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What would Jesus read?
November 28, 2004 10:43 PM   Subscribe

The Online Parallel Bible provides provides easy reference to two dozen versions of the bible. This may help research absurdities pointed out on sites like the Skeptic's Annotated Bible some of which are just translation errors.
posted by mosch (216 comments total)

 
There's only one version worthy of argument.
posted by nthdegx at 10:51 PM on November 28, 2004


So the whole "put to death" prescription for numerous offences like "lie with a man" is just a translation error?

Phew! I was getting jittery for a while.
posted by madman at 10:51 PM on November 28, 2004


[this is good]

On Preview: nthdegx, not sure how serious you are but the KJV was anarchonistic at the time it was written, intentionally so. Having learned Hellenistic Greek in college, specifically to study and resolve biblical tranlation issues, I recommend the NRSV as the closest I found to a non-biased translation.
posted by ..ooOOoo....ooOOoo.. at 10:59 PM on November 28, 2004


Here be dragons
posted by Pretty_Generic at 11:00 PM on November 28, 2004


"The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted."

Versus

"The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts."

The *Bible* was anachronistic at the time it was written. I like my fiction well written.
posted by nthdegx at 11:13 PM on November 28, 2004


Typical anti-Christian MeFi thread unfolding… so I’d like to remove a couple of the straw man arguments from the discussion if I can.

Leviticus 18:22 and 22:13 – cited above – are Old Testament. In the broadest terms, the Old Testament chronicles the failure of God’s chosen people to live under the Law. Anyone who wants to try to live under the strictures of Old Testament Law is faced with this command: Persons committing homosexual acts are to be executed. This is the unambiguous command of scripture.

But Christians today live under the New Covenant of Jesus. Unable to meet God’s standards, we stood in need of someone to intercede for us. Jesus played that role. His teachings were all about love. There is only one passage in the NT that is unambiguously critical of homosexual behavior, Romans 1:26-27, and it is really about the absence of love, not homosexuality per se. The Message translation brings this out clearly:
26Worse followed. Refusing to know God, they soon didn't know how to be human either--women didn't know how to be women, men didn't know how to be men. 27Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men--all lust, no love. And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid for it--emptied of God and love, godless and loveless wretches.
The Bible has no sexual ethic. It accurately describes the rules that were in place 2000+ years ago, which were the sexual mores of the time. Mores change over time. Behaviors that were commonplace then are condemned now. Prostitution, polygamy, concubines and very early marriage (for the girl, age 11-13) are just a few examples. Behaviors that were condemned then are commonplace now. Nudity (under certain conditions), birth control, masturbation, naming sexual organs (the Bible uses “foot” or “thigh” instead!), intercourse during menstruation, and yes, homosexuality were all forbidden. But the Bible does have a love ethic. Ethics don’t change over time.

Rather than focusing on how archaic laws from thousands of years ago might be prejudiced against homosexuals today, why not focus on the new message, delivered by Jesus Himself when he asked, "Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?" (Luke 12:57).

In order to judge for yourself what is right, you need to have a firm ethical foundation. The Bible offers one that has stood the test of time for 2000 years. It is an ethos of love, and truly adopting it means living it to the standards set by Jesus. How you live it is up to you, but at least in part it surely means rejecting any mores – including sexual mores - that violate your own integrity and that of others, and striving to meet the standard of “love thy neighbor as thyself” as exemplified by Jesus. Some Christians are going to oppose homosexuality on that basis, others will not. It is, however, sad to see it politicized by both Christians and non-Christians. Christians, at least, should approach the issue from the perspective of love.

The Bible could be a valuable tool for homosexuals who seek to dialogue with conservatives or fundamentalists or evangelists on modern day issues of sexual mores and politics. Meaningful dialogue is easiest when parties approach a topic from a shared perspective, and when the perspective is "love" that's even easier. You should read the Bible. It's a good book.
posted by JParker at 12:30 AM on November 29, 2004


And nice post, mosch. Although Bible Gateway has 19 different translations available, having them all appear side-by-side in one click is really helpful. Thanks!
posted by JParker at 12:33 AM on November 29, 2004


Although you will probably take flak for it, well said JParker.
posted by kamikazegopher at 1:16 AM on November 29, 2004


Hmmm. My point is that literal transations do not always convey power, artfulness or emotion, and that sometimes surrending the literal truth can represent the actual truth so much more accurately: hence, the King James version being my favourite. I don't see how saying that, or that saying the Bible is, largely, a work of fiction is anti-Christian, exactly. Many Christians would agree; and, further, many Christians would disagree with what JParker has written. I don't see that any of it has to be Christian Vs Non Christian.

Good resource, though. Thanks mosch.
posted by nthdegx at 1:39 AM on November 29, 2004


In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. - King James Version
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. - World English Bible
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. - American Standard Version

At the underground headquarters of the Bible in Basic English, a writer sits writing:

In the beginning
Once upon a time
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

*scratches head.*

At the beginning..

*smiles, wrinkles brow*

At the beginning..

*rubs chin*

At first
At first
At the first,

At the first, God created
At the first, God constructed
At the first, God did make
At the first, God made


At the first God made the heaven and the earth. - Bible in Basic Engligh

*lights a cigarette.*
posted by three blind mice at 1:41 AM on November 29, 2004


JParker, you're the man.
posted by ninthart at 2:09 AM on November 29, 2004


Maybe this is a little inflammatory, but you can compare different translations all you like and it doesn't change the fact that the Bible is pure fantasy, a ridiculous fiction only the naive, the feeble-minded, and the spiritually desperate cling to while lacking any other direction in their pathetic , meaningless lives. Now, let me enlighten you to the real truth as revealed by the one true church of Scientology:

The evil intergallactic ruler, Xenu, had a problem. All of the 76 planets he controlled were over-populated. Each planet had on average 178 billion people. He wanted to get rid of the excess population, so he formulated a plan.

With the help of renegades, Xenu took complete control and defeated the good people and the Loyal Officers. Then, with the help of psychiatrists, he called in billions of people for "income tax inspections," but they were instead given injections of a paralyzing mixture of alcohol and glycol. Then they were put into space planes that looked exactly like DC8's except they had rocket motors instead of propellers.

These DC8 space planes flew to planet Earth where the paralyzed people, numbering in the hundreds of billions, were stacked around the bases of volcanoes. When everyone had been piled on Teegeeack, H-bombs were lowered into the volcanoes. Xenu then detonated all the H-bombs and everyone was killed.

The story doesn't end there though. Since everyone has a soul (called a "thetan" in this story), Xenu had to trick the souls into not coming back. So while the hundreds of billions of souls were being blown around by the nuclear winds, he had special traps that caught the souls in electronic beams - the electronic beams were sticky, like fly-paper

After he had captured all these souls, he had them packed into boxes and taken to huge cinemas. There the souls had to spend days watching special 3D motion pictures that told them lies about what life should be like, and these films confused them and tricked them into believing things that were not true. They were shown "false" pictures and were told 'false" things, including stories about Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other religions. This process is called "implanting."

When the films ended and the souls left the cinema, they began to stick together in groups. They had all seen the same film and thought they were the same "person." They clustered in numbers of a few thousand. There were only a few living bodies left, so they stayed in clusters and inhabited these bodies - our ancestors.

As for Xenu, the Loyal Officers finally overthrew him and locked him away in a mountain on one of the planets. He is kept there by a force-field powered by an eternal battery. Xenu is still alive today.

That is the end of the story And so today everyone is full of these clusters of souls, called "body thetans." If each of us is to be a free soul, then we must remove all our body thetans and pay enormous sums of money to do so. And the only reason people believe in God, Christ, Muhammad or Satan is because it was in the film their body thetans saw 75 million years ago.

posted by Meridian at 2:17 AM on November 29, 2004


tbm, where've you been all my life?

The lack of a comma in that first sentence, the hook and the draw, always pissed me off.
Not that it was the reason I gave up on Christianity.
The inconsistency, internal conflict, intolerance and paradox of it had a hand.

I'm with nthdegx, though. The King James is the only one worth a damn for the literate.
posted by NinjaPirate at 2:38 AM on November 29, 2004


might i suggest the lamsa bibble?
posted by moonbird at 4:03 AM on November 29, 2004


obviously a typo. forgive.
posted by moonbird at 4:03 AM on November 29, 2004


Jparket: well kamikazegopher promised flak, I'm here to deliver..not flak that I'll gladly leave to pundits, but some observation.

Starting from Wikipedia as an easily accessible and generally approaching-neutral source of definition:

1. Ethos is the greek word from which the word ethics in
english, etica in italian, originally have source into. Rather then concern ourselves in a infinite regression
toward a mythical "ancestral true meaning" of words we'd better agree on what "ethic" means right now.

2. there could be and there is a debate about the difference, if any, between ethics and morals. To some the difference is
the same as that of Technology vs Technique , where Technique is a procedure (ordered sequence of actions and events producing
a result) and Technology the study (= collection/comparison/differentiation) of Techniques.

3. therefore, if we assume Ethics is the study of morals
3a. then it's difficult to say Ethics don't change over time without telling ourself a lie, which is typical of denial

4. otherwise, what is ethic according to you and is ethic different from moral ? Evidently if two different word are used, a difference must exist between the two.
posted by elpapacito at 4:31 AM on November 29, 2004


ops I forgot

5. could it be that ethical and moral are synonymous ?
posted by elpapacito at 4:33 AM on November 29, 2004


Generally speaking, ethics is to morality as epistemology is to metaphysics. At the risk of oversimplifying, the former comes from a practical study of behavior and its impact on society, and the other is about the search for the highest good, whether it be virture for its own sake, happiness, etc.

They are neither opposing nor synonymous concepts, just different views with regard to values and actions vs. outcomes from distinct branches of philosophy. If you make a leap to say that ethics and moral are synonomous, you miss out on the discovery of a whole body of knowledge that the technae of how the different systems work, and the effect of each approach on the development of western civilization, its theology, its laws, etc.
posted by Tommy Gnosis at 5:12 AM on November 29, 2004


Well, JParker, if we take the bible as being more correct the further you turn the pages, I'm going to have to reserve judgement until you explain Revelations to me. I'd quote the zillions of absurdities listed at other sites, but I'm willing to bet I don't need to.
posted by shepd at 6:01 AM on November 29, 2004


There is only one passage in the NT that is unambiguously critical of homosexual behavior, Romans 1:26-27, and it is really about the absence of love, not homosexuality per se. The Message translation brings this out clearly...

Two things:

1. You are right about the old covenant/new covenant distinction. However, there are more passages in the New Testament that deal with homosexuality as "wickedness":
1 Corinthians 6:9-11: "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (NIV)
I think the connotations are pretty clear when you group homosexuals together with thieves and swindlers, and also state that "this is what some of you were, but you were washed" -- obviously Paul doesn't intend for Christians to continue being homosexuals, even if they were pre-conversion.

2. The Message is not a translation. It's a paraphrase. Translations work directly from the originals, paraphrases are rewordings of translations. So, The Message isn't a translation, it's Eugene Peterson's take on the Bible.
posted by heatherann at 6:23 AM on November 29, 2004


Hmmm. My point is that literal translations do not always convey power, artfulness or emotion, and that sometimes surrending the literal truth can represent the actual truth so much more accurately: hence, the King James version being my favourite.

nthdegx, the trick with that is that such translations always reflect the interperetations of the translators. While that isn't inherently wrong or bad, it must be acknowledged that they're putting their spin on things. In some cases -- or many -- it's worth returning to a literal translation, or several different translations, to compare and contrast. Given the care with which many people study Scripture for insights and wisdom, it's worth checking.

One of my horrible Church-related memories involves a Bible study in which I was told to 'pick up a thesaurus' when the Bible confused me -- 'start looking at words reltaed to the one you don't understand.' I ground my teeth and informed the 'teacher' that the telephone game might be another useful study aid.
posted by verb at 6:46 AM on November 29, 2004


Ethical and moral are not synonymous.
posted by kenko at 7:25 AM on November 29, 2004


This is a nice tool.
posted by rushmc at 7:35 AM on November 29, 2004


Christians, at least, should approach the issue from the perspective of love.

Hear, Hear, JParker. Christians should approach every issue from the perspective of love.

"Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?" (Luke 12:57).

"The Christian in me says it's wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, 'I love to make a grown man piss himself.'"

How would Jesus torture prisoners?
Oh, right. He wouldn't.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 7:52 AM on November 29, 2004


nthdegx, while the KJV contains many beautiful passages, and is the book many of us grew up with and memorized, I'd argue it's not the most accessable unless you were taught the language as a child for the express purpose of reading the bible; many people weren't and I'd even say the language is so archaic now that in some passages it's become virtually an otherwise dead language.

Jparker, thanks for making the old/new covenent point so well, it's a major one a lot of folks are unaware of which is a little surprising since it basically defines what Christianity is. I'd offer Galatians 5:18 for interest as well: "But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under law." (NIV)

I'm making two connections between this thread and yesterdays related to Losing Languages.

Surely if the old KJV were the only translation available in English it would be an example of 'losing culture' along with the language, in my experience there are many points completely lost already on the average modern reader attempting to understand the KJV.

And it's interesting that Christians believe the Word can be effectively transmitted, for all practical purposes, in any understandable language at all.
posted by scheptech at 8:49 AM on November 29, 2004


scheptech, It's worth noting that there are also quite a few nuances to statements like Galatians 5:18. While it says that believers under the new covenant are no longer "under the law," it's also made clear that such freedom is not a license to sin and violate God's moral guidelines.

Where's the line between moral purity and legalism? It's a tricky distinction, and one that's certainly fertile ground for heated discussions... but worth pointing out.
posted by verb at 8:55 AM on November 29, 2004


One final New Testament quote for those who doubt its intentions:

Jude 1
7 In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

In addition to this, the New Testament is dependent on the Old. Its preachers continually make reference to the Old Testament in order to back up and justify their claims. Either you believe the Bible is the word of God, in which case you should be out killing gays, or you do not, in which case you should treat it like any other pamphlet of hateful propaganda - reject it as flawed. Until we all do that, the extremists will still be interpreting it literally and growing in number.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 8:56 AM on November 29, 2004


As I've indicated, verb, literal translations in what is a work of fiction in any case are not a high priority for me. Likewise accessibility, scheptech. Although I'm amazed that the language of Shakespeare can be called dead.
posted by nthdegx at 8:57 AM on November 29, 2004


The Bible has no sexual ethic.

The Bible says that the creator of the universe himself came down to Earth and told Moses that gays should be killed.

That's a fucking ethic.

And if you believe the Bible is the Truth, you'd probably agree that God hasn't changed his mind just because his universe now contains Will and Grace.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 9:01 AM on November 29, 2004


there are more passages in the New Testament that deal with homosexuality as "wickedness":

There has been much debate about whether I Corinthians 6:9-11 (and I Timothy 1:10 as well, while we're on the topic) refer to partners in homosexual relationships, or to homosexual and heterosexual male prostitutes. In short, it is unclear whether the issue is homosexuality alone, or promiscuity and "sex-for-hire." That's why I said the passage from Romans was the only one that is unambiguously critical.

The Message is not a translation. It's a paraphrase.
Yes, I referred to it incorrectly. I chose that paraphrase because it most clearly called out the nature of the wickedness that Paul was criticizing as "lovelessness" rather than homosexuality, but that message is still there in all the other versions.

the fact that the Bible is pure fantasy

Yes, I've heard all the arguments, and done a lot of study on it. At the end of the day, I'm left with two things:
(1) The men who were there, who saw and heard what Jesus said, went to very painful deaths before they would deny Him. People don't generally do that for works of fiction.
(2) It works. The Bible is very powerful in explaining human nature, and in providing good guidelines for living that maximize your enjoyment of life.

On ethics versus morals, I suppose if you don't believe in God then they are pretty much the same thing. I was referring to ethics as principles for right conduct, and morals as societal guidelines for acceptable behavior. Generally, there is a lot of overlap (or else there is a revolution brewing). If you accept the idea that there are non-relativistic, absolute concepts of "good" and "evil", you have to ask where we get those concepts. If there is no God, then there is no "good" and "evil", merely socially acceptable behavior (or genetically advantageous, or in one's self interest - but no external, objective source of good). If that's your perspective, fine, you're entitled to it, but it doesn't work for me.

I really didn't intend to hijack the thread to proselytize, but merely to try and clarify that the perception of the Bible as anti-homosexual is misguided. Some people, who believe in the Bible, are anti-homosexual. Some people, who believe in the Bible, are not anti-homosexual. Some people, who believe in the Bible, are homosexual. The Bible really doesn't have much to say about it. Jesus' message is all about love.
posted by JParker at 9:11 AM on November 29, 2004


Ethical and moral are not synonymous.

etymologically they are just greek vs. latin words stemming from the (still used) "ethos" and "mores", neither of which imply absolute standards. Ethics and morals are behaviors and so for the ancients always mutable. When they wanted to speak of absolutes, they spoke of "virtue" or "the good", and not the ways to reach those things, the ethos or mores that would lead to the best life.

neither here nor there, really, but if you want to make a distinction, it's not sufficient to simply claim there already is one without explaining what you take it to be. Different people expect different things from the words, but they are commonly used as synonyms. Of course, some people think epistemology and metaphysics are essentially synonyms as well (pragmatists, eg, tend to think the distinction is misleading)
posted by mdn at 9:11 AM on November 29, 2004


JParker - Jude 1:7 is also unambiguous. The people of Sodom were best known for being sodomites, as I recall.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 9:12 AM on November 29, 2004


The men who were there, who saw and heard what Jesus said, went to very painful deaths before they would deny Him. People don't generally do that for works of fiction.

Jesus was a political leader fighting against the Romans. People die for their political beliefs throughout history.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 9:15 AM on November 29, 2004


The Bible could be a valuable tool for homosexuals who seek to dialogue with conservatives or fundamentalists or evangelists on modern day issues of sexual mores and politics. Meaningful dialogue is easiest when parties approach a topic from a shared perspective, and when the perspective is "love" that's even easier.

I don't see that there is a shared perspective. I want to live my life on my own terms. Religious people want me to live life on their "love"-based terms. They refuse to grant me control over my own body and mind.

You should read the Bible. It's a good book.

I worked for a church for a summer in Montreal, a pretty religious city. Let me tell you from first-hand experience that this book has a number of incongruities within itself that its clergymen are willing to overlook in the name of one political or moral expediency or another.

I appreciate your calm and polite demeanor, but it doesn't change the fact that religious people want to warp people's minds with a conveniently ambiguous moral code.

The Bible (which one, by the way?) is the very last place to go to figure out "love". In fact, learning love from a book is probably what gets us into these messes. How about we learn mutual respect from dealing with people in the real world?
posted by AlexReynolds at 9:26 AM on November 29, 2004


How about we learn mutual respect from dealing with people in the real world?
posted by AlexReynolds at 12:26 PM EST on November 29


Wasn't Jesus all about Mutual Respect?

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 9:34 AM on November 29, 2004


JParker - Jude 1:7 is also unambiguous. The people of Sodom were best known for being sodomites, as I recall.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 12:12 PM EST on November 29


But there is some ambiguity regarding Sodom and Gomorrah. Were the cities punished because they practiced homosexuality, or were they punished because they were bad hosts and planned on raping the angels rather than protecting guests in their city? Anal rape was a pretty common way of humiliating one's enemy back then (still is in use now), so I wouldn't consider that to be stretching the text at all, especially when you consider the translation issues.
posted by schroedinger at 9:50 AM on November 29, 2004


People don't generally do that for works of fiction.

You're kidding, right?
posted by rushmc at 10:23 AM on November 29, 2004


Very useful tools, and fascinating conversation. I particularly appreciate the civility.
posted by SB at 10:39 AM on November 29, 2004


I'll also chime in that this is an excellent resource, so thanks for pointing it out, mosch.

