Friday, July 2, 2010

A Skeptic's Guide to Faith




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In the comic strip Bloom County, Oliver Wendell Jones was the child prodigy who would sit on his roof and ponder the cosmos when he wasn't busy hacking into computers. 

One night the stars suddenly formed the words, "REPENT OLIVER."

Oliver said to himself, "Bloody difficult being an agnostic these days."

Difficult, maybe . . . but not impossible.

A skeptic asked me to do a post about rational steps to faith, and the Bloom County comic reminded me of something not to do: If we start out with a philosophy that excludes the possibility of the supernatural, it is impossible to find evidence for God's existence. This may seem self-evident, but it's easy to lose sight of, and if we do we will commit the fallacy of begging the question without even realizing it.

We may decide that we will not believe without evidence, but whenever "evidence" comes along, we'll interpret it in light of a naturalistic philosophy (the belief that nature is all that exists). So if we start out with the conviction that nature is everything, we will always reach the conclusion that everything, no matter how vanishingly small the odds, has a natural explanation. The issue of whether God exists is a yes/no question, but if we operate from this conceptual framework, the answer will always be no, even if He does in fact exist. It is circular reasoning.

In our scientific age, this is a very easy mistake to make because we are used to explaining things by science, but its scope is limited to nature--it cannot tell us whether anything exists beyond nature. Science never gives "God" as an answer. It tells us how the world came into existence but not why we are here. So the dichotomy is never between theism and science, but between theism and atheism. Science is simply an explanation of how things are, but it doesn't tell us whether it happened by design or as a result of a cosmic accident. If we allow science to become synonymous with atheism in our minds, we posit a false dichotomy: science versus religion.  But the Creator of this universe would have used quarks, genomes, and the elements of the periodic table as His building blocks, leaving us with the task of discovering and naming it all. He has to be the Great Scientist. Everything around us would reflect His qualities, and the natural world and its laws would be one great miracle even though it operates in highly organized ways. 

This doesn't mean that we cannot look to science to make the determination whether the Bible is true, but we have to keep two things in mind: First, we may have a faulty image of God as a distant, alien deity who occasionally intervenes by breaking the laws of nature, and if we do, we will never find evidence of such a deity because he doesn't exist. The biblical God is always present in His creation and He never breaks the laws of nature; He only redeems nature and exercises dominion over it. In the Gospel accounts, He restored the brokenness in nature by healing the sick, and He exercised dominion over it by walking on water, turning water into wine, multiplying bread, and calming the storm. This was in keeping with His mission as Redeemer and as the Second Adam who would have full dominion over nature (Genesis 1:28). But He refused the suggestion of Satan that He turn rocks into bread (Matthew 4:3-4). That would have been a radical breach of the laws of nature. Still, the works of Jesus were true miracles by any definition; they superseded the laws of nature. So although God created nature and declared it "good," He is not limited by its laws.

Second, instead of looking for "evidence" without defining what we would consider evidence, we would be better off asking two thing: whether the Bible is logical and whether it is consistent with reality. This is a question that takes a while to answer because it means asking a lot of different questions within this framework. But this is the general approach I take when I comment on Atheist Central. In my opinion it is the only way to prove that the Bible is more likely true than not. We cannot conclusively prove that the Bible is true any more than we can conclusively prove a scientific theory. But we can determine whether the evidence fits.

Everything we can experience with our senses or test scientifically is within space and time, and the Bible tells us that God exists outside of that (1 Corinthians 2:7, Titus 1:2, Jude 1:25, 2 Timothy 1:9). So the universe is like the underside of a dome that contains all of nature, and all the rest of reality is outside of the dome--unknowable except through revelation. But never fear; since this blog post is about a rational approach to faith, we will examine the revelation of the Bible critically to see whether it lines up with science.

And in making this determination, it makes sense to start at the beginning and look at the greatest miracle of them all: creation (or if you prefer--the origin of the universe). And then we can examine the revelation of the Bible (the outside of the dome) and science (the inside) and see if they match up.

Genesis 1:1-3 says about creation, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light."

What, then, does creation look like from inside the dome, from a scientific perspective? When I said that scientists never give "God" for an answer, I might have lied. After the NASA satellite Cosmic Background Explorer confirmed the Big Bang theory in 1992, George Smoot, who led the thirty American astronomers who made the discovery, said, "What we have found is evidence of the birth of the universe. It's like looking at God." Geoffrey Burbridge, an atheistic member of the team, complained that all his colleagues were rushing off to join the "Church of Jesus Christ of the Big Bang." Psalm 19:1-2 says, "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hand. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge." So it seems rather prophetic that astronomers are the ones flocking to the "Church of Jesus Christ of the Big Bang."

How does the biblical creation account line up with science? First, astronomer Robert Jastrow said that the universe began suddenly "in a flash of light and energy." So this fits with the biblical description of God saying, "Let there be light."

Second, most scientists believe that the Big Bang marked the beginning of time. Since God exists outside of time  and created the heavens and the earth "in the beginning," this is also consistent.

Third, cosmologists tell us that the universe emerged out of nothing, 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 that are visible." God created ex nihilo, or out of nothing.

Fourth, the fine-tuning of the laws and constants of the universe is such that it led astrophysicist Michael Turner to say, "The precision is as if one could throw a dart across the entire universe and hit a bulls eye one millimeter in diameter on the other side." I discuss the Big Bang and fine-tuning in more detail here.

Fred Hoyle, the astronomer who is most closely associated with the steady-state model of the universe (which posited that the universe had always existed), said: "A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question." He was an atheist at the time of this statement but was "severely shaken" by the suggestion of a guiding hand, and abandoned his atheism.

And astronomer George Greenstein said, "The thought insistently arises that some supernatural agency--or rather Agency--must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled upon scientific proof of the existence of a Supreme Being?"

Fifth, science tells us that the laws of physics break down at the Big Bang, so this ordered universe was born out of chaos. The split second after the Big Bang was a state of "lawlessness" which is inherently unpredictable. Anything could have emerged out of it. Some say that this evidence goes against the design argument. But does it? It certainly goes against the idea that the universe is wholly deterministic, but that is not the same thing.

In 1799, physicist Pierre Laplace gave copies of his Treatise on Celestial Mechanics to Napoleon Bonaparte, seeking to explain the universe purely in terms of natural gravitational forces. Napoleon asked him what role God played in his theory, and Laplace reportedly replied, "Sire, I have no need of that hypothesis."

Laplace believed that the universe was completely deterministic, an idea that has been overturned by quantum mechanics. Traditional physics said that the laws of nature are fixed, and therefore miracles are impossible. Quantum physics says that nothing is impossible--some things are just very, very improbable. There is a very small, non-zero chance that we can walk through walls. Danish physicist and father of quantum mechanics Niels Bohr has said, "Anyone who is not shocked by quantum mechanics has not understood it." Physicist Alvaro de Rujula of Cern was asked whether there was a possibility that the Large Hadron Collider could produce a world-ending black hole. He replied that it was extremely unlikely but "the random nature of quantum physics means that there is always a minuscule, but nonzero, chance of anything occurring, including that the new collider could spit out man-eating dragons."

So the universe is not wholly predictable and the God hypothesis is back.

If we once again picture the universe as a self-contained dome where the underside represents science and the physical universe, and everything above is eternity, then that moment of "lawlessness" would correspond to God creating by fiat. And physicists hope to someday understand it better by using a combination of general relativity and quantum mechanics called quantum gravity. If quantum mechanics says that nothing is impossible, is it so farfetched to say that the lawlessness may represent the physical properties of the miracle of creation? Physicist Paul Davies said that the Big Bang "represents the instantaneous suspension of physical laws, the sudden, abrupt flash of lawlessness that allowed something to come out of nothing. It represents a true miracle--transcending physical principles."

So the revelation of the Bible tells us that the moment of creation was a divine miracle, and science reveals that the normal laws of physics break down at that moment. Something else was at work in that apparent chaos, but from it emerged a universe that still rests on a razor's edge of finely tuned laws and constants. And science would only be able to detect the lawlessness, but not the Guiding Hand.

The question of creation is of course fundamental, but we should evaluate all theological questions on the basis of whether the Bible is logical and whether it corresponds to reality. It is within this context that I will next discuss what the Bible says about the nature of a soul.

93 comments:

clamflats said...

Hello Anette - just posting to get on the email list. I quickly scanned your post and would like to spend more time digesting before responding. But, as always, it seems you put a great deal of thoughtful consideration into this. Thanks.

(totally meaningless observation: the word verification is goophype which should be a real word!)

clamflats said...

forgot to check email option

Anette Acker said...

Thanks, Rick.

Wow, goophype is an amazing-sounding word. I'll have to see if I can work that into my conversation at the 4th of July cookout I'm going to. :P

clamflats said...

if we start out with a philosophy that excludes the possibility of the supernatural, it is impossible to find evidence for God's existence.

Ok, so let’s agree on a definition of the supernatural. Is it phenomenon that is unexplained by science or is it unexplainable by science? In the past lightening was considered supernatural. Humans had no understanding of its cause and assigned various explanations. We now know what lightening is and how it is generated. There is a huge list of phenomena that was once considered supernatural that we now have natural explanations for. And this should give theists, of any stripe, cause to pause when confronted with seemingly the supernatural, God of the shrinking gaps. I’ll agree on the possibility of supernatural if we stipulate that the supernatural is not that which is now unexplained by science but only that which is unexplainable by science. God would have to be supernatural if He (and I use the pronoun without gender implications) is the creator of all that is natural. He would have to exist outside of time, space, and the restraints of physical laws. But beyond the deity what should be considered supernatural?

we may have a faulty image of God as a distant, alien deity who occasionally intervenes by breaking the laws of nature, and if we do, we will never find evidence of such a deity because he doesn't exist.

Why do you say this? I consider deism to be the default position for the skeptic who is willing to consider the existence of God. A creator deity is a simple proposition, “Someone created something.” That Someone may have had a purpose for doing so. But it isn’t self evident that humans must necessarily know that purpose unless we want to say that we are the purpose.

How does the biblical creation account line up with science? First, astronomer Robert Jastrow said that the universe began suddenly "in a flash of light and energy." So this fits with the biblical description of God saying, "Let there be light."

Second, most scientists believe that the Big Bang marked the beginning of time. Since God exists outside of time and created the heavens and the earth "in the beginning," this is also consistent


You cite Genesis 1:1-3 and compare it favorably to current cosmology. Of course verses 9-20 describe the earth, with seas, continents and vegetation being created before the sun, moon and stars. This directly contradicts cosmology as well as geology, botany, and oceanography. So when you propose, “we would be better off asking two thing: whether the Bible is logical and whether it is consistent with reality.” I’m not impressed with one aspect at the expense of the rest. It seems likely that a Bronze Age view of the world might put necessary elements for humans like food ahead of stars. Genesis puts birds in the air before there were land creatures. Current biology would reverse that order. The Bible is not consistent with reality using the test you propose.

I am willing to suspend my disbelief in the supernatural and to accept the possibility of a creator deity but if the logical path to faith in Jesus Christ requires acceptance of the Bible as logical and consistent with reality, I may have fallen off the path. The Bible is “under the dome”

Anette Acker said...

Ok, so let’s agree on a definition of the supernatural. Is it phenomenon that is unexplained by science or is it unexplainable by science? In the past lightening was considered supernatural. Humans had no understanding of its cause and assigned various explanations. We now know what lightening is and how it is generated. There is a huge list of phenomena that was once considered supernatural that we now have natural explanations for. And this should give theists, of any stripe, cause to pause when confronted with seemingly the supernatural, God of the shrinking gaps. I’ll agree on the possibility of supernatural if we stipulate that the supernatural is not that which is now unexplained by science but only that which is unexplainable by science. God would have to be supernatural if He (and I use the pronoun without gender implications) is the creator of all that is natural. He would have to exist outside of time, space, and the restraints of physical laws. But beyond the deity what should be considered supernatural?

That's a very good question that gets to the heart of the point I was trying to make. Christianity is in many respects a very materialistic religion. That is, God came in the flesh; when He rose again He was not a ghost, but a flesh and blood human. The Gospel accounts indicate that He was very concerned with the physical needs of people, and the natural and supernatural seem to flow together. For example, He raises a girl from the dead, and immediately tells her parents to give her something to eat. And right before He performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes, He expressed concern that the multitudes would faint unless they got some food.

So in one sense it is very difficult to separate the natural from the supernatural--any such division is artificial. Certainly, as you said, anything that exists outside of time, space, and physical laws is by definition supernatural. However, recently I've been doing some reading on quantum physics, and it is fascinating to learn that it appears to give a possible scientific explanation for why and how prayer works. It reinforces a lot of things that the Bible teaches.

So this makes it even more difficult to separate the supernatural from the natural, but suffice it to say that the supernatural is the presence of the Holy Spirit. I believe that God is always present, but because His creation is a great miracle that operates according to regular laws, it is difficult to say, "This is supernatural and this is natural." That's why I keep coming back to what science has discovered about creation, because at that moment the division is very clear.

Anette Acker said...

Why do you say this? I consider deism to be the default position for the skeptic who is willing to consider the existence of God. A creator deity is a simple proposition, “Someone created something.” That Someone may have had a purpose for doing so. But it isn’t self evident that humans must necessarily know that purpose unless we want to say that we are the purpose.

I wasn't so much talking about deism, as the notion that some people have of God as almost a primitive deity that does magic tricks. YECs insist that God specially created every species, and this reinforces a false dichotomy between God and science in people's minds. The problem is that nobody has seen any example of special creation, and it seems completely contrary to the way this world functions, so it causes an understandable skepticism. However, the Bible only says that God created ex nihilo "in the beginning." After that, everything came from something else. Even a literal interpretation of Genesis indicates that Adam was made from the dust and Eve was made from his rib. After the initial act of creation, the Bible gives no other example of creation from nothing.

Interestingly, Augustine, who lived in the fifth century, believed that creation was the "seed" of the universe, and that everything evolved from that. In other words, God spoke the heavens and the earth into existence in the beginning even though it took a long time for it to become what it is today. So simply based on the text of the Bible, he arrived at a conclusion that is consistent with modern science.

But since you bring up deism, I think that Christianity is more consistent with modern science. Deism implies that Someone created a clockwork universe and left. However, modern physics tells us that our universe is not deterministic on the quantum level, so this makes divine intervention, including miracles, possible. In other words, the created order makes it possible for God to intervene without breaking His own rules. The universe is set up perfectly for a God who wishes to be intimately involved in His creation, not a distant deity.

You cite Genesis 1:1-3 and compare it favorably to current cosmology. Of course verses 9-20 describe the earth, with seas, continents and vegetation being created before the sun, moon and stars. This directly contradicts cosmology as well as geology, botany, and oceanography. So when you propose, “we would be better off asking two thing: whether the Bible is logical and whether it is consistent with reality.” I’m not impressed with one aspect at the expense of the rest. It seems likely that a Bronze Age view of the world might put necessary elements for humans like food ahead of stars. Genesis puts birds in the air before there were land creatures. Current biology would reverse that order. The Bible is not consistent with reality using the test you propose.

This is another very good point. First, the order of creation does not matter because the culture in which the Bible was set did not consider chronology important. The “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” says, “Differences between literary conventions in Bible times and in ours must also be observed: since, for instance, non-chronological narration and imprecise citation were conventional and acceptable and violated no expectations in those days, we must not regard these things as faults when we find them in Bible writers.”

The creation account of Genesis is more concerned with communicating theological ideas than a scientific account of how exactly God created. I focused on Genesis 1:1-3 because it is a simple statement of who created, that He created in the beginning, and that He created out of nothing. These are primarily theological concepts and only incidentally cosmological. The NT helps us interpret the OT, and Hebrews 11:3 wants us to focus on these simple statements rather than the actual method by which God created. That is the domain of science, which changes all the time.

Anette Acker said...

I think it’s very clear that the beginning of Genesis was not intended to be a literal narrative. For example, after God creates in six days, Genesis 2:4 says, “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven.” (Italics added.) I think that if you look at this conceptually, it is saying that God created everything in a day (even a split second, according to science), but it emerged over time. And the Bible does not explain how this happened.

QED said...

Annette -

It is false to say it is begging the question to be suspicious of the supernatural. If there is no reason to posit the supernatural, then you cannot import it for free just because it is merely possible.

Also, Genesis does not fit with reality. Saying that "let there be light" is consistent with a "flash of light and energy" is misleading. According to Genesis, the universe was already in existence when God said "Let there be light."

QED said...

Annette -

"We may decide that we will not believe without evidence, but whenever "evidence" comes along, we'll interpret it in light of a naturalistic philosophy (the belief that nature is all that exists). So if we start out with the conviction that nature is everything, we will always reach the conclusion that everything, no matter how vanishingly small the odds, has a natural explanation. The issue of whether God exists is a yes/no question, but if we operate from this conceptual framework, the answer will always be no, even if He does in fact exist. It is circular reasoning."

