St. Augustine Asks the Hard Questions Atheists Don’t Ask UPDATED

It’s fun to read or listen to super-duper-smart professional atheists (well, they think they’re smart) banging on about the book of Genesis. It’s a useful issue for them, because the primeval history in scripture is mysterious, complex, and rich in symbolism. So, naturally, Reason Warriors approach it with the childish literalism of a young-earth creationist. Perhaps this works for them because fundamentalism is ill-equipped to properly understand Genesis, which is why friends don’t let friends be fundamentalists.

Atheists think Christians believe this is how things really happened.

One of their techniques is to throw out an endless litany of questions about the creation of the world and then demand instant answers, usually from some poor sap unequipped to respond knowledgeably. “Oh yeah, so God made light before he made the sun? He made plants before he made the sun needed for them to grow? Why are there two creation stories? Huh? HUH?!” And then they stand back in triumph, fold their arms across their chest, marvel at their own genius, and wait for the poor sap to fumble his way through a few pathetic replies.

This kind of low-hanging fruit is the bread-and-butter of the atheist combox troll and meme-maker, but the really hilarious thing is that their questions are all so pathetic. Because atheists believe they have the corner on reason and logic, they develop an inflated sense of their own intelligence. They gather for “Reason Rallies” as though reason was a wholly owned subsidiary of Atheism Inc., rather than something inherited from the centrality of Aristotelianism to Catholic theology, and thus to Western civilization. Their questions barely even skim the surface of the incredibly deep, profound, vexing, and glorious texts of Genesis 1 & 2.

Although I have not yet chosen the topic for my master’s thesis, one area I’m considering is the understanding of creation in Genesis, Augustine, and Ratzinger/Benedict. In my research, I’ve been reading Augustine’s massive body of work on the subject. He returned to it in three major works (On Genesis: A Refutation of the ManicheesUnfinished Literal Commentary on Genesis, and The Literal Meaning of Genesis), as well as at the end of Confessions and The City of God.

There is no more important theologian in the history of Christianity than Augustine. Both Protestants and Catholics claim him, although it must take serious mental gymnastics for Protestants to get past his extremely Catholic world-view. A major part of the liberal Christian project is trying minimize the influence of Augustine, because his conception of original sin (often wildly misunderstood) is considered destructive to a progressive concept of God.

Yet in spite of his influence, his Literal Meaning of Genesis is very hard to find. As a major statement of his belief, it ranks with City of God and de Trinitate in scope and importance, yet you won’t even find a complete copy of it online, and it was left out of the major collections of the writings of the fathers of the Church.

When Augustine talks about the “literal” meaning, he doesn’t quite mean what you think he means. Today, a “literal” meaning is fundamentalism: the world was created in six 24-hour periods about 6000 years ago and Fred Flintstone rode around on a brontosaurus, etc, etc.

This totally happened.

Augustine does not believe that at all. Augustine recognized two levels of scripture in most of his exegesis: literal and figurative. The figurative meaning was a kind of typology, in which each event in the Bible stands for something else, usually a prefiguration of Christ. It’s as Paul says in 1 Cor. 10:11: “All these things, however, happened among them in figure.” The literal meaning is what the text is saying. A text may be wholly figurative, such as the Song of Songs, and indeed some early interpreters read Genesis purely figuratively. Augustine himself did this in his On Genesis Against the Manichees.

In his literal interpretation, however, he’s trying to understand what Genesis really says. He’s not searching for either an analogy (the figurative meaning) or a purely literal meaning (what we now would call literalism or fundamentalism), but is instead querying the text about what it means. And for Augustine, it was vital that we understood this text in an intelligent way. He repeatedly warns against interpretations that defy the clear evidence of the sciences. He was extremely concerned that foolish Christians reading scripture too literally would bring discredit on the entire faith. His warning is one we still do well to heed:

“Whenever … [non-Christians] catch out some members of the Christian community making mistakes on a subject which they know inside out, and defending their hollow opinions on the authority of our books, on what grounds are they going to trust those books on the resurrection of the dead and the hope of eternal life and the kingdom of heaven, when they suppose they include any number of mistakes and fallacies on matters which they themselves have been able to master either by experiment or by the surest of calculations?”  St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis (I.19.39)

Augustine rejected interpretations which defied the science of his day. If something in scripture contradicts a settled fact, then the job of the exegete is to arrive an reasonable interpretation of the passage. There can be no contradiction between two certainties. Where one is certain, the other must yield, whether that yielding takes place in the realm of science or scriptural interpretation. In the following centuries, both St. Thomas Aquinas and Galileo would cite the arguments developed by Augustine in these pages.

A barrage of questions open The Literal Meaning of Genesis. Ever the good Platonist, Augustine relentlessly queries the text in order to better reveal its meanings. Here’s a small sample from just a few opening pages. (The points are Augustine’s, but the wording is mine.)

  • How did God produce something changeable and time-bound without any change in himself?
  • What is meant by heaven and earth? Does it mean all spiritual and material creation? Material creation alone?
  • What is the “abyss”? Is it unformed matter?
  • What does it mean that “there was darkness over the abyss”? Is it merely an absence of light, or is it a spiritual absence?
  • How did God say “Let there be light”? He has no material form, and therefore cannot produces sounds. In any case, there was no language yet, for there were no humans in need of language, so what kind of words did he use?
  • To whom did God say “Let there be light,” since no one else was there? Was He talking to himself?
  • Did He say this in time, or out of time? Did he create a material being to say “Let there be light”?
  • How was light made? Could light be made before heaven and earth?
  • Was it a light that can be perceived with the eyes, or was it a different kind of light? Was the light spiritual, corporal, or both? How can there be light without sun?
  • When did this creation happen in time? Did it happen in time? What is the origin point of creation?
  • How long did it take? As long as it takes to utter the words of creation? Do we have to assume that God spoke really slowly in order to take a full 24-hour day to say “Let there be light?”
  • When the water was collected, where was it collected if it already covered the entire earth? Where did it go so that dry land could emerge?
  • How did God work and grow tired enough to need rest if He has no flesh?

And so on and so forth. Augustine is merciless with the text, probing it, comparing it against what we know of the world, searching for the deeper meaning, drawing on the science of the day to understand what it could all possibly mean. Sometimes he arrives at a settled answer, sometimes not. However, the act of faith, the act of the Christian, is taking place in the mere encounter with the scripture as he tries better understand the word of God.

