#153

March 22, 2010

Lightning Round

We have a lot of questions accumulating in our inbox! So I decided to do a lightning round of questions that can be quickly answered. Many of these come from overseas visitors. In some cases I'll give references where I've addressed the issues more fully.


Question 1:

Dr Craig,

This isn't a question. I just want to express my thankfulness to you and your ministry, including everyone involved in it. Your answer to the most recent question posed by Mark brought me to my knees and reminded me that I need to continually come before my precious Lord, my Creator and Saviour and stay connected in a right relationship to Him. Sometimes a hard heart can creep up on me without me realising it. Head knowledge is so important and I'm so grateful to you for the wealth of resources you offer but, also running through it all is clearly your love and tender heart toward our loving Father and the Holy Spirit's living waters flow through your words to me. For me, you strike a perfect balance. Thank you again.

Blessings,

Jude

- country not specified

Thanks so much for your encouragement! My heart’s desire is not just to see people become convinced of the Christian worldview but to come to know Christ personally. So I was glad to have the chance to answer Mark’s question.

Question 2:

Dear Dr. Craig.

Your answer to this week's question by Mark, on the fundamentals of relationship with God, was one of the most helpful, summarized statements on what it means to have a saving faith relationship to God, that I have ever seen in print. It was enormously helpful to me in clarifying ways I might share my own faith with others in the future.

There is one statement you made I have been wrestling with for some time, which relates to much of your work on God's relationship to physics, particularly time/space.

Namely, you state regarding prayer, that we can be assured of God hearing our silent prayers since God can read our minds. Logically, this makes a good deal of sense on many levels for a believer, once we accept God's spirit within us, speaking to us within our mind and thoughts. Surely the communication path must work in two directions, not just one! Yet I have always wrestled with this concept of silent prayer.

My primarily struggles are the following;

1) Other than vague and possibly poetic references in the Psalms and elsewhere, giving tribute to God's omniscience in knowing our thoughts from afar, and what words we will speak before we ever form them, what direct concept from God's word validates silent prayer?

All the specific Biblical references made to individuals actually in prayer, including Jesus prayers, seem to always be described as audible prayer.

2) If our silent prayer is fully 'heard' in the spiritual realm, but not the physical, why is it we do not seem to consistently perceive clearly articulated thoughts from the spiritual realm in reply? (Certainly I have known from time to time, when the Holy Spirit is speaking within, but other times I can not discern my own impressions or thougths vs. his prompting)

3) Can we conceive of a physical or spiritual mechanism or analogy by which God can 'hear' the thoughts of 100's of millions of people simultaneously, and is this a reasonable expectation, that he had focus personally on each individual? Would this be possible due to God's being unbound by time and space?

4) Billions of non believers pray to various false deities, whether aloud or silent. Are their prayers heard by God, or simply vain quasi spiritual babblings vanishing into the ether?

I hope I have not tied too many unrelated questions together, but this question of prayer has confounded me for years, even as other questions of faith and apologetics have been satisfyingly answered and clarified.

Thank you,

Mike

- country not specified

Thanks, Mike! In answer to your questions:

1. Don’t discount those references in the Psalms (e.g., Ps 139.4)! And reflect on Jesus’ words: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matt 6.7). Notice that Jesus says this specifically in response to the pagans who think that they will be heard because of their many words.

2. There’s no promise in Scripture and, hence, no reason to expect that we ought to experience inner messages from God such as you describe.

3. You should reflect more deeply on God’s omniscience. As a British journalist recently quipped, God is not some sort of chap up there. We’re talking about an infinite intelligence who knows all propositional truth.

4. God “hears” non-believers’ prayers in the sense that He knows about them, but He hasn’t promised to “hear” them in the sense of giving heed to them.

Question 3:

Dear Mr. Craig

I want to begin by thanking you and everybody at RF. Through your work and ministy you have opened a whole new world for me.

I am reading (or trying to read) R. Swinburne's The Existence of God. In it he claims that God is logically contingent (see page 79 and 148 of the 2. edition). This would be evident by the fact that the non-existence of God is not logically incoherent and does not involve a contradiction. Swinburne also says that nothing logically contingent can be deduced from that which is logically necessary. God must therefore be thought of as logically contingent. I hope I represent Swinburne's view correctly.

Now, I have always had the impression that logical necessity is a kind of subclass of ontological necessity, so that that which is ontologically necessary is therefore logically neccesary. I can understand why the universe is not an ontologically or logically necessary being. When it did not exist there was nothing that logically necessitated its existence. It can not explain it's own existence or be its own cause. But I have always thought that exactly those attributes of the affect (the universe) inferred the opposite attributes upon its cause (God) and so that the cause would have to be logically necessery. The only sense I can make of God's logical contingency is that if He were so it might mean that His existence must have had some necessery cause, or that there was some principle of some kind that logically necessitated his existence which of course cannot be the case. But couldn't God's own existence, although unexplained, just be its own principle of necessity, so to speak. Isn't that what ontological necessity means?

