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And the word was whack
May 10, 2002 2:09 PM   Subscribe

And the word was whack As a former Congregationalist whose father had a stroke - dropping down on the floor after ordering me from the house for denying the Adam and Eve story Is a fundamentalist literal view of the Bible passe.
posted by onegoodmove (62 comments total)

 
PETA, the middle east, and now this. All we need is a fat people thread and we'll have covered all the bases today.

On to the question, then.

"Is a fundamentalist literal view of the Bible passe"?

To fundamentalists, no.

To everyone else, yes.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:17 PM on May 10, 2002


Holy shit, there are historical innacuracies in the bible? I need a cigarette.

[smokes a cigarette]

Ok, phwew. I feel better. I've never smoked before, but I need one now. Next someone will be telling me there are inconsistencies and translation errors in there too, or that it is composed of texts written by different people in different languages over thousands of years and only compiled as an afterthought.

Or that it you'd have to be a total moron to teach it as literal truth rather than as a parable, or a metaphor for rebirth and redemption.
posted by Hildago at 2:27 PM on May 10, 2002


It's kind of like asking if a literal reading of The Fountainhead is passe.

Indeed, a literal reading of the bible is generally not even followed by the various sects of christianity, and those that do are often shunned or at least viewed warily by the other sects.
posted by me3dia at 2:30 PM on May 10, 2002


shudders.
posted by n9 at 2:32 PM on May 10, 2002


Indeed, a literal reading of the bible is generally not even followed by the various sects of christianity, and those that do are often shunned or at least viewed warily by the other sects.

That's okay, I can assure you it's mutual.
posted by kindall at 2:48 PM on May 10, 2002


I'm a religious man. No secret about that. And what I've seen of the folks who give any credence to the Bible at all (myself included) is that everyone plays a certain amount of give and take with the text. I don't think there's a denomination out there that takes the entire thing literally... what differentiates one denomination from another is what they take literally, and what they take figuratively (or to what extent they do either).

Me? I believe in a literal Adam and Eve... now whether they were the first hominids or not, well, I don't know. And while I do care (I'm a curious creature), it's not central to my faith.

As for the author's take on the whole thing, it would seem to me that he, himself, is taking a little liberty with the story... and completely ignoring the mythos surrounding the text that (for the most part) lends internal integrity to it--smoothing the rough edges that time has accentuated if not created entirely (the first Christians and the early Jews weren't simpletons... the stories we now see out of context must have had import and meaning, or they would not have persisted).
posted by silusGROK at 3:03 PM on May 10, 2002


I don't know. I've literally read the Bible multiple times (baDumpbump). I think the question here is misguided. To think that a literalist view of the book is passe, sidesteps the real concern of how to deal with those few who take it word for word as truth. Fundamentalists ... can't educate 'em, can't kill 'em. So what do we do, make fun of them on Metafilter, or force them to at least abide by the laws of the country in which they live?

I have kinda a hard time with this. Religious freedom (in America) dictates that we tolerate the narrow views of literalists. But creationism is total bunk, and fundamental literalists are their own worst enemies. I watched Jimmy Swaggart leap across a stage crying "if there is one word in this book which is untrue, then throw the whole thing out". I think many people have taken him at his word, and thrown the whole thing out, when to do so is just as shallow as what the literalists proclaim. There is some truth in the Bible. So I guess it boils down to - learn and grow for yourself.

Is literalism passe? This ain't a fashion show, it's belief. Calling a belief of this magnitude passe is dismissing it with no good reason.
posted by Wulfgar! at 3:16 PM on May 10, 2002


mr_crash_davis, I'm currently looking for a fat person link, just so we can get the quad-fecta on Metafilter today (*snort*).
posted by Wulfgar! at 3:19 PM on May 10, 2002


(While you're at it, wulfgar!, we should probably find an SUV link as well.)
posted by silusGROK at 3:26 PM on May 10, 2002


I think we already had that thingy here, so I guess we're shooting for all five at this point.
posted by Wulfgar! at 3:39 PM on May 10, 2002


Crash_Davis wants a fat person link someone else is looking for one. I'm the link and I made the original post. I don't drive an SUV I hate fucking SUV's so perhaps there is still work to do.
posted by onegoodmove at 5:44 PM on May 10, 2002


Jesse Ventura put it best... organized religion is little but a crutch for the intellectually feeble. Only he forgot to add that the fundamentalist versions thereof are doubly so.

You may laugh because he used to be a pro wrestler, but let me ask you who's dumber -- the guy who made pretty good money giving a show, or the mostly american hordes who pay outrageout PPV fees twenty times a year to watch that crap...
posted by clevershark at 6:51 PM on May 10, 2002


atheism is little more than a crutch for the unimaginative and the self-absorbed.

(i was going to say something thoughtful, but it just didn't seem to fit in with all the pithy trolls)
posted by boltman at 8:57 PM on May 10, 2002


Hey boltman, illucidate... I'm listening.
posted by silusGROK at 9:48 PM on May 10, 2002


While I basically agree with everything the article says, it doesn't say anything new, or anything old in an interesting way. It could easily have come from the editorial section of a high school newspaper.
posted by bingo at 2:54 AM on May 11, 2002


Fat person link? Hmm. Frst comment, fifth aphorism down?

What was it Nietzche wrote in Beyond Good And Evil?

Why did it take God so long to write in Greek? And so poorly too.

Or something like that.
posted by y2karl at 3:45 AM on May 11, 2002


atheism is little more than a crutch for the unimaginative and the self-absorbed.

Imagination with no grounding in reality produces fiction.
posted by rushmc at 8:27 AM on May 11, 2002


boltman, yeah, it's interesting you say "unimaginative" - isn't that just admitting it's been imagined?

There's no reason atheists would be any less imaginitive than anyone else; it's simply the fact that they distinguish fiction from reality. I love fiction. I even love magical realism fiction. But I don't believe it. I love entering made-up realms, and I really do enjoy studying mythology, but again, I don't believe it. I can differentiate what ultimately tells me about the world, and what tells me about other people's minds and cultures.

The question of kids gaining from bible study is something I addressed some years ago, when secular bible study was suggested in florida.
posted by mdn at 8:44 AM on May 11, 2002


mdn, I'm perfectly content with the the proposition that God and religous belief are scientifically unprovable. reasonable logical and historical arguments can be made for God, reasonable counterarguments can be made ad nauseum. It's all so boring, and not particularly relevent to belief in God. Most people come to believe in God because of religious experience or perhaps a sense or instinct or intuition about the divine that eventually blossoms into faith. The Christian faith holds that God has imbued in us an awareness of Him, so to a Christian, this type of spiritual instinct about the existence of the supernatural is legitimate knowledge just as much as scientific knowledge or logic. Similarly, subjective religious experience can be an equally valid source of knowledge to a person of faith.

It is interesting that you brought up magical realism, because it seems to me that magical realism works on the same premise about the nature of knowledge. The author writes a story that is full of unbelievable and impossible occurances not just for the fun of it, but in order to facilitate the reader's understanding of something deeply true, in a way that a traditional narrative could not. The author is appealing not to the reader's sense of logic or science, but to her imagination, her sense of wonder and mystery. But the object is truth, not just entertainment. Also, have you ever wondered why magical realism is such a compelling narrative form? Could it be because it resonates with some instinct within us about the existence of the supernatual?

atheism seems to hold that there is one way of knowing something, and that way is logic and the scientific method. It's a very modernist view of the world. As a Christian I don't deny the power of the scientific method to uncover truth, I just believe it is not the only way of gaining knowledge. You might say that it is a postmodern understanding of knowledge, and I'd be content with that label i think. My (admittedly tactless) point was that being an athetist requires a certain lack of imagination about how human beings can come to know things.
posted by boltman at 12:09 PM on May 11, 2002


Most people come to believe in God because of religious experience or perhaps a sense or instinct or intuition about the divine that eventually blossoms into faith.

