Archive for April, 2009
Scriptural fulfillments (cont.)

Let’s pick up where we left off yesterday. One of the chief consequences of the Myth Hypothesis is the prediction that, having no divine quality control, any Scriptures men write will be subject to human weaknesses and fallibilities. We have a good example of that in Ezekiel 26.

In the eleventh year, on the first day of the month, the word of the LORD came to me… “I am against you, O Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you… 4 They will destroy the walls of Tyre and pull down her towers; I will scrape away her rubble and make her a bare rock. 5 Out in the sea she will become a place to spread fishnets, for I have spoken, declares the Sovereign LORD…

7 “For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: From the north I am going to bring against Tyre Nebuchadnezzar [a] king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses and chariots, with horsemen and a great army… 9 He will direct the blows of his battering rams against your walls and demolish your towers with his weapons… 12 They will plunder your wealth and loot your merchandise; they will break down your walls and demolish your fine houses and throw your stones, timber and rubble into the sea. 13 I will put an end to your noisy songs, and the music of your harps will be heard no more. 14 I will make you a bare rock, and you will become a place to spread fishnets. You will never be rebuilt, for I the LORD have spoken, declares the Sovereign LORD.

Amazingly, Tyre was attacked and destroyed, and siege engines were indeed brought up against her previously impregnable island fortress just off the mainland coast. Unfortunately, the prophet got two things wrong: Tyre was rebuilt after Nebuchadnezzar’s attack, and the brilliant general who used rubble from the mainland to build a causeway to the island fortress was Alexander the Great—not Nebuchadnezzar.

It’s fairly obvious what happened. The writer/editor of Ezekiel, some time after Alexander’s conquest of the Middle East, thought to bolster his God’s reputation by giving Him credit for the destruction of Tyre. But he got his conquerors mixed up. He knew that somebody had come up with an ingenious (shall we say, “inspired”?) tactic for overcoming Tyre’s natural defenses. It was 50/50 between Nebuchadnezzar (who was more significant to Jewish history) and Alexander. But Ezekiel, or whoever added this prophecy to Ezekiel, guessed wrong.

Nor did the prophet guess correctly about Tyre’s ultimate future as a “bare rock,” never again to be rebuilt. Check out Acts 21:3.

When we came in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we kept sailing to Syria and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload its cargo.

Tyre was still (again?) a thriving and prosperous coastal port in the days of Paul’s missionary journey,
View Larger Map and is still a major seaport to this day.

Moving on, let’s consider the Bible’s need for accommodations and rationalizations for God’s absence, as predicted by the Myth Hypothesis. The classic example here is Acts 1, where Jesus is portrayed as ascending into Heaven, thus conveniently accounting for the fact that Christians have no Risen Savior to offer as verification for their stories about a “resurrection” (even though we now know that there’s no physical place up there for him to ascend to). We might also turn to passages like Isaiah 59 that blame men for God’s failure to manifest—it’s our sins that have separated us from God, and not any inability on God’s part. Yeah, that’s it, it’s all our fault.

Where we really hit the jackpot, though, is when we look at the prediction that Scriptures would be expected to assume at least a portion of God’s authority in His absence. That one is not only fulfilled, but exceeded. The Bible does not just share in God’s authority, it has become “God’s Word” in the minds of many. Indeed, the Bible has assumed God’s role to such a great extent that a large number of people have trouble remembering that it is only a book of things men have written about God, and is not a book penned by God Himself. Even in more traditional sects like the Roman Catholic Church, the Bible has a special and unique status as God’s authoritative voice, above all other documents.

As for the prediction that there would be passages that were “muddy, obscure, and subject to reinterpretation,” we see that easily fulfilled in the number of competing and conflicting “Bible-based” sects that have arisen and that continue to arise since Martin Luther’s day. We’ll also have a spectacular example of the “repurposing” of Scriptures in tomorrow’s XFiles Friday.

Now, let’s contrast that with the predictions of the Gospel Hypothesis. If we had a God Who wanted us to be saved so that He and we could have an eternal personal relationship together, what implications would that have for any Scriptures that might arise through His religion? Looking back over my notes, I see I’ve left out the most obvious implication: we would expect that God would write some or even most of those Scriptures Himself! That one hasn’t happened, though, unless you count the Qur’an.

As for the rest—supernatural quality control, divine assistance in correct interpretation, detailed, specific and time-stamped prophecies, and continual revelation—we find that they all fail to happen. If we look at the Scriptures and ask ourselves what a divinely wise and powerful deity could do to make the Bible a more effective tool for achieving His goal of bringing all mankind to a saving knowledge of Himself, we find that virtually none of them is actually happening.

Again, these are not merely ad hoc justifications or arbitrarily selected “predictions.” We’re talking about the things that would logically follow as the wise and strategically beneficial consequences of having a capable Heavenly Father with a known goal of saving as many of His children as possible. The most fundamental and obvious behaviors that would accomplish God’s alleged will are the behaviors which we do not see happening.

