Ligon Duncan on the Non-Negotiables of the Gospel

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  • Saturday, April 14, 2007

    The Futility of Atheistic “Challenges”

    “all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35)

    Time and again we are inundated with so-called “challenges” to the existence of God by unbelievers of all stripes. Usually these challenges take the form of “If God exists, why doesn’t He do ……..” However, these challenges have absolutely nothing to do with the existence of God. In fact, such challenges presuppose some knowledge of God’s power, as rebellious humans seek to mold Him into our image.

    ......
    This is proven by the fact believers throughout history have asked similar questions. These questions, from believers and unbelievers, are understandable, but the attempt by atheists to present these as “challenges” are merely humanistic revolts against the way God runs His universe, irrespective of His existence. The great Charles Spurgeon observed this rebellion among believers as well.

    “Men will allow God to be everywhere except on his throne. They will allow him to be in his workshop to fashion worlds and to make stars. They will allow him to be in his almonry to dispense his alms and bestow his bounties. They will allow him to sustain the earth and bear up the pillars thereof, or light the lamps of heaven, or rule the waves of the ever-moving ocean; but when God ascends his throne, his creatures then gnash their teeth; and when we proclaim an enthroned God, and his right to do as he wills with his own, to dispose of his creatures as he thinks well, without consulting them in the matter, then it is that we are hissed and execrated, and then it is that men turn a deaf ear to us, for God on his throne is not the God they love. They love him anywhere better than they do when he sits with his scepter in his hand and his crown upon his head. But it is God upon the throne that we love to preach. It is God upon his throne whom we trust.”1

    It is one thing to ask why God allows certain things to happen, as I have been guilty of myself. It is completely different matter to question His existence. Trying to create a god from our own vain imaginations who will bow to every request of His own creation does not disprove His existence.

    Why doesn’t God heal amputees? Why won’t He change the past if we pray for it (assuming we could even know if he did)? Why does He allow evil to exist? These are all tough questions that minds more acute than my own have asked. However, they are completely unrelated to the question, “Does God Exist?” Challenging that question will require more than a few atheistic presumptions about how God should run things.

    Footnotes:

    1 Charles H. Spurgeon –
    Divine Sovereignty

    14 comments:

    DagoodS said...

    I read this blog regularly. I will try and help explain why non-believers use these tactics. To be completely up front, from what I have seen, I fear I will be unsuccessful. But I will try…

    Let’s take it out of the world of theism for a moment. Imagine someone tells you that they are convinced a human can kick a 100-yard field goal in (American) football 10 times out of 10. So we take some humans out, try it, and they fall far short. We bring on some professionals. They, too, fail. We take the best there is, train and train and train them as much as possible, and still they fail.

    The person still insists somewhere out there is a person who can perform this feat. (pun intended) What we see is a claim that does not conform to the reality we know.

    It is the same way with these “challenges.” (And, it is true; they are not always framed in a manner that is clear.)

    We see 1000’s, if not more, concepts of gods proposed to us. Some are deists, some are Christian, some are Muslim, some are Mormon, some use evolution, some use election, some have more free will than others, and so on. As the theist proposes a God, just like the field goal kicker, we test this claim to the reality we know.

    Although you correctly point out, it comes across as “Does God exist?” it would be better stated, “Does the proposal you make about your God conform to the reality we know? If not, can you explain?” (We shorten it out of laziness and convenience, more than anything else.)

    For example, a theist may tell me their God is solely moral. Completely good. It has no evil in it. In that situation, I may raise the “challenge” of the Problem of Evil (either logical or evidentiary.) They are proposing a creator that is solely moral, I see a reality that contains moral, non-moral and immorality and I “challenge” how those two things could align.

    Now if a theist proposes to me a God that performs moral, non-moral and immoral acts, or a deistic God that is completely neutral to the whole situation, it would be silly for me to raise the “challenge” of the Problem of Evil. Their claim easily conforms to the reality we see.

