Saturday, 31 December 2011

Family Conversations

Slightly edited version of a conversation I've just had:

"Hi Granny, thanks for the pressies for the Tiny Geekette.  Sorry there was some confusion with the grandparent/great grand-parent 'thank-you' cards, we'll arrange a swap sometime.  Please be assured the relevant minions have been executed." 

"Oh, it doesn't matter.  I did wonder why you spent the Geekette's money on cinema tickets instead of shoes.  But I was planning on sending a package to your father anyway.  I've been collecting all the obituaries of Christopher Hitchens for him." 

"Hmm.  I didn't know he was particularly interested in Hitchens...?  He's always filled out 'C of E' on forms..." 

"Oh, did he never tell you they went to school together?  The Hitchens brothers used to spend the holidays with us occasionally.  Christopher was always the more charming of the two boys.  They used to spend hours playing with your father's train set.  You never saw that train set, did you?" 

"Oh, he told me about the train set.  Didn't bother mentioning Christopher Hitchens played with it..."

Friday, 23 December 2011

Objection Eight: I Still Have Doubts, So I Can't Be A Christian; Lynn Anderson, D.Min.

Calm yourselves.  Strobel isn't talking to a woman, in contradiction to 1 Tim 2:12; Lynn is all man under his feminine pseudonym. 

Strobel is clearly on the home straight now.  If he can sell this one, he pretty much has his audience hooked; he's essentially saying that even if everything he has claimed so far in this whole book is unconvincing, it's still rational to be a Christian.  Since that's pretty much the position he's in, the stakes are high for him here. 

So what we're presented with isn't really an argument for Christianity at all; instead, it's a list of ex-atheists (Ron Browski, described at some length; Lee Strobel of course; Lynn Anderson himself, and in the Conclusion, Billy Moore again at length) along with continuous repetition that the only reason to be an atheist is because you want to be immoral: 'I knew that my hard-drinking, immoral and self-obsessed lifestyle would have to change if I ever became a follower of Jesus, and I wasn't sure I wanted to let go of that.

And so it is that Anderson gets straight down to his main theme, how to deal with doubt: 'Many spiritual seekers have legitimate questions [...] some seekers get to the point where they are subconsciously raising smoke screens to mask their deep-seated motivations for rejecting the faith.'  Got that?  Even if you have intellectual problems with Christianity - and let's face it, after reading Strobel's book that's pretty likely - you subconsciously know it's true.  Even to disagree with Strobel is itself evidence of your moral depravity, and if you think otherwise you are simply subconsciously fooling yourself. 

Of course, this is a slight tangent.  Strobel's title for this chapter is about dealing with doubts, not explaining why there are atheists in the face of (so he says) overwhelming evidence of God's existence. 

So, moving on from the tangent, we get to the question in the title.  Perhaps you are one of 'those whose melancholy personality draws them toward uncertainty [...] the confusion, the guilt, the maddening ambiguity of uncertainty [...] corrosive, eroding, negative doubt.' 

Or perhaps your doubt is 'rebellious', 'arrogant', due to 'disappointment', the result of abuse, or (just possibly), 'intellectual'

Or - and by now perhaps it is becoming clear that this is to be quite a lengthy aside - perhaps you're too busy to think things through.  Or you are worried by a lack of contact, or a lack of miracles (because of your 'misguided and unexamined' theology that leads you to expect them), or perhaps you fear commitment, or have 'professional pride'

Or perhaps your atheism is due to the absence of a father figure (an allegation that could certainly never be levelled against the Abrahamic religions). 

This repetition goes on for quite some time.  Surely now Anderson and Strobel will come to the point? 

Doubt is a 'smokescreen'.  Despite having grudgingly conceded the theoretical possibility that Christianity just might not be convincing to some people, Anderson nevertheless claims that 'all unbelief ultimately has some other underlying reason'.  He even goes so far as to quote the Gospel of John saying that 'If a man chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own' - which would seem to deny the possibility of doubt among believers, and thus undermine Anderson's whole thesis. 

OK, so they didn't come straight to the point, but surely they will get to it now?  Sadly, no.  They have more to say first.  We get the usual throwaway explanation for why God doesn't just make His existence obvious, if he's so keen for us to believe: otherwise, 'what we would have is knowledge, not faith.'  (Exactly what's so terrible about knowledge is, as ever, not explained, other than that we need to make a 'step of faith' and that we must choose to ignore our doubts - though presumably we are not permitted to doubt that last statement.) 

