You are here'God of the gaps' did my faith in

'God of the gaps' did my faith in

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By Virgil - Posted on 21 October 2009

In one of _The Four Horsemen_ videos linked to below (I think it's hour 1) Christopher Hitchens makes an observation about religious people that I think is quite true, at least I know it was of me. He says that most people keep two sets of books, meaning that there is one set of beliefs which they use to order their everyday lives and another set which they get from religion and use only occasionally. The first set we use when we eat breakfast, brush our teeth, commute to work (or stay home with the kids!), pick up the dry cleaning, etc. The second we use during holy times or when life starts to suck. I would add that religious people who do not do this, but rather keep only one set of books, we often label fanatical or radical - and most of us don't like fanatics.I have a friend, someone I love dearly, whom I have attempted to avoid religious discussion with for a long time. She tends to keep just one set of books. I used to listen to her talk about praying that she would not run out of gasoline instead of immediately stopping to fill up her tank (and she wasn’t rushing someone to the hospital at the time either). I remember wanting to grab her and shake her and scream, "Don't you know that it doesn't work that way. One of these days you're going to find yourself stranded!" I mean, prayer is for asking God to help us with things that we don't understand. Once we fully understand how something works it becomes a closed system, and there is no more room for God to maneuver (yes, this is Bonhoeffer's "God of the gaps"), right?

OK, so if you find yourself about to run out of gas we both know that you're going to pray to God to get you to a gas station quickly and safely, and if you should get there you are going to utter a quickie "thank you" prayer. I know because I used to do the same thing. The difference between this and what my friend was talking about is that one is actually banking on God to intervene as part of the rational decision-making process, while the other is not banking on anything but simply has nothing to lose. That's a big difference - the difference between keeping one set of books and keeping two, I would say. (By the way, if any of you are tempted to come to my friend's defense I would strongly suggest that you not attempt it because I've shared the most benign story in my arsenal.)

Why am I talking about this? I've shared this because I want to begin to explain how I went from being a leader of a small Christian house church to someone who rightly passes for an atheist (to borrow Derrida's phrase) in a seemingly short amount of time. I'm going to attempt to tease out the various reasons for the change, and I'm going to try to arrange these in some kind of narrative sequence, although it might be disjunctive.

I don’t think it’s literally true, but it feels like I woke up one morning and realized all of the sudden that my life would be no different if I didn’t believe in God. Actually that’s not true: I would have much more time and much less stress. Bonhoeffer had been right, since I had relegated God to only the gaps in my knowledge of how this universe functions as a closed system He was continually being pushed ever further to the periphery. What’s more, being used to functioning without God meant that even those things which were inexplicable warranted a wait-and-see agnosticism rather than an invocation of the name of God. It was as if on that supposed morning I suddenly discovered that I had no need of God – everything functioned quite well without him, thank you very much (I’ve since learned that the famous Laplace once said the same thing, although I don’t know how I feel about that given the critique of Laplace offered by one of my favorite philosophers, Michael Polanyi).

I had long since abandoned prayer because it seemed useless: first, because this “God of the gaps” had no more gaps, and second, because empirically I learned that both good and bad things happened to me whether I prayed or not, and seemingly in the same proportion. Not to be overshadowed, however, is the fact that I felt silly for talking to someone who I had never seen and who had never answered me back. By the way, I used to be irked, and actually I’m sure I still am, by people who claim that God has spoken to them. I want to ask, “Really, what does His voice sound like?” The ones that I talk to don’t mean that they actually heard anything - they are simply baptizing their own opinions or desires and Christening them God’s opinions and desires. Sorry for the minor tangent. I’ll get back to telling my story.

I also didn’t read or use the Bible in the same way that I used to, and this change had been happening over a long period of time. To get the obvious stuff out of the way first, I realized long ago that the Bible is not a scientific textbook or a history in the Western tradition, and that it should not be read as such. In case hearing me share this as part of the story of my slide into atheism freaks out any of my more progressive Christian friends, this was a necessary but not a sufficient condition. Obviously, to lose one’s faith one cannot accept the Bible at naïve face value, but that in no way implies that all who take a more mature view of the Bible must lose their faith. ‘Nuff said on that? Anyway, and more to the point, I had stopped reading the Bible in general and the New Testament in particular as normative. That’s a much bigger deal, and I’ll explain what I mean by it by telling another story.

Years ago I led the house church in a study of the “issue” of marriage and divorce. It was a really in depth study of the Bible and to this day I think I did a decent job on it. Later, a friend of mine asked that I officiate at her wedding ceremony, and I happily agreed. When another Christian challenged her on her right to marry again, she asked me for the information from our previous study so that she might discuss it with this person. Now here’s what startled me: I realized that the information that I was giving her didn’t matter to me. Even if I believed that the Bible forbade her to marry again I would have married them because I believe that people have a right to be happy. I was floored. I never imagined that I would feel that way. Still, I was happy to be able to be honest with myself and to know that I was not getting my sense of morality or ethics from the Bible (this generalization was in fact largely true).

So, like I said, I seemingly woke up one morning and realized that my life would be no different, practically, without God. I made all of my decisions based on the assumption that the universe operates by simple cause-and-effect. My hopes did not involve God’s intervention. My sense of “right and wrong” did not come directly from the Bible or any other Christian source. In fact, as I’ve said since then, the word ‘God’ had become meaningless to me. I had no idea what it even meant. I know what ‘chair’ means because I’ve sat in one and I know what ‘water’ means because it’s quenched my thirst, but I’d never experienced a ‘God’. All of this being the case, what’s the point in maintaining a farcical faith? So that, in a nutshell, is how I lost my faith.

Of course, none of this inherently means that I believe there is no God, only that I do not hold the belief that there is one. The difference is subtle. Some of you might object to my self-description with the word “atheist,” and would think that “agnostic” would be more appropriate. Indeed, I began sharing this experience with friends by using that word. I now want to know, however, the pragmatic difference between the two. I mean, if I’m completely fine with living my life as if there is no God (which I am, and which I am doing), then why should I adopt a mental stance which says maybe-there-is-and-maybe-there-isn’t? How are these two beliefs cashed out in actual experience? If I really were an agnostic, would I hedge my bets in some way, and if so how?

Ok, that’s it. Now I think you are pretty well caught up to the present on this journey of mine.

Windpressor's picture

*
The above "article" was originally a post on Jared's blog which he apparently removed sometime after Virg's essay in response here --
‘God of the gaps’ did my dead faith in

72 comments were entered between May 12-30, '08 which include several from Jared, principal of which excerpted here: --Re: ‘God of the gaps’ did my dead faith in (Score: 1)
by jaredcoleman (jaredcoleman@gmail.com) on Tuesday, May 13 @ 16:21:27 PDT
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Virgil:

I am very unimpressed; you have beaten down a straw man. I don't even know where to begin, because while you acknowledged in your opening paragraph that my piece (which was written for my friends who read my blog) was descriptive in nature and not meant to be an argument, you then went on to force my statements into a logical structure of your own creation so that you could then destroy this structure. For example, I never said anything like, "God never answered my prayers, thus God does not exist." Actually, I said, "I had long since abandoned prayer because it seemed useless: first, because this 'God of the gaps' had no more gaps, and second, because empirically I learned that both good and bad things happened to me whether I prayed or not, and seemingly in the same proportion." Forcing my description into the form of a logical argument is misleading and makes me look foolish (as if I think I can prove that God does not exist!). When you asked if I would mind if you wrote a response to the things that I said I didn't realize that you were going to respond to a bunch of things that I hadn't said, or I would have responded that I indeed did mind.

Another case in point: I am not the Cartesian that you make me out to be. Nowhere in that piece did I demand certainty. Actually, I just searched for the word "certain" in the original and it is nowhere to be found - not only did I not demand it, but I didn't even mention it. I never even used the word "evidence", although I could have - but even if I had, to ask for evidence is NOT to demand certainty. You are not the first person to make me out as a backslidden postmodern as soon as I talk about reason or evidence in regard to my lack of faith. WTF? This apparent identification of reason with modernism scares me... is reason not valuable at all to a postmodern? I am (almost) speechless. Did you not read that my favorite philopsopher is still Michael Polanyi? I thought you had read Personal Knowledge. Do you think think that I forgot about the problem of induction?

Yet another example that you have made a straw man: you said,

"In relation to the assessment that his life would be no different if he did not believe in God, there is little new to this disconnect between faith and life that he is experiencing. The modern Christian understanding of justification as being “by grace alone” is almost always implying that one’s faith has nothing to do with what kind of person he is and how he lives his life. This is what Dallas Willard calls “the gospel of sin management” – the idea that essentially, the message of Christianity is concerned only with how to deal with sin. “Life, our actual existence, is not included in what is now presented as the heart of the Christian message, or it is included only marginally.”[10] Again, it is this version of Christianity that Jared is railing against. But this version is wrong, impotent, and irrelevant; the narrative of the Kingdom is not about sin management or about waking up on the correct side of the bed every morning. It rather is about emulating a Creator within our own realms of influence, namely our homes and families."
The reason that my life would be no different, as I made perfectly clear, was due to 1) the God-of-the-gaps nature of my faith, and 2) the fact that my morality was derived from humanistic rather than religious sources. I had long since jettisoned a "sin management" theology in favor of the sort of theology which you subsequently described, and so it had nothing at all to do with this realization of mine. In other words, I realized that I was motivated to volunteer at our local homeless shelter by simple humanistic compassion, ...============

G-Juan Wind

Virgil's picture

I am not sure I get this reply - is this in response to me, or in response to Jared?

Windpressor's picture

*
Virg,

Just some background and context for anyone not aware of or missing recollection of the article.
PP has a huge amount of material.
No one can be expected to have read, let alone recall it all.

If you click on a "user info" link at one of Jared's comments in the '08 article, you can see that his last ten comments were all under that article. If you follow links to his profile from the current article, there is no such list of comments.

Were you aware that the link to Jared's blog is inactive?
jaredcoleman.com also used to transfer to another site which I can't recall name.
I have just assumed that he has left off from corresponding or linking here.

wind
........

G-Juan Wind

Virgil's picture

Yes, Jared asked me to take his articles off the site and he disabled his blog from what I remember. I am sure he had his own reasons for doing it, but I am pretty sure he is not running to hide from anyone's questions :)

Jared is a very gracious guy - if you e-mail him or contact him, I am sure he would answer any questions you have.

large-hammer's picture

Jared,

Congratulations on your newfound independence. Much of Christian apologetics relies on those mysterious gaps in human knowledge of the physical world. When anything is amazing or hard to explain, theists jump up and claim, "It's God!" Yet naturalism should not be so readily abandoned, unless we are to be content with magical pseudo-explanations for physical phenomena. Such contentment would undermine the very scientific progress that has brought us out of the ages of darkness and ignorance.

