Note 1: In Addressing a Response to Question 5 (truthseekingatheist.wordpress.com) and Responding to a Christian Response, Herald Newman responded to some of my answers. When I get time I will respond to his responses.
Note 2: We have addressed all ten of Herald Newman’s questions in the comments below. In my next post we will consider some of Newman’s responses to the answers we have provided to his questions.
H/T Silence of Mind (https://silenceofmind.wordpress.com/)
I will try spend the next several days “answering” the questions in the comments below. Since I am not God, I will have to reference the Bible to get the best answers. If the Bible does not have an answer, I may have to admit I don’t know the answer.
As King Solomon observed…
New American Standard Bible
12 I, the Preacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 And I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom about everything that has been done under heaven. It is a sorry task with which God has given the sons of mankind to be troubled. 14 I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is futility and striving after wind. 15 What is crooked cannot be straightened, and what is lacking cannot be counted.
16 I said to myself, “Behold, I have magnified and increased wisdom more than all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has observed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know insanity and foolishness; I realized that this also is striving after wind. 18 Because in much wisdom there is much grief; and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.
Christians and their apologists seem to have a proclivity for asking these “10 questions for atheists”, in the hope of either getting answer or exposing some hypothetical problem of our worldview. I thought it might be interesting to ask my own set of 10 questions that I have about Christianity. If you, as a non-believer, have your own questions, feel free to add them to the comments section.
So, without further ado, here they are:
- How do you reconcile the obvious and extreme suffering of sentient life on this planet with your belief that God is perfectly loving, moral, and all powerful? In other words, shouldn’t a loving, moral, and all powerful God act in ways that shield us from suffering, and if not why not?
- Do you believe that God owes any duties to humanity, such as a duty to protect us, or at least credibly warn us of…
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Question 8. If Christianity was a false religion, how would the world be different today compared to if Christianity was true? In other words, is there anything that would falsify your belief that Christianity is true, and if so, what is that? Is it realistic that this could exist or happen?
Here Herald Newman seeks to make use of an old argument, that Christians believe in Jesus just because they want to believe in Jesus. Are there Christians like that? Yes, but that is not how the Bible says faith in God — in Jesus Christ — is supposed to work.
How does the Bible define faith? Here are some of the results of a quick Internet search.
This article, https://carm.org/about-philosophy/is-reason-the-basis-of-faith-or-faith-the-basis-of-reason/?highlight=faith, does an outstanding job of examining the relationship between logic, science, and faith.
Hebrew 11 contains the verses that most cite, especially Hebrews 11:1. I find this translation easiest to understand.
Consider the problem of knowing the truth but still fearing the consequences if we act upon what we know to be true. If we don’t have enough confidence in what we know to be true, we will not act upon that truth. Thus, we require “faith” in our knowledge of the truth, and our faith grows — we are provided evidence — when we exercise that faith.
Unless we believe that a chair will hold us up, there is no point in sitting in a chair. After we have sit in a chair, we begin to take it for granted that the chair will hold us up.
Upon what is it that Christians rest their faith? The Rock that is Jesus Christ. How can we logically believe in Jesus Christ? There is a stepwise process.
1. We can satisfy ourselves that God exists.
2. We can examine and test the Bible. We can satisfy ourselves that the Bible is historically reliable.
3. We can verify that Jesus existed. We can learn from the Bible what He said.
4. We can satisfy ourselves that what the Bible teaches, that what Jesus taught, works in practice.
Why should we go to the trouble of testing the Bible? After the Ascencion of Jesus back into Heaven, the early Christian church spread in spite of severe persecution. Why? Early Christians believed the witness of disciples of Jesus, especially His apostles. These disciples left us the New Testament. Slowly, especially with the invention of the printing press, Jesus’ teachings changed Western Civilization for the better. In particular, the Bible teaches us that we are all the children of God, that He loves all of us, and He commands us to treat each other impartially. So it is that Jesus’ message and example changed the character of those who adopted Him as their Savior. In fact, unless we study the Bible carefully, the history of Western Civilization makes very little sense.
