The “New” Theology

It’s rare that you find a newspaper article that actually addresses theology in depth, so I was surprised to see the Chicago Tribune Magazine article this past Sunday on “The New Theology” regarding theistic evolution. The article highlights several Christian scientists, physicist Howard Van Till and geneticist Francis Collins among them, who have reconciled their Christian faith with evolutionary theory by adjusting their view of God.

“If your faith requires supernaturalism, or a God who wields overpowering control over nature, then yes, evolution will challenge that,” says Van Till, who took early retirement from Calvin College in 1999.”The key is to correct your portrait of God,” he says.

It’s an audacious suggestion, but transforming the way people think about God has become a vital mission for a wave of scientists and theologians who want to place the natural world at the forefront of religion. They see themselves as spokespersons for an emerging religious majority that has been obscured by the excesses of stubborn creationists and the iconoclastic broadsides of scientific atheists.

Evolution, they contend, is more than a soulless explanation for the development of life. It is a glimpse of a divine plan so subtle it’s almost invisible.

The article correctly notes that such a view will ironically bring scorn both from Creationists and from scientific atheists like Richard Dawkins, whom the article also highlights.

In a curious way, Dawkins and his fellow scientific atheists espouse the same notion of God that drives their sworn enemies, the creationists who oppose teaching evolution in public schools. For both camps, the only God who makes sense is one who designed all life with exquisite attention to detail. Scientific atheists disavow such a religion; creationists embrace it.

But what if both sides started out with the wrong idea of God? What if their pitched battles were the fruit of a shared misconception, one that conceals evolution’s potential for new religious insights? The greatest challenge may be for believers to understand evolution as it is, not as they wish it would be. Indeed, many scientists and even theologians believe that Darwin’s theory requires throwing out old ideas about divine design.

Theologian John Haught from Georgetown University, author of God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution, goes on to describe this new view:

Don’t think of God as a meticulous designer of life, Haught urges. A detailed design would have limited the paths that living things could take. Instead, he says, God’s love led to a world that’s always open to new directions for life, without the need for overpowering divine supervision. The chance-fueled nature of evolution doesn’t disprove God’s existence, Haught believes. It’s what God wanted.

“Love persuades, it doesn’t force,” Haught says. “God doesn’t compel the world to be a certain way, and that’s because of how love works. God lets things be, and lets the weeds grow up with the wheat.”

The Biblical foundation for Haught’s view of evolution goes back to St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, which describes how Jesus “emptied himself” to become human. It’s a crucial image, Haught believes. That idea of divine emptying–”kenosis” in Greek–offers a way of understanding all of creation. Instead of a mighty autocrat, it portrays God as a self-humbling servant, content to let the universe evolve and novelty emerge.

An evolutionary view of religion means the same forces that made life change constantly in the past are still at work, leaving our future uncertain. Haught believes such an open future is perfectly compatible with the messages of hope and promise that are central to Christianity.

Personally, as a theistic evolutionist myself, I find Haught’s ideas very compelling, and actually very resonant with what I consider to be a biblical view of God (if not so consistent with certain aspects of classical theology, which I would argue is too heavily influenced by Greek notions of divine omnipotence and immutability.) In fact, several years back, emerging church leader Brian McLaren wrote a book entitled The Story We Find Ourselves In, which details how evolution complements the scriptural story found in Genesis and throughout the Bible. In other words, one isn’t required to do complicated theological gymnastics with the biblical text to see how evolution can fit with a Christian conception of God.

Of course, the article does make a point to highlight those who would disagree with me and other theistic evolutionists on that point, including an Amish woodworker (I’m not kidding), Intelligent Design advocates like William Dembski, and of course, Dawkins too.

[Dawkins] gives a pass to big thinkers like Albert Einstein, who famously insisted that “God does not play dice with the universe,” and Stephen Hawking, who pondered the ability of physicists to “know the mind of God.” They were talking about an impersonal God embodied in the intangible laws of physics, Dawkins believes. What he can’t accept is an “interventionist, miracle-wreaking, thought-reading, sin-punishing, prayer-answering” God–the God that Dawkins believes is central to most religions.

Not that theistic evolutionists have no answer to the question of divine intervention:

Kenneth Miller of Brown has suggested that God might nudge events in the natural world through imperceptible changes at the quantum level. Other believers, like Francis Collins, say that old-fashioned miracles are perfectly consistent with a scientific worldview because science is concerned only with natural processes, not God’s supernatural action. Collins says his standard of evidence for believing in a miracle is high, but he doesn’t dismiss them out of hand.

“For me, as a believer who sees God as the author of natural laws, why would it be such a stretch to imagine that such a being could, on rare occasions, suspend those laws?” Collins says.

At any rate, the article makes pains to point out that the point of all this has nothing to do with “proving” (or disproving) God’s existence through science. Theistic evolutionists’ goals are more modest.

Collins says he hopes to correct the defensive crouch that many churches have taken against modern science, as if fearing that each new finding had the potential to challenge old beliefs.

“My dream is to bring together open-minded, deep-thinking scientists and theologians to try to construct a new theology of how the universe is put together and how God works within that universe,” Collins says. “It should be a celebration theology instead of a defensive theology.”

Just speaking personally, I think that’s a good goal. My only issue with the article was the way it painted theistic evolution as something new, as if Christians were just now discovering how to reconcile their faith with scientific discoveries. In truth, theistic evolution has been around as long as the theory of evolution itself. The only thing new here is that these sorts of views, which moderate and progressive religious believers have long embraced, are finally getting more attention from the mainstream media, and more people are realizing that the popular narrative of irreconcilable conflict between faith and science, perpetuated by people on both the Ken Ham and the Richard Dawkins ends of the spectrum, isn’t the only option out there.

  • Mriana

    Bishop Spong does the same thing with his views and even talks about post-Dawinism and alike. He of course goes a little farther than the Emerging Church and is a lot more humanistic in his views. I may not agree with everything he says about God and the Bible, but I can see it as being useful in this day and age with Evolution and all.

    Since God is a human concept, as Spong states, it would make a lot more sense to adjust one’s view of God than to adjust science to one’s concept of a deity. However, I think it takes someone who is willing to adapt to the knowledge we have gained via science concerning our world.

  • Ben

    “If your faith requires supernaturalism, or a God who wields overpowering control over nature, then yes, evolution will challenge that,” says Van Till, who took early retirement from Calvin College in 1999.”The key is to correct your portrait of God,” he says.

    No supernaturalism = metaphysical naturalism which includes atheism. WTF?

    What is this incredible attachment to the word ‘God’? Should we re-phrase the germ theory of disease as a theory about humours and demons to adapt our portrait there too?

    It makes no sense to me.

    It is a glimpse of a divine plan so subtle it’s almost invisible.

    The invisible and the non-existent often look very much alike.

    Reading the whole story…so far, it keeps talking about essentially letting go of the traditional conception of God (yay!) and substituting this new version that is very, very different:

    The new theology of evolution can lead to a vision of a more humble God, scarcely recognizable as the almighty of Judaism, Islam and Christianity.


    But what if both sides started out with the wrong idea of God?

    Then the new concept should probably be given a new name to avoid confusion. Otherwise they are just being a bunch of pedophiles*.

    *for the purposes of this post, a pedophile is one who redefines words without warning or reason to do so.

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com Bad

    It’s fascinating how the character of God takes on so many different forms as befitting the concerns of believers in each age. What God wants, how God loves, God’s very methodology of relating to people seems to swing wildly from one era to the next, and among subgroups (fundamentalists get a personal relationship, academics get a philosophically correct abstract, and so on).

    Of course, let’s not forget that the Bible has an example of evolution at work, right in Genesis 30: Jacob makes lambs look a striped sticks while mating, and so more striped lambs are born as a result. That’s how evolution works, right?

  • PuckishOne

    Great post, Mike – and Ben, your comment about the invisible and the non-existent looking very much alike…well, you pretty much stole my comment, but I’ll put a nice smiley in here now and all will be well. :)

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Yeah Ben, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of some of Van Till’s comments, including that one you highlighted (I’d like to know what exactly he means by “supernaturalism”). It seemed like his views were a little more “extreme” than those of the others mentioned in the article (e.g. Collins, Miller or Haught). I think the article painted it as if all of them went as far as he did, whereas I don’t think that is really the case. For instance, both Miller’s and Collin’s comments about the possibility of miracles which I quoted would seem to indicate that they, in contrast to Van Till, are not anti-supernaturalists. At any rate, what I think it points to is the diversity of thought on the issue among theistic evolutionists, which in my book is a good thing.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Of course, let’s not forget that the Bible has an example of evolution at work, right in Genesis 30: Jacob makes lambs look a striped sticks while mating, and so more striped lambs are born as a result. That’s how evolution works, right?

    Very interesting observation. I hadn’t noticed that before but you’re quite right.

  • Karen

    It’s fascinating how the character of God takes on so many different forms as befitting the concerns of believers in each age. What God wants, how God loves, God’s very methodology of relating to people seems to swing wildly from one era to the next, and among subgroups (fundamentalists get a personal relationship, academics get a philosophically correct abstract, and so on).

    Over the centuries, religious ideas have slowly changed to accommodate new science findings. Evolution has been the sticking point, with a large number of fundamentalists in stubborn denial for the last 150 years, though moderates have accepted the theory for the most part.

    It seems to me that this article is an example of moderates making a renewed push for a broad religious adaptation that accommodates evolution. The timing is interesting, coming relatively quickly on the heels of the Dover ruling that put a big fat nail in the coffin of ID, which was the fundies “scientific” attempt to oppose scientific literacy. Also, I think even rank and file fundies are becoming increasingly aware of our country’s dismal science education levels and how dangerous that is for our economic future.

    I’m thinking that the writing is on the wall and perhaps (please!) we’ll start to see a slow shift away from strict creationism even among the fundies. We can only keep our fingers crossed.

  • Adrian

    I think it’s very unfair of you (and others) to paint Dawkins at “one end of the spectrum”. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of theists believe in a god who loves them, listens to prayers, and performs miracles. This is all that Dawkins is dealing with and it’s dishonest to act otherwise. To make matters worse, a significant minority (in places a majority) of Christians believe in Creationism, so don’t go around attacking people like Dawkins who are confronting a very real problem. Do the honest thing and acknowledge that Dawkins is correct on many points and then move on to deal with disagreements.

    As for making evolution consistent with Christianity.. I don’t see how you can do this. Evolution as a tool is insanely wasteful, time-consuming and cruel especially if you imagine that humans were the end goal (as the Christian bible teaches). The amount of suffering that is required to reach this goal is mind boggling. You can certainly make evolution consistent with deism, but if you believe in a god that is both willing and able to intervene, then evolution must conclusively demonstrate that your god is totally without morals. Is that the Christian god?

    No chance. Just because you may believe in Christianity and evolution simultaneously, doesn’t mean they’re compatible.

  • Adrian

    Mike – maybe that sounded harsh. I don’t mean to say you are intentionally deceiving yourself or us, but by painting Dawkins and other atheists as extremists comparable to Ken Ham, I have a hard time believing that you understand what Dawkins has actually said, or are making your opponents views sound more unreasonable than they are in order to discredit them.

    The article you quote uncritically says Dawkins “espouses” a fundamentalist God which is total bollocks. If you and your sources have a problem with someone, at least have the decency to deal with their views instead of some rabid strawman.

  • Siamang

    In a curious way, Dawkins and his fellow scientific atheists espouse the same notion of God that drives their sworn enemies, the creationists who oppose teaching evolution in public schools. For both camps, the only God who makes sense is one who designed all life with exquisite attention to detail.

    I noticed this as well. But to be totally fair we must concede that it’s not “curious” at all. Dawkins is arguing against the creationists, so he’s setting out to disprove their description of God.

    One might similarly write this paragraph about the Cold War:

    In a curious way, Kennedy and his fellow anti-communists espouse the same notion of communism that drives their sworn enemies, Castro and Kruschev. For both camps, the only version of Communism which makes sense is one which is a centralized totalitarian state.

    There’s nothing curious about it. The creationists set the definition of God he’s fighting. To attack it is not to accept it as a valid definition for him personally.

    If there’s a better definition of God, that’s not up to Dawkins to craft, it’s up to believers.

  • Pither

    Your bio for Howard Van Till is a bit out of date. He has since begun to distance himself from the more orthodox theism of Calvin College, where I had him as an astronomy professor way back in the 80s. He spoke last year to the Freethought Association of West Michigan (http://www.freethoughtassociation.org/minutes/2006/May24-2006.htm) where he sounded more like a progressive style of Christian to me. I think he no longer calls himself a theist, even though his papers on Theistic Evolution continue to draw the most attention.

  • http://off-center.tatuskofam.com Drew

    I think what is misleading is the notion that the progressive religious view is a new response to folks like Ham and Dembski or Dawkins, et. al. It’s been there as a separate historical phenomenon right around the time of the Scopes trial in the 20′s where Ham’s view of the world co-opted evangelicalism for many. Now at that time it was not even so much as a reaction to evolution as much as a stage along a consistent evolution in the dialogue between religion and science.

    Also, it is also assumed that Genesis must be discussing an intentional and literal creation out of nothing. What is more likely in the Hebrew conception of the world is that it is discussing an intentional ordering of existing matter in the midst of this void. Void here meaning chaos represented by the seas. Here, “In the beginning…” does not mean a literal beginning, but a narrative device not unlike saying “In the beginning of this narrative of creation…” The 20th century was marked by an explosion of biblical scholarship and new and better ways of understanding texts in large part because those texts were opened up to criticism beyond that which would force interpretation to substantiate this or that dogmatic stance. We have more access to more texts and more continue to be found leading to new and important ways of understanding the cultures in which the texts were written. Hence the import of various critical tools that were simply not present. Remember that the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature are relatively new animals even though the study of the texts and theology have been around for far longer.

    Finally, this is not a function of a “liberal” or “progressive” Christian making undue and irrational changes to “make religion fit”. Any theological doctrine develops in concert with the environment. Some are deluded into thinking that their doctrine is somehow eternal and immutable as the God they worship. This is just not true. Theology ought to strive to work with the whole of human knowledge as any humanistic and/or social discipline ought. When it does not, it creates a problem with the advance of the discipline altogether.

    “Liberal” and “progressive” simply mean that there is a more open framework where what has been interpreted as orthodoxy and orthopraxis can be reinterpreted based on the time and place of the observer. This is where, I think that agnostics and progressive Christians have a lot of connection points. But atheists on the one side and orthodox Christians on the other have a bad taste for either of these positions and so, they tend to be more marginalized in the current debate because they are position that are more difficult to define in absolute terms.

  • Jacob Dink

    The more moderate you want to be, the more you have to cherry pick and read the bible in a very specific way that is not done by most people. The more you need to do this, the more it weakens your claims that a) the bible is divine(ly inspired) b) religion is better for people to have than the alternative c) religion is required for a foundation of morality. It’s maybe fair to say that there are many layers to the bible and that the deepest layer is philosophically rich, and doesn’t contradict rationality. It’s not fair to say this deep layer is manifest, or that people are practicing “bad religion” when they don’t see it.

    I also agree with the post above. Evolution, while clever, is inanely wasteful when you can do miracles. These moderates, while not dangerous in the same way as the majority, are approximately just as wrong. They’re merely attempting to reconcile their pre-existing faith in scripture with their pre-existing faith in rationality. This can be done, but not in an ultimately intellectually satisfying manner.

    I’m still torn on whether the “New Atheist” approach is good or not. On the one hand, they are criticizing the type of religiosity typified by the majority. So it’s not fair to criticize them for caricature. On the other hand, this majority isn’t the audience that’s going to listen to the arguments. Who are? Either people who are already on the fence because of their disdain towards a typical religious person, or intelligent religious people who will find their portrait of religion unfair. Good for the former, unless they encounter the latter and decide that you can be a rational religious person after all. Bad for the latter, who think they’re being misrepresented.

  • Pither

    For those curious about Van Till’s progression since his theistic evolution days, please take the time to read his own words here:
    http://www.freethoughtassociation.org/essays/ODoRs.pdf
    Mike and others who consider themselves theistic evolutionists might appreciate how he has moved beyond this. As I have.

  • Pither

    Alas, Van Till’s paper is not available on that website any longer. I’m looking for a working link……

  • Steven Carr

    The article is yet more confirmation that theology is the process of making up beliefs that you feel happy with.

    An important aspect of that process is sheilding your beliefs from any possibility of falsification by removing all content from them.

  • Steven Carr

    Kenosis?

    I see.

    So Jesus emptied himself of divine powers to walk on water, raise the dead, calm storms, heal blindness?

    You have to laugh at modern theologians, who will say any old rubbish, if they think somebody (especially themselves) will believe it.

  • Steven Carr

    DREW
    What is more likely in the Hebrew conception of the world is that it is discussing an intentional ordering of existing matter in the midst of this void. Void here meaning chaos represented by the seas.

    CARR
    NT Wright has a good point where he talks about the evilness of the natural world and the way that ancient Jewish writers regarded the evil sea as existing before God created anything.

    I quote him ”The ancient Jewish writers saw the sea as evil. It floods and destroys the world. It stands between the Israelites and freedom. It rages horribly; monsters come out of it. There is a hint that God had to overcome the dark primal waters in order to create the world in the first place…’

    Of course, Wright says exactly the opposite in other places.

    He is a theologian. That is what he is paid to do.

  • Adrian

    @Steven Carr – I think you’re right on the money.

    The sort of limp, twice-warmed theology of Collins and others doesn’t demonstrated how theology can be reconciled with science, it demonstrates the utter vacuity of liberal theology. There can be no way that this sort of special pleading and wishful thinking can ever be reconciled with science, at best you can water down your magical beliefs to the point that they’re so nebulous that they can no longer be disproved. Yet.

    To make it worse, a lot of these liberal theologians will just talk about lofty notions of divine intelligence or learning about the cosmos when in the company of educated, scientifically minded people but when our backs are turned and they’re placed in a room with church-goers, all that goes out the window and suddenly they’re reduced to talking about Jesus’s miracles, and a magical, anthropomorphic god. Yuck.

    At least the Creationists are consistent. (Though I’d rather have inconsistent Liberals than consistent fundies :) )

  • Arlen

    Working with atheists can be hard because sometimes even when you agree with them they disagree with you.

    The idea that God works through or using evolution is not an even remotely new concept and in no way requires the contortion or even reframing of scripture unless one is a Biblical literalist. Since mainline Christians do not believe that the creation story in Genesis is literal truth (and even many literalists don’t interpret the “days” as 24-hour periods) there is absolutely no conflict to seeing evolution as the way through which humans (and everything else living) came into being.

    If Christians woke up tomorrow and said, “Oh, wait. Jesus was actually a giraffe,” then the argument that people are fundamentally changing scripture to fit what makes them happy may be true. That’s not the case here. This is just another example of new information reflecting our interpretation of other information. I would think that scientifically-minded people would be very comfortable with that notion.

  • Adrian

    @Arlen – the reason that I think evolution isn’t consistent with the bible has nothing to do with a generous/strict interpretation of Genesis, it has everything to do with whether the Christian god is thought to be loving, considerate, powerful, kind, gentle or merciful. If God is any of those things, then evolution proves this God doesn’t exist. Something has to give, either God isn’t powerful enough to Create, or God lacks a basic moral compass and cares nothing about suffering and injustice.

    That’s why the Christian God isn’t compatible with evolution. It’s really a Problem of Suffering writ over 3.5 billion years.

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com Bad

    Very interesting observation. I hadn’t noticed that before but you’re quite right.

    I hope you understand I was joking. :) Staring at sticks is not part of any known evolutionary genetics. :)

  • Karen

    The more moderate you want to be, the more you have to cherry pick and read the bible in a very specific way that is not done by most people. The more you need to do this, the more it weakens your claims that a) the bible is divine(ly inspired) b) religion is better for people to have than the alternative c) religion is required for a foundation of morality.

    Exactly why moderate and liberal (mainstream) churches have dramatically lost membership over the past few decades, while popularity of evangelical and fundamentalist churches (typically nondenominational) has grown wildly.

    The weaker, more equivocal, less black-and-white claims are far less appealing to the majority of Americans, who prefer certainty and the superiority that comes with “knowing” your group and your theology is correct. I don’t see the moderate groups gaining huge numbers of adherents in the near future, unfortunately, because I think they appeal primarily to better-educated people who are more comfortable with ambiguity.

  • Siamang

    Isn’t kenosis that game in vegas with the crayons?

    To me, looking as an outsider… sometimes with believers it feels like I’m watching a stage magician pulling off a trick, and I can see exactly where the smoke and mirrors are.

    Case in point: kenosis. Is there a name for the “I looked up the original greek word from this passage, and THIS is what it literally translates as! PRESTO!” Instant goosebumps and satroi “ooh and ahh” “aha moment” for all believers (“WTF” moment for all nonbelievers… yeah, so what, a word means a word)?

    Because there should be a name for that

    “Ekenosen” means “he emptied,” “he emptied” means ekenosen. Big whoop.

  • Pither

    For me evolution eroded my belief system in that it convinced me that the doctrine of the fall and original sin was simply not based in reality, just mythology. And if it is just myth, then the whole redemption thru Jesus story is superfluous.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    reconciled their Christian faith with evolutionary theory by adjusting their view of God.

    By adjusting their view of God….That’s not fair. Those pesky Christians have gone and adopted science’s central premise. Test an idea, if it works use it, if it doesn’t change the idea…or is that engineering?

    However if the supernatural is to be replaced by the natural (even if we cannot explain it at the moment) in Christianity then Christians will have to start explaining God in terms of attributes and properties.

  • Arlen

    Adrian:

    @Arlen – the reason that I think evolution isn’t consistent with the bible has nothing to do with a generous/strict interpretation of Genesis, it has everything to do with whether the Christian god is thought to be loving, considerate, powerful, kind, gentle or merciful. If God is any of those things, then evolution proves this God doesn’t exist. Something has to give, either God isn’t powerful enough to Create, or God lacks a basic moral compass and cares nothing about suffering and injustice.

    I think if we fault God for not doing what we think God should do then we really just believe that God is a big “us” in the sky rather than a God. Bad stuff happens; that’s fairly well documented. I don’t think that just because God doesn’t step in and fix all of it that that somehow makes God unloving. In fact, if God did make everything hunky-dory then that would be to steal our free will as humans—that’s something I find much more reprehensible than allowing pain and death and tragedy.

  • Susan B.

    Speaking as an atheist, and also as a mathematician, I can see the appeal of theistic evolution. It seems to me it’s like looking at the Mandelbrot Set and being able to admire and study the incredible complexity of it. You could look at an image and say “A truly divine being must have designed every tiny detail (infinitely many of them) and chosen exactly what colors and patterns to use for every little bit of it.” But a theistic evolutionist would say that God simply came up with the very simple equation and process that generates this enormous complexity. (What the atheist response would be in this metaphor, I’m not quite sure. I suppose it’s a moot point since there is very good evidence that a mathematician did in fact create the process that makes the Mandelbrot set.)

  • Adrian

    @Arlen

    I don’t think that just because God doesn’t step in and fix all of it that that somehow makes God unloving. In fact, if God did make everything hunky-dory then that would be to steal our free will as humans—that’s something I find much more reprehensible than allowing pain and death and tragedy.

    I don’t think that comes close to an adequate response. You are right that, perhaps we can’t apply our standards to a god, but if so then we should be consistent and honest and not say that god is loving, just, merciful or anything else since these are all applications of human standards to god. If God does not behave in a way that we recognize as just, loving, kind or merciful, then it is dishonest to say that he is. This is exactly what Christians do all the time.