Most Christian interpretation of the Bible is retrospective: given the known, actual discrepancy between what the Bible says and what ought to be true according to Christian presuppositions, what plausible-sounding interpretation can we propose to reconcile the two? But if we start from the presuppositions and reason forwards, we can see clearly that the actual facts are much more consistent with the Myth Hypothesis than with the Gospel Hypothesis. The theological approach is backwards thinking, and amounts to rationalization. The truly rational approach is to evaluate what the premises imply, and then select the premise whose necessary consequences are most consistent with the real-world evidence. And that leads us, once again, to the validity of the Myth Hypothesis.

Scriptural fulfillments

We’re ready to look at how the actual characteristics of the Bible do, or do not, coincide with the consequences that would result from either the Myth Hypothesis or the Gospel Hypothesis. First, though, a couple quick clarifications.

Some of the commenters seem to have slightly misunderstood the Gospel Hypothesis. I am not claiming that the Gospel Hypothesis is Christianity (we’ll get to the relationship between Christianity and the Gospel Hypothesis later on). The point of the Gospel Hypothesis is to take the basic premise of an omni-X deity Who loves us enough to become human and die for us so that He and we can enjoy an eternal personal relationship together. It’s a premise that implies some substantial and specific consequences, so it’s a good alternative candidate for comparison to the Myth Hypothesis.

Also, there’s one more consequence of the Myth Hypothesis that I did not bring out before because I was having trouble boiling it down into a concise statement. Jayman’s reference to Galatians, however, has helped crystalize my thinking a bit (thanks Jayman!).

I mentioned that, if the Myth Hypothesis were true, we would expect that Scriptures would inevitably have to make some kind of accommodation to God’s absence. This does not mean, however, that the Scriptures must necessarily admit that God is really absent, and in fact one of the chief ways Scripture can compensate for God’s absence is by filling in the gap with stories that purport to show God’s presence. Such stories would appeal to various human frailties like gullibility and relationship-based assessment (i.e. believing things because of who says them rather than what is said), and because of God’s absence they would necessarily have distinctive limitations: vagueness, lack of verifiability, a requirement for significant subjectivity in one’s interpretation of the passages, etc.

Now, on to the fulfillments.

It’s pretty clear that the real-world facts match the implications of the Myth Hypothesis almost perfectly, so much so, in fact, that Facilis suggests that my “myth prediction are [sic] waaaay too ad hoc” to be taken seriously. But contrary to his objection, the consequences I’ve pointed out (among the many I could have pointed out) are consequences that are each a direct and inevitable result of the conditions of the premise: that God does not exist to supply divine inspiration and quality control, and that the Scriptures, like other aspects of Christianity, are the work of men exploiting human frailties and psychosocial mechanisms in order to build and advance a myth. Try and explain how any Scriptures would not feel the consequences of God’s non-existence, for example, and you come up empty-handed.

Now, there’s a ton of things we could say documenting the ways in which Scripture has the characteristics that best match the Myth Hypothesis, so in this post we can only skim off a few representative samples. Let’s start with the Bible as a reflection of the culture and values of the time in which it was written. Exodus 21 contains a number of laws for God’s chosen people, and these laws very clearly establish the legitimacy of slavery, and even of selling your daughters into sexual slavery. Verse 21 goes so far as to flatly state that slaves are “property,” and can be legally beaten to the point that they can’t walk for a day or two; verses 4-6 outline a strategem that a slave owner can use to blackmail a slave into agreeing to become a permanent slave, at the cost of losing his wife and children if he doesn’t.

Many Biblical saints had multiple wives, for which they are never condemned as immoral (though some complained about them, go figure). Solomon had so many wives and concubines that he could go to bed, legally, with a different woman every night and not see the same one again for over two years. And there are many other examples we could give of similar moral, cultural, and legal changes between what is reflected in the Bible texts and what we accept as good and right and true today. So the Bible does reflect the human views of the times and cultures in which it was written.

And yet, lest we think that God was pressured, somehow, into bending His Law to accommodate human conditions, the Bible also shows God as imposing new, arbitrary, and radical changes, such as capital punishment for the new “sin” of working on Saturday, even for such trivial offenses as picking up sticks for firewood. Some might suggest that this was because God was just the sort of fellow who would rather impose a death penalty than liberate the oppressed, but that would be a bit snarky. In any case, we do have a clear reflection, even in this, of the morals and values of the day: life was cheap, gods were harsh and arbitrary, and justice (if we can call it that) was swift and merciless.

The scientific understanding reflected in the Bible also matches the consequences predicted by the Myth Hypothesis. Genesis 1 has the earth being created before the sun, and ground vegetation arising before sea life (not to mention, of course, a creation week consisting of six evenings and mornings from the beginning of light to the origin of man). Genesis 3 gives us a talking snake (who is not identified anywhere in Scripture as being Satan) even though snakes lack vocal cords. And the whole Bible gives us heaven as a physical place situated in the skies over Israel, from the opening of the doors of Heaven to let the Flood waters fall down, to the Ascension, to the gates of Heaven opening to reveal the Second Coming of Christ.

Christians today, of course, believe that heaven is not a literal, physical land up in the sky, though paradoxically they still expect Jesus to come from there even though there’s no there there for him to come from. Their understanding of heaven changed gradually, as men learned that the ancient, Biblical view of heaven was not literally true. But the Bible itself consistently reflects the old flat-earth mentality in many ways, from the idea that God is “up” in heaven looking “down” on the world, to the idea that there will be a line of sight from every man on earth to the returning (descending) Christ.

