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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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Monday, October 05, 2015

Atheism and the Illogic of Rejecting All Possible Gods

In one of my previous articles, I posted an anecdote Ken Samples recounts in his book A World of Difference. There, Ken engages with an atheist who agrees that the atheist position is "no god or gods are real" or that "no god or gods actually exist." That led Ken to ask, "doesn't the atheist, for his claim to be real, have to know all about reality and existence to rightly exclude any and every god. For example, to claim with any validity that there are no entities of a particular type (gods) in a given circle or set (reality), doesn't a person need a complete, comprehensive knowledge of that circle or set (reality)?"

The implication is that the claims of this kind of atheism are very grand indeed. However, not even all Christians are convinced of this line of argumentation. There were several comments left on the original post that you can read here and most were from atheists. Yet, one comment I received from a Christian, Daniel Wynn, told how he believed Samples overreached on this issue. He writes:
I like Ken Samples, but I have to disagree with him here. He says, In other words, as a point of logic, "doesn't the atheist, for his claim to be real, have to know all about reality and existence to rightly exclude any and every god?"

I don't think this is the case. If the atheist wanted to prove beyond doubt his belief was true he would have to do this, but since his belief is that no god or gods exist, he need only think what he sees as the lack of evidence or reasons are sufficient to warrant his beliefs. If he were to then claim no such evidence or reasons exist, he would then take on the burden Samples claims.

It would be similar to saying that as Christian theists we would have to know all of reality to show that none of the competing god ideas in the world are true. I don't think so. I think if we have warrant for belief in YHWH, then we can rest in the logical entailment that competing worldviews are false. Evidence for our view is by default evidence against the competing views.
That's a thoughtful objection worthy of consideration. I asked Ken to respond to Daniel's objection. Here is his reply:
Some thoughtful Christians have disagreed with the point of my argument (which was drawn from a real story but was used primarily to provoke thought as the logic chapter begins in chapter 3 of my book A World of Difference).

Here' why I think my point stands up logically:

In the categorical proposition E (Universal Negative): "No S are P." both the subject term (S) and the predicate term (P) are distributed. A term is said to be distributed if the statement or proposition "makes an assertion about every member of the class denoted by the term." (Patrick Hurley, A Concise Introduction to Logic, 11th ed., p. 202.)

In the E proposition both the subject term and the predicate term are both distributed—meaning that both terms make a claim about all members of a class.

So logically [No S are P.] can be translated in terms of distribution to mean in non-standard form "All of S are excluded from All of P."

Let's now plug in the statement taken from my story in chapter 3.

No S are P. = No Gods are real.

It means All of S (Gods) are excluded from All of P (reality). So if atheism is correctly defined in the proposition [No Gods are Real.], then the atheist claim is making a logical claim about all members of a class—reality. So, all Gods are excluded from all reality. Thus I think the designated definition of atheism is making a necessary claim about all reality that it cannot justify. Thus as I write in the story: "To claim with any validity that there are no entities of a particular type (gods) in a given circle or set (reality), doesn't a person need a complete, comprehensive knowledge of that circle or set (reality)?"

If my logical analysis is correct, I think it is epistemologically significant that the rules of logic indicate the atheist proposition to be unjustified.

The alternative propositional affirmation "No Gods are existent." also for the same reasons makes a logical claim about all existence.

As to the stated objection, the point of the story is not whether an individual atheist thinks he or she is personally warranted in disbelieving in God because of an apparent lack of evidence, but whether the knowledge claim of atheism itself as defined above is logically justified. Moreover, my personal experience is that many atheists are comfortable affirming a strong claim that No Gods are real. But if the atheist affirms a weaker claim of mere epistemological warrant, then why not ask if the atheist is in the best position to make judgments about reality and existence as a whole. So in an apologetics discussion you could consider critiquing the stronger atheist claim and then transition if necessary to the more modest atheist claim.