I believe your assessment here is mistaken. Circular reasoning occurs when one is making an argument for a particular conclusion, say C, but in proving C said person either assumes C as a premise or includes something that entails C. Now, of course if one rules out the supernatural, then one is also ruling out God. But this is rather muddy, since no one really knows what "supernature" is or even how to define it.

You also seem to be suggesting that one's "point of departure" is somehow arbitrary, but it seems that naturalism is a more reasonable starting point than what you suggest, since nature is, in fact, the only thing of which we have experience. To actually claim that some have experienced anything supernatural is to beg the question, since it is not even clear how we would be able to tell.

If we take your advice, however, then nothing is off limits and we must include every logical possibility as being a plausible option. Otherwise, we are being circular in our reasoning.

Furthermore, it is not clear what you mean by, "no matter how vanishingly small the odds..." Improbable things happen all the time in nature. This is a misapplication of probability. It is quite improbable that you or I should win the lottery, but it is not at all improbable that someone should win.

Finally, it is false to say that if we start with naturalism then we will always come to the conclusion that God does not exist. Why?

(1) Naturalism is a natural place to start (no pun intended)

(2) If someone begins with naturalism, then they most likely won't even ask if God exists.

(3) If someone challenges the naturalist and brings up this question the naturalist may be open to being persuaded. But there must be good reasons for this and not just the mere statement that it is logically possible.

(4) God is supposed to be all-powerful and so would not have to leave it to mere logic and evidence to decide or even bring up the question of "His" existence.

QED said...

[Science] tells us how the world came into existence but not why we are here

If science tells us how the universe came into existence, then it tells us that God did not do it. The why is irrelevant to whether or not God did bring all things into existence. Furthermore, positing that God is the reason that the universe exists doesn't exactly tell us much. All this does is push the question back, since one could then ask, "well why did God create everything?". Any answer to this question, however, would be nothing but speculation.

Science is simply an explanation of how things are, but it doesn't tell us whether it happened by design or as a result of a cosmic accident.

I don't see how this is accurate. Science actually can give us insights into whether things are designed or not. You are hiding behind a certain level of uncertainty here and ad hoc reasoning. A die hard believer could always invoke the possibility that "this is just the way God did it..." But this becomes something akin to Descartes' malevolent deceiver hypothesis, which, although possible, is quite absurd.

Anette Acker said...

QED,

I believe your assessment here is mistaken. Circular reasoning occurs when one is making an argument for a particular conclusion, say C, but in proving C said person either assumes C as a premise or includes something that entails C. Now, of course if one rules out the supernatural, then one is also ruling out God. But this is rather muddy, since no one really knows what "supernature" is or even how to define it.

Well, then looking at the question, "Does God exist" from a naturalistic perspective fits your definition of circular reasoning. How does it not? If someone explains away the fine-tuning of the universe by grasping at straws just to have a natural explanation, that is begging the question, if the question is whether God exists.

However, if our only concern is science, then it is appropriate not to consider the supernatural. But we are discussing theism versus atheism here.

As for the definition of the "supernatural," for our purposes, that would be someone who exists outside of space, time, and nature, and is uncreated. By definition, that would be God. And given what we know about the Big Bang and fine-tuning, it's a natural step to conclude that such a Being exists as a First Cause. In fact, it is the most likely conclusion.

If science tells us how the universe came into existence, then it tells us that God did not do it.

Please explain why this is true. If I painted a picture, I would have used paint and other materials. If someone discovered the paints and realized that I didn't just poof the picture into existence, they did not disprove that I still did it.

You seem to be forcing a God/science dichotomy that doesn't exist.

I don't see how this is accurate. Science actually can give us insights into whether things are designed or not. You are hiding behind a certain level of uncertainty here and ad hoc reasoning.

You're right that science can give insight into whether or not things are designed. Did you read my comment where I mentioned that evolutionary scientists are seeing design?

Denis Alexander says the following:

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.


In other words, we are not a cosmic accident like Stephen Jay Gould believed. Gould thought that if we could wind back the tape and start over again the chances would be "vanishingly small that anything like human intelligence would grace the replay."

Alexander goes on to say, “In this respect it is interesting to see, in the recent scientific literature, challenges to Gould’s idea of an extreme contingency operating in the evolutionary process. In reality it doesn’t look like that: the mechanisms of life look highly constrained, far more than we ever realised even a decade or so ago.”

Anette Acker said...

God is supposed to be all-powerful and so would not have to leave it to mere logic and evidence to decide or even bring up the question of "His" existence.

He doesn't leave it to logic. As we discussed before, He has given us the intuition of His existence and a moral law, and all He asks is that we "come to Him," or surrender to Him. When we do, He opens our eyes to see Him. That was the point of my last post, "Why is Faith Necessary?" If we approach the issue through logic, it is very easy to think in a circle, and to make the circle too small. I discussed this with Celtic Chimp, who insisted that some things were illogical when he just didn't see how they cold be logical. Einstein kept insisting that "God doesn't play dice," but quantum physics has overturned that idea.

It is your choice to approach this issue via logic. I'm fine with that, and I believe that God will meet people where they are. But that is not the method He generally uses.

Anette Acker said...

Also, Genesis does not fit with reality. Saying that "let there be light" is consistent with a "flash of light and energy" is misleading. According to Genesis, the universe was already in existence when God said "Let there be light."

As you pointed out so well on your blog, it's hard to see how Genesis could have been intended to be strictly literal. What is this "light" apart from sources of light?

And what does it mean that the earth was "formless and void"? Maybe it simply didn't exist yet.

I mentioned to clamflats that Augustine concluded strictly from the Bible that God spoke the "seed" of the universe into existence and everything developed from that. That is very close to what scientists believe today. The universe is fine-tuned for life, and there even seems to be an anthropic principle at work in evolution. So there seems to have been a specific purpose behind everything, even though it developed in natural ways over time.

QED said...

Annette -

He doesn't leave it to logic. As we discussed before, He has given us the intuition of His existence and a moral law, and all He asks is that we "come to Him," or surrender to Him.

But now you are begging the question. Intuition is helpful, but at times terribly misleading. Besides, we cannot say that people intuitively believe in a "higher power" because God put it there. You are ignoring natural explanations for why this could be.
Also, the moral argument is quite weak, since there is no reason to suppose that even if there is an absolute, objective standard, that that standard must be a person.

QED said...

I mentioned to clamflats that Augustine concluded strictly from the Bible that God spoke the "seed" of the universe into existence and everything developed from that. That is very close to what scientists believe today. The universe is fine-tuned for life, and there even seems to be an anthropic principle at work in evolution. So there seems to have been a specific purpose behind everything, even though it developed in natural ways over time.

The fact that Augustine said something that sounds similar to BB cosmology is neat, but unfortunately doesn't count as evidence or argument that God was actually responsible.

Also, it seems misleading to say that the universe is "fine-tuned" for life. Overall, the universe is rather hostile to life and there just so happens to be narrow regions that can accommodate OUR particular form of life. Again, I'm not sure what this actually proves or suggests.

Anette Acker said...

This is why I don't generally use those arguments for people who have a rational bent. However, that is not true of everyone. My point is that we don't have to have the ability to reason clearly to be saved. We come to Christ in humility and surrender our lives to Him, and He leads us into all truth by His Holy Spirit.

That is a question of will, whether we are willing to do that. And intelligence makes no difference whatsoever. We don't have to understand everything. If we have faith that expresses itself in love, that is the only thing that counts (Galatians 5:6).

In fact, I came across the following quote from John Wesley over the weekend, and I think it illustrates well the relative importance of love and knowledge. (He is talking about disagreements between Christians, and I'm just quoting it in part.)

"For, how far is love, even with many wrong opinions, to be preferred before truth itself without love! We may die without the knowledge of many truths, and yet be carried into Abraham’s bosom. But if we die without love, what will knowledge avail? Just as much as it avails the devil and his angels!"

Anette Acker said...

Also, it seems misleading to say that the universe is "fine-tuned" for life. Overall, the universe is rather hostile to life and there just so happens to be narrow regions that can accommodate OUR particular form of life. Again, I'm not sure what this actually proves or suggests.

If you think of it in terms of an anthropic principle, which is what the fine-tuning suggests, it certainly demonstrates the truth of Psalm 8:3-5:

"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!"

The fine-tuning of the universe and possibly evolutionary biology suggests that it was all for us. This is what the Bible teaches: We are "but dust" and next to nothing, but God has chosen us to be crowned with "glory and majesty" and be loved forever by Him in the Paradise He has prepared. This is particularly humbling and awe-inspiring considering our origins and the fact that our earth is just a tiny speck in a vast universe.

The general revelation of nature (through science) and the special revelation of Scripture line up here.

Anette Acker said...

QED,

John A. O’Keefe of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the following:

“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.”

So, again, this affirms Psalm 8:3-5.

QED said...

Annette -

I will address all three of your posts here to hopefully save on space.

(1)
This is why I don't generally use those arguments for people who have a rational bent. However, that is not true of everyone. My point is that we don't have to have the ability to reason clearly to be saved. We come to Christ in humility and surrender our lives to Him, and He leads us into all truth by His Holy Spirit.

If you don't use said arguments on those with a rational bent, then why use them at all? You seem to be implicitly admitting that these arguments/reasons are flawed and/or simply an appeal to emotion.

Again, I cannot help but feel that you are begging the question. So according to the Christian position you don't need clear reasoning to be saved... Okay... But how is that relevant to the truth or falsity of the Christian position? How do you know you are being led by anything? And even if you are, how do you know it is truth?

That is a question of will, whether we are willing to do that. And intelligence makes no difference whatsoever. We don't have to understand everything. If we have faith that expresses itself in love, that is the only thing that counts (Galatians 5:6).

But how can it be a mere matter of the will? If I am unconvinced of something, I cannot force myself to believe it anyway. Furthermore, this leaves open the question as to why you exerted your will to believe in Christianity as opposed to some other religion.

(2)
If you think of it in terms of an anthropic principle, which is what the fine-tuning suggests, it certainly demonstrates the truth of Psalm 8:3-5...

I'm at a loss as to how the so called "Anthropic Principle" demonstrates "the truth of" Psalm 8:3-5! In fact, this is simply wrong. What it perhaps does demonstrate is that you can interpret this particular Psalm as being consistent with the "Anthropic Principle", but it in no way demonstrates its "truth".

The fine-tuning of the universe and possibly evolutionary biology suggests that it was all for us.

Why? It seems more reasonable to suggest that you are projecting your feelings and/or wishes upon the universe, a sort of retro-active purpose assigning. This is a common thing for humans to do, which unfortunately reduces the likelihood that you are making a proper inference here.

(3)
John A. O’Keefe of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the following:

“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.”

So, again, this affirms Psalm 8:3-5.


This quote does not "affirm" anything except for the awe inspiring nature of this particular astronomer's vantage point. It is no surprise, however, that such a unique experience would inspire such "religious" emotions. Again, this is a common response of humans when confronted with novel, grandiose and extravagant situations.

Anette Acker said...

Again, I cannot help but feel that you are begging the question. So according to the Christian position you don't need clear reasoning to be saved... Okay... But how is that relevant to the truth or falsity of the Christian position? How do you know you are being led by anything? And even if you are, how do you know it is truth?

Reason is also fallible. As I said before, Einstein, one of the smartest people who ever lived, was wrong about the underlying reality of the universe. Richard Feynman said that nobody understands quantum physics. So there are things about reality that are only knowable through revelation.

Personally, my approach has been to combine the revelation of the Bible, the revelation of the Holy Spirit, reason, intuition, science, and experience to see if they line up. In addition, I allow myself to be challenged by people who think differently. All of these things serve as checks and balances for each other. And I have found that they all point toward the complete veracity of the word of God in every way.

But how can it be a mere matter of the will? If I am unconvinced of something, I cannot force myself to believe it anyway. Furthermore, this leaves open the question as to why you exerted your will to believe in Christianity as opposed to some other religion.

I never exerted my will to believe in Christianity--I surrendered my will to believe in whatever is true. That is, I am on the side of the truth, not a particular position. So when I discuss with an atheist (or another Christian) my will is in neutral because my goal is to arrive more closely at the truth, not to win the "debate." This has made me increasingly more sure of the infallibility of the Scriptures, because it consistently affirms the truth.

However, it has also made me believe in common descent, even though that is not a popular position for an evangelical Christian to hold. In fact, I have been severely criticized by two Christians in the past couple of months. (I'm sure there are others who are keeping their disappointment to themselves.) So I am willing to take a stand for the truth regardless of whether it is in my personal interest. I think the evolution/creation false dichotomy is keeping a number of people from coming to Christ, so I'm not going to keep silent about it.

I'm at a loss as to how the so called "Anthropic Principle" demonstrates "the truth of" Psalm 8:3-5! In fact, this is simply wrong. What it perhaps does demonstrate is that you can interpret this particular Psalm as being consistent with the "Anthropic Principle", but it in no way demonstrates its "truth".

Okay, fine. It is consistent with it. That was the point of my original post, that all we can do is determine whether something is consistent with the Scriptures.

"The fine-tuning of the universe and possibly evolutionary biology suggests that it was all for us."

Why? It seems more reasonable to suggest that you are projecting your feelings and/or wishes upon the universe, a sort of retro-active purpose assigning. This is a common thing for humans to do, which unfortunately reduces the likelihood that you are making a proper inference here.


You may be right that Christians have traditionally done that because of what the Bible says about our undeserved status in God's eyes. But scientists have always gone in the other direction, and they are finding an anthropic principle in the fine-tuning of the universe as well as in evolutionary biology. This is overturning the prevailing notion that we are a "cosmic accident." As you said, scientists can tell when there is evidence of design.

Anette Acker said...

"So, again, this affirms Psalm 8:3-5."

This quote does not "affirm" anything except for the awe inspiring nature of this particular astronomer's vantage point. It is no surprise, however, that such a unique experience would inspire such "religious" emotions. Again, this is a common response of humans when confronted with novel, grandiose and extravagant situations.


Okay, so "affirm" might have been a poorly chosen word. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with "religious" emotions. In fact, I think those moments when nature speaks of something beyond are the times when we come closest to the truth. As long as our emotions don't contradict reason or reality they are an important part of what makes us human. We should not devalue that.

QED said...

Annette -

Reason is also fallible. As I said before, Einstein, one of the smartest people who ever lived, was wrong about the underlying reality of the universe. Richard Feynman said that nobody understands quantum physics. So there are things about reality that are only knowable through revelation.

First, the fact that humans are fallible is not license to believe whatever you want. And rather than supporting your position, this admission of yours is stronger reason to be skeptical, especially of supernatural claims!

Second, just because smart people have been wrong in the past and just because we do not currently understand all of reality, it does not follow that some things (or anything for that matter) can only be known via revelation. Again, I have to point out that this is to beg the question, since revelation entails some supernatural, transcendent "revelator".

Personally, my approach has been to combine the revelation of the Bible, the revelation of the Holy Spirit, reason, intuition, science, and experience to see if they line up. In addition, I allow myself to be challenged by people who think differently. All of these things serve as checks and balances for each other. And I have found that they all point toward the complete veracity of the word of God in every way.

Well of course "they [will] all point toward the complete veracity of the word of God..." But there is a simple explanation for why this seems to happen. Look again at what you said:

"Personally, my approach has been to combine the revelation of the Bible, the revelation of the Holy Spirit, reason, intuition, science, and experience to see if they line up."

It's no wonder you come to the desired conclusion, since you admit to stacking the deck in your favor. You start with the presupposition that the Bible is God's revelation to humanity and that there is such a thing as the witness of the H.S. Unfortunately, this reasoning and approach is circular and therefore is an invalid way of getting at the truth.

QED said...

I never exerted my will to believe in Christianity--I surrendered my will to believe in whatever is true. That is, I am on the side of the truth, not a particular position. So when I discuss with an atheist (or another Christian) my will is in neutral because my goal is to arrive more closely at the truth, not to win the "debate." This has made me increasingly more sure of the infallibility of the Scriptures, because it consistently affirms the truth.

I have a hard time believing you given the approach you have admitted to, which I addressed above.

Okay, fine. It is consistent with it. That was the point of my original post, that all we can do is determine whether something is consistent with the Scriptures.

But consistency of some parts (or even all of it) is not sufficient to make it reality. I can easily come up with absurd explanations that are consistent with what we know. Thus, if consistency is all we can do, then your position is in more trouble than you seem willing to admit.

But scientists have always gone in the other direction, and they are finding an anthropic principle in the fine-tuning of the universe as well as in evolutionary biology. This is overturning the prevailing notion that we are a "cosmic accident."

This is not the overall impression I seem to be getting. But even if we are not an "accident" per se, this does not automatically mean that God is responsible for our existence.

QED said...

Okay, so "affirm" might have been a poorly chosen word. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with "religious" emotions. In fact, I think those moments when nature speaks of something beyond are the times when we come closest to the truth. As long as our emotions don't contradict reason or reality they are an important part of what makes us human. We should not devalue that.

