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Why did Dan Barker leave Christianity for atheism?

A conflict of worldviews
A conflict of worldviews

Unbelievable’s  radio show featured a discussion with former Christian Dan Barker, the founder and co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The MP3 file is here. (60 minutes)

I thought that I would make some general comments about why I think that many people leave the Christian faith, and what you should be careful of in order to avoid following in Dan Barker’s footsteps, specifically.

Basically, there are four major reasons why people leave Christianity.

  1. They want to do something immoral with impunity. This type of person wants to do something immoral that is forbidden by Christianity, like pre-marital sex or getting drunk in clubs with friends. They dump Christianity in order to have freedom to seek happiness in this life.
  2. They want to make decisions based on their emotions, rather than wisdom. This type of person thinks that God’s job is to save them when they act irresponsibly. When God disappoints them by not make their recklessness “work out”, they leave the faith.
  3. They want to be loved by people, not by God. This type of person thinks that Christianity is a tool that they can use to become popular. When they first try to articulate the gospel in public, they find that people don’t like them as much, and they feel bad about offending people with exclusive truth claims that they cannot back up using logic and evidence. So, they water down Christianity to get along with non-Christians. Finally, they jettison Christianity completely. This happens to a lot of young Christians the moment they hit college / university.
  4. They don’t want to learn to defend their faith. This type of person is asked questions by skeptics that they cannot answer. Usually this happens when people go to university after growing up in the shelter of the Church. The questions and peer pressure make them feel stupid. Rather than investigate Christianity to see if it’s true, they drop it, so they can be thought of as part of the “smart” crowd.

Now listen to the discussion and see if you can identify some of these factors from Barker’s own carefully-prepared words. He is trying very hard to make himself look honest and moderate, because he wants Christians to be sympathetic with his story and his motives for leaving Christianity. But I think that there is enough in his statements to construct a different hypothesis of why he left Christianity.

I’ve grouped the data by risk factor. Some of this is my interpretation of his real motivations, based on my experience dealing with former-Christians.

Non-rational, emotional approach to Christianity

  • he was raised in a devout Christian family where he probably wouldn’t have faced skeptical questions
  • he converted to Christianity at age 15 as a result of a religious experience, not a serious investigation
  • his idea of God was probably idealized and uninformed, e.g. – a loving God who wants us to be happy
  • he wandered around from church to church preaching, with no fixed address or source of income
  • he earned money by collecting “love offerings” from churches where he performed his music
  • he wrote Christian songs and Christian musicals, but nothing substantive on apologetics and theology
  • he worked in three churches known for being anti-intellectual and fundamentalist
  • there’s no evidence that of any deep study of philosophy, science and history during this time

Desire to gain acceptance from non-Christians

  • he began to notice that some people were uncomfortable with sin and Hell
  • he began to avoid preaching about sin and Hell in order to make these people comfortable
  • he watered-down the gospel to focus on helping people to be happy in this life
  • his manic approach to Christian ministry was challenged by the “real life” needs of his growing family
  • he met liberal pastors while performing his music in their churches
  • he found it difficult to disagree with them because they seemed to be “good” people
  • he watered down his message further in order to appeal to people across the theological spectrum

Ignorance of Christian apologetics

  • he began to think that if there are many different views of religion, then no view can be correct
  • he was not intellectually capable of using logic and evidence to test these competing claims to see which was true
  • he decided to instead re-interpret Christian truth claims as non-rational opinions, so they could all be “valid”
  • he became a theological liberal, abandoning theism for an impersonal “ground of being”
  • he embraced religious pluralism, the view that all religions are non-rational and make no testable truth claims
  • he began to see God as a “metaphor” whose purpose is to make people have a sense of meaning and purpose
  • he jettisoned God completely and focused more on helping people find meaning and morality apart from God
  • seems to think that religion is about having a “great life”, and felt that you can have a “great life” without religion
  • seems to think that religion is about being “good”, and felt that you can be “good” without religion
  • religion makes people feel bad by telling them what to do instead of letting them do anything they want
  • religion makes people feel bad by telling them what is true, instead of letting them believe whatever they want
  • religion makes people feel bad by telling them that God will hold them accountable for their beliefs and actions

So what do I think happened?

Barker was generating an income from donations from churches where he entertained them. Gradually, his family grew to the point where conservative churches were not enough to support him. He had to change his message to appeal to liberal churches in order to cast a wider net.

He seems to have thought that Christianity is about having his needs met and being liked by others. I think he wanted to feel good and to make people feel good with his preaching and singing. But Christianity is not a feel-good religion. It’s not a tool to make people like you. He seems to have become aware that the exclusive claims of Christianity made other people feel offended, so he cut them out. Christian apologists learn how to provide evidence for claims that non-Christians find offensive or hard to believe, but Dan hadn’t studied philosophy, science or history so he couldn’t defend it. It’s hard to speak unpopular truths when you have nothing to back it up except your music composing. Eventually, Dan just quit making the truth claims entirely.

I also think money was a factor. It seems to me that it would have hurt his career and reduced his invitations from liberal churches if he had kept up teaching biblical Christianity. In order to appeal to a wider audience, (like many Christian singers do – e.g. – Amy Grant, Jars of Clay, etc.), he would have felt pressured to water down the unpleasant parts of his preaching and singing. Lacking apologetics skill, he instead abandoned his message. He needed to account for his family’s needs and “real life”, and exclusive truth claims and Hell-talk would have reduced his ability to do that. It seems to me that he should have scaled back his extreme schedule of preaching and singing, and instead gotten a steady job so that he could afford “real life” and a family without being pressured into altering his message. The Christian life requires a certain amount of wisdom that Dan did not have.

