Tag Archives: Religious Pluralism

Are Mormon doctrines supported by philosophy, science and history?

A conflict of worldviews
A conflict of worldviews

This post presents evidence against Mormonism/LDS in three main areas. The first is in the area of science. The second is in the area of philosophy. And the third is in the area of history.

The scientific evidence

First, let’s take a look at what the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, believes about the origin of the universe:

“The elements are eternal. That which had a beggining will surely have an end; take a ring, it is without beggining or end – cut it for a beggining place and at the same time you have an ending place.” (“Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”, p. 205)

“Now, the word create came from the word baurau which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos – chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existance from the time he had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beggining, and can have no end.”
(“Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”, p. 395)

A Mormon scholar named Blake Ostler summarizes the Mormon view in a Mormon theological journal:

“In contrast to the self-sufficient and solitary absolute who creates ex nihilo (out of nothing), the Mormon God did not bring into being the ultimate constituents of the cosmos — neither its fundamental matter nor the space/time matrix which defines it. Hence, unlike the Necessary Being of classical theology who alone could not not exist and on which all else is contingent for existence, the personal God of Mormonism confronts uncreated realities which exist of metaphysical necessity. Such realities include inherently self-directing selves (intelligences), primordial elements (mass/energy), the natural laws which structure reality, and moral principles grounded in the intrinsic value of selves and the requirements for growth and happiness.” (Blake Ostler, “The Mormon Concept of God,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 17 (Summer 1984):65-93)

So, Mormons believe in an eternally existing universe, such that matter was never created out of nothing, and will never be destroyed. But this is at odds with modern cosmology.

The Big Bang cosmology is the most widely accepted cosmology of the day. It denies the past eternality of the universe. This peer-reviewed paper in an astrophysics journal explains. (full text here)

Excerpt:

The standard Big Bang model thus describes a universe which is not eternal in the past, but which came into being a finite time ago. Moreover,–and this deserves underscoring–the origin it posits is an absolute origin ex nihilo. For not only all matter and energy, but space and time themselves come into being at the initial cosmological singularity. As Barrow and Tipler emphasize, “At this singularity, space and time came into existence; literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated at such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo.

[…]On such a model the universe originates ex nihilo in the sense that at the initial singularity it is true that There is no earlier space-time point or it is false that Something existed prior to the singularity.

Christian cosmology requires such a creation out of nothing, but this is clearly incompatible with what Mormons believe about the universe. The claims about the universe made by the two religions are in disagreement, and we can test empirically to see who is right, using science.

Philosophical problems

Always Have a Reason contrasts two concepts of God in Mormonism: Monarchotheism and Polytheism. It turns out that although Mormonism is actually a polytheistic religion, like Hinduism. In Mormonism, humans can become God and then be God of their own planet. So there are many Gods in Mormonism, not just one.

Excerpt:

[T]he notion that there are innumerable contingent “primal intelligences” is central to this Mormon concept of god (P+M, 201; Beckwith and Parrish, 101). That there is more than one god is attested in the Pearl of Great Price, particularly Abraham 4-5. This Mormon concept has the gods positioned to move “primal intelligences along the path to godhood” (Beckwith and Parrish, 114). Among these gods are other gods which were once humans, including God the Father. Brigham Young wrote, “our Father in Heaven was begotten on a previous heavenly world by His Father, and again, He was begotten by a still more ancient Father, and so on…” (Brigham Young, The Seer, 132, quoted in Beckwith and Parrish, 106).

[…]The logic of the Mormon polytheistic concept of God entails that there is an infinite number of gods. To see this, it must be noted that each god him/herself was helped on the path to godhood by another god. There is, therefore, an infinite regress of gods, each aided on his/her path to godhood by a previous god. There is no termination in this series. Now because this entails an actually infinite collection of gods, the Mormon polytheistic concept of deity must deal with all the paradoxes which come with actually existing infinities…

The idea of counting up to an actual infinite number of things by addition (it doesn’t matter what kind of thing it is) is problematic. See here.

More:

Finally, it seems polytheistic Mormonism has a difficulty at its heart–namely the infinite regress of deity.

[…]Each god relies upon a former god, which itself relies upon a former god, forever. Certainly, this is an incoherence at the core of this concept of deity, for it provides no explanation for the existence of the gods, nor does it explain the existence of the universe.

