Thinking Christian

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Ray Ingles’ “Non-Faith Journey”

Posted on Dec 13, 2012 by Tom Gilson

Last week I invited atheist and skeptical readers to tell their non-faith stories. The idea was that if we had some idea of the person behind the discussion, we might have a better shot at really treating one another as humans.

Ray Ingles sent me this. There are others, which I’ll post here at the rate of no more than two per week.

It should be obvious enough that Ray Ingles’ views do not represent mine, or Christianity in general.

BEGIN

My parents were both raised Catholic, but had decided they didn’t believe by adulthood. They were married in the Church, to please their families, but the priest was rather lenient – he finally accepted that they both at least believed in good and evil.

So I was raised without any faith in particular. I dimly recall spending a week or two with my aunt when I was very young, and being very confused (and, I think, unruly) when she took me to church for the first time. (I have reason to believe that aunt and grandmother baptized me as an infant, too, for what it’s worth.) I recall my mother trying to explain Jesus to me at one point, “God sacrificing himself to himself”, and just being puzzled why someone would believe that. Before high school, my exposure to churches involved the occasional wedding or funeral, and some Boy Scout activities. I joined the Scouts back before they made a big deal about atheism, and made it all the way to SPL and Eagle. (Since I didn’t think there was a God, as far as I was concerned my ‘duty to God’ was zero so I could make the Pledge in good conscience.)

I wasn’t raised without morals, of course. But it was a very practical morality. “What if everyone did that?” is a question even a five-year-old can grasp. Once my dad took me to a James Bond movie, when I was just old enough to begin wondering about girls. I asked him if he was ever tempted to act like Bond and bed a variety of women. He took me seriously, and said that while it might be fun to do something like that, it would hurt my mother terribly and he did not want to do that. That made a great deal of sense to me.

From a young age I read voraciously, mostly science fiction, though a lot of nonfiction science, too. I enjoyed playing with ideas and teasing out ramifications and possibilities. I suppose I picked up a general skepticism of authority – tempered with the recognition of the necessity of cooperation – an ethic of personal agency and responsibility, and a toleration of variety in part due to such influences.

My parents decided to send my brother and I to a private high school, and – despite my mother having not enjoyed her time in a Catholic boarding school – settled upon a Catholic school. At that point I had religious courses and attended the Masses they’d hold about once a month. Religious courses ranged from dull memorization to interesting philosophy, but never struck me as ultimately convincing. We did work through the Old and New Testament, though, so I have in fact read the majority of the Bible. I’ve continued to study religion, along with many other topics, since then.

In college, I took an intro philosophy course and read a lot. I like arguing, but only with people who care, so when I found USENET I was delighted. I hung out on alt.atheism and a few other newsgroups. (You can still find most of that stuff on Google Groups.) In the interest of fairness, I did try praying and so forth, in response to prompts from interlocutors on newsgroups. I never received any intelligible answers.

So in terms of upbringing and lifestyle, I’m thoroughly secular. I’m atheist in specific (I haven’t run into a description of a God or pantheon I found convincing) and a non-gnostic in the broad sense. (An agnostic thinks questions like ‘Is there a God?’ are unanswerable. A ‘non-gnostic’ thinks such questions just haven’t been answered… yet.)

I always found religion to be irrational and unsupported. But I never thought of religion as the ‘source of all evil’, nor have I ever thought that the world would be perfect without religion. (And it’s worth noting, BTW, that I’ve never run into an atheist that did think that.) I think religion does directly cause some problems – e.g. when Zionism was first getting started around the turn of the last century, there were serious proposals to locate a new Jewish homeland on land purchased in South America. But religion dictated the Palestine region, and, well… we see how well that turned out. Most often, though, religion acts like a catalyst. (A catalyst affects chemical reactions, speeding them up or slowing them down, without being consumed itself.) For example, with war. The Irish Troubles were for the most part a political and territorial dispute – religion didn’t cause the conflict. But the religious differences amplified and exacerbated the Troubles. For another example, I think religion has been a contributing factor to the the depressed social position and limited freedom of women in history, and through to today.

As time has gone on, though, and I’ve studied more history and learned more about life, I’ve come to see religion as wrong, but quite human. I no longer think of the religious as partly insane in a compartmentalized way. I can think of religious people as mistaken, but not willfully so, nor evil because of religion. But I think dogmatism is a besetting vice of religion. Not that atheists are immune to dogmatism – see Stalin, Mao, etc. for counterexamples – but believing that an infallible oracle gave you The Answers is a high risk factor for dogmatism.

I can see that religion often performs, and has performed in the past, a civilizing and reforming influence, too. But that said, I have a couple reservations. I can see, from my own example and that of many friends and family members, that it’s not necessary for such things; I’ve seen the trick worked without recourse to religion. And even if it were necessary for some people – if the people who don’t need religion have “minds of peculiar structure”, to use George Washington’s term – that wouldn’t make it true. It would just imply some form of Plato’s Republic, a rather depressing proposition. Once upon a time, the notion of universal literacy was a fantasy; but we’ve come awfully close to it in many places today, switching from an oral culture to a written one. I think a similar transition in moral conceptions is possible, without requiring religion as a useful fiction to ‘keep the masses in line’.

I get along fine with the religious people in my life, and I’m not at all ‘evangelical’ about my atheism. I’m married to a Christian woman, and our biggest arguments haven’t been about religion, but about Santa Claus. I’ve got no problem with her enrolling our kids in catechism, and I help drive the kids to and from. I’ve attended church in the past and I’m sure I’ll do so again. Our kids know what I believe, and what my wife believes, and we sometimes talk about why, when they ask.

We agree on what morals to teach our kids, though we come to our conclusions from different directions – not unlike how a geocentrist and a heliocentrist can agree about astronomical predictions. Indeed, I think of morals as something akin to ‘social engineering’, finding better ways for us all to live together for mutual benefit. The history of social progress (what Dawkins called the ‘zeitgeist'; e.g. the progression from ‘kill all your enemies’ to ‘slavery for captured opponents’ to ‘the Geneva Conventions’) seems to fit up with an engineering timeline. But for that reason, I think a lot of faith traditions have a lot of practical moral experience, even if their theory about why the ‘tricks’ work can be flawed. For example, taking time to reflect on and recognize the good things in your life is a very healthy thing to do – but being thankful is only appropriate for the good things people do. One can appreciate rather than be thankful for good fortune.

Anyway, that’s probably more than enough.

END

When I made this invitation to non-theistic readers, I included this in the OP and in a later comment:

Suppose the point of it all was mutual understanding, and suppose there was a strict moratorium on judgmentalism in response.

Would you be interested?

Once your story is posted, I’m going to strongly encourage others to ask questions, and I’m going to enforce the above-mentioned moratorium on judgmentalism… The questions people ask you should be for the purpose of understanding you for who the writer is, rather than something like, “How could an educated person like you come to such irrational conclusions?” which is really just judgmentalism in thin disguise. Of course if the writer brings philosophical/atheist apologetical topics into your story, those things are open for people to ask about.

So the floor is open for discussion for the sake of mutual understanding.

159 Responses to “ Ray Ingles’ “Non-Faith Journey” ”

  1. BillT says:

    “I think of morals as something akin to ‘social engineering’, finding better ways for us all to live together for mutual benefit.”

    I think one question that comes to mind is why is “…finding better ways for us all to live together for mutual benefit.” better than say finding better ways to live for my personal benefit at the expense of anyone else. Why are morals about mutual benefit . Isn’t it just as moral to seek personal benefits no matter the cost to others?

  2. Ray Ingles says:

    BillT – I’m not a sociopath. So I do, y’know, have some sympathy and empathy and care about other people. Shared pleasure is enhanced, shared pain is lessened.

    I think most humans aren’t sociopaths, either, so they have some interest in getting along. I mean, the alternative is running naked in the woods fighting over scraps of food.

    And as for sociopaths, well, I’d like to relay a story I first read during the 2003 invasion of Iraq:

    When one of the most secure and luxurious of his palace-and-bunker complexes was completed in 1984, at a cost of $70 million, Saddam Hussein moved in right away. But even protected by enormous layers of concrete, sand and steel, behind zigzag corridors and blast doors made to withstand a Hiroshima-size explosion, and guarded by men who knew they’d have to be ready to die for him, or be killed by him, Saddam apparently could not sleep. “All night long he heard a sound like the cocking of a pistol,” remembers Wolfgang Wendler, the German engineer who supervised the project. Wendler was summoned by angry officials to find out what was wrong. He discovered a faulty thermostat.

    Saddam, of course, deserves no pity. But this is the kind of life he led – literally jumping at shadows, because there was no one he could fully trust. Stalin became so suspicious of doctors that later in life he refused their treatment and consulted with veterinarians instead. These dictators had plenty of purely material comforts, but in the process of acquiring them they’d given up any chance of enjoying them untroubled by fears of assassination, let alone the pleasures of sharing them with loved ones. They could literally never afford to fully relax. Perhaps there are a few individuals for whom that would be worth the trade, but I wonder if they ever regretted the situations they’d locked themselves into.

  3. ryan says:

    Ray,

    Do you have a particular view of “justice”?

    Meaning, do people need to be brought to justice (punished for crimes), or is it more like removing from a position to cause harm?

    What do you think of the emotions like revenge or the need for justice?

  4. David Martin says:

    Ray,

    Thank you for telling your story. I appreciate the trust you showed in this community and your boldness in going first.

    I had never heard the term “non-gnostic” before. I’m curious what you think it would take to convince you that God’s existence has been fully proved or disproved.

  5. Ray Ingles says:

    ryan –

    Meaning, do people need to be brought to justice (punished for crimes), or is it more like removing from a position to cause harm?

    None of the above, sort of. We set up punishments as deterrents. Pets don’t have moral culpability for making messes in the house, but nobody has any problem with punishing them anyway.

    Still, it’s entirely natural to think in terms of revenge and retaliation. It seems to be common to every human culture, though some take it way overboard. Even monkeys have a concept of fairness… and punishing unfairness. Most systems of justice through history have rested on such principles, that the punishing of a crime redresses or pays for a wrong.

    That revenge – redressing perceived wrongs – has a powerful deterrent effect is obvious. You have only to ask someone entangled in a culture where revenge is endemic – if they don’t aggressively revenge themselves, they become a target. Calling a truce or ending a feud is nearly impossible. Mercy is risky in such an environment. So it’s not all that hard to see how a sense of revenge could evolve, and even be useful – as one drive among many, not the paramount consideration.

    If punishment is attached purely to retribution, for example, then considerations like ignorance (‘I didn’t know she was there when I backed up the van’) or insanity would seem to make no difference. But in practice, people seem to want punishment to be inflicted only in cases where it would reasonably have a deterrent effect. If someone didn’t intend harm, and wasn’t acting with negligence, then most people seem to conclude that there’s no need to file charges. And if on the other hand someone is insane, then punishment is no deterrent and dealing with the insanity is the primary concern, not retribution. (Of course, because of this, there’s motivation for sane malefactors to pretend to be insane to escape consequences, but that’s a separate issue.)

    More, most people accept that punishment corresponds to intent, not results – to the degree of responsibility involved. It’s generally agreed that the deliberate, premeditated murder of one person (first degree murder) should draw a harsher punishment than an unpremeditated crime of passion that kills two (say, an adulterous spouse and their lover, second degree murder), which in turn should draw a harsher punishment than the negligent killing of several (manslaughter). And even if no harm results, you can still charge someone with attempted murder. How is that anything but a deterrence?

  6. Doug says:

    I think dogmatism is a besetting vice…

    As a kid, I had the most amazing upbringing – one that actually caused occasional resentment among acquaintances because of the security it provided.
    I sometimes wonder if the reaction to dogmatism is (at least to a small degree) an expression of longing for a similar security.
    At least the correlation between dogmatism and twistedness isn’t necessarily causation.
    I’ve certainly known plenty of happy, caring, generous, delightful dogmatists…

  7. ryan says:

    Doug, interesting. What type of security? Physical (monetary, body, etc…), spiritual (strong faith?), or intellectual?

    Ray, ill have to read that a couple times.

  8. Doug says:

    Ryan – a “social” security. Almost felt like the world could fall apart but my family would stay together. Certainly not economic security! :-D And both of my parents were old-school (i.e., modest) scientists, so certainly no “intellectual security”, either.

  9. Tom Gilson says:

    Interesting, Ray, and thanks.

    You know, perhaps, that most Christians would agree with you that religion is unsupported and can be the cause of many troubles. That’s “religion” in an undifferentiated sense, of course, which is rather like saying political beliefs can cause trouble. It’s obvious but it doesn’t get you any closer to knowing whether there might be one political position that’s better than others.

    I would of course disagree with you if you were to point specifically at Christianity and call it irrational and unsupported. But my first question to you is whether you do indeed lump all religions together, or if you were just speaking in some kind of shorthand about it.

  10. Andrew W says:

    I liked this bit.

    I’m atheist in specific (I haven’t run into a description of a God or pantheon I found convincing) and a non-gnostic in the broad sense. (An agnostic thinks questions like ‘Is there a God?’ are unanswerable. A ‘non-gnostic’ thinks such questions just haven’t been answered… yet.)

  11. ryan says:

    Doug, ah, a precious security!

    So from what you said, I gather that dogmatism can help people feel connected to something more than themselves and more importantly an accepting social circle. Studies show that ones social connections are the greatest indicator of quality of life. It’s how we are wired.

    I know from being in the military, no matter where I go, if I meet a vet, there is an instant connection. Do you think taking on dogmatic beliefs can add joy to ones life in a similar fashion?

  12. Ray Ingles says:

    Doug, Andrew W. – “Non-gnostic” is my own invention, so far as I know. I have a real problem with the concept of the ‘unknowable’. Even if there are things that humans can’t ever grasp, that would be, at best, of only philosophical interest. It couldn’t have any practical bearing at all.

    How can we, in practice, distinguish between something ‘currently unknown but comprehensible’ and something ‘forever unknowable’? From a practical perspective, the only way to tell which category something falls into is to try to understand it; if you succeed, then it was knowable. The problem is, if you fail, you can’t conclude that it’s unknowable. It might be… but it also might be the case that you just didn’t happen to figure out something knowable, and you or someone else might have better luck on a subsequent attempt.

    I wrote an essay about it here. It touches on a couple other questions, too.

  13. Doug says:

    @Ryan,

    Dogmatism isn’t a “thing in itself”. Rather, it is a pejorative description of a (perceived) extreme attribute of belief.
    As a serviceman, you can appreciate that a good soldier does well to “dogmatically” believe that his “side” in a conflict is “the right one”. And you are perceptive enough to appreciate that a shared such “dogmatism” is an opportunity for community-building.
    The thing about community-building is that it often leads to “us-them” thinking (particularly in a conflict situation – something else you’d appreciate as a serviceman).
    I would claim that it is not the dogmatism that is the “problem”, but the “us-them” thinking (the tendency to demonize one’s opponents, and overlook the evils within one’s community). All religions (including Christianity) suffer from this disease. But this disease is by no means a religious one (r/atheism, anyone?)
    The beauty of Christianity is that at its very core, it proclaims that all the typical us-them distinctions are meaningless. This lesson is apparent in the Christmas story itself. It is the first event (by many centuries) in which young, old, rich, poor, male, female, Jew & Gentile all participate as equals.
    Merry Christmas!

