Thursday, January 3, 2013

My Question To William Lane Craig On God's Justice Part 2: My Analysis Of His Response

This is part 2 of my question about god's justice to Dr. William Lane Craig where I will analyze his response, so if you haven't read the question, please go here to read part 1. Dr. Craig did take the time and care to give me a pretty thorough response and I have to say I am quite pleased with it. I still have some disagreements of course with the overall concept behind the god of Christianity and justice so let me analyze his response regarding what I disagree with.

1. First, in his initial analysis of my question, Dr. Craig says I fundamentally misunderstand the Christian faith. He says getting into heaven or hell is not the result of the goodness or evil of our actions, rather it is by god's grace, and that nothing we can do merits salvation. He says, "Standing before a holy God of absolute and uncompromising justice, every one of us would be undone....But justice pure and simple would entail the condemnation of every morally responsible human being."

OK, right off the bat I disagree with Dr. Craig here on the idea that we all deserve hell by default and this is actually going to form the central disagreement between us. I do not agree with the masochistic Christian notion that all of us, perhaps even children, deserve eternal conscious torment from our very nature as human beings. Hell is not a natural consequence of anything, its existence is not essential to anything; it is designed by god, who could have instead designed numerous alternatives. So the foundation of Dr. Craig's argument is one I think has no rational justification.

Dr. Craig would of course disagree. He says, "We do deserve to die. That is perfect justice. If God saves any, that is a manifestation of mercy." Well the naturalistic concept of death perhaps differs from Christianity's. Under naturalism, death is a necessary component of life because if living things did not die, the Earth would soon be overpopulated by immortal creatures who would plunder all its resources. I have no problem with death, as I see it not as a matter of justice, but rather physical necessity. But, I do have a problem with the eternal conscious torment of hell as I find it extremely cruel and unnecessarily harmful.

2. A bit later Dr. Craig adds, "So the problem is not really a problem of justice. Rather it’s a problem of love....[god] wants to save as many persons as He can." But Dr. Craig explains the dilemma god is in, being both perfectly just and loving. He says god's justice would condemn everyone to hell, but his love would give everyone mercy and forgiveness. God's solution to this dilemma, Craig explains, is Jesus Christ. It is through Jesus that that the punishment we deserve is given and so we can be scapegoated into heaven. He says, "Jesus the fulfillment of God’s mercy and justice. They meet at the cross: the holiness and the love of God. At the cross we see the justice of God, as Christ bears the punishment for sin that we deserved. But we also see God’s love, as He in the second person of the Trinity voluntarily lays down His life for us."

Now it is amazing how fondly Dr. Craig speaks of Christ. Reading his response I can almost see the tears in his eyes building up as he wrote it. Here I find more to disagree with him about. First, if god truly wanted to save as many persons as he can why would he force us to believe in him on such bad and inadequate evidence? Second, I have my own reservations of the vicarious redemption of Jesus. Not only would such a system allow a serial killer like Jeffrey Dahmer to be rewarded while his victims are punished, it would absolve anyone of their personal responsibility by placing all their punishment on a single human sacrifice. A gross perversion of justice if there ever was one.

3. Now he takes the case of Jeffrey Dahmer head on. Dr. Craig says "Perfect justice would have condemned that man to eternal perdition. But God loves him and wants to save him...Now what kind of God would it be who refuses his sincere cry for forgiveness? Such a God would not be loving and merciful!" I would say that such a god would be justified in punishing Jeffrey Dahmer, even if he repented. Because otherwise you'd also have to believe Adolph Hilter and Joseph Stalin are worthy of forgiveness in lieu of any punishment. To me justice is giving those what they deserve. Jeffrey Dahmer, who was determined to be mentally sane at his trial, deserved to be punished regardless of whether he was sorry. I certainly believe in forgiveness and mercy to a degree, but not the total surrender of one's deserved punishment through the scapegoating of a human sacrifice. The central tenet of Christianity, the vicarious redemption of Jesus, is I think one of its most disturbing aspects. Imagine the irrationality of being able to steal, rape and kill your way through life, and getting the same punishment as someone who humbly served those in need all their life.

