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Monday, June 6, 2011

Argument from Locality

The Argument from Locality is an argument against theism in general, stating that every religion that has ever existed has had a definite starting point in time and space. However, if there was a God, He would want everyone to be aware of Him and to have, at least, equal opportunity to believe in Him. To this end, He would reveal Himself not only to one culture in one era, but to every culture all throughout history. The fact that no religion's god follows the more rational method shows that either He does not exist, or that He is not rational. Both of those options are extremely problematic for most, if not all, major religions today. The argument also calls into question the alleged justice of God because of His apparent excluding of all but one “chosen people” and the condemning of all others.

The Argument from Locality typically runs as follows:
  • Any god who wanted all humans to follow him/her would have revealed themselves to all humans at once, not just one culture or race at a time.
  • If rewards and punishment are given for belief and non-belief respectively, then any god who waits hundreds or thousands of years before revealing itself to humans is unfair, since the people who lived and died before this revelation didn't have a chance to believe.
  • If believers are rewarded for their belief then it is unfair for only a specific group of people to receive more evidence than others.
  • If non-belief is punished then it is also unfair for some people to receive less evidence than others (or no evidence at all).
  • Any religion that strongly reflects the beliefs and thoughts of the time in which it was created is not the "true" one.

Universal Revelation

The first premise of this argument is basically an argument in itself. It is the Argument from Non-Belief. There are many refutations to this idea, but I think the most appropriate for this context is that not all who become aware of the existence of a God, even by personal revelation, succeed in following through on that knowledge. This is evidenced by "non-practicing" members of every denomination. The Bible does address this issue and predicts that this would be the case. For example, in Matthew 13: 3-8, the Lord teaches,

“3 And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;
4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:
5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:
8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.”

The scriptures admit that not everyone who hears the word will accept it (wayside), but then goes on to point out that even among those who do accept it sufficiently to develop faith, there are those who, for whatever reason, let that faith wither and fade away (stony places, thorns).

So if the Lord were to give a personal witness to every man, woman, and child on Earth, it would actually end in condemnation for many people anyways. The Lord needs a method whereby He can give insight to those sufficiently prepared for a personal witness of spiritual truths, while not yet exposing it to those who may not yet be prepared.

The point is, though, that universal revelation does not equal universal conversion, and would end in condemnation for those who would be held accountable for knowledge they are not prepared to live in accordance with.

Belief is Rewarded

The first part of the second premise states that if believers are rewarded for their belief then it is unfair for only a specific group of people to receive more evidence than others. For example, the Jews who lived in Jesus' time were able to witness miracles and stand in Jesus' presence. It would be easy for them to believe. By contrast, people today are given no more evidence than an internally inconsistent book of questionable origin and authorship. It is argued that it is harder for people to believe today, given less evidence, than it was for people thousands of years ago. While people currently living must muddle through this tortuous mess if they are to arrive at the correct conclusion for salvation, that same conclusion was effortless for Jesus' contemporaries, those who were witnesses to his life and his ministry.

Historicity of the Bible aside, this portion of the argument makes several assumptions which are entirely inaccurate. First, the claim is that those living in the time of Christ found it easy to believe. This is simply false.

For example, the Pharisees stood in Christ's presence, heard His teachings first-hand, witnessed almost all of His miracles, and still they did not believe. Even many of the believers fell away when He refused to do more miracles or because the doctrine became too difficult to understand or follow (John 6:26,36,66). Even Judas, one of the Apostles, was not able to follow the witness he received. It is more than clear from even a perfunctory reading of scripture that witnessing miracles, walking with Christ, or hearing his teachings first-hand is absolutely no guarantee that the witness will develop faith as a result of that which is witnessed.

This leads to the second point, that we have less evidence today. Regarding the true source of faith, Christ teaches in Matthew 16:15-17,
“15He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
16And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
17And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”

By this He means that Simon did not arrive at this conclusion because of things that he had seen with his eyes, or heard with his ears, but that faith comes through the witness of the Holy Ghost, often referred to as Religious Experience. Paul also teaches this, in 1 Cor 12:3, when he taught that knowledge that Jesus is the Christ comes through the Holy Ghost.

If faith is developed not through witnessing miracles or seeing Christ first-hand, but through the individual testimony of the Holy Ghost, then we have no less evidence today than was available in the time of Christ. It may be true that there are less miracles, or at least less ostentatious miracles, but if one's apparent ability to break the laws of physics at will did lead to faith, then I suspect David Blaine and Chris Angel would have founded their own churches long ago. In fact, in today's environment of science and technology, I suspect most legitimate miracles would be quickly dismissed as some kind of illusion or otherwise explained away. Miracles do not produce faith, but they would be less effective today than ever.

Non-belief is Punished

Not only would it be unfair of God to give one nation more evidence than any other, the argument also states that it would be unfair to punish other nations when they were set at a disadvantage by having less revelation. For example, if Christianity is the correct religion, then generation after generation - dozens of indigenous cultures, thousands of tribes, millions and millions of people - in North, Central and South America, in Europe, in Africa, in Asia, in Australia and Indonesia - all lived and died in total, tragic ignorance of the one true god, without ever being given a chance to know the love of Jesus or hear about the sacrifice he made. This holds true both for those people who lived before Jesus as well as those who lived during or after his time but before missionaries arrived there. They were never told about the Bible, never got to witness or benefit from any miracles, and never even had one single prophet raised up from among their number. Why did God neglect these people?

