Quantcast
subscriber help

since 1997 | by maryann johanson

the destruction of humanity is not a woman’s fault, dammit…

…the new trend of behind-every-great-man movies; Precious is not a documentary; and more.

Yup, it’s The Week in Women, my regular column over at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. Enjoy.



Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /home/flick/public_html/wptest/wp-content/themes/FlickFilosopher/loop-single.php on line 106
posted in:
maryann buzz
  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    Surprised that the USA Today article didn’t mention Bright Star. I missed it at the theatres (and am kicking myself for that – blame the suitably postapocalyptic weather we’ve been having in Britain recently), but your review said it was told clearly from Fanny Brawne’s perspective.

    The rape thing… I don’t hold it against The Road. It was such a minor part of that story, which portrayed women and men as both victims and victimisers throughout. I doubt anyone raped the female cannibals, for example.

    But in the other movies it is bothersome. I sort of feel a bit of responsibility for this as a European because rape as a hot new cinematic trend is basically our fault – almost all the cultishly adored European filmmakers of this era (Noe, Haneke, von Trier, etc.) seem to view rape scenes as being a test of your manly ability to stare into the heart of darkness. Any rape scene in a movie is a tricky thing to handle, but there’s something extra-distasteful about the idea of directors using rape scenes as a test of their machismo.

  • Knightgee

    @ Der Bruno Stroszek:

    It’s not entirely Europe’s fault. Films like Last House on the Left(both the original and remake) have been around for a while in America and are based entirely around this idea of portraying rape as this terrible horrible thing that compels “real men” to action. Nothing indicates evil and cruelty more to an audience than a woman in sexual danger except maybe a child in danger. God help the villain if it’s a female child in sexual danger.

  • Knightgee

    Also, what’s with the habit of the misuse of the Eve/apple metaphor as of late? First Twilight, now Caprica, though at least in Caprica‘s case, the metaphor makes sense if you consider Zoe not to be Eve, but rather an apple herself, a tempting fruit being offered to her father and his choice on whether or not to give into that temptation and take it is what ultimately leads to mankind’s destruction.

  • Since BSG disappointed me, I was on the fence about Caprica. Then I saw that ad. Awesome, sexxay, barely legal destructor of humanity. Not interesting. Not going to watch it.

    I understand that the show’s not like that at all, but I really don’t give a rat’s anymore. There are books and DVDs of other TV shows I can spend my time with, not to mention practicing the cello, running through the Rosetta Stone Polish course or doing laundry. All sound like better alternatives than rewarding sexist marketing.

  • Knightgee

    All sound like better alternatives than rewarding sexist marketing.

    Unless your TV has a Nielsen box(or you planned on buying the DVDs), the show neither benefits nor loses anything from your viewership or lack thereof.

  • Victor Plenty

    Buying DVDs of Caprica is something I might have considered, if the show had turned out to be as good as Galactica was, but their sexist marketing pissed me off too.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    if you consider Zoe not to be Eve, but rather an apple herself, a tempting fruit being offered to her father

    SQUICK!!!!

    OK, back from a shower…

    First, I long for the day when the Eve story is universally recognized as the disgusting little weasel work it is: “Your life sucks not because of G_d, or even the serpent, but because of a woman!” I’m honestly surprised a version of Genesis where Adam immediately beats/rapes Eve hasn’t survived. Sadly, I doubt I’ll live to see such a day.

    Second, I appreciate that Caprica lacks a Head Six/Tricia Hefler to provide fan service. And certainly Ms. Torresani has an alarmingly cute, round face (and very much reminiscent of a young Mary McDonnell). But honestly, badly ‘shopping said face onto a nekkid body double is just… whaaaaaaaa?

    And finally, ENOUGH WITH THE ANTI-TECHNOLOGY PARABLES ALREADY!! For fuck’s sake, Marry Shelley’s been dead 160 years, leave her alone! Can we at least move on to obligatory “dependence on technology leaves us vulnerable”, and let the “technology is inherently evil/inevitably leads to evil” trope die?

  • Bluejay

    And finally, ENOUGH WITH THE ANTI-TECHNOLOGY PARABLES ALREADY!! For fuck’s sake, Marry Shelley’s been dead 160 years, leave her alone! Can we at least move on to obligatory “dependence on technology leaves us vulnerable”, and let the “technology is inherently evil/inevitably leads to evil” trope die?

    Dr. Rocketscience, that trope may be older than you think:

    http://dresdencodak.com/2009/09/22/caveman-science-fiction/

    :-)

    But seriously, the anti-science trope seems to be just a more recent variant of a much older idea–hubris–that’s at the heart of stories like the Garden of Eden, the Tower of Babel, and many more. Feeding ourselves a steady diet of “science is evil” stories is probably not good for society in the long run, and I think we’re overdue for some “science is awesome!” tales. Do “medical breakthroughs are awesome!” movies like Extraordinary Measures qualify?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    the anti-science trope seems to be just a more recent variant of a much older idea–hubris

    True. Frankenstein is, if memory serves, generally shown to be the watershed moment when the hubris story became about science and technology. At least in modern literature/drama.

    Do “medical breakthroughs are awesome!” movies like Extraordinary Measures qualify?

    Taking the red dot on the sidebar as an indication, the answer would be, “No.” ;-)

  • LaSargenta

    Do “medical breakthroughs are awesome!” movies like Extraordinary Measures qualify?

    No, but this does: http://www.flickfilosopher.com/blog/2009/08/081209watch_it_mc_hawking_-_what_we.html

    :-D

  • Bluejay

    Outstanding. :-D

    Reminds me of the autotune-the-scientist videos that have been going around. Have you seen those? The Carl Sagan “Cosmos” remix (w/ special appearance by Hawking) is the best, IMO.

    The rest are here.

  • Knightgee

    SQUICK!!!!

    I so did not intend it that way.

  • CB

    Am I the only one who doesn’t see the Eve story as condemning women for the fall? I mean, Adam was right there next to her, he knew the fruit was forbidden as well as she did, and he ate anyway. He attempted to pass the buck to Eve, sure, but God bought it as much as he bought Eve’s attempt to blame the serpent.

    Of course people have used the story to condemn women for ages, sure, and in that way it’s a strong cultural metaphor for sexism. But it only makes sense to say it was woman’s fault if you first assume a fundamental weakness and inferiority in men.

    Since sexism and chauvinism are basically expressions of fear of the opposite sex, though, I guess that works.

  • CB

    On a different note, I’m kinda disappointed that Caprica and the birth of the Cylons begins with the same basic premise as Astroboy. :P

  • Knightgee

    Am I the only one who doesn’t see the Eve story as condemning women for the fall? I mean, Adam was right there next to her, he knew the fruit was forbidden as well as she did, and he ate anyway. He attempted to pass the buck to Eve, sure, but God bought it as much as he bought Eve’s attempt to blame the serpent.

    The way I always understood the story was that Adam didn’t know the fruit was from that tree and Eve never told him it was.

  • JoshB

    Nope, Adam knew.

  • MaryAnn

    Do “medical breakthroughs are awesome!” movies like Extraordinary Measures qualify?

    *EM* isn’t that kind of movie. It’s the kind of movie that mistrusts scientists, because, as everyone knows, scientists are cold and calculating and never think of the children. (I’m writing my review today…)

    I mean, Adam was right there next to her, he knew the fruit was forbidden as well as she did, and he ate anyway.

    The miserable seductive bitch, she made it so tempting that he couldn’t refuse. Women are evil that way, you know, always drawing men into things they don’t want to do but are powerless to resist.

    Of course people have used the story to condemn women for ages, sure, and in that way it’s a strong cultural metaphor for sexism. But it only makes sense to say it was woman’s fault if you first assume a fundamental weakness and inferiority in men.

    But that assumption *is* at work! It’s why women are blamed for rape, why women are forced to wear burqas: because one flash of leg, or boob, or hair sends men into a frenzy that they cannot control. Sexism of the traditional sort (that is, against women) isn’t about men thinking women are inferior but about fearing women’s power: Women shouldn’t vote because they might vote differently from their husbands, and where will that leave us? Women shouldn’t work because they’ll take jobs away from men. And so on. And anyway, women don’t *need* equal rights or equal pay or the vote or whatever because they can just get a man to take care of them, and that’s a piece of cake for women because women naturally know how to control men, and all women *want* to control men.

    Those notions are sexist toward men, though not everyone seems to realize that… like those people (men and women alike!) who insist that men really cannot control themselves sexually, that men literally *die* without sex and this justifies them doing whatever they have to to get sex from women (who will “force” men into committments they wouldn’t otherwise engage in, except, you know, they *die* from lack of sex).

    Feminists have been trying to point out forever that feminism is good for men, too.

  • Knightgee

    Feminists have been trying to point out forever that feminism is good for men, too.

    Nonsense! Bunch of overweight bra-burning misandrist lesbians, the whole lot of them!

    ^The sad thing is I actually know of people that think like that.

  • Bluejay

    *EM* isn’t that kind of movie. It’s the kind of movie that mistrusts scientists, because, as everyone knows, scientists are cold and calculating and never think of the children.

    Ah. My mistake. Boo, “scientists suck” movies!

  • CB

    But that assumption *is* at work! It’s why women are blamed for rape, why women are forced to wear burqas: because one flash of leg, or boob, or hair sends men into a frenzy that they cannot control. Sexism of the traditional sort (that is, against women) isn’t about men thinking women are inferior but about fearing women’s power:

    Exactly! We’re in complete agreement. That’s why I said “sexism and chauvinism are basically expressions of fear of the opposite sex.” ;)

    Sexism, like racism, is ultimately about fear and insecurity.

    So my point is that —

    The miserable seductive bitch, she made it so tempting that he couldn’t refuse.

    — may be what insecure male chauvinists read into the story of Adam and Eve, but it isn’t in there as written. God didn’t buy Adam’s excuse one bit.

    That’s not to ignore the fact that sexist males have been the ones in charge of interpreting these stories, so the “it’s woman’s fault” theory has been the dominant one. And that’s a lot of cultural baggage to separate the story from. I’m just saying that I think that if you read the story from a neutral viewpoint, then the “it’s woman’s fault” idea isn’t there. It’s an invention of insecure men.

    Feminists have been trying to point out forever that feminism is good for men, too.

    Indeed and it’s once I listened to them that I really saw men’s fear and the feeling of inadequacy behind their sexism.

  • Alma

    Before the eventual patriarchal skewing of the original version of the Adam and Eve story, the serpent had actually symbolized Wisdom and the apple represented Knowledge of life’s mysteries (as opposed to ignorant innocence, which was Adam and Eve’s initial state). So really the fact that Eve ate the apple is a good thing. Good for her. And the fact that she didn’t selfishly keep this to herself but offered to share this delicious, tarty treat with her mate was really very nice of her. So it’s really because of Eve that we know anything at all. And I’m sure Adam didn’t mind either. Otherwise they’d both still be picking fleas out of each other’s fur.

  • Knightgee

    Before the eventual patriarchal skewing of the original version of the Adam and Eve story, the serpent had actually symbolized Wisdom and the apple represented Knowledge of life’s mysteries (as opposed to ignorant innocence, which was Adam and Eve’s initial state)

    This is actual how my old church framed the story when I was younger and still in attendance, which confused the hell out of me, because why would remaining ignorant be a good thing?

  • Alma

    “which confused the hell out of me, because why would remaining ignorant be a good thing?”

    Exactly. =)

  • Bluejay

    Before the eventual patriarchal skewing of the original version of the Adam and Eve story […] So really the fact that Eve ate the apple is a good thing.

    Wait, is there an original Adam and Eve story that predates Genesis? Because Genesis itself treats Eve’s disobedience as a bad thing. Are there documents older than Genesis that say otherwise?

    I agree with Alma’s take on it. My beef with the Genesis story is that it prizes blind obedience and literally teaches “ignorance is bliss,” and it punishes the couple’s attempt to gain knowledge of good and evil–in other words, to think for themselves. Doesn’t seem right to me.

    (Philip Pullman has a problem with this too. His Dark Materials is all about turning the Fall upside down.)

  • tweeks

    My beef with the Genesis story is that it prizes blind obedience and literally teaches “ignorance is bliss,” and it punishes the couple’s attempt to gain knowledge of good and evil–in other words, to think for themselves.

    Genesis doesn’t teach that people should be ignorant or gullable (e.g. Jacob’s fooling his brother and father). The correct interpretation of the Adam & Eve story is that God has given man complete dominion over the Earth, save in one area: the right to define what is right and wrong.

    As creator, it is hardly unreasonable for God to reserve the right to determine what is good for man and what is not. Genesis portrays God as being consistantly generous and caring towards human beings, yet, amazingly, Adam & Eve both chose to believe the word of the serpent over God’s.

  • tweeks

    If anything, the story is anti-blind obedience: had Adam & Eve been more conscious of God’s benevolent character and the serpent’s deceitful nature, they might have been less inclined to fall for his lies.

    In the end, the essence of their sin was not that they desired knowledge, but that they sought moral independence from God.

  • Bluejay

    If anything, the story is anti-blind obedience: had Adam & Eve been more conscious of God’s benevolent character and the serpent’s deceitful nature, they might have been less inclined to fall for his lies.

    In the end, the essence of their sin was not that they desired knowledge, but that they sought moral independence from God.

    Except that trusting that an authority knows best, and carrying out its commands without questioning their rightness or wrongness, is precisely the nature of blind obedience.

    God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, and praises Abraham for his unhesitating willingness to do so (Genesis 22:1-12). Of course God pulls him back at the last minute, saying he was only testing him; but what if God hadn’t told him to stop? Do we absolve a father who kills his son because “God made me do it”? How is this different from the 9/11 attackers who believed they were doing Allah’s will, and Allah knows best? Refusing to question authority is an abdication of personal responsibility.

    With the exception of fundamentalists, it seems to me that believers (quite reasonably) pick and choose which parts of their religion to follow. “Honor thy mother and father” seems good. So does “Thou shall not kill.” But I don’t think the majority of Christians believe that adulterers and homosexuals should be put to death–as Leviticus 20:10-13 commands–regardless of how they feel about gays and adulterers. (And most of us probably abhor those who do agree with Leviticus.) Nor do I think most Christians would be okay with re-instituting slavery, despite the fact that both the Old and New Testaments sanction slavery and encourage slaves to obey their masters (Leviticus 25:44-46, Ephesians 6:5, 1 Timothy 6:1-4).

    Religious texts are full of contradictions. When believers choose which edicts to obey–to justify either good deeds or hateful acts–they are interpreting these passages according to a moral compass of right and wrong that exists outside of the Word of God as laid down in the sacred texts. In other words, they are–in my view–thinking for themselves, whether they admit it or not. And they’re personally responsible for their actions, as we all are.

  • tweeks

    Do we absolve a father who kills his son because “God made me do it”? How is this different from the 9/11 attackers who believed they were doing Allah’s will, and Allah knows best?

    I’m glad you brought this up, because it’s one of the HUGE issues that Caprica raises in its depiction of Zoe and her monotheistic friends.

    trusting that an authority knows best, and carrying out its commands without questioning their rightness or wrongness, is precisely the nature of blind obedience.

    That’s true, which is why God, as portrayed in Genesis, did not leave man without good reason to trust that He does, in fact, know best.

    In the creation story, God plants a garden containing “every tree that is pleasing to the eye and good for food.” God makes a point of creating the man (Adama in Hebrew) outside the garden so that he appreciates that God created it especially for him. God further demonstrates His benevolence towards man in a number of other ways, culminating in the creation of woman and the first marriage. (Incidentally, Genesis portrays woman as a “helper” for man, using the Hebrew word ‘ezer, meaning “one who supplies strength in the area that is lacking.” So Eve is not stronger or weaker than Adam, but complimentary: strong where he is weak, and vice-versa.) Yet despite God’s clear demonstration of wisdom and goodwill towards man in his ordering of creation and His bountiful provision for Adam & Eve, they still chose to break God’s only rule for them, which they later discover had been given for their own good.

    The story of Adam & Eve is the beginning of a theme that runs throughout Genesis and the rest of the Bible of God’s grace and mercy being clearly demonstrated towards man, and man’s continued rebellion and rejection of God in spite of more than adequate proof that He is trustworthy. From Genesis’ point of view, the very fact that we’re all still breathing demonstrates God’s mercy toward us!

    Do we absolve a father who kills his son because “God made me do it”? How is this different from the 9/11 attackers who believed they were doing Allah’s will, and Allah knows best?

    I was very disappointed with Sister Clarice Willow’s rationalization for the bombing of the mag-lev train in the Caprica pilot. Unfortunately, it was chillingly typical of the way people have justified all kinds of evil and horrendous acts in God’s name throughout history. This is nothing new: in the original sin, the serpent lied about God’s will to Adam & Eve, insinuating that God was stingily holding back something that was actually good for them. In the New Testament, Jesus predicted that his followers would be murdered by those who think they are offering service to God (John 16:2).

    True faith is never blind faith, but is based on real historical evidence. You may choose not believe that the Resurrection actually took place, but it is presented in the Gospels as an actual historical event that was verified by a number of contemporary witnesses. Likewise, faith in the Old Testament was based on real verifiable events. Even Abraham was not being asked to blindly sacrifice his son to a God he didn’t know! God had already shown himself trustworthy by promising Abraham a son and then miraculously delivering Isaac to him, in spite of his wife’s advanced age.

    Christians and Jews have no scriptural difficulty condemning terrorists who commit murder in God’s name, because such acts are obviously inconsistent with the Biblical revelation of God’s character and intention in both the Old and New Testaments. People who are wrong about God, no matter how sincere they may be in their beliefs, are still wrong.

  • Bluejay

    Even Abraham was not being asked to blindly sacrifice his son to a God he didn’t know! God had already shown himself trustworthy by promising Abraham a son and then miraculously delivering Isaac to him, in spite of his wife’s advanced age.

    I was just thinking about this, and still don’t understand how Abraham’s failing to question God–even a trustworthy God–is a good thing. (Not to mention that I think God’s test itself is, if you’ll pardon me, a little sick.)

    So I tried this thought-experiment: I am, I like to think, a decent human being. My daughter loves me and trusts me; she believes that I care for her, intend only good things for her, and will do everything in my power to give her a good life–and she’d be right. She has no reason to doubt my love, my intentions, or my “benevolence” toward her. Now, what if I ordered her to drown our two cats, whom she loves dearly, as proof of her love for me? What if she didn’t question my will at all, but moved unhesitatingly to fulfill it? And what if I stopped her just as she was about to plunge them in the bathwater, saying “No, of course I wasn’t serious, it was just a test of your loyalty and love”?

    What would you think of my daughter’s unquestioning obedience? And what would you think of me for dreaming up such a test in the first place? Would either of us be considered in a positive light?

    Christians and Jews have no scriptural difficulty condemning terrorists who commit murder in God’s name, because such acts are obviously inconsistent with the Biblical revelation of God’s character and intention in both the Old and New Testaments.

    Well, they’re inconsistent with the benevolent Biblical messages that moderate Christians and Jews choose to believe. But there are other Biblical passages, such as the ones I mentioned above, that are entirely consistent with the view of those who would subscribe to hateful philosophies or commit hateful acts. Again, I think the nature of God’s character is a matter of interpretation, subject to one’s personal moral code.

    As for Biblical events being historically verifiable, outside of the claims of the text itself–well, perhaps that’s a debate for another time. :-)

    But thank you, tweeks, for your thoughtful comments. I respect your right to your faith and I intend only discussion, not offense. And thanks for bringing Caprica back into it; I’d forgotten this was a Caprica thread! I need to catch up on my episodes.

  • tweeks

    But thank you, tweeks, for your thoughtful comments. I respect your right to your faith and I intend only discussion, not offense. And thanks for bringing Caprica back into it; I’d forgotten this was a Caprica thread!

    I really appreciate your honest thoughtfulness too, Bluejay! At the risk of getting too off-topic, I hope MaryAnn won’t mind if I briefly respond to your very well-articulated post.

    What would you think of my daughter’s unquestioning obedience? And what would you think of me for dreaming up such a test in the first place? Would either of us be considered in a positive light?

    I completely agree that the test you proposed is more than a little sick, and if that’s how you view God’s testing of Abraham, it’s no wonder you’re weirded out!

    Abraham’s situation was different from your hypothetical test for at least two reasons. First, child-sacrifice seems to have been an accepted religious practice in Canaan at that time (there is extra-Biblical evidence to corroborate that), so it was not as unthinkable as it would be for us today. (Though you’ll note the practice was still detestable to God, which is why Canaan was judged a few hundred years later.)

    But cultural differences aside, it’s essential to understand the context at this point in the story: Years before, God had tested Abraham by promising him a son even though his wife was barren. Abraham failed that test by attempting to make the promise come true through his own humanly-achievable means: fathering a son through another woman. Now that Isaac has been miraculously born, and God has just told Abraham in the previous chapter that Isaac will indeed be the father of the promised nation (Genesis 21:12), God now asks Abraham to sacrifice his son.

    Since Abraham knows God intends to make a nation from Isaac, he is confronted directly with God’s ability to keep His promise. It’s not stated explicitly what was going through Abraham’s head, but Hebrews 11:19 says that “he considered that God was able even to raise [Isaac] from the dead” in order to keep His promise.

    The problem with your analogy is that you never promised your daughter that her beloved pet cats would live, long happy cat lives and someday pass away peacefully of natural causes. In fact, it would be irresponsible for you to even make a promise like that because, despite your best efforts, you do not have full control over your pets’ mortality.

    A better analogy for God’s testing of Abraham would be if you asked your daughter to take the college money you’ve been saving up to send her to school and donate it all to charity (perhaps to help earthquake victims in Haiti). If she donates the money, you know that she trusts that you can make good on your promise to pay for her schooling. But even this analogy is not really very good, since there are relatively few promises we human beings have the power to keep, whereas in Genesis, God is perfectly able to keep all His promises.

    there are other Biblical passages, such as the ones I mentioned above, that are entirely consistent with the view of those who would subscribe to hateful philosophies or commit hateful acts. Again, I think the nature of God’s character is a matter of interpretation, subject to one’s personal moral code.

    I wish it was impossible to take the Bible (or the Koran) and mis-interpret them to justify evil acts, but I am forced to agree with you.

    In fact, the Bible itself seems to teach that it can only be properly understood by a certain kind of person:

    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. (Psalm 111:10a)

    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)

    [Jesus said,] “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (John 6:44a)

    Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” (John 9:39)

    The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)

  • Bluejay

    Forgive me for continuing, but this discussion is really interesting! :-)

    Since Abraham knows God intends to make a nation from Isaac, he is confronted directly with God’s ability to keep His promise. It’s not stated explicitly what was going through Abraham’s head, but Hebrews 11:19 says that “he considered that God was able even to raise [Isaac] from the dead” in order to keep His promise.

    […]

    A better analogy for God’s testing of Abraham would be if you asked your daughter to take the college money you’ve been saving up to send her to school and donate it all to charity (perhaps to help earthquake victims in Haiti). If she donates the money, you know that she trusts that you can make good on your promise to pay for her schooling. But even this analogy is not really very good, since there are relatively few promises we human beings have the power to keep, whereas in Genesis, God is perfectly able to keep all His promises.

    I see what you’re saying. But that leads me to another question: Isn’t faith in a sure outcome of less value than faith in something uncertain? You seem to be saying that, for a believer, God is worthy of trust because he’s already shown evidence of his power. But that’s like me having faith that my airplane won’t crash because physics and engineering have shown, to my satisfaction, that it won’t. Or, to improve your college fund analogy, it would be like my daughter having faith that I can replenish that money because she knows, deep down, that I actually have unlimited financial reserves (I wish!); her getting her funds back would be a foregone conclusion. But if that were the case, her confidence wouldn’t really mean very much, would it? It’s only what’s to be expected. Woudn’t her donating all her college money be a more powerful act of faith if she wasn’t sure I could replace it?

    Which is also why I found your comment about the Resurrection being historically verifiable a bit curious. I don’t want to debate here whether that’s true or not, but I’m just wondering why you mentioned it. If the Resurrection wasn’t historically verifiable, it shouldn’t matter to a believer’s faith, should it? I always thought that, to the faithful, the power of faith was that it didn’t rely on evidence; or as Jesus said to Doubting Thomas, “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Or, perhaps, we mean different things by evidence.

    In fact, the Bible itself seems to teach that it can only be properly understood by a certain kind of person

    God certainly seems to like tests, doesn’t he? ;-)

    But seriously, thanks for all the food for thought. It’s really refreshing for me to have a civil and intelligent conversation about the nuances of scripture with an articulate believer. (And I learned something about Hebrew etymology to boot.) Although I left the faith quite a while ago, I still enjoy discussions like this and appreciate stories, like Caprica, that play with scriptural allusions and religious motifs. Guess all those years in Jesuit school weren’t completely wasted on me!

  • tweeks

    Hey Bluejay,

    Those are two very interesting questions about the nature of faith! I’m no expert on the subject by any means, but I’ll give you my take for whatever it’s worth:

    If the Resurrection wasn’t historically verifiable, it shouldn’t matter to a believer’s faith, should it?

    “…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17)

    No offense to anyone who believes that faith is somehow an end in itself, but if Christ was not a real person who really lived, died, and rose again 2,000 years ago, then I don’t see how believing in Him as a savior is anything but futile.

    Isn’t faith in a sure outcome of less value than faith in something uncertain?

    There is some truth to that, but I think it’s vastly more important to recognize that faith has value because it glorifies God; i.e., it makes God look trustworthy. Since God, as revealed in the Bible, actually is trustworthy, when God makes you a promise, faith is the proper response. If God were not trustworthy, if He was known to be unreliable, or was apparently manipulating you to achieve some selfish end at your expense, then clearly it would be foolish to trust Him.

    To make another Caprica connection, Zoe and Zoe’s avatar are both Zoe, yet they are also distinct, just as Jesus is God, yet also distinct. Furthermore, Zoe’s avatar told Daniel that flesh-and-blood Zoe was like her twin-sister, not because they had the same mother, but because they were basically identical and had that sort of relationship. In the same way, Jesus is called the “Son”, and God is called the “Father,” not because there was some kind of spiritual sex involved, but because they resemble each other and have that kind of relationship.

    What I’m getting at is, if you look at the way Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels, you see someone going out of their way to show themselves trustworthy. When Thomas was doubting, Jesus didn’t say, “shame on you Thomas for not blindly believing that I rose from the dead!” He said, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27). In this context, the point of what Jesus said two verses later (“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”) was not that you ought to believe without sufficient evidence, but that you ought to believe without having to see Jesus in the flesh as Thomas did, not because God wants people to make leaps in the dark, but because you have credible testimonies from reliable eyewitnesses to this singular, historically-unprecedented event that God had already been promising for thousands of years through the Old Testament prophets.

    Everyone must judge for themselves whether or not the Gospels seem to be a reliable account, but whatever you do, please don’t believe in Jesus just for the sake of believing. Jesus knows our hearts, and He’s not interested in people following Him who don’t even know who He is:

    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven… On [the last] day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me…” (Matthew 7:21-23)

    Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. (John 2:23-25)

  • tweeks

    Hey Bluejay,

    I had to dash before I had a chance to make sure my long rambling post actually answered your question, so just to make sure I didn’t miss it….

    I always thought that, to the faithful, the power of faith was that it didn’t rely on evidence…. Or, perhaps, we mean different things by evidence.

    I don’t think so. Why should faith in Jesus be different from faith in anyone else? You don’t trust strangers without good reason, do you? So why should Jesus get a pass? Because he claimed to be God? All the more reason to be very, very skeptical! After all, people who claim to be God are not generally trustworthy–or sane.

    I’m an empiricist: I don’t believe anything until I can see it for myself. That’s why the New Testament’s concept of the invisible, transcendent God entering our world in a seeable, touchable, measureable way, at a specific time and in a specific place, is very appealing to me. If the Gospel account doesn’t jive with history, archaeology, and what I know to be true about human nature and my own soul, then it is, in my opinion, absolutely worthless.

    You seem to have this idea that faith without evidence is a noble thing, but I hope you’ll forgive me if I find that notion ridiculous. To my way of thinking, people who believe anything without sufficient evidence are, to put it kindly, superstitious.

    Of course, it all hangs on what constitutes “sufficient evidence.” Like you, I too was raised a Christian, and as I got older, I too questioned whether or not any of it was real. So, being an empiricist, I devised a test: I asked God for proof.

    The basis for my test was texts like this:

    “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)

    [A father who’s son was ill said to Jesus,] “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22-24)

    Of course, for me to ask God to provide proof required at least enough faith to entertain the notion that God might actually exist, and that He might be willing to answer my sincere prayer. You might call that a leap in the dark. I would say it was a hypothesis to be tested. ;-) Perhaps it was irreverent of me to test God that way, but I figured if God really wanted me to believe in Him, He would be willing to overcome my sincere doubts. I was already willing to believe, I just needed to be sure.

    As you probably guessed, God did indeed answer my prayer, but He did so in a deeply personal way that would probably not be very convincing to any atheists reading this. It was rather like when Jesus revealed his Messianic identity to Nathaniel by saying, “I saw you under the fig tree” (John 1:43-51). Nathaniel knew only God could know about that incident under the fig tree (whatever it was), so that, combined with Jesus’ divine knowledge of his character and the testimony of his friends, was sufficient evidence for Nathaniel to believe (though Jesus did say he would see even greater things than that!).

    Anyway, I have no reason to think God would be unwilling to do the same for any other sincere people who want to believe but honestly don’t see enough evidence. I can tell you from personal experience that God is able and willing to provide all the evidence you’ll ever need. However, I’ve come to realize that the real obstacles to faith in God are not intellectual, but moral: it’s not that there isn’t enough evidence to believe in God (there is), it’s that we don’t want to believe. And no amount of evidence can convince someone who doesn’t want to be convinced.

  • Bluejay

    You seem to have this idea that faith without evidence is a noble thing

    No, I don’t think that, actually. I was just trying to understand how the faithful themselves view faith. Thank you for clarifying your views on the matter.

  • tweeks

    No, I don’t think that [faith without evidence is a noble thing], actually. I was just trying to understand how the faithful themselves view faith. Thank you for clarifying your views on the matter.

    My pleasure–sorry for typing your eyes off!

  • tweeks

    Probably no one will ever read this, but I’ve still been thinking about your question, Bluejay, and as much as I went on and on in those last two posts, I still think I’ve been missing the mark on what you really were asking.

    Woudn’t her donating all her college money be a more powerful act of faith if she wasn’t sure I could replace it?

    By definition, the level of faith required is proportional to the level of uncertainty; however, as I’ve thought about this, I’ve come to see that there’s a whole world of difference between faith in a living person vs. faith in something else.

    The college money example is underspecified, because it’s not clear why your daughter would doubt: is she not sure about the economy? Maybe your job is likely to go away soon? Or maybe you are at risk for a life-threatening medical condition that requires expensive treatment? These are impersonal doubts: they are founded on her understanding of the principles of economics, biology, etc.

    But what if your daughter’s uncertainty about the college money were not based on economics or biology, but based on you? Maybe your daughter suspects that you have a gambling problem, or that you have no self-control when it comes to nifty gadgetry, and so you’re more likely to blow the college money on expensive Apple products than save it? These are personal doubts: they are related to her estimation of your character.

    Doubts about some impersonal system are one thing. But how would you feel about your daughter doubting your character? I’m guessing you’d feel insulted, even hurt that she sees you that way (unless you happen to agree with her that you are a gambling addict with no self-control).

    So to get back to your question:

    Woudn’t her donating all her college money be a more powerful act of faith if she wasn’t sure I could replace it?

    Yes, but I think her faith is even more meaningful if it’s based on a positive assessment of your character. If she donates the money out of faith in her own entrepreneurial skills, then her faith is not faith in a Biblical sense–it’s just self-confidence. But if it’s your personal trustworthiness that she’s banking on, that’s very similar to the kind of faith God desires.

  • Bluejay

    Very interesting, tweeks. I admit I hadn’t thought of the angles that you just brought up. I was thinking more along the lines of pure financial capability: if I were the earthly financial equivalent of God–in other words someone with very deep pockets, who has no reason to worry about being able to afford anything, like, say, Bill Gates–my daughter fulfilling my command to donate all her college money to Haiti would not, to me, be a show of profound faith in my ability to pay her way through college. It would simply be the normal confidence that children of very rich people exhibit because they know that the funding for their endeavors is never in question. They simply know, based on the size of their parents’ bank accounts, that they will be provided for. (In this case, I’m assuming the parents’ generosity as a given.)

    On the other hand, if my daughter in real life (in which my wife and I are extremely far from being rich) donated her college fund to Haiti while fully trusting that we’d have her college covered, I’d consider that a much more powerful and meaningful show of faith in our financial abilities. (I’d also think she’d be very foolish to think so!)

    I realize that such analogies are imperfect because, as you say, there are many things beyond our control that can affect our ability to fulfill our promises. Whereas, to a believer, nothing is beyond God’s power. It’s just interesting for me to try to think about the value of faith if one accepts the premise of an omnipotent, benevolent God. If such is the case, it seems to me that a believer would find it easy to have faith. To me, an easy faith would also be less meaningful; but I think I see what you are saying (and correct me if I misread you): that, for you, faith is based on evidence that you find satisfactory, but is no less important for being so; God appreciates his children’s confidence in his character just as I appreciate my daughter’s confidence in mine. That’s a fair point.

    Another way I’ve been thinking of the nature of faith is in the context of politics. I have faith in President Obama–based on what his words, acts, and personal history tell me about his character and abilities, and based on policies of his that I agree with. (And I know that, in this, I’m different from some other folks on this site, including MaryAnn.) So my faith isn’t unfounded, but based on (what I consider) evidence of some kind. But I also know that it’s no guarantee that any of Obama’s plans will succeed. To me, this kind of faith is more intense precisely because the outcome is uncertain; it gets me fired up to write letters, sign petitions, and go to the polls. (After all, when the outcome of an election is perceived as certain, even people who have faith in the projected winner are unmotivated and turnout is low!) But, again, I understand that this is an imperfect analogy; Obama is human and fallible, and as you say, faith in people is different than faith in God.

    I think this difference is itself fascinating. For instance, if Obama ultimately fails to carry out his agenda, my faith in his effectiveness as a leader will be shaken, and I will have good reason to distrust him in the future. In other words, my faith is not unconditional. This never seems to be the case with God, for a believer. Faith, it seems, can be affirmed by both wonderful and terrible things.

    Haiti has been peripheral to this discussion, but I think it’s actually a good example of this. This news article does a good job of covering Haitians’ reactions to the quake. Hundreds of thousands of people have perished; but the Rev. Eric Toussaint tells a small crowd of survivors, “Why give thanks to God? Because we are here […] We say ‘Thank you God.’ What happened is the will of God. We are in the hands of God now.” A woman was pulled alive out of the rubble after many hours, and her husband says “It’s a little miracle.” Yet rescuers have to abandon a search for a seven-year-old boy who has probably been killed during an aftershock; no little miracle there. Rev. Toussaint explains his survival by saying, “”I am not dead because God has a plan for me”; God had different plans, apparently, for this little girl. What I’m saying is that God can apparently do anything, great or terrible, and be worthy of praise; everything that happens is according to his will, and thus justifies faith. God just can’t lose. I suspect that I feel differently about that than you do.

    Reflecting on your previous posts:

    Of course, it all hangs on what constitutes “sufficient evidence.”

    I absolutely agree with this. How each person decides to answer the question “What do I consider sufficient evidence?” is, I think, a significant factor in determining whether that person believes in God. And, because their answers to that question are not all the same, it’s possible for both believers and nonbelievers to apply this sentence–

    no amount of evidence can convince someone who doesn’t want to be convinced

    –to the other side.

    Whew! I’m looking forward to your response (if you’d care to give one), but after this I might have to plead exhaustion. :-)

  • Bluejay, my father has always felt the same way about people who survived a disaster and praised God. He wondered why not save those who died?

    I, too, have faith in Obama as a person but worry about how he can get things done. It’s as if he became captian of the Titantic (sp?) after the old one already hit the iceberg.

    I recently read a book on Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” The book is already back at the library, so I will have to be vague, but the author believes Milton did his best to make every character a real character with believable motives. Even when Adam and Eve bicker, they sound like a married couple. And Eve is described as such a paragon that Satan entertains second thoughts about his plan. I have to admit, when I read PL, I was struggling too much with the prose at times to get a sense of the over all picture.

    Tweeks, you remind me a lot of CS Lewis’ nonfiction, such as “Mere Christianity.” If you haven’t read it, you should. His ideas about the implications of the nature of good and evil are interesting as proofs of God. An example would be that if people didn’t have an innate sense of good and evil, then evil wouldn’t have to go around pretending to be good all the time. And that evil is only as effective as it is good. Evil has to have the courage of its convictions, or it would stay home and kick the dog. That’s just a summation of a book I read years ago, so no one here should take it as full explanation of his ideas.

  • Bluejay

    tweeks, have you read Carl Sagan’s The Varieties of Scientific Experience? It collects the transcripts of his famous Gifford Lectures in Scotland in 1985, as well as selections from the Q&A sessions that followed (with some smart questioners posing some very interesting challenges). I’m actually starting to reread it now as a result of our conversation; it explores many aspects of the relationship between religion and science, and addresses some of the topics we’ve talked about here, including the question of “sufficient evidence” for God–Chapter Six (and its corresponding Q&A), which I particularly recommend. Actually, I highly recommend the whole thing; I find it very thoughtful, and I think Sagan gives religion and faith a very fair hearing.

    If you’ve read it, or if at some point you do, I’d be interested to hear what you think of it. Although how we can talk about it without extending this already-long thread, and making it even more alarmingly off-topic, I’m not sure…

    :-)

  • Victor Plenty

    Although I’ve not actually joined in this conversation, I want to let you know I’ve been following it with great interest and appreciation. I’m close to entering my third decade of seeking out, participating in, or simply observing online debates between devout believers in various faiths, staunch non-believers, and everyone in between. It’s rare to see this level of mutual respect between people with significantly different beliefs, and I have very much enjoyed listening in on your conversation.

    Thank you.

  • tweeks

    God can apparently do anything, great or terrible, and be worthy of praise; everything that happens is according to his will, and thus justifies faith. God just can’t lose.

    Since we live in a humanistic culture, when we see bad things happen to good people, we naturally conclude that God is unjust. In ancient times, however, the cultural bias was exactly the opposite: when something bad happened, it was assumed that God was justly punishing sin:

    As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1-2)

    Jesus, however, rejected both of these cultural biases:

    Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3)

    Jesus proceeded to cure the man of his blindness.

    But it’s relatively easy to be philosophical about a stranger’s afflictions; how did Jesus react when the person suffering was someone close to him?

    Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. … So the sisters sent to [Jesus], saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

    Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. (John 11:1-6)

    Did you catch that? Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, SO he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. That’s not a misprint: the author of this Gospel is claiming that Jesus was acting out of love when he allowed Lazarus to die. But what kind of “love” could possibly justify Jesus’ fatal inaction? Read on…

    Then after this he said to the disciples…, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

    Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

    When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:7-37)

    (Note: God is not oblivious to our pain, even when he’s causing it.)

    Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:38-44)

    Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, so he let Lazarus die… in order to powerfully demonstrate his God-given authority over death.

    But why is it loving for Jesus to show us that he can raise the dead? Because Jesus is our only hope for eternal life: “whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). In other words, if Jesus would love us, then he must give us himself. If Jesus does not make himself known in such a way that we can see and believe in him, we are all lost–forever. Jesus was convinced that eternal life for many is worth the momentary death of one man, even a man he loved dearly.

    This is a pervasive theme in the Bible: God permits localized evil for the sake of universal good. The quintessential example of this was the Crucifixion, where man’s greatest act of evil became the means of God’s greatest blessing.

    Just because we finite human beings cannot see much good coming out of the Haiti quake doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any, and to assert otherwise would be extremely presumptuous, since no man can see all ends.

    Make no mistake, Jesus loves the world–that’s why he gave his life to save it! But we don’t realise the grave danger we are in, which is why Jesus’ main message was to “repent”–to “turn” from our sinfully self-destructive ways and trust in Jesus for salvation.

    There were some present at that very time who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)

    The Haitians were no more deserving of the earthquake than we decadent Americans–and no less. In God’s eyes, we are ALL sinners, all deserving of a horrible death like Jesus’, which is why Jesus died the death that we deserved so that we can live the life that he deserved. This is God’s amazing grace, and I would be happy to explain how it works to anyone who is interested. :-)

  • tweeks

    @Paul: Mere Christianity is a wonderful book! Lewis’ argument for the existence of a Universal Moral Law that all human beings are aware of yet frequently disobey is absolutely fascinating, and I would highly recommend that text to anyone who seeks a firm grounding for their system of ethics–not to mention anyone who is curious about how an extremely intelligent man like Lewis could become a Christian!

    BTW, if you liked Mere Christianity, you should check out Keller’s excellent The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.

    @Bluejay: I enjoyed Cosmos and Contact, so I’d always considered myself something of a Carl Sagan fan, yet I’d never heard of The Varieties of Scientific Experience! I’ll definitely have to check that out. My favorite thing about Sagan was his obvious delight in the universe; I think he had a gift for waking people up to the wonder and beauty all around them. (That’s one thing he had in common with C.S. Lewis!)

    There is one Carl Sagan quote from The Varieties of Scientific Experience I found online that I just can’t resist replying to:

    Why would an all-powerful God work only on a local (and recent) project like the Earth when there is a vast, 15-billion-year-old universe out there, with countless galaxies containing countless stars and the possibility of countless worlds?

    Because the universe isn’t about us! It’s about God. And since God is really, really, really big, so is His creation.

    Why didn’t God let us know about quantum mechanics and natural selection and cosmology from the get-go?

    Because that would spoil all the fun of discovering them! God is infinite, we are finite: we can never exhaust the wonder and beauty of God–each new day in eternity will bring fresh new joys to discover.

    And why would theologians insist on such a provincial version of the creation and God’s imagination?

    If he’s talking about extraterrestrials here, hey, nothing in the Bible precludes the existence of ETs! But nothing requires it either, so whether we are “alone” or not, Biblical doctrine is unaffected. (Actually I almost want to go tell those UFO believers that we have been visited by life from beyond this planet: his name was Jesus. ;-)

    But if Sagan’s quote above is referring to the idea that the Big Bang, stellar and planetary accretion, and biological evolution are way cooler than “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” well, who’s to say God didn’t create that way?

    Some Christians get really bothered by evolution, but I am not one of them. I love science, and I think it’s cool that really smart people are cooking up a purely naturalistic explanation for how everything got to be the way it was. Yeah they have to bend a few rules sometimes to do it (like the First Axiom of Biology: life does not come from non-life), but I enjoy reading about what they come up with.

    Contrary to popular belief, there is no conflict between theism and science (in fact, it has been observed that a theistic universe is probably the only one that makes science possible: a universe with rational laws created by a rational God, laws designed to be comprehensible to human beings.)

    According to John Piper, you can summarize the essence of the atheistic and theistic accounts of the universe thusly:

    Atheist view: In the beginning was matter and energy. Through a long, completely undirected process with no purpose or plan, impersonal matter and energy miraculously organized itself into personal life: you and me.

    Theist view: In the beginning was personal life, and no matter. Then personal life created physical matter, and there was both life and matter.

    Both of these accounts require faith, since there is zero evidence for either. How does Carl Sagan know that “the cosmos”–matter and energy–existed from all time? Well, he doesn’t: he’s guessing, just like I’m guessing that it’s WAY more likely that personal life (human beings) came from similarly-personal life (God) than for it to have somehow emerged from interactions between eternally-existent matter and energy alone. This assumes personal life is “more than the sum of its parts,” which I also cannot prove, but seems consistent with human experience.

    @Victor: Hey, thanks for reading!

  • markyd

    I’m with Victor on this thread. I am impressed at the civility. It has been an interesting read. I have nowhere near the patience of a Bluejay, and am generally seen as militant in my dealings with the religious. Thus, I will refrain from commenting further. I’ll still be reading, though. Good job, guys.

  • JoshB

    Atheist view: In the beginning was matter and energy. Through a long, completely undirected process with no purpose or plan, impersonal matter and energy miraculously organized itself into personal life: you and me…Both of these accounts require faith, since there is zero evidence for either. How does Carl Sagan know that “the cosmos”–matter and energy–existed from all time? Well, he doesn’t: he’s guessing

    No, not exactly. There is evidence for Carl Sagan’s views, and he certainly wasn’t “guessing.” With science we can trace both the history of life and the history of the universe as a whole to within a hair’s breadth of their respective beginnings.

    For life the only question left is the chemical question of how inanimate matter cohered into an indefinitely self sustaining reaction. From that point onwards we have a wealth of evidence of what happened.

    For the universe we know that in the beginning all matter and energy that now exists was compressed into an infinitely dense point called a singularity, which then exploded. We can trace what happened back to within a fraction of a second of this explosion, once again supported by evidence.

    When you say there’s no evidence for the atheist point of view, what you’re saying is that the question mark at the very beginning of these events leaves room for God. And yes, that’s technically true, but it rests on a misunderstanding: we can’t explain what happened yet. We’re working on it.

    From my perspective that is the difference between the atheist, (or rather scientific) view, and the theist one.

    Science assumes that the universe is knowable, that we can figure out why things are the way they are if we put our minds to it.

    The theist view is that we don’t have to because: God.

    For the record, I’m agnostic, not atheist. I also retain enough of my Catholic upbringing that I hope there’s a God and a heaven and that I get to go there.

  • Bluejay

    Hey tweeks, thanks for replying! You’ve given me a lot to digest and respond to; let me take a shot. I have a feeling this is gonna be a long one. *deep breath*

    This is a pervasive theme in the Bible: God permits localized evil for the sake of universal good.

    I wonder what you make of Carl Sagan’s objection: “This is clearly hoping that the disquieting facts go away if you merely call them something else. It is argued that some pain is necessary for a greater good. But why, exactly? If God is omnipotent, why can’t He arrange it so there is no pain? It seems to me a very telling point.”

    Because the universe isn’t about us! It’s about God. And since God is really, really, really big, so is His creation.

    […]

    Because that would spoil all the fun of discovering [quantum mechanics, etc]! God is infinite, we are finite: we can never exhaust the wonder and beauty of God–each new day in eternity will bring fresh new joys to discover.

    I strongly suspect that Sagan would have enthusiastically agreed with you! But in this case, he would point out (as he did in his lectures and the Q&A’s) that the question becomes what we mean by “God.” If we define God (as Sagan says Spinoza and Einstein did) as the sum total of the physical laws of the universe, then your statements above–I particularly like your wonderful comment about the universe being an inexhaustible source of fascination and discovery–would equally apply. I think he was taking issue with certain theologians’ (and many people’s) narrow conception of God.

    This leads into an interesting issue that Sagan tackled at some length: if we are to argue about God, what kind of God are we talking about? The definition we automatically assume in the West is that God is a singular being “who is omnipotent, omniscient, compassionate, who created the universe, is responsive to prayer, intervenes in human affairs, and so on.” Yet there are many other possibilities, as well as other combinations of the qualities listed–perhaps God is omnipotent, but not omniscient; perhaps he’s indifferent to human existence, as Aristotle believed; perhaps he doesn’t intervene in the universe; etc. (And why not the gods from the Greek or Norse or Hindu pantheons?) I do understand that, here, you are advocating for the Biblical God; Sagan was attempting to broaden the discussion a bit. It’s quite an involved argument, and it’s an interesting read.

    Contrary to popular belief, there is no conflict between theism and science (in fact, it has been observed that a theistic universe is probably the only one that makes science possible: a universe with rational laws created by a rational God, laws designed to be comprehensible to human beings.)

    This seems to be an argument from the anthropic principle, which Sagan also discussed at length. This gets us into the fascinating question of whether the universe really is fine-tuned for our existence and comprehension. There is work currently being done to explore the idea of multiple universes, many of which may not function according to the same laws as this one; if that turns out to be the case, the fact that our universe has turned out the way it has could arguably be the result of a cosmic coin toss. (I suppose you could argue “Who is the coin tosser,” of course.) There is also work being done to demonstrate that altering the parameters of the universe’s physical laws does not automatically preclude the possibility of life existing under very different conditions.

    To address your comment more directly: Why must it follow that the laws of our universe must have been caused by intentional design? “A universe with rational laws”: this indeed seems to be the case. (Though I should point out that these “laws” are not equivalent to human-made laws that dictate behavior; they are instead human descriptions of how the universe behaves. The universe will behave as it does regardless of whether we comprehend it, or describe its actions accurately.) “Created by a rational God”: this is yet to be scientifically proven. “Designed to be comprehensible to human beings”: This is precisely what the Intelligent Design people argue when they contest evolution; as you are not bothered by evolution (I’m glad!), I assume you are familiar with the arguments and counter-arguments (have you followed the Dover case?) and I need not rehash them here.

    I think I see your larger point: that science can explain how the universe works, and still not absolutely preclude the possibility that a divine creator wished it to be so. I agree; it’s not impossible. I just think it’s not provable or observable by scientific means, and is therefore not a scientific concern.

    Atheist view: In the beginning was matter and energy. Through a long, completely undirected process with no purpose or plan, impersonal matter and energy miraculously organized itself into personal life: you and me.

    Theist view: In the beginning was personal life, and no matter. Then personal life created physical matter, and there was both life and matter.

    Well, I have to object a bit to your characterization of the atheist view. (May I call it non-theist, to accommodate agnostics, materialists, scientists who go to church, etc?) Non-theists don’t claim that anything “miraculously” happened at the origin of the universe; that’s your word. ;-) The explanation for the processes that formed the universe is well within the scope of our understanding of how matter behaves. Processes that are not yet fully understood are not automatically assumed to be supernatural, but are studied until natural explanations are found.

    Both of these accounts require faith, since there is zero evidence for either.

    As far as the non-theist–heck, I’ll call it scientific–view is concerned, I disagree. There is plenty of empirical evidence–the redshifts of galaxies, the cosmic microwave background radiation, etc.–to support the Big Bang theory. What the theory doesn’t do–because as a scientific idea it’s concerned only with the actions of the observable universe–is speculate on whether God’s will is part of the equation.

    But I find it interesting that you acknowledge a lack of hard evidence for the theist position, as it ties into something I wanted to ask about an earlier comment of yours:

    [Bluejay wrote] I always thought that, to the faithful, the power of faith was that it didn’t rely on evidence…. Or, perhaps, we mean different things by evidence.

    [tweeks wrote] I don’t think so […] I’m an empiricist: I don’t believe anything until I can see it for myself […] it’s not that there isn’t enough evidence to believe in God (there is), it’s that we don’t want to believe.

    I’ve been wondering about whether or not we can clear up whether in fact we do mean different things by evidence. In particular, I’m thinking of the notion of falsifiability. By this, I mean (and I apologize if I’m overexplaining what may be obvious to you) that in science, a good theory is not only one that is supported by the evidence, but one that can conceivably be proven wrong by other evidence. The fact that an idea is testable and could possibly fail, but ultimately holds up well, makes a good case for the idea’s validity.

    For instance, we may say that scientists have “faith” (or at least enormous confidence) in the theory of evolution by natural selection. But this is not because they want to believe in it or want to disbelieve in creationism; they believe in it because it is, so far, the best naturalistic explanation for an overwhelming amount of observed data from different scientific fields. If you apply the theory to the facts, the theory checks out. But that didn’t have to be the case–it’s conceivable that evolution could have been proven wrong. And scientists aren’t shy about admitting that hypothetical evidence could contradict it: J.B.S. Haldane famously said that evolution could be disproved by the discovery of “fossil rabbits in the Precambrian era.” Such evidence hasn’t turned up, and so the theory remains sound. But it is falsifiable. And if at some point natural selection (or any other theory) is proven false, good scientists would absolutely admit error and change their minds.

    Where am I going with this? Well, I like to think that my opinions about God are also falsifiable, and that I may be persuaded to recant my atheism if shown convincing evidence. Carl Sagan asked, “Why should God be so clear in the Bible and so obscure in the world?” and proposed some scenarios that he might consider incontrovertible proof of a divine creator: for instance, a set of holy books in all cultures, containing clear statements about the universe that could only be proven right in later times (e.g. the fact that the sun is a star, the light-speed limit, the nature of DNA, etc); or the Ten Commandments engraved on the surface of the Moon, ten kilometers across per commandment, awaiting our discovery; or a hundred-kilometer crucifix in Earth orbit; etc. Such examples would not only be rare or currently unexplainable events, but miraculous (i.e. impossible according to the normal behavior of the universe), and therefore strong evidence for God. If such evidence turns up, then my theory of “God doesn’t exist” would be significantly shaken, and I’d need to do some serious rethinking. I don’t think it’s a case of my wanting or not wanting his existence to be true.

    So what I’m curious about is: Does the same hold true for you? You’ve said you’re an empiricist, have devised a test for God, and have been satisfied with the evidence; but is there any way that, for you, God’s existence is falsifiable? If God did not answer your prayer in the way that he did, would you have taken that as proof of his nonexistence? Or would you have thought, perhaps, that God’s answer was simply different from the one you wanted? If, for you, there isn’t anything that could conceivably disprove God’s existence–if, in other words, he can be justified in your mind by anything that happens–and if, as you say, a willingness to believe is necessary to have knowledge of God, then perhaps we do mean different things by “evidence” or “proof.” (As you yourself have said, the way God proved himself to you would probably not be convincing to an atheist.)

    Please understand that I’m NOT knocking your reasons for your faith; I’m merely saying that I don’t think those reasons can be adequately tested and discussed in a scientific context. Faith, for the faithful, can be an amazing thing: a source of morals, strength, and courage. If faith is what allowed Gandhi and Martin Luther King to do everything they did, then I’m very grateful that they were believers. (Although they probably didn’t believe in quite the same things.)

    [The theist view of the origin of the universe] assumes personal life is “more than the sum of its parts,” which I also cannot prove, but seems consistent with human experience.

    Interesting! But is the “mere” sum of our parts so very dreary? :-) I can’t help but recall Sagan’s take on it:

    I want to close on a beautiful little piece of poetry written by a woman in rural Arkansas. Her name is Lillie Emery, and she is not a professional poet, but she writes for herself and she has written to me. And one of her poems has the following lines in it:

    My kind didn’t really slither out of a tidal pool, did we?
    God, I need to believe you created me:
    we are so small down here.

    I think there is a very general truth that Lillie Emery expresses in this poem. I believe everyone on some level recognizes that feeling. And yet, and yet, if we are merely matter intricately assembled, is this really demeaning? If there’s nothing in here but atoms, does that make us less or does that make matter more?

    @Paul, Victor, markyd: Yeah, thanks for reading. I’m finding out some pretty interesting things about myself, and what pushes my buttons. Apparently I can engage in a civil conversation about faith or abortion; but if you make an erroneous claim about the etymology of “entertainment,” watch out!

    :-D

  • I don’t believe in a hard and fast line between life and non-life. You have chemical reactions, and chemical reactions that are more likely to repeat themselves expand and push aside those that don’t. Another chemical reaction that more easily and proflicly repeats and sustains itself pushes aside those old models, too. Chemical reactions bump into each other, and after billions of bumps, some start sticking together. And some of those combinations bump into each other and combine, etc, etc, until you get a big series of chemical reactions that sustains and repeats itself, big enough that we look back and say, “Hey that was life.” But we are drawing that line, not nature, which is why scientists get into unnecessary arguments about if viruses are alive or not.

    Maybe hundreds of years in the future, artificial intelligences will look back and try to figure out where to draw the line between intelligent and non-intelligent? “Okay, did these humans create fire, or just find it?” And it would be an important question for them, because without controlling fire, no computers.

  • tweeks

    Hey tweeks, thanks for replying! You’ve given me a lot to digest and respond to; let me take a shot. I have a feeling this is gonna be a long one. *deep breath*

    First let me say that I truly appreciate your time and effort, Bluejay. Your questions have been so thoughtful and deeply penetrating that I feel I’ve grown significantly the past few days in my understanding of my own world view simply by virtue of your patiently challenging me to expend the (not insignificant) effort required to formulate a fittingly thoughtful response! :-D

    If this thread continues on at this level of depth, though, I’m afraid I won’t be able to maintain these quick 24-hour turnaround times: my relatively less-enjoyable college coursework is starting to pile up. :-)

    So although I really enjoyed reading JoshB‘s helpful summary of Carl Sagan’s view of origins, and heartily agree with Paul‘s excellent point that “there is no hard and fast line between life and non-life,” time constraints compel me to be selective in my responses.

