Archive for March, 2009
I Am that I Am

No, it’s not a quote from Popeye. It’s the response of the biblical God to Moses’ request for His name. We can read about it in chapter 3 of the book of Exodus, verses 13-15:

And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?

And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, the LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.

It’s a common misconception, and one that wasn’t corrected until centuries after Moses. Fortunately, the Council of Nicea came along in the third century and set us all straight. God is not an “I AM THAT I AM,” He’s a “WE ARE THAT WE ARE.”

It’s one of the great ironies of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The Israelites in Moses’ day were polytheists, or more specifically henotheists: they believed in the existence of many Gods, but they worshiped only one of them (or at least, that’s what they were supposed to do). We see this in the early verses of Exodus 3, when God introduces Himself through the burning bush.

And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.

And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.

Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.

It’s not enough to tell Moses, “I am God.” Yahweh has to tell him which God, or he might think he was being addressed by some member of the Egyptian pantheon, or some other Canaanite deity, or even some new spirit. And, as the Decalogue tells us, God Himself was mindful of the need to make sure His people obeyed Him alone, and were not tempted by other deities, to worship them or serve them.

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

If you read through the Law of Moses, you’ll notice that the blessings and cursings of God are all about earthly, material blessings and cursings. Once you died, you supposedly passed into the jurisdiction of a different god, the god of the dead. Yahweh was not the god of the dead, He was only the God of the living, in early Jewish thinking. Many years later, Jesus picked up on this belief and used it as the basis for his refutation of Sadducean theology, in Matt. 22.

But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

As an argument for resurrection, it makes no sense at all, since you don’t resurrect the living. But as a stab at the henotheistic beliefs of the Sadducees, it was devastating. How could God still be the God of patriarchs who had died, if indeed the dead passed into the jurisdiction of some other deity? They would belong to the god of the dead at that point, yet Moses said they still belonged to God. Very thought-provoking!

What happened between Moses and Jesus, of course, was the Babylonian Captivity, during which the exiled Jews were exposed to Zoroastrian and Mithraic beliefs. Those who returned from the Persian empire brought back beliefs that were foreign to Judaism but very familiar sounding to Zoroastrians: resurrection, judgment, angels, demons, heaven, hell, etc. The Pharisee (Farsi) Jews were very strict monotheists, and blamed all of Israel’s woes on their polytheistic beliefs and practices, and emphasized (with a certain amount of reinterpretation) the exclusivist aspects of Moses’ Law.

You would think, therefore, that Christianity, which sprang out of the Farsi traditions (monotheism, resurrection, judgment, etc) would be a strictly monotheistic religion. But Christianity developed in the context of a strong Osirian mythology, and the parallels with the death and resurrection of Osiris implied that the Christ, also, ought to be a divine figure. To many early believers, it was undeniable: Jesus’ own (somewhat ambiguous) declarations proved that he must be God, because he could hardly have been so blessed by the Father if he were lying about who he was.

Eventually, this led to a major crisis in the Church, since the faction that upheld the deity of Jesus was about equally matched by the faction that held to strict monotheism, and they were fighting over it (literally). The Church Councils “resolved” this problem by institutionalizing the contradiction and wrapping it in many layers of abstruse philosophical hand-waving, drawing hair-splitting distinctions between “being” and “person” and between “substance” and “essence”. And even then, they ended up declaring it a “mystery,” to excuse the fact that the best and most “inspired” theologians of the time could not truly reconcile the inherent contradictions.

Thus was born the idea of the Trinity: one God in three Persons, each fully divine, individually distinct, and yet one God. Many Christians since then (in defiance of the declarations of the Councils that defined the Trinity) have presumed to offer a simple explanation of how three can be one. For example, they compare Father, Son and Spirit to ice, water and steam (thus falling into the heresy of modalism). Or they compare the Trinity to the body, soul and spirit that man is alleged to have (thus falling into the heresy of saying that each Person is only a part of God). But the easy explanations have all been tried, and found wanting. Nor have the complicated attempts fared any better.

The Trinity is Exhibit A in the case against the Christian God being a real person. Truth is consistent with itself; the Trinity is not, and has been declared such by the Church itself, and thus is not the truth.

If we look at both biblical usage and common usage, we can see that the doctrine of the Trinity is as flawed as any other politically-motived compromise. (Not that compromise is a bad thing in politics, of course, but even there it’s a matter of expediency, and not a question of discovering fundamental truth.) Consider how often we refer to God as a He. That’s the third person singular pronoun, but according to Trinitarianism, God is not a singular person. If God is three persons, then grammatically we need to use the third person plural pronoun to refer to Him, er, Them.

But then you have the many Scriptural passages where God refers to Himself in the first person singular, even when He is saying things like “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” If that’s the Father forbidding worship and service to other divine persons, then there’s a whole lot of commandment-breaking going on among Christians who praise Jesus and let the Holy Spirit guide them.

Christians think their way around this problem by telling themselves that the Son and the Spirit are not “other gods,” they’re the same God as the Father. Once you do that, however, the noun “God” is no longer the identifier for a distinct, individual person, but instead becomes a collective noun, and identifier for a group of individual persons who share a common characteristic (namely, divinity). Which is fine, except that at that point there is no significant difference between Trinitarianism and polytheism. Mount Olympus was also inhabited by a number of distinct individuals, each of whom was fully God, and apart from whom no other [collective singular identifier for a group of divine persons] existed.

Plural divine individuals are God the same way plural human individuals are Man (as opposed to being Beast, or Plant, or Stone). Each of us can claim to be fully Man (or fully Woman, as the case may be). We’re not just part Man, as though some additional factor were missing that would make us fully human. We are Man. And the denizens of Valhalla are God, in precisely the same sense. Once you change the noun “God” from designating an individual Person to designating a group of divine persons, it is simply double-talk to pretend you are promoting a system that is different from polytheism in any meaningful sense.

And indeed, why would you need to? If three Persons can be one God, why not four? Or four hundred, or four million? If “God,” third person singular, is not singular but plural, what limits are there on how great the plurality can become? If God can have one Holy Spirit, why not seven? Why can’t Mary also be divine, and even the saints? If we are made in the image of the divine, why not say that we become that image?

Don’t worry, I’m not trying to convert anyone to Mormonism. Mormonism has its own series of internal and external contradictions. And yet, if Christians are going to buy into the dogma that multiple divine Persons exist, and are one God, they’ve got a conflict with the traditional monotheism upon which their faith is founded. They claim their teachings are divine revelation, yet they have all the flaws and frailties of any other product of political expediency, and thus expose the fact that their doctrine of God is not, after all, the truth.

