Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Does Our Sinful Nature Come from God?

Y=X asked:

According to Christian theology the sacrifice of Christ is necessary for us to be saved. This appears to imply that no human can live sin free. This suggests to me that humans are sinful by nature. Is it correct to say that this nature comes from God?


The power to choose comes from God, and with it the power to do evil. There is no possible way for us to have free will without the ability to abuse it. And the abuse of free will leads to evil in the world. C.S. Lewis explains it this way:

"We can, perhaps, conceive of a world in which God corrected the results of this abuse of free will by His creatures at every moment: so that a wooden beam became soft as grass when it was used as a weapon, and the air refused to obey me if I attempted to set up in it the sound waves that carry lies or insults. But such a world would be one in which wrong actions were impossible, and in which, therefore, freedom of the will would be void; nay if the principle were carried out to its logical conclusion, evil thoughts would be impossible, for the cerebral matter which we use in thinking would refuse its task when we attempted to frame them."


However, free will is not absolute because we inherit the sinfulness, or brokenness, of our ancestors. Their propensities to addiction become ours, and we take on their personality flaws. I was just reading that there is a new field called "epigenetics," where scientists are finding that choices we make affect the expression of our DNA even for the next generation. So there is actually a connection between choice and DNA. As the narrator of the novel Gilead says, we "live in the ruins of other generations." None of us have within us the potential to reach our full humanity.

But God planned from the very beginning that he would take upon himself the consequences of free will by giving full reign to evil during his passion. The penalty for every sin that was ever committed or will ever be committed was paid in full by him. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves, and "rendered powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil" (Hebrews 2:14).

He also broke the domino effect of generational sin by becoming the first perfect human. Not only was he fully God, but he represented humanity at its highest and best. And by his blood we were redeemed from the "futile way of life" handed down by our ancestors (1 Peter 1:18), to receive his Holy Spirit and become like him--the "firstborn of many brethren" (Romans 8:29).

But in order to receive his Holy Spirit, we have to surrender the will that is set against him. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me" (Revelation 3:20). And the more we yield to his Spirit, the more our will conforms to his. He will give us his shalom--or harmony with him, ourselves, and other people, and he makes us fully human and fully free.

47 comments:

Y = X said...

On a case-by-case basis it might be true that I have the free will to not look lustfully at a man or woman who is dressing provocatively. But overall, over the course of a lifetime, I do not have the free will to always make the choice to not look lustfully. I think it is hard to claim we have free will, in total, when no human (save the human manifestation of God) has ever lived sin free.

It's a gambler's ruin. We are designed and destined to fail. That God provides a mechanism to be absolved of suffering the consequences of our failure does not negate this and does not negate the pernicious nature of the system he set up.

Lock a kid up in a room with a bowl of M&Ms and tell the kid to never eat one. Keep the kid locked up long enough in the room and he will eat one even if you tell him that the penalty is death. It's wrong to claim the kid has free will in this case or that he/she made a free will decision to eat an M&M.

That you decide to add broccoli to the room does not negate the pernicious nature of the set up you have.

Christian theology is such that God finds our deeds repugnant (the sins that is) and this is insanity when the source of the problem is the way he created us. If I train my dog to pee in the house I ought not be upset when the dog pees in the house.

Well, I don't want to ramble. Hopefully I am adequately conveying how I see things and why Christian theology makes no sense to me. Perhaps you can make sense of it for me.

Anette Acker said...

Y=X,

Well, he didn't create us to sin; he created us with free will. And without free will love would be impossible. I used the example on AC of the movie Lars and the Real Girl. Have you seen it? It's about a loner who orders a life-sized doll named Bianca on the Internet and marries her. According to the summary of the move, "emotional baggage has kept him from fully embracing life."

Although Bianca would never argue with him, nag him, or reject him, she was also incapable of loving him. Love requires that there is a choice. God must have decided that it was worth it, as it is worth it to most of us. Although there are some people who lock their hearts up in a safe box where it can never be broken, most of us agree that's not healthy. Fully embracing life means taking risks in a world where people have free will.

But as I said in my original post, we don't have it in us to live sin free. So Jesus died to give us his Holy Spirit--that is, his life within us. He didn't just "provide a mechanism to be absolved of suffering the consequences of our failure." He is our victory. So he helps us in our temptations.

In other words, God has found a way to safeguard our freedom while also making us Christlike. And becoming Christlike makes us more human and enables us to grow more fully into our individuality.

photosynthesis said...

Anette,

I am sorry, but the free will excuse is awfully insulting to those who have experience the unimaginable evils.

I complain that the level of evilness possible, those that can destroy you to the core of yourself, that leave you without a personality, without any further will, those are unnecessary for God to be "loved."

Worse even, if the excuse is that only with free will we can chose God. We could have evils that do not destroy people's minds and self-respect. But that they exist. That people can inflict unimaginable horrors to other people. That is beyond excuse for an all-powerful God.

It looks much more like there is nothing out there.

Otherwise, to insist on the main point, it looks quite ego-maniacal to allow the complete psychological destruction and horror of human lives so that the rest will be able to love him, while the damaged are not able to do anything else.

I think the problem of evil, from a Christian/believer perspective, should be left at "I don't know, and I don't understand. I still have faith."

G.E.

Anette Acker said...

Hi photosynthesis!

Thanks for stopping by.

You are right that the problem of evil is a very tough one, and there are times when the best answer really is "I don't know." And that's not because there aren't logical explanations out there, but because cold logic doesn't help when people are suffering. As you said, people can do unimaginable evil to each other.

But God did not give us free will just so we could love him, but also so we can love other people. So it goes back to whether a world of robots would be a good alternative. The God of the Bible is not an egotist; he willingly suffered a criminal's fate on our behalf.