Regarding knowing all gods are false but Yahweh (the Triune God of Christianity), my thought is that it seems there is a difference between how the Christian theist's knowledge claim is justified as opposed to the atheist. Namely the Christian appeals to revelation from a transcendent God whereas in some sense the atheist relies on his own limited investigation. Yet I can also attempt to show that other concepts of God appear to be incoherent. However, that's just a quick thought.

But as I said, I know some Christian thinkers disagree with my argument. There may be no universal way of knocking down all atheist claims. But in terms of a story in a book taken from real life that is intended to make a student think, maybe I have succeeded quite well.

In closing let me say that I appreciate Come Reason Ministries very much.
I liked this quote because it shows that the claims we make about the nature of reality must be based on proper warrant. I see God as the best explanation of all the evidence we have as to why the universe exists and why it is the way it is. To me, Ken's approach removes some of the dogmatism of atheism, and when those presuppositions are removed, a more thoughtful examination of the evidence can take place. It opens conversations.

I extend a big than you to Ken Samples for taking the time to offer his response. If you don't yet own A World of Difference, you can get that book here.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The Christian View of Halloween (podcast)

Halloween is rapidly approaching and once again Christians are faced with the most overtly pagan holiday on the calendar. What are the origins of Halloween and should we allow our kids to Trick or Treat? In this podcast series, Lenny looks at the history of the Christian tradition of All Hallow's Eve and shows that you may be wrong in your assumptions on this very American holiday.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Top Five Apologetics Blog Posts for September 2015

September's most popular topics blog posts took a bit of a turn with a late entry based on a New York Times article of all things! There, we read that more and more people are Googling for answers about the questions or doubts they have about God; it's a tacit admission for the need for blogs such as this one.

Other popular pieces include how nicely the Gospels fit into ancient biography, a refutation that a false religious belief is a by-product of evolution, and a video clip asking a provocative question. Without further adieu, here are the top five apologetics posts for September.
  1. The Search for God is Growing—Online
  2. Gospel Variations and Ancient Biography
  3. Strengthening the Immune System for the Christian Faith
  4. Why Claiming Religion is False Undercuts Darwinism.
  5. Who Counts as a Christian? (video)

Friday, October 02, 2015

Why It Was Better to Be a Christian at That Oregon College

Yesterday I was invited to a Southern California community college by one of the on-campus Christian clubs to answer questions on God' existence. Near that same time a man burst into classrooms at an Oregon community college and began shooting. He specifically targeted Christians, asking them to identify themselves as such. The news of the tragedy quickly spread that afternoon; ten people were killed and at least seven more injured. The horror of those actions is still shocking. I mourn with those who have lost loved ones in the attack.

Wanton evil like the Umpqua Community College leaves one speechless. It seems hard to even wrap your head around the callousness of a person who would murder others in cold blood. But human beings are far more capable of this kind of evil than we normally consider. In my discussion yesterday, an atheist asserted that he believes people are basically good. They become bad due to circumstances in their lives. I think history has proven that view to be a false one. From the beginning of civilization, people have been warring with one another motivated by a lust for power, greed, or the simple fact that someone else is different.

Christianity holds that people are not basically good. Christians believe that all people are marred by original sin and things like selfishness, greed, and even bigotry come naturally. But it doesn't end there. Christianity also teaches that there is a God who can redeem us from our worst inclinations and that he stepped into history to do that very thing, at the cost of his own beloved son. While Christians recognize that people can naturally be evil, they also recognize there is a solution to the evil that we see.

Where's the Solution to the Evil in the World?

That's a key point, I believe. Some may wonder where God was when all these people were being slaughtered. If God is real, why wouldn't he protect his own? Does the fact that Christians died prove the Christian God is not real? No, it doesn't. It only proves that evil exists and needs to be answered. But, as Hamlet would say, there's the rub. What is the answer to evil if God doesn't exist? Was the murder of Christians an example of natural selection allowing the stronger to weed out the weaker? Was it just another act in nature where life comes and goes without any meaning whatsoever? We don't assign much meaning to how black widow spiders kill their mates or how mammals such as lions or chimpanzees will kill offspring other than their own to avoid competition. This is nature "red in tooth and claw" and no meaning other than that's the way it works can be assigned to it.

