8/17/2007

Nine Reasons Why Christianity is The Only True Religion, Part 2: God is Who He Is

There are some problems that can be solved intuitively. As an engineering major I was often faced with complex problems in mathematics, chemistry, physics, and other engineering disciplines that required much thought to solve.

I was often guided by my intuition, a kind of problem-solving method best describe by the phrase “AH-HA, now I see it.” I was often able to see the answer without consciously thinking through the problem. Of course, I had to go back to the beginning, reason through my answer and provide that line of reasoning to get credit for the problem on an exam.

The “AH-HA method” guided me through many problems and exercises. It guides me through many decisions I make today as a manager and consultant. Of course, I have to go back to data and facts derived from observation to make my case. I must still justify my actions to others. Does this mean the “AH-HA method” is inferior? Yes, it does. Decisions should be made based on facts. We must explain the real world as we find it. But don’t tell me intuition has no place. Thousands of problems over the course of an undergraduate and a graduate degree in engineering tell me otherwise.

I freely admit that my initial solution to the question of God’s existence was fully intuitive. I just knew, from a big-picture assessment, that the Christian concept of God and salvation explained my world. The concept itself was convincing.

Of course, in a period of self-doubt and insecurity at about age 18, I reasoned through the problem. It was pure “AH-HA method” to being with, but I found many reasons to believe “AH-HA” solution was accurate.

I want to give you an overview of this concept of God that lead me to say “AH-HA.” The best short definition of God’s attributes, the things we can know about His being, is given by a quote from the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom,
power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

God is a Spirit. His very being is not physical or tied to a physical component. His being is not divided. Any of His attributes can describe any other of them. His being can’t be split up into parts. Louis Berkhof puts it like this, “…He is not composed of various parts, such as the body and soul in man, and for that very reason is not subject to division.”

God is infinite. He is not limited by anything: not His physical universe, not His knowledge, not His location, not His situation (as if He were powerless over something). He can do anything He wants.

Is there anything God cannot do? Yes. He cannot do anything that He does not chose to do, and there are some things He will never chose. He will not lie, fail to be just, do something unrighteous, or do anything else inconsistent with who He is. His promises can be counted on.

God is eternal, or unlimited by time. He has always been there. He never came into being in any sense, and He never will come to be any other way that He is now. To go back to Berkhof, “For Him there is only an eternal present, and no past or future.”

God is unchangeable. His being cannot change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He has always been Who He is and never will be different. To quote Arthur W. Pink: “God is perpetually the same: subject to no change in His being, attributes, or determinations.”

The part about God not changing His determinations bothers some people. How then can it be said in the Bible that God “repents?” God will not change His reactions, so His reactions will be consistent with His own attributes. He chooses to react in a certain way toward another being when that being changes. He will forgive the repentant. He will turn His anger against the unrepentant. He does not choose to be either loving or just; He is both as appropriate. The changes are in us, not in Him. God is a being we can relate to.

Since these things are true about God, everything else about Him will be governed by these facts. God’s “being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth” are all “infinite, eternal, and unchangeable.”

God is not limited with respect to knowledge. He knows everything that has happened, everything that will happen, everything that might happen but will not, and everything that could have happened but did not. His knowledge means He will never be surprised by the problems we face, and that he knows the ultimate solutions to those problems. He knows how to communicate with creatures like us.

God is not limited with respect to His power. He can do anything He wants. Nothing or no one can stop Him. The standard way to say this is “God can do all His holy will.” Nothing can stop His wrath against sins. Nothing can stop His mercy and grace.

God is holy. R. C. Sproul uses the old children’s table blessing for this: “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for this food.” God’s holiness is His greatness and His goodness. He is different from anyone or anything else. God is also good in and of Himself. He always does the right thing. “Good” in a particular situation is determined by what He would do in that situation. He is most worthy of worship.

God is just. He cannot do anything that is unjust to another. He cannot wrong someone. He must see that justice is done, and the ultimate judge of every sin or transgression of His moral law. He is the only perfect judge of all people, everywhere. This explains my conscience. God in His wisdom has placed within me an intuitive conviction that certain things are wrong. This leaves me with a problem.

God is good. There is another aspect to this. God shows mercy. He is gracious to His creatures. The just God who requires a penalty for sin provides the payment for that sin in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. This gives a solution for the real guilt I feel, not just a solution to guilt feelings, but actual guilt for actual sins. There is mercy and grace in the face of justice and punishment for sin.

God is truth. He always tells the truth when the truth is due. He reveals Himself in His creation and in His revelation in the Bible. He reveals His will to me in His Word, the Bible, and the creation. I can count on the promise of salvation He makes.

By intuition, this idea of God can convincingly explain the world we live in. I’ll give arguments to back up this idea in future posts based on philosophy and history. Human reason, even though affected by sin, is capable of understanding truth, making philosophical arguments in favor of certain attributes valid. The historical arguments will be based on the person and work of Jesus Christ, the only teacher and example worth following. Only His teaching establishes all of these attributes.

This post is another example of why this blog is name “Fear and Trembling.” It is very easy for a layman like me to make mistakes in discussion of God’s attributes. I fear God and I tremble before Him as I write this.

My next post in this series will discuss what God has done in His creation.

[1/6/11: Please see the other posts in this series for clarification of this post.  The "argument from intuition" was never intended to be a stand-alone argument.]

25 comments:

that atheist guy said...

Hi JK. This comment is a continuation of our discussion here:

http://jkjonesthinks.blogspot.com/2008/04/foot-in-mouth-disease-strikes-some.html

JK wrote:

"I would love to hear what it is you find so unsatisfying about the current conceptions of God. “Finitum non capax infinitum,” the finite cannot comprehend the infinite. We can know many things about God from nature and from revelation, but there will always be things that we do not fully understand."

The initial problem I have with current conceptions of God is the meaning of the word itself. What is "God"? Answering the question, "what was the first cause" by saying "God" doesn't help me understand the nature of the first cause anymore than saying "X".

In your post here you talk about gaining knowledge through the "Ah-Ha" process of intuition. I have had a similar experience in some areas, but not with such ultimate questions as we are discussing here. In some ways I agree that an infinite regress of causes seems absurd, so my "common sense" (if it can be trusted) wants to hypothesize a first cause. However I can't go much further than that in describing what that first cause might be. And my common sense will then always paradoxically ask "what caused the first cause"?

I tried to follow through your reasoning process in this post to understand your conception of God, but I could not get very far. My first hang up was the text you quoted reading "God is a Spirit..." But what is a "Spirit"? I want to ask how it is infinite, but it is hard for me to go further without knowing what a spirit is.

Of course I have some ideas about "spirits" from movies and books, but in the real world I have no idea.

So maybe you can see why I have trouble understanding such conceptions of God, and how people can claim God has these various attributes.

J. K. Jones said...

atheist / god force x guy, ;-)

I am running behind on some work assignments. I’ll get back to you some of your questions in this comment in a day or two.

There is on question I would like to ask you now, however. Are you coming from the school of thought that says all conversation about God is meaningless because God cannot be verified through the senses (sometimes known as empiricism or logical positivism)? I don’t think you are, but I would like to make sure.

Please keep in mind that the intuitive approach is not where I stop. I do present linear arguments in this series of posts. You can follow the posts on the search label “Nine Reasons Why …”

Some of that stuff you have already heard from me, but I am trying to piece together a comprehensive argument. Start from the oldest to the newest (at the bottom of the page).

Buy the way, you can’t logically ask “what caused the first cause.” The argument I am using based on causality shows the first cause is uncaused. He has always been. There can be no infinite regress of causes. He is also intelligent and has free will, in other words, He is a Person. Short version of this argument is on the comments section on the other post. Also here:

http://jkjonesthinks.blogspot.com/2007/08/nine-reasons-why-christianity-is-only_18.html

I’ll comment on God as Spirit soon.

JK

J. K. Jones said...

Atheist guy,

I wanted to come back to your question about God as a spirit. God’s spirituality means that God is not made of matter (physical material), has no parts or dimensions, and, because of the two items just mentioned, cannot be perceived by our physical senses.

Please remember from the cosmological argument (see search label so named on the sidebar) that God had to exist before anything else did. He had to exist before any thing physical or spatial existed. This would lead us to conclude that He is not limited by material or dimension or space. He existed outside these things before he created them. He transcends these things in His being. Therefore, He cannot be physical, but must be beyond physical, or spiritual. God simply has a better form of being than we do.