So who is God? I AM THAT I AM, or WE ARE THAT WE ARE? If there were any rational way they could both be true, the Church would not have had to resort to declaring it a mystery. But since they are both declared to be true, when they cannot be, and since no such God shows up in real life, we can know that no such God exists. He (or They) is/are the flawed product(s) of fallible human imagination.

XFiles Friday: Context! Context! Context!

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 12.)

Dominic Crossan, of the Jesus Seminar, once said that if the trees in his back yard suddenly moved 5 feet overnight, he wouldn’t immediately assume that the cause must be supernatural. Geisler and Turek take this hypothetical scenario and use a variation of it as an illustration of the principle that context ought to determine how you interpret things.

So let’s suppose that Crossan’s tree-moving event occurred in the following context: Two hundred years in advance, someone claiming to be a prophet of God writes down a prediction that all of the trees in one particular area of Jerusalem would indeed move five feet one night during a particular year. Two hundred years later, a man arrives to tell the townspeople that the tree moving miracle will occur shortly. This man claims to be God, teaches profound truths, and performs many other unusual acts that appear to be miracles.

Then one morning numerous eyewitnesses claim that the trees in Crossan’s Jerusalem yard—including several deep-rooted, 100-foot oaks—actually moved five feet during the night, just as the God-man predicted. These eyewitnesses also say this is just one of more than thirty miracles performed by this God-man. They then suffer persecution and martyrdom for proclaiming these miracles and for refusing to recant their testimony. Opponents of the God-man don’t deny the evidence about the trees or the other miracles, but offer natural explanations that have numerous fatal flaws. Many years later, after all the eyewitnesses are dead, skeptics offer additional natural explanations that prove to be fatally flawed as well. In fact, for the next 1,900 years skeptics try to explain the event naturally, but no one can.

Question: Given that context, wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that the movement of the trees was supernatural rather than natural in origin?

I think that’s an absolutely brilliant illustration, and for once I agree with Geisler and Turek almost completely.

The problem, of course, is that Geisler and Turek have described a context which is precisely the kind of context that Christianity does not have. We don’t have a bunch of trees that are five feet distant from their original locations, we have a bunch of believers who say they remember the trees being five feet to the left of where they are now, in fact they’re sure of it, even though no non-believer at the time reports seeing any change in location and there’s no physical evidence of any such move.

We don’t have a God-man, either. We have stories about an alleged God-man, and the alleged miracles he allegedly performed. And we read these stories in the context of a world full of Benny Hinns and Joseph Smiths and Uri Gellers and Sylvia Brownes, and many other people who amaze their followers with their “supernatural” powers.

And those “prophecies”? Let’s take one from the beginning of Jesus’ life, and one from the end.

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.”

Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.” (Isaiah 7:10-16)

Isaiah is promising King Ahaz that the two enemies of Judah (the southern part of the divided kingdom of Israel) would be rendered incapable of attacking within the time it takes a child to go from conception to conscience. He specifically was not saying that there would be anything special about such a child, nor was he necessarily predicting that the child would be born of a virgin (since the Hebrew word meant merely “maiden,” which could be taken as either “virgin” or simply “girl”). The “sign” was that Ahaz would see the power of his enemies broken within such a short time, not that Messiah would be born of a virgin. Matthew simply ripped the verse out of context and applied it to Jesus’ mother—even though Mary did not, in fact, name her son Immanuel!

Then there’s the “prophecy” of the crucifixion, in Psalm 22. It’s a bit long to quote here, but you can follow the link if you’re interested. There’s a couple points of resemblance, like the reference to “they have pierced my hands and my feet” and “they divided my garments among them, and cast lots for my raiment,” but it’s not really what you’d call a clear-cut prediction that Messiah would be crucified, is it?

For one thing, the psalmist is speaking in first person, about trials that endure for quite some time (note the reference to praying night and day, and God not answering). The psalmist seems to have gone hungry for quite a while as well; he can count all his bones. That’s a sign of starvation, not a sign that his bones are unbroken (as some interpreters would have us believe). And most significantly, the psalm ends triumphantly, with God hearing the psalmist’s prayer, and answering his request for delivery from the sword and the saving of his life. Not really an unambiguous declaration of a resurrection, is it?

Think about it: if David, many centuries before Jesus, had written down a prediction that the Messiah would be crucified and would rise on the third day, would it really have been such a shock for the disciples when the prediction came true? Over and over again, the Gospels emphasize the point that those who knew Jesus best, and were most familiar with his teachings, had no idea he was going to die, because such a thought was contrary to their messianic expectations. Yet those expectations would have included a crucifixion, had the Jewish nation possessed a clear, ancient prophecy predicting it.

And that’s the key to understanding the “fulfillment” of biblical prophecy. Where Geisler and Turek’s purely hypothetical scenario has the ancient prophet making a plain, unambiguous, and specific prediction about precisely what was to happen when, we today have just the opposite. The “prophecies” are vague enough to be readily adaptable to almost any fulfillment, and where they’re not (as in the prediction that the virgin would name her baby Immanuel instead of Jesus), they don’t quite fit.

Then there’s the bit about witnesses who suffer persecution and martyrdom for proclaiming miracles and refusing to recant their testimony. That’s not what actually happened in real life, is it? The early Christians weren’t persecuted for insisting that the miracles were true any more than the Jews were sent to concentration camps for refusing to admit that the Ten Plagues on Egypt were a myth. Their “crime” was simply that they belonged to the “wrong” group, and failed to support the state religion. Pliny reports that the Christians he encountered were usually pretty good about offering incense to Caesar (if “properly motivated”), and that was all that was really needed, as far as he was concernet. It was not a cross-examination about whether miracles were materially true or only spiritually true, it was simply one group leaning on another, a sadly routine occurrence in human politics.

Geisler and Turek’s claim about later skeptics offering arguments with “fatal flaws” is just as bankrupt, since their “fatal flaws” turned out to be Geisler and Turek trying to fragment the evidence and then discredit each piece in isolation by arguing that that piece, by itself, could not explain everything. One might imagine a Holocaust denier arguing thusly: “The gas chamber theory does not explain why so many survivors report seeing widespread typhoid symptoms. The firing squad theory does not explain the many gas chambers that were found. The deliberate starvation theory does not explain all the corpses found with bullets in their heads. So since all of the Holocaust theories have fatal flaws, we don’t have enough FAITH to believe that Nazis killed Jews.” But even a Holocaust denier would not try to sell us an argument that bad.

