How It Happened: My Deconversion Part 10

The first part of this series can be found here. This post is a bit longer than the others in the series, but it was hard to find a good breaking point.

After coming before the congregation and publicly repenting of allowing doubts to rock our faith, my wife and I weren’t happy with our situation, but we hoped it was going to lead to something better. We had avoided being withdrawn from, so we were hoping we could begin repairing our relationships with family, and in deciding to attend a different congregation, we could take a less public role in the services and keep our children out of the Bible classes without raising too much suspicion. We hadn’t wanted to mislead anyone about our beliefs — we were just trying to find a solution that both we and our families could live with. But we had one or two hurdles right at the beginning.

A couple of people from our old congregation didn’t like the way I had handled the public repentance. For one, my wife wasn’t present since two of our children were sick. My wife and I didn’t see a problem with that, since we were the kind of Christians that didn’t think women should speak during the service anyway — so even if she’d been there, it wouldn’t have changed much. Some of those same people were also disappointed that I didn’t get visibly upset when I went before the church. But my wife and I knew those were minor objections, so we weren’t too concerned about their traction with the congregation as a whole, and we were right about that — our confession/repentance was accepted.

The other issue that caused us some turbulence was our decision to leave our old congregation. I’ve already given our reasons for doing this — I knew I couldn’t go back to a public role in the congregation, so that would always shed doubts on the quality of my faith. And my wife and I were not comfortable sending our kids to Bible classes, which also would have raised a red flag with our former brethren. So our decision to leave was something we couldn’t compromise. Our families continued to ask us to come back to our old church, and we couldn’t tell them our real reasons for leaving.

Despite those hurdles, we followed through with our plan. Each service, we visited a different congregation (all church of Christ), and there are several in this area to choose from. We felt that if we could continue with our end of the deal, things would eventually get back to normal with our families. And at least with my dad, things looked good initially. He sent us a very nice letter following my public confession and stated that he felt we were on the right path. He said that he knew we weren’t 180 degrees away from our doubts, but he was sure that we would get there over time.

But in the end, our parents had difficulty giving us that time. They often wanted to know which congregations we were attending, but we refused to get into that with them. Of course, that made them wonder if we were going at all, which was unfortunate. But we knew if we told them where we were going and when, they would reach out through the network in an effort to keep tabs on us. We just weren’t comfortable with that. We didn’t want to be the Hester Prynne of every church we walked into. They also continually asked us to go back to our old congregation — something else we just weren’t going to do. I do sympathize with them a bit. They honestly believed our souls were in danger, and I understand why they would want to do whatever they could to correct that. But we had hoped after the way the previous 6 months had gone, they would take our repentance and continued church attendance as some small wins and let some time go by before pressuring us on other issues. Instead, the pressure in our families never had time to dissipate.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. We don’t do it in the typical fashion, where people dress up and sit around a dining room table. Instead, we get together with about 50 or 60 extended family members at a large, one-room cabin deep in the woods of central Alabama. My grandfather and one of my uncles (as well as a few other family members) built the cabin back in the 70’s, and we’ve used it for family get-togethers since. We ride 4-wheelers, take hikes in the woods, and sit around playing guitars, etc. It’s very informal, and it’s a lot of fun. The weekend after Thanksgiving was always fun too, because I always went camping with my dad, my grandfather, my brothers, and my best friend. I looked forward to it every year.

The day after Thanksgiving 2010, we all loaded up and went for our annual camping trip. I took my two daughters with me, who were 7 and 5 at the time, but my son stayed home with my wife, since he was only 20 months old. My wife’s parents invited her over that Friday to watch football, and everything went fine that morning. She went home during the afternoon to let our son take a nap, but her parents asked her to come back that evening. She had a feeling that they would end up discussing all the religious drama we’d been going through, but she agreed to come over anyway. And though I don’t believe in prophecy, my wife’s prediction did come true.

Her parents began by asking if things were any better for us, which was their way of asking if our faith had grown any over the last several weeks. My wife replied that things were about the same. So they asked if we believed, and my wife said that we had made the decision to believe. This is obviously an important distinction. But when we were still in the stage of expressing our doubts, a few people had told us that if we would just decide to believe, our faith would eventually return. So that was the narrative we had run with in an effort to avoid withdrawal. But my in-laws weren’t happy with that answer, so they began asking specifics: “Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God? Do you believe the Bible is inspired?” And my wife finally just decided to quit using politically correct answers and revert to complete honesty. So she answered, “No.”

The conversation ended in an argument, and my wife called me on her way home. I didn’t get great reception in the woods, but it was good enough to figure out that I was probably on my last camping trip. I didn’t have the heart to tell my dad, so I just tried to make the most of that last trip. That annual camping trip is absolutely one of the things I miss the most.

The next week or two contained many phone calls with family and friends from our old congregation. My wife and I continued to point out that we were still going to church every service, just as we had said we would. But it’s true that we had admitted to no longer believing any of the doctrines in Christianity, so our old congregation felt like they would have to withdraw from us.

Knowing that was coming, I had one more thing I needed to do. My dad’s parents still had no idea any of this was going on. They live about an hour away from me and are stalwart members of their congregation — my grandfather is one of the elders, in fact. So I knew they would hear about everything as soon as our withdrawal became official. So I took a day off work and called them to see if I could come eat lunch with them. They were thrilled to have me over, and we spent some time just visiting with one another. It killed me to have to tell them about it, but I knew it needed to come from me and not someone else. So I finally began telling them about the doubts I had been having, how they began, what I had done about it, and what things were finally coming to. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. In some ways, it went better than I thought it would, but I imagine that was mostly due to their shock at what I was telling them. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them that the withdrawal was imminent, but I did tell them it was getting to that point. I haven’t seen my grandmother since then, though my grandfather did come to see me about six months later. We talked for about an hour at a gas station near my house (many Christians in the church of Christ don’t feel like they can come in our house now), and I was able to explain my position a little better to him since the initial shock had long since worn off.

Anyway, our withdrawal was made official shortly after I visited my grandparents. We received a letter from our old congregation dated December 5, 2010, in which they informed us we had been withdrawn from. It had been six weeks since I had gone before the congregation with a public repentance. Here’s one of the paragraphs from the letter:

The statement you read in October to the congregation provided some hope that you both were making progress in the right direction. However, we have not seen fruits of repentance since that time — such as efforts to repair relationships and any tangible evidence that you have rejected the human wisdom and skepticism that you say “crept in” and damaged your faith.

I’m not sure how much progress they expected to see in six weeks, but at the same time, I’m glad they didn’t wait any longer. Once we had been officially withdrawn from, my wife and I were finally able to just let go of all the pretense and get on with our lives. We stopped going to church, which actually surprised some people. We had only been going in an effort to stave off withdrawal, but since that failed, we had no reason to continue. We were shocked that anyone was surprised by that.

My wife and I have also speculated that our families wanted the withdrawal to go into effect before Christmas in the hopes that we would come back before we missed out on all the festivities. But honestly, we’re just not that shallow. When we were Christians, our faith was sincere. We held to our convictions, not because they were convenient, but because we firmly believed them. When we left Christianity, we were no less sincere. And the lure of Christmas gifts and get-togethers was not enough to make us pretend belief in something we found to be false. We had tried to walk the thin line between appeasing our families and keeping our kids from being indoctrinated, and we just weren’t interested in trying anything like that again.

There’s a little more to tell, and I’ll start digging into that in the next post.

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84 thoughts on “How It Happened: My Deconversion Part 10”

  1. I agree with that comment. I feel sad that your attempts at compromise, which really were a compromise for you, were not (apparently) met with any compromise in the other direction.

    And as a christian I cannot understand this “withdrawal”. I can understand how they might feel that they needed to exclude you from any role within the church, which you didn’t want anyway, but I cannot understand anything more than that. Jesus said christians should be like God, and be willing to leave the safety of the “fold” to seek out the “lost sheep”. If you were no longer a congregation member in good standing, surely you were (from their viewpoint) “lost sheep”? And therefore all the more in need of their prayers and friendship?