So, about those who want to believe but still have doubts...  ah no, we're not there yet.  There are some truly hilarious reports from Anderson about how atheists are not only dishonestly denying that they know deep down that God exist, but that they will blurt this out with the slightest provocation whenever Anderson is in the room:

'I said to her, 'What's the reason you don't want to believe?  Is it because you don't want the responsibility faith brings with it?  Is it because of despair over your own incorrigibility?  Or is it because you don't want to give up parties?'   
''She was startled.  She said, 'Who told you that?  It's a little bit of all three.'' 

Or this:

''I don't think your problem is that you can't believe; I think it's that you won't believe because you're afraid to give up the things that help get you through the night.'   
'He thought for a while and then said, 'Yeah, I guess that's true.  I can't imagine sleeping with just one woman.  I can't imagine going with less money than I make - which I'd have to do, because I lie to get it' [...] That man would argue and argue for hours about his cerebral doubts.  He would convince people that he couldn't believe because he had too many intellectual objections.  But they were just a smokescreen.' 

And so on; there are more examples of people who suddenly blurt out their deeply-held secrets to Anderson (though he doesn't go as far as to claim they actually changed their minds; too implausible even for Anderson, or has he genuinely convinced himself that half-remembered conversations were something they were not?) 

Finally, we do turn to the chapter title: so what should those with doubts do?  Why, they should avoid American Atheists and instead purchase fine apologetic material, such as the works of Mr Lee Strobel (available from all non-infidel bookstores).  Because, you see, you should look at the 'pro and con', but only from a 'faith-building' perspective. 

Strobel is on the home straight now, and there is no point in sticking to logical discourse.  Any of his audience that are still with him - and despite what I have been saying, a fair few fundies will be - will only want to hear how certain their existing beliefs are.  The truth is that this book is about seeking justification for existing beliefs, not about genuine exploration of areas of controversy.  So now we get bizarre assertions such as: 'The only object of faith that is firmly supported by the evidence of history and archaeology and literature and experience is Jesus', or 'Do what Jesus says and you'll experience the validity of it' (so again, no apparent room for doubt among believers). 

Since this is essentially a chapter about why you should believe even if - contrary to the whole argument of the book so far - there is no convincing reason to do so, Anderson can afford to be a little blatant here: 'You could probably come up with a hundred questions about God that I wouldn't know how to answer. But do you know what? It doesn't matter, because I've discovered that this is true.'  So there you have it, the 'case for faith' in a nutshell: actually, intellectual objections don't matter if you have True Faith(tm). 

Even Strobel can hardly fail to notice that 'it's true because I believe it' is not much of an argument - not leastly because it is used by every religion in the world: 

'If faith is experiential, then you could get into Buddhism and find that meditation lowers your blood pressure and makes you feel good,' I pointed out.  'But that doesn't necessarily mean Buddhism is true.'   
'But remember that experience is just one avenue of evidence,' he cautioned.  'You also have to clarify the object of your faith, to determine if there are reasons for believing it's true.  But the ultimate test of the pudding is in the eating.  Buddhism does work for some things; atheism works for some things.  But if you pursue the whole Jesus journey, you find that his teachings work consistently because they are true.  Christianity isn't true because it works; it works because it's true.' 

Uh, translation anyone?  So is evidence important or not?  Based on the above, it would seem that it's important when it supports Christianity, but not when it doesn't.  'Clarifying the object of faith' is adopted by Strobel as a mantra for the rest of the book, but this is the closest he comes to explaining what it means - and it appears to contradict the whole message of this chapter, saying that actually if 'following Jesus' doesn't work and doesn't give all the answers, Christianity is wrong. 

Anderson then says that as long as some questions have answers, we needn't struggle with those that don't: 'I struggle with the horrible things happening in Kosovo and Indonesia and parts of Africa, where whole races are being annihilated - some of it in the name of religion.  Why doesn't a loving God deal with this?  [...] I'm saying I don't have the complete and final answer to that question.'  (Should have spoken to John Woodbridge, then.)  'I feel less equipped to answer all the objections that come from brilliant skeptics.  But do you know what?  That doesn't matter to me like it used to.  Because I know this is true.  I see it.'  So there you have it once again - if there is a rock-solid objection based on evidence and rational thought that undermines your faith - it doesn't matter!  Just ignore it! 

