Primitive Monotheism

Primitive Monotheism

by Norman L. Geisler, Ph.D

Copyright © 1998, 2013 Norman L. Geisler – All rights reserved

THE PROBLEM OF EARLY MONOTHEISM

The Bible teaches that monotheism was the earliest conception of God. The very first verse of Genesis is monotheistic: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). All the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, reflect an early monotheism (Gen. 12-50). This reveals one God who created the world and who, therefore, is prior to, more than, and different from the world. These are the essential elements of theism or monotheism.

Likewise, long before Moses, Joseph clearly believed in a moral monotheism. His refusal to commit adultery was because it would be a sin against God. While resisting the temptation of Potiphar’s wife he declared: “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9).

The other book in the Bible that reflects an ancient pre-Mosaic period, Job, clearly has a monotheistic view of God. There is good evidence that the book of Job was set in pre-Mosaic patriarchal times (see below). It speaks of an “almighty” (see 5:17; 6:14; 8:3, etc.) personal God (cf. 1:7-8) who created the world (38:4) who is sovereign over it (42:1-2).

What is more, Romans 1 affirms that monotheism preceded animism and polytheism, affirming that “what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator — who is forever praised” (Rom. 1:19-25).

FRAZER’S THESIS OF A LATE MONOTHEISM

The early monotheism thesis was championed by W. Schmidt in his High Gods in North

America (1933).[1] However, James Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1912)[2] has dominated the history of religion for the past few generations. His hypothesis is that religions evolved from animism through polytheism to henotheism and finally monotheism. In spite of its selective and anecdotal use of sources that are outdated by subsequent research, the ideas from the book are still widely believed. Frazer’s contention that a monotheistic conception of God evolved late is without foundation for many reasons.

 

ARGUMENTS FOR AN EARLY MONOTHEISM

There are many arguments in favor of primitive monotheism. Many come from the records and traditions we have of early civilization. These include Genesis, Job, the Ebla Tablets, and the study of preliterate tribes.

The Historicity of Genesis

There is no doubt that the book of Genesis represents a monotheistic God. Likewise, it is clear that the book of Genesis purports to be a record of the history of the human race back to the first human beings. Hence, what argues for the historicity of the first chapters of Genesis also argues in favor of an early monotheism. Noted archaeologist, William F. Albright, has demonstrated that the Genesis record of the patriarchs (12-50) is historical. He wrote, “Thanks to modern research we now recognize its [the Bible’s] substantial historicity. The narratives of the patriarchs, of Moses and the exodus, of the conquest of Canaan, of the judges, the monarchy, exile and restoration, have all been confirmed and illustrated to an extent that I should have thought impossible forty years ago.”[3] He added, “Aside from a few die-hards among older scholars, there is scarcely a single biblical historian who has not been impressed by the rapid accumulation of data supporting the substantial historicity of patriarchal tradition.”[4] However, Genesis is a literary and genealogical unity, being tied together by a listing of family descendants (Gen. 5, 10) and the literary phrase “this is the history of” (Gen. 2:4 NKJV) or the “account of” (NIV). The phrase is used throughout the book of Genesis (2:4; 5:1; 6:9: 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1, 9; 37:2). What is more, events from every one of the disputed first 11 chapters of Genesis are referred to by Jesus and New Testament writers as historical, including Adam and Eve (Matt. 19:4-5); their temptation (1 Tim. 2:14); their fall (Rom. 5:12); the sacrifice of Cain and Abel (Heb. 11:4); the murder of Abel by Cain (1 Jn. 3:12); the birth of Seth (Luke 3:38); the translating of Enoch (Heb. 11:5); marriage before the flood (Lk. 17:27); the flood and destruction of man (Mt. 24:39); preservation of Noah and his family (2 Peter 2:5); the genealogy of Shem (Lk. 3:35-36), and the birth of Abraham (Luke 3:34). So, if one were to question the historicity of Genesis, then he would also have to question the authority of Christ and many other Scriptures which refer to Genesis.

There is strong evidence for the historicity of the Genesis record about Adam and Eve in particular. Yet this record reveals that the very first parents of the race were monotheists (see Gen. 1:1, 27; 2:16-17; 4:26; 5:1, 2). 1) Genesis 1-2 presents them as actual persons and even narrates the important events in their lives (=history). 2) They gave birth to literal children who did the same (Gen. 4:1, 25; 5:1f.). 3) The same phrase (“this is the history of”), used to record later history in Genesis (6:9; 9:12; 10:1, 32; 11:10, 27; 17:7, 9), is used of the creation account (2:4) and of Adam and Eve and their descendants (Gen. 5:1). 4) Later Old Testament chronologies place Adam at the top of the list (1 Chron. 1:1). 5) The New Testament places Adam at the beginning of Jesus’ literal ancestors (Luke 3:38). 6) Jesus referred to Adam and Eve as the first literal “male and female,” making their physical union the basis of marriage (Matt. 19:4). 7) The book of Romans declares that literal death was brought into the world by a literal “Adam” (Rom. 5:14). 8) The comparison of Adam (the “first Adam”) with Christ (the “last Adam”) in 1 Corinthians 15:45 manifests that Adam was understood as a literal, historical person. 9) Paul’s declaration that “Adam was first formed, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2:13-14) reveals that he speaks of a real person. 10) Logically there had to be a first real set of human beings, male and female, or else the race would have had no way to get going. The Bible calls this literal couple “Adam and Eve,” and there is no reason to doubt their real existence. And what argues for their historicity also supports an early monotheism.

