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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sovereignty and Free Will

I recently wrote about God having to "play the hand He's dealt". In that article I stood firm on God's Sovereignty. To me, God's Sovereignty is both absolutely paramount and sadly misunderstood. I'd venture to guess that I don't even understand it well enough. I'm certain that a good number of Christians have a minimalist view on the topic.

The problem with the Sovereignty (I keep using that uppercase "S" for a reason) is that many (most) believe that it makes God responsible for our problems, and that just can't be. Now, the concept of "our problems" has two sides to it. First there is the "natural" side. Those are things like illnesses or disasters, layoffs or traffic accidents, those kinds of things. "Those might be caused by God," some admit, but they aren't really comfortable with that admission. The other side is the problem of sin. If God is responsible for our problems ("Sovereign") and we have a problem of sin, then doesn't that make God responsible for our sin? And while we might be uncomfortable with allowing God to be responsible for natural problems, we cannot allow Him to be responsible for sin problems. I mean, we know "God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone" (James 1:13). As the commenter in that article said,
Complete sovereignty entails complete responsibility. If scripture says that humans are miserable sinners, and if scripture also says God is absolutely sovereign over us non-sovereign sinners, then whatever we do that wins us the label “sinner” is ultimately done by God, and so He is responsible for it in the final analysis.
So we will tend to back off of Sovereignty in favor of sovereignty, and that extremely limited. It may be limited in Middle Knowledge sense where God knows "all possible worlds" and works to achieve it while being unable to do what He really wants all the way to the Open Theism sense where God cannot know what humans will choose to do, so He is really limited by Human Free Will (again, not a frivolous use of uppercase letters).

I am not here to clear it all up for you. I'm here to make a couple of suggestions. First, there is a difference between "Hard Determinism" and "Soft Determinism". These are two viewpoints out there regarding predestination. (Please note that "predestination" does not require a theistic view.) The first, also known as fatalism, is the one offered by our good commenter above. All things are caused; free will is a myth. I say that theism isn't required for this because it happens to be the view of some atheists like Richard Dawkins who argue that biology and chemistry -- materialism -- determine all our choices without our "free will" being involved. You choose what you choose because your body makes you. Of course, in a theistic fatalism, it wouldn't be your body; it would be God. In either case, this is the elimination of free will.

Soft Determinism is also called compatibilism. Compatibilism has some nuances and variations, but the basic idea is the suggestion that people could make a choice. The choice is real. Compatibilism concludes that the choice is caused by the chooser, not by an external coercion. That the choice was preknown or even influenced doesn't nullify that the choice was made without coercion. In other words, a compatibilist defines "free will" as the uncoerced freedom to act. Whether or not a person would have chosen differently in the identical situation is irrelevant as long as the person does choose. Thus, critics complain that the definition of "free will" is incorrect. "Free will", to the incompatibilist, requires genuine alternative possiblities, while the compatibilist requires only the possiblity of alternatives without them being actual. Compatibilism looks like this. I hand you a box and tell you it could or could not have a cat in it. The fact that there is only one real answer doesn't change the fact that there are two possibilities. Similarly, while you have real options, there is only one actual option you will choose. (Oh, and the other alternative to fatalism or compatibilism is indeterminism -- Human Free Will as Sovereign.)

So, the first point I would suggest is that it is possible logically and philosophically to hold to determinism (compatibilism) without eliminating free will (fatalism). The second point, however, is more important to the Christian. This point is that the Bible teaches both the absolute Sovereignty of God and free will. The biblical view is not either Divine Sovereignty or Human Free Will as we are often offered, but Sovereignty and free will -- "both/and". We know, for instance, that God claims Sovereignty for Himself both in the realm of the natural and the moral.
"I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things" (Isa 45:6-7).

Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (Rom 9:21).

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps (Prov 16:9).

"Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?" (Lam 3:37).
But it doesn't stop there. We also know that God holds His creation responsible for their choices. So while we know, for instance, that God knew Adam would sin at the beginning and that all would sin and fall short of the glory of God, we also know that He put that plan into place -- He went ahead with His project. So while we are morally responsible for our choices, we also know that "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps." An absolutely clear picture of this is found in Luke 22:22. Jesus was speaking during the Last Supper: "For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!" Both are there. Judas's betrayal of Christ "has been determined", and he would be held responsible for his choice. Another prime example is in the Crucifixion. It is clear in Scripture that Herod and Pilate made their choices and were responsible for them. Even Pilate knew that he was convicting an innocent man and sought to distance himself from the guilt. And then we read the prayer in Acts 4 that includes this: "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur" (Acts 4:27-28). So, which was it? Were they culpable for their choices or did they act in accordance with what God predestined? The answer is "Yes!"