This is what atheists always fail to understand, and they will never understand it as long as they remain mired in a materialistic mindset: in matters of faith, the questions are the point. The book of Job, for example, is a giant howl of outrage that, in the final analysis, is little more than a litany of questions from Job, his friends, and God. Job’s question–”Seriously, God, why me?”–is never answered directly (it’s answered with … more questions!), but he goes away satisfied. It is a riddle with no answer, but the answer becomes unimportant, because in the process of trying understand with our limited human capacity, we find enlightenment.

Perhaps because I was a Platonist before I returned to the Church, this never bothered me at all. I understand that the role of the question is central because it is active: it is the way people encounter each other and form a true relationship that can lead to deeper understanding. The act of questioning is the point.  That’s because it’s not an act of raw data mining, stripping the shell from the world in order to get to the nut of truth. It’s because we’re humans, and exist only in relation to one another and to our world and our God. Relation is key. Relationships are questions we ask with every action we take and every decision me make. So is faith.

The trinity is defined not as three people hanging about in one essence, but as three relations. Everything exists in relation to someone or something else. Everything. Faith is a relationship with God. God is a relationship among the three persons of the Trinity. Existence is a relationship among all the creatures and objects and atoms of the material world. Material objects are a relationship among the atoms that comprise them.

And all these relations are understood by asking questions. Naturally, many of these questions have answers. I can express my relationship with my wife by asking how she’s feeling today, and she can answer by saying she’s just fine. In that exchange, my role was asking the question: that was how I expressed my love at that moment. If my question was, however, “Why do you love me?” what answer could she give that would make any real material sense?

There are questions that can have no answer, but we benefit from asking them anyway, or at least from considering them. “Why do you love me?” is something every lover wonders at some point. There’s no decent answer to that question, because often love lies beyond the realm of reason. It’s the one thing the atheists and materialists will never be able to probe and understand, and their deterministic, biochemical solutions are laughable in the face of the sheer power and mystery of love.

And that’s why we’ll never have a concrete answer to the mystery of creation as expressed in Genesis: it was a pure act of unselfish love. It was a pure gift, given in generosity as an expression of a love so vast and endless that it willed all things into being. It’s the puzzle at the heart of existence, and we do well to question it, to ask what it means, to try to make sense of it all. But in order to do that, we need to ask the right questions in a spirit of humility and genuine inquiry. Atheists need to stop asking silly questions about how plants grew before the sun was created, and start asking questions that are truly challenging for both believer and non believer.

You see, creation itself is a giant, complex, ever-renewing answer the most important question of all. It’s a question so profound and so basic to our existence that the answer has to be written across eternity. The question is “How do I express love?” When we ask that question, our answers may vary. You can say “I love you,” you can give a gift, you can perform some act of love, you can make something, you can sacrifice, even unto death. All human life is bound up in the way we answer that question.

And how does God answer that question? The answer is all around us. We’re looking at it, walking on it, breathing it. Creation. Life. The Universe. Time. Space. Matter. God’s answer to that question was simple and profound: Let there be light. And that light was the life of the world.

UPDATE: I’m having to trash most comments from atheists because they add nothing to the discussion. Please read the Comment Policy and try to be intelligent.

UPDATE (9/25/12): See previous update. Not quite sure why I’m getting a sudden influx of depressingly illiterate atheists today (honestly, people: work on basic grammar and capitalization), and I don’t care. Atheists have nothing to say about religion and creation that is of the tiniest possible interest to me. Been there, done it, growed up and put on my big boy pants. Denial of God is about intellectually credible as denial of the holocaust. Since it makes my fingers ache to constantly delete your comments, I’m just shutting them down. I’ve got work to do. Go play somewhere else.

About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • http://www.accordeonaire.blogspot.com Gary Chapin

    This is really interesting, having gone through my own time in seminary and having loved my old testament class. Your dismissal of fundamentalism is inadequate. Your suggestion is that those of us raised in the weak insanity of fundamentalism should adopt your fairly sophisticated approach to those books, rather than giving up on the text altogether. This seems like basic psychology. In this case, I’m not even arguing my own position, I’m just saying you underestimate the damage caused by some protestant settings, and the pain people are in because of it. Just because of the tone of Hitchens and Dawkins don’t assume that all atheists are blithe. My own time with atheism was filled with pain.

  • elGaucho

    I think you kind of alluded to this but my understanding of Augustine was he sort of pioneered the philosophy of time in relation to God in that he did not believe time infinitely regressed but had a definite starting point and that God existed outside of time. I wonder how he came to formulate this idea, would you know? Further, it is like I said the other day, the arguments against G-d are seldom made to find further truth but to antagonize. Notice how the arguments say little about reality and usually resort to a Foucaultian description of religion.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    Augustine’s conception of time is extremely complex, with an understanding of moral, historical, psychological, physical time. I’m not sure I could pinpoint where he really explored his conception of time in depth, but his work on Genesis certainly develops these points. (Augustine wrote a lot, and his ideas were developed over many years and various works.) I do know he sees time as linked with motion and thus creation, therefore there was no “before” in relation to creation. Creation doesn’t begin in time: time begins with creation. He touches on this in Chapter 11 of the Confessions.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    Why is my dismissal of of fundamentalism inadequate? It’s a dark and useless intellectual backwater and outright Christian heresy. I don’t deny there are many people who believe it, but there are many people who believe in alien abduction as well. Atheists choose the weakest form of an argument and pound on it. I have never come across a sophisticated atheist argument on a theological topic, which is the point I’m making. It’s not my job to argue points I don’t believe. I’m not in debate club anymore.

    I don’t deny that people exposed to these ideas suffer from them and lose their faith. That’s tragic, which is why we (Catholics) have always condemned them. Literalist fundamentalism is barely a couple hundred years old. I have absolutely no point of reference for it, and don’t feel the need to develop one. I’m part of a tradition that’s been reading these texts this way since Origin and Ambrose and Augustine and even before that, for almost 1800 years.

    The weird thing is that Calvinism (the heresy at the root of American fundamentalism) loves Augustine and Calvinists write long tomes saying how he really didn’t believe all that Catholicy stuff. I think that answers the question of why his work on Genesis doesn’t get more air time: it contradictions their narrative.

    UPDATE: And I don’t think all atheists are blithe. I think the quiet ones suffer and question a lot. I’m talking about the self-styled Reason Warriors who troll the net and write long books. If some modern atheists are suffering from their doubt, that suffering is due to the corrosive effect of Hitchens, Dawkins, etc on the dialog.

  • Peter Cranny

    Your sophistry is sadly wasted, as usual.

    There are no gods, there was no creation, religious faith is indistinguishable from hope.

    Good luck with that.

    Did I say – there are no gods.

