Drink Up or Shutup!

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How do you answer the exvangelical or God-denier or self-proclaimed atheist who says,

Go read Mark 16:18 and then drink up or shutup!

Let’s look at the words of Jesus recorded in Mark 16 and see if we can provide an apologetic answer

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

This sounds like an example of an internal critique. If the Christian is truly convinced that they are a follower of Jesus (so the skeptic would challenge), then the signs spoken of above will be exhibited in their life. Should a Christian immediately go out, find some serpents and slurp up some venom? Mmmm – No. Here are a few tips for how to respond to our skeptic friends.

  1. When faced with a similar temptation from Satan, Our Lord responded with scripture. Flip over just a few pages to the right in your Bible, to find the history of Jesus’s temptation as recorded in Luke 4. Starting in verse 9 “And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” So, the first of our possible responses is that we are not to put God to the test. Jesus, in the face of the same temptation as our skeptic friend (although He also had the assurance of God’s protection), did not yield to the whims of Satan and his petty temptation. In like manner, let the skeptic know that as a follower of the Way, you will act as Jesus did in the same situation
  2. We see from Mark that remaining healthy after drinking deadly poison as a possible “sign”. But not every Christian is associated with every sign in the Bible. Acts 2:3, Acts 5:12, 2 Cor 12:12, I Cor 12:4, Acts 9:6 are all examples of signs that have accompanied some believers. Not every believer casts out demons. Not every believer has spoken in tongues. Not every believer has the gift of healing, so in logical progression, we can can say that not every believer will survive drinking serpent venom. From the context and from the rest of scripture, we see that this sign is not intended as some sort of entry exam or comprehensive conditional test. It was in fact recorded several times that not every disciple was exhibiting every sign but was still a faithful disciple of the Eternal Monarch (Mark 9:28, Mark 14:66-72). Not every Christian has every gift, so it’s a false expectation for someone to say that “if you don’t survive drinking venom, then you are not a Christian.” It’s a false expectation
  3. We have indisputable proof that the poison of a deadly serpent did not harm the Apostle Paul as recorded in Acts 28. So shocked were the onlookers that they recognized the divine protection afforded to Paul. So, God remained faithful to his Word in protecting Paul for the glory of God. It does not logically follow, however that EVERY instance of encounters with asps by Christians will be health in this life
  4. From Genesis to Revelation we see the serpent as the enemy of God and his people both literally and figuratively. Because of what Jesus has done, the works of the devil are both destroyed in this life and in eternity. Either way, the Christian need not fear the works of the devil (Matthew 10:26-31)
  5. Like the young men, who were exiled in Babylon, it may very well be that a Christian is called upon to stand for his faith in the face of persecution. Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego faced the dire choice of purposeful apostasy or death. They bravely faced their accuser and rather than obeying his unrighteous mandate, “drank the poison” of death by fire. Their testimony rings powerfully “If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” In that instance, God protected his people with power and effectiveness. God has proven Himself capable, but He is not obligated to go against his eternal plan (of which only the part of his plan recorded in scripture is known) for the sake of earthly comforts or long life for Christians
  6. Lastly, all modern translations note that Mark 16:9-20 is not found in the earliest or most reliable manuscripts from which the book of Mark has been translated. Scholars have debated the reasons as to why this segment of scripture does not have the same kinds of support as the rest of scripture. You can hear some of the information in this video.

We can see, that this challenge from the skeptic is not a proper internal critique. Whereas a proper internal critique would take into account the other assumptions of the Christian from above. So, there’s no need to wilt or despair should you encounter the “venom” of the skeptic. God is faithful and we can trust his eternal Word

Empathy is Arbitrary, Inconsistent, & Irrational for Atheists

You’ve likely heard it before, a self-identified secular humanist*, skeptic, and/or atheist tells you that their personal morality is based on whether an action is empathetic or provides maximum well-being. I’ve had these discussions before, but during a recent online conversation when I pressed back on an atheist making his case – I pointed out that it was arbitrary for the atheist to define “goodness as empathetic”. That atheist responded to me:

The definitions we attach to words are arbitrary…Why can’t “cat” mean “an energy drink.” It could…but it doesn’t. This doesn’t mean calling my house pet a cat is inconsistent or irrationaly

To answer this, some basic groundwork needs to be done in explanation…

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To be clear, atheism has no grounding for intelligibility at all, let alone the philosophical ability to make judgments or distinctions. To see why, you can view the reasons here.

But for purposes of this discussion, I will grant the God-denier the ability to make intelligent distinctions.

The definition they supplied for “good” was “helping others“. I’ve heard other God-deniers say that good is “empathy” or “whatever promotes well-being”. I consider all of those synonymous, so I’ll address them as one below.

There are at least 3 levels of arbitrariness from the atheist perspective in defining goodness as “helping others”.

