“Faith-Heads” or Robots?

The following scenario came to me as I was contemplating criticisms of Biblical Christianity: After each batch of new arrivals has been in heaven a week (equivalent earth time), God conducts an orientation session. He reveals the glory behind the pain and explains the problem of evil. In addition to controversial passages in the Bible, he talks about families who lost teenagers in church-bus crashes, and others whose children were brutally murdered by sexual predators. At the end, he takes questions from the audience.

So far, everyone has been 100 percent satisfied with his explanations. In the almost 2000 years since Jesus opened the way, not one soul has asked to check out and go to the other place.

In some countries, believers can be imprisoned, tortured or even killed for sharing their faith. In western democracies with more freedom and justice, enemies of Christianity must fight it in other ways. One common attack is on the foundation of the faith—the Bible. Atheists especially like to quote Old Testament passages that indicate to them that God isn’t good. For example, see Deuteronomy 7 where he commands the Israelites to annihilate the seven nations in the Promised Land. How could a good God tell them to destroy so many people?

Atheists also ask, “How could God be both good and all powerful, since bad things happen to good people?” They claim that if he was both, he would prevent evil from happening. But since evil is present in the world, they claim that either God isn’t able to stop it and thus isn’t all-powerful, or he could stop it but doesn’t and thus isn’t good.

Very frankly, such criticisms are a challenge to my faith. However I’ve thought a lot about them and have come up with plausible responses. In addition, I’ve looked into atheists’ belief systems. I’ve noticed they contain very noticeable weaknesses, including one that might be even harder to dispose of than their arguments against Christianity. But I’ll discuss our issues first.

Only Game in Town? God has done great things for me. My faith in Jesus has gotten me through many tough situations. There have been numerous blessings and a few wonderful answers to prayers. And I’ve had a lot of grief in my life too (those are “long stories”), but the situations eventually worked out for my good.

That leads to one possible way to address claims that God isn’t good. It’s a variation on the old story about the compulsive gambler. When told that he was being cheated, he said, “I know it’s rigged, but it’s the only game in town!”

Christianity is somewhat like that. Since we’re created in God’s image, we have the freedom (free will) to choose our own actions in many situations. Our Father is a loving parent who allows his children to make mistakes, but he intervenes where necessary to cause situations to ultimately work for our good. In other words God’s program is “rigged,” but in ways that are very much in our favor. The Bible tells us so (Rom. 8:28) and my own experience does too. So why should I care what atheists say?

The Books Will Balance But ignoring atheists’ concerns just “blows off” the issues they raise. After thinking more about it, the scenario above came to me. We don’t see the big picture down here but in the next life we will. There may not be an “orientation meeting,” but we will learn all the circumstances of those controversial situations in the Bible and of the tragedies in our times. We’ll know God was right—that he was doing what needed to be done.

Everyone realizes that life in this world isn’t fair. Good people suffer. Bad people prosper. Nevertheless, despite atheists’ claims, there is more to existence than this life. All the wrongs will be righted at the end. Bible scholars know that the scriptures contain financial accounting concepts: For example, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Rom 4:3, NIV) In addition to debits and credits, accountants talk about “balancing the books.” In eternity the books will balance.

Though we don’t have all of the answers now, the Bible helps us understand things that seem terribly wrong. We all know that God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his only child. We know the “plot spoiler” too, because we’ve heard the story many times. Although it may be hard for us to feel it in the same way, atheists really do have it right when they focus on the horror of Abraham holding the knife as he was about to plunge it into Isaac’s body. Nevertheless Abraham’s trusting God in the face of a devastating and incomprehensible command, and the way it all turned out OK, is an example to us. Beyond that, the joy and wonder he surely experienced after he passed this test of his faith points toward our heavenly future. Most Christians also understand this as a “preview” of Jesus being sacrificed for our sins.

Robots? Thus based on the scriptures as well as our experiences of God and our faith in his ultimate justice, Christians can reject attacks on God’s goodness. On the other hand, the world view of atheists is vulnerable in a way that isn’t so easily handled. They typically believe that “the universe is all there is.” This faith—that’s what it is, since it’s impossible to prove—supports their rejection of God. However this belief system implies the concept of naturalism—that everything results from natural causes.

But if every event is caused by something that happened before it, no one can have free will. Everyone’s actions would be the results of preceding causes, just as the motion of a billiard ball is the result of the motion and spin of the cue ball that struck it, which is a result of the motion of the cue stick, etc. etc. In a completely naturalistic world, human beings are nothing but robots. They may believe they have free will, but that is just an illusion.

Note that Sam Harris, one of the authors described as “the four horsemen of atheism,” readily admits the disconnect between free will and naturalism. In his May 30, 2011 blog entitled Morality Without “Free Will,” he says:

\"In fact, the concept of free will is a non-starter, both philosophically and scientifically. There is simply no description of mental and physical causation that allows for this freedom that we habitually claim for ourselves and ascribe to others.\"

The bottom line is this: Christians know by faith that in eternity, God will provide very satisfactory answers to all questions related to everything that happened on earth (if you can’t wait that long, the recommended reading discusses issues raised by atheists). In contrast, according to their belief system, atheists will be robots until the day they die. After that, they will be dead robots and will disintegrate into rust and dust. End of story (they hope).

Additional reading: Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God, by Paul Copan. Baker Books (2011)

Ralph (Dave) Westfall is wrapping up a second career in teaching computer information systems at a public university in Southern California. Although raised in a somewhat Christian environment, he tried atheism in his youth but that didn't work out very well for him. After struggling with alcohol and anti-social behavior for years, he was invited to a church through door-to-door evangelism. In the second week he put his faith and trust in Jesus and was baptized a week later. His conversion was literally a life-changing experience. He has been walking with the Lord ever since, although God's path has taken him through two churches that had a lot of problems. Nevertheless he learned a lot about how to follow Jesus through his experiences in those situations. http://www.forgetevolution.com