CAFE NOIR » Tales of an atheist, anarchist, wannabe filmmaker of sorts, and father of three lovable little beasties

A brief summary of why we should hope that God does not exist

job-william-orpen-smallI’ve written at some length about why we should hope that the maximally great and moral being of classical theism does not exist.

Here’s my initial essay: Be (sorta) excited that God doesn’t exist!

And a follow-up essay: Face-in-Palme d’Rauser | Universal salvation? | And a response to Matt Flannagan

It’s a conclusion I’ve come to only recently, and as these two essays that I’ve just referenced are my first attempts to properly organize my thoughts on (digital) paper, they’ve got a distinctly meandering flavor to them. Perhaps at some point I’ll revisit this topic by writing a more polished long-form piece, but for now I’d like to share the basic summary of my position as I’ve come to better grasp it.

A brief summary of why we should hope that God does not exist:

Let’s grant that God’s existence would be maximally good from an omniscient, all-cosmic-things-considered vantage point.

However, that certainly is not our vantage point. Our epistemic limitations require that in order for us to properly hope that God exists, one of the following two conditions must be met:

1) We have proper reason to suppose that God’s purposes–should God exist–align significantly with the flourishing of conscious beings such as ourselves.

2) Failing that (condition 1, that is), we can specifically identify the ostensibly greater purposes that God has, should those purposes appear to conflict significantly with the flourishing of conscious creatures.

For us to hope that God exists entails that we align ourselves with God’s perceived purposes, should God exist. If neither of the preceding two conditions are met, then God’s ostensible purposes are opaque to us to such a degree that we cannot orient our own purposes, other than to actively devalue the flourishing of conscious creatures relative to other possible, unknown purposes. Such a situation would involve not merely a profound moral schizophrenia, but moreover a moral schizophrenia with strong sadistic and masochistic tendencies.

Neither condition is met, it seems to me. Therefore, we should not hope that God exists. Furthermore, as a maximally powerful and knowledgeable being, God could actively frustrate our purposes to a much greater extent than could a godless cosmos. Therefore, we should take our conclusion further, and hope that God does not exist.

And one thing further: If ever we were to come “face to face” so to speak with a god-like being, unless and until condition 1 or at least condition 2 is met, we would have every reason to suppose that this being is not actually God, and the morally proper course of action (even if a futile one) would be to rebel against such a being.

Perhaps the most succinct and provocative way of summarizing my position is this: Unless and until the problem of evil has been thoroughly solved (though not necessarily exhaustively so), we should conclude that God probably does not exist, and furthermore we should hope that God does not exist. We should adopt atheism and anti-theism, in other words.

Share on Facebook|Share on Twitter|Email Post
Comments
  • AnonymousFriend 4.7.16 at 2:02 pm

    Hi Jeff, I have read a few of your blogs in regards to your beliefs, atheism, theism, and a supernatural power or supreme being (God). Indeed, you are a very talented writer and obviously intellectual person based on the verbiage and descriptors utilized in your posts. In all truthfulness, I had to look a few words up to understand their definition and how they applied to your point. I am compassionate and empathetic to your struggle for understanding and clarity of God in a fallen world of suffering and often times, significant evil. Based on your writings, I can assume you had a childhood and upbringing that included theism, and more specifically a house that followed and taught scripture according to the Bible. So, I write to you today based on the premise that you have the foundation of the Holy Spirit within you and there is enough questioning within yourself, your conscience, and the natural knowledge of God, to question your decision and hopefully nurture a seed of faith – which I believe was once, and still is, present within you.

    As you can probably already tell, I would describe myself as holding traditional Christian beliefs in God and salvation through faith in Jesus who took the place for all sin. Salvation that is freely and assuredly given, undeservedly, to any and all through grace to those who put their hope and faith in Jesus. My intent in writing to you is to address the two concepts that you find unexplainable and contradictory as to the presence of God, (1) the ‘grotesque scenario’ of a loving God submitting anyone to an eternity in Hell that (presented in your writing ‘Be (Sorta) Excited That God Doesn’t Exist’; and (2) the concept and presence of evil/suffering in this world and how God could allow this to happen (presented in this blog). A significant portion of the explanations provided come directly from author, Timothy Keller, as well as C.S. Lewis, since they are able present better and more eloquent interpretations than myself. I apologize in advance for the length but hope you bear with me and objectively assess the points as I have yours.

