In my last four posts (Answering the Unanswerable Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV), I answered questions (as best I could) from atheist Club Schadenfreude who commented on a previous post about Christianity, Atheism, and Morality. As I write this, not all of the posts have been posted yet, but Club Schadenfreude has commented on the first post, and I have no reason to suspect she won’t comment on all of them. If she does, you can go read her comments.

What I was doing is called “apologetics.” It’s explaining God to people when his actions seem wrong. Club Schadenfreude would say (and did!) that there’s something wrong with a God who needs apologetics. I obviously disagree. But I don’t think apologetics is for God. It’s for us, especially those of us who are new the the Christian faith. We aren’t used to thinking about things in eternity.

And we aren’t used to thinking about God at all.

As a result, apologetics can help the new believer think differently.

God is not a man

I think one of the first mistakes we can make in attempting to understand God is to treat him as if he were not God, but a man. Of course, from the Christian point of view, Jesus was both. But let me explain what I mean when I say that we can make a mistake by treating God as if he were simply a man.

Hitler

Have you ever heard someone say something like this: if you could go back in time and kill Adolph Hitler when he was a baby, would you?

Questions like this are used by philosophers (and leadership gurus) to explore morality. You may have heard it like this: there are seven people in a life boat and sharks surrounding the boat. The lifeboat can only hold six people safely. They then describe the seven people and ask, who do you throw overboard to save the other six? The old guy? The confessed murderer? The single lady? The obese video gamer living in his mother’s basement?

Normally, this kind of question has boundaries put around it. So, when discussing Hitler, you can only go back in time to that one spot when Hitler was a baby. You can’t wait until he actually implements the Holocaust and tries to take over the world. He’s only a baby and doesn’t even have the mustache. Knowing what you know, would you go back and kill Hitler in the crib?

God and Hitler

But God is already in this position. As I say in my Kindle book The Attributes of God (which is a chapter in the tome Solid Ground), God is outside of time. When Hitler was born, God could already see Hitler’s future and the sorrow and evil he would bring.

So, should God have killed Hitler when he was a baby?

If a man had done so, claiming he could see the future, it would have been murder, and the man certainly unbalanced. But God is certainly in a different position. Would it be moral for him to intervene before Hitler could kill his first person?

In my first post, I discussed the times when God did take a child — and more than once. He took the baby who was a result of David’s adulterous and murderous affair with Bathsheba. Had he not done so, could things have been worse than if he hadn’t? I submit you and I don’t know. He also took a child who had something good in him toward God. And I quoted a verse explaining that God takes the righteous man away from pain when that man dies.

God is thinking not only about there here and now, but eternity. But if you don’t believe there is and eternity, you can leave that out of your moral equation.

The Age of Ultron

Or should God wait until Hitler did something wrong? Well, how wrong? Before he killed his first person? After he killed his first person? Our society (I’m writing in America) lets many murderers live, sometimes releasing them for good behavior. Should God wait until Hitler had killed ten people? Sixty? At what point should God have intervened? And if he did, would something else worse happen?

One of my favorite comic book stories (not the movie) was the Age of Ultron story line in Marvel comics. In it, Ultron finally takes over the world and kills most of the Avengers. Some of the remaining Avengers go back in time to kill the man who created Ultron. They do so, but when they get back to the present, things are worse! They have to go back again to stop themselves from killing the man.

It amazes me that a comic book story can so easily demonstrate that meddling in things can only make it worse if you lack complete knowledge. Sometimes things are better left alone because trying to make it better can actually make it worse. Only God is in a position to know when to intervene and when not to.

God and Hitler, part II

Well, God didn’t stop Hitler by ending his life in the crib. And we had World War II and the Holocaust as a result. So, at this point, some people ask: Why didn’t God stop kill Hitler?

The reason for this is so obvious to me, that I’m surprised people write entire books condemning God for not doing it. Peter says this in 2 Peter 3:9: The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. You and I might point at someone else and say, “God should take that person because he is evil. He shouldn’t have an opportunity to repent.” But many an evil man, like Saul the persecutor of the church, became Paul, and apostle of God.

