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Response To an Angry Christian (2 of 2)

Let’s put on our asbestos suits again and finish with Mark Shea’s article “Padding the Case for the New Atheism.” Part 1 of my response is here.

Mark claims that reasonable arguments for atheism boil down to the Problem of Evil and “Natural Explanations are Sufficient.” About these, he concludes,

[These] are all she wrote as far as good atheist arguments. … [They are] the only two really reasonable objections to God’s existence there ever have been or ever will be.

And why is this? Mark won’t tell us. I guess it’s obvious or something. As for additional arguments, he dismisses them out of hand as “fallacies.” But he deigns to gives his critique of three more, so let’s make the most of this opportunity.

Argument from Intellectual Maturity

In Aquinas-esque form, he gives the argument as follows:

It seems that God does not exist, because children, fools, and other simpletons believe He does. Therefore, God is a delusion concocted by mental and emotional juveniles.

I’ve never made this argument, nor have I heard anyone who has.

Next, he concludes that in God is not Great, Christopher Hitchens “reveals his own atheist convictions to be entirely faith-based.” (I remember some actual arguments in Hitchens’ book, but perhaps we’re referring to different books.)

Argumentum Contra Suckers

Mark gives the next fallacious atheist argument.

It seems that God does not exist, for shepherd children, peasants, polyester-clad tourists from Jersey, and other people I regard as suckers say they see miracles. But any God worthy of the name would submit to my demand for experimental proof, not manifest Himself to such tacky people. God does not submit to my demands, therefore God does not exist.

Or, we could just drop the snarkiness and address head-on the Problem of Divine Hiddenness: if God exists and wants us to know him, why is he so hidden? Why the need for faith? Why not just come out and show us?

Yes, Mark’s lampoon of this argument is fallacious, but, unless Mark’s goal is simply to write a humor piece, this problem actually exists and deserves serious discussion. We see this problem in Mother Teresa’s agony from unanswered prayer and the plaintive beginning of Psalm 22:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.

Mark isn’t interested in acknowledging that this is a real problem for honest Christians. Instead, he brings up the miracles of Jesus. First, he notes that Jesus said,

An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah (Mt 12:39).

And then he notes the contradiction. Jesus says that he does healing miracles

so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins (Matt. 9:6).

Mark wonders what we conclude from this. How about that the Bible is contradictory? Or that this suggests different authors or copyists modified a consistent original? Or that competing stories from the decades of oral tradition were too precious to harmonize away, so they were all included when Matthew was finally written?

Wrong—Mark tells us that this is too obvious a problem to have been an accident, and we must presuppose that it all makes sense and give it a deeper reading.

Mark picks another atheist to bash when he finds a columnist who was unimpressed by the 2006 story of a nun who claimed that her Parkinson’s disease was healed after the heavenly intervention of Pope John Paul II. The columnist dismissed the claims out of hand, and perhaps with good reason. A diagnosis of Parkinson’s can only be confirmed by an autopsy, and it’s possible that her illness was something else. She was reported to have had a relapse. Perhaps the columnist’s certainty was misplaced, but it was certainly a good bet.

You don’t like this miracle? Mark lists others: the stigmata of Pio of Pietrelcina, the miracle healings of Lourdes, the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima. One can be sure that he’s got plenty more, and that’s the problem. You poke holes in one claim, and he’ll just throw another one at you.

Let me propose another approach: Mark, you take the burden of proof. Don’t complain about skepticism; skepticism is appropriate in response to a miracle claim. Show us a miracle that has passed scientific scrutiny—something that, if true, would overturn some substantial part of our scientific understanding of nature. Until we have that independent confirmation, I won’t accept any as true. Nor is it my job to do the investigation.

Did you ever wonder why the miracles accepted by the church are not accepted by science? What does this tell us?

One problem with Christians citing miracles is that they have nothing on the line. If you poke holes in one claim, they’ll just bring up another from their Mary Poppins carpet bag of miracles. What I’d like to see is some commitment. I’d like a Christian to say, “This miracle claim is for real. No natural explanation explains it or could explain it. I’m so certain that I rest my faith on it. Show me scientific consensus that I’m wrong, and I drop my faith.”

We never see this. Maybe claims of evidence are only for atheists’ benefit.

Argument from Chronological Snobbery

It seems God does not exist, because if he did exist he would meet my demand for proof by giving a biblical author knowledge — such as the soil composition of Mars or the design of a microchip — impossibly ahead of the Bronze Age. He has not done this, therefore God does not exist.

Wow—is this guy blind to the arguments that are actually leveled against Christianity? Or maybe it’s a genre mistake, and I’m misunderstanding a humor article.

Yes, it would be compelling evidence if the Bible contained scientific knowledge unknown to people of the Ancient Near East. No, that this isn’t the case doesn’t prove that God doesn’t exist.

He talks about Catholics’ belief in progressive revelation. This is simply vaccine against a plain reading of the Bible, which documents the evolution of the unchanging Creator of the universe.

He asks whether atheists would like to have seen the rejected theories of bodily humors, leeches, or luminiferous aether in the Bible. No, atheists would like to see something scientific found in the Bible before it was discovered by science. Anything.

What we see instead are the superstitions and pre-scientific musings of an early Iron Age people—a global flood (Gen. 6–8), a geocentric universe (Ecc. 1:5), a belief that what animals see while mating affects their young (Gen. 30:37–9), and so on. Sure, that doesn’t prove that God didn’t want to hide his majesty behind superstitions of the time, but it makes the Bible look like just another ancient book of mythology.

Mark concludes:

There are two sorts of questioners, roughly speaking: those who ask to find things out and those who ask to keep from finding things out.

Atheists are apparently in the latter camp, but Mark is in neither. He’s got it figured out.

Mark has given us two reasonable (but wrong) arguments for atheism and assured us that the rest are all fallacious.

Really? Atheism has nothing else to offer to the conversation? Not that polytheism in the Old Testament shows early Judaism to be just another Canaanite religion? Not that God’s own prohibitions against other religions show it to be cut from the same cloth and just as fictitious? Not that many Christians have insulated their religion from critique, turning it from an evidenced-based viewpoint to just a belief? Not that God’s support of slavery shows the Bible to be nothing more than the history of a not-particularly-enlightened tribe? Not that the Bible shows Yahweh to be vulnerable?

These are a few posts from my blog from just the last month. I’m sure there are lots more.

In this article, I find Mark’s arguments unconvincing and his style obnoxious. He has scolded me in the past for being offensive myself. I’d reach more Christians with a more likeable approach, he says.

He’s right, and that’s bitter medicine that’s actually on target. I think he might want to take a dose himself.

Happiness is the only good.
The time to be happy is now.
The place to be happy is here.
The way to be happy is to make others so.
— Robert Green Ingersoll

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About Bob Seidensticker
  • Jason

    In my Latin class today, we read a passage from Cicero where he records an anecdote about Cyrus’ the Great’s dying words to his three sons. Cyrus attempts to comfort them by arguing for the existence of his soul, which he insists will continue after his death. His argument strikes me as typical of the types of arguments made for God by Christians.

    “My sons, you should not be sad. I am now going to death, but part of me, my soul, will remain forever. While I was with you in life, you did not see my soul but you understood from my actions that it exists in my body. Therefore, believe that the same soul will exist after my death even if you do not see it…” Cicero Sen. 22.79-81

    Convincing? This argument uses the empirical to argue for the invisible and supernatural and really boils down to, “if you can’t see it, it must exist!” Also, this argument is really no different from many Christian arguments for god that attempt to prove the creator through his creation (e.g. watchmaker argument: you can’t see god, but you can see what he’s done! Therefore, you know he’s real!). Considering that Cicero lived before Christ, I guess Christian apologists really haven’t come up with much to add to the overall debate. That’s why it amuses me to see Shea acting as if Christian apologetic arguments are so superior to Atheist apologetic arguments. Let’s keep it simple, folks. How many people have actually seen someone walk on water? Oh, none? Case closed.

  • John Kesler

    Bob Seidensticker wrote:
    He asks whether atheists would like to have seen the rejected theories of bodily humors, leeches, or luminiferous aether in the Bible. No, atheists would like to see something scientific found in the Bible before it was discovered by science. Anything.

    What we see instead are the superstitions and pre-scientific musings of an early Iron Age people—a global flood (Gen. 6–8), a geocentric universe (Ecc. 1:5), a belief that what animals see while mating affects their young (Gen. 30:37–9), and so on. Sure, that doesn’t prove that God didn’t want to hide his majesty behind superstitions of the time, but it makes the Bible look like just another ancient book of mythology.

    KESLER
    What I find telling are the things that the Israelites didn’t know, but could have known, that don’t require scientific equipment or divine revelation. In 500 B.C., Pythagorus theorized that the earth is round based on the appearance of ships coming back to port: the ships’ tops, then sails, then hull become visible. In 300 B.C., Aristotle observed that the earth casts a round shadow on the moon.

    • Greg G

      Good point, John.

      Eratosthenes estimated the circumference of the Earth fairly accurately in the third century BC. If he had a better way to measure the distance between two cities, he would have been more precise.

    • Jason

      “What I find telling are the things that the Israelites didn’t know, but could have known, that don’t require scientific equipment or divine revelation.”
      These ideas you mention, John, don’t require scientific equipment or revelation but they do require communication with sometimes distant peoples, something that was not always possible even for ancient people living relatively close to one another. The Israelites were certainly not the only ancient mediterranean people who didn’t know about Pythagoras or Eratosthenes.

      Actually, there’s no reason the Bible should contain a record of all the scientific knowledge that ancient Israelites had access to. It stands to reason that the Israelites learned a lot about astronomy/astrology through their contact with Babylonians (who were praised throughout antiquity for the knowledge of the stars). I’m not sure at the moment if they had a heliocentric view or not? It is certainly possible that some Israelites were aware of (and possibly believed) some of the theories John and Greg name, but there is no reason to expect that they should have ended up as scripture. This is really a separate question. The tragedy is that contemporary believers think that the Bible should be an authority, e.g., on scientific questions.