The big factor, of course, is that all of our interpretation of ancient stories takes place in the context of a real world where we do not see God showing up in real life to speak to people, to work miracles, and so on. In the specific case of Geisler and Turek’s book, we’re interpreting their claims in the context of their earlier claim, back in chapter 8, that God cannot possibly do any of the things claimed in the Gospels, because to make His presence felt in “any but the faintest and most mitigated degree” would be to “ravish” (i.e. rape) our precious free will. This was the whole point of their argument about why the only possible evidence would have to consist of a Book that some people could believe and others could disbelieve. Unfortunately, this Book isn’t about a Book, it’s about precisely the kind of real-life showing up that Geisler and Turek (with support from C. S. Lewis) have insisted that God cannot do.

Geisler and Turek claim that it is possible to imagine a context in which it would indeed be possible to discern God’s existence—and they’re exactly right. It is theoretically possible. It just doesn’t happen. Instead, Geisler and Turek, throughout this book, have been interpreting the stories of the Bible in the context of the explicit assumption that God exists and is capable of doing miracles, based on their superstitious reasoning (”There are questions about origins whose answer we do not know, and therefore God exists and works miracles”), and supported by an egregious double standard that says we should accept every word of Luke’s testimony as infallible truth just because he got the governor’s name right, but we should reject the mountains of scientific research that has been done in the field of evolution because Hitler believed natural selection justified the Holocaust.

They’re right that they don’t have enough faith to be atheists. I’m not sure what it is they do have, but it sure ain’t faith. Faith would be more honest.

Science and rationalization

In a comment on yesterday’s post, Jayman raises a very good question.

DD, I don’t see why additional information about ghosts is necessary to test my hypothesis. If we identified a ghost as a deceased person my hypothesis would be confirmed. It doesn’t matter whether you would still have additional questions about ghosts or souls or spirits.

Ok, so it’s not exactly phrased as a question, but the implication is there. Why isn’t the test, taken in isolation and without regard to other factors, sufficient to establish the hypothesis? It’s a good question and it points up an important principle that I neglected to cover in yesterday’s post.

Let’s say that I’m a little short on cash, and so I decide to go into the diet pill business. I make up a large batch of pills, and offer free samples to anyone who wants to lose weight. My pills, I tell people, don’t magically make fat disappear. Instead, they work with your body to multiply the effects of moderate exercise and a bit of portion control in your eating. I get about 100 people to try my free samples, and I predict that if my pills really work, I ought to see people losing weight when they take it.

So I check up on my free sample recipients and find that quite a lot of them experience some weight loss while taking my pill. In most cases it’s more a fluctuation than a steady decline, but at least part of the fluctuation is loss, right? And a smaller number actually do experience the steady decline, with a handful of soon-to-appear-in-my-advertisements people who experience dramatic weight loss. So my tests prove that my pills really work, right? Did I mention that they were just cornstarch and water, formed into tablets and baked until hard?

My experiment fails because I failed to control for other variables. I had a biased sample to begin with: people who wanted to lose weight. I created a context in which they were likely to employ other weight-loss methods (diet and exercise). And my test was designed to single out successful results while discounting the failures (”individual results vary”). Whether by intent or by accident, I created a “test” that produced the biased conclusion I wanted to reach, rather than arriving at the unbiased truth.

So the answer to Jayman’s implicit question is that we want to look at the situation from all angles, and make sure that we’re not just creating a pseudo-scientific excuse for jumping to a predetermined conclusion. Our goal, as skeptics and scientists, is not to try and find some way to confirm someone’s opinion, but rather to discover what the truth really is. That means we want to apply rigorous tests and not just informal assays.

Turn it around just a bit: if our goal is to have a solid, reasonable basis for our conclusions, why would we want to rule out the additional questions about spirits (to return to Jayman’s original hypothesis)? Why would we want to forbid certain questions from being asked? Why would we want to insist on drawing our conclusions before we find out whether the “spirits = ghosts” hypothesis is really consistent with itself and with the real world evidence? If it turns out that spirits don’t actually exist, shouldn’t that have a significant impact on how we interpret the results of our test?

Remember, our core principle is that truth is consistent with itself, and one of the implications of that principle is that when our beliefs are untrue, they’re going to conflict with the real world evidence. If we invent rationalizations to try and explain away the inconsistencies, we may succeed in creating an apparent reconciliation in one specific area, but since the rationalization is untrue, it’s going to create new inconsistencies in other areas. Thus, to know whether we are uncovering new truth, or merely covering up an untruth with a plausible (but untrue) rationalization, we need to explore these other implications of our premises.

My goal, as a Christian, was simple. I knew that different men said different things about God. All I wanted was a reliable means of determining which of those men, if any, were really telling the truth about Him. I didn’t want to simply put my faith in whatever men said was right, even if (especially if!) the man I was trusting was myself. I knew the folly of believing whatever seems right in one’s own eyes, and I eventually learned that this was no less an unreliable source if you transformed it slightly by turning it into “whatever interpretation of Scripture seems right in one’s own eyes.” I wanted to know the real truth, the truth that was not built out of the things men thought were right and wanted to believe. The truth that exists on its own, independently of the beliefs of men.

And yet, despite my good intentions, I deceived myself for decades. I made exceptions. I assumed that the men who wrote the Bible were necessarily telling the truth, and that the men who canonized the Scripture were necessarily correct. After all, God would not allow a false book to bear the name of “God’s Word,” right? I told myself I was being objective and verifying my beliefs when what I was actually doing was setting up isolated little self-contained assays designed to reinforce this or that preconceived idea I was having doubts about. I kept my attention focused on the small picture, so that I would not be troubled by the inconsistencies that arose when you try and put all the little pieces together in one big picture.

And it’s the big picture that gives Christianity problems. I once helped a Mormon lady deconvert from Mormonism by the same approach. Individually, the little pieces of her faith were not a problem, and she had a million and one little tests by which she knew that the LDS church was the One True Faith. When I exposed her to the big picture, though, she started to have some doubts. I showed her some of the contradictions in her faith, in front of her own Mormon elders (a couple 18-year-olds), and she began to realize that it didn’t really all fit together. And, ironically enough, my own faith suffered a similar fate starting a few years later.

If our goal is to merely reinforce our preconceived ideas and to insulate ourselves from real-world truth, then fine, it’s ok to wall off those other, potentially troublesome questions, and just limit ourselves to simple assays that will easily satisfy our desire to claim to have some real-world support for our dogmas. But if our goal is to challenge ourselves, and make reality the standard by which we measure our beliefs instead of vice versa, then we’ll be eager to explore all the questions, and to see whether or not our conclusions really are consistent with the real world, even in areas outside our “little tests.”

Truth is consistent with itself, both in the fact that it does not contradict itself and in the fact that each real world truth is interrelated with other real world truths, such that we can follow the connections to discover new truths on the basis of old ones. If we’re not exploiting these very useful properties of the truth, if we’re reluctant to even try to follow all of the ramifications, maybe we’re trying to tell ourselves something. Maybe we’re not really as fond of the truth as we’d like to think. But that’s a human frailty, and the cure is simple: embrace the truth anyway. In the long run, that’s by far the best approach.

