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Dialogue at Parkview Christian Church

I was invited by Pastor Tim Harlow to join him in a discussion at his Parkview Christian Church a little over a month ago. As they were spending some time talking about the Da Vinci Code and the issues raised by the book/movie, it seemed like the topic of “Doubt” was an important one and who better to help talk about doubt than an Atheist?

So, we decided we would have a discussion on stage. Not a debate. Very informal. I’d ask a question, he’d ask one, and we’d go back and forth until time ran out. Parkview is a (rapidly) growing church and it currently holds three services, one Saturday night and two on Sunday. Tim and I wanted to hold different dialogues each time (so it wouldn’t be scripted for any session).

I must admit: it was a bit nervewracking. Not only are thousands of people who disagree with me watching me, but I’m still a rookie at best responding to tough questions. I did what I could and I’m still doing a bit of Monday morning quarterbacking… but the audio can be found below. Judge for yourself:

Session 1: Saturday night’s dialogue. (wma) (Realplayer)

Session 2: Sunday morning’s dialogue. (wma) (Realplayer)

Session 3: Sunday afternoon’s dialogue. (wma) (Realplayer)

A DVD should be available soon, and when it is, it’ll be posted here.

Some thoughts on the weekend (and for future reference):

  • I received *many* emails from Atheists who said I was living out their dream in talking to a pastor in front of his congregation. They sent me Bible verses they wanted explained (“Look! It says the punishment for working on the Sabbath day is DEATH!”), questions that were rude in nature, and links to logical fallacies. Those things are often pointed out in a debate to show how wrong the other side is. The point here, though, was not to beat each other. It was to ask questions we sincerely want to know about the other side… things that don’t get talked about in debates. If you’re going into a church with the mindset to “beat” the pastor and not go in with an open mind, they have no reason to invite you.That’s doesn’t mean I didn’t ask hard questions. I did try to do that. But they went beyond logical fallacies that every Christian has heard or trying to catch Tim in some mistake.
  • There were a lot of points I should’ve followed up on which I let slide. I asked Tim what he thought about Pat Robertson when he said crazy things like Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 happened because of rampant lesbianism (or what have you). He responsed–and I’m paraphrasing–”Even if I believed that stuff, which I don’t, I would never say that out loud.” I needed to follow up with why it would even be okay to *think* those thoughts in the first place. (Session one)Similarly, I asked if Gandhi was going to hell for not being Christian. Tim spent a while answering the question… perhaps to soften the blow of the answer. I needed to reiterate the point for the audience: “So you think Gandhi is going to Hell?” That would’ve had a stronger effect, but I didn’t think to do it. (Session 1)Ditto with the social issues like putting Ten Commandments in the courthouse and “Under God” in the Pledge. This should’ve been an easy point for me to make, and I don’t feel like I made it strong enough. (End of session 1)And my own points against Creationism should’ve been my strongest, but I know I didn’t explain Evolution as strongly as I should have. I let the creationist/Intelligent Design view get by with too much credibility. Richard Dawkins would be so disappointed with me… (Session 2) This upset me more than anything all weekend. So I’ll post a much longer critique of points Tim made about Creationism later this week. But some things I would appreciate a better (quicker, more effective) response to:– Teaching only Evolution is like throwing out the number 4 and asking what 2 + 2 is. If you take out a possible explanation, isn’t any answer not correct?

    – Michael Behe’s book is brilliant.

    – Proof of evolution (Yes, there are long answers to this. What are some short, quick ones?)

  • Some questions I wrote down, but didn’t get a chance to ask:– What would you do if one of your daughters became an Atheist?– What problem does the church have with gay people?– When scientists say they have found a 3.4 billion year old microbe, how do you reconcile that with the idea of a 6,000 year old Earth? (Or if you don’t believe in the Young-Earth theory, why do you believe the scientists when they say this but not when they say something about Evolution?)– What a better thing to do when we die: Get buried as we are, or donate our organs or bodies to Science? Similarly, on an event like the National Day of Prayer, should we pray or donate blood?

Anyway, I mention the negative parts because they stood out in my mind the most. But there were a lot of positives, too, and if you listen to the audio, I hope you hear them. I think it was important for everyone to hear from Tim that the Bible is not word-for-word perfect. I think it was good for the audience to hear from me that Atheists don’t say “There is no God,” but rather, “I don’t believe in God.”

I’d love to read your thoughts.

And now, I really can :) Please comment below.

[tags]Creationism, Parkview, atheism, Christian, Harlow, National Geographic, Darwin, Evolution, Da Vinci Code[/tags]

  • Chris Boyd

    Just finishing up listening to the Saturday night dialogue..you did well! One thing I would have done differently…you said in minute 37, “If you don’t believe in that god, and you don’t believe in the Greek gods of, you know, past…I mean how come, what evidence do you need to disbelieve in them? It seems like you don’t need any. You know? You just, ‘Well, I don’t believe that…that’s a crazy story. I have MY god!’ … I’m an atheist. I mean, out of all the millions of gods that have existed, I don’t believe in any of them…you just believe in one. So, we’re really only one god apart from both being atheists.”

    I would have worded that a little differently for maximum impact. You addressed the gap between yourself and Tim, when you could have, in fact, showed him that the gap is not between you and him, but rather between each of you respectively and atheism, and that his gap is negligibly wider than yours.

    “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” – Stephen Roberts

  • Helen aka Ir

    Hemant wrote: I mention the negative parts because they stood out in my mind the most. But there were a lot of positives, too, and if you listen to the audio, I hope you hear them.

    Hemant, I listened to all three dialogs and I was very impressed by how you handled yourself. I agree that here and there you could have made your point a bit more strongly but overall you came across as ready with answers, no matter what Pastor Tim said.

    And what that implied to me was “I’ve thought through my position carefully. I’ve already heard and thought about your reasons why you believe in God and they weren’t sufficient for me.”

    I guess you were a rookie but you didn’t sound like one to me. I think if you get any better pastors will be quaking in their shoes at the thought of having a public dialog with you! ;)

    As for, WWDT (What Would Dawkins Think)? I think he would have been very impressed at how articulate you were.