Life isn’t a fairy tale. God isn’t there to reward risky behavior. We need to be more shrewd about financial matters so that we have the ability to not care about what people think of us. Look at this blog. I work all day as a senior software engineer with two degrees in computer science, so that I don’t have to rely on donations. Additionally, I save most of what I make in case a tragedy strikes. Since I am financially secure, I can say what I think, and disregard anyone who wants me to change my message because they are offended. Becoming a Christian isn’t a license to behave irrationally and immaturely with money. For some people, (like William Lane Craig), stepping out in faith works. But if it doesn’t work, it’s better to retreat and re-trench, rather than to compromise your message for money.

I actually met someone like Dan Barker recently. She grew up in an anti-intellectual hippy Christian home. Her mother came from a good family, and decided on a whim to marry a non-Christian. Like Barker, the family exalted feelings and irrational expectations of miracles from God for “fearless” acts. She got herself into trouble with alcohol and promiscuity in her 20s, by making emotional decisions and mixing with the wrong crowd. Her way of fixing this was to fly off on a one-year missions trip, wrecking her resume and finances. Now, she is in her late 30s, unmarried, and literally blaming Jesus for putting too many demands on her that she doesn’t have time for, e.g – morning quiet time. This causes her to feel guilty, and make her want to reject Christianity. She had no intellectual conception of basic core doctrines like God’s existence or Jesus’ resurrection, which might have acted as a bulwark against her emotions. When I explained to her how I had structured my education and career so that I could have an influence without testing God, she seemed bored and said that I was too “fearful”.

This is apparently widespread, especially among anti-intellectual denominations. Another ex-Pentecostal atheist woman I heard about from people who knew her when she was young decided to drop out of college to travel around North America doing pro-life work. When she found herself penniless, unmarried and without children in her mid-30s, she decided to have a baby out of wedlock. The government will pay for it, she said. Rather than trying to justify this decision as a Christian, she blamed God for not making her madness “work out”. She is now an atheist, because God did not reward her decision to live fearlessly for him with a husband and children. It was all God’s fault. There is a whole subculture within Christianity, where the pursuit of fun and thrills can be masked with pious language, and all talk of prudence and restraint is seen as cowardice and lack of faith.

The Christian life requires a certain level of intelligence, a certain level of practical wisdom, and a certain level of self-control and discipline. Make sure that you don’t walk away from God because of your own bad choices.

William Lane Craig debates atheist Lawrence Krauss: Does God Exist?

British Spitfire and German Messerschmitt Me 109 locked in a dogfight
British Spitfire and German Messerschmitt Me 109 locked in a dogfight

Here is the video from the third debate from Dr. William Lane Craig’s speaking tour in Australia.

Format:

  • William Lane Craig (15 min)
  • Lawrence Krauss (15 min, but was actually 21:40)
  • Moderated discussion
  • Question and answer

Dr. Graham Oppy, the moderator, is a well-known atheist philosopher. He let Dr. Krauss speak for 21 minutes and 40 seconds, which is why my summary of Krauss is so long.

The video:

Summary

After careful consideration, I decided not to be snarky at all in this summary. What you read below is what happened. There may be some small mistakes, but I will fix those if people tell me about them. I also included some quotes and timestamps for the more striking things that Dr. Krauss said.

The debate itself starts at 4:50 with Dr. Craig’s opening speech. He does use slides to show the structure of his arguments.

Dr. Craig’s opening speech. (4:50)

  1. The kalam cosmological argument:
    • God is the best explanation of the origin of the universe
    • The Borde Guth Vilenkin theorem supports the absolute beginning of the universe
    • Even if our universe is part of a multiverse, the multiverse itself would have to have an absolute beginning
    • Speculative cosmologies try to challenge the Big Bang theory, but none of them – even if true – can establish that the past is eternal
    • Only two types of things could explain the origin of spece, time, matter and energy – either abstract objects or minds
    • Abstract objects do not cause effects, but minds do cause effects (we do it ourselves)
    • A mind is the best explanation for the origin of the universe
  2. The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics:
    • The underlying structure of nature is mathematical – mathematics is applicable to nature
    • Mathematical objects can either be abstract objects or useful fiction
    • Either way, there is no reason to expect that nature should be linked to abstract objects or fictions
    • But a divine mind that wants humans to understand nature is a better explanation for what we see
  3. The cosmic fine-tuning for the existence of intelligent life
    • There are two kinds of finely-tuned initial conditions: 1) cosmological constants and 2) quantities
    • These constants and quantities have to be set within a narrow range in order to permit intelligent life
    • There are three explanations for this observation: law, chance or design
    • Law is rejected because they are put in at the beginning or matter – they don’t emerge from matter
    • Chance must be rejected, because they odds are just too long unless you appeal to a world-ensemble
    • We do not observe what the world ensemble hypothesis predicts that we should observe
    • Design is the best explanation for finely-tuned constants and quantities
  4. The existence of objective moral values and duties
    • Our experience of morality (values and duties) is that it is objectively real and incumbent on us
    • When someone goes into a classroom and shoots at innocent children, that is objectively wrong
    • On naturalism, moral values and moral duties do not exist – they are conventional and variable by time and place
    • The best explanation for the existence of objective moral values and duties is that God exists
  5. The historicity of the resurrection of Jesus
    • There are three widely-accepted facts that are best explained by the resurrection hypothesis
    • 1) the empty tomb, 2) the post-mortem appearances, 3) the early church’s belief in the resurrection
    • Naturalistic attempts to explain these 3 boilerplate facts fail
    • The best explanation of the 3 minimal facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead
  6. The immediate experience of God
    • Belief in God is a “properly basic” belief – rational even without arguments because of experience of God

