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God's judgement


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Initial post: 5 Aug 2007 23:20:09 BDT
Last edited by the author on 5 Aug 2007 23:21:22 BDT
I was brought up in a Christian culture, but as I grew older I rejected Christianity. One of the main reasons is that the teachings I was exposed to raised many questions that I have yet to receive satisfactory answers for. Two of these, in relation to God's judgement after we die, are outlined below. One is a straight question, the other is a hypothetical (but not unlikely) scenario with a following question.

(1) As far as I understand it God decides whether you go to heaven or hell on weather you accept Jesus Christ as your saviour. But if you've never heard of Jesus how does God judge you?

(2) There are two men, Mr Brown and Mr. Smith. Mr Brown was a twisted and confused individual. He was a professional thief, abused his children and beat his wife. He was generally a pretty unpleasant character. However, Mr Brown was brought up in a Christian society and although he was not a practicing Christian when he was younger, as a prisoner on death-row he began to deeply regret what he did and turned to the bible for help. He took the advice of the bible and accepted Jesus Christ as his saviour and sincerely asked God to forgive his sins. He was executed soon after.

Mr Smith was a kind and loving man. He was a good father and husband and through his training as a Doctor, spent his working and social life improving the lives of other people. His motto was `put others before yourself'. He was also brought up in a Christian society but never really considered his religious position and died an agnostic.

According to Christianity who received the ultimate punishment and went to hell for eternity and who went to heaven?

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Aug 2007 14:51:50 BDT
David Wilson says:
Whilst Jesus was on earth many people asked him questions about his teaching and Jesus never told them they were wrong to do so. If you have a question then the sensible thing to do is to look for an answer and so I think it's great that you have posted your two questions here. I also assume you've read Mere Christianity as you've posted on the page for it and again think that it's great that you're thinking about Christianity rather than ignoring it. Questions don't make something untrue: a scientist might ask questions about how the universe works and yet the questions don't mean that the universe doesn't exist or that science is a waste of time. Similarly asking questions about Christianity doesn't mean God doesn't exist or is a waste of time. Moreover some things are beyond our understanding. I accept that the universe is expanding into an infinite amount of nothing but don't understand how and similarly there are things about God that I believe, based upon the evidence, and yet don't understand. If we understood everything about God then we would have to be God! There might be some questions about Christianity where you don't have a satisfactory answer however isn't that true with most things? Is it fair to expect to have a perfect answer for everything before you accept Jesus as your saviour? In any relationship there has to be an element of trust. With that in mind, I'll try and answer your questions but I'm not promising a perfect answer, as I'm not perfect.

1) I think it's first of all important to understand why we go to Hell. God punishes people for their sins that they are responsible for. Could a loving God see something like the Holocaust and not punish Hitler for his evil? The problem is that the world isn't divided into good people and bad people: we are all self centred, we all do things which are wrong, we are all greedy and all deserve to be punished for everything we've done wrong. Romans 3 sums that up quite well. Suppose five clearly guilty people were convicted of the same crime, with the same evidence against them and one of them is found innocent and the others guilty. Why four of them were found guilty and punished is not the question, why one was found innocent is. If we all disserve to go Hell then the question is why does God show his grace to anyone? Why does God save anyone? People who have never heard of Jesus have done just as many things wrong as someone who has and so has many sins for God to fairly judge them on.

So why is God so loving he saves some people who don't disserve to be saved whilst not others? Romans 9 v18 tells us `God has mercy on who he wants to have mercy.' And in verse 21, `Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?' If God made us and is ruler of the universe doesn't He have the right to choose who He saves?

Some Christians suggest that it is possible to be saved if you haven't heard of Jesus and suggest we can find and acknowledge God in simply looking at the world around us. I think C.S Lewis might have believed that so I'll let you make of that what you want. I personally don't but I also don't think it's a key issue to fall out over.

Finally God does take into account if we have had an opportunity to hear about his plan of salvation. Matthew 11:20 says `Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! If the miracles performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgement than for you.' So God does take into account the fact that not everybody has had the same opportunity to accept his offer of grace. God is fair in how he punishes people in Hell.

To conclude, there are two ways to look at the world. One says that everyone should go to heaven and anyone God doesn't save has been diddled and short changed. The other says that nobody disserves to go to heaven and so anyone who does should be overwhelmingly thankful. The Christian view is the latter. Nonetheless, anyone who asks the question has heard of Jesus and so won't be without excuse on the day of judgement.

2) This does happen in real life so it's not really theoretical. For example John Newton was once a slave trader, a cruel man who took pleasure in inflicting violence on his slaves. In the middle of a storm he converted to Christianity and gave up his job, got involved in the campaign to abolish slavery and changed. He wrote the song Amazing Grace looking back at his life and how God saved him. God didn't save him simply because he labelled himself a Christian but because he asked for forgiveness and let God rule in his heart. If Mr Brown really looked back on his life and realised what a mess he'd made of it then I think it's great that God forgave him. I think it's great that God is a God of second chances and that people who want his help, however much of a mess they've made of their life, can be saved. Mr Smith should have not ignored God and the question is why did he not think about God? If someone dies in a fire because they don't have a smoke alarm do you say `it's not fair, it isn't there fault they never thought about buying a smoke alarm.' The point is God gave us a brain to think about things and so we should ask questions like `what caused the Big Bang' and think about God. God will give Mr Smith a fair punishment in Hell (that verse I gave you from Matthew (11:20) shows that Hell is in proportion to your sins)

The whole point of the Christian message is that nobody disserves to go to Heaven. It is because of God's love that I should go to Hell for the things I have done wrong and it because of God's love that I have been saved. What system do propose that's fairer? Do good people go to heaven and bad people go to Hell? If so where would you put the cut off point? Would people have a fair punishment in Hell? Then you're O.K, that's what you'll get if you don't like the Christian message. Should everyone go to Heaven? Wouldn't an eternity with God be Hell for someone who rebels against God? Should we just stop existing when we die? If so what's the point in existing in the first place? I'm sure God has chosen the best way for everything to work.

I became a Christian feeling that there is enough reasons to do so yet didn't have complete answers for everything. Some of my questions have been answered, some sort of answered and new ones raised yet I've also found that based on what I do know about God I can trust him on what I don't know. I would encourage you to base you response to Christ on what you do know rather than what you don't know about Him. I have only touched on how salvation works and I've found that as your understanding of God and salvation grows the answers to your questions make more sense. I think that it's good that you are asking questions and hope you continue trying to find answers for them and investigating Christianity.

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Aug 2007 14:55:08 BDT
Hi "A customer".

Many thanks for your careful and thoughtful explanations. But if I can be so blunt, I still don't have an answer to either of my questions. How does God judge those ignorant of him and does Mr Smith go to Hell?

Responding to your other points.....

Firstly, I don't accept your analogy between Christianity and science ("a scientist might ask questions about how the universe works and yet the questions don't mean that the universe doesn't exist or that science is a waste of time"). Of course the lack of an answer does not disprove something, but scientific inquisition generally doesn't have any significant bearing on the life of the individual. I might ask a question such as why does a thrush sings in the way it does during spring? But it wouldn't have a negative impact on me if I never got the answer. However, if I ask a question about what I need to do to spend eternity in heaven, then the answer to the question carries a considerable weight. So when it comes to religion, there should be answers to such fundamental issues. Without them, doubt begins to creep in. I hasten to add that I was not looking for a `perfect answers', but for the answers that Christianity offers. With so much at stake (one's eternal existence), surely Christianity should have very clear answers to these questions. Answers that do not require interpretation of scripture, but that are clear and unambiguous.

In response to my first question you said "Finally God does take into account if we have had an opportunity to hear about his plan of salvation. Matthew 11:20 says `Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! If the miracles performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you' So God does take into account the fact that not everybody has had the same opportunity to accept his offer of grace. God is fair in how he punishes people in Hell.". But, with respect, that doesn't answer my question. How does he judge these people? All that says is that he does judge them. What criteria does he apply to those ignorant of him? How does the system work? An Amazonian tribesman is standing before St. Peter after being eaten by a crocodile. How does God judge him if he has no idea who Jesus was? Obviously he has to base his judgment on other characteristics. But why then are those same characteristics ignored in people who have rejected Christianity. Does that mean the "do you believe in me?" question takes priority over everything else? What if that same tribesman would have rejected Christianity if he'd had the opportunity to hear about it? He should think himself lucky that he was born where he was and got the ultimate prize!! It's God's equivalent of a post-code lottery.

You also said "Nonetheless, anyone who asks the question has heard of Jesus and so won't be without excuse on the day of judgment.". Yes, I accept that, but the question still remains. For example, consider a good Christian mother who lost a child in a car accident on her way back from the hospital after giving birth. I assume she will probably be keen to know if that child will be in heaven. So does God automatically grant the child passage into heaven even though it was ignorant of God? Does it get into heaven by default? If so, why should that child be immune from judgment while others are not? If the child doesn't automatically get into heaven, then how does God judge it? For me this is where the concepts of God's judgment and heaven and hell logically break down.

As I said, from an early age one of my major problems with Christianity is the idea of God's judgment. Why should an all powerful being such as He create the entire universe, including us, `his children', only to banish most of us to Hell forever. FOREVER. Not just a week or two, but forever. Why do that? Think of the misery he is committing so many of `his children' to. If he never created us at all, then there would be no eternal suffering. Surely that's better then the present situation.

as far as I was taught God's judgment isn't empirical but binary; weather or not you believe in him. Does that sound fair? Take a look at this from the other side. Let's say that Christianity is wrong, and that some other God is the ultimate being and his `judgment' is based on the same criterion. (Assuming you are a Christian) you'd be pretty miffed to find that although you had lived a relatively peaceful and selfless life (albeit worshiping the wrong God), he banished you to an eternity of torture because you didn't believe in him. Aren't you logically forced to label that God a tyrant? This is why the Christian God as depicted in the bible has to be rejected even if he does exist. If there is a God and he had to judge me I would have far more respect for him if he took everything he knows about me and made a balanced and reasoned judgment. Not weather or not I believed in him.

Your explanations also seem to make a single (flawed) assumption. For example you said "we are all self centred, we all do things which are wrong, we are all greedy and all deserve to be punished for everything we've done wrong.". This assumes we live long enough to develop these characteristics. Let me ask you this; is a still-born baby greedy and self-centred? Does it do know right from wrong? Does it deserve punishment?

(I think) you asked me "What system do [you] propose that's fairer?". But that question is based on the assumption that someone should judge us. In my opinion no one should judge us after we die. Why should they? As you said "where would you put the cut off point?" And this is the crux of my point. Just how does anyone judge anyone in such matters?

For what it's worth, my belief is that this is our only life. We probably do just cease to exist after we die. I can't remember existing before I was born, so it's likely that same void is what awaits me after I die. I think belief in an after-life is derived from our inability to accept our mortality and a disproportionate belief in our own self-importance. Get on with your one life and stop worrying about what God might think of you. If he is truly just and you live your life with respect for other people and the world around you, then he'd have to be pretty harsh to punish you for that.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Aug 2007 16:47:00 BDT
David Wilson says:
You are certainly raising some good questions and I'll do my best to try and answers as many of them as I can.

The two simple answers to your questions are that the person ignorant of God gets their life judged fairly and punished and that Mr Smith also gets his life judged and punished accordingly. Nonetheless I tend to find it's not the answer that causes the difficulty; it's how we reach the answer and how Christianity can justify it.

I can easily justify the answer using the Bible, however I appreciate that as you aren't a Christian it would unfair for me to expect you to accept such an answer. Whether what the Bible says is true is a completely different discussion. I will therefore only go over it briefly.

So how does the system work and what does God judge people on according to the Bible? It appears to go like this: God judges everyone (Acts 17:30) fairly on their sins (you, me, the Amazonian tribesman and everyone else) Everyone has a fair punishment awaiting them. (Revelations 20:12) Those who have repented (Luke 13:3) and trusted in Jesus (John 5:39, John 14:6) get forgiven and go to heaven and don't receive their punishment. People who know about Jesus but reject him are still fairly punished based upon their actions(Mark10:17) God does take everything He knows about you into account when judging; Jesus saves us from judgement rather than being what we're judged on. I could find many other passage which say the same things that are, in my opinion, clear and unambiguous.

Revelations 20:12 sums up the process quite well: "Then I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." This is apocalyptic literature and so is describing the process symbolically. The books represent our sins, the book of life represents Jesus and the lake of fire punishment for our sins.

I used to think that everything was simply down to how you interpret the Bible. Then I became a Christian and started reading and studying the Bible regularly and then I realised that whilst secondary issues were open to interpretation key doctrines like what we need to do to be saved are very clear. What we need to do to be saved (trust in Jesus) and the mechanics of how we are saved are two separate issues. I can take a life-saving pill given to me by a doctor without understanding how it works and similarly I only need be clear on what we need to do to be saved in order to be a Christian. On the other hand I realise that understanding questions about the process is important in its own right because, as you put it, "without them, doubt begins to creep in." Nonetheless, I feel the distinction still remains, as I need to be certain for one but to stop doubts I simply need to be sufficiently happy. With a life-saving pill I need clear instructions from my doctor on how I take it (Do I swallow it or dissolve it in water? How many do I take?) If the doctor is a bit vague on the science behind how the treatment works or I misunderstand the finer points it isn't as important. My doubts can be reassured by having a rough idea of the science and the evidence that the doctor knows what he's talking about (such as a row of certificates on his wall) It might be nice to know why the pill he's given me is bright blue but not knowing the answer would not stop any reasonable person taking the doctor's advice. The doctor tells me clearly what to do and gives me a general idea of everything else. The same is true for God. We have clear advice on the key stuff and hints about how it all works (various passages in the Bible etc) and evidence (such as the fact he made the universe, the historical evidence for Jesus) to help us trust that God knows what he's doing. God could never answer all our questions, as we'd always have more questions to ask.

I agree that what happens to babies etc is important, although logically babies are in the same category as those who haven't heard the gospel message but are, humanly speaking, good. It's just that using babies as an example is more emotive. Nevertheless, there are various solutions I've heard suggested. Maybe if babies haven't had time to commit sin then they are sinless and go to heaven. Maybe God is so sovereign he is able to make sure people who will become Christians will not die before they do so, or even determine who is born where. Maybe babies are born into sin. Maybe God can look into our minds and know what a baby's potential to sin will be. There might be problems with all of those and at the end of the day I don't know the exact answer however I do believe that God is a fair God and will be fair about it and thus I can trust Him to sort it all out.

You ask why God doesn't just punish us for a week or two. There are two reasons I can think of: firstly we will continue to sin in Hell and so we will always have more sins to punish us for and secondly if rebelling against God is an infinitely large crime it disserves an infinitely large punishment.

