“In whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our hearts and knows all things” 1 John 3:20.
I find Christian apologetics to be an inspiring way of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ to all willing to listen. I started reading Christian apologetics in an effort to learn more about the evidence we have for God so I could present this evidence to others. God has shown me in numerous spiritual ways that He is loving, active, and powerful. Yet some skeptics doubt the validity of my personal testimony, so I offer them arguments in addition to my testimony. One such skeptic is a person named Tony Murphy. When he had an account on Twitter, it was listed under the name @Hackenslash2. Below I have pasted seven of his key claims against God in bold print. Under each claim, I offer evidence in support of God.
- Argument on omniscience: “To summarise what I said there, because we’re limited to what we can observe, and because there’s no observation we can make, even in principle, that can tell us that what we observe is, in a fully ontological sense, real, we have to stop short of this kind of absolute statement and admit that there’s a limit to what we can know… It’s quite literally an omni-limitation, and it applies equally to any entity that could reasonably be described as a deity.”
Tony’s assumption is that we can “equally” apply our physical limitations to our Creator places God on equal footing as man. One cannot logically assume that the eternal Creator of our magnificent universe should be put on equal footing as the inhabitants on the third rock from the sun in the Milky Way Galaxy.
If we consider the billions of people who have inhabited this planet and the many great minds who occupied positions of authority over the centuries, one can make the reasonable assertion that all of the great minds together do not match the knowledge of the mind from which they were derived. Each man is apportioned a share of a much greater mind and can never exceed that greater mind, just as a river can never exceed its source. And our source knows all.
“Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite” Psalm 147:5.
Tony is correct in his observation that humans are limited in what we can observe. Yet what we observe in the physical world is as the tip of an iceberg. Beneath the surface of our observations lies the truth.
The disciple Paul pointed to the importance of opening our eyes to the spiritual world when he made the following observation in his letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 4:8) “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal.”
- Argument on omnipotence: “Can god construct a pile of bricks so heavy that he can’t lift it?” If he can’t, he’s not omnipotent. If he can, he’s not omnipotent.
To answer this question, one must first consider the characteristics of our Creator, along with the creation that He has advanced. Envision the universe and its planets, stars, and ever expanding dimensions. Hugh Ross (2016, p. 75) states, “A remarkable sequence of events over the course of a billion years somehow worked together to place the solar system’s eight planets (not to mention its other objects) in their current orbital positions. The observation that these positions provide optimally for the existence and survival of advanced life on Earth adds considerable weight to what science and philosophers refer to as the anthropic principle, or the law of human existence. Some loathe it while others embrace it for the enormity of its implications. In brief, the anthropic principle states that all features of the universe appear fine-tuned for the benefit of human life.” This principle forms the foundation of the teleological argument for God’s existence.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, a German philosopher (1646-1716), advanced this version of the cosmological argument in support of God (Craig, 2010).
- Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence.
- If the universe has an explanation of its existence, the explanation is God.
- The universe exists.
- The universe has an explanation of its existence.
Around a century ago, scientists proffered the Big Bang Theory of the universe. The Big Bang theory states that around 13.8 billion years ago, all matter in the universe was concentrated into an incredibly tiny point. A hot explosion occurred and the universe began to expand and is still expanding today, as evidenced by fact that galaxies are continuing to move away from us. The Big Bang Theory is the leading explanation of the how the universe came into being (Howell, 2017), despite its theological implications.
What are its theological implications? Since we know that time, space, and matter began with the Big Bang, what existed prior to its expansion had to be unbounded by time (eternal), intentional, powerful, and immaterial. What existed prior had to have the ability to power inflation of the universe and stop an infinite regression of matter. These are the characteristics we attribute to God: the uncaused cause.
In other words, the characteristics of our Creator must far exceed the limits of His creation. The one who formed and designed planets and stars certainly would not be limited by a “pile of bricks” of any size. Tony has mischaracterized our Creator as one bounded by physical limitations, yet God is metaphysical, omnipotent, and far beyond anything we can even conceive.
Furthermore, according to William Lane Craig, omnipotence is not about doing the logically impossible. Making a square circle or a married bachelor are logically contradictory. Therefore, coming up with logical contradictions to suggest God lacks the ability to go against His nature and His logic and His essence demonstrates a lack of understanding in the concept of omnipotence.
“And looking at them, Jesus said to them, ‘With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” Matthew 19:26.
- Argument on omnipresence: “This means that, on its own, something being in multiple locations is not an attribute that points to divinity.”
To be in multiple locations at once is impossible for humans. We cannot physically and concurrently be in India and Japan or in any two distinct locations at once. Only one unhindered by the boundaries of time and a physical body can be concurrently in our past, present, and future: God. In other words, omnipresence is an attribute of God.
- Argument on omni-benevolence: “Now, a simple reading of any of the major holy texts of monotheism will rapidly disabuse you of the notion that the entity described in them is in any way good.”