Part of the answer also pertains to how God created the world. You said on AC that if God limits himself by nature (by being conceived in a woman's uterus, etc.) he's not really omnipotent. But what you study as a scientist is how God does things. Science is his fingerprint. It's easy to forget that on AC where the dichotomy seems to be between God and science.

He has created an ordered world with cause and effect because it's the best kind for creatures with free will. We have to know that our actions have consequences.

However, God's ordered way of doing things extends to the supernatural realm, and when we stay close to his Spirit, he works through us and intervenes through prayer. He does do miracles, but they are redemptive miracles like healing and salvation, not flashy magic shows.

photosynthesis said...

Hey Anette,

So it goes back to whether a world of robots would be a good alternative.

Why is it either unimaginable evils as there are or robots? Do you think there are no intermediary solutions?

As for the stuff on nature and fine-tuning. It is a lose-lose situation. Let me put it this way (I've said it before, but it seems to be hard to understand):

1. The Universe could not have had life except the way it is: No God. An omnipotent God would be able to create a reality with cause and effect and all, but why would it want us to think he has limitations in creating life-friendly Universes?

2. The Universe could have been many other ways and still have life. No God. We don't need it to explain anything.

It just does not make sense Anette. I insist. God has to be clear before anything can be attributed to him. This is why I say I do not see the need for such hypothesis.

G.E.

photosynthesis said...

Oh, yes, I stole the phrasing "I see no need for such hypothesis" from someone else whose name I cannot remember.

Garbonzo Beans!!! said...

Dear Anette,

Thanks alot for your offer. There are actually no Target stores around where I live. It's quite alright though, your sentiment goes a little bit further to me, than a gift card. Really, I only enter Ray's contests in the vain hope that luck might smile upon me. It's a novel motivation really. Kind of like playing the lotto, except it's free!

~Cheers!

Raoul Rheits said...

Hi Anette, I just saw your post re 'the Swamp' on my blog, and will answer it soon, sorry for being so long.

I always found the Christian concept of inherited 'sin nature' to be interesting inasmuch as it appears that (in the Bible story) 'God' set it up like the stack of dominoes that would fall on account of just two individuals (with the help of a supernatural 'serpent' that 'God' also created)all of which 'God' had foreknowledge of...

Also, my 'free will' isn't complete. Is it?

I cannot fly, I cannot flap my arms and circle the globe or dive underwater and live there...

So why would 'God' give me the 'choice' to rape but not to flap my arms and fly...? But love is still possible.

If I was an omnipotent deity I would let people fly and live underwater, but make them die if they tried to rape someone, or kill someone.

To make them die for the acts of breathing underwater or flying is just wrong if you would let them survive for the acts of raping and killing.

Wouldn't you say so?

I guess not. I guess I'd make a useless all-powerful superbeing...

Anette Acker said...

Raoul,

I've noticed that the story of Adam and Eve doesn't make sense to a lot of atheists. It has never bothered me because I'm so used to it, but I can see your point, that it seems unfair, it seems like entrapment, etc.

Try looking at it in a different way. As we've discussed before (and other Christians have mentioned on AC), some things in the Bible are intended to be literal and others symbolic. The way we can tell which is which is by looking at the passages in question in the context of the whole Bible. The Bible itself gives us clues as to how to interpret it. For example, 1 Corinthians 15:17 tells us that the literal, physical resurrection of Christ is the cornerstone of Christian doctrine.

But Christians differ as to whether they interpret other parts literally or symbolically, and some feel very strongly about it. For example, Catholics and Protestants differ as to whether the Eucharist is literal or symbolic. In fact, this is how Luther felt about the literal interpretation of the body and blood of Christ--until he changed his mind:

"Who, but the devil, has granted such license of wresting the words of the holy Scripture? Who ever read in the Scriptures, that my body is the same as the sign of my body? or that is is the same as it signifies? What language in the world ever spoke so? It is only then the devil, that imposes upon us by these fanatical men."

That may seem funny now (at least it does to me), but you don't have to read AC for very long to realize that people feel very strongly about a literal interpretation of the beginning of Genesis, whether or not that is accurate. (It may be cultural, like the literal interpretation of the body and bread of Christ used to be.) I don't feel strongly about it one way or the other, but since this is such a stumbling block for many non-believers, I should at least say that a biblical case can be made for a symbolic interpretation.

The main purpose of the OT is to point toward and foreshadow Christ, so it contains much symbolism. This is not to say, however, that it isn't also literal--those two things are not mutually exclusive. The Bible often calls symbolism "mysteries," and Ephesians 5:12 says that the story of Adam and Eve contains such a mystery, in that they foreshadow Christ and the church.

"Adam" means "mankind" or "man" in the Hebrew, and Eve means "living." In the KJV, Genesis 5:2 says, "God created them male and female, and called their name Adam in the day when they were created." In other words, they were both named Adam, or "mankind."

Christ is called "the last Adam" in the NT because Adam was a "type" of Christ, but in the gospels he calls himself "the Son of Man," using the generic rather than the name "Adam." This also hints toward a symbolic interpretation.

In addition to being called the mother of all living, Eve also represents the church. So when she is tempted by the serpent, it shows the dynamic of the church and Satan. It shows that all humans have free will, and it specifically demonstrates how God gives the church commandments, Satan deceives us and makes us think God is withholding good things from us, and we sin. The consequence is "death," or suffering of various kinds. And it also affects our offspring (Cain and Abel) and subsequent generations.

Anette Acker said...

Another reason for reading this symbolically is the parallels between this story and the book of Revelation:

After Eve is tempted by the serpent, God says, "I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise you on the head and you shall bruise him on the heel." And to the woman he says, "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth" (Genesis 3:15, 16).

In Revelation 12, the drama continues, but now it has reached epic proportions, with the woman "clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars," and the serpent has morphed into a "great red dragon." We are told at the beginning that this is "a sign," so we know that it is symbolic.

