Book Review: ‘The Case for Miracles’ by Lee Strobel, part 5b

In part one of my review of Lee Strobel’s The Case for Miracles I covered chapters 1-3, a section featuring Strobel’s interview of the skeptic Michael Shermer. In part two I covered chapters 4-6 featuring his interview with Craig Keener. In part three I covered chapter 7 which featured an interview Strobel had with Candy Gunther Brown of Indiana University. In part four I covered chapter 8 featuring his interview with missionary Tom Doyle. Strobel’s fifth interview is with Michael Strauss and covers chapters 9-10. In part 5a I covered Strauss’ discussion of the origin of the universe, focusing on whether Genesis portrays creation ex nihilo. Today’s post covers chapter 10 which dives into the fine-tuning argument for God’s existence.

To view all posts in this review series, please go to its index.


INTERVIEW #5b – MICHAEL STRAUSS

“In the beginning the Universe was created,” wrote Douglas Adams in his book The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. “This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”1 That the universe exists may or may not be surprising depending on your view of the laws of physics. But that life – including people to be very angry at the “bad move” of the universe’s creation – exists is a different story altogether. Why should we or monkeys or roses or amoeba exist at all? Why isn’t the universe populated entirely with inanimate dead stuff? Why is there at least one planet that we know of upon which life exists?

A “Miraculous” World

For theists like Michael Strauss, the existence of life is evidence for fine-tuning. As he explains to Strobel, “Over the last five decades, physicists have discovered that the numbers which govern the operation of the universe are calibrated with mind-boggling precision so intelligent life can exist” (175). Strauss overs Strobel two main examples: the amount of matter in the universe (176-177) and the strength of the strong nuclear force (177). In the former, an increase or decrease results in a universe wherein planets never form upon which life could proliferate. In the latter, a slight increase in strength results in a universe filled with elements that are “radioactive and life destroying” (177) while a slight decrease in strength would result in a world made up of hydrogen and only hydrogen.

And it is not just the universe at large which exhibits signs of fine-tuning. Strauss observes that our planet too seems to be in a very special condition for life to flourish. He lists the following conditions that need to be met to have life (179-180):

  • The planet should be in orbit around a Class G star like our sun.
  • That star should be middle-aged so that “its luminosity is stabilized.”
  • That star should be a “bachelor star,” i.e. not a binary or in some other less stable configuration.
  • That star should be a third-generation star, i.e. a star with enough material to create rocky planets like earth.
  • The planet should be one that is in the “Goldilocks Zone” so that it isn’t too hot or too cold for liquid water to exist.
  • That planet needs to have a particular rotation rate, tilt, and size.
  • That planet needs a moon to stabilize the planet’s tilt.
  • That planet needs to have active tectonic plates.
  • That planet needs to be near larger planets to keep comets and meteors at bay (i.e. Jupiter).

If accurate, this list makes an impressive case for fine-tuning. But what explanations are there for this apparent fine-tuning?

Explanations for Fine-Tuning

After rightly dismissing notions that the fine-tuning is best explained by self-creating humans (181) or that we exist in some kind of simulation like we find in the movie The Matrix (182), Strauss offers two possible explanations. First, some scientists have speculated that our universe is one of many universes and that we are in what has come to be known as a “multiverse.” Strauss notes that the late Stephen Hawking suggested what is known as “M-theory,” an idea derived from the highly speculative string theory. M-theory, says Strauss, “may be untestable and nonfalsifiable, and there’s no observational evidence for it” (183). And despite the varied attempts by scientists to explain the origin of the multiverse, “there is no observational or experimental evidence for it” and “there is likely no way for us to discover something that’s beyond our universe” (183). To believe in such a multiverse, Strauss contends, “you basically need blind faith” (183).