Dr. Krauss’ opening speech. (21:12)

Slides: (1234567891011121314)

  1. Religious pluralism I
    • There have been lots of different gods created by people through history
    • We’ve gotten rid of all of them by understanding how the universe works by doing science
    • Religion is just stories, and the stories are inconsistent with how the universe works
  2. Progress of naturalistic science I
    • Newtonian physics refutes the idea that angels push planets around
    • Darwinian evolution refutes design arguments, including the one that Dr. Craig presented (24:10)
    • Biochemistry hasn’t explained how life originated, but we will have the solution soon
    • Physics shows us that matter can be created and destroyed without need a God
    • Physics shows us that universes can be created and destroyed “no problem”
  3. Religious pluralism II
    • Since we have been able to disprove all the gods we’ve invented, why hang on to the last one
    • It’s unlikely that the God that Dr. Craig presented exists, because we disproved all the others he didn’t present
  4. Hiddenness of God
    • There is a complete lack of evidence for the other 999 gods, so how likely is it that the God Dr. Craig presented exists
  5. Religious pluralism III
    • There are inconsistencies between various religions, so therefore there can be no religion that is right
  6. Progress of naturalistic science II
    • Peasants had a very low level of knowledge about the world and they believed in God
    • But our level of knowledge has increased over time, so we shouldn’t believe in God now
    • Peasants thought that the Earth orbited the Sun, but this is now known to be false
    • The Scriptures said that the Earth orbited the Sun, but now we know that’s false from science
  7. Christianity plagiarizes from other religions I
    • There is nothing new or special about Jesus
    • He’s just as unpleasant as all the other gods
    • Everything particular to Jesus occurs in other religions
  8. Catholics are inconsistent about what they believe
    • I’ll bet most Catholics don’t really believe in transubstantiation
    • I’ll bet most Catholics don’t really believe in the virgin birth
  9. The resurrection is copied from many other religions
    • Dionysus, Osiris, etc.
  10. There is no evidence for the resurrection
    • The stories about Jesus were written “decades or hundreds of years after the fact”
    • The stories are inconsistent with each other
    • Dr. Craig tells me that historical Jesus scholars all accept that the resurrection happened
    • That’s like saying that all alien abductions experts agree that alien abductions happened
    • It’s unreasonable to think that the resurrection happened because no one saw it happen
    • I accept that people reported on appearances, but hallucination theory can explain that
  11. The timeline for the creation and incarnation are all wrong
    • The creation, planet formation, hominids, incarnation, etc. all take place in the wrong times
    • If God knew what he was doing, he would done everything at better times to be more efficient
  12. David Hume’s argument against miracles is sound
    • Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence – nothing wrong with this argument
    • Miracles are really just coincidences
    • Catholic apparitions at Lourdes disprove the historical argument that Dr. Craig made for the resurrection
  13. God is petty and jealous
    • God shouldn’t demand that we trust him, esteem him and consider his character when we make decisions
    • The atoning death of Jesus for the sins of the world also makes no sense
  14. Belief is based on geography
    • What you believe is clearly correlated with where you are born
    • There is even an Islamic clone of Dr. Craig who “uses the exact same arguments” that he does to prove Islam
    • Belief in God is decreasing in the Internet-accessible world
  15. Science can develop morals without God
    • Reason is able to guide our actions to be moral
    • Morality evolves over time, so there is no objective morality
    • Catholicism teaches things that are immoral
    • Some things are prohibited by biological revulsion, such as incest
    • But if a brother and sister have sex using condoms “is that morally wrong? I can’t say it is frankly” (37:24)
  16. Dr. Craig is irrational
    • “I came here convinced based on my past interactions and his writing that Dr. Craig was a dishonest Charlatan”
    • “Any argument that validates God is reasonable to him”
    • “And any argument against it is not only unreasonable but wrong and worth distorting”
    • “Because it must be wrong – he’s decided the answer in advance”
  17. Dr. Craig is immoral
    • Dr. Craig thinks it is OK for God to command that Canaanite children are killed
    • “So in fact if they were Canaanite children in that schoolroom that he talked about then it would be OK”
    • It’s not reasonable to justify genocide in that way, but Dr. Craig is willing to go to those lengths
  18. The cause of the origin of the space time universe need not be God
    • Dr. Craig says that if there is an explanation for the origin or space, time, matter and energy it must be God
    • But it could just as easily be turtles or Zeus
  19. Dr. Craig misrepresents the Borde Guth Vilenkin theorem
    • Alexander Vilenkin wrote me an e-mail that says that the theorem doesn’t work in all cases
    • “Dr. Craig is so convinced that these arguments must be true that he won’t listen to the fact that they’re not”
  20. Darwinian evolution explains the fine-tuning
    • “Life was fine tuned – we got rid of it with Darwin”
    • Mutation and natural selection explain the cosmic fine-tuning argument that Dr. Craig presented
  21. Suboptimal design disproves the fine-tuning argument
    • “We get back aches” therefore “This argument that [the universe] is fine-tuned for life is nonsense”
  22. William Lane Craig can be proven to exhibit homosexual behavior using logical arguments
    • Look, you can construct arguments that are clearly wrong
    • Premise 1: “All mammals exhibit homosexual behavior”
    • Premise 2: “William Lane Craig is a mammal”
    • Seems to be saying that logical arguments can prove false things “it’s nonsense”
  23. Dr. Craig distorted a podcast that some group made on pain receptors
    • Dr. Craig’s faith is so strong that it causes him to distort what this group said

Discussion: (44:35)

I will not be summarizing everything that was said, just a few main points.