    [TLMcD: I am so humbled and awed by the depth of this comment that I can merely stand back in silent disillusionment of the sham that is my life's work. He has destroyed me utterly, and even did it while misusing the word "sophistry," which merely highlights the brilliance of his technique. I am destroyed.]

  • http://www.accordeonaire.blogspot.com Gary Chapin

    I meant it in a very limited way — it’s not inherently inadequate. I just meant that for someone raised in a fundamentalist setting who has become an atheist, your dismissal of fundamentalism wouldn’t be an argument that would bring them out of atheism.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    So my idea of taking them by the shoulders and just saying, “Stop it” won’t work?

    Damn: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYLMTvxOaeE

  • http://N/A Doug

    Why should I believe in Christianity?

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    Let’s start small: do you believe in God?

  • bows dawg

    atheists do not believe in any god, rather light and the universe were not created by god, but formed by nature by the laws of science

  • KC

    I dunno… sounds pretty fluffy to me. I usually start from the premise that people say what they mean and mean what they say unless there is reason to believe otherwise. When people look at a piece of writing and say ‘you have to think deeper than that’ or ‘you have to appreciate the rich scholarship on this subject’ and arrive at an interpretation that is vastly different from a plain reading interpretation my alarm bells go off.

    Isnt a more reasonable approach to Genesis to read it for its plain meaning, realize that science has changed our understanding of the world and conclude that Genesis was written by man rather than god? That seems to me as a skeptic (but not an atheist per se) to be a more plausible explanation for Genesis than the wildly strained interpretation offered by theologians.

    Maybe I am too much of a ‘literalist’ (in the plain meaning sense of the word) but personally I think literalism gets an unfair bad rap. Outside the realm of fiction ordinary literalism is the modus operandi of the world. I guess my overarching question is why are the interpretive methods you’ve proposed preferable to a plain reading? I understand that for theologians who are invested in their religion there is psychological need to reconcile Genisis with the real world. But why should those of us who arent invested in that religion prefer the interpretation of the likes of Augustine to an approach that more closely accords with how the world works–i.e. that people say what they mean and mean what they say.

  • Saywaaa

    Why should I believe in God?

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    What do you believe is the first cause?

  • Scott M.

    Dear Mr. McDonald, I happened upon your blog while bouncing around the internet. I probably won’t be back this way again though.

    I wish you luck with your journey but fear the direction you’ve taken is sadly into the wilderness. I think you’d be better off reading (if you haven’t already) THE DEMON HAUNTED WORLD by Carl Sagan. It’s a wonderful roadmap out of the darkness.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    Already read it, while I was coming out of the darkness of disbelief. I’d commend The Confessions of Augustine to lead you out of your own darkness.

  • bows dawg

    atheists do not believe in any god, rather light and the universe were not created by god, but formed by nature by the laws of science.

  • KC

    Lets say for the sake of argument that I do believe in god. I’m actually agnostic but I’m curious to hear why we should believe in Christianity.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    How does nature form itself? How do laws of science write themselves?

  • bows dawg

    There are 4 fundamental forces that have been identified:

    The strong interaction is very strong, but very short-ranged. It acts only over ranges of order 10-13 centimeters and is responsible for holding the nuclei of atoms together. It is basically attractive, but can be effectively repulsive in some circumstances.

    The electromagnetic force causes electric and magnetic effects such as the repulsion between like electrical charges or the interaction of bar magnets. It is long-ranged, but much weaker than the strong force. It can be attractive or repulsive, and acts only between pieces of matter carrying electrical charge.

    The weak force is responsible for radioactive decay and neutrino interactions. It has a very short range and, as its name indicates, it is very weak.

    The gravitational force is weak, but very long ranged. Furthermore, it is always attractive, and acts between any two pieces of matter in the Universe since mass is its source.

  • bows dawg

    A scientific law is a statement based on repeated experimental observation that describes some aspect of the world.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    I can’t tell you why you should be a Christian any more than I could tell you why you should love your wife or husband. I can tell you why I am Christian. I can give you a reason for my faith, but each person’s faith is their own, and they have to make that journey for their own reasons.

    I’m a Christian because after leaving the Church and spending many years wandering in doubt and in other faiths, I had a personal experience that made me certain of the existence of God. Fearing that the experience was little more than a phantasm of the mind, I questioned it, myself, and the world of belief. I began with a deeper study of atheism, and then moved on to faith and general Christianity, and finally returned to Catholicism.

    In my period of doubt, I asked why I should believe the scripture at all, any more than I would believe the Iliad or the Bahgavad Gita. Beyond my personal experience (which, to many, is worthless as proof), my belief comes from the nature of the New Testament, the continuous and unbroken witness of the Church, the powerful witness of 2000 years of Christian testimony, and a deep and personal sense of the presence of Christ.

    The New Testament cannot simply be waved away as myth. It doesn’t have parallels in any myth of the time. It doesn’t read like near eastern mythology, Greek, Roman, or any other invented or elaborated system. (I have about 10,000 pages of it here if you’d like to check: ANE culture is one of my areas of study.) It reads like what it is: a blend of testimony and theology. We don’t have such a well-corroborated account for anything in the ancient world, much less one written by nine different hands. We have less evidence for Caesar’s Gallic campaign that we do for the life and resurrection of Christ, so it’s historicity is a powerful witness.

    But is that witness true? The close proximity of many of the NT texts to the events they describe certainly suggests so, and the martyrdom of the early leaders is further proof. People may well die for a lie, but not when they know it to be a lie. Were the apostles to have known the whole Jesus thing was just a story, they had many opportunities to save themselves. For their faith and their testimony, all but John received death.

    But none of that really matters to one who is determined to remain a skeptic. I know, because the same things were said to me when I was a skeptic, and I would not hear them because I was not ready to hear. I didn’t want this faith, and in truth it would be easier to lose it. But having sought truth so long and in so many places (almost all of them much easier than the Christian life), do I turn away once I’ve found it?

    You need to find your own way. I can give you reasons. Plenty of reasons. But unless the soil is ready, the seed doesn’t grow.

  • KC

    Thanks for taking the time to explain that.

    Given your final comments I see that you reject the skeptical approach to these issues which I think is really the nub of our differences. For me extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and the testimony of faulty humans rarely if ever qualifies as extraordinary proof. Your belief in Christianity seems to fundamentally hang on the fact that you believe that the alleged eyewitnesses to Christ alleged miracles would not ‘make it up’ particularly in the face of death. Applying a skeptical approach I am unconvinced.