His spirituality also communicates the concept of His personality. We have seen from the cosmological argument that the first cause had the ability to choose to act. Nothing besides the first cause existed, so He could not have been caused to act by anyone or anything else. He had to have the power to choose to act, which is much of what we think of when we think of a person, a being who has free choice. His spirituality is like mine in this sense, we are both persons. The difference is that my spirit is confined to my body.

Norman Geisler does a much better job of putting all of this together in his book “Christian Apologetics” (Chapter 13). He argues from the necessity of God’s being (that He is a being that cannot not exist). He then attaches attributes to God because of His necessity. A popular version is in the book “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” by Geisler and Turek in Chapter 3.

Of course, this teaching is verified by Jesus in John 4:16-26. Since I have every reason to think that Jesus was Himself God in the flesh (see search label “Argument from Scripture” on the sidebar), I trust what He says.

You never did answer my question above. Without assuming you have this viewpoint, many atheists have the view that only what can be verified by our senses (or in a science lab) can be true. The problem is that we have to rely on non-material things (thoughts) to even allow us to think “only what can be verified by the senses is true.” In other words, “only what can be verified by the senses is true” is not a sentence that can be verified with the senses. It is a concept. The whole notion is self-defeating. Based on its own truth claim, this view cannot be true.

JK

that atheist guy said...

Hi JK,

Sorry for the late reply, like you I got hit by an upsurge of work. My free time to blog comes in waves.

I'll try to find time to read your other posts in the series, but for now I'll try to stay on the topics here in the comments just to keep things as concise as possible.

JK wrote:
"Buy the way, you can’t logically ask “what caused the first cause.” The argument I am using based on causality shows the first cause is uncaused."

Yes, which is why I said my instinct is paradoxical. You're right that if you assume something is the first cause, then by definition nothing caused it. But that doesn't stop my brain from jumping out and saying, "but c'mon, where did that first thing come from?!" As I've said in the past I find both options (endless causes, and a first cause) to be absurd, but like political candidates I admit the first cause option is slightly less absurd. I also wonder if my limited human intellect is missing other options.

JK wrote:
"I wanted to come back to your question about God as a spirit. God’s spirituality means that God is not made of matter (physical material),"

But how do you know God isn't made of matter? If our first step is assuming a first cause, I don't see any logical necessity that it has to be non-material. (By non-material I assume we are considering energy and other odd particles in physics all as "material"?)

JK wrote:
"He had to exist before any thing physical or spatial existed. "

Again, why? What if God is physical?

For the sake of argument, lets say we assume there was a first cause. From that point I don't understand how we can demonstrate properties of that cause. How can we know it was non-physical? How do you know it has no parts or dimensions?

I'm trying to understand the basis for these claims. I want to understand your reasoning there at these initial steps before we get into the details of Christianity or the Bible.

JK wrote:
"many atheists have the view that only what can be verified by our senses (or in a science lab) can be true."

You asked if I was a logical positivist. I'm not sure I conform to that label, but it might be my "working hypothesis". It's hard for me to imagine gaining knowledge that has not come through my five senses. Couldn't some prophets be considered logical positivists? I mean they heard the voice of god, or somehow perceived some divine information. Thomas used his sense of touch to verify the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

Or are you referring to those "Aha" intuitive moments? I'm not sure if those are exempt since the brain's intuition is built on years of experience gathered through the 5 senses.

JK wrote:
"The problem is that we have to rely on non-material things (thoughts) to even allow us to think “only what can be verified by the senses is true.” In other words, “only what can be verified by the senses is true” is not a sentence that can be verified with the senses. It is a concept. The whole notion is self-defeating. Based on its own truth claim, this view cannot be true."

First, I am not sure thoughts are immaterial. It seems thoughts correlate perfectly with activity in the physical brain. Nobody understand why this physical activity creates a subjective experience. I think it's an open issue.

You're right that "only what can be verified by the senses is true" is just a concept, but just because that concept can't be verified does not imply that it is necessarily false.

So I guess what I'm saying is that it's just a working hypothesis, that may or may not be true. I cannot show it's true, but I'm not sure what kind of counterexample can be provided to show it is false either. Then again, I'm not trying to make my thought process a consistent axiomatic system. I'm just going case by case and trying to understand why people claim certain ideas are true or false.

J. K. Jones said...

Atheist guy,

“As I've said in the past I find both options (endless causes, and a first cause) to be absurd…”

Please tell me exactly what is absurd about the argument for a first cause.

“But how do you know God isn't made of matter?”

Two things:

When you make something, the thing you make is outside of you. It is different from you. By analogy, God is different from the material things He made.

Second, anything that changes ceases to be one way and begins to be another. God exists necessarily, that is, He must exist. Because He must exist, His being cannot change. He must be as He is. If He changed, He would be ceasing to be one way and beginning to be in another. The physical universe is made up of changing things, so God cannot be the same type of being that we find in the physical universe.

(I would also like to point out that we do not even have to have this discussion to know that God is a spirit as described here. Jesus told us He was. There is an argument for the truth of what Jesus said that completely goes around this.)

“From that point I don't understand how we can demonstrate properties of that cause.”

What do you find illogical about the argument that the first cause must have the power of choice?

“It's hard for me to imagine gaining knowledge that has not come through my five senses.”

How do you know that you are conscious? How do you know that you exist?

“Thomas used his sense of touch to verify the bodily resurrection of Jesus.”

Not sure you understand what I mean by logical positivism.

I am glad Thomas did this. I would have too. Thomas and the other disciples are valuable witnesses to what Christ said and did precisely because they experienced what Christ said and did with their senses.

“Or are you referring to those "Aha" intuitive moments?”

No. If I say, “The only things I can know are those things that can be verified through the five senses,” how do I know that is true? How can I prove that “only those things that can be verified through the five senses are true” using data from my five senses? I can’t. This conceptual truth cannot be physically verified. It proves itself wrong from the get go, so I don’t need to look for any other evidence or situations.

”It seems thoughts correlate perfectly with activity in the physical brain. Nobody understand why this physical activity creates a subjective experience. I think it's an open issue.”

If the world is made up entirely of physical things, then our thoughts are just the product of the chemical activities in our heads. If this is true, how do we know that any belief we have is true? It could all be the result of the random movement of matter.

“…just because that concept can't be verified does not imply that it is necessarily false.”

Then God’s existence could possibly be true as well. Please think about that.

JK

that atheist guy said...

Hi JK,

I'm enjoying this discussion. Thanks for taking the time to reply.

JK wrote:
"Please tell me exactly what is absurd about the argument for a first cause."

I guess because I will always ask, "why is there something rather than nothing (or something else)?". That question can be applied to a system of endless causes, or a first cause. I have a small suspicion that the absurdity I feel is a result of my limited imagination which is locked in temporal perception. Ie. I can't imagine a cause that doesn't experience time.

Another possibility is something Rudy Rucker called para-time, which is another time axis running perpendicular to our own so that the entire "normal" time-line of the universe is progressing "sideways". It's definitely far-out speculation, and I only bring it up to illustrate that if I imagine something outside of our time, it has to be in some other kind of time. I might touch on some of these ideas more below.

JK wrote:
"When you make something, the thing you make is outside of you. It is different from you. By analogy, God is different from the material things He made."

I agree the analogy shows that a created thing will be different, but it doesn't show that it will be completely different in composition. Ie. I am made of atoms, and so are my creations. My only point is that we can't say for sure. Supposing there was a first cause, maybe it was physical, or maybe not.

JK wrote:
"Second, anything that changes ceases to be one way and begins to be another. God exists necessarily, that is, He must exist. Because He must exist, His being cannot change."

I'm having trouble following the line of reasoning here. Can you give an example of something changing? Maybe one is that of a rock split in two. It has changed into two rocks, but at the deeper level there was just a movement of atoms. Even the change from lead to gold in nuclear physics labs is just the movement of protons and neutrons. A better example might be a photon which changes into a positron and an electron, but at that level my knowledge of how things really operate is extremely limited so I'm not sure what the example demonstrates!

Again I'm not sure why it is possible to say "God exists necessarily". I'm not even sure a first cause exists, however if I do assume that it does I don't see how it follows that it can't change. I mean something had to happen for the first cause to initiate the second cause, and so on. That is why I can't imagine something "outside of time" because with no time there is no change or movement or events.

To go a bit off topic for a moment, given the traditional conception of a God I wonder how God can do or think things without changing. When we think, blood flows in the brain, ions cross membranes, etc. Things are moving and changing position. I don't see how even a non-material system could be changeless.

