Is god sovereign and do we have freewill

Experts in ancient Greek culture say that people back then didn’t see their thoughts as belonging to them. When ancient Greeks had a thought, it occurred to them as a god or goddess giving an order. Apollo was telling them to be brave. Athena was telling them to fall in love.

Now people hear a commercial for sour cream potato chips and rush out to buy, but now they call this free will.
At least the ancient Greeks were being honest

Chuck Palahniuk, Lullaby

My new friend Michelle has, on a blog post, posed some questions she would like answered. Should you visit her, say I sent you and be nice :-P.

It is not her questions that interest me but this comment  by Rev. Smith

The shortest and simplest answer to your question about god’s sovereign nature is this.

God is sovereign and He loves you, nothing will ever come into your life that He does not either decree or allow. Did He decree your rape? No but He allowed it. That is the only truthful answer any Christian like myself can provide.

Do I know why he allowed it? No and I am truly sorry for what happened. He will use it for something though. It is His will, His plan and we shouldn’t question it.

That is what it means to be sovereign. Even Satan himself has to ask God’s permission before he can act (Psalm 103:19).

I hope this helps,
Rev. Smith

I am not going to repeat my opinion on religious leaders, politicians and thieves but those who are frequent readers here know where this headed.

And the Rev is telling Michelle and any Christian who believes in this god that he allows such horrendous things to happen to you so that some good may come out of it in the future. Don’t complain. It is all god’s desires. It will be alright in the future, all will be forgiven!

This reminded me of an exchange in Brothers Karamazov between Ivan and Alyosha. I beg your leave to share it here. A kid has been mauled by a general’s dog while the mother is watching helpless and crushed for there is nothing she can do about it. Ivan closes this dialogue thus

‘Listen! I took the case of children only to make my case clearer. Of the other tears of humanity with which the earth is soaked from its crust to its centre, I will say nothing. I have narrowed my subject on purpose. I am a bug, and I recognise in all humility that I cannot understand why the world is arranged as it is. Men are themselves to blame, I suppose; they were given paradise, they wanted freedom, and stole fire from heaven, though they knew they would become unhappy, so there is no need to pity them. With my pitiful, earthly, Euclidian understanding, all I know is that there is suffering and that there are none guilty; that cause follows effect, simply and directly; that everything flows and finds its level — but that’s only Euclidian nonsense, I know that, and I can’t consent to live by it!

What comfort is it to me that there are none guilty and that cause follows effect simply and directly, and that I know it? — I must have justice, or I will destroy myself. And not justice in some remote infinite time and space, but here on earth, and that I could see myself. I have believed in it. I want to see it, and
if I am dead by then, let me rise again, for if it all happens without me, it will be too unfair. Surely I haven’t suffered simply that I, my crimes and my sufferings, may manure the soil of the future harmony for somebody else.

I want to see with my own eyes the hind lie down with the lion and the victim rise up and embrace his murderer. I want to be there when everyone suddenly understands what it has all been for. All the religions of the world are built on this longing, and I am a believer. But then there are the children, and
what am I to do about them? That’s a question I can’t answer. For the hundredth time I repeat, there are numbers of questions, but I’ve only taken the children, because in their case what I mean is so unanswerably clear. Listen! If all must suffer to pay for the eternal harmony, what have children to do with it, tell me, please? It’s beyond all comprehension why they should suffer, and why they should pay for the harmony.

Why should they, too, furnish material to enrich the soil for the harmony of the future? I understand solidarity in sin among men. I understand solidarity in retribution, too; but there can be no such solidarity with children. And if it is really true that they must share responsibility for all their
fathers’ crimes, such a truth is not of this world and is beyond my comprehension.

then Ivan continues

I understand, of course, what an upheaval of the universe it will be when everything in heaven and earth blends in one hymn of praise and everything that lives and has lived cries aloud: ‘Thou art just, O Lord, for Thy ways are revealed.’ When the mother embraces the fiend who threw her child to the dogs,
and all three cry aloud with tears, ‘Thou art just, O Lord!’ then, of course, the crown of knowledge will be reached and all will be made clear.