      • John Kesler

        It isn’t just that the Bible doesn’t reveal everything that the Israelites know about cosmology. It’s that some of what the Israelites believed was wrong but comports with their ANE neighbors:

        Achtemeier, Paul J (Ed) The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (New York: HarperCollins, 1996):
        The Hebrew universe. The ancient Hebrews imagined the world as flat and round, covered by the great dome of the firmament which was held up by mountain pillars (Job 26.11; 37.18). Above the firmament and under the earth was water, divided by God at creation (Gen 1.6, 7; cf Pss 24.2; 148.4). The upper waters were joined with the waters of the primordial deep during the Flood; the rains were believed to fall through windows in the firmament (Gen 7.11; 8.2). The sun, moon, and stars moved across or were fixed in the firmament (Gen 1.14-19; Ps 19.4, 6). Within the earth lay Sheol, the realm of the dead (Num 16.30-33; Isa 14.9, 15).” (p.339)

        Additional refences can be found here:
        http://web.archive.org/web/20090809230338/http://sol.sci.uop.edu/~jfalward/ThreeTieredUniverse.htm

        • Jason

          I agree that the Bible gets lots and lots of stuff wrong and that’s a great reason not to treat it like a science textbook. I just wanted to emphasize that there is a difference between what actual ancient Israelites believed over time in real history (which went through drastic changes in different times and places) and what we see in the OT/NT, which are anthologies of texts from different times and places often reflecting different views. Not only that, the texts of the Bible as a whole have been anachronistically edited. So they really aren’t a history of belief. They are a group of edited snapshots. Your citation from Achtemeier would be more accurate if it read, “In the Hebrew Bible we find a range of views including: flat earth, etc.” For example, some actual Israelites at one time probably believed in Yahweh but not Elohim, and vice versa. Once the OT is edited, these become the same. So the literary evidence is not equivalent to the history of belief.

          I love ancient texts of all kinds, including the Bible. It is not inferior as an ancient text at all (Have you read Hesiod’s Theogony?? Not exactly a paradigm for empirical science.). I just want to emphasize that the problem here is not with the content of this particular ancient text, but with the use of it by religious people.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          Fascinating stuff. I’ll have to write about Hebrew cosmology sometime soon.

        • John Kesler

          Bob Seidensticker wrote:
          Fascinating stuff. I’ll have to write about Hebrew cosmology sometime soon.

          KESLER
          And oldie but goodie is Joshua 10, in which Joshua commands the sun t0 stand still. Christian apologists have tried mightily to show that the text doesn’t really mean what it says, but unfortunately for them another biblical author says that the day was indeed lengthened:

          Sirach 46:1-4
          46Joshua son of Nun was mighty in war,
          and was the successor of Moses in the prophetic office.
          He became, as his name implies,
          a great saviour of God’s elect,
          to take vengeance on the enemies that rose against them,
          so that he might give Israel its inheritance.
          2 How glorious he was when he lifted his hands
          and brandished his sword against the cities!
          3 Who before him ever stood so firm?
          For he waged the wars of the Lord.
          4 Was it not through him that the sun stood still
          and one day became as long as two?

          Even Protestants, who don’t accept Sirach (aka Ecclesiasticus) as part of “the Bible,” have to acknowledge that Sirach is an early Jewish text (second century BCE), which interprets the text for what it says. I have additional information in the following thread, including quotations from the Babylonian Talmud and other sources:
          http://www.freeratio.org/thearchives/showthread.php?t=121086

        • Jason

          Kesler,

          Since Joshua was written way before the Wisdom of Sirach, I’m not sure why you think you have countered the contemporary Christian interpretation of Joshua by showing what an (apocryphal) Hellenistic Jewish author thought about it several hundred years after Joshua was written. I see that there is an inconsistency in the Christian interp (since they seem to pick and choose when things become metaphors), but I don’t understand this approach of trying to beat Christians at their own game. It’s as if you are endowing Sirach with authority in order show Christians the “real” meaning of Joshua. And as you said, Protestants don’t accept Sirach, so if you’re going to beat them at their own game, then this is really only relevant in a debate with a Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Christian.

          Basically, what your passage from Sirach shows us is that around the second 2nd BCE at least some Jews read Joshua this way. If your link takes us to further confirmation of this interp of Joshua in the Talmud, well then that just confirms that another groups of Jews read Joshua in this way at some other time (depending on where in the Talmud your citations are). Contemporary (and ancient) Christians read plenty of passages in the OT differently from ancient Jews.

        • John Kesler

          Jason wrote:
          Kesler,
          Since Joshua was written way before the Wisdom of Sirach, I’m not sure why you think you have countered the contemporary Christian interpretation of Joshua by showing what an (apocryphal) Hellenistic Jewish author thought about it several hundred years after Joshua was written…

          KESLER
          The quotation from Sirach, which as I mentioned is part of “the Bible” for many Christians, is just one piece of evidence. In the above-referenced thread, I also quote the following explication of the text:

          Though it is true the verb dum (translated ‘stand still’ in Joshua’s call) means basically “be silent” and so could refer to being silent in other ways than retardation of movement, still the verb amadh is also used (twice in v. 13) and it definitely indicates a change in pattern of movement. Further, verse 13 closes with the expression “and hasted not to go down,” where the word “hasted” (uz) again speaks of motion, and the phrase “to go down” (labho) is normally in reference to the sun setting. Still further, verse 14 states that
          this day was unique in history which suggests a major miracle occurred such as to the prolongation of a natural day. The extent of the prolongation can also be estimated. Since the hour was noon when Joshua voiced the call, and it was stated that the sun did not go down for “about a whole day” (keyom tamin), it is likely that the afternoon hours until sunset were prolonged twice their normal length. In other words, the total daylight hours of the day were one and one-half times normal (Leon Wood, A Survey of Israel’s History, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970, p. 181).

          The straightforward reading of the text is that the sun and moon held their positions in heaven until the Israelites had finished beating the Amorites, and the fact that other Jewish interpreters understood it this way certainly counts for something. The passage also claims that Yahweh was chucking hailstones on the Amorites from his vantage point in heaven (Joshua 10:11), so clearly we are out of the realm of the natural.

        • Jason

          “The quotation from Sirach, which as I mentioned is part of “the Bible” for many Christians, is just one piece of evidence….”

          Thanks Kessler. The close reading of Joshua you cited seems like a much more reasonable way to argue the “true” meaning of the passage about the sun. At least then you’re saying, “Hey there’s plenty of evidence that the original author of Joshua meant x, so why do you say it means y.” But again there is a small problem. Your argument assumes that the Christian you are debating with believes that the true interpretation is always the intent of the author of the text. And while that may often be true, it’s not necessarily true (esp with the OT). I would prefer to counter the Christian who reads this passage of Joshua metaphorically with other passages they read literally and ask them to provide an explanation for why one is read one way and one another. This would at least point out the inconsistency of interpretation. I might also point to Sirach to show that there have been very different interps of Joshua (and thus the notion of a fixed true meaning of the text is kind of silly).

        • Jason

          Kesler, that is. Sorry for the misspelling!

      • John Kesler

        It isn’t just that the Bible doesn’t reveal everything that the Israelites know about cosmology. It’s that some of what the Israelites believed was wrong but comports with their ANE neighbors:

        Achtemeier, Paul J (Ed) The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (New York: HarperCollins, 1996):
        The Hebrew universe. The ancient Hebrews imagined the world as flat and round, covered by the great dome of the firmament which was held up by mountain pillars (Job 26.11; 37.18). Above the firmament and under the earth was water, divided by God at creation (Gen 1.6, 7; cf Pss 24.2; 148.4). The upper waters were joined with the waters of the primordial deep during the Flood; the rains were believed to fall through windows in the firmament (Gen 7.11; 8.2). The sun, moon, and stars moved across or were fixed in the firmament (Gen 1.14-19; Ps 19.4, 6). Within the earth lay Sheol, the realm of the dead (Num 16.30-33; Isa 14.9, 15).” (p.339)

        Additional references can be found here:
        http://web.archive.org/web/20090809230338/http://sol.sci.uop.edu/~jfalward/ThreeTieredUniverse.htm

    • Jason

      I would also point out that most of the OT was more or less canonized by 500 BCE, prior to Pythagoras, Eratosthenes, and Aristotle. So it’s not really a fair criticism that the Bible doesn’t reflect their understanding of the world. If the NT had its own Genesis, it probably would have assimilated later scientific developments. After all, there is a quote to Aratus in the book of Acts (Aratus wrote an astronomical treatise in the Hellenstic period).

      • John Kesler

        Jason wrote:
        I would also point out that most of the OT was more or less canonized by 500 BCE, prior to Pythagoras, Eratosthenes, and Aristotle. So it’s not really a fair criticism that the Bible doesn’t reflect their understanding of the world.

        KESLER
        Your point would be valid if we were simply comparing earlier Israelite knowledge to later Greek knowledge, except for one thing: allegedly Yahweh, the God who made the universe was guiding the Israelites.

  • http://www.yeshua21.com Wayne

    As usual, you offer a good critique of exoteric Christianity–and having been a student of Spionza and Nietzsche and hermeneutician of suspicion in my own right for many years, I do know where you are coming from. But a more nuanced understanding of the tradition is possible. I have shared bits and pieces of it with you before and offer a portion of the most recent installment here (“One Life Divine”). Take what you like and leave the rest! :)

    For those who truly live within the Christian tradition, this paragraph from the The Roman Catholic Catechism offers a beautiful schematic representation of the REALITY of human existence:

    813 The Church is one because of her source: “the highest exemplar and source of this mystery is the unity, in the Trinity of Persons, of one God, the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.” The Church is one because of her founder: for “the Word made flesh, the prince of peace, reconciled all men to God by the cross, … restoring the unity of all in one people and one body.” The Church is one because of her “soul”: “It is the Holy Spirit, dwelling in those who believe and pervading and ruling over the entire Church, who brings about that wonderful communion of the faithful and joins them together so intimately in Christ that he is the principle of the Church’s unity.” Unity is of the essence of the Church.

    While some elements of this schematic may seem (at first glance) exclusive and sectarian, the TRUTH to which it points is, in the words of St. Augustine, common to all and chaste to each:

    [Truth] welcomes all her lovers who are in no way envious for her, and is common to all and chaste to each one ( On Free Choice, book 2, chapter 14).

    It is common to all and yet there is no guarantee it will be seen simply because we confess the name of Christ (or are baptized; or adopt a Christian creed; or believe as we are told regarding Jesus or the Bible). Conversely, this same truth seems to be intuited by many who are not all inclined to say, “Lord, Lord” — whether they prefer to remain nominally unaffiliated, perhaps; or whether they have been born and raised in another tradition, entirely, and have hardly heard the name of Christ.

    To be sure, the meaning of the word “Church” cannot be restricted to any organized, institutional religious body; and the precise meaning of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” may remain somewhat elusive. Nevertheless, whatever the circumstances in which we find ourselves– whether we are nominal Christians or not; whether we are ignorant of this tradition or not –the Truth toward which it points is nonetheless universal. It can be summarized as follows:

    1. Reality is One
    2. Reality is Intelligent
    3. Reality Appears Manifold

    Let us examine each one in turn…
    http://jeshua21.wordpress.com/additional-essays/one-life-divine/

    • Greg G

      The Roman Catholic Catechism offers a beautiful schematic representation of the REALITY of human existence:

      Your piece is funnier than Mark Shea’s.

