Commentary on Paul Doland's Critique
of Strobel's Case for Faith
I like Paul Doland. He’s appears to be honest, intelligent, and relatively humble. He has spent a considerable amount of his life investigating Christianity and has read Christian as well as non-Christian books to familiarize himself with several schools of thought. I also respect him for spending the time to write his critique and appreciate his clarity of thought and honesty in approach.
At the same time, I was a bit surprised in reading his critique that while he shows a decent understanding of current issues within the Christian church and the socio-religious issues surrounding the church, he does not show a good understanding of Christianity itself. He shows this for example in his discussions of God as heavenly father in Objection 1, original sin in Objection 4, and salvation in Objection 5 and 8.
With respect to the approach of The Case for Faith, I believe that there are some issues that are very difficult, and the Bible nowhere gives easy answers. If The Case for Faith has given the impression to people such as Mr. Doland that Christianity can provide easy answers to life’s most difficult questions, I think I would tend to side with Mr. Doland in opposing such approaches. That being said I basically have 2 commentaries: Partially Agree (Section 2), and Disagree (Section 3). I will summarize what I see has Mr. Doland’s primary objections in Section 4 for your reference.
2. Where I partially agree with Mr. Doland (Objections 1, 4, 3, 7)
In Objections 1 and 4 Mr. Doland writes about problems reconciling evil, pain, and suffering in the world. As stated in the beginning, I believe there are difficult questions in life that cannot be answered by simple answers. From this point of view I agree with Mr. Doland. Just in the past year, several people I have known have died. One of these people was a celebrated marine captain and a strong Christian who served in Iraq and came back to the USA only to be left dying on the road in a hit-and-run accident. How can anyone justify something like that? Also last year, a friend of a friend was back on furlough from serving as a foreign missionary. On his way back from the airport, his rented van got struck by a drunk driver which set the van on fire. He survived the crash only to suffer severe burns while trying to save two of his children who died in flames in front of him. Where was God in any of this? Was this a way to thank somebody who spent several years in the mission field?
There are no easy answers to such questions. I don’t believe the Bible provides easy answers either. In Luke 13, Jesus is asked about similar issues (a tower falling on innocent people). He replies that those people were no worse sinners than anybody else, but adds that unless the hearers of his message repent, they will likewise perish. So he puts the focus back on each individual for his or her decisions in life rather than on people who cannot make choices anymore. In Job 1, when a house collapsed on Job’s seven sons and daughters, the Bible records that Job fell to the ground in worship. This tells me that there is something real and human about tying death and worship together. For this reason, perhaps tragedy can bring people closer to God. Does God then use tragedy to bring us closer to him? I do not know. However, I do believe that there are several principles brought up in the Bible such as 1) each individual is responsible for his or her own destiny and not that of others; 2) God is sovereign; 3) there is trouble and difficulty in this world; 4) there is consequence for sin. I believe these to be true.
In Objection 3, Mr. Doland describes problems with evolution and does a decent job explaining the current debate within the Christian church with respect to young earth creationism (YEC) and old earth creationism (OEC). He has also correctly classified chemical evolution (life from non-life) and macro biological evolution (man from simple life structures). Case for Faith did not touch deeply on biological evolution because Lee Strobel interviewed Walter Bradley, who is an engineer, not a biologist. His book Mysteries of Life’s Origins deals with issues with chemical evolution theories, not biological evolution. I agree with Mr. Doland that Lee Strobel’s emphasis was incorrect in discussing chemical instead of biological evolution. I also happen to be an OEC and would reply to his primary objection of no death before Adam in this way. Biologist Dr. John Studenroth has a great analysis of Proverbs 7 which speaks about God personified as Wisdom creating the world. The Hebrew word to describe God’s actions which literally means “play.” I think it is entirely consistent to speak about God ”playing” with creation before man was created and enjoying the creation process for example making large creatures capable of being controlled by extremely small brains.
In Objection 7, Mr. Doland challenges Christians to accept blame for evils done by alleged Christians. I agree with Mr. Doland’s thoughts. Many bad things have been done by Christians in the past, and instead of making excuses for them, we should apologize for them. The point that differentiates Christians from the rest of the world is that they have experienced God’s love and forgiveness. That should make them (us) the most forgiving people in this world. I don’t believe that shifting blame is not the right approach for this Objection. My (our) bad.
3. Where I disagree with Mr. Doland (Objections 2, 5, 6, and 8)
My biggest disappointment with Paul Doland’s critique is that he shows very little understanding of what Christianity is all about despite spending a lot of time understanding issues surrounding Christianity. For example, when he writes about respecting Ravi Zacharias for his eloquence but at the same time being confused about the role of Jesus, I feel he is missing the big picture. Questions about miracles, about Jesus being the only way to God, about a loving god never torturing people in hell, and questions about how to measure levels of doubt with respect to God all make sense when Christianity is understood. You don’t have to accept these premises of Christianity to understand that the conclusions driven by these at least make sense.
Christianity is all about God’s relationship with man. God showed himself to a specific people and spent a good part of their history showing them that he was trustworthy by saving them from enemies. He showed them that he was in charge of history by providing pictures of what would happen. He spoke through prophets who were put to death if they spoke anything that did not come to pass, showing that God was in charge of history. He provided a message to people through his spokespeople and recorded it in the Bible.