    I would suggest that the study of human psychology and, in particular, social psychology shows that irrational and downright bizarre behaviour among humans — even in the face of death — is all to common and IMHO those tendencies are a far more plausible explanation eyewitness accounts of Christ’s alleged miracles than that those miracles actually occured. In my experience people do, say and even believe some pretty crazy things. Jim Jones somehow convinced hundreds of people to take their own lives. My wifes cousin tells me that he has seen bases on the moon through a telescope. I could go on and on and on with stories like these.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    Yes, that used to be my reaction as well, particularly when I was still studying for a degree in anthropology and doing deep reading in psychology. There’s nothing more to really be said. We pass through stages of wisdom and understanding. Each person has to examine the evidence and then make the leap if prompted, or not if not prompted.

    I would, however, urge you to come up with better examples than Jim Jones and aliens in the future. No one who encounters the words or the person of Christ can come away thinking anything less than, “Here was a wise and good man,” and the writings of those who followed him preach of love. It’s a deep and abiding theology and philosophy that has nourished the finest minds for two millennia. It’s not really of a piece with a paranoid and delusional con-man who ordered people to drink poison at gunpoint.

  • Eugene Pinto

    This academic discussion is good…Why should I believe in the Christian God …..simply put…because of the miracles that are wrought by the Word of God….
    Can Science explain that someone has a sickness and it gets cured without any medication.. a pain vanishes without any pain killers…How do you explain that…The Word of God is True and therefore he exists

  • John Hobson

    I came across De Genisi ad litteram many years ago. In the 1990s, I wrote a letter to the Skeptical Inquirer giving a longer bit of the part you quoted. I shall repeat it here (my translation):

    Often, a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and
    the other parts of the world, about the motions and orbits of the stars and even their sizes and distances, … and this knowledge he holds with certainty from reason and experience. It is thus offensive and disgraceful for an unbeliever to hear a Christian talk nonsense about such things, claiming that what he is saying is based in Scripture. We should do all we can to avoid such an embarrassing situation, which people see as ignorance in the Christian and laugh to scorn.

    The shame is not so much that an ignorant person is laughed at, but rather that people outside the faith believe that we hold such opinions, and thus our teachings are rejected as ignorant and unlearned. If they find a Christian mistaken in a subject that they know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions as based on our teachings, how are they going to believe these teachings in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think these teachings are filled with fallacies about facts which they have learnt from experience and reason.

    Reckless and presumptuous expounders of Scripture bring about much harm when they are caught in their mischievous false opinions by those not bound by our sacred texts. And even more so when they then try to defend their rash and obviously untrue statements by quoting a shower of words from Scripture and even recite from memory passages which they think will support their case “without understanding either what they are saying or what they assert with such assurance.” (1 Timothy 1:7)

    Augustine is saying that taking the first chapters of Genesis as a literal description is both bad science and bad religion. The fundamentalist will say, Tthe universe was created less than ten thousand years ago,” and anyone with a basic knowledge of astronomy will say, “That’s crap!”

    You wrote, “The trinity is defined not as three people hanging about in one essence, but as three relations.” In his On the Trinity, Augustine makes this point at length, using a series of analogies. My favorite of these is the Father as Lover, the Son as Beloved, and the Spirit as the Love flowing between the other two. Dante’s image, in Canto 33 of the Paradiso (John Ciardi’s translation):

    Within the depthless deep and clear existence
    of that abyss of light three circles shown –
    three in color, one in circumference:
    the second from the first, rainbow from rainbow;
    the third, an exhalation of pure fire
    equally breathed forth by the other two.

  • jerry lynch

    Water. Water, to me, is the proof of God’s existence. And I can’t explain that point. But nearly every encounter with this form/substance/unformed/yielding/powerful/placid/corrosive/lifegiving/gaseous/solid/liquid thing, and its too early for me to be poetic or clever in description, thrills me with its extraordinary nature. How utterly miraculous and basically practical. Could Chance be so brilliant to create such varied majesty and ordinariness? More mystery in its existence than in any soul’s. Or so it seems to me. Probe the depths of its being or be a child in open wonder? I flip-flop the same way in my relationship to God. Or is that synergism?

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    Thanks for adding that. Good translation. I read Latin about as well as you’d expect for someone who got mostly Cs in the subject in high school, so I’m working from Hill, who I’ve really come to enjoy. A bit quirky in places, but solid.

    Here’s the text for people who can read Latin: http://www.augustinus.it/latino/genesi_lettera/index2.htm

    I’ve had the opportunity to do de Trinitate twice, once for a class on the Trinity, and again for a class on Augustine. It, not the Confessions or de Civitate, is what converted me from a focus on Thomas to one on Augustine. There should be a couple of my trinity essay kicking around on here.

    And Dante is always welcome to the party. Have you tried the Esolen translation? Superb notes.

  • Pingback: The King is Dead

  • jerry lynch

    I truly enjoyed your article. I have spent way too many hours trying to answer the “childish literalism” of atheists. That was the first characteristic I noticed, right after the hubris. They usually take Jim Jones and Jerry Falwell pureed as the typical Christian, then substract Reason from the caricature. This is who they think they are talking to. How does this caricature act? Look at the genocide of the Caananites and witch hunts and the Inquisition and Ireland and “the thousand of sects for the supposed ‘one, true faith.’” What kind of loving God allows the slaughter of innocents? What kind of God demands his “only begotten son” to suffer and die for what others have done; is that justice? I have yet to find any atheist truly willing to explore, although there must be some out there.

    I had my period of intense doubt about and even hatred of Christianity but never about the existence of God. Besides the, er, firm foundation of water, I have had numerous incredible experiences. Taught by the Jesuits to question question question both with curious doubt and antagonistic skepticism, I feel I rigorously cross-examined, researched, and psychologically probed each of those experiences playing a wily Devil’s advocate. No absolute certainty emerged that it was the presence or act of God, yet for a few of these that was all it appeared I was left with, settling on an “I don’t know.”

    I tried one of the most remarkable experiences on a few atheist, who only did that rationale thing of claiming I misremembered or left something out or confabulated with my predispoed beliefs (or just lied, of course). As with you, my assurance was not proof. As it could not possibly happen as I described in their worldview, their logical assumptions of faulty evidence was conclusive. Oh, well.

    Thanks again.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    Thanks!

    I don’t ever talk in detail about my conversion experience, because a) words can’t convey it, even though words are my livelihood, b) it’s always diminished in the telling, and c) doubters will dismiss it anyway. I simply say this: a) I experienced the presence of God in an utterly undeniable, incontrovertible, and life-changing way, and b) it wasn’t a hallucination.