The Evidence from the Book of Job

Other than Genesis, Job is possibly the oldest book in the Old Testament. At the least the story is set in pre-Mosaic patriarchal times. Yet it too reveals a monotheistic view of God. God is the personal (see Job 1:6, 21), moral (1:1; 8:3-4) yet sovereign (42:1-2), and Almighty (5:17; 6:14; 8:3; 13:3, etc.) Creator (4:17; 9:8-9; 26:7; 38:6-7). The early setting of Job is evidenced by: 1) the pre-Mosaic family clan organization; 2) the lack of any reference to the Mosaic Law; 3) the use of the characteristic patriarchal name for God, “the Almighty” (Job 5:17; 6:4; 8:3 cf. Gen. 17:1; 28:3, etc.) 4) the comparative rarity of the name “LORD” (Yahweh) (cf. Ex. 6:3); 5) the offering of sacrifices by the head of a family rather than by a levitical priest; 6) the mention of early coinage (Job 42:11 cf. Gen. 33:19); 7) use of the phrase “sons of God” (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7) found elsewhere only in Genesis 6:2-4); and 8) the longevity of Job who lived 140 years after his family was grown (42:16) fits a patriarchal period. But Job speaks of One God who created the world (Job 38:4) and is sovereign over all things in it (cf. 42:2), including Satan (see Job. 1:1, 6, 21 etc.). But all of these are characteristics of a monotheistic God. Thus, the early time of Job reveals that monotheism was not a late development.

Evidence from the Ebla Tablets

Outside the Bible, the oldest records come from Ebla in Syria. And they reveal a clear monotheism declaring: “Lord of heaven and earth: the earth was not, you created it, the light of day was not, you created it, the morning light you had not [yet] made exist.”[5] This lucid statement of monotheism from such early tablets is an evident sign of early monotheism. It alone should lay to rest the idea of an evolved and late monotheism.

Primitive Religions are Monotheistic

Contrary to popular belief, the primitive religions of Africa unanimously reveal an explicit monotheism. The noted authority on African religions, John S. Mbiti wrote of the 300 traditional religions, “In all these societies, without a single exception, people have a notion of God as the Supreme Being.”[6] This is true of other primitive religions as well, many of which have a High God or Sky God which reflects a basic monotheism.

The Influence of Evolution

The idea that monotheism evolved is itself late, gaining popularity in the wake of Charles Darwin’s theory of biological evolution (On The Origin of

Species, 1859) and even stated by Darwin later in his Descent of Man (1896). He wrote:

Belief in God — Religion. — There is no evidence that man was aboriginally endowed with the ennobling belief in the existence of an Omnipotent God.” On the contrary, Darwin believed that human “mental faculties . . . led man to believe in unseen spiritual agencies, then to fetishism, polytheism, and ultimately monotheism . . . .[7]

Frazer’s evolutionary idea in religion is based on several unproven assumptions. One, it assumes biological evolution is true when it fact it seriously lacks support. But this has been seriously challenged by noted scientists.[8] Second, even if biological evolution were true on a biological level, there is no reason to believe evolution is true in the religious realm. It is a methodological category mistake to assume that what is true in one discipline is also true in another. Social Darwinism is another case in point. Few Darwinians would agree with Hitler in Mein Kampf that we should weed out the inferior races since evolution has been doing this for centuries! He wrote: “If nature does not wish that weaker individuals should mate with the stronger, she wishes even less that a superior race should intermingle with an inferior one; because in such a case all her efforts, throughout hundreds of thousands of years, to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being, may thus be rendered futile.”[9] But if evolution should not be applied to human social development, then there is no reason to apply it to religion either.

Anecdotal Evidence

Frazer’s evolution of monotheism thesis is based on fragmentary and anecdotal evidence, not a serious historical and chronological search for the origins of monotheism. Like the so-called evolution of the horse once used by evolutionists, alleged examples of the hypothesis are taken out of order and without due regard for their proper ancestors. In short, Frazer’s evolution of monotheism assumes an evolutionary thesis and then finds bits and pieces of evidence to fit it.

A BETTER EXPLANATION

The origins of polytheism can be explained as well, if not better, as a degeneration from original monotheism just as Rom. 1:19f. declare. That is, paganism is a falling away from the primitive monotheism. This is evident in the fact that most pre-literate religions have a latent monotheism in their view of the Sky God or High God (see Mbiti). William F. Albright likewise acknowledges that the “high gods may be all-powerful and they may be credited with creation of the world; they are generally cosmic deities who often, perhaps usually, reside in heaven.”[10] This clearly runs counter to the animistic and polytheistic conceptions of deity.

CONCLUSION

There is no real reason to deny the biblical account of an early monotheism. On the contrary, there is every evidence to believe that monotheism was the first religion from which others devolved just as Romans 1:19f. declare. Indeed, this fits better with the strong evidence for the existence of a monotheistic[11] God and the proven tendency of human beings to distort the truth God reveals to them (cf. Rom. 1:18f). In short, man’s view of God has devolved, not evolved, over the centuries. God made man in His image, but man has returned the compliment.


 

[1] See W. Schmidt, High Gods in North America (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933), The Origin and Growth of Religion: Facts and Theories (London, Methuen, 1931), Primitive Revelation (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder, 1939).

[2] James G. Frazer, The Golden Bough (London: Macmillan, 1890).

[3] William F. Albright, From Stone Age to Christianity (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1957), 1329.

[4] William F. Albright, The Biblical Period (New York: Harper, 1955), 1.

[5] Cited by Eugene Merrill, “Ebla and Biblical Historical Inerrancy,” Bibliotheca Sacra (Oct.Dec., 1983).

[6] See John S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1969); Concepts of God in Africa (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970).

[7] Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (New York: Appleton and Company, 1896), 302, 303.

[8] See Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Bethesda, MD: Adler and Adler, 1985) and Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box (New York: The Free Press, 1996).

[9] Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf (London: Gurst and Blackett Ltds, Publishers, 1939), 239-242.

[10] Albright, From Stone Age to Christianity, 170.

[11] See William Lane Craig, The Kalam Cosmological Argument (London: The MacMillan Press, 1979); Norman L. Geisler, Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1976), chapter 13; Fred Heeren, Show Me God: What the Message from Space Is Telling Us About God (Wheeling, IL: Searchlight Publications, 1995); Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos: How the Greatest Scientific Discoveries of the Century Reveal God. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 1993.