More than a theory

Jayman writes:

I get the sense that skeptics want even more than a theory and predictions. Perhaps you can tell me why the following theory and prediction does not cut it?

One may theorize that ghosts are the spirits of deceased humans that generally inhabit a location known to them when they were alive. Such a theory allows one to predict that at certain locations ghosts will be observed and that one may be able to identify the ghost as a deceased person who lived at that location.

Have at it.

Technically, of course, Jayman is describing a hypothesis rather than a theory, but that’s a quibble. Let’s look at the larger question(s). What do skeptics really want? Why isn’t it necessarily scientific to have just a theory and some predictions? And how can we tell when someone’s theory (or hypothesis) is just superstition in disguise?

Jayman is right: it’s not enough to have just a theory and predictions. What skeptics want, quite simply, is a set of hypotheses, predictions, and observations that combine to give us an reliable and objective basis for determining which possibility is closest to the real-world truth. Not all theories and predictions do that.

For example, it’s important to have predictions that are the natural and inevitable consequences of the proposed cause, and not just some arbitrary prediction chosen chiefly to reach some predetermined goal. “If Jesus is the Son of God, then I predict the sun will rise tomorrow.” Obviously, this is not a valid set of theories and predictions; the “investigator” has simply taken a very predictable outcome and arbitrarily attached it to the premise he wants to “prove.” Jayman’s hypothesis, above, passes this test: it’s not an arbitrary prediction, and has some reasonable connection to its premises.

The next thing is that the given prediction ought to tell us something about whether or not the hypothesis is true. “My theory is that there exist magical elves that sit around all day making all kinds of shoes. If this theory is true, then we can predict that we will be able to observe the existence of all kinds of shoes in the real world.” Ok, this passes the first test well enough, but it tells us nothing about whether a given pair of shoes is more likely to be the product of magical elves or outsourced shoe factories. It’s a prediction, but it’s not a helpful prediction because it predicts the same results as the alternative explanation.

Jayman’s hypothesis is a bit shakier here, depending on what you count as satisfying the requirement that we be able to observe and identify “ghosts” at particular locations. But let’s say that we’re going to give it a fairly rigorous and objective definition, and insist that it be demonstrable in front of both believers and skeptics (and in particular, skeptics like James Randi who are trained and experienced in detecting ordinary hoaxes). And let’s further specify that if we go to the specified location, and observe that no such ghosts are indeed present, the hypothesis will have been disconfirmed, and less likely to be true.

The next requirement that we need to satisfy is to specify what alternative(s) exist that we are comparing our hypothesis to. Too often people propose this hypothesis or that as being scientific without ever even mentioning what the alternative hypotheses are, let alone how the predictions of one hypothesis measure up to the predictions of the other(s) as compared against the standard of objective, verifiable, real-world evidence. This is something of a weakness in Jayman’s hypothesis, or rather, in his presentation of it. It’s not that the hypothesis itself is entirely lacking, it’s just that the absence of alternative hypotheses makes it more difficult to draw strong conclusions about what it really tells us.

The real failing in Jayman’s hypothesis, though, relates back to the first requirement: the predictions need to be the natural and inevitable consequences of the proposed cause. That means that we need to know enough about our hypothesized cause to be able to determine analytically what consequences it ought to produce. In other words, in order to know whether Jayman’s prediction is indeed correct based on his hypothesis, we need to know first what the characteristics and behaviors of “human spirits” are.

Unfortunately, we don’t. We have no verifiable scientific model for what a “human spirit” would be. All we have are folkloric traditions and superstitions, the stuff of legends, myths and (let’s face it) ghost stories. What’s more, whenever we try to describe what a spirit (or soul) is, even in mundane terms, we end up describing materialistic, biological processes.

Get a case of beer, and start drinking. A spirit (or soul), being immaterial and non-physical, will not be affected by the ethanol in the beer, but physical, biological processes will be. At a certain point, our intrepid scientific investigator will pass out, thus eliminating the physical/biological components from consideration. What’s left, then, to be the soul and/or spirit? Consciousness? Nope. Thought? Feelings? Nope. Desires? Will? Conscience? Memory? Nope, nope, nope and nope. Life? Hmmmwell, hopefully, though enough ethanol will eliminate that too, eventually.

So what’s left to be the spirit? There has to be something, so that we can observe and verify the characteristics and behaviors of spirits well enough to confirm that our prediction is the correct prediction for the “ghosts are spirits” hypothesis. Yet we have nothing, or at least nothing but folklore.

This is where Jayman’s hypothesis really falls down, which is probably what he intended, since he was only suggesting a hypothetical case for us to consider. It’s no reflection on Jayman, he just wanted to know exactly where our criticisms would fall. And this is the big one, at least for me. My guiding principle is that truth is consistent with itself, and that means (among other things) that if you have one proposed cause (like “human spirits”), you should see a lot of areas in which the existence or non-existence of spirits will make a difference. In other words, it’s more than just a question of seeing ghosts (which could be better explained by alternative hypotheses like psychosocially-induced delusions, etc).

If we have spirits, then there must exist some factor which connects our immaterial spirits to our physical bodies. What is that factor? And why/how is it physically attached to us? Why/how does it exist in any particular physical location, let alone following our bodies around? Why do our spirits not encounter and perceive one another in the spiritual “dimension” where they naturally exist? When do they form? How do they form? Why don’t animals, whose bodies form by the same biochemical processes which form our own, also have spirits? Why don’t plants, and bacteria, and viruses, and prions?

We’ve got lots of questions about spirits, but no real answers, and certainly no verifiable basis for predicting what kind of consequences would result from having them. The prediction that Jayman associates with his hypothesis is arbitrary, with no demonstrable connection other than the fact that ghosts and spirits are frequently associated in folklore and fairy tales. That makes his hypothesis at least understandable, but it’s not scientific, and won’t be until we can make some solid, verifiable observations of the character, behavior, and real-world impact of “human spirits.”

Skeptics aren’t unreasonable. We don’t set unreasonable or impossible standards. We just want our conclusions to be based on solid, reliable scientific reasoning. That means we don’t want to fall prey to mock predictions that imitate only the form of genuine science, without conforming to the substance of the discipline.

Claiming omniscience

Cl’s argument with me continues:

A God Who is willing and able to show up in real life is a God Who is willing and able to be found by those who seek Him.

That’s your opinion of what God should be. Why should I be constrained by your opinion of what God should be?

