I’ll be chatting with Ahmet this Saturday at 7am Eastern Time. We’ve each been raised as believers, him as a Muslim and I as a Christian. We’ll be discussing our reasons for continuing to believe as adults.
Will Olena and I discuss the nature of truth and questions about how people come to knowledge of the truth. May be a little abstract for some people’s taste, but we had a good time anyway, and I think this sets a good tone for what I hope this show will be.
This is a response to part of Yuriy Stasyuk’s blog post about the atheist view of death in which he details “six reasons eternal life would inevitably become hell.” It’s a thoughtful post, and I would encourage everyone to take the time to read it before you read my response here.
1. It would get boring.
“How would you feel a trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion years down the road, repeating the same exact thing over and over again until you know it so well there could not possibly be anything new or exciting about it? That is the curse of eternal life.”
No it will not. First of all, we will not continue to have such a weak appetite for good and beautiful things that we will become so easily tired of them. Rather our senses will not only be better, truer and more sensitive than they are now, but they will continue to heighten throughout all eternity, making each pleasure deeper and grander as eternity passes by. More importantly, this fails to take into account the reason that eternal life is desirable, and that is because it is spent with God. God, the source of all life and everything good that has ever existed is eternally and infinitely interesting, delightful, surprising, joyful, loving, beautiful, glorious, fascinating, pleasant to be with… Far from reliving the same stale moments, we will spend eternity plumbing the infinite depths of the personality of God.
2. Hell is unfair (his #3)
“No one is wicked enough to deserve eternal punishment, and no one is righteous enough to deserve eternal bliss.”
Eternal conscious torment in hell is one of those staggering doctrines taught by our Lord that should bring us to awe that our God should be so unfathomably holy and so inconceivably righteous that he would decree such a thing. We know that God is wiser and holier and more hateful of evil and more loving of good and kinder and more patient and more just and more merciful than we can even imagine. On the judgment day when every injustice throughout all history is brought into account, God will issue the verdicts and everyone will see and know that his judgments are fair. In the light of his glory, all arguments about the injustice of hell will be silenced and no one will answer him a word. Of course we can’t really understand how that could be fair right now – how could we? We with our sinful human minds are less fit to judge the rightness of hell than a golden retriever is to decide cases at the Supreme Court.
3. We can’t enjoy heaven knowing people are in hell (his #2)
“How could anyone live with joy knowing their loved ones are being tortured and suffer the worst agony imaginable?”
It feels that way now because our experience of love with fellow humans seems closer and more real than our experience of love with God. In truth, for Christians, our greatest, truest and dearest love is God himself. In the light of heaven, this will be wonderfully clear and sweet to us, and the sad fate of those who have rejected and spurned our God, our one true love, will not be able to make us more unhappy than we are happy to drink the sweet delight of his indescribable love each and every new day. Rather, we will be joyfully passionate about the glory of God, including the glory of his righteous judgments against sinners (knowing that we did nothing to deserve anything better, but that Jesus mercifully bought us by his blood and renewed us in his image).
4. It makes this life meaningless
“It doesn’t matter how much good you do, because the infinite reward you get so vastly outweighs the good that it drowns out your nobility and sacrifice. No sacrifice or struggle can have any meaning, for it is infinitely swamped by an infinite reward. No great act of heroism, courage, or nobility can have any meaning for it is engulfed by the infinite chasm of eternity.”
No, it makes this life more meaningful, because this is the incredibly brief period of time in which the Story is happening. The happy ending of a story is only interesting after having read the story – and the happily-ever-after of the story of God’s creation does not obliterate the frightening, monumental, glorious events that brought us there. Rather it brings them to a happy conclusion in which the glories of what God did in, with and through his people will be remembered and celebrated for all the endless eons.
5. Eternity is the end of curiosity
“‘Eternity is the end of curiosity.’ In an eternal life there is nothing left to ponder, wonder, investigate, or explore for there are no more distant lands or mysterious horizons.