It is true that the cosmos (including human life) are awe-inspiring things. If the universe is awesome, it is easier and simpler to accept its existence than to posit a hypothetical creator deity, who would surely be even more awesome than the world he created. Yet supernaturalists merely accept God's existence, without inquiring about his origins. Yet if he has a free pass to be complex in mind, amazing, eternal, etc. (i.e. without external explanation), why can't the universe?

Again...please accept my congratulations.

Marcus Booker

Parker's picture

MB: When anything is amazing or hard to explain, theists jump up and claim, "It's God!" Yet naturalism should not be so readily abandoned, unless we are to be content with magical pseudo-explanations for physical phenomena.

P: Hi Marcus (and Jared). I think my bewilderment at your posts stems from having a fundamentally different understanding of how God interacts with material creation. The Catholic view is that the universe **is mechanical and operates by physical laws.** This Christian theological assumption developed in the Middle Ages produced the Scientific Method, the investigative apparatus of logic through which we accurately investigate and come to understand physical things and how they function. This was a Christian-led breakthrough, and every scientist today owes a debt of gratitude to Christianity for having delivered modern science to humanity. That's right: the pioneers of science were THEISTS who believed God made the universe to be mechanical-thus-predictable and capable of being investigated and quantified. Modern science is a product of Christianity, not secularism, not Buddhism, and not any other tradition.

To point out the limits of the scientific method, consider this analogy of a Toyota vehicle. Let's say we come across a Toyota Prius and disassemble and examine every component. We could discover how it works and marvel over every aspect of its clever design. Our process of discovery and examination wouldn't eliminate the logical inference that somewhere and somehow the Prius has a designer with remarkable intelligence. It fact, it would be irrational to go through that discovery process and at the end posit that the Prius *has no designer.* And yet that is the precise approach of Dawkins et. al. And so we see that it is fundamentally illogical in that situation to believe that complex systems create themselves out of nothing by random accidents.

Marcus Booker said: "If the universe is awesome, it is easier and simpler to accept its existence than to posit a hypothetical creator deity, who would surely be even more awesome than the world he created. Yet supernaturalists merely accept God's existence, without inquiring about his origins. Yet if he has a free pass to be complex in mind, amazing, eternal, etc. (i.e. without external explanation), why can't the universe?"

P: We know from science that physical things in the material universe are not self-creating/self-designing, nor are they eternal--that is, matter itself had a beginning before which there was *nothing.* This fact forces reasonable people to infer that matter has a *non-physical* origin somewhere back in time. Moreover, since all matter has causation, we trace the causes back in time to some origin point. It is there that we identify the start of the material creation and also its NON-MATTER-BASED source. This is the precise line where naturalism ends and supernaturalism begins. In other words, we know theoretically and logically that supernaturalism exists.

large-hammer's picture

Parker,

The problem is that you still have not explained God's existence. Would not the mind of God qualify as a "complex system" (unless you claim that God is simple-minded)? Yet you say that complex systems cannot create themselves out of nothing by random accidents.

Somehow, then, we have to agree that complex systems may simply self-exist (without further explanation). For you, that free pass belongs to God. For me, it goes to the universe. [Yet we have actually seen the universe, but not the ever-elusive God. So why multiply entities with such abandon?].

There are inherent properties of energy and matter that provide a sense of order to the world, all by themselves. Why a magical superman needs to be added to this system is beyond me.

In the past, men tended strongly to devise fanciful explanations for mysterious phenomena. Our forebears routinely invented supernatural explanations to make sense of the movements of the heavenly bodies, the weather, natural disasters, and other seemingly inexplicable things. Someone (an ancient theist) might ask, "How does the sun, in its daily course, move itself about the earth if not driven by the great Apollo in his mighty chariot?" Yet we dismiss his argument for the (sun) deity's necessary existence based on the modern trend toward a more naturalistic way of thinking.

The sun surely does what it does, from our perspective as we gaze skyward. Yet the regularity and consistency of that pattern in no way proves the unseen sun god. Nevertheless, the committed theist is unswayed, absent a radical change to his way of thinking.

And your comparison to a Prius is compelling at first blush, but it has its own problems. For one, there is an infinite regress. A complex Prius had a designer. That designer would also have to be complex himself (to be able to design a Prius). Since the designer of the Prius is so complex himself, he too must have been designed, ad infinitum. At some point, complexity just is. Maybe the Prius self-exists as its own God? The second problem is that the universe is not a Prius. Though there are physical laws covering everything, there is a lot in the physical universe that is not neat and orderly (but rather messy and chaotic). A galaxy looks like a big ugly glob of stars. Not everything has some beautiful crystalline pattern or even a remotely purposeful structure to it, and even those things that are so structured are only acting according to inherent properties. No ghosts are required, holy or otherwise. Does an apple falling from a tree to the earth require a ghost or angel to move it?

Some things in this world will seem more amazing than others. Elements in molecules attract each other in amazing ways. Replication of some molecules, while quite interesting and difficult to grasp, hardly requires divine intervention. Evolution, therefore, is a better theory to explain the descent of man and woman than "God. Clay. Rib."

Marcus

MiddleKnowledge's picture

Hey Marcus,

Long time no see. Surprised to see you hang around here still...

Tim Martin
www.BeyondCreationScience.com

large-hammer's picture

Hello Tim,

Yes...from time to time I check in on the site. It's rare that I get on here, and I have not left a comment in years.

I like to check in w/ PlanetPreterist because there is a tendency among preterists to be open-minded, independent in thought and just plain interesting. Of course, I disagree with the Christian perspective on matters, but it is interesting to see what ideas or thoughts preterists have about various topics.

BTW, congratulations on the publication of your book and all the work that you have been doing. Certainly, the rejection of Dispensational creation science is a step in the right direction.

Marcus

MiddleKnowledge's picture

Interesting you still find this site interesting...

You should e-mail me at BeyondCreationScience.com and catch up a bit. Been a long time since we talked.

Tim

Barry's picture

Hey Marcus,
Out of curiosity, what is the destination this this "right direction"?
Blessings Barry

we are all in this together

large-hammer's picture

Naturalism.

What I'm saying is that Tim's views on creation science (and also Preterism) at least lessen some of the major problems of Christianity to reasonable-minded folks, especially those arising out of Dispensationalism.

The rigid 7-day literal creation theory, saying the earth and humanity is 6-10K years old, that men walked the earth w/ all the dinosaurs in recent history, that the stars are new (created after our planet) are quirky beliefs. It is a twisted and wrong-headed perspective on the universe.

The idea of a global flood where all current animals were jam-packed into a single craft is similarly questionable. I've seen flood geologist types who interpret anything strange on the surface of the earth as arising out of the great flood (i.e. the grand canyon, Utah's rock formations, etc.). It is mania.

Tim mentions in his book the geocentric views of Calvin and Luther (which accorded well w/ the Scriptures). Most Christians discounted the views of the "upstart astronomer" Copernicus. Yet today there are very few Christian geocentrists. That shift is a step in the "right direction."

The danger is in accepting the Bible fanatically and uncritically as a science text, without regard for external evidence. Some Christians (not most, fortunately) have even claimed that certain fossils were planted by the devil to deceive mankind. And many would say that stars merely have the appearance of age. God must have created the light in mid-path, so it only seems as if we are seeing objects from billions of light-years away. Those stars, the light of which is just reaching our planet, were not really there billions of years ago (if young earthers are to be believed).

One difficult hurdle is Adam & Eve. If you count back the genealogies, it was less than 10K years since their time. Also, Christianity relies on this doctrine of all men being physical descendents of Adam, that humanity did not exist beforehand. Yet if the fossil record and consensus interpretation of it is to be believed, humanity has been around much longer. Yet what would that do to the doctrine of original sin? And if there were men 100,000 years ago, did God decide to create from scratch a separate man approx 10,000 years ago? And are all men his descendents? That doesn't make sense. Again...a Christian is forced to take human remains that appear to be hundreds of thousands of years old (by their location in rock layers), and he must insist that the remains are actually much newer. The reason for his judgment about the age of the remains is because he uses the Bible as a science guide, which confines his possible scientific interpretations within certain acceptable boundaries.

Tim's trend in the right direction is to recognize that the Bible cannot be used in this way (at least not all the time). Science should be taken into account, and perhaps it may change someone's interpretation of the text.

As a non-believer, I interpret the Bible for what I believe it actually says. In my case, I don't have to interpret it in such a way as to keep it true, inerrant and infallible. In hermeneutics, this approach is also the right direction.

Marcus

StephenGreer's picture

Large-hammer,

Why is naturalism a superior philosophical position to theism? And what evidence or argument can you provide that backs it up? Have you ever read Alvin Plantinga? Or Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions?

As a non-believer, I interpret the Bible for what I believe it actually says.

So what? As a believer, I interpret the Bible for what I believe it actually says. You are forced by your presuppositions to read the Bible in a certain light, just as I am; neither of us are "unbiased" or "objective", indeed there are none who can be so. The question is not, "Whose reading more objective?" but rather, "Whose presupposition is more valid?" So...why should I accept naturalism?

Stephen

large-hammer's picture

Stephen,

Personally, I'm impressed with the track record of naturalism in providing useful discoveries that have proved instrumental to mankind's scientific advancement. When we look at ourselves and the world around us, people should drop all this magical thinking, if the goal is to be in touch with reality. The magical thinking that humanity has dropped thus far has served us well...and hence we have medicine rather than exorcisms. And meteorology is better than a fickle, angry god to explain inclement weather (as many men of former times believed). If we want to continue on this course of progress, we need to continue to drop the magic (the recourse to the supernatural).

Some parts of Christian dogma amount to nothing more than bad scientific theories. And, as a modern adult, you should be embarrassed and ashamed of yourself if you believe them. For instance, the typical Christian theory to explain the existance of women is the Adam & Eve rib story plus a dash of hocus pocus from the divine. And men's behavior arises predominantly from supernatural causes. We are all influenced by spirits, whether the holy spirit or demons. Natural causes do not explain why we might label people good or evil.

And all of mankind, as a default condition, is "fallen" because of a supernatural curse upon Adam. Again, there is no natural explanation sought to explain mankind's lack of perfection.

I could go on forever about the twisted way Christians train themselves to think. To believe the bible and the doctrines of Christianity is to be stuck in a rut. And that rut is the backwards thinking of the primitive barbarians of bygone eras. Modern Christians are not backwards barbarians, and yet they afford a place of honor in their lives to the mindset of these unenlightened and superstitious folks (via their manuscripts). The bible, if you understand it, is unworthy of this honor.

I am convinced that a typical Christian holds himself back from reading the bible honestly; readers gloss over or explain away atrocities and absurdities, simply trusting in the back of their minds that everything is peachy (and God must know what he's doing). An honest reading, without wool over the eyes, reveals that these books are the products of men (and men alone), who had no special (divine) insights. This approach to the reading is not an arbitrary presupposition. Rather it is a presupposition that arose out of crisis. The crisis stemmed from trying to take the bible seriously; it was a crisis in the theory (ala Kuhn) that the bible is the inerrant, infallible word of God, which was bogged down by fatal flaws. You could say that I underwent a Scientific Revolution.

