Our Reasonable Faith 10

This post is by RJS
Part two of Tim Kellers’ The Reason for Godbegins discussion of the reasons for faith. Chapters 8 and 9 form one whole, dealing with clues for the existence of God – within nature and within ourselves. There is no logically incontrovertible evidence for the existence of God – but the preponderance of the evidence can be persuasive.

What are these clues for the existence of God?
1. The origin of the Universe – did the Universe simply flash into being? All of the scientific evidence points to an origin for the universe in a flash of energy from an infinitesimally small point. Before that – we know nothing.
2. The tuning of the universe for life. Life is rare in our universe – and dependent upon an exquisite balance of conditions. The “odds” for us to exist are small, some claim infinitesimally small.
3. The regularity of nature.
4. Beauty. Art, music, nature … Are beauty, love, and longing simply biochemical responses inherited to increase survival probability? We may,therefore, be secular materialists… But in the presence of art or even great natural beauty, our hearts tell us another story. (p. 134)
5. The desire for God, for meaning. This can be rationalized – but an evolutionary explanation is a tacit acknowledgment that there is ultimately no meaning or purpose.
6. Moral law, moral obligation. We are told that all moral values are relative – live and let live. But do any of us actually believe this? The presence of moral law, moral obligation, and altruism are capable of evolutionary explanation – and such an instinct may well provide a survival advantage to the species. Of course – now that we have evolved and learned enough to know that morality is nothing but instinct why should we care? If there is no God there is ultimately no rationally demonstrable distinction between moral and immoral or amoral behavior.
Keller frames the ultimate question like this:

If a premise ( “There is no God”) leads to a conclusion you know isn’t true ( “Napalming babies is culturally relative”) then why not change the premise? (p. 156)

Secular materialism is bankrupt—but…where do we go from here? Well that starts in the next chapter and the next post of course.
How about you? What do you find to be convincing evidence for the existence of God?

  • Kyle

    I like the Keller doesn’t spend much time on this section. There are plenty of good solid arguments for God’s existence, and there are plenty of good solid de jure arguments against it. He does what Plantinga does in his outstanding work “Warranted Christian Belief” and makes it very clear that none of these arguments prove God, but they are all very strong arguments (when fully spelled out) that point to Him and no defeaters of these arguments.
    NT Wright does the same thing in “Simply Christian.” He gives a few things that point to a God, but quickly jumps to Jesus which is really the center of the issue. There’s no reason to spend a lot of time focusing on proving the existence of God since that doesn’t get us very far along in our journey. But, Keller quickly gets to the center of the faith Jesus and works from there. Jesus is the best proof of God’s existence, and working from that center the rest of the grand narrative (including theism) makes much more sense.

  • Kyle

    Whenever I said that there are “no defeaters of these arguments” I didn’t mean that they are flawless, but that the only credible “defeaters” require presuppositions that are not universal. Therefore the defeaters do not defeat the warrant behind holding the belief.

  • Scott M

    They are pointers and signposts only. That’s true. Any god you could “prove” wouldn’t be much of a god, after all. I do see that this has been a question and struggle for many, but it’s never been much of a one for me. I suppose, at some level, I came to a conclusion similar to Keller’s very early on in life. The question for me was always: Which god? I think that’s a different sort of question than the one he’s addressing here.

  • Nancy

    “What do you find to be convincing evidence for the existence of God?”
    I believe in God as a result of my own personal experiences with the Sure Swift Hand. Things have happened in my life that I could not have arranged for and that coincidence simply can not explain. I blame it on God. : )

  • http://awaitingredemption.blogspot.com/ Matt Edwards

    The most convincing pieces of evidence for God’s existence to me are the universal need/craving for “religion” and our hunger for justice. I don’t think either of these are universally convincing, but they are convincing to me.
    “If you were to destroy in mankind the belief in immortality, not only love but every living force maintaining the life of the world would at once be dried up. Moreover, nothing then would be immoral; everything would be lawful, even cannibalism.” –Ivan Karamozav
    “Nature is cruel; therefore we are also entitlted to be cruel.”–Adolf Hitler

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    What do you find to be convincing evidence for the existence of God?
    My opinion’s changed over the years, but I think the strongest evidence is the cosmological argument (#1 above) and the moral argument (#6 above).
    I have to say that most people who argue against #1 seem to misunderstand it.
    Every effect must have a cause. At some point we must come to a first cause or we will spiral into a nonsensical infinite regression. We will call that first cause “god.”
    The objection is always, why a god? If everything has to have a cause, why doesn’t this god? And therein lies the error — “everything” doesn’t have to have a cause, only every effect. Logic dictates that something needs to not have a cause.
    The next objection: Why can’t this be the universe? And the answer is that science has shown us in many ways that the universe cannot be eternal. General relativity, the second law of thermodynamics, and the expansion of the universe, among other discoveries, require a finite age for the universe.
    At this point we deal with the various fictions that attempt to get the universe to cause itself or to appear without a cause, but the science and the logic are weak. They show signs of desperation more than science.
    I agree that this only gets you to a god, not God, but it’s a start. If there is a god, miracles and special revelation are possible, and so we can start to discuss Jesus.

  • http://keithatkinson.net Keith

    Keller, Wright and many others present wonderful reasons for the existence of God. Of course the only convincing proof is the actual experience of God. Paul explains it well when he writes,
    “But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me”
    Galatians 5:15-16a

  • paul

    “What do you find to be convincing evidence for the existence of God?”
    The experience of God in my life, and in the lives of those I love. I know experience is not all there is, but God has made himself known to me. I cannot forget this.
    As for the rest of the reasons for believing in God, i like what others have said. External evidence for belief in God are simply signposts that point in God’s direction (but could be explained away).
    This reminds me of the discussion of Intelligent Design a few weeks ago. It seems that if we put too much weight into these “signposts” proving God, this may lead to the problems of Intelligent Design as a god of the gaps theory.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    RJS,
    Can you provide some context for the quote (I haven’t read the whole book)…
    If a premise ( “There is no God”) leads to a conclusion you know isn’t true ( “Napalming babies is culturally relative”) then why not change the premise? (p. 156)
    Is Keller suggesting that napalming babies is due to some lack of belief in God?
    If anything, the fact that babies are in fact napalmed would prove there is no God protecting us. In the same way, a belief in a supernatural “realm” is often what allows people to rationalize atrocities in the physical world (for example suicide bombers, the inquisition, or the Salem witch trials).
    I’m with him on some of the earlier points (although natural selection does offer an explanation for favoring group survival and therefore community harmony values over individual values), but #6 seems off base. Maybe I just need a little more detail to see where he is going with this.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    RJS, as a scientist, do you find any of these arguments compelling?
    As to 1, isn’t it a god of the gaps argument? We don’t know for sure that the universe had a beginning — all we know is that the big bang theory, a relatively recent theory, suggests there is a true singularity prior to the big bang. But other theories, such as string theory, posit things like bouncing universes. So, science may someday close this gap.
    As to 2, the scientific response is that the odds may be small, but here we are, so the improbable happened. Improbable doesn’t mean “impossible.” Again, this seems at best like a god of the gaps argument. The same applies to 3.
    As to 4-6, evolutionary theory relating to the brain, biochemistry, and social groups is increasingly able to explain all of these in naturalistic terms. Again — god of the gaps.
    At the end of the day, all six arguments are variations of intelligent design, aren’t they?
    As to the final quote, let’s grant for a moment that a purely materialist / naturalistic explanation accounts for 1-6. If it does, then yes, there is no absolute “moral” law. So what?, asks the skeptic. You can invent a “God” to enforce what you think is “rational” about morality, or you can admit “morality” is actually about nothing more than utility and rival assertions of power, and become a pragmatist like most sane people in the world.
    Now let me be clear — I am a theist and a Christian, so I don’t accept that any of the foregoing disproves God and I reject the claim that morality is entirely relative. However, I’m not sure that any of these six clues amount to a “preponderance of the evidence” in God’s favor, either. I think I’d say that all of this is consistent with a presupposition of belief in God that I ultimately attribute to the Holy Spirit.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    Progressive, the point of Keller’s statement is that we all know, deep in our heart of hearts, that napalming babies is wrong — not just culturally but really and truly. That is not true unless there is a God to be an external source of morality.
    In other words, we must believe in God if we believe in justice as a concrete ideal (as opposed to a societal construct).

