Monday, May 24, 2010

Why is the God of the Bible Superior?

I've had a few conversations on Atheist Central about evidence for the existence of a Creator, and that will be the subject of my next post, but the question inevitably then becomes why they should accept that he is the God of the Bible. Why is the God of the Bible "superior to any of the other gods in the pantheon of past religions?" as somebody asked.

That is, of course, a valid question, and to address it I will first briefly discuss some other religions and and why I would not accept them as true. Then I will give a few reasons why Christianity does the best job of explaining what we see and experience, and why it is the best fit from the standpoint of rationality and morality. Of course this is going to be very cursory because the subject matter is so broad, but I would be happy to discuss it further in the comments.

Deism: Deists believe that an intelligence designed the universe, but they do not believe in a personal God who intervenes in his creation. The supreme being of deism simply created the universe and left it alone.

The chief problem of deism is that it leaves so many unanswered questions, like why a creative intelligence would have no revealed purpose. In spite of the problem of evil, this universe is pretty impressive. Would a supremely high intelligence create and then simply not care? I suppose that's possible, but then he would be nothing like us, his most intelligent creatures (as far as we know), because we have an innate sense that our actions should be purposeful and life should have meaning. And most talented creators put much of themselves into their creations, so we would expect that the intelligence behind this universe would reveal himself in his creation, and particularly in his intelligent creatures.

Primitive polytheistic religions: These are probably the easiest to dismiss because most modern cultures have outgrown them. If a religion is true, even the most highly developed intellect would be stretched in trying to understand it. It has to be "higher" than our ways, but not "different" in that it violates the rules of logic or our sense of morality. Since civilization has outgrown these religions, that indicates that they are manmade.

Judaism: Judging from the comments on Atheist Central and Dwindling in Unbelief, I don't expect that Judaism appeals much to most atheists. They often use the Old Testament as ammunition against Christianity, particularly by claiming that it violates a modern sense of morality.

This is a valid argument, because the Old Testament laws were often strange and problematic, and they seemed based on primitive cultures. I recognize, of course, that this is a potential problem for Christianity as well as for Judaism, so the question is how each religion addresses it.

Jews differ in terms of how literally they interpret the Jewish law, with Orthodox Jews taking it the most literally while Reform Jews consider the Jewish law to merely provide guidelines. But what is the point of the Jewish law if it can be watered down however we want? This is moral relativism, and it also conflicts with the nature of YHWH, who had very strict rules and clearly established his holiness in the Old Testament.

Christianity does not allow for watering down of any of its teachings, but the New Testament instructs us on how to interpret the Old Testament. This is a more rational and systematic approach than simply glossing over difficulties.

Luke 24:27 says, "Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, [Jesus] explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures." The entire Old Testament is full of symbolism or prophesies of Christ, starting with the very first chapter of Genesis. Colossians 2:16 says that the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament "are a mere shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ." Jesus said, "Do not think I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill." So even though none of the Old Testament authors understood it at the time, because it was a hidden mystery (Colossians 1:26), they all wrote of God coming in the flesh, and he was the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. 

Islam: The Qur'an was dictated by Mohammed, who claimed to have received it as a direct revelation from the angel Gabriel. Mohammed is considered the greatest of a number of prophets, including Moses and Jesus. 

There are several ways in which Islam has less of a ring of truth than Christianity. First, it seems unlikely that God would entrust his entire revealed word to one person. The Bible, on the other hand, consists of writings by at least forty authors. (This criticism extends to Mormonism as well, which I will not discuss further.) Second, Mohammed was supposedly the greatest and most virtuous of all the prophets, and close to perfection. Still, he married a nine-year-old girl, which may or may not have been a problem in that culture, but now we know how psychologically damaging that would be to a child.

Compare that to Jesus, who challenged all social convention with a transcendent and timeless morality. In spite of his culture, Jesus treated women with respect (John 4) and children with the love and acceptance they need (Matthew 19:13-15). He had the courage to stand up to hypocritical scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23). He ate and drank with prostitutes and notorious sinners, but instead of conforming to their behavior he transformed their lives (Matthew 11:19). He was sexually self-controlled without being uptight (Luke 7:37-48).  He was, as Mahatma Gandhi said, "a beautiful example of the perfect Man."

Another problem with Islam is that the Qur'an makes specific scientific allegations that are known to be false while also claiming a high level of infallibility. For example, it tells a story of how a Muslim discovered that the sun sets in a pool of murky water. It also says that the earth is held in place by mountains, and that Allah holds up the sky so that it doesn't fall on us. These are explanations, not poetry, and they clearly indicate that the sky is a hard dome and the earth is flat.

Chapter 1 of Genesis, on the other hand, contains semi-poetical language, and the first few chapters of Genesis are full of deep symbolism of free will, sin, Christ and the church, redemption, and eternal life--and much of the same symbolism continues in Revelation. The message is primarily theological, and any cosmological or biological truths would be secondary. Unlike Mohammed, Jesus never teaches anything about science. All his teaching pertains to the kingdom of God. Nothing in the Bible has been falsified by science because the controversial passages are so highly symbolic.

Buddhism and Taoism: These are more philosophies than religions, in the sense that they do not teach anything about God or gods. So if someone suspects that the universe was created, Buddhism and Taoism do not give further information.

Hinduism: Hinduism is amorphous, in that it encompasses polytheism, monotheism, atheism, and pantheism. I think it would appeal more to someone who is looking for self-fulfillment than someone who is searching for objective truth.

Hindus also either believe that the universe is eternal or that there is an endless cycle of universes. The idea that the universe is eternal is inconsistent with modern science, and the notion that any other universe than ours has existed is not supported by evidence.

New Age spirituality: This is a make-it-yourself religion that retains the spiritual mysticism that deism rejects. Again, there is no objective truth to be found in this type of spirituality.

All of these religions are either a) too rigid and therefore dated, or b) too amorphous and therefore whatever we want to make them. Judaism and Islam are too rigid and they can also seem harsh and legalistic. The others are too soft and let us shape our deity into whatever we want him to be. The god of these religions never offends and never makes difficult claims, nor does he seem to care much.

Why is Christianity more consistent with the evidence?

The moral standard: Jesus said, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40). 

So on the one hand, Jesus set a very high moral standard, but on the other hand, it is not rigid or harsh. In other words, we are not to live according to the strict rules of the Old Testament, but by the wisdom that comes from faith in Christ, and that always has as its chief goal the glory of God and the good of others. And the New Testament elaborates on what that means in practical terms. Galatians 5:22 says: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." These qualities are indisputably good by any standard.

Furthermore, Christian theology also recognizes that we do not naturally have the power to love like this, so we need to be born of the Spirit of God who will do the good work through us. This is the nature of faith. Galatians 5:6 says, "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." In other words, salvation is by faith, but love is the evidence of faith. If we belong to Christ, we will resemble him, because his Spirit will work in and through us.

The combination of complexity and simplicity: The message of salvation is very simple: We are to come to Christ as broken sinners and he heals us by the power of the Holy Spirit. The more humble and needy we are, the better qualified we are to receive this gift of eternal life. Pride is the only barrier.

However, Christian theology is also extremely complex and nuanced. It never oversimplifies what is not simple, and God is not simple, nor is human nature. The Bible is inherently logical, but the logic is not evident on a superficial level. It contains many subtleties and paradoxes that make more and more sense over time, like an infinitely complex puzzle that we will never solve in this life, but which has a very definite order and logic. It mirrors the natural world in this respect, which would indicate that the Christian God is the creator of the world.

A holy God of love: The God of the Bible is holy and he "dwells in unapproachable light" (1 Timothy 6:16), but he loves us so much that he uses the imagery of marriage to describe the fulfillment of his plan of redemption. This begins with Adam and Eve foreshadowing Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:32), it is further symbolized in the Song of Solomon, and it reaches its fulfillment in Revelation (Revelation 21:9-11).

The idea that a god should be loving comes from Christianity. No other religion talks about a personal God whose nature is love, and certainly not a holy God who is so humble that he assumed the role of a servant and washed his disciples' feet.

Freedom: Muslim extremists have come under fire for threatening violence against anyone who draws Mohammed. In defense of Islam, they prohibit drawing any of their prophets, including Moses and Jesus. However, this kind of legalism is antithetical to Christianity, which calls us to freedom, even with the associated consequences. No other church was rebuked more severely by Paul than the one in Galatia, which had fallen from grace into legalism.

2 Corinthians 3:17 says, "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." Where Christianity is practiced the way it should be (i.e., where the Holy Spirit is leading) there will be no coercion, manipulation, or brainwashing. Free will is central to our humanity, and in salvation that humanity is perfected, so we become more and more free the more we become like Christ. But freedom in Christianity doesn't mean lawlessness--it means being governed by an internal law that comes from the presence of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:13 says: "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another."

This premium on freedom is consistent with what we see, and it indicates that the Christian God is our creator. We have free will and recognize its importance, but it is also the source of much of the evil and suffering in the world.

The problem of evil: After Anthony Flew became a deist, Christianity was the religion he considered most seriously, but he rejected it because of the problem of evil. The problem of evil is the major reason why deists believe in an intelligence that created and left us to fend for ourselves. If he exists, they reason, he couldn't possibly care.

But the God of Christianity does care; the entire Bible is about the problem of evil. In the opening chapters of Genesis we see its cause: free will and sin. In the Gospel accounts we see its cure: the cross. And in Revelation 21:3-4 we see the final outcome: "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away."

Christianity is the only religion that takes the problem of evil so seriously that God himself became one of us and died the most profane death possible so that he could solve it. He satisfied the requirements of the Law on our behalf and paid the penalty for the sins of the world, and in that sacrifice he bridged the gap between a holy God and fallen humanity. This means that we can all receive his Holy Spirit, who will make us like him while preserving our individuality and our freedom.

God has freely chosen to give us abundant life that not even physical death can sever, and some day he will create "new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:13), where he will fulfill the deepest human longings. Nobody who does any harm can have a place in that new creation (Isaiah 11:9, 65:25), because otherwise the problem of evil would persist. But God has, through the cross, solved the problem forever, and the suffering of this life will become just a faint memory.

63 comments:

BeamStalk said...

I have always heard, if you want to know what is wrong with your own religion, ask another religion.

Anette Acker said...

Or better yet, ask an atheist.

Hey, I was just answering the question that atheists keep asking: Even if there is a creator, why should they accept that he is the biblical God? As they correctly point out, the religions can't all be right. So I have to debunk the other religions in order to demonstrate that Christianity is the truth.

This doesn't mean that I'm disrespectful of other people's religious heritage--I realize that's part of their identities. But obviously I don't think that what they believe is the truth.

Next I'm going to demonstrate what's wrong with atheism. Stay tuned! :)

clamflats said...

Hello Anette, thanks for putting in the effort to address this subject. I make a point of reading your comments when you post at AC.

You write, ""we have an innate sense that our actions should be purposeful and life should have meaning." Could you expand on that statement? Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines innate as:
1 : existing in, belonging to, or determined by factors present in an individual from birth : native, inborn
2 : belonging to the essential nature of something : inherent
3 : originating in or derived from the mind or the constitution of the intellect rather than from experience

Which of these definitions are you using in your statement? Are we born with a sense of purpose and a desire for meaning or is it inbred, a result of our upbringing, education, and experiences? Is this sense measurable? Do some people have a stronger sense than others? Some people who have experienced injury or illness, particularly to the brain, report a decreased sense of purpose and meaning.

I would suggest that religion, cross-culturally, can be defined as the attempt to define meaning and purpose within a society and that the reason we see some many different and varied religious beliefs is that various cultures have different experiences of geology, environment, neighboring cultures, and other random factors that will shape this shared sense.