But what pulls me up here is that I can’t accept that harmony. And while I am on earth, I make haste to take my own measures. You see, Alyosha, perhaps it really may happen that if I live to that moment, or rise again to see it, I, too, perhaps, may cry aloud with the rest, looking at the mother embracing the child’s torturer, ‘Thou art just, O Lord!’ but I don’t want to cry aloud then. While there is still time, I hasten to protect myself, and so I renounce the higher harmony altogether. It’s not worth the tears of that one tortured child who beat itself on the breast with its little fist and prayed in its stinking outhouse, with
its unexpiated tears to ‘dear, kind God’! It’s not worth it, because those tears are unatoned for. They must be atoned for, or there can be no harmony.

And I stand with Ivan in refusing to be there in that harmony. And to tell Michelle that some good will come out of her misfortune is to ask her to believe that the god she believes in, is a monster. I don’t know what type of believer would say with a straight face that this god is good or that it has given some people freewill.

And I must ask with Ingersoll, if the reports we have are of a good god, what would a fiend do?

Marcion, the great Heresiarch

Has Marcion’s objections been answered? It has been 1800+ years since they were voiced. Who will answer him?

Marcion objected: If the God of the Old Testament be good, prescient of the future, and able to avert evil, why did he allow man, made in his own image, to be deceived by the devil, and to fall from obedience of the Law into sin and death? How came the devil, the origin of lying and deceit, to be made at all? After the fall, God became a judge both severe and cruel; woman is at once condemned to bring forth in sorrow and to serve her husband, changed from a help into a slave; the earth is cursed which before was blessed, and man is doomed to labour and to death. The law was one of retaliation and not of justice,—lex talionis—eye for eye, tooth for tooth, stripe for stripe. And it was not consistent, for in contravention of the Decalogue, God is made to instigate the Israelites to spoil the Egyptians, and fraudulently rob them of their gold and silver; to incite them to work on the Sabbath by ordering them to carry the ark for eight days round Jericho; to break the second commandment by making and setting up the brazen serpent and the golden cherubim. Then God is inconstant, electing men, as Saul and Solomon, whom he subsequently rejects; repenting that he had set up Saul, and that he had doomed the Ninevites, and so on. God calls out: Adam, where art thou? inquires whether he had eaten the forbidden fruit; asks of Cain where his brother was, as if he had not yet heard the blood of Abel crying from the ground, and did not already know all these things.

Marcion continues on his warpath

The Emmanuel of Isaiah (vii. 14, cf. viii. 4) is not Christ;(1) the “Virgin” his mother is simply a “young woman” according to Jewish phraseology; and the sufferings of the Servant of God (Isaiah lii. 13—liii. 9) are not predictions of the death of Jesus.

And of the two gods, he writes

“The one was perfect, pure, beneficent, passionless; the other, though not unjust by nature, infected by matter,—subject to all the passions of man,—cruel, changeable; the New Testament, was holy, wise, amiable; the Old Testament, the Law, barbarous, inhuman, contradictory, and detestable.”

Who will answer Marcion?

Did Jesus rise from the dead

Jesus waited three days to come back to life. It was perfect! If he had only waited one day, a lot of people wouldn’t have even heard he died. They’d be all, “Hey Jesus, what up?” and Jesus would probably be like, “What up? I died yesterday!” and they’d be all, “Uh, you look pretty alive to me, dude…” and then Jesus would have to explain how he was resurrected, and how it was a miracle, and the dude’d be like “Uhh okay, whatever you say, bro…” And he’s not gonna come back on a Saturday. Everybody’s busy, doing chores, workin’ the loom, trimmin’ the beard, NO. He waited the perfect number of days, three. Plus it’s Sunday, so everyone’s in church already, and they’re all in there like “Oh no, Jesus is dead”, and then BAM! He bursts in the back door, runnin’ up the aisle, everyone’s totally psyched, and FYI, that’s when he invented the high five. That’s why we wait three days to call a woman, because that’s how long Jesus wants us to wait…. True story

Barney Stinson

In his post Robert claims to have provided enough evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. It is taken for granted that Jesus lived, a question that I will say hasn’t been settled and unless the fellow shows up holding his mother’s hands will not be settled conclusively.