    I wonder what you make of Carl Sagan’s objection: “This is clearly hoping that the disquieting facts go away if you merely call them something else. It is argued that some pain is necessary for a greater good. But why, exactly? If God is omnipotent, why can’t He arrange it so there is no pain? It seems to me a very telling point.”

    It’s only fitting to respond by quoting Sagan’s Christian counterpart, C. S. Lewis, who wrote in Mere Christianity of why he rejected atheism:

    My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of “just” and “unjust”? … What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? … Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies … Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple.

    Keller continues Lewis’ point in his Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism:

    Lewis recognized that modern objections to God are based on a sense of fair play and justice. People, we believe, ought not to suffer, be excluded, die of hunger or oppression. But the evolutionary mechanism of natural selection depends on death, destruction, and violence of the strong against the weak–these things are all perfectly natural. On what basis, then, does the atheist judge the natural world to be horribly wrong, unfair, and unjust? The nonbeliever in God doesn’t have a good basis for being outraged at injustice, which, as Lewis points out, was the reason for objecting to God in the first place. If you are sure that this natural world is unjust and filled with evil, you are assuming the reality of some extra-natural (or supernatural) standard by which to make your judgment.

    And now to your question for me:

    You’ve said you’re an empiricist, have devised a test for God, and have been satisfied with the evidence; but is there any way that, for you, God’s existence is falsifiable?

    Yes: if Jesus’ body is found.

    Christ is the linchpin of my entire faith. If the resurrection did not happen, or if anything in the Gospels can be shown to have not really happened, then I have believed a lie.

    Carl Sagan asked, “Why should God be so clear in the Bible and so obscure in the world?”

    Well, why should God’s activities as recorded in the Bible be so easily dismissed? :-) I might as well ask, “Why should evolution be so clear in the fossil record and so obscure in the world?” The fossil record is our most specific source for the process of evolution, just as the Bible is our most specific source for God’s prior miraculous activities–especially the Incarnation, where God Himself lived among us for 33 years to be observed and questioned by skeptical human beings like Carl Sagan (pity he didn’t live 2,000 years ago!).

    Did Sagan give any reasons for concluding that the Bible is an unreliable witness for the activity of God?

    If such evidence turns up, then my theory of “God doesn’t exist” would be significantly shaken, and I’d need to do some serious rethinking. I don’t think it’s a case of my wanting or not wanting his existence to be true.

    Ok, do you have any reasons for concluding that the Bible is an unreliable witness for the activity of God? :-)

    I don’t want to give the impression that the Bible is our only source of evidence for God. Keller lists a number of extra-Biblical “clues” that, while not irrefutably proving God’s existence, certainly provide significant evidence, including:

    – The extra-natural cause of the Big Bang
    – The Anthropic Principle (which you discussed already)
    – The “regularity of nature” assumed by science: that water will boil tomorrow under the identical conditions of today

    But these are just the “clues.” There is an evidence for God that every single person believes in, including everyone who has been posting here, yet that cannot be proven intellectually. Can you guess what it is? :-)

    It is something that I have known intuitively all my life, and it’s why I’ve never been able to seriously entertain the notion that there is no God. Keller summarizes it wonderfully in Reason for God:

    [Writer Anne Dillard] lived for a year by a creek in the mountains of Virginia expecting to be inspired and refreshed by closeness to “nature.” Instead, she came to realize that nature was completely ruled by one central principle–violence by the strong against the weak.

    There is not a person in the world that behaves as badly as praying mantises. But wait, you say, there is no right or wrong in nature; right and wrong is a human concept! Precisely! We are moral creatures in an amoral world… Or consider the alternative… it is only human feeling that is freakishly amiss… All right then–it is our emotions that are amiss. We are freaks, the world is fine, and let us all go have lobotomies to restore us to a natural state. We can leave… lobotomized, go back to the creek, and live on its banks as untroubled as any muskrat or reed. You first.

    Anne Dillard saw that all of nature is based on violence. Yet we inescapably believe it is wrong for stronger human individuals or groups to kill weaker ones. If violence is totally natural why would it be wrong for strong humans to trample weak ones? There is no basis for moral obligation unless we argue that nature is in some part unnatural. We can’t know that nature is broken in some way unless there is some supernatural standard of normalcy apart from nature by which we can judge right and wrong. That means there would have to be heaven or God or some kind of divine order outside of nature in order to make that judgment.

    There is only one way out of this conundrum. We can pick up the Biblical account of things and see if it explains our moral sense any better than a secular view. If the world was made by a God of peace, justice, and love, then that is why we know that violence, oppression, and hate are wrong. If the world is fallen, broken, and needs to be redeemed, that explains the violence and disorder we see.

    If you believe human rights are a reality, then it makes much more sense that God exists than that he does not. If you insist on a secular view of the world and yet you continue to pronounce some things right and some things wrong, then I hope you see the deep disharmony between the world your intellect has devised and the real world (and God) that your heart knows exists. This leads us to a crucial question. If a premise (“There is no God”) leads to a conclusion you know isn’t true (“Napalming babies is culturally relative”) then why not change the premise?

  • Here I go into the breach.

    Okay, nature is filled with the violence of the strong over the weak, and we feel it is wrong to do that amongst ourselves.

    Or do we? Yes, many people feel it is wrong to use violence against those who are weaker than we are, but almost everyone draws a circle around their life and says, “Those who stand inside this circle are accorded civil rights and deserve my moral behavior and those who stand out, watch out!”

    Almost everyone draws that line around their own family and friends, which is the easy bit. We probably evolved to naturally draw that circle around a group about the size of a tribe or village. However, the more moral a person is, the wider that circle becomes, with the most moral of people (Jesus, Buddha, etc) expanding the circle to encompass all of humanity, even, in the case of Jesus, to include those that nailed him up. A true psychopath has the circle drawn around himself, period. Perhaps the most shocking thing about the Joker in that last movie is that I’m not sure he even had a circle that wide.

    I have a second issue, that of having read a lot of Buddhist scripture. In fact, there are 20,000 volumes of Buddhist “scripture” because they define the term to include theology (so CS Lewis would be scripture) and hagiography (stories of holy people such as “The Little Flowers of Saint Francis”). So if scripture is a witness of God, why isn’t Buddhism as provable as Christianity?

  • tweeks

    Those are excellent points, Paul! Let me address them quickly (then I really have to do my homework!)

    Regarding Buddhism, there are extremely compelling reasons to accept Jesus as more authoritative than the Buddah, Prince Siddhārtha Gautama (one of them being that the Prince never claimed to be God!), but I would like to wait on discussing them until I’ve heard from Bluejay.

    Regarding people with very small moral circles, it’s interesting that you chose to call them “psychopaths.” Isn’t that rather closed-minded and judgmental on your part? ;-) I agree with you, of course! I’m just trying to get you to examine your reasons for condemning people who behave that way, since it is in no way inconsistent with nature and “survival of the fittest.”

    For example, on what grounds would you condemn a rapist? If you are a healthy, intelligent, attractive man, then taking any woman you choose in order to spread your genes as widely as possible is good for the human race, isn’t it? This is “only natural.” Who has any right to tell this man that what he’s doing is wrong?

  • Well, I have to admit I don’t know which away my morality argument ultimately swings. And while I do think of myself as liberal, I don’t think of myself as a hardcore multiculturalist, so I don’t mind being judgemental.

    Hardcore multiculturalism only makes sense for academia, where it is your job to understand another culture on its terms without judgement. I’m more of a softcore multiculturalist, and I would argue that Lewis is, too. His argument was that there are differences between morals and customs, and his example was dress code. In cold countries it is normal to wear lots of clothes and in warm countries it is normal to wear very little, so he argued you can’t call a topless woman on a South Sea island “wanton” or “lurid” because that is the normal custom. But murder and rape are still wrong wherever you go.

    As for Jesus’ claim to be God, I’ve read, and wish I remembered where, that in his dialect of Hebrew, a claim to be a Son of God was simply a claim to being a holy person, and that the divine associations we think of came only with the translation into the Greek, which has a different association with being the son of a god.

  • Bluejay

    Hi tweeks,

    I’m still working on a fuller response, but for now, I’d like to offer a correction:

    I might as well ask, “Why should evolution be so clear in the fossil record and so obscure in the world?” The fossil record is our most specific source for the process of evolution

    Except that it’s not. We find overwhelming evidence for evolution in the field of genetics: the similarities in the DNA of all living things point to the fact that all species are interrelated, which enables biologists to reconstruct the Tree of Life. Richard Dawkins has pointed out that, even if the entire fossil record were absent, the evidence from genetics is more than sufficient to support evolution. Moreover, it’s a process that can be observed and measured today: we all know about viruses and agricultural pests that have evolved resistance to antibiotics or pesticides. And scientists today conduct experiments on lots of species to study evolution in real time–one of the most significant being Richard Lenski’s ongoing experiment involving E. coli bacteria, which have now grown (and evolved) for over 40,000 generations since 1988. (Lenski has also written a clear overview of evolution for educators, if you’re interested.) So… obscure? Far from it! :-)

    More to come…

  • Bluejay

    Ok, do you have any reasons for concluding that the Bible is an unreliable witness for the activity of God? :-)

    Well, you are clearly more of a Biblical scholar than I am, so I defer to your impressive command of the text itself. :-) But it seems pretty obvious to me that the Bible is a collection of texts written over the space of many centuries, and subject to many disagreements among various scholars and religious traditions (even today) over which texts are canonical; who authored them; how long after the purported events they were written; how reliable they are as eyewitness accounts; how much they were influenced by non-Biblical elements from other cultures and traditions; whether they are to be taken as history, literature, theology, or some combination of the three; etc. To me, this hardly gives the Bible the force of divine authority.

    I think the Bible is an enormously significant work of literature that gives us insight into the mindset of its various authors and the cultures they lived in. But as an accurate literal history that definitively proves God’s intervention in the world? I really don’t think it’s reliable enough for that. Perhaps some historical characters and events (though not their supernatural explanations) can be validated by archaeology. But archaeology has also confirmed the existence of the ancient city of Troy, and offers some evidence that something like the Trojan War occured. On this basis, should we then take the Iliad as proof that the Greek gods exist? If we believe literally in the Bible’s take on events, why not also believe in the stories from other religious traditions, like the Ramayana or the Norse Eddas?

    As for morality–I wish I had books on hand to refer to (they’ve been returned to the library, alas!) to help make my case. But there IS a good case to be made for human morality being the product of social and biological evolution over millennia. The reason we condemn individuals for such things as rape and murder is that, even though such acts may help an individual in a struggle over who is fittest, humans have evolved into beings that function within social groups as a strategy for survival: what’s good for the group helps its individual members survive. Rape and murder may help a stronger individual against weaker ones within his group, but the group itself punishes such actions because they undermine the group’s ability as a whole to survive. And as human communities have grown to be as interconnected as they are now–so that we are in effect one big social group–it only makes sense that certain acts like murder and rape have become universal taboos. There are many fascinating studies on the origins of morality being done in the fields of anthropology, psychiatry, neuroscience, evolutionary science, etc; to decide that morality can only have a divine source is extremely premature.

    I also object to Anne Dillard’s view that nature is entirely based on violence, as well as her contention that only humans are moral creatures. There are currently studies being done on the surprising (for some) phenomenon of morality in animals: for instance, Frans de Waal’s work on moral behavior in monkeys and apes. The book Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals (which I haven’t read yet, but want to!) compiles many of these studies and makes the argument that, even in the realm of morals, humans are on a continuum with the rest of the natural world, not unique beings set entirely apart. My point being that our own finely tuned morality may have evolved from the behaviors we see in the animal world, not necessarily miraculously implanted within us.

    [Keller says] On what basis, then, does the atheist judge the natural world to be horribly wrong, unfair, and unjust? The nonbeliever in God doesn’t have a good basis for being outraged at injustice, which, as Lewis points out, was the reason for objecting to God in the first place. If you are sure that this natural world is unjust and filled with evil, you are assuming the reality of some extra-natural (or supernatural) standard by which to make your judgment.

    But atheists don’t see the natural world as horribly wrong, unfair and unjust! The natural world is what it is, and the universe is what it is. Lions killing gazelles isn’t wrong. Meteors smashing into planets isn’t evil. As far as being outraged at injustice and evil in human society–there’s no reason why atheists can’t subscribe to the morals of the society they live in, while fully recognizing that those morals are socially and biologically evolved human concepts rather than divine decrees.

    [Keller says] If a premise (“There is no God”) leads to a conclusion you know isn’t true (“Napalming babies is culturally relative”) then why not change the premise?

    Although I personally find napalming babies abhorrent, in the much, much larger scheme of things, even such atrocities are culturally relative.

    Morality evolves. Richard Dawkins talks about a “moral zeitgeist” that gradually changes with time. Some things we once thought were evil or unnatural (homosexuality, women’s equality) are now tolerated or accepted, or gradually becoming so; other things we once praised or thought natural (slavery, racism) we now condemn. You yourself have used this argument against me! When I said that God commanding Abraham to kill his child was sick and wrong, you pointed out that child-sacrifice was an accepted practice at the time, so the request was not unthinkable in context. I found it quite a compelling argument, actually. So the fact that the “moral zeitgeist” changes over time seems perfectly in keeping with the idea–again–that it’s an evolving human construct rather than a set of fixed and unchanging divine laws.

    I think perhaps one of the underlying disagreements we have here is that you feel there must be a supernatural explanation for why humans are the wondrously complex, feeling, moral creatures we are; whereas I feel, why can’t we be wondrously complex, feeling, moral, natural creatures?

  • Bluejay
    is there any way that, for you, God’s existence is falsifiable?

    Yes: if Jesus’ body is found.

    Christ is the linchpin of my entire faith. If the resurrection did not happen, or if anything in the Gospels can be shown to have not really happened, then I have believed a lie.

    Fair enough, tweeks. Thank you.

    Your comment reminded me of the documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus, which I have not seen. Have you? I gather the findings are still very controversial, and probably not very convincing for believers.

    And, yes, thank you too for this very stimulating conversation. I appreciate how you’ve helped me think more deeply about my own positions as well. And as much as I enjoy your in-depth responses, I fully understand if real life gets in the way. :-)

  • Bluejay

    Reading over this, I’d like to revisit Keller’s argument:

    If a premise (“There is no God”) leads to a conclusion you know isn’t true (“Napalming babies is culturally relative”) then why not change the premise?

    One problem with this is that the premise doesn’t necessarily lead to that conclusion. Keller is unfairly putting words into atheists’ mouths.

    Why not something like this instead:

    There is no God; therefore, morality is a human-made concept; according to human morality at this point in time, killing innocent children is wrong; therefore, napalming babies is wrong.

  • tweeks

    Hi Bluejay!

    Thank you again for another deeply thoughtful response! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your patient willingness to take the time to talk about these fundamental and hugely-important things!

    First, your correction:

    The fossil record is our most specific source for the process of evolution

    Except that it’s not.

    Quite right: I had forgotten about DNA when I made that analogy, and I was also unaware of Lenski’s fascinating work with E. coli! Perhaps my analogy would have been more effective in 1980? In any case, it looks like I may be a little behind on recent developments in evolutionary biology….

    Now, at this point, I’d like to jump straight to one of your greatest insights, which I should almost print out and hang on the wall, because it so accurately and eloquently summarizes what we’ve established about each other’s world views so far:

    I think perhaps one of the underlying disagreements we have here is that you feel there must be a supernatural explanation for why humans are the wondrously complex, feeling, moral creatures we are; whereas I feel, why can’t we be wondrously complex, feeling, moral, natural creatures?

    I got really excited when I read this, because I do believe you’ve nailed it dead-on: that’s exactly the difference between our views!

    Thanks to you, I am now deeply conscious of the fact that, right or wrong, the beginning of my line of reasoning for believing in Jesus goes like this:

    1. The natural world cannot adequately explain why we are moral creatures. Therefore,

    2. There must be some sort of supernatural Moral Law.

    There’s a bunch of steps after that, but I might as well stop here, since there’s no use discussing steps 3 through 12 when steps 1 and 2 are in dispute!

    The huge question for me, then, is, does the natural world adequately explain why I am a moral creature?

    But there IS a good case to be made for human morality being the product of social and biological evolution over millennia.

    Even though I accept evolution as a plausible theory for the origin of species, I am extremely skeptical that natural selection alone can explain morality. Still, I am willing to cede that point for now, because I would like us to consider together what the idea that “morality is just a human-made concept” means for human rights.

    Human rights are predicated on the notion that human beings have intrinsic value, and are therefore deserving of dignity and respect. But if we are not made in the image of God, then what value do we have? You, Bluejay, happen to take the view that human beings are a wondrous phenomenon, but that is merely your aesthetic opinion. It would be just as logically consistent with atheism to take the view that human beings have no intrinsic value whatsoever, would it not?

    As far as being outraged at injustice and evil in human society–there’s no reason why atheists can’t subscribe to the morals of the society they live in, while fully recognizing that those morals are socially and biologically evolved human concepts rather than divine decrees.

    There is no God; therefore, morality is a human-made concept; according to human morality at this point in time, killing innocent children is wrong; therefore, napalming babies is wrong.

    All right, I will assume for the moment that this is true. Then my question for you is, what happens when I live in a society with morals I don’t agree with?

    For example, let’s say I suddenly find myself dropped into a country where women are viewed as inferior. Should I just shrug and say, “oh well, all cultures are relative,” and go with the flow? That might be a logical thing to do, yet somehow I feel a sense of moral outrage: what’s happening here is wrong. Yet, unfortunately, I have no real basis for standing up for the oppressed women, because as soon as I begin to object, the oppressors will simply say, “well, who are you to tell us how we ought to treat our women?” What can I tell them? That my human-made morality is somehow better than theirs? Would they not be perfectly justified in calling me arrogant and intolerant?

    Or how about this scenario: say a bunch of pedophiles buy a ship, sail to international waters, and proceed to import third-world orphans from the underground market to use as sex slaves. (This scenario, though disgusting, is hardly inconceivable). As an atheist, on what basis can I condemn their behavior? They are not harming me or my people group–they are simply exercising their natural desire for sex, and these children, logically speaking, are statistically unlikely to be useful to society or the human race, so why should I even get upset? As a peaceful atheist, am I not obligated to tolerate and accept these pedophiles’ behavior?

    I have no doubt that you find both of these scenarios as morally repugnant as I do, Bluejay, yet why should we? Since morality is just an arbitrary human invention, who’s to say that equality for women is better than inequality? And who’s to say pedophilia and sexually-exploiting helpless children is not a more advanced morality than our own? If I feel an impulse to stop these “evil” deeds, where is it coming from? Am I just an incurable egotist, convinced that my morality is better than everyone else’s? Or am I acting out of an unshakable conviction that human beings are intrinsically valuable? And if I am, where is this unnatural idea coming from?

    I find the problem of evil very troubling, and while it is a problem for Christians, it seems to be an even bigger problem for atheists! I might be able to convince my mind that morality is merely a human idea, but my heart remains profoundly unconvinced! If the atheistic view fails to account for my sense of justice and moral outrage at the exploitation of human beings, if natural selection cannot account for my unassailable conviction that human beings are intrinsically valuable, then is it not reasonable for me to consider the alternative? I am really curious to hear your take on this, because this may be my greatest obstacle to accepting atheism.

  • tweeks

    Bluejay!

    I think I may have stumbled on a proof that would help us to finally bridge the apparent chasm between the natural and the supernatural. Let me know what you think!

    1. We observe the universe through our five senses.

    2. But some phenomena cannot be directly observed with our five senses alone, such as ultraviolet light and ultra-high frequency sound.

    3. By constructing scientific instruments, such as telescopes, microscopes, and spectrometers, we are able to convert phenomena that are naturally unobservable into a form that can be observed with our five senses.

    4. As we continue to construct more advanced instruments, we are able to directly observe more previously unobservable phenomena.

    5. At this point in time, it is likely that some phenomena are currently unobservable with our present instruments, such as dark matter and gravitons.

    6. It is possible that there exists some phenomena which cannot be transformed using natural processes into a form that is observable with our five senses.

    7. Therefore, it is possible that there exists some phenomena which are unobservable to us using any possible instrument.

    8. It is also possible that we will fail to develop some of the instruments required to observe certain phenomena, perhaps because of oversight, or because we simply ran out of time before the end of our race.

    9. Therefore, it is possible that there exists real natural phenomena that we will never observe.

    10. If some phenomena will never be directly observed, then these phenomena may have observable effects on our universe, yet never themselves be observed, just as ultra-violet light causes sunburns, yet was, until recently, an unobservable phenomenon.

    11. Therefore, it is possible for an entity to exist who, though never being directly observed, still has observable effects on our universe.

  • tweeks

    Dear Bluejay,

    Though it is very difficult for me to publicly admit this, your calm, rational arguments have brought me very near the point of accepting atheism.

    I have lost a great deal of sleep the past few nights wondering whether everything I believe could be wrong. You see, as a Christian, it is not enough for me to simply say that Christianity and atheism are equally likely: the Bible teaches unambiguously that people choose to believe there is no God, and are justly condemned by God for doing so. Therefore, for my faith to stand, it is necessary that I discover whether or not this shocking statement is, in fact, the truth. However, after a great deal of thought, I am starting to realize that this controversial idea is not as unreasonable as it may at first appear.

    As you so eloquently explained, a statement is not deemed scientific unless it can be refuted through repeatable observation. Therefore, “at 1 atmosphere of pressure, water boils at 100 degrees Celsius” is a scientific statement, because it can be independently verified.

    However, there are a number of things we must accept as true which do not meet this criterion. For example, as a child, I believed my parents loved me, but that was very difficult for me to prove scientifically for a number of reasons. Similarly, the notion that morality is a byproduct of evolution cannot be scientifically verified, since we lack the means to evolve sentient lifeforms in a laboratory and observe their moral behaviors. So while there may exist a purely natural explanation for morality that is consistent with observation, this view is no more scientific than the notion that the God of the Bible created human beings as moral creatures. As I understand it, everything in the Bible is consistent with all repeatable scientific observations, so the theory that “God created morality” appears to be, objectively speaking, no more or less valid than the theory that “morality is a human invention.” Scientifically-speaking, we simply cannot know.

    However, it seems to me that the two theories of morality are not quite equally likely, because the Christian view has the added virtue of explaining our universal human expectation of a morality outside ourselves, which allows good people like MaryAnn to argue vigorously that women have inalienable dignity, not just because she personally thinks so, but because it’s a fundamental fact. In contrast, the atheist view does not permit any kind of morality to exist outside of our own (possibly delusional) individual minds.

    Therefore, if a “supernatural” explanation of reality is no more or less scientific than a “natural” one, and also allows for the possibility of a just world that is not ultimately ruled by the brutish law of “might makes right,” why not accept the supernatural explanation?

    After all, what we call “supernatural” really just means something that cannot be explained using the laws of nature as we currently understand them. But since we cannot claim to understand all the laws of nature, isn’t it unscientific to reject the hypothesis that seems to best fit our current understanding?
    If you think I am behaving unscientifically at this point, there is, in fact, a scientific precedent for doing so:

    Astronomers have noted that the galaxies do not fly apart, yet there is insufficient observable mass to explain why they hold together. Therefore, astronomers postulate the existence of “dark matter,” even though there is, as yet, no repeatably observable test for it. It seems to me that, rather than there being a phantom form of matter, it is just as likely that the galaxies hold together simply because gravity behaves differently in deep space than it does around the Earth. Scientifically, both explanations are equally valid, but astronomers choose to believe in mysterious “dark matter” over the inconsistency of gravity.

    So if it is acceptable for scientists to believe in something unprovable via observation, why is it unacceptable for us to believe in a supernatural, as-yet-unobservable Moral Reality?

  • Tweeks, you’ve done a bit of an end run around Bluejay. It is much easier for a liberal atheist to maintain his atheism in the face of a conservative Christian position than it is a liberal Christian position.

    I find myself wondering, is this a trap? Morality = God = the Bible = Biblical wisdom = Jesus = women washing my feet while men go off and do stuff and I have to give up believing in equal rights for gays? Suddenly I’ve been led from a liberal moral structure to a conservative moral structure.

    But I suppose I could follow another chain of logic (Morality = God = Jesus = nonviolence, feeding the poor, not throwing stones, turning the other cheek, and loving thy enemies) I’d still end up a liberal and most conservative Christians would still think I’m going to hell, because they would say since I don’t accept conservative morality, I don’t really believe in God.

    This is why belief in God in this thread is being treated as both a premise and a conclusion. If morality is the premise, is God the conclusion, and if we conclude God, do we turn God into a premise, from which we conclude our morality?

  • tweeks

    I find myself wondering, is this a trap? Morality = God = the Bible = Biblical wisdom = Jesus = women washing my feet while men go off and do stuff and I have to give up believing in equal rights for gays? Suddenly I’ve been led from a liberal moral structure to a conservative moral structure.

    Honestly, I’m not trying to trap or trick anybody. I guess I am a pretty liberal believer, because I sincerely believe equal rights for gays is perfectly consistent with my understanding of the Bible! After all, if we were all made in the image of God, but have all become sinners through the Fall, then the inescapable legal implication is that everyone should be treated the same, because we’re all equally valuable, yet equally immoral.

    But I suppose I could follow another chain of logic (Morality = God = Jesus = nonviolence, feeding the poor, not throwing stones, turning the other cheek, and loving thy enemies) I’d still end up a liberal and most conservative Christians would still think I’m going to hell, because they would say since I don’t accept conservative morality, I don’t really believe in God.

    Hey, it doesn’t matter what they think: it only matters what’s true.

    Many conservative Christians are shocked that I’m pro-choice, but while I am convinced that abortion is morally wrong, that doesn’t mean I think the government ought to try and enforce that! After all, Jesus’ sermon on the mount goes waaaay beyond what can practically be legislated, so I think sincere Bible-believers can reasonably disagree on what laws are worth writing, and on the precise role of government in restraining immorality.

    This is why belief in God in this thread is being treated as both a premise and a conclusion. If morality is the premise, is God the conclusion, and if we conclude God, do we turn God into a premise, from which we conclude our morality?

    Well, strictly-speaking, if you are willing to accept the premise that naturalism cannot adequately explain morality, I don’t think your only alternative is the Christian God. Instead, I think it’s enough just to say, “there is some kind of universal Moral Law,” and while that strongly implies some kind of supernatural person (since morality is a personal concept), it hardly proves that the God of the Bible is the right one. Honestly, I feel we would need to reach a few more conclusions beyond the moral law before we should logically turn to the Bible as a reliable source of truth.

  • Victor Plenty

    Tweeks, I lack the time to fully join this conversation, but would like to briefly offer a thought for your consideration, one which I hope might save you some sleep. You write:

    You see, as a Christian, it is not enough for me to simply say that Christianity and atheism are equally likely: the Bible teaches unambiguously that people choose to believe there is no God, and are justly condemned by God for doing so. Therefore, for my faith to stand, it is necessary that I discover whether or not this shocking statement is, in fact, the truth.

    Without complicating matters by discussing my own beliefs, let me instead offer a hypothetical possibility. Perhaps the “shocking statement” you mention is true in some cases, but not in all cases.

    It is probably true that some people choose to believe there is no God, and do so for selfish reasons. This in turn may lead to actions and attitudes that merit condemnation. In other words, some are atheists simply because they don’t want to be constrained by any sense of morality beyond their own convenience or pleasure. Such a basis for atheism might be rightly condemned by a just Creator.

    And yet, perhaps this is not the only basis for atheism.

    Perhaps some do not choose atheism, but instead feel compelled to atheism by their best efforts to understand the reality of the Universe. Such an atheist might not be making a selfish choice to maximize their own convenience and pleasure. Instead they might find conventional ideas about God and morality too easy, too pat, too convenient to compel their acceptance.

    In other words, rather than seeking to lower standards of morality and ethics, such an atheist may instead seek an ever higher standard. In doing so, they reject the “might makes right” arguments too often used by many religious fundamentalists who have shallow ideas about morality.

    An atheism based on such impulses might be forgiven, and even praised and rewarded, by a just and merciful Creator.

    It is my hope that you will find these ideas useful. If not, please feel free to disregard them, and continue your conversation with Bluejay as if I hadn’t said anything. :)

  • tweeks

    Perhaps some do not choose atheism, but instead feel compelled to atheism by their best efforts to understand the reality of the Universe. Such an atheist might not be making a selfish choice to maximize their own convenience and pleasure. Instead they might find conventional ideas about God and morality too easy, too pat, too convenient to compel their acceptance.

    Woah, Victor, that is extremely helpful!!

    Actually, for me, it’s even more than just helpful: it’s a colossal relief! I had been struggling for many years to reconcile God’s condemnation of the truth-suppressing God-rejectors described in Romans 1 with the beliefs of honest skeptics like Bluejay–people who I could see were clearly not rejecting God simply out of some desire to be free from all moral restraint.

    Yet there seemed to be this contradiction: if belief in God is not an inescapable conclusion, how then can God justly condemn non-believers?

    What you just said has made me realize that I was misunderstanding Paul’s point. Later in Romans, Paul goes on to talk about how gentiles who don’t know God are “a law unto themselves,” because, though they don’t believe in any authoritative sacred scriptures, they feel the weight of the Moral Law pressing down on their hearts, so even if they are never presented in life with a view of God that they can honestly accept, God will justly judge them according to what they did in life with whatever moral knowledge they did have.

    I feel very strongly that thinking people ought to reject our culture’s popular caricature of Christianity as too simple–in my opinion, it is too simple! Though I believe in Christ, I reject the authority of any institutionalized “church” (yes, I’m a protestant), and stubbornly refuse to believe anything that I can not see for myself in the teachings of Jesus and his disciples, which turns out to be so much deeper than that fluffy, mindless sentimentality that is being marketed as “Christian” today (you know what I’m talking about). If Jesus sat in on a service at many American churches today, He would be most displeased with what he heard (and that’s an understatement!).

    Ugh, now I feel terribly guilty for even entertaining the idea that Bluejay might be some sort of sinful God-rejector. I’m so sorry, Bluejay; I hope you can forgive my foolishness!

  • JoshB

    Astronomers have noted that the galaxies do not fly apart, yet there is insufficient observable mass to explain why they hold together. Therefore, astronomers postulate the existence of “dark matter,” even though there is, as yet, no repeatably observable test for it. It seems to me that, rather than there being a phantom form of matter, it is just as likely that the galaxies hold together simply because gravity behaves differently in deep space than it does around the Earth. Scientifically, both explanations are equally valid, but astronomers choose to believe in mysterious “dark matter” over the inconsistency of gravity.

    Astronomers aren’t choosing to believe in dark matter. Dark matter is one possible explanation, and the one that best fits with our current understanding of gravity, so for the moment it is the favored hypothesis. It is not, however, a settled matter.

    One of the reasons for building giant particle accelerators is to test for the existence of dark matter (which, according to my layman’s understanding, is an exceedingly difficult, but not necessarily impossible, thing to do.) This testability is what makes the dark matter hypothesis scientific, even if it could ultimately be shown wrong.

    Though it is very difficult for me to publicly admit this, your calm, rational arguments have brought me very near the point of accepting atheism.

    I have lost a great deal of sleep the past few nights wondering whether everything I believe could be wrong

    Everything you believe could be wrong. Then again, it could be right. Bluejay can’t disprove God anymore than you can prove him. The important thing, in my opinion, is that an understanding be reached that neither viewpoint is evil, even if one must ultimately be incorrect.

  • Bluejay

    Hey tweeks and everyone – Just wanted to let you know I’m still reading, and still thinking. What a seriously awesome conversation. I may not have the time this weekend to write an involved response–I’ll be busy with wholesome atheist family stuff ;-) –but I’ll jump back in as soon as I’m able. Peace, all.

  • tweeks

    Hey JoshB!

    Thank you for pointing out that dark matter actually is testable. I didn’t know there was even a theoretical test for it, but I suppose that’s what happens when a person’s primary source for astronomy news is the Science Channel. (Maybe I came back late from a commercial break and missed that part?) Anyway, I am very interested in that little mystery, because I think the solution could seriously deepen our understanding of the universe!

    Everything you believe could be wrong. Then again, it could be right. Bluejay can’t disprove God anymore than you can prove him. The important thing, in my opinion, is that an understanding be reached that neither viewpoint is evil, even if one must ultimately be incorrect.

    You’re absolutely, positively, 100% right.

    It’s not as bad as it might have seemed, though: I personally sensed that Bluejay and other virtuous non-theists that I know were good and decent people, I was just having trouble reconciling that obvious fact with my (defective) understanding of a specific passage (Romans 1:18-22). But I’m so glad that Victor corrected my confusion! Thank you again, Victor!!

    I also agree with you that the existence or non-existence of the Moral Law cannot be irrefutably proven. I realise I’ve been talking so far as though, if you want to be able to take a moral stand on anything, you have to believe in a universal Moral Law. However, I would like to back off from that a bit, and say instead that it’s only necessary to accept that a universal Moral Law could exist.

    It seems to me that, as long as she believes that possibility is there, MaryAnn can boldly write her articles, because she might have her finger on a universal truth. But if MaryAnn didn’t believe there could ever be any kind of universal Moral Law, then that would seem to take all the wind out of her sails. She could still write those brilliantly clever articles in defense of women, but she would ultimately have no reason outside of herself for expecting anyone else to accept them. Then again, maybe that’s the way things really are? Just because we deeply yearn for something to be true doesn’t make it so. However, I think it’s very interesting that every single human being at some level wants to believe this, and it seems to me to be a rather unnatural thing to want to believe. Even though there may be naturalistic theories that could plausibly explain it, I feel that this is an important data point for understanding our world, and that we should not be too quick to dismiss it as illusory.

    Hey tweeks and everyone – Just wanted to let you know I’m still reading, and still thinking. What a seriously awesome conversation. I may not have the time this weekend to write an involved response–I’ll be busy with wholesome atheist family stuff ;-) –but I’ll jump back in as soon as I’m able. Peace, all.

    Thanks Bluejay–I hope you and your family have a great time!

    I think JoshB is absolutely right that we will never be able to irrefutably prove which of our world views are correct. Nevertheless, it has been very helpful for me to learn more about how non-theists see the world, and in particular, how they cope with the moral difficulties our world presents us with. No matter what we believe to be true, I think everyone can agree that the world, at least apparently, is not a morally-perfect place.

    I contend human beings have an innate sense of Right and Wrong, yet I also contend that the world is full of people doing things that we feel are Wrong. Why is this? One possibility is that morality is not absolute, and our ideas about it are purely relative. Another possibility is that, while everybody knows Right from Wrong, we sometimes fail to do what we know is Right.

    If anyone is interested in exploring this idea, that’s what I’d like to talk about next, after Bluejay has had a chance to respond to the conversation so far.

  • tweeks

    My good friend Bluejay,

    Since you will be facing a mountain of material when you return to write your response, I hope it’s all right if I try to make your life a little easier by neatly summarizing my perspective so far.

    You have presented me with undeniable living-proof that naturalists can be good and decent people, and I have already expressed my sincerest regrets for assuming they must be otherwise! I find the strongly rational arguments of great thinkers like Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins highly compelling, and would have no intellectual problems embracing a naturalistic world view.

    However, as I laid awake in my bed pondering the implications of rejecting the supernatural, I was faced with one formidable obstacle.

    There are two beliefs that I hold very dear, yet which cannot be rationally-explained: tolerance for all beliefs, and individual human rights. Theoretically, these ideas are not in conflict, and I am perfectly free, as a naturalist, to embrace them. However, once I step out of theory and into the real world, I am regularly confronted with those who are intolerant of others, and choose to be very selective regarding whom they feel are deserving of individual human rights.

    This puts me in a very difficult position. I feel compelled to stand up for women, gays, ethnic minorities, those with special-needs, and any other people groups who may be suffering discrimination and oppression; yet for me to do so, I must chose to be intolerant of the views of those who discriminate and oppress. My fundamental beliefs in tolerance and human rights are in conflict.

    I am now faced with an impossible choice: do I accept discrimination and oppression, or do I combat them? But if I do choose to combat them–and to be sure, if I am to have any self-respect whatsoever, I must combat them–then on what basis can I do so? Naturalistically speaking, their views are just as valid as my own! My only option is to take the position that their views are objectively and absolutely wrong, regardless of their opinion. But to be able to make that claim, I must now do something that contradicts my intellectually naturalistic convictions: I must accept the existence of a transcendent, universal morality that applies unconditionally to all people.

    Now, I know I am hardly an authority on morality! I regularly think and do things that I later come to realize are wrong. You witnessed it just the other day, when my wrongful prejudice against atheists was exposed for all the world to see. Yet though I sometimes think and feel wrongly, I cannot escape the conviction that my core beliefs in tolerance and human rights are true, and cannot be ignored or dismissed simply because they don’t fit my purely-intellectual view of the world.

    At this point, I feel there is no other option than to accept the supernatural–at least with regards to morality. I feel I can still remain an atheist, but naturalism is simply impossible for me.

  • This conversation is reminding me of martial arts, believe it or not.

    The human body evolved better defenses than offensives. I don’t just mean the difficulty of killing someone with your bare hands.

    When someone makes a conscious decision to attack someone else, they attack with their normal strength and power. But when someone defends themselves, reflex takes over. A person’s reflexes can be up to five times faster than their normal actions. This has been tested in labs and it is why a punch can be blocked. This is why fighters like Bruce Lee and M. Ali advocated counter attacking; by attaching their punch to a preceding block, their counter punch was moving faster than their normal punch, and thanks to Newtonian physics, they were therefore hitting harder, too.

    Is that morality built into the universe?

    And there is the geopolitical stage. The worst tactical mistakes the Nazis made involved overriding the decisions of professionally trained soldiers with their own ideological beliefs, such as not allowing tactical withdrawals because they were convinced just standing and fighting bravely would do the trick.

    Or the Cold War. Regardless of all the many mistakes our presidents made, we still won, because capitalism works better than communionism. I might argue that we won the Cold War despite our presidents, not because of them, because our over all system was better.

  • tweeks

    Hello Paul!

    Thank you for taking the time to read and consider my long windy posts. I really appreciate it!

    Your examples are very interesting, and I think they could indeed be interpreted to mean there is (or is not) some sort of morality built in to the universe.

    However, while the universe could contain a “built-in” morality, I feel that is actually beside the point. The point is that, whether such a morality actually exists or not, we simply cannot be good and decent people unless we behave as though it does!

  • Thank you for taking the time to read and consider my long windy posts. I really appreciate it!

    Hey, some of us actually like long wind–er, eloquent posts. Especially when they’re written in a genuinely civil tone, show genuine respect for differing opinions and avoids the usual emotionalism normally associated with the current subject at hand.

    I guess you really can catch more rhetorical flies with honey…

  • tweeks

    Hey Tonio!

    Thank you very much for the kind words of support! I wasn’t sure whether it was really all right for me to flood this page with ideas that were not directly related to MaryAnn’s The Week in Women column, but I suppose if MaryAnn didn’t like what she saw, she would have said so by now!

    But y’know, now that I think about it, what we’re discussing is not at all irrelevant to her January 24 column. After all, if we want to agree with her that it’s unfair to say that “women are somehow responsible for the fact that human life is such a misery,” then for our assertion to carry any weight, we had better be able to provide a credible alternative explanation! So, why is human life such a misery?

    As I pondered that perennial problem, I realized that Bluejay and I may have been going about our discussion the wrong way.

    We’ve been trying to answer the question, “how can we know what is true?” Bluejay contended we should look to science, and science alone. I felt we should accept the supernatural to some degree. However, now that Bluejay has challenged me to consider why I believe the supernatural is a reliable guide to reality, I realize that his view makes perfect sense! The supernatural is clearly not the best way to determine objective truth about reality, because of course its determinations are subjective. It seems to me that Bluejay is completely justified in his suspicion of the supernatural, and in fact, I now feel that same suspicion myself! But having been forced to deeply examine whether there is any reason at all to believe in something beyond what science can tell me, I suddenly had an epiphany.

    Why is human life such a misery? The reason is fairly obvious, isn’t it? Our lives are miserable because we aren’t getting what we want. If you have everything you desire, you cannot be miserable.

    So what are we lacking? When we get hungry, we have plenty of food. When we feel erotic desire, sex is widely available. When we feel lonely, we can spend time with good friends.

    But there is still one desire that is not being met: the desire to do what is right.

    Is this not the reason that the world is a miserable place? Not only do we sometimes do terrible things to one-another, but we even fail to live up to our own expectations for ourselves! I don’t know about you, but there are plenty of things I still feel guilty about doing, even though they happened years and years ago. But if morality was evolved into us by natural selection, why can no one obey its demands?

    I think this question is fascinating. If we actually know right from wrong (or at least we think we do), then why can’t we always do what we know is right?

    The only answer Naturalism can provide is that our brains are defective. Evolution tells us that our rational faculties evolved to help us survive, not to accurately explain or understand reality. After all, paranoid delusions can be a useful adaptation! Therefore, we have no reason to assume we are thinking rightly about morality, or indeed about anything else in the universe.

    But are you satisfied with that explanation? As far as I can tell, that basically amounts to saying, “the world is miserable because we’re all delusional.” Well, maybe that’s true, but if I am to have any chance of becoming un-miserable, I must seek an alternative explanation!

    What if I told you there is an alternative explanation that is consistent with every scientific notion that Bluejay holds dear, explains why the world is a miserable place, and allows us a way to escape the misery we all experience? It’s not my idea–it’s actually a very, very old idea that people across all cultures and times have known to be true, something that I think we, in our rush to modernize and make life better for ourselves, have somehow lost sight of. But though this idea predates science, I assure you it is in no way inconsistent with any of it. (And no, it’s not Christianity.)

  • Paul

    In order to explain why I don’t do something I know is right, requires a bit of introspection.

    The first reason is that I might have two “right things” that conflict. Two friends need my help at the same time. Two priorities conflict.

    A second reason might be that “the right thing” conflicts with a desired outcome. Who hasn’t been tempted to do the wrong thing to get what they want, or done the right thing and have it blow up in their face? I think it was in high school I just decided I’d rather feel stupid then guilty, because guys kept telling me “not to be stupid” when they wanted me to do something wrong. These things usually involved obtaining sex or money, and adult life doesn’t seem all that different.

    A third reason is that we are taught a habit before we realize it is wrong. Then breaking that habit becomes a struggle, be it to quit smoking, quit drinking, quit over eating… name your addiction.

    Or you might move from one set of circumstances, in which a behavior is right, to another set of circumstances, in which that behavior is wrong. Man, did that slap me in the face when I went from being an undergraduate to a graduate student, but it is why some people can’t switch from the military to civilian life (or vice versa) or will purposely commit a crime to get back into prison. On the other hand, some polititicans have flowed too easily between the public and private spheres, leaving hints of scandel in their wake.

    The fifth reason is simple conformity, but that begs the question of how did the standards of society get messed up in the first place.

  • Bluejay

    Hey, tweeks! Hey, everyone!

    Before I go on: MaryAnn, if you’re reading this, thanks for giving us the space to have this wildly off-topic conversation. If you’d like us to take this somewhere else, please let us know. Maybe I can set up a makeshift blog or something. I have to say, though, that the comments format here is really conducive to extended posts, and I really appreciate the opportunity to have this kind of in-depth discussion with smart and civil people. I hope you don’t mind.

    Okay. Now as far as I can see, tweeks–and as I think you’ve pointed out yourself–this debate can be divided into three issues that would benefit from being discussed separately:

    1. Whether God created, and intervenes in, the universe by supernatural means;

    2. Whether there is an absolute Moral Law, and whether such a law has been established by God;

    3. Whether the Bible is the inerrant expression of the will of God.

    Thanks, by the way, for your post summarizing your contentions; I will address them, but I also want to respond to some of your earlier comments. I confess I feel inadequate to the task of presenting arguments that I’ve read and thought about for years, and what I say is necessarily incomplete, and not as nuanced as I’d like it to be. My response (which I’ve been drafting for a while) will also, unfortunately, be long, and I’ll probably have to break it up into multiple posts; sorry about that. I’ll mention some books and links along the way, and at the end I’ll try to recap some titles that I highly recommend, if you’re interested in exploring these issues further.

    (And another caveat: I’ve been working on this for awhile, so I’m afraid it’s not going to address your most recent posts. That will have to wait for a future comment!)

    So here goes.

    1. Whether God created, and intervenes in, the universe by supernatural means.

    First I have to address this:

    As I understand it, everything in the Bible is consistent with all repeatable scientific observations

    Are you sure, tweeks? There’s plenty in the literal Creation and Flood accounts, for instance, that isn’t consistent with scientific findings, although creative interpretation can make anything match up with science. I’ve always wondered about how Joshua commanded the sun and moon to stand still for a whole day, so that his army could win the battle (Joshua 10:12-13). For this to have been literally true, he would have had to halt the earth’s rotation while preventing everything from flying off into space, as well as stop the moon in its orbit without wreaking havoc on the tides. And all this just to decide the fate of a couple of tribal armies! What’s more likely: that this actually happened, or that the Joshua scribe was a very creative storyteller? ;-) And if poetic license is allowed here, then why not elsewhere in the Bible?

    If some phenomena will never be directly observed, then these phenomena may have observable effects on our universe, yet never themselves be observed, just as ultra-violet light causes sunburns, yet was, until recently, an unobservable phenomenon. […] Therefore, it is possible for an entity to exist who, though never being directly observed, still has observable effects on our universe.

    […]

    After all, what we call “supernatural” really just means something that cannot be explained using the laws of nature as we currently understand them. But since we cannot claim to understand all the laws of nature, isn’t it unscientific to reject the hypothesis that seems to best fit our current understanding?

    In reality, science obtains information about phenomena that cannot be directly observed, but which have observable effects, all the time. Your example of ultraviolet light is a great one. Another one is gravity: we can’t see it, but we can observe and measure its effects on Earth and in the universe. Another is the existence, size, and composition of exoplanets–all directly unobservable with our current equipment, but which can all be deduced, amazingly, from the close analysis of starlight.

    But here’s the thing: science deals with natural causes and effects. Scientists have never claimed to understand everything about nature–far from it–but it’s absolutely crucial to note that they don’t ascribe a currently unexplained phenomenon to supernatural causes. (Or rather, if they do–as I discuss below–that’s the point at which they cease doing effective science.) They are likely natural causes, that may be discovered in time.

    To say that God has observable effects on the universe is to posit God as a testable scientific hypothesis. But whatever science can test and explain is, by necessity, natural! If a God-like entity exists that can be explained through science, it would be an entity whose consciousness, form, and abilities all evolved and arose from natural causes that are ultimately also explainable by science. Surely that’s not what you mean by God, is it? ;-) And in any case, no evidence for such an entity has yet been found.

    As I’ve admitted, it’s possible that God has willed that the universe be exactly what it is, operating by natural means according to discoverable laws. But the will of such a God would be indistinguishable from how we already know the universe works, and is therefore an unnecessary hypothesis in science. Through science we discover, say, the nature of photosynthesis, or of viral infections; to claim afterwards that God wished it to be so is an untestable addition that explains nothing, and lies outside the scope of science. I also have to note that untestable theories are not all equally likely. Richard Dawkins, borrowing from Bertrand Russell, says: “We must be equally agnostic about the theory that there is a china teapot in elliptical orbit around the Sun. We can’t disprove it. But that doesn’t mean the theory that there is a teapot is on level terms with the theory that there isn’t.”

    The reason I have so much confidence in science’s ability to explain things is because of its track record. In all of human history, anything that at first seemed mysterious and supernatural, and was subsequently explained, has without exception turned out to have natural causes. This is not to say that all mysteries have been explained (at least not yet, as JoshB points out), but all the ones that have can be understood by science. We no longer think that lightning is directly caused by Thor or Zeus; we know that it’s a natural electrical occurrence. We no longer believe the Black Death was caused by evil spirits or God’s wrath; it was of course a bubonic plague epidemic spread by rats. The same goes for phenomena not just in the outside world, but in the human mind: epilepsy is not demon possession, but a neurological disorder; a schizophrenic is not driven mad by God, but suffers from heritable genetic conditions or other observable factors. And, as I’ll try to show in a bit, the same may be true even for an as-yet incompletely understood human phenomenon like morality.

    As a (related?) aside, I’d like to address your interesting comment:

    However, there are a number of things we must accept as true which do not meet [the criterion of empirical evidence]. For example, as a child, I believed my parents loved me, but that was very difficult for me to prove scientifically for a number of reasons.

    This strikes me as being very like the comment Matthew McConaughey makes to Jodie Foster in Contact: “Did you love your father? Prove it.” It’s quite a powerful argument–implying that love, like God, can’t be proven–and I’ve wondered about it for a long time. Now, I don’t want to pry into your childhood, but I think there is a way to tell whether someone loves us: they show it. By loving looks, kind gestures, compassionate acts, letters and gifts from afar, we recognize someone’s love; whereas if, say, an abusive boyfriend says he loves you but beats the crap out of you constantly, you’d be deluding yourself if you believe what he says (as unfortunately a lot of battered women seem to do). In other words, love can be known by empirical evidence. Batman said: “It’s not who I am inside but what I do that defines me.” And Jesus said: “A bad tree cannot bear good fruit… Thus, by their fruit will you recognize them” (Matthew 7:18, 20). Hey, I’m open to words of wisdom wherever they’re found. :-)

    To close out this section, I’d like to share a portion of this lecture by one of my science heroes, Neil deGrasse Tyson. (It’s about a half-hour long if you have the time, and well-worth it for Tyson’s delivery and humor.) The gist of it is that the notion of God as active in the universe is really a God of the Gaps: divine intervention is invoked whenever people come right up to the border between their knowledge and their ignorance. Even the greatest scientists, Tyson shows, have done this. The thing is, though, that border is always shifting in favor of more knowledge: where one scientist explains as much as he (or she) can, then throws up his hands and invokes Intelligent Design to explain processes that mystify him, another scientist comes along later and clears up the mystery–and comes up against the limits of his own knowledge, and invokes God once again. And on and on.

    As an explanation for the universe, “Because God did it” effectively discourages further inquiry. I’d rather subscribe to a philosophy that encourages discovery rather than suppresses it.

  • Bluejay

    2. Whether there is an absolute Moral Law, and whether such a law has been established by God.

    I would like us to consider together what the idea that “morality is just a human-made concept” means for human rights.

    Human rights are predicated on the notion that human beings have intrinsic value, and are therefore deserving of dignity and respect. But if we are not made in the image of God, then what value do we have? You, Bluejay, happen to take the view that human beings are a wondrous phenomenon, but that is merely your aesthetic opinion. It would be just as logically consistent with atheism to take the view that human beings have no intrinsic value whatsoever, would it not?

    […]

    There are two beliefs that I hold very dear, yet which cannot be rationally-explained: tolerance for all beliefs, and individual human rights. Theoretically, these ideas are not in conflict, and I am perfectly free, as a naturalist, to embrace them. However, once I step out of theory and into the real world, I am regularly confronted with those who are intolerant of others, and choose to be very selective regarding whom they feel are deserving of individual human rights.

    I am now faced with an impossible choice: do I accept discrimination and oppression, or do I combat them? But if I do choose to combat them–and to be sure, if I am to have any self-respect whatsoever, I must combat them–then on what basis can I do so? Naturalistically speaking, their views are just as valid as my own! My only option is to take the position that their views are objectively and absolutely wrong, regardless of their opinion. But to be able to make that claim, I must now do something that contradicts my intellectually naturalistic convictions: I must accept the existence of a transcendent, universal morality that applies unconditionally to all people.

    This is a really tough subject, tweeks, and you ask some valid and important questions. Here’s my best shot at the issue so far. Since I’m not an expert on history, biology, etc., nor on the current research on the origins of morality, some of my claims or proposed scenarios may be inexact, but I offer them in the service of the larger argument that it’s possible to have a valid morality which is not supernaturally ordained.

    It seems to me that a transcendent moral law must be constant and unchanging. But this seems inconsistent with the observable fact that human morality has changed throughout the millennia. What people felt was right and wrong two thousand years ago is not exactly what people feel is right and wrong today.

    You’ve said that you have (or would like to have) a relativistic tolerance for all beliefs, but this is clearly not the case. You believe in the Christian God, and therefore reject Buddhism, Islam, Wicca, and countless other belief systems. I don’t tolerate all beliefs either; atheism doesn’t mean an indiscriminate cultural relativism and an acceptance of all opinions. I still need to decide which values are true. But in this case values are not a hard, absolute fact in the same way that the laws of physics are; I think they’re the result of moral social consensus, which demonstrably changes over the centuries.

    As I mentioned in an earlier post, God’s decree that gays and adulterers must be put to death (Leviticus 20:10-13) was once seen as the moral thing to do. Today, although we still frown on adulterers, not all of us think that homosexuality is immoral; and even people who do probably don’t think execution is the appropriate moral punishment for gays and cheaters. Another example: We both, I assume, cherish democracy as a fundamental value. But there is nothing in the Bible to justify the rightness of democratic government, nor the underlying values necessary to a democracy, like women’s rights and the equality of all people. In fact, the Bible can be shown to support just the opposite: it commands wives to be subordinate to their husbands in all things (Ephesians 5:22-24) and slaves to submit to their masters (Leviticus 25:44-46, Ephesians 6:5, 1 Timothy 6:1-4). So if an absolute morality is unchanging, and we accepted without question all the moral precepts of Biblical times, MaryAnn wouldn’t be championing feminism on this website, and Barack Obama wouldn’t be president today! But clearly we’ve moved beyond at least some aspects of what the Bible presents as unchanging truths.

    I wholeheartedly agree that all individuals deserve dignity and respect. But this is, I think, an evolved perspective. The concept of the rights of the individual was never an unchanging idea; everyone once accepted the notion that kings were more valuable than serfs, and that they held absolute power over their subjects. And while human rights may be an ancient concept, for most of human history it only applied to members of one’s in-group: it was okay to discriminate against and dehumanize anyone considered the Other. The notion of universal human rights really didn’t come about until the European Enlightenment, and has only been widely accepted relatively recently.

    So, of course MaryAnn can validly fight for the rights of all women today, because she is living today, in this society; feminism may not have meant exactly the same thing even to women pioneers of other eras. In fact, MaryAnn is fighting for feminist values precisely because so many people still don’t consider them valid; she must persuade people that they are so. And of course you and I passionately support universal human rights, because we are products of a global culture that has been profoundly influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment, the Declaration of Independence, etc. Would you and I have supported or even imagined such concepts if we’d lived a thousand years ago? That’s an interesting question.

    Now, having said all this, I do find it hard to dispute your statement that, at some level, human beings have an innate sense of Right and Wrong. Despite the fact that a lot of moral rules do change from era to era, there are a few values that seem to have held true across time: honoring one’s parents, nurturing the young, taboos against murder and incest. But why must these laws be dependent on the commandments of a deity? Here’s a thought experiment: If an ancient manuscript, verified as authentic by all Biblical scholars, suddenly turns up with an Eleventh Commandment that says “Thou shalt torture and kill every firstborn child,” would even the most devout Christian suddenly accept this as morally right, simply because God said so? Or would we intuitively feel that it’s fundamentally wrong, even despite what we might perceive as a divine command?

    So–despite I’ve just said about evolving morals–I think I can agree that human beings do seem to share a few very deeply-held fundamental values. I contend, however, that such strong, elemental, almost instinctive beliefs are the ones most closely tied to our biologically and socially evolved imperatives. I’m willing to consider that such imperatives may have given rise to our complex human morality, and may even be a perfectly valid basis for making moral decisions. Now that may seem like an outrageous statement, but hear me out.

    Richard Dawkins has put forward the idea that the “survival of the fittest” really takes place at the genetic level: it’s not really about the animal itself trying to survive, but the genes trying to survive and propagate themselves from one generation to another. Now Dawkins explores what to me is a very interesting concept: “it is the gene pool of the species as a whole, not the genome of any particular individual, which is best seen as the recipient of the ancestral information about how to survive” (emphasis mine).