You make an interesting point in asking why God "created us at all". God made us wanting us to live in harmony with Him in a perfect universe. You could ask why but then you could ask why anyone creates anything. Why did Leonardo Da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa? He just did and wanted to. Why did God make us? He just did and wanted to. In making us he gave us what we call freewill. He didn't make a bunch of robots but people who were conscious of the world around them and able to think. In doing so we were able to rebel against God and some people ended up wanting to go their own way and others wanting to go back to a clear relationship with God. Those who want to go back to how God planned will when they go to heaven.

Whether or not I would feel it would be fair if I died and went to Hell for worshipping the wrong God is irrelevant because the fact most people don't believe they disserve to go to Hell is not proof that they don't. You get people who stand up in court having done a serious crime and will tell everyone that they haven't done anything wrong and don't disserve to be punished yet this doesn't make them innocent. If we don't think we disserve to go to Hell then it means that we are either right or we don't understand the seriousness of what we've done and God is right.

So why is accepting God so important? Suppose someone wasn't thinking and accidentally shuts a door on your finger. You tell them that it's o.k. and offer to forgive them however they tell you that it was your fault for being in the way and they've done nothing wrong. Which is worse: the fact someone hurt you or the fact they couldn't care less? Acknowledging you've rebelled against God and wanting to accept his offer of forgiveness makes a big difference. Why do Christians talk about Jesus being their saviour rather than their judge? Because Jesus saves us from the judgment God could rightly serve on us. Christianity is not about being judged on whether you believe in God or not but an opportunity to turn to God for help and forgiveness.

I don't think Hell is about self-importance: it's the opposite and acknowledging that God is much more important than us. It might be "derived from our inability to accept our mortality" but then the fact we know what we should do to lead a moral life and yet also know that we aren't doing it is essentially the argument from morality and proof that Christianity is true. There are clearly two questions: is Christianity true and IF it's true should we submit to God.

You might feel some of you points I've answered better than others and some of your points not at all however I think the important thing is to be able to know enough and feel the evidence is reasonably sufficient to be able to trust God and put your faith in Him. I think we know enough to confidently say that God is ruler of the universe (as He made it) that He loves us(if I need to explain the odd thing here and there which seems unfair and unloving you need to explain the numerous things God has done which clearly are good, fair and loving such as sending Jesus) and finally Christianity is true (there are all kinds of other things I believe to be true backed up by less evidence than Christianity)

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Aug 2007 16:43:55 BDT
Thanks David. I find it very interesting that your understanding of these matters is somewhat different from that of other Christians I have met. Significantly, I was told, the only way into heaven was through acceptance of Jesus. You offer an alternative explanation that acceptance of Jesus essentially immunises one from God's judgment and that lack of knowledge of Jesus is not a one-way ticket to Hell.

So for the record, could you just clarify for me what (in your opinion) happens to people like Mr Smith, because I am still a bit confused as to your explanation. On one hand you say "God does take everything He knows about you into account when judging". Which to me suggests an even-handed approach where no question takes precedence. But then on the other hand you said "People who know about Jesus but reject him are still fairly PUNISHED based upon their actions" (emphasis mine). Suggesting that without acceptance of Jesus one is automatically punished (because we are all sinners etc). Is that correct? Does the "Do you accept Jesus as your saviour?" question effectively trump any good you have done as a human being?

If I understood them correctly, according to your Bible quotations, Mr Brown is immune from judgement and is granted passage to an eternity in paradise. Is that correct?

On a wider scheme, I have noticed that when you do not understand how God judges certain people (Amazonians, babies etc), you put your faith in him to make a fair judgment. But if I can be so bold, you owe it to yourself to be more pragmatic. The reason for this, is that if it is logically impossible for God to have a consistently fair method for judging us then, his judgment (in the biblical description) must be regarded as impossible. Let me explain; No matter how perfect or powerful God is, there are some things that you have to accept he cannot do. The typical example is God cannot make a square circle. By definition, this is logically impossible. So unless you disagree with this, then you have to accept that even God is limited by logic. My point, and the point of my questions is that the bible tells us that God is fair and just, but if we can show that it is impossible for God's judgment to be consistently fair and just, then either (at least) the bible must be wrong, or (ultimately) God doesn't exist.

You have made many detailed explanations for the description of how God judges us, but when confronted with the complex issue of those ignorant of God's judgment you accept that the answers you offer may not be completely satisfactory. And this is because they ABSOLUTELY ARE NOT satisfactory. This is because it is impossible for a fair and just God to apply the rules of judgment as you have described them.

Take your explanations for his judgment of babies.
(1) "Maybe if babies haven't had time to commit sin then they are sinless and go to heaven.". It cannot be fair to commit all babies to heaven by default because then you are not using a level playing-field for everyone. Those of us who survived childhood and rejected Christianity are judged by a different set of criteria, so by dieing as babies these souls have benefited from their misfortune on earth. What if Adolf Hitler died when he was a baby?
(2) "Maybe God is so sovereign he is able to make sure people who will become Christians will not die before they do so, or even determine who is born where.". So you are saying that if one has the potential to become a Christian, one will not die a baby. But that means God is judging us BEFORE we exist, not after. That is not fair.
(3) "Maybe babies are born into sin.". So all babies go to hell (because they are sinners and have not accepted Jesus as their saviour)? But some of the babies may just have died before they were old enough to accept Jesus, it just happens that they never got the chance. So they were punished for dieing too early. That's not fair.
(4) "Maybe God can look into our minds and know what a baby's potential to sin will be.". So he punishes babies on what they WOULD HAVE DONE and not what they have actually done. That's not fair either.

Essentially God's judgment (as described in the bible) cannot be fair.

As I pointed out, what if the Amazonian (who was allowed into heaven based on his life in absence of knowledge of Christianity) would have rejected Jesus if he'd heard of him? Then that's not fair to other people who have lived equally good lives, but rejected Jesus. On the other hand you could say that maybe God knew that the Amazonian would reject Jesus, so banished him to Hell. But that's not fair either, because he never had the chance to make up his own mind. Can you see how it is impossible for God to judge us all fairly? He cannot make the square circle.

Your two "excuses" for eternal punishment are flawed. You said "we will continue to sin in Hell and so we will always have more sins to punish us for". Then God is punishing us for existing in a place he sent us to. You also said " if rebelling against God is an infinitely large crime it disserves an infinitely large punishment.". This assumes everyone in hell has rebelled against God (remember the Amazonian).

You also said "God made us wanting us to live in harmony with Him in a perfect universe." But is that really true? If he wanted to do that, then why be so covert. Why hide from us all the time? Why not make a grand show of his power so there can be no doubt? How about appearing to everyone in unison and convincing us all. Think about it. No more holy wars. We'd all know the truth and love him unconditionally. But no. Every way he shows "his power" can be construed as explicable by natural means if you think about it. So it again leaves us with doubt over his existence. Your analogy with the Mona Lisa is poor. Leonardo Davinci did not create the Mona Lisa knowing that most of it would be destroyed. I think if he knew that he probably wouldn't have bothered. A better analogy is that of a parent. Why would a parent create a child if they knew it was going to spend eternity in torture. The answer is, they wouldn't. An nor would any gracious God. "Why did God make us? He just did and wanted to.". So he wanted to create people in the knowledge that most of us would fail and be banished to Hell. What a gracious God he is. Remember God is omniscient, so he knows what all of "his children" will do while on earth, so while he may have given us "freewill", he still knows that most of us will fail. If he wants harmony, then don't bother making humans that will fail him.

You missed my point about other Gods. You say your God is fair and just, but he will punish me for rejecting Jesus as my saviour in spite of the fact that I may live my life in a selfless and considerate manner. All I'm saying is a fair God wouldn't bias his judgment in such a way. Hypothetically, if Allah is God (and you have to consider that possibility) then when he judges you wouldn't you try to argue that although you spent your life worshipping the wrong God you at least were a good person (as judged by your peers). And wouldn't you be disappointed if he told you that although he agrees you were a good person and recognizes your charitable efforts, you committed the ultimate wrong of rejecting him, and so were not granted access to paradise? The Christian God does this (according to the Bible). Don't you see that as a little short-sighted and unjust?

Basically, all I am saying is that while your faith in God is admirable, in my opinion it clouds your perception. When all the answers to a simple question are illogical (i.e. are not consistent with the central tenets of your religion), then you shouldn't just redouble your faith. You should ask yourself, `is it possible this religion is wrong?' If you believe in God, so-be-it, but don't allow anything to be regarded beyond question. Because once you do that, so much of this world (God created or not) is lost to you.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Aug 2007 08:14:07 BDT
Sorry David, I forgot to reply to the last part of your post regarding the requirement for me to "explain the numerous things God has done which clearly are good, fair and loving such as sending Jesus". I'm happy to try to do that if you will provide the evidence that you think requires non-supernatural explanation. These are important questions, and I don't want this to be a one-sided discussion where I ask all the questions.

You said you believe in many things with less 'evidence' than you accept for Christianity, but I can guarantee that not one of those things carries anything like the level of significance or impact on your life as that of your religion. For most of us the burdon of evidence required to satisfy our doubt over anything is proportional to the magnitude of the issue. So I'd be happy to believe that George Bush likes watching the Teletubbies if I read it in a newspaper, but belief in a God (especially an all powerful, omnipotent, omniscient one whom I am supposed to worship) requires some good hard facts.

And by the way, it wasn't hell that I said was derived from ego, but heaven. The attitude of "this short life on earth cannot be all there is to me" encourages belief in an after-life. I know I used to think that way. And as you said practically all believers in an after-life think they are going to the good place. Hell, they belive, is reserved for other people.

Regards

Mike

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Aug 2007 11:48:49 BDT
David Wilson says:
Thanks for your responses and reading/thinking through what I've written so far. I'll try and address what I feel the key issues you've brought up are. Something I say in one paragraph might bring up a point you've already made and is addressed elsewhere and hence my aim is for my response to be taken as a whole.

I don't think my views are different than most Christians. I'm saying that in theory you can get to heaven by leading a perfect life. The other Christians you've spoken to are talking about reality. If you haven't lead a perfect life then the only way to Heaven is through Jesus. The point I'm making is that Hell is something we (and we aren't babies) disserve for the sins we have done whilst heaven is something we don't disserve but get because of God's love. Without acceptance of Jesus (and by acceptance I mean accepting Jesus' sovereignty over our lives as opposed to accepting His existence) we are punished for our sins. I hope that clarifies my position.

I can't see anything illogical about God fairly judging and punishing people, after all if we can attempt to do it in a court of law then I'm sure God can on the day of judgement. We don't say that it's unfair for a murderer to go to prison because judgement is unjust or that it's not their fault they had the opportunity to murder and there might be others who haven't. Is it fair to punish someone just because they happened to have the misfortune of getting caught by the police or should we let all criminals go free on the basis that the police are better at catching criminals in some towns than others making it a postcode lottery? You could argue that had Hitler won WWII then nobody would have been punished for their crimes at Nuremburg so didn't we effectively punish them for losing the war? You seem to be arguing that judgment is wrong on the basis that it can never be fair and yet I'm assuming you accept the concept of fair judgment in other contexts.

Imagine one bank robber said to the other `if we get caught will we get sent to prison?'
The other robber wisely smiles and says, `society tells us that getting sent to prison is fair and just, but if we can show that it is impossible for prison to be consistently fair and just, then either (at least) sending bank robbers to prison must be wrong, or (ultimately) prison does not exist.'
The first robber excitedly points out, `Commit the crime when you're 17 and 364 days and 23 hours old and you get one punishment for being a youth offender. Commit the same crime a day later and you get a worse punishment because you're an adult. If the system took age into account it must be unfair. Sending a five year old to prison is also unfair. Not taking the criminal's age into account is unfair.'
`Correct', the wise robber points out. `Thus we have nothing to worry about.'
That night the two people get caught robbing a bank and get sent to prison. In prison they wonder where their logic went wrong. The same is true for Hell, except our crime is our sin and Jesus extends the analogy by offering to save those who accept His salvation from their punishment. Those who don't accept Jesus' salvation plan (either because they don't want it or haven't heard about it) are no worse off. If nobody is any worse off with Jesus saving some people then it is fair - even if we were to argue who Jesus saves is random, perhaps the least fair way of doing it, it would still be fair (nobody moans about the fact some win the National Lottery and others don't because we recognise the fact that nobody has the right to win millions of pounds. The fact some people haven't heard of the National Lottery doesn't come into it. Nobody has the right to be saved from God's judgement/Hell and so salvation is perfectly fair.)

Now onto the topic of babies. You did a good job arguing against the example solutions to the problem however unless you can prove it is an exhausted list of possibilities all you can show is that the solution is not the politically correct or obvious ones people will suggest and maybe sin is a far greater problem than we acknowledge. Is a baby perfect without any greedy or selfish thoughts? If the baby is not perfect then there's your answer, the baby is judged on its greedy and selfish thoughts just like anyone else. If the baby is perfect then how do you know this? You claim that it'd be unfair if Hitler died as a baby but would it? Was Hitler destined to become the dictator he was or had he had a different childhood would he be different? We simply don't know so we can't say either way if dying as a baby would have saved Hitler from his crimes later on in life as it assumes as a baby his crimes were inevitable (an unproven claim).

My belief that God will find a way to fairly judge everyone (even if I can only get very close) is not me simply being pragmatic but me looking at God's character and the evidence. If you asked me to find a way to make matter and atoms out of nothing (never mind a fully functioning universe) then I wouldn't be able to yet I feel there is cosmological evidence God has. If you asked me to find a way to rise three days after I died I wouldn't be able to yet God found a way, or so the historical evidence suggests. My experience of reality is that God can always find a way so we have to at least be open to the possibility. As for square circles all that does, at worst, is question our understanding of the word 'omnipotent'. Alternatively, where does logic come from? If God made the laws of logic (and as scientists discover that time, space, the laws of physics etc may have been created/set in the Big Bang we have to wonder if anything is possible) then maybe God could make a square circle...just because God hasn't doesn't mean He couldn't. I think the square circles paradox is one of various mind teasers which both sides have but don't prove much: I could bring out the one `if atheists say God doesn't exist then they'd have to know everything about the universe...but if they knew everything about the universe they'd be God and thus God would exist!'

You could ask if Hell would almost be like Heaven for Mr Smith (as judgement would be based on his nearly perfect life) but even eternity with the next best thing to God would become Hell; eternity on a nice tropical island would become Hell after a few million years. The only thing that could be a true Heaven would be eternity with God and thus qualifying for the next best thing would be Hell. Hence the standard for Heaven must be 100% perfection. This means that logically we need to be perfect to get to Heaven (as 99% perfection would get something 99% good which would not be Heaven). If you're not perfect then you need God's help to get to Heaven. I can't see any logical problem with God's judgement and salvation.