I'm stuck with this position, personally. I'm stuck with it because I can't avoid it biblically. The Scriptures all point to both God's Absolute Sovereignty and Man's Moral Responsibility. The Bible embraces both God's predestination of all that occurs and Man's free will. I have to reject indeterminism because God works all things after the counsel of His will. I have to reject fatalism because God holds humans responsible for their moral choices. Fortunately for me, I like this position that holds to "both/and". I like that it is compatible with Scripture. I like that it leaves God as Sovereign. I'm not delighted with the fact that it leaves me culpable, but I have the comfort of being a forgiven child of God, so that works for me as well. You'll have to figure out your own view.


Jeremy D. Troxler said...


I suppose there is some comfort in approaching such an important topic based on the whole council of God. Looking at the entire Word first and then trying to work out how both situations can reasonably co-exist. I too see no other option if our first priority is being consistent with what is clear from scripture.

By the way, I always think a good discussion on how God's Sovereignty and the concept of time is beneficial. I think a lot of problems with God's Sovereignty can be dealt with just by thinking about matters of time deeply for a while.

Thanks for the insight.

Anonymous said...


An answer for you on the "natural disasters" side could stem from the following: what if Christ's ability to command the elements (calm the storm, etc) came not from His Deity but from His perfect relationship with God. That is to say, if you or I were able to be in a perfect relationship w/ God, we would be able to command the elements as well. Support comes from when Christ tells us that if we had enough faith, we could command the mountains to move. Peter walking on water is another form of support.

Stan said...

Ummmm, I'm not at all sure what the issue is with Jesus walking on water. As you pointed out, Peter did. As Scripture is abundantly clear, Jesus is God the Son. I'm not at all sure what difference it makes how Jesus walked on the water or what it has to do with natural disasters. It was not Jesus, but God who claimed, "I am the LORD, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these" (Isa 45:6-7). And the Bible is abundantly clear that God "works all things after the counsel of His will."

So, if the point is that God doesn't cause natural disasters, the Bible disagrees without referring to Jesus walking on the water. If the point is that Jesus was not God Incarnate, the rest of the New Testament disagrees without referring to Jesus walking on the water.

Stuart Turner said...


Sorry, I was not as clear as I should have been in my previous post. I'm not saying either of the things that you thought I was trying to say, although I understand where you thought I was coming from.

My point, in fact, is this: if we were standing on the ocean beach with a hurricane headed toward us, then we should be able to command the storm to pass or to leave us alone. A natural "disaster" would not be a disaster, but would simply be a weather pattern that could have caused harm.

Our inability to control the weather or the animals stems not from the fact that we are human (i.e. not God), but from the fact that we do not have a perfect relationship with God. I would presume that Adam (before the fall) did have a perfect relationship with God and was able to do these things; as such, he was able to command the animals, to have dominion over them.

Stan said...

I see where you're coming from now (and it's nice that you're not "anonymous" anymore). I agree that we don't have a perfect relationship with God, but I have a real problem with the notion that if we did we could avert all natural disasters. Based on 1) the fact that they occur and always have and 2) the fact that God claims to cause them, if we were to have the capacity to avert all of them, we would be doing so against God's will.

As a prime example, whose plan was it that Jesus die that horrible death on the cross? Jesus asked if the cup could pass from Him and had no lack at all in His relationship with the Father, but He still endured the cross. That horrible event was God's will and it happened.

I would contend that 1) God causes natural disasters, 2) intends to do so, and 3) does so for His good reasons. If we had a perfect relationship with the Father (as Christ did), our perspective would not be to stop all disasters, but "Thy will be done".

David said...

Also, even if we did have the power to stop natural disasters, that would be a disaster in itself. Though they are often costly in the price of human life and property, they are also necessary in the natural processes of the planet in its cycle of destruction and renewal. It would be like trying to stop making your skin die and fall off, it is part of the natural order and necessary for the cycle of the planet. If we had people all over the world staving off natural disasters for their own areas, I dare not wonder at what sort of disasters that would cause elsewhere. our ecosystem is so finely tuned that only God has the whole picture on how what effects what.

Anonymous said...

David wrote, “Though they are often costly in the price of human life and property, they are also necessary in the natural processes of the planet in its cycle of destruction and renewal.”

At the first discussion web page I was active at, about eleven years ago, I mentioned a landslide that killed a number of campers near Yellowstone Park, inquiring about the theological implications of such an event. The landslide was triggered by an earthquake. A Christian responded about like this: “Did you know that without tectonic activity, the ground would become infertile for plants?”

