Can God Sin? (August 28, 2015)

Host: Greg Koukl

Commentary: Can God Sin? (00:00)

Caller Topic:
1. How do you respond to an atheist who says he just believes in one less God? (00:07)
2. Why do you use straw men arguments against the young earth view? (00:27)
3. Does the Bible condemn polygamy? (00:41)
4. There’s no free will, only genetics. (00:50)

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Greg: You are listening to Stand to Reason, that's the name of the show. I am Greg Koukl, your host. I appreciate you listening and being part of what we're doing here. Now our 26th year, well into our 26th year of broadcasting and boy, time flies when you're having a good time, huh? Be taking your calls in just a moment, but a couple of weeks ago, I got started, maybe it was last week, on a thought that I didn't get to complete because I had an interview and we finally got a hold of our guest. This is something I have heard a number of times from people who ought to know better. In other words, this is a challenge, or not even a challenge, it's a misstep of religious-minded folk with regards to the character of God and sin. There's various ways that I've heard this, but one is like this. God must be able to sin. Now He doesn't, but He's got to be able to sin because if He couldn't sin, then He would not be omnipotent. That is, He couldn't do everything. There'd be something He would not be able to do. He'd not to be able to sin, meaning He would not have all power. 

Another person I really respect a lot for his religious thinking in other areas than this put it this way. God must be able to sin because if He wasn't able to sin, then I would be able to do something that He couldn't do because I can sin and he couldn't. That would make me somehow stronger than God. Now look, if you've ever heard this, I just want you to think about this, all right? This is deeply confused. In one way, people are trying to preserve a perfection in power. They don't want to surrender God's omnipotence, okay? Because they're trying to protect God's perfection in power, they sacrifice His moral perfection because God's moral perfection isn't simply that He happens to be sinless. He's got a really strong will. 

It's that He can't sin because there is no darkness in Him. There is nothing in Him that makes anything sinful appealing. He can't be tempted. There's no appeal in sin for Him. It'd be like somebody tempting you to eat dirt. You say, "That's not a temptation." You're right, it isn't because you don't like dirt. You'd never do it. You don't have any urge to move that way that you have to fight. It's not in you to like dirt and the same is true of God. He's morally perfect, which means that He doesn't just happen not to sin, He is not capable of sin because His nature is so pure. This doesn't even enter into the equation. All right. This would be a sacrificing of a moral perfection. Listen, a God of all power but not all goodness can be feared. I get that, but He can't be worshiped. He can't be trusted. He'd be hard to love, but there is no need for the trade off, which brings me now to the second point of confusion in this claim that God must be able to sin because if He couldn't sin then He wouldn't be omnipotent and I'd be able to do something that He couldn't do. 

To say that God can't sin is not to express an inability, but to express an ability from the negative side, all right. It's like a double negative. God is not able to not always do perfectly good, so in English, at least, when you have a double negative, the negatives cancel each other out. God always does good is the meat of it, all right. Take the statement I can be beaten. Is this somehow a greater example of capability than I cannot be beaten, simply because the word can is being used instead of cannot? To say that you can fail is just to say that you can't always succeed. It's a lack that is expressed in the positive making an inability sound like an ability. That's where the confusion is here. Don't be confused by the language. When we say that God can't sin, we are saying something that He can do. It's a negative way of saying a positive thing. We are saying that He can always be moral. That is the ability and so it is no liability if He can't violate that. It's a good thing that He can't violate that. Indeed, it's a measure of His perfection that He can't violate that.

One other thought and that is omnipotence means to have all power, okay, therefore, it can do anything that power itself can accomplish. A God is characterized by perfection in all areas. He's a perfect being. He is perfect in power. He is perfect in love. He is perfect in goodness, that kind of stuff. The so-called ability to sin is not a perfection of power. It's rather an imperfection of morality. It is a liability, not an asset, so please, don't go around saying, "Gee, God must be able to sin because if He couldn't sin, then I would be able to do something He can't do." No, that you can sin means that you can fail. It's not an ability, but it's an inability. You can fail morally. It's an inability, it's a lack, it's a shortcoming. These kinds of inabilities, lacks, and shortcomings are not the kinds of things that God is subject to and so therefore, God cannot sin. 

All righty. We have, let's see, Andy in Eastvale here. Let's get the right button. Don't want to lose you, Andy. We lost you there for a moment. I'm glad you called back. Hey there. 

Andy: No worries. Thanks for taking my call, Greg. Appreciate it.

Greg: You're welcome. Eastvale is in California. Is that up in San Francisco area? 

Andy: No, it's a newer town near Ontario, Fontana, that area just east of you, yeah.