    So I feel both sadness and shame. I hope the situation may yet change. Obviously I hope you may yet come to see that christianity is true, but I also hope that your family and friends can see things differently in time.

    Best wishes.

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  2. I find it sad but not incomprehensible. There’s a cold logic to withdrawal. It prevents the spread of doubt by keeping believers away from doubters, and it imposes a high social cost on dissent (as Nate’s narrative so powerfully demonstrates). People who practice withdrawal may have their own doubts about the content of their beliefs, but they believe unwaveringly in belief itself.

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  3. I understand why the “withdrawal”. Many religions have a sort of “immune system” that they have developed, to keep people from leaving. Catholics use guilt (and excommunication in extreme cases), evangelicals use fear of hell and satan, and the Amish use shunning, as apparently your church of christ also does. The threat of being cast out of a community is a powerful motivator to keep quiet. I wonder if the fact that they were willing to go through with it in your case will be used on some of their other members who might be doubting, as a threat to keep them in line. And their withdrawal from you also keeps your “dangerous” ideas from spreading among their other members. Not surprising at all.

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  4. I applaud you for taking this bold step. If people withdraw from you for being honest about your views, it is their loss, not yours.

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  5. I agree with everyone about it being very sad. I know you said you’ve risen above it which is awesome (and impressive – not sure I’d be able to handle this kind of stuff), but it’s still just really sad that these kind of things happen. It just seems so intensely manipulative, and I’ve always hated manipulation techniques.

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  6. I have to say I think some of the comments are probably unfair to Nate’s family and friends. We all agree they are mistaken, but attributing other motives to them may be more than anyone can know (except Nate). I would guess they believe they are taking seriously several statements in the New Testament about dealing with “apostates”, and they are obeying these because that is what they believe they should do. I doubt many of them enjoy it, or have some of the motives hinted at here. It’s fair to criticise their actions, but we should be careful about their motives.

    But of course, perhaps Nate knows better, so I should ask him to comment here.

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  7. I think there are at least three different “motives” we could be discussing here. There’s motive for why the church of christ organization has such a rule in the first place. There’s the motive for why this particular group within it chose to enforce the rule in this instance, even though it would bring pain and difficult ethical decisions on Nate’s family and friends. And then there’s the motive for why Nate’s family and friends decided to obey the withdrawal order, given the personal cost to themselves for doing so. Each of these might have entirely different motivations behind it.

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  8. Glad you mentioned that unklee, because I should have been more clear. I do see the actions as manipulative and I wasn’t attributing this kind of motive to Nate’s family. In fact I get kind of the opposite impression given some of the comments I’ve read on other posts. It definitely seems they are acting as they believe is the proper moral way to act, although they are very sad about it. I was thinking about the Church of Christ in general when writing my post. Another thing to think about as well is that even the church may have fully positive intentions in mind, but that doesn’t take away the negative impacts on other people.

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  9. It isn’t that Nate’s family are necessarily bad people, it’s that their religious beliefs warp their consciences so that they do hurtful things out of a sense of righteous obligation. If Nate was truly on his way to hell for apostasy, it would be easy to justify pressuring him for his own good, or to justify protecting others from his influence the way you’d keep your kids away from a drug dealer. That’s one of the tragedies of the situation – it’s so unnecessary, so manipulative, and yet so sincere.

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  10. After reading this latest post my friend, I cannot add anything more than Unklee has said in his first comment above. I am truly saddened and sorry its all come to this. Christ asks for nothing more than relationship with him and relationship with others . . . both of which have been effectively destroyed with this “withdrawal”. I do have a silly, nagging question though: Say Unklee’s hope comes true and you once again come to see the claims of Christ as true. Would your family accept your return to faith, even if it meant you attended a different religious church congregation, and “faith” other than CoC?

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  11. Thanks to all of you for your great comments.

    Our families have absolutely hated implementing withdrawal. Like a couple of you have said, they’ve only gone through with it because they honestly believe God has told them to do so. They can’t allow themselves to question the effectiveness of the practice, because it’s a divine dictate.

    The church of Christ is not a cohesive group, because each congregation is autonomous. But most of them do practice withdrawal to some degree or another, though individuals within each congregation may also vary on how they implement it. They get the idea from some passages in the NT, which I’ve referenced in my posts on the subject. They think the practice has two main purposes: make the erring member regret whatever violations they’ve committed and come back to the fold, and protect the remaining members from a bad influence. There are also at least two secondary purposes: it keeps a misbehaving member from giving the group a bad name, and it serves as a warning to anyone else in the congregation who may be thinking about stepping beyond the party line.

    I do agree with Howie that it’s a manipulative practice, but I also agree that most people in the CoC aren’t trying to be manipulative so much as they’re trying to obey God. I just wish they would restudy the withdrawal issue to see if they’re even following it in a scriptural way.

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  12. Hi Kent!

    I do have a silly, nagging question though: Say Unklee’s hope comes true and you once again come to see the claims of Christ as true. Would your family accept your return to faith, even if it meant you attended a different religious church congregation, and “faith” other than CoC?

    That’s not a silly question at all. And no, they would not. I know that I’ll never be a member of the church of Christ again — and that’s not due to any closed-mindedness on my part; I’ve just learned enough about the Bible now to know that an ultra-strict biblical inerrancy position just doesn’t work out. So if I ever became a Christian again, it would be a more moderate version, probably very similar to Unklee or yourself. But our families would still view us as bound for Hell. I know it seems strange, but again, they take a very literal view of the Bible, and they believe every bit of it is perfectly inspired.

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  13. Nate, I guess I expected that the Church of Christ would not recognise other types of christians, but it is disappointing. It seems as if they therefore don’t believe that Christ’s death alone is sufficient for salvation, but God also requires belief in inerrancy? Or is it that they believe only members of their “denomination” can be saved?

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  14. Many of them believe that they are the “one true church” that was established in the first century (on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, to be exact). And they believe the NT teaches that baptism by immersion is a necessary step of salvation, which is one of the biggest things that keeps them from recognizing other denominations.

    This is why the doctrine of Hell became such a big deal to me. Not only did I grow up thinking that all non-Christians were going to Hell, my definition of non-Christian included the vast majority of people who considered themselves Christians. It’s enough to make you wonder if that 144,000 mentioned in Revelation is a literal number. And as I got older, it just made less and less sense to me that a loving God would set up a plan that saw so many people consigned to eternal torment. There were many other things that contributed to my loss of faith, but this is why Hell was certainly one of the important ones.

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  15. Thanks. I agree about hell and a loving God setting things up so that most of those created in his image being punished forever. (As you know, I don’t believe Jesus taught that.)

    But the rest still doesn’t add up to me. Many churches practice baptism by immersion, I have been baptised that way, and so have you (I presume), so the claim to exclusivity has a very flimsy basis – why couldn’t it be me who is exclusively right rather than them? : )

    Anyway, thanks for explaining that.

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  16. Through the years one of many traditions can become “The Tradition”.

    I think one of the saddest things about tradition is when the original reason for doing keeping a tradition is consumed by the importance of doing the practice itself.

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  17. Sorry, I don’t think what I wrote above made much sense. It made sense in my head but then when I tried to put it into words it fell to bits 🙂

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  18. Unklee, the difference between the CoC and most denominations is that they believe baptism by immersion is required for salvation. Most denominations that specifically require baptism by immersion rather than pouring or sprinkling don’t believe it’s a requirement. Rather, to them it is a dedication of your life or an optional symbolic gesture. To a follower of the CoC that Nate and I belonged to, that’s blasphemous as it’s viewed as essential. So even if a group practices the “proper type” of baptism, they are still doing it for the wrong reason making everything they do “wrong”. Hope that helps clarify Nate’s point!

    Graham

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  19. Yeah, Graham’s right. I know it sounds like a bizarre distinction, but that is how most of them view it. One should understand why they’re being baptized, or it’s of no effect.