Now let’s see the historical evidence against Mormonism.

The historical evidence

J. Warner Wallace explains how the “Book of Abraham”, a part of the Mormon Scriptures, faces historical difficulties.

The Book of Abraham papyri are not as old as claimed:

Mormon prophets and teachers have always maintained that the papyri that was purchased by Joseph Smith was the actual papyri that was created and written by Abraham. In fact, early believers were told that the papyri were the writings of Abraham.

[…]There is little doubt that the earliest of leaders and witnesses believed and maintained that these papyri were, in fact the very scrolls upon which Abraham and Joseph wrote. These papyri were considered to be the original scrolls until they were later recovered in 1966. After discovering the original papyri, scientists, linguists, archeologists and investigators (both Mormon and non-Mormon) examined them and came to agree that the papyri are far too young to have been written by Abraham. They are approximately 1500 to 2000 years too late, dating from anywhere between 500 B.C. (John A. Wilson, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1968, p. 70.) and 60 A.D. If they papyri had never been discovered, this truth would never have come to light. Today, however, we know the truth, and the truth contradicts the statements of the earliest Mormon leaders and witnesses.

The Book of Abraham papyri do not claim what Joseph Smith said:

In addition to this, the existing papyri simply don’t say anything that would place them in the era related to 2000BC in ancient Egypt. The content of the papyri would at least help verify the dating of the document, even if the content had been transcribed or copied from an earlier document. But the papyri simply tell us about an ancient burial ritual and prayers that are consistent with Egyptian culture in 500BC. Nothing in the papyri hints specifically or exclusively to a time in history in which Abraham would have lived.

So there is a clear difference hear between the Bible and Mormonism, when it comes to historical verification.

Further study

If you want a nice long PDF to print out and read at lunch (which is what I did with it) you can grab this PDF by Michael Licona, entitled “Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock“.

Video, audio and summary of William Lane Craig vs Peter Millican debate

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

Here’s a debate with a well-qualified atheist and Dr. Craig.

Video:

Audio:

Description from the Youtube upload:

This debate on “Does God Exist?” took place in front of a capacity audience at the Great Hall, University of Birmingham. It was recorded on Friday 21st October 2011 as part of the UK Reasonable Faith Tour with William Lane Craig.

William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, La Mirada, California and a leading philosopher of religion. Peter Millican is Gilbert Ryle Professor of Philosophy at Hertford College, University of Oxford and a noted scholar in studies of Hume.

The debate was hosted by the University of Birmingham Student Philosophy Society, and the debate was moderated by Professor Carl Chinn.

Dr. Millican proved to be an amazing debater, and that allowed Dr. Craig to show the full range of his talents in a way that he has never done before. This was a great debate – right up there with Craig’s two debates against Austin Dacey and Paul Draper. Dr. Millican is excellent at analytical philosophy, had studied cosmology and physics, and he came prepared to answer Craig’s arguments. There is NO SNARK in my debate summary below, out of respect for Dr. Millican. However, I haven’t proof-read it, so please do point out any errors. There is about 30 minutes of Q&A time at the end.

Dr. Craig’s opening speech:

There are good reasons to believe that God exists.

There are no good reasons to believe that God does not exist.

A1) The origin of the universe

  1. The universe began to exist
  2. If the universe began to exist, then the universe has a transcendent cause.
  3. The universe has a transcendent cause.

The origin of the universe is confirmed by philosophical arguments and scientific evidence.

There cannot be an actual infinite number of past events, because mathematical operations like subtraction and division cannot be applied to actual infinities.

The Borde-Guth-Vilenkin (BGV) proof shows that every universe that expands must have a space-time boundary in the past. That means that no expanding universe, no matter what the model, cannot be eternal into the past.

Even speculative alternative cosmologies do not escape the need for a beginning.

The cause of the universe must be transcendent and supernatural. It must be uncaused, because there cannot be an infinite regress of causes. It must be eternal, because it created time. It must be non-physical, because it created space. There are only two possibilities for such a cause. It could be an abstract object or an agent. Abstract objects cannot cause effects. Therefore, the cause is an agent.

A2) The fine-tuning of the universe

  1. The fine-tuning of the universe is either due to law, chance or design.
  2. It is not due to law or chance.
  3. Therefore, it is due to design.

