Richard Reads: The Case for Christ – Introduction

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Picture courtesy of Amazon.com

I am going to write this review as I read it.  So, if I make a point or raise an objection that is covered in a later chapter I will correct it at that time.  Let’s start with some preliminary information about the book.

The Case for Christ has 271 pages.  It is divided into three parts: Part 1 “Examining the Record”, Part 2 “Analyzing Jesus”, and Part 3 “Researching the Resurrection”.  There are 14 chapters, an introduction, and a conclusion. It is authored by Lee Strobel.

Overview

Now let’s get started with the introduction. Strobel begins with a story about an incident in which a police officer was shot. The details of the incident are not relevant to the review. Basically, all the evidence pointed to the guilt of the defendant. After the conclusion of the trial Strobel gets a call from one of his informants who gives him a different theory of the incident which pointed to the innocence of the defendant.

Strobel looks at the evidence again in light of the new theory. This eventually led to an overturned conviction.

Strobel relates this reexamination of evidence to his “spiritual journey” (pg 13). Then he tells about how he was a skeptic and an atheist. This began to change after his wife converts to Christianity. It is her conversion that leads Strobel to reexamine the evidence surrounding Christ.

Finally Strobel asks the reader to put him/ her self in the position of a juror. On page 15 Strobel is discussing the requirements of a juror and in that context he writes:

“You would be urged to thoughtfully consider the credibility of the witnesses, carefully sift the testimony, and rigorously subject the evidence to your common sense and logic. I’m asking you to do the same thing while reading this book.”

I completely agree with Strobel’s quote and that’s what I intend to do with these reviews.

Analysis

I must say that Strobel is very good at telling a story. I wish I had his writing ability.

Strobel gives a couple of lessons that this case taught him. On page 12 he writes:

“One of the most obvious lessons was that evidence can be aligned to point in more than one direction.”

I actually agree with him on this point. That is why the scientific method is so powerful. The scientific method isn’t powerful because you have to prove your hypothesis, but your hypothesis must withstand falsification.

That is what occurred in this case. The prosecution provided evidence to support their hypothesis of the defendant’s guilt. Then new evidence and a different hypothesis was presented which falsified the original hypothesis.

Can the claims of Christianity withstand falsification? Will Christians consider other hypotheses?

On pages 12-13 Strobel writes:

“Looking through those lenses, all the original evidence seemed to fall neatly into place. Where there had been inconsistencies or gaps, I naively glossed them over. When police told me the case was airtight, I took them at their word and didn’t delve much further.

But when I changed those lenses–trading my biases for an attempt at objectivity–I saw the case in a whole new light. Finally I allowed the evidence to lead me to the truth, regardless of whether it fit my original presuppositions.”

I can completely relate to this “changing of lenses”! Yet my new lenses led me to atheism while Strobel’s led him to Christianity. The world makes more sense to me without wearing my” God-glasses”.

Strobel talks about his life before becoming a Christian. On page 13 he writes:

“Sure, I could see some gaps and inconsistencies, but I had a strong motivation to ignore them: a self-serving and immoral lifestyle that I would be compelled to abandon if I were ever to change my views and become a follower of Jesus.”

I know Strobel is referring to himself in this quote yet I think he throws a cheap shot here. It seems he insinuates that atheists are immoral. It is a common misconception among Christians that atheists really know God exists, but they suppress this knowledge because they want to continue living their immoral lifestyles. This is not the case! Despite what apologists like Strobel will tell you, being a Christian doesn’t make you moral and being an atheist doesn’t make you immoral.

Anyway, the introduction seems fair enough. Let’s see how the rest of the book holds up!

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New Series called Richard Reads

If there’s anyone who actually reads this blog, I apologize for the long time between posts.  I am going to strive to make posts more regularly.  One way I want to do this is with shorter posts and a new series.

I have entitled the series: “Richard Reads”.  I plan to give a basic review of books I am reading.  I am a skeptic, free thinker, atheist, and former fundamentalist Christian preacher.  I do not have a PhD or other credentials. I am a simple man giving my thoughts. So I do not consider these to be wholesale refutations of the subject matter.

During my years in Christianity I only read Christian books which reaffirmed my faith.  I don’t want to be the same way as a free thinker.  I want to challenge myself against the toughest arguments presented by Christian apologists. I will present my thoughts on each chapter as I read the book. I will not read other reviews and will only do research on subjects as necessary to understand the book.

