Unnaturalness of Atheism

Johannes Moreelse Democritius

The idea that atheism ought be assumed by default is a chimera. Atheism cannot be assumed by default, it must be demonstrated. The belief that given the failure of theistic case for God, atheism ought be assumed does not only commit an appeal to ignorance but is also against the picture painted by modern discoveries in Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR).

Several recent researches in CSR shows that children naturally hold certain universal religious ideas such as belief in divine agents and belief in mind-body dualism. Similar to universals of language, universals of religious belief include principles that are shared in all culture and time, the belief in supernatural beings.

[Read more...]

Theories about the Mystery of Christ Crucified

Wikipedia

Wikipedia

What did Jesus’ death accomplish, and how did it accomplish it? Although Christians regard Jesus’ death as tremendously significant, there’s some disagreement as to why and how that is so. This being Good Friday, it might be appropriate to reflect on the following C.S. Lewis quotation:

The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work. I will tell you what I think it is like. . . . A man can eat his dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him. A man can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works: indeed, he certainly would not know how it works until he has accepted it.

We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ’s death did all this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself. All the same, some of these theories are worth looking at.[1]

I think C. S. Lewis is right on target here. What matters most is whether or not Jesus’ death did in fact make a difference between God and humans. Like any death, Jesus’ death is hard to understand. That’s normal.

Time for mystery

If there’s any mystery in the Christian religion, for me it is right here. It wasn’t always a mystery to me. I grew up being taught a specific atonement theory, or explanation about Jesus’ death. As I was exposed to more writing and thinking on this topic I came to see the weaknesses of my original perspective, along with the weaknesses of most of the alternatives.

This is an area of active exploration and investigation for me. Which elements of the big three families of theories–Ransom/Christus Victor theories, Moral exemplar theories, or satisfaction theories–are correct? Which elements should I reject? What about some lesser known alternatives, such as theories involving mimetic violence,[2] or Paul Moser’s divine-manifest offering proposal?[3] This is by no means a simple matter.

Sorting through the options

I’m very thankful that understanding how Jesus reconciles me to God is not a pre-condition of being reconciled to God. That being said, not all atonement theories are created equal. Some theories don’t paint God in a flattering light when it comes to his love, justice, and/or character. For this reason, I try to first get a grip on what God’s character is like, primarily through looking at Jesus, God’s chosen agent of reconciliation. The correct atonement theory—an elusive quarry—must match the character of Jesus and his Father.

Freedom to be wrong

Even if I don’t get the right theory, getting to know Jesus’ person and character is of greater value than possessing the correct atonement theory. Indeed, it’s very important to distinguish the Christian gospel, or good-news message, from various atonement theories. Of course, to share the good-news that “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Cor 5:19), we often resort to our default atonement theory. But just because someone rejects a particular atonement theory, that doesn’t mean that they perforce reject the gospel, or the person and character of Jesus.

Let’s not confuse real life reconciliation with God for explanations of it that are open to investigation and criticism. Most (all) atonement theories face legitimate criticisms. I (hope to) welcome such criticism as an opportunity to learn as I try to get closer to the truth of the mystery of Christ crucified.

 

[1]C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 54–56, emphasis added.

[2]See for example, Hans Boersma, Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), chap. 6.

[3]Paul K. Moser, The Elusive God: Reorienting Religious Epistemology (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2009), chap. 3.

Original version posted on Cognitive Resonance.

Understanding the arguments in God’s not Dead: Part III of III

1938081_10102107087661352_1599973938_nIn part one we looked at Professor Radisson’s arguments in detail, and in part two we dug into Josh’s first and second lectures to his class.  In the final part we will discuss the final talk, and the importance of Philosophy for Christians.

Josh’s third lesson begins with the problem of evil and suffering.  This is one of the most difficult questions for the Christian to answer.  However, I do not think we are without anything meaningful to say on this subject.

The most basic form of the objection to God’s existence based on evil is this:

1. If God is all powerful, then He can prevent evil from happening.

2. If God is all loving, then He would want to stop evil from happening

Therefore, since evil exists, an all powerful and all loving God must not exist.

