Probably one of the most common questions that you hear from people who don’t fully understand Christianity is this question: “why did Jesus have to die?”. The answer that most Christians seem to hold to is that 1) humans are rebelling against God, 2) Humans deserve punishment for their rebellion, 3) Humans cannot escape the punishment for their rebellion on their own, 4) Jesus was punished in the place of the rebellious humans, 5) Those who accept this sacrifice are forgiven for their rebelling.
Are humans rebellious?
Some people think that humans are not really rebellious at all, but it’s actually easy to see. You can see it just by looking at how people spend their time. Some of us have no time for God at all, and instead try to fill our lives with material possessions and experiences in order to have happy feelings. Some of us embrace just the parts of God that make us feel happy, like church and singing and feelings of comfort, while avoiding the hard parts of that vertical relationship; reading, thinking and disagreeing with people who don’t believe the truth about God. And so on.
This condition of being in rebellion is universal, and all of us are guilty of breaking the law at some point. All of us deserve to be separated from God’s goodness and love. Even if we wanted to stop rebelling, we would not be able to make up for the times where we do rebel by being good at other times, any more than we could get out of a speeding ticket by appealing to the times when we drove at the speed limit, (something that I never do, in any case).
This is not to say that all sinners are punished equally – the degree of punishment is proportional to the sins a person commits. However, the standard is perfection. And worse than that, the most important moral obligation is a vertical moral obligation. You can’t satisfy the demands of the moral law just by making your neighbor happy, while treating God like a pariah. The first commandment is to love God, the second is to love your neighbor. Even loving your neighbor requires you to tell your neighbor the truth – not just to make them feel good. The vertical relationship is more important than the horizontal one, and we’ve all screwed up the vertical relationship. We all don’t want God to be there, telling us what’s best for us, interfering with our fun. We don’t want to relate to a loving God if it means having to care what he thinks about anything that we are doing.
Who is going to pay for our rebellion?
The Christian answer to the problem of our rebellion is that Jesus takes the punishment we deserve in our place.
However, I’ve noticed that on some atheist blogs, they don’t like the idea that someone else can take our punishment for us to exonerate us for crimes that we’ve committed. So I’ll quote from this post by the great William Lane Craig, to respond to that objection.
The central problem of the Penal Theory is, as you point out, understanding how punishing a person other than the perpetrator of the wrong can meet the demands of justice. Indeed, we might even say that it would be wrong to punish some innocent person for the crimes I commit!
It seems to me, however, that in other aspects of human life we do recognize this practice. I remember once sharing the Gospel with a businessman. When I explained that Christ had died to pay the penalty for our sins, he responded, “Oh, yes, that’s imputation.” I was stunned, as I never expected this theological concept to be familiar to this non-Christian businessman. When I asked him how he came to be familiar with this idea, he replied, “Oh, we use imputation all the time in the insurance business.” He explained to me that certain sorts of insurance policy are written so that, for example, if someone else drives my car and gets in an accident, the responsibility is imputed to me rather than to the driver. Even though the driver behaved recklessly, I am the one held liable; it is just as if I had done it.
Now this is parallel to substitutionary atonement. Normally I would be liable for the misdeeds I have done. But through my faith in Christ, I am, as it were, covered by his divine insurance policy, whereby he assumes the liability for my actions. My sin is imputed to him, and he pays its penalty. The demands of justice are fulfilled, just as they are in mundane affairs in which someone pays the penalty for something imputed to him. This is as literal a transaction as those that transpire regularly in the insurance industry.
So, it turns out that the doctrine of substitionary atonement is not as mysterious or as objectionable as everyone seems to think it is.
Have you ever heard someone say that if God existed, he would give us more evidence? This is called the “hiddenness of God” argument. It’s also known as the argument from “rational non-belief”.
Basically the argument is something like this:
God is all powerful
God is all loving
God wants all people to know about him
Some people don’t know about him
Therefore, there is no God.
In this argument, the atheist is saying that he’s looked for God real hard and that if God were there, he should have found him by now. After all, God can do anything he wants that’s logically possible, and he wants us to know that he exists. To defeat the argument we need to find a possible explanation of why God would want to remain hidden when our eternal destination depends on our knowledge of his existence.
What reason could God have for remaining hidden?
Dr. Michael Murray, a brilliant professor of philosophy at Franklin & Marshall College, has found a reason for God to remain hidden.
He argues that if God reveals himself too much to people, he takes away our freedom to make morally-significant decisions, including responding to his self-revelation to us. Murray argues that God stays somewhat hidden, so that he gives people space to either 1) respond to God, or 2) avoid God so we can keep our autonomy from him. God places a higher value on people having the free will to respond to him, and if he shows too much of himself he takes away their free choice to respond to him, because once he is too overt about his existence, people will just feel obligated to belief in him in order to avoid being punished.
But believing in God just to avoid punishment is NOT what God wants for us. If it is too obvious to us that God exists and that he really will judge us, then people will respond to him and behave morally out of self-preservation. But God wants us to respond to him out of interest in him, just like we might try to get to know someone we admire. God has to dial down the immediacy of the threat of judgment, and the probability that the threat is actual. That leaves it up to us to respond to God’s veiled revelation of himself to us, in nature and in Scripture.
(Note: I think that we don’t seek God on our own, and that he must take the initiative to reach out to us and draw us to him. But I do think that we are free to resist his revelation, at which point God stops himself short of coercing our will. We are therefore responsible for our own fate).
