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An Open Letter to Peter Boghossian On “Doxastic Openness”

Posted on Dec 3, 2013 by Tom Gilson

This entry is part 13 of 13 in the series Peter Boghossian

Dr. Peter Boghossian
Portland State University

Dear Dr. Boghossian,

In your Manual for Creating Atheists you express a high value for doxastic openness, which you define on page 51 as a willingness and ability to  revise beliefs based on sufficient reasons. On page 69 you name “a willingness to reconsider” as one attitude that predisposes persons to rationality. On page 70 you say, “The moment we’re unshakably convinced we possess immutable truth, we become our own doxastic enemy.… Street epistemologists enter into discussions with an open and genuine attitude from the start – even if there is no reciprocity.” In your interviews and lectures, you have insisted that if you are shown that you are wrong you will change your mind.

In this open letter, Dr. Boghossian, I offer you the opportunity to demonstrate your  doxastic openness  with respect to your definition of the word faith.

You define faith in two ways: belief without evidence, and pretending to know things one doesn’t know. You say on page 23 of your book, “If one had sufficient evidence to warrant belief in a particular claim, then one wouldn’t believe the claim on the basis of faith. ‘Faith’ is the word one uses when one does not have enough evidence to justify holding a belief, but when one just goes ahead and believes anyway.”

I’m speaking only of Christian faith in my letter to you today; I have no interest in whether your definitions apply in other religious contexts. I’m not trying to show that your definitions are wrong in every context, for I know  you can find  Christians who would agree with you that faith is belief without evidence. I’m disputing your position that your definitions are the only correct ones. They are not. In this letter I intend to show that among people who have given it serious thought, the definitions you espouse are minority usages, and therefore rarely accurate overall.

To be more specific, I intend to demonstrate:

  1. The predominant, conventional usage(s) of any term is (are) to be determined by looking at the relevant literature.
  2. The relevance of literature for the defining of terms has nothing to do with whether that literature is believed to be true. Both fiction and non-fiction can determine the usage of a word, and can implant its conventional usage into a culture.
  3. The Bible, being the Christian’s primary source document, is the proper source to look to first in defining Christian faith, whether or not one believes in its truth or accuracy.
  4. The Bible presents faith in terms quite contrary to “pretending to know” and “belief without evidence.”
  5. Subsequent Christian thinkers have also presented faith in contrary terms.
  6. While some Christian thinkers may speak of faith as an epistemology, that is not the usual understanding of the term.
  7. In contrast to that, you present faith as being defined strictly and exclusively as an epistemology, as belief without evidence, and as pretending to know.
  8. If Christians are wrong in our treatment of evidences, or if some Christians understand none of it at all, those circumstances do not make your definitions correct. If we are wrong, we are wrong, not “believing without evidence” or “pretending to know.”
  9. Therefore, based on the way faith is used in the relevant literature, and in spite of the fact that some usages of faith may agree with your understanding, you are wrong to describe faith exclusively as an epistemology, as “belief without evidence,” and “pretending to know what one does not know.”

I call on you to examine the evidence I present here, and to demonstrate your doxastic openness by publicly admitting that your definitions of faith are (a) not the only correct ones, (b) largely inaccurate with respect to the historic usage of the word, and therefore (c) not necessarily descriptive of faith as practiced by Christians today, and (d) certainly not normative.

Words, Definitions, and Literature

Definitions are a matter of convention. Words acquire their meanings through their use in literature and in conversation. This is true of the word faith just as much as for any other word: the word is defined by the way it is conventionally used in the literature. Now, the literature on faith has been dominated for centuries by the Bible. This is undeniably the case whether one believes anything in the Bible is true or not. That is, the way the word is used in the Bible and in the subsequent literature determines the meaning of the word.

I have argued this point frequently on my blog and also in discussions following my review of your book@Amazon.com. Many readers have objected to my use of the Bible in determining the word’s definition, saying that we can’t know what’s in the Bible is true. but they misunderstand the history and uses of language. The word orc has a meaning. Though many fantasy writers have used the word work in their novels and stories, undoubtedly the definition of the term is dominated by the way J. R. R. Tolkien used it in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. So we see that it’s not necessary for literature to be true for it to be the foundation upon which the word’s definition is built and maintained.

“Faith” and Its Usage in the Primary Literature

Of course I believe the Bible is true, and you believe that it is mostly not true. We can set that aside, as it’s not the point in question in my letter to you today. My focus is strictly on the use of the word faith; and in the Bible, as well as in the subsequent literature, faith is rarely used in the manner in which you characterize it.

Let me illustrate. In Matthew 9:18-30a, we read,

While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “my daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, “go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him but when the crowd had been put outside he went in and took her by the hand and the girl rose. And the report of this went through all that district.

And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” And their eyes were opened.

In a parallel passage, Mark 5:36, while on the way to the ruler’s house Jesus tells him, “do not fear, only believe.”

Pretending To Know What One Does Not Know?

Now in this passage, Dr. Boghossian, I am going to follow the strategy that you used on pages 24 through 26 of your book, replacing the word faith with “pretending to know things you don’t know.” Here we see Jesus, by that, methodology saying, “take heart, daughter; your pretending to know things you don’t know has made you well.” He said to the ruler, “Do not fear, only pretend to know things you do not know.” He told the blind men, “According to your pretense of knowing what you don’t know be it done to you.”

The woman’s pretending to know things she didn’t know resulted in her healing. The ruler’s pretense resulted in his daughter’s being raised from death. The blind men were healed according to their pretending to know things they did not know.

If you’re right, then that’s how it comes out in the literature that is most responsible for producing the Western world’s understanding of faith, and it’s really quite absurd, as I’m sure you can see. Faith has never been understood—by those who have thought about it carefully, at least— as a pretense at knowledge. That definition is completely unsupported in the literature.

Belief Without Evidence?

And what about the idea that faith is belief without evidence? That definition has a longer pedigree. It goes back to at least the 19th century, when Ambrose Bierce, author of The Devil’s Dictionary, wrote “faith is belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.” Similar ideas can be found as early as the second century CE, as we’ll see in a moment—and they were rebutted as early as the second century as well.

Many dictionaries today define faith as belief without proof. As a philosopher, you know very well that evidence and proof are two different things, and that therefore the common dictionary definitions lend no support to your contention that faith should be defined as belief without evidence.

Bierce’s view of faith was on the fringe when he articulated it. What does the dominant literature have to say on it? Again we can look to the Bible, still setting aside the question of whether the Bible is true or not, but only asking what its effect on the conventional usage of faith has been. And here we find massive evidences for faith. Moses called on the Israelites to believe in God because of what they had seen: the plagues, the opening of the Red Sea, the water from the rock, manna from heaven, smoke and fire of God. Jesus called on the disciples to believe because he showed them his power. He multiplied the loaves and fishes. He calm the storm with the word. Acts 1:3 says, “Jesus presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” I could go on and on.

Thus we see that if faith is defined as belief without evidence, then while Jesus was presenting proofs, he was undermining faith. Clearly in the literature dominating the usage of faith it does not present it as anything remotely like belief without evidence.

“Faith” In Subsequent Literature

The following are a small but representative sampling of how “faith” has been used down through the centuries. (This material is freely adapted from the work of David Marshall at creatingatheists.com. I use block quotes in this section for primary sources, and quotation marks outside of block quotes where I quote from David’s comments. Sources for these quotes may be found on the linked page.)

Clement of Alexandria wrote,

So also here, I call him truly learned who brings everything to bear on the truth; so that, from geometry, and music, and grammar, and philosophy itself, culling what is useful, he guards the faith against assault….

Origen disputed an opponent of the faith named Celsus on many points, one of which he describes thus in Contra Celsus:

He [Celsus] next proceeds to recommend, that in adopting opinions we should follow reason and a rational guide, since he who assents to opinions without following this course is very liable to be deceived. And he compares inconsiderate believers to Metragytae, and soothsayers, and Mithrae, and Sabbadians, and to anything else that one may fall in with, and to the phantoms of Hecate, or any other demon or demons. For as amongst such persons are frequently to be found wicked men, who, taking advantage of the ignorance of those who are easily deceived, lead them away whither they will, so also, he says, is the case among Christians. And he asserts that certain persons who do not wish either to give or receive a reason for their belief, keep repeating, “Do not examine, but believe!: and “Your faith will save you!”

But the whole point of Contra Celsus is to give reasons for belief, pointing to multiple lines of evidence, “including archaeology, miracles, history both secular and Christian, and especially prophecy.”

Concerning Augustine of Hippo, Marshall quotes from Kenneth Samples,

In his Sermon (43.7, 9) Augustine asserted: Crede, ut intelligas (‘Believe in order that you may understand’). For Augustine, faith (“trust in a reliable source”) is an indispensable element in knowledge. One must believe in something in order to know anything. Knowledge begins with faith and faith provides a foundation for knowledge. Faith is itself indirect knowledge (like testimony or authority). While faith comes first in time, knowledge comes first in importance. Faith and reason do not conflict, but instead complement one another. Augustine believed that while reason does not cause faith, reason everywhere supports faith. Augustine also argued that Christians should seek to use their reason to understand doctrines (the Trinity, Incarnation, etc.) that are given via divine revelation (thus ‘faith seeking understanding’). Augustine’s writings about the role of faith influenced Credo, ut intelligam (‘I believe in order that I might understand’) by St. Anselm (a.d. 1033-1109).

Aquinas wrote,

The existence of God and other like truths about God, which can be known by natural reason, are not articles of faith, but are preambles to the articles; for faith presupposes natural knowledge, even as grace presupposes nature and perfection the perfectible.

From effects not proportioned to the cause no perfect knowledge of that cause can be obtained. Yet from every effect the existence of the cause can be clearly demonstrated, and so we can demonstrate the existence of God from His effects; though from them we cannot know God perfectly as He is in His essence.

Marshall adds this comment from Historian Donald Treadgold:

Aquinas’ great achievement was to expound the relation between faith and reason in such a way that those who regarded Aristotle as authoritative in philosophy could wholeheartedly remain Christian . . . to build strong intellectual foundations for Christianity and to vindicate the use of reason . . . (A History of Christianity, 110) .

And also this from philosopher Richard Swinburne:

“The Summa doesn’t start from faith or religious experience or the Bible; it starts from the observable world . . . While I realized that the details were not always satisfactory, it seemed to me that the approach of the Summa was 100 percent right. I came to see that the irrationalist spirit of modern theology was a modern phenomena, a head-in-the-sand defensive mechanism. In general, I believe, it is the spirit of St. Thomas rather than the spirit of Kierkegaard that has been the more prevalent over two millennia of Christian theology.” (Philosophers Who Believe)

John Locke had this to say:

Reason, therefore . . . I take to be the discovery of the certainty or probability of such propositions or truths, which the mind arrives at by deduction made from such ideas, which it has got by the use of its natural faculties; viz., by sensation or reflection.

Faith, on the other side, is the assent to any proposition, not thus made out by the deductions of reason, but upon the credit of the proposer, as coming from God, in some extraordinary way of communication. This way of discovering truths to men we call revelation.

C. S. Lewis wrote in various places,

Have we now got to a position from which we can talk about Faith without being misunderstood? For in general we are shy of speaking plain about Faith as a virtue. It looks so like praising an intention to believe what you want to believe in the face of evidence to the contrary: the American in the old story defined Faith as ‘the power of believing what we know to be untrue.’ Now I define Faith as the power of continuing to believe what we once honestly thought to be true until cogent reasons for honestly changing our minds are brought before us.”

There is, of course, no question so far of belief without evidence. We must beware of confusion between the way in which a Christian first assents to certain propositions, and the way in which he afterwards adheres to them. These must be carefully distinguished. Of the second it is true, in a sense, to say that Christians do recommend a certain discounting of apparent contrary evidence, and I will later attempt to explain why. But so far as I know it is not expected that a man should assent to those propositions in the first place without evidence or in the teeth of the evidence. At any rate, if anyone expects that, I certainly do not. And in fact, the man who accepts Christianity always thinks he had good evidence; whether, like Dante, [physical and metaphysical argumentation], or historical evidence, or the evidence of religious experience, or authority, or all these together. For of course authority, however we may value it in this or that particular instance, is a kind of evidence.

I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it. That is not the point at which Faith comes in. But supposing a man’s reason once decides that the weight of the evidence is for it. I can tell that man what is going to happen to him in the next few weeks. There will come a moment when… all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief. [...] I am not talking of moments at which any real new reasons against Christianity turn up. Those have to be faced and that is a different matter. I am talking about moments where a mere mood rises up against it. “Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes.

Many more examples could be adduced, but this small sampling from major Christian writers should suffice to show that faith, conventionally understood, is by no means contrary to evidence or knowledge.

Faith As An Epistemology

You claim, Dr. Boghossian, that faith is an epistemology, and an unreliable one at that. You give examples of people who “know” that Jesus walked on water “because they have faith that he did.” If that’s how they “know” it, then of course in such instances faith could be described as an epistemology. But you present it is though that were all there is to be said about it; you give no place for faith being anything other than that. This is not the way faith is conventionally understood, however.

