Douglas Jacoby on Answering Skeptics: Nonsense Questions Featured

Thursday, 02 July 2015 09:37

Recap: Morality means God

Douglas JacobySince true morality can only exist in a world with God, God truly exists.

This may be demonstrated through a simple syllogism, which constitutes powerful evidence for God's existence.

Note: We're not saying that an atheist can't act morally, or that only Christians are good people. We are saying that no one can be moral in a world without morality -- and that is the only world possible if there is no God.

Nonsense Questions

Skeptics raise many objections to the Christian faith. Today we will cover the fourth category of objections. The skeptic might call these "contradictions," or "proofs" that God is an illogical concept. We may call these criticisms "nonsense questions," for reasons soon to be explained. The question usually takes this form:

If there's really a God...

Could he create loud silence?

Could he make a square circle?

Could he make a rock so heavy that even he couldn't lift it?

In each case, the skeptic expects a no answer. (And he's right; of course the answer is no.) But then it is alleged that God isn't all-powerful, since he is unable to accomplish these tasks. The all-powerful God is mere fiction.

Distinguishing Sense from Nonsense

We may sense that something is not quite right with the questions. It's not so much that they impugn God as that they play with our heads. Sometimes taking a moment to reflect on the problem allows us to clarify the question. We need perspective. Here's my suggestion: Think, then reword.

Think: Loud silence is impossible by definition, since loud silence isn't silent. How can non-silence be silence? Unless one tinkers with definitions, or subverts logic, the combination is absolutely impossible. Even infinite power can't overthrow logic. The concept is incoherent.

Reword: Loud silence could be reworded "non-silent silence." That would violate the simple law of identity (A = A). The revised query becomes: Could God create non-silent silence?

Put this way, the question is exposed for what it is: a trick. The same goes for the square circle. How about the impossibly heavy rock? It's another nonsense question. An infinitely powerful God could move any rock -- granted. But he could not exceed his own infinite powers in creating an even more infinite chunk of stone, for this would require that ∞ > ∞, which is mathematically impossible. (Sorry, God is unable to make 2 + 2 = 5, either.) If you prefer a simpler answer (tongue-in-cheek), respond: "Maybe not, but he could certainly make a bulldozer powerful enough to do the job."

Two kinds of Impossibility

Biblically speaking, nothing is impossible for God (Mark 1:37). Yet what the critic asks not only does not exist, but could not possibly exist. Silence precludes sound, just as circularity precludes the right angles of the quadrilateral. Loud silences and square circles are impossible by definition. This first type of possibility is logical impossibility. The moment we assume these kinds of impossibilities, we are playing with words. We're not doing any serious thinking at all.

Of course there are countless things possible for God but impossible for us, or possible for one person but impossible for another. Unlike Him, we cannot be in all places at all times. Nor as I type these words can I be in Atlanta, and in Copenhagen, where you might be reading them. When something is possible for God but impossible for us, we might call this relative impossibility. (You might not want to call it that, since I just made up the term, and a real philosopher might well shred it to pieces.) Absolute impossibility, which unlike relative impossibility may pertain to God, is impossibility by definition -- logical impossibility.

Is Anything Impossible for God?

The Bible tells us it is impossible for God to lie (1 Samuel 23:19; Hebrews 6:18). He cannot violate his own nature, in this case not because he lacks power, but because he lacks evil. His nature is unchanging (Malachi 3:6); he will always be omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent (all-good), etc. The fact that God cannot lie seems related to the fact that he can't suspend the laws of logic, or make mathematical errors, or cause himself not to exist. So when Christians say that God accomplishes impossible things, we mean that he does the relatively impossible, not the absolutely impossible, which is meaningless.

He catches the wise in their craftiness

I wouldn't worry too much about the terms. I would be concerned, however, if someone was trying to pull the wool over my eyes. So next time someone asks you one of these sorts of question, take a moment. Think about what kind of question it is. It may well be a nonsense question, one that once reworded turns out to be meaningless. Then think of the scripture, "God catches the wise in their craftiness" (1 Cor 3:19; Job 5:13).

(If you have another nonsense question, please feel free to reply to this bulletin and share it. I'm interested.)

Take Every Thought Captive

We hope you're enjoying the series. Next week we move to our fifth category, God. Until then, we pray you're becoming more like Christ in his brilliant ability to respond to questions, criticism, and potential traps. Together let's learn to "destroy arguments... and take every thought captive" (2 Corinthians 10:15).

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