Simplistic Atheism {2}: Science “versus” Theology


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(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

I’m doing a little series this week responding to a Facebook post by a friend of mine named Daniel Bastian. He outlined twenty things that would make him change his mind about Atheism. The piece is well-organized and thought out, I encourage everyone to read it and wrestle through it themselves.

In line with my belief that these sorts of discussions always seem to end up at differences in hermeneutics (interpretive filters) rather than facts, I wrote a post talking about what appeared to be Daniel’s bigger commitments and understandings of the world, human reason, and assumptions about spirituality (also read the Facebook comments).

I was, of course, accused of still not engaging with his specific points, even as I sought to talk about principles behind the points. And so, I’m excited to say that with today and tomorrow, we will be hitting many of Daniel’s specific points

A Simplistic Science & a Godless Evolution

In the first point of the post, Daniel mentions evolution as a reason he doesn’t believe in Christianity. But, he doesn’t go at it the way you’re thinking. He’s quite aware of many Christians (including yours truly) that see evolution as bearing beautiful truths within Christian spirituality.

Daniel isn’t saying that if evolution is true then the Bible itself must be false, as if a literalistic reading of the text were the only “true” reading. Instead, he emphasizes evolution’s “chance” nature and the “accident” it seems that we humans are. Later, Daniel also days that the fact that homo sapiens became almost extinct throughout their history, and the fact that we are all made of the same “stuff” as the universe, all shows the lack of a “specialness” that humans occupy in the apparent grand scheme of things.

The scientific usage of the word “chance” is not a statement describing the process, but describing our own inability to predict how the process will turn out. Flipping a coin is scientifically “random”–a “chance” event. We can guess with probability whether it will be heads or tails, but science can never know for sure. But surely the fact that we don’t know which one it will be doesn’t mean that there’s not an active agent flipping the coin in the first place, right? The unpredictability of a process simply cannot speak to that.

The Bible itself says that any number of probabilistic, seemingly aimless process are means by which God exercises his Providence. People have, for a long time now, known about things that appear without goal, purpose, or clear predictability. And yet, they’ve had no problem saying that God is exercising Providence within them.

And no, this isn’t a “God of the gaps” argument. I’m not saying that God is any more present in unpredictable processes than predictable. To think that merely explaining a process (even completely) removes God, is skipping a few logical jumps ahead. Why does a process need God before there could be the possibility that He is in it?

This is why the Christian Doctrine of Creation is one borne out of the Love of God. There is a dynamic interplay between Nature and its God.

As just one example of how Christianity can offer a fuller, more nuanced and complex perspective on this, a couple of years ago I read this paper by a Christian physicist. In it, he wonders if the “randomness” and “chaos” of quantum level might be the very place where God exercises his will, and then works its way up from there. He wondered if God’s working in the “free” chaos might not work out some issues concerning free will (our volition is many steps removed from the quantum level, so if that’s where God exercises Providence, then we are still freely moving in line with it).

Yes, I understand that evolution is a passive process; there’s no clear “goal” towards which it is actively heading. And this is why one cannot predict which traits might survive and stick around. It inherently seems cold and neutral as to which species will flourish and which will die.

But that’s why, though yes, it’s most certainly a circular argument, I stand by it: the fact that we humans beat every statistical chance that we would survive and arrive to where we are today is, I think, a sign for Providence working in the midst of the process, rather than against.

What would be the alternative for those that agree with the Facebook post, I wonder? Would they have any less skepticism if the account of our evolution was so sure and fully explained by natural processes? If there were absolutely no “messiness” in how we came about? Would they not then say that a god was altogether unnecessary, and that Occam’s Razor demanded we got rid of the unnecessary agent?

So are they trying to have it both ways? “It’s too aimless! Therefore, no God! What if it were goal-oriented? Then, no God!”

Concerning “Specialness”

No one can read the Bible and come to the conclusion that the God of Christianity is one that does things by paying any particular attention to “specialness”. In fact, this is actually part of the beauty and counter-intuitive nature of our faith.

Yahweh begins his redemptive work by approaching a Babylonian farmer. He makes a group of slaves as his own. He lets them go into captivity. And by the way, if you don’t think God’s people weren’t wrestling with their idea of “specialness” after that, you’d be crazy. But guess what? God’s people still found continued belief in their God to be reasonable even after that attack on their unique identity.

Continuing the story, a random construction worker from rural Palestine ends up being the Messiah of the world and growing up in the midst of one of the most oppressed and marginalized groups of the day. God dies. A group of women are the first witnesses to his Resurrection, and a human book written by those impacted by this God, ends up being a primary meeting place between God and his people.

And you think that the fact that we’re not the center of the universe or even a logical, predictable output of its process is some sort of argument against a God who claims to move from the weakest and poorest and least-sensical on up?

The Christian God, as he seems to be throughout the Scriptures, is one that would absolutely bring renewal to the cosmos through one guy dying among one people on one planet that’s not the center if the universe. It’s just the kind of backward, counter-intuitive thing he would do.