I don't think my `excuses' for eternal punishment are flawed. If a prisoner murders someone in prison they get a longer prison sentence, regardless of the fact the judge who sentences them for murder could be the one who put them in prison in the first place. Similarly if someone sins in Hell then they get a longer sentence. If we can't stop sinning in this life then we certainly won't in Hell. Also everyone has rebelled against God, although I apologise for not defining what I meant by that. Rebelling against the government is not standing up and being critical of them, it's ignoring the laws of the land and causing anarchy. The same applies to God. God has written his law on our hearts (Romans2:14) and is what you and I would call our conscience. Going against our conscience is rebelling against God as it is ignoring the sense of right and wrong He gave us. All Jesus did, in terms of moral teachings, was remind us of what we should already know. If you don't know God exists but do something wrong then it's rebelling against God. On a side note, this is evidence Christianity is true. When you read a story in the paper about someone forgiving someone who attacked them two things are generally acknowledged. Firstly that forgiveness is good (it doesn't need justifying, metaphorically speaking it's written in our hearts) Secondly forgiveness doesn't come naturally: we don't forgive others but bear a grudge. There are all kinds of moral examples where we know what we should do deep in our hearts but don't do it. Christianity is the only explanation I've ever heard which explains those two facts, that is God gave us a sense of what He wants us to do and we are rebelling against Him. Although we aren't analysing the evidence for Christianity I brought it up as it also proves we're rebelling against God.

Moving on, Mr Brown would go Heaven, not because he earned his place but because Jesus saved him. I feel I have already addressed why I feel that this is fair although ultimately it comes down to whether you feel it is good for God to save those who truly repent and recognise what they have done wrong.

God did not make us wanting us to rebel (and thus did not want us to go to Hell). 2 Peter 3:9 says `The Lord is not willing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance' Just as we are going against God's will when we do anything wrong we are going against God's will in ultimately ignoring Him. In a sense He could have made us so that we can't rebel: he could have made me into a cucumber and you into a piece of broccoli for example. If He had then we wouldn't be able to rebel. I say in a sense because we wouldn't be us, we had to be made the way we were for us to be us and that is my point. In order to make us into something special God could have a relationship with etc He had to give us the ability to reject Him. God made us wanting us to become Christians yet live with some basic dignity and not to be forced into a relationship with Him. God might have the power to force us to stop sinning but would that be loving of Him? Just because someone chooses not to do something is not evidence that they don't have the power to do it. You ask why God doesn't give us a `grand show of his power' yet if He imposed Himself on us like that that and gave us no choice but to let Him rule our lives wouldn't it make it harder to love Him? If God gave us no option but to acknowledge Him then you would be able to call Him a dictator. God has given us enough evidence for it not to act as an obstacle for those who want to be Christians and yet enough for those who don't want to be Christians to find flaws which to me seems about right. If we chose to sin then God could have left it at that with everyone going to Hell, the fact He chose not to is an act of love. You could ask why He didn't just not make us but we clearly exist and I think the probability of everything being an accident of nature and here for no reason is small enough to reject (even the mechanisms for evolution to work existing are highly unlikely) It may be unlikely that God chose to make us yet it is also unlikely that everything exists for no reason.

As for the evidence for Christianity, each person will have their own idea about how much evidence is enough evidence for God to provide, never mind the question of how certain you have to be before you commit your life to Christ. Since reading various books etc on the evidence for Christianity I've been surprised by how much evidence there is and what I've found. The evidence for Christianity is vast; seeing as people write whole books on the subject I'll try and resist the temptation to write thousands of words about it.

I don't think this is a logical problem but an emotional one. If it was a logical one then why don't you ever hear the question, `why does God send people to heaven?' which, logically, should be equally valid. You assume that there is such a thing as a good person for your argument to work (yet good by our standards that might not mean much if nobody is good) and I think that this is where our differences of opinion lie. I don't consider anything to be beyond question however proving there are limits to our understanding of God and the universe isn't proof that it is impossible for an answer to exist, particularly as questions about babies being saved etc are really side issues to the bigger issue of Hell.

In reply to an earlier post on 31 Aug 2007 09:35:12 BDT
Last edited by the author on 31 Aug 2007 12:16:28 BDT
Hi David,

I've had a chance to read over your points and complete responses all of your posting are likely to be too long for me to be able to write in a single succinct post, and (probably) for anyone else to bother to read. What I will do is try to give you a better idea of where I am coming from by comparing God's (in my opinion flawed) judgment, with that of our legal system (which at least attempts to be fair).

It is the Biblical description of God's judgment that I say is logically impossible, NOT judgment itself. Of course I don't think people shouldn't be judged for their crimes, I only think that it should be done in as fair a manner as possible. In fact it is easy to create a fairer system of judgment than that described by Christians, we have been trying to do so here on earth since we became a civilised species. As you pointed out "after all if we can attempt to do it in a court of law". But here is the problem for your God. Our courts while not perfect, at least try not to introduce laws that bias the judgment in favour/disfavour of any particular people. Don't you think that if God's system of judgment is so fair then the same criteria would be adopted in our Earthly courts of law? If you want to use the courts of law analogy as an example then try applying some of God's rules to ourselves here on earth to see how crazy they really are:

Rule 1. Everyone who commits a crime is given the same punishment. This means that the man who was caught speeding was given the same sentence as the man who raped and murdered someone.

(You have argued different forms of Hell exist for different people, but as you also pointed out, they all become torture after enough time. So it is still an eternity of torture).

Rule 2. Every criminal is punished for eternity by sending them to a place in which they are guaranteed to commit more crime. This is why they are sent there for eternity.

Rule 3. You can avoid any sort of punishment by making a mental commitment to the son of the judge.

Rule 4. If you don't know the judge's son. Tough luck. You are still punished forever.

Add to all this the fact that EVERYONE is regarded as a criminal, and you get a pretty warped judicial system. These rules cannot be applied by anyone who claims to be just and fair. So that means that God cannot be just and fair, no matter how clever he is. If you give him enough contradictory rules it becomes impossible to be fair.

At least our judicial system is not WRITTEN to include such injustices. Obviously because we are human and hence fallible, mistakes are made, but the laws are written to be as fair as possible. The Christian God's laws are not only unfair, but completely contradict the idea of him as being a loving caring father.

Addressing some of your other flawed points. Christianity is not the only explanation for why people forgive others. Are you really saying that only people of Christian cultures forgive one another? Either that or you are saying that God created us to forgive. But that is no more proof of Christianity than it is proof of any other God's existence or proof that we have evolved that way.

You say God shows us love by allowing us the possibility of Heaven. So does God stop loving me when I'm in Hell for eternity, or does he still love me while I suffer in the place he sent me forever?

Finally, I find it a bit disturbing that you talk of evidence for God's existence, when as far as I know there is no testable evidence for his existence. I know you said there are whole books dedicated to the subject but for the debate could you describe one piece of testable evidence for Gods existence? On the other hand, the testable evidence for evolution, which you dismiss as "highly unlikely" is overwhelming. I'd be surprised that anyone in complete possession of the facts about evolution would dismiss it in such an offhand way. Please don't tell me you believe the world was created in six days.

The question "why does God send people to heaven?" is logically completely different to that of Hell, and THIS IS THE WHOLE POINT. Sending people to a nice place isn't such a logically flawed thing for a loving God to do. Torturing them forever, is.

And you are right, nothing is beyond question. I have one more: If we cannot sin in heaven, then are we still the same person as we are now when we are there?

P.S. You also haven't clarified whether or not someone can get into heaven without believeing in Jesus (the Amazonian for example). More than anything I think this (as it was the original question) deserves clarification.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Sep 2007 15:55:20 BDT
David Wilson says:
Hi,

You agree that people should be judged for their crimes and yet this is what Hell is essentially about. You have tried to demonstrate that God's judgment is crazy but in doing so I feel that you have simply distorted how God's judgement works.

Lets look at rule 1. I'm pleased you noted that I believe `different forms of Hell exist for different people' and I still stand by this. Being `an eternity of torture' does not mean that everyone is `given the same punishment.' Whilst eternity on a desert island might be Hell, it would not be as bad as eternity in a fiery furnace. In other words you can still have degrees of punishment when eternity is involved (although the desert island etc is simply an analogy for Hell rather than an accurate description) Suggesting that everyone receives an eternity of punishment (or torture as you put it) in Hell does not allow you to conclude that everyone receives an eternity of the SAME punishment. As you haven't given any other reasons why you think that Hell is the same punishment for everyone, nor is it what Christians believe, I consider rule 1 to be an inaccurate comparison.

Rule 2 makes the mistake of assuming that continuing to sin in Hell has something to do with being in Hell. We won't continue to sin because we're in Hell, we'll sin because of our sinful nature. Jeffrey Archer no doubt continued to tell lies whilst in prison but that would be his fault and similarly if we continue to sin in Hell that's our fault, not God's. I have previously addressed why eternity is a fair sentence length. You make the fact people continue to sin in Hell sound as if it has something to do with God's judgement, rather than people continuing to do what they've always done, and so rule 2 is misleading.

Rules 3 and 4 are the same rule presented differently so I'll address them together. I also want to point out that these two rules are to do with being saved from judgement rather than the judgement itself. As I don't think points 1 and 2 are a fair comparison to God's judgment I see no reason to assume God's judgement is unfair. So lets look at the issue of being saved from judgement and whether that's fair (which, ofcourse, is equally important). If someone avoided punishment because they made a mental commitment to the judge's son would the scandal be that everyone else didn't get the same treatment and also let off? No. The papers would be full of how someone escaped justice and punishment. This is why I believe that the question is `why does God send people to Heaven?' just as the question with your latter two points is `why does the Judge let some people avoid punishment?' I think we must also remember that God has rights that a judge in a court does not. The owner of a dog has the right to set rules for the dog to follow or punish/forgive the dog for not following the rules they've set because the owner is a higher being than the dog. As God is a higher being than us He has the right to save us from punishment and set rules for us to follow: a right that a judge in a court of Law does not have.

Finally the fact everyone is destined for Hell is only unfair if some people are perfect (I have already tried to explain why I consider that to be the case) If a teacher put everyone in a class detention for rebelling against them then this would be fair so long as everyone was running riot and guilty. If everyone is guilty then it's fair to punish everyone and as we're all guilty of sinning it's fair for everyone to be punished.

I don't think that Hell is inconsistent with the idea of a loving God. Suppose a parent has two children: Fred and Bob. Fred hits Bob so the loving parent punishes Fred. Before Fred receives his punishment Bob hits Fred back. Rather than saying `two wrongs make a right' the parent ends up punishing both Fred and Bob. The parent punishes both children and yet loves them. If God didn't love us then he wouldn't care if we rebelled against His moral laws and so God must love us for Hell to exist.

Now lets look at the other points. I might have not done a very good job of explaining why morality (using forgiveness as an example) is evidence for Christianity so I'll try again. I'm certainly not suggesting that you have to be a Christian to forgive others and I apologise if that's the impression I gave; in fact my argument relied on forgiveness being universally accepted as good. I gave two generally accepted facts: forgiveness is good and forgiving others doesn't come naturally. I asked if you could explain both those facts: evolution can explain what comes naturally but not why what come naturally goes against our conscience. We may have evolved to be self-centred but if that's the case why do we know that being self-centred is wrong? Evolution is all about the survival of the fittest, so the rabbit that CAN run fastest survives. The rabbit that naturally runs slowly but has a feeling it SHOULD run quickly does not survive. Thus I don't think that there is a naturalistic explanation for the existence of our conscience. Other religions cannot explain the two facts any more than atheism can. To refute the argument you would have to explain why we know what is morally right yet find being morally right so difficult. Otherwise the idea that God made us with a sense of right and wrong yet we are rebelling against it is the only explanation of the two facts I've ever come across.

I did not dismiss evolution as highly unlikely; I dismissed the universe being one big accident as highly unlikely. Why do you take the mechanisms for evolution existing for granted? The evidence might suggest the mechanisms DO exist but not that they SHOULD exist. Moreover, think of all the coincidences involved in the universe existing, the ability for things to evolve being one of many, and ask yourself if we really do exist by nothing but chance alone.

You asked me to describe one piece of evidence for God's existence so here we go. Let me give you three `facts' that make up my piece of evidence:

Fact 1: Jesus was crucified and died. All the earliest church records agree on this and there are no alternative theories as to how Jesus died. The crucifixion is also mentioned by the Jewish historian Josephus in the first century, as does the Roman Tacitus at the start of the second century. Josephus and Tacitus are considered reliable sources for everything else they mention so why shouldn't they be reliable sources for Jesus being crucified? I would argue that the death of Jesus is one of the best-documented crucifixions in Roman history. Obviously the Romans were organised and made sure their victims died so hence my first fact.

Fact 2: Jesus' tomb was found empty. All fours gospels (written within a generation of Jesus) claim Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea and that Jesus' tomb was found empty. There are no alternative burial stories for Jesus within the early church and yet these are both claims that people at the time living in Jerusalem could have verified. All the authorities at the time had to do was produce Jesus' body yet as Christianity exists today they clearly didn't. As the authorities persecuted the early Christians and wanted to stamp it out then I'm sure they would have disproved the claims of Christianity if they could have. What's more take a look at Matthew 28:12-15, `When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, "you are to say, `His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.' If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep him out of trouble." So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been circulated amongst the Jews to this very day.' Whatever you make of that passage we can conclude that everyone at the time accepted that the tomb was empty (otherwise Matthew would have claimed the guards were spreading lies about Jesus' body still being in the tomb!)

Fact 3: Many independant people witnessed the risen Jesus on many separate occasions. The earliest account of Jesus in existence today can be found in 1 Corinthians 15 which says `For what I received I passed onto you of first importance:...that he appeared to Peter, and to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, and last of all he appeared to me also.' We find early church records full of references to people seeing the risen Jesus and claiming eyewitnesses exist. Paul also persecuted Christians before claiming, as he says in his letters, to see the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. What made Paul go from being one of the persecutors to one of the persecuted? Finally it was women who found Jesus' tomb empty and were the first to witness the risen Jesus. In Jewish law at the time women were not considered reliable witnesses and so it would seem unlikely all four gospel writers would have made it up if the two Marys were not claiming to have seen the risen Jesus as using women would have weakened their case. Obviously today we're in a fortunate position to know that women are just as reliable witnesses as men. So we have lots of witnesses ranging from close friends of Jesus to people who previously persecuted Christians to large crowds.