In my case, I know Jesus walked on water the same way you know that the core of the earth consists of a molten nickel-iron mix: through the reliable testimony of credible authorities. That is to say, I have evidences leading me to believe that the writers of the Gospels recorded events accurately and faithfully, and I have no reason to doubt that the walking-on-water incident was any different from anything else they recorded correctly. If that’s using faith as a religious epistemology, then you likewise are using faith as an earth science epistemology. But in fact it’s not accurate to call that an epistemology in either of our cases.

Here’s another example where faith is undeniably involved. I have faith that Jesus will return. Do I have “evidence” that he will? Not in the sense of seeing his tracks in the sky heading our direction, obviously! But I do have evidence supporting the ideas that (a) Jesus made the promise of his return, that (b) he has the power to fulfill the promise, and that (c) he is known to be one who tells the truth. In this case, the epistemology behind my expectation of Jesus’ return is identical in form to the epistemology behind my expectation that my wife will come back from the errand she’s currently running. Faith enters in identically in both places: I have faith in the character and promises of Jesus Christ, and I have faith in my wife’s character and promises.

(I know you claim that faith must only be used in religious contexts, but that’s an idiosyncratic, authoritarian, move on your part, completely divorced from the term’s conventional usage, motivated by your rhetorical purposes rather than by any evidence concerning the conventional usage of faith; there’s no reason for anyone to pay such a tactic the slightest attention.)

What C. S. Lewis wrote, quoted above, is especially apropos here. Faith is not (at least not necessarily, or not always) the way we come to know anything. It’s the attitude of holding on to what we know, even when present circumstances seem to make that knowledge uncertain.

But What If Our Beliefs Are All Wrong?

At this point I expect another objection, for I have heard it from others, and indeed it’s an obvious one. “Sure, you Christians claim to base your faith on evidences, but you’re all quite mistaken about the whole thing.” That’s an interesting topic and worthy of much discussion, but not here: for present purposes there’s no need here for me to take up the question whether we’re right or wrong. There are some things we can surely agree on, and those few things are enough for my purposes here.

Surely there’s no denying that Christians present evidences for our beliefs: that’s what the whole enterprise of Christian apologetics is all about. (There’s a branch of apologetics, presuppositionalism, that eschews evidentialism, but that’s beside the point here: there are still plenty of apologists presenting plenty of evidences.) So faith cannot be belief without evidence. It might be belief based on mistaken interpretation of evidences, but that’s an entirely different matter. Ptolemy based his cosmology on the evidences available, which he misinterpreted. His view of the universe wasn’t evidence-free. It was just wrong. The problem is not in our faith, it’s in our interpretation of evidences.

Similarly, if we’re mistaken about our beliefs, we’re not pretending to know things we don’t know. We’re mistaken. Being mistaken and pretending are two different things. Ptolemy wasn’t pretending to know the earth was at the center of the universe. He was just wrong.

And What About Christians Who Misunderstand All This?

In your book, on page 122, you describe people who resist your re-definitions of faith as “suffering from severe doxastic pathologies.” On page 73, you tell us, with emphasis, that “Every religious apologist is epistemically debilitated.” Thank you for that compliment; it goes nicely with your espoused value of considering a person of faith as “someone who needs your help—as opposed to passing judgment. A positive, accepting attitude will translate into an increased likelihood of treatment effectiveness” (p. 68). May I tell you how deeply I appreciate your non-judgmentalism expressed there?

At any rate, your advice is not to tangle with people who have thought through these matters — apologists, for example. That’s a wise tactical move on your part. You will find considerably more success among Christians who have given little thought to what their faith really means, or where it comes from. But this letter is not about tactical success or failure, it is about the definition of faith. Sure, you can find people of faith who can’t articulate a clear reason for belief or a sound definition of the term. Their lack of knowledge or skill does not make their position normative.

Recap and Invitation to Respond

This letter has run long, I know, but there was much to say. To recapitulate,, I have made these points:

  1. The historically predominant and conventional usage of (Christian) faith is to be determined by looking at the relevant literature.
  2. The relevance of literature for the defining of terms has nothing to do with whether that literature is believed to be true. Both fiction and non-fiction can determine the usage of a word, and can implant its conventional usage into a culture.
  3. The Bible, being the Christian’s primary source document, is therefore the proper source to look to first in defining Christian faith, whether or not one believes in its truth or accuracy.
  4. The Bible presents faith in terms quite contrary to “pretending to know” and “belief without evidence.”
  5. Subsequent Christian thinkers have also presented faith in contrary terms.
  6. While some Christian thinkers may speak of faith as an epistemology, that is not the usual understanding of the term.
  7. In contrast to that, you present faith as being defined strictly and exclusively as an epistemology, as belief without evidence, and as pretending to know.
  8. If Christians are wrong in our treatment of evidences, or if some Christians understand none of it at all, those circumstances do not make your definitions correct. If we are wrong, we are wrong, not “believing without evidence” or “pretending to know.”
  9. Therefore, based on the way faith is used in the relevant literature, and in spite of the fact that some usages of faith may agree with your understanding, you are wrong to describe faith exclusively as an epistemology, as “belief without evidence,” and “pretending to know what one does not know.”

You affirm doxastic openness, and you maintain that if you are shown to be wrong in any belief, you will change your mind. Now is your opportunity to demonstrate that you mean what you say.

 

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79 Responses to “ An Open Letter to Peter Boghossian On “Doxastic Openness” ”

  1. BillT says:

    And , given what we’ve seen of Dr. Boghossian’s tactics much less what I see as the overall dishonesty in his approach and argumentation, the chances that he even acknowledges this much less actually responds are, I believe, quite near zero.

  2. Garry D says:

    Mr. Gilson, This was quite beneficial to me. Thank you for taking up the task!

  3. Larry Tanner says:

    In my case, I know Jesus walked on water the same way you know that the core of the earth consists of a molten nickel-iron mix: through the reliable testimony of credible authorities.

    I imagine PB would respond that this is not how he knows, or could come to know, the composition of Earth’s core. His knowledge of the core, and anyone’s, does not derive primarily from testimony. Here’s but one article explaining:

    Today, by using seismological and magnetic field data as well as other theoretical calculations, it’s possible to get a sense of the actual size and composition of our planet’s nether regions. Because there’s no way to get a sample of the Earth’s core, Miaki Ishii, a professor in Harvard University’s seismology group, says, “We basically use methods that are similar to medical imaging.”

    Instead of using CAT-scans and X-rays to see the center of the Earth, researchers use waves emitted by earthquakes to get a sense of the planet’s innards. Just like an X-ray, seismic waves bounce around, changing direction and speed based on the material they pass through. If researchers can gauge how quickly a wave moves from one tracking station to another, they can get a pretty good sense of what the ground that wave is traveling through looks like.

    These tests are what allowed scientists to see that the core of the Earth is broken into three layers all with slightly different structures. The core’s heat is mostly due to the slow decay of radioactive elements left over from when the planet first formed. The molten iron outer core lies about 3000 kilometers below our feet, while the solid iron inner core is another 2000 kilometers further down. A few other elements, including oxygen and silicon, are thrown in for good measure. But for the most part, iron rules the Earth’s underbelly.

    To learn more about Earth’s innards, scientists have looked outward. Researchers like Maria Zuber, a geophysics professor at MIT, and Ishii have used evidence from space to support their conclusions about Earth. Iron meteorites collected after their fall to Earth are pretty solid clues that the element is plentiful in the Universe. Zuber says iron seems to be favored planetary building block. It’s the heaviest element made during stellar fusion, so planets form with high concentrations of it.

    Zuber and colleagues also have studied the insides of other planets to learn about Earth’s core. While they can’t get good seismic data from Mercury or Venus, researchers have found ways to make the comparison. In research published in the journal Science this year, Zuber and her colleagues at MIT examined Mercury’s core by using the planet’s magnetic field to their advantage.

    Source: http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/environment/geoengineering/how-do-we-know-whats-in-the-earths-core-pm-explains-9750875

    Are there ways to determine how walking on water might happen physically? Do we have tools to simulate the reality communicated in the testimony? Some might find the testimony of canonized Gospel passages compelling on their own, but “reliable” and “credible” are judgment calls on that we rightly question, as I sense you agree.

    One more thing: a legitimate approach to our knowledge of Earth’s core is the tacit acceptance that the picture remains incomplete. We suspect, and maybe even hope, to discover something new about the core of the Earth. Would you say that our picture of Jesus walking on water is similarly incomplete?

    And finally, have you reached out to PB directly and requested his comment on your letter? Just curious.

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    I have tried to contact PB through Twitter.

    Interesting how your explanation of the knowledge of the earth’s core consists of the testimony of reliable, credible authorities. I thought that was what you came here to rebut!

  5. Larry Tanner says:

    Interesting how your explanation of the knowledge of the earth’s core consists of the testimony of reliable, credible authorities. I thought that was what you came here to rebut!

    No, not rebut at all. The testimony of reliable, credible authorities is indeed valuable, and I did not indicate otherwise.

  6. David Martin says:

    Larry,

    “His knowledge of the core, and anyone’s, does not derive primarily from testimony.”

    Unless you are geologist and studied the matter yourself, you’re relying on the testimony of those who did. You are trusting that they are competent and honest. I expect that there is testimony, in the form of peer reviews and other people’s studies, to indicate that they are. However, unless you personally performed the work you are still relying on the testimony of others.

  7. Larry Tanner says:

    David,

    Unless you are geologist and studied the matter yourself, you’re relying on the testimony of those who did. You are trusting that they are competent and honest. I expect that there is testimony, in the form of peer reviews and other people’s studies, to indicate that they are. However, unless you personally performed the work you are still relying on the testimony of others.

    I think I understand what you mean, and yes, as I said, such ‘testimony’ is indeed important. However, as I also said, individual testimony does not seem to me to be primary: methods and tools seem more important than the statements of ‘witnesses.’

    For example, if you take a small volume ordinary water and store it for some time in a place that is under 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the water will freeze. Don’t rely strictly on my testimony about this. You can test the method yourself and use a tool such as a freezer, and all reasonable people will agree that the method compels agreement to the assertion that water freezes.

    So, yes, there is assertion and it is important. But methods and tools that will produce consistent results are more important.

    The Jesus walking on water reports in the Gospels are testimony, or they can be taken that way. In this case, I don’t think we have other sources of knowledge about the event beyond the reports, but maybe you can enlighten me. Compounding factors include the time difference between the event and the report, and the spoken language of the witnesses (Aramaic, right?) and the written language of the Gospels: Greek. So, as you say, credulousness for the reports depends on the series of witnesses and scribes, and on an assessment of their competence and honesty. It certainly is an extraordinary report if one believes it is the testimony of what people actually thought they saw.

    Yet I think it’s fair to say that we know about the core of the Earth in a different way than we know about Jesus walking on water. We know about the core from various methods and tools that indicate its properties, and the people reporting their findings; we know about Jesus walking on water from the New Testament and its accompanying reading tradition.

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    Obviously, Larry, there are differences between the ways we know these things. But they do hold this in common: we know them on the basis of the assurances given by people we deem to be competent, credible, and trustworthy.

    The difficulty is first of all in the “we.” That is, the group of us who consider scientists to be competent, credible, and trustworthy is considerably larger than the group of us who consider the NT authors to be that way.

    The second difficulty is in the way in which we come to the conclusion that scientists and NT authors are competent, credible, and trustworthy (or not). In the one case we have the scientific community speaking to us based on the results of the relevant scientific enterprise. In the other case we have all the stuff of Christian apologetics. Differences of opinion concerning this second difficulty explain why there are different-sized groups named in the first difficulty.

    Nevertheless, granting there are differences, still it’s true that at the first level of analysis, the reason I believe Jesus walked on water is the same reason most of us believe the core of the earth is made of molten iron and nickel: because of the testimony of persons deemed to be trustworthy, competent, and credible.

  9. Larry Tanner says:

    Nevertheless, granting there are differences, still it’s true that at the first level of analysis, the reason I believe Jesus walked on water is the same reason most of us believe the core of the earth is made of molten iron and nickel: because of the testimony of persons deemed to be trustworthy, competent, and credible.

    If the character of the persons involved is the only factor to consider, then the best we can say about any testimony is that we believe the witness has not intentionally deceived us. This is why we need to have sound methods and tools in addition to good witnesses with accurate testimony.

    When it comes to the core of the earth, we have such methods and tools in addition to testimony, as my previous comments indicate. When it comes to the walk-on-water stories, we have no clear methods or tools to help us discover the veracity of the specific events. Plus, the reliability, competence, and honesty of the witnesses remain an open question to many people, not just skeptics or non-believers–we really don’t know. At the very least, it would seem reasonable and prudent not to trust the walk-on-water stories completely.

    When it comes to these stories, we want to be careful and not say we know the stories are true when we don’t know this at all. What we may know is that we want and hope the stories are true.

  10. Tom Gilson says:

    Larry, you say,

    If the character of the persons involved is the only factor to consider, then the best we can say about any testimony is that we believe the witness has not intentionally deceived us. This is why we need to have sound methods and tools in addition to good witnesses with accurate testimony.

    Ummm…. I said “competence, credibility, trustworthiness.” Competence includes having a firm grasp on the appropriate methods for determining the facts of a matter.

    And if you have good witnesses with accurate testimony, doesn’t that pretty much take care of the “sound methods”?