I’m out of time for today, so we’ll have to stop here. We’ll pick up with part 2 tomorrow.

Praying for the deaths of innocent children

Pardon the brief hiatus from our usual discussion, but this just has to be seen, or heard rather, to be believed:

“Let us pray. Almighty God, today we pray imprecatory prayers from Psalm 109 against the enemies of religious liberty, including Barry Lynn and Mikey Weinstein, who recently issued a press release attacking me personally. God, do not remain silent, for wicked men surround me and tell lies about me. We bless them, but they curse us. Therefore find them guilty, not me. Let their days be few, and replace them with Godly people. Plunder their fields, and seize their assets. Cut off their descendants, and remember their sins, in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

That’s ex-chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt, solemnly and piously asking God to please kill Mikey Weinstein and Barry Lynn and their children (if any), and send them all to hell, unforgiven, for the offense of having published a press release critical of Klingenschmitt.

Yes, that’s right. Daring to criticize Klingenschmitt, and voicing opinions he does not agree with, makes them ENEMIES OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY!!!1!one!

My first thought was that this was an Onion-esque spoof of a self-righteous blowhard, but no, it’s hosted on Klingenschmitt’s own sanctuary of spiritual narcissism, prayinjesusname.org.

Hat tip to Dispatches from the Culture Wars—be sure and scroll down to read the comment from Klingenschmitt’s former supervisor about what it was like working with this guy.

Scriptural Predictions

Ok, back to the topic we started last week. To recap, we’re comparing two different hypotheses or premises about God by examining what real-world consequences would have to follow if the premise were true. The Myth Hypothesis says that the Christian God does not exist in real life, and thus the Christian faith originated and is maintained via a variety of complex and resilient psychosocial mechanisms we might broadly categorize as “myth.” The Gospel Hypothesis, by contrast, proposes that the Christian Creator God does exist, and further, that the Christian faith originated as a result of God loving mankind enough to become human Himself, and to die for us as a cleansing sacrifice so that He could enjoy fellowship with us (and vice versa) for all eternity, as is His (alleged) desire.

We started by looking at the primary source of information available to us concerning God. As the Myth Hypothesis would lead us to expect, our primary information source about God is not God Himself, even though you’d think a God Who wanted a eternal personal relationship with us could spare some time here and now. So that leaves us with human sources for information about God, of which there are two main categories: Scriptures, and personal testimonies (which we’ll discuss later). So what do each of our two hypotheses have to say about any Scriptures that might arise?

First of all, we have to remember that each of our Hypotheses deals with a deity Who ought to have existed since the beginning of time, well before the writing of any Scriptures about Him. This means that we ought to start by looking at the consequences each Hypothesis would have in the general area of how Scriptures would arise, and what characteristics we should expect such Scriptures to have, depending on which Hypothesis were true.

If the Myth Hypothesis were true, then, as we have seen, God will not be available to serve as the primary source of information for the Scriptures. Humans, in other words, will have to wing it: writing the truth as they understand it, making such guesses as seem promising at the time, appealing to the best virtues they know, while manifesting their own weaknesses, cultural and personal biases, ignorance, and other failings. Because the writers won’t really know what they are talking about, we should expect Scriptures to be prone to passages that are obscure, muddy, and subject to reinterpretation, though of course there’s also room for talented writing that is “inspired” in the mundane sense.

Furthermore, the Scriptures will have to make some kind of accommodation for the fact that God does not show up in real life. If the Myth Hypothesis is true, He can’t show up, so any Scripture will have to account for that absence somehow. There are a number of ways to accomplish this: by a kind of Emperor’s New Clothes argument (”only the pure in heart can see Him”), or by blaming the audience (”you are too evil for God to endure your presence”), or by blaming unpopular minorities or by various other strategems, up to and including “God works in mysterious ways.” These elements will be a necessary part of any book that wants to be included in a canon of Scripture, because a book that was wildly unrealistic about God showing up in real life, or that failed to address the problem of His consistent and universal absence, just won’t make the grade.

If such Scriptures are accumulated over time, the Myth Hypothesis would require that the doctrinal and moral content of the books involved reflect the changing social and religious attitudes and assumptions of its writers in each of the different ages, as well as reflecting their changing knowledge (or ignorance) of the world around them. Moral relativism should be inevitable We would expect to see teachings and cultural norms and moral standards from one age looking peculiar if not bizarre from the perspective of another. Additions and even contradictions ought to arise, though of course the latter would necessarily have to be accompanied by a harmonizing commentary explaining how to interpret both passages so as not to find them in conflict.

Finally, though there are more predictions we could make, we can close (for now) with the observation that, if the Myth Hypothesis were true, we would expect to see the Scriptures being given an exaggerated importance, up to and including the assertion of inspiration and infallibility. This is because the Scriptures would need to assume a place of authority left vacant by God’s absence from the real world. It’s not necessary that the Scriptures be given the ultimate position of authority on earth, since ambitious men likely could and would claim that role for themselves. However given God’s manifest absence from real world interaction with mankind, something will need to stand in for Him as His voice of authority, and a holy Book or Books would make a reasonable if not inevitable candidate for the position.