I make no arguments about what God should or should not be, I merely observe the logical consequences implied by Christian premises. It is logically inconsistent to claim both that God is willing and able to show up in real life, and that He is unwilling or unable to be found by those who seek Him. The whole point of the Gospel is for people to find God. If God’s absence prevents men from finding Him, or worse, results in them thinking they’ve found Him when they really haven’t, and if God is willing and able to solve this problem by showing up, then everybody ought to be able to find God. And they ought to all be finding the same One.

God’s failure to show up in real life is a factor that has many direct and inevitable consequences. Even if we cannot feasibly be in all places and at all times in order to observe 100% of the circumstances under which God might be “showing up undetected” (as it were), we can still measure His failure to show up by observing the prevalence of the consequences that must inevitably result from His absence.

I don’t think cl has quite grasped this point, because he seems to be arguing that the brute force approach is the only way we can learn whether God shows up in real life or not.

Therefore I state, not just as my personal opinion, but as an empirical, verifiable, Undeniable Fact, that God does not show up in real life.

There’s no way you can know that unilaterally without being omniscient, and I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree here. I happen to believe what I believe, which is that you are wrong, but I’m not going to try and force my belief, my personal opinion down your throat as “Undeniable Fact” because that’s intellectually dishonest. By appealing to omniscience, you will always produce this disconnect with people like me. Why don’t you just state what you believe instead of claiming to know what you cannot possibly know? Reality is not yours, and you are not reality’s exclusive spokesperson.

By his own standards, cl is claiming omniscience when he claims that there is no way, other than brute force examination, for us to know whether or not God shows up in real life. Notice, he’s not just saying, “I don’t know of any way to do it,” he’s claiming that he knows that no such way exists. It’s an exact parallel to me claiming to know that no objective manifestation of God exists. And because he knows that no such way exists, he knows that when I claim to observe that God does not show up in real life, I must necessarily be employing a technique that would require omniscience. He makes no allowance at all for the possibility that there might be some means, of which he is ignorant, that does not require a brute force enumeration of all possible appearances.

If cl is not omniscient, then he ought to realize that there’s a difference between not knowing a means exists, and knowing that no means exists. His argument is an easy argument to defeat, because all I have to do is produce an example of a means that would allow us to detect God’s failure to show up in real life without taking a brute force approach, and I’ve already produced a few. We can take Christian premises and derive the consequences that would logically ensue were God to have the motives, character, and abilities ascribed to Him, and document that we do not see these consequences manifesting in real life.

We can observe that people who “find God” tend to find a variety of Gods, from the monotheistic deity of the Jews to the trinitarian deity of traditional Christians, to the polytheistic deity of the Mormons, to the gay-loving God of homosexual Christians to the “fag-hating” God of Fred Phelps, to the America-hating God of bin Ladin, etc. etc. And we can observe that any randomly-selected sample of people who think they’ve found God universally turns out to be based either on fraud, or on purely subjective, psychosocial factors like Fantasy, Intuition, Superstition and Hearsay—not on God actually showing up outside of human minds, tangibly and personally real, and able to be seen, touched, photographed and recorded.

We can also observe logical inconsistencies in the basic stories Christians tell about their God, inconsistencies that indicate the stories are not really true, and that we would not therefore expect their God to be able to show up in real life. We can see apologists like Geisler and Turek repeating known-false claims, like the claim that Jesus’ body was under guard the whole time, without any Holy Spirit moving any believer to stand up and say, “Hey, that’s wrong, Matthew says they didn’t even ask for a guard until more than 24 hours later.” We can see early Christian writers getting rid of their “risen” Lord by portraying him as ascending into a Heaven that, as we now know, isn’t up there.

But most of all, each and every one of us can confirm, by direct, personal observation, that God does not show up in his or her life, in person, outside of subjective, mental/emotional, psychosocial “experiences.” Even cl can confirm this.

So, while I do not, in fact, employ the kind of brute force approach that would require omniscience to conclude that God is absent, I do have a wide array of other approaches, each supplying a vast body of evidence that is fully consistent with God’s absence, and inconsistent with the idea that He shows up in real life in order to meet His own goal of having people find Him.

To Woo a Sword

I ran across a post by a local pastor this last week, on which I would like to comment. I view this as a brotherly rejoinder for the sharpening of one another. It was a post on John 6:44, specifically regarding the drawing of the Father. The author also marries into the discussion John 12:32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” I will treat these instances of the term jointly in the body of my response.

Many years ago a Scottish pastor by the name of George Morrison said that no man is pushed by an almighty arm or with his freedom trampled. It is the drawing of the cross, the drawing of the Father, that God bids the soul to come willingly to Christ. It is natural, it is gentle, and the Father draws, He does not drag.

Here we resume an old debate on the nature of man and the sovereignty of God. For those who are familiar with the debate, this post represents a gentle but clear repudiation of the Reformed position. I felt a certain impetus to respond because the author shows he is familiar with the debate, but the information presented has been carefully filtered which gives a very skewed picture.

A couple of comments are needed before I get to the substance of the post. The Reformed position, while strongly holding to the comprehensive sovereignty of God, nonetheless does not deny the freedom of man. Consider this statement from the 1689 London Baptist Confession:

God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree.

This truth is contain in the LBC’s parent document the Westminster Confession of Faith. It is repeated and clearly set forth in almost any Reformed work on the subject. For the sake of clarity, the standard Reformed definition of the freedom of the will is that “man may choose anything that he desires.” So while the phrases like “trampled freedom” are meant to combat the Reformed position, by failing to fairly represent our position, it completely misses the mark. Its use is limited to scoring points more than presenting a good argument.

Now to the substance of the post. The author states that, “the Father draws, He does not drag.” Why does he think this is the case? The Greek word for “draw” is helkuo which is defined as:

  1. to draw, drag off
  2. metaph., to draw by inward power, lead, impel

Although we were told that the term “draw” does not mean drag, the first and primary definition of this term is indeed to “drag.” So why would he say that it does not mean “drag?”

There are three books in the Old Testament which are peculiarly the books of tenderness, three books above all others which contain the wooing idea. The first is the Song of Solomon, the second is the book of Jeremiah, and the third is Hosea,

To substantiate this notion of wooing over against a forceful drawing, he references three OT books. At first glance this may seem wholly inappropriate. After all there must be some link to the passages you cross-reference; one is not simply free to cross-reference to any concept that supports your reading of a text. Indeed, in trying to shake the primary definition of this Greek word, why go to Hebrew? His case is actually better than it seems at first. What is unstated (but I assume he knows) is that the LLX (The Greek translation of the OT) contains this same Greek term in a few different locations. This not only solves the language problem, but it establishes the necessary link to the OT passages.

Interestingly, he only references 3 of the 5 books in which it occurs, and he never actually cites them - only a vague reference to entire books. For the sake of clarity here are all the passages.