  • http://theupsidedownworld.wordpress.com Rebeccat

    I have to agree with others who say that for them experiencing God is proof of His reality. Really, one of the most unsettling things for me to hear as a believer is someone who grew up in the faith and sought after God, but never experienced Him. Many decide that this is because He isn’t there. I don’t know what that’s about.
    Oddly enough, I have also found people’s stories of near-death experiences to be very reassuring. I’m not sure that we can/should trust the details of people’s memories of these events. However, the fact that so many people have had them and they are so certain that they were real seems to me to be at least hopeful evidence of something beyond this realm we live in.
    But of the list, I think that the universality of belief is strong evidence of the existence of the divine. Even if we can point to a biological basis for belief, to me that is no more convincing an argument against God as the source of belief than it would be to argue against the reality of thought because it is based in the brain.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    ChrisB,
    I believe in God (though not the standard definition). However, I can’t agree at all with this notion that…
    “we must believe in God if we believe in justice as a concrete ideal”
    Justice shouldn’t be done because some authority says so. It should be done because it simply produces better results for all involved. Ending injustice produces prosperity for both those giving justice and those getting it. It is a more effective way to run society. It has nothing to do with morals. History proves that fact.
    More proof is in the simple fact that many people who champion justice do not believe in God.
    Which is better, for a child to decide not touch a hot stove because he is told not to by his mother, or for an adult to realize that hot stoves burn and decide not to touch it out of well informed logical reason?

  • Scott M

    I’ve been mulling this for a while and it’s a difficult discussion for me to step inside. I can’t really recall ever personally struggling with the question of whether or not I would live as if there were a god(ess)(s) of some sort. I certainly have close relative and friends who adopt a more atheistic or at least agnostic approach to the question. And I’ve read Marx and Nietzsche and others. (I know a lot of American Christians confuse the idea of secular with atheistic, but those are largely unrelated concepts. Many Christians I know divide the world into the ‘ordinary’ — as redefined in the 16th century — sphere and the religious sphere. That’s what it means to be secular.) But I have always been of a more ‘spiritual’ bent — for lack of a better word to use.
    I suppose it’s the word “evidence” which bothers me. There are a lot of signposts and many ways you could explain that it is reasonable to believe in some sort of god. But I’m not sure there is anything which establishes the reality of some kind of god in any way which would constitute ‘evidence’. I watched Keller’s speech at Google and I think he is really just trying to establish space here that it is reasonable to believe in some sort of god.
    Now, ‘evidence’ becomes more important when you specifically look at Christianity. Christianity, unlike most religions, makes very specific historical claims. However, there the sort of ‘evidence’ you look for is historical and you look at it through the lens and methods by which we approach ancient history in general. Christian claims fare exceedingly well under that particular lens. And I do believe that matters. But that’s a different sort of perspective than the ones outlined above and it’s very specific to the Christian claims. I’m not sure they help much with the question, “Is there a god?” Rather, if you are open to that question, they help with the more specific question, “What about this particular God?”

  • Randy

    #13,
    1. A presupposition of justice comes from where?
    2. If those who don’t claim belief in God proclaim a “justice,” then their faith supposition is in some sort of transcendent concept. Where does that come from?
    3. Is justice on the level of the cause and effect of a hot stove? I think not.
    There’s a pretty weak case that justice is better for all involved, unless that’s your standard definition.
    I respectfully disagree with your assumptions that justice can be rationally determined without concepts that transcend individual and communal rationality.

  • Randy

    p.s.to comment #15
    To determine that justice is better for all requires a God’s eye view, pretty hard to get without God.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    randy,
    1. I don’t suggest a “presupposition” of justice. I suggest justice as a logical choice based on rational decision making.
    2. Again, justice is the best choice given the possible outcomes. The more history we have, the more data we have to help us arrive at the best outcome. The child doesn’t know enough about the science of heat. The adult does.
    3. As always somebody in one of these conversations doesn’t understand that comparing 2 items of like “substance” does not mean to claim they are of equal “value”. Both items I compared are related to something an authority tells you to do based on what is good for you in the long view. It is very reasonable to compare a command for justice and a command to not touch a hot stove. If I compared a football game to world war II, would you think I meant football is as important than the holocaust?

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    Progressive, I’m afraid I was unclear. The point isn’t that we should do justice because God says so; the point is that the word justice is meaningless without an external standard.
    Saying it is a more effective way of running a society reduces the notion of justice to pragmatism. What can you say to those who think racial purity (think Nazism) is a more efficient way to run a society? As CS Lewis put it, we could say many things about the Nazis, but we could never say they were wrong in any moral sense without an inalterable standard.
    You said, “It should be done because it simply produces better results for all involved.” Why is that desirable? Where does this “should” come from that says what is best for everyone is required. Why can I not do what is best for my group? That idea comes to us from God.
    Your analogy of the stove is a good one: I don’t want my child to touch the stove because I say not to; I don’t want it because of the burn. The burn is real, the burn is objective. If justice is real, it is like the burn. If it isn’t, then it’s just personal opinion.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    Randy (#16),
    I don’t think it takes a “God’s eye view” to read a few history books and conclude that peace through justice has been a better proposal for everyone involved while attempts at peace through injustice, oppression and violence has been a disaster. Anyone with 2 kids could also draw the same conclusion.

  • RJS

    dopderbeck (#10),
    What arguments do I find most compelling – Origin of the universe; Our capacity for beauty and abstract intelligence (quantum theory is beautiful for example); Desire for meaning and purpose; and Moral Law.
    I find #1 moderately persuasive as there does appear to be a real beginning; 2-3 are not persuasive to me, I don’t think we know enough to really make these arguments; 4-6 can be rationalized away as evolutionary products – but only by tacit assent to futility.
    I said above that secular materialism is bankrupt – and that is my term, although Keller agrees with the concept – because if all we are is agglomerations of subatomic particles, atoms and molecules nothing matters. Vanity of vanities – all is vanity. I don’t want everything to be meaningless and relative, but perhaps that is just my evolved instinct because it helps the species to survive.
    Perhaps abstract intelligence and capacity for abstract reasoning is merely an unfortunate byproduct of evolutionary selected traits that enhance small scale survival. Perhaps our capacity for abstract reasoning will be the trait that leads to our extinction – through direct violence (nuclear war or worse…) or destruction of the planet (global warming…).
    Numbers 4-6 are a kind of intelligent design argument – and I have always said on this blog that I believe that God designed the world, including us, intelligently and with purpose. That is entirely different from the Intelligent Design argument current in the evolution debate however. I think arguments of irreducible complexity are flawed.

  • Randy

    Progressive,
    RJS summarizes Keller–”If there is no God there is ultimately no rationally demonstrable distinction between moral and immoral or amoral behavior.” Rational justice for the oppressor is not the rational justice of the oppressed. The oppressor’s logic after applying the oppressed to the hot stove is that the action was indeed good and advantageous to the oppressor. I think Keller’s and RJS’s fine summation make the point well–whose rationality? whose justice? I think that if justice exists, it must be because there is a God and if God exists, there is justice. Pure rationalism fails, as it must, to produce justice without God.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    ChrisB (#18),
    you said:
    “What can you say to those who think racial purity (think Nazism) is a more efficient way to run a society?”
    I’d say that is a classic case of injustice and proves my point. If you can figure out how to commit genocide and be just to those you are killing, then go for it.
    The point is that people write morality into their religious mythology because they correctly assess the benefits of the morality for all involved. They don’t find religion and then derive morality from religion. You’ve got the cart before the horse.
    You CAN do what is good for your group. But if you are honest and objective about what is good for your group, you’ll realize that any injustice to another group is really injustice to your own group in the long run. You can’t live in a vacuum. We are all connected.
    Try to define some kind of injustice you could do that would benefit you or your “group”. Name some instance of an oppressor who is benefited in the end by his oppression. We all know from history, that he will simply start a cycle of stealing and fighting to protect. Once you concur, you must protect and live in constant fear of loss.
    (#21) Pure rationalism does not fail. We fail when we refuse to be rational.

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    Some people are so creative. There was a guy in our area that made a snow sculpture of a poodle after shoveling his driveway this past winter. Another example is the family in “Weeping Camel.” The interior of their yurt is beautiful while they are surrounded by dreary desert. Where does this human creative drive come from? I think human creativity points to a creative creator.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    Progressive said: If you can figure out how to commit genocide and be just to those you are killing, then go for it.
    Um, no. Murder is wrong whether you can come up with a good reason to justify it or not.
    Your approach seems to be that morality is that which works. The Christian approach is that what is immoral is immoral whether it works or not.