    In fact, it’s just what you’re trying to do. I didn’t say that God is unloving because God doesn’t intervene to stop shoplifting. But yes, it isn’t loving to stand by and accept suffering unless it is somehow instructive. What can people learn by starving to death? What is learned by the deaths of 100 million people from Influenza in 1918? And since we’re talking about evolution, what is learned by the suffering deaths of billions of billions of animals for hundreds of millions of years? If we’re to learn anything, it’s that any god doesn’t care one whit about suffering.

    As you say, God cares far more about some abstract ideals of “freedom” than about anything else including our well-being, fairness, suffering or happiness. That’s why millions of Africans have the freedom to starve to death every year without God intervening to give them food.

    Whatever God that is, it isn’t a God who came to earth to sacrifice himself for us, who loves us, who listens to our prayers and heals the sick. In short, it is no Christian god, that’s for sure.

  • Miko

    Very interesting observation. I hadn’t noticed that before but you’re quite right.

    I hope you understand I was joking. :) Staring at sticks is not part of any known evolutionary genetics. :)

    It’s not too far from the ideas of Lamarckian Evolution. (Which is of course to say that it has nothing to do with evolution, as you pointed out.)

  • http://americanpessoptimist.blogspot.com/ Sara

    Constantly redefining God doesn’t make him any more or less real, just more convenient.

  • Miko

    I’ve never had too much of a problem with theistic evolution. It’s wrong, but since the scientific theory is about mechanisms and not goals or meaning, there’s not too much harm in it directly.

    However, what I worry about more is that it provides inductive evidence for the proposition that science and faith will always be reconcilable. And since a universe with no god would almost certainly be fundamentally different than one with a god (if not, the statement “god exists” is just vacuous), it’s completely possible that science will one day discover something about reality so antithetical to theistic belief as to make reconciliation possible. When this happens, I’d be much happier if a consensus already existed among theists as to which form of evidence is valid in a crunch. It makes more sense to figure this out among slightly less threatening ideas as this makes a violent response less likely. As such, accepting theistic evolution without really considering its epistemic considerations seems like a bad idea to me, in principle. (So as to not appear one-sided, such a consensus already exists among most atheists; namely “show us the evidence and we’ll believe that the proposition ‘God exists’ is true.”)

  • Miko

    Constantly redefining God doesn’t make him any more or less real, just more convenient.

    Not necessarily. If you redefined the word “god” to mean “computer monitor,” it would clearly exist. (For proof, please look forward.) While this is an intentionally absurd example, there’s no obvious reason why a suitable redefinition couldn’t change “god” from a nonexistent entity to an existent one, save that most theists would be unhappy with any “suitable” redefinition that I can think of right now.

  • Arlen

    Adrian:
    Out of nothing but the utmost respect for your time and mine, I’d rather not get into a prolonged argument over theodicy. I have my own thoughts on the matter, but so do several millennia worth of writers, philosophers, and theologians who have each dedicated more of their life than I have to consider the question; I suggest that you read those arguments if you are genuinely curious.

  • Adrian

    Arlen

    I have read theodicies before. From what I can tell, they seem to boil down to special pleading.

    Keeping it simple, if Christians claim that God is loving (or, ugh, Love) then they’ve chosen to use English and accept its English meanings. So just as we know a parent is not “loving” if they stand by and watches their children starve to death or otherwise abandons them, we know that God is not loving.

    Also keeping it simple, if you want to say that we can’t apply our morals to God, then you cannot spin around and apply moral judgements to God yourself. That’s hypocrisy and whatever our basis in morality, we can recognize that.

    Miko

    Finally, a god that listens to my requests and responds!

  • Jacob Dink

    Out of nothing but the utmost respect for your time and mine, I’d rather not get into a prolonged argument over theodicy. I have my own thoughts on the matter, but so do several millennia worth of writers, philosophers, and theologians who have each dedicated more of their life than I have to consider the question; I suggest that you read those arguments if you are genuinely curious.

    It doesn’t sound like he’s curious, it sounds like he’s gotten to the heart of the problem with a popular response in theodicy. This response, I think, can be emblematically seen in the Book of Job: the idea that God’s justice is of a different nature than our justice. So we are left wondering why we should call his justice any kind of justice. We are left with two warring intuitions: the intuition that our justice is valid, and that what we percieve as evil is genuinely evil, and the intuition that God exists. It comes down to which intuition you think is more legitimate, but it also makes obvious that these two intuitions are at war with each other, and to state that evolution is evidence for God’s majesty–in effect, that these intuitions actually reinforce each other–is absurd.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    My only issue with the article was the way it painted theistic evolution as something new, as if Christians were just now discovering how to reconcile their faith with scientific discoveries.

    Now you know how the “New Atheists” feel about how they’ve been labeled!

  • Darryl

    The arguments for theistic evolution are bunk, plain and simple. The image of God promoted by both the Old and New Testaments is of a micro-managing father-God, furthermore, there is nothing particularly loving about being disinterested in the details of things. If God made the effort to create the cosmos, then why should God not be concerned with what exactly it is? That aside, this line of thinking promotes moderation of Christianity, and that is a good thing.

  • Miko

    If God made the effort to create the cosmos, then why should God not be concerned with what exactly it is?

    Supposing that a deterministic theory of the universe’s laws exists, it’s not inconceivable that a god could design a system so that certain desirable properties would arise after a certain number of iterations. Mathematicians do the same basic thing with cellular automata and I’ve heard it proposed by some physicists (I don’t recall who) that CA provide a good (if nonstandard) way to model physics.

    I’d argue that the current state of the universe suggests that if a god did do this, it did so rather ineptly. And of course such a deterministic theory would naturally blow free-will right out of the water to the greatest degree imaginable, making it unpalatable to the religious and nonreligious alike.

    That aside, this line of thinking promotes moderation of Christianity, and that is a good thing.

    Seconded.

  • AJ

    That’s a horrible term and doesn’t make much sense considering what the individual terms theism and evolution mean.

    “Yeah, evolution explains the diversity and appearance of design in all known forms of life, but maybe an unknown magic intelligence interfered in the process for unknown reasons, and perhaps that unknown magic intelligence was the one I believe in.”

    It actually has nothing to do with evolution at all. Clearly this God is like a pigeon fancier who artificially selects species, not like the naturalistic natural selection of evolution (so not “through” or “using” evolution as it’s sometimes described). I think they need to stop using those terms or I might start to think it’s confusing on purpose.

    It’s clearly a God of the gaps, and treads on science’s turf, if not on current scientific knowledge. It seems rather strange, I think I’m going to enjoy someone explain the narrative of intervention of species success. “And this is where God sent a comet to kill most of the species on the planet, that must be the third mass extinction already. Needs must, as I always say, you can’t make a human without the death of billions of creatures great and small”.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Susan B. said:
    there is very good evidence that a mathematician did in fact create the process that makes the Mandelbrot set

    Or you could say that a mathematician discovered the set out of the infinite possibility space….

    BTW, I had fun back in the early 90′s in graduate school writing programs to plot out that set and others…

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I hope you understand I was joking. :) Staring at sticks is not part of any known evolutionary genetics. :)

    Sorry Bad, I guess I didn’t see the part about the sticks. I was referring to the practice of genetic engineering which Jacob appears to have made use of, which of course is based on evolutionary principles.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    My only issue with the article was the way it painted theistic evolution as something new, as if Christians were just now discovering how to reconcile their faith with scientific discoveries.

    Now you know how the “New Atheists” feel about how they’ve been labeled!

    I’m sorry miller, I don’t quite follow you. Are you saying that “New Athiests” are bothered by being labeled as “new”?

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I think it’s very unfair of you (and others) to paint Dawkins at “one end of the spectrum”. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of theists believe in a god who loves them, listens to prayers, and performs miracles. This is all that Dawkins is dealing with and it’s dishonest to act otherwise. To make matters worse, a significant minority (in places a majority) of Christians believe in Creationism, so don’t go around attacking people like Dawkins who are confronting a very real problem. Do the honest thing and acknowledge that Dawkins is correct on many points and then move on to deal with disagreements.

    The article you quote uncritically says Dawkins “espouses” a fundamentalist God which is total bollocks. If you and your sources have a problem with someone, at least have the decency to deal with their views instead of some rabid strawman.

    Nothing I or the article said was intended to be offensive or “attacking” of Dawkins, Adrian. I’m sorry that it came across that way. The point was simply that Dawkins and Creationists share somethings in common, namely their working definition of “God” and the assumption that science and faith are irreconcilably opposed. Of course the difference is that Creationists think that God exists and Dawkins clearly doesn’t.

    I don’t see what is inaccurate or offensive about simply acknowledging any of that.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    BTW Drew, I just wanted to say that I thought this comment was very well said, and you covered a lot of what I wanted to say on the topic as well.

  • Adrian

    Mike

    The point was simply that Dawkins and Creationists share something in common, namely their working definition of “God”. Of course the difference is that Creationists think that God exists and Dawkins clearly doesn’t. I don’t see what is inaccurate or offensive about that.

    Hmm…

    You do understand that Dawkins does not espouse any view of god, right? He is simply dealing with the many views of God that are espoused by others. Yes, the Creationist Superman view of God is one that he tackles outright but not because he thinks that’s the only one that doesn’t exist, but because Creationists are so destructive. If you’ve actually read his book “The God Delusion”, you’ll see that he goes much deeper and broader than that. If you aren’t a deist, I think you’ll find that he skewers your God just as effectively as Ken Ham’s.

    The only attributes he assumes are some simple ones – god is powerful, cares about humanity, intervenes in our affairs (e.g.: Jesus & miracles), and is somehow eternal and external to our universe. I’d have to double-check my book, but I think that’s it. That fits even the most tepid forms of Christianity, and certainly deals with Theistic Evolutionists!

  • Siamang

    Mike C wrote:

    The point was simply that Dawkins and Creationists share somethings in common, namely their working definition of “God” and the assumption that science and faith are irreconcilably opposed.

    Let’s take that point by point.

    namely their working definition of “God”

    Again, this is like saying Castro and Kennedy agreed about their vision of what communism meant because they both shared it, one as a goal and one as something to end.

    and the assumption that science and faith are irreconcilably opposed.

    I’d say right there that you haven’t read the God Delusion. Dawkins does make a core assumption that he shares with creationists, but this isn’t it.

    The assumption that the book rests upon is this: if this universe has a God in it, we should be able to tell by looking at the natural world.

    He does not like the idea of “faith” as he takes that to be an opposing process to science. But he does not think that science is irreconcilably opposed to feelings of wonder and the thrill of discovery and finding awe in life itself, rather that it can enhance it. He thinks that if we find some God-like thing in the universe, or some base core truth of the universe, it’ll be science which finds it, and not incense-burning, tea-leaf reading mysticism. It will be the process of rigorous disciplined searching, and not feelings from beyond.

  • Marc

    I agree with Siamang. A god that “might nudge events in the natural world through imperceptible changes at the quantum level” is utterly untestable, so this baloney boils down to another god-of-the-gaps.

  • Ben

    I don’t see what is inaccurate or offensive about simply acknowledging any of that.

    Me either. (shrug).

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Again, this is like saying Castro and Kennedy agreed about their vision of what communism meant because they both shared it, one as a goal and one as something to end.

    Yes, I agree. That’s exactly what I am saying.

    The assumption that the book rests upon is this: if this universe has a God in it, we should be able to tell by looking at the natural world.

    If that is the foundational assumption of the book then that is exactly where Dawkins goes wrong in his argument against theism. Theistic belief is NOT that “this universe has a God in it”. Theistic belief is that there is a God beyond the universe, who created it and remains involved with it and yet is also in some ways distinct from it.

    But again, this is besides the point. The point was simply that none of this was intended to be an attack on Dawkins. Maybe the article misrepresented him, maybe not, but either way I don’t think the intent was to paint him negatively.

  • Steven Carr

    PLANTINGA
    God is a necessaty being who exists in every possible world

    DAWKINS
    Does God exist in this world?

    RANDOM THEIST
    Dawkins betrays his ignorance of Christian theology by claiming that Christians believe God exists in this universe

    CARR
    Theology is double-speak, where God exists in worlds but not universes.

    God sustains the laws of physics at all times, but does not tell the universe how to behave???

    It is all just made up.

    Haught, Collins etc are just sitting at their desks, making things up from the top of their head, and declaring themselves to be clever people who have made up important things which people should believe are true.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Mike,
    The “New Atheists” label, as far as I know, was coined by an article in Wired. I have seen very few people who are happy with the name. Even most critics seem to think the name is inaccurate or even arrogant (not realizing that it was the critics who coined the term!). So, yes, atheists are unhappy with the term, but it appears to have stuck. You seemed similarly unhappy with the “new theology” term. It really isn’t new at all, is it?

  • http://religiousliberal.blogspot.com Dwight

    Hate to be difficult here but:

    I do believe God is *in* the universe. Or as much of a God that might be known, that is that could be experienced. Anything else I wouldn’t know about or make claims about.

    I don’t see how evolution goes against belief in God unless one protrays God as some omni everything being who is masterminding evolution from above, as opposed to say the creative factor/s that struggle to bring order, existence, etc. into a reality.

    Some protest that to speak of such terms is the playground of theologians and not representative of religion, except that I dare say that evolution is an accepted fact by most Jews in the US and the western world. And that within liberal Protestantism it is as well.

    When you have the new creed of the United Church (the largest protestant denomination in Canada) speak not just of God as creator but as creating, that is it’s an ongoing process, the evidence that evolution is a given should be made evident.

  • AJ

    MikeClawson,

    Theistic belief is that there is a God beyond the universe, who created it and remains involved with it and yet is also in some ways distinct from it.

    We’re not doing poetry here, what is beyond the universe? What are the properties of beyond the universe, what are the properties of this God, and where did it come from?

  • http://www.ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    AJ:

    We’re not doing poetry here

    We’re not? aww, shucks. I’m out then! :)

    I’m sorry I didn’t read the rest of the thread, but your question caught my eye.

    “Beyond” the universe? Isn’t the universe thought to be infinite? What can be beyond infinite? Does that mean that the universe can be contained? My mind is having a hard time grasping that. Is that really the theistic belief, Mike? Does that mean that I’m not a theist if I disagree? I’m so confused.

    I think I’ll write a poem. ;-)

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    I used to believe in theistic evolution when I was a Christian. Now I can’t remember how that was any different than Intelligent Design.

  • Adrian

    Whether God is in or of or beyond the universe is meaningless twaddle. It’s emotive and makes grammatical sense, but conveys no meaning at all.

    The Christian God does interact within the universe – miracles, Jesus, prayers, prophets, Holy Spirit guidance – and it is through this interaction that Christians claim to know that it exists, and so it is through this interaction that we can test its existence.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    “Beyond” the universe? Isn’t the universe thought to be infinite? What can be beyond infinite? Does that mean that the universe can be contained? My mind is having a hard time grasping that. Is that really the theistic belief, Mike? Does that mean that I’m not a theist if I disagree? I’m so confused.

    The issue here Linda is whether God is “in” the universe in the same sense that a human being, or a planet, or a galaxy is “in” it… i.e. as simply one more isolated feature of the larger whole, and thereby caused by and dependent on it.

    Most forms of theism would say no, God is not simply one feature of the universe. Instead they would say that God is the origin and creator of the universe. They would say that the universe came from God, not vice versa – that before the universe existed, God was, and if the universe ever comes to an end, God will still be. God is not a limited entity that exists within the larger context of the universe, rather the universe itself exists within the larger reality of God, as her beloved creation. That is what I mean by saying that God is “beyond” the universe.

    And BTW, I’m not an expert in physics, but as far as I understand it, the universe is not infinite. The universe is expanding, right? So it’s not infinite in space. And it had a beginning at the Big Bang, right? So it’s not infinite in time. So yes, theoretically the universe could be contained within a larger medium.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I used to believe in theistic evolution when I was a Christian. Now I can’t remember how that was any different than Intelligent Design.

    ID opposes evolution, or says that God has to step into the gaps of evolution to finish the job. Theistic evolution embraces evolution and says that it was the system God set up in the first place for the unfolding and ongoing creation of her world.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    The “New Atheists” label, as far as I know, was coined by an article in Wired. I have seen very few people who are happy with the name. Even most critics seem to think the name is inaccurate or even arrogant (not realizing that it was the critics who coined the term!). So, yes, atheists are unhappy with the term, but it appears to have stuck. You seemed similarly unhappy with the “new theology” term. It really isn’t new at all, is it?

    Thanks miller, that makes sense. I didn’t realize that most atheists were unhappy with it. I kind of thought it was a compromise term, one that was less accurate but also less offensive than some of the alternative ways of describing Dawkins, Hitchens, et al. Personally I prefer the term “anti-theist” as I think it’s more descriptively accurate, but others have taken offense at that too, so I just stick with “New Atheists” since that seems to be the journalistic standard now.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    ID opposes evolution, or says that God has to step into the gaps of evolution to finish the job. Theistic evolution embraces evolution and says that it was the system God set up in the first place for the unfolding and ongoing creation of her world.

    Don’t they both say that humanity is the pinnacle of creation and that evolution has intentional direction, purposely leading to more complex and intelligent lifeforms?

    Anyway, your second definition is what I used to believe (except for the “her” part). Now my basic explaination is “sh*t happens”.

  • http://religiousliberal.blogspot.com/ Dwight

    Mike

    It’s possible to hold that God is the creator of the universe without postulating that God is outside of it. I’m thinking of Aristotle here. The other alternative is not pantheism either, because it’s possible for there to be an ingredient, a factor that is the cause of any one thing without it being everywhere (water seems to be a necessity for biological life but we’re not all water). So to say that God is one fact among many (Tillich would take me to task on this to be sure) doesn’t reduce or limit God’s role as creator.

  • Siamang

    Mike C wrote:

    If that is the foundational assumption of the book then that is exactly where Dawkins goes wrong in his argument against theism. Theistic belief is NOT that “this universe has a God in it”. Theistic belief is that there is a God beyond the universe, who created it and remains involved with it and yet is also in some ways distinct from it.

    Man, I’ve got to remember to word this stuff carefully when talking to you!

    Sorry about the imprecise informal language, here I’ve completely messed up Dawkins’ argument. Let me restate, legalistically:

    If this universe has a God INTERACTING AT ALL WITH it, we should be able to tell by looking at the natural world.

  • Adrian

    Mike,

    And BTW, I’m not an expert in physics, but as far as I understand it, the universe is not infinite. The universe is expanding, right? So it’s not infinite in space. And it had a beginning at the Big Bang, right? So it’s not infinite in time. So yes, theoretically the universe could be contained within a larger medium.

    It’s not at all clear that the universe did have a beginning (as you’re thinking of) at the Big Bang, no. That aside, your last sentence about the universe being “contained within” something is a good example of a sentence which sounds valid – it’s certainly grammatically correct – but which is meaningless. “Containment” is a concept which is limited to our spacial dimensions, it isn’t something which makes sense when talking about the spacial dimensions themselves! It is an appeal purely to a naive view of the universe as some sort of rubber sheet floating in space and does not translate to space itself.

    God is not a limited entity that exists within the larger context of the universe, rather the universe itself exists within the larger reality of God, as her beloved creation.

    Wonderful. How is this supposed to help anything? Not only is this not consistent with the bible, this god is so fantastically complex that it makes it more probable that the universe winked into existence last Tuesday, just out of sheer random chance. And since you’ve carefully stuffed your god so deeply into the gaps of our knowledge that it’s impossible to gather direct evidence, we might as well adopt Last Tuesdayism as a rational alternative.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Don’t they both say that humanity is the pinnacle of creation

    I don’t recall anywhere in scripture that describes humanity as the “pinnacle of creation” in any sort of biological/evolutionary sense.

    and that evolution has intentional direction, purposely leading to more complex and intelligent lifeforms?

    Some have, though it appeared to me that this article was describing a different breed of theistic evolutionists that don’t really seem to make that claim.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    It’s possible to hold that God is the creator of the universe without postulating that God is outside of it. I’m thinking of Aristotle here. The other alternative is not pantheism either, because it’s possible for there to be an ingredient, a factor that is the cause of any one thing without it being everywhere (water seems to be a necessity for biological life but we’re not all water). So to say that God is one fact among many (Tillich would take me to task on this to be sure) doesn’t reduce or limit God’s role as creator.

    Dwight, I’ve noticed and appreciated your explanation of this view of God. I am aware of that view, though, since it’s not where I’m at with things at the moment, I figured I’d just let you expound on it without much comment from me. I don’t really have much to say about it one way or the other. It’s certainly a possibility, just not one that I’ve personally embraced.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Man, I’ve got to remember to word this stuff carefully when talking to you!

    Sorry about the imprecise informal language, here I’ve completely messed up Dawkins’ argument. Let me restate, legalistically:

    If this universe has a God INTERACTING AT ALL WITH it, we should be able to tell by looking at the natural world.

    Perhaps so, though I guess it would depend on the nature of the interaction. But we’ve already covered this ground several times already in recent discussions about miracles. I don’t see any need to rehash the same territory.

    Though if I’m recalling Dawkins argument in TGD correctly, I think you had it right the first time around. His basic argument about “why there is almost certainly no God” rests on the presumption that God is subject to the same natural laws as anything else within the universe. (The whole “complex forms arising out of less complex forms” thing.) As many have pointed out, this argument only works if God is in fact contained within the universe. However, if God exists prior to and distinct from the universe, then God is not necessarily subject to the laws that operate within it, and therefore Dawkins’ argument is pretty much irrelevant.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    your last sentence about the universe being “contained within” something is a good example of a sentence which sounds valid – it’s certainly grammatically correct – but which is meaningless. “Containment” is a concept which is limited to our spacial dimensions, it isn’t something which makes sense when talking about the spacial dimensions themselves! It is an appeal purely to a naive view of the universe as some sort of rubber sheet floating in space and does not translate to space itself.

    When we’re talking about these sorts of realities, even from a scientific point of view, it seems to me that all of our language is necessarily metaphorical.

    God is not a limited entity that exists within the larger context of the universe, rather the universe itself exists within the larger reality of God, as her beloved creation.

    Wonderful. How is this supposed to help anything? Not only is this not consistent with the bible, this god is so fantastically complex that it makes it more probable that the universe winked into existence last Tuesday, just out of sheer random chance. And since you’ve carefully stuffed your god so deeply into the gaps of our knowledge that it’s impossible to gather direct evidence, we might as well adopt Last Tuesdayism as a rational alternative.

    Sorry Adrian but you lost me. I’m not following your argument. I’m not even sure you are making an argument. Perhaps you’re just expressing your dislike of my views? If so, I’m more than happy to say “duly noted” and let you have the last word.

  • Mriana

    Guys, I know MikeC more than likely won’t go for this “New Theology”, but take a look at this: http://www.dioceseofnewark.org/jsspong/reform.html

    Spong’s 12 Theses are at the bottom of his statement. Don’t know if this makes you feel like reading it or not, but some people call him an atheist, heretic, etc just from this. Take a look. IF my only two choices were Spong’s deal or traditional beliefs (meaning if Humanism wasn’t an option) I’d side with Spong. Thing is, what he is proposing is considered Christian Humanism. So, I’d still be chosing Humanism if those were my only options in life.

    Make note of what all he says about Darwin and alike. I say more power to him if he can get more than just the Sea of Faith and a few other like groups doing this. Seems better than the alternative and more humanistic. Definitely non-theistic in many respects.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I don’t agree with all of Spong’s theses Mriana, but I would generally agree with #3

    3. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.

    The only thing I would differ on with this one is that I don’t think a “perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin” actually is the biblical story. I think that spin on it is a later, Greek-influenced interpretation. Brian McLaren does a great job in The Story We Find Ourselves In of describing how the biblical narrative actually is of a continually developing and evolving creation, and why Greek ideas about a static, “perfect” creation are not Hebraic notions and should not be read back into the Genesis text.

