Saturday, July 12, 2008

Arguing With an Atheist

A fellow pastor shared this with me. Next time you talk to an atheist who insists there is no god try using this approach with them.

For anyone to say they know for sure god doesn't exist would mean he/she knows everything. Only a god could be omniscient (know everything) therefore he/she must be a god/goddess, therefore a god does exist and he/she is not really an atheist.

It's a cute little argument but it serves to point out a few things. First off, no one can say with absolute certainty that there isn't a god. Yes, their evidence has led them to discard the belief in god, but our evidence has led us to believe. Without being omniscient none of us can say with 100% certainty (that is without faith) that God does or does not exist.

Second, everyone lives by faith whether you believe or do not believe in God. As I said above, all of us look at the evidence that has been presented to us. The evidence only points to a conclusion. It is not proof. Each of us has to look at the evidence and either decide to do nothing with it or we take a "leap of faith" in the direction it points. If you really think about it we do this all the time, and I'm not talking about our relationship with God. Every single one of us makes plans for tomorrow because all the evidence says there will be a tomorrow. We don't go to bed saying "Well, I don't know if there is going to be a tomorrow so I will wait and make plans after I wake up and am sure tomorrow exists." Faith is a natural part of life.

Third, atheists do have gods. Their gods are themselves. They take control of their lives and live them the way they want. What is interesting is I have met atheists who are just as or more dogmatic about there not being a god as some Christians are about their being one. A true atheist wouldn't even care if the rest of the world believed in god or not. To them it would be the same as people believing in the Easter Bunny or Santa Clause, but they have got to be just as pushing and belligerent as the religious people they complain about. Why? Because a god is worth dying for. In this case, they are a god and they are willing to die a martyrs death for themselves.

I just thought I would share that with you. I have a couple of atheists in my Comparative World's Religion class that I teach online. A couple are belligerent with one being extremely so. I had to put her in her place with the argument above. She hasn't responded, but one atheist did who used to be a Christian preacher. His response was rather refreshing. He basically said that at one time he to was the belligerent atheist until he realized that Christians who tried to share the Gospel with him were merely doing it out of love. Now he doesn't treat Christians with disrespect but with the same amount of respect that is shown to him.

When talking to atheists (or anyone of another religion) it isn't about the argument. Arguments often get out of control. It is about sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. Peter writes that we are always to be prepared to give an answer for the reason of our hope. So we are supposed to have the argument ready right? We are supposed to be ready to go on the attack instead of the defense right? Wrong. In fact the phrase "give an answer" literally means to give a defense. We are to be ready to defend what we believe. I left the rest of this passage out. Peter says "but do this with gentleness and respect."

Part of the problem that atheists have with Christians is that they are confronted without gentleness and respect. We have a lot of commando Christians out their who believe it to be their job to blow atheists (and people of other religions) out of the way. This is most definitely the wrong approach. You can be defensive without being defensive, if you know what I mean. Choose to share the truth out of love. Many times the best way to share the Gospel with someone who doesn't believe is to just love them through your actions and pray for them. I truly believe that they will come around.

12 comments:

pdxatheist said...

Your "cute little argument" is very naive. No atheist I know (myself included) makes absolute claims related to the existence of god(s). Rational people understand that it is not possible to prove a thing does not exist.

Brian Jones said...

Hi - Your Friendly Neighborhood Atheist here :-)

I just wanted to comment on your blog entry. I just wanted those who read it to be clear on something. You yourself sound like you may or may not be aware of this... To be an atheist, one does not have to know there is not a god. Atheist simply means one is not a theist, or put another way, an atheist is one who has no god belief.

This is something that is not understood by many, even amongst atheists. I often hear people say, "I'm not an atheist, I'm an agnostic." Although it is technically possible to be an agnostic theist, most people who call themselves agnostics are atheists in my experience.

You're correct that nobody can be 100% sure there is or is not a god. However, one can look at evidence and say, "This particular representation of a god cannot be correct because it is paradoxical." or "...because it contains logical fallacies." or "...is so full of extraordinary claims that it would require extraordinary proof for me to take it seriously."

These are the types of things atheists tend to say about the Biblical or Abrahamic God when they talk amongst themselves.