    While I hesitate to point anyone to my oldest posts, you might find these three articles (and the subsequent comments) helpful in illustrating the CoC viewpoint:

    Post 1
    Post 2
    Post 3

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  20. hey just wanted to drop you line, letting you know that even though I have not been commenting, I’ve been keeping up with most of your de-conversion story.

    Been really busy, I’ve barely had time to keep up with my blog-comments.

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  21. Nate,

    Just wondering,

    when you were a Christian did you write many posts on the evidence for Christianity and the prophesy that was fufilled in the bible?

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  22. Hey Nate,
    I’m wondering if you haven’t actually lost your faith, you have just lost the man-made copy of faith. I’m wondering if you are not now more intimately connected to your saviour because you have stepped back from the many obstacles the system put in front of Him. And I’m also wondering if this experience of walking away – so that only that which is true remains, is something we must all do. cheers Graeme

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  23. Hi Ryan,

    That’s a great question! I had to go back through some of my oldest posts to see if I had anything like that. I don’t have much — most of my earliest writings dealt more with doctrinal issues rather than evidences, but I did find a few posts that touched on those topics:
    Post 1
    Post 2
    Post 3

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  24. Hi Graeme,

    It’s nice to hear from you again! Thanks for the comment.

    I’m wondering if you are not now more intimately connected to your saviour because you have stepped back from the many obstacles the system put in front of Him.

    The only problem with that idea is that I honestly have no inkling of faith left. Once I realized that the problems in the Bible were real problems that couldn’t be resolved, I had no real reason to believe anything it said. For a little while, I still believed in God, because I just couldn’t figure out how everything came to be without a creator. But it was an uncomfortable belief, because I didn’t believe in the Judeo-Christian god, so I didn’t know how to picture this God I believed in — I knew nothing about him/she/it. And then, after reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, I stopped believing in a god at all. Dawkins made the point that while this Universe is extremely complex, a God that created it must be even more complex. So which is the more likely to just come into being on its own? Furthermore, the only way we’ve seen complex things develop is through evolution, so wouldn’t God have required a similar process? I thought those were good points. So while I can’t say that God doesn’t exist, I haven’t personally seen anything to make me believe he does.

    There are things about the portrayal of Jesus in the NT that I admire, but I honestly don’t believe he was anything more than a man. I do appreciate your comment and the sentiment behind it — and it may hold true for some people. But for me, I don’t think it does. I just hold no more faith in any of the tenets of Christianity.

    Thanks again for the comment!

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  25. @mybroom

    “I’m wondering if you are not now more intimately connected to your saviour because you have stepped back from the many obstacles the system put in front of Him.”

    That’s sort of an odd question to ask someone who no longer believes. Imagine a child who once believed fervently in Santa Claus, but now has found out that it was Mom and Dad all along, and that there is no workshop at the north pole, and that there never were any flying reindeer. Would you ask this child if they now had a “more intimate connection with Santa”? Once belief is gone, questions about “connection” become meaningless. Your question sounds more like wishful thinking on your part, rather than something that a non-believer might actually be thinking.

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  26. Hi again Nate,
    the reason for my comment about “being more intimately connected” is because I also set sail away from the safe shores of traditional Christianity, I needed to find out for myself if He was real – not just for everyone else’s reasons – but my own, I fully expected to never return to Christianity. For me, it wasn’t about creation/evolution, or intellectual arguements – it came down to one question “could I really know and place faith in Jesus” – so I asked God to show me Jesus, and over several years a new kind of faith grew that held little resemblance to the old.
    It was a faith that is not anchored in an internal debate about the pro’s & con’s of Christianity, it was just a gift that slowly took root & began to get hold of me…long story,
    cheers Graeme

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  27. Nate,

    Thanks for those links,

    Do you know of any other websites (good quality websites that is) that presents evidence supporting Christianity and fufilled prophecy?

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  28. Hi again Nate,

    I also wanted to ask,

    During the time you stopped believing were you reading more literature critiquing Christianity than literature supporting Christianity?

    During this time how much did you focus on how your questions had been addressed in the past by other Christians?

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  29. G’day Nate, I felt I must comment on this …

    “Dawkins made the point that while this Universe is extremely complex, a God that created it must be even more complex. So which is the more likely to just come into being on its own? Furthermore, the only way we’ve seen complex things develop is through evolution, so wouldn’t God have required a similar process?”

    These comments of Dawkins are really not reasonable or even consistent (IMO).

    1. Why does God have to be more complex than what he created? The human race evolved from the first single celled life, so Dawkins knows this statement is not necessarily true. A computer is designed by human beings, yet can play chess way better than any human being. He has to justify his statement, not just assert it. I would think the more obvious statement might be that God has to be clever to create the universe, but that doesn’t help Dawkins’ argument at all.

    2. I think Dawkins fails here because I don’t think he can define complexity in any useful way for his argument. e.g. he defines complexity in one place in physical terms – which makes a non-physical God the least complex thing we know!

    3. But let’s accept that God is more complex than the universe in some sense, so what? His only argument is that this makes it more likely that the universe exists on its own than that God does. But that would only be true if he could show that the more complex thing is less likely, which is true in the physical world, but who knows how that applies to a God that isn’t physical?

    4. It is hard to see how a series of physical events could be infinite in extent (you can’t count to infinity) but who can say that a supernatural non-physical non-temporal God can’t be infinite? So it is much more likely that God could be eternal than the universe is.

    5. Dawkins hasn’t even grasped the philosophical concepts of necessary and contingent. A contingent thing is caused by something else, but a necessary thing isn’t. The universe is clearly contingent, but God as usually defined is necessary. The only way for anything to exist is for something necessary to have caused all the contingent things. This makes creation by God as one of the most likely possibilities, perhaps the only possibility.

    6. Evolution is not at all the only way complex things develop. They could be necessary (like God); they could be designed (like a computer); they could grow by natural laws (like the universe from the big bang – which did not occur by evolution).

    Dawkins doesn’t seem to be able to sensibly deal with philosophical matters because he doesn’t seem able to get his head outside his scientific paradigm.

    I hope that one day you will find time to do some reading of some people who can do philosophy a whole lot better than Dawkins.

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  30. What good is philosophy though if it detracts from science?

    if its purely abstractions then how effective is it really?

    This is one of the reasons philosophy frustrates me. If it cannot be effectively practised in action then what is the purpose of a concept?

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  31. Furthermore, humn beings can make accurate and inaccurate inferences, not all ideas are equal and science helps us cull what is inaccurate. Science isin’t merely a “paradigm” its a tool to test if paradigms are accurate.

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  32. if science and philosophy ever disagree, science has the methods to test itself, and if it is proved wrong by its very nature science has to change to fit what is currently understood to be most accurate. Not so for philosophy.

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  33. Hi Ryan,

    Philosophy is just good structured thinking, so we all do it, but some of us do it better than others.

    Science depends a lot on philosophy, but scientists don’t always recognise it. Science depends on assumptions about our ability to accurately interact with the external world, with the reality of other minds, with our ability to draw logical inferences, etc.

    When a scientists does science, he can test his theories (that is what science does). But when he does philosophy, his theories may not be testable scientifically. So Dawkins’ view that God is unlikely is difficult to test scientifically just as is my view that God does exist. Conclusions on the possibility of a supernatural world, of what happened before the big bang, of the mind-body problem or on ethics are all difficult to test by science, yet that are important questions which philosophy tries to answer.

    Philosophy (logic and reason) help us cull wrong answers just as much as science does. They are just different questions.

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  34. I agree that Philosophy also can help cull wrong answers. science though is the best model we have to test what can be known. science does lean heavily on philosophy but it also moves beyond it in that it is based on experiment in the world of matter, not the “world” of ideas.

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  35. “science though is the best model we have to test what can be known”

    Yeah, probably, except for the really important questions like:

    Is science the best means of knowing? (This can’t be answered by science)
    What is right and wrong?
    Is there a God?
    What is the purpose of my life?
    How will I be happy?
    Should I marry this person?
    What is truth?

    etc
    etc

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  36. Okay, so pretty close to the end of the story now, and I’d like to comment a bit more.

