Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Rom 1 reply, 2: The God is Imaginary list of ten questions every "intelligent" Christian "must" answer vs 1 Peter 3:15 - 16 and "question zero" that Christians indeed must be ready to answer

(Cf. parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

In this second post, we will look at the list of questions, from the GII site transcript, and begin looking at them in order.

But first, we need to do some deconstructing: why is it expected that we "must" on demand be able to answer every clever, loaded question that can be flung at us, on pain of being shown up as -- shudder -- irrational?

Does that not sound rather like an appeal to pride, a presumption of in effect omniscience? 

Consistent with the notion that only "intelligent" Christians need apply here?

(Where, all the while, the list of questions is not being directed to those who have the educational and experience background to handle such, but to those who have been educated in mostly secular colleges in tech-sci fields, and who probably have had years of subtle or blatant undermining addressed to their faith and who will likely be ill equipped to address such questions.  That is, this whole exercise is a negative sales pitch, trying to get us to "switch brands," without addressing squarely the sort of "turtles all the way down" worldview questions that were highlighted last time. But -- as we saw in outline last time -- if one does look at those "turtles" questions from a comparative difficulties perspective [cf. a 101 here . . . and yes, that is in a compulsory course for Seminary students that I taught some years back], atheistical evolutionary materialist secular humanist skepticism tends to come up decidedly short of sound answers to the hard questions every philosophically literate person needs to ask and squarely address.)

The scriptures are plain on this one: pride goeth before a fall.

Now, also, there are actually some fairly interesting responses out there, e.g. here and here, as well as some dismissals. 

One thing is easy to spot: since it is much easier to ask than to answer hard questions, the questions will take a lot longer than 10 minutes to answer seriously, so do not expect a ten-minute video rebuttal to really address all that is needed. Though, if done right, such a video may be able to take apart the pivotal errors of thought in the skeptical exercise.

 I note this astute preliminary observation made by R K Bentley in writing his own series of responses:
I have a question about these questions: why MUST we answer them? What happens if I don't answer? What if I can't answer? The video is trying to create a false sense of urgency or importance concerning the questions. It's rather ordinary for there to be questions about any subject that we can't answer. What causes gravity, for example? I don't know. Some people have theories about what causes gravity and some people don't have a clue. What does it prove? It proves nothing! If there is a question about gravity that we can't answer, it's certainly not evidence against gravity! Likewise, if there are questions about the nature of God that we can't answer, it's not evidence against God. We can continue in our belief with our faith unshaken. Just as the fact of gravity is not affected by our ignorance of it, so also is the truth of Christianity.
 And indeed, when the apostle Peter charged Christians concerning being prepared to answer questions, this is what he said:
1 Peter 3: 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. [ESV]
The question we Christians "must" be ready to answer is one concerning "a reason for the hope that is in [us],"  rather than any arbitrary list of five or ten or twenty-two trick questions posed by some Internet skeptic and apologist/ evangelist/ salesman for atheism intending to subvert the faith of the ill-instructed. (And, sadly, there are all too many ill-instructed today. Today, the "simple" gospel has to be sufficiently well grounded  in light of relevant challenges likely to be met with on the street, campus or Internet, that we will not be tossed here and there by winds and waves of teachings and the cunning craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. [Pop Quiz: where did this Bible-quote come from? What is to be done to bring us to that state of maturity, and what else should we be doing as a result? Hint: cf. here. Text, here.] )

That question, of course is not asked in the list of ten questions (the proper answer to it would not go where the skeptics want to take us . . . ). 

But, it is patently prior to them, and decisively shapes the context in which we can properly answer the list of ten questions. 

So, let us now give the answer to "question zero" from a prime historical source, dated AD 55 when most of the 500+ key witnesses were still alive and tracing to the core circle of eye-witnesses in 35 - 38 AD, i.e five to eight years after Jesus' resurrection:
1 Cor 15: 1 Now I would remind you, brothers,1  of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you-unless you believed in vain.