The progress of science has revealed that the Big Bang was fine-tuned to allow for the existence of intelligent life.

Type 1: Constants like the gravitational constant are finely-tuned, and are not dependent on the laws of physics.

Type 2: Quantities like the amount of entropy in the universe, are not dependent on the laws of physics.

The range of life-permitting values is incredibly small compared to the possible values of the constants and quantities. (Like having a lottery with a million black balls and one white ball, and you pick the white ball. Even though each individual ball has the same tiny chance of being picked, but the odds are overwhelming that the whichever ball you pick will be black, and not white).

Not only are the numbers not due to laws, but they are not due to chance either. It’s not just that the settings are unlikely, it’s that they are unlikely and they conform to an independent pattern – namely, the ability to support complex life.

A3) The moral argument

  1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
  2. Objective morality does exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

Objective moral values are values that exist independently of whether any humans believe them or not.

Michael Ruse, an atheist philosopher agrees that if God does not exist, then there is only a “herd morality” that is determined by biological evolution and social evolution. There no objective moral standard, just different customs and conventions that vary by time and place. Anyone who acts against the herd morality is merely being unfashionable and unconventional. On the atheistic view, there is nothing objective and binding about this evolved “herd morality”. However, people do experience objective moral values, and these cannot be grounded on atheism.

Furthermore, God must exist in order to argue that there is evil in the world. In order to be able to make a distinction between good and evil that is objective, there has to be a God to determine a standard of good and evil that is binding regardless of the varying customs and conventions of different people groups. Even when a person argues against God’s existence by pointing to the “evil” in the world, they must assume objective moral values, and a God who grounds those objective moral values.

A4) The resurrection of Jesus.

  1. There are certain minimal facts that are admitted by the majority of historians, across the ideological spectrum: the empty tomb, the appearances and the early belief in the resurrection.
  2. Naturalistic attempts to explain these minimal facts fail.
  3. The best explanation of these facts is that Jesus rose from the dead.

A5) Religious experience

People can know that God exists through experience. In the absence of defeaters for these experiences, these experiences constitute evidence for God’s existence.

Dr. Millican’s opening speech:

Dr. Craig has the burden of proof because he claims that God exists.

The Christian God hypothesis:

  1. An omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God created the universe.
  2. This God cares about humans.
  3. This God has acted in history though the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

This is a factual claim, and we are discussing the evidence for whether these claims are true or false. We are not interested in religious practice, or the consolation of religious belief, nor any other religions.

A1) Religious pluralism and epistemology

Human beings are purpose-finding creatures – we are prone to prefer explanations that involve purpose.

Human beings are pattern-finding animals – we tend to find designs in states of affairs.

Human beings have an interest in maintaining religious hierarchies because of the power it gives them.

Religious beliefs are not determined by rational considerations, but are determined by geographic location.

The same non-scientific method of generating religious beliefs (purpose-finding, pattern-finding, geographic location, parental teaching, charismatic speakers, praise songs and worship, religious education, ancient holy books) is being used in several religions, and it leads to different, contradictory truth claims. So at least some of those conflicting claims are false. And if the method is generating some false claims, then it’s not a good method, and it undermines all the religions that use those methods.

A2) Absence of evidence is evidence of absence

There is no scientific evidence for God.

A3) Mental processes depend on physical systems

There is no scientific evidence for a disembodied intelligence.

Our universal human experience is that intelligence and mental operations require a physical brain.

The quality of our thinking depends on physical conditions, like being tired or on drugs.

But Christian theists believe that mental processes can exist independently of an underlying physical reality, unimpaired by the death of the physical body and the brain.

R.A1) The origin of the universe

1. There is no evidence that whatever begins to exist requires a cause. All the evidence we have of things beginning to exist are when something is created from rearrangements of other things that already existed.

The closest analog we have to something coming into being from nothing is quantum particles coming into being from nothing, and that causation is random.

There is no evidence that thoughts can bring about physical effects, and Bill is arguing for a mental cause to the origin of the universe.

Even if things that begin to exist IN the universe have causes, it doesn’t hold for the universe as a whole. Bill is committing the fallacy of composition.

Time begins with the universe, but our experience of causation is that it is a temporal process. So if there is no time “prior to” the universe’s beginning, then how can there be a cause to the universe?

It’s possible that there could be something outside our universe that is eternal.