    First off, shunning you is absolutely ridiculous, but I understand where these misguided souls come up with the idea. As I said in an earlier comment, I’m working myself on learning to interpret all of Scripture through the lens of the words and actions of Jesus. To use shunning as a means to get someone back into the fold just doesn’t line up. I would have to conclude that people who use this practice are refusing to interpret Paul in light of Christ.

    Second, the recounting of your journey has gotten me thinking about why I believe what I do. Over the past 6 years the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible has been deconstructed for me. But I asked myself after reading your blog, “If you don’t believe in inspiration or inerrancy, then why do you still believe?” The conclusion I came to ended up being two-fold: 1. life experiences, and 2. a hunger for something I know exists. I have no “evidence” for either of these points, but they both are something very real to me none-the-less. I wish I could give you something more concrete, but I simply cannot. 😦

    Nate, I am so saddened by the loss of your family! I have a daughter who is living outside the bounds of what I like or believe is right, but I cannot bring myself to cut her off – nor would I want to. She continues to bring so much joy to my life (right along with the pain – for most of my life joy and pain have always been a package deal), I could not imagine living without her. Plus, I have no desire to manipulate anyone into doing anything that will please me and God doesn’t need that kind of “help” either, methinks.

    Finally, the only thing I want to ask you is how you determine what Truth is? You talk a lot about whether or not something is true in the Bible, but considering you are reading a translation of what used to be (but is no longer) a living language, how can you be certain that the inconsistencies really exist? And if they do exist, you would have to know consistency to determine inconsistency. In other words, unless there is some “absolute truth” how can we know there is any truth? I certainly would not consider anything in science to be an absolute truth if based on hypotheses since we have seen throughout history so much of what people considered “truth” scientifically be overturned by new information/evidence (the sun revolves around the earth and such). Scientists are discovering new truths all the time that often overturn what they previously thought was true.

    One of my recommendations to you, if you are willing, is to watch a video by Rob Bell called, “Everything is Spiritual.” He has helped me a lot in terms of reconciling the kinds of issues you bring up, but he is not dogmatic in his presentation – actually, much more scientific than faith-oriented. 🙂

    I look forward to reading more. Peace to you on your journey to finding Truth.

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  37. “Is science the best means of knowing? (This can’t be answered by science)”

    We associate meaning essentially through models of understanding we can’t really go beyond these models conceptually.

    For example if you break down the English language

    Q: what is love?
    A: affection
    Q: what is affection?
    A: a feeling
    Q: what is a feeling?

    Ect.

    Whether you agree with the definitions above or not it’s just to illustrate that deconstructing a meaning can’t go beyond our model of understanding. Because words can only be defined by other words you eventually get to a point where words will start overlapping. We cannot go beyond language, for that is our model to make inferences.

    A question like “Is science the best means of knowing? (This can’t be answered by science)”

    It’s asking something that people can’t do science to find out. All we can really say is that science is the best means of knowing because it works.

    For example:

    The practice of surgery really took off when people stopped speculating and comparing human anatomy with to other animals and started actually exploring inside real human beings (sorry for the graphics) to see how bodies work. This was achieved through trial and error, it’s not perfect.

    The inferences we make through observation is what is explored through philosophy. Science needs philosophy because action needs effective models to organise our inferences.

    But science is the most effective action that follows the philosophy. And we know this because it works, this model saves lives, increases understanding, improves living conditions and our ability to communicate.

    Therefore I would say (unless there is a divine intervention) science is the best knowable way to effectively understand what is most accurate..

    Thanks, Ryan

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  38. Ryan,

    Science works in certain areas. It doesn’t work to answer other questions. We seem to agree on that.

    So unless you think that science has answers to questions of God, meaning, etc, that philosophy tries to analyse, we are agreed that Richard Dawkins’ undoubted abilities in science don’t necessarily make him able to answer philosophical questions, and make in fact hinder him if he thinks the tools of science can be applied where we have agreed they cannot.

    Have we not therefore agreed on everything we have been discussing? If so, let’s celebrate, agreement is all that common on the internet! : )

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  39. Unklee, those questions you posted above cannot (as far as I know) be answered because they are based on values. Values are what we attach to things, places, concepts, ideals and other people.

    The question: how many times does Jenny’s heart beat in three minutes?

    Is a question that (through hard work and study) can be answered

    The question: How effective is Jenny’s heart?

    Can also be answered i.e it keeps her alive by ect.

    The question: How valuable is Jenny’s heart?

    Is a question that only can be answered subjectively, since value is something human beings attach to others, its something we do. Other animals do this as well, but what they value is not the same as what we value.

    To answer this question we would have to assume that we don’t attach values to things but values are intrinsic.

    People’s values are based on how effective something is in accordance with our goals. Ever notice why symmetry is valued? Seen as beautiful?

    This is because we are pattern-seeking creatures; We are pattern seeking creatures because it has been effective for us to find patterns in things. We then attach value to these patterns. Without this we would not have language, philosophy or science.

    We are also capable of placing value on patterns that are (1) not actually effective or (2) are no longer effective for our survival.

    Science is a method that tests these patterns and weighs them to assess whether they are accurate and effective.

    Value based questions cannot be answered through science. Only what is and is not effective can be answered through science.

    This is because people will value things even if they are harmful to them. People will value things even if they are ineffective. And people do this because value is something we do.

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  40. An example that value is something we do can be seen in how people value a sports team.

    They then might use language that includes themselves in that team

    eg: “we thrashed you guys today”.

    Placing value on one particular team as “my team” doesn’t mean this team is more effective (this team might lose often).

    This is where loyalty comes in (faith). A person’s value of a sports team is no longer necessarily based on how effective the team is, or even who is in the team, but the team begins to represent something more than what it is.

    It becomes in a persons mind a part of their identity. How they see themselves. Eg: I am a father, a son, a friend and a crows supporter 🙂

    Loyalty for a sports team can be a harmless and fun thing, but when that sports team becomes something more than it is in the persons mind, that can have consequences. For example, people have killed each other based on what soccer team they associate themselves with.

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  41. @Ryan

    During the time you stopped believing were you reading more literature critiquing Christianity than literature supporting Christianity?

    No, it was the other way around actually. Once I read the critiques against Christianity, I spent most of my time reading Christian sources in an effort to answer those criticisms.

    During this time how much did you focus on how your questions had been addressed in the past by other Christians?

    I’m not quite sure what you mean here, so I’ll answer this in two ways. I spent a lot of my time focused on how other Christians had addressed the kinds of questions I was facing; hence, my reading a lot of Christian apologetic material.

    But if you’re asking how much I dwelt on how my Christian friends and family had reacted to my questions, I thought about it a lot, but I don’t think it was debilitating. I was frustrated that they didn’t seem as concerned about these things as I was, but that didn’t affect how I reacted to the issues themselves.

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  42. @unklee and ryan,

    As far as the philosophical arguments go (and the statements made by Dawkins), I don’t find them all that useful. The point is, no one knows. Unklee, you pointed out that Dawkins can’t really know if God is more complex than the universe or not, because non-physical things may not operate in the same way that physical things do. That’s true — they may not… or they may. There’s no way we can know. And it would be unreasonable for a being to expect us to know. So what rational being would judge us on something so nebulous?

    The best we can do is determine what seems most likely to us. Personally, I find it possible that our universe was created by some intelligent being, but I don’t find it probable. To me, it makes more sense that everything has a natural cause, even if we don’t know what that cause was/is. But that’s me. I know others may view it differently. As long as we can all acknowledge that no one actually knows, then I think it’s great for us to have different opinions about it all. But if someone wants to proclaim that his particular idea is the only right one, he’d better have some outstanding evidence to back it up.

    I think we all more or less agree on that outlook, so I won’t ramble on any more about it.

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  43. So what I’m trying to say is that value doesn’t exist in the natural world, it exists in the inferences of the human mind.

    Eg: What makes “my” team more valuable than the other?