What about Newman’s challenge? Is there anything that would falsify my belief that Christianity is true? I have already been through this process. When I was seventeen I read The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine. Because I had not studied the Bible, what Paine said may sense to me. Therefore, I became an agnostic. Fortunately, I read the Bible in my early 50’s, and I began to study it. I began to believe the Bible because it made sense. I believe the Bible’s claim that it is the Word of God because it is obvious that men without divine inspiration could not and would not have written it.
Do I have my doubts? My faith is not perfect. Even the faith of the apostles in the presence of our Lord was weak. Yet because they put their faith into practice, the faith of the apostles’ faith grew as I pray my is growing.
Question 7. If you believe that I have free will, imagine an exact clone of me except without free will. Please tell me what differences I would notice between myself and this clone? If you do not believe I have free will, and I will not be saved (in my present state), why would God allow beings to exist who will ultimately be sent to hell? If you believe I will be saved, why does belief in Jesus as your savior even matter?
Does Herald Newman have free will? That is something he should be more concerned about than I.
Much of what I wrote in my answer to question 6 (https://citizentom.com/2022/04/18/ten-questions-for-christians/#comment-102507) applies to question 7. The main difference between questions 6 and 7 is that the way question 7 is written suggests that Newman’s preferred alternative to free will is determinism.
Do human beings have free will or are our choices deterministic? That is something that has been examined by better minds than mine, and I believe that the debate remains ongoing. All I can say is that we each get to make choices, and it can become very complicated when we try to explain why some people make the choices that they make. Even if our choices are deterministic, we have yet to come up with a reliable system for predicting people’s choices.
When is it easiest to explain the choices that people make? I think that occurs when we remove love as a motivation.
Christians believe God gives us two great commands. The first is to love God with all heart, soul, mind and strength. The second is to love our neighbor as we love our self. When He took our place and died for our sins, Jesus, the Son of God, demonstrated the nature of the type of love God wants us to have for Him and each other.
Do we naturally love God and each other? No. We know that we are supposed to love God and each other, but most of us find loving another human as much as we love our self a scary threat to our egos, and most of us find loving God even more than we love our self horrifying. That probably explains what Jesus said in John 6:44 (See https://citizentom.com/2022/04/18/ten-questions-for-christians/#comment-102507).
When would we notice a difference between Herald Newman and exact clone of him, except without free will? I expect that we would only see an obvious difference if the Father draws Newman to accept Jesus as his Savior. Then Newman would understand and see the need for agape love, and that is why belief in Jesus matters.
Why does God insist that we love Him with all heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbor as we love our self? Can you imagine living with a prideful, self-centered human being for all eternity? If you were God, an infinite Being capable of creating something from nothing, why would you want some finite, arrogant creature constantly making demands of you? Why would you allow that same finite, arrogant creature to constant abuse those creatures who do strive to love and obey you?
Why would God allow beings to exist who will ultimately be sent to hell? God has His reasons, but we don’t really understand what He is doing. See https://citizentom.com/2022/04/18/ten-questions-for-christians/#comment-102507.
You stated: “So, what do Christians believe about free will? Since we don’t understand what exactly God is doing, there is no universal consensus
I choose to agree with C.W. Lewies beliefs about free will
• C.S. Lewis on Suffering and What It Means to Have Free Will in a Universe of Fixed Laws “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.” By Maria Popova
Regards and goodwill blogging.
Thanks for the link.
6. If you believe God values our free will, why is it that God was so willing to violate the free will of certain humans in the stories of your holy book, but apparently does not do the same today? In other words, why did Paul, Thomas, or any of the apostles, get so much better evidence that Jesus was the Christ than anybody today?
This is a poorly written question. What is being asked? We can only guesss.
Let’s look at the assumptions.
A. Christians believe that God values our free will.
B. The Bible says that God violates our free will.
C. Paul, Thomas, and the other apostles got better evidence of the Christ than we do today, and that has something to do with free will?
What exactly is the question? Why doesn’t God treat everyone the same? Perhaps.
Well, if what I think is the question is the question the correct answer is that I don’t know the answer, and God is not obligated to tell us anything He doesn’t want to tell us.
Romans 9 deals with the issue. Here are the key verses.
If we all received the justice we deserve, none of us would be saved. As it is for reasons I cannot explain, God chooses to save some of us.
As I understand it, in the original Greek, the word “draws” has a stronger meaning.