The segment from 52:18 to 57:12 about the Vilenkin e-mail on the BVG theorem is a must-see. Krauss is standing up and gesticulating while Craig is calmly trying to quote a paper by Vilenkin that shows that Krauss is misrepresenting Vilenkin. Krauss constantly interrupts him. After a while, when Craig exposes him as having misrepresented Vilenkin and gets him to admit that all current eternal models of the universe are probably wrong, he quietens down and can’t even look at Craig in the face.

Cosmological argument:

  • Craig: The e-mail says any universe that is expanding, on average, requires a beginning
  • Craig: There are two models – Aguirre & Gratton and Carroll & Chen – where there is a period of contraction before the expansion
  • Craig: The two models are the ones cited in the e-mail that Dr. Krauss showed
  • Craig: In the very paper by Vilenkin that I cited, he says that both of those models don’t work
  • Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) Vilenkin said that they have to make an assumption about entropy that they have no rationale for
  • (as Craig starts to talk Krauss makes an exaggerated, disrespectful gesture and sits down in a huff)
  • Craig: Yes, an unwarranted assumption means that they don’t have EVIDENCE for their theories being correct
  • Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) “All the evidence suggests that the universe had a beginning but WE DON’T KNOW!!!!!!!” (raising his voice)
  • Craig: I’m not saying that we know that the universe had a beginning with certainty
  • Craig: I am saying that the beginning of the universe is more probably true than false based on the evidence we have
  • Craig: And you  agree with me about that – you think the universe had a beginning
  • Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) (Unintelligible)
  • Moderator: One at a time
  • Craig: In your Vilenkin e-mail slide, at the end of the paragraph where the two models are mentioned that Vilenkin specifically shows…
  • (I am guessing that Craig is going to ask why so much of what Vilenkin wrote has been cut out of the e-mail that Krauss showed)
  • Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) Because it was technical…
  • Moderator: Lawrence! Hang on a sec!
  • Craig: He specifically shows that these models are not past eternal, and that they require a beginning just like the others…
  • Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) We can do the math if you want
  • Craig: Now wait. I couldn’t help notice that there on your slide there was a series of ellipsis points indicating missing text…
  • Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) “Yeah, because it was technical!”
  • Craig: “I wonder what you deleted from the original letter”
  • Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) “I just told you!”
  • Craig: “Now wait. Could it have been something like this:  (reads a quote from Vilenkin) ‘You can evade the theorem by postulating that the universe was contracting prior to some time. This sounds as if there is nothing wrong with having contraction prior to expansion. But the problem is that a contracting universe is highly unstable. Small perturbations would cause it to develop all sorts of messy singularities, so it would never make it to the expanding phase.’
  • Craig: “That’s Vilenkin.”
  • Krauss: “In this paper, that’s absolutely right”
  • Krauss: But it’s ok for theories to assume things that we know are wrong – they are still good theories – it’s unknown
  • (Craig turns away and looks through his papers)
  • Craig: “Isn’t it true that the only viable quantum gravity models on order today involve a beginning – have a finite past?”
  • Krauss: “No”
  • Craig: “Well, can you give us one then”
  • Krauss: (talks about a variety of possible eternal models) “In my experience in science, all of them are probably wrong”
  • Krauss: “You know most theories are wrong, which is why, you know, it’s hard”
  • Craig: “Right”

I noticed that a huge number of atheist web sites are taking the Vilenkin quote that Krauss used out of context, like this one and this one. There are probably a lot more of them like that, which I think is interesting. That’s why we have these debates, I guess. To set the record straight about who accuses people of being dishonest, and who is actually dishonest.

Fine-tuning:

  • Krauss tried to argue that he had explained the fine-tuning with the Higgs particle, but Dr. Craig said that only applied to the cosmological constant, not all the other examples of fine-tuning. Krauss said that it wasn’t impressive that this universe permitted life and that “It would have been much more surprising if we evolved in a universe in which we couldn’t live”. Krauss argued the fine-tuning was only for “Life like us”. But Dr. Craig explained that the fine-tuning is what allows us to have the basics of any kind of life, like slow-burning stars, chemical diversity, etc. – things that are required for basic minimal life functions in any living system. Craig said that he was working with the current physical laws of this universe (F = ma, etc.) and that he was looking at what changed if we changed those even slightly. Krauss tried to say that if he changed things like the mass of particles then the strength of forces would change. (But the forces aren’t laws!) Krauss argued that the cosmological constant would be even better for life if it was zero, and Craig said that the life permitting range did include zero, but that the range of life-permitting values was narrow.