JK wrote:
"(I would also like to point out that we do not even have to have this discussion to know that God is a spirit as described here. Jesus told us He was. There is an argument for the truth of what Jesus said that completely goes around this.)"

But then I would still be asking Jesus what he meant by "spirit".

I remember reading somewhere that ancient conceptions of God were of a real physical being, and "spirit" was literally the physical breath of God. (Or people, so that when people died their "spirit" or breath was gone.)

JK wrote:
"What do you find illogical about the argument that the first cause must have the power of choice?"

It seems like a non sequitur to me. Why is it necessary that the first cause was conscious? And "choice" implies there was some mechanism that caused the choice to be made. And what caused that? Is there an endless regress of causes in the mind of God?

JK wrote:
"How do you know that you are conscious? How do you know that you exist?"

Strictly speaking I don't know. The only thing I can say is "images and sounds (and other sensory impressions) exist". A feeling of self also exist which may imply that a self actually does exist. The images and other sensory experiences follow patterns and seem to indicate a physical world exists that the self is observing. I can't be 100% sure that I am not the dream of some other entity. Of course I don't consider these ideas seriously except during deep philosophical discussions like this one.

JK wrote:
"Not sure you understand what I mean by logical positivism.
I am glad Thomas did this. I would have too. Thomas and the other disciples are valuable witnesses to what Christ said and did precisely because they experienced what Christ said and did with their senses."

You could be right. I don't have much formal education in philosophy so I'm not very familiar with all the schools of thought.

Why can't we all have the opportunity that Thomas had? He was able to see the extraordinary evidence himself. It is hard for me to believe a witness's story without good evidence. The Book of Mormon has signed affirmations that the account is true, but I don't think either of us believe it.

JK wrote:
"No. If I say, “The only things I can know are those things that can be verified through the five senses,” how do I know that is true? How can I prove that “only those things that can be verified through the five senses are true” using data from my five senses? I can’t. This conceptual truth cannot be physically verified. It proves itself wrong from the get go, so I don’t need to look for any other evidence or situations."

I'm saying you can't know that statement is true. I don't understand why the fact that you can't prove the statement true implies that it is false. I think the answer is just unknown. I think science can answer many questions. It's likely science can't answer all questions. (Including the self referential question "can science answer all questions?").

Why can't I say instead: "As far as I know (as of today) the only things I can know are those things that can be verified through the five senses." Ie. there may be counterexamples. If there are, I would be interested in learning about them. (I suppose I would still need to use a few of those 5 senses to learn it though!)

JK wrote:
"If the world is made up entirely of physical things, then our thoughts are just the product of the chemical activities in our heads. If this is true, how do we know that any belief we have is true? It could all be the result of the random movement of matter."

My first objection would be the phrase "just the product of chemical activities". As I said in a blog post once, there might not be any supernatural things, but the natural itself is super. Matter itself is miraculous. We think the material world is mundane since we experience it every day, but when you study physics you learn how bizarre and wondrous things really are. So I claim that saying "just chemicals" is a mischaracterization of the beauty and mystery of nature.

Secondly, I don't know for sure what I believe is true. I am comfortable with that to some extent. I don't see any way around it.

It's an interesting question about the random movement of matter. I'm not sure how that would be possible since we see patterns around us. What would a completely random universe be like? I imagine no structure, just a sea of chaos. A void of noise, with no consciousness to even experience it. What exactly do you mean by "random"? As I said earlier, I am not even sure anything actually is random.

I wrote:
“…just because that concept can't be verified does not imply that it is necessarily false.”

Then JK wrote:
"Then God’s existence could possibly be true as well. Please think about that. "

Of course! I am completely open to the idea of God. If God exists I want to know about it. But please remember I consider the Christian conception of God to be just one of many possibilities, and also rather low on the list of probabilities.

Actually most atheists I know are open to the idea. The kind of atheist who proclaims "there is no God and I know it (and nothing will change my mind)" are a minority in the minority.

OK, that's enough for now!

TAG

J. K. Jones said...

TAG,

Thanks again for your comment.

I should respond tommorrow night.

JK

J. K. Jones said...

TAG,

You mentioned many things in your last comment. I will not respond to each point, but I would like to respond to the big picture.

TAG: "I guess because I will always ask, "why is there something rather than nothing (or something else)?". That question can be applied to a system of endless causes, or a first cause.”

There must be a First Cause in order to have anything. Logic requires Him.

TAG: “… I can't imagine a cause that doesn't experience time…if I imagine something outside of our time, it has to be in some other kind of time… But then I would still be asking Jesus what he meant by "spirit".”

I am not competent to speak for Jesus, but here is what He said to someone else who asked: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
(http://www.gnpcb.org/esv/search/?q=john+4&src=esv.org)

You seem to want a complete and total understanding of God before you will acknowledge Him. Jesus points us to worship, that is, standing in awe of God. I cannot stand in awe of something I understand completely. I cannot worship what I completely understand. As I said on the other post, I cannot completely comprehend God.

As to the comments about wanting the evidence Thomas had, please try the search lable “Argument from Scripture.” The short version is that God has already given us a great deal of evidence.

TAG: “I agree the analogy shows that a created thing will be different, but it doesn't show that it will be completely different in composition. Ie. I am made of atoms, and so are my creations.”

Here is where I turn to science. Einstein’s General Relativity, among other evidence, points us to an origin of the universe from an event before there was matter, space, or time. It is this scientific evidence that is most convincing for me. Hence, if God existed before the big bang, He existed outside space, and He is not limited by it. (See http://www.josh.org/download/pdf/arguments_for_gods_existence.pdf, page 9 and following for a summary of more scientific evidence.)

TAG: “…I'm not sure why it is possible to say "God exists necessarily". I'm not even sure a first cause exists…”

You still have not pointed out a single logical / rational objection to my basic argument from the impossibility of an infinite regress of causes.

TAG: “…with no time there is no change or movement or events.”

This is partly true. I would argue that God experiences a sequence of events, but that He is not bound by that sequence. He has a will to act. It is not His will that cannot change, it is His being. He cannot change the way He is, but He can do what He wants to do.

TAG: “…I wonder how God can do or think things without changing…And "choice" implies there was some mechanism that caused the choice to be made. And what caused that?...”

Exactly, God made the ‘first move’ by an exercise of His will. He chose to create. The mechanism is God’s will to act.


TAG: “I can't be 100% sure that I am not the dream of some other entity.”

But if that were true, you would still have to account for yourself, the one having the dream. The argument from the impossibility of an infinite regress would still work. I don’t think you can find on shred of evidence for something like that anyway. If you really believed that all of this was just a dream, I would probably ‘through up my hands’ and just ask you to stop talking in your sleep.

TAG: “I don't understand why the fact that you can't prove the statement true implies that it is false.”

Take on example, the statement “There is no such thing as absolute truth.” If that statement is false, then it is false and we don’t have to deal with it any more. If that statement is true, the it proves itself false. If “There is no such thing as absolute truth” is true, then it is an absolute truth. It admits one absolute truth. It is called “self-defeating,” if it is true, then it proves itself false.

TAG: “…when you study physics you learn how bizarre and wondrous things really are. So I claim that saying "just chemicals" is a mischaracterization of the beauty and mystery of nature.”

That is why I insist on the being a Designer to make all of the beauty and uniformity we see in nature.

TAG: “What would a completely random universe be like? I imagine no structure, just a sea of chaos. A void of noise, with no consciousness to even experience it. What exactly do you mean by "random"? As I said earlier, I am not even sure anything actually is random.”

Again, I don’t think anything is random. I think if things were random, then we would not find the patterns and order we find in the universe. The structure implies a designer, which in turn requires a designer.

TAG: “…I consider the Christian conception of God to be just one of many possibilities, and also rather low on the list of probabilities.”

Please give on logically conclusive argument for a system of thought that competes with Christianity. I’d like to try my hand at knocking down your arguments for a change. On your blog, perhaps?

Still praying for you and yours,

JK

that atheist guy said...

Hi JK,

I was away for most of the week so my response was delayed. I'll try to whittle down the length of my reply here.

JK: "You seem to want a complete and total understanding of God before you will acknowledge Him."

I don't think so. I don't have a total understanding of anything really, including mundane things like trees and rocks. I have to retreat to my ignostic stance here in that I still have a fundamental ignorance of what people mean when they say "God". I really don't know what it is I'm supposed to acknowledge.