Yes...I have read the major philosophers of science (which is why I view naturalism as philosophy, which undergirds science). In other words, I find philosophy more interesting and more foundational than science.

As for Plantinga, I disagree with him when he seems to suggest (as I read him) that Christianity and naturalism are on equal footing. His apologetics are purely defensive (and a weak defense at that). By practical standards of certainty (a realistic, everyday epistemological standard), there is every reason to accept naturalism and reject the claims of Christianity. The two are not equal; revealed religion is much more speculative and doubtful.

Here's my suggestion. Read the bible, the whole bible several times. Try to take it seriously, render it intelligible and deeply relevant to your life. Make every passage that you read fit into your systematic theology, with nothing marginalized or ignored. See what happens.

StephenGreer's picture

Large-hammer,

I'm not sure whether I should laugh or cry at the blatant arrogance of your post. Your "white-tower" attitude is appalling. I'm sorry that as a poor, non-thinking, ignorant peasant I cannot rise to your de facto intellectual superiority. But I shall certainly try.

Stating that "the track record of naturalism in providing useful discoveries that have proved instrumental to mankind's scientific advancement" is impressive is not itself an argument for naturalism. Theism can account for this just as easily, if not more completely. God created the natural order, and the natural order acts in particular ways that we, as reasonable being created in the image of God, can comprehend. So far, there is nothing that makes the philosophy of naturalism any more desirable when engaging in scientific discourse than the philosophy of theism. I'm glad that you acknowledge naturalism as a philosophy, but appealing to "scientific advances" does not validate it; philosophies cannot be proven by scientific, empirical evidence, because scientific, empirical evidence does not and indeed cannot imply universals. Naturalism states a universal, that the "natural" world is all there is, and nothing exists "beyond" it. Therefore, science is useless in validating it as a philosophy; other possibilities exist, and it is up to you to demonstrate using quite different evidence why I ought to prefer naturalism over theism.

So far, you have not. I asked in my post above, "Why is naturalism a superior philosophical position to theism? And what evidence or argument can you provide that backs it up?" You did not respond with a single argument or line of reason; instead, I am greeted by blithe assertions such as:

As a modern adult, you should be embarrassed and ashamed of yourself if you believe them.

This kind of judgmentalism is, frankly, appalling. Where is the tolerance that humanists are so ready to trumpet? And besides, who are you to tell me what I ought to feel? But I digress. You state:

I could go on forever about the twisted way Christians train themselves to think. To believe the bible and the doctrines of Christianity is to be stuck in a rut. And that rut is the backwards thinking of the primitive barbarians of bygone eras.

And yet you did not demonstrate why any of the examples of "Christian thinking" (if your parodies can be called such) are illogical. You simply dismiss them out of hand, which is not an argument. You did not demonstrate why Plantinga's arguments are wrong; you simply stated, "Well, I use practical standards of certainty, which is far more realistic than what Christian philosophers have to offer." Well, what are your "practical standards," and why should I buy them?

In short, your post is a case study in question begging; stating that Christians have "wool over the eyes" or suggesting that they do not read the Bible "honestly" assumes that naturalism is true without ever having provided evidence that it is. Am I supposed to be convinced by this? No, the question remains, Why should I prefer naturalism over theism? What reasoning can you provide that shows it to be more "reliable" or complete than theism? I await your answers with breathless anticipation.

Stephen

large-hammer's picture

Stephen,

So does the "rib theory" belong in science textbooks? If the bible is true, this rib theory should be center stage, with all other theories dismissed, especially those that don't include a supernatural interloper.

Or maybe all magical worldviews should have an equal voice, with all of them agreeing to dismiss naturalism as silly. In Chemistry class, the Christians can teach matter-of-factly about how Lot's wife looked back at Sodom, which was a catalyst for turning her instantly into a pillar of salt. And pagans may indoctrinate students into the literal truth of how Medusa turned her onlookers into stone.

Pardon my arrogance, but please don't be hyper-sensitive. A vigorous challenge to your belief is not quite intolerance. If physical violence were involved in our exchange (while you harmlessly held to your religion), then I would more readily concede your point.

As for my proof of atheism, I must put it in context of my whole philosophy. You will not be convinced, which is your own misfortune. My "practical real-life" standards for knowledge and belief are loose and fallibilistic. That's true for everybody. Frankly, I don't demand absolute proof, and such is the case for nearly all of my beliefs about anything. Even with this necessarily loose standard, there are beliefs and tales to reject, which won't meet standards of credibility (including Christianity & the bible). Yet naturalism makes the cut for the inductive reasons I have already stated. Specificially, the success of so-called "methodological naturalism" has led me to theorize "metaphysical naturalism." This conclusion, on my part, is much like believing in natural laws (gravity, for instance) because it has worked every time so far and seems consistently reliable. I can't test every apple from every tree (in both past and future), but my belief in gravity is solid and well-founded. I would be just as shocked by an exception to naturalism as by a random violation of the law of gravity.

I reject Christianity for several reasons. All the proofs for the necessary existence of God fail, including the teleological arguments (the various arguments from design). This argument once seemed solid to me, even when the other theistic proofs never did. However, it crumbled for many reasons. The strength of my commitment in seeking natural explanations first was only a small part of it. There is also the infinite regress involved. Complexity has to start somewhere; it has to be inherent in something. Logically, it might just as well begin in the fabric of the universe itself as with God. It cannot be a rule that complexity automatically requires a creator. Otherwise, God would require a creator, and his creator would need a creator, ad infinitum. [The hindu belief that the world rests on an elephant, standing on the back of a giant turtle comes to mind. The common joke is that nobody thinks to ask what holds up the turtle.] I slowly realized that matter itself contains inherent chemical properties that bring about all sorts of order. Crystal formation requires no angelic intervention, and self-replication of molecules (including life on Earth) under the right circumstances is not far-fetched at all.

Many reasons I had to believe Christianity eroded, which preceded the thinking above. I started to realize that there were zero compelling prophecies in the bible, including the messianic prophecies. I understood the meaning of these supposed prophecies in their original context in the law and prophets, and saw that they did not look forward to Jesus. This realization was not an immediate problem for me, and I worked around it for a time (calling the apostolic use of the prophets "midrashic"). I even wrote an article on this site covering this idea. More and more, however, I saw that the apostles twisted the Law and Prophets for their own ends, attempting to reform Hebrew religion and completely alter everything.

Once I was impressed with the actions of the apostles. I reasoned that they wouldn't have suffered persecution had they not actually seen the miracles and power of Jesus. Yet I realized that this proof was not so strong, when more of history hit me. Muslim suicide bombers hit my mind as did the death of the LDS founder Joseph Smith. Several natural explanations for actions of the apostles (which may have been embellished, for all we know) started to make more sense. It is not far-fetched that these admitted nobodies would yearn for religious renown, even in the face of trials and death. Self-aggrandizement is common and plausible; miracles are incredible.

These thoughts are the tip of the iceberg. As for Plantinga, I would have to see which particular arguments of his that you want me to address.

Parker's picture

Marcus: I'm impressed with the track record of naturalism in providing useful discoveries that have proved instrumental to mankind's scientific advancement. When we look at ourselves and the world around us, people should drop all this magical thinking

Parker: Christians (Bacon and Descartes) created and devised the Scientific Method. No recourse to supernaturalism is ever considered in the discipline of science, which is limited to the analysis of physical matter. Your problem is with protestant fundamentalism .

Marcus: mankind, as a default condition, is "fallen" because of a supernatural curse upon Adam. Again, there is no natural explanation sought to explain mankind's lack of perfection.

Parker: I see no reason to disbelieve that the first parents and their descendants underwent a massive devolution of body, mind, and spirit. By our study of history we observe massive fluctuations in mankind, both in bodily condition and in the drift towards barbarism of thought and mind. It is evident that man can gravely devolve.

Marcus: All the proofs for the necessary existence of God fail, including the teleological arguments

Parker: What is your response to Aquinas' proofs? Feel free to explain.

Marcus: Complexity has to start somewhere; it has to be inherent in something. Logically, it might just as well begin in the fabric of the universe itself as with God.

Parker: It is impossible to imagine that unguided random chance can produce bodily systems comprised of multiple highly-complex components working collaboratively. It's impossible to apply the suggested evolutionary processes to development of such systems, much less even conceive of them apart from a an intelligent designer. Nothing observable in the universe acts in this manner. You must have incredible faith to believe in such a thing.

You cannot apply the complexity argument to God, for God is not matter. The complexity argument applies to physical matter because we *know* from science that matter does not form complex systems on their own by random chance. But the laws of physics and chemistry which show us this only apply to matter, and God is not material.

As to prophecies, you yourself must realize that only by *prescience* could Christ and the apostles envision and create under pains of death a new form of Judaism without sacrifices, Temple, Aaronic priesthood, or earthly Jerusalem---decades in advance! No one can tell the future, and it is statistically impossible that Jesus and the apostles would create a new religion without all these elements and then have history vindicate them.

Marcus: I understood the meaning of these supposed prophecies in their original context in the law and prophets, and saw that they did not look forward to Jesus.

Parker: They looked forward to a messiah *by way of typology,* as the apostles themselves demonstrated. Israel's own history would play out in the life of Messiah.

Finally, as to miracles, the Hebrews wrote down the miracles because such things were *exceedingly rare,* and they defied nature. The Hebrews understood naturalism (i.e., the normal cause-effect course of life and nature). To the Hebrews, a "miracle" is an event that stands out as worthy of contemplation precisely because it does not comply with nature. Miracles were very rare, but they signified God's momentary intervention and providential direction of history. And the Hebrews very survival was itself remarkable and a product of these momentary interventions by Providence.

large-hammer's picture

Parker,

You said, "No recourse to supernaturalism is ever considered in the discipline of science, which is limited to the analysis of physical matter." We seem to agree here, but I doubt your full assent. Being Roman Catholic, you might perhaps be an evolutionist, which explains life on earth (but for you supernatural guidance is required). Yet science seeks to explain ALL observed phenomena (including human behavior, religiosity, and the universe itself). So a scientist sees the universe and asks, "How is this?" As expected, he answers the question without recourse to the supernatural. You, I assume, would account for the universe with an appeal to God. And Catholics, while not radical faith-healers, believe in the real power of prayer as a supernatural intervention, through God, over the natural world. If somebody's cancer goes into remission, a scientist would attribute 100% of that result to natural causes. A Catholic might attribute all or some of that positive outcome to prayer by devout friends & family. The remission of cancer was an observed phenomenon, and trying to understand what really happened involves the "analysis of physical matter" or science. It seems as if you're emphasizing the idea of God working through natural means. For instance, are you claiming that the fall of man was simply a natural devolution? Was there some natural means that God used to make a jackass speak (some weird mutation of mind and vocal cords)?