That may well be true, for all I know. But I pointed out that the Christian was implicitly putting limits on God. He was basically saying, “God doesn’t want people or any animals for that matter to be killed because of an earthquake. But he wants the ground to be fertile, and he could not come up with a less hazardous way of achieving that end. He couldn’t devise a soil chemistry (by adjusting the properties of carbon atoms and nitrogen atoms or whatever) that would be nourishing to plants without the reprocessing of earth’s crust that occurs due to the dangerous tectonic plate subduction activity.” That is putting limits on God’s cleverness, isn’t it?

Another issue of interest: Do we need to say that if God had used his absolute sovereignty to do something even slightly different than how he actually did it, the result would have been morally inferior? Here is an example. The moon rocks brought back by Apollo have lots of pockmarks on them, due to micrometeorites hitting the rocks. Microscopic examination will reveal pockmarks too small for the human eye to see. Let us imagine there is a rock on the moon right now that has 7,445 pockmarks on it. Was each of the micrometeorites that pocked that rock guided by God specifically to achieve that effect? If the rock in question had only 7,444 pockmarks on it, should we maintain that the Universe would be slightly less good?

Stan said...

Anonymous: "He was basically saying, 'God doesn’t want people or any animals for that matter to be killed because of an earthquake. But he wants the ground to be fertile.'"

I cannot comment on the intention of the other Christian. Perhaps that was what he/she was saying. I can, however, comment on my own view. I do not believe that "God doesn't want people ... to be killed." In fact, I would consider that a truly stupid position for anyone to take who believes in the Sovereignty of God. I mean, what kind of Sovereign being fails so miserably? I think that it is abundantly clear that God has no such intention. I think it is unavoidably clear, given that He sent His Son to die on our behalf. If He was willing for His Son to die, it is quite clear that He has no problem with people (or animals) dying.

I have, by the way, a variety of posts on the topic of Sovereignty and Suffering.

Anonymous: "If the rock in question had only 7,444 pockmarks on it, should we maintain that the Universe would be slightly less good?"

What a bizarre question! Is there something "moral" about the number of pockmarks in a moon rock? By what would you measure it? I mean, let's just assume that God answered, "Yes, to do something even slightly different than how I have actually done it would result in a morally inferior outcome." You would say, "No!" And I would say, "Huh? On what would you base your disagreement?" How would you demonstrate that a given moon rock with 7,444 pockmarks was more or less morally inferior than if it had 7,445?

I'm pretty sure that you mean to make a different assertion than the face value of this one.

David said...

If God's intention was for people not to die, He wouldn't have put death on the table. And if something occurred differently than how He Willed it, then He would cease to be Sovereign, and poof, God disappeared in a puff of logic.
As for the morality of pockmarks on a moon rock, I have no idea what that means. Morality has to do with God and people, not natural processes. Just like technology is amoral, natural phenomena are amoral.

Anonymous said...

Stan wrote, “I do not believe that ‘God doesn't want people ... to be killed.’”

Here are three case studies to consider.

1. Tameka is unmarried. She has unprotected sex with a number of different men because she finds it fun. She realizes she is pregnant, and does not want the child. She gets an abortion.

2. Glenda is raped by a stranger. She could carry through to birth and give the child up for adoption, but instead she gets an abortion.

3. Tim and Sue are Christians who have been married for ten years. They have wanted a child. When Sue’s pregnancy test comes up positive, Sue is ecstatic, and tells people that she never lost faith that it was part of God’s plan for their lives that they raise a child of their own. Sue is careful to eat a healthy diet and to avoid any activity that endangers the fetus. Three months later the child is miscarried.

Are you able to say which (if any) of these three cases of human death were “wanted” by God, just based on the small amount of information I have given about them? Are you able to point a finger of blame at anybody (human or deity) in any of the three cases?

David wrote, “Morality has to do with God and people, not natural processes.”

But the point of Stan’s December 14 blog was, “There is nothing over which God is not Sovereign. Nothing comes to pass that He did not plan.” If that is true, then ANYTHING that one might be tempted to call a “natural process” is actually a deliberate, pre-planned act of God. If there have been 10^32 (ten to the 32nd power) meteors in the history of the universe, then every one of them has traversed a trajectory through space that was ordained by God, Stan would claim. David, are you willing to stipulate that although God has gone to the trouble to micromanage all those trajectories, his decisions were based on something that has nothing to do with morality? If he wasn’t guiding himself on moral grounds, is there any other sort of grounds that you can imagine he was guiding himself in accordance with? Mere personal amusement, perhaps?

Stan said...

Anonymous: "Are you able to say which (if any) of these three cases of human death were 'wanted' by God?"

"Wanted", obviously, is a leading term (as your quote marks indicated). Planned? Expected? Allowed for? All.