JK: "Here is where I turn to science. Einstein’s General Relativity, among other evidence, points us to an origin of the universe from an event before there was matter, space, or time."

I don't think cosmologists know much about what was going at around the time of the big bang. One idea I've heard a lot of recently is the cyclical collision of higher dimensional "branes". Each time the branes collide a new big bang occurs. Are these branes "beyond" space and time? I have no idea.

JK: "You still have not pointed out a single logical / rational objection to my basic argument from the impossibility of an infinite regress of causes."

You're right, but I don't think we understand enough about the nature of space and time to rule anything out. As I said I do agree that it seems somewhat reasonable that there was a first cause of some sort based on my limited knowledge of causes and effects in general. I still can't see how we can make any knowledgeable claims about the nature of that cause.

JK: "Exactly, God made the ‘first move’ by an exercise of His will. He chose to create. The mechanism is God’s will to act."

I don't even understand how human brains make decisions. If you were offered two identical apples, which would you choose? The right or left? Say you chose the left. What caused that? We could trace the causes and effects from the muscles contracting in your arm to grab the apple, to the nerve single that was sent from the brain, and so on back. This gets into free will and a whole other can of worms. I can have some idea of our decisions being made by the firing of neurons, but I have no idea how we could translate those events to the mind of an immaterial supernatural being. I still see an infinite regress here when I ask what caused God's will to act? (And whatever it was, what caused that, and so on.)

Regarding the dream idea, I didn't mean I was dreaming, but that some other entity was dreaming the universe and all of us in it.

JK: "Take on example, the statement “There is no such thing as absolute truth.” If that statement is false, then it is false and we don’t have to deal with it any more. If that statement is true, the it proves itself false. If “There is no such thing as absolute truth” is true, then it is an absolute truth. It admits one absolute truth. It is called “self-defeating,” if it is true, then it proves itself false."

But haven't you just constructed a paradox there, similar to "This sentence is false."? I'm not sure what the paradox demonstrates. I think I agree with you that is is silly to make the absolutist claim that the =only= way to learn new things is through our senses. I can't know that for sure. However I can say that I haven't seen any counterexamples yet.

JK: "Please give on logically conclusive argument for a system of thought that competes with Christianity. I’d like to try my hand at knocking down your arguments for a change. On your blog, perhaps?"

I'm not sure what you mean by "system of thought". I was just talking about god concepts. For example pantheism is one option where we imagine the first cause was something that became the universe itself. I have no evidence for it so I can't really make an argument for it. My only isntinct is that it seems simpler, and simple ideas are just more appealing to me. The Christian ideas of a god that actively participates in the universe through miracles, revelations, and many other stories seems very complicated to me. The trinity, original sin, heaven and hell, angels and devils, etc. are all additional complications that seem unnessasary and not very different from the many other religions in human history. I might go as far as agreeing with you that there was a first cause, but I can't jump from that to all the supernatural details of Christianity (or any other religion) without sufficient evidence.

OK, that turned out to be longer than I expected. It's hard to be brief with these topics!

J. K. Jones said...

I'll get back to you about Tuesday or Wednesday evening.

You have an interesting persepective, but it bothers me that you seem to rull out some conclusions based on your feelings and not logical argument.

I'll expound when i respond later.

JK

that atheist guy said...

No rush!

Those feelings might be my intuition! ;-)

Logical argument is only as good as the premises we are using. I think we are disagreeing on what are acceptable premises. How do we judge the truth value of a premise?

Also I'm not ruling out most claims, just doubting them to varying degrees.

J. K. Jones said...

TAG,

Long comments are okay. Here goes.

TAG: “…I still have a fundamental ignorance of what people mean when they say “God”.”

No you don’t. You have all but admitted that an uncaused cause of some kind must exist, or at least you have no counter-argument. You could try here:

http://johnankerberg.org/Articles/theological-dictionary/TD0603W3.htm

http://johnankerberg.org/Articles/theological-dictionary/TD0703W1.htm

http://johnankerberg.org/Articles/theological-dictionary/TD0703W3.htm

TAG: “…the cyclical collision of higher dimensional “branes.””

Here is where we come up against the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the most experimentally verified law in all of physics and engineering. This law states that the total amount of usable energy in the universe is decreasing. Another way to state it is that the universe is winding down. If it is winding down, it cannot be infinitely old. If it had been expanding and contracting forever, then it would have wound down by now (all energy would have dissipated).

TAG: “You’re right, but I don’t think we understand enough about the nature of space and time to rule anything out.”

This is why your view requires more ‘blind faith’ than mine does. I have logical arguments from the things that exist right now in front of us. You have faith that scientific discovery and / or philosophy of some kind will one day answer your concerns. Could it be that there is something besides an unbiased search for truth behind your skepticism?

On the “free will” thing, free creatures always do what they want to do. It’s that simple. They act upon their desires, and they make a choice. No outside force can change this fundamental method.

I can, from the outside, greatly reduce your choices, but I cannot take away your power to choose. Even the proverbial thief, when he says, “your money or your life,” cannot force you to give him your money of your free will. He might have to shot you.

God has no limits on His power from the outside. He cannot be forced to do anything. Therefore, He always chooses according to His desire. It is His desire that leads Him to create.

Oh, buy the way, I don’t think that non-theistic views of the universe allow for any free will at all whatsoever. If the decisions we make are limited to a physical universe, then we make our choices based on matter in motion (chemical processes in our brain, neurons firing, etc.). These random actions of matter leave us with no way to verify the truth of any of our thoughts. See here:

http://www.calvin.edu/academic/philosophy/virtual_library/articles/plantinga_alvin/naturalism_defeated.pdf


TAG: “I still see an infinite regress here…”

The argument I have outlined makes an actual infinite regress impossible. We must have a mind that can choose according to its own desires to start the whole process.

Also, If we are the product of the dream of another being, what difference would that make? The infinite regress of causes is not logically possible, so the dreamer is either the uncaused cause of the dream, or he is a being who was caused to be buy an uncaused cause. By force of logic, we must have an eternal, powerful, personal Being to start the process. The ‘row, row, row, your boat’ thing must end somewhere.

Concerning the self-defeating statement - TAG: “...I can’t know that for sure…”

Except that, you cannot say it without making it false. Maybe I am not explaining this well. Please try:

http://www.str.org/site/DocServer/3-4_2007_SG.pdf?docID=1661

On pantheism, it makes something that changes a part of god’s being. This god cannot be the cause of all things because he / she / it is now changing. A being contained within the universe as we know it would be winding down as with the rest of the universe.

It would also make nothing in the universe distinct from God. All is one, and one is all. We would both be god. This form of grandiose delusion has not invaded my brain yet.

Please see Norman Geisler at:

http://johnankerberg.org/Articles/theological-dictionary/TD0604W4.htm

http://johnankerberg.org/Articles/theological-dictionary/TD0704W2.htm

Here’s an excerpt:

“The most fundamental criticism of a strictly pantheistic world view is that it is actually unaffirmable by man, for no finite individual reality exists as an entity really different from God or the absolute. In essence a strict pantheist must affirm, "God is but I am not." But this is self-defeating, since one must exist in order to affirm that he does not exist.
TAG: “The Christian idea of a god that actively participates in the universe…””

There is nothing that limits the power of the First Cause. He has absolute power over His creation. He brought it into being, so He can act in it at any time.

You could follow the search label “The Trinity.” You will find articles written for a Muslim friend of mine. Please feel free to ask questions in comments.

Many things are proven from God’s revelation to us. It is reasonable that a God who created us would want to interact with us. Why else would He have given us a personality?

Then we have the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth. He shows up one day working miracles, teaching great truth, and preaching a unique message of God’s grace. He dies on a cross, and then God raises Him from the dead. When God raised Christ from the dead, He gave His stamp of approval on Christ’s teaching.

There is no other religion that teaches anything like this. All other major religions preach that works earn merit. Christianity says life is all about God’s favor to us in spite of what we do.

Christianity is also a religion that almost begs to be proven false. It is falsifiable since it is based on historical facts. Tell me about another religion that puts it all on the line as Christianity does.

TAG: “…not very different from the many other religions in human history…without sufficient evidence.

There is plenty of evidence. Please see the other posts under the search label “Nine Reasons Why…” Also try the search label “Argument from Scripture.”

We have enough evidence for an unbiased person to place faith in Christ. But we come back to the question of whether anyone is truly unbiased. No one is unbiased on these topics. I admit my own bias as well. Please follow the favorite web link on my sidebar called “Van Til on Becoming a Christian.”