Further Reading

Winfried Corduan wrote In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism

ISBN: 9780805447781 | BHPublishingGroup | 2013

Christians believe that religion began when God created human beings and revealed himself to them. But is there scholarly evidence for this belief? In the nineteenth century academic world a stormy debate took shape over the origin of religion. Scholars explored the ancient languages of mythology and then considered evolutionary anthropology. A dominant view emerged that religion began with animism — the reverent honoring of spirits — and from there evolved into higher forms, from polytheism on to monotheism. However, scholars Andrew Lang and Wilhem Schmidt contended there were cultures throughout the world — pygmy people in Africa and Asia, certain Australian Aboriginal groups and Native American tribes — that originated as monotheistic, acknowledging the existence of one supreme God who created the world and holds people accountable for living morally upright lives. The debate wore on, and Schmidt, a member of the Catholic order and a priest, was accused (without evidence) of letting his faith interpret the facts. By the mid-twentieth century a silent consensus formed among scholars not to discuss the origin and evolution of religion any further. The discoveries of Lang and Schmidt have since been largely ignored. However, the evidence on which these scholars based their conclusion of monotheism is still out there. In the Beginning God attempts to educate Christians about the debate on this topic, the facts that were accepted and those that were ignored, and the use to which Christians can put all of this material in making a case for the truth of Christianity.

From Apologist to Atheist: A Critical Review

From Apologist to Atheist: A Critical Review
Norman L. Geisler, Ph.D.

This is a review of Why I Rejected Christianity: A Former Apologist Explainsby John W. Loftus (Victoria, British Columbia: Trafford Publishing, 2007), a 278 page paperback. The book has four parts: Part 1: My Changing Years; Part 2: The Cumulative Case; Part 3: What I Believe Today; Part 4: Appendices of published writings and a photo of Loftus and two former professors, Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. James Strauss.

Introductory Appreciation

So that my evaluation of the book does not obscure my appreciation of it, let me briefly point out some of the values of this book. First, it is an honest and open account of how a Christian became an atheist. Seldom are unbelievers so candid and open. Second, every Christian–let alone Christian apologists – can learn some valuable lessons from it on how to treat wayward believers. Third, it is a thoughtful and intellectually challenging work, presenting arguments that every honest theist and Christian should face. Indeed, some of his criticisms are valid. In particular I would single out his critique of the subjective argument from the alleged self-authenticating “witness of the Holy Spirit” by Loftus’ former teacher William Lane Craig (in chap. 15).

An Exposition and Evaluation of the Book

The book is too long to cover every argument contained in it. Since the vast majority, if not all of them, have been treated elsewhere in our writings (see Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics ), we will be content to highlight some important points Loftus made. The first part is best summarized by selecting the author’s own words.

Part 1
: “My Changing Years” is an open and illuminating account of how he became an atheist. This is best reported in his own words. “I was born in 1954 and grew up in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, in a Catholic home. . . . I never experienced true faith growing up, but I did learn that whenever I was in need I should call out to God. And that’s exactly what I did at 18 years old when I felt I had nowhere to turn for help. I was not always a good boy, being a middle child in a home with three boys. . . . I seemed to be in almost every fight in the household. . . . They [his parents] thought it would be good for everyone if I considered attending Howe Military School . . .” (9). “I was a problem teenager. . . . I spent many weeks in the Wood Youth Center, in Ft. Wayne. I dropped out of school. Most of my law breaking occurred during the time my mother and father were separated and divorced. . . . I was arrested six different times as a juvenile offender for various offenses!” (10). “Eventually I began to feel as if I was possessed by some demonic being. So one night . . . I went over to see a woman named Cathy . . . who had earlier spoken to me earlier [sic] about Jesus. She led me to accept the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for my sins. . . . I felt free and forgiven for the first time in my life” (11).

After being baptized in a Church of Christ, “by the fall of that year, I had read completely through the Bible twice!” (12). After graduating from Great Lakes Bible College (GLBC), Loftus attended Lincoln Christian Seminary (both Church of Christ schools). Then he notes, “I attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS), and graduated in 1985 with a Th.M degree, under the mentoring of Dr. William Lane Craig . . .” (7). Subsequently, “I was in the [Church of Christ] ministry for about fourteen years, or so. . . . I am now an atheist” (7-8).

Loftus summarized, “There are three major things that happened in my life that changed my thinking. They all happened in the space of about five years, from 1991-1996. These things are associated with three people: 1) Linda, 2) Larry, and 3) Jeff. Linda brought a major crisis in my life. Larry brought new information in my life. Jeff took away my sense of a loving Christian community. . . . In the midst of these things, I felt rejected by the Church of Christ in my local area. For me it was an assault of major proportions. If I still believed in the devil, I would say it was orchestrated by the legions of Hell” (emphasis in original, 20-21).

Linda
was the director of Operation Shelter Loftus founded to help people in need. He said, “She practically idolized me. She did everything I said to do. . . . What man doesn’t want to be worshiped? I guess I did. I was having problems with my own relationship with my wife at the time, and Linda made herself available. I succumbed and had an affair with her” (21). “But there is more. After a few months I decided I could no longer reconcile the affair with my faith or my family life. So I told Linda that it was over.” (22). She became angry and accused him of rape. “I received a phone call from someone who threatened my life. . . . All this devastated me; my sin, the strange mitigating factors, the Christian people who wouldn’t forgive even though I repented of this sin, the potential charge of rape, and God not seeming to care about his wayward soldier” (22).

Larry
, his cousin, was a bio-chemistry teacher in the Air Force. Loftus tried unsuccessfully to convince him of the truth of creation over evolution. Instead, he said, “He did convince me of one solid truth; the universe is as old as scientists say it is, and the consensus is that it is 12-15 billion years old. Now that by itself isn’t too harmful of an idea, . . . but it was the first time I really considered the theological implications of it. Two corollaries of that idea started me down the road to being the honest doubter I am today. The first is that in Genesis chapter 1 we see that the earth existed before the sun, moon, and stars, which were all created on the fourth day. This does not square with Astronomy. . . . The second corollary for me at the time was this. If God took so long to create the universe, then why would he all of a sudden snap his fingers, so to speak, and create human beings?” (22-23) “Nearly two years later, I came to deny the Christian faith. There were just too many individual problems that I had to balance, like spinning several plates on several sticks, in order to keep my faith. At some point they just all came crashing down” (emphasis in original, 23). Subsequently, “The Angola Christian Church asked for my resignation in December 1990.” Further, “at this point, neither one of the Christian Churches in our area wanted me. The truth is that not enough of the right people thought I should be in ministry” (24). “What bothered me was that Jerry Paul, my home minister in Ft. Wayne at the time, didn’t bother to call me. . . . Jerry never called me to talk to me, or pray with me, or comfort me. . . . I’m the sort of person who has a very hard time asking for help, and I was hurting badly” (24-25).