No, we need not "devalue" it, but we must realize that they are a poor guide to truth.

Anette Acker said...

"Personally, my approach has been to combine the revelation of the Bible, the revelation of the Holy Spirit, reason, intuition, science, and experience to see if they line up."

It's no wonder you come to the desired conclusion, since you admit to stacking the deck in your favor. You start with the presupposition that the Bible is God's revelation to humanity and that there is such a thing as the witness of the H.S. Unfortunately, this reasoning and approach is circular and therefore is an invalid way of getting at the truth.


Yes, I do put the revelation of the Bible and the Holy Spirit first because it is the most important and I have found it to be the most reliable, based on these other means of gauging reality I've mentioned. I'm not going to apologize for that.

"I never exerted my will to believe in Christianity--I surrendered my will to believe in whatever is true. That is, I am on the side of the truth, not a particular position. So when I discuss with an atheist (or another Christian) my will is in neutral because my goal is to arrive more closely at the truth, not to win the "debate." This has made me increasingly more sure of the infallibility of the Scriptures, because it consistently affirms the truth."

I have a hard time believing you given the approach you have admitted to, which I addressed above.


You don't have to believe me. All you have to do is read my comments on Atheist Central to see if they substantiate my claim. That is:

- Do I always side with the Christians against the atheists or do I side with whoever is right on that particular subject?

- Do I become defensive when I discuss Christianity with someone who has rejected it?

- Do I grasp the arguments of the atheists?

- Do I answer the questions directly or evade them?

- Am I intellectually honest or do I lie?

- Do I answer the questions directed at me (eventually), or do I abandon discussions?

- Have I fine-tuned my understanding of these subjects over the months?

- Has my understanding of these subjects become more or less biblical after being challenged by atheists?

Obviously you don't need to answer these questions, unless want to identify particular instances where I've failed. I welcome that, so I can do better.

However, I will answer the last question myself: After having almost daily discussions with atheist for over half a year, my understanding of the Bible has grown exponentially, and I conform far more closely to the Bible now then when I started. This is one reason why I believe (more than ever) that it is the truth.

But consistency of some parts (or even all of it) is not sufficient to make it reality. I can easily come up with absurd explanations that are consistent with what we know. Thus, if consistency is all we can do, then your position is in more trouble than you seem willing to admit.

I have found it to be consistent with reality (and internally consistent) in every way. And the more complex and nuanced something is, the more remarkable if it is all consistent with reality. The teachings of the Bible are never logically fallacious, and never inconsistent with reality.

But isn't this the approach taken by scientists with respect to the theory of evolution? They determine if the evidence is consistent with the theory, and say that so far it has been consistent. Therefore, scientists have determined that although it is called a "theory" it is in general an accurate explanation for biological diversity. And because of the weight of evidence supporting the theory, it is extremely unlikely that anything will completely overturn it.

Anette Acker said...

That is exactly my position when it comes to my faith. Everything has been consistent with the teachings of the Bible, and at this point I am just as confident when discussing my faith with a skeptic as you are discussing evolution with a YEC. I have been thrown a number of hardball questions by people who have tried their best to debunk it, but it has only strengthened my faith. And the only way you can accuse me of confirmation bias is if I am dishonest. If I am honest and I don't hide from the hard question, there is a decent chance that what I believe is the truth.

"But scientists have always gone in the other direction, and they are finding an anthropic principle in the fine-tuning of the universe as well as in evolutionary biology. This is overturning the prevailing notion that we are a 'cosmic accident.'"

This is not the overall impression I seem to be getting. But even if we are not an "accident" per se, this does not automatically mean that God is responsible for our existence.


What impression are you getting then? Of course it doesn’t automatically mean that God is responsible for our existence. However, when natural processes seem purposeful, rather than random, Intelligence is a likely explanation. The reason why theists are often so opposed to Darwinism is because of its random nature—in other words, they think of it in the same way Gould did.

No, we need not "devalue" [religious emotion], but we must realize that they are a poor guide to truth.

I agree, which is why the comment that proceeded the one you're referencing explained why the universe is consistent with Psalm 8. The quote by O'Keefe was in addition to that, it wasn’t intended to prove anything.

QED said...

Am I intellectually honest or do I lie?

First, this is a false dichotomy. You can be intellectually dishonest without being purposefully deceitful.

With that said, I do believe that you are being intellectually dishonest to some degree. You said:

Yes, I do put the revelation of the Bible and the Holy Spirit first because it is the most important and I have found it to be the most reliable, based on these other means of gauging reality I've mentioned. I'm not going to apologize for that.

This blatantly shows that you are committed to a certain conclusion whether you are consciously aware of it or not. You do have a confirmation bias! And any argument I come up with you feel will be trumped by the experience of the H.S.

I have found it to be consistent with reality (and internally consistent) in every way... The teachings of the Bible are never logically fallacious, and never inconsistent with reality.

The fact that you have found the Bible consistent means absolutely nothing to me. Despite my greatest efforts, I have found the opposite to be true. Again, you are simply begging the question here! You are going to have to support these conclusions. And I don't care if you have discussed these things on AC... I cannot stand that blog any longer, so please don't expect me to go digging for your answers there.

But isn't this the approach taken by scientists with respect to the theory of evolution? They determine if the evidence is consistent with the theory, and say that so far it has been consistent.

Yes, but they follow a rigorous method whereby predictions are formulated and tested. The results and predictions are not subject to the radical reinterpretations and mental gymnastics used by Christians to make everything come out the way they want.

QED said...

Everything has been consistent with the teachings of the Bible...

This is just plainly false!

However, when natural processes seem purposeful, rather than random, Intelligence is a likely explanation.

Absolutely not!!! Look how vague this is... The fact that something seems purposeful does not make intelligence the likely explanation. You are being WAY too hasty. Remember, "purpose" can be retro-actively assigned, so you cannot conclude that things are purposeful because they now seem purposeful.

clamflats said...

Anette, you write, The teachings of the Bible are never logically fallacious, and never inconsistent with reality. and yet when I point to Genesis 1:9-20 as inconsistent with reality you respond with, These are primarily theological concepts and only incidentally cosmological. The NT helps us interpret the OT, and Hebrews 11:3 wants us to focus on these simple statements rather than the actual method by which God created. I'm left wondering is there a method for a non-believer who doesn't presuppose the divine inspiration of the Bible to parse out reality from metaphor? Or should I add belief in biblical inerrancy to the list of a priori(?) statements along with belief in the supernatural and the possibility of a creator God?

In your recent response to QED yo write, But isn't this the approach taken by scientists with respect to the theory of evolution? They determine if the evidence is consistent with the theory, and say that so far it has been consistent. But the scientific method requires repeatable tests and statements of falsibility. Do those requirements exist on the logical path to faith? What are they?

clamflats said...

Anette - I realize I just asked you to "prove the Bible", a proposition which entire lifetimes have been dedicated to! That's not a reasonable request. However you are veering into inspiration of the Holy Spirit and special knowledge pleading as the basis of your belief. Fine. But I don't think I can follow. My contention still stands - faith in Jesus Christ requires personal revelation.

Anette Acker said...

QED,

First, you need to stop with the exclamation points, especially multiple exclamation points. :)

Second, clamflats is right that true faith requires personal revelation/a spiritual rebirth. There really is no way around that, even though I know that you don't like hearing that.

However, it can still be rational, and I think belief in God is more rational than non-belief. You have never really addressed what I have said about the fine-tuning of the universe, and the fact that many astronomers, who fully understand the subject, say that the evidence for the Big Bang and fine-tuning point to a Creator.

If you haven't read my comments on AC, I'm not suggesting that you go digging for them, but the point of them is to explain the Bible and demonstrate that it is consistent with reality. You accusing me of intellectual dishonesty and confirmation bias is begging the question if you haven't read my comments. I am a Christian, you are frustrated with certain things Christians do, and therefore you conclude that I do those things. Why not let my actual arguments speak for themselves? What is it to you if I put the Bible first? If in fact it is the inspired word of God, that is a rational thing to do. Is it irrational for scientists to operate under the assumption that evolution is true? And if they do, is it impossible for them to keep an open mind as to other explanations or understand the position of creationists? Of course it's not. And I'm saying that I'm convinced, for many reasons, that the Bible is true, but I listen to what other people say with an open mind. For you to say that you know that is untrue is to presume to know me better than I know myself, even though you have just admitted to not having read much of what I have said. In other words, you know me because you know other Christians.

Anette Acker said...

I have a quote for you about the fine-tuning of the universe by Clifford Longley, from the article “Focusing on Theism,” London Times.

“No such argument can ever be absolutely conclusive, and the anthropic fine-tuning argument stops just short of knock-down proof. For there could’ve been millions and millions of different universes created each with different settings, of the fundamental ratios and constants, so many in fact that one with the right set was eventually bound to turn up by sheer chance. We just happened to be the lucky ones. But there is no evidence for such a theory what-so-ever. On the other hand the evidence for the truth of anthropic fine-tuning argument is of such an order of certainty that in any other sphere of science we would regard it as absolutely settled. To insist otherwise is like insisting that Shakespeare was not written by Shakespeare because it might have been written by billions of monkeys sitting at billions of keyboards over billions of years. But so it might. But the sight of the scientific atheist clutching at such desperate straws has put new spring in the step of the theists. For the first time in more than a hundred years, they no longer feel the need to apologize for their beliefs. Perhaps now, they should apologize for their previous apologies.”

Anette Acker said...

clamflats,

In your recent response to QED yo write, But isn't this the approach taken by scientists with respect to the theory of evolution? They determine if the evidence is consistent with the theory, and say that so far it has been consistent. But the scientific method requires repeatable tests and statements of falsibility. Do those requirements exist on the logical path to faith? What are they?

One of the complaints people (including Pvblivs, an atheist on AC) make about evolution is that one cannot do repeatable tests and they claim that it is not falsifiable. I'm not saying that's true but it is an allegation I often hear.

When I hear Steven J. and others defend it, it reminds me of how I regard my faith in Christianity, because to me all the evidence fits. And I have evaluated it with a critical mind on the basis of reason, experience, science, and intuition over the years. I do try to fully comprehend the arguments made by non-believers and ask myself where they are right and where they are wrong. That is, I try to arrive more closely at the truth.

However, I can't transfer my certainty to someone else. All I can do is answer questions and demonstrate that Christian theology makes sense and is consistent with reality. But even if someone is intellectually convinced of Christianity, that is not synonymous with saving faith. That requires an actual spiritual rebirth. In fact, Robert Jastrow is an agnostic, but he wrote God and the Astronomers, where he argues for theism in general and Christianity specifically. He even stressed how much scientists resisted the Big Bang theory because it points to a First Cause, and therefore a Creator. Yet he remains an agnostic.

What is easy to forget is that Christianity is fundamentally a very practical religion. It is about receiving the Spirit of God through faith and consequently living a life of love. That is it. Matthew 25 tells us exactly how Jesus will someday judge.

People had this kind of life-changing faith while the steady-state theory of the universe was the prevailing one and when scientists believed that we lived in a clockwork universe where miracles were impossible. In fact, great revivals took place during that time.

Were they deluded? Maybe, but if so their delusion meant accepting a philosophy that brainwashed them into loving others as themselves (Matthew 22:37-40), caring for the poor (Matthew 25), valuing freedom (Galatians 5:1), speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8-9), forgiving others from the heart (Matthew 6:14), eschewing bigotry (John 4), valuing marriage (Hebrews 13:4), treating children with respect and not provoking them (Ephesians 6:4), etc.

It's not like Christianity asks us to fly a plane into a building or do something else that is completely wrong. So if it turns out that in spite of my intellectual certainty, there is no resurrection, it simply means that living by the teachings of the Bible has made me more at peace with myself and others than I would have been otherwise. If it is not the inspired word of God, it is the most profound human wisdom I've ever found anywhere.

My point is this: Why would anyone require absolute proof in order to surrender to Christ for the salvation of their souls? If we really live according to the teachings of the Bible, the worst case scenario is that we will have wasted our lives on a philosophy that promotes love, humility, and human dignity, when we could have spent it in dysfunctional relationships, selfish endeavors, etc. I can live with that risk.

QED said...

Annette -

You have never really addressed what I have said about the fine-tuning of the universe, and the fact that many astronomers, who fully understand the subject, say that the evidence for the Big Bang and fine-tuning point to a Creator.

Tell you what... I've been updating my blog as of lately and I'll do a whole post on the "Fine Tuning" argument, so look for that.

Now, your use of "many" is ambiguous. I would be wiling to bet that more astronomers don't buy into the idea that BB or "fine-tuning" points to a creator. But of course we both know that numbers are irrelevant.

You accusing me of intellectual dishonesty and confirmation bias is begging the question if you haven't read my comments.,

I don't see why... I'm talking to you now and all you've told me really is that your approach includes taking the Bible as God's word as well as the reality of H.S. guidance. Thus, I don't judge you based on other Christians, but based on what you have told me about your methods.

Anette Acker said...

Tell you what... I've been updating my blog as of lately and I'll do a whole post on the "Fine Tuning" argument, so look for that.

Good, I look forward to reading that. BTW, as I've said before, you are always welcome to correct my science. If people demonstrate that I'm wrong about something, I will change my mind.

However, allegations of confirmation basis and intellectual dishonesty are not particularly helpful unless you tell me exactly why. (And the fact that I consider the Bible the inspired word of God doesn't count, unless you think that all Christians are by definition intellectually dishonest.) If I tell you that I try to honestly arrive at the truth and look at things objectively, and you don't believe me, how do we break the tie?

I don't see why... I'm talking to you now and all you've told me really is that your approach includes taking the Bible as God's word as well as the reality of H.S. guidance. Thus, I don't judge you based on other Christians, but based on what you have told me about your methods.

That's all I've told you. Really?

Anette Acker said...

I'm going to describe some ways that the life of faith is similar to the scientific method and ways that it's different.

It is similar in the following ways:

First, the Bible is like a full-blown hypothesis. We don't know that it is the word of God, and even for Christians, faith is always a matter of degree. So this hypothesis has to be tested or faith remains shallow.

Second, just like a scientific theory is never proven, we can never conclusively prove the existence of God. Even if we are very sure, based on the evidence, we always call it faith in this life. Likewise, a scientific theory is always called a theory, regardless of how solid the evidence.

Third, just like a hypothesis is tested, faith has to be tested. God will test the faith of a Christian in various ways, and when we come through that, our faith is more solid than before.

Fourth, like the theory of evolution, we can see if the Bible is the best explanation for reality. Does the evidence fit? Is it doctrinally consistent and logical? Over time, we can see how well reality meshes with what the Bible teaches.

Fifth, a true Christian is led by the Holy Spirit, according to Romans 8:14: "For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God." This means that the Holy Spirit may give us faith about something, and then it happens exactly like that. So when that happens repeatedly, we begin to see a pattern and it reinforces our faith.

Sixth, just like scientists subject their studies to peer review, Christians can allow themselves to be challenged by others people, either other Christians or non-believers. This helps us see whether our theology can withstand scrutiny. It also helps us see our blind spots and false assumptions.

This is what I have done and it has reinforced my faith over the years. Therefore, I'm very sure that I don't have confirmation bias. I actually very much enjoy being challenged by atheists so I can find out where my thinking is flawed.

But of course the difference is that we cannot transfer faith to someone else, so this is where a courtroom model is more helpful than a scientific model. The Bible itself seems to imply that this is the best model by using the word "witnesses." And like witnesses are asked questions, we are to always "be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15).

A witness is someone who has either experience with or knowledge of something. And he or she is either credible or not, a determination that the jury will make on a rational as well as an intuitive basis. A witness can answer all kinds of relevant questions, depending on the type of witness--likewise a Christian can answer the theological questions, defend the faith logically, talk about the subjective aspects, etc., depending on what the person wants to know, and how the Christian is qualified to answer.

But in the end the jury cannot conclusively prove anything. They will either use the "preponderance of the evidence" standard of proof, or the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard, depending on whether the trial is civil or criminal. The standard has to be that high for a criminal trial because the nature of the right that is taken away.

However, as I said before, the risk of having a life-changing faith but being wrong about the resurrection is no risk at all. Either way it means an enriched life in ways that matters.

QED said...

allegations of confirmation basis and intellectual dishonesty are not particularly helpful unless you tell me exactly why. (And the fact that I consider the Bible the inspired word of God doesn't count, unless you think that all Christians are by definition intellectually dishonest.)

Yes... most Christians, even the very intelligent ones, have a clear confirmation bias. The whole notion of "faith seeking understanding", which is how many Christians operate, is all but an explicit admission of this.

If you are truly going to test your faith for rationality, then as John W. Loftus argues, you must do it as an outsider examining the claims. This entails setting aside your belief in the inspired Bible and the "guidance" of a Holy Spirit. If you cannot do that, then you cannot be objective about the matter.

If I tell you that I try to honestly arrive at the truth and look at things objectively, and you don't believe me, how do we break the tie?

