Problem with faith, in a nutshell

So, here's my problem with faith, in a nutshell. There is absolutely no means for validating a supernatural (hence why we call it faith). All we have access to is material. From all that we can determine, our feelings, choices, and beliefs all have a natural, material basis.

If we presume a supernatural exists that acts on our natural world, then this supernatural power must act on nature through some sort of natural<->supernatural communication channel. The problem with such a communication channel is that there is absolutely no way to validate the authenticity and proper translation of the messages/events. Again, this is a call to faith because the identities, actions, interpretations, and motives of the supernatural powers cannot be known. That is, there is no way to determine if the natural message to the supernatural has been properly delivered and interpreted, nor can we have any validation of if, when, why, or what supernatural-to-natural messages there are. Therefore, miracles (supernatural acts on the natural) either don't happen or if they do, we have no possible way of making sense of the event.

Therefore, since all we have access to is the material, then a belief in God will only raise more questions than it can ever possibly answer. Furthermore, such superstition will only serve to cloud ultimate, truthful discovery.

63 comments:

psiloiordinary said...

Are you saying that you don't think rainbows are pretty?

But your wife loves you!

But prayers get answered!

And I found my wallet!

What a bad tempered rant! Don't be so angry!

- - -

Oooooo that felt kind of naughty!

;-)

Tom said...

...and just when Cliff and I were being so complimentary!

I don't mean to sound angry. I was just trying to be succinct and honest and hope Christian commentors will still post. (Gordon, I scribbled this out while reading your book, p.176-180. Look for the similarities and differences in your discussion with my views, and speculate why I would better-formulate this opinion while reading these pages).

Yes, I think rainbows are pretty, but I don't think God is telling me to find them pretty.

My wife loves me, but there is no way to tell that her love comes from God.

If prayers are answered, then how, by who/what/why? They also go unanswered, too.

Do you have my wallet?

7K said...

The monotheist God is invisible and therefore non-verifiable by scientific means, or just by observation. He is also, for all practical purposes, inaudible.

Jesus was God made visible and audible, but the problem there is that the historical Jesus is not yet provable.

So the Christian might now resort to the Holy Spirit for evidence. One evidence might be that over half of the world's people believe in some version of the monotheist God. But that could be a mass delusion.

Then there are signs and wonders, like those produced by Elijah, Moses, and the apostles. But those can be dismissed as fairy tales.

As we've mentioned before, belief in Jesus might be likened to belief in leprechauns.

So, in essence, I seem to have nothing to stand on. I have my experiences. I have my relationship with God. But is any of that provable? What if it is only a fig newton of my imagination? What if I am just living out a long, drawn out delusion? What if the whole Chritian world of 2 billion people is swept up in this weird fantasy?

I guess then that all I have to stand on is faith, in the end. Paul put it this way: he called himself a "fool for Christ." It is inexplicable. I never stop talking about Jesus, but why? Am I just an obsessed religionist?

So I guess I would have to agree with you; I believe in something I can't validate, not unlike, say, believers in UFOs or Bigfoot. I laugh at that stuff, so why should I think it strange if an atheist laughs at me? He has a point. And I seem powerless to undo that point.

I find it quite strange, actually, that faith is like that. I don't really understand it either. But I am as sure that God is there as I am that you are. I realize that is not the most rational statement in the world.

Can it really be categorized as "superstition" though? Is my "irrational" belief in Christ that bizarre? If so, I guess I am superstitious. I'm not partial to omens or ghosts, but I am to this one who said he was the Son of God. Quite a convincing chap if you ask me.

Cliff Martin said...

... a belief in God will only raise more questions than it can ever possibly answer.

I guess this depends upon your presuppositions. From where I sit, a belief in no God raises more questions than a belief in God.

i.e:

1) Whence that remarkable love of your wife!? (There is something inexplicably transcendent and "eternal" in marital love!)

2) Why is the cosmos predictably ordered such that it permits, even invites, scientific exploration and discovery ... and remains so consistent? (Scientists marvel at this phenomenon.)

3) How, against all odds, did the cosmos organize itself to be habitable? (Even Hoyle puzzled over this!)

4) How did unaided randomness result in Tom and his ilk in a mere 3.7 billions years? (Even though I favor much randomness, 3.7 billion years is extremely short! DNA science helps, but materialistic evolutionists are still stumped!)

5) Whence altruism? (It hardly favors adaptability or survival advantages.)

I know that materialism proposes tentative answers and/or theories for each of these questions (no need to recount them!) But to this believer, they seem no more plausible than the answers a theist might offer to your supposed queries.

Tom said...

7K,
I appreciate your assessment, that all you have at the end of the day is faith. Even though I'm explicitly saying I have a problem with that, we can discuss it (as we have before, but hopefully with ever-more success). In future posts, I want to explore the God-percepts that roll faith and evolution together.

Cliff,
I won't recount tentative materialist answers and theories to your questions, but you can imagine that some materialist answers do exist, some answers will exist, and some answers will be made more and more detailed, right? Then, how is what you have argued not God-of-the-gaps?

psiloiordinary said...

There you go cliff;

1) Emergent phenomenom, hormones plus it's an evolutionary stable strategy. Watch Star Trek TOS for more info.

2) a) It'snot. b) Have you done any Biology?

3) a) It's not.

4) see 2 b)

5) Another ESS, see 2)b again. And here's a question your god raises;

Is torturing babies wrong because God says so? (If so would you do it he said to?) Or does God say it don't do it because it is wrong?

Which do you prefer Cliff?

- - -

Sorry Tom - couldn't resist.

7K said...

"Is torturing babies wrong because God says so? (If so would you do it he said to?) Or does God say it don't do it because it is wrong?"

Law, as it has evolved, starts with "natural law", doesn't it? An innate sense of right and wrong. Or, from the perspective of behavioral science, one does not usually torture babies unless one is completely unhinged for some reason, chemically or emotionally crippled.

Moses' Law then comes as "revelation" from God. It becomes too complex (like our legal systems) but the essential ten give a fairly universal basis for ethics.

Jesus expanded it to examination of motives, that, let's say, unhealthy actions begin in the nous, the thought-life. Actually, I think the Sermon on the Mount is basically undoable, and that is his point. Not even the Pope keeps those instructions.

But the ultimate law of Christ is love. When you cheat, kill, steal, envy, you are not motivated by love. All religions seem to point to these things, so it is hard to single out which religion is best from an ethical study.

In James it says "pure religion" is evidenced by caring for widows and orphans. Perhaps that is where the good side of Christianity is best evidenced. It is just the opposite of torturing or exploiting people.

You guys are atheists and therefore do not develop your ethics from religious legal teachings. How do you know not to torture babies? I would say you probably adhere to natural law and fear the laws of the state (i.e. jail).

Tom said...

7k,

Atheists must assume religious law is man-made, so the commands to not kill, honor our parents, the golden rule (which was written in the Analects of Confucius hundreds of years before Jesus used the phrase), all of it is synthetic as much as any legal system. These policies are simple constructions in speaking, rational (dare I say "God's Image"?) individuals of a species. I can say to Joe, "Hey, that hurts!" and Pete, able to empathize with my pain might also tell Joe, "Yeah, you shouldn't hurt Tom like that!"

Now, you may argue that this property of empathy that allows us to construct legal, ethical, and moral systems, which is so part of our nature that we take it for granted, is a gift from God. My point is that all we can surmise, even at the thought level, has a natural, material basis. If there is a supernatural manipulating sub-atomic particles to make us evolve to empathize, then my second point is that we have no means of understanding the supernatural behind it. For example, you may argue that God enabled us to love each other, but as history demonstrates and Christians like to point out, we have an evil nature. If God gave us empathy, did he do it so that we could relish those moments when we do each other wrong? We can't know.

7K said...

Romans 2:14 "(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)"

Maybe Paul is referring to what you're saying, Tom, in that concept above. I'm thinking you mean by a kind of empathetic evolution what I mean by "natural law." Although, if I say it is "built in" you might be uncomfortable with that since it implies a "builder."

The atheistic concept of evolution is that the natural selection process makes itself, right? Everything is material. There is no soul or nous or spirit. Those are maybe just names we give to speech and thought that perhaps also have a materiality of their own. A term like "soul" is a more primal or primitive conception of a spirit world that tries to explain what we do not yet understand through reason and science. Our understanding of evolution should yield this realization, should ultimately reveal that there is no God.

Ethics then need not be tied to religion or spirituality. They are learned through a kind of trial and error.

How then do we explain evil, for instance, as in torturing babies? (Didn't the Beatles have an album cover where they were holding bloody babies?) Evil, too, would hopefully be eradicated through non-theistic reasoning. The vision would be that atheism could ultimately overcome the primitive religious urges in us.

I too see religion as kind of primitive, actually. When I look at Jesus, at what he says, he seems to transcend religion. To be honest with you, I think even the church is still discovering him. That is why there are so many versions of Jesus. Christians shouldn't reject evolution! They too are evolving.

Cliff Martin said...

Tom asks,
... how is what you have argued not God-of-the-gaps?

Fair question, as I share your view of god-of-the-gaps arguments. That is why I reject Intelligent Design. However, I see much in the universe that strongly suggests (small case) intelligent design.

I do not agree that the questions I asked are god-of-the-gaps. For one thing, possible answers have been suggested for nearly all of them (ala Psiloiordinary). The strength of those questions is that they are not based upon a lack of purely materialistic explanations. They fall outside the bounds of what we can learn through exploration.

1. Even if a logical explanation is forwarded for marital (sexual) love, for me at least, it would retain its mystery and transcendent nature.

2. An explanation for the order of the universe likely lies outside the purview of scientific inquiry. Einstein refers to this order as an “unexpected event”, and also says that it should be regarded as a miracle: “Well, a priori [reasoning from cause to effect] one should expect that the world would be rendered lawful [obedient to law and order] only to the extent that we [human beings] intervene with our ordering intelligence... [But instead we find] in the objective world a high degree of order that we were a priori in no way authorized to expect. This is the 'miracle' that is strengthened more and more with the development of our knowledge.”



3. Psi argues that our habitable universe is not problematic at all if we posit billions upon billions of universes. He could be right. But I do not think the proof of that argument is “discoverable”. Lacking such proof, I find that the explanation of an intelligent Creator far simpler, and (for me!) far more likely. (Though he rejected the notion of Creator, even the atheist Fred Hoyle agrees that the evidence in this case points most simply and logically to small case intelligent design.)


4 and 5 could fall into the category of god-of-the-gaps. But in the case of of the brevity of evolutionary history, I am very doubtful that unaided randomness will ever be shown capable of the marvelous feat. And though I concur with evolution, and I favor a high degree of randomness in the cosmos, I see some design in the process being necessary given the time and the results.

Remember, I offer none of the above as proof of anything at all. I am merely responding to your claim that theism raises unanswerable questions (though I know of none). I am suggesting that the difficulties raised by atheism are at least as numerous and significant.

7K said...

"There is absolutely no means for validating a supernatural (hence why we call it faith)."

This crisis of validation is why faith fills in the gaps. It is a different kind of knowledge than varifiable, observable knowledge. The biblical miracles were interventions of "proof", validating God because he could make himself known if he thought necessary. But is it a materialistic validation, even if it happens? It is always subject to other explanations. Like the resurrection, for instance. It even says in biblical text that they were saying it was a hoax or a conspiracy.