In my observation, most people come to believe in god because their mommies and daddies tell them to, and due to their limited imagination and lack of intuition, they can't come up with anything better or more believable on their own, so they obey without question.

atheism seems to hold that there is one way of knowing something, and that way is logic and the scientific method. It's a very modernist view of the world...My (admittedly tactless) point was that being an athetist requires a certain lack of imagination about how human beings can come to know things.

All being an atheist means is that you don't believe in an interested and active god. Even if you use the more colloquial definition, meaning that an atheist is a person who doesn't believe in a god at all, it still doesnt' mean that the atheist isn't a spirtual person, or that, for that matter, they don't believe in magic, ghosts, apparitions, channeling, life on other planets, or all sorts of things that require imagination.

Also, have you ever wondered why magical realism is such a compelling narrative form? Could it be because it resonates with some instinct within us about the existence of the supernatual?

Have you ever wondered why horror is such a compelling narrative form? Could it be because it resonates with some instinct within us about the existence of monsters?

Have you ever wondered why gritty realism is such a compelling narrative form? Could it be that life is pointless?

Have you ever wondered why Britney Spears is so popular? Could it be that she's the virgin Mary, reincarnated?

Have you ever considered why heroin is such a compelling drug? Could it be that it's good for you?
posted by bingo at 12:48 PM on May 11, 2002


The Christian faith holds that God has imbued in us an awareness of Him, so to a Christian, this type of spiritual instinct about the existence of the supernatural is legitimate knowledge just as much as scientific knowledge or logic.

This is like saying, the christian faith holds that if you believe something, it is true, so therefore what I believe is true.

The author is appealing not to the reader's sense of logic or science, but to her imagination, her sense of wonder and mystery. But the object is truth, not just entertainment.

Have you ever heard of metaphor? Mythologies (& other fictions) do show us truths - but not about the world: about ourselves. The truths we can learn from these stories are only diluted if you take them to be random history. Interpreting history metaphorically is dangerous, and events which are resonant and striking in myth or fiction could sometimes just seem ugly or sad in real life.

Could it be because it resonates with some instinct within us about the existence of the supernatual?

Or because it holds before us the surreal and impossible, that which we can never have, a dream-world we yearn for but ultimately know is false? (or see bingo's reply.)

As a Christian I don't deny the power of the scientific method to uncover truth, I just believe it is not the only way of gaining knowledge... My (admittedly tactless) point was that being an athetist requires a certain lack of imagination about how human beings can come to know things.

How do you define "knowledge"? If we are talking about a shared comprehension, then we do need to be able to communicate this knowledge back and forth. If you believe something is objectively true, is true for everyone no matter what they think, then scientific methods are really the only way.

If you believe in god, but don't consider him objective, e.g., consider him possibly just a part of your brain - or if you don't care whether he's objectively true or not (e.g., it doesn't much matter to me whether I am 'actually' alive or if this is just a long dream / matrixy set-up, since the experience of living is real), then you could argue for other ways to find knowledge. That is, if god knowledge is like self-knowledge or living-knowledge, about the experience not the facts. You don't need science to learn about yourself. But a lot of people who believe in god would not be willing to accept that - it is fundamental to them that god has some actual objective existence, that he isn't just an idea or a feeling within them.
posted by mdn at 2:28 PM on May 11, 2002


Most people come to believe in God because of religious experience or perhaps a sense or instinct or intuition about the divine that eventually blossoms into faith.

What is "instinct" or "intuition" as you understand them?

Can you provide any reasonable refutation to the contention that what you (and others) claim as "religious experience" or "contact with God" are simply brain events, pathological or innocuous, that are being overlain with primitive stories by those with no immediate reference for understanding them?
posted by rushmc at 3:35 PM on May 11, 2002


You are both confusing the question of whether or not God exists with the question of how we can know of his existence. I accept the premise of the logical positivists that God can be neither "proven" nor "disproven" through the scientific method or logic. I believe in God primarily because my experiences strongly suggest that God exists and is present in my life. My experiences are confirmed by those of millions of others. I also believe because the Christian faith confirms my deepest instincts about reality--that meaning of life is somehow about love, that consciousness itself is a miracle, that human nature is deeply flawed. Atheists (excluding "spiritual" atheists, whom I was not aware existsed) seem to have this notion that it is absurd to base a belief in God on anything other than science and reason. I'm just disagreeing, and suggesting that such a perspective is unimaginative (not to mention extremely cuturally biased)

I'm not out to convince you that God exists. Only God can do that. I'm just suggesting you have to look in the right places to find Him. Assuming God exists, and He desires for people to know Him, rather than simply know of Him, it makes perfect sense that He would reveal himself to each of us in a subjective personal way, not as some sort of objectively measurable phenomenon.
posted by boltman at 3:37 PM on May 11, 2002


Assuming God exists, and He desires for people to know Him

Assuming God is a He. ;)
posted by homunculus at 5:21 PM on May 11, 2002


I believe in God primarily because my experiences strongly suggest that God exists and is present in my life. My experiences are confirmed by those of millions of others.

You didn't answer my question. Nothing in your statement here contradicts my rather simpler and more straightforward hypothesis about such "experiences." Perception != reality.

I'm not out to convince you that God exists. Only God can do that. I'm just suggesting you have to look in the right places to find Him.

Why would I want to do that? Life is too short as it is; I certainly have no interest in wasting any of it playing hide-and-seek with some coy diety.
posted by rushmc at 6:22 PM on May 11, 2002


I'm just disagreeing, and suggesting that such a perspective is unimaginative (not to mention extremely cuturally biased)

Here's this imagination thing again. "Imagine" means to conjure in the mind what is not actually there. If you're being imaginative in coming up with your god, you're making him up. Is that what you mean? do you think god exists beyond your mind and in actuality?

As for the culturally biased thing: there are atheists in all cultures; christians only where christianity has been taught (ditto for all religions)

it makes perfect sense that He would reveal himself to each of us in a subjective personal way, not as some sort of objectively measurable phenomenon.

Why would he only reveal himself to some people, change his story for every culture on earth, "unreveal" himself to many people, including a large number of clergy etc, & tell different people contradicting things (regarding e.g. sexuality, heaven/hell, women's role, birth control etc etc etc)?
posted by mdn at 6:57 PM on May 11, 2002


if "unimaginative" is too confusing, try "narrow" "provincial" "limited" "dogmatic" "doctrinal"

there are atheists in all cultures, but there are also theists in all cultures, and the theists vastly outnumber the atheists. what does that tell you? that the world is full of deluded simpletons?

as far as the multipicity of religions, perhaps what should be suprising is not how many different ones there are, but how similiar they all are. Really, on the basic points, they agree far more then they disagree. All are striving to understand the divine and most, if not all, have some fragments of the truth. This does not mean that they are all equally true, or that truth is irrelevent. To the contrary, it suggests that there is some objective Truth out there that religions have all glimpsed and are striving to reflect, albeit dimly. I happen to believe that Christianity has it right and that the others are wrong to various extents. I'm not so arrogant as to believe that I couldn't be wrong, but my experience as a Christian has suggested that I'm not.

