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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Is It OK for God to Kill and Torture People?

One of the things I enjoy most when watching debates is the Q&A time afterwards. It allows people to ask questions that may not have been directly addressed in a debate format. In my 2012 debate against Richard Carrier, we also hosted a Q&A time. Questions for each participant were alternated and the participant was given two minutes for a reply with a one minute rebuttal from the opponent. This seemed fair and would allow more audience member to ask questions. Of course, the format is also limiting, as a recent article that criticized one of my responses shows.

In the Q&A, I was asked, "You stated that you believe torture to be wrong in every situation, correct?" I corrected the questioner that my claim in the debate was torturing babies for fun is wrong in all situations. In the debate I had used this illustration to show that all moral values are objective. The questioner responded, "Given that, your Bible-God tortures babies if you're of the predestination camp. Why do you admire a god that does things you would despise in a man?"

The question is obviously a loaded one. As I immediately said in my reply, to assume that God tortures babies is a false assumption. There are many issues with it, but let's take them one at a time.

God Does Not Torture People in Hell

The idea of Hell is painted as God torturing people. That's a misunderstanding of Hell itself. To understand Hell, one must first understand God. God is the source of all goodness and perfection. James 1:17 tells us "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." That means all the pleasure and goodness we experience ultimately has its source in Him. When a person rejects God and His provision for atonement, God will not force himself upon that individual.

After a person dies his soul must reside somewhere. So God will, for lack of a better word, quarantine him in a place where he's separated from God's relational presence. But in so doing, the person is also separated from God's good gifts. Thus the restlessness and anguish experienced by those in Hell are a direct result of their separation from God. Hell is symbolized as a place of eternal fire, but theologians don't hold to that as a literal description.

For those that are interested, you can read a more extensive answer in this 1997 article posted at the Come Reason site. God is not like some gleeful Dungeon-Master placing people on the rack or in an Iron Maiden. He is not executing tortures. He separates those who themselves have chosen to separate themselves from him. The consequences of that separation are what become agonizing.

God Does Not Send Babies to Hell

Notice that the questioner asked specifically about babies in his question. He qualified his claim with "if you're of the predestination camp." I believe the questioner was trying to point to the view of certain people who hold to a specific Calvinist theology. Such a theological position certainly isn't reflective of all of Christendom. It isn't even held by the majority of Christians. To universally impugn a belief in God for the position of a minority is grossly unfair. It isn't my position, either. I don't believe God sends those who die as babies to Hell. I argue that in this article,, so I won't take the time here.

Is the Author of Life Allowed to Take Life?

Most of my response to the questioner focused on whether God should be allowed to take a life, such as the life of a child. I had thought death was the focus of his objection. I therefore argued that God, as the author of life could also take life. I said, "The idea of giving life and taking life, if you're the creator of life it's in your purview to do so." At the end of my response, he clarified that he was talking about Hell, not simply death. My time had run out, but I was able to repeat I don't believe his premise is true.

When I say God is the creator of life, I don't mean only that God created specific lives. I mean God is the one who created that thing that animates living beings, the vita if you will. Science fiction stories often talk about this as a "life-force." Job 12:10 declares in God's hands "is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind."

Atheist blogger James Kirk Wall saw the debate exchange and challenged my answer. He asked "I'm [my dog] Frankie's owner. Now, just because I'm Frankie's owner does that mean I can be cruel or harmful to Frankie? Would it be OK since I'm his owner for me to torture the poor guy? ... What if I created Frankie; what if I created him in a test tube in some laboratory? Would that then make it OK? And of course, the answer is ‘no.'"1 (One wonders how consistent Wall's position on this topic is when we turn from dogs to abortion.)

But this analogy is incorrect. While we may be able to use IVF or even clone dogs in a lab, we do not have the power to bestow life. No one can take a bunch of non-living material and make something that's alive. That was one of the six points I argued in the main debate. As the giver of life itself, it is well within God's authority to take life as well. And as I sought to argue, God may have morally sufficient reasons to take a life at a particular time.

The scratched car analogy I used was perhaps clumsy. It wasn't referring to a person, but to life itself. Life is the car that God owns. Unfortunately, when I better understood the questioner's objection was focused on the agonies of hell, I had run out of time. Still, it should be clear that God doesn't "own" people. That's why people go to Hell; they can of their own free will reject him. But he does have the power over life and death and it is properly his to use as he sees fit.


1. Wall, James Kirk. "Is It OK for God to Kill and Torture People? Lenny Esposito vs. Dr. Richard Carrier." Chicago Now. Chicago Now, 21 June 2015. Web. 08 July 2015.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Misunderstanding God's Complexity

This summer, Disney/Pixar released the movie Inside Out. It's a great animated portrayal of the inner workings of 12 year old Riley's mind. In the film, the mind is an ever-expanding land of complexity, where emotions are personified, one's train of thought is an actual train, and memories are discrete balls stored in rows upon rows of shelves, catalogued and available for retrieval and playback.

The movie was a lot of fun to watch but it shouldn't be taken too literally. Most people understand that they don't have real little people in their heads causing feelings of joy, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust. While Riley is capable of displaying each of these emotions, they are not discrete entities, but aspects of a single mind.

The film falters in not showing how the person Riley chooses to interpret and govern her emotional inputs. A person acting on pure emotion would be unintelligible; they would be nothing more than an animal. There's something governing her understanding of herself and her feelings. Rationality, reason, and self-understanding are also parts of Riley the film doesn't show. Emotions cannot be responsible for virtue. It is the person of Riley who is responsible for these things. Emotions are not building blocks of the mind. They emanate from the mind, they don't comprise it.

