More on the Free Will Defense

The article below on the Free Will Defense to the Problem of Evil has generated some interesting comments. Here is one that caught my attention:

Perhaps in heaven God’s immediate presence naturally produces the desire to remain as such, which consistently trumps any potential desire to sin.

I don’t think it is God’s presence so much as it is the fact that we have been changed from the inside out.

Chapter 9 of the Westminster Confession of Faith states the following:

Chapter IX

Of Free Will

I. God has endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined good, or evil.

II. Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to God; but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.

III. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.

IV. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He frees him from his natural bondage under sin; and, by His grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he does not perfectly, or only, will that which is good, but does also will that which is evil.

V. The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to do good alone in the state of glory only.

Supporting scripture …

[11] EPH 4:13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. HEB 12:23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect. 1JO 3:2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. JUD 24 Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.

Thoughts?

— BK


The Problem of Evil – Part 3

The Common Solution

Given the fact that the Problem of Evil has been around for centuries, it should be no surprise that Christians have come up with (what they believe to be) solutions to the problem. And although many different approaches to solving this have been attempted, one approach in particular stands out as the most common. This is typically termed the Free Will Defense.

As the name implies, the Free Will Defense starts with the assumption that people have free will, and therefore have the ability to choose to do either good or evil. According to this view, God didn’t create robots (that would not be a loving God, after all), and so the existence of evil is therefore a potential situation. Since people have the freedom to choose to do good acts or evil acts, it is ultimately their freedom of will that brings about these evil deeds.

There is, however, a large problem with this particular line of defense. All the unbeliever need do is bring up the subject of Heaven, and the free will defense completely collapses. Why is this the case? Well, consider that there will be no sin (i.e. evil) in Heaven, but there will be people there who purportedly still have free will.

The unbeliever may point out that since the inhabitants of Heaven have free will, and free will can lead to evil (the very basis of the free will defense), then what is to guarantee us that there will be no evil in Heaven? It seems that the Christian must either give up free will, or the existence of evil in Heaven, or he must rethink his defense.

Now, in response to this challenge, the Christian might claim that God actually keeps people from sinning in Heaven[1], as that is the only way to be certain sin will never enter his presence. In other words, God actively works in people in order to keep them from sinning. However, the unbeliever can simply point out that God could also do the same thing on earth. If God is able to suppress people’s ability to sin in Heaven, then he certainly could do so here on earth. He is an all-powerful God, after all.

The Christian might instead claim that the inhabitants of Heaven will be able to sin, but that God knows that they will not sin. In other words, the claim that there will be no sin in Heaven is purely prophetic, rather than decretive[2]. For instance, heaven may be such a wonderful place, that the Christian never again will have the desire to choose evil, and therefore will not.

But the unbeliever is bound to ask some questions. For instance, how many variations of creation did God “test drive” (by looking ahead at an eternity of people’s choices) before creating the world he did, in order to guarantee that none of the people who end up in heaven will ever sin? Besides, the fact that God chose to create a universe where he knew people would sin (at least on earth) still makes God the ultimate cause of sin, it seems.

In addition, and more to the point, why didn’t God simply create earth just like heaven in the first place? Didn’t God know ahead of time how people would act? Didn’t he know that they would sin and do evil deeds? Doesn’t the fact that God could create a place free from sin (even if it partially owes to man’s free will), and yet he didn’t, mean that he is not all-loving? Doesn’t the fact that God knows there is evil going on right here and now mean he is also to blame for not stopping it by using the same “fix” he uses in Heaven?

The fact is, no matter what tack this Christian takes in using the free will defense, he must be able to provide an answer to the Heaven Test. The existence of a sin-free Heaven is a real problem for the Christian that chooses to use the free will defense.

In addition to the free will defense, there are a variety of other approaches that Christians use, each of which ultimately fails the “Heaven Test”. If God could have created earth just like Heaven (or just skipped earth altogether), then he is either not all loving for being unwilling to do so, or he is not all-powerful, for being unable to do so.