The first book I plan to review isThe Case for Christ by Lee Strobel . I hope you will enjoy it and comment along the way. I want to hear feedback and suggestions from readers.

Failures of the Free Will Defense

    
“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.”
– Isaiah 45:7

This post is a followup to my last post “Evil in Eden”.  In that post I attempted to use an example of evil to raise some challenging questions to Christian theists.  Nobody has answered the questions.  I was essentially presenting what’s known as the “Problem of Evil”. I did this to bring out the theist’s double moral standard.
     The “Problem of Evil” is a philosophical proposition used to point out the contradiction of the existence of evil and the Christian concept of God.  There are several variations of the argument, but I will give the basic argument below:

Premise 1: God exists.
Premise 2: God is omnipotent (all-   powerful)
Premise 3: God is omniscient (all-knowing)
Premise 4: God is omnibenevolent (all-good)

Conclusion: Evil should not exist.

     Let me explain it. If God is omniscient, he knows that evil will occur before it occurs.  If God is omnipotent, he has the power to prevent the evil.  If God is omnibenevolent, he should want evil to be prevented.  Therefore, evil should not occur. I define evil as causing unnecessary suffering or pain.  I find this argument to be valid.  If any one of the premeses is dropped, the argument fails.  This argument causes a dilemma for most Christians.  To eliminate any of the premeses is to destroy their concept of God, but they cannot deny that evil exists. 
    
The purpose of this post is not to argue the “Problem of Evil”, but to examine a common defense given for it. One of the most common responses to the “Problem of Evil” is the Free Will Defense (FWD).

The FWD responds by arguing that it is possible for a God (as described above) and evil to coexist if you take mankind’s free will into account. Free will is generally defined as the ability to choose. More specifically the FWD says in order to be truly free to commit moral good, you must also be free to commit moral evil. Thus God does not violate mankind’s free will and is not responsible for the moral evil of mankind.

There are usually a couple of reasons given by theists as to why God would create the world in this way. One reason is that we would not be able to experience love if we did not have free will. According to this argument, love is not genuine if hate is not an option also. Here is this argument given by Cold Case Christianity. Another line of thought says that God did not want us to be robots because we would not be able to experience happiness. He wants us to be free to choose him.

While the FWD sounds good on the surface (I used to believe it myself), it creates other problems for the theist. I want to note these failures or problems below:

I. The Problem of Heaven
If the FWD holds true, theists who believe in heaven encounter problems. Heaven is supposed to be the ultimate paradise. It is a place of perfect love and happiness completely free of evil. My question is…Will there be free will in heaven? If you answer “Yes” then how can it be that heaven is free of evil? If you answer “No”, then by your own argument, love and happiness cannot exist there. You may say, “We will have free will in heaven, but we will only be able able to choose moral good.”. How does this differ from not having free will? If it is possible for God to create heaven, free of evil, possessing only the possibility to choose good, and the ability to experience perfect love and happiness, why not create the earth in this manner? So, this all-knowing God could have created earth that way, but chose to create it in such a way that evil would exist. This makes him responsible for evil.

II. The Problem of Natural Disasters
Every year there are many natural disasters. These include tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, floods, tsunamis, and earthquakes. Thousands of people die from these events. Homes are destroyed, businesses are ruined. Millions of dollars in damage plus hundreds of hours of clean up. These disasters cause tremendous amounts of pain and suffering. This cannot be attributed to mankind’s free will. You would think that a God as described above would want to prevent such things. Yet, they occur. How do you explain this?

III. The Problem of God’s Free Will
God, as the most supreme being, should possess the highest degree of free will. So, let’s apply the FWD’s logic to God’s free will and some Scriptures.

1 John 4:8
“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”
Here it is said that God is love. So, if God has free will and experiences love then by the logic of the FWD, he has to be able to experience hate as well.

James 1:13
“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:”
The FWD says that an action cannot be considered morally good without the potential to do moral evil. If this is true and “God cannot be tempted with evil” how can he be considered morally good?

In conclusion the FWD may seem to answer the Problem of Evil, but it creates other problems which need resolution. If you think I have misrepresented the FWD or you have a counter-argument, please comment below.

P.S. This is a short YouTube video presenting the FWD as given by philosopher Alvin Plantinga.

