Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why is Faith Necessary?

Mark Twain said, "Faith is believing what you know ain't so." And that is a common perception: faith is the ability to tenaciously suspend incredulity, to maintain one's convictions in the face of pesky things like facts. I've even heard it said that faith is not so bad as long as believers just acknowledge that it's not reasonable. These individuals seem to be telling us that we should concede Twain's point.

But there is absolutely no reason to believe what ain't so. I never understood the effort some parents go to in order to keep their children believing in Santa Claus. Or all the Christmas movies that hail "faith" as a virtue in and of itself. Faith is only as valid as the object of our faith. This means that we should only believe in the truth. Anything less is misplaced faith.

According to the Bible, faith is the means by which we arrive at the truth about God. But that seems somewhat backwards, because generally we determine the truth first and then believe. Seeing is believing. But the Bible turns that around and says that believing is seeing. Why is that? Because in our natural state we are cut off from God, and none of our faculties can bridge the gap. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised." Faith means a spiritual awakening that removes the veil from our eyes, so that we can perceive spiritual realities.

Why is this spiritual rebirth necessary? Let's look at some of the other ways we might go about arriving at the truth about God: science, experience, and reason.

Science: The Bible is God's message of salvation rather than a science textbook; however, it does clearly state some things about the universe. Genesis 1:1 says, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." So the Bible says that it had a beginning. And Hebrews 11:3 says, "By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible." God spoke the universe into existence out of nothing. He created space, time, and matter by fiat.

In our scientific age, we have an advantage over prior generations in that we have substantial evidence to support the biblical account. The big bang marked the beginning of time, the universe emerged out of nothing, and it was finely tuned for life. It appears to have been purposefully created with us in mind.

So does this dispense with the need for faith? No, because one can always argue that we simply don't know enough yet. Maybe there is an infinite number of universes, and this one just happens to be the one where everything went exactly right. Never mind that there is no evidence for that; if we have a naturalistic mindset, we will choose any explanation rather than the supernatural, no matter how improbable.

Experience: I've heard non-believers say that they would believe in God if they witnessed a miracle. But is that really true? C. S. Lewis said the following:
In all my life I have met only one person who claims to have seen a ghost. And the interesting thing about the story is that the person disbelieved in the immortal soul before she saw the ghost and still disbelieves after seeing it. She says that what she saw must have been an illusion or a trick of the nerves. And obviously she may be right. Seeing is not believing.
For this reason, the question whether miracles occur can never be answered simply by experience. Every event which might claim to be a miracle is, in the last resort, something presented to our senses, something seen, heard, touched, smelled, or tasted. And our senses are not infallible. If anything extraordinary seems to have happened, we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion. If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we shall always say.
A miracle is by definition a supernatural event, but unless we know everything about the limits of nature, how do we know if something was supernatural? If a person is healed of an incurable disease, we will most likely interpret the event according to our preexisting philosophy. So if we assume naturalism, we will either try to give a natural explanation, or we will just accept that we don't know. We will not consider the event to be evidence for the existence of God.

Reason: I am a firm believer in critical thinking and sound logic, and I believe it reinforces faith. Critical thinking cannot destroy true faith, which has to be built on truth. Of course, if we craft an idol out of select parts of the Bible and mistake that for God's revealed truth, that idol can easily be shattered by a well-aimed argument. But the word of God itself, understood accurately in context, can withstand intense, honest scrutiny.

Logic is a useful tool, but one problem is that none of us are pure rationalists. Most of the time there are certain things we want to believe and other things we don't want to believe. We are invested in our philosophies of life because they define us. So if we lose a debate, we don't necessarily modify our views--we just walk away. And next time we'll come up with better arguments.

Another problem with logic is that it is very difficult to arrive at the truth by way of deductive reasoning because we don't always recognize our own assumptions. Like I said before, people often assume naturalism, which means that their conceptual framework excludes the possibility of a God. So deductive reasoning will never lead them to conclude that God exists whether or not He does.

Bertrand Russell said: "The question is how to arrive at your opinions and not what your opinions are. The thing in which we believe is the supremacy of reason. If reason should lead you to orthodox conclusions, well and good; you are still a Rationalist." As a relativist, Russell had no problem with this, but if rationalism can lead us to all kinds of different conclusions it is not the ideal tool for discerning truth. Most of us are not capable of the kind of objectivity that would lead us step by step toward truth.

In light of all this, it makes sense that God would choose a method of revealing Himself to us that transcends our intellects and our senses, because these are fallible. That is why the Bible talks about being born of the Holy Spirit, who leads us into all truth. 1 Corinthians 2:16 says, "For who has known the mind of God that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ."

When Christ died on the cross the heavy veil keeping all but the high priest out of the inner chamber of the temple tore in two, symbolizing the penalty for sin having been paid, granting us free access into God's presence. But it also symbolizes the "veil" being removed from our eyes, so that we may see God.

Isaiah 25:7 prophesies: "And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all people, even the veil which is stretched over all nations." The veil is that which blinds us to God. But 2 Corinthians 3:16 says, "whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed."

Back when I experienced this spiritual rebirth, I became very conscious of God in nature, like I was seeing everything for the first time as part of God's creation. Nothing had changed, except the lens through which I viewed the world. I saw that God is indeed present in His creation.

Someone might argue that my experience was subjective, and that would be true. Everything we perceive with our minds and through our senses is subjective. But we can still know that they are very real. The times when Christ was closest to me have left no doubt in my mind that He is real. C. S. Lewis says in his novel Till We Have Faces: "I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words."

However, faith is always a matter of degree, so in order for it grow stronger we have to allow it to be tested. We should embrace truth of every kind, and never hide from challenges to our faith. Faith is not a fragile object to be hidden away someplace safe. We have to reinforce it with reason, experience, and truth, knowing that "this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith" (1 John 5:4).

59 comments:

BeamStalk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BeamStalk said...

Did you know that for all the talk of Faith in the bible, there are only one time when a definition of Faith is given:

Hebrews 11:1 - "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

QED said...

Annette -

With all due respect, I am normally very impressed by your posts, but this latest post seems to be nothing more than an exercise in begging the question and special pleading.

Ironically, the very criticisms you gave of reason you also managed to embody in your defense of faith. That is, you seem to have made faith the justification for being impervious to reasons against your point of view.

Furthermore, you often allude to naturalism as an unwarranted assumption, but never explain why naturalism is a less reasonable or natural starting point than giving recourse to supernatural explanations.

So, if you are going to argue that faith is necessary you are going to have to demonstrate this on ground that do not already take for granted, say, the Bible or God's existence.

Anette Acker said...

BeamStalk:

You're right; that is the only definition, but there are many illustrations of faith throughout the Bible. The best one is John 15, where Jesus describes Himself as the vine and His people as the branches. When we “abide” in Him like a branch on a vine, He works through us and gives us spiritual life in the same way that sap gives life to a branch. The result is spiritual fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). These qualities are evidence of faith. We don’t earn salvation, but if we are saved we will increasingly exhibit these qualities.

The NIV (which you used) is not the best translation of Hebrews 11:1. The KJV captures the Greek better: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The Greek word for “substance” is hypostasis which means "reality, essence, substantial nature, or assurance." So if we have faith we will have the “substance” of what we hope for: eternal life. That life begins at conversion and is evidenced by “good fruit.” So faith is our present share of the victory Christ won on the cross, which will be consummated in the new earth.

You might have noticed that Hebrews 11:1 explains theologically what John 15 illustrates. Or maybe you didn’t. Whenever I’ve tried to explain Hebrews 11:1 to Christians or non-Christians I’ve gotten radio silence. So if you respond to this in a substantive way, you’ll be the first. :)

Anette Acker said...

QED:

With all due respect, I am normally very impressed by your posts, but this latest post seems to be nothing more than an exercise in begging the question and special pleading.



Ironically, the very criticisms you gave of reason you also managed to embody in your defense of faith. That is, you seem to have made faith the justification for being impervious to reasons against your point of view.


I recognize that this did not address your specific points, nor did it speak to your situation as a Christian who has intellectual questions. It was a post that I had been intending to write, and it figured it could be a good starting point for our discussion. I wanted to explain why faith is necessary and the direct route to God.