Consider another translation..
So, what do Christians believe about free will? Since we don’t understand what exactly God is doing, there is no universal consensus. Consider De Servo Arbitrio “On the Enslaved Will” or The Bondage of Will by Martin Luther (https://ccel.org/ccel/luther/bondage/bondage?highlight=the%20bondage%20of%20the%20will).. Martin Luther and Erasmus of Rotterdam debated the topic via books that they wrote.
What is clear is salvation is a gift. Because of His mercy and grace, God chooses to save some of us, at least.
5. Why would a loving and all-powerful God chose to use humans to propagate the Christian message of salvation? If God is all loving and all powerful shouldn’t God be the one to bring this message rather than ignorant and fallible humans, considering that your religion look remarkably like every other religion out there?
This is not a question; it is an argument that God should run His Creation the way Herald Newman would run it.
The issue the “question” actually addresses is why God created us. Here are a couple of articles that address that issue.
The question contains a couple of incorrect, unsupported conclusions.
Did God choose humans to propagate His message? Not exactly. Jesus — the God/Man who lived, died, and rose from dead — preached. Jesus did charge us with spreading His Gospel, documented in the Bible, which is the inspired Word of God. However, Jesus calls upon us to allow the Holy Spirit to work through us. This quote from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hebrews+8%3A7-13&version=NASB makes it obvious that God is not just a passive observer.
Is Christianity remarkably like every other religion out there? Of course not. All the other religions are about what we have to do to be saved. Christianity is about accepting the gift of salvation.
4. How do you reconcile the fact that religious belief appears highly correlated to both geography and the religious traditions of your parents, with the idea that God is loving and would therefore want everyone to be saved, since all religious traditions cannot be true?
This question contains an assumptions that are incorrect. Religious belief is not highly correlated with geography, and the religious traditions of the parents matter only if parents succeed in making them matter.
Christian is a belief system. Belief systems spread when some people find the ideas contained within a belief system relatively attractive when compared to what they already believe. Consider some examples.
Walking works well, but the idea of using horses to travel became quite popular, and the idea of the horseless carriage has gained even more popularity. Today many use the idea of jet planes to travel, and some are even trying to use rockets for space travel.
Even though the governing authorities often opposed its spread, Christianity rapidly replaced Paganism.
Islam, because the governing elites made Islam their system of governance, supplanted Christianity by warfare, enslaving and even martyring Christians. Similarly, in more recent times, Nazis, Communist and Socialists have used the power of government to impose their beliefs. In particular, Nazis, Communist and Socialists have used government-run, public education systems to spread their political ideologies, including their atheistic beliefs.
So, why that question? How do you reconcile the fact that religious belief appears highly correlated to both geography and the religious traditions of your parents, with the idea that God is loving and would therefore want everyone to be saved, since all religious traditions cannot be true? Even though belief systems can spread rapidly, even when confronted by the lethal power of government, we only live about 80 years. So, even though Christianity is spreading relatively rapidly in Communist China, for example, within the span of a human lifetime that spread seems slow. Apparently, however, that spread is fast enough for God’s purposes.
Consider what the question presumes. We can understand exactly what God is doing. But we cannot understand the thoughts of God.
God shares with us what He will and no more. Thus, faith is required because our knowledge of God is imperfect.
Does that make faith in God unreasonable? No. Our knowledge of everything is imperfect. When we go to the store, we don’t perfectly know if we will succeed in getting to the store or if the store will have what we want. We go because we have faith that we can get to the store, find what we need, and return home. Similarly, we put our faith in the knowledge in what the Spirit who is from God has shared with us.
Question 3: Is there anything that God could do that would change your mind about God being loving and good, or is there nothing you would make you reconsider?
This question is incoherent. By nature and definition, God is all good, all knowing and all powerful. Therefore, everything he does is good. Whether or not we change our mind about God based on his actions is our problem, not God’s.
Consider this question from the viewpoint of an Atheist. If by definition God is good — holy — then why must God by definition be holy? Why can’t God be evil and still be God? Why is the suggestion that God can be evil incoherent?
I think this verse provides the answer.
God by definition is the Creator? Why would God harm what He creates? He would be destroying His own work, at war with Himself.