The other possible explanation Strauss offers is that God is behind fine-tuning and that from the evidence of fine-tuning we can figure out some pretty interesting things about him (186-187):

  • He is transcendent (i.e. he exists apart from creation).
  • He is immaterial (i.e. he existed before physical creation).
  • He is timeless (i.e. he existed before time was created).
  • He is powerful (i.e. he had the ability to create the cosmos in the Big Bang).
  • He is intelligent (i.e. he has fine-tuned the world for life).
  • He is personal (i.e. he made a decision to create).
  • He is creative (i.e. he has made some pretty impressive stuff).
  • He is caring (i.e. he has “purposefully crafted a habitat for us”).

So which God performed this universe creation and fine-tuning? “All the qualities we’ve elicited from the evidence,” Strauss tells Strobel, “are consistent with the God of the Bible” (186). And this God is an artist: “I can look deeply into the universe and the subatomic world and see the soul of the Artist” (187-188). In fact, Strauss is able to look at the world with all its “nuances and subtleties and intricacies” and see that they can only point to “one conclusion: the God hypothesis has no competitors” (188).

Not So Fast!

Strauss’ case for fine-tuning is at once compelling and problematic. It is compelling in that he lays out the case that it does exist. What is problematic about it is his conclusion that it must have been God and that it was the God of Christianity.

For example, consider the claim that God is “caring” because he has “purposefully crafted a habitat for us” (186). But the existence of a world that is habitable does not imply that it was created by a deity who is caring. In fact, given human biology, nearly three-quarters of the planet is inhospitable to human life by virtue of the fact that humans lack gills to breathe underwater. And over ninety percent of all that water cannot be consumed by humans. Humans are also unable to operate in geographic locales with extreme temperatures, at least not without serious modifications. This information doesn’t suggest a deity who is caring but rather one who is restrictive.

We might also consider Strauss’ contention that God is also “personal” because “a decision had to be made to create” (186). But doesn’t this beg the question? Isn’t Strauss assuming the Big Bang was an intentional act and then reasoning to it being so? Perhaps the Big Bang was not intentional and was triggered accidentally by a deity. We simply do not have any evidence to suggest God is personal, at least not from looking at the universe.

Or consider the claim that God is “timeless or eternal, since he existed before physical time was created” (186). How is it possible for a mind to exist outside of a temporal existence? We certainly have no examples of such a thing and if a mind like God’s was able also to create, would not this imply a temporal existence? For at one moment God was not creating the universe and in another he was creating it. This, to me, suggests God experiences some sort of temporal existence. And if this is the case, how then is he “timeless”?2  

We could, in some form or fashion, contest each of Strauss’ contentions. The point is, I do not find it plausible to infer a specific deity from the fine-tuning argument. If we assume that there is some kind of consciousness behind the universe’s alleged design, the nature of that evidence prohibits us from declaring with any degree of certainty that it is this or that deity.

Alternative Explanations

So if not God, then who or what? While many subscribe to the idea of a multiverse, I find it to be too hypothetical and without sufficient empirical grounds. As far as I’m concerned, it is on par with the God hypothesis at this time. So then how do I explain the fine-tuning of the universe?

I don’t know. I honestly do not have any good explanation for it. This may trouble some who need to have some degree of certainty on such matters. But I am content with not knowing and holding out until such time as more evidence comes in from which we may draw conclusions. I feel this way about the origin of the universe itself. I do not find any version of the cosmological argument to be persuasive nor do I find non-theistic explanations compelling. I am comfortable saying the universe has always existed and I am comfortable saying that the universe has not always existed. Since I do not think there is sufficient evidence either way, I reserve judgment.

For me, evidence for God must lie elsewhere. Strauss’ God is one I simply cannot find.

NOTES

1 Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, in The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide (Wings Books, 1996), 149.