The message itself is very clear. Whether you accept it is a separate story. It goes something like this: Man has rebelled against God and therefore cannot have a relationship with him. He has rebelled by not acknowledging God as his creator. The Bible teaches that our very nature is so anti-God that we cannot bring ourselves back into fellowship with God. God therefore sent a savior to save men from their rebellion and bring them back to God. This savior lived a life of perfect obedience to God (non-rebellion), and then died on the cross. In the Old Testament, there was a system of sacrifice where Jews had to sacrifice animals to atone for their sins. The Bible teaches that if we put our trust in Jesus his death becomes an atonement for our sins. That means we are forgiven by God and can have a relationship with God once again.
So let’s go back to the objections:
Questions about miracles.
These should not be questions if God exists. If God exists and he interacts with man, miracles are possible. That does not mean that all laws of nature are suspended. For example, when God divided the waters through Moses, the Bible records that God used a strong east wind as a means to divide the waters. Gravity was not somehow suspended while the waters parted.
Questions about Jesus being the only way to God.
If the Bible is correct, then man needs a means of atonement for sins to have a relationship with him. Man does not need a good teacher, a good experience, or a good promise. Maybe there are other ways to atone for sins. The Bible only provides one way, which is through faith in Christ.
Questions about a loving god never torturing people in hell.
The key is to understand how bad we are to God. We can look at this in two ways: first we can look at how bad our deeds really are. The Bible says that our good works are but dirty rags to God. I’m not sure if that means our motives are skewed, or because we are so anti-God in our existence that whatever we do is tainted before God, or something else. Second, we can look at what God had to do to save us. Christ is God incarnate, so that means that an infinite being God had to die as an atonement for our sins. If sin is so bad that it took an infinite being to have to die to atone for a finite act, then hell at least for me starts to make sense. Do I like it? No. Do I understand what hell looks like? No. I just know that I would rather be with God than without God. Mr. Doland states that “if there is a God who sends people to hell, this “God” is unworthy of worship.” The Bible states exactly the opposite: because God suffered hell instead of man, that is exactly the reason that he is worthy of worship.
Questions about how to measure levels of doubt with respect to God all make sense when Christianity is understood.
The Bible is clear on this that only perfectly sinless people can enter heaven. The Bible teaches that we can either count on ourselves to be or become perfect or count on Christ to be perfect for us. If our attempts to try to be perfect is called “our righteousness” and Christ’s already completed state of perfection is called “Christ’s righteousness” we can either stand before God in our righteousness or Christ’s righteousness. Put in another way, if we put our faith in Christ, Christ’s righteousness is credited to us so we can stand before God with Christ’s righteousness.
4. Summary of Paul Doland’s objections for reference purposes
Objection 1: Evil and Suffering objection.
Why doesn’t God use his own power to cure evil and suffering (hunger, poverty, etc). Why did God make us inferior to Himself and then blame us for being inferior. Why doesn’t God our “heavenly father” act more like a father and less like an elusive admirer?
Objection 2: Miracles objection.
There are problems with definition of miracle. 1. When something cannot be explained by natural means? Propose “God of the gaps” theory. 2. When there is a religio-historical context? This is circular reasoning: If miracle happened, then there must have been a religio-historical context, but you know religio-historical context because a miracle happened. 3. Evidence for Jesus’ resurrection because of Bible, but Bible is only source of data on resurrection. Bible cannot be used to verify accounts which it alone speaks about.
Objection 3: Evolution objection.
Old Earth Creationism (OEC) vs Young Earth Creationism (YEC) vs Evolution. Of the three, evolution has least of problems. OEC problems includes the existence of dinosaurs, death before Adam, and general inconsistencies with Bible. YEC has problems including being consistent with Bible but not with nature. Unfairness of bringing up abiogenesis vs evolution because one can believe in God creating life, and biological evolution taking over (watch maker model). Also can believe in God, but not Christian God.
Objection 4: God kills innocent people objection.
Faulty reasoning for justifying God allowing Israelites to kill Canaanites. Age of accountability reasoning and going to heaven? Christianity degrades value of life by saying that children are better off having no life on Earth because they will have a better life in heaven. Fairness of Original sin.
Objection 5: Jesus is the only way to God objection.
“The fact that not even Christians can seem to figure out how salvations works is very damaging to the Christian case.” Where does Jesus fit salvation story? Would any monotheistic religion that teaches that man is inferior to God is essentially the same as Christianity? How exactly does God reach people in different cultures? “It seems Zacharias and Christians in general, want it both ways: they want to claim value in being taught Christianity while at the same time deny detriment to not being taught Christianity. I just don’t think you can have it both ways”
Objection 6: A loving God would never torture people in Hell
How can hell be the “worst possible situation” while at the same time be a “merciful” act of God? If people who are in hell are people who would rather be in hell than in heaven with God, then what is the point of evangelism? Who would choose eternal torment over non-existence, if God had an option of snuffing people out? How can God say for sure that someone didn’t die prematurely. If there is a God who sends people to hell, this “God” is unworthy of worship.
Objection 7: Church history is littered with oppression and violence.
Do not to blame Christianity for evils done by misguided Christians, but want to give Christianity full credit for any good done by Christians. Difference in definition between Christians acting in accordance to true Christian faith, versus very misguided “Christians.” How can this be true, with current “bad stuff” being done by Christians including condemning homosexuality? From the Christian perspective, life on Earth is of no value other than as a gateway to heaven, so Christianity degrades the value of life.
Objection 8: Doubts and Christianity.
If everybody even Christians have doubt, how does God draw the cut off line between those who get into heaven and those who don’t.
5. Responses to Paul Doland’s objections
It is relevant to note that none of the objections above are strong enough to invalidate Christianity or to prove it wrong.
Brief answers have been provided above to some of the objections. We are in the process of drafting responses to the other objections as well.
See here for a draft in process.