6 (Hopefully) Semi-Quick Questions For Theists

I know that this will spark many discussions, and while I think that is inherently a good thing, that’s actually not the intent here.

My intent is to answer questions from a theists POV that I don’t know how you’ll answer… While I grew up raised by “christians” I myself never actually believed (I thought I was supposed to believe and that I was wrong for not believing, but I never did actually believe myself) so there are many things I just don’t understand about the true beliefs (and not a strawman) of believers…

  1. What religion / belief system do you concider yourself to be (to give a bit of context for the rest of your answers)?
  2. Does god WANT evil to exist in the universe, and if not why does god allow it (and please, not just the word free-will, I’m hoping for a bit more than that)?
  3. Did god create evil, and if not who or what created evil and is there anything else in the universe that exists that god did not create?
  4. Is your religion/belief system the only way to go to heaven (or whatever your “good” version of the afterlife is)? If not, does it matter which one of those methods which can result in a “good” outcome one chooses?
  5. Many religions (including judiasm, chistianity, islam, etc) say that for many years god interacted directly in tangible ways with the affairs of mankind (burning bushes, cities turned to salt, worldwide floods, etc), does this still happen, and if so why is it not as evident today as it was 2000+ years ago and can you give a few examples of god directly interacting in the affairs of mankind in the last year?
  6. Keeping in mind that I don’t already accept your particular holy book as “truth” or “divine”, are there any specific reasons you can give me to accept your specific religion over all other religions throughout history (or a lack of religion, such as I currently have)?
Please keep in mind the intent of this post, and try not to start a flame war until at least the 3rd page (or later)…
And thanks in advance to those who take the time to answer my questions…

[Originally posted at: http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=131796]

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About Rodibidably

Jeff Randall is a frequent volunteer for free-thought organizations, including the Center For Inquiry – DC. Having been blogging since January 2008, he decided that a community of bloggers would be an interesting new experience (or at the very least a fun way to annoy his friends into reading his posts more frequently). Since finding out about about the existence of, and then joining, the atheist/skeptic community in 2007 he has been committed to community activism, critical thinking in all aspects of life, science, reason, and a fostering a secular society.
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11 Responses to 6 (Hopefully) Semi-Quick Questions For Theists

  1. moot.point says:

    Hey Rod!

    I’ve been out of this for a while. I’m still interested in the God debate. I just was getting away from the intention of my blog which was to have no intention. But I’d love to continue the discussion.

    So to your “quick” questions. Here are my quick answers. I don’t try to anticipate every objection you might have rather I’m trying to give brief straightforward answers.

    1. I’m a Christian. That I believe in God and specifically that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
    2. I do not believe God wants evil in the universe. However to stamp evil out would be to eliminate mankind (because we’ve all got a touch of it here and there).
    3. Evil is not a tangible created thing. It is adjective that describes behavior that is contrary to the way God would like to humans interact with one another.
    4. Yes. (I’m just trying to be brutally honest.)
    5. That’s a good question. I’m not sure there’s a satisfying answer. I’d like to take a stab at it at some point.
    6. If I knew the answer to that I’d be the next Billy Graham! Conversion tends to be a bit more personal being defeated in debate.

    I’m up for your responses. Thanks for tracking me down.

  2. Rodibidably says:

    moot,

    Glad to see you back, I enjoyed our previous discussions, even if I could not de-convert you to a live of evolution and worshiping at the alter of Darwin…

    I do have a couple of follow-ups about your answers, if you don’t mind:

    According to the typical understanding of christianity and other religions, god is all-powerful and capable of anything. If so, couldn’t god have created mankind without the inclination to do evil, while still maintaining free-will? Would it be too difficult for an omnipotent being to ensure that nobody is ever born with the desire to rape children?

    I’ve often heard christians say things such as “god is love” or “god created all beauty in the universe” or “there is no love without god”. Wouldn’t those same phrases be equally true (assuming they are true, and god created everything) if you replace the words love and beauty with evil and (let’s say) pain?

  3. T.C. says:

    Wow! These questions are hardly capable of semi-quick answers, though let me attempt to be concise, since you asked for my reply…

    1. As to my context…I am a Christian, specifically a Lutheran, though my upbringing was Presbyterian/Reformed.
    2. Does God want evil acts, etc. to exist? Surely not! Why does he allow it? There has been plenty of ink (electrons?) spilled on this question…and I confess no one cannot adequately answer why. I do know that God sometimes prevents evil from happening, though he doesn’t always. That said, he does limit its effects and ultimately uses it to serve his purposes.
    3. As already pointed out, evil is not a created thing, it is a moral quality/judgment/evaluation.
    4. Do I believe Christianity is the “only way to go to heaven”? Yes, I do believe the Bible teaches this.
    5. I’m not exactly sure if you’re asking about God revealing himself to humanity through the miraculous or a providential interaction with things. I certainly believe that God interacts “directly” in human affairs though I cautiously suggest he does not presently reveal himself through burning bushes or many of the types of signs you are alluding to (I think) in your question…I believe his self-revelation was completed in Jesus and no further self-attestation is necessary.
    6. Can I give you specific reasons to argue you into believing? Of course not. Out of the various worldviews (not simply religions), I believe Christianity makes the most sense out of the world around us.