We are saying that accumulated knowledge should fill in the gaps and thus squeeze out the need for God. But this could also be arrogant thinking since we can only surmise this will happen. And how soon will it happen, if it does?

"The problem with such a (supernatural) communication channel is that there is absolutely no way to validate the authenticity and proper translation of the messages/events."

The Bible, for instance, is said within scripture itself that "men spoke as they were moved by God." We know from experience that this is risky business. Who is hearing accurately from God? Then we discover that the Bible seems flawed. There is this big element of humanity in it (which makes it the more endearing). So God himself seems uninterested in providing us with a perfect document. Maybe because we would put our faith in the document more than in him. The document simply "tesifies" of him.

So, yes, I have found spiritual information generally to be tainted with human frailty and often to be highly suspect if not nutty. It has also been used to manipulate and terrorize. Thus, we hope to learn "discernment" concerning these things. I still see theology developing, much like science. All scientific theorems are not trustworthy. It is somebody reaching for the brass ring of a theory of everything.

Mike said...

Tom said...
There is absolutely no means for validating a supernatural


I don't think this first premise is true. Anything that has an effect on reality should be able to be measured. And any such phenomenon could be "run though the scientific method" to test the claim. For instance, We've heard the claim that prayer has some effect on the outcome of the thing being prayed for. And the Bible clearly supports this claim. Now if it has some effect, then it should be able to be validated. This has in fact been tested, and found to have no effect. Certainly there will be those that argue this fact because they have beliefs to protect.

Now if you want to define the supernatural as "that which does not interact or affect reality", then fine, but how is that distinguishable from the non-real?

psiloiordinary said...
What a bad tempered rant! Don't be so angry!
Blogger Tom said...
I don't mean to sound angry.


Tom, your post was not even close to a rant, nor did it sound angry. Psi is simply using the standard disingenuous ad hominem, designed to make you soft pedal your opinions. Don't fall for it.

7K said...
So, in essence, I seem to have nothing to stand on. I have my experiences. I have my relationship with God. But is any of that provable?


Yes. Yes it is. If it's true. Unless you don't think your god interacts with reality. But again, how is that distinguishable from the non-real?

Tom said...
7K, I appreciate your assessment, that all you have at the end of the day is faith.


Faith does not appear to be a valid device for differentiating truth from non-truth. If someone can tell me how it is, please enlighten me.

7K said...
When you cheat, kill, steal, envy, you are not motivated by love. All religions seem to point to these things...
In James it says "pure religion" is evidenced by caring for widows and orphans. Perhaps that is where the good side of Christianity is best evidenced.


Religions point these things out because these things are part of human nature, and adopted by religions. Religion doesn't get credit for "inventing" them.

You guys are atheists and therefore do not develop your ethics from religious legal teachings. How do you know not to torture babies? I would say you probably adhere to natural law and fear the laws of the state (i.e. jail).

Not at all. I adhere to my internal moral sense. As an atheist, I do not have the idea of eternal punishment or eternal torture to frighten or tempt me to do good, I do good because I have evolved the desire to do so. Our laws are based on our collective internal moral sense.

7K said...
The atheistic concept of evolution is that the natural selection process makes itself, right?


Um, no. It is as far as we know, an emergent property of nature, but "natural selection didn't create natural selection" if that's what you mean.
Evolution through natural selection is not an "atheistic" concept. Atheism is simply a lack of belief in any god. Of those who claim to believe in god(s), some accept evolution, and some don't. It's an entirely different issue.
Natural selection is a process by which reproducing organisms self-select in the aggregate within their environments due to their rate of survival.

7K said...
It is a different kind of knowledge than varifiable, observable knowledge.


If it isn't verifiable in any way, how does one differentiate between truthful and non-truthful "knowledge".

I still see theology developing, much like science.

Yes. To keep up. Religions no longer teach the earth is the center of the universe, but they once did. ;-)

Cliff Martin said...

Mike writes, Anything that has an effect on reality should be able to be measured, and goes on to suggest that if a God interacts with reality, then such a God would be testable and verifiable.

That is a strange notion. Most Christian I know believe that God interacts with reality primarily through natural means. If he created nature, surely he would be capable of interacting with nature in ways that are undetectable. To suggest that he could not do so without leaving detectable fingerprints is, to me at least, absurd.

I find that most atheists begin with the questionable assumption that, if there is a God, surely he would want to “prove himself”. He would want people to believe in him so badly that he would make himself obvious. I have never thought of God in those terms. What if his purposes for creation, and his purposes for mankind, are best served if he remains intentionally undetectable? I believe this is the case. This may strike someone concerned with “proofs” and “evidence for God” as a cop-out. It strikes me as profound truth.

Mike, your corrections of 7K re. evolution are misplaced. If I may speak for him, he knows evolution is not an atheist idea. 7K is an evolutionist, as am I. He meant “atheistic” as an adjective. Atheistic evolution is one kind of evolution. But I would like to hear you expound on what you call “an emergent property of nature”.

Finally, you write tongue in cheek, Religions no longer teach the earth is the center of the universe, but they once did. Surely you must know that it wasn’t just religions that taught this. The whole world of astronomers, Roman, Greek, and others were likewise convinced of geocentricity. While religion is certainly guilty of its share of follies and foibles, let's not lay more at its feet than is deserved.

psiloiordinary said...

Hi Mike,

Sorry for the confusion - I was doing an impression of a person of faith - obviously too well. Sarcasm does not work well in blog comments, I find. Although I think Tom knows me a little a was in on the very weak joke.

You make some good points. Welcome aboard.

Cliff, I don't understand your point at all. I think that by "intervene" the meaning implied against the laws of nature.

Otherwise aren't you left as a deist.

The kind of claim included your own of prayers being answered and hence my suggestion of a prayer diary to try to begin gathering some data on this.

You have never replied to this suggestion - what do you think?

I was at a party last night and was given a long winding tale of the proof for homeopathy which at least had some "evidence type thing" content behind it. It all evaporated on examination of course. Why not examine your claims re prayer?

- - -

PS you never did get around to answering the points on the other various threads where I asked for some "evidence type stuff".

Regards,

Psi

Cliff Martin said...

Psi, what is there to not understand? God can intervene contrary to the laws of nature, but my own view (and that of the Bible as I understand it) is that such “miraculous” interventions are the rare exceptions. With most people of faith, the operations of God are fully within the laws of nature, laws which we believe he himself wrote. I see God working through natural processes in my life, and in the life of many of my friends, in response to faith and prayer. It is a daily experience. (How can you possibly construe this as deism?) Can I site the kind of evidence you and Mike are asking for? No. Jesus himself said “this misguided race of people is always looking for a sign, and none will be given except the sign of my resurrection” (my very loose paraphrase of Luke 11:29).

The nature of faith is such that it works like this: those who posture themselves (as you do) insisting first upon conclusive evidence will never be satisfied. The Bible teaches this clearly. However, those who take up the invitations, echoed down through the centuries, (e.g. “Taste and see that the Lord is good”) and persist in that faith will be rewarded. This is an oft repeated promise in the Bible which many of us have found to be true. God has this thing about not meeting us on our defined terms. He never has. He never will.

Could I comply with your repeated requests for a prayer journal? Yes, though you are asking for a significant time commitment from me to do so. And I am quite sure that what are for me very precious confirmations of faith will convince you of nothing. So it would be a waste of our time. And, Psi, it is very personal ... not the sort of thing I would willingly throw out for your dissection and dismantling. It would be a very similar thing if I asked you for evidence that your wife loves you. You could site things that convince you. But they would not necessarily convince me. And I could no doubt tear your evidence to shreds. What would be the value of that?

I just did a google search for study prayer effective and found a host of studies both confirming and denying the effectiveness of intercessory prayer in healing. Mike earlier wrote ”This has in fact been tested, and found to have no effect.” He did not cite a study, so I don’t know what he refers to. There are in fact numerous scientific studies demonstrating that prayer is effective. And some indicating the contrary. Personally, I do not put much stock in these sorts of efforts to prove or disprove the value of faith. It is like the homeopathy studies Psi refers to (and I totally share your skepticism on homeopathy!) -- such studies can usually find any desired result.

So, can faith be validated? In my view, yes ... but only on a personal, experiential level. For whatever reasons (and I presume his reasons are very purposeful and in line with his overall plan) God has chosen not to be obvious, nor to submit his being to the human laboratory.

psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

Thanks for clarifying. I read your answer as "god can only be verified if you change the meaning of the word 'verified'".

I understand your position regarding the prayer diary and would just like to point out, lest anyone gets the impression that I have been badgering you, that my requests have only been repeated because you have ignored them before.

I do of course respect your right to privacy and would only suggest that you be more clear in future when claiming that the answering of your prayers is clear evidence for god by pointing out at the same time that you make this claim that the details are a secret you won't divulge to anyone else, that you are immune to confirmation bias, you have never been fooled by regression to the mean, that your person intuitive grasp of statistics is beyond anything yet seen on the planet and so it is fine to take your word for this.

The studies you elude to which do show some results in favour of prayer are all very poorly designed and have been roundly criticised.

Double blinded randomised trials show zero effect.

Just like with Homeopathy, and the believers in Homeopathy don't want to test that either.

- - -

Happy new year everyone.

Regards,

Psi

Mike said...

psiloiordinary said...
I was doing an impression of a person of faith...


Ah, that makes much more sense.
Thanks for the welcome. Nice to meet you.

Cliff Martin said...
That is a strange notion. Most Christian I know believe that God interacts with reality primarily through natural means.


Sure. I agree. So like; evolution, floods, locusts, earthquakes, cancer remission, etc? These things are all natural. But do these things ever happen under the supernatural direction of a god? If they do, is there any way for us to identify these circumstances? To go back to my example of prayer, if it is believed that prayers are answered, then things prayed for are more likely to happen (actually biblically PROMISED to happen). This should be able to be seen.

If he created nature, surely he would be capable of interacting with nature in ways that are undetectable. To suggest that he could not do so without leaving detectable fingerprints is, to me at least, absurd.

I didn't mean to suggest that. But if that is the case, then we can say nothing about it. If an unknowable being does an undetectable thing, it is not merely unvalidatable, it cannot be part of the known at all.

I find that most atheists begin with the questionable assumption that, if there is a God, surely he would want to “prove himself”. He would want people to believe in him so badly that he would make himself obvious. I have never thought of God in those terms.

I don't make claims about the nature of any particular god, because I (obviously) don't think they are real. I'm simply commenting on the claims of others, about the properties of the god(s) they believe in. If you believe in a god that has no desire for us to know him, I'll take you at your word, but I don't think this is biblically supported. Please correct any incorrect assumptions I'm making regarding your views.

What if his purposes for creation, and his purposes for mankind, are best served if he remains intentionally undetectable? I believe this is the case. This may strike someone concerned with “proofs” and “evidence for God” as a cop-out. It strikes me as profound truth.

Well, looking at the history of Christian belief, it seems to me that the claims made about god make this god ever more elusive over time. Each time some claim might be able to be proved (or disproved) by observation, the goalposts are moved and the claims change.