    Now, let’s get out of the molecular, genetic level. If genes are trying to work toward the survival of the species as a whole, what might that mean for the survival strategies of certain species? Well, as I said in a previous post, some animals evolved to be social creatures, living in groups for the mutual benefit of all. A kind of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” reciprocity may have arisen because two in-group animals helping each other out were likelier to survive than each of them trying to go it alone. Studies have confirmed such reciprocal behavior in animals that live in communal settings like herds and colonies; some animals, in fact, have exhibited altruistic behaviors, enduring some harm in order to let the species flourish as a whole. In other words: in species that have evolved to function in groups as a survival strategy, a system of reciprocity very likely benefits the group as a whole and helps ensure its propagation and success.

    Consider what this might mean for humans. Imagine two tribes of prehistoric people: one has established norms of cooperation and reciprocity among its members; the other consists of individuals who are only out for themselves, and will rape and murder to get their way. Which group is more likely to survive? The rapists and murderers may enjoy short-term benefits but will very quickly find themselves without allies; and without social supports, they’re much more vulnerable to other hostile factors in the environment. On the other hand, the group that has evolved a cohesive social structure with rules of behavior–and perhaps a leadership hierarchy that governs group activities–turns out to be more efficient, more effective, and overcomes more obstacles with teamwork. Its members are thus more likely to survive, flourish, and pass on their genes–and their survival strategies–to the next generation.

    For me, it’s not hard to imagine the Golden Rule, and morality, and perhaps religion itself as a social institution, gradually emerging from such a beginning.

    Consider further that while, at first, mutually beneficial behaviors were only applied to members of one’s in-group (in other words, you only treated kindly those people you identified with), such in-groups over the millennia have grown and interconnected–family to tribe to nation to race to species–to the point where, in our global culture today, everyone is in our in-group, in the sense that we all identify with each other as human beings. (And it’s interesting to read about folks who are trying to push identification even further, to other species, by calling for us to recognize and codify animal rights! Perhaps this is the next step for morality.)

    So at the very least, it’s possible that a Golden Rule that began as a successful survival strategy would wind up becoming the universal value that it is. An imperative to maximize happiness may have given rise to societies in which benevolence toward the greatest number of people yields the best results for protecting and propagating the species. Also, it’s worth keeping in mind that universally abhorred crimes–murder, incest, child abuse–may be viscerally repellent to us because they go against our ancient biological instincts: to protect members of the in-group (now expanded to include all humanity); to procreate outside the immediate family in order to maintain the species’ genetic health; to nurture the young who are the future of the species.

    This may provide an answer to the two scenarios you proposed:

    For example, let’s say I suddenly find myself dropped into a country where women are viewed as inferior. Should I just shrug and say, “oh well, all cultures are relative,” and go with the flow? That might be a logical thing to do, yet somehow I feel a sense of moral outrage: what’s happening here is wrong. Yet, unfortunately, I have no real basis for standing up for the oppressed women, because as soon as I begin to object, the oppressors will simply say, “well, who are you to tell us how we ought to treat our women?” What can I tell them? That my human-made morality is somehow better than theirs? Would they not be perfectly justified in calling me arrogant and intolerant?

    Or how about this scenario: say a bunch of pedophiles buy a ship, sail to international waters, and proceed to import third-world orphans from the underground market to use as sex slaves. (This scenario, though disgusting, is hardly inconceivable). As an atheist, on what basis can I condemn their behavior? They are not harming me or my people group–they are simply exercising their natural desire for sex, and these children, logically speaking, are statistically unlikely to be useful to society or the human race, so why should I even get upset?

    A country today in which women are viewed as inferior does not exist in a vacuum; it exists within a larger global culture in which the ideals of equality have done more to maximize happiness and produce more thriving, successful societies, ones that harness the full potential of all their citizens. Within such a context, I think it’s absolutely valid to consider a less successful strategy, one that involves oppressing women, as wrong–and of course, the men of such a country would also be violating the Golden Rule, oppressing others while not desiring to be oppressed themselves. As for the pedophiles scenario: clearly they’re violating a biological imperative in the human and animal worlds–that the young must be nurtured and protected–as well as, again, contravening the Golden Rule: they’re enslaving and abusing others whereas they wouldn’t want to be enslaved or abused themselves. So in both cases, even from a strictly biological or evolutionary point of view, you’d be perfectly justified in calling these people wrong!

    Of course, in real life, we don’t constantly make conscious moral decisions on the basis of whether they’re “a successful survival strategy” or “beneficial to the propagation of the species.” I’m only trying to demonstrate the possible natural origins of morality–and that such a morality, no less than a God-given law, is a valid basis for living and acting in the world.

    Anyway… I’ve gone on and on about this, trying to work it out in my own mind, and I apologize for blathering on. Perhaps Sam Harris sums it up a bit better:

    If religion really provided the only conceivable objective basis for morality, it should be impossible to posit a nontheistic objective basis for morality. But it is not impossible; it is rather easy.

    Clearly, we can think of objective sources of moral order that do not require the existence of a law-giving God. In The End of Faith, I argued that questions of morality are really questions about happiness and suffering. If there are objectively better and worse ways to live so as to maximize happiness in this world, these would be objective moral truths worth knowing. Whether we will ever be in a position to discover these truths and agree about them cannot be known in advance (and this is the case for all questions of scientific fact). But if there are psychophysical laws that underwrite human well-being–and why wouldn’t there be?–then these laws are potentially discoverable. Knowledge of these laws would provide an enduring basis for an objective morality. In the meantime, everything about human experience suggests that love is better than hate for the purposes of living happily in this world. This is an objective claim about the human mind, the dynamics of social relations, and the moral order of our world. While we do not have anything like a final, scientific approach to maximizing human happiness, it seems safe to say that raping and killing children will not be one of its primary constituents.

    This is from his essay “The Myth of Secular Moral Chaos,” which you can read here. I’m sure he’s not well-liked in the Christian media, and he’s more confrontational in tone than I prefer to be for myself, but I think he has some points worth making about people’s misconceptions about atheist morality.

  • Bluejay

    3. Whether the Bible is the inerrant expression of the will of God.

    As I’ve said before, tweeks, I have enormous respect for the Bible as a work of literature, as a fount of some of the most powerful and moving stories ever told, as a source of (some) sound moral precepts, as a window into ancient cultures, and as one of the most influential texts in Western civilization. But the Bible is also a human document, and I simply can’t accept it as the literal Word of God.

    Please allow me to just quote at length from two Biblical scholars: Karen Armstrong, from her book The Bible: A Biography, and Bart Ehrman, from Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why.

    First, Bart Ehrman, from his introduction:

    This kind of realization [that the Bible is riddled with mistakes and inconsistencies] coincided with the problems I was encountering the more closely I studied the surviving Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. It is one thing to say that the originals were inspired, but the reality is that we don’t have the originals–so saying they were inspired doesn’t help me much, unless I can reconstruct the originals. Moreover, the vast majority of Christians for the entire history of the church have not had access to the originals, making their inspiration something of a moot point. Not only do we not have the originals, we don’t have the first copies of the originals. We don’t even have the copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals. What we have are copies made later–much later. In most instances, they are copies made many centuries later. And these copies all differ from one another, in many thousands of places. As we will see later in this book, these copies differ from one another in so many places that we don’t even know how many differences there are. Possibly it is easiest to put it in comparative terms: there are more differences among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.

    […]

    If one wants to insist that God inspired the very words of scripture, what would be the point if we don’t have the very words of scripture? In some places, as we will see, we simply cannot be sure that we have reconstructed the original text accurately. It’s a bit hard to know what the words of the Bible mean if we don’t even know what the words are!

    […]

    In short, my study of the Greek New Testament, and my investigations into the manuscripts that contain it, led to a radical rethinking of my understanding of what the Bible is. This was a seismic change for me. Before this–starting with my born-again experience in high school, through my fundamentalist days at Moody, and on through my evangelical days at Wheaton–my faith had been based completely on a certain view of the Bible as the fully inspired, inerrant word of God. Now I no longer saw the Bible that way […] This was a human book from beginning to end. It was written by different human authors at different times and in different places to address different needs. Many of these authors no doubt felt they were inspired by God to say what they did, but they had their own perspectives, their own beliefs, their own views, their own needs, their own desires, their own understandings, their own theologies; and [all these things] informed everything they said […] Among other things, this meant that Mark did not say the same thing that Luke said because he didn’t mean the same thing as Luke. John is different from Matthew–not the same. Paul is different from Acts. And James is different from Paul. Each author is a human author and needs to be read for what he (assuming they were all men) has to say, not assuming that what he says is the same, or is conformable to, or consistent with, what every other author has to say. The Bible, at the end of the day, is a very human book.

    […]

    Many Christians, of course, have never held this literalistic view of the Bible in the first place, and for them such a view might seem completely one-sided and unnuanced (not to mention bizarre and unrelated to matters of faith). There are, however, plenty of people around who still see the Bible this way. Occasionally I see a bumper sticker that reads: “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” My response is always, What if God didn’t say it? What if the book you take as giving you God’s words instead contain human words? What if the Bible doesn’t give a foolproof answer to the questions of the modern age–abortion, women’s rights, gay rights, religious supremacy, Western-style democracy, and the like? What if we have to figure out how to live and what to believe on our own, without setting up the Bible as a false idol–or an oracle that gives us a direct line of communication with the Almighty?

    And here is Karen Armstrong:

    Jesus himself remains an enigma. There have been interesting attempts to uncover the figure of the ‘historical’ Jesus, a project that has become something of a scholarly industry. But the fact remains that the only Jesus we really know is the Jesus described in the New Testament, which was not interested in scientifically objective history. There are no other contemporary accounts of his mission and death. We cannot even be certain why he was crucified.

    […]

    The Christian scriptures were written at different times, in different regions and for very different audiences, but they shared a common language and set of symbols, derived from the Law and the Prophets as well as the Late Second Temple texts. They brought together ideas that originally had no connection with one another–son of God, son of man, messiah and kingdom–into a new synthesis. The authors did not argue this logically but simply juxtaposed these images so repeatedly that they merged together in the reader’s mind. There was no uniform view of Jesus. Paul had called him the ‘son of God’, but had used the title in its traditional Jewish sense: Jesus was a human being who had a special relationship to God, like the ancient kings of Israel, and had never been raised by him to uniquely high status. Paul never claimed that Jesus was God. Matthew, Mark and Luke […] also used the title ‘son of God’ in this way, but they also implied that Jesus was Daniel’s ‘son of man’, which gave him an eschatological dimension. John, who represented a different Christian tradition, saw Jesus as the incarnation of the Word and Wisdom of God which had existed before the creation of the world. When the final editors of the New Testament put these texts together, they were not disturbed by these discrepancies. Jesus had become too immense a phenomenon in the minds of Christians to be tied to a single definition.

    […]

    What is the way forward? This short biography makes it clear that many modern assumptions about the Bible are incorrect […] The fundamentalist emphasis on the literal reflects the modern ethos but is a breach with tradition, which usually preferred some kind of figurative or innovative interpretation. There is, for example, no single doctrine of creation in the Bible and the first chapter of Genesis was rarely read as a factual description of the origins of the cosmos. Many of the Christians who oppose Darwinism today are Calvinists, but Calvin insisted that the Bible was not a scientific document and that those who wanted to learn about astronomy or cosmology should look elsewhere.

    I’ll stop there. I think it’s important to note that neither scholar seems to be ruling out faith or endorsing atheism, but simply explores the very human historical processes that were involved in producing the Bible. And while the fallibility of the Biblical authors probably won’t convince me to renounce atheism, I can see–as Karen Armstrong points out–how creative and individual interpretations of the Bible can nourish a valid faith that doesn’t depend on literal belief.

  • Bluejay

    4. Wrapping up.

    So… I think that’s all I have to give you for now, tweeks. Again, I apologize for the length, but your thoughtful questions and arguments have made me think harder, scribble more notes, and put post-its on more pages than at any time since college! :-D And I felt that your comments deserved the best-thought-out response that I could muster. But I know I tend to be wordy, so I hope reading my bloated posts wasn’t too much of a drag.

    As promised, here are some of the books I’ve mentioned or quoted or simply read and thought about, if you’d like to dig further:

    Carl Sagan, The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God

    Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene; A Devil’s Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love; The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution; and the DVD of his documentary The Genius of Charles Darwin

    Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason

    Karen Armstrong, The Bible: A Biography

    Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

    Jonathan Glover, Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century (This is a particularly excellent book that I highly recommend, which was much on my mind throughout our discussion on morality. It rigorously explores the nature of morality and the ways it broke down during the wars and atrocities of the last century; considers morality from secular AND religious viewpoints, and the failings of each; and tries to see a way towards a 21st century morality that makes sense.)

    I do want to say one last thing. It may seem from my comments (and from other atheists’ comments in the media) that nonbelievers simply want to tear down others’ beliefs and what makes their lives meaningful, offering nothing but bleak negativity in return. I hope that’s not the impression I’ve been giving here. As I hope you’ve seen, many atheists live quite happily without religious belief, and still have deeply-held values and principles which they strive to uphold in the world. Some of them (not me) have joined formal organizations like the Council for Secular Humanism, which, as far as I can tell, functions like a church in bringing like-minded folks together to affirm their convictions and harness their energy to do some good. If you’re interested, you can browse their website http://www.secularhumanism.org: their page on “10 Myths About Secular Humanism” is a good place to start. I’m not a member of this (or any) organization, and I’m not familiar enough with them to unconditionally endorse all their causes, but their stated principles and values seem to accord well enough with my own. I just bring them up as more proof that nonbelievers aren’t all grumpy nihilists or wild hedonists. ;-)

    So. If I don’t believe in God, what keeps me going? Personally, what gets me jumping for joy is what gets Neil deGrasse Tyson excited in this link. (It’s a short one this time, and I hope you watch it.) To know that, at the deepest, most fundamental level, I am a part of this universe, and not apart from it, is an inexpressibly glorious feeling. And note the ecstasy of Tyson’s description, his use of religious language, and his explicit comparisons to faith! Maybe, in the end, believers and nonbelievers aren’t so different in their desire to know the truth. Maybe what matters most is that, even as we disagree on the nature of that truth, we recognize each other as fellow seekers, and treat each other with kindness.

    Peace.

  • tweeks

    Wow. :-O

    Bluejay, if I had any remaining doubts that you were taking me seriously, they have all been eradicated once and for all. Say, weren’t you supposed to be having fun with your family last weekend? After reading all that, I wonder if they even get to see you at all! ;-)

    But seriously, I completely understand why you’ve put so much time into this. The truth is, even after what Victor said, I’ve still been sleeping very little the past few days (not that I mind–it’s been exhilarating), and my brain’s been working overtime trying to understand why so many things that are “obvious” to me are not so obvious to you. Clearly you are not suffering from a lack of either intelligence or good character, so what’s the deal?

    Examining my own knee-jerk reactions to some of the things you’ve said, I can see why it’s so hard for people to calmly and rationally discuss their world views with each other, and why it’s sort of a taboo subject where I live. (Apologies if what I’m about to say is obvious to you already; it just helps me to think out loud.) Basically, my world view is my identity: it tells me who I am. So when someone attacks my views, it’s hard not to feel like they’re personally attacking me!

    As sympathetic as I am to your perspective (if I had not become a Christian as a child, I’m sure my empirical nature would have driven me to embrace Naturalism instead), it’s still not easy for me to distance myself enough from my assumptions to be anywhere near objective about them, but I am doing my very best because, honestly, if my views can’t stand up to intelligent criticisms, what good are they? For this discussion to be worth my time (and yours), I feel that I must be prepared to change my view–to be an “honest skeptic” about what I have been taught.

    Ironically, this kind of anonymous Internet message board format that so often changes otherwise good and decent people into hateful, thoughtless trolls seems to work well in this case because it gives us–well, me at least!–time to cool down and think carefully about what the “other side” is saying before formulating a response. I’ve noticed that this time delay has already kept me from making a few unfair presumptions.

    Another thing that helps me to behave myself while discussing these things is the command of Jesus to consider others better than myself–“for the last shall be first,” and all that. But that doesn’t explain why you have been able to be so patient with me! I guess you’re just a really nice guy. (BTW, I apologize if I assumed the wrong gender; male is my default only because “he” is one less letter to type than “she”.)

    I have saved a backup of this page so that, years from now, I will be able to come back and rehearse what you and the others who have kindly contributed have said about my world view. Since most people didn’t have the upbringing I did, and don’t share the set of assumptions that I have about the world, the thoughts people have expressed here the past few days are invaluable for helping me to understand how others view my beliefs, and, conversely, why they believe what they believe.

    Alright, enough preamble. In my next post, I will finally get to responding to each of your four posts. I really can’t thank you enough for all the time and effort you surely must have spent putting all this together for me–especially considering all the family and career obligations you must have!

  • tweeks

    Dear Bluejay,

    Your fours posts are an excellent and thorough summary of why those three specific points of Biblical doctrine may be logically rejected, and I’m not going to even try to defend them against such a weight of evidence–not because they are indefensible, but because I realized I should not have tried to argue them with you in the first place. It is very clear to me now that I had no reason to expect a Naturalist to accept God, Christ, or even the Bible as proof of anything, since all three rest on assumptions that a Naturalist does not make.

    So, for the moment, I’d like you to pretend you’ve never heard of the Bible (Bible? What Bible?), Jesus Christ, or any kind of divine Creator.

    The reason I’d like you to do that is because I would like to show you evidence for a Creator that a Naturalist can actually accept. From here on, I will not appeal to anything you can’t perceive with your own senses.

    But first I will take a nap. :-) Talk to you soon!

  • Bluejay

    tweeks, I have another thought about your oppressed-women scenario:

    The reason we can validly say it’s wrong to oppress women, even on a purely empirical basis, is that the idea that women are inferior is demonstrably false. Besides being of the same species (or in-group), women have the same level of consciousness and the same moral and mental capacities as men.

    We think nothing of harnessing and manipulating creatures that seem to exhibit lesser moral and mental abilities. We “enslave” bees to make honey for us, horses to carry us places, pigs and cows to be used as sources of food, and dogs and cats to be our pets. But as soon as people figured out that African slaves were humans with the same moral and mental faculties, people rightly decided that human slavery was wrong. Societies that oppress women are ones that haven’t figured out that women and men are demonstrably on the same footing.

    If science ever discovers that dogs and cats have the same consciousness and morality as humans, I’m pretty sure that our moral stance towards them will change, and that keeping them as pets will be considered immoral.

    And the reason it’s wrong to oppress entities that are our moral and mental equals is that our shared capabilities make us part of the same in-group–that of highly conscious, moral beings–and therefore they should be accorded the same value that we give ourselves.

    So, in this case, I feel that even a morality based on empirical evidence could make sense. :-)

    Say, weren’t you supposed to be having fun with your family last weekend? After reading all that, I wonder if they even get to see you at all! ;-)

    I did have family time, tweeks, but like you, I’ve been sacrificing some sleep. :-)

  • Bluejay

    tweeks, looky here! It looks like Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan have had a long and involved online dialogue about the very issues we’ve been debating here. Well worth a read.

    I think it’s cool that, according to Sullivan, he and Harris have become friends, and that they’re turning their conversation into a book, with proceeds going to charity:

    This is about trying to restore a civil conversation between serious people of faith and sincere non-believers, to try and defuse and depolarize this debate some more.

    Amen! ;-)

  • Orangutan

    I would totally buy that book. And this thread has actually chipped away at my firmly established cynicism. It’s also the reason I’m looking forward to when MaryAnn is able to get forums set up. Carry on, folks. :)

  • tweeks

    Dear Bluejay,

    This is about trying to restore a civil conversation between serious people of faith and sincere non-believers, to try and defuse and depolarize this debate some more.

    Amen! ;-)

    I think we have made great progress in this area! I now feel like I thoroughly understand your eminently rational world view. However, I have also begun to feel that I have failed to hold up my end of the conversation, and for that, I do sincerely apologize.

    You see, it now seems very clear that it was quite silly for me to try to talk to you about Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Deism, or indeed any other religion, not because you’re not an extremely intelligent and virtuous person, but because I should have realized that, from your perspective, the reason for religion is nonsensical.

    You have been told by people you respect and admire that religions are relics of our ancient past, obsolete systems of thought that were concocted to explain why the world is the way it is. If that were true, I would have to completely agree with you that you are entirely justified in rejecting them all in favor of a purely “scientific” view. (I say “scientific” in quotes because Naturalism is not technically a science, but a philosophy: a system of beliefs that is based on science, but not scientifically provable, since we cannot show irrefutably that there is no supernatural reality of some sort.)

    As I lay awake staring at my bedroom ceiling over the weekend, struggling to understand how an intelligent and affable Naturalist like yourself could ever honestly accept any religion as plausible (let alone necessary), suddenly I realized that there was a reason, and that it was a very good one.

    I cannot thank you enough for helping me to realize this, because I now see that, after being a religious person for 20 years, I had somehow forgotten the very reason I’d started down this road in the first place! But indeed there was a very good reason why I’d concluded that religions were necessary and worth my due consideration, and it was certainly not because they provided me with a better explanation of the world than science alone. You have demonstrated very clearly that they do not–or at least that Christianity does not. But I’m sure you could just as easily apply similar arguments to the Torah, the Koran, and any other documents or teachings from religious persons of any persuasion.

    Now, what I would like to try to do in the rest of this post is to “step into your shoes,” and demonstrate how I, an intelligent and well-read Naturalist who sincerely wants to behave morally, may rationally accept the religions of the world as worth my time and consideration. To accomplish this, I have thought long and hard, and done my very best to put together two parables that, though contrived, I hope will help you to begin to see the religious person’s perspective. Please continue to bear with me, as you have so kindly done all along! :-)

    So, I am now a Naturalist: I sincerely believe science explains everything I need to know about my world.

    First parable.

    Hiking in the woods one summer, I come upon an unoccupied, fully-furnished log cabin home. Does anyone own it? Maybe, maybe not. Rationally-speaking, I have no way of knowing for sure. But since I’m rather tired from all my hiking, and the house looks very comfortable inside, I decide to conclude it is owner-less, and make myself at home. Since I’m positively famished from all my hiking, I eat some of the delicious food in the refrigerator; and since I’m very tired from the day’s exertion, I lay down to sleep in the comfortable bed.

    Suddenly, in the middle of the night, I am awakened by a large, angry-looking man standing over me. “What the hell are you doing here?!” he shouts.

    “Well, I discovered this comfortable-looking house, and since I could find no irrefutable evidence that it was occupied, I decided to stay.”

    “This is MY house, you idiot! Get the hell out before I call the police!”

    Was that man right to be so angry with me?

    Second parable.

    Walking along the busy downtown streets of my hometown, I spot a stranger’s wallet lying on the sidewalk. Looking inside, I see it contains $100 cash. Thinking about whether or not I should keep this money for myself, I instead decide to do the right thing, and try to contact the owner listed on the driver’s license inside and return their money to them.

    A few days later, walking in another part of town, I see another stranger’s wallet lying on the sidewalk. Looking inside, I see it contains $10,000 cash. “Well,” I say to myself, “anyone carrying around so much cash is obviously a criminal. It would be dangerous to try to contact them to give them back their money. Besides, this driver’s license could well be a fake, or the person listed on it could be dead for all I know. No, the best thing for me to do is to keep this money for myself and spend it responsibly.”

    Have I acted rightly in returning the first wallet but keeping the second?

    Conclusion.

    Please do not take any offense at what I have just said to you, Bluejay. I know you are a good person, and I know you want to do the right thing. However, I cannot escape the conclusion that you have been misled about what you reasonably ought to believe about our universe.

    We both agree that our universe began with the Big Bang, but I think we fundamentally differ on what we choose to believe caused the Bang: I choose to believe it was probably caused by a who rather than a what, just as I choose to believe that evidently-unoccupied houses are probably owned by someone, and wallets in the street probably belong to living people who ought to have their money returned to them, no matter how good or bad they may be.

    So you see, choosing to become a religious person is not a matter of the head, but of the heart; not a question of epistemology, but morality and ethics; not something to be endlessly debated as though it were merely an interesting little intellectual puzzle, but something we must believe if we are to behave as moral people in an immoral world.

    It seems to me that the reason you have come to your conclusions about religions in general is that you have chosen to ask, “why shouldn’t I accept any religions as true?” when the question I honestly and sincerely believe with all my heart that you should be asking is, “how can I behave as a good and virtuous person in this strange and wonderful universe I find myself in?”

    You have all the reasons in the world to reject objective morality and essentially put yourself in the place of any god or gods that may exist. But there is one fact that even you must accept: one day we must all die, each and every one of us, and it is not impossible that we will find ourselves standing before the One Who Caused The Big Bang. At that moment, assuming you have continued all your life to believe as you do, he/she/they may rightly say to you, “you found yourself in a vast and magnificent universe. Why did you not make any effort to find its owner?”

    You may reply, “I didn’t have irrefutable proof that you existed!”

    But he/she/they may rightly reply, “yet you had no proof I/we did not exist, either. Why then have you chosen to believe as you did?”

  • tweeks

    Dear Bluejay,

    You are obviously a kind and clever person with a brilliantly inquisitive mind. If I ever meet you in the real world, I will gladly buy you a beer and talk with you for hours about this elegant universe we find ourselves in!

    In our conversation here, please don’t think of me as an adversarial debate partner who’s somehow getting a thrill out of making his opponent look bad. The truth is that I think the world of you, and it’s because I do that I have taken on the role of a concerned friend who honestly and sincerely feels that he sees something important which, for whatever reason, you do not see.

    And what it is that I now see is not something I could ever have seen on my own, but it is something that you yourself have helped me to see; not a truth about nature, but rather about human nature; not something floating out there in outer space or buried underground in rocks, but buried deep within you and me.

    In the end, my entire case for becoming a religious person–not just a Christian, but a believer in any religion–is based on two simple observations which are so basic and self-evident that any child can plainly see them, and it takes all the intellectually-sophisticated arguments an adult mind can muster to successfully deny them. They are simply these two:

    1. We all have a conscience.

    2. We should listen to it.

    This is really all that I am trying to say to you. I’m not here to tell you what to believe or how you ought to live your own life; neither of those are any of my business! I am merely suggesting, kindly, gently, that you strive to be an honest observer of the world around you, both outside and inside.

    In my heart, I feel an undeniable sense that some things are right, and some things are wrong. Whether my conscience is reliable or not, I can no more deny its existence than I can deny my own eyes. The reason I am so worried about you right now is that you seem to be looking for reasons why we human beings can safely ignore our consciences. I don’t think this is what you really intended to do, but it is something that our badly-broken world has somehow tricked you into believing.

    You see, there are people in the world who are looking for reasons not to listen to their consciences. Listen to the words of Paul–not Paul the apostle, but Paul our fellow human being and thoughtful participant in this discussion:

    In order to explain why I don’t do something I know is right, requires a bit of introspection.

    A … reason might be that “the right thing” conflicts with a desired outcome. Who hasn’t been tempted to do the wrong thing to get what they want…?

    What Paul has given us here is a profound insight into human nature. There are people in the world today–people just like you and me–who are looking for reasons why they don’t have to listen to their consciences. Show me a man who has decided he no longer has to listen to his conscience, and I will show you a man who can justify anything he wants to do.

    We all woke up in this strange and wonderful world, not knowing for certain how we got here, or what we’re here to do. But one thing we do know is that we can all tell right from wrong. Even if our admirable President Barak Obama goes on television tonight and tells the nation that any wallets found on the street are up for grabs, that still doesn’t make it true. Though I have the utmost respect for our President, I would have to respectfully disagree with him, not because I’m so much smarter than he is (I’m not), but because of what my conscience tells me. I have to “trust my own eyes” on this issue.

    Despite the best efforts of science, we can never know for certain where our universe ultimately came from, and whether or not it belongs to us. One thing that I do know is that we did not create it, but were created by it, through that process of evolution that you and I both sincerely believe in. Therefore, even our very lives are not our own, because we did not make ourselves. I talk about what I’m going to do with “my” life, but on what basis have I concluded that this life I have found belongs to me? There is no basis; it is just an assumption that our culture has chosen to make. You could easily imagine a culture where people didn’t talk like that, but instead viewed themselves as servants of nature, the universe, or the divine.

    From ancient times, people have realized that we can never know for certain who we are or how we got here, and that is why religions exist, and continue to exist today; not because they explain the world outside us, but because they explain the world within us. For all its explanatory power, evolution and natural selection can only tell us how we got here, not how we ought to live. Yet each and every one of us must make choices every day about what is right and what is wrong. How do we choose? May I override my conscience, or do I have to listen to it? And if I do, why do I?

    These are the questions that religions are designed to answer. That is why your criticisms of the Bible, for example, miss the point. The point of the Bible is not that it gives us a totally reliable historical account of ancient days, but that it gives us a totally reliable account of our hearts. People who try to use the Bible to replace science are simply misunderstanding what it’s for, just as people who try to use science to replace religion are misunderstanding what it is for.

    Now, I hope, you see why every scientist of good conscience is obliged to go out into the world and seek an explanation for their inherently moral nature. As your humble friend who cares about you, Bluejay, I urge you to examine carefully the teachings of each of the world’s religions, looking not at what they say about nature, but what they say about your nature. You don’t have to think of it as some sort of mystical vision quest, but merely research into which established theory of human nature best fits what you know to be true about your own soul.

    On this basis, there are good reasons for choosing Christianity, but really any religion is better than none! But I’m sure you would agree that no explanation is itself an explanation, which is why Naturalism is not science, but a religion, and a very poor one at that.

  • Bluejay

    You have been told by people you respect and admire that religions are relics of our ancient past, obsolete systems of thought that were concocted to explain why the world is the way it is.

    Yes, that’s true. But I don’t believe them on the basis of their authority, but because they (and I, and anyone who wishes) can arrive at these conclusions by engaging empirically with evidence from history, archaeology, biology, and other investigations into the natural world.

    (if I had not become a Christian as a child, I’m sure my empirical nature would have driven me to embrace Naturalism instead)

    Precisely, tweeks. Children are born scientists–watch them dig in the dirt and take things apart and constantly test things around them. As a child you were open to all the evidence from nature. Your empirical nature would have led you to the conclusions that science makes about the universe. But may I presume (and please tell me if I’m being unfair) that you became a Christian not through your own deliberate investigations and conclusions, but because your parents or other grown-ups around you were Christian? Were you not also told what to believe by people you respect? And when you and I find that beliefs that have been handed down to us contradict each other, can we not test them to discover which beliefs are supported by the facts of the universe, and which are not?

    Hiking in the woods one summer, I come upon an unoccupied, fully-furnished log cabin home. Does anyone own it? Maybe, maybe not. Rationally-speaking, I have no way of knowing for sure. But since I’m rather tired from all my hiking, and the house looks very comfortable inside, I decide to conclude it is owner-less, and make myself at home. Since I’m positively famished from all my hiking, I eat some of the delicious food in the refrigerator; and since I’m very tired from the day’s exertion, I lay down to sleep in the comfortable bed.

    Suddenly, in the middle of the night, I am awakened by a large, angry-looking man standing over me. “What the hell are you doing here?!” he shouts.

    “Well, I discovered this comfortable-looking house, and since I could find no irrefutable evidence that it was occupied, I decided to stay.”

    “This is MY house, you idiot! Get the hell out before I call the police!”

    Was that man right to be so angry with me?

    The flaw in this parable, of course, is that a fully-furnished log cabin home does not spring up spontaneously according to the laws of nature. It was clearly intentionally designed by human hands. Whether or not you decide to occupy it depends on concepts of ownership that apply in the particular culture you live in. In a culture such as ours that believes in private ownership, it would be wrong to invade someone else’s home. But some cultures may believe in communal ownership, and in that case it would be fine for you to do so, and the large man probably wouldn’t mind at all.

    This may, of course, lead us into a discussion of whether the universe itself was intentionally designed, but that doesn’t seem to be your main thrust here, so perhaps it can wait for later.

    (By the way: if the large, angry man is supposed to be God, are you saying he would kick us out of the universe when he finds out we’re in it? ;-) )

    In the end, my entire case for becoming a religious person–not just a Christian, but a believer in any religion–is based on two simple observations which are so basic and self-evident that any child can plainly see them, and it takes all the intellectually-sophisticated arguments an adult mind can muster to successfully deny them. They are simply these two:

    1. We all have a conscience.

    2. We should listen to it.

    This is really all that I am trying to say to you. I’m not here to tell you what to believe or how you ought to live your own life; neither of those are any of my business! I am merely suggesting, kindly, gently, that you strive to be an honest observer of the world around you, both outside and inside.

    In my heart, I feel an undeniable sense that some things are right, and some things are wrong. Whether my conscience is reliable or not, I can no more deny its existence than I can deny my own eyes. The reason I am so worried about you right now is that you seem to be looking for reasons why we human beings can safely ignore our consciences. I don’t think this is what you really intended to do, but it is something that our badly-broken world has somehow tricked you into believing.

    I appreciate your concern, tweeks, but I’m afraid you’ve greatly misunderstood my argument. Of course we have consciences, and of course we should listen to them. I think loving people is good and killing people is bad, just as you do. I’m not trying to find reasons to say we shouldn’t be moral, or that no morality is valid.

    All I’m saying is that consciousness, conscience, morals, and our notions of right and wrong may have entirely natural causes. We do not understand them fully now, but that doesn’t mean we never will. And if, one day, scientists do discover the biological source of consciousness, or the precise connection between morality and electrical signals in the brain–so what? To me, that doesn’t make consciousness any less awesome, or morality any less valid.

    Love, hope, truth, honor, respect, decency, curiosity, telling right from wrong–I subscribe to all these things. I would continue to subscribe to all these things even if, one day, science can explain exactly why I do. To understand something completely is not to lessen its value!

    Will we ever understand morality completely? Who knows? But you seem to feel that its validity depends on the mystery of its provenance. But why does something have to be mysterious in order for it to be good?

    I say, why not dig into the mystery? Why not try to figure out how morality arises from brain matter? If the natural world can produce such thinking, feeling, moral creatures as we, why should that demean us? Why should it not, instead, elevate the natural world?

  • Bluejay

    So you see, choosing to become a religious person is not a matter of the head, but of the heart; not a question of epistemology, but morality and ethics; not something to be endlessly debated as though it were merely an interesting little intellectual puzzle, but something we must believe if we are to behave as moral people in an immoral world.

    And yet, as you see, I and millions of other nonbelievers behave morally in this world. Perhaps religious people do not have a monopoly on goodness, kindness, and decency.

  • tweeks

    Dear Bluejay,

    Thank you again for your patient indulgence; I feel we are now very close to the heart of the matter.

    But may I presume (and please tell me if I’m being unfair) that you became a Christian not through your own deliberate investigations and conclusions, but because your parents or other grown-ups around you were Christian?

    You’re not being unfair at all! Just like any child, I believed what the grown-ups told me. But now that I myself am a grown-up, I am free to question what I have been taught, and see if it matches what I know to be true. This is what you have helped me to do these past few days, and why I am greatly in your debt. :-)

    Will we ever understand morality completely? Who knows? But you seem to feel that its validity depends on the mystery of its provenance. But why does something have to be mysterious in order for it to be good?

    But it’s not mysterious at all, that’s my point! Forget about provenance, forget about the supernatural, forget about any authorities real or imagined. It’s just you and me now, standing here, trying to empirically understand ourselves.

    Of course we have consciences, and of course we should listen to them.

    I am now going to ask you a very simple, very scientific question: why?

    You say you should listen to your conscience, but why should you? If there is really no good reason, then why not ignore it when it’s convenient?

    The problem with Naturalism is not intellectual, but moral: it doesn’t demand that you obey your conscience. Instead, it provides rational explanations like, “my conscience evolved to help me survive, so by listening to it, I increase my chances of survival.” Yet Naturalism also says that you are an intelligent, rational creature, and so you are therefore free to use your reason to override your conscience whenever it conflicts with your desires.

    This is why Naturalism is not science, but religion, and a terrible one at that. In seeking to explain your conscience, it has instead denied it, excusing you to ignore your sense of right and wrong whenever it’s convenient for you, just as you may find a stranger’s wallet and decide to keep it simply because you want the money. Oh, I’m sure you can manufacture all sorts of reasons why you may keep it, and even why it’s morally right for you to do so, but if your conscience says “no,” then those “reasons” are, by definition, just excuses–not rational arguments, but rationalizations to allow you to do something you know isn’t right.

    People who fail to do what they know is right, no matter how intelligently they can rationalize their behavior, are what we call “bad people.”

    The reason we call them “bad” is because they know right from wrong, but they refuse to do right. If they didn’t know right from wrong, we could not call them “bad”, but would have to say that those people were merely intellectually mistaken. This is the basis for the legal “insanity” defense, and why it is rarely successful. We do know right from wrong, everybody knows we do, and yet we often do things we know are wrong. It’s not that Naturalism cannot explain this, it’s that it doesn’t want to.

    This is why Naturalism is the belief system of choice for people who want an excuse to do as they please. I think you are a person who wants to do right, which is why I’m urging you to reject Naturalism and obey your conscience.

    It is very clear to me now that the basic difference between us is not that I think the world demands a supernatural explanation, but that you want to believe that obeying your conscience is optional, and I do not. I’m not saying I don’t frequently fail to do what I know is right; I’m just saying that I have no good excuse for doing so.

    I think you want to be a good person, Bluejay, but I think the belief system you have chosen–a system which is founded on science but goes well beyond it–cannot provide you with the conviction you need to obey your conscience no matter what your mind and heart are telling you.

    I’m not saying you need to believe in the supernatural. That’s not at all what I’m saying now. I’m simply urging you to “blindly” believe in your conscience. If you think this is a bad idea, then I suppose we must part ways here, because faith in the validity of one’s own conscience is basic to goodness and virtue.

  • tweeks

    Bluejay, my good and kind friend,

    Let me now make myself crystal clear, so that there can be no room for confusion.

    As a Naturalist, you only have two options regarding your conscience:

    1. You MUST obey it

    2. You don’t have to obey it

    If you choose the first option, you are no longer a Naturalist, for you have decided to blindly believe something that science alone cannot justify.

    If you choose the second option, you are now (please forgive me) a wicked person. You feel that you know right from wrong, yet you are willing to permit yourself to disregard that knowledge.

    This is the basic choice that separates us. If you are the good and decent person that I believe you to be, then you must select the first option. But I have faith that you will indeed choose to follow your conscience and reject the lies that intelligent men have told you about yourself.

  • Bluejay

    I’m not saying you need to believe in the supernatural. That’s not at all what I’m saying now.

    That is exactly what you’re saying, tweeks. Anything natural has the potential to be understood by science. You deny that the origins of morality can ever be explained by science, so you are therefore arguing for the supernatural. Saying you’re not is disingenuous.

    Again, I fail to see how attempting to understand the natural origins of morality leads to invalidating morality. You keep accusing me of having a philosophy that justifies doing whatever I please, whereas, in fact, I’ve tried to show just the opposite: that the rule I follow (and that I suspect most people, religious or not, follow at heart) is the Golden Rule.

    Showing how the Golden Rule may be the product of billions of years of evolution does not make it less valid a principle by which to live. Showing how love, kindness, compassion, empathy, and notions of justice and equality have social, psychological, and biological roots does not provide a justification for gleefully throwing those things out the window! Why are you so threatened by scientific inquiries into these matters? Why do you equate explaining them with undermining them? I fail utterly to see the sense in that argument.

    It comes down to this, tweeks: You believe people can’t be good without God. Every day, millions of people around the world are proving you wrong.

    And rather than trying to understand how they may have valid reasons for being moral that are different from yours, you issue ultimatums, as you have just done with me: either I must believe as you do, or I am wicked. I note here that I have not done the same with you; at every step of our debate, I’ve tried to make allowances for you to have personal reasons for your faith, and I never questioned your decency or put it to the test. With all your religion and all my lack of it, which of us has turned out to be more fair-minded and compassionate?

    I think, alas, this is indeed where we must part. I’m now starting to see your comments as judgmental and condescending, and nothing productive can come out of that conversation.

    Thank you for all your time and thoughts.

  • tweeks

    I’m sorry Bluejay, I am so, so sorry, but you are trapped in your own logic.

    You say you have a conscience, and that you must obey it; yet you also say that your conscience is the product of naturalistic causes, and therefore you do not have to obey it.

    In effect, you are saying, “I must obey my conscience, and because it is the product of evolution, I may ignore it.” You cannot have it both ways.

    I’m sure this must be very confusing for you, because you have been living with this basic contradiction for a long time. I don’t expect you to face this reality over night; it will no doubt take a lot of time and soul-searching for you to accept that your conscience is something you ought to blindly obey, even if you have no scientific justification for doing so.

    Peace, my friend. I wish you well in your journey towards absolute goodness.

  • Victor Plenty

    Tweeks, sorry to break this news to you, but you’re the one who has been defeated by your own arguments.

    Bluejay talked plain sense, presenting a simple and coherent set of ideas with consistency and clarity. Your response is to label him confused and immoral.

    Bluejay talked to you with unfailing courtesy and respect throughout the whole conversation. Your response is to put words into his mouth, accusing him of advocating some bizarre form of philosophical immorality, for which he never indicated the slightest hint of support.

    If such discourtesy and incoherence is the best line of argument a religious mind can produce, it’s no wonder so many intelligent people find atheism the only sane option in a world too long dominated by fanatical religious insanity.

    What an awful disappointment. This conversation looked so promising for such a long time, and now that promise has been crushed; cut short, it seems, by a misguided (albeit clearly sincere and deeply felt) desire to “save the soul” of Bluejay and any other nonbelievers who might be reading.

    (Once again, I’m simply leaving out my own beliefs, or lack thereof, on the natural and the supernatural. This discussion is already too messed up for that.)

    Tweeks, Bluejay, I have nothing but the best wishes for both of you, both in this life and in anything that might come after. Thanks very much for the earlier part of this conversation. It was good reading while it lasted.

  • tweeks

    Hello Victor,

    I’m sorry to have disappointed you, and I’m sorry that Bluejay felt offended by the way I made my case. Perhaps I should have been gentler and avoided using moral terminology? The problem is that belief in the supernatural is a moral issue, so unfortunately, I had no choice.

    The reason I have concluded that it is a moral issue is very simple, and if anyone can find the flaw in my logic, I will gladly change my view:

    1. Your conscience is how you know right from wrong.

    2. Therefore, if you would be a good person, you must unconditionally obey your conscience.

    3. If you choose not to obey your conscience, you are behaving in a way that you, yourself, know is wrong.

    4. Therefore, if you choose to believe something that allows you to disobey your conscience whenever you like, then what you are believing is wrong, if not to anyone else, than to you.

    If Bluejay feels it is important to obey his conscience, then why is he so angry with me that I told him he must obey it? If he was really happy to do so, he would have said, “Of course my conscience must be obeyed unquestioningly! This is obvious to anyone who knows right from wrong!” But he didn’t say that. :-( Instead, he got angry and accused me of judging him. Yet I have not accused him of anything but failing to live up to his own convictions, something that all of us do every day, including me.

    If anyone is still reading, I will give a familiar example to illustrate my point. People who refuse to believe in climate-change are not called “skeptics,” but “climate-deniers.” Why? Because their belief that there is no such thing as climate-change is irrational and self-destructive. Why? Because no one can say for certain that climate change is not real, and if it is, no one can say for certain what the result might be! Therefore, there is no rational justification for choosing to live as though climate change were impossible. Indeed, if you are a rational person who cares about our planet, you must assume it is true and take steps to prevent it.

    In the same way, no one can say that the supernatural is not real, and no one can know for certain what happens to you if you decide it’s not. This, too, is irrational and self-destructive, and is the reason why people who refuse to believe in a Creator are not honest skeptics, but “God deniers”.

    I sincerely care about what happens to Bluejay, which is why I tried to help him see this. But as so often happens when you show people that they are behaving irrationally and self-destructively, he simply got offended and walked away. He has the right to do that, but I hope he one day realized how dangerous it is to play Russian Roulette with your immortal soul.

  • tweeks

    One more thing Victor,

    It seems to me that this debate has justified Paul’s statement in Romans 1:18-22, which you had earlier challenged me on.

    For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools (Romans 1:18-22)

    Bluejay himself said that he can never irrefutably prove that God does not exist, so the question he must ask himself is, why have I decided to believe God does not exist? (This is the same question climate-deniers should be asking themselves.)

    There are no negative consequences to believing, and there are many positive benefits, such as the possibility of eternal life with God. So why not believe?

    But what Bluejay knows, and what everyone else here knows, is that there is a negative consequence, and it is this: if we own up to the possibility that God exists, we are obliged to obey Him. This is something every human being knows instinctively. Unfortunately, this is also something few human beings are willing to risk, because at our core, we don’t think God is trustworthy. Thus, in refusing to believe, we are sending the message that God cannot be trusted, which is a very dangerous message to send, since we don’t know for sure God is not real and not trustworthy.

    This is why Paul said that, “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” We all know God could exist, because

    1. We can’t prove He doesn’t, and

    2. We believe we know right from wrong–a belief science alone cannot justify

    In light of these facts, it should be clear that belief in God is the more reasonable position. Bluejay is not simply being objectively skeptical about God, he has arbitrarily chosen to live as though God does not exist, and not only that, he is even going out of his way to “suppress the truth” that God could exist and that we are obliged to trust Him.

    The Bible explains why this is happening, but I might as well stop here, because apparently I’m the only person reading this page who accepts this view of reality.

  • Okay, I’m confused.

    When atheists describe religious people as being ignorant, superstitious fools who are only motivated by fear of death, this is considered enlightened social commentary and any self-described religious person who argues otherwise is accused of being either naive or disingenuous.

    Yet when an atheist’s beliefs are described as being possibly motivated by the same factors that motivate some people to turn to religion and that his conscience might possibly be inspired by some divine spark, it’s considered an insult.

    In other words, the message I often get from otherwise intelligent atheists is that “we feel free to throw bricks at your beliefs but our beliefs can’t possibly be questioned.”

    Here’s the thing. I grew up with a father and a younger brother who went from being atheists to theists. Both had different motives for their conversions and it could be argued that fear of death was one of them but I doubt that fear of death was the only one. Fear of death, for example, would not explain why my father would take the time after work to counsel people with similar beliefs and help them with their problems even though he wasn’t a professional counselor or clergyman. Nor would it explain why he encouraged his children to become both educated and ideologically independent.

    I don’t pretend that all religious people act like this and I must admit that I’ve met many religious people that make me want to side with the atheist community. But I’ve also met many religious people who are genuinely loving human beings and I consider it silly to pretend that this is only a coincidence.

    People seek out religious beliefs for varying reasons and while I understand the temptation to write off any bad experience with such people as being representative of the whole group–especially since the bad apples in such a group always tend to be all too vocal–I can’t help but consider it intellectually dishonest to argue that such an argument isn’t a tad simplistic.

    You can find bad apples in any group–even scientists. And I don’t say that because I’m against science. I too think the Enlightenment was a good thing and I too would prefer to live in a society dominated by scientific beliefs as opposed to living in a theocracy. But it seems silly to ignore all the examples in which science has been used as a weapon against other people just as it seems silly to ignore all the examples in which religious people have worked to improve the society in which they lived. As always, it depends on what you choose to look at.

    Perhaps I’m biased. My late father chose to make a living as a computer programmer–about as science-dominated industry as I can imagine. And yet for many years, he was held back because not because he had the wrong religious beliefs but because he was of the wrong ethnic background. Now I’ve read about historical incidents in which such prejudice was based on religion and I’ve read about some in which such prejudice was based on science. In the end, it doesn’t matter.

    As Aesop once noted, any excuse will serve a tyrant and it can be argued that any excuse will serve a bigot. There has been bigots who cite the Bible as an excuse for their racial bigotry and there have been bigots who have based their prejudice on, say, I.Q. statistics. In the end, it matters little to the person being discriminated against any more than it matters whether said person receives help from an atheist who bases his racial beliefs on science or from a Christian who bases his racial beliefs on the religious notion that all men are brothers. After all, a person who is killed because the local scientists don’t consider him to be racially pure is just as dead as the one who is killed because he doesn’t believe in the One True God.

    Anyway, I suspect I’ve digressed enough. Back to the current topic of discussion.

  • The Bible explains why this is happening, but I might as well stop here, because apparently I’m the only person reading this page who accepts this view of reality.

    No, you’re not.

  • tweeks

    As Aesop once noted, any excuse will serve a tyrant and it can be argued that any excuse will serve a bigot.

    This is why I tried to zero-in on an objective reality that both religious and non-religious people seem to believe in: their own conscience.

    I’ve never met anyone who said that they could not usually determine for themselves what’s right and what’s wrong (and I hope I never do, because such a person would be extremely dangerous to be around).

    If everyone has a conscience, then there are two kinds of people in the world today: those who feel they ought to always obey their consciences, and those who feel they don’t have to. You can probably find religious and non-religious people of both types, but I suppose one of the more compelling reasons to turn to a religion (especially Christianity) is to deal with the guilt you feel when you realize you are not the person that your conscience tells you that you ought to be.

  • Victor Plenty

    Tweeks and Tonio, you are both confusing the issue.

    Nobody here, in this thread, has insulted you for your beliefs, and Bluejay certainly has not done so. Yet you throw into his face the unfortunate insults that have been perpetrated by other people in other places. That is grossly unfair, and the commission of such an injustice by two avowed religious believers hardly speaks well of religion’s influence on a person’s conscience.

    I have little else to say to either of you unless and until a far more sincere apology is made to Bluejay.

    (Dear God: I would like to file a bug report. With friends like this, religion has no need of enemies.)

  • tweeks

    I have little else to say to either of you unless and until a far more sincere apology is made to Bluejay.

    I am sorry for anyone I offended with my remarks here.

    If Bluejay feels I was wrong to suggest Naturalism denies the necessity of obeying one’s conscience, I sincerely invite him to come back and explain why that is not so. I’d also like to hear your thoughts on this, Victor.

  • Victor Plenty

    Tweeks, “Naturalism” is your own invention. Nobody else here has accepted that such an ideology exists. Even if it did exist as an ideology, nobody else here has accepted your claim that it constitutes a religion. So you are jumping far ahead of anything justified in this conversation, by asking anyone to disprove your claim that “Naturalism” is a religion that denies the necessity of obeying one’s conscience.

    Your bizarre leap into rhetorical tactics, as illustrated by the sudden appearance of the weirdly creepy phrase “trapped in your own logic,” has driven the discussion off the path of courteous conversation. Unless and until you become willing to honor the essence of courtesy as well as observing its outward forms, I see little point in trying to discuss in much detail the numerous other problematic statements and claims you have made.

    For the moment I will close by pointing out that you do not any longer seem to be arguing for Bluejay’s duty to obey his own conscience. Your argument much more closely resembles an attempt to find some tactical wedge with the power to compel him to obey YOUR conscience.

  • Bluejay

    Okay, I’ll bite–in the interests of clearing my name, because I really don’t appreciate having words stuffed into my mouth.

    You say you have a conscience, and that you must obey it; yet you also say that your conscience is the product of naturalistic causes, and therefore you do not have to obey it.

    Show me where I say that it’s not necessary to obey one’s conscience simply because it may have biological roots. I’ve said no such thing.

    In effect, you are saying, “I must obey my conscience, and because it is the product of evolution, I may ignore it.” You cannot have it both ways.

    Again, I’ve said no such thing; you’re simply not arguing in good faith (pun definitely intended). Further, this statement betrays a poor understanding of evolution, and biology. Our hard-wired instincts, our biological drives that have been shaped by evolution–such as the desire to eat, to have sex, to nurture our young, to protect ourselves and our in-group from danger–are precisely the ones that are hardest to ignore.

    If science someday shows that our sense of right and wrong, our conscience, has been similarly hard-wired into us by evolution–as some biologists are proposing and investigating–that makes our morality more compelling, not less.

    Victor, thank you for your support on this and other threads. It’s much appreciated.

  • Victor Plenty

    Bluejay, thank you for returning, at least long enough to clarify that point. When it appeared you had left the conversation, I considered trying to clarify it myself, because that particular part of your views has so obviously been misrepresented. I decided against doing so, precisely because I did not want to put words into your mouth. You are more than capable of defending your own views.

    I’ve focused on defending the moral values of courtesy and of arguing “in good faith,” rather than trying to take over the role of defending your stance on the larger issue of theist vs. non-theist bases for human moral sense.

    After your careful, calm, and patient explanation of a non-theist view, I had hoped to see an equally capable and interesting line of argument from a believer’s point of view. Instead, a weird rehash of Pascal’s Wager made an unconvincing appearance. I guess we can’t always get what we want.

  • JoshB

    I hadn’t checked this thread for a few days and YIKES.

    In effect, you are saying, “I must obey my conscience, and because it is the product of evolution, I may ignore it.” You cannot have it both ways.

    tweeks, seriously, what you’ve done here is project your preconceptions of atheism onto Bluejay. He really didn’t say that.

    Herein lies the disconnect:

    We believe we know right from wrong–a belief science alone cannot justify

    Bluejay’s whole point is that science can justify a belief in right and wrong. Here it is in a nutshell: the human conscience is the set of instinctive behaviors that allow us to form cooperative communities for the benefit of all members.

    An atheist could choose to disregard his/her conscience, just as surely as you could choose to worship Satan. How likely is that?

    As a Naturalist, you only have two options regarding your conscience:

    1. You MUST obey it

    2. You don’t have to obey it

    If you choose the first option, you are no longer a Naturalist, for you have decided to blindly believe something that science alone cannot justify.

    No, if Bluejay chooses the first option it’s because of the emotion empathy, which all by itself has the power to forbid him from taking wicked action.

  • tweeks

    Thanks for coming back, Bluejay. I’m sorry for offending you.

    Show me where I say that it’s not necessary to obey one’s conscience simply because it may have biological roots. I’ve said no such thing.

    You’re absolutely right: you never said that, and I sincerely apologize for putting words in your mouth. If I were you, I’d probably be upset too.

    Though it appeared to you that I was pulling an idea out of thin air, in fact, I arrived at that conclusion by following a specific line of reasoning which seemed inescapable to me, and I just assumed it was obvious to you, too. If I have erred in my logic, I am perfectly willing to retract my statements, apologize profusely, and hang my head in shame for ever thinking ill of a Naturalistic (i.e. non-supernatural) world view.

    So, I’m asking you, Victor, and JoshB to kindly help me out here: please show me where I’ve gone wrong in my reasoning. Here goes:

    1. My conscience is, ultimately, how I know right from wrong.

    2. Therefore, in order to do what is right, I must unconditionally obey my conscience.

    3. If I choose to believe that my conscience is merely a survival adaptation, then I have implicitly chosen to believe that it is not an absolute authority, but merely a physical trait that I can ignore when it’s convenient for me.

    4. Therefore, the belief that my conscience is of natural origin has undermined my internal moral compass. (In other words, Naturalism demands moral relativism.)

    Do you see the problem here? If you would obey your conscience unquestioningly, then you must not question it: you must take it as a given, and not try to explain it away in terms of some natural biological process. You may safely believe everything else evolution says, but on this point you must not compromise: either your conscience has absolute authority over your life, or it doesn’t; and if it doesn’t, you are no better, morally speaking, than a religious person who chooses to believe that good and evil are an illusion.

    This is the problem with the “science-only” view of the world: science cannot account for the authority of your conscience. The only way you can reject the supernatural and still guarantee that you will always do what is right is to slightly adjust your view like so:

    “I believe that science explains everything about my world, except my conscience, which I am morally compelled to follow without question because, by definition, it is what I feel is right!”

    Bluejay, you were most astute in pointing out that this is, in fact, an argument for the supernatural origin of your conscience. What I am trying so hard to show you is that, if your conscience is to do its job properly in your life, you must believe it is beyond natural explanation. Natural explanations for things bring them down to our human level: to the level of our own reason. But right and wrong must be above our reason, otherwise we will all-too-easily find ways to reason our way out of doing what is right! “Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and once you give your brain power over your conscience, you will become corrupt; it is inevitable. If you don’t believe me, just try it for yourself and see!

    But in deciding whether you are corrupt or not, you must not judge yourself by the standards of our society, because our society permits all sorts of things that people of good conscience ought not to do: become an alcoholic, solicit a prostitute, lie to people, commit adultery, etc. All these things are considered acceptable by at least some elements in society, but of course that still does not make them right.