 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 

6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 

8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me . . . . 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.  [ESV]
 So -- as we can examine in more details here -- in accordance with the prophecies in the scriptures -- most notably Isa 52 - 53, c. 700 BC -- Jesus died on a cross for our sins, was demonstrably dead to the satisfaction of his executioners (who made sure with a spear thrust to the heart that poured forth separated blood, proving death). He was buried in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb, at the request of this member of the Sanhedrin. The following Sunday morning, the women who came to further anoint the body of yet another unjustly slain prophet of Israel, found the tomb empty. They, the apostles they summoned, the formerly dismissive and dubious family of Jesus (they, at one point, thought him mad), the twelve several times, doubting Thomas who demanded to put his finger into the hand wounds and his hand into the spear-thrust, over five hundred disciples at one time, and the former persecuter, Paul, all stand in joint witness to the resurrection in accordance with the prophecies. 

And ever since, millions have encountered the risen Christ in life-changing power. Including, me.

You can brush this aside, and make up clever dismissive arguments, but such come at a stiff price, as we already noted: if the human mind is that delusional, then the projects of knowledge and rationality are hopeless. If anything from the classical past is historical, the resurrection of Jesus and its impact on history and lives ever since, is. 

Those who dismiss it do not do so because of a want of evidence, but because of a bias against the evidence.

But also, this has an immediate consequence, as, the resurrection did not happen out of the blue. It was prophesied, in hundreds of texts from the Hebrew scriptures, and a messiah was expected because of those prophecies. 

So, we must confront the evident reality of the God who so orders history that he can predict its pivotal future seven hundred years ahead of time.

And of course, that drastically shifts our estimation of the scriptures in which those prophecies happen. Thus, also, how we go about responding to the sort of skeptical, loaded questions we are about to consider. The scriptures and the gospel and the reality of the God who loves the world and gave his Son to die for us, who has risen as our Lord are not on trial here, the skeptics are.

So, again, let us hear Peter writing in farewell shortly before he was executed c. 64/65 AD by Nero's order:
 2 Peter 1: 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body,8  to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.

 16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son,9  with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 

19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. 

21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. [ESV]
Okay, now, let us bring on the skeptics, to hear what they have to say for themselves, in attempted justification for their resistance to the gospel:
If you are an educated Christian, I would like to talk with you today about an important and interesting question. Have you ever thought about using your college education to think about your faith? Your life and your career demand that you behave and act rationally. Let's apply your critical thinking skills as we discuss 10 simple questions about your religion . . .
1: Why won't God heal amputees?

[2]: Why are there so many starving people in our world?

[3]: Why does God demand the death of so many innocent people in the Bible?

4: Why does the Bible contain so much anti-scientific nonsense?

5: Why is God such a huge proponent of slavery in the Bible?

6: Why do bad things happen to good people?

7: Why didn't any of Jesus' miracles in the Bible leave behind any evidence?

8: How do we explain the fact that Jesus has never appeared to you?

9 – Why would Jesus want you to eat his body and drink his blood? It sounds totally grotesque, doesn't it? Why would al all-powerful God want you to do something that, in any other context, sounds like a disgusting, cannibalistic, satanic ritual?

10 – Why do Christians get divorced at the same rate as non-Christians?
H'mm: that sounds uncommonly like the skeptic is anxious not to focus on the core warrant for the reality of God, and the core challenge of the gospel: that we are guilty rebellious sinners justly under the judgement of God, who need to respond to God's gracious, loving offer of hope and salvation in Christ. 

Instead, the implicit demand is that we should be living in paradise, where everything is perfect and all our wants and demands are instantly met, here, backed up by some loaded questions (many of which pivot on crucial mis-readings of the scriptures and misunderstandings of our actual circumstances and the state of our hearts). 

In preliminary answer, biblically, of course, our ancestors DID live in such a paradise: Eden. 

But, by choosing to abuse the power of choice that is required if we are to be able to love, putting themselves and their desires before the known will of God, they forfeited that privilege. And ever since, we have each ratified that same choice by our own self-centred behaviour. So, there are no genuinely and through and through good people, only struggling, finite, fallible, fallen, morally struggling, too often ill-willed sinners. (Just check our newspaper headlines day by day for a month if you doubt that.)