Loftus
got a job teaching philosophy and wrote a friend: “I have settled down to teaching strictly secular philosophy courses at secular colleges. I actually enjoy this much more than at GLCC (where “the watchdogs of brotherhood doctrinal purity” are on the beat). . . . I am now freed of the internal censors. I can now write as I think. Watch out now” (emphasis in original, 25-26).

Jeff, was pastor of another church in the Pleasant Lake area that Loftus felt more comfortable in attending. He wrote, “I felt rejected by the Church of Christ in my local area. After my experience with Linda, I didn’t even go to church for several months. . . . As best as I can tell, Jeff was suspicious of my motives–my own cousin! Without going into great detail, he and his wife Lurleen suspected that I was secretly trying to oust him to become the pastor there. . . . I began to doubt that people with our passions and living in our day and age so removed from the Bible, could properly understand that book, when people living in the same age and as close to one another as he and I couldn’t understand each other” (26). “I wonder to myself how these consciences can differ so widely, especially when Christianity is the only faith that claims God the Holy Spirit actually takes up residence in their being. I often ask myself why Christians don’t seem to act any better than others when they alone claim to have the power, wisdom and guidance of God right there within them. Apparently, the Holy Spirit didn’t properly do his job here. This was the last blow to my faith and one of the reasons why I am an atheist today” (emphasis in original, 27).

By way of response to Loftus’ sad story, my first inclination is to say, “Thanks, we needed that!” In fact, every Christian needs to take seriously what John has said. Several things are very apparent: there was a tremendous lack of God’s grace, forgiveness, and love manifest in this situation by other professing Christians. Apologists beware! There is more than reason, arguments, and evidence involved in people coming to faith as well as in people leaving the faith. Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another” (Jn. 13:35).

My second thought is that becoming an atheist, by Loftus’ own admission, involves more than rational arguments. It involves a free choice by a sinful human being who the Bible says is in rebellion with God (Psa. 14:1; Rom. 1:18). Loftus admits the same in his above testimony. It is noteworthy that his first step away from God was adultery. Then, he began to doubt God’s Word. To be sure, an unloving Christian community did not help matters. But how he responded to this was his personal responsibility. And since we are more than rational and volitional creatures, we must be mindful of the role human emotion plays in a person’s decisions.

Part 3
: “What I Believe Today”

At this point it will be more instructive to hear the rest of the story. Loftus did not jump directly from theism to atheism. First, he chose to become a Deist. He wrote: “I previously chose to believe in Deism and the philosopher’s God who created this universe. . . . I struggled to believe in God. It was probably a Kierkegaardian leap of faith for me, which also made me an Existentialist, a Deistic Existentialist. But this wasn’t satisfying, for according to Marcus Borg: ‘There is little difference between a distant and absent God and no God at all’” (26, emphasis added).

Then The Answer Hit Me.
“When we seek for a cause of it all we run into absurdities, precisely because blind chancistic events cannot be figured out! Chance events can produce order. We know this. Even if the odds are extremely unlikely for this universe to exist, once there is some order in the universe and someone to look upon the order that’s there, it cries out for an explanation. . . . But when we reflect on why we can’t figure it all out, the best reason I can offer is that random chance events can’t be figured out [in] hindsight. So in the end, I do have a reason for what I believe. Nature is ultimate. According to the late Carl Sagan, ‘The cosmos is all there is, was, or ever will be.’ According to Bertrand Russell the universe is simply ‘a brute fact.’ I am an atheist. There is no God. And there is at least one reason for me not to believe in God, and that is because the universe is absurd when we try to figure it out. . . . According to Jacques Monad, ‘our number came up in a Monte Carlo game’” (266).

What is Life Without God?
This is the logical and last question with which Loftus deals. His answer is brief and to the point: Life, without God can be happy and meaningful because “while there may be no ultimate reasons for being a good person [apart from God] . . . , there are plenty of non-ultimate reasons for being good” (272). Reminiscent of the atheist Ayn Rand, Loftus contends that “the values of tolerance, family, and friendship in a political democracy under democratic capitalism provide a society with the best chance to avoid pain for most people in it”(272). He adds, “You don’t need an ‘ultimate’ anything to live life in this world. There just aren’t any ultimacies” (273). Strangely, just two sentences later he says, “So it makes what I do here what ultimately matters–it’s all there is. . .” (273). Then he adds, “And while life is ultimately meaningless, I am living life to the hilt everyday. I’m living without the guilt that Christianity threw on me, too! Life is good–very good! I feel better about it now than I ever have!” (273). One can only wonder how someone can feel better about things when they are really so bad. There is no real purpose for life; the world is absurd, and there is nothing after this–nothing! It would appear that this is a good example of what Freud defined as an illusion, namely, something one wishes to be true, even if there is no rational ground for believing it is.

Why then do so many people believe in God? Loftus answers, “In my opinion, this human need may be the reason why people believe in God in the first place, not because of arguments pro and con. As humans we simply cannot bear to believe we have no ultimate purpose in life, and that our existence is absurd” (270). Of course, we may ask why we cannot. Is it not possible that this God-sized vacuum was created by God, and that the soul is restless until it finds its rest in God? Loftus also has problems with why Christianity is so widely accepted in the world, particularly if there is no reality behind it. His answer also rings hollow in view of the strong historical evidence for the Christian Faith . He says, “In my opinion, Christianity is a legendary development from a person named Jesus that lucked its way into political power” (emphasis in original, 271). This, however, overlooks the fact that the great early spread of Christianity, as well as its greatest spread today, is under oppression of anti-Christian governments (like China).