A few responses from the perspective of another Christian:

nthdegx - be careful what you wish for...

if we take the bible as being more correct the further you turn the pages... It seems obvious that this is not what JParker is arguing. Rather, I think it is fundamental to Christianity, diverse and disconnected as this group of beliefs is, that the Gospel is about a complete and radical transformation of how people relate to God, specifically in the context of Law. What exactly that means is of course subject to dispute. I happen to take it very far, in that I believe the statement "A new command I give you: Love one another" is a complete and universally applicable statement of the "law" the Christian is bound to under the New Covenant. Of course in my opinion the canonical bible is a construct and the Epistles are merely commentaries by historical Christians... and even so, even our much disputed and reviled man Paul has some things to say that are a bit more interesting on the subject of the law...

Just to point out that there is a large range of beliefs on the topic among people who think of themselves as Christians.

it's interesting that Christians believe the Word can be effectively transmitted, for all practical purposes, in any understandable language at all

I think every Christian should grapple with that question, scheptech - it isn't unassailable (what is?), but I like Pastor Daniel Erlander's analogy from his book, Baptized, We Live: Lutheranism as a Way of Life:

If we say that the Word comes to us as the living address of God, how then do we view the Bible, the writings of the Old and New Testaments which we call Holy Scripture? At Bethlehem, Jesus the Christ was held in a manger, a feeback for animals. Luther taught that the Bible is like that manger because the Scriptures hold Christ, the Living Word, God's address to us. The manger was "human". If it were made of wood, no doubt some boards were crooked and some nails bent. Nevertheless, it held the divine Word for the world. The Bible, likewise, is "human". Yet it is "divine" because the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, holds the living Christ, who, as the Scriptures are read and proclaimed, lives as God's address to us. The Holy Spirit opens our ears to hear. We believe the Living Word and illusions are shattered, old ways are rejected, new life is born, enemies are reconciled, a family is created, and disciples heed the call, "Follow me."

Of course, I would imagine many will still see this as they see the Bible in general, as pure hokum - I just thought I'd clarify the variety of hokum I, at least, subscribe to.

Religious people... refuse to grant me control over my own body and mind.

religious people want to warp people's minds with a conveniently ambiguous moral code

"Religious people" is a really broad brush, AlexReynolds. Given past discussions I don't expect to get much out of the observation, but nonetheless. Do you not think that sort of generalization is, well, indiscriminantly judgmental in exactly the way I imagine you might condemn certain Christians for being?
posted by nanojath at 11:01 AM on November 29, 2004


All these NT anti-gay quotes were said in the shadow and context of Leviticus being regarded as a holy text. Parts of Leviticus were specifically overturned in the NT, but in the case of Leviticus 20:13 (God says kill gays), no-one overturns or condemns it, or even indicates that it is irrelevant, which they were perfectly capable of doing. After all, they did it with the pork thing. To claim it is possible that the Bible respects homosexuality is to clutch at a terribly pathetic straw.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 11:07 AM on November 29, 2004


Also, three blind mice is funny.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 11:12 AM on November 29, 2004


i hate religious people

but theres nothing i hate more than KJV religious people

please die.
posted by Satapher at 11:28 AM on November 29, 2004


Pretty_Generic, I'm not sure what your backgrounds and foundations are in investigation and criticism of the bible, but there is genuine scholarship and active dissent over the issue of the presentation of homosexuality (and indeed whether there is such a thing as we are discussing) in the bible, including that by homosexual members of the clergy, that I think deserves more respect than you demonstrate.

"The Bible" does not respect or disrespect anything, only people can do that. As a whole there is a great deal, if we I am to interpret each verse as literally prescriptive for my present-day life, that I disagree with. But in fact my relationship with the Bible is considerably more complicated than that.

Some of us have had transformative life experiences in which the contents of the Bible are an essential component. I have been led by this experience to the belief that the message of the Gospel is that God's grace is unlimited and that the conduct of our lives is to be guided wholly by love for one another. If people go to scripture with a critical eye for what seems to contradict this, why should you object to it?
posted by nanojath at 11:32 AM on November 29, 2004


...in the case of Leviticus 20:13 (God says kill gays), no-one overturns or condemns it

True. These are not cultic prohibitions from the Holiness Code that are superseded in Christianity, such as "don't eat shellfish" or "never wear clothes made of two different materials". But the same is true of most of Old Testament law. In the New Testament, there is no checklist of which laws apply and which don't. The point is that with the advent of the New Covenant under Jesus, none of the old rules apply any more. It isn't that they are worthless, or that they do not inform, but they simply are not the standard to which we are held accountable any longer.

Still, Pretty_Generic raises an interesting point. The verses cited above are rules about sexual behavior, and they are moral commandments. Clearly we regard some rules, especially in the Old Testament, as no longer binding. But other laws we do regard as binding (including some Old Testament rules that aren't even mentioned in the NT). What is the principle of selection?

Romans 10:4 says "Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes." That means all of these OT sexual mores come under the authority of Jesus. So even the cautions and warnings and proscriptions from Paul can't be considered law.

Christians are just people, and admittedly sinful people at that. They pick and choose the laws they observe, just like anybody. None of us like to admit that, though.

To claim it is possible that the Bible respects homosexuality

That isn't what I said. The Bible calls people to respect each other. It doesn't address homosexuality from an ethical perspective at all.
posted by JParker at 12:12 PM on November 29, 2004


The big question is: do you believe the Bible is the word of God? Either it is or it isn't. It's nice to try and create a grey area so we can all just quietly ignore it, but I'm more interested in the truth.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 12:43 PM on November 29, 2004


Yes, I do. Personally, it took a long, long time and a lot of work to make the gap I had to leap over as small as possible. It's serious business, and it deserves to be treated seriously.

I don't want to "create a grey area", and I certainly don't want to ignore it, but I also don't want to sit by and watch the Bible get bashed over misconceptions. I honestly think that if people would just read it, it would get more respect, and we, collectively, would be a lot better off.
posted by JParker at 1:00 PM on November 29, 2004


If you believe the Bible is God's word, I therefore assume you believe that Leviticus 20:13 actually happened. I go on to assume that you believe it was God's moral opinion that gays should be given the death penalty. I tentatively assume that you don't believe God has changed his mind on this basic moral issue.

Are any of my assumptions wrong, and if so, how, specifically?
posted by Pretty_Generic at 1:16 PM on November 29, 2004


There's an interesting article (of sorts) on the nature of Leviticus 20:13 here. and a refutation (of sorts) here. Cat, meet the pigeons.
posted by Sparx at 1:18 PM on November 29, 2004


Okay, I'm the first person to admit that I know nothing about the bible--at all--but I do know there are some pretty shaky contradictions in there. I was told that the Old Testament was rendered null and void by the teachings of the Big JC hisself. But in Matthew 5:17-19 (okay, okay, I know a little about chapters and verses), JC says:

5:17
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

5:18
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

5:19
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

5:17 seems self-explanatory. JC isn't here to change or destroy the laws of the Old Testament. "Jot and tittle" (heh, tittle) I always take to mean the LETTER of the OT.

Can someone explain this to me?
posted by John of Michigan at 1:58 PM on November 29, 2004


Sparx, nice links, and a much more thorough analysis - from both sides - than I could provide.

P_G, good questions, although there's a couple of explicit assumptions in there which I would disagree with.
Leviticus 20:13 "actually happened". Check. It was a law, and it was almost surely carried out from time to time.
it was God's moral opinion that gays should be given the death penalty Unlikely. The writer of Leviticus was documenting the religious laws of his time, including the prevailing moral codes, thus it is accurate. I can see many reasons why such a law might have existed, including those mentioned in Sparx's excellent links which call the context of the laws into question. To extrapolate from that and say that this is intrinsically "of God", His "moral opinion", and reflective of his character is overreaching in my opinion. If that were true, only those Old Testament laws that were expressly overriden in the NT would be invalidated. (And that, in turn would mean God made a mistake, passed a bad law and then needed to repeal it. Doubtful.)
you don't believe God has changed his mind on this basic moral issue I don't believe God ever declared this a "basic moral issue". At most, he allowed the writer of Leviticus to include the text of laws that were necessary for some people at that time.

The truth is, we are not given unequivocal guidance in regards to homosexuality. This suggests that, in the spirit of love, we should humbly admit our limitations.

This is where we get into trouble, and frankly I see little benefit from debating the nuances of ancient text. But try thinking about these issues from the perspective of love, and the issue is transformed. Instead of asking "What is permitted?" we can ask instead "What does it mean to love my homosexual neighbor?" Instead of asking "What sexual acts constitute a violation of divine law?" we can ask "What constitutes obedience to God as revealed in the love of Jesus Christ?" That's a productive discussion.
posted by JParker at 2:06 PM on November 29, 2004


JParker, Leviticus 20:13 isn't just a law. It's a quote. From God to Moses.

You believe the Bible is the word of God. Undoubtedly, the author best equipped to ascertain the opinions of God is God. Especially when he quotes himself directly.

Do you believe that God expressed that moral opinion to Moses, as stated in Leviticus 20:13?
posted by Pretty_Generic at 2:23 PM on November 29, 2004


The men who were there, who saw and heard what Jesus said, went to very painful deaths before they would deny Him. People don't generally do that for works of fiction.

So I guess Jim Jones' followers must've all been preaching the truth as well.

See also:
Heaven's Gate
Branch Davidians
posted by bashos_frog at 2:30 PM on November 29, 2004


John_of_Michigan, one of the primary reasons the Old Testament is in the Bible is that it "sets the stage" for the coming of Jesus. This includes lots of ancient prophecies about when he will come, what he will do, what he will be like, and how he will die. Those verses talk about how Jesus meets each and every requirement for the Messiah. The last one is Jesus saying that he is reinterpreting the old covenant, and giving clear guidance and direction as to how to get into right relationship with God. Keep reading - in verses 21-48 (The Sermon on the Mount) He establishes the spirit of the law as the norm for Christian behavior instead of the letter of the law.
posted by JParker at 2:31 PM on November 29, 2004


So I guess Jim Jones' followers must've all been preaching the truth as well.

So who said to Jim Jones' followers, "Just deny Jim and we'll let you go free. Otherwise we're going to feed you to the lions."

There's a difference between people who are deluded into following false teachings - and die for them - and people who will not deny something to which they have been a eyewitness, even if it means their own death.
posted by JParker at 2:35 PM on November 29, 2004


"What constitutes obedience to God as revealed in the love of Jesus Christ?"

Interesting question but then allows almost any answer. Which leads down the ever-tightening circle of "my way or the highway" and ends at where we are now, with many states outlawing homosexual marital equality in the constitutions. Regardless of any believer's answer to that question, once you use it to impose the answer on non-believers you've gone too far.
posted by billsaysthis at 2:41 PM on November 29, 2004


JParker, are you ignoring me?
posted by Pretty_Generic at 2:43 PM on November 29, 2004


we can ask instead "What does it mean to love my homosexual neighbor?"

I believe the usual answer is: "I must try to save their soul, so I shall preach and harangue them and I shall try to make what they do illegal."
posted by five fresh fish at 2:53 PM on November 29, 2004


Pretty_Generic, Sorry, working....
In response to Do you believe that God expressed that moral opinion to Moses, as stated in Leviticus 20:13?

Yes, but I don't think you can classify it as a "moral opinion". This is the same "Holiness Code" where the laws are laid down about not eating shellfish (verse 25) and stoning the fortune-tellers to death (verse 27).

Leviticus was called "The Holiness Code," because it spelled out requirements - and listed out punishments - for Israel to remain "Holy." Israel was God's Chosen People. God had a covenant with them. It required Israel not to take part in religious practices of the Canaanites. They had to remain separate from the Gentiles, to be like their God and not like other people. The main concern of "The Holiness Code," was to keep Israel different from the Gentiles.

After Jesus came, everything changed and the Holiness Code was no longer necessary.

So yes, I think that was real and it was according to the will of God. I'd also add that there are LOTS of parts of the Old Testament that don't make sense to me, and which I don't like. But you don't get to pick and choose which parts to believe.
posted by JParker at 2:55 PM on November 29, 2004


JParker:

So yes, I think that was real and it was according to the will of God. I'd also add that there are LOTS of parts of the Old Testament that don't make sense to me, and which I don't like. But you don't get to pick and choose which parts to believe.

You appear to be doing that quite a lot in this thread.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 3:03 PM on November 29, 2004


JParker, you believe that God ordered the Jews to kill gays so that they remain holy. Yet you don't believe that indicates that God had a dislike of homosexuality.

You believe, apparently, that this was merely a... a what... a political decision of God's, so that his people would feel more comfortable?

Why else, then, did God make the command to kill innocent homosexuals? He didn't have to, he chose to. Surely this isn't a case of "not liking" part of the Bible. This is a case of utter disgust. God willingly chose to order his people to kill innocents, who posed no threat.

How can you worship this God, who has made this arbitrary and evil decision?
posted by Pretty_Generic at 3:05 PM on November 29, 2004


After Jesus came, everything changed and the Holiness Code was no longer necessary.

but not because it was flatly incorrect, right? I mean, isn't the argument that pure holiness was impossible for mere mortals, but through jesus achievable, etc? This would mean that those laws set out in the OT are still the IDEAL, which now individuals needn't feel pressured to obtain because their faith will be enough - their faith will fill the gap between fallible and divine. But even so, that still means that breaking those laws is sinning; it is just that it is recognized that all humans sin, and that only jesus can help them change. So, a) mixed fabrics and gay sex and murder are still sins; and b)true faith in jesus should allow one to be the sort who doesn't commit these sins, but if he does, he can still be forgiven.

This may mean love is the answer in that stoning people for eating shellfish or raping children is unnecessary & jesus will forgive them, but it doesn't change the fact that certain things are grouped together as inherently wrong and against jehovah.
posted by mdn at 3:17 PM on November 29, 2004


Pretty_Generic, read the arguments presented in the first link from Sparx' post. It's as good an explanation as I've seen, and has more to do with ritual, temple purity and cleanliness than "utter disgust" with homosexuals.

I don't believe in any view of God that characterizes Him as either arbitrary or evil.

WinnepegDragon, I hope not. But this is a wide-ranging discussion selectively hitting some of the most difficult topics, and I am not a Bible scholar. I'm trying to address the questions and concerns - to the best of my limited understanding - in as open and honest a manner as I can - and some people don't like the answers. I can only hope that some people will understand that a perspective of love and respect for your fellow man (and woman!) are explicitly what Jesus is calling for.
posted by JParker at 3:36 PM on November 29, 2004


mdn, no, I don't think that's right. Jesus opened up a door that wasn't there before. He was something new and different. It's as though you had a ritual for walking to the store - get your wallet, make sure you have cash, dress in warm clothes, put on your snowshoes, whatever. Now you have a car. You'll still need the wallet and the cash, but the three layers of warm clothes and the snowshoes are not just unnecessary - they are no longer the best answer. In fact, if you try and drive your car with snowshoes on, you're likely to have a wreck.
posted by JParker at 3:40 PM on November 29, 2004


I didn't mean utter disgust with homosexuals, I meant your and my utter disgust with God for ordering their execution.

I have read Sparx's first link. It says nothing to deny that God ordered Moses and the Jews to execute innocent homosexuals. In addition, it says nothing to deny that God (being omniscient) knew that His word would be used to justify such executions well into the future.

I understand that you believe your God to be just and merciful. Please explain how ordering the execution of innocent homosexuals, in order to make the Jews "holy" (which is an attribute defined by God alone) is just and merciful. You can go into some degree of depth if you like. I'm listening.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 3:50 PM on November 29, 2004


fags have cooties. god said so.
posted by quonsar at 4:03 PM on November 29, 2004


So do shellfish. Filthy, filthy crustacea. No wonder God hates them.
posted by Sparx at 4:23 PM on November 29, 2004


Pretty_Generic, I don't have "utter disgust" with God over anything. I have profound gaps in my understanding, which I am able to accept by faith. That faith is bolstered by both research and personal experience. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that once you accept Jesus as Lord, everything will be explained to your satisfaction. But the faith which I have entrusted to Him has never been betrayed. I have learned a lot by following Jesus' teachings, and it has given me a sense of peace.

I certainly can't defend everything in the Bible. I tend to view the Old Testament as a history book, background for the real story which emerges in the New Testament, so I don't have as much angst over all the things I can't explain.

I'm sorry, I just don't know the answers to all your questions. I would say this: If you feel "utter disgust" with God over this issue, then research the heck out of it! Do whatever you need to do to understand it. I have done that on several issues, and in the end each time I have learned something that deepened my understanding of God and His will. And if, on your quest, you figure it out, let me know!
posted by JParker at 4:41 PM on November 29, 2004


I don't know about other shellfish, but yes, apparently God hates shrimp.

Pinch the tail
Suck the head
Burn in hell
Godhatesshrimp.com


Now apparently He even hates them on T-shirts and refrigerator magnets.
posted by JParker at 4:47 PM on November 29, 2004


Do whatever you need to do to understand it.

Why is the non-believer's responsibility to figure out your religion? Why don't you do your own homework?
posted by AlexReynolds at 4:56 PM on November 29, 2004


Because it's not just a religion. It's a way of seeing and interacting with the world. Just as there are physical laws that dictate things like "don't step off the 40-story building", there are spiritual laws that govern our behavior. Violate them, and you will experience the consequences, just like physical laws.

There are lots of things I don't understand in the physical laws either, from the behavior of subatomic particles to quantum energy states to the behavior of matter in the big bang. That doesn't stop me from staying away from the edge of the building, though.

Moreover, I'd say that relying on the thoughts of some random MeFite in the forum thread to dictate your life philsophy is dangerous. You need to find out for yourself. I'd recommend starting with (surprise!) the Bible.

We tend to research the things that are important to us (at least I do), and the historical underpinnings of dead laws in the Old Testament ranks somewhere below movie reviews of The Incredibles for me. Other people have different priorities.
posted by JParker at 5:17 PM on November 29, 2004


If anyone is looking for a good translation of the new testament for academic or other purposes, I'd recommend Richard Lattimore's translation. He was a really prominent greek scholar who did translations of The Odyssey, The Illiad, as well as works by Euripides and Aeshylus. When I was taking comparative religion and philosophy classes, a couple of my professors suggested it to me and I found it useful.

Unfortunately, it doesn't appear on the parallel bible site, probably because it's written in prose form (to match the original more closely.)
posted by sophie at 5:42 PM on November 29, 2004


If there is no God, then there is no "good" and "evil", merely socially acceptable behavior

(must restrain self...do not yell...)

Equating religion with moral capability irks me to no end. Please, if you believe that only "objective" truths can/should be followed, then please investigate the ethical realm of Realism.

Also, the morals-by-mandate you propose contains the persistent problem of infinite regress, in the sense that one may rationally and coherently ask where God receives the power to determine ethical truths, and in turn ask where that came from, and so on.

On another note (and only IMHO), arguing the relevance and worth of the Bible on its own terms is a foolish task. People will always have their interpretations of what it's "really" saying, and all of them are wrong. Because it's really saying nothing that the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy can't tell you. I'm not trying to Bible bash, I'm just trying to say that when someone says they "believe" in the Bible, that has almost no real world meaning. Belief can be literal, figurative, selective, irrational, incoherent, or all of the above. Let them have their lunch table.
posted by rooftop secrets at 5:49 PM on November 29, 2004


(and that was not to imply that Realism doesn't share similar logical problems as Morals-by-Mandate. I simply meant to show that there are other approaches to ethics if you think "objective" morals can only be found through God.)
posted by rooftop secrets at 5:51 PM on November 29, 2004


JParker, you say you believe that the Bible is the word of God. Yet clearly, you occasionally have doubts about it. You say that there are parts of it you don't like. I mean, it's understandable. Anyone would say that, if they thought about it.