That gives us three facts, which I think are unreasonable to ignore. They are: Jesus was crucified and died, his tomb was shortly found empty and then a diverse bunch of people claimed to see the risen Jesus. I propose that the resurrection is the best way to explain those three facts and if the resurrection happened then Christianity is true. I feel this is just as testable as the evidence for evolution: you can dismiss the facts without reason or find improbable alternative ways to explain them, but isn't that what creationist do with the evidence for evolution? So we have the historical evidence for the resurrection, the improbability of the universe existing by chance and that argument from morality I gave. There are many other arguments I could give but I believe these are sufficient on it's own for assuming Christianity is true. I don't think you've proved that the doctrine of Hell is internally inconsistent or that there is any reason to assume Christianity isn't true.

You ended with what I thought was a good question so I'll do my best to try and answer it. In Heaven everyone wants to let God rule in their lives. This isn't undermining their freewill as they made the choice before going to Heaven. If everyone in Heaven (without being forced to) wants God to rule in their lives then they are getting what they freely want and if God is fully ruling in their lives then they cannot sin. In other words we are closer to our true selves as those who don't want to sin but please God all their time whilst on earth can and those who want to go their own way can do so in Hell.

My responses keep ending up longer than I intended so thanks for taking the time to read through and think about what I have written. Maybe I need to work on being more concise.

P.S Personally I don't think the Amazonian would be able to get to Heaven without believing in Jesus however this is simply because the Bible doesn't say otherwise. Some Christians might agree with me over this and others might take the attitude that there's a way not explicitly mentioned in the Bible.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Sep 2007 14:30:25 BDT
Last edited by the author on 17 Sep 2007 15:46:49 BDT
Hi David,

Rule 1 stands: As you said yourself any single thing, given enough time, will eventually become torture. So you accept that hell is a place of ETERNAL torture. Whether that is in a fiery furnace with a red-hot poker up your bum or being isolated on a desert island, it is still an eternity of torture. Your argument is that one form of torture is somehow better than another. But who is experienced enough to say that any form of torture is any worse than another if it lasts for eternity? Maybe, given the choice, I would choose the desert island over the burning furnace, but to be honest this would be pointless as I am going to be tormented forever anyway, so what does it matter? In all likelihood after a few thousand years on the island I would crave the contact of another person so much so that I'd kick myself for not asking for torture at the hands of someone with a red-hot poker. The idea of differing degrees of eternal torture is, to put it bluntly, laughable. There are different degrees of acute torture, but not eternal torture. I don't think anyone who holds the same beliefs as yourself has come anywhere near to understanding what eternity really means.

Let's take this to an extreme and say that God was such a nice bloke that he let those damned to hell have whatever one thing they wanted for eternity. Let's say someone wanted an eternity of oral sex. Sounds great doesn't it. But it doesn't take much imagination to see that after a few days this would be pretty unbearable. It could probably be described as torture within a few weeks.

And for the record, I don't think your understanding of Hell is so commonly held among Christians. I know many Christians that believe in the "fiery torture" version of hell as described in the Bible. You only have to take a look at the Christian "shows" in the US that depict hell in this way so that the young sinners can experience first hand what is in store for them if they do not submit to God. Do they show a range of different forms of hell depending on God's judgment? Do they show a nice desert island for those who aren't so bad? Not a chance. It's all fire and brimstone. People actually voluntarily bring their children along to these things, so this must be a commonly held belief. But to be frank I think this is probably a better recruitment drive for atheism than for Christianity.

Rule 2 still stands. You simply cannot make the comparison between our judicial system and that of your God's when he punishes for eternity and we do not. THAT is misleading. Think about it. Why do we punish people? I can think of a number of reasons, but one of the most significant is the attempt to try to reform that person's character for the good of themselves and ultimately, the rest of society. But that cannot occur when you punish people for eternity. If people can not be given the opportunity to learn from their mistakes then no-one benefits. That makes the punishment pointless.

God, by damning us to an eternity of punishment is basically washing his hands of us and saying "You had your chance and you blew it. Now suffer forever". The reason why that punishment is eternal (continuing to sin etc), is irrelevant. It doesn't deny that fact that your God, in full knowledge of what he was doing, commits the majority of "his children" to an eternity of punishment. How can he be fair and loving and do that?

Rules 3 & 4 are still accurate: You argument against these interpretations seems to be that because God is a higher being than us he can do what he likes. I agree. Any God worthy of the title should have those powers. But my point relates to the fairness of that judgment not on his ability to perform it. My points remain.

Your analogy of the parent punishing the two children for hitting one another is very revealing. You say "The parent punishes both children and yet loves them". I have one question for you; Would that same parent punish the children if he/she knew that punishment would last for eternity?

Your argument that our conscience proves the existence of the Christian God has more holes than a sieve. Firstly you base your argument on the assumption that your argument is true. You assume that there cannot be a natural explanation for selflessness ("forgiving others doesn't come naturally"). This means that there can only be a supernatural explanation ie God. So you are basically saying that the existence of conscience is proof of Gods existence because it could not exist without God. You won't be surprised to hear me say that your assumption is false. Evolution (nature) can be used to explain many apparently selfless actions among social species. You should read about it, it's fascinating.

I'm also interested to learn of the nature of the coincidences you mention in "all the coincidences involved in the universe existing". As far as I know, we don't know how the universe began, and we probably never will. So no-one (as far as I know) is able to tell us of what co-incidences were needed for the universe to exist without a maker. Furthermore, your argument of DO vs SHOULD is just word-play ("The evidence might suggest the mechanisms DO exist but not that they SHOULD exist."). "Should" assumes someone/something has intended something, so in itself the word "should" assumes intention. You can't argue the existence of God based on the assumption he exists.

Thanks for providing your "Facts" that prove the existence of God. But unfortunately none of them can be regarded as fact because they are not falsifiable. You cannot argue the credibility of the bible, by citing the bible. Even the other "evidence" (Roman documents etc) cannot in themselves be regarded "Facts". All you have provided is evidence. I don't know of anybody (over the age of about 10) who believes everything they read as fact.

If I told you Tony Blair came to my house last year, you'd want some evidence of it before you accepted it as fact. If I gave you a document written by someone who also saw him, would that make it a fact? No. What if I gave you a photo of him with me in my front room, would it then be a fact? Of course not. The document could be wrong and the photo a fake. You may think the evidence is strong, but it is absolutely not a FACT.

All you have presented as "fact" is a collection of stories that may or may not be true. For the sake of this discussion, what your "three facts" tell me is that the amount of evidence required to convince you of something is far less that that required for me. I certainly wouldn't regard something as fact just because it was written down somewhere. And I wouldn't accept everything in a book as fact just because some of it stood up to limited analysis.

Just imagine for a second that the bible doesn't exist (that you are the metaphorical Amazonian). Would you be a Christian? Of course not. There is no evidence for the Christian God other than the Bible. The only thing that brings someone to Christianity is this self-contradicting book of dubious historical, factual and biological accuracy. Don't you think it is just a little bit possible that the book could be wrong?

If I gave you a book that was full of historical inaccuracies and internal contradictions but asked you to accept some of it as FACT just because I say it is, you'd be justified in being sceptical. Well that's my position over the Bible. Some of it may have been verified by other texts such as the crucifiction example you use, but all that says (if it is true) is that a man possibly called Jesus was crucified at some point about 2000 years ago. It doesn't mean that that person was the son of God and it certainly doesn't mean that everything else in the bible is true.

Your fuzziness over the Amazonian question is very interesting. Basically you are saying that people ignorant of Jesus are punished for eternity. And you also think your God is fair, just and loving. Can't you see how those two things are in complete contrast? I know you fall back on the "spectrum of punishment" argument about hell, but as I have explained above, this is fallacious (and in fact invented in an attempt to allow liberal Christians to cling onto the concept of a fair and loving God).

It is also interesting to note that if you thought he could get into heaven, then this would undermine your argument for free-will in heaven (relying on us accepting God in the first place). So you personally have no choice but to accept that God punishes those ignorant of him don't you?

Please tell me you can see how illogical these things are when considered as a whole.

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Sep 2007 22:59:31 BDT
David Wilson says:
Hi,

I'd like to firstly be clear that I'm simply trying show that it could be possible, rather than inevitable, for a loving God to fairly judge us. My faith is based on the historical evidence for the resurrection etc and so all I have to do is prove that neither of us can have the upper hand on the issue of judgement whilst finding evidence elsewhere to backup my faith. Your comment, `But who is experienced enough to say that any form of torture is any worse than another if it lasts for eternity?' therefore surprised me. You can't have it both ways: if I'm not experience enough to know whether Hell can be worse for some people than others then neither can you. The Bible says that Hell is not a uniform punishment for everyone and neither of us can prove the Bible to be right or wrong. Otherwise you take the attitude that if the Bible might not be true it defiantly isn't true. Hence, it would not make sense for me to base my faith, or you to base your atheism, on rule 1. We'll both have to find something else to base our beliefs on which we are `experienced enough' to verify.

I know lots of Christians who don't believe in a literal interpretation of fire in the book of Revelations etc. Just Google for some Christian website and you'll find plenty which don't have this cartoon version of Hell. As we're on the Mere Christianity page then why do you think C.S Lewis also wrote a book called the Great Divorce rather than one called The Fiery Furnace? Because he saw Hell as being about separation from God etc rather than about fire; as have a long list of other well-known Christians. These Hell shows are something done by literally a small handful of fundamentalists in the USA. Of course the media will focus on a very small minority if that's what makes an interesting story but be careful such media coverage doesn't distort your views. `Minister of some tin pot church in America scares kids with fire' will make the front page. `Millions of ministers deliver yet another boring sermon' won't. You've probably been annoyed in the past when you see something you know a bit about being reported in the media and so hopefully you can see why I get annoyed at how Christian beliefs get misrepresented. Hell is about separation from God ("Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the Presence of the Lord, and from the Glory of his Power" 2 Thessalonians 1:9) Because separation from God is not an experience we can really relate to everything from fire to dessert islands are merely analogies to help us.

I agree that one reason for punishment is to try and reform people and God does give us an opportunity to reform - that opportunity is now. You also acknowledge that there are other reasons for punishment. If you heard about a convict who spent their whole life in prison and never reformed you wouldn't say, "it was a waste of time punishing them then!" Reform is only one of several reasons we punish people. If Hell doesn't reform people it just means there are other reasons for Hell to exist just as there are other reasons for punishing people. I have already addressed why I think eternity is a fair punishment length; saying that you don't think something is fair is your opinion rather than logic. I'm not saying your opinion isn't worth anything however it's subjective. A parent punishes their child in proportion to what they have done and the number of times they have done it. So does God. Taking those rules and applying them to God logically means eternity for reasons I've already explained. There are no laws of logic that say that things are different when eternity is involved.

Perhaps the theologian D.A Carson does a better job of explaining why Hell is fair than I do(The Case for Christ page 165): "Hell is not a place where people are consigned because they were pretty good blokes, but just didn't believe the right stuff. They're consigned there first and foremost, because they defy their maker and want to be at the centre of the universe. Hell is not filled with people who have already repented, only God isn't gentle enough or good enough to let them out. It's filled with people who, for all eternity, want to be at the centre of the universe and who persist in their God defying rebellion. What is God to do? If he says it doesn't matter to him, God is no longer a God to be admired. He's either amoral or positively creepy. For him to act in any other way in the face of such blatant defiance would be to reduce God himself." I have already defined what rebelling against God means and why the Amazonian etc are all rebelling against God.

I've read many attempts to give naturalistic explanations for our conscience and they never seem to explain both the facts I gave. I've also read some good explanations of why evolution cannot explain our conscience, not just in Mere Christianity but recently in the Language of God by Francis Collins (director of the Human Genome Project, a talented scientist and certainly no creationist.) as well as many other books. I always like reading books that challenge my views etc and so could you recommend one of these books or articles I should read?

You ask what the coincidences involved in the universe coming into being are and yet you only need to read what science is revealing about the origin of the universe to see how improbable it is. The universe started with a Big Bang where something was made out of nothing. That something (matter) just happened to form rocks and other elements. Gravity was finely tuned to make all those rocks etc form planets and fly into place to create solar systems etc whilst other bits of matter made suns giving off light energy etc. On at least one of those planets, by pure coincidence, water and everything else needed for life was present. Then some chemicals managed to mix and react together to make a cell. The fact nobody has managed to recreate this reaction to get a cell shows it's not an inevitable one. Then, unlike anything else in the universe, that cell had the ability to evolve. Things like consciousness were possible for that cell to evolve towards. Everything just clicked into place after the Big Bang, everything just flew into place like clockwork. We simply take the fact we exist for granted. This is only a summary and yet if you changed one part of it life could not exist. Don't you ever look around you and wonder why there is something rather than nothing? Can you not see why even most atheists are puzzled by why, probability wise, the universe should not exist? Theism has put a perfectly good explanation on the table so why ignore it? It'd be like saying gravity doesn't exist regardless of the fact it explains the universe perfectly when nothing else does.

Next you seem to be dismissing the whole of the historical method: many of your arguments could be used to dismiss everything in the history section in your local library. You can't just assume that everyone throughout history was a compulsive liar! If you think those `facts' are not true then you'll have to give a reason specific to those `facts' otherwise they could be used to dismiss any historical event. I use the word fact to mean beyond reasonable doubt ... if you can't give a good reason to doubt those facts then to me they're facts. I disagree that the Bible is full of historical errors and contradictions but lets assume that, for arguments sake, it is. Does a document have to be inerrant to be of any use? No. Historians try to analyse the document to work out how much of it is true rather than dismissing it on the bases of a few errors. What the historical Jesus was like is a serious question and I explained why I think (using arguments I've heard reputable historians use) believe the historical Jesus rose from the dead. You simply say `the book could be wrong' You've probably heard young-earth creationists point to examples of scientists getting their carbon dating wrong. O.K, scientists are fallible and sometimes make mistakes when carbon dating a fossil. Hopefully you can see why that doesn't logically mean the earth is 6000 years old or make carbon dating invalid. Similarly trying to point out that someone once lied to dismiss the Bible makes the same logical fallacy. Imagine if the defence stood up in a court of law and simply said, "I know they are lots of witnesses but they might be lying. I have no evidence, rhyme nor reason to assume they are. I can't even suggest a motive as to why they would all lie." I don't think it'd go down very well.

Finally we revisit the Amazonian. The Amazonian is being punished for sins s/he has committed irrespective of whether they know about Christianity. They have a conscience and thus know what God's moral law is even if they've never seen a Bible. If they haven't led a perfect life then they have a long list of things they can be fairly punished for. My argument regarding the Amazonian is that God's grace is something nobody disserves. The Amazonian has simply missed out on an opportunity they don't disserve. That, in my opinion, is fair.