As for Aquinas, he lacked imagination. I could prove a West Pole on this earth using his methods. Indeed, it would be impossible to travel west infinitely, so there must eventually be a westernmost point, the First West, which is God. His models and assumptions are off. Some of Zeno's paradoxes come to mind, which prove that all motion is impossible. However, there is motion (and Zeno's model is faulty, which takes some insight to understand). Sometimes, he assumes what he needs to prove, like something without intelligence cannot move toward an end (without intelligence acting upon it). So...an apple falling from a tree to the earth requires divine intervention every time.

I don't quite claim that life came about by unguided random chance (or at least I consider that language a bit misleading). As a determinist, I don't believe in "randomness" or "chance", except as human words that capture our lack of comprehensive insight and understanding into how complicated events come about. If my abilities were enhanced or super-sensitive, I could tell you every time where a ball on a roulette wheel will land. There is no chance involved whatsoever, except to those who cannot process all the factors leading to the outcome. Chance does not form stars; it is a natural process that must come about, given the right conditions. Chemistry gives rise to all sorts of compounds due to very specific reasons, such as electron sharing and natural attractions between some atoms. Life also arises out of the right recipe.

Parker's picture

MB: Yet science seeks to explain ALL observed phenomena (including human behavior, religiosity, and the universe itself). So a scientist sees the universe and asks, "How is this?" As expected, he answers the question without recourse to the supernatural.

Parker: Science, which you should remember was developed by Christians, has a limited field of application. Most aspects of human behavior and thought can't begin to be observed using the tools of science. Many questions--such as what are thoughts, or Does God exist--are beyond the scope of science. The origin of the universe is also beyond the scope of science. We simply have no way to go back in time and run any experiments.

MB: You, I assume, would account for the universe with an appeal to God

Parker: As I've said before, since we don't know of any worlds that create themselves out of nothing by accident, the presence of an all-powerful intelligence is is a logical inference.

MB: If somebody's cancer goes into remission, a scientist would attribute 100% of that result to natural causes.

Parker: Not true. Science does not know of terminal cancer healing itself by "natural causes." So, provided that terminal cancer has been properly diagnosed in a patient, an unexpected cure does not have a known natural cause.

MB: It seems as if you're emphasizing the idea of God working through natural means.

Parker: In some cases God is said to work through forces of nature to deliver a providential outcome.

MB: For instance, are you claiming that the fall of man was simply a natural devolution?

Parker: The fall of man says mankind was *impaired* in every way---bodily, mentally, morally. We're talking a comprehensive degradation of the species.

MB: Was there some natural means that God used to make a jackass speak (some weird mutation of mind and vocal cords)

Parker: I do not know if such phenomena is objectively paranormal or subjectively so, such as a vision.

MB: I don't quite claim that life came about by unguided random chance (or at least I consider that language a bit misleading).

Parker: Nonsense. You believe that complex systems comprised of multiple organs can appear on their own and collaborate on a new and collective function. We observe nothing in the world that assembles itself together in such fashion, with such timing, and for such intelligent complex purposes. You never have seen such a system create itself, and you never will. And yet you are disposed to assign such an obviously intelligent system to non-intelligent causes. That's irrational.

By the way, I'd like to know how you explain Jesus and the end of the Old Covenant epoch. The apostles' work to fashion a new form of Judaism that lacked Temple, animal sacrifice, Aaronic priesthood, Jerusalem, etc. was prescient in light of AD 70, and yet they did their work and made their predictions decades in advance of the removal of that old system. That's historical proof of prescience.

large-hammer's picture

Parker,

I never said worlds create themselves out of nothing. Why would something need to create itself that never wasn't?

You say Christians invented science. Rubbish. Was there no science in ancient China & India? Did Democritus and the Greeks have nothing to do with the beginnings of science? What about Muslim contributions to Mathematics? Do you mean to say that there was no science behind Roman technology? Christian science was only slightly bible-based. Most of it came from latching on to various pre-Christian philosophers (such as Aquinas taking up Aristotle).

As for life, it is here. Both explanations (yours and mine) seem impossible, and yet we're here. So I say we do observe complex systems comprised of multiple organs appearing on their own. My children have all grown naturally from single-celled organisms to their current state. Food, drink & time did their bit and brought them to their present size. What I did not see was some angel being a part of the manufacturing process of my offspring, so it would be pure conjecture if I were to insist that some supernatural intelligence masterminded the whole thing.

As for the end of the Old Covenant, there are many possible explanations all of which are more likely than supernaturalism. Men accurately predict upcoming events all the time. Sometimes it is simply an educated guess; other times it is dumb luck. Lots of people predicted the housing crash years ago. Were they divinely-inspired prophets? Considering the air of insurrection among the Jews at the time, it was not far-fetched to predict revolt on their part against the Romans, which would naturally lead to the destruction of the Temple and of Jerusalem. Christians probably predicted this event, but it could also be the case that these predictions were added into the texts and teachings after the fact. Indeed, most Christian sources view the date of Revelation's writing to be around 95 A.D. So...it's hard to know. On the other hand, I find that not all of Jesus' predictions came to pass. Sure...some of the statements could be figurative, but Jesus and the apostles sure seemed to suggest that the physical resurrection of all the dead would happen soon. The historical fact that confusion arose out of the events of 70 A.D. does not help. I wrote an article years back called "The Resurrection: What and When?" which showcased many of the views of early church fathers, revealing a disturbing partial futurism. Personally, I explain this problem by saying Jesus' predictions did not all come to pass. It is conceivable he had the temple's destruction right, but most of the rest of it never happened as advertised. It caused confusion in the church.

Parker's picture

MB: I never said worlds create themselves out of nothing. Why would something need to create itself that never wasn't?

Parker: First, by faith (not proof) you believe in a world that is self-existing. So, you have your own Creation Myth. Second, you do in fact believe in *self-developing matter*. That is, against all scientific evidence, you believe that matter automatically assembles itself into multi-component systems, in which the randomly evolved individual components figure out how to collaborate to produce a new higher function---without any intelligent Designer or guide. You clearly have a fabricated mythology unsubstantiated by scientific proof. Given these amazing systems, it is *far easier* to infer an Intelligent Being than to believe that non-intelligent matter develops these systems. There is clearly a MIND behind the Cosmos, and your denial of it is not natural, but foreign. Given the complexity we see in the universe, the logical and natural inference is Theism, not self-designing self-existing matter.

MB: You say Christians invented science.

Parker: Absolutely. The sustained enterprise of modern science was developed/pioneered almost entirely by Christians. (Heavy-hitting religionists include: Roger Bacon, René Descartes, Johannes Kepler, Francis Bacon, Galileo, Pascal, Louis Pasteur, Robert Boyle, Carolus Linnaeus, Andreas Vesalius, Ambroise Paré, Isaac Newton, Joseph Priestley, Gregor Mendel, Georges Lemaitre, Francis Collins.)

The Christian theological hypothesis that God created a rational orderly natural world resulted in the methodology known as the Scientific Method---developed by Christians Bacon and Descartes. Christianity rightly theorized that the physical world was governed by "laws" (i.e., predictable, repeating patterns). The idea of a rational orderly universe eluded even the greatest non-Christian civilizations (Babylon, Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Hindu, Maya). All those civilizations theorized a universe as a giant organism dominated by the whims of a pantheon of deities. Moreover, all created things were possessed by spirits and exercised free will. Those cultures' belief in "Animism" and "Pantheism" made the scientific Method an absurdity. (The scientific method can't function in a whimsical universe.) So, while other cultures did happen upon a useful technology or craft here or there, they had no formal ongoing discipline of Science.

MB: Both explanations (yours and mine) seem impossible, and yet we're here.

Parker: The inference of "a Mind in the universe" seems entirely logical and rational. By contrast, the inference of NO MIND in the universe seems impossible and irrational.

MB: So I say we do observe complex systems comprised of multiple organs appearing on their own.

Parker: No, Marcus. You have not observed that. Rather, organs "appearing on their own" is theoretical framework in your mind. It is an unproved hypothesis. You currently believe it *by faith/conjecture*.

MB: My children have all grown naturally from single-celled organisms to their current state.

Parker: Rather, your children grew from super-complex seeds comprised of intelligent blueprints and complex engines of growth/manufacturing. Blueprints and engines contain data and intelligence, and data and intelligence are products of A MIND.

MB: What I did not see was some angel being a part of the manufacturing process of my offspring

Parker: Why would you expect to see any such thing??? Certainly, Christianity does not teach such.

MB: As for the end of the Old Covenant...Men accurately predict upcoming events all the time.

Parker: Not with precision, they don't. Jesus and the apostles predicted with the precision the end of their Law, Temple, Priesthood, and city decades prior to the event. (People cannot know the future.) Moreover, they spent those decades in the lead up to it constructing their NEW form of judaism that was to exist *once the Temple was destroyed,* and their NEW judaism was to operate without the key components Moses had installed 1500 years prior. History sided with their predictions and mission, vindicating their new religion. That is the essence of *prescience* and proof of Providence.

MB: Christians probably predicted this event, but it could also be the case that these predictions were added into the texts and teachings after the fact.

Parker: It cannot be the case that the predictions were added after the fact. The apostles actively constructed and taught their international New Covenant Judaism sans temple, sacrifices, Aaronic priesthood, and Holy City *prior to AD 70,* and no one denies it. Their whole enterprise proved prophetic and prescient and was later vindicated by history. Simply put, history sided with the apostles on their new bizarre ideas and religion. That is the essence of Providence.

davo's picture

large-hammer: In Chemistry class, the Christians can teach matter-of-factly about how Lot's wife looked back at Sodom, which was a catalyst for turning her instantly into a pillar of salt.

Marcus… this is where I find some atheists with an axe to grind seem a little shallow in their protestations – chiding Christians for their "literal" approach to things, but then appealing in-kind with their rejoinders; it's a little inconsistent.

But that said… what's wrong with the "pillar of salt" simply being understood euphemistically of Lot's wife meeting with some dire end? IOW… just because plenty of Christians might just take that as a blanket literal statement doesn't mean "Christianity" per se therefore decrees such to be the case; there are plenty of other "Christians" with a myriad of understandings on so many things etc.

large-hammer: Frankly, I don't demand absolute proof, and such is the case for nearly all of my beliefs about anything.

Well that's great IF it's true, but what you've expressed above doesn't seem to bear this out.