Praying for you all the time,

JK

that atheist guy said...

Hi,

OK lets get started!

JK: "No you don’t. You have all but admitted that an uncaused cause of some kind must exist, or at least you have no counter-argument. You could try here:"

Here we were discussing the meaning of "God", etc. I have only admitted that a first cause is possible. For the sake of argument, assuming there was a first cause, I asked how we could know anything about it. I only skimmed the links you gave, but they seem to be making many assertions about this first cause that I don't see much if any support for.

I tried to think of an analogy: I imagine walking on a beach and finding a small stone shaped like a donut. I think we can all agree that something caused the stone to take this shape, but what was it? Maybe it was the wind, or water. Or maybe a person carved it that way. Or maybe some other creature did it. The stone shows no obvious signs of what caused it, or the nature of that cause. Maybe the cause was intelligent and intentional, or maybe it wasn't. So although we can all agree there must have been some kind of cause, I don't see how we can get any further in knowing what caused it, or the nature of that cause.

This analogy isn't perfect because unlike the universe we have other stones to compare it with, and some knowledge about how stones form. We have no other universes to examine and being part of the universe makes the investigation that much more difficult.

JK: "Here is where we come up against the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the most experimentally verified law in all of physics and engineering. This law states that the total amount of usable energy in the universe is decreasing. Another way to state it is that the universe is winding down. If it is winding down, it cannot be infinitely old. If it had been expanding and contracting forever, then it would have wound down by now (all energy would have dissipated)."

The colliding brane idea is different from the old big bang/big crunch cyclical theory. The idea is that these higher dimensional branes are analogous to two parallel sheets some distance apart. When they collide it's a "big bang" and they bounce apart. As the matter and energy spread out in the lower dimensions of our universe (which exists entirely within the higher dimension of one brane) the energy that pushed the branes apart weakens and they start to come together again. After trillions of years when the universe has already entered the heat death stage consisting of nothing but a thin background radiation from decayed protons, the branes collide again creating another big bang. So there is never a big crunch like in the older idea.

Now I don't know if this idea is true, and I realize it doesn't really matter for our discussion since then the question just becomes "what caused the branes to come into existence and what caused them bouncing?" It's just an interesting idea!

As for the 2nd law, does it apply to God as well? Where did the energy come from that God used to create the universe? If God can create energy out of nothing violating the 2nd law since he is beyond our universe, then some other first cause beyond our universe could do the same. As you say we are very confident in the reliability of the 2nd law in our universe, but who knows what happens at the boundaries of space and time, or beyond?

JK: "This is why your view requires more ‘blind faith’ than mine does. I have logical arguments from the things that exist right now in front of us. You have faith that scientific discovery and / or philosophy of some kind will one day answer your concerns. Could it be that there is something besides an unbiased search for truth behind your skepticism?"

I'm not sure what you think I have a blind faith in, because I don't think I have made any claims not based on some kind of evidence. Unlike other atheists I have not tried to claim that God does not exist, nor have I made the claim that science is the ONLY path to truth and is 100% reliable. I have no idea if science can or will ever answer these "big" questions. Yes, I am a skeptic and I try to be unbiased. I am not sure what is behind that. I assume it's just my personality.

JK: "On the “free will” thing, free creatures always do what they want to do. It’s that simple. They act upon their desires, and they make a choice. No outside force can change this fundamental method."

I take a reductionist view here. Where did that feeling of "want" come from? What caused it? If you think that feeling of "want" is the result of certain patterns of neurons firing in the brain then something must have caused that. I don't know about you, but most religious people believe in some kind of immaterial soul which somehow interacts with the neurons in the brain. I suppose when someone has some kind of brain damage from an accident which changes their personality, they imagine the true soul is still there somehow but has lost some ability to communicate with the brain clearly. If you believe in a non-physical soul I guess it is easy to believe in a free will that is both non-random and non-deterministic. I don't know how to reconcile such a free will with a material brain made of molecules following the laws of chemistry, unless we redefine the term itself.

JK: "God has no limits on His power from the outside. He cannot be forced to do anything. Therefore, He always chooses according to His desire. It is His desire that leads Him to create."

Yet I still want to ask what caused his desire?

JK: "Oh, buy the way, I don’t think that non-theistic views of the universe allow for any free will at all whatsoever. If the decisions we make are limited to a physical universe, then we make our choices based on matter in motion (chemical processes in our brain, neurons firing, etc.). These random actions of matter leave us with no way to verify the truth of any of our thoughts. See here:"

Sorry I didn't read this before I wrote the section above. I think we agree here on the ramifications of a purely physical brain.

Roger Penrose tries to dig some real free will out of quantum theory, but I think he's well out of mainstream thought there. But he could be right.

JK: "Also, If we are the product of the dream of another being, what difference would that make? The infinite regress of causes is not logically possible, so the dreamer is either the uncaused cause of the dream, or he is a being who was caused to be buy an uncaused cause. By force of logic, we must have an eternal, powerful, personal Being to start the process. The ‘row, row, row, your boat’ thing must end somewhere."

Yes that is possible. But this "dreamer" concept is very different from the standard Christian God, yet how can we rule it out?

JK : "Concerning the self-defeating statement - TAG: “...I can’t know that for sure…”
Except that, you cannot say it without making it false. Maybe I am not explaining this well. Please try:"

Oh, were you referring to post-modernism? I totally agree that system of thought self destructs. I am definitely not a post-modernist. As far as I know I haven't made any absolutist claims like they do which self destruct.

Again I am going case by case, claim by claim. I try to avoid universal pronouncements of "this is the way it is".

After re-reading this and doing some introspection the only thing I suspect I might have some kind of blind faith in is the idea that "the truth is out there". It's possible that everything I think I know or believe is false, but I can't accept the idea that there is no greater objective truth.

JK: "On pantheism, it makes something that changes a part of god’s being. This god cannot be the cause of all things because he / she / it is now changing. A being contained within the universe as we know it would be winding down as with the rest of the universe."

What if God chose to become the universe? There is also "panentheism" which says that the universe is part of but not all of God. He transcends beyond it as well. This idea can also be compatible with the idea of a dreaming god.

JK (quoting Geisler): “The most fundamental criticism of a strictly pantheistic world view is that it is actually unaffirmable by man, for no finite individual reality exists as an entity really different from God or the absolute. In essence a strict pantheist must affirm, "God is but I am not." But this is self-defeating, since one must exist in order to affirm that he does not exist."

That was an interesting link. Maybe I will write a blog post about it in the future. I can't reply to all of the points here, but regarding the one you quote I don't see why something unaffirmable is necessarily false. It might just be the way things are, and we can't be sure. Just like some religious folks will admit that they can't prove God exists, but that doesn't mean he doesn't. Why must we say "God is but I am not"? If we go with the dreaming concept, both God and his dream exist, for example.

JK: "There is nothing that limits the power of the First Cause. He has absolute power over His creation. He brought it into being, so He can act in it at any time."

As I described above, assuming that there was a first cause, how can we know there are no limits on its power?

JK: "Many things are proven from God’s revelation to us. It is reasonable that a God who created us would want to interact with us. Why else would He have given us a personality?"

As you know by now I haven't found any reason to believe any revelations contain reliable information.

JK: "Then we have the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth. He shows up one day working miracles, teaching great truth, and preaching a unique message of God’s grace. He dies on a cross, and then God raises Him from the dead. When God raised Christ from the dead, He gave His stamp of approval on Christ’s teaching."

Again, that is all assuming the claims about Jesus are true.

JK: "There is no other religion that teaches anything like this. All other major religions preach that works earn merit. Christianity says life is all about God’s favor to us in spite of what we do."

Yes, Christianity is unique, but every religion is unique in its own way. Can I say Buddhism is true because no other religion gives such a unique formula for escaping suffering? Hinduism is also unique in its description of karma. I don't see uniqueness as being evidence for the validity of the claim.

JK: "Christianity is also a religion that almost begs to be proven false. It is falsifiable since it is based on historical facts. Tell me about another religion that puts it all on the line as Christianity does."

Does that include newer forms of Christianity? If we say that falsifiability gives further weight to the claims being made, then Mormonism must be more true than mainstream Christianity. It has made many claims in recent history that could be falsified.

On the other hand, I'm not sure exactly what would falsify Christianity besides a god appearing to confirm a different religion. Do you mean something like if they discovered the bodily remains of Jesus? If such an event were to occur I imagine various Christians going in different directions: 1. It's a hoax or the remains of someone else. (How could we confirm it was Jesus for sure?) 2. It proves that Jesus was resurrected in spirit only, like the Jehova Witnesses believe. 3. Jesus was in fact just a prophet like the Muslims believe. or 4. Christianity is completely wrong. I suspect the people going with #4 would be in the minority.