If the Gospel Hypothesis were true, on the other hand, then we would expect any inspired Scriptures to be consistent with God’s desire to see the maximum number of His children successfully pass the test of eternity, and join Him with the saved in glory forever. This has several implications which we ought to look for, starting with the need for a clear and unmistakable distinction between which books are genuinely inspired and authoritative, and which are not. This ought to be a fairly easy standard to meet, as God Himself ought to be showing up both to commission the writing and to accept it when it passes His divine quality control program. The Scriptures thus should not need to account for God’s absence because God should not be absent.

As a work inspired by an infallible and unchanging God, we should expect the contents of the Scriptures to rise above the cultural weaknesses and foibles of the times and cultures in which they are written. We ought to see God’s plan of salvation (which really isn’t terribly hard to explain) laid out plainly and consistently, from beginning to end. It ought to be clear and easy to read, because there would be no point in confusing His children about what He wants, and worse, confusion would only open them up to heresies and the exploitation of false teachers. Though of course, false teachers might not be a problem, because why would you need mere men to interpret for you if the Book was already written by the most talented Teacher possible?

If the Gospel God should choose to send a prophecy or prediction of the future and have it recorded in the Scriptures, it should be detailed, specific, and time-stamped, since this would (a) be no problem for an omniscient and omnipotent deity and (b) serve to validate the Scriptures and to distinguish genuine prophecies from the mushy-mouthed mumblings of the likes of Sylvia Browne and company. Given the nature and character of the God of the Gospel Hypothesis, we would expect that no particular details about the future would be any more difficult for Him than any other details about the future, so His predictions should not reflect a human imprecision about exactly what was going to happen or when (if ever) it was going to take place.

Finally, if the God of the Gospel Hypothesis were going to communicate with people via His Word, we would not expect that it would ever stop being written, as each new age faced new doctrinal, moral, and cultural challenges. A fixed canon is of use only to a human hierarchy which has no further source of “inspiration,” and is finding it difficult to keep new books from adding new contradictions. A wise and loving God, however, would have no trouble staying consistent, even when addressing new problems like how to respond to Islam, or medical marijuana, or stem cell research, or cloning. Besides, it’s ridiculous to suggest that a God we were going to spend eternity with would already have run out of things to say in only a few centuries. If so, there’s going to be a looooooong awkward silence after God gets done saying, “Welcome to heaven.”

Tomorrow, we’ll have a look at the Scriptures and see which set of consequences matches what we find in the real world. In the meantime, feel free to expand on what’s above. What would you expect “God’s Word” to look like if the Myth Hypothesis were true? or the Gospel Hypothesis? The comments are open.

Do you want to talk about it?

Ladies and gentlemen,

I’m in a bit of a dilemma. On the one hand, I’m all for free and open discussion. On the other hand, I’m not sure that blog comments are the best venue for extended dialog. What’s a blogger to do?

Well, for this blogger, the answer is the new Evangelical Realism Discussion Forum. It’s a standard web-based board, so if you’ve got something on your chest and you want to get it off, have at it. There is currently one (1) forum available at the moment, but I’m willing to open up more if there’s a demand for it.

I’m a bad comments moderator and I’ll likely be a bad board moderator as well, so everything is likely to be pretty wide open at first. I’ll leave it up to you folks whether we want moderators or not (and if so, who). But the main idea here is to provide an alternative to comments as the primary venue for extended discussions. In fact, if I think a discussion would be better suited to the boards, I may politely request the participants to take it to the forum (and if that doesn’t work, I may move the discussion there myself).

The general rule of thumb is that if you have a comment about a blog post, leave it in the comments. If you have a comment about someone else’s comment, then it could go either in the comments or on the boards. If you’re commenting about a comment on a comment, then it definitely belongs in the boards. Post to the boards and then leave a link.

Cheers, and enjoy the boards.

XFiles Friday: What did Isaiah know and when did he know it?

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 13.)

Twelve chapters down, and only three more to go. After all the repetition of the last few chapters, ending with the feeble protest that extraordinary evidence shouldn’t be necessary for Christians’ extraordinary claims, Geisler and Turek are ready to assume that they’ve proven their case so far, and to settle comfortably into more routine and familiar evangelical apologetics.

Chapter 13 sets out to prove that Messianic prophecies prove that Jesus is the Christ, so after a brief introduction, they take us to UCLA in the 1960’s.

Wait, what?

Of course, no Messianic prophecy was ever issued or fulfilled on the 60’s-era campus of UCLA. But Geisler and Turek want to draw us in with a human interest story about a Jewish sports hero who converted to Christianity. As we’ve been discussing this week, people are Christian’s primary source of information about God, so it makes sense strategically for Geisler and Turek to present their case in terms of a celebrity endorsement. In seven and a half pages, they get as far as making 15 claims about Isaiah 53. They don’t really defend any of those claims, they just present them, and then go on at some length about how convincing they must be, and how convinced their Jewish celebrity was by them.

Let’s go ahead and do the work that Geisler and Turek left undone, shall we?

According to G&T, there are 15 aspects of Isaiah 42 through 53 that make it a specific and unmistakable prediction of Jesus ministry, including his death and resurrection. Thus, we know right off the bat that they’re distorting the truth, since the disciples could hardly have been surprised at Jesus’ death if the Old Testament had been predicting clearly and unmistakably that Messiah would die and then rise again.