Star Stuff

Continuing this idea that there’s nothing “special” to us, Daniel mentions the fact that we are, literally, made up of matter from ancient stars. And so, we’re not even of unique substance, how could we be some sort of special race among animals?

The fact that we’re all made of the same “stuff” is actually incredibly important to the Christian story of Redemption. When Jesus shows up on the scene, because he is an evolved homo sapien male whose evolutionary line goes all the way back to those very stars, he carries the entire history of the cosmos leading to him in his physical body. And so, when he physically dies, and rises, he is actually raising the entire universe’s history within himself. The Cross speaks to our common descent and Jesus’ Resurrection speaks to a “common ascent” for the entire universe–a universe all made up of the same “star stuff”.

Lastly, there are indeed responses out there for how death, suffering, and extinction, the vehicles of evolution, can have their proper place in the Christian Gospel (much more detailed treatments can be found here and here).

So once again, the Christian account of the world and science is far more complex than Daniel gives it credit for, it seems. I love how Keith Miller puts it, when he calls this an “evolving creation”. We are both evolved and created, and there is such a mysterious dance between the two that mere observation of evolutionary processes cannot fully describe it.

A Parting Word on Evidence

I can hear the responses now: okay, maybe you showed how there could be a possible world where Christianity isn’t the enemy of Science, but you’ve given no evidence for why we must import this unnecessary God into the picture? Sure, God could be involved in evolution and all this other stuff, but so could Dawkins’ fabled Flying Spaghetti Monster! What evidence is there that we should add this God?

I will confess, the reason why I think we should include this God is because it is more compelling. As I tried to stress yesterday, I honestly believe that we as humans are not simply embodied cognitive machines that are just sucking up evidence and evaluating it all the time. I think that we assent to things, often times, more because they are compelling rather than “simply” convincing.

I freely admit: if this material world is all there is, then Atheism is indeed the truest, most logical response. And that’s because “evidence” belongs to the realm of this material world. For things beyond it, material “evidence” is not the criteria by which it is judged. There are simply no easy answers to the demands for evidence–it’s not there, in any material sense. But it’s not because God is playing a game with us. As I tried to explain yesterday in the Facebook comments, this whole discussion of God is something that transcends the realm of reason and evidence. That is simply not the plane on which this can be proven.

When evaluating how compelling something is, it is not a simple matter of evidence and reason, but also things like aestheticsstory, and even existential implications. This is the holistic, complex, nuanced Christian idea of truth.

For example, the Bible claims a mantle of truth for itself, and yet it is not a book of history and science by any strict definition. It is story. It its progress. It is art. And it bears the bumps and bruises of its dynamic history. This is a picture of what Christian Truth often looks like: beaten up, bloodied, and crucified; more at home with the poor and the hurting than the in the highest halls of rhetoric and power.

And this is why my post yesterday frustrated so many people. There is indeed a view of the world in which Atheism is the most compelling option out there. But this view of the world, as I’ve been repeating over and over again, is one that doesn’t explain our intuitions, isn’t beautiful, doesn’t offer a story that makes sense of our existential realities, and does not inspire and give strength for life to be lived as we believe it is the most fulfilling to live it.

Years ago, I wrote a piece in Patrol Magazine about Peter Hitchens, Christopher Hitchens’ brother. Peter is a Christian, and when asked in an interview about whether he thought Christopher would ever convert, he said this:

It is my belief that passions as strong as his are more likely to be countered by the unexpected force of poetry, which can ambush the human heart at any time.

In short, a conception of the world in which Atheism is the conclusion–and where evidence rules all–is far, far too small for our world as it really seems to be.

Oh, one last (tongue-in-cheek) note

Daniel says that Andromeda is the “appointed destroyer” of our universe. Actually, from what I understand, the slowly increasing brightness of the sun would destroy all life a few billion years before Andromeda ever came our way. Boo-yah.

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32 thoughts on “Simplistic Atheism {2}: Science “versus” Theology

  1. On the whole, more boringness, but here:

    “Why does a process need God before there could be the possibility that He is in it?”

    We don’t know Paul, that’s what aetheists have been asking you. Why do you no longer ascribe to god the motions of the planets, the tidal action, or disease? The answer is because there is no need to have god be “in a process” (or anything else) before he COULD be in it, but there is also no need ot have god in the process WHAT SO EVER. The aetheists always propose to allow for the possibility of God, or fairies, or other imaginary creature being “in a process”. Their point is that there is no reason to presume that he necessarily is in the process.

    To quote the famous apocryphal interaction: Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là. (“I had no need of that hypothesis.”)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre-Simon_Laplace#I_had_no_need_of_that_hypothesis

    You dance around this by thinking they assert that God necessarily is not in x process. All they say is that there is no reason to believe that he is thus they are happy to not jump to the conclusion that he is, as you do.