  14. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    But my first question to you is whether you do indeed lump all religions together, or if you were just speaking in some kind of shorthand about it.

    Well, there’s two parts to that. Following up on the ‘unknowable’ bit above, so far as I can see, in practice the ‘supernatural’ boils down to ‘the unknowable’.

    Think about the difference between the notion of the ‘powerful alien’ (a staple of science fiction) and the notion of a ‘god’ in a religion. What’s the essential difference between them? In the stories, they both do amazing, astonishing things. But a powerful alien is (ultimately, eventually) comprehensible – often in the story humans are able to figure out some way of duplicating its powers, or interfering with them, etc. Gods, though, are beyond what humans can do, and there’s no point in trying to figure out why or how they do what they do.

    So, as far as I can see, a ‘religious’ worldview includes some idea of the ‘supernatural’, and non-religious worldviews don’t. (It’s worth noting that the ‘religions’ that least depend on such notions – e.g. some varieties of Buddhism or Confucianism – are also the most likely to be called ‘philosophies’ or something similar. There’s already doubt that they ‘count’ as religions.)

    So in that sense, yes, I classify Christianity in with ‘religion’.

    And secondly, I see Christianity as part of the ‘monotheistic’ “Judeo/Christian/Islamic” family of religions. This isn’t the place for arguments, and I don’t want to start that discussion here, so I’ll just say that overall I find the ‘argument from evil’ to be more compelling than the Judeo/Christian/Islamic defenses against it. (If anyone wants to hash that out, they can email me or we can discuss it on some other thread. Here on this thread I’m just trying to present where I’m coming from.)

  15. ryan says:

    @Doug,
    Very enlightening.

    Merry Christmas!

  16. JAD says:

    Ray,

    Does the universe have a cause? If it does, what is it’s cause?

  17. SteveK says:

    Ray,

    Following up on the ‘unknowable’ bit above, so far as I can see, in practice the ‘supernatural’ boils down to ‘the unknowable’.

    There is no reason to think this is true. The supernatural is knowable on some level, to some degree (general revelation). Not fully knowable, but finitely knowable. In fact, you have to know what the term means in order to use it in a sentence – like you just did!

    And here you continue to tell us something that you know about the unknowable God. ;)

    Gods, though, are beyond what humans can do, and there’s no point in trying to figure out why or how they do what they do.

    This is why special revelation is necessary. Special revelation separates Deism from Theism. Since you know about God in the general sense (you talk about God a lot), it seems you are more of a Deist, correct?

  18. Ray Ingles says:

    JAD –

    Does the universe have a cause? If it does, what is it’s cause?

    I dunno. So far as I’ve been able see, nobody else has made a good case for knowing either. Humans are just terrible at speculating outside areas they can test and have experience in. Pretty much everything we’ve learned about the universe since we left the savannah has been counterintuitive. Round Earth, heliocentrism, continental drift, atomic theory, germ theory of disease, evolution, relativity, quantum mechanics… all deeply counterintuitive and unexpected. Frankly, in areas we can’t test and have no experience in – my money’s always on the answer being something weirder than we imagined.

    Even long experience is no guarantee. People have been deeply and fundamentally wrong about their own bodies – Aristotle taught that the brain was basically a cooling system for the heart, and educated people believed that for centuries.

    In the 1600’s, if someone asked, “What causes lightning?” the proper answer wasn’t “Thor” or “Seth” or “the Thunderbirds” or “God”. The proper answer was, “Darn if I know. Maybe someone will figure it out someday.”

    Whatever the answer is, the universe as I understand it does seem to rule out some classes of cause – the argument from evil, as I said, seems to me to rule out the Judeo/Christian/Islamic God as a candidate, for example.

  19. Ray Ingles says:

    SteveK –

    In fact, you have to know what the term means in order to use it in a sentence – like you just did!

    Sure I did. I used it as “something with unknowable aspects”. See this passage from Roger Zelazny’s novel “Lord of Light”:
    http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/323371-then-the-one-called-raltariki-is-really-a-demon-asked

    (Yama goes on to invent demon-repellent. :-) )

    And here you continue to tell us something that you know about the unknowable God.

    Not exactly. What I’m saying is, (a) for the specific gods I’ve looked at, I don’t see good reason to believe in them, and (b) even if a powerful entity similar to a God existed, there’d be no point in assuming it unknowable; it would still be a question of evidence.

    This is why special revelation is necessary.

    And if I ever get some, I’ll change my tune. As it stands, I haven’t gotten any, or seen convincing evidence other people have either.

  20. SteveK says:

    Ray,

    And if I ever get some, I’ll change my tune. As it stands, I haven’t gotten any, or seen convincing evidence other people have either.

    There’s the rub. There are plenty of claims out there. How do you evaluate the various claims regarding special revelation considering it’s a one-way communication from God that is otherwise unknowable / undiscoverable?

    One way among many would be to ask yourself if the message from special revelation conflicts with the general revelation you already know. Conflicting messages serve to narrow down the list of true claims as these can be ruled out.

    And speaking of ruling out, you said:

    …the argument from evil, as I said, seems to me to rule out the Judeo/Christian/Islamic God as a candidate, for example.

    I think you don’t understand the Christian response to the argument. Seriously.

  21. Victoria says:

    @Ray
    Thanks for posting your story.
    It is very similar to my own story, except that I took the right (no pun intended) fork in the road, and you took the left one. Having grown up nominal Catholic, I rejected that upbringing in high school and into the first three years of university. After all, I was going to be a physicist, a scientist – and scientists just did not believe in ‘fairy tales and religion’. Hah! Guess who I ended up working for as a research assistant, but a very devout, Godly Christian physicist and his team (who were also Christian physicists). Well I learned physics and real Biblical Christianity from them and came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ because of that.

    What I noticed in your story was that you keep asserting that there is no convincing, reasonable evidence for Christianity, but you never actually provide a cogent, reasoned argument for that assertion. The Christian posters in here would all disagree with you, as we have examined the available data, came to the conclusion that the inference to the best explanation is “Biblical Christianity is true, that Jesus really is the way, the Truth and the life” – that was enough for us to take that step of faith and follow the inference to the Person it points to, and commit our lives to Him and His ways.

    I would challenge you to set forth your case – show us just how you think the available evidence is lacking, and that our inference to the best explanation is wrong. Remember also that you are talking to scholars, professional scientists and very literate Christians here.

    @All – hi Tom and SteveK and JAD, Melissa, G Rodrigues, BillT – I’ve been following the discussions with Ray on the other threads as well, just didn’t have time to post any comments. I trust that you are all well (how is the running, SteveK?)

  22. SteveK says:

    Running is great, Victoria. Logged a new PR in October and in a few weeks will begin my training for BOSTON!!

  23. Victoria says:

    @SteveK
    Good for you; best wishes for Boston – run strong, long and safely :)

  24. JAD says:

    Ray,

    Here is a follow up to my first set of questions:

    Did the universe have a beginning? Is it irrational to believe that the universe had a cause?

  25. Ray Ingles says:

    SteveK –

    I think you don’t understand the Christian response to the argument. Seriously.

    I go into some detail here.

    JAD –

    Did the universe have a beginning? Is it irrational to believe that the universe had a cause?

    We don’t know if the universe had a beginning. Our theories work back to a few femtoseconds after the Big Bang, and break down before that. So we really don’t know if the universe ‘began’ then or not.

    Having a favorite hypothesis about whether the universe had a beginning or not – thinking it more probable than not, based on your gut feeling – is fine. But I don’t see good grounds yet for anyone being sure.

    Victoria –

    I would challenge you to set forth your case – show us just how you think the available evidence is lacking, and that our inference to the best explanation is wrong.

    Well, the purpose of this post is mutual understanding, not argumentation. I don’t really want to get into proving a negative. But as a very quick outline of things from my perspective…

    I note a lot of stories of miracles from a lot of faith traditions, all purportedly from solid witnesses. But they can’t all be right. Supposedly Mohammed split the moon in half one night, and unimpeachable witnesses testified to it. Does that impress you as much as it does many Muslims? Herodotus, the “Father of History”, records that Pheidippides met the god Pan on his way to Sparta along the famous run that gave us the ‘marathon’ that SteveK’s going to tackle. (Good luck and enjoy!) Herodotus is widely trusted, and wrote his history of the battle of Marathon from eyewitness accounts. How do you account for this passage?

    The cases of miracles in the New Testament seem to show a progression of exaggeration here and there (e.g. in one, a fig tree takes a day to whither, in a later manuscript it’s instantaneous) and I’ll note that have one person report 500 witnesses is not the same thing as 500 witness accounts.

    It’s often claimed that ‘no one would die for a lie’ but spies are often supposed to risk life and limb to establish and protect cover stories. And according to the stories, some apostles gave their lives for the gospel in multiple places at multiple times.

    And it’s hardly the slam dunk that some atheists present it as, but it is curious that no miracle seems to ever result in someone growing back a severed limb. Given the preponderance of miraculous cures, it’s an odd absence.

    So all in all, I need more than written records – even by overall trustworthy historians like Herodotus – to validate ancient miracles.

  26. JAD says:

    Ray wrote:

    We don’t know if the universe had a beginning. Our theories work back to a few femtoseconds after the Big Bang, and break down before that. So we really don’t know if the universe ‘began’ then or not.

    Who is we? Cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin in the following video argues that it is more likely than not that the universe DID have a beginning.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXCQelhKJ7A

    However, my point is here is not to argue for a beginning for the universe, rather it’s to ask you some questions based on what you stated in the OP. You wrote there, “I always found religion to be irrational and unsupported.” That seems to me to an overly broad and sweeping generalization. So anyone who is in your eyes religious is irrational?

    I am simply asking whether it is RATIONAL to believe that the universe had a beginning or had a cause. Whether in fact it did have a cause is another question for another time.

  27. Victoria says:

    @Ray
    but you are merely sidestepping the issue of whether Christianity is true or not on the basis of a fallacious argument – if some historical accounts are suspect, then *all* of them must be suspect.

    I suggest you at least spend time researching the material that is linked here
    http://www.reasonsforgod.org/the-best-reasons/the-resurrection/

  28. Victoria says:

    @Ray
    Support this claim from real Biblical references…
    It’s often claimed that ‘no one would die for a lie’ but spies are often supposed to risk life and limb to establish and protect cover stories. And according to the stories, some apostles gave their lives for the gospel in multiple places at multiple times.

    and this too

    The cases of miracles in the New Testament seem to show a progression of exaggeration here and there (e.g. in one, a fig tree takes a day to whither, in a later manuscript it’s instantaneous)

  29. SteveK says:

    Ray,
    I looked over your argument based on the existence of evil – just the assumptions and conclusions sections. My conclusion remains the same, you don’t understand the Christian response. I won’t argue the point here, but I see some problems with your conclusions. It’s good to know you are thinking about it. I encourage you to read what Tom has said on this blog.

  30. Ray Ingles says:

    Victoria – Here’s an example of the issues. You ask me to support my claim about the apostles with “real Biblical references”. But we don’t actually have ‘Biblical references’ for the deaths of most of the apostles – only James, son of Zebedee. The rest are the subject of legends – many of which conflict.

    (Well, to be technical, we do have Biblical accounts of Judas’s death, but he either hanged himself or fell and burst open.)

    But while the historicity of their deaths is… well, questionable, you link me to a site that prominently asks, “Why did the disciples give their lives for the message of the resurrection?” as if that were solidly established and counted as good evidence.

    As to the example of exaggeration I gave – pretty much everyone, including Christian scholars, accepts that Mark was written before Matthew. So see Mark 11:12-14 & Mark 11:20-25 vs. Matthew 21:18-22.

    Again, I’m trying to give y’all a handle on where I’m coming from. I really have spent more time than the average person looking at this stuff. It is possible for people to look at the same data and come to different conclusions sometimes. Speaking of which, JDD’s up next.

  31. Victoria says:

    @Ray
    Perhaps you should be looking at this from another angle. Instead of looking at the evidence for Biblical Christianity as inadequate, you should look at why you won’t follow it to the Person it all points to. Paul points to the real issues in Romans 1:18-3:20, 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:14, and Ephesians 2:1-10, for example. Which category or categories of unbelief apply to you, for the truth is that at least one of them does. Perhaps you should be asking yourself what is wrong with you that you can’t or won’t accept evidence that people at least as intelligent and thoughtful as yourself have found to be sufficient to take that step of faith and trust in the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    It is clear from the writings of the apostles, both the letters and the gospels, that they and Jesus Himself fully expected that both first line eyewitness testimony and their own written accounts were both necessary and sufficient for future generations of people to come to faith.
    For example, at the end of John’s gospel, he writes (John 20:31)

    but these things are recorded in order that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by* believing you may have life in his name

    Remember that the gospels were written about 30+ years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, for the next generation who would not have seen Him or heard first hand the teachings of the apostles themselves. Just a few lines up from verse 31, John recounts Thomas’s story (see John 20:24-29). Jesus gives Thomas the evidence that he asked for, and Thomas falls at His feet, realizing that Jesus is indeed both alive and his Lord and God. Jesus chides Thomas for not trusting the eyewitness testimony of his fellow apostles, and in effect says at the end of verse 29 “You saw me first hand, but what about those people yet to come who won’t have that opportunity? All they will have is your eyewitness testimony to go on”.

    The apostle Paul implies the same things in 1 Corinthians 15, if you take the time to read it carefully, with an open mind and open heart.

    No, it is not the sufficiency of the historical evidence that is the problem, Ray. I submit that it is your problem that you can’t or won’t accept it. When you figure out why, then maybe you’ll give the evidence a fresh look, as I said, with an open mind and open heart.

  32. Ray Ingles says:

    JDD –

    That seems to me to an overly broad and sweeping generalization. So anyone who is in your eyes religious is irrational?

    Let me turn it around for a second. Do you think there could be someone who was an atheist on rational grounds? If so, do you think any ‘rational atheists’ actually exist?

    (Bonus question: If so, how do you reconcile that with Romans 1:20?)

  33. Ray Ingles says:

    SteveK – The very next line after the “the assumptions and conclusions sections” you read says, “The real debate, as always, comes in addressing the objections.”

    All the rest of the essay goes over “the Christian response[s]”.

  34. Victoria says:

    @Ray
    That’s the best you can do for the fig tree example? Imply a contradiction where the two texts clearly don’t? Read it carefully again.

    I have to go worship my risen Lord now. Perhaps later we’ll have a lesson in Greek grammar.

  35. JAD says:

    Ray wrote:

    Let me turn it around for a second. Do you think there could be someone who was an atheist on rational grounds? If so, do you think any ‘rational atheists’ actually exist?

    You didn’t answer my question Ray. Why the dodge?

    I wasn’t asking you whether theism was rational. I was asking you ‘whether it is RATIONAL to believe that the universe had a beginning or had a cause.

    For example, as far as I know Alexander Vilenkin is a non-theist yet he believes that the universe had a beginning and he can back this up theoretically. Is Vilenkin a rational person giving a rational explanation?

  36. Chris says:

    I’ll respond for Ray and say that yes, it is rational to make an hypothesis that the Universe began to exist.