Greg: Oh, okay. Yeah, Inland Empire, kind of?

Andy: Yup. 

Greg: Here in the southern Cal area, okay. Got you. 

Andy: Yeah, so I've been watching a few debates lately, primarily with Lawrence Krauss, Michael Shermer and D'Souza and Lennox, guys like that. Before I forget, I've been trying to find the debate, I think you debated Shermer, right? 

Greg: I did, but it's on radio. I did not a public. There's no DVD. There was, somewhere, audio of that. Do we have that Melinda? No, I don't think we have it. We had some provision that was made by Salem Radio that we could distribute it at one time, but that wasn't ongoing, so yeah, so I can't guide you in that particular point. 

Andy: You can just basically say you won and I'll take your word for it? 

Greg: Pardon? 

Andy: I said you can just say you won and I'll take your word for it.

Greg: Hold on just a minute.

Andy: Sure.

Greg: Yes, that Hugh Hewitt debate. I'm talking to the Enforcer right now. Right, right, that's what I thought. Yeah, yeah, okay. My thought was I thought I did pretty well and I thought my ideas were better than Michael's, okay. Michael is a good communicator and he's very affable and so I don't know how a person who's standing out there in a very noncommittal way, how he would've assessed the issues. I talked about the grounding problem of morality and he claimed that he's a moral objectivist, but he said that the source of morality is evolution and social contract. Of course, those are subjectivist characterizations of morality. They are not objectivist characterizations. Indeed, in his book on evolution and morality, he gets the definitions of absolute morality completely wrong. 

I think Dr. Shermer is confused on the issue of morality as a topic, regardless of whether he won or I, but I'll tell you, it is difficult, in a situation like that I found it difficult, to make my points clearly because the grounding problem, which is what philosophers call it, to try to show that morality needs an appropriate foundation. This is hard for people to understand and I'm not convinced I got that issue across clearly. Since then, I've developed some more ways of characterizing it. You heard, if you were online the first hour, you heard another characterization of it as I opened up my first hour with a little commentary on relativism and the need for standards. I think that's a hard thing to convey and I don't know how well I actually did. I wonder how the rank-and-file would weigh my contribution there. 

Andy: Yeah, the tough thing on these debates is actually one of the debates, it was actually pretty clever, is the studio had live voting where you voted your position when you started and the side that had the most change in votes, percentage of change in votes, actually won the debate. The tricky thing is that some of these guys, like Shermer and Krauss, they're crowd-winners, not necessarily good idea guys, so that's a trick for winning debates. 

Greg: Yes, the gamesmanship. Exactly, who's faster on their feet, who's clever with the words. The gamesmanship matters a lot and unless you are up to that with a person like Krauss or Shermer or Dawkins or any ... I don't know if Dawkins debates, but these guys are clever, so Chris Hitchens, who's among the best in this regard, substantively is not there, but can really win the crowd over with his affable manner. I think that way of testing a debate is a good one, though. Who moved in which direction from their original position? That's a good test. A lot of people who are staunch atheists going in or staunch Christians going in and didn't move at all end up not voting, which is good because their vote could distort the persuasive element. Who was actually being persuaded? The mushy middle is what you want to measure, not the stalwarts on either side. 

Andy: Right, exactly. One of the common threads there was one of the arguments that I saw throughout all these debates, to me, they seem so simple and obvious, right, and I don't know. They're obvious in the sense that I know that there's an incongruency with it, right, but it's hard to cash out. Lennox didn't say it, D'Souza didn't say it, even William Lane Craig doesn't really address it, it's the idea, it's so common of an objection, which is basically look, no one believes in Thor anymore, no one believes in all these other gods. We're basically saying we're asking you to believe in one less god and I've heard Lennox's objection on that. It was great. It was about basically, that's like asking a married man to become one less married, to be a bachelor and he gave this great analogy. 

On the one hand, I do see the atheists' objection, which is, basically, they don't feel the need to, and a lot of categorize it as lack of belief, which we all know is not true. They do have positive statements about what they do believe, but just as they don't feel obligated toward the God of Christianity, I also don't feel obligated to defend the idea of Thor or leprechauns or unicorns or whatever. I don't see the evidence for that, so I know that there has got to be a huge difference, though, between the God of this world and simple, made-up ideas that are just obvious, but on one ever really cash ... How would you cash out that objection if you were in that debate? 