    Onto specifics…

    Since you mentioned Dawkins I am curious about one thing. I thought I heard you say in dialog #1 that atheists are not trying to remove peoples’ religious beliefs. But – I think some are. I think Dawkins would love to do that because he thinks religious belief is extremely dangerous and destructive. Did I misunderstand you?

    I know that you and Pastor Tim were not debating but there were a number of times when I felt that what you said was more convincing than what he said. The one that sticks out most in my mind was in dialog #3 when he was trying to argue that he wouldn’t make good choices left to himself. Your comments about such things as how the facts about what drugs do to us are enough to put you off taking them made absolute sense to me. His statements such as we don’t think about the long-term if left to ourselves just didn’t seem accurate to me.

    When the two of you talked about ID and evolution I thought Pastor Tim sounded quite paranoid about scientists. I agree that maybe you could have responded more strongly but to me, Pastor Tim showed so much bias in his presuppositions about scientists, that he made it hard for me to take his comments seriously anyway.

    I thought you could have responded more strongly to Pascal’s Wager by immediately saying “the fatal flaw in PW is that ‘heaven’ or ‘worm food’ aren’t the only two options. If the Moslems are right we’ll both be in Allah’s hell forever”. You did make this point but I think you could have emphasized that this completely undermines the validity of PW.

    I think had you not been running out of time on dialog #3 you could have pushed him more on the ‘fool’ question – a great one. Because I think he fudged it by deciding it didn’t apply to you because you don’t claim with absolute certainty “There is no God” but rather say you’d be open to evidence. The verse doesn’t say that you’re only a fool if you claim it with absolute certainty. Maybe the verse means, if you say it at all then you’re a fool. Also – at that point he jumped over to Romans 1 which says all people are without excuse for not believing in God because the universe around us makes it obvious that God exists. (Kirk Cameron used this against you, I think) Anyway if anything this verse says you are without excuse but Pastor Tim didn’t seem to be using it that way with you which surprised me. I would have liked to hear what he said if you’d asked him “If this verse is true why don’t I see there must have been a Designer when I look at the world around me?”

    When Pastor Tim said the Bible is not necessarily literally true I’m not sure he was conceding as much as you thought. To me I heard him say that the only reason he won’t say it’s word-for-word true is that we can’t be certain nothing got changed as it was copied over the centuries. In fact Christians believe that very very few things have been changed and none of the changes are significant. So in essence, I think he does believe it’s word-for-word true. The disclaimer that we don’t hold the original in our hands so we won’t assert it’s word-for-word true, is immaterial, imo.

    In my opinion you did a great job and I think you said many things and conducted yourself in a way which will improve the image of atheists in the minds of those who have little information about atheists and what they do have is negative. (If their minds are open enough)

  • Eliza

    I wrote this late last night, when “comments” wasn’t working – voila now I can post it!

    Hemant, you did a GREAT job – wow. You were articulate & funny, knowledgeable, & stayed level headed. If I’d been able to string two words together, I would have jumped on the pastor in several places where you found common ground instead – & your approach was much more conducive to discussion,. Way to know your audience!

    And, while it’s good to reflect, don’t be too hard on yourself. Your point about Gandhi might have been lost on the Christians, but it came through loud & clear for those who were listening, especially when (I think) Tim got the last word ‘ – that “saved” and “good” are not the same thing. Your comments on the Ten Commandments were good – especially your questioning why the biblical punishments were no longer insisted upon.

    The evolution/ID discussion didn’t go as smoothly, as you say – but you did quite well. I was surprised at how pro-ID, anti-evolution Tim was – hadn’t expected that, from a guy who sounds “modern” – and that seemed like it skewed things off the rails somewhat. One tact, maybe, would be to separate (1) creation of universe (somehow he turned this into “evolution” – threw me for a loop), from (2) origin of life (not proven, won’t ever be “proven” even if it’s replicated in a lab, no fossil evidence), from (3) origin of species (which is what Darwin was describing & which is most easily supportable, from fossil records and also from modern observations of changes within some species, including Darwin’s and more modern observations of finches in the Galapagos Islands). I believe all that public schools are teaching is the origin of species – not the origin of life. That’s certainly what was being taught as evolution in the Dover case last year. (An additional tact might be to point out that Darwin was a Christian – would want to read up on the details, but apparently he lost his faith as his observations of natural world led him to conclusions that weren’t supported by the Bible, and perhaps also based on people’s harsh reactions to his findings.)

    One other point on evolution, may not play well to audiences but it’s a pet peeve so here goes: evolution is a process, not a “fact” or “falsehood”. That process – evolution – can definitely be demonstrated to exist. (Natural selection is straightforward – the part where genetic mutations introduce new features is harder to prove to people, I suspect.)

    Regarding: “Teaching only Evolution is like throwing out the number 4 and asking what 2 + 2 is. If you take out a possible explanation, isn’t any answer not correct?” The first part doesn’t make sense as an analogy. If one were to try to make it fit, it would be more like throwing out 2 and trying to get 4 (well, there’s always 1+1+1+1, or [1+1] + [1+1], or 1+3, or 5-1, or…). The point in the second part, taking out possible explanations, is a “slippery slope” – if a possible explanation is to be included, then all possible explanations should be included – including magic, aliens, God, creation myths from other cultures. For origin of species, we don’t have to do this – there is credible evidence for evolution. For origin of life, and of the universe, the scientific theories are less well supported, and don’t answer the question “why” – in which case all those creative supernatural explanations above can be brought into the classroom. Perhaps as a creative writing assignment!

    Again, you carried the flag well – be proud!

  • Grant Suhs

    So, random story. I sat on this panel last night with Mary Lou Schmidt, a pediatrics professor at UIC Medical School. I was telling her that I knew a student in the program, but it didn’t sound like she knew you. Either way, I left wondering ‘how the hell is hemant doing?’ I still had your AIM name on my buddy list, so a quick visit to your profile and voila, this message. I just wanted to say ‘hello.’ God, it’s been a long time. Scratch that. Spirit of humanity, it’s been a long time. I hope you’re doing well.

