THEOLOGY IN DIALOGUE
by Dr. John H. Gerstner
If you have not read Chapter 1, please read it before reading this excerpt. This excerpt is Chapter 2 of Theology in Dialogue by the late Dr. John Gerstner. In Chapter 2 Dr. Gerstner continues his "dialecture" between a Christian and an Inquirer. He continues to defend the existence of God, explain to the Inquirer the case for the attributes of God and the consequences of these attributes.
Christian: Let us see where we are. We are satisfied that there is an independent, eternal, infinite, omnipotent Being who is the source of all that is, including intelligence. In the process of our earlier discussion, we have more or less assumed that this Being is also moral, but since we have not looked squarely at this subject, I think we should do it now since it is of great importance. Just as we recognize that there is intelligence in our world and we have proven that it must have come from this ultimate Being, can we also agree that there is morality in our world, and that it must have come from this ultimate Being, who must Himself be moral too?
Inquirer: Yes, I think you are right. There is a real parallel here, and I see that you are likely to prove, under analysis, that this being is indeed a moral one. Nevertheless, because this is of the greatest importance, we should look at it carefully. So let me hear your argument.
C: Okay. Do we agree at the outset that there is such a thing as morality in our world?
I: Come to think of it, I am not so sure about that. Many people think that morality is merely custom, and that it varies with the time and clime. What do you say to that?
C: I say that is an erroneous opinion and that people ought not to say such things. Do you get my point?
I: Yes, I get it. What you are saying is that a person makes a moral judgment about another person's statements when he thinks that they are contrary to fact but that the person who made such statements has a moral obligation not to have made them, and should retract them. Is that what you are hinting at?
C: Precisely. It is not important, at the moment, whether my judgment is right or wrong. What is important is that my judgment is a moral one; that is, it takes on a moral coloration when I say they ought not to say such things. When I use an expression like that, I am not merely indicating my intellectual divergence of opinion from those whom I disagree with. I am indicating that I have a moral felling associated with it also. In other words, because their statement is incorrect (in my opinion), my moral feeling tells me that they ought not to have made that statement. On the other hand, it is clear that if they think they were correct, they will say, " We certainly should say what we think is right. And you certainly should take exception to it if you think it is wrong." In other words, on both sides of a given academic argument, people have moral convictions.
I: True enough. But does that not confirm what I said earlier--that moral judgments differ with time and clime?
C: Take the point in discussion right now. Is there a real difference in the moral judgment, or in the facts about which the moral judgment is made? In this instance, the persons with whom I disagree and I have different opinions about the truth. That is very clear. And, of course, because we have different opinions about the truth, one of us feels it ought not to have been said, while the other feels it ought to have been said. So, because we have divergent viewpoints of the truth, we have divergent moral evaluations about stating it.
I: Granted. But you are admitting divergent moral evaluations.
C: But is there not an underlying unity in this moral judgment? Do we not tacitly agree that a person ought not to tell a falsehood? We disagree as to what the truth is and what the falsehood is, but do we not agree about what the moral judgment should be concerning truth and falsehood? We are on opposite sides of the fence as far as the intellectual judgment is concerned, but are we not together with respect tot he moral judgment which ought to follow a given understanding of truth? Do we not both agree that truth-telling should be our lifestyle? Are we not in perfect harmony and agreement on that matter?
I: I see your point. We all agree that men ought to tell the truth and not lie. But we often disagree as to whether something is the truth or a lie. We always agree, I suppose, that we should tell the truth and we should not tell lies, no matter our time or clime.
I: I had not thought of it before, but putting it that way raises another question in my mind--that is the matter of the "white lie," or whether sometimes it is not our duty to tell a lie. What do you say to that issue?
C: I say it is an interesting observation, but it will not change the fact that our moral judgments are the same.
I: What do you mean?