You can't defend everything in the Bible. You regard the Old Testament as a history book, slightly less interesting that analysis of the latest Disney blockbuster.

And yet you say it is the word of God, the almighty creator of the universe.

You say that the faith you entrusted to Him has never been betrayed. To continue with the example we were dealing with... can you imagine the pain of those innocent people being killed needlessly at God's behest, and the pain of their families? Is that not betrayal enough, for an educated human who can feel compassion for others? I have no doubt that you, as an intelligent man, have occasional doubts about your faith.

Well, I don't. I haven't had any doubt about my beliefs since I was about thirteen years old, and I'll tell you why. My beliefs are based purely on my desire for the truth. Where a religious man would ask himself, "how can I lead myself to believe more deeply in this beautiful faith", I will ask myself, "how can I question my current beliefs so that I can be sure they are true?". I actively seek to find fault with my atheist principles, and I've never stopped, and I've never had any success. That's the scientific method.

Do you test yourself in that way? Of course you don't, not to the extent I do, because you consider faith a virtue. Blind faith. I do not consider that to be a virtue, particularly when it involves worshiping a murderer of innocents such as your God. Rather, I consider a desire for the truth to be the virtue, even if it causes you to lose your community, your friends, your holy book, and your former life. The truth is all we have, and only through the desire for truth will we find contentment. The contradictions, hatred and archaism in your holy book can never provide us with that.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 5:58 PM on November 29, 2004


mdn, no, I don't think that's right. Jesus opened up a door that wasn't there before. He was something new and different. It's as though you had a ritual for walking to the store....

the warm clothes are replaced by the heated interior of a car. The snowshoes are replaced by snow tires. These things don't just become mysteriously unnecessary - new technology comes up with more efficient ways of achieving the SAME goal. What is the goal that the OT and NT ethics, according to your view, are both attempting to achieve? In your analogy, none of the elements of the ritual of going to the store need remain the same - I can order whatever I want from amazon, e.g. If god can change his mind about the best way to go to the store, then how do we know he hasn't again (eg, islam says jesus was just another chapter, not the last one...)?
posted by mdn at 6:26 PM on November 29, 2004


Christians are just people, and admittedly sinful people at that.

Yes, and people who fetishize their bad behavior strike me as bizarre and make me nervous.

There's a difference between people who are deluded into following false teachings - and die for them - and people who will not deny something to which they have been a eyewitness, even if it means their own death.

No, there isn't. Eyewitness accounts are notoriously and demonstrably unreliable, and there is little relation between what people see and how people interpret what they see when others practice to deceive them.
posted by rushmc at 6:52 PM on November 29, 2004


how can I question my current beliefs so that I can be sure they are true?

Do you test yourself in that way?

Well, I doubt anyone is going to change anyones mind here, but it's probably fair to say that religious folk generally, of many faiths or beliefs besides only Christianity, share the idea that human beings are not the ultimate, the best, or the greatest, beings or whatever you want to call them, in the universe.

And it follows logically, if you're so inclined, to realize that as a mere limited human, one is actually not capable of testing or determining with certainty such issues leaving one with what is called 'faith' or 'belief'. These are not testable things in the usual sense. For a Christian (and for others I imagine), it's actually somewhat absurd to suggest testing God.

I say this not out of disrespect for the idea of the scientific method, which has obviously benefited us hugely, but to indicate where I think the root difference is between those who believe and those who don't.

I think it starts with a basic belief in something outside of and greater than ourselves, and in the case of Christianity and likely others, something much better than ourselves.

So this is a differentiator I see at any rate: a person either thinks humans are the very best thing there is or they don't. From there a lot of stuff follows one way or the other.
posted by scheptech at 7:30 PM on November 29, 2004


scheptech: religious faith comes from within yourself, without necessary proof or evidence from outside. Scientific knowledge comes from without, from evidence in the world around you. If you believe humanity is imperfect, which path do you think you should follow?
posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:49 PM on November 29, 2004


scheptech, I would add that "very best" is a significant value judgment and one that you assert without proof. For me, at least, the question of humanity being the best thing that exists is not even relevant to answer the question of god's existence. Instead, god's existence is a completely separate issue which I judge based on that which I see around me. Bluntly, my belief is that the origin of everything is an amazing mystery which, without outside intervention, we will most likely never solve. Now you could say that the Bible (or Koran, Torah or other similar text) is that evidence and I would say, well, no, a book that comes down from many centuries ago is not evidence, any more than Shakespeare's Henry VI cycle is an authentic history of England during his reign. Faith, to me, is like the snake that swallowed its own tail.
posted by billsaysthis at 8:41 PM on November 29, 2004


I think it starts with a basic belief in something outside of and greater than ourselves, and in the case of Christianity and likely others, something much better than ourselves.

[waves hi] Hi. That'd be me you're talking about. I'm much greater and better than you. Honest. You can take it on faith.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:03 PM on November 29, 2004


Pretty_Generic, I think in a certain way your question supports my point which is that, where one begins matters more than the series of logical steps one can follow from there:

To me, your question pre-supposes the non-existence of God. This is your starting point and it leads to an obvious conclusion. You say there is only what a person imagines in their head or sees in the physical world and one has to chose. There's no God so these are your choices, and of course it would be pretty dumb to just go with your imagination. So all a person can believe in is the observable physical world, no God. This I agree would be the logical conclusion starting from a belief that humanity and the human logical mind is the greatest such thing there is. (billsaysthis, I see your point about a value judgement but I think what Pretty_Generic is saying, as many folks do of couse, is he does not see how anyone can believe in a God because he cannot be convinced logically and that trumps all other considerations, there is nothing that supercedes that making it the most important or greatest thing, however you want to put it)

To understand the other perspective one has to appreciate the concept of something (in Christianity and other religions God) existing outside of all that you or I can know or understand in the usual logical way, something that exceeds our abilities in that sense. If you start there, then your thinking may follow a different path not allowed for by your question. Of course billsaysthis brings up yet another path, that of being agnostic.

So I think your question helps makes my point as an example, in this case, of how a person with a disbelief in any sort of God might start there and then follow a reasonably predictable path, logically ending up in a place where it's not possible to believe in God. Doubtless one could provide an example of going the other way with it. Starting with a belief in God and following a logical path to a place where only belief in God is possible.

billsaysthis, if I understand correctly it sounds like we may agree one can neither prove nor disprove the existance of God logically, you would perhaps say therefore we can't pretend to know, I'd suggest this demonstrates a limitation of logical thought leaving open the possibility that there may be something to be considered beyond that.
posted by scheptech at 10:33 PM on November 29, 2004


For someone who's just in it for the truth, Pretty_Generic, you sure make a lot of assumptions - about JParker, about me, about the other 86% percent of us you share the planet with who are so blind, uncritical, and primitive as to adhere to a metaphysical belief system. It must feel really special to belong to that exclusive 14% who have the inner resources to question themselves, to ruthlessly apply the scientific method to themselves, and so overcome a pathetic reliance on pure fantasy and come to cleave, motivated exclusively by your virtuous desire for truth, to the one unshakeable foundation of "your athiest principles". You know what kinds of questions the "religious man" asks himself. You know how the faithful dupe tests himself (not at all!) and what he really values (blind faith!). A guy would be crazy to argue with you. Being as how you've learned the only path to contentment in this earthly life, don't you think you should, you know, start some kind of temple, start spreadin' the good news? I mean, let's face it, you're pretty much preachin' to the choir here.
posted by nanojath at 10:48 PM on November 29, 2004


Wow, I took a break to go get some dinner, and things really stacked up. I do want to echo the previous comments about civility and respect and say “thanks”.

rooftop_secrets - thanks for restraining yourself

Equating religion with moral capability irks me to no end.

Me too. Fortunately, religion infers moral capability, but does not equate itself to it. Moral capability is necessary to discern good and evil. It is also necessary so that we can legitimately be challenged to do better. (Note: re previous discussion, we’re using morals and ethics interchangeably to refer to a system of values whereby good and evil are measured or compared, n’est pas? Otherwise, what I’m talking about is ethical capability. Morals are shared community values, easily discernable from the newspaper.)

please investigate the ethical realm of Realism

This philosophical discipline is so obscure that an increasing number of philosophers dismiss it out-of-hand. Besides, ethical realism does not stand in opposition to religion; it’s nearest opposite would be something like ethical anti-realism, or the belief that ethics are entirely an invention of the mind with no corresponding existence in reality.

the morals-by-mandate you propose contains the persistent problem of infinite regress

On the contrary, the existence of a Supreme Creator stops the infinite regress in its tracks. Since God created everything, the buck stops with Him. Realism without a Creator does, however, suffer from exactly that problem. Ethical standards (absolute good) exist independently of our minds – who created them?

when someone says they "believe" in the Bible, that has almost no real world meaning

When people say they believe in the Bible, the most widely understood meaning is that they subscribe to the values and ethos espoused therein. At least, I’ve never had anyone ask me “do you mean literally, figuratively, selectively, irrationally, or incoherently?” If people mean “literally”, as in Biblical inerrancy, they usually say so.

Pretty_Generic

I have no doubt that you, as an intelligent man, have occasional doubts about your faith

Every single day. But my doubts are about my understanding, my interpretation, and whether I am doing God’s will, not whether it’s true, or whether God might have made a mistake, or whether God even exists. I’ve resolved those questions to my own satisfaction.

Well, I don't. I haven't had any doubt about my beliefs since I was about thirteen years old

I’ll spare you the Socratic quote about an unexamined life. You say “I actively seek to find fault with my atheist principles, and I've never stopped”, but that is exactly the kind of “doubt” that I have. Have I examined my beliefs with the same rigor that you have? Clearly you don’t think so. I don’t know, but it seems to me that if you are restricting your beliefs to that which you can see, and test, and understand, then you’ve got a pretty simple job. To hold yourself accountable to a higher power, to attempt to discern the will of God the Creator and be His trustworthy agent, to see His handiwork manifest in the world around you, to live up to the objective standards of perfect goodness as demonstrated by Jesus Christ – these are not easy tasks.

you consider faith a virtue. Blind faith.

Absolutely wrong. Blind faith is stupid. I believe in faith as a virtue – educated, knowledgeable, informed faith. There is an old saying, “Faith is not belief without proof, it is trust without reservation.” Food for thought there.

I consider a desire for the truth to be the virtue, even if it causes you to lose your community, your friends, your holy book, and your former life. The truth is all we have

How sad. I’m sorry P-G, I don’t mean to be condescending at all, it’s just that such a life would be essentially pointless to me. My family, my friends, my church, my community – these are the human relationships that are the most important things in my earthly life. To sacrifice them all on the altar of scientific proof is very sad. This is one of the reasons why knowledge and awareness of God is so important. Without God, all you are left with is science and the search for some pure objective “truth”. I hope and pray that at the end of my days on earth, my life is defined by the relationships I’ve had, the friends and relatives that I’ve known and loved, my role as a church member, and as a father and a husband and a son and a brother. The truth is not all I have, and I hope it never is.

mdn

What is the goal that the OT and NT ethics, according to your view, are both attempting to achieve?

Reconciliation with God. To oversimplify it a little bit, God is 100% good; in fact He is perfect. We aren’t. Perfection cannot tolerate imperfection, so we are doomed to eternal separation from God. God gave us the rules and regulations to try and simply “be perfect” and thereby earn our way into His presence (heaven), but we failed. And interestingly, we failed not because the bar was so high, but because we are flawed creatures (original sin doctrine). You see this again and again in the Old Testament. Only then could God introduce Jesus who could stand in for us – in His perfection he could take our sins upon Himself and open the door for us to be in God’s presence. Jesus says to the doorman, “No, he’s a friend of mine, let him in.”

rushmc

people who fetishize their bad behavior strike me as bizarre

Um, OK.

jparker - There's a difference between people who are deluded into following false teachings - and die for them - and people who will not deny something to which they have been a eyewitness...

rushmc - No, there isn't. Eyewitness accounts are notoriously and demonstrably unreliable…

But there is, and I would think it’s pretty clear. The Branch Davidians, Jim Jones and Heaven’s Gate – the three groups mentioned above – are all examples of groups that followed their false leaders to their deaths. In the Branch Davidian incident, the FBI went into the Waco compound with guns blazing and killed all but nine of the members. In the Jonestown case, Jones and his followers committed suicide (or murder) on Jones's instructions by drinking cyanide-laced Flavor Aid. In the Heaven’s Gate case, Applewhite and 39 people committed suicide so that their souls could take a ride on a spaceship hiding behind the comet.

In the case of the early Christians, they were persecuted for their beliefs, and in many cases offered the chance to recant. They chose to die rather than deny Jesus.

And note, please, that in the original context I didn’t say that they were unique in dying for their beliefs, I said “People don't generally do that for works of fiction.” What I should have said, to be clearer, was “People don’t generally do that for causes they know to be false.” In other words, they saw Jesus rise from the dead, and they knew that if they were killed it simply didn't matter, since Jesus had already demonstrated that He had power over death.

Pretty_Generic again

religious faith comes from within yourself, without necessary proof or evidence from outside. Scientific knowledge comes from without, from evidence in the world around you. If you believe humanity is imperfect, which path do you think you should follow?

Let’s “reframe” that and see how it reads. Religious faith attributes creation to an all-powerful Creator, who holds us accountable for our actions here on earth. Scientific knowledge is restricted to observable and repeatable facts about the physical world. Which system do you think is most appropriate for guiding human behavior?
posted by JParker at 10:48 PM on November 29, 2004


nanojath: yes, all those things, absolutely. I cannot understand religious belief. I feel privileged to know the truth (based on the scientific method) when so many people do not. I would like to start a temple preaching logical thought. I am glad you understand me so well!

JParker: it seems to me that if you are restricting your beliefs to that which you can see, and test, and understand, then you’ve got a pretty simple job.
Yes. It's simple. I am glad you agree.

The truth is not all I have, and I hope it never is.
Yes, you have more than me. You have more than the truth. You have lies. Congratu-fucking-lations.

Let’s “reframe” that and see how it reads. Religious faith attributes creation to an all-powerful Creator, who holds us accountable for our actions here on earth. Scientific knowledge is restricted to observable and repeatable facts about the physical world. Which system do you think is most appropriate for guiding human behavior?
The second one.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 11:32 PM on November 29, 2004


To add to and clarify something someone said above, the King James Version isn't a very accurate translation. This is mostly because it was a very ambitious undertaking at a not-very-advanced stage of Greek scholarship. This is important because the New Testament was written in a dialect of Greek and it was the contemporarily available Greek sources they used for the NT; and, if I recall correctly and I may not, the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) also was used. (At the very least, the Septuagint was the version familiar to the people contemporaneous with the NT and was what was quoted therein.)

This dialect of Greek, koine, was the "common tongue" throughout the region of the time (as a result of Alexander's conquests). The Semitic peoples and writers of the NT, and Jesus, almost certainly spoke Aramaic as their primary language, but spoke koine Greek as a secondary language and in civic speech (and not Latin, contrary to Mr. Gibson's supposed historical accuracy). The books of the NT were certainly written down in koine Greek.

Because koine is a secondary "common tongue", it is essentially a simplified version of Greek. Anyone who's interested in the New Testament I would encourage they attempt to study it. Compared to homeric and attic (attic being the Greek of the classical period), koine is very easy. I struggled with both attic and homeric Greek, but found that I could easily read koine Greek after studying attic and homeric.

Indeed, I personally translated large portions of John, Matthew, and a smaller portion of the Revelation. (The latter was more difficult.) It became immediately obvious that the KJV translation was unreliable. The easiest way to explain this is to simply say that a contemporary education in ancient Greek and the available references for the student are vastly superior to those available to the writers of the KJV.

Having said that, however, the KJV is widely regarded, and properly so in my opinion, as a masterpiece of English literature. And it was a massive undertaking. I own, but have not read but the beginning of "Wide as the Waters", which is well-regarded and I concur from what I've read. (Alas, it got packed up and I've not the energy to retrieve it.) Anyway, I think the KJV deserves respect for what it is, and that includes, among other things, an enormous cultural accomplishment. No other translation of the Bible into any other language has been as influential as the KJV.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:12 AM on November 30, 2004


Wow, religion is certainly coming off better than anti-religion here in terms of good discourse. By their works ye shall know them, and all that; if I had to pick a team based on who among this crowd I'd rather hang out and have civilized discussions with, it'd be the Christians, no hesitation. Way to represent the side, all you atheist soapbox ranters!

I agree with EB about the King James.
posted by languagehat at 8:22 AM on November 30, 2004


Wow, religion is certainly coming off better than anti-religion here in terms of good discourse.

I disagree. Methinks your bias in favor of touchy-feely false acceptance over a commitment to truth (which I've noted in a large number of threads) is coming into play here. To me, the religious folk in this thread sound backed into a corner, clutching their discredited beliefs while pleading "mine!" When people are openly admitting that they are willing to sacrifice truth in order to feel like they "belong" to something, they have conceded the victory.
posted by rushmc at 8:52 AM on November 30, 2004


Wow, religion is certainly coming off better than anti-religion here in terms of good discourse.

I'd have to agree, although I must note that some of us got this discussion out of our system the previous two dozen times it was discussed here, so it may be just be the self-selected sample you are observing.

By their works ye shall know them

funny, that's the argument I always use against the religionists. wars and patriarchy and all that.

getting back on topic, I thought the link was a neat resource and I shall definitely use it again.
posted by norm at 8:53 AM on November 30, 2004


So this is a differentiator I see at any rate: a person either thinks humans are the very best thing there is or they don't. From there a lot of stuff follows one way or the other.

no, a human either thinks humans are the very best thing *to try to comprehend what humans can understand*, or they don't. believing in something 'greater than yourself', whatever that means, gives you no credible insight as to what that thing is. You can only understand that which you can understand. To attempt to understand that which by your own definition you cannot understand seems simply to be delusion or grandiosity. Accepting that the best sense you can make of the world is through examining it is not equivalent to holding yourself up as the Greatest Thing Ever.

I can respect a sort of agnostic deism, or a pantheistic love for the whole, or something like that. I cannot respect a firm belief that a certain human-written book explains universal mysteries correctly while other similar books are just wrong.

Reconciliation with God. To oversimplify it a little bit, God is 100% good; in fact He is perfect. We aren’t. Perfection cannot tolerate imperfection, so we are doomed to eternal separation from God.

so, ethics are a means to the end of getting into heaven.

God gave us the rules and regulations to try and simply “be perfect” and thereby earn our way into His presence (heaven), but we failed.

so, perfection includes not eating shellfish or having gay sex, which is what I said to begin with. We tried to be perfect - to give up the mixed fabrics - but we just couldn't. So then god decided it didn't actually matter if we were ethical, since ethics is not for its own sake, but just a way to make ourselves less disgusting to him, so he sacrificed himself to himself in order to save us from himself.
posted by mdn at 8:57 AM on November 30, 2004


The burden of proof here lies on both parties. Religious folks cannot empirically prove the existence of deity and non-religious folks cannot empircally prove the non-existence of deity. There really isn't a point in arguing about it, since they both start from assumptions. Some folks are skeptics and some are mystics.

a commitment to truth...

Truth and Fact are two different things. Truth is a matter of belief and thus both non-religious and religious folks think they know the truth. Fact is incontrovertible and neither religous folks or non-religious folks possess it in this instance.
posted by sciurus at 9:08 AM on November 30, 2004


Truth and fact are the same thing. It's just that "truth" is Germanic and "fact" is Latin. Please think before you type.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 10:01 AM on November 30, 2004


The burden of proof here lies on both parties. Religious folks cannot empirically prove the existence of deity and non-religious folks cannot empircally prove the non-existence of deity. There really isn't a point in arguing about it, since they both start from assumptions. Some folks are skeptics and some are mystics.