Those Christians on the UCC campus understood that any evil we find in this world isn't the end of the story. Those who were shot for their faith knew that whatever evil may be inflicted upon them here would be more than made up for in the life to come. They had confidence that evil will in the end be met with true justice. Trusting in God does not mean that he will deliver you from all harm. As I have written elsewhere, God is not "Our Genie who art in heaven." To treat him as such belittles him and diminishes our concept of God within ourselves. Because of the fact of the resurrection, we can know that God has conquered death and sin. We can know the problem of evil is only a temporary one.

Denying the Reality of Natural Evil

I feel more sorry for the non-believers at UCC as well as those on the campus with who I was conversing. There is no way for them to make any real sense out of this tragedy. They may hold that mankind is evolving and getting better, but the empirical evidence doesn't argue for that. ISIS doesn't argue for that. The looters who appear any time police presence in a community is restrained don't argue for that. Their claim is unfounded; it's a wish but not reality. They must believe it in order to hold out hope for a brighter future.  The only other option is nihilism--the idea that there is no meaning to our existence at all and therefore nothing really matters. That's why I believe it's better to be a Christian even at UCC where one is in danger of being harmed for one's faith than it is to have no faith at all.

Sometimes the truth comes at a cost but the wise man will still seek it out. That's what wisdom means.

Image courtesy Andy Bernay-Roman and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

What "Thou Shalt Not Judge" Really Means

"Thou shalt not judge" is a phrase that Christians hear over and over again. Even those who don't believe in Jesus will cite his teaching in Matthew 7:1 to try and say that Christians shouldn't tell others certain actions (things like abortion, homosexuality, and the like) are wrong. But that's a bit too cavalier. We must take Jesus's words in their proper context to understand exactly what he meant.

In this passage from his web site, Dr. J.P. Moreland gives a great explanation on the different types of judging and why Jesus did not say moral judgments were out of bounds. He explains:
We need to distinguish two senses of judging: condemning and evaluating. The former is wrong and is in view in Matthew 7. When Jesus says not to judge, he means it in the sense that the Pharisees judged others: their purpose was to condemn the person judged and to elevate themselves above that person. Now this is a form of self-righteous blindness that vv. 2-4 explicitly forbid. Such judgment is an expression of a habitual approach to life of avoiding self-examination and repentance and, instead, propping oneself up by putting others down.

But there is another sense of judging that is central both to moral purity/holiness and to showing tough love to another: evaluating another’s behavior as wrong, pointing that out to the person with a view to their repentance, restoration and flourishing. This form of judging another may bring short-term pain in the form of guilt, embarrassment and a experience of the need to change, but its long-term effect is (or is supposed to be) the flourishing and uplifting of the other.

Sometimes the most loving thing you can do for another is to tell him or her something hard to hear. This form of judgment is absolutely biblical. In fact, in Matthew 7:5, Jesus basically says that after one has appropriately engaged in self-examination and personal repentance, he/she is now in a position accurately and helpfully to evaluate another. This very same form of judgment is commanded in Galatians 6:1-2. It is moral confusion and cowardice to eschew evaluating other’s behavior. It is moral clarity and courage not to condemn others.

Today it is more important than ever for the church to recover and proclaim judgment as evaluation gently yet firmly. 1
I agree with J.P. To not be allowed to make any moral judgments is insane. We rely on people such as whistleblowers to come forward if they see corporate executives who are embezzling funds. In the same way, we rely on whistleblowers to call out Planned Parenthood when they are taking live-born babies and cutting them up for their parts. Both serve the same purpose, to help diminish the amount of evil in the world.


1.Moreland, J. P. "Search On Judging Others: Is There a Right Way?" J.P. Moreland, 19 Dec. 2012. Web. 1 Oct. 2015.
Image courtesy hobvias sudoneighm -  Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.
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