Also, I did not mean to imply that I am impervious to reason. I try to keep an open, critical mind when I discuss these issues with non-believers. This means not punting on any of the arguments they make. There is no way I could address their arguments if I was impervious to what contradicts my point of view.

However, I have also noticed that a few of them will raise an issue, I’ll explain it and get no response, and then the same issue comes up again. One person just today raised an issue on AC that I have already addressed twice in conversations with him, and he didn't refute my explanation. This illustrates the role of the will in these kinds of discussions. That was what I was getting at. However, I think discussions can be very productive if a person is actually thinking it through and hasn’t already made up his or her mind. I would like it if people were more, not less, rational.

Furthermore, you often allude to naturalism as an unwarranted assumption, but never explain why naturalism is a less reasonable or natural starting point than giving recourse to supernatural explanations.

I don’t think we need to make assumptions either way. But if we are going to ask the question, “Why are we here?” the existence of a God should be one of the possible answers. Why? Because people have always intuitively believed in a God or gods. Although we should by no means assume that intuition is always correct, it is one way that we perceive reality, so we should not discount it either. I consider intuition a good starting point, but I reinforce intuition with reason.

So all I’m saying is that we should regard the biblical explanation as one of the possible “hypotheses” when we look at the scientific evidence and try to answer the philosophical “why” questions. That way we are not assuming naturalism.

(a) In the form of a question(s) what is the purpose of postulating a creator? Is it really because the evidence warrants such a conclusion or is it because it is merely possible?

I think that when it comes to the origin of the universe the evidence warrants the conclusion, for the reasons that I gave in my previous post.

Anette Acker said...

Most religious adherents I know (including myself) took this or that religious stance first and only after looked for logical grounds on which to believe. This suggests that it is not obvious that "the God hypothesis" is a natural conclusion to be drawn in matters of rational investigation. Instead, most religious conclusions seem to be drawn based on emotional factors (at least initially) or are perpetuated from past cultural pressures.
Of course, this doesn't make such conclusions false, but it does cast suspicion on their veracity.

That is not true of me. I have modified my religious views twice, and each time it went against the pressures of my culture. If I wanted to conform to my religious culture now, I would probably look for some way to defend young earth creationism. (I’ve been criticized by Sooty for being open to evolution.) But I’m not doing that because it rings false to me. When I have discussions with atheists, I focus on the truth rather than my own interests. And that has brought me closer to what the Bible teaches. If focusing on the truth took me in the other direction, that’s where I’d go. As I said, I want to believe what is true. But at this point I’m very sure that the Bible is true, so I’m not worried about any of the arguments that come my way.

That is, Paul claims in the Bible that the existence of God (in the theistic category) is so obvious that everyone is without excuse. This seems demonstrably false, since this very conversation and ones like it show that other conclusions are quite rational to maintain.

The main point Paul is making is that we all have a moral compass. He develops this argument before he introduces the doctrine of justification by faith. And in so doing, he alludes to the argument from design in Romans 1:20. Most people consider the argument from design a powerful one, at least on an intuitive level.

Atheists comprise a very small percentage of the population, and almost 80% are male. A high percentage of them are scientifically oriented. It may well be true that they have little or no intuitive sense that there is a God, because they are probably more left brain oriented than the general population. Of the very few female non-believers on AC, two of them are deists.

But even if we discount intuition completely, I still think that the cosmological argument for a Creator is compelling from a rational standpoint for the reasons I have already given.

So, why posit a supernatural explanation when we find ourselves in a very natural reality and have no experience of supernatural things?

I have experienced many dramatic answers to prayer, so I have had experience with supernatural things. I don’t concede your premise there.

QED said...

Annette -

Your experience is radically different than mine then... I wonder if God plays favorites.

Nevertheless, I don't feel as though you have yet answered my question about Paul. Was he wrong? An intuitive sense of God's existence hardly seems like grounds for making the sweeping generalization that ALL are without excuse. For, even if we do concede that we all intuitively "know" that God is real, it is by no means clear what God exists, since so many come to differing conclusions. So, unless God is going to personally reveal "Himself" to every individual, it seems to me that many people DO have an excuse.

QED said...

"I have experienced many dramatic answers to prayer, so I have had experience with supernatural things. I don’t concede your premise there."
__________________

I'm going to wager that you BELIEVE you have experienced dramatic answers to prayers and therefore BELIEVE you have experienced the supernatural, but how would you know?

clamflats said...

(I posted this over at AC but on a thread thats a few days old already)

Hello Anette, once again thank you the nature of your responses. They are detailed, on topic and do not veer into recriminations against the questioner. I admire your style and integrity.

I do not like to get into theological debates with religious believers of any stripe. I do not expect consistency or an air-tight logic to exist in your beliefs because they are based on a claim to supernatural revelation. I don't expect you can produce tangible evidence and therefore don't demand it. What I would like is for believers, and I'll limit this to Christians who insist that the Bible is the literal scientific and historical truth as that is the focus here at AC, to acknowledge that the Bible, as a whole, is extremely difficult for the modern reader to comprehend much less trust that it is a guide to life.

You seem to admit that there may have not been an actual Adam and Eve, that Genesis is a story. You state that it is symbolic. Ray and other biblical literalists actually have it easy. They can point to a "real" Adam and just say that his sin, the first sin, is the cause of all havoc in this world. I have to admit that there is some logic to it. After all, if this is God's creation then I guess He makes the rules - God's world, God's rules, Deal with it! Their beliefs require just one leap of faith, that the Bible is literally true. After that they can accept man-swallowing fish, talking animals, and holy genocide as rational, even praiseworthy.

Your appeal to symbolism leaves this skeptic wondering if the reports of Jesus of Nazareth's resurrection from the dead aren't symbolic as well. I recognize that there are many ancient texts that include similar stories of virgin birth, rejection by one's countrymen, and ultimate victory over death. Consider the Salem witch trials. The original transcripts of witness testimony still exist. We have first person eyewitness accounts of supernatural events. From these transcripts and other evidence, historians now theorize that the motivation for this event was a mixture of group-pressure, fear of invasion, greed for the accused property and possibly hallucinations caused by rye mold. Also consider Joseph Smith's revelations. There are millions of LDS members worldwide that are convinced that Hebrews settled the American continent despite the lack of archaeological evidence and much evidence to the contrary. Consider too Alcoholics Anonymous and their many successes in life transformation due to the belief and reliance upon on a non-defined and personal Higher Power. I'm asking you to consider these things to illustrate why your appeals to special knowledge and revelation and reliance on the veracity of ancient texts, that you interpret with a mix of symbolism and fact, might be met with skepticism.

Wouldn't it be more reasonable for you to preface your remarks with the phrase, "I know this sounds preposterous but..." or, “For you to accept this requires a special revelation that may not ever happen to you but…” or, “For you to understand the biblical message you must accept a highly nuanced symbolic interpretation…”? Can you please show some mercy for us skeptics?

clamflats said...

Anette, just one more thought...

Did the persons who first put the Genesis story to paper think that they were chronicalling actual events or were they aware of the symbolic nature of the story?

Jesus' contemporaries believed in the historical Adam and Eve. Would you surmise that Jesus knew the truth of human origins and kept it to Himself or did He lack symbolic interpretation? This is not meant as a "gotcha" but as a request for clarification.

Anette Acker said...

Your experience is radically different than mine then... I wonder if God plays favorites.

How has your experience been different? What church background do you come from?

I'm going to wager that you BELIEVE you have experienced dramatic answers to prayers and therefore BELIEVE you have experienced the supernatural, but how would you know?

I am naturally skeptical about spiritual experiences, including my own, so I regard this kind of thing almost scientifically by controlling for factors in my own mind. But let's use the example of God guiding me. I may have a deep sense about something, but I don't know for sure if it's just my own feelings or if it's God. If it then turns out to coincide with reality, it could have been from God or it could have been a coincidence. Then if I have another deep sense, and once again it happens, I have further evidence that it's from God. If it happens on a regular basis, I begin to recognize that as God leading me.