Nonsense. Skeptics are not equivalent to mystics. Skeptics make no ridiculous claims about the world and mystics do.

I make no supposition either way about a God, and expect anyone who makes a claim either way to justify it with factual, repeatable sensory evidence.

I live my life without a God or nonGod, and conduct my morality along that line, because I see no utility in believing in a God/nonGod. I see no difference between a Christian God and a nonGod as an alternate deity, like Allah, or vice versa, as a logical entity.

Further, anyone who not only claims a morality based upon such a defense of a God/nonGod, but expects everyone else to agree, should have the courage to defend it with more than the following:

• It's true because it feels right
• It's true because I said so
• It's true even though my understanding of it is imperfect
• It's true even though my morality is lacking
• It's true because the KJV edition of the Bible said so
• It's true because the koine version said so
• It's true because the Oxford edition said so etc. etc.
• It's true because Christians were persecuted hundreds of years ago

Is this really "quality discourse" from the religious nuts? Sounds more like "begging the fact" to me, and to others who care not to waste much time arguing with insane people.

Citing a work of fiction as fact, or complaining that Christians are persecuted, does not make for intelligent, "quality" discourse. You might sound smart to some by arguing the nuances of a dead work of fiction, but you don't fool me. Sorry.
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:03 AM on November 30, 2004


P_G: Thank you for helping illustrate my point. You are coming from an empirical standpoint regarding the etymological roots of the words, whereas I am using the essence behind them.

on preview,
I make no supposition either way about a God, and expect anyone who makes a claim either way to justify it with factual, repeatable sensory evidence.

I live my life without a God or nonGod, and conduct my morality along that line, because I see no utility in believing in a God/nonGod. I see no difference between a Christian God and a nonGod as an alternate deity, like Allah, or vice versa, as a logical entity.


that is a good point AlexReynolds. I should have worded it that way. But at the same time, it is important to realize that a lack of "factual, repeatable sensory evidence" does not rule out the existence of something unknown.
posted by sciurus at 10:11 AM on November 30, 2004


JP, why "the bible"? Why not...

Confucius' Analects and Five Classics? The Sanskrit Bhagavad Gita, the al-Qur'an, the Talmud, the Taoist Tao-te-ching, or the Hindu Upanishads and Veda?

These are all authoritative religious/moral books, some written or dictated by a God. Some of them are arguably present a far better "guide to living" than the Christian bible.

Why do you think they are wrong, and how do you know you are right about them being wrong?
posted by five fresh fish at 10:11 AM on November 30, 2004


I don't see why science shouldn't be able to one day prove empirically that a God cannot interact with the universe since he is necessarily external to it, and therefore cannot reward or punish us based on our behavior. But of course I'm no expert on that.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 10:16 AM on November 30, 2004


To me, the religious folk in this thread sound backed into a corner, clutching their discredited beliefs while pleading "mine!"

I believe the comment was on the quality of discourse, not on the validity of its content. What I see is some of the anti-religious activists here becoming infuriated, insulting the other party for no good reason, and trying to lay the blame for centuries of religious persecution at the feet of the religious commenters in this thread, simply because these horrible Christians just won't lose it and reveal themselves for the raving lunatics that they surely must be.

If you're here to try and discuss the question on equal terms, would it kill you to try and be as polite and dignified as certain religious commenters in this thread are? Or, if your aim is simply to insult and ridicule, why not just admit it and stop wasting time?
posted by Krrrlson at 10:19 AM on November 30, 2004


But at the same time, it is important to realize that a lack of "factual, repeatable sensory evidence" does not rule out the existence of something unknown.

You're asking people to justify a moral code on an unknown that has been responsible for a lot of needless suffering, by its own documentation.

Pretty_Generic asked how you could base a moral code on a vengeful -- evil -- God who smote his enemies. No answer was given. I don't expect to hear anyone speak up either.

Christianity -- any religion -- is a sucker's bet for moral foundation, by any rational, levelheaded evaluation of its historical consequences, which are factual, sensory pieces of evidence.
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:20 AM on November 30, 2004


A useful analogy for that, PG, is in Flatland. A 3D being can't interact in any useful way with Flatland, afaik; indeed, I do not believe a 3D being could even detect Flatland.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:23 AM on November 30, 2004


Truth and fact are the same thing. It's just that "truth" is Germanic and "fact" is Latin. Please think before you type.
Pilate said to him, "What is truth?" When he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, "I find no basis for a charge against him. WEB

Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find no crime in him. ASV

Pilate said to him, True? what is true? Having said this he went out again to the Jews and said to them, I see no wrong in him. BBE

Pilate says to him, What is truth? And having said this he went out again to the Jews, and says to them, I find no fault whatever in him. DBY

Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all. KJV

Pilate saith to him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and saith to them, I find in him no fault. WBS

"What is truth?" said Pilate. But no sooner had he spoken the words than he went out again to the Jews and told them, "I find no crime in him. WEY

Pilate saith to him, 'What is truth?' and this having said, again he went forth unto the Jews, and saith to them, 'I do find no fault in him; YLT
posted by norm at 10:24 AM on November 30, 2004


As for moral codes, it seems to me the only necessary moral code is this: "do that which contributes best to the continuation of the human species."

Which can also be stated as "love one another."
posted by five fresh fish at 10:25 AM on November 30, 2004


You must have read a different version of Flatland than I did, fff.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:33 AM on November 30, 2004


You're asking people to justify a moral code on an unknown that has been responsible for a lot of needless suffering, by its own documentation.

I'm not asking people to justify anything. I am saying that no one has proof one way or the other about God. And since no one has proof, argument is futile.

Pretty_Generic asked how you could base a moral code on a vengeful -- evil -- God who smote his enemies. No answer was given. I don't expect to hear anyone speak up either.

Pretty_Generic trolled the thread from the 4th comment, too.
posted by sciurus at 10:34 AM on November 30, 2004


A useful analogy for that, PG, is in Flatland. A 3D being can't interact in any useful way with Flatland, afaik; indeed, I do not believe a 3D being could even detect Flatland.

Don't take a metaphor too far. Take a course in differential geometry, which explains extrinsic and intrinsic geometric concepts. You do not necessarily need to see an object from the "outside" to know its characteristics.
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:36 AM on November 30, 2004


Also, while you are free to debate more specific questions such as the validity of certain biblical passages, please recognize that the very concept of faith precludes exact empirical evidence. You may base your disagreement on the idea that nothing less than specific empirical evidence will do, but at this point the issue becomes highly subjective.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:38 AM on November 30, 2004


Pretty_Generic trolled the thread from the 4th comment, too.

Regardless, it was an honest question, asked about from the source itself. And the silence from the Bible crowd is more interesting and illuminating than any possible answer.
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:39 AM on November 30, 2004


Also, while you are free to debate more specific questions such as the validity of certain biblical passages, please recognize that the very concept of faith precludes exact empirical evidence.

Fair enough, but then religious people cannot use tactics of debate or logic to argue the validity of one point of faith over any other, because all viewpoints become valid under this mantra. Any morality at all becomes feasible under this philosophy.
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:41 AM on November 30, 2004


As far as I understand the definition of trolls, they don't believe what they're saying, and they primarily seek to piss people off. That's not me.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 10:41 AM on November 30, 2004


And since no one has proof, argument is futile.

Ultimately, the logical conclusion is therefore that any morality is possible. Next.
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:42 AM on November 30, 2004


k, fair enough on the Flatland metaphor.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:43 AM on November 30, 2004


Ultimately, the logical conclusion is therefore that any morality is possible. Next.

Yep.
posted by sciurus at 10:48 AM on November 30, 2004


Let's say I defined "love" as something pretty much all of us agree is horrible or silly, like vomiting on your boyfriend, girlfriend, wife or husband.

Let's say I then made up a moral code based around this idea of love: i.e. we should all love one another, by the act of vomiting over each other.

I'd write a book that over the following millenia cause people to either decide to vomit on loved ones or murder each other because the other gang of monkeys prefer to define "love" as sharing a bowl of ice cream.

Now, you'd have to take it on faith that my vomit-centric definition of love is as valid as the ice-cream-variety. Why? Because I said so. See? Arguing the point is futile. You have to take it on faith and agree to vomit on a loved one. My book told you so.

Any morality is possible and feasible when people cannot agree on the validity of its foundation.

Such a morality isn't of much utility these days, except by politicians and preachers.

Arguing the minutiae of the Bible is like one of my hypothetical disciples suggesting followers to induce vomiting by sticking their fingers down their throats, while another disciple suggests the use of a spoon or other apparatus.

With respect to religious people and logical arguments of faith and morality, you can't have your cake and eat it too. Unless you agree to vomit afterwards.
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:59 AM on November 30, 2004


I completely agree with you, but only if you add ", atheists" after "religious people" in your last sentence.
posted by sciurus at 11:04 AM on November 30, 2004


I completely agree with you, but only if you add ", atheists" after "religious people" in your last sentence.

I would, except that atheists don't run churches or go from door to door asking to discuss the Atheist Bible with you. They don't have an Atheist Bible. Like the intrinsic geometric properties of Flatland, their morality comes from within. They don't ask or demand that you believe in their vomit-centric definition of love.
posted by AlexReynolds at 11:11 AM on November 30, 2004


atheists don't run churches or go from door to door asking to discuss the Atheist Bible with you

That is a very distinct and small subgroup of religious folks you are parodying there.

Like the intrinsic geometric properties of Flatland, their morality comes from within.

Plenty of religious people say that their morality comes from the divinity within.

They don't ask or demand that you believe in their vomit-centric definition of love.

Well, some of them do, by insisting that religious folks shouldn't use religion for their morality. And some religious folks don't ask or demand that all believe as they do.
posted by sciurus at 11:22 AM on November 30, 2004


Fair enough, but then religious people cannot use tactics of debate or logic to argue the validity of one point of faith over any other, because all viewpoints become valid under this mantra. Any morality at all becomes feasible under this philosophy.

The validity of points of faith, yes. The validity of points of morality, no, since morality affects our physical lives. Since when is it impossible to have faith and yet adhere to a socially and personally beneficial morality? Since when is it impossible to lack both faith and morality?

They don't ask or demand that you believe in their vomit-centric definition of love.

...they only seek to discredit yours? Or at least the ones in this thread appear to be.
posted by Krrrlson at 11:26 AM on November 30, 2004


Time for me to go, thanks for the exercise AlexReynolds, et. al.
posted by sciurus at 11:36 AM on November 30, 2004


The validity of points of faith, yes. The validity of points of morality, no, since morality affects our physical lives. Since when is it impossible to have faith and yet adhere to a socially and personally beneficial morality? Since when is it impossible to lack both faith and morality?

You can't have your cake and eat it too.

If you base morality on faith -- which is what the Bible people are claiming -- and then you say that you can't debate those tenets of faith, because it is taken on faith, then any moral code based on any particular faith becomes equally possible and valid, because you cannot validate it.

Either you can debate the utility of a moral code, or you cannot. If you can, then I should expect you to be able to reconcile moral inconsistencies in the primary text -- in this case, your Bible. If you cannot, then you should not expect to be taken seriously.

You can't have it both ways.
posted by AlexReynolds at 11:39 AM on November 30, 2004


Are you confusing faith with religion?

In saying that faith is a concept that precludes proof, I am referring to faith in the existence of divinity. That is the only tenet of faith that inherently cannot be proven or disproven. Any assumptions made about the nature and morality of said divinity are, to me, part of our own theories and interpretations made in the context of the physical world where we reside. As such, I can and will have it both ways.

I don't have to reconcile every Biblical inconsistency to your sadistic delight because I don't interpret the Bible literally and realize that, ultimately, its words were first put on paper, rewritten, and retranslated by mere humans. Though it is interesting to see how eager you are to be condescending in your arguments.
posted by Krrrlson at 12:23 PM on November 30, 2004


Any assumptions made about the nature and morality of said divinity are, to me, part of our own theories and interpretations made in the context of the physical world where we reside.

Are you confusing the physical world with the unknowable world of divinity? Either something is unknowable or it is knowable. If it unknowable, you cannot ascribe any part of the physical world to it. It is meaningless to do so, otherwise. Faith and the real world do not meet.

If you do try to have it both ways, then expect the inconsistencies of your morality/faith/philosophy/whatever-you're-calling-it-this-week pointed out to you as a basis for why anyone else can pick and choose any other aspects of your faith and have both be equally meaningful, which is to say they are equally meaningless. You might as well believe in little green men or Santa Claus, for all of its knowability.

I don't have to reconcile every Biblical inconsistency to your sadistic delight because I don't interpret the Bible literally and realize that, ultimately, its words were first put on paper, rewritten, and retranslated by mere humans.

You do need to reconcile inconsistencies if you want the tenets of your document to be taken as an article of faith. You can't pick and choose what you want to believe, and expect the rest of us to line up because it suits you. At some point you have to reconcile the real world with make-believe.

But you won't, because in the end, you cannot. Nor is anyone else willing or capable of doing so. So all that's left is to argue the nuances of script, looking for contradictory scraps of meaning that are simply not there, or play the poor victim of another attack from godless pagans.

Though it is interesting to see how eager you are to be condescending in your arguments.

The consequences of religious people not using their brains are too high for me to worry about your hurt feelings.

Can you reconcile the unknowable with the knowable in a rational way?

And if you can't but you do so anyway, then will you acknowledge then that any belief is therefore as good as another?

Because that kind of logical flexibility is what lets a few evil people get away with imposing suffering on the rest of us.

The stakes are too high not to think carefully about the world and our place in it. If that's too condescending for you, sorry.
posted by AlexReynolds at 12:50 PM on November 30, 2004


Are you confusing the physical world with the unknowable world of divinity?

Where am I doing that, exactly?

If you do try to have it both ways, then expect the inconsistencies of your morality/faith/philosophy/whatever-you're-calling-it-this-week pointed out to you as a basis for why anyone else can pick and choose any other aspects of your faith and have both be equally meaningful, which is to say they are equally meaningless.

Kindly point out the inconsistencies in *my* view as explained in this thread. And yes, anyone is free to choose the aspects of their *religion* just as they are free to choose the *religion* itself. Spirituality is relevant on a personal level, not on a group level.

You do need to reconcile inconsistencies if you want the tenets of your document to be taken as an article of faith. You can't pick and choose what you want to believe, and expect the rest of us to line up because it suits you. At some point you have to reconcile the real world with make-believe.

Where do I say I want you to take the Bible as an article of faith (whatever the hell that means) or expect you to line up with anything I believe? I got into this mostly to note to P_G that the question of the existence of the divine is not one that can be scientifically investigated. In the process I tried to explain just how I reconcile the real world with what you consider make-believe. Evidently you just pulled out your usual anti-religious tirade without even bothering to read my comments.

The consequences of religious people not using their brains are too high for me to worry about your hurt feelings.

Don't delude yourself. My feelings won't suffer on account of someone who's been a rude ass for the entire 12-day duration of his stay here.

Can you reconcile the unknowable with the knowable in a rational way?

I can leave room for the existence of the unknowable without denying the knowable, if that's what you mean.

Because that kind of logical flexibility is what lets a few evil people get away with imposing suffering on the rest of us.

I'm sure you've suffered to no end because of religion.
posted by Krrrlson at 2:39 PM on November 30, 2004


I would like to start a temple preaching logical thought.

Ordination is quick and easy, Pretty_Generic. I think you should go for it - no law saying a church has to be about God, and it's all tax-free!

As to your responses, as far as I can see, you're right, you can't understand understand religious belief. Now maybe if we could ease off on the pointlessness of this recent spate of ReligionFilter and start a decent thread about the scientific method, I think under better circumstances I might be able to actually enjoy participating in a conversation with you.

On preview, Krrrlson, I gotta believe that AlexReynolds must have "suffered to no end" on account of something that was getting called religion. That sort of hostility doesn't come out of nowhere, in my experience. It's also not profitable to argue with.
posted by nanojath at 3:04 PM on November 30, 2004


I can leave room for the existence of the unknowable without denying the knowable, if that's what you mean.

Once you ascribe any meaning to it, which is necessary for associating morality with faith, you're crossing over into the knowable.

If something is unknowable there ascribing meaning introduces the problem of consistency.

If it knowable there is no connection with faith to begin with.

The Bible — or text, codification, whatever — is simply one physical embodiment of this inconsistency.

The inconsistencies are deliberate to the point where their only utility in the real world is in use for (im)moral flexibility. Highly useful for manipulating people but little else.

In the process I tried to explain just how I reconcile the real world with what you consider make-believe. Evidently you just pulled out your usual anti-religious tirade without even bothering to read my comments.

And I have now explained for the fourth time why that process fails! Someone didn't read the thread, clearly.
posted by AlexReynolds at 3:28 PM on November 30, 2004


A very simplified but hopefully not emotional timeline of how the Christians in this thread believe (the relevant) history unfolded:
  1. God exists
  2. God creates the universe in which we exist (i.e., Genesis)
  3. Adam and Eve fall from grace
  4. Their descendents begin to populate the Earth
  5. God talks to Abraham and Judaism begins
  6. Jews, after a period of reasonably good behavior, stop following the laws of the Old Testament
  7. God sends Jesus to Earth to "open a second door"
  8. Here we are arguing about this on MeFi.
Some question I have never been able to reconcile about this:
  • Why did God create a universe in which humanity must struggle to perceive Him? Isn't our existence difficult enough just based on our imperfections? Given the imputed omniscience, he must have been aware of the problems that would arise due to divisiveness over this.
  • Why did God wait so long to give his laws to Abraham and why were these laws not made known to all of us? That is, to all contemporaries of Abraham like people living in far-distant lands.
posted by billsaysthis at 3:48 PM on November 30, 2004


(AN ASIDE for everyone always moaning about "there will be no conversions because of this thread", let me just say that a lot of us non-religious people would probably just like religion to be a private thing kept out of the public/political sphere. So no hard feelings or anything, just let me shop on Sunday and have ass-sex. Not at the same time, sorry.)


I'm surprised with all the scholarship going on in here that there was no mention of "text criticism". The fourth edition of the Greek New Testament (the current NRSV New Testaments are translated from the third edition Greek) is roughly a recreation of the New Testament as it would have looked like in the fourth century. Maybe.

Nobody will ever know what the original versions of any New Testament documents looked like. There are about six thousand New Testament manuscripts (hand-written) that modern scholars have in their grasps, and no two documents agree with each other. That's right. Six thousand and no two agree. What we have today is cobbled together from a wide variety of techniques, though a lot of it is guesswork. (Yes, I'm writing papers on this shit right now. I'd rather be playing videogames.)

You sure need a lot of faith for this religion thing, don't you?

ALSO, let's can the "LITERAL WORD OF GOD" bullshit. Augustine, a saint, and perhaps the most influential Christian thinker ever, was a big fan of looking at the Old Testament as nothing more than allegory. As was Ambrose, the man who baptised him. That's right. Allegory. Metaphors. Non-literal. They even taught that jazz to us in elementary school.

I used to be a Catholic, biznatches. So even coming from a Christian perspective, some of Christians are really out to lunch.
posted by Kleptophoria! at 4:02 PM on November 30, 2004


On preview, Krrrlson, I gotta believe that AlexReynolds must have "suffered to no end" on account of something that was getting called religion. That sort of hostility doesn't come out of nowhere, in my experience. It's also not profitable to argue with.

In my experience, that sort of hostility usually comes from an arrogant prick who doesn't know the first thing about being persecuted. But I'm sure Alex Reynolds can prove me wrong. You're right on your last point though.


And I have now explained for the fourth time why that process fails! Someone didn't read the thread, clearly.