JK: "There is plenty of evidence. Please see the other posts under the search label “Nine Reasons Why…” Also try the search label “Argument from Scripture.”"

I think by now we understand that our disagreement rests on what we consider to be good evidence.

JK: "We have enough evidence for an unbiased person to place faith in Christ. But we come back to the question of whether anyone is truly unbiased. No one is unbiased on these topics. I admit my own bias as well. Please follow the favorite web link on my sidebar called “Van Til on Becoming a Christian.”"

I agree with you there that bias is probably inescapable. It would be good if everyone made the effort to be as unbiased as possible. It's impossible to be perfect, but I think worth the effort.

That's all for today! Thanks for taking the time to respond as always.

J. K. Jones said...

TAG,

You really do know how to put the words together. I will make a few broad observations about your comments to date on various posts on this blog.

[The use of quotes in the comment below does not indicate a quote from a comment made by TAG.]

The arguments I am using inescapably prove that God exists. They are logical and reach clear conclusions. I know from the cosmological argument that God is eternal (without beginning), powerful (to create the universe from nothing), personal (because He must have the power to choose to create without any outside influence), and spirit (not limited by the space, time, or matter that He brought into being because He once existed outside of it all). I know from the teleological argument that He is intelligent (to design the universe we see to meet specific purposes). I know from the moral argument that He is good (we must know a standard of good to know evil when we see it). I know from the transcendental argument that God is unchanging (He could not be the ground of unchanging natural or conceptual laws if He changed). Many posts on this blog state these arguments.

You are not giving reasons why these arguments are flawed. You do give alternatives that try to avoid the conclusions the arguments make, but you do not succeed. There are no holes in these arguments. They proceed from the situations we find ourselves in and reach demonstrative conclusions.

As to the first law of thermodynamics, since God must exist outside the universe He created the laws that govern the space, time and matter we find do not necessarily bind Him. The second law of thermodynamics does not show any evidence of a reversal. The expansion of the universe seems to be accelerating, and we have no clear reason to think that the gravimetric forces between the celestial bodies will result in a “big crunch.”

I am familiar with some aspects of Quantum Physics, but I was not aware we had actual physical evidence of the collision of “branes” which would theoretically cause a recreation of the universe. Find me a “bubble of recreated universe,” and we’ll talk. I need some physical or philosophical evidence to assuage my doubts. The collisions do need a cause, and this cause is demonstrated by the cosmological argument in a different form. Something had to bring the “branes” into being, and something had to start them moving.

I do not entertain thoughts of brains in vats, or illusionary universes in which we live, or multiple universes. None of these theories can overcome the cosmological argument anyway. We still have the person whose brain is in a vat or who is experiencing the illusion, and he requires a cause.

I will not settle for a view of the universe which requires me to accept brute facts or which attempts to make “why” questions meaningless. That requires me to set aside all of the scientific and philosophical evidence I have studied for years for a blind faith that things just “are.”

Christianity is falsifiable in that it depends on historical facts attested by the testimony of witnesses (like a court trial). The free offer of grace is not the only thing that makes Christianity unique.

As for free will, I am surprised you agree with some of my conclusions. But if our thoughts and feelings are the result of brain chemistry or other physical causes, why should we argue at all? Why not throw up our hands in despair and “live and let live?”

For more on free will, you might find the conversation at http://jkjonesthinks.blogspot.com/2008/02/whosoever-meaneth-me.html to be interesting. It is also a great place to point you because it clearly states the offer that Christ is making to you right now. There is no better offer, and there is every reason to accept it.

I would like to ask you more about your personal experiences with Christianity. Were you raised in church? What were / are the people like that you have associated with Christianity? Have you posted on this type of topic?

JK

that atheist guy said...

Hi JK,

Will this comment be shorter? I doubt it! ;-)

JK: "You are not giving reasons why these arguments are flawed. You do give alternatives that try to avoid the conclusions the arguments make, but you do not succeed. There are no holes in these arguments. They proceed from the situations we find ourselves in and reach demonstrative conclusions."

OK, let me try to focus in on some of those arguments. First let me summarize the steps I think are necessary for me to go though to get to where you are:

1. Demonstrate that there was a first cause. I am not 100% convinced that a first cause is necessary. What we define as "causes" are dependent on our understanding of the physical world. Quantum physics has shown that some of those assumptions might be wrong. Now my intuition wants to agree with you that there was a first cause, so lets move to the next step:

2. Nature of that first cause. Here is where most of your arguments rest. I claim that just knowing there was a first cause does not give us any more information on its nature. I'll try to address some of those below. Finally:

3. That first cause is in fact the Christian God and various Christian doctrines are true. Here is the second "leap" I am not willing to take. Just granting step #2 only gets us as far as a deist God. So maybe I can take the step from 0 to 1, but from 1 to 2 and 2 to 3 are large jumps I don't feel justified in making.

OK looking at the arguments for step 2 (assuming there is a first cause)... First you say this cause must be "eternal". How do we know this? "Eternal" assumes a passage of time. How can time pass if nothing is changing?

Second, you say the first cause must be "powerful". I don't see how assuming a premise of "there exists a first cause" logically implies it be powerful. One snowflake might cause a large avalanche. Was the snowflake "powerful"? I also don't see how we can say the first cause created the universe from nothing. Wasn't the first cause something? (Here you might say it was "something" but not a physical something. I don't know what that assertion would be based on. Before you said something about physical things are always changing but maybe the first cause was an unchanging physical thing...?)

Next you say "personal (because He must have the power to choose to create without any outside influence)". I had some trouble understanding this idea so I found this bit from another blog post in your series: "J. P. Morland adds that nothing outside this first cause can cause it to either act or not act. There was a “time” when there was nothing outside it, so there was nothing to cause it’s actions. It has the power of choice. Only a person has the power of choice."

But the only kind of persons I know are people with physical brains. From my understanding of brain neurons, these choices are due to neurons firing, ie. they have causes. I suppose people who believe in immaterial souls think that choices are somehow uncaused, but I can't understand that. I can't see how we can say the first cause was a "choice", since the only choices I know about are caused by other effects, yet we have assumed this particular cause must be uncaused. Therefore the conclusion I draw is that it can't be a choice at all. It must be something else.

JK : [clip]"Something had to bring the “branes” into being, and something had to start them moving."

Yes I agree. I wasn't bringing up the brane idea to convince you, nor do I have any reason myself to believe it is true. I just threw it out there as a more modern idea that is a kind of a compromise between the big bang/crunch cycle idea, and the one bang to endless expansion and heat death idea.

JK: "I do not entertain thoughts of brains in vats, or illusionary universes in which we live, or multiple universes. None of these theories can overcome the cosmological argument anyway. We still have the person whose brain is in a vat or who is experiencing the illusion, and he requires a cause."

I agree with you here too. However I am not ready to discard the idea of God dreaming the universe. I don't see why assuming a first cause logically implies an intentional creative god over a dreaming god.

JK: "I will not settle for a view of the universe which requires me to accept brute facts or which attempts to make “why” questions meaningless. That requires me to set aside all of the scientific and philosophical evidence I have studied for years for a blind faith that things just “are.”"

I also dislike brute facts. But I am also unsatisfied by the brute fact of a god concept.

JK: "Christianity is falsifiable in that it depends on historical facts attested by the testimony of witnesses (like a court trial). The free offer of grace is not the only thing that makes Christianity unique."

But even in court the testimony must be backed up by evidence. OJ testified he didn't kill his wife. Is that true? Maybe yes, (the court though so) or maybe no.

JK: "As for free will, I am surprised you agree with some of my conclusions. But if our thoughts and feelings are the result of brain chemistry or other physical causes, why should we argue at all? Why not throw up our hands in despair and “live and let live?”"

Because I have no choice? ;-)

Yes, I feel like I am making my own choices, but does that feeling prove anything? There's research out there that shows brain scans can detect how a person will make a choice before the person is consciously aware of making a choice. Now that doesn't disprove free will, but it makes me wonder. Now even if I could truly convince myself that my feeling of making free choice is an illusion, what then? I'm not sure why I have to throw my hands up in despair. Even the illusion of free choice is better than nothing. I still have to live out my days, which can be an interesting and enjoyable experience.