When I started commenting on AC, I felt like God impressed on my mind that He just wanted me to be intellectually honest and He would help me with the answers. It was like He wanted the honesty as an act of faith (intellectual dishonesty by Christians usually masks lack of faith). And the answers have just come to me in various ways. Sometimes I will have an insight one day and a question pertaining to it comes the next day.

Could this have been a coincidence? Sure, that would be technically possible, but it light of all the times God has led me like this in my life, it is highly unlikely to me. To you it might be a different matter, of course, because you have to take my word for it. But your question was how I know.

Nevertheless, I don't feel as though you have yet answered my question about Paul. Was he wrong? An intuitive sense of God's existence hardly seems like grounds for making the sweeping generalization that ALL are without excuse. For, even if we do concede that we all intuitively "know" that God is real, it is by no means clear what God exists, since so many come to differing conclusions. So, unless God is going to personally reveal "Himself" to every individual, it seems to me that many people DO have an excuse.

Let's focus on the "suppressing the truth in unrighteousness" bit, because that is Paul's main point. The Bible is far more practical than people today tend to think. The purpose of the Bible is to save our souls, meaning that we are to become like Christ. Simply acknowledging the truth of the Bible means very little in and of itself.

So when Paul is talking about suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, he is referring to all the times when we lie to ourselves or do what we know is wrong. If we have honest doubts, that is not suppressing the truth. That is being honest. Proverbs 24 says, "If you say, 'See, we did not know this,' does He not consider it who weighs the hearts?"

Anette Acker said...

clamflats,

“For you to understand the biblical message you must accept a highly nuanced symbolic interpretation…”? Can you please show some mercy for us skeptics?

I based this interpretation on what the Bible says about itself. The NT interprets the OT. It tells us how to regard the Law, and it also interprets the types and shadows of Christ. This is by no means a special revelation given to me. You might have noticed that I substantiated everything I said with Bible references.

Having said that, you are right that it is highly nuanced, and I'm not sure that it is helpful to either Christians or skeptics. It helps me make sense of it theologically, but nobody else, so I'm just going to drop it.

This is one of the reasons why faith is so important. God's truth is nuanced and complex, and sometimes I think He withholds things because if He tried to explain them it would lead us into greater error.

Your appeal to symbolism leaves this skeptic wondering if the reports of Jesus of Nazareth's resurrection from the dead aren't symbolic as well.

And this is the great danger: to think that the resurrection is symbolic. The Bible makes it very clear that it is literal. 1 Corinthians 15:14 says, "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain." Nowhere does the Bible give us authority to conclude that the resurrection of Christ (as well as the account of His life) was anything less than literal.

My interpretation of the Genesis account was based on what the Bible says about itself. However, as I said before, it is highly nuanced, and therefore it may do more harm than good. There is a lot of potential for misunderstanding.

The bottom line for Christians and anyone who is seriously considering Christianity is that God has to make limited minds understand His truth. This takes a long time if it happens at all, so we have to be able to say, "I don't understand but I still believe."

Did the persons who first put the Genesis story to paper think that they were chronicalling actual events or were they aware of the symbolic nature of the story?

Jesus' contemporaries believed in the historical Adam and Eve. Would you surmise that Jesus knew the truth of human origins and kept it to Himself or did He lack symbolic interpretation? This is not meant as a "gotcha" but as a request for clarification.


I don't consider any questions "gotcha" questions, so no worries about that.

Jesus was the prophesied "seed" of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2:15, but He chose to call Himself the Son of Man rather than the Son of Adam. So the indication there is that the generic was more accurate than the proper name Adam.

Also, Jesus definitely knew that the OT Scriptures contained symbolism of Him. 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 think the early Christians understood the symbolism in the Bible far better than Christians today do.

As for whether the original author knew, I'm not sure. I don't think any of the OT authors fully understood the nature of their divine inspiration. Colossians 1:26 says that Christ is "the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints."

BTW, I believe I addressed all the physics-related objections here and on AC, so how about that penance? :)

Anette Acker said...

clamflats,

Even though you responded to my comment on Atheist Central, what you said is very relevant to this blog post. Either God's truth is too complex and nuanced or it doesn't make sense because it doesn't connect the dots properly. So faith is God's way of revealing Himself to us in a way that doesn't depend on us having to understand Him fully. It's like young children trusting their parents without understanding everything. If parents tried to explain everything to them, it would do more harm than good. The same is true in our relationship with God. He reveals things when we are ready to understand them, even though everything is in the Bible. Faith also means being led by the Holy Spirit in this way.

clamflats said...

oh yeah, the penance...

sure, fire away. I'm willing to spend an hour or so on a reading and/or writing assignment

back in the day, James was my favorite epistle and I credit Paul with helping me reject the Bible as a worthy guide...too much pettiness and anti-women palaver.

QED said...

Annette -

"How has your experience been different? What church background do you come from?"
_______________

My experience has been different in the very lack of experience I have had of God. Whereas you claim to be driven to the conclusion that Christianity is true, every turn for me seems to lead me further away from such a conclusion. And all the while God (if "He" exists) appears utterly silent despite my sincerest pleas.

"Let's focus on the "suppressing the truth in unrighteousness" bit..."
_______________

Yes, I would like to focus on this. Paul starts off with:

"16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth ; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. 17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written , The just shall live by faith."

Here Paul is making a general statement which pertains to everyone. If anyone is to be justified before God, he/she must live by faith in Christ. Why is this? Paul answers:

"8 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;"

So KJV seems to indicate that self deception is not the issue, but rather the problem is that mankind possesses the truth of God, but are also unrighteous.
Note also that the punctuation is critical to the meaning. The comma after "men" indicates that Paul's statement applies universally, that all mankind holds the truth in unrighteousness. If you remove the comma after "men" the meaning would be changed to just those "men" who do, in fact, hold the truth in unrighteousness (which may not be everyone).

Paul goes on to explain how "men" hold the truth even though they are unrighteous:

"19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen , being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:"

This seems to suggest that God has allegedly removed any intellectual doubts so that mankind's unrighteousness is the main issue - i.e. man has no excuse for remaining in unrighteousness and if they do remain it is "21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful ; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened . 22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools , 23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things."


This, then, is why I find Paul's words to be inaccurate. That is, though the teleological argument is psychologically convincing, it suffers from a great many logical problems. It is by no means clear to me that God's existence is evident as Paul suggests. Rather there seem to be myriad other possibilities that are rationally tenable whether in the form of naturalism or some other philosophy from theism, deism or pantheism.

BeamStalk said...

Hey Anette,

At first I almost quoted the book of Mormon, but then realized what I was doing (thought you would find that funny and the reason I deleted my first post).

First, examples are not definitions and can only partially explain.

I really wasn't going over what it all meant, I just find it interesting that for all the talk about faith, there is only one definition. That definition is from an unknown author too.

You do bring up some interesting points though, that is that to truly understand the Bible one has to understand ancient Greek for the New Testament and ancient Hebrew for the Old. There are so many puns and jokes that only work in the original languages. A specific one you might know is the naming of Peter. In ancient Greek Peter means rock it is derived from the word Petra. Basically Jesus says (in Greek because it doesn't work in Aramaic, which is what Jesus would have spoken) Hey I am calling Rock because you are the Rock I am building my church on. It was a pun.

Now onto your use of the word hypostasis. I have no problems with it meaning "reality, essence, substantial nature, or assurance" that is what it means. The problem is in the words around it. The word for faith is pistis and it means "conviction of the truth of anything, belief." Elpizo is the word for hope and it is the same meaning as hope (to cherish a desire with anticipation).

So what that verse is saying is, your own conviction (or you are convinced) of truth will make real your desire. That is patently false. Just because you are convinced something is true and you desire it to be true does not make something true.

BeamStalk said...

Amp Bible - NOW FAITH is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses].

NRSV - Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

NKJV - Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

CEV - Faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see.

BeamStalk said...

When it comes to bibles, I am partial to the NRSV but the NIV is easier to look up on the internet.

Anette Acker said...

clamflats:

oh yeah, the penance...

sure, fire away. I'm willing to spend an hour or so on a reading and/or writing assignment


You can read three books of the Bible in an hour? Wow, you must be quite the speed reader! Or did you think I'd pick Philemon, 3 John, and Jude? Actually, since I'm definitely not "quite learned in astrophysics," I'll go easy on you and settle for one--the Gospel of John.

back in the day, James was my favorite epistle and I credit Paul with helping me reject the Bible as a worthy guide...too much pettiness and anti-women palaver.