Mike, your corrections of 7K re. evolution are misplaced...He meant “atheistic” as an adjective. Atheistic evolution is one kind of evolution.

I might not fully understand the usage here. Biological evolution is the result of the "mechanism" of natural selection. I don't see how this is relates to theism or atheism. Perhaps 7K/you are extending outside of evolution to include the origin of biological systems? but I see this as a different issue.

I would like to hear you expound on what you call “an emergent property of nature”.

Just as chaos can "emerge" or just happen, such as can be demonstrated by fluid flow or a dripping faucet, so does natural selection emerge in the context (environment) where organisms compete for limited resources. Evolution is "what happens". It "emerges" from a situation.

Surely you must know that it wasn’t just religions that taught this. let's not lay more at [religion's] feet than is deserved.

Yes, that's absolutely true. But the point is that the source of the information (god? the bible?) didn't have any better information than anyone else at the time. This is not what one would expect if the religious teachings are alleged to be true in other respects. This is why the claims of religion keep getting smaller and more esoteric.

The nature of faith is such that it works like this: those who posture themselves (as you do) insisting first upon conclusive evidence will never be satisfied. The Bible teaches this clearly.

As do other holy books that teach of other (mutually exclusive) gods and beliefs. How are we to discern which of these is true? I know you believe yours is the correct one. So do Hindus and Muslims and Jains, but try to imagine not "knowing" which of some number of choices was the correct one. Each choice claims to be correct, and teaches that any request for evidence or proof shows a lack of "faith", and can never be provided. How would you go about determining the true choice, or even if ANY of the choices given were true? There has to be some objective method of determining truth, that can be defined. If one can't be defined, then I humbly suggest the choice is arbitrary. Actually, I am trying to define what methods are available for us to determine truth from non-truth on my blog, and so far, I have the scientific method, but no other way has come to light.

...God has chosen not to be obvious...

That is one possibility. Another is that man has chosen for god to be undisprovable.

No doubt there are some immature or wrong-headed believers who do “charitable works” as a “pretext for conversion”.

Sorry, I did not mean to imply that each individual only gives with this agenda. I trust that individual giving is generally altruistic and with the best of intentions. Organizations that gather these "gifts" however, often have agendas for the distribution of the funds, that at worst preach to convert, and at best "advertise" their giving to gain respect. I know this assessment is pretty cynical, but I think it's accurate.

We do not live out of fear of damnation, nor are we motivated by hope of reward. We do not engage in good works as a pretext for conversion. Jesus taught something very different.

Sorry again, I don't mean to say that each decision to act is calculated based on an assessment of the likelihood of damnation and heavenly reward. But the morality that is taught in the bible (attributed to Jesus) is in the context of these consequences.

It is no wonder you have rejected Christianity if you actually think that believers are the simplistic, sappy sentimentalists you paint us out to be...
Some friendly advise: there really are many highly intelligent, deeply thoughtful believers.


Well some are, but my rejection of Christianity has nothing to do with my assessment of any group of believers. But, I now see you are not of the fundamentalist ilk. Yours seems to me a more reasonable set of beliefs. Where scientifically proven ideas are not rejected simply because they don't square with biblical teaching. Accordingly, you (as far as I can tell) have a much richer and complex set of beliefs, which, unlike the funimentalist, are less literally founded in biblical teaching. Yours is a more intellectually nuanced worldview.

Conversely, while I see your type of belief as "better" than fundementalism in many respects, I also see it as less intellectually honest than fundementalism for the same reason; "because biblical teachings are rejected as literal, the moment they are scientifically disproven".

I do apologize for the tone, if not the content.

No worries. We all have trouble understanding just how the other can actually think what they do, when the truth seems so obvious to us. Regardless where we stand.

I just did a google search for study prayer effective and found a host of studies both confirming and denying the effectiveness of intercessory prayer in healing. Mike earlier wrote ”This has in fact been tested, and found to have no effect.” He did not cite a study, so I don’t know what he refers to. There are in fact numerous scientific studies demonstrating that prayer is effective. And some indicating the contrary. Personally, I do not put much stock in these sorts of efforts to prove or disprove the value of faith. It is like the homeopathy studies Psi refers to (and I totally share your skepticism on homeopathy!) -- such studies can usually find any desired result.

psiloiordinary said...
The studies you elude to which do show some results in favour of prayer are all very poorly designed and have been roundly criticised.
Double blinded randomised trials show zero effect.


I'm sure you'll agree that the number of sites that support a claim, say nothing about the truth of that claim. The criticized "studies" Psi mentions here, and the many, many web sites that use "them" really all point to a single non-blinded study, with a very small sample set. There is a very high correlation between studies that use objectively "correct" methods, and finding prayer to have no effect. The key is to look not just at the findings, but at the methodology of the study (assuming you understand the difference between good and bad methodology). Furthermore, you need to look at criticisms of any study, to see if the objections are reasonable. I can point you to specific studies and discuss specific reasons for skepticism in some if you really want to get in that deep. The real key though, is to assess the quality of a study's methodology BEFORE you look at the conclusion. That helps avoid bias.

7K said...

Fundie religion (fundamentalism)is possibly an immature approach to any set of "scriptures." It assumes that one pleases God most by taking his "words" as literally as possible. The assumption of Christianity is that the present 66-book canon is "inspired" and therefore trustworthy. Islam is a kind of very successful sect of Christianity and Judaism in that it borrows from both and claims superiority to either. Since Mohammed injected violence into his revelation, some fundamentalist Muslims focus on that as literal and are attempting to apply violence to the general Islamic goal of world domination.

Literalistic approaches to any "holy writ" produce more avid fanaticism. We can point to some of Jesus behaviors (like the demonstration in the temple) as fanatical, and try to build a case for fanatical religion on such things; but closer examination starts to reveal a more complex and compassionate Jesus as a role-model for religious expression.

Creationism is a product of literalism: of trying to fit an apparent allegory (that is strikingly similar to the model of evolution, by the way) into a literal framework. This produces, even among trained scientists who embrace Creationism, a very constricted approach to processing scientific data.

I have been fundamentalist to a fault in the past. When you're looking through that lens, nothing else makes sense. You really do have blinders on.

I now see Jesus as essentially opposed to fundamentalism. The classic fundamentalists of his day might have been the Zealots, but definitely the Pharisees, who perhaps took their religion more seriously than they did God. They were really the ones who conspired to have Jesus executed. Jesus curiously said, "Your righteousness should exceed theirs." Well, how do you exceed perfectionism? Basically, you grow out of it.

Marx may have rightly judged religion as a kind of opiate. In that sense, he may have been in league with Jesus.

One more comment on the problem of validating the efficacy of prayer, of judging its results: I was thinking of Jim Jones, an atheist, who basically spent his time duping a group of believers. In his memoirs he recited how he often faked miracles to keep everybody pumped. But he was disturbed when someone would be healed that was not a target in his repertoire of tricks. He couldn't figure out how that happened.

When I left my youthful and doubtless undeveloped atheism, I entered the labyrinth of Christian expression. I tried to fit the Bible into reality and was attracted to the charisma. All Charismatics (Pentecostals)are extremely interested in evidences. They are out to produce miracles.

Probably a high percentage of those evidences of God's interaction are perceived by the seekers but not truly validated. Thus, preachers can exploit the endlessly naive followers. They resort, often, to a kind of psychic trickery, and earn a handsome living at it. Of course, these practices irk anybody who sees through it.

That said, in my experience, I encountered real healings, verifiable even by doctors. Like Cliff alluded, they were not the rule but were exceptions. It is a peculiar fundamentalist approach to God that drives people to try to get God to produce. It becomes obsessive for some. They seek formulas and methods that will make God validate himself and don't realize that many of their antics aren't convincing unbelievers, but becoming the butt of their jokes.

I don't see my burden, really, as trying to prove God is real through philosophy, science, theology, or miracles. What I have to try to do is simply mimic his love, which I see as overwhelming and complete. Then I don't any more discriminate between believers and unbelievers or even between believers and believers. Jesus is no longer an enemy of most of mankind. He is a holistic lover.

If he had been out to prove something, why didn't he write a book himself? The Jesus autobio. Instead, he produced perhaps multiple billions of witnesses, not all of them credible.

Mike said...

7K said...
(fundamentalism)is possibly an immature approach to any set of "scriptures."


I agree. It is "immature" in the sense that it has not evolved the complex, yet dishonest explanations which are required to keep the cognitive dissonance in check that stems from believing what is plainly at odds with reality.

...Literalistic approaches to any "holy writ" produce more avid fanaticism.
...It assumes that one pleases God most by taking his "words" as literally as possible.
...The assumption of Christianity is that the present 66-book canon is "inspired" and therefore trustworthy.
...Creationism is a product of literalism
...Mohammed injected violence into his revelation


Right, well fundamentalists are "true believers". If someone is sure a god exists, and that god instructs that person to do something, they'd be insane not to do it. Regardless which god it is.

Moderates, on the other hand, don't believe the obvious instructions from god as written in the bible are really true. They construct incredibly complex, and intellectually challenging apologetics to explain why the "bad" parts should not be taken literally. At the end of the day, these apologetics amount to "cherry-picking" the parts you want to keep, and dumping the parts you find objectionable. And the determining factor for making these choices is in your own mind, outside of the belief system. It is arbitrary, except for the internally evolved sense of reasonableness. All the bad stuff is NOT allegory. In Leviticus 20:10 God commands that adulterers should be put to death, and in Matthew 5:17-18 Jesus plainly says he is not here to change the law. "not one jot or tittle", so why do we not execute adulterers? Because WE have decided it is wrong. If we dismiss this, how can we not dismiss the virgin birth, the resurrection, and the idea that Jesus is somehow the creator of the universe?

They resort, often, to a kind of psychic trickery, and earn a handsome living at it. Of course, these practices irk anybody who sees through it.

And the more nuanced and complex the trickery, the harder it is to see though.

That said, in my experience, I encountered real healings, verifiable even by doctors.

That may well be, I know doctors sometimes "verify" no affliction exists after "healing" (performing an illusion). The verification that the the "affliction" existed in the first place is less certain. But the most important thing about what you are saying here, is that you are trying to point to observable supernaturally directed events, while at the same time insisting evidence is not available. Which is it? Either we cannot observe these things that could prove your position or we can. If we cannot, why claim they are "verifiable even by doctors".

I don't see my burden, really, as trying to prove God is real through philosophy, science, theology, or miracles

1 Peter 3:15 would disagree with you, but hey, if you don't take it literally, anything goes.

Tom said...

Wow! Here I leave the internet for a couple of days and you guys leave me pages to catch up on!

Mike, thanks for joining the discussion.

Cliff said, "The strength of those questions is that they are not based upon a lack of purely materialistic explanations. They fall outside the bounds of what we can learn through exploration.

1. Even if a logical explanation is forwarded for marital (sexual) love, for me at least, it would retain its mystery and transcendent nature."


Can Gynecologists enjoy sex?