      • http://www.yeshua21.com Wayne

        I hope you quoted him more accurately than you quoted me, above…

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Wayne:

      The Church is one because of her source: “the highest exemplar and source of this mystery is the unity, in the Trinity of Persons, of one God, the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.”

      Lots of believers could make this claim. The Pastafarians say that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is the source of all mystery, for example.

      OK, the Catholic church says it. Doesn’t make it especially believable.

      • http://www.yeshua21.com Wayne

        To see if the claim make sense, you have to follow the thread of the argument and the scriptures used to illustrate it:

        To be sure, the meaning of the word “Church” cannot be restricted to any organized, institutional religious body; and the precise meaning of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” may remain somewhat elusive. Nevertheless, whatever the circumstances in which we find ourselves– whether we are nominal Christians or not; whether we are ignorant of this tradition or not –the Truth toward which it points is nonetheless universal. It can be summarized as follows:

        1. Reality is One
        2. Reality is Intelligent
        3. Reality Appears Manifold

        http://jeshua21.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/reality-is-one/

        • Jason

          Wayne, I think I have some sense of what you’re getting at. Your three points (Reality is one, etc) are not wacky and not the kind of thing the Atheists around here are interested in debunking. The problem (and I think the reason you will be attacked) is that you see these observations about the world in terms of Christian metaphors that in the end seem unnecessary. I agree that the trinity and the church are interesting metaphors that could be used to illustrate your three points. The problem is that’s all they are: metaphors that illustrate. So in the end, it seems that you refer to esoteric Christian truth simply to salvage some aspect of Christianity. If your three points are true, why do they need all those metaphors to support them?

        • http://www.yeshua21.com Wayne

          Excellent question, Jason. I assure you, it’s not about savaging anything, but more about not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There was a time when we thought we understood plant nutrition (when we learned how to make chemical fertilizer). And there was a time when we thought we understood human nutrition (when we learned how to make baby formula and vitamins). But nature is rich and complex and multidimensional and, mostly, what we have proved is that we have a tendency to mistake the part for the whole. I think the 3 truths indicated offer a partial explanation for the persistance of various wisdom traditions around the world, including Christianity. But in addition, there seems to be a union that exists between the mind and the whole of nature such that it is possible to realize that we are, in fact, reconciled to God and Nature and One Another in a way that is counterintuitive to the egoic mind. The tradition teaches that to us in stories and pictures and, IMO, that is valuable– though it has also been misunderstood in some profoundly tragic ways. So I am all for ridding our tradition of doctrines of inerrancy–along with other incoherent and obviously coersive doctrines (e.g. those which are the chief contributors to “the problem of evil” and to intolerance with respect to other traditions). But at the same time, we have in Christianity what is still, in some respects a diverse and functioning set of institutions and traditions. I guess I think of myself as a reformer, of sorts. :)

          In a longer comment, which is awating moderation, I wrote: “[For those who] are really– sincerely –interested in knowing God, take time to notice the space in which your thoughts, perceptions, and sensations arise. Notice the stillnes in between each breath you breathe and the silence between each heart-beat. Notice how life IS– and continues TO BE –apart from the running mental commentary and the smug, self-satisfied sense of superiority that is typical of the egoic mind (Christian and atheist, alike). There is no need to read books and study theology. Just be still and know… Step beyond that which you “think” or “believe” (or disbelieve) and simply and humbly abide in the “I Am” presence which IS the living Christ…]”

          And that, I think, is what religion– or some type of spirituality –can point us to, that science, per se, cannot. We need not call this “Christ” or “God” –indeed, in a sense, “nothing” is as good a word as any… But IMO, this no-thing is the source of everything, including the meaning and purpose of our existence.

          http://jeshua21.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/living-faith-in-a-nutshell/

        • Jason

          Wayne said:
          “Excellent question, Jason. I assure you, it’s not about savaging anything, but more about not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. ”

          I agree that for many people the metaphors and traditions of Christianity are important. For those people some more intelligent and secularized religion may be a good thing (of course Unitarians and Episcopalians are already doing this). For other people, the religious imagery IS the bathwater, and it needs to be thrown out along with the dogma.

          “But in addition, there seems to be a union that exists between the mind and the whole of nature such that it is possible to realize that we are, in fact, reconciled to God and Nature and One Another in a way that is counterintuitive to the egoic mind.”

          Now you are using God as a metaphor for a certain kind of experience or natural reality in existence (as opposed to a supernatural). That’s fine, but it is indeed a metaphor to the extent that traditionally the word god refers to some kind of person. In other words, you have personified an abstract concept.

          “We need not call this “Christ” or “God” –indeed, in a sense, “nothing” is as good a word as any…”
          Exactly. So if we don’t have to, why do you do it? I think for many people it just creates more confusion because terms like God and Christ are so loaded with supernatural associations.

          I would ask you to consider whether or not what you are doing is simply a matter of projecting abstract concepts onto a religion rather than uncovering its true meaning. My feeling is that what you call esoteric Christianity is really just an attempt to reinvent Christianity. In other words, exoteric Christiantity, sadly, is the read deal. Esoteric Christianity is a tradition of people trying to stay inside the Christian tradition and reinvent it simultaneously.

          “I think the 3 truths indicated offer a partial explanation for the persistance of various wisdom traditions around the world, including Christianity.”

          I actually agree with the idea that in many religions we find elements of something we might call ethical or spiritual truth and that people have often simply accepted all the traditional dogma (i.e. the bathwater as you describe it) along with it. For example growing up in a fundamentalist religious environment and being very pious as a kid, I remember thinking that the apparent truth of ethical claims associated with Jesus (e.g. love your neighbor) seemed to justify the acceptance of all the supernatural doctrine that came with it.

          By the way, have you read Bede Griffiths. He was a Catholic missionary who lived in India and espoused views that sound very similar to yours. He talks about the trinity in terms of the Indian concepts sat/being (God), chit/knowledge (Jesus), and ananda/bliss (Holy Ghost). It’s all interesting stuff, but ultimately, I think, unnecessary.

        • http://www.yeshua21.com Wayne

          You points are well taken, Jason. And to be honest, I’m not sure if I know for certain which I am doing– eisegesis or exegesis –or even if it matters. All I know is that whereas I was blind, now I see, and I can’t help but share it in the best way I know how. “Take what you like and leave the rest” is an expression I use rather often, actually. Yes, I am familiar with Fr. Griffiths and others. My education has followed the following path:

          Christian fundamentalism => Neo-Platonic Christianity with a dash of Omar Khayyam (very subversive) => Spinoza => Biblical Criticism => Nietzsche => Idealism/Existentialism => The Perennial Philosophy (Aldous Huxley) => Eckhart Tolle => Non-Duality

          For the last 3 years, I have had opportunity to attend a Baptist church, again. That has resulted in my attempt to communicate as clearly as I can in that idiom. But that toward which I am pointing is truly universal. Whosover will may come and drink of the water of life freely! :)

          If you get a chance, listen to this talk by Alan Watts–I think you would enjoy it and it might help explain my approach to the practical questions you raise:
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s42V8BGBvTk

          p.s. if you’re on facebook, feel free to look me up–I appreciate your thoughtful question/insights…

  • Nox

    Being believed by fools doesn’t disqualify a god from existing.

    But one can’t help but notice this god of wisdom and truth can only find fools and liars to proclaim his message.

    If these people are getting their information directly from the designer, they should have better information than the rest of us. What christians claim is because of knowledge that’s been revealed to them they know how reality really works, and the rest of us don’t. But these people who claim advanced special knowledge can’t even seem to get the basics right.

  • Nox

    Bob,

    Apologetics are not intended to convince nonbelievers. They are intended to distract believers. The entire goal is to reassure people who already believe that there is no legitimate challenge to their faith.

    If they honestly represented the arguments skeptics have made, they would risk exposing the faithful to unanswerable challenges to their faith. Don’t expect them to do that any time soon.

    If Shea has scolded you for being offensive, it is probably because you made an argument he didn’t want people to hear.

    • http://www.yeshua21.com Wayne

      You’re right on the money with regard to most apologetics, Nox. But hat do you make of this representation of skeptical arguments:
      http://jeshua21.wordpress.com/skeptics-corner/critical-reflections-on-bible-based-belief-systems/

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Wayne: Could you summarize the argument for us?

        • http://www.yeshua21.com Wayne

          The doctrine of inerrancy, the problem of evil, and modern understandings of physics, cosmology, biology, philology, and anthropology prevent us from naively buying into the exoteric tradition, literally construed. To insist on literally construing it in this way, is to live in isolation from free and open inquirey, thus raising emotionally and intellectually stunted children (or alienating them from their families and communities). Nevertheless, just because many aspects of the tradition are mythical, does not mean that they are not true. A myth is a story that is true on the inside, but not on the outside. As such, we must learn to see the truth toward which our scriptures and traditions point.

          http://jeshua21.wordpress.com/jeshua/the-written-word-revisited/

      • Nox

        Wayne,

        I give you far more credit for honesty than your brother G.R. Mead. You were willing to admit some hard truths. And after reading your link and a few other articles around your website, I have the impression that you are actually trying to have a real conversation. That is all too rare and not something I’d wish to discourage.

        I am still very confused as to what point you were trying to make with that article (or why you relate it to apologetics). You lay out several reasons why certain tenets (some of which would be widely considered absolutely central to christianity) are untenable. You don’t defend any of those tenets or state any reason why the flaws you mentioned might not apply. And then in the last paragraph you suddenly tell the reader it’s still right to believe Jesus because once you believe you can feel Jesus.

        Once you believe you can feel anything.

        If you are merely saying this is what you wish to believe, then by definition I cannot disagree with you. I don’t get a vote on what you wish to believe. If you’re just saying it feels emotionally satisfying to believe in christ, I can tell you it didn’t for me, but I have no opinion on what feels good for you to believe.

        If you are saying this is what’s actually true, then you are making a factual statement instead of just a statement of preference. Factual statements can be, and often are, wrong.

        I don’t have a problem with people enjoying biblical imagery. I like a lot of the stuff in the bible. If people could get beyond this unhealthy obsession with having to believe the whole thing, we could still find some bits worth keeping.

        So if you want to read the bible as poetic imagery meant more to inspire certain feelings than to claim certain things happened, go right on ahead (a lot of it is that). But you should remain conscious of the difference between “I find this inspirational” and “this actually happened” (and when you talk about the bible, you are talking about a book that many people categorize as “this actually happened”).

        By saying you only use scripture “illustratively and insprationally” you can avoid stepping on anyone’s doctrine, while also avoiding any chance of your version of the bible ever being solidly wrong. But in doing this you also kind of throw away the possibility of the bible ever solidly saying any particular thing.

        There are a lot of different meanings that people could read into the stories of Jesus. Truths and lies can be read into those teachings. And the most pernicious readings are the closest to what the book actually says.

