Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Why doesn’t God make his existence more obvious to people?

Have you ever heard someone say that if God existed, he would give us more evidence? This is called the “hiddenness of God” argument. It’s also known as the argument from “rational non-belief”.

Basically the argument is something like this:

  1. God is all powerful
  2. God is all loving
  3. God wants all people to know about him
  4. Some people don’t know about him
  5. Therefore, there is no God.

In this argument, the atheist is saying that he’s looked for God real hard and that if God were there, he should have found him by now. After all, God can do anything he wants that’s logically possible, and he wants us to know that he exists. To defeat the argument we need to find a possible explanation of why God would want to remain hidden when our eternal destination depends on our knowledge of his existence.

What reason could God have for remaining hidden?

Dr. Michael Murray, a brilliant professor of philosophy at Franklin & Marshall College, has found a reason for God to remain hidden.

His paper on divine hiddenness is here:
Coercion and the Hiddenness of God“, American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol 30, 1993.

He argues that if God reveals himself too much to people, he takes away our freedom to make morally-significant decisions, including responding to his self-revelation to us. Murray argues that God stays somewhat hidden, so that he gives people space to either 1) respond to God, or 2) avoid God so we can keep our autonomy from him. God places a higher value on people having the free will to respond to him, and if he shows too much of himself he takes away their free choice to respond to him, because once he is too overt about his existence, people will just feel obligated to belief in him in order to avoid being punished.

But believing in God just to avoid punishment is NOT what God wants for us. If it is too obvious to us that God exists and that he really will judge us, then people will respond to him and behave morally out of self-preservation. But God wants us to respond to him out of interest in him, just like we might try to get to know someone we admire. God has to dial down the immediacy of the threat of judgment, and the probability that the threat is actual. That leaves it up to us to respond to God’s veiled revelation of himself to us, in nature and in Scripture.

(Note: I think that we don’t seek God on our own, and that he must take the initiative to reach out to us and draw us to him. But I do think that we are free to resist his revelation, at which point God stops himself short of coercing our will. We are therefore responsible for our own fate).

The atheist’s argument is a logical/deductive argument. It aims to show that there is a contradiction between God’s will for us and his hiding from us. In order to derive a contradiction, God MUST NOT have any possible reason to remain hidden. If he has a reason for remaining hidden that is consistent with his goodness, then the argument will not go through.

When Murray offers a possible reason for God to remain hidden in order to allow people to freely respond to him, then the argument is defeated. God wants people to respond to him freely so that there is a genuine love relationship – not coercion by overt threat of damnation. To rescue the argument, the atheist has to be able to prove that God could provide more evidence of his existence without interfering with the free choice of his creatures to reject him.

More of Michael Murray’s work

Murray has defended the argument in works published by prestigious academic presses such as Cambridge University Press, (ISBN: 0521006104, 2001) and Routledge (ISBN: 0415380383, 2007). The book chapter from the Cambridge book is here. The book chapter from the Routledge book is here.

Michael Murray’s papers are really fun to read, because he uses hilarious examples. I should mention that I disagree with his view that God’s work of introducing biological information in living creatures has to be front-loaded.

Here’s more terrific stuff from Dr. Murray:

Is there any evidence of God’s existence?

Yes, just watch this lecture by Dr. William Lane Craig. It contains 5 reasons why God exists and 3 reasons why it matters.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What does the concept of resurrection mean to Jewish theologians?

Here’s a helpful post from Eric Chabot talks about this and other interesting topics related to the resurrection.

Excerpt:

Where do we see resurrection in the Hebrew Bible?

As just stated, belief in a resurrection of persons from the dead are seen in eight passages: (Job 19:26; Ps. 17:15; 49:15; 73:24; Is. 26:19; 53:10; Dn. 12:2;12:13). The resurrection terminology is seen in two places (Ezek. 37:1-14; Hos. 6:2) to show a national and spiritual restoration brought about by the return from the exile. As far as the nature of the future bodily resurrection, it may involve a corpse or the receipt of a material body comparable to the present physical body (Job 19:26; Is. 26:19), or it may be a matter of transformation (Dn. 12:2-3 and perhaps 12:13); or glorification after reanimation, in the case of the righteous.