We could get into an argument about the historical and philosophical underpinnings of Christianity that also suggest its truth, and, yes, those arguments figure into my faith as well, but I really don't see the point. Philosophical and historical arguments don't cause people to enter the faith or leave it, despite what anyone might say. We make all of our decisions about religion (including the decision to stay out of it) based on experience and emotion. The logic comes in later to back up the decision we've already made. So I just don't see the point of talking about the logic.
posted by boltman at 8:20 PM on May 11, 2002


no posts from aaron on this topic or is aaron going by boltman today.
posted by onegoodmove at 10:21 PM on May 11, 2002


Atheists... seem to have this notion that it is absurd to base a belief in God on anything other than science and reason.

I'm a "fundamentalist" Christian, and within certain limits I completely agree with the atheists on this one. I believe that the Bible teaches that it is important to objectively search for truth (see this), and that we have a duty to "worship" the Lord with our minds as well as our hearts (see this). The God that created reason didn't expect us to abandon it in our relationship with Him.

I buy the Jimmy Swaggart argument about "if there is one word that is false" and so forth. But because I value the truth more than I value my faith, I'm asking the atheists in here: if it is so obvious that the Bible is false, if it is so obvious that the Christian God doesn't exist, how do you know that?
posted by gd779 at 10:53 PM on May 11, 2002


there are atheists in all cultures, but there are also theists in all cultures, and the theists vastly outnumber the atheists. what does that tell you? that the world is full of deluded simpletons?

Yes. Not that we needed this additional evidence. Or was that a rhetorical question?

To the contrary, it suggests that there is some objective Truth out there that religions have all glimpsed and are striving to reflect, albeit dimly.

Only if you don't use your imagination. It might also suggest that we all have a psychological makeup that makes certain myths appealing, and we could have evolved into that psychology, or come to it for reasons that have nothing to do with religion. Or we could all be in the Matrix, and the agents could have given us religion to keep us from waking up. Or it could come from a god, but that god could be evil, and we can't see that evil because we don't have the cosmic perspective, but ultimately it would be a better idea if we did exactly the opposite of what he said. Or there could be thousands of gods, or the whole universe could be floating in some giant pitri dish in a high school classroom, and everything humanity has become is just the result of the science teacher toying with us, and any second we're going to be thrown away. It could be that many universes are running parallel to each other, and we move between them when we sleep, and in the hyperspace between is a series of idols from an ancient religion began in another galaxy, and the image of those idols burnt into our subconscious is where we get many of our religious ideas from.

As Arthur C. Clarke, a man with an imagination, said, the universe is not just more complex than we imagine, it's more complex than we're capable of imagining.

My intuition and experience suggest to me that a) there are definitely forces at work that, at least presently, defy the scientific method, and b) that Jesus was not my savior. This is not an uncommon combination of ideas, either.
posted by bingo at 10:55 PM on May 11, 2002


Philosophical and historical arguments don't cause people to enter the faith or leave it, despite what anyone might say. We make all of our decisions about religion (including the decision to stay out of it) based on experience and emotion. The logic comes in later to back up the decision we've already made.

That is just grossly untrue. Or, perhaps more precisely, it's true only to the extent that all human decisions are made based on emotion. Some people (like me) work very hard to make an informed, objective decision about religion. And though I work very hard to stay open first to the truth, in my experience Christianity can more than hold its own, objectively speaking.

Religion is the one subject that claims to impact our well being beyond death and for all eternity. There is no more important subject or decision in life, at least potentially. For that reason, we must be certain of our decisions. What greater tool do we have in this struggle than our minds?
posted by gd779 at 11:10 PM on May 11, 2002


We make all of our decisions about religion (including the decision to stay out of it) based on experience and emotion. The logic comes in later to back up the decision we've already made.

If this is a true representation of your thought processes--and I have no reason to question you when you say that it is--then it is no surprise that you might choose to accept religious dogma as truth. But do not be so arrogant as to damn the rest of us with the same brush.

there are atheists in all cultures, but there are also theists in all cultures

But comparing atheists is comparing apples to apples, and comparing theists, apples to oranges to kiwis to bananas to watermelons.

what does that tell you? that the world is full of deluded simpletons?

I wouldn't say "full," but if you substitute "contains many," I would have no problem with that observation.
posted by rushmc at 11:28 PM on May 11, 2002


But because I value the truth more than I value my faith, I'm asking the atheists in here: if it is so obvious that the Bible is false, if it is so obvious that the Christian God doesn't exist, how do you know that?

Through such systematic thought processes as logic, deductive and inductive reasoning, careful observation of and pattern-seeking in the world around us, and probability, to name a few. Once one understands the historical process by which what we know as "the Bible" was selected, compiled, translated, etc., it becomes absurd to deny at least the possibility of error, and once error is admitted, infallibility is destroyed. That is a logically consistent argument (and a demonstrable fact: one can compare two editions of the Bible and note the various differences between them, right down to typographical errors). Those who attempt to counter that sort of argument with vague "feelings" and subjective desires and ego-driven "it is because I say so, want it to be, need it to be" claims, immediately lose all credibility, IMO.

The human brain generates emotional and "instinctual" responses to stimuli, internal and external. It is also capable of rational thought and reasoning, and these skills may be developed and strengthened with practice and exercise. All of us use both types of adaptive tools. Some use one sort more than the other--I don't think that's a very controversial claim, it's easily verified through observation of people's behavior and frequently admitted to in self-assessment.

The truly interesting question is twofold: 1) Which technique, in general (it may well vary in different types of situations) is more effective from the perspective of the human being and its success in life? and 2) Which technique produces a more objectively accurate model of "reality"?

You say that you value truth over faith, but I think it's pretty clear that you must define "truth" very differently than I do in order to make such a statement and maintain "faith."

Faith: not *wanting* to know what is true.
--Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite.
--Bertrand Russell

posted by rushmc at 11:49 PM on May 11, 2002


rushmc: Your response to me was completely conclusory and, therefore, totally devoid of content. You quote Nietzsche, and that is appropriate because you possess his quality of inadvertant hypocracy. (As Chesterson pointed out, Nietzsche calls life a war without mercy, and then takes the greatest possible trouble to drill his enemies in war). Judging from your history here, you seem to hold to your beliefs with the same fervor (and intellectual basis) as the religious fanatics you so despise. Perhaps you have a more reasonable foundation for your beliefs locked away in your mind, but if so to my knowledge you've never explained it here.

My hope is that someone who believes in reason and objective truth will hear the honesty in my request, and will tell me something that I can learn from. If you'd prefer not to get into this on MetaFilter, feel free to email me directly.
posted by gd779 at 12:13 AM on May 12, 2002


I buy the Jimmy Swaggart argument about "if there is one word that is false" and so forth. But because I value the truth more than I value my faith, I'm asking the atheists in here: if it is so obvious that the Bible is false, if it is so obvious that the Christian God doesn't exist, how do you know that?

There are a varety of approaches to this.