Hosea 11:4 I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them.

Ecclesiastes 2:3 I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life.

Nehemiah 9:30 Many years you [did draw] bore with them and warned them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not give ear. Therefore you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands.

Jeremiah 31:3 the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore [with lovingkindness I have drawn you] I have continued my faithfulness to you.

Song of Solomon 1:4 Draw me after you; let us run. The king has brought me into his chambers. Others We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine; rightly do they love you.me after you; let us run. The king has brought me into his chambers. Others We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine; rightly do they love you.

Although there are textual issues that may come to bear on this question, my main point here is to present the supporting evidence such as it is. With these passages before us, it becomes clear why he takes the position that this “drawing” is actually “wooing.” But we need not jump to that conclusion yet. This was all the information given (or at least alluded to), but there is additional information yet to consider.

Each of these instances is obviously metaphorical. The thing we must understand about metaphors is that they derive their figurative sense from the literal sense. When we say, “He has a heart of stone,” the meaning of that metaphor derives from our literal understanding of “stone.” We mean that he has a hard heart. We cannot use that phrase to communicate that his heart is actually soft and tender. The figurative meaning derives from the literal meaning. So the question we need to ask is, “What is the literal meaning?”

Let’s look at some other instances of this term “draw” (helkuo).

the Law-giver draws one ticket from each box. . . . The man called obeys and draws an acorn from the urn. (Aristotle, Athenian Constitution, chapter 64)

 The very elements too, the Great and Small, seem to protest at being dragged in (Aristotle, Metaphysics, section 1091a)

 when his son was throwing him out of the house, used to beg him to stop when he got to the door, ‘because he only used to drag his father as far as that. (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, bekker page 1149b)

Obviously the notion of “wooing” is entirely absent from these passages.

His true, native barbarism and hatred of religion drive him on by force and betray the fact that he treats his present rights as if they were not his own (Demosthenes, Against Midias, section 150)

Here is an example of a figurative use that retains the very literal sense of “drag” or a forceful drawing.

The son of the sea-goddess Thetis dragged him, as he rode his chariot, about the walls of Troy.  (Euripides, Andromache, line 103)

Then those who had received their orders dragged Theramenes from the altar and hustled him through the centre of the market-place to his execution;  (Diodorus Siculus, Library, section 3)

They drew the wagon, with their mother riding atop it, traveling five miles until they arrived at the temple. (Herodotus, The Histories, chapter 31)

Strife also, and Uproar were hurrying about, and deadly Fate was there holding one man newly wounded, and another unwounded; and one, who was dead, she was dragging by the feet through the tumult. (Hesiod, Shield of Heracles, line 154)

While he pondered this in mind and heart, and was drawing from its sheath his great sword, Athene came from heaven. (Homer, Iliad, line 172)

Once before, too, when you were drunk, you pulled her about.”  (Lysias, On the Murder of Eratosthenes, section 12)

Thereupon each of the pines used to drag to itself the bound man, and as the bond gave way in neither direction but was stretched equally in both, he was torn in two. (Pausanias, Description of Greece, chapter 1)

The laws of song and the hurrying hours prevent me from telling a long story, and I am drawn, by a magic charm on my heart, to touch on the new-moon festival. (Pindar, Nemean, Nemean 4)

Then once again I was really, though less urgently, impelled with a desire to take part in public and political affairs. . . .Such then being the nature of the summons which I then received,—when on the one hand the Sicilians and Italians were pulling me in and the Athenians, on the other, were literally pushing me out, so to say, by their entreaties (Plato, Letters, Letter 7)

Here are some more metaphorical uses (save the last). There is no reason to suppose that this communicates anything other than a strong, irresistible drawing. This list is neither exhaustive nor cherry picked. The only selecting I did was to try to provide a quote from many different authors so that consistent usage could be established. This is the regular pattern. Many more examples could be multiplied of ships being drug into the harbor, or of horses dragging people, or of water being drawn down by the force of gravity. These are all strong, forceful (but not always violent), movements.

Scripture also has a few more examples:

John 18:10 Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.

John 21:6 And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you will find a catch.” They cast therefore, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish.(Interestingly enough, sometimes people will point at this verse to say something like, “See, this drawing can be resisted and thus ineffectual.” But this passage states that they did not draw (helkuo). If they had succeeded then they would have drawn the fish in. The word requires a movement toward the one drawing. See verse 11)

John 21:11 Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn.

Acts 16:19 But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, .

Acts 21:30 And all the city was aroused, and the people rushed together; and taking hold of Paul, they dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut.

James 2:6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court?

In none of these examples can we possibly make the definition of “wooing” fit. All of them are clear examples of a forceful drawing or dragging. Thus when we use the term metaephorically, it retains this literal sense in its figurative usage. That is how words work. Gong back to the OT examples alluded to, we see that there is no reason to suppose that this is not a forceful drawing.

Hosea 11:4 “I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them.” Notice that this figurative use retains the literal sense quite clearly. The surrounding images of “cords” and “bands” complete the picture of how something may be dragged or drawn along. We must point out that this is not a violent dragging like being drug by your hair through the streets, but it is a powerful, forceful drawing nonetheless.

Song of Solomon 1:4 “Draw me after you; let us run . . . ” If we allow the proper use of this word that we have been studying, she is not asking the king to woo her as first suggested. She wants the king to firmly take her into his strong arms. She wants him to take her hand and swiftly draw her along - “let us run.”

God’s drawing of us is this kind of drawing. It is a firm, powerful drawing that accomplishes. It is certainly not a “wooing.” There is no support for it. It must be read into the metaphoric uses without regard to the consistent literal use from which the figure derives. God is not a hopeless romantic who wrings his hands just hoping that we will come. He is the powerful Bridegroom/King who firmly draws his bride  into his heaven.

XFiles Friday: Straight from the source

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 12.)

Geisler and Turek have a fun trick their Christian readers can try at their next party or social gathering.

Those who have alternative theories for the Resurrection should be asked, “What evidence do you have for your theory? Can you please name three or four first-century sources that support your theory?” When honest skeptics are presented with this question , they typically answer with silence or a stuttering admission that they have no such evidence because none exists.

That’s a great tip for a popular book on apologetics, because most Christians, in casual discussions with their fellow laymen, aren’t going to be able to discuss “first century sources” in any great detail any more than their skeptical opposites. Even among skeptics, there’s just not that much that was going on back then that would justify most people spending significant amounts of their time becoming authorities on who said what 2,000 years ago.