Jesus’ existence:

  • Craig reponded to the mystery religions charge, the charge that the evidence for the minimal facts is too late/too weak, the charge that grief visions explained the evidence better, and Hume’s argument against miracles. Craig brought up the early creed from 1 Cor 15:3-7 and explained to Krauss that it was 5 years after the events, and that Jewish standards of oral transmission were strong enough to ensure that the creed was reliable, and most of the eyewitnesses would still have been alive.

Audience Q and A: (1:21:09)

The first topic is the grounding of morality. Krauss agrees that there is no objective morality and no objective moral oughts. He also said that that standards of behavior are arbitrary, and that they change over time and they are adopted for promoting social order. Dr. Craig pressed the point that science itself would collapse without ethical values. It assumes them, but cannot ground them.

The next topic was free will. Krauss is a determinist. Craig asked him how he could reconcile moral responsibility with determinism.

The next topic was the effectiveness of mathematics. Krauss didn’t have an explanation for it and didn’t think it needed one. Then they got into whether the Genesis has been verified by science and whether it is meant to be taken literally.

The next topic was whether philosophy makes any progress. Craig gave the example of verificationism being rejected as too narrow, and self-refuting. Krauss: “I’m going to come to the defense of philosophy for the first time”. Craig: “That’s amazing!” Krauss said that science provides new knowledge. Craig said there were some things that could be known apart from science.

Paul Helm debates William Lane Craig on Calvinism and Reformed theology

Two tough rams butt heads, and may the best ram win!
Two tough rams butt heads, and may the best ram win!

I listened to this excellent discussion between Dr. William Lane Craig and Oxford University Calvinist philosopher Dr. Paul Helm. I think this is a useful discussion in general because atheists often bring up problems with Calvinism as objections to Christianity in general, such as:

  • If God knows the future, then I don’t have free will
  • If God controls everything, then I am not responsible for my sinning
  • If God has to override my free will to be saved, then I am not responsible for being damned if God doesn’t choose me

Details:

If God ordains the future, can humans have free will? Are people predestined for salvation? And what does the Bible say on the matter? William Lane Craig is a Christian philosopher and leading proponent of Molinism, a view of divine sovereignty that seeks to reconcile God’s fore-ordination with human free will. Paul Helm is a leading Calvin Scholar. He defends the view that  God predestines the future, limiting human freedom.

MP3 of this show

Or listen on YouTube:

I was surprised because my Calvinist friend Dina thought that Dr. Helm won this debate, but I thought that Dr. Craig won. So without further ado, here is the snark-free summary of the discussion. I also sent the summary to Dina to make sure that it was reasonably fair and accurate. She said it was biased, but she was predestined to say that.

Summary: 

JB: Has Lewis had any impact on your apologetics?

Craig: Not as a scholar, but more as a model of a scholar who leaves a legacy through his published work

JB: How did you become interested in Calvinism?

Helm: Starting from childhood, and lately writing more on Calvinism from a philosophical point of view

JB: How do you view God’s sovereignty?

Helm: Strong view of divine sovereignty, God is sovereign over all events, but that doesn’t mean that they are determined by him

JB: What is Calvin’s legacy?

Helm: He amplified an existing concept of predestination, and wrote on many other topics

JB: What is Molinism?

Craig: Molina affirms divine sovereignty as Paul Helm does, but he also affirms libertarian free will

Craig: Every event that occurs happens by God’s will or by God’s permission

JB: What about open theism?

Craig: Paul and I both oppose open theism

JB: How does Molinism reconcile human free will and divine sovereignty

Craig: God has knowledge of what would happen under any set of circumstances

Craig: God has knowledge of everything that COULD happen, and he has knowledge of everything that WILL happen

Craig: God knows what each person freely choose to do in any set of circumstances and he can place people in times and places where he is able to achieve his ends without violating creaturely freedom and creaturely responsibility

JB: How does this apply to the issue of salvation?

Craig: The circumstances in which God puts a person includes God leading people to him and he foreknows who will respond to his leading

Craig: God has ordered the world in such a way that he foreknows the exact people who will free respond to his leading if he puts them in certain circumstances

JB: Does God want to save the maximum of people?

Craig: My own view is that God does order the world in such a way that the maximum number of people will respond to God’s drawing them to himself

JB: Is the Molinist view gaining ground?

Craig: Yes, Calvinists and open theists are both moving towards it, and Molinism is the dominant view among philosophical theologians

JB: Why has Molinism not convinced you?

Helm: It’s an unnecessary theory, God’s natural knowledge and free knowledge covers what middle knowledge covers

Helm: Calvinism has a stronger view of sin, such that God has to act unilaterally and irrestibly to save them

JB: Are creatures free on your view?

Helm: My view of free will is weaker than Craig’s view of free will

Craig: For the Calvinist, grace is irresistible, but for the Molinist, grace is effective when it is met with a response from the creature

Craig: The Bible affirms the strong view of free will, when it says that in certain circumstances people can freely choose to do other than they do

Helm: But if a person is in circumstances X and they are free, then why don’t they choose something that isn’t what God can foresee

Craig: In identical circumstances, a person has the freedom to choose, and God doesn’t determine what they choose, he just foreknows what they choose

Helm: How can God foreknow what people will freely do if people have this strong view of freedom that allows them to do anything? God would not know what people can freely do if they really are free

Craig: God has knowledge of what his creatures would freely do in any set of circumstances, he has knowledge of subjunctive statements

Craig: The Scripture is filled with statements that show that God has this knowledge of what people would do in other circumstances (e.g. – 2 Cor 2:8)