I don't doubt that you are honest about the matter yourself. When I said that you were being intellectually dishonest, I did not mean that you were purposefully being deceitful. I just meant that pretending your method is "objective" when you are taking for granted certain major tenets of the Christian faith is, well, wrong.

QED said...

Let's now examine your comparison of faith to the scientific method:

[1]the Bible is like a full-blown hypothesis. We don't know that it is the word of God, and even for Christians, faith is always a matter of degree. So this hypothesis has to be tested or faith remains shallow.

How do you purpose that such a hypothesis is to be tested? A hypothesis must be well formulated and rigorous. There should be minimal ambiguity involved. This is very clearly not the case with the Bible.

[2]Second, just like a scientific theory is never proven, we can never conclusively prove the existence of God. Even if we are very sure, based on the evidence, we always call it faith in this life. Likewise, a scientific theory is always called a theory, regardless of how solid the evidence.

Okay, but you still have to show that the evidence is solid for the existence of God.

[3]Third, just like a hypothesis is tested, faith has to be tested. God will test the faith of a Christian in various ways, and when we come through that, our faith is more solid than before.

It seems you are equivocating on your usage of "test". When scientists "test" a hypothesis, they do not go looking for evidence to support it. Rather they set up all sorts of tests that would falsify the hypothesis.

Thus, you cannot say that "God will test the faith of a Christian..." because (a) this statement entails that God already exists. (b) The statement entails that Christianity is true and (c) it involves Christians - i.e. people who have accepted the "hypothesis".

Hence point [3] is not really similar to the scientific method at all. To remedy this, you would have to set aside your beliefs and assess things as if you were a non-believer. Furthermore, you would have to allow every other world religion as a competing hypothesis and rule each of them out.

[4]Fourth, like the theory of evolution, we can see if the Bible is the best explanation for reality. Does the evidence fit? Is it doctrinally consistent and logical? Over time, we can see how well reality meshes with what the Bible teaches.

This is terribly ambiguous. How do you purpose to see if the bible is the "best" explanation for reality? Also, what do you mean by "does the evidence fit?"? The evidence can always be made to fit. And what kind of evidence are we talking about anyway? I can already tell you that the Bible is neither consistent nor logical, but we can save that for another post.

Finally, what do you mean by "reality meshes with what the Bible teaches"? Well of course it will to some extent because it was written by people trying to understand and explain certain aspects of reality. The Bible's best bet is in the area of moral teachings even though they aren't unique. But it fails at things like cosmology and other more rigorous fields.

QED said...

[5]Fifth, a true Christian is led by the Holy Spirit, according to Romans 8:14: "For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God." This means that the Holy Spirit may give us faith about something, and then it happens exactly like that. So when that happens repeatedly, we begin to see a pattern and it reinforces our faith.

I'm afraid this isn't allowed. You cannot assume that there is a H.S. yet. You cannot start with a "pattern" and then go looking for it. What you are describing may be purely due to psychology. Besides, unless you can rigorously define what it means to be "led by the Holy Spirit" and have a way to test this against well known psychological explanations like confirmation bias, self-fulfillment, etc. then this seems like a very poor "test" for truth.

[6]Sixth, just like scientists subject their studies to peer review, Christians can allow themselves to be challenged by others people, either other Christians or non-believers. This helps us see whether our theology can withstand scrutiny. It also helps us see our blind spots and false assumptions.

Other Christians will not be a good choice for "peer review", since they are already predisposed to agree with your overall premise. And again, although it is human to do so, the scientist submitting for peer review is not to be committed to his position prior to passing the test of peer review. The Christian, however, is quite dedicated to his/her position and taking criticism seriously is very unlikely.

clamflats said...

Hello Anette - are you familiar with Perry Marshall of Cosmicfingerprints.com? He issues this challenge, If You Can Read This, I Can Prove God Exists - http://www.cosmicfingerprints.com/ifyoucanreadthis1.htm

It is an interesting attempt to align science with theology using what he calls Information Theory. He takes great pains to use the standard tools of logic to advance his argument and claims to not have been successfully challenged.

Anette Acker said...

Thanks for the link, clamflats. What are your thoughts on his argument?

clamflats said...

Hi Anette,

See Dawkins thoughts on the Information Challenge here: http://www.skeptics.com.au/publications/articles/the-information-challenge/


So Marshall's syllogism is:
1) DNA is not merely a molecule with a pattern; it is a code, a language, and an information storage mechanism.
2) All codes are created by a conscious mind; there is no natural process known to science that creates coded information.
3) Therefore DNA was designed by a mind.

This is an argument for a Creator God in that He is the Mind who designed DNA. For our discussion, I have conceded the possibility of a Creator. Marshall suggests that because DNA is a code and a code is an intentional activity of a mind then we can conclude that this mind intended to create living things. Did the Creator design DNA for that first bacteria with the purpose of human beings existing billions of years later? It seems that if DNA was conciously created, while wonderous and obviously productive (think of the gazillion living things that have existed throughout time) is not a perfect system. There is redundancy and non-productive mutations. I don't see any intention to "evolve" humans as the epitome of His creation as is suggested by Genesis.

Bullhorn Twotails said...

Hi Anette,

Left you a message on the 'What about Jeffery (sic) ?' thread.

As Ray's blog seems as befuddled as his brain, what with the technical bugs etc., I thought it best to direct you to my missive, lest you should miss it.

As I've not been completely able to break away from his blog, for the first time in weeks I've blitzed it, peppering a number of the threads with my customary brand of insurgent (insolent?) invective, not of course to everyone's taste.

I'm surprised Ray, whose paranoia seems more in evidence lately (my take on him, flawed tho' it may be), has allowed my recent posts through.

Interestingly enough, until I brought the ease with which he let my irreverent comments through to his attention, he'd never censored any of them.

I shouldn't have called his bluff.

No rush (nor any obligation) to get back to me, of course. I won't be posting much there anyway, other than to respond to those who have the temerity to respond to me (!!), at least for some time.

Regards, Rene.

Anette Acker said...

Thanks, Rene. I didn't see it yet, but maybe it's being moderated. I'll definitely reply to it, but I don't know if I'll get to it this weekend, depending on how long it will take to write and how much time I have. I still have to reply to QED and clamflats here.

Anette Acker said...

QED,

I'm afraid this isn't allowed. You cannot assume that there is a H.S. yet.

I cannot assume that there is a Holy Spirit yet? How long do I have to be a Christian before I am allowed to do that? Remember that we're concerned about me now and whether I have confirmation bias. I'm trying to explain to you how I go about avoiding that. We're not worried about you yet, my friend, and what will convince you.

And my analogy of the scientific method isn't perfect. However, since I can control for factors in my own life and mind it works pretty well for me. I am a critical thinker, whether or not you believe that, and I am more inclined to seek out views that challenge mine than those that confirm what I already believe. I'm having a conversation about Calvinism on another blog, and it's very interesting because there are two Calvinists, an anti-Calvinist atheist, and me, who is a combination Calvinist and Arminian. (But we all get along well, so the situation is not as volatile as it sounds.)

Other Christians will not be a good choice for "peer review", since they are already predisposed to agree with your overall premise. And again, although it is human to do so, the scientist submitting for peer review is not to be committed to his position prior to passing the test of peer review. The Christian, however, is quite dedicated to his/her position and taking criticism seriously is very unlikely.

You are begging the question with that last statement, and did you know that it's statements like that that get Ray in trouble on AC? "The atheist is and does such and such . . ."

But as for your first point, other Christians are a perfectly good choice for "peer review" if they're willing to criticize me, since I specifically mentioned that I also subject my views to atheists. If I'm theologically off, other Christians will help me rethink what I've said. And atheists will help me identify logical holes. So between the two groups, I have to try to walk a tightrope of theological precision and logical consistency. It is very much like peer review, and it has increased my faith and my Bible knowledge exponentially.

Okay, but you still have to show that the evidence is solid for the existence of God.

In my mind the evidence is strong. If you want me to demonstrate that to you it's not going to happen in one discussion. That is a question that has to be answered from many different angles.

Thus, you cannot say that "God will test the faith of a Christian..." because (a) this statement entails that God already exists. (b) The statement entails that Christianity is true and (c) it involves Christians - i.e. people who have accepted the "hypothesis".

When things happen to me that challenge my faith, I have to think about it, and that either weakens or reinforces my faith. That is what I meant about God testing the faith of a Christian.

To remedy this, you would have to set aside your beliefs and assess things as if you were a non-believer.

Yes, that is what I do when I comment on AC. That is the only way I can empathize with the way the atheists see things, and therefore the only way I can answer their questions directly.

Furthermore, you would have to allow every other world religion as a competing hypothesis and rule each of them out.

I did this in another blog post.

I'll get to your other points later.

Anette Acker said...

QED,

Yes... most Christians, even the very intelligent ones, have a clear confirmation bias. The whole notion of "faith seeking understanding", which is how many Christians operate, is all but an explicit admission of this.

This depends on how you define "faith." If your definition of faith is to believe something without evidence, you are right. However, this is not the biblical definition of faith. If anything, the Bible encourages critical thinking.

Biblical faith is simply to have been born of the Holy Spirit--or having the "veil" removed from our eyes, so that we may perceive spiritual things. This is not inconsistent with allowing our faith to be challenged, not does it make it impossible to understand the perspective of those who do not believe. It simply gives us the additional perspective of believing.

You seem to assume that a person without this type of faith is more capable of objectivity that someone who is, but this is not necessarily true. If Christianity is true, non-believers are blind to the truth (2 Corinthians 4:4). If it is false, Christians are blind to the truth.

You cannot start out assuming that I am biased and John W. Loftus, for example, is not. It could be the other way around. Nor can you say that if I believe that I have the Holy Spirit I am likely to be biased. This is only true if Christianity is false. If Christianity is true and I am a real Christian, then the Holy Spirit leads me into all truth (John 16:13).

And I want to point out now that I am not saying that you are accusing me of dishonesty. I know you are not. However, I think you are assuming certain conclusions about me (e.g., that I have confirmation bias) without evidence. Do you assume that atheists have confirmation bias? If not, why don't you? Do you think the existence or non-existence of God is a wholly unemotional issue for atheists? I believe that atheists like Geoffrey Burbridge, Richard Dawkins, and Victor Stenger have confirmation bias, but some of the atheists on AC (like clamflats) do not. It depends on the person. And the same is true for Christians.

As an aside, I'm guessing you're a mathematician, is that correct? I probably don't have to say this, but you're never going to get anything like mathematical proof for God. Christian theology is logical, but not in the mathematical sense, because we don't have enough information. This is also why scientists cannot prove a scientific theory.

Anette Acker said...

Clamflats,

This is an argument for a Creator God in that He is the Mind who designed DNA. For our discussion, I have conceded the possibility of a Creator. Marshall suggests that because DNA is a code and a code is an intentional activity of a mind then we can conclude that this mind intended to create living things. Did the Creator design DNA for that first bacteria with the purpose of human beings existing billions of years later? It seems that if DNA was conciously created, while wonderous and obviously productive (think of the gazillion living things that have existed throughout time) is not a perfect system. There is redundancy and non-productive mutations. I don't see any intention to "evolve" humans as the epitome of His creation as is suggested by Genesis.

I quoted Denis Alexander, the author of Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? earlier in this thread as follows:

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.

In other words, we are not a cosmic accident like Stephen Jay Gould believed. Gould thought that if we could wind back the tape and start over again the chances would be "vanishingly small that anything like human intelligence would grace the replay."


Alexander goes on to say, “In this respect it is interesting to see, in the recent scientific literature, challenges to Gould’s idea of an extreme contingency operating in the evolutionary process. In reality it doesn’t look like that: the mechanisms of life look highly constrained, far more than we ever realised even a decade or so ago.”

Do you disagree with Alexander? I have asked the same question of an atheist who teaches evolution at the university level but have not yet gotten an answer. But an atheist on AC who goes by the name "Old and New Dreams" said that evolution is far more constrained than Dawkins lets on.

But after skimming your article by Dawkins, it appears to me that he essentially agrees with Alexander and disagrees with Gould.

He says: "The answer in practice is complicated and controversial, all bound up with a vigorous debate over whether evolution is, in general, progressive. I am one of those associated with a limited form of yes answer. My colleague Stephen Jay Gould tends towards a no answer."

But Stephen Jay Gould has been dead for about a decade, which is how long Alexander said this new trend has been going on.

clamflats said...

What do I think? Short answer: I have no idea. My knowledge of evolution’s mechanisms is rudimentary at best, certainly not enough to weigh the merits of the debate. If it is true that a creator God purposefully designed DNA in that first bacterium with the intent of producing human beings some billions of years later then He’s got an interesting sense of humor (see giraffes, bower birds, and liver flukes) and a dark side, evidenced in the suffering experienced by organisms, like humans, born with genetic defects. If true, perhaps Christians will rethink the idea that death and suffering are caused by a fallen human nature and chalk it up to a design flaw.

I should have explained why I pointed you toward Perry Marshall’s site. He uses science and logic – but not the Bible – to advance his ideas, well at least in his initial proof of intelligent design. He does go on to reason a Judeo-Christian God. I wanted you to compare this to your approach which goes straight to the Bible and claims of special knowledge, the Holy Spirit.

You wrote in the original post, “A skeptic asked me to do a post about rational steps to faith…” So far I am willing to accept the possibility of the supernatural and to concede the existence of a Creator God. Is the next step to accept the anthropic principle?

Anette Acker said...

What do I think? Short answer: I have no idea. My knowledge of evolution’s mechanisms is rudimentary at best, certainly not enough to weigh the merits of the debate.

So far nobody (including Richard Dawkins) has disagreed with what Denis Alexander said, but I'm still waiting to get the perspective of others. QED implied that he disagrees but has not yet elaborated. (Is that correct, QED, if you read this?)

I wanted you to compare this to your approach which goes straight to the Bible and claims of special knowledge, the Holy Spirit.

I think maybe I was not clear. My mention of the Holy Spirit was in response to questions QED asked about how I avoid confirmation bias. I don't want you to think that I'm asking you to accept anything I say because "the Holy Spirit told me." However, the fact is that a Christian doesn't just believe the right things, but is someone who is born of the Spirit.

This is the conversation I had with QED:

QED: "God is supposed to be all-powerful and so would not have to leave it to mere logic and evidence to decide or even bring up the question of "His" existence."

Me: "My point is that we don't have to have the ability to reason clearly to be saved. We come to Christ in humility and surrender our lives to Him, and He leads us into all truth by His Holy Spirit.

QED: "Again, I cannot help but feel that you are begging the question. So according to the Christian position you don't need clear reasoning to be saved... Okay... But how is that relevant to the truth or falsity of the Christian position? How do you know you are being led by anything? And even if you are, how do you know it is truth?"

Me: "Personally, my approach has been to combine the revelation of the Bible, the revelation of the Holy Spirit, reason, intuition, science, and experience to see if they line up."

So the conversation started with him arguing that it should not be necessary to use logic to determine if God exists and ended with how I have approached this issue over a long period of time. I was not saying that QED or you should take my word for anything. In fact, I don't think it is particularly relevant to talk about whether I have confirmation bias, but if it's important to him, I'll gladly discuss it. However, I think the best way to determine whether I have confirmation bias is by my arguments. In other words, bias will make my arguments weak and therefore easily demolished.

As for your point about going straight to the Bible, I know that the traditional approach has been to first focus on whether there is a Creator, without respect to the Bible. That is what C. S. Lewis did in Mere Christianity. And some of my arguments (like the fine-tuning argument) have been of that nature.

But if I can use the Bible to make arguments for the existence of God, why shouldn't I? What I mean is, if Christian theology explains certain difficulties, why not refer to it? For example, Denis Alexander argues that theistic evolution is more consistent with Christian theology than ID, and I fully agree with him. Should I not mention that because I'm doing it in the wrong order?

Another problem is that I'm not writing a book, where I can take any reader step by step through it. I'm talking to a number of different people, some who are anti-theistic, and you who are willing to concede the possibility of a Creator, and QED, who is a Christian with intellectual doubts. So any kind of "order" is very difficult.

But I was planning to use the order you suggested in your first comment when you asked me to address this issue. In other words, my next post will be about the soul and then the next one about the resurrection and eternal life.

By the way, I have a part 2 to my previous comment to you, so I'll try to get that done by tomorrow. However, it does involve lining science up with the Bible. Are you finding that approach unhelpful?

Anette Acker said...

Clamflats,

It appears that Perry Marshall is a proponent of Intelligent Design, which is a form of Creationism--meaning that it is not mainstream science. This means that he does not believe in evolution.

I do not look beyond mainstream science when I argue for Christianity. I don't think it's necessary, since there is so much in modern science that points toward a Creator, like the anthropic principle in the fine-tuning of the universe. If I can get mainstream, agnostic scientists to back my position, why should I look to someone who is out of the mainstream and biased?

