God, atheism and…Twitter?

I learned a few things about myself on Twitter last week. No, nothing related to marketing or building an audience. I’m certain I didn’t learn any universal truths about the platform. It all began with an unintentional discussion on Twitter. Here’s what I learned.

(For those who were involved in the discussion, thank you for checking out my comments. If you like, you can skip my general ramblings and go straight to my comments on the discussion below.)

Twitter-based debates are just not for me

I never intended to have a Twitter discussion. But when one of my tweets—usually ignored by everyone—got picked up by a user who bashes Darwinist thought, my Twitter notifications exploded. I tried to at least make a comment on all that came in, but quickly found out that the more comments I made, the more new people wanted to get in on the conversation. This just left Red Herrings strewn everywhere, and made any meaningful discussion that much more difficult. At one point I felt like a bit of chum floating in shark-infested waters. The end result of two sessions over two days left none of us persuaded of the other’s arguments. At least that’s the way it seemed. But I can honestly only speak for myself and the two primary users I was chatting with. And then there was the splitting headache that it all left me with. I’m not sure exactly where to pin that, but it’s not something I want to repeat.

Oh, one other important note I want to add. The person that retweeted me, the one that brought the onslaught of atheists upon me…completely abandoned me. He/she threw me to the proverbial wolves, and I can only suppose that he just watched to see what would happen. So…I hold much more respect for the passionate but civil atheists that engaged me than the creationist who abandoned me. Maybe he doesn’t engage them at all…dunno. Given that some responses were a bit less than civil, maybe I can understand that.

Discussions with atheists online may be a waste of time.

I’d like to think there are professing atheists who want to believe in God, but there is some particular sticking point they can’t get past intellectually. For that type of atheist, I think there is worth in having dialogue. First, they may be willing to see the intellectual dishonesty in saying they know factually, beyond any doubt, that there is no God. (In this sense, it takes some faith to be an atheist.) At the very least, that would let them reposition as an agnostic. And if there is a desire to believe, but just some things in the way, perhaps smarter, more faithful people than I can lead them toward an understanding and a relationship with their Creator.

On the other hand, I fear that many atheists hold their position because they don’t want to believe that there is a God. I can imagine a few reasons they may feel this way, but it’s mere speculation on my part. While my heart goes out to those people, I’m reminded of Yeshua’s (Jesus’) words in Matthew 10 – “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.” Sometimes it’s just best to leave them in God’s hands. He’s the only one that can draw them to him. I certainly can’t.

Combining those two—atheists and Twitter—is a recipe for disaster

Twitter is not a medium that lends itself to explain concepts, especially when someone’s argument is based on faulty information. It seemed most of the arguments I received were of the straw man variety, based on misunderstanding of God’s nature and of the Bible. And with the Red Herrings thrown in, it’s also difficult to stay on one topic long enough to explore each point. Or perhaps that was part of their strategy—bob and weave, keep changing the angle of attack. Maybe…I don’t know. Regardless, 140-character soundbite-like messages just can’t easily unpack layers of misunderstanding.

There’s also this feeling that if you back out of the conversation, you’re somehow conceding to their arguments…that you’re saying, “I just can’t defend my position, so I’m going to surrender.” That notion certainly kept me there longer than I wanted. To be fair, I must mention that the other party in my main conversation was good enough to let me bow out without being haughty or condescending.

I still haven’t heard any arguments that shake my faith in God

The arguments they left me with had the ring of falsehood, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on their error initially. That’s partly just my makeup. In real-time exchanges, I’ve always found that 10 minutes afterward I would think of the perfect thing to say. I guess that’s why I prefer writing, prepared speeches, etc. I’m definitely not one for the debate club.


 

Anyway, I’d like to devote the rest of this post to addressing their main arguments. I use pseudonyms for brevity, and link to their Twitter profiles with their permission.

During a conversation—which started on a misunderstanding of God’s view of (and relationship with) humanity with Cooper—I mentioned an “all-knowing/loving God.” Another user, I’ll call him JJ (@DynoJJ), picked up on this phrase. He responded:

“The all omni god is logically impossible. You can’t have all 3.”

I asked him to explain his position and how he can come to that conclusion. He responded with the following diagram, created by another user I’ll call Joe (@Atheist_Eh).

Diagram courtesy of @Atheist_Eh

Diagram courtesy of @Atheist_Eh

 

While we can’t know everything about God’s nature, as it must necessarily be beyond our comprehension (Isaiah 55:8), I know enough through his word to go through the diagram. As I answered ‘Yes’ through the first four, I came to this:

“Did he have the power to make humans in such a way he wouldn’t have regretted?”

Here’s where the diagram falls apart. There’s an important variable missing which, when conveniently ignored, may lead people to believe the diagram is valid. That missing variable is free will.