    So yeah, I agree with Spong (and McLaren) that we should throw out these ideas about a “perfect and finished creation”. I just don’t think those ideas were the original biblical story in the first place.

  • Mriana

    So, even though I knew you probably wouldn’t agree, what are your issues with the other 11 theses, Mike?

  • Karen

    I don’t recall anywhere in scripture that describes humanity as the “pinnacle of creation” in any sort of biological/evolutionary sense.

    What about the language giving man dominion over all the birds of the air and beasts of the field and fish of the sea, etc. Also, there’s the idea that god made man “a little lower than the angels” indicating just below the divine supernatural beings is man, who is elevated above the rest of creation.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    What about the language giving man dominion over all the birds of the air and beasts of the field and fish of the sea, etc. Also, there’s the idea that god made man “a little lower than the angels” indicating just below the divine supernatural beings is man, who is elevated above the rest of creation.

    I thought of both of those passages too Karen, but both of those seem to have to do with humanity’s spiritual/ethical role in creation as caretakers and stewards, not with evolution or biology, nor even, really, with importance (which seems to be what the word “pinnacle” implies). So say that we humans, as sentient and intelligent creatures, therefore have an ethical responsibility to take care of the rest of creation, doesn’t mean that we are therefore the “pinnacle” or “most important”. Also, from a biological standpoint, I don’t see any reason to suppose from scripture that humanity was the final “goal” of evolution. Evolution is still going on and who knows what we will become.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    So, even though I knew you probably wouldn’t agree, what are your issues with the other 11 theses, Mike?

    I honestly don’t have the time or desire to get into it right now Mriana, especially since it would be entirely off-topic. However, if you’re curious, I did find myself largely in agreement with Rowan Williams’ (the current Archbishop of Canterbury) response to Spong’s 12 Theses.

  • Jacob Dink

    Mike, are you really denying that the holy texts elevate mankind as something special? Aren’t we made in God’s image? Doesn’t he take special care of us? Doesn’t he answer our prayers?

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Mike, are you really denying that the holy texts elevate mankind as something special? Aren’t we made in God’s image? Doesn’t he take special care of us? Doesn’t he answer our prayers?

    Special? Yes, of course. More special than all the rest of creation? I don’t see why it’s necessary to assert that. There are lots of stories going on in this natural world. I don’t think we need to assume that ours is the only one or even the most important one.

    And even if one does, that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with biology. We don’t have to be the “pinnacle” of evolutionary development to still have a unique role as God’s image bearers within creation.

  • Mriana

    Eh! The dear Archbishop Rowen is too theistic for me. :lol: I think he is going overboard saying Spong is misguided. I don’t think he is. Overstating a lot of things IMO. Spong’s cool.

  • Aj

    MikeClawson,

    The issue here Linda is whether God is “in” the universe in the same sense that a human being, or a planet, or a galaxy is “in” it… i.e. as simply one more isolated feature of the larger whole, and thereby caused by and dependent on it.

    Most forms of theism would say no, God is not simply one feature of the universe. Instead they would say that God is the origin and creator of the universe. They would say that the universe came from God, not vice versa – that before the universe existed, God was, and if the universe ever comes to an end, God will still be. God is not a limited entity that exists within the larger context of the universe, rather the universe itself exists within the larger reality of God, as her beloved creation. That is what I mean by saying that God is “beyond” the universe.

    Explain what you mean by “universe”. “Universe” commonly refers to everything, everything that exists. Explain what it means to be outside the universe. Please explain in what concern is this reality “outside the universe” “larger”. What attribute of it is “larger”? “Before the universe existed, God was”, doesn’t seem to mean anything. God was [something]?

    And BTW, I’m not an expert in physics, but as far as I understand it, the universe is not infinite. The universe is expanding, right? So it’s not infinite in space. And it had a beginning at the Big Bang, right? So it’s not infinite in time. So yes, theoretically the universe could be contained within a larger medium.

    How is the universe finite? Does an expanding universe imply that space is finite? If you can endlessly travel from one point in any direction in space, is space finite or infinite? Both terms could be applied, space may have a finite but not constant width. Is the universe wide like a road is? No.

    Does the Big Bang imply a beginning of the universe? No, certainly not. The Big Bang is a theory about the development of the universe from dense and hot to less dense and less hot. The Big Bang is not about the origin of the universe.

    Does it make any sense to use the term “larger medium” and “contained within” in the context of the universe? No.

    When we’re talking about these sorts of realities, even from a scientific point of view, it seems to me that all of our language is necessarily metaphorical.

    Metaphorical is different from being meaningless. Either you mean contain in a meaningful sense or not, metaphorical or not. Metaphors have meaning, it’s their point.

    I don’t really have much to say about it one way or the other. It’s certainly a possibility, just not one that I’ve personally embraced.

    Why have you embraced another view, not this one?

  • Siamang

    Mike C wrote:

    “His basic argument about “why there is almost certainly no God” rests on the presumption that God is subject to the same natural laws as anything else within the universe. (The whole “complex forms arising out of less complex forms” thing.) As many have pointed out, this argument only works if God is in fact contained within the universe.”

    He makes that argument as well, but as far as I recall it is a distinct argument separate from the other. These are two different, distinct definitions of “God” that Dawkins forwards different arguments against. I know, he missed just about a billion other distinct, non-overlapping seperately-held definitions of God. ;-)

    In one case, he’s saying “if God interacts with the universe, we should be able to detect this interaction.” In effect, that’s taking Creationists at their word that this world is one where the fingerprints of the maker are all around: evolution is impossible without a designer, or the Goldilocks zone our planet lies in is impossible without a God, or the universe is fine-tuned for life, or whatever.

    In the other he’s talking about complexity, and the idea that any God which created the universe has got to have more complexity than the thing it designed… and that merely begs the question “who designed the designer?” If he’s in the universe (or indeed IS the universe), the universe could not have designed him unless he comes late in the universe, and then he’s just an evolved being like you and me and could not have created the universe (*cough* Mormonism *cough*). If he’s outside the universe, then we’ve got infinite regress and special pleading for this God who gets to be complex ex-nihlio but the universe can’t be simple ex-nihlio and develop to complexity over time. If God is merely the universe, why pray to him? As Carl Sagan said, it’s kind of pointless praying to the law of gravity.

    Anyway, it may be difficult for you to understand the perspective of someone arguing against (mutually exclusive) different conceptualizations of “God”. Remember that he doesn’t hold any of them to be the “Real God” (TM), and so he’s got an awful lot of bases to cover.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    If he’s outside the universe, then we’ve got infinite regress and special pleading for this God who gets to be complex ex-nihlio but the universe can’t be simple ex-nihlio and develop to complexity over time.

    God is considered to be “eternal”, not “ex-nihilo”. That’s a crucial difference. Most philosophers, theistic or otherwise, agree with the premise that “for anything to exist, something must be eternal”. It’d be fine to suppose that the universe itself is eternal, except that science tells us it’s not, which leads to the natural question of “where did the universe come from?” God, defined as an eternally existing, complex, intelligent being, is one possible explanation. This is not “special pleading”, since it is generally agreed that something must be eternal. The discussion then is simply about what that “something” is, and what it is like.

  • Mriana

    Mike, why couldn’t it be internal- like Spong proposes? Love is internal and if Cupitt (a collegue of Spong) is right that love is God, then it would be internal as they both propose. Why does it have to be external? Love is not external to the human. It is very internal.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I didn’t say God “had” to be external. I’m just explaining how I understand God. You’re welcome to have your own beliefs.

  • Karen

    So say that we humans, as sentient and intelligent creatures, therefore have an ethical responsibility to take care of the rest of creation, doesn’t mean that we are therefore the “pinnacle” or “most important”.

    You may not believe we’re the most important, but the Holy Bible as I was taught it for 30 years absolutely does say that. It may be politically incorrect these days to say so, but I don’t see how you can deny that it does.

    Jesus didn’t come to save mankind, dolphins and snails – he came to save humans. Yahweh’s covenant was not with Abraham and tropical ferns – it was with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

    Heck, Jesus cursed a fig tree and sent evil spirits into a herd of swine who ran off a cliff. Revelations is full of bloody scenes not only involving people but also killing tons of perfectly innocent horses, who also died with Pharoah’s army in the Red Sea.

    All of the bible makes it clear that people are far and away the most important of god’s creations, at least on this earth. He created all sorts of other freaky things, according to Isaiah and Ezekiel and Revelations that may be more technically complicated than people, but humanity is the focus of god’s plan here on earth.

    Also, from a biological standpoint, I don’t see any reason to suppose from scripture that humanity was the final “goal” of evolution. Evolution is still going on and who knows what we will become.

    That’s true, but that’s not what scripture reflected way back before Darwin.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Jesus didn’t come to save mankind, dolphins and snails – he came to save humans.

    I totally disagree. The good news, as I understand it, is good news for all of creation. God isn’t just redeeming humanity. He is redeeming the whole world. That is exactly what Paul says in Romans 8:19-22

    “19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. 20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to futility. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from corruption. 22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”

    And it’s hard to read the Hebrew scriptures without getting a sense of the importance of the natural world. Genesis 1 exults in God’s ordering of nature, the Jewish Law contains regulations about caring for the land and treating animals humanely, the Psalms are chock full of references to how nature declares the glory of God, and the last four or five chapters of Job are practically a love song by God to his creation. The God portrayed in the Bible is a God that is clearly in love with all of her creation and who is deeply concerned about it.

  • Mriana

    MikeClawson said,

    January 23, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    I didn’t say God “had” to be external. I’m just explaining how I understand God. You’re welcome to have your own beliefs.

    :lol: Why thank you! You are the first Christian I’ve met that has ever said that to me. :D OK then! I declare LOVE god! And it must come from within you. ;) LOVE! LOVE! LOVE! Peace guys!

  • Adrian

    Mike,

    God is considered to be “eternal”, not “ex-nihilo”. That’s a crucial difference.

    Mmm… Then let’s consider the universe to be eternal and not ex-nihilo. Problem solved, no god.

    Most philosophers, theistic or otherwise, agree with the premise that “for anything to exist, something must be eternal”. It’d be fine to suppose that the universe itself is eternal, except that science tells us it’s not, which leads to the natural question of “where did the universe come from?”

    You’re mistaken, science doesn’t tell us any such thing.

    God, defined as an eternally existing, complex, intelligent being, is one possible explanation. This is not “special pleading”, since it is generally agreed that something must be eternal.

    Actually, it is special pleading since complex things must, by definition, be composed of simpler, pre-existing things which means that something cannot be both eternal and complex simultaneously. “God” may have evolved in which case it wouldn’t be eternal, or it would be simple enough to be eternal in which case it wouldn’t be intelligent or complex and so wouldn’t be a god. Either way, you’re out of luck.

    You wish to use physics to support your premises when they suit you (your continued reference to the Big Bang) and then reject it as soon as it doesn’t. That’s the definition of special pleading.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Mmm… Then let’s consider the universe to be eternal and not ex-nihilo. Problem solved, no god.

    That’s fine, if that can actually be shown to be the case.

    Most philosophers, theistic or otherwise, agree with the premise that “for anything to exist, something must be eternal”. It’d be fine to suppose that the universe itself is eternal, except that science tells us it’s not, which leads to the natural question of “where did the universe come from?”

    You’re mistaken, science doesn’t tell us any such thing.

    Again, I’m no physicist, but as I understand it (based on my reading of scientists like Hawking, Lederman, Kaku and others), the universe as we know it began at the Big Bang. Science tells us nothing about what came before that singularity or what produced it, hence the question.

    Actually, it is special pleading since complex things must, by definition, be composed of simpler, pre-existing things which means that something cannot be both eternal and complex simultaneously. “God” may have evolved in which case it wouldn’t be eternal, or it would be simple enough to be eternal in which case it wouldn’t be intelligent or complex and so wouldn’t be a god. Either way, you’re out of luck.

    This is basically Dawkin’s argument, and I thought I already responded to it above. If you think my response was inadequate, you have say why, not just restate the argument over again.

    You wish to use physics to support your premises when they suit you (your continued reference to the Big Bang) and then reject it as soon as it doesn’t.

    And in what way have I rejected physics? To say that the same physical laws that apply within the universe may not apply to things that existed prior to the Big Bang is not a rejection of physics. Even physicists like Hawking or Lederman will tell you that the laws of physics break down when you go back to the singularity that produced the Big Bang.

  • Siamang

    God is considered to be “eternal”, not “ex-nihilo”. That’s a crucial difference.

    There you go again, substituting your personal view of God as the correct view. Sorry, but there are people who believe that God created himself. Is Dawkins not allowed to argue against their view, or is he confined to debating your particular “One True God” ™?

    Most philosophers, theistic or otherwise, agree with the premise that “for anything to exist, something must be eternal”. It’d be fine to suppose that the universe itself is eternal, except that science tells us it’s not,

    Hey “most” people think that tomatoes aren’t a fruit. So let’s not settle scientific questions by an appeal to what “most” people agree on.

    Science has absolutely not told us that the universe is not “eternal”. Heck, Stephan Hawking would beep right in your face that the universe has existed since literally the beginning of time, since time is one of the dimensions of the universe. There are other models that assume time before the singularity. Some have our universe as a baby universe from a pervious universe. Some have our universe as being eternal. Some have our universe as being instantaneously popped into existence from nothing. None of these has been ultimately proven. All of them are being investigated as avenues for future discovery. This is NOT a closed question in science, by any means.

    Further, I’d like some proof of the assertion that “for anything to exist, something must be eternal”. That’s an unfalsifyable statement, so I wouldn’t start stacking other unfalsifyable assertions on top of that and then point to it as an evidence for a deity. I think it’s nothing but armchair theologians dreaming up assertions and then believing that somehow the universe is bound to the whims of their fantasies.

    which leads to the natural question of “where did the universe come from?”

    Why not nowhere? Why not “it always was here, but fluctuates between singularity and expanded forms”? Hey, here’s one… why not “we don’t know”? Hey, wouldn’t that be honest for a change, if a human said “I don’t know” about an answer instead of sticking the word “God” on it?

    God, defined as an eternally existing, complex, intelligent being, is one possible explanation. This is not “special pleading”, since it is generally agreed that something must be eternal.

    (I generally don’t agree that something must be eternal… prove it.)

    It is special pleading because you don’t allow a naturalistic process that same eternal nature. If you don’t, you’re raising up the net for naturalistic, non-God directed processes but then giving God a free pass.

    The discussion then is simply about what that “something” is, and what it is like.

    Nah. But I do get an impression of what it must be like to watch an episode of Nova at your house. Neil DeGrasse Tyson says: “Big Bang”, Mike hears “Let there be light!”

    I know that on some cheap and cheesy tv science special you once saw, some PBS narrator said “Let there be light” before they played an animation of the Big Bang. But no matter how the wanna-be Spielbergs at WGBH Boston protrayed it, the Big Bang theory is not about a creation event — that is dramatic license not supported by the science. (It does serve as great sop to the religious masses of the world who pay their big bucks come pledge-drive time.)

  • Adrian

    Mike,

    That’s fine, if that can actually be shown to be the case.

    I see. It’s fine to just “consider” God to be eternal, complex and intelligent but when it comes to any other ideas, suddenly we need to show our work. Or am I missing something?

    Again, I’m no physicist, but as I understand it (based on my reading of scientists like Hawking, Lederman, Kaku and others), the universe as we know it began at the Big Bang.

    Then you’re misunderstanding them. Hawking (and Hartle), for example, has demonstrated that our observations & our physical theories are consistent with an eternal universe. There are a profusion of theories which involve a cycle of expansion and contraction, of a universe which was eternal but where the spacial and temporal dimensions unfurled. The right answer is that we do not know what happened. It’s not even clear whether the idea of “before the Big Bang” has meaning.

    This is basically Dawkin’s argument, and I thought I already responded to it above. If you think my response was inadequate, you have say why, not just restate the argument over again.

    I’m sorry, I didn’t consider that as an argument. At no point have you even attempted to deal with these issues. You just seem to say that since God is sufficiently difficult to observe that any claims you make should be accepted on faith. If you’ve decided that your belief is untouchable, then you’ve withdrawn from civilized discussion.

    Since you no longer need evidence or reason to justify your position, just what sort of rebuttal could anyone make?

  • Mriana

    Siamang said,

    January 23, 2008 at 7:50 pm

    MikeC:

    God is considered to be “eternal”, not “ex-nihilo”. That’s a crucial difference.

    There you go again, substituting your personal view of God as the correct view.

    Yes, I felt that was what he was doing too, thus why I asked him why it could not be internal- which is Spong, Cupitt, Freeman, and others position. So in a sense, as you said, he was substituting (or even imposing) his view. However, I’m not sure he understood that.

    Adrian said,

    January 23, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    Mike,

    That’s fine, if that can actually be shown to be the case.

    I see. It’s fine to just “consider” God to be eternal, complex and intelligent but when it comes to any other ideas, suddenly we need to show our work. Or am I missing something?

    Definitely was not alone with my thoughts.

  • Ben

    I can’t believe you’re arguing that the Bible doesn’t present a picture of humans as more important than every other species, Mike. It’s like if someone told me a Boeing 737 was a submarine and they were serious – I would have to just look at them for a while.

  • Karen

    And it’s hard to read the Hebrew scriptures without getting a sense of the importance of the natural world. Genesis 1 exults in God’s ordering of nature, the Jewish Law contains regulations about caring for the land and treating animals humanely, the Psalms are chock full of references to how nature declares the glory of God, and the last four or five chapters of Job are practically a love song by God to his creation. The God portrayed in the Bible is a God that is clearly in love with all of her creation and who is deeply concerned about it.

    Weeeellll … some verses would indicate that, yes. Others will tell you that “heaven and earth shall pass away” in favor of a new, celestial and apparently infinitely better world. As one of my End Times pastors used to say, “It’s all gonna burn!”

    I’m not arguing that god’s not presented as caring for creation (except when he is burning it in hell, but that’s another story), but I am saying that humanity is presented as the most important of the creation. I’m with Ben, I can’t believe that isn’t obvious.

    Remember in Genesis, god created all the beasts of the fields, and the insects, and the fish and the birds and – he still wasn’t satisfied? It wasn’t until he created Adam that he said it was “very good.”

    Creation wasn’t complete until god made something “in his image” that he could converse with and walk in the garden with. He apparently couldn’t do that with his centipedes and his wildebeests – he had to create the man that was most like him, which makes that man the most important of the creation.

  • Colin Joss

    Guys, whatever our belief is, please always remember. The real issue is to be nice and a blessing for everyone around you. Discussing something like this which any of us weren’t there when it happened, should not be with blind fanatism. Don’t you agree?

    Colin Joss
    East Lothian, Haddington
    United Kingdom

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Siamang, did I do something to piss you off? I’m really surprised by the tone of your reply.

    Listen, everyone, I’m sorry to make you all feel so defensive and antagonistic all of a sudden. I feel like I should just take a step back and say that I’m not trying to tell any of you that there is only one right answer and mine’s it. I’m not saying that naturalistic options for the origin of the universe aren’t possible. There are plenty of options along those lines, and I think they are definite possibilities. I just also happen to think that God is a possibility too. I’m not saying anyone here has to agree with me, that’s just my take on it. I agree with those of you who said that ultimately we just don’t know.

    But not knowing shouldn’t keep us from the fun of speculating. That’s the crappy thing about making this thing such a debate where someone has to “win”. We miss the benefit of simply being able to discuss and imagine the possibilities. I’d rather this be like a late night philosophy discussion over beers where we throw out options and play around with them, not an argument where people get pissed off if not everyone agrees with their favorite option.

    Likewise with the thing about humanity being the “pinnacle” of creation. I am expressing my understanding of scripture and theology on the topic, but I’m fully aware that there are other theologies out there. My opinion is that many of those are based more Renaissance and Enlightenment ideals than on a proper interpretation of scripture, but again, that’s just my opinion based on my own study of historical theology and scripture. I welcome differing opinions.

    At any rate, I do think there is something “special” about humanity as God’s image bearers, but again, I think that has more to do with our ethical role as caretakers of the rest of creation, and very little to do with biology or evolution, which is what I thought Donna’s question was about in the first place.

    But regardless, these are just my views. If you don’t agree, that’s cool. Think whatever you like.

  • Mriana

    At any rate, I do think there is something “special” about humanity as God’s image bearers, but again, I think that has more to do with our ethical role as caretakers of the rest of creation

    From what I’ve learned about Judaism, they don’t see God as having two legs and two arms when they say “man is made in the image of God”, which to my knowledge that’s where the Christian idea of “made in God’s image” originated, but rather they see it as being with no form or mass. They see Him as having reason, speaking, create, and other qualities humans have. And yes, Jewish ideas are of a distant deity and we (or rather they as the “Chosen People”) are to care for others and take care of creation. So, you aren’t much different from they are with your ideas.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    From what I’ve learned about Judaism, they don’t see God as having two legs and two arms when they say “man is made in the image of God”, which to my knowledge that’s where the Christian idea of “made in God’s image” originated, but rather they see it as being with no form or mass. They see Him as having reason, speaking, create, and other qualities humans have. And yes, Jewish ideas are of a distant deity and we (or rather they as the “Chosen People”) are to care for others and take care of creation. So, you aren’t much different from they are with your ideas.

    Not surprising since a lot of the rethinking of my own beliefs in recent years has been a result of taking a fresh look at the Jewish roots of Christianity. :)

    BTW, the idea of being made in the image of God comes from Genesis 1:26-17 which says:

    Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, [a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

    So God created human beings in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

    That phrase “rule over” connotes something like care taking or loving stewardship (not thoughtless domination), and likewise, in ancient near eastern society the idea of being the “image” of God would have brought to mind the way a king or ruler would place statues of his likeness in a city as a reminder of his authority and concern for the city. So to say that we are God’s image bearers is a way of saying that we are his “representatives”, his “stewards”, his “caretakers” over creation. So you can see why I would be inclined to think that being created in God’s image has ethical connotations, not biological ones.

  • Mriana

    Yes, I was thinking of that too, but since we discussed what I said about the Jews today in class, it was more fresh in my mind.

  • Richard Wade

    Colin Joss, thank you for reminding us that

    The real issue is to be nice and a blessing for everyone around you.

    That simple principle can slip our minds in the frenzy of a complex and impassioned debate.

  • ash

    sorry to jump in late, but this stuck out for me;

    I totally disagree. The good news, as I understand it, is good news for all of creation. God isn’t just redeeming humanity. He is redeeming the whole world. That is exactly what Paul says in Romans 8:19-22

    “19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. 20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to futility. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from corruption. 22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”

    Mike, are you taking Paul at his word and considering his views as holding authority here? given your views on sexual equality, and Paul’s generally sexist attitudes, i’m frankly surprised. there’s also the quote from romans 1:26-7 that’s often used to support homophobic mantra. so, we seem to be back to the old debate of a) taking everything literally, b) taking nothing literally, or c) cherry-picking to support your argument. is there any reason you picked out this quote particually?

  • http://www.ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Mike, are you taking Paul at his word and considering his views as holding authority here? given your views on sexual equality, and Paul’s generally sexist attitudes, i’m frankly surprised.

    Ash, C’mon…
    Mike is a Christian pastor, after all. Christianity is based on the NT, and Paul wrote much of the NT. I think challenging Mike for the mere fact that he quoted Paul is completely unfair.

    And as far as Paul goes… just because one does not agree with some of another’s views, it does not make everything they say invalid. Besides, I really don’t think Paul was sexist at all. Some of the things he wrote that sound sexist to us probably were not thought to be sexist at all in those days. You have to remember the words were written almost 2,000 years ago. Times were different.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Thatâ??s the crappy thing about making this thing such a debate where someone has to â??winâ?.