It’s also possible that the Big Bang could be wrong, and this universe could oscillate eternally and not require a beginning.

2. There are cosmological theories that avoid the beginning of the universe by positing a prior period of contraction prior to the Big Bang.

The beginning of this universe depends on general relativity, and that theory breaks down at the level of quantum mechanics.

3. There is no evidence that minds can exist without an underlying physical system. So even if there is a cause of the universe, then it is neither an abstract object nor a mind. It would have to be something else, and not something we are familiar with – we are just not in a position to speculate of what it could be.

R.A3) The moral argument

Atheists do believe in a standard of morality that is not based on what groups of humans believe.

Utilitarians think there is a standard of moral values that is objective, because the measure of human happiness (for the greatest number) is objective, even if people are mistaken about what promotes that happiness.

Kantians have a rational process for determining which moral imperatives should be universalized.

Humeans have a system that is rooted in natural human sentiment.

Dr. Craig’s first rebuttal:

I do not have the only burden of proof. The topic is “Does God Exist?”. If Dr. Millican answers “no” then he has a burden of proof, otherwise we are left with agnosticism.

R.A1) Religious pluralism and epistemology

First, there is no single common method of adopting a religion.

Second, MY method this evening is logic and evidence and personal experience – which is the same as his method. So his comments about how people in different religions adopt their religion through parents, church, singing, etc. have no bearing on the arguments I will be making.

R.A2) Absence of evidence is evidence of absence

Absence of evidence is only evidence of absence if we can reasonably expect that there should be some evidence that is not present. He would have to show that there should be more evidence for God’s existence that the 5 arguments that I already presented – something that we should expect to see that we don’t see.

R.A3) Mental processes depend on physical systems

No response by Dr. Craig. (but see below)

A1) The origin of the universe

1. He says that there are speculative cosmologies like the multiverse that escape the need for a beginning, but that’s false, the BGV proof applies to them, and they do need a beginning.

He says that you can escape BGV by positing a contraction prior to the expansion. However Vilenkin says that any contraction phase is unstable and would introduce additional singularities that would hamper any later expansion phase.

He  says that we need a theory of quantum gravity in order to describe the early universe. But Vilenkin says that the BGV proof is independent of gravity as defined by general relativity.

He did not respond to the philosophical arguments for a beginning of the universe.

2. He says that we don’t have experience of things coming into being except from material causes. However, it would be even more difficult to explain the universe coming into being on atheism since you can’t appeal to a material cause nor to an efficient cause. Even Hume recognizes that things can’t pop into being without causes.

He talks about how in quantum physics virtual particles appear out of nothing. But that’s false, because the quantum vacuum in which virtual particles appear is not nothing, it is a sea of subatomic particles and energy. Quantum physics is not an exception to the idea that things that come into being require a cause.

He mentions the fallacy of composition. But I am not saying that everything in the universe has a cause, therefore the universe as a whole has a cause. I am saying that non-being has no capacity to bring something into being. Non-Being doesn’t even have the potential to bring something into being.

3. He says that there are no unembodied minds, so the cause of the universe can’t be an unembodied mind. But the argument concludes that there is a non-material cause, and it can’t be an abstract object, so it would have to be a mind.

In addition, we ourselves are unembodied minds.  This is because physical objects cannot have the properties that minds have, like the property of having feelings.

Material conceptions of mind don’t explain identity over time.

Material conceptions of mind don’t explain free will.

Material conceptions of mind don’t explain intentional states (thinking about something).

Material conceptions of mind don’t explain mental causation.

The best explanation for our own first person experience of the mental realm is a substance dualism. We are non-material minds, and we can cause effects in the physical world. And God does the same thing. He is a mind, and he causes physical effects.

A2) He gave no response.

A3) He says that there are atheistic theories of morality that don’t depend on the opinions of groups. But these theories all depend on the idea that human beings have instrinsic value – that they are the sorts of things to which moral considerations apply. Naturalism cannot ground this moral value – human beings are no more valuable any other animal.

Also, there are no objective moral obligations in naturalist systems of morality, because there is no one in authority to command them. Moral prescriptions require moral prescribers.

A4) He gave no response.

A5) He gave no response.

Dr. Millican’s first rebuttal:

R.A2) The fine-tuning argument

We have to be careful not to judge what counts as finely-tuned through our intuitions.