Weak atheism does not propose that the Christian God doesn't exist, only that none of the claims to divinity are credible enough for us to base our lives around. It's nothing personal, not only do I have a difficult time believing in the Christian God, but I also have a difficult time believing in Theosophy, Islam, paganism, deism, Shinto, or Hinduism. I am slightly more friendly towards Buddhism largely because deities are simply a special case of incarnate being just like humans (in fact, slightly inferior to humans because they can't understand the nature of suffering). Quite a few atheists take the view that they don't know (agnosticism) if a specific deity does or does not exist but in the absence of evidence for deity, philosophy must look elsewhere.

One of the problems with your question is that it is easier to address specific claims rather than to address a big fuzzy quite possibly intentionally ambiguous claim such as "the Christian God." After all, "the Christian God" means many things depending on which denomination and which interpretation we are talking about. A part of the reason why I'm not particularly interested in proving that non-existence of a Christian God is because such a debate has become a receding shell game as God constantly gets redefined around what we do know. It used to be that God was the character that created the universe a little over 6000 years ago. As we know more and see further back into the distant past of our universe, Christianity has forced to redefine God so that it is increasingly irrelevant.

So the other half of your question was how do we know that the Bible is false (or not literally true.) On that point, it basically comes down to a conflict between what we observe in our lives and what the Bible says we should observe. With the possible exception of sociology and psychology, one thing that just about every field of science agrees on is that the universe is unimaginably vast and old. I live in limestone country, which means I am literally sitting on mega-tones of evidence that this part of Indiana was ocean not just for 40 days and 40 nights but for millions of years. Nearby are deposits that show the alternating rise and fall of oceans many times in geologic history. To the North I drive over a terminal moraine laid down over thousands of years where the glaciers stopped, and the land is shaped by not one but three separate periods of glaciation separated by millions of years. The caves I crawled in as a child formed through the slow creeping action of tiny amounts of acid on limestone over thousands of years, and human settlements have been dated tens of thousands of years ago. Quite importantly, there is a zero evidence for a massive worldwide freshwater flood as described by the Bible. Most of the political battles get fought over evolution, but physics, geology, archeology, astronomy, chemistry, and geography all point to serious problems in taking the Bible as literal truth about natural history.

So then you get into the Christian apologies for why the Bible offers one view while the rocks we live on offer a different view. Leaving aside fundamentalism for a bit, that apology basically consists of arguing that some parts of the Bible such as the six days should be read as metaphor while the resurrection should be read as history. However at that point you get into the question of what should be privileged as history and what should be treated as something equivalent to Plato's description of Atlantis, a metaphor for talking about certain problems in morality and ethics. Personally the reason that I am an atheist is because I don't find those apologies to be very convincing. This is of course neglecting the fact that modern-day Christians treat the morality of the Bible as subject to interpretation, after all most of them are still landowners in spite of Acts 4-5 which foreshadows the Communist manifesto.

Religion is the one subject that claims to impact our well being beyond death and for all eternity. There is no more important subject or decision in life, at least potentially. For that reason, we must be certain of our decisions. What greater tool do we have in this struggle than our minds?

Well, which one? Do I try to avoid the threat of a Christian Hell or an Eon as a Hungry Ghost? Do I make a bid for Heaven or Valhala? What if it turns out you've been bamboozled and God is really pissed because you show up at his doorstep wearing mixed-fibre clothing?

If a salesperson shows up at your door offering to sell you Fairy insurance that will provide for your family if you should be turned into a frog, turned into stone, cursed to prick your finger on a spindle an fall asleep for a century (except that would probably take your family with you.) Would you buy it knowing what you know about people being cursed my michevious fairies? What would be a sufficient level of proof that would covince you that fairy insurance was in your best interest? My rejection of Christian afterlife insurance is based on my assessment that there is as much evidence for the literal truth of the Bible as there is for Grim's fairy tales.

rushmc: Your response to me was completely conclusory and, therefore, totally devoid of content.

I don't know, I find the argument that the historical development of the Bible from a work of preists attempting to create a nationhood in exile through the process selecting among multiple gospels and rejecting others as heretical, followed by the reformation translations makes is a serious challenge to claims of innerency. This is on top of internal inconsistency and known errors of transcription (including at least one intentional example of Kabalistic word-play by a transcriber) and the absence of contemporary collaboration for claims made by the Old Testament, and a few cases where the Old Testament plagarized older recorded stories. Both the history of the Bible and internal textual analysis raise serious doubts about claims to the literal truth of the bible.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:37 AM on May 12, 2002


so it looks like the athetists and the fundamentalists are going to gang up on boltman today. that's okay.

gd799: Bible teaches that it is important to objectively search for truth

*sigh* If we're going to start throwing Bible verses at each other how about

Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their craftiness," and again, "The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile." (1 Cor. 3:18-20)

Or this one: See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ." (Col. 2:8)

hardly a ringing endorsement for philosophy, is it? Christianity is about pursuing a relationship with God, not constructing ever-better proofs of His existence. If there were such a thing as an airtight logical proof of God, what room is there for faith? Also, why isn't it in the Bible? God doesn't need us to apologize for Him. If he did, we would be "apologists" or "defenders" instead of "witnesses."

bingo: Or we could all be in the Matrix, and the agents could have given us religion to keep us from waking up. Or it could come from a god, but that god could be evil, and we can't see that evil because we don't have the cosmic perspective, but ultimately it would be a better idea if we did exactly the opposite of what he said. Or there could be thousands of gods, or the whole universe could be floating in some giant pitri dish...

now you're getting the idea bingo. you're exactly right here. logically speaking, the world could be any of these things. the question then becomes, which of these nearly infinite possibilities best conforms with our experience and our intuitions about the divine? that, of course, is a question you have to answer for yourself (although i'm happy to provide my thoughts experiences, if you are sincerely interested in them)

what does that tell you? that the world is full of deluded simpletons?

(bingo) Yes. Not that we needed this additional evidence.
(rushmc): I wouldn't say "full," but if you substitute "contains many," I would have no problem with that observation


boy, that must make you both feel very superior then.
posted by boltman at 12:40 AM on May 12, 2002


As an agnostic its been interesting to watch this discussion proceed. I do not believe in God and I have no reason for believing in him/her -' I have no need for that hypothesis'. I have friends, fiercely intelligent friends, who do believe in God and I would never dream of trying to persuade them otherwise. I'll argue with you about the evils of the Church and of organized religion but not deities and your intuition. What's the point?

Induction and logic and reason are merely systems we use to try to understand the world - peculiar scaffolding upon which we construct our models of reality. They are well-established systems to be sure but to hold to them too steadfastly is not too far from deep-seated religious belief.

Einstein, led at first by pure reason, revealed his deep-seated beliefs when the principles of quantum mechanics violated his 'sense' of what was true and real. These battles of belief are common in the scientific world - big bang vs. steady state, Wegner's plate tectonics, Wilson's evolutionary biology to name a few. The "facts" were all laid out for all to see so why did these controversies rage like religious wars?

To use a mathematical term, the need to believe is orthogonal to the methodology of the sciences. You cannot use those tools to argue for or against beliefs based on intuiton. Atheists, in my opinion, are stunned that theists cannot see what seems as obvious to the them as a simple syllogism. Theists, on the other hand, are frustrated by the insistence of atheists who insist that reality can only be crafted according to their specifications. I'm sorry to tell all you atheists in this thread but -- you are engaged in a religious war.

I have never seen an atheist convince a theist or vice versa. I dont know if thats something I will ever see. Divine intuition and Boolean logic were never meant to be in the same ring together.
posted by vacapinta at 12:57 AM on May 12, 2002


boltman:the question then becomes, which of these nearly infinite possibilities best conforms with our experience and our intuitions about the divine?