JK: "For more on free will, you might find the conversation at http://jkjonesthinks.blogspot.com/2008/02/whosoever-meaneth-me.html to be interesting. It is also a great place to point you because it clearly states the offer that Christ is making to you right now. There is no better offer, and there is every reason to accept it."

I still have trouble understanding what Christianity is offering here. The offer is of salvation, right? Salvation from what? Some people say salvation from Hell. Why are people in danger of an afterlife of Hell? I've read it's because of original sin. I can't accept the concept of original sin. I think it is self evident that the child is not responsible for the crimes of the parent. Or maybe it is punishment from sins in our current life. How exactly does the death of Jesus absolve people of the sins they have committed?

You also say this gift of salvation is unique because it doesn't require works, but isn't this act of repenting a kind of work? It also seems to require belief itself. As you can see from these pages and pages of discussion it is hard work for me to believe something! Why is belief itself such an important requirement?

Now I can sort of see how repenting and admitting your wrong doing is a step towards making good, but it certainly doesn't get the sin forgiven. If someone vandalized your car, it isn't enough for them just to admit they did wrong, they also have to pay for the damage to be forgiven, right? Here you might say that Jesus is the one who is paying, but that payment is abstract and unrelated to the sin/crime in question. If someone murdered your loved one, I assume you would not be satisfied with some other guy getting the punishment in the murderer's place.

JK: "I would like to ask you more about your personal experiences with Christianity. Were you raised in church? What were / are the people like that you have associated with Christianity? Have you posted on this type of topic?"

Sure. I was raised with no explicitly religious teachings. We never went to church. My mother is a lapsed Catholic, and my father is probably some kind of agnostic and stopped going to church when he was young. When I was young there was an assumption that God existed, and probably because American culture is mostly Christian I felt that Jesus was special in some way. At least I never really heard about other religious figures like Mohammad or Buddha when I was young. Basically I just got more skeptical of things as I got older. I never really got into any kind of belief system. Maybe I thought UFOs and paranormal stuff were interesting at one point, but I never really believed any of it seriously.

Over the years I've read a lot about these topics both online and off. I guess only in the past few years have I posted my own thoughts extensively. Mostly on my own blog, here, and the Friendly Atheist blog. (I post comments there sporadically as I do anywhere because of varying amounts of free time. The "nickname" there is NYCatheist not TAG, but both link to the same blog.)

I just have a general interest in philosophy and religious belief. I like talking about these issues. Just to reiterate what I said a long time ago, I really don't think I have anything against the idea of God. In fact I would prefer if God existed. But as you can see my personality resists believing in things without what I consider to be good evidence.

Anyway, as always thanks for taking the time to read and respond. I know I generate many pages of text, but brevity seems to be impossible for me!

J. K. Jones said...

TAG:

“I claim that just knowing there was a first cause does not give us any more information on its nature.”

To claim it does not make it so. One little argument, please.

“…even in court the testimony must be backed up by evidence…”

Christianity provides more evidence of historical fact than any religious alternative. Please see the search label “Argument from Scripture.”

On free will, you keep assuming that the Christian concept of a soul is completely independent of a body (or a mind). I would maintain that it is not. Our bodies house our souls. This is the reason why Christianity has all those rules about physical things (don’t get drunk, don’t fornicate, etc.).

It does not change the fact that you are conscious and that you know full well you choose exactly what you desire in any given circumstance. That makes you responsible for your choices.

“Why are people in danger of an afterlife of Hell?”

Because we have sinned against a Holy God. He is just, that is He judges wrong actions and punishes people for them. He is also loving, and He sent His Son (Christ) to suffer that punishment on behalf of all those who trust Jesus. You might try the search label, “Gospel.”

“..this act of repenting a kind of work? It also seems to require belief itself.”

Neither faith or repentance earn anything. I would argue that both are God’s gift. I would never have chosen to repent and believe if God had not changed my heart. I loved my sin too much. I was so proud of my “good works” that I didn’t want to stop depending on them and start trusting in Christ. It’s all God’s gift to those who believe.

“…Here you might say that Jesus is the one who is paying, but that payment is abstract and unrelated to the sin/crime in question.”

God is the one to whom the debt has been paid. He has the right to accept Christ’s suffering on our behalf, and that’s what he does for those who trust Christ. You might try the search label “Christ’s Cross” to find more details of what I believe.

“In fact I would prefer if God existed.”

Please keep in mind that the Christian God is not very attractive if you are making up a concept. He has all of those rules He expects you to follow. He gets mad at you if you don’t. I don’t see how anyone would make up this concept of a God because He is so scary.

Thank you for sharing some of your personal story with myself and my readers. It helps me to pray for you.

JK

that atheist guy said...

Hi JK,

TAG wrote : "I claim that just knowing there was a first cause does not give us any more information on its nature."

JK wrote: "To claim it does not make it so. One little argument, please."

Yes, that is correct. Let me rephrase, I can't see how assuming a first cause allows us to deduce its properties. In your arguments above you listed some properties of this first cause and your arguments for them. I tried to show why I did not find those argument convincing.

Actually in one part of my comment I basically admitted we could conclude at least one thing, but my conclusion was different from yours. I said we could conclude that because the first cause can't have any causes it must not be a choice. Now that conclusion is based on my premise that the events we call choices are caused. I might be able to back that up through brain research. I guess your premise is that choices are uncaused events.

JK: "Christianity provides more evidence of historical fact than any religious alternative. Please see the search label "Argument from Scripture.""

Maybe you're right, but even if it has more evidence it doesn't mean it has enough evidence.

JK: "Because we have sinned against a Holy God. He is just, that is He judges wrong actions and punishes people for them. He is also loving, and He sent His Son (Christ) to suffer that punishment on behalf of all those who trust Jesus. You might try the search label, "Gospel.""

I think we have discusses here and elsewhere why I am not convinced by those doctrines. I just don't get it. How does the act of trusting Jesus (what exactly constitutes this act of trust?) actually allow his suffering to be punishment for our sins? I'm not being stubborn, I really am trying to understand that concept.

JK: "Neither faith or repentance earn anything. I would argue that both are God's gift. I would never have chosen to repent and believe if God had not changed my heart. I loved my sin too much. I was so proud of my "good works" that I didn't want to stop depending on them and start trusting in Christ. It's all God's gift to those who believe."

But why did God change your heart? Are you saying God's action wasn't because of something you did?

You still say it's God's gift for those who believe, implying you have to believe first. I don't see how that isn't earning something through an action.

JK: "Please keep in mind that the Christian God is not very attractive if you are making up a concept. He has all of those rules He expects you to follow. He gets mad at you if you don't. I don't see how anyone would make up this concept of a God because He is so scary."

I think there have been lots of scary gods throughout history. People were throwing people into volcanoes to keep their gods happy. I assume you think those gods were invented. Why would they invent such demanding scary gods? I'm no expert, but off the top of my head lots of things in nature like volcanoes are scary. People thought all natural events were caused by some agent, so like a scary strong human, those agents must be appeased. The "chief" was a big strong scary guy you had to give stuff to keep him happy. Whoever was throwing lightning bolts and making the ground shake must also need stuff.

That's it for now!

TAG

J. K. Jones said...

TAG, (your words in quotes)

“… I said we could conclude that because the first cause can't have any causes it must not be a choice. Now that conclusion is based on my premise that the events we call choices are caused…I guess your premise is that choices are uncaused events.”

Choices are caused by the desires of the one who makes the choice. Nothing outside the First Cause causes it to act. He chooses according to His own desires. The first cause must be able to cause his own choices or chose of his own free will (Norman Geisler calls this being able to actualize his own potentials). This choice must be made because otherwise you have an infinite regress of causes, and this is impossible as argued above.

“I just don't get it. How does the act of trusting Jesus (what exactly constitutes this act of trust?) actually allow his suffering to be punishment for our sins?”
I really am trying to understand that concept.

God determines the method for payment for sin. You can think of it as an economic transaction, a legal transaction, an assumption of punishment, or the payment of a ransom. I will mail you a copy of a book that addresses all of this by R. C. Sproul if you want to e-mail me an appropriate address.

“I'm not being stubborn…”

I don’t think that for one minute.

“Are you saying God's action wasn't because of something you did?”

Now you get it! That’s exactly what I am saying. It’s called the grace of God, His unmerited favor towards us. God’s action to change my heart was based on His own choice and not because of what I did. There was nothing in me that would have warranted God’s choice.

“You still say it's God's gift for those who believe, implying you have to believe first. I don't see how that isn't earning something through an action.”