BTW, I'm not where you're at, but I can appreciate how as you see things is working for you.

davo

large-hammer's picture

Davo,

I see no reason the account of Lot's wife wasn't meant in a plain, literal sense (considering that ancients routinely recounted and believed this sort of story). But that is hardly the point. It's hard to strip the Bible of all its miracles (though some Christians manage to do it). The text speaks of the moon turning to blood, and I understand those words figuratively, which makes sense in that case (so I can see your point somewhat...not everything is literal). Yet there is still a virgin birth and the resurrection of Jesus. What was Jesus' DNA anyway, if we could have tested it? Was it 100% from Mary? Or 50% Marian and 50% supernatural DNA? [At least we can be fairly certain, unlike in the case of Adam, that Jesus had a belly button.] Many Christians have denied key orthodox teachings such as the resurrection and virgin birth, spiritualizing them to avoid miracles. Yet this serial avoidance is incompatible with historical Christianity and with what the text actually seems to say.

There is no axe to grind. The Christian has a delicate balancing act to perform in approaching the miracles in the bible. Why dismiss Lot's wife turning into a pillar of salt (i.e. why single that miracle out) when resurrection from the dead is equally incredible? Why would Jonah's emergence from the belly of some sea creature be a silly fairy tale but Jesus' resurrection historical fact? And what's a Christian to do about the parting of the sea during Israel's exodus? Psalm 78 says, "He did miracles in the sight of their fathers in the land of Egypt, in the region of Zoan. He divided the sea and led them through; he made the water stand firm like a wall." Most Christians, being sensible people, try to avoid giving too much thought to miracles, except perhaps for charismatics & Pentacostals and other such enthusiasts. It is especially convenient to confine all miracles to the distant past, leaving the modern world to naturalism (except perhaps for prayer and invisible spiritual influences).

Also, if there is a passage that seems to teach something objectionable or just plain wrong (according to your modern sensibilities), a Christian is in a difficult spot picking and choosing which things to accept. If God's command requires you (imagine yourself in these shoes) to rip open the bellies of pregnant women within an enemy tribe, how are you to know that this command is illegitimate but friendlier commands are divinely sanctioned? Most Christians thought of the Taliban as radical fanatics when they dynamited a couple ancient giant images of Buddha back in 2001. Do these Christians think the same thing of Hebrews, who were commanded (according to the text and with similar fervor) to destroy any and all competing idols in the land? Modern Muslims who take up stones to execute for adultery are reviled as misguided extremists. Yet it is mainstream to believe in a God who explicitly commanded the Hebrews to stone to death anybody who performed even the slightest amount of work on the Sabbath. Fortunately, most Christians have been influenced by secular and enlightenment thought, causing them subconsciously to reject most of the bible.

Yet the earnest Christian is stuck with his bible. Rejecting any small, seemingly marginal part of it tends to compromise the whole thing. I have found that it is a better theory that some early near-Eastern nomads invented this god. And, as expected, he is a reflection of themselves. Such a theory makes sense when you consider, as the bible also teaches, men's overwhelming propensity to manufacture gods to suit their fancy. It also makes sense in light of how this god is portrayed in the text and the kinds of commands he gives. His commands were the same savage commands of the competing gods, and his strange rituals were not much different.

davo's picture

large-hammer: There is no axe to grind. The Christian has a delicate balancing act to perform in approaching the miracles in the bible. Why dismiss Lot's wife turning into a pillar of salt (i.e. why single that miracle out) when resurrection from the dead is equally incredible?

Marcus… I wasn't suggesting any "axe" on your part, and I certainly wasn't discounting any possible miracle relative to Lot's wipe etc, but simply to say there is nothing wrong IMO as a believer in thinking beyond what we know as typical Christian "traditionalism" – especially seeing as there can be a number of them.

Anyway Marcus, on a totally different and unrelated slant – this raises an interesting thought, though you probably don't care so much; but I wonder how your journey away from "God" might be viewed by our more Calvinistic brethren, as in – when you were a so-called "believer" was "the Christ" and "the gospel" you witnessed to [assuming you did] in fact a FALSE Christ and FALSE gospel, considering that according to a Calvinist framework you were never in fact or reality a "believer" i.e., a Christian. ?? No need to actually that as that was just a passing thought… but interesting nonetheless.

davo

large-hammer's picture

Davo,

Well...I was a Calvinist myself. Some Calvinists with whom I've spoken take that approach. I think they misunderstand the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints or don't know enough of the rest of the bible to form a better systematic doctrine.

When I was a Christian, I would not have made the same blanket claim regarding defectors (although, like you said, there is the idea of false gospels and false Christs in the text, which applied to proponents of circumcision and not to the earlier belief of those who fell away from the true gospel). Lack of perseverance would only prove that a defector is not a saint, in some final sense. It does not disprove, at an earlier time, the presence of the spirit or of belief of the gospel. The bible has examples of the spirit's real presence followed by apostasy, in both individuals and entire nations. Solomon, as an author of parts of the Scriptures, would surely be deemed to have possessed the true spirit of God, despite his eventual apostasy (recounted in 1 Kings 11). And are we to think the other apostles performed miracles in the spirit but Judas Iscariot did not?

Also, there is the parable of the sower. Seeds are spread about. These seeds are all the real deal. Yet they produce different effects in different soil, whether on the path, in rocky soil, or in normal soil. The plant (from the true seed) springs up quickly in the rocky soil, but does not last.

In addition, Acts 7 speaks of certain Hebrews resisting the holy spirit. See also Hebrews 6: 4-6. The doctrine of irresistible grace applies only to those God predestined to persevere. There is no teaching that all one-time believers or possessors of the spirit persevere to the end. Warnings of falling away and of apostasy would be nonsense otherwise.

Calvinism teaches that the sacrifice of God's Son covered the sins of a limited, foreknown number of depraved sons of Adam, who the Father draws to himself irresistibly (i.e. despite their depravity) via the Holy Spirit, unto perseverance.

It is easy to misunderstand.

davo's picture

Yes interesting indeed Matcus… as for me I understand "election" and all that goes with it as pertinent to the historical setting of the bible, and speaks mainly to Israel but in particular or in finality to the first-fruit saints of that AD30-70 "end-of-the-age" period – they being the ones "elected" who "in Christ" brought to fullness Israel's promised redemption; a redemption that in turn was the catalyst for the reconciliation of man.

Thus biblical "salvation" is about service to God in this life as opposed to getting to heaven beyond it. Such doesn't discount the "beyond" but likewise THAT is not its primary focus – this at least is my present understanding…

I'm assuming Marcus in a very real sense you'd be the ultimate annihilationist i.e., cessation for everyone without exception or distinction.

davo

Barry's picture

Hey Marcus,
With the bible we have the benefit of seeing an evolving humanity. From a culture that understood little to nothing of how to conduct itself in the interconnectedness of love to a movement that does and has had just such and impact of humanity.

And we see this historically and Jesus laid the ground work in answering "who is my neighbor" and "love your enemies" which was DIFERENT from the previous consciousness.

Now the Atheist comes along with claims of atrocities in the bible, particulary OT with none of this in mind because they have not really thought things through IMHO.

Hence your:
"Also, if there is a passage that seems to teach something objectionable or just plain wrong (according to your modern sensibilities), a Christian is in a difficult spot picking and choosing which things to accept. If God's command requires you (imagine yourself in these shoes) to rip open the bellies of pregnant women within an enemy tribe, how are you to know that this command is illegitimate but friendlier commands are divinely sanctioned?"

Of course it's no problem for a Lion to kill the cubs of his new bride which cubs came from a previous mate. But now all of a sudden humans should not act unlovingly and that is poof that the bible is wrong.
Where did this revelation come from, nature?

The atheist is far worse off IMO. The atheist cannot claim that loving behavior is evolved behavior. On the contrary the evolved intelligence of man, simply means that he is capable of carrying out any and all of his emotions with greater thought. Self preservation and everything that comes with it will always then be at the core of the mind set. With some respect of working together socially as all animal combine that within the framework of self preservation.
So then whether that be helping someone who can repay back somehow with something or putting another person or group or tribe or nation or community or ethnicity or sect down so that he himself or his group, so that something he treasures can be better secured or advanced.

Why then is the Atheist at any advantage?
Blessings Barry

we are all in this together

RiversOfEden4's picture

Large-Hammer,

I think you'd be interested in what these Electrical Engineers and Physicists are proposing about the electrical nature of the universe.

www.holoscience.com

RiversOfEden4's picture

Marcus,

If you look at the location of the rivers that surrounded "Eden" (Genesis 2:8-11) and compare that to the same rivers that identified the location of the "Promised Land" (Genesis 15:16-18) then it is evident that the "heavens and earth" of Eden (Genesis 1:1) were the same geographical place as the Promised Land later possessed by Jacob's sons.

The literal Creation story pertained only to the people of Israel (who were descendants of Adam, Noah, and Abraham). This is why the biblical genealogies only account for the families of people who dwelt in that specific area about 6,000 years ago (Genesis 5:1-3).

There is no need for the Creation story to explain anything about modern science, nor is there any basis for the goofy "allegorizing" approaches (e.g. Beyond Creation Science, etc)to the literary material. The genealogies and nation tables (Genesis 10-12) demonstrate that only a certain lineage of people descended from Adam, Noah, and Abraham were in view (even though we know there were hundreds of thousands of other people living around the world before the biblical genealogies).

The creation story makes perfectly good sense when it is understood as a literal and geocentric historical account of the "beginning" of the Hebrew people and their possession of the Promised Land. Afterall, the literal "seven days" of a week, and the literal geographic location of the Promised Land are the foundation of the rest of the Pentateuch.

The reason that the sun, moon, and stars do not appear until the 4th day is simply because a geocentric observer (like an ancient Hebrew of that era) would see the "light" from the sun or moon behind the clouds in the sky even though the celestial objects themselves would not be discernable if there was cloud cover. This is why the "light" is visible on the 1st day, the "horizon" becomes visible on the 2nd day, and there are only the "waters" left on the earth to be gathered on the 3rd day. Since the "waters above" (i.e rain clouds) had cleared, the celestial objects could now be discerned both day and night on the 4th day.

large-hammer's picture

When I assess the meaning of this creation account, I definitely read it not as some timeless, generic scripture but as a writing with immediate relevance to the original Hebrew audience, in light of their contemporary circumstances.

I read it with Deuteronomy is mind, which says, "You saw no form of any kind the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly array—do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven."

The creation account's immediate objective, with Deuteronomy in mind, was to undercut the common idolatries (competing cults) of the time. Some of the main idols, it would seem, consisted of figures of man & woman and of animals, birds & fish. Moreover, people were bowing down to the sun, moon & stars. Genesis mentions these things for specific religious reasons (and not so much for the sake of scientific insight). The creation story had to make all of these competitors subservient to YHWH, the tribal champion credited with the successful exodus out of Egypt.

So, the account of creation of the heavens and earth being confined to a localized Eden (and the creation of Adam as the father of only a part of humanity) could have been in mind, as you suggest. This understanding, however, leaves the Christian with a much more provincial, tribal god. And again, there is that problem w/ original sin in Adam (unless you are to say that an Australian aborigine not descended from Adam is somehow only spiritually in Adam and under his curse).

