Everything we need to know about God

I was a conservative, Bible-believing Christian until I was in my early forties, and as a believer, the one thing I wanted more than anything else was to understand God. Ironically, it’s only now, after a decade and a half as an atheist, that I’ve finally reached an understanding that truly does explain everything that seems odd or mysterious about God.

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Louder than words

Matthew 7 records Jesus as saying, “every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.” In context, it’s a reference to how believers are supposed to judge the difference between “true” prophets and false ones. But I thought it might be interesting to apply at a higher level. Instead of judging people sent by God or sent by Satan, what if we applied the same standards to God and Satan themselves?

With that in mind, I thought it might be interesting to take a tour through the Bible and compare the actual deeds attributed to God with the actual deeds attributed to Satan, so that we can know which one is indeed “the good tree.”

Genesis: God kills every man, woman, child, baby, and animal on earth except for 8 people and a few thousand pairs of animals on the ark. He also kills every man, woman, child, baby, and animal in the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. Both mass murders (even of the babies) are justified on the grounds that men are evil, in God’s estimation. Also, an unknown number of people die from various famines and plagues, which are presumably controlled by God, for no particular reason. No mention of anyone being killed or harmed by Satan.

Meanwhile, God wants Abraham and his descendants to mutilate the genitals of all their male babies by cutting off the skin at the end, and He wants to be worshipped through taking animals, slitting their throats, cutting up their bodies, and burning them. Satan, on the other hand, is fine with leaving babies and animals unharmed, as far as Genesis tells us.

Exodus: God sends a violent hailstorm to kill every man, woman, child, or beast in Egypt unless they heed Moses’ warning and take shelter indoors. Any plants that survive the hailstorm are subsequently devoured by the locusts God sends after the hail, which is probably going to produce a serious food shortage in the months to come. God then kills all the firstborn of Egypt—man, woman, child, or baby, on the grounds that Pharaoh is being disobedient (after God hardened his heart to prevent him from obeying). Israelites are spared, IF they obey God by killing an innocent lamb and using its blood to mark the doors of their homes. They must also promise to kill animals as an offering to God every time they first give birth, so that God will not kill their firstborn.

Next, God kills Pharaoh and all his armies, for pursuing the Israelites. God then takes the Israelites to Mt. Sinai and instructs them on how to properly worship Him by killing animals, pouring out their blood, cutting up their bodies, burning them, and so on. He also allows them to own each other as slaves who can be sold, separated from their spouses and children, beaten to the point of death (or even to death itself, provided they survive at least 3 days after the initial beating). No record of Satan killing anyone or making any demands on the people.

Leviticus: God kills Aaron’s 2 sons, Nadab and Abihu, for burning incense before His altar in a way that He had not commanded. He also commands the stoning of a boy for cursing. Satan leaves everybody’s kids alone.

Numbers: God kills an unspecified number of Israelites, for complaining. He also sends a plague to kill another unspecified number (presumably large) for asking God to send some meat to eat, so they wouldn’t have to eat manna all the time. (He did send the meat, and then killed them while they were eating it.) A man is caught gathering sticks on Saturday, so God commands that he be stoned to death too, for violating the sabbath. Korah rebels against Moses, and he and hundreds of his followers are killed when God opens up the ground beneath their feet to swallow them up. God sends a plague to kill an additional 14,700 people due to complaints about the killing of Korah.

God then sends poisonous snakes to kill another unspecified number of Israelites, for complaining. The next 24,000 are killed by a plague for participating in Baal worship and sleeping with Moabite women (it would have been more, but Eleazar impressed God by spearing two people to death while they were having sex). God then sends the Israelite army to commit genocide against the Midianites, except the men are allowed to keep virgin Midianite girls for slavery and other “amusements.” All other Midianites are to be killed though. Then He sends Israel into Palestine, with instructions to wipe out the current inhabitants completely, and take possession of their lands. Still no interference from Satan though.

Well, I think I’m sensing a trend here. For all that Satan is supposed to be the bad guy, when it comes to fruits that we would call “evil” (at least if anyone else did them), God is far and away the biggest fruit-bearer. I could keep going, but frankly, the litany of violence and abuse coming from God is both monotonous and horrifying. Yet Satan, somehow, is supposed to be the epitome of evil. You could, I suppose, find some way to blame Satan anyway for all the evil things that God finds Himself “forced” to do, but the Bible, in fact, does not do that. Not until you get to the book of Job do you find Satan acting with any kind of evil intentions towards men, and even then he first asks—and receives—God’s explicit permission. Even when God employs agents for the evil He dispatches against mankind, He is still ultimately responsible.

Expectations: exceeded.

Since I previously expressed reservations about Bill Nye’s wisdom in agreeing to debate Ken Ham at the Creation Spewseum, I think I owe him a follow-up: he blew me away. My pessimistic assessment was wrong, and he totally pwned the opposition. Nor am I alone in this assessment. Dana Hunter has this to say:

I thought this would be a fiasco when I found out he’d agreed to debate Ken at Ken’s own Creation Museum, with only Answers in Genesis putting out DVDs, and when it seemed like only creationists were getting in the doors. And I’m still not happy this stunt will pull in some dollars for that epic fail of an organization. But to go on the creationists’ own turf, and still hand Ken Ham his ass in a sling, that’s some serious good-for-science there.

Indeed.

Check out the full article for a bunch of good links and good reading.

Go Science!

A short answer

Just for fun, I thought I’d take a stab at the 22 Messages from Creationists, giving each one a short response. Let’s start with the last one.

22. If we came from monkeys then why are there still monkeys?

If we came from our parents and grandparents, why do we still have parents and grandparents? Or, to put it in Christian terms, if Jesus came from God, then why would there still be a God?