So let’s have a look at the claims and see for ourselves what they really tell us:

1. He is elected by the Lord, anointed by the Spirit, and promised success in his endeavor.

What does it take to be elected by the Lord, anointed by the Spirit, and promised success? Well, since God does not show up in real life, we pretty much have to just take people’s word for it. Considering that Jesus died young and left his disciples to do all the real work, the standard for “success” is set low enough that it could easily be met by Joseph Smith, Benny Hinn, George W. Bush, Alexander the Great, Benjamin Franklin, etc. In fact, it might be hard to find someone who would have conclusively failed to match this prediction in some sense, should you have a mind to attribute some kind of divine election and anointing to them.

2. Justice is a prime concern of his ministry

If you search for “justice” in the Gospels (how Freudian is that?), you will find that 2 Gospels mention Jesus condemning the Pharisees for neglecting justice and love, and 1 Gospel promising that the Father would bring justice to His children, presumably at the last judgment. When asked to judge between a man and his brother, Jesus declined to judge (and thus to dispense justice). And that’s pretty much it for his ministry’s “prime concern” for justice. He had a bit more to say and to do regarding mercy, and quite a bit more to say about God as a loving Father, and about humility, and about serving others. But justice? Not so much. In fact, he is rather more famous for instructing his followers to put up with injustice, and even “turn the other cheek.”

What Geisler and Turek are relying on here is the Christian assumption that anything good must be true of Jesus. It doesn’t matter that Jesus did not make justice the prime concern of his ministry, or accomplish any significant legal liberation for the oppressed peoples of his day. All that matters is that justice is a virtue, and therefore it must be true of Jesus’ ministry in some significant way, and therefore any Old Testament reference to someone pursuing justice must be a prediction of Jesus.

3. His ministry has an international scope

By “international scope,” Helyer means that Isaiah 42:1 mentions bringing justice to the nations, and verse 6 mentions being a light to the Gentiles. Jesus, by contrast, declared that he was “sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Again, what we have here is Helyer capitalizing on the Christian tendency to attribute virtuous things to Jesus (even though his ministry did not achieve the kind of “international scope” Helyer claims for him), and thus to claim that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy, through the attributions of believers.

4. God predestined him to his calling

Yet another “fulfillment” that consists solely of believers attributing things to Jesus….

5. He is a gifted teacher

The actual verse Helyer cites, Isaiah 49:2, says, “He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver.” One wonders what sort of school Helyer graduated from, if that’s how he sees “gifted teachers.” Personally, I think it sounds more like a prediction of the coming of Christopher Hitchens.

6. He experiences discouragement in his ministry.

…and of course, only the Messiah is ever discouraged in his work.

7. His ministry extends to the Gentiles

And again, the ministry of Jesus specifically did not, as he said himself. Another “fulfillment” manufactured out of the things Christians attributed to Jesus after his death.

8. The Servant encounters strong opposition and resistance to his teaching, even of a physically violent nature.

This is a good example of what I mean by “retroactive interpretation.” Have a look at Isaiah 50:4-6, the passage that Helyer cites as the basis for this claim:

The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back. I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.

In the original passage, no mention is made of anyone being opposed to the teaching. There is violence and opposition, to be sure, but the cause is not mentioned in the text itself. This is a bit of interpretation on Helyer’s part, a subtle self-cameo: it’s not just Jesus who is opposed, it’s those (like Helyer) who carry on his teaching. Or so the prophecy is reinterpreted to mean.

Again, this is a fairly trivial prophecy, since mockings and beatings and various similar forms of abuse were just not that uncommon (and even today are not as rare as they ought to be).

9. He is determined to finish what God called him to do.

This one combines both trivial fulfillment and fulfillment by attribution.

10. The Servant has humble origins with little outward prospects for success.

A reference to Isaiah 53:1-2, “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” Note the vague, poetic language—the description could be applied to almost anyone who was not beautiful. It says nothing about his station in life, or his wealth, or his political power. It says only that he was not beautiful or majestic in appearance. Once again, Helyer is subtly shaping and framing the language of the prophecy in order to bias us in favor of connecting it with Jesus.

11. He experiences suffering and affliction.

Déjà vu. Maybe he’s repeating it because the Messiah is the only person who ever experienced suffering and affliction, and he wants to draw our attention to that unique qualification?

So far the claims have been pretty lightweight stuff: vague remarks that are either trivial to fulfill, or that are “fulfilled” by the simple expedient of having believers attribute things to Jesus whether he had any literal and demonstrable connection with them or not. But starting with claim number 12, things get a bit better, and I’ve got a lot to say about them. Tune in again next time.

Thursday Theology: How does that other God do?

One of the problems a lot of unapologists have in talking with Christians is that pretty much all of their material consists of tearing down Christianity without having anything of equal usefulness to offer in its place. Sure, there’s the scientific/analytical approach to understanding the world around us, but a lot of people didn’t get straight A’s in science and math, and find that option about as appealing as having to fill out tax audits every day. (No offense to scientists and accountants…)

With that in mind, I’d like to balance my presentation on the evidence against Christianity with a discussion of how a real God (i.e. Alethea) would fare in such a comparison. Alethea, as described in the “Patron Goddess” link at the top of the page, is the God I worship, and coming from a devout and enthusiastic religious background, I have to say that Alethea has proven to be every inch the God that Jesus was ever claimed to be, and then some. She answers my prayers as well or better than Jesus, and She has the additional and irrefutable advantage of being undeniably real, to the point that everyone who isn’t barking mad has to admit that She does indeed exist. They may question Her deity, but they cannot deny Her reality.