If God looked ahead and removed every man who might sin, are you sure you would be safe? When Jesus says that just getting angry or lusting is similar to murder and adultery, aren’t we all glad God doesn’t take us all out? Well, if you aren’t, I am. Instead, he gives us all a chance to know him. We can repent and be forgiven. And if you say, “I’m better than Hitler and deserve to live and Hitler deserves to die,” aren’t you in danger of becoming the Pharisee in Jesus’s parable? (Luke 18: 9-14)

I think God allows evil so we have free will. But that free will means that even our planet is imperfect because of the sin of man. (Romans 8: 18-25) And horrible things happen. If God uses human judgement to pick and choose who dies, I believe he would be harming that free will, or even doing damage! There’s even a parable about that! (Matthew 13: 20-14 has a parable, and Matthew 13: 36-43 the explanation.) I believe God does intervene to make things better on planet earth, but we often do not notice that he has done so — because some things never happen. Or we think he should intervene when he doesn’t, little knowing that if he did, things might actually be worse!

But apologetics is insufficient

I (and other smarter (and certainly better) Christians than I am) could go on like this for a long time. But at some point, apologetics can only do so much. At some point, you either believe or don’t.

Jesus tells a story about a poor man, Lazarus, and a rich man. (Luke 16: 19-31) Both die, and the poor man goes to Abraham’s bosom (heaven) and the rich man goes to Hades (hell). The rich man asks that Lazarus be sent to warn his brothers that they not come to hell. Abraham tells the rich man that the brothers have Moses and the prophets, but the rich man is convinced that if Lazarus comes back from the dead and warns his brothers, they will listen. Abraham says “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.”

I have seen many miracles over my lifetime. I remember the first one I saw, and I was relating it to another young man, and I could see on his face that he was discounting what I said. It wasn’t rational! Well, miracles seldom are. Not quite having learned my lesson, I remember talking about another miracle (a cancer that vanished), and the woman I was speaking with said, “The first one must have been a misdiagnosis.” I have learned that there is no miracle God has done or can do that can’t be explained by saying either: “It was a mistake.” “It was a coincidence.” “It never really happened.” “You must not have seen that right.” “It must have been mass hysteria.” “It was a spontaneous healing.” “It was a trick.” or the worst one: “You’re lying.”

And so, except in the most general sense, I no longer talk about what I’ve experienced, at least not in a post like this. You either believe or you don’t. I don’t believe that faith is irrational; I believe it is beyond rationality.

And so, apologetics has its limits. If not met with faith, apologetics does no good at all. But if it’s met with trust in God, there can be some small benefit to the new believer — and even the old believer.

In these posts, I hope I have done more good than harm. And, actually, I pray I’ve done no harm at all.

7 thoughts on “The Limits of Apologetics

  1. “As a result, apologetics can help the new believer think differently.”

    Apologetics are indeed for believers, not anyone else. It is an indoctrination supported by a presupposition, that this god can do no wrong, so everything in the bible must be explained based on that. Many religions do this, to try to make believe a god or gods claimed to be omnipotent, omniscient and objectively moral are really that, when in reality, they are figments of the imaginations of the people who made them up and their cultures.

    If someone who reads the bible isn’t a Christian, they don’t feel that their self-worth is dependent on their belief in the “right” god. They don’t need to be told that the bible doesn’t “really” mean what it say when they read it. They also find that Christians all come up with different versions of this god, all dependent on what parts they ignore and emphasize, showing that there is no reason to believe any claim about this god.

    God is a human writ large, nothing more. It has the same petty jealousies, hates and ignorance of humans. Christians don’t like to admit that, so those parts are rarely mentioned by them.

    “So, should God have killed Hitler when he was a baby?”

    per your bible, this god is responsible for good and evil. For some reason this god wanted to keep humans ignorant of what good and evil are. Why? Your god wanted Hitler to do what he did, since Christians claim that *everything* is their god’s will. This god repeatedly uses horrible means to do what *it* wants, a completely selfish being. This god works with evil repeatedly, intentionally releasing Satan to corrupt the christians left after this god kills everyone else (Revelation 19-21). Is this a good act? one would hope you would say not.

    A god limited to needing to use terror is not an omnipotent or omniscient god. Thus this god does not have complete knowledge and the argument that this god is making a “better” world fails.

    If, as you claim, this god intervenes, then poof goes the Christian claim of free will. And we are back again to a god that just moves pieces around on a board.