        If christian doctrine is determined by whatever the individual reads into it, then how could we ever know which one of these thousands of Jesuses proposed by the thousands of sects of christianity is the real Jesus.

        You say a myth is “a story that is true on the inside whether or not it happens to be true on the outside”.

        It can be.

        Myths are often literally fictional stories which try to convey some nonliteral truth. But why couldn’t a mythmaker be wrong? Do you consider it possible for a myth to be a story which attempts to convey an untrue deeper meaning?

        • http://www.yeshua21.com Wayne

          [I give you far more credit for honesty than your brother G.R. Mead. You were willing to admit some hard truths. And after reading your link and a few other articles around your website, I have the impression that you are actually trying to have a real conversation. That is all too rare and not something I’d wish to discourage.]

          Thank you–that is exactly the impression I want to convey.

          [You lay out several reasons why certain tenets (some of which would be widely considered absolutely central to christianity) are untenable. You don’t defend any of those tenets or state any reason why the flaws you mentioned might not apply. And then in the last paragraph you suddenly tell the reader it’s still right to believe Jesus because once you believe you can feel Jesus.]

          I go to great pains, near the beginning, to distinguish between “living faith” and “intellectual assent”, suggesting that the greek words ‘pistis’ is and ‘pisteuo’ are better understood in terms of “trust” and “reliance” rather than intellectual or dogmatic belief (as they later came to be understood). Jesus is an archetype that points to that which he IS and we ARE (before Jesus of Nazareth was, I Am).

          [Once you believe you can feel anything. If you are merely saying this is what you wish to believe, then by definition I cannot disagree with you. I don’t get a vote on what you wish to believe. If you’re just saying it feels emotionally satisfying to believe in christ, I can tell you it didn’t for me, but I have no opinion on what feels good for you to believe.]

          Quit believing and simply notice the “aware presence” or “alert stillness” in which the whole of reality unfolds. This isn’t a concept and it isn’t even a feeling beyond the most basic feeling of “Amness” (I often refer to the “I Am” presence to make the connection to Jesus clear — see, in particular, all the “I Am” verses in the gospel of John).

          [If you are saying this is what’s actually true, then you are making a factual statement instead of just a statement of preference. Factual statements can be, and often are, wrong.]

          My statements are simply pointers to that which you can see and experience yourself–it is that which you ARE, prior to and in between all your thoughts, feelings, and judgments. It is indubitable.

          [I don’t have a problem with people enjoying biblical imagery. I like a lot of the stuff in the bible. If people could get beyond this unhealthy obsession with having to believe the whole thing, we could still find some bits worth keeping.]

          Good–we’re in agreement, then! :)

          [So if you want to read the bible as poetic imagery meant more to inspire certain feelings than to claim certain things happened, go right on ahead (a lot of it is that). But you should remain conscious of the difference between “I find this inspirational” and “this actually happened” (and when you talk about the bible, you are talking about a book that many people categorize as “this actually happened”).]

          I do not disparage inspiration, but more important, in my opinion is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” to which many of the scriptures point. As indicated earlier, if you want to see what I am referring to, it will require that you still your thoughts, and simply be. Pardon me if this seems repetitive, but I’m not sure which of my other comments to this article you may have read (or who else might be reading this). So, I repeat:

          For those who are sincerely interested in knowing God, I recommend that you take time to notice the space in which your thoughts, perceptions, and sensations arise. Notice the stillness in between each breath you breathe and the silence between each heart-beat. Notice how life IS– and continues TO BE –apart from the running mental commentary and the smug, self-satisfied– possibly self-righteous –sense of superiority that is typical of the egoic mind (Christian and atheist, alike). There is no need to read books and study theology. Just be still and know… Step beyond that which you “think” or “believe” (or disbelieve) and simply and humbly abide in the “I Am” presence which IS (always the same–yesterday, today, and forever).

          http://jeshua21.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/living-faith-in-a-nutshell/

          [By saying you only use scripture “illustratively and insprationally” you can avoid stepping on anyone’s doctrine, while also avoiding any chance of your version of the bible ever being solidly wrong. But in doing this you also kind of throw away the possibility of the bible ever solidly saying any particular thing.]

          You’re absolutely right–I admit as much, early one, when I speak of sidestepping dogmatic beliefs and skeptical critiques. I’m not trying to formulate truths in propositions, but point to the Way, the Truth, and the Life which is prior to conceptual thought and our mind-made sense of self.

          [There are a lot of different meanings that people could read into the stories of Jesus. Truths and lies can be read into those teachings. And the most pernicious readings are the closest to what the book actually says.]

          You can say that of the Bible, generally, perhaps, but I’m not sure that is true of the teachings of Jesus. In any event, give the gospel of John another read, sometime– as well as the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. When he talks about “I Am” or “Me” or “My Word” — listen to the stillness and feel the aware presence in which you live and move and have your being. He is not so far from any one of us, the Book of Acts says… Closer than our jugular vein (the Qur’an says)… Closer than hands and feet… (Tennison).

          [If christian doctrine is determined by whatever the individual reads into it, then how could we ever know which one of these thousands of Jesuses proposed by the thousands of sects of christianity is the real Jesus.]

          Forget about doctrines and propositional truths, and simply be still and know–you will know the truth and the truth will set you free… Your mind may rebel at that idea… So what… That’s just your brain secreting thoughts the way your liver secretes bile (as Hobbes says). Notice the aware/awake space in which that happens–looks a lot like the light of the world, doesn’t it!? What if you trusted in and relied on that light, unconditionally?

          [You say a myth is “a story that is true on the inside whether or not it happens to be true on the outside”. It can be. Myths are often literally fictional stories which try to convey some nonliteral truth. But why couldn’t a mythmaker be wrong? Do you consider it possible for a myth to be a story which attempts to convey an untrue deeper meaning?]

          Sure–I am not suggesting that anyone accept anything on faith, in the ordinary sense of the word. Come and see! :)

          Kierkegaard tells a story of a bookseller that is selling a precious set of books. When the buyer won’t pay the price, the bookseller threatens to burn one book each day until the man pays the full price. Often– and I’m not suggesting this is true of you –people are running away from life, when everything they want is here and now if they’d only pay the price. T.S. Eliot speaks of “reaching the place we set out from and knowing it for the first time” — “a condition of complete simplicity, costing not less than everything” (cf. “the pearl of great price”). Today is the day of salvation… Now is the accepted time!

          Thanks for your questions and comments and spirit in which you expressed them.

    • G.R.Mead

      If they honestly represented the arguments skeptics have made, they would risk exposing the faithful to unanswerable challenges to their faith. Don’t expect them to do that any time soon.
      If Shea has scolded you for being offensive, it is probably because you made an argument he didn’t want people to hear.
      Shea is a convert– and he has the zeal of a convert — and the preaching manner of a Puritan. Never liked Puritans. Frankly, he gets on my nerves — every now and again. I am also Catholic — but a descendant of Catholics here since before this was the United States. So riddle me your “unanswerable challenge”, why don’t you? Most of what I have seen boil down to category errors and composition fallacies. So surprise me.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        GR:

        So riddle me your “unanswerable challenge”, why don’t you?

        You’ve been through this blog? You have resolutions for all the challenges you find?

        • G.R. Mead

          I stand corrected. Composition and category fallacies are apparently supplemented by argumentum ad nauseam, or plurium interogationem.

          Try again? Your top three, maybe.

          But, I’ll go first with — the miracle question — and Joshua’s longest day just noted above (note the similar temporal anomaly event occurs to Isaiah (2 Kings 20) where the shadow goes backward ten steps on the stair of Ahaz, FWIW.

          The fallacious argument structure against them is thus:
          Major premise — Miracles violate physical laws.
          Minor premise – Science explains observable physical occurrences.
          Major conclusion — If science cannot explain what occurred, therefore it cannot have happened.
          Alternate major conclusion — If science explains what happened, therefore it cannot be a miracle.

          The miracle argument raised is an example of the fallacy of inconsistent pleading (or “kettle” logic, in the anecdote described by Freud), and mixed with a bit of argument from ignorance, as what science cannot explain it can have no valid conclusion, and as miracles are statistically improbable events — the mere fact that science cannot explain an occurrence — even a highly improbable occurrence lends it also a bit of the ludic fallacy. But statistical improbabilities play a particularly significant part in our present understanding of the structure of material reality, and this may be the more important of the errors on the point.

          Your scientific imagination is far too small to refute anything on this basis. Given our present cosmology of quantum probability, entanglement and the possibilities of many-worlds solutions to the observer/wave function collapse — present science cannot rule out that an event of miraculous occurrence, such as the two attested in these instances, may not be evidence of an intersection and entangling of two branches of formerly separated world-lines, in to one resulting in an anomaly in the experience of time between them. After all — if the worldlines can split — by definition they become entangled in a quantum sense — and there is nothing in our present views of cosmology to say that they cannot be rejoined or disentangled to resolve to one: (e.g. — the “quantum eraser” : http://www.mendeley.com/catalog/quantum-disentanglement-eraser-cavity-qed-implementation-1/#page-1 . Giving Everett his due (and Albert &Loewers even more intriguing formulation) there is nothing that says that beings such as ourselves — whose very minds may be quantum computing devices (per Penrose) and a Universe/multiverse which may itself be a hyperdimensional holographic construct, that these are inconsistent with Scripture.

          BUt is there evidence that this is indeed what might have occurred? in fact there is evidence, in Scripture — and elsewhere — and repeatedly.

          So to move to another miracle. The evidence of this kind of phenomenon is reported consistently throughout the Bible at events of significance — and is evidence that contemporary physical knowledge of the participants and the later scribes would not have known was significant to its nature at all. The key miracle that helps define what it might be — is when Jesus speaks to Elijah and Moses on the Mount of the Transfiguration. Jesus — in His own person — joins three distinct world lines at different points in temporal sequence. The Light of the Transfiguration is the observed evidence of this phenomenon occurring. In other places, and events it is consistently described as “the glory of the Lord” or the particular formulation of the appearance of the “Angel of the Lord.”

          When a charged particle exceeds the speed of light in a dielectric medium — it emits not only Cherenkov radiation, but also excites surrounding materials to emit electrostatic discharge (like lightining) . So, of course, do Lorentz violations that would necessarily be involved in actual temporal anomalies– like the Transfiguration reportedly was. So the Transfiguration event cannot be discounted for inconsistency of the evidence — indeed it is HIGHLY consistent with a striking observable evidence of a phenomenon the Hebrews could not have known to associate with it.
          By all account the Shroud now in Turin– if it was the Lord’s burial wrapper– shows highly consistent evidence of its image being related to just such an event at the Resurrection for which it may also be evidence. The dating controversy was resolved to be an error in sampling a repair rather than the body of the cloth -so the jury is out on that, still.