C: What I mean is this: that generally speaking, we agree that we ought to tell the truth and ought not to tell lies. There are certain kinds of lies, however, which cause people to differ about whether they should or should not be told. Without going into the merit of the two positions on this matter, can we not agree that those who put "white lies" into the category of truth which should be told, and those who do not put "white lies" into the category of truth which should be told, are differing on academic judgment and not a moral judgment?
I: I do not grasp that
C: This is not easy to see, since the scene becomes much more complicated and clouded here. Perhaps we can penetrate to the core of the issue. I suppose the reason we all feel that truth should always be told is that it is beneficial for mankind to be truth-tellers. And the reason we think that lies should not be told is that they are not beneficial to mankind. There is a certain area of "lie" and a certain area of "truth" which seems to many people to be borderline. That is, they are not sure that a particular kind of lie-telling is harmful. At that point, there is a difference in judgment about the actual effect of lie-telling or truth-telling. Since we seem to be working on the underlying principle that we ought to be beneficial in our speech and articulation, and truth-telling is normally beneficial (and lie-telling is normally not beneficial), we therefore normally favor truth-telling and normally oppose lie-telling. But, if there is any situation where truth-telling is not beneficial an lie-telling is beneficial, then the moral judgment is to say we ought to benefit mankind. People will have a difference of opinion about a certain kind of truth-telling and a certain kind of lie-telling(as to whether it is beneficial or not), but they have absolute unanimity on the opinion and moral feeling that the beneficial option ought to be spoken and lived. Is that not so?
I: I guess it is, when you come to think of it. Let me see if I have really grasped this point to which I seem to be agreeing. It comes down to this, does it not? We all have a moral conviction that we ought to benefit our neighbor rather than harm him. Truth is the usual way of benefiting him, and lying is the usual way of harming him. But, if ever truth is essentially harmful or a lie is essentially beneficial, we make the moral judgment whether such ought to be said. I guess I must agree that there will be normally be an intellectual difference of opinion as to whether or not something is beneficial. Certainly there is a vast amount of intellectual divergence of opinion in these areas.
C: I agree with you, and I think that is the source of this mistaken notion that morals are relativistic. It is not the morals which are relativistic; it is the intellectual appraisals of behavior that may be relativistic. That is, one person may make different intellectual than another person. These intellectual judgments may be affected by his background, his culture, his tradition, his ability to think clearly, and a number of other factors. But we join ranks, ass the human race, on the moral judgment. We must not lose sight of this. We must not lose the moral tress in the forest of diverse intellectual judgments. So we agree, then, that we are moral beings. Do we agree that our moral consciousness must have come from the Author of our being?
I: Yes, we agree. As we have said before, ultimately it must have come from Him, but it has not yet been proven that He made us this way. I ask the question, "Is it not possible that we have developed this moral consciousness ourselves?" I remember many years ago reading a book by the Egyptologist, Breasted, entitled The Dawn of Conscience. Is it not possible that conscience dawns in our post-created life and was not a part of our built-in inheritance from this Being?
C: On the surface it certainly seems possible. Let us try the idea on for size. The first thing I would ask is this: Do we not agree that we would need to have a potentiality for conscience in order to develop it of ourselves?
I: I am not sure what you mean.
C: What I mean is this: Do we not have to be the kind of being who would be capable of developing a conscience? And, if we are such beings, are we not necessarily owing that to the ultimate Author of our being? For example, we have already satisfied ourselves that this ultimate Being is the source of all being. Thus, He is the source of a rock as well as of a human being. It is obvious that a rock cannot have intelligence and certainly cannot have a conscience. It feels no sense of guilt for being the spot where my foot will strike (and suffer as a result). I might blame someone for putting the rock there, but I certainly can never blame the rock there, but I certainly can never blame the rock for being there. It simply has no capacity for responsible behavior. Now, we are obviously different from a rock. We can think, and we can have moral feelings. Had we been made rocks rather than human beings, we obviously would not have the potentiality for moral sensitivity, would we?
I: That is true. We have to have potentiality, and this potentiality for moral feeling must have come from the ultimate source of our being.