And, as I said, I agree with Francis Collins and Denis Alexander that theistic evolution is more consistent with Christian theology than any brand of creation science. ID only points to a generic intelligence, but evolution is consistent with the nature of the biblical God. It mirrors His nature in many ways.

Anette Acker said...

Clamflats,

I wrote most of this before I got your most recent comment, so maybe it’s not relevant to your point, but this is how I interpreted your comment about evolution:

Maybe your point is that on the one hand you see the wondrous complexity of nature and how that may point to a Creator, but on the other hand there seems to be much waste in the process of evolution and in nature in general. Why, for example, is the cosmos so vast, when most of it is inhabitable? And why, if there is a Creator, did only one-celled organisms exist for about two billion years?

I think the real question (if you are considering Christianity) is whether the general revelation of creation is consistent with the special revelation of the Bible, as Romans 1:20 says. That is, would the biblical God, as He is revealed in the Bible, create in a way that is consistent with what modern science has discovered?

The first thing to note is that the Bible never describes biological processes. So when David said, "You knit me together in my mother's womb" (Psalm 139:13), this doesn't mean that God knits babies. God created David in the usual way, and the Bible makes no effort to explain how exactly that was. Therefore, there is no reason to assume that the beginning of Genesis described biological processes either.

However, we can get hints at how God does things by what the Bible says, and thereby determine whether it is in character for Him to create the way modern science has determined that the world came about. In other words, we can see whether the special revelation mirrors the general revelation.

First, the Bible uses a lot of parallelism; in other words, the same idea is repeated several times in order to communicate something. For example, I recently mentioned on AC that the symbolism of a well is used throughout the Bible to subtly communicate a message about Christ.

In Genesis 24, Abraham's servant seeks a wife for Isaac and meets Rebekah at a well. In Genesis 29:9, Jacob meets Rachel at a well. And in Exodus 2:15-17, Moses meets his future wife Zipporah at a well.

In John 4:7-42, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at a well, the only person He speaks to by a well. She would have been considered at the bottom of the barrel socially because of her gender, her ethnicity, and her morality (she had been married five times). However, she was symbolically chosen to represent the bride of Christ (the church). This communicates the love of Christ for the lost and marginalized.

There are many other examples of typology, foreshadowing, and parallelism in the Bible, but the question here is whether it exists with respect to creation and nature, and I think it does.

Anette Acker said...

Both Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1 start with, "In the beginning," so we see a parallel in the Bible. Also, both books begin by talking about light and darkness.

But more significantly for our purposes, the Bible tells us that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, but He developed in the usual way in the womb of an ordinary woman. Even though He was God incarnate, He was not specially created in the way that YECs think everything was created 6000 years ago. And when He was born, He was just as helpless as any infant.

This mirrors with what science has discovered about the origin of the universe. The very beginning is incomprehensible to science--a state of lawlessness--but the laws of nature took over immediately after that.

In other words, the act of creation (as science tells it) could have been by the Holy Spirit, and it would therefore parallel the conception of Jesus. And after that, nature took over in both instances. If you look at it in terms of Augustine’s analysis of creation being the “seed” of the universe, the parallel is even stronger.

Second, Psalm 8:3-5 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!"



The fine-tuning of the universe and possibly evolutionary biology suggests that it was all for us. If so, it certainly is consistent with Psalm 8. When God says that He remembers that we are but dust, is He remembering that we started out spending two billion years as a one-celled organism? We are "but dust" and next to nothing in a tiny planet in a vast universe, but God has chosen us to become a little lower than Him and be crowned with "glory and majesty" in the Paradise He has prepared for redeemed humanity.

And to a God who exists outside of time and space, what difference does it make if evolution took a long time and the universe seems like a lot of wasted space? All of that glorifies Him and speaks of His nature and His relationship to us.

Anette Acker said...

I forgot to mention that this parallelism is repeated with the origin of life. At one point, life emerged from non-life. Was that a divine miracle? Possibly, since we don't know how it happened or if abiogenesis is possible. But modern science tells us that nature took over at that point through evolution.

clamflats said...

Anette,
“the symbolism of a well is used throughout the Bible to subtly communicate a message about Christ”

Let me give you my first reactions to your reading a special symbolism of the well in the Bible. I’m just speculating here but given an arid environment peopled by semi-nomadic family tribes with limited access to water, where would I expect to see people from various tribes meeting each other? The community well? Would the elders of a tribe send the young adults to the well not only because they are strong enough to carry the water but also as an opportunity to meet other suitable mates?
I went to Biblegateway to read Genesis 29. It relates an interesting story about deceit and Jacob’s inability to tell the difference between his two cousins. Assuming that this is an accurate retelling of an actual event and not just an interesting story to tell around the campfire, the well itself is a rather minor detail. What is the subtle message about Christ?
The story gets very interesting in chapter 30 with Jacob having children by four women,, mandrakes being used as sexual currency, more deceit, and striped goats. Maybe there is something symbolic about the goats? Goats are mentioned all over the OT and then in Matthew 25. Is there a test I can use to draw a symbolic link about goats? Notice, I am not asking you to explain the symbolism of goats but rather about a process one can use to uncover symbolic messages. When is a well just a well or a goat just a goat?

Anette Acker said...

Is there a test I can use to draw a symbolic link about goats? Notice, I am not asking you to explain the symbolism of goats but rather about a process one can use to uncover symbolic messages. When is a well just a well or a goat just a goat?

The symbolism in the Bible is similar to symbolism in good literature in that it is subtle, but when we notice it, it communicates a profound message. It also demonstrates the cohesiveness of the entire Bible, even though it was written by over forty authors over the course of about 1500 years. Therefore, this is indicative of divine inspiration.

The typology and symbolism in the Bible is not a matter of individual interpretation (1 Peter 1:19-20). It has a definite correct interpretation. And the OT is full of this type of symbolism that points to Christ and His redemption. Luke 24:27 says, "Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures."

As for when a well is just a well and a goat is just a goat, we have to make sure that we're not forcing an interpretation by reading too much into the text. But if the interpretation fits factually and theologically, it is probably correct.

Getting back to the well, I looked up all the times in the Bible where two individuals meet at a well and checked to see if I could connect all the dots in a theologically significant way without forcing it.

In Genesis 16, Sarah's Egyptian maid Hagar has run away because Sarah mistreated her. The angel of the Lord met her by a spring of water in the wilderness (16:7). Hagar went back to Sarah, but in 21:19 Sarah has driven her and her son Ishmael away permanently. The boy is about to die of thirst and Hagar sits weeping. The angel of God meets her again and opens her eyes so she sees a well.

In Genesis 21:30-31, Abraham and King Abimelech made a covenant by a well called Beersheba.

Then we have the three instances of patriarchs finding their wives at a well.

Then we make a great leap to John 4, because I don't believe there is any other instance of two individuals meeting by a well (but correct me if I'm wrong--a concordance will tell you). The Samaritan woman says to Jesus: "You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?" (John 4:12).

And Jesus tells her about the living water that will become in us a well of water springing up to eternal life (John 4:14).

Those are the only instances I could find in the whole Bible of two parties meeting by a well.

This is a symbolic representation of the gospel. All the elements are included: A covenant (Abraham and Abimelech), God seeking the lost (Hagar), the marriage of Christ and the church (the patriarchs and their wives), salvation beginning with Israel (the words of the Samaritan woman, “Jacob [Israel] gave us this well and drank of it himself”), but made available to anyone who will receive it in faith (Egyptian Hagar and the Samaritan woman).

All of the foreshadowing of the OT culminates in the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, where He clearly explains the gospel, referring to it as “living water.” And Revelation 22:17 says: The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”

QED said...

Annette -

To see if you have a confirmation bias, let us get a working definition of what we are talking about. I think Wikipedia does a fine job describing confirmation bias.

The first sentence addresses something very important in your post. It says,

"[A confirmation bias] is a tendency for people to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses, independently of whether they are true."(emphasis mine)

The emphasized part is particularly important for you say:

"You cannot start out assuming that I am biased and John W. Loftus, for example, is not. It could be the other way around. Nor can you say that if I believe that I have the Holy Spirit I am likely to be biased. This is only true if Christianity is false. If Christianity is true and I am a real Christian, then the Holy Spirit leads me into all truth (John 16:13)."

First, notice that I am not assuming anything. Rather, I am making an observation based on your methodology, which you revealed to me. It is also noticeable in the arguments you make.
Second, in your words above, you make reference to whether or not Christianity is true. But as the article from Wikipedia rightly points out, this is irrelevant to the question of you having a confirmation bias. One can accidentally be correct about something and still possess a confirmation bias.

Now, you may object to this by emphasizing, as you did in your post, that you cannot be accused of favoring information that supports your position because

"I am a critical thinker, whether or not you believe that, and I am more inclined to seek out views that challenge mine than those that confirm what I already believe."

I can only take your word for it, but it is obvious that you talk with people of differing opinions. Does this mean you do not possess a confirmation bias? Not necessarily. One can still be biased in how he/she interprets certain information. As Michael Shermer has said:
"Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons."

QED said...

Nevertheless, you claim: "However, since I can control for factors in my own life and mind it works pretty well for me."

I'm not exactly sure what you mean by this... How do you "control" for factors? What about your controlling assumption about the Holy Spirit? You claim:

"I cannot assume that there is a Holy Spirit yet? How long do I have to be a Christian before I am allowed to do that? Remember that we're concerned about me now and whether I have confirmation bias. I'm trying to explain to you how I go about avoiding that."

This is a strange statement? How can you avoid a confirmation bias when you are convinced that you are being led by some in-perceivable, infallible entity? It doesn't matter how long you've been a Christian. When testing and/or challenging your beliefs, this is not a proper operating assumption.

But, you persist:

"Biblical faith is simply to have been born of the Holy Spirit--or having the "veil" removed from our eyes, so that we may perceive spiritual things. This is not inconsistent with allowing our faith to be challenged, not does it make it impossible to understand the perspective of those who do not believe. It simply gives us the additional perspective of believing."

This is a useless definition for faith, since it already assumes that there is a Holy Spirit and that your entire hypothesis is true. For all we know, being able to "perceive spiritual things" is identical to the ability to perceive nonsense.
Furthermore, it is inconsistent with allowing your faith to be challenged, if by "challenged" you mean approaching it from a skeptical point of view. But if you mean simply listening to an interlocutor's argument and then trying to defend your position against it, then, well you may just be indulging your confirmation bias, since you don't actually believe that you could be wrong (at least not with how you have defined faith).

Now for some loose ends. I said:

"The Christian, however, is quite dedicated to his/her position and taking criticism seriously is very unlikely."

and you responded with:

"You are begging the question with that last statement, and did you know that it's statements like that that get Ray in trouble on AC? "The atheist is and does such and such . . .""

Now, I don't see how it is begging the question to make an observation. Would you not agree that Christians are quite dedicated to the "Christian Hypothesis"? And given such dedication it is a reasonable inference that taking criticism objectively is unlikely. But what makes the inference even stronger is that it is observationally verified. In fact, I also have personal experience to verify it.

In answer to your final question... yes, I am a mathematician.

Anette Acker said...

QED,

This is a strange statement? How can you avoid a confirmation bias when you are convinced that you are being led by some in-perceivable, infallible entity? It doesn't matter how long you've been a Christian. When testing and/or challenging your beliefs, this is not a proper operating assumption.

Oh, I get it now! You think that if I believe in the Holy Spirit and that a Christian is led by an infallible Holy Spirit, then my beliefs must all be infallible too. Is that correct?

If so, I do not believe that at all. Not at all. If this were true, Christians would not disagree as much as they do.

No, I believe that the Holy Spirit leads a Christian into "all truth," but we don't always get it. Christians often refer to the Holy Spirit as "a still small voice" (1 Kings 19:12), but the problem is that it is very easy to bulldoze right over it.

In fact, we bulldoze over the Holy Spirit with our own biases, prejudices, will, and emotions. Those are all hindrances to the truth. If you've read the gospels recently you might remember that Jesus was always challenging people's assumptions and prejudices.

It is not uncommon for me to feel like God is speaking to me through an atheist. And this would be completely in character for Him to do, in the same way that He often demonstrated to the Jews ways that they were wrong and Samaritans were right. Jesus always forced His disciples to see things in a new way, and that required an open, unbiased mind. The truth is nuanced and there are many aspects of it that we don't get but someone else does.

This is a useless definition for faith, since it already assumes that there is a Holy Spirit and that your entire hypothesis is true. For all we know, being able to "perceive spiritual things" is identical to the ability to perceive nonsense.

It is not a useless definition, because it's the way the Bible actually defines faith. So even if you think of that as nonsense, that is the essence of Christianity. Therefore, you have to accept that definition of faith, even if you conclude that it's not real.

In other words, faith, according to the Bible, requires this type of spiritual rebirth. Without it, there is no point in believing the tenets of Christianity. It is the spiritual rebirth that saves our souls.

Would you not agree that Christians are quite dedicated to the "Christian Hypothesis"? And given such dedication it is a reasonable inference that taking criticism objectively is unlikely. But what makes the inference even stronger is that it is observationally verified. In fact, I also have personal experience to verify it.

Have you considered the possibility that some Christians are so confident of the "Christian hypothesis" that they welcome all challenges to it? Under those circumstances, they will take criticism objectively because the truth is no threat. In fact, they desire the truth.

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

Annette -

Oh, I get it now! You think that if I believe in the Holy Spirit and that a Christian is led by an infallible Holy Spirit, then my beliefs must all be infallible too. Is that correct?

Let's think about it this way: Let (CH) be the set of beliefs and/or concepts which constitute the "Christian Hypothesis". Note that theological beliefs will be a part of this set. If we think of (CH) as an explanatory system and take E to be the set of evidences which verify (CH), then it would be improper to include within E key assumptions which are also in (CH), since E is meant to verify what is in (CH).
In other words, the proposition and/or belief there is a Holy Spirit who attests to the truth of Christianity is a major assumption of (CH) and so cannot be considered as a proper member of E. This has nothing to do with whether certain theological beliefs of yours are right or not, but rather with the overall plausibility of (CH) as a model of reality. So, unless you are going to argue that certain tenets of (CH) are self-evident, then it is not permissible to appeal to them in support of your hypothesis.

It is not a useless definition, because it's the way the Bible actually defines faith. So even if you think of that as nonsense, that is the essence of Christianity. Therefore, you have to accept that definition of faith, even if you conclude that it's not real.

The source of the definition is irrelevant. The fact that the Bible defines faith that way doesn't make it any more useful. It is not a good definition (at least for our purposes) because it is circular. By the definition you accept, to say one has faith is just another way of saying that he/she merely accepts (CH) as already being true. Thus, you cannot properly challenge the truthfulness of your view because you are operating under the assumption that it is true and that any instance of a challenge to your beliefs is merely an opportunity to strengthen your faith. God is merely using the situation to build you up, but you never think to question whether or not this very idea is true.

Have you considered the possibility that some Christians are so confident of the "Christian hypothesis" that they welcome all challenges to it? Under those circumstances, they will take criticism objectively because the truth is no threat. In fact, they desire the truth.

First, you are evading my question. Here you only suggest that some Christians might have a high degree of intellectual honesty, which is something I implicitly recognized when I said that it was unlikely, as opposed to certain, that Christians would take criticism objectively. Thus, the force of my question remains.
Second, let's consider this statement more carefully:

...they will take criticism objectively because the truth is no threat.

Here you seem to be making an improper inference. We can rewrite this statement as follows:

(i) The truth is not a threat.

(ii) Therefore, these Christians will take criticism objectively.

From this it seems clear that this is a non-sequitur. Furthermore, (i) is problematic. One might ask, "the truth is not a threat to what?" Presumably you mean that the truth is no threat to the Christian Hypothesis. But unless you (or the Christians in question) know this (which is unlikely given that they are supposedly open to being challenged), then it must be that you/they believe that the truth is no threat to the Christian Hypothesis, which is just another way of saying that you/they are merely convinced that you are right. And this doesn't seem to entail being very objective.

In fact, to be objective means that you are open to the possibility that the truth is a threat to your position. This is the whole idea behind the scientific method, which operates with a heavy emphasis on falsification.

Anette Acker said...

In fact, to be objective means that you are open to the possibility that the truth is a threat to your position. This is the whole idea behind the scientific method, which operates with a heavy emphasis on falsification.

And yet I've heard numerous people with a strong scientific background express great confidence that the theory of evolution will never be overturned. Our understanding of it will only be fine-tuned, they say.

So what is wrong with me feeling the same way about Christianity? My certainty is based on years of evidence of all kinds. And like these scientists, I'm very open to having my understanding of the Bible fine-tuned (but I know my faith will never be overturned). I try to learn from both atheists and Christians who have a different perspective.

You are forgetting that Christians are outnumbered at least ten to one on AC, and Christians who show up with biases and false assumptions are eaten alive. I have to be objective and understand the atheists' arguments just to survive.

But in spite of the fact that I've tried to be open to truth of every kind (which, as I mentioned before, is a prerequisite for being led by the Holy Spirit) my theology now conforms more closely to the Bible than it did before I started commenting on AC.