    “As just one example of how Christianity can offer a fuller, more nuanced and complex perspective on this, a couple of years ago I read this paper by a Christian physicist. In it, he wonders if the “randomness” and “chaos” of quantum level might be the very place where God exercises his will, and then works its way up from there. He wondered if God’s working in the “free” chaos might not work out some issues concerning free will (our volition is many steps removed from the quantum level, so if that’s where God exercises Providence, then we are still freely moving in line with it).”

    Interesting Paul, very interesting. It seems that at least one christian Scientists is now leaning on the god hypothesis. Of course, if Laplace were around then he’d have no need of that hypothesis and simply make a realistic one. I wonder how long until this christian scientist publishes a paper about his hypothesis and his tests he will no doubt carry out, or at least propose, to disprove it? I won’t hold my breath for that paper.

    “But that’s why, though yes, it’s most certainly a circular argument”

    Or you could just stop making arguments while you’re ahead and save us all a lot of time. But then, all apologists could do that and there would be no discussion I suppose.

    “the fact that we humans beat every statistical chance that we would survive and arrive to where we are today is, I think, a sign for Providence working in the midst of the process, rather than against.”

    So then you accept that the world is 4 billy years old? Genesis is not literally true and the begats are a load of horse manure made up by ancient jews? Well, I have to say, if only more christians would adopt this view there would be less animosity towards the church in this day and age.

    I wonder, do you also then accept that for the first 90000+ years of humanity’s existence we were miserable wretched creatures rapin’, killin’, and all manner of other nonsense living miserable lives in caves without god so much as intervening in the least? But then, all of a sudden, in the last 4000-2000 years he decided, finally, to intervene? And that this sudden decision to intervene just so happened to coincide, entirely coincidentally, with the rise of (importantly) writing stuff down, and civilization generally?
    “Would they have any less skepticism if the account of our evolution was so sure and fully explained by natural processes?”

    I think there is a typo in there somewhere. Obviously they are skeptical currently because evolution is so sure and fully explained by natural processes.

    “What if it were goal-oriented? Then, no God!”

    How one would find a “goal” in this particular situation I’m not sure, other than “survival”. But presuming that one did find a goal I suppose it would depend on what the goal was as to whether it would support there being a yahweh god to some people. For instance, if we discovered that the “goal” was to produce sinful activity then I’m not sure if that would support the yahweh god hypothesis since by all accounts that is not his goal.

    “No one can read the Bible and come to the conclusion that the God of Christianity is one that does things by paying any particular attention to “specialness”. ”

    LOL WUT? The whole old testament just about is one big love story between god and his special people, where he did things by paying particular attention to their specialness (aka their having a covenant).

    “Yahweh begins his redemptive work by approaching a Babylonian farmer.”

    I’m interested to know how you know he was babylonian since all the sources I’ve seen put ol’ abraham from somewhere like Ur or something or other that was not part of babylon so far as I recall.

    “And you think that the fact that we’re not the center of the universe or even a logical, predictable output of its process is some sort of argument against a God who claims to move from the weakest and poorest and least-sensical on up?”

    I don’t think you have even the slightest idea about what the whole point of the “specialness” criteria Dan listed was brosef. It has nothing to do with weakness, or poorness or sensicalness etc. What it has to do with is the realization that we are beyond unnoticable in the universe. As in, we are a undetectable thin film on the quark of the planet earth in the atom of the solar system in the molecule of the galaxy in the corner of the room of the universe of god’s “house” so to speak. If we understand god as indeed being over all the universe. In other words, there is nothing about us that could possibly concern a god concerned with the universe. We are not “special” and worthy of his notice.

    “The Christian God, as he seems to be throughout the Scriptures, is one that would absolutely bring renewal to the cosmos through one guy dying among one people on one planet that’s not the center if the universe”

    Well in that case I guess someone should have informed all the stars that blew up right as Jesus was dying on the cross bringing renewal.

    Also Paul what do you say to the years, decades, and centuries worth of christian doctrine developed in the golden years of christianity during the dark ages about how we are supar special, and if we weren’t special then there would be no point to any of the christian theology? Do you just dismiss all the big names in the field out of hand? Because let’s be honest, if they’d have known that we weren’t special then Christianity wouldn’t probably even be a major religion now.

    “The fact that we’re all made of the same “stuff” is actually incredibly important to the Christian story of Redemption”

    So hilarious.

    “When Jesus shows up on the scene, because he is an evolved homo sapien male whose evolutionary line goes all the way back to those very stars, he carries the entire history of the cosmos leading to him in his physical body.”

    Did you just bring scientology into mah christianities bro? Because if so, I have to tell you, I like it. Great fiction! Also, I wonder why the Big J didn’t mention the whole theory of evolution and go ahead and tell all christians that it was a fact as a matter of theology so there wouldn’t be so much arguing?

    “And so, when he physically dies, and rises, he is actually raising the entire universe’s history within himself. ”

    Dude you might be able to start your own religion if you can keep making stuff up like that. At the least there is a novel in it, you should talk to a publisher! New agers and christians alike will eat that book up!

