Reflections on Aurora, Colorado Shootings: “Why God?”

About a week after the Aurora, Colorado shootings, I received an email from a good friend who knows someone struggling with the goodness of God in the face of such evil. Why, if God is good, would he allow this? While there are many “miracle” stores that have come out of this incident, those who lost their lives needlessly would not so readily agree to the so-called “good” that might result.

Many responses have been given and, at first, I did not intend to writing anything further. I was simply going to respond to my friend in email. However, a confluence of readings and life events since that time have yielded further reflections, which I share here.


First, it’s important to note that too often we come to moral evil as if it were an equation to solve. I wonder if this is just another way of diverting the sheer pain and sadness that we all have when such tragedy strikes. Moral evil is not a problem to solve but a fact of our fallenness. [For my philosophically minded readers: As Alvin Plantinga has done and in concert with the Fall in Gen 3, I am collapsing what is known as “natural evil” into moral evil.]

Sometimes our belief in God raises more questions than it does in providing answers. It’s easy to view evil from an abstract distance and offer analyses that make sense to those of us untouched by it. But for those directly affected, evil defies all analysis. Perhaps that’s why philosophers readily admit that moral evil is the most difficult of all topics for any kind of theism.

Our concerns over the goodness of God in the face of evil are legitimate and our questions deserve answers. They must be taken seriously. Too often Christianity says to those with honest questions in effect “Shut up and submit to God.” This is the way of Islam, not Christianity. However, there is some kernel of truth here; we must humbly admit that perspective is everything. We simply do not nor will we ever have the vantage point that God does on how every event is woven together to compose the final picture. Only God knows the end from the beginning and this raw fact alone should make our pronouncements about tragic events tenuous. We would do well to recall Job’s lesson (chapters 41-42).

Yet, Scripture does not turn a blind eye to these kinds of questions. “Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed—and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors—and they have no comforter” (Ecc 4:1). In fact, the entire biblical storyline is important to remember. After the first two chapters of the Bible (Gen 1-2), all hell has broken loose. It’s not until the last two chapters of Holy Writ (Rev 21-22) do we find evil absent. The majority of Scripture radically affirms the presence and power of evil in this world. The reality is that we live in that time between Gen 2 and before Rev 21. Note too that the book of Job essentially follows the same pattern (chapter 1 = all is well; chapters 3-40 = all hellish inflictions and inadequate reflections; chapters 38-42 = God steps in and sets the record straight).

And so, it follows that our faith does deal objectively with the reality of pain and evil and Scripture is clear there is some mystery involved regarding why God permits evil rather than keeps it from occurring. The mystery, mind you, is on our part and not on God’s. If indeed God is omniscient and knows precisely what he’s doing, and is good permitting only what will, in the end, bring about the optimal amount of good from every event, and if he is able to bring about the end from the beginning, then it follows that God is meticulously discharging his will in this universe, one second and one event at a time.

Our reaction to this mystery is intriguing as well. As Eleonore Stump has observed, evil may serve a purpose to solidify the fact that it’s beyond our grasp to understand. Evil is like a mirror. Not everyone has the same reaction to it. “Some look into the mirror of evil, acknowledge what they see, and move on; others can’t shut out the sight of its horror. We’re all different in how we react to what we see. Some walk blissfully through life, while others stare intently at the face of evil and cannot shake its effects. But as both disparate views look more intently at the mirror, we find that evil refuses to be codified and principlized. It defies all reason and eludes our grasp; it is pure chaos and disorder. This, as Augustine observed, is the very essence of evil, so it’s not surprising that we cannot come to grips with it, psychologically or rationally” (paraphrasing her essay “The Mirror of Evil”).

I find it interesting that identifying which faculty allows us to have moral intuitions (e.g., goodness, mercy, justice) is unknown to neuroscience. Brain states can be measured and monitored, but the content of my thoughts cannot. This comes as no surprise because I would argue that the faculty for moral intuition is not a material thing; it is part of the imago Dei (God’s image within), which every human possesses. The same tears of agony over the needless suffering of others come from the same human ability as tears of joy at the beauty of music or of nature. Both encounters (whether horror or happiness) produce in us a sense of longing for something more and the tears we shed express this longing. Practically speaking, the extent to which we fail to grant forgiveness or mercy to others is the extent to which we are unable to receive them. Just as the same muscle in our bodies enables us to accomplish some extraordinary feat, that same muscle will inhibit us as well if it is not duly exercised.