If the Bible was not the inspired word of God, I would expect the opposite to happen.

But I should say again that the scientific method is not a perfect analogy. However, anyone who is a critical thinker approaches every question in a way that is loosely analogous to the scientific method. That is, we may start out with an idea, then we informally observe whether the evidence supports it, then we see what other people have to say and weigh the opposing view, etc. If the idea is something as fundamental as the "Christian hypothesis," we keep testing it repeatedly. If it holds up, it becomes stronger. And the more rigorous testing we subject it to, the stronger it becomes. Commenting on AC is pretty rigorous testing.

First, you are evading my question. Here you only suggest that some Christians might have a high degree of intellectual honesty, which is something I implicitly recognized when I said that it was unlikely, as opposed to certain, that Christians would take criticism objectively.

Who are these Christians with a high degree of intellectual honesty? Based on what you've said during the course of our conversation, they are Christians who a) do not believe they are led by the Holy Spirit, b) are not dedicated to Christianity, c) do not have have strong faith.

In other words, they are not really Christians according to Romans 8:14.

But I would be happy to answer your question more directly. This is what you said:

Would you not agree that Christians are quite dedicated to the "Christian Hypothesis"? And given such dedication it is a reasonable inference that taking criticism objectively is unlikely. But what makes the inference even stronger is that it is observationally verified. In fact, I also have personal experience to verify it.

My answer to your first question is "Yes." My answer to your second question is "No, not necessarily, for the reasons I've already given." My response to your last two statements is to point out that you have not yet answered my question about whether you think atheists have a bias. I was just reading Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis where he describes his conversion from atheism to Christianity. He says:

"People who are naturally religious find difficulty in understanding the horror of such a revelation [that God exists]. Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about 'man's search for God.' To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse's search for the cat."

But then I've never been an atheist, so I can't pretend to know all atheists in the way that you pretend to know all Christians. ;)

QED said...

Annette -

But then I've never been an atheist, so I can't pretend to know all atheists in the way that you pretend to know all Christians. ;)

Getting a bit feisty I see...

And yet I've heard numerous people with a strong scientific background express great confidence that the theory of evolution will never be overturned. Our understanding of it will only be fine-tuned, they say.

This, as you mentioned, is due to the fact that the theory of evolution has a high degree of explanatory power and has been verified repeatedly in a fundamental sense as opposed to falsified. "But", you ask, "So what is wrong with me feeling the same way about Christianity? My certainty is based on years of evidence of all kinds. And like these scientists, I'm very open to having my understanding of the Bible fine-tuned (but I know my faith will never be overturned)."

Nothing is wrong with having such a feeling, though you are being a bit inconsistent on two accounts:

(1) You use the word "certainty". While you may have a feeling of certitude, this is not the same thing as being certain.

(2) You say, "I know". Since you are comparing your situation to that of the scientist, this betrays your bias, since no scientist would claim to know that evolutionary theory will not be overturned at some point in the future. If that were the case, then we would have something even stronger than a law of evolution.

Furthermore, what are these evidences to which you keep referring? I understand that you can not explain them all in a single post, but perhaps you could make a short list of overall evidences and then we could examine a few of them? I'm still working on my fine-tuning post so don't worry about that one... we can wait to discuss that when I get it finished.

...my theology now conforms more closely to the Bible than it did before I started commenting on AC.

That is wonderful, but what does that have to do with your theology and the Bible actually being true?

If the Bible was not the inspired word of God, I would expect the opposite to happen.

Why? Couldn't the same argument be made for Muslims or Hindus? Certainly they seem to become more confident in their position just as you do, but the Bible, Qur'an and Bhagavad gita cannot all be inspired by God. So why hasn't the opposite happened in any of these other cases?

Commenting on AC is pretty rigorous testing.

In what way? Any meaningful discussion is often hindered or cut short by Ray's delay in allowing comments and inconsistent posting. Not only that, but because you are posting in the comments, your position is forced to be cursory at best. Furthermore, only a few atheists or other Christians might read what you wrote and even fewer respond. Lastly, most of the atheists on AC are more adept at derision than logical debate. There are, of course, exceptions like Steven J, but overall AC seems like a very poor testing ground.

QED said...

Who are these Christians with a high degree of intellectual honesty? Based on what you've said during the course of our conversation, they are Christians who a) do not believe they are led by the Holy Spirit, b) are not dedicated to Christianity, c) do not have have strong faith.

In other words, they are not really Christians according to Romans 8:14.


A Christian with a high degree of intellectual honesty is one who recognizes that he/she does not know if he/she is correct in the strong philosophical sense. Consequentially, this person is willing to admit that he/she could be wrong and is willing to challenge and/or test his/her beliefs. This does not mean that he/she does not believe in the Holy Spirit or is not committed to his/her faith as it stands or that he/she does not possess a high degree of confidence. What it does mean is that this person is willing to "step outside" of this position and test for truthfulness by taking on the part of a skeptic. When challenged, this person does not invoke prior confidences and beliefs as evidence for those beliefs.

...you have not yet answered my question about whether you think atheists have a bias.

Are there atheists with bias? Of course. Are there atheists with strong bias, even confirmation bias? Definitely. Does atheism itself have built in bias or strongly enable bias? I think not.

Anette Acker said...

"But then I've never been an atheist, so I can't pretend to know all atheists in the way that you pretend to know all Christians. ;)"

Getting a bit feisty I see...


I was teasing, hence the winky smileyface.

A Christian with a high degree of intellectual honesty is one who recognizes that he/she does not know if he/she is correct in the strong philosophical sense. Consequentially, this person is willing to admit that he/she could be wrong and is willing to challenge and/or test his/her beliefs. This does not mean that he/she does not believe in the Holy Spirit or is not committed to his/her faith as it stands or that he/she does not possess a high degree of confidence. What it does mean is that this person is willing to "step outside" of this position and test for truthfulness by taking on the part of a skeptic. When challenged, this person does not invoke prior confidences and beliefs as evidence for those beliefs.

I agree, and that is exactly what I've been trying to say. In fact, in one of my earlier comments I said: "Second, just like a scientific theory is never proven, we can never conclusively prove the existence of God. Even if we are very sure, based on the evidence, we always call it faith in this life."

QED said...

I was teasing, hence the winky smileyface.

I know... :)

I agree, and that is exactly what I've been trying to say.

But I don't see how you've stepped outside of your belief system and taken on the role of a skeptic. I also don't recall you admitting that you could be wrong. Rather you claimed quite the opposite when you said: "...but I know my faith will never be overturned."

Anette Acker said...

Lastly, most of the atheists on AC are more adept at derision than logical debate.

I like most of them, and many of them are critical thinkers who are able to debate without logical fallacies.

Does atheism itself have built in bias or strongly enable bias? I think not.

I disagree, because it assumes naturalism in the way I discussed in my original blog post. Because it is often identified with science, its adherents tend to confuse the two. That is, they often think the dichotomy is between science and theism, rather than theism and atheism. Atheism enables a strong bias in that it encourages its adherents to create a conceptual framework that makes theism impossible. That is, if the scientific evidence points beyond nature, atheism will still assume a natural explanation.

In the same way that a Christian has to step into the shoes of an atheist in order to avoid confirmation bias, an atheist has to step into the shoes of a supernaturalist in order to avoid confirmation bias. That is, he or she cannot be confined by naturalism.

Anette Acker said...

But I don't see how you've stepped outside of your belief system and taken on the role of a skeptic. I also don't recall you admitting that you could be wrong. Rather you claimed quite the opposite when you said: "...but I know my faith will never be overturned."

I step outside of my belief system every time I discuss with skeptics and address their arguments honestly.

And I know my faith will never be overturned in the same way that I know that if I'm standing on concrete holding a large rock, and I let go of it, it will fall to the ground and remain there. However, as I understand quantum physics, it is technically possible that it will bounce several times and fly through a window. But I do not expect that to happen. In fact, I know that it won't. Likewise, I know for all practical purposes that I will not renounce my faith for intellectual reasons. (Torture is another matter--I have no basis for knowing how I'd fare under those circumstances.)

QED said...

Annette -

I disagree, because it assumes naturalism in the way I discussed in my original blog post. Because it is often identified with science, its adherents tend to confuse the two. That is, they often think the dichotomy is between science and theism, rather than theism and atheism. Atheism enables a strong bias in that it encourages its adherents to create a conceptual framework that makes theism impossible. That is, if the scientific evidence points beyond nature, atheism will still assume a natural explanation.

This is incorrect. Atheism and theism are not on "equal grounds" so to speak as warranted positions. Theism makes radical claims that are exceptionally difficult, if not impossible, to verify. Worse, it suggests that there is a realm beyond which anyone has any experience and there is nothing by way of analogical comparison either.

Naturalism is the proper place to start because we are natural beings in a natural world. This is the only thing of which we have direct experience and so positing explanations above and beyond nature requires extraordinary evidence. Furthermore, the atheist need not rule out the possibility of supernatural explanations a priori; however, at the same time, need not take them very seriously unless there are strong reasons to consider this as the only viable way to account for something. You have not shown this to be the case.

And I know my faith will never be overturned in the same way that I know that if I'm standing on concrete holding a large rock, and I let go of it, it will fall to the ground and remain there.

While you may have the same degree of certitude in both cases, I highly doubt that you possess the same degree of warrant for the former as you do the latter with respect to actual evidence. Or can you demonstrate that theism is on par with the law of gravity?

Anette Acker said...

Naturalism is the proper place to start because we are natural beings in a natural world. This is the only thing of which we have direct experience and so positing explanations above and beyond nature requires extraordinary evidence.

There are certain arguments put forth by atheists that ensure that they remain in their atheism whether or not God exists. One is the "extraordinary evidence" argument, and the other is the unwillingness to hypothesize anything beyond nature. This is fine as a debate tactic, but less wise for someone who actually wants to arrive at the truth.

As for why you should consider something beyond nature, there are several reasons. First, time, space, and nature had a beginning so whatever or whoever caused it to happen (created it) is a supernatural entity. Anything beyond or before this universe is by definition supernatural. So even though nature is all we know, it has not always existed and there is no reason to assume that it is all that exists.

Second, you have admitted that you intuition tells you that there is probably a God, and the intuition of over 90% of the American population says the same. That doesn't mean it is true, but it means that it is a reasonable hypothesis and you should not rule it out.

Third, we have the various holy books that purport to explain what we can't study scientifically. If one is consistent with what we know, we can make the inference that it is divinely inspired.

While you may have the same degree of certitude in both cases, I highly doubt that you possess the same degree of warrant for the former as you do the latter with respect to actual evidence. Or can you demonstrate that theism is on par with the law of gravity?

No, I cannot demonstrate that theism is on par with the law of gravity. But it is analogous, because my experience as well as my understanding of theology tells me that the Bible is true. This certainty has been reinforced repeatedly over the years and has never been undermined. The bottom line is that I have a great deal of certainty that my faith will not be undermined by intellectual argument.

I apologize for not replying to your request to give you "bullet points" of evidence. I think it's better just to address one subject at a time and do it thoroughly. I'm going to talk about the soul and hell next. That is something I have been researching recently and the Bible actually says something different from what I had originally believed.

QED said...

Annette -

As for why you should consider something beyond nature, there are several reasons. First, time, space, and nature had a beginning so whatever or whoever caused it to happen (created it) is a supernatural entity. Anything beyond or before this universe is by definition supernatural. So even though nature is all we know, it has not always existed and there is no reason to assume that it is all that exists.

At this point in your argument, you must exercise caution. We do not know that the universe actually had a beginning. For instance, according to Hartle and Hawking, it could be that our universe, while of finite age, does not have a well-defined beginning.

Next, even if the universe is not itself closed, but had an external "cause" it is dangerous to use the term supernatural due to the baggage that it has collected. This external "cause" need be nothing like a deity.

Second, you have admitted that you intuition tells you that there is probably a God, and the intuition of over 90% of the American population says the same. That doesn't mean it is true, but it means that it is a reasonable hypothesis and you should not rule it out.

My intuition tells me no such thing. And even if it did, it would likely be because I was raised to suspect that there must be a God. Furthermore, intuition can often be inaccurate or just flat out wrong.
But for the sake of argument I will go along with your hypothesis. We shall not rule it out. So, what evidence do you have to confirm said hypothesis?

Third, we have the various holy books that purport to explain what we can't study scientifically. If one is consistent with what we know, we can make the inference that it is divinely inspired.

No we cannot. Consistency is not sufficient to warrant such an inference. Besides, you are on shaky ground here, since the Bible is not consistent with what we know. You perhaps think it is, but it seems to me that the bible has been thoroughly discredited.

No, I cannot demonstrate that theism is on par with the law of gravity. But it is analogous, because my experience as well as my understanding of theology tells me that the Bible is true. This certainty has been reinforced repeatedly over the years and has never been undermined. The bottom line is that I have a great deal of certainty that my faith will not be undermined by intellectual argument.

Again, I think this reveals your bias. Gravity and faith are not analogous. We directly experience gravity. It is a well formulated and well understood concept with very specific ways of being tested. Ambiguity is minimal.
I would be more than willing to wager that your faith is not substantiated in any way close to the way in which gravity is substantiated.

Anette Acker said...

QED,

First, I want to remind you that I am addressing your argument that atheism doesn't have a built-in bias, to which I replied that atheism assumes naturalism even when the evidence points toward a Creator, and then you asked me why we should even consider anything beyond nature.

So all I have to do is establish that there is a good reason to consider the existence of a God, and that atheism encourages people to rule it out even when the scientific evidence is consistent with a Creator. They will rule it out in favor of possible future scientific discoveries. This means they have a bias toward atheism regardless of the evidence. That was my only point. (I am hesitating to get off the subject of bias since I'm trying to finish this blog post on eternal punishment that I've started--and I've been commenting too much on AC recently.)

At this point in your argument, you must exercise caution. We do not know that the universe actually had a beginning. For instance, according to Hartle and Hawking, it could be that our universe, while of finite age, does not have a well-defined beginning.

I am aware of Hawking's No Boundaries proposal. But he makes it very clear in A Brief History of Time that it is only a proposal and that all the evidence is consistent with the "hot big bang model."

No we cannot. Consistency is not sufficient to warrant such an inference. Besides, you are on shaky ground here, since the Bible is not consistent with what we know. You perhaps think it is, but it seems to me that the bible has been thoroughly discredited.

The ToE is supposedly the best explanation for biological diversity, because it is consistent with the evidence. Why not use the same standard for the Christian hypothesis? How well does it fit with and explain reality?

The Bible has most definitely not been discredited. People who claim that often make definitive statements based on limited knowledge, and they have a bias. Have you heard the other side?

For example, author Anne Rice was an atheist for many years, until she started studying the work of the most respected Jesus scholars who said that the Bible is not historically reliable. She was surprised at how weak their scholarship was.

This is what she said:

Some books were no more than assumptions piled on assumptions . . . Conclusions were reached on the basis of little or no data at all . . . The whole case for the nondivine Jesus who stumbled into Jerusalem and somehow got crucified . . . that whole picture which had floated around the liberal circles I frequented as an atheist for thirty years--that case was not made. Not only was it not made, I discovered in this field some of the worst and most biased scholarship I'd ever read.

It was after all this research, which she approached from the perspective of an atheist, that she became a Christian.

Gravity and faith are not analogous. We directly experience gravity.

You are forgetting that faith is being born of the Spirit. So I do directly experience it. But in the same way that one can study gravity as well as experience it, we can study theology and think about these issues intellectually.

QED said...

Annette

So all I have to do is establish that there is a good reason to consider the existence of a God, and that atheism encourages people to rule it out even when the scientific evidence is consistent with a Creator. They will rule it out in favor of possible future scientific discoveries. This means they have a bias toward atheism regardless of the evidence. That was my only point.

You keep mentioning consistency as if that were the highest of all standards. But consistency, while necessary, is not sufficient. I could make up an explanation for the universe right now that was consistent, yet still absurd to accept.
I will also stress again that atheism itself does not have a built in bias. As I said before, an atheist need not rule out supernatural explanations a priori. Nevertheless, the atheist is not obligated to take supernatural hypotheses very seriously until they merit serious warrant.

I am aware of Hawking's No Boundaries proposal. But he makes it very clear in A Brief History of Time that it is only a proposal and that all the evidence is consistent with the "hot big bang model."

Hawking's words there aren't quite current. The whole enterprise of quantum cosmology suggests that this "proposal" is still a viable option. Furthermore, it is not the only theory "on the table", which does not require a divine Prime Mover.

The ToE is supposedly the best explanation for biological diversity, because it is consistent with the evidence. Why not use the same standard for the Christian hypothesis? How well does it fit with and explain reality?

This is not accurate. The explanatory power of evolution stems from much more than merely being consistent.

And to answer your second question... not very well. In fact, it doesn't really explain anything, but rather raises a whole new set of problems, which need their own explanations.

