Is human sacrifice morally justified?

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 10: “Is Jesus the Only Way to God?”)

When you’ve dug yourself into a hole that you can’t climb out of, step one is to stop digging. Unfortunately, if you stop digging, people might think you’re admitting that you’ve dug yourself into a hole you can’t get out of. In theological contexts, the way to handle that dilemma is to dig yourself in deeper.

But we can push the argument a notch further. We can show positively that it’s entirely possible that God is all-powerful and all-loving and that many persons never hear the gospel and are lost.

As a good and loving God, God wants as many people as possible to be saved and as few as possible to be lost. His goal, then, is to achieve an optimal balance between these, to create no more of the lost than is necessary to attain a certain number of the saved. But it’s possible that the actual world (which includes the future as well as the present and past) has such a balance. It’s possible that in order to create this many people who will be saved, God also had to create this many people who will be lost… It’s possible that in order to achieve a multitude of saints, God had to accept a multitude of sinners.

What Craig is arguing (without realizing it) is that it’s possible that there is some greater power than God, some power that forces God to do things He would prefer not to do. There’s no logical necessity that requires one or more souls to be damned in order to save someone else’s soul, even given free will. You might think that free will would reduce the chances of everybody being saved, but there’s no logical necessity that says the salvation of one soul requires the damnation of another. (Plus, an all-loving, all-powerful deity would not leave such an important matter to mere chance.) There must be some other power, then, that forces God to do what He would not wish to do. And if there’s some greater power than God, then God by definition is not all-powerful.

And Craig is only starting to dig himself in.

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Spoilers and the weakness of the Almighty

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 10: “Is Jesus the Only Way to God?”)

Normally I hate it when people give away the plot, but today I’m going to make an exception. I’m going to give away the plot behind the “Christian exclusivism” argument that William Lane Craig is making. When Craig says that Jesus is the only way to heaven, he’s not being as humble and pious as he’d like everyone (including himself) to think. He’s not exalting God and abasing man. The whole point of Christian exclusivism (or “particularism,” as he calls it) is to put Christians in the position of having a unique monopoly on what people are supposed to believe and how they must behave. Religious pluralism is anathema to him precisely because it allows people to believe and obey things Christians haven’t approved.

The problem with Christian exclusivism is that, from God’s perspective, there’s no reason for it. If, as the Gospel claims, God were a loving heavenly Father Who earnestly wanted all of His children to be saved, the last thing He would want to do is to tack on some arbitrary and often impossible requirements that severely limit the number of salvations. Craig expends a fair amount of effort trying to defend his exclusivist position against the obvious charge of injustice, but he can’t really explain why God ought to limit salvations in the first place. Shh, don’t tell anyone: the real reason is first and foremost to establish the dominion of Christians like himself.

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The Hell with Christianity

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 10: “Is Jesus the Only Way to God?”)

There are times when a Christian apologist’s chief task is to so corrupt our reason and morals that we are no longer able to tell the difference between truth and falsehood, right and wrong. Last week wasn’t too bad; Craig was standing up for Christian particularism as versus religious pluralism, and that would be fine if there were, in fact, one true religion. But to be true, a thing has to be consistent both with itself and with objective reality, and Christianity fails to meet those criteria, as we’ll see in today’s installment.

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XFiles: Reasons and rationalizations

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 7: “What About Suffering?”)

Last week, Dr. Craig was just starting to give us four Christian doctrines which (he claims) increase the probability that suffering can coexist with the Christian God. It’s part of his attempt to appear as though he is addressing one of the most significant positive atheistic arguments—the problem of evil—without actually confronting any serious challenge to his conclusions. So far he has replaced the problem of evil with the less-potent problem of suffering, has lowered the standard that Christians have to meet (by declaring that all Christians need to do is suggest the possibility that God might coexist with suffering), and has raised the standard that atheists have to meet (by declaring that atheists have the burden of proving that there is no possibility of God coexisting with suffering). In this week’s installment, he’s going to give us a good demonstration of using rationalization to further evade the issues.

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XFiles: Jamming with Dr. Craig

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 7: “What About Suffering?”)

If you want to know whether or not Christians are telling the truth about God, it’s theoretically very simple: all you need to do is look at the real world and see whether or not it’s consistent with what Christians are saying. Do we find conditions that match the consequences we should reasonably expect, given an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good and all-loving God—or don’t we?

One of the primary goals of apologetics is to prevent us from finding out the answer to that question, and in today’s installment of On Guard, William Lane Craig gives us a good example of the technique. As we saw last week, he has already pulled a sneaky bait and switch, substituting the lesser problem of suffering for the far more difficult problem of evil. This week, he’s going to use a variety of techniques, including the Argument from Ignorance, to try and jam our BS detectors, and leave us incapable of distinguishing false claims about God from true ones.

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XFiles: Heartless apologetics

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 7: “What About Suffering?”)

The more I read William Lane Craig, the more respect I have for the sheer deviousness of his approach. We’ve already looked at how he pulls a philosophical bait-and-switch scam in order to substitute the problem of suffering for the far less tractable problem of evil. And now that we’re considering just the limited question of how suffering seems to contradict the Christian idea of a loving God, he pulls another trick on the unsuspecting believers in his audience.

The approach he’s going to take is to claim that suffering is merely an emotional reaction of people who reject God. Many Christians, however, feel the same way. Even though they don’t reject God, they feel that human suffering poses a problem for their Christian faith. So Craig does something psychologically very clever: he begins this part of his book with two long, highly-detailed stories of children suffering horrible, lingering deaths due to natural disasters. He takes great pains to induce a powerful emotional reaction in his readers, and then he begins his argument that the problem of suffering is an emotional problem rather than an intellectual one, while their thoughts are still being overpowered by their emotions.

I’ve got to admit, scruples aside, that is one ingenious approach.

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XFiles: The Problem of Honesty

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 7: “What About Suffering?”)

One of the biggest problems for Christian apologetics is what to do with the problem of evil. God is supposedly all-good, all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving. What’s more, He is also supposed to be the only truly self-existent Being. Everything else that exists was either created directly by God, or by a chain of cause-and-effect whose First Cause is ultimately God.

That’s a problem, because the world abounds in what Christians refer to as sin and evil, which should not be there. If the only self-existent Being is a perfectly good and loving Almighty God, then only good things should result from His deliberate and sovereign actions, even indirectly. No necessity can constrain God except those which are inherent in His nature, and thus if God’s nature does not require evil, then there can be no necessity that evil exist. As an almighty God He should be capable of creating a world without evil, and as a loving God He should want to do so. Thus, the existence of such a God necessarily implies the absence of evil, which contradicts what we see in real life.

William Lane Craig attempts to address this problem with an approach that is both subtle and profoundly deceptive: instead of directly confronting the contradictions raised by the existence of evil, he re-frames the debate into one where the only question is whether God’s existence is incompatible with human suffering. Since there are at least some circumstances where “no pain, no gain” is a valid observation, this re-definition stacks the deck in his favor, and leaves him with an easy out. The uncritical reader is then left with the feeling that Craig has dealt with the ancient Problem of Evil, when in fact all he’s done is a simple bait-and-switch.
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