Evil In Eden

http://mobi.godanriver.com/godanriver/db_/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=LKGCIXpi&full=true#display

Please take a moment to read the story linked above.  I will give a brief summary here.  

A couple from Eden, NC was arrested in connection to the death of their 17 month old daughter named Toni.  The following is excerpted from the report:

The warrant for Antonio Gwynn said that he restrained the toddler in a car seat for more than 15 hours without food or water.

After 12 hours, he pushed a blanket into the mouth of Toni Gwynn “in order to stop child from crying and thus restricted the airway causing the child’s death,” according to the arrest warrant.

This story makes me sick to my stomach!  As a parent of three myself with one of them being an infant, I cannot fathom how any person could do this to a defenseless child!  Evil is the only word that fits this crime, but even that word is not harsh enough.

I do not want to comment on the parents’ guilt or innocence.  Remember, they are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.   Some facts gathered from the report and arrest warrant are:

1.  A 17 month old child died.

2.  The child (Toni) was strapped in a car seat for an estimated period of 15 hours.

3.  The child is believed to have died of asphyxiation from a blanket being pushed into her mouth.

These facts are just based upon this one report.  I have not seen the evidence myself nor talked to witnesses.  So, I do not claim to know these facts as proof beyond a reasonable doubt about the incident.  But let’s go with them for the sake of this article since a magistrate saw enough probable cause to issue arrest warrants.

Now, I want to give you two hypothetical scenarios.  Each one will have questions that I want you to answer honestly.  Remember your answers and do not read ahead (I know!  Telling some of you not to read ahead has caused you to skip to the end already!).  If you cannot answer the same way to the last set of questions as the first, you are being intellectually dishonest.

1.  Suppose there was a third person involved in this incident.  This person knew the child was being held hostage in a car seat.  This person was also in the room with the child.  He or she was watching as the child suffered.  Not only that, but this person had the ability and power to stop the this incident.  Would you think this person should be held morally accountable?  Would you consider him or her to be a good person?  Would you believe this person loved the child?

2.  Suppose a cop is walking his beat.  He passes a building and turns down a dark alley.  He begins to hear the sound of a woman in distress.  She is yelling for help.  The cop shines his flashlight around and discovers that a man is raping this woman in the alley.  The cop runs up close to the incident and stops.  He tells the woman, “I am here for you.  I will protect you.”  Then he just stands there.  He knows what is happening.  He is present at the incident.  He has the power to stop it.  The rapist finishes his evil deed and flees the scene.  The cop does not give chase.  The cop tells the woman, ” See, I told you I would protect you.  I love you.”  She screams, “You didn’t do anything!  Why didn’t you stop him?”  The cop replies, “I could not violate his free will.”  Would you say this was a good cop?  How would you feel if somebody told you, “You should be thankful to the cop that you made it out alive”?  Did this cop protect her?

I think I know how any reasonable and moral person would answer these questions.  Yet, the Christian God falls into the category of the cop and supposed third person of our scenarios.  According to Christian theology, God is omniscient (all knowing), omnipotent (all powerful), omnipresent (all places), and omnibenevolent (all good).  Then it follows that God was at the house in Eden, NC as this infant was being tortured and suffocated.  He knew that it was happening.  He had the power to stop it.  And since He is all-good, He should want to stop it.  Yet, He did nothing.  Christians, should God be held morally accountable?  Do you still consider Him good?  Did He love her?  There is no difference in God being there and this hypothetical third person.  So, if you answer differently, you have to explain why.  I don’t want you to try to answer these questions to me, but answer truthfully to yourself.

Consider the second scenario.  Even though it is an imaginary scenario, God could be equated with this cop for every rape that has occurred.  Why would a rape victim be told to pray to the person that was present when the incident transpired, but did not do anything?

I know a lot of you are probably upset or saddened to read these challenging questions from me.  These are issues I have struggled with for years.  I used to make excuses and try to make it all work because I wanted to believe.  Finally, I realized that I was not being honest, and my arguments fell short.  I do not imagine that I have changed anyone’s mind with this article, but I hope it will challenge you.  

 

P.S.  I know many of you are probably wanting to bring up the argument of free will.  That God gave humans the ability to choose and God cannot or will not violate man’s free will.  I think this argument fails on many fronts.  I will deal with this argument in my next blog post.

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