    This is why your only reliable guide to right and wrong is your own internal compass–you dare not trust other people, because they are clearly not reliable in this area. And, if your are honest enough to admit it, you dare not trust yourself either, because I assume you have done wrongly before. (Forgive me if you have, in fact, lived a perfect life up to now.)

  • tweeks

    I’m going to make one more attempt to try to explain why your conscience must be supernatural for you to obey it.

    Think back to every time you disobeyed your conscience. Why did you do it?

    This is what my two parables about the log cabin and the strangers’ wallets were designed to show you: we defeat our conscience by using the power of our own reason. In other words, we rationalize our bad behavior. We all do it, all the time (especially me).

    So, if your brain is the ultimate enemy of your conscience, then the only way you can ever be virtuous is to blindly obey what your conscience tells you.

    Bluejay, I know you are not a big fan of blindly obeying anything, but when it comes to right and wrong, we really only have two options:

    1. We can make it up as we go, or

    2. It is not for us to decide.

    The first view is the Naturalist view: morality is a product of evolution, so it’s culturally relative.

    The second view is the humble, virtuous person’s view: no matter what people say, and no matter what I may think or feel, my conscience is a reliable guide to right and wrong.

    If your conscience isn’t a reliable guide to right and wrong, then it makes no sense to listen to it; and if it is reliable, then you cannot say it’s because it evolved, because nothing that evolves is ever “finished,” but is constantly mutating and changing, presumably towards some higher state.

    The truth is, morality isn’t relative, and if you think it can be, then you just don’t understand what right and wrong are all about. :-( If right and wrong are relative and up to us to decide, then the concepts of “good” and “evil” carry no more weight than your favorite ice cream flavor. This is why people who care about right and wrong reject moral relativism. You must believe there is such a thing as absolute goodness in the world, otherwise you’re simply adrift in a society of moral conformists, everybody just doing whatever everybody else thinks is ok, and nobody really knowing what’s ultimately good and bad. This is an extremely dangerous situation for any society to be in, because it’s ripe for an evil person to rise to a position of authority and direct all the moral-drifters into doing terrible, terrible things.

    But if you really think moral relativism is ok, then don’t complain at me that I’m being too judgemental for making a moral judgment about your unwillingness to judge! Refusal to call good “good” and evil “evil” is, itself, evil, and a pernicious cancer on our society.

  • Bluejay

    tweeks: I am, at last, going to plead exhaustion here. There are many points I could raise in response to your argument–and in many cases, I and others have raised them already, repeatedly, only to be misconstrued or ignored–but I just can’t escape the strong sense, coming from you, that any objection or qualification I make to your premises renders me immoral or wicked in your eyes. I just can’t debate someone who’s already convinced not only that his view is absolutely right, but that any alternative views necessarily lead to evil. I’m not interested in having that conversation, and so I take my leave.

    I can only hope that anyone reading this thread will check your claims about my position against what I’ve actually said, and make up their own minds.

    If anyone else would like to contribute, feel free to jump in.

  • Victor Plenty

    Tweeks, you write of:

    …the humble, virtuous person’s view: no matter what people say, and no matter what I may think or feel, my conscience is a reliable guide to right and wrong.

    This is self-contradictory on its face, and in the light of historical fact, a truly bizarre view. How could it possibly be humble or virtuous for me to think and act as if my own mind contains the ultimate moral arbiter of right and wrong, or even a reliable link to such an ultimate moral arbiter, more reliable than anything I might find in the entire universe outside myself?

    On the contrary, this view leaves a person open to the greatest heights of arrogance, and vast iniquities have flowed from people who thought this way. Rivers of blood have been spilled, fathers slaughtered, infants murdered, mothers and children taken into slavery, all by people who thought they were acting in full accord with their own conscience.

    Humility and virtue may require that I listen to my own conscience, and carefully consider what it tells me. But like anything else in the mortal world, my own conscience is imperfect, and sometimes what it tells me will be mistaken. Like anything else in the human mind, the conscience must be open to learning and improvement. It is not automatically infallible.

    If I turn my own conscience into a god, or any other part of my own mind into a god, it will be a god as false as any idol carved from sticks or stones. And its whisperings might be just as dangerous as anything the worshippers of idols imagine they hear from those mute, dead objects.

  • “3. If I choose to believe that my conscience is merely a survival adaptation, then I have implicitly chosen to believe that it is not an absolute authority, but merely a physical trait that I can ignore when it’s convenient for me.”

    The problem as I see it is within step 3, not between steps.

    If I believe I believe something because it is a survival adaptation, that doesn’t mean I actually think it is wrong. Loving your kids is a survival adaptation, but so fear of strangers. Tribal unity is a survival adaptation, but it can lead to either nationalism or patriotism, the former being bad and the latter being good (as I define them, anyway).

    So I do not ignore my conscience when it is “convenient” but rather when when I think I’m being manipulated through it, by people who think they can control my mind by flag waving, Bible thumping, or even liberal catch phrases. Our evolved desire to conform and unify makes those hard to ignore. Sometimes I end up feeling bad no matter what.

    And sometimes you have to choose between two good choices. Sometimes you can’t live your life without hurting someone. Modern life is far more complex than the life we evolved for. Freedom of thought is our best guide, despite its mistakes, because it can admit its mistakes.

    And sometimes a moral belief isn’t a survival adaptation, but rather simply something you were raised to believe, and therefore sometimes you need to consider, why do I believe that?

  • tweeks

    Hi Bluejay,

    tweeks: I am, at last, going to plead exhaustion here.

    That’s fine; thanks for hearing me out.

    There are many points I could raise in response to your argument–and in many cases, I and others have raised them already, repeatedly, only to be misconstrued or ignored

    Well, I think I’m understanding your counter-arugument: you’re saying it’s all right to believe that your conscience has a natural explanation because you can still choose to obey it if you want to. And I’m saying that that’s not good enough: you must obey your sense of right and wrong, and you dare not allow yourself any intellectual wiggle-room with which to ignore it.

    But there is something I find puzzling about your position: if you sincerely want to obey your conscience, why is it so important to you that it have a naturalistic origin? Is it because you just can’t stand the idea that the supernatural could be real? Or is it because you just can’t stand the idea that you must obey your conscience? :-/ That’s why I’m so worried about you: I think you want to do right, but this idea that your conscience is optional is very dangerous, and could land you in big trouble some day. I’m just trying to look out for you, that’s all!

    I just can’t escape the strong sense, coming from you, that any objection or qualification I make to your premises renders me immoral or wicked in your eyes.

    I don’t think you’re a bad person, Bluejay; I just can’t escape the conclusion that Richard Dawkins and friends have tricked you into believing a broken, self-contradictory philosophy: a morally-relative belief system that seeks to abolish absolute good and evil from the world. This is a very dangerous idea, and I’m only trying to be a good friend by pointing out my concerns. Anyway, I appreciate you listening patiently and sharing your honest opinions with me!

  • tweeks

    Hi JoshB! Thanks for checking back. :-)

    Bluejay’s whole point is that science can justify a belief in right and wrong.

    What I’m trying to express is a rather subtle notion, so I’m really struggling to make it clear. It’s not my idea, actually, but something I read in C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, so you might check there if you want a more eloquent rendition. (Then you could tell me if I’m getting it right!)

    Basically, I’m not saying that science cannot justify a belief in right and wrong. I’m saying science cannot justify a belief in absolute right and wrong. In other words, the only morality that science alone can justify is a relative morality that is open to human opinion. This is very dangerous because, as you may have noticed, people are not always all that good at telling right from wrong!

    I don’t know about you, but I often fail to do things that I know are right, and sometimes I even try to pretend that it’s okay for me to do something that my conscience is telling me is wrong. But the truth is, it’s not okay, and if we choose to go around acting like it is okay, we might as well abandon any moral expectations for one another! Trust me, you do NOT want to live in a world where morality is a matter of public opinion.

    An atheist could choose to disregard his/her conscience, just as surely as you could choose to worship Satan. How likely is that?

    Well, I disregard my conscience every day. :-( Haven’t you ever done something you knew was wrong?

    No, if Bluejay chooses the [to obey his conscience] it’s because of the emotion empathy, which all by itself has the power to forbid him from taking wicked action.

    I wish that were true… :-/ But how then would you explain the behavior of people who hurt others’ feelings? Or people who physically hurt others? Are they merely suffering from a lack of empathy? We should try to figure this out so we don’t end up doing the same!

  • tweeks

    Hi Victor! Thanks for reading and replying!

    Humility and virtue may require that I listen to my own conscience, and carefully consider what it tells me. But like anything else in the mortal world, my own conscience is imperfect, and sometimes what it tells me will be mistaken. Like anything else in the human mind, the conscience must be open to learning and improvement. It is not automatically infallible.

    This topic is a little complicated, because it depends on what we mean when we say “conscience”!

    I’ve been assuming a tripartite view of human consciousness, and I’d very much like to hear your thoughts on this! In my view, I have a brain, I have a heart, and I have a conscience. (This is similar to Freud’s “three layers of the mind,” the “id”, “ego”, and “super-ego”.) As I understand myself, my heart generates desires, which my brain is then obliged to try and find ways to satisfy. So, for example, if my heart desires money, my brain will try to come up with a plan for getting some, like getting a job or cheating on my taxes.

    In this model, I see my conscience as providing oversight for the other two branches of internal government. If my heart is desiring something it shouldn’t, my conscience lets me know; and, conversely, if my heart is not desiring something it should, my conscience tells me about that too! And of course, my brain’s plans are subject to my conscience’s approval, so getting a job is good, but cheating on my taxes is bad.

    But I completely agree with you that this is not the whole picture! My conscience also takes my knowledge of my external ethical, legal, and personal obligations into account, so there is definitely some interaction between my conscience and the world around me. However, I think you would probably agree with me that my conscience is still not a slave to the world around me. For example, there could be some laws on the books that my conscience would reject as invalid, as Dr. Martin Luther King’s conscience regarded segregation as immoral.

    Likewise, my conscience might choose to hold me to a higher standard than society’s laws or ethics demand. For example, in some circumstances, lying is acceptable–even expected!–but sometimes I might be tempted to lie and yet feel it is wrong to do so. For example, I might be tempted to lie just to make myself look better or more impressive to other people. I also might be tempted to lie to make someone else look bad: to gossip about someone I don’t like, or exaggerate someone else’s flaws. Most people don’t think this is such a terrible thing to do, but my conscience still complains anyway. Nevertheless, in spite of my conscience’s complaints, I still may decide to override its warnings and do the bad thing anyway, which of course makes me feel guilty. However, with practice, I can get used to that guilty feeling and learn to ignore it most of the time.

    What do you think? Does this match your own experience?

  • tweeks

    Hey Paul! I liked your take on this.

    And sometimes you have to choose between two good choices. Sometimes you can’t live your life without hurting someone. Modern life is far more complex than the life we evolved for.

    You are so right: I hate those dilemmas where “you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t,” where the best you can do is try and choose between the lesser of two evils.

    Freedom of thought is our best guide, despite its mistakes, because it can admit its mistakes.

    I completely agree with you that every man, woman, and child in the world must have absolute freedom of thought! I can’t even stand the idea of thought-police.

    But there is a certain moral situation that I’m personally very worried about: what happens when someone uses their brain for evil purposes?

    Hitler is everyone’s favorite example of an intelligent person who chose to use his brilliance for evil. How can we account for this? Was Hitler just confused? Did they teach him in German school that invading neighboring countries and committing genocide are okay? And how do we know those things are “evil” anyway? Because the Allied powers said so? From Hitler’s perspective, weren’t the Allies being narrow-minded and judgmental in fighting back against him? After all, he was just trying to make the world a better place, right? Who’s to say he was wrong? (note: I do not agree with Hitler; I’m just playing devil’s advocate.)

    Seriously, Paul, I’m not playing games here, but asking everyone a very serious question about human nature: why do good people do bad things? How can we account for the evil in the world? Is there evil in the world? And if there is, how do we know?

  • JoshB

    Basically, I’m not saying that science cannot justify a belief in right and wrong. I’m saying science cannot justify a belief in absolute right and wrong. In other words, the only morality that science alone can justify is a relative morality that is open to human opinion.

    Ok, I think I see where you’re talking about something different from what Bluejay et al. are talking about. Science can explain morality, but it cannot justify morality. Science can say “here’s why you believe in right and wrong,” but it cannot say “this is right” or “this is wrong.” Fair enough.

    So then how can a science-minded agnostic/atheist say that there is good and evil when science has no opinion on the matter? I can only speak for myself…

    There is a concept in logic/math/science called a postulate which basically is an idea that is not proven but is presumed to be true for purposes of argument. My morality starts with a postulate: that human life and human dignity have value, and that preserving and defending these things is good, while taking or destroying them is evil. This idea is fundamentally unscientific and irrational. It is based wholly on my emotions (which I stress are scientifically explicable). However, once I use this postulate as a starting point I can make logical extrapolations about the specifics of right and wrong.

    How can I say that what Hitler did was evil?
    Postulate: Human life and dignity have value >
    Hitler was intentionally responsible for the suffering and death of human beings >
    Unless he had a very good reason, what he did was evil >
    His reasons were his hatred, cruelty, and lust for power >
    He was evil.

  • Victor Plenty

    JoshB, you write:

    My morality starts with a postulate: that human life and human dignity have value, and that preserving and defending these things is good, while taking or destroying them is evil. This idea is fundamentally unscientific and irrational.

    I am not convinced that your postulate really is unscientific or irrational.

    Science and rationality require the pursuit of truth. The optimal conditions for such pursuit require the defense and preservation of human life and human dignity.

    I consider it no accident that the most enduring religions also speak of preserving human life and human dignity (even if their followers don’t always live up to those ideals as well as one might hope). This is an area where I see no essential need for conflict between religious and non-religious people. All such conflicts are manufactured for the benefit of narrow factions.

  • Victor Plenty

    Tweeks, you write:

    I’ve been assuming a tripartite view of human consciousness…

    Why?

    Why not assume a duality of human consciousness? Why not a unified model? Why not model it with four, or five, or six parts? Why not think of human consciousness as having no set number of parts, but potentially using dozens or even hundreds of parts, adding and removing infinitely configurable sub-assemblies of parts as needed to cope with changing circumstances?

    Most of those ideas have been used from time to time by various thinkers and philosophers, from numerous religious backgrounds, or working outside of any religious belief. You say you assume a tripartite view, but you do not present any compelling reason for doing so.

    In my view, I have a brain, I have a heart, and I have a conscience. (This is similar to Freud’s “three layers of the mind,” the “id”, “ego”, and “super-ego”.)

    Freud found his model of human consciousness useful in helping patients who felt unable to resolve conflicting internal impulses. This does not prove that a tripartite model of the mind is the only objectively true model. It certainly does not suffice to establish that such a model is strong enough to support an entire cosmology, or to prove the necessity of belief in God, as you seem to be asking of it.

    I think you would probably agree with me that my conscience is still not a slave to the world around me. For example, there could be some laws on the books that my conscience would reject as invalid, as Dr. Martin Luther King’s conscience regarded segregation as immoral.

    True, it’s probably safe to assume that Dr. King thought of himself as listening to his conscience when he acted in opposition to a system of segregation he regarded as immoral. And most of us today agree that such a system is immoral.

    At the same time, it’s equally safe to assume that many supporters of racial segregation thought of themselves as listening to their conscience, too. They were thoroughly convinced of the idea that supporting and preserving segregation was a morally imperative course of action.

    Of course there are strong arguments that they were mistaken about this; that racial segregation was and is immoral. However, for that position to prevail in the real world, it took more than simply activating the conscience of the segregationists. That conscience needed to be educated, or otherwise improved somehow, before it could be relied upon to produce opposition to segregation.

    This does not make anyone’s conscience a slave to the world around them. But it does show that the conscience is not always a perfectly infallible guide to moral perfection.

  • tweeks

    I want to thank you all of you from the bottom of my heart for being so willing to discuss these very personal matters, and for patiently putting up with what some of you justifiably perceived as bigotry and/or foolishness on my part. Thanks to your thoughtful openness, I have finally realized something I should have known all along, since it was clearly taught in my holy book: ultimately, people believe what they believe because they are drawn to it. In other words, we all choose our belief systems not through our heads or even our consciences, but through our hearts.

    There is an erroneous idea floating around in Christian pop-culture that non-Christians are rejecting God on rational or moral grounds. Therefore, since the Bible commands Christians to love their enemies, the loving thing to do must be to try and help these poor misguided people see the error of their ways! However, this idea is completely inappropriate for we human beings to hold, because, although God may have the right to judge His creatures for not loving Him, we human beings have absolutely no right whatsoever to tell others that what they love is not worth loving! To do so is, itself, an unloving thing to do, because we are what we love, so if I tell someone they are foolish or wicked for loving what they love, that is exactly the same as my telling them that they are foolish or wicked for being who they are, and this is the very definition of hate. :-(

    Now that I realize this, I feel terrible for inadvertently behaving so hatefully towards Bluejay and others of you here. But in a way I’m glad it happened, because this thread now serves as a perfect example of what happens when someone sincerely wants to be loving, but ends up behaving hatefully because they simply don’t understand the human heart. In the end, my sin was not trying to help Bluejay when I thought he had been mislead, but instead trusting the foolishness of Christian pop-culture over what the Bible itself says, which is very clear: “do not judge people, but love everyone, even your enemies.” To be perfectly honest, I have no clue what the Koran teaches about human nature, or how people ought to treat those who disagree with Islam, but one thing I do know: I love the God of the Bible, and I believe with all my heart that He is right to teach us to love each other, no matter what each of us loves.

    In the end, JoshB has been proven correct in saying that we must not consider others foolish or evil for not loving what we love. What I didn’t realize until now is why that is true.

    Thank you again, everyone, for helping me stop being a hateful bigot, and come to understand how I can love everyone in our world–even those who hate me and the God that I love.

  • tweeks

    There are two subtle caveats in the Biblical teachings on tolerance that I feel I should explain for the benefit of anyone who is curious about such things.

    One is that, while Christians are forbidden to accuse non-Christians of being foolish or wicked, Christians are commanded to hold other Christians accountable for following the teachings of Christ. Thus, if anyone claims to be a Christian, yet behaves in a way that is inconsistent with the teachings of Christ, Christians are obliged to lovingly correct that person. That’s why, if there were any here who claim to be followers of Christ, they should have corrected me for acting like Bluejay was foolish or evil, since that is unloving behavior on my part. (Perhaps that was what Tonio was gently trying to do?)

    The second caveat to the Biblical teaching on tolerance is that the Bible really does characterize non-Christians as foolish and wicked people whom God is going to judge for refusing to love Him. Nonetheless, Christians are asked to love those people, and not behave arrogantly, because the Bible also teaches that Christians themselves are foolish and wicked people whom God would also judge if they had not believed in Christ!

    Therefore, Christianity is a very deep and complex belief system, and it is no wonder that many people think it is self-contradictory! It may seem to be a contradiction to say, “non-Christians are wicked, and you must love them,” but actually it is not. There are at least two reasons why Christians can love people they honestly think are wicked:

    1. Christians themselves are wicked, and should therefore feel extremely thankful to God for mercifully drawing their hearts to Christ for salvation! This is why Jesus taught his followers to think of others as better than themselves, because other people really are better than we are (or at least no worse).

    2. Though he was God, Christ chose to humble himself and allow wicked people to mock him and even execute him as a criminal. Therefore, having risen from the dead, he now commands Christians to follow His example, and lay down our lives for the sake of others. This is why Christians do not usually become terrorists: Christians are commanded not to kill for their faith, but to die: to allow themselves to be killed, as Christ himself did.

    Christians are empowered to turn the other cheek because Christ will reward their faithful obedience with eternal life. One profound problem that all Christians face is doubt about the genuineness of their own faith: “do I really believe?” The way I find out for certain that I have faith is by how I choose to face situations that demand it. That is why, at this time, I am choosing to lay aside my pride and accept that I have behaved as a hateful bigot. I will gladly accept this label and cease my hateful bigotry because, though some of you may never forgive me, Christ has forgiven me, and the way I know that is because I am now choosing to act on that faith.

  • tweeks

    Sorry for triple-posting, but there’s one more thing I’m excited to share!

    I realize I have misrepresented the reasons for my faith to Bluejay and the rest of you, not because I was intellectually confused about what I believed, but because I was too prideful and arrogant to admit the real reason!

    Bluejay has all sorts of intelligent reasons for being a Naturalist, so I was afraid to look stupid in front of him by not having any intelligent reasons for being a Christian. However, the truth is, I really don’t! There are many possible rationalizations for believing in Jesus, but they’re not the real reasons I ultimately committed myself to him. I think a metaphor would help make this clearer.

    Some people are single, but some choose to get married. Why? Because they saw a person, fell in love with that person, and, in time, came to desire that person so much that they were willing to surrender their own autonomy and commit to their beloved forever.

    This is similar to the reason people follow Jesus. In the Bible, you see various descriptions of his character from people who knew him personally. If you like what you see, you may find yourself falling in love, and, eventually, even deciding that you will commit your life to him forever.

    So it was wrong of me to try and move this discussion of religion into the realm of the mind, because (at least for me), any objective reasons for believing are really beside the point. A husband may have a number of objective reasons for marrying his wife, but they’re probably not the reasons he loves her. :-) Any critic may come along and point out objective reasons he shouldn’t love his wife, like that she’s too tall, or she’s a slob, etc. The husband might get angry about that, but he probably won’t, because, ultimately, his love is not objective. He loves everything about his wife, and even her flaws are dear to him.

    So you see, love is blind, and so is faith in Jesus. If you don’t like blind faith, then you don’t have to get married, and you don’t have to believe in Jesus either! I don’t think single people are wrong to not get married–if they don’t want to, then they definitely shouldn’t! In the same way, if you don’t think Jesus is compellingly attractive, then you shouldn’t follow him. I won’t get angry with you for finding Jesus unattractive, because it’s really no loss for me if you feel that way.

    If a man is wrong about his wife, and she’s not the person he thinks she is, then he will be sorrowfully disappointed if he ever finds out. In the same way, if Jesus is not the person I believe him to be, then I will be sorrowfully disappoint if I ever find out. I am willing to take that risk because the Jesus I see is just too compelling for me to ignore.

  • tweeks

    Very sorry for quadruple posting, but I realize now that the reason Christians frequently behave as bigots is out of pride. Following Jesus looks very foolish, for many very good reasons:

    1. He claimed to be God

    2. He was executed as a criminal

    3. He is said to have risen from the dead

    3. Our only reliable account for these incredible events is the four Gospels, which are 2,000 years old

    Some people say the Gospels are contradictory, but I don’t think they really are; I just think people want to try and get rid of Christianity because they don’t like Christians. Many Christians behave arrogantly, as I just did, but that is only because they are too prideful to admit that loving Jesus makes them look foolish. If you really love Jesus, you don’t care how foolish that makes you look, just as I may love a woman who doesn’t look like a magazine model, and not care at all, because I love her for who she is, not how well she conforms to our culture’s arbitrary standard of beauty.

    In the same way, I love Jesus for who he is, not for how well he conforms to our culture’s arbitrary standard of what constitutes a reasonable belief system. You may call me a fool for loving Jesus, and you are entitled to your opinion. ;-) I still love you anyway, my dear fellow human being, because Jesus loves you, and I love him.

    I suppose, in contrast, the Secular Humanist basis for religious tolerance is a different kind of love: a love for the human spirit, for our race’s potential as a diverse group with unique beliefs. On this basis, I hope you kind people can find it in your hearts to forgive prideful Christians who behave foolishly and unlovingly, just as I have the past few days. The truth is, those Christians have simply forgotten why they loved Jesus in the first place. You might do them a favor by reminding them that their beliefs are not ultimately based on objective evidence (though there is evidence for them), but based on love for the person of Jesus revealed in the Bible, a person whom they have no more reason to doubt than you or I have reason to doubt anyone else we find attractive based on what we believe to be true about them.

  • MaryAnn

    A husband may have a number of objective reasons for marrying his wife, but they’re probably not the reasons he loves her. :-)

    But she is a real person standing before him!

    Where is Jesus? I don’t mean figuratively. I mean literally: Where is the man that is Jesus that you are in love with?

    If I were to express a deep and abiding and honest and actual love for Frodo Baggins, coupled with a deep and abiding and honest and actual faith in the goodness and divinity of Frodo Baggins that compelled me to do good things and help people and rescue kittens, you’d all think I was insane, regardless of whether I accidentally happened to be a decent person because of it.

    And if I started supporting my belief and faith in Frodo Baggins by quoting from *The Lord of the Rings* itself, you’d all laugh at me and tell me I was engaging in circular logic.

    JRR Tolkien has nothing to say about how our brains work — including, for instance, the sense that we all, to some degree or another, feel like we have a conscience — any more than the Bible does. And yet we let people extrapolate from this ancient book to expound on matters that have absolutely nothing to do with the book itself, never mind the important issues under discussion, and we allow them a bizarre benefit of the doubt that we would never allow were they to choose another book as their foundation.

    We let Christians get away with an intellectual dishonesty, and it never even occurs to us that we are doing so. Every time someone invokes the Bible as support for their arguments, we should think “The Two Towers,” and everytime someone says “Jesus,” we should think “Frodo.” If Christians cannot support their arguments without resorting to the Bible, then we should not take them seriously.

    “I don’t understand how XYZ works, so it must be God” is no more reasonable than “I don’t understand how XYZ works, so it must be Frodo.”

  • MaryAnn

    ultimately, people believe what they believe because they are drawn to it.

    I’m tired of hearing stuff like this, too. It’s a typical argument against atheism: “Oh, people are just stubborn, they don’t *want* to believe in God.”

    I’d would *love* to believe that there was someone out there who was all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-benevolent (that’s mutually exclusive, but hey, God can do anything!) who was looking out for my best interests and who could be appealed to for help and comfort. But all the evidence I’ve ever seen points to the conclusion that no such God exists.

    You might as well say that I’m not drawn, either, to believing in invisible pink unicorns. But you, tweeks, seem to think this is a good argument: if you are *drawn* to believe in something, that must be evidence for its existence. Would you argue that the fact that someone is “drawn” to believe in invisible pink unicorns means that such creatures actually exist? And isn’t your contention — “ultimately, people believe what they believe because they are drawn to it” — just another way of saying that you must be predisposed to believe in God before you can believe in God? How does that work?

    Someone raised in isolation from all culture might, possibly develop a notion of a deity on their own — our brains do seem hardwired to see patterns and order and deliberate intent where none exists — but it’s extremely unlikely that they would invent a god for themselves that mirrored the deity we see in the Bible. Were that same isolated person to explore the natural world, however, she would discover the exact same rules that scientists have uncovered.

    I think that says a lot about what’s real and what isn’t.

  • tweeks

    Hi MaryAnn! Thank you for hosting this discussion, and for patiently reading through all my ridiculously tortured arguments about brains and consciences.

    What I just realized today was that I was an idiot to start talking like I did, and it was very wrong for me to try to use the Bible as a weapon with which to defeat the belief systems of others. Though many Christians still try to do this, your good and thoughtful readers here have helped me to see the error of my ways!

    If I were to express a deep and abiding and honest and actual love for Frodo Baggins, coupled with a deep and abiding and honest and actual faith in the goodness and divinity of Frodo Baggins that compelled me to do good things and help people and rescue kittens, you’d all think I was insane, regardless of whether I accidentally happened to be a decent person because of it.

    I wouldn’t claim to have superior insight into your own mental state, but I would gently point out to you that J. R. R. Tolkien never claimed his work was non-fiction.

    Would you argue that the fact that someone is “drawn” to believe in invisible pink unicorns means that such creatures actually exist?

    Nope.

    And isn’t your contention — “ultimately, people believe what they believe because they are drawn to it” — just another way of saying that you must be predisposed to believe in God before you can believe in God?

    Yes! Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (John 6:44a).

    How does that work?

    From the Bible’s perspective, it’s very simple: if God created you, then your heart is putty in His hands, so if you desire Jesus, it’s because God caused you to do so. (This is Calvinism, by the way–not all Christians believe this.)

    It’s really just the Bible’s equivalent of the Naturalistic explanation that people desire what they desire because of evolutionary forces. Whether you’re a Naturalist or a Christian, you have to admit that your desires are a given: you don’t have full control over them, but they determine who you are, and what you will do with your life.

  • tweeks

    Where is Jesus? I don’t mean figuratively. I mean literally: Where is the man that is Jesus that you are in love with?

    If the Gospels are true, then he’s in heaven, at the Father’s right hand.

    If the Gospels are false, then he’s long-dead, and his bones are probably hiding somewhere in Israel or Palestine.

  • MaryAnn

    I would gently point out to you that J. R. R. Tolkien never claimed his work was non-fiction.

    So that’s it? All one has to do is claim that one’s raving are really true, and that makes it so?

    Yes! Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (John 6:44a).

    Clearly, you missed my point. This is not an argument in favor of your contentions: it’s an admission that one must be pre-brainwashed into believe in such things in order to believe in them. You obviously don’t think this is a bad thing.

    From the Bible’s perspective

    Something else you missed: I’m asking whether you can support your claims of correctness about the Bible without using “evidence” from the Bible. You cannot, because there is no evidence for the “truth” of the Bible outside the Bible. By your own arguments, if Tolkien had merely inserted something into *The Lord of the Rings* that said, “This is all true, by the way, because I say it is,” you would have no choice but to accept that!

    If the Gospels are true,

    That’s a BIG if.

  • tweeks

    So that’s it? All one has to do is claim that one’s raving are really true, and that makes it so?

    No way! They need to back up their claims with appropriate evidence, and of course, a claim to deity needs some mighty big evidence. I contend that that evidence is there, but it’s not irrefutable: people still have to choose to accept it.

    Yes! Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (John 6:44a).

    Clearly, you missed my point. This is not an argument in favor of your contentions: it’s an admission that one must be pre-brainwashed into believe in such things in order to believe in them. You obviously don’t think this is a bad thing.

    If you’re being pre-brainwashed to believe in a human being, then yes, it’s a bad thing, because you’re allowing another person to dominate you.

    But if God has chosen to move your heart to believe in Him, what’s wrong with that?

    Something else you missed: I’m asking whether you can support your claims of correctness about the Bible without using “evidence” from the Bible. You cannot, because there is no evidence for the “truth” of the Bible outside the Bible. By your own arguments, if Tolkien had merely inserted something into *The Lord of the Rings* that said, “This is all true, by the way, because I say it is,” you would have no choice but to accept that!

    Well, you’re right, it’s not that simple. I am not considering the Gospels or the Bible in isolation, but in relation to everything else I know from science, history, and other people I’ve interacted with.

    If you believe the Bible contradicts evolution, for example, then I think it is very difficult to accept it over the word of established science, but I happen to think the Bible and science are not in conflict, because anywhere the Bible doesn’t match science, I simply choose science over the Bible. Thus I view the “7 days of creation” as just a literary framework to hang the creation story on; it wasn’t literally 7 days.

    If the Gospels are true,

    That’s a BIG if.

    Oh, it’s a COLOSSAL if! I mean, what wonderful nonsense, God being born as a man, doing miracles, dying and rising again to purchase forgiveness for sinners. It really is an incredible story, and I can’t blame anyone for rejecting it. But there is no objective reason you must reject it, because the historical context of Jesus’ life around 30 AD in Roman-controlled Judea and Galilee fits everything archaeology has found so far. This is in contrast to, say, the Book of Mormon, which invents an entire race of people in North America for whom there is no archaeological evidence. Everybody knows the Jews and Romans existed, so this isn’t like a story about Elves and Dwarves here!

  • tweeks

    You probably think I’m crazy (and maybe you’re right!), but it really doesn’t take any more faith to believe that Jesus existed than it takes to believe that Caesar or Muhammed existed; it’s just a matter of believing texts written by ancient people. Nobody’s saying Caesar was imaginary, or Muhammed was made-up, are they? (Or maybe people are just afraid to say there was no Muhammed, since the Islamic fundamentalists would probably go ballistic and try to kill you!)

    The real question is not whether there was a Jesus–even secular historians say there probably was. The question is whether people want to believe in him badly enough to overcome their inherent prejudice against the supernatural.

    Many people believe in the supernatural today. Are they all crazy? I dunno. Am I crazy for believing in it too? I dunno.

    All I really know for sure is that Jewish people have been writing about a Messiah for centuries, and suddenly a man appeared who fits the description. There were a number of false Messiahs in Israel over the centuries, but somehow Jesus of Nazareth attracted a lasting following, while the others have long since faded into obscurity. Coincidence? I dunno. But Jesus perfectly fits my yearning to know God, so I choose to trust that he rose again and is alive right now. It may well turn out that I’ve believed a lie and trusted someone who was not what he was made out to be, but I feel my life is so hopeless apart from Christ, I cling to him like a Titanic survivor floating in the frigid ocean clings to a life preserver! If I had not encountered Christ, I probably wouldn’t be a Naturalist, I’d most likely be dead–I’d have killed myself about 10 years ago because life is just too painful and too futile for me to go on.

    Christianity is for people who are at the end of their ropes, whose lives are so messed up, they have despaired of all other hope. In other words, it’s a crutch.

    A lot of people complain about that. “Christianity is just a crutch!” they say. But it’s interesting that they view that as a criticism. What’s wrong with crutches? If you can’t walk on your own, a crutch is a perfectly good thing to have. But people don’t like the idea that they can’t walk through life on their own, that’s the real reason Christ is so offensive to them. If you would follow Christ, you must swallow all your pride and admit that you are a spiritual cripple in desperate need of help. If you don’t see yourself this way, then Christianity makes no sense to you. But if you do see yourself this way, then Jesus offers you what you cannot find elsewhere: reconciliation with God, unconditional love, and a purpose: to live the life that Jesus would have lived is he was still here.

    That’s the message I should have delivered at the start of my involvement with this thread. That’s the gospel (Greek for “good news”): if anyone wants to know God and find a reason to live, Jesus is available, and you don’t have to check your brain at the door to believe in him. That’s all I have to say. If you don’t feel like you need Jesus, then good for you–I’m glad your life isn’t as screwed-up as mine!

  • One of the things Tweeks struck me as wondering about was how one gets from a naturalistic worldview to justifying moral absolutes, such as the equality of humanity.

    Let me suggest a parallel. A man is out hunting with his spears, and he realizes the sharpest spear works best. He starts making it sharper. He notices, and points out to his friends, that idea of sharpness. Pretty soon they start experimenting with these angular shapes. They start noticing angular shapes in nature. They come up with a word: triangle. Once society grows to a certain point, they need to start keeping track of who owns what land, they develop basic geometric ideas, and then once a society gets to the point that some people can sit around and think all day, they come up with more abstract ideas about geometric shapes.

    Geometry is an idealized version of reality, as is other branches of math, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong. In fact, math is very useful, because these idealized symbols of reality work pretty well. So well, that when someone asked Einstein if he was worried about an experiment disproving his theory, he told them no, because his theory was sound. And indeed, the experiment proved him right.

    And the human mind’s ability to abstract just isn’t about science and math. It’s about political theory (Locke, Hobbes), Economics (Smith, Marx), knowledge itself (Kant), and yes, morality (Jesus, Buber, Kung, Buddha). We experience the fuzzy, messy reality, and abstract it. The same ability of the brain that allows us to come up with geometry and physics allows us to believe in equality, peace, and justice. The reason our moral theories don’t work as well as our scientific ones as descriptions of behavior is because our moral theories are not meant to be descriptive, they are proscriptive. We’ve discovered over the centuries that societies that follow certain moral rules funcion better, and the better those rules the better it functions, and we’ve abstracted from reality to figure out what those rules might be.

    Social sciences also run into problems, because an economist and a psychologist might look at the same person and predict different things. Do you take a job because it pays well or reject the job because the boss reminds you too much of your father? People are messy.

  • I have little else to say to either of you unless and until a far more sincere apology is made to Bluejay.

    Sorry, Bluejay. It’s been a bad week and I was quick to see offense where none was meant.

    Next time I’m tempted to give a sermon, I’ll save it for my blog. Or at least aim it at a more deserving target.

  • At least now I know of one thing I can give up for Lent…

  • MaryAnn

    But people don’t like the idea that they can’t walk through life on their own, that’s the real reason Christ is so offensive to them.

    Another misconception about atheists: I doubt there are many of us who are “offended” by the idea of “Christ.” Christians trying to force non-Christians to follow their religion? Yes, that is certainly offensive. But I do think that most atheists don’t give any thought to your religion at all as long as you’re keeping it to yourself. The problem is, of course, that many Christians do not keep it to themselves. I’m not referring to this kind of conversation: I’m referring to those religion people who want to enshrine their religious beliefs in laws that affect everyone whether they follow that religion or not. Like laws concerning gay marriage and abortion.

    What some of us may find offensive, however, is the notion that *none* of us are able to “walk through life” without the crutch of religion. I myself do personally find that offensive. If you think you’re a spiritual cripple and you need the crutch of Jesus, what do I care? But don’t say that I *must* be one, too.

    Also: Just because you need a crutch doesn’t mean that Jesus actually existed — and the fact remains that there isn’t any good historical evidence that he did — nor does it mean, even if Jesus actually did exist, that he was any kind of supernatural being.

    Your need and your belief is evidence *only* of your need and your belief.

  • LaSargenta

    …or that Jesus would want to be a crutch. I don’t think he would. He posed parables that were intended to get people to think for themselves.

    Signed, a Quaker…which is christian, but an amazing number of other people who call themselves Christian don’t think we are because we don’t rely on the Bible for the word of God.

  • Signed, a Quaker…which is christian, but an amazing number of other people who call themselves Christian don’t think we are because we don’t rely on the Bible for the word of God.

    As a Catholic–or for that matter, as a former Catholic who flirted with atheism–but, alas, she never flirted back–and eventually returned to Catholicism for reasons too complex to sum up here though I’m pretty sure none of them involve crutches–it’s been my experience that all too many alleged Christians refuse to acknowledge as Christian anyone outside of their particular denomination. Even some of the nondenominational Christians I know refuse to acknowledge people like me as fellow Christians–and I must admit that there are times when it’s tempting to return the favor but I’m trying to be better than that…

  • tweeks

    Christians trying to force non-Christians to follow their religion? Yes, that is certainly offensive.

    I’m really very sorry for forcing the issue earlier. All I’m doing now is “inviting.”

    But I do think that most atheists don’t give any thought to your religion at all as long as you’re keeping it to yourself.

    That’s why I’m letting you know that it’s an option that even smart people like yourself can reasonably accept, should you ever find it necessary.

    The problem is, of course, that many Christians do not keep it to themselves. I’m not referring to this kind of conversation: I’m referring to those religion people who want to enshrine their religious beliefs in laws that affect everyone whether they follow that religion or not. Like laws concerning gay marriage and abortion.

    I think those people are misguided. Even before this thread, I already thought legislating morality was a fool’s errand; but after my long talk with Bluejay and others, it’s even more clear to me than ever that the Christian moral system is ultimately founded on the authority of God and nothing else, so it’s just not reasonable to expect non-Christians to adopt it.

    What some of us may find offensive, however, is the notion that *none* of us are able to “walk through life” without the crutch of religion. I myself do personally find that offensive. If you think you’re a spiritual cripple and you need the crutch of Jesus, what do I care? But don’t say that I *must* be one, too.

    I think you’re a very strong person, MaryAnn, who has good reason to be proud. You’ve developed your writing talents to a high level of proficiency, and successfully made a name for yourself in an extremely competitive environment.

    But where did that brilliant mind and winning personality come from? You were responsible for using them, but not making them. It’s up to you whether you want to ultimately give the credit to an impersonal First Cause, or a personal one.

    Your need and your belief is evidence *only* of your need and your belief.

    Don’t you ever long for meaning and purpose beyond what this world can provide? If I am the product of natural causes alone, then why should I long for something supernatural?

    …or that Jesus would want to be a crutch. I don’t think he would. He posed parables that were intended to get people to think for themselves.

    I respectfully disagree. You certainly could be right, but I wonder how you understand texts like John 15:5, where Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

    it’s been my experience that all too many alleged Christians refuse to acknowledge as Christian anyone outside of their particular denomination.

    As far as I’m concerned, if you say “Jesus is Lord,” you’re a Christian, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

  • MaryAnn

    I think those people are misguided.

    Well, if you Christians are supposed to be guiding other Christians, perhaps those who think like you do should work harder to keep the meddling Christians from interfering with the rest of us.

    I think you’re a very strong person, MaryAnn, who has good reason to be proud.

    Hey, I’m not saying that I’m perfect, not by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve got more than my share of issues. But I don’t think they make me so “spiritually crippled” that I can’t cope with them through means other than the supernatural.

    But where did that brilliant mind and winning personality come from? You were responsible for using them, but not making them.

    To a certain degree, I am responsible for myself. I’ve worked hard, I’ve chosen to do X instead of Y, and so on. But it’s also the luck of the genetic draw, the attention and devotion of my parents during my formative days, and other factors that aren’t my doing but also aren’t anything inexplicable or extraordinary. There’s absolutely no reason to invoke any supernatural cause. And if you do feel the need to do so, then the inescapable additional conclusion is that your god choses to deny some people the skills and talents they could put to good use. Do you find that comforting?

  • MaryAnn

    it’s been my experience that all too many alleged Christians refuse to acknowledge as Christian anyone outside of their particular denomination.

    This is because humans are tribal, and religion is about tribalism more than it’s about anything else. It’s a way for people to identify themselves as This and as Not That.

  • Bluejay

    [Tonio Kruger wrote] Sorry, Bluejay. It’s been a bad week and I was quick to see offense where none was meant. Next time I’m tempted to give a sermon, I’ll save it for my blog. Or at least aim it at a more deserving target.

    Tonio: apology accepted. (And I have no problem with your sermons; I’ve given many here myself.) Look, tempers are gonna flare when this topic comes up; people feel very strongly about where their moral values come from, which is why this conversation rarely ever happens out in the open, in my experience. I’m amazed that it stayed civil for as long as it did. I’m convinced that such conversations are important, and that we don’t have them often enough.

    [tweeks wrote] This is why Christians do not usually become terrorists: Christians are commanded not to kill for their faith, but to die: to allow themselves to be killed, as Christ himself did.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_and_violence

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_terrorism

    [LaSargenta wrote] …or that Jesus would want to be a crutch. I don’t think he would. He posed parables that were intended to get people to think for themselves.

    Signed, a Quaker…which is christian, but an amazing number of other people who call themselves Christian don’t think we are because we don’t rely on the Bible for the word of God.

    LaSargenta raises an excellent point. I’m not very familiar with Quakerism (is that a word?) but from what little I know, its emphasis on individual interpretation, rather than blind obedience to a text, seems more reasonable to me.

    If a person’s interpretation of the Bible compels him or her to strive for compassion and tolerance, then that’s great. But I think that’s a credit to the person, not the Bible. Because along with commandments promoting love and charity, the Biblical God also gives explicit approval to many terrible and hateful things–including rape, misogyny, homophobia, slavery, infanticide, and wholesale slaughter. (If anyone wants me to provide a list, I will.)

    On what basis does a moderate Christian decide that the Biblical passages promoting love are universal and true for all time, but the Biblical passages promoting hatred and violence are taken out of context, or culturally obsolete, or otherwise safe to disregard? If the answer is “one’s conscience” or “one’s heart,” then you’re appealing to a standard of morality that lies outside what the Bible itself says. Whether or not our consciences have divine or natural origins is a separate question. But what’s clear is that our modern moral values are not (and should not be) dictated solely by a text that was produced in an age far more violent and less tolerant than our own.

    By the way: why can’t the text be changed? Do believers consider scripture perfect, that there’s no more room for improvement? (Probably many do, come to think of it.) But the Biblical canon wasn’t fixed from the beginning; over the course of two millennia, religious authorities met and debated, and accepted and rejected certain passages and books, in order to come up with the canon used today. (And even today, Jews, Catholics, Evangelicals, and other Bible-based religious groups don’t agree on what’s canonical.) So why can’t they do it again, today, and get rid of all the adulterer-stoning, slavery-condoning, woman-oppressing stuff?

  • Bluejay

    [Paul wrote] And the human mind’s ability to abstract just isn’t about science and math. It’s about political theory (Locke, Hobbes), Economics (Smith, Marx), knowledge itself (Kant), and yes, morality (Jesus, Buber, Kung, Buddha). We experience the fuzzy, messy reality, and abstract it. The same ability of the brain that allows us to come up with geometry and physics allows us to believe in equality, peace, and justice. The reason our moral theories don’t work as well as our scientific ones as descriptions of behavior is because our moral theories are not meant to be descriptive, they are proscriptive. We’ve discovered over the centuries that societies that follow certain moral rules funcion better, and the better those rules the better it functions, and we’ve abstracted from reality to figure out what those rules might be.

    That’s an interesting point, Paul.

  • tweeks

    Well, if you Christians are supposed to be guiding other Christians, perhaps those who think like you do should work harder to keep the meddling Christians from interfering with the rest of us.

    I’ll see what I can do! :-)

    Attention all my Christian brothers and sisters with an aggressive legislative agenda: please show me where Jesus commands us to set up a perfect human government! Did he not say, “my kingdom is not of this world?” (John 18:36) And did not Paul say, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12)? Why then are you fighting your fellow citizens, when the real battle is a spiritual one?

    But I don’t think they make me so “spiritually crippled” that I can’t cope with them through means other than the supernatural.

    Everybody needs something to believe in–some cause worth fighting for, some goal to blindly believe in that makes the pain and uncertainty of life bearable. Maybe it’s your career, or your dream of a utopian society, or someone you love and trust completely, or maybe it’s just faith in yourself and your own potential. Whatever it is that you believe in, it’s filling the role of God in your life, and it’s giving you the hope you need to go on living. Without something to believe in, we quickly fall into despair and begin killing ourselves–perhaps slowly with alcohol or drugs, or perhaps quickly with a gun or the car running with the garage door down.

    This is why investors jump out of windows every time the stock market takes a major dive: wealth was their only hope for happiness, the only thing that kept them going. Take someone’s hope away, and you take their life away. That’s why hope is life, and why it’s so important for me to let people here know that faith in the living person of Christ is reasonable, so you can turn to him someday if you ever lose faith in whatever you’re believing in now.

    But it’s also the luck of the genetic draw, the attention and devotion of my parents during my formative days, and other factors that aren’t my doing but also aren’t anything inexplicable or extraordinary. There’s absolutely no reason to invoke any supernatural cause. And if you do feel the need to do so, then the inescapable additional conclusion is that your god choses to deny some people the skills and talents they could put to good use. Do you find that comforting?

    I find that extremely humbling. Why wasn’t I born with a physical disability? Why was I born into the richest country in the world rather than the poorest? Why didn’t I die when my car almost ran into that truck a couple years ago? I cannot know the answers to these questions, so why do I ask them? If I’m the product of natural causes only, then why do I seek supernatural knowledge? Animals apparently just accept the world as it is, so why can’t I?

    Also: Just because you need a crutch doesn’t mean that Jesus actually existed — and the fact remains that there isn’t any good historical evidence that he did

    Oh? :-) You know a lot about movies, MaryAnn, but your knowledge of history has a huge gaping hole in this area.

    First, see Historicity of Jesus on Wikipedia (and the links there):

    The historicity of Jesus concerns the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth. While scholars often draw a distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, and while scholars further debate what can specifically be known concerning Jesus’ character and ministry, essentially all scholars in the relevant fields agree that the mere historical existence of Jesus can be established using documentary and other evidence.

    Witnesses to Christ form an unbroken line going all the way back to Jesus’ time. How far back in history do we need to go before you decide they didn’t exist? You believe in George Washington, I presume. How about Martin Luther (1483-1546)? Or Augustine (354-430)? And what about those who lived within two generations of Christ’s apostles, like Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Polycarp of Smyrna? Would you accept their existence?

    This doesn’t prove Christ was God, of course–that can never be proven in a way that will satisfy everyone. In fact, in the Gospel account, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in front of many witnesses, and still there were people who wanted him dead! They believed he had power, but they still didn’t believe he was God. So no matter how much evidence you see, it’s still absolutely true that no one can come to Jesus unless his Father draws them.

    It makes sense, doesn’t it? If God didn’t put a love for film into your heart, you wouldn’t have written all those great reviews. In the same way, if He doesn’t put a love for Himself into your heart, you will never even try to find Him. That’s why I was wrong to act as though I could force Bluejay to believe something he didn’t want to believe: ultimately, he cannot believe unless God allows him to.

    That’s why all I’m trying to do now is remove any mental obstacles to believing: to show you that there is objective evidence for Jesus’ historicity. Still, no matter how much evidence I show you, God must do His work, or you will never believe.

  • tweeks

    Hey Bluejay! Please accept my most sincere apologies for the way I acted earlier. I still think you’re a great guy. :-)

    If a person’s interpretation of the Bible compels him or her to strive for compassion and tolerance, then that’s great. But I think that’s a credit to the person, not the Bible. Because along with commandments promoting love and charity, the Biblical God also gives explicit approval to many terrible and hateful things–including rape, misogyny, homophobia, slavery, infanticide, and wholesale slaughter. (If anyone wants me to provide a list, I will.)

    That’s funny, I don’t remember seeing “thou shalt commit rape” in the 10 Commandments! But seriously, I think a lot of your confusion has to do with the fact that most of the Bible is descriptive, not prescriptive. Even the civil laws that God gave to ancient Israel were explicitly given for their nation alone, so if anyone should be stoning homosexuals today, it’s modern Jews, not Christians!

    On what basis does a moderate Christian decide that the Biblical passages promoting love are universal and true for all time, but the Biblical passages promoting hatred and violence are taken out of context, or culturally obsolete, or otherwise safe to disregard?

    Well, point to a specific passage and I’ll tell you. :-)

    If the answer is “one’s conscience” or “one’s heart,” then you’re appealing to a standard of morality that lies outside what the Bible itself says.

    That’s not the answer; it’s all about faithfulness to what the text says.

    By the way: why can’t the text be changed?

    For the same reason On the Origin of Species can’t be changed: what we have is what the original author wrote.

    Do believers consider scripture perfect, that there’s no more room for improvement?

    Revelation ends with a warning not to add anything more to the text, which most people (except the Mormons, apparently) understand to mean that the Biblical cannon is closed.

    But the Biblical canon wasn’t fixed from the beginning; over the course of two millennia, religious authorities met and debated, and accepted and rejected certain passages and books, in order to come up with the canon used today.

    Mostly books, rarely passages. They were simply acknowledging those books as reliable witnesses, consistent with what had been revealed so far. If you don’t agree with them, pick a different cannon! It’s not set in stone or anything.

    (And even today, Jews, Catholics, Evangelicals, and other Bible-based religious groups don’t agree on what’s canonical.)

    I’m not going to tell any Catholic or Orthodox readers that the Apocrypha are useless books. If they find them helpful, that’s great!

    So why can’t they do it again, today, and get rid of all the adulterer-stoning, slavery-condoning, woman-oppressing stuff?

    Neither the God of the Bible, nor Jesus, nor his apostles command people today to stone adulterers or condone slavery, and the oppression of women was never condoned!

  • LaSargenta

    Warning: This post is about belief and epiphany and depending on your sensitivity to evanglizing, it could be taken as preaching or an attempt to convert one. It is not intended as such, but I haven’t thought of another way of answering this question posed by tweeks.

    I respectfully disagree. You certainly could be right, but I wonder how you understand texts like John 15:5, where Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

    First off, there are many ways to translate egw eimi h ampeloV umeiV ta klhmata o menwn en emoi kagw en autw outoV ferei karpon polun oti cwriV emou ou dunasqe poiein ouden. (Poor re-alphabetizing of the greek but I don’t know how to use the html for images in this site. MAJ, if you can insert them into your comments, may I email you the greek and you post it?). Also, there are more than one text of the greek and we’d need to agree on which greek text is the definitive. So, I personally don’t agree with your translation.

    Now, the real answer from me is that I don’t bother with “understanding” this text. I don’t need the text of John. I don’t need to believe in John or Jesus or God; I know God and Jesus.

    I do not believe in a dead idol. There is a living Light which abides in all of us and I witness the living Christ in all things and know it.

    Much has happened since this book was written. To follow only this book and not to know and commune with the Living is to kill God.

  • tweeks

    Much has happened since this book was written. To follow only this book and not to know and commune with the Living is to kill God.

    Yes!! We mustn’t be like the Pharisees, who were so blinded by their traditions that they couldn’t see God standing right in front of them!

    That’s why people who act like the Bible = God are completely missing the point. The Bible is a great source for learning about God, but it’s not the only one! The Gospel could have spread by word of mouth alone (and it did for many years); it was only written down to help protect it from transmission errors.

  • MaryAnn

    Images cannot be inserted into comments. Sorry.

    I know God and Jesus

    But the only way anyone can “know” such things is through a book that was written by many different people after the events it purports to document, and has since been endlessly translated, retranslated, reinterpreted, and reorganized. We have the original edition of *The Origin of Species.* We do not have the original Bible. Not even close.

    Whatever it is that you believe in, it’s filling the role of God in your life, and it’s giving you the hope you need to go on living.

    Perhaps that’s true. But some of us draw on this hope from real things, not imaginary ones.

    This is why investors jump out of windows every time the stock market takes a major dive

    Oh, they do not. Do you really need to just invent stuff out of whole cloth to support your argument?

    faith in the living person of Christ is reasonable

    No, it is not “reasonable.” There is no “living person of Christ.” You may believe that someone known as Christ exists on some other plane of existence to the real world, but that’s not a belief that can be substantiated in any way that approaches “reasonable.” You may find it a comforting belief, and I suppose part of that comfort stems from telling yourself that it is not mere fantasy, but all Christians ever have to justify their belief is “faith” — which is an admission that the belief is not reasonable on its face. You want to believe without any evidence to support it? Fine. But at least be honest about that.

    Witnesses to Christ form an unbroken line going all the way back to Jesus’ time.

    I guess you do need to make stuff up. Why didn’t you quote the next paragraph from the Wikipedia page?:

    The lines of evidence used to establish Jesus’ historical existence include the New Testament documents, theoretical source documents that may lie behind the New Testament, statements from the early Church Fathers, brief references in histories produced decades or centuries later by pagan and Jewish sources, gnostic documents, and early Christian creeds.

    Translation: The Bible and those who already believe in its inerracy is what is used to “prove” that Jesus was an actual historical person. That’s tantamount to saying that *The Lord of the Rings,* fanfiction based on Elijah Wood’s portrayal in Peter Jackson’s films, and reviews of a reissued edition of the trilogy years after the original publication prove that Frodo Baggins was a real person.

    The fact is that at this moment, there is NO evidence from the time that Jesus was supposed to have lived that documents his existence. All the “evidence” is hearsay from *after* the time of his supposed death.

    If such evidence does eventually come to light, great. Then we will have some proof that there was a historical person called Jesus. It still wouldn’t prove his deity, but it would at least be something. But we don’t have that now.

  • MaryAnn

    I find that extremely humbling. Why wasn’t I born with a physical disability? Why was I born into the richest country in the world rather than the poorest? Why didn’t I die when my car almost ran into that truck a couple years ago?

    So you’re okay with a deity who *does* cause people to be born with disabilities, or into abject poverty and oppression, or who allows people to be killed in car accidents? You’re okay with *worshipping* this kind of monster?

    I cannot know the answers to these questions, so why do I ask them? If I’m the product of natural causes only, then why do I seek supernatural knowledge? Animals apparently just accept the world as it is, so why can’t I?

    Seriously? You think all questions that *can* be asked *must* have answers, and that those questions must have the answers you presuppose them to have? Are you seriously suggesting that because you seek supernatural knowlege, it must be there to be found?

  • MaryAnn

    Neither the God of the Bible, nor Jesus, nor his apostles command people today to stone adulterers or condone slavery, and the oppression of women was never condoned!

    It’s true: There are none so blind as those who will not see.

    The Bible is a great source for learning about God, but it’s not the only one!

    What other sources are they? Real sources, not your feelings or your beliefs or your faith? What is there other than the Bible that sources your god?

    The Gospel could have spread by word of mouth alone (and it did for many years); it was only written down to help protect it from transmission errors.