    JAD – do you think there are rational grounds to be an atheist?

  37. Victoria says:

    ack to the fig tree account, then.
    Mark’s account, the full account, starts in the larger context of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem ( see Mark 11:1-26 ).
    Day 1: late in the day – Triumphal entry, go to the temple, look around, leave for the evening.
    Day 1 evening: they leave Jerusalem for Bethany (and Lazarus’s home, we learn this from other gospel accounts).
    Day 2 morning: on the way back to Jerusalem, Jesus sees the fig tree, finds it lacking and curses it, which as Mark tells us, the disciples heard. Cleanses temple, etc…
    Day 2 evening: leave Jerusalem, probably back to Bethany, since…
    Day 3 morning: they pass by the fig tree again, where Peter sees that the tree that Jesus had cursed the day before is withered, and comments on it.
    Jesus explains the parable of the fig tree.

    This is followed by
    4. Jesus’ authority being questioned,
    5. parable of the Vine growers
    6. paying tribute to Caesar
    7. Sadducees question about the resurrection.
    8. The widow’s mite (the two coins)
    9. The coming destruction of the temple.
    etc
    It specifically says in verse 21, “Being reminded, Peter said to Him, ‘Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered'”.

    Now, the Greek grammar used indicates that ‘You cursed’ is in the aorist tense, middle voice, indicative mood, which tells us that the action occurred in the past without regard to process – it’s a snapshot or summary of the action
    For ‘has withered’, we have perfect tense, passive voice, indicative mood, which tells us that we have a completed action that occurred in the past, resulting in the present state of affairs – the emphasis being more on the present state than the past action.
    Again, we can’t conclude much about the process of withering or how long it took.

    In Matthew’s account ( Matthew 21:1-46 )
    we have
    1.Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
    2.Cleansing of the Temple, go back to Bethany for the evening.
    3. morning – back to Jerusalem, encounters the fig tree, finds it barren, curses it, it withers, disciples are amazed, ask how, Jesus explains the parable of the fig tree.
    4. Jesus’ authority challenged.
    5. parable of two sons (28-32)
    6. parable of the landowner who planted that vineyard.
    7. parable of the marriage feast
    8. paying tribute to Caesar
    9 Jesus answering the Sadducess questions about the resurrection.
    etc.
    You can build your own comparison chart.

    Specifically, the fig tree incident in Matthew’s account, the verse indicates that ‘at once the fig tree withered’. The
    Greek is (at once: parachrema – which means immediately or suddenly; withered – exeranthe – aorist tense, passive voice, indicative mood, again indicating that snapshot without regard to process, just that it occurred.
    Verse 20 the disciples see this and are amazed, right away, and ask.

    Mark has the cursing of the tree occuring *before* the cleansing of the temple, and Peter asking Jesus about it the next morning, whereupon Jesus explains it
    Matthew has the cursing of the tree occuring the day after the cleansing of the temple, in the morning, the tree becomes withered immediately, the disciples ask Jesus how,
    and Jesus explains it.

    It is well-known that Matthew tends to use a topical organization of his material, rather than a strict chronological sequence. Chronological sequence is characteristic of
    Mark and Luke. If you look at Matthew’s organization, he places the cursing of the fig tree at the head of a series of parables, rather than following
    the time sequence – he collapses the events into a single narrative without regard to time.
    Mark is relating to us the sequence of events, Matthew is not.

    I suggest you get a good New Testament commentary (there are a number of them online, see http://www.biblia.com, if you want to dig deeper, Ray.

  38. Victoria says:

    @Ray
    That is why it is impossible to write a harmonization of the 4 gospels that follows the chronology of Jesus’ 3 years – only Mark and Luke are chronological enough for that. It was the attempted harmonization that led New Testament scholars to conclude that Matthew was using a topical scheme, not a chronological one. I think you can find an online discussion at http://www.bible.org.
    If I have a chance, I’ll see if I can track it down for you – I’m using a commercial Bible Study Software package called Logos that has all of this reference material at my disposal.

  39. Victoria says:

    @Ray
    If you are actually interested in pursuing the whole historical reliability of the Gospels issue, you should get hold of Craig L. Blomberg’s book (The 2nd edition). He has a chapter devoted to alleged contradictions, and he specifically addresses the cursing of the fig tree accounts in Mark and Matthew.
    In addition to discussing what I pointed to above, he points out
    1. Matthew does not specify the actual day that ‘early in the morning’ refers to. It appears after the cleansing of the temple because Matthew is including the acted out parable of the barren fig tree in his section on Jesus’ teaching via the other parables that follow. I think one would have to understand the metaphorical use of the fig tree as a representation of the nation of Israel to follow that thread.
    2. The use of the phrase ‘at once the fig tree withered’ can imply that the process began immediately with Jesus’ assertion that “no longer shall there ever be any fruit from you”, a process that had completed by the time they came back the next morning and Peter asks (following Mark). The disciples’ surprise at the how the tree withered so suddenly (following Matthew) can mean something like “what, in just one day?”

    It is a plausible reconciliation of Mark and Matthew on this event, especially given Matthew’s style of organizing his material. You should not jump to conclusions so easily just because they fit your biased perspective. It took me several hours of concentrated research in my extensive scholarly library (Logos was worth every penny here – I think I will invest in version 5 soon :) ) to fit all the pieces together.

  40. Ray Ingles says:

    JAD –

    I wasn’t asking you whether theism was rational.

    Um, well… actually, you wrote:

    So anyone who is in your eyes religious is irrational?

    …including the question mark.

    I didn’t answer your question – then – because I wanted to point something out about it: the asymmetry of how it was posed.

    If you come to a conclusion about something, based on applying your reasoning, then you think that conclusion is correct and warranted by the evidence. That’s just how it is.

    If someone looks at the same evidence and comes to a different conclusion, then you’re going to conclude a mistake has been made. Just look at Victoria, who certainly hasn’t shrunk away from stating that, because I’ve come to different conclusions about the Biblical evidence, I’m being irrational (and probably wicked).

    What if the evidence isn’t conclusive? Then having a gut feeling, or even being willing to bet on an answer, can be perfectly rational. But professing certainty based on inconclusive evidence is another kind of irrationality. (Ever run into someone who thinks the next card they’ll draw will be the one they need, simply because they want it to be?)

    So, yes, based on the evidence I’ve seen, people who are religious are – to some extent – irrational. That’s not the same thing as insane, incompetent, or wicked – just irrational, on a particular topic. (I myself don’t claim to be rational on all topics, either, note.)

    In any case, you also asked:

    I was asking you ‘whether it is RATIONAL to believe that the universe had a beginning or had a cause.‘

    Given the evidence we have, I don’t see a basis for a firm conclusion on that score (yet). I can certainly grant that people can have favored hypotheses and hunches, but that’s not the same thing as rational certainty.

    So, I think I’ve answered your questions pretty comprehensively. Are you willing to answer mine now?

  41. Victoria says:

    @Ray
    This is about the art and science of textual criticism, which should be applied to the detailed analysis of *any* written document, taking into account both the nature of the document, the limitations of the method itself, etc. So yes, the Koran should be subject to the same rules. Whether or not it can stand the test is another question, I suppose.

    What you were doing with the fig tree example was coming to a conclusion based on ignorance of established New Testament scholarship (and by that I mean what the majority of reputable scholars consider to be the inferences to best explanations). If you are going down to this level of detail to support your unbelief, then at least show us that you understand the material you handling. That seems to be a common failing of atheists, though, from what I have seen.

    Internal consistency within a text, correctness of detail, etc proves nothing other than that text is a reliable source of information, that the authors knew what they were talking about. That is the reason I trust the Bible, enough to stake my eternal destiny on it. The claims of the skeptics notwithstanding, I have and always will trust the Bible as a reliable historical document.
    Have you considered the minimal facts line of reasoning that Dr. Gary Habermas has outlined? (see here http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/southeastern_theological_review/minimal-facts-methodology_08-02-2012.htm)
    Well, those minimal historical facts need to be explained, and Christians believe that the inference to the best explanation is that Jesus Christ really did die and was resurrected from the dead, that He is Who He claimed to be, and Who His disciples claimed He is -the Son of God incarnate. I believe that – there was a time, 35 years ago, when I didn’t, but that changed when I read the NT with an open mind and heart, ready to trust and obey God if He showed me the truth. He did, and I did. As promised, I was adopted into His eternal family, sealed with the Holy Spirit – that is an experiential confirmation of the truth that all genuine Christians get.

    If, as Christians believe, Jesus Christ is in fact the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity incarnate (fully God and fully human), that He died and was supernaturally resurrected, then that trumps all other claims of all other religions that contradict this Truth. Let the Koran be internally consistent if it is – so what? It doesn’t prove anything about its claim to be of divine origin.

    Prove conclusively that Jesus Christ was not resurrected, that He is not who He claims to be – take up Paul’s challenge in 1 Corinthians 15. Refute conclusively that what the apostles wrote was not about Who they saw, heard, spoke with, touched.

    Don’t sidestep the real issues with diversions to other religious texts which have no spiritual value if Biblical Christianity true.

  42. Victoria says:

    @Ray
    better link to that minimal facts approach
    http://www3.telus.net/trbrooks/garyhabermas.htm
    and
    http://www.garyhabermas.com/

    Note: this is not about proof, but about a reasonable inference to the best explanation, enough to support a decision of faith. It is still about faith, which is far more than just intellectual assent, but involves trust and commitment to a Person, a Person who is the rightful King and sovereign Lord of all of creation.

    God offers the same evidence to everyone, in such a way that those who really want to be with Him and love Him will be drawn to it and see the Truth; those who hate Him and want nothing to do with Him will turn away from following the evidence. He offers the same grace to all, but not all will accept it – most seem to resist it.

  43. ryan says:
    Let the Koran be internally consistent if it is – so what? It doesn’t prove anything about its claim to be of divine origin.

    Is the Bible more than internally consistent? I’m honestly curious and on my own journey. Can someone point me to supporting documents or historical evidence for Jesus’ divinity and miracles, etc…

    Prove conclusively that Jesus Christ was not resurrected, that He is not who He claims to be – take up Paul’s challenge in 1 Corinthians 15. Refute conclusively that what the apostles wrote was not about Who they saw, heard, spoke with, touched.

    I don’t think Ray was sidestepping. If one only used the Quaran to argue for the teachings of Mohammed, they would always be “right” in their own eyes. Can one refute conclusively that Mohammed is not who he says he is or that his prophecy is not that of the Creator?

    Personally, I can’t prove that Jesus wasn’t resurrected (no one has proved that he has for that matter). Presence of an irrefutable, internally consistent document doesn’t convince me that I should dedicate my life to it. If I joined a religion on that basis, than any religion will do. I just have to choose which outcome suits my fancy.

  44. Ray Ingles says:

    Victoria –

    The use of the phrase ‘at once the fig tree withered’ can imply that the process began immediately with Jesus’ assertion that “no longer shall there ever be any fruit from you”…

    Sorry, this just doesn’t strike me as “a reasonable inference to the best explanation”. This strikes me as ‘reaching really really hard to find some conceivable interpretation that avoids outright contradiction.’ Which is what I also see from defenders of the Quran.

    God offers the same evidence to everyone, in such a way that those who really want to be with Him and love Him will be drawn to it and see the Truth; those who hate Him and want nothing to do with Him will turn away from following the evidence.

    Yes, yes, you understand me as being biased and unwilling to agree to what you find so obvious. But even if you’re correct, how effective do you think an approach of leading with that will be?

    He offers the same grace to all, but not all will accept it – most seem to resist it.

    Well, okay, but I’m not asking for any more grace than Saul of Tarsus got.

  45. Victoria says:

    @Ryan
    Go to the apologetics315 web site that is linked under the Further Information page.
    You’ll find a lot of good information to start.
    The New Testament was written precisely to tell us about Jesus, His life, death and resurrection, and the spiritual implications of those events that took place in Judea of the 1st century. Read that first.
    As I said, if Jesus was really supernaturally resurrected from the dead, what are you going to make of that? That changes everything, because it means you have to accept or reject His claims about Who He is and what He expects of you.

    It’s not like you are on your own here. God doesn’t let you stumble around in the dark hoping that you’ll find the right door – it is the working of the Spirit of God in our hearts and minds and souls that points the way, but He fully expects us to listen and respond, step by step. If you are not going to listen and follow the light you have been given already, if you resist His grace through pride and unbelief, or like so many of us, are unwilling to give up the sin that separates us from God, then you won’t get very far. At some point, you will either say OK God, I’m ready to listen, or you will say, I will never listen.

    @Ray
    God will give you the grace that you need in order to respond to Him. You have no right to expect Him to give you what you demand, for He is sovereign and knows you better than you know yourself.
    Did it ever occur to you that you have already been given enough?
    We can only answer your objections, to show you that you are not on ground as solid as you seem to think it is. Basically we are putting you in the position of having no excuse (Romans 1:20 ) so that if you stand before God in an un-redeemed and un-repentant state, you will have no one to blame but yourself.
    Interestingly, the word translated ‘without excuse’ is Greek ‘anapologeia’, which is the negative of the word translated as ‘a defense'(apologeia) ( of the reason for the hope that is in you) in 1 Peter 3:15 – that Greek word was used to denote a ‘defense’ as in a courtroom, to answer the charges against a person. You will have no defense that will stand up in God’s court.

    We can’t do more than that. I will be glad to help you understand what Christianity is, if you are truly interested in knowing the reason (defense as the ESV puts it) for the hope that is in us.
    If God gives you the grace you need, what will you do with that?

  46. ryan says:

    Victoria,

    Do you think it’s possible, psychologically, to manufacture revelation? Like, one studies a subject so deeply and accepting that faith fills in the unknown of it?

    I’m just curious because some folks are simply sold on Islam. They were earnestly seeking God and they believe they have found Him, yet they are not Christian. What are your thoughts on someone that, with all earnest and willingness to follow God, they end up not being Christian?

  47. Victoria says:

    @ryan, Ray
    Yes, but Christianity is rooted in the events of history. I challenge you to consider the implications of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
    If it did in fact happen, what does that imply for you if you believe it? if you reject it?

    You guys keep asking us for historical documents, evidence, etc. We give you the same things that brought us to the point of committing our lives to Christ. What more can we give you?

  48. Victoria says:

    @Ray – two thoughts:
    Have you considered the possibility that there is spiritual deception going on behind the scenes, by a being who will go to any lengths to blind people to the truth about Jesus Christ? That there is a spiritual battle going on, and that only the Spirit of God Himself working in the lives of people can overcome that deception?

    I think if a person is truly seeking God, He will reveal Himself and the truth of Jesus Christ to the seeker. It is up to the seeker to accept or reject that truth.

    There is also the possibility that the seeker may not have been in a position to hear anything about Jesus at all, given his/her circumstances, yet earnestly want to worship God the Creator – the real, one God. Well, Paul spells out these things rather forcefully in the first 3 or 4 chapters of Romans. In John 10, Jesus talks about His sheep knowing His voice – I think He can call out to such people in a way that they can respond to the light that they do have, and discern truth from error; they may not be able to ‘place their faith and trust’ directly with Jesus, but they can believe God and get credit for that (just like Abraham did, for example). Jesus’ atoning sacrifice is of such worth and power that He can redeem anyone who wants to be redeemed

  49. Victoria says:

    @Ray
    The constraint in the above possibility is that God the Holy Spirit will never reveal any so-called truths that contradict the truth of Biblical Christianity to a person seeking Him. The Holy Spirit’s mandate is to testify to the truth about Jesus Christ.
    Any so-called truth that denies that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God Incarnate, resurrected from the dead, is not from the God of Biblical Christianity.