Two things in Paul's defense: First, women had very little status in his culture, so he would have been very progressive by those standards. In fact, in Acts 18:26, we find out that a woman, Priscilla (along with someone named Aquila), took him aside and explained theology to him more accurately. So even though he said that he would not let women teach men, he let a woman teach him. I think he was making concessions to the climate of his time in his epistles rather than expressing his own view of women.

Second, it's hard to know if he was being petty about things if we don't know his motives. He was a respected leader of the churches, so if someone undermined him it would hurt the other Christians who looked up to him. So when he starts out by saying, "Bear with a little foolishness . . ." and then goes on about his credentials, he might have been entirely sincere that it was "foolish," but he was setting the record straight for the benefit of the other Christians. In fact, he goes on to say, "For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully" (2 Corinthians 11:4). In other words, he explains why he feels the need to compare himself favorably to the false teachers, and it is for the people's benefit. We may not like the way he did it, but we know nothing about his true motives.

Anette Acker said...

Actually, most of the epistles are pretty short, come to think of it. Philemon, 3 John, and Jude would probably take 5 minutes.

Maybe I should have you read the book of Romans and do a written analysis. :)

Anette Acker said...

QED:

This, then, is why I find Paul's words to be inaccurate. That is, though the teleological argument is psychologically convincing, it suffers from a great many logical problems. It is by no means clear to me that God's existence is evident as Paul suggests. Rather there seem to be myriad other possibilities that are rationally tenable whether in the form of naturalism or some other philosophy from theism, deism or pantheism.

I think what Paul is saying is that nature itself speaks of God. We see reflected in nature God’s beauty, majesty, and creativity. Nature glorifies God in that He expresses Himself through His creation. For example, the earth is just a tiny part of a vast universe, but it is sheltered and protected. It tells us something about God’s greatness, our insignificance, and His love for us, as Psalm 8 says.

In Romans 1:23 Paul talks about people who worshipped idols in crude and morally degrading ways, and he says that they should have known that the Creator of this world is not like that. If they had stopped to reflect on it, Paul says, they would have known. The suppressed the truth in unrighteousness.

Now, in our scientific age it is very possible to dissect the natural world to the point where we lose the wonder of it. It becomes merely the sum of its parts, and we attribute even our ability to appreciate it to a side effect of natural selection.

According to Richard Dawkins, natural selection is the grand theory that explains empathy, appreciation for beauty, love, self-sacrifice and just about everything else. He is also sure that it explains the fine-tuning of the universe somehow (page 146, TGD). When evolution is regarded in this way, it is not just a scientific theory that explains biological diversity—it is a philosophy that replaces God.

So if you are scientifically oriented, you may well not see God in nature, for reasons that Paul would not have foreseen. This does not mean that Paul was wrong in saying that creation speaks of God; it simply means that science trains us to look at it differently, and that we may quash our intuition about God this way.

However, for the most part, Paul talks about the moral compass, and what he says there certainly rings true. For example, he says, “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves” (Romans 2:14). Many of the atheists demonstrate that they have a moral compass. For example, I just had a conversation with a man who self-describes as an anti-theist because he opposes bigotry, abuse, ignorance, and suppression of the human spirit. These happened to be things that Jesus actively opposed as well. In fact, His chief enemies were religious hypocrites, and they eventually crucified Him.

And Romans 2:17-24 describes a dynamic we see on a regular basis on Atheist Central, where some of the Christians act abusive and hypocritical and some of the atheists respond with blasphemy. That rings very true.

So in general what Paul says is true, except that science is now a rival to faith that he would not have foreseen.

I do not think that Romans 1 describes your situation at all; it describes people who willfully quash their faith because of sin. Jude 1:22 says, “Have mercy on some, who are doubting,” so obviously the Bible recognizes that intellectual doubt is legitimate. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us to always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks us to give an account for the hope that is in us. Why would we need to do that if everyone already intellectually believed?

We can’t rely too much on one Bible verse at the exclusion of others, because then we won’t see the full picture. There may be many people who do exactly what Paul says, but you do not appear to be one of them.

Anette Acker said...

BeamStalk:

Yes, I was a little confused about the Mormon verse. I had no idea what it was until I googled it. Maybe I should have invited in the Mormons who came to my door a few days ago, so I might have been more informed.

Now onto your use of the word hypostasis. I have no problems with it meaning "reality, essence, substantial nature, or assurance" that is what it means. The problem is in the words around it. The word for faith is pistis and it means "conviction of the truth of anything, belief." Elpizo is the word for hope and it is the same meaning as hope (to cherish a desire with anticipation).

So what that verse is saying is, your own conviction (or you are convinced) of truth will make real your desire. That is patently false. Just because you are convinced something is true and you desire it to be true does not make something true.


Hey, that's a pretty good substantive response. Not only did I not get dead air, but you quoted Greek back to me.

But let me elaborate on what I meant: When Christ died on the cross, He won an objective spiritual victory in that He defeated sin and death on our behalf. He finished His work of a new creation that will culminate in a new heaven and a new earth. So everything that will belong to us eternally has been credited to our account.

Faith is our present share of that objective reality. Our hope is eternal life in the Paradise of God. That is what Christ accomplished. And faith is the degree to which we experience that right now. It is the "substance" of the thing hoped for, or the thing itself.

So it doesn't mean that something becomes true just because we want it to be true. That would be patently false. Faith is our means of laying hold of something that is already true, or our subjective experience of an objective reality. For example, there is such a thing as colors, but if I'm blind I can't appreciate them. Likewise, Christ accomplished a real victory on the cross, but we only share in it to the degree that we have faith.

You do bring up some interesting points though, that is that to truly understand the Bible one has to understand ancient Greek for the New Testament and ancient Hebrew for the Old.

That's not at all true. It is helpful if one is interested in theology but not necessary in order to have faith. John 15 describes a very simple dynamic of abiding in Christ, and the spiritual fruit grows on its own. This means dependence on Christ. Or believing on Him, like the KJV says. The words, "Come to Me" also describe faith. Receiving the "water of life" is faith. There are many other ways that faith is illustrated in the Bible.

Anette Acker said...

BeamStalk,

Another way to look at it is that the Holy Spirit is the deposit guaranteeing our inheritance (Ephesians 1:14), which is eternal life. So eternal life is the "hope," the Holy Spirit is the "substance," and faith is the means by which we receive it.

BTW, I usually use the NASB because it is supposed to be the most literal, but I think the KJV often captures the meaning better. It is very archaic though.

clamflats said...

Hello Anette, I read through John last night so my penance is complete. I will be more careful of challenging you.

A few passages in John piqued my interest. I got a chuckle from the story of the blind man’s parents in John 9. “Hey, ask him”, they say in an effort to get out of trouble. Jesus was given a vinegar soaked sponge on a stalk of a hyssop plant. I grow hyssop in my garden. The leaves are great in salads or added to ice cubes. I didn’t realize it was such an ancient plant.

John 13 relays a curious chain of events, first Jesus predicts someone will betray him and he tells “this disciple”, I assume John, “Watch who I give the bread to.” He gives the bread to Judas (Satan entered into him! Yoiks, what a Trojan Horse!) and dismisses him. Then John writes, “but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him.” John obviously did! I’ve often thought that Judas and Pilate were patsies in this story. But then again the whole biblical record makes us all out to be pawns in a battle between Satan and God. I am reminded of Shakespeare’s, “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

As I mentioned in a previous comment, the Salem Witch Trial transcripts and Joseph Smith’s revelations of Hebrews settling the American continent are examples of why a skeptical view of all such writings is necessary. John 19 contains the tip-off; ”These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled” This compels the skeptic to question whether the narrative is biased and written with the intention of convincing John’s contemporaries in some inter-group political struggle.

Anette Acker said...

clamflats,

Hello Anette, I read through John last night so my penance is complete. I will be more careful of challenging you.

