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Thread: Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity

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    Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity

    This is part 1 of what will be a long series.

    The link can be found here.

    -----

    What do I think of Bill Zuersher's book published by Xlibris US? Let's plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

    So while browsing Facebook, I'd regularly see this book offered on the side. I first went to the library site here and didn't find it, but then I looked again one day to see if it was there for Kindle. $3.99? That's not too bad. I decided that since this book was being advertised, maybe others were getting it so I'd better read it.

    Whoever is behind advertising for this book either needs to learn about what is worth advertising, or else they're a Christian and want to advertise how bad a book arguing against Christianity is.

    I'm going through it still and it's a labor of love to do this. There are so many things wrong with this book that one entry will not be sufficient. Therefore, I'm going to go through piece by piece. The book starts with the beliefs Christians hold to and then the second part looks at the evidence.

    The first belief is about the world being created by a good and loving God. That is accurate. We believe that. Then it immediately leaps into the problem of evil. Now don't get me wrong here. The problem of evil is something that really should be addressed. There is a problem in looking at it when you only look at the problem and don't look at the counter-arguments.

    Yesterday was a fun day for our cat. It was his time for his yearly check-up at the vet. So what happens? We take our cat sleeping peacefully on our bed, pick him up and force him in a carrier and lock it up, take him across town to a strange place where people will hold him and look at his ears and teeth and put needles in him and cut his nails.

    If our cat were a philosopher, he would have been looking at this and saying that this is an example of great evil. If these people really loved me, they would not be doing this. They would realize it is better for me to be sleeping on the bed. How can people who really love me do this?

    In fact, if you didn't know about our culture and how we treat our cats and heard that we had done this, you would likely think we were abusive pet owners. Most of us know better. Most of us know we did this for little Shiro because we do love him immensely and want him to be healthy.

    That's one thing that has to be said about evil. We come from a limited perspective by definition. Even if you're an atheist, your perspective is limited because you don't know the whole story. I'm happy to admit there are things I don't know. The problem with the problem of evil is that I have to act like I know things I don't know for it. For instance, I have to know that any evil that takes place is pointless and meaningless. This is something that cannot be known.

    The solution also doesn't make sense. Get rid of God. Okay. The evil is still there. The problem is still right there. If anything, all that has been eliminated is the only hope of ever truly resolving the problem, unless atheists think they can re-engineer the planet so that lions no longer eat gazelles and plants no longer have to die. Good luck with that one.

    Another problem is that if Zuersher wants to argue the logical problem of evil, well even a number of atheist philosophers admit that that has been answered. As Mackie says in The Miracle of Theism.

    Since this defense is formally [that is, logically] possible, and its principle involves no real abandonment of our ordinary view of the opposition between good and evil, we can concede that the problem of evil does not, after all, show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another. But whether this offers a real solution of the problem is another question. (Mackie 1982, p. 154)
    Note that last part. This is a possible solution. It does not mean that it is the true solution. The point is that if there is a way the two can exist together, then it is not a contradiction. Mackie is not alone in this. What is usually argued more is the emotional problem of evil.

    Zuersher also says that we would expect a human being to mitigate evil whenever he could and if he had superpowers, we would expect success. Why don't we see it when we have a God even greater than a superhero? It's worth noting that his source for this argument is the prominent polyamorous internet blogger Richard Carrier.

    Again, the problem is how does Zuersher know which suffering is pointless and which isn't? Most of us know that if you try to remove all suffering from someone's life, that that person will not lead a good life really. Most of our greatest lessons we have learned in life have come through suffering.

    Zuersher also says about the free will defense that if a deity can make a world where people will have free will and not do wrong, why not make that world? He is of course talking about the Christian concept of the afterdeath. I really don't understand this argument because it seems so simple. Who is it that's going to enjoy the loving presence of God then? It's those who chose it. No one is forced to be in that place. Everyone who is there will be there BECAUSE of free-will.