I am just having a hard time understanding this. How is it that the self-existent, infinte and eternal creator of the universe is a logically contingent being like the universe itself. Since the universe is created and not of the substance/essence of its Creator can it not be so that the universe is logically contingent when its Creator is not. But if Swinburne is right in saying that nothing logically contingent can be deduced from that which is logically necessary why stop there. Does this not amount to saying that nothing finite can be deduced from the infinite?

Sincerely

Gunnar

- country not specified

I agree with you! I think Prof. Swinburne is wrong. One of the reasons that persuaded me that God is broadly logically necessary is that if there are abstract objects like propositions and numbers which exist necessarily, then God must also exist necessarily in order to ground their existence. The same goes for moral values, many of which are plausibly necessary. The Leibnizian cosmological argument also leads to God’s necessary existence. Moreover, as the greatest conceivable being, God must exist in every possible world if that is possible, which it surely is.

My only correction to your statement is that strict logical possibility is narrower than broadly logical (or ontological) possibility. So something may be ontologically impossible even though it doesn’t involve a logical contradiction (e.g., “The Prime Minister is a prime number”). God’s existence is ontologically necessary even though there is no logical contradiction in saying , “God does not exist.”

Question 4:

Dr. Craig,  Thanks for all your good work.  I first saw you two years ago when I was a student in Auckland, NZ.  I arrived to the debate ready to see you get walloped, and when the opposite happened I left as a much more open-minded questioner.  Two years later I am a churchgoer.  Thanks for helping me on my journey.

My question is about the Euthyphro Dilemma.  I've heard it asked, "Is something good because God wills it, or does God will it because it is good?"  I've heard you and other theists respond that it's a false dilemma, and that the correct answer is, "It's God's nature."

But this pushes the question back one step!  Is it good because it's god's nature, or is it God's nature because it's good?  If God were not kind and loving, as Christians say, but just really angry all the time, then wouldn't anger become good, and also a great-making property grounded in God's nature?

I think we all agree that a God who is loving is morally better than a God who is hateful.  But how do we ground a judgment like that?  It seems we cannot ground that judgment in God's nature, because it's God's nature we're talking about in that example!  It seems that kindness, generosity, etc., are great-making properties.  Would they not still be great-making if God did not exist?  If God didn't exist couldn't we try to embody the great-making properties anyway to improve morally?

As I said, I have faith, but this has stuck in my craw.

All the best,

Elliott

- country not specified

Good to hear from you! We loved our trip “down under!”

Notice that the contradictory of “God wills something because it is good” is not “Something is good because God wills it,” but rather “It is not the case that God wills something because it is good.” Those are your true choices, not the false dilemma posed by the Euthyphro objection. I choose the second horn of the dilemma and explicate it by saying “God wills something because He is good.”

There is no further dilemma. The answer to your question is that the values in question are good because they’re God’s nature. Without God there wouldn’t be any objective moral values. To ask, “If God were not kind and loving, but just really angry all the time, then wouldn't anger become good?” is like asking, “If there were a square circle, would its area be the square of one of its sides?” The question is vacuous because it has an impossible antecedent.

Really, the only question to be asked here, is, “Why think that God is the paradigm of goodness rather than some other thing?” and the answer to that question is, “Because God is the greatest conceivable being.” Indeed, the Euthyphro argument itself proves that God is the ground of the good, for if God exists (which the Euthyphro argument allows), the good can’t exist apart from God or be arbitrarily chosen by God, so the only alternative remaining is that the good is God!

Question 5:

According to your theory of time and God, God is timeless without the universe and once He decides to create it He then becomes temporal or in time. Such an advancement, like you suggest, seems to change the nature of God from a timeless entity to one in time. But what would that say about the immutability of God, that He is not subject to change? Isn't that hearsay, going against the rooted doctrine of God's immutability?

eleu

- country not specified

God’s nature doesn’t change when God becomes temporal because being timeless is not, I think, an essential attribute of God and so not part of His nature. What is essential to God is the attribute of being eternal, and that can take the form of either timelessness or omnitemporality. My view does imply that God is not absolutely immutable in that He has, in addition to His essential properties, various contingent properties with respect to which He can change. I find such a view biblical.

Question 6:

Dr. Craig,

I was recently reading your debate with Gerd Ludemann as found in "Jesus Resurrection: Fact or Figment?" My question regards an oft repeated accusation that the New Testament disciples believed that Jesus was to return within their own generation. Ludemann employs this argument in his second rebuttal with the remarks,


"Let me add an element that belongs to that context (the context is the idea of the resurrection and the ascension): Jesus' glorious return from heaven, which, according to Paul would happen within the lifetime of the first-generation Christians. But that return from heaven din't come. And the fact that it still hasn't happened after two thousand years is a very strong argument against it."


You did not get a chance to respond to this in your debate with him (it seems to me to be a red herring anyway in a debate about the historicity of the resurrection), and I was wondering if you could do so now, though a decade has passed since this debate.

In Christ,

Anthony

- country not specified

This is a very difficult and important question, Anthony! I do my best to wrestle honestly with it and to answer it in my Defenders podcasts on Doctrine of the Last Things. I refer you to the discussion there.