    Surely these are woefully inadequate, but they’re a start.

  4. liturgical says:

    Hi Rod,

    1. I am an Episcopalian who grew up on the fringe of the fringe of Pentecostalism, and I went to fundamentalist Baptist schools for most of my life — the worst of both worlds, ha ha. I have a dash of Anglo-Catholic and a dash of Reformed in me, along with inevitable influences within my faith and theology from Neoplatonism, Stoicism, and 19th Century existentialism. Currently I’m interested in postmodernism and postsecularism and a movement called Radical Orthodoxy, but I’m just scratching the surface on those three.

    2. I’m sure you’ve heard the plea that evil was brought on by human decisions, not God’s decisions, in the biblical story of The Fall. If God is all-knowing, then the question is, why set up something in which humans would inevitably fail. And, if eternal damnation follows for those who do not accept Jesus, then why let millions of more people continue to be born? These, I think, are the severest questions of philosophical theology. I do not know the answers, so I cannot answer whether God wants evil in the universe, even if it hurts my conscience to admit that. The context for those questions is, essentially, pre-Creation (speaking in a theological and philosophical sense, because I accept the theory of evolution as the best explanation of life on earth, with a Prime Mover behind it all). So if those severe questions I raised above are pre-Creation, pre-human if you will, then we cannot know the answers. Within the context of what we have post-Creation and post-advent-of-humans, the story of redemption, and divine help to do right, makes the most sense to me. We neither have enough objective knowledge to say the stories we have from the Bible are fact, nor do we have enough objective knowledge to say they are myth — the latter part being the postmodern/postsecular shift.

    3. For part of this answer, I’ll refer back to the previous answer. But as for the other part of the question, nothing baffles me more than the suggestions that either matter always existed (as Carl Sagan said) or God always existed (as Western monothesism says). I cannot get my head around either option. Something, somehow, always had to exit — how can something come from absolutely nothing? Can we even conceive of “nothing”? Then how did “nothing” turn into something like matter? Or God? No, we’ll never get our heads around that.

    4. To answer this one, I think about certain Reformed Christian views. And, I’m admittedly going to sidestep it just a notch, and answer it this way: Faith in Jesus is (from a Reformed view) the BEST way to get to heaven, because faith in Jesus’ sacrificial death is all that is required. In other religions, a person has certain tasks to fulfill and rules to follow to achieve salvation, and it is easy enough to fail at most tasks. If all I am asked is to sincerely believe — which, in its own way, is work, yet not “good works” or “buying my way” through efforts — then it seems preferable to potentially making mistakes in my human efforts to be good enough, to help others enough, etc. However, not all Christians believe in salvation a la justification by faith through grace. This is where sincere answers require one to express a certain facet of one’s faith. As for other religions, the standard, old Christian answer is that all who reject Christ will be damned. My question is, how and when will they actually reject Christ? I do not know, but I suspect, in my personal speculations, there is an opportunity for everyone to accept or reject, even if after death. That being said, the theological and doctrinal answers, historically, have held Jesus as the only way to heaven.

    5. Good question. Well, my parents still believe in miraculous healings. I guess to see for yourself, you would have to go to one of their churches or revivals or crusades. In other words, what does it mean to “hear about” miracles in our time? Does it mean that everyone in Judea heard about Jesus’ miracles? They probably did not, but because we have the biblical record, today everyone is familiar with those stories. I grew up hearing about and witnessing alleged healings in my Pentecostal church. Do I have enough objective knowledge to say those miracles happened? No. Do I have enough objective knowledge to say they did not happen? No.

    6. What is the value of personal knowledge? Are all ways of knowing purely rational? Philosophers and theologians have debated this for centuries. I don’t pretend to have a slam-dunk case. I will simply suggest considering the adult conversions of former atheists — look at their stories — stories — not their reasons. I’m fond of T.S. Eliot and C.S Lewis, both of whom are adult converts — but neither of whom, for me, represent slam-dunk cases for Christianity. I think there is more to us than just our rationalistic knowledge. This is not to give in to irrationalism, but simply to ask what it means to have knowledge. G.K. Chesterton said, “The mad man is not the man who has lost his reason. The mad man is the man who has lost everything except his reason.” He also said a man could be more convinced of a position from one battle, one book, one friend, and one sunset, than he could be from four books — how do we assemble our knowledge? Blaise Pascal said, “the heart has reasons that Reason cannot know.” Michael Polanyi said, “You know more than you can tell.”