    The final defense he speaks of is the retreat to the possible with not knowing the reasons. It must be admitted though that if we're dealing with a deity, then no, we don't know the reasons. We don't know the end from the beginning. Zuersher can say that we don't know it so it doesn't work, but the problem is the shoe is on the other foot. For Zuersher's case to work he has to know that there is no good reason. It is his claim. It is his argument. If he cannot back that argument, then it fails. If it doesn't work for the defense to say there is possibly a good reason, then it doesn't work for the offense to say there is possibly no good reason. You can't say possibles don't make arguments and then use one yourself.

    He also says animals do not participate in the next life, but this is an open question. In fact, Dan Story has recently written a great book arguing that indeed animals will be in the afterdeath. This isn't a hill I'm willing to die on, but it's an important question anyway.

    Finally, the great fault of this is that Zuersher only looks at one side of the story. (We'll see this throughout the book. He regularly cites critics of Christianity but hardly ever cites the opposite side all the while telling us constantly what apologists argue.) I on my side have a number of positive arguments for theism. Do I need to answer evil? Yes. Just as much Zuersher needs to answer the Thomistic arguments that I use. He never bothers. No theistic arguments are mentioned whatsoever. It is what I call the sound of one-hand clapping.

    Evil is a big subject and that's the first chapter and a very brief one. Zuersher will regularly give just a picture and a paragraph. Hopefully next time we'll be able to cover more than one chapter.

  2. Amen LostSheep, Christianbookworm amen'd this post.
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    Part 2 on Adam and Eve and original sin.

    The link can be found here.

    ------

    What are we to think of the Fall and Original Sin? Let's plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

    I'm almost done reading this book in the entirety. This is another book that I have to say that each page is better than the next. Zuersher follows in the great tradition of atheists writing books where they do not do sufficient research on a topic and stick to only their side for information.

    Chapter two is about the Fall. After giving the account of what happens in a paragraph, Zuersher switches to the problems with it. First off, he says that there is no reason to believe the story is historically accurate. Well, I'm glad we got that out of the way! Just imagine all the time we could have wasted reading Old Testament scholarship. You could actually read such scholars who believe in a historical Adam and Eve and find out why they could but, nah, it's easier to just make the assertion. Color me unconvinced.

    Zuersher's biggest difficulties are moral difficulties with the story. The first for him is why would a creator withhold knowledge of good and evil from humans? Isn't this the basis of morality? Unfortuantely, Zuersher doesn't recognzie that this is a Hebrew merism. This would be like saying North and South, East and West, Heaven and Earth. One lists two contrasting things in order to show all things in between them. This is not about knowledge so much as it is about wisdom.

    There also is no problem with humans having wisdom. The question was "On whose terms were they going to have that wisdom?" The act of violating the covenant is a way of trying to usurp the giver and take His place.

    So why place this tree in the garden? Zuersher says all manner of animals would eat this fruit. Would they gain the knowledge but humans wouldn't? Of course, this assumes that the covenant was the same for animals and such a fruit would act the same way. No doubt, this is what he thinks since Zuersher refers to this as a magical fruit. (It's really cute how atheists use the term magic over and over as if sticking that label on something automatically denigrates it. It's like the word "magic" is magical for them.)

    Zuersher also says that if the story is accurate, since Adam and Eve did not have knowledge of good and evil, they would not know that eating the fruit was wrong. This again is Zuersher not understanding the merism. Adam and Eve would have had basic knowledge of right and wrong.

    He then asks why they were endowed with a nature incapable of meeting His standards. Who says they were? Adam and Eve did not have the fruit forced down their throats. They willingly chose. Zuersher strikes me as someone who says something like "There's something I don't understand about this" or "I wouldn't have done it this way" and then concludes the whole thing is false. Unfortunately, in any worldview, there are going to be areas that are not fully understood and questions. One has to look at the major themes at the center. Raising a question alone is not a defeater.

    We move on to original sin. Now I have no hard line on this one. Normally when people present Adam and Eve as a problem for Jesus, it doesn't mean a thing to me. We're told that if there was no Adam and Eve, there was no original sin and then Jesus didn't have to die for sin. I just tell people to turn on the evening news. Even if original sin is false, there's still plenty of sin to die for.