Next time we’ll look at what I believe to be the Biblical (and only possible) answer to the Problem of Evil.

— BK

[1] Of course, it should be obvious that this answer presents a real problem for anyone presenting the free will defense in the first place, as it would seem that God is messing around with the will of people, in order to keep them from sinning.

[2] A purely prophetic claim means God “looks ahead” at the choices his creatures will make, and realizes that none of them will sin in Heaven. A decretive claim indicates that God, in some sense, is in control of Heaven and does not allow any sin.


Is it sinful to call evidentialism…sinful?

Recently I was directed toward a blog post found here:

http://calvindude.com/dude/blog/2008/08/on-the-%E2%80%9Cappropriate%E2%80%9D-apologetic-method/

I must confess that I am unfortunately not familiar with this particular writer.

In his post Calvin Dude presents a number of arguments against the use of the presuppositionalist method in certain contexts. The arguments look as though they are almost wholly based upon misunderstandings of the presuppositional method. As best I can tell this writer’s concerns are dealt with directly in most presuppositionalist literature.

The author of the entry begins by taking issue with an apologist who claims that presuppositionalism is the only valid method of apologetics, which leaves me completely confused since the author appears to have actually read a great deal about the subject of presuppositionalism. Are there any presuppositionalists who believe that other methods are valid? Perhaps there are, but I am not so concerned with this question as I am with what follows.

The more pertinent question here is whether or not it is actually sinful to approach apologetics from something other than presuppositionalism. As radical as it appears, and as “mean” as it may sometimes sound, those of us at Choosing Hats recognize other methods as being sinful. We are not the only ones. In fact Bahnsen did as well.

Thus I find it a bit odd that we (not directly, obviously) should be compared to Dr. White’s “cage stage” Calvinists – those who are new to Calvinism and, lifted with pride in newfound knowledge, attempt to force it upon everyone they can. None of us here have just now read Bahnsen for the first time. Nevertheless it is apparent that we find other methods of apologetics to fall short in many ways. I am not sure I understand how Bahnsen himself could be used in this supposed parallel either. He certainly was not reading his own work for only the first time while he was going about calling other methods of apologetics sinful!

Does Scripture ever use evidentialist arguments? No. Rather evidences are always offered in accordance with the presupposition of God’s revelation to humanity. Read that again. Evidences are offered in Scripture. There is a difference between using evidences and using evidentialism. Evidences are not a method of apologetics, they are entities used in apologetics. Dr. Bahnsen presented an enormous list of evidences during his debate against Dr. Stein, but he did not use evidentialism. Does Scripture warrant evidentialism? No. Psalm 19 and Romans 1 state that God is known to exist. God is clearly seen through what has been made, so much so that people are without excuse. God is known and God is seen. Clearly. So much for traditional arguments! An especially relevant example here is the teleological argument, but there are many other syllogisms which essentially (I mean that literally) deny that God is known and clearly seen through creation.

Presuppositionalism involves a higher view of evidences than does evidentialism. Both evidences and unbelieving responses to them are to be understood in terms of God’s revelation, not in terms of would-be autonomous thought. God’s glory is manifest in nature. I can honestly say that I have never run across a single presuppositionalist who denies this. That God’s glory is manifest in nature is not an evidentialist argument in the sense of Scripture using an evidentialist as opposed to a presuppositionalist method. Presuppositionalists do not deny evidence or its use. How many volumes need be written on this misunderstanding before it is cleared up?

Presuppositionalists are at fault for not addressing other-than-atheist manifestations of the non-Christian worldview with the same rigor and thoroughness as they do atheism. This fault should not be credited to presuppositionalism’s account. There are apologists working on correcting this problem. I hope to be able to make my own contributions toward this end. Nothing is preventing other presuppositionalists from joining in this effort.