  • Randy

    #22
    Then without God and with pure rationality we shall fail, for rationality becomes god, because it becomes the transcendent center of who we are and everything we do. Of course you are assuming we can separate rationality from emotion, will, and the body, that there is no evil, no bent towards evil, no desire, no lust, and thoughts are objective and that we are totally rational in using them. Rational evidence is lacking for that. It seems that such a view would also either require that there be a God to ‘make’ humankind purely rational so that all justice would be the same, (evolution would just make too darn much variety) or it would require a transcendent being to “cure” or “redeem” such rationality to make it work…
    God is still required, it seems, either way.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    ChrisB (#24),
    I didn’t say that. I challenged you to describe a possible way that murder could be done without injustice. Of course we both know that can’t happen. I’m saying there is NO good reason for murder. You seem to be saying there IS a good reason, but we shouldn’t do it anyway because God said not to.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    Randy (#25),
    I do think God is the ground of ration. You forget, I believe in God. I’m not arguing against God. I’m arguing against using morality to prove God and against painting God as merely an authority figure who sets right and wrong. “Rightness” and “wrongness” are determined by the products (fruit) of our actions. Our sacred stories label things right and wrong because of their known results.
    I think we can act as rational beings, but there is a problem. A cycle of injustice (sin) plagues the world. We need a solution, but we have a way out. It is peace through justice, forgiveness, mercy, and self-sacrifice. We have a story that shows us the way. That is the Gospel.
    I don’t assume we can separate reason from emotion. That is why we fail repeatedly. Our redemption is a call to reason and away from the irrational behavior of injustice.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    (#27)LOL… God is the ground of “ration”? I’m a goober!
    Let’s try…
    God is the ground of rational thinking.

  • http://hopeful-daniel.blogspot.com Daniel

    I’ll be honest–I didn’t read through every comment. But I see that ‘Progressive’ is pushing back on Keller’s claim #6.
    I’m staunchly against Keller on this one. I don’t see how ‘God’ adds anything or takes anything away from morality. Morality is a function of how the world is and how it could be. That is, the Creator is relevant only insofar as he has shaped the Creation. But one can discern the internal structures of the Creation without acknowledging the Creator.
    Many atheists can and do.
    The best ‘arguments’ for the existence of God are enacted love in the name of God. Sustained self-sacrificial altruism–the cross.
    My two cents.
    -Daniel-

  • Mike K

    I don’t think it is a compelling argument to say that without a notion of God that we have no sense of justice or morality. Where’s the evidence for such a notion? In fact one could argue that belief in God(s)(which most cultures and societies have) has not created a world where justice reigns. I don’t accept that if a society gave up its notion of God that it would be completely void of morals or a sense of justice.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    (#29) Well said by my old friend Daniel!
    I would add (you might disagree) that ANY act of sustained self-sacrificial altruism is a case for God. Although the story of Jesus may be be the best case (but I’m partial to my own sacred stories).

  • Brian

    Looks like I had a comment get lost.
    The “napalming babies” reference goes back to a lecture by Arthur Leff.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Allen_Leff

  • Randy

    Progressive,
    thanks for the interchange. Obviously God is not just an authority figure and arguing for God on moral grounds has its defects, yet the mystery continues…a historical cross requiring a killing (never right?) to solve another problem. My point was that even pure rationality can’t define justice. We’ll agree to disagree.
    I think Keller might disagree also.

  • RJS

    Mike K, Daniel, Progressive Faith, (and others perhaps),
    If all we are is agglomerations of subatomic particles, atoms and molecules; if everyone alive today will be dead in 200 years (probably a lot less); if the sun will eventually burn out and all life will vanish; why does justice matter?
    If it gets me more food or more toys – why should I care that others suffer?
    What is the basis for morality? If you say – because we know it is right – you are left with two options: (1) Our sense of justice is an evolutionary byproduct enhancing survival – but why does survival matter? or (2) There is an absolute basis for morality – God. This does not get us to Christianity or any other specific religion, but it does get us away from secular materialism.

  • http://awaitingredemption.blogspot.com Matt Edwards

    Progressive Faith and Randy,
    The argument from justice is two-sided, and you are only discussing one side. The full argument from justice is:
    We have a sense that things should be just and that they are not.
    You may be able to argue “things should be just” from reason, but I don’t think you can explain why they are not. If we can deduce from reason alone why we should be just, why are we not able to act justly by means of reason? If people are reasonable enough to know implicitly that they should be just, why aren’t they reasonable enough to actually carry out what they know to be true? Why are some of the most reasonable people also the most unjust?
    Justice is an argument for God because we feel deep down that the world should be a certain way and that it is not.

  • Mike K

    RJS #34
    regarding your question what is the basis of morality…your response #1 (i.e. evolutionary basis) may be correct. It could be that survival matters for the same reason we have animal instincts (which are not always rational).
    Don’t get me wrong on this point. I think there are evidences for God…just not based upon the justice/morality argument.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    Randy (#33),
    I agree, substitutionary atonement is irrational and it is the result of irrational people trying to make sense of the death of Jesus. I think you are possibly considering that some act could be just for one and unjust for another. That is not so. That would not be justice. It would be the perfect definition of injustice.
    RJS (#34),
    You’ve made the perfect argument for justice and also the case for no afterlife. If there was an afterlife, then there would be no need for justice now. We’d be better off in the next life and not in need of justice now. There would not be any reason to care about others now because God would care for them in the end.
    If peace and justice is a decision to aid our survival by building nurturing communities and harmony with neighbors, then it DOES make all the difference in the world. That means our survival depends on it. If it is an arbitrary decision by a theistic all-knowing God, then it doesn’t matter. That God can just fix it all in the end.
    Matt (#35),
    Things are in an unjust state because people have abandoned reason (God) in favor of a quick fix of pleasure or greed. Our sacred stories label those mistakes as injustice or “sin”. Those stories can guide us when our ability to reason on our own fails.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    RJS (#34) said: If you say – because we know it is right – you are left with two options: (1) Our sense of justice is an evolutionary byproduct enhancing survival – but why does survival matter? or (2) There is an absolute basis for morality – God.
    I respond: well, there’s a pretty huge middle being excluded here. In fact, probably the predominant ethical approach in western liberal democracies is some form of social contract theory, particularly as mediated by John Rawls, which would reject the reductionism of both (1) and (2) above. The human mind supervenes on biology and allows us to make conscious choices, and the choices we call “right” and “wrong” are essentially socially constructed agreements. We “know” what is right because we’re socialized into the prevailing social contract, not because of “God” — so the argument goes. I believe this position ultimately is untenable, but it isn’t so easy to dismiss.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Progressive said: Our sacred stories label those mistakes as injustice or “sin”. Those stories can guide us when our ability to reason on our own fails.
    I respond: Being something of a modified Barthian when it comes to natural theology, I think you have this just about backwards. We primarily know what injustice really is because the one true God has revealed justice to us, particularly in Christ. Our natural reason cannot lead us all the way to true justice without special revelation.

  • http://awaitingredemption.blogspot.com Matt Edwards

    Progressive Faith,
    Do you seriously think that our failures are do to “an inability to reason”?

  • http://www.JesusCreed.org Scot McKnight

    Progressive Faith in #37,
    Your comments are coming off as too strong. It is simply unfair to dismiss others who believe in substitutionary atonement as illogical — and you know well that many in the Church, many fine minds, have believed it. So, let me have a go at it:
    The standard accusation is that either one person cannot stand in for another or, more often, that God put forward his Son in an act of injustice and how can an act of injustice be just. Well, here’s the logic:
    1. If sin requires death — and this is grounded clearly in the Bible.
    2. Then all humans deserve death (if they sin or have original sin — either way works).
    3. If God forgives humans without demanding death, either God is a liar or God’s forgiveness somehow both forgives and deals with death justly.
    4. Since God cannot forgive and commit injustice at the same time, God does two things at once:
    5. He heaps on Jesus the punishment for sin all humans deserve (death) and
    6. Therefore can forgive humans of their sin that deserves death.
    7. Jesus’ resurrection frees him from the punishment of death.
    Therefore, when we are asked to forgive others we are (1) doing what God has chosen to do — namely forgive instead of punish with death — and (2) forgiving on the basis of what God has done for us in Christ.
    I think the logic is clear and complete.
    Anyway, this is not irrational; you might not agree with it, but that does not make it irrational and fit only for irrational minds. Let us learn to speak with respect of those with whom we disagree.

  • Scott M

    More accurately, the sense of justice would be an evolutionary byproduct if it enhanced the ability of a group with that trait to pass on its genetic code or if it were linked to other traits which did so. Whether an individual survives beyond that point is really, from an evolutionary perspective, largely a moot point. Now, I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable to believe that some aspects of this could be attributed to evolution. For instance, some basic sense of fairness or justice or care for others within your group likely would enhance the cohesion and survivability of your group. And this sort of a sense of justice is the more universal sort. Off the top of my head, I believe it was Socrates who said that you care for those who are like you. After all, those positions might one day be reversed.
    What is more difficult to explain on evolutionary grounds is the sort of justice and care for others which Christians displayed in the ancient world, in stark contrast to all the surrounding cultural norms. Christians cared for everyone, not just those like them. It utterly confused people.
    But I wouldn’t leap to saying that some sense of community justice could not have an evolutionary basis. Sorry, I guess I have too many geneticists in my family. ;) Maybe that’s why I hesitate about the usage of the word ‘evidence’ for most of these.