    You say, “When it comes to the walk-on-water stories, we have no clear methods or tools to help us discover the veracity of the specific events.”

    Well, sure, we have no way to double-check it by way of repeating our observations. But this is normal for historical events, including forensic situations, and yet we still come to confident and justified conclusions.

    Let me put the issue in context and maybe that will help. There’s a reason Boghossian asks, “how do you know Jesus walked on water.” It’s because he knows that most believers will eventually say, “because I have faith,” and because he knows he can attack their epistemology on those grounds. What I’m showing here is that there are more epistemically reliable ways to be confident in the account.

    If you doubt the competence, credibility, and trustworthiness of the witnesses, then you’re going to doubt the reports. But the problem in that case would not be with the methods. The witnesses had all the right methodology at hand to make the determination they made. Your problem would be with the witnesses themselves, which leads us away from Boghossian’s question and on to the entire apologetic enterprise.

  11. BillT says:

    “There’s a reason Boghossian asks, “how do you know Jesus walked on water.” It’s because he knows that most believers will eventually say, “because I have faith,” and because he knows he can attack their epistemology on those grounds.”

    I think there is a another reason Boghossian asks this question in this manner. It’s another example of the kind of dishonest rhetorical approach he has used throughout his critique of believers and belief.

    The central question here really is “how do we know the NT is a reliable historical account.” By reducing this to one specific miracle Boghossian can imply that believers not only believe without reason but believe in unreasonable things*.

    The reasons we believe in the reliability of the NT, as an historical document, is the same as why anyone would believe in the accounts of any historical document that being textual analysis, historical analysis, archeological analysis, etc. Except, of course, that the NT is orders of magnitude better attested to in these particulars than any other ancient historical document in existence.

    *As has been explained here many times, the belief in miracles is as reasonable as the belief any other historical event. i.e., For an omnipotent God capable of creating the universe ex nihilo the occurrence of a miraculous event is as ordinary as the sunrise (which is, in this context, another miraculous event).

  12. JAD says:

    The Nicene creed, in part, reads:

    I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

    And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

    Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures…

    http://www.ccel.org/creeds/nicene.creed.html

    Notice that according to this creed there are three miracles that are really essential to the Christian faith.

    First, there is the belief that a transcendent Mind (God) intentionally created the universe.

    Second that God became incarnate and took on human form as an historical person, Jesus of Nazareth (5 B.C. to 33 A.D.).

    Third, Jesus was crucified, died and was buried but then was supernaturally resurrected.

    These are the essential miracles of the Christian faith. Any other miracles, in the opinion of many Christian thinkers, are really secondary. Why then is it that skeptics like Boghossian concentrate all there efforts on the secondary stuff, like walking on water, turning water into wine, talking donkeys and snakes etc? Wouldn’t it make more sense to go after Christianities primary claims? Is it because some of the other miracles are easier to ridicule, or is it because they do not have good arguments against Christianity’s primary claims?

  13. […] told me he is looking forward to it. I’m also looking forward to his promised article on my Open Letter to Dr. Boghossian. In that letter I provide more than just reasons to wonder about Boghossian’s definition of […]

  14. […] I appreciate the thoughtfulness of your response to my Open Letter to Peter Boghossian. You anticipated many of my thoughts, answered several others, and gave me much to think […]

  15. Stephen says:

    I have several concerns about the argument you’ve laid out across this series.

    First, I notice that although at one point you did reference the Greek, “pistis”, at other places, you haven’t quite stayed on point, conflating various meanings that the English word “faith” might be used to convey. Faith could mean “trust” as referenced in your definition (part 6) or it could mean loyalty, fidelity, sincerity, reliability, or conviction. This is important because in the parts where you talk about the Exodus narrative, the Israelites face a pretty different situation than you or I might be facing today. The Israelites’ “lack of faith” would have been of the “infidelity” variety, which might be better described as a lack of self-control. In the story, the Israelites didn’t upset God because they were turning into atheists.

    The concerns of a formerly Christian agnostic such as myself have nothing to do with my fidelity, but rather with concerns about the existence of the deity referenced in the bible, and the reliability of the bible itself, neither of which would have been relevant to ancient Israelites, if the bible can be trusted. If I knew he existed, then I wouldn’t have a big problem trusting him–provided he lived up to the hype. If I could know that either the bible was reliable, OR that the Christian God did in fact exist–in the same way the ancient Israelites did, through firsthand experiential knowledge–then all my doubts would be allayed and I wouldn’t be an agnostic anymore. So, it would be more efficient, in my opinion, if you spoke directly to the concerns that agnostics and atheists really have, and not conflate it with other concerns that other people might have had in different times and different places.

    We have to come to grips with the fact that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the children of Israel were not asked to walk by “faith” in the New Testament sense, but only by “sight.” Extend that to the 21st century, and to be a modern Christian, we’re not asked to have “faith” in the Christian God, so much as we are to have “faith” in a whole host of various men (who the Old Testament says NOT to trust), both in ancient times, as well as those who officiate in the churches, and provided we first place our unwavering faith in them to tell us about God, only then could we even begin to have any faith in the God they’ve told us about. And this is by virtue of the fact that all the deities have seemingly retreated away from us. And that presents a complete and total vacuum of anything secure enough to be called “knowledge,” which can only be filled with blind faith in many different ideas, texts, people, and depending on your brand of Christianity, perhaps dead saints and relics too, all built one atop another.

    Given this utter lack of “knowledge,” and, given your definition of “faith,” to what “knowledge” can anyone’s “faith” be connected or be a response to? And since your definition depends upon knowledge, you can’t just say that it doesn’t matter if the bible is true or not, because if it isn’t then you’ve just admitted you haven’t got any “knowledge” that is so necessary, given your definition of “faith,” to make “faith” work. And you can’t simply pretend that you “know” what the ancient Israelites “knew,” because believing the Exodus narrative is literally true is in itself an act of “faith” and you’d be right back to Boghossian’s definition.

    I don’t have a problem with your definition, except for the fact I don’t think the “knowledge” necessary to make it into a practical one exists, and as far as I can tell, you’re conflating “knowledge” with just more “faith,” which, it appears, is circular, meaning you can then proceed to say that it doesn’t matter if the bible is true or not. However, your indifference to the veracity of the bible reveals how peripheral and disconnected “knowledge” is to how your “faith” is actually operating in practice. Given the knowledge component, it seems to me your definition of “faith” may actually be a definition of “sight”?

    (I have taken the liberty of adding paragraph breaks to this comment for readability’s sake–Tom)

  16. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Steven:

    The concerns of a formerly Christian agnostic such as myself have nothing to do with my fidelity, but rather with concerns about the existence of the deity referenced in the bible, and the reliability of the bible itself, neither of which would have been relevant to ancient Israelites, if the bible can be trusted. If I knew he existed, then I wouldn’t have a big problem trusting him–provided he lived up to the hype.

    As a Christian, I have concerns how a former Christian could believe in this, when it is *explicitly* rejected by Christian doctrine: one only has to think of Satan. The classical Biblical locus is James 2:19.

  17. Tom Gilson says:

    Thanks for joining the conversation, Stephen.

    I agree that “faith” has multiple meanings and applications. That’s one reason Boghossian’s uni-dimensional take on it is obviously wrong.

    In this series I have focused on the definition-categories of faith that are nearest to the ones that Boghossian uses. I don’t find him critiquing faithfulness as much as belief, so I have paid little attention here to that side of faith.

    You are wrong, however, to say that the Israelite’s lack of faith would have been of the infidelity variety to the exclusion of the disbelief variety. Certainly they were unfaithful in their later history. During the Exodus, however, it was clearly about lacking belief: they disbelieved that God could provide food, that he could provide water, that he could bring them safely into the promised land.

    This understanding is reinforced in Psalm 78, esp. Ps 78:22 and Ps. 78:32. The Golden Calf instance was probably not a matter of infidelity so much as disobedience: they thought they were worshiping Yahweh with it, not some other God.

    So I don’t think I was that far off track to speak of Israel’s lack of belief/faith. I did not mean to imply that there is no other dimensionality to faith; in fact I said that explicitly somewhere in the series.

    Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had to walk by faith, not by sight. Consider Abraham. In Genesis 12 he was told to leave Ur and move to Canaan. He had knowledge of the command, yes (on a generous reading of the situation); but he was moving into the unknown on the basis of trust in the One who gave the command. This is quintessential biblical faith: trusting God for where he is taking us, based on what we know of him. I do not know, because it’s not in the accounts, what led Abraham to hold this trust in God, but I do know that your analysis is incorrect: he was walking not by sight but by faith. The OT and NT examples are all like that, except that in more cases than not, we can actually see what it was that led these persons to understand that God is real and that he is good. Abraham is exceptional in that sense (and not just that one).

    Other than that, I don’t think you’ve raised much of a question concerning what “faith” means as a word. That was and is, of course, my central quibble with Boghossian. It’s not the only one, but it’s the main one. Your questions have more to do with how we in the 21st century can reasonably place our faith in God, and in the revelation he has given us in the Bible. (“Bible” is a proper noun in this context, by the way. Mistakes in capitalizing proper nouns are a pet peeve of mine that I trust you’ll be willing to work with.)

    The situation for us today is not as you have characterized it: an “utter lack of ‘knowledge.’” The Bible is open for historical verification on many, many points, and it stands up to those tests. The Resurrection accounts themselves stand up to standard internal-evidence tests such as the criterion of embarrassment. Multiple lines of evidence taken together lead the great majority of NT-era historians to conclude that Jesus lived, that he was a wandering teacher, that he did acts of power in some way, that he was crucified under the Romans, that his disciples had experiences of Jesus after his death which they took to be actual resurrection appearances, that they planted a movement that grew steadily, that Saul had a remarkable conversion experience and became a believer after having been highly opposed to Christianity, that reports of Jesus’ resurrection were circulating and codified as early as five to seven years after his death, that Luke’s history of the early church in Acts is in very close accord (where it can be checked) with the minutest details of local knowledge everywhere he went …

    That’s no “utter lack of ‘knowledge.’” Is it enough, though, to justify or command assent? Yes and no: there’s plenty there to justify assent, but not to command it. Belief in God as presented in the Bible is perfectly rational. It’s philosophically coherent and historically supportable. The biblical viewpoint explains humanness (the human condition) far better than any other. I do not have space here to go into all the ways it does that, but I’ve written and debated on it extensively, and I have never found any other belief system to equal its explanatory power.

    There is room, though, to disagree. The Bible is not so certain as to command assent. I don’t need to demonstrate that to you, I’m sure!

    You speak of my “indifference to the veracity of the bible [sic].” That’s a complete misreading of my argument on your part. (I assume you are the same Stephen, by the way, who wrote at more length on this at Debunking Christianity.)

    What I was saying was not that I don’t care about the truth of the Bible. I was saying rather that the argument literature and convention that I presented, against Boghossian’s definition of “faith” and in favor of a different definition, is a valid argument regardless of whether the Bible was true or not. I believe the Bible is true and that biblical faith is sound and justified, but I wasn’t talking about that there. I was talking only about, “what does the word ‘faith’ actually mean, as it’s been used in actual literature and discussion?” I was making the case that the word means what it means, in actual literature and discussion, whether one believes that such literature is true or not.

    I hope that’s more clear now.

  18. Stephen says:

    There certainly is plenty of room to disagree, though I did not comment here merely to be disagreeable. I was a fundamentalist Christian until not so very long ago, and one way of understanding my deconversion was due to the realization that there was nothing to connect the bible to reality, and that what I had been told was “knowledge” didn’t measure up to that. I had merely accepted the dogma my parents, ministers, and other churchgoers had told me at face value, uncritically, because that’s what children do, and over the years it had persisted as a self-reinforcing worldview. The acid test, however, is whether or not God exists in the real world. I always thought that if I was “faithful” enough, “obedient” enough, “perfect” enough, etc., etc., all the things that fundamentalism is so good at drilling into you, that God would eventually reveal himself to me. But after a while, it became obvious that wasn’t in the cards, and that maybe the reason why he isn’t revealing himself is because he’s not there. I could be wrong, and if that’s the case and he also decides to change his mind about hiding from me, then, contrary to G. Rodrigues’ point of view, I’ll be 110% on board, though I can’t speak for others, including “fallen” supernatural entities. On the other hand, the bible says you can’t come to God unless he decides to “draw” you, so I suppose it’s possible that God could exist but I was never eligible to be admitted into the program, so to speak, and just because I wanted to be accepted didn’t mean the dean of admissions was willing to reconsider my application? (In which case it really wouldn’t matter if I was or wasn’t a believer in the final analysis.) Suffice it to say, I have no idea what’s going on down here for sure, and neither does anyone I’ve ever met. I don’t know if we’re being visited by extraterrestial craft, who shot JFK, or whether there’s a monster in Loch Ness. Until I do, I’m just going to go with what can be verified and what is hearsay, urban legend, and folk tale I have to hold in abeyance. Doesn’t mean it’s true or not true, it just means I don’t know, and I’m going to wait until I do. Lots of people want to invest in a position on UFOs, JFK, and the Loch Ness Monster, but you can count me out because, even though it’s interesting, I don’t know anything. However, if I’m ever abducted, bump into “Colonel X,” or see somthing swimming in the lake, maybe I’ll change my tune, because then maybe I will know something. Same goes for the Christian God and the bible.