    It’s not necessarily just because it wins premierships or has consistent players. So what is it? Well its because I’m a part of my team 🙂

    In order to be a part of something a person has to find distinctions of separation to identify what we are then not a part of. So who are we not part of: the other team(s).

    Generally speaking nations are developed this way, through valuing territorial boundaries that only exist in peoples minds before they act to build their walls and draw their lines.

    Nothing unites people like conflict, whether it presents itself through competition, rivalry or total war. In fact its amazing how much technology and innovation has been developed through the military and competition. Conflict thrives when values clash.

    Value doesn’t exist in the natural world; it exists in the inferences of the human mind. There are values that many people share which enable us to effectively thrive. For example of shared values: many German and British soliders would have prayed to the same God, asking that thier side be victorious. However one side has to lose in a fight for power. Values look very different depending where you stand and which side your on. Hence why they cannot really be answered.

    Ryan 🙂

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  44. G’day Ryan,

    I think you are right that science can’t resolve value questions. But i don’t think that answers the questions.

    “Does God exist?” is not a value question but a truth question, but one that science cannot answer, though it may throw some light on it.

    “Is selfishness objectively right or wrong?” may be a value question, but it may also be a truth question – you can’t just assume your answer. Ditto “the meaning of life”. And these questions will probably be answered if we can answer the God question, so they effectively become truth questions.

    So I’m not sure where you’re heading in your recent comments, but I still think that we need other methods than science to determine answers to some important questions. And in fact we use some of these methods all the time.

    Best wishes

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  45. “Does a god exist?”

    Hi again 🙂

    seems to me to be a value question, since it is assuming beyond verification that an Agency has complete authority and power. Just like recongnising that a invisible king has authority is a value based question.

    Ryan

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  46. JudahFirst,

    Thanks for the great comment. And I genuinely appreciate your candor in describing why you believe. Not everyone would be so honest, and I respect that about you.

    Finally, the only thing I want to ask you is how you determine what Truth is? You talk a lot about whether or not something is true in the Bible, but considering you are reading a translation of what used to be (but is no longer) a living language, how can you be certain that the inconsistencies really exist? And if they do exist, you would have to know consistency to determine inconsistency. In other words, unless there is some “absolute truth” how can we know there is any truth? I certainly would not consider anything in science to be an absolute truth if based on hypotheses since we have seen throughout history so much of what people considered “truth” scientifically be overturned by new information/evidence (the sun revolves around the earth and such). Scientists are discovering new truths all the time that often overturn what they previously thought was true.

    This is a really great question. In my own mind, my thinking on this is very clear, but I think it’s something that has puzzled a number of other people. I’ll do my best to answer it.

    If a god like the Christian god exists, then he apparently expects people to figure out who he is and what he wants. I think most Christians would agree with that, even if they don’t believe the stakes are as high as a literal Heaven and Hell. This god would also be the one who gave us our ability to reason and our questioning spirit. He would know that we are so often torn between logic and longing that we don’t always make the best decisions or figure out how to see the big picture. Furthermore, we’re told that this god loves us all and desperately wants us to be reconciled to him.

    To me, these “prerequisites” (can’t think of a better term) set up a situation in which this god would want to give us very clear directions on how to access him. Add to this mix the fact that every culture throughout time has had a different idea about which god (or gods) is the right one, and the deck is already stacked against us. Of course, it seems that truly divine revelation would be very easy to distinguish from all the fakes that have been created by man, but to me, the Bible doesn’t stand out in any real, meaningful way.

    The Bible itself tells us that we shouldn’t trust false prophets — and we can tell who a false prophet is by how accurate his prophecies are. Then the Bible gives us some prophecies that fail; the prophecy of Tyre being one of the most notable. The Bible also has some stories that are obvious contradictions (many of them are in the gospels). So to explain this, we point out that even if God inspired the writers of the Bible, they were still human, and humans make mistakes. But humans also made mistakes in the other “false” religious texts in our world, so what really makes the Bible so different?

    It’s true that we only have copies of the Bible and not the originals themselves. But why would God have us base something so important as our souls on faulty translations of his all important word? If the fact that we have so many manuscripts is evidence of God’s guidance, why don’t we have accurate copies? Or the originals?

    In a way, it’s because I have such a high opinion of God that I find the Bible so unacceptable. It just seems extremely unlikely to me that a true God would use such a method to communicate such an important message.

    As to the nature of truth (or fact), I don’t think it’s really all that elusive. It’s a fact that Barack Obama is President of the US. He can’t simultaneously be the Prime Minister of Great Britain. If someone claimed he was, we would know beyond a doubt that they are wrong. There are other things that are more difficult to ascertain, but many things are fairly straightforward. Some of the difficulties in the Bible are not clear enough to really call them contradictions, but others are very clear.

    One of my recommendations to you, if you are willing, is to watch a video by Rob Bell called, “Everything is Spiritual.” He has helped me a lot in terms of reconciling the kinds of issues you bring up, but he is not dogmatic in his presentation – actually, much more scientific than faith-oriented. 🙂

    I’ll definitely check it out — thanks for the recommendation!

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  47. “Seems to me to be a value question, since it is assuming beyond verification that an Agency has complete authority and power.”

    Just correcting myself,

    The question “Does God exist?” Doesn’t assume anything.

    Although, it is a value based question since the cause of existence is attributed to a god. By using the word god the question is attributing a personality making the question value based.

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  48. unless what is meant by “god” is another way of saying the first cause of existence that is not personality based. if it is assumed that God is a Person then the question is value based.

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  49. “asking if an invisible king has authority is a value based question”

    I’m sorry Ryan, I really don’t understand what you’re getting at here (in all these comments). “Does the invisible king exist?” is clearly a truth/fact question with a definite answer, whether we can ever know it or not.

    Depending on how you define authority, your question can be either ….. If authority is what a person has power to exercise, it is clearly a truth/fact question (my tanks are better than your tanks), but if authority is what I accept, then it is subjective.

    But whatever, the question “Does a God exist?” is clearly a question with a right and wrong answer, and science is not the best or only way to answer it. The question reduces to “Is there sufficient evidence for me to believe God exists?” and that too has a factual answer, though we each may make the assessment ourselves (and thereby be either right or wrong, whether we know it or not).

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  50. Although I agree with Ryan on much of what he has said, I also think that “Does a god exist” is a factual question, not a values question. And I also agree that there is a correct answer to that question (at least there is depending on how you define a “god”), even if we are unable to determine with certainty what that answer is. And I think science is the best way to approach that question, since it’s the only way of figuring things out that includes a reality check.

    Where I see the values questions coming in is more like “Given that I think the answer to “does a god exist” is probably _____, how should that affect how I live my life?

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  51. Hi Guys, been watching this dialogue over the past few days – it’s becoming a re-run of Job’s comforters. Science, proof, intellectual evidence is never gonna convince Nate one way or the other, give up now, it will never happen. Nate it teetering on a fence, pulled between reason and a failed church system – it’s a see-saw. Nate, you know on some level that God is. It’s time to get out of this whole intellectualizing treadmill, is this dissection of the issue really necessary? is this gonna define the rest of your life? at some point all this talk will be over and you know it will be just you and God – no Job’s comforters and no hurtful church people … I say move on! Still your friend, Graeme

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  52. Fair enough, I don’t think I used great examples

    I still think though that we would have to define what we mean when asking if a god exists. I assume Unklee was referring to Christianity when he was asking this question, and if we mean a personal God then His attributes are based on values and emotions (i.e benevolence, jealousy, sadness ect.) What He values would be focused on someone or something (namely creation).

    therefore I think this is a value based question because according to Christianity the Creator is not just a force but a Personal God that cares and is emotionally attached to His creation. if what is meant by “god” in the question is actually referring to a impersonal force that started everything then that is not value based.

    But if that’s the case, why refer to this force as god? Why ask “does god exist?”
    If someone who identifies as a Christian uses the word god in a question then I’m assuming they are also referring to a Personality that both feels and values. Otherwise why not just say force or first cause? Furthermore what God’s emotions and values are outlined in The Book so if such a question is asked I believe it’s a question with value (personal attributes) attached to it.