Note: I realize that there is a larger philosophical discussion surrounding free will. For the sake of staying focused on this present argument and showing that it’s invalid, I am using the simple sense of free will as implied in Joe’s diagram: the ability to do what is considered either morally good or evil.

To ignore free will is to misunderstand the relationship we have with God, as described both in his word and in our experience in life. Simply put, without free will, there can be no real love. The diagram presupposes that because God should have made us “in such a way he wouldn’t have regretted,” (that is, with no free will) but didn’t, that he is an “evil being unworthy of worship.”

I asked JJ, “Would you rather be a mindless puppet, or have the free will to deny the existence of God?”

He side-stepped my question a few times, but as I persisted, he finally came back with, “…it’s debatable.” That’s still a huge dodge because this is really a key point in the discussion. (And perhaps I’m at fault there for not narrowly defining free will, but within the context of our conversation, I assumed it to be clear.) With free will properly recognized as a variable, the diagram completely falls apart in its conclusion. As we couldn’t move past this point on free will, I feared that nothing I could say, no matter how truthful, would be acknowledged…so I closed our discussion.

Afterwards, when I was offline and nursing my headache, Joe chimed in with some explanation, which included this commentary of free will:

Image courtesy of @Atheist_Eh

Image courtesy of @Atheist_Eh

I agree completely with the first sentence. We certainly have a moral imperative in such an incident. (The moral imperative he mentions—he seems to state this as a matter of fact—opens other problems for Joe’s worldview regarding a moral law, but that is another discussion.) But there are problems with his statement, to which I have two responses, one lesser than the other.

The lesser
Even though a moral person would step in to try preventing such an act, the fact is that we often don’t obey that moral imperative. A quick search online will show us plenty of examples of people ignoring crimes in plain view because they just didn’t want to get involved—an act of both proving and exercising their free will, ironically. I’m sure we could even find online video of such incidents. As Joe seems to imply that God should act in the same way we do, he would surely also allow God the same ability to just not get involved. This leaves both me and Joe in a position we don’t want to be…with an amoral God who is no better than we are. Even so, it refutes the soundness of the argument in his diagram to disprove God’s existence, as it recognizes and upholds free will.

Perhaps more important to recognize here is the simple point that we do not see things the same way God sees them, as I referenced earlier in Isaiah. A young child might not understand why they can’t speak to a friendly man in a van at the park, but as adults, we know the inherent dangers that could be lurking. Similarly, as our creator, God understands things that we can’t begin to fathom. Even so, I believe God grieves with us and comforts us when we are the victims of such evil as given in Joe’s statement.

The greater
If Joe’s version of God were to step in to prevent an act of rape, torture or any other act that goes against our moral imperative, where would that leave us? Our free will would only exist insofar as it coincides with the will of God. If we chose to act against God’s will, he would step in and prevent it, thereby robbing us of any will of our own. We would, in effect, have no free will.

Given Joe’s statement, if God meets the moral imperative that we so often ignore ourselves, and will step in to prevent evil, you have to deny the existence of free will. Joe only allows for an evil God like this, one that should step in to prevent evil or else be evil himself. But that denies us of any free will. If we have no free will, we are then by necessity subject to the whims and will of a transcendent being. If we have no free will, then at the very least, there is a God to whom our will bends.

I would think, if Jim and other atheists are intellectually honest, they would agree that we do have free will. Presuming God exists, as Joe says, he has allowed atheists to deny his existence. They are acting of their own accord in doing so, after all.

So if JJ would have answered my question regarding free will, his two options are this:

We have no free will. Okay…then you agree you are subject to the will of something greater than you. The question for you to figure out is what that thing controlling you is, and by necessity, you are actually agnostic. I reject this view personally, but this leaves JJ with a different question he needs to answer. I hope he finds the correct answer and agree that…

We have free will. Okay…at the very least, JJ and Joe have to disavow the arguments used in trying to prove that God cannot be all-knowing/loving, as it is a straw man that doesn’t represent the entirety of the issue.

So…now what?

My hopes in writing this isn’t to “be right” to win debate points. As I said, debate isn’t for me. My hope is that those in the discussion will at least allow for the possibility that there is a God as they consider the other points I’m sure they hold against such a belief. And I hope further that they might one day come to know him. If they’re hell-bent (pun unfortunately intended) on holding their position, despite the outcome of healthy debate, then no amount of discussion on my part will do any good. After all, (in the words of Steve Brown) I’m just one beggar telling another beggar where to find food.

Oh, one other thing I learned through all of this. Despite what you usually find online, civil discourse is possible even when people passionately disagree on matters such as these. I’ve seen nasty remarks from both sides of such arguments. Any professing Christian, in having discussions like this, must remember one of our primary concerns…that we love others as we love ourselves. We can’t possibly show love when we’re venomous to those who disagree with us.

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