The catch is that this is actually a faulty approach to determining the facts of the matter. Because God does not show up in real life, Geisler and Turek have to base their beliefs exclusively on the words of men, and therefore they assume that any skeptic would need to do the same thing, and would need to find some person or persons in the first century who said the same things that skeptics believe.

What G&T overlook, however, is the fact that we don’t need a first-century Richard Dawkins writing a 2,000 year old version of Ye Godde Delusionne in order to have first century support for our conclusions. We can effectively cross-examine the Christians own sources, by applying the principle that truth is consistent with itself. We can look at all the evidence, both ancient and modern, and ask ourselves, “Which hypothesis would produce consequences most consistent with what we observe, the hypothesis that Jesus literally rose from the dead, or the hypothesis that the ‘resurrection’ was the product of a combination of psychosocial factors plus a possibly misplaced corpse?”

As we saw last week, we don’t need alternative theories for the Resurrection, because we today do not have any resurrection to explain. What we need to explain is why we have stories about an alleged resurrection, and that’s not really that difficult to account for. So Geisler and Turek try to up the ante:

And it’s not just the Resurrection that the skeptics have to explain. They also have to explain the other thirty-five miracles that eyewitnesses have associated with Jesus. Are we to believe that the four Gospel writers were all deceived about all of those miracles as well as the Resurrection?

We can best answer this question by taking a look at the reliability of Christian testimony, starting with Geisler and Turek. You will recall that in earlier parts of the book, they identified the Gospel writers as men who “were eyewitnesses or had access to eyewitnesses,” which in practice means that they lived at the same time and in the same general area as people whom they identified as eyewitnesses to something. In other words, the people who actually recorded these alleged miracles were, in many cases, not really eyewitnesses themselves. Yet here we have Geisler and Turek claiming that all 35 miracles were associated with Jesus by “eyewitnesses.” By fudging the truth just a little bit, they make an argument for the Gospel that seems stronger (and therefore it must be the right thing to say, since it “glorifies God,” right?).

Then, too, notice how Geisler and Turek have shifted from “alternatives to the Resurrection” to “alternative theories FOR the Resurrection,” as though the Resurrection were a literal fact that skeptics were having trouble accounting for. There’s a push here, a drive to spin the facts inexorably towards the conclusion that the Gospel is true. And we see the same bias in the Gospels themselves: John himself declares that the Gospels “are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Is there evidence that early NT writers might have played with the facts, uncritically exaggerating claims that supported the gospel and downplaying factors that might have worked against it? I think there is, and I’ll go so far as to take up Geisler and Turek’s challenge. Let’s see if we can’t find 3 or 4 first century sources whose testimony supports skeptical conclusions about the Resurrection.

First of all, we have Matthew’s testimony that there was a story, widely circulated among the Jews, that disciples stole Jesus’ body during the night. Matthew accuses the story of being a lie, but then again, the stories accuse Matthew of telling a lie too. Who should we believe? We’ll save that question for later; our main point right now is that Matthew declares that there is first-century testimony stating that disciples had taken the body, and this is just what we would expect to find if human hands had removed Jesus from his original tomb.

More than that, however, Matthew claims that there were guards who were actually at the tomb when the resurrection (or body-snatching) took place. That would make these guards the only eyewitnesses of what actually happened to Jesus’ corpse, and according to Matthew, what these eyewitnesses were claiming was that, again, disciples took the body. Once again, Matthew accuses them of lying, just as their story makes Matthew’s claims a lie, but the fact remains that we have a second first-century source claiming, by direct eyewitness testimony, that Jesus did not rise, and that his body was simply moved. Matthew tries to discredit the story, but agrees, under cross-examination, that there do exist eyewitnesses who contradict his own, non-eyewitness testimony.

Next, we have Paul’s testimony, as recorded in Acts 9:7, that when Jesus appeared to him, none of those with him saw anyone there. This is consistent with the skeptical theory that people who “saw” Jesus after his death were not seeing him in any literal, physical sense. That’s three sources. Let’s back up a couple chapters, then, and listen to Stephen’s testimony at the end of Acts 7.

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

As we saw earlier, the first century believers thought that heaven was a literal, physical place floating in the clouds over Jerusalem, and that it had doors that could be opened to let rain out and to let believers into. It was even close enough that you could see through the doors, from ground level, and spot the throne of God, and see who was standing beside it.

But in fact, heaven is not such a literal place floating up in the sky. Once again, we have a first-century source testifying about “seeing” Jesus in a way that did not involve literal, material seeing, but consisted of subjective “visions” and other non-physical, non-objective experiences. And yet—this is the important point—neither the Gospel writers nor Christians today regard Stephen as having lied about seeing Jesus. The Christian concept of truth is augmented by the concept of “spiritual truth,” which frees Christian claims from the constraints of materialistic reality. A thing does not need to be happening in the exterior, objectively real world, where everyone else can see it, in order to count as Christian truth.

And we have many other witnesses, both ancient and modern, offering testimony that, while outwardly supporting Christianity, is actually more consistent with the skeptical conclusion that Christian standards of truth are based more heavily on whether a claim supports the Gospel than on whether it’s consistent with mundane, materialistic facts. Listen to a Pentecostal explain, some time, why the miracles performed by Roman Catholic saints aren’t genuine. Or vice versa.

Geisler and Turek wrap it up by saying, “The explanation that requires the least amount of faith is that Jesus really did perform miracles and really did rise from the dead as he predicted.” But this “explanation” boils down to saying we ought to believe whatever the New Testament writers tell us, just because they say so. Everything Geisler and Turek want us to believe depends on trusting that what men tell us is true. They have no resurrected Jesus to offer as evidence, and even the human testimony fails to be consistent with itself or with what we observe in real life.

I agree that it doesn’t take a lot of faith to believe in the resurrection. What it takes is sheer gullibility. And I don’t have enough gullibility to agree with Geisler and Turek.

Hmm, that’s kinda catchy. I wonder if I should write a book with that title?

Founded on fallacy

In my discussion of miracles, I compared two types: Type A miracles, in which God actually shows up in person to do something supernatural, and Type B miracles, in which people observe some poorly understood phenomenon which they merely attribute to God because they don’t know what the real cause is. My question is, why would people only cite Type B miracles if they had any Type A miracles to offer as evidence of God’s existence? Commenter cl, however, takes it a step further.

If Type A miracles didn’t exist even in the Bible, why are you justified in expecting them to exist now? Further, wouldn’t even Type A miracles retain capacity for doubt? How would you know the perpetrator in the videotape or photograph was God and not really Satan or some other deity?

When I say, “God does not show up in real life,” what I’m saying is that there are no Type A miracles, because if there were, they’d be at the top of the list.

So you’ll believe if someone can produce videotape of God performing a miracle? How would you know it was real? How would you know it was God? How would you know it wasn’t a hoax? I sure wouldn’t, and you’ve really got me confused.

