Sunday 5 February 2012

The Road to Hell

"What About Those Who Have Never Heard the Gospel?"

This is the title of chapter 40 of Dembski & Licona's Evidence for God, and once again it's a chapter that seems to be in the wrong section. I'm currently reading the section titled The Question of Jesus, and this chapter should clearly be in the final section, The Question of the Bible — it is, after all, about the Gospel. True, Michael R. Licona is following on from his previous chapter about whether Jesus is the only path to God, but it nevertheless seems out of place.

That said, this chapter reveals more of the quagmire that Christians stir up for themselves when they insist on taking the Bible as written (or inspired) by the all-powerful creator of the universe. The essence of Licona's thesis here is that there are two types of revelation from God: general revelation and special revelation. (Unbidden, an image of God looking remarkably like Albert Einstein springs to mind.) General revelation is a knowledge of God apparent in Creation (with, naturally, a capital 'C'), and special revelation is a knowledge of God made available through the Gospel. If you reject either of these revelations you're damned to Hell.
According to Romans chapter one, God has made some of his invisible attributes known through the world in which we live. The stars, the sun, the moon, the ocean, and many other wonders of nature were not the work of a bull, a horse, a calf, or a man. These are the products of a cosmic designer of immense intelligence. In Romans chapter 2, Paul tells us that God has instilled basic knowledge of his moral laws in our conscience, so that, instinctively, we know that actions such as rape, murder, stealing, and falsehood are immoral. We all are accountable to God for immoral actions we have committed of varying degrees. Theologians refer to this type of knowledge as general revelation. In other words, given our universe and our conscience, we should be aware that a God of some sort exists and that we have failed to live up to his moral law.
I don't accept the notion that "the world in which we live" is the product of "a cosmic designer of immense intelligence". For me, the evidence for such designer simply isn't as compelling as the evidence for the alternative hypothesis — that the world in which we live is the result of natural processes, without the intervention of a supernatural agent. Therefore, according to Licona, I'm damned even if I never encounter the Gospel.

According to Licona, those who do accept the idea of a cosmic designer, but — for whatever reason — believe that the designer is some deity other than Jesus/God fall into one of two categories: those who have never encountered the Gospel, and those who have. The first category are granted salvation by virtue of their honest, blameless ignorance; the second — sorry, you got the wrong god, despite being shown the right one, so to Hell with your sinful soul.

Several times Licona admits that the Bible doesn't have specific answers to particular questions, and resorts to what he calls speculation. This, it appears, is a code-word for what Christians seem to do quite a lot in their "interpretation" of scripture — that is, they simply make stuff up.
Let’s summarize. We’ve faced the difficult questions pertaining to the fate of those who die without ever having heard the gospel as well as that of babies and the mentally handicapped who lack the mental capacity to understand the gospel. Since the Bible does not directly address either of these questions, speculation pertaining to possible solutions is our only course of action. However, we may look at other situations in which God has acted and get a glimpse into his character. We observed two divine principles: (1) God judges us according to our response to the knowledge about him we are given. At minimal, this knowledge consists of the fact that there is a Creator to whom we will stand accountable for our moral failures. (2) God does not hold accountable those who lack the mental capacity to choose between good and evil.
Licona's two divine principles each appear to be fundamentally problematic: (1) that there is a  Creator is not a fact but a Christian presupposition unsupported by compelling evidence, and (2) according to Genesis God does indeed hold accountable those who lack the mental capacity to choose between good and evil. Adam and Eve were specifically denied the knowledge of good and evil, yet according to the story God still held them accountable, to the extent that their "sin" is visited on every single human being since.

My own take on this "problem" is that it isn't a problem at all, but merely one more part of the obfuscation necessary in attempting to resolve something that doesn't make sense in the first place.