Greg: There are different ways, I think, to do this and indeed, I think that John Lennox's response was one that I thought of, too. I said that's the difference between a married man and a single person, one less spouse. I know what they're trying to say. It's a rhetorical device. They're trying to say, "Well, you guys don't believe in all these things. You reject all those other gods, Thor, etc., and we reject all those gods too, okay? You just haven't divested yourself of the one last god of mythology, that's all, so we believe in one less god than you do. Why don't you just let it go?" What they want to do is they want to equate the God of Christianity with all of these other gods and make it sound like you're just hanging onto a frivolous concept, okay. 

Now the first thing that I think of when this came up with me before, someone else who was involved in a TV debate was flummoxed on this particular point. My first response is you're right, you believe in one less god than I do, which is what makes you an atheist and me a theist, so you haven't said anything substantive at all. You called it an argument, but when you think about it, there is nothing probative or evidential in the claim that I believe in one less god than you. Therefore, I'm wrong and you're right? That doesn't follow. What are the reasons? You have to challenge me on something reasonable. 

Now if they were to ask me the question why do you believe in this God and you've rejected all the other nonsense gods? Because all the other gods are finite gods. Every one of them is a finite God. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is entirely different, if you're just thinking about being fair to characterize Him accurately. He is not a finite god. He is not characterized as a finite god like the rest of them. He is infinite and perfect in all of His attributes. 

Now this doesn't make His existence true. It is meant to demonstrate that there is a big difference between the God we are worshiping and all the rest of these things that people are rejecting properly. Secondly, there is no good reason to believe in all of these finite gods and there are good reasons to believe in the infinite, morally perfect, omniscient, omnipotent God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the rest of the perfections. There are plenty of good reasons to believe in that one, so if we want to adjudicate on this question, the best thing to do is to talk about those reasons and not talk about the things that we all reject. Okay. Do you see the angle there?

Andy: Yeah, absolutely.

Greg: This is a huge red herring. It's huge to pull a person off the track and this is why it's good that we have, if we're going to be caught in a discussion like that, that we have a way of deflecting that parry or getting people back on the track from the red herring. You point out what it is. You're right, you do have one less God than I. That's why you're an atheist and I'm a theist. I'm not a polytheist, I'm a theist. Oh, why do you reject all those others? Because they're all finite gods. This isn't a finite god. There's no good reason to believe in a finite god. There's plenty of good reasons to believe in this one. You want to hear them? 

Andy: There you go.

Greg: We're back on track ...

Andy: Yeah, one thing that I thought of, it's a little maybe tongue-in-cheek, but I would probably say something like in the same way that you're asking me to believe in one less god, I'd say you have all sorts of theories about atheism, multiverses, eternal universes, all sorts of things. I'd ask you to not believe in one less atheistic view of the universe. 

Greg: Right. There's a variety of different forms of atheism. You could be a materialistic atheism. You could be an idealistic atheism, for example. You could be an atheist who believes the universe is eternal or that it's finite and came from nothing or it came out of the quantum vacuum or that universes were created by a multiverse generator or something like that. I'm not sure if that's going to have the punch as another response. There is a technique that I talk about moving toward the objection rather than away from the objection, so when they say "You this," and they think it's a liability, you say, "Yeah, you're exactly right. Precisely. You got it. Thank you." You move toward and you brag about it and it takes away the force of it. 

I got this from a movie, Clear and Present Danger, remember that? In the beginning of the movie, the president was somehow associated with it turns out they found this guy that was killed by drug lords and it looked nasty and maybe he was involved. He was a friend of the president and so the Harrison Ford character said don't distance yourself from him. Move towards it. Tell them if they say, "Did you know him," you say, "Yes, he was a friend." If they ask you, "Was he a friend," you say, "You know, he's a good friend." He said don't give them anyplace to go and so I've tried to leverage that into a technique of moving towards the objection. 

Sometimes, you can do that, but you can't do this with everyone, but sometimes, you can do that in a way that just completely nullifies and takes the wind out of the sails of the challenger. When he said, "You believe in just one less god than I do," I say, "Yup, I do. That's what makes you an atheist and me a theist. There you go. You got it right." That's the difference between a bachelor and a married guy, by the way, that a bachelor has one less wife than the married guy. 

You can see how that just dies. Now the only way they can revive it is by bringing in some other element and that would be maybe a more explicit request for an explanation why you don't believe in Thor and the bunch of them and then you can offer that. Now I do want to say something about you just hinted at it and it was on the note that Melinda has up for me about they lack a belief in God. Was this something that you wanted to ask about as well? 

Andy: Oh, that, it ties into the whole that was you helping me cash it out, which you actually did by basically putting the two different groups of gods, one is a finite group and one's an infinite group and you're talking about all the finite groups. I would say if you want to, you can call it a lack of belief. You could put me in that box for the whole box of finite gods and I'd be in the same box as you.

