One of Seth Andrews’ big hurdles with the Christian faith is the fact that in the Old Testament Yahweh sanctioned the killing of pregnant women (e.g. the complete slaughter of Jericho) and the concept of people owning other people as property. In having a problem with this, Seth is imbibing a popular notion today that certain acts are always wrong without any question. In reply, Caleb Moor seems to hee-haw a bit in saying that we have to take the Old Testament context into perspective and understand that this was back then, so long ago, when culture was different, etc.
Caleb’s answer, admittedly brief by time constraints, leaves a lot on the table. God doesn’t change. He doesn’t “evolve” with society. Christianity denies that itself is merely a living organism of made-up ideas from a bunch of dead people. Caleb doesn’t actually believe this naturalistic explanation of the Christian faith, but to an atheist’s ears, it lends itself to that secular explanation when you go down this line of reasoning. While it’s helpful and useful to understand the context of Israel in the Old Testament, we don’t have to frame our answers in terms of things being different back then, where people would have understood God’s genocide commands to be reasonable because of the violent nature of reality that was happening everywhere at the time, and the culture being different. That’s unhelpful and misleading because God’s moral character doesn’t change. In other words, it is impossible that God could have commanded something to be done back then that would be immoral or ungodly of him to command today if it were his good pleasure to do so.
A more useful answer is to recognize the difference between an atheist’s and a Christian’s presuppositions. The atheist presupposes that certain things are always wrong, regardless of any other factors. A prime example is killing. To them, capital punishment is always wrong. By extension, even the death of Jesus Christ was wrong. This is why we hear things like this from Serene Jones:1
Crucifixion is not something that God is orchestrating from upstairs. The pervasive idea of an abusive God-father who sends his own kid to the cross so God could forgive people is nuts.
This anthropocentric viewpoint decides that man is the judge of what is right and wrong, not God, and that killing is always wrong. This poses a huge problem to the Christian faith, because Isaiah 53 clearly says that God was pleased in bruising his son, and that he was the one who put him to grief. In other words, the Bible says in unmistakable terms that God was the one who killed his son on the cross.
The death of Jesus Christ was the greatest act of violence in the history of the human race, and God was the one who did it. If killing is wrong in every context, then God is the most ungodly person in the universe.
In contrast, when you start with a theocentric viewpoint, you recognize that the violence of the cross demonstrates to us how great man’s sin is in God’s sight, and that man is deserving of eternal punishment in hell fire. Anything less than that is a mercy from God that he does not owe. When you view the world in these terms, God has the right to command an army to completely slaughter a city, including men, women (some of whom would be pregnant), and children. There has only ever been one person who suffered innocently, and he did it willingly. Christ was in perfect agreement and submission to his Father. The rest of us are born at enmity with God and deserving eternal death. Anything we receive in the short-term that is less than that — including living life as a slave to another man, or obligatorily marrying the person who raped you — is a mercy that God does not owe.2
To attempt to “explain” God’s actions in the Old Testament to someone who is approaching these things from an anthropocentric viewpoint is an exercise in futility. It is impossible to understand this correctly unless you start from God’s perspective. An atheist cannot do that, and so there will always be an impasse here between the atheist and the Christian. As long as an atheist judges God by his man-centered measuring stick, he will find God at fault, because God’s ways are not man’s ways. A Christian will never be able to persuade an atheist that God’s actions in the Old Testament were just. The moment an atheist comes to agree that God was just, he has ceased being an atheist, for he is now necessarily viewing things from a theocentric viewpoint, which is impossible to do apart from a belief in God’s existence.
There were other things about this episode that were troubling, which I will highlight in shotgun fashion.
Hell is eternal, and I congratulate Seth for understanding the centrality of the doctrine of hell to the Christian faith. Its unending nature is a primal issue of great weight, more so than Caleb is willing to concede. This serves as a reminder of how atheists are sometimes more orthodox in their understanding of the core tenants of the Christian faith than are some Christians whose minds have been confused by modern liberal thought and values.
There were absolutely dinosaurs on the ark. This is a minor point, but it matters because it’s really a surface issue that denotes a deeper problem about human origins. The book of Job and elsewhere refer to that which can only be considered as dinosaurs. To capitulate on this is to give credence to the demonstrably fake science of evolution. There is no need for this. God, who created the world in six literal days a few thousand years ago, preserved the dinosaurs past the flood, and he will make this clear to all the earth one day, to show the foolishness of fallen men who claim to be wise.
Similarly, Moses did write the Torah. Matthew did write Matthew. John did write John. There is no reason to be wishy-washy about these truth claims of authorship. They can withstand the test of scrutiny. No historic fact can refute them satisfactorily.
Seth wants to see God manifest himself in a visible way. God is already doing that every day with the creation. That’s the argument of Romans 1. Seth wants more than that, and he has deceived himself into thinking that a miracle would persuade him. He knows less about his own deceitful heart than does his Maker, for the Bible tells us that though one were to be seen rising from the dead, yet members of Adam’s blinded race would still fail to repent. A miracle does not a theist make.
The question of what it would take for Ken Ham to lose his faith in Christ is not the equivalent of asking what would it take for Bill Nye to lose his faith in atheism. Once you are persuaded something is real, your own heart testifying of the truth, you can no longer doubt that which you know to be true. That is a one-way street. The only one who can doubt whether a coin rests inside a cup is he who has never seen it. Once one has peered inside and seen the coin, it can no longer be doubted. The atheist claims to have peered in the cup and failed to see the coin, so for them, it makes sense that once they do see the coin, they must change their position. But it would be madness for one who has previously seen the coin to deny its existence under any conceivable circumstance thereafter. The only people who leave their Christian faith are those who were never truly persuaded of God’s existence; or else they are those who have been persuaded of its truthfulness but are like the devils who believe and tremble, remaining at enmity with God.
The argument that many intelligent scientists in ages past have been Christians used to hold weight with me but no longer. Even if no scientists were to believe in the truth, that would have no bearing on the truthfulness of truth. Moreover, for every godly scientist one may find, there are many more who are not. It’s a discussion in futility. To become a follower of Christ, we must become foolish in the eyes of this world (1 Corinthians). It’s useful for historic purposes to know that Francis Bacon was a godly man for whom faith was important, but using that as an argument for the validity of the truth claims of Christianity is extremely arbitrary and de-prioritizes much more compelling lines of persuasion.
The analogy of the burning building is something of a straw man argument inasmuch as it fails to nuance things enough. To be a fair comparison, you would need to also say that you’re in control of the fire in that building, and that you’ve chosen to save a certain number of people in that building, and to let others perish. In that context, calmly sending papers that warn of the danger makes sense. God isn’t in panic mode in the way that firefighters are in panic mode. God is in control of the fire. Firefighters are not in control of the fire and they seek to save every life in the building.
- She isn’t an atheist per se, but she certainly denies the God of the Bible. ↩︎
- This is the Biblical answer to the age-old question of why a good, all-powerful God would allow suffering in the world. God isn’t cruel; he’s actually exceeding merciful to not send all of mankind to hell immediately. It was a failure to understand this that caused Steve Jobs to denounce the Christian God at a young age. He said he refused to believe in a God who had the ability to stop human suffering but who did nothing about it. ↩︎