Conclusion: The Power Of Faith

That is the end of the book proper, but Strobel has felt the need to include a Conclusion.  Usually, such a section would simply repeat and condense the arguments that have gone before.  Strobel, however, seems to feel the need to patch up some of the preceding chapters by introducing new arguments.  It is possible that he does this for some reason other than that he thinks they are weak, though I struggle to see what that reason would be. 

Moreland gives a reason to think Hell is a good thing, even if all the evidence points the other way - namely that we shouldn't just deliberate the 'pros and cons of Hell by itself'.  In other words, if all the other evidence points to the truth of Christianity, we should give God the benefit of the doubt when it comes to Hell.  This may be true, but it does rather rely on other aspects of the faith not being taken on faith.  And, it has to be said, that Moreland would make a claim like this hardly speaks volumes for the confidence he has in his own arguments. 

And it would seem that Strobel is not prepared to rely on the evidence for his other objections, either.  No sooner has he dealt with Moreland's embarrasing volte face, he lets slip that apparently Kreeft 'conceded in our interview, the suffering in this world does constitute some evidence against the existence of God.'  This, apparently, 'emphasizes the magnitude of the overall case for Christ and the availability of solid responses to the toughest questions', so that's all right then. 

To undermine two of his eight points - fully a quarter of his own book - is, it has to be said, an... unusual authorial decision by Strobel. 

And what overwhelming evidence does Strobel have to refute this clear evidence of the falsehood of his beliefs?  Faith healing.  He thinks that the fact his daughter recovered in hospital from an undiagnosed illness is so convincing that anyone who is still a freethinker after hearing of it would also be unconvinced if 'all of us in this one world [are] knocked to our knees by a percussive and ear-shattering thunderclap [...] The sky is ablaze [...] the clouds pull apart, revealing an unbelievably radiant and immense Zeus-like figure [who] explains for every man, woman, and child to hear, "I've had enough of your too-clever logic chopping and word-watching in matters of theology.  Be assured, Norwood Russell Hanson, that I most certainly do exist!".'  In this case, he thinks, Hanson 'would explain it away.' 

It seems that Strobel needs to believe that atheists are immune to evidence, because the alternative is that his evidence simply is not convincing, and that simply is not an acceptable conclusion to him.   

After recapping his rather trite dictum that 'God ordained that people should be governed in the end by what they want' (in which that case, run the argument for Hell past me again - people actually want to be in Hell?  It's 'divine rape' not to be?  So why do Christians become Ex-tians?), Strobel concludes by quoting Craig - who I am given to understand is held up by other apologists as something of the acme of intellectual thelogians - quoting nothing more than Pascal's Wager! 

It's an ironically appropriate place to conclude - a man often touted as the foremost apologist of his generation unthinkingly spouting one of the weakest theistic arguments of the last 300 years.  A sad reflection on the 'progress' of Christian apologetics. 

Monday, 5 December 2011

Objection Seven: Church History is Littered with Oppression and Violence; John D Woodbridge, PhD

Again, this is one of the questions that I wouldn't have seen as a particular objection to Christianity, and again (perhaps knowing he has picked a weak target), Strobel turns down the tone a notch.  It is pretty clear that Christians have done objectionable (even genocidal) things in the name of their faith through history; but at the same time, I have little truck with those who claim that 'religion poisons everything'

Yet once again, Woodbridge cannot make his case without some jaw-dropping claims.  He comes close at times to trying to claim that Christians were not responsible for the atrocities listed (while at others coming equally close to saying that they repent for them, so there is no problem).  He has enough sense not to quite go to either of those extremes, but let's look at what he does say - with particular emphasis on the outrageous. 