How do we know that it is the continuation of the same story? Because the woman is in labor, "and the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her male child. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne" (Revelation 12:4-5). Similarly, the Genesis account prophesies the enmity between Eve's "seed" and the serpent, referring to her seed in the singular: Christ.

If I was an omnipotent deity I would let people fly and live underwater, but make them die if they tried to rape someone, or kill someone.

Free will pertains to moral choices. And this is an important precursor to eternal life, where we will be fully free but sinless. Even though there is a lot of evil in the world, redemption means that we are victorious over evil. Our pastor taught about Acts 7 yesterday, where Stephen never wavered while being stoned to death, and he forgave his murderers as he died. So God uses evil circumstances to prepare us for eternity, and gives us the victory.

God has given us a lot of powers, but flying and living underwater are not included among them. However, he has given us brains and a predictable universe where science and technology is possible, so we can fly in airplanes, and someday we may be able to live underwater.

However, if that happens, the human condition will remain exactly as it is today, in that we will have moral choices to make, and Christ will give us victory over sin and evil if we're willing to receive it from him.

Anette Acker said...

Photosynthesis,

If you read this, I was joking when I said on AC that I had been busy pummeling you while you were shadow boxing on another thread. I had to get you back for saying that you were waiting for me to stop fighting my shadow. :)

photosynthesis said...

Quick note Anette,

Whenever I write something to you I know what might be coming back to me. :-)

You might have missed my later answers too (same "response from Ray ... I mean a jerk").

So, since we are in "don't get me wrong" mode. When I say "we are not talking on equal terms." I don't mean any of us is superior to the other. Just that you might have no idea how far removed we are in terms of "Gods."

I did not see you comment at AC. I just came to find the link to your Occham's razor thing.

G.E.

Anette Acker said...

photosynthesis,

Here is the thread, and my comments are on 3/21 @ 2:35 pm and 3/22 @ 2:14 pm.

I did see your other comments, but it sounded like you didn't want me to reply to them yet because you didn't have time. Is that correct? Wasn't I supposed to think about what you said during the coming week? :) And BTW, I knew what you meant about the "not talking on equal terms" bit. I realize that the fine tuning argument is not specifically about the Christian God.

photosynthesis said...

Anette my friend,

yes, thinking about it is your "homework" for next week. Mine is to read your Occham's razor comments.

Thanks for the link. I will take a look when I have some more time.

G.E.

Milo said...

Hi Annette,

I've admired your work at AC.

One comment about free will and God not wanting robots, etc.

I follow your reasoning up until the point of eternal torture for following your God given free will.

The deck is stacked against us from the beginning. If hell is waiting for the majority of humans then it would have been better for God to have created us all robots or not created us at all.

photosynthesis said...

Anette,

Quick note.

Please check and read that chapter of Hawkins where you got that quote from. I was unpleasantly surprised that when I google the quote it gives me thousands of creationist web sites. None of them puts the quote in context. I also found a preview of the book, which has the quote in context, plus other things you mentioned to me about the laws of physics being broken. If you read it carefully, Stephen Hawkins is describing a scenario, problems with those scenarios, solutions, and the meaning of those solutions. The end result being "what role then for a creator?"

I have little time now. But please check this. I don't want to start mistrusting you. I admit the chapter is hard to read, especially with little time available, but it does not support your position. But, please, super please, don't rely on a creationist web site to make your mind about it. Read the book.

G.E.

Anette Acker said...

Photosynthesis,

I have read the chapter in the book, and it appears to me that he says that the evidence is consistent with the "hot big bang theory," which requires extreme fine-tuning. If I misunderstood it, you'll have to explain exactly how, because I don't see it. But I did not pull the quote out of context. I interpreted it to the best of my ability.

I do not get scientific information out of biased sources. Nor do I let other people think for me, period. In fact, as I mentioned, Dawkins admits that the fine-tuning argument is a respectable one, and he does nothing to effectively refute it in The God Delusion.

But if you can refute it, I would enjoy hearing what you have to say. You obviously know a lot more about science than I do, so I'm sure I'll learn something from you.

photosynthesis said...

Anette,

As I said, I trust you. I don't trust the creationist web sites at all. Aren't you embarrassed about those? When I noticed they lied (there were no web sites back then, but books and periodicals), I got quite embarrassed. I still believed there was a God for a good while, but lost all my trust in priests, pastors, and whatever. All of them lied.

Anyway, as I said, read the chapter again. Otherwise I might have a very hard time explaining this to you.

I am willing to explain, but without the context in your mind it might take much longer.

Again, not much time for now.

G.E.

Anette Acker said...

Photosynthesis,

It bothers me a lot when Christians are intellectually dishonest. There's absolutely no need for it, because the Bible can withstand honest scrutiny.

Most of the time I think it's unintentional. They are simply not thinking critically and using good discernment. Other times I think it's a lack of faith; they don't want to risk finding out that it's not true.

I will reread the chapter, but first let me find out what exactly your point is. Are you saying that Hawking is not expressing faith in a God? If so, I agree with you. That was never my point. Or are you saying that the evidence is not consistent with the hot big bang theory and that it doesn't require fine-tuning? That was my argument.

Anette Acker said...

Milo,

Thanks for your encouraging words!

You raise a very good point, and I will address your question as soon as I have a chunk of time (hopefully tomorrow). Obviously the answer will take longer than my responses to Photosynthesis.

photosynthesis said...

Hey Anette,

Or are you saying that the evidence is not consistent with the hot big bang theory and that it doesn't require fine-tuning?

This one.

I went and found some lectures by Hawkins, and this one goes further than the book. It seems like the Universe does not require fine-tuning:

http://www.hawking.org.uk/index.php/lectures/publiclectures/94

Though, in the book, he does not seem to support at all that the laws of physics or the "constants" could have been different. He just wonders what the heck if they had. But does not say they could have.

Anyway, in the lecture he has developed those theories even further than in the book, and it seems like they work quite well.