It is ironic that this ability to see the face of evil may in fact speak to God’s existence and to his goodness. Doug Geivett offers the argument like this:

  1. Evil exists and is a departure from the way the world ought to be.
  2. If evil is a departure from the way the world ought to be, then there is a way the world ought to be.
  3. If there is a way the world ought to be, then there is a master plan or moral design for the way the world ought to be.
  4. If there is a master plan or moral design for the way the world ought to be, then there is a Master Planner or Moral Designer for the world.
  5. This Master Planner or Moral Designer we call “God.”

This may not satisfy everyone, but it does show the plausibility of believing in God in light of the existence of evil.

Finally, (paraphrasing again, Eleonore Stump) “When evil is incarnate and people are at their moral worst, we must remember that when we would not come to God, he came to us, not to rule and command, but to be despised and rejected, to bear our griefs and sorrows, to be stricken for our sake, so that we might be healed by his suffering.” The cross of Christ sets everything right side up and deals once and for all a death blow to evil. Though the sentence upon evil has been declared at Calvary, it continues to be discharged in time and in space until such day that “he will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

11 thoughts on “Reflections on Aurora, Colorado Shootings: “Why God?””

  1. I enjoyed reading your perspectives on evil and it cultivated numerous thoughts, so I figured I would put some here. The beauty of blogs is that they have the power to stir huge conversations from a worldwide audience with opposing views. I hope you do not see this as an attack, but rather a chance to test the sturdiness of your views. Before I start, I want to mention I think the word “evil” can be extremely biased, in that it comes from a doctrinal belief. Evil in the Christian sense describes an act against god, or a sin against his commandments, which requires an adherence to a so-called holy book. I do not subscribe that that belief, but rather that the bad things people do is against humanity itself and a transgression against our common code of conduct for living in society.

    I understand your position and I personally defended this argument most of my life, although I knew that it did not explain the problem sufficiently (for me), but I knew that god had to be there controlling the happenings of the world. I have never liked the “shut up and submit to god” stance and I think it allows a person to abandon reason and conscience – substituting with blind obedience. Although you say that is the way of Islam and not Christianity, I would completely disagree. Even you said that is a kernel of truth in the statement. Either the “shut up and submit to god” applies to Christianity or it does not, there is no middle ground. You used Ecclesiastes to in essence prove that the bible even allows questioning of whether god is in control at all. Although the second to last verse in Ecclesiastes says, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter; Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” Despite all of the evil that the writer of Ecclesiastes saw in the world he still concludes that everyone should fear god and keep is commandments. Shut up and submit to god.

    To say that ultimately god is working for good in the end, is a copout and it dismisses any further skeptical questioning. Ultimately, this leads to an extremely circular argument. I would say, and I think you would agree, that nothing bad could come from the Christian version of god; however, if nothing bad can come from god where Satan’s inclination towards evil come from. You could say that god created Satan good and he rebelled later. Nevertheless, this still does not explain how a perfectly good god can create something that has the tendency towards evil. It does not matter if you are evil now or evil later; the fact is you are still evil. If god is the originator of everything, he is the originator of evil also.

    I want to skip over some stuff to avoid an extremely long response, but I still want to address the five bullet points in your post. To say that the ability to see the face of evil may in fact speak to God’s existence and to his goodness comes from someone’s extreme want for god to be true; not just god, but a personal god controlling every aspect of their lives. Many find the belief in a world without god would be terrifying. However, this want for god does not mean god is true. As a child, I wanted Santa Claus to be true, but I grew out of that. Your points assume that the world is not the way that it should be and that there is something wrong with it. This comes from a doctrine. In fact, we have no legitimate reason to believe that world was any different than it is today. There is no evidence in existence that would give credence to the suggestion that the world was perfect at some point in history – none. If there is no evidence, all five points are invalid and irrelevant. I could say that in god there is no goodness and when the world began that was absolutely no good in the world, and later people rebelled against their badness and became partly good. There is the same amount of evidence for this as there is for your position.

    I will stop there for now.

  2. Hey Shawn,
    Sincerely glad you took the time to visit and offer your thoughts. By all means I welcome your reflections and feedback. Whether opposing views correct or strengthen my own, then I have only to gain by engaging them.