Let me give you a couple of my favorite examples...

1) In Revelation, and I paraphrase from memory here, but it depicts people being tortured by extraordinary composite beasts (horse, scorpion, etc. if memory serves) because even after a demonstration that would stop traffic in Manhattan, both directly and indirectly, there are still people who refuse to worship God and accept Jesus as their savior. Elsewhere in the Bible, it is stated that people have free will -- that they are free to sin or be righteous. So, this leaves the prospect that God either created us so some would displease him to the point of torturing us (for days on end I believe) which means he isn't as loving as made out to be or we don't have free will or we won't necessarily end up with people who refuse to repent in the end days. Thus I would say the Bible contradicts itself and despite getting some things right, can't be used as a guide for me to follow as though it were the inerrant word of an all-powerful being that wants me to worship him.

2) In the story about the temptation of Christ in Matthew 4, Satan leads him to the top of an exceedinly high mountain. It seems clear from the order of events that the reason for such a high mountain is primarily to provide a vantage point. Later Jesus is tempted to jump and let God save him, but before that, we have the Jesus and Satan looking out at "all the kingdoms on earth" (again paraphrased despite the quotes since I am not looking at a Bible at the moment) and Satan offers them all to Jesus. The problem with this passage is this... it would have been impossible to see all the kingdoms of earth from any single spot on earth, not matter how high and no matter where the vantage point was located.

By way of explanation, consider there were the following civilizations at the time worthy of the title "kingdom."
* Roman
* Chinese (Han Dynasty)
* Mayan

The Roman Empire of course included most of Europe, Northern Africa, a good chunk of the Middle East and Jerusalem where the story takes place.

The Chinese Han Dynasty stretched from Korea to Vietnam at the time.

The Mayan Empire was located in what is now Southern Mexico.

My point is, one could not see all these places from one place. From Jerusalem, Mexico is more than a third of the way around the globe meaning that it would be impossible to see Mexico even if the mountain extended thousands of miles into space.

Considering Jesus was making it clear he would not demonstrate his or his father's supernatural abilities to satisfy Satan's requests (thus the refusal to jump from the mountain and demonstrate God would save him) he certainly wasn't about to create a mountain roughly in the vicinity of the North Pole that extended thousands of miles into space and then avoid asphyxiation while they ascended said mountain, which is what they would have had to have done to accomplish this task. The other possibility, equally dependent on use of supernatural powers (and this is one brought up by most Christians I present this to) is the ability to look THROUGH the earth.

The endeavor becomes impossible from ANY vantage point if one starts including kingdoms without written languages that existed at the time, but since it isn't my intention to debate dating methods here, I won't open that can of worms.

I mention these two illustrations of what I consider contradictions in the Bible because I found them without any outside assistance -- they just jumped out at me when reading those passages for other reasons. I wasn't sure about the second one until I did research.

Of course there are plenty of such illustrations of absurdities and contradictions, and if one tries hard enough, most can be explained away. The problem is, Occam's Razor, the idea that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one, would tend over time to lead one to believe that the reason God's ways are a mystery is because he is not the answer.

And after you've come to that conclusion based on example after example, it is tempting, especially if one is not in a particularly philosophical mood, to say one is sure there is no god when if gently pushed far enough, that same person would admit they leave the door open that there might be A god (or gods.)

I hope I didn't come off as too abrasive or argumentative. I think I have a way of doing that only because I feel strongly about my beliefs, just as I am sure you do.

Oh, I just remembered, you had one or two other points I wanted to address too.

You say atheists shouldn't care if others believe in a god. The thing is though, many of them don't. I was at a function not long ago with a big room full of atheists and a small group were talking about how they wanted to do more fun things with other atheists vs. all the philosophical talk we tend to busy ourselves with. They didn't want to bash religious people or validate their beliefs, they just wanted to be around people who wouldn't raise their eyebrows upon learning they weren't "believers." I have a good friend who is a strong atheist but prefers to stay under the radar about it and in fact has close relationships with people of faith that have no idea he is an atheist. I too have many religious friends but I don't like to hide it. I think in my case and for many like me who are involved in local and national organizations like the American Humanist Association, we aren't so much pushing our beliefs as we are pushing back against a society that tries to make us conform to a belief system that makes no sense to us.