    In any event, along the lines of the specialness item, you also don’t seem to grasp the implications of being star stuff, and you also appear to have made up a whole new theology around it. Which, while impressive, I have not found endorsed by even one pastor.

    “okay, maybe you showed how there could be a possible world where Christianity isn’t the enemy of Science, ”

    There could be, and no aetheist denies that I don’t think. But that isn’t the christianity that goes on in these united states o merica brosef. And a watered down christianity past the point of no longer being an “enemy” of science,

    “I will confess, the reason why I think we should include this God is because it is more compelling. ”

    In other words, because your gut and your very nature compels you to. Don’t worry bro, the aetheists know already. You evolved, some people argue, specifically to believe these things. Specifically you have an evolved inate belief in “agency” being behind everything, include the rustling of the tall grasses, so that you don’t get eaten by a tiger hiding in the tall grasses etc. And that is specifically so because you fear the agency, i.e. the tiger. It is ok brosef, nobody blames you for it, they simply ask that you attempt to rise above it. Set your inate belief in agency aside and take a look at the world around you.

    In any event, this is all just more boring, rehashed ad infinitum, “arguments” and “beliefs” that simply never needed to be reposted because everyone knows all about it already. Except for that novel fiction part you wrote about our being starstuff being central to the christian narrative. I found that relatively entertaining although I must have missed the verses about it in the bible!

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    • Haha. You really seem to be “skippin'” pretty closely for such boring stuff. 🙂

      Yes, yes, I know the usual objections, which is why I started out with yesterday’s post, more on hermeneutics, and why I ended with this word on “evidence”. I get where you’re coming from. I do. I feel that pull in me, and I completely understand that way of looking at the world. I’m not unsympathetic. But here’s what I wrote on a Facebook thread today:

      “Before the Enlightenment, no one would talk in the terms or criteria you all are using. Perhaps you think that the Enlightenment really is the end-all-be-all of our pursuit of Truth, but even secular post-modernism has exposed the weaknesses of that perspective. As I’ve said, this hyper-rational perspective is not only in the extreme minority historically, but philosophically is outdated. You all need an account for why this view is the ground upon which this discussion takes places, rather than simply stomping your feet and insisting over and over that I use your undefended criteria to offer even alternatives. You’re asking “give me evidence that evidence isn’t the highest purveyor of Truth.” Do you see the silliness and circularity of that?”

      I know it seems crazy. I know it seems arbitrary. But the “sense” and epistemology of Christianity, unfortunately, is something that makes more sense form within than from without. You can read countless conversion stories from former Atheists that say this. So yes, these posts are going to seem ridiculous to you, depending on your own epistemological commitments.

      From within the spiritual change of Christianity, God becomes an a priori of reason and not the conclusion of it. We begin with a knowledge of who God is, and yeah, with the stated (and not logically deduced) assumption that God is the starting point, and then as our understanding of the world is refined, we have the freedom as Christians to theorize about how God and his world might interact (as in the theological physics paper), but even then, in the long run, we don’t make those musings dogma.

      So yeah, Christians through history have, with their more limited understandings of the world, used their freedom to postulate about the theological underpinnings of the universe. When those understandings have been shown to be wrong, the Church has been flexible (mostly) with the specifics even as she has maintained the assumption of God’s presence in the process. And yeah, that presence is not based on material evidence. I’m okay with that being the case. You’re not. You probably think that’s silly, small-minded, illogical, baseless, and a desperate attempt to hold on to some sort of sense of identity or security that religion provides me–no matter how deluded I have to let myself become.

      This is what also gives Christians the freedom to understand evolution in new ways. That book I linked to, “Perspectives on an Evolving Creation”, is one of the most formative books I’ve ever read, and it’s all about this. And, in fact, that whole “The history of the world in Christ because of evolution” thing you mocked so much was stolen straight from that book, especially an article written by a Johns Hopkins physicist and ordained Lutheran pastor on how evolution informs our Christology.

      I’ll be talking about this tomorrow, but the Bible never claims for itself special phenomenological knowledge or insight into the scientific workings of the world. Modernist fundamentalists make this claim, but even as far back as the ancient Jewish interpreters and early Christian Church Fathers, there was a belief that Genesis was not history or science. Origen even wrote this:

      “For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? and that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? and again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally.”

      But still, concerning how Christians make these sorts of claims from the Bible, there is a consistent belief that this idea of “salvation” is something that the entire cosmos and creation experiences the benefit of, and the whole destination of redemption is what’s called a “New Creation”. And so, evolution provides us with a framework to understand how a (divine) human’s death and resurrection can have implications for the rest of the created world. It’s not a crazy or extremely deviant theological idea.

      Yeah, the story of Abraham says he was in Ur of the Chaldeans, which was Ancient Babylon.

      Yes, the OT is a “love story between God and his special people”, but the point I was making is the same that the Bible explicitly makes time and time again: these people were “special” not because of ANYTHING having to do with them, but simply because God had chosen them. It wasn’t because they were powerful, influential, or large. Applying it to this post, I’d go on to say that God’s choosing is not based on evolutionary fitness, what “stuff” one is made of, or physical location in the universe.