    Zuersher says it is indispensable, but I would just say sin is what is necessary, and I don't think anyone would deny in some sense what Christians call sin. It would be the rare soul around us who says no human being ever does anything that is morally wrong. Again, turn on the evening news or even better, look in the mirror and try to tell yourself you're a perfect person.

    Zuersher also says the Old Testament God doesn't know about original sin. After all, he flooded the world, but Noah was a sinner too and would still have sin. What we could say the flood is God hitting a reset button at a certain point He thought sin had got so bad.

    Zuersher also thinks a convincing argument is that God thinks humans are capable of living morally since He gives them the Law. How this is a problem is a mystery. It is not as if the doctrine means that no human being is capable of doing good things.

    He thinks that when Jesus came, there was a problem. Why would the divine Son die? Then original sin had to be made up. Of course, this is fascinating since one would think that would be the big emphasis in the New Testament, but the emphasis is more on the Kingdom of God.

    He also goes on to say the only real evidence of original sin is human nature itself. Even if I grant that, that would seem to be sufficient. Chesterton said years ago that if you see boys skinning a cat for fun, then you can either deny original sin or you can deny the objectivity of good and evil. Of course, he also added that some modern theologians have considered it a rational objection to deny the cat.

    In conclusion here, I find Zuersher's arguments unconvincing and again, he interacts with no serious theologians writing today on the topic. Zuersher is another person who seems to think "I have an opinion on the matter. Who needs to read contrary thought?" If one does not read the contrary, it's no wonder what side they will wind up on.

    In Christ,
    Nick Peters

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    What are we to make of the devil?

    The link can be found here.

    ------

    Does the idea of the devil make sense? Let's plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

    The next chapter in Zuersher's book is on the devil. The first question Zuersher asks is why would an omnipotent God need helpers? Again, this falls into the category of "God does something I don't understand. Therefore, He doesn't exist." It also assumes that everything that is done is done out of need. Why should I think that?

    The interesting thing about an atheist giving theological objections like this is you want to ask how it is they did their theology. What criteria did they use? Did they go out and study the best works they could find, or did they just sit down one day and think about things and see what they thought was a hole and ran with it?

    He also says angels don't fit into monotheism. How? Your guess is as good as mine. This is a mistake even Rodney Stark makes in his latest book Why God? It's thought that Jews, Christians, and Muslims aren't true monotheists because we believe in beings like angels, but monotheism means belief in one God. It doesn't exclude other spiritual beings.

    Zuersher also says God could have created angels with a nature more like His own. Who is to say He didn't? He couldn't create them with a nature exactly like His because a created being will always have limitations, such as dependence on another for their existence. Creating a being doesn't mean that God necessitates how that being will behave. That's part of free-will.

    He also says that the snake being the devil creates problems, such as why punish snakes? The answer is simply that the language spoken of the devil in this passage is that of shaming. It's not making a categorical statement about snakes for all time.

    Ironically, he does get something right. He does point out that the word for devil does mean adversary. This means many times what the Old Testament translates as satan could best be read as the adversary. It's sad that the paragraph after this, he ignores the very suggestion he made in order to get at a contradiction he sees.

    This is the account of the census in 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles. In 1 Chronicles, satan is said to be responsible while in 2 Samuel, God is. Who is responsible? My solution is to say that satan refers to an adversary that God allowed to be raised up. David decides this is a good time to count his fighting men in response. Had Zuersher followed the rule in the very prior paragraph, he could have found a solution to what he considers an embarrassing contradiction and passages that are generally avoided.

    The same would apply to Balaam's donkey. The term used to describe the angel is a term that is translated as lesatan. Again, this can refer to an adversary. If you read it like this, the problem vanishes. Balaam is on his way and he encounters someone who opposes him.

    So how did the devil enter into the system to begin with? Zuersher says that during the exile, Jews came into contact with Zoroastrianism and got the devil from them. We would really like to see the hard evidence of this. For someone who doesn't accept oral tradition easily, why accept the claims of what Zoroaster taught when those really come to us from the time AFTER Christianity?

    Finally, some people might want to say who are Chrisitans that the devil is behind works like Zuersher. I would say if so, the devil could find much better argumentation to use. Too many Christians have a tendency to blame the devil for everything and make him quite often on par with YHWH. Unfortunately, such fixation on the devil gives people like Zuersher more ammunition.

