Friday, March 26, 2010

Who Really Holds the Crutch? Christianity or Atheism?

It was the 19th century atheist Ludwig Feurbach (1804-1872) who stated that "Religion is a dream of the human mind...in these days, illusion is sacred, truth profane." (Religion and Humanistic Atheism, xxxix).

And of course who can forget the famous quote of Karl Marx (1818-1883) in response to his criticism of G. W. F. Hegel's "Philosophy of Right", "
Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of the soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."

I introduce this posting with these quotes because one of the most popular objections coming from atheism is the charge that Christianity (vis-a-vis belief in a supernatural being called "God") is a psychological crutch. OK, so how do we respond to this objection? Is belief in God simply what these critics claim it to be? Let me give you six principles that I believe will answer this objection and even show that it is not a healthy Christian faith that is holding the crutch as much as it is the delusion of atheism.

I. Religion, for Some Believers, Can Indeed Be a Crutch.

What is the purpose of a crutch? An ordinary crutch is a device that allows us to stand or walk when one of our legs is broken. If our legs can't hold us, we don't hesitate to use a crutch. The only question that would suffice on the usefulness of the crutch would be will it do the job? That is, does it fit? Is it strong enough to hold us?

The fact that some may use religion as a crutch of course does not determine whether God actually exists or does not exist, or whether a particular religion – such as Christianity – is in fact true. Those questions still need to be argued on their own merits (as I will support in point III).

Furthermore, I want you to know that nonbelievers also use existential "crutches" on a regular basis. These can take the form of drugs or alcohol, or fantasy worlds (materialism, soap operas, virtual worlds, games, reality TV, etc.), or any number of things. So it is not just believers who may use crutches. We can all have props or crutches that we lean on – some more heavily than others. If it is not God or religion, it can be numerous other things, such as materialism, hedonism, or narcissism, etc.

The real question to ask is, can your crutch really hold you? Christians believe that many people depend on things which are not at all trustworthy, and that Jesus came to kick these false props and crutches away.


II. A Crutch Can Prove to Be Very Handy.

Even if we were to accept this general thesis, we would still have to say more. If a person is actually lame, then a crutch is a very handy thing to possess. If a person cannot walk, is crippled or is injured, then he very much does need a crutch.

The Biblical picture of the human condition presents such a view. We are all spiritually crippled. We are all damaged by sin. So we desperately need help, and from the biblical Christian worldview, that help lies beyond ourselves. If it weren’t for God breaking into our world and intervening by giving us His grace and the faith that we need to place in what was accomplished for us at the cross of Calvary. If it were not for that intervention, we would all be lost, and forever lame and crippled. Christianity is the cure to our spiritual infirmities. In that case, what is wrong with some comfort and solace, or some supernatural help?
[1]


III. The Need for a Crutch Does Not Prove the Atheists’ Objection

Even if all people have psychological needs that are helped by religion, that does not disprove the existence of God. Feurbach, Marx and others of their ilk, simply assume the nonexistence of God and use the objection to make their case about religion being a human construct.

The arguments for God’s existence must still be dealt with regardless of why certain people may believe the way they do.


IV. The Motivation for Beliefs is Separate from the Truth of the Belief.

Related to my previous point, the motivation for a belief is a separate issue from the truth of that belief. Regardless of why people are religious, we still need to ask whether a certain religious belief is true or not. Even if some people simply use religion as some psychological crutch, the question still needs to be asked whether in fact their religious beliefs are true or not.

What is Faith?

The clearest definition comes from Hebrews 11:1. This verse says, "Faith is the
assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

The Christian faith carries with it the assurance that something is true. For something to be true, there must be evidence that give credence for something to be true. For the Bible believing Christian, the facts matter. You can't have assurance for something you don't know you're going to get. You can only hope for it.

Being the time of year that it is, this is why the resurrection of Jesus is so important. It gives assurance to the hope of the fact that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Because of the Christian view of faith, Paul is able to say in 1 Corinthians 15 that when it comes to the resurrection, if we have only hope, but no assurance -- if Jesus didn't rise from the dead in a time/space continuum -- then we are of most men to be pitied. That's what he says what he does, "We are of most men to be pitied."

What is a delusion?

The challenge coming from the new atheists ("faitheists") is that belief in God is a delusion. What is a delusion? The psychological definition of "delusion" is "an erroneous belief that is held in the face of evidence to the contrary; a mistaken our unfounded opinion or idea.[2] Licona and Habermas' book Case for the Resurrection define "delusion" in their chapter on handling objections as "false beliefs, when evidence to the contrary is known." The key phrase that one must focus on here is the "when evidence to the contrary is known."