The answer is that He didn't. The Lord has been sending missionaries to non-believing nations ever since the Old Testament. An example of this is the story of Jonah. The Lord instructed Jonah to go to the people of Nineveh and cry repentance to them because they were wicked. Even by today's liberal standards, the people of Nineveh were a savage and brutal people, but the Lord cared enough to send Jonah to teach them.

We have no reason to think that this is a unique case. In fact, given what we know of the Lord's character (Mal. 3:6), it would be entirely consistent to believe that all of His prophets were sent to preach, presumably to people who didn't already know. In fact, many Old Testament verses indicate that the Lord was concerned with the spiritual condition of the Gentiles ( Deut. 4:6-8, Joshua 4:24, Isa. 2:3, Isa. 49:6, Isa. 61:1, Ezek. 34:11, and many others).

However, there are some nations which were impossible to reach for centuries. In fact, even today, there are many people in remote locations who live and die without hearing even the name of Christ. What happens to those who die without this knowledge? The Bible does address this. It makes it clear that preaching and conversion is possible even after death. In 1 Peter 3: 18-20, Peter says,

“18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.”

After the crucifixion, Christ preached to the spirits of the wicked who had died, and to what end would he bother preaching to them if conversion were not possible? He cannot condemn them for their ignorance if it is due to factors beyond their control, yet one cannot be saved by ignorance either, because salvation requires action on our part. So everyone must have a chance to hear the gospel if judgment is to be just. In John 9:41, Christ said,
“Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.”

God will judge all people justly. That means that we will not be held accountable for knowledge we do not have, but eventually, everyone will have the opportunity to accept or deny it.

Ever since the Old Testament, the Lord has been reaching out to other nations to spread the gospel, but even individuals who were not reached in life may possibly find conversion afterward.

Beliefs and Thoughts of the Times

The third premise states that a religion cannot be true if it strongly reflects beliefs and thoughts of the times, such as the shape of the Earth, societal role of women, etc, because it is more likely that it is a human invention, not divine. The reasoning behind this is that if a given religion was purely the invention of human beings, we would expect that that religion would bear similarities to its culture of origin. On the other hand, a transcendent or all-knowing deity, or even one that was merely far wiser than human beings, would not be limited by what was known or believed at the time he dispensed a revelation, but could provide new information of which people were not previously aware and which did not correspond to any concepts in their experience.

Many of the issues this points to, such as cosmological issues, are purely matters of interpretation and even many Christians do not agree on them. However, it is known that eastern writings, such as the Bible, use significantly more symbolism than many western readers are used to. But even if the ancient Israelites honestly thought the Earth was flat, it does not mean that God got it wrong. It just means that it wasn't a big enough issue that the Lord felt he needed to correct it. After all, an individual who believes that the Earth is round will get into Heaven, but a person who thinks the Earth is flat will also get into Heaven. It's simply not one of those issues our salvation depends on.

When teaching in any setting, it is a good practice to teach according to the understanding of those being taught. Using images and analogies (such as a flat Earth) with which a person is already familiar makes it much easier for them to understand concepts which they would otherwise find difficult to grasp.

I do not believe that the Prophets truly thought that the Earth was flat. I think that's a misinterpretation of scripture, but even if I am wrong and they did hold that belief, it still doesn't mean the God was wrong. It just means it's not that important.

There are many instances, however, such as the social status of women and slavery, which are clearly wrong. But the Lord never claimed He'd given us a perfect law. He only gave us the law we were ready for. In a few thousand years He would come back and give them a higher law which formed much of the New Testament. Precept upon precept, line upon line. Here a little and there a little (Isa. 28:10). The Lord reveals the gospel one piece at a time as we prepare ourselves to receive it.

Support for this idea is in Matthew 19:7-8, when Jesus speaks to the Pharisees,

“7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?
8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.”

It was not part of God's plan that men should put away their wives, but Moses allowed them to do it because they were not ready to live a higher law.


Every line of this argument is based on assumption. It assumes that all who receive revelation are successfully converted. The Bible admits this is not so and even provides examples, such as Cain and Judas. It assumes that we lack evidence to believe today that non-believers had in the time of Christ. The Bible is clear that the only source of conversion is the Holy Ghost, which is just as strong today as it was then. It assumes that the Lord has forgotten about those who die without knowledge of God. The Bible teaches that not only is it possible for them to convert after death, but they must have that opportunity if God's judgment is just. The argument says that a work reflecting its own cultural knowledge is most likely a human invention. Not only does the Bible contain knowledge not widely held at the time (The Earth is not flat. Isa. 40:22), but it addresses this issue by showing the step-by-step pattern the Lord uses in teaching. I can't speak for other religions, but this argument completely fails against Christianity.


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