CS Lewis Quotes: 0
Mentions of Former Atheists: 1 ('atheist-turned-Christian Patrick Glynn')
How Do I Know John D Woodbridge is Like Me? 'The fifty-nine-year-old, balding father of three was wearing a white fisherman's net sweater over a blue button-down shirt' - so not to be confused with the 'multicolored sweater over a blue button-down shirt' that Geisler was wearing.  Perhaps they share shirts?  Images of a fundagelical swap-shop are going through my head. 
How Forceful is Strobel in Presenting the Questions?  Very.  'Slamming the book shut with disgust, I looked hard at Woodbridge and asked in a voice laden with sarcasm...' (not 'leaking sarcasm' as with Geisler, of course.  But that's about it for the purple prose in this chapter.  We're down to 'I said', 'he said' for most of it, with the occasional 'This issue struck close to home for Woodbridge'

Woodbridge begins with the argument that 'no true Christian' would do immoral things:

'I would make a clear line of demarcation between people who are part of 'the church' - people who are the sheep who hear the shepherd's voice and would be true Christians - and the institutional churches,' he said, emphasizing the plural of that last word. 
'Now, obviously,' he added, 'there are many, many true Christians who are in the visible churches, but just because a person is part of a church doesn't necessarily mean he or she is a follower of Jesus.  Some people are
cultural Christians but not authentic Christians.' 

(Emphasis in original.)  Strobel objects to this on the grounds that it is 'a bit of twenty-first century revisionism', but of course what he really should have pointed out is that unless there is some clear way (other than their actions) of telling the 'authentic' Christians from the 'cultural' Christians, this is simply the 'no true Scotsman' fallacy, circularly claiming that 'no True Christian' would commit atrocities and backing that up by claiming that anyone who commits atrocities is 'no True Christian'.  This fallacy however, will recur again and again as a way of avoiding difficult questions of motivation and responsibility. 

So now we get down to some specific misdeeds by the church(es). 

The Crusades
Woodbridge does not hesitate to roll out the 'no true Christians' line.  The Crusades were done in Jesus' name, ordered by the Pope and motivated by the promise of Salvation - but were not in line with Jesus' teachings (a dubious claim - I would imagine the episode with the moneylenders in the Temple would have been pressed into service to justify expelling infidels from the 'Holy Land' - and indeed the Temple Mount - not to mention various Old Testament atrocities). 

So Woodbridge's defence here is not that modern Christians abhor the Crusades - it's that the Crusades weren't really Christian at all. 

The InquisitionHere Woodbridge uses more of what will become his standard excuses: the Inquisition was not representative of True Christians.  Indeed, maybe some True Christians died!  And anyway, 'For much of their existence, many Christian churches have been in a minority situation and therefore not even in a position to persecute anyone.'  And 'millions of Christians themselves have been victims of brutal persecution'. 

I'm not quite sure how 'Christians only persecute when they are able to' is supposed to be a defence, but hey. 

The Salem Witch TrialsOnce again, the witch-hunters are no True Christians, of course.  But's let's not go overboard here.  Woodbridge tells us that witches do exist, so we cannot assume that the victims were unfairly accused (he doesn't call them 'victims', naturally).  Instead we get a lot of feeble excuses about 'monocausationism' and the idea that there may have been other factors at work. 

The final, triumphant flourish is that the trials were eventually ended - by a True Christian! 

Again, saying that the widely held superstitions of past times cannot be laid at the door of modern Christians is one thing; to continue to promote those superstitions in the modern world is quite another - especially when Woodbridge is supposed to be distancing himself from the consequences of those beliefs! 

Exploitation by MissionariesOnce again we get the No True Christians argument.  Then there is this:

'It has to be pointed out that sometimes the critics of missionaries have an almost Rousseauist idealism that native peoples [had] none of the demonic or negative spirits going on in their culture.'

Seriously?  Anyone who thinks that primitive cultures are not 'demonic' is patronising them? 

I am also disappointed that Woodbridge doesn't see fit to mention my own pet bugbear, the slave plantation at Codrington run by the Church of England (via its subsidiary, the Society for the Propogation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts), or the active promotion slavery as a means of getting missionaries to otherwise isolated pagan African tribes

Anti-SemitismWoodbridge's first defense here is that during the Middle Ages there were false rumours (such as the Blood Libel) being spread about Jews.  He doesn't bother to mention who was spreading them, apparently not thinking too much of the critical facilities of his audience.  Hitler, of course, was No True Christian - but even Woodbridge cannot apply this 'logic' to Martin Luther.  The best he can do for Luther is argue that Luther might have turned to anti-Semitism later in life.  So that's fine, then.