As far as the function of the resurrection, it may be personal vindication (Is. 26:16; 53:10-12). Resurrection may also have a function in relation to reward or punishment (Dn. 12:2; 12:13), an assumption to heaven and enriched fellowship with God (Ps. 49:15; 73:24,26), or preface to the beatific vision of God (Ps. 17:15 and possibly Job 19:26). (1)

The Greek word for resurrection is “anatasis” which means “a raising up” or “rising.” There are resuscitations in the Tanakh such as the example of Elijah and Elisha raising a person from death (1 Kings 17-23; 2 Kings 4:34-35). While these figures may have been raised in a resurrection sense, they were not raised immortal in the same way Jesus was.

Extra-Biblical Passages on Resurrection

There are also extra-biblical passages that speak about the resurrection (Enoch 92:2; 4 Ezra 7:32; Enoch 91:10; 2 Maccabees 7:9; 14; 28-29). Even the The Messiah Apocalypse, which is dated between 100 and 80 B.C.E mentions resurrection: “He [God] frees the captives, makes the blind see, and makes the bent over stand straight…for he will heal the sick, revive the dead, and give good news to the humble and the poor he will satisfy, the abandoned he will lead, and the hungry he will make rich.” (2)

In the Rabbinical literature there are explicit teachings on the resurrection. It says in the Mishnah 10.1, it says, “All Israelites have a share in the world to come; … and these are they that have no share in the world to come: he that says that there is no resurrection of the dead prescribed in the Law.” Moses Maimonides, a Jewish rabbi and a medieval Jewish philosopher who has forever influenced the Jewish and non-Jewish world said:

” The resurrection of the dead is one of the cardinal principles established by Moses our teacher. A person who does not believe this principle has no real religion, certainly not Judaism. However, resurrection is for the righteous. This is the earning of the statement in Breshit Rabbah, which declares: “the creative power of rain is both for the righteous and the wicked, but the resurrection of the dead is only for the righteous.” Our sages taught the wicked are called dead even when they are still alive; the righteous are alive even when they are dead” (Bab. Talmud Brakhot 18 b).

3 points are made here: 1. Resurrection is a cardinal principle taught in the Torah which all Jews must believe 2. It is for the righteous alone 3. All men must die and their bodies decompose. (3)

It’s important to understand that the concept of resurrection had a meaning before Christianity ever started. And it’s interesting to ask why the early Christians applied the notion of resurrection to Jesus. What is the best explanation for their decision to do such a strange thing? Why not just give up on him and deny that he was the Messiah when he was killed by the Romans?

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Do people go to Hell just because they don’t accept Jesus?

From J. Warner Wallace at Please Convince Me. (Link is now down, I can’t find it anywhere else)

Excerpt:

A “just” God does justice, which means to punish or reward appropriately. In the Western tradition, we punish people for the actions they commit, but the extent of punishment is dependent also on the person’s mental state, and a person’s mental state is reflective of his or her beliefs. Premeditated murder is worse than manslaughter, and is punished more severely, and a hate crime is a sentencing enhancement that adds more punishment to the underlying crime. In both examples, a person’s beliefs are at play: the premeditated murderer has reflected on his choices and wants the victim dead; a hate crime reflects a belief that the rights of a member of the protected group are especially unworthy of respect. So, considering a person’s beliefs may well be relevant, especially if those beliefs have motivated the criminal behavior.

But the challenger’s mistake is even more fundamental. He is wrong to assert that people are condemned for not accepting the gospel. Christians believe that people are condemned for their sinful behavior – the “wages of sin is death” – not for what they fail to do. The quoted challenge is like saying that the sick man died of “not going to the doctor.” No, the person died of a specific condition – perhaps cancer or a heart attack – which a doctor might have been able to cure. So too with eternal punishment. No one is condemned for refusing to believe in Jesus. While Jesus can – and does – provide salvation for those who seek it, there is nothing unjust about not providing salvation to those who refuse to seek it. After all, we don’t normally feel obliged to help someone who has not asked for, and does not want, our assistance. So too the Creator has the right to withhold a gift – i.e. eternity spent in His presence – from those who would trample on the gift, and on the gift-giver.