          I commend to your reading the other events of appearance of the glory of the Lord and the Angel of the Lord in Scripture and the nature of the events concerned in each instance — and often described as both a light and a cloud. Most particularly consider the Tabernacle in which the glory of the Lord regularly appeared to Israel after Sinai. It was, among other things, precisely designed so as to channel electrostatic field charges to ground. The cloud of the Tabernacle is evidence of a positive corona discharge with cascades of ionizing air molecules within the charge field. Moses was described as having a face that shone — so that he had to cover it – not unlike the Transfiguration effect. Moses was also sometimes reported to have horns or beams of light from his head — which is evidence of a negative corona discharge. I would also note that the halo of the saints — and of other pivotal figures even in non-Christian history — would bear similar descriptions. Jews and Christian do not pretend that God is not active throughout history and mankind — but that he is active in a special way in their respective histories.

          The massive electromagnetic effect of the Twas reportedly deadly. If the Ark was touched improperly, men were struck dead on the spot. Priests wore garments with woven metal thread and tassels and bells dragging the ground, for fairly obvious grounding protection. The Tabernacle was a exceedingly energetic place.

          But the Glory of the Lord is thus a consistent physical trait of such events and would be proper physical observable evidence expected if an extratemporal, extradimensional – or extrauniversal transfer or communication happened. It appears at regular and key points of history — and in a particular density of occurrences at points of declared intervention by a reportedly eternal, extratemporal actor in the history of the Hebrews and in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, called the Christ.

          So, do you just dismiss this physically consistent evidence that supports the conclusion of the faithful and the self-report of scriptural accounts claiming such revelation — that this was exactly what was happening ? If so, then you have no claim at all to the premise of science for your counter arguments, and you simply seek confirmation for your own existing bias — and on which point your side of the argument accuses the faithful so readily.

        • Bob Jase

          Its pointless to even try to reason with you – you live in a world in your mind where magical thinking (as long as you agree with it) trumps reality no matter what the evidence.

          Although I wonder why you, who claim to not be a biblical literalist, constantly defend biblical literalism. MPD maybe?

        • G.R. Mead

          “Magical thinking.” Right. ‘Cause — ya know — no one who is not a Christian SERIOUSLY considers things like quantum entanglement, the holographic universe, wave state collapse and the many worlds hypotheses to be of any real merit.

          Please go read a little, then get back to me when you have the remotest clue as to what the difference is between scientific extrapolation, and “magic.” Christianity does not believe in magic. We belisve in God — who does not need to violate the laws of the universe or multiverse to do His will. The only argument you have is the ludic fallacy from improbability — and ( Douglas Adams aside) in the present state of physical cosmology — that just is not any argument — at all.

          The scientific question — which is admissible to scientific consideration of some actual reports of evidence — is this:

          Hypothesis: An extratemporal/extradimensional, exceedingly powerful intervenor acts in the history of the Hebrews and the life of Christ.

          Predicted evidence: Extratemporal/extradimensional interventions would require Lorentz violations and these events would necessarily exhibit observable phenomena — such as Cherenkov radiation and large electrostatic discharges.

          Evidence reported: The “glory of the Lord” phenomena exhibits characteristics of brilliant light emanating from affected materials and both positive and negative corona discharges, and other high electrostatic field effects such as lightning discharge.

          Conclusion: Scriptural reports are consistent with the predicted evidence and the actual evidence of Scripture; the provenance of the reports on these phenomena are unlikely to have been fabricated as post-hoc confirmations, based on the level of knowledge at the time. The evidence and the provenance of the reports therefore, cannot refute the self-understanding of Scripture that these events are the intrusion of an extratemporal/extradimensional Presence into key events in our history.

          Extrapolation: Does this prove that God is behind them? Quite simply — no, it cannot prove that. However, it leaves physically unrefuted the accounts of Scripture recording that that they actually occurred. The nature of the occurrences however, tends to confirm the content of the message thus revealed as to the source or Cause of them — but only if you believe the message was telling the truth about the essential nature those events. And as Augustine said — you must believe to understand.

          THAT is a scientific argument, conclusion and extrapolation — not “magic.” I offer you some concrete evidence that explicitly extratemporal events of the kind explicitly described in Scripture would have observable effects, consistent with that type of event, and consistent with those effects reported, and not remotely known by them to have such an association — but, in your book that would be “magical thinking.”

          Good to know where the level of play stands in Team Atheist. Take it up a notch or two, boys and girls — please.

        • Nox

          The book of Joshua also says the Sun and Moon stood still inside a small valley in the middle east.

          Genesis says there was sunlight for three days before the creation of the Sun.

          And that 2-7 of every species of animal were packed into a 450′x75′x45′ boat and the Earth went through a global flood.

          And that some people started building a tower to get to heaven, and god was so afraid it would work that he had to step in and intervene.

          Those aren’t just claims of out of the ordinary events. They are not untestable. They are claims which could only have been made in the first place by someone who was completely unaware of how “creation” works.

        • Reginald Selkirk

          G.R. Mead, established liar: By all account the Shroud now in Turin– if it was the Lord’s burial wrapper– shows highly consistent evidence of its image being related to just such an event at the Resurrection for which it may also be evidence.

          Apparently G.R. Mead has never seen the accounts that the image on the shroud is out of proportion to a cloth wrapped around a body, and is instead distorted in ways consistent with medieval art. He has also never seen the accounts that the stains on the cloth seem to be paint pigment.

          The dating controversy was resolved to be an error in sampling a repair rather than the body of the cloth -so the jury is out on that, still.

          “Resolved” – one true believer wacko used an unproven method on a sample of questionable province, so known liar G.R. Mead wishes to dismiss the multiple tests carried out on multiple samples of the shroud, specifically selected from areas unlikely to have been patched, and all indicating a medieval origin. Not to mention the confession of the artist.
          .
          All this proves is: Liars gonna lie.

        • Reginald Selkirk

          I see that I put this set of replies concerning the Shroud of Turin in the wrong place. Sorry about that. The quotes indicate to where I am referring.

          Reginald Selkirk: one true believer wacko used an unproven method

          More specifically: Ray Rogers, a true believer who has been unhappy with the radiocarbon dating results since they were published, somehow got a hold of some alleged samples of the shroud, many years after the definitive carbon dating results were published. He claims to have come up with a different date, based on the conversion of lignin ( a wood polysaccharide) to vanillin. (“Studies on the radiocarbon sample from the Shroud of Turin” Rogers, RN, (2005) Thermochimica Acta 425: 189-194 DOI 10.1016/j.tca.2004.09.029) I defy known liar G.R. Mead, or anyone else, to come up with a peer-reviewed paper by anyone else using this technique to date anything other than the Shroud of Turin.
          The Holy Roman Catholic Church now refuses to allow additional sampling to any research groups who may want to refute claims that the original carbon dating results were spurious because they sampled portions of the Shroud which were patched.

        • Pattrsn

          I thought that the problem with miracles wasn’t that they couldn’t be explained by science but that they couldn’t be detected scientifically. In other words that they had no measurable effect on the natural world, and so in what way can they be said to have happened?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          My post about the Shroud of Turin is here.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Nox:

      I agree with you about apologetics. In practice, it acts as a lollipop and a pat on the head for believers. “This guy has a doctorate, and he says you’re right, so you can sleep soundly tonight.”

      There’s an internal Facebook thing for Patheos bloggers, and Shea has scolded me for being offensive. It’s pretty hard to imagine that he’s savaging me in public without realizing what he looks like himself. Not a lot of Christian love here.

      • G.R. Mead

        Mr. Selkirk: Civility or its lack is mark of one’s state of culture — and I would truly hate for the decent and reasoning atheists to suffer in comparison. I’d charitably advise you to familiarize yourself with not only the courtesies of debate– but also with the law of libel. It may be that folks on an atheist forum might just not be so forgiving on legal lapses as a believer ought to be. Accusations of dishonesty in writing are libel per se in most jurisdictions — or least those in which I am licensed to practice. Consider it free legal advice. It also is quite interesting to understand how electronic discovery and subpoenas can find out who anyone online actually is and exactly where they are. I certainly have found it very interesting when I have had occasion to do it. I somehow doubt you would. God bless you all the same.

        FWIW — neither Church nor I sign on to the Shroud as definitively being the burial cloth of Jesus. It remains however, a fascinating and largely unexplained artifact regardless of its actual provenance. For those who are actually interested the facts on on the state of the science investigating the Shroud — which I believe I fairly summarized: http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/stories/shroud-of-turin-controversial-new-theory-emerges

        • Bob Jase

          “I’d charitably advise you to familiarize yourself with not only the courtesies of debate– but also with the law of libel. ”

          So sending us to hell to be tortured eternally isn’t enough for you & your god, you have to sue us first?

          Feel the Chrsitian love!

        • Reginald Selkirk

          Mr. Selkirk: Civility or its lack is mark of one’s state of culture — and I would truly hate for the decent and reasoning atheists to suffer in comparison. I’d charitably advise you to familiarize yourself with not only the courtesies of debate– but also with the law of libel.

          1) Civility does not demand that I allow your habit of telling untruths to go unchallenged or unnoticed. If you don’t like being called a liar, stop lying.
          2) My location is the USA, where telling the truth is a complete defense against charges of libel.

  • MNb

    “something that, if true, would overturn some substantial part of our scientific understanding of nature.”
    Superconductivity. Now you will respond that a believer using this example is defending the god of the gaps and I agree. But it means that your request is unfounded or at least needs a better formulation.
    Of course no christian will ever give this answer as it’s impossible to connect this badly understood phenomenon with their beloved book. But I think we should try to be more honest than believers on subjects like these.

    “the evolution of the unchanging Creator of the universe.”
    I am going to steal this phrase from you.

    “What I find telling are the things that the Israelites didn’t know, but could have known,”
    My favourite: pi = 3 ( 1 Kings 7:23 and 2 Chronicles 4:2). The Babylonians (3,12) and the Egyptians (3,16) already got it better several centuries before. Didn’t Jason know that?

    “that’s a great reason not to treat”
    and it’s a great reason to question its divine origin for the simple reason, if the OT had got it better than their neighbours, christians these days undoubtedly would have brought it up as an argument pro. That’s the kind of dishonesty I am referring to above.

    “the problem here is not with the content of this particular ancient text”
    It’s not a problem if we simply assume human origin and not a divine one.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      MNb:

      You give superconductivity as an example of something that would be classified as a miracle with my definition? OK, could be. Give me a better definition.

    • OverlappingMagisteria

      Eh… the pi = 3 thing always seemed more of a nit-pick to me. It seems more likely to me that the basin was not perfectly round, or, more likely, the measurements given were just approximate. Rounding could completely account for this. 9.65 cubits * pi = 30.31 cubits. Round up to 10 and down to 30 and you got the numbers in the Bible.