You didn't address a single thing I said! Wait a second... Gibberish, straw men, cliches? Oh, boy. You're a crafty troll, Alex Reynolds. I tip my hat to you.
posted by Krrrlson at 4:28 PM on November 30, 2004


You didn't address a single thing I said! Wait a second... Gibberish, straw men, cliches? Oh, boy. You're a crafty troll, Alex Reynolds. I tip my hat to you.

I addressed your point four times. I'm not wasting my time doing it a fifth. Good luck to you.
posted by AlexReynolds at 4:54 PM on November 30, 2004


I guess I'm just educated cubeless stupid, huh.
posted by Krrrlson at 5:09 PM on November 30, 2004


Whatever you want.
posted by AlexReynolds at 5:16 PM on November 30, 2004


nanojath, you seem to be taking my statement that "I can't understand religious belief" to mean "I don't know what the concept of religious belief is". But you surely know what I meant was "I can't understand how someone could choose to believe religiously". Couldn't resist willfully misunderstanding me, I guess.

I don't think this thread has been pointless, I think it's been very interesting, and it's surely made someone somewhere consider their beliefs in more depth.

I'm already ordained. It kicks ass. Join up yourself! Only two tenets:
1) Freedom of religion
2) Do what you think is right

I wonder if it can save me money on insurance.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 5:28 PM on November 30, 2004


We ought to clear one thing up. Everybody has faith. The real question is what you put your faith in. Clearly, some people in this thread put their faith in God, and others put their faith in science. But science has been known to draw erroneous conclusions as well. To quote the esteemed philosopher Kay:
"1500 years ago, everybody knew that the earth was the center of the universe. 500 years ago, everybody knew that the earth was flat. And 15 minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow."
One thing that my years at M.I.T. taught me was that the more we learn, the less we know. Now, with our “understanding (I use the term loosely) of the Uncertainty Principle where subatomic particles exist in probability spaces that appear to “lock” into position only when observed, we know – absolutely – nothing.

Pursuing this line of thought from a philosophical perspective, we can’t get much beyond “I think, therefore I am.” The only knowledge that we have with absolute confidence is purely internal, e.g. “I am hungry”. Note even that is not a value statement; it doesn’t say that someone else is not fooling me into thinking I’m hungry. It has no interaction with the external world. It doesn’t say my stomach is empty. It just says, “I am feeling a feeling that my brain recognizes as hunger.” As for the rest, well, we might all be battery pods with our minds trapped in the Matrix.

But you can’t live your life that way. You have to get up, go out, get a job, deal with other people, pay your bills, eat and sleep. Every activity therefore requires faith. The question is, therefore, what are you going to put your faith in?

Both Christianity and science have inherent systems of values. When evaluating systems of faith on their own merits, one has to look at their explanatory power in terms of the word around us, as well as their normative value in terms of human relationships (rules for behavior). Science has very good explanatory power in terms of how the world works, but is fundamentally flawed as a source of values. Christianity on the other hand, encompasses and embraces science as an explanation for how the world works (with a few critical, and widely debated exceptions, such as creation versus evolution – but these are very few in number), and has an excellent framework of values.

This is the source of much discord. If you insist on extending the scope of what science tries to explain to include everything, you will certainly discard Christianity as having no value. But then concepts like “love” are relegated to chemical interactions in the brain, and bereft of meaning. Sharing and kindness become selfish actions that benefit the gene pool. Families have no worth and no value beyond their survivability advantages. That, in my opinion, is a tragic loss for us as human beings.

Certainly religion – particularly organized religion – has been the source of much grief for the human race over the years. I’m sure that track record is the source of much of the anti-religious sentiment int his thread. But these are failings of individual people, not failings of the teachings, or the principals, of Christianity. And science has its share of contributions to global suffering over time as well. And these also are failings of individual people, not of science as a discipline.

I was thinking about this the other day while reading an article on stem cell genetics, and the human-animal gene swapping experiments that are already going on. The comments of the scientists are telling. They understand that the general public is concerned about this, but they fundamentally don’t understand why. They quote Bible verses and dismiss them out of hand. They finally arrive at the conclusion that perhaps it is because these created creatures might be treated badly! My thought was that if the classic horror movie “Frankenstein” were remade today, it would be a town full of violent and uneducated religious zealots who simply would not allow the good scientist sufficient time to perfect his experiments.

This is one small example in a world that has thousands of them. We all have individual choices to make, and the arguments of zealots on either side should hold little sway with the decision making process for intelligent people. I choose to oppose science in select cases like this one, where it impinges on what I think the “correct” values for us are.

We need a strong system of values to live peacefully and productively together, and the Christian system based on Jesus’ teachings of love and respect are by far the strongest I’ve seen.
posted by JParker at 6:14 PM on November 30, 2004


I think this thread has been very interesting. And this despite an almost complete inability for the religionists and areligionists to communicate. I really don't think anyone is actually understanding the other's mindset.

But whatever. It hasn't changed minds, but it has been very well-spoken on both sides. Thanks, everyone.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:29 PM on November 30, 2004


JParker: why a strong system of values? What does "love one another" not cover adequately?
posted by five fresh fish at 6:35 PM on November 30, 2004


That's not really what I took what you said to mean, and I understood perfectly what you meant, Pretty_Generic - I was expressing that what you actually said appears to me to be closer to the truth. Obviously I wouldn't expect you to agree with me.

it's surely made someone somewhere consider their beliefs in more depth.

Did it make you consider your beliefs in more depth? In any event, I wouldn't presume to judge whether a given discussion was pointless for you, it is pointless to me to discuss principles with someone who not only finds no fault with their own principles but has a prefabricated understanding of what mine are and how they were arrived at.

Nor do I want to further contribute to cluttering what might have been an interesting thread had it not been thoroughly derailled less than half an hour after it was posted. I can only hang my head for joining in the debacle.

So have fun, kids.
posted by nanojath at 6:41 PM on November 30, 2004


What's the concrete difference between faith and blind faith?

JParker? Others?
posted by NortonDC at 6:54 PM on November 30, 2004


And yes, anyone is free to choose the aspects of their *religion* just as they are free to choose the *religion* itself.

So in other words, you admit that every religious person is just making it up, based on what in some way "feels good" to them. I certainly agree. I just dispute that this has much validity.

Everybody has faith. The real question is what you put your faith in. Clearly, some people in this thread put their faith in God, and others put their faith in science. But science has been known to draw erroneous conclusions as well.

As has been pointed out ad infinitum on this site, that is a false contention because you are confusing the findings of science with the process of science. It would be difficult to imagine a situation in which the scientific method itself were to fail, although there are countless examples of instances where people failed to apply it properly or fully.
posted by rushmc at 7:06 PM on November 30, 2004


So in other words, you admit that every religious person is just making it up, based on what in some way "feels good" to them. I certainly agree. I just dispute that this has much validity.

I admit that ultimately every person looks to himself to decide what he believes or accepts. To one person it is evidence of some divine spark, to another it is nothing more than the product of brain meat.
posted by Krrrlson at 7:14 PM on November 30, 2004


It would be difficult to imagine a situation in which the scientific method itself were to fail, although there are countless examples of instances where people failed to apply it properly or fully.

Agreed. Read the rest of the post. Science is good at what it does, which is understanding the rules for our physical universe. Christianity is good at what it does, which is understanding ethics and values.

I think trying to explain the behavior of superheated gasses or antimatter created in a lab in terms of God's will is just silly. (I would contend that He created them, or gave us the power to do so, but I certainly haven't heard anything from Him on explaining it, nor do I expect to!) I think trying to explain what constitutes ethical behavior or how to reconcile differences after an argument in terms of equations is equally silly.

What's the concrete difference between faith and blind faith?

It's a great question, and I'm concerned that the answer is not going to be understood, because to some extent it's like describing "green" to a color-blind person. If you can't see it, it's not going to make much sense. But here goes...

Blind faith is "credulity," or giving unreflective credence to claims that are dubious (if not ridiculous). Credulity doen't concern itself with the reasonableness of the claim, because it's not really concerned with truth. I'm generalizing here, but from what I've seen, credulous people get immediate rewards - personal benefits that are being promised. I would put things like astrology in this category.

Faith, as a term used by Christians, contrasts sharply with this because it begins with the question, "Is this true?" Christians are not out for personal gratification - in fact, being a follower of Jesus pretty much gets you signed up for hatred and persecution, but the goal is to see whether what's being claimed conforms to reality -- whether it accurately describes us and the context in which we live our lives.

Faith is not believing for belief's sake. It is believing because we know that some things are true and that it is our duty to know what they are, and to live accordingly.
posted by JParker at 7:53 PM on November 30, 2004


Then as you use it, "faith" requires that suppositions are emperically tested, no? How else does one determine if some assertion is true or if what's being claimed conforms to reality?
posted by NortonDC at 8:29 PM on November 30, 2004


If you can't see it, it's not going to make much sense.

Why do you assume that someone who does not share your faith cannot make sense of it? How then do you think you can describe the unknowable when you cannot describe it to others? How can it have meaning that is not contradictory when another description can be just as applicatory?

Christians are not out for personal gratification - in fact, being a follower of Jesus pretty much gets you signed up for hatred and persecution

Okay, you have got to be kidding.

Anyway, some folks here really need a basic education in logic. Things are not the way they are simply because you say so: especially where the real world interjects and conflicts with the documents of your faith. The real world does not conform to your worldview simply on the strength ("credulity") of your faith.

Rigorous examination of truth begins by have a robust foundation of axioms; I'm not so sure some of you really know what is propping up your worldviews, but its been demonstrated to be pretty shaky stuff.

Arguing about the contradictory points of a work of fiction might make for historical scholarship, but it does not make for a discussion of real truth.
posted by AlexReynolds at 8:39 PM on November 30, 2004


Well this was certainly worth my 5 bucks... To all who kicked in on either side, many thanks for the opportunity to learn and excercise the old brain.

To the person, some hours back, who said something about silence from the other side being an answer, well ok I myself went to sleep for 8 hours, drove my car for an hour, worked for 9, ... heh, life.

Reviewing, I'm struck by how similar the two sides of this discussion are in their sense of what's right and wrong.

For example, nobody much appreciates closed-mindedness, everyone believes they are owed a fair hearing, with a few exceptions no one seems to think personal atttacks are all that helpful, generally speaking everyone feels they have something that could be of benefit to others and therefore they should make the effort to share. Everyone feels they are 'right' and it's important to be so.

Personally, I take this as circumstantial evidence of the independent existence of "right and wrong", sort of like 2 + 2 = 4 whether anyone knows about arithmetic or not. Hey I just thought of another possible differentiator between the skeptics and the mystics as someone so poetically put it. I wonder if most non-believers figure math was invented and most believers think math was discovered?
posted by scheptech at 8:59 PM on November 30, 2004


Christianity is good at what it does, which is understanding ethics and values.

Oh, pull the other one, it's got bells on.

If Christianity is so gosh-darned good at understanding ethics and values, why is there an alarming amount of disagreement between the hundreds of different branches of the faith, let alone within any single branch?

Hell, we can't even get agreement between a half-dozen self-identified Christians on MetaFilter on the single ethics/values question as to whether it's okay to use contraceptives.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:21 PM on November 30, 2004


Why do you assume that someone who does not share your faith cannot make sense of it? How then do you think you can describe the unknowable when you cannot describe it to others?

That bit about colorblindness was probably a bad preface on my part. Maybe if I had said "It's like trying to descibe a mirage to someone who isn't hallucinating" it would have been more palatable. My point was there are completely different assumptions and frames of reference in operation. And it is a well-established fact that having a framework of understanding enables you to see things that you could not, before. Consider the scientists in the stem cell research article mentioned before. How do you explain to them, in language that they can understand, that combining human and animal genes is wrong? And from my perspective, I don't mean "ill advised", or "needs further study, I mean wrong. Communication across such a wide gap is a problem.

If you accept that we were created by God the Creator, then it would be irrational to ignore His rules. If you don't accept it, then following Biblical principals, praying or going to church are all going to seem irrational.

The real world does not conform to your worldview simply on the strength ("credulity") of your faith.

No, my faith is bolstered by it's explanatory power in the real world. I'm not talking about the ability to explain why water boils faster above sea level, I'm talking about ethics and morals - rules for living. And it is the explanatory power of Christianity in these matters that is its core strength. (Fair warning, in the comments that follow I am going to overgeneralize in order to call out some key differences in Christian versus non-Christian values. Otherwise this would be a book, not a comment in a discussion thread.)

Consider:
Traditional liberalism today sets the responsibility for crime on poverty and other social ills. Christianity says that we are independent moral agents who can make choices and are responsible for the results. Which strikes you as a better explanation? Which holds human beings in a higher regard?

Postmodernist philosophy asserts that there is no such thing as objective truth, that all ideas are social constructions shaped by class, gender and ethnicity. Christians hold that there are absolute truths, which come from God. If the postmodernists are right, then it's just your ideas versus my ideas, and nothing is worth fighting over, nothing is worth dying for. In fact, nothing is even worth arguing about. Do you accept that logical outcome?

Science leads to a philosophy of pragmatism. Whatever works best, and most consistently, is right. Christians are idealists, judging actions not by what works but by what ought to be, based on objective standards.

Atheists do not believe in a heaven or a hell. This world, right here, right now, is all there is. Christians see things from an eternal perspective, where everything we do now has eternal significance, because one day there will be a judgment. Which belief system encourages greater personal responsibility?

Utopian ideals of man's inherent goodness contrast directly with Christianity's view of man as inherently sinful. If, as an atheist, you have moral responsibility at all, who do you have it to? Other people? Who says? Who holds you accountable? The law? What gives society that right? Infinite regress. Christianity says our ultimate responsibility is to God. Any other authority can be challenged.

Science says we live in a hostile universe, headed for a fiery death that will take us with it. Boil that down and it means that life is meaningless, pointless, purposeless. And atheists often hold to this pessimism with determination. Anti-faith becomes their new faith. You want that? I know that is not true for me, and Christianity is the reason why.

I see it as an intolerable dilemma for non-Christians. We all hope to live in a society where we are held to some objective standard of truth and justice so that we won't be robbed, cheated or killed. At the same time, we don't want to submit to the only kind of authority that could be the source of such objective truth. That would hurt our pride and our self-centeredness, and deny that choice is our ultimate right.

Yes, yes, yes, those are all gross oversimplifications, but they cut to the heart of the matter. And that's just a small sampling of the explanatory power of Christianity in understanding what is happening in the world, what has gone wrong, and what to do about it. I don't need the real world to conform to my worldview. I need the right worldview, the one that explains what's going on around me.
posted by JParker at 10:21 PM on November 30, 2004


fff, a half-dozen self-identified Christians on MetaFilter cracked me up. God help us.
posted by JParker at 10:34 PM on November 30, 2004


JParker, this was a response to your post:
Then as you use it, "faith" requires that suppositions are emperically tested, no? How else does one determine if some assertion is true or if what's being claimed conforms to reality?
I'm still looking for your answer.
posted by NortonDC at 11:52 PM on November 30, 2004


JParker, why are you Christian rather than another religion? What specifically have you experienced to indicate that the Bible is true where other holy books are not, except that it happens to be more prevalent amongst the people you happen to live with? Are you sure that if the stork had accidentally delievered you to Mecca, you would not be an equally devout Muslim?
posted by Pretty_Generic at 12:08 AM on December 1, 2004


Wow, sorry, NortonDC, I'm outnumbered and it's hard to keep up and do a good job on the answers. I've even taken some of the discussion offline with a couple of people for more extensive followup.

To answer your question, I'd start by trying to distinguish between science and ethics. I think the road you're headed down is trying to apply the scientific method to matters of faith, and as has been noted earlier, that doesn't work. You can't prove that God exists, and you can't prove that he doesn't. And, according to my faith, He set it up that way quite deliberately, so that you would have the freedom to choose not to love Him or believe in Him. Love that is compelled is worthless, and God clearly values love above all. So you have to make a choice.

That said, even though there are not scientific quantifiable tests to which you can subject faith, I believe you can evaluate a faith doctrine on the basis of its accuracy in its ability to predict results of behavioral patterns, and the degree to which it offers explanations for what we see in the world around us. If, for example, I saw something in the physical world that flatly contradicted a teaching in the Bible, I would have to go back and challenge my belief.

There are inconsistencies in the Bible, but they are not doctrinal. I have no problem chalking them up to incomplete information, casual storytelling in places, translation errors, or changing cultural mores. How else do you explain that the Bible says Pi equals 3? I'm not interested in devoting the time and energy necessary to chase down all the possible explanations for all the little glitches that show up, and from what I've seen, it's been done before. The important thing is that the doctrine - the core set of principals on which the Christian faith is founded - are consistent. And as far as I've been able to tell, they explain things better than any other system. See previous post.

[on preview] Pretty_Generic,
why are you Christian rather than another religion?

It's true that I was brought up in America and familiarized with Christian values from an early age. I can't say with absolute conviction that I wouldn't be a follower of another religion, or of no religion, had that not been the case. But I have done some study of other religions, and I like a lot of what many of them have to say better than I like Christianity. Eastern religions in particular, and the prospect of opening the consciousness to new levels of awareness, a holistic approach promising wellness and wholeness, a stronger respect for nature - I think that's pretty cool.

But... there's that nagging problem of the real world, and the ... congruence of the teachings with reality. I don't buy that I need to recover some mystical sense of my own divinity. And knowledge alone does not equip us to confront evil. The goal of many of these religions is to lose the self, to dissolve it into the Univeral Spirit... or something. And those religions give us no basis for morality. If God is in all of us, then God must be both good and evil, and morality is reduced to method for attaining oneness and purifying the soul from desires, like the eightfold path of Buddhism.

This kind of analytical thinking puts every other religion in an indefensible position. Except Christianity.

Christianity explains the universal human problem. We are sinners. We are guilty before a Holy God of infinite goodness.

Christianity provides the only answer to the problem of sin. God Himself reached across and provided a bridge for us to return to Him. Since humans committed sin, only a human can pay the price for it. Hence, Jesus. He died for us, and was resurrected, demonstrating power over death.

Christianity's salvation is based on historical truth. It was a historical event at a specific time and place, the Passover feast in Jerusalem in A.D. 30 where Jesus was crucified and resurrected three days later, and five hundred eyewitnesses confirmed it. Now I know that will get a lot of argument, but weigh the evidence in an honest accounting with no predispositions, and see what you find. I did.

And now... to bed!
posted by JParker at 12:54 AM on December 1, 2004


If, for example, I saw something in the physical world that flatly contradicted a teaching in the Bible, I would have to go back and challenge my belief.

No, you've clearly demonstrated that when faced with something in the Christian bible is flatly contradicted by reality, your reaction is to minimize the importance of that which is the subject of the contradiction, which is a textbook response to cognitive dissonance. "Yes, the teachings of my religion are clearly false in this case, but this case is unimportant and does not reflect on the truthfulness of my religion."

Which of the three standard means of reducing cognitive dissonance do you think your behavior qualifies as?
  1. One may try to change one or more of the beliefs, opinions, or behaviors involved in the dissonance;
  2. One may try to acquire new information or beliefs that will increase the existing consonance and thus cause the total dissonance to be reduced; or,
  3. One may try to forget or reduce the importance of those cognitions that are in a dissonant relationship.
posted by NortonDC at 1:44 AM on December 1, 2004


I don't think this thread has been pointless, I think it's been very interesting, and it's surely made someone somewhere consider their beliefs in more depth.

Well, at least that gave me a good laugh, so the thread has been good for something!
posted by languagehat at 2:05 AM on December 1, 2004


To quote the esteemed philosopher Kay:
"1500 years ago, everybody knew that the earth was the center of the universe. 500 years ago, everybody knew that the earth was flat. And 15 minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow."