Personally, I think the writer of Genesis knew little of the existence of most of the world. From best I can tell, the Hebrews seemed to view the world as a flat circle, with mysterious unknown edges (these far corners perhaps they had heard about through travellers). From Psalms 24, 75 & 136, it seems that they believed that the land arose, as if upon pillars, from out of a great sea. So...I do think that the Hebrews viewed the creation account as the story of the beginnings of all known habitable land (i.e. the whole world as they knew it and as far as they could see it). And likewise, I think they viewed Adam as the first of mankind and as the father of all races of people. Paul seems to have that view, as far as I can tell.

The Hebrew conception of God also seems to be made in the image of man. This figure, the ancient of days, looks like a radiant man. He is invisible because no man can look upon the brightness of his face. Even Moses had trouble seeing the brightness of his back. He is called a spirit, but that doesn't mean he doesn't look like a superman (like Zeus). Angels are spirits as well, and they have spiritual bodies.

If there is one thing beyond dispute contained in religious writings, it is the teaching of man's propensity to fashion all kinds of idols, usually reflections of the conceit and purposes of man. The god conceived by the Hebrews, a tribal warrior king, fits this profile perfectly. He differs little from the gods of other nations, except he was successfully catholicized and expanded to appeal to a wider crowd.

large-hammer's picture

When I assess the meaning of this creation account, I definitely read it not as some timeless, generic scripture but as a writing with immediate relevance to the original Hebrew audience, in light of their contemporary circumstances.

I read it with Deuteronomy is mind, which says, "You saw no form of any kind the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly array—do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven."

The creation account's immediate objective, with Deuteronomy in mind, was to undercut the common idolatries (competing cults) of the time. Some of the main idols, it would seem, consisted of figures of man & woman and of animals, birds & fish. Moreover, people were bowing down to the sun, moon & stars. Genesis mentions these things for specific religious reasons (and not so much for the sake of scientific insight). The creation story had to make all of these competitors subservient to YHWH, the tribal champion credited with the successful exodus out of Egypt.

So, the account of creation of the heavens and earth being confined to a localized Eden (and the creation of Adam as the father of only a part of humanity) could have been in mind, as you suggest. This understanding, however, leaves the Christian with a much more provincial, tribal god. And again, there is that problem w/ original sin in Adam (unless you are to say that an Australian aborigine not descended from Adam is somehow only spiritually in Adam and under his curse).

Personally, I think the writer of Genesis knew little of the existence of most of the world. From best I can tell, the Hebrews seemed to view the world as a flat circle, with mysterious unknown edges (these far corners perhaps they had heard about through travellers). From Psalms 24, 75 & 136, it seems that they believed that the land arose, as if upon pillars, from out of a great sea. So...I do think that the Hebrews viewed the creation account as the story of the beginnings of all known habitable land (i.e. the whole world as they knew it and as far as they could see it). And likewise, I think they viewed Adam as the first of mankind and as the father of all races of people. Paul seems to have that view, as far as I can tell.

The Hebrew conception of God also seems to be made in the image of man. This figure, the ancient of days, looks like a radiant man. He is invisible because no man can look upon the brightness of his face. Even Moses had trouble seeing the brightness of his back. He is called a spirit, but that doesn't mean he doesn't look like a superman (like Zeus). Angels are spirits as well, and they have spiritual bodies.

If there is one thing beyond dispute contained in religious writings, it is the teaching of man's propensity to fashion all kinds of idols, usually reflections of the conceit and purposes of man. The god conceived by the Hebrews, a tribal warrior king, fits this profile perfectly. He differs little from the gods of other nations, except he was successfully catholicized and expanded to appeal to a wider crowd.

RiversOfEden4's picture

Large-Hammer,

Yes, you are right on track!

However, I think if one sees the limited Hebrew-Deuteronomic scope of the Creation story, then it is irrelevant to ask a question like "what does it mean for Christians today." The Law, the Land, and the blood-relation to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel) form the entire theological context of the Pentateuch and the "new covenant" was explictly made only with the same lineage of ancient people (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Matthew 15:24).

StephenGreer's picture

The Law, the Land, and the blood-relation to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel) form the entire theological context of the Pentateuch and the "new covenant" was explictly made only with the same lineage of ancient people...

This is simply not the case. Let me quote Isaiah 49:5-6 for you:

"And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength -

he says, 'It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.'"

Isaiah clearly lays to rest your theory that "the gentiles" in the NT are "the lost tribes of Israel." I agree that the messiah was to restore the fortunes of Israel, BUT I do not agree that salvation was ever meant to be restricted to "Israel's bloodline" only. These two verses don't leave room for what you espouse; there is a very clear delineation between the two groups.

Besides, the Bible knows nothing of any "lost tribes of Israel." They were never lost. Read Luke 2:36; "Anna the daughter of Phanuel" is "of the tribe of Asher," one of the 10 northern tribes. How would they know that if the tribes were dispersed beyond recognition? What happened is that the kingdom of Israel was destroyed by Assyria; the "faithful remnant" fled to Judah, which then was taken over by the Babylonians. Those who were "faithful" and remained in the old kingdom of Israel became the Samaritans, while the rest were taken off into captivity. So when the Bible says "Judah," or "Jews," or talks about "binding the sticks of Ephraim and Judah" in a post-exilic context, it's not talking about bringing in "lost tribes" at all. It's a metaphor for the restoration of Israel's fortunes as a whole family under God, as it was meant to be before the kingdoms split. There were still people of the 10 northern tribes living in Judah, and they were called "Jews" because of that, but it didn't make them in the eyes of their countrymen members of the tribe of Judah. Such assumptions are the result of the same literalistic, naive reading that leads to Dispensationalism, etc.

In any case, there you go.

Stephen

RiversOfEden4's picture

Stephen,

The "gentiles" of Isaiah 49:6 are the same as the "Jacob" and "Israel" and "tribes of Israel" that are mentioned in 49:5. There is nothing in the context of Isaiah 49 that mentions anyone other than the nations of Israel who were descended from Abraham according to the original covenant:

"Abram ... I will make you the father of a MULTITUDE OF GENTILES ... I will make a covenant with YOU (Abram) AND YOUR DESCENDANTS who come from YOU (Abram) ..." (Genesis 17:6)

This is reiterated in the "new covenant" promise where God explicitly named only the "houses of ISRAEL AND JUDAH" as the benefactors and plainly stated that they were the same people as those who received the first covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Again, there is no mention of any other people in this context.

Also, Jesus plainly stated of himself that he was "sent ONLY to the LOST SHEEP OF ISRAEL" (Matthew 15:24). Thus, there is no basis for including any other people here either.

StephenGreer's picture

ROE,

I can only assume that it is pure stubbornness that prevents you from seeing the obvious. In fact, it's so clear that I don't think there is much else that can be said on the matter. Your assessment is blatantly wrong; "Jacob" and "Israel" are being compared to other nations. The "servant" represents Israel (v 3), and in v 7 it says:

Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, "Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves..."

If what you're saying is correct, that "nations" is another term for Israel, apparently Israel is dealing with some intense self-hatred! But clearly that is not the case. Israel is "deeply despised" by other nations, i.e. Gentiles, non-Israelites, but through the servant will be granted her former glory. And by those means, the Gentiles will be brought in, because they will "see the light," so to speak. You have to seriously misread the text in order to get anything else out of it.

As for Abraham, "father of a multitude of nations" does not immediately imply a blood relation. "Father" in the ancient world, and even today, could mean a "patron" or "forerunner." We in America speak of the drafters of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution as "our forefathers," but we don't consider ourselves to be their biological offspring. In the same way, Abraham's example of "being called" and "responding to that call" to live a life in relationship with YHWH made him the "forefather" of others who would have that faith, regardless of ancestry. Hence Ruth (the freaking grandmother of David!), Rahab, and others who were favored by YHWH, even though they were not genetically Israelites.

And finally, just because Jesus said he was "sent only to the lost sheep of Israel" doesn't mean he was talking about his entire purpose for being on earth and dying. He may have been sent during his ministry, but that does not mean the apostles were. Indeed, the gospel could not be preached to Gentiles until the Jews got a crack at it first, because of the covenant. Hence God saying, "I will frustrate you by those who are not a nation." The Gentiles didn't have covenantal status with God, but once the biological Israelites got a chance to respond, then the rest of the nations could hear the message, which was God's plan all along. In light of Isaiah 49 and other passages, this explanation is far more satisfactory.

Stephen

Barry's picture

Oh, I just thought maybe you had something grandeur in mind like peace on earth and good will towards men or something in that direction.

If you did then we might have something in common.
Barry

we are all in this together

Parker's picture

MB: Would not the mind of God qualify as a "complex system" (unless you claim that God is simple-minded)? Yet you say that complex systems cannot create themselves out of nothing by random accidents.

P: Hi again, Marcus. Thanks for the dialogue. Our scientific laws and plain observation, which tell us that matter cannot and does not create itself out of nothing, applies only to matter--that is, the testable physical world. We have no method of researching and quantifying non-matter, and so we can't apply laws of physics to a NON-phyical entity the same way we apply them to physical things. For example, we can't apply laws of physics to thoughts, for they are immaterial. Laws of physics simply don't apply to every possible thing, and we can't say what laws (if any) control the non-material stuff.

Science does not agree with you about self-existing self-creating things.

As I showed you in my last post to you, I showed that the immaterial world is an entirely logical *inference* based on what we know about matter's origin at some time in the past. The "nothing" that everything material comes from is NOT material, but something IMMATERIAL. We call that immaterial creative origin, God. We also reason that this source is at least as intelligent as the intelligence we find in creatures and their amazingly smart designs. So though reason alone we can infer a super-powerful immaterial origin of matter that is at least as intelligent as the sum total intelligence contained within the physical universe. We call that immaterial source of all life and intelligence "God."

BTW, no reasonable person concludes that "there is no Prius designer" simply because he can disassemble the machine, study it, and figure out how it functions. And yet that is precisely the nutty perspective being peddled by Dawkins et. al. The existence of complexity and brilliance in the Prius object tells us there *must somewhere* exist a Prius designer/engineer. This is the same logic by which we infer a God. In other words, God is a logical "inference" that we easily arrive at upon examining the material world's intelligent complexity.

large-hammer's picture

Parker,

I'm certainly not going to march in lockstep with everything that passes for science. We seem to be dancing around the Big Bang theory. You might assume that I hold to a certain (popular) understanding of the theory, which is that everything arose out of nothing.

I don't view the universe as ever having been created or having a beginning. Even if there is some truth to the Big Bang theory (which there may very well be), I still would maintain that the universe is a closed system where matter and energy, though they might change forms (as per E=MC^2), are nevertheless conserved...never created or destroyed utterly. Who can know if the universe cycles between bangs and crunches? We're not so advanced as to be able to know such things completely.