Just as Christianity doesn't make sense to you, atheism doesn't make sense to me. This is because we have a different outlook on life rather than one of us not wanting to use evidence and logic. The only way to fix that would be for me to either loose my faith, when I have no reason to, or you to try commiting your life to Christ based on what you do know. Logic, however, is common ground and I can't see any actual logical fallacies with Hell. Most of your arguments seem to be based on your opinion and worldview. Someone from another country might feel chopping someone's hands off for stealing a loaf of bread is fair but would I disagree with them because of logic or cultural differences? What is fair varies from person to person irrespective of how good at logic they are. Whether Hell is fair is a matter of opinion rather than logic. I suppose a theist could counter my argument and say that as God made the universe he has the final say on what is fair but I can't see why whether something is fair is mainly a logical problem.

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Sep 2007 15:20:45 BDT
Hi David,

Ahhh I see now. You are using the word `fact' when you mean `belief'. That makes things very confusing. I'll bear that in mind.

Continuing.......

The problem I have with the Christian God's justice system (as you have explained) is that if you don't accept Jesus Christ as your saviour then you are punished for eternity whether or not you had the opportunity to accept Jesus as your saviour. That means where you were born (and/or `when' for that matter) in many cases can be the one deciding factor over whether or not you are punished forever. As far as I can see that is not fair. We're back to the postcode lottery. A fair God cannot punish someone for eternity for being born in the wrong place or time. This is exposed in your statement about the Amazonian:

"Finally we revisit the Amazonian. The Amazonian is being punished for sins s/he has committed irrespective of whether they know about Christianity. They have a conscience and thus know what God's moral law is even if they've never seen a Bible. If they haven't led a perfect life then they have a long list of things they can be fairly punished for. My argument regarding the Amazonian is that God's grace is something nobody disserves. The Amazonian has simply missed out on an opportunity they don't disserve. That, in my opinion, is fair."

I was going to comment on the absolutely, bare-faced, ridiculous unfairness of that paragraph, but I think it does such a good job itself I'll let any readers decide for themselves. For me such a statement perfectly encapsulates the perverted idea of fairness peddled by Christians.

Amazonians apart, the rest of us who are `lucky' enough to be exposed to the evidence for Christ as saviour, we have to contend with the fact that it is not entirely convincing. No-one in full knowledge of the Bible can honestly say that it is a work of pure historical and philosophical perfection. As I said, it even contradicts itself (I can give you examples if you like). So bearing in mind that the Bible is the ONLY evidence of Jesus Christ being the saviour of mankind, then some people (me included) are bound to entertain the possibility that if some of it is obviously wrong, then maybe all it's assertions are questionable. Without means to test these claims, then they have to remain as questionable, and not blindly accepted as fact. That is a reasonable position to take. If God punishes me for that then so be it.

For the record I don't assume anyone was a liar. I never said that and I never implied that. All I said was that they historical evidence you provided could be wrong. That, I'm afraid IS a fact. All I'm saying is that humans are fallible individuals, often with hidden agendas, misconceptions or biases that can skew their perspective. Therefore we cannot assume that everything written down is fact. They may not be deliberately deceiving us (lying), but deception can often be the unintentional outcome.

You make the comparison of my analysis of the Bible with that of other historical texts, suggesting that it means I have to debunk all historical writings. Of course I treat all books in the same way. Doesn't everyone? A book about the holocaust could be right, or it could be wrong. I'll decide what I believe after I weigh-up the evidence. But unless I witnessed it for myself, I cannot personally regard it as FACT (and even then it may not be). I may believe it to be very likely true, but that's not the same thing. My opinion could change in light of other evidence. One's mind has to be open to the possibility that what one believes could be wrong. That's just a healthy approach to life, not pure bloody-minded contrariness.

Another point about the comparison between the bible and other historical texts is that NONE of these texts make the same sort of claims as to the punishment or otherwise of our immortal souls. They don't tell me that if I don't believe what they say, I'll be punished forever for it. That puts the bible in a category all its own. For me, the burden of proof is proportional to the magnitude and impact of the claims. If there is a god, I want some good proof. The bible is making big claims that are potentially hugely important to my eternal life (which is a questionable concept in itself). But as evidence for this, the bible is comparatively weak. It's not good enough for me. And unfortunately there is no way of testing whether it is right without God himself appearing and telling me. So I have to leave it in the "it could be wrong" pile until some better evidence surfaces.

But don't get me wrong I'm not saying that the Bible must all be wrong just because some of it is. That's not my belief. For example, I believe that someone called Jesus probably did exist, I just don't believe that all the things written about him in the Bible are true. My problems with the Bible can be simply summarised by the following two contradictory statements about it:

(1) It is touted as the "sacred word of God".
(2) It is internally contradictory, factually incorrect, commonly ambiguous, and has (in places) been shown to be historically inaccurate.

For me these two things cannot exist together, so one of them must be wrong. I go for number 1.

Liberal Christians argue that not every word is supposed to be literally accepted, and that much of the bible is metaphorical. But that creates two problems. Firstly, Why has this ultimate perfect being, God, left us with a text that is flawed? Surely he'd have given us something at least without any simple mistakes in it. And secondly, ANYONE can interpret the bible to suit their own means, while still believing it is the sacred word of God. So people can have conviction that THEIR own personal interpretation is the intention of God. This combination of ambiguous texts that are proffered as sacred is a recipe for conflict, not harmony. Even Christians can't agree over the rights and wrongs of homosexuality because the bible is ambiguous.

Your understanding of science's explanation for the creation of the Universe and the mechanics of evolution would be considerably improved by reading two books. First "The Atheist Universe" by David Mills (creation of the universe), and second, "The Blind Watchmaker" by Richard Dawkins (evolution). I'd recommend Stephen Hawkings "A Brief History of Time" but to be honest it becomes hard going by the later chapters, but if you haven't already had a look then maybe you'd like to.

You provided a list of coincidences required for us and our universe to exist, but to be frank none appear to be, or can be called coincidences (according to our current knowledge). They are just conjecture or misinterpretations in absence of the complete facts. That's not a criticism as such because I am just as ignorant as you or anyone else in most of these issues, but your desire to believe a divine explanation appears to have led you to confuse issues and warp your viewpoint. A good example is your statement "unlike anything else in the universe, that cell had the ability to evolve" which, unless you are omnipotent, is obviously an unsupportable statement.

This is consistent with your other perceived coincidences that appear to be made from a position of ignorance. For example who says the beginnings of our universe (matter from nothing) required a massive coincidence? I don't think anyone knows enough to make that statement. We don't even know how it happened, so no-one can comment on the likelihood of its spontaneous occurrence. For all we know the self-creation of the universe may have been inevitable with a statistical probability of 1. So I don't think you can call that a coincidence unless you can back it up with some evidence.

Also the laws of Physics (gravitation, atomic theory etc) may also be an inevitable consequence of our universe. Who can say that it is a coincidence that gravity exists in the way it does? It just does. And the fact it does is not necessarily a coincidence and is definitely not proof of a creator. As I said above, it could be that the universal laws and constants (and therefore life) are inevitable. I don't think you or I or anyone else can speak of statistics (and therefore coincidences) when it comes to these things. You may believe it is unlikely because that suits your position, but as far as I know there is no evidence to support that assertion.

To talk of coincidences when it comes to life existing on Earth exposes a somewhat egocentric perspective. Firstly no-one knows the statistical likelihood of life existing on any given planet if chosen at random from all those in the universe, but most accept it to be quite improbable. However, the belief that it is a massive coincidence that life happens to exist on Earth is a problem of perspective not probability. Yes, if I pick a planet at random in the universe, the chances it has life on it is probably very small, and if life was found there then it WOULD be a massive coincidence, BECAUSE I WAS PICKING A PLANET IN THE HOPE IT HAD LIFE ON IT. But no one CHOSE Earth and said, "Let's see if life appears here". That would be a big coincidence. Let's say for argument's sake that we knew the probability of life existing on any given planet is 1 in 100 million, then if you chose 100 million planets at random, it is likely that one of them would have life on it. That is no coincidence, just a mathematical fact. We just happen to exist on this one planet amongst however many billion that do not contain life. No coincidence required. I was once told that there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on every beach in the world. I think (if true) that comes close to allowing us to put into perspective the possibility that the existence of life in our universe may just be inevitable.

No one (as far as I know) claims that "some chemicals managed to mix and react together to make a cell". To believe that is self-deluding. I have never read a scientific explanation for the generation of life by the spontaneous creation of cells from chemicals. I agree that this would take an impossibly enormous leap of coincidence to occur. There is plenty of information out there that will put you straight on this and Dawkins gives many credible explanations for the creation of organic life on our planet in the book I recommended. In actual fact evolution probably existed BEFORE cellular life, just in a more rudimentary form. One particularly attractive hypothesis is that of inorganic crystals that evolve to suit their environment. This is an interesting and plausible theory but unless you want me to I'll not elaborate any further.

It's not surprising to me that your lack of understanding of the current scientific explanations for the creation of the universe and natural selection lead you to incredulity. That's because you seem to have been misinformed. Given your understanding I'd be tempted to accept a divine explanation.

But in general my point is this. We do not have all the answers to all our questions, and be sure of this; science will never explain everything. We will always have ignorance in some form or other. I have to accept that some things are just intractable. But that doesn't mean "God" should be used to fill that void. Just because science shakes its head, it doesn't mean "God" is the answer. The answer could just be that it's impossible to know.

Have a good weekend

Mike

P.S. You can't carbon-date a fossil.

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Oct 2007 15:11:26 BDT
David Wilson says:
Hi Mike,

If I felt that my paragraph was ridiculously unfair then obviously I wouldn't have written it, nonetheless we've probably exhausted the debate on the fairness of God's judgement and will start going around in circles if we go much further. I just want to remake the point that the way you present God's judgement is on par with suggesting that getting arrested is the deciding factor on whether you go to prison. If you want to refute the argument then you will need to answer these questions: Do you think we disserve to go to heaven? If you do then what makes you so sure? If you don't then logically you accept that going to heaven is a gift we don't disserve. Why is it unfair for some people to receive an undeserved gift and not others?

I think you're exaggerating the number of difficulties in the Bible. I read the Bible at least once a day and have never found myself tripping over contradictions - you really have to go through the Bible with the intention of finding them and even then they never appear to be watertight. Most of the proposed factual errors surround the birth story (which is odd as if the resurrection wasn't true we'd expect the resurrection to have a similar number of errors as the birth story) They also tend to be arguments from silence, that is some sceptics present anything in the bible which can't be conclusively proven to be true as an error. When someone presents a factual error the first question to ask is `what actual evidence do you have for this error?' Conversely there are lots of facts in the Bible (about geography, Roman and Jewish politics etc) that are defiantly true. I don't think that the Bible has more errors in it than most other historical sources and so you're going to have to prove this if this is what you maintain. I'm pleased that you are "not saying that the Bible must all be wrong". How do you go about deciding which parts of the Bible are true and which are not? The obvious answer would be to use the techniques used by historians on any text and yet you seem reluctant to do that with the resurrection. Whether or not the Bible is the word of God is a different issue to weather it's a reliable collection of historical sources.

I recognise that biased people with agendas may well have written the Bible however that just means we need to look at it critically. It would be possible to argue that the war in Iraq was a real event with nothing more than a speech written by Alistair Campbell. For example I could point out that Alistair Campbell wouldn't get away with referring to fake wars in a speech written to a contemporary audience. You acknowledge that ALL humans have their biases, which therefore means your argument can be used to dismiss any historical source. I'm not saying the three facts are true simply because the Bible says they are - I justified why I think each one is true. You must either refute one of the three facts or explain why my conclusion is invalid; otherwise the resurrection still stands as evidence and the best you can do is dispute if it's enough evidence:

1)If Jesus could conquer death through his resurrection then what he said is true
2)There are many teachings about hell and god's judgement attributed to Jesus so it seems reasonable to believe that the historical Jesus did teach about God's judgement
3)You have not been able to dispute the specific evidence I gave for the resurrection and have simply tried to skirt around the subject by attacking the general historical method or other aspects of Christianity. You seem to dismiss the evidence on the basis that you simply know God doesn't exist.
4) I have presented the evidence to other non-Christians who have equally been unable to successfully dispute those three `facts' I gave or my conclusion from the facts.
5) I have heard/come across other Christians doing the same thing, even against the top atheists
6)Thus nobody can dispute the three facts or that they point to the resurrection
7)Thus it is reasonable to assume that the resurrection is true
8)Thus God's judgement is likely to be real

I'm surprised that you don't think that the holocaust is a fact - are you suggesting that denying the resurrection is like denying the holocaust? A few weeks ago you were telling me that evolution is a fact. Whilst I agree, may I ask if you if you possess a time machine as otherwise how were you able to `witness' life evolving for yourself? I suppose I could decide that you're contradicting yourself and thus dismiss everything you've said and I didn't like with the same ethos that you do with the Bible. Using your definition of the word fact will mean that pretty much everything is a belief - is it simply my belief that the Battle of Hastings happened in 1066 as I wasn't personally there to witness it myself? You tell me that you `weigh-up the evidence' so can you look at those specific points I gave regarding the resurrection and weigh them up.

Just out of interest, are you suggesting that someone should be an atheist even if they were 99% certain (or even 70% certain) that Christianity is true?

To ask whether every word in the Bible should be taken literally or metaphorically is a false dilemma: some the Bible is literal and some is metaphorical. When Jesus said he was the vine did he mean he literally had grapes growing on him? When the Bible says that Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea is that a metaphor? Clearly we use historical understanding, context, type of literature (e.g. poem, apocalyptic, historical account, parable etc) and of course, a dose of common sense to work out which is which. Suppose I wrote, "last week it was literally raining cats and dogs." Once translated into another language and 2000 years have gone by you can imagine the wacky ways people will interpret my sentence and the same is true for books like Revelation. People have no problem with the concept of figurative speech in many other contexts so why do they struggle when it comes to the Bible? I agree with you that people will try bending the Bible to suit their own agendas but that doesn't mean that the Bible is unclear if you read it with an open mind. In fact it's more a reflection on us and how we treat God's word rather than God's ability to communicate.

Thanks for the book recommendations - I will have to read The Atheist Universe and the Blind Watch Maker. The only book I've read by Dawkins is The God Delusion however I've been told that his other books are much better. In the God Delusion Dawkins does a chapter on the evolutionary origins of morality however did not address the question of why we are naturally self-centred and yet know that being so is wrong, something that's a completely different issue to altruism which Dawkins seemed to think morality is exclusively about. I'll have to see if he does in The Blind Watchmaker.