  19. Hi all. Coming late to this conversation and I hope you don’t mind me chiming in now. I have downloaded and read Tom’s ebook and will respond to that and the letter soon. First though, a couple of proof reading things I thought you might like to know about.

    I couldn’t find a way to copy from the Kindle version and it doesn’t seem to have a page number but I hope this info will help you find out.

    Loc 194 of 1236 – 16% – second paragraph

    “While I’ve heard if spoken by many atheists, …”

    Loc 912 of 1236 – 74% – second paragraph

    “…, I’ve given a lot of thought to what makes people into atheists.” While you could possibly lose “into” or replace “makes” with “turns” or “changes” I would suggest changing the sentence to the singular and use the word “why” along the lines of “…. why someone becomes an atheist.” You may specifically want the connotations of the plural and for ‘the production of’ atheists which is of course your right.

    I hope you don’t take these notes as an attack. I would want people to help me offer the best product I could and that is my motivation for mentioning them.

    #12 JAD

    These are the essential miracles of the Christian faith. Any other miracles, in the opinion of many Christian thinkers, are really secondary. Why then is it that skeptics like Boghossian concentrate all there efforts on the secondary stuff, like walking on water, turning water into wine, talking donkeys and snakes etc? Wouldn’t it make more sense to go after Christianities primary claims? Is it because some of the other miracles are easier to ridicule, or is it because they do not have good arguments against Christianity’s primary claims?

    Tom has mentioned several times that one of the main tenants in accepting the story of the bible is that the authors are trustworthy. If a “secondary” miracle mentioned in the bible as fact is not true, then that diminishes the overall trustworthiness. Being able to pick and choose what is important in the bible makes the whole unimportant. My own personal journey to atheism stems from the fact that the overwhelming evidence shows that the universe is ancient and all life on earth evolved from a single source. The first chapter of the bible with the creation of everything in a week is wrong. This diminishes what can be believed in the rest of the bible. This is of course one of the big three that you mention, but the point is either the miracle of the bible is true or it’s not. If Jesus did not walk on water this hurts the credibility of the story.

    Look forward to conversing with you all.

  20. Regarding faith in ‘walking on water’ and the earths core there is another crucial difference, which is personal observation. I have personally witnessed that the surface tension of water is not strong enough to support an upright man walking on it making it physically impossible for Jesus to have done so (which is obviously why it’s a miracle). My own personal observations lead to the conclusion that it is unlikely this was done.

    I have also witnessed lava being ejected from beneath the earth’s surface through volcanos at multiple positions around the globe, both on land and underwater. This leads me to to the conclusion that the core of the earth is molten.

    So my own personal observations weigh in heavily on these two examples and make one likely and the other not. They are not the same thing at all.

    Sincerely
    Shane

  21. Tom Gilson says:

    Shane, what is the non-question-begging prior probability that if there is a God incarnate in human form, he would be bound by the same physical properties of water that the rest of us are?

  22. Hi Tom,

    Not sure what you mean by “non-question-begging prior” but if I remove that phrase from your sentence the answer is: The probability depends on the power of the God. Assuming you mean a God that has total power over everything in the Universe, both the particles/sub-particles that make up matter and the laws by which they interact, then that God could make himself into human form that continued to have total power over “everything” and walking on water should be a doodle.

    I don’t know if that means he is not bound by the same physical properties of water though. Thinking about a man walking on water I can see three possibilities: Changing the properties of water to hold his weight (most probably the ‘local’ water under him, else all people could walk on water and undermine the miracle); changing the properties of himself (his mass) so that the water could support him; changing the properties of himself so that he was not affected by gravity (i.e. he could fly/levitate). The effect is the same as not being bound by the physical properties of water, but it is not the same thing. I’m probably going a bit overboard with the specifics of your question though. Natural wariness from discussions with people trying to ask ‘loaded’ questions. “If Jesus is God as per the Christian Bible could he easily walk on water?” “Yes.”

    But speaking of tangents, I am now thinking that Christ was born into that human form, and so now I’m wondering about other aspects of your question as it pertains to having the ultimate power. Assuming the immaculate conception is true, and followed on after that point as per a normal pregnancy (and correct me I’m wrong, obviously) do you think the single cell at the time of ‘conception’ was self aware as God and still contained all his powers? Do you think the consciousness/powers of God were given to him at some point in utero, perhaps tied to the development of his brain? Do you think the powers/consciousness of God were given to Jesus after birth at some point; infant, toddler, youth, adult? What are your thoughts? Or is there some testimony that is applicable? And whilst I’m pondering this was Mary the genetic mother of Jesus or was he entirely from God?

    Good to meet you Tom. Thanks for taking the time to converse. And all the best for 2014. Hope it’s a great year for you.

    Shane

  23. JAD says:

    Shane Fletcher:

    Tom has mentioned several times that one of the main tenants in accepting the story of the bible is that the authors are trustworthy. If a “secondary” miracle mentioned in the bible as fact is not true, then that diminishes the overall trustworthiness. Being able to pick and choose what is important in the bible makes the whole unimportant… This is of course one of the big three that you mention, but the point is either the miracle of the bible is true or it’s not. If Jesus did not walk on water this hurts the credibility of the story.

    My point was that according to the early creeds and the Bible itself, those miracles are not essential to saving faith… Do I believe Jesus walked on water? Yes, but I can’t corroborate that with any other kind of historical evidence. However, I can argue that (1) if an omnipotent God exists miracles are logically possible, and (2) With the four gospels and Acts we can check the historical context to see if the writers are being honest and accurate. For example, the writer of Luke writes “I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning… so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (see Luke 1:1-4) Recent scholarship demonstrates that Luke was a very accurate historian. For example:

    The classic scholar, Dr. Colin J. Hemer wrote The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. Dr. Hemer’s work compares the texts written into the book of Acts to archaeological discoveries of the past 200 years. A careful study taken from Dr. Hemer’s work (pages 109 to 158: “Specific Local Knowledge”) verifies the Apostle Paul’s mission travels did occur (at the 99.9% confidence level). Since the unique events written in the book Acts are matched by archaeological records, Dr. Hemer concludes that Paul and Luke had to be there to record such unique events.

    http://www.harvardhouse.com/acts-credible.htm

    See also,
    http://truthbomb.blogspot.com/2012/01/84-confirmed-facts-in-last-16-chapters.html

    Luke himself was not an eyewitness, but claims that he interviewed eyewitnesses. Some scholars think he even interviewed Mary, Jesus’ mother… He also probably met the apostles Peter and John and Jesus’ brother James.

    The best miracle to begin with is the Resurrection. Why? (1)The Bible itself argues that it’s essential for salvation (Romans 10:9-10). (2) A strong circumstantial case can be developed for Resurrection. The main point I was trying to make earlier is that I can’t build a similar circumstantial case for any of the other miracles recorded in the NT.

    My own personal journey to atheism stems from the fact that the overwhelming evidence shows that the universe is ancient and all life on earth evolved from a single source. The first chapter of the bible with the creation of everything in a week is wrong. This diminishes what can be believed in the rest of the bible.

    So you must treat the first chapter of Genesis as scientific text? I don’t.

  24. SteveK says:

    So you must treat the first chapter of Genesis as scientific text?

    I’m wondering this too. If I was really bothered by what I thought Genesis said – rather than hastily jump to atheism – I would ask myself if perhaps I am reading the text wrong. Maybe my culture has influenced my thinking so that I’m reading into the text what was never intended.

    One way to check for that is to see what early Christian’s thought about the text before the world knew what we know today. There are many sources you can check out.

  25. Hi JAD and SteveK. It is a pleasure to meet you both.

    JAD, you make a good point that the Resurrection is a major point to examine the ‘truth’ of Christianity. But before we get into the point of examine if Jesus was resurrected we need to know if he was God. If he was not then his resurrection is irrelevant to your claim, being the second tenant of the 3 you mention. The other miracles he performed bolster this claim and so are important to be examined.

    None of the bible is scientific text. It has no collection of data, poses no testable theories and cannot be used to make predictions. It is a history book. But it is put forward as an infallible history book because it is the inspired word of God. Mistakes in it diminish the power of the Christian God. Either God could make it be written correctly, or he could simply alter the text himself to eliminate the errors. Either he chooses not to do so, cannot do so, or he doesn’t exist.

    The first chapter of the bible says quite plainly that the universe, the earth and everything on it was created in 6 days in the recent past. All the evidence we have shows this not to be the case. So either the beginning of Genesis is written in quite a misleading way, all the evidence that shows an ancient universe and life on earth evolving over aeons has been deliberately falsified by God or God does not exist. This is another major problem with Christianity as JAD points out it is the first tenant that they must believe.

    Steve you suggest reading what the early Christians believed about Genesis because my culture may have influenced my thinking. They themselves were born thousands of years after the event so wouldn’t their culture have influenced their thinking? If the creation story of genesis is a metaphor then how can I can trust any of the words in the bible to be literal? Not to mention, if evolution is true, and man was not ‘created’ perfectly from the dust, but was the end product of millennia of births and deaths then The Fall cannot have happened. The world already had death, weeds, snakes that crawled and painful child birth before Adam and Eve would have had the chance to sin.

    Also, just for clarity, my ‘jump to atheism’ was anything but hasty. I was a Christian for 4 decades, primarily through not investigating any alternatives. A Christian through apathy. “We have books written by men. They have books written by men. Who’s to say which is true.” I became a born again atheist after years of reading and investigation, thoroughly not believing the books of Dawkins, etc and making the usual religious arguments/excuses that were bought up. I do not remember the moment of conversion, but eventually there was a critical mass where the evidence against the Christian God, and by extension any God, was undeniable to me.

    Cheers
    Shane

  26. Tom Gilson says:

    Shane, the first chapter of Genesis was not written to you or me originally but to an audience whose approach to literature (whether written or oral) was pervaded through by Ancient Near East understandings of story, form, style, genre, and meaning. It was not intended scientifically, and to find scientific error in it is to make an error of context and interpretation: essentially a philosophical category error.

    Some Christians disagree, to be sure. You can safely say, then, that you disagree with some Christians. You cannot safely say that you disagree with the Bible (which is a proper noun in this context, by the way, and capitalized in standard English)—not unless you know for certain that you know how it was intended to be read by its original ANE audience, which I doubt. You cannot even safely conclude that it was written in a misleading way, unless you know that it misled them–which you don’t.

    So your disagreement here is not really with the Bible, but only with a certain contemporary culturally conditioned interpretation, which is very likely not the one the Bible intended. I think it would be well for you to recognize that.

  27. Tom Gilson says:

    (I’m not sure, but I think Shane’s comment here might have been intended as a response to this.)

  28. Tom Gilson says:

    I apologize for not getting back to you on other comments, Shane. It was a busy day. Tomorrow looks like it might be too. Remind me if I don’t come back to them soon, please.

  29. Hi Tom,

    Apologies for missing the capital B. I will try hard not to let it happen again. I am also notorious for using ‘s wrong so please call me on that when you see it as well. :)

    My post was not intended as a direct response to that post as I had not read that before. I am only knew to your blog and there is plenty of good stuff to catch up on. The argument itself is not a new one, of course.

    And no problems on the delay. Life is meant to be full. I’m glad yours is.

    I would not disagree with Bible. It is a book. I would disagree with the author. But you are correct that I do not have the cultural knowledge to know about the style of “writing” at the time, and how the story was meant to be presented. I do know it is misleading to its current audience and an omnipotent God would have foreseen that and could have easily used words that would have been satisfying to both markets (and all those in between).

    And what of chapter 2? This again was not witnessed by the authorwriter of Genesis, so is this more metaphorical than literal as well? What of the original sin that is the basis for Christ’s sacrifice and making that work with the theory of evolution which needs death before man could have evolved in the first place?

    Cheers
    Shane

  30. Melissa says:

    Shane,

    But you are correct that I do not have the cultural knowledge to know about the style of “writing” at the time, and how the story was meant to be presented. I do know it is misleading to its current audience and an omnipotent God would have foreseen that and could have easily used words that would have been satisfying to both markets (and all those in between).

    You do realise that when we refer to the Bible as the Word of God we do not mean that God himself wrote the Bible? The authors were men of their times. The God of the Bible works with particular people in their own context at particular times in history. It’s only misleading if you try to squeeze it into a philosophical framework that needs to be challenged anyway.

    What of the original sin that is the basis for Christ’s sacrifice and making that work with the theory of evolution which needs death before man could have evolved in the first place?

    There are of course different answers to this question but ultimately they must be considered speculative. You can find a useful overview here:

    http://biologos.org/questions/death-before-the-fall

  31. Billy Squibs says:

    Wait. Shane, did you (begin to) loose your faith because you thought that a flat reading of Genesis is incompatible with modern scientific theories about the origin of the universe and of life and also because men can’t stand on water?

  32. Jenna Black says:

    Melissa, RE: #30

    You are correct in your statement to Shane. When we write the word “Word” as in the Word of God, we mean message. The Bible is God’s message or revelation to His people. Capitalization has a very important function in conveying meaning. It signals that the word is used with a special meaning, such as the difference in meaning between “god” and “God.” Most particularly, the expression “the Word of God” does not mean the words of God.