    In Christ,
    Nick Peters

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    So a poor argument against Christianity?

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    Ya think?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Apologiaphoenix View Post
    Ya think?
    oops for got to

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    Part 4.

    The link can be found here.

    ----

    What do we do with the atonement? Let's plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

    As we continue through Zuersher's work, we come to a chapter on atonement. Now I'll state this upright. I have not spent much time looking at a lot of theories of the atonement. I have read Wright's recent work on the cross. I think it's an excellent work. Still, I cannot speak as an authority on the atonement, but that could be in some ways an advantage here.*

    You see, the reason I don't see this as a defeater here is this is my situation. I have enough evidence to convince me that God exists. I have enough evidence to convince me of the full deity of Jesus. I have enough evidence to convince me that Jesus rose from the dead physically. I have enough evidence to convince me that Scripture is reliable. Does it make any sense to anyone to say "I'm not fully clear on how atonement works, so therefore I should doubt that Christianity is true."?*

    Of course not. Any area of study will always have some unanswered questions. Consider for instance in science, when we see creatures that seem incredibly advanced. Does this mean every evolutionist will just throw in the towel and abandon the theory wholesale? Not at all, nor would I expect them to. One looks at the primary data they have for a position even if secondary details aren't exactly clear.

    Zuersher*says first that there is disagreement means that this is being made up as we go along. He says that this means we do not have some privileged path to the divine. If by that He means that God is not obligated to answer all of our questions for us, that is entirely correct. If He means that we do not have the way to God in Christ, that would be wrong, but believing we do doesn't mean we have perfect atonement knowledge.

    The next part is one that Zuersher gets so close to the truth of matters, but then He rejects it for theological reasons. Zuersher says that satisfaction says that God's honor must be restored, but if that's true, then God has personality traits unworthy of a morally perfect being. It's truly tragic how close Zuersher gets to good theology but then allows his cultural prejudices and lack of understanding of honor to get in the way.

    To begin with, I don't think it's right to speak of God as a morally perfect being. A morally perfect being is one that does that which they ought to do always. God has no ought. He does not owe anyone anything. God is instead a good being. He is perfect and lacking nothing in Himself.

    So how could God be lacking honor? It's not a lack in Himself. It's rather how God is perceived. There were two kinds of honor in the ancient world. One was one had based on who they were and their lineage and such. God's honor is untouched here. The other is their reputation. How are they perceived in the eyes of others? Here, God's reputation is tied to how He is seen in the eyes of humanity and how we treat Him. We can live lives that honor God or not. Zuersher rejects this without bothering to understand the culture or the theology.

    Third, he says that God could just forgive. After all, we do it. Sure, but we are not the ones that are perfectly good and holy. If God just lets it go, He is saying that our well-being is of greater importance than His goodness. In other words, the good of man outranks the good of God. God is treating sin as no big deal, when every sin is really an act of divine treason.*

    He next says that if Jesus had a fully human nature, then what happened on the cross was murder since it was a human sacrifice. Well, he is right that it is murder. Jesus submitted to the ruling authorities. This is also not the same as suicide. The authorities did not realize what they were doing, but many holy men in Judaism dying would see themselves as dying for the sins of the people.*

    He also says that a willing death does not excuse the executioners. Of course not. Whoever said that it did? They were fully convinced they were doing right. My statement about this has been that either Jesus was the wickedest man who ever lived and the crucifixion was the most just and righteous act of all to stop Him, or He was the most righteous man who ever lived and the crucifixion was the most wicked act of all time.*

    He then goes into the claims of how Jesus was an invalid sacrifice. I recommend the works of Michael Brown here on answering Jewish objections to Jesus. Brown has looked at this a lot more than I have.

    Next, he argues that this was not a real sacrifice since Jesus did not stay dead. One wonders how this is so. Once the offering is given to God, God can do with it what He wants. If He wants to resurrect Jesus, then He can resurrect Jesus. This would be God's vindication on the life and claims of Jesus.