    But I’m splitting hairs, I admit that 🙂

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  53. That being said unkleE, I know I have a bad habit of jumping around when writing.

    I really appreciate your patience with me, And thanks also for your respectful approach, I always enjoy and value what you have to share. I wish there were more people blogging with your good nature. def triggers some thoughts for me 🙂

    I’ve got a few uni assignments to finish so I apologise if I don’t respond to anyone for a while. Thanks, it’s been thought provoking.

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  54. Science, proof, intellectual evidence is never gonna convince Nate one way or the other, give up now, it will never happen. Nate it teetering on a fence, pulled between reason and a failed church system – it’s a see-saw. Nate, you know on some level that God is.

    Thanks for the comment, Graeme. Though if I gave the impression that science, proof, and evidence is meaningless to me, then I have really failed! This entire journey for me has been one of evidence. And while I don’t want to discount guys like unkleE, who believes he has evidence for his position, I personally haven’t seen evidence that would convince me God exists — especially the Christian god. So I’m afraid I have to disagree with your statement that I know “God is.” I don’t know that at all. I also tend to be a little amused when people say things like that — for instance, I wouldn’t presume to tell you that you know deep down God doesn’t exist. When you tell me you believe in him, I trust you. Please try to trust me too! 🙂

    But thanks again for your comment. We may not agree on some issues, but I very much appreciate the genuine care behind your statements. Take care!

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  55. Graeme: I wish I could say that amusement is the only emotion I have when people say things like “you know on some level that such and such is true”. While amusement is there, great frustration is there as well. I was told by Latter Day Saints that I really knew deep down that Mormonism was the truth and my pride was keeping me from admitting it – well turns out that I don’t believe that, and unless you are an LDS chances are you probably believe me when I say that. Why question Nate when he says he doesn’t believe God exists? I for one believe him when he says he doesn’t know if God is. This disbelief doesn’t nullify the fact that God truly could exist. Does your theology somehow force you to believe that every human on earth knows that God exists? Perhaps it does. Either way I agree with Nate that your comment is produced through genuine care, but I just think that the method you use may hurt more than help people to see the truth of your beliefs.

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  56. Ok, my apologies, I certainly don’t believe that every human on the planet knows that God exists, I just can’t shake the thought that on some level Nate does – guess I’m wrong. I guess the idea of intellectually debating the existence of God seems a bit futile is all. cheers Graeme

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  57. @unklee
    ““And I think science is the best way to approach that question”
    How would you use science as the means of answering the question?”

    That would depend on what sort of god is being claimed as true. If it’s one who, say, heals people who make a particular pilgrimage, we can test that. If it’s one who has given us a book that’s 100% literally true, we can test the claims given in the book. If it’s one who does not affect the physical world in any way other than by giving believers a “feeling in their heart”, then that’s harder to test (but whether such a god exists would hardly be relevant to our lives). Since there are so many shifting definitions of “god” out there, the believer making the claim that a god exists would need to be very specific about what they mean by “god” before we could figure out an appropriate way to look for evidence.

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  58. Having been brought up in a very liberal thinking Christian family, reading some of your posts are a real eye-opener. I always thought such ultra-conservative religious views were things of ‘B’ movies.

    Discussing aspects of Biblical innerancy, archeology and the historicity of Jesus with UnkleE on his site is strenuous enough to bring on severe headaches, but this business of family withdrawel is horrendous!

    On the strength of your posts this level of Christian extremism appears little better than Islamic fundamentalism – that the CofC not only shuns but condemns other denominations is also cause for concern.
    Your deconversion reads llike a novel: Escape From a Backwoods Cult (not implying anything derogatory about your family, Nate)

    Comments by graeme astound me too, in as much as he is unable to grasp why you have deconverted and his tone suggests that he’s holding out that you might just be having some sort of minor breakdown and anytime soon you will have an epiphany.
    *Shakes head.*
    How many Christian denominations are there; 38,000 and counting? And only one Jesus, right? Was the bloke THAT much of an idiot those who chose Christianity couldn’t understand what he was on about?
    Mind blowing.
    I truely hope you reconcile with Dad and Mum.
    Best of luck, mate.

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  59. Graeme,

    As a not totally neutral bystander, may I offer a couple of comments?

    1. Perhaps you could better express your perception of Nate by saying you discern spiritual qualities in him? I think he might accept that.

    2. Debating the existence of God is unimportant to some people, but important to others. For some, it is mostly an intellectual exercise, but to others it is deeply important. I happen to be in the latter category. I think it is important to recognise that different people come to faith or disbelief by different routes, not all by the same route that we find important.

    Best wishes.

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  60. ubi dubium

    Thanks, I think that’s a very reasonable reply. My only quibble would be in your use of the term “science”. I define science as the scientific method of hypothesis, repeatable experiment or observation, test, new hypothesis etc, and I don’t think that can be fully applied to God …

    heals people – Healings are not really repeatable, and it is impossible to know whether any claimed healing was God or spontaneous remission. But I do believe they can be tested to a certain point, in a probabilistic way, and I have investigated some healings in Healing miracles and God, and I am investigating more. I think there is sufficient evidence to say healing by God is probable in some cases.

    a book that’s 100% literally true – This would be tested by history, not science. I don’t believe the Bible is 100% literally true, but I do believe it can be tested historically, and, again, I think the New Testament at least stands up on that level – see Are the gospels historical?

    giving believers a “feeling in their heart” – I agree, this is the tricky one. Everything we know comes through our sense experience, but experiences and memory can be deceitful. It remains possible that God could give people certain knowledge that way, but equally possible that a person could imagine. I think people can only go with what they experience and seek external verification where they can. I disagree that such a God is irrelevant.

    Thanks for your ideas.

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  61. @UnkleE
    “but I do believe it can be tested historically,”
    May I ask how many errors/discrepancies you would consider acceptable before the New Testament doesn’t stand up and begins to fall down?

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  62. If one is discussing the NT from a historical perspective, then I don’t think that is a meaningful question. Historians get whatever information they can, even from documents that contain much error, myth or propaganda – they don’t just throw evidence away. So it isn’t a binary case of either “standing up” or “falling down”.

    Rather, the question is, can we get enough information about Jesus from the documents to form a reasonable picture of what he did and said, and therefore “who he was”? The scholars say we can, and they are generally agreed on the answers to those questions, although they disagree about many of the details at the edges.

    If the historians found reason why that picture was no longer historically defensible, then that would be a new ballgame. But granted the information we now have, it is hard to see that happening – it would be like thinking that new science might disprove gravity.

    Since my faith is based largely on the history, a change in the assessment of history might change my faith. But it is impossible to say unless the scholars change their minds on something important.

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  63. “If one is discussing the NT from a historical perspective, then I don’t think that is a meaningful question”
    LOL! Of course it is meaningful! It forms the basis for the bedrock of your faith for goodness sake.

    Nazareth, Bethlehem, Pilate, the Roman Empire, Paul and the Epistles. How can these things NOT be meaningful? And how can none not consider them in an historical context?
    This is cherry picking at its worst.
    Nobody ever said, “Jesus from Meggido”.

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  64. @UnkleE
    “But it is impossible to say unless the scholars change their minds on something important.”

    As you claim your faith is based on history first I was wondering,
    1. if there was a consensus among non-christian scholars that enough doubt could be cast on the character of Jesus being an historical person would you be prepared to ditch your faith on the strength of this alone?
    2. As you are hold a theology degree (?) how do seperate certain aspects of your secular viewpoint in these matters (which must surely recognise an alarming degree of biblical errency) with the apparant rationalality of the supernatural. Parting the Reed Sea (Moses), Ressurection etc?

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  65. “If one is discussing the NT from a historical perspective, then I don’t think that is a meaningful question”
    LOL! Of course it is meaningful! It forms the basis for the bedrock of your faith for goodness sake.”