The Bible has most definitely not been discredited. People who claim that often make definitive statements based on limited knowledge, and they have a bias. Have you heard the other side?

I have spent the greater portion of my life hearing "the other side". And you are wrong. The bible has been severely discredited. Who cares if Anne Rice didn't think the books she read were good? What makes her a scholar anyway? I have read both sides and find the skeptic's arguments far more strong and compelling. The only thing I see coming from the Christian side is convoluted apologetics.

You are forgetting that faith is being born of the Spirit. So I do directly experience it. But in the same way that one can study gravity as well as experience it, we can study theology and think about these issues intellectually.

No, "faith" is no such thing. You think that it is, but you cannot define it that way lest you beg the question. Hence, you do not directly experience it, since it is something that must be inferred. If it could be directly experienced then there wouldn't be so much disagreement about it.

clamflats said...

… atheism encourages people to rule it out even when the scientific evidence is consistent with a Creator. They will rule it out in favor of possible future scientific discoveries. This means they have a bias toward atheism regardless of the evidence.

Anette, let me chime in to your discussion with QED. I do not base my atheism on scientific evidence. I have said before that I am a science amateur with no formal study of science beyond high school biology and chemistry (in which I received a D grade). I read some popular media articles about science. Almost all of my knowledge of scientific theories is based on reading about the history of science. I find the biographies of Galileo, Voltaire, Newton et al., to be more interesting than their actual work. I have learned quite a bit about the Theory of Evolution prodded by Steven J’s comments on Atheist Central. If AC has some benefit to humanity it is to stand up to Ray’s type of scientific denialism, sadly common in the US.

The strength of science is not its discoveries but in its method, its built-in provisionalism and refusal to close the book on any evidence. Darwin recognized that he didn’t know how organisms passed on traits. Mendel explained the gene and Crick, Watson, and Franklin discovered DNA. It gives me pause to realize that DNA was discovered in 1953, within my lifetime – yeah I’m that old.

In your original post you wrote,
How does the biblical creation account line up with science? First, astronomer Robert Jastrow said that the universe began suddenly "in a flash of light and energy." So this fits with the biblical description of God saying, "Let there be light."

Second, most scientists believe that the Big Bang marked the beginning of time. Since God exists outside of time and created the heavens and the earth "in the beginning," this is also consistent.


Your claim to consistency here is, I believe, very provisional. It is only true that it is consistent while the Big Bang is considered to be the beginning of time. I would not be surprised to read a headline stating “Astronomers discover evidence of pre-Big Bang universe”. Perhaps a new super-Hubble in the future will see beyond the BB to some other time and space that did not begin "in a flash of light and energy." Now I will reveal my bias. I’m sure that some future theologian will be able to align this new evidence with the Bible.

If you intend to use the Bible as a reliable guide to the possibility of a human soul or morals then I am requesting you write more about your method of interpreting the Bible. How do you decide between what is symbolic and what is actual fact. Can you make a list of say, twenty, facts in the Bible that are consistent with reality and logic? You seem to recognize that Adam/Eve/the Fall is symbolic of humankind. What about Noah, Moses, Job? (my questions are only meant to suggest subjects). If Jesus and the earliest Christians were Jews, learned in the scriptures (OT), and if there purpose was to convince Jews of His messiahship, wouldn’t they take great care to make sure that the Jesus story (NT) aligns with the existing scriptures? Is it possible to reach the same conclusions about the soul, heaven, hell, and objective morality without intense belief in the reliability of the Bible?

Up to now your claims – the supernatural, a divine creator, and an anthropic universe – all seem possible to me without an expectation that they will be proven with evidence. But the claims to the reliability Bible are a different matter.

Rick (clamflats)

Anette Acker said...

QED,

You keep mentioning consistency as if that were the highest of all standards. But consistency, while necessary, is not sufficient.

So what is sufficient? Or have you already made up your mind? I ask this question sincerely. You can ask me all the hardball questions you want, unless you have made up your mind. (And that's the sense I'm getting because our conversation is going in circles, but I could be wrong.) It takes time for me to respond to everyone here and on AC. If I sense that their questions are not serious or their minds are closed, I am fine with them believing whatever they want.

But getting back to your specific point, Denis Alexander said: "Scientists habitually use that little phrase 'consistent with' in the discussion sections of our scientific papers. We don't 'prove' things in biology." I have heard Steven J. and many scientific atheists say exactly the same thing.

I will also stress again that atheism itself does not have a built in bias. As I said before, an atheist need not rule out supernatural explanations a priori. Nevertheless, the atheist is not obligated to take supernatural hypotheses very seriously until they merit serious warrant.

And given the Big Bang and the fine-tuning of the universe, they do merit serious consideration. To ignore the current scientific evidence in favor of possible future discoveries indicates blind faith in science.

I restate my point that some atheists are open to the truth and some are not, just like some Christians are open to the truth and some are not. Each position has a possible built-in bias.

Hawking's words there aren't quite current. The whole enterprise of quantum cosmology suggests that this "proposal" is still a viable option. Furthermore, it is not the only theory "on the table", which does not require a divine Prime Mover.

Of course it's still a viable option, but it's still a proposal and so are the other theories on the table. Quantum physics is also more consistent with Christianity than Newtonian physics.

This is what Hawking said about the current scientific evidence: "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."

Why do you lean more on possible future scientific discoveries than the current strong evidence in formulating your views on whether there is a God? That is a bias toward the belief that science has replaced God. And I call it a bias because you think that way in spite of the evidence.

I have spent the greater portion of my life hearing "the other side". And you are wrong. The bible has been severely discredited. Who cares if Anne Rice didn't think the books she read were good? What makes her a scholar anyway? I have read both sides and find the skeptic's arguments far more strong and compelling. The only thing I see coming from the Christian side is convoluted apologetics.

I disagree. But I'm not going to argue with you about it because it's off the subject. I can only tackle one subject at a time.

No, "faith" is no such thing. You think that it is, but you cannot define it that way lest you beg the question. Hence, you do not directly experience it, since it is something that must be inferred. If it could be directly experienced then there wouldn't be so much disagreement about it.

Let's say you're interested in knowing about a country. Faith is the equivalent of living in that country. It is possible to know a lot about a country without ever having lived there. Conversely, it is possible to live in a country and not be able to speak intelligently about its history, literature, culture, and other facts.

Anette Acker said...

Rick,

Your claim to consistency here is, I believe, very provisional. It is only true that it is consistent while the Big Bang is considered to be the beginning of time. I would not be surprised to read a headline stating “Astronomers discover evidence of pre-Big Bang universe”. Perhaps a new super-Hubble in the future will see beyond the BB to some other time and space that did not begin "in a flash of light and energy." Now I will reveal my bias. I’m sure that some future theologian will be able to align this new evidence with the Bible.

Sure, that is possible. And the reason why a lot of people have the bias that you're describing is because for a long time science was filling in gaps that people had previously "filled" with God. Now the tide has shifted because the cosmological evidence is pointing toward a Prime Mover. We know this is true when secular astrophysicists are talking about God. They are the people who really understand the subject.

People point to quantum physics and say that if the Big Bang was caused by a quantum event, then there is no need for God. But quantum physics itself is consistent with the existence of a God who answers prayer and is involved in His creation--even capable of doing miracles. Quantum physics means that our universe is not deterministic.

If you intend to use the Bible as a reliable guide to the possibility of a human soul or morals then I am requesting you write more about your method of interpreting the Bible. How do you decide between what is symbolic and what is actual fact.

My method of interpreting the Bible is by allowing the Bible to interpret itself. That means that it gives clues as to interpretation. I employ a straightforward interpretation unless the context clearly indicates that it is symbolic. As far as Adam and Eve are concerned, I think that there may be significance to the fact that Adam is simply called "the man" for much of the narrative. Then he is Adam. So I think he represents humanity (his name means "man"), but he was also a real person. The historical evidence indicates that civilization began in the general vicinity of the Garden of Eden.

A real significant question is whether the Bible is consistent. This is what I have spent a lot of time demonstrating in AC, because the likelihood that a book written by so many authors over such a length of time, spanning two religions, and explaining a complex subject--would be consistent, is very slim. So it is a major factor in determining whether it is inspired.

I gave you the example of the symbol of the well in the OT, and how Jesus ties all that together perfectly without even mentioning the typology. That is the kind of consistency I'm talking about. There is a lot of that in the Bible. So it is entirely doctrinally consistent from the very beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation.

Is it possible to reach the same conclusions about the soul, heaven, hell, and objective morality without intense belief in the reliability of the Bible?

I just wrote a blog post on the soul, heaven, and hell, and I based it entirely on what that Bible teaches about these subjects. That is different from the conventional wisdom of an immortal soul inhabiting our bodies.

QED said...

Annette -

So what is sufficient? Or have you already made up your mind? I ask this question sincerely. You can ask me all the hardball questions you want, unless you have made up your mind. (And that's the sense I'm getting because our conversation is going in circles, but I could be wrong.) It takes time for me to respond to everyone here and on AC. If I sense that their questions are not serious or their minds are closed, I am fine with them believing whatever they want.

While I enjoy dialoguing with you, the irony here is almost painful. If anyone has given indication of a closed mind I fear it is you. I say this only because you repeatedly decry the sheer improbability of you ever changing your mind. I'm not sure that an open minded person could so confidently calculate the probability of his/her mind being changed without having some prior commitment to not changing it. And the fact that you seek out conversations with those of differing points of view, while noble, does not mean that you are objective and open-minded.

Now, as for the idea of consistency, I can't help but feel that you are equivocating on your usage of the word. First, you could be saying that Christianity is consistent in the sense that it contains no internal contradictions. In other words, Christianity is coherent. If this is what you mean, then

(a) The coherence of Christianity is debatable.

(b) There doesn't seem to be any such thing as Christianity, but only Christianities. So who's version are we examining?

(c) Even if the overarching Christian message is coherent this tells us nothing about whether or not it is true. In fact, most novels a person might read are coherent yet they remain fiction all the same.

Second, by "consistent", you might mean that the Christian message is not only coherent, but that it does not contradict any scientific theories or evidence. But how this establishes its "truthfulness" is a mystery, since other belief system -e.g. Buddhism - are also consistent with modern science. Nevertheless, it is not surprising that people think the Bible to be perfectly consistent with modern science, since the Bible is ambiguous and vague enough to be made or interpreted to fit the findings of modern science. This is usually done in an unconscious manner because the Christian acts on the operating assumption that the Bible is God's special revelation and that nature is God's general revelation. As such, they cannot conflict and so each informs the believer on how to interpret the other.

Finally, while the above two types of consistencies might hold, they do not significantly affect the odds of Christianity being true. Nevertheless, I believe you inadvertently rely on the above two and then import them into the idea that Christianity is consistent in the sense that, as a hypothesis, it actually explains the body of data we have about our world. The problem, however, is that it does not. At best, it has the second kind of consistency I mentioned above.

The reason it doesn't function as a good hypothesis is because

(a) It is not rigorously formulated.

(b) It posits greater mysteries to explain lesser mysteries. For example the existence of spirit, spirit/matter interaction and causation, an atemporal being who somehow acts in time, the notion of pure disembodied mind, etc.

(c) It doesn't actually add to our understanding of reality or any established theories.

(d) It makes no testable predictions about how things ought to operate if it is true.

QED said...

And given the Big Bang and the fine-tuning of the universe, they do merit serious consideration. To ignore the current scientific evidence in favor of possible future discoveries indicates blind faith in science.

I fail to see how it could be blind faith in science when science has earned the right to be trusted. The scientific method has been unimaginably successful. Are you really proffering a "God-of-the-gaps" type of argument?

Besides, how does BB cosmology or the so called "fine-tuning" indicate a God, let alone Bible-God? One could use these arguments to just as easily support the idea of Deism or polytheism or mysticism or a myriad of other conclusions. Again, your hasty conclusions only serve to reveal your clear bias.

Quantum physics is also more consistent with Christianity than Newtonian physics.

Pardon the phrase, but how the hell do you know that? Have you studied quantum physics? If not, then it is a bad idea to use poorly understood theories as evidentiary support for you desired conclusion.

Besides, wouldn't it be far more evident that God existed if the world operated via a Newtonian framework and God consistently did miracles, so that such actions could not be accounted for nor explained (even in principle) via Newtonian means?

Why would God inconspicuously confine "Himself" to the subatomic world of uncertainty where "His" actions are completely indistinguishable from the randomness we would otherwise expect???

Why do you lean more on possible future scientific discoveries than the current strong evidence in formulating your views on whether there is a God? That is a bias toward the belief that science has replaced God. And I call it a bias because you think that way in spite of the evidence.

Again, what evidence? BB? Fine-tuning? As I mentioned before, it is not even clear what these point to or suggest. At best they indicate a need for a deeper explanation of reality. But you have absolutely no grounds for jumping to conclusions about deities, let alone specific ones. Furthermore, science already has decent theories accounting for these things, which do not rely on unvarifiable, ad hoc supernatural entities.

Let's say you're interested in knowing about a country. Faith is the equivalent of living in that country. It is possible to know a lot about a country without ever having lived there. Conversely, it is possible to live in a country and not be able to speak intelligently about its history, literature, culture, and other facts.

Okay... but you first need to know that this "country" exists before you can live there.

Anette Acker said...

QED,

While I enjoy dialoguing with you, the irony here is almost painful. If anyone has given indication of a closed mind I fear it is you. I say this only because you repeatedly decry the sheer improbability of you ever changing your mind. I'm not sure that an open minded person could so confidently calculate the probability of his/her mind being changed without having some prior commitment to not changing it. And the fact that you seek out conversations with those of differing points of view, while noble, does not mean that you are objective and open-minded.

The reason why the likelihood of me fundamentally changing my mind on Christianity is because everything has reinforced my faith over the years. And the point is not that talking to people of different views is "noble" but that it forces me to think it through more carefully and see if it can withstand scrutiny. If atheists are right, I will agree with them.

But you didn't answer my question: Have you made up your mind? I was initially under the impression that you were a Christian who doubted but wanted to believe. But to be perfectly honest, you seem a lot more resistant than any of the atheists I have talked to. I can't tell if you're playing the devil's advocate for the sake of debate or not.

But if you're not, you don't even think that there is good a reason why an atheist should consider the existence of anything beyond nature. (This has repeatedly been your response when I point out that to assume naturalism is a built-in bias of atheism.)

As for my level of "open-mindedness," there have been several points in my life where I have seriously examined and questioned my beliefs. And I did so honestly. I am past the point where I'm fundamentally questioning them. If you interpret that as closed-mindedness, I'm fine with that.

I can't think of a single atheist on AC who has the goal of turning a Christian to atheism. They either try to open up the minds of Christians to science or they ask questions about Christianity. But not one comes across like he or she believes that genuine faith in Christianity is a bad thing. This was also true of the few atheists I talked to before commenting on AC. What they object to is dishonesty. That's one reason why I like talking to them.

If I am not dishonest, I am every bit as open-minded as I need to be. I only want to be open to the truth. If I am dishonest, you need to be a lot more specific.

I fail to see how it could be blind faith in science when science has earned the right to be trusted. The scientific method has been unimaginably successful. Are you really proffering a "God-of-the-gaps" type of argument?

The reason why our conversation is going in circles is because you repeatedly seem to forget the context of my responses. Of course science has earned the right to be trusted, as far as it goes. But it has never been able to answer the question of why we are here. And right now, all the evidence in cosmology is more consistent with a First Cause than atheism. And the evidence supporting the Big Bang is very strong.

The blind faith is that science will once again support atheism, even though it is more consistent with theism now. That is a bias. It means that one's faith really is in atheism and the hope that science will once again support it. The current, objective evidence in cosmology supports a First Cause. Who is to say that will ever change regardless of how many proposals are on the table?

Besides, how does BB cosmology or the so called "fine-tuning" indicate a God, let alone Bible-God?

It points toward a Creator, but not the biblical God specifically.

Anette Acker said...

Even if the overarching Christian message is coherent this tells us nothing about whether or not it is true. In fact, most novels a person might read are coherent yet they remain fiction all the same.

A novel is generally written by one author over a relatively short period of time. The Bible was written by over forty authors from all walks of life, spanning about 1500 years, joining two major religions, and it communicates the very complex subject of Christian theology, which takes into account the infinite nature of God. If it is still consistent, it is indicative that one Mind inspired it.

The issue of theological consistency is one that I have addressed extensively on AC by discussing specific subjects, so I don't want to get into a general discussion about whether it is consistent. I approach that question by demonstrating its consistency.

Pardon the phrase, but how the hell do you know that? Have you studied quantum physics? If not, then it is a bad idea to use poorly understood theories as evidentiary support for you desired conclusion.

Actually, I have been reading up on quantum physics recently so I do understand the fundamentals. But what I have studied and thought about for many years is the theology of prayer and what the Bible teaches about miracles. And quantum physics fits perfectly as an explanation for how it works.