Presuppositionalists are at fault for keeping their material largely inaccessible, often using philosophical language and argumentation that the vast majority of people would not be able to understand. This fault should not be credited to presuppositionalism’s account. There are apologists working on correcting this problem. I hope to be able to make my own contributions toward this end. Nothing is preventing other presuppositionalists from joining in this effort.

Every non-Christian, whether Muslim, Mormon, Atheist or whatever else; is totally opposed to the Christian worldview. We do not therefore treat them as though we can agree upon certain assumptions and evidences. We cannot. Evidences do not speak for themselves. Assumptions which are necessary for intelligibility can only be accounted for if one presupposes Christianity. That’s the argument. It is biblical and it is cogent.

God converts people, not presuppositionalism or evidentialism. Apologetics are a means to an end ordained by God. No one amongst us is disputing this; it is an obvious truth. God uses means to accomplish ends. For example, God uses the preaching of His Word to bring about repentance and faith. God uses even terrible preaching to bring people to Christ. Terrible preaching is nevertheless a sin. Utilizing preaching methods which go against those prescribed in Scripture is sinful, even though it may be a means by which God chooses to save someone. Likewise in the case of apologetic method. If presuppositionalism is prescribed by Scripture, as I argue that it is, and if evidentialism is warned against by Scripture, as I argue that it is; then evidentialism is sinful. I do not think this evidence of presuppositional cage-stageism on my part or on Dr. Bahnsen’s part. I distinctly remember thinking that Bahnsen was a bit off his rocker and harsh the first time I ran across his work. I thank God that I nevertheless returned to his writing and saw more clearly what it is that this man gave his life to.

Calvin Dude’s post reveals some places where presuppositionalists could really clean up their acts; I am not excluded. I touched on a few of these above. I do not believe these weaknesses to be found in the method itself. He is correct that the context of the apologetic encounter, involving such factors as the person in opposition to the truth, bears heavily upon the way in which we use our method. However, we should never submit to a philosophy found outside of Christ Jesus, and evidentialism as an apologetic method is such a philosophy. Thus it is sin to use the evidentialist method of apologetics. Those who still disagree may be doing so based upon a different definition of evidentialist apologetics which should lead to further discussion on this subject.


A Study of “Always Ready” – Part 2

waYesterday afternoon, three of us here at Choosing Hats conducted our second Study of the book “Always Ready” by Dr. Greg Bahnsen. This time we kept it under an hour!

Click on the link below to hear our study.

Skype-recorded Audio of Study

By the way, please feel free to leave any comments or questions you wish after listening to the audio. We would love to hear from you!

— BK


A Study In The Nature Of God’s Word (Authority) – Part 3

The foundations of knowledge

Philosophers have been debating the foundations of knowledge for centuries. And we shouldn’t be surprised that they don’t all agree on just what it means when we say we “know” something! One thing they do agree upon, however, is that our process of knowing things must have a foundation – a starting point, if you will.

Let me illustrate.

I could make the claim that there is a UFO hovering overhead at this very moment. Some of you would probably question my sanity if I said this. But let’s say I claimed to know this – say I became very adamant about this. What is it that you and everyone would do in order to verify my claim?

If you had any interest in finding out whether my claim was true, you would no doubt walk directly outside and look up in the sky yourself, right? And why is that? Well, it is because the primary way we verify what someone is saying is by trying to “see it” for ourselves. Of course we can’t always see what it is someone is claiming, sometimes we smell it, hear it, touch it, etc.

The point is this – we humans rely greatly upon our senses in order to determine whether a claim is true or not, right? In other words, the assumption that our senses are reliable is foundational to process of knowing. Just stop for a moment and think about all the things you claim to know that are ultimately dependent upon an assumption that your senses are reliable.

Now this approach seems to serve us quite well. But when it comes right down to it, is it really sufficient for us to claim we know something just because of what our senses tell us? Our senses aren’t always accurate are they? It doesn’t take too much to fool someone into thinking they see something that isn’t really there. In fact, all of our senses can be fooled. We can make a recording of someone’s voice and play it back with such fidelity that we would swear that person is actually in the next room.