One final thought on your belief in the superiority of Christianity. You write, "Christianity is the only religion that takes the problem of evil so seriously that God himself became one of us and died the most profane death possible so that he could solve it". Why do you consider crucifixion to be the most profane (to treat something sacred with abuse, irreverence, or contempt) death possible? There were many thousands of people crucified by the Roman Empire and there are many millions of people who have endured humanly-applied suffering over extended periods, months and years, before being killed. There is an admittedly flippant quip, "Jesus had a really bad weekend for your sins." It is meant to counter the claim of the superiority of the biblical account of Jesus' death. Why do you consider this execution "the most profane"?

BeamStalk said...

Or better yet, ask an atheist.

Not always depends on the person. If they come from a particular religion then they can usually tell you the complaints they have with that. Notice in my statement I didn't say ask an individual but another religion as a whole, usually the leaders. ;)

I think you dismiss some things here out of hand with your own preconceived notions of how things are supposed to happen. Most of these complaints have been brought up at Ray's blog.

Also I think you and I both could study up a little more on Hinduism because your description doesn't sound quite right to me but I don't know enough about it.

Lastly, no need to dismiss religions because most people don't practice them anymore (there are a few people that still claim too). Just because we don't practice them doesn't mean they aren't right. It just means it isn't popular. You are making an argument from popularity.

Anette Acker said...

Thank you for stopping by clamflats. I appreciate your encouraging words.

All I really meant was that an intelligent being generally has a purpose. And I think that the higher the intelligence the more purposeful the behavior. Cats, for instance, don't do a whole lot but don't get bored (I just glanced over at my cat), but humans usually engage in purposeful activity. As you noted, people who have suffered brain injury report a decreased sense of purpose.

Any Creator of this universe would be highly intelligent, and therefore it seems unlikely that he would create without any purpose.

Why do you consider crucifixion to be the most profane (to treat something sacred with abuse, irreverence, or contempt) death possible?

It was a very humiliating and painful form of execution, reserved for the worst criminals. And if you think of Jesus as God, then it meant the most sacred being subjected to the most profane and severe type of punishment at the Roman government's disposal. Crucifixion also carried major stigma with the Jews: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree'" (Galatians 3:13).

Anette Acker said...

Also I think you and I both could study up a little more on Hinduism because your description doesn't sound quite right to me but I don't know enough about it.

That's probably true that I could study up more on Hinduism. But what doesn't sound right to you? I think Hinduism is predominantly monotheistic now, but it does encompass atheism, pantheism, and polytheism.

And they do believe that the universe is either eternal or that there is an infinite succession of universes. I pointed that out because there is a really strong cosmological argument to be made for the existence of a creator--which I will discuss in my next post. But obviously it depends on the universe having a beginning, which is what all the evidence tells us it had.

Lastly, no need to dismiss religions because most people don't practice them anymore (there are a few people that still claim too). Just because we don't practice them doesn't mean they aren't right. It just means it isn't popular. You are making an argument from popularity.

I was actually not making an argument from popularity, I was giving a reason why they are no longer popular: They were so much a part of the primitive cultures that practiced them. If we can outgrown them culturally and intellectually, they are probably not the truth.

clamflats said...

Hello Anette – thanks for the response. First off, let me apologize a bit for my writing style. I reread my comment to you and realized that it was long on questions but short on a point of view that you could respond to. Perhaps it is this text message/twitter world we live in with short bursts of thoughts that I have grown accustomed to. I’ll try to be more substantive.

Secondly, let me withdraw my questions about your statement, “Christianity is the only religion that takes the problem of evil so seriously that God himself became one of us and died the most profane death possible so that he could solve it.” One of my pet peeves with some Christians is the importance they place on the manner of Jesus’ death. I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church. The crucified Christ statue is central to its sanctuary arrangement. The Stations of the Cross line the nave. The nuns stressed and guilt-tripped us with the suffering of Jesus in atonement for our sins. Later in life I realized that many people have suffered longer and more painful deaths. Granted that fact does not diminish Jesus’ torment or obviate the importance that Christians may want to place on it. I try to avoid “gotcha” arguments when discussing religion and my reference to your statement was a “gotcha”.

So back to your assertion that, “we have an innate sense that our actions should be purposeful and life should have meaning.” I am questioning which definition of “innate” you are using. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines innate as:
1 : existing in, belonging to, or determined by factors present in an individual from birth : native, inborn
2 : belonging to the essential nature of something : inherent
3 : originating in or derived from the mind or the constitution of the intellect rather than from experience

I think you are using the first definition, that this sense is part of our being much like lungs, eyes, or a stomach but not physical. I could agree with you using the third definition. Humans do commit actions purposely but it seems to me that this is a function of our mind, a manifestation of our brains working; as you wrote in your recent comment to me, “the higher the intelligence the more purposeful the behavior.” I want to add a caveat that, as humans, we may have a bias to assign more meaning to our lives than to say an ant’s or a cat’s life. We also seem to assign more meaning to our individual or societal group’s lives than to other humans. That exception aside, do you consider this sense innate because it “seems” to be so or do you believe that this sense is essential to our being? My observation of children or adults with diminished mental activity is that they do not appear to act with a purpose or assign meaning to their actions beyond their immediate physical needs. It seems to me that the meaning we assign to our or others lives is the result of our upbringing. Christians may say that the purpose of life is to reach salvation and communion with God, a Hindi might say that the purpose of life is to purify ourselves for the next life. If you have the time and inclination, I would be very interested in reading your expanded thoughts on this subject.

This is important because if you can demonstrate that we do have purpose beyond our physical life and brain activity then it would open up the possibility that there is a transcendent and perhaps immortal part to our being.

My best, Rick (clamflats)

BeamStalk said...

I think Hinduism is predominantly monotheistic now, but it does encompass atheism, pantheism, and polytheism.

I know Brahma is the supreme god, and many other gods are a part of Hinduism. I have also heard that Shiva can sometimes be considered an aspect of Brahma, but I am not sure on a lot of this.

There are 4 different major sects and each has a different take on things. An apt comparison would be Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, and Mormons within Christianity.

I know Hinduism dates back to 5500 - 2500 BCE, making it the oldest practicing religion. Buddhism grew out of Hinduism, so yes there is some atheism within it. I don't think calling amorphous is apt.

And they do believe that the universe is either eternal or that there is an infinite succession of universes.

I know there are several creation stories within Hinduism. Brahma is said to have created the earth, heaven, and the space in between.

They do believe souls are immortal but I don't think you would object to that.

I was actually not making an argument from popularity, I was giving a reason why they are no longer popular: They were so much a part of the primitive cultures that practiced them. If we can outgrown them culturally and intellectually, they are probably not the truth.

That is a better statement. The reason most stopped practicing, especially in the Near East, was after they had been conquered by a rival faction. It was deemed that the rival faction worshiped more powerful gods then they did and so adopted those gods. The Jews almost did the same while under Babylonian captivity, and throughout the Bible you can see them trading out beliefs, but the priests reinterpreted the losses as punishments from YHWH and thus kept their own religion.

BeamStalk said...

I forgot to add, I agree that there are problems with Hinduism and that it is more than likely not correct.

For one thing, I think they believe that the universe is older than 14 by, kinda like Scientologists.

Anette Acker said...

Rick,

One of my pet peeves with some Christians is the importance they place on the manner of Jesus’ death. I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church. The crucified Christ statue is central to its sanctuary arrangement. The Stations of the Cross line the nave. The nuns stressed and guilt-tripped us with the suffering of Jesus in atonement for our sins. Later in life I realized that many people have suffered longer and more painful deaths.

That makes sense. I've heard the expression, "Jesus had a bad weekend for our sins" before, and I never really understood the point. But I can see now why you resented the guilt-tripping. Nobody likes to be manipulated.

I think you are using the first definition, that this sense is part of our being much like lungs, eyes, or a stomach but not physical. I could agree with you using the third definition. Humans do commit actions purposely but it seems to me that this is a function of our mind, a manifestation of our brains working; as you wrote in your recent comment to me, “the higher the intelligence the more purposeful the behavior.”

In terms of my argument for why the deist intelligence doesn't make sense, I was using the third definition, but in retrospect my use of the word "innate" didn't convey that very well. My only point there was that it seems axiomatic that intelligence and purpose are generally connected. I think this would be true even if we don't concede the existence of a soul.

But I do think there is something in us that is independent of our brains and physical bodies. Clearly the function of our brains has a great effect on our thoughts, emotions, and behavior, but there is still the will and that which governs and integrates everything. Because it's so hard to define, I think the word "soul" captures it best. We are more than just our intellectual functions.

Of course there are many aspects of human nature that all cultures share, but by itself that is not necessarily an argument for the existence of a soul, since we all have common ancestors. I think the moral law is indicative of the "imprint" of our Creator because it is so universal. I said in my original post that Jesus had a transcendent morality, and it was so different from his culture, but people were still drawn to him. They recognized his morality as higher, and not just different.

I think there is a motivation in us to reach our full humanity, and be more than just animals. We see certain things as dehumanizing and other things as ennobling. And this appears to be an objective standard. For example, slavery is dehumanizing and freedom is ennobling. This happens to be exactly what Christian doctrine teaches.

Salvation is in essence the opportunity to reach our full humanity, but the Bible teaches that it only happens when we receive the Holy Spirit of God. Without him we remain incomplete. And since his Spirit is immortal, this rebirth means eternal life.

Anette Acker said...

BeamStalk,

I forgot to add, I agree that there are problems with Hinduism and that it is more than likely not correct.

For one thing, I think they believe that the universe is older than 14 by, kinda like Scientologists.


I think the eastern religions are far more appealing than, say, Islam, but if someone has a rationalistic mindset and evaluates ideas on the basis of whether or not they are true, then I agree that Hinduism doesn't pass muster.

I do think that they believe the universe to be either eternal or cyclical, though. I've read that several places, and Steven J. also just made an argument where he took that for granted.

clamflats said...

Hello Anette – I realize I have drifted off your topic, Why is the God of the Bible Superior, by concentrating on this one objection you have to deism. I hope you don’t mind. My atheism is not an opposition to Christianity, per se, but a rejection of all appeals to non-material explanations of the universe. So, to me, it doesn’t much matter whether someone believes that the Bible or the Koran or the Bhagavad Gita is the best guide or which form the deity takes. Almost all religions accept that, as you wrote, “we are more than just our intellectual functions.” This is a very compelling assertion and basic to your concept of salvation – one would need to be in the possession of a sinful soul in order for salvation to be necessary. It seems essential that one would need a strong belief in the existence of and a solid understanding of the nature of the soul in order to make further exploration of which religion is superior.

You write, “Clearly the function of our brains has a great effect on our thoughts, emotions, and behavior, but there is still the will and that which governs and integrates everything.” But what is “will”? Again I look at children and adults with diminished mental activity and ask, where is their will? When my then one year old grandson refused a spoonful of pureed carrots I didn’t see that as an act of will. He was reacting negatively to probably some sensory aspect of the food. He’s four now and loves carrots. When he asks for them for dinner I do see that as an act of will. What changed? Is he gaining a will or perhaps he is developing access to a preexisting will? My aunt, who is in a nursing home, had to move to a new room because her roommate, who has Alzheimer’s disease, was becoming increasingly hostile and stealing her belongings. Is the roommate losing her will? Before these recent behaviors started the two of them were great friends. It’s hard to imagine that she is acting willfully. So where and how do we draw the line between actions that we can say are willful and isn’t any line rather arbitrary? If someone who obsessively shoplifts or acts promiscuously can change their behavior by taking a pill, chemically altering their brain function, shouldn’t we investigate the material nature of the brain and recognize that what we describe as a soul is a function of conciousness and the ability to reflect on our actions and our thoughts?