For Jeffrey's victims, Dr. Craig says they were all as deserving of hell as Jeffrey was, irrespective of whether Jeffrey had committed any of his crimes or they had been his victims. The plight of Jeffrey's victims, according to Craig, has no merit over whether they are sent to hell or not. This goes back to the Christian belief that we are all deserving of hell by default, the crux of Dr. Craig's response, which I passionately disagree with.

One can think of many other past atrocities much worse than that which Jeffrey Dahmer's victims had to endure, where the same perversion of justice applies: the Nazi holocaust and the Spanish Inquisition of the New World, to name a few. The perpetrators of those crimes against humanity may have been rewarded by god in the hereafter, while their victims were sent to an even worse fate than the one they experienced in this world.

4. Now Dr. Craig turns to what he thinks might really be bothering me about this scenario: that god chose to create a possible world in which such a scenario could exist rather than one where it couldn't. He challenges me by asking, "What you’d have to show is that there is some other world of free agents feasible for God in which as much good, including people’s salvation, is achieved as in this world but without scenarios such as the one you envision."

Well such a world would, as Dr. Craig later says be one that is the result of lots of conjecture. But taking his question head on, I could imagine a world with free agents who are judged by a god solely by their actions, and not whether they believe certain holy books over others, and who receive their salvation by acts of goodness. The Jeffrey Dahmer scenario would not occur in such a universe.

But truthfully, I have never had much faith in the idea of eternal reward or punishment, or that there is such thing as perfect justice. Any such system is bound to have an unbalanced approach. Perfect justice would have to take into consideration one's genetic predispositions towards certain behaviors, one's environment where they were raised in, and a multitude of other circumstances that affect their moral decision making process. The version of god found in Dr. Craig's Protestantism is thoroughly unconcerned with these variables when it comes to his judgement.

5. Dr. Craig then takes some of my questions head on. I ask him:

How can the scenario above be, not only the work of a "perfect" and "all-loving" deity, but an example of perfect justice that could not possibly be improved upon by any generation of humans, past, present, or future?

He responds in part by saying "You seem to think that the scenario you describe is unilaterally brought about by God. I disagree...No one says that this is an example of perfect justice unimprovable by any generation of human beings. It would be easy to improve on this situation by all the persons’ freely turning to God for salvation."

Here Dr. Craig misses the point. It is not the actions of the victims that I have a problem with, it is this system of divine justice itself that is the problem. The outcome of the scenario in my question is unilaterally brought upon by god because it is god that designed hell and determined it should be everyone's fate by default. As I mentioned earlier, hell is not a natural consequence of anything, it is made and designed by god, and its existence is not essential to have justice.

His idea that the simple act of turning to god would solve all the problems in this scenario is problematic for me too. Let me use an analogy to explain why. Imagine if the Nazis during WW2 had granted mercy only to those Jews who accepted Adolph Hitler as their supreme ruler, and those that didn't went to the death camps. Under this scenario, the holocaust technically could have been averted if every Jew accepted Adolph Hitler. This sick idea of justice is paralleled by Dr. Craig when he tries to justify god's "mercy". But if the Nazis had simply not determined that every Jew is worthy of the death camps by default of their ethnicity, that could have also averted the holocaust. However, during my discussions with Christians I have learned to understand that the masochistic Christian mentality exemplified by people like Dr. Craig, can never accept the idea that all of humanity is not worthy of eternal suffering by default. Believing that we are all deserving of hell is actually a necessary component of Christian dogma because it justifies Jesus' atonement.

