Tagapologetics

The Problem of Evil and Suffering for Atheism

The most powerful argument against belief in God is the problem of evil and suffering. Its basic form goes like this:

  • If God is all-powerful He could prevent evil and suffering.
  • If God is all-good He would prevent evil and suffering.
  • But evil and suffering exist.
  • Therefore an all-powerful and all-good God does not exist.

In a previous post I explained that while the existence of evil and suffering poses a puzzle for believers (one that my wife and I are dealing with as she faces Stage 4 cancer), this puzzle does not disprove God’s existence.  In this post I want to flip the argument around as a problem for atheists by focusing on the third premise: “But evil and suffering exist.” Continue reading

Is the Resurrection of Jesus a Legend?

The Entombment, by Rembrandt

This coming Sunday is a time of the year when even the nominally religious give homage to the resurrection of Jesus.  But if the polling data is correct, the percentage of Americans who believe in the claims of Christianity is rapidly shrinking. A common view of the resurrection is that it is a legend that developed over time among those who loved and revered Jesus. This is the view of Pentecostal preacher turned atheist Dan Barker:

There have been many reasons for doubting the claim [of the resurrection], but the consensus among critical scholars today appears to be that the story is a “legend.” During the 60-70 years it took for the Gospels to be composed, the original story went through a growth period that began with the unadorned idea that Jesus, like Grandma, had “died and gone to heaven” and ended with a fantastic narrative produced by a later generation of believers that included earthquakes, angels, an eclipse, a resuscitated corpse, and a spectacular bodily ascension into the clouds.

Is this the best explanation of the data? In this post I want to offer three reasons why the resurrection of Jesus is not in fact a legend. Continue reading

The Inerrancy of Scripture and the Basis of Our Faith

In the fall of 1990 I engaged in a televised debate with a professor from Eastern Kentucky University over the question of the inerrancy of Scripture. Is the Bible without error in all that it teaches? I defended the affirmative. My opponent was a Southern Baptist who was outraged by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s recent shift toward belief in inerrancy as an expectation for its faculty. I was invited to participate in the debate because I penned a letter to the editor in response to an op-ed piece of his in the Lexington Herald-Leader. I don’t think I realized at the time that my opponent, Dr. James Robert Miller, was the head of the philosophy and religion department at EKU. I wasn’t even finished with my master’s degree! But young and foolish as I was, when the host of the tv program told me he had tried to get twenty other people to represent the inerrancy view and they declined, I felt like I should do it. Besides, the show was going to air really early on Saturday morning, so I figured that if I blew it, no one would know!

I was happy to defend inerrancy then, and I am glad to do so now. It is the view of Scripture implied by the testimony of Jesus in passages like John 10:35 – “Scripture cannot be broken.” Since Jesus is Lord, His word on the matter is authoritative. Continue reading

Scarlet Robe or Purple Robe (and Why It Doesn’t Matter)

Jesus Mocked by the Soldiers, Édouard Manet

Yesterday a good friend of mine forwarded along an article about an alleged discrepancy in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion. The apparent contradiction has to do with the color of the robe the soldiers placed on Jesus while they were mocking Him.

Matthew’s account says:

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand (Matthew 27:27-29).

Mark’s gospel says:

And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (15:16-18).

Finally, John’s account puts it like this:

Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robeThey came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands (19:1-3).

The article that my friend forwarded to me explained this difference by proposing that the gospel writers were describing the same thing, but that perhaps in the sunlight the colors looked different to them. Maybe what seemed like more of a scarlet color to Matthew looked more like purple to Mark and John. My friend was not satisfied with this explanation, though, since the gospels give no indication that Matthew, Mark, and John all witnessed this event. So if this explanation doesn’t work, how should we approach this problem? Continue reading

Most To Be Pitied

Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is (Pascal, Pensées, #233)

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

Pascal’s wager is one of those rare ideas in philosophy that non-philosophers normal people instinctively intuit. I remember a conversation with a friend in high school who was wavering about the truth of Christianity in which I suggested a similar “wager.” If Christianity is true and you accept it, you gain an infinite blessing, but if it is false and you accept it, what have you lost? Only this brief life. At times, I even took this line of reasoning a step further – “if there is no God, living like a Christian is still the best way to enjoy a happy life.”

There is something to be said for this train of thought. It places the issue of eternity front and center, and it raises the contrast between finite consequences and infinite consequences. Anything that makes the people of our secular age contemplate life beyond this one has some value. And it is true that life in Christ brings many blessings in the here and now (Luke 18:29-30).