    You quote that ‘if a good God enacts/allows this kind of eternal conscious torment (hell), then from our epistemic position, good God’s existence would be the worst thing possible for us, and something we ought to hope mightily against.’ When you ‘good’, I understand that to imply loving and just as well. In Christianity, God is both a God of Love and of justice. Many people struggle with this. They believe a loving God can’t be a judging God. How can a God of love be also a God filled with wrath and anger that would cast people into hell? If he is loving and ‘good’, he should forgive and accept everyone. Author Timothy Keller, in the book The Reason for God, writes that ‘all living persons are sometimes filled with wrath, not just despite of but because of their love. If you love a person and you see someone ruining them – even they themselves – you get angry.’ The Bible says that God’s wrath flows from his love and delight in his creation. He is angry at evil, sin, and injustice because it is destroying its peace and integrity. ‘The Lord is righteous in all his way and loving/faithful in all he does’ (Psalms 145:17)

    So how does this concept, along with the notion of a just and righteous God, correspond to sending people to hell. The modern understanding is that God gives us time, but if we haven’t made the right choices by the end of our lives, he casts our souls into hell for all eternity. As the poor souls fall through space, they cry out for mercy, but God says “Too late! You had your chance! Now you will suffer!” Keller explains that ‘this caricature misunderstand the very nature of evil. The Biblical picture is that sin separates us from the presence of God, which is the source of all joy and indeed of all love, wisdom, or good things of any sort. Since we were originally created for God’s immediate presence, only before his face will we thrive, flourish, and achieve our highest potential. If we were to lose his presence totally, that would be hell – the loss our capability for giving and receiving love or joy.’

    In short, hell is simply one’s freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinite. We see this process on a smaller scale in addictions to drugs, alcohol, gambling, and pornography. First, there is disintegration, because as time goes on you need more and more of the addictive substance to get an equal kick, which lead to less and less satisfaction. Second, there is the isolation, as increasingly you blame others and circumstances in order to justify your behavior. When we build our lives on anything by God, that thing – though it may be a good thing – become an enslaving addition, something we have to have to be happy. In eternity, this disintegration goes on forever. There is increasing isolation, denial, delusion, and self-absorption.

    C.S. Lewis, at first a professed and adamant atheist then turned Christian author, makes a description of this in his book The Great Divorce, ‘Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others…but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine. It is NOT a question of God “sending us” to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE hell unless nipped in the bud.’

    Those in hell are miserable, but Lewis shows us why. We see raging like unchecked flames of pride, their paranoia, their self-pity, their certainty that everyone else is wrong, that everyone else is an idiot! All their humility is gone, and they are utterly, finally locked in a prison of their own self-centeredness, and their pride progressively expands.

    This is the travesty in picturing God casting people into a hell and describing him, as you have, as ‘deeply malevolent or apathetic’. The fact is actually the opposite, in that he is a God ‘who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (Salvation in Christ)’ (1 Timothy 2:4). The people in Lewis’s book would rather have their ‘freedom’, as they define it, than salvation freely given. Their delusion is that, if they glorified God, they would somehow lose power and freedom, but in a tragic irony, their choice has ruined their own potential through everlasting freedom and harmony with God. Hell is, as Lewis says, “the greatest monument to human freedom”. As Roman 1:24 says, God “gave them up…to their desires.” All God does in the end is give people what they most want, including freedom himself. What could be more fair than that?