  50. ryan says:

    To answer your question about the resurrection. In my opinion,

    If PROVEN true: I would likely commit my life to knowing the God in the Bible due to overwhelming evidence.

    If PROVEN false : I would still seek God and Christianity would likely rearrange it’s stance on the whole idea of resurrection (like say it was not to be taken literal or something).

    But this is hypothetical, and proving it would have to take like a mass, objective, revelation from God. So, what’s the point of the exercise?

  51. Victoria says:

    @ryan
    Well, since God has already revealed Himself in time and space and real human history and He has taken the initiative to ensure that what He has to say was written down by the people He was interacting with, then you have the only revelation you are likely to get.
    If you are not going to follow the light that you have been given, then you are right – the exercise is pointless for you – you are wasting your time here

    IF the resurrection did not happen, then Christianity would be patently false – have you not read 1 Corinthians 15? The resurrection is the central claim of Christianity – we claim it did happen, and that the New Testament provides a reliable historical account of what happened.

  52. ryan says:

    Victoria,

    If we go solely by what others have written way back in time, there could be thousands of God stories. For some the light has been Islam. Others Christianity, etc… I guess I just don’t see the light as Christian.

    Yes, I’ve read that scripture. I still doubt people would just drop Christianity. What you personally do if it was proved false?

  53. Victoria says:

    @ryan
    I’ll explain this one more time.
    1. The New Testament was written for the specific purpose of recording the events that occurred in Judea circa 30-33 AD, and the subsequent growth of 1st century Christianity. It explains the spiritual significance of those events, what they mean and how a person should respond to this light. It was written by people who were in a position to know what happened. Furthermore, it was written by people who knew they were writing under the auspices of the very Spirit of God Himself.
    2. It was written for posterity, so that people in future generations could know what happened in real history – this is explicitly stated in various places in the NT. It was written with the expectation these records would be both necessary and sufficient for future generations to find the truth for themselves.
    3. Those of us who are Christians posting in here came to be Christians on the strength of those written documents AND the work of the Spirit of God in our lives, showing us the truth, pointing us to the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
    He works through His written word, other Christians, circumstances, and on occasion miraculous intervention. He is Sovereign and will choose the methods best suited to each individual at His discretion – you cannot demand that He do things your way or its the highway. He reveals more and more truth as we respond in faith and humility to what He has already revealed. If you want to see His power, look for changed hearts, changed lives, changed minds in the people who have become Christians. Humbly and sincerely ask Him to show you His truth in whatever manner He wishes and commit to responding to what He shows you.

  54. Victoria says:

    @ryan
    If it were false, I’d give up being a Christian altogther. What would be the point, as Paul says?
    You may have read that text, but clearly you don’t understand it.
    It is something like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade….remember the scene where Indy gets through the first two tests and is faced with that seemingly impossible leap to get across the chasm to the place where the grail is? He struggles with what to do next, but finally he takes that step of faith. Faith in what? He can’t see the bridge, but he knows there must be a way across – why? because they followed the clues, they reasoned out the answers that brought them this far. Each step was confirmed by the evidence. Now the last step is in front of him. He has been given all of the light he is going to get. At some point, you will have to take that step if you are going to know the Truth and meet the Person that is the Way, the Truth and the Life, the Light of the world, the sovereign King and Redeemer. All of us who are Christians did that (for me it was 35 years ago) – we all have received the very Spirit of God as confirmation of that truth and the seal that we have been adopted into God’s eternal family.

  55. ryan says:

    Victoria, one can understand another persons beliefs without agreeing or believing the same thing. But thanks for the short class.

  56. ryan says:

    I understand what is SAID in Corinthians.

    I was speculating what would happen IF it was proven false.

    “clearly you don’t understand it.” It’s funny because you are not the first on this site to tell me that after I decide to answer a hypothetical question or question that requires an opinion.

    When people don’t parrot your beliefs, it does not make them incompetent or unable to understand your position. If you are into apologetics, you might want to interact with more non-Christians.

  57. ryan says:

    Indiana Jones. Great movie. Well, until then, I will call ‘cut’ and continue to examine the evidence. It may have to wait for the sequel though, I’m still falling from the first leap of faith.

    Thanks for your time.

  58. Melissa says:

    Ryan,

    If PROVEN false : I would still seek God and Christianity would likely rearrange it’s stance on the whole idea of resurrection (like say it was not to be taken literal or something).

    I guess what our question is, is in what way could you say Christianity is true if the central claim of Christianity is false. I think that’s what Victoria feels you don’t understand – the impossibility of rearranging Christianity to remove the resurrection of Jesus.

  59. Victoria says:

    @Melissa
    Exactly…thank you sis :)
    How are you these days?

  60. Victoria says:

    @Ray

    Victoria –

    The use of the phrase ‘at once the fig tree withered’ can imply that the process began immediately with Jesus’ assertion that “no longer shall there ever be any fruit from you”…

    Sorry, this just doesn’t strike me as “a reasonable inference to the best explanation”. This strikes me as ‘reaching really really hard to find some conceivable interpretation that avoids outright contradiction.’

    I might be inclined to agree with you if it were not for:
    1. As I mentioned, Matthew arranges his materials by topic, and will telescope or compress event sequences that are spelled out in the other Synoptics if it suits his narrative. This is not the only place in his Gospel where we can see that he has done this.
    – quick ref – do a side-by-side comparison of Jesus’ trial as related in the Synoptics and John; also look at the healing of Jarius’ daughter: Matthew 9:18-26 and Mark 5:21-43.
    2. If you look at Matthew’s accounts of Jesus’ miracles, especially Matthew 8:5-12, you will see many of them give the same impression – Jesus commands or acts, and it happens – a fait accompli. So Matthew is consistent with his presentation in the cursing of the fig tree.
    3. Matthew’s overarching theme is that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah, promised King of Israel – the King of the Jews prophesied in the Jewish Scriptures. Many of those prophesies point to the King as being The King, God Himself. It is consistent of Matthew to relate Jesus’ actions and commands as those of The King – He commands and it happens, no question, because of His authority.

    Sure, it’s a plausibility argument and an interpretation, one that I hold tentatively – unless someone can give me a good reason to think otherwise, it is a perfectly valid interpretative principle to assume that the Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself (but He sure enjoys puzzles, it seems. And why not, because it motivates us to dig deeper into His Word, to think deeply about it.) An attempted solution of this particular puzzle is intellectually satisfying, but more than that, it has deepened my appreciation for God’s Word and my understanding of the Lord Jesus and His ministry.

  61. SteveK says:

    For all,
    Here’s an atheist blogger/author’s journey that resulted in faith – told in the form of a TV show. I think believer and unbeliever alike will enjoy it. Pretty cool they made Jennifer the star of her own reality show!

  62. Victoria says:

    @SteveK
    There is the power of the Holy Spirit in action – changing hearts and minds and lives. Ray and Ryan, you keep asking for God to make Himself known, to become observable – well here He is.

    Like quarks in modern particle physics, we never see them directly, but we can infer their existence by their effects.

  63. Victoria says:

    @ryan
    I was a university level professor, teaching physics and computer science for a number of years – evaluating whether or not someone understands a concept and telling him if he missed the point is a part of teaching – old habit :)

  64. JAD says:

    Ray @ #40

    JAD: ‘I was asking you ‘whether it is RATIONAL to believe that the universe had a beginning or had a cause.‘

    Ray: Given the evidence we have, I don’t see a basis for a firm conclusion on that score (yet). I can certainly grant that people can have favored hypotheses and hunches, but that’s not the same thing as rational certainty.

    Why are you having so much difficulty with my question? It’s a very simple question which applies to non-theists as well as theists. Apparently in your mind, rationality equals rational certainty.

    I would argue that the only thing that is required for something to be rational is that it be a logical possibility. For example, there is nothing logically impossible about the existence of an extraterrestrial intelligence somewhere else in the universe. Yet, at the present there is no evidence of ET’s. The same thing can be said about the so called science of astrobiology, which is attempting to discover evidence of any kind of life– even very simple forms of life– else where is our solar system or the universe.

    NASA, with taxpayers money, at one time supported SETI. It continues to support astrobiology.

    You wrote: “What if the evidence isn’t conclusive? Then having a gut feeling, or even being willing to bet on an answer, can be perfectly rational. But professing certainty based on inconclusive evidence is another kind of irrationality.”

    So according to your standard people who like Seth Shostak, Frank Drake and Carl Sagan who believe (or believed) very strongly that intelligent life “almost certainly” exists somewhere else in the universe are irrational. Or, is it just religious people who are irrational?

    Do I believe that all atheists are irrational? No I think it’s wrong to make those kinds of sweeping generalizations.

  65. Melissa says:

    Hi Ray,

    Thanks, for sharing your story. I was just wondering if your wife was Christian when you married her and whether that was before or after you stopped thinking the religious were partly insane. Due you think your change in perspective on this point was due mainly to your interaction with the religious or some other reason?

  66. ryan says:

    Melissa and Victoria,

    Got it. The question was worded in a ‘what would you do personally’ way. If I go with the new wording of the question, its clear you want me to regurgitate 1 Corinthians 15:14-19. We would be in the same boat going in circles if I gave another answer, so I’m leaving it alone.

    @Victoria, well, I’m just an average heathen, so take it easy on me :) I’m commenting between developing mind numbing SQL statements, my logic faculty is burned out by the time I comment I guess :)

  67. Ray Ingles says:

    JAD –

    Why are you having so much difficulty with my question?

    I think it’s more that I’m having trouble conveying my answer to you.

    I would argue that the only thing that is required for something to be rational is that it be a logical possibility.

    Then it’s a rational possibility, yes. To believe it’s actual is a further step, though. For example…

    NASA, with taxpayers money, at one time supported SETI. It continues to support astrobiology.

    Yup. They are investigating a rational possibility. Many people at NASA probably have a gut feeling that it’s very very likely that there’s life outside the solar system. Some of them may be willing to bet their careers on it.

    But – and here’s the distinction I’m trying to make for you – do you think anyone at NASA thinks the possibility has been confirmed? That they know there’s life out there instead of just strongly suspecting it? Do you think anyone at NASA – or even Sagan or Drake – would claim certainty?

    In other words, I make a distinction between what’s suspected – even very strongly – and what’s demonstrated. To confuse the one for the other is what’s irrational.

  68. Victoria says:

    @ryan
    No, I don’t want you to regurgitate the text – I already know what it says and what it means. The question is do you understand what it means? I also asked you to consider the implications of what Paul goes on to say in the very next verse 1 Corinthians 15:20, namely

    But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

    Paul emphatically says that the premise of his hypothetical ‘if Christ was not raised…’ argument is utterly false – He has in fact been raised from the dead – how does he know? – well, the opening verses of the chapter 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. Like Paul, I challenge you to consider the implications of this historical event.
    1. Jesus was supernaturally resurrected from the dead. Who is He then?
    2. How does this affect what He said about Himself, as recorded in the Gospels? Especially John’s Gospel, where every single one of His ‘I AM’ passages is a claim to be Yahweh, the eternal, self-existent Lord of all Creation, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
    3. Look at what conclusions the apostles drew from His resurrection – look at the letters they wrote and what they said about it – what are their conclusions, and what do they say it implies for their readers?
    4. What are the world-view implications? What does this mean for all other belief systems?
    5. What are the implications for you and your life, if you accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour? if you reject Him and His offer of salvation?
    6. Now you are in a position to ask the historical questions. Why are we Christians so adamant and confident that we have a reliable set of New Testament documents that are primary source documents for the events that took place in 1st century Judea? Look at the Christian scholarly arguments and our answers to the objections of the skeptics (you can start at http://www.apologetics315.com).

  69. Ray Ingles says:

    Victoria –

    If you look at Matthew’s accounts of Jesus’ miracles, especially Matthew 8:5-12, you will see many of them give the same impression – Jesus commands or acts, and it happens – a fait accompli. So Matthew is consistent with his presentation in the cursing of the fig tree.

    Which is also consistent with the idea of the miracle stories being exaggerated over time. We see it with lots of other religions, too.

    You have no right to expect Him to give you what you demand, for He is sovereign and knows you better than you know yourself.

    Thanks for classifying it as a ‘demand’. No biased language there. :-)

    The thing is, I do know what it’s like to be pursued.

    At the very first, it was my wife who pursued me. She met me at a party, sent me emails, etc. Before long, we were dating, and as I realized how great she was, who was pursuing who changed decisively.

    Of course, I knew that she existed – I’d, like, met her and all before I got any emails. Spam messages frequently claim to be women seeking men for a relationship (three this week in my spam folder) but I have no reason to believe that they are real people.

    I don’t see why an introduction would be out of line, would impact my free will, or would degrade God’s sovereignty.

    (I also, BTW, don’t grasp the whole “sovereignty” thing – it just seems to boil down to the ultimate case of ‘might makes right’. But that’s a separate topic.)

  70. Ray Ingles says:

    Melissa – My wife was Christian when we met, shortly after I graduated from college and started my first job. We were married in the Catholic church.

    I’d gotten past the ‘insane’ bit in college, just meeting more people and learning about human irrationality in general.

  71. Victoria says:

    @Ray
    Hebrews 1:1-3 – God has already introduced Himself, in the Person of Jesus Christ a real, historical person who lived, was crucified and resurrected from the dead.
    I suggest that you do what I told ryan to do in my last post to him.

    Start with what you have been given already. To carry on the Indiana Jones metaphor, you are expecting God to give you what you need to take that “leap from the lion’s head” across the chasm, but you are still in Venice, stumbling around looking for Sir Richard’s tomb. Start with what you know now and follow the evidence where it leads. Do this with an open heart, an open mind, humbly, for God is first and foremost El Elyon, “God Most High”, King of all Creation.

    Reading your responses, I seem to come away with the impression that you are not here to learn about what Christians believe, why we believe it and how we came to that belief, let alone embrace that belief for yourself. You seem to be more intent on justifying your unbelief.

    On a side note, your assertion that Christ’s miracles as reported in the Gospels have been exaggerated is just nonsense – you hold that opinion even though the textual and manuscript evidence in fact shows that this is not the case – who is being stubborn and irrational? What other religions do is irrelevant here – the only question is whether or not the NT manuscript evidence supports your conclusion or not. You seem to just ignore the work of NT scholars and historians completely – rather than saying ‘I didn’t know that – perhaps my conclusions were wrong’, you just continue on as though you know better than what almost 20 centuries of Christian scholarship has produced.

    I’m not going to play that game with you any longer. I have answered your objections, pointed you to resources that you can examine for yourself, given you a set of questions that you should examine and answer – now go and do your homework, and come back when you finish it. I’ll be happy to answer any followup questions you have.

  72. Ray Ingles says:

    Victoria –

    You seem to be more intent on justifying your unbelief.