Anonymous: "Are you able to point a finger of blame at anybody (human or deity) in any of the three cases?"

"Blame" is, again, a leading term? Responsibility? Yes. The point of the article to which you are responding here is that both sovereignty and free will exist. Did God know in advance that Tameka would get pregnant and kill her baby? Yes. Could He have stopped it? Yes. Did He? No. "Ah!" some will then say, "Tameka bears no blame!" If that would be your response, you didn't pay attention to the article. Tameka did not have to choose to murder her baby. Therefore, Tameka is culpable for that murder. Glenda did not have to kill her baby. The rapist is culpable for the rape, and Glenda is culpable for the murder. Tim and Sue bear no responsibility for the death of their child. But since "murder" is defined as "the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought" and God planned the death of that child without doing so "unlawfully" and without "malice", it isn't murder.

My point in the post is indeed that all events are deliberate and pre-planned. Is it your understanding, then, that "deliberate" and "pre-planned" requires "directly caused"? (Your term was "micromanage".) And is it your contention that everything that is planned (and, apparently, directly caused) has a moral component? Could God (as an example) look at the numbers of pits that will occur on that moon rock (because apparently you do believe that the number of pits on a moon rock is a moral issue) and say, "That's fine with Me"? Or does He have to actually place His hand in the path of all micrometeors and bend them to His count?

And the question still hangs in the air. Given that God has not measured up to your standard of "moral", what standard must He meet, what is the source of that standard, and why should He meet it? I ask this because it appears that your questions are smokescreens for something else. (I mean, seriously, are you actually trying to pursue the moral implications of microscopic pits on moon rock ... that doesn't actually exist?)

Anonymous said...

Stan wrote, “And is it your contention that everything that is planned (and, apparently, directly caused) has a moral component?”

If I ever become a disciple of a personal deity, I will be tempted to try to justify a “Yes” answer to that. But as a skeptic, I am willing to allow as how a supernova blasting a lifeless planet to smithereens five billion light years away from me is morally neutral, and likewise with pinpricks on lunar rocks.

Stan wrote, “What is the source of that standard?”

As I see it, we are products of primate evolution, and we base decisions on a combination of our naturally selected genes (which vary some from one individual to the next), and on our environment (which also varies some from one individual to the next). Some species have evolved to be more cutthroat than Homo sapiens is. If we can impute a sense of morality to bears, we have to be open to the possibility that it is morally permissible in the minds of bears for a male bear to kill the cubs sired by a different male bear and then mate with the mother of the dead cubs, since they have been observed to do just that. (You are welcome to cut me off at the pass by denying that bears have any sense of morality. You can just say that God made bears act that way, if you wish, and that you praise His name for it. I won’t argue the point.)

By the way, can you provide a quote of Dawkins saying environment has no effect on behavior?

If you try to tell me that Christianity provides an unambiguous moral compass for Believers, I am prepared to provide an example of you and another Christian disagreeing in print over a particular moral issue.

Stan wrote, “Are you actually trying to pursue the moral implications of microscopic pits on moon rock ... that doesn't actually exist?”

Here are three assertions.

1. God does some things that are morally good.
2. God does some things that are morally neutral.
3. God does some things that are morally bad.

Based on how you and David handled micrometeorites, abortions and miscarries (miscarriages? --I’m not sure what the proper term is), I think that you would give yes/yes/no as your answers. But I would not be surprised if there are yes/no/no Christians out there. “Everything He does is greatly to be praised,” they might say. There might even be a few Christians who are a “yes”on the third assertion, I don’t know. I was pressing you fellows on this just because I may pose the same issues to other Believers, to see if they are consistent with you.

Stan wrote, “But since … God planned the death of that child without doing so ‘unlawfully’ and without ‘malice’, it isn't murder.”

I am favorably impressed that you were willing to boldly put it in print for the record like that.

The New York Times today (January 4) quotes an Iowa voter as saying she has made a “faith-based decision” to vote for Rick Santorum. If somebody else gets elected president, could you (in principle) console her by telling her, “God’s sovereign will was for a less godly person than Rick Santorum to serve as our president”? Would you expect God to protect the Santorum voters from the hazards of four years of a non-Santorum president who wins the vote? (You probably have blogged on the election-vs-sovereignty issue in previous election cycles, but I can’t remember.)

Stan said...

I figured, with the thread of questions, that you were not a questioner, but a skeptic. I'm favorably impressed that you were willing to boldly put it in print. What that means, then, is that your questions to me are not for information as much as to indicate "It cannot be done" or so. Just like my questions to you regarding morality in the absence of God.

Anonymous: "Can you provide a quote of Dawkins saying environment has no effect on behavior?"