Helm: I am not denying that the Bible is full of subjunctive statements, but if humans have real libertarian free will, then God cannot know what they will do

Craig: I think God does preordain everything, Molinism has a strong sense of divine sovereignty BUT the foreordaining is done with the knowledge of what humans would do in any circumstances, so that what God ordains achieves his ends, but without violating creaturely free will

Craig: I take at face value the passages of the Bible where it says that God wants all persons to be saved

Craig: When the Bible says that God wants ALL persons to be saved (2 Pet 3:9), the Bible means that God wants ALL persons to be saved

Craig: So either universalism is true OR there is something that stops all from being saved outside of God

Craig: the something that prevents all from being saved is creaturely free will

Helm: Most people don’t have the opportunity to hear the gospel, so God doesn’t want all to be saved

Helm: People can still be responsible for what God “fore-ordains”

JB: Can a person really be responsible for wickedness if they didn’t freely choose it?

Helm: Even though God is the only one who can act unilaterally to make save people, the people who act wickedly are still responsible

Craig: Molinism provides an answer to the problem of why not all people have heard the gospel, because by using middle knowledge he is able to know who would respond to the gospel if they heard it and he places those people in the times and places where they will hear it

Craig: That solution means that NO ONE is lost because they have not heard the gospel

Craig: There is Biblical support for (Acts 17:27) God choosing the times and places where people will live SO THAT they will be led by him and be able to respond to his leading

JB: Is God the author of sin, on Calvinism?

Craig: If Calvinists define providence to mean causal determinism, then he is the cause of every effect including human actions, and he is the one who causes people to sin

Craig: This view (determinism) impugns the character of God

Helm: I don’t think that sovereignty requires determinism

Helm: God has mysterious resources – which I cannot specify – that reconcile his sovereignty with human responsibility for wickedness

JB: But if God is the cause of people doing wrong things, then how can they be responsible for it?

Helm: Well, humans do cause their own actions

Craig: Helm is right to say that God has resources to reconcile God’s sovereignty with free will and human responsibility, and that resource is not an unknown mystery, it’s middle knowledge

Craig: I can affirm everything in the Westminster Confession except for the one clause where they expressly repudiate middle knowledge as the mechanism for reconciling divine sovereignty and free will

Helm: Well, Calvinists have a strong view of sin so that humans cannot respond to God’s leading

Craig: Yes, and that’s why humans need prevenient grace in order to respond to him

Craig: God has to take the initiative and draw people to himself or they cannot be saved, but that grace is resistible, and that’s what the Bible teaches (Acts 7:51), so humans are still responsible if they resist God

Helm: My view of grace is that it is monergistic and irrestible, it is a unilateral action on the part of God, like pulling someone out of an icy pond which they can’t get out of

JB: If humans freely choose to respond to God’s drawing and leading, does that diminish grace?

Helm: Many are called but few are chosen

Craig: Molinism does not require synergism – which is the idea that humans are partly responsible for their salvation

Craig: In Eph 2:8, Scripture is clear that faith opposite to works, and responding to God’s drawing is not meritorious

JB: So receiving a gift is not meritorious?

Craig: It’s the passive acceptance of what someone else has done for you

Helm: But doesn’t this mean that you can lose your salvation, because you can accept and resist the gift of salvation?

Craig: That’s a separate question that Christians can differ on, but if the Holy Spirit indwells a person and seals them, then that would argue for the view that salvation cannot be revoked

JB: Doesn’t Romans 8 teach Calvinism pretty clearly?

Helm: This is called the “golden chain”, and it does support Calvinism

Craig: Actually, this text is no problem for Molinists because the first link in the chain is foreknowledge, which, if it incorporates middle knowledge, is no problem for Molinists

Craig: What God is electing in Romans 8 is a specific group of people that he knows in advance of creating the universe will freely respond to his drawing them to him

Craig: In Acts 4:27-28, it is talking about God’s foreknowledge, which involves and incorporates knowledge of what any individual would freely choose if placed in those circumstances

JB: If God actualizes a set plan with set circumstances for everyone, isn’t that very similar to Calvinism?

Craig: Yes! It’s a strong statement of divine sovereignty

Helm: Foreknowledge doesn’t mean that God knows what people would do, it’s just refering to God “knowing his own mind” about what he wants to do

JB: How do you respond to the fairness of God unilaterally and specifically choosing some people for salvation and choosing other people for damnation (because he refuses to act unilaterally for them)?

Helm: God ordinarily bypasses other people in the Bible, like when he chooses the Jews as his chosen people

Craig: The problem with that is that the Bible clearly teaches that God has a genuine will that all will be saved and he makes a genuine offer of salvation to all people

Craig: Also, just being a Jew and a member of the chosen people doesn’t mean you were saved, because some Jews rebelled against God

Craig: And there were also people outside of the Jewish people who were righteous and in a relationship with God, like Job

Helm: “the fabric of our faith” depends on God’s choice and his not-choice, it is fundamental to the Bible and to God’s character, and choosing them “effectively” (irrestibly and unilaterally)

Helm: The idea of God considering “possible worlds”, some of which are feasible and not feasible, with conflicts between the wills of free creatures in different circumstances, and then actualizing one world that achieve these ends is very messy

Craig: Some worlds may not feasible for God to create, for example a world in which everyone is saved – it is logically possible, but may not be feasible

Craig: God will not exercise any divine coercion to force people to go to Heaven against their own will

Helm: If God chooses a world because it is feasible, then he doesn’t love me directly, he is choosing a world, not individuals

Craig: Well, when God actualizes a world, he specifically knows which individuals will be saved within that world, but without disrespecting free will

Craig: The world isn’t primary, the individuals are primary

Helm: I think that middle knowledge can he included in God’s natural knowledge and free knowledge

Craig: The knowledge of what people would do in different circumstances is based on the freedom of the individuals

JB: Make your conclusions!