“If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both. This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form” –Lewis, 1940, p. 17).
The problem of pain makes the assumption that God wants to make His creatures perfectly happy and that making us happy should be a benevolent God’s goal. But we are not always happy, so we know this is not God’s goal. Atheists who justify their atheism with the problem of pain protest this point. Their perfect vision of the world is a Garden of Eden in which everyone has free will to do what they want. Yet this conception of a Garden of Eden is impossible to achieve: Adam and Eve proved that. Free will is always accompanied by sin, and we all sin, and sin corrupts paradise. Enter the earth.
“The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that hell should be able to veto heaven” (Lewis, 1946).
But hell cannot veto heaven so such blackmail is futile. Furthermore, stating that God’s goal should be to prevent all evil to keep us happy all of the time does not speak to our purpose. We are not here with a singular goal of being happy. We are here to grow spiritually, to overcome challenges, and to become more Christ-like. Our ultimate goal is to leave the world in a better place than it was prior to our entry.
Through the example of Jesus Christ, we see the way the Lord uses adversity and pain to grow our spirits. We all have examples of times in which we have been broken (or challenged) and how the adversity we faced made us stronger people. To become stronger, we overcame our fears, our self-pity, our anger, and our despair. By witnessing hatred, we developed a stronger appreciation for love. By witnessing hubris, we developed an appreciation for humility. By witnessing tragedy, we grew empathy. By witnessing injustice and discrimination, we became more just and more tolerant of those unlike us. By witnessing immorality, we became more moral. We live by the example of Christ who overcame the enormous challenge of experiencing the hatred of His children as they beat and crucified Him without mercy. And He loved them and prayed for their redemption.
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself” (Lewis, 1946).
Instead of directing our energies to battle God, we should direct our energies to understand God’s intentions for us. He wants us to emerge from the earth victorious. He is our biggest cheerleader. God is omnibenevolent and everything He does is out of His immense love for us.
“Stop quarreling with God! If you agree with Him, you will have peace at last, and things will go well for you” – Job 22:21
We need to surrender to God and to obey His calling by taking up our crosses and fulfilling our duties and missions. Through dutifulness, obedience, and surrender comes joy, the true joy that is impossible to attain if in battle against God.
- Argument on vicarious redemption: “I alone must bear the burden – whatever that might be – for the things I’ve said and done. The idea that I could simply divest myself of this responsibility is anathema to me, as it should be to any entity with any moral rectitude. This, completely aside from the accompanying suggestions that a) this occurs with absolutely no input from me concerning my desires in this regard and b) that the process for this has precisely nothing to do with my contributions to society and the well-being of humanity, relies only on believing in an entity that, should it actually be worthy of the appellation ‘deity’, should have neither want nor need of my belief or, indeed, my worship.” Tony goes on to say that humans invented this notion as a means of scapegoating.
Tony is correct in his assertion we should hold ourselves accountable. God also holds us accountable though He gave us free will to make choices that sometimes go against His will.
The Parables of the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son demonstrate that God forgives us of our sins and He does everything He can (without taking away our free will) to keep us within His flock. Romans 1 demonstrates that God lets us live out our lives in the way we choose, which may be riddled with sin. Sin leads to pain and oftentimes, during our greatest times of pain and desperation, He throws us a lifeline. He works in the pits more than the pedestals.
Tony’s scapegoating notion suggests that he fails to grasp the purpose of Jesus as the Passover Lamb who atoned for our sins. Hundreds of years prior to Jesus crucifixion, the prophet Isaiah foretold His crucifixion: “He Himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; (Isaiah 53:9) by His wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray (Isaiah 53:4, 5, 6) but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” – 1 Peter 2:24.
One way to answer the question of why the atonement was necessary is to consider free will. The sins of humanity are the result of God’s gift of free will, which underscores God’s generosity and love in giving such a gift as He knew the implications. He knew that by giving the gift of free will, He would also need to make a tremendous sacrifice to give the gift of eternal life, as free will in a world of temptations and challenges often leads to sin, which leads to death.
“If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having” – C.S. Lewis.
To provide a second answer, we need to direct our attention for a moment away from the payment to the LORD for the crime (i.e., sin) to focus on the crime itself. Jesus atoned for the sins of humanity. Sin is what binds and holds humanity hostage to the father of all sins, Satan. Prior to Jesus’ resurrection, mankind was imprisoned in death for its sins.
“At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people” – Matthew 27: 51-53.
The moment Jesus died on the cross was the same moment in which holy people who had passed were freed from captivity, death, and Satan, and raised to eternal life. Jesus had fulfilled the scriptures, such as Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22, by overcoming the world and redeeming humanity from sins and death.