  • Randy

    progressive has revealed his true faith–in reason.
    He defines sin as not reasoning. He has used stories to comfort our failure to reason.
    He has defined the cross in terms of his reasoning about justice. Apparently Christ’s death by killing, by his reason, is injustice, since we have only irrationally interpreted it. His rationality requires, well, faith in his rationality.
    PF, you are a profoundly modern, post-modern of some kind. Interesting knowledge constructs.

  • RJS

    dopderbeck (#38),
    But ultimately our reasoning ability to come to socially constructed agreements is the result of evolutionary pressure – either that or an accidental byproduct of evolutionary pressure. Thus this falls firmly within my option (1) in comment #34.

  • Scott M

    Scot, I think my problem flows more from the use of words like ‘require’ and ‘deserve’ and ‘demand’ in the above formulation. I think when strung together in that way, they overstate the things we do actually find in scripture. And in the process they place limits and boundaries on God that I don’t think can be supported.
    But then, I wouldn’t call it illogical at all. I do think it’s a formulation that is too heavily influenced by some mutation of neo-platonism (probably by way of a 16th century overemphasis on Augustine’s philosophical writings) combined with inherited aspects of the honor/shame influenced reflections of the medieval Roman Catholic Church. There is nothing illogical at all about it within that framework. Nor can it simply be dismissed. But I would definitely say it overstates both the prominence and the nature of the substitutionary elements of the work of God in, through, and with the person of Jesus. I think it’s significant that Jesus did not pick the Day of Atonement as the primary symbol of his act.
    But that’s completely off the topic of this post, so I’ll be quiet now. I do agree it’s neither helpful nor accurate to dismiss it as illogical.

  • RJS

    Progressive Faith #37 -
    You said That means our survival depends on it.
    My point is that our survival is meaningless – why should I put myself to any real trouble or pain for survival of the species?

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    Scot (with one t),
    I think you are looking for fights where there are no fights being offered. Maybe you’ve just been a part of so many fights here that you see them everywhere. I haven’t called anyone illogical.
    I didn’t fully develop my critique of atonement because it was not on topic and I didn’t mean to develop a rabbit trail. I was clearly taught the Roman’s road, so I know that line of thinking. However I disagree and do think it is wrong based on the fact that it requires a God who is outside the bounds of time and space to arbitrarily bind him/herself to a human theory of justice through death (which is not really justice). Human justice is payment for wrong doing after the fact. God’s justice is correction of the injustice so it no longer happens (liberation, restoration, resurrection).
    Now that we are following the rabbit trail…
    The irrational component is your starting point #1.
    Sin does not “require” death (maybe I actually agree on this small point with Scott M!). Sin produces death (its wages) very well on its own. Those are 2 different things entirely. We don’t pay for sin with death. Sin leads to death naturally. It doesn’t need an artificial punishment applied on top of its already horrible results. Therefore it doesn’t need and artificial payoff.
    Instead, I would suggest that injustice leads to revenge which leads to war, etc. The cycle continues until someone intervenes and says “enough”. I’ll just let you kill me so this can stop because I care more about ending the fight than living myself. I love you more than life.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    Scot,
    Scott said: I think it’s significant that Jesus did not pick the Day of Atonement as the primary symbol of his act.
    I’ve been pondering that for years, and I’d love to have you weigh in on that some day.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    RJS said: But ultimately our reasoning ability to come to socially constructed agreements is the result of evolutionary pressure – either that or an accidental byproduct of evolutionary pressure.
    I respond: Not entirely. Some theorists of mind are determinists. Many are not. Those who aren’t tend to be nonreductive physicalists. Many nonreductive physicalists view the mind as an emergent property that isn’t entirely reducible to biology and that exerts downward causation on biology. Therefore, although the ability to reason is in a sense the result of selective pressures, the human mind is capable of transcending selective pressures and therefore of genuine free will. Emeregence theory and nonreductive physicalism possibly provide a non-theistic alterantive to (1).

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    RJS,
    you said:“My point is that our survival is meaningless – why should I put myself to any real trouble or pain for survival of the species?”
    Because it would be logical to do a standard cost/benefit analysis and pay the cost if the benefit to you is greater. I’m not sure where we are missing each other on this. It seems pretty obvious.

  • RJS

    dopderbeck,
    Nontheistic – but not secular materialist.
    Although how we have a mind not reducible to biology – then chemistry and ultimately particle physics has absolutely no real explanation in the “natural” world; unless we claim to bypass biology on the way to particle physics – but then I do not know what “biology” is. Does thought have a reality outside of electronic impulses?

  • RJS

    Progressive Faith,
    Because benefit to me ends with my death.
    A cost/benefit analysis says that anything that makes my life easier and more pleasant has benefit. Anything that causes me ultimate harm or deprivation (not temporary pain or deprivation for later “good”) has no benefit.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    RJS (#50),
    I’m missing something in that last comment – not really sure what you are saying.

  • http://www.JesusCreed.org Scot McKnight

    ChrisB,
    I wrote about it in my book A Community called Atonement.
    Progressive,
    Well, you stated that it was irrational, which is pretty close to illogical. And I’m not sure that God’s warning that on the day you eat of the tree you will die is not some kind of deserving … requirement … “leads to” … in other words, logically, if sin leads to death, death is the consequence (negative) of sin … we’re pretty close to punishment. Factor in Romans 5 and it’s there.
    God’s just as restorative does not exclude some kind of punitive justice as a part of restoration. We could go on … not the point of this post.
    My point was to show that it is not irrational. I still think that term was too strong.

  • RJS

    Progressive Faith -
    We may be talking past each other.
    To do justice often has no benefit to me — only cost. So why should I do justice? If there is no ultimate truth, a cost/benefit analysis has only me as judge and beneficiary.
    Why should worry about an infinitessimal extension in the survival of our species, which has no benefit to me at all in a standard cost/benefit analysis.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    Scot (#54),
    I think there is a big difference between “leads to” and “punishment” because the object of the “wages” would be God instead of the natural result of the sin. Also, it implies that sin might not have bad results were it not for God’s punishment. I think that is wrong, but a common idea. RJS is borrowing from that line of thinking. I feel it is a mistake perpetuated by the churches doctrine of atonement. Sin didn’t seem to have enough consequence, so they added punishment by God on top to provide more weight. As you said, that is another topic for another day.
    It is reasonable ;) for you to suggest my wording was too strong. I’ll accept that as correction and see if I can atone for it.

  • RJS

    Progressive Faith,
    I am not borrowing from that line of thinking. In fact – I am not trying to justify any Christian concept of God yet. This post is not intended to do so. This may be where we are talking past each other.
    All I am trying to say is that it is impossible, from a naturalistic, rational view of any sort, to justify morality.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    RJS (#55),
    you said: “To do justice often has no benefit to me — only cost. So why should I do justice?”
    I think it is sad that you can’t see how doing justice benefits you. It always DOES have benefit to you. We are all connected, so any injustice effects you and any justice also effects you. You can’t live in a bubble. This is the core problem that I wanted to address. Peace through justice is the best choice, because it does yield the best results in our lives, the life of our community, the lives of our neighbors and the lives of our descendants.
    Are you suggesting you are not benefited by having a gracious neighbor who you’ve treated justly vs. a neighbor holding a grudge because of your acts of injustice? Ask Israel about that right now. Ask them how it feels to have their precious land, yet have an enemy who feels mistreated living next door under the oppression of their injustices. The prophet Jeremiah had much to say about that many centuries ago.

  • RJS

    Progressive Faith,
    Let me phrase that slightly differently – All I am trying to say is that it is impossible, from a naturalistic, rational view of any sort, to justify distinction between moral and immoral or amoral behavior; to define justice or injustice in any absolute fashion.
    So – it has benefit to me to treat my neighbor fairly. But why should I care about my descendants or your descendants – or those living in Thailand today and their descendants?
    Of course this is hypothetical – because I do care about all of these – even at cost to me and my family. I think that we are called to live for the other – but I believe so on religious, not secular materialist grounds.

  • RJS

    In fact I can strengthen the last paragraph a bit:
    Of course this is hypothetical – because I do care about all of these – even at cost to me and my family. I think that we are called to live for the other – but I believe so on religious, not secular materialist grounds or any other so-called rational grounds.