He tells us our sources of information will be

  1. The four Gospels in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
  2. The New Testament letters.
  3. Material predating the New Testament letters.

While Robert believes the business here has to be left to the investigative journalist only, I disagree with him. I will bring the scientist, the philosopher and the historian to give their expertise on this question. It isn’t the greatest question of all time, there are greater questions to be answered.

The gospels are not reliable as eyewitness accounts nor as historical accounts. We do not know their authors, their motives and what they knew. Because the gospels are anonymous and later works, they are inadmissible in the case. I will add they are further inadmissible because the believers claim they are divinely inspired. If their divine authorship cannot be demonstrated, they have no standing whatsoever. They remain what they have always been, the works of overzealous and credulous, superstitious people and nothing more.

It is important to note here in passing that for most of the 1st and 2nd century, what we have as the NT wasn’t considered as authority and many of the church fathers referring to scripture at this time meant the OT. To the unknowing, it is important to remind you there were several gospels written at the same period that didn’t make it to the canon.

Paul, nowhere quotes Jesus. And those who read my post on Paul know that even back then questions were raised about him that I need not repeat here. The claim by Robert that

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

as recorded in 1 Corinthians 15 is evidence in support of his assertion is easily demonstrated as false. Paul claims he has received whatever he writes directly from a god. He nowhere pretends to know anything about other extant writings. The appearance to the 500 is not known by the synoptic writers. It only appears in his writing. His writings are unreliable as evidence.

I wasn’t able to get from his post what he meant by materials predating the NT.

I could end this post here. The materials that were present before the court are wanting. They instead of helping the defence give credence to the prosecution’s case that there was no resurrection. But I will oblige Robert and consider what else he brings to the court’s attention.

  • The tomb was empty

This isn’t new evidence. It is from the material we rejected as evidence. It is useless in supporting the story.

Postscript: There is a big gaping hole in the empty tomb as evidence. Mathew who alone writes about it says

“When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard[a] of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.”[b] 66 So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.”
—Matthew 27

which means there was a hell lot of time for a grave robber to take Jeebus away among other possibilities.

  • Resurrection appearances

These suffer the same fate. It isn’t new evidence. It is from the claims of the biographers and their claims were already shown to be unacceptable.

  • Origin of church’s belief in the resurrection

It is impossible to separate the history of the church and the resurrection. In this case, I don’t think it is possible to tell which gives birth to which. They are intertwined at the umbilical cord. The idea of resurrection isn’t a new thing, not in Jewish history and the only difference in the case of Jesus isn’t that he brought himself back to life but that god did so without the help of another prophet. It is not a special event. It would be a special event were there no such reported cases of people being brought back to life.

  • Sunday becoming the day of worship

I have no idea and I would like to know. The two articles I have read on this matter do not give me much to go with. More here. However, I don’t think this is evidence of anything. The Jews have honoured the Sabbath and the Passover and we now have every reason to believe Yahweh does not exist and that there was no Passover, the two events being related.

  • The changed life of the first disciples

That there have been ascetics isn’t proof of the truth of their beliefs. If their lives changed and we have only the claims of the gospel writers, we have nothing great to go on.

  • Conversion of Paul

Paul claims he saw a light. Paul claims he saw Jesus. Who tells us this? Paul. Does Paul quote Jesus anywhere in his writings? He doesn’t. Does Paul quote the synoptics? He doesn’t. His conversion claim is just that. It is not evidence in support of our query.