2 For an overview of the debates on God’s relationship to time, see Gregory E. Ganssle, “God and Time” (n.d.), Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Book Review: ‘The Case for Miracles’ by Lee Strobel, part 5a

In part one of my review of Lee Strobel’s The Case for Miracles I covered chapters 1-3, a section featuring Strobel’s interview of the skeptic Michael Shermer. In part two I covered chapters 4-6 featuring his interview with Craig Keener. In part three I covered chapter 7 which featured an interview Strobel had with Candy Gunther Brown of Indiana University. In part four I covered chapter 8 featuring his interview with missionary Tom Doyle. Strobel’s fifth interview is with Michael Strauss and covers chapters 9-10. I will cover chapter 9 today.

To view all posts in this review series, please go to its index.

INTERVIEW #5a – MICHAEL STRAUSS 

In his book Just Six Numbers physicist Martin Rees details how if six cosmic parameters were different than what their values are that the universe (and life) as we know it would cease to exist. Reese wrote that the “six numbers constitute a ‘recipe’ for a universe. Moreover, the outcome is sensitive to their values: if any one of them were to be ‘untuned’, there would be no stars and no life.”This is staggering and astonishing. I had first read this book as an evangelical Christian working as a youth director for a small Presbyterian church. So when I read what Rees said next, I was a bit disheartened: “Is this tuning just a brute fact, a coincidence? Or is it that providence of a benign Creator? I take the view that it is neither.”2 In the margin, next to that final sentence, I wrote the word “tragic.”

Rees’ proposal was that the universe was one of a vast number of universes that exist, each with different values for the six numbers so important to life as we know it. Some universes may be like ours while others would be empty of life entirely. It is like playing Russian Roulette but instead of a bullet in one of the chambers you have a cosmic parameter set with a value that prohibits the universe in which we live. One squeeze and it could all be over.

Creation Ex Nihilo

For Christians, the universe is not part of a multiversebut is instead a world intentionally created by the God of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. From the very first verse of the Bible it is clear that the universe was God’s doing. As Strobel writes,

[C]reating an actual universe from nothing, while fine-tuning it to provide a flourishing habitat for human beings, is a primary job description of God – at least, if the very first verse in the Bible is true: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Strobel, 163-164)

And so chapters 9-10 of The Case for Miracles feature an interview Strobel had with physicist Michael Strauss. Chapter 9 deals with the subject of creation ex nihilo and chapter 10 deals with the topic of fine-tuning.

One of the most important discoveries of the twentieth century is that the universe expanding. This meant that we could extrapolate back in time to a moment when all the material of the universe was condensed into a single point. As Carl Sagan so eloquently stated it,

All the matter and energy now in the universe was concentrated at extremely high density – a kind of cosmic egg, reminiscent of the creation myths of many cultures – perhaps into a mathematical point with no dimensions at all. It was not that all the matter and energy were squeezed into a minor corner of the present universe; rather, the entire universe, matter and energy and the space they fill, occupied a very small volume. There was not much room for events to happen in.4 

But the universe as we know it is no longer a “cosmic egg.” It is a humongous place with a diameter of over ninety billion light-years. So how did the universe go from an infinitesimally small egg to a monstrous cosmos? The answer is: the Big Bang.

Kalam

The Big Bang theory is one of the best attested scientific models in cosmology if not all of science. So it is no surprise that many Christians have latched onto the theory as evidence for God’s existence. One argument employed by Christian philosophers and apologists is known as the “Kalam Cosmological Argument.” Its most ardent defender and popularizer today is Christian philosopher William Lane Craig.5 The argument is simple enough:

  • Premise 1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause for its existence.
  • Premise 2: The universe began to exist.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, the universe has a cause for its existence.

In his interview with Strauss, Strobel asks the physicist what he thinks of the Kalam cosmological argument. Strauss replies,

It’s extremely strong….Think about it: Is there anything that comes into existence without a cause behind it? Some scientists say there may be uncaused quantum events, but I think there are good reasons to be skeptical about that. And we know from the evidence that the universe did come into existence. If those two premises of the argument are true, then the conclusion inexorably follows: the universe has a cause. (Strobel, 172)

It is not my intention to dissect Kalam here. Both premises 1 and 2 above have been contested by philosophers and scientists.6 But I do want to ask the question as to whether the text of Genesis supports Kalam. The answer is a resounding “No!”