But I wonder about the legitimacy of this sort of wager.

Continue reading

The “God of the Gaps” vs the God of the Bible

In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there. (…) There must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed [the watch] for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use. (…) Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation. —   William Paley, Natural Theology (1802)

The most famous example of the argument for God’s existence on the basis of design is Paley’s “watchmaker” illustration. The assumption of such an argument is that there are certain complex systems in the natural world that cannot be explained by natural means and therefore require a super-natural designer.

Critics of this argument have pointed out that just because a complex system may not be explicable on natural grounds at the present moment, that doesn’t mean such an explanation doesn’t exist. Future scientific inquiry may uncover one. In other words, the God of these sorts of design arguments is a “God-of-the-gaps,” a God whose work is limited to the gaps in our current scientific understanding of natural processes. As scientific understanding grows, the “gaps” shrink, and thus God Himself becomes irrelevant.

Continue reading

Gird Up!

Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13, King James Version).

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13, English Standard Version).

One of the classic movies of my high school years was The Karate Kid (what kid of the 80’s hasn’t done a crane kick pose?!). If you’ve never seen the movie, it’s the story of a young, scrawny kid named Daniel who moves to California and immediately runs afoul of a gang of bullies from a local karate dojo, “the Cobra Kai.” Just when it looks like Daniel is going to get throttled, an old man – Mr. Miyagi – rescues him by fending off the bullies with ease.

Miyagi takes Daniel under his wing to train him for a karate tournament so he can face the Cobra Kai on equal terms. The way he prepares Daniel is by imparting to him the ancient wisdom of the karate tradition, starting with rudimentary skills (“wax on, wax off”) and building from that to instill discipline and technique. He demands long hours of hard work from Daniel, but (spoiler alert!) it pays off in the end! While the bullies are bigger and more brutal, they are no match for Daniel’s newfound skills.

It seems to me that Christians in western society find themselves in a similar situation to Daniel in The Karate Kid.

Continue reading

Racism, Atheism, and Tribal Morality

Last summer in the aftermath of the tragic shooting of the silverback gorilla Harambe, I asked my agnostic and atheist friends on Facebook if the Cincinnati Zoo was morally justified in shooting a gorilla to save a small child. It was a very interesting Facebook thread.

Most of those friends did believe that a human life is more valuable than a gorilla’s (though not all did – and I told those people not to take offense if I declined a dinner invitation to their house – I prefer to eat with people who see a clear difference between me and what is served for dinner!). But what was interesting to me was the justification these nonbelievers offered for privileging human life over animal life. For most of them, this was simply a matter of choosing the human “tribe” over the gorilla “tribe.” As one friend said:

The only obligations that would seem to exist are within one’s own tribe.

This sentiment was shared by many participants on the thread. Another friend concluded: Continue reading

The Problem of Evil – Proof or Puzzle?

The most beautiful cancer patient I know

My wife has cancer.  We initially learned of her cancer just two days before our first anniversary. I am so proud of the way she has handled herself over the last four-and-a-half years as she has endured treatments, surgeries, and side effects. Our experience is not unique, of course. Today approximately 4,600 Americans will learn that they have cancer.

The reality of pain and suffering – whether caused by diseases like cancer, disasters like tsunamis, or inhumanities like murder – is a great challenge to faith. The psalmist Asaph says his faith faltered as he “saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73:2-3). In the midst of his anguish, Job complained about God’s seeming indifference: “It is all one; therefore I say, He destroys both the blameless and the wicked” (Job 9:22). And even the Lord Jesus cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matthew 27:46, quoting Psalm 22:1).

Philosophers refer to the difficulty in reconciling the existence of suffering with the existence of God as the problem of evil. To state the argument in its classical formulation, it goes like this:

  • Premise 1: Evil exists.
  • Premise 2: If God was all-powerful, He could prevent the existence of evil.
  • Premise 3: If God was all-good, He would prevent the existence of evil.
  • Conclusion: Therefore God does not exist.

What are we to make of this argument? Continue reading

Blind Faith or Reasoned Faith?

Does faith consist of belief  without any evidence? Lots of people think so – Christians and non-Christians. I have heard many Christians speak of faith and reason as polar opposites. And I have also heard many atheists and agnostics brush aside the concept of faith as mere superstition.

Further, there are certain Scriptures that seem to support the notion that belief is simply a “blind leap of faith,” a decision to commit to Christ without any kind of evidence. After all, didn’t Jesus say to doubting Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29)? And didn’t the apostle Paul declare that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7)? And didn’t the writer of the Book of Hebrews define faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1)? Continue reading