Lots of questions again, sorry. I give credence to an individual’s experience. Not everything needs to be explained scientifically or philosophically. Have you had experiences that revealed to you the independent non-physical existence of a soul? Have you considered that the concept of a soul may just be a convention some people accept as a result of education?

My best, Rick

Rabbitpirate said...

Hey there Anette,

Sorry it took so long to reply to your comments, specially when you directed the post over at Atheist Central at me personally. I wanted to give your reply the thought and time it deserved before just spewing out the first answer that came to my mind. Firstly there is a common theme running through your post that I think make your arguments here much weaker than they could be.

You seem to using your personal feelings of what you find most comfortable and, worse in this case, the Bible as your framework for deciding which God/Gods are the most rational. Ray does this all the time when talking about other religions. He starts from the view point that the questions the Christian religion raise are correct and then compairs other religions to the answers given by Christianity to these question. For example he talks about which religion gives us the best escape from sin and hell...but that relies on sin and hell being valid concepts to start with. If there is a real religion and that religion has no concept of sin and hell then it doesn't matter that it doesn't address them as those concepts would be coming from a FALSE religion. You do the same here. Here are some examples from just your first Deist section.

"The chief problem of deism is that it leaves so many unanswered questions, like why a creative intelligence would have no revealed purpose."

This is working on the assumption, gained from your personal feelings on the matter and from what the Bible says about what a God should be like, that a deity would have a revealed purpose. Why should this be? The fact that the God of the Bible has a revealed purpose in no way means that this is an accurate reflections of reality. Or:

"I suppose that's possible, but then he would be nothing like us, his most intelligent creatures (as far as we know), because we have an innate sense that our actions should be purposeful and life should have meaning."

Why should God be anything like us? Again this idea comes from the Bible and from a personal feeling that God would be like us. There is no reason to start with this idea in place. Lastly:

"And most talented creators put much of themselves into their creations, so we would expect that the intelligence behind this universe would reveal himself in his creation, and particularly in his intelligent creatures."

Again you are working from the assumption that God would a) want to do this, b) that humans were his goal and c) that he had a choice in the matter. The Christian God had the choice to do these things, however that doesn't mean that the God of reality did. Maybe blackholes and not humans were his goal, maybe they reflect his likeness the best.

If you are to really judge which God/religion is the best then you have to put your personal feeling about how you want God to be to one side. You also need to stop using the Biblical description of what a God should be like as you framework. The properties of each God/religion should be judge only agaist the objective reality around us. Is the evil and destruction we find in the word best explained by an all-loving all-powerful God or by an indifference or incapable God? That is how you should evaluate God claims, against the framework of reality and not against the framework of a particular religion.

As I said this flawed approach to the issue runs through your entire post. I wasn't planning on doing this but I think a good way to make my point is to show where you have made leaps that are not supported by the evidence at hand.

Rabbitpirate said...

"These are probably the easiest to dismiss because most modern cultures have outgrown them. If a religion is true, even the most highly developed intellect would be stretched in trying to understand it. It has to be "higher" than our ways, but not "different" in that it violates the rules of logic or our sense of morality. Since civilization has outgrown these religions, that indicates that they are manmade."

Why? Why does the correct religion have to be beyond understanding? Why does God have to have the "most highly developed intellect"? The universe seems to be full of just as much, if not more, raw primal power and chaos as it does order and logic. Plus doesn't Ray go on and on about common sense? Why does God have to be complex? Why is a religion that promotes worship of those things you can directly see and which praises the urges that all of nature seems to have NOT accurately reflect the nature of the God who created all that? Again you are judging the accuracy by the definition of God in the Bible. As for the fact that they are no long popular proving that they are false again this does not follow. Most Gods are described as being, at least in part, unknowable and rely on faith rather than evidence to show that they exist. The fact that there is no evidence for a Primitive polytheistic God does not mean that that sort of God is not real, just that there is no evidence for it. Lack of evidence is a good reason why people no longer believe in this sort of God, however if you wish to use it as a good reason why this sort of God doesn't exist then the exact same argument can apply to the God you believe in as well. Next.

"Jews differ in terms of how literally they interpret the Jewish law"

No, that is not the reason for the difference. Jews differ in that they are still waiting for the messiah to arrive. Christians use the new testament to supersede the old and use it to smooth over the bits they do not like and to dismiss the old rules that seem simply insane these days. Jews do not have the new testament and so do there best to live by the old laws, that both they and Christians believe were handed down from God, even while also trying to ignore most of the insane ones.

And again your argument here is based on the idea that Christianity is right, heck you even quote the new testament as part of your argument. Think of it this way, if Christianity is wrong then everything in the new testment is wrong and so CANNOT be used as a standard by which to judge the validity of other religions. This bit made me laugh.

"Christianity does not allow for watering down of any of its teachings, but the New Testament instructs us on how to interpret the Old Testament. This is a more rational and systematic approach than simply glossing over difficulties."

No Christians ignore or explain away anything they don't like, Ray and his moral laws argument springs to mind. The very verse you provide states that Jesus did not come to do away with the law of moses. Well then why is it that Christians do not support the stoning of witches and homosexuals? These laws came directly from God and Jesus said they were still valid. Are you saying that the laws of the old testament were not "rational" and that humans know better than God? Or are you saying that God changed his mind or that the information in the old testament is incorrect?

Rabbitpirate said...

"There are several ways in which Islam has less of a ring of truth than Christianity. First, it seems unlikely that God would entrust his entire revealed word to one person."

Why not? Again you are judging Islam on how it fits with your feelings and the framework of Christianity. If we are honestly to look at this issue we must start with no preconceptions. As such claiming that God would not just give his instuctions to a single person is NOT a statement we can make. Also if we are talking about what makes sense then it sure DOESN'T make sense for an all powerful all knowing God to give his work to a tribe of desert dwelling nomads in a language that he knew would become obsolete at a time when there was no way that it could reach everyone on earth. Is the logic of the delivery method is a way of judging the validity of a God claim then the Christian God makes no sense either.

"Second, Mohammed was supposedly the greatest and most virtuous of all the prophets, and close to perfection. Still, he married a nine-year-old girl, which may or may not have been a problem in that culture, but now we know how psychologically damaging that would be to a child."

Again if Islam is the true religion and this is acceptable to the true God then who are you to judge. You are again judging an action based upon you own personal feelings on the issue and how closely they fit with Christianity. The fact that I happen to agree with you here says nothing about whether the Islamic God is real or not.

"Another problem with Islam is that the Qur'an makes specific scientific allegations that are known to be false while also claiming a high level of infallibility."

So does the Bible. Plus Islamic scolars claim that the Qur'an is a highly scientific book and accurately reflects modern understanding about science. Those who disagree are not understanding it correctly. Does that sound familiar?

"For example, it tells a story of how a Muslim discovered that the sun sets in a pool of murky water. It also says that the earth is held in place by mountains, and that Allah holds up the sky so that it doesn't fall on us. These are explanations, not poetry, and they clearly indicate that the sky is a hard dome and the earth is flat."

And the Bible talks about the sky being spread out like a tent, of it seperating the waters above from the waters below. It talks of there being high places on earth from which all the nations of the world can be seen. It talks about angels being stationed at the four corners of the earth and about it being stationary in space.

Are all these things just poetry? And how do you know that the Qur'an is not using metaphor and stories to explain spiritual truths? This explanation is used often to explain parts of the Bible that do not fit directly with reality, so why not apply it to other holy books as well?

"Unlike Mohammed, Jesus never teaches anything about science. "

So, this not evidence that Christianity is right and Islam is wrong. If anything it is a good reason to conclude that neither religion is correct as the son of God would surely know about science.

Rabbitpirate said...

"Hinduism is amorphous, in that it encompasses polytheism, monotheism, atheism, and pantheism. I think it would appeal more to someone who is looking for self-fulfillment than someone who is searching for objective truth."

Personally I think a polytheistic religion makes more sense than just having one single all powerful God. In a polytheistic religion the Gods tend to control certain areas and are often more human in personality and also in conflict with each other. The problem of evil doesn't exist in polytheism as the Gods are not claimed to be perfect. Natural disasters happen because the Gods are fighting or are angry. To my mind a group of petty self centered dieties explains the world around us better than a single all powerful, all loving God does.

"Hindus also either believe that the universe is eternal or that there is an endless cycle of universes. The idea that the universe is eternal is inconsistent with modern science, and the notion that any other universe than ours has existed is not supported by evidence."

Neither is the idea that God is eternal supported by modern science or that there has only ever been one universe. If we are bringing science in to it we can do away with the Christian God as well.

"This is a make-it-yourself religion that retains the spiritual mysticism that deism rejects. Again, there is no objective truth to be found in this type of spirituality."

And again this doesn't mean that one of them isn't right or even that there objective truths to be found. Again you are judging by your personal feelings on what a religion should be like and what a God should be like.

You need to start from a point of view of looking at reality and measuring the various Gods and religions against it. You can not start with a preconcieve notion of what a religion and a God should be like and then cross out all the religions that don't measure up. That is not how you get to the truth, that is how you arrive at the conclusion you want.

Ok I will come back to your reasons why Christianity is the right religion a bit later on. Have other things to do right now. Take care.

Rabbitpirate said...

Heck, I should have proof read my posts a bit better. Lots of spelling and grammer mistakes in there. Sorry about that and hope it still made sense.

Rabbitpirate said...

Ok while I wait for the TAM London tickets to go on sale I just have two little things I want to add right now.

1. I just wanted to say that I really like your blog. After hanging out over at Ray's for so long it is a real breath of fresh air. Don't get me wrong I still disagree with most of what you say, that said I do plan of adding you to my google reader so that I can continue to follow your posts.

2. I wanted to quickly lay out how I would go about evaluating the various religions and claims about God.

First I would gather a load of people from different religions and sit them down and get them to come up with a list of things that they all agree on. This list could be on any topic but should only include the things that everyone accepts. Off the top of my head this might include:

1. Reality is the only standard against which all people can objectively measure things.

2. The earth is round.

3. The earth orbits the sun and not the other way around.

4. The earth is not the centre of the solar system.

5. Though it may not be the case the universe at least has the appearance of great age.

6. Though it may not be the case life on earth at least has the appearance of being interrelated.

7. The purposeful taking of another human life is wrong, though it is sometimes justifiable (war, self defence etc) (though some religions may disagree with this one)

8. Human beings come up with explanations for things that are not always right.

9. Humans can believe things with complete conviction that are not actually true.

10. Not all religions can be true.

Ok that is just an example, I am sure we could come up with a much longer list. Let's say we come up with a list with 100 things on it upon which people of all religions and none agree.

Now we take this list and compare the various religions and claims about God against it and rate them accordingly. The religion or God claim that most accurately reflects the things that we all agree on would be taken forward for further examination.

We would then look at this religion to see what other claims it makes that go against what other people believe and weigh up the argument for and against it.

That would be how I would start at least.

Daniel Gracely said...