You mention a Brief History of Time so it might be a good book to quote from regarding the coincidences involved in the universe: `why did the universe start out with so nearly the critical rate of expansion that separates models that recollapse from those that go expanding forever, that even now, 10 thousand million years later, it is still expanding at the critical rate? If the rate of expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in 100 thousand million million, the universe would have recollapsed before it reached its present size.' I would call that a coincidence. There are many other similar claims about the universe that just blow your mind away. Note, these are scientific claims based on evidence rather than `absence of the complete facts'. As for my comment on the cell, maybe you're right and my statement was slightly sweeping however it will still be like the expansion of the universe in that if the conditions were slightly different then cell would not have formed. Whilst we are all ignorant as to how the cell formed we know there are lots of conditions where a cell can't form which would suggest it's not inevitable and that was really my point. My argument was not really a discussion on theories of how cells formed (i.e how God made the cell) so my mention of chemical reactions was merely a summing up of all the different theories. Many, such as the primodial soup theory (which I'm not saying is any more likely to be true than the others) are chemical reactions yet that's irrelevant as which ever theory is correct will require a certain set of conditions to be just so. Indeed Hawkins also says `It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended us to be this way' I am aware of most of the naturalistic proposed explanations (which I feel are inadequate) for these coincidences however won't address them unless you have a specific one that you want addressing.

You seem to argue that gravity "may also be an inevitable consequence of our universe" We can perceive a universe where gravity would be different so we have to ask why gravity is the way it is. Suppose you were put against a wall and a thousand of the best marksmen in the world pointed a gun at you. They all fired and missed. Of course you could say "missing must have been inevitable, otherwise I wouldn't be here to ask why they all missed?" however would this be the intellectually honest thing to do? By conceiving billions of universes where life could not exist we can conclude that life is improbable just as by conceiving lots of situations where I got shot would allow me to conclude that surviving was not inevitable.

Finally, the fact life is on this planet rather than any other is not the point. If I won the lottery then you could argue that it's not a miracle as someone has to win it each week (I hope I am I right in suggesting this is what you mean?) Of course it would be a miracle as I don't enter the lottery! The improbability is for life to form on any planet rather than specifically on earth.

So how do you conclude trying to explain the improbability of the universe? By going back to what I said in my very first post on this topic, that we can't be expected to answer everything and so obviously I agree. I can't answer every question you have about my world view and you can't about yours. Nonetheless if a very good answer is at hand then why ignore it? Everyone's heard the story of Isaac Newton sitting under a tree and an apple falling on his head. I know the story might be a myth but it still makes my point and is still heralded as the right way to think. Newton could have said "it's better to say that I don't know why the apple fell" and left it at that. Instead he knew that gravity explained it perfectly and similarly God seems to be the perfect answer to my questions about the universe, along with many others, so shouldn't we at least take it seriously as an idea?

Several weeks ago you asked for testable evidence. I gave you historical evidence that is just as testable as any other piece of historical evidence. Now you're saying that "unfortunately there is no way of testing whether it is right without God himself appearing and telling me." You seemed to have raised the bar quite a bit! Maybe God doesn't ad hear to your hyper-sceptical standards or maybe if the resurrected Jesus did appear in front of you you'd raise the bar yet again. Nonetheless, if your heart is open then I believe God can work in it and reveal Himself to you just as He has worked in my heart and the hearts of many other people. The more irrational atheists try to make the notion of God appear, the bigger the mystery as to why we have this natural desire to believe in Him becomes. I say desire because the concept of God is rooted in most societies throughout the world and history and so clearly personal experiences of God run quite deep. In other words lots of people claim that if you genuinely want God to reveal Himself to you then he will. C.S Lewis summed up the argument by saying, "Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world."

I hope that you have a good weekend too.

David

P.S - Yes you can http://science.howstuffworks.com/carbon-142.htm But that wasn't my point, I was trying to show why the argument `the document could be wrong' is fallacious. Saying that carbon dating could be wrong does not give us reason to doubt it.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Oct 2007 14:39:15 BDT
Last edited by the author on 10 Oct 2007 09:59:08 BDT
Hello again David,

I agree with you that we seem to be going round in circles here, but the belief v fact issue is an interesting one so, in my opinion, worth pursuing. I'm game if you are.

Firstly I'd like to start by asking you to always quote my texts when referencing them to as you have misquoted me a few times (to benefit your argument). I'll try to do the same. Specifically, if you check, I never said evolution was a fact and for the record I don't believe evolution is a fact. No scientist worth his salt will tell you it's a fact. That's why it is called the THEORY of evolution. I can tell you though, as an aside, that evidence for evolution can be witnessed within a lifetime (no time machine required). You have been alive during the variation of influenza virus (for example) from year to year, which requires annual vaccination of its host due to the ineffectiveness of previous vaccines (against the earlier forms of the virus before it evolved further). I also never said I knew God doesn't exist. No-one knows that.

Pressing on; instead of taking up all your points about my "hyper-sceptical standards", maybe by explaining them in more general terms I can be clearer.

I hate quoting dictionaries, but just to show you that it is not only "my definition" of `fact' that I work by; my dictionary defines `fact' as "The truth or actual existence of something, as opposed to the supposition of something or a belief about something". However, I do accept that 'fact' has many definitions. For example I know 'fact' is used figuratively in speech meaning 'the evidence beyond reasonable doubt', where the absolute truth over an issue is impossible to know. Such as in a courtroom. But for me this is a more loose use of the word intended only for those situations. If asked to make a sentence with the words "...... and that's a fact" at the end of it, I would have to operate under the definition I quoted above. Facts with regard to happenings (history) are only the things that I have experienced myself because EVERYTHING ELSE historically is open to interpretation or corruption. So "historical facts" to me include things like what I ate for breakfast, the date I married, the town I grew up in etc etc. Other `facts' include things that are definitional. Such as, a triangle is a geometrical object consisting of three straight lines, or 2+2=4. Of course my list of facts is going to be a relatively limited set of things, but none-the-less TO ME at least they are actual facts.

Now aside from this, like anyone else I have a set of beliefs. Some of these are very strong because I have been able to critically appraise a good amount of evidence for and against that belief, and my opinion has formed one way or another. Examples include such things as the explanation of the existence of rainbows by the refraction of light by raindrops in the atmosphere, or that skeletal muscle contracts by the mechanical interaction between actin and myosin protein fibres in muscle cells. Conversely, some of my beliefs are not strong because they are founded on limited information, such as the existence or otherwise of extra-terrestrial life. But the thing that unites all my beliefs and separates them from the things I regard as facts is that I accept that in the light of further evidence I could change my opinion. Until dementia gets hold of me, I cannot say that for `facts'.

So using my example of the holocaust. I cannot categorically say it is a fact because I wasn't there. However, I firmly believe it happened. The weight of evidence, for me, is convincing. The same applies for your example of the battle of Hastings in 1066, except the evidence is perhaps not as strong due to the difference in time. For example, a historian could maybe tomorrow say that it was actually 1067 and not 1066 as first thought, due to a misinterpretation of the historical literature. If he made a convincing enough case I'd be happy to believe that.

But beliefs are not always so simply formed. Most people approach such things empirically. The evidence supporting an assertion has to be weighed against the magnitude of the claim. So we also use a criterion of "reason to doubt". With the battle of Hastings I have no reason to doubt whether the historical evidence is accurate. They describe believable happenings of events and circumstances, that are consistent with my experience of the world i.e. groups of men fighting each other in a conflict that was settled by the slaughter of one of the leaders, about 1000 years ago (as I understand it). Nothing too exceptional to that. Why should I doubt it? It is inherently believable. So, rightly or wrongly I believe it. Now if a historian had tried to tell us that during the battle William's men used AK47 machine-guns, then of course I'm going to look for some evidence to support that assertion before I believe it. And let's face it, there isn't much a historian could do to convince either of us that anyone owned an AK47 in 1066. But, in summary, although I believe the historical account of the Battle of Hastings, no amount of evidence can be presented to prove that it was a fact as all that evidence is to some degree interpretable (albeit convincingly in support of its existence).

And (getting back to the topic of the discussion) that is the set of criteria I use to judge all historical documents, including the Bible. I find it hard to believe that the person, Jesus, did not exist at all. There is a large amount of evidence to suggest that he did. Also I have little reason to doubt that claim. So I believe that he probably did exist. Where I have problem with the Bible is that it makes many fantastical claims about creation of the world, resurrection, miracles, divine intervention etc etc, that are unprecedented in my experience of the world. So that gives me reason to doubt them. I've never witnessed a miracle, so just reading about it isn't going to convince me they can happen. So for me written texts are not enough to convince me that these supernatural events actually happened. Hence my statement about God having to give me a personal experience of the supernatural before I believed in the supernatural events in the bible. That's just where I draw the line in the sand. I think that's fair, you obviously do not. So, as I said earlier, that is the major difference between us.

You seem to base a lot of your arguments on the fact that no-one has been able to "successfully dispute" the three facts you mentioned earlier (points 4, 5 and 6 on your list). But maybe I can clear this up for you. No-one will ever prove that the three `facts' you mentioned, are not facts because that feat is impossible. They are what's known as non-falsifiable statements. I,e, they cannot be disproved. However, this isn't a mark of their strength but a matter of fact. Just as you cannot disprove that fairies exist, I cannot disprove that Jesus was resurrected. The burden of proof is upon me to prove that fairies do exist, and for you to prove that Jesus was resurrected. So, by your logic, I can say I have never heard anyone successfully disprove the existence of fairies, so therefore they must exist (your point 7). We're back to logic here again aren't we. And unless you accept fairies exist you have to accept the flaw in your logic. either that or you could provide an example of something that could be done to disprove your "facts".

You wanted a list of inconsistencies in the bible, but in the interests of space take a look here http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/donald_morgan/inconsistencies.html . It gives you a few to consider although I (and the author) accept that many can be contradicted by interpretation, some are just logically inconsistent (such as the contradicting genealogies). If you accept that any of the inconsistencies are truly so, then you have to accept that the Bible is flawed. That creates doubt over it's authority so we have to consider the rest of its claims with a fair degree of scepticism. By analogy, if the historian who claimed that William the conqueror owned an AK47 also contradicted himself in his report, then I am likely to be more sceptical about his authority than if he was always consistent.

So going back to the bible, while I am prepared to believe some of what it claims, I am still yet to be convinced about the other more fantastical propositions. But my mind is open (although I guess you may find that hard to imagine). I am prepared to accept that the major claims of the Bible are true, I've told you what it would take to convince me. Are you able to entertain the possibility that the Bible may be wrong (which is a possibility)? It seems to me that while my level of satisfactory evidence (apparition of God) is possible (by Biblical standards at least), yours (refutation of your three `facts") is impossible. So who is the more open minded?

By the way, the C.S. Lewis quote you gave relies on a potentially flawed assumption, namely "Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists." He'd have to prove that before the rest of his argument can be accepted.

The multiple universes theory answers your (and Hawking's) problems over the apparent coincidence required for our universe to exist. I think Dawkins discusses it in The God Delusion. Apparently it is gaining acceptance among physicists.

Going back to our post-script fossil argument. I did understand the reason you mentioned the debunking of carbon-dating by creationists. My point was that doing so is completely pointless to creationists because carbon dating cannot be used to accurately date fossils any older than about 50 thousand years. As the evolution of species has been going for about four billion years the dating of such modern fossils is inconsequential to the debate. So to be absolutely right my statement should have read "You can't carbon date a fossil that creationists would be interested in". Sorry for the ambiguity. In my haste for a good repost I fumbled my point, but presumably you can see my point. Forgive me.

All the best

Mike

In reply to an earlier post on 13 Oct 2007 14:42:37 BDT
David Wilson says:
Hello again,

I'm sorry if I misquoted you, your exact words were "I'd be surprised that anyone in complete possession of the facts about evolution would dismiss it" (post 31st August) and I wrongly assumed that you meant evolution is a fact. You state that "No scientist worth his salt will tell you it's a fact" and yet Richard Dawkins, who you believe to be a good scientist worth his salt, says on page 339 of The God Delusion (paperback edition) "Admittedly, this will not worry those many anti-abortionists who don't understand that evolution is a fact." He says it in other places as well however that's the first example I came across when flicking through my copy. In fact you're the first atheist I've ever come across who promotes the claim that evolution is just a theory.

I think my evidence for the resurrection comes under the category of fact even by your dictionary definition. In what way was my evidence a `supposition of something or a belief about something'? For example, to say that most scholars agree that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians is not my opinion but a truth (as in I could list the scholars and have their names sitting there in front of you) To say that Paul claims to have seen the risen Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15 is also a fact - you can look it up and have it in front of you in writing. You can even go to the British Library and see early manuscripts with it clearly there. The same goes with my other example of the other eyewitnesses and thus it's a fact that shortly after Jesus' death many people claimed to have seen the risen Jesus. The same rigorous methodology was applied to my other two facts. It might be my opinion that the best explanation for those facts is the resurrection however if you disagree with me then you'll have to provide a better explanation for the evidence.

Nonetheless you acknowledge that your definition of the word fact is not definitive - after all it's not uncommon to hear people talking about historical facts. Do the finer points of how the word fact is used really matter? I therefore feel that all this stuff about facts vs belief are a red herring to gloss over how the evidence for Christianity is so hard to refute. If the resurrection is as well evidenced as other things we label as historical facts then that's what's important. If we can be certain beyond reasonable doubt that Christianity is true then it makes it a sensible and rational belief regardless of your choice of wording.

You rightly ask for my rationale behind accusing you of being a `hyper sceptic' and will certainly do so. I think there is a scale where at one end you have being gullible; in other words you believe things with no evidence. At the other end you have being sceptical; where you reject something despite overwhelming evidence. We all fall somewhere on that scale. As you want evidence that is 100% conclusive before you'll become a Christian you couldn't be further down at the sceptical end and hence that was what I meant. In other words you couldn't demand more evidence and thus be more sceptical. I believe that a sensible position is to be about two thirds of the way up the scale where you believe something backed up by a reasonable amount of evidence, although I realise that's only my opinion. I believe that God would give people a reasonable amount of evidence and so see no problem with him not jumping out in front of us and shouting "you can't deny me now!!!" or whatever you want as that would go beyond giving a reasonable amount of evidence. Why should God go beyond giving a reasonable amount of evidence? Many posts ago I pointed out that for a relationship to work there has to be an element of trust and that God wants us to become Christians because we really want to rather than because we had no choice. How could I choose to have a loving relationship with God if the evidence was rammed down my throat? I will not accept your claim that God would give us 100% evidence if He existed unless you satisfactorily answer that question or rationally address my argument.