The quoted assertion also demonstrates an unspoken belief that we can impress God with our “kind” or “generous” behavior. This fails to grasp what God is – a perfect being. We cannot impress Him. What we do right we should do. We don’t drag people into court and reward them for not committing crimes. This is expected of them. They can’t commit a murder and then claim that punishment is unfair, because they had been kind and generous in the past. When a person gets his mind around the idea of what perfection entails, trying to impress a perfect Creator with our “basic goodness” no longer seems like such a good option.

Here’s a related answer from CARM. This one answers the question about degrees of punishment in Hell.

Excerpt:

Yes, there are different degrees of punishment in hell.

[...]But, not all people are equally bad.  Though all deserve damnation because all are sinners, different people have committed different degrees of sin.

  • Mt. 11:20-22, “Then He began to reproach the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 “Nevertheless I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you…I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.”
  • Luke 12:47-48, “And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, shall receive many lashes, 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”
  • John 19:11, “Jesus answered [Pilate], ‘You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me up to you has the greater sin.’ ”
  • Heb. 10:29, “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?”

So, if Jesus speaks of greater condemnation for Chorazin and Bethsaida than Tyre and Sidon (Matt. 11:21-22), one slave received more punishment than another (Luke 12:47-48), the one who delivered Jesus to Pilate has the greater sin (John 19:11), and a more severe punishment is reserved for those who trample underfoot the Son of God, then does not greater sin mean that greater punishment will also happen in hell?  Yes it does.

Not only are there degrees of punishment in Hell, but there are degrees of reward in Heaven, based on what you do on Earth and what strengths you start out with.

Philippians 4:10-18:

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.

15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only;

16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.

17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account.

18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.

Everyone who believes in Jesus gets salvation, but your experience in Heaven will be different based on what you do while you are alive. And that’s also the answer to another common question – about deathbed conversions. Both deathbed converts and William Lane Craig will get the same experience of being in the presence of God, but there are completely different levels of reward. One person has an empty account, and the other person has huge massive amounts of virtuous action on deposit. But I think the real reason that Christians are trying to do good things here on Earth is that they like God, and they want to be his friend. They want to work on the relationship, even if it means a little self-denial, and a little sacrifice. We all have things that we would rather be doing for ourselves, but sometimes we have to things that work – things that are effective – for someone else. My values are not his values. Sometimes it is good to do something based on what He values. I don’t always have to get my way, because then it wouldn’t be a real relationship.

I enjoy thinking about Bible puzzles like this… so often in church we just make Christianity a checklist of things that we are supposed to believe somehow, by brute force willpower. I think reflecting on these problems, asking questions, and making sense of them on our own, is a much better approach.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why doesn’t God give us more evidence of his existence?

Have you ever heard someone say that if God existed, he would give us more evidence? This is called the “hiddenness of God” argument. It’s also known as the argument from “rational non-belief”.

Basically the argument is something like this:

  1. God is all powerful
  2. God is all loving
  3. God wants all people to know about him
  4. Some people don’t know about him
  5. Therefore, there is no God.

You may hear have heard this argument before, when talking to atheists, or in debates, like in William Lane Craig’s debate with Theodore Drange, (audio, video).

Basically, the atheist is saying that he’s looked for God real hard and that if God were there, he should have found him by now. After all, God can do anything he wants that’s logically possible, and he wants us to know that he exists. To defeat the argument we need to find a possible explanation of why God would want to remain hidden when our eternal destination depends on our knowledge of his existence.

What reason could God have for remaining hidden?

Dr. Michael Murray, a brilliant professor of philosophy at Franklin & Marshall College, has found a reason for God to remain hidden.