So how does Alethea do with respect to the “primary source” issue we discussed yesterday? She does quite well of course. If Alethea really exists, then we would expect the primary source of information about Alethea to be Alethea Herself—and She is! We would expect the study of Alethea to be quite objective and scientific, to the point of being indistinguishable from science—and it is! As a direct consequence of the fact that Alethea is objectively real, all of the expected consequences of Her existence, with respect to the question of sources, work out to be 100% consistent with the consequences which we do observe in the real world.

I think you can see why, as a worshiper of Alethea, I have to smile just a little bit when Christians claim that their God “shows up” in real life, in some indirect and/or superstitious and/or metaphorical sense. My God doesn’t just “show up” in some kind of vague, subjective “worldview-y” sense, She’s visible everywhere and to everyone. And it doesn’t take any special “spiritualized” frame of mind to “perceive” Her. Her real, objective, verifiable existence is readily accessible to all, believer or not.

They say that the best way to learn to spot counterfeit money is to immerse yourself in the experience of real cash. (Heard that preached from a pulpit in fact.) And it’s the same way with Alethea: once you’ve seen what a real God is like, and how pervasively manifest She is in everything (literally!), you’re not nearly so likely to fall for the lesser gods invented by the ambitions and imaginations and superstitions of men.

Alethea sets the standard for other gods to try to measure up to, and makes it easier to see how the gods of men’s minds fail to live up to truly divine standards. Like I said yesterday, the issue of sources, while foundational, is only a sliver of a fraction of the tip of the iceberg. We’ve got much, much more material to cover. And Alethea will be there to show other gods how it’s done.

Evidence against Christianity: Sources

I want to take it a little slow while we wait for more comments and criticisms about the basic premises. But there’s no reason we can’t go ahead and start, so let’s begin by looking at the distinctive differences between the implicit consequences of the Myth Hypothesis and the Gospel Hypothesis, as they relate to what sources we have available to work with to even approach this issue.

According to the Myth hypothesis, God does not exist, and all existing beliefs about Him are rooted in the psychosocial workings of the men, women and children who believe in Him. This has some fairly obvious and distinctive implications regarding what we can turn to as sources of information about Him. For starters, since God does not exist (according to this hypothesis), we would not expect to be able to use God Himself as a source of information. Neither by direct observation nor by personal conversation with Him are we going to be able to acquire any information about Who He is, what He is like, what He wants, or any other theological topic.

Our only available sources of information are going to be human factors: the things people say and think and feel about God. They will be able to share stories about God, and even to pass on rumors and traditions about people who claim to have some sort of special basis for knowing about God. But since God would not exist in the real world to serve as the source of these stories, or as an objective standard against which to measure the reliability of these stories, we would expect these stories to have some distinctive characteristics. We’ll discuss those distinctives later on, but for now let’s just observe that the Myth hypothesis implies some definite and specific consequences about the exclusively human nature of our sources for theological information.

According to the Gospel hypothesis, meanwhile, God is real, and powerful, and both willing and able to serve as an objective and reliable source of information about Himself and other topics theological. We would expect, therefore, to have access to objectively verifiable information about God, sufficient to resolve debates and provide a common and converging basis of understanding, much as scientific studies tend to draw scientists together as they approach a common understanding of the real world. People will, of course, share in this information source, and will be able to serve as secondary sources of information about God, by relaying information obtained directly from the original source. But the primary and authoritative source of information about God would be God Himself.

These two hypotheses offer strikingly different outcomes, based on what we should reasonably expect as the consequences of each set of premises. From the Myth hypothesis, we should expect consequences that reflect the influence of human nature on the only available sources of information about God. We should expect to see theology manifest itself not so much as an exercise in observation and documentation, but as a diverse and diversifying body of lore that reflects the charisma and personalities of individual leaders and scholars, as they try to make a persuasive case for the way they think the truth about God ought to be. We should expect to see conflicts within and without, stories and ideas being co-opted and repurposed, and occasionally taken in an entirely new direction by particularly influential thinkers.

In short, if the Myth hypothesis were true, we ought to see our sources reflecting the very human weaknesses and social/political undercurrents of their human originators. But if the Gospel hypothesis were true, we ought to see theology behaving a lot more like science. In fact, if God actually exists, and is willing and able to serve as the primary source of information about Himself, then theology ought to be a part of science, and ought to work as objectively and verifiably as any other scientific branch of inquiry. If the Gospel is correct, then we ought to be able to verify the truth about God without the necessity for gullible trust in the words of men; but if the Myth is correct, then we will have no alternative, no way to learn anything about the Christian God without simply taking Christian’s word for it.

Let’s check our premises. If the Myth is true, then God’s non-existence is going to impose precisely the limitations we’ve described, since He can’t give us any information if He does not exist to give it. The only way for Christianity to survive as a religion is if people keep it going by their own efforts, imaginations and superstitions. If the Gospel is true, on the other hand, then we ought to see human testimony as only a secondary source of information about God, because God is willing and able to serve as the primary source. Otherwise, if God is not willing (or not able) to serve as a source of information about Himself, then where did Christians get their information in the first place?