My point, Cliff, is that for an atheist, any God is a God-of-the-gaps when it comes to explaining the unknown. But I think there are a couple other variants here. Getting back to our "random" discussions before, if randomness is truly a part of nature, then there are things that are unknowable. Now, if they are unknowable, then ascribing them to a supernatural power and building a story and ideology around that is at least futile, but possibly dangerous. There is also the category of the currently unknowable, but tomorrow is unknown or even knowable.

You make an interesting point -- that full knowledge still wouldn't lose that transcendent quality. This is the argument Dawkins often uses and what you hear atheists say -- the marvelous interplay of these complex systems inspires the observer. I could even observe the material basis of my awe, I suppose, and induce positive feedback over the awe of my awe of my awe, until I was downright giddy! Again, just because I know the material basis of my enjoyment, that does not mean that I can't enjoy it. Likewise, if something feels magical, I can appreciate the feeling, knowing that it's not.

Anyway, I see more clearly the wife analogy as you say, "So, can faith be validated? In my view, yes ... but only on a personal, experiential level." Love and devotion in a marriage can feel magical, and I even try to make/keep that, but I not only go with my gut, I go with a number of messages that are perpetually being honed (and marketed) in the world at large, and by books and articles by psychologists who shed light on our psyches. The knowledge of how I tick, how she ticks, how we can better relate all serves to make our relationship deeper. It is obviously very personal and experiential, but the feelings and thoughts that give us our chemistry are not magical.

Tom said, "There is absolutely no means for validating a supernatural."

Mike said, "I don't think this first premise is true. Anything that has an effect on reality should be able to be measured."


If it did have an effect on reality, how do we really know it was a supernatural or just the result of something that is currently unknown? My second point is that if you want to say that it was a supernatural, we are still at a loss for interpreting the event. What if cancer is cured, but the person goes on to become a Satanist? Was it God or Satan curing the cancer?

7K said, "We are saying that accumulated knowledge should fill in the gaps and thus squeeze out the need for God. But this could also be arrogant thinking since we can only surmise this will happen.

No. It is arrogant of someone to presume that their knowledge filled in by their faith is correct.

7K said...

"It is arrogant of someone to presume that their knowledge filled in by their faith is correct."

Isn't "arrogant" a convenient word for us? I feel a little arrogant when I use it. Perhaps arrogance is in the eye of the beholder. It means, "You don't agree with me, therefore you are arrogant."

"Which is it? Either we cannot observe these things that could prove your position or we can. If we cannot, why claim they are 'verifiable even by doctors'."

I don't know. The Hindu sees the whole world as illusion. There is an illusory quality to everything. How can I trust any "reality", even a doctor who is stumped by the miracle of a "healing" that occurred outside of what should have happened, what usually happens? I consider doctors to be somewhat scientific, typically very empirical, in their assessment of reality: coolly rational. But since we cannot produce miracles at will, then we cannot really study them. Your standards are extremely strict, almost fundamentalist. When does an analysis pass muster?

I guess what I'm saying is, because of its nature, the nature of the beast, can atheism even ever allow any evidence of God to come through? So that brings us back to yet another kind of possible fundamentalism.

Regarding biblical exegesis, there is a tendency in the church to either-or categorization. Both methods of interpretation, literal and figurative, seem to me to be to be appropriate at different times, or for different reasons. Context is always important when judging that.

So I look with skepticism at anybody who says either it's all literal or it's all symbolic.

But this is beside the point of the commentary here, which has to do with verifying God's existence through empirical validation. I was saying I don't know if that can be done to the satisfaction of anyone who is utterly biased against the evidence from the get-go. If a doctor's assessment of a patient's remission or healing is not valid, what is?

If it was an explainable remission that happened in response to prayer or faith, then that would tend to invalidate the patient's assumption that a miracle had occurred. I concur. This is all too common among avid believers.

But when a doctor says, "I just don't get it. This should not have happened," then we might give room to suppose, as the doctor might, that something like a miracle occurred.

Mike said...

Tom said...
Mike, thanks for joining the discussion.


Thanks Tom. I appreciate this conversation. This is really my first opportunity to discuss these things in depth with moderate theists, and there are certainly more topics for discussion than there are with fundys. Thank you Psi, 7K and Cliff, it is fun and interesting. This topic is of particular interest to me because I think it gets to the heart of the matter of how we can differentiate truth from non-truth. As far as I can tell, the scientific method (in the broad sense), is the only way, but I'm open to suggestions of other ways on my blog, or here.

If we can decide on our method BEFORE we begin discussing the matter itself, which could be anything (Gods, Bigfeet, UFOs, Love, or whatever), then we're on a reasonable playing field. I say gods with a "s" intentionally, because however we decide to find truth, that method should apply equally to Poseidon, Zeus, Thor, YHWH (the Christian god), etc.

If it did have an effect on reality, how do we really know it was a supernatural or just the result of something that is currently unknown?

If history is our guide, the supernatural reduces to "the unknown natural", because once understood, it becomes natural. We can't just throw up our hands and stop looking at something because it is claimed to be supernatural. The claim that "prayers are answered and have an effect because of supernatural intervention is testable, just as anything that has an effect on the real world is.

7K said...
The Hindu sees the whole world as illusion.


People believe many things. Some are correct, and some are not. If we posit that everything is an illusion, is there a way we can tell if this is true? I don't know of a way. If we posit that a god made the universe, can we tell if this is true? I also don't know of a way. If we posit that prayers have some result, can we tell if this is true? Well yes, I think there is.

The hypothesis that "everything is an illusion" and the hypothesis that "a god made the universe" are equally indeterminable, therefore their absolute likelihood cannot be defined (they are of equivalent likelihood). Now, if we want to ascribe properties to either of these hypotheses, then we may have something to measure. Then, once measured, we could begin to ascribe a value to it's likelihood.

I consider doctors to be somewhat scientific, typically very empirical, in their assessment of reality: coolly rational.

I prefer the term "warmly rational" thank you very much.
I find theists "cooly dogmatic" ;-)

Your standards are extremely strict, almost fundamentalist.

I do have standards for truth, and I do consider "differentiating truth from non-truth" to be fundimental, if that makes me a fundementalIST, OK. If we have no standards for which to discover truth, we are lost, and our discussion is meaningless.

But since we cannot produce miracles at will, then we cannot really study them...
...can atheism even ever allow any evidence of God to come through?


Of course we can study them. Any claim can be studied as long as it has some observable effect. You don't need to produce miracles at will. You merely have to define what a miracle is, in a way that is distinguishable from a non-miracle. This has been done implicitly over time. We now see many fewer "miracles" now that more are explained naturally.

Just as the church wanted to squelch Galileo's studies, I often get the impression that theists want to resist progress in science, and keep things from being explored. I don't blame them, science has progressively explained more and more of what could previously only be explained by invoking god. This has been shown time and time again throughout history until now, when you are left with only a "transcendent god" who is but a shell of his former self. Not like the good ol days when gods threw lightning bolts from the sky. Now THOSE were gods!

Regarding biblical exegesis...I look with skepticism at anybody who says either it's all literal or it's all symbolic.

This immediately brought to mind a number line, with biblical lieralists on one end, mystics who see symbolism in everything at the other, and you sitting somewhere in between. By saying you are skeptical regarding the people at the ends, you are implying that the closer people's beliefs are to your own, the less skeptical you are. This is a very common trait in all of us, but I think it is important to challenge our own beliefs too.

...verifying God's existence through empirical validation. I was saying I don't know if that can be done to the satisfaction of anyone who is utterly biased against the evidence from the get-go.

I can only speak for myself, and we all have biases, but I am not biased "against" evidence, I am biased "for" evidence. I think I've made this very clear already. The "bias" you perceive is against "conclusions" that don't follow from evidence.

If a doctor's assessment of a patient's remission or healing is not valid, what is?
...when a doctor says, "I just don't get it. This should not have happened," then we might give room to suppose, as the doctor might, that something like a miracle occurred.


Until very recently, no one knew the cause of spontaneous cancer remission, which happens very rarely. Just a few years ago, only a few scientists understood some of the mechanisms behind it. Today, some doctors (mostly oncologists) understand some of this. As for me, I don't understand it, but I have heard some explanations of the biochemistry behind it from researchers in the field. So if a Doctor says "I've never seen anything like it, it's a miracle", I don't fault them. But, that doesn't make the conclusion correct. If we could show evidence for the natural reason for the remission, then "poof" the miracle vanishes. Or, if you are biased in favor of the conclusion that it was a miracle, gets pushed further back to the edge of the unexplained. This pushing god back to the border has been going on for a long time, but it is accelerating to the point where it can no longer go unnoticed in a single lifetime.

Cliff Martin said...

Much to respond to in this thread, but I will limit myself to just one comment, from Mike (btw, I too welcome you to these discussions. I appreciate the clarity of your thoughts.)

Mike writes, “Moderates, on the other hand, don't believe the obvious instructions from god as written in the bible are really true. They construct incredibly complex, and intellectually challenging apologetics to explain why the "bad" parts should not be taken literally. At the end of the day, these apologetics amount to "cherry-picking" the parts you want to keep, and dumping the parts you find objectionable ....”

This statement (reminiscent of the typical complaints I hear from my fundamentalist friends about the dangers of denying inerrancy, or “plenary verbal inspiration”) is a bit overreaching whether the case is made by those fundies or by you. The practical ramifications of the differences between the belief system and theology of a fundamentalist/literalist and that of this “moderate” are actually rather insignificant. All of us use a similar set of hermeneutics in the end. I do not “cherry pick”. Rather, like my fundamentalist friends, I allow Scripture to interpret itself. One of the hermeneutics used across the board is “progressive revelation.” Revelation builds upon revelation, from Moses to David to Isaiah to John. Because of this, I know of no Christians who advocate for the stoning of adulterers.

The difference between a fundamentalist approach to that particular injunction and my own is how we understand the process of inspiration, whether Moses was correctly hearing God, whether God “permitted” such forms of justice, whether these injunctions were limited in time, etc. In the end, we all agree that as revelation progressed, and certainly by the time of Jesus, a very high percentage of the instructions of Moses were no longer appropriate for believers. If you find these approaches “incredibly complex” or “intellectually challenging”, I would have to say that I do not. It makes for interesting conversation, but Christians are nearly 100% agreed that Jesus would not have us stoning adulterers. And I know of no believers who find this “incredibly complex”.

There are other issues in which the various approaches to Scripture may result in some actual differences of how we understand doctrine ... but I would suggest the you have greatly overstated the case.

” ... And the determining factor for making these choices is in your own mind, outside of the belief system.”

This last statement, then, is simply untrue in my experience, and in my observation of other believers, even those with whom I disagree on the nature of Inspiration. The determining factor is a set of substantially agreed upon hermeneutics including progressive revelation.

Tom said...

Cliff,

I think you are taking your belief set for granted. Progressive revelation is an easy enough concept for any Christian to accept and practice and it makes a lot of sense for interpreting scripture accurately by taking into account the culture, history, and circumstances when presented. (It also makes it extremely subjective). However, your scriptural assumptions I think are much deeper and more complex than the average Christian. I can say this from my conversations with several Christians who will only go down a path of discrepancies in the Bible for a short while before admitting that they do not know how to resolve this or that, but still trust that the Bible is God's Word and that all will be revealed someday. Not that my blog would attract fundies necessarily, but I can't imagine that they would last too long here, either, challenging and being challenged by atheists like you do. I guess what I'm trying to say, Cliff (and 7K, (and Gordon?)), is that you represent to some of us atheists a refreshing conversation. While it still might be that both of us are beating our heads against the wall, the challenges are much more nuanced than knee-jerk responses by other Christians. Of course you guys are not unique, but it at least feels like that you guys are unfortunately a rarity. If we atheists are wrongly stereotyping the bulk of Christians, well, we need to know that too.

