Monday, November 3, 2008

Does God Exist? Friel-Barker Debate - Barker Questions

Next came Barker's questions for Friel. Barker's first question was if Friel knew in advance that 9-11 was going to happen and could stop it at no risk to himself, would he do so?

"Of course," Friel said immediately.

"Well," Barker replied, "then you're nicer than God."

Excellent first question from Barker, encapsulating the Problem of Evil. Friel wanted to stop 9-11, but couldn't do so because he's not omniscient nor omnipotent. If God is omniscient and omnipotent but chose not to prevent 9-11, then he's not omni-benevolent and in fact is less benevolent than Friel. But of course, Friel can't agree to that.

"They deserved to die," Friel explained. "God is just, he can do what he pleases, and he is right for doing so because he knows the difference between right and wrong."

This is a stunning admission. 3,000 people were brutally killed on 9-11 because they deserved to die. Friel declares that God deliberately withheld his miraculous power ("he can do what he pleases,") because he wanted them all to die. Why? "Because he knows the difference between right and wrong," Friel explains. Of course, this is a non-answer. According to fundamentalist Christians, everyone knows the difference between right and wrong. After all, it was claiming knowledge of good and evil that got Adam and Eve in trouble in the Garden of Eden, and the Apostle Paul wrote that God's law is written on our hearts so that we are without excuse (Romans 2:15).

So the only difference between God and men is that God can do whatever he wants to us and we can't hold him responsible. And yet, Friel declares that God is "right" for doing so. We see that there is nothing that God can do that Friel would declare to be wrong. Good, bad, or indifferent, if God does something--or not do something, as in the case of 9-11--then we must declare it to be good. This destroys the very concept of good. If everything a being does has to be declared good, then how can we honestly say that being has chosen the right thing to do?

We can't even place blame on the nineteen hijackers because, according to Friel, it was good for their victims to die. Does that mean if any of them survived their attack, we would let them go free? And yet Friel said that if he could, he would have stopped them. But why, if their victims deserved to die and God wouldn't stop them for a good reason? Why would Friel do something that would obviously be counter to the will of God? What does Friel know about right and wrong that God doesn't?

Friel leaps from justifying God's inaction for preventing evil in our world to justifying the existence of Hell. He explains that the victims deserved to die because they were sinful. We all are sinful and have offended an infinite God. Hell is not torture, and it's not punishment, it's reasonable justice. "Are you opposed to jails?" he asks. "Should we just let rapists go free?"

This is absurd. If a man commits a rape, we remove him from society so he won't be a threat. But we don't torture him. We don't set him on fire and keep fanning the flames forever. No one possibly deserves an infinite punishment for a finite crime. By connecting these dots, Friel asserts that the three thousand victims of 9-11 were equivalent to rapists. Yet he doesn't explain why we don't punish these people for their rape ahead of time.

But it's not just rapists and murderers. According to Friel, "all liars will have their place in the Lake of Fire because his goodness demands it." Friel paints his God as a pagan barbaric totalitarian who is only appeased by sacrifice, be it animal or human.

Sometime in the next few minutes, someone, somewhere is going to be brutally murdered, and God won't stop it. Friel will state that that's okay. That person deserved to be murdered because he's so sinful--he's offended an infinite God so no punishment is too much to satisfy him. This is the logical conclusion of Friel's Calvinism and it is an offensive barbarism to me.

Barker, however, failed to highlight any of these natural points. Perhaps he felt that Friel had hung himself with his own rope. Barker missed a wonderful opportunity to expose Friel's contradictory and cruel views about good and evil by focusing on failed prayer. He asked Friel if he would at least admit that "most" of the victims of 9-11 were Christians who had prayed for God's protection and that their prayers failed. Friel refused to take the bait.

"There are three answer God gives," Friel explained. "Yes, No, Something Else." This is the standard answer to the problem of Unanswered Prayer--define any result as an answer. Barker missed another opportunity to highlight the absurdity of this position. A person praying will get the same three results if he makes his prayers to Mount Rushmore. Friel justifies his response by appealing to mystery, claiming that what looks like a bad thing to us is just because of our limited perspective. God sees the whole picture, and can decide that even if we suffer (say, be brutally murdered?) the end result is a good thing. Again, God can do whatever he wants to us, and we have no right to complain because he's smarter than us.

Friel distracts Barker by accusing him of once being a false Christian, deceived by "the modern gospel." This is, of course, a pointless ad hominem attack against Barker. The apostle Paul wrote that "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Barker did both repeatedly for years. He confessed, he believed, and he was a Christian. Nothing else. There's no qualifier that you have to believe until you die or else it wasn't real. This is shifting the goalposts, equivalent to saying that any married couple that gets divorced must not have really been in love to begin with, on the false theory that people in love never get divorced.