    (2) Now as to your points on evil/suffering in the world and how this, assuming there is a God, is ‘moral evidence’ that he is not a good God…

    Timothy Keller refers to a quote from Philosopher J.L. Mackie who makes his case against God in his book The Miracle of Theism. Mackie states in this way, ‘If a good and powerful God exists, he would not allow pointless evil, but because there is much unjustifiable, pointless evil in the world, the traditional good and powerful God could not exist. Some other god or no god may exist, but not the traditional God.’ However, tucked away within this assertion that the world is filled with pointless evil is a hidden premise, that if evil appears pointless to me, it must be pointless. This reasoning is, of course, fallacious. Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happened doesn’t mean there can’t be one. Keller alludes ‘Again we see lurking within supposedly hard-nosed skepticism an enormous faith in one’s own cognitive abilities. If our minds can’t plumb the depths of the universe for good answers to evil/suffering, then, there can’t be any!’ Most assume that if there is were good reasons for the existence of evil, they would be accessible to our minds, but why should that be the case? Many people often admit that most of what they really needed for success in life cam to them through their most difficult and painful experiences (illness, accident, tragedy). Though no one is grateful for the tragedies themselves, they would not trade the insight, character, and strength they had gotten from them for anything. With time and perspective most of us can see good reasons for some of the tragedy and pain that occur in life. Why couldn’t it be possible that, from God’s supernatural vantage point, there are good reasons for all of them? Some reasons that extend beyond this life of despair into the assurance of everlasting life.

    The presence of evil and suffering may be, in fact, evidence for God and perhaps an even greater problem for nonbelievers. C.S. Lewis described how, as an atheist, he had originally rejected the idea of God because of the evil and cruelty of life. Then he came to realize that evil was even more problematic for his atheism beliefs. In the end, he realized that suffering provided a better argument for God’s existence than one against it. Lewis explains
    ‘My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel, evil, and unjust. But how had I got this idea of “just” and “unjust”?…What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? Of course, I could have given up my idea of just by saying it was nothing by a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too – for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it not happen to please my private fancies…consequently, atheism turn out to be too simple’.
    Lewis recognized that modern objections to God are based on a sense of fair play and justice. People ought not to suffer, be excluded, due of hunger or oppression. People ought not to have evil or malicious thoughts or actions. But the evolutionary mechanism of natural selections depends on death, destruction, and violence of the strong again the weak – these things are perfectly natural. On what basis, then, does the atheist judge the natural world to be horribly wrong, unfair, evil, and unjust? The nonbeliever in God does have a good basis for being outraged at injustice, which, as Lewis points out, was the reason for objecting to God in the first place. If you are sure this natural world is unjust and filled with evil, you are assuming the reality of some extra-natural (or supernatural) standard by which to make your judgment.

    Keller refer’s to philosopher Alvin Plantinga about this. ‘Could there really be any such thing as horrifying wickedness [if there were no God and we just evolved]? I don’t see ho. There can be such a thing only if there is a way that rational creatures are supposed to live, obliged to live. A secular way of looking at the world has no place for genuine moral obligations of any sort… and thus no way to say there is such a thing as genuine and appalling wickedness and evil. Accordingly, if you think there is really such a thing, then you have a powerful argument [for the reality of God].’

    Of course, all this philosophizing does not get the Christian theist ‘off the hook’ for an explanation of the world’s evil and suffering. Indeed, our Christian faith does not provide reason for every experience for pain. What it does do is reassure us that a Christian God came to earth to deliberately put himself on the hook of human suffering. In Jesus Christ, God experience the greatest physical and spiritual depth of pain – including hell, as God forsook him on the cross. Christianity provides deep resources for actually facing suffering and evil with hope and courage rather than bitterness and despair. As we look at the cross of Jesus, we still do not know what the answer or reason is. However, we now know what the answer isn’t. It cannot be that God doesn’t love us. It cannot be that he is indifferent or ‘apathetic’ from our condition. God takes the world’s misery, suffering, and evil so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself.

    I pray that Holy Spirit works in your heart to realize his love for you and his utmost desire for you to be a child of God and heir to eternal life through faith in Christ Jesus. Thank you for taking the time to read and consider!