    Mike, I seem to agree with you more and more. I hate debates. Discussions are so much more rewarding and interesting.

    I in no way think that you are representative of Christians in the US, however. :-)

    I do wonder why people like you (and Spong) continue to hold onto the Bible as being worthwhile when everything you say twists scripture completely to ignore the ugliness that is obvious in the texts. I mean, if you have to reinterpret everything and explain what it means in a nicer and more enlightened context, then you’re not really reading the book and taking it at face value. It makes me wonder why you can’t just throw it away and realize that there might not be any baby in the bathwater after all. It seems like you’re trying too hard to find something that’s just not really there.

  • ash

    Linda, i think the fact that Mike is a christian pastor (well-versed, authority figure, etc.) actually makes it both more relevant and interesting to inquire why he quoted from a particular writer whose opinions he would otherwise often appear to be in conflict with; why do you think it’s unfair?

    just because one does not agree with some of another’s views, it does not make everything they say invalid.

    no, but it would make it cherry-picking to quote them when they support your views, and to ignore them otherwise, hence the questions.

    Besides, I really don’t think Paul was sexist at all. Some of the things he wrote that sound sexist to us probably were not thought to be sexist at all in those days. You have to remember the words were written almost 2,000 years ago. Times were different.

    ok, same line of questioning to you then; if the sexist (-sounding, although i’m pretty sure we could both find some really dodgy quotes) views were only meant for their time, doesn’t that also go for the understanding mankind in relation to nature views? the homophobic views? views on jesus? god? is anything in the bible relevant today? which bits? why?

  • Adrian

    I do wonder why people like you (and Spong) continue to hold onto the Bible as being worthwhile when everything you say twists scripture completely to ignore the ugliness that is obvious in the texts. I mean, if you have to reinterpret everything and explain what it means in a nicer and more enlightened context, then you’re not really reading the book and taking it at face value.

    Well said!

    It reminds me of the discussion about secular Jews, where they claim to be Jewish because of tradition. How much of that is a factor here, do you think?

    For instance, there’s a thread here about whether “man is made in God’s image” means physical or some metaphorical/spiritual sense. When we read the OT, God appears in a very physical sense (wrestles with Jacob, appears with a backside, feet & hands, etc.) so there’s every reason to think that the writers meant those passages in a straight-up literal sense. Of course we know that’s absurd now and so we rewrite the bible on the fly to “correct” the original prophets, but how is this not writing our own bible? If one “corrects” everyone from Moses through Paul, in what sense are they still using the bible? In what sense are they still a Christian?

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Rather than start a whole new, tangential discussion about biblical interpretation (honestly guys, I’m just putting these posts up for general discussion, I didn’t sign up to do another round of “Ask a Christian Pastor”), I’m just going to refer you all to the following posts where I address most of your questions about how I personally read and interpret scripture:

    How to Read the Bible
    A Christian Pastor Responds (Part 3)
    Three Approaches to Scripture
    What Good Is the Bible?

  • Mriana

    Linda said,

    January 24, 2008 at 7:59 am

    Mike, are you taking Paul at his word and considering his views as holding authority here? given your views on sexual equality, and Paul’s generally sexist attitudes, i’m frankly surprised.

    Ash, C’mon…
    Mike is a Christian pastor, after all. Christianity is based on the NT, and Paul wrote much of the NT. I think challenging Mike for the mere fact that he quoted Paul is completely unfair.

    No, Linda. Just because he is a minister doesn’t mean he is above it all and free of being critiqued. He is no better than anyone else and can be challenged just like anyone else. Just because he is a minister doesn’t mean he is right with what he preaches and is fair game just as you or anyone else is. Being a minister does not make him right in everything, but like any other human he still deserves respect even when being challenged. It does not make him exempt from anything though.

    writerdd said:

    I do wonder why people like you (and Spong) continue to hold onto the Bible as being worthwhile when everything you say twists scripture completely to ignore the ugliness that is obvious in the texts.

    I asked Spong a similar question too, writerdd. He refused to dignify me with an answer. :( I did not mean the question as an insult. It was truly an inquiry to his thinking. The problem is, the more he refused to answer my inquiries that he took as insult from my perspective, the less I became interested in the Episcopal Church. For someone to nail 12 theses to the door of the Episcopal Church, write books that sound humanistic and atheistic in nature, not to answer a freethinker’s questions is disturbing, to say the least. I think my question that went something like, “If you reinterpret the Bible and remove the less human dignifying texts, why do you even bother with it?” was a legitiment question. It would have given me a peek into his thoughts, but instead I get complete silence on the matter. :( Such behaviour can be interpreted as a form of control too and I did not appreciate it. However, this does not mean I have any less respect for him, I just do not agree with him in this matter. IMHO, if you have to reinterpret it to fit modern society, you should just throw it out and start over with your own moral code and alike. My response was Humanism, which he did not degrade or condemn, but still, with Humanism I am free to reject the Bible. I am also free to inquire into it and other religious text too, but I do not have to accept them any of them nor do I have to accept a supernatural being either. Nothing is imposed on me and nothing is forbidden from me. I am free to question whatever I wish to question- even IF my question sounds sophmoric or insulting. If you are ignorant of something, yet ask about, you can’t help but sound sophmoric and sometimes unintentionally insulting.

    Adrian asked:

    In what sense are they still a Christian?

    Because they said so. Although that does not mean, like Spong, they will not be called atheist, heretic, etc by others who claim the title. That is another reason why I gave up the title. I took a good look at myself, them, the religious text, researched, etc and discovered my title was a misnomer and my ideas, thoughts, beliefs, etc were more fitting to Humanism and the freethinking philosophies. I also discovered, while some liberal Christians accept my appeasing description of a god, that it was truly just an emotion and nothing more. I was only doing it to keep from being persecuted, albeit unsuccessfully with the more Christian extremists. While God is a human concept and humans can make anything a god, we must, after scientific inquiry- esp of human psychology, call a spade a spade and accept that love and compassion, awe and wonder are not deities, but rather just human emotions that under the right circumstances can trigger a chemical reaction in the brain that causes feelings of transcendence- again, nothing more than a human feeling, which in turn the less educated attribute to something supernatural.

    Unfortunately, there are times I still appeal to the extremely religious to avoid hateful, insulting, and abusive remarks. It sometimes feels like a tight-rope to protect myself and them from emotional stress. :(

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    BTW, Mriana, regarding my response to Spong’s 12 Theses, I just realized that I had already responded to them for you once before, over here. :)

  • Karen

    I think my question that went something like, “If you reinterpret the Bible and remove the less human dignifying texts, why do you even bother with it?” was a legitiment question.

    I cannot speak for Bishop Spong or Pastor Mike or other liberal Christians here, but I do have a fair amount of experience with deconverting fundamentalists through my volunteer work with a support group for ex-fundies.

    I’ve often posed this same question, Mriana, to people who’ve woken up enough to see the problems with fundamentalism but still cling to some form of Christianity or some other kind of theism.

    Their responses tend to be mostly cultural and/or emotional. It’s like they cannot bear to completely make a break with religion because of the community that church provides them, their cultural background in religion, or the emotional attachment they have to the idea of a divine father who loves them. One person actually said she tried atheism for a few months and got so depressed thinking about no heaven and no supernatural safety net for her life that she was suicidal. Even though she couldn’t be sure those things existed, believing in them on faith made her life bearable.

    Maybe these folks have the “god gene” that I don’t seem to have inherited, who knows? I’m reading The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama’s book, right now (excellent, excellent read by the way – I highly recommend) and he pretty much gives the same reasons for why he joined a black church as an adult though he was raised without any religion by a skeptic mom and grandparents. He liked the sense of cultural roots the church gave him as a black man raised outside of black American culture, and he likes the emotional centering he gets from faith. He freely admits that he’s not sure about heaven and doesn’t interpret the bible literally, and he’s very respectful of separation of church/state and inclusive of nonbelievers, which I really like.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I’ve often posed this same question, Mriana, to people who’ve woken up enough to see the problems with fundamentalism but still cling to some form of Christianity or some other kind of theism.

    Their responses tend to be mostly cultural and/or emotional.

    Personally I just came to believe that fundamentalism was a distortion and misrepresentation of Christianity in the first place. I didn’t have to reject Christianity because I rejected fundamentalism, since I don’t think the fundamentalists had Christianity right anyway.

  • Mriana

    Karen said,

    Maybe these folks have the “god gene” that I don’t seem to have inherited, who knows?

    Wait a minute. You mean to say and I actually had this argument with my son, who believes in reincarnation but not a deity, the other day, that because I cannot conceive of an afterlife and he asked me, “What if you’re wrong?” and “Why won’t you even consider it for a moment instead of saying it’s not important?” Means he inherited some sort of “God gene” and I didn’t? The fact that I cannot invision a metaphysical anthropomorphic being and mother and aunt cling to such a concept like it were their whole existance means they inherited a “God gene” and I didn’t? This battle I have with my sons’ father who insists everyone needs a “higher power” means he has a “God gene” and I don’t?

    Are you saying that even though a part of me is sadden when they impose these ideas/concepts on me because I don’t share it or can’t conceive of it means I don’t have a “God gene”? I’ll admit when I feel extreme “postive” emotions from other humans or my pets that I sometimes feel transcendence, but I know, due to my studies in psychology it is a chemical reaction in the brain and the same holds true when I feel awe and wonder with nature, but I cannot attribute it to some supernatural deity- that’s still human nature. As I child though, I did construe these overwhelming emotions to be god. However, I don’t share these same thoughts about a deity with those who have them. This all means a “God gene” really exists and I just don’t have it? I thought that was just a hypothesis.

    MikeClawson said,

    Personally I just came to believe that fundamentalism was a distortion and misrepresentation of Christianity in the first place. I didn’t have to reject Christianity because I rejected fundamentalism, since I don’t think the fundamentalists had Christianity right anyway.

    Yes, but I think you also actually invision a deity, which is totally different from religion. Religion is a means for you to express your concept of a deity. It is possible for one to have religion without a concept of a deity and a concept of a deity without religion, but most of the time the two go together.

  • http://www.ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Ash said:
    Linda, i think the fact that Mike is a christian pastor (well-versed, authority figure, etc.) actually makes it both more relevant and interesting to inquire why he quoted from a particular writer whose opinions he would otherwise often appear to be in conflict with; why do you think it’s unfair?

    Mriana said:
    No, Linda. Just because he is a minister doesn’t mean he is above it all and free of being critiqued.

    Please understand that I was not saying that Mike should be above being questioned because he’s a pastor. I was only saying that since he’s someone that teaches Christian thought (however liberal it may be), it’s only fitting that he quotes from Paul’s writings. You can challenge and question the content of his statement without criticizing the fact that he used the quote.

    Ash then said,

    ok, same line of questioning to you then; if the sexist (-sounding, although i’m pretty sure we could both find some really dodgy quotes) views were only meant for their time, doesn’t that also go for the understanding mankind in relation to nature views?

    Perhaps.

    the homophobic views?

    Yes.

    views on jesus? god?

    Depends on what, who, how, when, and why.

    is anything in the bible relevant today?

    Absolutely.

    which bits?

    Everything that relates to humanity, love, and relationships.

    Why?

    Because it helps us to understand ourselves and learn how to accept and love each other. Because if we understand love and forgiveness, we can take the focus off of ourselves and our need to be “right” all the time.

    To quote Mike C.:

    That’s the crappy thing about making this thing such a debate where someone has to “win”. We miss the benefit of simply being able to discuss and imagine the possibilities.

    Case in point.. I don’t always agree with everything Mike says, but I can still quote him when I feel that he speaks the truth. If I know that his heart is in the right place, why can’t I agree with and quote him on occasion? Do I have to dismiss him altogether just because we have deferring views at times? Why should it be different for Mike quoting Paul?

  • Karen

    Are you saying that even though a part of me is sadden when they impose these ideas/concepts on me because I don’t share it or can’t conceive of it means I don’t have a “God gene”?

    I’m actually pretty much kidding when I bring up the “god gene,” Mriana. I think it’s a silly concept, actually. ;-)

    That said, there does seem to be something that makes certain people totally desperate if they can’t believe in god and other people (like me) who seem to be able to get over god-belief and live quite contentedly without it. Michael Shermer suggests it may be personality driven, and I think he’s probably on to something there, though that probably isn’t complex enough to fully explain it. Maybe one day there will be some research done on this and we’ll find a working theory on why some people seem to need a god-concept to survive emotionally and others don’t. In the meantime it’s interesting to think about.

  • Mriana

    Karen said,

    I’m actually pretty much kidding when I bring up the “god gene,” Mriana. I think it’s a silly concept, actually.

    I was going to say. I have a hard time with this idea, but then again, I haven’t read enough on the subject to know.

    Michael Shermer suggests it may be personality driven, and I think he’s probably on to something there, though that probably isn’t complex enough to fully explain it.

    Now this I can buy a lot better because there is a psychology behind religious beliefs, but I don’t know about a gene though.

  • Siamang

    Mike C said:

    Siamang, did I do something to piss you off? I’m really surprised by the tone of your reply.

    Sorry if I came off stronger than I meant to. But you really lit up the scoreboard with this short little post.

    Your first sentence asserted that Dawkins was attacking an incorrect conception of God, which implies both that you have the correct conception of God, and that Dawkins shouldn’t correspond with beliefs other than yours.

    Your third sentence employed an argumentum ad populum in support of an unknowable and unfalsifyable assertion about eternal existence.

    Your fourth sentence completely botched modern cosmology, asserting things as fact that contradict many of the current working theories about the origin of the universe.

    Your fifth sentence declared God eternal by definition, a state that you didn’t allow the naturalistic universe in the previous sentence.

    Your sixth sentence denied that the previous two sentences evinced special pleading, when in fact they did. That sentence also repeated the previous argumentum ad populum in support of the unfalsifyable assertion of the necessity of an eternal existence.

    Your seventh and final sentence didn’t have much wrong with it. ;-)

    That was some industrial strength stuff you posted.

    What I don’t understand is your use of the logical process:

    Assume that God is eternal.
    Assume that something must be eternal.
    Assume that the universe isn’t eternal.
    Conclusion: if something must be eternal, and since God is eternal, God, an intelligent eternal entity, exists.

    But what you seem to not get is that you merely defined God as eternal and intelligent, and you defined that “something must be eternal.” These are definitions of your own construction. You also cannot logically smuggle in “intelligence” and justify it by arguing “existence”. That’s like saying Siamang is defined as “existing” and “fabulously wealthy.” And then proving both by proving I exist.

    Why not just:

    Assume God exists.

    There. That’s more efficient. But it’s also equally supported logically… which is to say they’re both mere assertions and not supported at all.

    Now the part that personally bugs me is that you added an appeal to (incorrect!) cosmology in the center of your argument. But your argument does not require it, since it’s nothing but definition and assertion.

    Structurally, your argument is identical to this:

    I describe God as eternal and intelligent.
    Everyone knows something HAS to be eternal.
    2+2=5.
    Therefore SOMETHING exists that is eternal. Now it’s just down to whether or not that eternal thing is God.

    The cosmology part, being both false and superfluous to the argument, I think is just a distraction. We all like arguments from science, because science conveys a certain authority and intellectual caché. That’s why the fake perpetual motion machine inventors and quack healers throw the word “quantum” around like it was going out of style. I think that the argument dazzles you, because it ties some of these deep imponderables into the awe-inspiring study of the cosmos. But it’s a distraction from the argument itself, which is nothing but a collection of non-sequiturs.

    But this is just mumbo-jumbo in the shape of a reasoned argument. Maybe it’s not nice of me to respond to the structure of your argument, instead I should simply smile and say “how nice for you.” But I don’t see how you get to write something so full of logical fallacies, and there’s nothing not nice about that, but to engage your argument it is somehow not nice. Present better-structured arguments and you may enjoy my responses more! ;-)

    But at least you know now that the cosmological argument for God requires special pleading and asserting unknowables that are as unknown as the thing it attempts to prove. That’s got to be a benefit, right?

  • Siamang

    Mike,

    Reading what I just wrote, it’s not “nice” either. I’m having a hard time putting my points across.

    What if I started making what I’ll call “Badly reasoned arguments for the nonexistence of God.” Would you engage? Would you take them apart and trash them? I hope you would!

    Here’s some:

    God is defined as perfect, eternal, infinite and omniscient.
    God created man, who, being finite and non-omniscient, was imperfect even before the fall.
    Therefore God created a flawed creation.
    God cannot create a flawed thing and still be perfect.
    Therefore man is proof of the nonexistence of God.

    Here’s another:

    Assuming two omnipotent Gods.
    Would one God have the power to hide his existence totally from the other? Yes, assumming omnipotence.
    Well then, how does Yaweh know he’s the only God? He cannot.
    Therefore Yaweh is not omniscient.

    (hmm… that one is actually pretty good).

    Okay lets try a bad one:

    Theists have no answer for the problem of evil
    There is an answer: God is both good and evil.
    Problem solved.

    If God is both Good and Evil, he must be good and evil in equal measure, or He is not perfect.
    If he is both good and evil in equal measure, he is not worthy of respect or worship.
    If he commands worship at all then, it’s because of fear of his evil side.
    Therefore we should fight God.

    God opened up the oceans to save the israelites in Exodus.
    God did not open up the oceans to prevent the holocaust.
    Therefore God died or lost interest between the two events. We’re on our own.

  • Adrian

    Siamang,

    It may not be “nice”, but it wasn’t mean either. No need to apologize, I don’t think.

    Structurally, your argument is identical to this:

    I describe God as eternal and intelligent.
    Everyone knows something HAS to be eternal.
    2+2=5.
    Therefore SOMETHING exists that is eternal. Now it’s just down to whether or not that eternal thing is God.

    I read the argument as:

    A: God is defined as being eternal, complex and intelligent.
    B: Assume the universe isn’t eternal.
    C: Something must be eternal, let’s call that thing “God”
    D: From (B) and (C), God exists

    Therefore, from (D) and (A), we know that God exists and is complex and intelligent.

    It doesn’t take much training in equivocation to see that the jump from saying “something must be eternal” (whether you agree with it or not) to saying that the thing which is eternal must be complex and intelligent was plucked from nothing (look, something can come from nothing!).

    I’m not sure, is there a polite and “nice” way to call BS on someone’s obviously BS argument? Personally, I feel a little insulted when they try such an obviously unsupported argument on me, like they think I’m a child incapable of reasoning or simple logic. You can see that, when someone tries to claim that the universe operates in a way they don’t like (e.g.: if we said the universe is eternal and uncreated) then even Mike demands evidence and sounds a lot less “nice”.

    Personally, I prefer a snarky post which clearly breaks down all of the points of difference and presents a counter argument to one which just waves vaguely to differences of opinion. At least the former gives a starting point for a discussion and admits that reality isn’t a matter of opinion.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    What I don’t understand is your use of the logical process:

    Assume that God is eternal.
    Assume that something must be eternal.
    Assume that the universe isn’t eternal.
    Conclusion: if something must be eternal, and since God is eternal, God, an intelligent eternal entity, exists.

    Allow me to clarify my argument since I think that you misunderstood and therefore misrepresented what I was saying with your caricature here. (I also take offense at your insinuation that I’m referring to science simply because it “dazzles” me… could you try to be a little more condescending?)

    #1 – “Assume that God is eternal.” I am stating that most (not all) theistic conceptions of God list “eternally existing” as one of God’s attributes. Of course there may be those who think differently, but quite honestly, I’d like to see one example of someone who says that God came into existence “ex nihilo”. I don’t know of any Christian creeds from any mainstream denomination that would affirm this. (Mormons maybe?) Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I am representing how I conceive of God, not answering for every possible conception. I apologize if my statement seemed too all inclusive. I suppose I should have instead said “God is typically considered to be “eternal”, not “ex-nihilo”.” If Dawkins argument is in reference to people who think God is not eternal but came into existence ex nihilo, fine, but don’t get bent out of shape simply because I say that I’m not one of them – or (correctly) point out that most other Christians (as far as I know) are not among them either.

    #2 – “Assume that something must be eternal.” You’re right, this is not a given. This is a premise based on the observation that, as far as we know, effects tend to have causes, and therefore something must be eternal (even if it’s only an eternal chain of causation), since otherwise that means that at some point there was an effect that did not have a cause. Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t scientific inquiry also rest on the assumption that things don’t simply happen without a cause? This may be a false assumption as I don’t think it is possible to conclusively prove that everything has a cause, and yet I don’t see many scientists or anyone else routinely holding this assumption in doubt. So yes, while I can’t “prove” that everything must have a cause, I still think it’s a pretty safe assumption since we have yet to experience anything that has happened without one.

    #3 – “Assume that the universe isn’t eternal.” Forgive me if my knowledge of theoretical physics is out of date, but my understanding was that the idea of an infinite, eternally existing universe had been disproven about 40 years ago by Big Bang cosmology. As far as I know, most physicists still agree that the universe had a beginning, and that there is no data whatsoever about that singularity or what caused it. I wasn’t “assuming” that the universe isn’t eternal. I was simply stating my understanding of what modern physics says about it, again based on what I’ve read from Hawking, Lederman, and others. However, I’m not closed to other possibilities if there are viable ones out there.

    #4 – “Conclusion: if something must be eternal, and since God is eternal, God, an intelligent eternal entity, exists.”

    You’ve grossly mistated my argument. I was never arguing that God does in fact exist. I was simply arguing that God is one possible explanation for the existence of the universe. Furthermore, none of my statements were intended to be absolute. You are characterizing me as making a stronger statement than I actually would.

    My argument could be better stated like this:

    A. It seems likely that something must be eternal, since it is unlikely that effects happen without causes.

    B1. Modern cosmology seems to imply that the universe – at least in it’s current state – is not that eternal thing…
    B2. Therefore, if we accept that effects generally have causes, then something else must have caused the universe to come into being in it’s current form.

    C. An eternally existing God is one possible explanation for what that thing is, among several other possible explanations.

    That’s it. That’s all I was saying. Of course it is possible to argue with any one of these premises, but on the other hand, I don’t think any of these are radically absurd or fallacious. (Is it really so crazy to think that effects always have causes?)

    Listen, if I was presenting this as a conclusive argument for God’s existence, then I can see why you’d get upset, but I’m not. (I can’t stress that enough since both you and Adrian seem to be assuming that I was trying to “prove” God’s existence through this argument.) I’m just throwing this out there as one possibility.

  • Adrian

    Mike,

    C. An eternally existing God is one possible explanation for what that thing is, among several other possible explanations.

    Actually no, that is not a possible explanation. Not until you demonstrate that it is possible for such a thing (eternal, intelligent, complex, powerful) to exist in the first place. Until then, it cannot be considered a possible explanation, especially when everything we know about our universe tells us that these traits are not found together. Intelligent and complex, yes. But things which are eternal or at least fundamental are extremely simple. Without some resolution to that problem, you cannot simply assert that God is a possibility.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Actually no, that is not a possible explanation. Not until you demonstrate that it is possible for such a thing (eternal, intelligent, complex, powerful) to exist in the first place. Until then, it cannot be considered a possible explanation, especially when everything we know about our universe tells us that these traits are not found together. Intelligent and complex, yes. But things which are eternal or at least fundamental are extremely simple. Without some resolution to that problem, you cannot simply assert that God is a possibility.