On the contrary, that's not a question I feel compelled to answer. I'm more interested in playing with the various possibilities. I do believe in an objective truth, but in terms of theology, my intuition and experience suggests that whatever it is, it's unlikely that any particular religion is really very close to it. I also feel no fear of punishment in the hereafter for not guessing correctly. Hence my status as an imaginative agnostic.

boy, that must make you both feel very superior then.

Yep.
posted by bingo at 3:07 AM on May 12, 2002


rushmc: Your response to me was completely conclusory and, therefore, totally devoid of content.

I think the void is in your ability/willingness to reason and accept the ramifications of reason. Therefore, it is time that we agree to disagree and move on.
posted by rushmc at 8:24 AM on May 12, 2002


the need to believe is orthogonal to the methodology of the sciences. You cannot use those tools to argue for or against beliefs based on intuiton.

I agree that it is a basic conflict between two very different ways of interpreting the world. But at the same time, I don't think it is particularly difficult to perceive or argue the advantages of reason over "intuition." Obviously, others don't agree.

Atheists, in my opinion, are stunned that theists cannot see what seems as obvious to the them as a simple syllogism.

Absolutely. One is often forced to conclude that it is a very willful sort of ignorance.

Theists, on the other hand, are frustrated by the insistence of atheists who insist that reality can only be crafted according to their specifications.

Au contraire, reality would be significantly different were it crafted according to MY specifications. Rather, I simply think that exerting oneself to perceive and interpret reality as accurately as one is capable of is the sane and most useful thing to do. Those who claim a perfect understanding are deluded; but those who create fictions to comfort themselves in their fear and uncertainty are doubly deluded.
posted by rushmc at 8:31 AM on May 12, 2002


boy, that must make you both feel very superior then.

Why must it? I fail to see the basis for the leap you are making there.
posted by rushmc at 8:31 AM on May 12, 2002


boltman: If you sensed an attack in what I said, I apoligize. I didn't intend it that way. You and I have agreed enough here in the past that I assumed you would understand my intent. Sorry about that.

KirkJobSluder: Thanks for the reasoned response. I appreciate it.

One of the problems with your question is that it is
easier to address specific claims rather than to address a big fuzzy quite possibly intentionally ambiguous claim such as "the Christian God."


Yeah, I know what you mean. Also, it was intentionally ambiguous in a sense: I was trying to give the atheists the greaters possible room to attack Christianity and/or theism at whatever they regarded as its weakest point.

such a debate has become a receding shell game as God constantly gets redefined around what we do know. It used to be that God was the character that created the universe a little over 6000 years ago.

While there is perhaps a certain amount of truth in your general point here, your specific claim about the "6000 year" figure is largely historically false. I've written my explanation here, but the short answer is that nobody believed in a 6,000 year old universe until 1642.

My first reaction, as I just mentioned, was to see a grain of truth in your statements. But thinking it over now -- and maybe I just don't know my history well enough here -- I can't think of a way in which God has receeded at all for the fundamentalist or Biblical literalist. In fact, that's the whole reason people criticize fundamentalists - because they hold to a picture of God that others see as mythic. It's true that our explanations for God's methods have changed (we no longer believe that the sun rotates around the earth, as an obvious example) but that doesn't reduce the role or size of God in any way that I'm aware of. But now I see that I have wandered into the old naturalism/theism battleground of philosophy, and I've never seen any answers come out of that discussion that a person didn't take in with him.

Quite importantly, there is a zero evidence for a massive worldwide freshwater flood as described by the Bible.

I'm going to check that out and see if it is true. You're right, that would obviously be quite important. And this is why I appreciated your response: it's shown me what to research next. If you have any suggestions about where to begin (good links, good books), I'd love them.
posted by gd779 at 9:00 AM on May 12, 2002


I have never seen an atheist convince a theist or vice versa. I dont know if thats something I will ever see. Divine intuition and Boolean logic were never meant to be in the same ring together.

People do change their minds though.

And there's no need to call it a syllogism, or boolean logic - it's simple straightforward common sense, in a quite literal way even. We have five senses and a brain that interprets them. We cannot perceive god through any senses we have. instead, sometimes people have an emotional experience which they interpret as an interaction with a non-sensible being. But that being is always defined culturally - for christians it's jesus, for ancient greeks it's zeus, for muslims it's allah, etc. Jesus never reveals his name & history to cultures who haven't been introduced to it in a worldly manner already.

So this makes it simple to ask, what is the true source of this feeling some people get? Why would my culture get it right and everyone else's be wrong? You have to seriously refuse self-reflection or the search for truth to conclude that. The simplest answer is that it comes from our own brains, in a reaction to life and the world. If I take a walk and pass a majestic tree, perhaps I'll feel a moment of painful, beautiful awe at the grandeur of that plant, that being: but I don't call it god, I call it painful beautiful awe.

So these emotions can be caused by something - an experience - without being attributed to god. You can also have epiphanies, moments of comfort, all sorts of emotions, which come from YOU and are triggered by your experiences, but which are not related to some amorphous invisible deity.

Theists, on the other hand, are frustrated by the insistence of atheists who insist that reality can only be crafted according to their specifications.

This utterly and ridiculously misses the point of atheism. People become atheists because they are unwilling to project their wishes and faith onto the world; instead they want to know what is truly there, what we all share. Atheists accept the world as it IS instead of attempting to make it tell a story where we are the star. If god existed and wanted to be a part of the lives of humans, he could certainly make his presence known - though if he were able to interact he would cease to be able to be "perfect", since if he answered questions some portion of the population would think he'd answered wrong (since we all disagree on things - some people would say, that's not fair, how could god send muslims to hell, while others would say, that's not fair, how could god let muslims into heaven without jesus - so whatever answer he gave would upset some portion of people who would then think god was the devil or something). Really, the only way god could be godly is to effectively not exist. If he were measurable he would no longer be mysterious enough to be revered. He would simply be a powerful dictator.

Maybe that's my biggest issue with religious people: they prefer magic to comprehension, they want miracles instead of relationships - and by that I mean, a miracle is when something that can't happen happens anyway. If a scientist witnesses a miracle, they attempt to understand how it could happen - effectively de-miraclizing it. They work to understand the way the world relates to itself, how things interact. Religious people are often disappointed by this. They would prefer that lightning were thrown by yahweh or that deja vu has something to do with past lives. Personally I think the scientific explanations are much more interesting.
posted by mdn at 9:40 AM on May 12, 2002



Yeah, I know what you mean. Also, it was intentionally ambiguous in a sense: I was trying to give the atheists the greaters possible room to attack Christianity and/or theism at whatever they regarded as its weakest point.

One of the problems with this discussion is that we have different standards of proof. I am not interested in engaging in a battle to prove a negative, it is quite possible that there is a deity locked away behind the big bang. However in the absence of evidence for such a deity, I am not obligated to incorporate that deity into my thinking on ethics, epistemology, or politics.

However, I don't see the 6000 year timeframe for the universe as being exact, instead I see it as a rough order of magnitude (ROM) calculation. If we except that the Bible is the literal truth, then tweaking the genealogies dictates a ROM figure measured in thousands of years rather than billions of years. This is a pretty whopping inconsistency.

But of course most of Christianity is quite comfortable with the notion that the universe is very old, or that the flood should be treated as a parable rather than natural history. However that opens up another can of worms in deciding which parts of the Bible you treat as history and what parts of the Bible you treat as allegory.