Also, a little mistake about the anthropic principles (I told you people do not seem to agree what this means), in the book chapter, Hawkins talks about the weak one as we have discussed. But the strong one as a creationist argument. So, even scientists do not agree on what that thing means.

G.E.

Anette Acker said...

Photosynthesis,

I reread the chapter and did some very quick research on fine-tuning. First, I admit that Hawking does not appear to believe in God (which I never alleged), but he does say that the hot big bang model is consistent with all the observational evidence we have today, and it is the "generally accepted history of the universe." Furthermore, he says in the chapter that that model requires fine-tuning. "The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life."

However, Hawking himself has proposed a model where space and time are finite but without boundaries. He talks about "imaginary time" rather than real time and compares it to the poles of the earth. He says under this model there would be no beginning.

However, he also says, "I'd like to emphasize that this idea that time and space should be finite without boundary is just a proposal."

So this does not contradict my point that the evidence favors the hot big bang model.

According to Wikipedia, Victor Stenger is one of the most vocal opponents of fine-tuning. Stenger wears his atheism on his sleeve, so I do not consider him the most unbiased source. Do you? (On the other hand, I trust Hawking to be unbiased even if he doesn't believe in God.) Stenger says, "The fine-tuning argument and other recent intelligent design arguments are modern versions of God-of-the-gaps reasoning, where a God is deemed necessary whenever science has not fully explained some phenomenon."

It appears to me from Wikipedia that the arguments against fine-tuning are not that compelling. And if Stenger has to resort to accusing his opponents of God-of-the-gaps reasoning, he knows it. If he was able to refute the fine-tuning argument as a physicist, there would have been no need for him to play that card.

This goes back to what I said before about the difference between straight science and how to go about answering the question, "Does God exist?" Of course science never gives "God" as the answer, but that doesn't mean science cannot be used to make that determination. And if you go back to the beginning of time, the evidence of modern science is more consistent with an intelligence than anything else.

Michael said the following to me on AC:

Cosmologists (and atheists) can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past eternal universe. There IS a cosmic beginning. There IS NO evidence (yet) that a God had anything to do with it. To claim otherwise is dishonest.

I replied:

How can science prove that God had something to do with it? If he exists outside of time-space, beyond the reach of science, it would be like characters in a book looking for the author. What would you consider proof? If God exists, most likely physicists would continue to speculate and never get past the point where the laws of physics break down. Likewise, scientists would continue to research abiogenesis and never get any answers. There would never be proof of God.

I have not yet heard back from Michael. How would you answer that question? (And I apologize for distracting you while you're busy. Obviously there's no rush in answering.)

BTW, it appears to me that many cosmologists have a bias for or against the existence of God. It may be because the question of God's existence is front and center when you're studying the origin of the universe. It's unusual for scientists to talk about God while discussing their work, but Hawking refers to "a God" all the time, even though he doesn't reveal his bias.

photosynthesis said...

Hey Anette,

First Hawkins.

I agree, in one thing with you. I would not read this Stenger guy to solve any problem related to the existence of any gods. Though, I have to tell you, I am not looking for any gods. I find the idea of gods, even more so one that looks like the emperor's new clothes (no matter how nice your metaphor of an author and her book, which I regard as a mere rhetorical devise), as nonsensical. If there were a God we would know it.

I am sorry that I started answering you because I really don't mind if people want to believe in God. It is only the crazy idiots who want to teach creationism as if it were science, or who insult and lie about people who do not share their beliefs, and about the sciences that threaten their religious beliefs, that I find abhorrent.

Anyway, I started, I stop when you have had enough, or when we start going too much in circles. Deal?

So, next stop Hawkins chapter.

...

photosynthesis said...

Hawkins chapter.

We might have read different editions of this chapter, because when I read it I get these:

1. The hot big bang model leaves several questions unanswered (there is a list of problems, such as how the heat got distributed evenly despite there not being time for exchange between one region and another).

2. These problems get Hawkins started into proposing solutions.

Example 1. The breaking of the natural laws in the singularity. Hawkins said that this is due to using relativity theory to make the calculations at a point that requires quantum gravitation (an area still in development). He further said that using quantum gravitation the laws do not break at any point.

Example 2. The proposal of the universe without an edge. Which was a very early proposal at the time.

In his talk of 2005, he seems much more confident about unedged universes, and he talks about further developments that lead to a bubbling thing that seems to take us back to a "soft" anthropic principle.

My conclusion Anette, is that the origin of the universe and its expansion are areas still in their infancy. Perhaps because new theories need to be worked out. Thus, it might be too early even to speculate about whether some constant is fine tuned, or it is just the way it can and will be.

So, my conclusion is that we can't decide about "fine-tuning." and that such fine-tuning is a desperate attempt at creating a very difficult gap to put God right in there.

G.E.

photosynthesis said...

Now your question:

How can science prove that God had something to do with it? If he exists outside of time-space, beyond the reach of science, it would be like characters in a book looking for the author.

Ah! Got ya. Of course, in principle such a kind of god would be beyond science. Then why do you hung so much to fine-tuning?

What would you consider proof?

Nothing. Only God's presence would be proof. Everything else is mere speculation. Worse, it is mere wishful thinking.

If God exists, most likely physicists would continue to speculate and never get past the point where the laws of physics break down.

I don't think scientists are looking for some god there.

Likewise, scientists would continue to research abiogenesis and never get any answers.

Well, if you think we have this problem because we need some god to explain it, then there is no god, or not that god. Abiogenesis will be solved Anette. Perhaps not with "The" origin of life on Earth, but with many ways in which it could have happened. Not speculation Anette, but by understanding how matter and energy interact, plus our knowledge of the ways matter self-organizes, plus biological clues that will give us probable mechanisms that will be undeniably realistic. I know so.

There would never be proof of God.