    Adrian, I’ve already responded to you on this issue several times now. The key to my answer lies in your phrase “everything we know about our universe“, and the thrust of it is that we have no basis for asserting that what is true “about our universe” would necessarily be true of things that exist prior to (i.e. as the cause of) our universe. However, if you do not think this is an adequate response, then fine, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  • Mriana

    I don’t know, I just felt like the way it was phrased, we were being told what god is, is like, etc and that’s the way it is. I didn’t see any first person thought when I read it. Thus my response. However, I know there are a lot of different views, but I don’t like one being imposed over the other regardless, ESPECIALLY, when they are ALL human concepts and none of them proven to exist. That’s the only reason why it bothered me. I didn’t think about it in such detail.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Yes Mriana, I should have qualified my statements more. I’m sorry. I think what happened is that I crafted my initial statements in response to how Siamang stated Dawkins’ arguments. Since Dawkins statements came across pretty “broad-brushed” to me, I guess I just responded with a similar broad brush. But you’re right, I should have qualified more and said that “some” (not all) theists define God as eternal, not ex nihilo.

  • Mriana

    Apology accepted, even though I define myself as a non-theist, and thank you for not insisting that everyone had to believe it. I would have been even more upset if you had.

  • Siamang

    Is it really so crazy to think that effects always have causes?

    No but what’s logically fallacious is to simultaneously assert that God doesn’t need the same cause that you assert that everything else needs. Either things need a cause or they don’t, you’re having it both ways.

    Also, how do you know that there isn’t an uncaused, eternal “thingamijig” that caused the universe? Something you don’t know as the first cause, that while infinite and uncaused, is also something that is totally unrecognizable as fitting the definition of a God.

    Hey, why not two Gods?
    Why not a million?
    Why not a million evil gods?
    Why not Cthulu?

    Isn’t it also true that there are an infinite possible non-God thingamajigs, and only one God, so even if your prime-mover argument is valid, the odds against it being “God” are infinite against?

    I’d like to see one example of someone who says that God came into existence “ex nihilo”. I don’t know of any Christian creeds from any mainstream denomination that would affirm this.

    Sorry, that may be the result of my childhood Mormon Church exposure leaking through. I remember being taught that God created himself. I’ve also been exposed to people who believe that God was eternal, as you say. I just thought that people had varied opinions on that. And of course, there are religions in the world other than Christianity. I noticed a lot of islam and some eastern religions coming up when googling the phrase “God created himself”.

  • Adrian

    Mike,

    The key to my answer lies in your phrase “everything we know about our universe“, and the thrust of it is that we have no basis for asserting that what is true “about our universe” would necessarily be true of things that exist prior to (i.e. as the cause of) our universe.

    So a “get out of evidence, free” card then?

    This point doesn’t have anything to do with some natural laws, it’s square circle time.

    To be intelligent, to have the capability of conceiving of two distinct alternatives, to store any sort of data at all even if it’s just for processing thoughts, one needs to have structure and be capable of not just distinguishing between two states, but representing those two states. That means not just complexity (which you’ve granted) but a high degree of order. That means that an intelligent god must be composed of simpler elements. There is no way around it.

    And unfortunately, if god is composed of simpler elements, it is these simpler elements which are eternal and the composed structure you call “god” is not. I’ve never seen you nor any other theist attempt to construct an argument demonstrating how some ordered, composed entity such as god could be eternal.

    What we have now are some very simple principles which are not based on any forces within our universe and which should be as universal as “no square circles”, and on the other side we have your hand-waving dismissal.

    It simply is not adequate to treat this as merely a difference of opinion.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    No but what’s logically fallacious is to simultaneously assert that God doesn’t need the same cause that you assert that everything else needs. Either things need a cause or they don’t, you’re having it both ways.

    Not quite. If we don’t accept creation ex nihilo, then either things need a cause, or they need to have eternally existed. This is true not just of God, but of anything. If it’s eternal, then it doesn’t need a cause. If it isn’t, then it does. I’m really not understanding what’s so complicated or controversial about that.

    Also, how do you know that there isn’t an uncaused, eternal “thingamijig” that caused the universe? Something you don’t know as the first cause, that while infinite and uncaused, is also something that is totally unrecognizable as fitting the definition of a God.

    Hey, why not two Gods?
    Why not a million?
    Why not a million evil gods?
    Why not Cthulu?

    Yes, I suppose all of those are also possibilities.

    Isn’t it also true that there are an infinite possible non-God thingamajigs, and only one God, so even if your prime-mover argument is valid, the odds against it being “God” are infinite against?

    Sorry, you lost me on that one.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    This point doesn’t have anything to do with some natural laws, it’s square circle time.

    To be intelligent, to have the capability of conceiving of two distinct alternatives, to store any sort of data at all even if it’s just for processing thoughts, one needs to have structure and be capable of not just distinguishing between two states, but representing those two states. That means not just complexity (which you’ve granted) but a high degree of order. That means that an intelligent god must be composed of simpler elements. There is no way around it.

    I’m sorry, but what you’ve just said is hardly in the same category as a “square circle”. You’ve just made a multifaceted argument about the nature of cognition, which could be debated on any number of points. That’s not at all the same thing as an irrefutable logical premise.

  • AJ

    MikeClawson,

    I am representing how I conceive of God, not answering for every possible conception.

    Interesting, since you said you conceive of God, not a god. Not a possibility, merely an idea, God. I would really like to know how you do this, and how it doesn’t imply existance of said God.

    This is a premise based on the observation that, as far as we know, effects tend to have causes, and therefore something must be eternal (even if it’s only an eternal chain of causation), since otherwise that means that at some point there was an effect that did not have a cause.

    It seems likely that something must be eternal, since it is unlikely that effects happen without causes.

    The key to my answer lies in your phrase “everything we know about our universe“, and the thrust of it is that we have no basis for asserting that what is true “about our universe” would necessarily be true of things that exist prior to (i.e. as the cause of) our universe.

    I agree with you First Mike, we should apply our observations since this is all we know, Second Mike doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I wouldn’t be so sure about your God being the terminator for that regress though, First Mike, I think you should take some more observations from our universe. I think I like you First Mike.

    …could you try to be a little more condescending?

    I think I’m the man for the job.

    Forgive me if my knowledge of theoretical physics is out of date, but my understanding was that the idea of an infinite, eternally existing universe had been disprove about 40 years ago by Big Bang cosmology. As far as I know, most physicists still agree that the universe had a beginning, and that there is no data whatsoever about that singularity or what caused it. I wasn’t “assuming” that the universe isn’t eternal. I was simply stating my understanding of what modern physics says about it, again based on what I’ve read from Hawking, Lederman, and others. However, I’m not closed to other possibilities if there are viable ones out there.

    The steady state theory was a theory that proposed an eternal universe, this theory was falsified, being a good scientific theory that made predictions. The Big Bang is a competing theory and as I understand it some of the evidence for it falsified the steady state theory. Falsifying a theory that suggests an eternal universe doesn’t necessarily disprove an eternal universe at all.

    Theologians have tried to mislead people about the Big Bang ever since, saying that it suggests a beginning of “the universe”. The Big Bang Theory doesn’t get to a beginning, the science isn’t in, general relativity breaks down. Science only gets us to a very short time after whatever it is. In fact there’s plenty of new theories that are inline with our current understanding of the Big Bang that suggest that there was a beginning and there wasn’t.

    Listen, if I was presenting this as a conclusive argument for God’s existence, then I can see why you’d get upset, but I’m not. (I can’t stress that enough since both you and Adrian seem to be assuming that I was trying to “prove” God’s existence through this argument.) I’m just throwing this out there as one possibility.

    That’s OK then, for a moment I thought you were a Theist. If they’re just possibilities that’s perfectly reasonable. It’s not like you’re going to live your life by, take political action, base your morals on, a vague possibility of something you can’t really describe or observe. Just throwing it out there, it’s not like you’re a member of a church or anything.

    It’s possible that ethereal noodly appendages are fondling me all over as we speak.

  • Siamang

    Not quite. If we don’t accept creation ex nihilo, then either things need a cause, or they need to have eternally existed. This is true not just of God, but of anything. If it’s eternal, then it doesn’t need a cause. If it isn’t, then it does. I’m really not understanding what’s so complicated or controversial about that.

    There’s nothing complicated or controversial about that phrasing. It’s not that half of the argument that is self-contradicting. It’s the other half that contradicted this half: constraining the universe to non-eternity while letting God get eternity by defining it into his nature.

    That’s like the math equations that “prove God” by allowing believers to plug in their impressions of percentages of likelyhood that this and that and the other things show evidence of God, multiplying them all together and coming out with an answer. They’re fooled into thinking the equation is an objective, scientific, mathematically computed “Odds of God’s Existence.” (Often near 100%!)

    But in fact (and sorry if this is condescending) they’re dazzled by the math. All those computations ever show is the percentage of personal certainty the believer has in God’s existence. And they could have just asserted that without the math.

    But the math is dazzling to them.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    It’s the other half that contradicted this half: constraining the universe to non-eternity while letting God get eternity by defining it into his nature.

    I’m not “constraining the universe to non-eternity”. I thought I was very clear that I’m open to the possibility that the universe could be eternal. My current understanding of physics is that it is not, but I’m open to the possibility that it could be, if new theories emerge which suggest that it is. I don’t know how many different ways I need to say that.

    My argument was simply that (assuming no creation ex nihilo) IF the universe is not eternal, THEN something else is (not necessarily God, but something). But of course, IF the universe is eternal, THEN something else doesn’t necessarily have to be. Again, I’m open to either possibility. I’d really appreciate it if you’d stop absolutizing my arguments.

    And I have no idea what you’re referring to regarding the math thing.

  • Mriana

    What I’m wondering is, why does it matter what came before the Big Bang? Why does it matter that we have an explanation right now for what came before the universe and human existance? We’re here, we won “the lottery” of life, and we are exploring, via science, all these questions, but I don’t think we can just say, “God did it” without thoroughly investigating the matter. (I don’t think we should impose our ideas of the existance or non-existance of a god either, but the idea of a god is not really the topic, is it? Or have I lost the focus of the topic in all of this?)

    There is nothing wrong if you want to say, “God did it” or “nothing came before everything”, but that should not be the end all and be all to the question. The fact is, we don’t know, but as human beings we have the ability to ask the questions and to seek out the answers again, via science and exploration. The question of a deity or lack there of is superfulous when it comes to scientific inquiry and living life, but only because it is a human concept. We can’t rely on a concept to answer the real question or we won’t find the real answers.

    What we do know is, the universe as we know has to do with carbon colliding with at least three other chemicals (saw it on some science channel, but I still can’t explain it). Now the testible question is, what made them collide to cause the explosion which made the universe? We cannot just answer that with human concepts. They are not a testible hypothesis.

  • Siamang

    but I’m open to the possibility that it might be if new theories emerge. I don’t know how many different ways I need to say that.

    I just tried to write a long post referencing what I wrote about what you wrote about what I wrote…

    All I need to say is that it’s like “Who’s on First” around here.

    If you’re not arguing the idea that the universe needs a cause that God doesn’t, then I’ve got no beef.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    but the idea of a god is not really the topic, is it? Or have I lost the focus of the topic in all of this?

    I don’t know, but I sure have. I have no idea how we got off on this long tangent or what the original point was.

  • Steven Carr

    I see that Mike still can’t come up with any evidence that there is a god who exists ‘beyond’ the universe.

    But what he can do is write ‘Most theists say…’ , ‘They say..’ ‘Christians say…’ ‘They say…’

    Who cares what people have made up? Who cares in the least what Christians say?

    It’s all just made up,

    Where is the beef? Where is the stuff that people *haven’t* just made up?

  • Steven Carr

    From the article :-

    ‘Evolution, they contend, is more than a soulless explanation for the development of life. It is a glimpse of a divine plan so subtle it’s almost invisible.’

    Yes. evolution is the concept that God creates diseases like diphtheria, malaria, whoopin cough etc.

    Then creates human beings by exposing them to these diseases.

    The survivors breed, and their progeny have a slightly better immune system against all of these diseases than the people (usually children) killed by them.

    That way an immune system develops. Isn’t God clever?

    It appears that John Haught worships Dr. Mengele , but calls the monster he worships ‘God’.

  • Mriana

    MikeClawson said,

    January 24, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    I don’t know, but I sure have. I have no idea how we got off on this long tangent or what the original point was.

    :lol: Glad I’m not alone.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I see that Mike still can’t come up with any evidence that there is a god who exists ‘beyond’ the universe.

    I wasn’t trying to.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    May I quote a bit of Tolstoy here? I recently (accidentally) came upon this fascinating article written by him, titled “A Confession.” He wrote it in his 50s. In it, he states:

    “I sought everywhere; and thanks to a life spent in learning, and thanks also to my relations with the scholarly world, I had access to scientists and scholars in all branches of knowledge, and they readily showed me all their knowledge, not only in books but also in conversation, so that I had at my disposal all that science has to say on this question of life.

    “I was long unable to believe that it gives no other reply to life’s questions than that which it actually does give. It long seemed to me, when I saw the important and serious air with which science announces its conclusions which have nothing in common with the real questions of human life, that there was something I had not understood. I long was timid before science, and it seemed to me that the lack of conformity between the answers and my questions arose not by the fault of science but from my ignorance, but the matter was for me not a game or an amusement but one of life and death, and I was involuntarily brought to the conviction that my questions were the only legitimate ones, forming the basis of all knowledge, and that I with my questions was not to blame, but science if it pretends to reply to those questions…

  • http://religiousliberal.blogspot.com/ Dwight

    A few thoughts

    It may be that I find more resources in the Bible than some folks in this discussion even as I acknowledge that not everything in the text is helpful. But my religion does not center on the Bible, one’s object of devotion ought to be God (everything else being instrumental)

    I do try to utilize the breadth of a 2000 year tradition that includes the scriptures but it also includes everyone from Augustine to Martin Luther King, from St. Francis to Gene Robinson in making sense of the human situation, the problems of life.

    When folks say let’s start fresh, throw it all out, that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Partly because ignorance of the past doesn’t prevent repeating the mistakes of the past, partly because we are historical creatures, we don’t have the option of tossing it out even if we wanted to.

    And partly because there have been practices, ideas, etc in the past that help illuminate the present, sometimes in a better fashion than what is served up today. I’ll take Augustine over Dr. Phil and Oprah in thinking about the question of good and evil.

    And lastly in a world that is marked by a hyper kind of individualism, we have a possibility of participating in communities (churches, synagogues, etc) that aid each other, that can explore life together, and some of the big issues in a way that few other venues exist.

    When I stand in the Christian tradition, I don’t cut myself off from resources outside of that tradition, I read with pleasure humanist thinkers (Huxley, Harrington), philosophy, other world religions (the Reform Gates of Prayer has been a companion for me for a while now).

    To stand in a tradition is rather to acknowledge that as I look at these other resources, I do stand in a location, I have a starting point, I have a history, I have a language, an inheritance, and a community from which I can engage that and the wider world.

    That doesn’t mean I’d argue that other people on this board should be Christians. But I would argue that we should dismiss the idea of “starting fresh” and tossing everything out, that we should critically look at where we’ve come from and see what’s possible to appropriate for today.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    That’s an excellent quote Linda. Thanks for sharing. I’ve often had that same experience that Tolstoy did. Science is great at what it does, but it does very little to answer the deep, existential questions of life that we all wrestle with. As with Tolstoy, the questions I’m asking in life are usually not the ones science is answering (or is even capable of answering).

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I’ve never seen you nor any other theist attempt to construct an argument demonstrating how some ordered, composed entity such as god could be eternal.

    BTW, if you’re still interested Adrian, Notre Dame philosopher Alvin Plantinga has a detailed and scholarly response to Dawkins’ (and your) argument about the complexity of God. You can read it here.

  • Adrian

    Mike,

    Thanks for the link though I’m uncertain as to what you think it demonstrates. For a start, Plantinga doesn’t present any sort of argument to explain how a complex, ordered entity such as a god could be eternal.

    At the start, he attempts to say that God is not complex. How does he do this? Certainly not by addressing Dawkins’s argument oh no, instead he just says “According to much classical theology (Thomas Aquinas, for example) God is simple” as if that were to settle matters. What a cop out.

    Next, despite demonstrations which I’ve presented and Dawkins presented which show that any entity no matter the composition which is capable of representing and distinguishing between two different states (e.g.: knowing the answer to a single yes/no question) must be complex, Plantinga just says that since God is “spirit”, then it is simple.

    Talk about special pleading!

    He does finally deal with the question of what it means if God really were complex. Yet again, he does a strange sort of bait & switch from definitions: God is defined to be necessary, therefore God exists. That would be fine if we were talking about some elementary particle or M-brane, as I’ll gladly grant you that necessary objects exist. However, there’s no reason to think that any necessary objects are intelligent or complex.

    If this argument had any logical validity, we could say “I define Super Wallet to be stuffed with 100s, sitting on my desk, and necessary. Because necessary objects must exist, Super Wallet exists, therefore there is a wallet stuffed with 100s sitting on my desk.” Were that so, but alas…

    In the end, Plantinga doesn’t even try to deal with the question. He starts with the conclusion that God is defined to be necessary and complex, and then showing that because God is defined to be necessary, God must exist. Nonsense. It just shows that necessary things are necessary, but it doesn’t say anything about whether necessary things can be complex, just as SuperWallet doesn’t say anything about whether necessary things can sit on my desk, stuffed with money.

    Despite the fine words and the lofty associations, his argument is no better than yours. I don’t see how it is a response to anything Dawkins has said, and I don’t see how it’s meant to answer any questions.

  • Mriana

    You know, it’s funny. I’ve always felt and thought the same way Dawkins seems to, minus the science because I didn’t know as much as he wrote about. Thing is, this Notre Dame philosopher didn’t use any science that I could see and well… his argument makes no sense. :?

    Yes, I’ve had philosophy, but it made more sense than Alvin Plantinga does. Dawkins made sense, but this guy doesn’t.

    From a theistic point of view, we’d expect that our cognitive faculties would be (for the most part, and given certain qualifications and caveats) reliable.

    A theist’s cognitive abilities? I won’t go there. Don’t want to get socked in the mouth. Thomas did in 1933- by a Christian named Finlay all because he denied there was a god. :roll: It was called Finlay’s Conversion of Thomas. Things don’t change much, so I’m careful what I say.

    From this point of view, our beliefs would be dependent on neurophysiology, and (no doubt) a belief would just be a neurological structure of some complex kind. Now the neurophysiology on which our beliefs depend will doubtless be adaptive; but why think for a moment that the beliefs dependent on or caused by that neurophysiology will be mostly true? Why think our cognitive faculties are reliable?

    Neurophysiology has a LOT to do with it, the thing is, a theist attributes the neurochemical reaction to God. However, it was just a natural external stimulous- like someone showing love and compassion, the awe and wonder you get when looking up at the night sky or watching nature, or listening to music that stimulates your neurosystem. That’s all it is and it’s something I studied in my neuro-psychology class.

    Be that as it may, Plantinga does a poor job rebuting Dawkins IMO, because he makes no sense and doesn’t sound like he knows what he’s debating. It’s a pretty weak rebuttle. :? And I read it more than once because he makes no sense. His tractor analogy is pretty poor and he doesn’t sound like he understands Evolution at all.

    in invoking God as the original creator of life, we aren’t trying to explain organized complexity in general

    That’s right. You aren’t explaining anything. Besides, IF there is a god, who says IT’s complex? Love and compassion is not complex, yet back there you said your God has emotions or at least looked at as the Jews do who believes he has emotions. Once you get down to neuro-psychology and neurophysiology emotions and alike are simple and makes sense. At least from my perspective. Now, dealing with them, that’s another matter, but even that is not complexed.

    IMO, this guy hasn’t done his homework on Evolution and neurophysiology in order to know what he’s talking about and make sense at the same time.

  • Siamang

    Don’t want to get socked in the mouth. Thomas did in 1933- by a Christian named Finlay all because he denied there was a god. It was called Finlay’s Conversion of Thomas. Things don’t change much,

    I’ll say! That’s just what Christian Kirk did to Carl Sagan in that Star Trek video!

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I didn’t post the link because I’m interested in defending Plantinga’s argument personally; I just thought you might be interested. Though I do agree with his initial statement that in the realm of philosophy Dawkin’s arguments generally come across as sophmoric at best. He should stick to what he knows.

  • Siamang

    At the start, he attempts to say that God is not complex. How does he do this? Certainly not by addressing Dawkins’s argument oh no, instead he just says “According to much classical theology (Thomas Aquinas, for example) God is simple” as if that were to settle matters.

    I noticed that as well. It makes me wonder if “philosophy” as a field is just completely broken. And this guy’s a professor at Notre Dame??!? Is this allowed in other fields of study there by the Fightin’ Irish?

    “Yes, professor, it certainly seems as though the fever is allowing the body to fight the infection, but according to the 13th century doctor, philosopher, bishop and horsegroom St. Matthew the Ill-humoured, the fever is caused by evil spirits and the remedy is to bathe in pig’s blood!”

  • Mriana

    Despite the fine words and the lofty associations, his argument is no better than yours. I don’t see how it is a response to anything Dawkins has said, and I don’t see how it’s meant to answer any questions.

    I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who saw problems.

    Siamang said,

    January 25, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    Don’t want to get socked in the mouth. Thomas did in 1933- by a Christian named Finlay all because he denied there was a god. It was called Finlay’s Conversion of Thomas. Things don’t change much,

    I’ll say! That’s just what Christian Kirk did to Carl Sagan in that Star Trek video!

    :lol: Yup!

    MikeClawson said,

    January 25, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    Though I do agree with his initial statement that in the realm of philosophy Dawkin’s arguments generally come across as sophmoric at best. He should stick to what he knows.

    And neither does your Notre Dame buddy. He’s doesn’t know much about neuro-anything.

  • Adrian

    MikeClawson said…

    Though I do agree with his initial statement that in the realm of philosophy Dawkin’s arguments generally come across as sophmoric at best. He should stick to what he knows.

    This ‘philosophy’ you speak of sounds like a funny discipline if arguments which withstand attacks are called sophomoric and ones riddled with logical fallacies are held up as examples we should aspire to.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Regarding God’s simplicity, Plantinga actually references further argument in favor of this in the footnotes. He says:

    4. The distinguished Oxford philosopher (Dawkins calls him a theologian) Richard Swinburne has proposed some sophisticated arguments for the claim that God is simple. Dawkins mentions Swinburne’s argument, but doesn’t deign to come to grips with it; instead he resorts to ridicule (pp. 110-111).

    I think the point was that Dawkins is claiming to argue against theistic conceptions of God, and yet Plantinga gives examples from both Catholic and Reformed theists, as well as contemporary philosophers, that indicate that “complexity” is not usually given as an attribute of God. Of course, as Siamang has pointed out, there are many different competing theisms out there, so perhaps on this “complexity” thing Dawkins yet again was not arguing against the mainstream of Christian theism? Maybe he has in mind some other, more obscure, theistic confession? Maybe this is another belief about God that is peculiar to the Mormons? They believe in a “material” God, right? That would seem to jive better with Dawkins’ definition of complexity, which, as Plantinga pointed out, depends on a material existence.

  • Adrian

    MikeClawson wrote…

    I think the point was that Dawkins is claiming to argue against theistic conceptions of God, and yet Plantinga gives examples from both Catholic and Reformed theists, as well as contemporary philosophers, that indicate that “complexity” is not usually given as an attribute of God.

    So? Why do you imagine that this should settle matters? You do that quite a lot, I notice.

    I believe a major point to take from Dawkins’ argument is that God cannot be simple if it has other characteristics such as intelligence or knowledge, so Dawkins demonstrates that these theists are wrong. Reiterating their positions just highlights the contradiction, it doesn’t change it.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I believe a major point to take from Dawkins’ argument is that God cannot be simple if it has other characteristics such as intelligence or knowledge, so Dawkins demonstrates that these theists are wrong.