Now, my point is not to get you to start doubting everything you see or hear! My point is simply to demonstrate that our senses are not 100% accurate every single time, meaning we could be wrong about something we claim to know at any given point in time.

And so what does that mean from the standpoint of knowledge? It means that our claims to know something begin with a great big assumption! Basically, we have faith in the reliability of our senses. In that regard, one part of our foundation of knowing things is faith. Let me state this now, because this is another one of those catch phrases that is so crucial.

Knowledge begins with faith.

Augustine said it this way:

I believe so that I may know

Our ability to know is ultimately grounded in one or more faith commitments that we make. Probably one of the strongest faith commitments is our belief that our senses are accurately telling us what is happening around us.

So why is it I say that relying upon our senses as the basis for knowledge is a “faith commitment”? It is the fallible nature of our senses. Although reliable, our senses are not perfect, meaning that they can be wrong at any given time. Relying upon our senses therefore takes a certain measure of faith – a faith that they are accurate.

Look at it from the opposite standpoint – if the nature of our senses was that they were infallible then they would be the perfect starting point, right? Infallible senses would be a most excellent foundation for knowing things just because we would be assured that every time we saw something we would know with 100% certainty that it was really there.

So what does this faith in our senses do to our ability to know things? We’ll tackle that next time.

— BK


The Problem of Evil – Part 2

The Argument Formalized

Sometimes it is useful to formalize an argument in order to work through it. The argument we have presented already can easily be placed in such a form as follows:

a) God is all powerful
b) God is all loving
c) God knows that evil exists
d) Evil does exist
e) Therefore, God does not exist

What we can see here is that the first three premises seem to describe a being that knows evil exists, wants it to go away, and is able to make it disappear. Therefore, the introduction of the fourth premise, that evil actually exists, seems to form a contradictory state of affairs. That is, the seeming conclusion is that if evil does exist then it is logically impossible for a being described by the first three premises to exist. If this is the case then it is indeed a problem for Christians!

The Weight of the Problem

Although it should be apparent it is worth clarifying that the Problem of Evil does not simply claim that it is most likely the case that the Christian God does not exist based on the preponderance of evil. Rather, it boldly asserts that such a God as described in the Bible cannot and does not exist. In other words, since God and evil cannot both exist, and evil does exist, then God does not exist.

It is at this point that the average Christian may simply write this problem off as irrelevant. After all, for him it is clear that God does exist and so any argument which seems to dispute God’s existence must be invalid and isn’t worthy of discussion. Furthermore, this Christian may be quick to remind the unbeliever that we believe in God based on faith[1], not on logical arguments. For as God transcends everything, even our understanding, any argument that disproves God’s existence can simply be ignored as coming up short in relationship to God’s transcendent nature.[2]

What is particularly ironic about this situation is that the Christian in this example has made use of a very specific logical truth (that a contradictory state of affairs cannot exist) in order to justify a dismissal of the claim that the existence of the God of the Bible (along with evil) is a contradictory state of affairs! He has made a practical use of logic in ignoring this problem thereby implying that logic is necessary in some situations but unnecessary in others. To be consistent, the Christian must confront this issue head on in a logical manner.

Furthermore, although this Christian may be able to satisfy himself that no problem exists, it is the unbeliever (who doesn’t already believe in God) who is presenting this challenge to the Christian. Therefore, it is the unbeliever who can rightly[3] say that God logically cannot exist, based on this line of argumentation. In fact, it is very possible that the Problem of Evil, if not properly dealt with, may be all it ever takes to keep an unbeliever from coming to Christ.

Next time we will look at the most common solution to the Problem of Evil and see why it fails.

— BK

[1] It is indeed the case that our belief in God is one that is based upon faith – the Bible itself is very clear about this. However, Christians must pay attention to and deal with claims that even a faith-based belief in God is illogical.