Atheism will make the claim that Christianity is delusional, and then not acknowledge the evidence that is given by many apologists. But is Christianity is delusional? I think not for the reason in my fifth point.


V. The Objection Coming from the Atheism is Really a Problematic One

What do we mean by "atheism"?

Depending on who you talk to, the definition of atheism is going to vary from the philosophical to the existential (the position from which most of the “new atheists” sometimes called “faitheists” want to argue.) What is the definition coming from the 'faithiests'? Many like to say that atheism means a lack of belief in “God” or a supernatural being.

The problem with this definition is a softening of the classical definition. One can consult most of the encyclopaedias of philosophy, and find that that "atheism" ("
a" - no; "theos" - God) is defined as "the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God."[3]

The Problem with the Objection

So by understanding the definition of atheism, we see that the claim that "religion is nothing but a psychological crutch" makes a dogmatic statement that is acting as an absolute truth claim. The claim commits the brute fact fallacy which makes the assumption of what it is trying to prove. Thus the objection is problematic and self-defeating.

How does Feuerbach or Marx or any of the new atheists really know that God is nothing but the projection of human imagination and longing?

No one has that much knowledge to be able to make these sorts of assertions. What it does is makes an absolute claim against a Being that is Absolute in knowledge, power, love, holiness, justice, presence, et al. Indeed, what hard evidence can the classical atheist and the "faitheist" present for these claims? What sort of evidence would even come close to proving these assertions? I have yet to see their proofs.

So where does this question really lead us?


VI. The Real Question About Christianity is not Psychological but Historical

The real question about Christianity is not a psychological one, but an historical one. Did Jesus exist? What did he teach? What did he do? Did he really rise from the dead? These are the questions any serious inquirer must deal with.

People may have wrong or faulty reasons for believing in anything. And the game can be spun on its head. Maybe atheism is simply a projection, or an example of wish-fulfillment. As Alister McGrath puts it,

“if belief in God was a response to a human longing for security, might it not also be argued that atheism was a response to the human desire for autonomy?”

Thus atheism might just as well be an illusion, the result of what one wishes for. But if atheists reject that line of reasoning, then they are required to reject its mirror image, that religion is an illusion and the result of wishful thinking.

Thus for all their bluff and bluster, atheists who resort to these accusations certainly are not making much of a case. But for those who couldn’t be bothered with doing some critical thinking, they might seem like plausible objections. But that is simply not the case. More will be needed to disprove Christianity than this rather lame challenge.


Notes:
[1] Might I add that Jesus is not a crutch, but He is a stretcher; because one cannot limp into heaven without Him (John 14:6).

[2] http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&client=firefox-a&hs=Llw&pwst=1&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&defl=en&q=define:delusion&ei=fiOtS4y6HYL48Aa8l9HRDA&sa=X&oi=glossary_definition&ct=title&ved=0CAsQkAE

[3] Smart, J. J. C., "Atheism and Agnosticism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2003 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.); The reason many of the new atheists stay away from the classical definition is due to the fact that the fact that one cannot have an absolute negation of an Absolute Being has clobbered many atheists in the debate arena. One debate that comes to mind is the debate between Christian, J. P. Moreland v. Atheist, Kai Nielsen (University of Calgary), and the other Christian, Greg Bahnsen v. Atheist, Gordon Stein

{This posting is taken from the presentation given by Rob under the same title, "Who Really Holds the Crutch?" For more information about Stand4Truth.Net you can go to the website at http://www.stand4truth.net or email Rob at roblundberg2000@yahoo.com}


Monday, March 1, 2010

What Kind of Creatures Did God Create?

Lately I have been listening to comments from the two camps of the great soteriological debate (Arminianism and "Calvinism"). While I land in the camp of the latter, I am amazed at the lack of understanding of the issue of freedom that comes from both sides of the debate, but more so from the former. In this posting I want to share some thoughts toward this idea of what kind of creatures God created. The reason for this topic is that it will be a forerunner to the next posting on why I believe that Calvinism is not a fatalistic viewpoint. (Already I can hear the cauldron bubbling and the knives sharpening).

So what kind of creatures did God create that we should be able to debate the wonderful doctrines of grace? Really there are only four options. What I will do is list the options, and then comment on each of them. By doing this it will hopefully create a understanding of what true freedom means and then when I complete the final draft of the next posting, I will take the issue of freedom to its practical outworking.

What were the options?

Option 1. God could have created nothing.
Option 2. God could have created creatures who could not and would not sin.
Option 3. God could have created creatures who would sin but would be saved in spite of their sinfulness.
Option 4. God created creatures who could and would sin, but He would provide the way of salvation for those who call upon Him for that salvation (Acts 16:31).