No. Why would you ask? Dawkins position is not that environment has no effect on behavior, but that genetics, environment, and biology determine all behavior. Dawkins is a fatalist, essentially denying the existence of free will. He opposes any genuine morality as well, arguing for the "selfish gene" instead. What did I say that would cause you to ask for such a quote?

Anonymous: "If you try to tell me that Christianity provides an unambiguous moral compass for Believers ..."

... then I would be a fool ... and you would be close to a fool for bothering to read such drivel. On the other hand, it is undeniable that Christianity provides a moral compass. Still not the point. Christianity (all religions) claims that there is a God. This God has the right to declare "right and wrong". As God, this declaration has bearing on all creation. Atheism claims "no god". As such, no declaration. Without any such declaration, there is no grounds for morality. Pragmatism, perhaps. The "selfish gene" maybe. But if "morality" is devolved to "what works" and "killing my coworker to get ahead" works for you, on what basis would I say "That's evil!"? Conversely, if we are the products of evolution without any ... your term ... "personal deity" involved, on what basis would you declare it moral to kill ants and immoral to kill children? (Rhetorical question. Just intended to illustrate the point.)

Key point here, though. If all we have is pragmatism -- the "selfish gene", what works for me -- then arguing about it is pointless. On the other hand, if what God says is binding on all creation, then arguing about it to get to the truth about it is paramount. It shouldn't, then, surprise you that people would pursue that.

I'm really quite baffled by the Rick Santorum/"faith-based decision" question. I would assume that in every election there have been people who voted "by faith" and who have not had their candidate elected. Your question presumes, I guess, that a sovereign god would always intend that the most godly person serve as our president. Looking at American history or, better, world history, that makes God out to be a loon judging by the number of horrendous leaders who have been in power. I think this is part of the whole "God wants everything to always be just peachy" concept (you know, the whole "problem of evil" thing). I don't see it.

David said...

Just curious, Anonymous, does the disagreement between Christian nullify our faith to you? Does that make it a false religion? If it does, how can atheism work, since not all atheists agree. Or evolutionists, not all of them agree. Does agreement equal valid?

Anonymous said...

I am going to have to split this into two parts because its length exceeds what the web page allows for a comment.

Yesterday I neglected to clear up a minor misunderstanding. Stan said that I made "Wanted" a leading term. In fact my reason for using that word and putting quotes around it was much simpler than that. I was merely trying to call it to the reader's attention that I was using the same word that Stan had used when he wrote, “I do not believe that ‘God doesn't **WANT** people to be killed’,” so that it would be clear to the reader that I was not putting words in Stan's mouth.

Stan asks me where I picked up my idea of what he was saying about Dawkins. It is from Stan having written, “… because it happens to be the view of some atheists like Richard Dawkins who argue that biology and chemistry -- materialism -- determine all our choices without our ‘free will’ being involved. You choose what you choose because your body makes you.”

I took that to mean that Stan claims Dawkins sees only genes (“biology and chemistry”) as determining behavior of the organism that has the genes, not environment. To flesh this out, I got my particular genes at the moment of conception, once and for all (other than mutations here and there that have happened in me over the decades due to cosmic rays striking me and the trichloroethylene in the drinking water where I grew up and whatnot). But my thoughts on morality are not attributable to the brain wiring coded in my genes alone; the environment (the school teachers I had, conversations I had with parents and siblings, my peers, television programs I watched, the books I read, and so on) played a part as well. Similarly, I suspect I was given genes that predisposed me to like math more than most people do, but had I had a series of awful math teachers in school, that would tendency have been wrung out of me and I wouldn’t like math today. Somehow I don’t think Dawkins would have a problem with me looking at it that way.

Stan wrote, “…the whole ‘God wants everything to always be just peachy’ concept.”

Is it fair to say that you have very low expectations for your deity to enforce fairness and justice during your 75 years on Earth, but high expectations that He is going to more than make it up to you in an eternal afterlife? You seem so jaded. Would you go so far as to admit that per your own observations of the world of politics, and the world of hospital emergency rooms and veterinary clinics and so on, this physical world operates no nicer and gentler than you would figure it to if it in fact did not have a loving God on the throne? Or do you maintain that things would be far more chaotic and hurtful if we were getting by without a God?

Anonymous said...

Part 2

Stan wrote, "Given that God has not measured up to your standard of 'moral', what standard must He meet?"

I have read that among all primates--us included--bonobos are the ones who have the most sexual partners over the lifetime of an individual. Might one expect that if a monogamy-loving deity is sovereign over the world, other creatures would be designed by the deity to serve as positive examples for humans to emulate? How does promiscuity among bonobos fit into God's sovereign plan as far as you can tell? Some Christians would resort to the this-is-a-fallen-world explanation; does that appeal to you?