Greg: At first, I thought you were referring to the maneuver that they often give that it's a way of avoiding, shouldering any burden of proof. They say an atheist is somebody who has no belief in a god, so since they simply lack a belief in God, they feel that they're not making any claims and if they're not making any claims, they don't have to shoulder any burden. It's a sidestepping of the burden of proof. This is a move that they make regularly and it's, to me, an illicit move. If I were an atheist, I would be embarrassed to use that because the fact is, they do have a belief regarding God. They don't have a belief in God, but they certainly have a belief about God. They don't believe in Him, they believe in His absence, so they make a positive claim, God does not exist. Look it, you don't write books about your non-beliefs. Richard Dawkins doesn't have a non-belief about God. Michael Shermer doesn't have a non-belief about God. None of these guys have non-beliefs. They all have beliefs about God and their belief about God is that He doesn't exist. That's a positive statement. God does not exist. Why are they running from that? 

Here's another way of making this point, then I got to run a quick break and the other callers. The other way of making this point is to if people raise this issue and they try to play with this, they make this maneuver, which I think is intellectually dishonest, you say, "Okay, I'm going to make a statement and I want you to respond to it, okay? I'm making a statement that has only one of three responses logically, okay, that is you can affirm it, you can deny it, or you can withhold. You can affirm, you can deny, or you can withhold." 

Logically, it's the only possibility, so here's the statement. "God exists and you say what?" You don't affirm it, right? You're an atheist. No, you don't affirm it. Are you withholding? Are you saying gee, sure don't know and if you don't know, then why are you writing books? No, you're not affirming and you're not withholding. That's an agnostic. You're denying, but a denying is a point of view. You deny that it's true that God exists and when you say no, you say it is not true that God exists, you are saying it is true that God does not exist. That is the unavoidable, logical implication. It's the law of non-contradiction and the law of excluded middle in play here. It's not both, it's not neither. If you say no to one proposition, then you're saying yes to the other proposition. They have a point of view, okay? 

Andy: Yes.

Greg: Now if you ask them who's the best baseball player on some Minor League team, if you ask anybody like that, they're not familiar with the team, they say, "Well, I don't know. I have no belief in that." That would be accurate. I have no belief about lots of things I know nothing about, but the things that I care about, I have views about and the same thing is true for them. That's why this is intellectually dishonest. All right, Andy, I got to run. Thanks for the call.

Andy: Thank you.

Greg: Yeah, you're very welcome. Let's go to break and then I'll be back. Don't go away.

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Greg: All righty. Let's see, Greg Koukl back here with you and just wanted to run down a couple of the things that I'll be doing soon, next weekend. That'll be the last weekend of August. I'll be in Thousand Oaks area, Newbury Park, actually, Conejo Valley, at Living Oaks Community Church, doing a teaching on Saturday and Sunday mornings on the Trinity. October 2nd I'll be in Vista, California at a Pregnancy Resource Center banquet. That's the prcvista.com, get the info there. I'll be at another banquet for the Center for Apologetics Research in San Juan Capistrano the next night, the 3rd of October. Valley Bible Church in Pleasanton, California the 9th through the 11th and the information there is thecrossing.org. 

I'll be on the 15th and 16th of October at Hume Lake Christian Camp and you can check out humelake.org for that. It's a men's retreat, I believe and I'll be there with Ray Root, who's ... No, not Ray Root, not Ray, is that his, no, it's Jerry Root, who is a C. S. Lewis scholar, so we'll be both at that event. Then on the 23rd and 24th of October, the ReTHINK Student Conference in Dallas and I jumped over the ReTHINK Student Conference in Costa Mesa in four weeks, the 25th and 26th of September. All of these details you can find at str.org/training/events and catch everybody's schedule there, not just mine, but Brett's and Alan's and Tim's all on the same page. 

Okay, let's go to Gary in Winchester, Kentucky, Winchester, yeah, Kentucky. Okay, Gary, welcome to the show. Hi. 

Gary: Hello. I've recently read your book on tactics and I found it to be very helpful. My inclination is to lecture instead of ask questions and so what I was hoping I could do, if you would be gracious enough, I have a question that, hopefully, can apply the tactics method and that you might help me to think about the topic and also refine my question. 

Greg: Okay.

Gary: I've listened to several podcasts and in the podcasts, you've referred to the Young-Earth creationism biblical interpretation. It appears to me to be a straw man fallacy that you're using and I've probably misunderstood what you intend by that. I'm wondering if you could explain further the biblical interpretation that you understand the Young-Earth creationists hold? 