I believed second, after God had changed my heart. The action followed, but it didn’t earn anything.


“…I assume you think those gods were invented. Why would they invent such demanding scary gods? I'm no expert, but off the top of my head lots of things in nature like volcanoes are scary…”

You prove my point. The gods that people invented can be appeased by their actions. The Christian God cannot be appeased by anything we do. We cannot do anything to avoid His wrath toward us. The Christian God must save us Himself, or we are not saved at all.

JK

that atheist guy said...

Hi JK,

I think we are starting to pinpoint the exact areas where we disagree. From these key areas we diverge to very different world views.

J. K. Jones said...
" Choices are caused by the desires of the one who makes the choice. Nothing outside the First Cause causes it to act. He chooses according to His own desires. The first cause must be able to cause his own choices or chose of his own free will (Norman Geisler calls this being able to actualize his own potentials). This choice must be made because otherwise you have an infinite regress of causes, and this is impossible as argued above."

Here is one of those areas. Free will. You said our (human) choices are caused by our desires. But what caused the desires?

Are you saying the first cause was the choice itself? Here I think we disagree. I don't think that first event can be called a choice, because it is uncaused. All events in our world that we call "choices" are caused by something else, like desires.

JK:" God determines the method for payment for sin. You can think of it as an economic transaction, a legal transaction, an assumption of punishment, or the payment of a ransom. I will mail you a copy of a book that addresses all of this by R. C. Sproul if you want to e-mail me an appropriate address."

That's very generous of you. I could probably find it in the library though. I think I expressed exactly why I find this form of payment baffling. I will try to find that book at some point.

JK:" Now you get it! That's exactly what I am saying. It's called the grace of God, His unmerited favor towards us. God's action to change my heart was based on His own choice and not because of what I did. There was nothing in me that would have warranted God's choice."

But why do Christians bother evangelizing? Since we can't do anything ourselves, we just have to wait for God to act right? Maybe you're right, and one day God will change my heart. So it seems like I just have to wait. (Now that doesn't seem right, because many Christians I have spoke to before said I have to repent, or pray. I have to DO something.)

JK:" You prove my point. The gods that people invented can be appeased by their actions. The Christian God cannot be appeased by anything we do. We cannot do anything to avoid His wrath toward us. The Christian God must save us Himself, or we are not saved at all."

Fair enough, but your original question was why would people invent such a scary god. I guess your position is that the unique nature of Christianity demonstrates that it can't possibly be a human creation. I, as you know, disagree.

Hey, that was much shorter!

TAG

J. K. Jones said...

TAG,

“…what caused the desires?”

I don’t know. I do know that that something was within you. You are the person who has the desires that cause your decisions. Your are therefore responsible for the choices you make. You make them because you are the kind of person you are.

“All events in our world that we call "choices" are caused by something else, like desires.”

But the desires are a part of the person who is making the choice. Desires are not an external cause. The source of your ability to chose is within you.

“…I find this form of payment baffling. I will try to find that book at some point.”

The book is “The Truth of the Cross” by R. C. Sproul

”…why do Christians bother evangelizing? Since we can't do anything ourselves, we just have to wait for God to act right? Maybe you're right, and one day God will change my heart. So it seems like I just have to wait. (Now that doesn't seem right, because many Christians I have spoke to before said I have to repent, or pray. I have to DO something.)”

The only thing that is keeping you from repenting and believing is your own choice. You are responsible because you are doing exactly what you want to do. God commands you to repent and believe.

We evangelize because we know nothing outside of you is preventing you from repenting and believing. We also do it because God has promised that He will use our witness to change peoples’ hearts. The Spirit uses the spoken word to bring that change of heart.

”.. I guess your position is that the unique nature of Christianity demonstrates that it can't possibly be a human creation. I, as you know, disagree.”

My point is that there is no God scarier than the Christian God. He will punish your sin, and the only thing that will stop Him is his own mercy. He does not have to have mercy; He doesn’t own mercy to anyone. He will punish your sin forever by inflicting all of the pain His power can bring to bear if you do not repent and believe. Why would anyone invent a God like that?

JK

that atheist guy said...

Hi JK,

I commented on the cause of desires in the other thread.

J. K. Jones said...
" The only thing that is keeping you from repenting and believing is your own choice. You are responsible because you are doing exactly what you want to do. God commands you to repent and believe."

It sounds like I have to believe first before repenting. What if I told you I have tried before, more than once? I guess you would interpret my failure to convert as a lack of effort on my part. I'm not sure what to do about that. It seems I could also say to you "If you believe in Brahman your heart will be changed and you'll understand." If you fail to believe in Brahman, well, you didn't try hard enough.

JK: " My point is that there is no God scarier than the Christian God. He will punish your sin, and the only thing that will stop Him is his own mercy. He does not have to have mercy; He doesn't own mercy to anyone. He will punish your sin forever by inflicting all of the pain His power can bring to bear if you do not repent and believe. Why would anyone invent a God like that?"

Offhand I would say a person in power would invent a god like that to control people and expand his power base.

Do you really think that people deserve an eternity of torture because their ancestor disobeyed God's command? I don't even think Hitler deserves 100 years of constant torture. What is the purpose of punishment? In our society it is used to prevent a criminal from doing more harm, to deter others, and to hopefully rehabilitate the criminal. The idea of Hell fails all three of those purposes. Maybe it's a deterrent, but what good is a deterrent if it isn't an obvious and real threat? Our nuclear arsenal is a deterrent because everyone knows we have the weapons.

J. K. Jones said...

TAG,

“I commented on the cause of desires in the other thread.”

Yet you have failed to interact with my counter-argument in meaningful way. What is your answer to the idea that desires exist within the will of the First Cause. The desires are not outside of Him, and so they are as eternal as He is. They are contained in the being of the First Cause, and so need no cause outside Him.

There is another argument. We have discussed the concept of God existing outside time, space, and matter. You have argued that our desires are the result of the chemical (physical) reactions of matter in our brains. God is immaterial or spirit. Therefore He has no physical makeup to generate His desires. His desires do not have conflicting passions or parts as ours have. He exists outside the physical since He preceded it in being.

“What if I told you I have tried before, more than once? I guess you would interpret my failure to convert as a lack of effort on my part. I'm not sure what to do about that.”

If you honestly tried, that would be an indication of God’s changing your heart. Your efforts may still by evidence that God is bringing about that change. I am of the opinion that God gives a person a new heart through a process. Part of that process is intellectual, and part is of the will.

I will continue to pray for you. I would encourage you to attend church somewhere that the Bible is taught as God’s word. I would encourage you to hear the Bible taught, read it, and ask God for the change of heart.

“…I would say a person in power would invent a god like that to control people and expand his power base.”

Religion as the opiate of the masses, eh. Again, it holds little ability to control anyone because God’s mercy cannot be bought with people’s actions or works. How do you control a person by saying he cannot do anything to help himself? There has to be some payoff for him. There must be a ‘carrot’ in front of him to entice him.

“Do you really think that people deserve an eternity of torture because their ancestor disobeyed God's command?”

They deserve an eternity of torture because they are the kind of people who will sin and do sin. Sin is not just about what you do, it’s about what you are.

Keep in mind that in your comments about sin on the other tread, you are assuming that people would repent or at least show remorse under God’s punishment. They are rebels through and through, and they will not repent throughout eternity. People must want to be rehabilitated in order to be rehabilitated. You assume that they would want to be rehabilitated, and they will not.

God has given clear and present threatenings of His wrath through His prophets. This is a deterrent for the reasonable person.

JK

that atheist guy said...

Hi JK,

I think we have wound down to the end of this thread. I will try to make this my last comment here.

JK: "What is your answer to the idea that desires exist within the will of the First Cause."

I don't really have an answer. The descriptions of things beyond space and time, or within the "being" of the first cause are hard for me to understand or evaluate. I can follow the argument of the regress of causes to an ultimate first cause, but discussing properties (desires, choices) of that cause is beyond my understanding. I don't know anything about immaterial things.

Anyway, thanks again for taking the time to post your responses here.

J. K. Jones said...

TAG,

I have given the arguments that are most convincing to me. I have enjoyed our talk on this tread, and I pray that you will continue to visit my blog.

JK

J. K. Jones said...

It is interesting to me how many hits this post seems to get (thank you blogger for the tracking capability).

This post is only one in a whole series, and it is not the best one. Please try the search labels "God Is..." and "Nine Reasons Why..."

Thanks!

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