C: Then we have made some advance into our subject. We have seen that the ultimate Being is not only the ultimate source of our morality (in the sense that He is the ultimate source of everything), but that He is the ultimate source of our morality in the sense that He has made us with this capacity for morality without which we would have been incapable of ever developing such a capacity.
I: I grant that. But that still is not the same thing as saying that He endowed us with moral sensitivity, is it?
C: I admit that verbally speaking it is not the same thing; but implicitly thinking, it is the same. That is to say, where this ultimate Being gives us a capacity for developing moral sensitivity, is there any ultimate distinction between that and an actual built-in moral nature? I admit that verbally it is different to say that a being is capable of morality or that a being has a built-in moral instinct. But, when one analyzes the two verbally different statements, the question arises whether or not they are rationally different.
I: I see where you are heading, but I do not see how you are heading there. You will have to make clearer to me that moral potentiality and moral actuality are one and the same thing, which is what you seem to be saying.
C: Yes, I suppose that is what I am saying; and you are helping me to understand better what I myself am trying to articulate. Moral potentiality and moral actuality would tend to be one and the same thing.
I: You have not proven that.
C: Yes, I admit that I have not proven it yet. I am going to have to articulate this further, for your sake and mine, under scrutiny. One part of the moral potentiality on the part of a being is to respond morally when a situation arises which elicits moral response. This is awkwardly put, but I think you can see what I am driving at. If we are potentially moral (as we have admitted we are)--if we have this potentiality, does that mean that when we are presented with certain types of situations, they elicit from us instinctively a moral judgment, just as truly as they do not elicit such a judgment from a rock? Does possessing a moral potentiality mean anything other than that we are moral beings, but that we do not give expression to that characteristic of ours until we have the type of data which calls for a moral response? I admit that is still awkward phrasing, but I hop the concept is becoming clearer to you.
I: Clearer, but not clear enough.
C: Maybe an analogy will help. We say that we are intellectual beings. We mean by that, do we not that we are potentially intellectual? That is to say, we have a kind of being which when confronted with a certain stimulus will make an intellectual response. Going back to the rock, it does not have that characteristic, and consequently it does not think about things any more than it morally judges things. But, when we say that we are intellectual beings, does that mean anything other than that we are potentially intellectual in the sense that we act intellectually when we have intellectual data upon which to act? In other words, intellectual potentiality and intellectual actuality are essentially the same thing. We could put it another way and say that intellectual potentiality is actuality at rest, as it were; and that intellectual actuality is intellectual potentiality being exercised.
I: This is heavy going.
C: It would be analogous to physical qualities. We state that we have physical being, and by that we mean that we can act physically; but while we sleep we are not acting physically. When we are resting, we are resting from physical activity. But we are capable at any moment of waking up or getting up to exert physical energy. But we have different stages of physical resting versus physical acting. Presumably, we have the same situation with respect to intellectual resting and intellectual acting; moral resting and moral acting. This is what I man by potentiality and actuality.
I: I can see you pattern of thought. Where does this lead us?
C: It seems to lead us to the point that we are moral beings by virtue of the endowment that the ultimate Being has vested in our derivative being: that, when we say a person is a moral being, we necessarily mean that this ultimate Being has made him that way. And, then, when we investigate the expression "made him that way," what we man is that He has made us the kind of being that responds to certain types of situations. To go back to the expression about the "dawn of conscience," What is the "dawn of conscience" in any individual except the first expression of a moral judgment?
I: So we really have the answer to our additional question here. We have discovered, in studying the matter more thoroughly, that this ultimate Being is the source of our morality immediately. We had recognized before that He has to be the ultimate source of morality because He is the source of everything; and that He was more immediately the source of everything; and that He was more immediately the source of our morality in the sense that He made with whatever potentialities we have. And now, we have noticed in the third place that potentiality and actual moral nature are essentially one and the same--that it amounts to describing a moral nature which we have as inactive or at rest, such as in our intellectual or physical nature. But where does that leave us with respect to this question of whether the ultimate Being made us moral beings?