I bring this up because I want to highlight a mistake in thinking that many atheists make in assuming God is a complex being. As I explained yesterday, some atheists hold the design argument to be something along the lines of the complex nature of the universe argues for a creator. They raise the objection that if the complexity of the universe points to God, then God—who is infinitely more complex than the universe itself—must also have a creator. In my last post, I highlighted two ways this kind of thinking runs awry. But the biggest problem with the objection is it simply mischaracterizes God.

God is a Not a Constituent Being

The primary breakdown in the atheist's argument is the claim that God must be somehow more complex than his creation. Such an assumption is unnecessary and it runs counter to the concept of God that Christians have held for nearly two millennia. Christian theology has held that God is ultimately a simple being, one unable to be divided or separated into parts.

The word simple may be used to mean "easy to understand." In other contexts it can also mean ignorant or uninformed. But philosophers use the term simple to mean something that is a total unity; it implies there is no way to break the essence of God into "building blocks" that together comprise who he is. A car is a complex machine that can be broken down into sub sections (drivetrain, electrical, suspension, braking system, etc.). These systems can be broken down further into parts. The parts are made of specific materials, and the materials are made from elements, the elements from molecules, and so it goes.

Augustine grounds the unchangeableness of God to his simplicity. In City of God XI, 10 he writes, "There is, accordingly, a good which is alone simple, and therefore alone unchangeable, and this is God. By this Good have all others been created, but not simple, and therefore not unchangeable."1  Here, Augustine sets out the argument that anything that can be broken down into smaller parts like the car implies it is contingent. God is a spirit, a divine mind with a unique nature. He cannot be divided "God parts" so-to-speak.

God cannot be subdivided this way. The divine mind is a single entity, not something composed of building blocks. Just as our human minds are single entities capable of developing complex emotions, ideas, and thoughts, so God can be the source of a complex creation.


1. Translated by Marcus Dods. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 2. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.
Image © 2015 Disney/Pixar.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Must the Creator Have a Reason for His Existence?

This morning I had a quick discussion with a person who was trying to argue that the complexity of the universe is evidence against the existence of God. He claimed that if a Christian was to argue that the complexity of the universe points to God's existence, then as God is infinitely more complex than the universe (his actual term was "complex to infinity"), it makes it even more probable that God was created. He wrote, "less complex things have a far better chance of being eternal than an almighty god."

Such an objection isn't uncommon among atheists. I've seen it frequently myself. As with a lot of retorts, this objection looks sound upon first glance. However, there are at least three rather large mistakes in reasoning in his assertion, they are important for Christians to recognize.

Not Everything That Exists Must Be Created

The first problem is one I've dealt with quite a bit. The questioner assumes that if one claims the universe has some kind of cause for its existence, then in order to be consistent, it's fair to ask what was God's cause? But the assumption itself is wrong. Christianity has never taught that whatever exists must have a cause. That would lead to a fallacy condition known as an infinite regress. For example, if one assumes the argument "because the universe exists, it requires a creator which is God," then the next step would be to ask what brought God into existence. Based on the premise, the answer must be some kind of "God-creator." But of course, the following question is "What created the God-creator?" The premise forces one to answer "A God-creator Creator?" The conversation would devolve into an endless series of "but what create THAT?" with no resolution in sight.

This is why Christians don't argue "Whatever exists must have a creator." Christianity holds that whatever begins to exist must has some kind of cause for its existence. That's a far more reasonable claim.

It Isn't Necessary to Explain the Explanation

The second problem in this objection is much like the first. To assume that in order to believe something one must explain all aspects of its existence is to ultimately appeal to an infinite regress. For example, in our discussion above, my interlocutor asked, "How would you know anything is created let alone by a specific entity?" Such a question struck me as odd. Most people have no problem identifying most things that are a product of intelligence versus those that are a product of nature. Archaeologists make their trade on such distinctions. Even when initial appearances are deceptive (like the face on Mars), identifying the hallmarks of intelligence are for the most part intuitive.

There are certain times one may question whether a structure was caused by natural processes or an intelligence. In those instances, the proponent of a particular view can offer reasons for his position. But if you must give reasons for your reasons, and then reasons for those reasons, you are again caught in an infinite regress. Something like a watch is clearly the product of an intelligent mind. One doesn't need to supply reasons for that conclusion; it's obvious to all but the most obstinate skeptic. When I responded my interlocutor, I simply asked him if he can tell that a watch found in the dirt is designed. He didn't seem happy to answer this question.

Tomorrow I will take up the last problem in the argument that a complex creation like the universe requires an even more complex God to be created. For now, realize that not every explanation needs an explanation of its own. To believe so is a mistake in thinking.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Top Five Apologetics Blog Posts for June 2015

There was a lot to talk/write about in June with the Supreme Court's redefinition of marraige, the recent attack on churchgoers in Charleston, among other headlines. Last month's top five posts reflect those concerns as articles associated with the events made the top five. In fact, the top two articles nudged their way into the top five most popular of all time!

It was a record-breaking month at the blog as we surpassed 30,000 pageviews for the first time, helped by a couple of articles on atheism. Here are the top five apologetics blog posts for June.
  1. Responding to Atheist Critiques of Christian Hypocrisy
  2. Secularism isn't a Neutral Position
  3. How Do We Defend Christian Values to Non-Christian Audiences?
  4. Why God Doesn't Reduce the Evil in the World?
  5. The Events in Charleston Contradict the New Atheists

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Talking God at Starbucks (video)

Christians sometimes struggle to find ways to witness to others. Asking good questions is one of the best ways to open up real conversations with people while still not offending them. Here, Lenny recounts a short conversation at a Starbucks to illustrate how effective questions are at starting God conversations.

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