If we take Friel's argument to it's logical extreme, then Friel is not a Christian either. Years ago, both Friel and Barker claimed to be Christians. Barker deconverted, and now Friel declares that Barker wasn't really a Christian. Therefore, no one can really be called a Christian unless they live their entire life without deconverting. Since Friel is still alive, he may deconvert from Christianity sometime in the future. Until he dies without deconverting, we can't honestly call him a Christian. Barker said the same thing: "If I wasn't a real Christian, then no one is."

Of course, Friel would vehemently deny that he's not a Christian, suggesting that once again that he holds himself as the Absolute Standard. He's a Christian, and he decides who is and is not a Christian.

Barker continued the questioning about evil, further highlighting Friel's odd views: "Why did God create evil?"

At first, Friel understood that Barker was quoting Isaiah 45:7: "I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things." But he denied that was the true meaning of the verse by illustrating that since cold is the absence of heat and darkness is the absence of light, therefore evil is merely the absence of good, so God can't be considered to have actually created a thing called evil. Barker countered that the Hebrew word for create was the same as what was used in Genesis when God created the earth. Friel relented by quickly agreeing that it was the same word.

So with that admission, Friel announced that God created evil. He went on to state that the fact that God created evil didn't bother him. We might see a situation (loss of a job, death of a child, etc) and call it a bad thing, Friel explained, but God says, 'I'm just, I'm righteous, I'm in control' and God causes that evil to happen for his eternal glory. Ultimately, he continues, it doesn't matter if there is evil in this world because after a future judgement day, there will be a healing and no more evil.

Again, this paints a horrible picture of Friel's God. God allows evil in the world--he created it to begin with--and if we suffer that's okay because God will look good sometime in the distant future when he fixes it. This would be akin to a doctor releasing a virus that he developed into a city, causing death and suffering to countless people, all for the purpose of receiving praise and accolades when he later distributes the vaccine. We would have no words strong enough to condemn anyone who did such a thing, but for God we are asked to call him just and righteous.

This is the description that Friel gave of God. Very few Christians that I know of would agree with this barbarism, but its the God that Friel preached, and there was healthy applause from the audience after making these claims.

I was very disappointed, therefore, when Barker let this opportunity go by unchallenged. Friel's answer to the question, "Why did God create evil," was "Because he'll get the credit for fixing it." Barker decided, however, to move into more philisophical realms by asking a question about falsifiablity. After much stumbling--which must have been slightly embarassing for Barker . . . Friel felt badly enough for him he actually had to help Barker phrase the question--Barker asked, "Which statement, if true, would falsify your hypothesis (that God exists)?"

After some more confusion between the two parties, Friel finally settled on the statement that if the universe didn't exist, then God does not exist.

"So," Barker clarified, "if nothingness existed, there would be no god."

"It would be a start," Friel replied. "God's proof is creation. We're here, so we had to come from somewhere."

Here Barker lost another perfect opportunity. If Friel is correct, then he would have to admit that before the universe existed God did not exist, and if God did not exist then he could not have created the universe. The universe exists, therefore God could not have created it.

But Barker didn't point that out. When Friel said the universe had to come from somewhere, Barker merely asked, "Why?" All this did was allow Friel to set Barker up as an anal post-modern philosopher, asking such questions as 'How do we know we really exist?' A much simpler answer would have been to point out the absurdity of saying the universe had to "come from" somewhere. This implies that there exists a type of warehouse of universe parts, and that God selected the parts he wanted and used them to create the universe. Of course, if the universe came "from" somewhere, then that implies a place and time, which by definition could not exist before the universe existed. Just like we can't travel any further south than the South Pole, the universe can't exist in a time and place before the universe existed. It's a meaningless statement. If the Creationist imagines God existing alone somewhere and then deciding to create a universe and then thinking how to create the universe and then speaking the universe into existence, this implies a sequence of events in time before time existed.

Barker redeemed himself slightly by pointing out that if the universe must have come from somewhere then so must God. Where did God come from?

Friel finished out the debate by explaining that it was a fair question. However, according to Friel, if time exists, then something must be eternal because otherwise we could ask who created God, and then who created that God, and who created that God, ad infinitum. This is an excellent point, and I'm not sure why Friel made it because it undermines his very argument. Friel understands the problem of infinite regress, and he solves it by declaring that it doesn't count in his case. He rejects Barker's argument that the universe is eternal by saying the universe had to have been created by someone, but he claims that God doesn't suffer from the same constraint because then we'd have a logical fallacy. He solves the fallacy by declaring the fallacy doesn't exist.


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3 comments:

Rhology said...

OK, then, you have some tasks ahead of you.

1) Provide a justification, on your own personal worldview, for labeling action X as "objectively good" and action Y as "objectively bad".
I'd suggest taking into acct previous discussions I've had on this topic. Here and here.

On the Christian worldview, all actions that God takes are by necessity good. Otherwise, we have no idea what 'good' is.
Prove me wrong by answering this question.

2) Friel's going after Barker's previous beliefs and all that "how do we know you're telling the truth now?" stuff was poor form for debating.
I see the value in it for a personal interaction on the street, but not in a debate.