I think that's very wise, because next time I may have to have to assign Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

John 13 relays a curious chain of events, first Jesus predicts someone will betray him and he tells “this disciple”, I assume John, “Watch who I give the bread to.” He gives the bread to Judas (Satan entered into him! Yoiks, what a Trojan Horse!) and dismisses him. Then John writes, “but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him.” John obviously did! I’ve often thought that Judas and Pilate were patsies in this story. But then again the whole biblical record makes us all out to be pawns in a battle between Satan and God. I am reminded of Shakespeare’s, “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

I'm sure you're familiar with the free will/predestination debate. In one sense we have free will and in another sense we don't. We are "slaves" to whatever we yield ourselves to. Romans 6:16 says, "Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?"

Judas wasn't just chosen as a "pawn" for Satan. He was already yielding himself to Satan, and Jesus gave him over. (In this battle between God and Satan, God casts the final vote, by deciding when someone is beyond redemption.) Judas played an important role in the most important historical drama, but his will was in no way overpowered. Our wills play a major role; if that were not the case, good and evil would be nonsensical concepts from our standpoint. In the story of Adam and Eve and the fruit, they are tempted by Satan and they yield themselves to him, with serious consequences. They give him a major foothold in their lives.

Anette Acker said...

”These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled” This compels the skeptic to question whether the narrative is biased and written with the intention of convincing John’s contemporaries in some inter-group political struggle.

Since God is omniscient, He already knew everything about the life of Jesus. And when He inspired the OT Scriptures, He foreshadowed events in His life in the form of prophetic statements and typology. The OT is filled with this kind of thing. For example, the first three chapters of Genesis contain a lot of symbolism and prophecy. And it is very clear once you discover it.

Anette Acker said...

QED,

I would like to make a couple of additional points about Romans 1-3. First, what Paul is doing here is leading up to the doctrine of justification by faith. So he is establishing his argument that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23), basing it also on Psalm 14, which he quotes in 3:10-18.

So, on the one hand, it is true that we all “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” That is a part of our sinful nature. But on the other hand, that doesn’t mean that intellectual doubt can’t be genuine. Those are two separate issues.

Second, in Romans 1, Paul uses the two arguments for Christianity that have traditionally been most compelling: the argument from design and the argument from moral law. Many skeptics no longer find them persuasive because their standard response is that natural selection is the explanation for both. It led to the complex design of the world, morality, our appreciation for beauty, and pretty much everything else.

I do not find it at all persuasive that natural selection is responsible for all those things, but it doesn’t matter what I think because I’m the one with the burden of proof. If it’s persuasive to skeptics, that’s all that matters. That’s why I generally don’t make those arguments.

However, Dawkins was particularly shameless when he appealed to natural selection as a possible explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe, by saying that his detractors had not had their “consciousness awakened by natural selection.” He further says, “We should not give up hope of a better crane arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology. But even in the absence of a strongly satisfying crane to match the biological one, the relatively weak cranes we have at present are, when abetted by the anthropic principle, self-evidently better than the self-defeating skyhook hypothesis of an intelligent designer.” He realizes his lack of a satisfying “crane” in physics, and yet he has the gall to name his chapter, “Why there is almost certainly no God.” While Dawkins fundamentally speaks the truth about scientific evidence (and for that I applaud him), he uses rhetoric to mislead.

QED said...

Annette -

You wrote:

"We can’t rely too much on one Bible verse at the exclusion of others, because then we won’t see the full picture. There may be many people who do exactly what Paul says, but you do not appear to be one of them."
____________________________

I would argue that we CAN and SHOULD rely on "one" bible verse...? Why? Because each Epistle (or other book) was written independently of the others and does not assume that those to whom it was written had access to an entire/complete set of scriptures. What Paul wrote had to make sense in and of itself to those who were reading it.

This is why I believe it to be a mistake to mandate that scripture must interpret scripture or that it cannot contradict itself. To do so is to commit the fallacy of circular reasoning. Furthermore, it makes the whole idea meaningless, since it is unverifiable. That is, if one starts with the assumption that the Bible cannot contradict itself, then any time a conflict arises, he/she is forced to possibly manipulate the meaning in whatever way so as to force consistency.

Because of this I am still convinced of my analysis of Paul's argument and still believe it to be inaccurate as well as inconsistent with other verses such as the ones you mentioned.

Anette Acker said...

QED,

I still think Paul is right in his statement that we "suppress the truth in unrighteousness," even if we don't look at other books of the Bible. We're just not always self-aware enough to see it. In order to know God, we have to be willing to surrender our own autonomy. That is something most of us resist.
I know that that has been true of me, and to a certain extent it's still true. I have also experienced the truth of Jeremiah 29:13: "You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart."

However, it is still possible to have sincere intellectual doubt. The will and the intellect are two different matters. I basically figure that all I can do is try to answer the intellectual questions people have and leave the will to the Holy Spirit. But some people seem more resistant than others. It doesn't bother me, nor do I consider it my place to force self-awareness on them. But I certainly consider it a fact of human nature, while it varies from person to person.

QED said...

But why do you think Paul is right? How could anyone possibly test the assertion that we all suppress the truth in unrighteousness?

Anette Acker said...

I can "test" it in the same way that I test everything the Bible says about human nature: by self-observation, observation of other people, hearing what other people say about themselves, etc. For example, C.S. Lewis said about his conversion that he was "the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England."

I can't test it conclusively, of course, but after testing many things in the Bible this way over the course of many years, I believe that it is inerrant, and therefore I simply trust what it says.

But I think we reach a lot of conclusions about truth by doing an informal version of the scientific method. We see things happen on a regular basis, we start to predict it, and then when things happen that way repeatedly, it confirms this truth more and more.

And my experience tells me that what Paul says about human nature is true. I think the will plays a major role when it comes to matters of faith. However, as I said, that doesn't mean that I dismiss intellectual questions as insincere. If I did, I would not keep making the effort to answer them.

QED said...

I haven't found that to be true too many people... so what then?

Anette Acker said...

How do you know?

I'll tell you how I know: I have had regular discussions with people about Christianity for the past seven months, where I try to explain everything logically and Scripturally. So far I've had the final word in all of them, except a few times when I felt that a subject was not worth pursuing. This was not to "win" but to make sure that all their questions are answered. (One thing God brought to my attention right before I even started commenting was to take my ego out of any debate. Otherwise, a debate is just one person against another, and a waste of time.)

I have no reason to believe that it has made any difference. People still say that there is no evidence for God, and that atheism is the most likely explanation.

If that is the most logical conclusion, why did they not refute my arguments? Why give me the last word each time? They are certainly very capable of taking apart faulty logic.

I like the people and this doesn't bother me (because I expected it), but it confirms what Paul said.

The Celtic Chimp said...

If that is the most logical conclusion, why did they not refute my arguments? Why give me the last word each time? They are certainly very capable of taking apart faulty logic.

I mean no disrespect Annette but you have a long way to go before your thinking could be described as logical. You seem to believe your arguments are reasoned but mostly they are just expressions of belief and bias with no basis in logic. That's fine by the way. If you believe a thing, by all means express it. I just think you should be cautious about believing your position to be one that is logical or evidencially defencible.
I refrained from commenting furhter in our ealier exchange precisely because your arguments were self-evidently illogical but you didn't seem to be aware of it. If you truely wish to argue from a logically robust position, I would recommend that you read up on some good philosophy books. There are a great way to get to grips with logical modes of thought. I apologise if this sounds condesending, that is not my intent. I am entirely sincere.

QED said...

Annette -

Would you share your arguments with me? The one's to which you referred in your post I mean.

Anette Acker said...

Celtic Chimp,

Don't worry about sounding condescending. I do not take offense when people tell me their true opinions of me, and particularly not when they do it nicely like you did. I expected some kind of response of that nature, and it is something I want to discuss. In fact, you are probably the perfect person to talk with about this. Thank you for volunteering for the role of poster child for the point I want to make. ;)

First, which conversation was so self-evidently illogical? The one about why Jesus turned the tables in the temple? Or the one about fine-tuning? Or was it our first conversation where I ended it because you were raising a lot of weighty theological subjects while giving me the distinct impression that you had made up your mind?

But leaving that aside, I have you pegged as strongly atheistic. Is that correct? Since I am strongly Christian, we are on opposite sides of the spectrum. So it is not surprising that we see things differently.