Hi clamflats,

I trust that Anette won’t mind if I jump in here. I’m a Christian who has had many of the same questions about the will as you have. My views somewhat differ from most other Christians on the nature of what the Bible teaches about the will. Elsewhere I have written extensively about the will, and why “The Fall” (Adam’s disobedience in having eaten the forbidden fruit) ought not to be taken as affecting human will. In fact, the Lord himself stated (regarding Adam’s sin) that man had become “as one of us, knowing good and evil.” There are actually two words in Hebrew Englished as “knowledge,” and the Genesis narrative shows the distinction, indicating that Adam came into a greater knowledge of good and evil because of his sin. For, of course, Adam must have had a sense of good and evil prior to disobedience, or else he could not have comprehended at all the nature of a command. The problem since, I believe, is that Adam has passed this form of knowledge to all his descendents, so that, as they physically mature, they are presented with a plethora of information (and therefore choices) all but overwhelming to them. In other words, with “The Fall” came a much increased amount of thought-presentations to man, which he in his original state was not intended to have.

Further, for there to be sentient existence--whether of man, animals, insects, or even God-- the will must be present. (Indeed, if Choice does NOT equate with sentience, what does?) Even the granting of an idea AS an idea is a choice. Most arguments between persons do not take place at this level of simply recognizing ideas as ideas. Rather, arguments generally arise when one of the persons insists that the other person hold a certain idea to be true, or else 1) [as the Christian claims] suffer some consequence of God, i.e., hell, or 2) [as the atheist might claim] suffer society’s label of being naïve/stupid.

At any rate, I believe the Bible also teaches that with more knowledge comes more responsibility. Because man was a higher form than animals, Adam’s disobedience made him subject to greater divine punishment, than, for example, the serpent-animal which allowed Satan the use of its body. This is because humans have a higher form of knowledge than that of animals and insects. (I realize the Genesis account probably seems like a fairy tale to you. Still, I wish to use it to demonstrate the Bible’s teaching about the will.) Another Old Testament story (the prophet Balaam and his ass) shows that animals themselves have a degree of understanding right and wrong. Hence the New Testament speaks of Balaam’s ass rebuking the mad prophet, since it was beaten for having done no wrong.
(part 2 of 3 follows)

Daniel Gracely said...

The point in all this is to point out that persons themselves (according to the Bible) go through different stages of knowledge which makes them accountable to different degrees. Since Adam and Eve first became aware of their nakedness due to sin, it seems reasonable to assume that a child, when he first becomes aware of his nakedness, has sinned unto what I would call eternal liability, though perhaps (given the example of the Israelites under 20 years old who were not judged guilty for having refused to enter the Promised Land upon God’s instructions) a certain grace covers the child, since he is under the strong influence of his parents at so young an age. But I think even Alzheimer patients demonstrate the will to accept ideas as ideas, though admittedly their knowledge is reverting toward that of a child, in which certain patients (tragically) eventually become non-cognizant even of relieving themselves where they ought. I know of somehow who did not, or nearly did not, understand he was naked toward the end of his life, though he had lived a normal adult life and previously had no deficiencies of intelligence. But he still had a will. He still had some capacity to accept ideas AS ideas, for though his knowledge was diminished, it was never absent.

As for why a pill or chemistry seems to change the behavior of the will (yes, it invites the question about whether the “will” is merely an illusion), I think there is an answer. For while it would seem that the behavior observed in the pill-affected person suggests nothing more than some material-reaction inside the brain—something like the reaction of an indoor potted plant which always inclines toward the sun—the Bible teaches that the will is nevertheless present and independent of the body. For example, many an overweight person overeats when upset, but the upsetment may or may not be materially related. The Bible gives instances (Elijah, Christ) when depression led to a weakened desire to do the right thing. “The spirit is willing,” said Christ, “but the flesh is weak.” But notice that Christ didn’t say the will was absent. It was simply under more pressure to escape the physical pain of the body. The interplay between the physical, the emotions, and the will are indeed closely intertwined. But I think the biblical perspective is that the will remains independent of the physical body and therefore constitutes one as a sentient being. Otherwise the “I” would cease to exist upon physical death. Of course, if one holds strictly to a “material” only creation, it becomes very hard to argue for an “I” as traditionally held.
(part 3 of 3 follows)

Daniel Gracely said...

Now, I realize what I have written above assumes the Bible is the final authority that addresses these matters. Some (non-Christians) feel this is begging the question. But in my opinion every argument can be accused of being tautological. For every fundamental argument appeals to first-level epistemological principles which must be assumed, and cannot be proved, if by “proved” we mean something universally admitted to. And so from my perspective all knowledge is assumptive. That is, all knowledge is faith. The question is: In what is your faith? And this question leads to the dilemma of what view among so many thousands (or million) of ideas might be the superior one, since anyone can claim, like Joseph Smith did, for example, that they had a divine encounter, and so “listen to me.” (I’m not a Mormon, BTW.) The answer, I think, is in the Bible’s prophecies of the Messiah and of certain events. For example, In Psalm 22 (which Bible scholars hold to be Messianic in meaning) it states, “They pierced my hands and my feet.” This scripture predated the invention of crucifixion by the Romans, Carthaginians, Assyrians, etc., by some four or five hundred years, and so this becomes a compelling argument against the idea that only past scientific observation can suggest future events. Moreover, God Himself points to prophecy about the future as that which distinguishes Himself from all other gods.

Anyhow, these are just my own thoughts, since I empathize with the kind of questions you raise.

Sincerely,

Anette Acker said...

clamflats,

I'm in the process of answering your question, but there hasn't been much time over Memorial Day weekend. I'm glad you asked the question--it's an interesting one that has gotten me thinking.


Rabbitpirate,

Thanks for your response. I haven't yet had a chance to get to your comments, but I'll reply when the kids are back in school on Wednesday.

BTW, that's an adorable picture of you. :)


Dan,

Of course I don't mind that you jumped in.

It was interesting what you said about the knowledge of good and evil. I addressed that in the context of evolution on Atheist Central on 5/28 @ 12:11 PM.

If you get a chance to read it, let me know your thoughts, but in a part of my blog that has fewer comments. (There are plenty of posts with few or none, and all the comments show up in my email.)

Daniel Gracely said...

Hi Anette,

I read through your 4-part comment but probably need to read it again a little more closely. Still, I wasn't sure about one thing. Are you saying (or leaning toward saying) that you feel Adam was not a historical person? If you were saying that, I guess the point was a little too subtle for me, so I thought I would ask for clarification.

Take care,

DG
p.s. would you prefer I respond privately, since I'd rather not respond via Atheist Central?

The Celtic Chimp said...

I find a lot of the arguments you make against other religions specious to put it mildly, but what I would really like to know is how you can claim Jesus sets up a high moral standard and then say it is not harsh or strict.

Jesus claims that even getting angry with someone makes you a murderer in your heart, right?
Thought crime is the epitome of a rigid and unbending ruleset. Also, lust is a sin. Lust, like anger are emotions. No-one decides to feel emotions before they experience them. Morality must surely lie in how a person acts in response to these emotions. Jesus himself got a little hot under the collar.

Anette Acker said...

Rick,

Hello Anette – I realize I have drifted off your topic, Why is the God of the Bible Superior, by concentrating on this one objection you have to deism. I hope you don’t mind. My atheism is not an opposition to Christianity, per se, but a rejection of all appeals to non-material explanations of the universe. So, to me, it doesn’t much matter whether someone believes that the Bible or the Koran or the Bhagavad Gita is the best guide or which form the deity takes. Almost all religions accept that, as you wrote, “we are more than just our intellectual functions.” This is a very compelling assertion and basic to your concept of salvation – one would need to be in the possession of a sinful soul in order for salvation to be necessary. It seems essential that one would need a strong belief in the existence of and a solid understanding of the nature of the soul in order to make further exploration of which religion is superior.

I apologize for taking so long to get back to you. I wanted to give you an accurate answer, but discovered that the Bible is ambiguous on this subject of a soul and what happens immediately after death. One thing I’ve noticed about the Bible is that when it appears to be making contradictory statements, it is really expressing a “mystery” that we do not yet have enough information to understand. I briefly mentioned this in my comment on AC on the subject of evolution and the beginning of Genesis, where 1:26 and 3:22 appear to conflict; however, it makes more sense in light of modern science. Likewise, the Bible is not always clear about the afterlife, but that is not surprising given the likelihood that we cannot intellectually grasp what it will be like. So I hesitate to make any dogmatic assertions.

You are right that almost all religions (as well as Greek philosophers) say that we have a soul that survives death, so this is certainly the conventional wisdom. However, although the Bible talks about the promise of eternal life, it doesn’t clearly state that the soul is conscious immediately after death.

For example, Psalm 146:3-4 says: "Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; in that very day his thoughts perish." (Italics added.) In the New Testament, 1 Timothy 6:16 says, “He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light” (Italics added.) This verse indicates that a soul is not inherently immortal.

The Bible does speak of a resurrection and judgment of the dead when Jesus comes again (1 Corinthians 15:52, 1 Thessalonians 4:16), but it implies that we will “sleep” in the meantime, meaning that death is temporary for the redeemed. When Lazarus died, Jesus said that he had fallen asleep (John 11:11). Daniel 12:13 likewise indicates that we will stay dead until the resurrection: “But as for you, go your way to the end; then you will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age.” In Luke 23:43, however, Jesus says to the criminal next to him on the cross: “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” But that could simply mean when he is conscious again, because Jesus didn’t even go to Paradise on Good Friday.

The Hebrew word for soul is nephesh and the Greek word is psuche. "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul (nephesh, psuche)" (Gen. 2:7, KJV). But the first time the word nephesh is used is in Genesis 1:21 (KJV): "And God created great whales, and every living creature (nephesh, psuche) that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good." So animals are also living souls. The word psuche is also used repeatedly in the NT to mean “life.”

Anette Acker said...

However, in Matthew 10:28, Jesus says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul (psuche); but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” So here the soul appears to be something that survives death, unless this passage means that another person can’t make us forfeit our soul in the Matthew 16:26 sense: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul (psuche).”

The bottom line is that the Bible does not say that our soul immediately survives death, or that we can think without our brains. However, neither does it say that this is not the case. Despite conventional wisdom, it is equivocal about what happens immediately after death, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and find out.

Lots of questions again, sorry. I give credence to an individual’s experience. Not everything needs to be explained scientifically or philosophically. Have you had experiences that revealed to you the independent non-physical existence of a soul? Have you considered that the concept of a soul may just be a convention some people accept as a result of education?

I experienced a spiritual awakening or rebirth when I was nineteen, in line with John 3:3, and it was so real that it is impossible for me to dismiss it as merely psychological. Suddenly I understood things in the Bible that never made sense to me before and I started to change for the better. Since I’m naturally the kind of person who gets really into one thing for a while and then moves onto something else, the fact that I’m still a Christian is a miracle in and of itself.

But the word for spirit is pneuma, so that is something different than a soul. 1 Corinthians 15:45 says: “So also it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living soul.’ The last Adam [Christ] became a life-giving spirit.” So we may receive the Spirit of Christ, who according to 1 Timothy 6:16 “alone possesses immortality.” That means that all those who receive his Spirit will also have eternal life.

Dr. Arend Hintze said...

I was just wondering about superiority...

Why is superiority and reason to justify why someones particular religion is the one and only true?

For all we know Loki the evil God from the vikings could be the only "true" God, and we would live in a strange place...

Or maybe Satanism is true?

I am not necessarily disagreeing with Anette's list. I just disagree with the necessity to pick the one from the top.

Cheers Arend

Anette Acker said...

Dan,

I read through your 4-part comment but probably need to read it again a little more closely. Still, I wasn't sure about one thing. Are you saying (or leaning toward saying) that you feel Adam was not a historical person? If you were saying that, I guess the point was a little too subtle for me, so I thought I would ask for clarification.