Question 7:

Dear Dr. Craig,

My question is regarding determinism and the subsequent lack of free will in human beings.

Theoretically, every event in physics is predictable if you know the initial conditions and scientific rules involved. Thus, could this not also be applied to the activity of the human brain such that every interaction and stimulation is not of our making but simply the result of external factors beyond our control?

Therefore, would this not violate the Christian principle that all human beings have free will considering that we are simply making decisions that the universe decided we were going to make before ever we were born?

Furthermore, to posit that we are more than just brains, isn't that a violation of Occam's Razor?

Regards

Jordan

- country not specified

I’m surprised at your question, Jordan, since it has become commonplace in discussions of determinism to appeal to quantum indeterminacy to show that it’s false that “every event in physics is predictable if you know the initial conditions and scientific rules involved.” Even if indeterminacy is epistemic rather than real, still complete predictability is not possible in physics. That applies to the events of neural firings in the brain, too, as quantum indeterminacy will preclude predictability of such events as well. So while decisions of the will are not random events, still the impossibility of predictability precludes our saying that physics rules out free choices of an immaterial soul connected to the brain.

Positing such a soul would, indeed, be to multiply causes beyond necessity if we had no reason for positing such an immaterial reality. But mind-body dualists do offer reasons in defense of the soul’s reality, such as intentionality (“aboutness”) of mental states, freedom and causal efficacy of the will, and identity of the self over time. See Goetz and Taliaferro’s book Naturalism (Eerdmans, 2008).

Question 8:

One of your arguments is that if God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist; objective moral values do exist, therefore God exists.  I have an agnostic (leaning atheist) friend who believes in objective moral values as well.  He agrees that no matter what humans think or believe, we can't change the fact that we all have common innate values. He believes these values were developed biologically through evolution and that if we had the knowledge to do so, we could look into our DNA and find the root source of these shared values.  All humans share this DNA characteristic...it is part of what makes us human.  Also, in your debate with Antony, she seemed to allude to different philosophical understandings of what "objective" means.  My question has two parts:  How do you define "objective", and why does God have to be the ONLY source of objective moral values...assuming "objective" really just means that we humans didn't invent our values and that we can't change them through what we think or believe?  I hope my question makes sense!  Thank you for your time and ministry!

Dustin

- country not specified

I define objective as “valid and binding independently of human opinion.”

On your friend’s view what is independent of human opinion is the behavior and perhaps beliefs programmed into us by evolution. But that behavior and those beliefs are not valid and binding. If you were to re-wind the film of human evolution and shoot it again, a very different set of beliefs and behavior might have emerged. It would be groundless to say one set is valid and binding while the other one isn’t. Both are just natural facts about the DNA of human primates, and there’s no more moral quality of that than of chimpanzee DNA or orangutan DNA.

What your friend seems to be trying to explain is the origin of our moral beliefs; but that’s not my concern. I want to know if objective moral values exist. And here it seems to me that your friend’s view supports my claim that in the absence of God as a standard for goodness, there are no valid and binding moral values but merely behavior patterns and beliefs ingrained into us by biological and social evolution.

Question 9:

The bible mentioned about servanthood is to be able to handle little things, money and minister to the needy. So is it complusory to serve in the church if you are a church member? Does the church has the authority to assign duty according to their needs and not the member's preference. If I am place in a role which I am not comfortable with not only I serve grudgingly but it also upset me emotionally. Do I still have to obey and submit to authority?

Please help,

Michelle

- country not specified

Michelle, the New Testament teaches that every Christian has been given a spiritual gift by God to be used for building up the local body of Christ, the church. So we have an obligation as Christians to be serving God in the context of our local church. To refuse to attend church or merely to attend and not serve is to shirk our spiritual responsibility to God and to our brothers and sisters. We impair the body of Christ when we refuse to exercise our spiritual gift. So this is a very serious matter.

On the other hand, some churches can be very authoritarian and abuse their power over people. So while we need to cultivate a servant’s heart, we also need to be wary of abuses of power. These can be discerned when a church leader is demanding that you do something which he has no right to demand. If an abuse of authority is taking place and is not corrected, you should leave that church and find another.

If you don’t yet know what your spiritual gift is, I’d encourage you to try serving in various capacities until you find that area of service in which you find that you really experience the joy of the Lord in doing that activity. It’s likely that you’ve then found your area of giftedness.

Question 10:

Hello Dr. Craig,

Why didn't God create a world where everyone would be saved? His omniscience allows him to know, that some people won't be saved, thus their lives will be meaningless, worse they will burn in hell. A non existance with be better for one who will burn in hell for eternity.

I don't say that life should be easy. . . It could be difficult, and salvation could be difficult to reach, but everyone should be saved. . . .

- country not specified

Given human freedom, God may know that such a desirable world is not feasible for Him to create or has other overriding disadvantages (like only a handful of people in it) that make it less preferable. The New Testament assures us that it is God’s desire that every human being be saved, so from the fact that they’re not, I think that we can conclude that human freedom precludes God’s creating a world such as you envision. For much more on this question you may want to take a look at the material on Christian Particularism under Scholarly Articles on this site.