His paper on divine hiddenness is here:
Coercion and the Hiddenness of God“, American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol 30, 1993.

He argues that if God reveals himself too much to people, he takes away our freedom to make morally-significant decisions, including responding to his self-revelation to us. Murray argues that God stays somewhat hidden, so that he gives people space to either 1) respond to God, or 2) avoid God so we can keep our autonomy from him. God places a higher value on people having the free will to respond to him, and if he shows too much of himself he takes away their free choice to respond to him, because once he is too overt about his existence, people will just feel obligated to belief in him in order to avoid being punished.

But believing in God just to avoid punishment is NOT what God wants for us. If it is too obvious to us that God exists and that he really will judge us, then people will respond to him and behave morally out of self-preservation. But God wants us to respond to him out of interest in him, just like we might try to get to know someone we admire. God has to dial down the immediacy of the threat of judgment, and the probability that the threat is actual. That leaves it up to us to respond to God’s veiled revelation of himself to us, in nature and in Scripture.

(Note: I think that we don’t seek God on our own, and that he must take the initiative to reach out to us and draw us to him. But I do think that we are free to resist his revelation, at which point God stops himself short of coercing our will. We are therefore responsible for our own fate).

The atheist’s argument is a logical/deductive argument. It aims to show that there is a contradiction between God’s will for us and his hiding from us. In order to derive a contradiction, God MUST NOT have any possible reason to remain hidden. If he has a reason for remaining hidden that is consistent with his goodness, then the argument will not go through.

When Murray offers a possible reason for God to remain hidden in order to allow people to freely respond to him, then the argument is defeated. God wants people to respond to him freely so that there is a genuine love relationship – not coercion by overt threat of damnation. To rescue the argument, the atheist has to be able to prove that God could provide more evidence of his existence without interfering with the free choice of his creatures to reject him.

More of Michael Murray’s work

Murray has defended the argument in works published by prestigious academic presses such as Cambridge University Press, (ISBN: 0521006104, 2001) and Routledge (ISBN: 0415380383, 2007). The book chapter from the Cambridge book is here. The book chapter from the Routledge book is here.

Michael Murray’s papers are really fun to read, because he uses hilarious examples. I should mention that I disagree with his view that God’s work of introducing biological information in living creatures has to be front-loaded.

Here’s more terrific stuff from Dr. Murray:

Is there any evidence of God’s existence?

Yes, just watch this lecture by Dr. William Lane Craig. It contains 5 reasons why God exists and 3 reasons why it matters.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Read Theodore Dalrymple’s “Life at the Bottom” online for free

I want to recommend that you read a book that is available online for free.

The author  is a psychiatrist in a British hospital that deals with a lot of criminals and victims of crime. So he gets to see the worldview of the “underclass” up close, and to understand how the policies of the compassionate secular left are really working at the street level. The theme of the book is that the left advances policies in order to feel good about themselves, even though the policies actually hurt the poor and vulnerable far more than they help them. And the solution of the elites is more of the same.

The whole book is available ONLINE for free! From City Journal!

Table of Contents

The Knife Went In 5
Goodbye, Cruel World 15
Reader, She Married Him–Alas 26
Tough Love 36
It Hurts, Therefore I Am 48
Festivity, and Menace 58
We Don’t Want No Education 68
Uncouth Chic 78
The Heart of a Heartless World 89
There’s No Damned Merit in It 102
Choosing to Fail 114
Free to Choose 124
What Is Poverty? 134
Do Sties Make Pigs? 144
Lost in the Ghetto 155
And Dying Thus Around Us Every Day 167
The Rush from Judgment 181
What Causes Crime? 195
How Criminologists Foster Crime 208
Policemen in Wonderland 221
Zero Intolerance 233
Seeing Is Not Believing 244

Lots more essays are here, all from City Journal.

My favorite passage

The only bad thing about reading it online is that you miss one of the best quotes from the introduction. But I’ll type it out for you.