In terms of where you go for more information. This is one of those cases where I am at a loss because we are talking about a hypothesis that is shown to be correct over and over again. At this point just about every work of natural history today will incorporate copious evidence for an old Earth. I would suggest staying away from Gould and Dawkins because they tend to incorporate their anti-creationism agenda into many of their works.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:13 AM on May 12, 2002


And there's no need to call it a syllogism, or boolean logic - it's simple straightforward common sense

"Common sense" is culturally defined. What is common sense in American culture is considered absurd in many other cultures and vice versa. Really, all "common sense" suggests is that "a lot of other people in my culture (or sub-culture) would agree with this statement." See the work of anthopologist Clifford Geertz for more on this.

However that opens up another can of worms in deciding which parts of the Bible you treat as history and what parts of the Bible you treat as allegory.

can of worms? how so? i'm agnostic about whether certain parts of the Bible are history or allegory. either way, it contains valuable wisdom that increases our understanding of God. it would make perfect sense that God might choose to use allegory to explain things about Himself that would otherwise be incomprehensible or unclear. It's the same reason that Jesus used parables to convey important truths. The Ressurection is just about the only thing in the Bible that absolutely must be historically true in order for me to be a Christian. Just about everything else in the Bible is simply a means for understanding the Ressurection, a function that it fulfills equally well as history or allegory.

gd799: no worries. everything feels like an attack on metafilter sometimes (which is part of the addiction i suppose). sorry if i sounded overly harsh in responding. i think we do approach the faith in a fundamentally different way, but far be if from me to suggest that my way is the only way.
posted by boltman at 4:07 PM on May 12, 2002


"Common sense" is culturally defined...

If you read the rest of that paragraph, I clarified that I meant it in a rather literal way: we all share certain common senses - sight, sound, touch, smell, taste - none of which offer us any information about god. In life, we are presented with outside data and with internal emotions. The emotions are usually in response to external things, but they themselves come from within us. When god is said to be perceived emotionally, it confuses these.

If I see something amazing and I feel a sense of awe, the amazing thing is perceived through my senses, and the awe arises out of me, is an internal part of my mind. God-belief sort of combines these, so that god is sort of that amazing thing i see (a splendid sunset, say) and partly that feeling, and mostly he is just added to the experience, to sort of accentuate what an incredible moment it was. But other emotions are not equated with god - awe is, and sometimes love is, but people don't say they feel Thor within them when they get angry, or whatever. At least most people don't.
posted by mdn at 4:41 PM on May 12, 2002


If we except that the Bible is the literal truth, then tweaking the genealogies dictates a ROM figure measured in thousands of years rather than billions of years.

No, that's not true. Accepting the Bible as literal truth merely requires that you accept that human beings have only been around for thousands rather than billions of years. Which is pretty much correct; consciousness (cave art, etc.) pretty much exploded onto the scene about that time.

The earth can easily be billions of years old if you simply accept that the 6 creation days in Genesis were not literal days. And that's actually what an unbiased look at the original language of the Bible indicates. The Hebrew word "yom", which is often translated "day", also means "a finite but undetermined period of time". For a variety of reasons - which I'd be happy to explain if you asked - the language actually indicates (pretty clearly, to my mind, but I'm no expert) that the latter interpretation is correct. Which is why a great many jewish and early Christian scholars, obviously unbiased by the theory of evolution, always read 6 "days" as 6 "eras" or something similar. (As in, "the day of the dinosaurs"). I'd be happy to elaborate if you like, or you can just read Creation and Time.

However that opens up another can of worms in deciding which parts of the Bible you treat as history and what parts of the Bible you treat as allegory.

Not really. As I stated, close study of the first couple of chapters of Genesis in the original Hebrew has always made it clear that we are probably not talking about 6 literal days. But it is only because the Bible is clear on that point that I can accept the "figurative" interpretation (though, really, it's not figurative at all here. Translating "Yom" as "era" is perfectly literal).

In other words, absent a compelling reason to assume something is figurative (such as when Jesus begins telling a parable, which is obviously intended to be figurative) you assume everything is literal. We do it all the time in daily conversation, it's really not as much of a challenge as you might think.

The key question for me is not the age of the earth, which I now consider to be a fairly settled question, but rather the existence of Noah's literal flood. If that can be disproven, then my current interpretation of Christianity is dead. The Bible clearly indicates Noah's flood to be a true story. If it's not, then the Bible is not inerrent, and then I think you'd have to approach the rest of the book rather critically. But I need to do a lot of research on that subject before I'll take your word for it. Like I said, this subject is too important to be treated without care.

I am not interested in engaging in a battle to prove a negative, it is quite possible that there is a deity locked away behind the big bang.

Well that's fair. But that justifies skepticism and agnosticism, not hard atheism. And if everybody else agrees with you, then what's with all of the cries of "Of course fundamental Christianity has been debunked!", and "Only morons believe in a literal Bible!" and so forth that I read above? If it's so clearly false, then I would hope that somebody steps forward to tell me why. (Admittedly, you came reasonably close, Kirk, with your arguments about an old earth. And while it's true that some fundamental Christians would consider my position unbiblical, you yourself said that the vast majority of Christians consider the earth to be very old. So while I'm sensitive to your perception that Christians respond to challenges by creating a "receeding God", I think I'm perfectly justified as treating that particular claim as a non-challenge)

boltman: i think we do approach the faith in a fundamentally different way, but far be if from me to suggest that my way is the only way.

I should say the same thing.
posted by gd779 at 4:42 PM on May 12, 2002


merely requires that you accept that human beings have only been around for thousands rather than billions of years.

any idea why god would hang around with protozoa for billions of years and only create humans in the thousands of years? If the age of the earth were a football field, all of human history would be less than the thickness of a sheet of paper long (1/425th of an inch, or 1/17th of a mm)

but far be if from me to suggest that my way is the only way.

to both of you - What? Isn't that precisely what christianity does say? Or do you both have liberal views where all religions, and non religions, are equally valid and no one goes to hell?
posted by mdn at 8:51 AM on May 13, 2002


(I thought the word was "wack," by the way.)
posted by rodii at 10:37 AM on May 13, 2002


One of the misunderstandings that bothers me here is the idea that atheists are being told: a) they don't understand that not everything has to be proven, the idea that some truths can be found intuitively, and b) that they should come up with a logical proof for why there isn't a god.

In my experience, it's rather common for atheists to say that they just don't feel that there is a god. If you assume that there is one, I guess you could see this as limited imagination. But if you assume that there are other ways to intuitive truth than divine inspiration, why is such a proof necessary?

Also, I don't mean to be vindictive in saying this, but if the suggestion that there may be scientific evidence against the big flood in Genesis is enough to rock your religious foundation, you probably haven't been exposed to an awful lot of writing about history and science and theology that is not exactly arcane ivory-tower stuff. Just reading a tiny bit of Carl Jung, Gore Vidal, or Joseph Campbell could do wonders for your perspective on other approaches to what the bible is and where it came from.
posted by bingo at 9:12 PM on May 13, 2002


that they should come up with a logical proof for why there isn't a god.

That's not at all what I'm saying; I'm asking only for intellectual honesty. Either prove that God doesn't exist or stop claiming that it's obviously unreasonable to believe that he does. Put your money where your mouth is, so to speak.