Think, dude. [Read more…]

The agnostic creationist

I thought this was interesting. Here’s Ken Ham’s response to the question, “What, if anything, would ever change your mind?”

Well, the answer to that is, I’m a Christian, and as a Christian I can’t prove it to you, but God has definitely shown me very clearly through His Word, and He has shown Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, that the Bible is the Word of God…

No, no one is ever going to convince me that the Word of God is not true.

Or in other words, Ken Ham is never going to be able to genuinely know whether the Bible is true or not. He’s like a broken watch that says it’s 2:45 no matter what time it is. Nothing is ever going to be able to get him to say it’s not 2:45. Ask him what time it is, and after he answers, you still won’t know what the correct time is, because his answer is not tied to the current time. And likewise, there’s no point in asking him whether or not the Bible is really true, because his answer will be completely unrelated to the truth. Evidence, facts, reality itself, are all powerless to change what he says, and therefore his faith can never accurately reflect the state of the evidence, the facts, and reality itself.

Rhetorical questions, weaker arguments

A propos of nothing in particular, I’ve noticed something lately that rather surprises me. Rhetorical questions make arguments weaker. That’s an over-generalization, of course, but time and again I’ve found that any time I find myself about to ask a rhetorical question, I can usually make a much stronger statement by making it a direct affirmation. Not only does it typically produce a result that’s harder to refute, but it also tends to sharpen my own understanding of the argument I’m trying to make. Instead of leaving an open-ended absence of information, I’m forced to dig in to my own argument and understand better why I think it’s true.

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Free will in heaven

One religious answer to the problem of evil is the idea that sin is necessary in order to allow people to exercise their free will. Apparently, if God had created a perfect world, we would all be robots with no free will, and that would be a terrible thing.

But wait a minute. Heaven is supposed to be a perfect world. God, the angels, and all the saints are supposed to live in heaven forever. If free will requires sin in order to be free will, then the sinlessness of heaven means God, the angels, and all the saints are going to spend eternity not having any free will.

That means that for us to have free will right now is a complete waste. The only thing it contributes is to send most of God’s “beloved” children to the eternal torments of Hell. Only the elect few will make it to the realm where their free will no longer exists, and the Bible says that the saved were foreordained before the foundation of the world, so in a sense their “free” will was illusory even while they had it. That’s not much of a justification for sin, is it?

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Hustling the Gospel

Writing for the Huffington Post, Pastor Rick Henderson explains Why There Is No Such Thing as a Good Atheist.

While it is true that there is no definitive atheistic worldview, all atheists share the same fundamental beliefs as core to their personal worldviews. While some want to state that atheism is simply a disbelief in the existence of a god, there really is more to it. Every expression of atheism necessitates at least three additional affirmations…

What follows is another one of those arguments where morality is supposed to come from God, and therefore without God there can be no good or evil, and therefore atheists can’t be “good” because they’ve denied the existence of good and evil. What’s interesting is the way Pastor Rick introduces this particular scam.

For those of you who are eager to pierce me with your wit and crush my pre-modern mind, allow me to issue a challenge. I contend that any response you make will only prove my case. Like encountering a hustler on the streets of Vegas, the deck is stacked, and the odds are not in your favor.

The atheist is talking with the pastor, but he’s being hustled, because the pastor has stacked the deck. I’ve seen believers pull this particular hustle before, but Pastor Rick is the first one to openly admit he’s using dishonest tactics to achieve his goal. But let’s lay all our cards on the table and check out his “three additional affirmations” and then see who deserves to win this particular hand.

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Why revelation fails

One of the dogmas underlying Murk’s belief system is the idea that divine revelation is required in order for us to have any knowledge of the truth, as he himself has recently shared.

I have written that to know anything a person must either know everything or someone who does who is good and shares. I cannot make this any simpler.
You cannot have any knowledge unless you are God or trust what He has revealed.

This is a false statement, since I can and do know that I exist, and I cannot be mistaken in this knowledge—if I did not exist there would be no one to make the mistake. Every one of us possesses the ability to know at least some material truth, without any need for divine revelation. But more than this, there are at least three good reasons to conclude that divine revelation is not, in fact, a reliable means of knowing the truth about the real world.

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Ultimate authority

Whatever it may sell itself as to believers, presuppositionalism in practice usually boils down to a loose collection of contrived and superficial “gotcha” dialogs in which the entire skeptical worldview ends up “exposed” as self-contradictory and invalid. The catch is that creating this illusion requires that the unbeliever stick to some rigid and narrow constraints on what they’re supposed to say. It’s a schtick that works best with 1-dimensional bad guys, who oppose the hero only to make the hero look good.

Real skeptics don’t talk or think like cartoons, however, so when the presuppositionalist tries to interact with a real live skeptic, they end up floundering around trying to force the conversation back into the canned script. Sometimes they meet unbelievers who haven’t thought much about the topic, and are easily steered, but if the skeptic knows anything at all about philosophy, epistemology, and phenomenology, the result can be a series of exchanges so disjointed they border on the surreal. For example, here’s Murk trying to respond to my observation that religious beliefs are necessarily subjective perceptions rather than verifiable objective fact.

“you’d be walking by proof, not walking by faith.” not true- boils down to ultimate authority – we all have one – what is yours again?

His response seems only tangentially related, if not completely disconnected, from the observation he’s trying to respond to. But that’s because he’s trying to get back to a script in which rationalism is really the vain assumptions of a conceited heart. I didn’t say anything that would support such a conclusion, but that’s beside the point. He’s here to have the scripted conversation from his apologetics texts, no matter how the real-world conversation may be proceeding. [Read more…]