Many of the things we push back against are big shocking events, but just as important are the million little ways people just assume everyone in the room is a Christian or at least religious. Rather than keeping quiet about it, we sometimes point out that we don't pray, or say "under God" during the pledge, or think that after someone dies, that they "look down at us approvingly."

I hope you can see why we might insist on maintaining some personal integrity -- even if we don't get our values from God, we still have them.

Your assumption that gods are the only thing worth dying for just isn't true. Atheists die sacrificially all the time. Contrary the old saying, there are atheists in foxholes dying for their country for instance - Pat Tillman to cite just one example. Salman Rushdie is I am pretty sure, an atheist, and he put his life on the line when he wrote "The Satanic Verses."

One final note... really this time... I grew up a Christian and it was taught to me with lots of love and respect. That was never the problem for me when it came to my conversion some 29 years ago, it was all about believability to me. I just couldn't devote my life to something that didn't make sense to me. Now although I post to blogs like this and join organizations devoted to church-state separation, I am really more interested in continuing those good things I learned in church and from other good people.

I hope this gives you some insight into at least my brand of atheism.

ythpstr1 said...

Brian, I appreciate your comments and thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I am aware of the fact that atheists have no god belief. When writing this I was mainly thinking of those atheists who insist that there is no god and that it is crazy for a person to believe such a thing. I merely was pointing out that God cannot be proved or disproved. We all look at our evidence and make a decision based upon it. It is faith both ways. You have faith there isn't a God and so you live your life as if there is not one hoping that in the end you are right. I have faith there is a God and live my life as if there was one hoping that in the end I am right.

If I may I would like to respond to the two passages of Scripture you pointed out. As for the Revelation I really don't have much of an opinion. I don't know whether to take it as literal or allegorical. I think that perhaps both views are to be taken on it. What I do know is that God is a just god. Whatever he does is justly done. I have to believe that if this were to happen there would be a reason. You hinted that something of this nature (these beasts) should be enough to turn people to him. If you look in the Old Testament the Hebrew people were constantly seeing wonders of God and yet they kept turning away from him. It is hard for me to fathom those who study nature not believing in God. His signature is everywhere and yet people are constantly giving credit to evolution instead of God.

For the passage concerning Jesus and Satan I have to ask, does it really have to be taken literally? Standing up on a mountain looking over the world gives any of us the widest panoramic view we could possibly have. I could stand up on a mountain with you and say "Look, the whole world beneath us!" and you would know exactly what I was talking about. The portion we see represents the whole. I really don't have a problem with this passage. You are correct in saying that there is no way to see all the kingdoms of the world. If Jesus could see one kingdom it represented the whole of them. It served the purpose Satan wanted it to serve. Scripture does use hyperbole in many places. I just see this as being one of those places.

I would like to keep our lines of discussion open. Again, thank you for posting a comment.

ythpstr1 said...

Hello pdxatheist. Thank you for posting a comment. I wouldn't have wrote the post if I hadn't run into atheists who do make absolute claims. I teach Comparative World Religions at our community college and there are many atheists who make such claims. They think it is a silly thing to believe in a god and are very sure to point this out. So thank you for being one of those rational people who know it is not possible to prove whether God exists or does not exist.

Brian Jones said...

Upon your reply, I looked up the passage (Matt 4) and see that I was mistaken about one aspect... he wasn't tempted to jump from the mountain - rather from the highest point of the temple.

More pertinent to our discussion though, upon reading it, it strikes me that it doesn't read like allegory or metaphor at all to me. And maybe this highlights how it is that me and my fellow atheists can come to a completely different conclusion than you do. It seems to me, if I were to bring up that passage to them, they would see it the same way I did.

I know too that I miss a lot of typologies, inferences, and theatrical devices because of this "weakness." I am wired to what is there, not what is suggested. I am pretty sure this is why everyone I know thinks "Pulp Fiction" is fantastic and I barely find it amusing. I am missing the "obvious" overtones, the couched references to cultural phenomenon, etc.