“In the beginning…”

Most of us are familiar with the rendering of Genesis 1:1 in the King James Version: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Other translations generally follow suit with minor modifications.7 And then there are still others with very different readings. Here are three:

  • NRSV – “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth….”
  • JPS – “When God began to create heaven and earth….”
  • Robert Alter – “When God began to create heaven and earth….”8

What is going on? Why do the KJV and many modern translations read one way and the NRSV, JPS, and Robert Alter’s translation read another?

It boils down to whether Genesis 1:1 is a dependent or independent clause. The KJV and others see it as an independent main clause that is either a summary of the six days of creation9 or as the first of God’s creative acts.10 The NRSV, JPS, and Alter translations see Genesis 1:1 as a dependent temporal clause that modifies the main clause that comes in Genesis 1:3 with the words “God said, ‘Let there be light…’.” A note in the HarperCollins Study Bible reads,

The grammar of this temporal clause was clarified by the medieval Jewish commentator Rashi, who noted that the Hebrew word for “beginning” (reshit) requires a dependent relation – it is the beginning of” something – and can be followed by a verb. The traditional rendering, “In the beginning, God created,” dates to the Hellenistic period (as in the Septuagint), when these details of Hebrew grammar had been forgotten.11 

So then does 1:2 fit in with the context? It would have to be a kind of disjunctive clause, offering the reader background for what transpires in verse 3. Elohim takes the “formless void” of the earth and begins to bring structure and order to it. But it is clear that in so doing he is using material already in existence. Consider Robert Alter’s translation of Genesis 1:1-3a.

When God began to create heaven and earth, and the earth then was welter and waste and darkness over the deep and God’s breath hovering over the waters, God said, “Let there be light.”12

Alter’s understanding of the passage brings to light what is going on in the text: God using material already present and bringing order to it. This is in many ways what the creation story of Genesis 1 is all about. And it fits with other ANE literature wherein the gods form the cosmos with material already present.13 

So the idea of creation ex nihilo upon which Kalam rests is absent from Genesis. That isn’t to say it is absent from the whole of the Bible. But it does mean that we cannot look to Genesis for support of the principle.14 

Next Time

In part 5 of my review of The Case for Miracles I will look at chapter 10 and Strauss’ views on fine-tuning.

NOTES

1 Martin Rees, Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe (Basic Books, 2000), 4.

2 Reese, 4.

3 As some have argued, even if there were multiple universes then it would still demand an explanation. Apologists Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek write,

[E]ven if other universes could exist, they would need fine-tuning to get started just as our universe did…. So positing multiple universes doesn’t eliminate the need for a Designer – it multiplies the need for a Designer!

See Geisler and Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Crossway, 2004), 107.

4 Carl Sagan, Cosmos (Ballantine Books, 1980), 200.

5 See William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, third edition (Crossway, 2008), 111-156.

6 See Sean Carroll, The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (Dutton, 2016), 199-201; Michael Martin, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification (Temple University Press, 1990), 101-106.

7 Most of the modern translations change the KJV “heaven” to “heavens,” reflecting that the Hebrew word shamayim is plural. And some (i.e. ESV) add a comma in between the prepositional phrase “In the beginning” and the clause “God created the heavens and the earth.”

8 Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary (W.W. Norton & Company, 2004), 17.

9 See Bruce Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary (Zondervan, 2001), 58.

10 See John Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative: A Biblical-Theological Commentary (Zondervan, 1992), 82, n.2.

11 Ronald Hendel, “Genesis,” in Harold W. Attridge, general editor, The HarperCollins Study Bible (HarperOne, 2006), 5.

12 Alter, 17.

13 For example, see Epic of Creation as well as Theogony of Dunnu. Stephanie Dalley offers a word of warning:

[W]e cannot speak of ‘the Mesopotamian view of creation’ as a single, specific tradition, and this in turn shows the futility of claiming a direct connection between genesis as described in the Old Testament and any one Mesopotamian account of creation. (Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others [OUP, 1989], 278.)