    You’re not serious? The Bible has no transmission errors?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    In regards to the Historicity of Jesus Wiki article: tweeks, you might want to reread it. That statement you quote is strong in a way not supported by either citation or the rest of the article. Also, the very next sentence is interesting:

    The lines of evidence used to establish Jesus’ historical existence include the New Testament documents, theoretical source documents that may lie behind the New Testament, statements from the early Church Fathers, brief references in histories produced decades or centuries later by pagan and Jewish sources, gnostic documents, and early Christian creeds.

    Perhaps it’s me – I’m not a scholarly historian or archeologist – but this strikes me a bit like claiming the existence of Tattooine based on it’s appearance in 4 movies and numerous novels and source books.

    I think my point is, your “no one doubts the existence of Julius Cesar, why do they doubt the existence of Jesus” is a poor rhetorical gambit.* First off, it’s a non sequitar. Unless you want to claim Jesus as a direct descendant of Cesar, the historicity of one is irrelevant to the historicity of the other. Secondly, the contemporary evidence, including primary documentation, is broad enough to firmly establish Cesar’s historicity. It’s also much broader than the evidence for Jesus, which lacks any primary documentation, and currently includes only one strong contemporary source. I think you choose Julius Cesar because he’s a hugely well known figure. Even Shakespeare wrote about him.** If, despite my first objection, you insist on going this rhetorical route, I suggest you choose your comparison’s more carefully.

    *assuming you consider this an original idea. A quick google search would suggest that the historicity issue is a canard you’re repeating here, without researching its relevance.

    **by the way, did you know that the historicity of William Shakespeare, and his authorship of the plays attributed to him, is also an open question?

  • tweeks

    We have the original edition of *The Origin of Species.* We do not have the original Bible. Not even close.

    That’s why the science of Textual Criticism exists: to help us reconstruct what was in the original text from the hundreds of manuscripts uncovered every year. Have you ever even looked at a copy of Novum Testamentum Graece, or Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia? If not, then you you have no idea how confident scholars are that they have reconstructed the original texts.

    Whatever it is that you believe in, it’s filling the role of God in your life, and it’s giving you the hope you need to go on living.

    Perhaps that’s true. But some of us draw on this hope from real things, not imaginary ones.

    How do you know what you’re living for is not going to disappoint you? (Don’t answer that–it’s too personal.)

    My own father has devoted his life to getting rich, but he never seems to have enough money. He has a dream that someday he’ll achieve financial independence and be happy, but I know he’s fooling himself: no matter how much he has, it will never be enough.

    Rich and famous people are some of the saddest people on the planet. Why did Michael Jackson need so much medication? Why did Heath Ledger kill himself (or maybe it was an accident)? People at the top are depressed because they realize they have everything, and it’s still not enough.

    Some people say they live for the good of the human race. That’s very noble of them, but what’s the point of the human race, anyway? If we’re lucky, we’ll survive the inevitable death of the Earth and move off into space someday. But seriously, what’s the point of it all? I never could escape this fundamental problem, and it’s what drove me to seek God, whom I never could prove did not exist, and whom my heart seemed to be longing for.

    There is no “living person of Christ.” You may believe that someone known as Christ exists on some other plane of existence to the real world, but that’s not a belief that can be substantiated in any way that approaches “reasonable.” You may find it a comforting belief, and I suppose part of that comfort stems from telling yourself that it is not mere fantasy, but all Christians ever have to justify their belief is “faith” — which is an admission that the belief is not reasonable on its face. You want to believe without any evidence to support it? Fine. But at least be honest about that.

    You want to disbelieve without any evidence to support it? Fine. But at least be honest about that!

    I’m still one of your biggest fans, MaryAnn, even if you don’t think Jesus is worth looking in to. But if you go around telling people “there is no evidence for Jesus Christ,” you might as well be saying, “there’s no evidence for Julius Caesar.” In fact, the evidence for Jesus of Nazareth is significantly stronger than the evidence for Caesar! By believing in one and rejecting the other, you are behaving as a historical hypocrite. I still love you though. :-) Keep up the great work!

  • Dr Rocketscience

    Oi, cross-posting the boss. How embarrassing. >.>

  • tweeks

    I think my point is, your “no one doubts the existence of Julius Cesar, why do they doubt the existence of Jesus” is a poor rhetorical gambit.

    Oh? How do you know there was a Caesar? You know because of ancient texts and carvings on buildings. If you want to disbelieve the textual and archaeological evidence for Caesar, go ahead, but then you have no basis for believing in the existence of anyone else from antiquity, because there are more manuscripts of the gospels than any other ancient text.

    You may not believe what the gospels say about Jesus–perhaps the writers were making stuff up. But from the perspective of textual criticism, you cannot honestly hold the position that they are somehow less valid than other classical texts.

  • Well, we do have Shakespeare’s business records such as his investments, so wouldn’t call his existance very open to doubt. I think some people started the idea that he wasn’t a real person because they were jealous.

    Funny thing I read about the “Origin of the Species.” Darwin ended up making a lot of cuts because scientists laughed at some of his side ideas about evolution, but eventually even his side ideas were accepted by scientists in this century, so now we’re back to publishing the original again.

    “We mustn’t be like the Pharisees, who were so blinded by their traditions that they couldn’t see God standing right in front of them!”

    But why were the Pharisees blinded? Because they had more faith in their religious books than in God, and I feel the same way about conservative Christians having more faith in a literal translation of the Bible than in the love within Jesus’ message.

    As for animals accepting the world the way it is and we do not, our not accepting the world doesn’t have to lead to a supernatural world, but maybe just the creation of a better world. In fact, conservatives insist upon the acceptance of this world as it is and many use God as their psychological enforcer, which is why many reformists end up having to leave their original religion, either by going to another religion, founding another religion, or washing their hands of religion altogether.

  • tweeks

    Look, I’m not trying to argue for the inerrancy of the Bible.

    All I want to say is that, 2,000 years ago, some regular folks encountered a man who claimed to be God, and they wrote about him. Most of them apparently died as martyrs for this man, as did many of those who followed them. Did they all believe a lie?

    I honestly don’t know. One thing I do know is that, through comparing the manuscripts we’ve found, it looks like we have reconstructed 99% of what these men originally wrote. So if you’re curious, look at what they wrote, and judge for yourself whether it’s believable. (I recommend starting with John’s gospel, or Luke’s.)

    But to even go down that path in the first place, you have to want to know God. You have to say to yourself, “if God does exist, how could I ever know Him?” If God wants to be known, He would have to break into our world somehow in a visible way, which is exactly what the gospels claim happened. Coincidence?

    Well, if you’re just not interested in knowing God, you don’t care either way, which is why there’s no point in my arguing about the evidence with people here: everyone must look for themselves. But don’t even bother looking if you’ve already made up your mind about what you’re going to find!

  • What I’m interested in is if this thread can beat “Sex in the City” for the most number of posts. There would be something symbolic about such a victory. I think we have less than 40 to go.

    But I do think this topic was working better when it was more abstract: do you need a God for morality to exist?

    Of course, it can be hard to discuss God without eventually picking one of the gods to argue about. I remember I was in a half hour theological argument with a guy I’d sort of known through mutual friends before I realized I was talking about the Christian varient and he was talking about Taoism, so of course we were talking past each other.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Oooooooookay, way to miss the point there, tweeks. You really don’t listen to what anyone here is saying. I mean, you blockquote and respond, but you don’t listen.

    Again, it’s still a non sequitar. The historicity of Caesar doesn’t – no, wait, can’t – affect the historicity of Jesus.

    I’m not calling into question the methodologies of ancient history or archeology. The existence of Caesar isn’t accepted because ancient texts are wholly reliable. His existence is accepted due to a preponderance of independent corroborating evidence, because of numerous contemporary accounts, because huge swaths of verifiable history is linked to him personally.

    Ultimately, the comparison is just plain unfair… to Jesus. Julius Caesar was a major political figure, whose actions affected millions directly, and whose influence spanned much of Europe, all in his own lifetime. Jesus was, by the accounts of the gospels, a minor religious figure in the region, who left behind only a handful of followers. His death is arguably the most important part of his story.

    There’s also the important distinction that no supernatural acts are attributed to Caesar. I mean, there are plenty of ancient texts describing Heracles, but no one suggests he was real. I mean, the texts claim the man was the offspring of a god, and that’s just ridiculous. >.>

    Look, if you insist making comparisons about accepting the existence of ancient figures despite limited evidence, pick someone more appropriate. The Wiki article suggests Alexander the Great. But realize that it still won’t have any bearing on the validity of the Christian ethos, or even on the existence of Christ himself.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    All I want to say is that, 2,000 years ago, some regular folks encountered a man who claimed to be God, and they wrote about him.

    From the wiki article:

    The canonical Gospels are anonymous and were originally untitled, but since at least the second century these documents have been associated with certain personalities, the associations providing the traditional titles:[6] Matthew was to have been written by Matthew, one of the Twelve apostles of Jesus; Mark was to have been written by Mark, an associate of Simon Peter, also one of the Twelve; Luke was to have been written by Luke, a traveling companion of Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles; John was to have written by by John, another of the Twelve.

    So, only 2 of the 4 attributed to men who actually met Jesus, and then only via “tradition”. Not to mention the question of the relationships between John the Apostle, John the Evangelist, and John of Patamos.

  • tweeks

    [Julius Caesar’s] existence is accepted due to a preponderance of independent corroborating evidence, because of numerous contemporary accounts, because huge swaths of verifiable history is linked to him personally.

    Ultimately, the comparison is just plain unfair… to Jesus. Julius Caesar was a major political figure, whose actions affected millions directly, and whose influence spanned much of Europe, all in his own lifetime. Jesus was, by the accounts of the gospels, a minor religious figure in the region, who left behind only a handful of followers. His death is arguably the most important part of his story.

    And that story has persisted to this day because…?

    In the final analysis, who has had the bigger impact on the world, Caesar, or Christ? Last time I checked, it wasn’t a massive statue of Caesar that is standing over Rio de Janeiro!

    About 1/3 of the world’s population identified themselves as Christians in 2000. Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s true. But are you seriously claiming that all these people have no basis whatsoever for believing Christ even existed? That’s quite a claim!

  • tweeks

    But I do think this topic was working better when it was more abstract: do you need a God for morality to exist?

    That’s a very good question, Paul.

    I don’t claim to have all the answers, but one thing I do know is that, when there is no God to appeal to, all questions of right and wrong in the world boil down to one big schoolyard shouting match: “oh yeah? sez who?!

    Seriously, who has the right to tell you and me what’s right and wrong? The government? I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a lot of faith in any government. It’s not a matter of Democrat or Republican, it’s a matter of human nature being what it is.

  • LaSargenta

    @ tweeks: No, we are not talking about the same thing at all.

    And, MaryAnn, in answer to “But the only way anyone can “know” such things is through a book…” all I can say is that my use of the word know is not how tweeks is using the word know. Quakers have a thing referred to as a Gathered Meeting, which is a Meeting where there is a Presence in the Meeting as opposed to simply the Light that all carry within them. It is a very stoic and english form of group mysticism. This is one of the reasons that many people who call themselves Christian consider us not to be. “Christ” in this case does also not equal Jesus. There is a Light of Christ, or Inward Light, that is a guide. The origins of this language are from the Bible, but the ideas are not based in scripture but from direct experience of the founder George Fox. Also, the Society of Friends are a rather varied bunch, as you could expect of a religion that was founded by a mystic and which regards all Friends as equally having access to the infinite. So, another f/Friend might give you a completely different explanation.

    This is a perfect example of the problem of using language to communicate a spiritual experience. And, therefore, this is a reason that I regard the Bible as an interesting collection of stories, NOT as a law nor even as a prescription, although I might call them an inspiration. However, I also most definately call Louis MacNeice’s poem Prayer Before Birth an inspiration and, too, and mean no flippancy with this, I call George Carlin, and his fantastic, angry cutting through hypocracy an inspiration as well as the writings of Hunter S. Thompson.

    I do not ‘believe’ in a prescription at all. We do not have dogma, we have Queries. We have questions that we meditate on and try to answer to work out for ourselves if we are living in the Light or not.

    I don’t argue about the “historical Jesus”. He is not important. And he could just as easily have been a she. Or not there at all. The works of the Bible are to my mind astoundingly circular and rely on each other for proof; AND, there were a lot of people with power or seeking to get more power who would have been the most likely to set the Bible up the way it is just to maintain their power. I therefore assume it is twisted. I have seen too much twisting of ‘documents’ in my own lifetime to have much faith *cough* in those ‘documents’.

    I have gotten rather angry reading this thread and seeing the circular arguments that tweeks has been making and how I sense that many things Bluejay and MaryAnn and others have said or argued about have been ignored by her/him except to try to score debating points. This thread is interesting; but, tweeks, you either are putting words in others’ mouths or you are awfully set in your way of looking at the world and the infinite that you cannot hear their truths.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    And that story has persisted to this day because…?

    It became the central part of a successful religion. Seriously, dude, think about these questions before you ask them.

    About 1/3 of the world’s population identified themselves as Christians in 2000.

    I quote this next to intercept the obvious response. If literal truth is the requirement of a successful religion, consider: Hindu is reasonably successful. Are you prepared to accept, or at least stipulate, the literal existence of Shiva?

    In the final analysis, who has had the bigger impact on the world, Caesar, or Christ? Last time I checked, it wasn’t a massive statue of Caesar that is standing over Rio de Janeiro!

    OK, so?

    But are you seriously claiming that all these people have no basis whatsoever for believing Christ even existed? That’s quite a claim!

    It certainly is. Luckily for me, I never made it. You have an unfortunate habit of reframing others’ claims, which you’ve already been called on in this thread.

    I am claiming that your argument about Jesus and Julius Caesar is faulty. You said:

    …it really doesn’t take any more faith to believe that Jesus existed than it takes to believe that Caesar… existed; it’s just a matter of believing texts written by ancient people. Nobody’s saying Caesar was imaginary…

    This argument is false, or at least, it’s not that simple. I think you logic goes like this (with my commentary added):
    Premise 1: the historicity of people is based on documentary evidence of that person’s existence.
    In part, yes.
    Premise 2: There exists documentary evidence of a man called Julius Caesar.
    On the face of it, I accept that.
    Premise 3: There exists documentary evidence of a man called Jesus of Nazareth.
    Also on its face, I accept that.
    Premise 4: The veracity of these bodies of evidence is equal.
    Wait…
    Premise 5: The historicity of Julius Caesar is accepted fact.
    Mostly, but…
    Conclusion: the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth should be accepted as fact.

    You see, premise 4 is simply not true. The body of evidence regarding Caesar is far broader, and vastly more compelling. Were that not true, we would be questioning Caesar’s existence, or we wouldn’t be debating Jesus’.

    As an aside, is should be noted that Jesus’ existence is a necessary but insufficient condition of his divinity.

  • tweeks

    You see, premise 4 is simply not true. The body of evidence regarding Caesar is far broader, and vastly more compelling.

    Thank you for your scholarly opinion, but I think our good readers should be the judge of that!

  • tweeks

    I do not ‘believe’ in a prescription at all. We do not have dogma, we have Queries. We have questions that we meditate on and try to answer to work out for ourselves if we are living in the Light or not.

    This is very interesting to me. Do you have a concept of “sin”? If you fail to live in the Light, is any atonement required?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    If you want to be pedantic, neither you nor I nor “our good readers” are likely qualified to give an expert opinion. So allow me to rephrase: if premise 4 is true, why the discrepancy between the historicity of Jesus and Caesar?

  • tweeks

    neither you nor I nor “our good readers” are likely qualified to give an expert opinion.

    That’s why I’m hoping they will seek out the opinions of experts on the subject! (Here’s one place to start.) Note there are only 10 remaining manuscripts of Caesar’s The Gallic Wars, with the earliest one dating to 1,000 years after the original autograph, compared to 25,000 ancient manuscript copies of the New Testament, 5,600 of which are copies and fragments in the original Greek, with the time between the original autographs and our earliest existing fragment being 40-60 years!

    So, textually speaking, the New Testament dominates any other ancient work. That still doesn’t mean it records real events, of course, but it does mean that we can reconstruct the originals with an exceptionally high degree of accuracy.

  • Bluejay

    This is probably just arguing over details rather than furthering the topic, but what the heck:

    That’s funny, I don’t remember seeing “thou shalt commit rape” in the 10 Commandments!

    A fair point. Not in the Ten Commandments. However:

    * Lot, in order to save his two angel visitors from a lustful mob outside, says: “Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing” (Genesis 19:8). This is the same Lot praised for his “righteous soul” in 2 Peter 2:8.

    * “And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? … Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.“(Numbers 31:15-18)

    But seriously, I think a lot of your confusion has to do with the fact that most of the Bible is descriptive, not prescriptive. Even the civil laws that God gave to ancient Israel were explicitly given for their nation alone, so if anyone should be stoning homosexuals today, it’s modern Jews, not Christians!

    Thank goodness modern Jews don’t take their scripture so literally, then!

    There’s a lot of hateful prescriptive stuff too, a very small fraction of which I’ve already mentioned in earlier posts. But if horrible laws can be excused as being just intended for ancient Israel, why can’t it be argued that the compassionate decrees–“love one another” etc.–are also limited to ancient Israel? What justifies saying “it’s a universal command!” for the loving stuff, and “that was just in the context of the time!” for the hateful stuff? It seems that different standards are being applied. Which is fine, but we should be honest that that’s what we’re doing–applying 21st century interpretations to the text, while recognizing that the Biblical authors didn’t intend the text to be read that way. Which leads us to:

    the oppression of women was never condoned!

    With our enlightened liberal attitudes, I’m sure we can somehow make a complicated argument about how the Bible really puts women on an equal footing with men. But let’s be honest: when the Biblical scribes wrote that women were inferior, they really thought women were inferior.

    * “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” (Ephesians 5:22-24)

    * “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” (1 Timothy 2:11-15)

    * “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When a man shall make a singular vow, the persons shall be for the Lord by thy estimation. And thy estimation shall be of the male from twenty years old even unto sixty years old, even thy estimation shall be fifty shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary. And if it be a female,then thy estimation shall be thirty shekels. And if it be from five years old even unto twenty years old, then thy estimation shall be of the male twenty shekels, and for the female ten shekels. And if it be from a month old even unto five years old, then thy estimation shall be of the male five shekels of silver, and for the female thy estimation shall be three shekels of silver. And if it be from sixty years old and above; if it be a male, then thy estimation shall be fifteen shekels, and for the female ten shekels.” (Leviticus 27:1-7)

    On what basis does a moderate Christian decide that the Biblical passages promoting love are universal and true for all time, but the Biblical passages promoting hatred and violence are taken out of context, or culturally obsolete, or otherwise safe to disregard?

    Well, point to a specific passage and I’ll tell you. :-)

    Oh, there’s so much to choose from! :-) But I’ll go with some passages from Joshua–recalling, first, the Timothy Keller passage you quoted, criticizing atheism:

    If a premise (“There is no God”) leads to a conclusion you know isn’t true (“Napalming babies is culturally relative”) then why not change the premise?

    Apparently, God had no problem authorizing the Iron Age equivalent of napalming babies:

    * “And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city [of Jericho], both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.” (Joshua 6:21)

    * “And the LORD delivered Lachish into the hand of Israel, which took it on the second day, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and all the souls that were therein, according to all that he had done to Libnah.” (Joshua 10:32)

    * “So Joshua smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings: he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the LORD God of Israel commanded.” (Joshua 10:40)

    But this is beside the point. The point is that we can say that this violent narrative was specific to its time and culture, and that we would never think the slaughter of entire populations can be justified in any way today. This is because we have moved beyond the morality of the narrative’s author, who clearly thought Joshua’s bloody victories were sanctified by God. Our morals are not tied to the text. Which is, in my opinion, a very good thing.

  • LaSargenta

    Oh. Good. Grief.

    tweeks, are you serious? There are contemporary portraits (in stone) of good ole Juli. And there are contemporary accounts of Julius, from more than just romans.

    AND, no one tried to form an organized and state-sponsored religion around him after he was dead for scores of years.

    Your posts reeking of smugness and a nodding aquaintence with others’ bibliographies have grown dull.

  • LaSargenta

    Do you have a concept of “sin”? If you fail to live in the Light, is any atonement required?

    Are you asking for my personal Revelation? Or for a bit of Dogma? May I remind you earlier of what I said about the Society of Friends and Dogma?

    May I ask you to define atonement? I suspect by your uses of other words that we have very different ideas of the purpose and methods of such an act.

  • tweeks

    This is the same Lot praised for his “righteous soul” in 2 Peter 2:8.

    Lot was righteous because he feared the angels of God (who subsequently destroyed the city). You’ll note God rescued Lot and his daughters, and did not allow the angry mob to touch them.

    all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

    In ancient conquests, it was common to keep women and children as captives, and kill all the men. The Israelites were forbidden from intermarrying with the pagan peoples around them, because foreign spouses would likely entice them to worship foreign idols. This command to kill the women who had seduced Israelites was specific to the conquest of Canaan, and was designed to symbolize God’s judgement on the wicked. Actually, given the wickedness of the Canaanites, I thought God was rather merciful to spare the young women and children.

    But if horrible laws can be excused as being just intended for ancient Israel, why can’t it be argued that the compassionate decrees–“love one another” etc.–are also limited to ancient Israel?

    The simplest reason is that Jesus explicitly said his teachings were for the whole world:

    “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

    But let’s be honest: when the Biblical scribes wrote that women were inferior, they really thought women were inferior.

    Saying that women have a distinct and complementary role is not the same as saying they are “inferior”.

    In pair skating, the man lifts and throws the woman, not the other way around. Does that mean she’s inferior?

    Apparently, God had no problem authorizing the Iron Age equivalent of napalming babies:

    * “And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city [of Jericho], both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.” (Joshua 6:21)

    Here Israel is carrying out God’s judgement, symbolizing the final judgement of God at the end of the world when all who hate him will likewise be destroyed. This historical symbol obviously does not mean you should go into Jericho today and kill everyone there, just as Noah’s flood doesn’t mean you should build a boat!

    AND, no one tried to form an organized and state-sponsored religion around him after he was dead for scores of years.

    Yet subsequent Roman emperors were worshipped as Gods. Why don’t we worship them anymore? I guess nobody at the time was really convinced of their godhood. So what’s so special about the Galilean peasant Jesus of Nazareth that people are still worshipping him today? Good question….

    Your posts reeking of smugness and a nodding aquaintence with others’ bibliographies have grown dull.

    Sorry, I don’t mean to sound smug. :-/

    May I ask you to define atonement? I suspect by your uses of other words that we have very different ideas of the purpose and methods of such an act.

    Sorry, forgot that was a technical Christian term!

    When someone dishonors God, they are obliged to pay Him back, just like when someone finds a stranger’s wallet and spends their money, they are obliged to pay the stranger back. Since our lives are not our own, when we “spend” them in God-belittling ways, justice demands that God be repaid. In the Old Testament, animals were sacrificed to appease God. In the New Testament, Jesus himself was sacrificed, effectively “paying God back” for everyone who believes in him.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    You’re playing the wrong numbers game, tweeks. Consider: 100 copies each of 10 sources, versus 10 copies each of 100 sources. The latter is more compelling, all else being equal. And all else is not equal.

    So what’s so special about the Galilean peasant Jesus of Nazareth that people are still worshipping him today? Good question….

    What’s so special about Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu?

  • LaSargenta

    I return this argument to Dr. Rocketscience’s capable hands. I am having a great deal of trouble with feeling like I have been dropped into the program ELIZA.

    tweeks, you claim to seek understanding, yet you fight it every step of the way. I advise you to refer to 1 Corinthinans 13:8.

  • Yet subsequent Roman emperors were worshipped as Gods. Why don’t we worship them anymore?

    Because worship of the Divine Julius and his various successors is no longer considered compulsory in today’s society like it was in the Roman Empire of the early Christians. Indeed, from my reading, it would seem that the main reason the Jews and the early Christians faced so much persecution from the Romans is because they were one of the few groups that dared to deny the divinity of the Roman Emperors.

    And, of course, the Roman Emperors were notorious for using their “divine” origins as yet another excuse to throw their weight around which is yet another reason to support separation of church and state. (Of course, it took Christians a long time to learn that lesson once they got the chance to gain political power but that’s another story.)

    The simplest reason is that Jesus explicitly said his teachings were for the whole world.

    True. And yet one of the biggest controversies in the early Church concerned whether or not the Christian Church should accept Gentiles as converts or just confine itself to Jewish members.

    Oh, well. It would not be the first time Christians proved themselves to be less than perfect.

  • Bluejay

    Saying that women have a distinct and complementary role is not the same as saying they are “inferior”.

    A distinct and complementary role–like “A woman’s place is in the kitchen”?

    In pair skating, the man lifts and throws the woman, not the other way around. Does that mean she’s inferior?

    When differences in physical capabilities can be demonstrated, it makes sense to have distinct physical roles. This is why the NBA and the WNBA are separate things.

    But women are demonstrably the moral and intellectual equivalent of men. How is it a complementary role for the wife to be subject to the husband as the church is subject to God? As I see it, God and the church do not have a co-equal relationship; God commands, the church obeys. Should the husband command, and the wife obey? On what basis should a woman be forbidden to teach, but only “learn in silence in all subjection”? And how is it merely a complementary role if a woman is monetarily valued at half-to-three-fifths the worth of a man?

    Here Israel is carrying out God’s judgement, symbolizing the final judgement of God at the end of the world when all who hate him will likewise be destroyed. This historical symbol obviously does not mean you should go into Jericho today and kill everyone there

    Then we agree! We choose to see this narrative as being symbolic, rather than being a justification for slaughtering our enemies today. But the Joshua scribe didn’t see it as symbolic. He was telling a straightforward story of an army that decimated populations in God’s name and was right to do it. He wasn’t talking about God’s final judgment at the end of the world; that’s a later interpretation that’s overlaid on the text.

    That final judgment thing, by the way, sounds really… judgmental. :-) Is God really so petty and jealous, that he would punish non-Christians just for not loving him specifically? If your God does exist, and I’m brought to him after my death for judgment, and he’s not satisfied that I loved my family, and tried to do more good than harm in the world, and tried to learn about and celebrate how the universe works–I guess I’ll deal with the consequences.

  • This is starting to remind me of a book I read complaining about Nietzsche’s popularity. Marxists, Nazis, neo-cons, artists… anyone who wants to think of themselves as above the herd can find something to like in Nietzsche, and if they find something they don’t like, they say he was being symbolic or even sarcastic.

    The author maintained, based upon being able to read the philosopher’s personal papers (untranslated at the time of the book’s publication, so he had to read them in German) that Nietzsche was purposely playing mind games so people would argue about him for all eternity.

    This, of course, does not mean Jesus was playing mind games, but it does say something about the general psychology of people.

  • Victor Plenty

    Nietzsche is DIFFERENT! Truly understanding him requires stepping outside the narrow conformist mindset that every society cruelly tries to impose on all the greatest minds in history, like me, and Ayn Rand. Nobody else can really GET Nietzsche, except for those few precious beautiful unique snowflakes who are brave and smart and honest enough to think exactly like Ayn Rand, and of course, like me.

    So it’s only to be expected that most people just can’t understand Nietzsche, at least not in the deeply authentic, true and correct way that I do.

    If anybody wants to find out the right way to understand Nietzsche, I’m not going to be able to help you. But I’ll be happy to ask you loaded questions to find out whether you’re right about him or not, and to ridicule your opinions if they differ in the slightest detail from mine.

  • Bluejay

    LOL, Victor!

    [Paul wrote] But I do think this topic was working better when it was more abstract: do you need a God for morality to exist?

    This is obviously something that won’t be resolved on this thread. I’m glad, though, that this discussion has sent me looking for lots of books to see what other minds have had to say on this topic.

    If I may make one (last?) book recommendation: Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe, by Greg Epstein, the Humanist chaplain at Harvard University. It’s not a vitriolic attack on the faithful–he actually chides people like Christopher Hitchens who engage in such attacks–but rather an exploration of the reasons nonreligious people have for behaving morally. So far I’m only on page 37, but he’s already hit most of the issues that have been discussed on this thread. And he peaceably invites believers to read the book as well: not to be converted, but to see how nontheists can and do lead good lives–even if their reasons differ from a believer’s own.

  • Bluejay

    And a couple of last video recommendations:

    I think QualiaSoup’s cogently argued clips on YouTube would appeal to a lot of folks here.

    And just to bring it back to geeky movie/TV relevance, here’s Joss Whedon.

  • Victor, that was one of the funniest non-MaryAnn posts I’ve read on this website. Made even funnier by my reading elsewhere that Rand disliked Nietzsche, perhaps because of her determination to pretend she came up with all her own ideas with help from no one besides Aristotle. The primary difference between them is that Nietzsche thought a superior person would have to come about, but Rand maintained that her superior people were actually what normal people would be if their minds weren’t crushed by “the narrow conformist mindset that every society cruelly tries to impose on all the greatest minds in history, like me, and Ayn Rand.”

    I found it interesting that Ayn Rand is very much against religion, but instead of attacking Christianity directly in her fiction, she attacked Buddhism in “Atlas Shrugged,” but the basic ethical principles of the two religions are so similiar that she could still attack Christian virtues in a way that wouldn’t get her in trouble with the censors (I think “AS” came out in the 50s). Actually, I’m not quite sure where reality ends and my conclusions begin in this paragraph, so take it with a grain of salt.

  • Victor Plenty

    Thanks, Paul and Bluejay. Glad to see my humorous intent came across despite the absence of blinking neon SARCASM tags, which may be useful for avoiding misunderstandings, but tend to thoroughly ruin jokes. :)

  • The primary difference between them is that Nietzsche thought a superior person would have to come about, but Rand maintained that her superior people were actually what normal people would be if their minds weren’t crushed by “the narrow conformist mindset that every society cruelly tries to impose on all the greatest minds in history, like me, and Ayn Rand.”

    Anyone else suspect “Me and Ayn Rand” would make a great song title, particularly if the lyrics were sung to the tune of “Me and Bobby McGee.” Because freedom is just another word…

    But seriously, folks…

    The best semi-serious take on Ms. Rand I’ve read to date was in sci-fi author Matt Ruff’s novel The Sewer, Gas and Electric Trilogy, which makes a somewhat interesting attempt to explore her motivations but also explores the flaws in her philosophy as well.

    Then again, it did came from the same writer who gave me this quote:

    “Hi,“ I said. “Omnes mundum facimus.“*

    “That’s all right. I don’t need the magic phrase. But as long as we’re on the subject, have you worked it out yet?“

    I had, finally. “It’s a comeback,” I told him. “To that thing people say when they don’t want to be blamed for a bad situation: ‘I didn’t make the world, I only live in it.’”
    –Matt Ruff, Bad Monkeys

    Now back to our regularly scheduled discussion…

    * Latin for “we all make the world.”

  • This is because humans are tribal, and religion is about tribalism more than it’s about anything else. It’s a way for people to identify themselves as This and as Not That.

    But there are many ways in which we humans identify ourselves as This and as Not That and one could argue that using religious beliefs to classify ourselves that way makes as much sense as doing so by birth year, geographical origin or what brand of computer we use.

    Moreover, not all religious people I met are as “tribal” as the ones I described in an earlier post. My best friend was raised Pentecostal and my last ex-girlfriend was a Baptist. For many years, I thought people from such a background would be my mortal enemies because “everyone” knew that Pentecostals and Baptists hated Catholics. And in some instances in the past, that was probably true but not in my best friend’s case nor in my ex-girlfriend’s case. Nor in the case of many of my Catholic relatives. (The Catholics on my father’s side of the family tended to be more inclusive than the ones on my mother’s side–apart from my godmother–who was one of my mother’s cousins.)

    Besides, it’s a bit much to explain the motives of most religious art and most religious art as being tribalistic unless you see tribalism in every distinction humans make among themselves. And wouldn’t it be more charitable to quote Aristotle’s observation that “man is a social animal”? If that is so, then it would seem only natural to see socialization take place in regard to religious worship for the same reason it takes place in other areas of life.

    For that matter, what about those aspects of religion that inspire people to go out into the wilderness and become hermits? Or the aspects that inspire modern Christians to go on nature retreats? Surely if such an activity was good enough for Thoreau, it should be good enough for a modern-day Christian, right? Or am I illogical in my reasoning?

  • So it’s only to be expected that most people just can’t understand Nietzsche, at least not in the deeply authentic, true and correct way that I do.

    However, the more you try to stare into a book by Nietzsche, the more said book stares into you.

    And who who wrestles with ministers should be careful lest he become a…

  • And who who wrestles with ministers should be careful lest he become a…

    And he who wrestles with ministers should be careful lest he become a…

    Sorry for the multiple posts.

  • Doeko

    But there are many ways in which we humans identify ourselves as This and as Not That and one could argue that using religious beliefs to classify ourselves that way makes as much sense as doing so by birth year, geographical origin or what brand of computer we use.

    Yes, in that using religious beliefs to classify ourselves makes no sense at all, and yet millions (billions?) of people around the world still do it every day. And sadly, too many of them use it as an excuse to treat fellow human beings like dirt, or slaves, or canon fodder.

  • Oh, I think using religion to make distinctions makes some sense, depending on the distinctions. I think a Jew and a Christian can have a happy marriage as long as they agree on abortion, for example. The theological distinction between being Jewish or Christian is abstract compared to the concreteness of having to make a moral decision.

    The seperation of Church and State also allows conservative members of every religion (who have remarkably similiar moral views) to vote as a block, while if we lived in a theocracy, they’d be at each other’s throats. Meanwhile, the liberal members of each religion also vote as a block, agreeing on the moral issues despite the abstract theological differences.

  • Victor Plenty

    Many religious believers focus on the idea of inclusion, rather than exclusion. In fact nearly every surviving religious tradition has some dedicated members who express their beliefs in this way, sometimes in the face of violent opposition from their own religion’s fundamentalists.

    Even Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all of which are often vilified (with varying degrees of justification, to be sure) as exclusionary and expansionist religions, all include some who insist that the real heart of their religion requires the open embrace of differences and a focus on the qualities all human beings share in common, regardless of our beliefs or lack of beliefs.

    In this idea, persistent within all the world’s most influential religions, I see the greatest hope for overcoming religious violence and strife. This strikes me as far more likely than persuading a majority of the world’s population to embrace atheist or agnostic ideas, no matter how much effort is put into that campaign by some of the most brilliant scientifically trained minds.

  • Accounting Ninja

    I’m offering my completely anecdotal, and therefore truthful, evidence ;) :

    As an atheist someone with a lot of religious relatives and former-and-current friends, I too know the “loving, inclusionist” types. They are very willing to discuss religion with the atheist. They are often friendly, reasonable-appearing, and they claim to be “open” and non-judgmental.

    I am wary of these types more than the bombastic ones. (At least with scornful fundies, you know where you stand.)

    Soon enough, these types show their true colors if you continue to refute them or stick to your guns. They are often just as exclusionary as others, once you have proven yourself a waste of their time. Deep down, they really DO think you are awful, immoral and in need of saving. The friendliness is a facade to get you to engage them.

    I watched this “tweeks” fellow, and didn’t comment, because I knew it. I waited for the inevitable.

    The only person I know that fits your truly inclusionary, loving profile is a Buddhist woman who has truly no interest in converting anyone and doesn’t think there’s anything “wrong” with me being an atheist. She doesn’t think I’m hell-bound or must have no morals.

  • LaSargenta

    Hellooooooo Accounting Ninja! Nice to c u!

    I waited for the inevitable.

    I know. I was doing that, too, and then I messed up and briefly got involved. For the anecdotal record, btw, I also know quite a few jews who fit your spiritually loving and inclusionist profile. Of course, their religion doesn’t require evangelisim nor prosilytism as an expression of their faith. (However, let me assure you that doesn’t hold true if I let anyone know that I have jewish ancestors on my mother’s side. Then it is a case of trying to bring the prodigal back to the fold!)

  • Bluejay

    LaSargenta and Accounting Ninja:

    I waited for the inevitable.

    I know. I was doing that, too, and then I messed up and briefly got involved.

    Well, gee, thanks for letting the rest of us get burned all by our lonesome. ;-)

  • LaSargenta

    Burned?! You all?

    No, you did fantastic. In fact, you, and MAJ, and Victor, and DrRktSci, and Paul, and JoshB (and probably others I’m forgetting) are too be admired. I couldn’t focus nearly as well as you did and I just enjoyed seeing you all engage so politely and so well.

  • Victor Plenty

    Accounting Ninja, the personal conflicts you describe are all too common, and unpleasant while we are in them, as I know all too well. Through events far too complicated to explain here, I’ve somehow managed to spend time on both sides of those superficially inclusive, yet deep down hoping for a conversion (a win for “our” team against “their” team, as it were), types of conversation.

    Such conflicts are unfortunate, but manageable on the larger scale of community relations. When the sudden reveal of hidden motives in someone like Tweeks is the worst thing we encounter, in terms of violence or strife arising from religion, we are benefiting from a remarkable achievement. After so many centuries of warfare and bloodshed over religion, many would never have thought it possible to see people of such vastly differing beliefs live peacefully together, as millions now do, across large areas of the globe. This has been achieved without the majority of people in such areas becoming atheist or agnostic.

    We may never reach a state where the majority of people become atheist or agnostic. We may never reach a state where every religious believer has truly, deep down, stopped assuming they are the only ones who will escape eternal torment in the afterlife. But I am convinced we can broaden the reach of communities where religious belief, or the lack of belief, results in nothing worse than strained conversations at family dinners, or awkward collapses of online conversations. We have already proven that this is possible.

  • Orangutan

    I was just driving behind a car with a bumper sticker I felt was kinda relevant to the discussion here (don’t worry, I pulled over before typing this). It read ‘God is too big to fit inside one religion’.

    I also wanted to toss a book recommendation of my own in. ‘Lamb – The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal’, by Christopher Moore. Really fun book, if you don’t mind some swearing and sex.

  • Bluejay

    We may never reach a state where every religious believer has truly, deep down, stopped assuming they are the only ones who will escape eternal torment in the afterlife.

    Victor, do you think maybe this could be a significant sticking point? If I’m a moderate Christian, say, but deep down I still feel that my faith has all the right answers, that makes it easier for me to disregard my critics even when they make valid points. No matter how clearly it’s shown to me that two men marrying each other are not a threat to anyone else, I may still harbor a deep opposition to gay marriage because my God and my Bible are against it. And that may motivate me to vote for politicians who would ban it. So, in this scenario, even my moderate, nonviolent religious belief can cause others needless unhappiness.

    While I agree with you that a detente between religious people and nontheists is a highly desirable situation, I think that this is, at best, a temporary solution. The problem with the different religions–at least the ones I’m most familiar with–is that each one claims to be, without evidence, the sole possessor of the absolute truth. To truly believe in one’s religion, the way a fundamentalist does, is to accept this claim and, necessarily, all of that religion’s ideas, the good along with the bad. The extent to which a believer is moderate is the extent to which one rejects parts of one’s faith, ignoring (some) bad ideas and subscribing to (some) good ones. But if even moderate believers insist on leaving the entire system intact–if moderate Christians or Muslims shy away from saying that the Bible or the Koran has some bad ideas, because it’s their central text and it’s to be respected–then they leave the door open for extremists to use those bad ideas to justify suicide bombings, or killing abortion doctors, or other sadly familiar atrocities. And as I’ve said, even peaceful, well-meaning believers can subscribe to some bad ideas that, while not exactly violent, still have a harmful effect on society: for example, banning stem cell research or gay marriage (even Obama, who’s religious but hardly fundamentalist, has said he opposes the latter); or introducing misinformation in science classes; or avoiding or discouraging condom use in AIDS-ravaged countries.

    This is not to say that any secular system of values is automatically better. But it has the advantage of being open to criticism; atheists and agnostics and humanists can sit down and argue over whether specific ideas make sense, whether they contribute more to human happiness or human suffering. Good ideas gain support, bad ideas are shot down; there are no sacred cows. Religious values, because they’re perceived to come from God, are much more resistant to criticism, both from within (because believers are hesitant to challenge the tenets of their faith) and from without (because nonbelievers don’t want to seem rude or disrespectful). As a result, bad religious ideas are more easily retained and spread throughout the culture, as we see in America (and the world) today.

    Perhaps if the different religions, as well as secular moral philosophies, are stripped of all their objectionable ideas–the same way that Thomas Jefferson cut out all the objectionable parts of his Bible–we may find that what remain are values that all traditions hold in common. Perhaps these are universal human values that don’t need to be talked about in religious terms. Preserving life, nurturing children, honoring parents, helping the needy, caring for the planet: perhaps these values don’t define what it means to be Christian, or Muslim, or Buddhist, or Hindu, but simply what it means to be human.

    Would there be any room for belief in God then? Perhaps. But it wouldn’t be one that believers feel the need to prove with scientific evidence. And it wouldn’t be a divisive, parochial, first-century God who sets some people over others.

    Maybe this is too much to hope for, but I think it’s something worth working towards anyway.

  • Oh, don’t be so hard on Tweeks. I don’t remember his threatening us with hell fire or anything. I think both sides of the debate were being as flexible and polite as possible until both hit upon things we couldn’t be flexible about. And even if Tweeks secretly thinks we’re going to hell, how many times have any of you been listening to someone and secretly thinking they’re an idiot?

    Sometimes I think the key to civilized behavior is keeping some thoughts secret. We generally don’t go around telling people they are going to hell (well, one of my Sunday school teachers strongly implied that I was, but I was old enough to shrug it off) or that they’re an idiot, or that we really want to have cheap sex with them.

    But if you push someone in a corner, they either have to lie or fess up, and either way that person will feel bad about it. Even, under some circumstances, if you have cheap sex with them.

    I’m just glad it looks like this thread’s length will or has beaten the “Sex in the City” thread. I find that gratifying.

  • Victor Plenty

    Paul, it was never my intent to be particularly hard on Tweeks.

    Even in the parts of the discourse I found most disappointing, Tweeks was always polite enough to leave unspoken the terrible fate implied for those of us who fail to arrive at a properly Biblical opinion about the nature of faith and belief before we die. It is fairly clear that was the basis for the deep concern expressed about our eventual eternal destination, but I do indeed appreciate that the threat of hell was never explicitly thrown down in this particular conversation.

  • Victor Plenty

    Bluejay, you write:

    To truly believe in one’s religion, the way a fundamentalist does, is to accept this claim and, necessarily, all of that religion’s ideas, the good along with the bad. The extent to which a believer is moderate is the extent to which one rejects parts of one’s faith, ignoring (some) bad ideas and subscribing to (some) good ones.

    I am not so sure this is true.

    It seems to me that a person could be “moderate” in relation to other people’s freedom to decide which religious ideas make sense to them and which do not; while at the same time being “fundamentalist” (for lack of a better word) in relation to the integral completeness of one’s own religious belief system.

    For example, if I wished to live in a manner as strictly consistent with Biblical literalism as possible, I might not be able to enter into a same sex marriage, finding such a step inconsistent with my beliefs. (That is, “my” beliefs in this purely hypothetical situation, of course – I’m still leaving my own actual beliefs, or lack thereof, out of this discussion.)

    Such a view would not oblige me to stop anyone else from having a same sex marriage. In fact, it would not even oblige me to ask the government to stop anyone else from having a same sex marriage. The fact that so many Biblical literalists currently campaign to have the government ban gay marriage arises from ancient cultural prejudices, kept alive by opportunist political factionalism, more than from anything stated in the texts of the Old or New Testaments.

    Of course, overcoming such cultural bigotry may be more difficult for believers in some religions, and easier for believers in religions which more openly emphasize embracing diversity. Yet it seems a possibility inherent in every worldwide religion I know of.

    Every surviving religious tradition now includes some recognition of the paramount need for sincerity and authenticity in religious belief. Coerced statements of faith, given under duress while hiding one’s true sentiments out of fear, might save a person from persecution in this life, but they can never fool an omniscient Creator. Eventually, more and more of the religious can learn to treat this concept with the seriousness it deserves, and learn to stop using coercive tactics whenever they talk to anyone who does not share their beliefs.

  • Bluejay

    For example, if I wished to live in a manner as strictly consistent with Biblical literalism as possible, I might not be able to enter into a same sex marriage, finding such a step inconsistent with my beliefs. […] Such a view would not oblige me to stop anyone else from having a same sex marriage. In fact, it would not even oblige me to ask the government to stop anyone else from having a same sex marriage. The fact that so many Biblical literalists currently campaign to have the government ban gay marriage arises from ancient cultural prejudices, kept alive by opportunist political factionalism, more than from anything stated in the texts of the Old or New Testaments.

    But if one is a strict Biblical literalist, how is one to interpret Leviticus 20:13: “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” Even if one isn’t SO literal as to actually demand the death penalty, surely this passage makes homosexuality a punishable act–an abomination, in fact. We are all obligated to do more than just stand by while abominations are committed: say, raping and killing children. We feel compelled to stop such acts, or pressure our government to stop them. So if the Bible calls homosexuality an abomination, why wouldn’t a literalist Christian feel motivated to campaign against gay marriage?

    There is more of a proselytizing spirit than a “live and let live” attitude in the Bible, and it seems to me a literalist would take that spirit to heart. If he or she doesn’t, then that’s fine–that’s great, in fact–but I’d consider that a departure from what the text itself demands.

    Of course, overcoming such cultural bigotry may be more difficult for believers in some religions, and easier for believers in religions which more openly emphasize embracing diversity. Yet it seems a possibility inherent in every worldwide religion I know of.

    Every surviving religious tradition now includes some recognition of the paramount need for sincerity and authenticity in religious belief. Coerced statements of faith, given under duress while hiding one’s true sentiments out of fear, might save a person from persecution in this life, but they can never fool an omniscient Creator. Eventually, more and more of the religious can learn to treat this concept with the seriousness it deserves, and learn to stop using coercive tactics whenever they talk to anyone who does not share their beliefs.

    Fair points all. I hope this comes to pass. :-)

    Even in the parts of the discourse I found most disappointing, Tweeks was always polite enough to leave unspoken the terrible fate implied for those of us who fail to arrive at a properly Biblical opinion about the nature of faith and belief before we die. It is fairly clear that was the basis for the deep concern expressed about our eventual eternal destination, but I do indeed appreciate that the threat of hell was never explicitly thrown down in this particular conversation.

    Well, I did think the threat of hell was strongly implied when he called me wicked and said I was playing Russian Roulette with my immortal soul. To be fair, he did apologize for it (although he also made it clear that he only needed Christ’s forgiveness, not mine). I suppose I could have laughed it off rather than being offended.

    I apologize if I seem grumpy and uncharitable about this; it’s just that being called immoral gives me flashbacks–all those years in Jesuit school, and an entire childhood in a self-righteously Catholic community. But that’s my baggage to deal with, and no one else’s.

  • MaryAnn

    tweeks wrote:

    How do you know what you’re living for is not going to disappoint you? (Don’t answer that–it’s too personal.)

    Oh, tweeks: Surely you’ve heard of Pascal’s wager?

    Maybe *your* life will disappoint you? How are you gonna feel when you die and end up in banned from the glories of Valhalla because you did not honor Odin and die honorably in battle? Won’t that be disappointing?

    Bluejay wrote:

    But if one is a strict Biblical literalist, how is one to interpret Leviticus 20:13: “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” Even if one isn’t SO literal as to actually demand the death penalty, surely this passage makes homosexuality a punishable act–an abomination, in fact. We are all obligated to do more than just stand by while abominations are committed: say, raping and killing children. We feel compelled to stop such acts, or pressure our government to stop them. So if the Bible calls homosexuality an abomination, why wouldn’t a literalist Christian feel motivated to campaign against gay marriage?

    But the Bible is pretty darn clear about what to do with homosexuals: they are to be stoned to death. There’s really no equivication about it. On the other hand, the Bible is also pretty darn clear that God has no problem with innocent children being killed as punishment for their parents’ sin, and women being raped just because they’re women.

    I really, *really* wish the people who say they believe in the Bible would come out and advocate for stoning gays, raping women, and killing children — because God said, they believe it, and that settles it — so everyone could see what monstrous evil lurks in this religion.

  • I really, *really* wish the people who say they believe in the Bible would come out and advocate for stoning gays, raping women, and killing children — because God said, they believe it, and that settles it — so everyone could see what monstrous evil lurks in this religion.

    Not everyone who’s pro-environment agrees with the Unibomber.

    Not everyone who is in favor of socialism agrees with the Red Guards or the Russian Communist Party or Pol Pot.

    And of course, not everyone who believes in liberty, brotherhood and equality agrees with the organizers of the French Revolution.

    People have a tendency to sympathize with and emphasize the best elements of a particular philosophy, not the worst. And arguing otherwise only increases the odds that your attempt to do likewise for whatever philosophy you espouse will be even more likely to be taken less than seriously.

    In any event, conversion by example is usually the best means of conversion. Unfortunately, it’s also the slowest and most frustrating. There’s no guarantee that people will see your actions and not come to the conclusion that you’re not just some kook. But then there’s no guarantee you will win people over if you use any tactics.

    Anyway, the same fire that warms our homes can also destroy them. The same water that quenches our thirst can drown us. The same needles used to vaccinate a child can also be used to give a lethal injection. Yet no one feels the need to point out this type of duality to other adults because it’s generally assumed that most mature adults already know this.

    It could be argued that religion–especially Christianity–is just another element or tool like fire or water or the hypodermic needle. The harm it causes or the good it produces depends a lot upon what we use it for.

    I have no patience for those who use it to harm other people. Indeed, I have even more contempt for them than most who post here. But I don’t kid myself that those same people would not still be inclined to harm other people if religion never existed.

    After all, history has shown that people can come up with a multitude of excuses to rationalize an bad action that they really want to do. Religion is only one of them.

  • Bluejay

    Not everyone who’s pro-environment agrees with the Unibomber.

    Well, sure. But a better analogy for a moderate Christian who believes in the Bible might be a peaceful environmentalist who says “My beliefs are based on the Unabomber’s manifesto, but his writings have simply been misinterpreted; he’s really advocating peace.”

    Clearly this doesn’t make sense, and a peaceful environmentalist would have no problem openly rejecting the Unabomber Manifesto outright, or at least those parts of it that justify violence. A peaceful environmentalist’s values are independent of, not derived from, a text written decades ago by someone who happens to share some of the same goals.

    Would a moderate Christian similarly have no problem openly saying, “Where my values conflict with Biblical text, I reject those parts of the Bible as wrong”? (I’d be really interested to know if some do.)

    After all, history has shown that people can come up with a multitude of excuses to rationalize an bad action that they really want to do. Religion is only one of them.

    This is true. I just wish religion were less intractable, and more responsive to new, positive ideas. It seems to me that ideas that aren’t labeled “the Word of God” are more easily debated, and accepted or rejected. The U.S. Constitution isn’t considered unchangeable for all time, but has been amended 27 times so far–to put in good ideas (the Bill of Rights, votes for women), take out bad ones (slavery), and sometimes put in ideas that are thought to be good, but take them out later when they prove to be bad (Prohibition). It’s flexible, and it’s open to being improved by better ideas. And it means that while there are certainly still people who believe blacks or women are inferior, they won’t find anything in the Constitution to prop up their opinions.

    By contrast, the Catholic Church has been excruciatingly slow to accept (and in some cases still doesn’t accept) clearly true or beneficial ideas like heliocentrism, evolution, women’s equality, or birth control, all because such ideas contradict what the Bible says. The Good Book stands entire, compassionate passages alongside hateful ones; and I wish people didn’t have qualms about editing the darn thing and eliminating all the unenlightened stuff entirely, so that the bigots and extremists and science deniers wouldn’t have any Biblical passages left to support their views.

  • Victor Plenty

    Bluejay, you write:

    But if one is a strict Biblical literalist, how is one to interpret Leviticus 20:13 . . . if the Bible calls homosexuality an abomination, why wouldn’t a literalist Christian feel motivated to campaign against gay marriage?

    This issue has been covered many times, by Biblical scholars far more deeply motivated than I will ever be. Rather than reiterate any of their differing interpretations and historical contextualizations, I decided to review Leviticus 20. Not just 20:13, but all of Leviticus 20. An amazing assortment of odd things are prohibited in just that one chapter.

    And yet, most Biblical literalists see no need to campaign for laws against cursing your parents (Lev. 20:9), or for laws against sexual intercourse during menstruation (Lev. 20:18), or for a government ban on fortune-telling (Lev. 20:27).

    This is no great mystery or surprise. No charismatic leaders are going around claiming fortune-tellers or parent-insulters are an organized part of some vast conspiracy to destroy civilization. Or if anyone is claiming such things, hardly anybody takes them seriously.

    This reinforces my point. Many people who deeply believe in the Bible, and would never admit to altering it in any way, have rationally chosen not to make any attempt to enforce large parts of it, when doing so would make no sense in the modern world. Fortune-tellers are not being put to death, and most self described Biblical literalists have no problem with that.

    This is why I think the most realistic and practical path forward is helping these same people see that gays and lesbians are just as harmless to them as fortune-tellers are. Clearly we don’t need to persuade them to change or abandon the Bible in order to do this, because they’ve already taken the same step (regarding fortune-tellers) without changing or abandoning the Bible.

  • Bluejay

    I see, Victor. Yes, your way is probably the most realistic path forward.

  • Victor Plenty

    Thanks, Bluejay, but I’m not really comfortable seeing it described as “my” way. Greater minds than mine have built the signposts for this path forward. At best I am helping to clear away some underbrush that has grown into the path, obscuring it from view.

    On reflection, it seems to me that there are many entrances to the path forward. Some people, like MaryAnn and yourself, have left religion behind entirely, disillusioned by the many dark and bloody episodes described in its scriptures and histories. I find this understandable. There’s no denying that many terrible crimes have been done in the name of religion, from ancient times to modern.

    Others, including Tweeks, I think, are doing their best to abandon the conflict and strife arising from religion, without losing what they perceive as true and helpful guidance for building productive lives and supportive communities. I find this understandable as well. There’s no denying that many great accomplishments have been inspired by religious ideals, such as the abolition of slavery worldwide, and the campaigns for civil rights in the United States.

    My goal is to help people of good will, on both sides of this divide, see that the goals they share in common are more important than any differences of belief or nonbelief that might tend to set them against one another. I remain firmly convinced that we are all better off when we choose to walk this path together, despite the disappointments we sometimes find in trying to do so.

  • @Bluejay: A curious tidbit about needing Christ’s forgiveness and not yours.

    Biblical assumption: Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and to get into heaven, you need to ask Him for forgiveness.

    Question: What gives Jesus the right to forgive sins committed against other people?

    Medieval theological answer: Jesus suffers the pain of every sin committed by a Christian. A Christian does anything wrong, Jesus feels the pain of the victim. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bullet, a bomb, or hanging a witch. So Jesus feels your pain, Bluejay.

  • Bluejay

    My goal is to help people of good will, on both sides of this divide, see that the goals they share in common are more important than any differences of belief or nonbelief that might tend to set them against one another. I remain firmly convinced that we are all better off when we choose to walk this path together, despite the disappointments we sometimes find in trying to do so.

    Victor, you rock. :-)

    I actually do agree with your sentiments, and expressed something similar myself, about halfway up this thread. But in the heat of the argument I suppose I found myself becoming more outspoken in defending my position, and wound up downplaying the good points of a religious perspective. I sincerely apologize if I’ve needlessly antagonized believers of good will in this discussion.

    Maybe the best way I can put it is this:

    To the extent that any way of thinking–religious or secular–impedes scientific discovery; suppresses intellect, curiosity, and other aspects of human potential; inflames prejudices and divisions; and contributes to human suffering, I’m committed to firmly speaking out against it.

    But I’ll also do my best to recognize and appreciate any way of thinking–religious or secular–when it provides the benefits of community; breaks down old hatreds; affirms the dignity and worth of every person; inspires creativity; encourages the full realization of human potential; instills a sense of responsibility for the planet; and gives people the motivation and courage to do good things.

    While I’m personally convinced that a non-dogmatic, humanist world view is the most conducive to accomplishing the good things listed above (without the downside of the bad), intelligent believers of good will can disagree. What matters is how we live, not our reasons for doing so. You’re right that we’re better off when we all recognize that most people, believers and nonbelievers, are simply doing their honest best to live good lives.

    Medieval theological answer: Jesus suffers the pain of every sin committed by a Christian. A Christian does anything wrong, Jesus feels the pain of the victim. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bullet, a bomb, or hanging a witch. So Jesus feels your pain, Bluejay.