Whereas Robert thinks the following

  1. Jesus’ tomb was found empty by women.
  2. Multiple people on multiple occasions were convinced they’d seen Jesus alive.
  3. The early church suddenly believed in a resurrection contrary to prevailing expectations.
  4. Sunday becoming the day of worship contrary to Jewish custom.
  5. The lives of the first disciples were changed in a manner consistent with such a dramatic event.
  6. Paul, the great opponent of the Christian faith, was converted.

must be explained before we dismiss the claim in the resurrection, I submit that this is starting the investigation from the wrong end. The question we must answer if we are to help the believer are

  1. Is there evidence for divine revelation? And how can we know it?
  2. Are miracles credible?

By answering the two questions conclusively, the question of the virgin birth and later resurrection can then be sensibly answered. And I must say here that I don’t think the questions are answerable conclusively. The ongoing investigations by apologists is really like examining whether Thor really does have a big hammer. They ignore the central issue to the religious problem.

I conclude there is no reason to believe in the resurrection and until scripture can be shown to be divinely revealed, we will be wasting time.

The atheist’s extraordinary evidence

A theist has written the following address to us

Many of these people have had experiences which they have assessed to have been caused by a super-natural agent or force. Many have come to believe in the super-natural on the basis of arguments and evidence that their rational faculties have told them are sound. And yet you tell us that all these people—billions and billions of people in all sorts of different settings, cultures, and social groups—are wrong. Only your comparatively tiny group—the “bright” luminaries of humanity—are right. But that, my friends, is an extraordinary claim.

and then asked

Where is your extraordinary evidence for the extraordinary claim that everyone else is wrong but you?

And I as an atheist, I will attempt to answer him. First, I want to tell him the claim by the atheist isn’t extraordinary. And doesn’t need extraordinary evidence.

To say more, the atheist doesn’t deny the experiences people have had across the ages. What we are saying is they have been attributed erroneously to divine or not so divine agency. As far as we can tell, humans have no faculty for detecting the supernatural. All our experiences involve natural stuff, they could be inexplicable but they are still natural.

It is the theist who is making an extraordinary claim when he claims his very natural inexplicable experience is the working of a supernatural agency. It is the theist who must tell us how they know that the experience is supernatural and which supernatural agency caused it.

And I hate to destroy the believer’s bubble but I must end his party abruptly by telling him that whereas he has written

And please note, since you are the ones making the positive claim that the rest of us are all mistaken, the burden of proof is on you to prove that claim….have fun!

the burden is on him to demonstrate that the experiences are supernatural. The believer has to tell us how they know a particular event is supernatural. So we will have fun, yes, but we will be doing so waiting for you to demonstrate that the experience is not natural or not caused by some natural agency.

On Paul

Most religious who read the bible only think so highly of Paul and look at the rest of us who question Paul’s motives as being blind or something. We have a 2nd century church father who writes vehemently against Paul. In what is referred to as the Clementine Homilies, we get for example from an epistle of Peter to James

“For some among the Gentiles have rejected my lawful preaching and accepted certain lawless and foolish teaching of the hostile man.

and we have it written of Peter as saying

who came before me to the Gentiles, and to which I belong who have come after him, and have followed him as light upon darkness, as knowledge upon ignorance, as health upon disease.”

He continues:

“If he had been known he would not have been believed, but now, not being known, he is wrongly believed; and though by his acts he is a hater, he has been loved; and although an enemy, he has been welcomed as a friend; and though he is death, he has been desired as a saviour; and though fire, esteemed as light; and though a deceiver, he is listened to as speaking the truth.