    • Jeff Kesterson 4.11.16 at 10:30 am

      Hi AF, thanks for reading and commenting!

      As for hell as eternal conscious torment, and that revealing God as “deeply malevolent or apathetic”: It isn’t that this would mean that God actually is evil or apathetic, but rather that it wouldn’t be clear that we’d be dealing with (good) God. Rather, it would strongly appear to us that we’d be dealing with an evil/apathetic god, even if it happened to be the case (hidden from us) that we were actually dealing with God. Does that help to clarify?

      Lewis’ view of hell being locked from the inside might seem to help somewhat, but I think there are two main problems with it. It doesn’t appear to take full account of the biblical texts which seem to suggest that God takes a very active role in handing out judgment and punishment. But more importantly, even if hell is only the product of human freedom and rebellion run wild, it’s not at all clear why God should sustain the souls of the damned in an eternal state of abject, self-destructive misery. I, for one, would much prefer peaceful non-existence to profound eternal suffering, and I think most people would agree if it really came to it.

      As for the problem of evil, I think your quote from Keller is a good starting point here: “Again we see lurking within supposedly hard-nosed skepticism an enormous faith in one’s own cognitive abilities. If our minds can’t plumb the depths of the universe for good answers to evil/suffering, then, there can’t be any!” Keller makes the very common mistake of thinking that non-theists are committed to the position that there can’t possibly be “morally sufficient reasons” (to use the philosophical lingo) for God to allow the evils and suffering we see around us. But that’s not the case. Theists are committed to the position that, probably, (ie, more likely than not), there are such morally sufficient reasons. And non-theists need simply reject this very bold (and I think very implausible) theistic claim.

      But even if this (ie, that there probably are morally sufficient reasons for God to allow evil/suffering) were established or at least granted, a deeper problem remains. We’re left with a profound skepticism about our ability to reasonably discern the landscape of possible goods and evils, so much so that we can no long justify claims that God would be likely to do x, y, or z (eg, raise Jesus from the dead, or act to maximize the well being of the greatest number of conscious beings such as ourselves, or communicate with us in any way, or even grant us effective cognition in the first place!). Because for all we know, God has morally sufficient reasons for refraining from x, y, and z, even though x, y, and z appear to us to be good and fitting goals which God would–it would seem–probably want to act upon.

      But do the very concepts of good and evil imply God? No, I can’t see how. I’ve written in defense of objective morality on atheism. And as I’ve alluded to in the preceding paragraph, it turns out that we can’t establish that our perception of good and evil has anything to do with divine revelation of any sort. And in fact if we assume God exists and we try to align our moral goals with God’s perceived moral goals, it appears to me that we’re left with a profound moral schizophrenia. We can’t really make heads or tails of anything.

      I’m hoping to write a piece soon which gives a broad overview of the problem of evil, and which will deal with much of what we’re discussing here.

      Thanks for interacting!

  • Patricia Dick 5.2.16 at 5:20 pm

    Hello Jeff,

    I have recently been reading some of the posts on your blog, and would like to comment on your post, “A Brief Summary of Why We Should Hope that God Does Not Exist”. In your writing you have listed two conditions – one of which, you say, must be met in order for people to hope that God exists:

    “1) We have proper reason to suppose that God’s purposes – should God exist – align significantly with the flourishing of conscious beings such as ourselves.

    2) Failing that (condition 1, that is) we can specifically identify the ostensibly greater purposes that God has, should those purposes appear to conflict significantly with the flourishing of conscious creatures.”

    Your two conditions are based on the notion that we humans can mold God into the type of Being that we think He should be. It seems extremely presumptuous for mortal beings to tell God how He should behave, how He should rule the universe, or how He should dispense justice. I’m sure you are familiar with the section in Job where God takes Job to task for questioning His purposes. “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding’…” (Job 38:1 and following).