I don't know the answer to that question (so maybe that's why I was vague), but it doesn't much matter, because the story works either way. Maybe there was a real Adam or maybe he just represents Mankind, which is what his name means. The Bible answers the why questions in a way that is very consistent with reality, but it doesn't devote much space to the how questions. I think we tend to focus too much on trying to line the Scriptures up with the how of science. The Bible never elsewhere describes biological processes.

Romans 1:20 says that we know God from creation as well as from his revealed word. This also means that the Bible and science are to be complimentary. We don't need the Bible to explain science.

Science ends at the Big Bang, where the laws of physics break down, and Genesis 1:1 explains what came before: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." But the scientific method can explain everything that came after that, so why should the Bible, which is God's message of salvation, take up space with it? It explains everything we need to know about our origins and the cause of the human condition in the story of Adam and Eve, without going into detail. We and all the animals are "living souls" that came from "dust," but we alone were "made" in the image of God, knowing good and evil. Whether that happened through the process or evolution or direct creation is irrelevant. The fact is that we do know good and evil. Science can explain how it happened, because God also reveals himself through the created order and science.

Anette Acker said...

Rabbitpirate,

I apologize for taking so long to get back to you.

First, let me explain the purpose of my original post. You, T, and others have been asking for evidence for why the Christian God is the true God, if in fact there is a creator. My approach was to look at the various religions with the criteria often used by atheists when they question Christianity on AC: rationality and morality. So if you feel that my approach was too anthropocentric, that's why.

My goal was not to prove that Christianity is the one true religion—it was to see which one fits the evidence best. The only possible way to look at this is by a "more likely than not" standard of proof. As you said, it is technically possible that the creator meant to create black holes (because he/she/it is a black hole), but there is very little reason to suspect that to be true. It is more reasonable to suspect that the creator left clues about his nature in his creation. This is more a guide for those who are trying to arrive at the truth than an effort to prove anything. It is impossible to prove the veracity of the Bible, but we can approach the question rationally, employing both logic and intuition.

This is working on the assumption, gained from your personal feelings on the matter and from what the Bible says about what a God should be like, that a deity would have a revealed purpose. Why should this be?

I think it is more likely than not that an intelligence would have a purpose. Intelligence and purpose correlate in this world, and therefore it is reasonable to conclude that any intelligence behind creation would have a purpose. It would also make sense that he would reveal that purpose. (Please note that I said “more likely than not.”)

If you are to really judge which God/religion is the best then you have to put your personal feeling about how you want God to be to one side. You also need to stop using the Biblical description of what a God should be like as you framework. The properties of each God/religion should be judge only agaist the objective reality around us. Is the evil and destruction we find in the word best explained by an all-loving all-powerful God or by an indifference or incapable God? That is how you should evaluate God claims, against the framework of reality and not against the framework of a particular religion.

The way to evaluate it would be to look at the various religions to see which explains the evidence best. The various "holy books" would be like scientific hypotheses. You start with them to determine how well they explain the evidence. You also ask whether the religion is at the level of a human mind or lower, or if it contains complex concepts that reflect a higher intelligence. That was my approach. The Bible discusses the problem of evil in great detail, but not in a simplistic way like gods fighting over power.

And again your argument here is based on the idea that Christianity is right, heck you even quote the new testament as part of your argument. Think of it this way, if Christianity is wrong then everything in the new testment is wrong and so CANNOT be used as a standard by which to judge the validity of other religions. This bit made me laugh.

If you go back and reread that part, you might notice that I was comparing and contrasting Judaism with Christianity. That's why I quoted the NT. The two religions have a different approach to the Mosaic Law. Judaism has varying levels of orthodoxy, while Christianity teaches that Jesus fulfilled the Law on our behalf, and we establish the Law by faith in him. The NT interprets the OT in a rational way, as I explained.

Anette Acker said...

These laws came directly from God and Jesus said they were still valid. Are you saying that the laws of the old testament were not "rational" and that humans know better than God? Or are you saying that God changed his mind or that the information in the old testament is incorrect?

Those laws did come directly from God, but they were suitable for that culture, which was primitive and often violent, so if God’s laws had been too different they would have rejected them entirely. Also, they did not yet have the Holy Spirit. In Matthew 19, Jesus explains why the Law of Moses allowed divorce: because of the hardness of their heart. (This reason can be extrapolated to the rest of the law.) However, in Malachi 2:16, God expresses his feelings about divorce by saying, “For I hate divorce.” So there is a discrepancy in the OT between God’s will and what he allows, and the reason is the hardness of their hearts. The Holy Spirit came to change all that.

Again if Islam is the true religion and this is acceptable to the true God then who are you to judge. You are again judging an action based upon you own personal feelings on the issue and how closely they fit with Christianity. The fact that I happen to agree with you here says nothing about whether the Islamic God is real or not.

Actually, I'm looking at it with the criteria used by many atheists on AC. The transcendent morality of Jesus has more of a ring of truth than the morality of Mohammed, which is odious to our culture today. If the morality is dated, it is most likely manmade.

"Another problem with Islam is that the Qur'an makes specific scientific allegations that are known to be false while also claiming a high level of infallibility."

So does the Bible. Plus Islamic scolars claim that the Qur'an is a highly scientific book and accurately reflects modern understanding about science. Those who disagree are not understanding it correctly. Does that sound familiar?


Where does the Bible claim to express scientific truths in an infallible way? Where does it make specific scientific allegations that are proven false? It doesn't seek to explain anything scientifically--it just describes things from the perspective of the author. The beginning of Genesis directly contradicts itself, which indicates that it is not intended to be a scientific explanation. As I mentioned before, I've been having a discussion with Bob on AC on this subject.

You are right that Islamic scholars make that claim, and sometimes the Qur'an gets it right and other times it doesn't. When it gets it wrong, scholars say that it can only be understood in Arabic. That strikes me as a disingenuous explanation, because we have no way to evaluate the claim. Whenever I make a claim about Christianity, I back it up with Scripture so you can determine whether or not it makes sense.

Anette Acker said...

Are all these things just poetry? And how do you know that the Qur'an is not using metaphor and stories to explain spiritual truths? This explanation is used often to explain parts of the Bible that do not fit directly with reality, so why not apply it to other holy books as well?

The Bible never claims scientific infallibility; it claims theological infallibility (1 Timothy 3:14-17, 2 Peter 1:19-20). Specifically, it is “a lamp shining in a dark place” to illuminate the way to salvation. The fact that it doesn’t try to explain a complex subject like science supports its veracity, because it is human to want to understand science, but it would be difficult to do justice to it in a “holy book.” Romans 1:20 says that we can gain insight about God through the natural order, and it is through the scientific method that we understand the universe. The Bible picks up where science reaches a dead-end (at the big bang) and says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

The Qur’an tells the story of a traveler who travels to the ends of the earth in order to find out where the sun sets, and he discovers that it sets in a pool of murky waters. What could possibly be the spiritual truth here? Clearly the purpose is to satisfy a very human scientific curiosity, which would indicate that it is a manmade religion.

Neither is the idea that God is eternal supported by modern science or that there has only ever been one universe. If we are bringing science in to it we can do away with the Christian God as well.

Science cannot study the existence of God. However, modern physics does in fact support the notion that the universe had a beginning, and since the laws of physics break down at the big bang there is no evidence of prior universes. Any scientific models to that effect are speculation and the scientists who have hypothesized various explanations will admit as much. Stephen Hawking says of his own model: “I’d like to emphasize that this idea that time and space should be finite without boundary is just a proposal. However, with respect to the current evidence, he says: “It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.”

The Celtic Chimp said...

“It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.

Just goes to show that even very smart people are not beyond utter illogic. :P

Anette Acker said...

I think you may need to open your mind, further, Mr. Chimp. :)

Hawking was just looking at the objective evidence for the big bang model, and the impossibly delicate fine-tuning required for this universe to come into existence. If he's illogical, he's in good company. Self-described agnostic astrophysicist Robert Jastrow says the following about the origin of the universe:

For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.

Anette Acker said...

Why is superiority and reason to justify why someones particular religion is the one and only true?

Hi Arend,

I just used the word "superior" because that was the word used by T on Atheist Central when he asked the question. But what I meant is that Christianity fits the evidence better.

Anette Acker said...

Celtic Chimp:

Jesus claims that even getting angry with someone makes you a murderer in your heart, right?
Thought crime is the epitome of a rigid and unbending ruleset. Also, lust is a sin. Lust, like anger are emotions. No-one decides to feel emotions before they experience them. Morality must surely lie in how a person acts in response to these emotions. Jesus himself got a little hot under the collar.


Christian morality is not just behavior, it's a changed heart as a result of salvation. So Jesus is not setting up an impossible standard--he is the one who will change us from the inside out.

I think most of us can tell when people are not genuine, i.e., when they say one thing and feel or think something else, so behavior is not the only thing that matters. John Wesley said, "Let your words be the true picture of your heart," and that is exactly what Jesus does by the power of the Holy Spirit. He doesn't want us to be phonies with masks on.

The point Jesus made was that all sin originates from the heart. And as you said it is impossible for us to do anything about that on our own. We have to let Christ change us from the inside out. He is the one who saves us from our sins.

As far as Jesus getting "a little hot under the collar," this is true, but his anger was an expression of love to shock people out of their complacency. For example, when he turned over the tables in the temple, he acted in a wholly unexpected way toward the corrupt religious leaders, who were revered and feared by the people.

Most people respond best to kindness and respect, but sometimes directness is most effective and is equally an act of love. This is particularly true when directed at powerful people because they are used to being treated with respect that is motivated by fear. They will consider that the norm, so when they get something different they take notice.

But Jesus also stood up to the religious leaders because of the chokehold they had on the people. His enemy was always the religious establishment. The religious leaders were the ones who tried to stop his ministry, who looked for ways to trap him in his words, who accused him of having an evil spirit, and who finally crucified him.

You may say that it was because they were threatened by what they considered to be a cult, but this spirit of judgmental religiosity has always existed and remains to this day. It is the greatest threat to genuine faith, which is why Jesus stood up to the Pharisees the way he did. As Karl Barth said, the church, not the world, crucified Christ.

The Celtic Chimp said...

but his anger was an expression of love to shock people out of their complacency.

There is that excuse I was talking about. :P
How you could possibly know what was going through his mind when he chucked tables about is beyond me. Also, the bible talks extensively about God's wrath. Are we supposed to believe that this just about shocking us out of love (like the drowning of everyone on earth)

Hawking was just looking at the objective evidence for the big bang model, and the impossibly delicate fine-tuning required for this universe to come into existence.
The conclusion that a god must be responsible and was intending to create creatures like us is absolutely not a logical conclusion to draw. Maybe cockroaches are what God was aiming for. They require all the same "fine-tuning". The fine-tuning argument only works if assume before hand that humanity or life at all is the purpose of the universe. Such an assumption is not logical. That hawking or anyone else makes this argument means nothing. That is classic argument from authority. Logic is logic, it doesn't bow to authority. If an unimaginably differnt kind of life existed in a universe of unimaginably differnt physical laws I am sure that some members of that species might well make the same claims about fine-tuning. We exist in this universe not because the universe is right for us but because we are right for it.

Anette Acker said...

The conclusion that a god must be responsible and was intending to create creatures like us is absolutely not a logical conclusion to draw. Maybe cockroaches are what God was aiming for.

You are right that it is technically possible that God aimed for cockroaches but ended up with intelligent creatures with a moral compass, just like Rabbitpirate is correct that it is possible that God intended to create black holes (which reflect his likeness) but he got stuck with a fertile, biologically diverse planet.