    Akhenaten, it is really quite tedious to keep having to suggest, here, and on my own two blogs, that you read what I say, consider that I might actually mean what I say, and try to understand, before you jump to conclusions that often turn out to be quite erroneous. As here.

    I meant exactly what I said. Please read carefully and take note before making the same comments yet again.

    For me, my belief in Jesus is a two stage thing. First, I consider what the historians say – not just the historians who share my christian belief, but those who don’t – in fact, the leading historians in the field. And it is for these historians that your question would not be relevant. They do not see things in a binary way as the NT either standing up or falling down, but rather as containing more or less useful historical information. And that was what I was referring to when I said “If one is discussing the NT from a historical perspective”.

    But secondly, knowing what the historians have concluded, I can then decide whether I believe that Jesus was who christians have always said he was. Some of the historians believe he was, some do not. I too believe he was. This belief is separate from historical considerations, though it is based on them.

    Thus the NT is one of the “bedrocks” of my faith, but my faith is a personal decision that goes beyond the “assured results of modern historical study”.

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  66. “1. if there was a consensus among non-christian scholars that enough doubt could be cast on the character of Jesus being an historical person would you be prepared to ditch your faith on the strength of this alone?”

    I doubt it, but I don’t know, it is hypothetical. I have been a believer for 50 years, I have accumulated a lot of experience in living with Jesus, in seeing answers to prayer and answers to intellectual questions. I think I have sufficient reason to wait and see for a while whether the consensus of historical scholars could change again. This after all is what also happens in science, leading to the aphorism that science changes “one funeral at a time.

    But the more important question is this. Since there hasn’t been any such magical change in the conclusions of the historical scholars, are you willing to accept it? You can read a summary of it at Is there really a consensus of scholars on historical facts about Jesus?

    “2. As you are hold a theology degree (?) how do seperate certain aspects of your secular viewpoint in these matters (which must surely recognise an alarming degree of biblical errency) with the apparant rationalality of the supernatural. Parting the Reed Sea (Moses), Ressurection etc?”

    I don’t consider there to be “an alarming degree of biblical errency”. I am a christian, so I don’t worry much about OT issues – scholars hold many different views from belief in its reliability to disbelief in it, and I remain somewhat agnostic about where the exact truth lies. But there are very few parts of the NT that need be seriously questioned. Certainly not the resurrection, for which there is very good evidence – see Was Jesus raised from the dead? If you don’t believe in God, or don’t believe Jesus was divine, then you have no real choice but to disbelieve in the resurrection, but if you believe both of those, then it is quite believable.

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  67. How are you Unklee?

    I just do not think there is enough NT scholarly evidence indicating the veracity of the resurrection. I am quite certain that NT scholarship has moved beyond questions of truth and factuality concerning the resurrection. They acknowledged it wasn’t true.

    Although, even if the resurrection is true, I do not think that believing in Jesus necessarily means believing in God. In fact, the only commonality between Jesus and God is that they are both discussed in the bible. Jesus just much later. Of course, certain modes of theology claim Jesus was a god or the son of God, but most NT scholars think that is not what the NT really says or meant to say. My meandering point is that saying god does not exist; is not the same as saying Jesus did not exist or vice versa.

    Strangely, I am in agreement with you about science being unable to answer certain questions. And history and philosophy being slightly different from science as fact-finders. So, this part of the comment is more of a general discussion piece.

    The historical method, unlike the natural sciences, is concerned with establishing what has occurred in the past, as opposed to predicting what will happen in the future. Therefore historians cannot operate through repeated experimentation. A historical event is a one-time proposition. Historians cannot repeat the past.

    Science, on the other hand, operates through repeated experimentation and observations. I won’t bore you with the details, but a very essential component of the scientific method is a hypothesis, as I am sure you all know. A hypothesis, unlike a historical speculation, must make predictions that can be tested. A hypothesis must be consistent with further observations and experiments, and the most valuable aspect of a hypothesis or a theory is its predictive power. If its predictions are accurate, they support the hypothesis; if they are inaccurate, they prove the hypothesis wrong. If a hypothesis continues to match observations and experiments, we have greater confidence it is correct, and it may come to be called a theory. Succinctly, repeated experimentation is indispensable to science.

    The fundamental distinction between science and history are their methods. History cannot be repeated. Science must be repeated. Certainly, repeated experimentation strengthens science, but I don’t think the lack of repeated experimentation impoverishes historical knowledge and, I think, everyone would concur. Of course, history utilizes certain aspects of science like observation, scientific tools and realities, and progresses towards conclusions in a fashion similar to the scientific method, but that does not make history science. And it never will be science. Philosophy, for me, is similar to history–even though history is more evidence-based, at least serious historical study is–philosophy may employ definite aspects of science but it is, patently, not science and that does not make philosophy less significant.

    For instance, look at the speculative philosophy of ancient Greece. These philosophers sought to develop logical explanations for simple observations and then followed the logic as far as possible. Democritus’ philosophical postulation on atoms, for example. Speculative philosophy did not involve verification. Philosophical predictions were made, but no actual experiment or observation was performed to see if those predictions were correct. The speculative philosophy of ancient Greece imparted knowledge of the natural world without the assistance of what we would now consider science. Wow! That is great! Was it completely correct? No, but it was valuable. If the question is: Is science preeminent in determining truths about the physical world? I would say, “Yes, without a doubt.” However, it is absurd to claim science has dispensed with philosophy, as Hawking and Mlodinow said.

    The reason that science has not dispensed with philosophy is because an integral component of science is that only tangible objects and phenomena are studied. Obvious examples include heat and plants. Less obvious examples include magnetism and neutrons, although we cannot see or feel magnetism and neutrons we can construct instruments that detect them reliably. Having said that, there are certain concepts that are inappropriate for the scientific method like morality and ethics. Morality and ethics have no chemical composition, no mass, no magnetism, no polarization states–they are not tangible. Science can study, measure, analyze, and describe the factors that cause sexism or racism, but it cannot say whether these actions are wrong or right; moral or immoral.

    Consider the issue of assisted dying. Incurable diseases, particularly in their final stages, can cause terrible pain and suffering, which may last for several months or years. And science has developed drugs that can arrest breathing so that a person dies painlessly. Science can even tell us the metabolic effects of using these drugs, but it cannot tell us whether it is right or wrong to use them to help a person die and avoid pain. That, my friends, is within the domain of ethical philosophy, even if it is just a personal ethical philosophy.

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  68. Persto

    I agree with almost everything you wrote above, very clearly outlined 🙂

    Although, I don’t really understand how you came to the conclusion that:

    “the only commonality between Jesus and God is that they are both discussed in the bible.”

    As I understand it the bible quite outlines that Jesus is to be considered God. eg: The Father and I are one.

    “most NT scholars think that is not what the NT really says or meant to say.”

    But thats how it reads. If we consider the bible to be a primary source surely we should take it as it reads shouldn’t we?

    Kind regards 🙂 Ryan

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  69. Hi Ryan,

    For most Christians belief in God and belief in Jesus may be the same sort of belief because of the inclinations of Christian theology, but the beliefs are, in truth, different. It is only through a category-error that they can be brought into alignment.
    Belief in God can be argued philosophically and theologically. If theologically the arguments are similar to Anslem’s or Aquinas, but the existence of God is not a question for history, though certain ways of thinking about him are of historical importance.

    Belief in Jesus on the other hand can be argued historically or theologically–though it is a different sort of theology, but not philosophically. If belief in Jesus is to be argued historically we have to read the Gospels differently than the way the Gospels are wrote. Normally, to prove the existence of a historical person you would have records, reports, artifacts, or writings of other people who mention that person in specific occurrences. We do not have that. What we have are the writings of people who had very specific and self-interested reasons for portraying Jesus in a certain way. And this portrayal differs markedly from the writings of histories by the Romans in the second and third century. For this reason, scholars have admitted for a long time the problem of deriving Jesus from the Gospels or Paul or any NT writing for that matter. I am not saying the Gospels are entirely fabricated. Just that the line between the supernatural and reality is not always obvious in ancient writings. Just look at Homer or Herodotus. So, if one is going to prove the historicity of Jesus that individual must read the bible differently than the way the bible was wrote. That person must attempt to separate fact from myth and attempt to create a plausible framework for the historicity of Jesus, which would be markedly different from the explanations of Jesus in the NT. You see when doing history you cannot assent to the miraculous, so more probable explanations must be offered. And that is not how the Gospels read.