The disastrous pattern of human relationships that exists in the underclass is also becoming common higher up the social scale. With increasing frequency I am consulted by nurses, who for the most part come from and were themselves traditionally members of (at least after Florence Nightingale) the respectable lower middle class, who have illegitimate children by men who first abuse and then abandon them. This abuse and later abandonment is usually all too predictable from the man’s previous history and character; but the nurses who have been treated in this way say they refrained from making a judgment about him because it is wrong to make judgments. But if they do not make a judgment about the man with whom they are going to live and by whom they are going to have a child, about what are they ever going to make a judgment?

“It just didn’t work out,” they say, the “it” in question being the relationship that they conceive of having an existence independent of the two people who form it, and that exerts an influence on their on their lives rather like an astral projection. Life is fate.

This is something I run into myself. I think that young people today prefer moral relativists as mates, because they are afraid of being judged and rejected by people who are too serious about religion and morality. The problem is that if you choose someone who doesn’t take religion and morality seriously, then you can’t rely on them to behave morally and exercise spiritual leadership when raising children. And being sexually involved with someone who doesn’t take morality seriously causes a lot of damage.

An excerpt

Here’s one of my favorite passages from “Tough Love”, in which he describes how easily he can detect whether a particular man has violent tendencies on sight, whereas female victims of domestic violence – and even the hospital nurses – will not recognize the same signs.

All the more surprising is it to me, therefore, that the nurses perceive things differently. They do not see a man’s violence in his face, his gestures, his deportment, and his bodily adornments, even though they have the same experience of the patients as I. They hear the same stories, they see the same signs, but they do not make the same judgments. What’s more, they seem never to learn; for experience—like chance, in the famous dictum of Louis Pasteur—favors only the mind prepared. And when I guess at a glance that a man is an inveterate wife beater (I use the term “wife” loosely), they are appalled at the harshness of my judgment, even when it proves right once more.

This is not a matter of merely theoretical interest to the nurses, for many of them in their private lives have themselves been the compliant victims of violent men. For example, the lover of one of the senior nurses, an attractive and lively young woman, recently held her at gunpoint and threatened her with death, after having repeatedly blacked her eye during the previous months. I met him once when he came looking for her in the hospital: he was just the kind of ferocious young egotist to whom I would give a wide berth in the broadest daylight.

Why are the nurses so reluctant to come to the most inescapable of conclusions? Their training tells them, quite rightly, that it is their duty to care for everyone without regard for personal merit or deserts; but for them, there is no difference between suspending judgment for certain restricted purposes and making no judgment at all in any circumstances whatsoever. It is as if they were more afraid of passing an adverse verdict on someone than of getting a punch in the face—a likely enough consequence, incidentally, of their failure of discernment. Since it is scarcely possible to recognize a wife beater without inwardly condemning him, it is safer not to recognize him as one in the first place.

This failure of recognition is almost universal among my violently abused women patients, but its function for them is somewhat different from what it is for the nurses. The nurses need to retain a certain positive regard for their patients in order to do their job. But for the abused women, the failure to perceive in advance the violence of their chosen men serves to absolve them of all responsibility for whatever happens thereafter, allowing them to think of themselves as victims alone rather than the victims and accomplices they are. Moreover, it licenses them to obey their impulses and whims, allowing them to suppose that sexual attractiveness is the measure of all things and that prudence in the selection of a male companion is neither possible nor desirable.

Often, their imprudence would be laughable, were it not tragic: many times in my ward I’ve watched liaisons form between an abused female patient and an abusing male patient within half an hour of their striking up an acquaintance. By now, I can often predict the formation of such a liaison—and predict that it will as certainly end in violence as that the sun will rise tomorrow.

At first, of course, my female patients deny that the violence of their men was foreseeable. But when I ask them whether they think I would have recognized it in advance, the great majority—nine out of ten—reply, yes, of course. And when asked how they think I would have done so, they enumerate precisely the factors that would have led me to that conclusion. So their blindness is willful.

Go read the rest!

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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