We have to be careful about reasoning for a sample size of this one observable universe.

We don’t really know about the full range of possibilities for these constants and quantities.

There might be other universes that we can’t observe that aren’t fine-tuned, and we just happen to be in the one that is fine-tuned.

The fine-tuning might be solved by future discoveries, like the inflationary cosmology removed some of the fine-tuning.

There might be a multiverse that we don’t have evidence for right now.

We need to be careful about using science to prove God because science might change in the future.

The universe is very big and mysterious.

This argument doesn’t prove that God is good. He could be evil = anti-God.

God created the universe inefficiently if his goal was to produce life.

God created the universe too big.

God created the universe too old.

God created too many galaxies and stars that are not hospitable to life.

If the universe were fine-tuned for life, then there should be more aliens.

If the universe were fine-tuned for life, then there are probably lots of alien civilizations. But then Jesus would have to appear to all of the aliens too.

R.A1) The origin of the universe

2. It’s not a big deal that you can get multiple solutions to equations involving subtraction of actual infinities. For example, the equation 0 x y = 0 has many solutions for y, but that doesn’t mean that multiplication doesn’t work in the real world.

A2) Absence of evidence is evidence of absence

I would expect that there would be more evidence than there is.

R.A1) The origin of the universe

2. The BVG proof might be overturned by future scientific discoveries. We have no reason to be confident in current physics.

I agree that the quantum vacuum is something and not nothing, but it’s similar to nothing.

We don’t have any reason to believe that things that come into being require causes – except for our universal experience that this is always the case.

3. As to the cause of the universe coming into being, you said that it could only be an abstract object or a mind, and it can’t be an abstract object because they don’t cause effects, so it must be a mind. But there are all sorts of things we’ve never thought of that it could be other than a mind.

I agree that mental properties are not physical properties and that epiphenomenalism is incorrect. Physical objects can have “algorithmic properties” as well as physical properties, it doesn’t mean that computers have minds.

Dr. Craig’s second rebuttal:

R.A2) Absence of evidence is evidence of absence

He expressed his personal opinion that there should be more evidence, but that’s not an argument.

God knows how people will respond to getting more evidence or less evidence and he has to be careful not to take away their free will to disbelieve by piling them up with coercive evidence. God’s goal is not just to convince people that he exists. God’s goal is to have people respond to him and pursue him.

A1) The origin of the universe

2. He said that multiple answers to equations are no problem. But the problem is that you can’t translate multiple answers into a real world context.

The problem is that you are subtracting an identical number from an identical number and getting contradictory results, and that cannot be translated into the real world, where subtraction always gives a definite single result.

He talks about how you can get multiple answers with multiplication by 0. But 0 is not a real quantity, it is just the absence of something, and that cannot translate into the real world, because it has no being.

He says that I am only using evidence from current physics. But that is the point – the evidence of current physics and cosmology supports the beginning of the universe.

3. He said that an umembodied mind can’t be the cause, but we are minds and we cause effects on our physical bodies.

In addition, the design argument supports the idea that the cause of the universe is intelligent.

A2) The fine-tuning of the universe

He says we should be cautious. Of course.

He says the probabilities can’t be assessed. But you can just take the current value and perturb it and see that the resulting universe loses its ability to support life, and you can test an entire range around the current value to see that that vast majority of values in the range don’t permit life.

He says that the current physics is not well-established, but there are so many examples of fine-tuning across so many different areas of science that it is not likely that all of them will be overturned, and the number of finely-tuned constants and quantities has been growing, not shrinking.

He says it doesn’t prove that God is good, and he’s right – that’s what the moral argument is for.

He says that God isn’t efficient enough, but efficiency is only important for those who have limited time and/or limited resources. But God has unlimited time and resources.

He says that the universe is too old, but the large age of the universe is a requirement to support intelligent life – (i.e. – you need third generation stars to provide a stable source of energy to planets, and those stars require that two generations of stars are born and die).

He said what about aliens, and theists are open to that, and God can certainly provide for the salvation of those beings, if they have fallen into sin.

Dr. Millican’s second rebuttal:

R.A1) The origin of the universe

3. Just because epiphenominalism is false, it doesn’t mean that substance dualism is true.

The majority of philosophers of mind do not accept substance dualism.