  • http://awaitingredemption.blogspot.com Matt Edwards

    RJS #55,
    I think Progressive Faith is arguing for a Kantian ethic based on reason alone.
    Kant argued that some activities, while beneficial in the short term, are ultimately self-defeating. Take lying, for instance. In order for a lie to “work,” the person being lied to must trust the liar. However, if lying became a norm of society, trust would be destroyed and lying would no longer work. Thus, lying is self-defeating.
    To Kant (and Progressive Faith?), in order for something to be “ethical,” everyone has to be able to do it. I think Progressive Faith is arguing that by being unjust, you are encouraging an unjust society. Thus, you are encouraging others to be unjust to you, which is not in your best interest. “Whoever lives by the sword dies by the sword.”

  • RJS

    Matt,
    Aren’t I just encouraging others to be unjust in the future – to the detriment of others “not me”? I benefit from the fact that others were just in the past and continue to be just today. The benefit to me can often be increased if I am unjust today (not if everyone is unjust). In the absence of some absolute morality – Why should I care if we have an unjust society in the future?

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    Thanks Matt,
    I don’t have an exhaustive understanding of Kant, but I’ll gladly take Jesus’ words as support for my argument.
    RJS (#60),
    Wouldn’t you benefit here and now from the peace of mind knowing that your family has a healthy, safe, and peaceful situation after you are gone? Wouldn’t your life be more anxious and troublesome if you knew your acts of injustice were causing harm for your family and others? Plus, I doubt you could escape the “wages” of that sin prior to your passing. Again, all these things point to rational reasons for justice.
    William Shakespeare had a few good stories about the results of men’s sin (flaws) coming home to roost. hmmmmm that reminds me of another modern prophet named Jeremiah.

  • RJS

    Actually make that “they” – not we:
    Why should I care if they have an unjust society in the future?

  • Scott M

    Yes, but from the purely evolutionary, materialistic perspective RJS is exactly right even if she is making it too individualistic. You can hypothesize a purely materialistic, evolutionary basis for behaviors that enhance the ability of the group to pass on their shared genetic code. And it’s conceivable for an ethic of ‘fair’ treatment of my neighbor, defined as the one in my tribe, the one who is like me, to develop to enhance the survival of the group. Further, an examination of the behavioral history of man would tend to support that perspective. We live and function in groups and all groups have developed social mechanisms for order and ‘fairness’ — even sacrifice — within the context of the group.
    That does not extrapolate well, nor is it supported by most of human group behavior from a historical, anthropological, or sociological perspective. Groups have not and do not generally extend the same benefits to those who are not like them, who are not part of them. So it’s difficult to make a purely materialistic evolutionary argument that there’s any reason I should care who gets killed in that other group, especially if it enhances my own group.
    On a more individual basis, if you place your confidence in materialism, it becomes difficult to refute Nietzsche for your considered and willful actions. And that’s more the argument RJS was making. I would say the evolutionary argument is more for our unconsidered, almost automatic responses. I do think Nietzsche makes a stronger case than Kant.
    I would also add that I believe an ethic of justice based in individual rights and liberty can spring easily from an Enlightenment-based ethic and perspective. Now the forces and complex environment that seems to have been required to produce that perspective seems to be fairly unique to the particular soil of modern Western culture. It’s difficult to build any sort of case for its creation outside that environment. It’s not Christian, but it’s also not purely materialistic. The emphasis on individual rights and freedom, while often producing similar social effects and actions is also markedly different from the central Christian focus.

  • http://awaitingredemption.blogspot.com Matt Edwards

    If we lived in a perfectly just society, I could see Nietzsche and Kant’s arguments holding up. Justice is reasonable, so it could stem from the fact that we are reasoning animals. It is also beneficial for group survival and could therefore be a product of evolutionary development. But we don’t live in a perfectly just society. We value something that we don’t practice. I think our longing for justice holds up as “evidence” for the existence of a just God.
    If justice is beneficial to the group, and our sense of the importance of justice is merely a product of evolution, why aren’t we just? Do we just need to evolve more? Does history support the idea that we are becoming more just over time?
    I think the argument for God is based on the fact that we feel that we should be just, but we are not just.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    Matt (#66),
    That is good point. I think you could make a case that the evolution of the human mind is producing more and more ability to think about justice. You might suggest that it is the evolutionary product of our minds adapting to a more dense human population, more potentially deadly weapons, more deadly results of conflicts, and therefore more need for a just society.
    I think that when the primary need of humans was food, they made an image of God(s) that could help them find and/or grow food. When their primary need was protection from rival tribes, their image of God(s) looked like a tribal war lord and protector. When our primary need was knowledge, we fashioned a God that was disclosed in revelation. As our primary need becomes our own self-control of weapons and waste that could destroy our entire planet, we may shape God(s) into a more universal peaceful entity.
    If there is anything reasonable and predictable about the history of human faith, it is that we tend to fashion a God that is a logical solutions to our own particular needs.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    The best reason to believe in God and not put faith in man is…
    Just when I think I’ve written something worthwhile, I realize I made a typo.

  • RJS

    Progressive Faith,
    So God does not exist – God is a relative human construct that is a logical solution to our own particular needs?

  • mariam

    I think what PF is saying (I suppose he should speak for himself, but he might be tiring) is that God does exist but our image of Him is a human construct. He appears to us, and perhaps intends to appear to us, in different ways according to where we are in culture and history. God is infinite and we do the best we can with our finite minds to create an image of God we can understand. God is not that image but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist.

  • http://awaitingredemption.blogspot.com Matt Edwards

    Progressive Faith #67
    I agree that people tend to fashion gods in the image of their particular needs, but that is a strong argument for the existence of God (see #5 in original post). When we are in distress, why make a god? There are tons of other ways of coping.
    The human race’s constant turning to the spiritual for answers suggests more that there is a concrete reality behind this universal desire than it does that God is a product of evolution.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    Thanks for the help Miriam. I couldn’t have said it better. Other than that I’d have tried to avoid the masculine pronouns ;)
    Matt,
    I’m not making a case in support of fashioning Gods. I’m just making the observation that we do it. (as Miriam pointed out so well).

  • http://awaitingredemption.blogspot.com Matt Edwards

    By the way, thanks for the ideas Progressive Faith. I hope you don’t feel ganged up on.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    I’ve lived my whole life in the bible belt and my dad was a southern baptist preacher. I wouldn’t know how to act if I wasn’t “ganged up on” ;)

  • RJS

    Well I may have been a bit cantankerous today – if others are starting to use terms like “ganging up” and such.
    The morality arguments are ones I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately – so consider this discussion in part “processing” – that is I am processing ideas – an asset of civil conversation.

  • Georges Boujakly

    One evidence convinces me of the existence of God is that many humans have been preoccupied with the question of God’s existence for millenia. We are no exception. I find this preoccupation convincing.

  • Mariam

    Progressive:
    Re: Male pronouns
    Yeah, I don’t know why I do that – I don’t know if it’s the remnants of my reptilian fundamentalist brain or it’s just the hard time you have when someone you have known for a long time changes their name. I had a co-worker who started as a David and became a Deborah. Now, intellectually, I don’t have a problem with this and I wanted to respect her wishes so I had not too much difficulty when it came to calling her Deborah. (names changed to protect identity – but it was alliterative like that). However I had trouble with the pronouns – I kept stumbling over them. (It didn’t help that when her mission was accomplished she basically looked like a man in a dress.) I know God isn’t male or female but my human construct of God is male – perhaps all those years in grade school of starting the day with the Lord’s Prayer – I’ve never been able to get away from “Heavenly Father”. When I deliberately use She in referencing God it feels forced for me. And then there’s that Trinity thing which I have some trouble with. I always think of the Holy Spirit as a She so where does that leave me.? Truthfully when I think of “God” I am thinking, I suppose of God the Father. I have to remind myself of the other two persons in the Trinity who are also God. Even though I am more of a Jesus follower than a Father follower, it’s more important to me that Jesus is human that that he is divine. A little blasphemous I know, but such are the failings of this finite and foolish seeker.

  • http://nonesoblind.wordpress.com/ nonesoblind

    I would add human consciousness to your list of “clues” to the existence of God. I see the following marvels as the big three:
    1. the existence of the cosmos (Why is there something, instead of nothing?);
    2. the existence of life (How did some of the cosmic stuff come to be alive?); and
    3. the existence of human consciousness (Among living things, how did human beings come to possess sentience?).
    Any one of those steps, taken by itself, represents an enormously improbable leap. The three taken together constitute enormous improbability cubed.
    On the other hand, I am inclined to quibble with one of your other points:
    “5. The desire for God, for meaning. This can be rationalized – but an evolutionary explanation is a tacit acknowledgment that there is ultimately no meaning or purpose.”
    Is it? In response to your post, I’ve argued a contrary position on my blog.