7K said...

It might be getting harder to stereotype Christians. But you, Tom, seem to be dealing with the problems arising from the fundamentalist sector of Christianity. About half of all Christians globally are Catholic, and they are not often fundamentalist in their approach to the Bible. So I'm going to guess that maybe a third of believers globally are literalists, or nearly so. There has been tremendous growth in this type of believer in the Southern Hemisphere, Africa, and Asia due to the efforts of Evangelicals who, in the 20th century, were highly motivated to finish "the Great Commission", an idea that often has chiliasm or millennialism attached to it.

Evangelicals and Fundamentalists in the West, I think, felt threatened by evolution, with many basically damning it. It overturned their basic grid which was to take the Bible literally. With regard to creation, that meant God made the world in 6 actual days. Obviously, a miracle. So evolutionists can seem like conspirators sent from Satan himself. There may be some paranoia in this. But they are trying to hang with the familiar territory of biblical literalism.

It is likely that the vast majority of people who claim faith in Christ are not like that. Many probably don't care. Others might say, well, if evolution's what scientists think, it's probably true. These people don't spend gobs of time musing over Genesis like some fundies who feel they are defending God. They go to mass or whatever and then don't ruminate over God-stuff all that much. Listen to a sermon, go home, go to work.

I'd say the big picture of Christianity is a pretty diverse group, and getting moreso. You may find your most open Christians now among Evangelicals who are post-modern or "emergent." So I'd say Fundamentalism needs to be abandoned and maybe will be generally abandoned. Maybe that's a little too harsh. Maybe in an increasingly pluralistic, globalism situation, Fundamentalism is taking its last gasp among all monotheists.

Any way you look at it, though, nothing threatens the literalist rendering of Genesis more than evolution. Those doctrines seem headed for the landfill in light of present understanding. That doesn't mean Christianity is ready for the dump. Some sectors of Christianity are having a rough go, but that may mean good changes are afoot. Maybe Christians will abandon some of their garbage and get away from some of these politically-charged but dubious issues. The faith may be ready for a revolution from within. An explosion of love would be nice.

Mike said...

Cliff Martin said...
I do not “cherry pick”...I allow Scripture to interpret itself.


You're trying to say you aren't the one making your own conclusions, and I respectfully suggest that that's just not so Cliff.

I've heard the arguments, they reduce to something like:

if "A" contradicts "B", where "B" good (or what we already believe), then "A" is either misinterpreted, or trumped by new (progressive) rules, or whatever.

But your deciding factor is still your own opinion of what "good" is. Otherwise "B" could just as easily contradict "A". Calvinists use this quite well to show that the bible supports predestination, and their argument makes perfect sense.

"Progressive revelation" is really "progressive harmonization" of scripture, with the real world. Theists always hold strong to what they say is true, until it is shown to be false. The fundy will often STILL believe the obviously false for a long time afterward. I find "progressive revelation" to be pretty dishonest. It's really a "get out of jail free card", in case the beliefs are clearly shown to be false. I've noticed that there are never widely believed science facts, that are later shown to be disproved by scripture, or religious belief. It's always the other way around. This is because science, by definition, is "the method by which truth is determined"

If you find these approaches “incredibly complex” or “intellectually challenging”, I would have to say that I do not. It makes for interesting conversation, but Christians are nearly 100% agreed that Jesus would not have us stoning adulterers. And I know of no believers who find this “incredibly complex”.

That's a bit of a mischaracterization of what I was saying. You are making a statement of belief, and claiming I said it was complex, but it is the justification of that statement that is where you may find complexity. I'm simply saying that the apologetics of moderates is more developed and nuanced than fundy apologetics. For people that don't have a good understanding of the issues (myself included), these arguments can sometimes appear more convincing at first, because their flaws are less obvious, or rather more thickly buried in the explanation.

” ... And the determining factor for making these choices is in your own mind, outside of the belief system.”
The determining factor is a set of substantially agreed upon hermeneutics including progressive revelation.


Fine, so they're in your mind, and the minds of others who agree and call it a hermeneutic, but still not internally defined.

7K said...
Evangelicals and Fundamentalists in the West, I think, felt threatened by evolution, with many basically damning it. It overturned their basic grid which was to take the Bible literally. With regard to creation, that meant God made the world in 6 actual days. Obviously, a miracle. So evolutionists can seem like conspirators sent from Satan himself. There may be some paranoia in this. But they are trying to hang with the familiar territory of biblical literalism.


Yes. But moderates shrewdly distance themselves from the disprovable, while retaining the "transcendent". There are however many fundamentalist Catholics. I know many.

I'd say the big picture of Christianity is a pretty diverse group, and getting moreso. You may find your most open Christians now among Evangelicals who are post-modern or "emergent." So I'd say Fundamentalism needs to be abandoned and maybe will be generally abandoned. Maybe that's a little too harsh.

No one abandons what they believe lightly. Fundamentalists, though, if they see the folly of their belief system, do seem more likely to become atheists. I think this is because they have a higher bar when it comes to consistency in beliefs. When they realize their beliefs are false, they don't stop at the transcendent, but follow the evidence where it leads.

Any way you look at it, though, nothing threatens the literalist rendering of Genesis more than evolution.

Yes. The moderate, on the other hand, pragmatically adapts, throws that part out, and continues to cling to the rest.

Those doctrines seem headed for the landfill in light of present understanding.

Yes. These odd doctrines of a creator who became man, was born of a virgin, and rose from the dead. These things are as clearly myth as a six day creation.

7K said...

"Yes. These odd doctrines of a creator who became man, was born of a virgin, and rose from the dead. These things are as clearly myth as a six day creation." ~ Mike

Can o' worms, eh? I looked up "the myth of the virgin birth" and now note these kinds of objections:

A.) The connection of the event with the Hebrew scriptures (basically Isa. 7: 14) is a "mistranslation." Essentially, the Hebrew word used there (almah) means "young woman" not "virgin."

B. The passage in question was intended for its own time and not for Jesus' day.

C. The gospel of Mark and Paul's epistles (earlier writings than Matthew and Luke, which do espouse an unusual birth situation for Jesus)do not mention a virgin birth at all.

D.The more ancient mystery religions promoted the mythology of the virgin birth of gods, demigods, and heroes: myths that would be well-known in Jesus' day, and suggesting that at least parts of Christian concepts might be tied to these occult myths.

Just those objections alone would throw the creeds into question, of course. I can certainly be in sympathy with anyone who struggles with the idea of virgin birth. It becomes more an article of faith attached to Christ as Deity than a provable fact. Thus, you're off the hook, pal.

The whole problem with proving the gospel narratives is that there is a lack of historical evidence and now, as I just pointed out, even the doctrines surrounding this stand on a fragile foundation.

That said, the concept of Christ's deity is very important to Christian theists, and the virgin birth is one of its obvious supports. I've had debates with Christians over the importance of Christ's "deity" and found that not all are easily comfortable with the concept. Still, they would consider him to be "the Son of God" and their "savior."

Thus, if we lost the credibility of the virgin birth, it would not diminish the stature of Jesus as the one to believe in. Also, the lack of ability to absolutely prove the authenticity of such an outrageous event would not stop what I feel is the essential trajectory of Christ's advent, and that is the reconciliation of a broken world.

That said, and for the record, I believe in the virgin birth. Am I an idiot? I certainly have some credentials, some compelling arguments to that effect, more than to the veracity of the generally accepted Christian belief in the deity of Christ.

Is it just some sentimentality that overrides my reason? Perhaps. But, if it is, I will go happily ignorant to my grave: I will err on the side of that sentiment.

I do tend to think, though, that if God doesn't make things more clear than he does, why should people be held accountable for believing things they can't reasonably prove? My strongest conviction is that God is just, and that is a scripturally viable concept. It is also a comforting thought.

I am left with the conundrum of faith itself. Faith does not require any empirical proof. Thus, if I am adjudged to be a poor, deluded creature because I have faith, what defense have I? None that I can see. I just have to suffer that stigma, I guess.

Even Christian theologians with extensive training cannot really be held accountable for knowing all things. We "see through a glass darkly." May sound like a lame excuse, but it's true.

Still, I am not offended that you don't believe. It doesn't make me regard you less. I have high respect for your difficulties with faith; I understand it. For me, though, faith and cognitive rationality are two different dimensions. God inhabits both worlds and, in that sense, they are not mutually exclusive.

Basically, I regard faith as "confidence" in something. You are confident that science answers all questions: I am not. But I am certainly not opposed to it as a means of discovering truth.

Jesus said, "I am the truth..." Therefore, whatever truth science may uncover, it will not wind up to be in opposition to the one who called himself "the truth."

Because of this dichotomy of faith and reason, some Christians feel compelled to oppose, for instance, atheists. It creates a kind of theist elitism. "I'm better than you because I'm a believer." Christ's own words opposed that attitude. Faith may make us different, but not better. I can't diss you for not having faith. You have sound reasons for opposing it. What I'd rather do is listen to you, and especially your difficulties with those who have faith. In that light, this virgin birth thing becomes quite a problem: I believe it; you think it's rubbish. So? Okay, I'll say it: "You've got a lot of nerve!"

psiloiordinary said...

Hi 7k,

Very interesting as usual.

You said this;

I certainly have some credentials, some compelling arguments to that effect, more than to the veracity of the generally accepted Christian belief in the deity of Christ.

Care to share any of these compelling arguments with us?

Regards,

Psi

7K said...

Didn't I call myself an idiot?

And you want me to develop some compelling arguments to that effect?

Idiots don't generally develop compelling arguments.

Cliff Martin said...

Now 7K, surely you know that our friend Psi demands empirical proof for everything. So if you lay claim to idiocy, and then declare that you have evidence to back it up ... he's going to want to see it.

Why don't you just plead ignorance and be done with it!

Smile.

Mike said...

7K said...
the Hebrew word used there (almah) means "young woman" not "virgin."


Yes, and it seems the translators of the Septuagint intentionally replaced "almeh" with "parthanos" so as to intentionally embellish the story. This blatant "lying" is as typical today, as it was then.

ancient mystery religions promoted...the virgin birth of gods,...suggesting that...parts of Christian concepts might be tied to these...myths.

The...problem with...the gospel narratives is that there is a lack of historical evidence


It would seem so.

if we lost the credibility of the virgin birth, it would not diminish the stature of Jesus as the one to believe in.

I would agree that discrediting a single detail of a story does not collapse the entire thing, but we know that isn't the case here. If we are honest about the beliefs and tenets of Christianity at it's beginnings, we recognize that current beliefs are almost wholly different. Progressive revelation? Sure. But why should it be, that current beliefs are close to truth, when they are based in ancient beliefs that now seen as very far from truth?