    Thanks, Paul. I did know that, from my classes on doctrine at said Jesuit school. (I thought the priest who taught us was great; he would come in a few minutes early and tell us creepy ghost stories!)

    Hey, are you just trying to bump up the number of posts to 200? We’re way over the Sex and the City posts now, if that makes you happy. ;-)

  • amanohyo

    Victor Plenty makes an excellent point. But, doesn’t the fact that rational, moderate Christians can determine on their own that certain sections of the Bible make no sense in the modern world undermine the need for a Bible (and God and Jesus) in the first place?

    I mean, if religious people/clergy can (and they must to function in society) just toss out the bits of the Bible that they don’t like and they can also determine the simplistic, common sense moral laws that everyone, regardless of culture, lives by anyway, what is the Word of God worth?

    Doesn’t the ease with which Christians choose to obey the laws of man over the laws of God reduce the Bible to just another self help book, with some self-evident good advice, a few interesting legends, and a whole lot of violent Bronze Age filler?

    As far as I can see, anything truly good that the Bible has to offer can be found elsewhere without the nasty side effects and without the need for any tenuous mental gymnastics. I actually understand fanatical extremist believers; they’re just doing what the books (or at least particular portions of the books) tell them to do. They’re clearly insane, but I understand their insanity for the most part. If you believe in God, and his book tells you to do something, well, you’d better do it. I’d be standing on street corners trying to convert people too if I really believed in Hell, and I don’t respect any religious person who isn’t constantly trying to convert every non-Christian that they care about.

    The people I don’t understand or respect are the normal ones (the vast majority of believers) who are perfectly willing and able to place their Holy text within a historic context and perfectly aware of the corruption, hypocrisy, and ignorance that characterizes almost every major organized religious institution, and yet they can’t go that tiny extra step and see not only how arrogant it is for a human to claim to know the precise nature and desires of a being that created the entire universe, but even more obviously how arrogant it is for them to selectively ignore huge portions of the only evidence they can offer for actually knowing the nature and desires of this being in the first place.

    Those two ideas are like matter and antimatter. The amount of self-deception required to contain them both within a single mind that still claims to be humble is staggering, so much so that I am convinced that the vast majority of people who claim to be followers of an organized religion are closet deists.

  • Victor Plenty

    MaryAnn, you write:

    I really, *really* wish the people who say they believe in the Bible would come out and advocate for stoning gays, raping women, and killing children — because God said, they believe it, and that settles it — so everyone could see what monstrous evil lurks in this religion.

    In reflecting on your statement, it occurs to me that your wish is not entirely unique.

    Some people wish that the people who say they believe in evolution would come out and advocate for the forced abortion, sterilization, and eradication of all genetically or racially “inferior” specimens of humans — so everyone could see what monstrous evil lurks in this theory of evolution.

    It makes no difference to such people that you would never advocate forcing anyone to get an abortion. They don’t care that you would in fact actively oppose any such plan, just as you’d oppose any plan of racial sterilization or eradication.

    Such people would ignore any personal virtues you might possess, and focus on the known historical fact that other people, in other places, have at times committed abhorrent acts, all in the name of science and evolution. The history of modern crimes and genocides motivated by eugenicist thinking is well documented, and includes many horrific acts.

    Such people would argue that this history proves the inherent dangers of all atheist, agnostic, secular humanist, or otherwise non religious approaches to morals and ethics.

    You might point out that campaigns of racial genocide and eugenics plans were never based on valid science at all, but were actually examples of superstitious pseudoscience. The response might be to assert that you had fallen into a logical fallacy often labeled as the “no true Scotsman” fallacy.

    If you were thinking clearly (these people might argue) you would readily recognize the monstrous evil lurking in all such doctrines as atheism and evolutionism.

    I hope it is obvious that I do not share the views of such people. I do *not* claim genocide must inevitably result from accepting the concept of evolution.

    What I can’t quite comprehend is why you seem to think that a mirror image of their specious arguments will ever be an effective weapon against the harm caused by religious zealots.

  • Bluejay

    Some people wish that the people who say they believe in evolution would come out and advocate for the forced abortion, sterilization, and eradication of all genetically or racially “inferior” specimens of humans — so everyone could see what monstrous evil lurks in this theory of evolution.

    But Victor, the theory of evolution only describes what happens in nature; it’s not a moral system that tells us what should happen. People who believe that evolution leads to those evils you listed are really confusing it with Social Darwinism, which imposes an abhorrent moral interpretation on a scientific theory that does not contain those morals itself.

    By contrast, when MaryAnn complains about the Bible justifying stoning gays, denigrating women, etc.–well, the Bible does actually say those things. Moderate Christians thankfully have more moderate interpretations, but you can’t say that a literal, fundamentalist interpretation is invalid; those moral strictures are actually there.

    It’s more of a mental leap to go from a value-neutral scientific theory (“what happens in nature”) to a moral imperative (“what should happen in society”) than it is to go from an explicit moral command (“thou shalt do such and such”) to actually taking that command at face value.

    Just sayin’.

    Also: 200th post! Woo hoo!

  • Muzz

    Here’s a small aside the evolution in extremis comparison brought to mind.
    I understand the point being made but the rationalist would answer that evolution is descriptive, not proscriptive of behaviour. It’s also a body of knowledge maintained through tested observations that..well, evolves.
    The question is, why do you think the bible has remained relatively the same for all this time when the argument is that contemporary Christianity relies on only selective portions of it?

    I know the answer generally speaking: dogma, tradition, history and so on would no doubt come into it (and I’d throw in the more particular notion of the sacred as well). And in a sense given the nature of much religious teaching the average believer gets the edited version anyway. Though why do you (folks) think we haven’t broken it down into it’s component parts again, given its limited usefulness in its typical form (or expanded it for that matter)? If Christianity is more than just the bible why aren’t greater moves afoot to make it more relevant?

  • Victor Plenty

    Bluejay, Muzz, you’re right about evolution, and of course I agree with you. It is descriptive, not prescriptive.

    (And also not proscriptive – to proscribe is to prohibit or condemn. To prescribe is to order or encourage. Sorry. Minor peeve. :)

    Unfortunately, this clear and simple fact has not prevented numerous people from twisting the idea of evolution into something else, which they then use to justify and rationalize all sorts of nonsense, from the monstrous evils done in the name of “Social Darwinism” (a phrase which Darwin himself never used) to the plain silliness forming the premise of the movie Idiocracy.

    Because of these unfortunate events, some people insist that these twisted misinterpretations are in fact the real and true heart of the concept of evolution, and that the dangers of similar things happening again far outweigh any possible advantages which some researchers may derive from using evolutionary theory to explain trivial scientific curiosities.

    (I hope my wording makes it clear that I am not defending this view!)

    It may be true, as Bluejay says, that the leap from words on the page to atrocities in real life is a much longer leap in the case of the Darwinian evolutionary laws than in the case of the Old Testament laws. But this distinction makes little difference to the victims who have suffered and died at the hands of people motivated by twisted versions of either set of ideas.

    It seems to me that our most urgent need is to oppose whatever it is in the human thought process that leads people to twist anything and everything into justifications for oppression and violence, rather than try to eliminate every potential source of such justifications.

    We could erase every trace of history from all the libraries and databases of the world, and give total amnesia to every historian, shaman, anthropologist and theologian, yet still fail to end violence and oppression. Editing out the bad parts of history, whether religious or scientific history, does not strike me as a viable solution to the challenges we face.

  • @Bluejay, you pretty much took the words right out of my mouth, and yeah, I fess up, a couple of times I was feeding in tangents just to see if we could post more than “SitC”. It was still interesting reading.

    But I don’t think belief in evolution has done any harm. I would maintain that the people who advocated Social Darwinism wanted an excuse to do the nasty things they did; they were going to do those things anyway and wanted a better sounding reason than, “I’m richer and bigger than you so suck on it.”

    As for why the Bible hasn’t been edited down further, I think it has been. Sometimes you will find Bibles that have been … simplified in ways that support conservative agendas. I specifically remember a Bible I found that changed the wording of the passages about “men who are with men as women” into just saying “homosexual” which expands the term to include lesbians.

    But it does have to be more subtle these days, because of a logical bind religious leaders trapped themselves in. Religious leaders told everyone that they had to follow the Bible because it was the Word of God, Eternal and Perfect. But then, once everyone believed that, the leaders were kinda stuck with it.

    I think the same thing is happening with the Tea Party. The GOP leadership stirred up lots of hate and discontent to get poor people to vote for policies that favor rich people, tossing them occasional bone of conservative social policies, but I honestly think they’re losing control over it and now are rushing around trying to get back in front. I can’t prove it, it’s a pet unproveable theory, but I think it.

  • Victor Plenty

    Paul, you write:

    But I don’t think belief in evolution has done any harm. I would maintain that the people who advocated Social Darwinism wanted an excuse to do the nasty things they did; they were going to do those things anyway and wanted a better sounding reason than, “I’m richer and bigger than you so suck on it.”

    In this I completely agree with you. Evolution as an idea has done no harm.

    My point is: the same can be argued for the contents of any religious tradition. The people who cite religions as justification for the nasty crimes they commit were going to commit those crimes anyway, whether or not they had a handy passage from the Bible to rationalize it.

    It will be interesting to watch the Tea Party and see whether your prediction was correct, especially now that there is a Coffee Party movement rapidly growing in strength as an alternative to the Tea Party movement.

  • Victor, I mostly agree with you, aside from those weird people who actually do think about their behavior before they behave, most people just use ideology, religious or otherwise, to do what they want, good or bad. This is why I came out of history departments surrounded by professors that believed in the power of ideology still believing more in the power of demographics, economics, and our biological nature.

    Of course, once people believe an ideological justification, they can get trapped in its logic, leading to remarkably irrational decisions, anything from invading Russia in September to bad decisions in your personal life.

    But here is my new quandry: I like drinking tea but want to join the Coffee Party. Oh, whatever shall I do!

  • Victor Plenty

    Paul, Coffee Party is just a name, they welcome anyone to– oh.

    I see what you did there! Well done.

  • Sara

    Check this out…right in the middle of Christendom. Check out the serpent (as Alma write way above—in earlier traditions was seen as sacred, a sign of resurrection, even, sheds it’s skin for a new body every year (I’d like to do that:) And the tree, also an older symbol, especially involving the female divine and fruit as a sort of communion. Why would Eve not eat of that which was sacred to her? The story in Genesis was written by tribal people who were coming in contact with others—it was a warning, don’t follow “their gods or goddesses” and forget the old. Men own women as property now, you know.

    http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.sacred-destinations.com/italy/rome-sistine-chapel-photos/ceiling-fall-wga.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.sacred-destinations.com/italy/rome-sistine-chapel-photos/slides/ceiling-fall-wga&usg=__27kJs4qgEnqlzpnQv1LcLFExnpI=&h=473&w=1080&sz=164&hl=en&start=4&itbs=1&tbnid=1jJrcUfAxxc8lM:&tbnh=66&tbnw=150&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dfall%2Bof%2BAdam%2Band%2BEve%2Bon%2BSistine%2BChapel%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG%26gbv%3D2%26tbs%3Disch:1

  • Sara

    Once you click on the site above, click on the picture to enlarge it—get a look at that serpent re: gender (from top of head to mid-thigh—pretty much covers it, huh?)

    Plus, for those who know their Hebrew, the word “God” in the texts is not the same word by any means every time; there are many words used (only in English they are translated into “God”)–there are even the names of gods that are co-opted from enemy tribes and then called “God.” When we read it in English (and don’t understand the context—when the context isn’t studied, is just ignored) then all sorts of misunderstandings occur. Check out Richard Friedman’s book, Who Wrote the Bible. An education and he’s a well-respected scholar.

  • This thread has been on my mind lately. Looking back on it, what surprises me most about my part in it is how much I found I wanted to say on the topic. There are a lot of other issues to raise and explore, I think, but rather than add to this unwieldy thread I’ve decided to start my own blog (my first! be kind…) where I can blather to my heart’s content. It’ll be an all-purpose blog and not just limited to this subject, although I suspect it’ll be a recurring theme.

    Stop by sometime…

    :-)

  • If this goes on, I’m going to have to update my blogroll…

    And yes, Victor, you do rock. And not just because you often have an uncanny way of saying something that I meant to say but just couldn’t find the right words to say so.

    Come to think of it, MaryAnn often echoes my thoughts on certain movies so accurately I keep expecting my nose to start bleeding. And considering how often the two of us disagree on things, that’s amazing.

  • Victor Plenty

    Bluejay, it seems to me you’ve made an excellent start into the blogging world (though I’m far from an expert on the subject, as my next question will prove).

    Do you plan to allow others to comment on your blog? If that sounds sarcastic, I don’t intend it that way. I just haven’t been able to find any way to leave a comment there, and don’t want to make any assumptions about whether or not that was intentional on your part.

    Tonio: thank you for your kind words. One of the things I value most about the space MaryAnn has created here is the opportunity to freely jump back and forth between full agreement and complete disagreement with so many of the regular visitors and MaryAnn herself, on such a wide variety of topics, with minimal loss of respect (most of the time, anyway).

  • Do you plan to allow others to comment on your blog?

    Whoops! You mean you can’t? Thanks for the heads up, I’ll try to fix that asap. I definitely welcome comments.

  • tweeks

    It’s been really interesting to read everyone’s thoughts the last few days, and get a sense of how secular people view religion and morality. I’ve certainly learned a lot about my own beliefs in the process!

    One very important thing I learned was that the Bible is not really the foundation for my faith at all. Coming into this discussion, I had really thought that it was, but now I realize that, for me, it’s just a means to an end–a way to know God.

    If I descend to the very depths of my soul, as deep as I can see, the root of who I am and what I believe grows out of a deep longing to know God. As I’ve read and thought about what the non-believers have been saying here, I’ve gained perspective on what God means to me, and why He’s so unattractive to others.

    Many here believe that the God described in the Bible is evil. Of course I don’t see Him that way, but I suppose there’s no point in arguing about it, because people see what they want to see in movies and literature, and the Bible is no exception. Sometimes a character portrayed in a film is morally complex, and it’s not really clear whether you should love him or hate him. That’s how God is: He does many things we think are evil, but also many things we find amazingly good. Should this be a surprise? You would have good reason to think that a God that lined up perfectly with our expectations was made-up. Jesus Christ did not completely fit with the expectations of anyone in his day: everyone admired some things about him, but there were other things he said and did that everyone found shocking–both for the religious and non-religious!

    Our world is complicated, so why should we assume God isn’t? I’m not going to say the God of the Bible must be the true one, because I know there are many other ideas about God out there, and I can never irrefutably prove any of them wrong–including the idea that there is no God at all!

    I guess my message is that, if you yearn to know God, you should look for him, and not be too quickly dissuaded by any shocking things you might find along the way! If God exists, He is way beyond any of us, so we shouldn’t expect to understand him completely. But if God exists and he wants to be known, then he will take steps to make himself at least somewhat comprehensible, and I think it’s okay for people to make that assumption and act on it.

    For me, the Bible has nothing to do at all with politics or social issues. Of course it shapes my thinking about things, but honestly, I don’t care what other people do with their bodies or their babies or anything else. At the core, I’m a very selfish person, and I really only care about my own personal happiness. That’s why I can read Mary Ann’s columns and not be offended: I think it’s great to take a stand for women and the environment and all that other traditional liberal stuff. All that has little to do with God, though.

    The God I see in Jesus Christ is not political: “My kingdom is not of this world,” he said to Pilate. Jesus didn’t come to change our government or even our society. He came to change our hearts. And he didn’t come to make us into gay-bashers or atheist-haters or anything like that. He came to reconcile us to God, so that our sin wouldn’t be in the way of getting close to God anymore. The goal of Jesus’ mission, as I understand it, is given explicitly in John 17:24:

    “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”

    So as far as I can tell (and I could be wrong), God’s goal in creation is to glorify himself through his Son. Everything else is subordinate to that. So I feel that I exist to see and appreciate God’s glory, not to push some antiquated social agenda on people who just want to be free to exercise their God-given right to pursue happiness!

    Ultimately, if there is a God, everyone will stand before him as individuals. It’s not my place to tell anybody what they should believe or how they should live! All I want to communicate is that it’s possible (not necessary) to hold a view of Jesus as a beautiful and glorious person. You may not see him that way, and that’s okay–I’m not gonna hate you or think badly of you, because, quite frankly, most of my life I thought Jesus was pretty dull myself. It’s only recently that I’ve begun to “get serious” about my faith (and I think it was God’s tugging on my heart that caused it, not my own initiative!), and it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Catholic or a Baptist or a Unitarian or Eastern Orthodox or a Jew or a Muslim–whatever monotheistic tradition you are a part of, you should be serious about getting to know the person of God and going after him! Don’t go after other people, but go after God, and share what you find out with the world!

    If you’re an atheist, then get serious about whatever you believe in. Everybody worships something–it’s our nature. Bluejay seems to worship humanity and our potential, so he naturally gets his moral code from secular texts. That’s fine–everyone should do what they feel is right in their own hearts. But be true to yourself! Don’t just drift in your beliefs, never examining them closely or trying to live by them. Too many people don’t really think about what they believe, and don’t strive to live consistently with their own internal convictions. I don’t know for certain what the secret to happiness is in life, but I know one sure way to be unhappy is to live as a hypocrite!

  • tweeks

    I really, *really* wish the people who say they believe in the Bible would come out and advocate for stoning gays, raping women, and killing children — because God said, they believe it, and that settles it — so everyone could see what monstrous evil lurks in this religion.

    I feel like the Bible is a movie we just watched, and we’ve both come away with totally different interpretations of the protagonist! Don’t misunderstand, there’s no question that God permitted–and even commanded–lots of offensive stuff to take place, so I don’t blame you for feeling that way at all! Any reasonable person would feel the same. The question is, does that mean the God portrayed in the Bible is actually evil?

    If we want to say that God is evil, what universal standard of goodness are we pointing to when we do so? Are we saying that God fails to live up to his own standards for himself? Or are we saying that we have our own ideas about how God ought to be, and he’s not living up to our expectations? Both are legitimate views, I’m just wondering which one you hold to, Mary Ann.

  • tweeks

    Victor wrote a very clever and funny post earlier about how Nietzsche was DIFFERENT and only HE could understand him, and that made me finally see why everybody here sees me as an arrogant prig: you all think I’m claiming to have the one true interpretation of the Bible!

    Well, even in real life, I am pretty arrogant (just ask my ex-girlfriends), but that’s beside the point. The point is, it’s just not so easy to call God “evil,” because to do so, I have to make two assumptions:

    1. When I see something happen that’s so awful I can’t see how any good can come of it, then that means no good can come from it (i.e. I’m omniscient).

    2. When God says that something is contrary to his design, I have the right to overrule him (i.e. I’m morally better than God)

    In other words, to call God “evil,” I must put myself in the place of God, and declare myself to be a more reliable authority on what is good and what is evil. (This is what the Fall was all about: Adam & Eve sought moral independence from God.)

    This seems to create a problem for believers: if God’s goodness and wisdom cannot be questioned, how then can we know for certain that God is “good”? Perhaps God really is a moral tyrant, and we ought to rise up and rebel against his injustice! Yet while our country defeated King George of Great Britain, we clearly don’t stand a chance against King God of the Universe: the best we can do is to say that we gave our lives for the worthy but hopeless cause of human independence.

    But was it really such a worthy cause? Perhaps you all see me as a Tory: a God-loyalist who is blind to God’s tyrannical nature. Did King George have the right to tax the colonies without giving them representation? Did God have the right to slaughter millions of people in Canaan? But this is not even the worst thing God has done: in the time of Noah, he intentionally drowned the entire population of the world–only 8 people were spared. Surely this is breathtaking tyranny of the highest order! How can anyone worship a God who drowns millions (billions?) of helpless human beings at the drop of a hat? Such an act is beyond genocide.

    But though we may refuse to admit it, there are two sides to this revolution, and if we are to stand resolute in our convictions, we must make every effort to see God’s side of things. What justification does God have in drowning the world?

    King George was just a human ruler, even if he claimed to rule in God’s name. But God is our Creator: he made everything and everyone via the Big Bang and evolution and all that. When you make something, it’s yours, and you can do with it as you please. If MaryAnn writes a Doctor Who fanfic where everyone dies at the end, I can’t tell her that was “evil”! I may not like her story, but it was her story, and she has every right to treat her characters any way she likes.

    In the same way, God doesn’t owe us anything. On the contrary, we owe Him our very lives. We all act like we have the right to food and water and money and health care and a hundred other things, but who says we do? Humanist thinkers? Of course they’re going to say that–they’re human beings! They want to live in a world without God, so they’re looking for ways to make that work. In other words, they’re biased: they’ve already chosen their side in this great cosmic rebellion we find ourselves in.

    But if God is real, those humanistic efforts at rebellion cannot succeed: this is God’s universe, He can do whatever he wants with it, and nobody has the right to tell him that what he’s doing is wrong. That’s what it means to be God.

    So the question we should be asking isn’t whether God is “good” in some absolute sense, because God is the One who defines all moral absolutes. Apart from God, there are no moral absolutes, but merely human opinions about things. The Nazis thought Jews were evil, and the Bosnian Serbs thought their Muslim counterparts were evil. Are we really sure we’re right in thinking that God is evil?

    The better question to ask is whether God is trustworthy. If you “defect” from the human side to the God side of the war, will God be kind to you? Or were you better off in the humanist camp? This is the question the Bible is designed to answer, and this is the perspective you should try to adopt if you are to have any hope of moving beyond your anti-God prejudice.

  • Victor Plenty

    Tweeks, I wish that I had time to fully engage with you on the many issues you’ve raised just now, but I’m at work, and in a few minutes my break will be over, and I’ll need to get back to doing, you know, work.

    But one thing I really must clarify briefly. In my parody of certain young fans of Nietzsche (and Ayn Rand) you were definitely NOT among the people I intended to lampoon, and I apologize if the context of that parody made it seem that you were its target.

    Glad to see you are still following this conversation, and I hope you’ll take a moment to check out Bluejay’s blog (linked in his name on his most recent posts here) as well.

  • Tweeks, you’ve hit upon why most reformers of religions were mystics instead of textual scholars. Reformers working within a religion almost always advocate a direction connection to God side stepping priests and scripture, even if they don’t quite put it that way to avoid (sometimes only temporarily) getting killed.

    This is because of what was also pointed out, that the God of the Bible can easily be considered a tyrant. By side-stepping the Bible, they get around that problem and instead preach love, forgiveness, peace, and other virtues. Jesus, St. Francis, and Buddha are all good examples of this process, people rebelling against the religion of the time, not against God.

    Modern liberal Christians have an easier time of it for two reasons. The political one is that our government doesn’t let the conservatives burn us at the stake. The theological one is that a liberal can point to evidence that the Bible was written by people about their relationship with God instead of being dictated by God, so they shunt the evil stuff onto the shoulders of the people in the Bible who used God as justification for their behavior just like many people today and throughout history.

  • tweeks

    the God of the Bible can easily be considered a tyrant. By side-stepping the Bible, they get around that problem and instead preach love, forgiveness, peace, and other virtues. Jesus, St. Francis, and Buddha are all good examples of this process, people rebelling against the religion of the time, not against God.

    I wouldn’t put myself in the same category as those three, but I guess I am saying people should rebel against all human wisdom and seek truth for themselves.

    The tricky bit is that we’re dependant on other people for our information. If someone walks up to me and says they heard God speak to them, I have no way of knowing it’s true. Hell, if God speaks to me, I have no way of knowing it’s true! Maybe it was a hallucination, or wishful thinking, or the Devil–who knows?

    Whatever you choose to believe in life, it takes faith. If you want to follow the path of Humanism like Bluejay, you must have faith that there is no God, and that man must therefore try to perfect himself. If you follow the path of Osama Bin Ladin, then you know you need to fight to establish God’s kingdom on Earth. And if you follow the path of Jesus Christ as I understand him, then you need to patiently wait for God to set things right in the world, and not try to take justice into your own hands!

    These views are all contradictory, and at most one of them is correct. Neither Christians nor Humanists can tolerate the Bin Ladin view, and the Bin Ladin view cannot tolerate any other view, so war is the reality we have to live with. But if not for the Bin Ladins of the world, I think we could have peace, since Humanists and Christians have compatible goals: to alleviate human suffering, to let people be free to pursue happiness, etc. Christians are obliged to tell people about the Gospel, but it’s pointless to try to “force” people to convert, since it’s what you believe in your heart that matters, not what you can be forced to confess.

  • If violence is the answer to our problems in the Middle East, then why did Jesus let himself get hung up on a Cross instead of proclaiming himself the Messiah the Jews wanted and kicking Roman butt? Jesus was a pacifist, and if it’s good enough for him… of course, he was also apparently a virgin, and that’s never going to be popular either.

  • tweeks

    Jesus was a pacifist, and if it’s good enough for him… of course, he was also apparently a virgin, and that’s never going to be popular either.

    :-) Clearly there is considerable difference in opinion on what Jesus expects of his followers. Some Christians think they need to battle to create a theocratic state, or at least a “Christian-friendly” culture. I don’t think this is what Jesus commands.

    But I said before that if you say “Jesus is Lord,” you’re a Christian in my book, and everything else is a matter of interpretation. Still, I personally don’t think it’s necessary (or even possible) to make this world perfect, and I don’t think Jesus expects people to even try.

    Rather, I think Jesus expects people to trust and obey him. But how can you obey if you don’t know what he commands? Well, you have to do your best to figure it out, using whatever resources seem appropriate to you: the Bible, authoritative persons living or dead, etc.

    This is no different than anything else in life. After all, everyone listens to some authority, don’t they? Even Bluejay isn’t an island to himself: he cites great humanist thinkers he views as authoritative.

  • tweeks

    This idea of “authority” is another way to look at the God issue. The biggest epistemological question everyone faces is, “how do I know what’s true?” Since we are not omniscient, this is the same as asking, “who can I trust?”

    Some people don’t even trust their own senses. Some people only trust their senses. But must of us are willing to trust other people to get along in life. I’ve never looked at the evidence that the Sun is the center of the solar system; I just believe what the scientists tell me.

    Of course, it doesn’t really make much difference in my life whether the Sun is the center of the solar system or not. But it does make a rather significant difference whether there is a God or not, yet I cannot seem to prove that finally one way or the other.

    Ultimately, it comes down to whether I think God is worth believing in. If I think God doesn’t care about me, or doesn’t have my best interests at heart, then I’m better off without him. But how can God be good when the world is such a miserable place?

    Looking around my world, I see people suffering everywhere. Often the suffering is human-caused, but not always. Stillborn babies aren’t anyone’s fault. Earthquakes aren’t anyone’s fault. Birth-defects aren’t anyone’s fault. If there is an omnipotent God, he is responsible for all of those “natural” occurrences.

    Now, at this point, I could reasonably conclude that the world sucks, therefore God sucks, therefore I’m not going to believe in him. But there is another possibility.

    What if God is not the one who sucks, but I am? What if God is actually a kind and loving father, but the human race is acting like 6 billion rebellious teenagers? What if God really does cares about us, but we’re all giving him the finger and doing whatever we want?

    Obviously God would have reason to be pissed about that. Perhaps this would explain why God doesn’t always rescue people from every natural disaster that occurs?

    Still, if God wanted us out of the way, we wouldn’t be here, would we? An asteroid would take us out, like the dinosaurs. Or a solar flare. Or an incurable disease. Or an “oops didn’t mean to launch those ICBMs!” We are hanging by a thread here, and we all know it.

    So why doesn’t God snuff us out? Ignoring the teachings of any specific religion, we might guess that God is exceptionally patient: he’s waiting for his rebellious children to “come home.” You might reasonably come to this conclusion even if you’d never heard of the story of the “prodigal son” in Luke 15:

    “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

    “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

    “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

    This is the God I believe in: a patient and loving God who forgives his repentant children, no matter how much evil they have done.

    But God’s patience doesn’t last forever: eventually justice must be served, and he will abandon his wayward children. This was demonstrated repeatedly in the Old Testament, when the rebellious people were left to die by flood, war, famine, plague, or any number of other disasters. These were meant to make it clear that God is loving, but he’s not a doormat: you can’t just oppose him forever and expect no consequences.

    That’s why James says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” If you’re proud enough to say, “I know there is no God” when you really don’t know, then God opposes you. But if you’re humble enough to say, “there might be a God, and He might have a legitimate beef with the human race,” then God will be gracious to you. This is not my idea, but it’s what Jesus taught:

    Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

    And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

    “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

    “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

    “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

    “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

    “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

    “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

    “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

    Note the “blessed are the peacemakers.” This is why I believe firmly that Jesus wants us to promote peace, not to cause unnecessary conflict in society. I’m not saying you have to be a pacifist (though I respect you if you feel you do), but you should at least try to promote peace to the extent that it depends on you.

    Peace between God and Man is possible. God has already extended the olive branch. Will anyone accept his overtures?

  • tweeks

    I’m not saying people ought to follow any specific religion. Maybe they’re all wrong. Who knows?

    I’m just saying that you don’t have to assume God must be evil. I don’t just mean the Judeo-Christian God. I’m saying that any god or gods that may exist are not necessarily evil just because the world is a messed up place. It’s just as likely that it is we human beings who are messed up, and any god or gods that may exist are merely holding off on setting things right in the world until the time of his/her/their own choosing.

    This is why I think people ought not to be too quick to dismiss the supernatural. Scientists must ignore the supernatural in their work, of course, but for our daily lives, understanding who we are and why we’re here, it’s quite all right to assume there may be more than what we can see. I respect anyone who makes a sincere effort to try and find out what kind of supernatural reality might exist, using whatever tools seem most appropriate to them: mystical experiences, sacred texts, spiritual people living or dead, etc.

    In fact, if you are willing to entertain the notion that a personal, loving God exists (as many religions teach), there is a very simple way to find out: just ask Him.

    I’m not kidding around here, I’m dead serious: if you really want to know if God is real, why don’t you just ask Him? If you get no reply, obviously God either isn’t real, or isn’t worth knowing because he can’t or won’t answer you when you sincerely reach out to Him. But if there is a God, and that God really does want to have a relationship with you (as many religions claim), then He will answer. How He chooses to answer is up to Him, but you should be open to how God wants to deal with you. He may use miraculous experiences, visions, dreams, other people, or even just use the circumstances of your life: a strange “coincidence” that seems a little too unlikely to be just a coincidence.

    That last one might seem too superstitious to you, but every reasonable person knows that if you roll a die 20 times and always get a six, you ought to wonder if there may be something going on with that die. In the same way, if you look at your life and find there are a lot of strange coincidences going on, you ought to be suspicious: maybe there’s more going on than at first appears.

  • tweeks

    Ultimately, if the God I believe in is real, then He knows what it will take to convince you that He’s real and trustworthy.

    For some people, nothing will ever convince them, so God doesn’t bother trying. Those people are stubborn in the extreme, and it’s no surprise that God isn’t interested in spending eternity with them. What happens to them, I do not know, but I do know they shouldn’t expect God to do them any favors. They ought to expect love and tolerance from followers of Jesus, but they have no reason to expect anything good from God.

  • LaSargenta

    amanohyo, I’ve been meaning to reply to your post above…

    …doesn’t the fact that rational, moderate Christians can determine on their own that certain sections of the Bible make no sense in the modern world undermine the need for a Bible (and God and Jesus) in the first place?

    Definately undermines the need for the Bible, wouldn’t think so about God and Jesus.

    … if religious people/clergy can (and they must to function in society) just toss out the bits of the Bible that they don’t like and they can also determine the simplistic, common sense moral laws that everyone, regardless of culture, lives by anyway, what is the Word of God worth?

    Well, that question requires that one first define the Bible as The Word of God, instead of as ‘the interpretation of the Word as received by the following prophets and transcribed and translated by fallible mortals’. Many sects of Christianity specifically believe in a living God who continues to speak and the Bible is not the be-all-and-end-all although it remains a baseline and important to most in those sects. (I refer interested parties to Congregationalists, the Society of Friends, Unitarians, and many others.)

    Doesn’t the ease with which Christians choose to obey the laws of man over the laws of God reduce the Bible to just another self help book, with some self-evident good advice, a few interesting legends, and a whole lot of violent Bronze Age filler?

    From my point of view, that is indeed what the Bible is, but I don’t think that is the result of Christians (as a whole) picking and choosing laws of man vs. god. I see the definition of Christianity as followers of Christ. In many ways, Christ was a whole new point of view and I think that the Gospel wiped away a lot of the old testament. People who cling tightly to the Books of Moses yet are not jewish I refer to as old testamentarians.

    The people I don’t understand or respect are the normal ones (the vast majority of believers) who are perfectly willing and able to place their Holy text within a historic context and perfectly aware of the corruption, hypocrisy, and ignorance that characterizes almost every major organized religious institution, and yet they can’t go that tiny extra step and see not only how arrogant it is for a human to claim to know the precise nature and desires of a being that created the entire universe, but even more obviously how arrogant it is for them to selectively ignore huge portions of the only evidence they can offer for actually knowing the nature and desires of this being in the first place.

    Well, I disagree with your calling the Bible the only evidence. There is another way someone can know something and that is by having some sort of direct experience with the d/Divine. Many, many religions and even many christian sects aim for this. There are, unfortunately, religious people who think that if a revelatory experience does not conform to existing dogma or spiritual teachings then it is evidence of some connection with something other than God. Still, if there is an Infinite force, there is no reason it should have stopped communicating when the Bible was codified.

    I am convinced that the vast majority of people who claim to be followers of an organized religion are closet deists.

    To my understanding, a deist still believes in a Creator, sometimes as a Divine Watchmaker. A deist also believes that there is a Being because Nature adheres to Laws, like gravity. This is all rather simplistic of me to boil it down to just that; but, I think that is the nut of the matter.

    For me personally, any religion or system of thought related to the Divine is about how we as mortals (decidedly non-infinite in our present form although all that makes us up is part of in infinite cycle) touch the Infinite. I once had an experience that exposed me to something difficult to name that I have encountered in communion (notice the small “c”) with other people in several different religions. Given my cultural background, I decided that it was most appropriate to find a place for this within the christian traditions and I am sojurning with the Quakers. However, I think and trust that these are actually only externals and all people of whatever faith or belief (including atheists) do have access to the Infinite. My experience(s) also did not include seeing ‘God’ as a Creator, just as an Existence and Infinite. (I have, on occasion, equated this with the Law of the Conservation of Mass & Matter.)

  • JoshB

    Thank you, LaSargenta.

    The one-sided nature of this conversation had me a bit tempted to play devil’s advocate and argue on behalf of belief, but I figured I would be a lousy substitute for someone who actually does believe.

    That was a good read.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Ultimately, if the God I believe in is real, then He knows what it will take to convince you that He’s real and trustworthy.

    Watch, folks, how quickly tweeks contradicts this statement:

    For some people, nothing will ever convince them, so God doesn’t bother trying. Those people are stubborn in the extreme, and it’s no surprise that God isn’t interested in spending eternity with them. What happens to them, I do not know, but I do know they shouldn’t expect God to do them any favors. They ought to expect love and tolerance from followers of Jesus, but they have no reason to expect anything good from God.

    So, your omniscient god doesn’t know what it knows about what would convince its creations. Your omnipotent god can’t create that kind of irrefutable proof. Your omnibenevolent god can’t be bothered to even try.

    I’m not sure who’s the bigger, more cynical jerk, you or this “god” of yours.

  • LaSargenta

    So, your omniscient god doesn’t know what it knows about what would convince its creations. Your omnipotent god can’t create that kind of irrefutable proof. Your omnibenevolent god can’t be bothered to even try.

    Proof that how we touch the infinite and the eternal is filtered through our cultural gleanings and expectations.

    That is a commentary on what you summed up, Dr. Rocketscience, not commentary on how you summed it up.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    LaSargenta, I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person with a fairly strong grasp on the English language, but despite maybe a dozen readings, I have no idea what you just said. Could you possibly elaborate? :-)

  • LaSargenta

    Ah, sorry, Doc. :-) I mean that tweeks has cultural preconceptions about a Supreme Being = Creator = the i/Infinite. AND tweeks has other cultural expectations about Revealed Truth and Unbelievers and Privilege of Communications.

    These culturally-created (or imposed) filters of her/his experience of what I call the Infinite or the Eternal can really cause some serious cognitive dissonance as you so succinctly (and pointedly) pointed out.

    Stern self-criticism and careful proofreading for content usually help one avoid such problems.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Ah, I follow you now. Thanks!

    Yeah, my last statement was, shall we say, less than charitable. But the vascillating between “God is love” and “God is tired of your shit” just chaps my ass. :-)

  • LaSargenta

    Well, probably my usual retort to the claim about heavenly personal interest in us in what seems a suspiciously human way is “God doesn’t care! And that’s ok. That’s not what God is there for.”

    At least that’s internally consistent. And it keeps me from being angry at the universe or searching for meaning when stuff — good or bad — happens.

  • Wow, this thread is still going! Excellent.

    I don’t have time for a super-long post right now, but just want to address a couple of statements by tweeks:

    Bluejay seems to worship humanity and our potential, so he naturally gets his moral code from secular texts.

    Even Bluejay isn’t an island to himself: he cites great humanist thinkers he views as authoritative.

    The difference between where I get my morals and where tweeks seems to think I do, is that I don’t feel that I’m beholden to any externally imposed moral code. I don’t worship humanity; I do believe we have great potential, but it’s up to all of us to make sure we’re exercising our capacity for good rather than our tendencies toward destruction. There’s a difference between worshipping ourselves and just trying to do our best.

    And I don’t get my morality from Sagan et al. I quote the great humanists because I’ve evaluated their statements, compared them to my own experience and thinking, and decided that I agree with them. I don’t view them as authorities to be obeyed, right or wrong. If Sagan or Dawkins or anyone else says something I find objectionable, I don’t say “Well, Sagan must have his reasons, and even if I don’t understand him on this point, I trust him.” I reserve the right to question everything, including the humanist philosophies that I agree with most often. The point I keep making is that we’ve got to think for ourselves.

  • Maybe another way to put it is that I put more weight on ideas than on the people (or deities) who express them. To worship God or Jesus (or Sagan) as authorities is to accept everything they say. But to value ideas, rather than personalities, is to reserve the right to test them, see if they make sense, accept them if they do, and reject them if they don’t. It’s why I’m happy to acknowledge several of Jesus’ teachings as wise, while discarding others that I see as being stuck in first-century tribal ethics.

    Okay, gotta run…

  • Ludwig Feuerback made the argument that worshipping gods was worshipping ourselves; note how common it has been for religions to worship gods of human concerns such as war, agriculture, various professions, and ideals like justice and love. Even when we talk about a more abstract god like God, we do so in human terms. To explain this, he invented the idea of projection (later borrowed by Freud for other purposes), saying that when we originally looked at nature and tried to explain it, we ended up personifying it, giving nature gods and giving gods human traits taken to their logical extreme. He argued that we should give up gods and just worship Love.

  • tweeks

    Yeah, my last statement was, shall we say, less than charitable. But the vascillating between “God is love” and “God is tired of your shit” just chaps my ass. :-)

    You’re not alone: I think most people find this idea unsettling. Why can’t God just be loving and leave us all alone?

    Consider the millions of teenagers around the world who are asking the same question: “why can’t my Dad just let me stay out as late as I want every night, and quit ragging on me to clean my room and take out the trash and finish school and get a job and….”

    Because your Dad loves you, and he’s tired of your shit. If he didn’t love you, he wouldn’t care what you did.

    Perhaps you’d rather God stand idly by while the human race self-destructs. At the very least, it sounds like you clearly don’t need (or want) any divine advice or assistance. Well, not everyone is as self-sufficient as you think you are, Doctor. You are free to mock me for turning to my divine father for help and guidance if you wish, but I’m not going to mock you for your rugged individualism. After all, our culture admires that; who am I to question its wisdom?

    Nothing is more offensive to independent, free-thinking, anti-authoritarian Americans than the idea of a God who always knows best. The complaint that God must be evil because he ordains that everyone must die (sometimes in painful ways) is only legitimate if God is unable or unwilling to resurrect you. But for God, bringing someone back from the dead is easier than flipping a light switch back on, and I have reason to believe that everyone will be resurrected whether they like it or not. I think what you and MaryAnn and BlueJay are really objecting to is not God’s apparently anti-human actions in the world, but the idea that God knows better than you what’s best for you and the rest of humanity in the long term (re: eternity). If you like your life the way it is, then it’s only natural that you would be deeply threatened by God’s knowledge and sovereignty, which may require you to change your behavior for your own good. You may find it insulting, but from a theistic perspective, to act like you know better than God is to behave as a rebellious child who doesn’t realize the harm he’s doing to himself (and, indirectly, to others).

    If you have good and loving parents, then the harshness of their discipline is proportional to the potential consequences of your disobedience. God continues to make efforts to discipline us, because our ultimate happiness is at stake. Ultimately, though, God must overcome your own rebellious heart for you to repent and turn from your disobedience. If He chooses to do that for you, that is His sovereign grace–you did nothing to deserve it. If He does not choose to do that for you, then He has done you no wrong, since He is only respecting your own stubborn willfulness.

    I don’t think I’m better than anyone here; I just think God has done a startling thing for me in overcoming my resistance to Him. From your perspective, this is a violation of man’s free will. From my perspective, it is wonderful: I am now free to choose to love and obey God. I may still choose not to–even now I frequently disobey–but at least it’s an option for me. For you, it is unthinkable to turn away from the human independence that Adam & Eve sought in the garden. But if there is a God, you are dependent on Him even now. Are you keeping your heart beating moment by moment? If God takes your life in the next five minutes, He has done you no wrong: it was never yours to begin with.

  • tweeks

    Ludwig Feuerback made the argument that worshipping gods was worshipping ourselves; note how common it has been for religions to worship gods of human concerns such as war, agriculture, various professions, and ideals like justice and love. Even when we talk about a more abstract god like God, we do so in human terms. To explain this, he invented the idea of projection (later borrowed by Freud for other purposes), saying that when we originally looked at nature and tried to explain it, we ended up personifying it, giving nature gods and giving gods human traits taken to their logical extreme. He argued that we should give up gods and just worship Love.

    I was still working on my post when you posted this, Paul, and it’s ironic I should notice it now, having just accusing non-theists of worshipping themselves!

    But this fits my world view perfectly: since the Fall, human beings all naturally want to worship themselves, which is why most religions boil down to exactly that. The degree to which a religion is authentic is precisely the degree to which it is God-centric rather than man-centric.

    But don’t confuse the personal nature of God with a man-centric view. Just because God made us “in His image” (i.e. personal) doesn’t mean that God must be a figment of our wishful thinking. Natural human pride seeks to strip God of His authority over the lives of men, so that God loves but never disciplines, forgives but never judges, knows all but never imposes His views. This is merely wishful thinking: God is free to do as He pleases, and His purposes for creation will be fulfilled, and our own rebellion is the very means by which He will fulfill them!

  • tweeks

    Hey Bluejay!

    Maybe another way to put it is that I put more weight on ideas than on the people (or deities) who express them. To worship God or Jesus (or Sagan) as authorities is to accept everything they say. But to value ideas, rather than personalities, is to reserve the right to test them, see if they make sense, accept them if they do, and reject them if they don’t. It’s why I’m happy to acknowledge several of Jesus’ teachings as wise, while discarding others that I see as being stuck in first-century tribal ethics.

    This, too, is consistent with what I have been saying. You are willing to pick and choose the pieces of Jesus’ teaching that strike your fancy, just as a rebellious child will pick and choose which of their parents’ “teachings” they want to obey.

    Here’s one of the many teachings of Jesus that you choose not to believe:

    At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

    The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be a broken— do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.

    It’s a good thing this is just a message board, or some of you would be trying to stone me, too. Still, there is a good chance that, even in America, I will be martyred one day if I continue to openly speak as I have here.

  • JoshB

    It’s a good thing this is just a message board, or some of you would be trying to stone me, too. Still, there is a good chance that, even in America, I will be martyred one day if I continue to openly speak as I have here.

    Tweeks, man…

    Before I address this I want to point out that while some people here have become frustrated with you or expressed a measure of hostility to your ideas, I have been completely respectful and patient…

    That paragraph I quoted is absolute horseshit. Are you seriously saying that people here would try to kill you if they could? That calling you a jerk is equal to inflicting physical violence on you? Do you honestly believe that Christians as a group are or will be in danger in America in the foreseeable future?

    Cause I hate to break this to you, but your martyrdom in the lion’s den of atheism is not forthcoming, and for you to suggest otherwise is disgusting and delusional. Find some other damn fool fantasy to give you your moral superiority jollies.

    I think what you and MaryAnn and BlueJay are really objecting to is not God’s apparently anti-human actions in the world, but the idea that God knows better than you what’s best for you

    No, ffs. You haven’t payed attention to a word anyone has said. They don’t believe God exists! What they’re objecting to is the likelihood (in their minds) that a bunch of humans made God up to scare other humans into obedience. You’re still trying to understand their beliefs through the prism of your own and it doesn’t work that way.

  • Victor Plenty

    JoshB, thank you for saying in a few brief paragraphs what I might have taken many pages to express.

    To amplify and support you, I feel completely confident in saying nobody here wants to kill Tweeks, merely for speaking beliefs that are unpopular in this particular group. In fact, I’m reasonably confident that most of the people here would risk their own lives to prevent some crazed maniac from killing Tweeks, or anybody else who came under attack merely for their religious traditions.

    The ideal future, in the highest hopes of every atheist or agnostic I’ve ever talked to, contains no violent purges or persecutions of the religious. Many hope religion will gradually fade away, as more people learn to trust their own capacity for reason and empathy. I’ve never met any who wanted to see believers killed, imprisoned, exiled, or otherwise repressed in any way more forceful than seeing their theology excluded from biology textbooks, and of course, occasionally ridiculed in online discussions.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    You’re not alone: I think most people find this idea unsettling. Why can’t God just be loving and leave us all alone?

    Way to, once again, completely miss the point.

    I have no problem with the concept of a jealous god who insists on the love of his followers. The Hebrew god of the Torah certainly qualifies. Nor is it god’s vacillations that bother me. It’s yours.

    Which is to say nothing of the undercurrent of “God loves me more than you cause you’re such a big meanie-head!” You know, tweeks, my school age daughters play that game about their parents, but I have great hopes that they will one day outgrow it. When will you?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    It’s a good thing this is just a message board, or some of you would be trying to stone me, too. Still, there is a good chance that, even in America, I will be martyred one day if I continue to openly speak as I have here.

    Oh, I see. Apparently you won’t ever outgrow it.

    It must be terrible to be a member of a faith that counts but 3/4ths of a population 300+ million, not to mention but 2 billion of the world’s 6+ billion, as fellow potential martyrs.

    Poor you.

  • tweeks

    Are you seriously saying that people here would try to kill you if they could?

    No no, I didn’t mean you folks!

    That calling you a jerk is equal to inflicting physical violence on you?

    Not at all.

    Do you honestly believe that Christians as a group are or will be in danger in America in the foreseeable future?

    Maybe.

    The ideal future, in the highest hopes of every atheist or agnostic I’ve ever talked to, contains no violent purges or persecutions of the religious. Many hope religion will gradually fade away, as more people learn to trust their own capacity for reason and empathy. I’ve never met any who wanted to see believers killed, imprisoned, exiled, or otherwise repressed in any way more forceful than seeing their theology excluded from biology textbooks, and of course, occasionally ridiculed in online discussions.

    I don’t mind being ridiculed. In fact, I think it’s good for me. That’s why I keep posting here: to see if my views can stand up to intelligent criticism. This is one of the most intelligent places on the net, after all.

    In fact, I’m reasonably confident that most of the people here would risk their own lives to prevent some crazed maniac from killing Tweeks, or anybody else who came under attack merely for their religious traditions.

    Wow, thanks Victor! :-) That’s surprisingly comforting, actually.

    But I wasn’t fishing for anyone to pledge their life to defend me. I was just trying to say that Jesus’ views have never been popular, in his day, or in ours. Right now it’s taboo to physically attack someone for their religion, but it may not stay that way forever, especially since Jesus was, by our standards, “intolerant”:

    “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

    Right now we live in a wonderfully accepting culture where even confessed terrorists get lawyers, so as a non-violent person, I am perfectly free to go around proclaiming that “no one comes to the Father except through Jesus” without fear of physical persecution. I will probably be ridiculed, and accused of being unthinking, intolerant, arrogant, etc. But at least I can live my life without fear of being beaten up, jailed, or killed.

    However, that could easily change. As more and more churches water down Christ’s teachings, the fastest-growing religion in America seems to be “tolerance” at the expense of everything else. Thus, my “extreme” view of Jesus (which is really just the traditional view) may one day come to be seen as a threat to “human brotherhood” or something. Maybe I’m just being paranoid, though.

    Anyway, that’s beside the point. I wish I hadn’t written that now, because it’s distracting from the real message I’m trying to deliver:

    1. Believing there is no God is an act of faith.

    2. Believing the God of the Bible is evil is an act of faith.

    3. Believing Jesus is not a real person is an act of faith.

    The opposite to these three is also an act of faith, but let’s be honest that it’s faith either way, and thus both views are “religious.” Non-theism is not freedom from faith, but a faith that chooses to believe several things that are no more provable than what Christians believe. The difference is merely the source of authority: non-theists view only themselves as ultimately reliable, but the theist view is that God is the only ultimately reliable authority.

    God would seem to have a disadvantage in that He is invisible, except God isn’t really any more mysterious than the wind:

    [Jesus said to Nicodemus,] “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

    We see God’s effects all over the world, it’s a matter of how you choose to explain them. Some people might say “there is no wind,” and that things are simply moving on their own. We would say those people are silly. But why is it not silly to say, “there is on God,” when millions of people have experienced the divine in one form or another, including me? I could explain it as a delusion or private idea of my own, but many others have had the same idea. Are we believers in the supernatural moving ourselves, or is there an unseen Mover?

    Way to, once again, completely miss the point.

    Sorry; I sincerely appreciate you being so patient with me!

    I have no problem with the concept of a jealous god who insists on the love of his followers. The Hebrew god of the Torah certainly qualifies. Nor is it god’s vacillations that bother me. It’s yours.

    I really am trying to form a consistent view based on what I’m hearing here, honest!

    Which is to say nothing of the undercurrent of “God loves me more than you cause you’re such a big meanie-head!” You know, tweeks, my school age daughters play that game about their parents, but I have great hopes that they will one day outgrow it. When will you?

    Well, what would you have me say? That there is no God? Or if there is, that He doesn’t love those who love Him? It’s pretty natural to love people who love you more than people who hate you, isn’t it?

  • tweeks

    Anyway, it seems I’m the silly person in this thread, because I thought at the beginning of it that I could convince Bluejay of the evils of moral relativism through intellectual arguments. Through talking to him I discovered that, for non-theists, moral relativism is just fine–they don’t see any problem with it. So why do I?

    Then I realized it’s all a matter of trust: I trust God. God has never let me down once in my entire life, so He’s earned my trust. But for many of you, God appears not to be trustworthy.

    The question of whether there is a God or not is just muddying the issue. The old saying, “there are no atheists in foxholes,” shows that people are ready to believe if the circumstances of life demand it. The problem for many of you is that they don’t: you’re quite happy living as non-theists, and confident you can achieve all your dreams under your own power, so you don’t even want to hear about God. I could point out that you’re being ungrateful to God for your life and your health and everything else you enjoy that you didn’t earn, but you’ll just come back and say, “you have no proof that there’s a God, so leave me alone.”

    Well, you have no proof there isn’t one, but all right, I’ll leave you alone. I just hope God doesn’t. Whether you are prepared to acknowledge it or not, you are totally dependent on God for everything. And if there really is no God, then you are totally dependent on the impersonal, uncaring universe, which ought to be even scarier to you. God is love, but the universe couldn’t care less whether the whole human race goes extinct tomorrow.

  • tweeks

    It’s a good thing this is just a message board, or some of you would be trying to stone me, too.

    Rereading that, it was a dumb thing for me to say, and I apologize for saying it. What I was thinking was more like, “Jesus was attacked for what he said, and I’ll be treated the same if I agree with him,” but I don’t expect to be literally stoned or crucified–just ridiculed, which is sort of the message board equivalent. (Actually maybe being banned is the closest internet equivalent, but don’t worry, I’m about to ban myself.)

    I’m not being a very good witness for Jesus, am I? I wish I could somehow show everyone who it is that I see, give you a glimpse of him. If you’ve ever seen Doctor Who, Jesus is sortof like the Doctor, only better in every way: older, wiser, more powerful, more caring, etc. But the Doctor is fiction, and Jesus is real. He really lived 2,000 years ago, and He’s alive right now. I know most of you don’t believe that, and I know I’m acting like an idiot, but don’t pay attention to me, look at Jesus. Just check him out in the gospels. See if he doesn’t seem to you like a compelling portrait of what God is like. If you want to reject him, that’s fine, but shouldn’t you know who you’re rejecting?

  • Victor Plenty

    Tweeks, you write:

    Well, what would you have me say? That there is no God? Or if there is, that He doesn’t love those who love Him? It’s pretty natural to love people who love you more than people who hate you, isn’t it?

    Of course it’s “natural” to love people who love you more than people who hate you. But aren’t you arguing for the existence of a being with moral standards higher than what comes naturally to your average bag of meat and bones and fear hormones?

    Didn’t Jesus say to love those who hate you? For centuries, priests have been criticized for instructing people “do what I say, not what I do.” According to what you’ve written, even God is guilty of telling others to meet a moral standard he is unwilling to meet himself. Not a very persuasive portrayal of a being who is proposed as the very origin of all moral standards.

    Now, on the other hand, you could have said that your idea of God is a being who loves everyone equally, regardless of how they feel about God. That might be pretty impressive, morally speaking. (It leads to other logical problems, as others here have mentioned, but at least it’s impressive.) But do you really expect anyone to be impressed by a God who returns hate for hate, just like any ape descendant can do with no effort at all?

    All this is beside the point, anyhow, because nobody here actually “hates God.” To put it another way, nobody here hates an actual god. What they hate is a false god, or more completely, the many false gods that have been a source of tyranny over countless human minds throughout history.

    Going back to the question of whether you should say that there is no God — nobody expects you to state any such thing as your own belief! But you can’t expect to have a constructive conversation with atheists unless you are willing to acknowledge that they really do, sincerely and honestly, regard “God” as a human invention — invented by humans for the purpose of dominating and controlling other humans.

    In rejecting religion, atheists are not rejecting a God that they secretly believe to be real, as you seem to think (despite numerous efforts by several people here to explain otherwise to you).

    They are rejecting what they regard as a false god, refusing to bow down and worship an idol constructed by human imagination, EXACTLY as YOU might refuse to worship the “golden calf” idol described in the Old Testament.

    Until you understand how that is different from being a “rebel against God,” you may never genuinely understand atheists or agnostics, and your efforts to formulate arguments they might find persuasive will be extremely unlikely to succeed (to put it as mildly and politely as I can).

  • tweeks

    you can’t expect to have a constructive conversation with atheists unless you are willing to acknowledge that they really do, sincerely and honestly, regard “God” as a human invention — invented by humans for the purpose of dominating and controlling other humans.

    I believe you! Really, I do! I believed Bluejay as well when he said the same thing.

    In rejecting religion, atheists are not rejecting a God that they secretly believe to be real, as you seem to think (despite numerous efforts by several people here to explain otherwise to you).

    Please believe me, this idea is not my own! Jesus presses it on me in famous passages like this:

    “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:16-21)

    This is the explanation Jesus gives for why people don’t believe in him: they “love darkness.” What can I do? Perhaps I shouldn’t have revealed that I believed this, but that would have been dishonest of me. Yet I know that this idea is offensive to Jesus-rejectors, so for me to say it invites mockery!

    Maybe I should just pretend Jesus never said anything like that, and if you don’t believe in Him or His father, then it’s perfectly okay. But in my heart, I feel it’s not okay, because if you reject God, you are throwing your eternal life away! I believe everyone was created to know and love God, so if you’re not doing that, you’re not only missing out–you’re wasting your life!

    I don’t want to dominate or control anybody. No one should listen to what I say, because I don’t have any authority at all. That’s why I’m trying to point you to Jesus, because I sincerely believe that He is who He claimed to be, and all the authority in the universe is His.