[2] I recall a slogan that a local Christian College used to tout. It said “Don’t Think Logically, Think Theologically”. Now although there is benefit in some sense to this catchy phrase, there are too many believers today that take it literally, choosing to ignore reason entirely, and cling to the Bible purely on faith alone (something the Bible doesn’t even tell us to do.)

[3] By way of clarification, I do not mean that the unbeliever is objectively warranted in continuing in his or her disbelief based on this argument. Rather, I am saying that this argument makes sense to the unbeliever, based on their existing assumption that God does not exist. It provides them with enough reason to cease from adopting a belief in God.


Zoroastrianism, Part 2

The contributors to http://www.choosinghats.org/ make an apparently radical claim: People cannot know anything if God has not revealed Himself to them. Certainly then, people cannot know God without revelation. Our epistemology is revelational; we start with the presupposition that God has spoken and stay there throughout our thoughts and actions. Finite, fallible, sinful humanity can know nothing of God apart from His revealing Himself to us, hence Christian apologists who desire to move from some would-be autonomous position to the conclusion that God exists engage themselves in futility. Likewise for those who wish to prove the existence of some non-existent god like Ahura Mazda of Zoroastrianism. We therefore set forth the challenge to religious unbelievers to prove to us the existence of their gods while noting that they have not the slightest opportunity to get anywhere if they do not start from something which claims to be a revelation of their god. Framing the challenge in this way significantly narrows the field of what people may consider “competitors” by virtue of their alleged revelational epistemologies. There are few world religions that even claim to have anything like what the Bible is to Christianity. Zoroastrianism might be counted among the few, but the claim is easily shown to be incorrect.

Zoroastrianism teaches that Zarathustra received revelation from Ahura Mazda to be given to humanity. Thus, we understand the nature of the challenge to Christianity stemming from this religion. Unlike most other religions of the world, Zoroastrianism claims to have divinely inspired texts. Discrepancies between secondary literature on the subject of Zoroastrianism abound, likely due to a lack of information pertaining to the history of the religion. Zoroastrianism is often presented as having so many parallels to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity that it is considered by many to be the predecessor of the “big three”. The “many” just mentioned may especially include students sitting in history and religion classes. Special mention may be made of a messianic figure called Saoshyant, an “Armageddon-like” final battle, a bodily resurrection, a final judgment, and a heaven and hell. Again, many historians of religion believe Zoroastrianism to be the source of other religions sharing these themes. However, it should be pointed out that parallels amongst religious literature are often exaggerated and disappear upon closer inspection. In any event, parallels do not prove borrowing, and even if they did, the direction of the borrowing would not be clear. Attributing the origin of other belief systems to Zoroastrianism is a difficult move to defend as may be inferred from the aforementioned discrepancies in secondary literature stemming from a lack of knowledge regarding the religion in its historical context. Zoroastrianism is certainly not monolithic and has changed over time. Likewise there have been various sects of teaching within the religion. Zoroastrian doctrine is full of complexities, and questions about the origin of particular doctrines is extremely unclear. That is, we simply do not know enough to make judgments about when the specific doctrines listed above actually appeared in Zoroastrianism. They may very well have been borrowed from Christianity, for example.

The lack of information discussed above is apparent in current accounts concerning Zarathustra, the “prophet” of Zoroastrianism who is said to have delivered a unique revelation from Ahura Mazda to his people. Zarathustra, or “Zoroaster” in the Greek, is considered to be Ahura Mazda’s prophet. “Zara” means “yellow” and “ushtra” means “camel”, however “ushas” means light and hence later followers of the teaching of Zarathustra referred to him as the “Golden Light” or “Shining Star” rather than the earlier “yellow camel”, which would likewise have carried a sort of sacred significance because of the status of the camel in Zarathustra’s time and culture. (Camels were considered a necessary and significant part of everyday life and sacred.) Traditions concerning the life of Zarathustra are contained in the Pahlavi Denkard and the Zatspram. Both documents came into existence long after the death of Zarathustra, the former being contained in late commentaries and the latter being written in the ninth-century AD by a high priest of the religion.

