At the always interesting Thinking Christian blog, Tom Gilson does a quick review of part of a new book by the alarmingly short-sighted John Loftus. Personally, I don’t like to give the aforementioned Mr. Loftus any recognition on this blog because he is remarkably uninformed about Christian thought even by atheist standards. (For the remainder of this post, I will treat him like Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter by referencing him as “he-who-shall-not-be-named” in this post, I don't do so because I am afraid of him or his arguments, but only because he tends to ensnare poor agnostics in his web of deceit and should not be given a further platform from which to be heard.) But since Gilson raises his new book in the Thinking Christian blogpost, I have little choice but to mention his name at least at the outset.
In his post, Gilson responds to an argument advanced by he-who-shall-not-be-named in his latest book (which he uncharacteristically sent as a promotional copy to Gilson – something that he wouldn’t do for me when he learned that I would attack the arguments in his first book). The argument advanced is that God is incompetent because “God, if he exists, failed to effectively communicate his will. He failed to provide the sufficient evidence we need to believe.” Gilson, as usual, puts that argument in the trash heap rather quickly. And he does so by correctly pointing to the free will defense. As Gilson points out:
For there is a very long and strong tradition of teaching, both in Christian theology and apologetics, that God created humans to be able freely to love and follow him. Such freedom necessitates the possibility of choosing otherwise.Gilson later adds:
[He-who-shall-not-be-named] wants a God who would coerce all of us by the irresistible power of deity into believing in him, while leaving us free to make our own choice whether to like God or not. Either that or else he wants a God who would force us both to know and to love him. So much for being human.I am writing this post to add one more thought to what Gilson has already so ably written. The thought is this: Even if God discloses Himself to doubters like he-who-shall-not-be-named in all of God’s glory, those who have freewill are not forced to accept Him for who He is. In other words, even if God were to provide full evidence that He exists by absolutely revealing Himself to every man, woman and child on Earth, it does not mean that every man, woman and child on Earth would follow him. I believe that this is the case for two reasons.
Mankind's unending capacity to deny the obvious
First, mankind has an extraordinary ability to deny the obvious. While I know that fiction is fiction, I believe that novels and stories can reveal a lot about the human condition. Thus, when I speak about people denying the obvious, I think of Charles Dickens’ great, short classic, A Christmas Carol. The story is so familiar it hardly seems necessary to detail the plot, so I will simply note that in one scene in the first chapter, the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is confronted by the ghost of his ex-partner, Jacob Marley. At first, Scrooge is terrified, but then he begins to reject that he is being visited by a spirit from the dead. Marley and Scrooge then engage in this bit of repartee:
“You don't believe in me," observed the Ghost.Now, I am not suggesting that skepticism isn’t appropriate, but for some people (like he-who-shall-not-be-named) skepticism has become an end and not the means to an end. It is to the point where an Angel could appear at the foot of his bed, blow a trumpet to announce that God was about to enter the scene causing all of the windows in the room to shatter, and he-who-shall-not-be-named would still doubt what he is seeing. In fact, he wouldn’t just doubt what he witnessed with this own eyes, he would treat the Angel's appearance like a magician’s trick that needs to be solved. Skepticism as a means is replaced by skepticism as an end.
“I don't," said Scrooge.
“What evidence would you have of my reality beyond that of your senses?"
“I don't know," said Scrooge.
“Why do you doubt your senses?"
“Because,'' said Scrooge, “a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!''
God's full revelation wouldn't change anything for the unbeliever
Second, the Bible already shows that simply seeing God face to face does not prevent someone from falling into sin. The most readily known example is Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. They walked with God in the garden as you and I might do with a friend, yet they were deceived by the devil (another being who should also be called he-who-shall-not-be-named) into sinning against God. They had come to know God, but due to their desire to be “in charge of their own lives” (effectively to be their own gods – a fault we continue to share these many millennia later), they chose to turn away from the one who had revealed Himself.
He-who-shall-not-be-named may argue that God had not revealed himself “in all of his glory” to Adam and Eve, and possibly cite Exodus 33:22 for the proposition that no one can see God’s face and live. To that point, I respond by pointing to Old Scratch – the aforementioned devil – who demonstrates that one can see God in his full glory and still not love Him or be accepting of His Kingdom. Satan definitely saw God in all of His glory while Satan was one of God’s angels in heaven. But seeing God in all his glory was not enough to Satan. He loved himself more than God, and as a result he fell from high heaven. And he wasn’t alone – he took a third of the heavenly hosts with him. (See, e.g., How Did Lucifer Fall and Become Satan? by Ron Rhodes)
Does he-who-shall-not-be-named have a high opinion of himself? Unfortunately, he is like many atheists who believe themselves to be smarter than the rest of us (which is demonstrated easily by their efforts to name themselves “Brights”). Pride, after all, was the cause of the fall of Satan. The desire to have things their own way was the cause of the fall of Adam and Eve. This is the reason that God wants us to love him and not just believe in Him. Even the demons believe, but they perish (James 2:19). It is only those that love Him and accept His gifts who receive salvation. Those that love themselves more than God will spend eternity with themselves rather than with God – that is a natural consequence when self-love is elevated over love of God, and that self-love doesn’t happen because God has not revealed himself fully enough, but because the skeptic foolishly loves himself too much.
No, God has not revealed Himself too little. Billions of people throughout history have responded to the call of the Gospel and recognized that loving God is far better than loving one’s-self based upon the evidence we have been given. The evidence is more than sufficient to any who is truly seeking God rather than seeking to elevate themselves.