As for the criticism that “Christians don’t have a good track record when it comes to slavery, wars, . . . scientific progress, and so on” (271). Loftus seems blissfully unaware that the Christian view of God and creation is the very foundation of science. Further, most of the founders of modern science believed in the biblical doctrine of creation. What is more, the strong influence of Christianity through people like Wilberforce in England and the Wesleys in America was crucial in the liberation of slaves. Of course, there have been people who claimed to be Christian who engaged in witch hunts, inquisitions, KKK, and the like. But there have also been leaders (like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and others) who were atheists and/or evolutionists and who killed multi-millions of people. Certainly, no atheists would consider that this is a legitimate argument against atheism.

What If I’m Wrong?

In an enlightening statement, Loftus faces the final question and gives a brutally frank answer to it. “What if I’m wrong about Christianity? What then? Well, then I will go to hell, however conceived, when I die. And what did I do to deserve to go to hell? I ‘sinned,’ I didn’t believe in Jesus’ atonement, or in his bodily resurrection from the grave. Whose fault would this be? Mine?” (275). Again, his response has an empty sound. “I have honest doubts. Am I to be blamed because I couldn’t understand Christianity?” (275). “But what if I’m deceived by the traditional devil to have these doubts? Maybe he is playing tricks on me, making me think my doubts are honest ones, when they are not?” (275). Again, his question is good and his answer disappointing, shifting the blame to God rather than to take responsibility for his own decision. He asks instead: “The question is why an all-powerful God didn’t help me. The devil wouldn’t have a chance against God, but why does God do nothing to help me overcome my doubt?” (275). Of course, this is to assume, contrary to Scripture (1 Cor. 10:13; Phil. 4:13), that God does not provide this help for those who are willing. Further, it is to assume that God will overpower a human will to accomplish His desire, but this is also contrary to Scripture and good reasons. Jesus said, “How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Mt. 23:37, emphasis added).

Part 2: “
The Cumulative Case”

This section deals with the reasons Loftus gives against Christianity and for atheism which, admittedly, were not the initial reasons that brought on His unbelief (see Part 1). The discussion here need not be long for several reasons. First, his unbelief was not initiated by reason, as he admits. Rather, it was his rejection by friends and the lack of Christian love (see above).
Second, there is nothing really new here that has not already been answered elsewhere (see my Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics). None of his arguments is definitive, either alone or as part of a whole “cumulative argument,” and many are so easily answered that they demonstrate the initial trigger for his unbelief was not really rational. For example, the initial problem he had with Genesis 1 (see above) being allegedly contrary to astronomy is only high school level apologetics. Since there was light from the first day (Gen. 1:3), there is no problem with the sun not appearing until the fourth day. Further, time does not help evolution nor hinder creation. No matter how much time one posits, natural laws and random processes do not produce the irreducible complexity and specified complexity we find in living things. Red, white, and blue confetti dropped from an airplane will never produce the America Flag on your lawn. And giving it more time to fall (by going up higher to drop it) only accentuates the problem by mixing the falling confetti up more. That these kinds of problems furthered the process of his early skepticism only goes to show that it was not a rationally based decision. Indeed, Loftus described it (above) as a “leap of faith” that lead him to reject theism. He said, “I previously chose to believe in Deism and the philosopher’s God who created this universe. . . . I struggled to believe in God. It was probably a Kierkegaardian leap of faith for me . . .” (265, emphasis added). Likewise, it was a leap of faith (or disbelief) that made him an atheist. No rational argument compelled or even demanded it.

One thing is certain: it was not evidence and rational arguments that led him to atheism.  Even his best argument against God–the argument from evil–which he considers to be the “Achilles heel” of Christianity– is circular reasoning. For how can one know God is ultimately in-just for allowing evil unless he knows what is ultimately just. And how can he know there is an ultimate standard of justice (i.e., absolute moral law), unless there is an absolute Moral Law Giver? Indeed, other great atheists, such as C. S. Lewis and Jay Budzisziewski, were converted to theism from atheism because of the existence of evil in the world.

The So-Called Cumulative Argument

Loftus declared: “I consider this book to be one single argument against Christianity, with each section a subset of that one argument. Each section of this argument depends upon the others for its force, since no single one of them alone can bear the whole weight of showing that the Christian world-view is false.” Thus, “it’s proper and fitting to do so as a whole, especially since this is the only way to properly evaluate world-views” (emphasis in original, 56). While there may be general agreement on this point, the disagreement emerges in two areas.

First, the atheist weighs the specific evidence differently than the theist, and his bias affects the way he weighs it. What Loftus views as improbable (say, the resurrection of Christ) is because of his bias against miracles, not because there is not highly probably historical evidence that it happened, which there is . The main reason it becomes implausible to an atheist is that it is a miracle, an act of God. And there cannot be acts of God if there is no God, which he believes is the case. Thus the real debate of historical reliability of the New Testament (and thus the deity of Christ) is dependent on whether there is good evidence for the existence of God, which there is.And if God exists, then miracles are not only possible, but the biggest one – the creation of the world – has already happened. Thus, other smaller miracles are possible. When one sees a record with miracles in it, he cannot dismiss it in advance as being improbable. If miracles are possible (which they are in a theistic universe), then their probability depends purely on the reliability of the documents. And the Gospel documents are reliable. In summary, there are more NT documents, earlier documents, more documents, by more contemporaries and eyewitness testimony, more historically and archaeologically confirmed than for any other events in the ancient world. Hence, it is highly probable that Jesus did the miracles contained in the NT and rose from the dead to confirm his claim to be the Son of God. If so, the essential facts of Christianity are true.

Further, Loftus accepts a number of challengeable or untrue premises. The theist agrees that Christianity is a historical religion and “history, at best, cannot show us that the claims of the Bible are true. History can only give us probabilities”(37). However, Christians disagree when Loftus concludes from this that this situation “leaves room for reasonable doubt” (37). Probabilities leave room for some doubt but not necessarily always a reasonable doubt. And high probabilities do not leave room for any reasonable doubt, though there is always room for possible doubt in historical arguments.