Finally, what better way to defend Christianity than to attack atheism?  So we are told that atheism (as promoted by Hitler, who we just got through hearing was a non-orthodox Christian) was 'directly responsible' for 100 million deaths during the 20th Century.  This is because there is a 'lack of framework in atheism for making moral decisions'.  This is of course deeply dubious - it would seem that political extremism, along with the enabling factor of mechanisation, was the real culprit here.  And just eleven years after Strobel was writing, we are already seeing religious genocides and massacres around the world that make the 'Christian America versus Commie atheists' narrative hard to sustain. 

Woodbridge has to finish with an OTT flourish.  So he feels the need to contrast this with the Christian contribution to world happiness, which consists of: the death of Jesus, some real stuff about hospitals and schools, and the Holy Spirit.  But that's not enough - can you think how ghastly things would be if the untrue parts of Woodbridge's belief system were untrue? 

'Can you imagine what the world would be like if the Holy Spirit were withdrawn?  I mean, talk about your local horror show!  It's bad enough the way things are now, but if the restraining power of the Holy Spirit were not here, then the horrible side of life would emerge even more graphically than it already does.' 

Finally, we are told that Christianity says we are all made in God's image (we are not reminded that it also tells us we are all 'born in sin' and 'nobody is truly innocent', as per Geisler) and that religion gave us science and literacy. 

I have been largely skipping Strobel's somewhat rhetorical 'Deliberations' section of 'questions for reflection or group study' at the end of each chapter, but here he asks 'On balance, have the contributions of atheism been positive or negative for humankind?'  A Monty Python sketch immediately flashes into my mind: What have atheists ever done for us?  Nothing!  Well, aside from the Enlightenment.  All right, two things, the Enlightenment and secular democracy.  And modern medicine.  Three things!  [...]  Other than the Enlightenment, religious freedom, secular democracy, modern medicine, the eradication of smallpox, Humanism, science and human rights, what has atheism ever done for us?  NOTHING! 

In general, I agree with Woodbridge's points; the Christian church is not universally bad, or malicious.  As long as no-one is claiming that it is a divenely-inspired, morally perfect organisation, these occasional abuses (however appalling) are sadly not exceptional in a group of human institutions.  The only truly worrying aspect is that Woodbridge will not accept that the basis for things like the witch trials was fundamentally mistaken.  In the modern world, he still believes that there are such things as witches and demons, and refuses to accept that that believing other cultures are 'demonic' was at the heart of the persecutions. 

I would also have liked Woodbridge to deal with some of the problems with the beliefs of what he calls 'True Christian' - many of them can be homophobic, for instance.  Will Christians of future generations be struggling to account for this before equally dubious audiences?  I like to think so. 

Sunday, 4 December 2011

"Remember that hell will forever be a monument to human dignity and the value of human choice."

Objection Six: A Loving God Would Never Torture People in Hell, JP Moreland, PhD

CS Lewis Quotes: 2
Mentions Of Former Atheists: None that I spotted
How Do I Know JP Moreland Is Like Me? 'dressed casually in a short-sleeve shirt, shorts, and deck shoes without socks' (Moreland is 'dressed casually', to prevent confusion with Geisler, who as we saw was 'casually dressed').  'Watched his beloved Kansas City Chiefs.' 
How Foreceful Is Strobel In Presenting The Questions? Very. 'I decided my best tactic would be to confront Moreland head-on with Templeton's objections - emotion and all [...] I spit [sic] out Templeton's last words with the same tone of disgust he had used in talking to me [...] The challenge seemed almost to reverberate in his living room.  Tension quickly mounted.  Then, sounding more accusatory than inquisitive, I capped the question by demanding [...] So much for his idea of getting beyond feelings [...] my eyebrows shot up [...] "My goal isnt to get into an argument with you.  I just want you to spell out your perspective, and then at the end I'll weigh whether I think you're giving adequate responses and if, in total, the doctrine of hell stands up to scrutiny."

It is currently fashionable among apologists to deny that Hell is actually a bad place at all (along with the idea that God's purpose is not to be Good, it's just to get lots of people into Heaven).  Moreland takes this as one of his two central themes.  So we are told as a 'fact' that 'God [...] hates hell and he hates people going there'. 