This, at least at first glance, seems to be a pretty good reason to believe that God does not exist, especially since it seems to be the case that if the premises (statements one and two) are true, then the conclusion does seem valid.  So what can the Christian say at this point? [Read more...]

Understanding the arguments in God’s not Dead: Part II of III

986643_10102107087676322_1471948263_nIn part one we looked at the arguments advanced by Professor Radisson, now we come to the arguments Josh put forward as he took the floor.

The first argument Josh talked about is called the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God.  This comes in many different versions, all of which have interesting aspects.  Yet all of them have in common the idea of a first cause, particularly of the Universe.  Common questions along these lines are, “Why is there something rather than nothing?  Where did everything come from?  What caused this or that thing to happen?”  With any one thing of which a person might ask these questions, most of the time the same question can be asked about the answer just given. 

Where did these chips come from?

Potatoes.

Where did the potatoes come from?

The potato farm.  Etc.

The idea here is much like a row of dominoes that have been set up and subsequently knocked down.

What knocked over this domino?

The domino before it.

And what knocked over that domino?

The domino before it.

But what knocked over the first domino?  This becomes the really important question.  When dealing with the Universe, the question is, what started the Universe off?  The answer is God.  “Wait, that seems too easy,” you might say.  Someone may ask, as one young lady did in the movie, “Who created God?”  This brings up a really important question, “If everything has a cause, then what caused God.”  The answer put forward by Josh, though stated quickly and simply, is a powerful one.  “Christians don’t believe in a created God.”  Here is a more in depth version of that idea. [Read more...]

Is There a Way to Avoid a Universe with a Beginning?

Is There a Way to Avoid a Universe With a BeginningAfter examining the evidence, cosmologists and physicists have largely embraced the fact we live in a universe that began to exist at a point in the distant past. At this point of “cosmic singularity” all space, time and matter came into existence abruptly, beginning in an extremely hot and dense state and expanding rapidly. Everything came from nothing. This view of the universe’s origin is called the Standard Cosmological model, and it best explains the evidence we presently observe. Astrophysicist Andrew Liddle and astronomer Jon Loveday affirm this: “The standard cosmological model is a striking success, as a phenomenological description of the cosmological data… The model’s success in explaining high precision observations has led a clear majority of the cosmological community to accept it as a good account of how the universe works” (Oxford Companion to Cosmology, page 8).

If the universe began to exist, however, it’s reasonable to look for a cause sufficient to begin its existence. This cause, by definition, would have to be something non-spatial, a-temporal and immaterial (something other than the universe itself). In addition, the foundational cause of the universe must be uncaused, or it simply isn’t foundational. All of us, regardless of worldview, are looking for the first, uncaused, sufficiently powerful, non-spatial, a-temporal, immaterial cause of the universe. From this description you can see how dangerously close this cause sounds to a theistic description of God. Perhaps this is why many researchers and cosmologists seek to find a cosmological model avoiding a cosmological singularity (a model denying the beginning of space, time and matter). A number of models have been offered, but none have the explanatory ability to supplant the Standard Cosmological Model:

The Steady State Model
This theory was developed in 1949 by Sir Fred Hoyle, Thomas Gold and others, although a number of variations of this idea have been proposed over the years. Steady State (also known as “eternal inflation”) theories acknowledge the expansion of the universe, but explain this as the result of new matter being formed over time. As galaxies move away from one another, new matter appears in the voids created by the expansion. The universe is continually expanding not from a point of beginning but as a continuous process of stretching and “infilling”. The theory removed the need for the universe to have a beginning, but it had several flaws causing scientists to abandon it. The theory violates the laws regulating the conservation of mass, has never been confirmed by a single observation. Most scientists abandoned the theory in the late 1960’s when observations affirmed the universe was in fact changing over time: quasars and radio galaxies were observed at large distances (meaning they existed in the past), but not in closer, newer galaxies. In addition to this, the theory fails to explain cosmic background radiation (the Steady State Theory tried to explain this radiation as the result of light from ancient stars scattered by galactic dust, but this is inconsistent with the “smooth” nature of the radiation). Worse yet, there has never been any experimental or evidential verification of the idea, and no one’s been able to offer a reasonable mechanism explaining the appearance of new galaxies. [Read more...]