This is a very crucial point, because Christianity in particular claims to be the product of God showing up to reveal the Gospel Truth to men, so that they might be saved. If, however, Type A miracles didn’t exist even in the Bible, then the people who invented the Judeo-Christian tradition have no way of knowing whether the source of their religion is actually God. Christianity is therefore founded on the fallacy of drawing positive, declarative conclusions based on not knowing what you are talking about.

This is the fatal flaw in religions whose deity is an absentee God. Even if we grant, for the sake of argument, that it might be possible for there to be rare, isolated, and obscure exceptions to the general principle that God does not show up in real life, the overwhelming majority of human beings are left without any way to recognize God even if He did show up, as cl says.

How do we know that cows are really cows? It’s almost a trick question, but one of the easiest answers is that we use the term “cows” to refer to those large four-legged animals that go “moo” and give milk, and those animals are real, i.e. they consistently show up in real life. Even if you can convince me that those are not “cows,” they would still exist and I’d need to call them something, and “cow” is as good a term as any. Besides, what else is there that you would refer to as a “cow”?

It’s the same way with God. If He showed up in real life, consistently and predictably and familiarly, then there’d really be no more point in asking “How do you know it’s really God?” than there would be in asking “How do you know those are really cows?” The objective, external, real-world standard is what gives the term its meaning. IF, of course, the objective, external, real-world referent exists.

That’s what would work, if God showed up in real life enough to allow us to have faith in Him. But He doesn’t, and hence cl’s confusion. Because God does not show up in real life, we can’t be sure it would be Him even if He did work a miracle, not even if He did show up. God’s absence prevents us from having sufficient familiarity with Him to reliably identify Him in real-world situations. We are necessarily limited to superstition and gullibility as the basis for our so-called “faith.”

This is a very, very serious flaw, especially in a Gospel that proclaims faith in God as a prerequisite for salvation. What we need, we cannot obtain; what we have boils down to naive trust in our own subjective fantasies, intuitions, superstition, and hearsay. No wonder Christianity is so divided and confused!

It’s a great system for self-indulgent worldview-building. God’s failure to show up in real life gives us enormous latitude for believing whatever seems right in our own eyes, free from any fear of contradiction (at least by God or by any observable characteristics of God). And if Christians would simply mind their own business, and not amend constitutions in order to oppress those they don’t like, they’d be harmless and unobjectionable, if a bit quirky.

The problem is that superstition tends towards irrational fears. Because God does not show up in real life, people have no choice but to give credence to whatever paranoias their subjective superstitions may suggest. Does it make sense to believe that God would respond to gay marriage by breaking up the relationships of heterosexual Christians? Of course not, but Christians still believe that it would somehow be devastatingly “bad luck” if gays were allowed to marry. God’s consistent absence prevents them from having a real-world basis for their faith, and therefore reality imposes no constraints on what they fear. And other people are made to suffer as a result.

Music Review #3: Black Moth Super Rainbow

black moth super rainbow

Always looking for a unique sound experience, I was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled across a phenomenal  music artist by the name of Black Moth Super Rainbow. As you can already see, its very name is unique as it is. The sound of this very unique artist can best be described as a journey back in time to the 70s in beautiful countryside and fields of spectacular wonderment among rolling green forests being tickled by gentle breezes. It is a very peaceful and surreal sound that captivates the listener with music that creates a connection with a childhood that never was but should have been.

The use of guitars under lo-fi, coupled with the unnatural use of synths, as well as the earthy-sounding harmonics, to the fuzzy sound that gives it that vintage and retro sound, Black Moth Super Rainbow is the artist you want to listen to on a lazy afternoon reminiscing or being in the present moment. In addition to the above-mentioned unique charachteristics, many of the song titles present a seemingly-nonsensical string of words, yet sound utterly familiar to us as if experiencing a reality we perceived with our awareness when we were little children when things were much less complicated. Some of the more peculiar and poetic-sounding song titles include: Falling Through A Field, I Think It Is Beautiful That You Are 256 Colors Too, Hazy Field People, Raspberry Dawn, The Afternoon Turns Pink, Jump Into My Mouth And Breathe, and When The Sun Grows On Your Tongue. It seems to be no secret that what Black Moth Super Rainbow attempts to do for the listener, is to transport him or her to reconstruct the positive memories from childhood that can be looked back upon in hindsight and seen as “the good old days”, even if they were not as such in reality.  I highly recommend this music artist, since Black Moth Super Rainbow’s music could be used to invoke and manifest the ultra-high level of consciousness known as the transition between joy and peace, creating tranquil harmony and bliss.

Nazis in Kentucky?

The Associated Press is reporting that the creationist museum is at least partially admitting that Darwin was right:

A new exhibit at the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum argues that natural selection — Darwin’s explanation for how species develop new traits over time — can coexist with the creationist assertion that all living things were created by God just a few thousand years ago.

“We wanted to show people that creationists believe in natural selection,” said Ken Ham, founder of the Christian ministry Answers in Genesis and frequent Darwin critic.

What makes this story particularly interesting is the fact that natural selection, popularly known as “survival of the fittest,” was featured as the centerpiece of Ben Stein’s argument blaming Darwin for the Holocaust. According to Stein, Hitler’s justification for trying to wipe out the Jews was that nature itself allegedly teaches us that weaker kinds don’t deserve to survive. Evolutionists (aka “Darwinists”) obviously disagree with this particular interpretation of natural selection, but Stein sided with Hitler. According to Stein, natural selection implies a justification for genocide, and therefore anyone who says natural selection is true is supporting genocide.

And now the Creation Museum is saying natural selection is compatible with creationism. Fun times, eh?

What Stein and Hitler have overlooked is the fact that natural selection is only part of evolutionary theory. Without genetic variation, natural selection becomes merely a road to extinction, not a mechanism for originating new species. And even if natural selection did teach us that only the strong deserved to survive, genetic variation would teach us the complementary proposition that diversity is what makes us strong. A full and objective understanding of evolution leads us to reject genocide and other forms of mutually destructive behaviors, not to embrace them.

Truth, as I always say, is consistent with itself, and whenever you try to spread a lie (as Expelled! did), you shoot yourself in the foot. Sooner or later the truth is going to come back around to haunt you. Natural selection is part of real life, and even creationists can’t successfully deny it. So when creationists like Ben Stein agree with Nazis about natural selection justifying genocide, they only make themselves look anti-Semitic.

The non-racist alternative is to agree with the “Darwinists” that natural selection, though true, does not justify genocide, nor even present the whole story. And if you can’t understand the truth well enough to agree with that, then maybe you deserve to be expelled, because you’re flunking out.