    And yet he doesn’t “demonstrate” that they are wrong, nor have you. You (and he) have simply stated that “God cannot be simple if it has other characteristics such as intelligence or knowledge” and then tried to claim that this is a necessary logical truth. And yet I see nothing necessary or even logical about that statement. It is an assertion, nothing more, based on the erroneous assumption that the properties which adhere to finite, material beings, must necessarily also apply to infinite non-material beings.

    On the contrary, if God is an infinite spirit, then in what sense can he be said to have a complexity of “parts”? And if he is infinite in knowledge, then, likewise, it could not be said that his knowledge is “partial” in any way. On the contrary, God’s infinite knowledge, and his very nature as an infinite spirit, would have to be unified, all of one piece as it were. And that, to me, sounds like the definition of simplicity.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    BTW, while we’re on the subject, here’s another philosophical rebuttal to Dawkins’ arguments that is even more thorough than Plantiga’s critique.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Mike said:

    That’s an excellent quote Linda. Thanks for sharing.

    My pleasure, Mike! You should look it up and read the whole article. It’s great writing.

    You’ve been busy on this thread. I’m envisioning one of those scenes in Kung Fu movies where one guy is fighting off several opponents surrounding him. I wish I could help, but I’m too much of a lightweight. :-( I’ll just watch with my bowl of popcorn. ;-)

  • Adrian

    Mike,

    You (and he) have simply stated that “God cannot be simple if it has other characteristics such as intelligence or knowledge” and then tried to claim that this is a necessary logical truth.

    If you look, I’ve given clear reasons why this must be so. There must be the possibility of two clearly distinguishable states if the data for a yes/no question can be stored. Do you protest this? I don’t see you or Plantinga or anyone else attempting to do so.

    If I were to simply state my position, I would just say “no, you’re wrong” in much the way you are doing now.

    On the contrary, if God is an infinite spirit, then in what sense can he be said to have a complexity of “parts”? And if he is infinite in knowledge, then, likewise, it could not be said that his knowledge is “partial” in any way.

    I’ve told you already that “infinite spirit” is twaddle, meaningless fluffery. If a god exists and has knowledge of even a single fact, then it must be complex for the reasons given above. I didn’t rely on any property of how that medium would store the data or how it would be retrieved and processed though doubtless this would increase the complexity immensely. If “infinite spirit” has any meaning, then please do demonstrate how two different states may be distinguished while remaining simple. Please show your work.

    I find it especially ironic that in order to establish your claims about what “spirit” can do, you must rely on the fact that no one knows what “spirit” can do.

    BTW, while we’re on the subject, here’s another philosophical rebuttal to Dawkins’ arguments that is even more thorough than Plantiga’s critique.

    Seeing as how you haven’t responded in any substantial fashion to critiques of Plantinga, I think I’d rather stick with these issues before moving on, thanks. Otherwise it looks like you’re just trying to shut us up rather than discussing the links which you yourself brought up.

  • Siamang

    It is an assertion, nothing more, based on the erroneous assumption that the properties which adhere to finite, material beings, must necessarily also apply to infinite non-material beings.

    Given that theists define the aspects and nature of “infinite non-material beings” at whim to get out of any counterargument that might try to pin them down, I hardly see that as a victory for theism.

    If Dawkins argument fails, it’s because it attempted to engage such contentless assertion. Better to take the tack of the late Rabbi Wine who rightly recognized, as Einstein did, that the question of God’s existence is utterly made nonsensical by the lack of a coherant definition of God.

    Why not define God as “that which does not allow the human mind to refute any aspect of it” and again be done with this charade that we claim to know anything about any such entities.

    God is made up of 100% pure Unobtanium. It reflects no light, it has no shape, it is made up of Spiritus, which is defined as being undefinable and so utterly made of nothing and everything so as to be irrefutable. It is what remains after you’ve counted and weighed all that seems to exist. It is the space left over in the glass when the milk is drunk, and it is where the missing sock goes when it has disappeared from the dryer.

    Of course, as Siamang has pointed out, there are many different competing theisms out there, so perhaps on this “complexity” thing Dawkins yet again was not arguing against the mainstream of Christian theism? Maybe he has in mind some other, more obscure, theistic confession?

    I thought it was plain that he was refuting Hoyle here. If Hoyle doesn’t allow the natural process undiscovered mechanisms of immateriality, complexity and organization skills that he grants God by virtue of Thomas Aquinas’s pulling it out of his hat, then he’s special pleading. Didn’t we go through this already?

  • AJ

    Theologians talk about spirit, and the non-material like it’s something we understand. It’s like asking us to think of cubes with no sides. It’s nonsense, they might as well be talking in tongues, that’s not philosophy that’s theology. It’s amusing to read them criticize Dawkins on being a scientist not a philosophy. Theology is not philosophy, they’re talking nonsense.

    While accusing Dawkins and others of arrogance, they seem to whine about him not addressing their particular gods and theology, assuming that their nonsense is the mainsteam nonsense. The equivalent of saying that scientific knowledge is in the mainsteam of America, which it clearly isn’t given the frighening statistics recently. Believers probably haven’t even read or heard your bullshit.

    Compared to Dennett, Pinker, McGinn, Grayling, or Harris, the likes of Plantinga, Mike, and other theists don’t come off as sophomoric, they come off as lunatics.

    …so that in him there is no distinction of thing and property, actuality and potentiality, essence and existence, and the like.

    But of course God is a spirit, not a material object at all, and hence has no parts.

    God is a necessary being; it is not so much as possible that there should be no such person as God; he exists in all possible worlds.

    …anymore than I can “explain” the fact that God decided to create me (instead of passing me over in favor of someone else) by pointing out that if God had not thus decided, I wouldn’t be here to raise that question.

    Are these not the words of a mad man?

    We know that the universe has the attributes that are possible for life, because we’re freaking here. You know shit about God so how can you apply that to the anthropic principle? As far as I know, no one knows why the universe is the way it is, so to say the laws are “improbable” is nonsense unless you believe something about that. This creep of theology is apparant in the article but it’s not mentioned, just implied.

    If all you people were doing was dancing naked in the moon light and collecting herbs, I wouldn’t give a shit. Countries are run on your bullshit, and people are hurt, and you theologians and church leaders go around like you know something about God when it’s pretty clear you know dick.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I’ve told you already that “infinite spirit” is twaddle, meaningless fluffery.

    So you say, and yet, as you so often point out, just saying it doesn’t make it so.

    If a god exists and has knowledge of even a single fact, then it must be complex for the reasons given above. I didn’t rely on any property of how that medium would store the data or how it would be retrieved and processed though doubtless this would increase the complexity immensely. If “infinite spirit” has any meaning, then please do demonstrate how two different states may be distinguished while remaining simple. Please show your work.

    The word “infinite” has meaning, yes? In this context it would connote “total unity”, i.e. containing no division, and also “all-encompassing” in regards to knowledge. Thus if God is infinite in knowledge and is unified unto herself, then God doesn’t have knowledge of “singular” facts, she sees all things as a unified whole. She doesn’t “store data” nor does she “retrieve” or “process” it. Rather, if God is an infinite unity (including infinite in knowledge), then all knowledge is available to her all the time. It is always “present” to her. More than that, it is essential to her very nature; i.e. the knowledge is not a separate thing from God herself. God doesn’t have discrete, separate bits of knowledge that she has to store somewhere when she’s not thinking about them, she just simply knows – all of it, all the time. I take this to be inherent to the very definition of omniscience (i.e. not “special pleading” or “ad hoc”) and is why I say that “complexity” need not be an attribute of God. If God is an infinite unity, then she need not have any parts or components, she simply is what she is and knows what she knows wholly and continually, without end and without division.

    Of course this idea of God as a simple Unity goes back all the way to beginning of theism (or at least Judeo-Christian theism), to the central confession of the Jewish faith, the Shema, found in Deuteronomy 6:4

    “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One.”

  • Mriana

    Mike, Dawkins has an Anglican background, so I’ll try to put the hat on and try to explain it to you the best I can. Anglican is Catholic in worship and some members are Catholic-ish in beliefs, some are not.

    Dawkins, BTW, compliments Spong on page 237 of The God Delusion (he gives him two sentences).

    Be that as it may, there are Anglicans (I’m using it as the Anglican Communion definition), from what I understand, see God as all prevasive, esp as the H.S., and at the same distant. There are some Anglicans who believe God is in us and everything. There are also some Anglicans that literally believe Love is God/God is Love (non-metaphysical and non-realism), yet very abstract. Every Sunday the Nicene Creed is said, basically by heart and the words are really not thought about after Catecism.

    Many priest see themselves as being on stage as though they are actors and some take it VERY seriously. Many of the views are very complicated and not all the views are the same.

    However, there are some that take the Nicene Creed literally with one added feature- Mother Mary is on the left side of God and God enters this world via the H.S.- thus they take the Virgin Birth very seriously and what rose from the dead was not a bodily resurrection a spiritual resurrection, thus how the H.S. was able to appear to the disciples. IMO, this last one is the most complicated on of all because it’s not only mystical, but bizarre.

    However, Archbishop Rowen has declared the Virgin Birth story as “legend” or myth, yet the last still take it as a reality. Not sure what his views are on the resurrection, but Spong says it was not a literal resurrection but a spiritual resurrection- not as the above but as metaphorically.

    It’s one big mixed up mess and none of them simple. The best one is Cupitt’s concept that Love is God, in a non-metaphorical sense. So in reality, one could just take the word God out and instead of having Christian Humanism you get just plain Humanism with his view. Spong makes it even more complicated by calling it ruach and the Ground of All Being. Bottomline, neither one explain their God, but rather they experience it. Pagels, I think, takes the Gospel of Thomas view of God- “split a log and there I am” and she believes Thomas should be added to the Bible.

    So, now are you seriously confused? Now do you understand why Dawkins, who grew up Anglican, calls it complicated? You have to do mental gymnastics just understand some of the views.

  • Mriana

    BTW, what does God have a sex? I never could figure that one out. It would seem to me it would not, but then again when I did call it a deity, I viewed it sexless because it didn’t have any form or mass- like Spong’s wind/ruach or even Cupitt’s love. Their view is simple for me to understand, but I know it’s just an emotional response.

  • Siamang

    Here’s another way to look at it….

    Hoyle made a bad… a VERY bad, logically fallacious argument for the existence of God based on a misunderstanding of biology so great it has come to be termed “Hoyle’s Fallacy“.

    Dawkins took this bad argument and stood it on its head to refute it… but foolishly set himself up by not closing the “God’s not material” back door, or the “God’s simple because Aquinus defined him as simple” back door.

    Plantiga hit that slow pitch right out of the park.

    What interests me is, as a philosopher, as a scholar, as a lover of knowlege, WHY DIDN’T Plantiga go after Hoyle’s crappy argument? After all, he originated the argument in the first place. It’s been shown to be based on a complete misunderstanding of evolutionary biology by an astrophysicist who clearly didn’t have a clue about the process, and advanced quite a number of…ahem..UNIQUE… scientific hypotheses during his lifetime.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    BTW, what does God have a sex?

    According to historic Christian theology God transcends gender. That’s why I personally tend to use the pronouns interchangeably.

  • Siamang

    Hey, here’s a question mike,

    How do you know that God is omniscient? I mean, let’s just take one aspect here and ask how you found that out.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Here’s another way to look at it….

    Hoyle made a bad… a VERY bad, logically fallacious argument for the existence of God based on a misunderstanding of biology so great it has come to be termed “Hoyle’s Fallacy“.

    Dawkins took this bad argument and stood it on its head to refute it… but foolishly set himself up by not closing the “God’s not material” back door, or the “God’s simple because Aquinus defined him as simple” back door.

    Plantiga hit that slow pitch right out of the park.

    What interests me is, as a philosopher, as a scholar, as a lover of knowlege, WHY DIDN’T Plantiga go after Hoyle’s crappy argument? After all, he originated the argument in the first place. It’s been shown to be based on a complete misunderstanding of evolutionary biology by an astrophysicist who clearly didn’t have a clue about the process, and advanced quite a number of…ahem..UNIQUE… scientific hypotheses during his lifetime.

    Fair enough. So Dawkins was arguing against Hoyle, not against classical theism? Good for him, but he probably shouldn’t have set it up as his central disproof for God then. And I don’t know why Plantinga didn’t go after Hoyle. Perhaps he does elsewhere. Or perhaps biology isn’t his area of expertise and, unlike Dawkins, he knows better than to try to speak authoritatively outside of his own discipline.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    How do you know that God is omniscient? I mean, let’s just take one aspect here and ask how you found that out.

    It’s not a question of “finding out”. It’s just part of the definition of the Judeo-Christian God. To believe in that God means believing in an Infinite Unity. It’s tautological. It’s like asking “how do I know God is God?”

  • Mriana

    MikeClawson said,

    January 25, 2008 at 7:37 pm

    BTW, what does God have a sex?

    According to historic Christian theology God transcends gender. That’s why I personally tend to use the pronouns interchangeably.

    Sounds like an “IT” to me.

  • Siamang

    I don’t think it’s a “central disproof of God” in the book. IIRC he puts it forward as a disproof of the “argument from design.”

    He also puts it forward in terms of a novel approach to asking the question about how the universe formed. He uses evolutionary biology as an analogy that helps us understand how complex things self-bootstrap from simple things, and that this might help us picture how the universe could be complex, yet self-organize from something simple.

    He condemns the argument from design by saying that positing a God as a solution to “why does complexity exist?” is to posit something even more complex than the thing you’re attempting to explain. Here he’s just saying what Hume said.

  • Siamang

    It’s just part of the definition of the Judeo-Christian God. To believe in that God means believing in an Infinite Unity.

    Yeah, but who came up with it? How did he know?

    It’s tautological. It’s like asking “how do I know God is God?”

    That’s another good question. Why don’t the good questions get asked?

  • Mriana

    It’s like asking “how do I know God is God?”

    How do you know God is God? What if it’s Zeus, Aphrodite, Amen-Ra, Isis, Mithra, Horus or Krishna? Are you sure it’s not Amen-Ra, Mithra, or Horus? Just what is God? Are you sure it is not just the human capacity to love? What if it is love and compassion in the non-metaphysical sense or purely human sense? Are you sure it is not something that is in all of us- both human and animal? Are you sure it is a deity at all, esp when there are so many human concepts of it?

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    He condemns the argument from design by saying that positing a God as a solution to “why does complexity exist?” is to posit something even more complex than the thing you’re attempting to explain.

    I agree that in light of evolution, arguing God’s existence from biological complexity is a bad approach. I haven’t been impressed with or used that particular argument since before I became a theistic evolutionist back in high school.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Siamang asked:

    It’s just part of the definition of the Judeo-Christian God. To believe in that God means believing in an Infinite Unity.

    Yeah, but who came up with it? How did he know?

    It’s tautological. It’s like asking “how do I know God is God?”

    That’s another good question. Why don’t the good questions get asked?

    and Mriana asked:

    How do you know God is God? What if it’s Zeus, Aphrodite, Amen-Ra, Isis, Mithra, Horus or Krishna? Are you sure it’s not Amen-Ra, Mithra, or Horus? Just what is God? Are you sure it is not just the human copacity to love? What if it is love and compassion in the non-metaphysical sense or purely human sense? Are you sure it is not something that is in all of us- both human and animal? Are you sure it is a deity at all, esp when there are so many human concepts of it?

    No, I’m not sure. Not at all. But, having weighed all of the different possibilities, believing in a monotheistic creator God who is defined as an Infinite Unity (among other things) seems to make the most sense to me.

    And no, I’m not going to take you through my entire thought process on that, as it is way too huge of a topic for me to take on at the moment. (If I felt like writing a book on why I believe in God, I would.) So don’t even ask. :)

  • Siamang

    To clarify, “omniscience” is a human-created concept and definition. It is possible, perhaps likely, possibly inevitable that a creator of the universe would not be defined by human-created definitions. It may very well be that the creator of the universe has aspects that we have no words or concepts for, and merely because we define this entity as, well, even as an “entity” could be totally wrong.

    It may very well be that “it exists, has existed or will exist” is the only thing we could say about such a thing with any accuracy at all… and that may even be saying too much.

    To take ancient goatherders at their word when they declared God omniscient might be as incurious and as logically specious as to declare He has a beard that is snowy white.

  • Mriana

    And no, I’m not going to take you through my entire thought process on that, as it is way too huge of a topic for me to take on at the moment. (If I felt like writing a book on why I believe in God, I would.) So don’t even ask. :)

    Ah, why not? :lol: Yup! I had just as many questions when I was a kid. Sadly, I would eventually get the curt, “BECAUSE I SAID SO!” :( :cry: It didn’t stop me from thinking and coming up with my own answers though. :D

  • http://www.glucosaminadvice.com Colin Joss

    My personal undertable perspective of god is that I consider god simply as superbeings, but to accept this kind of perspective, people should not be with “I said so” teachings. We have to open ourself and test our beliefs and at the same time, still respecting others beliefs including those who still follow the “I said so” way of beliefs :)

  • Mriana

    Obviously I don’t go by the “I said so!” beliefs and I don’t allow anyone to inforce it on me as an adult either.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    To take ancient goatherders at their word when they declared God omniscient might be as incurious and as logically specious as to declare He has a beard that is snowy white.

    No doubt, though I don’t recall anyone here saying that’s why they believed in God’s omniscience. For myself personally, as I said above, it was the result of long reflection and weighing the various possibilities.

  • Siamang

    I wrote:

    To take ancient goatherders at their word when they declared God omniscient might be as incurious and as logically specious as to declare He has a beard that is snowy white.

    And Mike C wrote:

    No doubt, though I don’t recall anyone here saying that’s why they believed in God’s omniscience.

    It is the only reason given by Plantiga to support his assertion of God’s simplicity.

    You first said omniscience was asserted as part of the definition of the Judeo/Christian God. Then you said it was personal reflection.

    I’m not sure why God should be bound by your reflection or the traditional definition. I guess it seems like discussions of God have long since passed supposing omniscience on the part of God, and moved into accepting it as a given, or as you state, a definitional quality.

    I think any human thought about God would have to be a mere supposition, for the simple reason that we can’t possibly speak of God without resorting to analogy.

    So many assertions about God that really are suppositions:

    Dawkins is wrong, says Plantiga. Silly Dawkins, doesn’t he know that God is simple! Thomas Aquinas knew this for sure, and gave us that knowlege so that Notre Dame could tell the world. And Aquinas’s definition of God is one God conforms to, not Dawkins’ definition!

  • Mriana

    Silly Dawkins, doesn’t he know that God is simple!

    Maybe that’s the problem. It’s so simple that it doesn’t answer the question. It could be consider a cop out when the answer is unknown. “I don’t know. Guess God did it.” That makes it too simple that it’s a cop out for scientific study. It’s not science and it’s not necessarily the answer. There’s no inquiry, research, or questioning, just an answer to “I don’t know.” It doesn’t say how it happened.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I think any human thought about God would have to be a mere supposition, for the simple reason that we can’t possibly speak of God without resorting to analogy.

    Yep

  • Maria

    all I have to say is, if I had to be raised in a religion, I’m glad I was raised in one that believed in theistic evolution. It made it a lot eaiser to accept science and let go of certain things when I left religion. I think if I’d been raised in a creationist environment I’d have had a much harder time. People who believe in theistic evolution do, for all practical purposes, accept evolution. I really don’t care if they think a higher being started and/or guided it. They’re entitled to think that and I can see the appeal, b/c I thought so a very long time.

    Those of you getting on Mike’s case, why do you CARE so much? Theistic evolutionists are the ones battling creationsists the most in the court cases in this country on a regular basis, and doing plenty to promote evolution. If they privately believe “god started it” that’s their business. Chill people-the result is very close to the same. If all theists believed in theistic evolution, there would be no problem. As for Dawkins, he has teamed up with theistic evolutionists like Bishop Harries of Oxford who is his friend to battle creationists in Britian, so I do think he is open to working with them. I think he’d be quite happy if the creationists were gone, as would I.

    Are these not the words of a mad man?

    AJ, do you EVER have anything to say that is NOT negative? It’s pretty obvious the only reason you attack Mike is b/c he’s a Christian, and pretty often he sounds more rational than you, and without the vitrol. And besides, who made you the resident expert on sanity?

  • Mriana

    You know, I thought they were doing the same thing I jumped Mike for earlier only more vigorously, which he gave me an apology for doing. I couldn’t understand why people didn’t back off. There is nothing wrong with questions, but I agree with you Maria, some like AJ are coming on too strongly and I don’t know why. Guess no one can take a hint.

  • Aj

    Maria,

    Those of you getting on Mike’s case, why do you CARE so much?

    Theistic evolutionists are the ones battling creationsists the most in the court cases in this country on a regular basis, and doing plenty to promote evolution.

    If they privately believe “god started it” that’s their business. Chill people-the result is very close to the same. If all theists believed in theistic evolution, there would be no problem.

    That’s not what the discussion was about, it’s quite obvious if you actually read the points people are making.

    I don’t think anyone said theists who believe in evolution don’t battle creationists or don’t promote evolution. As long as they don’t go into detail about when, where, and why God did it then that seems to be quite a harmless belief.

    That doesn’t mean that theists who believe in evolution can’t also believe in unrelated harmful beliefs, that they can’t create a motive for God to support racism. There’s plenty of unrelated to evolution or science, faith-based evil.

    There’s no reason to why they believe God directed evolution, it’s as valid to me as “every sperm is sacred”, “72 virgins in heaven for mass murder”, there’s no difference to each of them. Why do you think Mike won’t answer why he believes in his God and his beliefs over others? “It just makes sense”, “long reflection”, “weighing possibilies” etc… they’re non-answers. Why accept those from him but not from others?

    AJ, do you EVER have anything to say that is NOT negative? It’s pretty obvious the only reason you attack Mike is b/c he’s a Christian, and pretty often he sounds more rational than you, and without the vitrol. And besides, who made you the resident expert on sanity?

    On this blog, not really much positive to say. Hemant posts a lot of the worst religion has to offer, and Mike posts disingenuous crap that some people are all too ready to gobble up. It seems to me as if you come into these threads late, don’t bother to read the comments, then generally criticize people without making specific points.

    I am not “attacking” Mike because he’s a Christian. I get it, you believe in belief, and can’t stand that I don’t, so you’re going to throw random accusations at people. If that’s all you have understood from my comments, then I’m not sure why this response is worth it.

    If you can’t see what’s wrong about the parts of the article I quoted then as a judge of rationality I’m less than impressed.

  • Mriana

    AJ, I’ve been following this thread, and I get the same uncomfortable feeling as I did when Mike was telling us what God is. Imposing beliefs from either side isn’t a good thing.

    That doesn’t mean that theists who believe in evolution can’t also believe in unrelated harmful beliefs, that they can’t create a motive for God to support racism.

    Mike is not doing that. Without saying it’s his belief in a deity, what has he done that’s harmful? Even if I don’t agree with him, I don’t see his belief in the supernatural has harming anyone. Belief itself is not harmful. It’s what you do with it that become harmful and even atheists can be harmful too. It goes both ways.

    Questions don’t hurt, but insults do and so does ignorance- that goes both ways too.

  • http://religiousliberal.blogspot.com/ Dwight

    I think the question is: what function does the concept God play? In the western tradition God has been the creator, sustainer, that which transforms us to the better. So then what might look at what operates in human experience to do just that. God is a term that signifies the kind of response called for to these realities; one of reverence, piety, etc.

  • Aj

    Mriana,

    Mike is not doing that.

    I didn’t say he was.

    Belief itself is not harmful. It’s what you do with it that become harmful and even atheists can be harmful too.