    I, er, rather thought that on this particular thread, the whole point was for me to explain what I believe and why…

  73. Victoria says:

    @Ray
    It is, but now we are looking what you believe or don’t believe – we are addressing the reasons for your position – in any case, you were the one who made unsubstantiated assertions about the canonical, historic Biblical documents. You were the one who opened the door by telling us what you expect your idea of who God is to do for you before you would give Him the time of day.

    What you believe is based on faulty assumptions and information about historic Biblical Christianity – we’d like to correct that. You are justifying your unbelief on the basis of ignorance and lack of understanding – how rational is that?

    BTW, I think you may have had in mind the non-canonical gospels written in the late 2nd and into the 3rd centuries (like the Gnostic Gospels) when you brought up the exaggerated miracle stories. There is a reason that historic Biblical Christianity considers these writings as non-canonical, non-authoritative and fundamentally anti-Christian – precisely because they portray a Jesus who is completely different from the 1st century documents, written by people who knew Jesus personally or who had access to the earliest eyewitnesses and/or their accounts. Even if Matthew’s account of the fig tree is an exaggeration when compared to Mark’s, it is an absolutely trivial one when you look at what those other gospels contain. There is no such tendency in the canonical gospels of our New Testament. When we talk about the historical documents on which historic Biblical Christianity and Christian theology are based, we mean very specifically the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments as we have them today. You should understand that before you go around making the assertions that you have made.

    Christian Truth is very near and dear to me – it has shaped my adult life for 35 years, through many struggles, battles, victories and defeats. When I see someone treating it shabbily, even in ignorance, I won’t hesitate to rise to the occasion :)

  74. Victoria says:

    @ryan

    @Victoria, well, I’m just an average heathen, so take it easy on me I’m commenting between developing mind numbing SQL statements, my logic faculty is burned out by the time I comment I guess

    Can’t be any worse than writing an entire image viewer and rendering engine in Javascript :)

  75. Melissa says:

    Ryan,

    Got it. The question was worded in a ‘what would you do personally’ way. If I go with the new wording of the question, its clear you want me to regurgitate 1 Corinthians 15:14-19.

    No you haven’t “got it”. In your response you also weighed in with what you thought the effect on Christianity would be if the resurrection was proven false. I’d like to know how you justify that statement given the centrality of the resurrection.

  76. ryan says:

    @Melissa,

    Ok. Here we go again.

    The scripture claims that Christ has risen from the dead, therefore validating Christianity as true.

    Then, Paul says that if He has not risen, then faith is in vain. Christianity falls flat.

    The resurrection is the MOST crucial piece of evidence. Because without it, Christians will have no more reason to follow the God of the Bible…right?

    If we were computer programs, there might be a statement like this in our logic:

    If(ChristResurrection == true)
    {
    then continueToPreach;
    }else
    {
    shutdownChristiany;

    }

    Now do I ‘got it’?

    The problem is, we are not robots. I came to the conclusion that Christianity would drive on because that’s what it does. Religion evolves, reexamines and reinterprets scripture in light of social changes and in the light of other evidences. Religious scripture is written in a dynamic way. People would not just up and walk away from Christianity…especially if careers are involved. There will be justifications.

    We are not robots. We have feelings, perceptions, judgements, emotions, imaginations, hopes, dreams, FAITH, and these faculties will not allow us to drop the search for God (some would say they are the faculties that created god). And in fact, I hold the belief that even if there is no God, we are wired in such a way that the pursuit of God and faith in a God in and of itself is healthy and helps the average person live a nice life. So, in light of that, the grip on the Christian God would not be given up so lightly.

  77. ryan says:

    @Victoria, in Javascript? aww man. I feel for you :(

  78. Melissa says:

    Ryan,

    The problem is, we are not robots. I came to the conclusion that Christianity would drive on because that’s what it does. Religion evolves, reexamines and reinterprets scripture in light of social changes and in the light of other evidences. Religious scripture is written in a dynamic way. People would not just up and walk away from Christianity…especially if careers are involved. There will be justifications

    Firstly why do you say Christianity drives on when its’ central claims are shown to be false. Secondly even if some people redefined Christianity to exclude the resurrection that just brings us back to the discussion in the other thread about words meaning something.

  79. Victoria says:

    @ryan
    Yeah – testing is a pain.

    The one problem with your response to Melissa is this:
    If Christ’s resurrection never really happened in the first place, Christianity would have been stillborn – it would have never gotten started.
    The tomb was empty, the body was gone.
    The Jewish authorities would have stopped at nothing to squelch this upstart preaching and they did everything they could except producing Jesus’ corpse – that would have killed it right there. They took great pains to ensure that the apostles could not steal the body from the tomb, and the idea that the apostles could have done so and then convinced people, especially Saul of Tarsus, that Jesus was resurrected is beyond imagination. Jesus was dead – the Roman executioners made certain of that. The idea that He could have resuscitated, rolled away a ginormous stone, snuck past or overpowered the guards and convinced his disciples that He had conquered death is equally ludicrous.

    I’m still waiting for your response to my challenge to consider the implications of Christ’s resurrection as having actually happened

  80. ryan says:

    Firstly why do you say Christianity drives on when its’ central claims are shown to be false.

    You quoted my answer, why are you asking again?

    Secondly, I stand by my answer. Christianity would perpetuate. Let’s go this route: “He wasn’t physically resurrected, the Bible meant that His spirit was resurrected. He still died for our sins.”

  81. Victoria says:

    @Ryan
    A spiritual resurrection is NOT what historic Christianity affirms, and NOT what the NT documents assert – John 20, for example, makes it clear that Jesus’ resurrection body had a physical presence.
    Sheesh, you’ve been taken in by an ancient Gnostic heresy, recently made popular by the so-called Jesus Tomb Discovery, which the majority of NT historians, scholars and archaeologists have panned.

  82. ryan says:

    Victoria,

    So you don’t think there is ANY possibility that it was a fictitious event?

    Why are you still waiting? This is from yesterday:

    “If PROVEN true: I would likely commit my life to knowing the God in the Bible due to overwhelming evidence.”

  83. ryan says:

    “Sheesh, you’ve been taken in by an ancient Gnostic heresy, recently made popular by the so-called Jesus Tomb Discovery, which the majority of NT historians, scholars and archaeologists have panned.”

    I’ve never heard or read about these folks, sorry.

    The physical presence could be translated at a strong feeling of the Holy Spirit by his closest followers. (I don’t believe this, I am just pointing out that I really don’t think people would drop Christianity)

  84. Victoria says:

    @ryan

    The physical presence could be translated at a strong feeling of the Holy Spirit by his closest followers.

    No it could not be – the post-resurrection encounters with the risen Jesus and those who interacted with Him make it emphatically clear that He had an actual physical body. The gospel writers make this absolutely clear – there is no room for any such absurd translation, and no NT scholar/translator would *ever* make such a claim.

    No I would stake my life and eternal destiny on the fact of the bodily, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, confirming Him as the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, my rightful King and Redeemer. I stake my life and eternal destiny on the fact that having believed in Him, I have been redeemed and sealed with the very Spirit of God within me, of having been adopted into God’s eternal family, so that He is Abba Adonai , and not some remote deity.

    Why I am still waiting? because you have not answered any of my specific questions that I posed to you in my challenge. What is the overwhelming evidence that you speak of, for instance?

  85. Melissa says:

    I’d gotten past the ‘insane’ bit in college, just meeting more people and learning about human irrationality in general.

    I know what you mean. I thought all Christians were weird and maybe a bit crazy until I met some real Christians in the flesh.

  86. ryan says:

    Post resurrection fallacy Christian could say:
    Victoria, you are wrong. I pray that the God of the Bible will reveal himself to you.

    Why I am still waiting? because you have not answered any of my specific questions that I posed to you in my challenge. What is the overwhelming evidence that you speak of, for instance?”

    Seriously? I’m having deja vu. It’s not that I’m avoiding the conversation of evidence with you, it’s just that me and Rodriguez has a similar conversation that I hoped would have went better.

    At any rate, we are at an impasse and in the spirit of Victoria, I have given you what I can and answered your questions to the best of my current knowledge. What more can I give?

    I’m still soaking up what Rodriguez noted about this subject (evidence, proof, reality of God). I risk entrenching myself in a view that is currently under construction.

    Hope you can accept that :)

  87. Melissa says:

    Ryan,

    You quoted my answer, why are you asking again?

    Because your answer doesn’t answer my question. Your claim was that Christianity drives on when one of it’s central claims is shown to be false. Religion evolves is not an answer. Christianity originated within the Jewish worldview but they are two distinct entities. If the resurrection was shown to be false what you would have is something different to Christianity (whether they still claim the name Christian or not).

  88. ryan says:

    @Melissa,

    Post resurrection fallacy Christian could say:
    1 Corinthians 15 doesn’t doesn’t specifically say physical body. One could claim it was referring to a spirit and keep Christianity in tact.

    Prove conclusively that Jesus Christ’s spirit was not resurrected, providing atonement for man’s sins.

    Ryan says: There seems to be a way around a lot of things in the Bible depending on how you present it. Let’s go back to the issue of Hell. There are plenty of scriptures where one could swear there is a literal burning lake of fire. Then the Pope comes out and says its not to be taken literal.

    The same could be done with the resurrection. Christianity would stay in tact.

  89. ordinaryseeker says:

    So much for mutual understanding. Different OP, same old arguments.

  90. ordinaryseeker says:

    So much for mutual understanding. Different OP, same old arguments.

  91. Melissa says:

    Ryan,

    Post resurrection fallacy Christian could say:
    1 Corinthians 15 doesn’t doesn’t specifically say physical body. One could claim it was referring to a spirit and keep Christianity in tact.

    Bodily resurrection is a central claim if Christianity so how can you claim that Christianity remains intact?

    Prove conclusively that Jesus Christ’s spirit was not resurrected, providing atonement for man’s sins.

    As already pointed out we can’t actually prove anything conclusively so that is a non-starter.

    Ryan says: There seems to be a way around a lot of things in the Bible depending on how you present it. Let’s go back to the issue of Hell. There are plenty of scriptures where one could swear there is a literal burning lake of fire. Then the Pope comes out and says its not to be taken literal.

    Surely you’re not claiming that hell as a literal burning lake of fire was ever one of the central defining claims of Christianity, that historically the only orthodox view of hell was as a literal burning lake of fire.

  92. Victoria says:

    @ryan
    yes you are right – we have reached an impasse here – nothing further can be discussed, unless you are willing to listen and learn how proper Biblical exegesis and hermeneutics works (You are taking the Pope’s statement out of context, methinks).

    Good luck with your search, and Merry Christmas :)

  93. ryan says:

    @Victoria,

    Aww man. An agreement with a caveat!

    Anyways, I am learning and I did submit that to you and others. I try not to be unreasonable or ‘intellectually dishonest’ as you scholars would say.

    Understanding does go both ways as well. Just throwing that out there.

    Merry Christmas :)

  94. ryan says:

    Victoria,

    Dang it, I can’t help it! Here’s a quote from the Pope in 1999.

    “The only thing I could say for sure is that hell means separation from God. We are separated from his light, from his fellowship. That is going to be hell. When it comes to a literal fire, I don’t preach it because I’m not sure about it. When the Scripture uses fire concerning hell, that is possibly an illustration of how terrible it’s going to be-not fire but something worse, a thirst for God that cannot be quenched. (Time magazine, 1 1-1 5-93)”

    I guess he just says he doesn’t know. Could be figurative. Could be literal.

  95. Victoria says:

    @ryan
    You missed the Pope’s point – there is a Hell – a place or a state of eternal separation from God, a place that will be so terrible to experience that only such vivid imagery can express in human language that which is unspeakable.

    The Bible’s teaching on the reality of Hell is very clear and emphatic.
    You can find a very concise study of it here…http://bible.org/topics/403/Hell
    The one entitled ‘A Hell to Shun’ is very informative.

    The Pope was NOT saying that the existence of Hell could be figurative, only that the imagery used to describe it could be metaphorical imagery.

    Let me ask you this – when you put out your speculative ideas about what the Bible says, are you doing so out of your own imagination, or are you basing them on a careful study of the original Greek (or Hebrew) text, the historical/cultural environment of the authors, in the immediate context of the passage, in its larger context and in the full context of what the rest of Scripture has to say about it? Have you consulted with the writings of other Biblical scholars, commentaries, lexicons, expository dictionaries, etc?
    Do you know how 1st century Jews, steeped in 2nd Temple Judaism, thought about the concept of resurrection from the dead? In suggesting that Paul might not have meant a physical resurrection, have you done this sort of analysis? If you have, I’d love to see it. Just as importantly, have you sat down to read and study the text, praying for the Holy Spirit’s teaching and guidance?

    Unfortunately, this is the typical sort of things we see from skeptics and unbelievers who post in here, so you should not be surprised when you try this sort of thing, the swords come out.

  96. ryan says:

    I didn’t miss the Pope’s point. On the contrary, I think he helps prove my point. For hundreds of years, Hell was taught as a literal lake of fire. In the face of a society that increasingly did not accept that idea, the Pope was willing to back off and say that he doesn’t know, could be figurative, could be literal.

    So, with that said, I was bringing up the point about how interpretation of scripture can change. In the specific case of the Corinthians scripture, even if the physical resurrection of Christ if proved false, Christianity could stay in tact by claiming a spiritual resurrection. Interpretation of scripture by spiritual leaders is doctrine, is it not?

    “Let me ask you this – when you put out your speculative ideas about what the Bible says, are you doing so out of your own imagination”

    No. I am going by hardcore biblical studies from age 7 to 16. Further independant study after being “saved” from ages 20 to 30. A bachelors in religious studies from Liberty. Hands on study of Islam from living with Muslim interpreters in a tent for 10 months in Afghanistan. And all throughout, actually connecting to real people about a plethora of beliefs. So a good mix of traditional study, indoctrination, and real world experience. Still studying today. I’m not going willy nilly here.

    “In suggesting that Paul might not have meant a physical resurrection, have you done this sort of analysis?”

    Yes. That sort of belief can be justified. And honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the church changed its tune if the physical resurrection was proved false.

    ” Just as importantly, have you sat down to read and study the text, praying for the Holy Spirit’s teaching and guidance?”

    If had one penny for every tear shed crying out to the God of bible to be their after I thought He told me to marry my wife after getting pregnant from an affair (Hosea anyone?), raising that child, taking on 3 more not my own, sacrificing myself in the name of solid doctrine, doing things by the numbers, by the teaching, with a deep love I never even knew I posessed, asking for guidance thinking the God of the Bible was leading…I would be rich!

    However, in my experience, the prayers and the tears have fallen flat. Those around me have suffered in the wake of “religion” as well. Only when I left the “reasonable” and “logical” teaching of the Bible did my heart beat again for a God.

    So, you’re in technology I gather. Have you noticed that regardless of how much software is tested, logically laid out, planned, that when deployed, the most amazing thing happens. It breaks. So goes my experience with Christianity.

    And this is not a sword. So, I hope you don’t see my words as sharp. Just me.

  97. Victoria says:

    @ryan
    Then you have misrepresented yourself to us by omitting your background, then.

  98. ryan says:

    So now that I have bared my Biblical and spiritual ‘resume’ my statements are…justified? Understandable? Even more silly? Tolerant?