      And concerning Beauty, I’ll quote a friend who commented on this post on Facebook:

      “I think the difference is that, for Christians, beauty and goodness and truth and life are all abstract concepts made real in the faith. Christianity can put meaning toward this, and can transform people’s lives because of the message itself. That’s not the case with atheism. That’s not to say that atheists can’t appreciate beauty or find meaning, etc., it just means that atheists need to do so outside of the framework of atheism.

      Case in point: there are no atheist ethics (i.e. no ethics derived from atheism). There are atheist ethicists, but there’s no moral weight to atheism that demands humanism in the way that there’s moral weight to Christianity that demands humanism.

      I think the same goes for aesthetics as well.”

      And lastly, concerning the death, suffering, extinction stuff, just follow the links I provide in the post for thoughts on that.

      Thanks again for commenting!

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      • “As I’ve said, this hyper-rational perspective is not only in the extreme minority historically, but philosophically is outdated. ”

        Of course it is, because, a. 99% of the world’s population are literally incapable of understanding it to the depth necessary to adopt the view as their own naturally and b. philosophers have made a living for thousands of years spouting garbage words that they feel like are important but really have 0 relevance to anything other than how people choose to order their affairs due to the acceptance of the aforementioned words. And the worst thing about b is that people believe their words and then the words take on a special significance simply because people believe them. Stoicism, o m g. Let’s not go down the philosophy path.

        “You’re asking “give me evidence that evidence isn’t the highest purveyor of Truth.” ”

        I’m not sure why you asked that, but I certainly didn’t ask that of you.

        “But the “sense” and epistemology of Christianity, unfortunately, is something that makes more sense form within than from without”

        Brother in Christ, I know all about being within. Trust me. 20 some odd years and I still can’t really shake it. My whole family is mired in it. I’ll never be entirely free of it the rest of my life pretty much no matter what. Even while the stories and other stuff that goes on there (especially literalism/inerrancy) sounds absolutely absurd to my adult ears.

        “You can read countless conversion stories from former Atheists that say this.”

        Surface atheists. People who don’t really understand what they’re talking about even as they parrot it. To a man that is what I find the people who convert into christianity from atheism are. At least “new atheism” shall we say.

        “From within the spiritual change of Christianity, God becomes an a priori of reason and not the conclusion of it.”

        Which is precisely why it is so absurd 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 How you can know this and remain devout is quite beyond me Paul.

        “We begin with a knowledge of who God is,”

        Let me guess, he’s the “agency” behind the rustling of the bushes hiding a tiger amirite? I think I’m unfortunately right 😦

        “So yeah, Christians through history have, with their more limited understandings of the world, used their freedom to postulate about the theological underpinnings of the universe. ”

        Christians weren’t the only ones brosef, the Big J himself did it on occasion. His provincial roots, his “being a man” (or more likely a made up man made up by provincial people) show through quite clearly.

        “And yeah, that presence is not based on material evidence. I’m okay with that being the case. You’re not.”

        Brosef I’m not really all that upset about the lack o material evidence although sure that is an issue. The part I’m upset about is that this is the exact same thing that alllllllll the religions try to do 😦 And not only that, but also I’m a bit upset about them simultaneously telling us that god is present in all things, such as cancer, the workings of far away galaxies (that’s a biggie), alien worlds perhaps harboring life and/or other unexplored wonders, and all these things that HE REMAINS STUBBORNLY MUM ABOUT when his even slipping us the barest hint about the scientific method etc. would have saved countless lives over the last couple of centuries that he has existed (you know, since he first appeared around 4k years ago or whatever). Oh, and not to mention the face that “el” appears to have been nothing more than the chief god of the canannites and then seemed to have merged with Yahweh to become super cool El-Shaddy (el-shaddai) super transformer god. Check out this article for what is probably the oldest picture of god. check him out, he’s the one in the middle at the top between two lions in a tophat.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_(deity)

        And you can look around for the archeological books that talk about his probable mutation/merging with yahweh which was common back then. I mean, it all looks so banal, including the actual dug-up history of the israelite cave people (which was literally what they were, even in Big J’s time and even though they did have some structures) so very much like all the other religions that spring up from obvious and ridiculous origins.

        “You probably think that’s silly, small-minded, illogical, baseless, and a desperate attempt to hold on to some sort of sense of identity or security that religion provides me–no matter how deluded I have to let myself become.”

        Nah, I think you’re probably just not ready yet. It’s alright bro, I took my time as well. And I’ll probably never be really free of it. “Show me the boy and I’ll show you the man” really does work. By this point in your life if you ever do manage to break away it will be a tepid breaking. Most likely anyway. Let’s be honest, I’d like nothing more than for it to all be so wonderful and simple again! Have you seen the women at the churches in my area? I’ve been a few times and let me just say YOWZ. The quality is so HIGH. Of course there is that whole delusion thing, but meh, in the big picture who cares? We all delude ourselves some.