C: Does it not seem clear that He must have made us moral beings? And that the dawn of conscience on our part is merely the first expression of what He has made us to be? We have not ourselves developed beyond something with which He endowed us at the beginning. We have simply come to express what He has plainly given us from the beginning. Okay?
I: I guess so.
C: One could almost say this is merely a semantic problem. The problem is created by the words used to describe the situation. There is no real problem here that cannot be corrected by a more careful mode of articulation. If we are going to say that we make ourselves moral beings and develop, as it were, a conscience, strictly speaking we exercise that because He has given us that potentiality, that tendency, that nature. We have not produced the nature. We have only exercised this potentiality of ourselves which He has given us.
I: Okay, I guess I must accept that. This Being has made us moral beings, and any morality we ever express at any time in our lives is a result of His endowment. Where does that leave us with respect to His own nature as a moral Being? But before we come to that, let us look at this other point that we have not resolved yet. Namely, how does this account for the manifest divergence of morality among the creatures made by the ultimate Being?
C: Have we not already resolved that question? Did we not see earlier that the apparent differences are not real--that we have identically the same moral judgment about identically the same object? It is just that we differ, in some cases, on the interpretation of the options, once we agree on the definition of it. So these differences in time and clime are merely a difference in intellectual judgment and never a difference in moral judgment, which remains at all times exactly the same, indicative of the fact that we all have the same moral nature derivative from the same ultimate Being.
I: That is the case, all right. Then comes the ultimate question: What does all this say about any possible moral nature in the ultimate Being?
C: Why not answer that question yourself? You tell me whether this ultimate Being can be anything other than moral, and simultaneously be the source of morality.
I: When you put it that way, there is only one answer, and I can give it as well as you can. He (or it) must, in Himself ( or itself), be a moral Being. He is not only the ultimate source of our morality; He is the immediate source of our morality. And I have to admit that, if He is the immediate source of our morality, He must also be moral. I had not seen that originally because I entertained the idea that He was more removed from the moral scene in our live than the evidence will support. We have seen in our dialogue that He must be the immediate producer of moral judgments and, seeing the truth of that, you are quite right about it. I can see that He must be moral. He cannot build moral judgments in us with out Himself being moral. That is self-evident, I think. What was not evident was the fact that potentiality was actuality. But that, under closer scrutiny, became self-evident as well.
C: Then we see that this ultimate Being is independent, eternal, infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, and, most importantly, moral.
I: But before we come to the ultimate question about whether this Being is a personal Being or not, let me ask a lesser query which is nevertheless troubling to me. How would this Being be related to space? In a certain sense we have shown how it is related to time; namely, as eternity is related to time; namely, as eternity is related to time. However that may be, we do not have to settle that question right now, I suppose, since we have demonstrated this Being's eternality. We do not have to settle the question of how His eternality is related to temporality at the moment. Maybe we do not have to settle the question as to how this ultimate Being is related to temporality at the moment. Maybe we do not have to settle the question as to how this ultimate Being is related to spatiality either. Or, maybe, if I may continue to ruminate independently for awhile, maybe we do not even have to settle this inasmuch as we have already in a sense settled it.
C: What do you meant by that?
I: What I mean is that we have already established this Being is infinite. That means He would have no spatial limits whatever. He has no temporal limits because He is eternal, and He has no spatial limits because He is infinite. Of course, infinity ( I guess you as a Christian would say) would not be restricted only to spatiality. We have not discussed this, but I am guessing that you would say that this infinite Being must be infinite in intelligence and infinite in morality and infinite in power--infinite in every way. Is that not so?
C: Yes, that would seem to be true. I am glad you pointed this out.