We have elsewhere Peter warning the church

He who hath sent us, our Lord and Prophet, declared to us that the evil one…. announced that he would send from amongst his followers apostles to deceive. Therefore, above all remember to avoid every apostle, or teacher, or prophet, who first does not accurately compare his teaching with that of James called the brother of my Lord, and to whom was confided the ordering of the Church of the Hebrews in Jerusalem,” &c., lest this evil one should send a false preacher to them, “as he has sent to us Simon preaching a counterfeit of truth in the name of our Lord and disseminating error

and continuing in the same spirit, writes

“If, therefore, our Jesus indeed was seen in a vision, was known by thee, and conversed with thee, it was only as one angry with an adversary…. But can any one through a vision be made wise to teach? And if thou sayest: ‘It is possible,’ then wherefore did the Teacher remain and discourse for a whole year to us who were awake? And how can we believe thy story that he was seen by thee? And how could he have been seen by thee when thy thoughts are contrary to his teaching?But if seen and taught by him for a single hour thou becamest an apostle preach his words, interpret his sayings, love his apostles, oppose me not who consorted with him. For thou hast directly withstood me who am a firm rock, the foundation of the Church. If thou hadst not been an adversary thou wouldst not have calumniated me, thou wouldst not have reviled my teaching in order that, when declaring what I have myself heard from the Lord

I rest my case there.


On morals

I have already written a lot on this topic, but because it is one where there arise a lot of misunderstanding, I will add another post to it.

I am involved in a discussion here and the author writes in a response to one of my comments thus

I am afraid some things are black and white. Rape, for example, is either objectively evil, or subjectively evil. It has to be one or the other (Law of excluded middle) and it can’t be both (law of non-contradiction). If, as you say, things are designated bad by majority, then it means that if the majority decided rape was now good, then it would become good and not evil. Another example would be that if the Nazis had won WW2 and successfully brainwashed anyone who disagreed with them, then the Holocaust would no longer be evil, since the majority thinks the Jews should have been killed. I find that appalling, and I would argue that some things are wrong, regardless of the majority vote. Otherwise, someone like William Wilberforce would become wrong for opposing slavery, since the majority thought it was fine.

Also, notice how you said you don’t “like” people being killed. If God does not exist, and good and evil really are human categories as you say, then the moral value of your statement really would be the same as “like” or “don’t like” in the same way that some people like cookies, and some don’t. You don’t like murder, some people think it’s great. If the majority of the people in your area think it’s great, well then it becomes great. If you think murder is objectively evil, then there must be good. If there is good, then there must be a moral law by which to differentiate between good and evil. But a moral law requires a moral law giver, who is beyond humanity. It is the same thing that convinced CS Lewis to believe in God. I think if you reflect on it a bit, you will at least see that I am not crazy for thinking what I do.

On the face of it, one might think he is making sense and therein lies the problem and I intend to show why this is so. Before I do that, however, I would like to point out that morality is relational. Without reciprocity and people living in society, there would be no talk about morality. As I have often said, it would be useless to talk about morality to a person living an isolated life in some remote island.

With that background, let us examine his comment.

He writes

Rape, for example, is either objectively evil, or subjectively evil.

and while he ignores to answer my question on what is rape, he goes further to try to set up a dilemma. I will say there is one person who thinks rape is a good thing. These Republicans don’t think it is objectively wrong.

He then asks

If, as you say, things are designated bad by majority, then it means that if the majority decided rape was now good, then it would become good and not evil.

and I will answer in the affirmative. Good and evil are human categories. If people would convince themselves that rape isn’t evil- not that I see how this could happen- they would classify it as among good things. It is not to say people vote on what is good or bad. These opinions are such that we adopt from the cumulative experience of humanity up to the time of our birth. Had situations been different and be born at a different time where rape was one of the surest ways of getting a wife, the outlook would be different.

So when he continues to say

Otherwise, someone like William Wilberforce would become wrong for opposing slavery, since the majority thought it was fine.

and I will answer again in the affirmative. At that particular period, to those who he lived around, his actions were wrong. This fellow is making a judgement with the benefit of hindsight and ignores that particular fact. Those who had slaves thought they had support in scripture, that it was right to have others under subjugation. We can say that slavery was/ is wrong because we have the benefit of hindsight.