    Years ago, I wasn’t so interested in Jesus, and I thought I was justified in my disinterest. Now I realize I was blind to a wonderful reality! Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” (John 9:39) He also said, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3). If you’re not spiritually reborn by a sovereign act of God, you can’t even see His kingdom as attractive. It looks foolish or boring or offensive or whatever–anything but attractive.

    This word from Jesus is a direct attack on the power of human reason. It says we cannot expect to use our knowledge to find God–we need divine help. Left to our own devices, we are blind, we are dead, we are lost in our love of darkness. Nobody wants to hear this, I know!

    I feel terrible saying these things, because I know it’s going to upset people. But what can I do? If it’s the truth, it’s the truth! I know it was true about me. I didn’t use my brilliant mind to find Jesus–he found me: “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). Why does God choose some people and not others? I don’t know. Why are some people born blind and some born seeing? I don’t know! I don’t know! I don’t know! Am I God? Can I answer for the miserable state of the world? I cannot. Ask Him!

    All I can say is that Jesus is a wonderful, glorious person. He’s the most amazing person that ever lived, and I just can’t believe anyone invented Him. He’s way too controversial and God-centric for that. If it seems like I’m trying to get you to submit to some human authority, I’m not! I’m trying to get you to look at Jesus, because He’s real! If you see Jesus as He is, you will gladly submit to Him, but that’s between you and Jesus, and since Jesus is God, no human beings are dominating or controlling you. It’s just you and God, walking together through life. Is that so offensive?

  • tweeks

    I am willing to admit it may have been wrong of me to try and make people feel guilty somehow for deciding there is no God. That’s probably not going to be an effective evangelistic tactic, since even if people really do feel guilty deep down for ignoring a God they sub-consciously know exists, they’ll only get angry at me for trying to make them conscious of their guilt. In fact, it probably was wrong of me to do that, because it’s kinda manipulative.

    I did it because, just like you, I believed in the power of human reason: I believed I could use logic and parables and moral reasoning to show that everyone really does believe in God. Perhaps that was wrong of me? But as I mentioned earlier in this thread, Paul is quite clear in Romans 1 that people do know there is some kind of God–they may not know anything about Him other than that He is the Creator, but that’s enough for God to justly condemn them for not seeking Him.

    But I don’t want to be a manipulative jerk. I don’t want to guilt people into believing something they think is stupid or weird or ridiculous. Jesus is none of those things, and ultimately it’s all about Him.

    Jesus doesn’t want you to accept certain facts about him; he wants you to love him. Trust him. Follow him. Obey him. Christianity is not a bunch of principles for making your life on earth better; it’s a relationship with the God who created you and knows you through and through.

    I don’t really know anybody here. For all I know, I’m talking to a bunch of Perl scripts. But if there is a human being on the other side of that screen, then I implore you not to blindly believe what people tell you about Jesus–not even what Christians tell you. There’s a lot of bad theology going around “Christian” churches today. There’s a lot of “health and wealth” gospel out there that says Jesus came to help you get rich! He didn’t come to help you get rich. He came to bring you to God!

    But Jesus doesn’t make sense unless you realize that you’re a sinner. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17) If you don’t see yourself this way, then Jesus makes no sense to you.

    But sin has no meaning apart from God! And apart from God, life has no meaning.

    As a teenager, I felt terrible despair when I pondered the implications of a world without God. Terrible, terrible despair: absolute hopelessness. Why go on? Why do anything? I will never find happiness in this universe. Maybe I’m weird for feeling that way, but I don’t understand how the non-theist people here don’t feel that way! What’s the point of life if we’re all there is? The human race is a cosmic accident, and one day another cosmic accident will relieve us from our troubled existence. If we all die and there is no afterlife, then I guess you all better just eat, drink, and be merry! But I cannot join you, because I will be too depressed. :-(

    It seems to me that at least one or two people here must feel this way at some level. How could you not? But life does have a meaning–you don’t have to be trapped in your non-theist world view. There is hope! There is meaning! There is purpose for creation and the human race. And it’s a wonderful purpose. :-) If it’s true, wouldn’t you want to be a part of it?

  • tweeks

    Maybe I’m wrong about another thing too: the reason I’m trying so hard here is not only to test my own beliefs against criticism, but because I’m convinced the non-theist people here must feel miserable at some level. Apart from God, how could you not?

    Maybe you honestly don’t feel that way, and if so, that’s great! I’m glad to be wrong about that! But I really don’t understand you, then, because my life is worthless apart from Jesus. Maybe I only see that because I know Jesus, and know what it is to be known by Him? If I didn’t know Him, maybe I wouldn’t realize how frustrating and empty and hopeless and meaningless my life is without Him.

    That’s why I said Jesus is like the Doctor–especially in the David Tennant series. Before people meet the Doctor, they think their lives are great! But after they’ve met him, they cannot go back. Even Donna couldn’t return to her mundane life, though the Doctor “scared [her] to death.”

    I feel silly comparing Jesus to a fictional character, since that just gives MaryAnn more ammo for dismissing him. But what is it about the Doctor that makes him such a compelling character? It’s his wisdom, his goodness, his honesty, his bravery, etc. etc. He has so many admirable traits. Still, he’s not perfect, and he’s not God: the Doctor makes mistakes, and the Doctor can be foiled. That’s why Jesus is so much more compelling, and even if he was just a fictional character, he should be the most beloved character of all time! (Or maybe he is? :-))

    But I don’t think the gospel is fiction. This is a judgement call everyone has to make–I can’t prove it to you. I can tell you it definitely doesn’t claim to be fiction, and contemporary readers didn’t take it that way. But you can say that about anything: the moon landing was fake, 9/11 was a government conspiracy, etc. Not that you’re a nutty conspiracy theorist if you reject the gospel account of Jesus–you’re just a very stubborn person.

    Stubborn because Jesus offers you everything you ever wanted: forgiveness for all your sins past present and future, eternal life with God, the opportunity to become what you were created to be, and to finally enjoy a personal relationship with the One who created you. Why wouldn’t you want that?

    The only reason I can conceive of why you could possibly not want that is because you love your human autonomy, and you hate the idea of any authority being over you–even your own Creator. Nobody can prove there was no Jesus, and nobody can prove there is no God. Pascal’s wager was correct: it makes sense to believe. Why won’t you?

    I don’t hate anyone for not believing. I feel sorry for them, like you would feel sorry for someone who refused to see a great film because of some prejudice they have based on critical reviews or a bias against the director or “I don’t like sci-fi” or any other illegitimate reason. From your perspective, you are justified in your skepticism, but if you knew who you were rejecting, I don’t think you could.

  • tweeks

    But maybe I was wrong to assume the non-theists here even know who Jesus is in the first place? Maybe they really have no clue who they are not believing in? In that case, they’re not wicked God-rejectors, they’re just ignorant.

    The cure for that is to read John or Luke or Matthew or Mark and get educated. Look at this glorious person Jesus! Look at how He reached out to the poorest, lowest, most despised in Jewish society. Liberals should like that! If you care about the poor, the hungry, the weak, the defenseless in the world, then Jesus ought to be your hero.

    But maybe people are cautious about Jesus because He said some things they don’t like? For one thing, He claimed to be God. Then He claimed to be the only way to God. Then He said if you don’t abide in Him, you’ll be thrown away like a branch and burned (John 15:6). Ooo, maybe we don’t like this Jesus guy after all.

    If that is the case, then the only difference between me and the rest of you is that I’m willing to accept all of Jesus’ teachings, even the hard ones. Is it blind devotion? No, because Jesus has earned my trust. How has He earned it? Well, if I told you, you’d never believe it. :-) You’d say, “that was just a coincidence!” or “that was just your imagination!” Well, maybe, but you can say that about anything. Faith is required to make it through life; it’s all a matter of who you choose to put your faith in: yourself, or someone outside yourself.

  • tweeks

    I guess that’s what my whole argument comes down to: LOOK! Look at Jesus! Don’t judge someone you don’t know! Don’t judge texts you’ve never read! Don’t look at me or anybody else–look at Jesus!

    Look at Him and be saved:

    If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:12-15)

    If you look and you don’t see anything, then you’re just not seeing. Look again! Keep looking! There is a wonderful man there–the most wonderful man that ever lived, and that man is our God! If you want to know what God is like, Jesus is where you should go: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

    God has made Himself known to the world, at a specific time (33 AD) and in a specific place (Jerusalem). Don’t reject the written accounts of Jesus just because they’re routinely packaged in with the Bible. If you don’t like the Bible, then just read John. John’s Gospel is the closest account of Jesus of them all: if it doesn’t move you to trust in Christ for salvation, then probably nothing anyone can do or say ever will.

  • Victor Plenty

    Tweeks, if you really seek to understand how you come across to an atheist or an agnostic, if you sincerely seek even a slight glimmering of insight into minds that see the world differently from the way you see it, here is an exercise that might give you a little of that insight.

    Read through your last several posts, and in every place where you have used the names “Jesus” or “God,” simply substitute “The Golden Calf.” Here’s a representative passage to get you started:

    All I can say is that the Golden Calf is a wonderful, glorious person. He’s the most amazing person that ever lived, and I just can’t believe anyone invented Him. He’s way too controversial and God-centric for that. If it seems like I’m trying to get you to submit to some human authority, I’m not! I’m trying to get you to look at the Golden Calf, because He’s real! If you see the Golden Calf as He is, you will gladly submit to Him, but that’s between you and the Golden Calf, and since the Golden Calf is God, no human beings are dominating or controlling you. It’s just you and the Golden Calf, walking together through life. Is that so offensive?

    Now go ahead and do that with the entire text of your recent comments here. Or at the very least, imagine what it would look like if you did. Then honestly ask yourself: Do you find this impassioned plea persuasive? Are you ready to “gladly submit” to the Golden Calf now?

    It seems unlikely that such ideas would move you to change your belief system. It seems more likely you would continue to conclude that the Golden Calf is nothing more than a dead piece of shiny metal, crafted by humans in an effort to gain power over other humans. In fact, the more passionate the rhetoric coming from a believer in the Golden Calf, the more convinced you might become that such a person had taken leave of their senses, and fallen under the influence of people who do not have their best interests at heart.

    And would you find it completely inoffensive if someone told you that your failure to believe in the Golden Calf resulted from your love of darkness and your hatred of all that is light and good? This seems unlikely too. It seems more likely you would recognize this as the seed of an excuse to persecute, imprison, torture, and perhaps even kill anyone who refuses to bow down and worship the golden idol.

    For from a beautiful expression of faith, you might start to see the passion of this believer as a frightening quality, a sign that their willingness to believe preposterous things about a statue might translate into a willingness to do horrible things in the service of their beliefs.

    Let me be clear. I’m NOT accusing you of any such thing. Only trying to express how your emotion-based appeals, along with your pleas that your readers ought to abandon reason and logic, are far more likely to freak people out, in an environment such as this, than to persuade them to agree with you on anything.

    In general I think your version of Christian belief is fairly healthy, benign, and even beneficial, compared to many I have seen. My purpose here is NOT to persuade you to abandon your beliefs! I’m really only trying to help you have a more fruitful conversation with people who do not share your beliefs.

  • Muzz

    tweeks, you were doing so well avoiding the full on preaching barrage until now.
    I’ve tangled with some very skilled philosphers over similar arguments to yours, ones that argue the presuposition of god is fundamental to all logic and consciousness and those who think otherwise are in a kind of denial. Presented much better than you have done and given me plenty to think about too (arguments roughly equivalent to the trancendental apologetics, for those playing at home).

    There was just one problem, when all said and done it still only seemed to me that we’d uncovered a flaw in human consciousness, a paradox, a sort of logical blind spot rather than a supreme being anyone needed to (at least try to) “know”. To say nothing of the tremendous leaps from some god point to jesus’ divinity, biblical truth, and afterlife etc, no need for god brings the whole thing unglued regardless.

    That ability to sidestep the whole thing, even after the best arguments I’ve heard, told me enough. It’s got nothing to do with free will. You just can’t make the guy from logic, thousands of years of writing and faith, some ancient dude telling you he loves you (or other ancient dudes telling you varying versions of some ancient dude telling you he loves you). It isn’t truth in any sense of the word. A need for meaning doesn’t make it so. And so we end up back at those who presuppose he is and those who presuppose he ain’t.

    I would go on and on ( and hopefully make more sense in the process) but I fear we would be running the thread again. (which has been very interesting, cheers to all concerned)

  • tweeks

    …the more passionate the rhetoric coming from a believer … the more convinced you might become that such a person had taken leave of their senses, and fallen under the influence of people who do not have their best interests at heart.

    Thanks for the honest feedback. I certainly don’t want to fall under the influence of some cult leader or something, and I wouldn’t want to blindly recruit others into a cult, either!

    In general I think your version of Christian belief is fairly healthy, benign, and even beneficial, compared to many I have seen. My purpose here is NOT to persuade you to abandon your beliefs! I’m really only trying to help you have a more fruitful conversation with people who do not share your beliefs.

    I really do appreciate that, Victor, because (I’m not gonna lie about it) my goal really is to persuade people to take a good long look at Jesus! Not everyone will see what I see, that’s for sure, but some might, and it might change their lives for the better, as it has mine.

    I might seem like a cultist, but honestly, I’m not much of a joiner. I don’t attend any church regularly (though I really should), and I’m not a member of any religious groups, either online or in the real world. The only group I’m currently attending is a local club for Lisp programmers (nerdy, I know).

    But it’s true I have been influenced by other people–I’m not gonna lie about that either. It’s not like I sat in a room, picked up a copy of the Gospel of John, and everything changed right then and there. It’s taken me years and years of studying and wrestling with difficult points of doctrine to get where I am today, and I have had human teachers to guide me.

    But it’s not any human teacher I’m devoted to! Ultimately, it is Jesus Himself whom I follow, not any human being. If that sounds culty to you, well, I dunno what to say. If I told you I met somebody who radically changed my life for the better, you’d probably want to meet that person too. But if I told you that person claimed to be God, you’d probably be very scared–and you should be! No sane person claims to be God. But look at the things Jesus said and did: is he crazy? What is he asking people to do, exactly? Give him money? Find virgins for him to sleep with? Put him in power? One time people actually did try to make Jesus king, and he slipped away from them (John 6:15). Jesus apparently didn’t come to rule the world (not this time, anyway). He came to die. He commanded his followers to love one another and take care of the poor. Is that dangerous?

    I guess I’m wondering what exactly it is about Jesus that’s freaking you out. I suppose you could just as well ask me what I find freaky about the Golden Calf. :-) Well I don’t know anything about the Calf, do I? What does it demand of you? Child sacrifices? Virgins? Heaps of beef? (That’s a weird thing for a calf to ask for…). Whatever the Calf demands of you, it’s too high a price, my friend. Jesus isn’t asking you to give him your life so much as he’s asking you to find your life in Him:

    “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37-38)

    “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51)

    “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

    Does this sound culty to you? If so, then where’s the catch? The only leader I see is Jesus Himself, who is either dead, or (as the gospels say) in heaven.

  • tweeks

    I’ve tangled with some very skilled philosphers over similar arguments to yours, ones that argue the presuposition of god is fundamental to all logic and consciousness and those who think otherwise are in a kind of denial. Presented much better than you have done and given me plenty to think about too (arguments roughly equivalent to the trancendental apologetics, for those playing at home).

    Yeah, my brother’s really into that. He’s a big Abraham Kuyper fan. He even wants to go study at some university in Amsterdam.

    when all said and done it still only seemed to me that we’d uncovered a flaw in human consciousness, a paradox, a sort of logical blind spot rather than a supreme being anyone needed to (at least try to) “know”.

    That’s what I think is lacking in the presuppositional apologetic: the need for reconciliation with God. The Bible assumes God’s existence, and concentrates on what God is like, and how He relates to His people. In the same way, Christ never argued for the existence of God because, of course, He was preaching to Jews.

    There are some snippets of Paul’s preaching to pagan gentiles, though:

    “we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things [re: their pagan gods] to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:14-18)

    Maybe Paul’s apologetic seems simplistic today. Then again, I could just up the terminology and say, “God did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you stable atomic structures that don’t easily dissolve, and a solar system containing a beautiful planet that is ideal for sustaining human life.”

  • tweeks

    your emotion-based appeals, along with your pleas that your readers ought to abandon reason and logic, are far more likely to freak people out, in an environment such as this, than to persuade them to agree with you on anything.

    Now that’s where I draw the line: the one thing I will not let myself be accused of is behaving illogically! :-)

    The logic is very simple: if there is a personal God, and if that God wants to be known, He must enter our world in a perceptible way. And when I look, I find that many claim this has indeed happened, and that the man we call “Jesus” (in Hebrew it’s just “Joshua”) was, in fact, God in human flesh.

    There’s nothing illogical about this. As Muzz pointed out, it simply rests on two presuppositions you may choose not to make: that there is a personal God, and that He wants to be known. Logically, this can never be proven or disproven, so there is no need to reject it out of hand.

    The Calf, on the other hand, is obviously just metal, and there’s no logical reason to worship it as some sort of deity. Jesus was obviously not just a normal man, because He fulfilled all the ancient Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, performed a number of miracles, and claimed to be God. You could try to make a case that the gospel writers made all this up, but it’s not clear what motive they would have for doing so, and it’s even less clear why their own contemporaries would choose to accept such a story as factual if they knew full well it was fiction.

  • tweeks

    You just can’t make the guy from logic, thousands of years of writing and faith, some ancient dude telling you he loves you (or other ancient dudes telling you varying versions of some ancient dude telling you he loves you). It isn’t truth in any sense of the word. A need for meaning doesn’t make it so. And so we end up back at those who presuppose he is and those who presuppose he ain’t.

    Well, maybe you’re right. But I think that if you presuppose he is for a moment, you may find that your life and the universe suddenly come into focus like they never have before: suddenly things make sense–not everything, but a lot more than when you presupposed there was no God.

    That’s why it’s like science: scientists see some weird thing going on, and they brainstorm a bunch of theories to explain it. Whichever theory seems to fit their observations the best wins.

    In the same way, Jesus’ view fits my observations of my own heart better than anything else I’ve heard or thought of. He also seems to have an excellent understanding of the way people are in general. But most of all, he seems to really know God. This looks like a circle, because I’m using Jesus (=God) to learn about God. But it’s no more circular than using the material universe to understand the material universe, something everyone assumes is a reasonable practice (mostly because it’s our only option….).

  • Victor Plenty

    Tweeks… peace be upon you. Goodbye.

  • You are willing to pick and choose the pieces of Jesus’ teaching that strike your fancy, just as a rebellious child will pick and choose which of their parents’ “teachings” they want to obey.

    I feel sorry for children who never question their parents’ teachings; they wind up accepting not only their parents’ wisdom, but all of their prejudices and misconceptions as well. Questioning our parents is how we grow up and come into our own. But your statement seems to demonstrate how some religious philosophies try to infantilize their adherents.

    Non-theism is not freedom from faith, but a faith that chooses to believe several things that are no more provable than what Christians believe. The difference is merely the source of authority: non-theists view only themselves as ultimately reliable, but the theist view is that God is the only ultimately reliable authority.

    No, non-theists don’t view themselves as ultimately reliable. We recognize that there are many flaws in our senses and in the way our brains perceive things. (Which means, by the way, that if there were a Designer, we were very poorly designed!) This is why scientists keep checking on each others’ work and trying to find flaws. It’s why science-minded people use instruments as extensions of our senses to observe what’s around us; and why we try to think in a careful, rational, step-by-step manner when we’re trying to reach conclusions about the universe. People have different intuitions and sensations of personal revelation, but only the gradual and self-correcting process of scientific thinking has ever successfully uncovered how the universe works. There is still much that we don’t know, but non-theists are humble enough to admit it, and to be okay with not knowing even as we continue to explore the frontiers of knowledge. (And by the way, saying “I don’t know” isn’t equivalent to “all things are possible.” We may not know some things, but we can rule certain things out.)

    Neil deGrasse Tyson has a great short clip about “the argument from ignorance.” He’s talking about UFO’s, but he could be talking about other kinds of belief as well. Worth watching.

    We see God’s effects all over the world, it’s a matter of how you choose to explain them. Some people might say “there is no wind,” and that things are simply moving on their own. We would say those people are silly. But why is it not silly to say, “there is no God,” when millions of people have experienced the divine in one form or another, including me?

    The wind-deniers are silly, because wind is an observable, measurable phenomenon. We can trap air, measure air pressure, feel the wind with our sense of touch, see its effects. There is overwhelming empirical proof that wind is a real and scientifically explainable phenomenon. There is no other explanation for what the wind does, but wind.

    Let’s turn that same lens of empirical scrutiny on the second half of your analogy. Millions of people have experienced religious feelings, but all in different ways, as you said. Rather than generalize about something so vague, perhaps we should look at specific examples of what people claim they feel or see, examine their specific explanations for specific experiences, and see if God is really the most reasonable explanation for such occurrences.

    You could try to make a case that the gospel writers made all this up, but it’s not clear what motive they would have for doing so, and it’s even less clear why their own contemporaries would choose to accept such a story as factual if they knew full well it was fiction.

    The ancient Greeks wrote about their gods as if they and their actions were real. The Hindu scriptures contain stories about other gods, also accepted as real. Are you saying the Greek and Hindu pantheons are real? If not, why not? You keep quoting the Gospels to prove that Jesus is real. Greek and Hindu texts also claim their gods are real, and so, by your reasoning, they must also be right.

    People–even millions of people–thinking a fictional story is fact does not actually make it so.

    Anyway, it seems I’m the silly person in this thread, because I thought at the beginning of it that I could convince Bluejay of the evils of moral relativism through intellectual arguments. Through talking to him I discovered that, for non-theists, moral relativism is just fine–they don’t see any problem with it.

    Wow; after 200+ posts, you still choose to misunderstand–or willfully misrepresent–my position. For non-theists, removing God as the reason for distinguishing between good and evil doesn’t mean we can’t define certain things as good or evil for other reasons. I’ll be blogging more at some point about atheist morality, so thanks for the food for thought… ;-)

    This looks like a circle, because I’m using Jesus (=God) to learn about God. But it’s no more circular than using the material universe to understand the material universe, something everyone assumes is a reasonable practice (mostly because it’s our only option….).

    It’s fine to endlessly refer to scripture in order to become more familiar with the vision of God as presented by scripture, just as it’s fine for me to pore over the Iliad and the Odyssey to have a better grasp of Greek mythology. But what you’re doing is making the circles overlap; you’re using Jesus/God not just to explain Jesus/God but to explain the material universe as well (namely that God made it and intervenes in our lives). In this case, the burden of proof is on you.

    …there is a personal God, and … He wants to be known. Logically, this can never be proven or disproven, so there is no need to reject it out of hand.

    I believe, fervently and with all my heart, that there is a pint of Haagen-Dazs chocolate peanut butter ice cream at the center of the Sun. Logically we can’t prove or disprove this either, so we should definitely consciously entertain this possibility. ;-)

    Logically, there is an infinite list of things that cannot be proven: the existence of unicorns, demons, angels, the Matrix, time-traveling cyborgs, doorways into Narnia, talking trees, fairies, elves, sprites… To acknowledge that they can’t be proven true or false isn’t the same thing as saying they’re likely to be true. To accept all these things as likely is to succumb to magical thinking, which is probably not the best way to interact with the universe.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    tweeks,

    It is said that brevity is the soul of wit. On the internet, we simply say: tl;dr.

    Anyway, you seem determined to answer some call to defend the faith. But it’s not your faith that’s being called into question. You’re welcome to it. It’s your logic. More specifically, your unwillingness to engage in the logical inconsistencies of both your own arguments and of faith in general. Theology is, among other things, an exercise in reconciling logical inconsistencies, both in the nature of god, and the nature of man. It is also, as you’ve demonstrated here, a job best left to the professionals.

    This discussion has ceased to be intellectually stimulating and has become, well, a little sad. To borrow another’s phraseology, you’ve mistaken passionate sincerity in your faith for actual contemplation about it. But your sincere passion is belied by a persecution complex that’s just not healthy. You return to ideas as though their repetition will strengthen them. And you deflect and dismiss the actual thoughts and beliefs of actual people.

    Like Victor, I think I’m done here. I was never sure this was the proper forum, and now it’s clear we’re not going to go anywhere with it anyway. FWIW, it was never my intention to change your mind, just to keep you logically and intellectually honest. But your last few posts, well, I don’t think I can keep up.

    A final word of advice: don’t thank me for anything I’ve said. Understand the medium. On an internet discussion board, constant “thank you for responding” is not polite, but rather quickly takes on a condescending and patronizing air.

  • Muzz

    Well, maybe you’re right. But I think that if you presuppose he is for a moment, you may find that your life and the universe suddenly come into focus like they never have before: suddenly things make sense–not everything, but a lot more than when you presupposed there was no God.

    Been there, done that. And this is a non starter anyway, isn’t it? Since don’t your believe that presupposing there is no god is delusionary sophistry, ultimately permitted by there being one? (I may be wrong about this)
    It was all the ways god ceased to be a sufficient answer that caused his irrelevance, at any rate. All the ways that god and the supernatural is actually an obstacle to knowledge and human understanding. It about facing facts. As you have kinda illustrated there yourself, god’s just an answer that ultimately tells you next to nothing.

    That’s why it’s like science: scientists see some weird thing going on, and they brainstorm a bunch of theories to explain it. Whichever theory seems to fit their observations the best wins.

    Personal revelation isn’t the least bit like science (and your idea of what science is misses a few key points). Science seeks to avoid subjective errors by using many points of observation to confirm its facts. This is long before they come up with a theory that sticks. This isn’t something you can do by theorising about your own feelings or whatever.

    Your argument seems circular because it is circular. You’re using your feelings about god to justify the bible and your feelings about the bible to justify god, basically. This isn’t the same as using matter to understand matter, unless you only consider matter to be nothing but a concept (which you might). Attention to universes other than this one has proven terribly impractical in the long term.

    You misunderstand me here:

    As Muzz pointed out, it simply rests on two presuppositions you may choose not to make: that there is a personal God, and that He wants to be known. Logically, this can never be proven or disproven, so there is no need to reject it out of hand.

    No indeed. There’s no reason to bother with it at all!

    Lots of people said a whole lot more about life, humanity and thought than jesus, often a long time before jesus. Many of them were thought to be divine or semi divine too. There are so many wisdoms in the world, the more of them you find the smaller jesus gets. Many of them aren’t the slightest bit interested in god yet they are as undeniable as the best stuff jesus came out with. Jesus’ entire ourve (particularly as pushed by the modern church) is that he (and god) must take up all the space. It’s easy to see why in hindsight. To make room for anything else, to seek real broad understanding is to render them interesting chapters of history and nothing more.

    (I suspect I’m treading on well worn ground here for this thread but oh well. Next time I’ll cite up the page or something.)

  • JoshB

    It is said that brevity is the soul of wit. On the internet, we simply say: tl;dr.

    TLDR version: There are no atheists in foxholes, Pascal’s Wager is right, atheists really do believe in God but choose to reject him because they’re EVILLLLL…

    This is the explanation Jesus gives for why people don’t believe in him: they “love darkness.” What can I do?…

    I am willing to admit it may have been wrong of me to try and make people feel guilty somehow for deciding there is no God. That’s probably not going to be an effective evangelistic tactic, since even if people really do feel guilty deep down for ignoring a God they sub-consciously know exists, they’ll only get angry at me for trying to make them conscious of their guilt.

    tweeks, when this conversation began I really believed that your goal was to understand rather than convert. That was my goal, and I think that was the goal for the other atheists/agnostics who participated in the early stages.

    We were all fools. You have no interest in understanding and never did. When an atheist says “I don’t believe in God” and your only response is to say, “Yes, you do” well, the conversation is dead. There’s no point in taking anything you say seriously.

    I think I too am done here.

  • tweeks

    Hey Bluejay! Thanks for reading again–you’re so patient. :-)

    I feel sorry for children who never question their parents’ teachings; they wind up accepting not only their parents’ wisdom, but all of their prejudices and misconceptions as well. Questioning our parents is how we grow up and come into our own. But your statement seems to demonstrate how some religious philosophies try to infantilize their adherents.

    But we’re always children before God! We’ll never “grow up” and become as smart or as powerful as He is.

    Neil deGrasse Tyson has a great short clip about “the argument from ignorance.” He’s talking about UFO’s, but he could be talking about other kinds of belief as well. Worth watching.

    Tyson is great. :-) I enjoyed that video–thanks!

    Maybe you can help me out here, because I don’t see how the argument for God is an argument from ignorance. If it were based on no physical evidence, it would be, but it is based on a very significant piece of physical evidence that everyone can see and touch for themselves: the Universe. How did it come to exist? It obviously didn’t bring itself into existence, so where did it come from? Well, maybe it was caused by some collision with a higher-dimensional membrane or some such. But where did that come from? And so on. An infinite cause is required here, is it not? Or perhaps you’d rather take the view that the universe is itself infinite, in spite of all scientific observations to the contrary? That certainly would be an argument from ignorance.

    If we postulate an infinite cause for the Universe, then it could be anything, right? It could be impersonal, or it could be personal. How would we know one way or the other? Physical evidence. God becoming a man is physical evidence. No irrefutable physical evidence can be produced for God, because (duh) God is not physical. If you choose to ignore the key physical evidence for a Personal First Cause (I’m just asking you to look at it, not blindly accept it), then you have “ruled out” God merely by the chosen limitations of your own investigative methodology.

    In other words, you’ve decided there can’t be a God, so there isn’t. That doesn’t seem very scientific to me, especially since there is physical evidence all around us: personal human beings! Did personality arise accidentally from impersonality? Maybe. But is that really the most reasonable explanation for this phenomenon? To say personality is an illusion (or as Tyson would say, a “brain failure”) and that the universe is ultimately “dead”, and we are an anomaly in it? I just don’t understand why anyone should feel convinced that such a depressing conclusion is even required by the physical evidence? :-/

    The ancient Greeks wrote about their gods as if they and their actions were real. The Hindu scriptures contain stories about other gods, also accepted as real. Are you saying the Greek and Hindu pantheons are real? If not, why not? You keep quoting the Gospels to prove that Jesus is real. Greek and Hindu texts also claim their gods are real, and so, by your reasoning, they must also be right.

    Well, it’s easy to disprove the Greek pantheon: fly over Mount Olympus and see if Zeus is up there! :-)

    I’m afraid I’m quite ignorant of Hinduism, and Wikipedia says it’s “a diverse system of thought with beliefs spanning monotheism, polytheism, panentheism, pantheism, monism, and atheism, and its concept of God is complex and depends upon each particular tradition and philosophy.” It’s hard to discuss something so big!

    But I can tell you that when Yuri Gagarin went up into orbit and said, “I don’t see any God here,” that didn’t exactly disprove the theory of a personal Cause for the Universe. :-P

    For non-theists, removing God as the reason for distinguishing between good and evil doesn’t mean we can’t define certain things as good or evil for other reasons.

    Yeah, for human reasons. They’re all just opinions, just human ideas, subject to change and revision. As Tyson himself said, “we’re constantly on the border of discovery.” One day we may “discover” that some people don’t have rights after all, or some people have rights others don’t. Who’s to say which way is best? Only the Personal First Cause of the Universe (if indeed it is personal) can determine good and evil in any absolute sense. Any other basis for morality you can concoct is defeated by a simple, “oh yeah? Says who?” And if the First Cause of the Universe is impersonal, then indeed morality is just an arbitrary human convention.

    It’s fine to endlessly refer to scripture in order to become more familiar with the vision of God as presented by scripture, just as it’s fine for me to pore over the Iliad and the Odyssey to have a better grasp of Greek mythology. But what you’re doing is making the circles overlap; you’re using Jesus/God not just to explain Jesus/God but to explain the material universe as well (namely that God made it and intervenes in our lives). In this case, the burden of proof is on you.

    Well, let me shift it and ask why you can remain so confident in your conviction that the First Cause of the Universe is, indeed, impersonal, when you have no evidence whatsoever? This is total guesswork on your part. But my view has the advantage that I can use any religious text as proof that there may have been a personal First Cause, and that people have known it from the beginning of our race. I’m not even saying which one might be correct (if any), just that most people clearly expect there to be a God of some sort, and why shouldn’t they? If we’re personal, why should the universe be impersonal? It makes no sense.

    I believe, fervently and with all my heart, that there is a pint of Haagen-Dazs chocolate peanut butter ice cream at the center of the Sun. Logically we can’t prove or disprove this either, so we should definitely consciously entertain this possibility. ;-)

    Now you are just being silly. :-)

    But I see what you’re saying: this all sounds totally arbitrary. It’s not. Nobody knows whether our Universe came into being by means of a personal First Cause or an impersonal one. I don’t see anything silly or arbitrary about assuming our human nature is the ultimate result of personal forces rather than impersonal ones. Am I missing something?

  • tweeks

    A final word of advice: don’t thank me for anything I’ve said. Understand the medium. On an internet discussion board, constant “thank you for responding” is not polite, but rather quickly takes on a condescending and patronizing air.

    Sorry for sounding condescending and patronizing. I do appreciate everyone who takes the time to dialogue with me, though, including you.

    It’s tough to talk about absolute reality without sounding like an arrogant jerk, because, well, it’s absolute reality, and we’re all livin’ in it. But there’s a method to my madness, and I sincerely want to have open and honest dialogue with people here to see if I can show that faith in Jesus is not as silly as believing there’s ice cream at the center of the sun. It is based on something real, and I’m not the world’s greatest debater, apologist, evangelist, thinker, or anything else, but I think this is really important, and I may be the only one you’ll ever meet who cares enough to try and help you see it. I think many here aren’t seeing it because they’ve simply chosen not to look. Or at least not to look at it in a way which I think is just as intellectually legitimate as the way they are seeing things now.

  • tweeks

    tweeks, when this conversation began I really believed that your goal was to understand rather than convert. That was my goal, and I think that was the goal for the other atheists/agnostics who participated in the early stages.

    Why was that your goal? Don’t you care about me? :-(

    I’m serious, if you really think I’ve been deluded by an evil cult, why aren’t you trying to rescue me? Does nobody give a crap what happens to me? If you can show that Jesus never lived, or that He wasn’t God, then do it! If you can show that God can’t exist, then please do so. Save me from myself!

    I’m not gonna say people here don’t care, because you have been trying to show why you don’t believe in God: because you don’t have to. Well, yeah, you don’t have to, but you don’t have to not believe either. Is there a stronger reason for being a non-theist than “I don’t have to believe?” Because I feel I do have to believe. Maybe it’s just a flaw in my personality, but without an infinite, personal Cause behind the universe, it’s all just a stupid game we’re playing. I’m one collection of chemicals banging on plastic keys to form inherently meaningless collections of symbols that appear intelligible to other collections of chemicals around the world, but it’s all pointless: there is no meaning, nothing I’ve said or you’ve said is worth the bytes it took to say it. Is that the world you think we live in?

    Maybe you’ve given up, but (call me stubborn if you want), I’m not going to give up on anybody who chooses to stay. I think life does have meaning, that the Universe did have a Personal cause, that cause has revealed Himself in a see-able, touch-able way, and that there is hope for every single person here! You can reject it if you want, but you don’t have to! Please don’t, not for my sake, but for your own! Don’t choose to believe the universe has no meaning, and that your life has no hope. It doesn’t have to be that way!

  • tweeks

    The ultimate origin of the universe is beyond science, because no natural cause can explain how our observable natural world came to be. So why are you trying to use scientific methodologies to answer a non-scientific question?

    If the natural world is not infinite, and if it didn’t cause itself, then there must have been a supernatural cause. This is not a matter of debate, it’s obvious to anyone who bothers to think about it!

    So why, non-theist, do you so confidently reject the supernatural? What is your explanation for the origin of the universe? Is it eternal? Is it an infinite loop, causing and re-causing itself over and over? Be honest: you have no clue.

    Nobody does. So why are you so sure there is no God? What’s so intelligent about your skepticism? It’s just a choice you decided to make based on nothing but your own desires.

    I’m saying this because I care enough to tell you. :-/ If I didn’t care about you, I’d “tolerate” your beliefs all day long. But apathy is not love! I think you’re wrong, because I’ve seen compelling evidence that God is real, both in my life, and in the lives of others. Sometimes I think if God Himself appeared to you, you’d explain it away as a dream, a hallucination, swamp gas, or some other lame excuse because you just don’t want to believe. Why don’t you? Why is your world view so wonderful that you cling to it beyond all reason and common sense? What is it doing for you that makes it so precious to you?

    Let go of your irrational prejudice. Nobody knows how the universe began, and God is a distinct possibility. Don’t just brush God aside because you don’t like the idea or because you fear you’ll have to start going to church or something. You don’t have to submit to anybody, just look for God on your own. Look for Him in books. Look for him in other people’s lives. Don’t just sit there and arbitrarily decide there can’t be one when you know there could! And if you know there could, why don’t you try to look? Why are you so apathetic towards God? What is it about God you find so threatening?

    God knows you’re a rational person, and He can give you rational proof, if you’ll even accept it.

  • tweeks again

    The ultimate origin of the universe is beyond science, because no natural cause can explain how our observable natural world came to be. So why are you trying to use scientific methodologies to answer a non-scientific question?

    If the natural world is not infinite, and if it didn’t cause itself, then there must have been a supernatural cause. This is not a matter of debate, it’s obvious to anyone who bothers to think about it!

    So why, non-theist, do you so confidently reject the supernatural? What is your explanation for the origin of the universe? Is it eternal? Is it an infinite loop, causing and re-causing itself over and over? Be honest: you have no clue.

    Nobody does. So why are you so sure there is no God? What’s so intelligent about your skepticism? It’s just a choice you decided to make based on nothing but your own desires.

    I’m saying this because I care enough to tell you. :-/ If I didn’t care about you, I’d “tolerate” your beliefs all day long. But apathy is not love! I think you’re wrong, because I’ve seen compelling evidence that God is real, both in my life, and in the lives of others. Sometimes I think if God Himself appeared to you, you’d explain it away as a dream, a hallucination, swamp gas, or some other lame excuse because you just don’t want to believe. Why don’t you? Why is your world view so wonderful that you cling to it beyond all reason and common sense? What is it doing for you that makes it so precious to you?

    Let go of your irrational prejudice. Nobody knows how the universe began, and God is a distinct possibility. Don’t just brush God aside because you don’t like the idea or because you fear you’ll have to start going to church or something. You don’t have to submit to anybody, just look for God on your own. Look for Him in books. Look for him in other people’s lives. Don’t just sit there and arbitrarily decide there can’t be one when you know there could! And if you know there could, why don’t you try to look? Why are you so apathetic towards God? What is it about God you find so threatening?

    God knows you’re a rational person, and He can give you rational proof, if you’ll even accept it.

  • tweeks again

    sorry for the dupped post

  • JoshB

    if you really think I’ve been deluded by an evil cult, why aren’t you trying to rescue me?

    If I really thought you would listen to what I have to say then I’d be happy to continue. I’m certain that you won’t listen, and to illustrate this I will quote myself from earlier in the thread, so you can compare what I’ve actually said to this “deluded by an evil cult” nonsense:

    For the record, I’m agnostic, not atheist. I also retain enough of my Catholic upbringing that I hope there’s a God and a heaven and that I get to go there.

    The important thing, in my opinion, is that an understanding be reached that neither viewpoint is evil, even if one must ultimately be incorrect.

    The one-sided nature of this conversation had me a bit tempted to play devil’s advocate and argue on behalf of belief

    And, for good measure, regarding the origins of the universe…

    You, today:

    If the natural world is not infinite, and if it didn’t cause itself, then there must have been a supernatural cause. This is not a matter of debate, it’s obvious to anyone who bothers to think about it!

    Me, weeks ago:

    When you say there’s no evidence for the atheist point of view, what you’re saying is that the question mark at the very beginning of these events leaves room for God. And yes, that’s technically true, but it rests on a misunderstanding: we can’t explain what happened yet. We’re working on it.

  • tweeks

    I think I finally do understand your view, Bluejay and others: “God is unnecessary, so I don’t believe.” It’s as simple as that.

    Except God is necessary, you’re just not seeing it. The Universe didn’t make itself, and you didn’t make yourself. You are dependent on the Universe for survival, and the Universe is dependent on….? Well, you don’t know for sure. You can’t know–nobody can.

    So it’s up to you what you want to believe. But I find the impersonal explanation to be very un-intelligent.

    If ultimate reality is personal, you must understand its purpose for creation.

    If ultimate reality is impersonal, then it doesn’t matter what you do, because you are a freak of nature: a personal creature in an impersonal world. You shouldn’t exist, and, eventually, you won’t. And nobody cares one way or the other. “Caring” is just an illusion: impersonal chemical reactions that evolved to help your survival, which itself is meaningless: just a curious tendency of your chemical makeup.

    There’s no reason to believe ultimate reality is impersonal, and if you do, you have no choice but to be a nihilist, because no other view is intellectually consistent. No wonder nobody gives a flying f*ck whether I’m in a cult or not. Your own lives have no meaning either. Let’s all pleasure ourselves any way we want, because nothing means anything.

    Is this a straw-man I’m setting up? Is there some way to construct meaning in a purely material world? If so, it has entirely escaped me.

  • tweeks

    When you say there’s no evidence for the atheist point of view, what you’re saying is that the question mark at the very beginning of these events leaves room for God. And yes, that’s technically true, but it rests on a misunderstanding: we can’t explain what happened yet. We’re working on it.

    “We’re working on it”?? I noticed when you said this before, I just didn’t respond at the time because I was busy with other ideas. But now I will reply: just how, exactly, do you plan to figure this out?

    What material evidence can anyone ever observe that will show how the material universe (or multi-verse or whatever you want to believe) came into existence? It’s like a character in a book suddenly realizing he’s in a book: you can’t do it. Your world is your world, you can never find out how it came to exist from observing its existence. Is this only obvious to me?

    For the record, I’m agnostic, not atheist. I also retain enough of my Catholic upbringing that I hope there’s a God and a heaven and that I get to go there.

    Sorry, I’ve been mostly talking to atheists I guess. But if you hope there is a God, then do something about it. Don’t just give up and say, “well, I guess I’ll never know…” If God wants you to know Him, trust me, you will know Him. And if God is hiding, we will never find Him.

    So why don’t you try and see if God is hiding or not? Ask Him to show Himself to you. If He wants you to know Him, He will make Himself clear. (Just make sure it’s really God you’re seeing and not something else…)

  • tweeks

    The important thing, in my opinion, is that an understanding be reached that neither viewpoint is evil, even if one must ultimately be incorrect.

    Only God would have the right to call atheism evil. All I can say is that it’s pointless, unnecessary, meaningless, and nihilistic.

    But I say that because it seems inescapable to me, and I don’t know why you don’t see that–or don’t see that as a problem? Please, somebody explain to me how you can face the world every morning when it doesn’t even matter whether you live or die? Who are you living for? What keeps you going? Perpetuating the human species? Please–our race has no more reason to exist than Pluto. And it is obvious that the universe is well beyond our control, and eventually some cosmic force will destroy us, or if we somehow manage to survive, the universe will die out as all the particles decay into nothingness. One way or another, we’re doomed.

    This is so obvious to me. Doesn’t it bother you? I want you to face this because it’s important. I don’t think this universe is all there is. I’m not smarter than you, I’m just willing to face the fact that life has no meaning apart from some kind of God, and there’s really no good reason not to believe God could be real, and may have made Himself known in the world in what would necessarily be supernatural ways.

    You can hold your view all your life if you want, it doesn’t hurt me at all. But if you’re wrong, you’ve basically wasted your life. If I’m wrong, it doesn’t matter anyway. :-P Yeah yeah, “Pascal’s Wager.” Well, what’s so smart about choosing to believe meaninglessness when meaning is equally likely? In fact, it’s more likely, because everybody knows living personhood doesn’t come about by “accident” (ask any AI researcher!).

    Don’t pretend you’re an accident when you’re obviously not. Deep down, you don’t even believe you are, do you? You think your life is important. You think it matters what you do. Why do you think that? You can’t just take pieces from the theistic worldview whenever it suits you. Either your life is meaningless and you have no reason to expect anything good from anyone (we’re all just trying to survive, after all), OR your life does have a meaning and it is rooted in something that transcends the material universe. Those are your options.

  • tweeks

    Either your life is meaningless and you have no reason to expect anything good from anyone (we’re all just trying to survive, after all), OR your life does have a meaning and it is rooted in something that transcends the material universe. Those are your options.

    Actually, it’s more specific than that: life has no meaning unless that transcendent reality is personal. “The force” from Star Wars doesn’t make life meaningful either. There has to be a personal Creator with a reason for Creating, and this personal Creator must be axiomatic, like the God in the Old Testament whose name is I AM.

    God IS. That’s his fundamental attribute: He just is. He didn’t come to be. He is fundamental reality.

    The alternative is that fundamental reality is not personal at all. In that case, personhood makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, and your powers of “reason” are just illusory: mere random chemical reactions that need not bare any relation to reality. Science has no basis for existing in such a worldview. You have no reason to expect the universe is orderly, or that you can ever know it truly.

  • tweeks

    The most insidious thing is that I couldn’t even call atheism “evil” if I wanted to, because, for the atheist, there is no such thing. There are only aritifically-constructed human frameworks of morality and ethics that can be overturned on a whim.

    I can’t call it “unreasonable” either, because there is no atheistic basis for “reason”: our brains are merely electro-chemical reactions, and “reason” is an emergent illusion.

    I can’t even say it’s nihilistic, because the word implies there was something there to be nullified in the first place. :-P

    Agnosticism is way more responsible than atheism. You can NOT be a decent, rational, purposeful human being AND be a consistent atheist. You just can’t.

    Many atheists here think the Bible is an evil book, which is pretty funny: you’re all gonna tell me that the God you don’t even think exists is evil, as though you even knew anything about it. It’s like me saying Barak Obama is evil because he hasn’t pulled out all our troops from overseas: your “understanding” is highly oversimplified. There is more going on then you care to look at or admit, because you don’t want to believe.

    I would want to believe in atheism too if I thought it explained who I am, but it is painfully obvious to me that it does not. One of us is deluding ourselves here. I know you don’t want to hear that, and I hate to have to tell you, but who else is going to? If I don’t tell you, you’ll just soldier on through life thinking you’re so much more clever than all those “religious” people, when your own beliefs have the least explanatory power of them all. Why do you think atheists are in the minority worldwide? Because they are smarter than everyone, or more foolish?

  • tweeks

    Left to their own devices, most people soon realize that the observable universe demands a supernatural cause (since it didn’t make itself), and it’s not a huge leap to assume that cause must be at least as highly “evolved” as man: having a mind, will, and emotions. Every child understands this intuitively.

    It takes lots of sophisticated arguments to try and cast doubt on this idea, but you can never disprove it entirely, only make it look foolish or somehow anti-intellectual. Well you atheist are the ones behaving foolishly by denying what is right before your eyes! (You agnostic readers are spared my rebuke here. All I ask of you is that you seek God; don’t give up so easily!)

    I wish there was something more I could do for the atheists here, but I’ve reached the bottom of my well and finally lost patience with your stubborn refusal to take your anti-God blinders off. There’s nothing unscientific about God; God is the basis for science. There nothing anti-intellectual about God; God is the foundation of reason and logic. A merely material world cannot explain our natures, which we all know are beyond the material. Everybody knows this, but some of you are apparently blind to that.

  • tweeks

    Perhaps the ones I ought to be talking to here are the agnostics, like JoshB. If you are humble enough to acknowledge there may be a God, but we cannot know Him, then surely you can accept the possibility that God may have, in fact, taken steps to make Himself known? Why would God create relational beings and then just leave them alone? Maybe that’s the way things are, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Isn’t it more reasonable to assume God created relational beings because He wants them to have relationship with Him?

  • JoshB

    Accounting Ninja said this a while back:

    Soon enough, these types show their true colors if you continue to refute them or stick to your guns. They are often just as exclusionary as others, once you have proven yourself a waste of their time. Deep down, they really DO think you are awful, immoral and in need of saving. The friendliness is a facade to get you to engage them.

    This thread has followed her prediction so perfectly that I can’t help but wonder…is tweeks really Ninja in disguise?

    Inquiring minds want to know!

  • tweeks

    Inquiring minds want to know!

    You don’t want to know–that’s the problem.

    You don’t want to know God, and I do. From your perspective, I’m just making up reasons to believe. From my perspective, you’re just making up reasons not to believe.

    If there’s no God, it doesn’t matter what we believe: we’re all screwed. If there is a God, it matters very much, but you’re still screwed either way, because you’ve chosen to destroy yourself. Why don’t you see this? What seems so noble to you about atheism or even agnosticism? It’s basically intellectual suicide. You’ve used your reason to defeat reason. You’ve used science to make science impossible. Why are you doing this?

  • tweeks

    It’s interesting that both sides of this perennial debate accuse the other of anti-intellectualism. In other words, “there’s something mentally wrong with you if you don’t get what I’m saying here!”

    It’s as though one set of people saw one thing that was totally obvious to them, and the other set of people didn’t see it, and have no idea what the “seers” are talking about.

    This is why Jesus’ “blindness” analogy describes the situation so perfectly. Apparently, theists just see something atheists do not, and that’s why no resolution can ever be reached. It’s nobody’s fault, really, it’s just the way the world is.

    Well, it’s the way I think it is, anyway. :-) I can absorb your view into my own, and love and accept you in spite of your spiritual blindness. Can you do the same for me? On what basis do you “tolerate” me calling you blind? Is it the same way you would tolerate someone with mental illness? Do you care for them because they are human beings, even if they are “damaged”? Religious tolerance is very topical these days.

    Obviously to remain an atheist, it is necessary to secretly believe that religious people are nutty or misled or intentionally deceptive (depending on whether they actually know they’re wrong or not). As a Christian, I can accept Jesus’ explanation that atheists are (willfully) blind to spiritual reality. This doesn’t make them evil from my perspective, just blinded by forces beyond their control (forces that are driving their stubborn willfulness). But if atheists ruled the world, it seems like one sensible solution to the “problem” of religious people would be to simply exterminate them, since they are interfereing with attempts to create a utopian, humanistic society. Am I wrong?

    This is why I fear an atheist majority. :-( I want to believe atheists would benevolently tolerate all world views as legit and all people as valuable, but I don’t see any reason within atheism itself for concluding that, while Jesus is very clear that we must love our enemies, and He reserves the right to judge. And before you come back and say, “but the Old Testament says to stone homosexuals, etc.!”, let’s keep it simple by pretending I’m an Old Testament-denying Christian, since you haven’t studied enough to realize that the Mosaic Law was for the ancient theocratic state of Israel and not for today.

  • tweeks

    Let me summarize for those who are experiencing “tldr” syndrome. :-)

    My view says that some people can “see” God, and others cannot. It’s not their fault exactly, they’ve been “blinded” by forces beyond their control. This allows me to love and tolerate them.

    What basis do atheists have for tolerance? I guess you can always say religious people are “blinded” to atheism by genetic defect or poor parenting or cultist influence or something else outside their control. But you don’t have to say that, do you? You could decide they are intentionally trying to mislead people (sometimes true, but not always!). This would lead to some rather negative consequences. :-(

    So perhaps it is necessary, whatever you believe, to assume that the other side is sincerely believing what they “see”, and they may see more (or less) than you see. Seeing people don’t persecute blind people (or even the “vision impaired”), do they? They feel sorry for them. But spiritual matters are trickier, because it’s obvious when someone’s physical eyes aren’t working, but not so obvious when their spiritual eyes aren’t working!

  • tweeks

    If you’re blind to God, you don’t know you’re blind, and (as was concisely summarized in Avatar), “no one can help you see.” All I can do is put Jesus in front of you, and you’ll either see him, or you won’t.

    Assuming I’ve presented Jesus halfway accurately, then most people here just don’t see Him. Well, that’s fine. I’ll just move on to somebody else who may be able to see! It’s not my fault you can’t see, and (from your perspective) it’s not your fault either. No hard feelings, right? :-D

  • tweeks

    From the atheist perspective, I’ve behaved as an insensitive jerk for chastising you for not believing something you honestly view as unbelievable.

    From the Christian perspective, I’m also an insensitive jerk, because it’s not up to me to judge you for not seeing. This is very clear to me now.

    So sorry everybody for being insensitive. I had an inflated view of my own powers of persuasion, but the intelligent non-theists here have thoroughly humbled me. :-) Never again will I try to force someone to see something they are spiritually blind to.

  • Bluejay

    tweeks! Good News!

    YOU’VE CONVINCED ME!!!

    Yes! Rejoice! I’ve seen the light! And it was this statement of yours that did it:

    [Humanist values are] all just opinions, just human ideas, subject to change and revision. As Tyson himself said, “we’re constantly on the border of discovery.” One day we may “discover” that some people don’t have rights after all, or some people have rights others don’t. Who’s to say which way is best? Only the Personal First Cause of the Universe (if indeed it is personal) can determine good and evil in any absolute sense. Any other basis for morality you can concoct is defeated by a simple, “oh yeah? Says who?”

    Yes! Yes, yes, yes! It’s absolutely clear to me now, and I don’t know why I haven’t seen it before: in order to make sense, morality must be fixed and unchanging, which means that it must come from a divine source. Without faith, then what’s right and wrong is just a game of “Says Who?”–a contest of who can shout louder. But by embracing faith, then we know with certainty that our morals come from one Source, one Holy Voice, one Sacred Book, one unchanging and everlasting God.

    Which is why, here and now, I renounce my atheism. I bare my soul before the Creator of the Universe, and, following the wise words of my good and patient brother tweeks, I embrace with all my heart the One True Faith as it is perfectly expressed in the Holy Text, which was revealed by the Almighty One to his chosen one, the man who is the conduit between the mortal and the eternal:

    The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.

    Yes, my friends, I am converting to Islam! It is clear that Islam is the absolute truth, for as my brother tweeks has said, what is written in the holy scriptures must be trusted as revealed truth from the Almighty. And the Qur’an is clearly the vessel of this truth, for is it not written in the Qur’an: “Today, I have perfected your religion for you; I have completed My blessing upon you; I have approved Islam for your religion”? And is the Qur’an not an accurate expression of God’s will, as it was revealed to Muhammad (peace be upon him) through the Angel Gabriel from the year 610 until the holy prophet’s death? And was Muhammad (peace be upon him) not a historical figure, a bona fide historically documented religious, political, and military leader who restored his people to the One True Faith, the man closest to perfection and the possessor of all virtues?

    No, my friends, you cannot convince me otherwise. Islam is the One True Faith, and Muhammad (peace be upon him) is its prophet, and the Word of Allah is the Law of the Universe. I thank tweeks for showing me the error of my ways.

    And now, with tweeks’ permission, I wish to direct this post to MaryAnn.

    MaryAnn, although you are a passable writer, you must clearly renounce your profession and submit to the will of a man. For as Allah says in the Holy Book, “Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded” (4:34). Furthermore, the reason you are having financial difficulties is because, being a woman, you simply do not have a head for business: “the feeble among men, and the women, and the children… are unable to devise a plan” (4:98). So repent, MaryAnn, give yourself over to a strong and wise man, and do as the Holy Book says.

    And don’t even think about objecting to Allah’s commands! Allah is your Creator; he owns you; without Him, you are nothing. As tweeks says:

    …this is God’s universe, He can do whatever he wants with it, and nobody has the right to tell him that what he’s doing is wrong. That’s what it means to be God.

    And so, you must carry out, exactly and to the letter, everything that the Qur’an says, because it is the Word of Him who owns you. As my brother tweeks himself has pointed out, you cannot just “pick and choose the pieces…that strike your fancy,” for then you are:

    just [like] a rebellious child [who] will pick and choose which of their parents’ “teachings” they want to obey.

    But Allah is a parent that you can never outgrow, and so you must always listen to Him!

    And if you object, O FlickFilosopher readers? If you think there is any other path to the truth but through Islam? Well, then, I’m afraid you are doomed. For “whoso seeketh as religion other than Surrender to Allah (Islam)… will be a loser in the Hereafter” (3:85). Which is why, brother tweeks, I must turn to you now, and try to convince you to see the light; for you are already on the path of belief, but it is not really the right path, not the perfect path; you have been deceived by infidels, O my brother, and the Qur’an clearly commands us “believe not, save in one who followeth our religion” (3:73).