Greg: You think that I have been guilty of a straw man and so you must have something specific in mind. It would be better if you just tell me what that specific thing is that you have and then I'll see if you understood my point correctly or if you did, and it's really a straw man, then maybe I misunderstand their point, so let's have a shot at it.

Gary: Okay. Yes, I've heard you and also I've listened ...

Greg: Incidentally, hold on just a minute, Gary. Just for the sake of the rest of the listeners, a straw man is when someone misrepresents a point of view and then refutes it having refuted a view that the other side doesn't actually hold, so that's what's at question here. Have I accurately or fairly, legitimately represented the Young-Earth creationists argument, that's the question.

Gary: Yes. I've heard your podcasts. Also, I listened to Dr. Craig's Defender Class on Creationism. He used the same argument and that is that the literal interpretation means that they can't understand, for example, common phrases like the sun rose. The young earth, what I've read in Answers in Genesis and other places is that they would say that they are using, in fact, their grammatical-historical, or historical-grammatical interpretation of the text and the subset of that is the plain reading or the literal reading, once you've established within history and grammar what the text is trying to say. 

Greg: Yeah, okay. That would not be an example of a straw man. That would be an example of an argument against their view that doesn't go through and it seems to me what I've raised in the past ... Okay, let me just role play it out a little bit as I hear it from other people. What they are saying is we are just reading the plain sense of the text. We are just reading what it says. It says first day, second day, third day, fourth day. It says morning and evening, morning and evening and we are just taking it at face value. You, however, the one who's not the Young-Earth are not taking it at face value. What my response is meant to do is to demonstrate that not everything one takes at face value, initially, means what it looks like it means at face value. 

There are lots of places, as you mentioned, and I bring up, where the Scripture says the sun rises and the sun sets or another place where it says the earth is not moved, which was specifically at issue with Galileo. Christians, at that time, understood the text in its plain sense, the sun is rising and falling. It wasn't later that they scientifically discovered that this wasn't the fact of the matter that now they have a grammatical reason to see it otherwise. The grammatical reason is that this is the language of appearance, okay. It appears that way, but we know it's not exactly like that. My only objection ... I'll finish the thought here and then I'll let you come back and I'll give you a shot here. The point that I'm trying to make is if one is going to argue they're just taking the plain sense of the text and the obvious clear reading, then this creates problems in other passages as well. Maybe it turns out that science has weighed in in a way that's productive that will inform our hermeneutic on this issue just like it has on the other issue. 

Gary: Okay. I think that is a misrepresentation of a thoughtful, Young-Earth creationist view that ...

Greg: Okay. What specifically did I misrepresent? 

Gary: They would begin, people like Creation Ministries out of Australia and stuff, they clearly say that they begin with a historical-grammatical interpretation of the text. They're using the exact same biblical reasoning that, say, Hugh Ross is going to use. They're beginning at the same place and then where ... I guess their plain reading is they're trying not to stretch a particular passage beyond what a clear reading would be. Genesis, for example, when you read through there, it clearly is talking about morning and evening and so it appears to be a historical, grammatically-historically it appears to be an account of history, so seems to be six days.

Greg: When you mentioned grammatical-historical, historical has to do with taking the historical setting into view. So far, you haven't talked about a historical setting and there doesn't seem to be anything that they bring into the conversation that relates to the historical setting, so so far, the point has simply been grammatical. Grammatical, it seems like a straightforward affirmation of the first, second, third day, etc., etc. I'll say something about that in a moment, but I just want to stick with your main point right now. When I refer to the rising and setting of the sun, I am not bringing any historical background into it, so that doesn't apply. I'm just looking at the straightforward meaning and so if you apply the same approach to both of them, let's keep science out of the picture now, then you would come to a mistaken conclusion based on that approach regarding the heliocentrism, okay, the position of the sun and the earth in the solar system. What has helped us to correct our understanding is science, all right. 

Now when you bring science into the discussion, though, characteristically, and I don't know your view on this, Gary, but characteristically, the pushback is are you going to believe man's word, science, or God's word? The point is that they're misunderstanding God's intention here and we have a good source of information that helps to show that. I'd say that's the point that I make and I don't see at this point that there has been a misrepresenting of their views simply because you've invoked the grammatical-historical method, which we both agree on. 

Actually, if you bring the historical thing in, it turns out to work a little against the Young Earthers because the historical backdrop was Moses speaking to Jews who had spent 400 years under an Egyptian cosmology. They knew nothing about their background and so then Moses is speaking a different cosmology in the context of their commitment to the Egyptian cosmology. This, then, changes the situation considerably and it opens up other opportunities using the historical-grammatical approach to read this in a different way than six solar or calendar days. 