Regarding pregnancy resulting from rape, Stan wrote, "Glenda did not have to kill her baby. The rapist is culpable for the rape, and Glenda is culpable for the murder."

I have a relative who is a churchgoing Christian. She has told me that it is "awful" that there are politicians who would want the law to say that a rape victim needs to carry on with a pregnancy. Are you bold enough to state that my relative is not a true Christian on that basis alone? Are you willing to pray that God will speak to her and tell her she is wrong on this issue? If so, are you confident He will do so? I pledge to come back here and tell you that she reversed herself on this issue if in fact she tells me that she has done so.

In response to David’s questions, one attribute of a PERSONAL deity (sorry to yell, but this is crucial) is that He would be intimately involved in guiding His disciples on a minute-by-minute basis. That ought to lead to a great deal of conformity amongst His disciples on issues such as whether a particular behavior is moral or immoral. “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord” was a hymn lyric we sang in church back in the day. Atheists and evolutionists not being under His guidance, I wouldn’t have spectacularly (supernaturally, if you prefer) high expectations for homogeneity. Still, I expect evolutionists to trend in that direction as the centuries roll by, due to the advance of scientific knowledge. (But if you would like to read a more negative prediction than the one I just gave you, seek out the writings of the philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn. I don’t know whether he was a Believer, but he was pretty hard on the methodology of science.)

Stan said...

On Dawkins, what I said was that Dawkins argues for materialism. In that, environment would play a part. Environment is part of the material world.

Anonymous: "Is it fair to say that you have very low expectations for your deity to enforce fairness and justice during your 75 years on Earth, but high expectations that He is going to more than make it up to you in an eternal afterlife?"

The standard worldview for human beings -- clearly yourself included -- is that the universe revolves around me. Okay, that's simplistic. Nonetheless, I am the primary concern. "Me and my people" are the most important entities in existence. If there is a deity of some sort, it would either need to be concerned about the welfare of "me and my people" or it would be an evil deity. All deities, in order to be considered good deities, needed to have as their primary concern the human being in general and my well-being in particular. To fail to do that is a disqualification of the deity.

I don't have that standard worldview. I don't think that "He is going to more than make it up to you in an eternal afterlife", as if I am owed that in some sense. I don't have "low expectations" for fairness and justice in my lifetime. I don't believe that it's about me. God is not obligated to satisfy my sense of "fairness" (which, oh, by the way, seems to change all the time). I do believe that God will do what is right all the time. I do not think that He will determine what is right by examining my standards and acquiescing to them.

Anonymous: "Or do you maintain that things would be far more chaotic and hurtful if we were getting by without a God?"

This is an atheist's question to a deist, not a theist. The phrase "without God" in terms of this existence to a theist means "nothing exists at all". A theist believes that all things subsist in God. Without God, nothing is. So, in this theist's attempt at answering your question, if you believe that "nothing at all" is "more chaotic and hurtful" than what is currently, then the answer would be "Yes." The deist believes that God just kind of hangs out there. The world is in motion on its own and God might intervene or interfere from time to time, but the world operates just fine, thank you very much. That is the premise of your question. From that premise -- although I deny it fundamentally -- I would maintain that things would be far more chaotic and hurtful without a God because the biblical version of human beings is "sinful to the core" and the only reason we are not "as bad as we can be" is God's direct intervention. (Picture a world of Hitlers on crack.)

But I need to repeat my two bottom-line beliefs. I believe that God does the right thing all the time. I do not believe that God's highest concern is His creation.

Stan said...

Part 2

You understand, I hope, that a commentary on the mating habits of primates does not answer the question of your source of applicable morality in the absence of a Moral Lawgiver. I don't really care about the mating habits of various animals as it bears on human morality because I don't believe that animals have a moral code from a Moral Lawgiver that they are required to meet. A fallen world? I don't even bother. It's like asking if it's moral for a fly catcher to eat bugs.

On your churchgoing relative, I am frankly amused that you would think that I would determine the reality of someone else's faith based on perfect agreement with my perceptions in all matters moral. I am equally amused that you think that I have the capacity to bend God's ear sufficiently to intervene in your unknown churchgoing relative's life, as if it is a valid test. At the bottom, I am perplexed that you would think that the measure of a Christian is perfect thinking and the measure of a functioning deity is perfect acquiescence to the Christian's requests.

Anonymous: "That ought to lead to a great deal of conformity amongst His disciples"

What an interesting concept! So how would that work? Would the Holy Spirit fundamentally shift His disciples' will to conform to His, or would it be a singular mental shift so that all disciples thought alike?