  33. BillT says:

    Shane,

    If you are really interested in how to understand Genesis and reconcile it with modern science this paper is probably worth 15 minutes of your time.

  34. JAD says:

    Shane Fletcher:

    I would not disagree with Bible. It is a book. I would disagree with the author. But you are correct that I do not have the cultural knowledge to know about the style of “writing” at the time, and how the story was meant to be presented. I do know it is misleading to its current audience and an omnipotent God would have foreseen that and could have easily used words that would have been satisfying to both markets (and all those in between).

    You make it sound like you view God as some kind short order cook. Is that your view? I don’t mind answering peoples questions (Honest questions deserve honest answers) but a lot of the atheists who show up here have the attitude that God owes them something. I mean if you’re an atheist, aren’t you saying that your mind is made up?

    A few observations about the Genesis one creation account.

    (1) It claims that the universe had a beginning and has a cause– God.

    (2) The universe began to exist as an unformed state which needed to be put into some kind of order.

    (3) It claims that created things themselves are not divine. This is a clear break from pagan religion. For example, the Egyptians worshiped the sun and moon. The Genesis account treats the sun and moon as if they were just a couple things among other created things.

    (4) It teaches scientific realism. What I mean is that it doesn’t teach that the world is God’s dream or is an illusion like some eastern religions teach. The world is really out there and the things that make up the world are also really objectively there. Modern science would not be possible without this assumption– and it is an assumption, because it is something that cannot be proven scientifically.

    (5) Furthermore, it teaches us that God does not “micromanage” His creation. He creates something, then steps back. He creates something else and then steps back again… Finally when he finishes his creation he rests. In other words, even though God can and does intervene in His creation, he doesn’t do so all the time. Created things operate according to natural laws which, again, allows us to study them scientifically.

    (6) It teaches us that the things God creates are interdependent. For example, while an animal might have a distinct existence, it’s existence depends on other created things (cows need grass… cows and grass need air and water… cows and grass reproduce etc… etc….) In other words, on the different days of the creation account God creates groups of animals suited for different ecological niches.

    (7) Finally, it claims that the creation is good but not perfect.

    How should we interpret Genesis? Some of the early church fathers did not interpret the Genesis account literally. For example, Augustine interpreted Genesis one figuratively or allegorically. Origen interpreted chapter two that way as well. Among modern evangelicals there is a wide range of beliefs from from young earth creationism to old earth or progressive creationism and theistic evolution.

  35. Hi Melissa and Jenna. Pleased to make your acquaintance.

    Obviously God didn’t physically write the Bible, but he is believed to have inspired the words. Otherwise what’s the point of the first chapters of Genesis at all? If God didn’t create a perfect world, for perfect humans who then sinned and spoiled everything, why are we all destined for Hell and need the sacrifice of Christ to save us?

    Cheers
    Shane

  36. Hi Billy,

    I wouldn’t characterise it that way. It wasn’t a “They’re right, there’s a problem with that.” leading to more examination of Christianity. It was taking in a lot of information about all aspects of the religion until it became impossible to ignore it anymore. I cannot pin point the moment, but there came a time when everything about Christianity just stopped making sense.

    Cheers
    Shane

  37. HI BillT,

    Thanks very much for the link. It doesn’t satisfactorily address the problem of Adam and Eve being perfect, sinning and therefore dooming all of humanity. If humans evolved from other life, there was never just two of them and the consequences of sin were very much present.

    Cheers
    Shane

  38. Hi JAD,

    My mind was made up when I was a Christian. Minds get changed. :-)

    How should we interpret Genesis?

    The central doctrine of Christianity is that God created the world perfect, man introduced sin condemning us to Hell, and Jesus sacrificed himself to save us if we accept him as our saviour. If Genesis doesn’t have a literal telling of the first two things than the third one is meaningless. How would you suggest we interpret it?

    Cheers
    Shane

  39. BillT says:

    It doesn’t satisfactorily address the problem of Adam and Eve being perfect, sinning and therefore dooming all of humanity.

    Shane,

    You raised specific questions. The article addressed those. I don’t see where you asked about “the problem of Adam and Eve being perfect, sinning and therefore dooming all of humanity”. I qualified which of your questions the article answered. Are you saying that because the article didn’t answer every question you’ve ever had it has no value? That doesn’t seem very fair or honest.

  40. JAD says:

    Shane:

    The central doctrine of Christianity is that God created the world perfect

    Show me where you got that from.

  41. Hi JAD,

    Would you not characterise a world without sin as perfect? Was there sin in the world?

    Shane

  42. Hi BillT,

    You didn’t give me the link saying it would answer a specific question of mine. You said it would help understand Genesis and reconcile it with modern science. Genesis is a big book. The article talks about a couple of things mainly to do with the first couple of chapters. Which is fine. At no point did I say it had no value. To accuse me of being unfair or dishonest is … well … unfair and dishonest.

    A couple of people here have posted links in this thread pertaining to the interpretation of Chapter 1 of Genesis. They have been interesting reads. But it logically follows on from that, if you accept evolutionary theory and Genesis Chapter 1 is not literal then where did sin enter our lives?

    Cheers
    Shane

  43. Melissa says:

    Shane,

    The central doctrine of Christianity is that God created the world perfect, man introduced sin condemning us to Hell, and Jesus sacrificed himself to save us if we accept him as our saviour. If Genesis doesn’t have a literal telling of the first two things than the third one is meaningless.

    Genesis says God created the world good. Sin breaks relationship, both with God, with one another and with the creation. The Bible is the story of God calling his people back to him, to wholeness, there’s more to salvation than avoiding Hell. In fact Genesis never literally talks about Hell anyway. Genesis tells us the truth about God, creation and ourselves, how the world is not as God would want it because of man’s choices. I’m not sure why you think it falls down in that respect.

  44. Hi Melissa,

    Some questions then, based on each sentence of your reply.

    Where does sin come from? Assuming it breaks the relationship with God, with one another and with the creation, how do we get rid of it? And why wasn’t it just done away with in the first place? I am wondering about the motivation of God and the story we are involved in. He created us and gave us a chance to sin thus requiring us to need salvation by the death of his son. But presumably once we are saved and ascended into heaven sin will be done away with. Why not just start with a world where we couldn’t sin? To take the story literally, why have the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the garden? Why commit billions of souls to Hell when it is unnecessary? Another question regarding the original sin, if Adam had no knowledge of good and evil, he did not know what sin was. He did not know that disobeying God’s instruction was sin, because of his lack of knowledge. How can he be held accountable for that? It’s finding someone guilty when they are not mentally competent.

    You say there’s more to salvation than avoiding Hell, but I would suggest avoiding eternal damnation is the overriding motivation for any Christian that believes in it. I will happily hear any evidence you have to the contrary.

    Portions of Genesis are a “metaphorical truth” though. I don’t know how that can be reconciled because it sounds contradictory to me. And how do you know the world is not as God would want it? I would suggest that if God wanted us to have free will, and man has exercised his free will through his choices, then the world is exactly how God would want it … filled with people exercising free will. It is unfair to want people to have free will then be upset when they exercise it. And getting back to my point in the first paragraph, this story ends when we no longer have free will to choose what we want, and that is how sin is removed? Why not just start there? Creating us as people without the ability or opportunity to sin. The story doesn’t make sense. Which is to say the motivation of the central character doesn’t make sense.

    Cheers
    Shane

  45. Melissa says:

    Shane,

    The story doesn’t make sense to you. I think you want everything simple, one-dimensional … Put everything in a box (including God) and tie it up with a nice bow.

    Sin is us missing the mark or stepping outside the lines. It comes from our choices obviously. God gets rid of it when we say yes to him and keeping saying yes to him. Maybe he could have made creatures without the possibility of saying no but that’s not what he did. You think it’s unfair to make creatures that are free to love you, that you lavish life and love on and then be disappointed and angry that they choose to do what you know is not good for them? And what is He supposed to do with people who refuse the live well, they’d just wreck whatever they came near.

    You say there’s more to salvation than avoiding Hell, but I would suggest avoiding eternal damnation is the overriding motivation for any Christian that believes in it. I will happily hear any evidence you have to the contrary.

    Don’t be ridiculous. It’s not true for me and I’d hazard a guess it’s not true for many of the commentators here. To know God, to grow into what he created me to be, to live the truly good life, that is my primary motivation.

    this story ends when we no longer have free will to choose what we want, and that is how sin is removed?

    No this story ends when we only want what is good.

  46. BillT says:

    Shane,

    You were having a discussion and raising questions that the article I linked answered directly. You then were dismissive of it because it didn’t answer a question that wasn’t being discussed nor that you had asked. That’s at least a bit rude if not unfair and dishonest.

    Moving on though you asked “…if you accept evolutionary theory and Genesis Chapter 1 is not literal then where did sin enter our lives?”

    Did you not bother to read the article? You made it sound like you did. I ask because this was the 3rd question it answered.

    Question #3: If biological evolution is true and there was no historical Adam and Eve how can we know where sin and suffering came from?

    Answer: Belief in evolution can be compatible with a belief in an historical fall and a literal Adam and Eve. There are many unanswered questions around this issue and so Christians who believe God used evolution must be open to one another’s views.

    So Shane, are you here to ask questions seriously and honestly or is this just a game for you.

  47. Tom Gilson says:

    Shane,

    You say there’s more to salvation than avoiding Hell, but I would suggest avoiding eternal damnation is the overriding motivation for any Christian that believes in it. I will happily hear any evidence you have to the contrary.

    My overriding motivation is my ever-increasing admiration, love, and worship for God, who is all-good, all-wise, and more and more enticing every day, as I learn to know him through Jesus Christ.

    If there was a heaven with streets of gold and perfect pleasure all day long, but Jesus Christ wasn’t there, I’d consider it as bad as hell.

  48. Billy Squibs says:

    I wouldn’t characterise it that way. It wasn’t a “They’re right, there’s a problem with that.” leading to more examination of Christianity. It was taking in a lot of information about all aspects of the religion until it became impossible to ignore it anymore. I cannot pin point the moment, but there came a time when everything about Christianity just stopped making sense.

    Thanks Shane. I understand your position and I suppose that if I thought about Christianity in the same way that I did when I was younger I would also have found by now that it didn’t make sense. Not that one of the alternatives, an atheistic universe, makes a great deal of sense.

    However, I wonder if you haven’t engaged with the Christianity strongest arguments and its defence? For example, Genesis mentions the goodness of creation multiple times in the first chapter. Nowhere does it mention the perfection of creation. Now I gather that you aren’t alone in this confusion; it seems to be a common mistake to make. But if you are wrong about something as simple about what the text says (i.e. good =/= perfection) then what else could you be wrong about? That’s an open question, of course. However, it might be useful to think about when you approach these issues.

    Incidentally, whatever one thinks about the creation account it is interesting to note that Christian have long held a range of views on how to properly understand it. For example, Origen (184 – 253 AD) said the following of Genesis:

    For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? And that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? And again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally

  49. “You say there’s more to salvation than avoiding Hell, but I would suggest avoiding eternal damnation is the overriding motivation for any Christian that believes in it. I will happily hear any evidence you have to the contrary.”

    #45 Melissa

    Don’t be ridiculous. It’s not true for me and I’d hazard a guess it’s not true for many of the commentators here. To know God, to grow into what he created me to be, to live the truly good life, that is my primary motivation.

    #47 Tom
    My overriding motivation is my ever-increasing admiration, love, and worship for God, who is all-good, all-wise, and more and more enticing every day, as I learn to know him through Jesus Christ.

    If there was a heaven with streets of gold and perfect pleasure all day long, but Jesus Christ wasn’t there, I’d consider it as bad as hell.

    Maybe I wasn’t clear enough in my meaning. What I meant was, if salvation wasn’t a possibility. If you were damned to Hell no matter what what you did or said, then you would not be a follower of the Christian faith. No-one would follow the teachings of the bible if there was no way of being saved. You would not say that you would want “To know God, to grow into what he created me to be, to live the truly good life before he banished me to Hell and torment for all eternity.” And Tom, I’m sorry, but that last comment is ridiculous. If the bible taught that you could be saved and go to Heaven but Jesus wouldn’t be there OR you could to Hell for eternal damnation and torment, you are saying it would be a 50/50 proposition for you? I do not believe you are taking the prospect seriously.

  50. Tom Gilson says:

    You’re right, Shane, I really did misunderstand your question.

    If there was nothing in anyone’s future but hell, I wouldn’t worship the Christ of the Bible; but that’s not so much a statement regarding my psychology or beliefs as it is about hell and the Christ of the Bible. If there is nothing in anyone’s future but hell, the Christ of the Bible would not exist. Christ came specifically so that that would not be the case for everyone’s future.

    And Tom, I’m sorry, but that last comment is ridiculous. If the bible taught that you could be saved and go to Heaven but Jesus wouldn’t be there OR you could to Hell for eternal damnation and torment, you are saying it would be a 50/50 proposition for you? I do not believe you are taking the prospect seriously.