One other thing, as far as the plain issue of the text, I know that when somebody raises the concern look it, the sun isn't created until the fourth day. How do you have a day without the sun? I think there are some legitimate ways to respond to that from your side. What I don't see is how do you have a morning and an evening without a sun because mornings just are sunrise in the common sense use of the word. Evenings just are sunset in the common sense, ordinary grammatical use of the word. Since there is no sun, the morning and the evening can't be referring to sunrise and sunset. That means it's not being used in its ordinary grammatical sense. It is being used in an extraordinary sense to make a different kind of point.

Gary: Yeah, I don't find that very compelling. If I had seen the morning and sunrise and sunset and I knew what that meant and then I was locked away in a room and somebody referred to as something rising and setting that I couldn't see, I'd have an understanding of it, so the author understands that his audience understand what this morning and evening means. It seems like in the context that it's a very plain way to speak to describe that we're talking about short periods of time that's as is.

Greg: Yeah. Okay. Pardon me, but I just am so amazed at this response because you acknowledge that Moses and the people see sunrise and sunset and they know what that means and so they will understand what Moses means when he says in the first days of sunrise and sunset. Of course, there could not have been any sunrise and sunset to create a morning and evening, so what they would think is just the opposite of what you suggest. They would think sunrise, rather morning and evening, cannot be sunrise and sunset. It must mean something other than a literal day in the sense you ... It just strikes me that the rationale you offered ought to bring you to the opposite conclusion, but anyway, so there you have it. What? 

Gary: Yeah, you're probably right. My position is that I try to keep an open mind, that it would be a whole lot easier if I would accept a old age of the earth in this modern day, but it just seems like there's pretty compelling reasons to think that God created the earth fully formed ...

Greg: Yeah, I agree with that.

Gary: ... and that there was a worldwide flood and that what we see is a result of that. Anyway, it's been very helpful speaking with you.

Greg: Good, and I don't know if I disabused you of your conviction that I was guilty of a straw man here, but it was good to talk with you about it.

Gary: No, yeah. No, you didn't. I think that you're not representing their view very fairly when you describe it that way, but that's okay. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to you and this is very nice.

Greg: Super. Thank you. I'm touched by that and at your very charitable response, so we just part disagreeing on this, but as brothers. 

Gary: Absolutely. Thanks a lot.

Greg: Thank you, Gary, and all the best to you. That was a good call. We need to go to break, is that right? Okay and then we'll pick up our last few callers in our last segment. Let's do that and have more here when we return.

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Greg: With the show that turns your mind on, Stand to Reason and Greg Koukl here. Let's go to Murrieta, California and hello, Steve, welcome to the show. 

Steve : Hi, Greg. How you doing? 

Greg: I'm doing all right.

Steve : Thanks for taking my call. 

Greg: Sure, on a controversial topic.

Steve : Yeah, I guess. A lot of pro-homosexual people say that Jesus didn't really have anything to say about homosexuality. I know at one time, I believe you responded with the Matthew passage where Jesus is responding to the Pharisees. They asked a different question, but in his response, he basically said that it was one man, one woman, and one flesh for one life. 

Greg: Yeah, and I like your summary there. It's nice and terse and to the point.

Steve : It's great because it's kind of carte blanche, like you said, sort of encapsulates all the sexual sins.

Greg: It's all-inclusive. Actually, carte blanche means that everything's okay. You give carte blanche to something, you're giving like everything's okay, but I understand what you mean. It covers all the bases is what you're after there, right.

Steve : Right, it covers all the bases, so I was thinking let's see, what are all the sexual sins? There's fornication and adultery, homosexuality, polygamy and bestiality.

Greg: Rape.

Steve : Did I leave some out? 

Greg: Rape.

Steve : Rape, okay. Any others?

Greg: No, I think you covered the bases. 

Steve : I was going through the list and I thought each of these is spoken of, most of them in several places, in the Scriptures, and condemns them, except for polygamy. I've always had trouble with this and I was trying to get this straight for myself so that if I ever got into a discussion with someone about this, I would be ... If someone happened to ask me that question, the Bible doesn't seem to say anything about polygamy. 

Greg: No, it does, but ...

Steve : David and Solomon had plenty of wives. 

Greg: Right. It does say something about it, but I'd have to say it's in a little different category and I'll tell you why. First, it does say kings are not to multiply wives to themselves, so when Solomon and David, when they all did this multiply, this is not what God wanted. Part of the reason that it's not what God wanted is because of the liability it created in terms of religious affections. When you married another woman, you married her gods. For political purposes, kings married other women of other kingdoms with other gods and that created political alliances, but it also brought a syncretism, a religious syncretism, like a smorgasbord, into Jerusalem. Solomon did not end well. Solomon ended very badly. The wisest man that ever lived ended very badly and he was taken in. This is why there was a civil war after he died. The civil war that split the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom Israel from Judah was a result of his sin. It was God's judgement, but out of respect for David, he let Solomon live out his life and the judgement came afterwards. This is all in the text, by the way. I'm not making anything up.