If you were on a jury, how many of a witnesses statements would have to be discredited before you would realize their story was fabricated or they were simply a psychopath?

for the record, I believe in the virgin birth. Am I an idiot?

Your allusion is that *we* somehow think you are an idiot. This is not true. You are clearly *not* an idiot, and I trust you don't feel that any of the rest of *us* are either. But not being an idiot doesn't make you right, or a belief true. Many very smart people believe plenty of things that just aren't true.

Furthermore, my concern is not about belief, or intelligence, or scriptural interpretation. My concern is simply about truth, and the method to reach it.

Is it just some sentimentality that overrides my reason? Perhaps. But, if it is, I will go happily ignorant to my grave: I will err on the side of that sentiment.

That's sad, and if widespread, damaging to the world.

I do tend to think, though, that if God doesn't make things more clear than he does, why should people be held accountable for believing things they can't reasonably prove? My strongest conviction is that God is just, and that is a scripturally viable concept. It is also a comforting thought.

Yes. There is not always overlap between comfort and truth. But I hope I always have the strength to accept truth, even if it is difficult.

Faith does not require any empirical proof.

That's setting the bar kind of high isn't it? Why don't we try for a "indication, however slight" before we get to "proof". Hell, it's difficult to prove anything, but anything *real* should at least have some demonstrable effect. Can you offer *nothing* but personal opinion as to why your beliefs are any more or less valid than any other belief, such as that of Branch Davidians, Moonies, or UFO abductees? If not, I don't say you are an idiot, I just say that that particular belief is unreasonable, and indistinguishable from (therefore equal to) undefined nonsense.

For me, though, faith and cognitive rationality are two different dimensions.

I've heard this idea that these are two different things, and I agree that they are, but the actual comparison, is between rationality or reason, and emotion. Faith is simply "emotion, un-admitted".

Basically, I regard faith as "confidence" in something.

Oh, you're right there. But it is *unwarranted* confidence in something. Please don't say "But I can have faith in my wife, and that's warranted". This is not faith in the same sense. This is *trust*. If you knew nothing about your wife, and in fact didn't know her at all, then it would be faith. To say otherwise, is to try to argue by redefinition.

You are confident that science answers all questions: I am not.

Where'd you get that idea? I am not either. It's true that science, or rather the scientific method, is *the* way to differentiate truth from non-truth, but that does NOT mean that it has, can, or ever will answer all questions. Some questions may simply be unanswerable. But faith is not the basis for determining truth in the absence of an answer. Certainly it is the typical placeholder, but where science *does* discover truth , these placeholders are almost always shown to be misguided falsehoods.

Jesus said, "I am the truth..." Therefore, whatever truth science may uncover, it will not wind up to be in opposition to the one who called himself "the truth."

Great, so if Jesus defines himself as synonymous with truth, and science is the way to find truth, then why faith? Especially when it's always proven wrong, once truth becomes available?

...this virgin birth thing becomes quite a problem: I believe it; you think it's rubbish. So? Okay, I'll say it: "You've got a lot of nerve!"

The nerve to actually care to determine and differentiate truth, from non-truth, yes. Guilty. I'm sorry about that, but I really think it matters. If someone tells me they have faith that their god wants them to kill me, I'm going to take issue with that. If someone tells me that they have faith that one of the many virgin-birth god/man stories from antiquity is actually true, I'm going to take issue with that too. Because they are both really the same thing. A failure to reject nonsense. And belief in nonsense, even benign nonsense, creates a safe haven for belief in dangerous nonsense.

7K said...

I think I mentioned this before, but there is a segment of Christendom ~ Pentecostals ~ who are trying to produce "proof:" the proof being signs and wonders.

The gospel narratives place quite a bit of emphasis on Jesus' miracles as proof of his unique status. Still, to us now these are unsubstantiated stories. We have no witnesses to go to. And, as proofs, they failed for the Pharisees, the strictest of religious Jews, who sought to kill Jesus. To them, these miracles were not proofs but demonic manifestations.

So Jesus, who identified himself as "the Truth" (capital-T, ultimate truth)was finally encountered by the Roman governor Pilate who, looking Truth in the eye, said, "What is truth?" Pilate frankly did not know and washed his hands of the matter (also to please his wife who had a dream that Jesus was innocent).

What I like about all this is that it is very existential. That should please an atheist. Life is a conundrum. Answers don't really seem to come as easy as a sinner's prayer.

Yet we do have some reason to have faith in science. It has opened a lot of doors, answered many questions. We can be confident it tells us more than alchemy.

I actually regard it as one means of revelation. Evolution may be telling us more about God than many realize. And ultimately I would not expect science to disprove God, if he gave it to us (like rock 'n' roll). I truly expect God to be vindicated by all modes of "truth": philosophy, science, theology, reality TV.

Paul's definition of faith ("substance of things hoped for, evidence of things not seen")does, I guess, require me to be less-than-objective. That's really a shame. It almost requires me to sound disingenuous. I am telling people they should believe in something for which I have no objective proof. Some might even say my evidence is scanty, or at least suspect. This makes me sound pathological if not criminal.

As a former atheist, I am actually in sympathy with seeing Christianity and religion as duping mechanisms, steering mankind down primrose paths of blissful ignorance. How ironic! And yet I am utterly convinced of the reality of this hope that is seized by no other mechanism than faith. In that sense, what my eyes plainly see can deceive me. A bit like what Pilate's eyes were not seeing.
How near and yet how far.

Cliff Martin said...

Mike,
You are, of course, correct about the Hebrew almah translated virgin in Isaiah 7:14. While a case can be made that most young women so identified were in fact, virgins, this translation reflects the over-charged enthusiasm of Christians which has yielded up many such exaggerated or less than honest translations and contentions ... and these in turn provide skeptics like yourself plenty of fodder to build effective straw-man arguments. (Isaiah 7:14 actually has multiple fulfillments, the first fulfillment occurring in the very next chapter when Isaiah's young wife bears him a son who is named, Emmanuel, a son conceived in the natural way. See 8:3). Such dishonesty angers me.

But what of your contention that the story of the virgin birth of Jesus simply reflects a common theme in various cultural mythologies (true enough), and therefore should be discounted.

Most Christians believe as I do, that history is strewn with counterfeit truths which, by their nature, tend to obscure the one Truth. Such counterfeit truths may be the work of an orchestrated spiritual effort to influence human minds against the ultimate Truth.

But, like you and 7K have already stipulated, Christianity does not stand or fall on the veracity of the Virgin Birth. Let us suppose that the Virgin Birth story was a late First Century invention. If that were the case, the Virgin Birth would simply fall into the category of the excessive exuberance I describe in the first paragraph of this comment. The fact that people get overly excited about a truth, and resort to hyperbole, does not negate the validity of the kernel of the Truth. In fact, if God did visit us in Jesus (as I believe he did), I would expect a proliferation of mythological exaggerations. And that is what we most definitely have in many of the apocryphal gospels. Could some of this hyperbole have worked its way into the canonical N.T.? Maybe.

I do believe that the Virgin Birth fits Old Testament and New Testament revelation in intricate ways which would make it hard for me to deny. However, if I learned that it was not true, it would not diminish either my theistic beliefs nor my belief that Jesus was God visiting man.

Mike said...

Cliff Martin said...
these in turn provide skeptics like yourself plenty of fodder to build effective straw-man arguments.


Straw-man? How so? 7K said he believes in one of the many virgin birth stories (the one attributed to Jesus, but not the others), and I was simply pointing out the fact that in the Jesus story, the meaning was changed in the translation to a less ambiguous, more miraculous one. It's certainly true that the motivations of the translators can't be proven, but this seems to me more plausible than that "Almah" always intended to mean virgin, when a less ambiguous word for virgin, "Betulah" was available to to original writers. My comments were a direct response to 7K's statements, so I fail to see how this is a straw man.

But what of your contention that the story of the virgin birth of Jesus simply reflects a common theme in various cultural mythologies (true enough), and therefore should be discounted.

If I could elaborate here, I'm not exactly saying "it should therefore be discounted". I'm simply saying that it is equivalent to the other stories, and, coming later, is likely borrowed. Point is, I don't see *how* a reasonable person chooses to believe one and dismisses the other. Most aren't even aware of the others, and when told, dismiss them out of hand without further investigation.

Most Christians believe...that history is strewn with counterfeit truths which...tend to obscure the one Truth. Such counterfeit truths may be the work of an orchestrated spiritual effort to influence human minds against the ultimate Truth.

That sounds a bit like conspiracy theory to me. I agree that written history is often false, and truth is difficult if not impossible to discern. But your opinion of "ultimate Truth" has equal(not more valuable) standing.

But, like you and 7K have already stipulated, Christianity does not stand or fall on the veracity of the Virgin Birth. Let us suppose that the Virgin Birth story was a late First Century invention. If that were the case, the Virgin Birth would simply fall into the category of the excessive exuberance I describe in the first paragraph of this comment. The fact that people get overly excited about a truth, and resort to hyperbole, does not negate the validity of the kernel of the Truth.

People *don't* get excited about truth. That's the problem. I *wish* that were so. People get excited about what they already *believe*, and when they find a way to bolster that belief. Finding truth requires one to suspend their our opinions to the extent possible, and just follow the evidence where it leads.

In fact, if God did visit us in Jesus (as I believe he did), I would expect a proliferation of mythological exaggerations. And that is what we most definitely have in many of the apocryphal gospels. Could some of this hyperbole have worked its way into the canonical N.T.? Maybe.

Are you kidding? There were many "gospels", and the ones decided upon much later to be bound together into a book were chosen to tell the particular story that most portrayed the beliefs of these "editors". This is exactly what I'm talking about when I say people want to bolster their previously held belief, rather than objectively following the evidence. Now that much time has passed, the canon books are given greater weight than "apocryphal" gospels arbitrarily.

I do believe that the Virgin Birth fits...if I learned that it was not true, it would not diminish either my theistic beliefs nor my belief that Jesus was God visiting man.

This echo's precisely what I might hear from a fundamentalist about evolution. It is a curious thing that people state that even when presented with falsifications of central tenets, that it would not sway thier *belief*. This is exactly the opposite of "honestly seeking truth". As I said, it isn't about the virgin birth, it's about defining *how* one determines what is true, before the subject to be determined enters into it.

Cliff Martin said...

Just a quick comment, then back to work.

Mike, I think you misunderstood my first point. I wasn't accusing you of using a straw-man argument. I was accusing many of my fellow-believers of overstating the case for Christianity and thus coming up with arguments that become easy targets for skeptics. Perhaps I shouldn't have used the term straw-man.

Mike said...

Oh. Sorry Cliff, my mistake.

7K said...

There were many "gospels", and the ones decided upon much later to be bound together into a book were chosen to tell the particular story that most portrayed the beliefs of these "editors".

I've read, or tried to read, a lot of "apocrypha." For instance, the popular Gospel of Thomas. It was right away apparent to me that it was "Gnostic" in character, and I'm not a theologian. Also, the "hidden childhood" of Jesus in Thomas also seemed incredibly bogus and out-of-step with the integrity of the gospels included in the biblical canon. Jesus, as a child, was even using his powers to kill people. That just doesn't jibe with the feel of the accepted canon.