    No, I wasn’t quite meaning to say that. But close. Very close. To be separated from Christ forever would be torment for me. So which would I choose: one torment or the other? That misses the whole point of what I was trying to say, which is that my motivation is not primarily the avoidance of torment (which I had though you meant in your earlier comment) but the pursuit of life in Christ.

  51. #45

    “Shane,

    The story doesn’t make sense to you. I think you want everything simple, one-dimensional … Put everything in a box (including God) and tie it up with a nice bow.”

    Hi Melissa,

    I don’t want simple and one dimensional at all. I love layered stories and multi dimensional characters. But they have to be consistent and their motivations have to make sense. There has to be a reason for their dimensions. There has to be a reason for the layers.

    “Sin is us missing the mark or stepping outside the lines. It comes from our choices obviously. God gets rid of it when we say yes to him and keeping saying yes to him. Maybe he could have made creatures without the possibility of saying no but that’s not what he did. \

    No this story ends when we only want what is good.”

    You are not suggesting you are free of sin right now, are you? I’m sure you want what is good and I’m sure you are saying yes to God, but that doesn’t get rid of sin. Or your need to continue to want what is good and say yes to God. What is finally going to get rid of sin?

    “You think it’s unfair to make creatures that are free to love you, that you lavish life and love on and then be disappointed and angry that they choose to do what you know is not good for them?”

    I am a father of 4. And yes I do think that is unfair. Disappointed maybe, but anger is not called for. And it’s not about the emotion God feels, but the punishment he doles out. Do you think fathers should be able to beat their children when the child chooses to do something that the father knows is not good for them?

    “And what is He supposed to do with people who refuse the live well, they’d just wreck whatever they came near.”

    Do you think fathers should be able to kill their children if they refuse to live well? Just so they wouldn’t wreck things? It’s been mentioned in this thread that God is All Loving. He loves all of mankind more than I can love my children. His punishments don’t seem to bear that out.

    Cheers
    Shane

  52. #46 BillT

    “You were having a discussion and raising questions that the article I linked answered directly. You then were dismissive of it because it didn’t answer a question that wasn’t being discussed nor that you had asked. That’s at least a bit rude if not unfair and dishonest.”

    Bill, whilst I was talking about the creation events I also mentioned this.

    #25 Shane

    “Not to mention, if evolution is true, and man was not ‘created’ perfectly from the dust, but was the end product of millennia of births and deaths then The Fall cannot have happened. The world already had death, weeds, snakes that crawled and painful child birth before Adam and Eve would have had the chance to sin.”

    #29 Shane

    “And what of chapter 2? This again was not witnessed by the authorwriter of Genesis, so is this more metaphorical than literal as well? What of the original sin that is the basis for Christ’s sacrifice and making that work with the theory of evolution which needs death before man could have evolved in the first place?”

    Before you posted

    #33 BillT
    “Shane,

    If you are really interested in how to understand Genesis and reconcile it with modern science this paper is probably worth 15 minutes of your time.”

    I then replied with

    #37
    “HI BillT,

    Thanks very much for the link. It doesn’t satisfactorily address the problem of Adam and Eve being perfect, sinning and therefore dooming all of humanity. If humans evolved from other life, there was never just two of them and the consequences of sin were very much present.

    Cheers
    Shane”

    To say I hadn’t bought up that question is incorrect, as is saying I was dismissive, rude or dishonest.

    “Question #3: If biological evolution is true and there was no historical Adam and Eve how can we know where sin and suffering came from?

    Answer: Belief in evolution can be compatible with a belief in an historical fall and a literal Adam and Eve. There are many unanswered questions around this issue and so Christians who believe God used evolution must be open to one another’s views.”

    I did read it, and I stand by my first comment. That is an unsatisfactory answer. It is not an answer at all, but simply says “it can be compatible”, “there are many unanswered questions” and “we must be open to one another’s views”. The answer, as I read it, is we do not know. As the entry of sin into the world by man’s actions is vitally important to the question of us needing redemption, it seems to me that concrete answers are required. Do you disagree?

    Cheers
    Shane

  53. Melissa says:

    Shane,

    You are not suggesting you are free of sin right now, are you? I’m sure you want what is good and I’m sure you are saying yes to God, but that doesn’t get rid of sin. Or your need to continue to want what is good and say yes to God. What is finally going to get rid of sin?

    Of course I want what is good for me but in practice I often want what is not ultimately good for me. As I let the Spirit work in me I find that I am able to choose more often what is really good for me. That is partly what sanctification entails. That process will be completed at the resurrection. Now, I hope you can see that to choose God (and the good) freely is not the same as being unable to choose at all.

    And it’s not about the emotion God feels, but the punishment he doles out.

    What punishment? He removes them from where they can harm others who want to live well. There’s no evidence that God has plans to beat or otherwise actively harm anyone.

    As the entry of sin into the world by man’s actions is vitally important to the question of us needing redemption, it seems to me that concrete answers are required.

    You don’t think the evidence of the evil of man’s choices is concrete enough?

  54. Hi Melissa,

    I know there is a difference between choosing good and having no other options. The story of Adam and Eve in the bible is that they were made perfect by God. They sinned. And the consequences of that sin were that they ruined the world and everything in it, including themselves, and thus needed salvation. Do you think this is true? Do you think it was a single act, either eating the fruit of the forbidden tree or something else? Do you think that through the salvation of Christ after your death or his second coming you will be transformed or somehow made into a state of perfection like Adam and Eve originally were? If they could sin from this state, what is to stop you from sinning when you are made perfect? Or if you think you will be made into a more perfect state than Adam and Eve were, then why weren’t they made into that state in the first place?

    Do you not believe in Hell? Do you not believe that non Christians suffer a different fate to Christians after death?

    My question is not if there is evil in the world now. My question is where did it originate? The story is Adam is responsible, and we have inherited it from him. If there was no Adam, then where did the sin come from?

    Cheers
    Shane

  55. #48

    Hi Billy,

    Deuteronomy 32:4
    He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.

    It’s been mentioned a couple of times here, but no-one has gone into specifics. Maybe you are waiting for the dramatic reveal? :-) So I’ll bite. What is the suggestion that is being made? That God didn’t make a perfect world? Was there sin already in it? What is the sliding scale from good to perfect that you are using? In my mind, world without sin is both good and perfect. I would appreciate input from any and all on the state of the world at creation.

    Cheers
    Shane.

  56. BillT says:

    That is an unsatisfactory answer. It is not an answer at all, but simply says “it can be compatible”, “there are many unanswered questions” and “we must be open to one another’s views”.

    There were 6 pages of explanation to clarify the brief answer you copied above Shane. But I think it’s pretty clear you don’t want to really confront any answers that might challenge your preconceptions.

  57. Billy Squibs says:

    Shane,

    Let me get back to you about that. I’d like to spend a bit of time reading over Deuteronomy. If you don’t hear back from me by Monday I may have forgotten, so please remind me.

  58. Melissa says:

    Shane,

    They sinned. And the consequences of that sin were that they ruined the world and everything in it, including themselves, and thus needed salvation

    I think they ruined themselves and that our sin does have consequences for the rest of creation. It’s clear we can’t fix the mess we’re in ourselves, so yes we need a savior.

    Do you think it was a single act, either eating the fruit of the forbidden tree or something else?

    I think there was obviously one first act of sin (how could it be otherwise?). The fruit eating may just be symbolic of that sin or it may not, I don’t think that really matters in the overall scheme.

    Do you think that through the salvation of Christ after your death or his second coming you will be transformed or somehow made into a state of perfection like Adam and Eve originally were?

    No.

    Or if you think you will be made into a more perfect state than Adam and Eve were, then why weren’t they made into that state in the first place?

    We’ll just be different. I don’t think you’re really thinking through what you’re writing. How could God make us into exactly how we will be after the resurrection? The answer is he couldn’t that would be logically impossible.

    Do you not believe in Hell? Do you not believe that non Christians suffer a different fate to Christians after death?

    Of course I believe in Hell, just not as a place where God is punishing people.

    My question is not if there is evil in the world now. My question is where did it originate? The story is Adam is responsible, and we have inherited it from him. If there was no Adam, then where did the sin come from?

    Adam and Eve were the first to sin. So that is the sense in which sin entered the world through them but we perpetuate it with our own choices. We are also in a way captive to sin in many ways because of the choices of our forebears.

    In my mind, world without sin is both good and perfect. I would appreciate input from any and all on the state of the world at creation.

    Each thing was made good in it’s kind. Humans are the type of creatures that have free will, therefore there is the possibility of choosing to go against how we were created. It’s important to note too that Adam and Eve were placed in a garden that also contained the tree of life, something we do not have access to now. I think you are confusin yourself because you are imagining heaven as just a return to the Garden of Eden but without the possibility of choosing to sin. I just don’t think that’s what the Bible teaches

  59. #56

    Hi BillT,

    You don’t take 6 pages to clarify a vague and waffling answer. You start with a specific answer and then expand on it. For example:

    “What’s wrong with Peter Boghossian’s latest book?”
    “He has an incorrect definition of Faith. Let me explain …”

    So my question is

    “How did sin enter the world?”

    BillT please tell me what you believe. Or even tell me what you think Tim Keller believes from the article you linked me to. Because the answer to that question is not clearly laid out there, and there are problems with each of the things he suggests.

    If you don’t want to engage in any more discussion, that is of course your prerogative. But you can’t look at me engaging everyone else here and say I don’t want to confront anyone about anything. Please give me an answer to the question above and I will confront it gladly.

  60. #58

    Hi Melissa,

    “I think they ruined themselves and that our sin does have consequences for the rest of creation. It’s clear we can’t fix the mess we’re in ourselves, so yes we need a savior.”

    Well according to Genesis, thorns and thistles are a result of man’s sin. So I meant literally altering the world after the original sin. Though I am interested to hear more about the mess we’re in and why we can’t fix it ourselves.

    “I think there was obviously one first act of sin (how could it be otherwise?). The fruit eating may just be symbolic of that sin or it may not, I don’t think that really matters in the overall scheme.”

    Well I think it matters if man slowly evolved over time as there was no first human. At least not in the same sense as if Adam and Eve were created out of nothing. If we evolved from other primates, can they be responsible for sinning and bringing it into the world? How do you define where the line is where they became human?

    “We’ll just be different. I don’t think you’re really thinking through what you’re writing. How could God make us into exactly how we will be after the resurrection? The answer is he couldn’t that would be logically impossible.”

    Why? It can’t be beyond God’s power or knowledge? So what would stop him?

    “Of course I believe in Hell, just not as a place where God is punishing people.”

    What happens there? What’s the biblical verse to back up that theory? And why do you not see segregation as punishment?

    “Adam and Eve were the first to sin. So that is the sense in which sin entered the world through them but we perpetuate it with our own choices. We are also in a way captive to sin in many ways because of the choices of our forebears.”

    But if the theory of evolution is true, there were not two original ancestors of the human race. So how can two of them to be the first to sin. How can the others be “pure” and then be imbibed with sin by the actions of Adam and Eve?

    “Each thing was made good in it’s kind. Humans are the type of creatures that have free will, therefore there is the possibility of choosing to go against how we were created.”

    Many things have free will. Most an mals in fact. Microscopic organisms have been documented to not choose not to eat food they had found and go searching for a better meal instead which seems to show they are exercising a choice. But if we go further up the ladder and look at documented examples of homosexual activity in the animal kingdom. I’m assuming you would classify that as animals going against how they were created. So do these animals sin? If man has evolved from primates, and before man had evolved these primates had performed homosexual acts, would that not have introduced sin into the world before man was even around? Therefore how could Man be blamed for introducing sin into the world?

    “It’s important to note too that Adam and Eve were placed in a garden that also contained the tree of life, something we do not have access to now. I think you are confusin yourself because you are imagining heaven as just a return to the Garden of Eden but without the possibility of choosing to sin. I just don’t think that’s what the Bible teaches”

    There is very little to be said about what heaven is like in the bible. I’m not making any assumptions there. I am only wondering on the state of man in these three different stages of the story.

    My thoughts on the matter from what I’ve read/been taught:

    Adam and Eve were made good(perfect?) and had the ability to sin.
    Once they did sin all people inherited that, and now we are incapable of not sinning.
    Once we are in heaven, after death or the second coming, we will be unable to sin.

    So the question is either, why didn’t God create man incapable of sinning in the first place OR what is to stop man from sinning in heaven if he will still have that ability?

    A related question to that is regarding Lucifer; how was he created, why did he have the ability to sin, how did God not know that Satan was going to mess everything up, why didn’t God keep him from interfering with man and the perfect world he created, if we are all creations of God what is the fundamental difference between people and angels. Don’t feel the need to get into this now, but if anyone else wants to take a crack at explaining this I would love to hear any info you have.

    Cheers
    Shane

  61. Melissa says:

    Shane,

    Well I think it matters if man slowly evolved over time as there was no first human.

    Even if evolution is true there was a first human. Anyway man is more than just his body, there is an immaterial aspect otherwise we could not be rational. Rationality is required for creatures to sin.

    Why? It can’t be beyond God’s power or knowledge? So what would stop him?

    To repeat – it’s logically impossible

    Many things have free will. Most an mals in fact.

    I don’t think animals have free will, and nothing you followed this statement with shows that they do. I think much of it is just anthromorphising animal behaviour.

    Well according to Genesis, thorns and thistles are a result of man’s sin.