  • http://susanakahalfmom.blogspot.com/ Susan

    To RJS – someone said in their comment that you are a scientist – so from one to another, I find the incredible levels of inter-connectedness and regulation in the brain and the loss of those same regulatory mechanisms in disease to be profound evidence of the existence of both a creator and evidence of the fall. The beauty of the physical and neurochemical interactions among cell types, the intricate dependence they have on each other, is beyond amazing.

  • RJS

    nonesoblind
    I agree with you on the issue of consciousness. This is part of what I was trying to get at in #4 and my comments about it (see #20 and scattered other comments). Conciousness, abstract intelligence, the ability to reason and imagine … we have to be more than agglomerations of subatomic particles.
    On the other point – meaning is subjective, and one can posit an evolutionary explanation for our drive for purpose and meaning of course. I don’t consider our desire for God and meaning as a “proof” for a nonmaterial reality behind that desire. On the other hand — one should always realize that the natural explanation does not provide meaning and/or purpose, in fact if we except the natural explanation as the sum total of reality we are in fact giving tacit approval to the idea that ultimately nothing matters. A billion years from now there may no longer be sentinent life anywhere because there is no need for conciousness in the universe.

  • RJS

    Susan,
    It is beyond amazing. And I am a scientist – in fact a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Michigan, although most would consider what I actually do to be more physics than chemistry. Synthesis and test tubes are boring ( a personal opinion, not to offend anyone) – lasers and quantum physics are beautiful.

  • Brian

    In light of how much of the human experience is now known to be associated with brain function, how are we to conceive of the soul?

  • http://beyondwordsworth.com Kathy

    We know our brains produce thoughts through the interaction of chemicals and electrical impulses. But knowing how thoughts are biologically produced doesn’t reduce them to those biological processes. Look around you, listen and feel how much of this created world is the product of our thoughts–art, buildings, social constructs, language–or can be understood through mental processes. Similarly, I think the soul is the product of the sum total of our embodied personhood, much like thoughts are the product of chemical and neurological processes in the brain. In Genesis, where it says God gave the human breath and he became a living soul–that’s what it means–a living person with spiritual and mental consciousness.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    Brian (#82),
    I think the word soul will continue to be a valuable metaphor used to describe human nature (our character, attitudes, emotions, etc). Like other religious words such as God, heaven, hell, and spirit, these metaphors are helpful bits of language.
    For example you are probably looking at something on your computer called a “desktop”. That is also a helpful metaphor that aids our ability to grasp the concept of the arrangement of bytes of data on our computers. A computer “desktop” only exists in the realm of language. You couldn’t take apart the computer and locate the “desktop” any more than you could find a human soul. These metaphors are helpful, but other metaphors could be used. The programmers could have called the desktop a kitchen table. Both would have worked. Both would be “true”. Both would be talking about something real. But, neither “word” would be the reality. We have to be careful not to lose reality by worshiping the words.
    The reason people argue about this so much and have problems with dialog is often because one person may be speaking on the metaphorical level while the other person may be talking on the physical level. Both may be correct, yet it is nearly impossible to find harmony when neither wants to recognize that what is happening is a result of the elusive qualities of the realm of language.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    RJS said: Nontheistic – but not secular materialist.
    I respond: no — emergence and supervenience can be part of a secular materialist (or more accurately, “physicalist”) worldview. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergence and http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/physicalism/#8
    You might also want to check out Nancey Murphy, “Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies,” and Jeff Schloss, “Evolution and Ethics.” Both of these are efforts by Christians to contextualize contemporary theories of mind and evolutionary ethics within a Christian framework. Personally, I don’t think either of these volumes hits a home run (they both reach conclusions I find theologically very uncomfortable, and I don’t recommend them to anyone who isn’t a mature believer already well immersed in this debate), but they do illustrate who complex the issues really are.
    Like just about everything else in the faith-science interface, the question of evolution-mind-will-morality-ethics simply can’t be resolved by a sound bite. The moral sense can support Christian theism, but it also can be quite consistent with a materialist worldview. There’s alot of subtle groundwork that has to be laid in order to decide for oneself which is more compelling, IMHO.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Hmmm — just posted something and it seems to have disappeared into a black hole….

  • RJS

    Progressive Faith,
    I don’t think that soul is metaphor. (Heaven and hell are better examples as these could be metaphors or real things). But with soul — there is no implicit comparison or symbolism here. Either all is physical – biochemical impulses, or there is more. Physical + …
    Do you think all is physical?

  • RJS

    dopderbeck,
    I do not find 4-6 convincing proofs – as they can be accounted for in a materialist view as well as in a theistic view.
    Certainly moral sense is compatible with a materialistic world view – but in that case there is no absolute moral truth and we are justified in thinking ourselves as sentient beings evolved beyond the need to pay attention to these instincts. We are able to transcend them.
    In essence – I cannot escape from the conclusion that in a materialist view all morality is necessarily relative. This isn’t a proof for God – merely an observation.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    dopderbeck,
    I enjoyed Nacey Murphy’s book. I don’t agree 100% with the result, but I thought it was well written and helpful. It covered several options and presented a good descrption of each.
    RJS,
    You’d need to define what you means when you say something is “not physical” or “more than physical”. If there isn’t a definition, then what is it that I’d be confirming or denying?
    For example, would an emotion qualify as something that is more than physical? How about a word or a sentence? Those things are resutls of the physical, yet they are not themselves physical.

  • RJS

    Does or can an emotion exist in the absence of biochemical signals and receptors responding to external stimuli? Is emotion simply the word we use for this response?
    Is soul simply the word we use to signify our perceptions of ourselves as thinking beings – so “soul” vanishes when the biochemical reactions stop.
    If so – I don’t consider soul to be metaphor any more than I consider table to be metaphor or happy to be metaphor.
    To continue my thought above either all is physical – biochemical impulses, and soul is a name for us as biological thinking machines or there is more – physical + … and soul may be the name for the “more”.

  • Brian

    RJS,
    Your expression is helpful. How do we talk about the “more” without it being a gap-filler?

  • Nancy

    There is no universally accepted definition for soul, as far as I am aware of. I have been contemplating Eckhart Tolle’s suggestion that “soul” is the awareness or our awareness, as it were. There is much to ponder there.
    I have always been fascinated by the notion that a series of electro-chemical firings (neuronal activity of the brain) has an “awareness” (at least in potentially certain areas of tissues of the brain) and seeks to understand itself. That is the sort of line of thought that produces great headaches but also great wonder.

  • Brian

    I seem to be having trouble with comments getting lost the last two days.
    For those who are interested, here is a related work from a materialist perspective.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Am_a_Strange_Loop

  • RJS

    Brian,
    Links often (but not always) cause posts to disappear for awhile – I’ve had it happen to me. Wikipedia links seem to be classed as spam by definition – and thus almost always disappear into blog detention until released.
    Interesting book.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    I find it very interesting that the more a topic moves into areas that are clearly less definable, the conversation becomes much more civil. We all have more humility when we are talking about something that we all seem to agree is illusive. I think we could learn something about ourselves by noticing that fact.
    Given that, why don’t more people approach other aspects of theology in the same way. For example, Jesus’ divinity. That topic is just as illusive and as impossible to explain in terms of physicality. But, people develop hard line certainty about the term, even if they are not able to define how it works physically or exactly what the term means. The same goes for things like resurrection, ascension, and even afterlife. None of those things are any more definable in certain terms than the definition of a soul. However, people seem to think they are well-defined, non-negotiable, and worth arguing about.
    I don’t get it. Why wouldn’t we look at all these items as illusive and grant others grace in interpreting these ideas to the best of their ability (even if they didn’t use common Christian or orthodox terms in their definition).
    Just a thought.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Progressive — re #95 — I’m not sure what you mean here. WE always need to be civil, but surely the affirmation that Jesus is fully divine is something we have to make as Christians — even if we can’t ever adequately suss out with our human limitations exactly what Jesus’ dual nature entails.
    RJS — you said “In essence – I cannot escape from the conclusion that in a materialist view all morality is necessarily relative. This isn’t a proof for God – merely an observation.”
    I respond — right. But the materialist shrugs her shoulders and says, so what? Often the Christian apologist will respond with some bon mot like “well then you think it’s ok to torture babies?” But saying morality is “relative” doesn’t mean there’s nothing definable as “morality.” It just means that whatever we call morality is relative to the particulars of a historically contingent social contract. Whether it’s theoretically ok to torture babies in some imagined social construct is pragmatically irrelevant. The fact is that the fabric of our social order will completely erode if we start torturing babies. The consequences of baby-torturing involve large-scale unhappiness, including my unhappiness, and I choose to participate in a social order in which I don’t need to experience that kind of unhappiness. Lots of people agree with me, and so we’ll enforce this order through violence — police, armies, etc. — if we have to — and we’ll also perpetuate it through socialization.
    Now, I find the above grossly unsatisfying at the end of the day. There’s no question, I think, that Christian theism provides a more satisfying account of questions like why we shouldn’t torture babies, and the “moral sense” along with Augustine’s “God-shaped vacuum” help convince me that God exists. But then, we have to deal with the enormous questions of theodicy that the materialist / consequentialist / pragmatist can ignore. So I know I don’t have a knock-down apologetic argument here.