The atheist’s argument is a logical/deductive argument. It aims to show that there is a contradiction between God’s will for us and his hiding from us. In order to derive a contradiction, God MUST NOT have any possible reason to remain hidden. If he has a reason for remaining hidden that is consistent with his goodness, then the argument will not go through.
When Murray offers a possible reason for God to remain hidden in order to allow people to freely respond to him, then the argument is defeated. God wants people to respond to him freely so that there is a genuine love relationship – not coercion by overt threat of damnation. To rescue the argument, the atheist has to be able to prove that God could provide more evidence of his existence without interfering with the free choice of his creatures to reject him.
Murray has defended the argument in works published by prestigious academic presses such as Cambridge University Press, (ISBN: 0521006104, 2001) and Routledge (ISBN: 0415380383, 2007).
This is one of the top 4 best debates that William Lane Craig has done in my opinion. (The other three are Craig-Millican debate and the first and second Craig-Dacey debates).
Sinnott-Armstrong is very courteous, respectful and intelligent scholar and he is very good at defending his side. This is a very cordial and engaging debate, and because it was held in front of a church audience, it was targeted to laymen and not academics. So if you are looking for a good first debate to watch, this is it!
There is also a book based on this debate, published by Oxford University Press. I was actually able to find a PDF of it online. I should also remind people that you can get the wonderful Craig-Hitchens debate DVD from Amazon.com if you are looking for a debate to watch, or show in your church, this is the one to start with.
Evil is incompatible with the concept of God (three features all-powerful, all-god, all-knowing)
God’s additional attributes: eternal, effective and personal (a person)
He will be debating against the Christian God in this debate, specifically
Contention: no being has all of the three features of the concept of God
His argument: is not a deductive argument, but an inductive/probabilistic argument
Examples of pointless, unjustified suffering: a sick child who dies, earthquakes, famines
The inductive argument from evil:
If there were an all-powerful and all-good God, then there would not be any evil in the world unless that evil is logically necessary for some adequately compensating good.
There is evil in the world.
Some of that evil is not logically necessary for some adequately compensating good.
Therefore, there can’t be a God who is all-powerful and all-good.
Evil: anything that all rational people avoid for themselves, unless they have some adequate reason to want that evil for themselves (e.g. – pain, disability, death)
Adequate reason: some evils do have an adequate reason, like going to the dentist – you avoid a worse evil by having a filling
God could prevent tooth decay with no pain
God can even change the laws of physics in order to make people not suffer
Responses by Christians:
Evil as a punishment for sin: but evil is not distributed in accordance with sin, like babies
Children who suffer will go straight to Heaven: but it would be better to go to Heaven and not suffer
Free will: this response doesn’t account for natural evil, like disease, earthquakes, lightning
Character formation theodicy: there are other ways for God to form character, by showing movies
Character formation theodicy: it’s not fair to let X suffer so that Y will know God
God allows evil to turn people towards him: God would be an egomaniac to do that
We are not in a position to know that any particular evil is pointless: if we don’t see a reason then there is no reason
Inductive evil is minor compared to the evidences for God: arguments for a Creator do not prove that God is good
WLC opening speech:
Summarizing Walter’s argument
If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
Gratuitous evil exists.
Therefore, God does not exist.
Gratuitous evil means evil that God has no morally sufficient reason to permit. WSA doesn’t think that all evil is incompatible with God’s existence, just gratuitous evil.
Everyone admits that there are instances of evil and suffering such that we cannot see the morally sufficient reason why God would allow it to occur.
The claim of the atheist is that if they cannot see that there is a moral justification for allowing some instance evil, then there is no moral justification for that instance of evil.
Here are three reasons why we should not expect to know the morally sufficient reasons why God permits apparently pointless evil.
the ripple effect: the morally sufficient reason for allowing some instance of evil may only be seen in another place or another time
Three Christian doctrines undermine the claim that specific evils really are gratuitous
Walter’s own premise 1 allows us to argue for God’s existence, which means that evil is not gratuitous
Christian doctrines from 2.:
The purpose of life is not happiness, and it is not God’s job to make us happy – we are here to know God. Many evils are gratuitous if we are concerned about being happy, but they are not gratuitous for producing the knowledge of God. What WSA has to show is that God could reduce the amount of suffering in the world while still retaining the same amount of knowledge of God’s existence and character.
Man is in rebellion, and many of the evils we see are caused by humans misusing their free will to harm others and cause suffering
For those who accept Christ, suffering is redeemed by eternal life with God, which is a benefit that far outweighs any sufferings and evils we experience in our earthly lives
Arguing for God in 3.
If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
Therefore, gratuitous evil does not exist.
Four reasons to think that God exists (premise 2 from above):
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.
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:
(Contingency argument) God is the best explanation of why something exists rather than nothing
(Cosmological argument) God’s existence is implied by the origin of the universe
(Fine-tuning argument) The fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life points to a designer of the cosmos
(Moral argument) God is the best explanation for the existence of objective moral values and objective moral duties
(Miracles argument) The historical facts surrounding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus
(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.
The hiddenness of God
The success of science in explaining nature without needing a supernatural agency
The dependence of mind on physical processes in the brain
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.
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 exists, then he controls everything and I don’t have free will
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 choose me to be saved, then I am not responsible for my damnation
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.
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. Anyway, there’s a commentary on the debate over at Michael’s Theology blog. And Calvinist Remington has a podcast review in parts. Part 1 is here.
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
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