Science does agree with the conservation of mass/energy. So I say the things in the universe simply exist but were never "created" by either themselves or by God. There is no logical problem with anything simply existing, whether physical or spiritual. And there is no law of physics that disallows matter and energy from existing forever, in varying forms. Quite the contrary (i.e. the theory of the conservation of matter/energy).

Coming up with God as a logical inference is fraught with problems. Pure reason is tainted. It told Aristotle that a big, heavy object falls faster than a small, light object (which makes sense, but is wrong). It told him that women have fewer teeth than men. It further related that the cosmos consists of spheres and perfectly circular orbits. So...while it might make sense to many people that the universe as it is requires some supernatural creator, that does not make it so. Beware pure reason ungrounded by the empirical.

Dawkins likes to rock the boat, but scientists (especially the more advanced and accomplished) tend toward naturalism (and discount a personal God). The trend is no anomaly or accident. Most elite scientists basically share Dawkins' perspective, yet they might be more private and less outspoken about their views. What do you think? God has a vendetta against these brilliant men and women? Is there some torment reserved for them? The idea is ridiculous.

Marcus

Parker's picture

MB: Science does agree with the conservation of mass/energy. So I say the things in the universe simply exist but were never "created" by either themselves or by God. There is no logical problem with anything simply existing

P: First, you don't have any evidence of any of your speculation, and yet you dismiss God on such non-information? Next, are you suggesting some kind of Steady State theory? Wasn't that abandoned long ago?

Aren't you supposed to be embracing atheism on the supposed grounds that it has empirical evidences and proofs about the origin and not just new creation myths that sound good to the modern mind but are no more provable than the existence of God? You have nothing in the way of proof to support your claims.

MB: scientists (especially the more advanced and accomplished) tend toward naturalism (and discount a personal God). The trend is no anomaly or accident.

P: First, science was founded and developed by theists who had no problem reconciling God and nature. Science is its own discipline with its own tools and limited sphere of application: namely, physical matter and its behavior.

Second, current science is being driven more by politics and social reengineering (see man-made Global Warming, Ice Age, Acid Rain hysteria) than by honest inquiry. It's very difficult to get a scientific report today whose outcomes aren't totally corrupted by political motives.

I maintain that the problem with atheism is its inherent lack of reasonability; no reasonable person looks at the complexity of living things and concludes that universes make themselves out of nothing by random accidents. It's just impossible to even imagine, since nothing we can observe works that way.

And so you're simply chasing myths because you don't have scientific proof of an intervening God. What do you do with Christianity's claims of the miraculous?

large-hammer's picture

Parker,

My beliefs are guided by naturalistic philosophy. Quite simply, I view naturalism in explaining phenomena as a good rule of thumb that has served mankind well in advancing knowledge over the centuries. Luther, if you've ever read his writings, looked at disease as supernatural outworkings of the devil. If we all thought like Luther, we'd be stuck in the early 1500's, with no further real understanding of the causes of illness. Indeed, there would be no need to look for a natural cause (since he already knew the cause to be other-worldly). It was only a naturalistic way of looking at diseases that could even lead to the possibility of actual cures. To do something about disease, it is simply better to view the root cause as arising from comprehensible physical causes (viruses, bacteria). If we listened to Luther, we'd try to exorcise the devil out of people to cure disease, which would be a vain effort. Even if those who pioneered sciences such as medicine were theists, they were tending (properly) toward naturalism and further away from the kind of magical thinking that characterized Luther. We could say that Luther was 50% naturalist and these scientists were 70% naturalist. They believed in God and some supernatural explanations, but said, "maybe some of these things we're observing have physical causes that we can understand." I think that's what Darwin eventually did, even if he had many particulars wrong.

Disease is just one phenomenon. Humanity exists. The earth exists. Women have pain in childbearing. These are three more phenomena. To understand how it is we are here, the default approach to my mind is to seek first a natural explanation...at all costs. In Luther's time, there was little chance to understand pathogens. Likewise, it is hard to understand how we arrived at this point. Nevertheless, we have a better chance of advancing knowledge by giving up the magical, the paranormal, the supernatural, the angelic, the demonic and the divine. "God did it...Poof!" is not an answer. Men routinely use God to fill the gaps.

As for my hypothesis, I'm readily admitting that I don't know much about the universe (as far as how it is what it is). Had I lived in Luther's time (without microscopes and intense investigation), I couldn't explain the mechanism behind disease. Yet without observation, I would have good cause to insist that some [unknown] natural cause is behind this phenomenon we call disease. To look for a natural cause in the first place, a scientist must believe [prior to observation] that such a natural cause exists. That assumption is acceptable.

So naturalism is a better default position than supernaturalism. It's not that I've disproved God (from some default position that says he exists). It's that there is no compelling reason to hypothesize God. There is no logical necessity that such a being exists, to the contrary of your claims.

So while I cannot relay to you the particulars of human evolution (i.e. how we got here) or explain the universe, it is still a good rule of thumb, philosophically, to operate under the assumption that natural explanations exist to explain all of these things.

Scientists, who think similarly, are not rebellious or evil. Of course, nobody is perfect. Most love the truth and honestly want to understand the world. Christianity oftentimes demonizes modern science because its methodological naturalism threatens the religious truth claims of Christianity. Thus, we have this war between faith and science.

There is no conspiracy here. It had seemed that everybody was ganging up on Christians (think persecution complex). Bible scholars who studies the text in the greatest depth were all liberal. Scientists are all degenerate atheists. Universities are full of religious skeptics who corrupt evangelical children. Satan is at work! It couldn't possibly be that Christians are just plain wrong.

davo's picture

large-hammer: Scientists, who think similarly, are not rebellious or evil. Of course, nobody is perfect. Most love the truth and honestly want to understand the world. Christianity oftentimes demonizes modern science because its methodological naturalism threatens the religious truth claims of Christianity. Thus, we have this war between faith and science.

G'day Marcus…

I guess one pet peeve that really annoys me as a "believer" is this idiotic notion by some, that "atheists" per se are by nature evil, bad and rebellious God haters etc… that is just plain stupid IMO. There are plenty of decent and good atheistic folks serving their fellow man.

But, that said, there are also certain self professed atheists that feel the need to spend their entire lives railing against that which they say does not exist i.e., "God' – well how stupid and logical is that?

Now I can understand their railing against "religion" BUT therein lays the problem – one [God] all too often gets confused with the other…

davo

large-hammer's picture

Davo,

I think atheists simply have some frustrations that arise out of religion and these ideas about God that are bad influences on humanity. For instance, I'm from PA originally. See the below text.

Pennsylvania: State Constitution
Article 1, Section 4.

"No person who acknowledges the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments shall, on account of his religious sentiments, be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this Commonwealth."

In effect, this misguided statement says theists of every kind of strange stripe are all A-okay. But atheists are suspect. Pure baloney.

This idea of God leads people to all kinds of erroneous beliefs and objectionable practices. If there is a God, then man should believe in him and act accordingly. If otherwise, then we need to reconsider our beliefs and actions. Theism leads to all kinds of different, crazy beliefs. And so does atheism. Neither one guarantees that a person will go in a proper direction (or come close). Nevertheless, I think all branches of the theistic tree lead people amiss, whereas only most branches of atheism lead people awry. It's not as if making people atheists is some singular hope for mankind. It is one tiny piece of truth.

Rhetorically, there is nothing wrong in attacking God or religion if the goal in mind is to share the truth of the matter with more superstitious folks.

davo's picture

large-hammer: This idea of God leads people to all kinds of erroneous beliefs and objectionable practices.

Yeah true enough in part, but that said, said "erroneous beliefs and objectionable practices" while doing God no favours do not of themselves nullify nor negate His being… again, IMO.

large-hammer: If there is a God, then man should believe in him and act accordingly.

Again… flawed concepts lead to flawed outcomes, but IF that proves anything it is that we are but mere humans. And as for "If there is a God…" sounds more like agnosticism than atheism ;).

Anyway, thanks for some interesting thoughts Marcus.

davo

large-hammer's picture

Davo,

I think atheists simply have some frustrations that arise out of religion and these ideas about God that are bad influences on humanity. For instance, I'm from PA originally. See the below text.

Pennsylvania: State Constitution
Article 1, Section 4.

"No person who acknowledges the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments shall, on account of his religious sentiments, be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this Commonwealth."

In effect, this misguided statement says theists of every kind of strange stripe are all A-okay. But atheists are suspect. Pure baloney.

This idea of God leads people to all kinds of erroneous beliefs and objectionable practices. If there is a God, then man should believe in him and act accordingly. If otherwise, then we need to reconsider our beliefs and actions. Theism leads to all kinds of different, crazy beliefs. And so does atheism. Neither one guarantees that a person will go in a proper direction (or come close). Nevertheless, I think all branches of the theistic tree lead people amiss, whereas only most branches of atheism lead people awry. It's not as if making people atheists is some singular hope for mankind. It is one tiny piece of truth.

Rhetorically, there is nothing wrong in attacking God or religion if the goal in mind is to share the truth of the matter with more superstitious folks.

StephenGreer's picture

I find this article very interesting, because I myself am going through a little bit of a "how do scientific knowledge and God match up" journey. The odd thing is, while Jarod has essentially given up his functional belief in a God (i.e. he lives life as though there was none) because of these questions, I have come to the exact opposite conclusion. I have become more convinced of Christianity and the power of its worldview because of my questions. So that struck me as interesting, that two people can have similar questions and come to completely different conclusions.

I believe that the reason for that is in the approach. Jarod doesn't seem to have reached for the heart of the issues (at least, he doesn't mention that in the article). For instance, he states:

"I seemingly woke up one morning and realized that my life would be no different, practically, without God. I made all of my decisions based on the assumption that the universe operates by simple cause-and-effect. My hopes did not involve God’s intervention. My sense of “right and wrong” did not come directly from the Bible or any other Christian source."

Rather than ask, "Are my assumptions valid and correct? Are there good reasons to not believe my assumptions?" he instead simply went with them. What is most interesting to me is his claim that his sense of "right and wrong" don't come from a Christian source. This is patently false. He lives in the Christian West; its history, philosophy, society, culture, etc are all dominated by Christianity. For example, the perceived "preciousness of life" leads many in the West to view suicide as wrong, or at least an option of last resort, since we want to stay alive as long as possible. In Japan, and probably China, however, Buddhism has influenced the culture to view the material world as getting in the way of reality, so suicide is seen as not such a bad thing; in fact, it's sometimes the MORAL thing to do.

That's just an example of the larger method I believe that Jarod is following. It isn't one of consideration, one that asks, "Is what I believe really valid?" Instead, he has gone with what he feels is right, what seems to him to be correct, and almost flippantly tossed aside God as though he never really mattered to him (at least, that's the impression I get from the article, and I could be wrong). He claims that he ceased to read the Bible in a naive way, which led to his rejection of it as normative. However, he still read the Bible in a naive way, because he never thought that, perhaps, much of the Bible was written in a cultural setting quite different from ours. Perhaps divorce carried a different nuance than it does today. And perhaps understanding these differences might help make sense of what it means today to "Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength" and "Love your neighbor as yourself." After all, these are the cornerstone commandments of Christ; everything else rests on these.