    I don’t get how I misrepresented myself. I continually expressed that I understood your beliefs and I honestly didn’t think my comments needed a personal story behind them.

    Besides…you never asked about me. You just kept assuming I was blind to your presentation of Christ.

    Are the Christians on this site only willing to understand other points of view if they are %100 sure that a commenter understands the Christian perspective first (or is converted it would seem so far)?

    I know Ray’s story has already been hijacked, but early on folks were pointing out how his beliefs fly in the face of Christianity or how he probably doesn’t understand the Christian perspective. Its likely you’re not going to force a conversion on a blog post, so may as well see what makes folks like Ray tick before sending in the cavalry.

  99. d says:

    Ryan wrote:

    So, with that said, I was bringing up the point about how interpretation of scripture can change. In the specific case of the Corinthians scripture, even if the physical resurrection of Christ if proved false, Christianity could stay in tact by claiming…

    … I can hear them now, the words…

    “progressive revelation”.

  100. Melissa says:

    Hey Ryan,

    Not to nitpick or anything but I think the quote you gave above is from Billy Graham not the Pope. Not that that has any bearing on your overall argument but it gives people an excuse to dismiss your argument without engaging it if they are inclined that way.

  101. Victoria says:

    @ryan
    No, despite your background, you are still way out in left field, having departed from the historic Biblical core Christianity.
    You are wrong about the resurrection, you are wrong about Hell, and goodness knows what else.

    You specifically claimed to be an average heathen, which you are clearly not. Had you been up front and truthful with us about your past, we could have had a much more fruitful discussion, as at least I would have known I was either dealing with a complete apostate or a fellow believer who had lost his way, whatever the case may be. We could have discussed Scripture as two people who understood each other’s position and background on it. That is what Tom meant by treating each other as human beings – surely that must mean honesty in representing ourselves.
    Sure, I did not ask specifically for your background, but you had plenty of opportunity to inform us when we challenged your speculative ideas.

    Now that you have admitted that you have lied to us (a lie of omission, a lie of misdirection), I don’t know what to think about anything you say – do I believe anything you say from now on?

    It has nothing to do with whether or not a person fully understands Christianity or not, but whether or not that person is intellectually honest enough, and humble enough, to admit that they don’t understand it when clearly they do not. We’ve had dozens of atheists come in here trying to tell us what Christianity is, and when we have to correct their misunderstandings, they just ignore that.
    I have not seen many cases (maybe 1 person) where an atheist/skeptic has said, “Oh, well I didn’t know that. I guess I was wrong about that”.

    We are here to teach and educate as well as listen and learn – are you?

  102. Victoria says:

    @d
    Hey, you :) How have you been? It’s been a while since we crossed paths here. I hope all is well with you.

    On ‘progressive revelation’ – please explain why you think that applies to this discussion in general, and particularly about the resurrection and its interpretation.

  103. Ray Ingles says:

    Doesn’t the Gnostic heresy show that people could go on worshipping Jesus as ‘spiritually resurrected’, though? That’s exactly what the Gnostics did.

    People are very good at rationalization. Look at all the doomsday cults that don’t disband when the predicted ‘day of reckoning’ comes… and goes, without incident. Somehow, it always turns out that there was just a math error or a mistaken interpretation, but ‘this time we’ve got it right!’

    Which, actually, brings us to Victoria et. al. I know you regard me as stubbornly ignoring evidence that seems obvious to you. But why can’t I say that, since you really want Christianity to be true, you’re willing to credit evidence with more that it can support?

    For an example, see Orson Scott Card justifying his Mormonism with a long and detailed argument about the style of the Book of Mormon.

    The noted Christian apologist C.S. Lewis coined a term for this kind of argument: Bulverism. As he put it, “You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong… Suppose I think, after doing my accounts, that I have a large balance at the bank. And suppose you want to find out whether this belief of mine is ‘wishful thinking.’ You can never come to any conclusion by examining my psychological condition. Your only chance of finding out is to sit down and work through the sum yourself… If you find my arithmetic correct, then no amount of vapouring about my psychological condition can be anything but a waste of time. If you find my arithmetic wrong, then it may be relevant to explain psychologically how I came to be so bad at my arithmetic…”

    So, for the moment, I’m going to keep thinking I’m a better judge of my own motivations than others here. And I’ll try to stick to argument rather than impugning the motivations of others.

  104. ryan says:

    Victoria,

    Riiiiiiiiiight. Excellent execution of character attack. That must be one of the swords you were referring to.

    “We are here to teach and educate as well as listen and learn – are you?”

    And yes, I am. I have submitted that many times, backed of and apologized for inaccurate assumptions or misquoting people.

    The real question is – ARE YOU HERE TO LISTEN AND LEARN? But, I guess you are always right so you you don’t have to worry about that.

    You seem more like a preacher than an apologist. If you don’t like swimming through other worldviews, maybe you should find a nice cozy church where everyone quietly nods their heads in agreement to whatever you say.

  105. JAD says:

    @ Ray (response to comment #68)

    Okay then, let’s try to clarify your position some more.

    In a debate last year (March 30, 2011) with W.L. Craig, Physics professor Lawrence Krauss made this claim:

    The origin of the universe: … there’s more than good evidence for a Big Bang, we know a Big Bang happened. The Big Bang is a fact. It happened 13.72 billion years ago, and the fact that we can say so to four decimal places is one of the most remarkable feats of modern science that we should all herald and exalt as an example of how remarkable it is to be a human being that can think.

    Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-craig-krauss-debate-at-north-carolina-state-university#ixzz2FbVxBSnK (Krauss make this argument near the close of his opening speech.)

    Of course Krauss then goes on to appeal to a multiverse, which at the present is no more provable than the existence of an eternally existing (or self existing) transcendent Mind (God). However, if we’re talking about this universe, then Krauss is not only arguing that it had a beginning, but he’s certain that it did.

    So then according to your standard (“What if the evidence isn’t conclusive? Then having a gut feeling, or even being willing to bet on an answer, can be perfectly rational. But professing certainty based on inconclusive evidence is another kind of irrationality.”)
    Krauss who is a tenured professor of physics at the University of Arizona is making an irrational claim. Because in your expert opinion, as a physicist, you believe that that it is inconclusive that the universe had a beginning. Am I correct?

  106. Victoria says:

    @Ray
    Oh, you can say that, but you should be prepared to demonstrate that the evidence on which I base my confidence is lacking.
    I asked you to do that early on, but you declined, saying you did not want to ‘prove a negative’. You offered no reasoned arguments for your beliefs nor any reasoned arguments against mine.
    I tried to explain the basis for what Christians believe, and how we got there.

    I read your story, appreciated it because it paralleled mine, explained how our stories diverged. I commented that you left out some important details about the basis for your beliefs – you told us what you believe – I wanted to know more about why – you gave a partial answer, and I responded with the historic Biblical Christian perspective, hoping at least that you might see that your basis was not as solid as you thought it was.

    The fact is, I did NOT want Christianity to be true before I became a Christian – now that I am one, I am convinced that it is the truth, and I can support the reasonableness of that with both objective evidence that is there for all to see as well as my own personal experience of the Holy Spirit – something that all Christians have in common.
    I’m asking you to do the same. If I see you being critical of the Christian position, I will defend that position, as I expect you to do with yours.

    Fair enough?

  107. Victoria says:

    @ryan
    Yeah, I know I can get preachy :)
    However, I am defending the historical Biblical Christian position – how can I do that if I’m not allowed to state what that position is and why?

    If I am wrong about that position, and you can show me how I’m wrong with sound Biblical arguments, then by all means do so – we can then discuss that on a level playing field.

    If I think you are wrong, I will say so, and why, and I’ll try to support that position.

    Fair enough?

  108. Ray Ingles says:

    JAD – On what basis do you conclude that the “Big Bang” was the beginning of everything? Or even the beginning of the mass-energy we can see?

    We’ve never seen mass-energy be created or destroyed, and not for lack of looking. It meets every criteria we can come up with for something eternal. So, why do you assume it didn’t exist in some form before the Big Bang? (Well, technically, before a few femtoseconds after the Big Bang.)

    What justifies that conclusion? Why do you decide, “We can’t currently extrapolate back any further than that, therefore that’s the beginning”?

  109. Victoria says:

    @Ray. re #109
    including the entropy issue?

  110. ryan says:

    Victoria,

    “If I am wrong about that position, and you can show me how I’m wrong with sound Biblical arguments, then by all means do so – we can then discuss that on a level playing field.”

    Are Biblical arguments the only ones that you will accept as valid?

  111. Victoria says:

    @ryan
    Biblical, historical, additional scholarly input, whatever. As long as it is relevant and applicable to the discussion.

    If it is a matter of Biblical interpretation, then of course the primary arguments should be Biblically-based, supplemented by relevant cultural and historical data, church history, etc.
    Scholarly input should come from the works of professional scholars and historians who have recognized expertise in the relevant areas.

  112. ryan says:

    Do you really feel that you were not being allowed to state your position and reasons behind?

  113. Victoria says:

    @ryan
    Being able to do that is the point of being in here. I expect to do it, I will do it whether you like it or not, and I expect that you will do the same. I expect you to set forth your case with reasoned arguments, facts, evidence, etc and not just throw out statements with no substantiating or supporting arguments.
    I expect that we should both be able to do so without whining, even if at times it might get a bit heated.

  114. Melissa says:

    Ray,

    Doesn’t the Gnostic heresy show that people could go on worshipping Jesus as ‘spiritually resurrected’, though? That’s exactly what the Gnostics did.

    That’s correct. Some may continue to worship Jesus but they would not be Christian.

    On a side note (or back to the OP) II read your statement that you find religious belief irrational as a statement of the obvious – because any belief you considered rational you would believe. Would this be correct or are you arguing for something stronger that applies specifically to religious belief?

  115. Tom Gilson says:

    Ryan @#105: If character attack is your concern, then you’ve just presented us with a nice case of self-referential irony.

    Victoria pointed out what you had done, and raised a question about what that action might imply. Your response was sarcastic and dismissive. And not very impressive.

  116. ryan says:

    @Tom,
    As I recall, I backed away from that argument. After a scathing reproach from Rodriguez, he made some great points about my negative behavior. I said he was right. So, I apologize Rodriguez for misunderstanding your tone and accusing you of being sarcastic.

    I’m just going to apologize for @105. Victoria, do you accept my apology for being sarcastic and dismissive?

    Victoria, I felt like in @102, you simply dismissed my point of view and went directly to a generally condescending attitude and calling me a liar in many creative ways.

  117. Victoria says:

    @ryan
    Apology accepted :)
    And if you’ll forgive me for being too quick to dismiss rather than asking additional questions to clarify your responses and make sure I understand you correctly, then I hope we can continue on to more fruitful discussions.

  118. ryan says:

    Victoria, forgiven :)

  119. JAD says:

    Ray,

    My question to you (@ #106) was about Krauss’ position. Why are you making presumptions about my position, which I have yet to describe?

    My point about Krauss is that he is certain that the Big Bang occurred. Do you believe (with certainty) that the Big Bang has occurred or is Krauss, according to your standards, being irrational?

  120. Tom Gilson says:

    We’ve been exchanging comments with Ray for a week now, and I’m wondering what you think of this as an experiment in pushing past the nameless Internet anonymity that plagues so much of these discussions. Ray, do you think we know you any better? Others, do you have more of a sense of who Ray is?

    I feel like an enounter group facilitator asking those questions, but so be it. I’m still on my possibly-naive trail of trying to make our back-and-forth blogging more human.

    I’ve received a couple other atheist introductions like Ray’s. I’m going to hold off until after Christmas to post them, just because this is a hard time to keep up with all the conversation.

    In the meantime, thanks, Ray. I’ll be interested to hear what you have to say about this. If you have any thoughts from your side of this conversation on how better to humanize a blog, I’d be happy to hear them.

  121. […] that it would help us see one another as human beings, and treat each other that way. Ray Ingles took the opportunity first, and I just left a comment there wondering how it went from his […]

  122. Ray Ingles says:

    JAD –

    Why are you making presumptions about my position, which I have yet to describe?

    Fair enough. I’ll stick to Krauss.

    My point about Krauss is that he is certain that the Big Bang occurred.

    And my point is that “the Big Bang occurred” is not equal to “the universe had a beginning” in the sense of ‘the mass-energy of the universe did not exist in any form before that’. Indeed, that’s precisely his point when he speaks of multiverses.

    In other words, believing ‘the evidence points to a Big Bang’ is rationally supported. But that by itself doesn’t mean believing ‘the universe had a beginning’ is rationally supported.

  123. JAD says:

    Ray wrote:

    JAD – On what basis do you conclude that the “Big Bang” was the beginning of everything? Or even the beginning of the mass-energy we can see?

    We’ve never seen mass-energy be created or destroyed, and not for lack of looking. It meets every criteria we can come up with for something eternal. So, why do you assume it didn’t exist in some form before the Big Bang? (Well, technically, before a few femtoseconds after the Big Bang.)

    What justifies that conclusion? Why do you decide, “We can’t currently extrapolate back any further than that, therefore that’s the beginning”?

    Well, obviosly the Big Bang cannot be the beginning of everything because something (whateever that something is) must exist “prior” to the universe.

    Let me briefly summarize what I think are some of the logically possible explanations for the existence of the universe.

    A. The universe was caused by an eternally existing (or self existing) transcendent Mind (God).

    B. The universe has some kind of eternally existing natural cause. For example, it’s cyclical in nature or it’s part of a “multiverse” etc.

    C. The universe is not real. We exist as self conscious intelligent minds in some kind of virtual reality.

    D. The universe was created by highly evolved extraterrestrials, living in another universe, using super advanced technology.

    So how do we decide between A-D? Can any of the view points be proven “scientifically”?

    If they can’t is there some other way we can choose between these alternatives.

  124. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom – It has been interesting, and I hope I’ve clarified a few things. I kinda wish Holopupenko had taken a gander, though – one thing I hoped to illustrate was that ‘atheism’ is at least as diverse a category in practice as ‘monotheism’.

  125. Victoria says:

    @JAD
    Interestingly enough, your possible explanations also correspond to philosophical worldview positions :)
    A person committed to Metaphysical Naturalism will automatically dismiss A as an option, and go for B, whereas a Pantheistic Monist would go for something like C. A Theist, especially a Biblical Christian Theist would favor A.

    We might be able to rule out some options tentatively, based on our current understanding of physics – for instance, option B, as far as I am aware, still has to address the entropy issue in some way – has anyone come up with a model that addresses that? IF nobody can get around it in a way that is both plausible and testable, then what should we make of B?

    If there are no scientifically sound ways of observing and testing a multiverse model, or perhaps observing anything prior to our Big Bang event, then what?
    It will come down to metaphysical worldview and/or asking questions and looking for answers that the modern empirical sciences are not designed to address.

    If Option A or D, we might know if the eternal, self-existent Mind (aka God in option A) made Himself known to us in other ways (what we Christians call Special Revelation). Same with Option D – if those ET’s told us about themselves somehow.
    Of course, option D is a variant of a multiverse B – how do you avoid an infinite regress?