    I enjoyed this. I appreciate rejoinders and further discussion. I hope I have done well in being open and honest.

    cheers,
    CFB

    • Ham Nox says:

      This is one of the better things I have read by a theist. You’ve posited a lot of good counter-questions, and it’s clear you’ve done a lot of serious thinking about what you believe in. Sincerely, I thank you for giving me something to think about. It’s nice to read a perspective a little more substantial than proclaiming the truthiness of the bible.
      I wish you well in your journeys.
      RAmen

  5. Allen says:

    Good questions and glad to add my voice to the conversation.

    1. I’m a Christian Minister of Word & Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
    2. God detests evil. I’m pretty sure it’s the only thing that we ever read that God hates. And why it exists, why it is so prevalent, and how God deals with it ultimately IS a mystery—BUT what is most important to faith is that GOOD will ultimately prevail (it always does).
    3. Sticking with the idea of evil being a mystery, so too the origins. This is mostly confounded by the fact that in the Garden of Eden, before the so-called Fall, there was a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Why the tree if there was no evil in the world before A&E at the apple? So … mystery, but certainty.
    4. The only way we go to heaven is by the grace of God. Period. So whether or not a non-Christian (or a Christian for that matter) goes to heaven … completely up to God.
    5. All sacred Scriptures, including the Bible, were written at a time when there was very little science available. Everything was attributed to God. We’ve come a long way, but that doesnt mean God isnt involved in the affairs of humankind. God is somehow involved in everything we do, even this conversation we are having.
    6. So why choose Christianity? To see mystery in the world. To look for the Truth behind the truth. To find love. To reconcile the past. To overcome adversity. To become addicted to random and specific acts of kindness. To realize that you are part of a bigger story that will still be written long after your gone. Simply to realize that alone you did not come into the world, alone you do not live in the world, and alone you will not leave this world.

    Thanks for the discussion. And blessings on yr search.

  6. moot.point says:

    Good to be back –

    To your question – “Free will/omnipotent God” paradox.

    Keep in mind that’s a little like asking can Boeing make an airplane that doesn’t fly? I suppose, but then it’s not an airplane. So essentially you’re asking can God create free-will that isn’t free-will?

    I’m not quite sure I get your second question. Are you saying we treat love as a thing which God created but then deny that evil is a creating thing? I need a little clarification.

  7. Bob Hayton says:

    I’m away from home over the holidays delayed due to some sickness in the family. I’ll respond to your questions here but may not have time to interact much at the present.

    1.What religion / belief system do you concider yourself to be (to give a bit of context for the rest of your answers)?

    Orthodox Protestant, more specifically Reformed Baptist

    2.Does god WANT evil to exist in the universe, and if not why does god allow it (and please, not just the word free-will, I’m hoping for a bit more than that)?

    Two points here. 1, evil does exist. Atheists can scoff at the explanation theists give, but they have to come up with an explanation themselves. For instance what makes evil evil? And why is it not okay for me to murder someone and steal their stuff?

    2, God chose to allow evil to exist so that He might make the best possible world. God desired to display the full gamut of his power and the depth of his character. Sin allows God to reveal how gracious and merciful he is, how just and holy, and how great his love is for his chosen people. Against the black background of sin and misery, God’s holiness and love shine all the brighter. Without sin, there is basically no sense in which God’s plans may go awry so no need for an all-powerful mighty God. Without sin, there is no place for the mercy of the cross and it is on the cross that God displayed the glory of his own worth and being in the fullest sense possible through his incarnate son Jesus’ giving of his life to save sinners.

    3.Did god create evil, and if not who or what created evil and is there anything else in the universe that exists that god did not create?

    God created evil. This is not the same as God performing evil. The rules for God’s creation for created things may well be different than God’s rules for himself. This is an unsophisticated way of saying this. I grapple with this question of God allowing sin to happen in a post on my blog here. Augustine I believe had a good explanation for this, sin is not a thing, so it isn’t quite created. It is the absence of something. As such one cannot create love without the absence of love also coming into being when free creatures choose not to love. R. C. Sproul recently gave a small article on this problem of the existence of sin that may be helpful to look at also.

    4.Is your religion/belief system the only way to go to heaven (or whatever your “good” version of the afterlife is)? If not, does it matter which one of those methods which can result in a “good” outcome one chooses?

    Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven (John 14:6, Acts 4:12). He can choose to reveal himself through visions and the like and this was done for Cornelius a pagan Roman soldier who yet revered God (see Acts 10). I cannot presume to say Christ does not reveal himself to those where the Gospel has not reached, but what God reveals to us is that the Gospel is his ordinary means of reaching the lost, and this gospel is preached ordinarily by Christians. Without the gospel being preached (by Christians or visions/angels), there is no salvation.

    5.Many religions (including judiasm, chistianity, islam, etc) say that for many years god interacted directly in tangible ways with the affairs of mankind (burning bushes, cities turned to salt, worldwide floods, etc), does this still happen, and if so why is it not as evident today as it was 2000+ years ago and can you give a few examples of god directly interacting in the affairs of mankind in the last year?

    I believe God can reveal himself and still does in various ways. In the history of God’s working out redemption for His people there were periods of greatg visitations when God revealed Himself. God superintended the writing down of these events in inspired scripture. Now that we have the Scripture, we can take that to all lands and peoples. Even still today God is speaking to people in visions and dreams. God has his own reasons for not publicizing these events far and wide. Ordinarily, God uses the preaching of the life and work of Jesus Christ as the means for reaching the lost. His life is full of the very signs needed to inspire faith. Having the message in a book preserves it from being polluted and corrupted over time. The Bible teaches us to weigh the spirits and judge every revelation by the revelation contained in Scripture.

    6.Keeping in mind that I don’t already accept your particular holy book as “truth” or “divine”, are there any specific reasons you can give me to accept your specific religion over all other religions throughout history (or a lack of religion, such as I currently have)?

    There are many things which argue for Christianity over against other religions and the Bible over and against other books. The unique God-exalting and human-abasing nature of the Christian message does not lend itself well to having been made up by people trying to advance their own cause. The improbability of the spread of Christianity in the face of early and frequent persecution. At some point if it was just a pipedream, you’d think the founders of the religion would have known the facts were bunk and wouldn’t have suffered so much for its advancement. Also there are many prophecies in the Scriptures that are very specific, unlike in other holy books, and many of these have been fulfilled.

    The Gospels picture of Christ does much to fly in the face of the idea that it was made up or simply great literature. The four gospels give four different views that are not exactly equivalent in every description yet give a unanimous consent to the main particulars of his life. They don’t make the disciples look very good, and they hold up women as the first witnesses of his resurrection — not what you’d do if you wanted to intentionally bolster the validity of your claims, since women’s witness didn’t mean much in those days.

    Christianity had brough great change for good as well. Hospitals, care for the sick, orphanages, abound where Christianity has had its impact. An improved legal system and a more fair government generally do as well.

    I’d encourage you to read The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, and check out equip.org or bible.org for more answers to remaining questions. Ultimately God must reveal himself to you, and show his way is true. Reading the Scripture prayerfully may well allow that to happen. I understand there are rational reasons to disbelieve this message. But Christianity (not the superstitious Roman Catholic variety), best makes sense of all the questions and all the evidence we have about the world. No literal 6-day creationism doesn’t have to enter in here. That is a side topic not pertinent to orthodox Christian claims as a whole.

    In Christ,

    Bob Hayton

  8. Bob Hayton says:

    Oops, forgot the links. Here is my article on sin at my blog: Was Sin a Mistake? And here is the link to R.C. Sproul’s recent brief article The Mystery of Iniquity.

  9. Larry Who says:

    An atheist friend of mine mentioned that she hates it when politicians like Barack Obama and John McCain are forced to declare their faith in God. She added, “Atheists can have morals, too, you know.”

    I smiled and asked, “Name one atheist national leader that you would be happy to live under. Pol Pot? Or Joseph Stalin? Or Nikita Krushchev? Idi Amin? Chairman Mao? Kim Jong Il?”

    “None of those,” she said.

    “None of us Americans do either,” I said. “And that’s why we want to know if they believe in God or not.”

  10. Pastor Curt says:

    I have not taken the time at this point to read the preceding comments, if any of this is redundant, please excuse me, I am responding to your survey. I will take the time later to read the earlier comments.

    1. I am Christian, more specifically, Assemblies of God.

    2. No, God does not want evil and you might not like it, but free will is the best, but not only response, to the existence of evil.

    3. God did not create evil. (Although it might be helpful if you gave your definition of evil) God created sentient beings, that is beings with intelligence and free will. When those sentient beings choose to do that which is contrary to the directives of God, it is evil. Evil has consequences.

    4. Jesus is the only means of salvation.

    5. Yes, God still acts in the world. Sometimes in miraculous ways, sometimes in more ordinary ways. Most often in the lifes of individuals as opposed to national or world affairs, although I suspect that the hand of God is at work in the world in ways that we do not now recognize.

    6. Only the Holy Spirit can convince you of the truth, and you are free to reject that voice within.

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