In every single narrative of heaven it is said that we finally receive ‘all of the answers.’ Consider the intellectual who has devoted his life studying and seeking answers, and now compare her to a lazy man who has comfortably coasted through life without ever struggling to achieve anything. In the eternal Paradise, both instantly get ‘all of the answers.’”
It is nowhere written that when we get to heaven, we will suddenly “know all the answers.” I am sure that as soon as we reach the perspective granted by heaven, there are a great many things that we will see which we did not see before. But as for knowing all the answers, there is only one who does, and we will never share that attribute of his. Rather we will continue to grow in knowledge and to ask ever new, ever deeper questions forever. If that seems incredible, of course it is! We well know that the human mind has no real way to grasp any infinite concept.
6. There won’t be enough for us to do
“Even if we imagine that there will be some things to do in an eternal after, how long until those things become mindless, repetitive, routines? If you have an eternity of time, eventually everything that can be done, will be done. Eventually the last enemy will be vanquished, and what then? Eventually every last goal will have been achieved, and what then? Eventually every possible song will have been written, sung, remixed, and resung, so what then? Eventually every possible invention will have been invented, so what then?”
Really? The real answer to this objection is in part 1, but as was suggested we will continue to occupy ourselves with creative endeavors in our eternal life. It may seem sound to say that given an infinite amount of time, all of the infinite number of possible (good) songs will be written, and then what? But, it’s obvious to see that the moment of “then what?” never actually comes. You only run out of songs to write after you’ve used the infinite amount of time it takes to write them all. In order to actually reach the moment where all these songs are written, you would have had to get there in a finite amount of time, and of course it’s impossible to write an infinite number of songs in a finite amount of time.
No, we will not have enough time in all of eternity to think, speak, sing, and celebrate all of the infinite glory of God. The joy of growing in knowledge and appreciation and love will be ours for every day of all of eternity.
“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet…And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come…Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
Matthew 24:6, 14, 29-30
Once again we wake up to find the world hurting. Afraid. Angry. Frustrated. Despairing. Questioning. Mourning.
What can be done in a world where people want to show up to Bastille Day fireworks, not to celebrate liberté but to drive a truck into the crowd, indiscriminately killing men, women and children. There are many who will be quick to tell us what the solution is, and some of the things they suggest may be good ideas. I am sure however the final answer is not going to be found with human effort. Real peace is not going to happen until Jesus is king over the whole world, and that will not happen, we read in Matthew, until the gospel is preached throughout the world to all people groups (εθνος). Those who walk in darkness are going to continue to walk in darkness until the light of God shines in their hearts. And for that to happen, they need to hear that peace with God is found in Jesus, who laid down his own life for his enemies, to make them God’s children. The Joshua Project (joshuaproject.net) estimates that right now there are over 6,600 unreached people groups representing some 3.1 billion people who have never heard this good news.
So what I am saying, that we need to send more missionaries, give more to missions, do more to support those carrying the gospel to the remote places of the earth? Yes I think we should do all of those things. But may I suggest that the best thing each of us can do is to talk to the unreached person who lives next door? Who knows but that the person you invite to church this Sunday could be God’s chosen instrument to go to the Dangarik in Pakistan and introduce them to Jesus? Or perhaps to lead a translation of the New Testament into the Tedaga language? Or to show God’s grace to refugees in Europe?
The gospel is the only hope for this world, so let us tell all people everywhere that Jesus is Lord and Savior.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” -John 12:24
Is it ever possible, when we look at verses of the Bible, to overemphasize the context?
I stumbled on this question recently when I posted this on facebook:
Much to my surprise, a friend of ours very kindly took the time to tell me that I was completely misusing 1 Corinthians 2:9 – that it wasn’t about heaven at all. Well, it’s true that in context, heaven is not the main idea in view, but does that mean I misused the verse? Maybe so. But on the other hand, I found myself asking: Is it possible to improperly limit a verse’s range of meaning by the context?
Let me say up front that I have no formal training in exegesis, no knowledge of Biblical languages worth speaking of and no particular qualifications for speaking on this issue. So this post is just an ordinary Christian thinking out loud about exegesis and scripture use.