    Or, taking the amputee challenge. If a theist proposed a God that is disinterested in healing people and does not do so, the question of “Why doesn’t God heal amputees?” would be met with a blank stare, and a slow, word by word response, “Because the God I propose does not heal anyone. Including amputees.”

    However, if a theist proposes a God that DOES heal, and one that provides healing for those that ask (Matt. 7:7-12, James 5:13-16) the amputee question raises an interesting issue. See, this would be a healing that is verifiable. The claims of cancer disappearing, or teeth gaining fillings, or colds lasting for lesser periods have been frustratingly elusive.

    The one thing about an amputee gaining a limb immediately, it is demonstrative. We have heard numerous claims about Christians asking for and being healed from a whole plethora of diseases, it would seem plausible that at least one (1) amputee asked for and would have received healing.

    The challenge is, in its basic form, saying, “How come the one time we could actually confirm a healing, we never, ever see it? How does the claim of a God that heals upon at least some requests conform to the reality we see that he never does for amputees?”

    Technically you are correct that asking “Does God Exist?” solely on one of these challenges does not even remotely eliminate God’s existence. Most of these seem to focus on a Christian God, it has been my experience.

    However, since this blog DOES focus on that God, it would be appropriate to address those challenges here.

    Puritan Lad: Challenging that question will require more than a few atheistic presumptions about how God should run things.

    Again, we probably frame it poorly. We do not presume God should do certain things. (Since we not compelled a God exists at all, let alone whether it “should” or “should not” do something.)

    What we are questioning is, in light of the claims made by theists about their God, how do they explain certain facets that seem plausible with that God?

    To give an example here, we are informed that nature informs us of the existence of God. (Rom. 1:18-25) Fair enough. We look at nature. What we see is some incredible suffering as a result of nature doing what nature does. If the theist says that God is fine with this suffering, then we have no qualm. But if the theist proposes that God desires to reduce suffering, we may question why God does not do so.

    It is not so much an atheistic presumption that God “should” reduce suffering. It is a non-believer that questions how the theist can align their various claims about their god.

    Puritan Lad said...

    Thanks dagoods.

    You bring up some good points. Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions about God, even among Christians. I believe that these misconceptions are the root cause of these challenges. Perhaps these challenges will help Christians rethink their idea of God by uisng the Holy Scriptures.

    The God of the Bible has but one purpose, and that is to bring glory to Himself. He even uses evil to do this. God gets glory out of the salvation of His people, and He gets glory out of the destruction of the wicked.

    Two points I'd like to present.

    1.) I hold that the "problem of evil" is a bigger obstacle to the non-theist than the theist. The "naturalist" must somehow explain how good and evil can arise from a natural world of atoms and molecules (not to mention things like justice, free will, love, hate, etc.) The problem of evil presupposes the existence of evil, and I hold that an objective definition of evil must come from God Himself. Otherwise, the very concept of evil becomes nothing more than a personal opinion, stemming from a bunch of human neurons. Without God, evil really doesn't exist. Rather, we have a bunch of behavioral issues triggered by certain stimili and controlled by genetic makeup.

    2.) Regarding your comment on Romans 1:18-25 and suffering, I would say that Paul was referring more to the wonderful design of nature (the original watchmaker argument, referred to today as the Strong Anthropic Principle). Even non-theists have to marvel at this design, though many choose to ignore it by pointing out some perceived design flaws (thus acknowledging the very design they see as flawed.) As for suffering, you have pointed out one of the most obvious and objectively evident Doctrines of Christianity, the Fall of Man.

    Thanks for your input. You got me thinking. May God reveal to you the same "Divine and Supernatural Light" that He has revealed to us, and to the Apostle Peter (Matthew 16:17)

    Shiloh Guy said...

    I came over here because of a comment from Swordbearer at JazzyCat's blog just to see what I might find. Lo and behold, the first post is from you, Puritan Lad, and you have an excellent quote from Spurgeon! I can't stay away from bloggers who are willing to quote Spurgeon. I'm still anxious to read Swordbearer and I will do so. Just know that you guys are responsible for adding yet another "must read" blog to my list! Thanks a lot!