If you are strongly atheistic, you probably find the idea of theism inherently illogical. You would find any natural explanation (no matter how farfetched) more plausible than the existence of a Creator. This is certainly Dawkins's attitude, which he made very clear in The God Delusion.

You may say that if you had proof of God's existence, you would believe. But are you self-aware enough to know what kind of "proof" would persuade you? I don't think you are. If astronauts went into space and found the words, "I made everything. God" somewhere, would you believe? I'm sure you could explain that away if you are sure there is no God. You would explain a miracle away for one of the reasons given by Hume: we don't know the limits of nature. You don't know how everything came out of nothing and why the universe is fine-tuned for life, but you're sure it's not because there is a Creator. In other words, you have created a conceptual framework which by its very nature makes the idea of theism impossible.

Is this logical or is it your intuition that there is no God shaping your thinking? We all make sense of reality with a combination of reason and intuition. Regular Gallup polls indicate that about 93% of people believe in either a personal God or a deistic intelligence. They probably believe largely for intuitive reasons, without knowing anything about the evidence for God in physics.

As an atheist, you are in a very small minority (6% are agnostic or atheistic). So a large majority of people believe that this world was created. This doesn't mean they are right, but it would be arrogant to dismiss their intuition out of hand. Certainly it would be illogical to reject the existence of a God as a possible explanation for the evidence.

This is particularly true since if we go back to the beginning of the universe, the evidence is more consistent with a Creator than anything else. I discussed this before, but Dawkins found himself up against a wall with the fine-tuning argument. He has to hypothesize an infinite number of universes just to have a half-way plausible defense. Even then, who's to say that it would be possible for all those laws and constants to be as precisely correct as they are?

If we look at the question objectively and we have not ruled out the existence of a Creator (that is, we have not dismissed the intuition of 93% of the population out of hand), it is far more logical to believe that the world was created than that it was not. If you grasp for other explanations, that indicates that you do not want to believe in a God. And that supports Paul's point.

I do not mean for that to sound condescending. I like and respect all the people I have been discussing these issues with, but I do think that Paul is right. QED asked me, and I gave him my truthful answer.

Anette Acker said...

QED,

I've made long, substantive comments on Atheist Central just about every day (sometimes several times a day) for about seven months, and most of them are lost in the abyss of "older posts." I couldn't possibly summarize everything I have said. But I would be happy to try to answer whatever questions you have here.

Anette Acker said...

QED,

I want to stress that I think it's human nature to "suppress the truth," as Paul says. I'm not just talking about non-believers. People do it when they don't want to believe something. It is every bit as true for many professing Christians as anyone else, but the Bible says that if we are led by the Spirit, we will not do that. We will accept the truth wherever we find it. Like George MacDonald said, "Truth is truth, whether spoken from the lips of Jesus or Balaam's donkey."

QED said...

Annette -

Let us suppose for the sake of argument that you are right; that people do, in fact, "suppress the truth". However, you admitted that "We're just not always self-aware enough to see it."

So, if a person can unconsciously suppress truth, in what sense are they "without excuse" as Paul says? How can I (or anyone for that matter) fix something of which I/they are not aware?

Anette Acker said...

QED,

You are “fixing” it right now by asking questions, and you did it before by asking God to reveal Himself to you. Even if you have serious doubts, it doesn’t matter as long as you want to get at the truth.

Even in everyday life, lack of self-awareness may lead to behavior for which people will judge us. The correct response then would be to become more self-aware. Sometimes psychotherapy is necessary for negative behavior that has an unconscious basis. People are willing to pay a lot of money for that.

If there is any chance that God exists and that He died to redeem us for eternal life in His Paradise, we would be extremely foolish to dismiss it. That is, if we just don’t care or if we cross our arms and take a proud stance before God if He exist, we will be without excuse if He does.

Anette Acker said...

QED,

Keep in mind that Paul is making a general statement about human nature; this doesn't mean it's 100% true of all people all the time. So I don't make judgments about what is in the minds of individuals. But I have definitely seen this to be a characteristic of human nature.

The Celtic Chimp said...

Annette,

Apologies in advance, I don't have much time at the moment so this will be a little hasty.

As you ask an example of what are self-evidently illogical is:
The universe was created by a God
Not logical. It may even be true, but it is not logical. It cannot be logically derived without assuming waaaay too much. While all logical statements are based on a priori assumptions, you cannot attempt to logically arrive at a conclusion about a question and assume the conclusion in the assumptions. That is circular reasoning. In order to logically derive God, you would have to start with assumtions that don't include God. It is not possible to derive God this way.
If you are strongly atheistic, you probably find the idea of theism inherently illogical.
Theism is inherently illogical. It is not a matter of opinion. It is illogical because we have no evidence to support it. It is as illogical as "The tooth-fairy must have taken my tooth" Without any evidence on which to base the reasoning even, it is not possible to arrive at theology by rational means. This doesn't mean it is not true, only that it is not logically derived.
Decarte attempted to reason his way to God but only got as far as "I think therefore I am".

My point is one of logic, strictly. If 100% of people on earth believe a thing without evidence for that belief that means exactly nothing logically. 100% of people for instance would have at one time believed that sun revolved around the earth. Every last one of them was dead wrong. That many people believe a thing being suggested as evidence for a thing is a logical fallacy called argumentum ad populum. The fact is that human intuition has been proven dead wrong so often it is frankly strange that it would be applied with any confidence to questions we have no experience of even, like the big bang.

Incidentally, I find the 6% figure quite low, not that it matters. One pew poll puts the unaffiliated figure at about 16%. It is also worth bearing in mind that in the US there are many places where it would be tantamout to social suicide to admit to being anything other than Christian. The US is also a singular case. In every other first world country, the rates are far far higher. None of that is particularly relevent though. Peoples opinions are not evidence. It is also worth noting that you are insinuating that 93% percent all believe a particular thing but if you actually look at what they do infact believe there are radical differences. Often times the only similarity between gods is that they are supernatural. In many cases many of the gods are not responsible for creating the universe at all.

This is particularly true since if we go back to the beginning of the universe, the evidence is more consistent with a Creator than anything else.
This is an example of what I am talking about. That statement is 100% assertion. There is zero evidence to support the idea of a creator. None at all. It is obviously not a logical conclusion to draw. Logic is logic, it is not a matter of opinion.

The Celtic Chimp said...

Also, don't conflate the fact that we don't know a thing with there not being an answer. Pysicists who say anything other than "we don't know" about events prior to or even vanishing early after the big bang are offering nothing more than unevidenced conjecture. Physicists have a bad habit of assuming too much. I don't really want to discuss the fine-tuning argument further. I don't like discussing it at the best of times with people who don't have at least a very good understanding of physics. There is a lot of disagreement in the physics world about many of the theories which are put forward where the very earliest moments of the big bang are concerned. Truthfully I wish the big bang were not even brought into the discussion, there is too little evidence to say anything other than this universe we know in its current form began there. Was it really the beginning? No-one can say. Much of what is presumed is based on theories which are not even all that well substanciated yet. The problem of discussing idea based on advanced physics with people who don't study it at all is that they have no real sense of what physicists can reasonably claim. I disagree with some of Stephen Hawking's idea for instance. Most people would react to that with horror in a kind of "wow, you think you are smarter than Hawkings" kind of way. I don't think I am smarter than Hawkings by the way, I just know enough about the field to know when he is perhaps reaching a little beyond the evidence. Even Einstein was essentially pushed aside when his prejudice about how he wanted the universe to be conflicted with how the universe actually is. He hated the idea of uncertaincy in the operation of the universe. "God does not play dice" as he famously put it. Evidence is all that really counts when you want to base what you believe on rationality. I am not even suggesting that you should base everything on rationality. I believe many things without sufficient evidence. I am quite happy to admit though that those things are not rationally derived. I might even have some evidence for those beliefs but not enough to call the belief rational. It is a hunch so to speak.

The Celtic Chimp said...