    Option C not withstanding, no matter what model we choose, we have to concede that something or Someone is eternal and self-existent. Given the our current scientific understanding, we have to concede that our observable universe had a beginning (of some sort) and that we currently have no scientific means of observing anything before that. Maybe there is indirect evidence that would point one way or another, but currently that is a ‘Science of the Gaps’ argument.

  126. Ray Ingles says:

    Victoria –

    If there are no scientifically sound ways of observing and testing a multiverse model, or perhaps observing anything prior to our Big Bang event, then what?

    Then, like the question of lightning in the 1600’s, we say, “We don’t know, yet. Maybe we’ll figure it out eventually.”

    Some might even go on to say, “I have a favorite hypothesis, or a gut feeling,” but if you can’t come to a conclusion, withholding certainty is the right thing to do.

    how do you avoid an infinite regress?

    Why should I? Some of the people here also hang out on Edward Feser’s blog; in “The Last Superstition”, on page 95, he says:

    “…an essentially ordered series, of its nature, must have a first member… it is only the first member which is in the strictest sense really doing or actualizing anything…”

    That’s not obvious to me. It’s an assertion that ‘an infinite per se regress is impossible’, but it rests purely on an intuition. I don’t share that intuition, and I wouldn’t trust an intuition we can’t test anyway. (Think how many people rejected – and reject – quantum mechanics or relativity because it contrasts with their intuitions.)

    As I said above, “Humans are just terrible at speculating outside areas they can test and have experience in.” We don’t have experience with originating universes or underlying causalities, so all our conclusions in those areas must be tentative.

  127. Victoria says:

    @Ray
    Oh, I agree with you – of course our conclusions about the origin of the universe are tentative.
    My point on JAD’s post was that in option A or D, the channel is open to information from the creator(s), if He (or they) choose to give it.
    That is precisely the claim of Biblical Christianity – not only did the eternal self-existent God who created all things take the initiative to reveal Himself to us, but actually stepped into His creation as in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate revelation of God – as that passage in Hebrews 1 tells us.

  128. JAD says:

    Ray wrote:

    “Humans are just terrible at speculating outside areas they can test and have experience in.” We don’t have experience with originating universes or underlying causalities, so all our conclusions in those areas must be tentative.

    Therefore, God does not exist?

  129. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    That’s not obvious to me. It’s an assertion that ‘an infinite per se regress is impossible’, but it rests purely on an intuition. I don’t share that intuition, and I wouldn’t trust an intuition we can’t test anyway.

    It is ok if you are ignorant or simply do not understand why an infinite per se regress is impossible (hint: vicious regress). What is not ok is to claim the patent falsehood that an argument, yes an *argument*, is nothing but an “intuition” that you are unfortunate to not share with the AT crowd. Whether you “trust” such alleged intuitions or not, is completely irrelevant and besides the point, because what is at stake are not intuitions but arguments. So if you have a criticism, write it up and submit it for public evaluation; otherwise, could you spare us the display of ignorance?

    As I said above, “Humans are just terrible at speculating outside areas they can test and have experience in.” We don’t have experience with originating universes or underlying causalities, so all our conclusions in those areas must be tentative.

    Sigh.

    1. There are continuous functions that are not differentiable at any point of their domain of definition and in a certain specific technical sense, they are even the overwhelming majority of the continuous functions. I cannot even form a coherent mental image of such a highly pathological counter-intuitive beast. But I know that such a beast does exist (exist is used in the mathematical sense of the word) because I can *prove* it, to myself and to anyone with some understanding of real analysis. And with a degree of certainty higher than anything the empirical sciences can ever achieve.

    2. There are space-filling curves, that is, a curve that passes through every point of the unit cube. I cannot even form a coherent mental image of such a highly pathological counter-intuitive beast. There is certainly no possibility of empirical “tests”, as we are talking about abstract objects. But I know that such a beast does exist because I can *prove* it, to myself and to anyone with some understanding of real analysis.

    3. Recently, when writing some lecture notes on Boolean algebras I proved the cute little result that the functor sending a sigma-complete Boolean algebra to its Boolean algebra of order-convergent sequences has a left adjoint. There are no mental images available of these highly infinitary, supremely abstract objects. There is certainly no “testing” available or possible, not even in principle. Yet, via the natural powers of my God-given reason I can *prove* to anyone who knows the requisite mathematics that such a left adjoint does exist. And with a degree of certainty higher than anything the empirical sciences can ever achieve.

    I took my examples from mathematics; they could be repeated ad infinitum. But examples from fields as diverse as computer science, modal logic, metaphysics, philosophy of nature, natural theology, etc. could also be given and in copious amounts (but also with its specific quirks, lower degrees of certainty, etc.).

    Really, it is very bad form to project one’s own intellectual limitations on the rest of humanity. That *you* are “terrible at speculating outside areas [you] can test and have experience in” says nothing about cogency of the arguments or for that matter, about the abilities of *other* people to construct and evaluate such arguments.

    Think how many people rejected – and reject – quantum mechanics or relativity because it contrasts with their intuitions.

    Where are these “many people” that reject QM and GR because it clashes with their intuitions? And how did Einstein arrive at GR? Did he performed a single experiment? No, by pure dint of conceptual thought.

    And this highly misleading sentence after saying that you… “don’t share that intuition” about a delicate technical point in the philosophy of nature. Amazing.

  130. Victoria says:

    @G. Rodrigues
    Hi my brother in Christ :) How are you?

    Recall that Einstein’s reaction to QM was to ‘say that God does not play dice with the universe’ – a metaphysical statement, not a scientific one (of course, he also didn’t like the implications, as he discussed in the famous EPR paradox).
    Bell’s theorems addressed that, and now we routinely do experiments that verify this kind of spooky behaviour, and call it Quantum Entanglement – perhaps Ray is alluding to the fact that even Einstein found that JBS Haldane was on to something when he said (paraphrasing here) “Reality is not only queerer than we imagine, it is queerer than we can imagine”. Or maybe Ray is thinking of Holye’s Steady State Cosmology because he didn’t like the implications of the expanding universe model (which he sarcastically called the Big Bang), for both metaphysical and mathematical reasons – those nasty singularities.
    And how often have scientists heard and experienced “A beautiful theory, destroyed by ugly experimental/observational facts”.

    Hey Ray, did you know that Christians already believe in a N-multiverse, where N is 2? Our observable universe, and one called eternity, where God dwells? It seems to me that the multiverse is the hard-core metaphysical naturalists’ attempt to avoid the implications of the Big Bang (that our observable universe had a beginning a finite time ago), cosmic fine tuning, and the very existence of our physical laws (forgive me Holopupenko, my brother in Christ also, for the colloquialism :) ) – all of which are stated (in simple language of course), in various places in Scripture. A perfect example of Romans 1:18-2:1.

    What I mean by the above is not that we can go through Scripture to mine for modern scientific concepts, but that there is a sense in which we should not be surprised by what modern science has discovered.
    Creation is kind of an obvious one; Isaiah 45:18 says God made the earth to be inhabited – it was created as a place for life, so for the Biblical Theist, cosmic fine tuning comes as no surprise, although it calls us to praise our God.

  131. Victoria says:

    oops, typo – should be Hoyle. guess I need hlep with my touch typing ;)

  132. Tom Gilson says:

    Quick reminder of what this thread is about:

    Once your story is posted, I’m going to strongly encourage others to ask questions, and I’m going to enforce the above-mentioned moratorium on judgmentalism… The questions people ask you should be for the purpose of understanding you for who the writer is, rather than something like, “How could an educated person like you come to such irrational conclusions?” which is really just judgmentalism in thin disguise. Of course if the writer brings philosophical/atheist apologetical topics into your story, those things are open for people to ask about.

    I know it’s out of our normal practice, but…

  133. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Tom Gilson:

    I do not know if there is a need to justifty myself, but I will do it anyway: as you can see, I have only commented once in this thread, and it was *not* about Ray’s story but about claims of his:

    1. that per se regressions are impossible is just an “assertion” with nothing more to back it up than “intuitions”.

    2. The highly misleading (if not right-down contradictory) claim that “Humans are just terrible at speculating outside areas they can test and have experience in” and then by implication, trying to bolster some form of inchoate empiricism.

  134. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Victoria:

    Hi,

    Einstein is just one person, “not many”, and he did not thought that QM was wrong but rather incomplete. Thus my curiosity, where are these “many persons” that disagree (or disagreed) with QM or GR?

    I also do not understand what you mean by Bell’s inequalitied having “solved” the EPR paradox, because as you say what the EPR paradox brings to light is entanglement phenomena. But Bohr in his response to Einstein had already shown that there was no *contradiction* exposed by the EPR experiment.

    And if we interpret Einstein broadly, he was right in a sense, as QM is incomplete in that there are things that still have no explanation. The most obvious being the measurement problem. There are various ways to put it, but here is one: the evolution of a quantum system is given by Schroedinger’s equation and is a unitary *invertible* operator. On the other hand, a measurement is represented by a projection operator (collapse of the wave function) and projectors, except for the identity, are never invertible. But the measurement process is the interaction of a quantum system with the measuring device. The two combined form a larger quantum system and their interaction is just the evolution of this larger quantum system, and thus it should be a unitary invertible operator. So there is a real puzzle here.

    As far as I know there is no convincing, complete explanation of this phenomenon.

  135. JAD says:

    Leibniz argued that an appeal infinite regress does not provide a sufficient reason to explain the universe or our existence. Notice this is not merely an appeal to intuition.

    For a sufficient reason for existence cannot be found merely in any one individual thing or even in the whole aggregate and series of things. Let us imagine the book on the Elements of Geometry to have been eternal, one copy always being made from another; then it is clear that though we can give a reason for the present book based on the preceding book from which it was copied, we can never arrive at a complete reason, no matter how many books we may assume in the past, for one can always wonder why such books should have existed at all times; why there should be books at all, and why they should be written in this way. What is true of books is true also of the different states of the world; every subsequent state is somehow copied from the preceding one (although according to certain laws of change). No matter how far we may have gone back to earlier states, therefore, we will never discover in them a full reason why there should be a world at all, and why it should be such as it is.3
    (3) Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Philosophical Papers and Letters, ed. by Leroy E. Loemker (Kluwer Academic, 1989); p. 486.

  136. Victoria says:

    @G. Rodrigues
    I actually didn’t say that Bell’s Theorem solved the EPR paradox, I said that it addressed it. I was not trying to make a deep point about the science here, or that the problem has been solved, or that it is any less mysterious than it really is. There is a puzzle.
    I guess Ray’s point can be summarized as what Haldane is supposed to have said.

  137. Ray Ingles says:

    JAD –

    Therefore, God does not exist?

    To quote what I wrote originally, way up top of this thread: “I’m atheist in specific (I haven’t run into a description of a God or pantheon I found convincing) and a non-gnostic in the broad sense. (An agnostic thinks questions like ‘Is there a God?’ are unanswerable. A ‘non-gnostic’ thinks such questions just haven’t been answered… yet.)”

    Also, in one of the comments: “I’ll just say that overall I find the ‘argument from evil’ to be more compelling than the Judeo/Christian/Islamic defenses against it.”

  138. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Victoria:

    Ah, understood.

    Although I do have to quibble with Haldane’s quote as what is important is not what we can imagine, in the sense of forming coherent mental pictures, but we can conceive and think of — just look at my examples from mathematics. Or to quote (from memory) the great Russian physicist Lev Landau about GR, that “it gives us the power to comprehend what we can no longer imagine”.

  139. Ray Ingles says:

    G. Rodrigues –

    What is not ok is to claim the patent falsehood that an argument, yes an *argument*, is nothing but an “intuition” that you are unfortunate to not share with the AT crowd.

    How fortunate that I didn’t do that!

    Arguments rest on premises. If I don’t grant the premise that an infinite causal regress is impossible, then the argument can’t stand up.

    Do you see the distinction now?

    We don’t have experience with infinities, so our intuitions about them are suspect. I’ve seen someone argue that, because the Hilbert Hotel story is so absurd, infinities are impossible. I disagree – they are counterintuitive, but that’s obviously not the same as impossible. I gave plenty of examples above.

    Speaking of which, you misunderstand my point about testing. You can argue about abstract mathematical concepts – as I said, I’m a quasi-Platonist and I think they have some kind of existence, though not a causal one – but humans don’t get quite the certainty you wish to attribute, even there. I mean, errors have been found in proofs before, and will be again. I agree that the odds of, say, the arguments from the Peano axioms being wrong and 2+2=5 are awfully low, and certainly not worth betting on. But complete metaphysical certainty isn’t in the human purview.

    And being in computer science, I have plenty of experience with abstract ideas colliding with the real world. Victoria, would you agree with Fred Brooks of “The Mythical Man-Month” on this one? “Computer programming, however, creates with an exceedingly tractable medium. The programmer builds from pure thought-stuff: concepts and very flexible representations thereof. Because the medium is tractable, we expect few difficulties in implementation; hence our pervasive optimism. Because our ideas are faulty, we have bugs; hence our optimism is unjustified.”

    I have no doubt you can be very certain about your abstract models. The question becomes, though, which abstract models actually correspond to the real world? As we’ve noted before, Euclidean geometry used to be The Thing until Einstein showed it couldn’t cut it.

    In other words, even being metaphysically certain about the theorems of Euclidean geometry doesn’t mean you have an equal certainty about what goes on in the real world. That’s why testing is so important when it comes to appying our models to the real world.

    If the fundamental postulates that the A-T model rests on actually do correspond to the real world, then A-T would be pretty solid, I agree. I’m just not convinced those postulates have been tested yet. I don’t see how anything we’ve done yet in the real world could test them in a rigorous way.

  140. Ray Ingles says:

    G. Rodrigues –

    Where are these “many people” that reject QM and GR because it clashes with their intuitions?

    Well, all that’s left are cranks nowadays, because of this.

    And how did Einstein arrive at GR? Did he performed a single experiment? No, by pure dint of conceptual thought.

    …about experiments others had performed.

  141. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    Do you see the distinction now?

    What you said was and I quote:

    That’s not obvious to me. It’s an assertion that ‘an infinite per se regress is impossible’, but it rests purely on an intuition. I don’t share that intuition, and I wouldn’t trust an intuition we can’t test anyway.

    There is no talk here of premises or that the argument that infinite regresses are impossible are somehow defective; rather, you textually claim that it is “an assertion” resting “purely on an intuition”, and *that* is a patent falsehood. See the distinction now?

    We don’t have experience with infinities, so our intuitions about them are suspect. I’ve seen someone argue that, because the Hilbert Hotel story is so absurd, infinities are impossible. I disagree – they are counterintuitive, but that’s obviously not the same as impossible.

    What you seem to be saying is that since we do not have experience, sensory experience, of infinities, our intuitions about them are suspect. This is a blatant non-sequitur. And even if they are suspect, “suspect” is such a vague word that the claim is vacuous and entails absolutely nothing. In particular, it entails absolutely nothing about the cogency of the *arguments* about them.

    Look, if you want to lodge an objection to the arguments by all means do, but bringing up this woolly, handwave-y epistemological skepticism is a dead end and ultimately self-refuting.

    You can argue about abstract mathematical concepts – as I said, I’m a quasi-Platonist and I think they have some kind of existence, though not a causal one – but humans don’t get quite the certainty you wish to attribute, even there. I mean, errors have been found in proofs before, and will be again. I agree that the odds of, say, the arguments from the Peano axioms being wrong and 2+2=5 are awfully low, and certainly not worth betting on. But complete metaphysical certainty isn’t in the human purview.