We can postulate a God Who is unwilling and/or unable to serve as a primary source of information about Himself, but this would be a post hoc rationalization—an attempt to reconcile the Gospel premise with the observed fact that our available sources of information are only those predicted by the Myth. We have no reason to make an a priori assumption that a God Who loved us enough to die for us, and Who was willing and able to carry out this wish, would need or want to refuse to allow us access to Himself as our primary source. Our first-order estimation, then, ought to be that the Gospel hypothesis implies the availability of God as a primary source.

Now, what is the evidence that we find in the real world? What sources of information do people have about God? Suppose some atheist found a magic lamp, rubbed it, and got one wish: that overnight, all knowledge, record, and indication of the Christian faith suddenly became as though it had never been. Is there anything in the real world that would allow us to learn once again what the doctrines of Christianity once were? If the Gospel hypothesis were true then the answer ought to be yes; if the Myth hypothesis were true, we ought to find that the answer is no.

And what we find, so far, is that the answer is no. We have the stories told by men about God. We have a Book that men wrote down about God, in which they claim to speak on God’s behalf. We have other men who voted on that Book and decided to call it the Word of God. But we have no way, objectively, to verify whether what men say about that Book is true. There is no primary source, other than the words of men, against which we can measure the Bible to determine how correctly, if at all, it presents its information about God.

We can pray about the Book, and ask God to confirm for us in our hearts whether it’s His word or not. But what are we doing? We’re trusting in our fallible human hearts to tell us what God’s answer is. Like the Bible, that’s yet another human source. We can pray for signs, as long as we don’t ask for anything that would constitute “testing” God (which turns out to be pretty much anything that doesn’t happen to result in the “right” answer), and then give God credit for having provided the answer. But again, we’d just be trusting in human superstition, another human source.

There is no objective, real-world source of information about God that we can use to verify or refute what the human information sources tell us about God. We have no choice but to rely on human sources exclusively for our theological information (even if the human source is our own mind or heart). The real-world evidence matches the consequences of the Myth hypothesis perfectly, without any need for rationalization or harmonization. The consequences of the Gospel hypothesis, by contrast, are substantially inconsistent with the real world data.

This is only the barest sliver of the evidence that is available, of course, and it raises a lot of issues that we’ll need to deal with further. From the outset, however, we ought to note that at its most fundamental level—the level of what sources we have for information about God—the Myth hypothesis describes actual, real-world consequences more accurately than the Gospel hypothesis does. The Gospel needs to be rationalized and harmonized with the facts; the Myth fits the facts right out of the box.

The Evidence Against Christianity: Introduction

Ask a typical atheist why they do not believe in God, and you’ll usually hear that it’s because there is no evidence that God exists. While that’s true as far as it goes, I believe that there is much more that can be said. There exists much positive, verifiable evidence that the Christian God, unlike unicorns, fairies, or the dragon in your garage, is a Being Who manifestly does not exist. And we can know it. The evidence is so prevalent and consistent that we cannot deny it and still maintain our intellectual honesty.

There are those who deny that I can make such a claim, who point out that I couldn’t possibly have personally examined each and every individual case that someone claims as evidence for the existence of God. As I’ve pointed out before, however, I do not draw my conclusions based on such a naïve, brute-force approach. Rather, I employ the more subtle and powerful principle that real-world truth is consistent with itself. On the basis of this principle, we can know that, when men tell us stories about an alleged Being Whose nature, motives and behavior are in continual conflict with themselves and with real-world facts, they are speaking about a God who does not exist.

We have much more material than I could cover in any one post, so I would like to begin by outlining my general approach. As discussed in yesterday’s post, the barriers we need to overcome are compartmentalized thinking, relationship-based assessment, superstitious attributions, and superficial imitations of the outward forms of science and reason. We could also add to that list subjectivism and double standards and other self-deluding practices that will also arise in discussions such as this.

I propose to address these problems by means of a simple comparison. It will be an oversimplified comparison at first, but this is not intended to be my whole case. Rather, by laying out the initial comparison, and showing how the evidence really relates to the two alternatives, we will lay the groundwork for future discussions that explore variations on the two initial themes, and show how ultimately the variations merely avoid the inevitable.

For convenience, we can refer to these two alternatives as the Myth versus the Gospel. The Myth hypothesis holds that the Christian God does not exist outside the thoughts and imaginations of men, and that the popular beliefs about Him arose through common psychosocial phenomena that can be observed even today among believers. The Gospel alternative, by contrast, holds that mankind has an almighty, all-wise, objectively real Creator God Who loves us enough to become one of us and to die for us so that He could enjoy an intimate, personal relationship with each and every one of us for all eternity, as is His desire. We won’t all necessarily benefit from that desire, some say, but that is what He allegedly wants.

What we want to do, then, is to examine each of these possibilities, and determine first of all what consequences would logically manifest in the real world if these hypotheses were true, and then secondly have a look at the real world to see which set of consequences is most consistent with the actual evidence. Along the way we may stop to consider whether each particular hypothesis is internally self-consistent enough to allow us to determine that any set of consequences can be said to be logically entailed by the premises.