I also want to emphasize that between ignoring context and giving too much weight to context (if there is such a thing), by far the worse error is the first one. For instance, to quote James 2:24 by itself, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone,” and set it in opposition to Ephesians 2:8-9 or Romans 3:28 is absolutely wrong. James 2:24 needs to be understood in light of James 2:14-23, where James explains that the “faith alone” he’s talking about is an empty talk faith which is dead and therefore is actually no faith at all.
So ignoring the context is the root of many heresies, but what about my question? Is there a place for giving a verse meaning outside of its context?
Well, first of all, New Testament authors do use Old Testament verses outside their original context. For instance, Matthew relates how when Herod sought to destroy Jesus as child, Joseph took him to Egypt and later returned. Then he writes, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son,'” (2:15). The prophet he’s quoting is Hosea who writes, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son,” (11:1). I can’t see anything in Hosea to indicate that this is a Messianic prophecy or any kind of prophecy at all, but Matthew has no problem using it that way. Apparently the words, “Out of Egypt I called my son,” can have more meaning than the meaning they carry in the context of Hosea 11.
Another verse worth looking at is Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” This verse is applied and misapplied to a wide variety of situations, but if we look at the context of verses 11-13, we can see that the only thing Paul has in view is his ability to be content whether he has much or little. If we limit the meaning of verse 13 to no more than what Paul uses it for in Philippians 4, then it does not speak to any subject other than contentment. But how can we make the words “all things” mean “be content”? Wouldn’t it be better to say that Philippians 4:13 is exactly as broad as it sounds, and that what Paul is saying is that since he is capable of doing anything by Christ’s strength, then his ludicrous claim to be able to be content in any circumstance is actually true. And surely no one would deny that there is nothing at all that is too difficult for us if God strengthens us to do it. When people misapply this verse, it’s not a failure to see that it speaks to nothing other than contentment. Rather they presume on Christ’s strength, forgetting that it is only available to us to accomplish his will, not for us to use however we want.
So what about 1 Corinthians 2:9? Here’s the passage:
6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
So verse 9 by itself may sound like it’s talking about how awesome heaven will be, but we see the passage is about the superiority of God’s revelation over human wisdom. The things that no eye has seen and so forth, are said in verse 10 to have been revealed to us already. The things spoken of are not the glories of paradise, but the truths of the gospel. That is unquestionably what is meant by verse 9 in context. But is that the same thing as to say that the words of verse 9 cannot be referred to as a description of anything other than the truths of the gospel in view in verse 10? I don’t think anybody would say that everything described by this phrase has been revealed already: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” Isn’t it clear that the things that are said to be revealed in verse 10 are merely a portion of those things described in verse 9? Just like in Philippians 4:13, Paul takes a statement that can have a broad range of application and employs it in one specific context. But looking beyond Paul’s specific concerns in 1 Corinthians 2, is it really inappropriate to see that the language of 1 Corinthians 2:9 can be used as both a true and edifying description of the future home of all the saints? Would we be wrong to hear echoes of Matthew 25:34 and John 14:2-3 in the phrase “what God has prepared for those who love him”? (my ESV Study Bible lists the first one as a cross reference). I would have a hard time being quick to say that it is certainly wrong to think of heaven in conjunction with 1 Corinthians 2:9.
I think it’s a small paradox of language that somehow the meaning of specific words in a passage is dependent on their context, and yet the context is made up of the meanings of specific words. It feels a little chicken-and-eggish to me, and although we do it every day with great accuracy, I’m not entirely sure how. It seems to me that individual verses do have meaning of their own that can stand independently from the passage in which they’re found. I would be happy, however, to be completely refuted which would be better than to be found to be “wise in my own sight.”
“I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.” -Matthew 11:25
Scourge my flesh
Curse and despise me
Pour my blood in the thirsty dirt
Strip me bare
Lay me low
Wood on my shoulders
Rough hands on my arms
Dry air in my mouth
The cool iron point
Hot blood in my palm
Lift me up for all to see
Point and shout at me
Shake your heads and mock
Every limb in anguish
Agony in every breath
My pounding heart
Fills my chest
And I love you
Passion floods my breast
And binds me to this tree
I’ll hang and die
In love for you
My life for yours
Behold! It is finished
Now, my son
Go and do likewise
From my twitter feed this morning:
The first thing to notice about this is that, as with most things said by the New Atheists, it’s an emotional appeal. This is not a rational, logical objection to the coherence of Christian and Jewish theology. He’s not saying that our theology is inconsistent or nonsensical, he’s saying he doesn’t like it. He’s saying that God is mean.