    He also argues that the theory is immoral since it undermines individual responsibility by having someone accept Jesus's sacrifice. On the contrary, it upholds it. When presented with the claims of Christ, one must accept their responsibility for the sins that got Him there.*

    Finally, Zuersher ends with saying that educated men and women hold to atonement thinking today should require no further comment. I instead think that someone can bother to write a book responding to a view without interacting with the best scholarship on it should require no further comment. Sadly, Zuersher does this consistently.

    In Christ,
    Nick Peters

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    I had never heard of the publisher Xlibris. Turns out it's a self publishing company.
    Something is always happening, but when it happens, people don't always see it, or understand it... or accept it.

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    Part 5.

    The link is here.

    -----

    Does Zuersher present a good argument against the Afterdeath? Let's plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

    In the sixth chapter, Zuersher argues against the afterlife. I prefer to call it the afterdeath*because after all, one is still alive in the "afterlife." At any rate, let's go and examine what he says to see if any of it is convincing.

    At the start, he tells us that the true heart of Christianity, like most religions, is that humans are terrified of death. It would be nice to know how he backs this claim. Does he think some Jews who already had a religion were still terrified of death and decided to make a second one on top of that? These people didn't live in fear of death if anything. We do. They saw death around them every day.*

    If Zuersher provides no data, then we have nothing to refute. In fact, we could just as well make our own baseless assertion. "The basis of atheism, as we all know, is to avoid having to serve a holy God." Do I think that's a ridiculous argument to use? Yes. This is the kind of argument Zuersher gives us.

    He tells us that Christians hold to a two-part existence with the body and a magical soul thing. He also says only humans have this soul. I'm not sure where he gets that because many of us if not most of us with a dualist perspective hold that many of the higher animals that are relational to us have souls as well. Again, no one is cited on this whatsoever.*

    It also doesn't work to just say something is magical. It's like atheists live in this world so often where the word magic is magical and if you use it, you automatically refute the notion of whatever it is you're talking about. Has Zuersher looked at the philosophical arguments of dualists? Has he examined the evidence of such events as near-death experiences?

    He also holds to a rather literalist view of the resurrection saying that if an atom belonged to multiple people in a lifetime, who gets it in the end? This assumes that God has to use the exact same atoms. Why think that? This was something the early church wrestled with, but we don't so much today. We just figure God is able to recreate the body.*

    He asks why not issue a new body? He tells us it is because of Jesus. Of course, our resurrection is to be like that of Jesus, but the new refers to quality. There is continuation, and I'd say the soul is the basis of this, but there are similarities as well. 2 Cor. talks about us being a new creation. The newness is in quality. We don't become a Christian and then God literally kills us and makes us a new creation. *

    After this, Zuersher does attempt to argue against souls by pointing to consciousness. He says that the problem is that if you damage the brain, then the functions of the mind are damaged. It never occurs to him apparently that dualists do have their response to this. Mainly, it's that the body is the instrument the soul works through and if the body is damaged, the instrumentality of it by the soul is as well. If a body loses two arms, the soul is not able to magically to reach out and grab something because the tools it would use don't work as well. Similarly with the mind and the brain.

    I leave much more of this to those who have studied in this area. Books like Machuga's In Defense of the Soul or Habermas and Morleand's*Beyond Death*(also called*Immortality) are also recommended. As we can expect, Zuersher has just done armchair philosophy without really looking at the issues and yet still thinks he's knowledgeable enough to write on them.*

    In Christ,
    Nick Peters*

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    Part 6.

    The link can be found here.

    -----

    Is there a problem with revelation? Let's plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

    Christianity is a revealed faith in that some things we know only because God has revealed them to us. In this section, we'll look at Bill Zuersher*try to take on revelation in his train wreck*Seeing Through Christianity. If you've been with us this far, you know to not expect much.

    The first thing he says is one person's revelation is just as valid as another's. At any time a new revelation can show up that will overturn the others. It would have been nice of course to see some substance to this claim. All he says is determining the truth is undeniably a political process. Perhaps he should engage in political processes more often then. 1 Thess. 5 in fact tell us to test everything and hold to what is true and it is done in the context of speaking about prophecy.