  • KC

    I didnt use the example of Jim Jones other than as an extreme example of the psychological phenomenom whereby people follow a charismatic leader to the point of being prepared to die for their beliefs. It wasnt to suggest there were any paralellels in terms of their message. I am aware that the teachings of Jesus were significantly more positive.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    I understood that aspect of your point, but I think there’s a finer degree of distinction that needs to be made in the psychological element. The frenzy of a charismatic leader who takes his people down into death and zealotry is of a very different psychological character than a small movement in a near eastern backwater that moves beyond the death of their leader to become a worldwide force prompting people to outrageous examples of love and self-sacrifice. The utter improbability of it all is striking.

    Better examples for an atheist attacking Christianity would be two false prophets: Mohammed and Joseph Smith. They challenge Christians by comparison to movements that grew quite well after the death of charismatic leaders, despite being untrue.

    There is a Christian answer to this, of course. Both Islam and Mormonism were religious components in a civil order based on land and power, and thus promised people security and stability in those realms. There was an institutional reason for their survival. By contrast, Christianity was countercultural and urged its adherents to give up EVERYTHING: total self-sacrifice for God and neighbor. It lacked a stabilizing political component or material reward. Christians were removed from the Temple (a spiritual death sentence to Jews) and hunted unto death. Naturally, we attribute the survival and success of the faith to the action of the Holy Spirit, but nonbelievers need some other way to explain why it survived.

    If you want a parallel to a simultaneous movement with common roots, look no further than the Essenes of Qumran.There’s a reason there is Christianity and not Essenianity: Christianity is God-breathed. It not only survived the destruction of its religious center in 70 AD, but thrived for almost 400 years before it could come out of the shadows.

  • Pingback: THURSDAY AFTERNOON EDITION | Big Pulpit

  • KC

    How would you respond to the observation that, while not originaly a “religious component in a civil order’ Christianity’s transformation from a minor faith to the worlds largest were driven by and large by “land and power”. It seems to me that that growth had more to do with its adoption by Constantine (and thus the Roman Empire) and later as the prevailing religion in major colonial players like Britan and Spain (which in turn had been part of the Roman Empire) than the inherent appeal of Christianity’s message.

    Also could you elaborate on why you think that the psychological character of the group of Jim Jones’ followers was somehow different than that of Jesus? Both claimed a divine connection, both had a message that attracted people who showed a high degree of commitment to it to the point that they were willing to die. Its worth noting that Jim Jones didn’t start out in crazy town. At one point he espoused fairly high minded ideals. Whats to say that Christianity wouldn’t have gone down some dark path if its development hadnt been interrupted by the untimely murder of its leader? I guess I just don’t find the psychological dynamics at play in the early Jesus crew that “improbable”. Are there differences between early Christians and Jonestown? Of course. Are there similar currents that run through both? I’d say yes.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    This will have to be short, since today is supposed to a day off for me, but here’s a quick reply:

    On Christian survival: If place the beginning of Christ’s ministry around 26AD and the Apostolic Age beginning around 29AD, and all the Apostles (except John) and Paul dead by the 60s, you have a mission that had to not only survive, but thrive and spread all the way until the Edict of Milan in 313, in an incredibly hostile environment. I know we tend to think of ancient timespans rather loosely, but that’s longer than America’s been around. That survival doesn’t seem improbable to you?

    On Jones: Take away the psychotic element (and that’s a pretty big takeaway, but I’ll grant it for a point) and you’re still left with a messianic preacher offering a promised land to disadvantaged people, far away from strife and poverty. Whatever Guyana wound up being in the end, it was still a PLACE offering refuge and hope, complete with its own footsoldiers and government. Psychologically, that’s a long way from “take no extra cloak” and go and preach the word.

  • MumbleMumble

    Science continues to change every single day. New discoveries are made, and will continue to be made. You argued that science and scripture need to coexist – that two incompatible truths cannot coexist (e.g. the universe cannot have been created six thousand years ago). So scripture is refashioned to fit with accepted scientific facts. My first question is how then can you believe anything in the Bible is literal? Is it possible for the entire book to be figurative?
    My next questions are ones I would wish to add to St. Augustine’s list. Is it possible that God died when the universe was created? Is it possible that God has had no involvement in the universe, following its creation? Is it possible that the act of creation was actually the result of two or more gods? Is it possible that something created God?
    By the way, you are generalizing the questions and comments of some atheists to all atheists. Ironically, that is the same mistake of which you are accusing them. Please be more careful about that.

  • Sagrav

    I’m a non-believer/materialist, but this comment did make me laugh.

  • MumbleMumble

    If someone told you that they had experienced the presence of Mt. Olympus (with Zeus and Hera and everybody else) in an utterly undeniable, incontrovertible, and life-changing way, and it wasn’t a hallucination, would you believe them?
    I’m not trying to diminish your beliefs, I’m just asking if you think that your assertion alone is enough to convince somebody, when you yourself would not be swayed by a similar argument?

  • KC

    “That survival doesn’t seem improbable to you?”

    Not terribly improbable. Minor faiths have survived in the face of persecution before so I dont find it that improbable that they could in those circumstances. The Jews have survived as a minority faith in Europe and Islamic countries in the face of great persecution for centuries. Even if it seemed “improbable” to me I dont think “improbable” is a very good standard of proof for the extraordinary claim of divine intervention. Lots of “improbable” things happen. That is the consequence of the law of large numbers. Its also why we call them “improbable” rather than “impossible”. Is it impossible that early Christianity could have limped along without divine intervension? I dont think so.

    I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree regarding Jim Jones. I’m not saying that Jones is directly analogous or even that a perfect analogy exists. All I am saying is that current psychological theories regarding group dynamics, the power of myths, and charismatic leadership provide what IMHO is a convincing alternative explanation for the actions, claims and and level of devotion of Jesus’ early followers. As a skeptic an ordinary explanation that relies on what we know about the world – even an explanation with a number of variables and that can’t be proven – should trump the extraordinary.

    Thanks for the chat.

  • Eddy

    You were asked, why does the loaf of bread exist, who wrote the recipe? Then you answered with a list of ingredients. Did you not understand the question?

  • Dennis Mahon

    You haven’t answered the question put to you: How does nature form itself? How do laws of science write themselves?

  • Kenashimame

    Another reason why water is proof of the existence of God: the solid form is less dense than its liquid form. This is a very rare property in a substance, and water is the only common substance which behaves that way. If ice didn’t float, it would have been impossible for life as we know it to evolve.

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

    You do realize that he said he doesn’t ever talk in detail about his conversion experience for that very reason, right?

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

    Read Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide. God is not some chronologically ancient event in time-space but the sustaining force for time-space outside time-space.