And this is the problem. Why would a god, such as the one you believe, keep itself hidden from its creation? Your description of a god outside of time and space makes it look like an impersonal god. One very different from the one you believe. Why would anybody propose an intelligent creator for nothing else but start the universe with no further anything about it? I say nonsense to that god too.

For a god of salvation, angry at our sin, condemning us to hell, so bloodthirsty that only divine blood would appease him (or whichever way you want to interpret Jesus' sacrifice), and such stories, he would have to be present right here right now among us. Anything else is mere fantasy.

G.E.

Anette Acker said...

Photosynthesis,

I am sorry that I started answering you because I really don't mind if people want to believe in God. It is only the crazy idiots who want to teach creationism as if it were science, or who insult and lie about people who do not share their beliefs, and about the sciences that threaten their religious beliefs, that I find abhorrent.

Anyway, I started, I stop when you have had enough, or when we start going too much in circles. Deal?


Yes, I already knew that about you when we started our discussion, so we can wrap it up here. But I've enjoyed talking with you and I wanted to be challenged if I got the science wrong (but I do not think I misunderstood the Hawking chapter now).

After what you said about the problem of evil, I don't think it would do you any good to accept the possibility of a deity. If you can't believe in a good God, you would not accept the Christian God anyway. And Occam's Razor (or logic in general) wouldn't convince you because the problem of evil cannot be reduced to logic. As you said, that often makes it worse.

And this is the problem. Why would a god, such as the one you believe, keep itself hidden from its creation? Your description of a god outside of time and space makes it look like an impersonal god. One very different from the one you believe. Why would anybody propose an intelligent creator for nothing else but start the universe with no further anything about it? I say nonsense to that god too.

I agree with you that deism only makes sense as a launching point for further questions. Why would an intelligence have no purpose? But if you're interested in my answer to your question about God's presence, I give it here on 4/28 @ 7:53 AM.

As for your answer to my question to Michael, it only made sense directed to him, because he implied that science could at some time prove the existence of God. I don't know if he meant to imply that or not, but that was what I was challenging. Since you have ruled out the existence of God, of course it made no sense to direct the question to you.

My point was that the fine-tuning of the big bang is consistent with a creator, but that is still not proof because scientists will continue to speculate and atheists will call this a God-in-the-gaps argument. So proof is inherently impossible. Even if God did show up and say "hi" to all his creatures (as an atheist on AC proposed that he do), people would still explain that away, so why bother? :)

We might have read different editions of this chapter, because when I read it I get these:

1. The hot big bang model leaves several questions unanswered (there is a list of problems, such as how the heat got distributed evenly despite there not being time for exchange between one region and another).

2. These problems get Hawkins started into proposing solutions.


I don't think we have different editions. I was aware of the "unanswered questions," but that is not synonymous with "problems." When he addresses the strong anthropic principle, on the other hand (which is what Dawkins argues in favor of), he mentions logical problems as well as the problem that "it runs against the tide of the whole history of science."

Based on what you have said, I did understand Hawking correctly, and I stand by what I said about the hot big bang model and fine-tuning. It is "consistent with all the observational evidence we have today," even if it leaves unanswered questions.

Although I enjoy talking with you, I don't think continuing this discussion is the best use of our time. But I knew already that you were very sure in your atheism, so you did not in any way mislead me by replying to my comment on AC. I'm glad you did.

photosynthesis said...

Hey Anette,

It is nice talking to you actually. As I said. I rather not crush anybody's beliefs unless they are crazy (which might be pointless regarding that person, but might dissuade the reasonable ones to take sides with them, and would make the reasonable ones know why the crazy ones are considered crazy).

I forgot about your Occham's razor. Sorry about it. Want to talk about that?

I agree with you that science, for the philosophical reasons that you mentioned, should not be expected to produce proof for any gods that, by definition, would be beyond the reach of science. Maybe this got lost in my answer.

So, I still think you misunderstand that chapter. The unanswered questions are problems. When questions remain unanswered it commonly means that the theory that "best fits the data" will change, sometimes a lot. Which means there is too much speculation for thinking of fine-tuning.

Anyway, maybe you will find that sentence that says that there is no reason to think the constants could have been different.

As of s god coming and saying "here I am." I doubt that could be explained away. Especially about an omnipresent one. We would have a real and undeniable relationship. Sorry if I mislead you on how I think, or others.

G.E.

photosynthesis said...

When he addresses the strong anthropic principle, on the other hand (which is what Dawkins argues in favor of)

I think these two authors mean different things when they talk about a strong anthropic principle. Read carefully, and S. Hawkins is talking about a creationist position. I expect, though I have not read, R. Dawkins to mean something different because Dawkins would not argue for a creationist position.

G.E.

Anette Acker said...

Milo,

I'm working on the answer to your question, but it's getting longer than I thought it would be.

Photosynthesis,

So, I still think you misunderstand that chapter. The unanswered questions are problems. When questions remain unanswered it commonly means that the theory that "best fits the data" will change, sometimes a lot. Which means there is too much speculation for thinking of fine-tuning.

I checked the unanswered questions again, and they are certainly not problems if there is a creator. They are only problems in the sense of the why being left unanswered. As I said before, there are no logical problems, nor is the model inconsistent with the evidence. It simply leaves unanswered questions.

But so does the theory of evolution. The question of how it all started (abiogenesis) is a big one. And as I understand it, there are no clear answers for punctuated equilibrium. So are these problems or unanswered questions? Should we expect that the theory that "best fits the evidence" will change?

Any scientific theory can change, but in spite of many challenges, the Big Bang theory still stands and it still fits the empirical evidence. And it requires precise fine-tuning.

I think these two authors mean different things when they talk about a strong anthropic principle. Read carefully, and S. Hawkins is talking about a creationist position. I expect, though I have not read, R. Dawkins to mean something different because Dawkins would not argue for a creationist position.

This is just a minor point, but I think they mean essentially the same thing. Hawking says: "According to this theory, there are either many different universes or many different regions of a single universe, each with its own initial configurations and, perhaps, with its own set of laws of science."