I: To get back to this other matter about space; I guess I have answered my own question, have I not? That is, God must transcend spatiality, because He is infinite. I guess the reason I have a problem here is that I am recalling my college course in philosophy and remembering that Kant maintained that space (and time, for that matter) are in the mind. Am I correct in my recollection?
C: Yes. Immanuel Kant held that both space and time were intuitions of the mind--that the mind, in the process of thinking, receives these intuitions of the mind called space and time.
I: What do our recent observations say to the contention of Kant?
C: Kant was admittedly a very great thinker. Nevertheless, I believe that he was guilty of putting his epistemological cart before his epistemological horse. A brilliant man can do a thing like that, and, having done it, then show his brilliance in the way he carries out the mistake. He can be brilliantly wrong because he started on the wrong path. I do think this is the situation with Kant, which in no way denies the man's profundity along lines that he examined.
I: You are losing me. I can hardly remember Kant from my college course, and you are getting into a critique which totally eludes me. Please be more plain.
C: You probably recall that Kant took science and mathematics for granted. As a philosopher, he was wrestling with the question of how science (which he took for granted) could be vindicated philosophically or epistemologically.
I: I recall that from the beginning of his famous Critique of Pure Reason.
C: What I mean by saying that he put the cart before the horse was that he assumed this. He should have followed a more basic set of assumptions, such as the ones we ourselves have been following today. You remember, at the beginning of our dialogue, we started at a real "square one," which is self-consciousness. That comes before mathematics, natural science, theology, the Bible, and everything else. I think it came before everything else even in the experience of Immanuel Kant and every other thinker, great or not so great. That is the place to stand of the ancient Greeks. That is where we all have to stand at the outset if we are going to go anywhere at all. Neither Kant nor anyone else can be an exception to that inevitable, built-in rule of our beings.
I: I can see that. But what was wrong with Kant's starting place?
C: There was nothing wrong with his real starting point, which was, as was proper, his own consciousness. Just like you and me and everybody else, Kant had to start with his own consciousness. What was wrong with Kant was his not recognizing or acknowledging that. Instead, he started with something which was far advanced along the way of human thought, namely, mathematics and other natural sciences. For example, a mathematician deals with quantities and abstractions. But the mathematician has to deal with the mathematician first of all. He has to start just as the rest of us do who are not mathematicians. We have to start with ourselves and our consciousness, and ask the type of questions you and I have been wrestling with. If we do so, then I think we will come to the kind of conclusions we came to in the subjects of our scrutiny today. We have tried to do so carefully, and we have considered possible objections and detected mistakes or false roads which might have sidetracked us. All thinkers have to do the same thing. Theymay choose to assume things that you and I have not taken for granted until proven. But if they do so and then start at some other point, they must not forget what has been assumed.
I: I gather then that you quibble with Kant over this: if Kant would be true to himself, he would have gone through the type of intellectual rigamarole which we have been following; and if he did so, he would have had to come to the same conclusions we have. Is that right?
C: Precisely. If he had done so, and not forgotten it when he began his Critique of Pure Reason, he would realize that this infinite Being transcends space, and that space is somehow or other related to us, the products of His ultimate being. We do not have to deal in this context with Kant's contention that, since we are the products of this ultimate Being, what we think, we intuitively think temporal and spatial intuitions. As far as our conversation is concerned, that question could be left in limbo for now. Whether or not we apprehend sensibility in the intuitions of space and time does not have to be settled at this moment. We have settled to our satisfaction the question before us: namely, what would be this ultimate Being's relationship to space? Is He a spatial Being? The answer that we have found is that He must necessarily transcend space because He is infinite in every respect.
I: But has not Henry Moore, and perhaps the Puritans Richard Sibbes and Jonathan Edwards, contended that God, Himself, is space?
C: Yes, they have. But, when anyone says that God or our ultimate Being is space, he must be meaning what we mean by transcending space. They must be using space in the sense of infinite space. It must be, in their minds, the sphere of activity of this ultimate Being. He would have to live and move and have His being in himself, and that would include all space and time and everything else, presumably.