The fine-tuning argument is only valid if you make the a priori assumtion that we were the desired result of the creation of the universe. The evidence would suggest we were not. If you were to compare the amount of space in the universe where humans can sometimes survive versus the amount of space in the universe that is instantly fatal to all known forms of life and come to the conclusion that we were the objective of the creation of the universe; you are not drawing an even remotely logical conclusion.


Is this logical or is it your intuition that there is no God shaping your thinking?
It is always illogical to invent an answer to a question without evidence. There is no evidence for a god or gods. I believe that there is no super entity responsible for the creation of the universe because I have no reason at all to believe there is one. I also find the idea that he created the universe with us in mind and cares about us etc, laughably contrary to the evidence.

Speaking in terms of logic I did bring up God's own morality at one point and I'm sure it was addressed. Let me ask you this question; From where does God get his morality? Most Christians make it sound like there are rules even God cannot violate, which would make God a subject of a system as much as we are. If he simply decided on his morality it would nessecarily have been entirely arbitrary.

On another point of logic, many Christians claim that God is "outside of time". This is an illogical notion. As time is the measure of change. You cannot have more than one state in a timeless existence. Any change in state would necessarily involve a prior state, a current state and a future state, all of which are temporal. A god who was outside of time would be frozen, incapable even of though as though itself is a temporal process. These logical inconsistancies will just be waved away with some vague appeal to "mystery". Logic however is not a great respecter of mystery. :)

I have no real beef with your beliefs, I just think you need to be careful of how much rationality and logic you attribute to them.
Faith for instance is the antithesis of reason. There is simply no such thing as rational faith.

Anette Acker said...

Celtic Chimp:

As you ask an example of what are self-evidently illogical is:
"The universe was created by a God"
Not logical.


“You cannot have more than one state”
Celtic Chimp

Ha! A self-evidently illogical statement! You can most certainly have more than one state. We have 50 states here in the good old US of A. (That must have been Irish logic.)

Of course, if you take a sentence fragment out of context, you can make it out to be illogical. You are right that if I declared, "The universe was created by a God," and that was all I had to say, it would not be logical.

Theism is inherently illogical. It is not a matter of opinion. It is illogical because we have no evidence to support it. It is as illogical as "The tooth-fairy must have taken my tooth" Without any evidence on which to base the reasoning even, it is not possible to arrive at theology by rational means.

If by that you mean that we cannot prove the existence of God, you are correct. One reason is because we don't have enough information, and another reason is the one I gave in this post: we will always give either a naturalistic answer or say we don't know if our philosophy excludes the supernatural.

However, neither can we prove a scientific theory. Why not just use the same standard that is used for the theory of evolution, for example: what explanation fits the evidence best? There is no proof—it just fits the evidence.

Likewise, everything we know about the Big Bang and fine-tuning of the universe fits what the Bible says. An Intelligence is a more logical explanation than random chance, even if there were an infinite number of universes (which there is no evidence of whatsoever).

My point is one of logic, strictly. If 100% of people on earth believe a thing without evidence for that belief that means exactly nothing logically.

I agree with this, which I think I made clear.

The fact is that human intuition has been proven dead wrong so often it is frankly strange that it would be applied with any confidence to questions we have no experience of even, like the big bang.

I’m not sure I understand your point here. I realize that human intuition is often wrong. However, it should not be entirely discounted. As you said, you often rely on a hunch, and I’ll bet that the hunch is often correct. Intuition plays an important role, although we should determine whether it is reinforced with reason wherever possible. 


My point is that the intuition of a large percentage of people, throughout history, should not be discounted as a starting point. That is, you should not dismiss it as one of the possible explanations. Otherwise, you are relying on your intuition when you create an entirely naturalistic conceptual framework, and your reasoning is every bit as circular as you claim mine is. If we draw a circle of perfect logic, the logic fails if the circle is artificially small. I am saying that the circle is larger than you claim that it is, and I am not using fallacious logic to defend my position. If I did, I would be destroyed on Atheist Central.

Anette Acker said...

“This is particularly true since if we go back to the beginning of the universe, the evidence is more consistent with a Creator than anything else.” 
This is an example of what I am talking about. That statement is 100% assertion. There is zero evidence to support the idea of a creator. None at all. It is obviously not a logical conclusion to draw. Logic is logic, it is not a matter of opinion.

Once again you have removed my statement from its context. I have spent a great deal of time in the previous post and in the comments explaining why the evidence is consistent with a Creator. Since you read that, I didn’t think it was necessary to repeat it.

Also, don't conflate the fact that we don't know a thing with there not being an answer. Pysicists who say anything other than "we don't know" about events prior to or even vanishing early after the big bang are offering nothing more than unevidenced conjecture.

I agree with this, which is why I have only referenced the evidence. And there is a lot of evidence for the Big Bang. Everybody agrees on it, but there is a lot of conjecture about what happened “before” the Big Bang and what caused it. I realize that physicists are not sure that the Big Bang was a “beginning,” but the evidence is consistent with it. All I’m saying is that the evidence itself is completely consistent with the biblical record of the universe having a beginning (which marked the beginning of time) and emerging from nothing. And the fine-tuning is very consistent with a purposeful Designer.

The fine-tuning argument is only valid if you make the a priori assumtion that we were the desired result of the creation of the universe. The evidence would suggest we were not. If you were to compare the amount of space in the universe where humans can sometimes survive versus the amount of space in the universe that is instantly fatal to all known forms of life and come to the conclusion that we were the objective of the creation of the universe; you are not drawing an even remotely logical conclusion.

The Bible happens to address this issue as well in Psalm 8:3-4: “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?” If we go back to Paul’s point in Romans 1:20, this fits in that the universe mirrors Christian theology: we are insignificant and tiny in a vast universe, but our planet is sheltered and protected. God loves us even though we are not worthy of His love.

You are insisting that we have to approach the question from your angle, but that is not necessary. All we have to do is see if the explanation (the Bible) fits the evidence, and it does. Romans 1:20 and Psalm 8:3-4 explains the universe in a way that seemed counterintuitive to you. (You just relied on your intuition and labeled it “logic.”)

Logic however is not a great respecter of mystery.

Yes it is, because logic is not limited to what we know and understand. As you said, Einstein said, “God does not play dice,” believing that to be a logical statement based on what he knew about physics, but he was wrong. He had drawn the circle of logic too small—just like you do.

Speaking in terms of logic I did bring up God's own morality at one point and I'm sure it was addressed.

Good! I’m glad that’s been taken care of. :)

The Celtic Chimp said...

Noooo.....

I type a lenghtyish response and blogger lost it!

Anette Acker said...

Celtic Chimp:

All you need to ask to determine whether theology is logical and reasonable is whether it has internal logic and whether it is consistent with reality. Since I have demonstrated (with respect to creation) that it is both, it is logical.

I do not have to conclusively prove it; to do so is inherently impossible because of the limits of knowledge. You would just say, "But we don't know X," and continue to put your faith in future science, even though all the current scientific evidence points to a Creator.

What kind of proof would you accept anyway?

Anette Acker said...

That's happened to me so many times. I hate Blogger!

Anette Acker said...

QED,

I just started reading an excellent book called Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? and I wanted quote a part of it to you.

It is intriguing to note that just as Christians have often utilized the disastrous god-of-the-gaps type arguments, as already discussed, seeking to place their argument for God in the present gaps of our scientific knowledge, so it is possible that here we have an 'atheism-of-the-gaps' type of argument in which atheists seek to support their disbelief in God based on interpretations of scientific data which appear initially plausible due to lack of knowledge about the data, but appear less believable as our understanding of the process--in this case the evolutionary process--becomes more complete.

To my mind the most recent findings from evolutionary biology are more consistent with the plan-like theistic account that the Bible reveals to us, than with an atheistic account in which the existence of such an ordered, constrained, directional history of life must always remain anomalous. There seems to be a biological anthropic principle that is parallel to the anthropic principle in physics pointing to the fine-tuning of the physical constants of the universe that are just right for life to exist. In biology it is beginning to look as if the whole system is set up in such a highly organised way that the emergence of intelligent life was inevitable.

Anette Acker said...

Celtic Chimp:

On another point of logic, many Christians claim that God is "outside of time". This is an illogical notion. As time is the measure of change. You cannot have more than one state in a timeless existence. Any change in state would necessarily involve a prior state, a current state and a future state, all of which are temporal.