Here's a question arising from that then... "How is it that God, the same god who is so concerned about our worshipping him, and only him, could be so careless as to create me with a blind spot to his message that would otherwise have me understand and fall in line?" It's one thing to obey a message when you believe in its authority and quite another to obey one whose authority not only can't you be sure of, but which you regard as disreputable.

Suppose I have a brother and come home from school to find a note on the table. The note doesn't look like Mom's handwriting and there are spelling errors. Mom's a perfect speller. The note says I am to do whatever my brother says until she get's home and if I disobey, she's gonna paddle my rear end. I am guessing, I am gonna assume my brother wrote the note and ignore it. If mom calls me on it, I'll explain, it didn't look like her work. I think Mom, as much as she loves me will accept my explanation, especially since she can tell when I'm lying and I'm not, and give me a pass.

Thus it is with me. I'm a good person who thinks that even if there is a god, he wouldn't write a book telling me what to do, include clue after clue that he DIDN'T write it, then punish me for not believing he wrote it.

As far as Revelation goes, I don't take it as literal or allegorical - I take it as hallucinogenic. It really does read like a bad acid trip or something.

Anonymous said...

Hey Brian,

Your little story about the note is very amusing, and demonstrates your lack of knowledge. To understand the Bible, you need to read it as a Christian. You will never understand the message if you do not know the messenger. By your own story, you can determine that the note could not be written by who it is signed by, why? because you know the messenger. The same is true of the Bible.

Which brings us back to the original point. Conversations about religion fail, because we try to bring OUR OWN interpretations to the table. The Bible says, what it says. The Koran says what it says. They all say, what they say. We choose to interpret them to fit our lives, and our arguments.

Which is the biggest problem. People, stop interpreting religions. Take them entirely or don't take them at all! If you're an Atheist... Don't tell me what's wrong with my religion. As a confessed Atheist, you have already proven you're lack of critical thinking.

ythpstr1 said...

Brian, I thank you for being so civil and I know that I am going to enjoy discussing these things with you.

As a Christian I believe that Scripture is accurate in its original writing and understand that things can be lost in translation. That is why I, as a pastor, try to study the languages (Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek) that it was written in. Not only must I study the languages but I must also study the time period in which each piece of literature was written in. I must also understand the types of literature. Lastly, I must understand each passage in the context of the chapter, book, testament and then the Bible as a whole. All of these things help me interpret it. I believe there is only one correct interpretation (which I may or may not get) but many applications.

The "blind spot" that you speak of is nothing more than our selfish, sinful nature. Let's go back to creation. A God who is perfect love cannot force us as humans to love Him back. If you are a parent you can identify with this. We would love to make our kids do certain things but making them love us back is not one of them. When they say "I love you" by their own accord it means so much more then if we were to force them to say it. God is no different. Scripture says that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." A very simple definition of sin is selfishness. Now I am not saying that all selfishness is wrong, but when we put ourselves above others and it ends up hurting them it is definitely wrong. When you think about the wrong things people do I think you can identify that selfishness is the root. For God to make us love him he would have to be a very selfish being. Instead he has created us to be able to choose to love him or choose not to love him. Believe it or not, this is an act of love. He wishes that we all love him but has left it up to us.

It is for this reason that evil exists in the world. By giving us the freedom to choose to love and obey him or love and obey ourselves he also gave us the freedom to harm one another through our selfish actions, and since God is a holy god (meaning he is perfect in every way including in purity) he cannot tolerate sin. The Bible says "for the wages of sin is death." Each of us deserves to die because of our sin (the continual giving in to our selfish nature).

I know this is kind of long winded, but please bare with me.

Part of selfish nature blinds us from seeing the truth concerning Scripture. We look at imperfect translations and we thing "How could God have written this!" Let me take your analogy and apply it a different way. What if your mom was rushing out the door and she said to your brother "Please leave a note on the table for Brian. Tell him that when he gets home he is supposed to listen to you when you get home and until I get home." So your brother writes a note like he was told. He doesn't have the grammar your mother does and he doesn't spell real well but the note is genuinely from your mother. Knowing the nature of your mother is she going to punish you after she gets home and finds out you didn't heed the note?

I will admit to you that I cannot judge whether you will go to heaven or hell but I can tell you this. The "note" says that that the only way to receive forgiveness from your sins is to accept Jesus Christ. Jesus said "I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the father except through me." Also, "for the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ."