Sometime between 2000 and 1500 BC mass numbers of Aryans brought their ancient polytheistic religion to present day Iran (“land of Aryans”). These religious teachings involved the worship of divine beings (daevas) and rituals, most all of which were opposed by Zarathustra, who acted as a kind of religious reformer. For a taste of what the Aryan religious practice may have been like one need only look to India, the present day home of Hinduism, a religion which was early on based largely upon Aryan religion once the Aryans moved to northern India.

Zarathustra lived between 1500 and 500 BC, probably about 1200 BC in Azerbaijan province in Northwest Iran, although he may also have lived on an oasis in Eastern Iran near Afghanistan. This second possibility is brought to our attention by linguistic and archaeological evidence. The later traditions about Zarathustra’s life already mentioned claim that he began his reformation of religion when he was thirty years old after he had visions of Ahura Mazda and received the god’s message for humanity in its entirety. No one believed Zarathustra for ten years, with the exception of his cousin, who converted. At some point the supposed prophet managed to anger religious leaders enough to be thrown into prison where he somehow was able to convert King Vishtaspa, who is known as Hystaspes in Greek. This was accomplished through healing the king’s horse upon spiritual or religious conditions being fulfilled by the king. Most of what has been retold here is according to the late tradition mentioned already.

Let us not forget that the details of this alleged prophet’s life are at best exceedingly unclear. In fact, what we know the most about are the teachings he left behind (at least according to legend and tradition), which we will examine in future entries. Zarathustra primarily promoted Ahura Mazda as the supreme god and condemned all of the other deities or daevas worshipped by the Aryans and company. Likewise the people themselves were condemned along with their rituals; with the exceptions of the drinking of haoma juice and rituals involving fire. A dualism of good and evil was also given a major role in Zarathustra’s teachings.

The foundational sacred writing of Zoroastrianism is the Avesta, which as far as we can tell was comprised of roughly 22 books on history, medicine, law, and liturgy. These pieces were written in Avestan, the rare, archaic language related to Sanskrit but written in modified Pahlavi characters. This language is extremely rare…so rare in fact that the Avesta is the only example of it we have. Add to this that only a small part of this work survived; the rest is believed to have been destroyed by Alexander, a rather plausible part of Zoroastrian legend. A portion of the Avesta is called the Yasna, which contains 72 chapters of prayers and liturgy. In the middle of the Yasna is what is what is really significant for our purposes, the Gathas. Here one will find hymns written in an even older dialect of the strange Avestan language. These hymns are believed to have been written by Zarathustra himself and make up about fifty pages. There were later Zoroastrian texts written in a much more modern Persian language. One example is the Sad Dar, which means “One Hundred Doors”. It was the first Zoroastrian text known to the West through its being translated into Latin, which did not transpire until 1700 AD.

Is this really the story of a prophet of the true God? I should think not,

a

nd I hope the reader would agree. The religious scholar and the historian are always running up against a thick darkness which encircles this ancient religion. Little is known about it as far as specifics go. Alleged parallels with Christianity could have been added in at virtually any time. While a divine inspiration of sorts is claimed for the Avesta, we know little to nothing about the so-called prophet who delivered this message, and worse yet, we know virtually nothing about the message itself! If Ahura Mazda exists, and if the god intended to deliver a message to all of humanity, he did a horrible job of it. There is nothing like preservation in Zoroastrianism, the texts have been destroyed with the exception of one book. Ahura Mazda is apparently incompetent. Remaining texts of the religion are commentaries and such and are not considered divinely inspired like the lost books of the Avesta. At best we possess about 50 pages of hymns written in an obscure language that may have been originally composed by an Iranian man whom we know almost nothing about!