God did give this command to them, but you also see, though, it seems like a cavalier attitude towards polygamy with non-royals. You have Abraham had multiple ... This just seems to happen. I, for one, wish that God was a little bit more aggressive because it would make our case a little stronger, it seems to me. There are different reasons that people have given about why God didn't go after polygamy, but I want to make ... I think it is fair to say that polygamy is in a very different category from the other sexual sins because the other sexual sins, they break the pattern in a very vigorous way. That is, these are sins, whether they're fornication or adultery or homosexuality, certainly rape, these are sins that are outside of marriage. Now polygamy is marriage. It's just marriage to more than one and so it doesn't conform to the ideal one man, one woman, one flesh for one lifetime that Jesus Himself identified. 

If you think about divorce and remarriage, that's polygamy, too. It's serial polygamy. It's one after another after another, but you had married a number of times. It is a form of polygamy and that's a problem, but at least the behaviors are ... Marriage is still intact in that regard. I'm not saying that this isn't such a bad thing, I think that this is a distinction that is relevant to the bigger picture and that's why maybe it is not hammered as much as the other things, which seem to undermine marriage itself. This is a way of doing marriage that is not great and most examples of polygamists' circumstances, it's just a big headache, okay, it creates a whole lot more problems than it solves. It is still a marriage and so I think that it's in a little different category than the others for that reason.

Steve : Right. There are no real definitive verses that you can think of that ... I just thought maybe I'd missed something.

Greg: No. There may be, but I can't think of them and I do know that there are some people that I have talked to, who are Christians who did a lot of research on this, and they say look it, they don't exist and polygamy's not wrong. As a Christian, they say polygamy's not wrong, so this is why I'm saying I wish God had been more precise about this in the Revelation. I suspect there's not a lot to be found, but I couldn't tell you that based on my own research. 

Steve : I haven't found any either. That's why I didn't ...

Greg: Do you ever use Logos Bible software? 

Steve : No, I haven't. 

Greg: I just wonder, I have it, maybe I'll check it out, but I wonder if you put in polygamy into one of the search boxes, just to see everything the Bible has to say about that issue, wonder what one would come up with? Anyway ...

Steve : Yeah, that's a good suggestion. Maybe I'll see if I can do that.

Greg: Yeah, or someone who has the product that has ... I don't know if I'm going to get to it. I got a whole bunch of stuff on my plate right now, but anyway, that's good to talk about this, Steve, and I appreciate your call.

Steve : Yeah. Thank you. That does help me have something to say and I guess not everything's just nailed down airtight in the Bible. We run into that in a lot of other cases, too.

Greg: No, it's not. We could say, based on what Jesus said, that this isn't the ideal. It's a diversion from the ideal, but I don't think it's a diversion to as great a degree as adultery, fornication, and homosexuality. 

Steve : Yeah, I understand your reasoning there. I just thought if somebody said hey, look, they really come down on homosexuality and adultery and all these things, why are they letting these guys off the hook?

Greg: Right. I think homosexuality is even more egregious because adultery and fornication, as bad as they are, they are, in a certain sense, using the equipment as God designed them to be used. If you look at the condemnation of homosexuality in Romans 1, it said that man abandoned the function of the woman, the natural function, and so when it says the natural function, Paul is saying the God-ordained-and-established function, the plumbing, how the plumbing is supposed to work. They said no to what God ordained for the use, proper use, of that and then they perverted the use of it by burning in their desire towards one another. That's why it's called a crime of passion.

Steve : Right. It's sort of rebellion to the nth degree.

Greg: It is. It's significant rebellion. I agree with that. All righty.

Steve : Thank you very much, Greg.

Greg: All right, Steve. Appreciate the call and this brings us to San Diego and Dave. Hey, Dave. 

Dave: How are you, Greg? 

Greg: Okay. 

Dave: Good. I may or may or not be on that Google hangout that you're doing with STR begins tomorrow and so I just wanted to make sure I got in a question today while I could. I also want to make a quick plug. Several months ago, you talked to a caller who said that he was putting out a request to his friends in social media to ask him questions in the areas of ethics, values, and religion, and I started doing that once a week and I've gotten terrific response. 

Greg: Wow, good for you.

Dave: Yeah, so if anybody listening wants to do what you're doing in their circle of friends, I highly recommend doing that. 