Dawkins says: "The multiverse as a whole has a plethora of alternative sets of by-laws. The anthropic principle kicks in to explain that we have to be in one of those universes (presumably a minority) whose by-laws happened to be propitious to our eventual evolution and hence contemplation of the problem." He specifically points out that this is not a creationist argument, and I agree with him. To me, it argues against a creator.

But there is no evidence of a multiverse, so the strong anthropic principle is just speculation.

Anette Acker said...

Photosynthesis,

I forgot about your Occham's razor. Sorry about it. Want to talk about that?

Sure, if you have time to read those comments, I would like to hear your thoughts on them.

photosynthesis said...

Anette my friend,

I will leave Hawkin alone. His description of the strong anthropic principle (you are right, by the way, but I am right too, which is weird) makes it sound on one side as opposition to fine-tuning (your quotes), then as if a creationist argument. But does not matter. Upon further reading, this part has a few problems with semantics and construction. Maybe Hawkin did not check well. But most of it, is what you say.

But I want to challenge this gem:

But so does the theory of evolution. The question of how it all started (abiogenesis) is a big one.

But this is not a problem with evolution, is it? It would be a problem for a completely natural history of life, from beginning to today, but not a problem with the part that is explained by evolution.

And as I understand it, there are no clear answers for punctuated equilibrium.

Which means you do not understand it. Punctuated equilibrium is about tempo and mode in evolution, not a substitute to evolution. The problem "solved" was an exaggerated understanding of "gradual" in Darwin's explanation. But Darwin himself, in some letters, explains that it is to be expected that changes will not be steady steps, just in steps. Punctuated equilibrium is a strong statement of the lack of rhythm in evolution, which is what we should expect given that the environment does not have a rhythm for changing.

So are these problems or unanswered questions?

Misunderstood questions. Yet, unanswered questions do remain, and those mean that the model for evolution might change drastically. For instance to take into account horizontal gene transfer in unicellular organisms and its consequences to the history of life.

Should we expect that the theory that "best fits the evidence" will change?

Sure. Because it does not fit this important part of the evidence at that level. Evolution will be quite different from what it is now. t is already quite different from what Darwin described. So, it will probably be called the same. Our relationship with other primates and the rest of the animals, and the rest of life will remain. Those are unquestionably true.

So, Occham's razor later.

Have a great Sunday.

G.E.

photosynthesis said...

(I am still surprise that you rather ignore Hawkin's explanations about how the problems can be solved, and what those answers mean to the fine-tuning argument. But that is fine. I can only repeat so much.)

Anette Acker said...

Photosynthesis,

But this is not a problem with evolution, is it? It would be a problem for a completely natural history of life, from beginning to today, but not a problem with the part that is explained by evolution.

I was thinking of it from a naturalistic perspective, but I do know that the theory of evolution doesn't depend on abiogenesis. You're also right that I don't understand punctuated equilibrium.

My only point was that the theory of evolution has unanswered questions, and will change. Perhaps I should have left it at that, instead of giving examples?

You have a great Sunday, too.

photosynthesis said...

Anette,

I had left a very good rebuttal to your Occam razor thing. But it seems like the browser lost it.

So, just the summary:

You cherry picked and reinterpreted the Bible as appropriate. Occam's razor does not favor any of that.

(I might re-write later, but it was a long exposition of where and how you reinterpret, and of the many things in the Bible that you missed. Example, God breathes life into man's nostrils, not into dust ... dust in the Bible clearly refers to earth's dust, not to star formed dust--the Bible does not say start-formed, thus what is the big deal? ... long et cetera.)

G.E.

photosynthesis said...

Sorry Anette, could not resist this one either:

I checked the unanswered questions again, and they are certainly not problems if there is a creator.

Well, of course nothing is a problem is there is a creator. This is why creators are non-explanations.

They are only problems in the sense of the why being left unanswered.

Because the Big Bang theory is still under development?

As I said before, there are no logical problems, nor is the model inconsistent with the evidence. It simply leaves unanswered questions.

It is inconsistent. Hawkin shows that other models answer those questions.

G.E.

photosynthesis said...

Anette my friend,

I think I am going to leave you alone. I really don't need to convince you of anything. I am happy to know such a person as yourself. I know many more in real life. Those whose beliefs do not challenge the progress of humanity, or stigmatize those who do not share the beliefs.

Many of those mysteries you use today will be solved and shown to be quite the most natural thing. Yet, many questions will remain open. If that is what tells you that there is a god, God, fine by me.

Keep enjoying your Sunday!

G.E.

Anette Acker said...

Photosynthesis,

That's fine that we agree to disagree. I've enjoyed our discussion.

But I just want to stress that I do not cherry pick the Bible. I will admit that I interpret the beginning of Genesis differently than Ray & co., but that's because I don't believe that the purpose of those chapters is to give a detailed instruction in science. They contain deep symbolism of free will, sin and death, the redemption of Christ, and the relationship between Christ and the church. The six days of creation parallel and symbolize Holy Week, where Jesus finished his work of redemption on the sixth day and rested in the grave on the seventh. The first day of the week represented a new beginning. The message here is theological, not cosmological. This is recognized by many conservative OT scholars.

And the Bible never describes biological processes, so creating Adam (whose name means "mankind" in Hebrew) out of dust could very well be a shorthand representation of our origins. The Bible says elsewhere that animals were created from dust as well. This is not something one would expect the Bible to describe in detail.

But my main point was that with respect to the Big Bang and the origin of life, the existence of God helps explain it. And that is the standard for Occam's Razor as applied to religion.

Fundamentalism errs on the side of a superficial reading of the Bible, which is not necessarily the most accurate. Wouldn't you expect that the word of God would have some profound themes, and that it isn't simply narrating stories? Extreme fundamentalists will also zero in on individual verses without putting them in context. This is not an accurate handling of the Bible.