    Grant

  • http://www.edwardtbabinski.us Edward T. Babinski

    Quick proofs of evolution? There’s nothing quicker than a few photos.

    Photos of the most “inbetween” skulls that lay between apes and homo sapiens. (I know of several website that line them all up for easy viewing.)

    Photos of human and chimpanzee chromosomes lined up side by side. (Especially human chromosome #2 that has a second centromere and reversed telomeres inside it, which means there is evidence inside every human cell of a past chromosomal fusion when two chromosomes became one. Now just line up that long human chromosome #2 beside it’s two chimpanzee homologues, the bands line up. Its obvious that we share ancestors but ours come from a line in which two chromosomes fused to become a single chromosome. This was discussed at length by Christian and biologist Keith Miller in the Dover court case, the transcript of which can be found online at the talk origins archive.)

    Photos of the earliest known vertebrate from the Cambrian (which had merely a notocord and very little “brain”), followed by vertebrates that were still wormlike fish without jaws, then later, jawed fish, followed later by boney fish, then lobe-finned fishes and fish with incipient hand bones (amphibian-like fish), then amphibians (that still had a fish-like fin on their backs and a smaller fin on their tails), then reptile-like amphibians, reptiles, mammal-like reptiles, mammals, monkeys, ancient apes, modern apes, the homo-line.

    Also photos of ancient whales with hind limbs, coupled with photos of modern day whale and dolphin embryos that all develop hind limb buds that later get reabsorbed, and also some photos of modern day whales found with vestigial hind limbs (I guess the hind limb buds still don’t always get reabsorbed).

    Photos don’t take a lot of talk and they leave a great impression.

    For further discussion of what photos leave the greatest impression and why:

    http://www.edwardtbabinski.us/evolution/visual_evolution.html

  • http://www.iidb.com David

    Wow, you did amazing. It is really hard to have a serious discussion about religion without becoming heated, emotional, and aggressive. Nicely done. I have only listened to to the first section so far but when I have a chance I hope to complete the series. So far I really like your questions and I really like your answers.

    I think you did a great job of explaining morality but you probably would have been better off to keep your explanation out of evolutionary context even though evolution is clearly relevant. It would be easy for your audience to dismiss what you said as soon as they heard the word “survival.” When answering the morality question you should focus on the Golden Rule (just because it is bibilical doesn’t make it wrong) and empathy. Basically as social and self aware beings, we have the ability to relate with other people. We understand them because we understand ourselves and we can project our emotions and understanding onto them. Religion fails because it acts as a barrier between people that blocks people’s ability to relate with one another. This idea could certainly be better articulated, but everyone can understand it without triggering some of those red flags.

    I consider creationism to be dogmatic and evolution to be science because evolution can be demonstrated using the scientific method; specifically you can use it to make predictions. It is the predictions, which when later are found to be true, that “proove” evolution. This website outlines some of the predictions made with evolution:

    http://chem.tufts.edu/AnswersInScience/evo_science.html

    My favorite is the remote island/flightless bird example:

    “A thousand years ago, just about every remote island on the planet had a species of flightless bird. Evolution explains this by saying that flying creatures are particularly able to establish themselves on remote islands. Some birds, living in a safe place where there is no need to make sudden escapes, will take the opportunity to give up on flying. Hence, Evolution predicts that each flightless bird species arose on the island that it was found on. So, Evolution predicts that no two islands would have the same species of flightless bird. Now that all the world’s islands have been visited, we know that this was a correct prediction.”

    It is complete, intuative, easy to explain, and only makes sense with an understanding of evolution. Now if i could only find a reference to whomever made the original prediction…

    My younger brother, ApostateAbe, also came up with the Smoking-Gun Evidence of Man-Monkey Kindred:

    http://www.evcforum.net/cgi-bin/dm.cgi?action=msg&f=9&t=89&m=1
    http://www.evcforum.net/cgi-bin/dm.cgi?action=msg&f=9&t=90&m=1

    Unfortunately it is very difficult to explain some of these ideas without his pretty graphics.

    Thanks for representing atheists so well!

    David

  • http://www.philosophy.answerz.be Alan

    Ok its good that you’re getting dialogue with some Christians, but I have to criticise the material you talked about. It was calm, but still confrontational and I was confused as to your reasons for asking them. No doubt you think you were just trying to make them think about their faith, but what greater purpose does this have? The fundermentalist still thinks about their faith, just less logically (perhaps) than a liberal.

    To make them think logically about their faith would require the authority that you simply did not have (and the paster didn’t give). So instead they just absorbed the discussion instead of thinking it through. Let me give an analogy you may be famimular with – reading Hume’s dialogues. You can read through his books relatively quickly and take in what he says without question, or you can read and think about 1 chapter a day. All the christians there would have been doing the former, except perhaps for some doubters (who your discussion actually repels), and the closet atheists .

    I think the real objective of this discussion for you should have been to show that atheists and Christians can get along well. To do this you need to captivate an audience with personal stories, perhaps metaphored for effect, and certainly with the adrenaline buzz words that you find in many of their songs (battle, cry, power, storm) so that the audience connect with you for a few hours and therefore remove steriotypical barriers of the big bad atheist.

    Well anyway I should have cought this earlier with your iidb thread asking for suggestions, but perhaps you could do some of this stuff in the future. Oh, and get yourself a few psychology books out the Libary. Dr. Cialdini wrote a great book on the art of persuassion for example.

    From Alan (excuse bad spelling)

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen aka Ir

    Alan wrote: I think the real objective of this discussion for you should have been to show that atheists and Christians can get along well. To do this you need to captivate an audience with personal stories, perhaps metaphored for effect, and certainly with the adrenaline buzz words that you find in many of their songs (battle, cry, power, storm) so that the audience connect with you for a few hours and therefore remove steriotypical barriers of the big bad atheist.

    But I think Hemant did show that atheists and Christians can get along well, by doing just what he did.