  • MumbleMumble

    I’m familiar with Aquinas. Assuming for a moment that what you said is true, is it still possible then that God has had no involvement in our lives, apart from sustaining space-time; is it possible that the act of creation resulted from multiple forces (i.e. multiple gods); and is it possible that something created that sustaining force?

  • MumbleMumble

    The original poster was lamenting the fact that their assurance wasn’t proof to non-believers, and McDonald seemed to be sympathetic to this issue. I was simply trying to point out how difficult it would be for an atheist to take someone’s assurance that they experienced God as evidence for God.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    the martyrdom of the early leaders is further proof. People may well die for a lie, but not when they know it to be a lie.

    But if you’re talking about historicity… we have to wonder about those martyrdoms. For example, there’s at least three different traditions about the death of Bartholomew, ranging in location from Armenia and India. At least some of them must logically be false. And if some can be false, how sure can we be about any of them?

  • Malchus

    Why should we assume a First Cause? At present, no scientific evidence exists to confirm a “first cause”, nor do the various attempts at logical regression convince anyone but the believers.

  • Malchus

    Your analogy is not useful: to presume that the universe is like a loaf of bread is begging the question. We have evidence that loaves of bread are created; we have no evidence that the universe is created.

  • George

    bows dawg,

    The Strong interaction has a range of 10-30 femtometers, not 10-13 centimeters. As there are 10 trillion femtometers in one centimeter this is an important difference.

    The world would be a strange place indeed if the strong nuclear force had noticeable effects on the scale you suggest.

  • CJ Brooks

    I have two points to contend here: “Where one is certain, the other must yield, whether that yielding takes place in the realm of science or scriptural interpretation.” Doesn’t this lead to a god of the gaps? What is to say that, over time, the facts of science would not trump everything in the Bible?

    The other point: “This is what atheists always fail to understand, and they will never understand it as long as they remain mired in a materialistic mindset: in matters of faith, the questions are the point…It is a riddle with no answer, but the answer becomes unimportant, because in the process of trying understand with our limited human capacity, we find enlightenment.” Then, why this particular book? Why the Bible over the Koran or the Bhagavad Ghita? Why not the I Ching or the Book of Mormon? Doesn’t the defense of one’s faith in Christianity fall on weak lines when I can optionally find enlightenment in Hamlet?

  • http://www.yeshua21.com Wayne

    Sounds like a great topic for a master’s thesis. I love Augustine, the Bible, and Plato and have thought about many of these issues for many years. Here are some of my most recent conclusions:

    http://jeshua21.wordpress.com/additional-essays/the-beginning-is-near/

    And if sharing two links isn’t too much, this might be of more interest to proponents YECism:

    http://www.thefourprecepts.com/propublish/art.php?artid=72

    All the best,

    Wayne

  • Didymus

    Mr. Malchus, I would have to say that the finitude of our universe is rather obvious. Check the secound law of thermodynamics. As the Greeks would say, nothing comes from nothing. Therefore, if we have a finite universe, we must have something that italaways always WAS, independent and outside both time and space, that created and formed it. Something outside time and space, that formed it, has been known by the human race as a God.

  • http://www.svbchr.org Tommy

    Thanks for the article. I hope you pursue the topic. I would very much like to read the thesis!

  • Future Seminarian

    Communist until they get rich…
    Atheist until the plane falls out of the sky…

    If you dont believe there is a God, then experience will show you that there is. Obviously words wont convince these atheists no matter how good our arguments are

  • Micha Elyi

    You’ve got examples of your Mt. Olympus Experience people, right? Because people who’ve had experiences of the God of Abraham are rather common.

    (The most bogus-tic part of people who babble about a flying spaghetti monster as if that proves or refutes anything is that they themselves don’t believe their FSM tales.)

    Also, when you asked “I’m just asking if you think that your assertion alone is enough to convince somebody” you’re just flailing at a strawgirl of your own creation. Mr. McDonald never did insist that you must accept his account of his personal experience as proof of anything.

    Try again.

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

    is it still possible God has had no involvement in our lives, apart from sustaining space-time

    Please explain how this isn’t contradictory.

    is it possible that the act of creation resulted from multiple forces (i.e. multiple gods);

    When you say, “I’m familiar with Aquinas,” what do you mean? Because the book that was just recommended goes into some detail on this exact question.

    and is it possible that something created that sustaining force?

    It has to terminate at some end. Given even one example of per se casuation, a first mover, Pure Act, is required. Stock example: A paintbrush is not capable of painting without a hand simply because it has a long enough handle. If there are intermediaries between Creation and the First Creator, we skip them. This is written into Aquinas’ argument.

    Not being an expert, I can’t go into too much more detail than this.

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

    But there are some out there who could be convinced. Ed Feser and Leah Libresco leap to mind. Have some hope and engage these folks.

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

    1. Science is a hammer. Not all truths are nails. (Look where he says “realms” again.)

    2. Catholicism is not a religion of the book. We are a religion of the Church, thrown upon Peter by Christ and founded on Truth Incarnate. The Bible is not the source and summit of our faith. The Bible is a product of the faith because it is a product of the Chuch.

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

    Didn’t he mention the witness of the early martyrs? I’ll have to reread the thread …

  • Pingback: Priests For Life: The Pro-Life Commitment is Eucharistic | St. John

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    a) Malchus probably confuses “first” in First Cause with being first in a time series. It does not mean that. Aquinas rather famously assumed that the universe was eternal.
    b) He evidently believes that such things are “confirmed” by “scientific evidence.” But science deals only with the metrical properties of material bodies. There is no more reason to suppose that “science” can settle issues of metaphysics than it can settle issues of mathematics or even the non-metrical properties of material bodies.
    c) My observation is that those unconvinced by the arguments of Aristotle, et al. have not actually understood the arguments. “Motion,” for example, refers to kinesis, not merely motion in location. And the necessity of a finite regress applies only to series ordered per se, and not those ordered per accidens. Some interesting questions are here: http://thomism.wordpress.com/2009/09/08/coynes-claim-to-miss-no-subtleties-in-st-thomass-arguments/

    d) And bows dawg says: light and the universe were not created by god, but formed by nature by the laws of science.
    But he does not explain how there can be “nature” if there is not already a universe, “universe” being simply the collection of everything that has material being. And if no nature exists unless Stuff exists, how can “nature” create Stuff? And since the Laws of Nature are simply the description of how Stuff behaves, clearly the universe is prior to laws of nature.
    (Possible exception: the laws of nature are formed in words. (Mathematics is simply one language.) So bows dawg may simply be affirming that “in the beginning was the Word.” A Word that somehow Exists apart from and logically prior to material existence.