      • Reginald Selkirk

        or, more likely, the measurements given were just approximate.

        But it doesn’t say “approximate.” That is you putting words in the mouth of God. I don’t see why you’re rewriting of scriptures is any more respectable than anyone else’s.

        • OverlappingMagisteria

          I assume your joking, but just in case you’re not:

          Conversely, it also doesn’t say the measurements are exact. It is also not God who is speaking in those passages of the Bible. The passage is only a problem if you take an extremely hyper-literalist view. If you happen to be debating a hyper-literalist, then by all means bring it up. Otherwise, I think there are much stronger contradictions and problems that can be brought up.

          I mean, it’s not like the passage’s purpose is to describe the relationship between a circles diameter and circumference. It’s just describing objects in the temple. Seems to me that the author is just painting a picture of what the place looked like, sort of like if one says “They had a table 25 feet long.” Does that mean exactly 25 feet? Not necessarily.

        • Reginald Selkirk

          It is also not God who is speaking in those passages of the Bible.

          If you agree that the Bible was written by people, not by God (either directly or through inspiration), then my work is done here.

        • OverlappingMagisteria

          If you agree that the Bible was written by people, not by God (either directly or through inspiration), then my work is done here.

          Oh I do! I’m an atheist. I’m just arguing against what I think are weak arguments.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I notice this in encyclopedia articles sometimes. “The Bubba tree can grow to be 131 feet (40 meters) tall.” Pretty obviously, it grows to 40m (more or less), and someone translated that into English units without rounding for the article.

          It’s like 98.6 degrees–it’s just the conversion of what the science actually said: 37 degrees C.

        • Reginald Selkirk

          I notice this in encyclopedia articles sometimes…

          And yet, no one claims the encyclopedia is the infallible word of Yhwh. Go figure.

  • Rain

    He doesn’t realize that all of the evidence is dubious? What planet is he from? Planet self-delusion?

  • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

    It seems that God does not exist, because children, fools, and other simpletons believe He does. Therefore, God is a delusion concocted by mental and emotional juveniles.
    I’ve never made this argument, nor have I heard anyone who has.

    Never heard this argument? Maybe it will be more familiar to you in the following form …
    “I used to believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy when I was a child but then I figured out it was all a lie. Belief in God is likewise something that all intelligent and honest adults grow out of.”

    Now you may not have personally made an argument like this, but I can guarantee it is somewhere on the comments of one of your posts.

    • OverlappingMagisteria

      This is not an argument but a comparison. The quote you give is just stating their opinion on the existence of God, not providing justification for their lack of belief. There is a difference between saying “I don’t believe in God,” and “I don’t believe in God for the following reasons.”

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Karl:

      The part that is unbelievable is the “therefore God is a delusion.” I wouldn’t say that–pretty much what OM said.

      • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

        I’m not saying you do. I am saying that atheists making this inference is quite common and can be found on the comments of your blog.

  • avalon

    Bob said: “He has scolded me in the past for being offensive myself. I’d reach more Christians with a more likeable approach, he says.”

    avalon: Shea has explained why he converted, he found the critical thinking of “the
    scientistic culture” full of “inhuman gloom and nihilism”. He doesn’t say it wasn’t true, he says it wasn’t attractive. He says, “I knew the world was far too mysterious and beautiful to reduce it all to (science). …I experienced nature and human beings…as, well, something charged with grandeur.”
    And what is that grandeur? “…the natural apprehension of the human person as a supernatural being.”

    So, what is the nice way to tell someone that their intuitions, experience, and natural apprehensions (while they might feel good) are objectively wrong?
    My guess is Shea is angry because he wants to believe his intuitions are objectively true, but they just don’t stand up to critical examination (and he knows it). It’s not Bob he finds offensive, it’s the gloominess of the truth.
    Let’s try and be nice:
    Dear Shea,
    I know you have your heart set on being a supernatural being living in a world of unexplainable mystery populated by invisible creatures with supernatural powers. And that’s fine, as a personal fantasy. But please, don’t try and share this with others while claiming it’s objectively true. You see, reality doesn’t care about your intuitions or feelings.
    You’ve chosen a worldview based on how it makes you feel and it may or may not conform to reality. So if you want to protect those feelings of being something special and mysterious, I’d suggest you not subject them to critical examination. Doing so would only cause you mental stress. You’re welcome to share your feelings and intuitions with us, as long as you make it clear these are just feelings and intuitions, not objective facts. But if you claim they are objectively true, be prepared to accept the fact that they aren’t. And don’t blame the messenger.
    Sincerely,
    avalon

    • Bob Seidensticker

      avalon:

      Nice!

  • Bob Jase

    Not to break up tthe thread but I have a question – when did the RCC/Christianity start using the apology of ‘progressive revelation’ to excuse all their changes on social/political issues such as race equality & slavery?

    I was raised RC back in the ’60′s and at no time during my ten years of so of catechism classes did the idea, let alone the tem, of ‘progressive revelation’ ever get mentioned. Nope, we were taught the bible is correct, always was & always will be, and if you think it isn’t you’re wrong (actually it says pretty much that in the introduction to my family’s bible bought back then.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      I left the Holy Roman Catholic Church ~ 30 years ago, and am not familiar with the term. In my experience, the Bible is not strongly emphasized in Catholicism; the Church insists that the Church heirarchy is necessary to interpret it for the hoi polloi.
      Here’s a pamphlet from catholic.com
      Can Dogma Develop?

      Vatican II explained, “The tradition which comes from the apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts, through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For, as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her” (Dei Verbum 8).

      • Bob Jase

        I see that tract was approved in 2004 – that sure wasn’t the RCC position in 1964, 1974 or 1984 though.

        • G.R. Mead

          You certainly needed a better catechist, then.

          That section of Dei Verbum merely paraphrases the same point from the FIRST Vatican Council, which is noted in the footnote — and more to the point the parable of the mustard seed and its tree. The seed is not other than the tree it becomes and the new branch of the mustard tree is not suddenly going to bear figs or olives. The truth of an unchanging nature AND of continual growth, maturation and development are not at odds. They are expressly part of the Christian revelation of the nature of Divine Truth.

        • Bob Jase

          First you were making shit up and now you’re babbling.

        • Reginald Selkirk

          The days of “continual growth” by doctoring the Bible to insert your own theology, al la the Comma Johanneum and the Pericope Adulterae are probably over though, which is why the current emphasis is on interpretation.

        • G.R. Mead

          So, having exhausted every other fallacy — the root ad hominem bias FINALLY rears its head …

          At least, however, the critic admits not having even a rudimentary grasp of one of the most basic images of the New Testament — the figures of seeds, growth and branching development in the Church. There are many others along those lines I could cite, but plainly the point would be wasted on an uninformed criticism … One of the very valuable things about folks such as the belated and sorely missed Mr. Hitchens, is that what ever else may be said about his opinions — they were never uninformed.

          One and many are not — and never have been — at odds in Christian teaching — given the Trinity, how could they be ? The many fingers and toes of your body do not detract from the unity of it and of its identity to them — but neither does one allow the toes to rule the body – nor to perform the function of the heart or the liver.

          If there is nothing else … ?

      • Bob Seidensticker

        This idea that we need to slowly grow and adapt to God’s teachings makes no sense. For a single lifetime, sure. This happens over years or decades. But when you look in the Bible, the story changes over centuries.

        The initial audience for the Penteteuch were no stupider than we are. Our brains have roughly the same capability. If we can understand that Jesus is the path to salvation, the Jews 3000 years ago could’ve as well.

        • G.R. Mead

          Hardly, He had not become man yet. And are you now denying that mankind develops — individually and collectively — because that sound kind of fundamentalist to me … and I certainly am no fundamentalist. It is not the position of the Church that the Jews need anything other than the promise they already have. A lot of Protestants don’t get that — but then — they are protestants and there is a lot they don’t get…
          ;->

          The Bible is a narrative of the moral development of a difficult and often recalcitrant people in history; a narrative by that people of their self-understanding of a deliberate moral cultivation of their own culture and moral being — by the direction and intent of omnipotent and dangerous God that they only dimly grasp and understand – but who nevertheless has a great love for them — even when he punishes them as part of his lessons when they do wrong. God they see as the vine grower — and while he has many vines wild and otherwise — Israel — and now the Church — has been the place of his specially cultivation of a rich and productive moral strain that — as they understand His purpose — is to graft its rich branches into strongly rooted cultures everywhere so that — without uprooting any of his wilder stocks — he may yet have them bear richer fruit than they themselves are capable of doing.

  • smrnda

    I’ve run across a few Catholics who tell me that the ‘Christianity’ I’ve either rejected or disbelieve in isn’t the real deal, and that any number of objection or questions that I have I could get resolved if I wanted to spend a few decades digging through 2000 years worth of church documents. If I encounter 1 such document and find some question or objection, I then get told that there’s 20 documents that will set me straight on the issue, and when I encounter more, I’m told that there are 40 documents that will resolve those difficulties.

    It seems like a potentially never-ending game, where the answers one seeks are always out there in some document that you just haven’t gotten to yet. (I’d like to get a word/page count on the quantity of texts that are still considered authoritative by the Church.) I guess the reason I haven’t bothered to get *into it* is that I don’t have the time, and the evidence for materialism seems much stronger. .Perhaps the other thing is that the questions about life that I think matter seem to have better answers outside of any religion.

    • G.R. Mead

      THAT is a honest agnosticism. Not getting it is perfectly understandable.

      To contend as others do, however, that belief in God MUST BE foursquare wrong — well , that requires an equal and opposite , and in many ways perverse, faith. Atheism — beyond principled agnosticism — is a faith.

      Materialism, though. “Only what you see, folks. Only what you see… ” ??

      How do you explain why there is anything and not nothing ? Even if you take the out — proposed by such as Hawking and others — that given our state of knowledge on the nature of quantum stuffs, vacuum energy, and the like that it is entirely possible (and perhaps even probable) that the universe may — in fact — be one grand vacuum fluctuation. A great big wad of intricately complicated nothing — on average all summing to zero.

      But even granting that as a possibility, there is still a huge amount of deviation around that mean that needs explaining… And it fails to even address the issue of form — even if we give no substance ot the nothingness that is so intricately knitted and woven into what we see. And more to the point — since nothing is not anything capabale of being observed and before there was nothing — yet that nothing moved against itself (or toward itself, or both) — which simply seems to me making “nothing” another word for some idea of spiritual substance (hylomorphism) that gives reality to the forms of things. And the forms still need explaining…

      And if it were that nothingness just swayed upon itself and the Universe was born from the reverberations of this oscillation — yet still we must know — what moved it to do so?