R.A3) The moral argument

The majority of philosophers are moral realists, but a minority of philosophers are theists. So that means that there must be some way of justifying morality on atheism, which I will not describe right now.

Atheists can express their opinion that humans have intrinsic moral value.

He grants that atheists can perceive moral values. But if atheists can perceive moral values, then why is God needed to enable that?

Atheists can express their opinion that humans are special. We can be rational, and that makes us special.

Atheists can express their opinion that it is good to care about other humans because they are of the same species.

R.A4) The resurrection of Jesus

We don’t have any reasons to believe i the supernatural.

The gospels are written late for the purposes of evangelism.

The gospels are not independent, e.g. Matthew and Luke depend on Q.

John is the latest gospel, and the Christology of John is the highest of all.

The four gospels agree because the early church rejected other (unnamed) gospels that didn’t agree.

Matthew 27 – the earthquake and the raised saints – is not recorded in any other contemporary non-Christian source.

Dr. Craig’s final rebuttal:

A3) The moral argument

He says that human beings are rational, and that gives them value. But atheists like Sam Harris prefer the flourishing of sentient life. He includes non-rational animals as having moral value. So without God, we see that the choice of who or what has moral value is arbitrary. And where would objective moral duties come from if there is no moral lawgiver?

The fact that most atheists accept objective moral values doesn’t mean that they can rationally ground those values on their atheistic worldview. You can’t provide a basis for moral values on atheism by counting the number of atheists who accept objective morality. It’s not surprising that atheists can perceive objective moral values IF they are living in auniverse created by God who grounds these objective moral values and duties that atheists perceive.

A4) The resurrection of Jesus

He cites Geza Vermes and Bart Ehrman as authorities on the historical Jesus, but both of them accept all three of the facts that I presented as minimal facts. Ehrman doesn’t accept the resurrection of Jesus because he presupposes naturalism. He rejects the resurrection on philosophical grounds, not historical grounds.

Dr. Millican’s final rebuttal:

R.A5) Religious experience

Religious experience is an unreliable way to test the claims of a religion, because lots of religions have them and they make contradictory truth claims. In the future, we may discover naturalistic ways of explaining religious experience.

R.A4) The resurrection of Jesus

Even if you can make a case for the resurrection based on these3  minimal facts, there are other stories in the New Testament like Matthew 27 that are quite weird and they undermine the 3 minimal facts that even Geza Vermes and Bart Ehrman accept.

R.A1) The origin of the universe

Bill hasn’t shown that there is any reason for thinking that things don’t come into being, uncaused, out of nothing.

A4) The problem of evil

Theists can’t explain what God’s specific morally sufficient reasons are for permitting the apparently gratuitous evil that we see.

William Lane Craig explains the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement

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

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.

Excerpt:

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.

Bible study: why would a loving God make a terrible place like Hell?

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

It’s time for us to take a look in the Bible and make some sense of it, again. Today’s question is really “what does God expect us to be doing with our lives?” but I wanted the title of this post to be more eye-catching for non-Christians.

Why do people go to Hell?

Let’s start with finding out what we are supposed to be doing, and then we’ll know why there is a place like Hell for people who don’t do that to be separated from God.

Everyone has a moral obligation to choose how to use their time wisely during their life time. People everywhere, in all times and places, have had the choice of whether to spend more time thinking about the “big questions” or more time having fun and being selfish. Thinking about the big questions logically leads a person to making discoveries about God’s existence and character. Once the people who think about the “big questions” discover the answers to those big questions, they are morally obligated to use their free will to love God using all their capabilities.

Bible verse break:

Deuteronomy 4:27-30:

27 The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the Lord will drive you.

28 There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell.

29 But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.

30 When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him.

At a bare minimum, loving God also means obeying the moral law. But I think there is a lot more to loving God than just obeying rules. Each person is also obligated to engage in and support enterprises that help others to know God as he really is. If a person fails to use their free will to love God, then that person is sinning. Notice that on my view, being nice to your neighbor is relatively unimportant compared to being nice to God. Jesus’ first commandment is to love God, and that vertical dimension is much more important than horizontal dimension of loving your neighbor.

Bible verse break, again – this time Paul is explaining what he does to love God:

Philippians 1:3-19:

3 I thank my God every time I remember you.

4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy

5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,

6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.

8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,

10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,

11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.

13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.

14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.

16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.