    I would have thought less of Hemant had he put on the sort of show you describe. I’m glad he didn’t – I’m glad that he asked his questions and he answered the questions put to him as honestly as possible.

  • Eliza

    Re same quote from Alan: I agree, I think this is a big part of what Hemant accomplished. Sure, if Hemant and Tim had spent the whole time talking about baseball & never touching on religion, they might have ended up showing that As and Cs could get along without any hitches at all – but that wasn’t the point. It is important to show the audience you’re a likeable person, and it seems to me Hemant did that. He included some personal history & used humor. It would be hard to try to “captivate” an audience without a truly captivating tale to tell, and it would sound fake and forced to use adrenaline buzz words if the tale didn’t call for them.

    The Cialdini book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, looks interesting. I think one basic point is that you do have to make some connection w/ your dialog partner and the audience, then from that point of agreement start bringing in observations that are hard to reconcile with that position. “Mmm, bible is inerrant except for maybe a few translational errors. I see. Could you tell me, then, how you reconcile the genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3? And who, exactly, Jesus did appear to after the resurrection? Because read literally, the gospels tell 4 different versions of that event.” Or whatever.

  • JP

    Just finishing up listening to the third talk at Parkview. I think you did a great job.

    My mom was in the second audience and my aunts (and almost me) were in the first. I am “the atheist” in the family and they REALLY wanted me to go. I am not comfortable with Parkview’s brand of enthusiastic worship, and, frankly, the “ebay atheist” sounded like a Lee Strobel-esque gimmick to get me to go and get saved.

    What I think you really succeeded in (which is all I try to achieve when I talk to them) is that atheism is another belief system, one just based on the inability to believe. And being an atheist does not mean you are a bad person (even if we are going to hell). Also that atheists usually study their religion more than some of them do, and not to find debate fodder, but to simply try and understand why they are so excited about it.

    As hard as it was for me to hear (and I was scolding my speakers) Pastor Tim say how he “would be a completely immoral person without this book” (paraphrased) – I think it IS hard for many of them. Even GOING to church, they cheat, steal, lie, etc.

    And you won’t win many friends in a room of blue collar folks explaining that the more schooling someone has, the less prone to Christianity they are. That just means they are one of the dumb ones.

    But all in all, good job. You literally blew away my mom and aunt. They were quite stunned after each of their viewings, so much so that all they could say was “He’s really smart – most of it went over my head. You would have loved it!”

    Apparantly, Pastor Tim is always looking for atheists to put on the stage, I have been solicited myself. You made his prayers come true.

    :)

  • http://www.friendlyatheist.com Hemant

    Thanks for the comments :) Some specific responses:

    Helen– Yes, there are some people who might like religion to disappear, but I think we’re talking about different things. The likes of Dawkins and Sam Harris worry mostly about the aspects of religion that lead people to violence. I think if it were *only* an issue of belief about things like where we go when we die, they wouldn’t be as adamant as they seem to be. I think even the folks at Parkview would agree that the violent nature of religions does need to stop, too.

    Alan– The purpose, you’re right, was to show that Atheists and Christians can get along. Here, we wanted to show that while still having a serious conversation about religion. And the way to do this past weekend was to ask hard questions, duke it out verbally (but without getting into some sort of shouting match), concede what we didn’t know, and show that we’re both ok afterwards. I think that’s what happened. I could have thrown in a few more personal stories, sure. But overall, I tried to do that when possible.

  • Karen

    Fantastic job, Hemant! I really felt proud to be an atheist, listening to how articulate, humorous and intelligent you are.

    No doubt I would have reacted emotionally or angrily to some of his (more inane) comments. You never did, and yet you also didn’t let him stomp you verbally. You held your own and made a lot of good points, with grace and charm.

    I loved how he kept trying to wrap up with an “invitation” to you to find out more about Jesus (evangelism 101) and you – very, very nicely but firmly – recognized that and didn’t let him preach at you. :-) Way to go!

  • Natalie

    Wow, looks like I’m the only Christian leaving a comment!

    I haven’t had the opportunity to to listen to dialogues, but I am looking forward to it. I want to say that, as a scientist, I find it really hard to be around Christians sometimes. I detest the idea of dumbing myself down just to conform to the “faith” I had as a child, that “faith” being the idea of excepting things because it says so in the bible, etc. To me, being a Christian means that I don’t understand things all the time, and that I don’t feel like I believe all the time. I challenge God, and as far as I’m concerning, God should be able to handle that. In my own observation, I see this “dumbing down” in a lot in my friends. This sense of dismissing anything that doesn’t agree with the faith. When I bring up scientific notions or discoveries that interest me, and that seemingly conflict with Chirstian ideas, I sense fear in my friends, fear of losing faith. In these situations, I don’t understand why potentially gaining knowlege and understanding has to equal losing faith.

    These are just some thoughts that have been on my mind.

  • jim

    Hemant

    Very nice job on these interviews – sounds like he was pretty friendly

    Jim

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen aka Ir

    Helen– Yes, there are some people who might like religion to disappear, but I think we’re talking about different things. The likes of Dawkins and Sam Harris worry mostly about the aspects of religion that lead people to violence. I think if it were *only* an issue of belief about things like where we go when we die, they wouldn’t be as adamant as they seem to be. I think even the folks at Parkview would agree that the violent nature of religions does need to stop, too.

    Thanks Hemant. You raise an excellent point in saying that when atheists want religion to disappear, it’s because of their concern over how it leads to violence.

    And you’re right that Christians are just as opposed to religion leading to violence as atheists.

    Someone on IIDB made the good point also that atheists would protect the freedom of religious people to be religious – because they believe strongly in giving freedom to people to be religious or not – even though they amy well strongly dislike some of what religious people say and do and they may well wish that religion would disappear. Atheists recognize that protecting their right to be atheists means also protecting the rights of religious people to be religious.

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen aka Ir

    JP, I was very interested to read your response to Hemant, especially given your perspective as an atheist whose family attends Parkview.

    I copied your response to Hemant

    here.

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen aka Ir

    …sorry, I meant, I copied it here.