But you don't have to reply to that. I just didn't want to give the impression here that I read into the Bible whatever I want. I try to understand it in the most accurate and honest way possible.

photosynthesis said...

Wouldn't you expect that the word of God would have some profound themes, and that it isn't simply narrating stories?

Of course I would! I think fundamentalists miss this very part of a belief in God. The creativity and awe, the inspiration to learn more, to go beyond our self-imposed limits in understanding (remember those however few talents?). The beauty of just how marvelously the whole thing works without any need for divine intervention. That would be the ultimate divine intervention!

But no, they want their God to be a little god, just as Carl Sagan said.

You are my friend Anette.

G.E.

photosynthesis said...

By the way. For your list of reading material (as if you lacked any!):

1. What is life by Margulis and Sagan (this is not nor Carl, though).

G.E.

Anette Acker said...

Hi Milo,

I follow your reasoning up until the point of eternal torture for following your God given free will.

The deck is stacked against us from the beginning. If hell is waiting for the majority of humans then it would have been better for God to have created us all robots or not created us at all.


This is an excellent question, and truthfully, it's one that I struggle with myself. The idea of eternal torture (which is the traditional view of hell) is abhorrent to me, even with respect to someone like Hitler. I think most people feel the same, one reason, undoubtedly, why the subject of hell rarely comes up in most evangelical churches.

The way I approach my theology is like a puzzle, where I'm constantly fitting new pieces into it, but there are still missing pieces. I know that all the pieces fit somewhere (i.e., the Bible is the infallible Word of God), because experience has told me that the Bible is consistent with logic, my moral compass, and experience. But if a piece of the puzzle doesn’t seem to fit, I don’t force it in. I trust God in the matter and continue to ask questions.

Some aspects of the doctrine of hell are clear in the Bible and some are not. The Bible clearly talks about hell, or a lake of fire, reserved for Satan and his angels, and it is also the destination of the “wicked.” (Of course this may be a figurative representation of something in the spiritual realm, but if so it is the equivalent of a lake of fire, so it doesn't diminish the severity of those words.) What is not clear in the Bible is whether hell means eternal suffering or a “second death” and annihilation. Some texts seem to imply the latter, but some indicate the former. There is a trend among evangelical Christians to subscribe to the “annihilation view,” which I will discuss in greater detail below.

My own position is that if the Bible is unclear, it is unclear for a reason. Perhaps the lake of fire itself is eternal, and it will mean eternal suffering for some (certainly Satan and his angels) but not for others. I firmly believe that God will judge fairly on judgment day, and how he does that is up to him.

In some respects the Bible is very clear. All the dead will be resurrected and there will be a day of judgment when Jesus comes again (Matthew 25, Acts 24:15). And during this judgment, God will "render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation" (Romans 2:6-8). This will be the ultimate graduation ceremony, where everything is exposed, and it is in the eternal realm, so the limitations of space-time do not apply. God will set right all injustices on this "day." Every graduation ceremony has some surprises, but judgment day will probably have a lot of surprises because "many who are first will be last, and the last, first" (Matthew 20:16).

Anette Acker said...

The Bible also clearly states that God will create a new earth where there can be no evil (Isaiah 65:17, 2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1). Nobody who hurts others can have a part in that inheritance (Isaiah 65:25). But we can’t just be “good enough,” because all of us sin and do harm to others. God himself is the one who qualifies us to share in this inheritance. In other words, the inhabitants of that earth will have surrendered the will to receive God's Spirit, and they will be remade Christ's image. At the resurrection, they will therefore be fully free and yet sinless. Because there is no sin in the new earth, there is also no suffering and no death.

On the matter of judgment day and the new earth, the Bible is clear, the logic holds up, and this makes sense to me morally. There should be some kind of final judgment, because many injustices are never resolved in this life. And it makes sense that nobody who harms others can have a place in the new earth, because then it could not be a place where “righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). It would be as evil as this one.

But the more challenging question is what exactly happens to those who will not share in that inheritance. In other words, is the traditional view or the annihilation view the biblical one? Some traditionalists take the position that it is “safer” to be as conservative as possible, but from a biblical perspective that’s not always true. If we fall off a horse, it doesn’t matter if we fall to the right or to the left. And since the purpose of the Bible is to save our souls, it would appear that we are in the greatest danger when we quash our moral compasses. Jesus was always confronting the Pharisees (who were very conservative) about doing exactly that. When God came in the flesh, their religious traditions blinded them to his “grace and truth” (John 1:14); instead, they accused him of having an evil spirit (Matthew 12:24). Their moral compasses were so impaired that they were able to look at someone who epitomized love and goodness and call him evil. Jesus warned them against the sin against the Holy Spirit (the unpardonable sin), which has long been debated by theologians, but one interpretation is that it means shutting out the Light so thoroughly that repentance becomes impossible. And without repentance, there is no forgiveness. This interpretation seems to fit the context.

So a danger of the traditional view, especially for those who employ fire and brimstone preaching, is to become desensitized to the idea of eternal torment. The risk of the annihilation view is watering down the Bible by explaining away the things we don’t like. I see the biblical tension between these two perspectives as evidence that God will act with perfect justice and mercy on judgment day, and he has the absolute power to do exactly that.

Here are some verses that indicate that the lake of fire means judgment, punishment, and then annihilation:

Matthew 10:28 says, "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” If God destroys the soul, it would cease to exist.

Anette Acker said...

Malachi 4:1 says: “For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” Again, this implies total destruction of body and soul.

Jude 1:7 talks about Sodom and Gomorrah being destroyed by “eternal fire.” But this eternal fire annihilated them.

There are also verses that talk about “the second death,” and make it clear that this is the lake of fire.