What is more, just as Loftus claims a cumulative argument for his atheists world view, the Christian can claim the same for his Christian world view. It too can be a cumulative case where one probability is built on another until the whole argument for Christianity is so highly probable that it is beyond all reasonable doubt.  And the flip side is that if atheism only offers some possible, but not even probable arguments against Christianity, then adding up these mere possibilities does not yield any probability in favor of atheism. And a close look at each of Loftus’ arguments–minus their biased presuppositions–yields only a possibility for atheism in face of a high probability in favor of theism.

There are many examples of these bias presuppositions. One is the “outsider perspective” (discussed above). Another is the presumption of naturalism (see below). Further, he presupposes that “ancient standards [for eyewitnesses] are pathetic in comparison to today’s standards” (38). This is simply false. Indeed, many legal experts have examined the New Testament eyewitness testimony and found it more than sufficient. Nor does one have to accept Loftus claim NT writers could not be good witnesses since they had a flawed hermeneutic of the OT. This is for two reasons. First of all, their hermeneutic was not flawed since they never misinterpreted the OT. They always drew the proper meaning or an implication in that meaning from the text. What is more, there is no logical connection between their view of OT interpretation and their accuracy in recording events they witnessed. Even allegorists tell the literal truth when they witness a murder!

Finally, Loftus’ God-of-the-gaps argument is faulty. He reasons that since “there is becoming less and less room for God, as we explain more and more,” we can assume no room for God as we explain the rest. “This scientific naturalistic assumption” is made so often, even by Christians in their daily lives, that it “probably has a metaphysical grounding” (262). Here Loftus makes an unjustified metaphysical leap of faith. Even if one could find a natural cause for all regular events in this world (which the theist can readily admit), this would not rule out either some miracles in the present and the past. It would not eliminate the possibility (or probability–if there is evidence) for a miracle in the present, because while regular events do always have natural causes, this is not necessarily true of non-regular events (anomalies). For science in the present empirical sense deals only with repeatable events. A law or a prediction cannot be based on one occurrence. It takes many occurrences from which a pattern can be induced and a projection made. Second, there is a significant difference between observable and repeatable events in the present (empirical science) and unobserved, unrepeated events in the past (forensic science). No one observed these past events (like the origin of the universe and first life). Hence, observation and repetition are not available for forensic science of origin science. Here one must depend on the principles of causality and uniformity. Events (even past ones) had a cause (causality). And the present is the key to the past (uniformity). Hence, the kind of causes that produce a certain kind of event in the present should be posited for these same kind of events in the past. Some of these events demand intelligent causes. This is true of archaeology and paleography of the past, as well as cryptology, information theory, and the like in the present. Hence, uniformity does not mean uniformitarianism. Because there are intelligent causes of certain kinds of events in the present (like a sculptor or a sculpture), then an intelligent cause must be assumed for like events in the past (like the forming of Mt. Rushmore). Likewise, when we see the mathematically identical letter sequence in a written language (known to have an intelligent cause in the present), we may rightly posit an intelligent cause for the DNA in the first living cell (in the past). So, it is not any more of a God-of-the gaps move that leads one to posit an intelligent cause of first life (which contains 1000 sets of The Encyclopedia Britannica of information in it) than is does to produce these sets in the present. Thus, Loftus confuses origin science and operation science as well as uniformity (analogy) and uniformitarianism (naturalism). And his argument fails for these reasons.

The So-called “Cumulative Argument.”

Loftus proposes another line of reasoning that does not serve atheism well either. For his offer of implausible possibilities does not add up to probability. Indeed, rather than one part strengthening the other, it is more like the “leaky-bucket” fallacy where the failure of one bucket to hold the water is wrongly supposed to be corrected by another leaky bucket under it. In most cases the parts of the so called “cumulative argument” are only possibilities which never add up to probabilities. Loftus’ argument is more like a chain of different arguments. But as we all know, a chain is no stronger than its weakest link.
For example, one of the weakest links in his case for atheism is his failure to provide any real positive evidence for God’s non-existence – except evil which really calls for God. And his negative arguments against the theistic arguments are neither plausible nor probable. Even if they were, at best, they would not be disproofs for God, but disproofs of proofs for God. Indeed, some are absurd like chance producing complex and specified order in the universe. A fundamental law of thought is that the effect cannot be greater than the cause. And both the universe (by way of the Anthropic Principle) and life (by way of Information Theory) manifest incredible intelligent design. In fact, based on Hume’s principle of uniformity, there is every reason to accept an intelligent cause of the universe and life since we never ever see a regular occurrence of these kinds of events other than by an intelligent cause. And if there is good reason to believe God exists, then miracles follow. Because if there is a God who can make the world, then he can intervene in it. And without an antisupernatural bias there is no presumption in favor of either skepticism or atheism with regard to the existence of God, the truth of Christianity based on or the authenticity of the New Testament, and the miracles of Christ contained in it–particularly His resurrection.

The Outsider Test for Faith.

Also crucial to Loftus’ atheistic view is what he calls the “outsider test.” According to this test, “the presumption of skepticism [is] the preferred stance when approaching any religious faith, especially one’s own” (40). “Mark Twain said: ‘the easy confidence with which I know another man’s religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also.’ Believers are truly atheists with regard to all other religions but their own. Atheists just reject one more religion” (40). Quoting Michael Shermer, Loftus says, the fact is that “‘most of us most of the time come to our beliefs for a variety of reasons having little to do with empirical evidence and logical reasoning’” (43).

What is interesting about these statements is that Loftus does not seem to be aware of their self-defeating nature. If “most of us most of the time come to our beliefs for a variety of reasons having little to do with empirical evidence and logical reasoning” (43), then can we not assume that Loftus came to his atheistic views the same way? Further, if one should have the presumption of skepticism toward any belief system, especially his own, then why should Loftus not have the presumption of skepticism toward his own atheistic beliefs? The truth is that the outsider test is self-defeating since by it every agnostic should be agnostic about his own agnosticism and every skeptic would be skeptical of his own skepticism.