If this is illogical then the big bang is also illogical. How is it possible for the universe to expand when it's not expanding into anything? Answer: we can't conceptualize it, although we know it happened.

This is yet another example of you deciding that something is illogical if you don't understand it.

I don't really want to discuss the fine-tuning argument further.

Of course you don't. It's not good for your position and it may force you to think about things you'd rather not consider.

Faith for instance is the antithesis of reason. There is simply no such thing as rational faith.

You say that because you obviously don't understand theologically the nature of Christian faith. But if you think you do, please explain it to me. And remember, whether or not you think Christianity is true, it is based on the Bible so you have to define it correctly according to the Bible. Otherwise you are admitting ignorance.

If you want a little help, go back to my discussion with BeamStalk and read my explanation of Hebrews 11:1. Then summarize it to me in your own words and explain how that is inconsistent with reason.

Anette Acker said...

Celtic Chimp:

Sorry for bombarding you with comments, but I just wanted to make one more important point.

Keep in mind that the subject of our discussion is whether or not there is a God, not how the universe came into existence. The former is a philosophical question and the latter is a scientific one. Now we are using science to answer the philosophical question, but let's not lose sight of the actual question.

It is impossible to answer this question within a naturalistic framework; in order to even start the discussion we both have to consider the possibility that there is a God. Otherwise we are asking a yes/no question having already decided that yes is not a possible answer. That is illogical.

And if we go back to the big bang, we have to conclude based on the current scientific evidence that it was a supernatural event. Time, space, and nature did not exist "before" that, so whatever caused it was above or otherwise outside of nature.

Why is it so implausible to consider the possibility that a supernatural intelligence caused this supernatural event? Particularly since the fine-tuning of the universe was such that a fair reading of the evidence indicates that it was purposeful. (We have to either speculate a lot or dismiss the "why" question to conclude otherwise.) And as I quoted to QED, it is beginning to look like evolution was also purposeful.

clamflats said...

Hello Anette - I wonder if you would consider writing a post on what path a skeptical thinker could take to honestly consider Christianity, kind of a step by step guide.

The other day I was in my garden weeding and preparing for the next planting. I had time for a lot of thought. It occurred to me that for me to seriously consider Christianity - salvation through Jesus Christ - I would have to believe or at least assume a number of things first. These are:

1. There is a non-material element of each human being, the soul, which is created at conception and continues to exist after the death of the individual.

2. There exists two places, heaven and hell, that are or will be eternal repositories for souls rejoined with their physical bodies at some point in the future.

3. There exists a single set of immutable rules governing all human activity, morals.

4. Transgressions against these morals, sins, are punishable by eternal extreme torture in hell.

5. Mitigation of this punishment and attainment of heaven is only available through belief in and practice of a particular religious doctrine.


I have no evidence that any of these things are true. Short of divine revelation to me I'm not sure I could ever accept that these things are true. And if no of this is evident then why should I bother to even pursue a solution? I'm not particularly fearful of death. I want to live because of the joy I get from the people around me - particularly my grandsons (ages 4, 7, and 9) but I do accept that it will all end without any fear of an afterlife where I will be answering for actions in this life.

I know two atheists personally who changed their minds about God. One was through practicing meditation. This fellow believes in a benevolent deistic God. The other person had a fatal cancer and said she received a vision of heaven and her place in it. She accepted a more traditional Christian belief, one that I think you would recognize as similar to your own. So both got to belief through non-logical and also non-faith approaches. Do you think there is a logical path?

Anette Acker said...

clamflats,

Those are excellent questions, and I was actually planning to do a blog post on the subject of "What is a soul and why does it need saving?" I think the question has come up a few times on AC.

I definitely think there is a logical path to belief, but it's longer and more difficult than the path of revelation (faith), and it's easier to get lost. However, C. S. Lewis, for example, took the path of logic from atheism to faith, and it equipped him to help a lot of other people who were and are struggling with intellectual questions. We're all different, and some people don't ask the hard questions. Others do, and I think there is a benefit to that even though faith won't come as easily.

Anette Acker said...

QED,

Another point about Romans 1. You said that you would not consider anything written in another book of the Bible, but surely you're willing to put it in the context of the rest of the book of Romans, right?

Romans 10:13-14 says, "How will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?"

So I believe that Romans 1 pertains to the moral law within every person and the sense that most people have that the world was created. It also says that it is human nature to "suppress the truth in unrighteousness." This leads Paul to the doctrine of justification by faith.

It does not, however, say that people know the Gospel unless they are taught by someone. Paul is very clear about that in Romans 10:13-14.

The reason why we need to read the Bible in context is because otherwise it's easy to misunderstand.

Darkknight56 said...

Anette Acker said...

The Bible is God's message of salvation rather than a science textbook; however, it does clearly state some things about the universe. Genesis 1:1 says, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." So the Bible says that it had a beginning.

Many cultures have creation stories. Even other religions around the middle east have or had various creation stories where the heavens and the earth were created by a god or group of gods. There is nothing unique in the Jewish religion having one.

I've heard non-believers say that they would believe in God if they witnessed a miracle. But is that really true?

I personally don't want or need a miracle. If anything, I'd just want Him to talk to me, verbally (although visually would be good, too) and audibly.

people often assume naturalism, which means that their conceptual framework excludes the possibility of a God. So deductive reasoning will never lead them to conclude that God exists whether or not He does.

This isn't really true. When an event like what happened with Carl's son happens and people what to get down to what caused it, what happened, step number 1 (or any subsequent step) isn't "Rule out God as a cause." The first step is to gather data, all sorts of data. I'm not a doctor and I don't fully understand what happened to his son so the following is pretty much hypothetical but, I hope, realistic. They might run various panels on his blood, find out what he had to eat, what cologne were the parent wearing, who was on duty and possibly hundreds, if not thousands of other questions.

Another thing they would do is look up similar incidents and see what was done prior, during, and after the event.

They would also list all possible causes for the event and comparing the data to the causes they would rule out certain ones. They might find that the data isn't sufficient and currently supports several causes so they'd ask more questions and continually refine the process until a conclusion can be supported by the evidence at hand.

What is better, this process or should they just throw up their hands and say, "It's a miracle. God did it."? And the next time this happens to another child either in the same hospital or a different one what should the doctors do? Should they look back on this event and seeing that it was a miracle put away their medical equipment and just wait for God to heal this second child, too? Or should they go by the detailed analysis done by the hospital earlier and either know what to do to prevent it or how to respond even better should it happen again? Were other children similarly afflicted and healed, were their parents all true Christians (no false converts) or were some Muslim or Buddhists? If God did the healing then only the non-believer's children should have died as their parents didn't pray to God to heal them.

The problem with miracles is that they are so unreliable. Just because God healed Carl's son it doesn't mean He would heal the next 10 or 20 children similarly afflicted. Science seems much more reliable than miracles in that regard.

The Celtic Chimp said...

Annette,

Just a quick note. I'm quite under the weather at the moment. When I'm hale and hearty I'll give a proper response! :P

Anette Acker said...

Take your time, Celtic Chimp. This is actually going to be a busy week with little down time. I'm planning to do a blog post if I have time, but that may be about it. I hope you feel better soon.

Darkknight56, I don't know when I'll get to your comment either. I want to do it justice when I do reply, but if it takes several days it's not because I'm ignoring you.

Anette Acker said...

darkknight56,

Of course doctors do whatever they can to heal the sick. Medicine is part of what we consider God's common grace, something that is available to everyone in this world and makes life better. We should take full advantage of it.

However, doctors cannot heal every disease, so Christians pray whenever someone is sick. A number of studies have shown that it is effective. I know that you have cited studies that indicate that it's not effective. It doesn't matter to me because I know from personal experience that it is effective. And I believe that quantum physics may illuminate the reason, and that is something I plan to discuss in another blog post.

You said the following to me on Atheist Central:

You, on the other hand, want to say "Oh, Big Bang therefore God" without separately showing evidence for the existence of God. You can't say God, or any other deity, did it without first showing that He exists. If you want to say that God caused the Big Bang then you have to provide separate evidence that He exists.



I addressed this issue in my most recent post. Let me know if that does not answer your question.