(It always slightly puzzles me how theologians can be so certain about life after death.  Moreland, for instance, confidently declaims that there will be physical bodies in Hell, and there will be punishment - but no physical punishment.  How does he know this?  'Hell is described as a place of utter darkness and yet there are flames, too.'  Therefore the flames are figurative.  Not the darkness, of course, or the idea of hell.  Nor has God created special invisible flames for the purpose (see how modern science backs up Hebrew knowledge!).  And it's not just the flames that are metaphorical - flesh-eating worms and 'gnashing of teeth' are also metaphors.  Yet despite all this, hell is still 'the worst possible situation that could even happen to a person.'  So presumably hell would actually be nicer with flames and flesh-eating worms, but God does not feel like mercifully doling out these boons?  Or perhaps Moreland is tying himself in knots trying to reconcile his personal liberal views with the vicious prose of the Bible?) 

The way that Moreland describes the afterlife, Heaven is for groupies and toadies - he almost makes Hell sound tempting - a sort of flotation tank for the soul.     

Another theme that is becoming apparent in these interviews is how alarmingly keen fundagelicals are to parade their scientific illiteracy.  Without Strobel even mentioning evolution, Moreland blurts out that 'We are not modified monkeys'.  He later informs us that he thinks 'near-death experiences have demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that when people die they're still able to be conscious.'  He confidently proclaims that 'soulish potentials are contained in the parents' egg and sperm' (apparently this belief is even dignified with a name, traducianism).  But there is no good evidence for reincarnation.  Does Moreland have some modicum of common sense?  No, sadly not: 'There could be demonic explanations' for apparent evidence of reincarnation. 

So now Strobel moves on to what he sees as the main objections to the idea of Hell (and to be fair, for once I think he about covers it).

How Can God Send Children to Hell?
What else can Moreland say?  Of course his fluffy God would never send children to Hell.  He has Biblical examples of children going to Heaven, so therefore no children ever go to Hell. 
Of course, there is a teensy problem with this.  If children can get to Heaven without accepting Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour... why aren't adults given the same loophole?  If the only way to Heaven is not through Jesus, are there any other loopholes to be taken advantage of?  It is for reasons like this that the church has taught for the last 1900-ish years that children do burn in Hell (the Catholics found a way round it, of course), so Moreland is asking us to take his own personal opinion over common sense, the Bible and church tradition. 

Why Does Everyone Suffer the Same in Hell? 
Moreland denies this is true by quoting one of Jesus' rants where he declares some cities are more sinful than others (because they didn't convert when he visited them), saying 'it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgement than for you'.  Having seen that hell is metaphorical, here we have to take what seems to be hyperbole totally literally.  And apparently 'the worst possible situation that could ever happen to a person' varies from person to person. 

Why Are People Punished Infinitely for Finite Crimes? 
Moreland's first point here is that the time spent committing a crime is not proportional to the time spent being punished for it - which is true enough.  But then he goes on to claim:

'What is the most heinous thing a person can do in this life?  Most people, because they don't think much about God, will say it's harming animals or destroying the environment or hurting another person.  And, no question, all of those are horrible.  But they pale in light of the worst thing a person can do, which is to mock and dishonour and refuse to love the person that we owe absolutely everything to, which is our Creator, God himself [...] that's the ultimate sin.  And the only punishment worthy of that is the ultimate punishment, which is everlasting separation from God.' 

(Emphasis in original.)  So anyone who's not a Christian is 'ignoring' and 'mocking' God (even if they are devoutly religious). 

Couldn't God Force Everyone to Go to Heaven? 
Moreland starts out by claiming that this would be 'forcing people to do something against their will', and it would be 'divine rape' to send them to Heaven.  Yes, really, 'divine rape'.  But this pseudo-liberal argument is clearly bunk.  If people are making an uninformed decision (such as because they incorrectly think that the complete lack of any evidence whatsoever for Moreland's version of God gives them good reason to think that such a God does not exist, and they should just try to lead a morally good life), it could hardly be described as a 'free will decision' to go to hell, could it?  If I personally thought that Hell existed (outside the minds of particularly unpleasant religious extremists), I would go to almost any lengths to avoid it.  There is no way I would ever step on the cracks if I thought the bears really were going to get me. 

Besides, if it is 'divine rape' to send someone kicking and screaming to Heaven - what does that say about sending people to Hell? 