Just reading a tiny bit of Carl Jung, Gore Vidal, or Joseph Campbell could do wonders for your perspective on other approaches to what the bible is and where it came from.

While I've never touched Vidal, and while I've been trying to get around to "The Power of Myth" for some time now, I've read bits and pieces of Jung and bits and pieces of Campbell's other stuff. Frankly, I don't think that there's much useful stuff there, because people like Jung and Campbell start with an a priori paradigm (roughly, naturalism) and then set out to explain the world based on that paradigm. They don't bother to justify, establish, or prove that paradigm, and they don't contrast the results of that paradigm with a theistic paradigm. For example: As it happens, I was glancing through Campbell's book "Masks of God" earlier this afternoon. Part of the book references Bible myths (I use the classical meaning of the word), and Campbell compares and contrasts the Bible with a couple of other religions. But to the extent that the religions are similar, are they similar because they are just variations on a dramatic story that happened to spread from region to region, or are they similar because they all sprang from actual historical events? This is the question that most interests me, but Campbell doesn't even address it. That's not what he's interested in talking about.

if the suggestion that there may be scientific evidence against the big flood in Genesis is enough to rock your religious foundation

Obviously, the suggestion itself isn't nearly enough. But Kirk's comments made me realize that a fair number of prominant, otherwise Bible-believing apoligists I've read have believed in a "local" flood. Now, obviously, there are a fair number on the other side as well. But that seems to be a "weak spot" in Christianity's armor, and I'm constantly looking for shortcuts that would either prove or disprove the historical validity of my faith. Otherwise, this search I'm on could go on forever.

Basically, if Jesus lived and died as described in the Bible, then we have a clear message from God. I'm trying to "validate" that message; to make sure it's real, and authentic.

any idea why god would hang around with protozoa for billions of years and only create humans in the thousands of years?

That's hardly a sensible question, as the Christian God has traditionally been regarded as being outside time entirely. A timeless, transcendent God such as this would be free to take whatever time he liked to create -- after all, He created time itself. Time isn't meaningful to God like it is to us.

The universe, vast as it is both physically and temporally, seems centered around human beings. If that's true, then all of that extra space and time can certainly be seen as a waste. But I personally am struck with more of a sense of artistry; the Creator enjoying the unfolding of his creation, paying attention to the little details, etc. Maybe that's too corny and -- more to the point -- plain wrong. But for a God outside time ("A thousand years is as one day, and one day is as a thousand years"), it seems to make perfect sense.

Isn't that precisely what christianity does say? Or do you both have liberal views where all religions, and non religions, are equally valid and no one goes to hell?

I can't speak for boltman, but my own view is that the important thing is that you find Christ. Whether you find him by faith or reason doesn't matter to God in my understanding. Getting you to jump through some kind of formal hoop before you're saved is not and was never the point. But that in no way means that those without Christ are equally correct (or equally saved).
posted by gd779 at 9:48 PM on May 13, 2002


One of the misunderstandings that bothers me here is the idea that atheists are being told: a) they don't understand that not everything has to be proven, the idea that some truths can be found intuitively, and b) that they should come up with a logical proof for why there isn't a god.

Remember, they're being told that by two different people. I would agree with (b), but I would seriously question (a). I suspect that boltman would agree with (a) but seriously question (b).
posted by gd779 at 9:53 PM on May 13, 2002


But to the extent that the religions are similar, are they similar because they are just variations on a dramatic story that happened to spread from region to region, or are they similar because they all sprang from actual historical events? This is the question that most interests me, but Campbell doesn't even address it. That's not what he's interested in talking about.

That's because he doesn't subscribe to either one of the possibilities you mentioned. His whole point is that these myths arise from something fundamental in human nature. In fact, he specifically points out that similar myths arose in a number of cultures that, as far as we know, could not possibly have communicated with one another. The resurrection of Jesus is just another variation of a story that had already been popular in a number of cultures before it even supposedly happened.

Either prove that God doesn't exist or stop claiming that it's obviously unreasonable to believe that he does. Put your money where your mouth is, so to speak.

I also think that it's obviously unreasonable to believe in Rumpelstiltskin. Just because some people do, doesn't mean I feel at all compelled to come up with a negative proof.
posted by bingo at 11:57 PM on May 13, 2002


Either prove that God doesn't exist or stop claiming that it's obviously unreasonable to believe that he does.

And there is the flaw in your approach to dealing with atheism (shared by most Christians). It is quite possible for something to be unreasonable without having proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is impossible.
posted by rushmc at 7:22 AM on May 14, 2002


the Christian God has traditionally been regarded as being outside time entirely. A timeless, transcendent God such as this would be free to take whatever time he liked to create

if he's timeless and transcendent, he can't interact with us, or be involved in history in any way. He can only exist. In fact, he can't even be conscious, as consciousness requires the passage of time (think about it).

The universe, vast as it is both physically and temporally, seems centered around human beings.

actually, the universe, vast as it is, seems centered around ME. Don't you think? No? Come on, it's so obvious. .. Even if human history lasts another 100,000 years, 20 times again as long as it has so far, producing a world we probably wouldn't even recognize considering how much things have changed in just a few hundred years, even then, human history would only account for 1/20 of an inch on that football field of terrestrial history. Do you realize what a tiny blip in time we are? Why do you think it centers around us? Only because you're one of us, and ultimately you think it centers around you. That belief is probably helped by having the most powerful being in the universe personally concerned with your happiness. I think that's why people usually believe in god to start with.

Either prove that God doesn't exist or stop claiming that it's obviously unreasonable to believe that he does.

The trouble with proving god doesn't exist is that the definition can be changed and he is basically allowed to be able to do anything, even things that are contradictory, because you can just say, well we can't understand it, but he can do it. I mean, once upon a time he lived in the clouds; now we know he's not there, but no one offers a new place of residence as he's just in a different dimension or something. Or the timeless thing - I could write a whole paper about timelessness not being congruent with consciousness and you'd just say, okay, he's not outside time, but just lives in his own super-time where he can jet about to any of the various points in human history and ... jeeze, wait, he has to be at all of them at once. This guy's definitely got a split personality thing going on.

Anyway, the point is, is there anything that would prove to you that he doesn't exist? My experience is this: what you call god, I call awe or love or bliss or some other human emotion. I have never heard voices from the sky or seen angels, but if I did I would probably also consider them initially at least to be the result of my body. I have had hallucinations of other things so I know the mind can deceive you. I would probably not believe in god unless he came out to all of us at once (- what is he afraid of anyway? That we won't like him as much if we don't get to see him how we want to see him?). But I've never had hallucinations that could be interpreted as visits from god, anyway. Have you? I mean, have you had visual or auditory visits from god or are all of your interactions through emotional moments (god is love etc)

but far be if from me to suggest that my way is the only way.

my own view is that the important thing is that you find Christ...
But that in no way means that those without Christ are equally correct (or equally saved).


do you see the contradiction here?
posted by mdn at 8:39 AM on May 14, 2002


The universe, vast as it is both physically and temporally, seems centered around human beings.

This is so blatantly untrue that I don't even know what you are getting at here. Can you clarify?
posted by rushmc at 5:28 PM on May 14, 2002


I also think that it's obviously unreasonable to believe in Rumpelstiltskin. Just because some people do, doesn't mean I feel at all compelled to come up with a negative proof.