Now moving on to your argument that "assertion has to be weighed against the magnitude of the claim." By magnitude do you mean size of claim or seriousness? If you mean seriousness then the reverse is true: you would require less evidence that your house is on fire before you took it seriously than being told you've won a holiday. You'd be suggesting Pascal's wager in reverse. If you mean unlikelihood of a claim then it only works when it is easy to measure the unluckiness. It's hard to measure the magnitude of one off events such as the resurrection of Jesus. After all, all theories regarding life and the universe seem implausible - Quantum physics may have a high magnitude in this respect be that doesn't allow us to reject it. , Moreover we end up with this:

Person a: I know God doesn't exist
Person b: Why?
Person a: Well prove to me God exists
Person b: Here is some good evidence God exists
Person a: But God doesn't exist so your evidence must be wrong.
Person b: But that's circular reasoning
Person a: Ahhh, But a claim of high magnitude needs lots of evidence and you only gave me some
Person b: How do you know God existing is unlikely with a high magnitude
Person a Because I know God doesn't exist

You can see why such an approach becomes circular! You can't use any presuppositions that it is unlikely for God to exist and I can't presuppose that God must exist.

I am trying to be open-minded. If you could demolish the evidence for the resurrection then I would stop being a Christian. If you could give a better explanation for the origin of the universe and my desire to believe in God then I would become an atheist. Alternately, if you could give me some evidence for atheism which it better than the evidence I've given you for Christianity I would change my mind. Being open minded is about looking at the evidence without presupposing that God must or must not exist. It is saying that God might or might not exist and the evidence will sway you. I think that when you do that you arrive at Christianity, which is why I'm a Christian. Your arguments seem to rely on God not existing or miracles being impossible which is not being open minded. Saying that you've not seen a miracle does not make them impossible anymore than an African person who hasn't seen snow makes snow impossible. If God made miracles happen left, right and centre then we'd live in an Alice in Wonderland type world...maybe God has his reasons for making a different type of world where miracles are rare, one-off events.

You are right to point out that the omen is on me to prove the resurrection rather than you to disprove it however a debate does not work if once the evidence is provided the other party refuses to address it directly. If you could provide lots of evidence for fairies then I would have to refute your evidence and so because I've given specific testable historical evidence it is reasonable for me to expect you to refute it. If you claimed that a teapot is orbiting the earth you would have to back it up with evidence before I believed you. The fact I could not disprove your claim would not matter. However, if you found some NASA astronauts who swore blindly that they put a teapot in orbit on their last mission as a joke I would then have to either change my opinion or disprove your evidence. I think your trying to use the fact that you can't prove something through absence of evidence to argue that atheists don't have to engage with the evidence theists provide. Proving the resurrection did not happen and disputing evidence that it did are two separate issues. I'm not asking you to prove the resurrection never happened - I'm asking you to directly explain and counter the historical evidence I gave.

Thanks for the link however I obviously can't go through every single one of those proposed contradictions due to lack of time. Luckily other Christians have and you'll find answers to all of them on the Internet, for example http://debate.org.uk/topics/apolog/contrads.htm. You specifically mention the genealogies one so I'll address that. Everyone has two genealogies, their mother's side of the family and their father's side. When the New Testament was written it was customary to trace genealogies normally from the father's side but not necessarily and so it is at least possible that one genealogy is through Joseph's family and the other through Mary's. They would also only put men on the genealogy (even if was the genealogy of the mother's side) In other words Jesus' genealogy traced through Mary's side would start with Joseph as that was her husband, then list Mary's father followed by her grandfather. So by looking at how genealogies worked it is at least possible. Now Matthew doesn't tell us which side the genealogy is for and so we can assume that he followed the usual custom and did a genealogy for Joseph's side. Luke tells us "He was the son, SO IT WAS THOUGHT, of Joseph" just before the genealogy. Luke dismissing Joseph as Jesus' father would suggest that Luke gives the genealogy of Mary's side. So to cut a long story short, not only is it plausible that the two genealogies are for different sides of the family but clues in the text suggest this is likely. Thus, there is no contradiction. Be careful that you don't treat the Bible with greater scepticism than you would any other text as then you're not being open-minded. You say that you are "prepared to accept that the major claims of the Bible are true" and yet the resurrection is one of the major claims of the Bible.

If you go back to the full quote from C.S Lewis you'll notice he does justify why "Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists." The next part of the quote said, "A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex." In other words if his statement is true for every other desire than either the desire for God is the exception to the rule (and there is no reason to assume it is) or more likely the pattern continues. It is an example of inductive logic.

Finally, whilst I don't know Hawkins's views on the multiverse theory etc I'll sum up a few of the objections some physicists have raised. It is important to note that the only evidence for the multiverse theory is ... the fine-tuning of the universe. This just begs the question of why the fine-tuning makes the multi verse theory credible and yet the same evidence cannot be used for God. Of course there is other good evidence for God (such as the historical evidence for the resurrection, natural desire for humans to believe in Him, the argument from morality etc) and so what atheists are suggesting is that we ignore the theory for the origin of the universe backed up by the most evidence in favour of one backed up by less evidence. We simply have to ask why? They are both claims about the origin of the universe and so the magnitude of the claims should be the same. Secondly it could be used to explain anything. Imagine we played a thousand games of bridge in a row and I got a perfect hand each time. If I explained it by God I would have to justify why God wanted me to win etc however if I said "ah well, there are an infinite number of other universes and I just happen to live in the one where I get a perfect hand of bridge a thousand times in a row." I get let off the hook. Some atheists try to dismiss God as a cop out however the multiverse theory is that on a much grander scale. Finally, it doesn't give the all round explanation. Imagine two goldfish were in a bowl and one asks the other "why is the temperature in this bowl just right and where food and everything we need exists?" Well, says super sceptic goldfish, "we obviously live amongst an infinite number of other goldfish bowls with different variables and most of these goldfish bowls are fishless." Something doesn't seem right about such a way of thinking.

God Bless

David

P.S again, I was careful with my wording and said young-earth creationists. Seeing as you can prove that a fossil is more than 6000 years old they sadly do have to try and dismiss the whole of the carbon dating method and I believe that doing so is on par with atheists trying to claim that the historical method is not reliable. Nonetheless I think we've moved on from that point now so this is more a side issue.

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Oct 2007 14:49:39 BDT
Hi David,

Let's start by addressing the evolution debate as we seem to be talking at crossed purposes here. We were discussing the theory that evolution by natural selection explains the species diversity we see around us today. That is the "Theory of Evolution". That is the theory that I maintain that no good scientist will claim is fact. Unless I am very much mistaken, what Dawkins (and possibly your other friends) are claiming is fact, is that we know evolution occurs. Even within a human lifetime we can see that certain forms of life adapt to their surroundings from generation to generation. As I said this can be seen in microbiology with the generation of antibiotic resistant bacteria etc. If you are interested this site gives a good explanation of the theory and fact of evolution.

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolution-fact.html

With regard to the "fact" of the resurrection, you asked "in what way was my evidence a `supposition of something or a belief about something'?". It is a belief because you BELIEVE that the evidence you have been given is undeniable, faultless and true. Yet, there are many (respected) people who have analysed the same evidence and BELIEVE that the resurrection didn't happen. I have found some of the arguments for and against the resurrection here;

http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Delphi/8449/ress.html

My point isn't that either position is necessarily correct, but that the evidence is interpretable, and the conclusions debatable. Just as you have done, both sets of people (`believers' and `non-believers' in the resurrection) have analysed evidence, interpreted it and come to a conclusion. It just happens that the conclusions are in contradiction. So, by your definition of "fact" the believers can say that is it a fact that Jesus was resurrected, and the non-believers can say that it is a fact that he wasn't resurrected. Doesn't that make your definition of fact wrong?

In my opinion fact vs belief is not a red herring, but an important point. I personally think it is somewhat disingenuous to use the word fact when describing historical evidence that is disputed by respected scholars. You said "If the resurrection is as well evidenced as other things we label as historical facts then that's what's important.". So if the evidence for the resurrection is so clear-cut then why is there such a debate surrounding it that doesn't surround other things regarded as "Historic facts"? Furthermore, it has certainly been valuable for me to see that a believer like you uses a far looser definition of the word fact than a non-believer like me. It makes me wonder whether believers are inherently less skeptical than non-believers. I'd be interested in your opinion.

You asked me "How could I choose to have a loving relationship with God if the evidence was rammed down my throat?". Maybe I could answer this by asking you a question; Is everyone you have a loving relationship with ramming evidence for their existence down your throat? I can give you my own answer. No. My wife just exists. I know it because I know her. The same goes for all my friends and relatives. I don't think that affects my ability to have a loving relationship with them. Why can't God be the same?

Your person a - person b scenario is a straw man. I never made that point so by discussing it you are just arguing against what you propose I stand for and not what I do stand for. In actual fact we have much in common when it comes to religion. We are both atheists to some degree. For example you (I presume) reject all Gods other than your own. So you are an atheist of Allah, V?higur?, Vishnu etc etc. Now I'm sure if you entered into a debate with an Islamic scholar over the idea that Allah is God he would present you with lots of historical evidence to support his beliefs. He may claim that all of this evidence is unreasonable to ignore. He may even claim they are facts. Yet you (presumably) don't believe in Allah. So how does your position over the evidence supporting ALL the other religions differ from mine over Christianity?

That's my position over all religions. Not that I KNOW they are wrong, but that I have seen no evidence to convince me that any of them is right. Just as you must have for all other religions excepting your own.

I've noticed that you seem to be persisting with the impossible again. You ask me to "demolish the evidence for the resurrection", but as I have explained previously that the statement `Jesus was resurrected' is non-falsifiable. So (unless you were prepared to accept a 2000 year old skeleton of a man found in Palestine as belonging to Jesus) then that is impossible. Like I said, can you give me an example of evidence that you would accept that could refute the resurrection?

You also ask for "evidence for atheism". There is no such thing as evidence for the non-existence of something. So that too is impossible. I may be hyper-skeptical, but at least I don't expect the impossible before I change my opinion. I'm still keen to hear your answer to the question; do you accept that it is possible for Christianity to be wrong?

And for the record, I never said miracles are impossible, I just said that for me to believe in one I'd have to see one. Have you ever seen a unicorn or a fire-breathing dragon? No? Do you believe in them? Why?/Why not?

Thanks for referencing the web-site that answers the contradictions, but unfortunately (as far as I can see) it does admit that the Bible is internally contradictory. For example on the subject of the regency of Jehoiachin (18 years old -2 Kings 24:8 or 8 years old -2 Chronicles 36:9) the explanation says "Once again there is enough information in the context of these two passages to tell us that 8 is wrong and 18 right". So it admits that there is a contradiction due to "copyist error". There are many other examples of explanation of contradiction by so-called copyist error on the site. So that means that they (the authors of the site) accept the Bible is, at least in some cases, internally contradictory because those that copied the texts made mistakes. So because it has been corrupted by man over the centuries, is it not fair to say that the Bible is not the truly sacred `inspired' word of God it is claimed to be? Also I'm puzzled as to how your genealogical explanation sorts out the (apparently) contradicting genealogies of Jesus; MAT 1:16 (KJV) "And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.". And LUK 3:23 (KJV) "And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli.". To me these are quite clear in their explanation that Joseph's father was both Jacob and Heli!

You seem to be missing my point regarding the C.S. Lewis statement. Just listing a few examples of how his point COULD be true, does not prove that it IS true. Again the onus is on Lewis to prove his statement is true. You justify it as logic by induction. But I find it interesting that you yourself argued against logic by induction when I refuted all your examples of how God could possibly fairly judge a baby "You did a good job arguing against the example solutions to the problem however unless you can prove it is an exhausted list of possibilities....". (I hasten to add that I wasn't arguing using logic by induction in this example, but we won't reopen that debate).

It is worth noting also that Lewis' logic also relies on the assumption that babies are born with a desire for God. How did he prove that?

You said "You say that you are "prepared to accept that the major claims of the Bible are true" and yet the resurrection is one of the major claims of the Bible.". For the record (again) I am prepared to accept the resurrection. I've told you what it would take. Read my last post again. I thought it was pretty clear.

Overall, I'm becoming bemused that you have begun to paint an unjustified caricature of me to argue against:
(a) He thinks that he knows God doesn't exist. (See your last two posts)
(b) He is biased in his refusal to accept anything that supports Christian beliefs. (Again see last two posts).
Yet I have clearly stated that I don't know whether or not any Gods exist, I believe that Jesus probably did exist, and that my criteria of judgment over the supernatural aspects of Christianity are the same as I apply to everything else that contradicts my experience of the World (ghosts, magic, mind-over-matter etc). I do find it interesting to wonder why you feel the need to do that.

Finally, your Stephen Hawking quote got me curious so I had a look for some of his other quotes from "A Brief History of Time". I'm not keen on quoting as a means to prove a point, but in the interests of fairness I thought you may find the following interesting:

"So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?" (p141).

Kind regards

Mike

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Nov 2007 16:24:48 GMT
David Wilson says:
Hi,

I don't want to spend too long on the fact/evolution point, as it seems to be a disagreement over semantics rather than evidence. Some articles (for example http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/20/science/20ques.html) support my definition of the word `fact' and others, as you've pointed out, don't. I'm perfectly happy to start calling them `well attested statements' or whatever you feel is appropriate, as I don't think it makes much difference.