    With our sin-tainted minds and limited understanding, we are in no position to question God’s motives or purposes. In Isaiah God tells us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55: 8-9)

    In His Word we have God’s promise that all will work for our well-being. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28). This promise meets your first condition. We know that God loves us and we will flourish under His care and guidance. When heartache or trials come into our life; we may not immediately understand the reason, but we know that God is in control.

    Jeff, you are a father with small children. You love your children and want what is best for them. At times they may ask for things that you know are not good for them. They may want to eat candy for breakfast, or play with matches, or they may dash out into the street heedless of the danger. You say “no”, or you discipline them in love. They may not understand the reason at the time, but they do need your guidance, protection and care to flourish. This is just a small illustration of how God cares for us.

    As a Christian, we know that the Bible is God’s word; and therefore without error. It is remarkable (miraculous!) how the Old Testament looks prophetically into the future and foretells of the coming Messiah. Consider Psalm 22, for example. The Psalmist, David, writes hundreds of years before Christ came to earth, and yet this Psalm contains a very specific description of Christ’s suffering on the cross. “Yea, dogs are round about me; a company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and feet – I can count all my bones – they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots.”

    There are numerous other examples of prophesies in the Old Testament which are fulfilled in the New Testament. In human terms, it is impossible that mankind could have done this. Only an omnipotent, omniscient God can be the author of the Bible (“Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:21). Only God could have conceived this incredible plan of salvation, worked down through the ages to accomplish it, and left us His inerrant Word to nurture and sustain our faith.

    Why I am glad that God does exist…

    I am a sinner.
    “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10)

    “…all have sinned and fall short of the of God” (Romans 3:23)

    “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23)

    Because I am a sinner, I need a savior. In His love, God sent His Son Jesus to be my substitute.
    “But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

    And amazingly, God’s plan of salvation is a free gift for everyone!
    “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2: 8-9)

    I am glad that God does exist, because when trials, hardships, or difficulties arise, God is the source of comfort and strength I can count on.
    “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

    When this short life is ended, Jesus has promised life eternal in Heaven with Him.
    “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14: 2-3)

    Jeff, naturally your family is concerned for you. We love you, and want only the best for you. Thank you for reading this. Go back to God’s Word for direction, for answers, for insight. Pray for His Spirit to lead you to understanding.

    With Love & Prayers,
    Aunt Pat

    • Jeff Kesterson 5.5.16 at 12:09 am

      Hi Aunt Pat, thanks for reading and commenting!

      It seems extremely presumptuous for mortal beings to tell God how He should behave, how He should rule the universe, or how He should dispense justice.

      You know what, I don’t disagree with how you’ve phrased this. Although I can see how it might appear that I’m trying to tell God what to do (which certainly would seem presumptuous), what I’m actually trying to do is to consistently apply the insight–or at least the claim–that God’s ways are significantly beyond our ability to understand.

      If it is indeed the case the God’s ways are to a large extent unknowable to us, then it seems to me that to be consistent, one shouldn’t cling to any particular expectations whatsoever about God. One shouldn’t, for example, expect that God would give us any divine revelations at all, let alone one particular inerrant revelation. And so we should greet all claims to divine revelation with suspicion, even those claims made in our own preferred texts and traditions, whether in the Bible or the Quran or whatever else. This might sound surprising, but it’s a simple matter of consistency. If one shouldn’t tell God how to behave regarding, say, allowing the Holocaust to occur, then it follows that one shouldn’t tell God how to behave regarding anything else either. One shouldn’t tell God that God should provide us with an inerrant revelation, or that God should provide a path for eternal life, or that God should even provide us with reliable cognitive faculties in the first place.

      Appeals to so-called skeptical theism, as you’ve made, are necessary if one is to reconcile the profound evils around us with God’s existence. And yet, it turns out that these appeals end up devouring all knowledge of God. And furthermore, they end up destroying any possibility we have for a workable system of ethics, because there’s no legitimately discernible divine ethic to model our own morality upon, and thus we’re left with a moral paralysis and schizophrenia. To nevertheless claim that we should hope that God exists is to claim (without realizing it) that we should abandon morality altogether.