14 Biblical scholar John Walton writes about creation ex nihilo, 

Some believe that Genesis 1 must be interpreted in material terms lest we forfeit the important doctrine of creation ex nihilo. This is not true. The first observation to be made is that other passages in the Bible affirm God as Creator of the material world and either imply or affirm that creation happened ex nihilo. Secondly, the initial formulation of the theology of ex nihilo creation did not have to do with the material world. Rather, it served as the way to argue against Platonic assertions about the eternal existence of the soul. The opposite position, that eventually won consensus in the church, was that the soul is created “out of nothing” when each person comes into existence. It was only much later that the term was applied to the material cosmos. Consequently we can conclude that even though church doctrine in recent centuries has focused on the importance of material creation ex nihilo, it would not be appropriate to drive that doctrine back into the world of the Old Testament. That was not a big issue in the ancient world. Consequently, we need to recognize that there is no question that God is the one who created the material cosmos, and at some point at the beginning of that process he did it out of nothing. Other biblical passages confirm this, as do I—it is essential theology. So we don’t need to try to make this important theological point (God’s non-contingency) with Genesis 1, if this is not an issue it intended to address. After all, just because we have an origins text in Genesis 1 doesn’t mean that it has to offer a comprehensive account of everything that God did at every level. We need to inquire as to what aspects of origins Genesis 1 intends to address.

See John Walton, “Material or Function in Genesis 1? John Walton Responds (Part 1),” Biologos.com. Accessed 18 October 2018.

The Weekly Round up – 11.9.18

“Jesus’ followers are to abandon any and all means of procuring a socio-economic livelihood, or more accurately conceiving of a livelihood in socio-economic terms.” 
– Steven DiMattei


  • Over at his blog contradictionsinthebible.com, biblical scholar Steven DiMattei has begun a series exploring what he believes Jesus meant when he told his followers to follow him. It is entitled “In Defense of Jesus: A Challenge to Those Claiming to ‘Follow Jesus.‘” He examines some of the more difficult sayings of Jesus found throughout the Gospels and notes that these are indicative of Jesus’ call to abandon everything to pursue him in his role as the messianic king.
  • The Atlantic featured a piece by Andrew Henry on the recently discovered Dead Sea Scroll forgeries at the evangelical Museum of the Bible. As you may know, the Museum of the Bible has had its fair share of problems with illegally acquired artifacts, forgeries, and more. Henry’s piece is an excellent overview.
  • Ben Watkins of Real Atheology wrote a guest post back in October for the website capturingchristianity.com on why he is an atheist. He covers a wide range of subjects including ethics, the problem of evil, and divine hiddenness. For Christians who want to see how an atheist of Watkins caliber thinks about theism and atheism, this is a great example.
  • Hans Moscicke, a PhD candidate at Marquette University, recently wrote an article for Currents in Biblical Research entitled “Jesus as Goat of the Day of Atonement in Synoptic Gospels Research.” Moscicke surveys the various proposals of how Jesus is portrayed in the Passion narrative and how that portrayal relates to other religious literature that may have influenced it. The best part is that his bibliography is about five pages long! I love big bibliographies and I cannot lie!
  • Not too long ago Twitter user @AuthorConfusion wrote a blog post entitled “The Gospel of Atheism: The Moment You Realize You Won the Cosmic Lottery.” It is an ode to our insignificance in the cosmic scheme of things as well as a celebration of the great gift existence is for those of us who have “won the cosmic lottery” as it were. @AuthorConfusion is a superb writer (no doubt due to her skills as a literary editor) and this post is one of my favorites.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

(Re)Considering Christianity: A Skeptic Looks at the Christian Religion – Introduction, part 2

“Outside of Christ there is no law, no hope, and no meaning.”
– Ravi Zacharias.1


To see more posts in this series, please go to the series’ page.