        My bad on Ur, but boy, the story of abraham inventing an imaginary friend/god to replace his father’s idols is pretty hilarious isn’t it? Talk about strength for living! Don’t have a god? Don’t have a nation? INVENT ONE OUTTA THIN AIR MO FO! He’s a doer, that much you’ve got to give him. If you haven’t read the story I suggest you look it up. It’s almost as good of fiction as the story you just made up in this thread.

        “but the point I was making is the same that the Bible explicitly makes time and time again: these people were “special” not because of ANYTHING having to do with them, but simply because God had chosen them.”

        And so what bro? They’re special because he chose them instead of anything intrinsic? Who cares? You’re still saying they’re special, he’s still saying they’re not. Keep in mind you think He “chose” a thin film of a quark of the earth in the atom of the solar system etc. up to the size of the universe being god’s house. That’s what you think he “chose”. Some sht so small compared to his creation that he’d have to “bust his microscope out” just to see it. Let’s just be honest, if the ancient romans knew what we do about cosmology there would be no Christianity today. The whole concept of a god makes sooooo much more sense when your entire cosmos consists of the ground, the sky and the stuff you see between it with the stars being nothing more than little blips on a celestial crystal globe or whatever. Besides, frankly, I’d think he’d like to chill out with galaxies more.

        And yes I didn’t skip as much on this post since you at least attempted, amateurishly, to actually respond to some of the post. And I had to say something about that fiction you just made up that, so far as I know, is heresy in all institutionalized church. It’s a hoot.

        Check it out! It’s abraham’s house! That’s where god was probably dreamed up!

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ur

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        • Well, we’ll see if I ever “come to” 🙂

          But in the meantime, I’ll let you know that I hold all these convictions on the existence and logical primacy of God all while granting the very human and developmental origins of Yahwism. I believe that the first “Jews” were not a homogeneous ethnic people, but emerged from a high diversity of people who had gathered in the foothills of Canaan during the intensely violent time of the 1400 to 1200 BCE’s. It was a development of El theology (as you said) and perhaps a core group of these people were a small band of escaped Semites from Egypt, as was common at the time. As ANE myths and stories of conquest and law came together, they retold the stories through this new interpretation of El as a god who served those that were lowest in society (an idea perhaps imported by these slaves). And Yahweh worked within this, revealing himself slowly and subtly, more through developments in theology over time, rather than flash-bang sort of stuff. Yahweh allowed clarity on who he was to be more of an emergent property than delivering it from on high, on until the point that he revealed himself and his nature most clearly in Jesus Christ.

          So yeah, I have no illusions about the Bible. It’s a theological interpretation of the cultural identity formation of the people of God as they were impacted by and communed with this one true God–even when they still had misunderstandings about him or attributed things to him that were wrong (which could only be fully known once the truest revelation of God, Jesus Christ, was known). I know there’s no evidence for nearly anything in the OT before King David (though the Merneptah Stele is fascinating). I know that the OT was a continuously revised, reinterpreted, and tweaked thing, and that its final form wasn’t even established until after Christianity was founded.

          And yet this Bible is still the primary means by which this God still meets with his people. The term “inspiration” is not defined in the Bible, and even when Paul says that, he’s referring to the Septuagint–a really crappy translation that differs greatly from our modern OT, and so “inspiration” can’t mean “original manuscripts” or “all neat and tidy and perfect, with hidden scientific messages to give us”. All inspiration seems to mean is that it contains the breath of God. The Bible itself is not itself the breath of God, nor does it claim to be. It is the means through which that breath is breathed, in a profoundly spiritual way (cue sarcastic remark from our venerable high-brow bored commenter, “meat”). The reinterprets and twists itself and its own words time and time again. And yet, it still asserts a unique place in the theology and spirituality of Christianity.

          And I’ll say that I am on an ordination track within a mainline denomination, the Reformed Church in America, the oldest denomination in America, and nothing I’ve said here or in the posts/comments above would keep me from hat ordination. And the evolution and Jesus stuff was written by an ordained Lutheran in an ecumenical collection essays form people saying and theologizing similar things, even with “conservative” theological philosophical perspectives. So no, nothing I’ve said is “heretical”, or so wacky and altered just to maintain some sort of credibility.

          So, believing all that, and it not shaking my faith (existential things shake it far more than archaeological or historical assertions), I can tell you that you and are looking at the same data set. The same facts. There’s no magic “perspective” or “fact” I can imagine that, even if I believed it, would fundamentally collapse my belief. I think Christianity is sturdy enough and big enough to handle all of these competing claims (as long as one still holds fast to the Resurrection of Christ).

          And so, if we even agree on the same facts and data concerning all of this stuff, why is it that we come to such radically different conclusions? I think it has to do with spiritual dispositions and not cognitive ones. What explanation do you offer?

          Facts and the evidence are not what change us, ultimately (see my previous boring post). In Matthew, even as Jesus is ascending, it says “and some still doubted”. People are watching Jesus float into the air, and they’re still like, “eh, I don’t know about this guy,” What explains that? It’s not the evidence or the facts. It’s something much deeper, more complex, and ultimately more fundamental to who we are as humans–and it’s something far deeper than mere cognition.