The fact is, you have been given a note that has been translated imperfectly but the message is there and it is clear. You have the choice whether to listen to what it says or you can choose not to listen. What God does is up to Him and, we know that he is a just God and whatever he decides will be a just decision.

Here is my question to you. What are you going to say to God when He says "Brian, do you remember that blog by another Brian who explained to you what my Word said? What did you do with it? Did you choose my son or did you choose to not listen?" You will have to give an account when he asks.

I'd like to take this opportunity to say one more thing. I know a lot of people look at God as some cosmic killjoy. I have heard it said that God doesn't allow us to have any fun. When I placed my faith in God I did it in two ways. I believed that Jesus died for my sins freeing me from the consequence, and I placed my trust in Jesus being able to show me what the perfect way to live is because he was able to do it while here on earth. I know that when he asks me to do something that he has my best interest in mind. Again, it is like the parent who tells their child not to do certain things. The child doesn't understand why but the parent knows what the consequences will be if the child does what the parent said not to do.

When it comes down to it I only find two things that Jesus tells us to do. Love God and love one another. I could just some it all up in one word LOVE. Everything that God asks us to do or not to do really comes down to that one word.

I know I took liberty in answering your question but I hope you can see where I am coming from. I admit, there have been times that I have misinterpreted scripture. I have learned to really study it now and only teach it when I feel I have a grasp on it. I believe that the closer I grow in my relationship to God the more he helps me see the truth.

Brian Jones said...

ythpsr1 and anonymous

All the things you are saying I have heard before. Let me try to explain about "the note" another way.

If God exists, what is his nature?

I don't have any first hand knowledge of a god and therefore, if there is one, I don't know its nature.

Therefore, it is impossible for me to draw the conclusion that the Bible was in any way created or inspired by God.

In fact, if one were to ascribe the typical attributes to God that the Bible describes... omnipotence, omnipresence, etc. then as I see it, the clues indicate he didn't write it.

Here are some clues...

God's nature changes... In the Old Testament he lays out over 600 rules to live by and those who don't follow those rules are dealt with harshly. Lot's wife turned to salt for disobeying a simple order, "Don't look at the city." The Caananites -- obliterated by the Isrealites from the face of the earth for not following God's rules, ordered by God. Men, women and children drowned to death for disobeying (Noaic flood). Children who don't respect their parents are to be stoned. In the NT however, God has changed his mind.. "Let you without sin cast the first stone."

Furthermore, some things are so absurd given todays knowledge, one has to explain them away using twisted logic. Pi = 3. Earth is only a few thousand years old. (Or it isn't and day doesn't mean day.) Stars that are millions and billions of years old don't really exist.. God just created the light to look that way. Balaam's donkey talked to him. Jesus created wine from water. The synoptic gospels all describe the resurrection story, but no two of the accounts match when the details are compared. The languages were confused by God in Genesis (Babel) and since Genesis was written first, it follows that this happened before any part of the Bible was written, yet it was only translated to most or all of the written languages of the world relatively recently, thus depriving all those would-be God followers the Bible experience. God creates light on the first day, but doesn't create the light sources (sun and stars) until the fourth day. Baptism is supposed to wash away sins, yet Jesus was baptised. I could go on and on, but I think you see my point.

I don't want explanations to these things, I've heard them before. The point is, there are so many things to explain away that either the Bible is intentionally confusing or the accumulative evidence indicates it is not a divine work.

Well, it's late, so I'll leave it there.

Oh one more thing... the suggestion that one needs to open their heart and the truth will be made known... doesn't work. I've been a true believer and after I nominally gave up faith, I prayed sincerely, asking for a clear sign... none came. I did this more than once... nothing. Eventually, I decided not to waste my time anymore.

ythpstr1 said...

Hey Brian. I am understanding a little more as we discuss this. My best answer to God's nature is to expand upon the "ontological argument" and use it as sort of an explanation. God is greater than that which nothing greater can be conceived. I think the issue is we are trying to understand God by using our finite brains. If God is greater than the greatest thing we can conceive then he is beyond anything we can comprehend. He set the rules of nature that govern us into motion but he himself is outside of nature because he is the creator of it.