    People act on their beliefs, beliefs of faith aren’t necessarily harmful. Atheists can have faith, be irrational, have dogmas, and of course be harmful.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Why do you think Mike won’t answer why he believes in his God and his beliefs over others? “It just makes sense”, “long reflection”, “weighing possibilies” etc… they’re non-answers.

    Don’t mistake an unwillingness to answer for an inability to.

  • Adrian

    Liberal Christians may be helping to defend schools from Creationists, but they’re often the same people helping to deny condoms to Africans, restrict funding to stem cell research or making other decisions based on their magical thinking. I can see how it may be politically expedient to ally myself with Mike on some issues and I’d bet that in ten minutes together we could come up with a dozen issues on which we see eye-to-eye and could stand shoulder-to-shoulder defending. When we’re not talking about those issues, why shouldn’t we call him out when he makes silly arguments so long as we stick to the debate points and don’t make it personal?

    Disagreeing with Mike doesn’t mean I have any animosity towards him, doesn’t mean I wish to rid the world of religion or anything like that. It’s just calling someone out when they attempt to make a bad argument.

    Don’t mistake an unwillingness to answer for an inability to.

    The questions you are willing to attempt to answer demonstrate that your answers are inadequate or “non-answers”. With this track record, why should you receive the benefit of the doubt?

  • Aj

    MikeClawson,

    Don’t mistake an unwillingness to answer for an inability to.

    If that is indeed the case then you would be the first believer to have a legitimate answer, and I’d really like to hear it. This is extremely unlikely as far as I’m concerned, given your past support of emotional experiences for supporting conclusions on these things, and lack of arguments in support of your position.

  • Maria

    Mike is not doing that. Without saying it’s his belief in a deity, what has he done that’s harmful? Even if I don’t agree with him, I don’t see his belief in the supernatural has harming anyone. Belief itself is not harmful. It’s what you do with it that become harmful and even atheists can be harmful too. It goes both ways.

    that’s pretty much it, but basically if you agree with that you’re either an “appeaser” or you “believe in belief” (apparently all this b/c I’m not “calling Mike out” or calling him a “madman”, that must mean I believe in his belief)- maybe it’s time those of you saying that came up with something new everytime someone disagrees with how you express something or expresses disagreement with your ad hominem attacks.

  • Mriana

    Adrian said,

    January 29, 2008 at 8:33 am

    Liberal Christians may be helping to defend schools from Creationists, but they’re often the same people helping to deny condoms to Africans, restrict funding to stem cell research or making other decisions based on their magical thinking.

    Um… Not all liberal Xians are against stem cell research. I know some that have done their homework and are for it.

    Aj said,

    January 29, 2008 at 9:39 am

    MikeClawson,

    Don’t mistake an unwillingness to answer for an inability to.

    If that is indeed the case then you would be the first believer to have a legitimate answer, and I’d really like to hear it. This is extremely unlikely as far as I’m concerned, given your past support of emotional experiences for supporting conclusions on these things, and lack of arguments in support of your position.

    AJ, he maybe in able to even answer this. We are not talking about a scientific theory, but rather theology and faith. After a while, there is no cognitive answer believers can give and the only answer that can be given is the one drilled into them for years- “it’s a matter of faith”- which causes rationalists and other thinkers’ heads to spin because it has no meaning.

    The problem is, that answer has to be accepted or what you get is a frustrated angry Xian, esp if you pressure them to think of an answer. I don’t think it’s worth it.

    Maria said,

    January 29, 2008 at 9:47 am

    Mike is not doing that. Without saying it’s his belief in a deity, what has he done that’s harmful? Even if I don’t agree with him, I don’t see his belief in the supernatural has harming anyone. Belief itself is not harmful. It’s what you do with it that become harmful and even atheists can be harmful too. It goes both ways.

    that’s pretty much it, but basically if you agree with that you’re either an “appeaser” or you “believe in belief” (apparently all this b/c I’m not “calling Mike out” or calling him a “madman”, that must mean I believe in his belief)- maybe it’s time those of you saying that came up with something new everytime someone disagrees with how you express something or expresses disagreement with your ad hominem attacks.

    Yes, it does seem like if you’re not attacking then you’re an appeaser or something dumb like that. :roll: The only time I see reason to “attack” is when people act like the conservative Anglicans, Evangelical Fundamentalists, or religious extremists. Otherwise, if they aren’t hurting anyone, then why condemn them?

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Liberal Christians may be helping to defend schools from Creationists, but they’re often the same people helping to deny condoms to Africans, restrict funding to stem cell research or making other decisions based on their magical thinking.

    Do you know many liberal Christians? I don’t know many that would deny condoms or oppose stem cell research.

    The questions you are willing to attempt to answer demonstrate that your answers are inadequate or “non-answers”.

    Possibly. Or it possibly demonstrates exactly what I said above: that the question of “why exactly I believe in God” is way too huge of a topic for me to take on in the comments of a thread, and that between caring for a pregnant wife on bedrest and a toddler, running a church singlehandedly, trying to get into grad school, and getting a house ready to sell while simultaneously keeping the toddler from destroying it when my back is turned, I simply don’t have the time to write a book on the subject right now (which, quite seriously, is what it would take to lay out my entire answer to the question.) You can presume that I’m not answering because my answers are inadequate. Or you can take my word that I’m not answering because I honestly don’t have the time to do the topic justice (and because that wasn’t the point of this discussion in the first place).

    And besides, the aggressive tone which both you and Aj (and Siamang too for that matter) have employed here lead me to the conclusion that you’re not really interested in my arguments anyway, except perhaps as foils to be used to demonstrate your own intellectual superiority. Why don’t I save us all a lot of time and just declare you all to be the winners right now? Yes, you are far more rational and intelligent than any theist. Our views make no sense whatsoever and yours are unassailable. Does that about cover it?

  • Mriana

    between caring for a pregnant wife on bedrest and a toddler

    I feel for your wife. I had difficult pregnancies too and the last one had to be my last unless I wanted to face dire consequences. :( Be that as it may, congratulations are in order. :)

    Yes, you are far more rational and intelligent than any theist.

    What? Oh that opens a whole new can of worms in the psych area, concerning IQs and areas of intellect. Although I would not want to subject either Schori or Spong (and others) to such a potentially irritating inquistion of Freethinkers, I would venture to guess their IQs are extremely high. Quite possibly higher than some of us here and as for rationalism, well it seems to me that Schori, via means of observation, is taking down the conservative Episcopalians with clear rational thought, even if she is a theist.

    Now if you want to observe human rational behaviour among theist, what the Episcopal Church is going through is a good very observational study, which I hope to include in a book I hope to eventually write and publish.

    Such a statement is unscientific and anyone who insists this to be a true assumption is misguided IMHO. Now, IF one wanted to say that most non-theists are better educated than most theists, then this MIGHT be a true statement, but even that has yet to be proven.

  • Aj

    Maria,

    that’s pretty much it, but basically if you agree with that you’re either an “appeaser” or you “believe in belief” (apparently all this b/c I’m not “calling Mike out” or calling him a “madman”, that must mean I believe in his belief)- maybe it’s time those of you saying that came up with something new everytime someone disagrees with how you express something or expresses disagreement with your ad hominem attacks.

    I was under the impression you were complaining about my comments not the other way around. The reason I called you someone who believes in belief, is that you seemed to be angry that I am “calling Mike out” on his statements. Did I complain about you not doing anything in this thread? I have failed to find it in my comments. I’ve already explained what belief in belief is a few times, and I’m sure at least once in response to you.

    And if you read my comment, the phrase “mad man” wasn’t directed at Mike, or anyone, it wasn’t meant to be taken as literally as you seem to have taken it. It’s refering to the content not the person. “Are these not the words of a mad man?”

  • Siamang

    And besides, the aggressive tone which both you and Aj (and Siamang too for that matter)

    Sorry I was pushing.

    I learned long ago that the more words you use in your apology, the less likely it is an apology. So I’ll leave it at that.

  • Adrian

    Mike,

    Do you know many liberal Christians? I don’t know many that would deny condoms or oppose stem cell research.

    I would say that all of the Chrsitians I know personally are liberal but that the majority of people I meet are not Christian. I do “know” many theists via ChristianForums and other web forums over the years so have dealt one-on-one with a wide range of liberals and fundamentalists.

    On the assumption that you’re unintentionally mistaking my point, I’ll just observe that Catholics have been among the most successful group to deny condoms to Africa. As the Catholic Church is of “the nation’s leading providers of antiretroviral drugs, HIV counseling and hospice care” this has a direct impact, not to mention their success at getting their programs adopted by Western nations (the US ties food and AIDS aid to abstinence-only education). In some cases, top church members have said that condoms are laced with AIDS or that condoms do nothing to stop the spread of AIDS.

    Are these people fundamentalists? I think most people would say that Catholics are not, yet they have done far more actual harm with their irrational, magical thinking than the Creationists within the US.

    Once you go down the path of accepting dogma over evidence or rational thought no matter whether you’re a fundamentalist or a liberal theist, these dangers await.

    I simply don’t have the time to write a book on the subject right now (which, quite seriously, is what it would take to lay out my entire answer to the question.) You can presume that I’m not answering because my answers are inadequate.

    No answer any theologian has ever given has ever been adequate so let’s say that I’m a little sceptical that you are able to revolutionize the world while caring for your toddler and wife. I think it’s perfectly within our rights to say that because no answer to this question has ever been forthcoming by any theologian ever that the burden of proof is upon you.

    Regardless, I’m not basing my statement upon induction or cynicism, no matter how justified. I’m basing it upon the answers you have given. If, despite your hectic schedule, you’ve taken the time to answer some questions or pass along links to those you think have dealt with the issue, and these answers have all been riddled with fallacies then what must the answers to difficult questions look like?

    When a man can’t handle simple things without botching them, we don’t assume you can handle complex things!

    And besides, the aggressive tone which both you and Aj (and Siamang too for that matter) have employed here lead me to the conclusion that you’re not really interested in my arguments anyway, except perhaps as foils to be used to demonstrate your own intellectual superiority.

    You act as if these issues are merely different opinions and by calling out your special pleading is the height of rudeness. You are right in one sense: I think your arguments have very little value. They are irreparably flawed and despite the erudite appearance, are no better than saying “I want it to be true and so it is true” or “the bible dun said it so I believe it.” If you are able to present arguments which are free of simple fallacies, then your arguments will get respect.

    (I’ll attach a second post with the links to some news sources instead of getting this one tied up in the moderation queue.)

  • Adrian

    Some articles on the Catholic positions regarding AIDS in africa:
    The Washington Post
    BBC news
    The Independent UK

  • http://religiousliberal.blogspot.com/ Dwight

    I might suggest that liberal theist can’t “go down the path of accepting dogma over evidence or rational thought” without ceasing to be liberal. And as a side note a number of mainline protestant churches have been supportive of stem cell research, contraception, etc.

    An example: http://chuckcurrie.blogs.com/chuck_currie/2006/07/congress_must_f.html

  • Adrian

    Dwight said…

    I might suggest that liberal theist can’t “go down the path of accepting dogma over evidence or rational thought” without ceasing to be liberal.

    How do you figure? What is a Christian but a person accepting dogma over evidence over rational thought? I’m not trying to be cute or mean, just observing that Christian beliefs aren’t reached via evidence but through faith which means dogma.

    The difference between fundamentalists and liberals isn’t as clear cut as we may wish to believe.

  • http://religiousliberal.blogspot.com/ Dwight

    Adrian

    I guess I don’t take that to be what it means to be a Christian. If we take dogma to be more than teaching, but rather as something held by blind faith, I don’t think we do credit to our religion or to God in acting that way.

    But I think it’s possible to live in the same world and in highlighting different features of experience and the world and approaching it from a particular tradition and community, we may get different descriptions.

    And there’s a value to this because some communities (like Buddhism) are attentative to some features of life and the world that other traditions have not been, as have Christianity, Humanism, etc.

    The key is not to dismiss but find a way to talk and learn from each other.

  • Adrian

    Dwight,

    How do you evaluate someone to be liberal? Is there some set of criteria? It could be we’re talking at cross-purposes. I would be tempted to say that liberals are less likely to use the bible’s authority to evaluate religious claims, but clearly no Christian can entirely remove themselves from the bible so we must treat it as a continuum.

    It add a particular glow, it adds value to the experience. But a non theist sees this and writes it off as irrational when it could be utterly rational for that person.

    Your description seems clear and unambiguous: the “supernatural” is irrational. Your description alone talks only about the emotive and poetic value which contradicts your later claim that it is rational. I find it hard to understand what you could be thinking of when you start to treat rationality as something which is decided upon in an individual, case-by-case basis.

    Can a conclusion which is defended solely by an appeal to emotion, wishful thinking or special pleading ever be rational?

  • http://religiousliberal.blogspot.com/ Dwight

    A few thoughts

    It may be that words signify different things to different people.

    The word supernatural for some atheists means: something in violation of natural laws, something which exists outside of space and time. So when another person uses the word supernatural, it appears nonsensical.

    But the pentecostal may be using it to mean it was divine, it was from God, it was a dramatic in this case transformation, one that could not have been imagined prior to that transformation.

    Now maybe the pentecostal may agree with the first description and then argue for that, but I think something might be missed in the crossfire. In that using the word in the second sense is describing something real.

    That is, our language and reasonings may be more irrational than the experience being spoken of indicates. Rationality here I’m taking to be: a shared language, a shared world, a shared set of reasonings.

  • Mriana

    Dwight, I personally am using the word supernatural purely in the dictionary sense. If anyone has any question, they can pick up a dictionary and look it up. 2b, for example, refers to something that is unseen- in which case, Mike’s deity is supernatural. His deity fits all the definitions in Webster though. So, in all honesty there should be no misunderstanding if everyone is using the dictionary definition. If they are using a different definition, then they need to pick up a dictionary and learn the English language.

  • Adrian

    But the pentecostal may be using it to mean it was divine, it was from God, it was a dramatic in this case transformation, one that could not have been imagined prior to that transformation.

    I don’t see how your second phrasing differs from the first, unless you treat “God” as a metaphor which seems inappropriate in this context and very unlikely coming from a Pentecostal.

    Surely when a Pentecostal talks about a divine transformation or experiencing God they really do mean it as something supernatural. So what is being “missed in the crossfire”?

    I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be dense or use some sort of clever Socratic questioning, I genuinely don’t understand the subtleties you’re trying to explain. Can you elaborate or make it concrete with an example?

  • http://religiousliberal.blogspot.com/ Dwight

    If a person has an experience of God how is one “relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe” as MW dictionary claims?

    However the pentecostal speaks about this trans formative experience, it’s something that is in space/time, it happened to them after all.

    I’m not suggesting that the pentecostal won’t add any number of beliefs to this that the atheist would shrink from. My concern is that the language, the beliefs are not used in a way that prevents from making sense of that experience.

  • Adrian

    If a person has an experience of God how is one “relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe” as MW dictionary claims?

    I totally agree, it’s nonsense. But isn’t that exactly what people are trying to convey when they say they experienced God?

    I (and maybe you) know that when they say they “experienced God”, they’re just saying they had an experience with some profundity, possibly euphoria, possibly some other neurological sensations which they’ve associated with the idea of God. When they say God has transformed their life, they’re making an argument from personal incredulity or wishful thinking (“my life has changed so much, I couldn’t imagine it happening without the intervention of a supernatural being”). Maybe we both know that, but it doesn’t mean that when a Christian (pentecostal or otherwise) says that they think God is with them or changed them, that they don’t mean exactly that some supernatural being outside our universe is interacting personally with them. If you believe them, that’s exactly what they believe.

    I think they’re wrong and irrational to jump to that conclusion, and it sounds like you agree, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t still hold this belief.

  • http://religiousliberal.blogspot.com/ Dwight

    Adrian

    But I’m coming from one liberal christian view on this: when the pentecostal says that their experience is of God, in that it transformed them from the worse to the better, I believe it.

    Not in a being outside of space and time but that such a transformation took place. God is the evaluative judgment on the nature and source of that transformation. And the response the word calls for is gratitude.

    God is the word for whatever acted to transform that individual. But that word when attached to any number of beliefs may make us bypass that experience, because the language is not our own (though it is mine).

    In that sense, finding a shared way of speaking that allows theists, atheists, eastern religions, various academic disciplines to be able to speak, learn from one another is needed.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Are these people fundamentalists? I think most people would say that Catholics are not, yet they have done far more actual harm with their irrational, magical thinking than the Creationists within the US.

    I’m not an expert on Catholicism, but my Catholic friends have informed that the Catholic Church is a pretty diverse family and that there is a pretty sharp divide between conservative Catholics (who tend to focus on the sexual mores and doctrinal purity), and social justice Catholics (who care far more about helping the poor and fighting exploitation than about regulating sexual behavior). At any rate, I’m not sure it’s any fairer to lump all Catholics together than it is to lump all Protestant Christians together either.

    No answer any theologian has ever given has ever been adequate so let’s say that I’m a little sceptical that you are able to revolutionize the world while caring for your toddler and wife. I think it’s perfectly within our rights to say that because no answer to this question has ever been forthcoming by any theologian ever that the burden of proof is upon you.

    Let’s be clear here. What you’re saying is that no theologian has ever given an answer that has convinced you. That does not mean that no adequate answers have ever been given. Many, many reasons to believe in God have been given over the centuries and they have been adequate to convince to many intelligent, rational people. Just because you (and others here) are not convinced by them, does not mean these people are just stupid or irrational, nor does your failure to agree mean that you are. That’s the beautiful thing about rationality: it doesn’t always point in one single direction. Sometimes there are many possible rational answers and thus reasonable people can disagree.

    special pleading

    To quote Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    I think your arguments have very little value. They are irreparably flawed and despite the erudite appearance, are no better than saying “I want it to be true and so it is true” or “the bible dun said it so I believe it.” If you are able to present arguments which are free of simple fallacies, then your arguments will get respect.

    Again, according to you. But just because you declare yourself the winner of an argument doesn’t mean you actually won. For instance, you never did reply to my last response regarding the simplicity of God. You accused me of using meaningless words and challenged me to “show my work”, and when I did, you just dropped out of the conversation. So forgive me if I’m skeptical when you claim to have won the debate.

  • Aj

    MikeClawson,

    Let’s be clear here.

    That’d be a first.

    What you’re saying is that no theologian has ever given an answer that has convinced you.

    Name some of the ones that have convinced you.

    That does not mean that no adequate answers have ever been given.

    Perhaps the evidence for God was found, but the findings haven’t been published yet. I haven’t as of yet seen any adequate arguments for God. Do you know of any adequate answers?

    Many, many reasons to believe in God have been given over the centuries and they have been adequate to convince to many intelligent, rational people. Just because you (and others here) are not convinced by them, does not mean these people are just stupid or irrational, nor does your failure to agree mean that you are.

    Intelligent people are perfectly capable of accepting bad reasoning. Many, many reasons to believe in God are irrational, and not many over them are from recent centuries.

    Name an argument for God that couldn’t be used to advocate for anything logically consistant.

  • Mriana

    Dwight said,

    God is the word for whatever acted to transform that individual.

    Actually, a god can be anything you make it- even a coffee cup or love. It’s just a human concept and nothing more. As for transforming life, well, it’s a chemical reaction in the brain. Nothing but a nuerochemical experience triggered by an extrenal stimilus, which some people refer to as God.

  • Adrian

    Dwight,

    God is the evaluative judgment on the nature and source of that transformation. And the response the word calls for is gratitude.

    God is the word for whatever acted to transform that individual.

    I think you do communication in general and Christianity in particular a great insult when you use words like “god” in such a fashion.

    If you cannot bring yourself to believe in a god (creator of the cosmos, super-powerful, miracle-doer, supernatural agent, etc) and instead wish to talk about some part of nature, then using the word “god” needlessly confuses the issue.

    I may as well talk about how God bites my feet in the morning and defecates in a box in my bathroom (oh, didn’t I tell you that God is a cat?). Both are as removed from the real definition.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    If you cannot bring yourself to believe in a god (creator of the cosmos, super-powerful, miracle-doer, supernatural agent, etc) and instead wish to talk about some part of nature, then using the word “god” needlessly confuses the issue.

    Adrian,

    Are you saying that if one does not believe in a god according to your definition, then their belief is not valid? How are you, and atheist, an expert on who God is or how someone else should define God? You’re not making much sense…

  • Adrian

    Mike,

    Let’s be clear here. What you’re saying is that no theologian has ever given an answer that has convinced you. That does not mean that no adequate answers have ever been given.

    No, that’s not what I’m saying.

    No theologian has given an answer which is not riddled with elementary logical fallacies. That should be the barest definition of acceptable for an argument. Once those are removed, we can talk about how convincing they are, but we’re no where near that point yet. You’ve illustrated that point yourself and with your chosen sources.

    Just because you (and others here) do not agree, does not mean these people are just stupid, nor does your failure to agree mean that you are stupid.

    I never said that you or anyone else was stupid. I think that many theologians are probably extremely smart, but that doesn’t change the fact that their arguments are riddled with basic logical fallacies. Their arguments are erudite, smooth, polished and emotive but still fundamentally flawed. That is a problem.

    For instance, you never did reply to my last response regarding the simplicity of God. You accused me of using meaningless words and challenged me to “show my work”, and when I did, you just dropped out of the conversation. So forgive me if I’m skeptical when you claim to have won the debate.

    You’ve continually stated that you don’t have time to argue, so am I to respond to every point? Many of your so-called arguments are meaningless. You string together words to form grammatically correct sentences, but they’re shapeless, like a narcotic fog they can relax you but they offer you nothing to discuss or pry apart.

    So what’s there to say? You’ve declined to participate in a civilized discussion, you’ve decided that your beliefs are immune to any sort of scrutiny, any sort of evidence and that your wishing it so should be enough to refute any argument.

    I’ve asked you before (and you never answered) what sort of refutation could one possibly offer. There is none, you’ve locked your claims away so far that there is no evidence, no argument which could possibly affect your firm belief. I haven’t crowned myself a winner, you’ve sealed yourself off from discussion. If that means that I’m the only one left willing to discuss issues and so am the winner by default then so be it, but this isn’t my choice and a “win” means nothing to me. I would much rather you set aside this notion about “winning” and present some sort of rational position.

    special pleading

    To quote Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    Oh? And what do you call it when one party decides that evidence and reason no longer apply to their position? What do you call it when one party decides that their assertions are sufficient to support any claims that they make while asking for arguments and evidence from everyone else? It’s like they’re asking (or pleading) for special treatment…

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Actually, a god can be anything you make it- even a coffee cup or love. It’s just a human concept and nothing more. As for transforming life, well, it’s a chemical reaction in the brain. Nothing but a nuerochemical experience triggered by an extrenal stimilus, which some people refer to as God.

    Now who’s making absolute statements about what God is or isn’t? ;)

    Considering all the grief you’ve given me for not qualifying my own statements of what I think God is like, am I correct in assuming you meant to put an “IMHO” on the front of that Mriana? :)

  • Adrian

    Linda,

    Are you saying that if one does not believe in a god according to your definition, then their belief is not valid? How are you, and atheist, an expert on who God is or how someone else should define God? You’re not making much sense…

    I’m not dictating beliefs. If anyone wishes to worship nature, more power to them!

    I’m merely pointing out that if we wish to communicate in English, then we are obliged to used the commonly accepted definitions. That’s how we communicate. I’d think this was a pretty commonly accepted idea and not controversial.

    Sheesh, you’d think that I was acting like some gestapo by pointing out that words have definitions! Tetchy.