    Reread the passage.

    Though I am interested to hear more about the mess we’re in and why we can’t fix it ourselves.

    Have you done an honest appraisal of yourself lately? Had much success making yourself perfect?

    So the question is either, why didn’t God create man incapable of sinning in the first place OR what is to stop man from sinning in heaven if he will still have that ability?

    I’ve already answered that question in other forms. If you don’t like the answer that’s hardly my problem. I get the feeling you’re not really interested in finding answers though.

  62. Hi Melissa,

    “Even if evolution is true there was a first human.”

    Umm … No. Evolution is the gradual change from one organism to another. If man evolved from primates, then you could look at the animals at the beginning and the end and see the obvious differences, but each animal was born of parents that must be essentially the same as them. There would never be a human that was born of a primate.

    All species of dog on the planet are the result of the domestication of wolves. So you can take a Labrador and trace it’s ancestry back to the two wolves from whence it originated. But if you could see all the slightly different animals that lead from wolf to Labrador you could not pick the first Labrador that was born of a wolf.

    A rainbow changes from red to orange to yellow, etc all the way through to violet. But you can not look at the spectrum and point to where red ends and/or orange begins. You can not pick the first instance of orange/Labrador/man.

    “Anyway man is more than just his body, there is an immaterial aspect otherwise we could not be rational. Rationality is required for creatures to sin.”

    What evidence do you have to back this up? Why must Man contain an immaterial aspect? Why do you think no animals can be rational? More on this below.

    “To repeat – it’s logically impossible”

    To repeat, why? Does God not have the power to do it? Does He not have the knowledge? Why are you imposing this limitation on an all powerful and all knowing God?

    “I don’t think animals have free will, and nothing you followed this statement with shows that they do. I think much of it is just anthromorphising animal behaviour.”

    How do you define free will if not the ability to chose whether to do something or not?

    How about a study of rhesus monkeys that showed when the learned that pulling a chain to receive food also supplied an electric shock to a companion monkey, they stopped pulling on the chain. One subject didn’t pull the chain for 12 consecutive days, literally starving himself rather than to inflict pain upon his companion. Does that constitute a use of free will?

    http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_evolution_of_empathy

    “Reread the passage.”

    Genesis 3:17-18 KJV

    17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

    18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;

    Seems to say pretty specifically that thorns and thistles are a consequence of Adam eating from the forbidden tree.

    “Have you done an honest appraisal of yourself lately? Had much success making yourself perfect?”

    Why do we have to make ourselves perfect?

    “I’ve already answered that question in other forms. If you don’t like the answer that’s hardly my problem. I get the feeling you’re not really interested in finding answers though.”

    I am not playing games with people here, but asking honest questions looking for answers. As I have said, I was a young earth creationist because the following story made sense.

    1. God made the world perfect (without sin)
    2. The first Man sinned (after being tricked by Satan) which added all the terrible things to the world (including death) and tainted human lineage with sin requiring our future salvation through Christ
    3. Through Christ we will live in a perfect afterlife free from sin

    With the knowledge of an ancient universe and life evolving on earth, it no longer makes sense to me. Evolution means there was no first man who can be responsible for sin. Death and everything else that were supposed consequences of sin were already in existence before man was so how can he be responsible for them? And if a place without sin is possible then why didn’t God start with that? These questions are vital to the Christian story, and I sincerely want to know if anyone can answer/explain them.

    Cheers
    Shane

  63. Tom Gilson says:

    Shane, you’re asking how this works from a biblical perspective conjoined with an evolutionary perspective. The answer is, if evolution is true, there was a first human. That first human (on that view) was the one God selected to be the one “in his image,” that is, having attributes of moral responsibility, free will rather than physical necessity, genuine interpersonal relatedness, self-awareness and genuine other-awareness, and so on. Christianity takes these to have been imparted by God to a first person (or couple), the first creatures that were truly human.

  64. Tom Gilson says:

    “Anyway man is more than just his body, there is an immaterial aspect otherwise we could not be rational. Rationality is required for creatures to sin.”

    What evidence do you have to back this up? Why must Man contain an immaterial aspect? Why do you think no animals can be rational?

    There’s a long argument behind this, but it has to do with the nature of thoughts. They have no size, shape, extension, weight, etc., so it’s hard to see how they could be material objects. Material objects are subject to physical necessity, but if thoughts were subject to physical necessity, then their rational features would be subject to physical necessity as well, meaning that the conclusion to a syllogism would be forced by physics rather than by logic or reasoning.

    There is no reason whatever to think that animals can reason on a level anywhere close to man. See Daniel Dennett, a leading atheist philosopher of mind, on this.

    Whether animals or humans have free will is a matter of intense debate. The reason we think humans have it is because we all experience it, because it’s basic to moral responsibility, and because it’s closely associated with the requirements for rationality I just mentioned. We don’t know if animals experience free will or if everything in them is physically determined (which would include instinctual behavior).

    Thorns and thistles in Genesis are symbolic or representative of the world fighting back in a way it hadn’t previously. It’s not saying that roses never had thorns before the fall, but rather that work became toil rather than joy at that point.

    I’m an old-earth creationist. I believe death was in the world before Adam, but not spiritual death, and not human death (see above about “human”). I believe that death was part of a good natural order before the fall.

    I think there are significant problems with the usual evolutionary story, but I also think you’re free to disagree with me on that, and you can still understand the Genesis account in a way that’s intellectually and spiritually responsible within that framework. It’s problematic (in my view), but not to the point of irresponsibility.

    In other words, whether evolution happened or not is not the point. Whether there was a first morally responsible human is crucial. Whether that human (or couple) was innocent originally is crucial. Whether that couple gave up their innocence is crucial. Whether there was spiritual death as a result is crucial. All of that is crucial because it explains who we are today: humans who know we should be better than we are but have no way to make ourselves that way; and who know that there is death coming, and who have no way of solving that problem, either.

    This is all crucial, too, for the way it sets the stage for God’s solution to our problems in Jesus Christ.

    The rest is open to debate among believing Christians, and the debates are ongoing. I have my strong opinions on the debate, but I can certainly recognize and affirm the genuine Christianity of others who have different views.

  65. Melissa says:

    Shane,

    I am not playing games with people here, but asking honest questions looking for answers.

    You’re asking questions but you’re not taking the posture of a learner. It’s quite clear that you have fairly large gaps in some of your knowledge plus entrenched views of what the text and the scientific data “must” mean.

    Umm … No. Evolution is the gradual change from one organism to another. If man evolved from primates, then you could look at the animals at the beginning and the end and see the obvious differences, but each animal was born of parents that must be essentially the same as them. There would never be a human that was born of a primate.

    I know that’s how some people view the implications of evolution but if you want to go that route it knocks out more than just Adam and Eve. Generally people do not hold that view consistently. You do realise there are no real beginning and end points? Which means no morality, even the concept if disabilities and illness can’t be defined objectively but only exist relative to our personal desires.

    What evidence do you have to back this up? Why must Man contain an immaterial aspect? Why do you think no animals can be rational? More on this below.

    Thought are about things, they are determinate in a way physical processes are not. There are many arguments in support of the immateriality of the mind. If you are interested I can probably point you in the direction if a couple. To be rational is in part to grasp concepts. Language, mathematics are markers of rationality. We know we grasp concepts and we know we choose. We know nothing of the sort about animals. While we know they can adapt, there is no evidence that they reason.

    To repeat, why? Does God not have the power to do it? Does He not have the knowledge? Why are you imposing this limitation on an all powerful and all knowing God?

    God can not do what is logically impossible. He can not make a square circle.

    18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;

    Seems to say pretty specifically that thorns and thistles are a consequence of Adam eating from the forbidden tree.

    No it doesn’t. This is the kind of thing I’m referring to when I say you’re assuming what it must mean. It says that the earth will produce thorns and thistles for Adam when he tills it. This is contrasting to before when he would have been able to harvest easily from the earth. It says nothing about whether thorns and thistles existed or not before.

    Tom has thoughtfully replied to your questions as well. I hope you will take some time to think through them. It seems you were taught a very rigid, literal Christianity. You should know that there is a wealth of wisdom and intellectual rigour within Christian thinking. If you really are interested in reexamining Christianity then I’m sure we could point you in the direction of a range of worthwhile resources to give you a good idea if the breadth of Christian thought.

  66. #63.

    Hi Tom,

    Your suggestion is that God created a universe 13.72 Billion years ago and let it run, with our Solar System created about 4 and a half Billion years ago. After this point he might have started life off here, but either way it evolved over thousands of millions of years, with the vast majority of everything that has ever lived to had died and over 98% of all species that there have ever been have gone extinct. Man (or something very like him in this estimation) appears about 100 000 years ago, and after watching most of these “people” dying he decides, about 6000 years ago, to imbibe two of them with “humanness”.

    Does this not strike you as wasteful, if nothing else? From a God that could have made everything from scratch 6000 years ago, and therefore not inflict all that suffering and death before hand? And again, if all the consequences of sin were in the world at this point, how can these first two people be responsible for it?

    There’s two more replies below this one, so maybe they answer it, but I like to respond in order.

    Cheers
    Shane

  67. #64

    Hi Tom,

    Thoughts exist in the brain in a chemical and electrical form, similar to the way data is stored on a computer hard drive. Looking at it directly you see just a bunch of 1s and 0s, switches turned on or off. But they can be interpreted by the CPU of the computer to operate a web browser allowing me to type this response. Parts of the brain do the same interpretation for us. Damage to the brain damages the way it thinks and remembers.

    I’m not suggesting they can. They don’t have the computing power. With response to other primates (and any other animal) our brains are enormous compared to our mass. But if a “lower” animal can reason at all, it is reasonable to assume that our increase in brain size is the reason we can reason in a more complex way, rather than the necessity of it being bestowed upon us by God.

    I understand the debate about free will. A lot of people believe we don’t have free will, with all our thoughts, actions and reactions being dependent on our own specific chemical make up. An interesting topic. But for me, and I guess for you, the importance is if we are different to animals. If it can be shown we have free will and animals don’t. It seems to me that the more complex the animal, the greater the amount of free will it has, mammals being the top of the chain. I call my cat. Sometimes it comes over for a pat, but mostly not, lol. Is the difference in it’s choice of reaction any different to me playing with my wife’s hair as we sit on the sofa, sometimes with her snuggling closer into me, other times saying, “Please don’t do that. It’s annoying me.”

    What about the “people” before the Fall. Were they not working to survive? Was their life joyous? Why did Adam and Eve suddenly get a reprieve from the toil when they were made human? God says Eve will give birth in pain … did her mother not birth her in pain before hand? How is that possible?

    In other words, whether evolution happened or not is not the point. Whether there was a first morally responsible human is crucial. Whether that human (or couple) was innocent originally is crucial. Whether that couple gave up their innocence is crucial. Whether there was spiritual death as a result is crucial. All of that is crucial because it explains who we are today: humans who know we should be better than we are but have no way to make ourselves that way; and who know that there is death coming, and who have no way of solving that problem, either.

    This is all crucial, too, for the way it sets the stage for God’s solution to our problems in Jesus Christ.

    I agree. All of that is crucial. But it makes no sense if evolution is true. The story begins with God wanting to make an innocent and morally responsible first human. If God is all powerful he could have done that in an instant. How do you reconcile the Big Bang and 13.72 Billion years of history before he actually intervened to make people? Because I cannot think of a good explanation.

    Cheers
    Shane

  68. Melissa says:

    Shane,

    Thoughts exist in the brain in a chemical and electrical form, similar to the way data is stored on a computer hard drive. Looking at it directly you see just a bunch of 1s and 0s, switches turned on or off. But they can be interpreted by the CPU of the computer to operate a web browser allowing me to type this response. Parts of the brain do the same interpretation for us.

    The CPU does not do the interpreting we do. The output from a computer is only meaningful because we give it meaning. The problem with the analogy of the brain as computer is that there is nothing else to impart meaning. I realise you’re probably just repeating what you’ve heard or seen elsewhere but it is a view that is refuted by the arguments for the immateriality of thought and is based on speculation rather than evidence. What that means is that you need to show where the arguments for the immateriality if the mind go wrong not continue to propose speculative accounts. A recent argument would be Ross’s but there are others (Searle etc).

    Does this not strike you as wasteful, if nothing else? From a God that could have made everything from scratch 6000 years ago, and therefore not inflict all that suffering and death before hand?

    Your argument is that God’s creation is wasteful? You haven’t thought that God might delight in his creation? Also you assume that death and suffering are evils which is not necessarily true.

    What about the “people” before the Fall. Were they not working to survive? Was their life joyous? Why did Adam and Eve suddenly get a reprieve from the toil when they were made human?

    Since Adam and Eve were the first humans there were no ” people” only animals.

    We get it. If you were God you would have done it differently. Therefore the bible is false and God does not exist. Yep, heard that one before.

  69. #65

    Hi Melissa,

    “It seems you were taught a very rigid, literal Christianity. You should know that there is a wealth of wisdom and intellectual rigour within Christian thinking. ”

    Yes ma’am, I was. I belonged to a Presbyterian church with a literal interpretation of the bible. I understand there are different views and my questions are about understanding them.