6. He then asks himself my question, "Do I truly agree with a notion of justice that would allow a sadistic serial killer off scott-free of divine punishment, when his victims, who pleaded for their lives and were killed without mercy, are now being tortured even worse, while all their cries for mercy go unanswered for all eternity?"

Dr. Craig responds by enthusiastically affirming that yes indeed he is perfectly fine with this version of "justice". True to his Christian roots, he tries to rationalize away the problem at the core of my scenario, by adhering to the belief that we all deserve hell by default, and that we are only saved by acts of mercy from god and that any punishment we deserve was prepaid for by Jesus' sacrifice.

Other Christians I asked this question to have given me similar responses but not in this much detail. I can surely understand how a committed Christian could accept the response given by Dr. Craig. There is no rational justification in believing that a world where all human beings (with the possible exception of the very young and the unborn) are all collectively deserving of eternal suffering and damnation by default due to their species membership. There is no reason why things must be this way because there are so many alternative possible worlds that require much less unnecessary misery to be endured which still allow for humans acting as free agents.

Final Thoughts

Justice is synonymous with fairness. Dr. Craig thinks he's solved the apparent unfairness of my scenario by arguing that having us all being deserving of hell is fair. But rationally, all that does is throw another monkey wrench into an already complex problem because we are then forced to discuss the rational basis why all humans are deserving of hell. Neither of us had time to discuss this and because of that Dr. Craig near the end of his response assumed that I do not refute the default punishment of hell. But I do, and this is the main problem I have with this notion of Christian justice. Unfortunately, given the format of this question and answer scenario, I was unable to cover all my bases and I failed to mention in my question that I disagree with the idea of hell by default. These kind of complex issues related to theology and philosophy can never be fully covered in a simple question and answer format.

After hearing Dr. Craig's response I better understand the Christian concept of god's justice, but I still do not agree with it. I have been arguing for years that Christianity is a product of mankind's masochistic imagination, and the response I got from Dr. Craig only confirms this even more. If to be a Christian requires one to accept the perverted notion of justice that Dr. Craig and other Christians have argued for, whereby we all are worthy of eternal suffering, then I want nothing to do with it. I cannot accept the idea that every human being is worthy of never ending suffering and torture. Such a masochistic concept is a perversion of justice and fairness, and no doubt in my mind the product of men suffering from inferiority complexes. I would not want to live in a universe where such is the case, and I have reservations about anyone who does.

Of course I accept that the universe does not have to exist in such a way where it conforms to what I want. I will ultimately have to accept whatever reality has in store for me. Dr. Craig is a clever man who's entire life is spend arguing for and defending Christianity. I don't think he has all the satisfactory answers needed to explain the problems of his faith, but he does a very good job trying. I will give him that.

My problem with Christian justice is both emotional and intellectual as I have outlined in my analysis of Dr. Craig's response. Emotionally, I wouldn't want reward and punishment to depend solely on acceptance of Jesus, in fact I wouldn't want consciousness to exist eternally at all. I'd prefer a system where there is no eternal rewards and punishments, where people are motivated to do good based on knowing it positively benefits those affected by it. Intellectually, believing we all deserve hell has no necessary rational basis since many other alternatives could exist that still allow for human free will, and where salvation could depend on performing acts of goodness towards others. Hell is therefore chosen by god, and a system of justice that sentences all people regardless of their actions to hell is one born out of cruelty. Finally, if how good or bad we behave has no effect on whether we go to heaven or hell, that means a person can knowingly live a life harming others, and still expect to be rewarded eternally. This can be used to justify any level of evil acts from rape to genocide.

Further reading on arguments against god:

The Kalam Cosmological Argument
The Fine Tuning Argument
Objective Morality Without God
Refuting William Lane Craig: "Is Good from God?" A Debate Review
Refuting William Lane Craig: The Moral Argument
The Logically Implausible God
The Logically Implausible God Part 2
God, Time & Creation: More Problems For William Lane Craig
The Ontological Argument: Putting the Absurd Where it Belongs

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