It isn't, of course, a biblical concept. Jesus said there would always be "tares among the wheat" -- lookalikes who weren't real "wheat". John wrote that "antichrists" would come from the church. Most of the New Testament was written to counter heresy already present in the Church in the first century of its existence. Jesus promised that there would be "many" who would come to Him saying, "Lord, Lord, look what we've done for you." Further, the Bible portrays Christianity as a body. Homogeneity in a body would be fatal. A body needs a host of functions and operations to live. The brain doesn't do what the liver does. The blood doesn't do what the saliva does. And that's a healthy body, not one littered with "tares among the wheat". Why would I expect homogeneity? Finally, being "in the faith" is depicted just like the normal human life. You start out as a "babe in Christ" and "mature". This would suggest, then, that at all times in all places there are genuine Christians in various stages of maturity. They won't be homogenous. "Conformity" suggests no such process. May I suggest that your view on the conformity amongst disciples is a bit ... simplistic?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the additional thoughts on this fertile topic, Stan. We could go on forever, but I will end with this.

A pair of Rahdnakrishnans came to my door yesterday. They witnessed Rahdnakrishna to me. “She is wonderful! You are missing out on a great thing by not having a personal relationship with her, friend.” I stepped into the kitchen to pour them some tea. When I brought out the teacups, one of the witnesses took it with a smile on her face, while the other frowned and said, “We don’t drink tea. Rahdnakrishna does not like us to consume caffeine.” The other one quickly stepped in with, “Well, it’s technically a matter of Rahdnakrishnan liberty,” and took a sip of the tea.

“Can’t you get Rahdnakrisha to tell you specifically if drinking tea is okay?” I asked them.

The one who partook of my tea said, “Centuries ago back in Lashikam She did talk audibly to people. But she chooses not to do so now. So naturally we Believers will have some differences in our behavior. We are not robots, after all.”

“You have a thick book in your hand,” I said, pointing to it. “Doesn’t it help decide matters like that?”

The one who did not drink tea said, “It tells us that the magnificent Kimpoonu died after drinking strong tea. I happen to think that is Rahdnakrishna’s way of telling us not to drink tea under any circumstances.”

We sat and talked more about their beliefs. I brought up the explosion of Krakatoa in 1888, which killed 36,000 people, not too far from Lashikam, as it happens. “Did Rahdnakrishna micromanage the trajectories of those 36,000 people over the face of the Earth to bring them together on that day in order that they be killed by volcanic debris and tsunami waves?”

“Yes. We cannot question why she would—“

“No,” the other witness cut in. “Humans deliberately chose of their own free will to be there on that day, and they absolutely deserved what they got. Do not put any blame on Rahdnakrishna.”

On it went for another fifteen minutes. As they were walking out of my house, I invited the two of them to come back on Friday evening to eat dinner with me. “I’ll be having roast beef.”

“Thank you. I’ll be there,” said the taller one.

The shorter one looked distressed. “Oh my goodness. My new friend, understand that Rahdnakrishna has made cows sacred. To kill one and eat it, that is murder.”

As they walked away, I found myself shaking my head. “How personal can this Rahdnakrishna be if She provides so little guidance to her servants?” I muttered.

Stan said...

Nice analogy. Doesn't work, however, in terms of Christianity. That's because Christianity is expecting (as I said before) "false believers", "tares among the wheat". If we anticipate that there will be those who claim to be "in" but are not, then it would be mandatory that we would have differences of opinions. Not to put too fine a point on it, it would be like inviting terrorists into an anti-terrorist unit, dressing them up in anti-terrorist uniforms, and then scratching our heads as to why there are so many problems with our anti-terrorist units.

I've written before about the disagreements in Christianity. Take, for instance, the disagreements between the Arminians and the Calvinists. As it turns out, given all of Christianity and its doctrines, there were five differences of opinion. Just five. You are stunned that there would be any differences. I'm quite impressed that there would only be 5. Add in the variations in spiritual maturity and, in Christianese, "sanctification", I'm totally stunned that there would only be 5. Not you. "Why didn't your god bother to make it clear?" He did. It's the receivers -- sinful humans in various states of decay or repair -- that are the problem.

And, look, I have to wonder if you're being honest here. At least, not with yourself. If there was a god who spoke to His followers and said, "Button your shirt to the top button" and "Do not drink coffee if it is not purchased from the right farmers ... here's the list", you'd be running full tilt from that one, wouldn't you? I mean, who would want to follow a micro-managing deity like that? From the perspective of a follower, what reward is there in such a thing? "I was trying to decide where to go. He said 'Turn right in 126 yards and I did.' I found my way!"?