    “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. ”

    “If God looked ahead and removed every man who might sin, are you sure you would be safe? When Jesus says that just getting angry or lusting is similar to murder and adultery, aren’t we all glad God doesn’t take us all out? Well, if you aren’t, I am. Instead, he gives us all a chance to know him. ”

    Completely negated by Paul’s claims in Romans 9.

    Just earlier in Matthew 13, our author ignores what JC says which negates the free will he claims exists: ““Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 13 The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ ”

    ““If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.””

    the excuse given by Christians who have no evidence for their claims. They think it gets them out of having to support what they say. It doesn’t.

    We have claims of miracles, but funny how this god never does them where anyone but a believer can see. This god never allows a Christian to heal like the bible promises, no Christian goes to a pediatric cancer ward and clears it out. Why? Selfishness? Doubt?

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  2. Hi, Vel:

    Neither of course, though perhaps doubt is one. But you know your Bible well enough that you should know the answer isn’t that simple. (Luke 4: 20 – 30; Mark 6: 1 – 6; Romans 8: 18 – 24; 2 Kings 13: 14; 1 Timothy 5: 23; 2 Cor 12: 9, John 16: 1 -33). As I said earlier, I wish I knew how best to help you.

    CultureClayBlog

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    1. It’s interesting that you don’t actually reply to my post so I don’t see it in my wordpress comment updates. Why do you choose to do that?

      So, to my questions: “We have claims of miracles, but funny how this god never does them where anyone but a believer can see. This god never allows a Christian to heal like the bible promises, no Christian goes to a pediatric cancer ward and clears it out. Why? Selfishness? Doubt?”

      you answer “Neither of course, though perhaps doubt is one. But you know your Bible well enough that you should know the answer isn’t that simple. (Luke 4: 20 – 30; Mark 6: 1 – 6; Romans 8: 18 – 24; 2 Kings 13: 14; 1 Timothy 5: 23; 2 Cor 12: 9, John 16: 1 -33). As I said earlier, I wish I knew how best to help you.”
      We have you “wishing” you could “help” me, but you have failed so far. Your bible has that this god will answer any request from one of its believers, so why does your “wish” aka prayer go unfulfilled? You say “neither” but you have no answer at all on what the reason supposedly is.

      As for the answers, they are indeed that simple as we’ll see in the very verses you indicate, especially John 16. Nothing about why Christians like you fail to be able to do what the bible promises all baptized believes in christ can do. There are some pretty fine human excuses like the ones you use.

      Let’s look at these various bible verses you want me to look at:
      “20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” Luke 4: 20-30

      This is such a classic excuse for a charlatan. That a charlatan can’t get away with lies to those who know them is obvious. Why does JC has to use such a classic excuse for why he fails? This doesn’t work very well with the common Christian claim that “everyone” knows about him and this god from Romans 1 and JC’s supposed own comments that his miracles are to be why people should believe in him. You can’t have it both ways. Either the miracles are believable or they aren’t. Your god, by default of its supposed attributes, can always make a believable miracle, being omnipotent and all. That it can’t and Christians are stuck with blaming humans and evidently the all-powerful strength of their disbelief, is telling.
      “6 He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.” Mark 6

      Same story, same nonsense. However, in this one, JC *can’t* do anything, just like a psychic who claims that they can read minds and offers the excuse that they can’t work in the presence of doubters. How convenient and how silly when JC and Christians claim that this god is omnipotent.

      “18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” – Romans 8
      Typical excuse of any charlatan who wants people to pay them now when they know nothing will happen and they have to get out of town. Paul was certain that JC would be back during his lifetime (Romans 8 “about to be revealed”, 1 Thessalonians 4 “that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord”), and Romans 13 “the day is at hand”). Paul died a false prophet. Christians now of course try to claim that ‘near’ doesn’t *really* mean near and ‘we’ doesn’t really mean ‘we’.
      “14 Now when Elisha had fallen sick with the illness of which he was to die, King Joash of Israel went down to him, and wept before him, crying, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!”” – 2 Kings 13

      So, author, where does the OT have that believers in JC can do healing? Always interesting when a Christian runs to the OT that they ignore when convenient.