If Ahura Mazda was the one true god, then he failed miserably in accomplishing what he set out to do, for humanity cannot know what he had to say to Zarathustra. Later interpreters and commentators are our main source of information regarding tenets of Zoroastrian belief and practice. As the series continues we will look at some of the specific teachings of Zoroastrianism and why they spell doom for the truth of this unbelieving, anti-Christian system of thought.

Scriptures of the World’s Religions
James Feiser, John Powers
McGraw Hill, New York, NY 2004

Patterns of Religion
Schmidt, Sager, Carney, Muller, Zanca, Jackson, Mayhall, Burke
Thomson Wadsworth, US, 2005


The Problem of Evil – Part 1

The Problem of Evil

One of the most common complaints against Christianity is the Problem of Evil. This particular complaint has plagued Christian apologists for literally thousands of years. For as long as evil has existed in the world, mankind has questioned why a God who is seemingly able to rid the world of such pain and suffering, does not choose to do so.

It was the18th Century Scottish philosopher David Hume who popularized the Problem of Evil to the world as “proof” that God does not exist; at least the Christian God of the Bible. But even if Hume had not popularized this issue within philosophical circles, it would still be a problem for Christians to deal with, for no one who has been a Christian for very long has avoided being cornered by a non-Christian who is looking for a solution to this problem.

Why is the existence of evil considered to be a problem for the Christian? To understand, we must first consider the attributes of God – attributes which, when combined with the existence of evil, seem to create a contradictory state of affairs.

The Omnipotence of God

First, God is claimed to be all-powerful, or omnipotent. This is not only a view that is held by a great majority of Christians, but it is one that is easily supported from the Bible. An omnipotent God is one who is able to do anything [1]. This is the very God who is described for us in Jeremiah 32:17 –


“Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee …”

If God were truly omnipotent, then he would be able to get rid of evil if he desired to. If God actually has creative and providential control over the universe (more specifically, the world we live in where evil exists), then he would have been able to create a universe where no evil existed, or he could choose to rid the world of the evil that most certainly does exist. The fact that he does not logically moves us on to consider another attribute of God – his omnibenevolence.

The Omnibenevolence of God

Next, God is claimed to be all-loving, or omnibenevolent. He is, in fact, claimed to be love itself. Again, this is a view that is held by the majority of Christians, and that can be supported from the Bible without difficulty. By way of example, we find the following claim in 1John 4:16 –

And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

If God were truly omnibenevolent, then he would want to get rid of evil if he were able to. If God truly were loving in all that he does, and we assume that evil is not something that a loving being desires, then the logical conclusion it would seem is that God would want to make sure that no evil existed. But evil does exist, and so we are once again drawn to another attribute of God – his omniscience.

The Omniscience of God

Finally, God is claimed to be all knowing, or omniscient. Although fewer Christians ascribe this attribute to God than those who believe in his omnipotence and omnibenevolence, it is a view that still seems to be held by the majority of Christians. [2]

If God were omniscient, then he would know for certain that evil exists. Although most mainstream Christians hold this belief, it is actually not necessary for the formation of the Problem of Evil. Although this view would indicate that God is aware of every single evil action that takes place, he would only need to be aware of one such action in order to be placed in the position of deciding whether or not he will take action to stop future occurrences of such evil. Although a belief in God’s omniscience seems to make him all the more culpable, it is not necessary to the argument of the one who is condemning Christianity.

(continued in an upcoming post …)

–BK

[1] More specifically, an omnipotent God is one who is able to do anything consistent with his nature. It is not a being who can do just anything at all. The favorite puzzle that is leveled against God’s omnipotent is the question of whether God can create a rock so large that he cannot move it. The answer to this is no, but such an answer does not negatively impact God’s omnipotence. Rather, it is consistent with the fact that God is unable to actualize a contradictory state of affairs. By way of another example, God is unable to lie (Num. 23:19). This does not reduce God’s omnipotence – rather, it is indicative of the fact that God is constrained to his truthful nature.