Since you operate from the convenient name of "anonymous", I can't be sure, but your argument sounds a lot like an earlier conversation I had about why it is that God doesn't bother speaking directly to everyone and clear the air. Included in that conversation was the concept of why God would allow good people to suffer. Since both of these are present here again, I'd suspect that you're the same person. If that's true, quite clearly you didn't accept my answers then, so you'd feel the need to float those objections again here. You understand, I suppose, that providing you the same answers again won't help. In your view, a deity is required to meet your standards of right and wrong, satisfy your ethic, do what you deem makes life pleasant. The Christian God doesn't meet your standards. Too bad for Him. In my view, a genuine deity would not be subservient to His creation. That would be irrational. But, hey, we're just two sinful humans in various states of decay or repair, right?

Anonymous said...

I sent a comment to you about someone donating to a TV ministry. You chose not to publish my comment. I took that as a sign that you were growing weary, so I gave you ten months of no pestering. I am going to try to limit myself to commenting to you on just one blog entry every five or six months. ;-}

It is a tribute to the depth of your posts that after I say I am not going to send another comment, my old noggin gets to brooding and I feel compelled to add just one more.

If I as a nonbeliever could pray to the Holy Trinity, I would pray like this:

“Almighty God, as you know, there are lots of manmade religions on Earth. I ask that You begin treating your own Christian disciples with more closeness than ever before. When You show as little interest in interacting with them as the fictitious deity Allah does in interacting with Muslims, You turn off those of us who are of a skeptical mind. We conclude that you are just as fictitious as Allah is. Oh, I know that Christians will tell me that You ARE very personal. They will assure me that it is my own false perception of their relationship with You that causes this problem. But Muslims would tell me the same thing on behalf of Allah. Modern Muslims turn to the ink-on-paper of the Qur’an to hear Allah’s voice, just as modern Christians turn to the ink-on-paper of the Bible to hear Your voice. In both cases I describe that sort of deity behavior with words like ‘cold, distant, sterile,’ though I know perfectly well that Christians and Muslims will say those words are totally misleading.

Lord, You have seen my typing mistakes when I interact with Stan at his blog site. For instance, earlier today I typed 1888 when I should have typed 1883. I do not ask you to guide MY typing fingers. I am not worthy. But Lord, Stan, excellent writer that he is, sometimes makes typing mistakes too. For instance, on December 14 he typed ‘Ruth Graham Lotz’ instead of ‘Anne Graham Lotz,’ and on December 20 he typed ‘Richard Dawson’ instead of ‘Richard Dawkins.’ If Stan were blogging on neutron stars, or on the paintings of Rembrandt, such minor typos would be completely forgivable. But he is blogging specifically to witness Your limitless glory. I ask that from today forward you guide his fingers on the keyboard as necessary to keep even trivial typing errors from happening. Also, Lord, I broaden this prayer to cover ALL those who are witnessing for you in print. Amen.”

Stan, you will say this prayer is worthless since it comes from a skeptic. But what would happen if instead it were you who prayed like that? You say that I would not like a micro-managing deity. Is your excuse for not praying as above that you too don’t like a micro-managing deity who meddles in your typing?

Also, it would help your readers if you would explain how intercessory prayer meshes with God’s sovereignty, and if you would provide an example of an intercessory prayer that you feel God would honor.

I THINK I am done now.

Stan said...

Well, I wouldn't say that the prayer is worthless coming from a skeptic. I'd say the prayer is useless because it's false.

"When You show as little interest in interacting with them as the fictitious deity ..."

What?? What???! Perhaps in your world. Perhaps from your perspective. I have no such complaint from God. I don't see Him as having little interest in interacting. You acknowledge that ("I know that Christians will tell me that You ARE very personal."), so apparently there is something else you're looking for. Maybe it would be easier if you could tell me what you have in mind. Something like this:

"Here is what I would need to believe that there is a God and that God is the Christian God. He would have to do what I tell Him. He would have to speak to me audibly. No, wait, He'd have to speak to me so that I and those around me could hear Him. (Otherwise they'd just think I'm crazy, hearing voices.) He'd have to never allow a good person to have anything bad happen to them. I suppose that might populate the world with eternally present people because allowing good people to die is a bad thing, but, hey, I can demand whatever I want. He'd have to put an end to all false religions and make everyone believe the same thing. He'd have to rewrite the Bible so that it was unmistakably clear in my opinion. He'd also have to make believers to be perfect typists because, you see, if they aren't perfect typists with perfect beliefs and perfect lives with a God that meets my standards, then none of this is true. You work that out, and I'm on board."

How's that? (Rhetorical question.)

And, yes, I think you're done now.