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen aka Ir
  • http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/We_Are_Penn_State/ Penn State Football

    Chris Boyd: You addressed the gap between yourself and Tim, when you could have, in fact, showed him that the gap is not between you and him, but rather between each of you respectively and atheism, and that his gap is negligibly wider than yours.

    Please clarify. Are you saying the difference between the believing in God and not believing in God is “negligible”???

    Helen aka Ir: I know that you and Pastor Tim were not debating but there were a number of times when I felt that what you said was more convincing than what he said.

    It is much easier to feel one side is “winning” when you already have a vested interest in the outcome. Look at the polls after every presidential debate. The Republicans always think the GOP candidate was better while the Democratics are convinced that the Democrat was better.

    When Pastor Tim said the Bible is not necessarily literally true I’m not sure he was conceding as much as you thought. To me I heard him say that the only reason he won’t say it’s word-for-word true is that we can’t be certain nothing got changed as it was copied over the centuries. In fact Christians believe that very very few things have been changed and none of the changes are significant. So in essence, I think he does believe it’s word-for-word true. The disclaimer that we don’t hold the original in our hands so we won’t assert it’s word-for-word true, is immaterial, imo.

    I think you need to define what you mean by “literally true.” For instance, some Christians believe that the days referred to in the creation story of Genesis are days in the way we think of them, that is 24 hours each.

    I have no idea if it was 144 hours or some other time frame. To me the important line in the passage is “In the beginning God created…” The time period is trivia compared to who/what caused the Big Bang.

    Eliza: Your point about Gandhi might have been lost on the Christians…

    No, it wasn’t lost on us at all. If one believes that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh and the Bible is true, then one must also believe He was telling the truth when He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He didn’t say “No one comes to the Father except through me or if you’ve been a really good person.” Jesus didn’t leave any “wiggle room.”

    As Christians we believe that nobody is good enough to earn their way into heaven, not even Ganhdi. That’s why we take The Great Commission so seriously.

    Regarding: “Teaching only Evolution is like throwing out the number 4 and asking what 2 + 2 is. If you take out a possible explanation, isn’t any answer not correct?” The point in the second part, taking out possible explanations, is a “slippery slope”–if a possible explanation is to be included, then all possible explanations should be included–including magic, aliens, God, creation myths from other cultures.

    I agree, this was a pretty weak answer. It’s not “If you take out a possible explanation isn’t any answer not correct?” it’s “If you take out the real answer, isn’t any answer not correct?”. This is, of course, circular logic, as it presumes God exists.

    I thought a much stronger tactic would have been to refer to noted (former) atheist Antony Flew, who said, “[T]he evidential situation of natural (as opposed to revealed) theology has been transformed in the more than fifty years since Watson and Crick won the Nobel Prize for their discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism.” Flew doesn’t endorse the Christian God, to be sure, but his position is something Christians have always know intuitively–the probability that the diversity and complexity of life on earth evolved by random chance from some lifeless goo is vanishingly slight.

    Alan: I think the real objective of this discussion for you should have been to show that atheists and Christians can get along well.

    So sad you were unable to attend or you would have seen that Hemant succeeded tremendously in this regard.

    To make them think logically about their faith would require the authority that you simply did not have (and the paster didn’t give). So instead they just absorbed the discussion instead of thinking it through.

    I’m confused. You took Hemant to task for not showing that atheists and Christians can get along well, then you insult the congregation of Parkview and Christians as a whole by stating that we don’t think logically about our faith and didn’t think through the discussion. Implying that Christians are stupid is not a good way to win friends and influence people.

    David: Religion fails because it acts as a barrier between people that blocks people’s ability to relate with one another.

    Disagree completely. I would refer you to Hemant’s comments that one of the things that really impressed him about Christian churches is their ability to build community. I can assure you that my faith and involvement with Parkview has enhanced my ability to relate to others.

  • Jodi

    Hi Hemant:

    I do go to Parkview Christian Church and was so glad that you were there. I was there on Saturday and enjoyed the debate. You are not unlike many christians, because we all doubt. It is human to doubt. Scientifically we will never have all the answers as well as biblically.

    I am so interested in your belief system and your views, I respect them, however, it still makes me sad. Because God wants to be with all of us in Heaven, but it is our choice. I am sorry for all the Christians, myself included, who have turned people off with their attitudes, comments and actions. I don’t believe that people come to Christ with being criticised, but with love.

    It is very hard to defend christianity, because there are soo many bad christians. Many have twisted the word of God to their benefit and their causes. Satan has a great hand in this world and it is evident in christianity. By the way, do you believe in Satan?

    All I can tell you is that when you ask the Holy Spirit into your heart, the world becomes clearer. I believe many christians are not truely christians and do not know Christ.

    Hemant, my wish for you and for all is that the Holy Spirit comes into your hearts and answer all your questions.

    Peace be with you and with all. Peace is with me, because Jesus is with me. I don’t know how to explain that to an atheist, I wish I did. (I know that sounds mean, but I really don’t mean it that way).

    Again, it was great hearing you speak and I think it is great to have a forum where people can debate beliefs, respectively.

    Jodi

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen aka Ir

    Helen aka Ir: I know that you and Pastor Tim were not debating but there were a number of times when I felt that what you said was more convincing than what he said.

    PSF: It is much easier to feel one side is “winning” when you already have a vested interest in the outcome.

    Please explain how you figured out I have a vested interest in the outcome and what it is.

    Look at the polls after every presidential debate. The Republicans always think the GOP candidate was better while the Democratics are convinced that the Democrat was better.

    I don’t know if that’s true or not.

    I’ve certainly heard people comment on debates that their candidate didn’t come off so well – I know it’s not always true that people think their own candidate ‘won’.

  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/We_Are_Penn_State/ Penn State Football

    PSF: It is much easier to feel one side is “winning” when you already have a vested interest in the outcome.

    Helen aka Ir: Please explain how you figured out I have a vested interest in the outcome and what it is.

    Would you prefer I phrased it, “It is much easier to feel one side is ‘winning’ when the observer is not neutral”?