Craig: Molinism is a Biblical model for reconciling divine sovereignty with human freedom

Helm: It is intellectually mystifying to introduce this strong view of human freedom and it is not Biblical

Book review of R.C. Sproul’s “If there’s a God, why are there atheists?”

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

Brian Auten has a book review posted up at Apologetics 315.

The book is “If There’s A God, Why Are There Atheists?”, by theologian R.C. Sproul. R.C. Sproul is one of my favorite theologians. The book in question has a very, very special place in my heart, because I think that it is one of the major reasons why I was able to resist pernicious ideas like religious pluralism and postmodernism for so long. Once you put on the glasses of Romans 1 and see for the first time what man is really doing with respect to God, you can never see things the same again. I’ll say more about this at the end, but let’s see what Brian wrote first.

The review

So often, you hear atheists complaining about religion is nothing but wish-fulfillment or some sort of crutch for people who are frightened by a variety of things. They think that God is invented to solve several problems. 1) how does the world work?, 2) is there meaning to suffering and evil?, 3) why should I be moral?, and 4) what will happen to me and my loved ones when I die?. On the atheistic view, God is just a crutch that people cling to out of weakness and ignorance. But is this really the case?

Sproul starts the book by investigating three atheists who sought to explain religious belief as a result of psychological factors.

Brian writes:

Before tackling the psychology of atheism, Sproul spends a chapter on the psychology of theism, from the perspective of Freud’s question “If there is no God, why is there religion?”11 What follows is an overview of various psychological explanations of theistic belief: Feuerbach’s “religion is a dream of the human mind.”12 Marx’s belief that religion is “due to the devious imagination of particular segment of mankind.”13 And Nietzche’s idea that “religion endures because weak men need it.”14 The author properly reiterates: “We must be careful to note that the above arguments can never be used as proof for the nonexistence of God. They can be useful for atheists who hear theists state that the only possible explanation for religion is the existence of God.”15 That being said, Sproul also reveals what these arguments presume:

Their arguments already presupposed the nonexistence of God. They were not dealing with the question, Is there a God? They were dealing with the question, Since there is no God, why is there religion?16

Sproul points out the weaknesses of each of these approaches and says “there are just as many arguments showing that unbelief has its roots in the psychological needs of man.”

Wow, could that really be true? What are the real reasons why people reject God? Does the Bible have anything to say about what those reasons are?

Brian cites Sproul’s contention:

The New Testament maintains that unbelief is generated not so much by intellectual causes as by moral and psychological ones. The problem is not that there is insufficient evidence to convince rational beings that there is a God, but that rational beings have a natural hostility to the being of God.

[…]Man’s desire is not that the omnipotent, personal Judeo-Christian God exist, but that He not exist.

In Romans 1:18-23, the apostle Paul explains what is really going on:

18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,

19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.

20For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools

23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

On this blog, I regularly present many, many arguments for theism in general, and Christian theism in particular:

Sproul explains why atheists cannot allow themselves to live according to the evidence that is presented to them:

The cumulative effect of this knowledge that is clearly seen is to leave men ‘without excuse.’ Herein lies the basis of the universal guilt of man. No one can claim ignorance of the knowledge of God. No one can cite insufficient evidence for not believing in God. Though people are not persuaded by the evidence, this does not indicate an insufficiency in the evidence, but rather an insufficiency in man.

[…]The basic stages of man’s reaction to God can be formulated by means of the categories of trauma, repression, and substitution.

[…]If God exists, man cannot be a law unto himself. If God exists, man’s will-to-power is destined to run head-on into the will of God.

And this is the force that is animating atheists today. They don’t want to be accountable to God in a relationship, no matter what the evidence is. They have to deny it, so that they can be free to get the benefits of a universe designed for them, without having to give any recognition or acknowledgement back. If they have to lie to themselves to deny the evidence, they will do it. Anything to insulate themselves from the Creator and Designer who reveals himself in Jesus Christ.

The rest of the book review, and the book, deals with explaining in detail how atheists respond to an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing Creator/Designer. I encourage you to click through and read the whole book review. You can read the review, and the book, and then investigate for yourself whether atheists really are like that.

My survey of atheists

By the way, did you all see my survey of atheists that I did a while back? It’s relevant because one of the questions I asked to my volunteers was “How you begin to follow Christ if it suddenly became clear to you that Christianity was objectively true?”. I got some very strange responses that dovetail nicely with Sproul’s book.

Here are a few of the responses:

  • I would not follow. My own goals are all that I have, and all that I would continue to have in that unlikely situation. I would not yield my autonomy to anyone no matter what their authority to command me.
  • I would not follow, because God doesn’t want humans to act any particular way, and he doesn’t care what we do.
  • I would not follow. Head is spinning. Would go to physician to find out if hallucinating.
  • I hope I would be courageous enough to dedicate my life to rebellion against God.
  • I would not have to change anything unless forced to and all that would change is my actions not my values.  I would certainly balk at someone trying to force me to change my behavior as would you if you were at the mercy of a moral objectivist who felt that all moral goodness is codified in the Koran.
  • He would have to convince me that what he wants for me is what I want for me.