You're right, I misspoke. I didn't mean "prove" in the sense of "establish absolutely". Rather, I meant "show your proofs" -- if you're going to claim that it is obviously unreasonable to believe in fundamental Christianity, then I would expect you to have the proofs necessary to show objectively that it is, in fact, unreasonable.

if he's timeless and transcendent, he can't interact with us, or be involved in history in any way. He can only exist. In fact, he can't even be conscious, as consciousness requires the passage of time (think about it).

I understand what you're saying, and it seems to make sense. But I also know that you're touching on a philosophical debate that has been going on for a very long time with some very smart people on both sides. I just don't know enough about that to take a position either way.

Why do you think it [the universe] centers around us?

Actually, I was referencing the debate (another view) over the Anthropic Principle, which -- depending on who you talk to -- is either the idea that the structure of the universe (or multiverse) makes intelligent life inevitable, or the idea that the universe has been "designed" to produce human beings like us. Either way, in this view humans are, in some sense, the "center" of the universe, in that the structure of this particular universe seems to be perfectly suited to us.
posted by gd779 at 7:56 AM on May 15, 2002


I didn't mean "prove" in the sense of "establish absolutely". Rather, I meant "show your proofs" -- if you're going to claim that it is obviously unreasonable to believe in fundamental Christianity, then I would expect you to have the proofs necessary to show objectively that it is, in fact, unreasonable.

You would expect that, because apparently you're still grappling with the difficult fact that atheists are not obligated to get all their convictions from logical proofs, any more than Christians are.

Besides, how can anyone prove that something is "objectively unreasonable"? How can anything even be objectively unreasonable? How is unreasonability qualified (or quantified?) and proven?

Either way, in this view humans are, in some sense, the "center" of the universe, in that the structure of this particular universe seems to be perfectly suited to us.

Suited to us how?

Also, from the second link you gave above:

Contrary to one fairly common misconception, anthropic reasoning does not aim at reinstantiating Man as the center of Creation.
posted by bingo at 2:28 PM on May 15, 2002


You would expect that, because apparently you're still grappling with the difficult fact that atheists are not obligated to get all their convictions from logical proofs

That would make atheism as much of a faith as religion, right? But I won't even force you to go that far, because I personally try to reject all convictions that aren't grounded in facts or in reason. Not that anybody but me should be held to that standard, I suppose.

Besides, how can anyone prove that something is "objectively unreasonable"?

By "objectively", I mean "dispassionate". And by "unreasonable", I mean "without bais". So that is my standard: if I think that an argument would satisfy a dispassionate and unbiased mind, then I accept it. Everything is provisional, and subject to revision if I get new facts. Anything less is mere faith.

(Some Christians teach that you must "have faith in God", and that this means you must believe in God without proof. This is fine for some, I suppose. But I believe that we have erred in that teaching: the Bible teaches, I believe, that to have "faith in God" is to trust him. Faith does not touch the prior question of whether God exists: you'll notice that Jesus does not rebuke Thomas for wanting to see before he would believe. Jesus merely promises blessings for those who believe without having seen. As D. Elton Trueblood has said, "faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservations".)

But then we hit a philosophical problem: for our physical senses and our memories can no more be verified than the "spiritual sense" that some religious people claim to have. After all, who is to say that this is not "the matrix", or that we are not all mad? But I hate philosophy, so when I start thinking these thoughts, I tend to lay down until it passes.

Contrary to one fairly common misconception, anthropic reasoning does not aim at reinstantiating Man as the center of Creation.

I intentionally presented that site because it had a strong anti-theist perspective. A more balanced, and more true statement would be this: whether or not the anthropic principle results in "reinstating Man as the center of Creation" depends entirely upon what conclusions you draw from the facts. And, perhaps, upon what conclusions you wish to draw from the facts.

And let us remember that the multiverse theory has as much if not less support than any religion -- after all, the conventional view on the multiverse is that our universe is absolutely precluded from ever detecting any other universes. Which, then, requires the greater faith: a creator-God, or a complicated, untestable multiverse theory?

And if the answer is that both require faith, then we cannot claim intellectual superiority for one over the other, can we?
posted by gd779 at 5:45 PM on May 15, 2002


For easier reference: the story of "doubting" Thomas.
posted by gd779 at 5:52 PM on May 15, 2002


That would make atheism as much of a faith as religion, right? But I won't even force you to go that far, because I personally try to reject all convictions that aren't grounded in facts or in reason. Not that anybody but me should be held to that standard, I suppose.

It would make atheism a faith for those whose belief in the non-existence of an interested god is based on faith. Others have their own reasons. They are not all sitting around in a clubhouse, using robert's rules of order to develop the atheist charter.

So that is my standard: if I think that an argument would satisfy a dispassionate and unbiased mind, then I accept it.

But unbiased and dispassionate according to whom? It seems to me that my perspective is already much more dispassionate and unbiased than yours; probably you disagree.

And why should atheists feel the need to justify their beliefs, or lack thereof, to you anyway? It's not like they're afraid they'll go to hell if they don't de-convert more souls.

But I hate philosophy, so when I start thinking these thoughts, I tend to lay down until it passes.

You can lay down all you want, but those ideas are still out there.

A more balanced, and more true statement would be this: whether or not the anthropic principle results in "reinstating Man as the center of Creation" depends entirely upon what conclusions you draw from the facts. And, perhaps, upon what conclusions you wish to draw from the facts.

Either man is the center of Creation, or he isn't. Right?

the conventional view on the multiverse is that our universe is absolutely precluded from ever detecting any other universes.

I don't subscribe to this "conventional view." For crying out loud, we've barely even gotten off our own planet yet; there are a zillion things in this universe that we don't know anything about.

Which, then, requires the greater faith: a creator-God, or a complicated, untestable multiverse theory?

Honestly, they both sound like clumsy stabs in the dark.

And if the answer is that both require faith, then we cannot claim intellectual superiority for one over the other, can we?

No, but again, that's not the answer. Again, it is possible for someone to be an atheist for reasons other than logic and faith. Use your imagination.
posted by bingo at 7:24 PM on May 15, 2002


Some Christians teach that you must "have faith in God", and that this means you must believe in God without proof. This is fine for some, I suppose. But I believe that we have erred in that teaching: the Bible teaches, I believe, that to have "faith in God" is to trust him. Faith does not touch the prior question of whether God exists: you'll notice that Jesus does not rebuke Thomas for wanting to see before he would believe. Jesus merely promises blessings for those who believe without having seen.

But if god exists why does he refuse the level of proof he allowed thomas to the rest of us? The tale of doubting thomas is merely a way to rebuke skeptics - a pre-emptive strike, so to speak. It is used both as proof that there is proof - since Thomas was convinced - and a warning that you'll sure feel dumb that you ever doubted, and it's better just to believe without proof. The parable of thomas was created so they could say, we had a guy who was a skeptic in here, but he was convinced: it's like peer pressure -"everyone else was convinced"...

Why would god only offer that kind of proof to one person in history? Everyone else has to be convinced by second hand stories and empty promises. What it comes down to for me is, I see no evidence for a god, and I see no void that needs to be filled by him in my life, so if he does exist he's of no special significance to me, and further, if he does exist I have more faith in him than the average christian: I trust he wouldn't torture me eternally for expecting the same level of proof he gave someone who is now considered a saint. If he would punish me for not seeing him, I'd consider him more an "evil genius" than "god", and wouldn't want to be on his side anyway.
posted by mdn at 3:36 PM on May 16, 2002


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