  • http://religiousliberal.blogspot.com/ Dwight

    Adrian

    If one looks at how the word God has operated: savior, creator, redeemer, source of value, we’re talking about things in experience. If so, then words like supernatural seem to prevent some folks from looking at what things in our experience actually perform such functions.

    Though I think it has as much to do with the communities of discourse we’re apart of. For me God suggests the sort of ultimacy required to direct human life to the better. For other people, maybe a different word is needed that doesn’t get caught up in dubious meanings.

    As a side note discovering physiological affects (say with prayer) doesn’t mean there is no wider reality to which we’re responding to. We’re not divorced from nature (such that we can reduce everything to what’s in our head apart from the world).

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Sheesh, you’d think that I was acting like some gestapo by pointing out that words have definitions! Tetchy.

    Adrian,

    The last time I checked, there was no clear-cut definition of God. English or otherwise. Maybe I believe in the wrong God, but to me, God is undefinable, indescribable, and unknowable. He’s nowhere to be seen yet in all things, including nature and even science. You cannot put the concept of God into a box made up by our human brains.

  • Mriana

    MikeClawson said,

    January 29, 2008 at 8:15 pm

    Actually, a god can be anything you make it- even a coffee cup or love. It’s just a human concept and nothing more. As for transforming life, well, it’s a chemical reaction in the brain. Nothing but a nuerochemical experience triggered by an extrenal stimilus, which some people refer to as God.

    Now who’s making absolute statements about what God is or isn’t?

    Considering all the grief you’ve given me for not qualifying my own statements of what I think God is like, am I correct in assuming you meant to put an “IMHO” on the front of that Mriana?

    Well actually, I was making a general statement. Compare your view of God with Spong, Culpitt, or even Graham’s view and you will get a completely different view of God.

    I think I stated the differences between Spong and Culpitt. Spong views God as being the wind or ruach. Culpitt states love is God. Billy Graham gives a view of angels in his book, “Angels: God’s Secret Agents” as being inhuman spies. Of course, we can go onto Fawell who viewed God as being an egotistical prejudice, sexist, homophobic, bigot- his son is not much different. Now Culpitt declares himself a Christian Humanist, so take him or leave him. Spong declares himself a non-theist, yet sees God as ruach- go figure. Graham, well he was Graham, what can I say about him when my grandfather dearly loved him for whatever reason and Fawell- nobody liked him as far as I know, except for Christian extremists. Even my Church of Christ friend views God as being everywhere, including in us, she even views God as love and can give Biblical scripture to support it.

    My point is, no two Christians have the exact same POV about what God is (or who, if you want to personify it). In fact, I’m willing to bet, if you asked individual members of your own congregation, I doubt they will all have the same view of God. Being a larger group, you will probably find some who see God as you do.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    You’ve continually stated that you don’t have time to argue, so am I to respond to every point?

    I’ve stated that I don’t have time to argue about why I believe in God. But that is entirely irrelevant, since that was never the topic of this discussion anyway. We haven’t been discussing whether or not God exists. We’ve been discussing whether it is possible for him to exist.

    Here’s a recap of how this discussion has gone:

    Mike: It is possible that God could exist.

    Adrian: No it’s not. Dawkin’s complexity argument shows that God is not possible.

    Mike: The complexity argument is flawed because God is typically defined as being infinite, omniscient, and non-material.

    Adrian: These terms are meaningless fluffery. Define them and show your work.

    Mike: ::Defines them and shows his work::

    Adrian: ::Declares that Mike’s arguments are fallacious without bothering to actually explain why::

    So…

    What do you call it when one party decides that their assertions are sufficient to support any claims that they make while asking for arguments and evidence from everyone else?

    Ummm… Adrian’s MO?

  • Aj

    MikeClawson,

    Mike: ::Defines them and shows his work::

    Did this happen outside of space and time, telepathically, in the form of non-material information? Were you a spirit at the time? Is it a glitch in The Matrix?

    Linda,

    Maybe I believe in the wrong God, but to me, God is undefinable, indescribable, and unknowable. He’s nowhere to be seen yet in all things, including nature and even science.

    The alpha and the omega, of this world yet not of this world, incredibly intelligent although simple, all knowing without neurons, mover and unmoved, wobbles but never falls down.

  • Siamang

    A floor wax AND a dessert topping.

    ;-)

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    Actually, a god can be anything you make it- even a coffee cup

    All praise the God off Coffee. He who grants wakefulness and energy to His worshippers.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Sorry I was pushing.

    No problem. I don’t mind a good friendly debate. It’s just the friendly part that’s hard to get right (speaking personally of course).

  • Mriana

    Linda,

    Maybe I believe in the wrong God, but to me, God is undefinable, indescribable, and unknowable. He’s nowhere to be seen yet in all things, including nature and even science.

    Interesting perspective and only points out, once again the different POVs. I have heard some say you can see God through love and other human emotions. Now these are Christians talking, not Jews or anything like that. Sometimes it makes me wonder if Christians are all talking about the same god. :?

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    The alpha and the omega, of this world yet not of this world, incredibly intelligent although simple, all knowing without neurons, mover and unmoved, wobbles but never falls down.

    AJ…. I didn’t know you were a poet. I thought you said no poetry. ;-)

    Mriana: Actually, a god can be anything you make it- even a coffee cup

    Hoverfrog: All praise the God of Coffee. He who grants wakefulness and energy to His worshippers.

    Actually, I like to think of it as God is in all things, even coffee cups. I can look at a broken coffee mug and learn something about myself, the human condition, God, and life in general.

    All kidding aside, I believe the problem arises when people try to put human qualities on something that is not human. In humans but not human. Not a he or a she. It seems that humans can only fathom things that are within the frame of our own understanding at the present time. But look how far we have come and how much more we know now than in the past.

    Aj, If you had lived a thousand years ago, do you think you would have believed anything that you currently know to be true? You only believe it because you have already seen it. But the truth has always existed whether the belief was there or not. And what will be true a thousand years from now is already true today, as it has been from the beginning. Things change… Beliefs change, behaviors change, concepts change, but God does not.

  • Aj

    Linda,

    Sounds like naturalistic pantheism to me, i.e. atheism. No need for an intelligent agency that created the universe and interfere in its workings. If you’re only using God as a metaphor for nature, then you don’t actually believe in God as is meant in the major religions. If you use the word God in place of nature, that’s unnecessarily confusing, although perhaps a good tactic to gain acceptance from people who do believe in God.

  • Mriana

    Aj said,

    January 30, 2008 at 10:38 am

    Linda,

    Sounds like naturalistic pantheism to me, i.e. atheism. No need for an intelligent agency that created the universe and interfere in its workings. If you’re only using God as a metaphor for nature, then you don’t actually believe in God as is meant in the major religions. If you use the word God in place of nature, that’s unnecessarily confusing, although perhaps a good tactic to gain acceptance from people who do believe in God.

    Yeah, it’s like saying Love is God and only meaning it as “God Talk” as Cupitt and alike do. They don’t really mean God, but it can pacify the ultra religious and keep them from yelling at you, but you don’t really mean any deity, because you know it’s just an emotion.

  • http://religiousliberal.blogspot.com/ Dwight

    A few comments

    If God is in nature, how does that make God not real? Or just in our head? Or just a word? Does any other concept which refers to the wider world also get such a treatment? If I see a tree and identify it is it just because it’s a metaphor that is only in my head without reference to anything else?

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    AJ,

    You have such an artful way of sticking it to people. I think it’s a gift. ;-) And that’s not meant to be a sarcasm. Just admiration. :)

    If you’re only using God as a metaphor for nature

    I’m not using God as a metaphor for nature. Nature just reveals that part of God to me. Again, God is in nature, but nature is not all of God.

    you don’t actually believe in God as is meant in the major religions.

    I’ve been saying that ever since I started posting here… Religion is the humans’ attempt to put God into a box. Religion is also so many other things but it’s not God. If I had to describe religion with one image, it would be the harlot, the prositute that is mentioned in the book of Revelation. It’s the thing that looks like the truth, talks like the truth, and walks like the truth, but is not the truth.

    If you use the word God in place of nature, that’s unnecessarily confusing,

    It’s confusing to you only because you love nature but hate the thought of it having anything to do with God. You cannot separate the two in a theist’s mind, can’t you see?

    perhaps a good tactic to gain acceptance from people who do believe in God.

    If my motivation was to gain acceptance from the religious people (I’m assuming that’s what you mean by “who do believe in God”), I would not be here talking to you. By the way, being religious does not necessarily make one a believer. If one truly believes, he/she does not have to be religious.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Mriana, you said,

    Yeah, it’s like saying Love is God and only meaning it as “God Talk” as Cupitt and alike do. They don’t really mean God, but it can pacify the ultra religious and keep them from yelling at you, but you don’t really mean any deity, because you know it’s just an emotion.

    I don’t want to keep having to justify my beliefs. I understand your point perfectly. I also understand where the ultra religious are coming from. I do not pacify them. I try to challenge them without alienating them. Exactly what John Shore talks about on the other thread. I also challenge myself on a daily basis, as you know.

    I do know that it’s definitely not “just an emotion.” The frustration lies in not being able to form the right words to explain the thing that’s not just an emotion. It’s like trying to describe a piece of music, a dance, or even a breathtaking view. There are no words…

  • Siamang

    Mike, you referenced Plantinga earlier in this thread. I just read this about his arguments… it seems to me that he’s an apologist not a philosopher. That is to say that he seems more concerned with being able to make arguments for believing in Christianity than with determining whether or not the arguments hold water.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I’m not the biggest fan of Plantinga (he’s an analytic philosopher whereas I tend to prefer the continental stream), so I’m not going to bother defending him to you Siamang. But if you’re interested in him, then I’d encourage you to form your own opinion of his work by reading it directly, not by reading someone else’s commentary on it. Decide for yourself whether his arguments hold water.

    Though be forewarned that his arguments rely on a lot of technical philosophical terminology that can easily be misunderstood if you don’t know what words like “necessary” or “contingent” or “possible” or “warrant” mean to analytic philosophers.

    The one book that I have read by Plantinga is God, Freedom and Evil, and it’s short enough that it’s not too intimidating (though still highly technical). Start there if you’re interested.

  • Adrian

    Mike,

    Here’s a recap of how this discussion has gone:

    Mike: It is possible that God could exist.

    Adrian: No it’s not. Dawkin’s complexity argument shows that God is not possible.

    Mike: The complexity argument is flawed because God is typically defined as being infinite, omniscient, and non-material.

    Adrian: These terms are meaningless fluffery. Define them and show your work.

    Mike: ::Defines them and shows his work::

    Adrian: ::Declares that Mike’s arguments are fallacious without bothering to actually explain why::

    So…

    Cute.

    So you’re aware that the only response you have to the problem of God’s complexity is to say “well gee, that’s how God is defined.”

    And I like how you imagine that you think you’ve “showed your work” when you’ve never done any such thing. You bandy about “spirit” like it means something yet neither you nor any of your supporters ever provide a usable definition, and then seem to get quite huffy when people point this out.

    And if you look back, I’ve given detailed reasons why your arguments are bunkus. In short, they’re all riddled with logical fallacies and they use words which have no meaning. I’ve gone through your (and your sources) quote by quote illustrating that, and your response has been… “God is traditionally been defined that way.”

    And so you gracefully leave the conversation.

    I’d love to have you rejoin. When you can dig up some useful definitions of “Spirit” (or whatever other magical properties you think God has) or you can find some argument that doesn’t rely on logical fallacies, then I hope you’ll share them.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    So you’re aware that the only response you have to the problem of God’s complexity is to say “well gee, that’s how God is defined.”

    No other response is needed. Dawkins comes up with an argument that (supposedly) shows that a complex God cannot exist. Fine, he’s right. I’m happy to admit that that God cannot exist and agree that I don’t believe in that God. And then I will continue to go on believing in the same infinite, omniscient, metaphysically simple God that I’ve always believed in, since Dawkins’ argument has nothing to say about that kind of God.

    Speaking of fallacies, what is it called when you set-up a erroneous version of someone else’s belief, knock that down, and then declare yourself the winner? Because that’s exactly what you and Dawkins have done here.

  • Adrian

    No other response is needed. Dawkins comes up with an argument that (supposedly) shows that a complex God cannot exist. Fine, he’s right. I’m happy to admit that that God cannot exist and agree that I don’t believe in that God. And then I will continue to go on believing in the same infinite, omniscient, metaphysically simple God that I’ve always believed in, since Dawkins’ argument has nothing to say about that kind of God.

    Yet earlier you’ve said that God is complex, now God is simple. Huh. Too difficult to defend complexity, so just say God is simple. Whatever.

    I understand that you’re going to go on believing. You’ve demonstrated that and I didn’t expect anything different. The issue is really whether you have any rational defence. Dawkins demonstrated that several of those properties are mutually incompatible and without a blink, without a blush, you just wave it off. Define God however you want, but if you wish to pretend that it’s possible for such a thing to exist or that your belief isn’t delusional, then you ought to be able to respond to these arguments.

    That’s what I mean when I say it’s time to show your work. You demonstrate that evidence and rational arguments are for everyone else, just not you.

    Speaking of fallacies, what is it called when you set-up a erroneous version of someone else’s belief, knock that down, and then declare yourself the winner? Because that’s exactly what you and Dawkins have done here.

    It’s called a “strawman” and I see none here. You’ve said clearly that you consider God to be omniscient and eternal and you don’t seem very clear on whether God is simple or complex (they’re polar opposites yet you’ve taken both stances in two days). No other properties were necessary for the argument.

    You seem to be saying that when Dawkins uses your own descriptions to conclude that God cannot be complex, that Dawkins must be erecting a strawman. Balderdash, you don’t know what you’re talking about. He’s demonstrating that the properties you claim for God are inconsistent and he’s using the properties you ascribe. Restating your inconsistent set of definitions doesn’t change anything.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Adrian,

    It looks to me like you’re just looking for a boxing match. You have no intention of trying to understand anything that comes from a different perspective than your own. From where I sit, it doesn’t look any different than the religious fundamentalist mindset.

    Mike,

    Ditto.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Perhaps so Linda. Sorry about that. Anyway, I’m done. I take no pleasure in these sorts of debates. If mutual understanding cannot be reached then there’s really no point of further discussion.

  • Adrian

    Linda,

    I’m sorry you think that way. I’m trying to dialogue the best way that I know, but it rather relies on having people that are open to a back and forth. Throw out ideas, see if they can be supported, look at the evidence for the other side, and then see what happens. When discussing Liberal theists with Dwight, we’d both presented our views and tried to substantiate them and so we’d both have something concrete to think about.

    Isn’t that how a dialogue is supposed to work?

    With Mike, it’s like talking to a Chatty Cathy doll – he keeps spitting out the same lines without any regard for the conversation and certainly never bothers to substantiate anything. I feel sometimes like I’m giving evidence that the world is round (citing gravitational studies, ships at harbour, photos from space, lunar eclipses, etc.) and Mike just says the equivalent of “the world has always been defined to be flat, you’re attacking a strawman, the materialist paradigm of a round earth does not apply to the spiritual existence of our souls which has been considered flat since Augustine.” What can you say?

    I don’t think it’s anything to do with understanding “perspectives”. These aren’t issues of perspective! If we were talking about morals or opinions, but we aren’t. Reality is external, logical fallacies are real and apply to everyone. You and Mike act like people like me who are willing to follow the basic rules of logic are somehow being closed minded. Hardly, it’s an attempt to be honest and understand what’s real as opposed to Mike who seems to ignore anything which contradicts his views.

    I understand that the way I talk may make me look like a fundie, but if you would like to comment on the substance rather than the appearance and offer some specifics, I would love to talk about it more detail. Do you think I’m actually unwilling to understand other perspectives or do understand but reject them? I think I’m the latter but you seem to be saying the former and I’d like to understand where the disconnect may be coming from.

    thanks.

  • Mriana

    Linda said,

    I’m not using God as a metaphor for nature. Nature just reveals that part of God to me. Again, God is in nature, but nature is not all of God.

    I do know that it’s definitely not “just an emotion.”

    Oh nice, Linda. Now I know why, when I called Love and feelings of awe and wonder nature bestowed on me God, esp when I was a child, people yelled at me, calling me an infidel, atheist, heathen, “that’s not Christian” etc. So, I guess, I’m right, what I thought when I was younger, was not any deity but rather just emotions- very human emotions at that. Oh well. At least I outgrew all of that and call a spade a spade now. I feel for Cupitt and others who think like him. Such a shame they are confused. :roll:

    In all honesty, I think if one wants to label love and/or nature God, that’s their business, esp if they understand what they are doing- and Cupitt does. However, to say that it is not god is a misnomer again, because one is defining God as they view it and saying, “this is it”. Thus being a bit imposing. The problem is, by your definition, Cupitt is misguided and is wrong. That’s really sad- not for him though.

    In all honesty and from observing various POVs, a god is whatever one conceives it to be and I’ve listed the many ways Christains view God and none of them are the same. Does this mean Cupitt and Spong are less Christains than those who view god differently or like you? I don’t know, but it seems there is a strong narrow definition in a vast sea of many views and in one religion alone.

    That was the only point I was making and nothing more. I’m not trying to take your god concept from you or anyone else here, but rather explaining there are a number of views and few maybe the same as yours. One cannot define a human concept solely on their definition alone and then say “I know it’s not this”. Thing is, someone will come along and say, “Yes it is” and I know many people who would differ from you and they call themselves Christians.

    However, I’m not personally offended, because I know what my view once was, was really just emotions and nothing more, but I would not begin to tell Cupitt that even if he does know what he’s saying. It’s his progative to label an emotion god if he wants and he is well within his rights to conceive of God as love. So are many others who think that way. I no longer do, but I would not deny them of thinking that way.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Mriana,

    I was not meaning to offend you in any way. You know that I respect your and others’ views (I hope.) With your and AJ’s comments, I just felt that you were disqualifying my beliefs. That I was using the word God just to appease the other Christians. I was only trying to state that my beliefs are just as valid as theirs, NOT that it is more valid or the way it is or should be. Not at all. I’ve never done that as long as I’ve posted here… not intentionally anyway.

    When I said it is not just an emotion, I meant for me. FOR ME.

  • Mriana

    No Linda, I would not disqualify your beliefs, intentionally. I’ll make you think though, when I can.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ Siamang

    Adrien, I think I understand your frustration.

    With Mike, it’s like talking to a Chatty Cathy doll – he keeps spitting out the same lines without any regard for the conversation and certainly never bothers to substantiate anything.

    I can’t say I disagree. And yet I see you and him having two different conversations here. Allow me to try and make you aware of the other conversation.

    I’m trying to dialogue the best way that I know, but it rather relies on having people that are open to a back and forth. Throw out ideas, see if they can be supported, look at the evidence for the other side, and then see what happens.

    Yes, for what it’s worth, this is what I see you attempting. It is not what Mike is doing. Yes, I can see how that’s frustrating for you… especially since at some points it looks as though Mike is interacting in the way you are expecting, but when examined his assertions become… how did you put it?…”shapeless, like a narcotic fog”.

    What I think you should take away from this is to just accept that this is how Mike is. This is how he expresses himself and his beliefs. He’s having a discussion with you which is not a debate. It is clear that his feelings on these matters are not up for debate, in fact so much so that his groundrules do not match your groundrules.

    It’s like you’re teaching a math class and he’s practicing modern dance. For awhile it looked like he was dancing in a perfect parabola, and so you thought you’d check his geometry proof! Well, that didn’t work, now did it! ;-)

    But what I’d say you should take away from this discussion is knowlege and understanding of what Mike Clawson is like, and perhaps how to spot someone who’s dancing a parabola rather than formulating a geometry proof… and choose how you’d like to interact with them with that in mind, rather than assuming they’re interacting in the way you enjoy.

    Peace, man.

  • Adrian

    Siamang,

    Thanks man, that’s a good description. I have a hard time placing discussions about what I see as “reality” – what happened, what exists, what’s real – in the context of a discussion of mere beliefs since, if there is an objective reality then all beliefs are not made equal. But clearly whatever I might feel about this, it isn’t shared by others. I think you’re right that I should deal with it or end up getting frustrated.

    Gonna take some work!

    ‘preciate the perspective.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Mike,

    You misunderstood me. I didn’t mean ditto as in “same to you.” I meant ditto as in I agree with your previous comment about not believing in the same god that Dawkins, et al. are trying to describe.

    Adrian,

    I really have no problem with what you say and the facts you present. I just found some of your comments to Mike very condescending and provoking. It looked as though you were trying to get a rise out of him. Maybe I’m overly sensitive today. Back and forth conversation is fine, but it is extremely redundant when no one is budging and same things are said over and over and over and over…and when rude comments get thrown in on top of that, well… But what else in new, right? Sorry for butting in. I didn’t mean to accuse you of being close-minded. Really… thank you for your thoughtful explanation.

  • Adrian

    Linda,

    Thank you for the elaboration. Mike does frustrate me for reasons I’ve already explained and while I don’t think I’ve ever said anything personal about him, you’re right that I don’t much respect his argument and I didn’t try to hide it. I do respect him personally and others here which is why I’ve tried to present as many alternate explanations, elaborations and sources whenever they came up. You may not believe me, but I would take it as a great sign of respect if someone who disagreed with me would do the same to me rather than placidly nodding and saying “to each his own” which I see as being very passive aggressive and disrespectful. Sounds like you think he’s being mild and moderate when I think he’s anything but.

    Still, I can see how some of my rhetoric can be aggravating and provocative and in the future, I will try to tone it down. In return, if you see me again and you think I’ve gone over the top, please let me know.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Mike,

    You misunderstood me. I didn’t mean ditto as in “same to you.” I meant ditto as in I agree with your previous comment about not believing in the same god that Dawkins, et al. are trying to describe.

    Thanks for clarifying Linda. And thanks for the support.

    I just found some of your comments to Mike very condescending and provoking. It looked as though you were trying to get a rise out of him.

    Yep, that’s how it came across to me too. I’m sorry if I reacted poorly to that, but I have a hard time engaging in constructive conversation when I feel like the other person really isn’t interested in understanding what I’m saying and is only focused on proving themselves right no matter what I say. I tend to get more argumentative than I normally would in those situations. It’s one of my many flaws.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    I will try to tone it down. In return, if you see me again and you think I’ve gone over the top, please let me know.

    Adrian, Not at all the response I expected. This side of you is your stronger weapon than the other one… Case in point: Now I’m embarrassed about even bringing it up, wondering if I was too quick to judge. :oops: You’re fine. Just be yourself.

  • Arlen

    A general observation after having read all 250-odd comments:

    Mike Clawson and Adrian (and Aj, et al.) have been having a phantom argument. There is no actual debate because there is no meeting of the minds. In order to actually have a productive discussion about the nature of God (a more abstract concept) there has to be agreement on more simple concepts (a definition of God, etc.)

    The way I see it, if the debate was boiled down to its most basic level, there would have to be some agreement on whether God, in fact, exists. Unfortunately, I anticipate that there can be no agreement on this issue—which makes any higher-order discussion about the nature of God fairly superfluous.

    Maybe it would be best if the discussion around here kept to subjects in which all parties can agree on the basic definitions involved and thus carry on more friendly and more productive conversation. The easiest way to do this: stick to the topic of the original post.

    Lest our more competitive natures control us, let’s also remember that this is a place for friendly conversation in the hopes of reaching mutual respect and understanding. If anyone ever proves anything to anyone here at FriendlyAtheist.com, I’ll eat my hat (and I have a big hat). Maybe we should be less caught up with proof and more caught up with developing productive relationships with people who have different viewpoints than our own. Isn’t that what sets us all apart from the fundamentalists (on either side) anyway?

  • http://apostleron.wordpress.com Ron

    There are many different names for the Source of All.


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