      Materialists seem (you may be of a different stripe) to contend that what is not observed does not exist (pace the sound of Berkeley’s lonely toppling trees). But do they really act that way ? I submit that they do not. They take all sorts of things on information and belief — that they have never seen, and could possibly independently confirm. Did Napoleon really lose at Waterloo ? It is curious to me why people accept the exceedingly improbable existence of a place like Hong Kong who have never been there (I have, lovely place, BTW) , but simply disregard the reports of good and rational people about the issue of God and spiritual matters, simply because they are not personally confirmed. At some point one must have a degree of trust and faith in the reports of other on things that you have no way of confirming independently. And yet on this point of God there is the unyielding demand to see with one’s own eyes…

      Not everyone sees as well as others. If I have poor eysight should I disregard someone with better vision than me who reads the roadsign for me when there is no possible way that I can make out it WHAT it is — much less what it says — for myself. Should I just rely on my own sight and deny that he has seen it or that roadsigns do not really exist — because I distrust those who tell me of them so much that I always turn another way before I can get close enough to see for myself ?
      This is the reasoning behind the admonition of St. Augustine: You believe so that you may understand — otherwise you may never get close enough to see it for yourself. And some there are who are truly born blind — and only their faith in those that love them can guide them to learn their way in a darkened world.

      • smrnda

        I will agree that I am a very different type of unbeliever than most. I put questions on the existence of god or gods to be outside of the realm of systematic inquiry – there’s a possibility for speculation, but that seems to be about it.

        On the ‘where does everything come from?’ I’m a mathematician and software engineer so that’s not my area of expertise, though the things that I read don’t seem to strongly imply any sort of personal god behind it. My other training in is psychology, and I studied the psychology of religious belief a bit.

        On believing in things that I have not personally seen or observed, I usually weight the evidence for or against, as well as ‘if this is false, then how much else is false?’ To take the Hong Kong example, it would require a pretty massive conspiracy for Hong Kong to be fictitious – there are celebrities form Hong Kong, historical events within my lifetime that took place there (the return to the Mainland, the demolitions of Kowloon near Hong Kong) products that have been made there – if I had to ask if Hong Kong were real, it would take a conspiracy on the level that I don’t think is possible to pretend it exists. I also know people who went to Hong Kong.

        The reason I don’t grant the same level of confidence to spiritual matters is that it seems that the naturalistic explanations are more likely. Plus, people I know who practice mutually exclusive religions give me the same type of proof. I met a guy who said the Egyptian god Thoth made him a better writer. I’ve met Christians who said that Jesus answered their prayers. In most of these cases, I’ve observed nothing really impossible happening, and it seems more like the placebo effect – things work to some extent because you believe them to work. (lso, the Thoth follower is convinced that Thoth made him a better writer. Would someone else take his pre and post Thoth papers and say “Yeah, at this point he became a better writer?”

        I think the difference, to me, is that so far nobody has reported anything about god that would take more than rumor to spread. A guy told me he heard that, in Africa, a faith healer brought someone back from the dead. Great, I totally can’t check up on that story, and he’s repeating a story he got fourth or fifth hand. If someone told me they went to Hong Kong (or any other city) the city is on the map. You can buy a flight there. I can’t buy a ticket to see the faith healer.

        On the other hand, I run across people who take a more vague and mystical approach to the experience of god, but as a really concrete person, I just hear inflated language that, by meaning nothing in particular but sounding big enough, can be made to mean anything.

        Perhaps the other issue is that I find the materialistic world view totally satisfying. If there’s something I need to know, I can find out. A few things don’t seem to have easy to obtain answers, but they don’t seem that relevant to me. I mean, as for the human condition, I think everything is explained by psychology, sociology, economics and biology. I’ve also had a lifetime of, more or less, totally satisfying relationships. This might be the big one, as it seems that people approach god (at least the Christian god) as a sort of relationship that wouldn’t have the problems human ones had. It just seems, to me, that the human ones have less problems. Perhaps it’s also that I don’t think love of any sort and authority can really coexist.

        • G.R. Mead

          These are excellent points, and well-put. I would point out however, that everything you said about Hong Kong according to Ockham’s razor — could be just as easily said about Santa Claus — or about God. There is no a priori way to conclusively determine which category the latter would fall into simply by applying that same probabilistic argument. But probabilistic though it may be — modern physics has certainly taught us that probabilistic contentions are a lot harder-edged things than once we gave them credit for. And Nassim Taleb has done good service in his work on “black swans” in cautioning against disregarding the nature of events or conditions of large consequence and of unquantifiable and unprecedented probability nevertheless occurring and having massively disproportionate effects. One might speak humorously of Taleb’s codicil to Pascal’s wager….

          For myself however, and for you — I would urge you to consider whether Jewish and Christina teaching offers something unique in human experience — and therefore of special need for attention and due consideration. That is found in the extended and very powerful set of ideas developed by Rene Girard about what it means to be human, what causes us to be humanized, and what role religions in general have played in that, and what the real difference is between those and the Biblical faith.

          I won’t preach — it will mean more if you choose to read it for yourself. And it does not require one bit of a priori religious belief to grasp his anthropological contentions and their significance to our past, present and future. . . It will explain much — and in materialist terms — about things that may trouble you, as they have long troubled me, in the way that people religious and otherwise, do act — and which nothing else — at least in any materialist sense — is likely to.

      • Jason

        “Atheism — beyond principled agnosticism — is a faith.”

        If Atheism becomes a faith, then it is a perverted form of atheism. Properly speaking, an atheist only lacks the belief in a god or gods. He or she doesn’t positively deny the possibility of god. This is just a matter of definitions. Atheism is really what most people think of as agnosticism. If someone positively asserts that there could be no god, then this person is an atheist AND something else. I’m not sure if there is a term for that. I would just call it going too far.

        “How do you explain why there is anything and not nothing ?”

        You don’t have to explain it! That’s what theists don’t get. Not that there’s anything wrong with asking the question. Plato, Aristotle and plenty of other philosophers have done so. But a tentative and careful philosophical investigation of this question does not require one to start a religion and commit one’s life to some particular answer. This is the problem. Religion often doesn’t encourage people to explore this question. It just gives them an answer and tell them to believe it. An attempt at philosophizing (think Augustine or Aquinas) is simply a retroactive rationalization of a predetermined view. That’s not real inquiry.

      • Reginald Selkirk

        Known liar G.R. Mead: How do you explain why there is anything and not nothing ?

        Do theists answer this question? No. They simply posit a magical apparent solution that only moves the question back another level, without providing a true answer.
        “Leprechauns* did it” they say.
        The next question would be, “But why are there Leprechauns* instead of nothing?”
        “You’re not allowed to ask that, so we win,” say the theists.
        .
        * Where “Leprechauns” == “God.” It’s a valid substitution, since both values provide the same explanatory power.

        • G.R. Mead

          “Known liar?” Is this your first attempt at Ad Hominem, or are you really just that bad at it ?
          Well, so much for reasoned debate — from the acolytes of reason above all…

        • Bob Jase

          How about ‘known contradictor’ instead? Because you have contradicted yourself repeatedly about biblical literalism, the existance of hell and what constitutes evidence.

        • Reginald Selkirk

          You have been caught telling untruths. No one to blame for that but yourself. If you really wanted “reasoned debate,” you wouldn’t be repeatedly lying.

        • G.R. Mead

          Mr. Selkirk:
          I have not – much less been caught — much less by the likes of someone like yourself.
          If this is the measure of the effect of your atheism on your personal dealing — truly — I pity you, and more deeply than you will know.

          Will it displease you to know that I will pray for you ?

        • Reginald Selkirk

          G.R. Mead: have not – much less been caught — much less by the likes of someone like yourself.

          You told untruths the other day about the Holy Roman Catholic Church’s validation of miracles. When this was pointed out, you tried to bulldoze your way past it with verbiage.
          .
          In this thread, you told untruths about “all accounts” of the Shroud of Turin. Once again, no retraction nor admission that you were wrong.
          .
          So the lies are on the record. Your stonewalling does not make them go away. It just paints you, and theism, in a bad light.

        • G.R. Mead

          How about ‘known contradictor’ instead? Because you have contradicted yourself repeatedly about biblical literalism, the existance of hell and what constitutes evidence.

          I commend the tone of the challenge, though not the substance. But to clarify any possible misunderstanding:

          1) I am not a biblical literalist, as I understand that term. That is a fundamentalist doctrine. Fundamentalism is not the teaching of the Church, and I am not a fundamentalist. Whether Wikipedia is accurate on all counts, or not– it is largely coherent on this one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_literalism

          2) The existence of Hell is without question orthodox doctrine. The understanding of what Hell is, what purpose it serves and who may be in it, or why — are matters of a far larger and immensely more complicated debate.

          3) The nature of evidence. Not really sure what you are getting at here. I have a fairly straightforward view of evidence as that which tends to prove or disprove the existence of a fact in controversy. On the other hand, the topic of evidence as a forensic matter is the subject of a year-long course in most law schools, so to say that I cannot do it complete justice in any given passage to which an evidentiary point may be raised — I hope it is not to be held against me.

          But the problem you seem to be raising is not really one of evidence but of allowable proofs. A probabilistic proof does not require the same kind of evidence as an proof of a mathematical proposition or empirical proof in a material science. And, back of that there is a problem of philosophical disconnects as to what we mean when we say a fact is “proved” to be true.

          Mostly, to my way of thinking materialists demand the wrong schemes of proof for the point in issue as to God. Material proofs will not serve to prove or disprove the existence of God. They can’t — God is not material. That is not to say that there are no proofs and there is no evidence — it just is not the kind of evidence that will ever satisfy a materialist — because a materialist is committed to an a priori philosophical position — that there is nothing except material things and materials causes. Any evidence or proof is irrelevant to the committed materialist — he simply defines God philosophically as untrue — and no amount of evidence will serve to shift a position that does not depend on any evidence to begin with.

          Philosophical materialism is as much matter of personal conviction as belief in God.

        • G.R. Mead

          Mr. Selkirk:
          I continue this with you because it is mildly entertaining.

          You said: You told untruths the other day about the Holy Roman Catholic Church’s validation of miracles. When this was pointed out, you tried to bulldoze your way past it with verbiage.Words do seem a real hindrance to you — this much I can now see.
          Perhaps German is more to your preference. Tightly nuanced German is, but in ways that simply tire the English tongue. Oh, but our departing Pope is German, so perhaps the suggestion is a tad insensitive. My apologies .

          You also said: In this thread, you told untruths about “all accounts” of the Shroud of Turin. And now it begins to make more sense. I am saddened to learn that English is apparently not your first language, since you do not grasp the difference between turns of phrase giving rhetorical emphasis, such as “by all accounts,” and absolute statements that “all accounts without exception agree that …” I am equally saddened by your lifting it out of context for such a purpose — but I could not, however, fairly blame THAT on your teacher of English as a second language.