    First, rather than stemming from a religious standpoint, evil can be defined outside a religious context. For example, I would side with Augustine who argued that evil is a privation or parasite; it’s corrosive like rust diminishing its subject. It is a lack of something that ought to be present in its subject. One need not tie evil to religion for it to have any weight in discussions. Moreover, that it does have religious overtones and is related to Christianity (or any other world religion) does not entail that by definition it is therefore false. This is the genetic fallacy (think “baby/bathwater”). Finally, I would agree with you that moral evil is an offense against humanity. But this just begs the question: Who says so? In what/whom do we ground our notion of “against”? The majority? The one with the biggest stick or the most eloquent, persuasive speech? As you can see, without grounding this notion of “against,” in something(one) transcendent, then we quickly become cultural and ethical relativists, which even many atheists eschew.

    Re: your second point, my intention was to show that Christianity vis-a-vis Islam allows us to question God and his goodness in the face of horrendous, seemingly gratuitous evil. Islam will have no such thing and does not permit this. Indeed, the word “Islam” means submit and a “Muslim” is one who submits. You’re right Ecclesiastes ends with our duty to God and our fear for him, but this does not entail we cannot express any other emotions. Just read some of the Psalmists or Jeremiah or Amos or Job on their coming to God with frustration and anxiety over the way life has turned out. Clearly we can ask questions and seek God’s insights into the mystery of evil.

    You say that it is a copout to expect that everything will work out in the end and to think otherwise is to dismiss skepticism. Your logic suggests bifurcation (either/or). Could we not both be modestly skeptical about how things do indeed turn out in the end and at the same time believe that they will only be best, despite our lack of understanding? The biblical storyline seems to allow for both, especially given my reading of the Book of Job. To embrace mystery while trusting in God’s good and sovereign control may admit to complexity and even confusion at times, but is not contradictory nor incoherent.

    As for circular reasoning, there’s a missing premise in your argument that, when taken into consideration, may shed some light on it. That missing premise is that human freedom must be taken into account. Consider Alvin Plantinga’s argument and commentary:

    1. God cannot do what is logically impossible (draw square circles, self-denial, lie, sin, etc.). Yet these inabilities are actually strengths rather than weaknesses.
    2. Creating a world where genuinely free creatures always do the right thing is not logically possible.
    3. To create creatures capable of moral good, those same creatures had to be capable of moral evil.
    4. Therefore, creating a world where evil potentially exists was logically necessary in order to bring about a world where some moral good obtains.

    Alvin Plantinga writes:

    “Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely…He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so…The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good…a world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable…than a world containing no free creatures at all.”
    (God, Freedom, and Evil, p. 30)

    Or, going back to Augustine, consider this. In De Libero Arbitrio (On Free Choice of the Will) Evodius asks Augustine, “Since God foreknew that man would sin, that which God foreknew must come to pass. How then is the will free when there is apparently this unavoidable necessity?” Augustine replies “God by his foreknowledge does not use compulsion in the case of future events . . . God has foreknowledge of all his own actions, but is not the agent of all that he foreknows . . . he has no responsibility for the future actions of men though he knows them beforehand.”

    I would offer that humans, by their free acts of thought and/or behavior are morally responsible beings. God is no more responsible for my abuse of freewill (a good gift from God) than Smith and Wesson is responsible for the ruthless (dare I say “evil”?) murders in the theaters and streets of our country.

    You are right that wanting God to exist does not make it so, as it is for Santa Claus. But then you suggest that there is some notion of good and bad (interestingly you avoid the word “evil”) and this comes from “doctrine,” which you used twice in a negative fashion. Are you suggesting that “doctrine” is “bad?” If so, by what standard? Your own? Are we back to a discussion around the absurdity of moral relativism? Seems to me that either a) the world was created good, then evil resulted from an abuse of the good things God has given us or b) the world was created evil, then we rebelled by graduating to some notion of “good” (which you’ve not defined nor revealed your measuring stick) or c) the world was created morally neutral and morality is merely a social construct and cultural convention, which takes us back to moral relativism.

    As you say, “I’ll stop there for now.”

    😉

  3. I took your response to me and put my remarks in parenthesis so look carefully. I wish wordpress had a text coloring feature.

    First, rather than stemming from a religious standpoint, evil can be defined outside a religious context. For example, I would side with Augustine who argued that evil is a privation or parasite; it’s corrosive like rust diminishing its subject. It is a lack of something that ought to be present in its subject.