    “I know that’s how some people view the implications of evolution but if you want to go that route it knocks out more than just Adam and Eve. Generally people do not hold that view consistently. You do realise there are no real beginning and end points? Which means no morality, even the concept if disabilities and illness can’t be defined objectively but only exist relative to our personal desires.”

    I do understand that there is no beginning, apart from the initial spark of life, I guess.

    And the idea of objective morality has been bought up a number of times here. What’s the virtue of it? And do you think your belief in God makes your view of morality any less subjective than my mine?

    “Thought are about things, they are determinate in a way physical processes are not. There are many arguments in support of the immateriality of the mind. If you are interested I can probably point you in the direction if a couple. To be rational is in part to grasp concepts. Language, mathematics are markers of rationality. We know we grasp concepts and we know we choose. We know nothing of the sort about animals. While we know they can adapt, there is no evidence that they reason.”

    I would be interested in the arguments, if you don’t mind sharing the links.

    There is a story in the link I posted above about a chimpanzee who rescued a bird that fell into it’s enclosure. It was told to let it go so it claimed to the highest tree it could, spread the birds wings and launched it. It knew how the bird was supposed to fly through observation of other birds. That sounds like reasoning to me.

    “God can not do what is logically impossible. He can not make a square circle.”

    Okay, now I understand your argument. My question then is why is this logically impossible? This is not like asking for a square circle or to make a rock that he cannot lift. Is God not all knowing? Can he not see the future? Does he not know everything you are ever going to do? Is he not all powerful? Can he not create you at any point along the time line of your life? I don’t understand what the limitation is?

    “No it doesn’t. This is the kind of thing I’m referring to when I say you’re assuming what it must mean. It says that the earth will produce thorns and thistles for Adam when he tills it. This is contrasting to before when he would have been able to harvest easily from the earth. It says nothing about whether thorns and thistles existed or not before.”

    So before Adam was made into a man there was just less thistles? Everything was readily available to all the animals to eat?

    #68

    “The CPU does not do the interpreting we do. The output from a computer is only meaningful because we give it meaning. The problem with the analogy of the brain as computer is that there is nothing else to impart meaning. I realise you’re probably just repeating what you’ve heard or seen elsewhere but it is a view that is refuted by the arguments for the immateriality of thought and is based on speculation rather than evidence. What that means is that you need to show where the arguments for the immateriality if the mind go wrong not continue to propose speculative accounts. A recent argument would be Ross’s but there are others (Searle etc).”

    Obviously it’s a flawed analogy. The main argument I would have is related to the thinking that primates do. If their brains are doing the same things ours is (obviously at a smaller level because of it’s size related to it’s body) then the human mind is not special, just bigger. I would be interested in the links here to anything on this topic. Thanks in advance.

    “Your argument is that God’s creation is wasteful? You haven’t thought that God might delight in his creation? Also you assume that death and suffering are evils which is not necessarily true.”

    “We get it. If you were God you would have done it differently. Therefore the bible is false and God does not exist. Yep, heard that one before.”

    No. It’s got nothing to do with what I would have done. It’s to do with what makes sense. I totally understand young earth creationists. Because that story makes sense. That’s why Genesis is written that way. The scientific evidence refutes that, however, so they have to try and refute the science (because the other alternative is that God is deliberately laying false evidence).

    But the science can’t reasonably be refuted. So it becomes either this long winded story with God tweaking things every now and then OR there is no God. The second one is the story which makes the most sense. And this is just the first couple of chapters of Genesis.

    Cheers
    Shane

  70. Melissa says:

    Shane,

    A philosophy of mind round-up:

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com.au/2011/05/mind-body-problem-roundup.html?m=1

    I do understand that there is no beginning, apart from the initial spark of life, I guess.

    And the idea of objective morality has been bought up a number of times here. What’s the virtue of it? And do you think your belief in God makes your view of morality any less subjective than my mine?

    If the concept human is invented to label an arbitrary point on a solid continuum, then there may be particular things that we label human but there is no external reality against which our labeling may be judged correct or not. If there are no particular things that share the human nature and natural ends it is silly to talk about anything being good and or bad for humans in any objective sense. The problem with this is that atheists still pass moral judgement on others. This could signal two possibilities, either they hold two contradictory beliefs or they are engaging manipulative dishonest behaviour to get people to behave in ways that conform to the atheist’s preferences.

    No. It’s got nothing to do with what I would have done. It’s to do with what makes sense. I totally understand young earth creationists. Because that story makes sense. That’s why Genesis is written that way.

    I’m not sure how much you know about ANE literature or the way colonised people pick up in literary forms of the dominant culture and use them to convey their story. The Genesis accounts (plus other parts of the OT) function very much as polemics against the surrounding cultures. The Hebrew’s pick up the forms and motifs and use them to craft an alternative narrative explaining the cosmos and the human condition. A very literal understanding of bible (bible as science or modern style history) is very much a product of the cultural and philosophical trends of modernism. There are independent reasons to question that framework so it makes sense to be careful how those readings may condition our understanding of what the bible says.

    Can he not create you at any point along the time line of your life? I don’t understand what the limitation is?

    A “me” magicked into existance at age 35 would not really be me. You cannot make someone who has chosen God if they have not chosen God.

    If their brains are doing the same things ours is (obviously at a smaller level because of it’s size related to it’s body) then the human mind is not special, just bigger. I would be interested in the links here to anything on this topic.

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com.au/2013/12/da-ya-think-im-sphexy.html?m=1

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com.au/2011/09/monkey-in-your-soul.html?m=1

  71. Hi Melissa,

    “If the concept human is invented to label an arbitrary point on a solid continuum, then there may be particular things that we label human but there is no external reality against which our labeling may be judged correct or not.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by external reality. Whilst the continuum will be continuous into the future, it is stopped by the 4th dimension in the present. Which is just fine by me. I’m pretty comfortable with the label of human and who it applies to right now.

    “If there are no particular things that share the human nature and natural ends it is silly to talk about anything being good and or bad for humans in any objective sense.”

    Well there are particular things that are human and we know whom they are. And again, what’s so great about talking about good and bad in an objective sense? I can tell you subjectively what is bad:

    Physically or mentally harming me or my family.

    Ergo a moral society tries to protect it’s people and punishes those that inflict harm on others. Where is the need to have an outside assessment of that?

    Thanks for the links will look at them in the morning.

    Cheers
    Shane

  72. Melissa says:

    Shane,

    I’m pretty comfortable with the label of human and who it applies to right now.

    You’re only comfortable because you ignore the logical entailment a if your position.

    Well there are particular things that are human and we know whom they are.

    Actually if what you believe is true then you don’t. What you conclude is a bad or defective human could just not be human. The boundaries are arbitrary and the is nothing externally to measure it against. This is illustrated by the fact that it’s OK to kill baby humans (they’re not really human), and the various people labelled sub-human by the Nazis. All you have to offer against these attitudes is sentiment and prejudice but the truth is that they really are human beings and anyone who says otherwise is wrong.

    And again, what’s so great about talking about good and bad in an objective sense? I can tell you subjectively what is bad:

    Physically or mentally harming me or my family.

    Ergo a moral society tries to protect it’s people and punishes those that inflict harm on others. Where is the need to have an outside assessment of that?

    Actually it doesn’t follow from your subjective feelings that a moral society should protect people and punish others that harm people. There are other people that think it would be in their interests to harm you why should your subjective preferences trump theirs?

  73. Hi Melissa,

    Well there are particular things that are human and we know whom they are.

    Actually if what you believe is true then you don’t. What you conclude is a bad or defective human could just not be human. The boundaries are arbitrary and the is nothing externally to measure it against.

    Anyone who is born of two humans is a human.

    Do you honestly think that someone who is bad or defective might not be a human?

    What boundaries do you mean? The end boundary in my case is time. The present. If we go back in time there will be a point where we don’t have humans any more but what does that have to do with judgements I make today?

    “This is illustrated by the fact that it’s OK to kill baby humans (they’re not really human),”

    Nor are they babies.

    “and the various people labelled sub-human by the Nazis.”

    The Nazis were wrong. But scientifically so. Do I need to list the evidence that shows all humans are the same species?

    “All you have to offer against these attitudes is sentiment and prejudice”

    Sentiment maybe, but I don’t think prejudice is accurate. A moral for society is based on the premise that how I want to be treated is how all people should be treated. It’s rooted in empathy which is the opposite of prejudice.

    “but the truth is that they really are human beings and anyone who says otherwise is wrong.”

    Why do you think that? You believe God believes it. How is that any less subjective than my reasoning?

    “Actually it doesn’t follow from your subjective feelings that a moral society should protect people and punish others that harm people. There are other people that think it would be in their interests to harm you why should your subjective preferences trump theirs?”

    Because my subjective reasons protect all citizens equally and theirs do not.

  74. Melissa says:

    Shane,

    Anyone who is born of two humans is a human.

    So what are you arguing? Evolution has terminated at humans?

    Do you honestly think that someone who is bad or defective might not be a human?

    I don’t think that at all but I don’t share your metaphysics. You on the other hand cannot argue that there is such a thing as bad or defective except as defined against the standard that exists in your (and maybe your friends) heads.

    The Nazis were wrong. But scientifically so. Do I need to list the evidence that shows all humans are the same species?

    Species are just concepts that don’t really exist in the world. We arbitrarily decide what is a species and what is not, what counts as a human and what does not. Not to mention that it seems you don’t think all members of our species deserve protection anyway.

    Sentiment maybe, but I don’t think prejudice is accurate. A moral for society is based on the premise that how I want to be treated is how all people should be treated. It’s rooted in empathy which is the opposite of prejudice.

    But it’s prejudicial against the people who want to take what they can and do whatever they want. You’re suggesting that their feelings and preferences don’t matter as much as yours.

    Because my subjective reasons protect all citizens equally and theirs do not.

    So, given that it’s only your personal preference it doesn’t make it actually any better or worse.

    Why do you think that? You believe God believes it. How is that any less subjective than my reasoning?

    Save your straw man for someone else. I am convinced by the arguments that show that moderate realism and formal and final causes are required if we are to make any sense of reality as we experience it.

  75. Hi Melissa,

    “I am convinced by the arguments that show that moderate realism and formal and final causes are required if we are to make any sense of reality as we experience it.”

    So what are these arguments?

  76. Melissa says:

    Hi Shane,

    A good entry level if your interested would be Feser’s The Last Superstition.

  77. Hi Melissa,

    Downloaded and read the opening sample of his book, but think I will work my way through the many highlighted posts of his blog first. The amount of content seems a bit daunting, but will start at the top and work my way through them. Please bear with the delays this might cause.

    Cheers
    Shane

  78. Patrick says:

    Hi Mr. Gilson,

    Thank you for writing this letter!

    After reading what you had to say, I do agree that the definition of faith chosen by Dr. Boghossian is more narrow than the idea of faith brought by the writers you’ve cited. But, I don’t see why adopting a precise definition for the purpose of clarifying ‘A Manual for Creating Atheists’ offers a problem.

    Dr. Boghossian gives one definition of faith to mean believing things that one doesn’t have evidence for. I would offer a definition of knowledge to mean believing in things that one does have evidence for. These two definitions are mutually exclusive, but the word ‘faith’ is used by the authors you cited (and used in general) to include beliefs from both of those categories.

    This is a messier idea of faith to work with of course, because it is different for every person. Some people’s faith may consist of only beliefs without supporting evidence, some people’s faith may only consist of beliefs for which they have evidence (based on your letter, I believe you would place yourself mainly in this category), and some people’s faith may include beliefs from both categories.

    But that’s ok, that’s simply the nature of day to day language. Words like ‘faith’, ‘belief’, ‘spirituality’ and ‘religion’ have many aspects and meanings, and different meanings to different people. These words are highly ambiguous. In order to clearly express something about an aspect of faith, it’s useful to adopt a precise definition that differs from conversational usage. This is commonly seen in medical and sociological research looking into spirituality, for example.

    So my questions for you are: does the precise definition given for faith weaken Dr. Boghossian’s case? Would you agree that the faith that he describes is an unreliable way to know the world? Though you believe that your own faith is backstopped by evidence, isn’t it the case that a great many believers hold exactly or partially the sort of faith that Dr. Boghossian describes?

    Sincerely,
    Patrick

  79. Tom Gilson says:

    Hi, Patrick, and thanks for commenting.

    Dr. Boghossian does not merely add his definition into a mix of meanings that are different for different people. He says his is the only valid definition, and that it is (from a lecture) “definitive of faith that it is pretending to know what one does not know.” He says that “faith” can always be substituted for (and should be!) with the words “pretending to know what you do not know.”

    Too many believers hold the kind of faith Dr. Boghossian describes, yes. That’s a significant problem. In just over an hour I plan to role-play an interaction like Boghossian’s “treatments” with a group of church high-schoolers, and I expect some of them to come out saying just what Boghossian says. And then I plan to tell them what Boghossian never would, which is that while their current understanding of faith is weak, with some study and learning they can grow into a strong, mature, evidence- and knowledge-based faith—the very thing Boghossian says cannot exist, on which Christians are able to disprove him with multiple examples every day.

    So anyway, his case is not only weakened, it is torpedoed by the very things you said in your two sentences beginning, “But that’s ok….”

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