Kay is obviously not that useful a source then seeing as it was not accepted that the Earth was flat 500 years ago - the general acceptance of a near-spherical Earth has been documented since Pliny the Elder.

I cannot believe people are still spouting this tripe like it was true. The idea that everyone "back in the day" believed in the Flat Earth theory came about as a result of Andrew Dickson White's "The Warfare of Science and Theology" from 1896, this has been pretty much debunked by modern historians. Thomas Aquinas and several other luminaries throughout history (Bede, Pythagoras and Aristotle) have also stated belief in the spherical Earth.

/rant over

on second thoughts - slavish devotion to a book which was written a long time after the events happened - belief that the text contains truth immortal despite evidence to the contrary. Hmmmm....
posted by longbaugh at 6:34 AM on December 1, 2004


Not only did they know the Earth was a sphere, they knew how big it was pretty accurately, too. But even long before 2300 years ago in many places it was already recognized that the Earth was a sphere because of boats going over the horizon as they sailed away.

Anyone who thinks that the ancients had no clue about the natural universe should read Lucretius's De Rerum Natura, which gets a whole bunch of stuff right. This was just about 2000 years ago. It's too bad, in terms of natural science anyway, that Plato and Aristotle prevailed over Democritus's materialism.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:50 AM on December 1, 2004


Traditional liberalism today sets the responsibility for crime on poverty and other social ills. Christianity says that we are independent moral agents who can make choices and are responsible for the results. Which strikes you as a better explanation? Which holds human beings in a higher regard?

The liberals: their explanation also allows one to form socio-economic policies that will assist them.

Postmodernist philosophy asserts that there is no such thing as objective truth, that all ideas are social constructions shaped by class, gender and ethnicity. Christians hold that there are absolute truths, which come from God. If the postmodernists are right, then it's just your ideas versus my ideas, and nothing is worth fighting over, nothing is worth dying for. In fact, nothing is even worth arguing about. Do you accept that logical outcome?

Only so long as you don't try to use your ideas to force me to behave according to your faith. As long as you're not infringing on my personal freedoms and property, I don't really care what you believe.

Science leads to a philosophy of pragmatism. Whatever works best, and most consistently, is right. Christians are idealists, judging actions not by what works but by what ought to be, based on objective standards.

So?

Atheists do not believe in a heaven or a hell. This world, right here, right now, is all there is. Christians see things from an eternal perspective, where everything we do now has eternal significance, because one day there will be a judgment. Which belief system encourages greater personal responsibility?

Atheism by far. When this life is all you've got, one's encouraged to make the best of it.

Utopian ideals of man's inherent goodness contrast directly with Christianity's view of man as inherently sinful. If, as an atheist, you have moral responsibility at all, who do you have it to? Other people? Who says? Who holds you accountable? The law? What gives society that right? Infinite regress. Christianity says our ultimate responsibility is to God. Any other authority can be challenged.

No infinite regress: it's all up to me. The law and society have influence only insofar as I choose to live where I do; if I don't like it, I can agitate for change or move.

Science says we live in a hostile universe, headed for a fiery death that will take us with it. Boil that down and it means that life is meaningless, pointless, purposeless. And atheists often hold to this pessimism with determination. Anti-faith becomes their new faith. You want that? I know that is not true for me, and Christianity is the reason why.

So?

I see it as an intolerable dilemma for non-Christians. We all hope to live in a society where we are held to some objective standard of truth and justice so that we won't be robbed, cheated or killed. At the same time, we don't want to submit to the only kind of authority that could be the source of such objective truth. That would hurt our pride and our self-centeredness, and deny that choice is our ultimate right.

I don't see any dilemma at all. I've got one shot at all this, as do all of you. We might as well make the best of it, so we'll pull together as a society to make life as good as possible for as many people as possible.

Yes, yes, yes, those are all gross oversimplifications, but they cut to the heart of the matter. And that's just a small sampling of the explanatory power of Christianity in understanding what is happening in the world, what has gone wrong, and what to do about it. I don't need the real world to conform to my worldview. I need the right worldview, the one that explains what's going on around me.

You should try atheism, then. Works wonders.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:16 AM on December 1, 2004


I tried it. It broke.
posted by JParker at 11:10 AM on December 1, 2004


JParker, it's clear to me that you're a thoughtful person, and you appreciate the value of coherent argument... as long as it doesn't involve doubting your faith. You have made a boundary line between your questions about God and about the rest of reality. Right up to that line you are a rational thinker, you question, and you look for supporting and contradictory evidence; but the moment that line is crossed you start making statements like

Yes [God told Moses that gays had deserved execution], but I don't think you can classify it as a "moral opinion".

There are inconsistencies in the Bible, but they are not doctrinal.

This kind of analytical thinking puts every other religion in an indefensible position. Except Christianity.

The truth is not all I have, and I hope it never is.

I'm telling you that the borderline you have made in your mind, beyond which illogic is acceptable, as a self-defence mechanism for your faith, is arbitrary, and harmful. We look at every aspect of our lives with rationality. Why should we stop when asking about how we came to be? There is only one reason - the desire for an easy life, a sense of community and comfort. As I have said before, I value the desire for truth far beyond that.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 12:01 PM on December 1, 2004


NortonDC,
You've demonstrated that you understand cognitive dissonance, good. Have you figured out how to identify it when you are suffering from it yourself? Have you seen the website The 2001 Principle? It's a quick read and pretty basic stuff, but interesting food for thought.

P-G,
That's pretty funny. There is only one reason - the desire for an easy life, a sense of community and comfort

I'll give you one out of three. Christians have a community, and it's incredibly valuable. (I belong to small church, and my pastor is a Harvard University graduate, valedictorian, PhD Divinity, and a former professor at Golden Gate Seminary. He's one of the brightest men it's been my pleasure to know. I'm involved in classes with fellow believers where we talk about issues like the church in politics, abortion, creation vs. evolution, and capital punishment every week. It has helped me immensely over the years, and I 've learned a lot. I have friends that I can share things with, in an environment of total trust, that I couldn't share with anyone else outside my immediate family, and the reason is simply that I know we have a shared system of core values.)

But "an easy life"? "Comfort"? If I wanted to create a fantasy world that gave me an easy time of it, would I hold myself up to standard of perfection, and continually find myself wanting? Would I create a doctrine of original sin that says no matter what I do, I am guilty? Would I build in a need for repentence and redemption? Would I set up a figurehead as the leader of my religion who was murdered by common people in the most ignominious manner possible?

Or... would I trust solely in myself, and in the power of my own intellect to figure everything out? Would I deny the existence of any power greater than myself, so that I did not have to obey anyone else's rules? Would I deny the existence of absolute authority and definitive standards for right and wrong, so that I might not be judged?

Who's abandoning logic here? Who has a framework of values that gives them an easy time of it?

There is no "borderline" in my mind, and I think you misunderstand something. I have thought about this long and hard, over many years. I have tried and tested the assumptions and conclusions of Christianity in so many ways, this little discussion thread does not even address 1% of it. But Christianity's doctrines of love and Jesus' prescriptive rules for behavior have stood up to those tests, time and time and time again. If it appears to you that I am rejecting challenging arguments out of hand, I assure I am not, I am merely impatient to get on with the dialogue because it is old, familiar, well-trodden ground.
posted by JParker at 12:40 PM on December 1, 2004


You've already said your faith isn't the truth. You now say your faith doesn't give you comfort. I'm wondering what's left.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 4:53 PM on December 1, 2004


god exists, you just have to believe.
posted by Satapher at 5:36 PM on December 1, 2004


P_G, I never said my faith is not the truth. If you want to discount the whole message of the Bible based on ambiguous interpretations or clerical errors - or whatever you want to call them - go ahead. The doctrine, which is what my faith is based on, is absolutely true.

Out of fairness, I should point out that you, as an atheist, don't have a book. That's convenient since, without committing anything to writing, you are free to shift around and avoid specifics. It makes your position harder to attack. But I've raised a dozen major - even fatal - flaws and inconsistencies with your belief system and you just ignore them. (Stay on the offensive! Maybe nobody will notice!)

If you were to write it down, what would your statement of faith look like?

Let me start it for you:
In the beginning were the particles. And the particles somehow became complex living stuff. And the stuff imagined God, but then discovered evolution..."
posted by JParker at 6:04 PM on December 1, 2004


Out of fairness, I should point out that you, as an atheist, don't have a book. That's convenient since, without committing anything to writing, you are free to shift around and avoid specifics. It makes your position harder to attack.

That's what credulity of faith finally comes down to: something to attack.

Atheists make no suppositions of faith, but its strange you'd want to claim otherwise because then you'd have to defend your faith/religion/whatever for the very same reason.

Is Christianty's final defense that atheists don't have a codified belief system? Is that really what you're saying now?
posted by AlexReynolds at 7:00 PM on December 1, 2004


based on ambiguous interpretations or clerical errors
God ordering Moses to kill innocent gays is neither ambiguous or a clerical error.

Out of fairness, I should point out that you, as an atheist, don't have a book.
I have plenty of books. You can find them in the science section of your local library.

you are free to shift around and avoid specifics
Yes, by not claiming I am certain about statements without having decent evidence for them, I am free to have new opinions based on new evidence. I am not stuck espousing an ancient book as the ultimate truth in the universe, a book which says the world was made in 6 days.

Shit, man, you're accusing me of shifting around, when you believe all these contradictory statements are true. Sure, you can think of excuses for some, if not many of them, based on stretching your interpretation. But if you can't do it for every single one (and please, go ahead and try), that means the Bible contains false statements. Why can't you see that?

You'll probably call me anal. I'm not the one claiming every single word in a huge ancient book is true. I mean, it must be, right? Word of God. You said so. I'm saying it's just a book, written by people, who made mistakes.

But I've raised a dozen major - even fatal - flaws and inconsistencies with your belief system and you just ignore them.
I apologise, I didn't see anything worth responding to. Humor me, ask some direct questions and I will answer them.

If you were to write it down, what would your statement of faith look like?
Let me start it for you:

No thanks, I think I can do better than that.

[clears throat]

In the beginning, I don't know what happened because the astrophysics community of the world has insufficient evidence to yet make a consensus. Frankly, I don't even know if there was a beginning. Time may stretch back infinitely, cycling through big bangs and crunches. It's a theory. Haven't seen any evidence against it.

I just don't fucking know. I'm not going to pretend to know to make myself feel better, either.

But I do know the figtree hadn't evolved.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:18 PM on December 1, 2004


JParker
You can't prove that God exists

you can evaluate a faith doctrine on the basis of its accuracy in its ability to predict results of behavioral patterns, and the degree to which it offers explanations for what we see in the world around us.
You acknowledge that you can't prove the authority of your religion, only measure its utility. So measured utility is how distinguish faith from blind faith?
posted by NortonDC at 8:24 PM on December 1, 2004


The problem with faith is that nobody's willing to simply have it, and let other people believe what they want; everybody wants to share their faith. It is considered perfectly okay for you to mock my perfectly rational ideas about evolution, but if I point out that your position depends upon the notion of a magic superhero in the sky, you'll probably take offense. Why? Why are irrational beliefs somehow less subject to scrutiny and dissection than rational ones? Why can't we simply point out in school that some people believe that God made the world in seven days, and that's fine, but there's no actual evidence to support that, other than some poorly translated writings that were cribbed from oral traditions that were already hundreds of years old before the first written copy of Genesis ever appeared?
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:15 PM on December 1, 2004


It's too bad, in terms of natural science anyway, that Plato and Aristotle prevailed over Democritus's materialism.

well - I think that's a bit oversimplified. The atomic theory was not forgotten - it was definitely of interest - but the problem with it was that it simply didn't explain how these bits of matter were related, what kept them together, how they weren't just random chaos. Aristotle's theory of energeia, potentiality & actuality, substances, formal causes, etc, made at least some kind of sense out of the order of the world. And in fact, in the quantum physics age, aristotle is looking pretty good again - the void turns out not really to be void; matter turns out to be energy (potentiality); and the organization (telos or final cause) of a thing is considered by many to be consistent with its cause.

Out of fairness, I should point out that you, as an atheist, don't have a book. That's convenient since, without committing anything to writing, you are free to shift around and avoid specifics. It makes your position harder to attack.

What? That's exactly the point! The whole stance of atheism is that we're not going to arbitrarily choose a 'book' to explain what we can't explain just to make ourselves feel better or more important in the grand scheme of things or whatever. The point is, we can work out a lot of mechanics empirically, and we're pretty much always left with the basic essential mystery (that there IS at all), but while exploration of these things is worthwhile and fascinating, drawing final conclusions when we hardly even get the most basic elements is silly, egotistical, self-deluding and just generally blind.

Believe whatever you want, but there is something beautiful and humbling about recognizing that we're such minute parts of something so vast and awesome, and that we really have no idea what the story is. Why jump to conclusions? Perhaps it's a little frightening that humans are left to their own devices to work things out, but have a little 'faith' in humanity - not the kind where you make up things you wish were true, but the kind where you trust your fellow man to be as good hearted as you, and make life worthwhile even though the universe might just someday end in a fiery blaze. That is okay. (If it didn't, what would happen? God would let us all hang out forever? Like, forever? Wouldn't we start running out of things to do? Is ultimate annihilation a worse alternative than eternal backgammon? Eternity is a long ass time. )
posted by mdn at 11:01 PM on December 1, 2004


Christianity is good at what it does, which is understanding ethics and values.

I think that even considering that on your terms, that is simply a false claim. It seems to me to be remarkably poor at it.

It is believing because we know that some things are true and that it is our duty to know what they are, and to live accordingly.

Replace "know" with "discover" and that's a precept I could certainly agree with. But people can't simply declare any old thing to be "true" that they want and crawl into their beds and pretend to be all warm and comfy. There are standards to truth.
posted by rushmc at 11:19 PM on December 1, 2004


Personally, I take this as circumstantial evidence of the independent existence of "right and wrong"

I think it would be a lot more reasonable to take it as evidence that we all share a great deal in our backgrounds and the societies in which we live.
posted by rushmc at 11:22 PM on December 1, 2004


I don't need the real world to conform to my worldview. I need the right worldview, the one that explains what's going on around me.

But don't you see that all of your examples demonstrate that you are choosing a worldview because you want the world to be a certain way, with no regard whatsoever to the way it actually is?? It is quite possible that the world is entirely unpalatable to you, but rather than accept that and try to deal with it, you are covering reality in a tattered fabric of fantasy.
posted by rushmc at 11:27 PM on December 1, 2004


You can't prove that God exists, and you can't prove that he doesn't. And, according to my faith, He set it up that way quite deliberately, so that you would have the freedom to choose not to love Him or believe in Him.

Belief != love. It is quite conceivable to imagine believing in him and not loving him at all.

I don't see how you can possibly justify his having established such a state of ignorance for humanity. It's like telling someone who has never been to school that there is such a thing as mathematics and that they should believe in it and accept its predictive powers without ever permitting them to learn how it works. It would be immoral to put someone in such a position, and unwise for them to accept such a contention.
posted by rushmc at 11:32 PM on December 1, 2004


If God is in all of us, then God must be both good and evil

What evidence do you have that this isn't so?
posted by rushmc at 11:38 PM on December 1, 2004


AlexReynolds,

That's what credulity of faith finally comes down to: something to attack.

If you really mean "credulity", which is synonymous with gullibility, then your statement makes no sense and I'll have to ask you to rephrase it. If you mean "credibility", I get your point. And it's wrong. Where do you get any dependency? What I said was, "Out of fairness".

...its strange you'd want to claim otherwise because then you'd have to defend your faith/religion/whatever for the very same reason

I've been defending against attacks on the Christian faith for this entire thread, and the arguments are getting weaker and weaker. And the objections I raise against science as a source of ultimate truth have, without exception, gone unanswered. I was hoping for some definitive statement that we could compare, A vs. B, you know, like in science?

Is Christianty's final defense that atheists don't have a codified belief system? Is that really what you're saying now?

No.

Pretty_Generic,

I have plenty of books. you can find them in the science section of your local library.

And what do those books tell you about how to raise a child? What kinds of behavior do they recommend toward friends? Toward strangers? Toward enemies? What do they say about marriage? And do they explain why? Of course not, they're science books. And those books over in the science section? They're my books too! But those books over in the Christianity section, they're mine too. My point is that science books are not sufficient to guide you in how to live your life, to define your faith, to give you a framework for understanding the world of human relationships. (You would understand that as human-to-human, and perhaps as human-to-nature, I would include both of those and add human-to-God.)

I think I can do better than that.

[clears throat]

In the beginning, I don't know ... insufficient evidence ... Frankly, I don't even know... It's a theory.... I just don't fucking know. I'm not going to pretend to know...


Well, OK then. I certainly can't argue with that. I'd appreciate it if you could refrain from cursing, though.

(Science note: The cyclical universe theory, also known as The Big Crunch (corresponding to The Big Bang), has been out of favor for the past 6-7 years. The universe is not slowing down, it is still accelerating. Check our books over in the science section.)

NortonDC,

I get that you want me to prove that God exists, and I can't. "Measured utility" of a faith is another scientific measurement (I'm sure we could agree on some parameters, and come up with a scoring system) albeit once removed. It's an indirect measurement. It is not a proof, nor is it the sole basis on which I would distinguish faith from "blind faith". Remember that the world of faith is one of relationships, ideals and the eternal disposition of the human soul. It is an intensely personal matter. We just aren't to get to an answer that's going to satisfy your scientific questioning.

[Sidebar: I would note that the indirect evidence of the "measured utility" of faith in God is pretty compelling. Consider:
Alcohol Abuse: Alcohol abuse is highest among those with little or no religious commitments. One study found that nearly 89 percent of alcoholics said they lost interest in religion during their youth.
Drug Abuse: Numerous studies have found an inverse correlation between religious commitment and drug abuse. Among young people, the importance of religion is the single best predictor of substance-abuse patterns. Joseph Califano, former secretary of the department of Health and Human Services and an architect of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, did an amazing about-face when he became head of Columbia University's Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. In 1998, Califano did a press conference where he released the results of a three-year study showing the relationship between substance abuse and crime. The statistics were startling: In 80 percent of criminal offenses, alcohol or drugs were implicated." Califano pointed at the director of Prison Fellowship Ministries and told the assembled press gathering, "He has the answer. Every individual I have met who successfully came off drugs or alcohol has given religion as the key to rehabilitation."
Crime: There is also a strong correlation between participation in religious activities and the avoidance of crime. In one study, Harvard professor Richard Freeman discovered that regular church attendance is the primary factor in preventing African-American urban young people from turning to drugs or crime.`' Another study revealed that regular attendance at Bible study in prison cut recidivism by two-thirds."
Depression and Stress: Several studies have found that high levels of religious commitment correlate with lower levels of depression and stress." In one Gallup survey, respondents with a strong religious commitment were twice as likely to describe themselves as "very happy."" Armand Nicholi, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says Christians are far less likely to experience mental disorders than their secular counterparts. Why? Because "the one essential feature that characterizes all types of depression" is "the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness," and Christians are never without hope."
Suicide: Persons who do not attend church are four times more likely to commit suicide than are frequent church attenders. In fact, lack of church attendance correlates more strongly with suicide rates than with any other risk factor, including unemployment.
Family Stability: A number of studies have found a strong inverse correlation between church attendance and divorce, and one study found that church attendance is the most important predictor of marital stability." Religion has also shown itself to be an important factor in preventing teen sexual relations, babies born out of wedlock, discord between parent and child, and other forms of family breakdown.
Marital and Sexual Satisfaction: Lest one think these numbers mean that religious people are staying in unhappy marriages from a sense of duty, consider these statistics. Churchgoers are more likely to say they would marry the same spouse again-an important measure of marital satisfaction. A 1978 study found that church attendance predicted marital satisfaction better than any other single variable. And the 1994 Sex in America study showed that very religious women enjoy a higher level of sexual satisfaction in their marriage than do nonreligious women.
Physical Health: Studies have shown that maternity patients and their newborns have fewer medical complications if the mothers have a religious affiliation. Belonging to a religious group can lower blood pressure, relieve stress, and enhance survival after a heart attack. Heart surgery patients with strong religious beliefs are much more likely to survive surgery. Elderly men and women who attend worship services are less depressed and physically healthier than their peers with no religious faith. They are also healthier than those who do not attend worship services but watch religious television at home. People who go to church have lower blood pressure, even when risky behaviors such as smoking are factored in. Church attendance even affects mortality rates. For men who attend church frequently, the risk of dying from arteriosclerotic heart disease is only 60 percent of that for men who attend infrequently. The death rates of churchgoing men from pulmonary emphysema are less than half and from cirrhosis of the liver only 25 percent as high as for non-churchgoing men.