    If you want to argue belief in Jesus theologically it is necessary to accept the historical Jesus–unless you want to make a Gnostic argument that makes the historical Jesus totally unnecessary. Post-fourth century Christian theology gives us the Jesus of the Trinity and before the end of the second century a fully divine and human Jesus had become a theological necessity. The ever-shifting theology of the early Fathers gives us the portrayal of Jesus as he is in the NT. And the Gnostic interpretation did not meet their standards. What is left is something very similar to Paul’s theology, which places all of its emphasis on the existence of a historical Jesus. One who was born, lived, and died in a way that befits the Son of God. The real Jesus has been lost, probably forever, as a result of this theological quest.

    My point is not to suggest that Jesus did not exist, but that the evidence we possess is not sufficient to prove his existence because that evidence was shaped by self-interest and early Church theology, which is precisely why we cannot take the NT as it reads. In fact, the only thing I will admit is that early Christians did not accept Jesus because they believed he lived or died, but because they believed the Gospel, which was a summary of things believed by early Christians. It is in the very late first century and early second century that we get the beginning of the image of Jesus as he is now portrayed.

    I guess Ryan what I am saying is that: no you cannot read the NT that way because you would not read Herodotus that way, and that is a work of ‘history.’ Even if you accept the basic reliability of the Gospels like N.T Wright early Church theology is still the framework for the NT, and the Jesus the NT portrays is certainly different from the one that actually existed. There is a historical Jesus and a theological Jesus and even they do not align.

    Regards

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  70. “How are you Unklee?”
    Hi Persto, I’m fine, and currently enjoying holidays on another continent. I hope you’re doing fine too.

    “I just do not think there is enough NT scholarly evidence indicating the veracity of the resurrection.”
    Then you can rest easy, because neither do I. Some scholars think the resurrection is true and can be established from history, some think it is true but is a matter of faith as well as history,some think it is simply a matter of faith, and some don’t believe it is true at all. I am in group 2.

    “saying god does not exist; is not the same as saying Jesus did not exist or vice versa”
    Again we are agreed. I think believing Jesus was a historical character is evidence for God, but may or may not be sufficient evidence for different people.

    “Science, on the other hand, operates through repeated experimentation and observations.”
    I generally agree too with your comments about science and history. But it must be said that some science (the early stages of evolution) is not unlike history, in being unrepeatable and less certain.

    So we can chalk this up on the wall. We are agreed on virtually everything you said (if I understand you correctly). Thanks for your comments.

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  71. But Persto, such wonderful accord cannot go on forever! But even here I only have mild disagreement. : )

    “My point is not to suggest that Jesus did not exist, but that the evidence we possess is not sufficient to prove his existence because that evidence was shaped by self-interest and early Church theology”
    I don’t think we can prove almost anything outside of maths and logic, but I historians are generally as confident of the existence of Jesus as of almost any other ancient figure. The real questions centre around exactly what we can say about him.

    “It is in the very late first century and early second century that we get the beginning of the image of Jesus as he is now portrayed.”
    This is a moot point. Some scholars say this, others do not. Of course it depends on how you think he is now portrayed. But the view of scholars like Sanders, Casey, Wright, Vermes, Bauckham and Evans would probably be related to an earlier period than you say, while the views of some on the established churches might be even later.

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  72. Unklee, good to hear that! I am quite well. Thanks.

    Well, I did not expect us to agree so much lol.

    “I think believing Jesus was a historical character is evidence for God, but may or may not be sufficient evidence for different people.”

    I believe I see what you are saying. For me, the historicity of Jesus, certainly, strengthens the Christian’s arguments concerning the historical accuracy of the NT, but I just do not think it helps prove the existence of God. In fact, even the early Church fathers were less concerned with a historical Jesus and more concerned with a fully human Jesus. Strangely, this is the primary reason the historicity of Jesus is questioned. How can the being who walked on water also be a man? How can someone born of this world be god? Arius wondered that aloud and suffered the consequences. The early fathers were so concerned with proving the humanness of Jesus they forgot to weaken the miracles and create a much more reliable narrative.

    “But it must be said that some science (the early stages of evolution) is not unlike history, in being unrepeatable and less certain.”

    I do not think the early stages of evolution are less certain–unless you are saying how it began is less certain. That I would agree with–As for the early stages of evolution, we have a pretty good grasp of that. The first living organisms were simple, like present-day bacteria, in both their metabolism and structure; however, over thousands of millions of years cells gradually became more complex by the process of evolution by natural selection. As early organisms became more complex, major advances occurred. Photosynthesis is one example. And it arose about 2.8 billion years ago in a bacterium-like organism called cyanobacterium. Although, not all species evolved at the same rate. Algae, for instance, was so well adapted that they competed successfully against newer species and so well suited to aquatic life that they still thrive despite the fact that their features are more or less identical to the ancestral algae that lived 1 billion years ago. Overall, not necessarily to your point, evolution by natural selection is a model consistent with observations of natural organisms, experiments and theoretical considerations. It is a historical science documented by the fossil record both today and in the past. As Dobzhansky stated, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”

    “The real questions centre around exactly what we can say about him.”

    For me, I have no problem with Jesus existing. I believe that to be entirely plausible, but I think the issue is less than resolved unlike an impressive number of NT scholars. Of course, I believe that the question–what kind of Jesus existed?–to be an important and useful query.

    Regards

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  73. “For me, the historicity of Jesus, certainly, strengthens the Christian’s arguments concerning the historical accuracy of the NT, but I just do not think it helps prove the existence of God. “
    If one goes from the historicity of Jesus to believing Jesus told the truth, then that must make it as certain as we can be that God exists. Of course there is a big “if” there, but that is what I believe.

    “I do not think the early stages of evolution are less certain”
    My statement was based on this statement by a Professor of biology:

    Questions about the past—whether in cosmology, geology, paleontology, archaeology, or human cultural and political history—are different. We cannot do experiments in the past, so any attempt to reconstruct it must be based on indirect and inferential methods.
    Evolutionary biologists who seek to reconstruct life’s history have three such inferential methods: (1) comparisons of the properties of living species; (2) study of relics, such as biological and chemical fossils, or apparently primitive features retained by modern cells; and (3) feasibility experiments. The comparative approach can in principle take us back to the last common ancestor of all currently living things, and the fossil record (biological and chemical) may go a bit further, to something close to the first cells. For the origin of earthly life itself, and perhaps even up through the appearance of the earliest true cells, we must rely on feasibility experiments. In these experiments, hypotheses about what might have happened in the past are shown to be plausible by demonstration that similar events can be made to happen today, in the lab.
    Certainty and completeness in reconstructing life’s ancient history will never be possible, nor indeed are they possible even in reconstructing the very recent history of a nation or society. But it would be foolish to deny that we already know a tremendous amount, or that what we do know provides a compelling story of how past became present.

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  74. Unklee,

    Yes, I very much agree that if you believe Jesus to be the Messiah and a God then his historicity would buttress that belief. But if you refuse to accept the theology of the early Church then Jesus’ historicity does nothing for God. Although, even if you accept the theological ruminations of the early Fathers the historical Jesus would need to match the theological Jesus for the Christian belief to be sound.

    I do not think we are less certain. Just incapable of time travel. All the data points in one direction. Do we know enough? No. But evolution certainly ‘provides a compelling story of how past became present.’

    Regards

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  75. “if you refuse to accept the theology of the early Church then Jesus’ historicity does nothing for God”

    I don’t see it that way. I think Jesus’ words, using passages generally accepted by secular historians as genuine, give sufficient basis – see Jesus – son of God?

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