Firstly, goodness could have been defined as any other ideal. Just saying that “helping others is good” is arbitrary. “Goodness” could just as easily have been defined as:

  • Whatever promotes fitness
  • Whatever preserves history
  • Whatever benefits frogs
  • Whatever helps Democrats
  • Whatever smells pleasant
  • Whatever Oprah says

Secondly, who are the others they are talking about? To whom should empathy be given? Should “helpfulness” be termed good if it is applied to a specific person, or a specific group of people, or to a particular cause (environmentalism, veganism, BLM…)? What if being helpful to 1 person is detrimental to another person? What if the 1 person to which helpfulness is offered is the 45th president? Might someone consider helping the originator of MAGA as bad instead of good? What if being helpful to one group is destructive of another group? What if being helpful to a particular cause/person/group leads to the extinction of a species? Why would goodness not be helping and promoting the well-being of the most fit creatures on earth: bacteria? Arbitrariness abounds for the skeptic, but there’s more…

The final reason that the atheist definition of goodness is arbitrary is that there are multiple metrics for measuring well-being. Which metric should be used to define good as well-being? Should we measure the well-being based on economic, hedonistic, pragmatic, physiological, psychological, spiritual or evolutionary metrics? “Helping others” in one of these categories will necessarily deprive help in at least one of the other categories. Besides that, who gets to decide what is TRULY helpful within each metric? For example, if I were going to help someone economically, I might give them all the money they would ever need and someone might call that good. But the recipient might spend the money on destructive things or waste the money by donating to the (insert evil political entity here) party, which might lead someone else to call my beneficence bad. Arbitrariness!

In contrast, defining a cat as a “4 legged pet” is not arbitrary in the same way. Sure, the initial word “cat” being applied to a 4 legged pet might have been chosen in place of any other word that was not in use to describe something else, but “cat” is not an abstract standard. Atheists cannot rationally conjure up an “ought” from an “is”.

Arbitrariness in defining “good” is not the only problem for the atheist. Defining good as empathetic, helping others, or promoting well-being is also inconsistent with their other assumptions and irrational based on their theory of knowledge.

Key assumptions for the skeptic is that unguided/impartial/purposeless forces (natural selection acting on random mutations) brought about the tree of life. Those creatures that produce the most offspring are said to be the most fit. Those creatures that are unfit are culled from the gene pool. Difficulties, harms and other selection pressures provide stimulus for creatures to produce/perpetuate novel traits. So it would necessarily be inconsistent to deem helpfulness/empathy as good, when protecting a creature from difficulty/SelectionPressure limits their ability to evolve.

Defining good as being empathetic, being helpful or promoting well-being for the atheist is also irrational on at least 2 levels. It is irrational firstly because the atheists teach that humans are the serendipitous product of stardust from a universe that is amoral, purposeless, undesigned, blind, pitiless, and indifferent – and if this is the case, why does it matter if one accidental aggregation of stardust interacts with another accidental aggregation of stardust? It is irrational to declare that one action by one collection of particles towards another collection of particles as good/evil. Secondly, it is irrational for anyone who does NOT have all knowledge of all time to declare some temporal action as good since a temporary negative could lead to tremendous positive or a short-term positive could lead to devastating negatives.

Summary

For the atheist/skeptic/SecularHumanist to define good as empathy, well-being, beneficial, or helping others is:

Arbitrary

  • When they chose a specific ideal, any other ideal could have just as easily been chosen to represent goodness
  • In the midst of competing needs/wants, to whom should help/empathy be given?
  • Based on which metric should help/empathy/well-being be measured (economic, moral, spiritual, physiological, hedonistic, pragmatic….)?

Inconsistent – because if the natural forces of evolution produced all of life, then choosing well-being as the primary good would be contradictory. If the skeptic assumes that the same forces which promote advancement through reproductive fitness also requires that well-being be considered as of primary importance then they are blind to the contradictory assumptions. To be consistent with their assumptions of natural selection acting on random mutations to produce the most fit offspring, the skeptic would need to define goodness as whatever produced the highest fitness in creatures. Since stress/harm produces selective pressure that drives novel traits and culls the unfit, then well-being is literally the opposite of the process that brought them into existence.

Irrational

  • If humans are just stardust, there’s no rationale for judging one action as good/bad
  • If justification for knowledge (let alone all knowledge) is not possible for the atheist, then picking 1 action as good/bad is unintelligible.

In stark contrast, Christians can make a coherent case that helping others and promoting well-being is coherent and consistent within our worldview

Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to “love the LORD your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength” when He references Deut 6:5. He followed up the greatest commandment with the second most important commandment when He says “The second commandment is like the first: love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus even went so far as to say “love your enemies.” With the first and greatest commandment in mind, we should love and promote well-being to people around us.

To be clear, the atheist/skeptic/humanist CAN be empathetic because they are made in the image of God. They do have the pre-programmed desire (Romans 2:15) to promote well-being to others, but as shown above, it is arbitrary, inconsistent and irrational for them when you consider their other worldview assumptions.

*It has been pointed out to me that secular humanists are not arbitrary in their choosing of limited harm (maximum well being, etc…) for their standard of goodness. This is a fair criticism as it is part of their worldview. However, because secular humanism is a godless religion without any transcendent measure AND is built upon a foundation of naturalism, there is an arbitrary and inconsistent nature to their belief that limiting hard is good. Were naturalism, the foundation of secular humanism, true, goodness nor evil could be known. Everything would just be.