I'm not saying that this means that every person of faith is healthy and happy, but the statistics do make a powerful circumstantial case. Both clinical experience and research data suggest that among the most important determinants of human happiness and well-being are our spiritual beliefs and moral choices. The statistics are so compelling that even a confirmed secularist ought to be convinced that religion is good for society. In fact, that's exactly what Guenter Lewy concludes in his recent book Why America Needs Religion. Lewy started out to write a book defending secularism, but after surveying the data, he ended up arguing, to his own surprise, that belief in God makes people happier and more fulfilled.

If you can read that laundry list of correlations and not question the wisdom of ignoring the power and importance of religious faith in your life, then I would conclude you're in denial.
]

AlexReynolds again,

It is considered perfectly okay for you to mock my perfectly rational ideas about evolution, but if I point out that your position depends upon the notion of a magic superhero in the sky, you'll probably take offense.

No, but I will take offense at false accusations. I have not mocked your ideas, or anyone elses' in this thread. I have not attempted to insist that anyone believe as I do. What I have done is (a) respond to attacks on the Bible and on Christians in general which were unfounded and unjustifiable, and (b) attempt to explain why I believe what I believe, because I was asked.

I read your comment linked above, and it's riddled with errors arising from false or naive assumptions:

"Faith, almost by definition, is irrational". See note above.

"What bothers me deeply is when your faith or anyone else's gets in the way of teaching this country's children how to think rationally." Read the news lately? We aren't allowed to call evolutionary theory a theory because it might introduce doubt as to the truth of evolution? Who exactly is getting in the way of teaching children how to think rationally?

"If you really want to teach your children the value of faith, take science away from them altogether; let them grow up with a medieval understanding of the world." Here again, with your inflammatory rhetoric you perpetuate the dichotomy between faith and science, setting up windmills to tilt at. Faith and science are complementary. There's a 1% friction factor where they rub together, and it's worth spending some time figuring out what is happening at the friction point, but your kind of anti-religious diatribe is absolutely destructive, not constructive at all.

Really, the whole piece is like that. Enough.
posted by JParker at 12:47 AM on December 2, 2004


[Footnote: props to Charles Colson for the stats on religion and its impact on our health and wellbeing in the sidebar above. I don't agree with everything he says, but he's done some outstanding work on the conflict of worldviews.]
posted by JParker at 1:01 AM on December 2, 2004


You're spending an awful lot of time pondering my motives, in place of answering my questions.

A recap:

What's the difference between faith and blind faith?
**Faith is tested.
How do you test faith?
**Make predictions based on what your faith tells you and compare to reality.

(Are those fair restatements of our earlier exchanges?)

Tell me if this sequence is compatible with what you have stated about evaluating faith:

1. Predict how something in reality will behave based on what your faith tells you.
2. Observe reality, either unaltered or in a controlled experiment.
3. Compare reality to that which your faith predicted.
4. Evaluate veracity of that which you have faith in based on it's adherence to observed reality.

PS--Evolution is a fact, an observable and repeatable phenomenon. Natural selection is a theory.
posted by NortonDC at 1:03 AM on December 2, 2004


If you can read that laundry list of correlations and not question the wisdom of ignoring the power and importance of religious faith in your life, then I would conclude you're in denial

No disrespect intended JParker, I don't have the time to go through each and every one right this moment - but I'd be willing to bet that the statistics have been gathered by people of the faith.

And the 1994 Sex in America study showed that very religious women enjoy a higher level of sexual satisfaction in their marriage than do nonreligious women.

I really had to highlight this though - is that what it's about? The God-squad do sexin' better than atheists? Is it because we shout "Chemical chance! Chemical chance! Fate and Destiny! BIG BANG!"

/Hicks
posted by longbaugh at 1:10 AM on December 2, 2004


mdn,

we're not going to arbitrarily choose a 'book' to explain what we can't explain

I'm not suggesting you choose one. If you can't find one, write one. What I am suggesting is that if you can't give me some concise statements about what you believe, and why you believe it, then you have no understanding at all. And that, I think, is the root of the problem here. Some people in this thread are trying to assert the superiority of their intellectual position merely by attacking the beliefs of the other side. They are offering nothing in return, except the imagined "purity" of science and the search for "truth".

See the comments above about faith. Whether you like it or not is irrelevent, you have it. And you demonstrate it every single day that you wake up and do anything. If you can't verbalize the basis and the extent and the logical consequences of that faith, then you simply don't know what you believe, or why you believe it. You've been indoctrinated by the naturalistic teachings of our university system and our modern culture. It isn't an unusual failing - we are taught to take so much for granted.

Similarly see comments above about "truth". Regardless of the nitpicking analysis of my "philosophy of Kay" and the roundness of the earth, science changes its rules every couple of years. And they are changes in the fundamental rules - about what matter is made of, how energy behaves, and the nature of the very universe we live in. When you compare the teachings of Jesus in the realm of human relationships, they've stood up pretty well for two thousand years.

longbaugh,

hehe. I like that one, too. I figured that would draw some comments from the MetaFilter crowd. I have source info on the studies if you're seriously interested in digging into that.

MetaFilter: worse sex than the fundies
posted by JParker at 1:20 AM on December 2, 2004


PS--Evolution is a fact, an observable and repeatable phenomenon. Natural selection is a theory.

See what I mean about indoctrination?

And like I said, it's not surprising. It's happening in every area of our educational systems, from attempts by atheists to rewrite the history of our country, to self-perpetuating liberal, left-wing collegiate staffing.

You want a real funny? About 1/4 of the way down the Wikipedia page on evolution there's a link to transitional forms. That's where the rubber meets the road, right? The concrete evidence of macro-evolution.
posted by JParker at 1:44 AM on December 2, 2004


I'm still waiting for answers to the two questions I asked you in my last post, JParker.
posted by NortonDC at 2:00 AM on December 2, 2004


NortonDC,

No, you're doing it again, trying to impose a scientific testing rigor on an ethical system of values. I don't know how to present this to you in such a way that you will understand, sorry. (Or alternatively, I am too dense to properly understand your question - a distinct possibility.)

How do you test faith?
**Make predictions based on what your faith tells you and compare to reality.


No, although that's part of it. If I had to put it in the language of science - and understand that it will be incomplete and maybe inaccurate as a result - it would look something like this:

1. Evaluate the tenets of the faith in the logical framework of the physical world around you. If there are conflicts, research and resolve either for or against.
2. Evaluate the tenets of the faith in the framework of the relationships you have now and in the past. Do the guidelines for healthy and happy living jibe with your experience? If there are conflicts, research and resolve either for or against.
3. Examine the evidence cited for any historical basis for the faith. Is it true or false?
4. Examine what the faith says about you. Are you innately perfect, innately flawed, perfectable, guilty or innocent? Does this jibe with your own self-awareness? Or are there irreparable differences? Do you have intrinsic value because you are human, or are you just another species of animal?
5. Examine what the faith says about the human race. Are we fundamentally good, and in need of freedom to reach our potential? Or are we innately selfish, and in need of rules to constrain our selfishness in the interests of productive community?

NortonDC - I'm doing this off the cuff, and I've already mentally branched this list out twenty different ways. You can hopefully see where it is headed. The explanatory power of the faith doctrine in terms of human relationships, and, correspondingly, its predictive power in the consequences of human actions, are an important part of the analysis, but not the only ones, or even the most important ones.

I hate to end an attempt to deliver a scientific testing process with a touchy-feely point, but the most dramatic part of adopting a particular faith is what it does to you, inside. Does it change your outlook and make you a better person? Does it give you a sense of purpose and answers to basic questions like "who am I?" and "why are we here?". Does it give you hope?

The most important criteria in evaluating a particular faith doctrine, however, is easy: Is it true?
posted by JParker at 2:06 AM on December 2, 2004


I'm still waiting for you to acknowledge that evolution is a theory, NortonDC.
posted by JParker at 2:12 AM on December 2, 2004


[S]cience changes its rules every couple of years. And they are changes in the fundamental rules - about what matter is made of, how energy behaves, and the nature of the very universe we live in. When you compare the teachings of Jesus in the realm of human relationships, they've stood up pretty well for two thousand years.

JParker, you really don't have a clue what science or the scientific method is. And you've already shown you can't reconcile the contradictions of your Jesus. Don't tread water you can't swim in.
posted by AlexReynolds at 5:42 AM on December 2, 2004


Let's not go and get confused about facts, theories, and hypotheses. Evolution is a theory and it also happens to be the ONLY theory that can successfully explain the facts(which are observations). It is also important to note that the amount of facts that this theory explains is extraordinary. Basically every fossil ever found, every sedimentary rock layer ever studied, not to mention genetics, and the rest of biology.

There is NO doubt among anybody that is even remotely scientifically rational that evolution (yes macro-evolution too) is the only way to explain the observed facts.

A hypothesis, which is basically a scientist's best guess but not yet fully supported by the facts, is often called a theory and vice-versa. That is inaccurate. A theory such as evolution is fully supported by the facts, but like everything else in science still can never become a Fact. This is the key difference between science and religion. Everything is in doubt in science (rightly so) but nothing is in doubt in religion. Trying to apply either standard to the other results in this type of conversation-- so to say that they agree 99% of the time is probably very optimistic.

JParker: I've enjoyed your spirited defense in this discussion, please don't doubt the hard work of thousands of scientists and call it indoctrination-- it's an education that promotes critical thinking which is the opposite to indoctrination.
posted by spaceviking at 6:52 AM on December 2, 2004


JParker
hehe. I like that one, too. I figured that would draw some comments from the MetaFilter crowd. I have source info on the studies if you're seriously interested in digging into that.

Don't worry about that dude, I have had way more than my fair share of Catholic girls...
posted by longbaugh at 7:03 AM on December 2, 2004


"There is NO doubt among anybody that is even remotely scientifically rational that evolution (yes macro-evolution too) is the only way to explain the observed facts."

That's implicitly giving the creationist viewpoint too much credit. There really is no distinction between what the creationists call "microevolution" and "macroevolution"; and "microevolution" is an observed fact. The idea that evolution must necessarily remain a "theory" because the facts are temporally inaccessible is just as stupid as claiming that the supposed distance from the Earth to the Sun is a "theory" until somebody actually goes there and back.

The evidence for evolution is overwhelming—evolution is a fact, not a theory.

Years ago I wrote something to this affect on a.f.u. and it's archived on the urbanlegends.com site. I get email every once in a while from creationists determined to argue with me. I normally like to engage anyone reasonable on pretty much any subject, but if you're (someone out there) similarly inclined to contest my assertion, please, don't email me. This is a subject I don't waste my time arguing anymore.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:16 AM on December 2, 2004


Read your own sources, and use language precisely, JParker. Evolution can be and has been induced in a laboratory setting, from evolving antibiotic resistance over generations to turning important genes off and watching organisms in descendant generations turn them back on. Evolution is an established, observed fact, independent of the theory of natural selection.

The rest of your comments to me will have to wait until later.
posted by NortonDC at 9:06 AM on December 2, 2004


Read your own sources, and use language precisely, JParker

Well, if you follow the link I gave you, the entry says:
"The word "evolution" is often used as a shorthand for the modern theory of evolution of species based upon Darwin's theory of natural selection. This theory states that all species today are the result of an extensive process of evolution ..."

How much more "precise" does the language need to be?
posted by JParker at 9:19 AM on December 2, 2004


First of all, that's telling the reader that they are different and illuminating the distinction between the shorthand/slang usage and actual meaning. Distinctions that you then ignore, negating much of the benefit available to you from the sources you refer to.

Secondly, from the same source: "microevolution has been demonstrated in the laboratory to the satisfaction of most observers."

Fact.
posted by NortonDC at 9:39 AM on December 2, 2004


I've been defending against attacks on the Christian faith for this entire thread, and the arguments are getting weaker and weaker.

If that isn't a baldfaced lie, then it is a sign that you are incapable of comprehending what has been said.
I don't think anyone worth paying attention to has said that you are wrong for being religious.

What they are saying is that you are wrong for asserting that you must be right. Because when it comes down to crunchtime, there is no way you can prove yourself right in any way that does not also allow everyone else to be right, no matter what they believe.

And if everyone is right, where does that leave you?

You have a useful tool for yourself. That is ultimately the only conclusion you can assert with confidence.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:01 AM on December 2, 2004


I've been defending against attacks on the Christian faith for this entire thread, and the arguments are getting weaker and weaker. And the objections I raise against science as a source of ultimate truth have, without exception, gone unanswered. I was hoping for some definitive statement that we could compare, A vs. B, you know, like in science?

The problem is that you are making a supposition of ultimate truth, whatever that is.

Science does not make suppositions of ultimate truth. It makes observations which due to their repeatability are useful to the point that we accept them as truths, because they might as well be. Gravity may not work tomorrow, but it works today, and keeps me seated in my chair and my servers from floating in the air.

As a counterexample, Mary's immaculate conception is not repeatable. There has been no independently observed evidence for naturally induced, human parthenogenesis in the known history of humanity.

You've offered your Bible as a statement of proof, but you yourself have stated there are a number of inconsistencies you are unable to resolve.

Given these two pieces of evidence, you have shown yourself unable to defend the fundamental basis of your religion.

You wanted A-to-B, and you just got it. Its not what you want to hear, but that's the reality of the situation.
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:25 AM on December 2, 2004


mdn...I'm not suggesting you choose one. If you can't find one, write one. What I am suggesting is that if you can't give me some concise statements about what you believe, and why you believe it, then you have no understanding at all.

I guess I would pinpoint this as your problem, then. If you can't close the circuit with a final satisfactory explanation, then you're left floating in the abyss... I don't see it that way. There's always some mystery and some orientation. We'll never know everything; it doesn't even really make sense to speak of knowing everything. But that doesn't mean that what we have is useless. We can come to understand our own relation to other things, and the way we are in the world, which is what we do.

They are offering nothing in return, except the imagined "purity" of science and the search for "truth".

why the scare quotes? That's all that can be offered. We are on an endless search, and it's irresponsible and pointless to try jumping ahead to what we don't know and acting as if we know it! It misses the point of discovery and truth, and it provides a false comfort which is very thin, and under examination evaporates frighteningly easily (which is why it must be constantly reinforced to stay usable).

See the comments above about faith. Whether you like it or not is irrelevent, you have it. And you demonstrate it every single day that you wake up and do anything.

everyday we demonstrate a willingness to go out into the unknown and see what happens. Every day we take on the burden of contingency and uncertainty. That does not require faith! In many ways it's quite the reverse - we go out into the world knowing that we don't actually know very much at all. We don't have faith that it is a certain way; we choose to interact and explore despite not knowing for sure what's what.

When you compare the teachings of Jesus in the realm of human relationships, they've stood up pretty well for two thousand years.

see also, buddha, confucius, aristotle, socrates, yadda yadda yadda. Human beings understand human beings, fairly well. They can say and do things which we can still relate to thousands of years later. It doesn't make them gods.
posted by mdn at 10:49 AM on December 2, 2004


You're doing it again, JParker, making a laundry list attempting to detail why you think Christianity is pragmatically better than atheism (presumed advantage in quality of life issues). What you don't seem to get is that for some of us, this is irrelevant, because we do not accept the idea of living a lie just because it may provide some advantages. Some of us rate truth over comfort and ease.

Some people in this thread are trying to assert the superiority of their intellectual position merely by attacking the beliefs of the other side. They are offering nothing in return

Because the burden of proof is not on us. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. We don't have to prove or even provide an alternate system to Christianity to question its validity. The alternative is reality, whatever that may happen to be.
posted by rushmc at 12:31 PM on December 2, 2004


Evolution consists of two statements:
1) Things change
2) Things more likely to stick around are more likely to stick around.

Evolution is a truism.

The most telling statement here is that JParker said it was convienient that we atheists don't have a holy book which he can find fault with, because it makes our position more difficult to attack.

That isn't mere lucky convienience. The reason our position is more difficult to attack is because it is the truth.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 2:04 PM on December 2, 2004


JParker, I personally would like to understand why you (and, of course, believers in general) feel the need to bring a deity into the picture. The basics of what you've described as the benefits (loving oneself, loving others and behaving accordingly) does not require a deity to accept; I offer myself as proof. Complicating the matter by bringing in a deity along with the related specific stories/retelling of historical events only adds a very confrontational element as demonstrated by the quite numerous wars in which religious differences have played a part. Is the carrot (the love of the specific deity and some promised but unknowable by the living reward in the afterlife) still so necessary at this stage of human cultural development?
posted by billsaysthis at 2:17 PM on December 2, 2004


My point is that science books are not sufficient to guide you in how to live your life, to define your faith, to give you a framework for understanding the world of human relationships.

You're right. For that you need Social Science books.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 2:19 PM on December 2, 2004


Remember that the world of faith is one of relationships, ideals and the eternal disposition of the human soul.

JParker then goes on to show that the Bible must be true because it gives women better orgasms and makes sure their kids do fewer narcotics.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 2:25 PM on December 2, 2004


JParker, a mission for you. If you succeed in this mission, I will convert, and you will have saved my soul. I would be so interested to hear a good answer to this question, that I would be willing to do that, and admit my entire worldview is a sham. Surely you love me enough to try? I'm a decent enough chap. I gave to charity one time, I distinctly remember.

MISSION BACKGROUND
JParker, in response to my question, of whether you believe that God expressed the command to Moses, as stated in Leviticus 20:13, you said yes.

You later said that We are guilty before a Holy God of infinite goodness.

MISSION
Express to us all why God's decision to command Moses to execute gays, even if that was their sole crime, in order to make the Jews holy, which is an attribute defined by God alone, was a morally good choice.

Wait, this all sounds familiar... Ah, yes, I already asked you this question way back in the thread! Well, that means you've had time to think about it. Good luck. Maybe you can ask your Harvard graduate pastor.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 2:41 PM on December 2, 2004


spaceviking,

JParker: I've enjoyed your spirited defense in this discussion, please don't doubt the hard work of thousands of scientists and call it indoctrination-- it's an education that promotes critical thinking which is the opposite to indoctrination.

Thanks, sv, but let’s call a spade a spade. I’m very pro-education. To me that means promoting critical thinking. But anybody who objects to calling a theory a theory, or wants to hide factual history because it references God whom they don’t believe in, is indoctrinating. It’s not indicative of science or (most) scientists, but it is a trend in modern society that I think anyone who values intellectual honesty should oppose.

NortonDC

First of all, that's telling the reader that they are different and illuminating the distinction between the shorthand/slang usage and actual meaning.

But… this is English. The text actually says, “evolution”’ is often used as a shorthand for the modern theory of evolution of species based upon Darwin's theory of natural selection. I parse that as “It’s shorthand for a theory based on a theory.” How do you parse it?