17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition,not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.

18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,

19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.

So we are supposed to be telling people the gospel, which is the good news about who God is, and what he has done for us to bring us into a right relationship with him, despite our lack of curiosity about him, and our focus on ourselves instead of him. The pre-condition to loving God and sharing the gospel is knowing what his character is really like. Most people are born into a certain religion or learn it from their parents or their culture and they either adopt it without thinking or they reject it without thinking. They are not interested in investigating who God is using reason and evidence, including scientific and historical evidence.

On the Christian view, the best thing you can possibly do with your time is to investigate whether God is real, and what he is like. It’s wrong to say that investigating doesn’t matter or that all religions are the same. In fact, when you actually look into these things like you do any other area of knowledge, with logic and evidence, you do arrive at knowledge of who God is. And that’s because God has left clues of who he is in the natural world and in history – he expects us to be looking for him. He is as real as any other person you know, and his character is as defined as any other person you know.

Bible verse break:

Acts 17:26-27:

26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.

27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.

I think that the result of any honest investigation is going to be that the Christian religion is going to be found to be more true in its major claims than any other religion. I.e. – people who conduct an honest investigation are going to find that the Christian claims about the universe coming into being out of nothing, and of Jesus rising from the dead, etc. will be validated by the progress of science and historical inquiry.

But since people have a natural tendency to focus on making themselves happy, not many investigations occur. They know that if Christianity is true, they would have to engage in radical self-denial and self-sacrificial love. They know they would have to sober, be chaste, be different, and not be liked because of their exclusive view. And people don’t want to do that, so an honest investigation never even gets started.

Instead, what you find non-Christians doing is hoping in speculations to justify their flight from the demands of the God who is there. We want to be free to make ourselves happy, and that means that we have to keep the real God who is there and who is not silent at arms length. That’s what non-Christians do – they use their time on Earth to push God away so they can focus on themselves and their own happiness. In fact, even Christians do it, which is why we rely on Jesus as a sacrifice for our sin. We could come near to God and work on the things that he would like us to work on without some way to get past our own rebellion. For those who grasp the sacrifice of Jesus as an atonement for our rebellion, cooperation with God becomes possible.

One of the problems that Christians have today is that we do not really understand what sin is. We think that sin is about hurting other people or making other people feel bad. But actually, the sinfulness of a person has little to do with that, and much more to do with how we respond to God. We have a moral obligation to know God and to include God in all of our decision making. Hell is the place that God has made for people who turn away from him. A person chooses Hell when she refuses to investigate whether God is there and who God is, so that she does not have to adjust her choices to respect God.

J.P. Moreland asks: does truth matter when choosing a religion?

Dr. J.P. Moreland
Dr. J.P. Moreland

This lecture contains Moreland’s famous “Wonmug” illustration. Ah, memories! If you don’t know who Wonmug is, you can find out in this lecture.

The MP3 file is here.

Topics:

  • Is it intolerant to think that one religion is true?
  • Is it more important to be loving and accepting of people regardless of worldview?
  • How should Christians approach the question of religious pluralism?
  • How does a person choose a religion anyway?
  • Who is Wonmug, and would you like to be like Wonmug?
  • Is it enough that a belief “works for you”, or do you want to believe the truth?
  • Can all the religions in the world be true?
  • Is it wise to pick and choose what you like from all the different religions?
  • Is it possible to investigate which religion is true? How?
  • Which religions are testable for being true or false?
  • How you can test Christianity historically (very brief)

I’m posting this, because I’ve noticed that there’s an awful lot of cultural Christianity in red states. Basically, if you ask someone if they are a Christian, and they say yes, they don’t usually mean that they think it’s true and that they’ve investigated whether it’s true. They usually just mean that they like it, or it makes them feel good, or that’s how they were raised, etc. My worry about this is that if Christianity isn’t adopted because it’s true, then no one is going to do any work or self-sacrifice for it.

People are willing to invest in projects self-sacrificially if they think that they are involved in something true. So, you might enroll in a chemistry program in college because you expect to come out with true beliefs about chemistry. You’ll do the work and solve the problems because you think that chemistry is real. But if you think that chemistry is just made up nonsense with no use at all, you’re probably not going to work at it and sacrifice for it. You’ll probably just find something else to do with your life that’s easier and more fun. That’s why the truth question is really important.