Also, we could throw some of the canonical stuff out, if we were so disposed. Martin Luther didn't like James because ML was focused on the message of grace. Revelation has always been a troublesome book. But the present canon stands and has survived quite a few storms of controversy and attempts to stamp it out. What impresses me about the present canon is its integrity: and I mean by that, how it is integrated. It is just this incredible tapestry that is all interrelated and expressing one central message in one composite story. I know I am prejudiced, but I still don't get that sense from the apocrypha I've read (and I do like a few of them). It is just an amazing book, as it stands. Nothing else quite like it: not Shakespeare; not Homer; not Moby Dick; not Jack Kerouac. Quite the book, that.

Jay Fuller said...

The safe, pragmatic choice in dealing with this existence is to assume there is no supernatural element. I'm sure any all-knowing, all-loving, all-merciful Sky Daddy will allow us this trespass so long as we lead decent lives.

Mike said...

7K said...
the "hidden childhood" of Jesus...seemed incredibly bogus and out-of-step with the integrity of the gospels included in the biblical canon.
...That just doesn't jibe with the feel of the accepted canon.


Sure 7K, but don't you think that's because it's foreign to you? Don't you think that if the story was familiar to you from your childhood that it would seem to "fit" better?

...What impresses me about the present canon is its integrity.
...It is just this incredible tapestry that is all interrelated and expressing one central message...It is just an amazing book...
...Nothing else quite like it...


Yes, this is a common feeling. Hindu's feel this way about the Bagavad Gita, Muslim's feel this way about the Koran. But to to an outside observer, we see that all these feelings are based on the fact that you already believe it. It's familiar and comfortable.

There is no objective way to show that one book is more of an "incredibly interrelated tapestry" than any other. Furthermore, if pressed, I'd have to say that of the three, the Bible has much more significant contradictions than the other two.

I know I am prejudiced...

Aren't we all. But if we are really interested in pursuing truth, we have to try to get outside of our prejudices.

Jay Fuller said...
...assume there is no supernatural element...


Actually Jay, I don't like to make assumptions, and I don't think that atheism "assumes" there is no god. It seems demonstrable that there is no basis for many of the common god beliefs.

Jay Fuller said...

I just think it's the pragmatic solution. If I appeal to a supernatural element every time I get stuck with a problem, I'm never going to make any progress.

Mike said...

Agreed.

Cliff Martin said...

"If I appeal to a supernatural element every time I get stuck with a problem, I'm never going to make any progress."

I also agree. The kind of theism I espouse is anything but a crutch. Human responsibility is significantly underemphasized in traditional theistic (including Christian) belief systems. God's purpose in creating us was not to have a race of passive sentimentalists who turn to Jay's "Big Daddy in the Sky" every time we encounter difficulty.

What has happened to our silent host? He has not posted since 2007. Tom ... are you here?

Tom said...

Yes, Cliff, I'm here! Has it really been that long ago that I posted? I apologize for my silence/absence. I have been overwhelmed with work and about the time I get to post a comment, Mike jumps in and says pretty much what I want to say (only better)! I appreciate the conversation, and thank you all for keeping up the thread. I'll make more of an effort to chime in, in the future.

I have been scratching out a new post, and will try to get it up soon.

In response to your last comment, Cliff, if God is not there to solve problems, why is he there? What purpose does a God serve me? And let's turn the question around: What purpose do I serve God? How are these questions answered in the light of us human specks who are rational and independently-behaving to the master of the universe?

7K said...

There is no objective way to show that one book is more of an "incredibly interrelated tapestry" than any other.

The Bible is really just one story. Its present content was hashed out many centuries ago, essentially by a committee of learned theologians. That content is essentially an amalgam of Hebrew and Christian documents all considered "inspired" by both sects. I'm sure it was tough, for some, to decide what was left in and what was left out. But I think they did a bang-up job, considering the competing documents which we can all now peruse and judge.

As for "contradictions", many scholars have dealt with the problems admirably. But it really makes the Bible all the more interesting ~ so human, so frail, so realistic.

Still, my faith is not really in the Bible, but in the one it points to. The early church had no Bible.

Many believers do almost seem to idolize it. That is, to me, an error. Then you have the "Jesus Seminar", seemingly bent on eviscerating it. Also an error. For if you remove all the contents, you have nothing left. It would be a bit like burning down the library at Alexandria.

So I'm not beating you over the head with it. Nor do I want to come across as a "Bible-belter." It's just a terrific book. I'm trying to read the Koran and I have investigated the Oriental sacred books. One ~ the Tao Te Ching, if I remember correctly ~ has sections that are basically, word for word identical to Christ's. I encountered that comparison from a Buddhist monk who became an Orthodox monk.

Mike said...

Tom said...
Mike jumps in and says pretty much what I want to say (only better)!

Gosh, thanks Tom. I'm just happy to have the discussion. This group is quite interesting. As I said before, the discourse from 7K and Cliff is much more considered and nuanced than the drivel the fundies peddle.

7K said...
As for "contradictions", many scholars have dealt with the problems admirably.

This goes back to apologetic complexity than I alluded to before, but I'm curious what you do with Matthew 16:28?

Also,7K, you didn't really respond directly to my point about the the familiarity of a particular book, based on one's particular situation adding credence to one's assessment of it's "integrity". I'd really appreciate your thoughts on this. Do you understand the point I am making? Do you disagree?

Cliff Martin said...

Tom,
What purpose does a God serve man? and what purpose might we serve God? All kinds of possibilities.

First, I may have been misread. I did not mean that God does not help those who seek his help. But often the help he offers is more like giving us some direction to solve the issue. Or put another way, a believer who is engaged in life and walking in the counsel of God will not fail to make progress (which, as I took it, was the basis of Jay’s objection to “appealing to a supernatural element ever time I get stuck with a problem”). If personal and corporate “progress” is used as the measure of validity for world-views, I think I could make a very strong case for Christianity!

I do not pretend to fully understand the purposes of God. But the Bible suggests to me that we are here to play a significant role in his overriding purpose of dealing with evil. I do see some ways in which our obedience and faithfulness, even our suffering, may play into God’s purpose to annihilate evil. This is one of the premises that I am developing at OutsideTheBox.

As for you final question, I actually do not know that “independently-behaving” humans are at all engaged in fulfilling the purposes of God ... but I’m not sure I followed your meaning.

I look forward to your next post!

Mike, I don’t want to preempt 7K, but Matthew 16:28 has never been a problem for me. The very next verse (17:1) and the story that follows are the fulfillment, in my view. It was less than a week later. Others believe that the “coming of the Son of Man” referred to here and many other places in the N.T. refers to the judgment of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans which occurred about 40 years after Matthew 16:28 was uttered. This judgment would align with the concept of the church displacing Judaism as the primary repository of the grace of God. These are the two common views. So your question is the first and only time I’ve ever heard anyone suggest that this verse is problematic. I can see why you might think that, but it has never occurred to me before.

7K said...

Cliff handled Matt. 16:28 well. I was going to mention preterism which interprets eschatological verses as having all been fulfilled. The idea there would be that this verse was referring to the Titus invasion 40 years later, as Cliff said. Preterists tend to see this as a kind of paradigm shift in history: a switch in emphasis from the Jews to the Goyim.

you didn't really respond directly to my point about the the familiarity of a particular book, based on one's particular situation adding credence to one's assessment of it's "integrity". I'd really appreciate your thoughts on this. Do you understand the point I am making? Do you disagree?

I think this occurs, certainly. I think you are sensitive to the post-modern idea here that we see things through our own interpretive grids. A popular grid in the church has been sola scriptura, which has given rise to another popular idea of "divine dictation", regarding the Bible: the idea that the writers of the Bible were receiving direct inspiration from God.

This gives rise to what I think of as a modernist/literalist approach to the Bible we've been calling "fundies." That approach flattens the scriptures and removes much of the beauty and awe. It's all very utilitarian and quite scary. It's where you get this notion of "making a decision for Christ." I think God is more subtle than that. It isn't just a sudden jerk and a little psychological pressure and voila! You're saved.

But the judging of a work is certainly a subjective thing. My judgment could certainly be wrong, of course. I just think the committees that put the present 66 books together performed well. The canon serves its purpose.

There are apparent apocryphal influences seen, possibly, in Jude and Peter, perhaps elsewhere. I find that intriguing. And I personally don't mind skeptics. Skeptics are thinking.

kfawell said...

Hello,

This is my first post. Please forgive any breeches of etiquette. I assume if I seem off topic or inappropriate my post will be removed which I would understand.

I want to explain what I see as the problem of faith.

First a short note on my motivation. I want to believe in a God for various reasons but seeing the world as I do, I don't see anything that makes me think there is a god, or at least not one as described by religions that I know. I don't think I am lost and needing guidance. Rather, I think life is generally pretty worthwhile living, and I wish to go on existing to see the future and the universe, and dying and decaying into bits is not a good plan towards that wish. Hence, if after I die I actually go on existing consciously, that would be good to me. Most modern religions offer that option.

I am not interested so much in trying to disprove or prove one thing or another. I am trying to understand how smart people believe things that are different from me. What am I missing? I can tell you I have spent a lot of time thinking about these things. And when I get down to certain points, I find my conclusion is different.

A couple of points were made in the discussion that I think could be helpful to me.

One was about the purpose that God has for us and how He makes the purpose known to us.

At least in the past, it is clear that God was not hands-off. He was clearly involved with people in a very direct way like talking to people or instructing people or killing people or telling people to kill people to helping people to kill people or helping people to not be killed. In a popular religion, he even sent his Son down to die and so on.

And from what I understand of most religions, there is a path that must be followed so that good things will happen to one after death. Not only that, not following that path usually means suffering horribly forever.

That last part makes it pretty strict.

So it seems to me that God takes his purpose seriously, and he expects us to live a certain way. And in the past he made some efforts to let people know about his plan.

So God has a plan and we have to follow it or else.

If that is the case, it seems odd to be so inaccessible. And when efforts were made to let us know, they were ridiculously inadequate. In general, a long time ago, some person or small set of persons was told the plan. They were also told to tell others the plan. And moreover, in some cases were told that they need to enforce the plan. All of this happened in their language and long before travel around the world was possible.

It seems like a plan bound to fail. And to me it has. I say that because there are many religions, often at odds, and people like me are left with the belief there is no god.

And what I know of the various plans, most don't offer anything new or valuable to me. I mean, I think I am a moral person, but my morals, though modern, are not anything new. For example, not killing, treating people kindly, being honest, etc. have been around before most religions that I know of. The main thing added by religions are various explanations about how the universe started and will end. And often there are restrictions added that I don't understand, like don't work on this day or don't be gay or fast this way to make this god happy etc.

So my questions are, why explain so long ago and in vague ways and not explain now? Why have people try to explain an important and apparently complex plan instead of revealing it more directly? Why punish people for being honest to themselves if their beliefs are different?

With these questions in mind, I wonder why I would even want to have faith in such gods, and so that becomes my fundamental problem. If if true, why would I want to follow a god who has such a system?

Note that I not talking about a god who allows evil or that kind of thing. I mean a god who can't even use omnipotence to explain himself clearly.

That to me is the a problem with faith. But I guess the amount of writing means it's a big nutshell.