Why Doesn't God Just Snuff People Out? 
Here's where it gets just plain weird. 

'The only way that would be a good thing would be the end result [...] then you're treating people as a means to an end.'  I can only suspect that Moreland doesn't know what the phrase 'means to an end'... erm, means.  God would be 'snuffing people out' for their own good, not His.  The 'snuffing' would be the means, the good of the people would be the end (in both senses).  He could at least offer them the option, if he's so concerned about free will - a sort of post-mortem euthanasia.  But this is not enough for Moreland:

'What hell does is recognise that people have intrinsic value' 

Yes, we can see that God values people because he puts them in 'the worst possible situation that could even happen to a person'.  Why he can't value them by trying to ameliorate that situation?  Moreland offers us no clues.  Instead he gives us a lot of dubious Biblical exegesis against the theological position of 'Annihilationism'. 

How Can Hell Exist Alongside of Heaven? 
A better question would be how Heaven can exist alongside Hell - how can anyone be truly happy knowing that their loved ones are in 'the worst possible situation that could ever happen to a person'

Apparently, people in Heaven will be too 'mature' to be troubled by such a thing. 

Why Didn't God Create Only Those He Knew Would Follow Him? 
Another good question.  By now, Moreland is simply throwing answers out in the hope that one sticks in the mind of Strobel's reader.  It's too difficult for God, who despite being 'real, real smart', cannot tell how we will interact with each other.  And also, God's plan is a mystery.

Why Doesn't God Give People a Second Chance? 
More rapid-fire randomness in the hopes of a lucky hit.

God has already done everything He can (except, y'know, reveal himself).  People wouldn't change their minds even if they had more time.  If God gave people too much information it wouldn't be a free choice: 'if people saw the judgement seat of God after death, it would be so coercive that they would no longer have the power of free choice.' 

I also have to mention this little beaut:

'you've got to realise that the longer people are separated from God, the less likely they are to exercise their free choice and trust him.  This is why most people who come to Christ do so when they're young.'

Nothing about religious indoctrination of children in education, upbringing by parents, or increasing understanding with age - no, children just have more free will! 

Isn't Reincarnation More Rational Than Hell? 
When it comes to reincarnation, Moreland suddenly comes over all verificationist:
'I don't know any other way to decide whether something's true except by looking at the evidence [...] there could be demonic explanations for some of this activity.'
and yet:

'God [is] hiding His presence enough so that people who want to choose to ignore Him can do it'

So we should look at the evidence to conclude that reincarnation is not real, but where there is no evidence for God, we should not take that as reason to think He is not real.  Got it?  'as we develop our relationship with him, we'll even come to trust him in those areas where right now we lack complete understanding.'

Then Moreland argues that reincarnation cannot be true because the 'essence' of a person is that they're human, and that essence could never be transferred to a dog or a rock (he doesn't consider any form of human-only reincarnation).  But of course, as a Christian he's supposed to believe that the 'essence' of a person is their soul... oh dear, more thought needed here, I fear. 

Finally, he falls back on quoting the Bible: Jesus was virtuous, Jesus believed in Hell, therefore the idea of Hell is virtuous.  Hmm.

'Fine Tuning' - Dead At Last?

I've been looking for somewhere to post this:

The existing edifice of physics [...] is clearly in need of renovation.  We have been waiting for years for cracks to appear that might tell us how to go about it [...] In the past few weeks, however, promising cracks have opened up [...] The widest crack of all concerns a theory once considered outlandish but now reluctantly accepted as the orthodoxy.  Almost everything in modern physics, from standard cosmology and string theory, points to the existence of multiple universes - maybe 10^500 of them, maybe an infinite number. 

If our universe is just one of many, that solves the "fine-tuning" problem at a stroke: we find ourselves in a universe whose laws are compatible with life because it couldn't be any other way.  And that would just be the start of a multiverse-fuelled knowledge revolution. 

Conclusive evidence may be close at hand.  Theorists predict that our universe might once have collided with others.  These collisions could have left dents in the cosmic microwave background, the universe's first light, which the European Space Agency's Planck satellite is mapping with exquisite precision.  The results are eagerly awaited [...]
New Scientist, Editorial 'A New Cosmology Beckons', 26th Nov 2011