    (Is this not a religious argument for evil? You say evil is explainable outside of the religious context, but then turn and quote Augustine. Part of the Christian argument for evil proposes that Adam and Eve voluntarily gave up their goodness in exchange for what the serpent offered – knowledge; thus beginning the age-old struggle between religion and knowledge. Superstition and supernatural have always been in conflict with natural explanation of things and against the human quest to understand the world around us without succumbing to the god-of-the-gaps, which fills in what is currently unexplainable by science with god. Christianity says that we are all lacking something, which as stated earlier, was given up by Adam and Eve. There is no evidence that we are lacking anything. What scientific evidence do you have to suggest that we are lacking a morality that was there when we were supposedly created without using the bible as evidence? I expect you to back up your claims.)

    One need not tie evil to religion for it to have any weight in discussions. Moreover, that it does have religious overtones and is related to Christianity (or any other world religion) does not entail that by definition it is therefore false. (Very true) This is the genetic fallacy (think “baby/bathwater”).

    (This is quite different actually. If your religious argument of evil is lacking or possibly false, this would result in a snowball effect, gobbling nearly every doctrine of the Christian faith – Jesus would not have had to dies for your sins. If you definition is false, I would have to reject Christianity – completely. I kinda continue this discussion further down.)

    Finally, I would agree with you that moral evil is an offense against humanity. But this just begs the question: Who says so? In what/whom do we ground our notion of “against”? The majority? The one with the biggest stick or the most eloquent, persuasive speech? As you can see, without grounding this notion of “against,” in something(one) transcendent, then we quickly become cultural and ethical relativists, which even many atheists eschew.

    (Luckily, for me, as an atheist, there is no doctrine that I have to subscribe to; there is no book that I have to argue for as absolute truth. General relativism in all aspects of morality is lacking. However, relativism is still evident in every society. Consider alcohol for instance, not every Christian considers it a sin, but some do. This does not mean drinking alcohol is a sin, but some make it a sin for themselves. There is no absolute truth that someone is defying by taking a sip, but rather there is a difference in perception between the two people.)

    Re: your second point, my intention was to show that Christianity vis-a-vis Islam allows us to question God and his goodness in the face of horrendous, seemingly gratuitous evil. Islam will have no such thing and does not permit this. Indeed, the word “Islam” means submit and a “Muslim” is one who submits. You’re right Ecclesiastes ends with our duty to God and our fear for him, but this does not entail we cannot express any other emotions. Just read some of the Psalmists or Jeremiah or Amos or Job on their coming to God with frustration and anxiety over the way life has turned out. Clearly we can ask questions and seek God’s insights into the mystery of evil.

    (You are allowed to have varying emotion, of course, but you are not allowed to ultimately question gods existence. If you did, do you truly believe? If you do not truly believe, are you heaven bound? If you are not heaven bound, the only other option is hell, which is my future home because I question god’s existence. Ultimately the rules of Islam and Christianity are the same: god is there and if you say he is not you are an infidel. But seriously, if god really didn’t want me to believe the way I do, I am sure he would send me a better document than the bible, which is interpreted differently by different cultures and times.)

    You say that it is a copout to expect that everything will work out in the end and to think otherwise is to dismiss skepticism. Your logic suggests bifurcation (either/or). Could we not both be modestly skeptical about how things do indeed turn out in the end and at the same time believe that they will despite our lack of understanding? The biblical storyline seems to allow for both, especially given my reading of the Book of Job. (I addressed this above. There is no room for anything other than either/or, with hell in the picture.)

    As for circular reasoning, there’s a missing premise in your argument that, when taken into consideration, may shed some light on it. That missing premise is that human freedom must be taken into account (depending on what version of Christianity you subscribe to). Consider Alvin Plantinga’s argument and commentary:

    1. God cannot do what is logically impossible (draw square circles, self-denial, lie, sin, etc.). Yet these inabilities are actually strengths rather than weaknesses. (God doesn’t lie? “For this cause God shall send them a strong delusion, that they should believe a lie” – 2 Thessalonians 2:11 and “Now, therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil concerning thee” – 1 Kings 22:23)

    2. Creating a world where genuinely free creatures always do the right thing is not logically possible. (So in the new heaven and new earth god will have to take away your freedom for you to be good? So no freewill? )

    3. To create creatures capable of moral good, those same creatures had to be capable of moral evil. (Why would you say that?) (Why couldn’t this be the other way around? Perhaps god created us completely evil, so that we could have the possibility of being good.)