Now the really interesting part: how does he know that God is mean? By what standard has he determined that it really is wrong for God to expect worship and to punish those who reject him? This is amazing! Here is an atheist who is claiming an absolute moral standard. Where he got it from, he doesn’t say here. Not only is it an objective moral standard that applies to real people who exist (presumably along the lines of “How dare you indoctrinate your children with fairy tales,” or “How dare you believe anything without evidence that would convince me.”) Not only does it apply to human beings that exist, somehow it applies to God even though there is no such person. Somehow in a universe in which God does not exist, there is a moral standard for how he ought to behave if he did exist. I suppose this code also covers what diet is permissible for vampires and whether werewolves are liable for the damage they cause as wolves.
So how does Mr. Gale know? What standard does he appeal to that determines which ideas are beautiful and which are horrendous? We Christians say there is such thing as a moral code that applies to everyone, and for us it actually makes sense because we say it was laid down by God. The atheist has no platform he can stand on by which to judge the behavior of any other sentient being with any more force than that he doesn’t like it. (I don’t like it when people drive 10mph under the speed limit, but that doesn’t make it wrong.) What’s more, look at the hypocrisy involved. If Christians dare suggest that other people are required to follow God’s moral law, the atheist is outraged. And yet they have no qualms about applying their moral standard, not only to other people, but even to God. Be very careful, Mr. Gale. If it’s true that יהוה does not exist, then this statement is an incoherent absurdity. If he does exist, it’s far worse.
“Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The saying of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn and live.”
One of the problems with the common assertion that science is the best way to decide between various worldviews, is that the same people who say that will also insist that science must be methodologically naturalistic. That is, when conducting science, only natural causes for phenomena can be considered. Put like that, some of us are hearing:
- Assume no God.
- Do science.
- Conclude no God.
That seems problematic to us, but here is John Loftus’ explanation of why this is not a problem, and along with it, my response.
Methodological naturalism (MN) is a method whereby all scientific endeavors—-all hypotheses and events—-are to be explained and tested by reference to natural causes alone. Believers criticize the use of MN when it comes to the science of origins and their faith as a whole. The charge is that MN in science logically requires the a priori adoption of a naturalistic metaphysics. I’ve been struggling with how to answer this objection. Here is my latest attempt.
Prior to the scientific revolution MN was largely not something anyone had to argued for, as far as I can tell. Science just proceeded based on it. But as the scientific revolution started to produce the goods in every area it touched, it was noticed as the reason why science works, as opposed to faith based conclusions. So the first thing to say is that science cannot work without it. Everyone should acknowledge this fact, and it is a fact.
What does it mean for science to “work”? It seems reasonable to assume that science is working if it is producing true explanations or accurate models for the natural phenomena in the universe. There are all sorts of possible answers to any given question – the practical answer, the popular answer, the modern answer, the politically correct answer, the scientific answer, the philosophical answer… For me at least, my interest is in finding the true answer. Why science is so dependent on assuming that a whole category of answers to any possible question must ruled out from the start, I’ve never actually understood. What if the right answer is supernatural? If you assume it can’t be, you’ll never arrive at the actual explanation, no matter how pure your method. Sure that opens the door to all sorts of wacky and serious supernatural explanations for your question, but all we’re doing is adding them to the already infinite list of serious and wacky natural explanations for the question. (“Aliens did it” would be a purely natural explanation, right?) That said, supernatural explanations do not generally lend themselves to being tested by repeatable experimentation, and so are not particularly accessible to scientific study.
It’s claimed that MN prohibits supernatural explanations. But not so fast, it doesn’t, most emphatically.