    Dave Moorhead

    Shiloh Guy said...

    I came over here because of a comment from Swordbearer at JazzyCat's blog just to see what I might find. Lo and behold, the first post is from you, Puritan Lad, and you have an excellent quote from Spurgeon! I can't stay away from bloggers who are willing to quote Spurgeon. I'm still anxious to read Swordbearer and I will do so. Just know that you guys are responsible for adding yet another "must read" blog to my list! Thanks a lot!

    Dave Moorhead

    Swordbearer said...

    It's great to have the new readers! WELCOME! Thanks for participating in the comment section as well!

    Dagwood, I find your writing very clear. Thanks for that.

    At the same time, I note in Dagwood's writing (and reasoning??) a tendency that not only is found among many non-believers, but a tendency that often limits unbelievers from coming to the truth. The tendency is to limit solutions to complex issues (such as the problem of evil, etc.)to one of two categories, rather than to consider ADDITIONAL alternatives, which not only meet/satisfy the qualifying requirements/conditions of the issue being raised, but provide a rational solution that not only reconciles the various issues/problems but also proves to be a more satisfactory answer (in that it takes into account and deals more consistently with all the factors.) In other words, it's not always "A" or "B", but sometimes "C" [or "D", etc.] that's right.

    For example, with the problem of evil, the solutions are not just (A) Christians say God is solely moral and soverign, but immorality exists, therefore Christians must be wrong (either there is no God, or God is not moral and sovereign); and (B) Christians or others could propose "a God that performs moral, non-moral and immoral acts, or a deistic God that is completely neutral to the whole situation" (and therefore Christians who propose a solely moral and sovereign God are wrong); but there is also an alternative C) God is solely moral and sovereign, but has created and given creatures moral will and responsibility, who having chosen sin themselves are responsible for the evil, and have led not only to the consequences but to the curse/consequences as well as grace which the solely moral and sovereign God can and does use for his sovereign and good judicial and redemptive purposes, both of which which he reveals to man through the gospel of his Son, in whom he accomplishes and freely offers salvation.

    Perhaps, on one level not as simple a solution, but in the end one that provides not only a more substantive and consistent solution, but a satisfying one as well!

    Swordbearer said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    Swordbearer said...

    Shiloh,

    I checked out your profile to see who you were. Looks like you've got a good background, a great education, and some mighty fine cohorts!

    Blessings,
    Swordbearer

    DagoodS said...

    swordbearer,

    I apologize if I gave the impression I was discussing the merits of the Problem of Evil. I was really responding in a broader brush (using the same tone as the blog entry) as to why atheists use these types of “challenges” and to hopefully provide some clarification as to the intent. As I understand it.

    I merely referred to the Problem of Evil and the God Hates Amputees, without attempting to get into any depth as to either the theist or non-theist’s individual arguments in those matters. That would take far more than a few brief sentences, I think!

    Any specific claims were more for illustrative purposes than any intent to be comprehensive on the subjects.

    When you referred to my writings as having a tendency to be dichotomous, I am uncertain as to whether you mean here, or elsewhere. I have written prolifically at a number of websites. However, I appreciate the reminder to avoid such thinking, and will try to keep a sharp eye out to avoid repeating it if I have done so in the past to your dissatisfaction.

    Again, I did not intend to give the impression that I had fully covered the Problem of Evil or God Hates Amputees in a brief comment.

    Swordbearer said...

    dagoods,

    no problem. Explanation helpful and accepted.

    swordbearer

    Tom | Errant said...

    I read the post and I follow your line of thinking - and think you have made an unforgivable (well not unforgivable but grave) error.

    The error of assuming you are right and God does exist. I won't argue here either way (I've written plenty of stuff on this vein on the RDF website) but don't you think that it is perfectly valid to challenge the idea or existence of God if you are not a believer.