I think that all the things you mentioned as confusing things found in the Bible can be logically explained through interpretation and the understanding of God's nature. Is there ever a time where we truly understand what is being communicated? We are constantly asking for clarification. The only way we would be able to see clearly is if our brains were perfect.

I do have to say this as well. God didn't write the Bible, used imperfect vessels to communicate with humanity. God didn't force these men to write what they wrote. He inspired them. Inspiration guides but allows for each writer to write in such a way that is consistent with his personality, his way of viewing things and so forth. What this means is there will be "mistakes." Do these mistakes compromise the message of the Bible? No, the message is pretty clear.

You said that the "accumulative evidence indicates it is not a divine work." On the contrary, I think there is more evidence for the Bible being the unique word of God then just a book written by man. Being that you have heard many explanations I probably don't need to expound upon this. If I do please let me know.

I agree with you about "the suggestion that one needs to open their heart and the truth will be made known...doesn't work." I don't even know where we Christian have gotten that idea. I believe that you take all the evidence you can muster up, look at it carefully, examine it from every angle and then make a decision concerning what it points to. I have looked at the evidences that point to God. I have looked at the evidences that point to the Bible being God's inspired word. I have looked at the evidences of Jesus being God in the flesh and Savior of the world. From the evidences I have carefully considered I am left with no reason to believe in God, in the Bible and in Jesus Christ. These things are evidences and not proof. Can I provide proof that God exists? Absolutely not unless you are willing to take the subjective proof I can offer. Can I give you evidences? Absolutely.

Let me be very honest with you. I have been in the position you are in. I freely admit that there have been times, and I am sure there will be times ahead, where I have given consideration to leaving this all behind. Usually those times come when I am not walking with God. I to have asked for a sign to not receive anything. In fact some people asked Jesus for a sign. Jesus who had been healing the sick, causing the blind to see and the lame to walk! What more of a sign could a person ask for? Jesus told them basically that just like Jonah was in the belly of the whale that he would be in the bowels of the earth and on the third day he would arise. This came to pass. Did people believe him after he rose? Absolutely not. Will a sign really convince you of his reality? Probably not.

If you want evidence of God's existence then look around you. Look at the world. Meditate on it. Think about it. Could it really have happened by accident? I think nature screams the name of God. His signature is everywhere. His signature is on you. God doesn't need to provide any more signs then what he already has. If we don't accept him by what we see here, what says we will accept him with any other sign.

The real problem is us. We look and look for reasons not to allow God to be in control of our lives. We rationalize the evidences away because we don't want to be held accountable by a perfect God. We say "How can a loving god allow evil?" We say "Look at all the discrepancies in the Bible." We say "If God is really there then why can't I feel him!"

Brian, whoever told you that God had to reveal himself to you in any other way then through the Bible? Who are we to demand that God does anything? It is through his infinite love that he has done what he has. God loves you. He created you for himself and not the other way around, but because he loves us we know he is also for us.

My prayer and hope for you my friend is that God opens your eyes to the evidences that are all around. I pray that he would help you to carefully examine these evidences and that he would reveal himself to you through them. I pray that you would come to know God the way he intended you to know him.

I appreciate your willingness to continue in this conversation. It is a pleasure to talk with you concerning these things. I hope we both come to embrace the truth out of it.

Brian Jones said...

B: How do you know God exists?
Y: It says so in the Bible.
B: Who wrote the Bible?
Y: Men, with God's help.
B: How do you know God helped them? Couldn't the men that wrote it have made him up, or been recounting oral traditions of a made up god?
Y: ________ [your answer here]

---- OR ----

B: I am trying to determine if God exists. Is the Bible the best place to look for answers?
Y: No.
B: Then what is?
Y: ________ [your answer here]

In the interest of concise, focused dialog, please reply to one or the other, but not both of the above with a one or two sentence answer. It doesn't have to hold up on its own, but should at least lead to a rather concise follow up paragraph at most. Or, if you think this is amounts to a red herring, tell me why, also in one or two sentences, where your strongly held belief in God is derived from.

I'm sorry, but I just can't wrap my head around long rambling answers that easily. That's not a criticism because I do the same thing.

ythpstr1 said...