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    Malchus does not understand a) “begging the question” or b) analogy.
    We have no evidence that loaves of bread are created, although there is plenty of evidence regarding how flour, etc. are transformed into bread. But that is the sort of thing which one may expect for metrical properties of material bodies.

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    Because literary forms are not always literal descriptions. The genre of the writing matters. Words change their usage and meanings over time. Words in one language do not always mean the same thing as the words in another language. There are figures of speech understood as such by original speakers, but taken as literal by those living centuries or millennia later in a different culture. What does it mean to say “Die Kuh ist vom Eis” (The cow is off the ice.)? Or “I fell from the stalk.” Or “That is another pair of boots.”

    Genesis 1 is clearly a poetical tribute to the Sabbath, not a sober-sided historico-literal account. It’s language is not mythic, but lyrical. Gen 2 is actually an origin myth, complete with archetypal culture-heroes and accounts that make sense of the order of the world in the day and age of its composition. There are even genealogies to categorize tribes as allies or enemies. For comparison, see the Irish genealogies in the Book of Invasions. For the use of foundational myths as taxonomy rather than history, see the story of the Nine Woots told by the Kuba people.

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    And let’s not forget that the Constantinids adopted Arianism and drove the orthodox bishops into exile.

  • Bob Seidensticker

    What’s unanswered in Job? God makes clear that might makes right. He can do whatever the heck he wants and Job had better just accept it.

    Seems like a clear answer to me—not a satisfying answer (we wouldn’t accept this from any human in power), but I guess with God you’re stuck with him. Or at least we’re stuck with what that particular book says of him.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    That’s an incredibly reductive reading of one of the most complex books of the Bible. Job is an elaborate poetical meditation on wisdom themes common in the ANE. People are certainly welcome to take a literal reading of it, but that’s missing the point entirely.

    We’re not literally talking about a God who allows Satan to torture a loyal man to settle a bet, but about a school of Hebrew sages working through complex ideas in a poetic way. It could well be post-exilic, at a time when sages were wrestling with the meaning of the covenant given all that had befallen them.

    Many threads of meaning weave through the text, but the main conclusion is that the cosmos is not anthropocentric: it’s theocentric. Man is not the sole reference point, and the inscrutable wisdom of God may always be beyond our grasp.

  • Clare

    The figurative presupposes the literal. The Pontifical Biblical Commission of 1909 upholds the literal historicity of Genesis, while recognising a figurative meaning. Both are true.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal,” is from St. Thomas (STh I.1.10, ad 1). But as I point out above, “literal” has a different sense in English, meaning strict interpretation WITHOUT figurative meaning. “Litteram” means “to the letter,” which is reading a text according to the intentions of the writer and the tradition of the Church: “The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation.” (CCC 116) Catholics simply do not read the hexaemeron in the “literal” sense of a fundamentalist. That doesn’t mean there’s no “ad litteram” interpretation; just that this is not what an modern English speaker would understand by “literal.”

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    Thanks for popping in on this one, Mike. Always interested in what you have to offer.

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    Literal:
    The expression “You are the salt of the earth” is entirely literal, since it would lose its meaning if the words were changed. “You are the asparagus of the earth” doesn’t carry the same oomph. But it does not mean that Jesus claimed his disciples were sodium chloride.

    That is why Augustine, Aquinas, et al. used the term “historico-narrative” rather than “literal” to mean what Late Modern English-speakers intend by the term “literal.” As Gus says in De genesi ad litteram:
    In all the sacred books, we should consider the eternal truths that are taught, the facts that are narrated, the future events that are predicted, and the precepts or counsels that are given. In the case of a narrative of events, the question arises as to whether everything must be taken according to the figurative sense only, or whether it must be expounded and defended also as a faithful record of what happened. No Christian will dare say that the narrative must not be taken in a figurative sense. For St. Paul says: ““Now all these things that happened to them were symbolic.”” And he explains the statement in Genesis, ““And they shall be two in one flesh,” as a great mystery in reference to Christ and to the Church.
    If, then, Scripture is to be explained under both aspects, what meaning other than the allegorical have the words: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth?”

    Thus he says that “Let there be light” might refer to a spiritual light (the Sun not having yet been created) and not necessarily to the photon soup that physicists 1500 years in the future would hold to be the initial state of the universe.

  • MumbleMumble

    You are aware that throughout history there have been quite a few people who believed in Mt. Olympus (the mythical one, not the actual one)?
    Leaving that aside, how about a different example? If you turn on your TV at a random moment, chances are you will come across a show devoted to UFOs and space aliens. The number of people who claim to have been abducted is pretty remarkable. They have detailed accounts and fervently state that what they are saying is the truth. I can only assume then that you believe space aliens have been abducting people left and right over the past hundred years or so. You must also believe in vampires, ghosts, power animals, and who knows how many other deities that people currently believe in today.
    As to your last comment, I already addressed that in my last post. Read the original post: the commentator wrote that atheists were unable to believe the commentators statements, because those statements clashed with the worldview of the atheists. The wording made it seem as though the commentator thought the atheists were being obtuse, and McDonald seemed to appear sympathetic to this sentiment. So I was merely trying to help them to understand where the atheists were coming from.

  • MumbleMumble

    The first point isn’t contradictory because there are more levels of involvement than merely maintaining space-time. Does God send his son to the planet as a Messiah and have him crucified? Does God have an eternal resting place for you? Does God listen to your prayers? And so on. The question is, does God simply maintain the universe, like a cosmic custodian, or does he interact in other ways as well?
    Well, I haven’t read the book you recommended. I’ve read some Aquinas, and I’ve read some Bertrand Russell (which I recommend to you). Is there a short explanation to my answers that you could give?
    For your last comment, if it does have to terminate at some point, doesn’t that mean that the Judeo-Christian God could still possibly NOT be that first, Pure Act? Isn’t it at all possible?

  • CJ Brooks

    1.) Unlike, faith, truth is not relative. Truth is always based on facts.
    2.) So, if I understand you correctly, the Church exists without the Book and has no bearing on it’s missions, opinions, or decisions?

  • CJ Brooks

    Apologies on my terrible grammar:

    Unlike faith*

    its missions*

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

    1. Fair enough. (Much more fleshed out a comment, for that matter.) I could be wrong, but it takes revelation to leap from Deism to Christianity. From the standpoint of complete Deistic abstraction, it is entirely “possible” as a conception of how the universe works that God has no involvement in our day-to-day lives.