    If you persist in your inferior Christianity, however, I am afraid that we must part ways here. For Allah has set Muslims apart as His chosen people, and if you are not among us, then you are evil: “Ye are the best community that hath been raised up for mankind. Ye enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency; and ye believe in Allah. And if the People of the Scripture had believed it had been better for them. Some of them are believers; but most of them are evil-livers” (3:110). If you persist in this foolishness, you are a sad hypocrite: “And when it is said unto them: Come unto that which Allah hath revealed and unto the messenger, thou seest the hypocrites turn from thee with aversion” (4:61). And if you insist on spreading the falsehood that the prophet Jesus was divine, then the Fire will be your destination: “They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary … Lo! whoso ascribeth partners unto Allah, for him Allah hath forbidden paradise. His abode is the Fire. For evil-doers there will be no helpers” (5:72). Jesus was human, brother tweeks, and nothing more: “The Messiah, son of Mary, was no other than a messenger, messengers (the like of whom) had passed away before him” (5:75). And so how can you deny this? How can you reject what is clearly stated in the Revealed Word of the Creator? If you do this, you are perverse: “the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah … Allah (Himself) fighteth against them. How perverse are they!” (9:30).

    Repent now, brother tweeks. Renounce your ways, MaryAnn. Join me in the Truth. Join me in the Light.

    Salaam.

  • tweeks

    ROFL! That was great. :-)

    I could do the same over-the-top “conversion” post about me becoming an atheist, but it wouldn’t be as funny as yours, because of course most people here think it’s true, so they would not see the humor in my sarcasm. (It would perhaps seem funny on a theist message board, though.)

    But you have helped me to see what you find so ridiculous about religion: the supernatural authority aspect. It doesn’t matter what religion it is, you simply cannot accept the existence of someone you cannot see. It just doesn’t make sense to you.

    For me, it’s the opposite: I cannot accept that what we see is all there is, and no amount of intellectual argumentation can ever convince me. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

    That’s why it’s about what we “see”. I see myself living in a natural bubble that’s floating within some supernatural reality. You see yourself in a natural bubble floating within… well, I’m not sure what you think is outside. Maybe you don’t really care? Anyway, it doesn’t matter.

    The point is, we honestly see reality completely differently, and it totally shapes our thinking, so that’s why intellectual argumentation is impossible: there is no common ground. I might as well be arguing with a blind person about the glory of the stars: you just don’t see them, and you can’t even imagine what I’m talking about. Blind people don’t understand why they need light, which is why Jesus, “the light of the world,” makes no sense to you whatsoever. But it’s not your fault you’re blind: you have been blinded by forces beyond your control.

    From your point of view, I am equally blind in my devotion to the person of God. I don’t know how you will choose to explain my beliefs. Maybe you will say I’m trying to trick people into joining my group. Or maybe you will say I’m brain-damaged or just crazy. It doesn’t matter, really. In the end, it is what it is.

  • Bluejay

    But I was being serious, brother tweeks. Why do you reject the truth as revealed through the Qur’an? What makes you think your Gospels are better? For did not the Creator himself say, in the Qur’an: “Nothing of our revelation (even a single verse) do we abrogate or cause be forgotten, but we bring (in place) one better” (2:106)? The Qur’an is God’s perfected Word, friend tweeks, because He said so Himself. You are simply choosing not to believe in Him. It is so sad to see you so spiritually blind; all I can do is reveal the perfect beauty of Allah to you, but I cannot, alas, make you accept Him. I know I am an imperfect messenger, but still I am compelled to do this. For the Qur’an itself compels me not to hide its truth: “Lo! those who hide aught of the Scripture which Allah hath revealed and purchase a small gain therewith, they eat into their bellies nothing else than fire” (2:174).

    It is up to you to choose the salvation of Islam, tweeks. I cannot choose your path for you. If you reject this, then I’m afraid you’re trapped in your own logic, the flawed circular logic of your obsolete texts, and you refuse to see the truth even though the evidence of it is all around you. But maybe you cannot help it, for it is just as the Qur’an itself says: “The likeness of those who disbelieve (in Islam) is as the likeness of one who calleth unto that which heareth naught except a shout and cry. Deaf, dumb, blind, therefore they have no sense” (2:171).

    Salaam, my friend. I wish you well in your journey toward absolute goodness.

  • Muzz

    I’m serious, if you really think I’ve been deluded by an evil cult, why aren’t you trying to rescue me? Does nobody give a crap what happens to me? If you can show that Jesus never lived, or that He wasn’t God, then do it! If you can show that God can’t exist, then please do so. Save me from myself!

    There’s an adage that goes nicely with this: You can’t reason anyone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into.
    I know perfectly well that the first tennent of all religious faith is strength of faith. The entire aparatus is designed to get stronger the harder you hit it. The more evidence or lack thereof you throw at a really determined believer, the more effort they put into believing. All people can do is point to the cracks and hope someone is intellectually honest enough to do the rest. If they truly seek knowledge of themselves and people their honesty of their own doubts and potential for doubt does the job (as in work, not the guy you get told to think/read about when faith seems pointless). It’s that possibility you must conceid to if you are to be as humble as your faith insists you be: that everything you know and ever knew about god in your own experience could be wrong.

    Left to their own devices, most people soon realize that the observable universe demands a supernatural cause (since it didn’t make itself), and it’s not a huge leap to assume that cause must be at least as highly “evolved” as man: having a mind, will, and emotions. Every child understands this intuitively.

    Presumption soup: most people? I wager they haven’t put that much thought into it. Why couldn’t the observable universe ‘make itself’? You said before we don’t know. Not knowing isn’t a faulty state, it just means ya don’t know. So there’s no demand made by existence for a creator.
    If there were, why would it be highly evolved? How anthropomorphic of you. The sun fuses together one substance into another with no will of its own we can discern. Your childhood understanding reference is telling: I would dispute that every child understands creation intuitively, but I would agree that every child when brought into such thinking would use people as a reference for such concepts. We’re our favourite subject and our method for understanding things in general.

    Your reams about meaninglessness and amorality in atheism merely show further presupposition. We’re here now, discussing god in terms of some external force prior to the big bang. How long do you think he has been discussed so? Sure you can go back and find guys talking about the beginnings and prime movers and so on, but it was never this specific. To say that would be to ignore all we (people) had to know to get here. In the mean time god has moved so wildly from place to place, just outside the realm of our knowledge where ever that limit happened to be at the time. At the same time so many laws came and went, supposedly god given, so many abhorent human behaviours selectively justified by readings of the word. Apologists blame that on willful humanity: he’s fine, we’re just still figuring him out (neatly excluding the act of apologism from such errors, usually). The god of history is fluid, wherever humanity needed him to be, right or wrong. The only real conclusion I can get from this, if I’m being honest, is that morality is relative and has been functionally so in all history regardless of any god. Socially and culturally relative morality isn’t amorality and meaninglessness though. What really comes through is, despite all the horrors and atrocities, prejudice genocide etc is that the majority of people seem to have lived fairly civily and peacefully and took care of each other in whatever context they found themselves in. And they did it with such a variety of minds, with so many creeds and beliefs, so many different versions of the history of the world and gods and so on in their heads. So many different things that drove people, some of them fears and gods and situations and so on, so many explanations and still managing to be good, or bad.
    After a point you can’t honsestly take your judeo christian history as being in any way special. The endless redefinition of god so you don’t have to step outside the concept and consider it otherwise can’t really go on any longer, not in the face of our knowledge of things and ourselves as accumulated over the millenia. The evidence for his existence is as thin as it gets. The evidence for his necessity is nonexistent in the face of this human history. The circuitous psychological calisthenics of maintaining belief become just that and those processor cycles can be put to better use elsewhere.
    You can say that none of this excludes the possibility of a god behind everything, or removes the sense that many people have of there being -something- and in the abstract that’s true. But why give so much to a notion with no more power than any other god(s) or myth, fable, story, ideal etc? What god is to people is interesting, whether god is at all isn’t so interesting really.

    From there you can carry on with life as normal. Disappointingly the ground doesn’t open up and swallow people, you don’t want to kill yourself or everyone else from the meaninglessness of it all (well maybe now and then, but mostly quite the contrary). It’s almost more frustrating that you demonstrate being a moral, social thing made for living and coping with living at every turn instead of your apocalyptic internal dramas manifesting in reality.

    For a snarky version on some of that see Christopher Hitchens:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLxQcUJHzeE

    (I’m sure most of this has been covered already, but I’m just going to throw my version in terribly late if no one minds)

  • tweeks

    But I was being serious, brother tweeks. Why do you reject the truth as revealed through the Qur’an? What makes you think your Gospels are better? For did not the Creator himself say, in the Qur’an: “Nothing of our revelation (even a single verse) do we abrogate or cause be forgotten, but we bring (in place) one better” (2:106)?

    <Jack Sparrow>I deserved that.</Jack Sparrow>

    Honestly, I’ve never even studied the Qu’ran: I stopped at Jesus. In my mind, there’s no way He’s not God. It seems so obvious to me, but clearly it’s not to most.

    You can’t reason anyone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into.

    Exactly, which is why atheists can never be talked out of their atheism. That’s just the way they see the world: Man on top of the world, God out of the picture. It’s not ultimately based on reason, though many reasons can be produced when required.

    Why couldn’t the observable universe ‘make itself’?

    Have you frequently observed things popping into existence all on their own?

    So there’s no demand made by existence for a creator. If there were, why would it be highly evolved? How anthropomorphic of you. The sun fuses together one substance into another with no will of its own we can discern.

    The sun doesn’t make people.

    The only real conclusion I can get from this, if I’m being honest, is that morality is relative and has been functionally so in all history regardless of any god.

    Just because people frequently failed to do right doesn’t mean there is no right.

    After a point you can’t honsestly take your judeo christian history as being in any way special.

    Israel still thinks they’re special (and rightly so). And Christ is very special to me.

    The endless redefinition of god so you don’t have to step outside the concept and consider it otherwise can’t really go on any longer, not in the face of our knowledge of things and ourselves as accumulated over the millenia.

    Progressive revelation is not the same as redefinition.

    The evidence for his existence is as thin as it gets

    From my perspective, it’s the evidence for “no God” that is sorely lacking.

    But why give so much to a notion with no more power than any other god(s) or myth, fable, story, ideal etc?

    Why ignore your own longing for eternity and desire for unconditional love and fellowship with ultimate reality?

    Again, we don’t see the same world. We live in the same world, but we don’t see it the same way. It’s a matter of the heart: what we desire. Muslims see Allah as irresistibly desirable. Christians see Jesus the same way. And atheists are enthralled with the power of their own intellect, apparently. Their all-powerful human reason, that triumphs over all the forces of nature and overthrows even God himself. It’s nothing new: people have been trying to overthrow God since Babel.

  • tweeks

    Here’s an analogy that will offend nearly everyone: religious people are like homosexuals. They can’t help who they’re attracted to, can they? If they’re attracted to God, we must love and accept them. (Maybe I should form a grassroots organization for theophiles?)

    In the same way, atheists love their big atheist brains that can see so much further than the unwashed and unenlightened masses that are still trapped in obsolete systems of “religious” thought. Never mind that they are just as zealous in their worship of themselves as religious people are in their worship of their gods.

  • Victor Plenty

    Tweeks, you get more arrogant with every post. Thanks for confirming that I made the right decision in giving up all hope of ever having a real conversation with you.

  • tweeks

    Tweeks, you get more arrogant with every post. Thanks for confirming that I made the right decision in giving up all hope of ever having a real conversation with you.

    It’s clear to me now that we can never “come to terms,” because our affections are at odds: To exalt God is to diminish human reason, and to exalt human reason is to diminish God.

    This is why atheists think theists are illogical: God is opposed to human reason when mis-used to justify rebellious unbelief.

    And this is why theists think atheists are hopelessly arrogant: they act like their knowledge of the creation proves there is no God, when they can never know that.

  • tweeks

    If your god is your own reason, than any attack against it is blasphemous. God is beyond our reason and understanding, which is why He’s so offensive to atheists–any transcendent God is a grave threat to the supremacy of man’s reason. Atheists try to set up a conflict between God and science, but science and God are not in conflict at all. It’s man and God who are in conflict, fighting for control of the world.

    Never mind the differences between the theistic religions; these are trivial compared to the self-exaltation and self-worship of the Church of Man compared to any other spiritual persuasion.

  • tweeks

    Just because you don’t think of yourself as a religious person doesn’t mean you aren’t one. Like I said, everybody worships something. If you don’t worship the god of an established religion, then you’re worshipping yourself. You are your own god; praised be your name.

    Nietzsche was right: for the secularist, “God is dead.” Not that He’s really dead, we’ve just decided to kill Him off. This is why Christ was crucified. This is why religious people are secretly (or maybe not-so-secretly) despised by atheists, though most try to hide their disdain in public so as not to appear petty.

    In the safer environment here, it all comes out. I view atheists as arrogant, and they see me the same way. Is this surprising? It’s a symptom of the great cosmic conflict: God versus Human Independence. Usurpers versus rightful King.

    If the atheists win, man will ascend to take God’s place as King of the universe. If God wins, man will be put back in his place! Can anyone really blame me for choosing to side with God? :-)

  • Muzz

    Exactly, which is why atheists can never be talked out of their atheism. That’s just the way they see the world: Man on top of the world, God out of the picture. It’s not ultimately based on reason, though many reasons can be produced when required.

    And if you think this doesn’t apply at least equally to yourself, your self honesty and humilty is less than nothing.
    (I think I’ve figured out why the religious need god; only the existence of a supreme being can temper the arrogance neccessary to believe you can communicate with the supernatural and still call yourself humble)

    Have you frequently observed things popping into existence all on their own?

    The sun doesn’t make people.

    Just because people frequently failed to do right doesn’t mean there is no right.

    I admit I’m not the most erudite on these matters but you could at least try to understand what I’m saying instead of mischaracterising it so you can dismiss it.

    Do you understand anything of cosmology or astronomy? We don’t know what existed before the big bang, since it would not be existence as we understand it now. So ‘popping into existence” doesn’t apply.
    2) the sun doesn’t make people, no. Neither did the big bang, or any single process we can name. Have you been a creationist all this time and I didn’t notice? I wouldn’t bother with you in that case.
    3) who said there is no right? Wasn’t me. Just said there was no absolute right, which is very far from the same thing.

    Progressive revelation is not the same as redefinition.

    And thanks for redefining redefinition for me, in case people didn’t get my point. Very illustrative.

    Why ignore your own longing for eternity and desire for unconditional love and fellowship with ultimate reality?

    I confess I wouldn’t mind living forever sometimes. The rest doesn’t make the slightest sense. I wouldn’t want unconditional love with anything that wasn’t another human being. And I don’t even know what ‘fellowship with ultimate reality’ is.
    Moslty, I don’t really know what any of that has to do with whether or not there’s a god or whether or not belief in god grants anything other than the same moral relativism we’ve always had.

  • tweeks

    Sorry, Muzz, everything you’re saying is totally reasonable, but I’m not going to argue with anyone here any more, because I realize we just don’t love the same things!

    I love the idea of a God who’s smarter than Man, who overturns human pride and arrogance whenever He likes (including my own).

    You don’t like that idea. I’m not going to judge you for feeling that way, it’s only natural for you. You have lots of reasons to justify your affections, but ultimately, I think this whole debate is more about what we want to be true than what is, in fact, true. That’s why these discussions never go anywhere. You can’t talk someone out of what they love! That’s just who they are.

    I’m not sure you will agree to this premise. You might still harbor the view that religious people are all secretly arrogant idiots. I might harbor the same view about you, but it’s not helpful, so I’m discarding it. Instead, I will say that you love human reason (and why not? You’re really smart!), and I love logic and reason too–I just love God more.

    To continue what I was saying above, the reason both sides (religious people and secularists) think the other is arrogant is easy to see: both view the other as presumptuously pledging allegiance to the “wrong” side, the wicked side, the “evil” side. God says Man is evil, and Man says God is evil. Who’s right?

    This is the fundamental conflict of the universe. There’s no point in people killing each other over it; it’s up to God to resolve it, obviously, since Man can never successfully defeat God, even if every believer is dead. And likewise, God can defeat Man whenever He likes, and the faithful need only wait for that moment of final judgement. No reason to go all terrorist and blow people up (if you’re a Christian, Jesus will be very displeased if you do that.)

    This is why life can go on, and we can all live together in peace and harmony (more or less). :-)

  • tweeks

    So this is why everyone here is right. :-) We all have totally legit reasons for loving what we love, and we all naturally feel justified in perceiving people who don’t love what we love as arrogant when they claim to have rational reasons for their objections.

    One way to get some fruit from this otherwise fruitless discussion would be to change the topic into “how love transforms us.” When we fall in love, the world looks wonderful. When we get dumped, the world sucks. Everybody here has probably experienced this to some degree.

    Falling in love with a person is similar to falling in love with a belief system. Atheism entails love of Man’s autonomous reason, and all our great human potential that flows from it. Nobody hates their own reason or human potential, some people just love God more than they love their own intellectual autonomy. You may feel those people are foolish to trust in some God they can’t even completely comprehend. But this is part of God’s allure for the faithful (not being too specific about any particular faith): He’s so mysterious, yet so near to every one of us.

    It’s okay to love your human powers of reason, and it’s okay to love God too. It’s not okay to do what I did here, and say people who don’t love what I love are somehow mentally or morally deficient. Even if my religious text teaches that, it’s not a helpful thing to assert. (And as secularists, even if your secular texts teach that religious people are foolish or evil, it’s not helpful to say that either!)

    We all love what we love, and reason has little to do with it. Our minds are slaves to our hearts: whatever we desire, our minds will find reasons to justify. But I suppose even this idea will be offensive to some, since it seems to compromise human objectivity. Well, yeah: I’m afraid there is no such thing as human objectivity. We all love some things and despise others, there’s no getting around it. The most objective we can be about something is when we don’t care one way or the other. I can be objective about interior decorating, because I don’t care what my room looks like. But I can’t be objective about programming languages, say, because I’m very passionate about certain features. It’s all my personal opinion though: every language has its merits.

  • tweeks

    I could even go so far as to say that our idea of “good” and “bad” is strongly connected to our desires. If I really want X, then X is very good. Homosexuals want sex with their own gender, so for them, that’s good. Religious people want fellowship with God, so for them, God is good. Humanists love their powers of reason, so for them, rationalism is good.

    Homosexuals naturally view any threat to their desire for homosexual sex as evil. Religious people naturally view any threat to their view of God as evil. And Humanists naturally view any threat to man’s reason (like God’s superior reason) as evil.

    This seems to explain everything I’ve seen in peoples’ behavior here and elsewhere, including my own. The “good” and “evil” idea is heavily influenced by what we want. It’s just the way we are. I’m not saying people don’t have a conscience that tells them right and wrong apart from their desires (I argued for that earlier in this thread). I’m just saying that, for the most part, our “religion” is simply whatever we want.

    I suspect people who love their own reason aren’t going to like this idea because it compromises your reasons’ independence. I’m basically saying your reason is a prisoner to your heart’s desires, and if you love your autonomous, “objective” reason, you will see this idea as “evil” too, even though it’s not religious per se (though it is consistent with the Bible’s teachings on human behavior).

  • tweeks

    But this is why my arguments about “moral relativism” missed the mark. Morality is all about what you value, and what you value is all about what you desire.

    That’s why bad people are bad: they love doing bad things. If they didn’t love doing bad things, they wouldn’t really be bad, would they?

    But “good” and “bad” are our own subjective judgements. The only way there can be some absolute morality is if there is an absolute Being with desires! It’s very clear to me now: “good” and “bad” for God mean the same thing they do for us: whatever God wants is good. Whatever God doesn’t want is “evil,” even if He chooses to permit it for a time. God defines good and evil simply by existing, by being who He is: absolute.

    To say “God is good” does mean something though: God keeps his promises, for one thing. If God says He’s gonna do something, He does it. This is an important theme in the Old Testament. God may commit a genocide or two now and then, but that’s okay for Him, because Man is His to do with as He likes. The point isn’t that God always does what people want Him to (in fact, He frequently goes out of His way to show He’s free to do as He likes); the point is whether God does what He says He’s gonna do, and how He treats His subjects–those who are faithful to Him. God never turns His back on people who trust Him. Never. God is faithful to His own: the people in which He has placed a desire for Him.

  • Muzz

    Ok tweeks dude, if you’re going to come over all magnanimous and be sincere about it you’re going to have to at least acknowledge what is being said to you, rather than rephrase it every time into a version you seem to prefer.

    You may have taken what people are saying on board, but from what you write that’s not at all obvious. There’s not enough straw in the world to physically construct the atheist you described (in several consecutive stream of consciousness posts) a few posts back.
    (The removal of god by reason makes reason god? And somehow blasphemy still applies then. I don’t even know where to begin.)

    You may love the idea of a god who is smarter than man, but the atheist position is not simply one of disliking that idea. That’s not what I said, or anyone else as far as I can see (there are some atheists who wish there was a god to beleive in, but they cannot beause there isn’t one)

    I agree completely that these debates are frequently non starters thanks to the various realities the people inhabit and this is a problem (and no doubt what is occuring here). But that’s nothing like merely opposing your position seemingly out of spite towards a superior god or the church or whatever. Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn’t. But you can’t ascribe it to every atheist position, not if you value any intellectual rigour anyway.

    And it’s not “religious people” who are being called arrogant here, it’s you mostly. But that’s by the by.

    As impossible as it might seem you do have to accept that atheists are not arguing against believing in god because they love reason. It’s that there isn’t one, full stop (and they’re quite aware of the flaws in human knowledge and reason, it’s one of the best -reasons- to be highly suspicious of religious faith and ancient texts as proof of god’s existence)

    No god. None. You will, of course find a need to explain that away as that’s impossible to you, as per the aforementioned intractables. Just don’t do it out loud quite so much.

    There’s no reason to blow each other up. Struggling to concieve of other’s world views (instead of merely translating them into your own) is part of that.

    (hmm I probably sound arrogant now. Eh, whatareya gonna do)

  • tweeks

    Ok tweeks dude, if you’re going to come over all magnanimous and be sincere about it you’re going to have to at least acknowledge what is being said to you, rather than rephrase it every time into a version you seem to prefer.

    lol sorry, you’re right, of course. I’m just thinking out loud, showing how I’m processing what’s happening here in light of my beliefs. It’s not meant to be a commentary on what other people here have said, so much as an attempt to reconcile my theology with what I think is happening here. I don’t expect anybody to believe it–not even other Christians.

    But that’s rather rude of me to do that, since you’re trying to tell me something serious, and I’m not really paying attention to you, so I apologize!

    There’s not enough straw in the world to physically construct the atheist you described (in several consecutive stream of consciousness posts) a few posts back.
    (The removal of god by reason makes reason god? And somehow blasphemy still applies then. I don’t even know where to begin.)

    Sorry, that was how I understand the behavior of atheists in my God-centric world view. It’s not going to make any sense in your view, of course, since you’re not trying to be God-centric. On the contrary, you are man-centric, so you see the supremacy of human reason as a good thing, and that’s just fine. Carry on! Don’t mind me…

    You may love the idea of a god who is smarter than man, but the atheist position is not simply one of disliking that idea. That’s not what I said, or anyone else as far as I can see (there are some atheists who wish there was a god to beleive in, but they cannot beause there isn’t one)

    Woah, really? That’s very interesting! Why isn’t there a god they can believe in, I wonder? Because none of the religions describe the god they want to believe in? Because their reason will not allow them to accept enough religious “non-sense” to finally believe? I’d like to know what they say the reason is, from their perspective.

    I agree completely that these debates are frequently non starters thanks to the various realities the people inhabit and this is a problem (and no doubt what is occuring here). But that’s nothing like merely opposing your position seemingly out of spite towards a superior god or the church or whatever. Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn’t. But you can’t ascribe it to every atheist position, not if you value any intellectual rigour anyway.

    Yeah, I was just describing my personal understanding of this issue from my religious perspective. Atheists, of course, won’t see themselves this way. For them, it’s natural to use their reason to disprove/discount/dismiss God, and they may not feel any ill-will towards Him per se; they’re just gently brushing aside an obstacle to what they truly desire: the supremacy of human reason.

    And it’s not “religious people” who are being called arrogant here, it’s you mostly.

    True, not all religious people are as offensive as I am. (Maybe most aren’t?)

    As impossible as it might seem you do have to accept that atheists are not arguing against believing in god because they love reason. It’s that there isn’t one, full stop (and they’re quite aware of the flaws in human knowledge and reason, it’s one of the best -reasons- to be highly suspicious of religious faith and ancient texts as proof of god’s existence)

    But how do they know that? Because of reason, right? They figured it out! They’ve uncovered the truth. That’s wonderful, isn’t it? What’s wrong with that?

    No god. None. You will, of course find a need to explain that away as that’s impossible to you, as per the aforementioned intractables. Just don’t do it out loud quite so much.

    Sorry, I’ll quit thinking out loud here. :-)

    There’s no reason to blow each other up. Struggling to concieve of other’s world views (instead of merely translating them into your own) is part of that.

    I can’t stop loving God any more than homosexuals can stop loving hot gay sex. It’s just the way I am! My mind will continue manufacturing reasons to believe, because I want to believe. I will admit that now. :-) It’s totally desire-driven. There are intellectual justifications for my desires, it’s not as crazy as wanting to believe in Santa Clause when you’re 40 years old (though you might think it is!). But I dare not list those intellectual justifications, because that will appear to be an attack on your power of reason, since to say I have reasons for believing is almost like saying your reasoning for not believing is flawed, and that’s not going to make either of us happy in the end.

    (hmm I probably sound arrogant now. Eh, whatareya gonna do)

    You sound reasonable to me. :-)

  • Victor Plenty

    Tweeks, you write:

    that’s rather rude of me to do that, since you’re trying to tell me something serious, and I’m not really paying attention to you

    This is the most accurate thing you’ve said in days.

  • tweeks

    This is the most accurate thing you’ve said in days.

    No wonder people have been so annoyed at me: I’ve pretty much been talking to myself this whole time! Wow, I really am a jerk! :-o

    But you folks have seriously helped me out by giving me this sounding board. You probably don’t appreciate being used like that, and I can’t really blame you. I honestly didn’t realize I was doing it at the time, that’s how clueless I am!

    I see now that my religious beliefs are irrational. They really are! They’re based on belief in a God I cannot even prove, who frequently does dangerous and scary things in the world, and who demands I submit even my own reason to Him. And I love Him to bits. :-)

    The “logic” of God is foolishness to man. The Bible even says so!

    we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles… For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:23, 25)

    This is what Proverbs means when it says, “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”: for the Bible to “make sense” to you, you have to already have a submissive attitude towards God. You can’t walk up to it and be like, “hmm, I wonder if I should believe in this God…?” No no no, that’s never gonna work. You have to say, “God is my King, and I am His creature. Tell me, Bible, what is God like?” That’s more like the attitude you have to have.

    To everybody here, this sounds really dumb. Really, really dumb. And that’s natural for you to say that. :-) If there is no God, it is really dumb. And I don’t even know with empirical certainty, I just long for God, so I believe. It’s nutty!

    But what can I say, it’s worked for me so far. :-) I’ve trusted God, and He’s never let me down yet! Of course, my faith is such that even if God does something I don’t like to me, I take that as His just discipline. If God afflicts me with cancer, I believe it’s for my good: to deepen my faith, and to give me a chance to show others that death is nothing to fear if you trust the Lord.

    This surely sounds totally insane to all of you. I felt this tension within myself, because I could see both sides of the issue! I saw that I trusted God absolutely, like a little child trusts his Father. But I also saw that this looks totally stupid to intelligent people like you folks. How do I reconcile this??

    Well, I think the correct answer is not to. It is foolish, but only if there is no God. If there is a God, it’s wonderful! This is the goal of my life: to glorify God by living very foolishly. :-) This is similar in spirit to Jesus giving His life on the cross to save sinners: I’m giving up my life to show God is worth trusting. Maybe people will just think I’m crazy, but I don’t care. I can’t not do this, because I want it too strongly. For me, it is no burden, but a joy.

  • tweeks

    Everything Bluejay said was right: Christian faith is a leap in the dark. You’re jumping off the roof, and trusting God to catch you.

    And everyone who said it’s irrational was also right–unless God is real! But I don’t know that. I have chosen to believe it, not so much because it is my only option, but because I want to believe. I want God to be real, and I’m eager to take big risks of faith to find out if He is.

    But not so eager about everything. I’m very proud of my reasoning skills, as you’ve all noticed! Too proud, really. That’s why God brought me here: to humble me, and get me to quit pretending like my trust in God is somehow making me look clever. It doesn’t–God makes sure it doesn’t. God’s goal is to get all the credit for everything I do, and by God, He will have it!

    Everything I am, everything I do, is all by the mercy of God. And now I know even my faith itself is by God’s mercy alone. I’m not clever–I’m a fool. I’m not brave–I’m a coward. I’m nothing–God is everything.

    But this is just my view. :-) I don’t expect anybody else here to jump off a roof with me to see if God catches us! That’s crazy. You could call it self-destructive, or even suicidal. Well, if there is no God, it certainly is. But if there is a God, then He’ll catch me. And the chance to be caught by God means more to me than anything else life has to offer.

    I don’t blame Bluejay at all for not wanting to join me! He’s smart to be careful with his life. MaryAnn is also smart to say Jesus is like Frodo, because the point is that I don’t know He’s real–not for sure. But if He’s not real, I don’t even want to live. I don’t know what you all live for, and to be honest, before I loved God, I’m not sure what I lived for either. But now I know: I live to make God look good. It doesn’t matter how stupid or crazy or irresponsible that makes me look. I am nothing–God is everything, and I love Him more than life itself.

  • tweeks

    I don’t expect anybody else here to jump off a roof with me to see if God catches us! That’s crazy. You could call it self-destructive, or even suicidal. Well, if there is no God, it certainly is. But if there is a God, then He’ll catch me. And the chance to be caught by God means more to me than anything else life has to offer.

    I was being metaphorical about jumping off of roofs, by the way. It’s unwise to “put God to the test” by literally jumping off a roof and expecting Him to catch you. He might, but He might not! He never promised to do so. (At least, He never promised me.)

    What God demands of me is that I trust everything He has promised me. I don’t know how God works with other people, but He makes promises to me through the Bible. Promises like, “if you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) This is the core of Christianity, of course. But there are many more promises beyond this one.

    Whatever else you might say about the God of the Bible, you must admit that He definitely likes to make promises, and rewards people for believing them. God doesn’t promise me health, wealth, longevity, or even happiness in this life. On the contrary, he promises me trouble: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

    Christ isn’t for people who want an easy life, or a life that makes them look good. God is determined to make Christ look good, and (from the Christian perspective) you either join Him in that goal, or get tossed aside. This is terribly offensive to my human pride: I want God to make much of me! But that’s not His plan. His will gladly humiliate me before the eyes of the world if that’s what it takes to make much of Christ, because God loves His Son more than anything or anyone.

    But there is another promise from Jesus: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). If I want God to love me and “make His home with me,” I must love Jesus and keep his word (re: his commands).

  • Victor Plenty

    Tweeks, you’ve quoted yourself and replied to yourself,

    in your third comment in a row.

    Again.

    Nobody else really exists to you, as people, do they?

    It’s only you that really exists, in your mind. And of course God, who you seem to believe (judging by your actions here) has created all the universe, and everything and everyone in it, solely for your personal amusement.

    You ask us to believe that you view people as precious spiritual beings created by God, and loved and valued by God.

    Yet you treat people with the same contempt you’d use for a piece of scrap paper, where you had scribbled a few of your stray thoughts, before tossing it into the wastebasket.

    If you can’t even muster the respect to engage in a two-way conversation, about the beliefs you think are the most important thing anyone could ever talk about, how can you be trusted to uphold the God-given rights to life and liberty you claim to believe in?

    History proves that religious belief is no sure guarantee of respect for such rights. Devout Christians have spilled just as much blood as any other group, seeking various types of worldly advantage, and using their beliefs to justify their savagery, as often as not.

    Events here have followed a similar pattern. A number of nonreligious people have treated you with a great deal of patience and respect, despite the repeated and growing evidence of the absolute existential contempt in which you hold everyone who doesn’t share your beliefs.

    And yet you still have the absolute GALL to prattle about the “moral relativism” of a nonreligious mind.

    Is it any wonder that atheists and agnostics take it with a huge grain of salt when you talk about the great moral certainties provided by religious belief?

  • Bluejay

    Honestly, I’ve never even studied the Qu’ran: I stopped at Jesus. In my mind, there’s no way He’s not God. It seems so obvious to me, but clearly it’s not to most.

    Ah, brother tweeks, there is your mistake! You simply must study the Qur’an! You are so close to the absolute truth, but you refuse to see it!

    I am merely trying to prove that you are right:

    Without God, morality descends into a cacophony of flawed human voices, making a million arguments about what’s right and wrong. Who is to say that we can’t change our minds, and subscribe to different moral systems when we see fit? It’s all just a game of “Says Who.”

    WITH God, all this is solved! Good and evil become absolutely clear, morality is constant and universal, and it becomes painfully obvious which moral system we should subscribe to: the divine truth of Islam.

    Why don’t you agree with me? :-(

    Surely Islam is the truth, isn’t it? There aren’t any other religious moral systems out there claiming to express God’s will? And even if there are variant faiths, surely they all ultimately believe in the same God, who decrees the same morals for everyone? This is very clear to me, because religious people everywhere are living in peace and harmony. There is no “Says Who?” shouting match among the faithful of the world.

    So, why question Islam? Surely it is the truth; the Qur’an itself says so. And why would the Qur’an state a falsehood? It must be true because it was dictated to Muhammad (peace be upon him); why would he write something untrue, and why would millions of his contemporaries believe it if it was fiction? He couldn’t have just made it all up.

    …Okay, I think I’ve made my point. :-)

  • [Victor said] Tweeks, you write:

    that’s rather rude of me to do that, since you’re trying to tell me something serious, and I’m not really paying attention to you

    This is the most accurate thing you’ve said in days.

    No, Victor, this is:

    My mind will continue manufacturing reasons to believe, because I want to believe. I will admit that now. :-)

    I rest my case.

  • Dokeo

    Bluejay – you’re awesome!

  • tweeks

    OMG I totally get it now!! :-D I’m really excited about this. You guys are great: you’ve totally set me straight.

    Tweeks, you’ve quoted yourself and replied to yourself,

    in your third comment in a row.

    Again.

    Nobody else really exists to you, as people, do they?

    I’m a sociopath, there’s no question about it. I’m not proud of that. :-(

    you treat people with the same contempt you’d use for a piece of scrap paper, where you had scribbled a few of your stray thoughts, before tossing it into the wastebasket.

    I’ve effectively hijacked this thread and used it as my own little lab in which to test my belief system to see if it’s true. The other people here were not really that important to me: what was important was whether I could formulate a rational defense for my beliefs!

    But that was precisely what I was stubbornly refusing to see until now: there is no rational defense.

    I rest my case.

    You’ve done it, Bluejay: you have made your case beautifully. But unlike you in your recent conversion to Islam, I’m being quite serious: you really have stripped away all my foolish pride, and let me see the real reason I believe! I really can’t thank you enough for putting up with my crap for weeks on end in order to show me what I was blind to. You’ve done me a great service, my friend.

    I thought this was a debate about Atheism versus Christianity, but Bluejay and others knew all along it was never about that. It was about me, which is why it quickly became a very dismal “conversation” (if you could even call it that.) It wasn’t supposed to be about me, but I made it about me, because I wanted very badly to know if my faith was real. Well, I see now that whether it is real or not has nothing to do with how clever I am, that’s for sure!

    It’s so clear to me now why Christians often get into these ugly arguments with Atheists and others. The problem is that Christians are proud: in spite of what their own texts teach them, they think they are somehow smarter than everybody else for believing in Christ. Well, Bluejay has done a very thorough and skillful job of making plain the truth: they’re not.

    If there is no God, Christianity makes no sense whatsoever. There is no purely rational justification for believing it, period. If you would follow Christ, you must put away all your human pride and submit to the foolishness of God’s way of salvation through a crucified Messiah.

    All of you are right to see this as ridiculous. Unless, of course, it happens to be true.

    But I have no way of knowing that. There are little glimmers of evidence here and there, but none strong enough to convince anybody who isn’t already eager to be convinced.

    Jesus said, “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Why do I believe and others disbelieve? Because I am being drawn to Him. I have not cleverly come to the conclusion that Jesus is right and everyone else is wrong. No, on the contrary, Jesus overturns all my prideful human reason. Jesus’ world is upside-down, a world where the last are first, the weak are strong, and the foolish are wise. From an intelligent humanist perspective, it’s absolute B.S.

    But from God’s perspective, it’s wisdom. The God that Jesus worships is a God who’s number one goal is to glorify Himself: to make Himself look good in the world. One of the many ways God accomplishes this is by “drawing” people to Christ, people who really have no good reason to believe other than that Christ appears glorious to them.

    This is a bit different from the God of Osama Bin Ladin and other Muslim extremists (as distinct from the more orthodox Islamic God, whom I am totally ignorant of). Bin Ladin’s God glorifies himself by telling his followers to sacrifice themselves to destroy infidels, with the promise of a rewarding afterlife waiting for them.

    The Christian God is different: He does demand that His followers sacrifice themselves, but usually not mortally (at least not in America), and never to harm others. Rather, He demands Christians sacrifice themselves in love, just as Christ sacrificed Himself in love (John 3:16). Even though it doesn’t directly lead to physical death, it is a self-sacrifice none the less, because “whoever would seek to save his life must lose it.” I must give up my right to my own life, and let Christ direct me. For an Atheist, this really is suicide.

    The difference between Christianity and Judaism is, of course, the person of Christ. Jews are still waiting for their Messiah (though some have apparently given up). But Christians say He has come, just as God promised He would, and the Father means to save sinners in a way that will make the Son look glorious, and only the Son–not His followers. The draw for Christ’s followers is to get to experience eternal life with Christ, the person we love more than anything or anyone, including ourselves. The joy is to be able to leave our own ego behind and anchor ourselves in the rock of God. This won’t happen right away, and it won’t happen perfectly in this life: I’m still a sociopath, and I still love myself excessively, to the point that it’s blinding me to much of who Christ is. (You can’t see God if you’re in the way.) But God promises to fix me one day, so that is the hope I’m waiting for.

    And now, the difference between Christianity and Atheism, something I’ve been totally missing the point on this entire thread. It’s just this: Christians love Christ. That’s all. :-)

  • Victor Plenty

    Tweeks, you write:

    The God that Jesus worships is a God who’s number one goal is to glorify Himself: to make Himself look good in the world.

    That is not only preposterous, but also pathetic, and doubtless many Christians would consider it a blasphemous lie, too. (I could try to be more polite, but only at the cost of an unacceptable loss of accuracy.)

    There are millions of decent Christians in the world today who would line up to kick your ass (rhetorically speaking) for making their religion and their God look so terrifyingly stupid, if they only knew what a bastardized and lobotomized version of their faith you had presented here.

    In fact, if someone were to deliberately construct a portrayal of Christianity designed to drive decent people as far away from it as possible, they could hardly do better than what we’ve seen you promote here.

    This leads me toward the conclusion that you’ve gone far beyond simply not caring about the other people in this conversation, tweeks. You must be filled with such a burning hatred toward each and every one of us, for some reason only God could possibly know, that you’ve decided to take every conceivable step to make absolutely certain we will all burn in hell. (According to your own belief system, of course.)

    My one consolation, after wasting so much time on this conversation, is my own absolute certainty that if this universe does have a benevolent Creator of any sort, it would logically have to be a being completely opposed to nearly everything you have said here.

  • Paul

    You know, I think Tweeks may have also discovered sarcasm, here and there. It’s hard for me to imagine someone this eternally chipper about having their arguments torn apart. And why not? Didn’t Jesus say it was easier to thread a needle with camel hair rope than for a rich man to get into Heaven? (That is the more precise translation, even if it loses some of its Zen quality from the English, and it has been argued by one translater that a lot of the Zen koans were really mistranslations, but people didn’t want to admit that their translations of holy text were inaccurate, so turned them into philosophical problems)

  • tweeks

    Now that we’ve finally gotten me out of the way, we can, at last, discuss the Gospel!

    Tweeks, you write:

    The God that Jesus worships is a God who’s number one goal is to glorify Himself: to make Himself look good in the world.

    That is not only preposterous, but also pathetic, and doubtless many Christians would consider it a blasphemous lie, too.

    Hey, I’m open to hearing alternate interpretations! What do you think God’s purpose is for creation?

    My present understanding comes from passages like Isaiah 43:6-7:

    “bring my sons from afar
    and my daughters from the end of the earth,
    everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.”

    In other words, God created us for His glory. Is this such a strange idea? Honestly, your strongly adverse reaction caught me a little off-guard.

    There are millions of decent Christians in the world today who would line up to kick your ass (rhetorically speaking) for making their religion and their God look so terrifyingly stupid, if they only knew what a bastardized and lobotomized version of their faith you had presented here.

    In fact, if someone were to deliberately construct a portrayal of Christianity designed to drive decent people as far away from it as possible, they could hardly do better than what we’ve seen you promote here.

    Honestly, I’m only telling you what I think Jesus is saying based on my best good-faith efforts to understand scripture.

    This leads me toward the conclusion that you’ve gone far beyond simply not caring about the other people in this conversation, tweeks. You must be filled with such a burning hatred toward each and every one of us, for some reason only God could possibly know, that you’ve decided to take every conceivable step to make absolutely certain we will all burn in hell. (According to your own belief system, of course.)

    I don’t even know there is a hell. All I know is what I’ve read: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

    My one consolation, after wasting so much time on this conversation, is my own absolute certainty that if this universe does have a benevolent Creator of any sort, it would logically have to be a being completely opposed to nearly everything you have said here.

    Well, I’ve been wrong about a lot of things before. I would like to hear your logical reasoning that has brought you to this conclusion.

    You know, I think Tweeks may have also discovered sarcasm, here and there. It’s hard for me to imagine someone this eternally chipper about having their arguments torn apart.

    The reason I’m so happy is because I’m so happy about it. :-)

    No sarcasm, it’s just a fact: I wouldn’t enjoy having my beliefs torn to shreds unless it proved they were, in fact, genuine. And thanks to Bluejay successfully stripping away all my faulty logic, I am now, at last, free to declare my highly illogical and irrational love for Christ, a love that was not based on my own wisdom or goodness, but on God’s love for me. If God didn’t love me first, I couldn’t love Him: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him” (1 John 5:1). I’ve been born again! It’s true! It’s really true! :-D

    This looks nutty to you folks, I know. But love is never purely rational, is it? :-)

    Didn’t Jesus say it was easier to thread a needle with camel hair rope than for a rich man to get into Heaven? (That is the more precise translation, even if it loses some of its Zen quality from the English, and it has been argued by one translater that a lot of the Zen koans were really mistranslations, but people didn’t want to admit that their translations of holy text were inaccurate, so turned them into philosophical problems)

    Interesting re-translation. At the very least, it’s certainly difficult for rich and sassy Americans to enter Heaven. Perhaps you know an alternate translation for John 10:22-30?

    At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

  • Didn’t the original point of this thread have to do with whether or not the destruction of humanity was a woman’s fault? And wasn’t the general consensus that it wasn’t?

  • tweeks

    Didn’t the original point of this thread have to do with whether or not the destruction of humanity was a woman’s fault?

    I think it was ultimately God’s fault:

    I am the Lord, and there is no other.
    I form light and create darkness,
    I make well-being and a create calamity,
    I am the Lord, who does all these things.

    (Isaiah 45:6-7)

    God didn’t just know Adam & Eve would disobey; he ordained it.

    In the same way, God ordains that some not believe in Christ:

    Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

    “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

    Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

    “He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their heart,
    lest they see with their eyes,
    and understand with their heart, and turn,
    and I would heal them.”

    Isaiah said these things because he saw [Jesus’] glory and spoke of him.

    (John 12:37-41)

    Paul made the same point in Romans 9:14-18

    What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

    So if you don’t believe in Christ, it’s ultimately God who is to blame.

    Does this seem unfair to you? For God to condemn people that He Himself has hardened against Him? Paul heard these same objections 2,000 years ago:

    You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

    If you choose to believe in God, ultimately it’s because God chose you to believe.

  • tweeks

    You must be filled with such a burning hatred toward each and every one of us, for some reason only God could possibly know, that you’ve decided to take every conceivable step to make absolutely certain we will all burn in hell.

    I don’t hate anybody here. You guys really made me mad the past few weeks by tearing apart my logical justifications for faith, but I was more mad at myself than any of you. I can’t legitimately be mad at somebody for simply presenting logical arguments and telling me how they honestly feel about what I’m saying, right?

    I did say some mean things out of anger, and I’m sorry for that. But if you reject the Bible anyway, then it shouldn’t matter to you what the Bible says about unbelievers, right? That was Bluejay‘s point in quoting the Qu’ran: who cares what it says? I don’t.

  • tweeks

    You must be filled with such a burning hatred toward each and every one of us, for some reason only God could possibly know, that you’ve decided to take every conceivable step to make absolutely certain we will all burn in hell.

    Oh I see, you think I believe what I believe because it means God condemns everybody who doesn’t love Christ like I do, so therefore I must hate most of humanity.

    No no no, that’s not my reason for believing in Christ. Fear of God is a motivator, and it’s true I am afraid to oppose Him. But the issue of whether it’s fair for God to judge people whom He ultimately caused to not believe is something I’ve wrestled with for many years.

    At this point, I’ve sort of resigned myself to the Biblical reality that God is radically free to do whatever He likes, including steering the hearts of His creatures towards or away from faith in a decisive way. Does this mean I hate unbelievers? No way! You’re all just like me! I’m a rational person who is proud of his reasoning powers too. The only difference is that I love Christ. I didn’t cause myself to love Christ. I just saw Him, and said, “wow, He’s great!” You see Christ and yawn, or say “how ridiculous!” I used to feel more like that too.

    I don’t rejoice that God is going to judge people. I tremble. I could have been one of those people being judged. No, I should have been one of them. I don’t deserve anything good at all–it’s all amazing grace.

  • tweeks

    Bluejay and MaryAnn,

    The more I think about what has been said in this thread, the more I am convinced that it is our loves that separate us. I love Christ. You love human autonomy. I enjoy my autonomy too, but I love God so much that I will gladly surrender my autonomy in commitment to Him, just as a single person may fall in love and surrender their autonomy in marriage.

    But while I am committed to loving Christ, you are committed to loving yourselves! This is why your minds work in ways that I see as illogical in order to justify your self-worship. Examples:

    “There are many conflicting religions in the world, therefore none of them are correct.”

    The conclusion does not follow.

    “I’ve never seen anything supernatural occur, therefore it has never occurred.”

    But you haven’t seen everything.

    “Jesus performed miraculous deeds, therefore he is fiction.”

    The miraculous is not impossible.

    “The events of Jesus’ life were written down, therefore he must be fictional.”

    Writing down what you have seen does not make it fiction.

    “I’ve never seen God, so there isn’t one.”

    You’ve only decided not to look.

    These irrational arguments appear rational to you both, Bluejay and MaryAnn, because you simply refuse to see them as irrational. This is not a matter of the head, but of the heart.

    I don’t condemn either of you for loving your own autonomy more than God. But everyone knows that they can rationalize anything if they want it badly enough. I have already admitted that my love of Christ is not ultimately rooted in rationality. You can never admit the same about your love of yourselves, however, because your own infallible rationality is sacred to you. For you to admit that your minds are slaves to your hearts means admitting that you are at the mercy of forces beyond your control (since your heart’s desires are beyond your control), and this is too repulsive for you to even consider.

    But the obvious reality is, you are at the mercy of forces beyond your control. All of us are. And this includes the ability to obtain what we need to find ultimate satisfaction and fulfillment.

    Statistically speaking, most people recognize this, and embrace hope of ultimate satisfaction via the divine in whatever form it is presented to them: Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, etc. But you two have stubbornly refused to own up to your own inadequacy in this regard. This is why the Bible characterizes un-godly people as “stubborn” and “willful.” They may not be stubborn towards other people, but they are certainly recalcitrant towards God!

    It doesn’t have to be that way. God seeks a relationship with you–a relationship you desperately need, though you may never find the humility to admit it. If you can never humble yourself enough to take what God offers you, then it is clear to me that you will never find ultimate satisfaction or fulfillment. If you love yourself, you will let yourself down. If you love another person, they too will let you down. Only God has the means and the will to keep all His promises, and always knows what is best for us, because He created us.

    You will say I am speaking arrogantly now. So be it. You will assume I have come to these conclusions on my own. I have not: this is what the God I have come to know and love says about you in the Bible. From my perspective, freed of the burden of self-reliance, I can see clearly what you are not seeing. I hope one day you see it too.

  • *sigh*

    tweeks. Not only is your “atheist” straw man argument so laughable, but your own attempt to rebut your own straw man argument fails epically as well. It’s futile to reason with someone who doesn’t even understand what reasoning is, so I won’t even bother.

    I’ll just go with something you said:

    God ordains that some not believe in Christ […] So if you don’t believe in Christ, it’s ultimately God who is to blame.

    Fine. Let’s go with that. God decided that many people on this thread should be nonbelievers. So why are you trying to change that? Do you have the temerity to go against God’s will?

    Oh wait. I get it. God ordained that we should be nonbelievers so that you can win us over to God, so you can magnify him further, as well as win favor in God’s sight. Even if it takes you 500 posts to do it. You actually dare to believe that you are God’s instrument for our salvation! See, it’s still all about you.

    If God chose us to be nonbelievers, you of all people should respect God’s will. You tried, okay? But we persist in our nonbelief. So leave it alone. Be humble enough to accept the fact that some of us will not be saved. Let God handle it. If he chooses to convert some of us later, he’ll do it in his own way.

    Just stop, tweeks. You’ve said it over and over and over: You love God. We get it. Many of us don’t feel the same way. You’ve made your point. We’ve made ours. If anyone is reading this thread who’s undecided about faith, he or she has plenty of arguments on both sides to evaluate in order to make a decision.

    Enough.

    Be happy in your faith, and have a nice life. Goodbye.

    …Although if you post another ten or fifteen messages after this, I can’t say that I’d be in the least bit surprised.

  • LaSargenta

    Didn’t the original point of this thread have to do with whether or not the destruction of humanity was a woman’s fault? And wasn’t the general consensus that it wasn’t?

    Yup. And tweeks first post was a derailing as it went into Adam and Even not trusting G*d enough. So, right from the get-go, tweeks was posting about belief instead of the topic.

    All the rest of us are just a bunch of enablers.

    And, tweeks, you asked once waaaaaaay back there why those of us on this tread weren’t trying to save you, trying to show you why our way is better…As a ‘believer, I can tell you that I have no interest in doing so as my relationship with the Infinite has no place for your idea of Salvation. There is an Eternity, all are currently part of it as well as will be more conscious of being part of it in their individual futures. We are always simultaneously in ‘heaven’ and on earth. To have explained this in terms you probably would have understoood would have been impossible to do without actually changing my experience.

    It also doesn’t matter if you ‘believe’ me and I have no wish to ‘convert’ you. I do not need to ‘bring the good news’ to anyone for my salvation because we are all actually living in the ‘salvation’ presently. It would be the acme of arrogance for me to ‘save’ anyone after what I have seen.

    The Eternal doesn’t ‘care’, either, that is not the purpose of that Existence (which is different from Being, as that implies in english a human or at least someone resembling a human and having personhood. That is too limiting for what there really is.)

    But, I would like to rephrase something I said earlier, you, by believing in a translation of a transcription of ideas from 2000 years ago, and limiting yourself to those — even taking any current insipration you receive as yet another call to adhere exclusively to the Bible — you have, effectively killed G*d. Nietzsche didn’t do anything more than announce an observation. People like you actually did and continue to do the work.

    And now, I’m off to join bluejay.

  • LaSargenta

    Unfortunately, I can’t edit, so another post to add that the atheists on this thread are, from my perspective, more part of the Truth than someone who clings to the Bible and the stories of Jesus there as a totem.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Bluejay says:

    Enough.

    Indeed.

    This thread has gone over 300 posts; impressive, even accounting for tweeks’ habit of multi-posting. It is now well beyond the point where anything constructive can come of it. It’s no longer about MaryAnn’s original AWFJ article, or about the nature of religion. It’s really just all about tweeks. And tweeks just isn’t that interesting a person.

    I wonder if our hostess has the ability and the inclination to close comments here. I think that would be best.

  • Well, I don’t want to throw a fellow theist under a metaphoric bus but like LaSargenta, I have my own interpretation of Christianity and theism which are a bit different than Tweeks.

    And in any event, arguing about what a person believes and doesn’t believe is ultimately futile unless said beliefs lead to actions which affect us in a negative manner. And even then, the emphasis should be on the actions more than the beliefs.

    I must confess that I wasn’t converted to theism because one day I opened the Bible and was won over by the power of Scripture. Then again my conversion process is personal and involves events that I would rather not wish upon anyone I liked–not because I want to prevent anyone from attaining Heaven or whatever philosophical equivalent you acknowledge but because I learned from my own experience that we have our own paths to follow and as long as we are trying to do the right thing by our fellow man and not rationalizing evil actions on the grounds that that’s what God–or the State–or Allah–or Progress–or the Invisible Hand–or the Revolution, etc.–demands of us, it shouldn’t matter if we get to Heaven via bus or motorcar or oxcart.

    Anyway, I’ve always been a “in my father’s house, there are many mansions” kind of guy rather than a “my way or no way” type of person. And I’m too busy trying to correct my own mistakes to dwell too much upon anyone else’s theological beliefs.

    This forum seems to be a lot better, anyway, when we concentrate on the stuff that unites us, not that which divides us. Granted, there will always be differences of opinion but as long as we can express them in a civil manner and stop pretending that such opinions are going to be taken more seriously if we add a lot of exclamation points, there should be at least some hope that we’ll eventually learn to concentrate on what’s really important.

    Anyway, I have nothing left to add to what has already been said.

    Time to start cultivating our own gardens.

  • tweeks

    If God chose us to be nonbelievers, you of all people should respect God’s will. You tried, okay? But we persist in our nonbelief. So leave it alone. Be humble enough to accept the fact that some of us will not be saved. Let God handle it. If he chooses to convert some of us later, he’ll do it in his own way.

    At last we are in complete agreement. :-)

    I won’t say “thank you,” since that will only irritate Dr. Rocketscience. Instead, I will say that I am glad to have had such a rare opportunity to speak so openly and honestly with so many intelligent and articulate people about what is most important to them. It’s not often IRL that we get the chance to do this, even with people we know very well.

    Anyway, I’ve always been a “in my father’s house, there are many mansions” kind of guy rather than a “my way or no way” type of person. And I’m too busy trying to correct my own mistakes to dwell too much upon anyone else’s theological beliefs.

    Now I know that your humble attitude is indeed the correct one. It was my own pride that made me think I could talk anyone into seeing my view. The only reason I thought I could was because I had also thought, at some level, that I’d talked myself into it! But now I understand that I truly am the way I am because of God alone, and that is a colossal relief!

    This forum seems to be a lot better, anyway, when we concentrate on the stuff that unites us, not that which divides us. Granted, there will always be differences of opinion but as long as we can express them in a civil manner and stop pretending that such opinions are going to be taken more seriously if we add a lot of exclamation points, there should be at least some hope that we’ll eventually learn to concentrate on what’s really important.

    The only thing I would add is that all of us are who we are to a large degree because of what we love. We didn’t choose to love what we love, we just love it. That’s why, believer or non-believer, we mustn’t try to use our reason to show someone else that what they love is not worth loving! Instead, we should show them why we love what we love, and accept the way they feel about it.

    This is not meant to disparage MaryAnn‘s Flick Filosophisizing! On the contrary, I feel she is at her best when she’s eloquently and passionately expressing what she loves most deeply about film.

  • Ah, Tweeks the Calvinist, as God choses who will be believers and who won’t. This originally fell out of fashion because Calvin also said the rest go to hell, and most people thought that unfair, but Tweeks doesn’t know if there’s a hell or not, which is an out for him. And hell is a vaguish proposition; most of what people think they know about Hell actually comes from Dante or Milton anyway.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This