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death." (Revelation 2:11)

"Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years." (Revelation 20:6)

"Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death." (Revelation 20:14)

"But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars-- their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death." (Revelation 21:8)

But some verses indicate that hell is eternal torment:

"The unsaved people in Zion are terrified; trembling grips the godless: "Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?"" (Isaiah 33:14)

"He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name." (Revelation 14:10-11)

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’" (Matthew 25:41)

"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Matthew 25:46)

"If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. ... And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.' (Mark 9:43-48)

Anette Acker said...

"His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." (Luke 3:17)

"They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power" (2 Thessalonians 1:9)

"And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever." (Revelation 20:10)

So what is clear is that hell itself is eternal, but it is not clear that everyone will spend eternity in hell. The devil certainly will, because the purpose of the lake of fire is to punish him, and “the beast and the false prophet” as well as those who worship the beast will also be tormented forever.

I realize that was a very long answer to your question, but the bottom line is that God will act with justice and mercy on the day of judgment, even though we don’t know the details. I think we will see ourselves as we really are for the first time, so in one sense we will judge ourselves. John 12:48 says: “He who rejects Me and does not receive my sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.” So as C.S. Lewis said in The Screwtape Letters, we will have “the peculiar kind of clarity which hell affords.”

Lewis illustrates it very well in Till We Have Faces, a retelling of the myth of Eros and Psyche. “The thunder had ceased, I think, the moment the still light came. There was great silence when the god spoke to me. And as there was no anger (what men call anger) in his face, so there was none in his voice. It was unmoved and sweet; like a bird singing on the branch above a hanged man.”

Anette Acker said...

Photosynthesis,

Of course I would! I think fundamentalists miss this very part of a belief in God. The creativity and awe, the inspiration to learn more, to go beyond our self-imposed limits in understanding (remember those however few talents?). The beauty of just how marvelously the whole thing works without any need for divine intervention. That would be the ultimate divine intervention!

But no, they want their God to be a little god, just as Carl Sagan said.

You are my friend Anette.


Thank you, photosynthesis.

You are right that the God who created this world could never be small! As you said, he set things up in a brilliant way. His sovereignty is great enough so that his creatures have free will, and he delegated a lot of responsibilities to them. But he didn't just leave his creation alone after that. The God of the Bible is not the deist creator.

There are a lot parallels between the natural world and the Bible, and that's what one would expect if they originated from the same Source. I mentioned how rich the Bible is in deep mysteries--we can keep studying it a lifetime and never stop learning new things. Just in the past few months, I have discovered many deep theological themes in just the first few chapters of Genesis. But the answers are objective; in other words, we can't just interpret the Bible however we want. It is objective Truth, but it takes more than a lifetime to understand and internalize all its nuances, so any one Christian can never say that he or she has it all figured out. This is the same with the natural world--science is an ongoing search for objective truth.

I appreciate the book recommendation as well. You're right that I have more books on my list than I have time to read, but that does look interesting. I looked it up on Amazon.

Anette Acker said...

Photosynthesis my friend,

I just want to answer a question that you raised on AC, and that I never got to. You said, what if we were having this conversation at a time when the idea of gods had never occurred to anyone.

You are operating under the assumption that humans only process reality by way of reason and not intuition. But there are many things that we know intuitively even if we can't translate them into the language of reason. This is why "trust your instincts" is often good advice.

People have always believed in gods/God, and it's not just because they need something to shove into a gap. Even today, when science explains a lot and there is a lot of confidence in science, atheists are a small minority. People generally have an intuitive sense that there is a God even if they are not particularly religious.

Also, did you know that statistically atheists are 79% male and a high percentage of them are scientists? This would probably mean that they are more left-brain oriented than the general population, so they are less likely to rely on intuition.

I don't believe that reason and intuition are mutually exclusive; they both serve an important function and we can develop both so that they balance each other out. But of course they are also both fallible. So if we rely on two different ways of apprehending reality rather than just one, and we try to reconcile the two, we are more likely to get it right.

Ryk said...

It is perfectly possible to have free will without having a capacity for "sinfulness" well perhaps a capacity but not an inclination.

To illustrate I have the free will to paint myself purple, leap off a tall building and shout "I am a pixie look at me fly." I do not however have any inclination to do so and in fact possess a strong and deed desire not to. If such things as your religion calls "sins" were similarly repellant then there would be complete free will without the problem of sin.

It is clear according to the Bible that the God figure made actions it opposes attractive and often desireable. Even the fruit that was supposed to be forbidden was given desireable qualities. Had the first people been made with no particular inclination towards curiosity about good and evil for example then they would have freely chose to not eat the fruit.

So the problem of "sin" is not free will but the nature of man to be attracted to such things. As you claim your deity created us, then it follows that it created us with these inclinations when it need not have.

Anette Acker said...

Ryk,

Again, God did not create us with these inclinations; some inclinations exist because of generational sin and others come about because we yield to temptation or cultivate bad habits. For example, it is not inevitable that we crave fatty foods and enjoy lying around on the sofa. We can train our bodies to crave healthy food and exercise. So it is the nature of some people to be attracted to laziness and potato chips but not all. But if we compare the two types of lifestyles we will all agree that the active, healthy kind of the best one.

There are a lot of sins that I have the free will to commit, but which don't appeal to me at all. I have never smoked, but if I had started earlier in life, I might well have become addicted to cigarettes. Even a person who has alcoholism in the family will never become addicted if he or she avoids drinking. John 8:34, Romans 6:16, and 2 Peter 2:19 all say that we are slaves to whatever it is we are overcome by. This is a fact of nature, and we don't have to be Christians to see the problem. When we are addicted to something harmful, we suffer the consequences.

However, Christ offers us freedom from such bondage, so that by his Spirit we can receive victory over all those wrong inclinations. He gives us his strength in place of our own weakness. And instead of willpower he only asks that we humbly receive what he offers--forgiveness and restoration.

So yes, we have free will and we are all accountable for our choices. And one of those choices is whether or not to accept the help that is offered us.