What is more, Loftus contends that “it’s overwhelmingly true that the presumption you begin with will be the one you will end up with” (44). If so, then this sword cuts both ways for it would be true of skeptics and even atheists like Loftus as well. But the truth is that people do convert from their beliefs. And some are convinced by evidence to do so. Hence, the real issue is whether there is evidence for the truth of the view to which one is converting. And the atheist’s view lacks positive evidence. On the other hand, the theists offers many valid evidences for God, and the atheist really has none–except evil and even it is self-defeating.

Another example of his many self-defeating statements is his denial of any ultimates. He insisted, “There just aren’t any ultimacies.” But, just two sentences later he says, “So it makes what I do here what ultimately matters – it’s all there is. . . . And while life is ultimately meaningless, I am living life to the hilt everyday” (273). But if there are no ultimates, then how can Loftus know what “ultimately matters” and what is “ultimately meaningless”?

Further, Loftus’ “outsider test” is contrary to common sense. By it we could eliminate the credibility of any holocaust survivor’s testimony because he was an “insider.” But who better would know what happened than someone who went through it. Likewise, by this odd test one could deny his own self-existence since from an outsiders view (which he should take according to the test) his existence could be doubted or denied as an illusion. But what is more obvious and self-evident than one’s own existence?

One form of the outsider argument leads Loftus to claim “believers are truly atheists with regard to all other religions but their own. Atheists just reject one more religion” (40). But can’t theists use the same basic argument and reject atheism. In brief, atheists are unbelievers with regard to all beliefs other than their own. Why don’t they just become unbelievers with regard to one more belief (namely, their atheism)?
The skeptic is calling for the presumption of falsehood on our basic beliefs. But if our beliefs are based on good evidence and reason, then why should they be doubted? In fact, we should not doubt the opposite of what we have good reason to believe until there is better reason to believe something else. Loftus himself would not give the presumption of disbelief to his own atheism. Why then should a Christian doubt the existence of God or the truth of Christianity? There is one and only one reason–evidence. It has nothing to do with an advanced presumption. Advance presumption is nothing more or less than bias.

Loftus’ advanced skepticism argument contains the same fallacy as Hume’s argument against miracles. According to Hume, the presumption against miracles is so great that it would practically take a miracle to overcome it. But, of course, there would be an advanced presumption against that miracle and so on. Thus, it is in advance practically impossible for any event to be confirmed as a miracle.  Or to put it another way, Hume argued that: (1) Natural laws are regular. (2) Miracles are rare. (3) The evidence for the regular is always greater than the evidence for the rare. (4) An intelligent person should always base his beliefs on the greater evidence. (5) Therefore, the intelligent person should never believe in miracles. Besides the fact that premises (3) is false, even on a naturalistic basis (since the Big Bang, spontaneous generation of first life, and macro-evolution are rare and not regular events), there is an absurd conclusion contained in Hume’s argument that is also contained in Loftus’ reasoning.

Now the absurd conclusion that follows from Hume’s reasoning is that even if a miracle actually happen (like the resurrection of Jesus), no intelligent person should believe in it. Now there is something patently wrong with an argument that insists we should not believe in something, even if has actually happened! Likewise, it is also unreasonable to argue that even if there is good evidence for an event, nevertheless, no rational person should believe it. Why not? That is what rational people do–they believe based on good evidence.

Neither Hume nor Loftus would reason this way about the Big Bang or spontaneous generation of first life. Naturalists believe these events happened, even though they are not being repeated regularly. Why then should a Christian who has good reasons to believe in God (like the cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments) approach his belief with advanced skepticism. We have offered this evidence elsewhere , so it need not be repeated here. Advanced skepticism should only be used when one has advanced evidence or good reasons to disbelieve that the event really did not happen. Otherwise, one should come with an open mind to the question.

The truth is that the only way the atheist or skeptic can even compete on the playing field of religious truth is to load the dice or stack the deck. Most often this is done by assuming either metaphysical or methodological naturalism. Otherwise, their position is often absurd. This is clear from two illustrations. In the face of the strong evidence in favor of a Big Bang origin of the universe, British atheist Antony Kenny wrote: “A proponent of [the big bang] theory, at least if he is an atheist, must believe that the matter of the universe came from nothing and by nothing” (emphasis added). But even the skeptic David Hume said, “I never asserted so absurd a proposition as that anything might arise without a cause” (emphasis added). Likewise, Harvard’s Richard Lewontin confessed correctly: “Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to understanding the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its construct . . . because we have a prior commitment to materialism. . . . We are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes. . . . Moreover that materialism is absolute for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door” (New York Review of Books, 1/9/96, emphasis added). Trying to reach someone like this is a case of not being able to make the horse drink after you led him to the water. Lewontin is a classic case in point. He admits an incredible bias in advance of looking at the facts that would accept “patently absurb” views “against common sense” because of a “prior” and “absolute” commitment to a naturalistic and materialistic world view (i.e., atheism). Loftus is not as blunt, but he has a similar blind spot when he argues against common sense and Hume’s principle of “constant conjunction” and posits pure chance (which can’t cause anything–only minds and natural forces can) caused the incredible specified and irreducible complexity found in living things. No one ever observes any such thing happening once, let alone over and over (as Hume’s principle demands). Nor has it been repeated in the laboratory without intelligent intervention.

Conclusion

While Loftus’ view does not come across as strong as Lewontin’s, nonetheless, the same bias is there against a view (theism) that he admits doubting originally for non-rational reasons. He admits that he came gradually “by a leap of faith,” and he attempts to justify this rationally by offering reasons based on bias, unjustified conclusions, and self-defeating presuppositions. Looking at the evidence through these lenses will never lead one to the truth. And it will do no good in the end for anyone to blame it on God for not overpowering a skeptics mind or will. For no skeptic would want a God who forces them to believe against their will. The God of the Bible is not that kind of God (Mt. 23:37) but is “longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance [change their mind]” (2 Pet. 3:9).