      As for messianic prophecies and the life of Jesus, that’s an entire large and separate conversation in itself. For now I’ll simply have to say that after close investigation, I can’t see that there’s much of genuine substance here. It seems clear to me that the gospel writers–to a very large extent–impressionistically invented their Jesus narratives by borrowing motifs and narratives and prophecies from the earlier Jewish traditions, and we can clearly see that they often did so without much regard to the original contexts of these narratives and prophecies. (Matthew’s “a virgin shall conceive” reference to Isaiah 7 is a striking example of this disregard for original context.) I think it’s clearly not the case, in other words, that the life of the historical Jesus actually did fulfill these ancient prophecies and parallel these ancient narratives. Were and are the vast majority of the Jewish people so ignorant of their own texts and traditions, and/or in such a state of delusional denial, that they couldn’t and can’t recognize the supposedly clear indications that Jesus is their Messiah?

      That seems like a heavy place to pause the conversation, but I’ll have to do so for now. Thanks again for interacting!

      • Patricia Dick 5.18.16 at 11:37 am

        Hi Jeff,

        A few comments on your response.

        You have said…
        “If it is indeed the case the God’s ways are to a large extent unknowable to us, then it seems to me that to be consistent, one shouldn’t cling to any particular expectations whatsoever about God. One shouldn’t, for example, expect that God would give us any divine revelations at all, let alone one particular inerrant revelation…”

        I agree – we should not confine God to our expectations; rather we should rely on what He has told us about Himself. His ways are known to us in what He has revealed to us. Praise God that He did give us this revelation in His Word!

        You also said…
        “Appeals to so-called skeptical theism, as you’ve made, are necessary if one is to reconcile the profound evils around us with God’s existence. And yet, it turns out that these appeals end up devouring all knowledge of God. And furthermore, they end up destroying any possibility we have for a workable system of ethics, because there’s no legitimately discernible divine ethic to model our own morality upon, and thus we’re left with a moral paralysis and schizophrenia. To nevertheless claim that we should hope that God exists is to claim (without realizing it) that we should abandon morality altogether. “

        Evil in the world is a result of sin. – “An evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil.” (Luke 6:45) “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts and fornication, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness…”(Mark 7:21-22) God is not evil and did not create evil. God is the antithesis of evil. To say there is no God would be to increase and encourage evil in the world. To deny God’s existence is to “abandon morality altogether”. Perhaps the ultimate example of God’s promise that all things will work together for good, is the life and death of Jesus. God “spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). Jesus Himself was a victim of the evil in this world, and yet God used this in His plan for our salvation.

        We do have a “workable system of ethics” – God’s law written in our hearts and given to us in the Bible. “they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.”(Romans 2:15). Believing that God exists does not mean that we “abandon morality altogether”. Just the opposite! God has written the moral code in our hearts. “I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” (Romans7:7)

        You wrote…
        “It seems clear to me that the gospel writers–to a very large extent–impressionistically invented their Jesus narratives by borrowing motifs and narratives and prophecies from the earlier Jewish traditions”

        If this is true, then much of the New Testament Bible is nothing more than stories fabricated by a handful of fisherman–for the most part uneducated men. Many of the disciples endured hardship, persecution and even death preaching the Gospel of Christ. Would they have done so for the sake of their “ invented Jesus narratives”? If these are mere stories, how could these writings have endured through the centuries?

        The Gospel writers were eye witnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. By God’s grace, they have given us beautiful and powerful statements of faith. For example, Peter’s profession in Matthew 16:15, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”; and in John 6: 68-69, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Even Thomas, who initially doubted the resurrection of Jesus, exclaimed “My Lord and my God!” at the sight of his risen Lord.

        You said…
        “I think it’s clearly not the case, in other words, that the life of the historical Jesus actually did fulfill these ancient prophecies and parallel these ancient narratives. Were and are the vast majority of the Jewish people so ignorant of their own texts and traditions, and/or in such a state of delusional denial, that they couldn’t and can’t recognize the supposedly clear indications that Jesus is their Messiah?”