"microevolution has been demonstrated in the laboratory to the satisfaction of most observers."

But I was referring to macroevolution, as referenced in the article about textbook stickers I linked to. And so were you when you said, “PS--Evolution is a fact, an observable and repeatable phenomenon. Natural selection is a theory.”. I agree with microevolution, and so does every single Christian I know. Cheap shot.

Five fresh fish

What they are saying is that you are wrong for asserting that you must be right.

Reality check. What they are saying is that I am wrong for asserting that I could be right. I have been defending my beliefs as based on reason and logic, and “they” have been attacking my beliefs, attempting to invalidate them. With a remarkable lack of success, I might add. The atheists and agnostics in this thread have consistently been on the attack against Christianity. You have every right to believe what you want to believe, but you cannot and will not deny me the right to believe what I believe. Read back over the thread and tell me who is respecting whose rights to believe, and who is being intolerant.

AlexReynolds

The problem is that you are making a supposition of ultimate truth

Yes. I don’t consider it a problem. I see it as the most accurate explanation of the world around me. I’d venture to say your philosophical foundations are different than mine. You see the world differently. And yet, when you see a bully hit a smaller child, your heart goes out to the little guy, and you think “that’s not fair”. So do I. Why is that? Where is the concept of fair in science? And for that matter, where is love, contempt, awe, loyalty, friendship, duty, responsibility or any of the other concepts of moral and ethical value? Science is mute on these topics. Effectively then in your world, what? They don’t exist?

Science does not make suppositions of ultimate truth. It makes observations which due to their repeatability are useful

What was the phrase, “Oh, pull the other one, it’s got bells on.?” You don’t know anything. Neither do I. We both operate on systems of faith, which we treat as absolute truths. You have science. I have science and religion. To my thinking, my stuff explains more than your stuff. Besides, science is hardly restricting itself to observable phenomena, or repeatable ones. You can’t observe quantum physics or macroevolution. The Big Bang isn’t repeatable.

Here’s the rub. Science is biased. Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin says it this way, “In the struggle between science and the supernatural, we take the side of science.” Why? “Because we have a prior commitment to materialism.” The rules of science that define what qualifies as science have been crafted by materialistic scientists to ensure that they get only materialistic theories.

You notice that the atheists and agnostics keep coming back to “prove God exists”. Because applying scientific techniques to problem-solving is all they have been taught. What if I said that praying it about it might be more effective in some situations? What if that were true? How would science ever uncover it? I submit that it would not. Alternate explanations would be sought… forever. Why? Because it would shake the very foundation on which science – as a philosophy, not as an investigative discipline – rests.

You wanted A-to-B, and you just got it.

Not even close. Show me your statement of faith.

mdn,

Great comments. I have a lot of respect for what you said above, since I think you’re coming at it from the right perspective, i.e. understanding the limitations inherent in any system of belief.

I think I can sum up where we differ, though:
You seem to be happy with the statement that we don’t know everything and can’t know everything. I totally agree with that, but it doesn’t cut the mustard by itself. Clearly you do believe in something. What I’m asking is, what is it? I feel like I’m stuck in a loop asking this question, because the answer keeps coming back, “I don’t know”. That’s unacceptable, because if you are living your life based on some implicit assumptions, you ought to call them out and examine them, and make sure they make sense.

Every day we take on the burden of contingency and uncertainty. That does not require faith!

Then you don’t understand faith. You don’t know that there won’t be an earthquake in one minute. You push on the brake, you expect the car to stop. You are thirsty, you assume you need a drink. I’m not suggesting that these things are not valid assumptions; I make the same ones. But I recognize them as based on faith, because I can’t know. I don’t know enough about how the world works to “know” anything. So I operate on faith. So do you. I know what I put my faith in. You deny having any faith at all.

EtherealBligh,

There really is no distinction between what the creationists call "microevolution" and "macroevolution"

I won’t email you, but I won’t let you get away with that tripe, either. From the wikipedia again (what a great tool!):
Microevolution is the occurrence of small-scale changes in gene frequencies in a population over a few generations, also known as change at or below the species level… Biologists distinguish between microevolution and macroevolution, which is the occurrence of large-scale changes in gene frequencies in a population over a long period of time (and may culminate in the evolution of new species).

Thanks for writing a paper on it, though.

rushmc,

we do not accept the idea of living a lie just because it may provide some advantages. Some of us rate truth over comfort and ease.

You’ve got it backwards. Christians live longer, healthier, happier lives because they know the truth, and live their lives in harmony with it. And that’s the whole point. If you fail to understand or respect rules in the physical world, you’re going to get hit by a bus and it’s going to hurt. Those are God’s physical laws in action. He has spiritual laws as well. Violate them, and you induce pain and anxiety, and shorten your life expectancy.

Because the burden of proof is not on us.

But if you’re going to be intellectually honest, then you should know and understand your presuppositions. And if your every action is based on faith, you ought to be able to explain what that faith is. Note also that I said atheism offered nothing, and you (apparently) agreed.
P_G,

Weakest comment so far.

billsaysthis

I personally would like to understand why you (and, of course, believers in general) feel the need to bring a deity into the picture.

Rather the other way around, mate. He brought me into the picture. Seriously though, that’s way beyond the scope of this discussion. I’d suggest picking up two books as good introductions to the topic: The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel and Challenging the Verdict: A Cross-Examination of Lee Strobels "The Case for Christ" by Earl Doherty. Earl had the advantage of writing his text directly against Lee’s book which had already been published, but that’s OK. Just read them both with an open mind, listen to the arguments and see which one stacks up best to your knowledge of how the world works. Further research almost surely required, but this would be a good start.

Is the … love of the specific deity … still so necessary at this stage of human cultural development?

Nick Berg
Abu Ghraib
Croatia
Bosnia
Hitler
Elizabeth Smart
Columbine High School
… oh dear…. I’d give that a “yes”.
;-(
posted by JParker at 3:59 PM on December 2, 2004


Besides, science is hardly restricting itself to observable phenomena, or repeatable ones. You can’t observe quantum physics or macroevolution. The Big Bang isn’t repeatable

Erm, now you're really jumping into territory you know little about:

Quantum physics is pretty much all about high-level probability theory, and experimental verification of it has been all about repeatability. Governments haven't been pouring billions into CERN and related sites for fun and games.

Macroevolution is not directly observable, but its cumulative effects (speciation) are, through the tracing of phenotype and genotype evolution through fossil records and doing computer-assisted cladism.

As to the Big Bang, it hasn't been established whether the universe will eventually contract after its initial expansion. Scientists are working on measuring a cosmological constant. If that's what you mean by repeatability.

You really are very badly informed about what science is and how scientists do their work. Very much so. It is hurting your argument to the point that I really can no longer take what you say as credible.

Not even close. Show me your statement of faith.

You still do not comprehend that atheism requires no statement of divine faith, even less that any meaningful understanding of the truth does not require any statement of divine faith.

The only "act of faith" as such is that you are reliant and capable on your own senses and reasoning skills to question and figure out the world.

As a scientist you can be wrong about the question, even more so about the answer, and you always expect to be wrong, because you have to do an incredible amount of work to verify your results before you get to publish them.

Thousands of scientists put on their editor caps and pour over the minutiae in each others' papers before publishing them, from data results to the logic of the experimental process.

Scientists have been wrong over the years, as was Lamarck, for example. The scientific process tends to weed out incorrect ideas and only correct, consistent ideas remain.

Science and faith apply to two vastly different arenas. If you apply faith to the real world, then you must defend that insertion, when its application has been so inconsistent (and immoral, frankly).

It is your responsibily to defend your assertion of divinity as it applies to the real world, not mine. You are making the assertion. Not me. Do your own homework.
posted by AlexReynolds at 4:27 PM on December 2, 2004


Thanks for writing a paper on it, though.

Too bad you didn't learn anything from it. I don't know who wrote that Wikipedia entry, but I don't hear the terms "microevolution" and "macroevolution" used by anyone other than creationists. Is there some sort of meaningful distinction there? Sure. Is the distinction qualitative in the way that you claim it is? Nope. Absolutely not. And because it's not, "microevolution" and "macroevolution" are the same thing, and no one disputes that the former is a "fact".

Hey, I support you in your quest to argue against (what appears to me from my skimming of this thread) the often arrogant and, in a sense, simpleminded attacks on theism by atheists and their related defense of atheism. I may be an atheist, but, like languagehat, I'm an atheist that spends more time defending theists against atheists than I do attacking theists. So, you know, in the grand scheme of things here, I'm not your enemy.

But this evolution thing is older to me than you'd likely believe. I bet you I'm the only person on mefi, and perhaps the only person in this whole audience, that's taken a (real, not a biased Christian) university course on comparative creationism and evolution. Sure, this was 22 years ago. But unlike a lot of other evolutionists, I've read a bunch of the creationist texts. I've read a number of the important primary evolution texts, even though I'm not a biologist or otherwise an evolution scientist. And creationism is just silly. But, worse, it's view of evolution and evolution science is deeply distorted and there's been more than two decades of an industry devoted to doing nothing but indoctrinate people like you. The supposed "micro" and "macro" evolutionary distinction is a cornerstone of the funhouse mirror view of evolutionary theory as it's presented by the creationists. So is the whole "no transitional fossils" thing. It seems to make perfect sense to the creationists who talk about this stuff, but it actually makes no real scientific sense at all. So, again, no, evolution is not a "theory" in the diminutive sense any more than relativity is a "theory" in that sense. They're both "theories" but, more to the point, they're observed fact as well.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:51 PM on December 2, 2004


Weakest comment so far.

Yay, internet debate victory is mine! Time to crack open the champagne and spray it over my atheist harem.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 4:56 PM on December 2, 2004


Hitler

Godwin'd! Double victory. Time to gorge myself on nativity S'Mores.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 5:04 PM on December 2, 2004


Time to crack open the champagne and spray it over my atheist harem.

We get to have some fun, finally...
posted by AlexReynolds at 5:05 PM on December 2, 2004


You want us maybe we do some buttsecx, too?
posted by Pretty_Generic at 5:16 PM on December 2, 2004


I personally would like to understand why you (and, of course, believers in general) feel the need to bring a deity into the picture.

Rather the other way around, mate. He brought me into the picture.


See, this is the crux. You say he brought you into the picture but other than what's in your heart you have nothing to show the truth of this assertion; simply reversing my words is not a meaningful response. It's just nonresponsive and telling me I need to read two complex books just to understand what ought to be a simple point if all were as you say makes that clear.
posted by billsaysthis at 5:21 PM on December 2, 2004


Quantum physics is pretty much all about high-level probability theory, and experimental verification of it has been all about repeatability

Reread the post. I said you can’t observe quantum physics, not that quantum experiments aren’t repeatable. If you have seen it, see an eye doctor immediately.

Macroevolution is not directly observable, but its cumulative effects (speciation) are

That’s an assertion. The whole question of evolution versus creationism hinges on the validity of Darwin’s extrapolation of microevolution into the distant past. You’re argument is, “Because speciation is the result of macroevolution, and speciation is a fact, macroevolution is valid.” Bogus argument.

As to the Big Bang, it hasn't been established whether the universe will eventually contract after its initial expansion. Scientists are working on measuring a cosmological constant. If that's what you mean by repeatability.

Wow, and I’m supposed to do MY homework? You need to bone up yourself. And no, what I was referring to was that we still have no idea what happened in the Big Bang below a diameter of one Planck length. We certainly can’t recreate that condition, and in the unlikely event that a Big Crunch does occur, we certainly won’t be around to be taking measurements.

The only "act of faith" as such is that you are reliant and capable on your own senses and reasoning skills to question and figure out the world.

Except when you’re so prejudiced against anything non-scientific that you can’t even see it. And despite the fact that when you apply these reasoning skills to ethical and moral issues, you fail miserably. And despite the fact that if you drill down on the resulting facts asserted by science, you arrive at mere assumptions. We’ve visited this topic several times already.

As a scientist you can be wrong about the question, even more so about the answer, and you always expect to be wrong, because you have to do an incredible amount of work to verify your results before you get to publish them.

Unless you’re a biotech company that needs funding, then you just go right to the press with false promises of cures right around the corner.

Science and faith apply to two vastly different arenas. If you apply faith to the real world, then you must defend that insertion, when its application has been so inconsistent (and immoral, frankly).

Faith is all we have. See above. Are you even reading the posts that precede your rant? And way to just toss in a comment like “immoral, frankly”, without any context or explanation.

It is your responsibily to defend your assertion of divinity as it applies to the real world, not mine. You are making the assertion. Not me. Do your own homework.

I never tried to get you defend my assertion of divinity as it applies to the real world. I’ll do my homework if you’ll study sentence construction.

billsaysthis

Those two books are entry-level paperbacks, quick reads that will familiarize you with the main issues and arguments. That’s why I recommended them. If you want more, both have extensive bibliographies. Strobel spells out ten arguments (I think it’s ten, I don’t have the book in front of me), and Doherty argues every one. It is not that simple. Or rather, once you have made the decision (either way), it’s simple. Getting to the point where you can make that “leap” of faith as the most reasonable answer to the question, and accepting the obligations and ramifications of it, is very, very hard. It is, however, the most important decision you’ll ever make, so it is worth spending some time on.


Folks, this has been entertaining, but we’re treading over old ground again and again. We’re now over 200 comments in this thread, and I can no longer keep up with all of you (feels like playing serial chess!), and I have a life to get back to. I really appreciate the many thoughtful comments and well-reasoned arguments that you brought to this discussion. I was frankly a little scared to broach the topic, as this is the toughest audience I could imagine for this debate.

MetaFilter has been wonderful over the years as a forum for educated and thoughtful dialogue, and you’ve upheld that tradition in fine form.

Like some previous posters, I doubt anyone either found God or lost their faith as a result of this debate, but I for one found it helpful to understand the atheist/agnostic position and refine my own arguments.

The best I can hope for is that some people’s attitudes about Christians – characterized too frequently as intolerant, ignorant, or just plain stupid – might have been modified. And I do hope that. We’re all just people, doing the best we can. Thanks, all!
posted by JParker at 5:41 PM on December 2, 2004


You are not stupid at all. You merely have a mental illness whereby you can apparently ignore questions you cannot answer, vital questions, without doubting your certainty on their subject. God-speed ye!
posted by Pretty_Generic at 5:43 PM on December 2, 2004


Reread the post. I said you can’t observe quantum physics, not that quantum experiments aren’t repeatable. If you have seen it, see an eye doctor immediately.

I don't know what you mean by "observe quantum physics". I suppose you mean mathematical theorems. Please clarify.

We don't observe math equations. We verify their use to describe phenomena, by applying them as an expected dataset against an observed dataset. If the equations don't match the observations, the equations are tweaked or thrown out. That's how science is done.

[Macroevolution is] an assertion. The whole question of evolution versus creationism hinges on the validity of Darwin’s extrapolation of microevolution into the distant past. You’re argument is, “Because speciation is the result of macroevolution, and speciation is a fact, macroevolution is valid.” Bogus argument.

Dare I ask why how you think it is bogus when speciation is validated with fossil records, dating, and cladism? Just because it doesn't agree with your Bible doesn't make it false. We're talking basic science here.

Wow, and I’m supposed to do MY homework? You need to bone up yourself.

And? What does this contradict? The cosmological constant refers to how theoretical universes either contract or expand indefinitely. Did you even bother to read the link you provided?

And no, what I was referring to was that we still have no idea what happened in the Big Bang below a diameter of one Planck length. We certainly can’t recreate that condition, and in the unlikely event that a Big Crunch does occur, we certainly won’t be around to be taking measurements.

Your assertion, not mine and not that of some others, either.

Chatting with you, I am doubtful, frankly, whether human civilization will live long enough to get past irrational mysticism to even begin to speculate as to whether we might find a way for information to survive such an event.

In any case, I don't know if you're stupid, but you're certainly willfully ignorant and seemingly proud of it. Good luck with your studies.
posted by AlexReynolds at 6:17 PM on December 2, 2004


JParker -- The text actually says, “evolution”’ is often used as a shorthand for the modern theory of evolution of species based upon Darwin's theory of natural selection. I parse that as “It’s shorthand for a theory based on a theory.”

That section of the text is explicitly acknowledging a common synecdochic use of "evolution" in place of "the theory of natural selection" (much like one might refer to entire car as "a nice set of wheels"). It does not say "Because this synecdoche is common, a 'set of wheels' is now defined to include a internal combustion engine." Just the opposite; the purpose of that statement is to draw a distinction between the synecdochic use of the word and the word's inherent meaning.

Don't want to take my word for it? Don't. Go look it up. Nowhere in there does "natural selection" or any other explanation of why evolution has happened appear. Evolution is the "what" (the fact), and natural selection is the "why" (the theoretical explanation).

>>"microevolution has been demonstrated in the
>>laboratory to the satisfaction of most observers."
>
>But I was referring to macroevolution, as referenced in
>the article about textbook stickers I linked to. And so
>were you when you said, “PS--Evolution is a fact, an
>observable and repeatable phenomenon. Natural
>selection is a theory.”. I agree with microevolution


No, you were not referring to macroevolution. Not if, as you assert, you were using it as used in the linked article. The article makes no distinction between microevolution and macroevolution, nor does it ever identify the origin of species as its subject. Just "evolution." And evolution is real, an established fact and a repeatable phenomenon.

If you "agree" with microevolution, then you "agree" with evolution--you acknowledge the factual reality of evolution. Good for you.
posted by NortonDC at 6:35 PM on December 2, 2004


I for one found it helpful to understand the atheist/agnostic position and refine my own arguments

Frankly, I don't think you've understood much of what Pretty Generic and Alex Reynolds said. And while your counterarguments might have satisfied someone like me, they certainly haven't come close to standing up to the sort of scrutiny those two have given them.

But thanks for participating: you've egged PG & AR into presenting information in such simple terms that I'm much better-informed as to why atheism is right. I knew it was right before, and now I know better why it is right.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:52 PM on December 2, 2004


Yay! Way to go fff. Zees is progressz.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:09 PM on December 2, 2004


Can't have progress without the champagne.
posted by AlexReynolds at 7:34 PM on December 2, 2004




I'm very glad you are interested in my reasoning, five fresh fish, it really means a lot to me. See also, why there is no afterlife.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:57 PM on December 2, 2004


I've been an atheist for ages (could it really be decades? damn, I feel I'm getting old!). I've participated in these sorts of debates before, and silently read others, and soaked up endless texts from libraries. The end result has always been the same: continued confidence that religion is a useful fairytale for some people, but ultimately untrue and absolutely unnecessary for me.

But I've always particularly enjoyed reading a well-spoken religionists view on things. I long ago decided that disabusing people of their fairytale is unfair to them: for whatever reason, they require such a construct in order to be happy and/or good. Since I believe being happy and good is ultimately the best thing about having a life, if it works for them, it works for them, and I shouldn't be one to harm them.

Thus, the only time I really get cranky is when a religionist tries to force their faith on me.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:22 PM on December 2, 2004


So what are your opinions on free will?
posted by Krrrlson at 8:45 PM on December 2, 2004


That's a little broad. Care to narrow it down?
posted by five fresh fish at 10:11 AM on December 3, 2004


Ok - are YOU a determinist?
posted by Krrrlson at 11:44 PM on December 3, 2004


No.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:27 AM on December 4, 2004


You had to scare off the Christian, didn't you? And just before I got to show him that the concrete difference between his definitions of faith and blind faith is the scientific method.
posted by NortonDC at 12:08 PM on December 5, 2004


Rowr.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:13 PM on December 5, 2004


I'm a determinist! Yay! Determinism rocks!

I'm a compatibilist about free will.
posted by wilberforce at 1:35 PM on December 6, 2004


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