Yes, I don’t like people being killed. I don’t want to be killed. How is this a wrong thing?

And unfortunately for my interlocutor, he is far off the mark when he writes

If God does not exist, and good and evil really are human categories as you say, then the moral value of your statement really would be the same as “like” or “don’t like” in the same way that some people like cookies, and some don’t.

because what adding his god does to my statement is only to change who does the liking. By grounding mine in human relations, it has more weight than grounding morals in the whims of a god for we can never know, if gods existed, what their whims were or would be. The bible is full of pages where god commands or kills people he doesn’t like. If this fellow thinks that should be the standard of measure, am sorry for him, too sorry.

And it is true that

You don’t like murder, some people think it’s great. If the majority of the people in your area think it’s great, well then it becomes great. If you think murder is objectively evil, then there must be good

with the only consequence that such a society will self destruct. It is therefore inconceivable that murder will be a trend supported by the majority.

And again

If you think murder is objectively evil, then there must be good. If there is good, then there must be a moral law by which to differentiate between good and evil. But a moral law requires a moral law giver, who is beyond humanity. It is the same thing that convinced CS Lewis to believe in God.

as I had said before, good and bad are human categories. Most things have the appearance of objectivity because as human persons, we share a common heritage. The poem of John Donne

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

best captures my point. We are all involved in humanity. And I would dare add that C.S Lewis reasoning was faulty. No wonder he came to believe in god.

And lastly,

I think if you reflect on it a bit, you will at least see that I am not crazy for thinking what I do.

not a chance. I have done a lot of reflection on this subject and at present, I am convinced there is no lawgiver. And secondly that if I granted you the chance of saying there was one, we would still be far from deciding which god it was. You would insist it is the Christian god and I will have to ask you to tell me how the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and others lived so exemplary lives before the coming of this particular Jew.

god came down for what

This being our 1001 post on this site, we ask with Celsus

But that certain Christians and all Jews should maintain, the former that there has already descended, the latter that there will descend, upon the earth a certain God, or son of a God, who will make the inhabitants of the earth righteous, is a most shameless assertion, and one the refutation of which does not need many words. He is said by the Christians to have already come, but by the Jews that his advent as Messiah is still future. What is the meaning of such a descent upon the part of God? Was it in order to learn what goes on amongst men? Does he not know all things? And if he does know, why does he not make men better? Is it then not possible for him, by means of his divine power, to make men better, unless he send some one for that special purpose? Then God does know all things indeed, but does not make men better, nor is able to do so by His divine power! If God Himself will come down to men, then he has left his own abode, although if you were to change a single one, even the least, of things on earth, all things would be overturned and disappear.

Now I suppose God, being unknown amongst men, and deeming himself on that account to have less than his due, would desire to make himself known, and to make trial both of those who believe upon him and of those who do not, like those of mankind who have recently come into the possession of riches, and who make a display of their wealth; and thus they testify to an excessive but very mortal ambition on the part of God. God does not desire to make himself known for his own sake, but because he wishes to bestow upon us the knowledge of himself for the sake of our salvation, in order that those who accept it may become virtuous and be saved, while those who do not accept may be shown to be wicked and be punished. After so long a period of time, then, did God now bethink himself of making men live righteous lives, but neglect to do so before? It is perfectly manifest that they babble about God in a way that is neither holy nor reverential, like those who in the Bacchic mysteries introduce phantoms and objects of terror.

The belief has spread among them, from a misunderstanding of the accounts of these occurrences, that after lengthened cycles of time, and the returns and conjunctions of planets, conflagrations and floods are wont to happen. Because after the last flood, which took place in the time of Deucalion, the lapse of time, agreeably to the vicissitude of all things, requires a conflagration, this made them give utterance to the erroneous opinion that God will descend, and come down bearing fire like a torturer.

Enquiring minds want to know