    I think you are also tarnishing so called skeptics (I say so called because it makes us sound like a minority or like we are bad in some way!) with the same question "Why does God not..."

    Rather, I think, more thoughtful non-believers (again that horrible word - perhaps different thinkers would be better - if not grammatically) would ask the more simple question "For what proof is there of Gods existence"

    This is a more fundamental question and one which no ones seems to fully and cohesively answer (at least in my eyes). It is not a question of belief - for me and many like me belief is easy, belief in solid, verifiable and believable things - but belief in a strong concept with a vast amount of (human written) teachings but no real proof is surely something that should be as open to challenge as anything else.

    That is not to say that God does NOT exist - but as far as I see it if people wish to preach the teachings of God from the stand point that he does exist then they must be in a position to prove that claim (whether or not they feel that is the 'point' of religion or not). Not to do so leaves serious accusations of deceit and brain washing (admittedly not so much in the case of the mainstream religions).

    This is completely aside from the point of religion being about a moral ideal or way to live your life - with that many of the atheists (horrible word) i know this is not a problem concept. However it is a concept that in many of our opinions is totally different from the concept of God! It is perfectly possible to live our life in a moral way without belief in a personal God.

    I hope this has come across properly (not as a rant but trying to explain why your stance that it is not the position of religion to explain the existence of God is wrong). :)

    jdlongmire said...

    "That is not to say that God does NOT exist - but as far as I see it if people wish to preach the teachings of God from the stand point that he does exist then they must be in a position to prove that claim (whether or not they feel that is the 'point' of religion or not)."


    Interesting point, Tom - you do understand that from the standpoint of the CS team, (Calvinistic, Reformed) that God's existance has been sufficiently "proven" by the fact that our sinful hearts have been turned and our eyes have been opened to the reality of God by God Himself through Jesus Christ? I don't know if you do or can understand this, but our perception of reality and God is primarily caused by God, not by our senses, although we now can attribute cause and effect to the all-knowing Creator vs what seems to the non-regenerate eye - capricious chance.

    Thus when we "preach the teachings of God", as you say, we can comfortably presuppose the truth of His Word and reliably attribute the Truth that is revealed as objective and concrete vs the subjective ethereal conjecture of the unregenerate. The Cause drives and validates the effect, not vice versa.

    Thus all knowledge or evidence gained and presented MUST be put into a divine perspective. The purpose of the debate is then merely to cast the light of Truth on the ultimate futility of the alternative perspective.

    Tom | Errant said...

    Yes I see where you are coming from. admittedly that last section was a rant about a little niggle of mine (that people are taught about god as the truth from an early age rather than presenting it as one of many ideas they could accept based on their own choices).

    "Thus all knowledge or evidence gained and presented MUST be put into a divine perspective. The purpose of the debate is then merely to cast the light of Truth on the ultimate futility of the alternative perspective."

    This presuppose that God does exist. It may have been proven to you (you in the royal sense here) but to people who believe in different things it has not been. I think my major point was that while I can put my beliefs in a human context (one which can be investigated, reproduced precisely, double blinded and tested exhaustively) religious belief is yet (as far as I have seen) to be truly tested against a benchmark other than it's own divine one. There is nothing specifically wrong with this of course but I was trying to address your original point of how (or rather why) atheists challenge god. The important point I think is that atheists and so forth dont necessarily begin not believing in god but rather begin believing in nothing and make decision s based on the evidence in front of them. Hence the tendency to question the theist idea of God (among countless other things).

    I realise that I didn't come across properly to well originally because it descended into a semi-rant :( that wasn't the intention.

    Going back to "preaching". I assume from the quote marks and language you used you are not happy with this word - apologies , I simply meant it from the context of promoting your religion to others with the idea of spreading your beliefs. Anyway...