  • Nancy

    PF: And a provactive thought worth pondering.

  • RJS

    Given the fact that your materialist is a woman – I would start to discuss the issues of women’s rights. This is not an imagined construct on any level. Do we have any justification to claim that women are anything more than the possessions of their fathers, then husbands, brothers, or sons? Many societies function this way by social contract.
    How dare we suggest that it is wrong?
    But this is not a “proof” for God either – in any fashion, and I do not intend to imply that it is.
    I know that it is popular to highlight the myriad of shortcomings in church history in the realm of human rights – but I think the core idea is in fact intrinsic to Christianity, which allows us to move forward, albeit slowly and in fits and starts.
    Just some random thoughts strung together, not really on topic for this post.

  • http://julieunplugged.blogspot.com/ Julie

    May I ask a question about “evidences”? Does the word presuppose that there will ever be “evidence” that can be scientifically established? Or would a better word be “impressions”?
    In other words: we all gather impressions of what makes up a meaningful description of the unseen world which may or may not include God. When someone starts talking about “evidence” for “God,” I find we are plunged back into measurements for an objective something. Yet so far, if one thing is clear about God – there is no consensus and little that could be considered objective evidence.
    There is only a lot of subjective impressions and reasons for considering God to be relevant and related to our experiences.
    So for me, Keller’s “evidences” or “reasons” feel outdated – a modernist approach to “identifying” or “defending” the existence of God. Why must we accumulate evidences or reasons? That just isn’t how most people come to faith anyway. Most people develop a faith in God through their subjective needs, imaginations, hopes, aspirations, desires, and the story of faith shared by others who have it.
    (Many believers in God, however, accrue evidences as a way of sustaining faith in the midst of doubt or to defend themselves when accused of being irrational.)
    I’ve read all the comments and didn’t see this addressed. While we frame Christianity in modernist categories of reason, evidence or proof, we exclude the majority experience of God, I think.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    dopderbeck (#96),
    What makes you suggest that:
    “surely the affirmation that Jesus is fully divine is something we have to make as Christians”
    Here is where Christianity can border on unreasonable. How is it reasonable to suggest that someone MUST make an assertion, but that nobody can define what it is we are asserting?
    What good is it to assert something if you haven’t a clue about what it is? You might as well assert Jesus is gobbledegook if you can’t explain divine any more than gobbledegook. (I don’t mean this as sarcasm at all).
    Why does Christian belief get reduced to claiming certainty in something that is unexplainable, illogical, unreasonable, incredible? It seems it is much more faithful and honest to say, “I don’t believe in those those things, but yet I follow Jesus’ message in spite of my unbelief”. Or better said, “I believe help thou my unbelief”.

  • Nancy

    PF: Because the human mind craves certainty. Ambiguity is uncomfortable for most folks and so we insist on reaching absolute certainty instead of learning to live in the tension of unknowing. In a sense, we delude ourselves into believing that we have somehow “figured out” the mysteries. And as Julie just so eloquently expressed it, our culture values scientific approaches to life. We want proof and evidence even in exploring things that are not quantifiable.

  • RJS

    PF (#95),
    One of the things I like about this blog is the forum for civil discussion. I can put forth my ideas and get feedback both positive and negative. I can respond to both, listen to what others have to say and refine my thinking in the process.
    Of course this requires respect for the others – name calling isn’t good, neither is implying that the other is naïve, simple, or irrational. It is also important to avoid getting defensive while putting forward revised arguments. This isn’t a debate to win points, it is a conversation to learn. Oh – and preaching isn’t good either, so I should just shut up.
    PF (#100),
    You assert that Christian belief is reduced by claiming certainty in something that is unexplainable, illogical, unreasonable and incredible – your opinion, not mine. But I can stand being thought illogical, unreasonable, and credulous so here goes. The fact is I don’t expect to get my mind around this “reality” based on my macroscopic real life intuition and rationalism any more than I expect to understand multipath quantum wavepacket interference leading to controllable target state formation based on macroscopic real life intuition. I can write equations that describe the latter – but the results are still entirely counterintuitive. Of course I am helped along here by the fact that I can perform reproducible experiments while the Christian claim is by its very nature one-off, I cannot reproduce it and God does not reproduce it. We have no information to write the necessary equations.
    So there is a leap of faith – no doubt, because I wasn’t there and did not see it, cannot reproduce it. So I believe in part by looking at the impact on the early church and on into history, by looking at the impact on those I know or hear of… In part I believe because I believe the message – but there is more to it than this alone. I don’t intend this to answer your questions, I am processing as we go…

  • RJS

    I must admit, I also don’t “understand” how the universe is both infinite and expanding – so that there is not and never has been a center of the universe. The universe has been both infinite and expanding since the big bang.

  • RJS

    I also don’t “understand” time dilation – the fact that time intervals are not absolute but depend on the relative motions of the observers (think relativity).
    But “understand” here really means fits with my intuition and expectation based on ordinary observation. Isn’t this where we have a problem – God, incarnation, resurrection, – are all inexplicable and irrational in that they do not correspond to ordinary observation and intuition?

  • http://www.whiterose4jon.net Mike Mangold

    PF: I like your own assertions (usually disguised as questions!) since they go to the heart of what I have been saying for a long time: who are YOU (not you personally, I mean that generally) to define who is a Christian? My concern is that he (or she) who defines, controls.
    These arguments remind me of Bertrand Russell but on a more practical level, I can’t find anyone who can answer this question: who is the Christian? The follower of Jesus who wraps his life around his Lord, who heals the sick, feeds the hungry, houses the poor, visits prisoners and loves God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength and yet is not a Trinitarian OR the Trinitarian who amasses a personal fortune from televangelism and calls for the execution of foreign leaders who don’t agree with his politics?

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    RJS(#102),
    To me, a large part of being Christian is a communal act of processing together, so I’m processing with you brother (or sister?). I hope that by my words “unexplainable, illogical, unreasonable, incredible”, you don’t think that is a slight on anyone. By that I mean that it doesn’t make sense to us as limited human beings. Did you take that as some kind of name calling? I said that in an earlier post and I noticed Scot McKnight also seemed to think the word unreasonable was an insult when referring to a theological doctrine, but really I mean to say it is not within our human capacity to reason. Hardly an insult. In fact, I mean it as a humble statement of my our inability to grasp the concept.
    Maybe I should switch words there, but I was attempting to reference the title of the post (reasonable faith).
    Mike Mangold (#105) – Well said!

  • http://julieunplugged.blogspot.com/ Julie

    Mike Mangold, I find that the discussion of who defines, controls really useful in many places in my life. I do wonder, honestly, what we do with the reality, though, that while Christianity can’t be “owned” by any group (even by the ones that would assert the right to define “true” Christian faith and practice), there is a repeated tendency to look for definitions that can be shared as a way of expressing one’s Christian identity.
    I struggle with this tendency because I’ve often been victim of not fitting the definitions (statements of faith that must be signed – yet don’t match my beliefs, questions about my specific beliefs in contexts of writing and practice – as though they must have a specific conclusion when many are not well-defined even inside me).
    I understand a desire to share a particular understanding of the faith in a church community or ministry. I don’t understand how to “prevent” people from changing their beliefs so they can remain a part of the group.
    I am a member of a homeschool co-op that I thought came up with a fairly clever method for managing the beliefs of its members. Rather than offering a statement of faith for signature, they created a statement of values. Some of these values do not match my beliefs (like 6 day creation, inerrancy, etc.). But the signature I offer is not to say I agree with them, but that I will not teach the children in this co-op anything that contradicts these “values.”
    I appreciated this because I teach acting and writing, so it is not difficult for me to recognize the perspective of this co-op yet not participate in perpetuating the views myself. Yet I am welcome to participate without doing violence to my conscience.
    To me the biggest problem with over-defining Christianity is that we prevent honesty – the need people have to explore and fluctuate in their beliefs, to challenge and question, to revise and revisit their conclusions. If Christian identity had more to do with practice and a sincere engagement with historic claims, I’d feel more comfortable (naturally, I would). But I know that’s not the case for everyone.