    Zuersher also asks why God would allow competing revelations. Once again, apparently Zuersher is too lazy to bother examining the claims and wants to blame his laziness on God and say "You should have clearly answered me." Obviously, something like binge watching*The Walking Dead is of more importance, or at least taking time to write a book without bothering to understand the substance of what one writes about.*

    His other solution is God should have made His revelation overwhelmingly true if He wanted people to come freely. Had Zuersher bothered to look at the evidence, maybe he would have found that. If someone will not look for truth, then they cannot expect to find it.

    He also says God could have come up with a better technique than books. Apparently, we're back to the idea of a fairy on one's shoulder constantly telling them the truth. This would destroy any real seeking of the truth and have one become a Christian just because God is a belligerent nag. Zuersher apparently lives in a world where intellectual assent is the most important thing.

    He also says the Bible hardly seems like a stellar book. He says it should be equally accessible to every culture. While I hold to understanding the original culture, without that understanding, one can still grasp the basic message of the Bible. He says the meaning should be unambiguous. Why? Who knows? He says it should remain unchanged over time. Perhaps some looking at textual criticism would have helped him out. As Bart Ehrman says (And no, it is not Barton Ehrman as Zuersher consistently says):

    In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.
    He also says we would expect consistency. I would argue we do have consistency. The same story is told throughout the Bible of the Kingdom of God coming on Earth based on the ministry of Jesus. He also says it would possess the highest moral and scientific content. While I would say the Bible contains many moral teachings, it also does so starting out from a specific point. A book like*Slaves, Women, Homosexuals would have helped Zuersher out. (Unfortunately, research is something he's not interested in.)

    As for scientific truth, why? Seriously. Why? Are we to think Scripture is concerned with turning us into scientists? Zuersher just takes what he thinks is the most important truth and makes it central.

    Of course, his favorite way to demonstrate the latter is to point to the fact that the Bible says the Earth is 6,000 years old. Naturally, he will acknowledge there are Old-Earth creationists, but he won't bother to look at their arguments. It all comes down to "You're not taking the Bible literally." It's amusing to me where we have this idea that because the Bible is Scripture, it's to be "literal." What we most often mean is literalistic. No one does that. Like any other literature, the Bible contains metaphor, simile, allegory, hyperbole, satire, sarcasm, figures of speech, irony, etc. We can also be sure that Zuersher won't bother with the fine work of John Walton on Genesis 1 nor consider scholarship on the genealogies from which he makes his case.*

    And of course, Zuersher still says the problem is the deity didn't make Himself clear. I would have to ask again clear to who? There are many cultures and times that we know of. Somehow, something was supposed to be clear to every single person ever? This is quite a stretch.*

    Naturally, Zuersher has a whole problem with what he calls the supernatural realm. Readers of this blog know I don't use that term. Zuersher says that if God wanted to make His presence known, He would be successful. He actually says "If such a deity wanted me to know something, I would know it. Period."

    Translation: Since I'm not bothering to do the research and study of a claim, I'm just going to blame my lack of belief on God.*

    How does Zuersher know this about God? How does he know that God's great goal is to get people to give him intellectual assent? From whence does he get this knowledge?

    As we can expect, Zuersher says that if there were sufficient evidence, we would not need faith. I have written on this in another post. Zuersher will go after faith in another chapter so we will save that for then. He also says the fact is that the God of the Bible does not make himself known to billions of sincere seekers.

    I had no idea that atheists were mind readers. This is quite astounding. Somehow, Zuersher knows all these people out there are sincere seekers? People might think they are, but Zuersher is not. Zuersher is one that is demanding that God show Himself on Zuersher's terms. A sincere seeker will move Heaven and Earth to find the truth and will be willing to sacrifice anything he holds dear for it. In fact, few of us who are Christians would qualify at this point as we all still have little idols in our own hearts.*

    Still, Zuersher uses this in the end to make his formal argument. If the Christian God existed, He would make Himself known to sincere seekers. He has not done this. Therefore, He does not exist. Doubtless, Zuersher will discount any who say they were sincere seekers and found Christianity to be true. Zuersher looks to be one who blames his own unbelief on anyone else he can, except the person he sees in the mirror.

    In Christ,
    Nick Peters

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