In part one to the introduction of this series “(Re)Considering Christianity” I discussed the earliest parts of my childhood including my salvation experience in 1992. I also brought up the tremendous influence my father had on my love for the Bible and my Christian convictions as well as how a speech impediment drove my early love for reading generally.

Books and Writing

Some of my earliest reading memories include books like The Hot and Cold Summer which I read in first grade and The Indian in the Cupboard which I read in third grade. I can also recall that with my two dollars per week allowance in hand I would go to Walmart with my mother and purchase 2 for $1 paperback classics including works like The Prince and the PauperThe Invisible ManA Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and many more. I loved being surrounded by books and having them on a shelf in my bedroom was a source of both comfort and strength.

IMG_2772
The “Big Mac” approach to writing we used in fifth grade. This resulted in “5 Spine Tingling Tales.”

During my fifth grade year my interests expanded to science and I began reading on the topics of relativity, a la Albert Einstein, as well black holes. I can still remember the little notebook I had in which I would write down information I had read on relativity as well as various equations that made absolutely no sense to me at the time (and still don’t). And fifth grade was also the year that my interest in writing began to blossom. In the early 90s New York State required all fifth graders to participate in a writing exam and so our teacher prepared us by having us write both fiction and non-fiction stories. We would read one another’s stories and offer critiques. I usually received great feedback from both my peers and the teacher and I ended up passing the exam with flying colors.

My love for writing spilled over into the area of the Bible and at home I began regularly writing about it. In a red notebook I wrote a commentary on the first epistle of John, thoughts on the story of Samson and Delilah from the book of Judges, and even a piece refuting evolution in favor of creationism. If only I still had them so that I could reflect on just how immature I was at the time.

Adolescence 

In sixth grade I was introduced to Carl Sagan thanks to a teacher who made a huge impression on me. Once or twice a week this teacher would turn out the lights and put on Sagan’s Cosmos that had aired on PBS in the late 70s. My first impression was negative: how dare Sagan question God and the Bible! Little did I know that this was a seed planted in my mind that would only grow and grow in the years to come. Last year at my brother’s wake this teacher showed up. He had also taught my younger brother in sixth grade and it took me a moment to figure out who he was. When he told me, I burst into tears and hugged him, thanking him for his work and the influence he had on my life and my brother’s.

Despite my exposure to Sagan, my zeal for Christianity was still strong going into seventh grade. Unfortunately puberty hit, and as I headed into eighth grade and then moved onto high school my interest in Christianity waned and my interest in sports, girls, and hanging out with friends increased. Though my Bible reading diminished, my love for books did not and I continued to read voraciously. But my interest in church and in theology had all but disappeared.

Revival

Around my seventeenth year things began to change. I had become interested in basketball and was a pretty decent shot. So a group of teenagers at my church would get together following the Sunday night service to play for an hour or so. Though I didn’t attend school with any of them, our friendship grew. Our shared connection was basketball at our church. And so church attendance suddenly became more important to me though for ulterior motives. And when evangelists would come through to preach week-long meetings, that gave all of us a chance to play basketball together an additional five times!

But this exposure to evangelistic preaching forced me to confront my own beliefs about Jesus. So I began to read apologetic literature from the Institute for Creation Research and Josh McDowell’s The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. And on the fifteen minute drive to Sunday school my dad would play the radio program Let My People Think which featured talks from Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias. All these influences forced me to ask the question, “Who is Jesus?” Zacharias’ book Can Man Live Without God? had a lasting impression and one passage in particular stands out. After quoting from Robert Browning’s poem “A Death in the Desert,” Zacharias writes,

Christ – He is either the illimitable God or one dreadfully lost. There is no room for a theory that says He was “merely a good man.” Study His life with unyielding honesty and the answer is evident. It is this hope He brings that grants us hope for each individual, for our communities, and for our world. Without this hope of life beyond the grave, every question from love to justice becomes a mockery of the mind.2

The final chapter of the book, “The Believer’s Treasure,” ends with these words: “You be the judge. The jury has already recorded its conclusions in the pages of the Bible.”3 So what was I to make of Jesus? Was he a failed messiah or was he the resurrected Son of God?