BTW, your comments would be more persuasive and helpful if you corrected my actual mistakes rather than hurling accusations of bias and ignorance. If I have said something about quantum physics or science in general that is incorrect, I will happily accept your correction.

Why would God inconspicuously confine "Himself" to the subatomic world of uncertainty where "His" actions are completely indistinguishable from the randomness we would otherwise expect???

This is my theory, and I'm copying and pasting from a comment I made on AC (with some edits), where I also explain my understanding of quantum physics.

Everything is inherently unpredictable on the quantum level, and it's not just a matter of us not understanding it. Quantum physics is based on the "uncertainty principle." It is based on probability, rather than fixed Newtonian laws of nature.

This means that everything is technically possible, although some things are extremely unlikely. Quantum particles take all paths simultaneously, but the "normal paths" that we think of as the classical laws of nature have a high probability of occurring, whereas the “miraculous” or bizarre ones have a very low probability.

There is a very low, non-zero, chance that I can walk through a brick wall. If I walk into the wall every second of my life, and I live for about a billion years, I have a reasonable chance at succeeded.

So turning water into wine is possible--it's just highly improbable. But if God created the universe by fiat, His Spirit supersedes the laws of nature. That means that the idea of God working through the power of prayer and quantum physics to bring about a highly unlikely outcome is very consistent with what the Bible teaches. And it is logically possible. It would also explain why miracles happen so rarely. The more unlikely the outcome, the more powerful the prayer would have to be. For example, Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit, and He could heal with a word or a touch and turn water into wine. Since consciousness is also somehow related to quantum physics, this gives further support to the theory that this is how prayer works.

However, under classical Newtonian physics, there is only one pathway that a particle can take. So before quantum physics, it was believed that we lived in a completely deterministic universe. That would make miracles impossible.

Anette Acker said...

Besides, wouldn't it be far more evident that God existed if the world operated via a Newtonian framework and God consistently did miracles, so that such actions could not be accounted for nor explained (even in principle) via Newtonian means?

No, the universe has to be ordered and predictable for us to function in it. So it makes sense that deviations from the laws of nature are very rare. Quantum physics means that predictability is the norm, but miracles are possible. However, miracles only happen under certain circumstances, which is what the Bible teaches.

Okay... but you first need to know that this "country" exists before you can live there.

Well, that is the question that you're trying to answer, isn't it?

Anette Acker said...

QED,

I want to explain to you why I asked if you have made up your mind. There are some people who will not believe and others who want to but can't. There are a lot more non-believers on AC who want to talk about Christianity than there are Christians answering questions and discussing it with them.

Although I respond to anyone who addresses a comment to me, I try to prioritize people who want to believe but can't. (And I've had you pegged as someone who falls into that category.) I don't try to change the minds of those whose minds are made up. I simply don't have time for that.

So that's why I asked. It's really not any of my business, of course, so you don't have to answer. But during this last conversation I've gotten the impression that you're fighting everything I say tooth and nail, and all we've really talked about in this thread is whether I am biased and whether atheism has a built-in bias.

Let me put it to you this way: I don't have intellectual doubts, nor do I feel at all threatened by the questions of skeptics. I trust that God will help me answer them. That either means that what I believe is true or that I am deluded to the core. But I'm not really sure what I can do to be more honest with myself than I already am, so since this supposed delusion has had a very positive impact on my life I don't see what the problem is.

QED said...

Annette -

But you didn't answer my question: Have you made up your mind? I was initially under the impression that you were a Christian who doubted but wanted to believe. But to be perfectly honest, you seem a lot more resistant than any of the atheists I have talked to. I can't tell if you're playing the devil's advocate for the sake of debate or not.

In all frankness, no, I am not playing "devil's advocate". I no longer think that Christianity makes any logical sense. Whereas you claim that your faith has been repeatedly confirmed, I have had the opposite experience. Everywhere I look, the so called intellectual and evidential foundations of Christianity have been falling to pieces.

This, however, does not mean that I have "made up my mind". I could be wrong. But as far as I can tell there is no strong evidence supporting the truth of Christianity despite your fervent claims to the contrary.

But if you're not, you don't even think that there is good a reason why an atheist should consider the existence of anything beyond nature. (This has repeatedly been your response when I point out that to assume naturalism is a built-in bias of atheism.)

Starting with "Naturalism" is not really an assumption, since it is the only thing we know for sure to experience. There must be some reason to go positing further realities.
Now, invariably you will claim that there are such reasons; that, BB cosmology, etc. suggest something "outside" our universe. But here you are again equivocating, for why should this "outside" realm be considered supernatural in your meaning of the word?

Of course science has earned the right to be trusted, as far as it goes. But it has never been able to answer the question of why we are here. And right now, all the evidence in cosmology is more consistent with a First Cause than atheism. And the evidence supporting the Big Bang is very strong.

First, science may be able to answer the "why" question. Second, you fail to realize that there may be no reason for why we are here. Third, believing in a "First Cause" is not synonymous with theism. An atheist may hold to a First Cause, but deny that it is a divine intelligence.

The blind faith is that science will once again support atheism, even though it is more consistent with theism now. That is a bias. It means that one's faith really is in atheism and the hope that science will once again support it. The current, objective evidence in cosmology supports a First Cause... It points toward a Creator, but not the biblical God specifically.

Annette, you are just begging the question here and using loaded language like "creator". You are going to have to explain why the current evidence is "more consistent" with theism over atheism because I disagree and I know of a lot of people who feel the same. Thus, you cannot just state such a thing as if it were undeniable fact.

QED said...

I'll address your quantum theory a little later.

Anette Acker said...

In all frankness, no, I am not playing "devil's advocate". I no longer think that Christianity makes any logical sense. Whereas you claim that your faith has been repeatedly confirmed, I have had the opposite experience.

Specifically, why does it not make logical sense? This question has to be addressed issue by issue. The evidence in cosmology is completely consistent with what the Bible teaches, in spite of the fact that there are other theories on the table. Yes, there are other possible explanations for a First Cause, but the biblical explanation fits perfectly. (You know that it's impossible to prove the existence of God, right?) If you were more specific, it would be easier to talk about this.

Everywhere I look, the so called intellectual and evidential foundations of Christianity have been falling to pieces.

How? You have not yet given me any examples.

QED said...

Annette -

The evidence in cosmology is completely consistent with what the Bible teaches...

This simply is not true. I already addressed this. All this means is that you can interpret the bible in such a way that it seems to be consistent. But if you really studied the biblical view of cosmology, you would find, as Steven J. has pointed out, that the biblical authors viewed the earth as a flat disk with a tent-like firmament or dome over the top. This fits perfectly well with the surrounding cultures of the time.

QED said...

As for your quantum theory:

Everything is inherently unpredictable on the quantum level, and it's not just a matter of us not understanding it. Quantum physics is based on the "uncertainty principle." It is based on probability, rather than fixed Newtonian laws of nature.

I'm not sure what you mean by "fixed Newtonian laws". Perhaps you meant deterministic laws. Even in quantum theory, the laws which govern it are fixed. But more or less your account is accurate here.

This means that everything is technically possible...

This is not quite accurate. There is uncertainty with precise values within observables, but this does not mean that anything imaginable is possible. The quantum world is still subject to governing laws, just not deterministic ones whereby the current state of the universe determines or carries within it the information of all future states.

There is a very low, non-zero, chance that I can walk through a brick wall. If I walk into the wall every second of my life, and I live for about a billion years, I have a reasonable chance at succeeded.

I don't think this is true. At our "level" of reality, quantum effects cancel out and things begin to operate according to more deterministic laws. Besides, even if there is an infinitesimal chance of this occurring it would not be miraculous.

So turning water into wine is possible--it's just highly improbable.

While logically possible, quantum mechanics does not say that one substance can turn into another. This is a misapplication of the theory. Furthermore, if Jesus was performing the miracle, then there should be a 100% chance of water turning into wine. Quantum mechanics has nothing to do with the matter. Even if it did, this doesn't mean the story is more probably true than not.

But if God created the universe by fiat, His Spirit supersedes the laws of nature.

Precisely! Which is why appealing to Quantum Physics is not helping your case. It would be more evident that God existed if "He" actually superseded physical laws like deterministic Newtonian laws. But with quantum mechanics God acting covertly on the subatomic level and God not acting at all, but allowing everything to happen by chance are indistinguishable.

That means that the idea of God working through the power of prayer and quantum physics to bring about a highly unlikely outcome is very consistent with what the Bible teaches.

*sigh*... In what way is it "consistent"? This all seems rather ad hoc to me.

It would also explain why miracles happen so rarely.

Actually, it would only explain this if God sat back and actually left it up to chance. But if God is performing a miracle, again, it is 100% guaranteed to happen, Quantum Physics or not. Thus, the rarity has to do something with God's will to do them and not due to the mechanism.

Since consciousness is also somehow related to quantum physics, this gives further support to the theory that this is how prayer works.

Support???.. No. What you have here is only an ad hoc explanation. Nothing more.

Anette Acker said...

QED,

This is not quite accurate. There is uncertainty with precise values within observables, but this does not mean that anything imaginable is possible. The quantum world is still subject to governing laws, just not deterministic ones whereby the current state of the universe determines or carries within it the information of all future states.

Physicist Alvaro de Rujula of Cern was asked whether there was a possibility that the Large Hadron Collider could produce a world-ending black hole. He replied that it was extremely unlikely but "the random nature of quantum physics means that there is always a minuscule, but nonzero, chance of anything occurring, including that the new collider could spit out man-eating dragons."

"There is a very low, non-zero, chance that I can walk through a brick wall. If I walk into the wall every second of my life, and I live for about a billion years, I have a reasonable chance at succeeded."

I don't think this is true. At our "level" of reality, quantum effects cancel out and things begin to operate according to more deterministic laws. Besides, even if there is an infinitesimal chance of this occurring it would not be miraculous.


Brian Greene, author of The Elegant Universe, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, says: "If you walked into a solid wall every second, you would have to wait longer than the current age of the universe to have a good chance of passing through it on one of your attempts."

So it would take longer than a billion years--I got that wrong, but I got the general idea right. Of course quantum effects cancel each other out at our level of reality. That's why we don't see that kind of weirdness.

How would you define a miracle, and where do you get that definition? If your definition is "violation of the laws of nature," that is not found anywhere in the Bible. Jesus simply said that everything is possible with faith. (And biblical faith is something different than how you have defined it during the course of our conversation.)

Anette Acker said...

It would be more evident that God existed if "He" actually superseded physical laws like deterministic Newtonian laws. But with quantum mechanics God acting covertly on the subatomic level and God not acting at all, but allowing everything to happen by chance are indistinguishable.

You may not have a problem with the idea of God breaking His own laws to do a miracle, but to some people that's a major intellectual stumbling block. When my husband and I were dating in college, we had a conversation about miracles, and to him it seemed extremely unlikely that God would break His own laws. I could not figure out what the problem was, because I figured that He was God so He could just do what He wanted.

But when our (then) our thirteen-year-old daughter asked me the same question, I had thought about this theological issue for some time (because our other daughter is disabled), and by that time it made sense to me as well that God would not break His own laws. It goes against His nature. So quantum physics makes a lot more sense to me than the idea of God breaking the laws of nature to do a miracle. His nature is revealed in creation, and if you study the teachings of Jesus very carefully, you'll find that the same ordered laws pertain to all His teachings, including prayer and the miraculous.

The idea that God's ways are very different from what we see in nature is a very common misconception. This is why people think that God's will is 100% done all the time and that God most likely created according to the literal Genesis account rather than through evolution, because it is so different from nature. To me, simply on the basis of Christian theology, I think evolution is more consistent with how God does things.

But if God is performing a miracle, again, it is 100% guaranteed to happen, Quantum Physics or not. Thus, the rarity has to do something with God's will to do them and not due to the mechanism.

Yes, if God is performing a miracle, it is 100% guaranteed to happen, just like if I walk across a room, it is 100% guaranteed to happen.

But God's will doesn't always happen. If it did, we wouldn't have to pray, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." In other words, we are to pray that God's will is done. Why would we pray this if God's will already happens by default? And if God's will already happened on earth as it is in heaven, there would be no sin or evil, because there is no sin or evil in heaven.

So we are to pray for God's will to be done, and there is power in prayer to actually change an outcome.

*sigh*... In what way is it "consistent"? This all seems rather ad hoc to me.

It is consistent because power in prayer is relative. John 15 says that if we abide in Christ like a branch on a vine, we will have power in prayer because His Spirit works through us like the sap flowing through to a branch. Jesus had a lot of power in prayer because He was "all the fullness of deity in bodily form."

The bottom line is that quantum physics undermines the idea that the universe is completely deterministic, and that human reason is capable of uncovering all truth through science. It goes against the classical materialists worldview. Even if scientists understand the science of quantum physics, they do not understand the metaphysics behind it. It makes miracles possible.

"Quantum mechanics is magic." - Daniel Greenberger.

"Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real." - Niels Bohr.

"Those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum theory cannot possibly have understood it." - Niels Bohr.

"If you are not completely confused by quantum mechanics, you do not understand it." - John Wheeler.

"It is safe to say that nobody understands quantum mechanics." - Richard Feynman.

Anette Acker said...

It would be more evident that God existed if "He" actually superseded physical laws like deterministic Newtonian laws. But with quantum mechanics God acting covertly on the subatomic level and God not acting at all, but allowing everything to happen by chance are indistinguishable.

I just realized that I'm not sure you quite understand what I'm saying. I'm not talking about God "acting covertly on the subatomic level." I'm talking about God setting up the universe in a way that is largely deterministic--in other words, there is a very high probability of certain things happening. However, there is a possibility of many other things happening as well; some things very unlikely.

It is the power of God (the Holy Spirit) working on the quantum level to bring about a particular outcome that would be unlikely to occur through chance. So you could even say that that is why the universe is as finely tuned as it is. The state of lawlessness could be the Holy Spirit working on the quantum level, causing an outcome that would be highly unlikely to occur through chance. For example, for every billion pairs of quarks and antiquarks, there had to be an extra quark--otherwise there would have been no matter in the universe.

There seems to be a very low probability of that happening, which is why many atheists hypothesize a multiverse to explain it. Likewise, Brian Greene says that if someone walks into a wall every second for 14 billion years, he or she has a reasonable chance of succeeding at walking through it once. It seems like the same principle.

But if the power of God is behind an outcome (for example through prayer), it is not entirely left to chance. So this is not God acting covertly on the subatomic level; His Spirit simply acts through these subatomic particles when we pray.

Again, this is just a theory I have, but it is consistent with what the Bible teaches. As Pascal said, "God instituted prayer in order to give to his creatures the dignity of being causes." Although God is sovereign and the laws of nature are predictable, the universe is not entirely deterministic.

QED said...

Whatever you say Annette. It seems you and I have different ideas about what makes good evidence.

While what you say is technically possible from a logical standpoint, it is a long way from probable.

Nice talking with you.

Anette Acker said...

Nice talking with you too, QED.

Anette Acker said...

But if you really studied the biblical view of cosmology, you would find, as Steven J. has pointed out, that the biblical authors viewed the earth as a flat disk with a tent-like firmament or dome over the top. This fits perfectly well with the surrounding cultures of the time.

Oops! I forgot to address this important point.

You're absolutely right that the creation account of Genesis fits with the beliefs of the surrounding cultures of the time. In fact, most of the customs of the Israelites fit with the cultures as did their level of cultural development.

However, the OT is superseded by the NT, which interprets it. For example, in Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus summarizes the Law and the Prophets in the words, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Galatians 4:3-5 compares the early Hebrews to children, clearly stating that they were primitive, and that they were "held in bondage under the elemental things of the world," until the "fullness of time," when they were ready for Christ to come.

Likewise, Hebrews 11:3 tells us all the Bible needs to tell us about cosmology, because it is of theological significance: "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." This means that God created ex nihilo, which is consistent with the cosmological evidence. Many other places in the Bible, it states that God exists outside of time, which is consistent with the current evidence that time had a beginning. (And I know that Hawking is trying prove that it didn't but he also said, "Almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the Big Bang.")

The creation account is of great theological, typological significance, which I am going to demonstrate in my next blog post, but you are absolutely right that it also represents the understanding of the people at that time.

Anette Acker said...

I want to add something to my prior comment in case someone is still reading this. According to Eugene Merrill, one of the most highly respected OT scholars, the Genesis account is unique among the cosmologies of the ancient New East world because of the emphasis on immediate creation. And as I said before, this aspect of creation is the only one mentioned in the NT (Hebrews 11:3).

He says: "The Genesis narrative begins with the succinct but majestic declaration that 'in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth' (Gen. 1:1). It makes no attempt to clarify when and how this was done but only affirms that all that exists is the product of God's omnipotent hand. In this respect the account is unique among the cosmologies of the ancient Near Eastern world for they know nothing of an immediate creation as oposed to a creation that makes use of preexisting matter. The Hebrew word bara, while not inherently denotative of creation ex nihilo, bears that meaning in all its occurrences in the Genesis account."