        The religious leaders at the time of Jesus unfortunately did not recognize Him as their Messiah (Matthew 13:55 – “Is not this the carpenter’s son?…”); which lead Jesus to comment that “A prophet is not without honor except in his home town, and in his own household.” Jesus lamented over their unbelief – “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” (Matthew 23:37)

        God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1st Timothy 2:4); however He has given us a free will. Sadly many reject Him – then and now. When mankind is “unwilling” and rejects or denies God, then evil will abound!

        You’re right, this is a heavy conversation, but nothing could be more important. Thanks for listening, dear nephew.

        Aunt Pat

        • Jeff Kesterson 5.19.16 at 3:39 pm

          Hi Aunt Pat,

          Well, if indeed we shouldn’t have any expectations for God, then we don’t have any proper reason whatsoever to accept any claims about divine revelation, whether in the Bible, the Quran, or elsewhere. So it won’t do to say, “God has spoken to us through the Bible and revealed himself.” No, that’s a human claim which we should reject, if we’re really going to be consistent about withholding expectations for God.

          I’ve offered an argument which shows, I think, that belief in God undermines any workable human system of morality. For example, if God exists, then God chose to allow the Holocaust, and chooses to allow a dizzying array of dreadful evils. All of these evils we would choose to prevent if we were able, but the fact is that God does not prevent them (if God exists, that is). So this implies that God’s values and priorities are so vastly different from any workable human values and priorities that we simply can’t even begin to align our morality with God’s. We’re left with a moral schizophrenia, as I’ve argued. So I don’t think it will do to simply restate the opinion that morality is only possible with God. I’ve argued quite the opposite, and of course I’d welcome a detailed response if you’re interested in doing so.

          About the historicity of the gospels: This is such a huge topic, and I think it’s hard to make any headway here without actually diving into specifics. So here’s a fairly brief but specific issue which I’ve referenced before, about the historicity of the virgin birth:

          In Mark 3:21 (Mark is the earliest of the four canonical gospels) we hear that “when [Jesus’] family heard about this [ie, that he was performing Sabbath healings, driving out demons, etc], they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” And in verse 31 we then get the additional detail that these family members consisted of his “mother and brothers.” So Mary herself apparently thought near the beginning of his public ministry that Jesus was “out of his mind” and in need of forcible restraint. And Mark appears not to be embarrassed by this detail. Why should he be? To his knowledge there was nothing particularly remarkable about Jesus’ birth or childhood (for Mark, Jesus’ baptism was the first notable glimpse of Jesus’ son-of-God-ness), so of course it’s no surprise that Mary and his brothers were rather aghast at his radical and controversial ministry, at least initially.

          But Matthew and Luke (writing later than Mark) realize it’s not going to fly to say that, at least about Mary, if they want their infancy narratives to seem at all credible. After all, they tell of angelic visits to Mary and Joseph, a virginal conception, and so on and so forth. Surely Mary, at least, who “pondered all these things in her heart” couldn’t have thought Jesus was out of his mind and in need of restraint, right? And so they remove that damning-to-a-miraculous-birth detail from their parallel accounts in Matthew 12:46-50 and Luke 8:19-21.

          Mark apparently knows nothing of a virgin birth tradition, and indeed he includes a detail that eliminates the plausibility of a virgin birth. Matthew and Luke are inventing a new virgin birth tradition, and they massage the story told by Mark in order to better do so.

          More later, perhaps.

  • […] As to moral arguments: as already mentioned, I’ll save a detailed discussion for later, after discussing theodicy and skeptical theism. The short of it–which I’ll simply state for now–is that a robust and workable concept of morality actually entails atheism; theism entails profound moral skepticism. […]

  • Post a comment

    Log in with Wordpress.com (Then refresh this page.)

    Commenting powered by interconnect/it code.