In any case, I confess I am disappointed with Jarod's methodology. It doesn't seem like he struggled, or questioned, or fought for his beliefs. I could accept that path, even if it still led to his atheism. Perhaps it's just the way the article is written; after all, it doesn't claim to elaborate. But these are my thoughts.

Stephen

Ed's picture

good words Stephen. I agree with you. As a man who is divorced and re-married, I struggled with many things in the midst of those events. This struggling made me stronger, regardless of what my beliefs about what the bible teaches are. Jared's description of these events don't seem to mention struggling at all - it's more, oh well, it's too much work to think about that stuff.

Personally, I believe that the underlying problem with the discussion is that it is being framed in a 21st century Western mindset, rather than in the paradigm in which the scriptures were written. We give up on prayer because "good" and "bad" seem to equally result? Who gave us the right to determine what is "good and evil"? Wasn't that the point of the Garden narrative?

While I love and respect Jared, I think of the spoiled child who tells his mother that he "hates" her because she won't give him his way. "Gee God, because you don't do things the way I want you to, I'm not going to believe in you any more!"

I do believe that God's grace is sufficient to cover even Jared's temper tantrum. I have been labeled a universalist, and I guess in most ways I am - but not according to modern standards. I believe that I will see my dear brother Jared in the afterlife enjoying the god that he now denies.

The sad part is that due to his previous religious thinking, he did not enjoy god then, nor is he now. Morality is not about doing right or wrong, it is about love...peace...joy...goodness...patience...kindness...gentleness...faithfulness...and self-control. Against these things there is no law. They are the fruit of the human spirit that has been touched by the very non-human god. To know this is joy. To not know is confusion.

How does one live their life differently "without god"? Who does one hang out with? Christian friends? Non-Christian friends? What different activities do you participate in with these two groups? No difference with god or without him? Really? I think that's a lie!

Life is very different - how we raise our kids, how we speak of the "deep things," how we decide to treat other people. All of these things, while not necessarily moral questions, are life questions; and they are handled differently by a theist than a non-theist. They have to be! If a supposed theist handles them identically to a non-theist, then he is, in reality, a functional non-theist. Vice versa.

So, make your decisions. God's grace is sufficient. I've made mine.

ed

Papa is especially fond of us

Parker's picture

Ed, your universalism removes any urgency from this discussion, for it claims that all choices are acceptable to God. One may believe in God or one may deny. One can love God or one may hate God. One may rape a person each day or one may not --- the outcome is always the same, thus removing any moral distinction and setting up moral equivalence.

I argue that if Jared's "independence" leads him to violate all the commandments of God---which are centered on how to love people in all manner of tricky daily situations---he will be condemned with God, which has severe consequences.

I don't know how you can say that morality is not about doing right or wrong. In the Christian meaning, "right" means doing the acts that are loving to another, such as respecting a person's right to life and property. "Wrong" means doing the acts that violate that love principle, such as stealing a man's life or property. And right and wrong acts are not morally equivalent. God hates and punishes the wrong and he rewards the right. Punishment and rewards are inseparable from the concept of "right and wrong."

To remove negative consequences from wrong acts, as Universalism does, is to create a moral equivalency between all evil and good actions. The person whose highest aspiration is to commit a murder a day gets the same outcome with God as the person whose highest aspiration is to save a person from being murdered each day. This is wicked and diabolical thinking. God punishes men who do evil.

Ed's picture

Herein lies the problem with even trying to discuss things - the assumptions based on one's own prejudice and religious bigotry. You assume that my "universalism" does not have consequences - wrong! Were you to study what was taught by the Church Fathers you would know this already - so I won't bother clueing you in, I'll let you do the work yourself.

Secondly, "right and wrong," "good and evil" are all functions of "the Law" or "the tree of knowledge, both good and evil." They set up the observer to be "judge, jury and executioner." But, Jesus nullified that by pointing out in the sermon on the Mount that lust is equivalent to adultery, hatred the same as murder. Paul points out that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Paul also makes it clear that you can do a lot of religious things "but have not love..."

The continual clanging cymbal that I hear from theonomists is that love is defined by "the law." While this has a measure of truth, most theonomists put the cart before the horse. Paul tells us that love, unlike law, brings life. Law cannot bring life, it brings awareness of sin and then death. The power of sin is the law and the sting of death is sin (1Cor15:56b). IOW, focusing on the Law empowers sin, which leads to death. Sin gives death its power, and the Law gives sin its power - so by implication, the Law brings death - that's why Paul called it "the ministration of death" or "the law of sin and death."

Those here who want to continue to preach the law, focus on the sin, preach damnation and punishment fail to recognize the very thing that the scriptures tell us don't work. For if the Law could bring righteousness, there would be no need for FAITH. The works that James and Paul preached that accompanied faith was LOVE, PEACE, JOY, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS and SELF CONTROL. When these things are practiced, no law is violated, no sin is empowered, and no death occurs.

Life begets life. The spirit gives life. The law gives death. While some may say that is the same thing, it is not.

Lastly, your "assumption" that my universalism is without morality is offensive to me. It implies that I do not remain faithful to my wife, or my God; that I steal from others, or lie about their character. It assumes that I do not place the lives of others on at least equal footing to mine. You imply that you are moral because you keep the law under threat of endless torture post-mortem; while I live willy-nilly, unconcerned about others.

Truth is, I live my life not worried about rotting in hell. I treat people the way that God has treated me (as best I can) because people matter to me, not because I fear some imaginary place of torment.

I teach my children to love, not to fear. I tell them of the wondrous love of Jesus, not the make-believe endless torment of sinners. My life is lived without fear of a malevolent creator who spends his eternity delighting in his creations torture; it is lived in the knowledge that OUR God is benevolent, loving, merciful, and gracious. Yes, he is just and faithful - to do what? - forgive, cleanse, make right.

I've said my piece. You can take it apart and misquote scripture to me, I'll not respond. Those who read my posts will either agree (and live in joy) or agree with you (and live in fear). I choose the former. I choose LIFE.

ed

Papa is especially fond of us

Parker's picture

Ed: "right and wrong," "good and evil" are all functions of "the Law" or "the tree of knowledge, both good and evil."... But, Jesus nullified that by pointing out in the sermon on the Mount that lust is equivalent to adultery, hatred the same as murder.

Parker: I think you are making a mistake to think that law is done away with. The Covenant of Moses is done away with, but law is not. Jesus taught that we must repent of lust and hate in our thoughts, just as we must repent of adulteries and murders. We must not allow *any* of those things to reside in us. We are commanded to recant those things and seek, with God's aid, to replace them with charitable thought and action.

Ed: IOW, focusing on the Law empowers sin, which leads to death.

Parker: Paul is not against all law, but rather the Covenant of Moses. That Old covenant system lacked both the proper sacrifice and Holy Spirit necessary to transform men from haters to lovers, from violators of others to helpers of others. But the NEW covenant does not lack these, and is efficacious in bringing men into true compliance with the proper actions of love and justice that God demands.

Ed: The works that James and Paul preached that accompanied faith was LOVE, PEACE, JOY, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS and SELF CONTROL.

Parker: Yes. Example: my respecting your relationship with your wife is "love." My committing adultery with your wife is unrighteousness, sin, injustice; it is the OPPOSITE of love. A law is nothing more than a prescription of how we ought to act in specific situations to express love towards others. The New Covenant gives us the interior divine power necessary to comply with proper love and justice. In contrast, the Old Covenant lacked the inner energy and motivation necessary for men to reform and comply with the demands of love and justice.

Ed: your "assumption" that my universalism is without morality is offensive to me. It implies that I do not remain faithful to my wife, or my God; that I steal from others, or lie about their character.

Parker: Rather, my assumption about your universalism implies that it is wholly irrelevant whether your steal or commit adultery. It's nice that you are upright, but it would be just as nice if you weren't. In universalism, all so-called good behaviors are optional and produce the same outcome in the eyes of God. Thus, the distinction between "good and bad" is erased, and adultery and fidelity become equivalent actions without consequence to God. And when behavior has no consequence, one is at liberty to do anything.

Ed: You imply that you are moral because you keep the law under threat of endless torture post-mortem; while I live willy-nilly, unconcerned about others.

Parker: Rather, I imply that it doesn't matter if you live unconcerned about others. Whether you live one way or the other becomes irrelevant.

Ed: I treat people the way that God has treated me (as best I can) because people matter to me

Parker: That's nice, but it would be just as nice if people didn't matter to you. The distinction becomes irrelevant.

Ed: I teach my children to love, not to fear. I tell them of the wondrous love of Jesus, not the make-believe endless torment of sinners.

Parker: But I assure you, Ed, if you ever punish your children for "doing wrong," you are failing to follow God's example. In other words, we must stop punishing children and criminals when they break the rules and laws.

Ed's picture

Again Parker, where in the hell did you get the idea that universalism teaches that sin is not punished? Are you willfully ignorant, or are you truly not bothering to find out about what you are making assumptions about?

The Christian Universalist Association has a statement of faith, which reads as follows, and please take note of #3:

1. We believe in a God who is Love, Light, Truth, and Spirit, the Creator of the universe, whom we are called to seek, know, and love; and whose nature was revealed to the world in the person and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.

2. We believe that the universal commandment is to love and serve one another as each loves oneself.

3. We believe in the law of justice by which actions generate consequences, whether to be manifested in this life or the life to come.

4. We believe in the ultimate triumph of divine mercy and grace: that no being ever created will be condemned or allowed to suffer forever, but God has arranged through a benevolent plan of learning and growth for all souls to attain salvation, reconciliation, restoration, and reunion with the Source of All Being, in the fullness of the ages.

5. We believe every person is the divine offspring of God, created in the image of the Heavenly Parent of all; and that every person is destined to be raised up from imperfection to maturity according to the pattern of the archetypal Christ, the Son of God, the Perfect Human in whose image all humanity shall be transformed.

6. We believe in miracles and mysterious spiritual phenomena, such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which transcend materialistic views of reality.

7. We believe that God's Holy Spirit has inspired numerous prophets, saints, philosophers, and mystics throughout history, in a variety of cultures and traditions; and that by reading the Bible and other great texts of spiritual and moral wisdom with a discerning mind, and meditating to connect to the Spirit within, we may all gain a greater understanding of truth, which should be applied for the betterment of ourselves and our world.

The Fathers of Alexandria, all universalists believed in a literal hell in which people were punished appropriate amount of time for their sins, and then were released to blessedness. Other universalists in the pre-modern era believed similarly.

Now, please stop making idiotic statements.

ed

Papa is especially fond of us

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