          Crap, I honestly went into that comment thinking it was going to be two brief paragraphs long. Sorry.

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      • Paul said: “So yeah, I have no illusions about the Bible. It’s a theological interpretation of the cultural identity formation of the people of God as they were impacted by and communed with this one true God–even when they still had misunderstandings about him or attributed things to him that were wrong”

        This is an excellent synopsis actually. If only more Christians thought as clearly as you do to see the broader picture. Very well stated Paul.

        “And yet this Bible is still the primary means by which this God still meets with his people. The term “inspiration” is not defined in the Bible, and even when Paul says that, he’s referring to the Septuagint–a really crappy translation that differs greatly from our modern OT, and so “inspiration” can’t mean “original manuscripts” or “all neat and tidy and perfect, with hidden scientific messages to give us”. All inspiration seems to mean is that it contains the breath of God. The Bible itself is not itself the breath of God, nor does it claim to be. It is the means through which that breath is breathed, in a profoundly spiritual way.”

        Again, this is beautiful. I wish more Christians were as sophisticated as you. Excellently said.

        “And so, if we even agree on the same facts and data concerning all of this stuff, why is it that we come to such radically different conclusions? I think it has to do with spiritual dispositions and not cognitive ones. What explanation do you offer?”

        This is a repeat from an earlier Facebook thread, but it might be that we weight the evidence differently (or that you’ve had some nebulous, uncategorized subjective experience I have not). For example, I do find a few theistic arguments somewhat understandable, I just don’t find them nearly as convincing as those against said position.

        The distance of our beliefs could of course also be attributable to a host of thinking errors that plague human cognition. Our predisposition to patternicity and agenticity, confirmation bias, availability bias, representativeness, anchoring and adjustment heuristics, etc. are mental shortcuts and biases and that can and do warp our thinking every day, as Tversky, Kahneman and Ariely have spent their lifetimes making clear. Our brains are not perfect, and seldom are we aware of the full range of cognitive biases and thinking fallacies to which we succumb regularly, especially since some of them are subconscious, all of which can operate at different frequencies from person to person. No one is exempt from their grasp.

        From what we know about human cognition, this is an important angle from which to approach such questions, and certainly ought not be left off the table. The more cognizant we are of these things the better, and some of these pitfalls can indeed be corrected for.

        For example, in Eric Reitan’s book, /Is God A Delusion/, Reitan concedes that the atheist interpretation of reality is rational (i.e., he admits that a person can fulfill all his epistemic duties and arrive at the conclusion that there is no God). What he wants to do in his book, rather, is argue that certain forms of religious belief are also rational.

        So at bottom, it might come down to Bayesianism-how much weight we assign certain evidences, criteria and arguments, mixed with a little bit of wish fulfillment, cognitive biases and epistemic compartmentalization.

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  2. “But this view of the world, as I’ve been repeating over and over again, is one that doesn’t explain our intuitions, isn’t beautiful, doesn’t offer a story that makes sense of our existential realities, and does not inspire and give strength for life to be lived as we believe it is the most fulfilling to live it.”

    I’m pretty sure that in order: chemical interactions in the brain, trees/landscapes/sunsets etc., I can write you a story if you’d like, and finally that is true, it doesn’t give “strength for life”. Though I should hasten to add, the story I will write for you might offer you strength for life. Although, truthfully, if you like the biblical stories you can just adopt those stories for strength for living while adopting a more realistic approach to understanding the universe and become, dare I say it? “Spritual” lol.

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  3. So any well-written fiction is real and true? Any pleasant idea we find beautiful is accurate? How is this different from a delusion or wishful thinking?

    As for atheism not being beautiful or explaining anything, this is merely your own ignorance. You have to actually step into a worldview and look around for awhile to see if it’s positive or negative, and I can hardly think of an atheist I have ever known or heard of who did not think the world was beautiful, and find themselves waxing poetic about the beauty of nature. Search youtube for “greatest sermon ever”, the top result (which has been the top result for years now) is an atheist astrophysicist talking about the beauty of the cosmos.

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    • “You have to actually step into a worldview and look around for awhile to see if it’s positive or negative…”

      Totally agree. Well, as long as we agree that that cuts both ways.

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      • You do know most western atheists, at least at this moment of time are former theists, right? I was raised believing in god, went to church, attended a christian school, prayed, questioned and stopped believing. This was accompanied by a brief sense of feeling “lost” followed by a sense of wonder and feeling like my eyes were open for the first time. I recently read an article about her extremely religious upbringing by the daughter of CARM evangelist matt slick who described atheism as setting her free and as being the single most positive experience of her life. Generally the more oppressive a religious upbringing is the better “losing” faith feels. I’ve known devout people who lost faith and were astonished at what little a difference it made.