    4. Therefore, creating a world where evil potentially exists was logically necessary in order to bring about a world where some moral good obtains. (Do you not see that if god what the originator of everything, including the devil, he created evil as well? “I form light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things” – Isaiah 45:7)

    Or, going back to Augustine, consider this. In De Libero Arbitrio (On Free Choice of the Will) Evodius asks Augustine, “Since God foreknew that man would sin, that which God foreknew must come to pass. How then is the will free when there is apparently this unavoidable necessity?” Augustine replies “God by his foreknowledge does not use compulsion in the case of future events . . . God has foreknowledge of all his own actions, but is not the agent of all that he foreknows . . . he has no responsibility for the future actions of men though he knows them beforehand.”

    (This is really just beating around the bush. If god created everything and everyone and he knows ultimately what will happen (heaven or hell) there is no freewill and their all actions have be ordained by god. He has created someone for hell. “What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath – prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory – even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” Romans 9:22-24. God is so loving he creates people for hell – I feel the love.)

    I would offer that humans, by their free acts of thought and/or behavior are morally responsible beings. God is no more responsible for my abuse of freewill (a good gift from God) than Smith and Wesson is responsible for the ruthless (dare I say “evil”?) murders in the theaters and streets of our country.

    (There seems not to be a two-way street. God is given credit for our good deeds, saying it is the work of the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification, but he is not responsible for your bad deeds – human’s are. God is responsible for people getting into heaven but not for people going to hell. I see no reasonable reason to believe god is responsible for some actions, but not all. “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” Philippians 2:13)

    You are right that wanting God to exist does not make it so, as it is for Santa Claus. But then you suggest that there is some notion of good and bad (interestingly you avoid the word “evil”) and this comes from “doctrine,” which you used twice in a negative fashion. Are you suggesting that “doctrine” is “bad?”

    (No the word doctrine is not bad, but given my religious background, doctrine, to me, has religious overtones – word preference I guess. )

  4. Hi Shawn,
    Thanks for your detailed rejoinder. I’ll try to respond to most of your points as I understand them, though I have little time at present, so do forgive me if my answers are brief.

    RE: Your first parenthetical paragraph:
    An appeal to Augustine a religious argument does not make. This sounds like an ad hominem fallacy (guilt by association). Simply because Augustine was a Christian does not entail he could not hold his own in a purely philosophical discussion. His argument about evil is around the metaphysics of it. He discussed evil’s origin, but he did so from a philosophical position and not only a biblical one. That his discussion comports with Christianity does not entail that it’s false, since his “proof” is philosophical and not merely biblical.

    Speaking of “proof” and “scientific evidence,” which you say I must present, it is simply not the case that empirical evidence can be offered that speaks to morality. This is a philosophical discussion; not a scientific one. Your insistence upon “evidence” presupposes naturalistic assumptions, yet the “stuff” of morality is not empirical, tangible, touchable, evidential. It is by nature metaphysical, non-material and, therefore, science cannot speak to that domain.

    An appeal to mystery a “god-of-the-gaps” theory does not make. Mystery is employed in my discussion as a heuristic to promote a sense of awe and intellectual humility around evil. “Everything which is incomprehensible does not cease to exist” (Pascal) or, put differently, I don’t need to understand everything about something before I can assert its existence. Indeed, science itself contains sufficient “mystery” around many things (light refraction, a unified theory of plate tectonics, velocity of light, etc.), but this does not mean scientists are trying to pull a rabbit out of the hat to make theories work. It’s an inference to the best explanation, and mystery is perfectly within one’s epistemic rights to employ in a discussion that is both rational and reasonable.

    RE: Your third parenthetical paragraph:
    I think you’re confusing cultural relativism (involving diversity, convention, etc. in societies) with moral objectivism (categorical moral principles) and ethicists clearly distinguish these. I would encourage you to read Louis Pojman’s “A Critique of Ethical Relativism,” not available online but a copy of which I’ll bring with me to the next RF meeting if you would like it.

    RE: Your comments beginning “(You are allowed to have varying emotion…”
    Who says I cannot question God’s existence? I see no conflict between questioning with a view to finding answers and my faith in God. I fear your background is having its way with you here. As for better evidence than the Bible, is this a studied belief resulting from reviewing all the manuscript evidence for it’s historical reliability? Or are you importing that assumption because you do not want it to be true? That there are differing interpretations of the Bible says nothing to the biblical record and its historical, cultural, geographical, and social data that accurately portray first Century history. The varying hermeneutic does say a great deal about the confusion within Christianity, but not the Bible as a historical record. Have you read F. F. Bruce’s “The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?

