people to eat the flesh of their dead relatives."  Where is their argument that divine ordination of events and predestination is incompatible with human volition and making of choices? Did they even think that deeply about it, or were they instead again confusing prophecy with command? This is evidence that the Doubtcasters are again importing their own presuppositions into their critique. Thus, external critique. They need to show us all why a compatibilistic view of the will is incorrect (and contradicted by something in the Bible) rather than assume libertarian freewill and proceed from there. It's disappointing that Dave Fletcher in particular, who (iIrc) claims a Calvinist background, didn't pick up on this.

At the 58:35 mark, during their recitation of a litany of (as we've seen) poorly interpreted Bible passages, they throw in "This is a God of love, mind you", again providing us every reason to call out their claims of performing an internal critique as totally baseless and empty. They're not doing anything nobody's ever done before. Atheism brings forth the same old garbage, with new drapes, time and again.
For one thing, Scripture is clear that God is a loving God. It even goes so far as to say that "God is love" - 1 John 4. Yet the Doubtcasters should also know that God is just, wrathful, jealous, etc, and God can express multiple attributes at a time or only one at various times, and when He is enacting judgment on evildoers, it just so happens He is engaging in wrath, jealousy for His glory, justice in punishment of sinners, and love of defending victims of abuse.
Further, in various biblical word-pictures of heavenly glory where heavenly worship of God is depicted, the worshipers do not say "loving loving loving is the Lord God All-Loving", but rather "holy holy holy is the Lord God Almighty".
This critique also fails to take into account the incomprehensibly vast and profound love that exists between the persons of the Trinitarian godhead. John 17, for example, records some striking language from Jesus about the mutual love the Father and the Son have for each other. Exercising judgment and concern for holiness and glory is an act of love by one person of the Trinity for the others. Thus, God's bringing judgment and punishment upon rebel sinners is a supreme act of love, but apparently neither is it the kind of love nor is it directed toward the objects the Doubtcasters would prefer. The Doubtcasters, to make this criticism stick, however, would need to show us some biblical grounds for thinking they know better how to exercise holy wrath than God does. Their preferences are completely irrelevant, but they appear to have forgotten that.

At the 58:55 mark, the Doubtcasters arrive at a full-throated conclusion, that if God commands something, it can't be immoral in an absolute sense. The problem is, they didn't show us any instances so far of God commanding something they find problematic, let alone that a consistent Christian should find problematic, so the listener is left wondering when they were planning on offering substantiating argumentation.

Part 3 of this series will deal with the segment on the deception of God. Soli Deo Gloria.

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