In summary, the atonement was complementary to the gift of free will. It was not simply a means by which early societies scapegoated God to absolve themselves of their sins.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” – John 16:33
- Argument on the coexistence of evil: “Observation tells us that evil exists as defined above. In this context, there can be no entity that has all three of those omnis and for evil to still exist. If an entity knows all about evil, has the power to stop it, and doesn’t, it isn’t benevolent, let alone omnibenevolent. If it’s omnibenevolent and omniscient and doesn’t, it can’t, thus it isn’t omnipotent. If it’s omnipotent and omnibenevolent and doesn’t, it’s ignorant. This exhausts the possibilities, and shows that no entity with all three attributes can co-exist with evil.”
Some skeptics justify their lack of belief in God with the assertion that evil exists. They make the monumental assumption that God’s goals are necessarily our goals. They question why God, who has the power to stop evil, doesn’t do so at times. They question human suffering stemming from tragedies such as the massacres in Manchester and Las Vegas and devastation from hurricanes in Texas, Puerto Rico, and Florida.
To understand this issue, we need to examine the purpose of good and evil. The world isn’t a perfect place because if it were, we could never grow the sorts of characteristics needed to be more consistent with the example of Jesus Christ. We’re here to grow and learn from our mistakes, because learning from our mistakes is what helps us to grow. We’re here to persevere through pain, to show empathy around those in need, to demonstrate faith when tested. In other words, we’re tested in all sorts of ways to grow characteristics like determination, faith, perseverance, empathy, and love. How could we ever truly understand love if we hadn’t experienced its counterpart? How could we ever develop hope if we never had anything for which to hope? How could we ever develop humility if we had never been humbled? So, the fact that the Lord has put us into a world with all of these yin and yang sorts of good and evil characteristics is to improve us and make us more like Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
- Argument on free will: “The sceptic will argue that omniscience and free will are not compatible, because omniscience entails determinism.”
Determinism is the concept that God has preconceived of our lives, so skeptics argue that God cannot have omniscience while granting us free will if our lives have been predetermined. This is a complex concept to understand, so I’ve tried to slowly unpack the answer.
By understanding unbounded time, we can better understand God’s omniscience and the free will He has bestowed upon us. Omniscience means that God is all-knowing. Skeptics often conflate His knowledge with His control over us, thinking that for God to be all knowing, He must have control over our actions. He must have predetermined our lives. Alternatively, I suggest that the reason God knows our future is not because He’s controlled our future, but because He’s seen our future. Just as a journalist can skip through the pages of the newspapers in which she has published, moving back and forth in time, God can move back and forth in time. So, the real time that constrains us does not constrain Him. He sees our decisions and actions and knows whether we’ll be in the Lamb’s Book of Life, not because He’s predetermined our destiny, but because He has watched us as we exercise our free will through the lens of unbounded time. Furthermore, God is always in the present, yet He is unbounded by linear time so He is concurrently in our future and our past. According to Revelation 1:8, the Lord God “who is and who was and who always will be.”
Additionally, I draw from Molinism and the Bible to offer that God (1) knows what we would do in each potential circumstance in which we’re placed; (2) knows what we could do given our genetic predispositions in each circumstance; and (3) knows what we ultimately will do throughout our lives. He knows when we’ll act against His will and He’s planned accordingly for all of humanity to maximize utilitarianism in the end.
C.S. Lewis described this concept this way: “Our life comes to us moment by moment. One moment disappears before the next comes along; and there is room for very little in each. That is what time is like. And of course you and I take it for granted that this time series – this arrangement of past, present, and future – is not simply the way life comes to us but the way things really exist…But many learned men do not agree with that. It was the theologians who first started the idea that some things are not in time at all: later the philosophers took it over: and now some scientists are doing the same. Almost certainly, God is not in time…If a million people are praying to Him at ten-thirty tonight, He need not listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call ten-thirty. Ten-thirty – and every other moment from the beginning of the world – is always present for Him.”
This is a difficult concept for some to grasp, but according to C.S. Lewis, it fits within Christianity. People may choose to ignore the concept, which is fine, yet it serves to understand several important aspects of God and the free will He has bestowed upon us.
In closing, this essay provides support for the assertions that God is omnipresent, omni-benevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient. He has given us free will and He holds us accountable for our actions. Yet He also knows that all humans sin as we all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), so He offered His Son as the Passover Lamb to free us from the binds of our sins and open the gates of Heaven. Jesus promised us that we would have trouble in this world, yet we can take comfort knowing that He has overcome the world.
Thank you for your time.
Tony Murphy’s blog can be accessed here: http://www.hackenslash.co.uk/2016/10/all-kinds-of-everything.html?m=1
Craig, W.L. (2010). On Guard. Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook.
Howell, E. (2017). What is the Big Bang Theory. Accessed October 4, 2017 at https://www.space.com/25126-big-bang-theory.html
Lewis, C.S. (1940). The Problem of Pain. C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. USA.
Lewis, C.S. (1946). The Great Divorce. C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. USA
Lewis, C.S. (1952; 2002) Mere Christianity. Harper One.
Ross, H. (2016). Improbable Planet. How Earth Became Humanity’s Home. Grand Rapid, MI: Baker Books.