    A couple of things.

    1. I said in my examples that the proofs had “a degree of certainty higher than anything the empirical sciences can ever achieve” I never spoke of “complete metaphysical certainty”. The higher degree of certainty comes from the inherent *nature* of the method of proof in mathematics (and metaphysics, for that matter): deductive proof.

    2. I do not know what exactly is the point you imagine you are trying to make. There is no claim that can be proven with a 100% certainty? You have just refuted yourself. That there is no complete certainty even on mathematical theorems as there is always the theoretical chance of an error? So what? If that is true of mathematics, it is true a fortiori for any empirical discipline, so bringing up testing does not help you in any way and your claim is vacuous.

    3. We do not need the Peano axioms to prove that 2 + 2 = 4; the associative law of addition is enough. This is about as trivial a proof there is. It can be computer checked. A monkey can be trained to spit it out. The associative law of addition can be justified in a number of different ways (I can remember of about 4 — of course they are all intrinsically connected). Want to harbor doubts that 2 + 2 = 4? Am I allowed to harbor doubts about your intellectual sanity or is that considered rude?

    If the fundamental postulates that the A-T model rests on actually do correspond to the real world, then A-T would be pretty solid, I agree. I’m just not convinced those postulates have been tested yet. I don’t see how anything we’ve done yet in the real world could test them in a rigorous way.

    Sorry to be blunt, but just go read a book, ok?

  142. Tom Gilson says:

    What examples of a possible infinite regress did you give above, Ray? I can’t find any. If you were speaking of your examples of counter-intuitive knowledge, it’s not at all clear that they apply here.

    Worse, it seems you’re committing the fallacy of promissory naturalism: “someday maybe even though we can’t even come close to figuring out a route we would take toward a route that would potentially, possibly take us there, it’s impossible to prove it’s impossible that the universe had no beginning, therefore we can rest our convictions on the possibility that the universe had no beginning.”

    I don’t think that’s exaggerated.

  143. Tom Gilson says:

    Just to clarify, what G. Rodrigues said:

    There is no talk here of premises or that the argument that infinite regresses are impossible are somehow defective; rather, you textually claim that it is “an assertion” resting “purely on an intuition”, and *that* is a patent falsehood. See the distinction now?

    There is indeed a distinction between an assertion or an intuition on the one hand, and a conclusion on the other hand. To wave off the assertion or intuition that infinite regresses are impossible is easy to do, and quite effective against such assertions or intuitions. But it does nothing by way of addressing the conclusion that infinite regresses are impossible.

  144. Tom Gilson says:

    And Ray, if you were basing your life’s direction and decisions on the possibility that we’re wrong about 2+2=5, don’t you think that would be rather unwise of you?

    If you’re basing your spiritual conclusions, and your eternal life’s direction, on arguments that you yourself find you must illustrate with 2+2 might not really equal 4 after all!, don’t you think that’s unwise, too?

  145. Ray Ingles says:

    JAD –

    Leibniz argued that an appeal infinite regress does not provide a sufficient reason to explain the universe or our existence.

    What if causality is a local and not a global condition?

    one can always wonder why such books should have existed at all times; why there should be books at all, and why they should be written in this way.

    So you move ‘orthogonally’ to a different reason. But then you can move orthogonally from that reason, and that one. G. Rodrigues says,

    Sorry to be blunt, but just go read a book, ok?

    …but I have. Feser’s “The Last Superstition”, page 99, has the heart of the ‘argument’. “But then the only way to stop this regress and arrive a a first member is with a being whose existence does not need to be actualized by anything else.”

    Okay, fine. Why does it have to stop?

    Back when people thought the Earth flat (and yes, it was way before Columbus, I’m not accusing any church of anything, please don’t start that tangent) it either had to go onto infinity, or else have an edge. Most people assumed it had an edge.

    But then we got rid of the assumption of flatness and the Earth could be both finite and not have an edge.

    The idea that causality could ‘go on forever’ is weird, but so is the idea of an ‘unmoved mover’. Both are really strange and counterintuitive and have issues. (A whole lot of things about the universe – like its sub-optimiality – are explained ‘because God chose it that way and God doesn’t have to justify Its choices’.) But given how little we know at this point – I don’t see a way to choose between them.

    Having studied the history of science, I’m also painfully aware of how little imagination humans have. We may well come up with a ‘third alternative’ eventually – it’s happened before. We had to give up a flat Earth, geocentrism, fixed continents, luminferous aether, etc.

    Tom Gilson –

    if you were basing your life’s direction and decisions on the possibility that we’re wrong about 2+2=5, don’t you think that would be rather unwise of you?

    2+2=4 is astonishingly well established – G Rodrigues will understand when I say it’s within epsilon of metaphysical certainty. Fundamental causality is a bit further away from the ‘certain’ column.

    BTW, G. Rodrigues –

    Really, it is very bad form to project one’s own intellectual limitations on the rest of humanity.

    Most educated Westerners, for about a thousand years, were convinced that the heart was where cognition happened and the brain was just a cooling system for it. Because Aristotle said so. Even geniuses tend to have specific talents and limitations. Einstein developed Relativity, but balked at Quantum Mechanics. Even his imagination failed him there.

    I’m okay with being less smart than Einstein.

  146. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    2+2=4 is astonishingly well established – G Rodrigues will understand when I say it’s within epsilon of metaphysical certainty.

    Actually I do not understand. I can of course make an educated guess at what you are trying to convey, but it sounds awfully like an illegitimate abuse of mathematical technical jargon. And Tom’s point still stands.

    Einstein developed Relativity, but balked at Quantum Mechanics. Even his imagination failed him there.

    Wrong. Einstein did not balked at QM because “his imagination failed him”. He balked at it — and balked not in the sense of saying that it was wrong, but that it was incomplete, so this particular example is just *irrelevant* to the point I presume you are trying to make — because, as Victoria mentioned, of his philosophical intuitions about the nature of reality.

    About your specific point, yes, even geniuses have their own blank spots. But this lends zero support to the epistemological point you are trying to make — assuming I am reading you right, which to be quite honest is not at all clear.

  147. JAD says:

    Ray,

    What is the explanation for something that has always existed?

    From what we know about the universe is it self evident that it has always existed?

  148. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, you wrote,

    …but I have. Feser’s “The Last Superstition”, page 99, has the heart of the ‘argument’. “But then the only way to stop this regress and arrive a a first member is with a being whose existence does not need to be actualized by anything else.”

    Okay, fine. Why does it have to stop?

    Sounds to me like you read page 99 of a book. The discussion, which includes the answer to your question, starts on page 91.

    Go ahead, it’s only a few more pages to read.

  149. Victoria says:

    Ray: re Brooks` Mythical Man-Month
    I think I do agree, and after the gruelling session we had today integrating about 100 distinct Javascript files into our viewer and redendering engine, I think Brooks is an understatement :)
    If he means its easy to implement a system, but hard to get it right, at least on the first iteration, then yeah.
    Visual Studio`s Intellisense for Javascript is virtually non-existent, so we spent the better part of the last week just hitting and fixing errors that the C-sharp IDE would have spotted while writing the code or at least during compilation; and now we are faced with getting the implementation to work the way it should.
    I think Grady Booch`s comment is even more apt – in software we can design and build systems of arbitrary complexity, so much so that a system can grow beyond the abilities of the development team to extend and maintain it :)
    You have to admit, though, it is fun.
    So, Ray, it appears we have even more in common than we thought – I think someone mentioned that you are a physicist, so am I, and we are both heavily involved with software. Great, what are the odds.

    I suspect that we`d get along pretty well, agreeing to disagree on spiritual matters, but always ready to get down and dirty to duke it out :) I know it seems that some of my challenges to you came out as personal, but that was not my intention, so I will just beg your forgiveness for that.

    Merry Christmas :)

  150. Victoria says:

    G. Rodrigues
    I did say I paraphrased Haldane, so he might not have actually used the word imagine ;)

    Merry Christmas, and a big hug for my big brother

  151. Ray Ingles says:

    Been off two days taking care of sick boys, then the other two boys got sick, plus myself, so it’s been a while. Anyway, a few quick comments – first off, hope y’all have a good Christmas!

    Anyway, G. Rodrigues –

    it sounds awfully like an illegitimate abuse of mathematical technical jargon.

    Huh. When arguing about certainty and natures and so forth, you don’t require technicaly mathematical formalism from Aristotle or Aquinas. I thought my point was pretty clear – when it comes to 2+2=4, the difference between how certain it is and ‘complete metaphysical certainty’ is present, but unmeasurably small.

    And Tom’s point still stands.

    You didn’t quote the very next line, so yeah, it’s clear you weren’t following what I said. Tom’s point wasn’t relevant, because I wasn’t arguing against the certainty of 2+2=4. What was I arguing against the certainty of?

    [Einstein] balked at [QM]… because, as Victoria mentioned, of his philosophical intuitions about the nature of reality.

    …which played him false in that respect. He realized that ‘spooky action at a distance’ was a consequence of QM, and his intuitions told him that couldn’t be… except it was and is. One wonders how he would have responded to the tests of Bell’s Theorem.

    So even a undoubted genius like Einstein didn’t do so hot extrapolating beyond what was testable at the time. That was my point. Testing the origins of universes is a bit beyond our reach right now. Heck, we can’t even test the problematic inconsistencies between Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, and that only needs something simple like one little rotating black hole.

  152. Ray Ingles says:

    JAD –

    What is the explanation for something that has always existed?

    It may not need one. Most of the ‘things’ we know of are actually patterns, processes, and arrangements of mass-energy. (This shouldn’t be controversial – “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”.)

    Patterns, processes, and arrangements come into being and go out of being. But as I said before, We’ve never seen mass-energy be created or destroyed, and not for lack of looking. It meets every criteria we can come up with for something eternal.

    From what we know about the universe is it self evident that it has always existed?

    We know all the mass-energy in the visible universe was concentrated in a very small location around 13 billion years ago. Our theories give problematic and in some ways contradictory extrapolations before that point. But we still don’t see a clear indication that that mass-energy ‘came into being’ at any point.

    Victoria’s asked about the entropy issue – and that’s a very good question. But there are a couple complications. Assuming an eternal timeframe, the uncertainty of QM allows for almost arbitrarily ‘unlikely’ arrangements happening at some point. Our intuitions about probability are tuned for a human timescale. The odds regarding things that might happen in a googolplex of years don’t come easily.

  153. Ray Ingles says:

    Victoria – No, I’m not a physicist, my degrees are in Electrical Engineering, and I’m pretty much entirely a software jockey now. I can’t resist putting in my favorite quote about software development ever, by C.A.R. Hoare: “There are two ways of constructing a software design. One way is to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies and the other is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious deficiencies.”

    I appreciate that your responses weren’t meant personally, and I hope y’all can take mine in that light, too. In any case, I’ll be busy with family things until at least Wednesday, so hope everyone has a delightful holiday!

  154. Victoria says:

    Actually, my question about entropy had to do with the 2nd law of thermodynamics at the macroscopic level of the observable universe….that the total entropy of the universe is increasing. So, while we have the first law, which Ray seems to think implies that matter+energy could be eternal, we have the 2nd law which seems to imply that our universe cannot be. Even multi-verse models have to deal with ever-increasing entropy, apparently.

    It comes as no surprise to the Christian Theist that our universe has a beginning, and it would not be surprising if we found that we could not go beyond that point, as Christians understand the creation of the universe as a supernatural act and command of God Almighty (Hebrews 11:3, for example). Our best science thus far indicates that this occurred some 13-14 billion years BP.

    Some refs:
    Thomas W.Kephart and Y. Jack Ng, “Black Holes, Mergers, and the Entropy Budget of the Universe,” Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics 11 (November 2003): 011; Paul H. Frampton and Thomas W. Kephart, “Upper and Lower Bounds on Gravitational Entropy,” Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics 6 (June 2008): 008; Paul H. Frampton, et al., “What Is the Entropy of the Universe?” Classical and Quantum Gravity 26 (July 2009): id. 145005.
    Chas A. Egan and Charles H. Lineweaver, “A Larger Estimate of the Entropy of the Universe,” Astrophysical Journal 710 (February 20, 2010): 1825–34.
    Lawrence M. Krauss and Glenn D. Starkman, “Life, the Universe, and Nothing: Life and Death in an Ever-Expanding Universe,” Astrophysical Journal 531 (March 1, 2000): 22–30.

    Just to be clear, I’m not using a ‘God of the Gaps’ argument here – just the statement that I would not be surprised if there is a limit to what real, testable science can discover about the origin of the universe. Nor am I saying that we should not try to see just how far back we can go – quite the contrary, I’d like to see just how far we can get. Perhaps there is new physics yet to be discovered, perhaps not, but I am not a proponent of ‘promissory science’, still less ‘promissory naturalism’.

    @Ray – the existence of something before the singularity is an implicit assumption of any mathematical model that that seeks to describe the universe prior to the singularity (if one can use that term). It’s not just matter+energy, it is spacetime, matter-energy that one has to deal with. Conservation of mass-energy is built into the theories a priori, not derived as a consequence of something more fundamental.

    In any case, as interesting as all this is, the fundamental questions are still ‘Who is Jesus Christ?’ and “What are the implications of His death and resurrection?” Your answers to those questions will affect everything else.

  155. Victoria says:

    In addition, it has been shown that the entropy of our observable universe is increasing…

    http://iopscience.iop.org/0004-637X/710/2/1825/pdf/0004-637X_710_2_1825.pdf

    and

    http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/48010/description/Universe_has_more_entropy_than_thought

    Interestingly a multiverse theory can account for that, but has anyone solved the issue of the entropy of the multiverse – can it be eternal?

  156. Ray Ingles says:

    Victoria – No, no, I understand the entropy issue. But there’s a complication.

    Over the lifetime of a human being, evolution is practically invisible. On the scale of bacteria it can be, unfortunately, observed – but in terms of macroscopic life, it’s too slow to witness.

    Go up a couple orders of magnitude, though – from a hundred years to 10,000 or so – you start to be able to pick up on it. Go up a few orders of magnitude beyond that and it’s unmistakable. Life changes over time, new species arise and old species go extinct.

    What I pointed out is that, on the timescale of our visible universe, increasing entropy is inevitable and large decreases in entropy are so thermodynamically unlikely they just don’t happen.

    But does that hold if you’ve got many orders of magnitude more time than a few paltry billion years to work with? We dunno. Extrapolating out that far is chancy – but we do know that the odds of spontaneous entropy reversal, while very close to zero, are still greater than zero.

  157. Victoria says:

    @Ray
    Lots of interesting physics to work out, to say nothing of the metaphysical implications, eh?

    Happy New Year 2013 to you and your family :)

  158. Victoria says:

    @Ray
    You might find this interesting…
    http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2005/PSCF12-05Mann.pdf

    Rob is now associated with the Perimeter Institute at the University of Waterloo (last time I checked, anyway).
    There are quite a few articles on the multiverse and its implications for Christian thought at the web site – you can probably just do a search on the site for ‘multiverse’ – some things you probably have to be an ASA member to see.

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