    PSF: Look at the polls after every presidential debate. The Republicans always think the GOP candidate was better while the Democratics are convinced that the Democrat was better.

    Helen aka Ir: I don’t know if that’s true or not. I’ve certainly heard people comment on debates that their candidate didn’t come off so well–I know it’s not always true that people think their own candidate ‘won’.

    After every presidential debate the vast majority of Republicans polled will say their guy won or it was a draw, while the vast majority of Democratics polled will say their guy won or it was a draw. Even if they don’t think their candidate made the best presentation, they are not neutral about the issues being discussed.

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen aka Ir

    Helen aka Ir: Please explain how you figured out I have a vested interest in the outcome and what it is.

    PSF: Would you prefer I phrased it, “It is much easier to feel one side is ‘winning’ when the observer is not neutral”?

    Not really, because you’re still implying I am too biased to be objective – you’re just doing it more indirectly than before.

    Here’s a specific example of something Pastor Tim said which I thought was weirder than anything Hemant said in all three dialogs:

    When Hemant asked about babies suffering Pastor Tim said that at least when babies die we know they go to heaven.

    The implication of that – it seems to me – is thaty we should kill human being before he/she reaches the age of accountability, so that they all go to heaven. It would avoid risking them going to hell.

    Yeah right – I think not. But isn’t that the logical conclusion to be drawn from what Pastor Tim said?

  • lisa petratca

    Dear Hemant – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this past weekend. Thanks for coming to church to share your questions with one of the most God-centered men I know. I hope you will continue to ask questions. I pray you’ll find truth. I felt for you to be up there in front of so many people that you know disagree with you – as you mentioned in your above comments. But, you must know that each of those hearts who sat there and listened to you & Pastor Tim talk – looked at you with love. Keep asking questions. We’re not so different in that we all have questions… and some of those questions – only Jesus can answer.

  • http://www.friendlyatheist.com Hemant

    Jodi– You asked if I believe in Satan, and I don’t. It’s all part of the supernatural aspect of religion that I don’t subscribe to. I am curious what qualities a “true” Christian would possess, because I hear that said a lot from all different types of people! Thank for the comments; they didn’t come off mean at all.

    Helen– That is an interesting point; I wish I had brought it up! I think I raised a similar point when I asked why they would send missionaries to teach people about Christ, since that would give someone the opportunity to reject him, thereby sending him to hell. Logically, wouldn’t it be better off if they didn’t know and were judged on their own merits?

  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/We_Are_Penn_State/ Penn State Football

    Hemant: I asked why they would send missionaries to teach people about Christ, since that would give someone the opportunity to reject him, thereby sending him to hell. Logically, wouldn’t it be better off if they didn’t know and were judged on their own merits?

    Except we don’t have that option. Jesus’ instructions of The Great Commission are quite clear. Christians are called to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen aka Ir

    Helen– That is an interesting point; I wish I had brought it up!

    Next time you can ;) I think I picked that up off IIDB. Their General Religious Discussions board is a good source of objections to all aspects of Christian faith.

    I think I raised a similar point when I asked why they would send missionaries to teach people about Christ, since that would give someone the opportunity to reject him, thereby sending him to hell. Logically, wouldn’t it be better off if they didn’t know and were judged on their own merits?

    I definitely see your point that if what a missionary says changes the status of a person from maybe going to heaven to definitely going to hell, then it would be better for the missionary not to go.

    In my experience Bible-believing Christians often believe that people who don’t know about Christ are all going to fail the ‘on their own merits’ test because a person has to be perfect to pass it and no-one is. Christians with that belief have no reason not to send missionaries.

    I agree that ‘then we shouldn’t send missionaries because they enable people to reject Christ’ and ‘then we should kill babies before they can reject Christ’ are similar lines of arguing.

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen aka Ir

    PSF wrote: Except we don’t have that option. Jesus’ instructions of The Great Commission are quite clear. Christians are called to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

    You’re right – those words give Christians no other option.

    I think it’s fascinating that Jesus said to go make disciples of all nations. Not believers of all nations.

  • http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/We_Are_Penn_State/ Penn State Football

    Helen aka Ir: I think it’s fascinating that Jesus said to go make disciples of all nations. Not believers of all nations.

    I think it’s fascinating that one would find a meaningful distinction between those two words.

  • http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/We_Are_Penn_State/ Penn State Football

    Helen aka Ir: Please explain how you figured out I have a vested interest in the outcome and what it is.

    PSF: Would you prefer I phrased it, “It is much easier to feel one side is ‘winning’ when the observer is not neutral”?

    Helen aka Ir: Not really, because you’re still implying I am too biased to be objective–you’re just doing it more indirectly than before.

    What I’m saying isn’t directed specifically at you. Nobody is objective regarding subjects about which they are passionate. I’m not objective about Penn State Football and I find it exceedingly difficult to believe an atheist could be objective about a conversation between a friendly atheist and a friendly Christian.

    Helen aka Ir: Here’s a specific example of something Pastor Tim said which I thought was weirder than anything Hemant said in all three dialogs:

    When Hemant asked about babies suffering Pastor Tim said that at least when babies die we know they go to heaven. The implication of that–it seems to me–is thaty we should kill human being before he/she reaches the age of accountability, so that they all go to heaven. It would avoid risking them going to hell. Yeah right–I think not. But isn’t that the logical conclusion to be drawn from what Pastor Tim said?

    What I find weirder than anything said by Hemant or Pastor Tim is the belief that such a conclusion is “logical.”

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen aka Ir

    Helen aka Ir: Please explain how you figured out I have a vested interest in the outcome and what it is.

    PSF: Would you prefer I phrased it, “It is much easier to feel one side is ‘winning’ when the observer is not neutral”?

    Helen aka Ir: Not really, because you’re still implying I am too biased to be objective–you’re just doing it more indirectly than before.

    PSF wrote: What I’m saying isn’t directed specifically at you. Nobody is objective regarding subjects about which they are passionate.

    I agree that passionate people are less likely to be objective but I think that people with good self-awareness can guard against a lack of objectivity.