          More to the point, I can more easily see now that either atheism lends one an absolutist bias that the English language does not readily accommodate — or else those of an absolutist tendency to begin with are readily drawn to atheism.

          This explains a lot, really.

        • Reginald Selkirk

          G.R. Mead: I continue this with you because it is mildly entertaining.

          Translation: “I are a troll.”

      • Bob Seidensticker

        GR:

        How do you explain why there is anything and not nothing ?

        Why assume that nothing is likelier?

        It is curious to me why people accept the exceedingly improbable existence of a place like Hong Kong who have never been there (I have, lovely place, BTW) , but simply disregard the reports of good and rational people about the issue of God and spiritual matters, simply because they are not personally confirmed.

        “Hong Kong exists” and “God exists” seem to be very similar claims in your mind?

        At some point one must have a degree of trust and faith in the reports of other on things that you have no way of confirming independently. And yet on this point of God there is the unyielding demand to see with one’s own eyes…

        And is it any wonder? We’re all familiar with places like Hong Kong. There is not a single supernatural claim that is widely accepted across all cultures. Contrast that with “Hong Kong exists.”

        If I have poor eysight should I disregard someone with better vision than me who reads the roadsign for me

        No, but someone claiming that he has better supernatural-sight must prove his remarkable claims.

        This is the reasoning behind the admonition of St. Augustine: You believe so that you may understand — otherwise you may never get close enough to see it for yourself.

        And I assume you’re consistent here? You believe all religious claims that skeptics like me would consider nutty so that you might understand them?

    • B.

      This, exactly.

      The majority of believers, especially those raised in it, can just blithely accept Christianity, have a vague idea of the Bible, and invest a minimal time in actual study. They come out with a rock hard belief in god.

      Skeptics are told, “Oh, we have evidence; it’s not just faith!” “Oh, you’re not looking hard enough!” “Oh, you need to read this scholar’s body of work!” For the majority of the Christians I know (and I know very many, as I live in the Deep South), their beliefs aren’t based on this massive investment of time, though. Why do they expect us to do that?

  • Pattrsn

    “which simply seems to me making “nothing” another word for some idea of spiritual substance”

    And if you’re argument is correct, since nothing by it’s nature (or lack of) doesn’t exist then neither does spiritual substance. Or more likely spiritual substance like nothingness is nothing more than a figment of our imagination.

    • G.R. Mead

      You miss the point entirely. Hawking does not strike me as a nihilist. And yet he and some of the brightest minds of our generation find themselves trying to resolve materialism as an ultimate theory by the recourse of the “sums to nothing” proposition — and still end up positing an unmoved mover of nothing that yet produces everything — but which is not anything in itself. A massive bootstrapping. The orthodox among Jews and Christians simply agree with their premise — but not their conclusion, and quite simply because it does not follow.

    • G.R. Mead

      I should say also that the concept of “spiritual substance” as applied to God is considered an error even in orthodox belief. It is not entirely wrong even to analogize God to nothing — at least in terms of the substance of our being — whether material or spiritual — because God does not have our kind of being — it is closer to true that God is NOT than that God IS in the same sense that we ARE. God is what Being is in itself, without form, substance or character (accidents).

      • http://www.yeshua21.com Wayne

        ["God does not have our kind of being — it is closer to true that God is NOT than that God IS in the same sense that we ARE."]

        What do you make of this, G.R.:

        ["If you spoke of [God] in hundred like ways you would not go beyond or increase the significance of that one word: “is”. And if you used none of them, you would have taken nothing from it. So be as blind in the loving contemplation of God’s being as you are in the naked awareness of your own. Let your faculties rest from their minute inquiry into the attributes of his being or yours. Leave all this behind and worship Him with your substance: all that you are, just as you are, offered to all that He is, just as He is. For your God is the glorious being of Himself and you, in the naked starkness of his being.
        And thus you will bind everything together, and in a wonderful way, worship God with Himself because that which you are you have from Him and it is He, Himself. Of course, you had a beginning – that moment in time when He created you from nothing – yet your being has been and shall always be in Him, from eternity to eternity, for He is eternal.] ~ The Book of Privy Counsel

        http://jeshua21.wordpress.com/2012/12/01/worship-god-with-your-substance/

        • G.R. Mead

          Wayne:
          The Cloud of Unknowing and the Privy Counsel are fascinating mystical — and anonymous works. But a mystic — is not teaching doctrine. Mystical observations are usually safe in the hands of genuine mystics — but that requires the humility to grasp that a personal and idiosyncratic perspective — while perhaps helpful to some who might circumstantially identify with it — may yet be dangerous to teach as a general truth. The title “Privy Counsel” is a frank acknowledgement that this mystical contemplation was not for general consumption as it might be misunderstood or misused. Understanding that 747′s can defy gravity does not mean that the unaided human being can safely do so without risking injury or even death.

          The author of the Cloud and Privy Counsel, much like Julian of Norwich, who had quite heterodox views on some things (like the “behovability of sin”) nevertheless stayed on the right side of these lines because of their humility. Meister Eckhart walked right up to that line. The Brethren of the Free Spirit, in contrast, blew right past it — going away.

          As to the merits of the passage, our being is because of God’s Being — but our being is not the same as God’s being. We speak of God as Father and not Mother because the way in which His Being and our being relate, are more like fatherhood than motherhood. Being made in God’s image it is MORE LIKE being a father in the contribution of partial genetic form than of a mother in the contribution of both her own material substance and her partial form.

          My son at his birth was more of my wife’s material substance of being than of mine, though we are equally part of the form of his being. My son’s being is because of and directly FROM my form of being. The substance of being of my son and myself are much the same, though not the forms. My being however is not FROM any substance or form of God’s Being. Though God’s Being made my way of being — it is not in the same way or of the content or effect of God’s Being — but in an image of it — like God’s self-portrait of His Being in miniature. My being and God’s Being are not at all the same apart from that narrow capture of image — and which Scripture tells He would not willingly destroy — though he will not prevent us from self-destruction if we choose it.

    • http://www.yeshua21.com Wayne

      I’m not here to defend the article in question or Christian apoligetics as conventionally understood, but can testify that the tradition, in general, points to something (or rather no-thing) which really does complete human existence and which, to ignore, is the most profound source of ignorance. Consider, if you will, this discussion of “nothing” in a blog posting on Heidegger’s use of the term–this is an almost random result of a google search, I’m not especially recommending this author or even Heidegger, for that matter:

      “If being, as understood by Heidegger, is no-thing – in fact, the no-thing-ness absolutely necessary for things to appear – then it is the very capability of nothing (noun) to nothing (verb) that is the primal allowing by which any thing at all can appear. In other words, space/absence (Being) is absolutely necessary for the appearance of things (beings).
      You might look at it this way: if one was to describe the room that they are sitting in they would usually begin by describing all the things that occupy the room, and they might feel that was the best way to get a fairly accurate description of the room. We would not, in most cases, describe, or even mention the space between each thing, nor the space within the room. And yet, most of the room is space. Similarly, how often are we aware of the silence out of which all sound arises and falls? Or, of silence as pure potentiality out of which it possible for any sound to arise, anything from a Mozart symphony to the sound of a car crash. If we can imagine silence as a kind of internal space, then it is possible also to understand more subtle objects, such as feelings, sensations, and thoughts, as also arising and falling within space, our own subjective space of silent being-ness; and that internal space is just as necessary for the appearance of internal objects as external space is necessary for the appearance of external objects.”
      http://eksistence.blogspot.com/2008/08/martin-heidegger-and-question-of-being.html

      Now, if you are really– sincerely –interested in knowing God, take time to notice the space in which your thoughts, perceptions, and sensations arise. Notice the stillnes in between each breath you breathe and the silence between each heart-beat. Notice how life IS– and continues TO BE –apart from the running mental commentary and the smug, self-satisfied sense of superiority that is typical of the egoic mind (Christian and atheist, alike). There is no need to read books and study theology. Just be still and know… Step beyond that which you “think” or “believe” (or disbelieve) and simply and humbly abide in the “I Am” presence which IS the living Christ…
      http://jeshua21.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/living-faith-in-a-nutshell/

  • MNb

    “to notice the space in which your thoughts, perceptions, and sensations arise.”
    That space is occupied by my brains, which is exactly the thing that arises my thoughts, perceptions and sensations.
    But I guess you call my quest insincere, like the black magician who 20 years ago refused my attendance because I’m a skeptic.

    • http://www.yeshua21.com Wayne

      [“to notice the space in which your thoughts, perceptions, and sensations arise.”
      That space is occupied by my brains, which is exactly the thing that arises my thoughts, perceptions and sensations. But I guess you call my quest insincere, like the black magician who 20 years ago refused my attendance because I’m a skeptic.]

      Your quest? Do you mean question? Please clarify… What is your quest(ion)?

      Actually, I think if you look carefully, you will see that your brain– or the idea of it, at any rate –appears in that space along with the whole universe of your perceptions, thoughts, and emotions. That is what I see. While I can certainly imagine that it might all be taking place in my brain, that is at best speculation. A little though experiment will make this clear:

      http://jeshua21.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/a-spiritual-exercise/

      I have no problem with skepticism or agnosticism, but when you pretend to know that your conciousness of thoughts, perceptions and emotions can be reduced to brain states, you(at the very least) ignoring “the hard problem of consciousness” (see WikiPedia or search YouTube for David Chalmers; see also Sam Harris on “The Mystery of Consciousness”). And if you take the time to work through the short exercise indicated, above, you will also see that your assumptions get you mired in a hopeless paradox.
      If you notice my “skeptics corner” at the Yeshua21 blog, you will see that I speak very directly to sincere skeptics. If you are sincere, you will feel right at home there. All I ask in return is that if are you are sincerely interested in knowing God that you takesome time to notice the space in which your thoughts, perceptions, and sensations arise. Notice the stillnes in between each breath you breathe and the silence between each heart-beat. Notice how life IS– and continues TO BE –apart from the running mental commentary and the smug, self-satisfied sense of superiority that is typical of the egoic mind (Christian and atheist, alike). This will require a bit of patience on your part and a little commitment, but if you’re not willing to do, how can you every know what I am referring to?

  • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

    I totally admit that it is a minor point, but I have looked quite a bit into the relapse of Sister Marie Simon-Pierre. It didn’t happen. According to the original source which talked about the rumors of her relapse (http://www.rp.pl/artykul/442043-JPII—klopoty-z-cudem-.html (I used Google to translate it for me)), there was some discussion over whether it was actually miraculous and so the process of beatification was put on hold for a time while more doctors were consulted. This lead to *unfounded* speculation that the nun had relapsed. This speculation was rightly refuted.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      IT: So case closed? My understanding is that the diagnosis of Parkinson’s is inherently guesswork.


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