Thank you both for making my life more interesting! :)

BTW, I'm going to discuss the fine-tuning of the universe in the blog post I'm currently writing, and I will address your anthropic principle argument.

Rabbitpirate said...

Firstly thanks for your well presented and lengthy reply, again this is a real change from what I am use to over on Ray's blog. Alos let me apologise for never fully finishing my response to your post. I meant to address your arguments for Christianity as well but have so far not found the time to do so.

Anyway on to your replies to me. I have to say straight off that there was one thing in your reply that you repeated many times and which I never fully understood.

"My goal was not to prove that Christianity is the one true religion—it was to see which one fits the evidence best."

I have to ask what evidence you are talking about here? I make the point that we should judge religions against objective reality and you reply by saying we need to measure it against the evidence, but I am unsure if you are agreeing with me that we should measure it against reality or against something else that you do not define. For example you say:

"The Bible discusses the problem of evil in great detail, but not in a simplistic way like gods fighting over power."

This may be true, however the Bible still invokes the supernatural as an explanation. I have to say that I really do not see how any supernatural claim is "supported by the evidence." All the evidence we have outside of holy books clearly points to natural explanations for natural events. I for one see no evidence at all that supports any form of supernatural deity being the best explanation for ANY natural event. Additionally in the Bibles response to the question of evil it introduces talking snakes and magic fruit. I am having trouble seeing how that makes its explanation any more believable than multiple gods or, as I myself suggested, a god who simply doesn't care? Also just because the idea of gods fighting is simplistic doesn't mean that it is wrong and it should not be ruled out because it is not a complex explanation. In fact, as with all supernatural claims, you have no way of showing that this idea is actually wrong. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Rabbitpirate said...

"It is more reasonable to suspect that the creator left clues about his nature in his creation."

Ok let's say he has. Why do you assume that his nature is best explained book and the personal feelings of a certain percentages of a certain form of life on one single planet in the entire universe rather than by the vast empty, indifferent void of space? The universe all but screams its lack of concern for us and yet people of all religions, for Christianity is far from alone on this one, seem to view the way humans understand things as the best way to evaluate the nature of the creator of the universe. I am not saying that you are wrong, only that I do not see how you came to the conclusions that Christianity is the right religion based upon this line of reasoning.

"This is more a guide for those who are trying to arrive at the truth than an effort to prove anything. It is impossible to prove the veracity of the Bible, but we can approach the question rationally, employing both logic and intuition. "

Exactly. And if we are to do that then we must first acknowledge that there is absolutely no reason to believe in any supernatural being without evidence. As such when evaluating the various religions against "the evidence" we must take every supernatural claim and see if there is any evidence to support the conclusion that it is real. If not then we can dismiss it, or at least put it to one side. However I know you said you would address the evidence question in your next post so I won't say any more on it now, other than to me the two issues, is there evidence for God and which is the correct religion, are so tightly linked that you can't really seperate them completely.

"The NT interprets the OT in a rational way, as I explained."

I am more than willing to accept I may have misunderstood you on this point.

Rabbitpirate said...

"Actually, I'm looking at it with the criteria used by many atheists on AC. The transcendent morality of Jesus has more of a ring of truth than the morality of Mohammed, which is odious to our culture today. If the morality is dated, it is most likely manmade."

I think you are misunderstanding the reasons why atheists use the morality argument. They do not use it to disprove the existence of God but rather to show that he is not a good God. As such the point I made still stands. If the God of Islam IS the true God then the fact that our modern morality does not match the morality of Islam. The fact that our morality differs from that of any God or Gods is not evidence that those Gods do not exist, nor is it evidence that they do exist.

Christians love to point out that the laws regarding slaves and killing witches and making rape victims marry their attackers no longer apply. But these things do represent the morality of the God of the old testament. Are you saying that the fact that we no longer accept these things as moral should be taken as evidence that the God of old testament was most likely manmade? That is after all the argument you are using against Islam. If the outdated morals of one God are seen as evidence for his non-existence then the outdated morals of all Gods should be treated the same way.

Rabbitpirate said...

"Where does the Bible claim to express scientific truths in an infallible way? Where does it make specific scientific allegations that are proven false? It doesn't seek to explain anything scientifically--it just describes things from the perspective of the author. The beginning of Genesis directly contradicts itself, which indicates that it is not intended to be a scientific explanation. As I mentioned before, I've been having a discussion with Bob on AC on this subject."

Again I have clearly been hanging out on Ray's site too long as I have been told many times over there that the Bible is the most accurate science book we have. If that is not an argument you are making then I will accept that and move on. However I have to comment on your admission that Genesis contradicts itself. You see this as evidence to conclude that the Bible is not presenting a scientific explanation, and I completely agree. However many Christians, including our friend Ray, disagree. To me this just casts more doubt on the idea that the Bible is the word of an all knowing God. If the Bible were truly the word of God I would not expect there to be any room for confusion on the meaning of what is written there. You mentioned earlier your "more likely than not" standard of proof and I think this comes into play here. I personally feel that it is more likely than not that an all knowing God would be able to get his point of view across in a way that left no room at all for confusion. Using your own standard of proof here I would saying that the Bible fails to support the idea that it is the word of God, or alternatively that the God of the Bible is the real God.

"You are right that Islamic scholars make that claim, and sometimes the Qur'an gets it right and other times it doesn't. When it gets it wrong, scholars say that it can only be understood in Arabic. That strikes me as a disingenuous explanation, because we have no way to evaluate the claim. "

Interestingly if you replace the words Qur'an with Bible and Islam with Christianity then this is almost identical to things I have said against arguments I have heard from believers in your religion. Again I am not saying that you are doing this however some people are and as such if it is to be used as evidence against the Qur'an then should we not apply the same standard to the Bible. Some Christians do claim the Bible is a scientific book and they use the exact same arguments as their Islamic counter parts to explain away the places where it doesn't match with reality.

Rabbitpirate said...

"The Qur’an tells the story of a traveler who travels to the ends of the earth in order to find out where the sun sets, and he discovers that it sets in a pool of murky waters. What could possibly be the spiritual truth here?"

I am sure you understand logical fallacies enough to not be offended when I point out that this is an argument from ignorance. Just because you are unable to see a spiritual truth in the story of the traveler does not mean that there is not one there. Now I actually agree that it probably was meant as an explanation and that the Qur'an is wrong, however I think your argument on this point could use some work.

"Science cannot study the existence of God. However, modern physics does in fact support the notion that the universe had a beginning, and since the laws of physics break down at the big bang there is no evidence of prior universes. Any scientific models to that effect are speculation and the scientists who have hypothesized various explanations will admit as much."

I find this section rather confusing. On the one hand you say that because there is no scientific evidence for anything prior to the universe it is wrong of us to come to any conclusions or even make assumptions about what happened before the big bang. And you know what, I actually agree with you for the most part. However you also say that science cannot study the existence of God, meaning that there is no scientific evidence for God, and yet you come to the conclusion that it is ok for us to assume the existence of God and conclude that he is the cause of the universe?

So no scientific evidence for things before the big bang = wrong to come to conclusions.

No scientific evidence for God = right to conclude he is the cause of the universe.

You say that scientists will openly admit that they are speculating regarding what came before the big bang. Are you will to admit to doing the same regarding God as I am having problems seeing any fundamental difference between your argument and that of the scientists you mention here?

Rabbitpirate said...

"But what I meant is that Christianity fits the evidence better."

Again I have to ask that you specify what evidence you are talking about here.

Christianity is an idea that invokes the supernatural in all of its explanations. I find it very hard to see how something that uses the supernatural, something for which we have no direct testable evidence, can ever provide a better explanation for anything that something which only uses the natural.

Now I acknowledge that you point was made with regards to different religions rather than all possible explantions. However I do not see how you can justify claiming that one supernatural explanation is superior to any other supernatural exlanation.

By what standard of evidence do you judge supernatural causes of natural events?

Rabbitpirate said...

"As far as Jesus getting "a little hot under the collar," this is true, but his anger was an expression of love to shock people out of their complacency. For example, when he turned over the tables in the temple, he acted in a wholly unexpected way toward the corrupt religious leaders, who were revered and feared by the people."

He went away, made himself a whip and cames back and beat the tar out of the money lenders.

If I did the exact same thing under the exact same circumstances and for the exact same reasons would you say that my actions were perfectly right or would you say that my anger was a sin?

I'll be honest this is not an issue that really bothers me either way. As I said until we can address the issue of whether God is real or not there is no point in trying to pick holes in the supposed words and actions of that God...other than the fun of it I guess.

If God is not real then the Bible is wrong. It is as simple as that.

If God IS real, well then we can try to decide if the Bible accurately reflects him or not.

Rabbitpirate said...

Wow, I just re-read my posts and I seem to have failed to finish a good number of sentences. That will teach me to try and write things after a long day at work.

The sentence

"If the God of Islam IS the true God then the fact that our modern morality does not match the morality of Islam"

Should end

"would only show that our modern morality does not match that of God, which is an argument made by Christians all the time."

I think it might be time for me to go to bed.

Anette Acker said...

Those are very good points, Rabbitpirate, and I will respond to them at the beginning of next week. But for now I just want to say that you might be better off reading my most recent post which pertains to the existence of a Creator. This one was probably more directed toward T, who seems more ready to accept that there could be a God, and he was wondering why the Christian God would be the correct one. I think you asked for evidence that there's any God at all.

Daniel Gracely said...

Hi Anette,

I feel you are moving more and more towards a 'literary' rather than a literal understanding of the Bible in important areas. I sensed you were waffling on the historicity of Adam, which I guess is why I asked you about it. I’m concerned because if one comes to see as inconsequential the historicity of a real person named Adam, where does one then draw the line? Just with Adam, or with Jesus, too? For example, what does one do with the linage of Joseph, husband of Mary (recorded in the gospel of Luke), descending back through generations of named individuals all the way back to Adam, who was created by God? For it would be extremely strained exegesis to claim that all these names but Adam are of individuals, whereas Adam simply represents some kind of generalized humanity gone astray. (And what of Jesus, the second Adam? Do we make Him a metaphor also? Should Christ be seen merely as an archetypal of humanity striving for good, instead of as a personal Savior?) So where does it end? Please, then, be careful that Jesus does not become to you more important as IDEA rather than as Eternal Person with a history of doing miracles, etc. You know, I'm writing as a concerned brother, because many have left the faith beginning with concessions they considered insignificant. I realize you currently believe in the historicity of Christ and His work. But I feel the need to express concern about your need to continue believing it.

I guess, too, I was a little surprised to read from one of your comments that you are really not too familiar with creationist ideas. I sense you feel the arguments pro and con are rather inconsequential, and even get in the way of witnessing to unbelievers. Perhaps you don't realize how many people have found in the theory of evolution no reason to believe in a Creator. Instead they simply assume matter is eternal. They are not worried about First Causes. You know, the 19th century German Higher Criticism that ruined people’s faith in the Bible drew its inspiration from evolutionary theory. The result? The Bible’s authorship was declared a product of evolving compilation, not inspiration. So please be careful about the ground you’re exploring. You don’t want to discover too late that it was really a high-wire act.

Cordially concerned,

Dan

Anette Acker said...

I really appreciate your concern and your honesty, Dan. But if you read my four-part comment, you probably noticed that I referenced the Bible extensively, and I specifically said that I used the Bible to interpret itself. In fact, I cited to the Bible twenty-three times. You might notice, too, that in all my posts I substantiate what I say, each step along the way, with Scripture, interpreted in context.

I've always done this, but particularly while having dialogue with atheists, for the following reasons: First, every Christian says something slightly different, so there has to be some standard by which they measure which analysis represents Christianity best. That standard is, of course, the Bible.