[2] Whether or not omniscience can be supported from the Bible is a view that is currently being discussed in many articles and books. It is specifically the view of Open Theists that God does not know all future contingent events (events based on the choices of man). Supporting God’s omniscience is well beyond the scope of this paper, but as we will see, is not even necessary to believe in omniscience in order to be forced to deal with the Problem of Evil.


A Conversation with “Blast”

The other day I had a very interesting conversation with an unbeliever in an IRC discussion room I frequent. I wanted to share it here because I think it is a fairly good representation of how to put the presuppositional method of apologetics into practice.

The conversation lasted about an hour. There was no repentance – no conversion – nothing remarkable like that. In fact, I heard later that the individual “Blast” might not have even been genuine in his side of the discussion. No matter, I think that God was glorified as the gospel was shared and it was demonstrated to “Blast” (albeit in a rather limited manner) in a presuppositional manner, that God is the foundation of morality.

Click HERE to read the conversation

— BK


The Myth of Neutrality

Is it important to be taught in a distinctively Christian way? Does it make a difference to know Christ first before knowing the “facts”? Our first study in the Always Ready Study Group (ARSG) was focused for the most part on the idea of “neutrality.” This is easy for Christians to accept when it comes to “spiritual” issues: as a sinner either you trust in the work of Christ, or you accept the full wrath of God as punishment for your sins, but when it comes to mathematics, history, and science that’s different…right?

Truth: Correspondence or Coherence?
In Van Til’s book A Survey of Christian Epistemology, he talks about the theory of truth. On the one hand, you have those who claim that we can know a fact is true when we can verify that it matches reality “out there.” This is the Correspondence Theory of Truth.

On the other hand, you have those who claim that we know a fact is true when we understand and can explain that fact in relation to all other facts. Van Til uses the example of a “cow.” What is a cow? It is an animal. And what is an animal? It is a living thing, and so forth. We can follow this train of reasoning to see that we don’t understand a cow, an animal, life, and inanimate objects, unless we understand them all together and in relation to each other. This is the Coherence Theory of Truth.

Those are the non-Christian understandings of Correspondence and Coherence anyway. As Christians we can say that we hold to a theory of truth that has elements of both of these theories, and is closest to the Coherence Theory, but the Christian understanding of “coherence” is different. We see the problem raised by the Coherence Theory of Truth to mean that we cannot understand a cow, an animal, life, or indeed anything in the Universe unless we understand everything, and this means that only God can fully understand any fact. We then conclude that a fact is true and justified if it corresponds to God’s knowledge, and if we understand it in the way that God understands it in coherence with all other facts.

So, Christian School or Not?
Let’s come back around to our original question. Do mathematics, history, science, etc. need to be taught in a distinctively Christian way? The answer is: Yes. There is a qualitative difference between a Christian and non-Christian understanding of the same fact, and it comes down to the Christian understanding of the Coherence Theory of Truth. A non-Christian understands the War of 1812 as a random conflict that occurred when the will of one nation rubbed against the will of another, and sees nothing more to it.

However, a Christian understands (and seeks to understand) the War of 1812 as an act sovereignly decreed by God as He providentially guides history for His purposes, and must do so to understand it fully and correctly. If we’re missing that piece of the story, then we misunderstand the whole thing.

Similarly, the non-Christian struggles to explain how the abstract world of mathematics makes contact with the concrete world of reality. Why is it that we can use mathematics to build bridges and skyscrapers? The Christian sees mathematics as part of the whole orderly creation designed by God, and held together by the power of His word. Again, we see a fact in relation to all other facts in the Christian framework.

So we see that even if we set aside differences in the content of knowledge (i.e. the Christian knows the fact of the trinity, but the non-Christian does not) and method (i.e. the Christian understands the Bible as truth and the standard of truth, but the non-Christian does not), there is still a qualitative difference between the way a Christian and non-Christian understand the same fact. This is what we mean when we say there is no neutrality, and this is why we must say that a distinctively Christian education is necessary.