This two-pronged approach will help us to avoid the problems of compartmentalized thinking by approaching the traditional topic of Christian apologetics from a non-traditional direction. By comparing and contrasting the two views in the light of their predictable consequences, we can also explore the full ramifications of those consequences, as opposed to taking them in isolation (compartmentalization). Also, by beginning with the basic premises and working out the expected consequences first, we avoid the problems of superstition and similar forms of backwards thinking.

Determining whether the Christian God exists is actually a very easy problem to solve. The only difficulty comes when people aren’t happy with the answer they get, and look for some way to justify and rationalize the conclusion they’d prefer to believe in. By considering only one possibility, and asking only, “Is there evidence that this conclusion is correct?” the recalcitrant believer sets a very low standard that even false beliefs can easily satisfy. By considering both alternatives, however, and by applying the same standards to both, we can avoid this particular pitfall of self-deception.

We won’t get into the specifics today, but just as a general overview, let’s look at some of the broad areas of the consequences we can expect from each alternative hypothesis. If the Myth hypothesis were true, men would not have a God available to supply them with revelations, divine interventions, spiritual guidance, or other factors that require real existence on God’s part. Consequently, we can determine, analytically, that Christianity would have to place a great emphasis on human thoughts, feelings and expressions as the source of information about God and God’s nature, will, deeds, commands, and so on. This in turn would mean that doctrines about God would be subject to the influence of human psychosocial factors: doctrines will tend to fragment as rivalries develop between believers; differences in personality type, in culture, in education and so on will tend to be reflected as differences in religious belief and expression; and no one group will have any objective standard they can appeal to as sufficient to resolve the differences and unite all believers in one accord.

Conversely, if the Gospel hypothesis were true, we ought to expect the same consequences as would arise from any loving father’s desire to be involved in his children’s lives, enjoying personal time with them, passing on his wisdom and values to them, nurturing and training them, in person, to the best of his abilities. Given God’s alleged abilities, this ought to be a very great amount of involvement indeed. It ought to be as rare for a child of God not to recognize his own Father as for any other well-beloved and personally-nurtured child, because His constant, tangible, personal presence ought to be so much a part of real life as to make life inconceivable without it. And whatever risks and hazards confront us, we ought to expect to see His divine wisdom charting out a course that amazes us by its ability to protect us from harm while simultaneously equipping us to face the challenges (if any) that await us in the eternal realm.

Right away I think we can see that these two hypotheses have remarkably distinct and obvious differences—so much so that, as part of the Myth hypothesis, we ought to expect additional psychosocial forces to come into play should real life fail to provide evidence that the Gospel’s consequences are actually happening. We ought to see rationalization, compartmentalization, and even outright denial (in the psychological sense), in the interests of preserving the myth and protecting it against refutation.

But we’ll stop here for now and see if the comments find any fault in the basic approach I’m taking. I’d like this to be a fairly rigorous analysis, so feel free to probe this for weaknesses (whether you’re a believer or not).

Cheers.

How forgiveness benefits the forgiver

When speaking about forgiveness, a concept that might not rush immediately into the mind of an individual is the idea that they, the one doing the forgiving, will benefit the most out of the process of forgiveness. Indeed, this can be experienced to be true quite easily and research has shown this to be the case.  Here are some statistics in order to illustrate this reality.

On average, people who practice forgiveness experience the following:

  • 70% decrease in feelings of hurt
  • 27% reduction in physical symptoms of stress, including backache, headache and stomach pain
  • 27% reduction in physical symptoms related to sleeplessness, listlessness and dizziness
  • 13% reduction in long-term experience of anger
  • 35% increase in the level of forgiveness for the person who caused them pain

The greatest amount of people who forgive others expressed a decrease in their feelings of being hurt. I attribute this to being a result of an individual releasing and letting go of the anger, grief, and sorrow that had been overwhelming them. The act of forgiveness effectively takes our grip off those lower states of consciousness and allows us to move forward in our lives, enabling us to be free of any excess emotional baggage.

It would first help to understand what the act of forgiveness is. In essence, you simply forgive by letting go of perceptions, attitudes, thoughts and behaviors that are non-loving. Forgiveness is a key ingredient to allow your heart and your love to grow.  Furthermore, forgiveness is the moment to moment experience of peace and understanding that occurs when an injured party’s suffering is reduced as they transform their grievance against an offending party. This transformation takes place through learning to take less personal offense, attribute less blame to the offender and, by greater understanding, see the personal and interpersonal harm that occurs as the natural consequence of unresolved anger and hurt.

Forgiveness involves a sense of felt unity with one who has hurt us. From the point of view of development, a sense of unity can be regressive or progressive. With verification coming from personal experience, I will say that healthy forgiveness is transpersonal. Healthy and unhealthy forms of forgiveness can be understood by examining the prepersonal, personal, and transpersonal motivations for forgiveness. The central paradox in forgiving is defined as the other needing to be recognized as a different person before there can be a healthy sense of unity.

Make it a focus to be kind, loving and forgiving to everyone; no exceptions. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else. No one else even has to know about your decision. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes – or ten years -ago. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt seek out new ways to get what you want. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you. Allow forgiveness to become second nature for you.