Second, the modern evangelical church (which I am a part of) has sacred cows that have nothing to do with the Bible. Nor are they based on reason. People feel strongly about those things because everybody else on their side feels strongly. They define their position in the culture war.

However, when Christians hold to these sacred cows, they cannot connect with atheists, because they feel strongly against these sacred cows. It is an impenetrable barrier. This is one reason why Atheist Central is often far more heat than light.

So I've had to abandon all sacred cows, and I hope that by referencing the Bible each step along the way, thoughtful Christians will forgive me for doing so.

Maybe you disagree that the insistence on a literal interpretation of Genesis is a sacred cow, but with all due respect your approach to the issue indicates that it's true. You generally seem like a rational thinker, but you ignored everything I said in my four-part comment and focused entirely on your fear of a slippery slope. You used neither Bible references nor reason to back up your concerns.

Let's take your concern that I would eventually abandon belief in the historicity of Jesus. First, the gospels are written in the literary style of eyewitness accounts, so there is no reason for Christians to suppose that they represent anything but historical fact. Second, the miracles of Jesus are redemptive, like healing, and they demonstrate his dominion over nature. They are consistent with the general theological message of the Bible. (Unlike many evangelicals, I fully believe he still does miracles.) The miracles in Genesis 1-3, on the other hand, would be a complete violation of nature. Since I don't believe God breaks his own rules, they seem more like symbolism. Third, 1 Corinthians 15:14 tells us that if Jesus didn't rise from the dead, our faith is in vain. It is the cornerstone of our faith. Fourth, Adam is a "type" of Christ (Romans 5:14), and a type is a shadow of Christ. So Christ is the substance and reality, regardless of the historicity of Adam.

And please note that I never said that Adam didn't exist. I simply do not know. Do you know for sure? None of us do. Genesis 1-3 leaves enough unanswered questions, especially in light of science, so that reasonable minds can differ. As I mentioned in my comment on AC, there is also much biblical authority for supposing that he is not historical. So why then should I make this issue a deal-breaker for people who consider his historicity a stumbling block? I would have no reason to question the historicity of Abraham or Noah.

And this brings me to my third reason for referencing the Bible extensively. I can explore an issue fully without having to resort to, "Well, this makes no sense, but I'm just going to trust God," and the Bible gives me enough traction to keep me safe from slippery slopes.

Anette Acker said...

As for your point about genealogies, Matthew only traces the genealogy of Jesus back to Abraham. Also, Titus 3:9 says, "But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless." 1 Timothy 1:4 likewise warns against disputes about genealogies. So if there were disputes, most likely there was no consensus about genealogies, and Paul tells us not to worry about it.

But if you think that the beginning of Genesis has to be literal, where did Cain get his wife, and who did he fear would kill him? Why does the text specify that Seth replaced Abel if Adam and Eve had lots of other children? And if Cain married his sister, how does this square with the prohibition against incest? That prohibition is based on a real biological risk.

4:21 says that Jubal was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe; did every one of his descendants play the harp and lyre? There was not a single rebel in his lineage that wanted to play a different instrument (or none)? And nobody else played the harp and lyre? He was, after all, the father of all those who play the harp and lyre.

I believe that the theology of the Bible can be analyzed with this kind of detail and it will withstand scrutiny and prove to be flawless and consistent. I can make that claim and back it up. But I can't back up a claim that every detail of the narration is factually accurate, and I don't make claims that I can't back up because that would be intellectual dishonest. And why should I expect anyone to believe me when I say that the Bible is completely theologically consistent if they catch me fudging the truth? Trust has to be earned, and I take that very seriously.

I don't say any of this because I'm trying to change your position. I'm just explaining mine. My questions were all rhetorical.

Anette Acker said...

I want to explain what I meant about sacred cows because it could easily be misunderstood. Wikipedia gives the following definitions: "An object or practice which is considered immune from criticism, especially unreasonably so."

I feel that God does not want me to have sacred cows, because they blind me to his truth if it's different than the conventional wisdom. So if something is a sacred cow in my culture, that's all the more reason why I should think critically and biblically about it.

Daniel Gracely said...

Anette,

I feel compelled to ask if you would prefer that I respond to your comments privately. Or would you prefer that I not respond at all, either privately or publicly here?

I'll go with whichever among these you prefer.

Sincerely,

Dan

ddgracely@yahoo.com

Anette Acker said...

Thanks for asking, Dan, but I'm inclined to agree to disagree. You mentioned during our Calvinism discussion that you are very invested in your philosophy on the will, and it depends on a literal interpretation of the beginning of Genesis, so I'm not sure that a discussion on this issue would be productive. I prefer to keep discussions dispassionate, relying only on Scripture, logic, and facts. This subject of the beginning of Genesis is so emotional for a lot of Christians that I prefer to avoid it. But I might discuss it with one of the pastors at my church who is a former nuclear physicist. He is very thoughtful and biblical, and he would know the scientific facts, so his interpretation would carry a lot of weight with me.

Also, right now I have been bombarded with comments, here and on Atheist Central, and I'm having a hard time keeping up with them.

Daniel Gracely said...

Hi Anette,

This morning, I spent about 3 to 3.5 hours composing a response (about 1,800 words) to your comments. Although I had written the majority of it, it was not finished (probably it would have required 4 parts). Then I came across 2 more of your comments (49 and 50, I think) and wondered if I should really bother at all to engage, since, so far as I could tell, your ongoing refusal to become informed about the other side of the argument (creationism) suggested you probably would not be open to its claims or any of my arguments for them. This is regrettable. The Bible says that “He that answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame unto him.” (Prov. 18:13) By your own admission you are not really familiar with creationist thought. Yet you don’t seem hesitant to pronounce it to be a sacred cow among many Evangelicals. I doubt anything I say would likely change your mind, but I think it’s regrettable when any Christian takes a position on a controversial issue without exploring arguments from the other side. As for talking to a pastor, that seems like a good idea if he has studied the subject of creationism. For example, is he familiar with Satterfield’s theory of a decaying speed of light and its implication for why distant quasars appear to ‘come on’ from (by today’s standard) billions of light years away? (Satterfield’s work is based on many measurements taken since 1675.) Or does he know about (orthodontist) Dr. Jack Cuozzo’s work with Neanderthal skulls, the directional and proportional growth of the skull over time, etc., and what it suggests about the aged patriarchs of the Old Testament?

One caution here. Don’t rely too much on Wikipedia, which is sometimes little more than opinion papers dressed up to appear objective. I found their entry on Cuozzo to be a highly biased ‘account’ of his work. By coincidence my elderly Sunday School teacher (Dr. Austin Robbins, who has taught at U. of Penn, Temple, etc., and was a dental missionary for many years in Africa) was a colleague of Cuozzo, and apparently the reason for Stringer’s rejection was purely agenda driven. Robbins and Cuozzo had found a bone they suspected belonged to a specific Neanderthal female, and asked that a cast of a certain portion of the skull be given them. It was, and they found that their bone matched together perfectly. One ‘problem’. The bone showed that surgery had been done with a tool, a procedure for relieving pressure not unknown thousands of years ago. But Neanderthals are claimed by evolutionists not to have had tools. So they shipped it off to Stringer, who cut through it and declared it be but a stone. Of course, it was petrified. But obviously the rejection happened because, despite the bone’s perfect match to this particular Neanderthal’s female skull, it didn’t fit the template of evolutionary theory. Have you or your pastor ever heard of Robbins or Cuozzo? Truly the words of wise men are heard in quiet. If you’re interested, I could probably get you in touch with Robbins, and you could hear his story for yourself.

Anyway, I won’t bother with submitting most of what I wrote, but I do feel the need to express a few things.
(part 2 follows)

Daniel Gracely said...

First, Paul’s statement about not disputing genealogies arises from those Jews who tended toward religious bigotry and insisted on circumcision as part of salvation. Jesus ran into such bigotry [“Our father is Abraham, and we are not in bondage to any man” (Jn. 6)], and Paul encountered such bigotry at Galatia, and elsewhere had to rebuke Peter who, along with Barnabas, had been carried away by the hypocrisy of self-justifying Jews and their customs. Paul realized any such speculation about one’s ancestral heritage was profitless, insofar as trying to establish one’s Jewishness in an attempt at prideful racial identification, etc. Of course, we know that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile. At any rate, certainly Paul did not mean that we should not defend the genealogies of Christ and the reasons they were given. For example, the gospel of Matthew, unlike that of John (who gives explanation to non-Jewish readers, i.e., the Passover, “a feast of the Jews”) is thought to have aimed his book primarily at Jews, hence the importance of establishing Christ's Davidic, kingly right through His lineage. I think for the Jew there was no purpose in taking the geneology any further back than Abraham. Luke’s gospel was written to Theophilus, and the purpose is somewhat different. So I don’t believe Jesus’ geneology is what Paul had in mind. But IF Paul had it in mind, I would say (as my brother pointed out) it is you, not I, who disputes the natural reading of Luke's genealogy.

Second and finally, it is simply untrue for you to claim that I neither referenced the Bible nor used reason in defense of my view. In fact, I cited the genealogy in Luke’s gospel and followed it up with my reason for why it should be understood in the natural sense, that is, as an historical lineage traced back to God. I stated that it would be extremely strained exegesis to recognize most or all of the names but Adam’s as historical. Also, I hope you are not saying that I didn’t reference the Bible simply because I hadn’t bothered to cite chapter and verse. If this is what you meant by my not referencing the Bible, that would be a very legalese way of defining referencing. If you did mean that, I can only respond by saying that chapter and verse divisions are a man invented feature post original autographa, and that I assumed any Bible student generally familiar with the gospels would know approximately where the genealogies are—at the beginning. I assumed you knew that, in fact, I’m sure that you do, and so I didn’t bother to stand on ceremony.

Again, many other things I could say, but I’ll forbear here.

Sincerely,

Daniel

Anette Acker said...

Dan,

Actually, I am familiar with the theory of decaying light, and I find it forced and unpersuasive.

I'm sorry that you wrote a long response to me and had to discard it. I am not closed to creationism, but if someone starts out by telling me that they are "concerned" about me without addressing my actual arguments, it tells me that this will not be a dispassionate debate with give and take. So I will respectfully bow out. This is not because I'm offended, and I hope you are not, but I just don't think it would be constructive, and I don't have time right now.

Anette Acker said...

Dan,

I apologize for the tone of my comments. And if you would still like to post your defense of young earth creationism, I would like to see it. Although it would be nice to have this conversation elsewhere on this blog, where there are not so many comments already.

This is the source of my frustration: I have never heard a persuasive defense of YEC, and yet I'm somehow deficient if I don't believe it. Ten times out of ten the explanations have rung false to me. Sometimes the lines are blurred between evolution and naturalism and other times the interpretation of the scientific evidence appears forced. For me this is like what you said in your book about Calvinism: Someone is holding up three fingers and telling me that I'm seeing four. And if I don't see four, I'm doing a high wire act.

What I meant by this being a sacred cow is that nobody is allowed to disagree. We are either to be silent or to conform. I don't want to be silent anymore because I've learned that this is huge stumbling block for many people. A lot of people have turned away from the faith over this issue, and I am aware of kids from Christian families who are having major crises of faith and battles with their parents over it.

I take the Bible very seriously, as evidenced by the frequency with which I quote it, and I think the passages YECs rely on are not intended to be taken ultra-literally. They are inspired by God to communicate deep truths that make sense in the context of the whole Bible. Generally, these truths pertain to Christ and his redemption. Luke 24:27 says: "Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures." I sincerely believe that this is the accurate way of looking at it.