    You say that when you pass on the word of God / your religion you can presuppose the existence of God and so the truth of the words. My point was that this cannot be the case when explaining your religion to outsiders with the intention of converting them (again a horrible word I must apologize for and use here in a strictly literal sense) simply because it is essentially misleading them. Personally accepting God (ie: "but our perception of reality and God is primarily caused by God") is as suggested by the phrase a personal thing. So applying it as proof doesn't count really - instead the burden of proof surely must be mounted (most people don't question it - which is sad because I am sure many of them would be even more deep believers after doing so).

    I think I am putting my self awfully again so perhaps I can propose a question which you many or may not wish to answer (few of the people I ask this - religious or no - wish to).

    Have you ever questioned your belief within yourself -really questioned. Tried to look objectively at either side of the debate and reformed conclusions from it?

    I don't mean with the aim of compromising your beliefs or anything like that but rather to explore where these convictions come from. You say they come from God but I have never truly understand that. Not the concept - see below - but rather what you mean as 'from god'. As in a sudden revelation? a belief it is put there.?. see I am highly confused! An explanation would be appreciated :)

    As a final (highly important) point. You say "I don't know if you do or can understand this, but our perception of reality and God is primarily caused by God, not by our senses" - in response I should say I do understand this concept because it is in the converse way that my perception of reality occurs (in that I follow what my senses, my mind and my logic explains to me). That is not to say that either perception is better (that is a personal thing) but that both is equally as valid.

    By the way thank you for this interesting discussion. I have been browsing the rest of your blog and you have some interesting material (much of which I would disagree with in a strict sense) I am spending some time reading.. So thanks :)

    jdlongmire said...

    Tom, thanks for your irenic manner - much appreciated as we dialog:

    Let me address the "preaching" statement, to help you contextualize our perspective.

    "You say that when you pass on the word of God / your religion you can presuppose the existence of God and so the truth of the words. My point was that this cannot be the case when explaining your religion to outsiders with the intention of converting them (again a horrible word I must apologize for and use here in a strictly literal sense) simply because it is essentially misleading them. Personally accepting God (ie: "but our perception of reality and God is primarily caused by God") is as suggested by the phrase a personal thing. So applying it as proof doesn't count really - instead the burden of proof surely must be mounted (most people don't question it - which is sad because I am sure many of them would be even more deep believers after doing so)."

    First off - we preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not with the expectation that we have to make some persuasive argument that appeals to the laws of logic and the scientific method - nor do we depend on some emotional exposition that is intended to force a response or "conversion". We preach the gospel with the understanding that **it** has the power to call the people that God has chosen for Himself to Him for His purpose. The gospel is literally "good news" to those whom respond, because it is revealed as an absolute fact to them that "...while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us..." - we can't mislead, because we are transparent - "repent or die" is not misleading.

    Secondly - I gladly accept the burden of proof - not because of the pseudo-neutral claim of the atheist (really, only agnostics have a hope of reasonably taking this position and then have lost it once they have been exposed to the Gospel), but because my proof platform is Creation itself - rejecting the plain evidence requires the development of a competing worldview that, at its core, rejects purposefulness for purposelessness, order for chaos, justice for hopelessness.

    This truth claim - "Creation, thus life, thus I, have an ultimate purpose" is a fundamental proposition (along with "There IS absolute truth" - how one answers this question determines the supporting rationale. Because that is ultimately what you are asking when you propose the "put yourself in my place" exercise. Trust me when I say - I have exercised the proposition and the outcome does not satisfy. Not from the perspective of how I think, what I perceive, nor what I sense. Not surprisingly - and a response predicted by my worldview - you may say the same to the converse.

    Puritan Lad said...

    Tom,

    Thanks for your comments. The gist of my article was to show the weaknesses (and irrelevency) of the arguments I listed. These "challenges" (and many like it) have absolutely no relation to the question, "Does God Exist?" That question must be answered independent of how we assume God should run things.

    There are plenty of empirical evidences for God's existence, but you will reject those based on your own unproven presuppositions.

    God has been proven to exist by the fact that He gives the human mind the ability to understand anything. You may reject the Christian "theory of knowledge", but I have yet to hear a decent alternative from an atheistic worldview.