This is all part of my series discussing whether morality is rationally grounded by atheism.

Well Spent Journey did a similar survey of atheists, inspired by mine, and got this result on the relevant question:

12. How would you begin to follow Jesus if it became clear to you that Christianity was true?

– Would follow (5)
– Wouldn’t follow (6)
Might follow the teachings of Jesus, but that isn’t Christianity (2)
– It would depend on how this truth was revealed (3)
– Christianity can’t be true (3)
– No answer given (4)

…What would be the hardest adjustment you would have to make to live a faithful, public Christian life?

– Adjusting wouldn’t be that difficult; would eagerly welcome knowing that Christianity was true (2)
– Praying, since it seems weird, creepy, and strange
– Trying to figure out how the Bible became so corrupted

– Trying to convince myself that the God of the Bible is deserving of worship (2)
– Don’t think it would be possible to adjust

– No clear response, or not applicable (16)

Yes, they really think like that! Just ask an atheist questions and you’ll see how “objective” they really are. Atheism is entirely psychological. It’s adopted in order to feel sufficient and to operate with autonomy, with the goal of self-centered pleasure-seeking above all. Evidence has nothing to do with it.

William Lane Craig debates Austin Dacey: Does God Exist?

Two tough rams butt heads, and may the best ram win!
Two tough rams butt heads, and may the best ram win!

Here is the video and summary of a debate between Christian theist William Lane Craig and Austin Dacey at Purdue University in 2004 about the existence of God.

The debaters:

The video: (2 hours)

The video shows the speakers and powerpoint slides of their arguments. Austin Dacey is one of the top atheist debaters, and I would put him second to Peter Millican alone, with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong in third place. This is the debate to show people who are new to apologetics. The debate with Peter Millican is better for advanced students, and that’s no surprise since he teaches at Oxford University and is familiar with all of Dr. Craig’s work. The Craig-Dacey debate is the one that I give to my co-workers.

By the way, you can get the DVDs and CDs for the first Craig-Dacey debate and the second Craig-Dacey debate and the second Craig-Sinnott-Armstrong debate. The Peter Millican debate is not available on DVD, but the link above (Peter Millican) has the video and my summary.

Dr. Dacey’s 5 arguments below are all good arguments that you find in the academic literature. He is also an effective and engaging speaker, This is a great debate to watch!

SUMMARY of the opening speeches:

Dr. Craig’s opening statement:

Dr. Craig will present six reasons why God exists:

  1. (Contingency argument) God is the best explanation of why something exists rather than nothing
  2. (Cosmological argument)  God’s existence is implied by the origin of the universe
  3. (Fine-tuning argument) The fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life points to a designer of the cosmos
  4. (Moral argument) God is the best explanation for the existence of objective moral values and objective moral duties
  5. (Miracles argument) The historical facts surrounding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus
  6. (Religious experience) God’s existence is directly knowable even apart from arguments

Dr. Dacey’s opening argument:

There are two ways to disprove God’s existence, by showing that the concept of God is self-contradictory, or by showing that certain facts about ourselves and the world are incompatible with what we would expect to be true if God did exist. Dr. Dacey will focus on the second kind of argument.

  1. The hiddenness of God
  2. The success of science in explaining nature without needing a supernatural agency
  3. The dependence of mind on physical processes in the brain
  4. Naturalistic evolution
  5. The existence of gratuitous / pointless evil and suffering

One final point:

One thing that I have to point out is that Dr. Dacey quotes Brian Greene during the debate to counter Dr. Craig’s cosmological argument. Dr. Craig could not respond because he can’t see the context of the quote. However, Dr. Craig had a rematch with Dr. Dacey where was able to read the context of the quote and defuse Dr. Dacey’s objection. This is what he wrote in his August 2005 newsletter after the re-match:

The following week, I was off an another three-day trip, this time to California State University at Fresno. As part of a week of campus outreach the Veritas Forum scheduled a debate on the existence of God between me and Austin Dacey, whom I had debated last spring at Purdue University. In preparation for the rematch I adopted two strategies: (1) Since Dacey had come to the Purdue debate with prepared speeches, I decided to throw him for a loop by offering a different set of arguments for God, so that his canned objections wouldn’t apply. I chose to focus on the cosmological argument, giving four separate arguments for the beginning of the universe, and on the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. (2) I reviewed our previous debate carefully, preparing critiques of his five atheistic arguments. In the process I found that he had seriously misunderstood or misrepresented a statement by a scientist on the Big Bang; so I brought along the book itself in case Dacey quoted this source again. I figured he might change his arguments just as I was doing; but I wanted to be ready in case he used his old arguments again.

[…]The auditorium was packed that night for the debate, and I later learned that there were overflow rooms, too. To my surprise Dr. Dacey gave the very same case he had presented at Purdue; so he really got clobbered on those arguments. Because he wasn’t prepared for my new arguments, he didn’t even respond to two of my arguments for the beginning of the universe, though he did a credible job responding to the others. I was pleased when he attacked the Big Bang by quoting the same scientist as before, because I then held up the book, specified the page number, and proceeded to quote the context to show what the scientist really meant.

Dr. Craig is always prepared!