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        • Oh i don’t doubt that! Please don’t think i think every atheist is miserable, immoral, or unable to know and create beauty. I know atheists that feel very free and clear and i’m sure must don’t have some constant inner angst about God. I’m sorry if it sounds like that’s what I’m saying.

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    • Oh absolutely! I remember actually crying in my Bio 101 class in college over the beauty and wonder of the everything. I quoted this below, but I’ll repeat here. it’s a comment about this that a friend posted on Facebook. It speaks well to this:

      “I think the difference is that, for Christians, beauty and goodness and truth and life are all abstract concepts made real in the faith. Christianity can put meaning toward this, and can transform people’s lives because of the message itself. That’s not the case with atheism. That’s not to say that atheists can’t appreciate beauty or did meaning, etc., it just means that atheists need to do so outside of the framework of atheism.

      Case in point: there are no atheist ethics (i.e. no ethics derived from atheism). There are atheist ethicists, but there’s no moral weight to atheism that demands humanism in the way that there’s moral weight to Christianity that demands humanism.

      I think the same goes for aesthetics as well.”

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      • “Oh absolutely! I remember actually crying in my Bio 101 class in college over the beauty and wonder of the everything. I quoted this below, but I’ll repeat here. it’s a comment about this that a friend posted on Facebook. It speaks well to this: “I think the difference is that, for Christians, beauty and goodness and truth and life are all abstract concepts made real in the faith. Christianity can put meaning toward this, and can transform people’s lives because of the message itself. That’s not the case with atheism. That’s not to say that atheists can’t appreciate beauty or did meaning, etc., it just means that atheists need to do so outside of the framework of atheism.”

        Atheism isn’t a framework or a worldview, it’s a description of the one thing we don’t believe, not what we do. If you mean existentialism I don’t see why someone needs to believe in an invisible man in the sky for a garden to be beautiful or love to mean something. And speaking as an atheist, I do not think the world is any less beautiful or meaningful than I did as a theist. You are confusing the lens through which you view something and the thing itself. Do you think that I don’t feel the things you feel or appreciate the things you appreciate? This is ethnocentrism, nothing more.

        “Case in point: there are no atheist ethics (i.e. no ethics derived from atheism).”

        There are no ethics derived from non-belief in unicorns either.

        “There are atheist ethicists, but there’s no moral weight to atheism that demands humanism in the way that there’s moral weight to Christianity that demands humanism.”

        There is a weight to the human condition which demands many, many things and is as far as I can tell, the basis of all morality. Our worldviews and philosophies can refine our morals but the trunk of the tree is the human condition, pain, pleasure, loss, fear, sympathy, empathy, social instincts and so on.

        “I think the same goes for aesthetics as well.”

        I don’t see what aesthetics have to do with religious ideology.

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        • No, not at all. I promise. I am saying, though, that i can’t imagine a non-theistic understanding of the world in which these ideas can be accounted for. I do think that atheists experience these things IN SPITE of their atheism, and not because of it. They are using, as one theologian called it, the “borrowed capital” which Christianity gives a full account of.

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          • This is just ethnocentrism, as I said. Christians hold no copyright on meaning or morality. Judaism, christianity and islam have existed for a blink of an eye in comparison to the human race. And what can’t be accounted for? We don’t understand everything but I don’t know any mystery that being christian ever solved.

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  5. “The Bible itself is not itself the breath of God, nor does it claim to be.”

    That’s true Paul, it claims that the word WAS God, not that it is the breath of God. In any event, it is good to see that you’re at least partially accepting of how Yahweh came to be, even though you cling to the notion that he is in fact real instead of a fancy of some ancient peoples no different from any other of the millions we have dreamt up.

    http://biblehub.com/john/1-1.htm

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  6. “And so, if we even agree on the same facts and data concerning all of this stuff, why is it that we come to such radically different conclusions? I think it has to do with spiritual dispositions and not cognitive ones. What explanation do you offer? ”

    Well there is one rather large cognitive difference. I’m able to notice how much Yahweh resembles all the rest of the “gods” dreamt up back in the bronze age. You on the other hand, appear not to be able to.

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  7. Two final things:

    “In Matthew, even as Jesus is ascending, it says “and some still doubted”. People are watching Jesus float into the air, and they’re still like, “eh, I don’t know about this guy,” What explains that? It’s not the evidence or the facts. It’s something much deeper, more complex, and ultimately more fundamental to who we are as humans–and it’s something far deeper than mere cognition.”

    What explains it? Perhaps 1. They couldn’t see that well due to the sun etc (which indeed was probably what it was that was ascending anyway, if anything did) 2. It never happened and is a made up story (kind of a biggie you cannot seem to ever wrap your mind around) or 3. Like everyone else at all rational they would rather first check to see if they are hallucinating rather than belief the laws of the natural order have been suspended for their benefit (I stole that from Dawkins btw).

    And finally, if your new theology that you mentioned previously is part of an evolving Lutheran doctrine then brother, I like where you guys are going. Get Bishop Spong in charge and you guys may well yet pull some christianity into the 21st century. You know, with all these after the fact new explanations.

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