I: In other words, when people say that God is space, are they using "space" in a somewhat different sense from an ordinary meaning?
C: I think so. Once again, I draw us back to our present line of inquiry: what is the relation of this ultimate Being to "space," in the ordinary usage of the term? We have seen that "space" in the ordinary usage of the term is limited, not infinite, and is a sphere in which we all exist; and "space" would be transcended by the ultimate Being. That is, if it is associated with us finite beings, then, of course, it must be all-comprehending but still finite, and it must be derivative of the infinite being just as all other entities (if space is an entity) are. The one thing that is important for our inquiry, it seems to me, would be to see that space cannot possibly transcend God or the ultimate Being. However, the ultimate Being may or may not transcend space. That is, if He is identical with space, then space is being conceived of as the infinite entity of some sort--identical with the infinite Being. But, if we are going to use "space" in the more typical, traditional sense of theterm, then the important thing is to notice that it cannot transcend the ultimate Being, but the ultimate Being must transcend it, and be the ultimate source of it. Agreed?
I: I think I agree. Where does that leave us?
C: It would mean that this ultimate Being is independent, eternal, infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, moral, and either spatial (in that unique sense of the word "space") or transcendent of space, but unlimited by space in the ordinary sense. Is that not the case?
I: I guess that is indeed the case, and consequently we have one remaining question: the ultimate question about the ultimate Being. Is it a "he" or an "it?"
C: You have put in little roadblocks along the way before we could get to this initial question. I am surprised that you have not put in another one which often arises in this sort of dialogue.
I: Did I overlook something? What?
C: You have not raised the question about the possibility of the ultimate Being changing.
I: It did cross my mind, but I think I can answer it myself without arguing it in dialogue. I would say that this Being would have to be unchangeable. It is obvious to me that if a Being is infinite, it could not change. What is there for it to change into? What could conceivably change it? I even asked myself, "Could it change itself?" But I answered myself, " Why would it change itself?" What could it ever learn that it did not eternally and thoroughly know, that would lead it to believe it would be better to change itself? Is that not nonsense? To use a famous Leibnizian expression from college, there would be no "sufficient reason" for this infinite Being to change itself.
C: I am intrigued by your feeling that it is not even meaningful to ask the question about whether the ultimate Being could change. Would you elucidate that further, please?
I: Just as there would be no reason for Him to change, there would be nothing into which He could change. He is Himself infinite, unlimited, omniscient, omnipotent, and so on. Into what else could He possibly change? He is not potentiality, as we have said we are. He is actuality, or is it activity? You have me saying "He" now, just as if I have thrown in the towel. But, I remind you that I have not thrown in the towel yet about this ultimate Mover being God, though I confess that I am getting close.
C: I realize that.
I: Anyway, go back to this other statement. There would be nothing which this ultimate Being could change into. We humans, of course, can change and constantly do change as we learn more and more, and as we get more or less power, and find ourselves in varying situations that affect us and are not a part of our being, and these situations in a sense produce modifications in our being. But none of these things apply to the ultimate Being who is the source of all and who is not produced or even affected by any of them. Here again I find myself moving into Aristotelian directions.
C: Okay, thank you. That was quite enlightening. I also agree that I hear the distant echoes of Aristotle myself; which is a very good transition to the ultimate question about whether God is a person. As you will recall, Aristotle would never quite say that. In Aristotle's mind, if God is a person, He certainly seemed to be beyond good and evil, and of feeling such things that we would usually associate with personality. Having mentioned Aristotle at this point, we can very easily take up now that great question that has been hanging over our whole investigation--whether this ultimate Being is indeed a personal being. What do you think?
I: Frankly, I am afraid that it is a "He."
C: Why are you afraid?
I: Well, if there is a God and I am an atheist, I am in a bad way. After all, I have been living my whole life without Him, and I have often claimed that He does not exist. If He does exist, it seems that I am in trouble. You ask why I am afraid. You tell me. Do I have a right to be afraid?