Scan
Yours truly reading a different book by Ravi Zacharias – Jesus Among Other Gods. This picture was taken around 2000 or 2001.

Next Time

In the next post I will discuss the decision I made, an experience that reinforced it, and the beginning of my college years.

NOTES

1 Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God? (W Publishing Group, 1994), 61.

2 Ibid., 164.

3 Ibid., 179.

Weekly Roundup – 10.5.18

Here’s the Weekly Roundup! (Note: there will be no Roundup next Friday.)

  • Over at bibleinterp.com there is an excerpt from John: Interpreted by Early Christian and Medieval Commentators (Eerdmans, 2018) entitled “The Spiritual Gospel: The Gospel of John in the Early Church.” In this excerpt Bryan Stewart discusses the way early Christian writers viewed and used the fourth Gospel, often drawing parallels between it and various Old Testament texts.
  • Over at The Secular Outpost Bradley Bowen has posted an index to his lengthy series rebutting Peter Kreeft’s chapter on God in Handbook of Apologetics. I have not read the entire series but from what I have read it seems very thorough. Those interested in philosophy of religion may want to take a look.
  • I am slowly getting caught up on @StudyofChrist’s series on the genealogy of Matthew. And I need to hurry because he has moved on to the Lukan genealogy! I recently watched four videos: Time Variation” parts 1 and 2 and Why Does Matthew Include Women in His Genealogy” parts 1 and 2. The two on women in the Matthean genealogy are very interesting and @StudyofChrist shows that he has really done his homework. If you aren’t subscribed to his channel, do it already!
  • Over at his blog Twitter user, YouTuber, and blogger D.M. Spence has an absolutely devastating critique of a blog post by pop-apologist SJ Thomason had written on why she thinks the angel of Yahweh is the pre-incarnate Jesus. Spence’s rebuttal is simply titled “Jesus is NOT the Angel of the LORD.” I had toyed around with the idea of writing a rebuttal to Thomason’s post but I don’t need to as Spence has written exactly what I what have written and more and he did it far better than I could have. Not that Thomason cares; she is still stuck in her echo chamber.
  • Last December Clint Heacock put a nice little post covering the topic of inerrancy entitled “Deconstructing Biblical Inerrancy.” Heacock traces its origins to the heresy trial of Charles Briggs, the nineteenth century Union Seminary professor whose love for “higher criticism” got him into some real trouble with the confessional crowd. It is an interesting post, one that asks some very serious questions about just how tenable inerrancy is.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

James Anderson Tries to Answer, “Why Did God Allow the Fall?”

When Christians talk about “the Fall,” they aren’t referring to Autumn. The Fall in Christian theology is a reference to the sin of Adam and Eve which resulted in their receiving a sinful nature. This caused a rift between humanity and God that only the death and resurrection of Jesus could rectify. As Paul wrote, “For our sake he [i.e. God] made him [i.e. Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him [i.e. in Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). But this theology leaves a lot of unanswered questions, the first and foremost being, “Why did God allow it to happen?”

Over at the Gospel Coalition website, James Anderson has written a post exploring that issue. Thankfully, he begins by acknowledging that “free will” is not a good answer: “One popular answer among Christians is superficial and deeply flawed. It says God allowed the fall because he wanted to make room for human free will.” He then offers three points as to why it is such a bad answer.