Question 3: Is there anything that God could do that would change your mind about God being loving and good, or is there nothing you would make you reconsider?
We are our own worst enemy. When we refuse to obey God, we make ourselves enemies of God.
Consider what God’s commandments do. When we obey God, and we ask for His wisdom and help, our obedience protects from our own worst instincts. When we disobey God, we suffer the consequences of our own bad behavior.
So, what about that question? The trouble we have when we sin proves that God cares about us. If God allowed us to sin without suffering the consequences, that would prove He is not loving and good. As it is, when we sin, we have the opportunity to see and to learn the wisdom of obeying God. We have the opportunity to see that He cares enough to discipline us.
Allow me to take a crack a crack at questions 9 and 10.
9. What would you say is the best evidence that Jesus of Nazareth is the Creator?
Thousands of people witnessed Jesus’ miracles. He transferred his creative power to the Apostles who themselves, performed miracles which were witnessed by many. Also, the Catholic Church has kept records for over 2000 years of people who performed miracles down through the centuries. People canonized as saints have performed at least two witnessed and verified miracles. Christian Western Civilization with its modern science and medicine also attests to Jesus being Creator. No other civilization in history has unlocked the fires of Creation as has been accomplished by Christian Western Civilization.
10. Why is it that Jesus, who you believe is Creator, appears to have said nothing in any of the gospels that could not have been said by anyone else at that time and place?
This question is factually untrue. Jesus was executed because what he said and did was so novel. Also, Jesus spoke common sense. Common sense is common because it is discoverable by anyone at any time.
Thanks for taking a crack at questions 9 and 10.
It is curious that Atheists make assertions that don’t make sense. Question 9 is just a question, but question 10 suggests an answer to question 9. Jesus said nothing that anyone else could not have been said by anyone else at that time and place?
The Bible promotes a philosophy, the belief that we are made in the image of God — that God loves us — that is totally at odds with what any man would dare to teach unless God Himself wanted that man to teach it. Even the Jews had an extremely difficult time accepting what the Old Testament says. That is why when Jesus dared to teach from the Old Testament and explain what the Old Testament says many of the religious leaders wanted Him dead. They did not want to believe the Old Testament; they wanted their traditions.
You hit it on the nail with ‘common sense’.
Ironically, the proposed question indicates a fundamental ignorance of ancient Near East wisdom literature. Wisdom Motifs are throughout the Old Testament; but more importantly, in the books such as Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Ben Sira, Job, etc. the Israelite wisdom literature reflects that of its Near East neighbors, which ‘wisdom’ is the discovery of the divine. Of course, this develops into the pagan Greek understanding of the Logos ‘reason/mind of God’ and then the Christian development that Christ is the spoken Logos of the Divine mind.
The ancients, as understood in the Israelite traditions, discovered wisdom over many generations then the teachings of Jesus actually should resemble the wisdom and moral traditions of really any world culture that made in the image of God using their reason. Jesus’ own teachings with parables using the motifs like the ‘wise’ and ‘foolish’ virgins. So, it’s perfectly in line with what should be expected by the claims of Judaism and later Christianity with what has been revealed about–and by–God.
Question 1: How do you reconcile the obvious and extreme suffering of sentient life on this planet with your belief that God is perfectly loving, moral, and all powerful? In other words, shouldn’t a loving, moral, and all powerful God act in ways that shield us from suffering, and if not why not?
I like the answer here: https://silenceofmind.wordpress.com/2022/03/18/how-christianity-addresses-the-problem-of-suffering/,
Thank you, Citizen Tom. I would like to add that the atheist does not understand the nature of Adam and Eve’s original sin as being a matter of justice. When human beings commit acts of injustice it causes suffering. The injustice of Adam and Eve’s original sin brought suffering into the entire universe. Such was the grave nature of original sin. It was a doozy to be sure.
For some reason the atheist mind cannot make heads or tails out of the Bible or see the what is obvious: injustice causes suffering.
We all have trouble confessing our sins. Why? Every sin is a sin against God because every sin is an act of disobedience towards God. So, to confess our sins we must humble ourselves before the Holy God and beg for mercy. Until we understand just how much God loves us, such humility is frightening. It is difficult to return a love we have so much trouble comprehending.