    RE: Your para beginning “(This is just beating around the bush….)
    I’m afraid your view of divine and human agency is rather simplistic, my friend. Simply because your employer can accurately predict a certain behavior by you because he/she knows your work ethic, skill set, schedule, et al. so well, does not entail that you are no longer free to choose a different course of action. So too, God knows all the circumstances and conditions under which humans will choose x over and against y. This does not require that humans choose x because God knows; only that God knows because humans choose x. This choosing does not mean that humans create God’s knowledge since the word “because” is not causal but conditional. It’s a relationship of ground-consequent, not cause-effect. Again Augustine might be helpful:

    “God by his foreknowledge does not use compulsion in the case of future events . . . God has foreknowledge of all his own actions, but is not the agent of all that he foreknows . . . he has no responsibility for the future actions of men though he knows them beforehand.”

    Given that God’s knowledge entails true future-tense propositions (“true” with respect to a correspondence between an assertion and its eventual instantiation in space-time), it does not follow that knowing accurately how things turn out is the same as being the agency of their cause. For example, God knew yesterday that I would write this response today, though yesterday I had no idea that I would do so. It was, therefore, a true future-tense proposition yesterday that I would respond today, thus God’s knowledge (or database, if you will) contained this true proposition. But it was my choice today to pick this topic, not God’s. That my choice corresponded to God’s knowledge does not entail that my choice was constrained; only that it matches or maps to that which God knew would come about.

    I’ll end with this note, though there’s much more to say…..
    Your use of Rom 9:22-24 is a sticky wicket and there is a nuance in the Greek that may shed some light on it for you.
    The question here is: Are the vessels prepared for destruction participating in their own preparation (middle voice) or is someone(thing) outside them assisting their preparation for destruction (passive)? The middle/passive participle in v 22 “prepared for destruction”, argues Doug Moo, “does not clearly bring God into the picture” (Romans, p 607). Moo goes on to note that just as with v 23 where the “vessels of mercy” are clearly prepared by God (see ESV, NLT), so too God is involved in preparing the vessels of wrath for destruction. Though C.S. Lewis’s comment “The doors of hell are locked from the inside” is a popular response to this perplexing issue (see The Problem of Pain, and elsewhere), it may not bode well with the biblical data (see Luke 16:26, for instance).

    In other words, throwing down biblical references to support or shut down an idea require careful scrutiny first and a degree of intellectual humility must be exercised before we conclude this passage means such-and-such. THIS, I would argue, is healthy skepticism!

  5. It continues to amaze me that an explanation of god requires such long windedness. If god is so self-evident and the more rational explanation if the origin of the universe, we wouldn’t have to have this discussion. Your response doesn’t really respond to any of what I said; rather, it is an explanation of whether I understand the difference between the many definitions of relativism and that my view of divine agency is too simplistic. Perhaps yours is too complex. I would say, more complex than it needs to be. Ultimately, I guess we just have different thresholds for what we will accept as evidence. Philosophical evidence, for me, still needs to be obvious and likely, given our daily interactions with the physical world. I think faith in any god should be, for lack of a better word, easy. Your definition of god requires philosophical explanations, which most people wouldn’t understand nor know how to explain. In essence, you should accept Jesus with a childlike faith, but you have to know apologetics up the yin-yang to be able to explain it. Many conversations I have with theist usually start heading down a predictable bunny trail, so I think I should quantify my stance on god.

    When I was at the meeting on Tuesday I said that I was agnostic to the possibilities and atheistic in my worldview. Meaning that I am open to the possibility of a god, but I don’t see any valid evidence for any of the world religions. However, given the questions that are currently unanswerable by science and the fact that god can neither be proven nor disproven, I still allow for the possibility of a god. I would have to say that my view of god is much grandeur than the Christian god or any god man has ever created. I think that apologetics equate to minimizing god and I would venture out and say that the longer the apologetic argument is the smaller your god is. When a god is powerless or weak and the teaching around it does not make easy sense, apologetics are required. I would say that if god exists, he would be far more loving than the god you describe. My view that god would be loving may come from my years of childhood indoctrination resulting in a bias, but I would say there is an equal probability that god is not loving at all. This god would not be as weak and needy as to need the blood of goats, sheep and a person (Jesus) to forgive. If evil was a valid thing and he didn’t create our current state, this god would simply forgive. I could go on, but I promised to take my kids fishing, so need to get going.