  1. Having free will does not necessarily entail the possibility of doing evil. God has free will, is morally virtuous, and can enter into meaningful relationships, yet it’s impossible for him to do evil. Couldn’t God have granted the same kind of non-evildoing freedom to us?  
  2. Christians generally agree that God foreknew Adam would sin. But did God foreordain it? If we answer no, because we think human free choices are beyond God’s control, it makes little sense to ask why God permitted Adam’s sin. Any future event God foreknows must be already settled, such that not even God can change it. It’s “too late” for God to either prevent or permit it.
  3. The Bible makes clear that human free choices are not beyond God’s sovereign control (Gen. 50:20; Ezra 1:1; Prov. 21:1; Acts 4:27–28; Eph. 1:11). It was within God’s power to ensure that Adam freely obeyed rather than disobeyed. Hence, it was within God’s power to give Adam free will and to ensure that Adam did not fall, which means God must have had some other reason for allowing the fall than merely a desire to bestow free will on his creatures.

I agree with all these points and I think that if you think these things through you will realize how utterly void of any meaning “the Fall” is. But the response Anderson does give as to why God let the Fall happened is bewildering. Reasoning from 18th century minister Jonathan Edwards, Anderson claims that everything God does is ultimately for his own glory. And on that basis, we can speculate as to why God allowed the Fall.

One might think an unfallen creation would be preferable to a fallen creation—and all else being equal, that’s true. But all else is not equal, for our world is not merely a fallen creation. It’s a fallen creation into which the eternal Son of God has entered, taking on human nature, perfectly expressing God’s likeness in our midst, living a morally flawless life, making atonement for our sins through his sacrificial death, rising in triumph from the grave, and ascending into heaven, where he continually intercedes and secures for us an eternal joyful dwelling-place in God’s presence.

A world with no fall and no salvation is altogether less God-glorifying than a world with a tragic fall but also a wondrous salvation.

Wait, what?

So the best possible world God could have created – one in which he is most glorified – was one where humanity sinned and Jesus came to provide salvation? Are we to believe that all the horror that has been unleashed on humanity from volcanic eruptions that wipe out entire towns to the kidnapping, raping, and murdering of children make the Fall worthwhile because Jesus came? If Christian theology is true, the Fall resulted in millions if not billions of people dying and going into hell to suffer forever. Had Adam and Eve not sinned, that would not have happened. Surely a good God would be more glorious if he did not allow those whom he made to suffer forever.

Wouldn’t that showcase his magnificence?

Wouldn’t it?

Featured image: By Raphael – The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=157715

 

Jonathan Garner: Skeptical Theists Admit Defeat

Some of you may have heard of “Skeptical Theism,” the position that says that while God exists it may be impossible to discern correctly his motives for allowing things like evil in the universe. For a decent introduction to Skeptical Theism, check out this piece in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Skeptical Theism seems to be a way to rescue God from the charge that he is absent or doesn’t intervene to prevent evil when he supposedly has the power to do so.

Over at his Philosophy of Religion blog, Jonathan Garner has an interesting post about Skeptical Theism that tackles four issues he has with it. Garner believes that Skeptical Theists necessarily throw in the towel because they don’t offer an explanation for the problem of evil. For example, he writes that

even if we grant that, for all we know, God has morally sufficient reasons to allow horrific suffering, it is also true-and antecedently no less likely– that for all we know, God does not have morally sufficient reasons for allowing horrific suffering. Therefore, we are left right back where we started, which is that suffering is surprising on the hypothesis of classical theism.  Not to mention, for all we know God is able to accomplish all she wants without the existence of horrific suffering. Furthermore, for all we know, there are worse evils that are gained by the existence of present evils. Thus, if anything, appealing to unknown reasons makes it antecedently unlikely that God really does have a good reason.

At this juncture one may assert some soul-building theodicy but that only addresses suffering in humans and avoids suffering in the rest of the natural world. What good reason could God have for allowing a fawn to die in a forest fire that no conscious mind (other than God’s) would have noticed?

Skeptical Theism is a perplexing position to me and, as Garner writes, is basically an admission of defeat. There is no good answer Skeptical Theists can provide and so they essentially appeal to mystery.

You can read the rest of Garner’s post here.

Featured image: By National Park Service, Alaska Region – Kristin Creek Fire, June 19 Photo by Arno KrummUploaded by AlbertHerring, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29598208