    However, human experience tells completely the opposite story, as all human myth and legend revolves around seemingly capricious forces beyond our control or comprehension. Even our day-to-day lives are, similarly, replete with what looks like Fate or Coincidence. This understanding, incidentally, what leads to superstition if left unchecked. “We have always believed in the dragon,” to paraphrase Chesterton.

    2. This is not supposed to be a coward’s way out, though I suppose it looks that way, but unfortunately I’ve lost my copy. I did, however, find this same question asked in an Internet comment, for what little that’s worth. Again, not being an expert, I don’t know that I could help much further.

    3. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God …” seems to undercut the idea that the Word, who is Christ, was anywhere but at the beginning of Althing, which is to say the highest level of Althing, which means that we skip all the intermediaries, if any, straight to the Being Itself. Aquinas probably had more, and better, to say on the subject.

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

    1. Well, facts are always based on truth. Facts are defined by their boundaries around a certain aspect of truth.

    This said, to say that there are multiple “realms” of truth is not to say that these realms contradict each other. It is merely to say that there are certain truths accessible by certain methods and other truths not accessible by those same methods. To illustrate, please show, by a quadratic equation, that Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth president of the United States. Just so, you cannot deduce the meaning to “life, the universe, and everything” by appealing to empiricism.

    2. That the Bible isn’t the source and summit is not to say the Bible plays no role at all.

    To answer the question: Why the Bible? Because the Church.

    The better question is: Why the Church?

  • MumbleMumble

    1. Much of that myth and legend involved forces that we now understand (and sometimes even control). What has looked like Fate or Coincidence has often been a function of the world that we just weren’t aware of, and, as you pointed out, these misconceptions have led to superstition. So how is religion different? Isn’t it also a superstition, claiming an answer to something that we currently don’t understand?
    2. That internet comment (#68) talked about a Prime Mover – it did not prove that there had to be only one. Could two Movers work together? Indeed, I would argue that the Fourth Way that is discussed could necessitate that there be multiple Gods. If a Being exists that is the paradigm of Unity, Truth, and Goodness, shouldn’t there also exist a Being that is the paradigm of Disharmony, Falsehood, and Evil? Or why not a Being for each of those three characteristics? One for Unity, one for Truth, and one for Goodness. And why do we even need a Being to possess these characteristics in order for ourselves to have them? I do not believe that a perfect example of something is required for the concept to exist. We can think of a circle, but a perfect circle in reality is impossible to achieve. Is there a perfect circle outside of space and time that exists so that we may have the concept of it? A rhombus? And if a single, Supreme God encompasses all of these things, then that God must be the embodiment of Hatred as well as Love. Of Pain and Healing both. And how are we to know if one of the two dichotomies is favored?
    3. Here you are relying on a fallible authority. Not everything in the Bible is accurate, not all Scripture and Tradition and Experience have been proven correct. What if this passage is incorrect? What if a mistake has been made? What if this is merely a superstitious belief?

  • CJ Brooks

    1. I think you are putting more weight on the scientific method than it bears. A quadratic equation is a tool used within the scientific method. The scientific method is the only method that confirms facts. Everything else is anecdote or hearsay.

    2. I suppose I worded my question wrong. The Church has, clearly, made decisions on which books belong in the Bible and which do not. If the Church decided, in this modern time, to add or remove additional books, would the Church, as it is, be in the right, or can the Bible, as it is, be unchanged?

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

    1. So you used the scientific method to day what you just said? If you didn’t, you’ve destroyed the credentials of everything you’ve said.

    2. “If the Church decided … ?” How does this follow from what you wrote previously?

  • CJ Brooks

    1. Have I used the scientific method today? Yes, we all do. You’re placing too much importance on the word scientific method. It is not a lofty phrase used in a laboratory. At it’s simplest, the scientific method implies observing and testing. I can type on a computer, I can sit in a chair, I can put on my clothes through time-tested observations and experimenting. A child does not pop out of the womb walking and talking. It learns by observing its parents, experimenting with its body, and when their experiments match observation, and they have thoroughly tested their lungs and feet, they will have proven their hypothesis that they can, indeed walk and talk. A child does not have to know how the scientific method works or what a hypothesis is. Humans do it naturally. You and I can have this discussion because you and I have spent decades learning the facts of the world, including computers, the Internet, language, typing, and so on.

    2. You are suggesting that the Bible flows from the Church and not vice versa. Many Christians would say that the Bible is inerrant. However, if the Bible flows from the Church and the Church dictates canon, then, in theory, the Church could re-canonize the Bible, could it not?

    2. “If the Church decided … ?” How does this follow from what you wrote previously?

  • http://yahoo.com Chris

    God gave us freewill in the context of His Being Good while people abuse it in questioning His creation? No matter how flamboyant you display your intellectual capabilities on the science of creation as opposing to the word of God. I certainly believe that later you might think that there must be somebody up there who’s love is overflowing and had let you experience what He had created. If you think that you simply exist because of science then you must be asking who created science? Please try reading Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana on how to interpret the Scriptures.

  • Peter Cranny

    Nice sarcasm, but my remarks were not, of course, addressed to you. Don’t you get how this internet thingy works?

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    Yes, I do: You post a stupid comment on my site, and I make fun of you for being stupid. I control the video, I control the audio. It seems like you’re the one who doesn’t get this “internet thingy.”

    And if you weren’t addressing remarks to me, who were you addressing them to when you said “you”?

    You should be honored: I got of dozens of Dumb Atheist Comments, but yours was special enough to be the one I let post as a warning to others. (Also note: plenty of Smart Atheist comments, as seen below.)

    And sophistry is a subtle but objectively false argument, usually with the intention to deceive, not a point you disagree with.

  • http://religion-science-peace.org walk tall hang loose

    K.C
    Read your Genesis carefully, and you will see that there are two creation stories, the break being at 2:4. In the first story, God creates the earth, then the plants, then the fish and birds, then the animals, then man and woman. In the second story, God creates the earth, then man, then plants, then animals and birds, then woman.

    Take these stories literally, and they are completely different. But the compiler puts them back-to-back without any attempt to reconcile them. Clearly, he regards them as myths, and expects his readers to do likewise.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    “Myth” isn’t really the proper word, but it’s hard to draw a sharp line to set it off from legend, folklore, and some forms of religious narrative. These early passages are figurative, poetic, theological, but they express real truths: God as creator, and the nature of his creation. Myth has a different connotation, the way we use it today, as being invented rather than inspired. For example, I don’t believe the foundational stories of Mormonism or Islam, but I wouldn’t call them myths per se.

  • Pingback: Apologists and Catechists, Debate and Dialectic


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X