In summation, one can place question marks on both his “conversion” and “deconversion.” Given the legalistic context, one can question whether or not he really understood the grace of God. And by his own testimony, the initial factors that prompted his “deconversion” were not really rational but emotional and volitional. As to the rational doubts that ensued, there is nothing much new that other skeptics have not already asked – and apologists have not already answered.

[Footnotes missing]

Copyright © 2012 NormanGeisler.net – All rights reserved

Can Atheists Justify Being Good Without God ?

Can Atheists Justify Being Good Without God ?
by Norman L. Geisler

 


There is a new atheist’s ad out with a picture of  Santa Claus and the words: “Why  believe in a god? Just be good for goodness sake.”  This is clever, but is it possible?  Let’s analyze it more carefully.

First, if there is no Moral Law Giver (God), then how can there be a moral law that prescribes: “Be good.”  Every prescription has a prescriber, and this is a moral prescription.

Second, what does “good” mean?  How is good to be defined.? If it can mean anything for anyone, then it means nothing for anyone.  It is total relativism. Being “good” for some (like Nazis) can mean killing Jews.  But for Jews it is evil.  Hence, on this view there is no objective difference between good and evil.

Third,  what does “goodness” itself mean in the atheist slogan.  Being good “for goodness sake” implies that something is just plain good in itself.  That is, it is an ultimate goodness.  But this by definition is what Christians mean by God.  Everything else hasgoodness, but only God (the Ultimate) is goodness.  In this case, the atheist is using “goodness” as a surrogate or substitute for God.

This maneuver is not uncommon for atheists. Before the Big Bang evidence, atheists were fond of doing this with the word  “universe.”  It was supposed to be eternal and, hence, needed no Cause since only what begins needs a Beginner.  Carl Sagan employed the term “Cosmos” as a God-substitute.  He said, “the COSMOS is everything that ever was, is, or will be.”  It sounds a little like what Psalm 90 declares: “From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.”  Bertrand Russell attempted the same tactic in his famous BBC debate with Father Copleston.  When asked what caused the universe, he replied that nothing did.  It was just “there.”  But how does an eternal, uncaused universe from which everything else came to be differ from an Uncaused Cause (God)?

However, in the light of the Big Bang evidence that the universe had a beginning, these answers lack scientific support.  As agnostic Jastrow put it, “The scientist’s pursuit of the past ends in the moment of creation.”  And  “This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but theologians.  They have always accepted the word of the Bible: `In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth'” (God and the Astronomers, 115).

Fourth, Dembski and Wells give another objection in recent bookn(How to be an Intellectually Fulfilled Atheist (or not), 115): “Atheism is a belief with scientific pretensions but no scientific backing.”  It has no scientific backing for believing in an eternal universe, The Second Law of Thermodynamics still holds.  The universe is running out of useable energy and, therefore, cannot be eternal.  And it has no scientific backing for the spontaneous origin of first life.  Again, as Dembski notes, “Until science can show that physical process operating under realistic prebiotic conditions can bring about full-fledged cells from nonliving material, intellectual fulfillment remains an atheistic pipedream” (ibid.).

Fifth, the truth is that many of the great atheists themselves understood well that without God there is no basis for being good for goodness sake.  The famous French atheist, Jean Paul Sartre said,  without God,  “I was like a man who’s lost his shadow.  And there was nothing left in heaven, not right or wrong, nor anyone to give me orders” (The Flies, Act III).  Nietzsche said that when God died (see the “Madman” in Gay Science), then all objective values died with Him.  And a subjective understanding of goodness to which everyone can assign their own relative meaning, is not goodness at all–let alone being goodness for goodness sake.

Sixth, atheists fail to make an important distinction.  One can be good (as many atheists are) without believing in God.  But one cannot be good without there being a God.  That is, they can believe in a moral law (and live accordingly) without believing in God.  But they cannot justify this belief without reference to a Moral Law Giver (God).  This leads to one last observation.

Seventh, the fact is, that you cannot have an objective moral law without a Moral Law Giver.  But atheist are the first to insist there must be a moral law–otherwise, how can they mount their argument against God from the injustices in this world.   C. S. Lewis sais this clearly when he wrote,  “[As an atheist] my argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust.  But how had I got this idea of just and unjust?  A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line” (Mere Christianity, 15). Thus, he reasoned from this objective moral law to a Moral Law Giver (God).  The atheist must make his painful choice: Either he loses the basis for his argument against God from evil, or he must admit there is an objective moral law which leads to a Moral Law Giver.  One thing is certain: without God, the atheist cannot have objective goodness for goodness sake.  Indeed, since “for goodness sake” is a euphemistic phrase meaning “For God’s sake,” then the atheist ad, both literarily and logically, should be rendered, “Why believe in God? Just be good for God’s sake.”  In other words, it is precisely because there is a God that we can really be good.  Without an absolutely good God, there is no real objective basis for being good.

I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist

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I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist

by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek

Crossway Books, 2004

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Translations available:  Dutch, Korean, Portuguese and Romanian

Translation in Brazillian Portugese: Não tenho fé suficiente para ser ateu

Não tenho fé suficiente para ser ateu

Norman Geisler

Editora Vida

Idéias com o objetivo de destruir a fé cristã sempre bombardeiam os alunos do ensino médio e das universidades. Este livro serve como um antídoto excepcionalmente bom para refutar tais premissas falsas. Ele traz informações consistentes para combater os ataques violentos das ideologias seculares que afirmam que a ciência, a filosofia e os estudos bíblicos são inimigos da fé cristã.

Antes de tocar a questão da verdade do cristianismo, essa obra aborda a questão da própria verdade, provando a existência da verdade absoluta. Os autores desmontam as afirmações do relativismo moral e da pós-modernidade, resultando em uma valiosa contribuição aos escritos contemporâneos da apologética cristã.

Geisler e Turek prepararam uma grande matriz de perguntas difíceis e responderam a todas com habilidade. Uma defesa lógica, racional e intelectual da fé cristã.

from http://www.apologia.com.br/?p=33