Okay. I will try to do this as concisely as possible.

1. I do believe the Bible is the best place to look for answers concerning God’s nature because it is His revelation to us, but in order to see this we have to establish whether the Bible is reliable and trustworthy.

2. I also believe God has revealed himself in other ways with nature being one of the biggest evidences of his existence.

3. I believe the idea of there being a God is philosophically plausible.

Which one of these would you like to discuss?

Brian Jones said...

ythpstr1,

On 3 we agree with one minor (to me) change... little "G" -- I philosophically agree a god is plausible. It is when we get to the Biblical God (with or without the New Testament) where I find the plausibility not worth considering any further. So 3 is off the table.

I wouldn't mind going with both 1 and 2.

First, let's take 2 and limit it to God expressed in nature. I have 2 major problems with the argument that the incredible complexity of nature means there must be a god that created it all.

Q2: Problem 1: If it takes a god to create something as incredible as the universe, or even our galaxy or solar system, the existence of that god is necessarily even more implausible to have itself not been created. If you rely on that argument, then you must concede that your God too must have had a creator even more complex and that creator must have had one even more complex.. and so on. It is an infinite regression. There is no point at which you can say, well that creator's creator just was.

Q2: Problem 2: Even if Problem 1 were disposed of or ignored, there is also the notion that it does nothing to validate the existence of the Biblical God. The question of whether or not there was a creator, god or otherwise, stands completely independent of the question of the Biblical God's existence.

This leaves us to Question 1. Is the Bible reliable and trustworthy. Keep in mind, it makes extraordinary claims and must therefore be subject to extraordinary scrutiny. Before we examine any particular passages, we need to be clear on something. You've already dismissed my kingdoms of the world argument based on Matthew 4 as being metaphorical.

Q1: Problem 1
So I want to know -- How so you determine what parts of the Bible are metaphor or allegory and what parts can be considered historical?

If a name or place is mentioned, does that put a passage into the historical category? Could the story of Sodom and Gomorrah for instance be simply a parable? Do we need archealogical substantiation before we can place a story firmly in the historical or fact column? Is there a secret guide to which passages are not meant to be literal?

In this vein there are a couple of other major issues where theologians come down on different sides, so let me ask you about your position on those too.

ythpstr1 - position 1 How old is earth? Are you a Young Earth Creationist (YEC) or Old Earth Proponent (OEP)?

ythpstr1 - position 2 Do you believe in evolution? Note, I didn't ask if you believe in creation. This is a false dilemma falacy because evolution could happen irrespective of whether or not creation took place.

ythpstr1 - position 3 Do you believe that non-Christian religions offer equally valid paths to a positive relationship with God? If so, would you include Judaism? Islam? Hinduism? Paganism? Scientology? Buddhism?

ythpstr1 - position 4 Do we have free will? Are there those among us or in history who did not?

ythpstr1 - position 5 Is Satan a metaphor?

ythpstr1 - position 6 Are there any books of the Bible which shouldn't be there? Any that should be but aren't?

ythpstr1 - position 7 What denomination are you?

ythpstr1 - position 8 Do you believe in original sin? Inherited sin?

ythpstr1 - position 9 Did Jesus abolish the old laws? Would that include the 10 commandments?

ythpstr1 - position 10 Is polygamy a sin? Oral sex?

I am sure there are others I am not thinking of at the moment. I'll ask as I think of them. I know this seems like I'm going back to the long lengthy stuff, but the very nature of this topic lends itself to endless lists and it doesn't make much sense for me to bring up for instance the age of the earth if you're not in the YEC camp.

And I apologize for this, but one more thing... It seems to me that the God of the OT and NT have distinct personalities. I mentioned this earlier. What is your take on this? To wit, It seems the OT God dealt his justice to groups rather than individuals and was far more prone to violent solutions. He wiped out men, women and children of all ages on numerous ocassions because they belonged to a particular clan (Egyptians, Caananites, several other "-ites"), family (Exodus 34:7) or happened to exist at a time when God's patience was at an end (Noaic flood). It seems that in the NT, the message is that God will wait until the afterlife to exact reward and punishment based on one's individual righteousness or sin.