    If you respond to this, you may get into that my views about god come from my want for the Christian god to be false or whatnot, but seriously, if the doctrine you teach would save me from eternal fire and grant me into heaven don’t you think I would want to believe it? I reject it like I reject all other claims to knowledge about god, when it requires me to dismiss my intellect. Or you may get into more philosophical explanations about evil, the complexity of god, why the bible is true, willful unbelief, forgiveness or the hereafter without any valid reason other than the possibilities. Every religions thrives on one’s ignorance and reels someone in because what they say could be true, and if it is you do not want to be on the other side of the fence.

    When was the last time you read a good book against your faith written by someone that is an unbeliever?

  6. Shawn,
    I guess I’m confused. On the one hand you say that you’ve not seen any valid evidence for religion, yet when I offer evidence for Christianity (in the way of philosophical discussion) you say that it is too complex. Complex “evidence” does not turn to “no valid evidence” simply because it’s complex.

    Everything aside and for the sake of simplicity, you say you’re open to the possibility that God exists. Why? How might a god exist and what would he/she/it be like? If you could explain this possible god to your children, what would you say?

  7. There is a method to my madness here. I am trying to understand what you accept as evidence and if you draw a distinction between empirical evidence and philosophical evidence. I do think that theists, Christian, Muslim, Jewish whatever, evaluate philosophical evidence the same as its empirical sibling, and do not see that they should be judged differently. Philosophical evidence is can be evidence; however, it can be extremely biased and up for debate. You can say that we were created good at first, but now we lack goodness and therefore we are evil, but someone can look at the ill in the world and say much to the opposite. Empirical evidence is observed evidence and I can see where the lines become blurred. Philosophers take what we see in the world or see the heavens, and claim this is bases for a belief in such and such god. However, there is something to add to modern empirical evidence: experimentation. Ultimately scientific empirical evidence is a holy balance of observation and experimentation; experimentation being the greatest difference between philosophical and empirical evidence. I would venture to say the all religions take what is observed (like the universe) and consider it too great to understand and therefore philosophize about it, neglecting experimentation, resulting in the various explanations of god and creation. I hope that make a little sense. I can try to expand a little perhaps.

    Much of modern-day apologetic comes from a combination of Aquinas’ Five Ways and the Ontological argument, which basically says that god is self-evident. I am sure you have heard of these given that you are a fan/follower of William Craig. Much of these arguments stem from the impossibility or improbability of an infinite regress, or uses infinite regress against the unbeliever, but refuses to apply the same rules to him or herself. Many times infinite regress is used as a trump card of sorts. The believer will say, “well…the big bang…fine…what created the big bang?” The reply, “what created god?” is dismissed upon the assumption that god has always existed. Perhaps it was something else. Perhaps neither a super-condensed mass nor god brought about the big bang. Perhaps it was something else we haven’t even thought about.

    I say all of this, because the philosophical discussion or argument being used as evidence for Christianity requires one to make some basic assumptions; there had to be a being to set everything else in motion. As far as I can decipher them, the assumption bunny trail looks something like this: there had to be a first mover, this first mover was god, god is good and he created us good, this god holds us to a moral standard, we betrayed the moral standard, therefore sacrificial Jesus is required. The philosophical discussion that stems from these assumptions is not hard evidence, but rather someone’s reasons for wanting to believe in a certain god. All I’m saying is that I don’t see any reason to make those assumptions.

    Every faith has its apologists and much of their argument is the same as yours. In beginning a discussion with a believer in a certain faith I like to preface with, “where were you born and what was the religion of your parents.” I do this hoping that they will begin to see they didn’t come to there conclusions based on hard evidence, but rather based on geography. The Muslims in Iraq believe their faith is the one true faith and believe it just as fervently as the fundamental Christians in the United States believe that their faith is the one true faith.

  8. Shawn,
    My fault I suppose, but let’s stay on topic here. We’ve discussed far more than this post intended to address.

    Rather than venture into religious pluralism and the impact of our historically and culturally conditioned circumstances in which we’re born, the classic five ways of Aquinas, what counts as evidence in religious and scientific arguments, etc., why don’t we pick this up on a personal level and meet for lunch or coffee sometime?

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