I’m actually confused here. What is it, then? If I understood the first sentence right, MN means that only natural causes are to be considered as the explanation for any event. That seems to rule out supernatural explanations. I have no idea what MN would even be if it were not the ruling out of supernatural explanations.
It doesn’t prohibit testing stories in the Bible with the science of archaeology like the Exodus, or the wilderness wanderings in the desert for 40 years, or the Canaanite conquest reported in Judges, nor does it prohibit testing whether there was a census at the time Jesus was born, nor does it prohibit testing the language styles used by the writers of the Bible to see if there are more than one writer for Isaiah, or that 2nd Peter was a forgery.
This is a series of worthwhile investigations into the truth claims of Christianity that has little to do with the charge that’s supposedly being answered here. By all means, analyze the archaeology, history, literary criticism and everything else as skeptics have done forever. The problem is how we should analyze claims of supernatural activity. For example, it’s no use dismissing the resurrection of Jesus as physically impossible. Of course it’s physically impossible – that’s the whole point! Incorporating MN to examine the claim of Jesus’ resurrection is a manifest waste of time. That’s deciding what the answer has to be before you’ve even asked the question. As another example, we Christians are not impressed when we’re told the gospels are historically unreliable because they must have been written late, when that conclusion is based on the naturalistic assumption that Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the temple must have been written after the fact. Assuming naturalism when approaching specifically supernatural claims, far from guarding us from error, serves only to dodge the actual question and avoid the issue.
It doesn’t prohibit scientific tests on prayer to show there is a supernatural deity, nor does it prohibit scientifically testing so-called prophecies or psychic abilities.
And here is an example of where bad argumentation simply needs to be discarded. Scientifically testing the efficacy of prayer is absurd both theologically and scientifically, as Mr. Loftus ought to know. Scientifically speaking, is it not almost always necessary when testing human behavior, to conceal the purpose of the experiment from the subject? (I’m open to correction here, having never studied any social science) If the subjects know what’s being testing, chances are they will change their behavior and ruin the value of the test. So a study that boils down to a behavioral experiment on God is scientifically void if God knows what is being tested (as he certainly does). Theologically, there can be no doubt. “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test,” Deut. 6:16 and Matt 4:7. And again, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah,” Matt 16:4. Should we be surprised that the Sovereign Lord of all creation does not submit to this kind of foolishness?
More to the point, how does this further the case in favor of using MN to test claims of supernatural phenomena? If only natural causes are to be permitted, the possibility of prayers being answered by God is ruled out from the start. It seems like this experiment is actually one in which MN is specifically not being used, since the hypothesis being tested has to do with whether God will act in answer to prayer.
In fact MN is the method scientists use to test all of these claims and more. If the results were positive then science based in MN would show us that these claims are true. The problem for believers is that science based in MN has consistently shown all of these claims to be false. Now that’s not the problem for MN. It’s a problem for faith-based claims. If science based in MN successfully showed these claims to be true then believers would change their tune and crow about it. Because it turned out differently they must find some loophole to attack it.
Let’s refocus here because categories are being blurred. Again, the Christian objection is that it is inappropriate to assume only naturalistic causes when dealing with events where a supernatural cause is asserted.The first list of claims that Mr. Loftus gave do not include any examples where supernatural activity is primarily in view. Christian and Atheist archaeologists alike operate on the assumption that only natural forces (including humans) have been acting on artifacts from the time they were laid down until today. The Christian might say that the walls of Jericho were knocked down by God, but he’s not likely to suggest that God has “tampered” with them since.
No one says that MN by itself can tell us everything about the nature and workings of the universe. It is only as reliable as that method works. It seeks natural causes for everything. So it is a limited method. It does not presuppose itself unless someone says it is the only method for understanding reality, for then it excludes other ways of knowing about it. However, with that said there is an important question that need to be addressed. To what degree of probability can we rely upon MN to produce the goods? I say it is overwhelmingly probable, almost virtually certain to do so given its past record.