3) You apparently have no understanding of the standard kalam cosmological argument. Here it is in a nutshell (longer form here)

The universe is not infinitely old. The universe is therefore contingent, it began to exist.
But nothing comes from nothing. Matter and energy started to exist.
What could have started it? Some intelligent, volitional, powerful being outside of space and time would have had to create it.
This being is not contingent, but necessary, and as outside of time solves the problem of infinite regress. The naturalistic position, however, falls headlong into the problem of infinite regress.
Hopefully you can engage the actual argument now.

Tommy Holland. said...

On the Christian worldview, all actions that God takes are by necessity good. Otherwise, we have no idea what 'good' is.

This is a nice summmary of the Euthyphro dilemma, first offered by Socrates: Is something good because God does it, or does God do something because it's good?

If something is good merely because God does it, then 'good' is arbitrary to whatever God might decide to do. This is why some say that it's 'good' for God to commit genocide--after all, he's God, isn't he?

On the other hand, if God does something because it's good, then God is adhering to a standard outside of himself--and since we can adhere to the same standard, God becomes unnecessary in determing what is good.

Friel's going after Barker's previous beliefs and all that "how do we know you're telling the truth now?" stuff was poor form for debating.
I see the value in it for a personal interaction on the street, but not in a debate.


I'm glad we agree. Barker later engaged in ad hominem attacks as I'll talk about in a later post. I was disappointed in the behavior of both participants.

The universe is not infinitely old. The universe is therefore contingent, it began to exist.
But nothing comes from nothing. Matter and energy started to exist.


One problem that I see here. Matter and energy are components of the universe. It is incorrect to describe characteristics of components of the universe and then apply those same characteristics to the universe itself.

For example, consider the following argument:

1. The human race consists of humans.
2. All humans have a mother.
3. Therefore, the human race has a mother.

We cannot apply the same characteristic (a mother) of the components (every human) to the entire set (humanity.) That's why its incorrect to say that because every component of the universe has a cause, then the universe itself must have a cause. Likewise, I can take a measuring stick and measure every component of the universe--a human, a mountain, a galaxy cluster--but I can't measure the universe itself. There's no arbitrary starting point of the universe where I could begin to measure nor ending point to stop.

As I said in my post, if we insist that there must have been a time when there was no universe and then God created it, then we are sneaking in time when time has not yet begun. And if we insist that the universe must have 'come from somewhere' then we are sneaking in space when space does not exist.

To say that God exists outside of time is incoherent and allows us to state illogical conundrums such as, "God created the universe" and "The universe created God." After all, if both God and the universe are outside of time, then who's to say which came first?

Rhology said...

No, you don't understand the Euthyphro dilemma.
My position avoids it altogether; God's very character defines good. Therefore, what He is and does is the definition of good. Good is not sthg extrinsic to Him.

I notice that you didn't even attempt to ground or explain how you can know good and bad in your own worldview. Are you going to dance around that question every time I ask it, or will I only have to repeat the question a few times? Yours is not the automatic, default position, you know. You have to argue FOR it.

It is incorrect to describe characteristics of components of the universe and then apply those same characteristics to the universe itself.

This says a whole lot of nothing. The universe is composed of matter, energy, and space. Whence did they come?

For example, consider the following argument:

1. The human race consists of humans.
2. All humans have a mother.
3. Therefore, the human race has a mother.


Sounds good to me.
You, OTOH, didn't give an argument as to why this doesn't work out, but more importantly, you have no idea whether it's true or false. As a naturalist (as I assume you are), you'd need to be able to observe whether that's true or false, but absent a time machine, you can't.
Me, I ask the God who was there when it happened, and in fact there is one mother - Eve.


We cannot apply the same characteristic (a mother) of the components (every human) to the entire set (humanity.)

Why not? Whom do you know that didn't have a mother?
Or are you just speculating again on things that you can't observe and haven't observed, but which are crucial to your worldview to believe? That's called blind faith, you know.


That's why its incorrect to say that because every component of the universe has a cause, then the universe itself must have a cause.

I'll grant that just for the sake of argument.
The universe is not infinitely old. How did it start?


There's no arbitrary starting point of the universe where I could begin to measure nor ending point to stop.

The first part of this statement begs the very question at hand. How do you know this? Sounds like YOU have fallen into the infinite regress, a few lines after accusing Friel of the same.
The 2nd part is a complete guess on your part.


then we are sneaking in time when time has not yet begun

1) Dealt with in the linked-to section I already provided. I guess you didn't bother to read it.
2) this goes against the thing you were just saying about the components of the universe. Make up your mind and stick with the one argument.
3) In reality, yes, there was no "time" before time was created, chronologically. Logically, however, there was. Time is contingent, as I explained. It requires a cause.


To say that God exists outside of time is incoherent

what is your argument?


if both God and the universe are outside of time, then who's to say which came first?

The universe isn't outside of time. Neither you nor I believe that. Why even bring it up?