So also -- by the same gospel that the skeptics would have us not focus on, God will restore us to paradise, undoing all the havoc wreaked by sin and selfishness. But the price of admission is: penitent trust in God based on his word as authenticated by the prophesied and fulfilled resurrection of Jesus. So, ultimately, all the pain, grief and sorrow wreaked by sin has been taken up in the willing sacrifice of the Son of God, and our liberation from the destructive consequences of sin and alienation from the source of all that is good will come to complete fruition at His Coming in glory. The real question we need to answer is: why is it so many are so desperate not to accept that gracious offer? And the answer -- willful, sinful rebellion -- is not exactly flattering.

Okay, let us pause to look at GII Q1: why WON'T God heal amputees.

But, he will, he does and did. 

Along with paralytics, the just plain dead [up to four days dead and stinking: Lazarus], the blind, the despairing, the addicted and more. The first healing we all need is from sins, and there are many amputees who have found healing, salvation and liberation in Jesus; rejoicing in salvation. And ultimately,at his coming he will wipe away every tear from our eyes, so all the crippled, the amputees, the blind etc etc can have hope.

No, no, no. The question is why won't God heal amputees of their amputated limbs TODAY.

Again, the basic answer is, God did, does and will heal, in his own good time and order under his rescue plan for a lost suffering world. And, in the perspective of eternity, all will be restored. Of this we have strong assurance, for God has raised Jesus from the dead in vindication of his prophecies in the Scriptures. So we have confidence in Jesus and in the written word of God.

But, we don't see people healed from amputations here and now!

So what?

As the skeptics themselves have had to agree in their video: three- quarters of doctors accept that miracles of healing occur today. So also -- as was noted in the preliminary remarks for this series, it is precisely doctors who are best qualified and best placed to know this. So, we should start form this premise: miraculous healings in answer to prayer in the name of Jesus are sufficiently common that a large majority of medical doctors in our day accept their reality.

Yes, there are some particular problems we have not seen being healed here- and- now, but that cannot be allowed to distract us from the cogent fact that the vast majority of the best qualified witnesses and experts accept that healings do happen today. (For instance, cf here for an interesting account from the British Medical Journal, by Dr Rex Gardner FRCOG, that compares healings as recorded by Bede and contemporaries, with healings as observed by medical practitioners today in the name of Jesus.)

Healings in the name of Jesus are credibly real, so we have excellent reason to accept that his power is available to us as a foretaste of what is yet to come when he returns in full glory, here and now.

That puts a very different light on the challenge.

No, it is not true that God won't or doesn't heal people. It is not even true that God won't or doesn't heal amputees. So, we do not have a reason here to dismiss the miraculous intervention of God without addressing the actual cases we have in the scriptures [from witnesses who cheerfully paid with their lives for their testimony to the unwilling powerful], across history and in our world today. 

And, when it comes to some particular ailments not having credible cases to hand, we know that in the same scriptures of the NT, Paul -- who, according to the careful and accurate historian [and medical practitioner!] Luke, had a powerful healing ministry -- petitioned God three times for relief from his own complaint. He was told: my grace is sufficient for you, and my strength is made perfect in your weakness. (Cf 2 Cor 12:1 - 10.)

Plainly, there is no proper biblical expectation that all will be healed of all diseases in the here and now, so the whole force of the question rests on a strawman caricature of the actual testimony of the scriptures. We may not like this, any more than we like the fact that we all face death at some time or another, or that we live in a world marred by sin and folly. 

But by God's grace we can work to make things better.

Which is one reason why for centuries Christians have been in the forefront of medical advances and so many Christians work to alleviate suffering and medical conditions. That, too, is a foretaste of what shall be in perfect fulness at the Second Coming.

A second coming that we stand in confident assurance of, because we have seen the credible history of the prophecies and how Jesus fulfilled them by coming among us, ministering salvation, healing and deliverance, dying for our sins, and rising from the dead with witnesses.

So, when we look at the first question from this perspective, it deflates. 

And, we can already see how the other questions are similarly overwrought and depend on distortions and distractions from that which is of first importance: that in fulfillment of the prophecies of the scriptures, Jesus came, loved, served, did miracles of healing and liberation, died for our sins and rose from the dead with over five hundred witnesses.

That, then, is what we need to put first and foremost. END