So MN is not the only method for understanding reality, but it is a limited method that will only produce accurate results as long as the question being asked is one that has a natural answer. Agreed. This is followed by the assertion that MN has an overwhelming probability of “producing the goods.” What are we to understand are the goods? If I’ve understood your general epistemology correctly, you think science/MN is the correct method to use to answer all questions of importance, including the existence of God, the origin of the universe, all questions of morality and whether Star Wars or Star Trek would win in a fight. When brandishing vague rhetorical flourishes like “MN’s past record,” let’s remember that the Yankees have a remarkable record, but I wouldn’t bet on them in the Super Bowl. Assuming no air resistance may get me the right answer on my high school physics test, but it’s not going to work as well when I want to put a satellite in orbit. Likewise, the methodological assumption of naturalism is suitable only to certain contexts.
So where are we? God supposedly created a world that is best explained by a method that looks for natural causes if we want to learn about it. He did that, on their view.
Yes, God created an ordered universe with principles that can be discovered. Science is an apt method to answer some questions, but certainly not all questions.
That method has gradually jettisoned supernatural explanations by scientifically literate people. And believers find themselves arguing against it, saying it’s circular, when it clearly is not. So they are arguing against what their God created in order to believe in him. Don’t you find that strange? That their God would put something in place that undermines their faith whereby they must selectively deny it to believe?
God created an ordered universe. We do not deny this, and the assumption of natural laws is what stands behind every claim of a miracle. What we do deny is turning the general principle of an ordered universe into an absolute rule by which no supernatural claims may be considered. All we’re saying is that assuming there is no God is not a good starting place for asking the question, “Does God exist?”
And what is it they think excludes its grasp? An ancient pre-scientific barbaric superstitious unhistorical set of selected canonized sacred books
That which actually stands over and above the order of the created universe is the God who created it. He, of course, is not bound by any of the natural laws that govern the creation.
as they interpret them in today’s world?
Christians do not claim any authority for their “interpretations.” The only thing that is inspired is the text itself, which is why careful exegesis is so important.
This does not make sense to me and a growing number of scientifically literate people, especially since other mutually exclusive religionists do exactly what Christians do with their sacred texts. Religionists would all agree with Christians against MN but then go on their merry way with their mutually exclusive faiths containing no reliable alternative method to settle their own differences, while having perennial debates within their own houses of faith with no resolution in sight.
False claims of scripture do not prove that there is no true scripture any more than counterfeit money proves there is no such thing as real money. Contrary to what seems to be asserted here, interfaith dialogue is alive and well today. Christians and Muslims, for instance, do a great many debates, and believe it or not, they don’t consist entirely of “My book says your religion is wrong.”
When there is a crime do investigators assume a natural cause? Or, do they assume Allah did it? Isn’t it more productive to assume a natural cause? And doesn’t assuming a natural cause lead to solving crimes? What if we cannot solve that crime? Then what? Should we leap to Allah as the cause?
What would we do if we did?
So MN is a good way to answer some questions – no argument here. There’s a difference between having an unanswered question and witnessing a miracle. The disciples are not operating from a lack of evidence when they watch a basket of bread feed 5,000 people. It was the evidence itself that demanded a supernatural explanation.
Or, should we simply suspend judgement? Now it might be that Allah did the “crime.” The method doesn’t preclude that possibility. It’s just that with MN we cannot come to that conclusion. So using it might not allow us to solve a supernaturally caused crime. I get this. But if assuming a natural cause cannot help us solve the crime what other method do we have? As far as I can tell faith has no method, solves no crimes, and leads to dead ends. If Yahweh exists and did the “crime” then MN itself doesn’t allow us to conclude that he did. Therefore, if Yahweh exists he must convince reasonable people by other means. Here is a list of things he could have done but didn’t right here.
God does have a method (Rom 10:17, Acts 16:14…) It might not be the one that makes sense to us, but we’re not wise are we?
Let’s not get overly rhetorical and act like recognizing the limits of MN means the end of all reasoned discourse. Again, we’re not saying there are not avenues for reasonable inquiry into the Christian faith. The point is that you don’t get very far by assuming the antithesis of what we believe.