    I’m not objective about Penn State Football

    Ok – but that’s your experience, not mine.

    and I find it exceedingly difficult to believe an atheist could be objective about a conversation between a friendly atheist and a friendly Christian.

    With all due respect, you finding something ‘exceedingly difficult to believe’ doesn’t prove anything any more than an atheist finding God exceedingly difficult to believe in doesn’t prove God doesn’t exist.

    Anyway I don’t see what your relevance your views on atheists lacking objectivity have to me.

    Helen aka Ir: Here’s a specific example of something Pastor Tim said which I thought was weirder than anything Hemant said in all three dialogs:

    When Hemant asked about babies suffering Pastor Tim said that at least when babies die we know they go to heaven. The implication of that–it seems to me–is thaty we should kill human being before he/she reaches the age of accountability, so that they all go to heaven. It would avoid risking them going to hell. Yeah right–I think not. But isn’t that the logical conclusion to be drawn from what Pastor Tim said?

    What I find weirder than anything said by Hemant or Pastor Tim is the belief that such a conclusion is “logical.”

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen aka Ir

    PSF wrote: When Hemant asked about babies suffering Pastor Tim said that at least when babies die we know they go to heaven. The implication of that–it seems to me–is thaty we should kill human being before he/she reaches the age of accountability, so that they all go to heaven. It would avoid risking them going to hell. Yeah right–I think not. But isn’t that the logical conclusion to be drawn from what Pastor Tim said?

    What I find weirder than anything said by Hemant or Pastor Tim is the belief that such a conclusion is “logical.”

    If doing something that guarantees someone’s salvation is logical then it’s logical. Because that’s what killing babies achieves if all babies go to heaven.

    (The same thinking might mean that abortion is ok after all aborted babies are guaranteed heaven; whereas had that baby lived he/she might have grown up in a godless homes and have rejected Christ and then would have gone to hell. Yes, I know I’m being provocative)

    If not then it’s not logical.

  • Eliza

    Penn State Football, or other Christians if anyone can help me out here, can I ask why John 14:6 seems to be the only statement by Jesus that Christians give as “the” way to God? There are several other statements by Jesus in other, earlier, texts of the New Testament; I would presume that “if one believes that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh and the Bible is true, then one must also believe He was telling the truth…” in everything he is quoted as saying, not just ‘when He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He didn’t say “No one comes to the Father except through me or if you’ve been a really good person.” Jesus didn’t leave any “wiggle room.”

    Those 2 sentences from John 14:6 were written, in Greek, roughly 60 years after Jesus died. None of the earlier writing in the New Testament relate this statement – not the Pauline letters, not the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, or Luke. (Luke 12:8-9 seems closest, as far as I can tell.) In fact, though little quoted, there are several other statements Jesus is said to have made regarding routes to eternal life, or actions crucial to gaining access to heaven. Here is one example from each of the other gospels:

    Mark 10:20 …”You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

    (I know that many Christians do give generously, and work to help disadvantaged people. But He said the rich man would NOT get into heaven without selling all that he had, harder than passing through a camel’s eye, etc. Why is this not quoted nearly as much as John 14:6?)

    Matthew 5:17-20 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a jot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

    (Not just the Ten Commandments, but all of Jewish Law. Now, I know that in other places in the New Testament say that the Law has been supplanted by the coming of Jesus, but in the Gospel of Matthew that’s not what Jesus is quoted as saying.)

    Luke 6:35 “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”

    (Now, this sounds like a loophole through which Gandhi might have slipped…)

    None of these passages is accompanied by the requirement that the person/people reach God, heaven, or salvation through Jesus. Each of these passages is from the Bible, which (as you indicated) many/most Christians believe to be true.

    Please help me understand why, then, the latest-written (but most poetic) requirement is the one that gets quoted. It seems kind of like cherry-picking, imo, but then I am coming from an unchurched background and may be missing a crucial explanation….Thanks.

  • Eliza

    Now, in the light of morning…apologies for diverting the discussion on Hemant’s blog. (Which doesn’t mean I still don’t really, really wonder about the above.)

    It’s just that, to me, the above is just the natural followup to Pastor Tim’s, and others’, response on the Gandhi question. How can anyone be certain they know the one and only true path? Even if Jesus was the son of God, every “He said…” quote is from text written 40-60 years after his death – so, in the scheme of things, seems more likely to reflect the wishful memories of the author than an actual transcript. That suggestion is rejected by many/most Christians, as far as I can tell, yet it’s not clear to me how you/they can be so certain, other than that’s the teaching…and it fits best with what people want to believe. And you/they have been told repeatedly that it’s true and it’s the one true way.

    Yet even if “the Bible is true”, how can any person or group, no matter how devout or learned, know which particular teaching is “The” way Jesus meant, when the texts also promise other ways as valid, in Jesus’s own words, so maybe he did mean to leave wiggle room? In most of the gospels, he was accepting of sinners & the downtrodden & those rejected by society, many times telling people “truly, your reward will be great” or that they had a place with the Father, even without them making any statement that they’d accepted Him into their hearts, as the one true path to the Father, etc. His harshest comments were for the religious (Pharisees) whose outward piety (& maybe certainty that they knew the one true path?) was not matched inside or by their actions toward others. So, maybe it’d be prudent to express a little less certainty about whether or not God has accepted a good person like Gandhi into Heaven…?

  • Frankfort

    RESPONDING TO:
    When scientists say they have found a 3.4 billion year old microbe, how do you
    reconcile that with the idea of a 6,000 year old Earth? (Or if you don’t
    believe in the Young-Earth theory, why do you believe the scientists when they
    say this but not when they say something about Evolution?)