  • RJS

    Julie (#107),
    Excellent thought To me the biggest problem with over-defining Christianity is that we prevent honesty – the need people have to explore and fluctuate in their beliefs, to challenge and question, to revise and revisit their conclusions. You’ve put into concise form much of the essence of what I’ve used far too many words to get across at times on this blog. I will not sign a restrictive statement of faith, even if I personally agree with it at this time, for exactly this reason. When we over define we often “lock in” ideas that are predominantly cultural interpretations.
    Yet — there are limits to orthodox Christian doctrine, and have been since the early apostolic church. Everything may be up for reconsideration in my mind – but if I move too far, I would no longer consider my position “Christian”.
    For me – the foundational doctrines of Trinitarian Christianity – devotion to Jesus as “divine” are essential to truly consider myself Christian. I don’t necessarily mean the precise wording of the Nicene Creed; but I do mean the essential sentiments and ideas of the apostolic church (see below).
    Of course I know that some here disagree – and I continue to welcome the conversation.

    Philippians 2:5-11: Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. … that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
    Romans 6:3-5 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection…
    John 1:1-14: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
    Per Tertullian in Against Praxeas (ca. 200): Him we believe to have been sent by the Father into the virgin, and to have been born of her—being both man and God, the Son of Man and the Son of God, and to have been called by the name of Jesus Christ; we believe Him to have suffered, died, and been buried, according to the Scriptures, and, after He had been raised again by the Father and taken back to heaven, to be sitting at the right hand of the Father, and that He will come to judge the quick and the dead; who sent also from heaven from the Father, according to His own promise, the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, the sanctifier of the faith of those who believe in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost. That this rule of faith has come down to us from the beginning of the gospel, even before any of the older heretics…

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    RJS(#108),
    Sorry, but I think you just created and signed a restrictive statement of faith and “locked it in”.

  • RJS

    PF,
    You’ve made your position known. I respect that and welcome conversation on the issues. If I cannot even make my position, my thinking, known without being belittled for it – we’ve got a problem.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    RJS (#110),
    If you’ll notice, I didn’t question your belief statement at all. I questioned the idea that you didn’t agree with restrictive statements of faith, but then made a fairly restrictive statement of faith and implied there is a fundamental requirement attached to the label Christian.
    You may be looking for bitter sentiment so hard that you find it even in places it doesn’t exist. I have no intent to do that. In fact, I feel like I’m being generous in including both our views in my understanding of Christianity.
    Which is more “belittling” – my pointing out an small inconsistency in your logic or you making a statement that excludes someone with my views from “truly consider[ing] myself Christian”?

  • Scott M

    PF, you’re trapped in the false humility of relativistic pluralism. More than anything else, that’s probably how I was raised, it is, for lack of a better way to express it, my “native” culture, and it still tends to be my default position under pressure and when I react without thought. I call it a false humility because that is what it is. It appears on the surface to give credence to a wide array of perspectives and to admit them all. But it actually only does so on the terms of the pluralist — the one who is actually able to see that they all have merit or speak of a greater, but essentially common reality. In other words, this “humility” is actually one of the deepest forms of arrogance. It is the assertion that you are the “enlightened” one who can see that to which all those different adherents of many different paths are blind. It is a claim to a perspective that the overwhelming majority of any people of any path lack. And ultimately, it is a claim which asserts control over even God.
    You have asserted a view about Christianity that is at odds with the historic faith. You have made yourself separate from the faith by your own claims. RJS and others here have simply acknowledged what you have done. You don’t get to have it both ways. You do not on the one hand get to claim a place as one of the recently enlightened ones who now understand what Christians of the past (the unenlightened ones) have failed to grasp and at the same time claim continuity with and participation in the ancient faith. You believe things which have been established as outside or separate from Christian faith and practice since as early as the first and second century. They are not particularly new thoughts though they are restated in slightly different language and from a different cultural angle.
    We know as Christians that the purpose of God is to sum up all things in Christ. We know that the will of God is to save all of his creation. And we also know that God will allow us to worship and reshape the image we bear in any way that we will. I do not know if the path you are following and the constructed God you are placing in the central seat will shape you in such a way that there is room for God, in the energies of his grace, to reform and recreate you into one who can endure the full glory of his uncreated light and love.
    That is something I cannot even know about myself. I have placed my confidence in Jesus of Nazareth, fully human and fully divine, born of a virgin, the faithful man, crucified, raised on the third day, and reigning at the right hand of the Father in power and glory. I hope to mean by those words what the church has meant by them from the earliest days. And, in the end, I simply cry, “Lord have mercy!”
    However, there is no reason to act surprised or somehow shocked when people state the obvious. You do not believe things that consistent or continuous with historic Christianity. You have set yourself separate from that faith. You prefer to believe something different and you hold a low view of ancient humanity as primitive and unenlightened. (I am not sure you have actually read extensively of the great minds of antiquity — Christian or otherwise. If you have, you must have an exceedingly high view of yourself and enlightened, modern man to come to such a conclusion.)
    You seem to wish to make it clear that you have made a break from the ancient faith to a more enlightened view. Why are you surprised when others essentially agree with you?

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    Scott M.,
    Again, it seems you would rather have the debate with a straw man that is an atheist and an elitist who looks down on Christianity and is out looking for a fight. You’ve chosen a unproductive tactic to focus on transforming my views in order to make your argument against them easier. I know it would be much easier to prove your point if I was that person. Why don’t we see if we can entice Richard Dawkins into the debate? Then, I’ll join with you in your argument as it would be spot on. However, I’m not Dawkins. I don’t look down on pre-enlightenment world views. I don’t think our current world view is somehow “better”. I’ve just allowed for all the information of the modern enlightenment to enter the conversation and have its place. I’ve not chosen to ignore modernity, or to worship it, but to simply include all the data we have at our disposal and recognize that there are good people who have found God through each different understanding. I have faith that their is a way out of the war. This way is not to throw out our sacred stories, but to dive deeper into their layers of truth and there we can find they are not as exclusive as they appear on the surface.
    In fact, I’m arguing that a pre-modern view of story telling is much BETTER at communicating sacred truths because they are not so overly fixated on proof and historical evidence. I’m holding antiquity above modernity in this way. Rather than building a systematic religion around doctrines aimed at competing with modern science, I’d suggest a view that embraces the best things modernity had to offer, but opting NOT to throw out all the wonderful life changing truths handed down to us by the ancient authors of the bible and the pre-enlightenment founders of our historic faith.
    I too have placed my confidence in Jesus of Nazareth, fully human and fully divine, born of a virgin, the faithful man, crucified, raised on the third day, and reigning at the right hand of the Father in power and glory. I love that story. It is a wonderful story and it has changed my life as it is still changing the world. I hope to mean by those words the very best things they could possibly mean and I’ll continue to dwell in the power of those symbolic words to find all they have to offer the world.

  • Scott M

    Actually, I have little interest in debate. I don’t and have never thought you were atheistic or anything similar. I have no clue where you would have gathered that in anything I’ve written. I certainly have no interest in altering your views or changing your opinions. I have relatively little confidence that words or intellectual reasoning ever really accomplish that. Rather, I comment here primarily to work through my own thoughts, something that can ultimately only really be done in interaction with others.
    I’m not sure you’re completely self-aware of the impression you create in your written comments. It may be very different than the impression you intend to make and the tone you intend to foster. It seems to me that you are often surprised by the way people take the words you write. If that is in fact the case, you might want to ponder why that may be so.
    If the things you have written reflect your conception of premodern thought, then you have some very odd and completely ahistorical ideas. However, I will point out that it was in one of your comments to me that you stated your view that ancient man was primitive and that we are now more enlightened. I’m not sure you can possibly frame that as respect for or return to a premodern perspective. (Nor is such an effort either possible or worthwhile. Premodern is not a monolithic category. There is as much variation in it as there is today. It was simply different than Western Medieval, Western modern, and the melange we tend to find in Western culture today.)
    Nor do I fit in the boxes you keep trying to find for me — something I’ll point out is an exceedingly modern activity. But that’s OK. I do notice when I still surprise or confuse people here with whom I have interacted to some extent for much longer, most recently in the discussions on this series, who perhaps found things I said in this context didn’t fit in their minds with things I have said in different contexts. We all develop impressions and images of other people from our particular context of interaction with that person that fail to conform to the actual person to one extent or another.
    If you feel I don’t pay much attention to your ideas themselves in my comments, that’s probably true. But as I said, I tend to work out my own thoughts in interaction and writing. So the things you write may spur me to discuss something in my own thoughts, and so my comments probably appear more tangential. But so far you haven’t said anything I haven’t considered (or even tried on) over the course of my past decade-plus as someone acquiring the identity of a “Christian,” whatever that may be.


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