But I'm not so much trying to persuade you as I'm asking for freedom to hold my convictions without being judged. Christians disagree about many things, and that means that some are wrong. It could mean that many are wrong. For example, I think that the doctrine of eternal security depends on selective reading of the Scriptures, but it is another sacred cow that cannot be challenged.

We are probably all wrong about some things, but we have to look to Christ, and not other Christian, in trying to get it right. (Although we need to listen to others.) And if every other Christian sees four fingers, I will continue to say that I see three until Christ makes it possible for me to see four. And that hasn't happened when it comes to YEC. Not even close.

Your point about the genealogy is a good one, but it is quite possible for Adam to be real and evolution to still be true. That would explain why Cain worried that people would kill him.

If you still want to post what you wrote, I would like to read it, but I'm not sure that I want to discuss it if you feel strongly about it. I will read what you have to say and consider it.

However, it would be best if you posted it somewhere else on my blog where there are fewer comments. I should at some point get back to Rabbitpirate, in case he's still checking back on this thread.

Thanks, Dan.

Anette Acker said...

"It is more reasonable to suspect that the creator left clues about his nature in his creation."

Ok let's say he has. Why do you assume that his nature is best explained book and the personal feelings of a certain percentages of a certain form of life on one single planet in the entire universe rather than by the vast empty, indifferent void of space? The universe all but screams its lack of concern for us


I apologize for taking so long to get back to you. Hopefully you'll be checking back here.

As I said, God has left clues about himself in his creation, and there are many ways in which the Bible reflects the created order. But let’s focus on the example you brought up: "The universe all but screams its lack of concern for us."

John A. O’Keefe of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration gives a different perspective:

“To the astronomer, the earth is a very sheltered and protected place. There is a marvelous picture from Apollo 8 of the blue and cloud-wrapped earth, seen just at the horizon of the black, cratered, torn and smashed lunar landscape. The contrast would not be lost on any creature; the thought ‘God loves those people cannot be resisted. Yet the moon is a friendly place compared to Venus, where, from skies forty kilometers high a rain of concentrated sulfuric acid falls toward a surface that is as hot as boiling lead.”

Back when heliocentricity was a new concept, people resisted it because they couldn’t accept that fact that the earth was not the center of the universe. How could we be as special as the Bible says we are if the world doesn’t literally revolve around us? And the fact that earth is just a tiny planet in a universe that seems to go on forever, tells a lot of people that our existence is an accident. How can there be a God who is interested in us? But both of these perspectives miss what the Bible teaches on this issue.

Psalm 8:3-4 says: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; what is man that You take thought of him and the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, and You crown him with glory and majesty!”

Looking into the night sky, the psalmist was awed and humbled by our insignificance on the one hand and our esteemed position in God’s sight on the other hand. Now that we know so much more about space, Psalm 8 gives an even more profound message.

Evolution also gives a deeper resonance to Psalm 8. If we started out spending two billion years in a swamp just to become an amoeba, how amazing is it that we now bear the image of God? That is, we are intelligent creatures with a moral compass.

But the message of Psalm 8 is also prophetic, because it’s not just talking about us the way we are now; it’s talking about the ultimate plan God has for humanity: To be “a little lower than God” and crowned with glory and majesty to be loved forever in the Paradise that he has prepared for us from the beginning of time.

It is the ultimate Cinderella story!

We are literally dust, and next to nothing in a universe that “screams its lack of concern for us,” and yet, as O’Keefe continues, “We are, by astronomical standards, a pampered, cosseted, cherished group of creatures.”

Anette Acker said...

Rabbitpirate:

However I have to comment on your admission that Genesis contradicts itself. You see this as evidence to conclude that the Bible is not presenting a scientific explanation, and I completely agree. However many Christians, including our friend Ray, disagree. To me this just casts more doubt on the idea that the Bible is the word of an all knowing God. If the Bible were truly the word of God I would not expect there to be any room for confusion on the meaning of what is written there.

That would indeed be true if the interpretation of the beginning Genesis was a central faith issue. However, Galatians 5:6 says that "the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love."

And Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

The purpose of the word of God is to save our souls—to make us Christlike. And the message of salvation is very simple: We come to Christ as helpless sinners, and abide in him as a branch on a vine (John 15). He does all the rest, producing the fruit of the Spirit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). It is very simple, not requiring anything except empty hands and a willingness to receive. Pride is the only barrier. This is why Jesus reached the notorious sinners and the outcasts, but the self-righteous rejected his message.

However, the Bible is a very complex book, which is what one would expect if it is the word God. So there is not a single Christian who understands it fully. It is like an infinitely complex puzzle that we will spend our lives assembling and yet not finishing. At best we can come closer and closer to the truth.

I consider theological accuracy very important, which is why I try to substantiate my interpretation with Bible references each step of the way. 2 Timothy 2:15 says that we have to “handle accurately the word of truth.” This is particularly true if we are teaching other people (James 3:1).

However, if Christians are manifesting the fruit of the Spirit they have the most important thing right, and they will learn at their own pace. I do not pressure people to see things my way. If someone is influenced by what I say, great, but if not, I can live with that. It is the Holy Spirit that unites us, and we should have the freedom to differ on peripheral issues. A church we used to attend had the following slogan: “In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.” I think that is the right approach, because 2 Corinthians 3:17 says, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” Where the Holy Spirit governs, there will be no spiritual or intellectual straitjackets.

Daniel Gracely said...

Hi Anette,
Hadn't checked your site in a while and just stopped in and found that you had written again to me.

I don't want to worry you (if that's what I'm doing) with the thought about me blogging a lot of YEC stuff anywhere on your site. I can tell that you're very comfortable with where you're at on the issue (though thanks for the offer). I realize everyone comes to their own conclusions about these types of things. Please know, however, that if you do have the desire some day to contact Austin Robbins, I'll try to pass along his phone number or email. He's an older gentleman, probably in his early 80s now, approachable, personable.

Also, one YEC book that comes to mind (if you want to read a little more from the YEC perspective) is one by Dr. (Duane T.)sp? Gish, title something like, Evolution, the Fossils Say No. I resisted reading it for years because of its amateurish looking cover. To my surprise, when I finally picked it up I found that Gish spends much of the first third or so of his book quoting major evolutionists (not thesitic evolutionists as far as I could tell), stating that the fossil evidence for such and such a transition (whichever particular transition the evolutionist was commenting about) simply wasn't there. That really struck me, coming from secular evolutionists themselves. Gish's is an older book but I think worth the read, if ever you decide to look into the matter further. Gish seemed genuinely credentialed BTW.

Incidentally, in the last 6 months or so I have switched to not believing in eternal security as traditionally taught me. I just couldn't seem to justify it in the Greek.

Cordially,
Dan

Anette Acker said...

Hi Dan,

The idea of you talking about YEC on my blog doesn't worry me at all. The reason why I originally suggested that we discuss it somewhere else on my blog was because it gets confusing when there are too many different conversations in one thread. This is one reason why I'm commenting less on Atheist Central.

My position on the creation account is similar to Augustine's (even though he wrote long before Darwin): There are different possible ways of interpreting it, but they communicate the same important message. It is God's explanation for sin, suffering, death, and the need for His redemption. Whether we read it literally or allegorically, the theology is the same.

However, I think there are risks associated with different interpretations. An allegorical interpretation can lead people to think that all difficulties can be glossed over by saying it's "symbolic"--like miracles. This is not a problem for me, because I see a clear difference between Eve coming out of Adam's rib and Jesus healing or rising from the dead, but it could present a stumbling block for someone else.

And the insistence on a literal interpretation can lead kids away from the faith at crucial developmental stages. I have seen it happen. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming. And I have not found YEC explanations at all convincing. Why on earth would God create the universe with the appearance of age? And how can we talk about a day with morning and evening before the sun was created?

So in my mind, it would be nice if Christians focused on the theological message of the creation story rather than bringing science into it and risking putting major stumbling blocks in people's way. That is my one concern.

Daniel Gracely said...

Hi Anette,

Re: your challenge about how there could be an evening and morning without a sun, or why the appearance of age to the earth, etc.: have you ever checked out how the major YECers have themselves responded to these questions? If so, you don’t really indicate it with specific quotes from them, or by your paraphrasing their response(s). I don't comment on the subject of creation vs. evolution as much as you, but if I did I guess I would report what my opponents had to say to standard, challenging questions (challenges of the kind which obviously must be brought up to them frequently). That's one thing that struck me about Gish's book, i.e., how he quoted excerpts from evolutionists themselves to show what assumptions without evidence they themselves actually admitted to. It was quite amazing. I recently reread the beginning chapter or so of Gish’s book to refresh. Can’t recommend it enough.


When I wrote my book against Calvinism, I felt I had to immerse myself in my opponent’s material until I could argue their viewpoint myself, if I had to. I did focus mostly on modern Calvinists, e.g. Pink, Sproul, Piper, Spiegel, Bridges, White. Of course, some of them quote the old standards (Calvin, Luther, Edwards) in their own repetition of Calvinist arguments.

All this to ask if you have done the same in one of your own area of particular interest (6-day creationism vs. evolution)? Perhaps you have, I don't know, but it doesn’t seem so from your comments I’ve read. Even if it’s not your greatest particular interest, I would think (I’m being frank here) the danger you feel YEC poses to people coming to Christ, or remaining in Christ, would lead you to show more familiarity with YEC views (I mean, something more than saying you’re familiar with the theory of a decaying speed of light, but find the arguments unpersuasive). I imagine Ken Ham or John Whitcomb or Henry Morris, etc. have been asked these questions about the appearance of age, the evening and morning without a sun, etc., many times. Have you ever read their responses? You don’t seem to have. If you do, and find them silly, why not repeat them to show their implausibility? Wouldn’t that strengthen your argument in the eyes of those you’re trying to reach?

Personally, re: the issue of Calvinism (my own special area of interest) I tend to quote the position of my opponent, then give my attempted reproof. Or sometimes I might lay some groundwork about why I feel x is so, then my opponent’s response, then my reproof. Again, this shows my readers I'm aware of the other party's viewpoint, even to the point where I could argue my opponent's view reasonably well at a round table discussion in his/her absence. Perhaps your approach to argument is just much different than mine. But to pose challenges to the YEC position and leave them unanswered, as if your opponents had no answer, is not how I personally would frame the debate, that is, were I invested heavily in discussing origins (which I’m not). Perhaps you have done that elsewhere on your site (quoting your opponent’s responses to challenges you raise, then giving your reproof). But I’ve read enough of your blogs and comments that, if these are representative of the whole, it doesn’t seem to be your approach. BTW I realize it's tiresome to study so to do this. As C.S. Lewis once noted, everyone finds it wearying to read views naturally antithetical to his own. Yet I think Lewis felt this was the only way to be fair to the discussion.

BTW I do not think it impossible that even someone of your own persuasion would encourage you to do exactly what I am suggesting.

Just my thoughts.

Anette Acker said...

Dan,

I'm actually not invested in this subject at all. All I want is for it to be possible for Christians to be able to admit to accepting evolution without having to worry about being judged. I know three committed Christians who are former scientists with Ph.D.s in their field; they all accept evolution, but none of them want to talk about it openly. My pastor is one of them, and he told me that he prefers to separate science and theology. The other two are published Christian novelists.

Anette Acker said...

Correction: I don't know my pastor's views on evolution, but he did tell me that he separates theology and science and that he hasn't stayed caught up on the intelligent design debate. I got the feeling he gets asked questions about science and the Bible a lot.