Let’s say MN largely excludes supernatural explanations. Then by using this method we have gained a massive amount of knowledge. It works. So we should apply that same method outside criminal investigations, science, and history to the Bible itself. Why not? Perhaps there is a better method? We just don’t know of one that works so well. What we do know is that faith has no method and has been wrong so many times it makes our heads spin.
MN does work for specific questions, maybe even most questions. That doesn’t really answer our objection. I’m honestly completely baffled by “faith has no method.” Christians have methodically practiced every discipline of knowledge for hundreds of years and have produced libraries of rational thought that examine every particular of the Christian worldview. What “faith” is and what it’s been wrong about so many times, I can only guess at. It sounds like a vague reference to all religion, and of course if you lump together all the errors of every religion in history, it produces quite a pile.
So there is nothing about MN that is unjustified. The only reason believers dislike it is because their God did not do other things that would help convince us to believe. The fact is, believers use MN every single day.
In some sense we do, but that’s not the point. The problem is with using MN for questions where it is obviously not applicable.
They do not assume there is a demon behind every tree, like many did during the infamous witch hunt period. Today’s Christians are “enlightened Christians”, unlike them. Believers today have been brought to accept what the biblical writers did not accept and now they have trouble defending their faith.
Of course the range of people who claim the label “Christianity” is staggeringly broad. Most of those you will encounter apologetically probably do believe in demons and do accept whatever the Bible teaches.
So they must attack MN when that is the very method they have been brought to accept as an enlightened Christians. They just use it selectively. In every area except those rare areas that conflict with their pre-scientific sacred book they accept it.
Methodological naturalism works so well it’s very probable that nature is all there is.
On the contrary, creation is so obviously ordered by precise natural laws that depend on very finely tuned universal constants, it’s a wonder anyone can believe that nature is all there is.
How does that presuppose it’s own conclusion? We must think exclusively in terms of the probabilities. We may misjudge the probabilities, but we should never go against them when seeking knowledge about the nature and workings of the universe. MN has given us that knowledge. Faith has been wrong so many times it should be obvious it cannot be relied upon to produce any knowledge. Faith adds nothing to our probability calculations.
Lastly, by rejecting MN it can stunt the progress of science. As Randal Rauser wrote in chapter 7 of our co-written book, “God or Godless”:
Science can study the universe once it exists, but it can never explain what brought it into existence.
With Randal’s God explanation there is no reason to investigate why the universe exists, since he says science can’t do it. This is the standard theistic response to the unsolved mysteries of the past. Why keep betting on faith to solve them when it has solved nothing so far?
This is the standard faith vs. science rhetoric that depends on vague sweeping statements that seem obviously true to people who already believe them. Do Atheists wonder why Christians are not convinced by all their “reason” and “logic”? Simply asserting that “faith doesn’t work,” is hardly convincing to those of us for whom it does work every day. And science? Science is a beautiful method for investigating the mechanisms of God’s creation. Science helps us glorify God. We love science!
Those of us who came here with the specific question of why it’s not circular reasoning to presuppose naturalism when investigating claims of the supernatural, are left wondering what the answer is. It sounded like this post danced around (and at times seemed to admit) the fact that there is no answer, but finished with a rousing, “If you think this answer is bad, you should see the other side!” Understand that Christians are not trying to shut down discussion and inquiry with this objection – quite the opposite. It seems to us that assuming naturalism before you start is shutting down the discussion from the other side.
We’ve all heard the tired phrase, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” but I would just like to turn this around for a minute and point out: “An extraordinary universe requires an extraordinary explanation.”
Don’t be so foolish as to imagine that only the religious folk have to defend extraordinary claims bordering on (or well inside) the ridiculous. What extraordinary evidence has been presented that life can form spontaneously from non-living matter? What extraordinary evidence has been presented to show that the formation of the universe from an explosion is not a violation of the second law of thermodynamics? Look around, people, the universe is extraordinary! How can we be students of microbiology, general relativity and for crying out loud: quantum physics, and not notice that things tend to be more extraordinary than we would have guessed? For myself, I’m starting to wonder if an apparently absurd theory might count its absurdities a strength rather than a weakness.