Greg: Use social media as a means to get the dialogue going?

Dave: Yup, exactly. My question comes from a conversation I was having with my wife's cousin, who I don't know very well, but what I do know about him, he is either agnostic or atheist. We were discussing free will and his take was that there's no such thing as free will. Every action that we take is simply the byproduct of two things, one, our genetics and two, our past experiences. I know that there's more to it than that, but I could just not formulate a good response against him.

Greg: Okay. If I were him, I wouldn't have said it that way. I would have argued my point differently. The problem with past experience is there's a difference between a reason and a cause, okay. A reason is a thing in virtue of which someone decides, so you have an agent making a decision and he's making the decision for the reasons that are given. Now notice the reasons don't cause it. It is that which in virtue of which he decides. The agent makes a decision. Now of course, agency is the kind of thing that your friend is going to deny, all right. He's going to say, "Well, there's no agency." 

Let's just speak of it crisply here. I'm going to go quickly because we're short on time, but there are two types of causes. There is an agent cause, and that's when persons make decisions, and there are events cause. Just picture event causes like dominoes, okay, one domino falling gets another domino. Now whenever you have a domino falling with event cause, you always can ask what domino caused that to fall and then what domino before that and what domino and then you can see how if all you've got is dominoes falling, you're going to be stuck in a vicious regress, all right, that what began it all? When did the first domino fall? The only thing that we know that can start this kind of chain reaction, a causal change, is an agent. Agents start causal changes, so you could say one person pushed the domino over, but he could've waited a couple of days. 

Now just with that in position here, I just want to focus in on it's either genetics or past experience. Genetics are like dominoes, okay, you don't choose your eye color, you don't choose anything. Your genes dictate certain things, no question about that. Okay. Those are dominoes, but when he says past experiences, he is talking about something different than dominoes. He is talking about things that influence the choices we make and here is where the distinction between reasons and causes come in because the past, our past experiences, if you're thinking of it in the normal way that people talk about those things, we are talking about man, when I was a kid, my dad used to force me to eat liver. Man, I hated that and now, because of that past experience, I won't eat liver. You notice when he says, "I won't eat liver," he is saying that I will not choose to eat liver. The Enforcer just said it's because liver is horrible, but notice that when he is talking about past experience, he's talking about agency, which he doesn't believe in. If it were me, I wouldn't say it's my genetics. I'd just say it's all the stuff in the past that cause me, in a non-agent fashion, to do what I do. 

Here's the problem with that. I think he's off to a bad start to begin with because he's subtly making reference to agent kinds of decisions and he is not making the distinction between reasons and causes, all right. He wants to say everything's dominoes, all right. Maybe that's the case. Then you can ask him how did he discover that, how did he come to that conclusion in our second Columbo question? Now here's the right answer. I didn't come to a conclusion. My necessary and sufficient previous physical conditions caused me to say that. That would be consistent. He's just another domino falling and you who believe in free will, you're just another domino falling, too. 

Dave: Yeah, I tried to take the technique of going back to the first agent by bringing up objective morality, but it did not seem to click in the way I was hoping it would towards that conversation.

Greg: That's a little bit convoluted. It's a messy tour that you're taking there. It's difficult and so it's easy to get tripped up in that, but this one is easier. If there is no free will, there is no ability to reason because reason requires you to look at options, think of the better one based on a rationale, and make a choice. If there's no ...

Dave: When he started his statement by saying, "I've decided that there is no free will," he's kicked his legs out from under himself.

Greg: You know what? I did not catch that. You're very clever. I did not catch that, but there's your suicide there. There's a self-refuting statement. "I decided that there's no ..." No, you didn't. There's no free will, you didn't decide anything. You were just determined to go in that direction. This is the liability. If there is no free will, there's no rationality. There is no justification for praise or blame because praise and blame both require choice. If you did something and you're just a domino falling, you don't punish the domino, you don't praise the domino. You don't do anything. It's nothing. It's not good, it's not bad. There's no evil in the world if that's the case. There are no guilty parties. None of that fits and so ...

Dave: Now would you say that it's self-refuting for him to say, "I think about this a lot." 

Greg: No, it wouldn't be self-refuting to say that because he could think about it, but his thoughts are all going to be determined thoughts. They are not going to be deliberative-type thoughts, all right. Okay, there you go, Dave.

Dave: Yeah, hey, thanks, Greg. Always appreciate it.

Greg: All right. Thanks so much for your call and wow, that was a great way to end the show. That's it, friends. Thank you for listening and go out and give them Heaven this week, all right? I'm Grey Koukl for Stand to Reason.

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Greg Koukl

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