Tom said...

kfawell, thanks for the comment! Welcome!

You bring up several points which are not going to be addressed easily. It's a big nutshell, like you say, and it is going to be personal and different for everyone, even the "smart" people!

As far as an omnipotent God choosing sheep herders to transmit The Word, in one respect, you are absolutely right. It is totally inefficient. Christianity, however, has this element of higglety-pigglety maneuvers that makes it raw, honest, and humanly approachable. (See my previous post on the baby Jesus, for example). This is a crucial point because it typically purports to offer free will of its followers. If God showed his omniscience in such an overwhelming way, then it could be argued that the decision to follow was not really much of a decision. The reason that religions persist is that they have a way of tapping into the human psyche and deal with issues that are in a sense timeless. They also have a way of instilling themselves into culture.

If you have been reading this blog, or will do so more in the future, you'll find several other issues with faith.

kfawell said...

To be sure, I have more problems with faith, or at least how it is practiced by many people. :-)

kfawell said...

I think your point about it being approachable is true. In fact, it is obviously truly approachable since so many people are religious and some old religions have been dropped (like "mythologies"). In fact, I see value in religion partly because it is such a big help to people. I don't think truth really matters so much when it comes to people figuring out how to live their own lives. (I am carefully stating 'how to live their OWN lives'.) Heck, if I had a helpdesk, I would be living in a fantasy world quite a lot.

Also, it is an interesting point about free will if God made himself very obvious. Your point plus no Hell for those decide otherwise would make it more understandable to me that people would want to follow such a god. The my-way or the hell-way plan is cruel and to me would be selfish to endorse or partake in such a plan. Hence, I cannot understand people willingly following a god who has such a plan. People who do believe a version of the Bible where there is no Hell are more understandable, but then the question of being true to the book comes up, as Mike points out.

Anyway, that still leaves me with wondering why he did it in the past but not for a long time. Why now the silence? Why was the free will issue ignored then? And to be clear, I am not talking only about Christianity, but most the religions that I know of. I guess generally, why a prophet?

It is especially disappointing because now the issue of faithfully recording the message is so well understood that given the chance, I am sure people would make huge efforts to record the message as close to the source and unedited as possible. Even if God repeated his localized demonstrations, with a short time of warning, people would be all over it recording and studying any following miracles. I think it would be world-changing if water were turned into wine. Imagine thousands of scientists and reporters verifying that a container of liquid was water then that water, while being under constant surveillance, was approached by a prophet and turned to wine with similar verifications being done after that.

Well, I guess I might still be dubious given history. Which then makes me think of more compelling means that seems quite doable, like lasting zones of non-physics or a being I can converse with. In a way, I guess I would not care about what others thought if I believed God was talking to me directly.

So I guess I can distill this particular problem of faith to why why then and not now? (That double-why is on purpose.)

And I appreciate your point about it being personal, but then I wonder if it really should be personal. If some evidence is compelling to you but not me, it would seem we should be able to figure out why. I want to rationally talk to someone who can look at some evidence and conclude differently than me, or at least make me understand that it is reasonable that I don't reach the same conclusion. I would find it wonderful if someone could cast reasonable doubt for me against my current view. I want to think otherwise.

kfawell said...

The above post was supposed to have the word 'holodeck', not the word 'helpdesk'.

Oh, you crazy Spell Checker.

Tom said...

kfawell,

I think the attraction of science being practiced as it is today being peer-reviewed and all, is clarity -- that true knowledge can only be found under rational consensus, when all the methods and results are laid out on the table for all to see. A scientist may certainly be motivated by hunches, biases, intuition, or even to disprove commonly accepted truths. Any findings, however, should be peer-reviewed by unbiased scientists (or a large variety of biases) to establish legitimacy.

I think the "data" in the case of our world experiences is personal and if we interpret the data as coming from God we will construct a story to make it work. If we don't assume a God, we'll construct a story there, too. The jump between the two camps can be extraordinary. Now, one can come to accept a religion gradually or backslide from religion, but generally speaking, it is a jump. There is not much of a continuum between the two.

Keep tuned on this blog. There are just a few commentors, but the posts are meaningful and deep from atheists -- either born that way or turned apostate and atheists-turned-believers and deep-thinking believers frustrated with fundamentalists. (I'm still waiting for a fundamentalist, but maybe one day I'll get a family member to chime in!)

Basically, what we're doing on this blog is sharing our "data" and our biases and seeing how it is reviewed by very different biases. Before a scientist publishes data, it is peer-reviewed and it nearly always needs refinement -- if it's even accepted -- usually where more data or controls are necessary to draw particular conclusions, and the presentation and editing always need work. I don't think any of us are out to convert anybody to any side or the other, but the exercise better grounds us in our own views while hopefully making us more empathetic and understanding of alternative views.

Cliff Martin said...

Memo to Mike,
I wanted to make it clear that when I gave you the two common views about Matthew 16:28, I did not mean to leave the impression that the Scriptures are in all respects flawless. In fact there are contradictions, and factual errors in the texts as we now have them. And I assume that many, if not all, of these errors were present in the original manuscripts. If you need such ammunition, I could supply them for you. I do not espouse inerrancy. It is just that Matthew 16:28 is not a problem for me.

Cliff Martin said...

Tom,
Well said!

7K said...

Any findings, however, should be peer-reviewed by unbiased scientists (or a large variety of biases) to establish legitimacy.

This reminds me of the dynamics of the Internet, this huge global conversation now going on is very close to pure democracy, laying all the biases on the table and seeing what emerges. I'm not sure consensus actually can arrive at full truth either, but we can give it our best shot.

I see a similarity in all this and post-modernism which defines truth as subjective, I suppose. That is, our language defines what we believe in postmodern terms. Many Christians are terrified of it because it seems to do away with absolutes. I see this as a plus for us, not a negative. In a world where absolutes dissolve, faith becomes paramount. Faith actually is fertilized and watered by doubt.

The my-way or the hell-way plan is cruel and to me would be selfish to endorse or partake in such a plan. Hence, I cannot understand people willingly following a god who has such a plan. People who do believe a version of the Bible where there is no Hell are more understandable, but then the question of being true to the book comes up, as Mike points out.

My study of hell got quite intense for awhile and it led to many streams of thought on the subject by viable theologians. This made me realize nobody knows what they're talking about: nobody has this nailed down.

The fact is, if God can deal out eternal punishment on good people who simply fail to believe or are confused by it, then we can't call him "just." Justice requires that any corrective action fit the crime, and the same with rewards for good deeds.

The gospel I'm reading now very plainly lays out a plan of redemption that is all-inclusive: what God did in Christ was to "save" the world long-term. You are referring to theologies developed over the centuries by people like Augustine and the later tweakings done by Arminius and Calvin. I respect these men, but I regard them as theologians approaching tricky problems and establishing ideas.

Today I think I see a groundswell in the church now emerging and questioning the validity of many of these ideas-turned-traditions. Once you get a heirarchy and a movement going it is very hard to hear anything else. All of your processing of reality is filtered through your doctrine or your present state of knowledge or your denominational bias, ect.

I don't think this stuff will work any more. I see a much wider scope to what was accomplished at the cross. I'm not saying this to convince you that my side is best. I'm not on a side exactly.

The picture of God that has been provided by what I call modernist/fundamentalism is a we-they oppositional gospel that people use to scare the hell out of you. Once you're out, then, you might well feel pretty hopeless.

But the God I see in the scriptures is all-merciful with great plans for us. And I don't have to meet atheists and assign them to the fiery dump (which is a metaphor anyway). Jesus actually said words to the effect that the outsiders (we used to call them "sinners") would reach this Nirvana before the religious-pushy folks. Those religious legalists were, by the way, the folks who plotted and orchestrated Jesus' crucifixion.

If there is this God, he understands you and why you are where you are and what makes you tick the way you do. You didn't ask to be you. It's like the old Doors song: "Into this world we're born, into this world we're thrown." The existential angst of life, out-of-control in many ways and beyond us. If God made all of this, he is neither an idiot nor psychotic. That is a wrong reading of the texts filtered through the opinion of partial-restitution teachers (who say only believers in just the right doctrine will escape the fiery floggings of endless torture and torment). Give me a break.

AlbertCat said...

Years ago I simply rejected all notions of anything supernatural.

And I'm fine!

Indeed a great many fears just evaporated. No ghosts, spirits, demons. The only thing I have to fear in a graveyard at night is some human, tangible loony who wants to harm me....or tripping over a footstone and breaking my head open on a headstone.

I am only being judged by other (flawed) human beings, not the universe, which couldn't care less what I was up to. All feelings of guilt for things I didn't do and for many things I have done...by mistake, or in moments of stupidity...gone! If I admit my mistakes, try to correct them and make right by others, I'm fine. If that's impossible.... then I move on.

I now read lots of science books to explain what mystifies me, and have found there a richer, more amazing universe than one full of supernatural dead-ends that actually explain nothing and introduce nothing new.

Why am I here? Why is there a universe full of amazing stuff? Simple. Because the laws of physics allow for it.

As for beauty, love, forgiveness and all that.... those are human emotions and qualities and have little to do with anything outside the human realm. Being human and firmly entrenched in that realm, I see no diminution in their importance by rejecting the supernatural.

My advice... free yourself from ancient superstitions! Embrace empirical knowledge! It turns out to be a much richer world with more mysteries than you can count. You just cannot pretend to be top dog with some human-centric solution to everything anymore. What a relief!!!!

Live on the whole planet and in the whole universe (as much as you can)! Think scientifically, not mythopoeic! Everything is not just like your little cul de sac, y'know.

Tom said...

Well said, Albertcat!

I'm on vacation at the moment, so sorry for the delay in response....

Cliff Martin said...

Tom,

Are you still there? I check your site nearly every day. I miss our conversations! Hope you return.

~ Cliff

psiloiordinary said...

I second that thought!

Cliff,

How is your wife? I hope you are both well.

Regards,

Psi

Cliff Martin said...

Hi Psi,

Ginger is doing fine. She is midway on her third round of chemotherapy. Her latest blood test showed good numbers. The best medicine can do, really, is extend her life a few months, or years. But it does appear that we are benefiting from this ... "the best" medicine can do, and we are enjoying this bonus time. A year and a half ago, things looked pretty bleak. Cancer could have taken her much sooner. So, we are thankful.

The only symptoms Ginger suffers from (somewhat ironically) are the side effects of the treatment. And they are not bad, really. She still has most of her beautiful hair, and generally feels quite good.

Thanks for asking.
~ Cliff

psiloiordinary said...

Good news Cliff,

Life is precious.

Regards,

Psi

Tom said...

Hi Cliff and Psi (and others)!

I have missed your conversations and challenges, too! I've just been too busy trying to get my PhD put to bed, but unfortunately, I still have a bit of work to do.... I haven't even had a chance to visit your blogs, nor have I checked my own blog for over a week, so if you are checking in daily, you are doing much better than me!

Keep checking here. I'll post someday! I've got several half-scribbled topics. I'll try to get to your sites as well!

Cliff, I'm glad to hear that your wife is doing so well. The more I learn about cancer, the greater I understand the barriers to cures and the more amazed I am that therapies are always getting better.