    Are scientists not ever wrong? They have been wrong so many times about so many things. Why would I believe that they really have a 3.4 billion year old microbe when just a decade ago they were telling people that it’s fat grams, not calories or sugar, that make people fat. Many of the scientists’ vaccines have been dangerous and so called medicinal cures have been deadly. Furthermore, how MANY studies have been proven to have been falsified by scientists for personal or corporate gain. These and so many other reasons are why I can dismiss a “scientist” stating that they’ve dated a microbe to be older than intelligent design or creationism states the earth is old. “Educated” people in all of history have been found to be foolish and wrong, some scientists and some
    Christians. The title “scientist” does not make a study by such an individual a
    complete truth. I’ve learned in over 40 years of education and life experience to
    take what “scientists” say with a grain of salt and a “wait and see” attitude. You never know who’s just publishing something for publicity, truth or no truth.

  • Eliza

    Frankfort, the news reports of the mounds in Australia are all qualifying the finding, saying it “may be” the oldest life on earth. However, the dating of the mounds back 3.4 million years seems not to be in question. I understand that you are very skeptical of science and scientists, and perhaps of geologic dating methods; luckily, there’s alot of information out there, for anyone who feels it’s unreliable and likely to be disproven to investigate for himself or herself what is said to be known about it.

    Geologic dating (radiometric dating) was first done in 1907 and is now a pretty standard and well-worked out technique; you can read more about it at this USGS site, which (besides describing the history of development of radiometric dating and describing how it’s done) also gives a list of 14 examples of geologic samples. Thirteen of the 14 examples they give date back beyond 6000 years. Four of the examples they give date back more than 1,000,000 years. The information on that page may help direct further inquiry, if you’re concerned that someone must be falsifying information. (The more independent corroboration, the more likely the information is reliable…)

    In case you’re interested, I (a skeptic) tried searching Google Scholar for the terms: radiometric dating criticism (results are here). You’re welcome to go look at the list of 720 papers which met these search criteria, but unfortunately it seems to be a well-enough established scientific method that the criticisms are about more picky details than whether or not radiometric dating is false.

    I guess the other major potential explanation for the repeated findings of rocks older than 6000 years on the earth is that God put the rocks and fossils there 6000 years ago specifically including various levels of radiation decay so that it would seem to any future scientists that the rocks and fossils were older than 6000 years, when really they aren’t. That would take omniscience and omnipotence, for sure! Not to mention some sneakiness, imo. ;)

  • http://www.iidb.com David

    Hemant,

    I just finished listening to the entire series and I think you did a incredible job throughout. Kudos. It really was a feelgood conversation and a pleasure to listen to. The second and the third sections really flowed smoothly.

    Although you did a great job of separating the Big Bang and abiogenesis from evolution, I think defending evolution is where you have the most room to improve. Pastor Tim asserted that DNA evidence points to God but did not elaborate. A simple way to explain why DNA evidence supports evolution is to talk about how scientists are able to establish a relationship between a parent and a child based on shared DNA and using those same methods scientists are able to identify the relationships between different animals. But what is really important is that the genetic evidence confirmed what scientists had predicted through our understanding of evolution. It is really important to follow up with the prediction element because, like I mentioned earlier, a testable prediction is what makes evolution scientific and ID/Creationism dogmatic.

    David

  • Frankfort

    To Eliza, regarding verses from the Bible and cherry picking;

    Rather than respond to each of the verses you have quoted and try to explain, I would suggest you do an intellectual study, study the words in context (extremely important). Study as a professor might; discovering where, when (and was it before the new covenant of Jesus or after, because that makes a huge difference) and why the words were stated. Plucking a sentence or two from any large book and trying to understand what was meant can be difficult. I struggled the most, when I became a Christian, (as an educated adult, I chose Jesus/Christianity), with the holocast victims going to hell after all they had suffered, and studied tremendously to understand the Bible had to say about such issues.I’ve also done studies (with good, educated teachers) that combine the known history of the time with the Bible verses as they were written. It’s amazing to discover how much of written history coincides with the Bible and the people in it. It was after much study that I was able to understand the Bible and it’s teachings and learned that I can’t cherry pick the verses I like and tear out the pages that make me uncomfortable. At that point, I have to accept by faith and my limited earthy brain that I can either accept God/Jesus/Bible entirely or reject it all entirely. Obviously, I accepted. I was raised in a home where my mother lived by her horoscope and palm readings and psychics and my step-father became a scientologist; the Bible wasn’t forced down my throat. I was very much the doubting Thomas that needed something real and concrete and I found it. Give it a shot (an intellectual study) and see what you discover.

  • Julie Marie

    Penn State football said, in re: believers vs. disciples:

    I think it’s fascinating that one would find a meaningful distinction between those two words.

    I think its sad there is a meaningful distinction between those words. But unfortunately, there are many who call themselves “believers” walking this world unable to demonstrate the most elemental evidence of a changed life. Their fruit is rotten, and they make it stink everywhere they go.

  • Kerry Cox

    What a great discussion! It warms my heart to see intelligent, articulate people discussing weighty matters without resorting to childish namecalling and ad hominem (did I use that correctly?!) attacks.

    Just one thought reading through and that is as follows:
    The whole “missionary/babies” thing places way too much emphasis on the heaven/hell issue, I think. If we reduce Christianity and the person of Christ to just an eTicket to heaven, I think we miss much of the heart of what God intended. True Christianity, not as lived out by “Christians” but as taught and lived out by Jesus Christ himself, is the best way to live life, I would contend, and the whole heaven thing is a nice bonus.

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  • Hilary Hope

    Dear Hemant,

    I just wanted to tell you that I think what you did at Parkview was very brave. I admire you so much for standing up for what you believe in, especially in front of people you knew were against it. I attended the Sunday 11 o’clock service (I actually shook your hand but you probably wouldn’t remember me), listened to both the other services, and loved hearing what you had to say. It is hard sometimes, especially now that I’m in college, to talk freely of religion without hurting others feelings. You were tactful and polite in your speech and careful not to offend anyone…at least that was how I felt. I am so glad that you came to our church. Now I have such a greater understanding of Atheism. I actually understand my friends who are Atheist when they say they “don’t believe in God” and that there is a difference between “there is no God.” If you ever need a friendly christian to talk to, feel free to give me an e-mail. Hopefully, I’ll see you again at Parkview soon.

    Hilary Hope

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