      “23 No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” – 1 Timothy 5

      Paul showing that he has no idea he is supposed to be able to do miracles. It’s as if, hmmm, he has no idea what the gospels actually said or Acts or what the book of james claimed. Now, how could that be unless he never read the gospels? This would make sense since he knows precious little about JC’s supposed life.

      “9 but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”” – 2 Corinthians

      Interesting for a man who supposedly did miracles per Acts saying this. It’s another classic excuse, that somehow that the lack of ability to do anything now has to be claimed as evidence of the ability to do something. This kind Christian has listed all of the times Jesus and Paul disagree: http://www.voiceofjesus.org/paulvsjesus.html
      “16 “I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. 3 And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me. 4 But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.
      “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
      12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
      16 “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 Then some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying to us, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” 18 They said, “What does he mean by this ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” 19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’? 20 Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. 22 So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. 23 On that day you will ask nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.
      25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father. 26 On that day you will ask in my name. I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.”
      29 His disciples said, “Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. 33 I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” – John 16
      So here we have JC saying that anything asked for in his name will be given, no exceptions. Christians get upset with this part since they know that despite their prayers and asking for things in JC’s name, nothing happens. They must claim that this god has exceptions, which is based in nothing but their admission that the bible must be wrong. They must claim that there is some “greater” reason why they don’t get what they pray for when again, that has no basis in their bible. The apostles said this was plain to them as literally stated, no apologetics needed.

      But modern Christian insist that their interpretations are what is right, not a literal reading.

      It is, of course, no surprise at all that our author here won’t answer these questions either: “For some reason this god wanted to keep humans ignorant of what good and evil are. Why? Your god wanted Hitler to do what he did, since Christians claim that *everything* is their god’s will. This god repeatedly uses horrible means to do what *it* wants, a completely selfish being. This god works with evil repeatedly, intentionally releasing Satan to corrupt the christians left after this god kills everyone else (Revelation 19-21). Is this a good act? one would hope you would say not.”

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  3. Vel:

    I’ll answer that last question. You throw so much out that it’s hard to answer it all. God wanted to keep humans “ignorant” of good and evil so he could become their good and evil. But in deciding to “become like God,” they can now make their own decisions about good and evil. Unfortunately, they do that with their limited understanding, and someone like Hitler arises, disobeying God’s commands at every turn, threatening the world, and still you blame God for what he did because God didn’t stop him. It is not selfish: it’s God allowing you and me and Hitler to have free will.

    And I affirm that all God’s acts are good. He has warned us about the end of the world. It’s our choice to obey or not. Yes, I know. You don’t believe the God of the Bible allows us to have a choice. Another topic on which you and I disagree.

    Have a nice day, Vel.

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    1. Then answer what questions you want to answer, author. I see you are trying yet more excuses.

      So, you say that “God wanted to keep humans “ignorant” of good and evil so he could become their good and evil.”

      So, the good and evil that the fruit would give knowledge about isn’t the same as the actions of this god which wants to be a good and evil unto itself? that’s what your claim means. Wow. And your god is evil too. that’s interesting to know.

      Per your invented story, this god knows a good and evil that is not what he wants humans to know. There is a good and evil beyond your god and humans now have the truth and we can see that your god isn’t quite what it claims.

      I know the history of Hitler pretty well. If you compare it to the actions of this god described in the bible, Hitler does what this god does and what this god wants. Hitler was a Christian, author. He cites the bible when this god claims that the Jews deserve death for not accepting this messiah. Per your bible, Jesus Christ says that anyone who doesn’t want him as king should be brought before him and killed (Luke 19). yes, that’s part of a parable, and the parable is about Jesus being the king of kings. You can offer another interpretation if you can come up with one.

      Again, no free will in the bible. “20 For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts so that they would come against Israel in battle, in order that they might be utterly destroyed, and might receive no mercy, but be exterminated, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.” – Joshua 11 another good example. We don’t just disagree, author, you intentionally lie about what your bible says and I can support my position with chapter and verse.

      You claim you confirm that all of this god’s acts are good. Your opinion is meaningless, coming from someone who would accept any action from this god. If your claim is right, I know good and evil and I know your god is evil; I don’t accept its attempts to insist it is a good and evil separate from the good and evil from the tree.

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