What I originally said was that, the "resurrection is the best way to explain those three facts" and indeed the majority of scholars (including atheist ones) do accept those three statements I gave, albeit not the conclusion. Note that it was not the overall conclusion that I called a fact but the three things I thought were best explained by the resurrection. The article you linked me to sums up, towards the end, by quoting Crossan, one of the leading critics of the resurrection and a very sceptical scholar. If you re-read the bit on Crossan then what I'm about to write will hopefully make more sense. We are told in the article, `Crossan agrees with the traditionalists that Jesus was indeed crucified under Pontius Pilate. In fact, he says, it is taken "absolutely for granted"'. In other words he accepts statement one. He partially accepts the next statement, `when he concludes that Jesus was probably eaten by wild dogs' as in doing so he agrees that there was a mystery over where Jesus' body went after the crucifixion and recognises that Jesus' body couldn't have simply been in the tomb. Crossan agrees with the last statement (`By equating his "appearance" with that of the other "Twelve" he was trying to insist on his equality.' Note, Crossan does not deny that Paul and others were making these claims and instead disputes their motivations.) In other words Crossan does not really dispute the evidence itself but tries finding alternative ways to explain it. So now we have to ask ourselves whether Crossan's explanation of the evidence is the best one. Obviously I would argue not. Crossan puts a lot of weight on the burial story of Jesus not being accurate however the first Christians claiming that Jesus' body was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, would be setting themselves up to fail if Crossan is correct. The Jewish Sanhedrin were local celebrities and generally opposed to Jesus (that's not to say all of them were anymore than saying all labour politicians must support the war with Iraq, individual members of the Sanhedrin were allowed to disagree with the majority) The Sanhedrin were the ones generally wanting to disprove Christianity and would have acted on such a slanderous statement against one of their own members and so it seems likely that they would have pointed it out if the burial story wasn't true. They would have also noticed if Joseph of Arimathea didn't exist as people like Crossan claim. You can imagine a Monty Python type scene with them all in a meeting room wearing their fake beards:

Chief of Jewish Sanhedrin: "Right Joseph of Arimathea, why are Christians claiming that Jesus was buried in your tomb?"
Voice from back: "Ummm...I don't think any of us are called Joseph of Arimathea!"
Someone else: "I've been on the Sanhedrin for over 20 years and I've never come across a Joseph of Arimathea."
Chief of Jewish Sanhedrin: "Hey, them crafty Christians have been telling us porky pies"
Everyone else chanting: "He said pork pie..stone him."

But on a more serious note, the early church could not have made up the burial story involving a member of the Sanhedrin without the Sanhedrin pointing it out to them and if it had been pointed out to them why did anyone at the time take Christianity seriously? If Jesus were buried in a tomb then archaeological excavations of other Jewish tombs would inform us that no dog would be able to get and eat the deceased. So I don't Crossan's explanation of the missing body is satisfactory. Then Crossan has to do backwards summersaults to try and explain all the people claiming to have seen Jesus raised. If Paul was interested in authority then he wouldn't have given up his job persecuting Christians or written the submissive stuff he wrote in his letters (e.g. 1 Cor 15:10, Rom 3:11). Thus I don't think it is the best explanation of the evidence. So I would argue that people like Crossan and the other people mentioned in the article you gave support my case by roughly acknowledging the three statements and then struggling to explain them. If there are any specific arguments in the article that you want me to address then I will however if the most sceptical scholars like Crossan struggle to explain or dispute the evidence then you can imagine how more middle of the road scholars respond. I'm not saying you agree with Crossan over everything but as you linked to the article I wanted to demonstrate why I agree with the historians who advocate the resurrection - why do you agree with the ones who don't? Moreover claims like `Joseph of Arimathea didn't exist' are just as falsifiable as `Jesus rose from the dead' and so when I ask for the evidence to be demolished I simply mean that the level of arguments made against people like Crossan should be made against scholars such as N.T Wright and Willaim Lane Craig who I believe have the better arguments (which I am trying to sum up in my own words). Having read books and articles by both sides I have reached the conclusions that I have. Just out of interest, do you agree with Crossan's argument and if so why and if not which arguments in the article do you agree with?

Do you accept those three statements as probably being true (the crucifixion, empty tomb and people claiming to be eyewitnesses)? By probably true I mean with the same degree of certainty you accept other historical claims. If not which ones don't you accept as being probably true (and why) or if you do what do you personally find the best explanation of the three statements to be?

Of course there will be reputable historians who are atheist just as there are some who are Christian. It might well be that atheists go in determined to disprove the evidence and Christians to find it however once all the dust has cleared and both sides have their case we must decide which side succeeded. I think that with the historicity of Christianity historians go in with preconceived ideas that they would not have in normal circumstances and dispute evidence that they would normally accept and that is why there is more debate surrounding it than other historical facts. If the experts are divided then we have to make our own opinion on such an important matter, particularly if the disagreements are of a philosophical nature.

Believers can be very sceptical (after all, creationists are sceptical towards the theory of evolution) and atheists can be gullible (for example I've met those who wave their copied of the Da Vinci Code at you claiming Christianity can't be true because John has longish hair in Leonardo Da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper!) Then, of course, some Christians are gullible and some atheists consistently sceptical. To be honest you're probably on the more consistent end of the scale. To answer your question of `whether believers are inherently less skeptical than non-believers', my opinion, for the little it's worth, is that it depends on the person and people are generally sceptical when it suits them to be and that is true for both atheists and theists.

There is a big difference between God and your wife in that we are not equal with God and God is omnipresent. If your wife wanted to find out how faithful you were then watching how you behave in front of other women when she's standing right next to you would be problematic. A genuine relationship is when you're loyal even if you think you can get away with doing otherwise, however we could not have that type of relationship with an omnipresent being, who is also judging us, if the evidence for that being's existence were conclusive. Do you find out who is a law-abiding citizen by watching how people behave around a policeman? Do you determine which motorists speed by observing them from next to a speed camera? Does a manager see which employees work hard by standing over them and making it clear that they're being judged? Similarly if God wanted to find out who loved Him and genuinely wanted to obey his laws he would need to remain hidden. If God were always visible in front of you then you would do what He says through fear and thus by remaining hidden, we are left with the option of ignoring God and by having that option the relationship is more genuine. I suppose the question I should have asked is how an omnipresent being, who we are accountable to, can have a genuine relationship with us by breathing down our necks? Obviously I can't arrange for Jesus to make a resurrection appearance especially for you and seeing as many others accept the resurrection on the evidence provided surely God cannot be being too unreasonable.

I don't think the evidence for Islam is as great and would encourage you to compare it with Christianity. Firstly their view of Jesus, who they consider to be a prophet, is clearly based on less evidence (why should we accept the revelations of Muhammad 600 years after Jesus was alive over and above a bunch of first century documents that make up the New Testament?) Moreover the Muslim view that they crucified the wrong person and Jesus escaped (the Koran's attempt to explain away the historical evidence for the resurrection) flies in the face of all the historical evidence we have for both for Jesus and how organised the Romans were!) In other words the Koran contradicts lots of evidence by briefly describing Jesus' crucifixion whereas the Bible is inline with what historians know about crucifixion in general and where the two texts overlap the Bible comes out on top. Secondly there is no Muslim equivalent of the resurrection that would prove Muhammad's identity. The greatest miracle attributed to Muhammad within 100 years of him being alive is him writing the Koran. Even if the historicity of Muhammad is equivalent to that of Jesus should I put my faith in someone who can conquer death or someone who can write a book? Whilst this is only a summary I have found that most comparisons of the two religions makes Christianity clearly come out on top. Thus I believe Christianity is true and Islam not. All the other religions I've looked at appear to also have less evidence backing them up. Can you name something I don't believe in which is backed up by more evidence than Christianity, or at least an equal amount of evidence? Similarly, the reason I don't believe in unicorns or dragons is because there is no evidence for them whereas there is evidence for Christianity.

Atheism does not have to provide evidence for atheism itself however it does for its actual naturalistic beliefs and claims. Saying that we are part of a multiverse, that religious experiences are physiological tricks, that God would give us more evidence if he existed etc etc are claims rather than absences of beliefs and so need evidence. Otherwise it would be like a flat-earther claiming that they don't have to justify their belief because they believe in the non-existence of a round-world!

I would argue that the statements regarding the historicity of Jesus are falsifiable. You could find a first century document giving an alternative death of Jesus or analyse Roman law and prove that Jesus wouldn't have been crucified under their legal system. You could explain why Matthew dedicated so many words in his gospel addressing the claim that the disciples stole Jesus' body if non-Christians were actually claiming that Jesus' body was still in the tomb. You could find a first century document denying the empty tomb. You could explain why nobody at the time seemed to question the authenticity of the empty tomb. You could prove that the authors of the New Testament never really mentioned the eyewitnesses and that the bits where Paul claims to have seen Jesus risen were later addition he never wrote. You could give a motivation as to why everyone from Paul to the disciples lied or point out how they could have all been mistaken. Finally you could present a better explanation for the three statements. There are endless ways you could disprove the resurrection and the arguments I gave. The resurrection is just a falsifiable as any other historical claim yet you presumably accept history as a discipline based one more than non-falsifiable claims. Because there are so many ways you could disprove the resurrection then the difficulty atheists have in doing so strengthens the case for Christianity. What I'm trying to say is that you should weigh up both sides of the argument and so you would need to give me something to tip the balance in your favour. That's either evidence to support your view OR explain why the evidence I have given is wrong.

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Nov 2007 16:26:58 GMT
David Wilson says:
Christians view the actual message and original text as the inspired word of God and recognise that translations and copying errors are not. Indeed, most Bibles even footnote possible difficulties, if you have a Bible look at something like John 8 and it should note that the first half of the chapter might be an addition. There is nothing in Christian theology that denies that the Bible is both a human book and God inspired it through its authors and Christians have never tried to cover copying errors up or base their theology on it. Nonetheless I'm not arguing that the Bible is true because it is the word of God, I'm asking you to treat it as a historical source. The encyclopaedia Britannica says, "The techniques used in textual studies of ancient manuscripts are the same whether they deal with secular, philosophical, or religious texts. New Testament textual criticism, however, operates under unique conditions because of an abundance of manuscripts and the rather short gap between the time of original writing and the extant manuscripts, shorter than that of the Old Testament.
Compared with other ancient manuscripts, the text of the New Testament is dependable and consistent" ("biblical literature." Encyclopædia Britannica from Encyclopædia Britannica 2007 Deluxe Edition. (2007).) As for the genealogies, "And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary" says Joseph's father was Jacob whilst "being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli" implies that Jesus wasn't even Joseph's son and thus, when compared to ancient genealogies in other texts, the passage can be interpreted to mean that Mary's father was Heli. It must also be pointed out that Luke focuses on Mary considerably more than Joseph in the rest of the narrative. Also remember that women never appear on ancient genealogies regardless of which side of the family it is for. Why do you assume your interpretation is the only valid one and that Heli cannot possibly be Mary's father? Nonetheless, the important question here is `how does it compare, in terms of textual criticism, to other historical sources?" and according to the encyclopaedia Britannica the answer is quite well.

I believe that there are genuine difficulties on all sides of the fence, for Christians it might be the judgement of babies but then for atheists it would have to be things like our natural desire to believe in God and so all you've done, at best, is shown that you have to decide on the truth by looking at the bigger picture. Nonetheless the two arguments, as you point out, are not both examples of inductive logic and research has shown that our brains use inductive logic more than deductive. For example if you told me you owned a car I'd automatically use inductive logic to assume that it had four wheels, an engine, a rear view mirror and boot and doing so would not be irrational even if I was simply assuming that your car is like most others. C.S Lewis would not need to prove that babies have a desire for God to show that such a desire exists anymore than you would need to prove that a recluse has social desires to prove that social desires exist. The fact that pretty much every culture throughout history and the world has a concept of god proves that we have a natural desire for God; the question is how do we best explain that desire?

I apologise if I have misrepresented your views and will try to do my best see where you're coming from. Atheism contradicts my experience of the world and so I use the same criteria in return. I am open to the possibility that Christianity is not true - to give a crude estimate and to help the discussion I'll say I'm 80% certain it's true, 5% other religions are true and 15% atheism is true although these percentages should obviously not be taken too mathematically! How certain are you that atheism might not be true?

I find the Hawkins quote interesting however would argue that the Big Bang theory proves that the universe had a beginning. Unless I've misunderstood the quote (I can't find it in my copy so I might have a different edition or I'm being stupid) it seems to be an argument atheists used a lot before the Big Bang theory and, for obvious reasons, has now been marginalised.

I'm sorry if this post is too long, but as Blaise Pascal used to famously say: "This one would not be so long had I but the leisure to make it shorter."

Regards

David

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Mar 2008 08:14:40 GMT
I give up.

Maybe you should ask your god for the inspiration to actually read my posts before going to great length to argue against points that I am not making. Life's too short for either of us. Good luck in finding someone else to use as a sparring partner in a one man debate. I wonder if you've ever seen the movie "Fight Club"?

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Feb 2009 23:26:36 GMT
Last edited by the author on 26 Feb 2009 23:40:39 GMT
I am reluctant to judge who is in or who is out because as the Bible makes clear we will be judged by the same measure we judged others.
I would like to know what you mean by heaven and hell as I do not believe in heaven because I think that if the last chapter of Revelations is anything to go by that God is going to come down to earth in all His Glory to make His permanent home with us. Christians do usually agree on this but when they say God will come down to earth is different. Christians also seem to think that eternal life and heaven are synonamous which they are not. As far as I am concerned we must think of ourselves in relation to God because that is what eternal life is being with God. I think that it is a fallacy to think that one is supposed to get saved just so that they can go to heaven. I do not think that that is the point of Jesus' life or teachings, sacrifice or resurrection. I do think that faith is a journey. A lot of modern Christianity is hypocritical to cut a long story short.

Jesus seems to imply that the Kingdom of God is here already only when we decide to follow Jesus' teachings and obey Jesus' commands do we make way for God's kingdom, the here already, but not yet. I have not had the tme to read all the posts, but at the risk of being jusged as a liberal (not that I really care, I do not think that Jesus minds whether we are liberal or not, but whether we follow Him. I do not mean be converted or even a Christian because that like so many aspects is a perversion, Jesus wants followers, disciples, apprentices.

I would like to point out that the reason that it seems that the early Church did not point out the empty tomb was mainly because they lived in a time when rising from the dead was part of the surrounding cultures' myths and was therefore not necessarily a new idea, so the Christians found creative ways to share their story and that was through living counter-culturally, their "pacifism," getting rid of the poor among themselves and on the street according to Caesar I think it was. A lot of Biblical interpretation it seems is basically, us moderns who seem to impose our understandings and contexts on the text, and so we forget that it was not written in our time. It was written in na time very different to ours.

I have so much to write I cannot do it all now.

Posted on 22 Jul 2011 19:23:08 BDT
ms z mohacsi says:
If you are still interested in answering your questions (2007 is a bit behind us...): the bottomline is that there is only one name to which every knee will bow, and that name is Jesus, as the Bible says. There is no such thing as liberal Christianity; if one can take Jesus' words liberally or lightly, than one hardly is a real (!) Christian. What is real Christianity then? Well, it is not what the majority of the Christians practise today! If you want to know more about it and are still searching for a loving but just God who will not send millions of ignorant people to eternal death, here is a link you can start with: http://www.tomorrowsworld.org/booklets/is-this-the-only-day-of-salvation. It is a booklet you can either download and print or request it free of charge. You can also find many more that might answer your other questions.
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Discussion in:  Mere Christianity forum
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Total posts:  21
Initial post:  5 Aug 2007
Latest post:  22 Jul 2011

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Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis (Hardcover - 8 Sept. 1988)
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