Now, let's look at those options.

Looking at the
first option, we see that the option of God not creating anything was not the option that was taken. We did not just hatch from a rock or an egg. Those in the evolution camp, would see it differently, but from our standpoint, God created something. Which brings us to the next options.

Looking at the
second option, God could have created creatures who could not and would not sin, is what I call the cosmic chess piece model. It says that God created man, but the creature (man) was created in such a way where they would totally obey God's moral law. The reason they are not able to sin is because of the idea of a lack of freedom. In essence, the created individual is nothing more than a "cosmic robot."

What is the outcome of this view? It sacrifices the attribute of God's love in the process. God creating creatures who could not sin, only to be a cosmic automaton is not picture of a loving God is it?

Let's look at the
third option, God could have created creatures who would sin but would be saved in spite of that sinfulness. Let me describe this position. The person created by God has the total freedom to do whatever they want, good or bad. This position is a picture of the kind of freedom that allows you and I to do anything we want to do, with no moral restraint; and no matter what we did, God is a loving God who will allow us entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven when this life is complete.

What is the outcome of this view? This option is really a picture of anarchy. In an anarchical setting, is chaos and no moral restraint. The only moral restraint that might come around under this option would be the seeking to do what is good in our own eyes. This option is not only anarchy, but taken to its base, it could lead to psychosis. Are there any of God's attributes that are tossed aside in this option?

God is allowing us to do anything we want, which includes violating His moral law, God's justice and His holiness are cast aside. And while one can make the appeal for God being a loving God under this option, let me throw a caveat in and say that God's love is also sacrificed by His allow injustices to occur and all parties, from the offender to the offendee, are all in Heaven when life is over. Does this make sense to any of us here?

So up to this point, we have look at three options. Knowing that the first option is not a reality, we see the second option sacrificing God's attribute of love. The third option sacrifices not only God's love, but His justice and His holiness in one fell swoop. Is there an option where freedom stays in effect, and salvation can be provided all the while keeping in tact God's love, His justice and His holiness?

The answer is yes and that is with the
fourth option. God created creatures who could and would sin, but He would provide the way of salvation for those who call upon Him for that salvation (John 3:16-18; John 6:39-40,44; Ephesians 2:8,9; Acts 16:31).

Under this option we see that man is free but that freedom has a morally objective framework attached to it. This is where the problem lies for those who want to claim that "God is loving" and yet forget His holiness and His justice. That objective standard is the Word of God that has for us His prescripts for our lives. It tells us how we can know Him, and have an eternal relationship that is by His standards and not our own.

That way is by Jesus Christ and Him alone (John 1:12,13; John 14:6), not our goodness, not our right thinking, not our feeling rightly, nor our good experiences. It is through believing that Jesus Christ changes our being that we can do good works (Ephesians 2:10); understand that our feelings are not the only source of truth, and think the right thoughts (Philippians 4:8,9), and be saved. Apart from that changed life by God, eternal life is not possible. It is because of God's love (John 3:16; Romans 5:8); His holiness, and His justice (Isaiah 46:8-11; Deuteronomy 29:29).

This fourth option keeps
freedom in tact and provides for us the best of all the options to understand what God created. The big debate in this whole thing is what are the boundaries of that freedom when it comes to the doctrine of salvation. I will attempt to answer that in the next posting.

I pray as you mull over this posting that you will be provoked to thinking about your current position. If there is anything you have read that sparks a question, please know that there i
s another posting coming shortly but as long as the dialogue is civil, the question will be "entertained."

What is the Kalam Cosmological Argument?

In the last post, I gave you an idea of the cosmological arguments. There are many kinds of arguments for the existence of God, in the realm of cosmology, however this one is the most popular. It is called, the "kalam cosmological argument."  What does it say?

Kalam cosmological argument: The Arabic word kalam literally means "speech," but came to denote a certain type of philosophical theology--a type containing demonstrations that the world could not be infinitely old and must therefore have been created by God. This sort of demonstration has had a long and wide appeal among both Christians and Muslims. Its form is simple and straightforward.

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause for its coming into being.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause for its coming into being.[1]


Stephen Evans defines it as a version of the first cause argument for God's reality, developed by Islamic thinkers, which claims that the world must have had a beginning and that God must exist as the cause of that beginning. This argument was revived in the late twentieth century, and is presently  being defended and expounded upon by William Lane Craig. (Source: C. Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics: Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002. s.v. "kalam cosmological argument".)

Note:
[1] Peter Kreeft and Paul Tacelli, Handbook for Christian Apologetics (CD Version by Digital Fish), s.v. Kalam argument