C: I am afraid you do have a right to be afraid. You are perfectly correct. If there is a God and you can know Him, and do know Him but you have not acknowledged Him, you have knowledge of Him but not acknowledgment of Him, you have reason to be afraid. He is not going to be pleased with such behavior on your part, unless. . . .
I: Unless? Is there hope for me?
C: Yes and no. Let us say, " unless there is some excuse for your not acknowledging Him." But if there is no excuse, then of course you are admittedly in a bad way. I am afraid there is no excuse.
I: You are right. After all, you have not been telling me things. You have been dialoguing with me, and I have been seeing these things for myself. There is nothing which you have said in our dialogue which I could not have known on my own, if I had taken the time and trouble to think them through. Is that not the case?
C: I am afraid so.
I: So I am at least guilty of procrastination. But I am guilty of much more than that if the ultimate Being is a person. I am afraid that I sensed these things and refused to look into them because I rather enjoyed the autonomy that went with my own atheism. As long as there was no God to interfere with me, I could think and act however I pleased. Obviously, if there is a God, I am going to be under His judgment for that behavior, and there is no autonomy for me from now on.
C: As I said earlier, it is most refreshing to talk with you. I say "talk with" and not "talk to," because I am not teaching. I am studying these things with you, and I have learned some things from you. I have never met a more honest person than you.
I: You have said that a couple of times and I was rather willing to believe it, but I am beginning to wonder whether you are telling the truth when you say that I am honest.
I: Have I not been admitting that I have been dishonest? I have been at least dishonest enough to be unwilling to consider the evidence in past years. You are giving me credit for being honest when all the time I have actually been suppressing evidence. I have had a dim awareness of the things that you have said and have been conscious of the fact that, if I looked into them, I would have more than a dim awareness of them. I have admitted to you that I liked my own autonomy, and did not want anybody, including a deity, to interfere with it. These things are not as honest as you are giving credit for. What do you say to that?
C: I guess you are right, again. I guess you have not been honest. No matter how this conversation comes out, you have been dishonest with yourself. I have given you the benefit of any doubt, but you are convincing me that I have no right to give you those benefits of doubts. I ought to know that what we are discussing is common to mankind and that, if a person does not see this, it would not be because he cannot see it, but because he does not want to see it. If he wishes to suppress what he can see, then he cannot be an honest person. It looks as if I really goofed here. You tell me whether this statement is true or false--that the term "honest atheist" is a contradiction?
I: I am afraid that an "honest atheist" is a contradiction in terms. If you had said that at the beginning of our conversation, I would have stopped the conversation then and there. Maybe that is the reason why your lack of candor about my candor is excusable. But on the other hand, if honesty is necessary, I guess you cannot be excused any more that I can for being a dishonest atheist. In a sense we are both in the same boat. We are both inconsistent with what we know. If I did not know it before, I know now that I am guilty for such ignorance. I am afraid that you also are guilty.
C: You are right. Since I do believe in God, I am asking God right now to forgive me for my sins against you, my dear friend, whom I gave credit for being an honest atheist, not realizing that was a contradiction in terms.
I: Do you Christians not have an expression that, "confession is good for the soul"? If so, then this has been good for both of us. So let us come now to the ultimate question which will prove me to be a liar! I call myself an honest atheist. What evidence is there that this ultimate Being is a personal Being?
C: I would rather that you work this one out yourself. Are you willing?
I: I am scared silly. I am still suppressing what I am afraid I will find if I really look with my eyes open. I almost sense that I could do this as well as you, but at the same time, I am going to ask you to show what I am afraid I will see--that this ultimate Being is none other than a personal God.
C: However painful it is for you, it is a pleasure for me to try to persuade you, not because I like to see you suffer, but because I do believe in God and I believe the only way you can come to God is by honesty and repentance. So thank you for the privilege of letting me show you the truth that you are already beginning to sense--that the ultimate Being is the living and personal God.
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